“It’s bad tonight, isn’t it,” Tanim leaned against the bathroom doorframe, staring down to where Daren sat slumped against the wall. The man didn’t reply, only turned his pain-glazed eyes up to Tanim and wiped a spot of blood off his lips with the back of one trembling hand. Tanim grimaced at the red smear left behind on Daren’s skin. “Wait here,” he said, turning away. As he headed toward their bedroom he heard Daren reply dryly, “Like I’m going anywhere.” After pulling the black lockbox from its place in the back of the closet, Tanim returned and knelt next to Daren on the hard white tile. “Shall I do the honors?” he asked as he opened the box, pushed aside various pill bottles, and removed the bottle of Morphine and a syringe from their cushioned nest. Daren glanced down to the needle with a weary frown, then held out his arm. “Your hands are steadier than mine.”

They both fell silent as Tanim carefully prepared the dose and wrapped a plastic band tightly around Daren’s thin arm. Though he certainly had far more practice doing this to himself, Tanim found it surprisingly easy to play the part of nurse. Maybe it was the way Daren’s veins stood out against his pale skin like mineral veins in marble. Maybe it was because he felt no shame in providing his sick lover a few hour’s respite from the chronic pain. Or maybe Tanim really did just have a knack for shooting up, regardless of to whom the drug was administered. Either way he didn’t question it, only worked deftly and quickly. When he finished, Daren laid his head back against the wall and closed his eyes with a long sigh and muttered, “Is this really the life you fled wealth and comfort to lead, Tanim Rosenquist?”

Back turned to Daren as he disposed of the used needle, Tanim froze. Ice settled in his stomach and crawled up his spine at the casual, cynical way Daren had dropped the name. He tossed the needle in the trash before he accidentally jabbed himself with his shaking hands and sat back with a thump. “H-how…” He swallowed, mouth suddenly dry, and grasped for coherent words in the chaos of his frantic mind. “How long have you known?”

“Not so long that it’s the reason I’m here,” Daren stared at him, one white eyebrow raised as he took in his lover’s reaction, “but long enough.” Tanim found he couldn’t meet those hard eyes, their glassiness clearing already as the Morphine took effect, returning to Daren his usual piercing gaze. Instead he stared down at the tile, at his trembling hands, and felt the world spin madly around him. “How did you know?” he managed to ask, though his voice sounded distant to his own ears, as if he spoke into a long tunnel. Daren shrugged as if the revelation wasn’t so groundbreaking. “Even someone like me couldn’t avoid hearing that story when it broke. You were a national sensation – the prodigal son who vanished with a fortune right before he should have taken his place as his father’s successor.” He paused, then added, “Must have made anonymity difficult those first few years.” Tanim swallowed again, willing some semblance of calm into his tensed body. “I managed.”

“Clearly.” It was impossible to read anything into Daren’s flat voice. Tanim risked a glance up to his companion, meeting his dark eyes meekly. “You don’t care?” he asked, though over the thunderous pounding of his heart a voice in his mind screamed not to ask a question to which he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer. Daren eyed him silently long enough to make Tanim even more nervous, if that was possible, then shrugged again. “Why should I?” he replied, the faintest ghost of a smile pulling up one corner of his red-stained mouth. “We’re both haunted by the past. Might as well avoid it together.” Tanim nearly collapsed with relief. He managed instead to nod, choke back whatever strange sob or panicked laugh lodged in his throat, and answer in an almost steady voice, “Fair enough.”

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