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The bar roared with laughter and Judas Priest blaring from the speakers overhead, but Toki heard Magnus’ low voice perfectly in his ear. Almost like a purr. A rumble that made his brain itch. “So you see that one there?” he was asking, pressing in and positioning Toki’s arms with the pool cue. His bare chest was hot against Toki’s back, his breath on his neck even hotter and smelling of the whiskey they’d been sharing. “Aim the cue ball right at the center of that orange stripe. And tighten up your right hand a little or you won’t have any control.” Magnus adjusted Toki’s grip around the end of the stick so it passed through his curled index finger.

“Should I trys it now?” Toki asked.

“Yup,” Magnus said, lifting his hands off his arms. “On your own this time.”

“But—”

“You got this. Center of the orange stripe, like I said.”

Toki focused on the green chalk dusted at the end of the cue, raising his eyes to the white ball and then to his intended target. He really wasn’t so sure he could do it. Magnus had said the game was all about strategy and math—two things Toki knew he wasn’t good at. Still, he poked his tongue out of his mouth, concentrating hard, and then he pulled the cue back like he was playing pinball and let it fly. He struck the cue ball almost where he was aiming, which sent it shooting to the left into the ball with the orange stripe, hitting it just off-center but still well enough that it tapped into the purple stripe and they both rolled into the corner pocket.

“Oh!” Toki popped up, surprised at himself. “Oh wowee, Magnus, I dids it!” 

Magnus gave him a firm clap on the back then squeezed his shoulder and jostled him playfully. “Good job, buddy. I’ll make a pool shark outta you yet. Go for the red stripe next, all right? I’m gonna get us some more drinks.” And he elbowed his way across the bar to the counter.

The evening had started with dinner. A nice steak place downtown that neither of them had been dressed appropriately for. Magnus wore his black denim jacket open at all times, and Toki kept his ball cap on so no one would recognize him, though the waitress did a double-take when running his credit card. After dinner, they’d walked through the streets, no real plans, just talking and laughing. Or, well, Toki did most of the laughing. Magnus was usually too cool to laugh.

The bar had been Magnus’ idea. They’d both had a few drinks with their steaks, but Toki could always drink more, and so they sat together on a pair of barstools and ordered shots and a couple Jack and Cokes. At some point Toki must have been watching the groups of friends around the pool tables because Magnus had leaned in so close that his beard scratched at Toki’s jaw, and he asked, “Do you play?” 

To which Toki had replied, “Yeah, but ams bad.”

And so Magnus had said, “Well, let’s fix that.”

Now, Toki stared down the red stripe ball, trying to remember all the little tips Magnus had been feeding him over the last hour. He worked his shoulders into position, bent over the table, and looped his pointer finger around the cue to keep it steady. This felt right. With a determined inhale, he lined up, aimed, and fired. The cue ball smacked hard into the red stripe, sending it into the nearest pocket, but the cue ball rolled right on in after it. Toki let go of the breath, frowning. 

“Oh, a scratch,” said Magnus from behind him. He was carrying four full shot glasses. “Don’t look so down, you did good. You just hit it a little too hard, that’s all.”

Toki took two of the shots for himself. “How ams supposed to knows whens to hits hard and whens not to?”

“Like that,” Magnus said, motioning to the pocket where the cue ball had dropped. “Trial and error. You try and you fuck up and hopefully you learn from it. Just like life. Cheers, man.”

They clinked their glasses together and gulped down both shots one after the other. Toki’s throat burned from the whiskey but it was a good burn, and he licked the remainder from his lips.

Magnus grinned at him. “I like that you can keep up with me.”

A warmth gathered in Toki’s belly every time Magnus said something nice like that. One might think that with being so famous he’d be used to praise, but it was different when it was someone like Magnus, someone who was a friend and not a fan. And friends outside the band were so rare.

“All right,” Magnus said, rubbing his hands together. He fetched the cue ball from the pocket and set it down close to Toki on the table. “So that was a foul, basically. Try another shot. See if you can sink the green one.”

“I dunno.” Toki didn’t want to admit that the scratch had discouraged him. “I don’ts thinks I can. Looks real tricksy.”

“It ain’t so bad. Here, I’ll show you.” Magnus settled in against his back once more to help him figure out the shot. The whiskey made Toki’s skin prickle as rough hands guided him into the correct angle, and this time the voice in his ear actually gave him the shivers. “Just like that. You got it.”

Toki swallowed, squinted at the cue ball. With Magnus’ hands still leading him, he drew the stick back and let it go, and the shot was perfect. Green went into the hole with a satisfying resin click as it struck one of the other balls already pocketed. 

“See?” said Magnus. He curled an arm around Toki’s waist to pat affectionately at his stomach. “I knew you could do it.”

“But you helpeds.”

“Hey, I barely did anything.” Magnus was still curled over him, the front of his jeans brushing Toki’s ass every time one of them shifted. “And now look—just the eight ball left. You don’t need me for this one.”

“Yes I dos,” Toki insisted, and Magnus actually laughed. Just a soft, raspy chuckle, hardly noticeable except that he was right in Toki’s ear. 

Maybe it was just the alcohol, but his face went hot, and he suddenly glanced nervously around the bar to make sure no one was staring at them. There were times when Magnus made him feel really strange. Usually when they’d both been drinking. Magnus was a handsy drunk, but not in the way Toki was used to—not aggressive and punchy like Dr. Rockso, and not weepy and syrupy sweet like Pickles. No, with Magnus it was something more deliberate, something that made Toki breathe a little faster. 

“All right, fine,” said Magnus, and pressed his hips fully into Toki’s to direct his aim. “You’re gonna wanna clip it right on the side there, okay?”

“Okay,” Toki said, his heartbeat throbbing in his temples. Magnus’ beard tickled his neck, distracting him, and he jabbed the cue forward carelessly. The cue ball went too far to the side, only barely knocking into the eight, and the black ball rolled towards the pocket and stopped short at the edge. Toki sagged dramatically, disappointed at himself. 

Magnus rammed a fist into the side of the table and the eight ball jiggled, teetered, and plunked in. “Huh, look at that,” he said. “You made it.”

A giggle bubbled up in Toki’s chest and suddenly he was overcome with laughter. He straightened up and hugged Magnus snug around the middle. “We wons, we wons!” Magnus hugged him back, smothering and hot, and for a long moment it seemed that neither of them were willing to break it off. Toki could smell faint cologne lingering in the dark denim and he closed his eyes and buried his nose in Magnus’ collar to get his fill of it. Whatever this strange feeling was, it was good. Like a rush from forcing the blood into his head.

“Let’s get another drink,” came Magnus’ smooth, dry voice. 

Toki perked up, and he let go with a giggle to mask his embarrassment. Another drink sounded really good.

They found a booth in the corner and had two more Jack and Cokes as they people-watched and made rude comments and told stories. Usually the guys would tell Toki to shut up when he started going on about something funny that happened to him when he lived on the streets, or something stupid Dr. Rockso did, or some cat he saw, but Magnus always listened. And Magnus had epic tales of his own—long, rambly yarns about weird musicians he knew or bad drugs he took. His stories tended to make Toki nervous and just a little concerned about him, even though he told them as if they were the best times he’d ever had.

As the night progressed and the drinks disappeared, Toki felt himself getting swimmy and his limbs grew heavy, and from Magnus’ drooping eyelids he could tell the alcohol was beginning to catch up to both of them.

Magnus nursed his melting ice and shifted to sit longways across his side of his booth, resting his back against the wall and brushing idle fingers over the trail of hair between his chest and navel. He was a handsy drunk even to himself. “Thanks for coming out with me, man.”

“I’ms the ones what should be thankings you.” Magnus gave him a curious look and Toki blushed and kept talking. “Well, um. Ams just nice to gets away from everyones for a while.”

“Yeah,” Magnus said slowly, rattling his ice. “How’s that all going?”

Toki didn’t want to think about it too hard. The alcohol was making it sting. “Nots great. Nathans and Pickle ams still hatings each other. And I can’ts works for Murderface anymore ‘cause of thems photos on the news.”

Magnus stifled a wheezing laugh behind his glass, cleared his throat. “I, uh. Saw that. Just terrible.”

Toki put his head down on the table and groaned. “Whats ams gonna happens to Toki, Magnus?”

“Hey. Don’t do that.” Magnus plucked the cap off him and forced Toki to sit up and snatch it back. “We’re not here to be sad. Shit’ll work out. Nathan and Pickles can’t make music separately, you’ll see.”

“Dids they ever fights when you was in Dethklok?” Toki asked, adjusting his cap and thumbing at the damp corners of his eyes. 

“Nah, no fighting,” Magnus said. He had that far-away look on his face, the same look he always got when Toki asked him about Dethklok, and he took another sip of whiskey water. “But there were like two months back in ‘95 where Pickles decided he was gonna leave the band and do this Green Day bullshit. Nathan couldn’t write fuck all while he was gone. That’s when I had to pick up the slack and write “The Hammer”, y’know. Even worked out the drums on my own. But then right after that, Pickles came crawling on back ‘cause turns out he couldn’t write anything either and, well. The rest is history, ain’t it.”

Toki peered into his own glass. It hadn’t been two months yet, so maybe there was still a chance that Nathan or Pickles would come around. That made him feel a little better, but not by much. He missed playing with them already.

“Think I’m sobering up,” Magnus announced. “This calls for more shots.”

