They say you’re born this way, that it’s not a sickness, not a fault, just part of who you are. Something natural and beautiful. But they aren’t the ones who have to live with it; they aren’t the ones who were never given a choice. How can they possibly understand what it’s like to desire something so perverse, so filthy? How dare they act as if this hunger is something to be proud of? They don’t wash the thirst for sweat and semen away with alcohol and sleeping pills. They don’t wake from nightmare fantasies, or fantasy nightmares, weeping with the repulsive longing to submit, to succumb, to surrender. They don’t have to live with the beast.

It’s a cruel joke to tell me I was born like this. Why me? What did I ever do to deserve imprisonment in my own traitorous flesh? I don’t care if they want me to embrace my disease, accept it as part and parcel of who I’m meant to be. I can’t. I won’t. I have to believe this is something that can be fixed. If it’s a taint in my blood then I’ll bleed myself dry. If it’s a corruption in my heart then I’ll cut the damned thing out. I’ll do anything, even if it means taking my own life, to destroy the monster I’ve become. I can’t be this man anymore.

Tanim edged up the darkened stairwell, the wooden steps polished to a dangerous sheen by hundreds of years of passing feet. At the top of the stairs he stopped and drew in a slow, calming breath, allowed himself a moment to gather his thoughts. No sense going in with his nerves already wound tight; he needed to remain clear headed or he wouldn’t be able to trust his own experiences tonight. He didn’t want anyone to refute his conclusions based solely on human fallibility.

The gory legend surrounding the Hanged Man Inn began, or perhaps ended, with the suicide of the Reverend Aaron Smith in the late 1700s. An investigation launched upon discovery of his body hanging from the rafters of the Blackbird Inn revealed Smith as the perpetrator of a total of thirteen murders over half as many years. The reverend’s private journal, found hidden beneath a parish floorboard, uncovered a sordid tale of illicit affairs with young men conducted at the very inn where he had taken his life. Smith believed these men to be incubi sent by the Devil to tempt him to a life of sin and so destroyed them all as they wore out welcome or allure, each killing more horrific than the last. It was now popular belief that the ghosts of his victims haunted the inn, trapped at the place of their bloody demise. Thousands of paranormal enthusiasts flocked to the inn each year, hands clutching reprinted copies of Smith’s diary and suitcases full of investigative equipment. Tanim doubted most of the stories of incoherent screaming, headless specters, and invisible attacks were true, of course, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to prove that first hand.

Raising his digital voice recorder, habitually double checking the full battery life left in the device as he did, Tanim moved down the hallway. He trailed his free hand along the wall, counting each closed doorway as he passed by. He would return to these rooms later to take EVP recordings but his eagerness drove him to start at the heart of the haunting: the attic where Smith had ended so many lives, including his own. The current owners of the inn had transformed the attic room into a single suite reserved for those whose desire to stay a night in death’s chambers knew no monetary limit. Tanim spared a moment at the door for an appropriately dramatic pause, then crept inside. Moonlight filtered through rippled windows illuminated reproduction furniture and lovingly laundered white lace linen. The room looked nothing like it had when the reverend lured his victims to their deaths, of course, but the period décor still made one feel as if Smith’s victims might appear at any moment, alive and unaware of their impending doom.

“Is anyone in here? Can you hear me? Can you answer me?” Tanim left a long pause between each question, allowing time for the recorder to pick up sounds outside his own hearing range, and tried not to feel too silly carrying on a one sided conversation. “If there is someone in this room with me, please say something. Say anything.”

Silence. Of course. No investigator had ever recovered anything more from an EVP session at the Hanging Man than the sound of settling old wood and winter wind whistling beneath window cracks. Not exactly the stuff of horror movies. Tanim snorted and turned back to the door.

“Daren–”

He recognized the phantom on sight. The reverend’s diary described this particular young man in almost lurid detail, whole pages devoted to his angelic features, his piercing black eyes, the taste of his sweat and the heat of his flesh. Tanim hadn’t been able to read those passages through in one sitting, physically sickened by the reverend’s perverse obsession and violent fantasies. By the time authorities had found Daren’s body buried in the forest behind the parish, all that could be determined was that his jaw had been broken, his spine snapped, and his body dismembered; the more gruesome ghost tales preferred to presume the poor boy had been alive throughout. Of course, the lingering fragment standing before Tanim betrayed nothing of his horrific end. Neither blood nor bruises marred skin so pale it shone silver blue in the moonlight. The dark, flat eyes which stared back showed no rage or sorrow, fear or helplessness. Nothing remotely human at all, in fact, which somehow unnerved Tanim more than anything else about this moment.

Tanim swallowed, suddenly at a loss for what to do, to say, to think. He wanted to ask a thousand questions but each one died on his heavy tongue and he only managed to choke out, “you were his first…” Pale lips moved as if in reply but no sound emerged from the specter and as quickly as he had appeared, Daren vanished. Tanim rushed to review the EVP, desperate to discover what the lingering spirit had said, only to find his recorder’s batteries drained and useless.

“Do you know how many times I’ve died?” A long drag on the cigarette can’t mask the trembling of his hand, nor the acrid smoke disguise the sneer twisting his mouth. “How many times I’ve been torn to pieces? Beaten? Burned? Raped?” He draws again on the cigarette. The embers spark a brief light in his eyes but fail to warm his frozen gaze. “I can’t remember which moments are real and which are nightmares or hallucinations; everything’s muddled by fever and fear. Maybe some of those delusions are even sick fantasies. Maybe after thirty years of madness not only have I lost my memory, but I’ve lost the ability to discern between desire and revulsion as well.” He laughs as if amused by the notion of his own corruption. “I guess suffering makes masochists of us all, huh?”

There’s no comfort I can offer that he would accept. What must it be like not to be able to trust your own memories? To question every experience and sensation because you have no anchor to keep you steady, no grip on reality? It’s little wonder he believes himself a psychopath. All he’s ever known is the sickness, the fever nightmares, the drift between unconsciousness and waking hell. No man could suffer such torture with his sanity completely intact.

“Sometimes I wonder if I’ll wake up and find you’re just a delusion like all the rest,” The cigarette burns forgotten in his hand as he stares into some future I can’t share. “I think I’ll open my eyes one morning and be back in that shit hole apartment, laying in a pool of my own bloody vomit. You’ll have been nothing but a fever dream; nothing but a desperate fabrication of my damaged mind. Wouldn’t that be ironic? The one time I actually want the lie to be the truth?” His gaze slides over, holds mine, and the disassociation in his eyes sends a crawl of unease up my spine. A part of him believes this hypothesis. He holds me forever at arm’s length so when I do finally disappear, it won’t hurt. He doesn’t expect me to stay. Even when he’s staring straight at me he doesn’t really believe I’m here. I’m just another insubstantial phantom in a lifetime of terror and loss.

My poor lover is so thin skinned, so quick to bruise and bleed. Words cut him to the bone and leave wounds which tear open again at the slightest provocation. He doesn’t have the armor of apathy and disdain that I do. Where I can turn my back on the hurled insults, the cruel whispers and spiteful glares, each one lands a fresh blow on his unprotected flesh. He breaks beneath their loathing like a sapling stripped and battered in a storm. I wish just once he would turn his fear and sorrow to fury and hatred instead. Anger would cleanse him, burn away infected, necrotic flesh and speed the healing. I want him to fight back, to spit his blood in their faces and laugh when they flinch away from the taint. We can’t change the world but we can sure as hell bear our battle scars with pride. If he would just embrace the rage, learn to strike out instead of backing down, he’d never spare a tear for their slurs or condemnation again.

