Magic Comes to Alphabet City (And to Certain Parts of Greenpoint)

by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)
illustrated by iianbe

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/91045.html)

Elliot woke up with the terrible sensation that he’d become seventeen years old again.

Fortunately when he rolled over, away from the light coming through his window, he was greeted by all the aches and pops and grouchy sour-mouthedness that he relied on from his body to keep him convinced he was actually closer to thirty. So reliable, the old body, even if his mind wanted to play silly buggers with him, blending into those first moments of wakefulness whatever dream about ink on skin he’d been having. He’d opened his eyes and the first thing he’d seen had been words written on the inside of his forearm, black over the muted blue line of his vein, and that was nothing he’d done since he’d been in high school and still wearing too much eyeliner on a daily basis. He closed his eyes again.

His alarm was going to go off in twelve minutes. If he tried very hard and thought excessively peaceful thoughts, he might get another four- to seven-minute dose of sleep. On a different morning, like when he’d been having that surprisingly intricate dream about exploring an underground cave system as Ian McKellan’s spunky sidekick, he might try to reach for those extra few minutes in his subconscious playground. Today, though, he figured he could skip the trip back to his awkward teen years. His new years’ resolution was to start getting up earlier, anyway.

Elliot opened his eyes for the second time of the morning and saw the letters again, written clear and clean from the crook of his elbow to a few inches down his forearm. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes so he could actually read his arm. The hell, it wasn’t even in his handwriting (and in about four hours, he would realize how odd it was that that was the first thing he really found strange about the situation.)

eyes dilated & heart deluded I can was what it said, in small letters just on the edge of neat. There was a wobble to the l’s, and the heads on the e’s didn’t quite match. Someone had written it; Elliot hadn’t just had some late-night run in with a laser printer. His pens were on his sketchbook, on his bedside table where they lived, at least; he must have gone for them in the night and decided to express a little word salad on himself. In different handwriting, on account of tapping into his dream personality, or something like that. He’d done stupider things in his sleep. And thought of stupider explanations for them. Elliot resolved to stop taking that melatonin stuff before bed–sure it was all natural and did help him sleep, but the weird dreams and apparent side effects weren’t worth it. He licked his thumb and rubbed it over the words on his arm.

They didn’t come off.

It was pre-8 AM and he was dry-mouthed, so he plunked his thumb in the nearly empty cup of water beside his bed. When the letters didn’t smudge this time, he connected what that familiar feeling under his skin was: the slight raise of ink in skin, a tattoo.

“What the fuck–” Elliot started to say, and at that point his alarm went off; he shrieked in a higher note than he liked to admit being able to hit and knocked his clock onto the floor.

At least it was late January, and he had a lot of good reasons other than covering his mysterious new tattoo for wearing multiple layers of clothing. He’d staggered off to work half an hour late, as opposed to his usual twenty minutes late; he’d spent longer than he meant to in the shower, scrubbing at his arm with every sponge, brush, and loofah-type object in the bathroom (why the hell did he have so many of those, anyway? Elliot wondered about himself, sometimes, but he currently had greater problems at hand. Or at arm.) He ended up very pink and scrubbed and fresh and clean, but he couldn’t even get dry skin to flake away from the inked words.

Elliot knew enough about tattoos due to the fairly large mistake of one that was on the back of his right calf. He’d been drunk when he got the idea, drunk when he explained it to the tattoo artist, and drunk through both of the sessions it had taken to get it done. Even through all that, though, he remembered doing it, remembered every last bit of that particular poor life choice. And even more than that, he remembered the nearly two months it had taken to get through the healing process. Two painful, itchy, skin-flaking months as he forgot to put the tattoo artist-recommended lotion on it half the time, and squirmed through the feeling of his leg hair growing back. This thing on his arm looked six months healed, and if he didn’t look at it, he could almost forget it was there.

Of course, the minute he plopped down at his seat in his cubicle, the first thing he wanted to do was roll up his sleeves and see if it was still there. Elliot had just put his hand to his cuff when the sound of a hand slapping against the wall of his cube made him jump in his seat. He tugged his sleeve down halfway over his hand and spun his chair to see the face he expected. “Why do you like making me jump like that?”

Lisa leaned up against the ‘door’ of his cubicle. “Because you’re cute when you do it. Wanna go to Starbucks?”

“I kind of just sat down.”

“So?”

“…Yeah, good point.” One of the several nice things about Elliot’s job, along with the pay and the health insurance and stuff like that, was that the office environment was friendly and no one brought the hammer down on you if you came in kinda late or took a long lunch or fucked off to get coffee or smoke half a dozen cigarettes, as long as you got your work done on time. Elliot grabbed his coat while Lisa did a little “yay coffee” dance and skipped over to her cube to grab her stuff. Clearly, she didn’t need coffee, but Elliot sure as hell did after this morning.

Lisa was happy to keep up the bulk of the small talk as they walked the grueling block and a half to Starbucks (considering that the office was in midtown Manhattan, they actually had a choice of Starbucks within the five block radius, but the good Starbucks, at a whole three blocks away, was way too far). This was more or less a morning routine between the two of them, although the details might vary from day to day. Lisa Diamandis had big boobs, a big mouth, and–if the pictures from her high school days in Jersey were to be believed–had the potential within her to have seriously big hair, and she was basically Elliot’s best work buddy. They’d both started at the magazine together a little more than two and a half years ago, Elliot in the art department, and her in editorial, and they ended up kind of sticking with each other through sharing generally complementary personalities and nigh-zealous loves for zombie movies. They’d become each other’s sort of “work spouse”, a term that meant that if someone needed to know why Elliot had been out sick or what he was going to have for lunch, Lisa was the person to ask, and vice versa.

It also meant that Elliot could get away with zoning out on their conversation without getting punched in the arm. Instead he just got a light thwap while they waited for their coffee. “Hey, doofus, pay attention, I asked you something!” Lisa said after hitting Elliot just a couple inches off from the new ink on his arm, which made him jolt harder than he should have.

“Did I already say ‘uh-huh’?”

“Yeah, that’s how I could tell you weren’t actually listening.” She picked up one of the cardboard cup holders and started folding and unfolding it. “I asked you wanted to go out with me tonight.” Elliot made a face; he knew she didn’t mean go out go out, because… well, she knew him, but still, “going out” in the general sense was not really his thing. Or, at least, it wasn’t anymore. She tugged at his sleeve, right at the elbow, and Elliot could feel every letter burning in his arm. “Don’t make that face! I just have your best interests at heart! You need to leave your apartment at night and go places that aren’t Kim’s Video or Forbidden Planet.”

Elliot gently shook off her grip as he reached for his just-delivered latte. “I leave my apartment at night and go places,” he mumbled into his first sip.

“Fun places?” Lisa asked. Her drink always took longer, because she liked to order complicated things.

“Totally fun,” Elliot said, and gave her a little “trust me!” smile.

“If you’re talking about your D&D game, that doesn’t count.”

“I wasn’t,” he said, and took the nearly mutilated cardboard cup holder out of her hands to save its life by putting it around his cup. “…It’s my Mage game, which is White Wolf, and neither of us wants me have to explain why that’s different from D&D in public before ten in the morning.”

Lisa’s drink came and she spent the ten seconds or so before they were outside again to sulkily consider her next attack. “Just hear me out, okay? This bar I like is doing these “Geek Week” events this week, like, Wednesday there was a costume contest, all kinds of anime cat-girls and cute boys in Robin costumes, and yesterday there was some kind of video game tournament, I dunno, I didn’t go, and tonight is Nerd Trivia Night.”

Elliot stopped in front of their office building and narrowed his eyes at her. “Oh, right, ‘my best interests’, my ass, you just want a ringer.” Lisa tried to look innocent and drank her macchiato. “So, fine, what’s the prize?”

Lisa bit the lid of her cup a little and scrunched up her shoulders. “Hundred dollar bar tab for the winning team?”

“Oh, awesome, since all those club sodas with lime were really bankrupting me. Lisa!” Elliot tried not to make a big deal about it, but it was kind of totally a big deal; he’d quit drinking just a little more than a year ago (382 days, to be exact, but not that he was counting, hah hah), because he had, to put it lightly, a problem when it came to alcohol. “You want to take me out, and it’s to a bar? Come on!” He wanted a cigarette, but he didn’t have enough hands to deal with that and hold his coffee at the same time, so he settled for shoving his hand in the pocket of his coat and sulking, feeling seventeen again for like the fifth time that day.

“Elliot, don’t be like that! I mean, you can still have fun. I’ll be there, and buddy system rules will apply, and you can meet attractive people who will probably be younger than you and awe them with your intimate knowledge of comic books.” Lisa licked whip cream off her top lip and smiled smugly at him. “And you can watch me get drunk, have some vicarious fun there, make fun of me later for things I don’t remember doing, and keep me from getting date raped!”

