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One Diagonal Scar

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Chapter : 1 Like A Clock

Sometimes it strikes him as so fucking clichéd that he laughs aloud. He knows it's a boy he's watching, although it took him a while to work it out, and the strange feeling that had scrabbled up the back of his neck the first time he saw him climb back out of the woman's car into the pyramid of streetlight is still with him.

Axel knows it's a boy down there, across the street, alone on the wet sidewalk under the lamp post, almost every night. He's taken to standing by his window, watching, and can stay there for hours, until a car pulls up to the kerb or someone saunters down the street, switches sides just a little too soon, stops just a little too casually to ask the time or for a light for a cigarette. And the flare of the match against the rain-darkened brick throws the faces into sharp relief, and Axel closes his eyes and turns away, wondering why the hell he does this to himself.

Sometimes, once the liaison has been made, Axel leaves his room. Sometimes he can't stay by the window, watching the rain falling through the empty cone of light, listening to his heartbeat measure out the time until a car pulls back up to the kerb, or the slight figure comes shambling back down the street, hands jammed in pockets, shoulders up collars up, hunched against the night. Sometimes he has to get out, and he walks the same streets; feels the same rain against different skin, the same chill numbing different lips; aimlessly wandering through the night. Not looking for him.

Night after night, like a single reel from an old B movie, played over and over until Axel can almost see the dust and scratches on the decaying print, the ghosts and gaps in the emulsion. He doesn't know what he's waiting for, or can't admit it if he does.

--

It doesn't start straight away. The boy isn't there when Axel rents the apartment. All he remembers is driving home one night, later than usual, after a worse than usual day, and noticing the figure slouching under the street light across from his block straighten up and glance in his direction as he slows to turn onto the ramp to the parking lot. He remembers thinking a whore – that's just great and worrying about his car; about pimps in the stairwell; syringes in the mailbox. He remembers glancing down into the street from his window and seeing the figure under the street light talking into a cell phone; remembers twitching the curtains shut.

--

Axel stands by the window, staring with empty eyes at the empty puddle of light under the street lamp. He's been looking into it for a while, trying not to see the dark shape humped just beyond its edge, against the wall. Trying to forget the ugly drunken laughter; the squeal of the over-revved van pulling away; the thud of the body hitting the asphalt. Trying not to worry in case they come back. His hands are shaking so he jams them into his armpits.

Somehow he's in the street, looking up at his own apartment window, half expecting to see himself silhouetted there against the glimmer. But nobody is watching as he squats down on the edge of the circle of light.

"Got a cigarette?"

The voice is hoarse, and Axel winces to hear it, but he can tell that the boy is younger than him, if only by a year or two. He tugs a crumpled pack of cigarettes out of a pocket and sends it skimming across the sidewalk, out of the light.

"Thanks," the boy grunts, and then "Can you take it out for me? I think they broke my fingers."

"Shit." Axel stands up slowly, as if the air has congealed, and takes the three paces that separate him from the figure on the ground, following the cigarettes into the darkness. Just for a moment he stands over the boy, wonders what the fuck he's doing, and drops back onto his haunches, groping for the cellophane-wrapped packet glinting softly in the darkness. His hand knocks against something and there's a sharp intake of breath.

"Sorry. Here." He lights the cigarette, holds it out. The faint flare of the inhale illuminates a curve of lip; a jut of nose, cheek and chin.

"Can you stand?" He hears the shrug of the boy's jacket against the wall, the ragged whistle of his breathing.

"I'm okay, don't sweat it."

Axel closes his eyes, wanting this to be easy, wanting this to not be happening, wanting to grab onto the lamp post because he feels like he's falling.

"Come and get cleaned up, at least," he says flatly. "I live there." He nods towards the dark apartment building across the street, and in the darkness he can feel the boy smiling, I spite of the pain.

"I know where you live," Axel hears him mutter, and reaches out a hand.

--

Axel sleeps on the couch, or rather doesn't, but lies awake listening to the knocks and taps of the faulty air conditioning unit; to the indistinguishable drone of a million lonely TV sets; to the perfunctory few minutes of headboard banging as the couple in the apartment above him have their otherwise silent fortnightly fuck. When it's over he opens his eyes and looks at the boy asleep on his narrow bed, sheet tangled around his knees; at the shadows that cling to every bony hollow of him; at the skin stretched like waxed paper over his protruding skeleton, purple where the bruises are starting, almost transparently pale everywhere else. Shit, that's beautiful, Axel thinks, and immediately hates himself.

Later, Roxas – awake in a strange room, panic starting – sees the scarecrow silhouette against the dawn-dark window staring down into the street, and falls back to sleep.

--

Axel never asks, and Roxas never tells.

--

Axel still leaves for work in the mornings, but it's getting harder, and he's starting to feel the boy tangled up in nightmares like a physical drag. He feels as if he's wandered too close to a collapsing sun, and wonders how something so small, so fragile and incandescent can be so powerful; so inescapable. He moves through his days at the plant like an automaton, the Bud-boobs-hey-how-'bout-that-Ramirez-them-Rays-don't-stand-a-chance banalities tripping from his tongue like always, his never mind that I look like a freak I'm really Just Plain Folks façade not even beginning to slip. But behind it and beneath it, Axel feels as though he's turned in on himself and is burning, fever approaching 108, about to be consumed.

Back at his apartment, Roxas is never there waiting, and he stands by the window until a car pulls back up to the kerb, or the slight figure comes shambling back down the street, bandaged hands jammed in pockets, shoulders up collars up, bruised and broken ribs hunching him against the night.

--

While Roxas mends, Axel sleeps on the couch. Or rather doesn't. Roxas, looking up into the bottle-green eyes dulled with exhaustion, says "You and me need to go out."

Axel sits at his kitchen table, striking matches with his thumbnail, lost in the dancing cobalt, emerald and orange, trying to understand what Roxas means, trying to remember how to breathe.

"Yeah," Roxas says. "I've been wanting to show you some things. Are you fit to drive?"

The match sputters out as Axel exhales.

--

They take a cab. Axel has no idea where they are going, but Roxas leans in to the driver and mutters something into his ear, passes a fistful of crumpled bills through the glass, and slides back against Axel's shoulder.

Axel sits motionless with his hands splayed against the fake leather seat, feeling the sweat grow chill between his fingers, feeling Roxas shift against him, feeling every one of the boy's vertebrae pressing into him from armpit to hip as Roxas settles against him. Axel is on fire, blazing, burnt through in an instant, and every jolt, every bump in the road, every breath filled with the smell of Roxas' hair threatens to crumble him to a pile of smouldering ash.

"Where are you taking me?" he finally manages to ask.

"There," Roxas points out of the window.

--

Axel stands on the beach on the edge of the city where the grey boxy factories peter out and the sprawling railroad yard unravels into a wilderness of scrub and sand running down to the lakeshore. He watches Roxas picking his way through the line of debris at the water's edge, sees him stoop to pick something from the litter, stares back into the slate grey water merging imperceptibly with the ash grey sky, and walks slowly back to where he left his boots and socks on the edge of the broken foundation behind him. Roxas had insisted that they paddle, and now there's coarse grit and sand jammed into the spaces between his toes. It's painful, but he leaves it, relishing the caustic grind of it against his skin. A horn sounds, and he turns to where the cab is waiting a hundred yards back, where the concrete service road runs out, under the skeleton of a dead tree.

Roxas wanders up to him and hands him the thing he's found in the litter. It's a torn photograph, with edges charred and surface melted and obscured by smoke. "Time to be getting back," he says cheerfully.

--

It's dark by the time the cab pulls up outside Axel's apartment, and Roxas has fallen asleep against him, goosefleshing the side of his neck with his breath. Axel pays the fare and half carries Roxas up the stairs, feeling the boy's ribs grind beneath his hand.

"Is everything mended now?" he asks, as Roxas sits on the end of the bed, pulling off his boots.

Roxas nods. "Everything's back where it belongs," he says as he unbuttons his shirt and slips it off his bony shoulders. Fading purple and yellow blooms blotch his jutting ribs. Axel stares at him, thinking of the painted candy skeleton someone had brought him once from some Mexican death carnival. He looks up and meets Roxas' gaze. "Except for you," Roxas says, and drops his eyes.

Axel pushes a hand into his hair and kisses him, hard.

"Who did you think I was waiting for?" Roxas murmurs.

Axel never asks, and Roxas never tells.

Chapter : 2 Picnic On A Frozen River

Axel stands by the window, staring down at the empty puddle of light beneath the street lamp. Roxas isn't there, but still Axel watches, night after night, remembering. Remembering when the slight figure bleached by the lamp's flicker had pulled on him like dark matter, vague, unknown, possibly not even real. Remembering how much it had hurt to stand here, invisible and silent, seeing the chauffeurs take him away to be pawed over by bored society matrons, or by their fat husbands. Remembering how his fingers would jump and his shoulders hunch when the collar-turned-up, cap-pulled-low construction workers would stoop to tie their boot laces and – straightening up – notice him under the light; sidle over; lead him away. Remembering how it felt to sleep.

That first night, afterwards, while Roxas lay curled and sleeping, his slow breath making the fine hairs on Axel's midriff dance, Axel had lain propped against the headboard, gazing into the middle distance, feeling the last tingling ghosts of what had just happened evaporate. He had been hesitant, a little reluctant, not wanting to be another of the demands under the streetlight, but Roxas had called him stupid, and had wordlessly, imperatively, irresistibly, let him know just how different this was.

Propped against the headboard; Roxas asleep against him. In his sleep, the hard lines of his face relaxed; his pinched brow softened; and his eyes became pools rather than stones. The first time he'd seen it, Axel's heart had been in his throat, hammering madly, oh shit he's dead, oh Christ don't let him be dead, but the second time he'd realised that when he wasn't dreaming, Roxas slept with his eyes open. It was disconcerting, seeing those great dark eyes swimming in the sleeping face, staring at nothing, or more often at him.

"What do you see?" Axel wondered. "Can you see me?" But Roxas was asleep, and in the morning laughingly refused to believe him. Axel – unable to sleep while this was still so new, and fragile, and transient - stayed awake, watching Roxas asleep against him, marvelling at the fragility of him, measuring the passing of time by the fading blooms of the bruises on his ribs. And when his eyes closed, and the pinched-up look came back, and he stirred and cried out softly, Axel would murmur secrets into his ear, and settle him under his gentle hand.

Outwardly, Axel's life settled back into routine. Almost, it was his old life, the only difference being that the hooker who had worked the street under his window had moved into his apartment. In the mornings Axel would stumble and curse and not come alive until he was halfway to the plant, singing off-key to the rock music blaring from the dash, still drawing looks – even after all this time – as he manoeuvred the red '68 Z28 convertible through the rush hour traffic. Almost like always, except that now there was something more valuable than his car.

Still he would move through his days at the plant like an automaton, the clock-on grumbling and sore-head grimaces of his workmates slowly giving way to the Bud-boobs-hey-how-'bout-that-Ramirez-them-Rays-don't-stand-a-chance banalities like always; the clock-off laughter and back-slapping only a veneer that didn't quite cover the resentment for wives and kids and dreary evenings in front of the TV set. Almost like always, only Axel doesn't sneer at them from his own isolation anymore, because now there's something waiting for him, too, only it's something scintillant and strange and as intangible and necessary as the air.

Almost the old routine. Axel wakes up in the morning and goes to work and comes home and there's Roxas. Only now he knows his name, and can smell the odd dry scent of him like pencil shavings, and he doesn't have to imagine their conversations anymore, or what it feels like to be kissed by him.

"So what does it feel like?" Roxas asks him one day.

Sharp-tongued Axel is floored, momentarily. "It feels like…. Like…" Standing by the window, staring down into the street at the figure under the light, Axel had taken a kiss from him a thousand times, in a hundred different ways. But in the end, when Roxas had half-fearfully invited him back into his own bed and he'd just grabbed hold of the back of his head and felt their teeth click together in their shared urgency, it had felt like…

"…like the time is out of joint." The only thing they'd ever tried to teach him in sixteen years of school that had stuck, and it turned out to be a fucking play from a million years ago. It had got inside him somehow, and gnawed at him, and for a while he had thought himself Hamlet. "Like… at first… it felt like sand falling through an hourglass." Axel grins shyly and glances at the floor; at Roxas; at the floor. "Like one of those clocks that only has an hour hand. And when you watch them they never move, but if you look away and back, time has passed." Axel breaks off, blushing.

Roxas is sitting on the stool by the bathroom mirror, his back to Axel, applying mascara. The wand is poised halfway to his eye, and there's a smudge of black on his cheek. His hand is shaking. "Go on," he breathes, transfixed by the laughing, sardonic, blazing man behind him who cannot be saying these things.

"It feels like honey. It feels like the seasons changing. Like… like… dirt working its way under your finger nails. It feels like…. What?" Axel falls silent as he catches sight of Roxas' reflection. He's staring at him, lips parted, his breath clouding the glass ever so slightly. The flush on his cheeks and his darkened eyelashes heighten his pallor and make him look like a photograph of a silent film star, hand-tinted colour over black and white.

"Did you have any plans?" Roxas asks.

"When for?"

"Ever."

Axel laughs, almost the old knowing smirk back again, but now the laughter's not cruel. Now the laughter is shared with someone.

X

There is a biting wind blowing off the lake and the sky is a dirty leaden grey. At the plant the clock-on grumbling is about frozen fuel tanks and transformers exploding, but Axel is worrying about Roxas. Axel never asks, and Roxas never tells, but neither of them is stupid, and Axel knows well enough that Roxas doesn't just sit around the apartment all day while he's at work. He imagines the fragile figure standing on a corner in the freezing air, wearing the same thin t-shirt and jacket as always. He imagines him stamping his feet and blowing on his fingers, face pinched and red in the sub-zero morning; imagines him climbing into the front of someone's car, thawing in the heat of the dash blowers, little grin of thanks from under his frozen fringe.

There's a pawnbroker's that Axel passes every day on the drive home from work. Before, when it was just him, and he spent hours wandering the streets, he would look through the grimy window at the rows of obsolete TV sets and locked cases of tarnished wedding rings, and every so often he'd venture in to laugh at the boys pretending to be old enough to buy the throwing stars and knives that lined the walls behind the cash register. There's a headless mannequin wearing a huge shabby fur coat, and Axel buys it, his car suddenly full of the smell of lipstick-filtered Turkish cigarettes, illicit encounters in hotel lobbies, telephone numbers scrawled on fifty dollar bills.

Outside his apartment he waits under the streetlight in the cold, smoking cigarettes, lighting the next off the butt of the last, every fifteen seconds glancing from his window to the corner, the corner to his window. When finally Roxas appears, shuffling along the sidewalk, hands jammed in his pockets, he's wearing a tatty green sweater that he doesn't own. Axel throws the smouldering cigarette away and holds out the coat, fur beginning to rime with frost in the evening chill, and Roxas silently slips into it, blue lips curling into a grin.

"Don't go to work tomorrow," he breathes into Axel's chest.

"Okay. If you don't."

Roxas squints up into Axel's face. "I think I just quit," he murmurs.