“Don’t do it,”

“What?”

“Check the time,” Tanim glanced up from the stack of paperwork spread across the desk between them just as Daren began to roll his shirt cuff back to uncover his watch. “It’ll only depress you.” The warning came too late, however, and the younger man groaned theatrically. “Oh, fuck me. You’ve got to be kidding. And here I was foolish enough to hope I might actually get to sleep tonight… might as well set up a cot in my fucking office.” He rubbed at his face, massaging pounding temples that ached for another pot of coffee. “Why are we the only ones stuck at the office on a miserable Monday night, anyway? Where’s Jonathan? Or Mark? Why aren’t they slaving over this deadline with us?”

Tanim offered a helpless shrug and leaned back in his chair, raking stray hair off his forehead. “Jon is home with his new baby. She has colic or something; his wife’s been throwing a fit that he isn’t home in time to help her out. And tonight is Mark’s anniversary. Family comes first, at least if you have colleagues to sucker into taking on your part of the project.”

“Suckers indeed. We’re god damned martyrs if you ask me,” Daren folded his arms with a huff. Clearly sick children and romantic celebrations rated low on his list of reasons to skip work, especially if your friends suffered the consequences of your absence. “But if it’s all about family togetherness, why are you still here? You’ve got a wife waiting at home, too, but you always stay late. Do you just have more mercy on poor singles like me than our fellows do?”

Daren expected a sardonic reply from his companion, not the strange flicker of emotion which passed over Tanim’s weary features instead, an uncharacteristically vulnerable mixture of sorrow and denied desire. “I’d hurry home if I had someone like you to come back to,” Tanim replied after an awkward silence, voice strained and gaze averted as if to hide the truth of his admission.

And then he could not turn away at all. Daren’s fingers were tilting back his jaw, warm mouth covering his own in a kiss begun gently but soon drawing him in with possessive, needy force. Tanim surrendered to the man’s hunger without thought or hesitation, a low moan rising and dying in the back of his throat as slim fingers fisted his hair. Only the eventual need for breath forced their lips apart, and Daren lowered his hand with obvious reluctance as he pulled away. “Damn,” he muttered around a resigned exhale, pained smile twitching at the corners of his freed mouth. “I was hoping that would suck.”

“Sorry,” Tanim ran tongue over teeth, savoring Daren’s taste, a grimaced grin dragging at his own lips. “It was pretty good, wasn’t it.”

“You’re not making this any easier, you know,” Daren retreated behind the desk as if its bulk might prevent another monumental lapse of judgment. His eyes fell to Tanim’s hand upon the polished surface; light from the single desk lamp gleamed mockingly off the golden wedding ring. Tanim followed the line of his gaze and quickly drew his arm back as he realized what caught Daren’s attention, twisting the burdensome band back and forth in his lap in nervous habit. The silence between them stretched out, grew oppressive and uncomfortable as they stared anywhere but at each other.

“So, uh,” Tanim tried to clear his throat of its sudden choking lump and shuffled awkwardly through scattered papers in an attempt to turn both their minds to a safer topic. “Where were we?” Grateful for the proffered escape, no matter how thinly veiled, Daren slid back into his chair and tried to focus on the meaningless task at hand. “Here, last quarter’s report.” As he slid the file across the desk he caught sight of his watch and groaned. “Ugh, at this rate we’ll never get out of here…”

You dare threaten us with the gallows? With the lash and the pyre? Don’t make me laugh. We aren’t afraid of any punishment or death you could meter out. Justice and fairness are a load of bullshit anyway; faith and hope are useless comforts. We expect nothing less. It’s truth that will protect us in the end. Even suffocating on our own blood, we’ll still know we were right. No amount of suffering can take that away. Death is such a paltry sacrifice compared to the certainty of our conscience and the strength of our conviction. So go ahead, do your worst. We’re not afraid. Physical pain is only temporary. What binds us together cannot be severed by blade nor charred by flame. It will endure long after we are gone.

“I would throw it all away for you,” he swears, casting his hand out to encompass not this dingy motel room but all the unseen world passing us by beyond its walls: home and family, wealth and security, decadence and influence anyone would envy. Yet even as he gestures the ring glitters on his finger, bright and meaningless as his words. In that other world he may wield power but here he is as helpless as a slave, and this single golden band is a painfully poetic symbol of the futility of our situation. His offer is sweet, a wonderful dream even I can’t deny I long for, but impossible. We can never be those men. We can never share that life. I wish he would not cling to this foolish hope so fervently; it will only make our eventual separation all the more heartbreaking. Aren’t we in enough pain already?

“If you just asked, I would give everything up,” he professes, but I never will. I refuse to be the catalyst for his self-destruction. Why can’t he see that we will never have the life together he imagines? He would destroy himself for me and gain nothing but grief and ostracism. This is no fairy tale; he is no prince who can cast off his crown and marry whatever muddy blooded commoner he likes. There’s a ring on his finger and a woman who waits for his return. He has a family. He has a career. He has responsibilities and burdens and a path he must walk whether he chose it or not. I won’t be the reason he abandons that life for one of humiliation and struggle. We were never meant to share anything but these brief, stolen moments. In another world, maybe, or another story, but not this one.

Angel of disease, let me sicken with you. Infect me with your poison blood and we’ll share fever, fear, and fate. One taste is all it would take, darling. Contaminate me and we can be the same. It’ll be just you and me against the darkness. Don’t you want that?

Angel of demise, let me perish with you. Our hearts will labor in unison as we draw our final breaths. In and out, beloved, one last time. Just like that. We’ll be free of the pain, free of the heartache. Together in death as in life. Don’t you want that?

Angel of decay, let me rot with you. My body has no worth if you’ll never touch it again, never bless me with your lips or fingers. So let our flesh putrefy and melt from our bones. We’ll become one in the earth; united, inseparable, eternal. Don’t you want that?

no words tonight. tonight raw wounds. tonight choking lungs and burning eyes. tonight jealousy like acid bile, a film of blood on lips bitten to silence. jealousy of those free to touch, to give and take, who need not fear condemnation or persecution. jealousy of the blessed, those with time and possibility to love, heal, grow. no such happy ending for these two. no safety or solace, this embrace a paltry comfort too easily taken away. sick with envy. sick with misery. sick with the inevitability of tragedy played a thousand times and again, again, again. not fair. throats choke with the words unspoken, useless tonight. tonight nothing but jealousy and anger and heartache. tonight nothing but inadequacy and fear. tonight nothing but grief.

So we’re deviants, huh? Perverts? Freaks? Well, I wouldn’t want to disappoint, so let’s give them a show they’ll remember. Kiss me bloody, baby; bruise me black and blue. Run me ragged, rake me raw. If they want monsters then we’ll be their fucking monsters. They may sneer and spit on us, but what does a little more dirt matter? It feels so good to be so bad. Tear me open, darling, break me down. Let’s show them what it’s like to embrace the beast.

Oh the well is deep
and the well is dark
and I cannot escape

I knew the words once
the language of the heavens
I knew the way once
to walk upon the moonlight
and drink the stars from the sky

Yet the well is deep
and the well is dark
and I cannot escape

I knew the words once
but now my voice is silent
I knew the way once
but now the stars are too far
and I am always empty

For the well is deep
and the well is dark
and I cannot escape

He raises one hand in brief signal to the bartender to refill his empty glass. He’s drunk, head buzzing and cheeks flushed, but not yet nearly drunk enough. The anger sharpens his thoughts, making it impossible to lose himself completely in the burning alcohol. Another drink, then, and another after that if necessary. He has all the time in the world.