Elliot rescinded his sulk by roughly 45%. “Well, gee, you make it sound so fun.” He thought, then, about what he actually did have planned for tonight: a lot of staring at his left arm, quietly freaking out, and maybe a little bit of pricing tattoo removal online and/or prayer. “….okay, actually, it does sound kind of fun.”

Lisa bounced a little. “Yay! Oh, please come, it’ll be fun even without you kicking ass and taking names at trivia.” She linked her arm with his and started them back into the building, because oh right, work. “And I’m gonna be honest, as a cute guy who is also a shy gay recovering alcoholic, you kind of make the best wingman ever.”

Elliot grabbed the top of her head to give it a friendly shaking. “I’m not shy. I’m awkward, it’s totally different.” He let go of her when they got into the elevator, so as not to be seen tussling on the security cameras. “Yeah, I’ll come.”

About a half an hour after lunch, Elliot went to take a piss, and when he unzipped and tugged his shorts down he saw, in neat line an inch or so below his navel, the words only see beautiful people tonight inked into his skin in the same hand as the line on his forearm.

He spent the next ten minutes hyperventilating in one of the stalls, but he did it very quietly, so no one was the wiser.

He thought pretty sincerely about canceling on Lisa, but decided that being an asshole probably wouldn’t help his situation at all. Elliot got home late from work, heated up the leftover Thai food in the fridge, and ate his drunken noodles (a dish that contained no alcohol at all, as far as Elliot knew, but which he always ordered, out of dual senses of perversity and hunger) while he watched the Cartoon Network with the sound down. His hand kept finding its way to his stomach, and from there his fingers crept under his belt to idly stroke over the letters in his skin. There was something weirdly reassuring about being able to feel it instead of just seeing it; it made it seem all the more real, as weird and unnerving as that was.

No new words had appeared since lunch, or at least none that Elliot had discovered yet. He wasn’t exactly eager to go hunting for the next line of this poem or whatever it was getting written on him with a hand mirror and a flashlight. He had other plans tonight, after all. Oh god, he had other plans.

He’d barely been social at all in the past year, save for maintaining his nerdier hobbies. He just wasn’t sure of how to deal, how to do any of it since he quit drinking. The whole thing hadn’t been any big, dramatic, VH1 Behind the Music rock-bottom thing; he’d just woken up a couple of days after Christmas hungover and with his liver throbbing, realized how little of the last, oh, six years he actually remembered, how many friendships he’d fucked up by being a drunk asshole, how high a percentage of his sick days were used to deal with hangovers, and how he had no fucking idea what the last names of the last three guys he dated were, and wasn’t too solid on the first name of one of them. Elliot decided that if he didn’t put a stop to things then, they would only get worse and worse. And this time, he meant it. Even if now he was feeling awkward teenage nervous where before he’d be on his second pre-game drink.

But he said he’d go, so he would go. Elliot put himself on auto-pilot to make himself presentable for the night. He did used to go out–a lot, in fact–and had never gotten rid of the tight pants and other accoutrements of that part of his life. Lisa would sulk at him all night if he showed up looking like he did at the office, so he went for the all-out “I listen to Joy Division and think serious thoughts about death” look that had gotten him through the ages of fifteen to twenty-six, at which point he had some kind of quarter-life crisis about acting like a grown-up, had started buying clothes in primary colors at H&M, and stopped getting his pillows all dirty from passing out with mascara on. But you could never really kill your inner goth, he thought as he smudged his eyeliner until he looked appropriately strung-out and haunted, but in a sexy way. It would always rise from the grave again and again to tell you to paint your nails black.

Elliot turned his apartment slightly upside-down to see if he had any nail polish hidden anywhere, and when he did finally find a bottle mysteriously fallen behind his DVD cabinet, it was pink, and he had no idea whose it was or where the hell it had come from. A day of many mysteries, he thought, but at least he knew where his fucking hairspray was. When he’d finished making himself all pretty and gave the finished product a look in the mirror, he got a sort of weird feeling, something familiar that had been gone for a while, perhaps. When he was flicking off the lights in his apartment and double checking that he had his keys, he figured it out; the nervousness and uncertainty was starting to fade away, and he was looking forward to having a good time. …Weird.

Before he left for the bar, he stopped just in front of his door and pushed his left sleeve up. The words were still there, absolutely unchanged from that morning, black and clear on his skin. “What the fuck does that even mean?” Elliot said to his empty kitchen, then put on his jacket and headed out.

The bar, Dillinger’s, was one of those places that wished sincerely that it could be a dive, but just kept being too pretty, too pricey, and too full of good-looking people to ever really be a scumhole full of career alcoholics. Elliot wove his way through the healthily-sized crowd–a fair mix of late twenties popped-collar yuppies and early twenties scene kids, joining together for a common love of booze and fucking each other in the unisex bathrooms–to find Lisa perched neatly on a seat at the bar. She’d gotten dolled up too, in sparkly tights under a short skirt, and a top that heavily advertised her tracts of land. Elliot put a hand on top of her head and gave it a little shake, and she spun in her seat to make a sound of glee and hug him around the waist.

“Yay!” Lisa squeaked into his neck before letting him go to grin up at him. “You came, you came! Ooh, and look at you.” She leaned back a little to squint appraisingly at him, then chucked him on the chin like a noir movie detective to a dame. “I think you’re prettier than me.”

“Could be,” he said, and snuck in a space leaning against the bar next to her. He caught the bartender’s eye out of habit, then quickly made himself focus on the shine of the glitter Lisa’d put across her cheekbones. “You gotten much of a start?”

Lisa picked up her glass from the bar, which was full of something pink, and held up two fingers on her other hand. “Only number two. I want to be kinda useful in the contest.” She got the bartender over with a wave and a smile, and projected her voice over the music. “You probably don’t hear this one much, but could I get a Shirley Temple?”

The bartender’s mouth twisted up in an amused little bow, but he nodded and went for the grenadine and the soda gun, delivering the drink to Lisa quickly. It even had a cherry in it. She put a dollar on the bar and winked at the bartender, then slyly pushed the glass over to Elliot. “Yes, thank you, my dignity is protected,” he said, and took as proud a sip as he could of the recovering alcoholic’s deliciously sweet punishment drink. “So, do we need to, like, sign up or something?”

Lisa lifted her glass and clinked it against his. “Already did! So I’m glad you showed up or I really would have been screwed. We are Team ‘The XXX Files’!”

“Hah!” Elliot laughed, and tried to fish the cherry out of his drink. “Nice one!”

“Yeah, my original team idea was going to be ‘Cocksuckers, Inc.’, but then I realized we were actually an LLC, so that was right out.” Elliot had no choice but to shake the top of her head again. “So in, like, fifteen minutes they’re going to pass out the first round, which is just written questions, and we fill that out, and then the top three teams get to go up on that little stage there, and there are like buzzers and stuff.”

“Buzzers and stuff?” Elliot successfully captured the cherry and popped it into his mouth, leaving himself the stem to spin around in his teeth. “This place is, uh, kind of hardcore about trivia, are you sure we should–”

“Please don’t be a pussy, Elliot,” Lisa said, and finished off the last drops of her pink drink. “You’ll do great.”

Lisa was right, as Elliot had to admit she really often was. The first round was a breeze for a dork of his caliber, especially with the help of his lower-level dork assistant, since he’d never watched Xena: Warrior Princess, despite Lisa’s insistence that it was the best television program to ever be syndicated. She covered the questions on the gaps in his TV knowledge, and Elliot scored them extra credit for knowing a ridiculous number of Green Lantern names.

Elliot bought Lisa another vodka cranberry for the vicarious thrill and they talked shit about coworkers until the quiz master, a cute chubby girl with a Bettie Page haircut and cat-eye glasses, took up the small stage that took up one end of the bar’s floor. She went through some warm-up patter to get the fairly soused crowd going “woooo!”, and then started reading the correct quiz answers, taking time to make fun of people who’d put down particularly dumb answers (‘Starsky and Hutch’ was definitely not the right answer to ‘What two characters do the Final Fantasy and Star Wars series have in common?’, but at least it made people laugh). She announced the top three, and naturally, naturally, The XXX Files were tied for second most nerdy bastards in the room with a team called The Uncanny XXX-Men, appropriately enough.

It was only when Lisa took him by the arm and to start dragging him through the crowd that the bottom of Elliot’s stomach dropped out and he seriously, seriously considered grabbing Lisa’s abandoned drink to down it–he’d paid for it, after all, it’d be in his right. A year and change ago he would have been piss-full of liquid confidence and probably snapping his teeth at attractive people he passed on the way to the stage, but now he was feeling the sort of sweaty-palmed uncertainty he hadn’t felt since–jesus fuck how many times today was he going to think this?–he was seventeen. But Lisa stood on her toes to say in his ear, “Don’t worry, you’ll kick ass,” and then they were on stage, being given goofy light-up buzzers by the rockabilly emcee.