X

A horn sounds in the street, and Roxas peers out of the window, naked from the waist up. "The cab's here," he calls, pulling the fur over his bare arms. Axel watches the narrow shoulders and jutting planes of his back vanish into the heavy folds of the fabric. The bruises have gone now, and the skin of Roxas' torso is as translucent as alabaster, smudged with shadows under the angles. Sometimes, looking at Roxas, Axel wants to hold him in his hands and squeeze; wants to crush him into himself until their bones grind together. He closes his eyes. "Why won't you let me drive?" he asks, for the thirteenth time.

"Because you've got your eyes shut," Roxas laughs. "And because the cab's already here."

Downstairs, in the street, Roxas has Axel wait while he talks with the driver. Axel has no idea where they are going, but Roxas tells him not to worry, it's a surprise, and settles back against his shoulder. He picks one of Axel's hands up in both of his, playing idly with the long fingers.

Axel leans back into the seat, feeling Roxas shift against him. Roxas drops his hand, bends into his lap, and Axel is on fire, taut and blazing, gripping the handle of the door with one hand, so tightly that his fingernails pierce the fake leather. His other hand is buried in Roxas' hair and he doesn't know whether he's holding him down or pulling him away or just desperately trying to keep hold of something real before the whole world flashes into a heap of shimmering cinders, and every jolt, every bump in the road, every ragged gasping breath that Roxas drags out of him threatens to crumble him to a pile of smouldering ash.

When Roxas sits up all of his teeth are tumbling out of his grin, and there are little sparks dancing in his eyes. "I've done that a million times, you know," he says, looking at Axel sidelong. "Only never with you. Expect… always with you."

Axel sits silently for a moment, waiting for his heart to still, waiting to understand what Roxas is saying. Neither is happening, so he shrugs and lights a cigarette, holding out the packet to Roxas, who pulls one free with his lips. The driver glances at them from his mirror; glances away.

"I know you're never going to ask me about it," Roxas says finally, exhaling a stream of smoke through the cracked window. "And I don't know if it's because you don't want to pry or don't want to know, but…." He holds up a hand to stifle Axel's protest before he can make it. "But I want you to understand. I don't want you to think I'm just some kid who's using you for what he can get."

Axel looks down into the blue eyes and suddenly realises what an idiot he is; that he probably knows already. There's a look there that he's only ever seen in the mirror, in the bottle green eyes that stare back at him. A look filled with longing, and desire, and tinged with the weariness that comes from holding on to both for too long, and growing accustomed to the idea of never having them fulfilled. Suddenly, Axel remembers all of the unanswered questions that they had asked each other over the past weeks. The carefully worded, half-joking, just-being-silly questions that people ask when they are in love with someone who can't possibly love them back. The not rhetorical, walking along the knife edge, take-this-the-right-way-and-you'll-never-speak-to-me-again questions. The accidental contact of knees under the table questions. The caught looking questions. The kind of questions two people shouldn't have to ask each other when they're sleeping together, unless they are afraid of what it might mean. "Who did you think I was waiting for?" Roxas had asked him.

Axel opens his mouth to speak, but Roxas kisses him before he can. His mouth tastes of toothpaste, and cinnamon, and ever so slightly bitter, like the faintest trace of wormwood.

X

The asphalt had run out and the cab had lurched to a stop over the pitted concrete. Snow lay in banks and dazzling drifts around them, iridescent in the low morning sunlight, and Roxas runs laughing into the glare, shouting inarticulately at Axel to follow. The lake has frozen in the night, only a strip of brilliant blue water way out where the thinnest ice has already melted. Roxas seizes Axel by the hand and drags him out onto the frozen surface; jumps up and down to prove it's safe.

"Come on, scaredy-cat," he mocks. "Even you aren't hot enough to melt this." Crossing his fingers in the fur's deep pockets against the lie. He lies down on the ice where the snow is deepest and starts to move his legs from side to side, his arms up and down, straight out from his sides. Axel frowns at him.

"What are you doing?" There are three completely different images of Roxas alive inside his mind. In one, he's curled up against rain-slicked brick, bruised and broken, trying to smoke a cigarette through swollen lips, trying not to let the shaking redhead squatting beside him see how much pain he's in. This one breaks Axel's heart, but owns it as well. In another, he's curled up against sweat-slicked skin, naked and sated, staring silently with liquid eyes at the trembling redhead pressed against him, while Axel watches, trying to spot the moment that he falls asleep, always failing. This one takes a hold of his heart and twists, filling him with the horrible empty feeling that somehow, suddenly, like he found himself here, he will wake one morning to finding it gone again. But this one owns his heart as well, even while it breaks it. And the third is here before him now, laughing and happy, making snow angels on the frozen lake, and it seems so innocent and childlike that Axel can't make the three go back together and he just smiles and lies down next to Roxas, a second angel beside the first.

Crow Bait

May. 24th, 2016 01:12 pm
onediagonalscar: (Default)

"Hey!" Roxas glances up from where he'd been dribbling a pebble along with the toe of his sneaker. There's no-one around. Just a shock-headed scarecrow in a field of rotting pumpkins. The pebble dances along.

"Hey! Kid!" The scarecrow has climbed down off its post and is gesturing at him, arms flailing black, jagged mouth gaping crooked in a face colourless under a crown of flaming hair. For a moment Roxas is seized with childish panic and almost runs, but he sees breath condensing in the chill winter air, sees the red Chucks sticking out from under the skirts of the long black whatever-it-is and figures that the worst it can be is a Halloween costume. Although Halloween is long gone.

"Yeah?" Roxas squints up into the morning sun silhouetting the spindly figure looming over him. It bends out of the light, and he's almost disappointed to see pale greasepaint, a tatty black coat, a wig. Behind it there's just another skinny kid, all points, not that much older than he is.

"Scared ya, huh?" the kid grins, sticking out a hand, not waiting for a reply. He makes a flamboyant gesture, and two pieces of paper are sticking out of his fist. "Come to the Circus!"

Roxas starts back at the shout. It's obviously meant to be commanding, but comes across as a threat. "Ansem's Awesome Arcade of Amazement awaits you! Witness wonders without…. ah, fuck it…." The boy shrugs. "You wanna come to the show tonight these'll get you in for free. Bring your girl or whoever." He holds out the tickets for Roxas to take and wanders away, towards the first few faded buildings that mark the edge of the town, a few hundred yards behind them.

[X]

"You're too fucking old for that shit." His dad has been little more than a grunt from behind the sports pages for about a year now, but Roxas almost prefers that to the lumbering pile of fists and bitterness that sometimes staggers drunkenly in through the door. "And take your sister with you."

[X]

All afternoon, Roxas is edgy and restless, chafing against himself like he has a hairshirt under his sweater. He has the feeling that there is someone standing right behind him, almost but not quite touching him, their hot breath brushing the little hairs in the nape of his neck, about to speak. It's as if two identical films are being projected one on top of the other, only just a millisecond out of sync. He catches himself muttering "What? What?", and sees his sister staring at him, wide-eyed.

"Dad said you'd take me to the circus," she says, hopefully, half-afraid of him. Roxas doesn't want her to be afraid (one bastard in the family is more than enough, he thinks), and nods, trying to smile. But the smile is taut and tense, like him, and so he just nods again. "It won't start 'til its dark," he says, "we'll go after supper."

He spends the rest of the afternoon rattling around the house, wondering why he feels so odd, so stretched out and brittle, so ready to split down the middle, so much like he's been plugged in to an electrical socket. Trying to catch sight of the things dancing beyond the corner of his eye.

[X]

The circus has pitched up just a mile outside of town, on a big, bare patch of ground that slopes down to the river on one side and has never been used for anything because it floods. In daylight it's barren and dismal, but now – in the growing gloom of the January evening – it looks magical. Someone has hung lanterns on the telegraph poles and in the trees, odd things of paper and glass, star shaped or twisted, some like balloons or painted to look like faces, and here and there an odd, misshapen one that looks like nothing on earth. "Oh, look! Roxas, look!" His sister is tugging at his hand, bright-eyed and excited, pointing to a banner draped between two posts at the opening into the lot. Ansem's Awesome Arcade of Amazement is emblazoned in gold across a scarlet background, letters held aloft by clowns and elephants and strongmen and beautiful withy women with hooves for hands. Roxas lets himself be pulled forward into the throng of people milling around the booth at the entrance, hands the tickets to a man in a top hat and moustaches who raises a pointed eyebrow and bows low, ushering them in. His sister giggles as the man gives her a huge wink; doffs his hat to Roxas.

Inside the circus ground a street has sprung up from the bare earth; tents and booths ranged alongside the wooden sidewalks, each holding the promise of untold treasures. Roxas looks around and sees freak shows and monsters, shooting galleries and candyfloss, Dare you see yourself as you really are in the terrifying maze of mirrors? His sister wants to be everywhere at once, to see everything and do everything, but ahead of them, at the end of the avenue of booths, the Big Top rises blackly against the night sky, pointed and looming, bright light spilling from between the flaps of the door. "Let's go and get seats," Roxas says. "I'll take you round the stalls later." But she wants candy apples, and the stuffed bear you win shying coconuts, and to see the face of her one true love in the shape of the wax in the water, so Roxas fishes his money from his pocket – eight dollars and thirteen cents, everything he has been able to scrape together – and wins her the bear, buys her the apple, and has his palm read by a dark-eyed raven-haired woman with candlelight dancing off the gold hoops in her ears, who tells him that he is standing at a fork in the road and that he must choose carefully because his heart is down one path, while everything else is down the other. His sister laughs and kicks her legs when the lady tickles her palm with her long manicured nail and tells her that she will grow up to be a princess.

Outside, the barker is shouting ladies and gentlemen! Take your places! Not one moment should you waste! Make haste dear lady; kind sir, make haste! and the fortune teller looks him in the eye and says quickly, Roxas, it's already starting. You won't want to miss this…

[X]

Afterwards, he carries his sister – curled up asleep in his arms, a smile of absolute contentment on her face – home through the pitch darkness. She wakes as he tucks her into bed and says thank-you, Roxy, kissing him on the cheek as she falls back to sleep. In his own bed he lies on his back, exhausted and alive, certain that he won't be able to sleep, mind full of the blare of horns, the stamp of feet, horses neighing over tumbled clowns, strong men whirling women around their heads, and in the centre of it all, a man in a scarlet frockcoat and towering black top hat, cracking a long whip and twirling a long moustache, lightning crackling around his shoulders, laughing madly at the wonders he has orchestrated all around him. And as Roxas finally falls asleep, his dad snoring on the other side of the plasterboard, his last lucid thought is what kind of circus doesn't have a fire breather?

[X]

He thinks he's going to the diner, to eat cherry pie and drink coffee and not talk to Olette about his dad, but his feet know better. His feet know the way through the culvert into the barrens and along the paths that lead along the river to the dead plot where the circus has pitched up. Coming at it this way, he smells it before he sees it – an acrid animal stink that comes downstream on the wind, but faint, as if whatever it was that had made it had passed by and gone, leaving only a ghost of itself behind.

Ahead of him, up the hill, a Ferris wheel has been built. In the bitter morning air, Roxas can see someone clambering over the spokes onto the felloe, banging and hammering at the joints, a giant spider in a steel web. Roxas crouches down on the low scrubby slope and hopes no-one has seen him.

There's no alarm, no shouts, no rattle-chain slavering bay of rabid dogs, so Roxas creeps forward onto the fairground. In daylight it's a completely different place, flat and empty, just thin wooden fronts and a few tatty tents; no magic, no mystery, no fire. Litter shifts about over the muddy wooden walkways; torn handbills, abandoned paper cups, a child's sock.

Ahead of him, the figure on the Ferris wheel has stopped hammering and is making his way down towards the ground. Squinting into the glare Roxas can't be sure, but he thinks it might be the scarecrow kid from yesterday. Suddenly, and for no particular reason that he would care to explain, he feels disappointed. He's only a machinist, he thinks, only a machinist in a crappy travelling circus, and turns away, thinking that coffee and cherry pie sound like a good idea after all.

[X]

"Hey!" Roxas feels a hand close over his shoulder and starts, struggling wildly. "Hey! Hey! It's okay, settle down!" The voice is one he almost recognises. Whoever it is, at least it's not his dad, and he swallows his heart and tries to breathe.

"Sorry. Made me jump."

"No worries." It's the scarecrow kid, and he's grinning, breathless from his climb down the Ferris wheel. Even though the January morning is cold enough for Roxas to see their breath and for the rims of the puddles to still be rimed with ice, the kid has no shirt on, and his pale torso is slick with sweat. There's a rag draped over one shoulder, grimy with oil, and a fat smear of grease smudged across one of his narrow pectoral muscles. Roxas feels his hands jump at his sides, and only just in time stops himself from reaching for the cloth and wiping the grease away. Something about the shining skin and the smooth twitch of the little muscles in his midriff as he breathes are mesmerising, and because he needs to stop looking, Roxas squints up into the boy's face. He's still in greasepaint, eyes heavily Kohled, and there's an inverted teardrop beneath the centre of each. A pretty half-hearted clown, Roxas thinks.

"Making people jump's my job." The scarecrow is staring back at Roxas. "Kinda."

"Umm." Roxas isn't sure what to say, and daren't say anything anyway because his voice is going to betray him if he tries. He doesn't want to keep looking at the bottle-green eyes, doesn't want to see the lump of grease that his thumb is itching to smooth away, daren't drop his eyes to the sweat-slicked skin. The smell of the oily rag is in his nostrils.

"So." The scarecrow is still looking at him. "What're you doing here?" He scratches at his mad mane of hair. "You came last night, I thought? Today's show doesn't start for hours."

That was a wig, Roxas thinks, thankful of something else to stare at. Yesterday, I'm sure, it was a wig. "Yeah. Well, I was bored and my dad…. Well, anyway I thought I'd…"

"Snoop around, huh?" the scarecrow is still looking at him, but he isn't grinning anymore. "You sure that's wise?"

"Why? It's just a circus isn't it?" Roxas winces inwardly, wondering why he's provoking the kid.

"Oh, sure," the scarecrow nods, and he's grinning again. "Just a circus, sure. And it's just a satyr, nothing to worry about. And it's just the Hound of the Hedges. Just the Sphinx. Just the Werewolf. Just Medusa. You can handle that lot, easy…"

Roxas isn't sure whether to laugh or not. "And who are you? The ringmaster?"

"Shit, no!" the scarecrow looks almost taken-aback. "He's the worst of the lot. If the Medusa's not your thing take the Sphinx over the Ringmaster any day." He is looking at Roxas again, and all the laughter has gone out of his eyes. "You haven't any idea, have you? Well, remember how you jumped when you felt my hand on your shoulder? If you feel his hand, run." The scarecrow is behind him somehow, and the long fingers close over his shoulder again. Roxas feels the boy stoop, feels his breath against his ear, feels the gooseflesh rise across his ribs as the kid whispers "How'd you like to try the Big Top, son?"

