"Take it or leave it." Katze slipped his hands into his pockets, hoping it made him look at ease.
Guy hunched his cracked plastic chair, his single remaining arm clutching his coat close. "Okay. I'll leave it."
"Don't be an idiot. You have only two options. You can have new arm and a decent job, or you can starve yourself to death here." He cast an eye around the dingy room.
"There's nothing decent in Midas."
"There's nothing decent here."
Guy peered up at him with fever-bright eyes. "At least, no one owns me here. Here, I don't owe anybody."
"You owe Riki."
"Oh, shut the fuck up about it! Just stop fucking hammering on it."
"He wanted you to live."
"So I'm living, okay?" Guy heaved himself out of his chair and crossed to the room's only window.
"Not for long. Not like this." The man was an ungrateful prick in whose well-being Katze had no interest. But Iason had died because Riki convinced him to save Guy. And even if the whole thing was Guy's fault, Katze could not let that sacrifice be in vain.
So after Dana Bahn, he'd restrained the urge to slam a knife into Guy's heart. Instead, he'd sat by Guy's hospital bed, told him the facts, and slammed in something sharper, a blade welded of two simple thoughts: Riki went back to Iason, and you killed them both. But he hadn't gotten much satisfaction. The way Guy's eyes shattered was ugly, brutal, too close to that other truth: I didn't matter either.
As Riki had wanted, he'd set Guy up with a modestly altered face and a new name. And Guy had gone back to the Slum--a one-armed manual laborer--and continued to use his old name.
He was gazing out the window now at the wall across the street. "Just leave me alone."
Katze caught himself trembling, like a string stretched too taut. He lit a cigarette to steady his hands, and watched the blue smoke curl into the gray room.
And he played the card. "You've got a damn weird way of showing your love."
Guy turned abruptly to face him. "What?" He sounded genuinely confused.
A laugh rattled out of Guy. "Oh, I've got a weird way!"
Katze ignored him. "That's your refrain, isn't it? That you loved Riki?" He took a drag. "So you castrate him; then you get him killed. Then, you can't even be bothered to take an ordinary stockroom job to fulfill his last wishes."
Katze suppressed a smile, smoked and waited.
Guy sighed and looked out the window again. After a couple of minutes, he turned back to Katze. "Okay. Why not? You're right: nothing in this world is decent. You're not; I'm not. I--I might as well... whatever. Whatever. It's not like I care."
Katze took an appointment card from his pocket and tossed it on Guy's chair. "You're due at the hospital day after tomorrow. Once your new arm's in order, I'll put you to work."
Guy didn't run into Katze much at work. Good thing. He could feel those eyes like lasers engraving his guilt.
After a couple of months, it got better. He stopped tensing up every time he saw Katze. Exchanging words became routine. Life was almost normal--like that expanse of almost-normal in those three years without Riki.
Except now Riki was gone for good. And that weight couldn't be unslung.
Riki hung in the air the first evening Guy worked alone with Katze. They had about 200 boxes of designer drugs to inventory. Katze ran verifications on contents; then Guy froze on the molecular seals. He liked the easy rhythm of the work. But then Katze stopped, smashing up their rhythm. He stared at his data pad, input a few commands, stared again.
"Problem?" Guy glanced at his watch.
Guy sighed. "Better than having one missing, I guess."
"Well, no. Not if the extra one never gets where it's supposed to." Katze went to his terminal and started typing. The patter of keys was hypnotic.
Guy looked down at his hand, the new one, the one that didn't quite seem his. He wanted to go home. "Hey, should I verify and seal the rest of these?"
Katze turned to peer at him. "Do you know the verification process?"
"Are you sure?"
"I'm not some harem Pet with an IQ of 10."
"Run down the procedure then."
"Double-check the registration number against the chemical analysis of contents. I've been watching you do it for the past hour."
"All right. Do it." Katze went back to his typing.
Guy went through the motions in a reverie, till something pulled his attention: the typing had stopped. Katze was staring at his screen, paging through accounts it looked like, a cigarette dangling from his fingers. He never offered Guy a cigarette. He pages and smokes with the same hand by running the page-tracker with his little finger.