“Oh.” Toki watched him lurch to his feet and weave unsteadily through the crowd. He certainly didn’t appear very sober.

Toki checked his dethphone. Quarter to one, though he wasn’t in a rush to go. A long, lonely flight home lay ahead of him. Maybe if they stayed out really late Magnus would let Toki sleep over—a thought which pinched his lips into a small, secret smile. The two of them had been hanging out once a week for months now, and yet Toki had still never seen where Magnus lived. He imagined a grungy studio apartment downtown decorated in skulls and blacklight posters with a cement floor and tons of guitars or something. Someplace cool just like him.

A grating vibration shot through the table, and Toki realized Magnus had left his phone behind. Without really thinking, he craned his neck to see who was calling. It just said Friend. Weird. 

The phone screen went dark again, but then a second later it buzzed and Friend reappeared. Something about it made Toki nervous. Almost scared. He had no idea why. He blamed it on the alcohol and tried not to notice when the voicemail notification pinged on the screen.

“Here we fuckin’ go,” Magnus said, placing another four large shots on the table, though two of them spilled over a bit. “Whoops. Ah, fuck. That’s like fifty cents.”

Flustered, Toki mopped up the mess with a napkin and took the less-full glasses. He hadn’t anticipated two more. He liked getting drunk, of course, but he didn’t want to get sloppy in front of Magnus, and he definitely didn’t want to throw up in front of him. 

“Lemme in,” said Magnus, scooching into the booth beside him. He was radiating drunk heat like a furnace. With a noodly arm, he raised one of the shot glasses and Toki did the same. “Here’s to, uhh. Huh. Hm. Here’s to...” 

“To Dethklok?” Toki offered.

Magnus went silent, then nodded. “Fine. To fuckin’ Dethklok.”

They drank and the whiskey pooled in Toki’s gut like motor oil and made him feel sick almost immediately. He cradled his stomach and plopped his head down on Magnus’ shoulder. “I can’ts takes one more drink,” he moaned. “Ams callins it quits. Sorries.” The shame of admitting defeat was nothing compared to the shame he’d feel vomiting into Magnus’ lap.

“A real man recognizes his limitations,” Magnus said sagely and reached for Toki’s other glass. “You mind, then?”

“Nopes.”

Magnus slammed his and Toki’s second shots with barely a flinch and then leaned back in the booth, stretching his legs under the table and putting his feet up on the other side. “Oh, that might’ve been a mistake,” he said through a bit of gruff laughter. “Guess we’ll find out.”

The background voices of bar patrons and the scream of Motorhead mushed together into one droning tone in Toki’s mind, and for a brief moment he might’ve nodded off on Magnus’ shoulder. He roused to the rhythmic snapping of a lighter as Magnus toyed the metal lid open with his thumb again and again. 

“There you are,” he said, sounding distant. “Thought I lost you.”

“Ams okay.” Toki rubbed his eyes. “You?”

“Dunno,” he said, still fiddling with the lighter. “Could use a smoke, though, and I gotta take a piss. Wanna head out?”

Toki nodded with a hum. Magnus shimmied out, started to stand, then fell back on the seat. 

“Ohh,” he groaned, “I’m fucked up.”

“Needs help?”

“I got it.”

Magnus struggled on wobbly legs but eventually exited the booth and remained upright. He headed in the direction of the bathrooms and Toki followed, keeping a wary eye on him

There was only one workable stall, but as Magnus nearly collapsed into the nearest urinal, Toki took it and locked the door. He sat down to pee, reeling from the alcohol. His tolerance for whiskey seemed to be much lower than vodka or rum. It had really snuck up on him. The bass from the music in the bar thudded through the walls, and Toki zoned out as he stared at the years of pen scratchings on the stall door. Phone numbers and dicks and girls’ names and phrases he didn’t understand. He breathed deep, wiping sweat from his brow.

He heard a zipper, the sink, and then boot heels on tile approaching the door. Magnus slumped into it, straining the lock. “Hey, man. You fall in?”

“Almost dones.” Toki pulled his pants back up, and when he tried to open the door Magnus lost his balance and nearly toppled in, but Toki caught him, hands grasping the slick, heated skin under his jacket. He could feel Magnus’ ribs expanding beneath his fingers as they both breathed hard, and he caught a whiff of the cologne again. “Maybe you’s nots okay after all.”

A crooked grin cracked across that gaunt, flushed face. “Maybe.”

Toki helped him to the sink and propped him up against the counter. He washed his hands as Magnus inspected himself in the mirror, pulling at his eyes and raking through his beard and his unkempt curls.

“Fuck, you never look worse than in a bar bathroom mirror, huh.”

Toki glanced up at himself and realized it was true. He actually looked all thirty-four of his years for once, and in the unforgiving fluorescent light he could make out every pore on his ruddy cheeks. He splashed water in his face and watched it drip from his mustache. 

“Whaddaya think?” Magnus asked suddenly, frowning at himself and tilting his head. He pulled back his hair to hold it in a ponytail. “Should I just fuckin’, y’know, chop it all off? Y’think anyone would fuckin’ notice?”

“You’s drunk, Magnus.”

“So?”

“So, don’ts makes a big decisions when you’s drunk.”

Magnus blew him off with a wave of his hand and turned back to his reflection. “Fuckin’ look at me, though, Toki. I’m gonna be fifty-two in November, ain’t that fucked up? It’s real fucked up to me, man.” His shoulders hunched as he leaned his weight on the counter. “Real fucked up.”

“Come on. We goes outside.” Taking him by the elbow, Toki directed him out the bathroom door. Magnus was actively stumbling now and Toki had to work at keeping him on his feet, and they bumped at least a dozen people before Magnus latched onto the bar counter as they passed.

“Our tab,” he said, as if it were the most dire thing imaginable. He waved down the bartender, a cute brunette about Toki’s age with her hair in a bun. “Close me out, darlin’, we’re leaving.”

She nodded. “What was the last name?”

Magnus grimaced and Toki swore he could see his fuse catch fire. “Hammersmith.”

She leaned in. “I’m sorry, what? It’s loud.” It wasn’t that loud, Magnus was just slurring.

“Hammersmith. Hammersmith. Fuckin’—H-A-M-M—”

“I gotcha.”

“And gimme one more shot for the road while you’re at it.”

The woman looked him up and down, then flicked her eyes to Toki, who shook his head. “Nah, I think you’re good, darlin’.”

“I’m good? I’ll letcha know when I’m fuckin’ good. I said one more shot.”

But the bartender wouldn’t budge. “I’m closing you out. Have a nice night, sir.”

Magnus kicked his leg out in a fit of anger, only managing to knock over one of the barstools on his fourth try. “Hey, don’t you fuckin’ ‘sir’ me, you—you don’t even know who I am! I’m Magnus fuckin’ Hammersmith, all right? Okay? And I’m telling you I want another goddamn—”

“Magnus!” Toki yanked him away from the counter, easily overpowering him. He smiled timidly at the bartender. “Ams sorries, we’s goins now.”

“Yeah, you better,” she said, glaring. 

Everyone around the counter was glaring at them, too, and some tattooed man in a Suns jersey had his phone out to record, laughing. “Hey,” he shouted to one of his friends, “it’s that fuckin’ old dude that got kicked outta Dethklok! He’s drunk as shit!”

Something about the malicious edge in the man’s tone made Toki see red. He wanted to lash out, wanted to punch that phone down his throat and tear his eyes out. But Magnus made a pathetic sound, trying to cover his face, so Toki grabbed him and raced out of the bar before he could suffer any more humiliation.

 


 

“Fuck!” Magnus screamed as they got outside onto the sidewalk. “That’s gonna be on the fuckin’ internet any minute now. Crazy fuckin’ Magnus fuckin’ Hammersmith at it again! Fuck! ” Some passers-by turned to stare, and Toki pressed a hand to the man’s back to keep them walking. He wanted to say something to calm him down, but he had a feeling only time would be able to do that.

They traveled about three blocks down the street, Magnus griping to himself with increasing incoherence. He could barely stay upright, and Toki needed to keep firm hands on him to prevent him from bumping into people or staggering off the curb.

“Jus’ wan’ed another drink,” Magnus moaned, crumpling suddenly to his knees like a broken puppet. “Fuck, m’so tired.”

Toki knelt down to get one of those gangly arms across his shoulder and hoisted him up. “I needs to takes you home.”

“No,” he said, shaking his hung head so the graying curls swung back and forth. “Don’ wanna go home. Wanna...have a drink.”

“We’s drunks enough already.”

“No. Fuck you.”

“Magnus.”

“Fuck you,” he said again, and then went silent.

Toki walked him to the curb and sat down with him to pull out his phone. It would’ve been easy enough to call his chauffeur, as the klokateer was most likely idling in a parking garage somewhere nearby waiting for his call, but he had a suspicion that Magnus wouldn’t appreciate being driven home in a Dethklok limo. “Ams gonna gets us a taxi, okay?”

Magnus said nothing, head heavy on Toki’s shoulder.

The taxi app required a destination, and Toki peered down at him. “I don’ts knows where you lives.”

Magnus still said nothing, even after a particularly rough shrug. Not knowing what else to do, Toki slipped his hand into the back left pocket of Magnus’ jeans for his wallet, trying not to dwell on how warm the man felt. He half expected him to snap to alertness and break his wrist or something, but there was no reaction whatsoever. 

