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Just You and I

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Worick really hates sunsets.

In Ergastulum, you never really get a full view of it, just the bleed of colors up between the space of dented buildings and high above alleys. Even then, it almost seems like all the purples and oranges and reds are trying to avoid touching the city. It's so unlike the gloom of the night that never shies away, overrunning its inhabitants with the kind of darkness made for unsavory habits.

“Ah,” the female voice is heavy with satisfaction, “I just love this time of day.” That’s a client, her content not just from the view outside the window of the house her husband pays for.

As Worick pockets the cash he had her lay out on the table, he wonders if the husband pays for this too.

The client hums, prompting Worick to glance back at her. By now he’s committed the faintest tilt in a woman’s tone to know when she wants something, particularly his attention. He’s sure to have a lazy smile on his face as he meets her gaze.

“Don’t you think so too?” she asks him, eyes raking over his form. She’s been watching him grow since she first started as a client back when he was barely fifteen. He’s pushing seventeen now.

Worick doesn’t so much as peer out her window as he says, with proper infliction, “Oh, but I have better much things to look at.”

She laughs, and as he sees himself out, promises to see him soon.

Worick only waves at her in response.

He's on his second cigarette by the time the black of the night is choking out the last of the pinks of the sky. Street lights have flickered on, an assortment of colors that spoke the language of many vices. 

It’s a quiet enough in the back alley he waits in, leaning against the wall. When he first arrived, he wouldn’t have so much as touched such grime. Now it's more like the grime's long been a new layer of him. Least he’s not wearing one of his best shirts today.

Worick looks at his watch, a nice statement a client pampered him with, when he hears the familiar pad of heavy footsteps. He grinds down a little on the cigarette.

Over half an hour late.

“I should have just waited for you back home,” Worick says. The term ‘home’ is said with as much gusto and legitimacy as the endearments he cooes to his clients.

Nicolas shuffles closer, and Worick knows he’s purposely letting his footsteps be heard for his sake. He’s still the shorter of the two of them, but no longer looks like a deflated body in clothes too big for it. He’s picked up muscle now.

Worick’s noticed it. Youthful, strong, fierce. Nic's hands are large and he’s got a set of lips clients would enjoy if they didn’t loathe or fear him on sight. Worick can’t deny the way he has glanced at his partner like that, how much he bristles thinking that anyone dare consider Nicolas bent over for an hour's worth of crumpled bills.

There’s just enough light creeping into the alley for Worick to see Nicolas signing.

[Job ran late.]

It’s been worse than a job ran late. Nicolas, prior to his recent hire with the Monroe family, often lurked outside clients’ homes waiting for Worick, staring at the buildings as though able to determine if there was a threat from looks alone. It caused a couple of hiccups when clients spilled out into the street for a farewell kiss and noticed Nicolas staring from around the corner.

Now they sometimes meet up toward the end of the days. Worick doesn’t contemplate why, and less of the potential hazards that could befall Nicolas if he roamed back home all alone. There is only so much protection brute strength and Big Mama’s influence can supply.

“Well,” Worick pushes off the wall, “at least that means we can still pick up dinner.”

Nicolas tilts his head. [How many?]

Worick rolls the butt of the cigarette against his lips, looking nowhere in particular as he pretended to have to count. As he takes a drag, he signs the number five.

What Nicolas thinks of that, he doesn’t know. Never really knows, in truth, Nic's thoughts on what he does to stay (pitifully) alive. An upbringing like Nicolas’ easily fucks over the workings of your brain, and years outside of the mercenary group hadn’t really changed that. Then again, Worick supposes he’s not one to talk.

So he doesn’t.

He grins around his smoke and says, “We got a nice sum tonight. Ribs it is? Client told me of a good place.”

It’s one of Nicolas’ preferred foods. He doesn’t really have favorites of anything, neither of them do. Having a favorite implied preciousness, and this city collected the sort of lowly fucks who might as well think that was a foreign term.

Still, Nicolas’ eyes barely widen, and he’s stepping up to Worick’s side. At first, he keeps a few paces behind, but soon he catches himself and walks alongside Worick instead.

Worick can’t say he’s thrilled about the way Nic catches himself, but it’s progress.

Their walk’s barely begun when Worick stops, knowing Nicolas will do the same. He blows out a stream of smoke away from Nicolas’ face before looking at him.

He flicks a finger up, expectant.

Nicolas glowers at him.

“Don’t be a brat,” Worick says. He repeats the motion, harder.