Each seal made a thwack when Guy froze it on. It reminded him of Riki, though he wasn't sure why. Something thick and violent in the sound. Something like lives lost before death took them.
A wave of the old, familiar rage knocked him hard.
He gave up on the boxes and thunked down in a chair beside Katze, anger fizzling out into a strange, strained yearning. "How long did you know him? Iason."
Katze shot him a glance. "Twelve years."
Twelve? He must be older than he looked. "You knew him pretty well?"
Guy, too, suddenly felt old. "I knew Riki ten years, not counting the three he was gone. Well, really I knew him for nine years, because the man who came back I never did know."
"That's fairly obvious." Katze rested his cigarette in the ashtray and started typing again.
Too tired for the insult to sting, Guy asked softly, "Why did Riki love him?"
Katze leaned back in his chair with a sigh. "Who knows."
"Well, you knew them both, right?"
"They needed each other, that's all."
Guy flexed his new hand, studying its soft, white flesh.
Katze went back to typing. After a moment came a soft laugh. "Found it."
Guy scarcely heard him. His mind played over Riki, back to the first day they'd met. They'd been good in the beginning--but Guy had been a convenience too, a safe bet, an excuse for Riki to turn down all the shitheads who wanted to screw him. "Yeah," he murmured, swallowing in a tight throat. "He never did need me."
Katze rounded on him. "Show me two people in this world who truly need each other," he snapped. "You want to know why Riki went back to Iason? Because you can only do it when you're dying, when there's nothing left but the two of you and barely even that. Out in the world, when you have to live in it, there'll always be the one who needs and the one who doesn't. So you're the needy one. Congratulations. Welcome to the club." He turned back to his terminal, typing again.
Guy watched him--saw him for the first time: brittle and sparking.
On an impulse, Guy reached out and brushed the hair back from his face.
Katze whacked his hand away.
Guy sat back. "So why did you love him?"
"What makes you think that any of my sentiments are any of your business?"
"You said it yourself... that first day when I woke up in the hospital: we're the only ones left to talk about it." Guy hated the catch in his own voice. No Riki. Not even Bison, not even his old friends. No one. No Riki ever again. He slumped forward, his elbow on Katze's desk, head in his hand. "We're the ones left." He squeezed his eyes shut tight.
After a moment, he heard Katze's voice, surprisingly gentle. "Don't think about it, Guy. That's the best you can do--is just not think until time..." He trailed off.
"I hate this life," said Guy.
"Most people hate their lives."
"I never imagined I could be this alone. Not even those years he was gone."
Silence filled the space between them, and Guy looked up to see Katze gazing at him. A strange face, young, hard, scarred, too finely chiseled: the kind that would have been a target for horny men if it wasn't so fierce, like Riki's face had turned fierce. He's lucky he's scarred, thought Guy, and incongruously, He needs to be kissed. Or maybe I just need to kiss him.
When Guy's fingers touched his face again, Katze didn't push him away. He waited; his very thoughts waited.
But when Guy kissed him, it took him by surprise. Not because it wasn't an obvious next move but because it happened so fast. A quick brush of lips against his lips, hardly a kiss at all.
Katze's heart pounded.
They looked into each other--so it seemed: Guy's eyes on him and his on Guy. It struck him that Guy's altered face was more attractive than the old one. Slightly. And he'd cut his hair; it made him look cleaner. Of course, he didn't like Guy... but they were the only ones left who understood, except Raoul, and Katze didn't know him well and never would. They weren't in the same world.
Guy kissed him again, gently. It made his whole face tingle. For a moment, he couldn't remember how to respond. Then it came back in a rush, recollections of those far-off days when he'd been just old enough to begin to explore those yearnings with the other boys.
He wrapped his arms around Guy's broad shoulders and kissed him back, lost to everything but the feel of their movements, like floating on a sea. Guy's calloused palms cradled his face. Then, the right hand slid down his neck, his chest, across his nipple to his hip.
Suddenly the obvious clicked in. He doesn't know.
In a flush of panic, Katze took hold of Guy's arms and pushed him firmly back.