“Hello, stranger,”

Tanim’s flesh crawls as a purring voice in his ear disturbs his morose self-medication. At the sound his fingers unwillingly recall sweat beaded silken skin, his tongue the taste of whiskey and saliva and cigarettes. He buys time to steel his nerves by taking a slow, deliberate sip of freshly poured bourbon before turning to the newcomer lounging on on the bar stool beside him. “Alex,” he nods, cold but polite. “It’s been a while.”

“Too long,” Perfectly sculpted lips peel back in a charming white toothed grin, a single golden eyebrow likewise lifting in a graceful arc. The motion seems effortless but Tanim knows slick Alexander’s every movement is painstakingly choreographed. “I thought you’d vanished, or perhaps gotten bored with me. It’s absolutely wonderful to see you again, Tanim. I’ve so missed our late night… conversations.”

Conversations. Right. Tanim shifts his gaze back to the glass clenched between his fingers, avoiding the other’s dazzling blue eyes. “I’ve been busy,” he answers simply, and in any other mood might have chuckled at the understatement. Since last he encountered Alexander he has nearly destroyed himself with drugs and alcohol, met a man as irrevocably damaged as himself, fallen in love with this man despite their seemingly endless irreconcilable differences, and now perhaps lost him to the stubborn pride which has them so often at each other’s throats. Busy indeed.

“Not working yourself too hard, I hope,” Alexander shifts on his seat, stretching out one long leg so his knee brushes lightly against Tanim’s. “You seem in low spirits tonight, dear. Something troubling you?” The older man, drunk as he may be, isn’t fooled enough to think the contact an accident, nor does he believe the concern in Alexander’s voice for a moment. Once the simple touch would have fueled a rush of desire, shameful yet undeniable, but this arrogant young predator no longer holds sway over him.

“The years haven’t been kind,” For one of them, at least. Too willful now to surrender to Alexander’s siren like spell, Tanim is free to admire his one time lover out the corner of his eye without fear of falling for those gorgeous looks once again. Has the man aged at all? His face is still that of a Greek statue, carven angelic features framed by curls bright as polished gold. He hasn’t aged, no, and hasn’t learned any new tricks either, it seems. Alex still believes himself the dominant hunter here, Tanim the wounded prey who may be herded and cornered with ease. How beautifully naive.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Alexander imitates a concerned frown, though the emotion never reaches his covetous eyes. “Are you… busy now? Perhaps I can distract you from your woes. It wouldn’t be the first time.” Tanim glances down to where Alexander’s long fingers glide slowly over his knee, up his thigh. He shouldn’t even consider this. He isn’t this spiteful, vindictive man. He should just let go of the anger, down another glass of sweet inebriation, and stumble home where he belongs. But why? Daren isn’t there. Daren is off sulking somewhere alone, as he sulks here, so why should Tanim be the first to come crawling back? Why should he play the martyr and subject himself to another barrage of Daren’s insults? He has nothing to apologize for. His lover spoke cruelly, tore open old wounds and fought dirty like the coward he is. Surely Tanim can’t be blamed for defending himself with his own well placed verbal assault. It’d serve Daren right to worry over his absence for the night, to lay awake imagining whose arms his partner sought comfort and pleasure in. Maybe he’d learn a little humility, or at least appreciation.

Tanim grazes his fingers over the back of Alexander’s warm hand as he seeks his companion’s eyes. “Not presently,” he murmurs, leaning close so his words brush over the younger man’s ear. “And I certainly could use a distraction tonight.”

“How lucky for me,” Alexander wets his lips like a triumphant fox standing over its kill. He believes he’s won this game of seduction, and Tanim must smother his disdain at such oblivious arrogance by flashing an intimate smirk of his own.

“Lucky indeed,”

He will never own Daren, yet he will possess something tonight: this incubus who held sway over him once but who plays the puppet now for Tanim’s hunger, his anger, his need to inflict pain on another living thing to smother his own misery. This time Tanim doesn’t dance to Alexander’s piper tune and when they rise it isn’t Alexander who leads the way to a more private setting. Tanim’s iron grip around his wrist is a threatening promise of things to come.

If you own something long enough, sooner or later you become possessive of it, covetous, even selfish. You would bind and cripple this thing before relinquishing it to another. It’s beautiful, this baser greed, this primal longing to claim and keep forever. I never thought I would experience such desire until he surrendered himself to me. His body has become my instrument, my most precious possession. I am owner of these lips that part in wordless moaning and protector of the elegant fingers which clench to draw us together. My mouth waters with the flavor of his flushed skin, his heartbeat an eager pulse beneath my tongue. He is mine. Mine to take, mine to use, mine in all ways. I brand him with my fingerprints, mark him as my own with sweat and saliva and semen, myself forever a part of him as he is forever a part of me. Once I could not fathom such possessiveness but now that I am master I will never let another take him from me. Love is a greedy, selfish, beautiful thing.

“Stay,” Tanim murmurs, a coaxing plea in the darkness as cool fingers graze fevered skin, “you’re so sick; you should stay.” But Daren says nothing in response. He longs to stay, thinks maybe for a time he could even be happy here, but the desire to flee overwhelms. He belongs out on those frozen streets, in that shit hole apartment where he can die numb and alone and anonymous like he always knew he would. That dismal fate would be better than the current alternative, right? He doesn’t want to die here. He doesn’t want to die in the arms of this man who holds him chastely as a brother, though Daren sees the truth of Tanim’s affection in the devotion in his eyes, the love so fierce and selfless it breaks his heart. He is afraid of that love, afraid of what it means for him, for Tanim, afraid to test its mettle against the hopelessness of their situation. He would run to spare himself such a trial and Tanim the inevitable grief, but that man could coax wild horses to eat from his palm he is so patient, so gentle, and so though Daren means to leave he finds himself here still, silent in response to the urgent “stay” but pressing into his companion’s tight embrace nonetheless. They have no future. Daren will die in the arms of this man who holds him like a brother and yet murmurs against his ear like a lover, he will die here in pain and heartache but not anonymously, not alone, not numb the way he always expected. He should run; it would be easier, it would be better. He should run but instead he only ceases Tanim’s begging with a single touch, icy fingers to flesh hot not with sickness like his own but with a life burning more brightly than any he has ever known, than his ever will.

“Couldn’t sleep either, I take it?”

Daren turns his gaze from the fire and up to where Tanim leans against the library’s door frame. Shadows rim the older man’s storm hued eyes despite the characteristic smile spread gently over his lips. Daren nods minimally and gestures to the empty arm chair beside his. “It’s been a long night,” he agrees, “and longer yet before the dawn. Will you join me for a drink?” On the small end table between the chairs waits a serving tray set with glass tumblers and an open bottle of bourbon. Daren fills a glass and extends it to Tanim as he sinks into the proffered seat, then refills his own as well. Several moments of silence pass as they nurse the burning liquid, disturbed only by the crackling of fire eaten logs.

“Why haven’t you told anyone?” Tanim’s voice breaks the silence, the ventured question a murmur over the lip of his glass as he fixes his gaze pointedly into the hearth. Daren raises his own drink, likewise staring into the flames a long moment before replying in a voice smooth as the bourbon on his lips, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Hesitation. He should drop the subject but, “You’re sick,” Tanim counters softly, unable to face the man at his side as he broaches this taboo subject. “And it’s getting worse, isn’t it. You’ve lost weight. You barely sleep, you come and go like a ghost… And I’ve seen the blood, Daren. On your lips. The others haven’t noticed but I’ve seen it, and I’ve heard the way you cough. I’ve seen the way you shake when you think no one is watching.” Now he turns his head, seeking the man’s eyes but meeting only his sharp profile outlined in fire glow. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

Tanim expects anger, accusations of stalking and gross breach of Daren’s coveted privacy. Instead the pale young man seems to shiver, a fleeting grimace twitching one corner of his mouth before his gaunt face smooths back to a mask. “It’s eating at me,” he replies, a tremor in his voice Tanim has never heard before. He raises a hand, drink clutched forgotten in the other, and rubs at his chest as if trying to ease an old ache. “This darkness. This madness. It’s like I’m rotting inside. It hurts.”