Nicolas holds his stare before he lifts his shirt up. It’s a little difficult to make out the blotch of discoloration on his side. Worick twirls his finger, slowly, and Nicolas definitely gives him a stink eye before showing his back.

It’s a mess of lacerations of a landfill of bruises. Late job indeed.

Worick steps closer to better inspect. Nicolas strains to look over at him beyond his shoulder.

He gives Nicolas a light tap to his shoulder to signal he’s done, and the Tag turns back around.

“You didn’t overdose,” Worick says, more to himself despite Nicolas reading his lips.

Nicolas’ shake of his head is delayed, and it’s enough to make Worick want to groan and smack himself in the face. It’s not been two weeks since the last overdose. Seems the time for another is fast approaching.

Worick takes a last, long drag, before crushing the smoke against the wall. One hand reaches out as he says. “Hand them over.”

Nicolas doesn’t look like he wants to.

“Nicolas.”

The Tag begrudgingly fishes out his pills, and Worick helps himself to taking them. A quick glance confirms the amount for later comparison. He smiles and spins back around on his heels, tucking them away.

Their walk is quiet amongst them and hardly quiet beyond that.

Worick’s pretty sure he hears someone getting blown an alley over. He knows the sounds. He’s been on the giving end of a handful of those back when he and Nic had been on the precipice of desperation. Even with a face like his though, he had to earn his keep, and, well, Big Mama knew how to cultivate sex for profit, especially when clients were few and far between at the very start.

After all, Big Mama’s motherly affection only extends as deep as you can fill her cleavage with the green. Back then, Worick could almost forget that ‘Big Mama’ was not a business title. Eventually Worick weaned off dick altogether (luckily there wasn't much), but still finds himself between a pair of thighs all these years later.

His father would have been pleased with his resulting line of work.

They way to dinner is paused a few times when Nicolas smells something, attention piqued by potential trouble, or when a scuffle breaks out nearby and they have to deviate to another route. One particular delay is enough that Worick has to divert Nicolas’ focus away from some stray kitten. Like there aren't enough of those.

It doesn’t work well and they end up treading through the scarred backstreets with a new addition hidden in Nicolas’ jacket.

At the food stall, Worick has to order more than a filling for two while Nicolas waits in the alley, and it’s completely dark when they make their way to their place. It’s dingy, but theirs, and it’s not a bed at Pussy that Worick has to rely on to have his nightmares.

Nicolas unloads his new cargo out of his jacket. With one hand he manages to sign, [What about Big Mama?]

Worick waves him off. “As long as I check in in the morning,” he says. Big Mama knows how much his trips outside of Pussy make, and he knows the risk of swindling her out of cash is not worth the impulse he gets on a weekly basis to do just that. Plenty of his clients are outside of the brothel now. Not many women like the implications of entering such a place as it is, and Worick's fine with that.

Nicolas shrugs, then goes back out to place the kitten in an alcove next to their door with food and water. Worick follows and drapes against the doorframe, watching the way Nicolas perks his chin on his knees, observing the feline but not touching.

They retreat back inside soon after.

“It better not piss all over the front.” Worick says. “I have enough clients who want to try that stuff as it is.”

Nicolas pulls a face. [With pissing?]

Worick smirks. “You didn’t know?”

[Disusting.]

“There’s big money in crazy kinks, you know.”

How true it is. Worick still feels his stomach lurch and something boil in him each time someone talks shit about Nicolas better off at the tranny brothel nearby that caters to the less-normative. He’s never mentioned it to Nicolas, even as a passing joke.

Nic signs harder. [DISGUSTING.]

Worick chuckles and shrugs both shoulders. “That’s not even the worst stuff I’ve heard about.”

[Spare me.]

“It’s not all bad,” Worick says, his whine leveled off by his grin. It falls flat when he turns away and beckons Nicolas to follow. Nic does, if a little begrudgingly. Dinner has to wait.

Their bathroom is a toilet stationed precariously close to the tub. It took weeks to find a place that didn’t have just a shower, and much longer to scrape enough to afford it. As Worick sits on the lip of the tub, there’s barely enough room for Nicolas to settle down in front on the ground.

Worick waits until Nicolas gets up on his own and sits on the closed toilet instead.

Worick gestures and Nicolas gradually slips out of his shirt.

A tongue adept as Worick’s knows the art of communication as much as it knows silence. To think how quiet he is assessing the mottled skin when juxtaposed with the massacre of so many years past, of how his younger self kept screaming, whimpering, all this noise. Worick supposes the circumstances are different now, but, really, they’re not.

So, when he hisses at the sight, it’s more for show than anything else.