Roxas shakes the hand free, blushing. "Stop it! Jeez, what's wrong with you…." He can feel the skinny kid standing too close to him; his breath still toying with his hair like the wind in the wheat; the imprint of his long fingers still burning on his shoulder like a brand. Almost against his will, he starts away, not quite running, too fast to call it a walk. He hears the scarecrow laughter behind him, but doesn't turn around.

"I'm Axel, by the way," the scarecrow calls. "And you can't get out; not that way. Not now."

Behind him, Roxas can hear Axel doing something with something on the ground, and as he turns around he sees him straighten up, hears a long wincing breath escape him. There is a long red welt running diagonally up from left to right across the swell of his shoulders. An image of the ringmaster, whips flailing, comes unbidden into Roxas' mind.
"Why weren't you in the show last night?" he asks, and gestures at the Ferris wheel. "Is that what you do? Fix stuff?"

Axel wheels around, and bursts into a high, wild laugh. "Yeah, yeah I guess you could say that," he manages finally. "I fix stuff."

"But you're not like a human cannonball or a trapeze artist or anything?" Roxas can still feel a little pool of disappointment bubbling under his diaphragm.

"Hell, no!" Axel rears up to his full height, and looms over Roxas. "What do you think I am, a performing monkey? No," he shakes his head, scratching at the back of his hair. "what I do is I breathe fire. Look." He steps forward, doing something with his hands. Little green and blue flames – almost invisible in the morning light – start to lick around the fingers of his gloves. Gloves? Roxas thinks, was he wearing gloves? Axel waves his gloved hands in front of his face and breathes out. A gout of scarlet flame shoots over Roxas' head, billowing around Axel's chin.

"Pretty good, huh?" the redhead grins, wiping the fire from his fingers.

Roxas is trying not to stare. "I… how… wow, yeah," he manages. "How do you do that? That's incredible! Why isn't it in the show?" Axel is agleam with sweat again and casually flips the oily rag off his shoulder, drags it across his chest. Roxas sucks in his breath with a small hiss.

"You want me to tell you?" Axel grins. "Want to join the circus?"

Roxas can't tell if he's joking, but nods. He can't tell if he's joking either. Axel laughs. "No. Fucking. Way." he says slowly. "You need your own trick. And to answer your other question, it is in the show. Just not the one you saw."
"Which, then?" Roxas queries. "Can I see it?"

"The real show," Axel says. "The real show with the real performers done for an exclusive audience who attend whether they will or not. Who pay to watch whether they think they can afford it or not. And no," he shakes his head again, "you can't see it. Because you're in it."

He looks at Roxas, sees the boy's confusion, and grins again. "I told you, didn't I? I fix things. Well, this time he wanted you. That's why we're here. To fetch you."

Roxas' feet know that they should be running, away from these crazy people and their crazy talk, but his head doesn't believe it. This can't be real, any of it, it's just some carny trick to separate him from his money. But he can't quite forget the gloves that appeared out of nowhere, the wig that wasn't a wig, the little flames dancing along the backs of Axel's hands.

"I don't…" he says.

"I know," Axel grins. "No-one does, not at first." He shrugs. "But come on, I'll show you 'round if you like." He turns away, rolling his shoulders under the tight skin. Roxas watches the ropes and knots of muscles in his back coil and loosen, and wonders what it felt like when the whip cut into them.

"One of the tension cables snapped," Axel says over his shoulder. "I was lucky. It could have cut me in two."

[X]

Axel leads him down the makeshift street, kicking at the fallen clumps of popcorn and discarded little plastic gewgaws that lie frozen on the ground. Roxas is shivering in the cold, but Axel is steaming gently in the morning air as the sweat warms off him. Roxas reaches out, wanting to touch his shoulder, but daren't. Across the millimetres separating the tips of his trembling fingers from Axel's pale flesh, Roxas can feel the heat radiating from his skin.

"Go on and touch him, he don't bite!" A coarse voice, as thick as crows, cuts through the morning. Roxas freezes.
"Oh, hi Missy," Axel says, and turns to look at Roxas, squinting a question down his long nose. "I might," he mutters from the side of his mouth.

Turning to look, Roxas can't at first see who called out. But then, in the gloom at the back of the deep shade under the awning, he sees the flare of a match and the sputtering red suction of someone lighting a pipe; hears the creak and complaint of a porch seat straining.

"Come in, come on! Let Mamma get a look at you," the woman calls out, and Roxas feels Axel's hand against his shoulder, pushing him forward.

She is immensely fat, engulfing the seat in rolls and mounds of flesh, and has a clay pipe stuck in her toothless mouth. Her long black hair is thick with grease, piled into elaborate constructions and stuck with combs and needles. Her hands and feet are bare; both swollen around a myriad of rings and trinkets. "Sit down, pretties, sit down," she cackles approvingly, tipping a sharp eyebrow at Axel, leering at Roxas. "Oh, he's picked one this time!" she laughs, before settling her face into a heavy pout. "Never a morsel over for Mamma, though? You don't want me to give him a trial run I don't suppose?"

Axel laughs, but Roxas is staring in horror at the fat hand crawling towards his knee. "No, I s'pose not," the woman sighs. "But what's a red blooded woman in her prime to do around all you dainty things?" She shifts in the groaning seat again. "I wouldn't mind it so much if they didn't have to flaunt it all the time. All night I hear him, that sword-swallower, taking the hired hands behind the tents with his pretty hair and his pretty hands, promising to teach them the trick. No wonder it's so hard to get help around these parts. But no," she sighs again, "I'd like as not crack a pair of sticks like you in to two." She pats her stomach not uncontentedly, sending ripples dancing under her aprons.

Axel laughs again. "You get quite enough Missy, and don't think I don't know it. What with the man beast and all."

The fat lady giggles, a horrible simpering girlish noise from somewhere deep within her, and tries to hide her face behind her hand. "Oh, don't Axel! Don't! If he finds out he'll feed me to the freaks!"

Axel waves and wanders away, Roxas following a little way behind. "Axel," he says, but Axel is holding up a hand. "Quiet!" he hisses, and drops into a crouch. "Shit, they're awake. Come on, we need to get inside."

[X]

Off to one side, away from the fake street front, a cluster of tents and caravans huddle together amongst the litter of awnings and makeshift enclosures. Even from this distance, Roxas can see that most are just tatty old vans, broken and beaten and boarded; or simply sheets pegged out on wires. But amongst the shanty huddle stand ten or a dozen that are entirely different; older, larger, built on an entirely different plan, strange and dark and grand and painted with black and gold stars, or cascades of flowers, or lightning. These are scattered around the compound seemingly without order, but Roxas can't help but notice that it's almost impossible to be out of sight of at least one of them, and that Axel is trying very hard to not pass particularly close to any. He is muttering under his breath, and seems to be counting his steps, and at one point he takes hold of Roxas' arms and says no, not there, here pulling him sideways from one identical patch of ground to another.

Axel picks a route through the tents and tarpaulins, heading for one of the strange vans. This one is painted a matt black and there are scarlet flames licking around from under the wheel arches. On one end there is painted a giant circular something, spiked and spoked like the blade of a buzz saw designed to cut dreams. Axel hops up the steps and holds open the door. "Welcome home," he says.

Inside, Roxas just stands, gaping, not noticing what Axel had said. It's quite dark, and all he can see is the ceiling, which has been painted as black as the exterior. But rather than being dull it has a sheen, like antique velvet worn smooth by the press of a million kisses. It doesn't reflect, but neither does it seem to absorb light, which just seems to skitter across the impossible surface. It's like looking into an infinitely deep pool of absolutely pure absolutely still water, fretted here and there with flashes of gold – stars or suns or scintillant fish, Roxas can't tell. He stands paralysed beneath it, his senses struggling with the experience, half afraid that he is about to fall up into it; half afraid that it's just a painted ceiling. Axel is doing something at the end of the room, and as he moves from place to place little patches of dancing shadow gather around him. It is the shadows that Roxas sees, rather than the glowing tongues of the candles casting them.

Axel is behind him again. Roxas can hear him breathing, and he can feel the narrowing gap between them as he approaches. Roxas tenses, not knowing what to expect, or where to run, or if to run, and then it's too late because Axel's long arms come snaking over his shoulders and drape around his neck. In the candlelight he can see that there is a ring of violet bruises around Axel's wrist, where someone has gripped him, hard. "What do you think," Axel murmurs into his ear. "Do you like it?"

Roxas can't move. He is transfixed, with no idea of what he is supposed to be feeling. He doesn't know if he is afraid, or just so far out of his depth that he has lost all sense of bearing. All he knows is that Axel is breathing into his ear, his arms are draped lightly around his shoulders, and that he has a hard on that's pushing painfully against his pants. Axel squeezes him in his arms, ever so quickly, and turns him around.

"I can hear you heart, Rox," he says. "Are you going to be okay?"

Roxas looks up into the bottle green eyes that in this light are just dark sparks dancing in the shadows. Standing this close, he has to tip his head back to see into Axel's face. Axel is bending forward, and Roxas can feel the hot breath coming from between the slightly open lips.

He has no idea what is happening. This is – he supposes – lust, or desire or maybe some irresistible love that's wormed its way under his skin from the fairground freaks. He thinks about Olette, and about Naminé and the other pale things drifting aimlessly around the town. He remembers the odd little catch in his throat when he would brush his fingers accidentally across a soft breast; remembers the giggles and the little stolen kisses and the running away. Fires trying to burn on green wood, only ever making smoke.

This – here – now – this isn't fire at all. This is the molecules that make him driven to ever faster motion, a chaotic dance in the very fabric of him, threatening to break the bonds that hold him together and scatter him into one last desperate burst of pure energy.

Axel is speaking, but he can't hear him. He is, he realises, trying to keep his hips away from Axel, trying not to let him feel how hard he's got. But Axel's long irresistible fingers are pulling at his sweater, and he is breathing "Rox, oh shit, I thought I'd lost you, I thought you were gone for good," into his ear and Roxas can't stand it any longer and reaches up into the blazing crown of hair and pulls the face to him, the taste of him bitter and salty under his lips.

"I don't know what's happening," he mumbles. "Tell me what's happening."

A great broken dragging howl cuts the air. Roxas feels Axel start, but not pull away. He opens an eye and sees Axel poised on the brink of the kiss, a jumper at suicide's fulcrum. Another long lolling bay rolls through the morning, and this time Axel snaps into awareness, pulling Roxas to him, wild eyed and ragged. "Shit!" he hisses, "shit! Shit! Shit! The fucking midget has loosed the hound. Look," he holds Roxas away at arms length, "I know how this must seem to you, and I can't fucking believe the timing, and I promise I'll explain everything when there's chance. But now we've got to go. He knows you're here, and that I'm keeping you from him, and he's going to try everything to not let you get away again. Shit!" he mutters, rubbing his hand over his eyes, "I can't believe he's set the Hound of the Hedges on me!" He turns for the door, fingers trailing out of Roxas' hand.

"But what is it?" Roxas feels like he's about to cry. "What are we running from?"

"Christ, okay, the Hound, it's like… well, it's a dog, obviously. It's a big, green friendly dog. It's beautiful and gentle and graceful and all it wants to do is tumble you onto the ground and play. It's a great big happy lump of nothing - it has no lust, or instinct, or ferocity or guile or sex and it will suck all of that out of you and leave you a hollow puppet, grinning and stupid. But it won't actually hurt you. And once the hound's got you He'll keep you in the circus forever. And now that you know shut up and run."

Axel takes the steps at a single bound and hits the ground running, twisting around to make sure Roxas is behind him.

"But… where are we… going?" Roxas calls breathlessly.

"Hall of Mirrors. It's the only place the hound can't go."

"But then what?"

"Fuck knows, but at least we'll be safe there for a while."

[X]

Axel runs, and Roxas runs behind him. Out of the encampment, and up the slope towards the wooden street. Axel keeps casting little glances over his shoulder as if he's afraid Roxas won't be there, and it's at one of these moments that a big man steps out from behind a pile of boxes, sends Axel tumbling to the ground. The man grabs Roxas and drags him into a tent while Axel is still spitting blood and shaking his head.

It's a shooting gallery. In front of him, the big man – black and grey hair pulled back from his head in a ponytail – is holding a hunting rifle, grinning down at Roxas. "Want to play a game?" he says.

Roxas gets to his feet and backs towards the tent flap. Through it, he can see Axel reeling around, as if swamped by invisible enemies, mouth open as if he's shouting. There is absolutely no sound, and try as he might Roxas can't push his way out of the tent.

"It's no use," the big man says. "You have to win if you want to get out."

He holds out the rifle to Roxas who takes it, raises it to his shoulder and shoots him straight through the eye patch.

"Ah, ha, ha that's good," the man cackles, "shoot Xigbar with his own gun! Idiot!" He laughs again, shaking his head. "No, son, to get out of here you don't shoot me." He gestures at the back of the booth. "You shoot him."

Roxas' father is sitting in his armchair, almost hidden behind the sports pages. He tilts one corner of the paper down, and glances at Roxas. "Oh, it's you," he grunts. "What are you doing standing there with that thing? You don't know how to shoot, worthless little fuck." He raises the paper back up in front of his face. "Well, go on, shoot me then. You'd better, because the next time I get my hands on you you're going to wish you'd never been born." All of this he says calmly, as if he's reading out the weather forecast. "But you ought to know," he says, folding the paper into his lap, "that there's someone else here." Roxas' sister is sitting in his father's lap, wide eyed and terrified. "Roxy, help me!" she squeals.

Roxas looks behind him to where Axel is still fighting invisible enemies in the silent street; in front of him to where his father's pudgy fingers are digging into the flesh of his sister's forearms. He thinks of what the fortune teller had said to him - your heart down one path, everything else down the other – remembers the violet bruises on Axel's wrist, raises the rifle to his eye and squeezes the trigger.

His father explodes in a great cloud of pulverized pumpkin flesh, seeds raining down around him, and his sister flops lifeless to the floor, just a bag with some old rags stuffed inside.

"Roxas! Rox!" Axel is shouting from away up the road, waving urgently. "Come on, keep it together." He sees the expression on Roxas' face. "What? What happened?"

Roxas shakes his head. "Never mind," he says, looking around for the vanished booth. "Nothing. It was nothing."

They run.

[X]

Roxas is lying on his back, trying to force air back into his burning lungs. Axel drops the mirrored flap down over the opening, shutting out the light, and sits down next to him in the unexpected darkness. "Okay," he says, "we're safe for a while. The hound can't get us in here, and He's not going to risk wasting any more of His tricks on us while we're holed up."

"So… so… what do we do?" Roxas gasps, propping himself up on his elbows and peering around him as his eyes adjust to the gloom.

"We wait," Axel says.

"That's it?"

"That's it. There's nowhere for us to go, and we're safe while we're in here, so we wait. And see what happens." Axel picks at a tooth with one long finger, wincing. "I think he knocked one loose," he frowns. "Am I bleeding?"

Roxas glances up at the bruised and swollen lip and nods. "Yeah." And glances away again hurriedly because he finds himself wanting to know what it tastes like. He feels a red flush crawling up his face.

Axel is grinning. "So tell me," he says. "Why doesn't any of this seem odd to you?"