"I was Iason's Furniture," he blurted, wondering the second the words came out what the hell had made him confess that.
Guy stared blankly. Then his eyes slipped away and, as if in slow motion, his face contracted. He got up and went to the far end of the room, sat on one of the boxes, sunk his head in his hands. His shoulders shook gradually harder and harder until he was doubled over with sobs.
Katze watched, jumbled with humiliation, sympathy, sorrow--and recognizing far too slowly who Guy's sobs were really for.
When Guy had quieted, Katze said, "I'll finish here. Go home; it's late."
Without a look, Guy grabbed his coat and sped out the door.
Katze sat back and reached for his cigarette to find it burned to a cinder. His mouth still tingled; he was afraid to move it: afraid to taste Guy, afraid to lose Guy's taste. It was as strange as waking up in someone else's body. He lit another cigarette and set it firmly between his lips.
He'd made a fool of himself. But he'd live it down; he always did. All he had to do was pretend it didn't touch him.
It took Guy a month to make up his mind to try again with Katze. His decision surprised him. He didn't much like Katze: the man was cold and superior, and Guy was a masochist to want him, just as he had been with Riki.
One more beautiful man to freeze me out. Because that's how it would go. Even if Katze wanted him, which he'd seemed to, he'd never really unfreeze. Guy knew; he'd already lived that story.
Besides which, he'd never had sex with eunuch; he had no clear idea of how well that would work. Every time he thought of it, it gave him queasy thoughts of Riki. And he had to wonder why Katze hadn't had himself mended when he had the funds to get Guy a new arm. All good reasons not to make a pass at his boss.
But he'd do it anyway. Maybe he didn't know what else to do.
It took him the better part of another month to find a chance to be alone with Katze, turning in an inventory list one evening.
"There's a crack in the seal of the one of the suspension units." Guy handed over the data pad. "Maintenance is supposed to weld it tomorrow."
Katze glanced at the list. "And the cargo?"
"No cargo. The unit was empty."
"Okay. Tomorrow should do." He set down the pad and went back to his computer.
Guy watched him for a moment, smoking and perusing his screen. This was Guy's chance, but now he was here, the words stuck. It was a stupid idea. Just give it up.
Something inside him crunched up in defeat.
He moved to go. But as the door loomed before him, he turned back again. "Katze, I..." Those eyes cut into him. "I wanted you to know... I still want you. I did before I... knew, and I still do." He could feel his face flush bright red as if he was kid just out of Guardian.
Katze made no reply.
None at all. He didn't speak, didn't move, didn't show a trace of human expression. Casually, he brought his cigarette to his lips and lowered it. The smoke spread around him like veil.
A steel anger set in Guy. "Fine. Forget it." He swiped the door open and walked out.
A week later, a quick step surprised Guy as he was walking home. Guy spun, ready to strike--but it was Katze.
Guy walked on through the drizzle that lined the street in silver. "What do you want?"
"You sulk too much."
If Katze weren't his boss, Guy would have hit him. "Do you have orders for me, or is this just my evening for unsolicited advice?"
"It makes you too easy to read."
"If you--" Guy broke off.
They walked in silence.
A breeze kicked up. Katze pulled his coat closer. "I'll fuck you if you want."
What the hell is this? Was he making fun of him? Guy managed a scoff. "You change your mind pretty damn fast."
"I haven't changed my mind at all. You just stormed out before I was finished sizing you up."
Guy peered at him. That explanation could only be bullshit, but Katze's face, as usual, gave nothing away. "Slow sizer, aren't you?"
"You're a quick stormer."
Quick stormer? "Why are you playing with me?"
"Maybe I just like to," Katze snapped. He took Guy's arm roughly and pulled him to a halt. "Maybe I want to see you writhe, self-righteous bastard."
"You killed the two people who meant most to me. You think I feel anything but hate for you?"
Pain lanced Guy's chest. A flicker of indignation guttered into a cold sense of relief. This was what he deserved: to be told he was guilty, be told he was worthless. He'd longed for this. In the back of his head a small voice wondered, Riki mattered that much to him?
