If I were Achilles, Patroclus would not have died. I would never have let my lover bleed out his holy blood there in the dust before Troy’s gates. I would have slaughtered them all first – Achaeans and Trojans alike, soldier and civilian together – and burned that unworthy city to the ground. I would have salted its ruins as they smoldered and by the time they cooled I would have taken him far from that cursed place. And if not, if I had been too late, as Achilles was… then not even death could have stopped my wrath from tearing the world apart.
Tanim had attended performances of world-renowned ballet companies, private concerts by the greatest sopranos of the last century, exclusive gallery openings featuring rare, priceless paintings, and countless invitation-only galas hosted in some of the most marvelous vacation destinations across the world. He had been raised among opulence and beauty yet he had never seen anything more exquisite than the Ghost’s fights.
The man moved like the hands of a clock – smooth, practiced, portentous – and when he reached you, your time was up. His speed and skill with a knife remained unmatched by anyone who faced him, even when he fought against multiple opponents, yet what Tanim admired most was his economy of movement. While other fighters wasted time and energy first in posturing, then in wild swings of their fists or flashy kicks, the Ghost remained motionless except when absolutely necessary. Only his dark eyes, expressionless beneath hooded lids framed in pale lashes, moved back and forth as he tracked his opponent’s movements. He dodged attacks with little effort, stepping calmly aside as if the whole thing were a choreographed dance, not a fight to the death. When he grew bored of this and moved in for the kill it was always with one fluid motion that he cut their neck or sliced open an artery.
It seemed a shame the man had to settle for such mediocre opponents, ones who barely tested his skills or offered him any real challenge, not to mention an audience that didn’t fully appreciate those skills and constantly underestimated him. Yet Tanim also recognized that the Ghost belonged more in this illegal fight club held in an abandoned warehouse than he would in an arena surrounded by fans, or even in some private setting with an audience of wealthy elite. Maybe, much like Tanim himself, he didn’t truly fit anywhere.
They had not spoken again since that first night months ago when Tanim had embarrassed himself by asking for the Ghost’s name. After that, he had chosen to simply observe the man each time he was scheduled to fight, hoping both to learn more about him and perhaps earn even a small measure of his respect. Tonight, however, Tanim felt ready to potentially embarrass himself again if it meant taking another step closer to connecting with the Ghost.
After the Ghost finished off his final opponent for the night, Tanim left his customary table and headed for the back door through which the man always exited. They reached it at nearly the same time; the Ghost raised a silver eyebrow when Tanim opened the door for him but proceeded without a word. Tanim followed behind him, grateful to see they were alone in the back alley. It was a clear night, the full moon above casting the alley in stark lines of shadow and light. It limned the Ghost’s sharp jawline as he turned to face Tanim, thin mouth pulled back on one side in a wry expression Tanim found hard to parse.
“Are you here to ask my name again?” The Ghost tilted his head slightly as he asked the question, studying Tanim through narrowed eyes. While he no longer held the small knife he used during his fights, which was slightly comforting, Tanim knew from observation just how quickly it could be back in his hand if desired.
“No, not this time,” Tanim answered with what he hoped came across as a self-deprecatory laugh. “My apologies, I was a brute the last time we spoke. I shouldn’t have been so impolite.” The other man didn’t respond so after a second’s hesitation he forged on. “Actually, I was going to ask if you would, ah… like to go for a drink?”
If the full moon’s light hadn’t been shining down on them both, Tanim would have completely missed the twitch at that same corner of the Ghost’s mouth. “Drinks?” The man snorted, an unexpectedly human sound. “I suppose there’s no harm in indulging you this one time.” He began to head down the alley, then turned back to Tanim and held out a hand. “The name’s Daren, by the way.” Tanim glanced down to the proffered hand, long fingers still stained with smears of dried blood, and clasped it in his with a grin. “Tanim. Nice to finally meet you.”
“We’ll see about that,” A wry grin flickered over Daren’s face as he turned away.
Tanim wound his way through the club’s packed floor, skirting small clusters of men avidly discussing the advantages and disadvantages of tonight’s lineup as he headed for one of the standing tables in the back. Something had the crowd especially eager today; the warehouse space already reeked of sweat and alcohol and dozens of separate conversations bounced off the concrete walls in a buzz. “What’s going on tonight?” he asked as he reached the table where Isaac waited. “It’s not usually this busy already.” Tanim flagged down a server and ordered a whiskey as his dealer answered, “There’s a guy on the list tonight who doesn’t fight often. He’s good for business; the amateurs always bet against him because they think he doesn’t look ‘tough enough’ and then those who have seen him fight before rake in the winnings.”