The driver’s license photo looked like a mugshot, though someone at the DMV had apparently told him he needed to button his jacket. Toki grinned to himself and put the address into the app. With the taxi ordered, he slid the wallet back where it belonged and put his arms around Magnus to wait for their ride to show up.

“You hads too much to drinks,” he told him, stroking his hair.

“Mm-hm,” came the groaned reply.

Toki wasn’t feeling all that great either, but he was far from Magnus’ sorry state. A twinge of guilt twisted inside him, and he wondered if this was how Nathan or Skwisgaar felt every time they had to babysit him when he got blackout drunk.

The taxi pulled up alongside them and Toki gathered Magnus into the back seat where he fell against the window, his long legs at odd angles. The driver peered at them in the rearview mirror. “He okay?”

“Yeps,” said Toki, buckling himself in.

“He ain’t gonna puke, is he?”

“Um.” Toki buckled Magnus up, too, again with no reaction. “Hopes not.”

The driver squinted at them and pulled away into traffic. The bars were beginning to close and the taxi had to screech to a halt a few times to keep from hitting people as they poured across the street with no regard for what was coming their way. 

By the third dramatic stop, the drunk flush had drained from Magnus’ face and he looked clammy and sick in the glow of the streetlights through the window. His eyes were half open, and Toki realized he was sitting on his blind side. “Magnus?” he whispered, touching his thigh.

“Mm?”

“Gonna bes okay. Toki’s gonna looks afters you.”

Magnus shifted his legs, looking uncomfortable, then said quietly, “She was...cute, right?”

“Huh?”

“The girl,” he said. “You should...go back. Talk to her.”

Toki patted him, not really understanding. The poor man just closed his eyes and seemed to sleep the rest of the way. 

They drove through downtown and started to leave Phoenix altogether, which was odd, Toki thought. Then again, he hadn’t paid much attention to the address he’d plugged into the app. He peered through the window as they passed street after street, thinking surely they’d be turning eventually. It got darker outside as streetlights became few and far between, and the businesses going by the window were dreary and boarded up in places. It didn’t seem like a nice part of town, and so of course that’s when the taxi turned down a dim road. 

The houses were far back from the pavement, most of them obscured by gnarled trees and overgrown bushes. One of the homes had a broken truck out front with some furniture, and another had a washer and dryer out on the curb. The taxi rolled to a stop outside a small one-story with a flickering porch light. Toki swallowed and looked to Magnus, who was still out.

“We’re here,” the driver said. “You need any help with that guy?”

“I gots him.” Toki unbuckled them both and dragged Magnus from the back seat as gently as he could, kicking the door shut behind him. He waved, and the driver left like he was eager to go.

Magnus was nearly dead weight, but Toki managed to reach the porch and struggle up the handful of steps to the door. Two very brown potted plants sat just to the right of the mat, and as Toki inspected the faulty bulb overhead, he could see thick spider webs and wasp nests where the roof met the siding. Was this really the right place? Magnus really lived here?  

Without asking, he reached into Magnus’ front left pocket for his keys. Part of him hoped the key wouldn’t turn, but it did, and he took Magnus inside.

The house was pitch black and reeked of stale cigarettes and something vaguely rotting. Toki pawed at the wall and found the light switch for the entryway, and once his eyes adjusted he shifted Magnus at his side and walked farther into the house. A grouping of overstuffed white garbage bags sat propped against the wall just before the living room, and beyond that the floor was littered with cigarette butts, stacks of old mail, take-out containers and wadded-up napkins. Empty beer bottles gathered at the legs of the couch and coffee table like mushrooms on tree stumps. The scene was upsetting in a way Toki didn’t really know how to process right then.

He clutched Magnus a little closer, feeling protective, and brought him to the couch. He moved an overflowing ashtray to the coffee table and swept more of the butts onto the carpet, then lowered Magnus to the cushions. “Here you goes.”

Magnus fell onto his side and lay there in a pitiful heap, hair spilled over one of the smoke-stained throw pillows. Well, as long as he wasn’t on his back. Toki grabbed a half-full waste basket from near the TV and placed it on the floor by Magnus’ face just in case, the way Nathan sometimes did for him.

“You needs water,” Toki told him, petting some of his unruly curls back from his brow as if he were an oversized cat. “And somethings to eat.” 

When Magnus, as expected, only groaned in reply, Toki lumbered into the kitchen to scout around. He turned on the light and swore he saw a big black something scurry across the peeling linoleum and vanish under the fridge. There were dishes in the sink, old dishes, full of murky water and mold, and the stove had a mountain of pots and pans and trash. 

He opened the pantry and leaned in the door. Inside were two cans of chicken noodle soup and the last third of a loaf of bread, though he could clearly see the dusty green splotches through the plastic bag. With a wince, he checked the fridge. The milk was thick and chunky in the bottle when he shook it, and there was a sour meat odor that Toki couldn’t find the source of. He shut the door, senses spinning with nausea. Maybe the soup would work, but he’d need to use the stove, and he couldn’t even do that sober. Magnus needed him, though. He couldn’t give up.

With bleary, drunk eyes, he tried to read the label on the chicken noodle. It was no good. But surely it just needed to be heated up. 

He looked to the microwave. He could work a microwave just fine.

Placing the can inside, he set the cook time for five minutes. That would make it nice and hot, he was sure.

With the can cooking, he peered back into the living room and took a proper look around. No black light posters or skulls. No guitars. The walls were bare, actually, and there were no decorations whatsoever aside from all the garbage. Nothing to signify that someone as cool as Magnus even lived there. He frowned. Magnus didn’t live there, merely existed from the look of things. Toki hated to admit it, but it was fucking depressing. While he was living in the lap of luxury, enjoying hot tubs and spa days and imported breakfasts, Magnus was sitting in this shithole. 

He returned to the sink, ran the water, and dumped out a few of the bowls with breath held. Normally he wouldn’t care about dishes or cleanliness or any of that stuff, but this was Magnus’ place, and he wanted to help if he could.

His head felt heavy and muzzy, and he scrubbed in a sort of trance, body numb. He’d been riding on adrenaline ever since fleeing the bar, and now the alcohol crept up on him again. Just as his eyes began to close, there came the terrible smell of burning chemicals and hot metal. He pinched his nose, coughing, and then the smoke detector went off with a piercing scream.

The soup! Toki covered his ears and looked to the microwave to see dark gray clouds pouring from the cracks in the door, the inside of it churning like a thunderstorm. He whipped his cap off and tried to fan the smoke away, but his efforts were too late. The can exploded with a deafening pop and the door burst open in a quick flash of flame. “Ahh! Fuckins shit!” He retreated and cowered in the pantry, overwhelmed by the wailing of the smoke alarm, near tears.

“What the fuck is going on??”

Magnus stood just shy of the kitchen where the carpet met linoleum. His hands were over his ears, face so washed out he was nearly gray.

“Ams sorries!” Toki yelled over the alarm, crying openly now. 

Magnus rushed to pull open the window above the sink and grabbed a dish towel. He beat frantically at the smoking microwave, coughing and sputtering along with Toki until the alarm finally shut off and there was blessed silence. His shoulders sagged.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” he sighed, and his attention turned to the ruined microwave and the black scorch marks on the cabinets. “Oh, great. The hell is this?”

Toki sniffled, still shaking. “I-I was tryins to makes you soup.”

“So you put the can in the microwave?”

“S-Sorries.”

For a moment, he thought Magnus would lose his temper and yell at him like he’d yelled at the bartender, but he only sighed again and bent over to cough into his hands. Finally he straightened up, looking exhausted and hollowed out, and he motioned for Toki to come with him. “Let’s get some fucking air.”

They sat in the dark on the rickety steps that led into the back yard. The light over the door hadn’t worked when Magnus tried the switch. Toki dried his eyes, ashamed that he’d panicked in front of him like that, and sniffled again before starting to calm down. Magnus took a pack of Camel Wides from the right chest pocket of his jacket and tapped it against his palm a few times. He drew one out and stuck it between his lips, then offered one to Toki, who accepted. Magnus lit them up.

Toki hadn’t smoked since Nathan’s girlfriend blew herself up last year, and he choked on it just a little at first until he remembered how to do it right. They smoked quietly, listening to the cars pass by the back fence. It was a stifling night and the cigarettes weren’t helping that, but at least Toki’s hands had stopped trembling.

Magnus made a strangled sound in the back of his throat, almost like a gag, but then it grew more boisterous, shaking his entire frame, and when Toki looked through the dark at him he could just barely make out the enormous grin on his pale face. He was laughing . And not just a weedy chuckle or a snicker. This was a rib-clutching, riotous cackle that echoed across the yard and sent him flopping backwards onto the porch, legs flailing.

“You—” He could barely get words out. “You fucking—put the whole goddamn can—”

Toki let himself giggle, and before too long the both of them were howling together. He felt good and dizzy and relieved all at once, and he dropped to lay beside Magnus on the old, dry wood. One of the neighbor’s dogs started barking at them.

Eventually their laughter petered out and they stayed there, panting, cigarettes burning down between their fingers. Magnus took a slow drag and Toki copied him. “So what the fuck? How’d we get here anyway, man?”

“I gots a taxi.”

“Ah.” Magnus seemed to ponder this for a second, then said almost sheepishly, “Didn’t realize you knew where I lived.”

“Oh,” Toki said, his cheeks heating. “I don’ts. Had to looks in you’s wallet.”

“Sneaky fucker.”

“Sorries.”