"What? Odd! Shit, Axel… I… I mean… odd isn't anywhere near it. A magic dog that steals your sex and a guy with one eye that made me shoot my dad? Never mind all this you can't get out that way crap everyone keeps spouting."

"Mmmm," Axel rubs at the back of his head, absently. "Yeah, I can see that might be a bit weird. That wasn't what I meant though."

"Then what the fuck did you mean? I wish everyone would just stop talking in riddles!"

"Well, it is a Carny," Axel grins. "But I kind of meant this." Slowly, he leans across Roxas, who is still propped up on his elbows, and kisses him. It's slow, and lingering, and both of Axel's hands are planted firmly on the floor and Roxas has plenty of time to get away, but instead he finds himself straining upwards into the kiss, Axel's crushed lip burning against his own; finds himself with his eyes closed and lips ever so slightly apart, breathing in Axel's breath, tasting his blood.

"That," Axel says from millimetres away. "I meant that." Roxas feels him sit up, and opens his eyes. "You can't honestly tell me that you make out with the boys at the coffee shop, now, can you?" he grins at Roxas' little moue of distaste. "Thought not. So how come this is okay? I mean… it is okay, isn't it? I'm not, like, making you or anything?"

Roxas doesn't say anything for a moment, looks up into the dark green eyes – huge in the gloom - that are still only inches away. Axel's expression is almost unreadable, such a tangle of longing and worry and desire and uncertainty and lust and loss and hope. "I don't know," Roxas mumbles, and watches the eyes narrow. "I don't know what's happening, or why it's okay. It is, though. More than okay. It's actually stupid – you keep saying all these things that make no sense, and I guess that I'm actually in real danger, but all I can think about is…" he drops his eyes, blushing. "All I can think about is how fucking good it feels kissing you."

Axel makes a small sound, but Roxas is staring at his shoulder, imagining what the sharp angle of his clavicle and scapula would feel like under his teeth. Axel is still naked from the waist up, still filmed with sweat, and it smells sweet and slightly burnt, like chestnut honey. Without raising his eyes he says "so I don't know. I don't know why it's okay. I don't like guys – not like this, I mean – and, um, well, girls…. I dunno…." he trails off. "I guess I always thought I was waiting for the right one I suppose. I just didn't expect it to be you." He laughs, nervously.

"The right girl," Axel says with a chuckle. "Nope, can't say I was expecting to be that, either."

"So…." Roxas finally glances up again, and Axel is still there, only inches away. "Um… you said you'd explain what was going on when there was time. Is now a good time?"

"No," Axel says, "no, now's not good at all."

Roxas wants to ask why, but Axel is pressing him backward and his nose knocks against his nose and he bites Roxas on the lip and there's another tongue in his mouth. Long fingers are pulling at his hoodie, burning against his flesh, maddening like the bites of ants, tangling into the top of his jeans, fumbling at the buttons and Roxas lets a small cry slip out as Axel breaks the kiss, slips an arm under his waist and pulls his hips up off the floor, tugging at the waistband.

For a moment they are both motionless, before Roxas says "what? What are you waiting for?"

"Tell me to carry on," Axel says, his voice tight with alarm. "Tell me its okay. Tell me you want me to."

Shit, Roxas thinks, he's as out of his depth here as I am, but he just nods and says "I want you to, Axel. I fucking want you," and his voice cracks into a dry husk as he feels Axel's trembling hand sliding over his skin, as Axel's teeth close over the jut of his ribs.

"Ah, shit!" Roxas gasps and arches his back. Under his fingers he can feel the raised welt snaking across Axel's shoulders, hears him suck in a sharp breath as he drags a nail across it, and then he cries out as Axel slips a hand into his shorts and takes hold of his hard-on. "Oh, Christ, Axel," he mumbles, and amidst the unimaginable sensations that are shredding his nervous system he feels something blossom across Axel's back. Opening his eyes, he sees flames – emerald, cobalt, and crimson – ebbing and surging over Axel's skin like the time Hayner had doused his boots in lighter fluid. The flames are licking at his fingers where he is gripping Axel's shoulder blades, but there's no pain, just a strange tingling warmth that he can feel creeping up his fingers and spreading into his hands.

Around him, the mirrored walls of the tent catch Axel's pale light and reflect it until Roxas feels as though he is being carried along in the tail of a comet, just another fragment of starlight. And behind the glimmer all he can see is himself, wide-eyed and enraptured, and Axel hunched over him, the two of them reflected backwards and forwards, forever.

[X]

"So let me get this straight." It's afterwards – in Roxas' mind time has divided itself into two; into before and afterwards, and no other measures of anything seem to be particularly important – and because he's never done this before he doesn't know that what he's feeling isn't something uniquely theirs and infinitely precious. Axel is grinning like an idiot, and he keeps getting up to pace around the tent, watching Roxas reflected in the mirrors as if he's half expecting him not to be there each time he looks; sitting back down against him as if he needs the feel of another bony naked shoulder against his own to convince himself that he isn't dreaming. Roxas is beginning to shiver, but Axel is too full of the incredible mind-fuckingness of what's just happened to notice.

"What you're saying is… is… No, I still don't get it."

Axel sprawls out beside him. "Ansem sent me to bring you back," he says. "You with me so far?"

"No!" Roxas has his fists balled up and his eyes screwed shut. "What do you mean 'bring me back'? I've never seen any of you people before in my life."

"Not in this one, no," Axel shrugs.

"Oh, fuck off!" Roxas shouts. "You seriously think I'm going to swallow some reincarnation bull? Please."

"Whatever. Just believe you shot your dad in front of your sister and then fucked a total stranger – a guy – for no reason if that's easier for you to get your head around."

Roxas doesn't say anything.

"Rox…" Axel begins, but Roxas interrupts him.

"No. No. Whatever's going on here makes no fucking sense at all, so let's just say you're right, okay? Ansem sent you to bring me back. Why the fuck did he send you? Why didn't he send the guy with the eye patch or one of those other fucking freaks?" He doesn't ask why did he send you to get me?

"Most of them can't leave the circus," Axel smiles. "Most of them are too fucking weird to go out. Some of them look normal enough – more than me, even – but there can be, uh… problems. Larxene looks enough like a regular chick, but she has a nasty habit of turning anyone who looks at her to stone. Demyx looks okay, too, but his singing drives people mad."

"And the others?"

"Shit, you really want to know?" Axel sighs. "Just avoid them, okay? Especially Vexen. Whatever happens, keep away from that guy. And anyway, we were talking about me, and I'm a whole fuck load more interesting than them."

"Okay," Roxas grins. "So, he sent you because you're – what? Most normal? Least freaky? What?"

"Nah," Axel shakes his head. "Nothing so simple. I'm bait. He figured that even if you didn't remember – which you didn't – some part of you would still feel something – which it did. Whatever he is, Ansem's not stupid, and he knows his shit when it comes to hearts. And besides, it's worked every other time."

"Every other time," Roxas echoes, flatly. "So, what? As well as this being some reincarnation shit, you're saying it's all happened before?"

Axel nods. "He's been trying to get you back for aeons. Every time, he nearly manages it, and every time, something fucks it up at the last minute."

"What?"

"Me." Axel pokes himself in the chest. "I do. Because I'm a sneaky, conniving son-of-a-bitch and I want to keep you for myself."

"So why…?"

"Why does he keep sending me?" Axel clambers to his feet and paces the tent again. "Because he likes to hurt me. Because he likes to tear my heart out and taunt me with it. Because he knows that every time I steal you away from him I condemn myself to losing you again as well. And he likes that. It makes it worth the wait. Because one day he'll work out how to change the rules, or he'll find a joker to play, and he'll win. But until then, we just go round. Round and round and round."

"But what about me?" Roxas is wild-eyed and angry. "Don't I have any say in it? I'm not just a fucking puppet you can jerk around for your entertainment. What about what I want? Doesn't that matter?"

Axel stops pacing, and looks at his reflection in the mirror. "And what do you want, Rox?" he says.

"You," Roxas says, without hesitation. "I want you. I want you and me to not be here. I want to be a thousand miles away from this fucking freak show and my fucking dad and to be with you. I want to live in a cabin on the beach and watch the fucking sun go down over the water like a fucking sissy and then fuck you in the surf while the tide comes in. Forever." He's on his feet, his entire being a challenge, bright and trembling, daring Axel to laugh. "Well?" he demands.

Axel is staring at him, and runs a finger over the tattooed tear on his cheek. "Why the hell not?" he says at last, almost too quietly to hear. "But I've got to warn you, there's going to be an awful lot of running."

"I don't care," Roxas says. "I'll run forever."

"We might not make it."

"We might."

Axel pauses, chewing his lip. "I can remember every one of them," he says at last, "and just in case I screw this one up as well, try to remember that I'll see you in the next one." He smiles sadly at the futility of it.

"You'd better," Roxas says, "because I'll be…"

Axel buries the word beneath a kiss, before he can say it.

"Ready?"

"Ready," Roxas nods.

Axel lifts the tent flap, squeezes Roxas' hand.

"Run."

They duck out into the bright morning sunlight.

Erytheia

May. 24th, 2016 01:11 pm
onediagonalscar: (Default)

I'd better be getting home.

Okay.

Axel's car is parked way out on the highway, and Roxas can see the lights of the little town twinkling against the desert darkness. Cigarette smoke drifting back in the window.

I think I could keep moving forever and still never find it Axel says.

Roxas feels all the nerves in his body wake back up.

What do you mean, find it?

I don't know. Just - find a place I fit.

Something runs across the freeway, just beyond the splash of headlights.

You know. Satisfied.

Roxas sits in silence, thinking hard. Fires twisting through him.

Is there a way for people to know each other that isn't sex?

Roxas is fifteen.

If there is I haven't found it.

Axel seventeen.

Do you think about it every day?

I think about you every day.

So do you know me?

Uh huh.

Axel fires the ignition, drives Roxas back to town. Drops him a block away from where his girlfriend lives.

See you tomorrow?

See you.

[x]

There is a party. Kids too young to drink and Roxas is making out with this girl. His girlfriend. Her hand is stuck in his pants. His hand is up her blouse. Not really doing much of anything.

What's wrong?

Nothing.

Is it me?

No.

What is it, then?

Out on the desert highway, the stars had been spattered across the top of the sky.

Nothing.

Sticks his tongue in her mouth. Thinks about how Axel tastes.

[x]

In school, Roxas sits staring out of the window as the first snows of winter fall down like eyes closing and cover the branches of the bare trees and silence all trace of the world.

[x]

Roxas' girlfriend wants him to take her to the movies to the mall to the beach so that they can hold hands and people can see her with her cute little boyfriend and her cute little outfit talking to her friends on her cellphone. Roxas holds her hand and buys her cinnamon mocha with the money he's taken from his mom's purse and smiles and nods and kisses her and thinks about Axel.

[x]

In school, the assignment is to write an autobiography of the rest of your life. Roxas' girlfriend stands up at the front of the class reading from her book about coming back from the beauty parlour to the neat white house and the neat mown lawn and Roxas loosening his tie. Kissing his wife on the cheek their two girls and a boy on their thistledown heads. Eating supper. Growing old.

In Roxas's book there is a blank page.

[x]

Roxas' mom has to visit her sister in the hospital. Roxas and his girlfriend make out on the couch until it's time for her to go home then he walks her home. They hold hands by her gate and she kisses him on the cheek and says I love you into his ear before running into the house and Roxas walks home through the snow.

Axel rattles pebbles off the window until Roxas opens it.

Come down.

Why?

I want to give you something.

By the railroad tracks the black wind cuts Roxas but Axel takes his freezing hands and puts them under his shirt against his skin. Roxas can feel him burning burning and stretches up on his tiptoes to kiss him and the burning is in his mouth and in his veins and Axel's fingers are pulling at him and they drive back out into the desert.

Come away with me.

Where?

Anywhere.

Roxas?

What?

Axel pushes him back against the worn red leather of the back seat of his car and Roxas arches his back as the fire speeds up his spine and blooms in his brain, hips twitching as he comes and they lie together kissing for a long time before even Axel is too cold and they drive to the all nite diner in the next town where the waitress calls them newlyweds and they drink coffee until they're warm.

[x]

Roxas feels Axel like the drag of magnetism; like a drug. In school, Roxas sits staring out of the window, wondering what Axel is doing.

[x]

So who is this new kid you've been spending so much time with?

His mom knocks the ash on the end of her cigarette into her coffee mug. Roxas stares at the little ring of orange, smouldering.

I hear he's older. Does he go to your school?

Roxas licks his lips, shakes his head.

He lives in a trailer park? Is that true? Is that where you go?

Roxas shakes his head.

Are you taking drugs?

Is obsession a drug? Does that count?

Roxas doesn't say it.

[x]

Roxas' girlfriend wants him to take her Christmas shopping so he takes her. She picks out a basque and a camisole and can't choose so Roxas pays for them both.

Someone is going to get an early Christmas present she murmurs.

[x]

Roxas' girlfriend likes holding hands and cuddling and long fumbles that don't really lead to anything. Discussions about the future. Plans with every and then snapped into place.

Axel presses him into the brickwork behind the dumpsters, hot and hurried and urgent, footsteps passing by the end of the alley. Roxas feels like the rain before it falls.

[x]

I have to go to Florida for Christmas.

Why?

Her dad invited me.

You should go.

I don't want to.

I don't want you to either.

Roxas feels Axel's rough fingers against his bruiseless flesh, consuming him.

[x]

On Christmas Day Roxas calls his mom and then locks himself in the bathroom and calls Axel, jerks off to the sound of his voice, goes back down the stairs.

Later, his girlfriend's father takes a photograph, camera balanced on the porch rail, runs back into the frame, arm around his wife, one hand heavy on Roxas' shoulder, imagining grandchildren.

[x]

When he was small, Roxas wrote stories about Roxas being brave and heroic and dying from brave heroic deaths, and everyone being very sad. Now when he imagines not existing he hopes that no-one will notice, or care. Except for maybe Axel.

[x]

Miss me?

No.

Liar.

Am not.

Am so.

[x]

Roxas writes a note to his mom and sticks it on the fridge door.

Where are we going?

I don't know.

How will we know when we're there?

We just will.

Axel accelerates up the on ramp to the freeway, climbing closer to the sky.

onediagonalscar: (Default)

Leon has been watching him for about twenty minutes before Cloud notices he is there, sitting quietly just inside the tent's porch. It is early still, the pale light only just beginning to lift the heavy darkness with its weak fingers; dawn still just a grey promise hovering above the horizon. Below them, Radiant Garden glows against the night, red and orange and white, scintillant, a net of light spattered across the emptiness like the embers of a fire kicked apart. Somewhere down there, out on the edge where the lights fade out into the surrounding dark, is the little house on Twilight, empty now and waiting, and one of those lights, Leon knows, is their porch. Cloud never remembers to turn the porch light off, no matter how often Leon reminds him.

Behind him, in the tent, one of the twins stirs in his sleep, and Cloud - turning at the sound - sees Leon in the moonlight, watching him. Leon sees the moon shining in Cloud's eyes, sees him blink once, twice, and pulls himself up onto his feet.