“So he’s a ringer?” Sipping his drink, Tanim watched with disinterest as the center floor cleared for the first fight. While he bet from time to time, and in large enough sums that he remained a favored patron of the club, most of the fights themselves rarely captivated him. Cellar Door might be the best fight club in the city but it was still at its core an underground operation that attracted primarily proponents of the brute force method. Such fights might temporarily satisfy his blood lust but he longed to watch someone with true skill; someone who appreciated the art, not just the money.
“Something like that,” Isaac gave him a knowing smirk. “You should stay for his fight. I think you’ll like it.” He gestured to the envelope sticking out of Tanim’s breast coat pocket. “In the meantime we can complete our business and you can finish your drink.”
By the time the final fight of the night approached the crowd itched for more than blood. Tanim and Isaac were likely the only remaining clientele who weren’t half drunk and either desperate to make up for previous losses or ready to stake it all on one last bet. It was hard to hear anything clearly over the general noise of the crowd but Tanim thought he caught the word ‘ghost’ a number of times as the floor cleared once more. Leaning over to be heard above the din, he asked, “What’s this guy’s name, anyway?” Isaac only shrugged. “Apparently no one knows; the organizer started calling him the Ghost and it stuck. Not much of a talker, I guess. He just shows up, fights a round or two, and leaves.” Tanim couldn’t decide if he found that understandable or egotistic. Or both.
The crowd quieted a bit as the final two fighters stepped into the open space at its center. The first looked much like all the rest had: well-muscled, rough, and with a spark in his eyes that betrayed a delight in cruelty. The other man, however, was nothing like those Tanim had seen fight at Cellar Door. He was tall and thin, pale skin shadowed beneath the sharp angles of his cheekbones and jawline. Despite being close to Tanim’s age, perhaps even a little younger, his short-cropped hair was completely white. What struck Tanim most, though, even from the back of the room, were the man’s eyes. They stared out of sunken shadows, no delineation between the black of the pupils and the black of the irises; a flat, emotionless gaze that seemed completely detached from the surrounding hype. Tanim could see why some might underestimate this so-called Ghost but in the man’s eerie, silent stillness he sensed a far greater capacity for violence.
“He always fights to the death, or so I hear,” Isaac added as they watched the first fighter unsheath a huge Bowie knife. “That’s why he only fights here. None of the other clubs will risk it.” Compared to its six inches of shining blade, the tiny curved knife the Ghost held in the palm of his hand seemed more like a piece of scrap metal than an actual weapon. Tanim bet it was sharp as a scalpel, though, and faster than the big Bowie. “Idiots,” he muttered as many in the crowd laughed at the miniscule blade, including the Ghost’s opponent. Clearly none of them had seen what someone skilled could do with a karambit. Hell, even with a linoleum knife.
The fight began with the usual flexing, posturing, and hurling of insults – another aspect Tanim found distasteful – at least on the side of the Bowie knife’s wielder. The Ghost seemed to have little interest in playing to the crowd or extending the show; he remained resolutely silent, giving nothing away and clearly as far from intimidated by his opponent’s boorish taunting as possible. His obvious boredom seemed only to anger the other fighter into attacking first, a rookie mistake the man must have planned to make up for with sheer strength. Tanim’s mouth twitched in a grim smile.
After a minute or two of idly sidestepping the man’s clumsy slashes and flying fists, the Ghost closed the distance between them with unbelievable speed. The fight concluded in a spray of blood as he neatly cut the other fighter’s throat and let the limp body drop to the cement. As the crowd roared its mix of approval and disbelief, the Ghost leaned down to wipe his knife clean on the dead man’s shirt and walked off to collect his winnings. It had been such a brief encounter, only the most fleeting opportunity to witness true grace and skill, yet Tanim could replay every second of it back with perfect clarity. He had never expected to find someone so ruthless, so beautifully deadly, so-
“Tanim dear, I think you’re drooling,” Isaac grinned and clapped his companion on the shoulder as he donned his coat, shaking him out of his reverie. “I’m out of here; try not to get a knife in your neck when you flirt with him, okay? I’d hate to lose one of my best customers.” Before Tanim could come up with a suitable quip in response, or argue that the Ghost was clearly not a man one simply flirted with, Isaac disappeared into the thinning crowd.