Elliot sized up the competition while half-listening to the rules. The top scoring team was a set of twin black girls with matching nose rings and multicolored anime hairstyles with the team name of ‘Nee-chan, Nee-chan’ who did one of those practiced in-unison things whenever they were asked a question, and then the other team… Elliot stopped listening entirely for a while, because hi. One half of The Uncanny XXX-Men was a pretty hardcore-looking chick with about an inch of hair on her head, but she just faded away next to the other half, who was exactly the kind of fucking adorable punk boy that Elliot had spent most of his adult life trying to get to go home with him. He had faded blue hair flopped over one eye in what looked like a two-months-grown-out mohawk-at-rest, skin soaked in tattoos, and just a sweet face. Elliot absently brushed his hand over his lower stomach and thought, I can only see beautiful people tonight.

He said his name was Marc, and before Elliot could really focus in on counting how many rings he had in each ear or on figuring out exactly what color his eyes were through the red bar light, the quiz master had the mike in his face to get his name. She made a couple of jokes about E.T., like she was even alive when that movie came out, and then the game was underway. Elliot scored big for knowing the full name of the second Green Arrow, and extra credit for knowing his “diversity in comics!” ethnic makeup, but then Marc buzzed in with the guy’s mother’s name for big bonus points, and Elliot fell a little in love right then. They went back and forth, hitting questions about Weis and Hickman and Peter Jackson, Futurama and Superboy and the Ravers, but neither XXX team could really stand a chance against the twins, who were both lighting fast on the buzzer and possessed of an encyclopedic and fairly freakish knowledge of everything from obscure ’80s anime series to original Star Trek episodes to Gary Gygax’s middle name (trick freaking question, it turned out to be ‘Gary’; those two had to be Dillinger’s-supplied ringers).

Lisa, at least, wasn’t a sore loser; she blew kisses into the crowd and took her consolation bar-logo t-shirt with grace before pulling Elliot off the stage to the cushier booth seats near the wall. “Hey, wait–” he started to say. Not only had he not gotten his t-shirt, but he completely lost sight of Marc when he headed back towards the bar. “Fuck.” Lisa pulled him down onto the plush seat and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.

“Don’t be sad! I don’t care that we didn’t win, it was fun!” She hugged him some more and laughed into his neck, and Elliot had a moment where he had to remember, right, she’s drunk. One of the weird similarities between drunkenness and sobriety was that you always tended to assume that everyone around you was in the same state of mental clarity that you were. He hugged her back a little distractedly to get her to release her hold, and relaxed himself when the crowd parted enough for him to see blue hair. Marc was near the bar, talking with his teammate. Lisa caught him smiling, and pinched his side.

“Ow, fuck! Watch the nails!”

“He was totally cute, right?” She pointed at Marc, way to be the master of subtlety. Elliot swatted her hand down. “What? You should go talk to him!”

“No! I… no!” He flailed a little until he unraveled Lisa from all points where she was hanging on him. “Yes, he’s cute! But come on, out of my league, too young, probably not even gay, I’m tired and should just go home, do you want me to keep going, because I can?”

“Aw, come on, I bet he’s gay, or at least bi-curious! He’s got, you know, all those earrings.”

“What is it, 1986? Earrings don’t mean anything anymore.”

Lisa smoothed her skirt out, and started to stand up, wobbling a little on her tall shoes. “Okay, I’ll go ask him for you.” Elliot grabbed her by the back of her tights and pulled her back down, and they were around two seconds from a girly slap-fight when Elliot heard a throat-clearing noise and a little “Hey” from just off to his right.

“Um, Elliot, right?” Marc was right there, and shit, he was even better looking up close. Elliot got told a lot that he was pretty, but he generally assumed it was meant in kind of a bad way; his younger brother liked to tell anyone who would listen that Elliot looked dead up like Winona Ryder. Marc, though, had pretty down the way a guy should, all bedroom-eyed and soft-mouthed, and now that he was standing a foot and a half away, Elliot could see the ring in his lip to match all the ones in his ears and the two in his left eyebrow. Fuck. He was way too much of a nancy to ever get a piercing himself, which was all the more reason they made him entirely lose his mind when they were on other people.

Lisa pinched him again.

“Ow! Um, I mean… yeah, that’s right.” He cleared his throat a little. “And you’re Marc?” And then he smiled, and life was absolutely perfect for a few seconds.

“That’s me. Can I buy you a drink?”

Elliot opened his mouth to say ‘yes, please’, but instead a little ‘urk!’ noise came out. Perfection was short-lived. But then Lisa wobbled to her feet again and took Marc’s hand. “No, but you can buy me one, and then I’ll let you take my seat and I’ll get out of you two’s hair for the rest of the night.” Lisa was his best friend in the world and if she ever needed blood or sperm or bail money, he was so going to be on top of that.

Marc laughed and patted the top of her hand. “Okay, cool. Just go up there and tell them to put it on the Iozzio tab. Don’t bankrupt me, though, okay? I’m a loser too, remember.” Lisa leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek, the saucy bitch, and Elliot noticed that Marc was not even an inch taller than Lisa, who was pretty tiny even in her big girl shoes. She disappeared towards the land of free alcohol, and then Marc plopped down next to him, only about half an inch of vibrating space keeping their legs from lining against each other. “So, hi,” he said, and smiled again.

“Hi. …um, I…” He was going to say something stupid; this was guaranteed. If he were drunk, the difference would be that he’d say something stupider, only he wouldn’t care, which somehow became a combination that equaled out to “charming” about half of the time. Marc was still smiling at him through the dead air, and he couldn’t stop the nervous laugh from coming out of him. He covered his face.

“You were really awesome up there in the quiz,” Marc said, and leaned in a little so Elliot could hear him better, and so he could see that his eyes were some kind of stupidly gorgeous golden hazel-brown. “I mean it totally as a compliment when I say that you are such a dork.”

Elliot peeked out from his fingers, and then let his hand drop to smile back. “You too. And that’s totally a compliment.” Marc’s teammate was hanging out not too far away, sipping off a beer and not too obviously keeping an eye on them. “Your friend really knew her stuff about Battlestar Galactica.”

“Yeah, she’s kind of obsessed. She wants to be Starbuck when she grows up, or something. I dunno, I’ve never seen it.”

Elliot wished he had something to drink, just so he could be doing something with his hands. “So, uh, awkward question time, is she your…?” Marc started laughing, which was generally the way Elliot wanted that question to be answered.

“She’s my bassist.”

“Is that a euphemism?”

Marc laughed again, and folded his legs up so he was tucked neatly into his seat, one of his knees barely resting on Elliot’s thigh. Christ, he was cute, and he absolutely had to know it. “Um, yeah, a euphemism for ‘bass guitarist’, I guess. I’m implying here that I’m in a band.” Elliot could have guessed that; neck tattoos really limited a guy to certain career paths, and Marc had the outline of a pretty little swallow underneath his right ear.

“That’s… that’s really cool.” He glanced down at the ink on Marc’s arm to keep from looking too giddy; the tattoo there was some kind of black and white striped snake that looped around his forearm, ending on the back of his palm in a very familiar looking head. “Hey, I like your tattoo. Is that–”

Marc’s smile just got bigger. “Sandworms. You know I hate ’em.” He rolled up his sleeve without prompting to show the full tattoo; the sandworm’s tail ended just above the crook of his elbow, and perched neatly on its tail was Lydia, Beetlejuice-cartoon style. …So, he liked Winona Ryder. Good to know.

“That is awesome,” he said, because it was, and he reached out to touch the back of Marc’s hand, to feel the raised lines of black, and the electric spark of touching skin to skin. He withdrew his hand and felt glad for the red lights; they’d keep his blush a little less obvious. “It’s a lot better than mine…” Elliot trailed off and looked heavenward while Marc laughed again. “Oh, why did I say that?”

“Okay, that means you have to show me now.”

“It’s really stupid. You’re allowed to laugh, but not too hard, okay?”

Marc held up two fingers and looked very solemn. “I promise to only laugh at you a little.” Elliot took a breath and reached down to pull up his pant leg. Marc didn’t start laughing, but he made a face. “Is that… um, is that a Magic: the Gathering card?”

Elliot sighed, and then sighed again. “Yes, yes it is.” It wasn’t just the art from the card; it was an entire representation of the card itself, down to the card description text and illustrator credit. “You aren’t laughing. That’s weird.”

Marc shrugged and hugged one of his knees close to his chest. “Well, it’s pretty, and it’s really good work.” He reached out with one fingertip to touch the flower on the card, and Elliot’s skin prickled. “So, why’d you get it?”

“It’s, uh… did you ever play it?”

“Nope, I was more of a D&D kid. I had a halfling thief who could fuck shit up.”