A gust of wind whipped their coats, and big raindrops plunked around them. Katze's face in the lamplight was stone again, refusing human feeling like the pavement shed the rain.
That's for me, thought Guy hardly knowing what he meant. No compassion. That's mercy.
"You're right," he said. "I killed them. I might as well have slit their throats. And I've thought--" His jaw clenched shut and wouldn't open for a moment. "I don't give a damn about that Blondie bastard."
"He saved your life."
"He got what he asked for. But Riki... Somehow I did it all wrong."
Katze scoffed. "Maiming the people you claim to love usually isn't the best way to show it."
There was a piece of Guy that kept on breaking, like a rib. It knitted itself just to break again. It broke again now. "Then, tell me what I should have done. Because I've thought and I've thought, and I can't figure it out." He clenched his hands in his hair as if the act would pull some new insight out of his brain. "I couldn't leave him there. I couldn't leave him. How else could I get him away from that man?"
Another scoff. "Of course, you had nothing but Riki's best interests in mind."
"I did have his--" Guy stopped. "Okay, so I was angry? I was jealous? I was pitiful? Sure. Are you telling me Riki was happy? You telling me it was good for him to be a slave, a slave--my Riki--for the rest of his life?"
"There a worse things than--"
"So I just should have let it be? You didn't know him, not like I did, when he was kid, and he was our hero, and he was set to take on the world." Guy choked in a breath. "I had to save him. I did the only thing I could think of. And you--you tell me--you've got the gall to tell me--that you cared--?"
"If you think was easy--"
"You had us all fucking arrested! You gave Riki back to him."
Katze flashed an incredulous smile. "I didn't give--"
"What the hell did you ever do for Riki?"
"I told him he should leave Tanagura before Iason came back for him, and the fact that he didn't do it tells you something, doesn't it?"
Guy squeezed his eyes shut till the tears were just more rain. He looked up at Katze. "What do you want from me?"
Katze took a breath and ran his fingers through wet hair. "You wanted me. I'm just telling you I'm willing."
Guy shook his head in confusion. "What, you get off on sleeping with people you hate?"
Katze stared at him--no, at the wall behind him--for long seconds. At last, he gave a slight shrug. "I don't hate you. I don't like you, but like you said, we're the ones we can talk to."
"'Cause this conversation has been so much fun." Guy turned and walked on, a little surprised and--oddly--gratified that Katze continued to walk beside him.
Around them the streets were shot through with chatter, laughter, screams. They were getting near the gate to the Slum, where Guy still lived despite his Midas ID. Because it was home.
Guy glanced at Katze, but Katze was only scanning the street like any sensible night walker. What game is he playing? Only one way to find out.
"When?" Guy asked flatly.
No, it wasn't worth it. Not by a long shot. Let him play his games with someone else. (But I'm the one he can talk to.) "End of the week?"
"I'll take you to my place after work."
Guy gave him a curt nod and walked on, leaving Katze to the rain.
Philippe, the new Blondie in charge of the Market, made Katze miss Iason acutely. Every week, he called Katze to this office to issue orders and demand reports. Iason had had much more finesse. He'd let Katze sit with him once in a while, offered him a drink, asked his opinion of this or that trend in the trades.
With his latest batch of reports to write, Katze would have just gone home and gotten to work if it weren't for his appointment with Guy. He should have canceled it.
If Iason were here, he'd measure Katze with that gaze of his and that fleeting, knowing smile that had thrilled through Katze on those moments when Iason had spared it for him. If Iason were here...
His office door chimed, a minute late. Guy was standing there like a lost tourist with a shopping bag in his hands. He looks like such a big oaf. You'd never guess he'd murder anyone.
"What's that?" Katze nodded at the bag.
With a nervous smile, Guy stepped into the office. "Dinner."
Katze raised his eyebrows fractionally. He's going to wine and dine me? He threw on his coat. "What did you get?"
"Three squash porridge."
Katze cracked a smile. It had been a staple back in Guardian.
"No, the good stuff," said Guy. "From Midas, not Ceres."
Katze turned out the lights and preceded Guy into the hallway. "There is no such thing as good three squash porridge."
"Well, then we don't have to have it," said Guy stiffly.