The white-haired fighter was on his way out as well, heading for one of the back exits to avoid everyone going out the front. Before he could let hesitation freeze him in place, Tanim threw a bill of some sort on the table to cover his drink and hurried to keep up. Beyond the door a long back alley led out to the road, the only source of light a single weak streetlamp down at the far end. Otherwise the heavy clouds above hid what moon or starlight might have illuminated the wet pavement. The Ghost was already halfway down the alley, shoulders hunched against the chill wind.
“Wait!” The word left Tanim’s lips before he had any real plan with which to follow it. The Ghost stopped in his tracks and turned; glow from the streetlight cast his shadow before him, long and thin, and winked off the curved blade still ready in his hand. Tanim tried to read his expression but the man was silhouetted by the light, the sharp planes of his face cast in darkness.
“It’s your own fault if you lost money on my fight,” Like the knife, the man’s voice was a lovely, dangerous thing. It resonated deep in Tanim’s chest, rich and harsh as bitter coffee. Not a voice used to speaking, that was certain. “It’s not that,” Tanim hurried to explain, fearing the other’s disdain far more than the threat of the blade. He struggled to put into words what had possessed him to follow this violent stranger into the alley but came up uncharacteristically short. “You were phenomenal. Placing a bet on skill like yours, making money on what you did, that would be… sacrilegious.”
For several agonizing seconds the other man remained silent and Tanim inwardly cursed his impulsivity. Stupid. That had sounded so stupid. When he returned home he would definitely get drunk enough to forget how badly he was embarrassing himself right now. He was half-jokingly considering asking the Ghost to put him out of his misery right then and there when that low, smoky voice finally broke the tension to ask, “Then what do you want?”
“Your name,” This time Tanim did not regret the impulsive words, though they had a certain raw desperation to them that made him wince. Even unable to see the other’s eyes, he could feel the weight of his gaze as the Ghost considered this request. Finally the man gave a derisive snort and pocketed the knife. “Maybe next time,” he replied as he turned away and continued down the alley.
Tanim found himself grinning like a fool in the chill darkness as he watched the other man walk away. There had been humor in that snort, he would swear his life on it. He could work with that. “Next time,” he repeated under his breath. He would make sure of it.
Sometimes it really is this simple: a pile of tangled blankets on the floor, his arm laid across your chest, pale morning light filtering through the half closed curtains. See how gently the dawn limns his strong hands and washes over a brow smoothed by restful sleep. Even you who love to ruin good things are loath to break this fleeting peace and so you lay still, your only movement the slow gliding of your fingers through his sable hair. There will be time later to dwell on the past, to dread the future, to define yourselves by mistakes instead of the good intentions with which they were made. In this finite fragment of your infinite existence you are simply two men, together and in love, and it is enough. May it last.
You’re like an angel, you know. You’re beautiful on the outside but underneath I know you’re all blinding light and holy wrath and too many blazing eyes amid a dozen flaming wings. Yours is a terrifying, incomprehensible otherworldliness that makes me weep in awe. If you were to peel back your skin the sight of your true form might drive me mad or burn me to ash – and I would beg for either, if only I might glimpse your glorious truth in my final moments.
You are the god of syringes
Of morphine, caffeine, nicotine
All the things which cannot fill the void
Of blue blood and black bruises
Gunpowder, despair, a silk tie noose
Love like chains and devotion like addiction
You offer up
You bow down
You are the blinding sun; you are the selfish savior; you are the punishing summer.
You are desire.
How is it that I am always the one pursuing you and yet still I feel your hot breath on my neck, still my heart pounds with the instinct to flee before the hound’s long white teeth. You are ever beyond me, distant as the moon, yet I swear I hear your laughter drifting on the wind as it chases me down dark streets. I can never catch you and yet I wake in a cold sweat with bruises around my throat in the shape of your long, lovely fingers. How can this be? How are you everywhere and everything?
I do not yet know what I want from you – will you be patient as I search for it? Will you let me cut you open to dig through your soft flesh until I find that precious something hidden within? Will you let me dissect your deepest secrets and hold your most embarrassing fears and failures up to the light? It will be a learning opportunity for us both, a chance to discover who you really are beneath the layers of artifice. Somewhere in your warm depths I’ll find what I’m looking for; until then, I will enjoy weighing and cataloging every scrap of you.