“Daren, I can–”

“Don’t,” The man silences him with one raised hand. “Don’t say you can save me. You can’t.”

Tanim shivers in turn at the bitter resignation in his companion’s voice. “I wasn’t going to say that,” he argues meekly. “I was going to say, I can help you. Just to make it… easier.” He wants to bridge the distance between them, maybe lay his hand on Daren’s arm in some paltry gesture of support, but lets only his voice prove his sincerity. “You shouldn’t face this alone. Just let me help. I only want to understand that darkness; I’m not arrogant enough to believe I can save you.”

Daren turns at that, tilting his head to fix Tanim with a penetrating gaze. Silent for a long while, he holds Tanim’s eyes until the other begins to squirm, feeling very much an insect beneath the stare of an angel. “You’re not like your brother and the others, you know,” the younger man finally notes, thoughtful yet blunt. “You’re always smiling, always speaking so kindly to everyone, but there’s nothing in your eyes but heartache. Why is that? Do they not see that either?”

Leave it to someone so adept at shutting out his own emotions to see through Tanim’s mask so easily. Daren has been honest, though, so he honors the gift of trust with his own. “Because I’m only half alive,” he admits with a forced smile, pained and rueful though it may be. “I’m empty. I’ve always been empty.” He taps his sternum, an echo of Daren’s previous gesture. “There’s a part of me missing, something integral. I’ve told Jon but he doesn’t understand. It just scares him when I try to explain. He thinks I’m going to hurt myself.”

“Well,” Daren considers the admission with care. “I’m half dead. I suppose we’re even.” His mouth turns up in a smirk as haunted and drawn as Tanim’s. He raises his glass. “To misery.”

Tanim knocks their tumblers together. “And company. The two go so well together.”

This is a first step, small yet significant. He wants to say more. He wants to press for information. How long has Daren been sick? Does he know what it is, this thing destroying him from the inside out? How has he hidden this terrifying burden for so long, and why? But not yet. Not until Daren truly trusts him. He must be patient; the time will come. For now Tanim is content to sip his drink in silence and gaze into the crackling fire while the man at his side muffles a cough with a silk handkerchief.

We are many things. Uncertain always, wounded by the weight of years and private griefs. Doubtful of ourselves, mistrustful of the world. We are possessive, often, fear fed by unfamiliar jealousy and petty, fabricated slights. Anything can be lost in a moment so we dig our nails in hard enough to draw blood. And sometimes we are cruel, for self-loathing and jealousy and a lifetime of heartache have hardened us. Misery loves company, or at least finds comfort in leaving scars as proof there is neither safety nor surety even in the beloved. We injure sometimes, torment often, hurt always and always hurt each other in turn.

But we are faithful, you say. Faithful? Faithful of a certain sort, perhaps, but not the other. You may love me, but you may still leave me. Do not presume that because I love you in my turn, I trust you. You threaten. In the way you stare but do not see, in the way you speak but never quite the truth, in the way you turn your back you threaten always. Will there ever come a morning I do not wake fearing to find you an absence at my side, a sudden lacking in a life already riddled with unhealed wounds? Will I always feel such sick relief to reach out and touch your warm, slumbering form, only to wonder if this morning is our last together? You threaten always to vanish, and I would cripple you to keep you here. If I had to. If you forced me.

Faithful? We are that, yes. Faithful to cruelty; faithful to selfishness.

Footsteps. Tanim stilled, straining to catch the approaching sound muffled by fog and drizzle. Boot heels clicked on slick cobblestones, a patient yet determined gait. A shudder rocked his crouched form as he fought the urge to flee. Better to wait. ‘I’ll find you.’ He repeated the instructions like a mantra to calm the mad panic. ‘I will always find you. Trust me. Wait for me. I will come.’ Just wait. Only one pair of footsteps. Everything would be fine. Wait.

A shadow stretched long as the footsteps drew to a halt. Tanim lifted his head slowly, a sharp headache pulsing behind his eyes, to stare up at the man haloed by the gas street lamp above. Nothing but a silhouette; then the figure shifted, illuminating sharp, pale features and cavernous eyes. “Daren,” Tanim’s voice choked wetly. He raised one clumsy hand but left only more blood streaked across his lips as he wiped at them, not less. The liquid coated his throat and tongue, dribbled down his chin to soak the stiff lace collar at his neck. “I couldn’t help myself.”

“Oh, Tanim,” The man clucked admonishingly and shook his head as he surveyed the scene. “You’ve made quite a mess of her. And yourself.” Tanim turned back to the crumpled body at his feet. Below the whore’s pink painted lips her throat oozed cooling blood, jugular torn in ragged chunks. Her petticoats were soaked with blood and street filth, ripped to tatters where she had fought in vain for freedom. “She struggled,” he explained dully as he wiped sticky fingers on a corner of the dead girl’s coat tail. “It made me angry.”

“So I see,” Daren bent to stroke his companion’s hair fondly, forever calm even in the face of his lover’s mounting madness. “Come, darling. Let us be off home before the fog thickens. You’re soaked through; you’ll catch a chill.” The touch stirred Tanim from his morass, cleared the blood lust fever from his muddled mind. He lurched to his feet, weary yet steady, and gestured to his battered victim. “Should we not hide the body? Dump her in the river like the others?”

“No time,” Even as Daren spoke church bells tolled in the distance, marking the late hour. “The Watch will come ’round soon. Leave her; they will think it only another dog attack.”

“They did not think it a dog attack last time. They put up warnings. They questioned the town–”

“Hush,” Daren looped his arm through Tanim’s and turned him away from the ghastly mess on the cobbles. “Forget about her. One more dead whore means nothing. Come home now. I’ve been to see Isaac Fox and he swears this new opium is his purest yet. You’ll sleep the night through and feel yourself in the morning.” He slipped his greatcoat off and draped it over his lover’s damp shoulders. One hand lingered on the man’s jaw with a loving caress. “And perhaps when spring arrives we shall move somewhere more… metropolitan. Paris, perhaps, or London. Would you like that?”

London. Easy to become anonymous in a city that size, to blend into the crowds and the shadows and the smoke dens. And people vanish in cities all the time. No one would notice a few missing prostitutes. Tanim licked the last blood from his lips. He was getting used to the taste.

“Yes, I believe I would.”

I walked in the cold place between the worlds. Nothing but a steel sky above my head and a featureless wasteland of frozen snow in all directions. I did not know whether I stumbled toward the warmth of the great hall or back to the blood stained battlefield yet I pressed forward without pause. To stop now would be to succumb to exhaustion and an icy burial mound. Still, my way was not easy. My armor weighed me down like a stone with every step, my sword a battered and clumsy thing clutched in my numb hand. My brothers and sisters would chastise me for taking such ill care of her, just as they would cluck admonishingly at my sheared braids, but I did not care. I would see my family again, all of the einherjar and waelcyrge reunited in the world beyond the battle; nothing else mattered now.