“Nah, it’s fine.” Magnus sat up on his elbows with a faint moan. “Was I really that out of it?”

Toki nodded.

“Shit. Sorry. I usually don’t do that.”

“Is okay. I didn’ts minds.” And Toki really didn’t. It had been nice in a weird way to take care of him like that, to take charge of the situation. Made him feel capable. Well, until the microwave caught on fire.

Magnus reached over and gripped Toki’s thigh up high by his hip, jiggling his leg. “Well, thanks. In any case, I think the fucking smoke alarm sobered me up a little.”

“Me too.”

They fell into silence. Toki tried not to focus on the warmth of Magnus’ hand bleeding through his pants to his skin. It made his insides squirm, though not unpleasantly. With a final inhale, Magnus finished his cigarette and crushed the butt on the steps before flicking it out into the dead grass. He pressed on Toki’s thigh as he staggered to his feet and swayed there.

“Look, I guess my shit’s outta the bag here, so, uh. If you wanna stay the night instead of heading home, you can.”

“Reallies?” Toki asked, clambering up.

“Yeah, I mean, if you want. I know it’s a dump. But the bed’s nice.”

“Oh, is—is not that bad—”

Magnus grumbled. “Yeah, it is. Don’t gimme that bullshit.” He itched at his scalp just behind his ear. “Thanks for at least not saying anything about it.”

Toki couldn’t look him in the eyes. He pulled out his dethphone instead and shot off a text to the chauffeur, telling him not to wait up. Right away there came a Yes, sire in response. Klokateers thankfully never asked questions about where anyone was or what they were doing. “All rights then,” he said. “I’ll stays the night.”

Magnus led him back inside with a firm hand on his shoulder, then steered him towards the kitchen, which still smelled strongly of burnt metal . He found a mug in the cupboard and poured tepid water from the faucet. “Here, drink. Or you’re gonna have a bitch of a headache when you wake up.”

“Thanks.” He drank, then held out the mug. “Don’ts you wants some?”

“Nah, I’m, uh—” Magnus’ Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat with a hard swallow. “I’m kinda sick to my stomach, so.”

“Oh, Magnus.” Toki grabbed his sleeve. He wanted to help him but didn't know how. “You do looks reallies pale.”

“I’ll be fine as long as I don’t think about it.” Magnus eyed the sink. “Were you trying to do my dishes?”

Toki squeaked. “Um.”

But Magnus gave him a teasing smile. “You’re ridiculous, man. C’mon, finish your water. I gotta fucking lay down.”

Adding the empty mug to the sink, he showed Toki to the bedroom. He was right, the bed was nice—a queen mattress in a dark wood frame with pale olive sheets, a thick black duvet, and two plump pillows. It looked rumpled and cozy and inviting, and just the sight of it made Toki ache all over for sleep. The bedroom was just as trashed as the rest of the house, though. There was a dresser covered in bottles and fast food cups, a nightstand with an alarm clock buried in empty cigarette packs and butts and ash. Dirty laundry obscured most of the carpet, and a chair by the closet was piled high with more. There was, at least, a hard guitar case propped up against the chair.

Magnus turned on the ceiling fan. “You’re gonna want this, trust me.”

Toki sat down on the side of the bed and started to take his boots off, but he noticed Magnus still lingering in the doorway, watching him, arms crossed. He shrunk a bit under that narrow gaze, suddenly nervous. “Ams you not sleepins yet?”

Magnus flinched, dropping his arms. “I’m taking the couch.” He moved slowly back into the hall. “G’night, buddy.”

“Oh. Okay. Goodnights, Magnus,” Toki called after him. He felt just a little guilty about having the bed all to himself, but once he got his boots off and crawled under the sheets, he was grateful for the ability to stretch out. The bed was larger than his own at Mordhaus. Maybe he needed to ask Charles to get him a queen. Or a king, even.

In the living room, he heard Magnus shift and grunt on the couch as he got comfortable, though he soon settled. The alarm on the nightstand read 2:52AM. Toki wondered how long they’d be able to sleep. Skull still buzzing with booze, he let his eyes fall shut and let the room gently spin.

 


 

He might’ve dreamed for a short while—something about Charles trying to call him over and over again, texting him, demanding to know where he was. Toki jerked awake, stressed, heart hammering, and checked his phone. No calls, no texts. It was 3:19AM. Not even a half hour. 

He heard a noise through the wall then, a strained series of wet coughs, and he understood what had woken him. He rose from the mattress in a hurry and followed the sound to a line of light shining under a closed door. He didn’t even bother to knock.

Magnus was down on his knees in front of the toilet, his body limp, face in the bowl. With his left hand he held his curls back at the nape of his neck, though not very well, and his right arm lay slung across the toilet seat. His boots and jean jacket were gone, and Toki could see the muscles shift over his ribs as he sat there panting, his breath coming fast and shaky. 

“Magnus?”

He jolted up, turning his head enough to put his good eye on Toki. “Fuck,” he groaned. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”

“Ams okay?”

“Yeah. Or I will be.” He spit into the water and smeared sweat from his face. “Didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“I don’ts mind,” Toki said, taking a step towards him. The bathroom wasn’t quite as disgusting as he would’ve thought, but it definitely needed to be mopped. “You looks bad, Magnus.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Like, reallies bad.”

“Will you go back to sleep already? I don’t want an audience for this.” Magnus spit again and suddenly lurched forward into the bowl. There came an awful choking retch that seemed to dredge up from the very pit of him. Toki’s sympathies welled. This was the exact scenario he’d been trying to avoid for himself, and he knew how humiliating it was. Even so, Toki couldn’t just go back to sleep and leave him alone. He knelt at his side and gathered his hair out of the way properly, even the stray curls, and rubbed a hand on his sweaty back in long, soothing circles, a gesture that always made him feel better when Nathan would do it.

Magnus threw up until all could do was dry heave. He trembled beneath Toki’s touch, feeling oddly delicate, and Toki spoke to him in soft reassurances. After a lengthy minute or so, Magnus quieted and rested his forehead on the seat.

“Think I’m done,” he said, his voice rough. 

Toki drew him back and flushed everything down, shutting the lid. “I helps you up.” He lifted Magnus slowly to his feet so as not to jar him needlessly, and he wet a washcloth hanging by the mirror and wiped the vomit and sweat from his haggard face.

Magnus sank against the counter when Toki finished and cupped a hand under the faucet to rinse his mouth out. He stayed there, bracing himself on rickety arms, eyes downcast.

“Pretty fucking pathetic, huh.”

Toki shook his head. “Is not so bad,” he said. “You only gots a little in the beard.” 

Magnus’ chin quivered for a second and Toki went cold with fear. He couldn’t fathom Magnus crying. It just couldn’t happen. 

“You’s okay, you’s okay,” he said quickly. “Ams still drunks, that’s all. You needs water and you needs lots of sleep, and then you’s feels better. Promise.”

Magnus stiffened his jaw and he nodded with a few hard blinks. 

Leading him away, Toki walked him down the hall and into the bedroom. “You can has the bed.” Magnus said nothing, so he patted his hair and left to get water from the kitchen again. He rinsed out the mug, filled it, and brought it back. Magnus drank as Toki rubbed his bare feet against the clothes on the floor to unstick the cigarette butts. He wanted to do something about this, but he didn’t know what. The mess was just so overwhelming, which was probably why Magnus hadn’t done anything about it either. But still, maybe a regular maid service might work out. Toki could afford that. Or at least just one good deep clean and he could help Magnus maintain it. He’d have to remember to bring it up sometime when they weren’t drunk.

When Magnus had his fill, Toki pushed trash out of the way to set the mug beside the alarm clock. He started to say goodnight, but found he couldn’t. It felt wrong somehow to sleep in the living room, to abandon him when he felt so poorly.

“Magnus?”

The man raised his head to look up at him, the skin under his eyes bruise-like and damp from sweat.

“Hows about I stays with you? We shares the bed.”

A small, sad grin tugged at the corner of that thin mouth. “Okay.”

Magnus moved over so he could keep Toki on his good side. They both worked themselves under the sheets, but dumped the duvet over the foot of the bed. It was just too hot.

“How you’s feeling?” Toki asked.

“My stomach’s a little better.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah.” Magnus took a deep breath, hands resting on his chest. “Y’know, I think this is the whiskey talking, but thanks for being cool about all this. I don’t like people in my space, judging me and shit. But you’re at least doing it in your head and not out loud, so. Yeah, thanks.”

Toki rolled over onto his side to face him. “I don’ts judge you. Ams just worried.”

“Worried.”

“Mm-hm. I thinks maybe you ams sad a lot. I just wants you to be happy.”

Magnus was looking up at the ceiling, expression taut. “That’s nice and all, but I can’t be happy, Toki.”

“Why?”

“Because I can’t. Not anymore. That’s just how it is for me.” Magnus inhaled again and covered his face with his hands, exhaling hard between the cracks in his fingers. “Fuck, man, I’m still drunk. Can we drop this shit? I’ll have enough to regret in the morning.”

“Oh, okay,” Toki said. He really didn’t want to drop it, but he also didn’t want to upset Magnus when he was still feeling ill. He nuzzled into the pillow and sighed. He hadn’t noticed it earlier on the other pillow, but on this one he could smell that same faint cologne that he’d caught on Magnus’ jacket at the bar. It burned like embers in his head, warming him, and he curled his legs up closer to him. “Goodnights.”

“G’night.”