You don’t want to be loved for who you could become.
You don’t want to be loved for who you once were.
You don’t want to be loved for who you are.
Perhaps you don’t want to be loved.
Sometimes I can hear you screaming in my head, that endless wounded animal howling of total devastation, and I want to imagine his arms around you for comfort – but that’s not possible, is it? Neither of you could ever comfort the other at such a time because the only thing that would break either of you so completely is the loss of the other. You care for nothing else enough to experience such soul-rending grief, and so as much as I wish to imagine you safe in the shelter of his arms as you weather out the storm of madness, it would be a lie. The hard reality is that you are always alone in the moment you must first face the truth of his absence, just as you are alone every moment following that. Again and again and again you are alone, alone, alone. There is no one to hold you, no one to ease your suffering, no one to stand against you and the dark chasm of loss. Of course all you do is scream.
Stay, you beg. Stay, you plead. Stay. Stay. Stay. Just this one word over and over like a prayer, like a spell, like a compulsion. Stay. Stay. But he never will. He never can. No matter how many times you ask, no matter if you implore or cajole or demand or threaten, it will not happen – and you know that, yet still you say it. Stay. These rooms are haunted by your pleading. Stay. I cannot think for all I hear is your desperate voice. Stay. I cannot speak for only one word would come out my lips. Stay. Stay. Stay. Each time with more futility than the last. Stay. But you never cease.
Not all gods will disappoint you. I hope you know this is true, even if you don’t want to believe it yet. You have been hurt by a god who promised unconditional love and yet cast you out for being true to yourself; that wound runs deep and does not easily heal. Perhaps you don’t believe other gods exist, or if you do you can’t yet let yourself believe that they may love what another rejected. But they do exist, I promise, and they will love you. There are gods who will see in the depths of you great beauty and worth. There are gods who will embrace every aspect of your being, even and especially those parts of you which another god rejected. There are gods who will urge you to talk to that cute girl in the bookstore or weep joyfully with you when your partner proposes. They will dance with you in nightclubs and march with you in Pride parades. To discover them for yourself you must go straight to the source. Put down the poorly translated books, turn away from the preachers and prophets, and reach out directly to the divine. Connect to the source material and let it, not some fallible human, show you the truth of its compassion. You have been burned before by a cruel god but there are others out there waiting to fold you into their truly boundless, truly unconditional love.
o wicked winter, o sinful summer, let me curl up behind your ribs to slumber amid your shared madness, let me bear witness to the cacophony of your frenzied union, blood and sweat and insatiable hunger, you are a discordant melody shivering toward a violent climax, a dissonant hymn to addiction and adoration played out on bruised flesh by forceful hands
Put me in a sideshow, it’s where I belong. All the people who have heard about freaks like me can come pay fifty cents to stare at me through the bars of my cage. They’ll ooh and ah, gasp and point. When I try to explain myself they’ll snicker behind their hands, Look, it thinks it’s people! You’re wrong, though. I don’t. You’ve finally forced it through my thick skull that I’m not one of you. But at least here you’re all laughing at my face and not my back, right? And maybe someone will throw peanuts to me out of pity.
Your union always contains an edge of desperation, a need to consume and be consumed that surpasses mere physical desire. It’s as if every time is the first and the last, as if you have never touched before and may never touch again, or at any moment you will be ripped apart for good. If force alone could meld your bodies into one, you would have fused inseparably long ago. This goes beyond pleasure; this is one soul trapped in two bodies, the broken halves dashing themselves against their heavy confines to finally reunite.
Or: I Don’t Always Write Assholes (But Mostly I Do)
Thought I’d give new folks the TL;DR overview of the characters I sporadically write about. More in their respective tags, of course.
Remr: Tiefling scientist with poor impulse control. Huge fucking nerd. Has no social skills but somehow managed to help save the world. Just so gay and nerdy. Find her in the DnD tag.
Dhashi: Lolita aasimar magical girl who believes good always triumphs over evil. Leaves a trail of glitter everywhere she goes. Died but came back. Very cute. Very positive. Very annoying. Find her in the DnD tag.
Mage: Asshole pirate queen with too much time on her hands. Always trying to destroy the good guys. Enjoys arson and petty vandalism. Kinda half-monster maybe? Find her in the Mage tag.