The wind whipped ice daggers into my eyes as I fought onward. Through tear blurred vision I glimpsed a moving shadow, a wolf half again as large as any I had ever seen and black as ravens’ wings. “Brother!” I called, and it turned back to me. I stood still as it approached, great paws splayed across the snow pack while my own boots sank deep. I held out my hands to the creature and it laid its heavy head against my cupped palms. Its eyes were chill and blue, the color of the winter sky, but its breath burned my skin like it had swallowed the sun itself. The beast said nothing, but held my gaze a long moment. Then it turned away again and tracked off through the snow. I sheathed my sword and followed.

[ If you haven't read Elizabeth Bear's By The Mountain Bound, I suggest you do so post haste so it can inspire awesome dreams for you as well. Oh, but be prepared to have your heart ripped out of your chest. In a good way. ]

Tanim drew to a halt, fingers twitching along the hilt of the sword hung at his hip. This time he heard the sound for certain; snow crunching beneath a single cautious footstep meant to fall in time with his own. He turned a slow circle, scowling, yet saw nothing more than skeletal black trees laden with snow and ice. He felt the weight of eyes, though, prickling the hair on the back of his neck. “I don’t appreciate being hunted in my own domain,” he demanded to the desolate forest. “Show yourself, stranger, and face me straight on.”

Laughter soft as velvet drifted through the biting winter air. Tanim whirled in its direction as a dark figure divorced itself from the shadow of a bare tree trunk. What features might have aided in his measurement of the intruder were hidden by a charcoal gray cloak and deep cowl. “Who are you?” he demanded, hand still clenched in preparation to draw his blade.

“Have you forgotten me so soon, dear brother?” Long, elegant fingers emerged from the cloak and drew off the hood as the figure approached. Tanim stumbled back a step, his disbelieving gasp clouding white between them. Whatever he expected to see beneath the cloth, it was not this.

“Daren?”

The man quirked a pale, amused smile and cocked his head to the side, a lock of fine white hair falling across his shoulder. “Who else would cross the frozen wastes to seek you out?”

“Impossible!” Tanim shook his head as if he could chase the sight away, refusing to believe who stood before him. “You fell. I saw; I was there. In blood and fire, you fell. Dead.”

Daren stepped forward slowly so as not to alarm the man any more than his presence already did. “Yes,” he agreed with a slight nod, recalling even now the flames which charred away his flesh, the choking taste of blood and vomit. “I was dead and now I am returned to you, brother.”

“How do I know you speak the truth?” Tanim matched every step forward with a retreat of his own, maintaining the distance between himself and the specter. He was no fool. As often as he prayed for the gods to return his lost brother, he harbored no hopes of such a blessing. He knew those flat black eyes, yes, and that silken voice, but put no faith in mere appearances. “How I do I know you are not some demon wearing Daren’s skin, or a puppet sent by one of my dear family to drive me further into madness?”

The creature which at least appeared in the form of his long dead brother chuckled patiently. One eyebrow rose in a familiar graceful motion Tanim had witnessed a thousand times. “Would you like me to tell you your favorite color? Favorite food? Maybe how you came by that scar along your temple?” He leaned in as if imparting a great secret. “Sparring with Jonathan in the great hall when you should have been studying historical war treaties. Even as a child you were so loath to accept the responsibilities of your station as eldest. Such a toil on poor Father’s nerves.”

A chill shiver twisted down Tanim’s spine. “Anyone could know such things,” he countered, struggling to hide his unease, the old grief twisting his heart, “especially someone sent by a member of my own family. My distaste for the throne isn’t exactly a secret.”

“True, true. Then perhaps I should tell you something no other member of your family would know,” Another step forward as Daren’s voice hushed, and this time Tanim did not move away. “Perhaps I should tell you about the first time we made love, and the way you surrendered yourself to me so eagerly, so passionately. Do you remember what you said that night, tangled in your own brother’s arms?” Dark eyes fluttered closed in recollection. “‘I was born to serve you, my love, not the crown, not our family, only you, for you are blood of my blood and heart of my heart.’” And flickered open again to hold Tanim’s gaze. “Even in death I recalled those words. Blood of my blood; heart of my heart. You were right, you know. We are meant for each other.”

He wanted to weep. He wanted to scream. Instead he choked back a whimper and managed, “Daren. It is you.”

“Yes, beloved,”

Tanim shuddered beneath the resurrected man’s fond gaze. How many years had he longed to hear that pet name murmured against his ear again? It should have comforted him, eased the knife of heartache splitting open his chest as his lover’s words always had before, yet he felt no solace this time. “Why have you returned? Why now? Why to me?”

If Daren found it odd that Tanim did not ask how he had returned, he made no comment. “Because you belong on the throne, whether you wish it or no. Our brothers are usurpers and manipulators. They bicker amongst themselves, vying for a throne they have no right to, while you languish alone in this self-imposed northern exile. You’ve remained safe thus far because they cannot fathom you pose any threat, but soon they’ll seek to remove you from the running completely. They will take no chances in the coming war.”

The exiled prince snorted skeptically. “Death’s not done much for your sanity, brother. How can I hold my own against any of them? I have no allies at court, no power base. I’ll break like a sapling in an ice storm.” He threw one hand out in a gesture meant to encompass the frozen forest and his high mountain citadel beyond. “At least here I face them in my own domain. On my own terms.”

Daren closed the distance between them in one fluid motion, touching pale fingers to the scar on Tanim’s temple. “Have faith, beloved,” he reassured. “I stand with you now; together we cannot fail. I have returned to you, and I bring with me an army to wipe our wicked brothers from the land.”

It took every ounce of self-restraint for Tanim not to lean into the caress. Not yet, not before he was certain. “What army?”

The man who had once been both brother and lover stepped back, black eyes dancing, and turned his palms up to the leaden sky. All around them the forest’s shadows lengthened, darkened, turned hard and sharp as blades, and a howling wind began to tear at the twisted trees. It wailed harsh words in a language Tanim could not understand but knotted fear in his stomach anyway. A predator’s hungry grin spread over Daren’s face.

“The dead.”

Humming. A low droning like a muffled electric power tool. Tanim stirred in his sleep, the half familiar sound drifting in and out of his dream until the small part of him still tuned into his environment recognized its external source. With a drowsy groan the man rolled onto his back and flung one arm out, habitually reaching for the still body at his side. Except his hand met no resistance of solid flesh, only cold sheets and rumpled blankets. The odd buzzing reaching him again as he glanced around the dark bedroom, following the direction of the sound to a strip of golden light which glowed beneath the closed bathroom door. Though loath to crawl from his warm cocoon of blankets, Tanim forced his feet out into the cold air and willed the rest of his body to follow. He hesitated at the door of the bathroom, unsuccessfully striving to place the strange sound coming from the other side, then gave up his efforts and nudged open the door.

“Daren?” The man perched on the lip of the porcelain tub glanced up, electric razor still whirring in one hand as he dragged it over his temple. A final handful of soft white hair fell before the machine, completing the crew cut which replaced his previous unkempt jaw length locks. “Sorry.” Daren shut off the razor and tossed it casually onto the counter as if Tanim had merely interrupted his morning shave. “Did I wake you?”

The older man ignored his question and nodded toward the dusting of hair on the bathroom floor. “It’s a little late for impromptu hair cuts, isn’t it?” He tried to cover his unease at the other’s unexpected behavior but it edged his voice nonetheless. He doubted mere vanity had prompted the midnight makeover. In explanation, though, Daren only shrugged gaunt shoulders, a miniature avalanche of white strands drifting to the tile. “I got sick of it falling in my face when I’m heaving up the contents of my miserable stomach.” He scrubbed one hand over his shaved head and fixed his companion with an unreadable black gaze. “What do you think?”