Toki closed his eyes, eager to get some rest. Before he managed to drift off, he heard Magnus begin to snore, and something about that repetitive rumble made his heart happy. “Sleeps good,” he whispered to him, and then he slept as well.

He dreamed he was drunk, which didn’t feel very fair. He was drunk and trying to run with sluggish legs, trying to chase something along a city sidewalk. A shape. No, less than a shape. A shadow, full of stars like lit cigarettes. He attempted to call out to it, to make it stop or slow down, but it wouldn’t. It turned a corner, and so did Toki, and then the shadow was right there, the only thing he could see. 

For a split second he thought he recognized it. A face in the blackness. But it twisted into something gruesome, something monstrous, and pain pierced his ribs like a stab wound.

Toki woke with a cry and his hand flew to his side. He lay there panting, unable to decide if that sound had been him or a voice in the dream. It was all hazy now. Either way, he was awake again, and the sheets were knotted around his legs. He kicked himself free and peered at the alarm. 5:11AM. 

“Toki?”

He jolted, spooked.

“Toki, you up, buddy?” Magnus yawned, shifted, rolled over towards him. “Thought I heard you make a noise or something.”

“Bad dream,” Toki said. “I has them sometimes. Sorries.”

“Mm,” Magnus said, sounding half asleep. 

“You nots feelins sick anymore?”

“Nah, I’m good.”

“Good.”

They lapsed into silence, though Toki couldn’t relax. His heart beat like crazy, and he almost wondered if Magnus could hear it. 

“Hey, Toki.”

“Yeah?”

“Do me a favor, wouldja?”

“Hm?”

“In the nightstand. Think I’ve got a pack of smokes in there with a few left. See if you can find me one? Or two. I’ll share.”

“Sure.”

Toki sat up, half expecting his ribs to hurt, but he was fine. He took his phone from his back pocket and turned on the flashlight so he could see into the nightstand drawer, which was full of junk. Empty lighters, blister packs, cigarette butts, lube, orange prescription bottles, wrapped fortune cookies and ketchup packets. Toki almost didn’t want to touch any of it, but he shifted a few things around, looking. 

Suddenly he thought he saw a face in the drawer. And not just any face—Skwisgaar’s. He shuffled some receipts until he saw it again. A photo! He grabbed for it and brushed ash from the five familiar smiles. It was Dethklok, but younger, brighter, and in the center stood Magnus, arms around them, radiating a warmth and a friendliness Toki hadn’t seen from him before. Magnus was nice, sure, but there was always an edge to everything he did, something bitter that sharpened the sweet. The Magnus in the photo looked like he laughed all the time, genuine and loud.

“What’s up?” Magnus asked, noticing that Toki had stopped searching. 

“I finds this picture.”

“Oh. Shit, don’t look at that.” The mattress creaked and then Magnus was sitting over his shoulder. “Ah, jeez. Feels like a lifetime ago.”

“How longs ago was it?”

“Almost fifteen years.”

“Wowee.” Toki tried to figure out the math. He would’ve been eighteen or nineteen at the time, then, and still living on the streets. How bizarre that shortly after this photo was taken both his and Magnus’ lives would change so drastically. 

Nathan and the others had told him the whole story on the drive home from camp, about Magnus’ violent temper and drug abuse, and the attack that led to his expulsion from the band. But that had been a long time ago and Toki didn’t know that man. Toki knew the man who had protected him, who saved his life, and who continued to be a friend to him, even as everything else in his world that had once seemed so steady crumbled apart.

“Look how young I was. Thirty-seven, god damn.”

“I’ll be thirty-sevens ins three years.”

“Don’t be a dick,” Magnus said, but there was a grin in his voice. 

Toki giggled, still looking at the photo, transfixed by that easy, handsome smile beaming in the light of his phone. His heart wouldn’t slow down, but for a different reason now. Magnus’ drunk body heat was almost overwhelming. 

“You looks happy here.”

“I was,” Magnus said, and he heaved a sigh that ghosted along Toki’s neck, making him feel strange again, hot and antsy, like he needed to move his legs. “So what’s the story on those cigarettes, bud?”

“Oh. Um.” Toki stretched to place the photo back in the drawer and poked around a little more. A cigarette was sounding better and better. Something to calm him down. Under a stack of take-out napkins he found a small collection of loose cigarettes, and he grabbed two and turned off his phone. “Here.”

“My hero,” Magnus said, sticking one between his lips. He dug for the lighter in his jeans.

“We can smokes inside?” Toki said warily as he remembered the microwave, but when he looked up to find the smoke detector on the ceiling he noticed it was missing. 

“Yeah, I took that one out ages ago.” 

Magnus lit Toki up and then himself, and they breathed in together. As the smoke left Toki’s throat, he sighed around it, coughing softly. It felt nice, even though the room was already warm enough. His body sagged, but the cigarette did nothing to soothe the rapid pace of his heart. If anything, it was worse. He let his eyes drift to Magnus, to the scrawny sight of him sitting cross-legged on the mattress, tangled hair falling over his shoulders. With every inhale, Toki watched his ribs expand, unable to look away from the curls that covered his chest like a carpet and trickled down his stomach.

He knew what was happening then, recognized the strange feeling in a rush of clarity. It was the same feeling he had in the middle of the night, in random hotel rooms on tour, when he would roll over and draw the closest girl tight to him, feeling her react, hearing his name as a moan. 

He wanted that with Magnus. He’d wanted it all evening.

“Magnus,” he said, waiting for the man to look at him.

“Hm?”

“I hopes you cans be happy again soon. Likes you ams in the photo.”

In the dim light of the cigarette, Magnus’ blind eye shone like a pearl. “Yeah, well. Maybe someday.”

Toki reached for him, needed to touch him, to comfort him. His hand slid over the sheets and found his bony knee and then kept going. “Why nots now? With me?”

Magnus snatched his wrist to prevent him from creeping up any farther. “You don’t wanna do this. You’re still drunk.”

“A littles,” Toki admitted. “But so ams you.”

After a hesitant moment, the grip loosened just enough for Toki to continue. He shifted forward towards Magnus, inching fingers along his inseam until he could cup him gently over his fly. Magnus swallowed and hurried to put his cigarette out on his thigh, flicking it into the bedroom somewhere. Toki dropped his on the floor as well, feeling guilty about adding to the mess only for a second before Magnus leaned in and pressed a kiss to his mouth.

Toki had kissed plenty of women. Delicate, soft things with pouty lips that squished against his. This was still delicate in a way, but Magnus was rough and his kiss was scratchy and tasted of rich, sweet smoke. They pulled apart, breathing hard.

“This is such a fucking bad idea.”

“You think sos?”

“Oh, I know so.”

And yet Magnus kissed him again, holding him at the jaw. This time Toki ran his hands over narrow hips, over the waist of his jeans, and up over the curves of his ribs. He combed fingers through scruffy chest hair and found Magnus’ nipples, already firm against the pads of his thumbs. Magnus inhaled sharply through his nose and sank into him with a shudder, and when they broke the kiss again they gasped for air.

“Toki, buddy,” Magnus moaned, “what the hell.”

Toki was hard now, and he ached for this. “Cans we keeps going?”

“You really want to?”

He nodded. “I reallies do.”

“Well,” Magnus said, “I guess there’s no accounting for taste.”

Toki pushed him back on the bed, earning an “oof” of surprise. He crawled between his bent legs and pressed his body down into Magnus’ to catch his lips in another kiss. His hips rolled, grinding their jeans together, seeking friction, and he groaned into Magnus’ mouth. 

Wiry arms finally coiled around him, grabbing at the hem of his shirt, pulling it over his head and adding it to the laundry on the floor. Toki sat back on his heels and Magnus got up on his elbows, eyes wide in awe. “Holy shit. Fucking look at you.” 

Fans drooled over his physique all the time, and the tabloids loved to run photos of him at the beach with suggestive headlines, but Toki had never considered himself anything more than average. There was something in Magnus’ tone, though, that made him buy into his own hype a little. He dragged fingers down the ridges of his abdominal muscles, noticing Magnus’ breaths pick up speed, and he squeezed the thick shape of his cock through his pants, biting his lip at the pressure.

Magnus was visibly sweating in the moonlight that shone through the blinds. “You need to take those off right now.”

Toki slowly undid the button. “Likes this?”

“Yeah,” Magnus said, watching intently. “Like that.”

Having a bit of fun playing the tease, Toki pulled the zipper down at an agonizing pace, feeling it catch every metal tooth. He shimmied his jeans and underwear just under his balls and looked to Magnus, seeing an urgent, unspoken need in his face and in the way his hips shifted on the sheets. 

Toki took Magnus’ left hand in his and led it to his cock, and thankfully Magnus knew what he was asking. His grip was strange and his palm was almost too hot, but Toki’s eyes fluttered. “That’s goods,” he sighed, thrusting into Magnus’ fist.

“God, you’re fucking gorgeous.” There was a reverence in that voice, and lust, too. 

When he felt pleasure start to constrict inside him, Toki slipped from Magnus’ hand and settled between the man’s legs again, pressing their stomachs together. They kissed feverishly as they grappled with their pants and underwear in a frenzy of limbs. Toki’s came away fine, but they had a little trouble with Magnus’ belt buckle, but once they finally threw everything off the bed, they lay exposed and panting.

Magnus was half-hard, his cock lolling against his hip. The hair from his chest and stomach continued to his groin and dusted the insides of his slender thighs in soft, dark curls. He looked so thin, so breakable lying under him like this, and his gaze lifted to Toki warily as if, somehow, he were nervous about being seen.