Elliot wanted to cover it up again, but Marc was still feeling out the outlines of it with a slightly long fingernail. That only made him want to show him his new ink, see if he wanted to touch that, too, but that was too much, too soon, he didn’t have a story yet. “Um, well, okay, so… it’s the Black Lotus, and it’s kinda the rarest and most valuable card there is. Like, it can be worth thousands of dollars.” Marc stopped petting him and looked him in the eye, and Elliot chewed up the inside of his lip. “So, I got it so… this is retarded, but so I’d always be worth something.”

Marc didn’t laugh. That was fucking unbelievable, he was unbelievable, because everyone that Elliot had ever told that story to laughed. He just smiled a little, crinkling up his eyes, and said, “Aw, I like that. It’s sweet.” Even people who were trying to be polite giggled a little. But Marc just squeezed his hand around Elliot’s ankle and tugged his pant leg down for him. “Kinda sounds like the sort of things I’ve been thinking for a lot of my tattoos.” His hand stayed lingering near Elliot’s leg. “Are you sure I can’t buy you a drink, Elliot?”

“I’m really sure, I’m sorry.” Marc started to frown a little, and that would be the worst thing that could happen ever, so Elliot grabbed his wrist. “But, hey, I could seriously use a cigarette, so if you want to see me ingest something bad for me, you could come outside and watch me do that.” Well, that had sounded better in his head.

“Hey, I can do one better, I can come outside and ingest something bad with you.” He turned his wrist out of Elliot’s hold so he could thread his fingers through his, and lead him through the crowd towards the door. Elliot stood on his toes to cast a look towards the bar and caught a glimpse of Lisa, a fresh pink drink in her hand and her own cute boy chatting her up. She’d be okay for a while.

They skipped wrangling the coat check to get out onto the street and just shiver some; it was only like forty-three degrees and they were men, they could handle it. Elliot supplied the cigarettes and Marc supplied the lighter, and they stayed huddled arm to arm as they smoked under the “Please be considerate of our neighbors! Keep noise levels low!” sign the bar had posted on its wall. Marc look just as good out of bar light as in, if not better, which was a rare and wonderful occurrence. His hair wasn’t really blue, so much as a kind of sea-green like mermaid scales, except for the inch or so of dark roots. The sides of his head looked soft and kind of fuzzy, but Elliot figured it was probably too soon to start rubbing his head.

“I like your hair,” he said, and reached over to tug one of the longer strands. Marc laughed and ducked his head, making it fall into his face for a second before he shook it back over to one side..

“Thanks. I used to do the whole thing, like–” He held up his hands at the top of his head to indicate mohawk pointiness. “–but it was really just too much effort for not enough payoff.” He was quick to shove the hand not holding his cigarette back in his pocket; he was wearing short sleeves and fewer layers than Elliot, and looked cold.

“So, I guess your band is kinda punk?”

Marc shivered out a laugh that came out half-smoke and half-foggy breath. “Kinda. I don’t think we even know what we are. Depends on the phase of the moon, I guess. We’re pretty loud!” Elliot laughed and put his hand on Marc’s arm to rub some warmth into his skin. “Thanks, I should have really gotten my coat.”

“Sorry, we’ll go back in soon,” Elliot said, and tried to smoke faster. “What do you play?”

“Lead guitar,” he said, and struck a little air-guitar rock god pose for half a second before putting his hand back in his pocket and bouncing a little on his toes. “And I do some backup vocals, and I’ve, uh, I’ve kind of been trying to write some lyrics, but…”

“But?” Marc looked a little sheepish, and uncertain, and he tossed his finished cigarette to the ground and crushed it out with his boot.

“It’s weird and kind of too cold to talk about it right now,” he said, and stepped in close. “My hands are fucking freezing,” was all the warning he gave before he slipped both of them into Elliot’s front pockets and leaned in against him, looking up at him with a little cat’s smile. Elliot dropped his cigarette. “But, hey, we have a show tomorrow, and you should come, and we can talk more, and stuff.”

Marc was warm, even if his hands weren’t, and when he pressed up close, smiling and looking up into Elliot’s eyes, he got hit by a couple of seventeen-again sensations: the feeling of getting hard in roughly three seconds, the awkwardness of not knowing exactly where to put his hands, and those few seconds of incredible, wonderful, gut-clenching nervousness right before you think you might kiss someone for the first time. “Yeah, I’d like that,” he sort of mumbled.

“Cool,” Marc said, and grinned when he popped up on his toes to get the couple of inches he needed to put his mouth to Elliot’s. He tasted like tobacco, and a little like beer, and he had a pierced tongue. Elliot was not going to rule out the possibility that he might be in love as of that moment.

“I like you,” Marc murmured against his lips, close enough to let Elliot feel his smile.

“I’d kinda gotten that,” Elliot said, and then kissed him more when he started to laugh. Stone-cold sober and making out with someone he’d just met on a New York City street. Life was strange and wonderful.

Elliot must have made some little stupid sound when Marc pulled back, because he laughed. “Sorry, sorry, but I really am freezing my ass off, let’s go back inside and I can give you my phone number and my email address and my Myspace and the address of the place we’re playing and whatever else it takes to guarantee I get to see you again.”

Elliot kept his hand on Marc’s stomach as he followed him back inside, and the look the bouncer gave him let him know he had to have the goofiest damn smile on his face. “Um, I think you just guaranteed it.”

“Oh, cool, you’re easy,” he said, and laughed when Elliot stumbled a little. They stood close to each other in the crowd and programmed each other’s numbers into their phones, and Marc told him where the venue was (it just had to be in Brooklyn, didn’t it? No matter, Elliot was smitten enough to take the L train. Shit, he’d take the G train). Marc had his fingers hooked in Elliot’s belt hooks and was trying to get him to dance, and then he heard a familiar cackling laugh. Lisa was still at the bar, now flanked by two not-so-cute boys, and she had a beer in her hand. Lisa hated beer, so that was a sign her night probably needed to come to a close.

“I’m sorry, I have to rescue my friend,” he leaned in to say into Marc’s ear. He made a little sad noise against Elliot’s throat, but he was smiling when he drew back. “Sorry, sorry, it’s my duty to get her home safe.”

“You’re a good guy,” Marc said, and pulled Elliot down for one more soft, lingering kiss. “See you tomorrow night?”

“Absolutely,” he said, and managed to walk away with only one longing look back over his shoulder.

Lisa made a very high pitched noise and grabby fingers at him when he managed to wriggle his way through people to get to her seat at the bar. “It’s Elliot! Steve, um, other guy who isn’t named Steve, this is Elliot Lane, and he is my favorite Elliot in the woooorld, and…” Elliot called upon his super power of sobriety, put his arms around Lisa’s waist, and picked her up. “Oh my gosh, Elliot, I didn’t know you felt that way about me!”

“Do you need to settle a tab or anything?” he said, mostly into her breasts.

“Nope, I’m good! Aww, are we going home? I was just starting to really get to know some… people.”

Elliot put her back down on the floor, but kept his arms around her to keep her steady. “It’s best to go before the magic dies.” She stuck out her lower lip at him and fluttered her eyelashes. “No, don’t make that face, it’s time to go home before this turns into Fleet Week all over again.” He waved at the B&T guys she’d been leading on. “Thanks, fellas!”

When they had their coats on, had survived the perilous journey to the outside world, and Elliot was trying to hail Lisa a cab, she tugged on his sleeve. “So did you scooooore?”

“Um, if for values of ‘score’, you mean ‘kinda have a date tomorrow’, I guess I did.”

Lisa nearly knocked him over with the force of her hug. “Yay! Yay, Elliot! See, I told you I had your best interests at heart! For real!”

Elliot opened the door of the cab he’d hailed, and gestured for his lady to get inside. “Weird, turns out you did. Get home safe.” He put some cash into her hand and told the driver where to go, just in case Lisa had forgotten where she lived.

Lisa blew him kisses as the cab drove off, and Elliot didn’t live far and was kind of in a blissed-out haze anyway, so he just started walking. He had been on stage in front of a bunch of people and been kind of cool, met a guy, somehow charmed him, and he remembered every single moment of it. And now he was walking home in a straight line. It was definitely weird, but he might actually get to like it.

Weirder yet was how he remembered to wash his face before he went to bed, so he didn’t wake up with one eye glued shut and raccoon-face all over his pillow. He was clean, well-hydrated, and when he got undressed to go to bed, he discovered new lines written on his chest (i’m living to meet you), inside of his thigh (everything is beautiful so), across the small of his back (everyone is beautiful), and over the curve of his bicep (why can’t I see you).

“I don’t know,” he said to his skin, and spent a long time in bed staring at the ceiling in the dark before he could fall asleep. His last thought was that maybe it would all be gone in the morning.