Tanim reached out, brushing tentative fingertips over Daren’s sheared skull. Against his touch he could feel the shift of tensing muscle as the man’s jaw clenched, could even watch the movement beneath the pale skin of his scalp. Daren should have seemed more vulnerable for the loss of his silken hair but the cut somehow hardened him, set off the harsh planes and shadows of his face. “…I like it,” he finally concluded. “Though now you look even more like a ghost.”

“Just getting prepared,” A cold, humorless smile pulled at the corners of Daren’s thin lips. He clutched Tanim’s wrist and drew the man to his knees amid the snowfall, his fingers finding purchase in sleep tangled black hair as Tanim leaned in to press their mouths together. He tasted blood on Daren’s tongue, salty copper mixed with acidic bile. The sweet rot of death; his lover’s unique, too familiar flavor. He shuddered – not at the taste but the disturbing comfort he took in it.

This body is a prison: unyielding, claustrophobic, isolated. Can you melt down the bars and reshape me as something better? I could be any tool you desire if you would but cast me into your forge. Lift me white hot from the coals and spill my molten core into a new mold; lay me across the anvil and hammer out my old impurities. I’ll be reborn beneath your hands. This body is a waste of possibility, a prison, a fetter, but if you render me down to liquid essence and sculpt me anew I can become anything. In your hands I am infinite.

“Jon stopped by,”

Daren froze, hand still gripped around the front door knob. He waited until he shrugged out of his coat and slung it over a kitchen chair before inquiring with forced indifference, “Oh? What did your brother come to say this time? That I’m street scum who’s only with you for your money, like usual?” He failed to mask the bitterness in his voice, but at least managed to cushion it with a liberal coating of sarcasm.

“No, not quite,” Across the room, Tanim turned from staring out one of the floor to ceiling picture windows. He licked his lips thoughtfully, recalling his brother’s exact words, and quoted in complete dead pan, “He said you’re an abusive faggot.”

What?” Daren had been making his way through the living room to Tanim’s side but the words stopped him in his tracks several feet back, one eyebrow arched high on a usually composed face.

“He said,” Tanim repeated with careful enunciation, “you’re a cruel, abusive faggot who’s going to use me up, then abandon me when I’m broken and have nothing left to give you. He said you’ve got me so twisted I can’t see the harm you’re doing, that I’m too lovesick or damaged to open my eyes and see you for what you really are. ‘How can you submit to someone like that?’ he asked me. ‘How can you let him control you? It’s sick.’” The older man snorted and shook his head. “That’s what he said. He said it’s sick and shameful.”

“…well…” Daren sank back onto the couch with a low, impressed whistle. “That’s a new one. Glad to see he’s getting a little more creative with his insults, at least. What do you even say to something like that?”

An eager smirk twitched at the corners of Tanim’s mouth. “The truth. I told Jon everything he didn’t want to hear. He pushed me over the edge and I didn’t know what else to say, I was so god dammed hurt and angry I just… lost all control.” He shrugged as if wiping his hands of the whole situation. “I said you saved me from myself, that the only time I feel truly complete, truly alive, is when I’m in your arms. I’m not the prodigal son. I’m not the wretched man I tried to drown in alcohol and sleeping pills. You strip me of all my titles, all the burdens everyone else places on me until I’m only yours and the only thing that matters is surrendering every part of myself to you. It’s pure possession and it feels so, so good.” The smirk widened as Tanim collapsed triumphantly onto the couch beside his companion. “That’s what I told him.”

“Shit,” Daren couldn’t help the proud blush creeping across his cheeks. Tanim had never had the courage to stand up to his brother like that before. He controlled the desire to drag Tanim into his arms and reward his bravery, but just barely. “Wish I had been there. Did he see these?” He tugged down the collar of Tanim’s shirt and prodded the set of last night’s bruised bite marks along his neck gently. Tanim winced, either from the ache in his flesh or the memory of Jon’s disgusted stare when he, too, had spied the welts, but maintained the mischievous grin. “I told him they’re a badge of honor. Your brand, to remind me who I belong to.”

Daren threw his head back and howled with delight. “Oh, I’m sure Jon just loved that. Fucking beautiful. What did he say?”

“Nothing. Never had the chance to respond,” Tanim’s smile faded as he recalled the disastrous end to the brothers’ confrontation. “I said he wasn’t welcome here as long as he insulted the man I love and told him to get the hell out. I won’t speak to him again until he apologizes, and he better fucking mean it when he does.” Daren knew better than to point out how adorable Tanim was when something actually roused him enough to warrant expletives, so he stifled another snicker and forced a poker face. “Give him a break,” he countered, though more to play Devil’s advocate than to defend the man who had accused him of abuse and perversion. “He’s your brother; he’s just overprotective. I’m sure if the roles were reversed–”

“It’s not his place to judge us!” Predictable Tanim snapped at the bait. “He has no right to condemn you, not in my own home and straight to my face. If he can’t accept you then he can’t accept me either. He claims he’s worried but if he cares so much then he should trust me. The first time in twenty years I’m not miserable and alone and he wants to take that away from me because he doesn’t approve of my proclivities? It isn’t fucking right!” He broke off, embarrassed by the uncontrollable resentment in his voice, then muttered an apologetic, “Sorry, darling, my nerves are still wound up. He just made me so angry. I thought I was going to break his nose.”

“Well, let’s see what we can do to burn off some of that extra energy, then,” Daren’s hand slid down the older man’s chest and guided him with a forceful nudge back onto the cushions. “You know,” he murmured, grazing his teeth over the brands Tanim so brazenly displayed before Jonathan, “I think I like when you defend my honor; it’s like you’re my knight in shining armor. Very noble. Very fierce.”

“Mmm,” Tanim shivered as the blazing anger in his breast smoldered into flames of quite a different and far more preferable sort beneath Daren’s firm caress. “Well maybe I should let Jon piss me off more often, then…” he mused, losing himself in the welcome distraction. “Or at least send him a nice thank-you card.”

[ Author's note: FYI, usually Jon isn't such a complete douche bag. He's normally very nice, I promise. Someone had to be the bad guy, that's all...

Also, I really hate this piece. Just sayin'. Ugh. ]

Coward! Spineless, whimpering craven! How dare you turn away from my words when you know I speak the truth? You’re pathetic. Admit it: deep down you know you truly are this monster, that the beast’s blood flows in your veins. You hunger, you lust, you rage. You’re a feral, wild thing trapped in the body of a man, a beast raving against its prison of flesh and bone. Don’t you just want to howl? Don’t you want to tear and rend? Release your baser self! You could be so much more than a pathetic, broken wretch if you would only cease this foolish inner battle. You’ll never destroy the beast, you know. Bury the monster as deep as you like; it is ever waiting for your next moment of weakness, the slip of poorly crafted defenses. Did you really think you could survive such a schism forever? Did you think you could deny the core of yourself and still maintain your sanity? The starving beast’s turned cannibal; it eats at you, devouring you piece by piece to sate a bottomless hunger. Are you so ashamed of the truth that you’d feed your own heart to this monster? How disappointing. How disgusting. You’re better than this! Stop playing the martyr and embrace your hunger before it consumes you entirely. Save yourself. Become the beast.