Good god, the man the was touchy. "It will be fine. It'll be nostalgic."
Their attempts at small-talk sputtered in the car ride to Katze's apartment. The engine whirred over their silence. Katze thought of Guy and Riki and how Guy hadn't known what else to do.
Guy's voice intruded: "Seriously, if you weren't planning on dinner... I don't know how long you were planning to have me over."
Katze glanced at him; he was gazing out the window, forlorn.
"Guy, if I wanted someone to screw and throw out, I'd hire a prostitute." That wasn't true: it wouldn't be worth encouraging rumors about his sexual disadvantage.
Guy just gave him a halfhearted smile.
By the time they reached Katze's apartment, Katze sincerely wanted Guy gone. The whole thing had been a spectacularly bad idea. But he was buried in it now.
"Nice place." Guy stood in the middle of common room, grocery bag clutched like a talisman.
"Let's just do it, all right? I have work stacked up tomorrow."
Guy's lips formed a tight line. "I don't get this. What is this? I know you wanted me that night in the storeroom. That I could feel. But after that damn scene we had in the street... and this load of crap...." He gave a broken laugh. "I may be your employee, but I am not anyone's whore. I don't have to take this shit." He started for the door, ungainly, like always when he moved too fast.
Just let him go.
Guy ignored him, hand on the door.
Katze cast about for something, anything to say... to explain... "You're right."
Guy stopped, his back to Katze.
"That was... rude of me. I just..." Just what? "...find it complicated to... transition from a professional setting to a personal one. I don't do it very often. That transition."
Guy peered at him. After some moments, he hefted his bag onto his hip and threw up his free hand in helpless gesture. "I don't know what you want. I don't even understand how you can--"
The inevitable question. It made Katze angry--not at Guy. At the world. He smothered the anger and took the groceries from Guy, unpacking them at his dinner table.
"Got a pot?" asked Guy from behind.
"No. None. Of course, I have pot." Katze stepped into the kitchen and presented it to Guy, who took it with eyes downcast and set about heating the porridge.
Katze knew he ought to apologize for snapping--but he couldn't. Only inferiors apologized, and in or out of the office, he was Guy's superior, and it was vital their positions remain clear.
He lit a cigarette instead. "It does remind me of home." He nodded at the porridge, surprised to hear himself calling Guardian "home."
"Makes you glad you got away, I guess."
"Yes. And no." He hesitated. "Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like in Ceres."
"You never lived there? Outside of Guardian, I mean."
"I became Furniture at twelve."
Guy said nothing for a moment, then, "In Ceres, it's all about who you know."
Katze gave a slight laugh. "In Ceres, the power players aren't the ones mongrels get to know."
"That's not what I meant. Of course, you have soup bowls?"
Katze got them out, and Guy ladled out the porridge in silence. They sat at the table.
Guy glanced at him. "You eat and smoke at the same time?"
Katze smoked in answer. "So what did you mean?"
"You don't know?" An edge of contempt in Guy's voice that Katze refused to acknowledge.
He shifted his cigarette to his left hand and tried the porridge. "It's not bad." Not as bad as the porridge he remembered anyway.
Guy took a breath. "With Riki, I was happy. Without Riki, I was nothing. When I found out I'd lost Riki to that..." He rubbed a hand over his face. "I was in hell. It's that simple."
Of course, that was what he'd been driving at. I really am dense tonight.
They finished the porridge without speaking.
Katze ground out his cigarette. "Tea?" He asked as they cleared the dishes.
"Sure," said Guy absently, hovering by Katze's side. Not a tea drinker. It wasn't a beverage of choice in Ceres.
After a minute or so, Guy laughed.
"What?" Katze looked up from steeping the tea.
"It smells like your cigarettes." Guy nodded at the tea pot.
"It has the same mild sedative."
"Not too sedative, I hope." Guy brushed his arm lightly, playfully.
It made Katze's heart dip into his stomach. So we're still on? "'Sedating.'" He handed Guy a cup.
"That's the correct form."
"Snob." Guy was smiling.
"Maybe, but the more educated you sound, the more seriously they'll take you."