"Hey," he says. The bench creaks under him as he sits, and Cloud's hand is cold when he picks it up off the table. "Can't sleep?"

Cloud smiles, and inches along the bench towards him; snakes an arm across his shoulders; a hand into his hair. Leon shivers.

"Aren't you cold?"

"I like it," Cloud says. "I get fuzzy. The cold helps."

Leon frowns. "You'll catch a chill."

"Worry wart."

"Here." Leon pulls his jacket off; hands it to Cloud. "Put this on." Shivers again as the night air bites him.

Behind them, in the tent, one of the twins stirs again. "You should go back in. If they wake up and we're not there…"

"You coming?"

"No." Cloud shakes his head and wraps Leon's jacket around his shoulders, sleeves hanging. "I'm awake now. It'll be light soon. You go back to sleep."

"Okay." Leon clambers to his feet, plants a little kiss on the end of Cloud's nose, hopes he can't read his expression through the gloom. "Come back in if you want."

Inside the tent, Roxas whimpers in his sleep as Leon climbs back into the bedding, wriggles in against him as soon as he is down, takes hold of Leon's big hand with his little fingers. "Hey, buddy," Leon says quietly into his hair. On the other side of him, Sora sits up from a tangle of his own arms and legs. "Where's Cloud?" he mumbles, not really awake.

"He's just outside," Leon whispers. "Looking out for us."

"For the boogyman?" Sora says, falling back to sleep.

"Yeah," Leon nods. "Keeping us safe from the boogeyman."

x

It had been Cloud's idea, to take the twins camping. Leon had been dubious, worrying about snake bites and spiders and Cloud's geostigma, but Cloud had decided, and everyone knew that Leon never stood a chance when Cloud had made up his mind about something. And anyway, he'd already booked the camping spot out by Fort Baker. Forts were the twins' new thing.

"It's only one night," Cloud had said, winding an arm around Leon's waist; kissing the back of his neck. "It'll be fun."

"What if there's…"

Cloud slipped his free hand over Leon's mouth. "Shush. It'll be fun."

x

Leon wakes in the darkness with no idea of where he is. He can hear the soft sounds of other peoples' slow sleeping breath, the billow and slap of fabric as the night breeze fills it, the creak of whatever it is that he is lying on as it moves beneath him, and for a moment - still only half-awake - remembers they're on the ship. "Cloud?" he says, and his groping hand finds the tousled head tucked under his armpit, feels the familiar shapes of the cheek and soft lips, not Cloud's but Roxas', snuggled up in sleep against him.

Properly awake now, Leon lies still for a moment, listening to the flap of the tent's walls in the wind and the air mattress creaking beneath him as he shifts. The twins are pressed in against him, Sora curled against the small of his back, Roxas in the crook of his arm.

"Cloud?" Leon says again, and sits up, gently disentangling himself from the boys' arms and fingers, careful not to wake them. Cloud isn't there.

Leon edges his way into the porch, willing the zip to be quiet as he pulls it back up, shutting the twins in behind him as he shrugs into his clothes.

He's about to call Cloud's name again when he sees him. Just a dark shape against the darkness, but Leon knows Cloud's every contour, even in the star-spattered blackness of whatever time this is. Motionless in the silent night, and Leon thinks that maybe he's fallen asleep where he's sitting, chin propped on one hand, but then the clouds move away from the moon and Cloud turns his head.

It's cold, but that's not why Leon is shivering. Silvered in the moonlight, Cloud looks almost inhuman, pale and fragile, etched with exhaustion, impossibly young, and there's something caught in Leon's throat and he can't quite seem to breathe.

Once, he had thought that he would get used to it, seeing Cloud like this. But as the years passed and they had gone from being friends to being lovers to being a family, it is the single thing that has never changed. Leon still feels like he had always felt, protective and bewildered and scared and helpless. Leon fixes things. It is the rock beneath the foundations of who he is. Fixes things, builds things, rebuilds things, helps things mend. And here is the one thing he wants to fix more than anything. The one thing he can do nothing about.

Leon loves Cloud with a fierce piercing love, so sharp that sometimes it hurts him. He sits in the porch, watching the eggshell boy with moonbeams in his hair sitting in the darkness beneath the wheeling stars, and feels what he never ever allows himself to feel. Small, vulnerable, afraid.

Behind him, in the tent, one of the twins stirs in his sleep, and Cloud - turning at the sound - sees Leon in the moonlight, watching him. Leon sees the moon shining in Cloud's eyes, sees him blink once, twice, and pulls himself up onto his feet.

x

Cloud had driven them there, taking the turns on Shoreline Highway just fast enough for the twins to cling on to each other, their grins spreading wider with each bend. Leon had kept them occupied with stories of the Gold Rush, tales of covered waggon times, frontier days. By the time they'd got to the camp ground at Kirby Cove everything was a sidewindin', bushwackin', hornswagglin' cracker-croaker.

"Just remember, when the school call, this is your fault," Cloud had laughed, and Leon could only shrug helplessly.

x

Leon had driven them home. Sora and Roxas had fallen asleep almost as soon as they were in the car.

"You were right."

"I usually am," Cloud smiled. "What about?"

"It was fun."

"Told you." He leaned across and kissed Leon under the ear, resting his head on his shoulder for a moment. "I love you, you know."

"I know. You doing okay?"

Cloud nodded. "Just a bit tired."

"Try and get some sleep?"

Cloud nodded again, sitting back in his seat. "If I sleep, don't drive the whole way back in one go. Take a break at Timber Cove or something?"

"I will."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

Cloud slept, and Leon kept his word, but no-one woke up to see it.

x

Cloud was still asleep when Leon pulled up in the pool of porchlight outside their little house on Twilight, and didn't wake up until Leon had both of the twins out of the car, one sleepy head on each shoulder, a six-year-old in each arm and juggling his keys to get the front door open.

"Here, let me take one." He climbed out of the car into the yellow glow of the light, stumbling sleepily, one hand out against the door to hold himself up.

"Or maybe I need to get these two to bed and then come back for you." Leon looked at the figure slumped against the car, Cloud's eyes heavy-lidded with sleep, all his angles softened under the warm light, smiling.

"Are you going to carry me as well?"

"I might." Leon smiled, hefting Roxas back up onto his shoulder. "Just let me see to these."

"I'll be on the sofa," Cloud smiled again, pushing his hair out of his face. "Keep looking at me like that and we might not make it to the bed."

onediagonalscar: (Default)

“If that’s how you really feel about him, why don’t you just tell him?” Tifa snapped.

“Don’t be stupid,” Cloud frowned into his beer, not daring to meet her eye.

“What’s stupid?” From under his hair, Cloud could see Tifa’s fingers drumming on the table top. She only ever drummed her fingers like that when she was angry. “Telling him how you feel and getting it over with? Or mooning around after him like a fangirl for the rest of your life making an idiot of yourself?  What are you going to do when he brings people back? Stick your fingers in your ears?”

“Tifa!” Aerith chuckled. “You’re awful!”

“No, I’m not.” Tifa said. “I’m not. I’m being realistic. Neither of you really think that he’s going to stay single for ever, do you? You think he’s a monk or something? Well, he isn’t. And that means that one day, he’s going to bring someone home, and one day, he’s going to fuck that someone, and one day, we’re going to hear it happen. So,” she stopped for a moment, glaring at Cloud, “unless you want that someone to be someone else, you need to tell him how you feel!”

“But…” Cloud protested. “But… I can’t tell him! What if he says no?”

“At least then you’ll know, and you’ll be able to get on with your life instead of following him around everywhere like you were his shadow or something.”

“I do not!” Cloud glanced up at Tifa. Her fingers were still drumming on the table top. “Anyway, he probably doesn’t even like men.”

Tifa snorted. “Cloud, you can be such an idiot! You…”

“Cloud. Sweetie.” Aerith interrupted. “You are adorable and we both love you very much. But you aren’t always very bright.” She smiled sweetly at Cloud as he opened his mouth to protest, cutting him off with a single raised finger. “You remember when he moved in? When we interviewed him?”

Cloud closed his eyes. He remembered, alright. Aerith – always prudent, always wise – insisted on interviewing prospective flat-mates, and Tifa – always bored – insisted on turning it into a game. Cloud thought the whole thing was stupid, but it was two against one. The worst of it was, they made him sit there and be interested. The worst of it was, when the buzzer sounded, they had made him answer it.

When Cloud had opened the door and seen him standing there, his first thought had been that Tifa had found the manga he had hidden under his mattress and was somehow playing a trick on him. His second thought had been to wonder if he was blushing. His third thought had been that Tifa was going to do that thing with the towel, at which point Cloud had become as clumsy a new-foaled colt.

“Uh, hi? I’m Leon. I’m here about the flat share?”

“Yeah, come in,” Cloud had managed, watching the tiniest hint of a frown crease Leon’s forehead for the briefest fraction of a second. He had followed Leon up the stairs, trying not to see the way the black fabric of his pants tightened across the cheeks of his ass as he took the steps two at a time; the belt hanging on his hips; the three inches of white t-shirt in the gap below the hem of his short black jacket.

Aerith had made a pot of coffee. Cloud sat on the end of the couch watching Leon lift the mug to his lips as he answered the girls’ questions. Cloud had no idea what they were asking, or what Leon was saying in reply, until Aerith had asked him why he was looking for a new place and he had said something about a relationship having come to an end.

“Okay, then, “ Tifa had said. “Unless Cloud has anything he wants to ask you,” and she had shot him a black look, sideways along the couch, “I think we’re all done here. Maybe if you could give us a few minutes to talk it over, we should be able to give you an answer straight away.”

“Sure,” Leon had smiled. “Where do you want me to wait?”

“Well, actually,” Tifa had glanced at Aerith. “There is just one more thing.”

“Oh?” Leon’s smile hadn’t faltered. “What would you like to know?”

“What do you look like in a towel? The shower’s through that door there. There’s a fresh towel on the rail. You can shower or not, whichever, but just give us a couple of minutes either way, would you?”

As it turned out, Leon – freshly showered and with the towel knotted on one hip – looked like he had just freshened up after a hard day in the studio of Polykleitos the Younger. But to Cloud, without the benefit of a classical education to inform his obsessions, he looked like Emba.

“O-kay,” Tifa had said. “I think that just about seals it.” Aerith had nodded. “Cloud?” she said sweetly.

In his room, Cloud had fished the manga from under his mattress with shaking fingers, letting it fall open to the page it always opened to. “Hang… hang on!” he called out, voice cracking and about to come, at the soft knock on his door.

“Sorry, I didn’t want to disturb you,” Leon had said through the door. “I just wanted to say it was nice to meet you and I hope to see you again soon.”

“Me too!” Cloud had gasped, come splattering over the drawing of Emba’s naked torso.

 

Cloud opened his eyes, nodding. “Oh, I remember,” he said.

“And you remember when I asked him why he was moving out of his old place? You remember what he told us?”

Cloud nodded again. “He told us he’d just broken up with his partner,” he said, flatly.

“That’s right,” Aerith smiled. Cloud hated it when Aerith smiled at him. It always made him feel like he was seven.

“So?” Cloud said.

“So,” Tifa butted in. “Men on the rebound are bad news. Either he was going to be all heart-broken and looking for comfort from Aerith and me, or there was going to be a deranged ex-girfriend hanging on the buzzer at all hours and following us around in Walmart calling us whores. So Aerith did some research. And found out who this partner was.”

“His name is Zell Dincht,” Aerith said quietly. “I think you’d be surprised if you saw him.”

“His name…” Cloud says. “Name…. His… But… Oh, god.”

“So, what’s your next excuse?” Tifa said.

“Tifa! Be kind!” Aerith laid a hand on Tifa’s arm.

“I am being kind,” Tifa said, looking from Aerith to Cloud and back. “He needs a good kick in the backside, and I’m giving him one. I’m his friend. It’s what friends do.”

Aerith nodded. “You’re right. It is what friends do. Cloud,” she turned to the boy, who was still frowning into his beer, “this is a gift Tifa is giving you. Don’t make me angry by refusing it.”

“But…” Cloud said.

“Cloud!” Aerith raised a warning finger. “Don’t make me tell you again.”

“Alright, alright. I’ll tell him. But you’d better be ready to clear up the mess when it all goes wrong.”

The three of them sat silent for a moment, Cloud lost in his own thoughts, Tifa and Aerith grinning at each other.

“Well?” Aerith said after a while. “He’s not here is he? How do you propose to tell him, sitting there?”

“What?” Cloud looked up from his drink. “Now? You mean tell him now? But…”

“Cloud! Go!” Tifa said, getting up from the table and taking hold of him by the shoulders, pulling him up onto his feet, propelling him out of the bar into the street. Cloud stood for a moment, staring at the two girls blocking the doorway.

“Okay,” he said at last. “Okay. Shit, I can’t believe I’m going to do this.”

“You’d better!” Tifa said, threateningly. And “and he’d better say yes,” quietly, to Cloud’s receding back.

“That was a nice thing you did for him,” Aerith said, taking Tifa in her arms and hugging her hard. “I know I can’t be easy for you.”

“Oh, you know,” Tifa sniffed. “It’s been so long now, and I’ve known how he is longer than Cloud has himself. We grew up together, remember? And ever since that whole hero-worship thing with Zack you’d have to have been blind not to see what it was he really wanted. So yes,” she sniffed again, “it’s hard, and I love him, but I want him to be happy and I want to be happy and if we can’t be happy together that doesn’t mean I don’t want us to be happy at all.”

Aerith hugged her again. “You know what?” she said. “You and me need to go dancing.” She turned back into the bar, pulling Tifa after her. “So let’s see,” she said. “What are the choices tonight? How about that one?” Pointing to a tall tanned man with long fair hair. “He looks nice.”

Tifa snorted. “Aerith! He does not look nice! He looks like a classic narcissist. And anyway, if he’s straight I’m Sephiroth.”

“Well, okay, if you say so,” Aerith looked doubtful. “How about that one? You like red heads.”

Tifa narrowed her eyes. “That one… now, you know, that one doesn’t look to bad”. Moving towards the bar and the flame-haired man.

– x X x –

Cloud meant to go straight home, but he kept running through scenarios in which he told Leon how he felt without sounding like a complete jerk, and in every single one of them he ended up sounding like a complete jerk. The best he had come up with so far was “Leon, listen, I think you’re really hot.” Which scored on directness, but failed on pretty much everything else. Cloud decided he needed a drink.

In the bar, Cloud sat sucking down one bottle of Dos Equis after another, running through one scenario after another, each one worse than the last. He was half-tempted to give the whole thing up, but whenever he decided to just creep home and sneak into bed he thought of what Aerith and Tifa would do when they found out. “Better get this over with then,” he said to himself, and clambered to his feet.

Until he stood up, Cloud hadn’t realised just how drunk he was, nor how difficult it was to keep one foot in front of the other. “Whoa, there!” he muttered, reeling against a wall as the sidewalk kept slipping out from under him. “Ten blocks. Ten blocks. You can make it. Ten blocks.”