Nicolas blinks patiently at him, though he offers a little shrug as if to say he barely feels it. More likely he’s adjusted to the pain, has lived with its fingers borrowed in him so long he may mistake its throb for his own heartbeat.

Worick has pain too, and has thought, usually under the weariness of another bad night’s sleep, that he’ll never acclimate.

“Back first,” Worick says. He’s not sure why warns him. At this point, Worick knows he’s the only one that can approach Nicolas’ back without his senses jerking him into an attack.

Once, Worick asked him why that is (he’d been curious and drinking that night), and Nicolas simply told him he knows when it’s him.

It’s a confession Worick still doesn’t know what to do with.

They scoot around until Worick is behind Nicolas. The damage is condensed to Worick’s level of ability; he knows how much of what to cut and how much of that or this to dab into cotton before applying it. Really though, they’ll have to have Nicolas seen regardless, but he’s not up for that argument now.

Tomorrow, he decides.

For now, he has the sweep of Nicolas’ back, the lean tapering of his waist. Once he’s patched what he can, he lets his fingers graze over the Tag’s back. Not a trace of the slave mark, the new one devouring it in ink so dark it could convince anyone they had no scars.

Nicolas angles his head back and narrows one eye at Worick.

“I think I may have a doctor’s touch,” Worick says, puckering up. “I’m just that good.”

[Don't blow your own horn.]

“I got clients for that.”

[Dumbass.]

Worick hums as he maneuvers the small space with Nicolas so they face each other. Settled again, he tilts the Tag’s chin aside to confirm there’s no damage to his throat. Anything suspicious would have them hauling a protesting Nicolas to the clinic immediately.

Nicolas’ pulse is strong beneath his fingertips. He’s wondered if Nicolas can almost hear it when he stands or sits so still, like a gargoyle. Funny thing, that old legend of a gargoyle spouting fire and subsequently mounted to a church once defeated to serve as protection, when in truth Worick read their main purpose was to divert water from the buildings they were affixed to.

Nicolas doesn’t flinch as he’s touched, down his collarbone, to his sides. A body that’s known, still knows, the full spectrum of bruises. Worick knows them too, but it’s less his body now that’s wrecked with them, at least not in the same ways.

If nothing else, it’s under their terms now.

“I think you might have a cracked rib,” Worick says through his prodding. "Or badly bruised at least."

Nicolas winces at one particular poke and he grits his teeth. Worick laughs.

“Guess we pay that Theo a visit tomorrow.”

Nicolas shakes his head.

“Oh, come on. You’re not scared of him?”

Nicolas frowns.

“I could try to kiss it better.”

A snort.

“You doubt my skill?” Worick puckers up, more so when Nicolas sneers.

He drops it back down to a smile, eyes drifting to Nicolas’ lips. They’re full and less in a perpetual scowl as so many think. Worick’s seen the gamut of Nicolas’ lips in motion, from the heavy set frowns, the blank line of impassiveness, the smiles as sharp as his weapon and such a far cry from the coy tilt of Worick’s lips.

“You should know,” he says, returning to patching, “kisses are such big deals in stories.”

[Those are stories.]

“My clients are big on kisses. It’s like foreplay for them.”

Nicolas blinks, detached from understanding that logic.

Worick chuckles through his nose, not surprised. “I’m sure some would think it’s a shame you haven’t had a kiss.” Not that he’s directly asked, but by now he’s familiarized himself with stories of just how deep the depravity of mercenaries can be. A part of him always did wonder the extent of their abuse on Nicolas.

[They wouldn't think that. They don't like me.]

Worick pauses at that. “You don’t agree then?”

He’s not expecting a response, so when Nicolas lifts his hands to sign again, he stills his own against Nicolas' always hot skin.

[It doesn't matter.]  He adds a sign equivalent of ‘pointless’, but Worick translates it more to ‘stupid’ given the dismissive way he signed it.

Worick digests that as his fingers feel each, small breath Nicolas draws in. The body beneath his fingers is born from training and jobs alike, an otherwise collection of dips and rises any eye can appreciate. Even the scars hold stories clients liked to fantasize about. Trouble is people saw the chain hanging off the neck before it wandered any lower.

His hands raise, slowly, but not out of a consideration to not startle Nicolas. Worick can drive his fist right for Nicolas’ face and he still knows the sword will not cut him down.

But his hands are gradual all the same, coming to push into Nicolas’ jaw, steady his face. Nicolas looks perplexed even if he doesn’t jerk away. Worick stares, expression blank, down at that face, noticing a bruise rising to a cheek. One more pain, minuscule as it is, amongst the slew of agony still to fill every corner of his psyche before he’s allowed to die.