It wasn’t. It had been added to, though–a line over his shoulder that he couldn’t contort himself to read and didn’t want to struggle in a mirror to get to, and the insult of a freshman-girl loop of words around his ankle, slipping through the swell of sound and splash of lights. Elliot brushed his teeth while imagining how difficult it would be wearing a scarf through the summer when they started showing up on his throat.

Another side-effect of sobriety that Elliot was still adapting to was that he woke up too damn early on weekends, had too many hours to kill. He wouldn’t need to head out to Brooklyn until around eight, so had plenty of time to get things done. He could do some grocery shopping, get some of the backlog of laundry done, maybe stop in somewhere and have some coffee, do a little reading. Naturally, this meant he spent the day on the couch in his underwear, keeping a sharp eye on his skin for any new letters while he went through his DVD collection listening to director commentaries he’d only heard two or three times before.

Around three he texted Lisa with a you survive?, and she came back almost immediately with blergkptlh, which spoke well for the state of her facilities, since that was not something that predictive text input would allow to be spelled out easily. Around four, he started really convincing himself that going to this show tonight was a horrible mistake, since Marc would either be sober, or would be too drunk, or would just be in a different mood, or would have a dozen cute groupies swarming him, whatever, he just wouldn’t be interested anymore, and Elliot would go home alone and end up drinking a bottle of white zinfandel alone while lying in an empty bathtub in the dark. He was working on trying to think more pathetic fantasies when his phone chirped at him. The text was from Marc, and read still coming tonight, right? 🙂

Elliot texted back definitely as quickly as his thumbs would allow, and started on some more positive fantasies, some of which may or may not have still involved a bathtub.

Elliot left earlier than he needed to, out of nerves and a lack of faith in the New York City subway system and his own directional abilities, which put him at the bar, Ugly Baby, kind of awkwardly early. He smoked two cigarettes while fidgeting outside before calling himself a pussy and going inside. Now this place was more like a real dive, low-lit and not heavily populated, with a chalk board behind the bar advertising the ‘Tijuana Special’, a Tecate and a shot of tequila for five bucks. Elliot’s liver quivered a little at the thought.

“Hey,” said the bartender, a girl with a septum-ring and cherry-red bangs, who had been keeping an eye on him as he stood awkwardly five steps in from the doorway. “You here for Achewater Academy?”

“I… think so?” Marc hadn’t actually told him the name of his band. It sounded like it was a reference that he didn’t get, which was an unusual sensation. “If they’re the ones on at nine, yeah.”

She smiled at him. “Yep, you got it. Cover’s five bucks, then head on downstairs.” She nodded at a stairway in the back of the bar, where Elliot could hear a thrum of louder music coming up from. Marc hadn’t mentioned a cover, either, but there were prices he was willing to pay, unless this was all some elaborate scheme to get more unsuspecting saps at his band’s show. He gave her a five, she drew a star on the back of his hand with a sharpie, and down he went into the fray.

As much of a ‘fray’ as you could call about thirty people, anyway. Most of them were clustered around the small bar in one corner, but enough people were down at the other end, in front of the stage, to give a band some sense of worth. Elliot bypassed paying six guilt dollars for a coke and worked his way through the crowd to get closer to the stage. The drummer was finishing getting set up, and Elliot caught the eye of the bassist he’d sort of met last night. She gave him an appraising, hard-assed look for long enough to make Elliot squirm, and then she smirked a little and stepped to the rear of the stage to poke her head into a door hiding in the back wall. A water bottle came flying out from the doorway; she caught it and laughed, and then stepped back to allow Marc to emerge.

He’d clearly had a more productive day than Elliot had; he’d dyed his hair black, complete with the tell-tale signs of a home dye job, the stains around his hairline and on the back of his ears. He’d also missed a spot or two, giving the longer parts of his hair a sort of beetle’s-back shine. Elliot thought that Marc should have asked him to help, since he had about thirteen years experience at wrangling black dye without making a huge mess (it was one teenage goth affectation he’d never given up; the thought of either facing roots or a sensible haircut to get rid of it was too much for him to bear). He was thinking about how tiny and cramped his apartment’s bathroom was, and how damn fun that would be, when Marc hopped off the stage and wriggled past people to stand in front of him.

“Hi,” he said, and then his arms were around Elliot’s waist, and his tongue was in his mouth for about two wonderful seconds. “I don’t have a lot of time, our set’s about to start, but I thought of something today that I remembered I really wanted to ask you about last night.”

“Er, yeah?” Elliot just assumed it was going to be about why he didn’t drink, and that was going to take longer than Marc probably had, so he considered making up something about reactions with an allergy medication, but no, that would just come back and bite him in the ass later, and anyway, he could always ask something else entirely, not everything in the world was about his stupid drinking problem, he probably wanted to know how old he was or Lisa’s phone number because he really was just interested in a threesome or–

Marc grinned up at him. “Who’s your favorite Ghostbuster?”

“W-what?” Elliot blinked twice, and cut Marc off before he could repeat the question. “Um. Movie or cartoon?” Marc’s smile just got bigger.

“Either. Both. Doesn’t matter.”

“Well, Egon, obviously. For both.”

Marc laughed and his hand slipped under the back of Elliot’s shirt, his fingers a jolt of heat over the line of text on his back. “Perfect! That’s what I thought you’d say. He’s mine, too.” He stood up on his toes to murmur close to Elliot, all faux-serious whisper, “It’s a very important question. Lets you know a lot about a person’s personality.” His poker face was for shit; Elliot could see the hints of a giggle working at the edges of his mouth.

“Yeah? What’s it say about us, then?”

Marc snorted and rolled his eyes. “Obvious, right? It means we’re both nerds.” He let himself grin, at last. “Or think nerds are hot.”

Elliot pulled Marc’s hand out from under his shirt and slipped his fingers through his. He had to laugh in disbelief at this whole situation. “How… how are you even real?” With everything else strange that had happened to him in the past day and a half, it didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that Marc wasn’t real; Elliot was just going to wake up any minute now with only one stupid tattoo and without an entry in his cell phone for anyone named ‘Marc’. He squeezed his hand tighter. He real enough for now; he had to enjoy this before his alarm went off.

“I dunno, it’s just the way I was born, I guess?” He glanced over his shoulder; another guy, a serious-looking type with the kind of hair that clearly involved at least twenty minutes of work to make it look like he just woke up, was glaring at him. “I gotta get back up there. We’ll have the nature versus nurture debate about why I’m awesome later, kay?”

“Kay,” Elliot said quietly, and let Marc go to hop back up on stage with a lingering touch of his thumb against his wrist. He seemed to exchange a few terse words with the guy who had to be the lead singer before he picked up his guitar and started doing… whatever it was you needed to do to guitars before you played them. Elliot didn’t actually know anything about music. Tuning? Sound check? Whatever, it didn’t matter; it was scientific fact that any guy became 50% more attractive the minute he put a guitar strap around his neck, and that was what was really important here.

A pair of girls who were probably under legal drinking age and did a good job at making Elliot feel too old for the club crowded in against him, looking at Marc and tittering between themselves. Science: proven. One of them looked over at Elliot, then nudged her friend and said something into her ear, and Elliot found himself approached. “Hey, ‘scuse me?”

If they wanted him to move so they could get a better view, they were shit out of luck. “Yes?”

“Are you, um… are you his boyfriend?” She pointed up to Marc.

“Uh.” Elliot gave a truthful answer that didn’t reveal too much. “I just met him yesterday.”

The girl screwed up her face in a little ‘aw, nuts’ expression, and gestured to her friend. “Mary is just totally convinced he’s gay, but I don’t wanna believe. He’s soooooooooo–” She hit about four different notes on that one vowel. “–hot.”

Elliot sent mental signals up to the stage, desperately trying to get the band to start, because if there was one thing he did not have the strength for, it was small talking drunk nineteen-year-olds. The singer was still mumbling the word ‘check’ into the microphone, while the rest of the band were noodling on their instruments, giving out tiny bursts of noise or melody. Damn. “So, um, are you guys fans?”

The girls looked at each other, then started to laugh. “Um… I guess? Not really of the music, but…”

Elliot put his hands into his pockets. “He’s definitely gay. They probably all are. Maybe you can score with the bassist.” That worked like a charm as a giggle-killer, and the girls withdrew. He still had it.

The speakers three feet to Elliot’s right yowled into life as Marc started to play, but that didn’t make him jump nearly as much as the squealing of the girls two feet to his left. The singer put his hands around the mike and leaned in to say, “Don’t get too excited yet, this is still just a sound check.” The bass and the drums picked up, too, and it all sounded an awful lot like the start of an actual song, but the guy just sang, “Oh, thiiiis is just a soooound check check cheeeeeck…” Marc glared daggers and stepped away from his own mike to say a few words, at least one of which was a swear, to the singer, whose eyes got very large for a moment. “Okay, apparently I’m wrong, we’re starting, and the pain you made has never felt the same, baby…” He picked up singing in the middle of a line and swung into full-on rock star dramatics with only a few stumbles along the way.