Can’t think. Can’t concentrate. Can’t write. Trapped, reliving the same moment, the same scene, the same heartache and desperation. “I’m a whore.” Tanim, sick with loathing, throat tight around a shameful sob. “Would you call a starving man a glutton for easing his hunger?” But he only swallows down the urge to cry with a strangled moan. “I don’t want to be this man anymore. I can’t stand it; I can’t stand myself. I don’t know what to do.” And neither do I so I fall back on the old words, the useless comforts. “There is no one else you can be. This longing is part of who you are, as much as your flesh and blood. You only cause yourself more pain by fighting it than by accepting.” His response is a barking laugh, short and bitter. “If cutting my arm off could rid me of this perverted hunger, I would take a hacksaw to my skin this very moment and feel no remorse. Don’t presume to judge one source of pain by another.” He means that, too. He would sacrifice anything to be free. He would cut himself to pieces, bleed himself empty. Oh, it should never have come to this. “I’m done. I’m so sorry, but I can’t do this anymore. I can’t. I’m done.” Weary now, no energy left for either anger or hatred. “I’m done. I’m done.” There is nothing more to say, nothing more to do. Words don’t reach him now. Hands can’t pull him out of the abyss. Only he can do that, but he just shakes his head and mourns again, “I’m done.” And so I remain trapped here, helpless witness to a life spiraling out of control. Can’t write. Can’t concentrate. Can’t think.

Updated Character Profiles

I write something along the lines of cross-genre character-based multi-narrative introspective episodic flash fiction. That’s fancy mumbo-jumbo for “I write short fiction involving the same two characters, Tanim and Daren, in different settings and genres.” I just liked all the kooky words. Basically, I take the same two characters, make subtle tweaks to their story/history/personalities/etc, and see what happens. It’s sort of like shattering a mirror and then describing the minute variations in the thousands of fragmented reflections. Tanim and Daren have been mortal and immortal, gods and men, kings and criminals, friends and enemies, lovers and brothers, cowards and heroes and madmen, martyrs, murderers, countless different lives revolving around the same two ill-fated souls. Every story may end in tragedy, but each follows its own path to that inevitable end.

Trying to summarize Tanim and Daren is always a daunting task for me. This entry will hopefully provide a brief introduction. However, Tanim and Daren are involved in an almost limitless number of different story lines and worlds, so it’s hard to summarize their core attributes without adding every exception to the rule. That being said, I shall now attempt to do just that. My apologies in advance for the length.

Name: Tanim
Gender: Male
Age: Mid-late 30s, sometimes early 40s
Height: ~ 5’11-6’0”, 2 inches taller than Daren
Body build: Lean, healthy weight, in shape but not overly muscular
Facial features: Strong jaw, straight nose, “aristocratic” features, smiles often
Eye color: Blue-gray, darker when angry or upset, often give away his emotions
Skin color: Normal warm Caucasian tone, flushes easily
Hair color/style: Black, thick and slightly wavy, length varies between several inches and slightly more than jaw length
Clothing style: Earth tones or muted colors, mostly slacks and sweaters/dress shirts, style is expensive yet understated
Astrological sign: Cancer – Devoted, loyal, nurturing, self-sacrificing, affectionate, loving, introverted, self-deprecating, fretful, emotional, possessive, obsessive, passive/passive-aggressive

Tanim is at heart a gentle, well-meaning man with an unfortunate martyr complex. He is loyal and honest to a fault, happiest when he has someone to care for and most miserable when he is alone. He hates confrontation or asserting himself to someone he loves, though he would do anything to protect that person from someone else without hesitation. However, his devotion to those he loves also leads him to sacrifice his own needs in order to fulfill the role he assumes is expected of him. Tanim truly is his own worst enemy. He loathes himself for any perceived weakness while remaining completely blind to the faults of others. These emotions are all internal, of course; the face Tanim presents to others is always upbeat, calm and kind. Only those who know his innermost fears understand the knife-edge on which Tanim balances, forever torn between his own misery and the need to ignore that pain and dedicate himself to another.

Although Tanim’s history may change depending on the story, the “main” storyline (though not by far the only!) finds him as a recusive, miserable man living alone  in a lavish penthouse city apartment (a description of which can be found here.) He grew up as the oldest son of a wealthy businessman and trained from a young age to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, in his late teens Tanim began to struggle with feelings of emptiness, apathy, and a longing for personal submission which deeply disturbed him. He tried to ease the ache by any means necessary, turning even to alcohol and drugs, but nothing could either numb him enough or fill the emptiness and he sank further into depression. Then, while Tanim was in his late twenties, his father died and it was assumed Tanim would step into his father’s role. However, unable to stand the thought of living life under the scrutiny of the public eye when he could barely hold himself together, Tanim did the unthinkable. He sold his shares of the company, took his sudden wealth, and disappeared. He cut off all contact with his family,  choosing the misery of self-imposed isolation to risking his loved ones discovering his double life and “perverted” desires. When Tanim and Daren meet, Tanim has been living alone for years, trapped in a hell of his own devising. It is only through Daren’s patient yet stern support that Tanim finally begins to accept himself and heal the years old wounds.

Tanim’s self-sacrificing personality is primarily a result of his longing to surrender himself in all ways to one he loves. He believes that submission to the beloved is the highest form of love and is happiest in a master/servant relationship. Alone, he feels incomplete; it is only through complete devotion to another that Tanim considers himself to have a purpose or meaning in life. The only value he sees in himself is the value placed on him by someone else. For Tanim, an important part of a master/servant relationship is submission of the body. In most fragments Tanim’s sexual orientation can be considered classically asexual, as he feels no sexual attraction toward either men or women. It is his love for Daren that sparks the desire for physical intimacy, not a desire for the man’s body itself. Because of this, no other man or woman inspires the same lust in Tanim. He seeks out sexual intimacy in an attempt to experience the complete vulnerability found in total submission to another. It isn’t about sexual release for him, only loss of control and free will to another, both of which are surrendered most fully during sex. Therefore, even though Tanim may come off as textbook homosexual in nature, that perception is actually the result of his desire for bodily submission and not an actual sexual attraction to men. In some fragments he embraces his need to submit, but in many others Tanim is disturbed by such longing and goes to great lengths to deny it, causing himself severe emotional damage.

Of course, this somewhat extreme approach to love manifests in many negative ways. Tanim is often obsessive, idolizing, and fanatical. His concept of love goes far beyond normal romantic attraction and into the realm of blind worship. He will go to great lengths to keep the object of his affections, making him a possibly manipulative and abusive lover. He is ruled completely by his emotions, which he has trouble controlling. He can be both a sadist and a masochist, though the latter is more common because of his longing for a master/servant relationship. So while Tanim can be a devoted and caring lover, the extremes of his personality make it difficult for him to have a healthy relationship. His love for Daren, though, should never be doubted, and he strives continually to be the kind of companion Daren needs most.

Name: Daren
Gender: Male
Age: Early to mid-30s
Height: ~ 5’9”-5’10”, 2 inches shorter than Tanim
Body build: Thin, underweight, often sickly in appearance, fine boned, long limbed
Facial features: Angular face, long jaw, straight nose, high cheek bones, thin lips, expressionless
Eye color: Dark brown (basically black), difficult to read, often accompanied by dark circles from illness and lack of sleep
Skin color: Very pale, flushed when feverish
Hair color/style: Prematurely white, straight and fine, length varies from very short to jaw length
Clothing style: Black or gray color palette, black jeans or slacks, sweaters/turtlenecks, doesn’t like to show skin above his wrists or below his neck
Astrological sign: Scorpio – Independent, calculating, logical, externally unemotional, blunt, unyielding, remote, mysterious, controlling, possessive, protective, manipulative, distrustful, destructive/self-destructive

Unlike Tanim, Daren is ruled more by apathy and cold logic than emotion. Daren does not long for love or completion; in fact, there is very little he desires and this often causes conflict between Tanim and him. Daren has little regard for the needs or feelings of others and goes to great lengths to avoid human interaction. He abhors vulnerability, both in himself and others, as well as most displays of emotion and any physical contact. He is slow to trust and refuses to offer personal information. A lifetime of hardships and health problems has left Daren jaded and introverted. He has difficulty understanding others’ emotions and rarely cares enough to try. Tanim is the only person he makes any effort to empathize with or treat with selfless kindness. Although Daren comes off as cold hearted to most who know him, though, to Tanim he can be quite loving, playful, and gentle. Tanim often defends Daren’s personality with the claim that others simply don’t understand what he’s been through, nor the kind of person he truly is. Daren must feel completely safe and in control before he can open up, but once he does he can prove to be just as strong and good a person as Tanim.