He does make it, just, and after far longer than ten blocks has ever taken before. It’s only partly because he’s drunk, or rather it’s only partly because he’s too drunk to walk in a straight line. The other problem with being drunk is that when Cloud drinks he gets horny, and when he drinks too much he gets really horny, and he had been half-hard all night thinking of Leon and now that he has got really drunk he has been thinking about Leon sucking him off, and his dick is pressing painfully against the fabric of his pants and every step is making him harder.

And on the steps of the apartment building he fumbles his keys and they go rattling down somewhere dark and he can’t find them anywhere and presses the buzzer until Leon answers.

“Hello?” Leon sounds out of breath, and for a moment Cloud stands there, listening to the sound of him breathing heavily into the intercom. Panting, Cloud thinks, and breaks into a grin that turns into a frown. Why would Leon be out of breath? “Hello?” Leon says again.

“Leon. Hi. S’me. Cloud.” Cloud leans his head against the wall, trying to speak clearly into the intercomm.

“Cloud. Hi. Forgot your key?” Leon buzzes Cloud into the building, each word punctuated by a heavy breath. Panting.

“What were you doing?” Cloud says, before he realises it.

“What? Cloud, are you okay?”

“Fine. M’fine,” Cloud says. “You sound different, s’all. Out of breath. Like you’ve been…” He stops himself just in time by clapping a hand over his mouth, eyes widening in horror. Like you’ve been having sex. He had actually been about to say it.

There is a moment’s silence. “I was working out,” Leon says. “Cloud? Have you been drinking?”

“Mmhmm,” Cloud says, into the hand that is still clapped across his mouth.

“Well, listen, why don’t you actually come in? It’s probably easier than talking through the intercomm, right?”

“Mmhm,” Cloud says again. “Be right up.”

Cloud is thinking about Leon working out, about the way the sweat would be sliding over his shoulders and chest, the muscles taut and slick, about him open mouthed and breathing heavily. He makes it half-way up the stairs before he can’t make it any further and sits down on the first floor landing, kneading at the bulge in his jeans. “Leon Leon Leon,” he croons. “Leon Leon Leon,” half talking, half singing.

“Just look at the state of you.”

Cloud opens his eyes. Leon is coming down the second floor stairwell, wearing only a pair of black pants. Cloud stares at the big pectorals and the way Leon’s torso tapers down to a hard narrow column of muscle and realises that he still has his hand in his crotch. “Leon Leon Leon,” he sings, “how are you doing?”

“I’m okay, Cloud, thanks.” Leon is squatting down next to him, a little grin curling one corner of his mouth. “How are you?”

“Better for seeing you,” Cloud says.

“Well, that’s not really all that much of a compliment, given the state your in. Better for being run over by a truck, too, I’d think. Anyway, let me help you up.” Leon lifts Cloud under the armpits, hauls him to his feet, and Cloud stumbles against him, his fingers splayed against Leon’s chest. “Can you walk?”

“Probably. Don’t want to.” Cloud slides his hands around Leon’s chest, over his back, down onto the swell of his ass.

“Cloud?” Leon says questioningly. “What are you doing?”

“Leon, listen, I think you’re really hot,” Cloud says, and bursts out laughing, as if he’s just made a great joke, and grabs Leon’s face is his slick palms and kisses him, hard and hot, spit and tongues and desperation all mixed up in their mouths.

“Whoa! Whoa!” Leon breaks away, trying to take a step backward, but Cloud is still clinging on to him and Leon is supporting both of their body weights. “Cloud, slow down. What’s going on?”

“Sex, I hope,” Cloud says. He pushes himself up against Leon. “Want me to suck your dick?”

“Oh my god,” Leon breathes.

“Z’at a yes?”

“How much have you had to drink?”

“A lot.” Somewhere in his head his normal everyday taciturn self is saying what the fuck do you think you’re doing? what happened to not looking like a jerk? but his drunk insistent horny self doesn’t care. He wants Leon, has wanted him ever since he opened the door and saw him standing on the steps, ever since he had jerked himself off over the manga, imagining that he was Yuuen and Leon was Emba. Drunk insistent horny Cloud wants the muscles that he can feel rolling under Leon’s skin to be pressed against him, wants to feel them trembling as Leon comes, wants to hear Leon’s breathless voice in his ear as Leon shoves him roughly up against the wall and takes him, wants to hear his name a sigh in Leon’s throat, to hear himself moaning Leon’s name.

Cloud slides his fingers into Leon’s crotch, feels the length of him straining under his gym pants, rubs hard.

“Shit!” Leon gasps. “Cloud, I…. Stop, stop,” as Cloud begins to fumble at Leon’s waistband, “stop, Cloud.”

Cloud’s mouth is pressed against Leon’s chest, the sweat drying on him salty on his tongue. He brings his teeth together over one nipple and sucks, moving his hand again as Leon’s breath hisses in and catches in his throat, fingers in Cloud’s hair, half pulling him in, half pushing him back.

“Cloud! Stop!” Leon pushes him away, catches him as he stumbles against the wall. “What are you thinking?”

Cloud is thinking about Leon’s skin on his tongue, his fingers tangled in his hair, the smell of his sweat and his breath hot in his mouth. About Leon’s hips in his hands and dick in his mouth and the feel of every single molecule in Leon’s body trembling as Cloud sucked the come out of him and Leon cried Cloud stop don’t god stop don’t stop stop don’t stop…

“What are you thinking?” Leon says again. “Come on, let me take you upstairs.” Stepping away from him, holding out a hand, ready to catch him if he falls.

“I think you’re incredible,” Cloud says, and grins, an embarrassed, sloppy, sideways grin. “I think you’re amazing. I think you’re the hottest thing’vever seen in my life. I haven’t bn able to stop thinking bout you since th day I met you.”

Leon looks at him. He has known that this moment was coming, ever since he’d pressed the buzzer that first day and the door had opened on the blushing blond kid fiddling with the ends of his hair; ever since he’d stood there wearing a towel and seen Aerith and Tifa looking approvingly at his naked torso and Cloud looking anywhere but. It had been the only thing that had put him off moving in, the incredible fog of sexual tension that clung to Cloud like a flock of starlings. It was pretty clear to Leon right away that Cloud either didn’t know he was gay, or knew he was but hadn’t admitted it to anyone. And then there had been the one night when only he and Tifa had been in and she had told him about Zack, and everything had more or less fallen into place.

“So what do you think?” Tifa had asked him.

“I think he needs to find a man he’s hot for,” Leon had said.

“Oh good,” Tifa had said. “Me too,” raising an eyebrow at him.

It had taken most of Leon’s willpower not to take advantage of Cloud, and god alone knew there had been opportunity after opportunity, Cloud seeming to turn up pretty much wherever Leon was, a constant scowling taciturn presence, always there in the background, never making a move. It was almost as if Cloud was Leon’s punishment – because Leon had been forced to admit to himself pretty quickly that Cloud was closer to his ideal than anyone had ever been. It was as though someone had boiled Zell down and poured him into a mould shaped after Leon’s imagination and then slapped a coat of resentment, vulnerability and need over the top, just in case Leon still thought he was able to resist.

And now here he was, in front of him, too drunk to know what he was doing, practically begging Leon to have sex with him.

“Let me take you upstairs,” Leon says again, hating himself.

“No,” Cloud says, and pushes Leon against the cold concrete wall of the stairwell, drags his fingernails along the side of Leon’s neck, bites him on the shoulder. “Want me to suck you off?” he whispers into Leon’s ear.

Cloud is down on his knees before Leon can tell him not to, and in his heart of hearts Leon doesn’t want to stop him. Cloud has his dick in his mouth and Leon is trying to say “Cloud, stop, you’re drunk, don’t” but it’s just coming out as a little whining noise in his throat. And Cloud is drunk and Cloud is horny and Cloud has wanted Leon for too long to care about what might happen afterwards and he is still thinking about Leon’s hips in his hands and dick in his mouth and the feel of every single molecule in Leon’s body trembling as he sucks the come out of him and Leon shouting Cloud stop don’t god stop don’t stop stop don’t stop… And somehow magically it seems to have come true.

“Will you fuck me now?” Cloud says, pulling away from Leon and getting to his feet. Leon has his eyes closed, and he is panting like he was when he answered the buzzer.

“Oh, Cloud,” he says, “just come upstairs. You’re drunk, and I don’t want to have to find another apartment when you remember what you did.”

“Won’t remember,” Cloud says. “Never ‘member what I do when I’m drunk.”

“That’s not really a reason, though, is it?” Leon frowns. “Look, Cloud, I think it’s pretty obvious that I like you, and there can’t really be any doubt that you like me, but I don’t want to take advantage of you.”

“Want you to, though,” Cloud says. “Ev’ry way you can think of”. He steps forward and pushes himself up against Leon again, dick hard in his pants. Leon takes a breath and grabs hold of his shoulders.

“No,” he says. “Come on. Time to stop this.” Cloud can feel Leon trembling, and struggles against him for a moment, but Cloud is drunk and Leon is sober and he’s stronger than Cloud anyway. Leon half-carries him up the stairs, Cloud’s arm over his shoulder, his around Cloud’s waist, and gets him into the apartment. “Water,” he says. “You need to drink water.”

“‘kay” Cloud mutters. “Just sec. Going bathroom.” Weaves away through the room.

For a minute or two there is silence, and then Leon hears Cloud vomiting. “Damn,” he mutters into the silence that follows. “Don’t let him have locked the door.”

Luckily, he hasn’t. Leon finds Cloud slumped under the hand basin, vomit slopped over the edge and dripping into his hair. “Damn,” Leon says again, and lifts Cloud up off the floor, frowning at the dead weight of him, grimacing at the acrid smell of his vomit and the sight of it smeared across Cloud’s shirt and trousers. “Hey!” he calls, and gives Cloud a gentle shake. “You in there?”

Cloud opens a bleary eye. “Sorry,” he mumbles. “Gon’ puke ‘gain”. Leon gets him over the toilet just in time, holds his shaking shoulders as he dry heaves into the bowl, tries to keep his hair out of the lines of bile drooling from the corners of his mouth.

When it’s over, Cloud sits on the bathroom floor, not meeting Leon’s eyes. “Sorry,” he mutters again.

“Feel better now?” Leon says.

Cloud nods. “Need a shower.” He gestures to himself, vomit-flecked and reeking, and clambers to his feet, pulling at his shirt buttons.

“Okay,” Leon says. “Be careful. I’m going to get dressed.”

 

Half an hour later the shower is still running, but Leon can’t hear any other sounds at all. With a sigh, he opens the bathroom door and sees Cloud sitting under the stream of water, fully clothed except that his pants are around his ankles, water dripping into his open mouth off the ends of his hair. His eyes are closed, but he is breathing, bubbles forming and bursting on his lip.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Leon says and turns the water off.

Cloud is soaking wet. Leon takes his shoes and socks off, and then pulls the sodden pants over his feet. Cloud’s shirt is still plastered with vomit, but Leon takes a hold of the hem and pulls it up over his head, Cloud’s arms flapping. Leon drapes Cloud’s arms over his shoulders and lifts him up.

“What’re you doing?” Cloud says.

“Oh, you’re awake,” Leon starts to say, but only manages “Oh” before Cloud has pushed him back against the wall of the cubicle and kissed him, tongue deep in his open mouth. Cloud tastes of vomit, and under that of semen, and Leon tries to push him away but Cloud is nearly naked and Cloud is slippery and Cloud is desperate and in the confined space of the shower cubicle Leon can’t stop him.

“Take your clothes off,” Cloud pants as he comes out of the kiss to breathe, and turns the water back on as Leon starts to protest. Cloud is tugging at Leon’s belts, a little needy whine in his throat, pulling Leon’s hips into him, bending to bite the soft skin on his abdomen.

“Shit!” Leon splutters into the water that is jetting into his face. “Okay, okay, wait!”

But Cloud won’t wait. Somehow he has Leon’s clothes off and has Leon’s hands in his, pressing them against his chest, his face, his dick. Leon has never seen Cloud in anything less than boxers and a t-shirt, and the sight of him and the feel of him has him hard in seconds. Cloud’s mouth is everywhere on Leon, in his neck, against his throat, biting the bony protrusions of his hips, and Leon is so hard that it hurts and Cloud’s mouth is everywhere and Cloud’s hands are everywhere, pulling at Leon, coaxing Leon, desperate for Leon until he turns Cloud round and pushes him up against the cold tiles on the wall and fucks him, one arm around Cloud’s waist pulling him back, the other pulling on his dick until Cloud comes, hard and shouting with his lips mashed against the wet tiles.

– x X x –

When Cloud wakes up the next morning, every single part of him hurts. Once he can finally bring himself to open his eyes, there is a moment when he can’t work out for the life of him where he is. And then someone says “morning”, very quietly, and kisses him. And Cloud starts to remember.

Monsters

May. 24th, 2016 12:37 pm
onediagonalscar: (Default)

Chapter One


The butt-end of November, and Leon shivers through another Thanksgiving. Not that there's a fucking thing to be thankful for that he can see, as he sits smoking on the steps of the centre, watching the bums come shuffling up for their place in the kitchen line, the next tatty paper plate from the stack bending under the weight of mashed potato; scabs of cranberry sauce congealing. Unless perhaps it's that he isn't one of them.

The first really cold day of the year, the kind of cold that fingers its way under clothes and through flesh and into bone, and no matter how many layers, the cold still gets in. Truly cold, and the thin paper of his hand-rolled cigarette sticks to his lip, tearing as he pulls it away - or is it his skin? - too cold to tell until he feels the tang of his own warm blood running into his mouth. Leon spits scarlet into the street.

Behind him at the top of the steps a scuffle breaks out in the line. One guy with a face like Medusa aware of her own impending fate…

"He's coming for you," Euryale whispers.
"He wants your head," Stheno laughs.
"Fair-cheeked Medusa thinks he'll love her," Euryale says, toying with a lock of her sister's hair, stilling the angry hissing with her fingers.
"Poor little Medusa." Stheno hangs her head. "Always had to be the pretty one."
"The mortal one."
"The dead one."

– patchy clumps of beard not disguising the sebum rash that blooms across his cheeks - is swinging the three-quarters-empty bottle of Thunderbird up above his head, mouthing inarticulate noise at the older man who has his hand buried in hair matted into snakes by years of neglect; pulling his head back like Perseus reaching for the bottle.

Leon is about to go and break them up when he sees her. Just for a moment, as he turns his head towards the couple fighting on the steps; just a shadow in the winter darkness crouching among the boxes piled in the alley's mouth across the street. Only a movement, and perhaps it's just a flap of sacking nailed across a broken window or a dog rooting through the trash. Anyone else would just shrug and pass it off, but Leon knows better. She's been there for a couple of days now, sometimes hidden in the gloom of the alley, sometimes just a lump under a colourless blanket in the doorway of the Brake and Body down the street, and once he had caught sight of her disappearing over the edge of the drugstore roof. Always not quite there, just out of sight, vanishing around corners.