"I don't give a damn how seriously 'they' take me." They stood in the kitchen, eyes on their tea. "Seriously," said Guy after a moment, "I don't... I don't know what you want. I don't know how you can feel--"
"I feel just like you feel," said Katze shortly. "I may not be able to have orgasms, but I didn't cease to be a human being when they cut me." He kept his voice hard and his eyes on his cup. "I still have a body that needs to be touched."
He could feel Guy's gaze like heat lamp. Then, Guy set down his tea cup and took Katze's, setting it too aside. And placing his hands on either side of Katze's face, he kissed him softly, tasting of porridge and tea. It brought tears to Katze's eyes, actual tears. Not enough that anyone would notice, but he felt them, just a for moment, washing across him like Guy's lips.
He relaxed into Guy's arms, leaned back against the counter, Guy's blockish shoulders solid beneath his hands. Nice sensations: the fabric of Guy's shirt over muscle and bone, Guy's lips tracing his jaw just below the scar, the tickle of Guy's hair on his cheek.
Katze wished it could stay like this, wished he weren't socially obligated to have sex with the man. After all, he wasn't going to get much out of that, was he? He'd just be compromised, exposed, maimed before this man--his employee.
Perversely, the thought made him throw away caution. He draw Guy's face up to his and kissed him fiercely.
When they broke apart, Guy laughed a little. It bothered Katze not to know what that meant. He didn't understand Guy. Didn't know why Guy had chosen him, still wanted him even knowing that he couldn't perform.
Guy's hands were under his shirt. Katze took it off. That part was easy. From there, it got more difficult.
Guy gave him a playful nudge in the direction of the bed--it was out in the common room since Katze shared his apartment with no one. Preceding him, Guy threw off his own shirt, then sat on the bed and went to work on his shoes--big laborer's boots. Katze lowered the central lamp to amber, then got the rest of his clothes off quickly. No point drawing it out.
When he sat beside Guy, Guy drew him close and kissed him again.
He's pointedly not looking--which was a relief. For a little while, it was nice again, lying back in Guy's arms, skin against skin.
"Tell me what you want," Guy whispered close to his ear.
Katze had no idea what he wanted. He wanted his heart to stop hammering. "It doesn't matter. Do what you want, and I'll feel what I can feel."
Guy pulled back a little and looked down at him. "Do you want me inside you?"
By a force of will, Katze met Guy's eyes. "Sure. Why not?"
Dammit, I was bound to make some mistake. "Yeah." He'd bought it yesterday but left it in his coat pocket. With a sense of resignation, he got up and fetched it. What kind of man carries it around in his coat?
But if Guy thought it was strange, he gave no sign. He just took the bottle and applied it to his hardening cock with an expert hand.
I should touch him. I should touch him there.
But Katze held back. He wasn't sure how to do it--not anymore--and he didn't need to flaunt that ignorance. So he kissed his neck instead. Guy drew him close, nuzzling his shoulder, and ran greasy fingers along his ribs. It should have felt good; it did feel good, yet apprehension all but killed the pleasure.
Katze leaned back and pulled Guy down on top of him, wanting to get it over with. Guy's cock rubbed against him, against the scars between his legs. It made Katze blush. He hated to blush. He thought he'd trained himself not to.
"Oh god, we fit so well," breathed Guy. "Even from the front. Oh god." He pressed closer. "I never knew."
Katze wished he would shut up. He found Guy's every word inane.
Slowly, Guy pressed inside him. It hurt like hell in spite of liberal lubrication. It hurt so much that very soon, Katze could focus on nothing but wondering how much longer it would go on.
He expected it to be obvious when Guy came, but it wasn't. After what seemed a long time, Guy simply stopped rocking on him and withdrew. They lay close and very still, Guy's fingers lightly stroking Katze's forehead. Katze didn't look him. He was raw inside and dirty, covered with Guy's sweat. He wanted to be alone. (He had reports to write.) But he couldn't be so cold as to tell Guy to get out.
All at once, Guy bolted upright and gasped. Katze glanced at him, bewildered to see tears stream down his face.
"I'm sorry." Guy stifled his sobs with his hand and made a dash for his clothes.