In the “main” storyline (once again, not the only one!), much of Daren’s past remains a mystery, as years of emotional trauma, nightmares, and fevered hallucinations have marred his ability to discern between real and false memories. He cannot recall much of his childhood beyond the abusive nature of his environment. In his late teens or early twenties Daren was found living on the street, severely underweight and deliriously sick. He was enrolled in a program for emotionally and/or physically impaired adults in which he received therapy and medication, as well as medical aid. When the program ended due to funding issues, however, he struggled to make ends meet, unable to keep a job due to his physical ailments. When he meets Tanim in his mid-thirties, he is living in a hell-hole of an apartment and down to his last funds. After Tanim finds him collapsed and deathly ill some time later, Daren moves into Tanim’s apartment and grudgingly allows the man to help him. The progress is agonizingly slow, hindered by Daren’s continually weakened body and emotional trauma, but he eventually begins to heal and embrace the life he leads with Tanim.

Daren’s sexual orientation is not as easily defined as Tanim’s. Daren fits the idea of asexuality in that he is not sexually attracted to either gender, nor does he have virtually any sex drive, but his nonexistent libido is not necessarily caused by classic asexuality. Daren is damaged both physically and emotionally. In any given fragment he may suffer from a variety of afflictions, including post traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, and any number of debilitating illnesses, and every one of these has a negative impact on his libido. At his best Daren is comfortable with both giving and receiving physical touch but at his worst is repulsed by intimacy and detests the idea of submitting to another (which is also one reason why he always takes on a dominant role during sex). Therefore, it is hard to judge Daren’s true sexual orientation. His attachment to Tanim does suggest a certain lean toward homosexuality, but that cannot be concluded with any certitude since his love for Tanim isn’t sexual in nature and he has never entertained even the remotest affection for any other person.

As with Tanim, Daren’s flaws can manifest themselves negatively. He can be emotionally manipulative, sadistic, and cruel, with little regard for the pain he causes. He is often seen as a tempting figure leading Tanim down a dangerous or self-destructive path, especially by those that care for Tanim. His withholding of emotion often reaches abusive levels, while his need for secrecy causes him to hide any decline in his mental/physical status from Tanim. Despite Daren’s cold exterior, however, he loves Tanim with as fierce a passion as Tanim loves him. True to his nature, Daren has an extremely hard time acknowledging and displaying this love. His emotional disconnection makes it nearly impossible for him to provide the affection Tanim craves. He finds Tanim to be too clingy and needy, but struggles to accept these aspects in order to make his companion happy. Tanim’s combination of patient devotion and empathy eventually cracks Daren’s shell enough to earn the man’s trust, and once Daren accepts Tanim into his life he is quite possessive of him. Although Daren is uncomfortable with the concept of a master/servant relationship, he often assumes the dominant (sometimes even aggressive) role both to satisfy Tanim’s own submissive desires and retain the emotional detachment, independence, and secrecy he requires. Even so, he often surprises himself with the ferocity of his love for Tanim and the boundaries he did not think he would be willing to cross for the man.

Their relationship: As can probably be construed through the above descriptions, Tanim and Daren do not have a normal romantic/sexual relationship. To Tanim and Daren there is no difference between romantic and fraternal love, between considering themselves lovers or brothers. They are drawn together on a deeper level than mere affection or physical attraction, and this bond is often something which they can neither deny nor break. It manifests itself in many different forms, both healthy and unhealthy, which is why it is hard to provide a complete overview of their relationship. They love deeply and fully, sometimes to their ruin and other times to their salvation.

I should note that the emphasis placed on sexual intimacy in their relationship is currently undergoing a somewhat extreme evolution. For Tanim, sexual submission is a meaningful act which reinforces their master/servant relationship, and he is coming to crave this more as he loses his ability to deny that desire. While before Daren took little interest in sex, even with Tanim, his character is beginning to change on a fundamental level as well, becoming more sexually aggressive and dominant. I do not know where these changes will take Tanim and Daren, but that is one of the joys of being a writer. I have no control over what happens, so I may only sit back and watch it unfold.

The solstice: One of the “themes” that runs through many of the story lines involving Tanim and Daren is that of the solstice. This theme is based on a solstice myth in which the Moon murders his lover the Sun on the winter solstice (thus bringing the winter and darkness to the land) and on the summer solstice the Sun resurrects and likewise murders the Moon (returning the summer and light). This endless cycle of sacrifice and betrayal, life and death, is common in many stories about Tanim and Daren. Therefore, Daren is often represented by the Moon and Tanim by the Sun. I post an entry regarding the mythology and cycle every solstice; those entries can be found using the “solstice” journal tag.

The tale of the solstice – So you can make some sense of all this Sun and Moon talk.

Story format: Most of my work is very short, usually one or several paragraphs. There is no single story line for Tanim and Daren; the stories take place in different eras, worlds, genres, etc. Because of that, my writing “jumps” around and any single piece could be from a variety of story lines or from none at all. Much of my writing is from either Tanim or Daren’s point of view, and these monologue-esque pieces can be found using the “spoken – Daren” and “spoken – Tanim” tags. Any piece of writing pertaining to Tanim and Daren that is not from their specific point of view can be found using the “Tanim/Daren” tag. Also, Tanim’s speech is often noted using bold format and Daren’s italics.

So that’s the bare bones of what I consider to be my life’s work. I’ve been writing about Tanim and Daren for nine years (as of August 2011) and they still constantly surprise me, but hopefully this introduction will answer basic questions. Feel free to ask me anything!

The beast matches my stride like a patient predator, a brief darkness at the corner of my vision. Its coat is black as night, its fangs white as bleached bone. With each step the monster seems to shift and alter as if its essence is of so many possible nightmare creatures that mere physical form cannot contain them all. Step and its legs reach long, shrink short; pace and its fur bristles thick or lays sleek; creep and it lifts tapered muzzle or muscled jaw heavy with the tools of its trade. It stalks my footsteps like a second shadow and every warm wind running along my back seems to reek of carrion breath. I expect jagged teeth to sink into my neck at any moment, dragging me down like a helpless deer, yet my hunter never approaches. Always it remains a stain on the horizon, tireless and unrelenting. What is it you want, beast? Are you companion or dark portent? Have you come to guide me to safety or demise? Come closer and let us finish this to whatever end. I grow tired of the hunt.

But then I thought, what if I’m the sister dark? What if you’re the one who walks in sunlight and leaves me here on the other side to await manifestation at nightfall? I can see myself now: palms pressed to the cool mirror glass, begging for mercies you will never hear as you pass me by. Or worse yet: palms pressed to the unyielding barrier as you stare into the mirror and still don’t see me, the words of summon lost to you forever ( “thee to me, sister!” I cry, unheard, “thee to me!”) and so I as well. If that were the case, would you ever choose me? Staring into the glass but seeing nothing, could you ever have faith that I wait beyond your reflection, needing only those four sacred words to bridge the space between us? Take my hands. Speak the words. Draw me forth. We belong together, you and I.