Worick had hated Romeo and Juliet since his teens: pretty poetry wrapped around a trite play about dumbass, hormonal kids. He'd only kept it because it was Shakespeare and Nic deserved access to Shakespeare.
He couldn't say what made him pick it up again twenty years later. But now it fell on him like a thunderclap, and he understood.
He let a piece of that understanding slip coming back from the orgy. Working parties was not his bag anymore, but they had bills and, even though the invitation wrecked his plans for the evening, the money was too good to pass up.
When he stumbled in, lightly plastered, at 2 a.m., Nic was up reading. That was their protocol. When they were out on a job, nobody went to bed until everybody was accounted for. But in his hazy, rosy bad mood, Worick found it touching.
It had been a rough night. He'd cancelled a real date just to be groped by twenty sweaty strangers. It made him feel his age. Being a gigolo used to be fun—well, parts of it: being heartthrob to dozens of girls, and getting paid to have orgasms wasn't too shabby. But he was losing his tolerance for idiots, and he didn't like how it wore him out these days.
He sauntered over to Nic and half fell on the couch.
Nic looked oddly, unproportionally tall, staring down at him. You look like hell, he signed.
"I've got no girlfriend, I'm sore all over, and I have no sex drive left."
Nic grinned. Welcome to my life.
He hauled Worick up and deposited him, fully dressed, in bed.
Worick yawned and looked up at him blearily, their lives striking him as ironic. "Thanks, my Romeo."
Nic narrowed his eyes. Your what?
Through his fog, Worick realized he'd blundered. "Never mind." He turned away into his pillow.
"Idiot," came Nic's voice a moment later. A blanket settled over his shoulders.
A month later, they were at home fighting over Nic's latest tussle with some mercenary Tag in District 6.
It was a legit job, said Nic.
"You didn't have to cut his arm off."
He was asking for it.
"It's going onto your goddamn record now."
Worick threw up his hands in frustration. "That has always been your attitude. You whip around your katana like you just don't fucking care!" He flopped into his desk chair and felt for a cigarette. "And I'm out of smokes again."
Nic had gone still and went on standing there while Worick fished through his desk drawers for an extra pack.
No pack and he couldn't take the statue thing anymore. "What?"
You called me Romeo because I killed your family.
"The hell?" For a moment, Worick was certain Nic had read his mind. Then, that night came back to him. "I was drunk. People say stupid shit when they're drunk."
In vino veritas, Nic spelled.
"You read too much. You know that?"
Nic just stood there.
"What do you want me to say?" said Worick, suddenly tired. In the tense space that followed, he was relieved Nic knew better than to answer, relieved he himself had the sense not to answer for Nic. "Look, that's not what I meant. I just meant we ditched our shitty families and ran off together. That's all."
Nic turned away and went downstairs.
Worick hadn't been fair to them, Romeo and Juliet. Who knew how their lives might have ended up if they hadn't done themselves in? Sure, three months later, they might have been bored with the sex and holed up penniless in a garret screaming about how they'd ruined each other's lives. But maybe not.
It took a particular kind of courage to throw away everything to be with someone. And it really didn't matter how much you loved that person: no amount of love could make that sacrifice not real. When you gave up your home, your identity and went off in the middle of the night with nothing, and starved and begged and borrowed and stole and did worse just to keep from dying, when year after year people just kept on telling you that the two of you couldn't possibly make it together, that you can't get too attached, that you're not the same, that you ought to stick with your own kind, when nobody seemed to understand it was too late for all those warnings, that you were in it together, not just a couple of names on a contract—well, you couldn't say that wasn't real. It took guts to stick it out. Maybe it took a streak of inhumanity.
Nic was absolutely right. He had killed Worick's family, and Worick had stuck with him anyway, and that choice was real. It couldn't be erased. His father had got what he damn well deserved, but his stepmother had never done anything worse than ignore him; his brother hadn't either. He and Nic had left behind a houseful of dead bodies that should not have been dead.
Worick's better judgment didn't blame Nic for it really. Nic had been a kid, filled with rage and raised to kill from the day he was born. He behaved liked he'd been trained to. It was harder to forgive himself for staying with him, as if to do so were to say, "They were all murdered, but it's okay."
As their thirties had crept up on them, Worick found it increasingly difficult to push aside the question of what he'd do when Nic was gone. He thought about it at odd moments: cooking breakfast while Nic was in the shower, spacing out while balancing a budget sheet, in the middle of sex with his clients. There was a possibility that without the medical bills, even minus Nic's income, he might be financially better off. Maybe he could ease back on work (one type or another), sort of semi-retire. And do what? Hang out with the usual suspects? Watch Nina be sad and then less sad and then go on with life? Slowly turn into Chad?