“Okay, can you quit looking at me like that?”

“Lookings at you likes what?”

“Like—fucking—I dunno—” Magnus reached to cover himself with the sheets, but Toki stopped him with a gentle touch on his forearm. 

“Don’ts,” he said. “Ams okay.”

Magnus let go of a strained breath and looked away. “Sorry, it’s just—I wasn’t expecting this. And it’s been a while, man.” 

“How longs?”

“A while.”

After a quiet moment, Toki dared to ask, “You wants to stop?”

Magnus shook his head. Toki smiled and lowered himself to him, catching his lips in a sweet kiss, then exploring his way south. He kissed around his beardy chin and traveled down his throat, over his Adam’s apple, and lapped at the bony dip in his clavicle. Magnus sighed, mouth ajar.

Taking that as a good sign, Toki held him strong at the hips and planted a kiss in the center of his breastbone, nuzzling the hairs. His lips sought out his left nipple, and when he found it Magnus arched the small of his back off the mattress with a low moan. Toki grinned to himself, feeling playful, and gave the hard bud a flick of his tongue and a slight sharp bite, coaxing out a choke and a gasp. He kissed it better and licked down his ribs, over his navel, lower still to his pelvis and pubes. 

Toki had never sucked a dick before, but he’d been on the receiving end enough times to understand how it worked. And it couldn’t be that difficult, really. They had the same equipment after all, even if Magnus was missing his foreskin. It was just a matter of thinking of what he’d like and translating that to another body.

He took the cock into his mouth and felt the muscles under his fingers flex as the man tried to raise his hips up right away for more. His tongue worked around the head, exploring every soft curve, paying special attention to the tight ridge of skin underneath. Magnus twitched and groaned a husky “oh fuck” as he sat up on his elbows a bit to watch, and his left hand came down on the top of Toki’s head. Not in a forceful way, just resting there on his hair, tucking it behind his ears when it would fall out of place.

Toki found a slow, shallow rhythm, appreciating the way Magnus’ breath snagged when he’d roll his tongue, and wanting to giggle at the slight swell of the head each time he sucked a little harder. It was almost like licking a popsicle. Maybe Murderface was right not to eat them, he thought, forcing down the giggle even harder.

His own cock hung heavy, wanting attention, and he drew his left hand away from Magnus’ hip to start jerking himself off. The relief was immediate and he gripped himself especially tight, foreskin pulling with a deliciously sweet sensation that made him whine with Magnus’ cock in his mouth.

They continued like that for a few blissful minutes, Toki growing more vocal, Magnus shaking beneath him with muttered curses and grunts.

“Stop, stop,” came that rasping voice finally, and Toki popped up. His lips buzzed, and he climbed over Magnus’ thin frame and kissed him forcefully. Magnus rolled them over, pushing him into the mattress and sliding his spit-slick cock over Toki’s abs. “We’re gonna need a condom.”

Toki hummed in agreement, heart drumming with arousal. 

Magnus left him then to sit on the edge of the bed, going to the nightstand drawer to rifle through it. With a sigh, Toki rested back, teasing fingertips up his length to the sensitive head. He stifled a quiet squeal and Magnus peered over his shoulder with his good eye. “You’re making this really difficult, y’know.”

Smirking, Toki stretched out his foot to poke at Magnus’ back. “Finds it faster, then.”

“You’re a fucking menace.” Magnus tossed a small bottle and Toki fumbled but caught it. It was the lube he’d noticed earlier when looking for cigarettes. An old bottle of KY jelly. “I’ve got that at least. Lemme check the bathroom.”

“Comes back soons or I finish without you,” Toki called to him, pumping himself lazily.

Drawers and cabinets opened in the bathroom with increasing desperation. Things clattered to the floor. It sounded like he was pulling drawers out and just dumping them. A short, pointed “fuck!” echoed through the house and Magnus stormed back to stand in the doorway, cock flagging and frustration evident on his face.

“I know I had condoms. I know I did.”

Toki let go of himself, remembering something. “Oh, hangs on.” He stood and went to find his pants, which proved more of a challenge than he would’ve thought. In the dark, all the dirty laundry looked the same. He found them, though, fished his wallet from the back pocket, and pulled out the Dethklok brand condom he kept there for emergencies.

Magnus went to him, grinning, eyes shining. “You beautiful boy.” He kissed him full on the mouth then reached for it, but Toki put the corner of the wrapper between his teeth and tore it open. “Uh, what’re you doing?”

Confused by the question, Toki stood there with the open wrapper, eyes squinting. “Ams gonna puts it ons my dick.” 

You’re gonna put it on.”

“Yeah, I ams.”

Magnus’ expression turned wobbly and unreadable for a second or two, then a weird, almost nervous giggle made his eyebrows peak up in the middle. “Wait, no—you’ve been thinking that you’re gonna—” He put hands on Toki’s shoulders. “Oh, buddy. That’s real cute, but no. No, no.”

Now Toki was really baffled. He thought his intentions had been obvious when he reached over and took his knee, but maybe they hadn’t been. “Why nots?”

“Why not? Are you fucking serious right now? There’s no way I’m letting you—”

Toki stopped him short with a firm hand on his chest, pushing Magnus backwards until his calves hit the bed and he was forced to sit hard with a squeak of springs. “Lets me,” he said. There, hopefully that would be clear enough.

Magnus’ eyes were round and anxious. “Listen, you don’t really wanna—”

Toki cupped his jaw and kissed him. He felt the man below him shudder and that desire to protect returned in a rush of possessive affection. It was going to be okay, he wanted to tell him. Someone was going to take care of him now. They moved back on the mattress and Magnus settled against the pillows, dark hair pooled on the pale bedding.

“I still think this is a bad idea,” he said, but when Toki kissed him again his mouth fell open and let him in. They clutched each other close, and when they drew back, he took a deep breath and nodded. “All right. Fuck. Okay.”

Toki smiled. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Magnus said again as if he needed to hear himself say it one more time.

After removing the condom from the wrapper, Toki pinched the tip and rolled it down in one slow stroke. Magnus’ eyes followed the motion and he swallowed.

“The bottle,” he said weakly.

Toki just kept smiling. He reached for it, cracking open the cap with his thumb. “I knows.”

“Have you even done this before?”

“Yeah.”

“For real?”

Toki shrugged. “With girls.”

“Anal. With girls.”

“Yeah.”

Magnus sagged back a little. “I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this.”

“I knows whats to do,” Toki said, insistent, a blush rising warm in his cheeks suddenly. “Ams even dones it to myself.”

That got an interested look from Magnus. “Oh?”

“I likes...toys.”

“I knew that,” he said, sounding amused, “I just didn’t think that meant sex toys, too.”

Toki fiddled with the cap again.

“Look, would you give me that already?” Magnus held out a hand for the bottle of lube. “I gotta ready if we’re really doing this.”

Even though he’d been wanting to do it for him, Toki relented and let Magnus have the bottle. Lips pressed in a thin line, Magnus coated two of his fingers with the stuff and pushed them inside himself with a quiet, wet sound. His eyes were intense and pinched, pointedly looking away. Toki tried to keep his gaze on his face, but there was something about the sight of Magnus doing this to himself that made tension knot up pleasantly in his core.

It was over much too quickly, though. Magnus barely gave himself a minute to enjoy it. Toki got him a napkin from the nightstand, and he wiped his fingers, bunched it up, and tossed it. 

“Magnus,” Toki said after a period of silence. He finally got some eye contact. “Ams okay?”

Magnus nodded, breathed deep. “Go slow.”

Toki almost frowned. Did he really think he’d do it any other way? “Don’ts worry,” he told him gently, and he came in for another kiss. When they broke apart Magnus began to roll over, but Toki caught him at the shoulder and coaxed him back. “No, no. Not likes that. I wants to see you.”

“Why?” Magnus asked, going stiff.

Why?

“Fuck.” He looked ashamed to have said anything. 

“Hey,” Toki said.

“No, it’s fine. Never mind.”

“Magnus.”

“It’s fine.”

Toki kissed him again, cradling his face in his hands, and with shaking breaths, Magnus parted his thighs in a more relaxed position. His expression tensed in an ever-changing war of fear and desire and humiliation. Toki wondered suddenly what his sex life had looked like up until tonight. Magnus said it had been “a while”—what did that mean exactly? A few months? A few years? And who were his partners before that? Good people? Bad? Did they treat him well? Were they too rough? It seemed to him that perhaps too many people had been rough with Magnus before he met him. That possessive feeling burned in his gut again, that need to coil around him like a snake and snap at whoever got too close.

Biting his lips to chase away the thoughts, Toki gripped the base of his shaft. He lined himself up, nudging Magnus gently at first, not wanting to hurt him. As he started to press in there was resistance, so he waited for Magnus to get used to the feeling, and when he felt muscles soften around him he kept going.

“Ah,” Magnus said.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Encouraged, Toki continued until he was flush with his ass. He felt pulled in, enveloped in the man’s unreal heat, and he lowered himself in to embrace him as he began to thrust with a slow, deliberate pace. Harsh panting puffed against his ear, and Magnus’ cock rubbed firm between their stomachs. Toki scooped an arm under his shoulders and kissed him, his other hand clutching at one of those hairy thighs for purchase.