Tanim: Rich asshole who loves drugs, alcohol, and sex with strangers. Falls in love with Daren. High class angst with a side of sadomasochism. Find him in the Tanim and Daren tag.
Daren: Mentally unstable asshole. Falls in love with Tanim. Less angst, more monotone sarcasm and completely serious threats of violence. Really really likes knives. Find him in the Tanim and Daren tag.
“Just admit it, it was terrible,”
Tanim rolled his eyes as they turned down the alley. “It wasn’t terrible. You’re being too critical. When did you become an expert in opera, anyway?” Beside him, Daren snorted out cigarette smoke and derision. “I don’t have to be an expert to know when someone’s flat the entire time,” he retorted, eliciting a sigh from his partner. “Oh, you just didn’t like-”
“Don’t shout or fight,” a rough voice interrupted, “just give me your wallet.” Tanim had just enough time to register the gun barrel pressed to his temple before Daren moved. With a spray of blood, their would-be thief slumped to the cement with throat neatly cut. Casually, as if from long habit, Daren reached out and wiped his small knife clean on Tanim’s tie.
“Hey!” Tanim snatched the silk fabric away with a glare. “This is a six hundred dollar tie.”
Daren clapped him on the shoulder as he walked past. “Club soda, dear.”
Tomorrow, he thinks as he pours another glass. Tomorrow he will go dry.
Tomorrow, he thinks as he swallows another pill. Tomorrow he will get clean.
Tomorrow, he thinks as he sucks off another stranger. Tomorrow he will become celibate.
Tomorrow, he thinks as he drinks; tomorrow, as he injects; tomorrow, as he whores himself out. Tomorrow.
A dark stage. Tanim stares down into the glass in his hand, gives the amber liquid an idle swirl while I sought you in the last sip of laudanum, he muses aloud. From the darkness behind him, the snik snik and spark of a lighter. The flame catches, burns a small spot in the darkness to reveal Daren as he lights the cigarette poised on his lips, closes the lighter with a metallic snap. Tanim, oblivious, continues. I sought you in brothels and fight rings, and Daren, pacing, wreathed in smoke, they say madness is repeating the same action yet expecting a different result. I sought you nightly like a man possessed, Tanim finishes the drink in one long swallow, as if parched, yet you evaded me. That is not quite true, however. Tanim lifts his head, eyes searching, seeing nothing. The hand holding his glass shakes slightly less than his voice. I prayed to you; you did not reply. I prostrated myself before you; you turned your back. I courted you like a lover and yet you denied me time and time again. Daren drops the cigarette, madness is repeating the same action despite knowing you shall never produce a different result, leaves it burning in the background while he moves closer. I loved you most dearly of all hence we enter this dance again yet you are fickle, o death not because we hope to change the ending and I have winced in the light of so many unwanted dawns but because we know we cannot. Tanim, with a sigh, Can this be the end now? Can I be done? Come, fifth sword, and cut down this hanging man. I am so tired. Daren steps into the candlelight, lays a gentle hand on his jaw. Hello, brother, softly. Did I keep you waiting overlong? Tanim’s weak smile, oh sweet relief, oh final mercy. Never. They kiss. The gleam of the blade in Daren’s hand is the last movement seen before the stage goes completely dark. The glass hits the floor, shatters. The cigarette burns itself out.
Halfway through his omelette, Tanim noticed Daren’s food remained untouched. This wasn’t unusual – toast had a frequent fate of going cold and stale on Daren’s plate – but the man usually at least poked at it a bit. Instead, he seemed to be staring at the table, a thoughtful expression subtly altering his otherwise impassive face. Going back to his food, Tanim asked in idle curiosity, “What are you thinking about?”
“Whether I could use this spoon to scoop out someone’s eye,” Daren reached forward and took up the spoon resting by Tanim’s coffee cup. He didn’t seem to notice the sudden jump of Tanim’s eyebrows, nor the forkful of egg that hovered frozen in the air halfway to the man’s mouth. Turning the spoon over in his hand, Daren added conversationally, “I think I could. You’d have to go in from the side, kind of angle down like an ice cream scoop. Though I guess it’d be easier with one of those grapefruit spoons, since they’re serrated on the edge. With a regular spoon like this you might have a little trouble with the optic nerve. Do you think it’d be soft enough to–”
“Just,” Tanim laid his hand over Daren’s with a sigh, “stop.” He reclaimed the spoon and set it back down on the table where it belonged. “This is why we don’t eat out more often.” With that he turned back to his omelette, very pointedly ignoring the startled looks of the other diners around them. Daren, immune to the stares of others, merely shrugged and took a bite of cooling toast. “You asked.” To their apparently paralyzed waitress, unfortunate enough to have overheard the entire conversation, he indicated his coffee and said, “I’ll have another cup.”