Behind him, the homeless guys are still brawling, the fight spreading through the line which is collapsing into a milling knot of open mouths and shouting. Leon pushes through them into the kitchen, a word growled as he passes, and they quieten. Everyone who has been to the centre twice knows Leon; everyone who comes for the first time finds out soon enough that it is better to be his friend than his enemy. Too many withered husks of men have blown into the centre with nothing but their tough-guy act to protect them, and too many of them have suffered too much under the cruel heel of fate to have anything to offer each other but violence. The one's who listen to Leon's quiet words are the one who come back.

Grabbing a styrofoam cup of the scalding black stuff that passes for coffee from the counter, he turns back and walks out into the street, heading for the alley. He wants to ask her if she's okay, if she doesn't want someone to take her over to the women's shelter on Franklin, to get out of the morning's chill, into the warm.

But by the time he reaches the mouth of the alley all that is there to meet him is the wind in the litter and the sound of her footsteps fading. Like always. Gone before he can talk to her.

Leon doesn't know why she sticks in his mind, this girl who he has barely seen, most of her lost in shadow, her face barely visible between the wing of dark hair and the serpent coils of scarf around her throat.

Tifa doesn't know where he is. She'd lost him somewhere outside Arviat and has been tracking him for months, following the rumour of him as he moved along a great southward arc - Manitoba, Ontario, Michigan, Indiana. Always too late; wherever she was he'd been and gone; the trail almost cold. She thought she had him in Elkhart, but the wino in Edge Water Park only wanted to keep her around long enough to knock her over the back of the head while her guard was down, drag her into the trees, do whatever it was he was still capable of doing to her. Idiot. As if she ever let her guard down. But by the time she was done convincing the drunk of his error he was gone, if he'd ever been there at all. Downriver. South Bend. I-90 and out, anywhere from here to Seattle.

But a stroke of luck in Gary, of all the godforsaken places, because some kids had seen him out by Marquette Park; had come across him sleeping behind the Aquatorium, half dead from the cold and the steady diet of nothing he'd been living on. They'd hung out with him for while, they said, shared Red Bull and Casper Disasters, Nollie Impossibles, before he'd just sort of slunk away towards the Calumet River, the Buchanan Street railyards. Heading for the city, they said.

"Why's everyone looking for him, anyways?" one of them called after her as she headed towards the highway and she looked back, Lot's wife, frozen.

"What?" Running, kid lifted by the lapels, pinned to the wall of the pavilion, heels kicking against the fake stone.

"Fuck! Fucking psycho! Ah, bitch!" as she tightened her grip.

"Who? Who was looking?"

"Jesus, I don't know!" Gasping, the other kids in a knot, big-eyed and frightened. Egging each other on; holding each other back. "Some other guys. A girl. Some guys. I dunno."

"When?"

"Yesterday!"

Tifa drops the boy, runs, their shouts and taunts just noise. They're ahead of you. They're going to find him first. Stupid. Stupid of her not to have realised that she wouldn't be the only one trying to find him. How could she have been so stupid? Calm, calm, she tells herself, heart pounding blood loud in her ears. They're only a day ahead of you. No way they can track him down in a day, not in a city that size. Not even them.

But still she is afraid. Afraid of what might happen if they find him. Of what they might do to him. What they might make him do. What they might make him do to her.

Tifa runs.

Three days before Thanksgiving and Leon rides the L home, hating the crowds, hating the noise, the dirt, the battering rattle of the train. He's walked the length of the cars like he always does, looking for the one with the fewest people, the least need to be pushed around by strange flesh, freest from unwanted accidental intimacies of hips and elbows and knees and other people's breath.

He's been seated for a couple of minutes, a miraculous few feet of empty space around him, when the door at the end of the car bangs open and a kid shuffles in. He's bundled up in himself like he doesn't want anyone to see him, head down, hood up, right arm wrapped around his ribs like they hurt him, fist knotted up in front of his other arm, filthy. Leon sees the fist first, dark and dirty and for a moment he thinks it's a glove, until he sees the bright blood welling from the mashed knuckles.

The kid is coming closer, moving along the car, his other hand held out, a stick of wrist pale and grey under the sleeve of the grimy hoodie, palm-up and mumbling "spare a dollar? Hey, spare a dollar?" No-one so much as glances up from their phone; the pretend-sleepers still sleeping; something in StreetWise too absorbing to stop reading for this filthy kid shuffling along the car. "Hey. Spare a dollar?"

He's almost to Leon now, and Leon can smell him. He remembers the street stink only too well, because once upon a time it had wrapped itself around him, a second skin, knowing every nook and crevice of him, rapacious. Thick and dank and cloying, a mixture of grime and unwashed flesh and resignation and the residue of every kick and curse, and only the really hopeless - the ones too badly damaged to ever go back into one piece - ever carry that smell this thickly. "Hey, spare a dollar?"
The outstretched hand is in front of him, and for a moment Leon stares at it. The flesh is almost yellow beneath the dirt, ridged and calloused, the creases on the inside of the knuckles black. The palm is wrapped in a tatty bandage, no cleaner than the hand, and Leon winces at the angry inch of red skin that shows under its edge; shudders to think of what wound it's hiding, at the filth within it; glances up just to not be looking at the bandaged hand.

Jesus.

Even though he's been thinking of him as a kid, he's surprised at just how young the boy looks. The time he's spent at the shelter has taught him to take a good few years off his estimates of anyone's age, but even under the dirty street pallor, the exhaustion and abuse and bad nutrition, this kid only looks about sixteen at the outside. Narrow shoulders pushed up, head sunk in a frozen shrug. Under his hood, his face is half in shadow, but even so Leon can see the bones protruding over the sunken cheeks; eyes too big and too blue, and one of them is gummed half shut. Lank hair cut ragged, every-which-way stiff with dirt, the colour of old piss. Breath a wheezing rattle.

"Spare a dollar?"

Leon looks at him, sees a mirror held up to his past.

"What's your name, kid?" Before he can stop himself, fumbling through his pockets for change.

The kid is silent for a moment, one hand still out, the other knotted up under his armpit, except for the rough rasp of his breath. "My name?" as though no-one has asked him for so long that he has to think about it.

"Yeah, your name." There's about four dollars in quarters and dimes, and Leon dumps most of it in the kid's bandaged hand.

"Thanks." The kid turns away, knobs of spine visible through the fabric of his jacket; shuffles away down the car, invisible to everyone but Leon.

Under the bed it is dark, and she wants light more than she has ever wanted anything. In the quiet all she can hear is the panicked tumble of her heart, the blood rasping in her ears, the breath hot and shallow in her throat. So loud that she is certain he must hear, and she stuffs the back of her hand back between her teeth, biting down on the meat behind her thumb.

In the next room she hears the muffled scrape of a chair leg pushed back over the linoleum, hears him say "so… where were we?" and then someone starts screaming. She thinks it might be Belle, but she can't be sure. No-one else is making a sound and maybe some of them are hiding but probably they are all already dead. She knows that Jasmine and Alice are, because she had listened as their curses and threats had turned to terror; to noises she had never imagined a person could make, and then to silence. She has hidden in the dark for she doesn't know how many hours, listening to him take her friends out of the room one by one, listening to him kill them.

He had seemed so nice when Shiki had first brought him home, smartly dressed in an expensive-looking suit and with his shoes polished. Not the greatest conversationalist, but Shiki didn't seem to care, and who could blame her, really? He had fairly quickly become a favourite of all of them, and Shiki didn't seem to mind that, either. Vincent, his name was. Vincent Valentine, and Rhyme had rolled her eyes skyward.

He and Shiki had been to the Shipyard Inn after her shift in the Emergency Room had ended, and she had brought him back to the townhouse on East 100th Street around eleven. They were already both half drunk, Shiki hanging off his arm and laughing at his increasingly improbable stories.

Shiki had been laughing since he had first come in to the Emergency Room, a week ago, looking for his brother. There wasn't anyone that fit his description, she knew that straight off, but Shiki had kept him talking while she pretended to check through the admissions records because he looked so nice and had the loveliest eyes and his smile was so charming.

"Wait!" she had called out, regretting every step he took away from the triage desk. With no idea of what she was going to say next.

He had turned in the exit, stepping back as a burly man shouldered through the swinging doors. "If he comes in…" she had stammered.

His smile had broadened. "I'll come back," he said.

And he had come back, every day, and his brother had never been admitted. She had asked him if he had checked the other hospitals, and of course he had, and the idea of him waiting in other ER's, flicking his fringe out of his eyes as he chatted with other nurses, didn't trouble her one bit. Not at all. Because she hadn't dared ask him about himself, she had asked him about his brother.
"He ran away," he had said, and the expression on his face had been like none she had ever seen. "He's not… uh, well, he's not…" he paused. "Let's just say he couldn't pour water out of a boot with the instructions on the heel."

"Is he dangerous?" she had asked, not quite sure what he meant, and he had shaken his head.

"Only to himself. It's happened before. He wanders off, gets himself into some scrape, winds up in a hospital or jail. I just want to find him before something really bad happens."

But he hadn't found him, at least as far as Aqua knew, and something really bad was happening. She closes her eyes in the darkness under the bed, in case it means she won't have to hear what he's doing to Belle.
 

to becontinued....
onediagonalscar: (Default)

It was Riku who had noticed her first, just a shadow moving through shadows, dogging their steps as Leon moved them through the ruins of another shattered town. When they pitched camp that night, Leon had broken his own rule and taken morning watch himself, slipping out from under Riku’s arm, creeping away quietly to avoid waking him up. Riku was afraid of the dark.

And it had been around five a.m., when the little fire he had lit in the hollow of rocks outside the camp had burned down to a low glow, that she had appeared. Leon didn’t know how long she’d been there, watching him from the encroaching gloom beyond the fading firelight, and it was only when he had clambered wearily to his feet and stooped to place more wood on the embers that he had seen her, motionless behind six feet of steel that glinted softly as the flames began to lick along the log.

Her name, it turned out, was Cloud, and her story was a fair echo of their own: returning home after the Devestation to find the people scattered and the place destroyed. Unlike them she had stayed, living among the ruined buildings, waiting to see what happened, and they were the first thing that had. She’d wanted to know about them, who they were, where they were going, what they hoped to find, and Leon – usually so taciturn – had found himself wanting to tell her, about the guilt he carried and about his failure and about how he had promised himself that he would take care of everything from now on. She had looked at him for a long moment and asked him who was taking care of him.

Dawn was lightening the horizon. Leon took her back to camp with him, and when they moved on that day she went with them. Only Riku didn’t like her. But then Riku didn’t like anybody.

She learnt their ways quickly, and whatever she thought of the rag-bag of waifs and cast-offs she kept pretty much to herself. More and more, Leon found that whenever he glanced up from whatever he was doing he would find Cloud watching him, and whenever she saw him see she would hold his gaze for a moment, not smiling. Leon knew that she wasn’t fooled when Riku wandered nonchalantly away from the camp and Leon slipped off in a different direction; that she saw Riku come limping back alone; heard him cry himself to sleep as Leon held him under the blanket. More and more often, when Riku would wake up in the night, wide-eyed, all hands and mouth and fierce desperation, Leon would feel Cloud’s eyes on him.

He had forgotten how quietly she could move. Like normal, Leon had arranged the watch rota so that it was Riku who relieved him. At first it had been another opportunity for them to fuck, but pretty soon it had become apparent to Leon that Riku couldn’t spend four hours in the dark on his own anyway, and the only way of making the others think the boy was taking his turn was if he stayed with him.

“Can’t carry no dead weight!” Barrett had snapped, and everyone knew that that was pretty much what Riku was. Good at your back in a fight, but other than that the boy was a liability. Cracked, and the cracks were showing.

“Thinking about him again, huh?”

Leon looked up with a start. Cloud was standing a few feet away, leaning on her sword, watching him in the pale light of the dying fire.

“Mind wandering?”

Leon nodded. “I guess.” He paused, waiting for the woman to speak, but she stayed silent, staring at him.

“Did you want something?” He said at last.

“It’s a shame, you know,” Cloud said, and squatted down on the ground in front of him. “And a waste. A man like you. The things I could do with a man like you.”

“What are you….?” Leon started to say, stuttering into silence as the swordswoman placed the flat of a hand against his belly.

“You and me,” she muttered into his ear, leaning her weight against him, breasts flattened against his chest, fingers tangled in the belts draped around his hips.

“Wait!” Leon protested, but the belts had fallen away under her fingers and she had slipped a hand into his trousers, long fingers curling around his stiffening dick. “Wait,” he said again, weakly, as Cloud pulled him free of his clothes.

 

“Such a pity,” she murmered, dragging her fist up his dick as she pulled her lips away from his ear and hunkered down over him. “The things I could do for you.”

Leon groaned, the slow drag of her gloved palm almost unbearable over his exposed glans. “Don’t…”

“Don’t?” Cloud raised an eyebrow, the motion of her fist not slowing. “Is he that good? What does he do to you, then, that you think I can’t do better?” She glanced up momentarily, grinning, saliva’d lips gleaming in the firelight. “Tell me.” Bent forward, ran the tip of her tongue across his balls, up the underside of the shaft.

“He n… ah!” Leon gasped as Cloud took him in her mouth, tonguing him as she sucked. “Needs me to look affffuck!” as she slid forward down him, burying her nose in his hair. “After him,” he whispered.

Cloud came off him, kneading him again in her fist. “And what about you? Who looks after you?”

Leon shook his head. “I can look after myself.”

“You’re doing a good job of pretending not to care,” Cloud grinned. “But,” and glanced down as his straining dick, dark with his driven blood, silvered with saliva, “you’re full of shit.”

“He needs me,” Leon said again, bucking his hips involuntarily into the rhythm of Cloud’s hand.

“Bullshit.”

“He…. ah! He does!”

“He’s using you to punish himself.” Somehow, she’d shrugged her way out of her top, still wrapped in the ragged red cloak she always wore. She was – and Leon hardened as he saw it – lean and strong, long muscles honed by hardship, boyish but for the swell of her breasts. “Like that, huh?” a little smile twisted at the corner of her mouth as she felt him stiffening under her hand. “Here’s something he can’t do.”

She placed the tip of Leon’s dick against the underside of her breasts, letting the weight of them rest there for a moment, grinning again as Leon strained involuntarily upwards. Taking hold of herself in both hands, Cloud leant forward, pressing together and down.

“Ah….. shit…..” Leon gasped, his breath hissing out between his clenched teeth. “Fuck! That’s … Ah! Fuck, that’s…”

Once – not so long ago in months and years; a lifetime ago in his experience – when he had been just a boy, there had been a girl, and he had thought the strange troubling sensations in his belly and throat when she was nearby might be love, and once when his friends had pushed him blushing and reluctant onto the floor and he had had to ask her to dance with him she had said “Oh! Yes!” in a little voice that sounded surprised and happy. She had leant against him as she reached up to peck a little kiss on his cheek and her breasts had pressed against his bare forearm and he had almost recoiled in surprise at the strange alien feeling of them, so unlike any part of his own body, soft and firm and yielding and heavy and cool. And they had danced and she had kissed him again and run off laughing, and later that night Leon had lain in his bed, remembering the press of her breasts against his bare forearm as he jerked off, strange and magnetic and repellent and incredible.

“Fuck!” he groaned again, as Cloud began to move more quickly, moving her heavy breasts up and down the length of him.