It's easy to assume Nicolas’ lips belong to him as much his as the rest of his life, and yet, strangely, it’s not a thought in Worick’s mind when he leans forward.

The tension comes and wanes in the span of two heartbeats. It’s a pressure of mouth against mouth, but Worick wouldn’t allow anything so vanilla to be the extent of it; he grips Nicolas’ face harder, angling it so he learns the outline of a mouth he’s looked at enough times to know what slant of their heads will mesh them together just so.

Nicolas tenses again, grunts, almost retreats. Worick’s hands drift farther back, one cupping the nape of Nic’s neck, deepening the kiss, murmuring against it slowly so Nic understands his words.

In intervals, Nicolas’ lips part, and it’s all Worick needs to introduce his tongue into the experience. It’s all new, fresh, and so unlike the clients who know what they want, know what their money is going toward. Nicolas’ mouth is domain not yet ventured for Worick and only Worick’s exploration, and somehow it fuels him to press in a little closer.

Nicolas’ tongue, however little its used, is all kinds of fumbling. Worick withdraws, keeping his hands where they’re at, leaning back enough to take in Nic’s face. It looks a little pinker than he remembers, and he’s momentarily distracted by the tongue that sweeps across Nic’s lips.

Nicolas stares at him.

“Well, there you go,” Worick says, like it was a favor. He thinks he should stand and leave soon. Something keeps him rooted to their crappy, little bathroom.

He’s still touching Nicolas, he realizes as an afterthought.

Then, Nicolas parts those recently handled lips and says, "WeiRd."

Worick stares back at him.

He laughs.

He drops one hand to press to his face as he rides out the small fit. He can’t help it, not with the way Nicolas keeps licking his lips as if trying to reclaim a taste of something, looking so naive that people might think it was for show.

“I guess it is,” Worick manages to say. “But it makes for decent pay, and it isn’t just from doing it mouth to mouth.”

Nicolas tilts his head again.

Worick smirks at him. “I’ll save that for another day, but let’s just say it’s a good thing you’re not in the business.”

Nicolas’ sticks his tongue out, unamused.

The temptation’s there to catch it between his teeth, but Worick retreats from it by standing. There’s still dinner only getting colder.

“Man, I’m starved. I bet I worked up your appetite, huh?”

A crude sign and Nicolas helps put away the first aid before he grabs their dinner. He glances up at the ceiling and waits until Worick leads the way out and up another stairwell.

The roof of the building is always empty, a large enough space to mislead Worick into thinking he's on an island, where no one can reach them and nothing below their eye level exists, and all the other rooftops are islands too far to ever reach.

Just them and the sky.

They lean back against a wall where the door's fixed to and eat without conversing, as is habit. Nicolas can eat anything put in front of him, and it’s only the last year or two where he’s refined his tastes enough that he’ll lean toward the spicier and sweet things. Really anything with a kick to it, that awakens taste buds that otherwise have endured the bland and stale for so many years before.

They don’t go back in once they’re done eating.

Worick lights a smoke while Nicolas stretches out his legs and looks up. He does that often, in the rare moments when he isn’t obligated to look ahead, or resist the habit of looking down at his feet.

It’s a rare night where the sky is alight with as many stars that can wink through the burn of the city lights. Even with stars though, the darkness from which they reach out of is so dark it looks eternal. On some nights, Worick swears he sees shades of red blurred into the black, rich as blood.

Just like some nights, Worick is almost drunk enough to pretend the world’s burned to ash around their building, and it’s just him and Nicolas sitting on the roof with the infinity of the night pressing down over them, ready for them to fall in.

It's far better than any sunset.

"I bet you like sunsets," Worick says, aware Nic's not reading his lips. Would Nicolas see a sunset as a symbol of a new day to come, of something better just beyond the horizon of colors that seem incapable of existing as vibrant in this city? Or maybe he thinks they're messy, a blur of colors that can't make up their mind, and signals for the time of day where nightmares run rampant?

He never asks. Yet, the way Nic watches the night sky, Worick is inclined to think he prefers that abyss. Maybe. 

At least more than sunrises, so bright as if stabbing straight out of Worick's eye sockets. He avoids them as much as he can. But, it'll be hours and hours, but never enough hours, until the sun creeps back on them. Until then, Worick sucks in a deep drag, kicks out a leg to lean against Nicolas’, and thinks what book they’ll each read tonight. Sometimes, he sneaks a glance over.

More than once, he catches Nicolas rubbing his lips together.