Daren’s hands clench white as he watches the dogfight taking place in the airspace above the military base. The tall windows of his office offer a prime view of the base’s landing strip and the incoming medical transport under fire from enemy aircraft. Despite the planes launched to repel the attack and guide the transport to a safe landing, the sluggish medic aircraft is clearly in trouble; dark smoke pours from one engine and its angle of approach is far too steep
“Colonel, med crews are ready to deploy when necessary,”
Daren doesn’t bother turning from the windows to acknowledge this report, only nods and continues to watch the battle taking place in his skies. When the door clicks shut, he slowly uncurls his shaking hands.
“Col St. Anthony, may I have the pleasure of introducing you to our newest Chief Flight Surgeon?” Daren held back a sigh and prepared for his tenth introduction that night. This was why he avoided military social functions; he could barely stand talking to any of these people on base, let alone after hours. Managing something that approximated a smile closely enough, considering his rank, he turned to face the speaker and their guest. “Of course.”
“Col St. Anthony, this is Dr. Rosenquist. Dr. Rosenquist, this is our esteemed Colonel.”
“St. Anthony?” The doctor held out his hand, and while Daren shook it he waited for the inevitable comment about the battle that made him a household name. Instead, though, Dr. Rosenquist only grinned and said, “I have heard you’re vicious at chess. Perhaps I could bother you for a game some day?” The comment finally snagged Daren’s attention and for the first time he actually looked at the man who gripped his hand with firm confidence. There was a curious shrewdness and humor to the gray-blue eyes staring back at him, and despite his reticence he found himself answering, “Yes, please do.”
Tanim bites back another curse as the plane rocks and swings to one side, sending half the supplies in his kit out of arms’ reach. He can hear the yelling of the pilots and the terrified questions from the rest of his team, but he has no time to glance out a window to see if they’re all doomed or not. His entire attention must remain focused on the patient in front of him and the frustratingly delicate, life-saving surgery that could not wait until landing. For anyone else the lack of steady ground would be enough to stop them from even attempting such a risky procedure, but Tanim remains determined to work until either his patient stabilizes or the plane explodes. Considering how the bloody floor beneath his knees drops and shudders, tilts and sways, Tanim can’t honestly say which might happen first.
“Thank god,” Tanim lets out a long-held breath as his patient’s bleeding finally decreases to a manageable trickle. As he ties off the last suture, the surgeon spares a brief second to glance up and through the cockpit window, where the airstrip rushes up to meet their plummeting plane. He has only enough time to feel a thrill of fear before the two collide.
“Hello, Doctor,” Daren shut the office door behind Tanim and slid home the lock. “You weren’t followed?”
“No, the building’s dead this time of night,” Tanim shrugged out of his coat, tossing it casually over the back of a chair, and came up behind Daren. He slid one arm around the man’s waist, the other over his chest, and held him close. “Hello, sir,” he murmured, pressing his lips to his lover’s neck to feel the heartbeat quickening under Daren’s skin. “Shall we play a round or two, then?”
“I would like that very much,” Daren turned in Tanim’s arms and pulled his head down for a hard, hungry kiss. After this they did not speak at all, lost in the need for mouth against mouth, skin against skin, to forget for a time their location and the illicit nature of their relationship. These clandestine meetings were not even barely enough for either of them, but all they could steal and so they made do. It was something, at least.
Tanim’s first instinct upon regaining consciousness is to locate and identify the pain, but every part of him seems to pulse with the same excruciating agony that scrambles his bleary thoughts. Giving up on any sort of diagnosis, he focuses instead on lifting his heavy eyelids. Even this is a feat, though one he accomplishes after what feels like an eternity. He can’t seem to move his head yet, though, and all he can see is a white ceiling and a dark blur at his side. When the blur moves, he just manages to make out the uniform. He tries to clear his throat but fails and instead quietly croaks, “Daren?”