Katze dashed into his own clothes, glad of their protection. "What's wrong with you?" he demanded. It had all gone wrong. The whole damn night was nothing but one vast humiliation.
What's wrong? How could Guy find words for that?
He'd never imagined this. It was painfully obvious this was Katze's first time. Guy had wondered before, but he had almost no doubt now. At first it had struck him as impossible--and then it struck him as so sad: that a man could live to be twenty-four, twenty-five, and never be touched.
And why should Guy be the one Katze chose? It made him sad that he couldn't figure out how anyone could want him now for anything more than a meaningless fuck. But someone did--because whatever this was, it wasn't that.
Katze trusted him. It was enough to break his heart if he sat down and thought about it: how vulnerable the man had let himself be, how thoroughly Guy could fuck up his authority in the Market just by the slightest innuendo. But Katze had never even asked Guy to keep his secret. It was like he just knew.
But why should he give Guy that kind of trust? Guy didn't deserve it, like he hadn't deserved Riki, who had been so beautiful and bold and bright and who would never be Guy's again--who Guy would never see again, not ever, because Guy had gotten him killed. Maimed him and killed him.
Guy slumped on the edge of the bed, face turned away. He didn't trust himself to hold it together if dared to look at Katze. "Life is so hard." He took a shuddering breath. "Why does life have to be so damn hard?"
There was a silence. Guy blinked at his tears till they fled back a little.
He heard a drawer open, the sound of a lighter.
"Yeah." Guy scarcely glanced up as Katze handed him one and held the lighter to it. He took a drag and exhaled, feeling calmer. "Thanks."
With a sigh, Katze sat on the other side of the bed.
Guy studied his cigarette. "You know, these are a lot better than the ones you get in Ceres."
Katze breathed out a puff of blue smoke. "Why the hell would man who works in Midas still be buying his cigarettes in Ceres?"
Katze just shook his head.
For a while they smoked in silence.
At last, Katze said, "Well, I can't say it hasn't been interesting."
Guy's heart fell into his stomach. That was a wind-up to kiss-off if ever he'd heard one.
Katze took another drag. "I know I'm... not the greatest. Chock it up to the disadvantage. But I...." He trailed off and stubbed out his cigarette.
The tears crept back into Guy's throat. He didn't know what to say either, what to do. After an awkward silence, he stumbled out, "Listen, you're beautiful, and... and I like you. I really like you. And... even if you are a hardass boss."
Katze, who had been watching him gravely, broke into a smile. "I'm a very good boss."
Guy smiled a little too. "I should go." He looked around for an ashtray, but it was on Katze's side.
Katze took Guy's cigarette and put it out for him. "I can drive you home."
"You don't need to." It was time to say goodnight anyway. Time to walk home in the open air.
"Okay." Katze got up and Guy followed suit.
As he threw on his coat, he got up his courage: "Ask you a question?"
Katze made no particular response.
"Why don't you get yourself repaired?"
Katze's eyes went cold. "I am what I am. And although my job may require me to disguise it, I am not ashamed of what I am.... On which note, if you ever breathe a syllable--"
"I won't. I wouldn't."
Katze's face was stone. "Good. You're smart enough not to make me finish the threat."
"Katze. I wouldn't do that." For a moment, they stared each other down. Then, on an impulse, Guy crossed to him and kissed him deeply, gratified--no, relieved--to feel Katze lean into him.
"Will you see me again?" Guy asked, close to his cheek.
Katze pulled away. He looked absently around the room as if he'd misplaced for something. Not finding it, he turned back to Guy. "If I do, do not expect any favors at work. If people guess we have something going on, I'll work you harder to forestall any accusations of favoritism. And when I say 'harder,' I mean without higher pay. I will not adjust your schedule to complement my schedule. And we will not see each other at work, except on work business or if we're leaving at the very end of the day."
"You want more?"
Guy fought down a smile. "And here I thought you were going to lay out conditions."
Katze dropped his eyes almost shyly and brushed a hand down his arm. "It's late. You'd better get going."
"For now," said Guy and, quickly, he seized Katze's hand and kissed it, then walked out into the night.