They weren’t bad, Elliot was sure of that. They definitely weren’t bad. The problem was that they weren’t exactly good either. They were, at least, quite loud, just as advertised. Elliot could see from the floor that the drummer was clearly stoned out of his brain, which was exactly the sort of thing you wanted from the guy who was supposed to be keeping the beat. Thankfully the bassist could keep some sort of solid rhythm going; the hot chick bassist thing might have been a cliche, but she worked it well, all wide-stanced and sneering. The lead had a good, strong singing voice (and an even stronger screaming voice) that he unfortunately used to articulate a lot of really awful lyrics. Elliot made himself stop listening to them, made the words just become background sound, because, seriously, it was like some kind of Avril Lavigne shit coming out of his mouth. Elliot noticed that Marc didn’t seem to look at his frontman with too much fondness when he leaned into the mike to sing the occasional harmony line. Elliot’s focus snapped in to place when he heard Marc’s voice coming in over the speakers, and why the hell had he been bothering trying to pay attention to anyone else in the band again?

There were probably half a dozen things going on with Marc that worked to distract Elliot from the rotten lyrics and the unsteady rhythms, like the way the muscles in his arms tightened and made the ink on his skin ripple as his hands moved over his guitar (and fuck, was he good at playing, too good), or how his hips rocked forward with each hard beat, or how his legs crept further and further apart as the set went on, but what really kept his attention, what made him mutter awed swears under his breath, was how Marc would tilt his head back and lean up to the microphone when he sang. The stage lights caught the sweat on his skin and the shadows of the lines in his throat, and his eyes closed as his mouth went round to shape out his note. How could anyone look at that and not think of sex? Elliot thought, and then felt some primal stab in his gut of wanting to murder everyone else in the room who was also thinking of sex.

illustrated by iianbe

The set was short enough, but went on too long in Elliot’s mind, as girls screamed in his ear when the lead singer said Marc’s name or when he shook his hair out of his eyes. Some of their songs were blessedly better than the others, enough to get his hips moving, enough to get him half-hard and biting his lip when Marc went into a guitar solo that could have gone on for the rest of the night. He owned it, every note and gesture and pelvic twist, like he was absolutely born to be up there. Elliot could see he was thrumming with energy, vibrating between bouncing up onto his toes and threatening to drop down onto his knees on stage. He needed to be on a bigger stage. And needed to not have to sing words like, “slam my heart, slam my heart, slam my heart all in your door, baby.”

When they finished the last song and the lights changed, Marc opened his eyes and found him in the crowd, right away, laser precision; he pushed his sweaty hair out of his face, looked at Elliot, and smiled. The more enthusiastic members of the crowd were still hooting and yelping for another encore, apparently unaware of how rock shows worked, and some of them were yelling Marc’s name. Elliot’s stomach twisted up as he smiled back at Marc, mixed up somewhere between nervous awe and total fucking disbelief that he, out of everyone in the adoring crowd, got that smile pointed at him.

The crowd mostly started to move back towards the bar, but Elliot stayed near the front, watching as the bassist gave Marc the bottle of water he’d thrown at her earlier, and as he drained half of it in four or five huge swallows that made his throat work. They exchanged a few words, she smiled at him and gave him the finger, and then Marc was bouncing a little again on his feet and handing her his guitar. And then he was hopping off the stage, landing on his feet with a solid thud, and bounding towards Elliot to nearly tackle him.

“Hey!” he said, and popped up on his toes for a second to steal a quick kiss off of Elliot. “What’d you think?” His voice was lower, rougher now than it had been seven songs ago. Elliot managed a little ‘erm’ noise in his attempt to kill time to think of the best way to answer that question without sounding like an ass, but Marc cut him off with a laugh. “Wait, hold it, think on it for a while, I want to go grab a beer. Can I get you something? You know it’s a good band if the members are trying to bribe you with drinks!”

Elliot laughed a little and put a hand on Marc’s waist without thinking; his shirt was a little sweat-damp, his skin hot even through it. “Um, just a coke would be cool, thanks?”

Marc tilted his head a little, which made his hair fall over one eye. “You sure? They’ve got that totally gross special and everything.”

Saying yes felt way too easy, so Elliot bit the inside of his cheek and kept smiling. “Nah, that’s cool. Just keep me in sugary soda and I’m happy.”

Marc laughed at that, but there was enough of an ‘okay, so he’s kind of weird’ look in his eyes to make Elliot’s stomach flip again. Marc headed off, skillfully weaving through the crowd to the bar, and Elliot watched the band break down their equipment while he waited for him to come back. He may have gotten a little hypnotized watching exactly how the drum set came apart; either that or the girl was just some kind of ninja, because he completely didn’t notice Marc’s bassist standing next to him until she nudged him in the arm.

“Ack! Um. Hey.” This close Elliot could see that she had a tattoo of a knife that took up her entire forearm, and that she was smiling at him. Elliot did not feel 100% comfortable with this situation.

“Hey, trivia guy,” she said, and tilted her head back to look around him. “Where’s Marc?”

“He went to the bar.” She nodded a little, but then kept just looking at Elliot, right into him. So he stuck out his hand, like a complete dork. “My name is Elliot, by the way.”

Elliot was pleased and a little surprised that she did not have the knuckle-crushing handshake that he expected her to, just the regular, awkward, what-am-I-my-dad shake that plagued so many in their mid-twenties. “Hannah,” she said, and reclaimed her hand to put it safely in her pocket. “So, how the hell do you get to know that goddamned much about Deep Space Nine?”

“Um.” Elliot shrugged a little and gave the most honest answer. “By being a complete loser and wasting my life, I guess.” He snapped his fingers. “Oh! Not, like, actually dating anyone until college helped a lot, too.”

Hannah laughed at that, a soft and genuine sound that made Elliot relax some. “A complete loser, you say?”

“Almost total,” Elliot confirmed.

She nodded once. “Okay, cool. You’re allowed to go out with Marc, then. Nerdy dudes like you are good for his health.”

“I… am? Er, we do? Um… thanks?” He cast a glance back over his shoulder to the bar and could see Marc had finally wriggled his way up through people far taller than him and was tapping his fingers on the bar, waiting to catch the bartender’s eye. “Does he usually get approval from you? Is this some kind of weird thing I should know about?” He wiggled his fingers in the air at her to somehow illustrate this.

“Nothing weirder than usual.” She hooked her thumbs in her beltloops and canted her hip out a little. She just kept looking at him, like she was trying to figure out whether or not red or white wine would go best with his roasted skin.

Elliot chewed a little on his lip to try to make the uncomfortable silence go by faster, then got bored and asked, “So… I pass?”

“Yeah, you’re pretty much what I had in mind when I made him go to trivia. You pass.” This all seemed a little ominous, but at least he passed. “Just do my boy right. In whatever sense you choose to take that statement.” She looked past him again and gave a nod of recognition, and Elliot glanced back to see Marc making his way back with glasses in hand at last. “I’m out. Just tell that little shit that he owes me approximately seven beers.” She gave Elliot a thump on the arm, and then headed back up towards the stage.

Marc was lip-deep in beer foam when he gave Elliot his glass, which was mostly full of ice, but at least had a lime wedge on the rim. “So, you met Hannah? Don’t let her intimidate you or anything, she’s totally a cupcake.”

“She didn’t leave any bruises or anything.” Elliot rubbed his arm a little; at least he hoped she hadn’t. “She also says you owe her a lot of beers.” Marc’s beer had an orange slice floating in it, which meant it was Blue Moon, which meant he had good taste, which meant that Elliot was very interested in tasting it second-hand off of his mouth, so he bent down to do just that. Marc kissed him back, smiling, and Elliot could really only taste him. He was not terribly disappointed by this. “What do you owe her beers for?” he asked, because his stupid brain always wanted to ask questions when his mouth had better things to do than talk.

“I begged and pleaded and whined with her to deal with breaking down my shit so you wouldn’t get bored and wander away.” Marc hooked a finger in one of Elliot’s belt loops, like he had when he’d wanted him to dance, but this time pulled him away from the crowd, to lurk against the wall a little further away from the noise. “And you didn’t! So she gets like nine beers.” He polished off at least half of his beer in three healthy gulps; that ripple of his throat looked better up close. He let out a satisfied ‘ahh’ and set his glass on the wooden sidebar attached to the wall. “So, what’d you think?”

Shit, Elliot had forgotten to come up with a good answer for that question. He stirred his ice with his pathetic little red bar straw, took a sip of the two ounces of coke in there, and gave it his best shot. “You were really amazing.” Marc’s mouth curved up on one side, and Elliot had to keep going. “No, really, I mean it! You were fucking incredible, and I think I forgot to mention how hot you looked up there.” He put his own glass down and reached out to push some of Marc’s still sweat-damp hair out of his face. His eyes closed, and he leaned his head back to follow Elliot’s touch, all eager like a kitten. “Did I forget to mention how hot you look down here, too? Do I sound like a cheesy jackass yet?” Marc turned his head to laugh into Elliot’s wrist, and followed that rumble of a touch with a snap of his teeth, barely grazing the base of Elliot’s thumb.