“Welcome back to the land of the living,” The blur shifts and suddenly Daren comes into focus, his mouth a thin smile that does nothing to hide the worry casting shadows under his eyes. He reaches out and carefully brushes a lock of hair off Tanim’s forehead, then returns to holding Tanim’s hand. “Thought maybe we’d lost you for good.”
“Me too,” Tanim glances around, trying both to avoid the uncharacteristic concern in Daren’s eyes and to hide the pain he knows is obvious in his. “This isn’t the base ICU,” he realizes. “Where am I?”
“I had you moved to a room closer to my quarters. More privacy here,” Daren’s reply sounds careless, even distracted, but Tanim knows him too well. There is something he doesn’t want to say, something that would explain the different pains starting to define themselves; the pain of broken bones, of burned and lacerated skin, struggling lungs and a concussed brain, and beneath it all a deep, endless ache the doctor fears to identify. Instead, he takes a labored breath and asks, “How bad is it?” When Daren turns his face away, mouth set in a grim line, Tanim has his answer.
For a moment neither speaks, letting the room’s machinery fill the grim silence between them. Finally, Daren picks up something from the table next to them and holds it up for Tanim to see: a chess piece. He manages the ghost of a smile. “Want to play a round?”
All I remember from the dream is your silver-white hair smooth as silk, the weight of your unseen presence in the room, and the way your clothes clung to your hunched frame as you sat stubbornly smoking in the rain, refusing sympathy, and in this way it was like every other dream, the fleeting recollection of his hand on your face, the dissociation in your black eyes, the desire to remain there on the edge of the drop as long as you are there together, as long as we are there together.
I wonder what Tanim and Daren would be like if their circumstances were switched at birth. How much of who they are is a result of nature and how much of nurture?
Take Daren, the madman, and give him family, wealth, power. Give him the world at his fingertips and the protection of affluence to do as he likes. He’d look different; younger, stronger, healthier. But would he be any saner? Or would he just be better at hiding it, a Hannibal-esque psychopath in a very convincing person suit? Either way, he would be a force to be reckoned with. Unhindered by a past riddled with abandonment and abuse, he would have a terrifying clarity of mind and control over his actions. An unbroken Daren would be charismatic, intelligent, a skilled liar and shrewd interpreter of intention. He would easily succeed in the cold, calculating world of business and blue blood – though he might also at any moment destroy it all, just to see what would happen. Certainly he would not feel bound or beholden to anyone but himself, and would continue to act with impunity as he already does in every other incarnation.
Now take Tanim, the rich man, and strip all his blessings away. Make him the unwanted son of a druggie, thrown at a young age into a foster care system broken and beyond capacity. He certainly wouldn’t be living in a penthouse apartment and drinking scotch out of crystal decanters after that. Chances are good that he’d still be an addict, though, and probably selling himself for money instead of just giving himself away. Maybe a rough beginning would do him some good, give him the freedom to explore his identity without the confines of duty and expectation. At the very least, he might be haunted by fewer ghosts – or just more bearable ones. With no real need to live as a recluse, he might even create some sort of found family for himself made of other misfits and lost souls. Still, he would be just as likely to throw all that away when he met Daren as he is anything else in any other incarnation.
Together, they would be less internal disaster and more external destruction. Daren’s wealth and cruelty, combined with Tanim’s general degeneration and desire to fulfill all of Daren’s whims, would set them on a truly dangerous path. Maybe things start the way they do for this very reason – maybe otherwise Tanim and Daren are simply too volatile together. That’s a disturbing thought.
I would rip you open, he murmurs, teeth testing the taut flesh of your neck, tongue gliding over the pulsing heartbeat beneath, and you only smile with half-lidded eyes. You hope he will; you hope you feel those teeth sink deep into your throat and that sardonic mouth swallow your screams. Please do, your body begs. Just wait, his promises.
The following is an exchange that 100% happened between my DnD character (Remr, female tiefling) and my girlfriend’s character (Never, nonbinary dragonborn). Or maybe we were out of character. Or maybe even we aren’t sure. Anyway…
Remr: And the hot chick.
Never: [confused] Who’s the hot chick?
Remr: You know, [gestures vaguely] the hot chick. With the pointy teeth.
Remr: [snaps fingers] Yeah! The hot chick.
Never: She has a name.