He'd finally decided he'd do one of two things: leave Ergastulum and see the world or put a bullet in his head. Or maybe first the one and then the other.
On the day they celebrated Nic's thirty-fourth birthday, they went out to dinner at Bastard with Delico and Yang. Nic looked Christmasy in the red scarf Nina had knit for him, and which Worick was confident he would never be seen in again. Yang, who had overindulged in the complementary champagne, was telling a convoluted story about this girl he'd been dating. As he burbled on and on, Delico just sat even more subdued than usual and looking increasingly lovelorn.
Nic flicked his eyes to Delico and raised a slight eyebrow at Worick. Worick raised an eyebrow in return and glanced at Yang. This evolved into a game in which they took turns glancing meaningfully at Delico and then at Yang to see how long until Yang got the hint.
Finally, their expressions got so broad that Delico said, "Cut it out, guys. He's trying to talk."
As for the story itself, what stood out to Worick was that this girl, barely older than Yang, had a ten-year-old kid. Yang—if he had started early—was old enough to have a ten-year-old kid. When had that happened? How had Nic ended up thirty-four already?
Not too long after the birthday dinner, there'd been that morning when Nic had sauntered up the stairs and announced he was heading to Theo's.
Worick glanced at the calendar. "Your first delivery's in District 2."
I'm just going to get checked out first said Nic and grabbed a jacket off the peg.
"Hey, get your hands off my Mrs. Gibbs romancing jacket."
I'll have it back by Friday. Nic made for the door.
Worick intercepted him. "What's Theo checking you out for?"
It's not serious.
"Then why is he checking you out?"
Nic hesitated. Just some bleeding.
"Where?" Worick found himself wishing Nic had some obvious bloody bandage. The other possibilities were scarier.
In the toilet. Do you want the details? The last part came with an angry flourish, and Nic brushed past him out the door.
Worick did kind of want the details. Internal bleeding could be a sign of organ failure.
He grabbed an inferior jacket and dove out the door. "Well, partner, I guess I'll come with," he said, his smile plastered on good. "If you can start your deliveries late, no reason I can't too, right?"
Halfway to District 7, Nic got dizzy. He covered it pretty well, but Worick had years of practice at spotting the signs: the way his steps weaved a little and he drew his shoulders forward as if a weight were pulling him back. Worick walked beside him, ready to throw a steadying arm around him. But Nic made it on his own.
While Nic was in with Theo, Nina gave Worick a cup of coffee in her bunny cup and they hatched a plot to gang up on Nic about buying a bed for himself. It was a joke, of course. You couldn't part Nic from his chair.
Meanwhile, the other half of his mind was counting years.
If Worick would be thirty-five next month, that meant Veronica was… thirty-seven? And she was still hanging on, and she'd abused Celebrer worse than Nic. So—bar accidents—Nic might well have a shot at making it to thirty-seven… piled into his chair on an IV drip?
Half Twilights could make it all the way to their forties. Gal was almost forty and he was doing great. But those Twilights weren't fucking ODers.
Theo appeared from behind a curtain. "He'll sleep a few hours. I dosed him in down a bit."
"You what? He was already down." He threw back the curtain to Nic curled on his side.
Nina scurried in to sit beside him.
Theo handed him a cigarette. "Not in here," he said as Worick automatically went for his lighter. "He was woozy. That's not the same as being chemically down. His vitals were all elevated. It's just the usual imbalance though."
"Why was he bleeding?"
"Just hemorrhoids. That's a pretty ordinary side-effect of increased venous pressure from his speeding." Theo had long since given up on any strict interpretation of confidentiality. He handed Worick a slip of paper. "Here's a breakdown of the charges if I rent the equipment to deal with that. Or I can recommend someone uptown but it'll cost you more."
"Just rent it," said Worick, grabbing his jacket. "I've got deliveries to run."
When he came back after lunch, Nic was still out cold and Nina with a patient. Worick took Nina's seat beside him and ran his fingers through Nic's hair the way Nina would and told himself it was just the routine chemical imbalance that made Nic feel wonky every once in a while and hemorrhoids were not serious. Everything was okay.
Everything was okay. This was just another little scare in a daily routine made up of scares. It wasn't the real thing. Words popped into his head the way they sometimes did. It was a curse of his hyperactive memory.
He leaned over and whispered to Nic's sleeping form, "Yon light is not day-light, I know it, I. Therefore stay yet; thou need'st not to be gone."
Not now. Not yet.