Marc cracked open one eye. “You didn’t like the band, though, right?”

At least Elliot had gotten a couple of kisses and a free coke out of all this. “Um, well, you guys aren’t really my usual type of music, and did I mention that you were amazing?” Elliot realized he was making a pathetic cringe-face about two seconds after Marc cracked up.

“No, seriously, calm down, it’s okay. The band sucks. Well, half-sucks. Eric fucking lives on hash brownies and Dwight is just a huge prick, so it’s all me and Hannah can do to… I don’t know, some kind of metaphor involving the Titanic, you fill it in.”

“Fiddle while the Titanic burns?” Elliot supplied, and was sincerely surprised when Marc laughed.

“That was retarded, and I liked it. Thanks.” Marc’s hair fell back in front of one eye again, and he blew it back with a perfect annoyed puff of air. “It’s kind of just, like, a transitional thing? Hannah and I have been talking about doing our own thing for, like, years, and we know some drummers who aren’t stoned, and I can sing good enough, so we’ve got the music part in the bag pretty much, but…”

“Is this the weird thing that you didn’t want to get into last night?” Elliot hadn’t been able to bring himself to draw his hand away from Marc once he’d started touching him; it’d settled on his hip, where he could feel the frayed edges of denim on the seams of Marc’s jeans. Marc leaned into his touch, and closed up most of the space between them.

“It’s going to sound stupid, so you have to promise me you won’t laugh or roll your eyes or whatever,” he said, and he looked up at Elliot with those unbelievable, heart-stopping eyes.

“You didn’t laugh at my tattoo. Everyone laughs at my tattoo.” Elliot was ready to take whatever stupid thing Marc had up his sleeve as seriously as a heart attack, just for that, and just to keep him looking at him with those honey eyes. “So I promise.”

“You’re awesome,” Marc said with a relieved little laugh, and then his hands were in Elliot’s front pockets again, this time without the excuse of the cold. It made for good insurance for Elliot to take whatever he had to say seriously, though. “So, okay. We’ve got the music, but all-instrumental rock bands are total bullshit, right? So we need lyrics. Good lyrics, because every night I have to sing that brain-dead stuff Dwight writes is another night I want to cut my own tongue out.”

Elliot put his hand into Marc’s own back pocket, and they were close enough now that Marc had to crane his head up, had to talk almost entirely into Elliot’s throat. Maybe close enough that Marc could feel just how much this whole pocket treatment was turning Elliot on, but that didn’t seem like something to be that worried about. “So, you’re trying to write stuff?”

Marc’s fingers curled in Elliot’s pockets, a little gesture of frustration that almost made Elliot’s knees buckle. He kept his free hand on the sidebar to keep himself steady. “Yeah, I’ve been trying. I have some stuff that’s kind of okay, but… okay, this is the stupid part, so don’t get all scoff-y.” He hesitated, tilting up on his toes to bump his head a little at Elliot’s chin. “I had this dream. It wasn’t like a normal dream, either, it was really real, I was in a club, and there were all these people, and I could really hear this song. The words were just so clear, and they were so perfect. Just right in my dream like that, the song I’d been looking for. And it was the middle of the night when I woke up, and I wrote them down right away so I wouldn’t forget.”

“That doesn’t sound weird. Lots of people get ideas that way…” Marc wasn’t looking at him anymore, and was worrying at his lip ring with his teeth.

“It was different from how that usually goes, though. I can’t explain it, I guess.” He risked a quick glance up at Elliot, and a little nervous smile. “Okay, this is the stupid part, now. The extra stupid part. I went back to sleep, and when I woke up again, it was all gone.” He took his hand out of Elliot’s pocket to wave his hand in the air. “Just… poof. Nothing on the page where I wrote it down except a couple of, like, ands and I’s and some commas. And of course I can’t fucking remember it, not more than just hazy dream shit. I tried to put it back together, but it was just balls, and I know…”

There were a lot of good explanations for how something like that could happen; Marc could have just dreamed the whole thing, or could have just thought he wrote the song’s lyrics down. Marc’s hand had slipped under Elliot’s shirt, and his thumb brushed close to where Elliot’s new ink had shown up underneath his navel. Some things just didn’t have good, sensible explanations. “That… that really sucks. I hope you can remember them. …Or find them, whatever.”

Marc looked up at him again, and his smile was back. “You believe me? Hannah said I was full of shit and that I wasn’t allowed to tell her about my dreams anymore unless they involved fucking.”

“I believe you,” Elliot said, and leaned down to brush his lips over Marc’s forehead, tasting sweat and breathing in the strange fruity-chemical smell of newly dyed hair. “More unbelievable things have happened.” He snorted a little, and got a bit of Marc’s hair in his mouth. “Like, to me. In the past day.”

Marc leaned back to give him that one-eyed appraisal again. “Oh, yeah? Like what?” He seemed lighter now that his confession of strangeness was out of the way, and even more willing to put most of his body against Elliot’s.

“Well, I met you.” Marc turned his head away to stick his tongue out while laughing, and nearly put his fingers up Elliot’s nose as he gave him a little half-shove in the face.

“Are you always such a cheesy motherfucker?” he asked, thankfully with no malice in his tone.

“Maybe? I don’t know, I’m out of practice and seriously kind of winging it here.” Marc’s hand had stayed on his face; Elliot could feel guitar calluses on his fingertips where they curled beside his ear. “But… no, I’m kind of serious. I… don’t really want to get into it right now, but things have kind of been weird enough for me lately that I could believe that–” He had to laugh, because he sounded like an idiot, but Marc wasn’t pushing him away. “I could buy that you were something I dreamed up. That cheesy enough for you?”

Marc closed his eyes and started to laugh. “Yeah, it’s getting there. I’m pretty sure you didn’t invent me, though. You’re gonna have to ask my mom about that one.”

Elliot leaned in to him, dipping his head low enough to brush his cheek against the top of Marc’s, over the soft, shorter strands. “Maybe later,” he said into the curve of Marc’s ear. “Just promise you’re real.”

Marc rocked forward, and Elliot felt all in just a few short seconds the warmth of Marc’s breath just above his collar, then the wet tip of his tongue flicking off his Adam’s apple, and finally the mouth-hot metal of the ball of Marc’s tongue piercing drawing a line up to his jaw. “That felt real, right?” Marc said into his neck.

“It… was pretty damn convincing, yeah. Not that I’d be against more proof, but…” He looked over Marc’s head to see the two girls he’d talked to earlier sipping their illegally purchased vodka tonics and giving him such satisfying disappointed pouty faces. “Maybe later.”

Marc laughed into his neck and gave his skin a touch of teeth before leaning back to look up at him again. “I like the sound of that.” He hooked the fingers of one hand under Elliot’s collar, hanging on to him and stretching out the fabric, and reclaimed his beer with the other. “Sooner would be cool, too,” he said, mostly into his glass. The next band had taken the stage and was starting in to their sound check noises. Marc scrunched up his face thoughtfully and looked past Elliot’s shoulder at the stage. “Huh, Jambalaya Jambalaya, they’re not that bad. I should steal their drummer.” He licked beer foam off of his top lip and his focus clicked back to Elliot’s face. “Hey, before it gets too loud in here to talk, there’s one more thing I wanted to ask you about.”

“If it’s about my favorite ninja turtle, that is way too hard of a question and will take at least twenty to thirty minutes of serious discussion and debate.” Elliot had always felt a special kinship with both Donatello and Michaelangelo, but he couldn’t deny the rebellious, teen angst appeal of Raphael.

Marc’s mouth twisted up like he was trying not to laugh. “Um, no, that wasn’t it, but since you brought it up, just tell me it’s not Leonardo.”

No one likes Leonardo best,” Elliot confirmed. Fucking boy scout.

“Okay, whew.” For the first time in a while, they weren’t touching at all, anywhere. Marc had put just enough space between them to make it not so easy anymore. “Now that that’s out of the way, I wanted to ask you, and this is going to sound dumb but it’s been bothering me, uh, why won’t you let me buy you a drink? I’m not going to, like, roofie you, and I know I don’t really look it, but I can afford it. I just want to, you know…”

Oh. “Oh.” Hell, Elliot had been enjoying himself so much, he hadn’t even been thinking about drinking, and that was amazing and beautiful and made him want to keep talking to (and touching) Marc forever. He was starting to feel new. It also made it shockingly easy for him to answer. “Uh, I’m an alcoholic.”