Magnus moaned into the kiss. The cigarettes were still strong on his breath, but it was nice. “You feels good,” Toki said, burying his face in the crook of Magnus’ neck to kiss there, too. He felt a shudder beneath him and then, surprisingly, thin arms wrapped around him to hold him close, one gripping him at the back of the neck. Nails raked the skin there like little jolts of electricity, and Toki couldn’t help the hard grind of his hips.

“Fuck,” Magnus sighed, and when Toki drove hard into him again, his brow creased deep and his mouth fell open with a wordless little cry. His arms tightened and he pulled Toki even closer, his heat smothering, his kiss feverish.

Their rhythm hastened. Toki punched his hips forward, and Magnus moved to meet him, squeezing knees into his sides and hooking heels under his ass.

“I’m not—” Magnus spoke through heaving breaths. “—I’m not gonna last long.”   

That was a relief to hear, actually. Toki could already feel that tingly feeling mounting behind his navel. He kissed along Magnus’ jaw and hummed happily in his ear. “Ams okay. Sames with me.”

As if being given permission to let go, Magnus dropped his head back into the pillows, throat exposed. “Oh, fuck. Fuck.”

Toki licked a line up the long length of that pale throat, feeling the groan he earned as a vibration on his tongue. He pressed fingers so hard into the flesh of Magnus’ thigh that he’d likely leave bruises. His pace quickened but he shallowed his thrusts, and the body under him grew rigid with gathering tension.

Magnus’ voice pitched up, rough and wheezy from strain. “Toki—Jesus—I’m gonna—”

“Looks at me,” Toki said. “I said I wants to sees you.”

Magnus shuddered and obeyed, locking eyes. The hand on the back of Toki’s neck twitched, heels digging in deeper, and he arched up hard into him. There was a moment of preparatory silence, the squeak of the mattress the only sound in the room as they held their breath, and then Magnus came with a strangled shout and a spill of slick warmth between them. 

Toki kissed the corner of his mouth, pressing their foreheads together, feeling Magnus’ orgasm inside like a violent rhythm. It was too much. And with a few more driving thrusts and a cry of his own, he emptied into the condom as a sweet shiver shot up his spine.

They breathed together, heartbeats pounding strong through their skin. Steadily, they calmed. Went quiet. The morning sun had begun to seep in through the blinds, and Magnus was a sweaty, smiling vision in the soft golden light. Toki released his thigh to brush back the mussed curls from his face. He kissed him and held him, overwhelmed, brimming with fond feelings, and then he heard the slight catch of breath, felt the jump of Magnus’ chest.

“Magnus?” he looked to him worriedly. The smile was still there, but there were tears now, too. “Ohh, no, don’ts cry.”

“I’m fine,” Magnus said, voice thick. “Really, I’m good. I’m better than good.”

Toki thumbed the tears away and kissed his eyes, tasting the salt of him. “Ams glad.”

They lay in each other’s arms, enjoying the afterglow for a moment, watching the sun grow brighter. Toki actually started to drift off, pillowed on Magnus’ chest hair, but before too long the man shifted and roused him. “Hey, buddy, uh. Hate to ruin this, but I’d like my ass back now.”

Toki giggled. “Oh, yeah.” He kept the condom in place and started to slide out, but their stomachs stuck briefly before he drew back all the way. Toki made a face. “You glueds us together.”

Magnus laughed, eyes still wet, and it was easy and perfect.

The shower was probably the cleanest part of the house aside from the bed. Toki had never washed with anyone before, though they didn’t actually do much washing. Post-coital Magnus was even more handsy than drunk Magnus, and they had fun making out under the hot water and sharing the soap until the weak water heater forced them out. There was only one clean towel on the rack, so they shared that, too. 

By the time they returned to the bedroom, the sun was up and it was just after seven. Magnus raised his arms and stretched his scrawny, naked body with a yawn and a startling amount of pops and cracks. “So whatcha think?” he asked, scratching his damp hair. “Should we sleep more or just call it a morning? It’s up to you.”

Rolling back into the comfort of Magnus’ bed, Toki shoved his head into the pillow that smelled of cologne. “I wants goes back to asleep,” he said. “And you ams comes lay downs on me?”

“I’ll lay down with you,” Magnus said, grinning as he put one knee up on the mattress and searched through the nightstand drawer. “Your English gets real cute when you’re tired, by the way.”

Toki watched, amused, as he put a cigarette to his lips and fought with one of the near-empty lighters. Finally he got it lit and took a drag, then offered it over. “No thanks you.” Two cigarettes in one night was more than enough for his non-smoker’s lungs.

“No? More for me, then,” Magnus said with a shrug. He got under the covers beside Toki, sort of half sitting up against his pillow, and he yawned again. His free hand rested on Toki’s forehead, thumb stroking the fine hairs between his eyebrows. “Go on, sleepyhead. I’ll be right behind you.”

“Mm.” Toki felt his mind trying to draw him down into a deep rest. He was exhausted but content, still thrumming with lingering endorphins. Magnus smiled at him, and oh. He really was so handsome. Especially like this, fresh from the shower, cigarette in hand. His heart ached in the best way, and he closed his eyes slowly. “Loves you, Magnus.”

If there was a reply, or any reaction at all, he didn’t hear it. He fell asleep hard and dreamt of silly things, though not for very long.

 


 

When he woke next he knew something was wrong, but it took him a few seconds to put his senses in order. He was too hot, and he smelled smoke like the microwave had exploded again. He looked blearily to Magnus, who sat slumped on his pillow, snoring, left hand hanging off the side of the bed. And then he noticed the flames licking up at the mattress.

“Magnus!” Toki shook him, waking him with a start. “Magnus, there’s fire!”

Hrrm ...what?” Magnus blinked. It didn’t take him long to notice the problem. “Fuck! There’s fire!” 

He scrambled into Toki’s arms and they both tumbled to the floor in a heap. The fire burned on the floor on Magnus’ side of the bed and blazed up the sides of the nightstand and almost all the way under the boxspring, fueled by the trash and the clothes in its path. Even the duvet on the floor was starting to catch. If Toki hadn’t woken up, they might’ve cooked like bacon as they slept.

“Get your pants on!” Magnus barked, already making a move for his. “And your phone, get your phone. Fuck, man. Fuck! My guitar!” He bolted to the chair at the closet and grabbed it up, then snatched Toki by the elbow and fled the bedroom just as the smoke alarm in the hallway finally registered the fire.

Toki winced and tried to cover his ears, but Magnus dragged him out the front door to the curb, and even then at a safe distance he wouldn’t let go of him. They panted and coughed and clung to each other.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Magnus said, “my landlord’s gonna have my ass.”

“Shoulds we call the firefighters?”

“Right. Yeah.” Magnus put down the guitar and got his phone from his pocket. His hands shook as he dialed 911. “Yes, uh—fire department. My house, it’s—my house is on fire. Uh-huh.” 

As Magnus spoke with emergency services and gave his address, Toki gently rubbed his back and watched the house. The fire wasn’t evident from the street yet, but it would only be a matter of time. His heart raced and panicked tears itched at the corners of his eyes. Fuck, they’d nearly burned to death. He felt vaguely like he might throw up.

“Yeah,” Magnus was saying to the dispatcher, “we’re out safe. No, no, uh. No pets. Yeah. Okay, thanks.” Eventually there was nothing to do but hang up and wait for the fire truck.

The morning was so beautiful otherwise. The sun wasn’t too hot yet, just gently warm on their bare shoulders. Birds sang. One of the neighbors was walking their dog, another watered flowerbeds with a tangled hose as they blasted country music from a radio on their porch, seemingly not noticing that two half-naked men had just fled from the house.

“Oh,” Magnus said suddenly, lunging for the front door. Toki yanked him back on instinct. “No, the photo—maybe the fire hasn’t—”

“You’s not goings back in there!”

“Toki, c’mon—lemme just—c’mon—” Try as he might, Magnus couldn’t overpower him, and with a helpless wail, he gave up and sank to the pavement on his knees. By now, they could smell the smoke from outside, and a minute later the blaze roared from the window and they heard the sirens down the road.

It was too late, though, and everything happened in sort of a frenzied blur. The firefighters extinguished the house, but not before the fire had managed to consume the entire bedroom, ceiling and all, and a significant part of the hall and living room. “A real shame,” said one of the firefighters, a woman with a kind smile. She knelt and talked to Magnus, who sat on the curb with a bandaged left hand courtesy of an EMT who hovered nearby next to Toki. “We see this sorta thing quite a bit, unfortunately. Do you smoke in bed, sir?”

Magnus nodded and his posture slumped.

The firefighters packed up their truck, said their goodbyes, and took off. The two cops who had arrived with the fire truck, meanwhile, seemed more interested in Dethklok’s Toki Wartooth than in doing their jobs. Toki tried to shrug off their curiosity, but a woman from next door brought up a picture on her phone and said, “Nope, that’s him all right.”

“Wait, hey,” said the first cop, motioning to Magnus, “I think this is Magnus Hammerlock, that crazy guy that used to play with Dethklok.”

“Oh, damn, no way,” said the other. He turned to Toki with an expectant, dopey smile. “Can we trouble you for a picture, Mr. Wartooth? My kids are huge fans.”

Magnus had his head in his hands, his house gutted and still smoking behind him. 

“No,” Toki said, voice tight with nerves. “Thanks for the helps, but please leaves us now.”

“Come on,” said the second cop, grabbing Toki’s shoulder. “It’ll be great. Troy, get your phone.”