“You like that?” She tucked her chin in against her neck and drooled a long chain of saliva onto the head of Leon’s dick as it thrust out between her breasts, glancing up at him from under her hair, smiling at the sight of him with his eyes tight shut and head back, pulse jumping erratically under the curve of his jaw.

“Fuck, yes!” Leon muttered, “fuck yes!” He was trembling now, his hips jerking spasmodically as he thrust without rhythm. “Fuck…. Fuck… F…uh! haahh!” Three gouts of come splattered across Cloud’s face as Leon bucked wildly under her.

“See” Cloud said, clambering to her feet and wiping at her face, “it’s not so bad is it? Being the one being taken care of every once in a while?”

Wordlessly, Leon shook his head. Behind him, he could hear the sound of someone making their way towards them through the trees. Alarmed, he turned towards Cloud, but the swordswoman was already gone, melting into the darkness. Hurriedly, Leon cleaned himself off and lay back, waiting for Riku to arrive. It was going to be a long night.

onediagonalscar: (Default)
Later that same night, when Tifa heads over to the Brake and Body, she finds Leon there as if nothing had happened, in the parking lot, the others ranged around him, waiting. Biggs and Wedge seeing how far they can spit. Irvine picking at his teeth with a sliver of matchwood. Tifa looks at Leon, one eyebrow up in question. Leon stares back at her, puts out his cigarette in the palm of his hand. Zell give a low whistle.

Leon leans up against the hood of his car, a Puerto Rican bullet in his shoulder. He isn’t speaking. He never says much anyway, but tonight the Mexican bullet in his chest is making every breath he takes feel like the air is on fire.

“Well?” Tifa says. “Leon?”

Leon shakes his head, mutters “hey, man, give me a cigarette,” a grim little smile on his lip as seven packs appear out of the darkness beyond the halo of brake lights. Zell already has one lit for him and Leon takes it in one hand, throwing the beer bottle he’s been holding at the wall of the parking lot where it shatters, shards of glass and Dos Equis blooming across the brickwork.

“Leon?” Tifa says again. “What happened?”

“Dead,” Leon grunts. “All dead.”

“All of them?” Tifa’s eyes widen in surprise.

Leon nods, and Zell whistles again.

“So now what?”

Leon shrugs, wiping at the blood that blackens the chrome.



Earlier that same night, Leon had been kneeling on the tarmac in the rain, drops like diamonds under the cone of streetlight, Cloud’s carcass cradled across his thighs, his cold dead head pressed against Leon’s chest. Tifa had been crouched behind the dumpsters crammed into the alley beside the diner, calling to him and calling to him, trying to make him come back out of the light, but either he can’t hear or he is just ignoring her. She runs out in a low crouch, hesitating on the edge of the pool of light.

“Leon! Please!” She hisses.

“I’m not leaving him.” Leon’s voice was flat, expressionless, and he wasn’t looking at her.

“Then bring him! But get out of the light!”

“I’m not leaving him.” Leon wasn’t looking at anything except the wet dead face crushed against the t-shirt clinging to his chill flesh.

“Leon! Please! It’s not safe.”

“It makes no difference.”

“Come out of the light,” she says, more gently. “Do you want to get killed as well?”

For a moment Leon doesn’t answer. “It makes no difference,” he says again.

Tifa wants to shout at him, to grab him, to drag him back into the darkness of the alley away from the eyes of the men she knows are hiding out there in the night, down the street, watching Leon. But Leon is kneeling on the tarmac, rain dripping off his fringe into Cloud’s cold dead face cradled against his chest.

“Please, Leon,” she says again.

“Why?” Leon says, and Tifa knows that nothing she says will mean anything to him now.

“Leon,” she says, waiting.

“What?”

“Why did you never tell him?”

Tifa reaches out a hand, takes Leon by the shoulder, recoils as he turns his face towards her, just for a moment. Tifa has never seen Leon cry before, and doesn’t want to now, but even the rain can’t hide his tears.

Leon mutters something that Tifa doesn’t quite catch.

“What?”

“I said,” he lifts his head towards her again and just for a moment she sees something in his eyes that is even worse than his tears. “‘Because it would have made me weak’. And because it would have made him weak. And because we can’t be weak. Not us. We’re the fucking heroes, Tifa. The big fucking heroes.”

Tifa squats in the rain, just outside the circle of light, wondering if there is anything that she can say that won’t sound callous, or patronising, or facile. Probably not, she decides.

“Cloud…” she says, and sees Leon stiffen at the sound of his name. “Bring him out of the rain, Leon”

“It makes no difference now, does it?” Leon says, and looks up at her again. “He’s dead.” His voice cracks on the word, and he is sobbing openly now, shoulders shaking, great shudders racking his body as he hunches over the corpse in his arms, pulling it to him. “Oh, god, Tifa, what am I going to do?” he says, and for a moment it seems to Tifa that this isn’t Leon at all, but a lost and helpless boy, alone in the world he has walled himself up in, terrified by the very thing he has created to protect himself.

“Squall?” Tifa says, so quietly that the falling rain is louder than the sound of her voice.

Leon is pushing the wet hair out of Cloud’s eyes. “Cloud,” he says, and kisses the cold, slightly open lips. “Cloud.” Tifa watches Leon’s fingers on Cloud’s cheeks, wondering how often he has imagined doing exactly this, only with Cloud’s eyes closing instead of open and staring, and the blood rising under his cheekbones and Leon’s breath not the only breath in Cloud’s mouth.

“What’s the point, now?” Leon says, and Tifa opens her mouth to reply before she realises – just in time – that he isn’t talking to her, probably doesn’t even remember that she’s there, and he is pushing the wet hair out of Cloud’s eyes and kissing the cold dead lips and Leon’s tears are smeared across Cloud’s face – grey now in the leaching light under the streetlamp – and he is talking, talking, talking, the words spilling out of him as if they had been building up for years inside him until he couldn’t keep them in any longer. And the words that Leon is saying are the most beautiful, most unbearable things that Tifa has ever heard and she doesn’t want to be hearing them and she doesn’t know if it’s the rain or her own tears but suddenly she can’t see and when she hears Leon crying “I love you so much” she starts to back away, but not quite quickly enough not to hear what he is whispering into Cloud’s ear and as she clambers to her feet she hears someone away down the road calling out something in Spanish.

“Hey! Pachuco!”

Tifa backs away from the light, glancing down to road, down to Leon, and back. In the distance, four or five figures are coming towards them.

“Hey, pachuco!” one of them steps forwards, arms in the air.

“Leon,” Tifa says.

“Hago la lucha!” the man shouts, and then “dáme esa pistola, hombre!”

“Leon!” Tifa says again, more urgently.

“Hijo de la chingada madre!”

Leon glances up. “You’d better go,” he says, quietly.

“Leon!” Tifa says. “You have to come!”

“I’m not leaving him.”

“Me la tiré, hombre!” one of the men shouts, and the only thing Tifa wants more than Cloud to still be alive is for Leon not to speak Spanish, or Mexican, or Puerto Rican, or whatever mix of the three these men speak among themselves.

“Pinche fresa!” one of them spits, and she sees Leon stiffen.

“Tifa, go” Leon says quietly.

“Dijo que yo era mejor que tú!” the man laughs, grabbing at his crotch.

“Ay, que pinche pancho!”

Leon gets to his feet, very slowly, and steps forward, over Cloud’s body.

“Go, Tifa,” he says again.



Later that same night, when Tifa gets to the Brake and Body, she finds Leon leaning against the hood of his car as if nothing had happened. The others are ranged around him, talking about a shoot-out in South Deering, but Leon isn’t saying anything. Only Tifa can see the blood that is pooling around his shoes, black under the sodium lights.

“Leon,” she says, but he just shakes his head, gestures for her to get in, brodies through the stop light into three lanes of on-coming traffic before the others know what’s happening, leaving them gaping at the blaring horns, hiking the cuffs of their trousers up out of the spray from Leon’s whitewalls.

“Leon?” Tifa says again, and then “Leon!” as she sees the blood that has soaked into his white t-shirt.

“It’s over,” Leon says, throwing the car onto the ramp onto the freeway.

Tifa tries to talk to him, to reassure him, to make him explain, but Leon says nothing until the car rolls to a halt where the concrete service road runs out, under the skeleton of a dead tree. Leon climbs out of the car and stands on the sloping gravel where the factories peter out and the sprawling railroad yard unravels into a wilderness of scrub running down to the lakeshore.

“It’ll get better Leon,” Tifa is saying, “you just have to give it time.”

“How much?” He turns back towards her. “A week? A year? It’s not going to get better, Tifa. He’s dead. How much time will make that better?”

Tifa shakes her head, hot angry tears in her eyes. “I don’t know,” she says. “But it will. People survive this. They get over it.”

“Get over it? He’s dead, Tifa. And I love him. I don’t want to get over it. I want him back.” Leon would be shouting, only there is a Puerto Rican’s bullet in his shoulder and a Mexican’s bullet in his chest, and the breath is rasping in his throat. Tifa sees the bloodstain on his t-shirt darken and shimmer as more black blood wells up.

“Where is he, Leon?”

“There,” Leon gestures towards the blocky concrete building that sticks up like a broken tooth by the lakeshore. “He’s in there.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Nothing.” Leon shrugs his jacket off his shoulders carefully; peels the sticky t-shirt off his torso. Tifa sees him wince as the cloth pulls away from his flesh; gives a little gasp as she sees the bruising around the entry wounds, the blood smeared over the darkened skin.

“Oh, god, Leon!”

Leon smiles, and Tifa’s heart would have broken to see it, had it not already been broken. “It makes no difference,” he says. “He’s dead. What would I do? I can’t get over it, not if there was forever to try in. I just can’t.” He pulls something out of his trouser pocket and tosses it at Tifa. “You should go, probably.”

Tifa stands looking at the bunch of keys in her hand. None of the things she wants to say will fit past the big chunk of grief that is sticking in her throat. “Why didn’t you tell him, Leon?” she whispers at last.

Leon has already moved away towards the little concrete building where he had laid Cloud’s body earlier that same evening, but he must have heard her because he stops and looks back over his shoulder. “I did,” he says. “I told him an hour ago, when I came to find you. And an hour before that, when I brought him back. And an hour before that, when we found him.”

Tifa stands in the darkness, holding Leon’s car keys in her hand, watching his back as he walks away from her. “There’s no love as true as the love that dies untold,” she hears him say. He hesitates, and just for a moment she thinks he’s going to change his mind, come back, ask her for something. But he ducks his head under the low lintel and vanishes through the dark doorway.
onediagonalscar: (Default)
Cloud runs through the streets, dodging from one doorway to another as the morning comes on. Grey snow is driving down the canyon of the street; dogs barking from the windows of derelict buildings. He leans into the wind, the snow in his face.

Behind him, down the potholed road where the weeds and bushes choke the streets and the entries are full of undergrowth and tangled branches, whoever it is that is chasing him pauses.

A chainsaw coughs to life.

Cloud grins to himself, thin-lipped in the chill.

He doesn’t notice the cold and doesn’t care about his pursuers; the shot he’d injected into his hip hours ago still making him wing-heeled and invincible. But he can feel it starting to wear off, the familiar warm sweetness of come-down spreading over him like melted honey. Underneath the chemical burn of the Mercury driving his limbic system, he can feel the artificially-heightened spatial awareness fading; can feel his dampened-down hunger and thirst begin to edge back; the rising goad of liberated sexual arousal.

Behind him, the growl of the chainsaw. Ahead of him, only a few blocks away, Leon.

A final burst of energy before the drug wears off and exhaustion takes him. Clouds ducks his face out of the wind and sprints along the shattered street. Shoulders in through the splintering door, hardly halting to tap the combination into the keypad.

In the gloom of the pre-dawn morning the room is just a mass of shadows. Cloud turns, the shriek of the over-revved engine in the street outside; parts the blinds and peers between the slats, eyes narrowed into the glare of the torches.

Five or six figures, one with the saw hoisted above his head. No real threat.

Cloud turns again.

The slats of light fingering in through the blinds zebra the hump of Leon tangled in sleep, pale light barring the bed. Through the play of light and shadow Cloud only sees him where the long tangled hair – raven-dark in the darkness – catches the beams, wan light falling across his pale face. As Cloud starts to undress, Leon shifts in sleep, the thin sheet falling away from a shoulder blotched with red crescents. Cloud runs his tongue over his teeth, remembering…

… how Leon had cried out quietly and bucked against him and Cloud had bitten down hard to stifle his own shout…

Naked to the waist, Cloud feels himself hardening at the memory and Leon sprawled naked on the bed. He snaps on the light and sees him, asleep with one foot planted on the bare floor, pale muscle and dark hair, a map of desire. As Cloud watches, Leon shifts, making soft sounds in his sleep, and his dick rises up from the brown tangle at his groin, hard and pulsing. Cloud wonders if he’s remembering…

… fingertips and tongue across his skin; the heat inside Cloud’s mouth, his throat constricting as he swallowed…

Kicking free of his pants, Cloud clambers onto the bed, takes Leon’s dick in his hand, feels the weight of it against his palm before closing his fist around it. For a moment he just holds it, marvelling at its weight and warmth, at the softness of the fragile sheath of skin, at the way it trembles as the blood engorging it throbs to the beat of his heart. Then, slowly, he begins to raise and lower his fist, watching the foreskin peel back and the glans glide free on the down stroke; how it rolls back over the dark head more slowly than his fist moves on the up.

On the bed Leon, still asleep, makes a small inarticulate noise in the back of his throat and puts the back of a hand against his mouth, biting down on one knuckle. Cloud slides his free hand under Leon’s balls and squeezes gently, still working at his dick with the other. There is a little twist of lust uncoiling in his belly, filaments of fire spreading through his arteries. Leon groans again, and Cloud quickens the motion of his hand, runs a long thumbnail over the contracting skin of Leon’s balls.

“Wha…?” Leon says, and pushes himself up on his elbows, foot scrabbling for purchase against the bare boards of the floor. “Ah! Fuck!”

Cloud feels Leon’s balls clench, the first dry spasm shake him, and then the quick pulsing kick as he comes, once, twice, and again, longer. Semen slops over Cloud’s still moving fist and Leon is writhing under him.

“Ah! Fuck! Stop!”

“Morning babe,” Cloud grins.

“Morning.” Leon closes his fist over Cloud’s, struggling to stop him, voice catching in his throat. “Coming down?”

Cloud nods. Outside the window, a bottle smashes against the wall, splashing sparks across the glass as the makeshift bomb explodes and petrol showers, igniting. Jeering laughter, and the chainsaw is still screaming, and someone is shouting about burning the fucking fag Delivery Boys.

Cloud lets go of Leon’s dick and lowers his face to it, licking at the slick of come that had smeared down it. Leon lets out a long shuddering sigh that turns into a whimper as Cloud takes him in his mouth.

“Oh… god…” Leon groans. “That ffffffffffff…ah! That fucking drug!”

“Shut up,” Cloud says, coming off Leon for just a moment. “Just shut up and fuck me.”

Leon does what he’s told.