Remr: Yeah, “hot chick”.
Never: [patience waning] You can’t just call them Hot Chick 3 and 7.
Remr: Well, no. [holds up a hand to start counting on her fingers] Hot Chick 3 would be–
Never: No, no, just stop. [holds hand out to silence her] There aren’t even 7.
Remr: [thoughtfully] Actually, if you count–
Also, here are some other recent hijinks!
The team got to ride on an airship, where it was learned that Remr has a sailor hat Tarcella gave her when they were kids. Tarcella named Remr her second in command on the ship because she just so happened to have read the schematics for fun. Remr then took out the hat to wear it, but it didn’t really fit on her head so she just kinda hooked it on one of her horns.
Later on when the ship was crashing, Remr and Tarcella both fell out of the front windows and would have fallen to their deaths in the ocean, but were saved at the last minute by Bao’ru.
- During a brief rest in the jungle, Remr spent her time collecting specimens of new or interesting bugs. At some point she ran out of containers to put them in, so she started stowing them in Never’s bags and then eventually just put them on the dragonborn themself for safekeeping.
“Why do you bother dressing like that every day?”
“What, I can’t look nice?”
“The dress shirt seems like overkill. And why the tie? You’re not even going anywhere.”
“Are you really giving me fashion advice when you’re not even out of bed yet, let alone dressed?”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“It’s just habit, okay?”
“It’s a weird habit.”
“Says the man who wears nothing but black every day.”
“Why shouldn’t I? It’s served me just fine thus far.”
“Fine, I’ll lose the tie. But then you won’t have anything to yank on like a dog collar when you…”
“Okay, okay, you make a good point. Keep the tie; lose the shirt.”
He returns to the alley too often. It is not a gravestone, after all, but close enough and all he has. Sometimes he sits on the cold concrete, recalling the night they met – though he sits on the far side, never beneath the darkened streetlight. Most times he just paces back and forth as he lights, smokes, and discards cigarette after cigarette. Their burnt ends litter the cement, are ground beneath his shoes and grow soggy in rain puddles. He hopes some shred of fate still lingers here. He hopes he will catch his lover’s tragedy, be infected with whatever curse or punishment took the man from him so he can experience the same pain, the same misery, the same slow death. In this place where everything started, he seeks the beginning of the end. It is the only way left for him to feel close to his beloved. He hopes he will die here; living is a betrayal he cannot bear much longer.
He waits. The shards of glass have glittered like snow on the white carpet for five months now; he steps around them without thought as he paces. Sometimes he still purposefully treads on one to feel the bright, sharp pain travel up through his foot, to leave a few more bloodstains in the wreckage. He hasn’t even bothered to replace the shattered glass tumblers, instead drinking his liquor out of a coffee mug or straight from the bottle. He’s stopped bothering with an ash tray, too, and the cigarette butts leave little burn marks where they fall from idle hands. He doesn’t care. The one he loves will return to him, he is certain of this despite their parting words, the broken glass and passing months. The one he loves will return to him and so he must be here, cleansed by his penitence and proven faithful by his stasis. So, he waits.
Love lies at the end of a knife blade, the culmination of all you ever wanted to share with your beloved, beautiful red pain blossoming up around that sweet spot just below the sternum, and finally he sees the world you’ve made for him, for you both, finally he understands the language your love speaks in pain and punishment and the patience to lead him inexorably to this moment of final, total clarity, his surrender in your arms the last step in the dance of your own design, and you will be called madmen but that is because only you can see the beauty in a love this red.
Life is one long slippery slope. I started at the top, but from the first my stance was shaky. I slid so early so easily and never managed to climb back up more than an inch – and that just to fall again anyway. Drinking to smoking to injecting, kissing to fucking to binding, it’s all downhill. Melancholy to misery to madness. Love to obsession to hatred. I’m not sure I’ll even know when I’ve hit the bottom; will it feel any different than where I am now?
The first time I made him bleed, I thought I would kill myself rather than live with the guilt. But I didn’t, and the second time that guilt weighed a little less on my shoulders. I barely felt it at all the third time; he knew the possibility was there, he could have prevented it had he truly wanted to. My point is, none of those instances felt like rock bottom. Maybe nothing will, until the time I unwrap my hands from his neck and he lays still and silent. I thought love might be the thing with which I’d climb back up that slope, but I was wrong. If anything, it only accelerated my descent.