“No, reallies, I don’ts wants—” 

“Wow, Craig’s gonna be so pissed he missed this. Get some of the house in there, too. Mr. Hammerlock, do you mind moving for a minute?”

Oh, that was enough. Toki wrenched himself away from the man’s grasp and punched him full-force in the mouth. Teeth broke and his hand bled but he didn’t care. There was nothing he wouldn’t do in that moment to make the man just shut the fuck up. “You stupids motherfucker!” He advanced as the cop went for his taser, punching him again, knocking him off his feet, and he kicked him. “You fuckings asshole!” And kicked him. “Motherfuckings piece of shit!” And kicked him. “Fucks you!

“Toki stop!” Magnus shouted from behind him. “Toki, god damn it, you’re gonna kill him.”

Toki choked on a gasp and staggered backwards into his arms. The EMTs moved in warily to scoop up the pulpy cop, giving the pair a wide berth, and piled into the ambulance to leave with sirens blaring. The cop’s partner apologized, wide-eyed and hands out in front of him as if anticipating further violence. As far as Toki was concerned, it wasn’t off the table. “S-So sorry, Mr. Wartooth. We’ll be more respectful of Dethklok in the future, we promise.”

“Sees that you ams,” Toki told him. His hand ached where the teeth had cut him. “Ands aplogesek to Magnus for beings such a stupids dick or I has your fuckings house carpetbombed.”

Magnus cleared his throat. “Officer, it’s fine. Just go.”

The cop took off his cap. “No, no, sure. Uh. Very sorry, Mr. Hammerlock.”

Toki lunged at him. “Hammersmith!

Stumbling over his feet, the cop yelped and got into his patrol car and peeled out of the neighborhood with a squeal of tires. “Toki,” Magnus said, “what the hell was that? You’re bleeding.”

“Sorries.” Toki took a deep breath and let it out slow through pursed lips. He could think again. He let Magnus inspect the scrapes on the knuckles, then wiped the blood on his thigh. “I just gets mad sometimes. And he was so means to you, I couldn’ts helps it.”

Magnus pulled him in close. “Remind me to stay on your good side, then. Because shit. I thought I had a short fuse.”

Even over the smoke from the house fire, Toki could smell the soap from their shower earlier, and his heartbeat finally evened out. “You always ams gonna be on my good side, no matters what.”

Magnus held him tighter and pressed a kiss into his hair.

A chunk of roof fell into the bedroom and a plume of smoke and ash billowed up into the morning sky. They watched it, leaning into each other, both of them exhausted. “So whats happens now?” Toki asked.

“I have no fucking idea.” Magnus trembled but otherwise he seemed all right. Better than Toki would’ve expected, considering he’d just lost his house and most everything he owned. At least the guitar was okay. “It’s weird. I’m almost relieved. Is that shock talking? Am I in shock?”

“I don’ts know.” Toki pulled back and kissed his cheek. “Is there anyones you can call? Does you has family here?”

Magnus shook his head. “Not here, no. I’ve got an older sister down in Las Cruces, but she’s not doing so good lately. I don’t wanna put her out like that.” He pressed his palms into his eyes and groaned. “Ah, fuck me.”

“What abouts you’s friend?”

“Huh?” Magnus asked, looking up.

“The one whats was callings you last night.”

“You saw that?” Magnus suddenly lost his color and seemed like he could faint. Maybe he was in shock. Toki led him back to the curb and sat down with him. “No, no,” he finally said. “Not that guy. I, uh. I don’t think we’re gonna keep being friends.”

“Why not?”

“Long story. Doesn’t matter.”

Toki eyed him, puzzled, but didn’t press the subject.

“God, this is why,” Magnus sighed, and he coughed into his wrist. The cough caught somewhere in his chest, though, agitating something that sounded nastier than just smoke inhalation. He pounded on his sternum until he stopped with a wheeze. “This is why I can’t be happy, Toki. Because I’m not fucking allowed, am I?” And he yelled that last part with eyes lifted angrily to the sky.

Toki followed his gaze. Who was he talking to? He had an idea, then, a way to help. A way to make sure Magnus was safe and taken care of. There was just the very small matter of convincing him. He tugged on his arm with a bright smile. “Hey,” he said, “whats if you stays at Mordhaus?”

“No,” Magnus said immediately.

“Oh comes on!”

“No. I’m not gonna take Dethklok’s fucking charity.” 

“Ams Toki’s fuckings charity.”

“No.” Reaching into his back pocket, Magnus grabbed his wallet and started thumbing through the handful of bills inside. Toki counted quickly. It was maybe eighty bucks. “I’ve got enough for a cheap motel for a few nights. And I’ve got some gigs coming up this month. I’ll figure something out. Always do.”

“Or,” Toki said, putting a hand over the money and pushing it away, “you cans just comes to Mordhaus and has a nice times with Toki.”

Magnus grumbled and pocketed his wallet again. “Would you stop? It ain’t gonna happen.”

There was something raw in Magnus’ tone, as if continuing to press him would be like picking at an open scab. Falling silent with a nod, Toki just slipped fingers into his and put his head down on his shoulder. The thought of him having to stay in some seedy motel turned his stomach. Hell, this whole situation turned his stomach. There was no one for Magnus to turn to, no one who would even be aware he was in any trouble. Just Toki, and he was too proud or stubborn or stupid or all of the above to accept his help.

“I mean,” Magnus said suddenly. He sniffed, rubbed at his nose. “I wouldn’t even be welcome at Mordhaus, would I?”

Toki perked up, hopeful. “If I says you ams, thens you ams. I ams part of Dethklok, that makes me ones of the boss.”

“And what about the other bosses?”

“They talkeds to you at camp! They don’ts hates you.”

Magnus shot him an incredulous look. “Right.”

“They don’ts.” And it was the truth, he thought. 

On the drive back from camp, the band had bitched and complained about him for hours, but woven through all the awful stories about drug binges and arguments and unstable behavior, there had been stray comments that sounded, to Toki’s ears, like lingering fondness. “He laughed at anything you ever said, Murderface.” “At least he always shared cigarettes.” “And he boughts de best beer for de aportsments.” “Yeah, he was all right sometimes.”

Toki leaned in. “Do you hates them?

“I’m, uh.” There was a moment’s hesitation, then Magnus’ brow furrowed. “Not sure anymore. Hm.”

“Just comes back with me.” Toki tucked a stray, graying curl behind Magnus’ ear, then moved to cup the side of his face. “Just for now. And thens you can figures out whats to do later. Okay?”

Those drawn, tired eyes closed. “Okay.”

Victorious, Toki called for his chauffeur, and then Magnus got up to find his guitar while they waited. He unsnapped the case, and the guitar inside wasn’t anything like Toki had expected. His eyes widened at the sight of the large, dark body and the pattern of the wood grain. “Oh,” he said, “a grandpas guitars.”

Magnus frowned. “I’m going to ignore that.” He set it sturdy on his knee, and with no fanfare whatsoever, he began to play. His bony fingers curled over the strings, plucking gracefully, coaxing such delicate sounds, and his fretting hand slid effortless over the smooth mother of pearl inlays. For a moment Toki forgot to breathe. It was beautiful music, truly, but there was a melancholy in the notes, a sadness that he somehow recognized as Magnus’. He wanted so badly to kiss him, and he wished at that moment they were lying in Magnus’ bed again. It really had been a very nice bed. 

When Magnus stopped, Toki almost moaned. “I didn’ts know you coulds plays like that. I never heards you before.”

“It’s just some solo stuff I’ve been fiddling with.”

“I loves it, Magnus.”

Magnus actually looked a little embarrassed. “Well, thanks, bud.”

Toki laid back on the dry grass. “Cans you plays more please?”

“Any requests? Maiden? Priest?”

Toki shook his head. “Hammersmith.”

Grinning, face pink, Magnus obliged.

The limo arrived at last, shining red and black in the worsening morning heat. A klokateer exited the vehicle in his finely-pressed suit and opened the back door. Even though he was hooded, eyes obscured, Toki could’ve sworn he stared hard at Magnus. His voice, however, gave nothing away. “To the air strip, sire?”

“Yes, at once,” Toki said, letting Magnus duck inside first with his guitar case. He followed after him and the klokateer closed the door and resumed his seat in the front. The limo pulled away from the curb, and then they were on their way.

Magnus looked around the interior as if in a dream. The inside matched the outside—black leather, moody red lights. There was a fully-stocked mini bar and all the windows were tinted dark. “It’s kinda sexy in here.”

“Ams nice, right?”

“Yeah. And these seats.” A grin played across Magnus’ lips as he moved his hips, testing their softness.

Toki settled in close to him and gave him a wry smile. “Driver,” he said, turning his head to the open partition that separated the front seats from the rest of the limousine. “Tells me how longs it takes to gets to the jet.”

The klokateer didn’t miss a beat, as if he had prepared the information ahead of time in anticipation of the question. “My lord, it should take approximately forty-three minutes to arrive.”

“Thanks you, now be gones,” Toki said, and he hit a switch in the armrest that closed the partition shut, blocking the driver’s view of them. He turned back to Magnus, who regarded him with a cocked eyebrow.

“Did you just—”

“Yeps.” 

“So we could—”

“Yeps.”

“Oh, Toki.”

They reclined on the seats and kissed each other gently. And as the limo navigated morning traffic through Phoenix, the two of them curled up together and took a glorious, uninterrupted nap.