Marc’s eyes got a little wide, and he looked down guiltily at the beer in his hand. “Oh. Uh.” He let out a little nervous laugh. “Shit, awkward! I’m sorry for asking so many times, that must have been weird or hard or something? And I guess I shouldn’t be drinking this?” He put his beer down and looked at it vaguely perplexedly, like he was trying to figure out how something with an orange slice in it could be a bad idea.

“No, seriously, don’t worry about it.” Elliot reached out to find Marc’s waist with his fingertips, and that electric jolt was still there, that heat that turned into a smile on Marc’s lips. “I’m totally cool with it.” He waved his hand a little at the glass as he realized that for maybe the first time in the year he’d been saying things were cool, this time he actually meant it. “Finish it, finish it, it’s far more distressing for me to see good alcohol go to waste.”

Marc gave him a suspicious look for a while, which was to be expected, and then gave up on whatever good-person routines had been running in his brain to finish off his beer with a little eager smile of relief. “Honestly,” he said, when the orange slice was lonely and dry at the bottom of his glass, “that thought had occurred to me, but it kind of says something about my weird brain that it was, like, the third possibility on the list, after ‘oh, I’m sorry, alcohol really interferes with my anti-psychotic medications!’ and ‘I’m afraid drinking goes against my deeply held very fundamentalist religious beliefs.'”

Elliot laughed, and felt something taut inside him unraveling with the sound. “I am not now, nor have I ever been, on any medications more dramatic than an inhaler, and my family only goes to church when my grandmother makes us.”

Marc’s hands were back under his shirt again, fingers sliding beneath the back of his waistband. “Okay, cool. I can deal with that, then.” He stood on his toes again to nip at Elliot’s chin, and then he was grinning like a devil on his shoulder was giving him great ideas. “Also, there is a bright side! This means I don’t have to waste time and money trying to get you drunk before asking you to come home with me. I was a little worried since you weren’t, you know, going by the usual rules of the game, but now I guess we can just cut to the chase…” He turned his head to brush his mouth along the line of Elliot’s jaw, the softness of his lips trailed by the blood-warm metal of his lip ring.

“I’m… an extremely cheap date in that respect, yeah.” Elliot didn’t have enough air in his lungs, or blood in his body to properly handle this. Had it always been so easy, and he just hadn’t remembered?

Marc’s hand curled around the back of his neck, short fingernails scraping through the fine hairs there to make Elliot shiver and his skin prickle. “So why the fuck are we standing around here talking?”

“I… like talking to you?” Slightly too late, Elliot realized the question was somewhat rhetorical.

“Yeah, I like it too. But you should come home with me right now so we can have a more in-depth conversation.” His lips curved up to show teeth, a wicked little smile. “Y’know, like about how real I am. So, let’s get out of here, okay?”

Elliot surprised himself by just shutting up and saying yes.

They didn’t quite make it out of the bar that easily. Marc took a detour to the men’s room to deal with the unavoidable consequences of consuming fluids, and Elliot joined him as a precautionary measure, since he knew from previous experience during his years of massive fluid consumption that being in the middle of sex and having to pee was the definition of mood-killing. Oh my god, I’m going to have sex, he thought then, in big clear black words written inside his mind as he stared at the less-clear graffiti scrawled on the men’s room wall. He could only barely remember the last time he’d gotten laid, and he really couldn’t remember the last time he’d gotten laid while sober. They’d probably changed the rules since the last time he’d had sex. It probably involved seashells these days. And now it was all just a sure thing, as easy as that, unless they both got hit by a cab on the way to Marc’s, but what were the chances of getting a cab in Brooklyn, anyway, and all of this line of thinking led to a giddy little laugh coming out of him.

“Something funny?” Marc said, leaning in to him, resting his chin on Elliot’s shoulder. “What, did you peek?” He made a real show of looking down, then an even bigger one of being disappointed that Elliot had his dick back in his pants already. “That’s cheating, you know. Spoilers. Ruins the surprise.”

“Are there going to be surprises? Surprises can be good.” Elliot tried putting his hand in one of Marc’s pockets, and found the experience just as satisfying from the other end. He leaned down to say into Marc’s ear, “If you have your dick pierced, though, I’d like to be warned. I startle easily.”

Elliot could feel the little hum Marc made in his jaw as he canted his hips forward to press into Elliot’s fingers. “Heh, no, not yet. But you just gave me an idea.” Marc put both hands flat on Elliot’s chest and shoved him backwards, pushing him through the open door of one of the bathroom stalls. “Surprise,” he purred, and latched the door behind them.

Elliot managed to keep standing, despite taking a toilet seat to the back of the knees. “Oh, a nice suprimmph–” Marc had decided that the time for banter was over, and expressed this by sucking on Elliot’s lower lip. He curled both hands in Elliot’s shirt, knotting the fabric up in his fingers as he pulled him around some more to back him into one of the stall walls. For such a small guy, he really had a lot of manhandling ability; Elliot assumed it was connected somehow to guitar ability.

“Not too startled, right?” Marc said into his mouth, and stepped forward to slide his leg between Elliot’s, to grind his growing hard-on against his thigh.

“I’m guh.” He’d meant to say ‘good’, naturally, but Marc was already unfastening Elliot’s pants and reaching in to grab his cock. His fingers were hot and thick-ended, and that first callus-smoothed fingertip touching him was enough to make him hard in an instant, blood leaving all less vital organs fast enough to leave him only able to think in monosyllables and primary colors.

“You still have to come home with me,” Marc said into his neck as he drew him out of his pants in one stroke. He sounded a little shy, and maybe a little unsure. “I just really wanted to do this in the bar last night, and you left before I had the chance.” The bathroom was dark and the stall even more so; any glint that Elliot saw in Marc’s eyes as he grinned up at him had to be a product of his imagination.

“You are so not real,” Elliot managed to actually say, since they were all very small words, but then he had to bite into the tip of his tongue to keep it together when Marc just laughed and went down on his knees. He’d been on both sides of this equation before, the dirty men’s room hookup equation, but never sober enough to actually think about how unlocked the main bathroom door was, or how the stall dividers so did not go down even remotely far enough to make this not obvious, or how doing this around a bunch of toilets was kind of gross, or how they could both get arrested for this. He gave all those things all of the sober thought the deserved, which was roughly half a second, because fuck, Marc did not waste time in wrapping his lips around his cock and taking him as deeply as he could, which was blissfully, amazingly deep.

They wouldn’t get arrested because this wasn’t going to last, not that blowjobs in a public bathroom were the time or place to show off one’s amazing stamina, which Elliot absolutely did not have after god knows how long of sobriety-imposed chastity. Not that he could have stood a chance against Marc’s mouth under the best of circumstances. At first all he could feel were those touches of metal–the slide between sweet pressure and near pain of Marc’s lip ring along the length of his cock, the strange and wonderful press and tease of the ball of Marc’s tongue stud–but that faded away to just the feeling of Marc, just like the taste of beer had had no chance of lasting against him when they kissed. Marc was quick and clever with his tongue, and Elliot could hear him–fuck, could feel him–moaning around his cock as he sucked him deep enough that his nose was brushing the metal of his zipper and the cotton of his boxers.

Someone was bound to come in needing to piss any minute now–hell, for all Elliot could focus on any of the outside world, a dozen people might have come in already. Surely they’d been at this for hours, so fucking perfect, Marc’s hands pinning his hips to the wall and him making those sounds, like he was enjoying this even more than Elliot, which was highly improbable. It all came together in his head like he was making a logical decision, to put his hands in Marc’s hair and come right then, like he had any say in it over the shuddering of his hips, the thrill up his spine, and that still-amazing ripple of Marc’s throat as he swallowed him.

Elliot was genuinely surprised that he did not wake up after that, sad and alone and sticky-pantsed. He opened his eyes to the same ugly, dark bathroom, and Marc tucking him back into his pants and zipping him up with a stupidly pleased smile on his pretty red lips.

“Ffffff–” Elliot began, and then rubbed a hand over his face as Marc got up to his feet again. “Fuck,” he finished with certainty. He groped forward, still logy-limbed and moving in post-orgasmic slow motion, to try to kiss Marc, and to put his hands in his pants as quickly as he possibly could. He was rebuffed, though, allowed only one small kiss before being held back.

“I’m good,” Marc said, and then he laughed, kind of high and wild. “I mean, until we get to my place. Come on, let’s get out of here before someone catches us.” He threaded his fingers through Elliot’s and led him out of the stall, out of the bathroom, and up to the street. After about a block’s worth of fresh, cold air, Elliot could actually manage a sentence.

“You are just beautiful,” he said, and found himself somehow still out of breath. Marc just looked over his shoulder and smiled, confirming everything.

“Probably not real believable right now,” Marc said as he unlocked the door to his apartment, which had taken many blocks and five flights of stairs to get to, so Elliot’s ardor was temporarily cooled by the effort of trying to catch his fucking breath. Marc seemed damn chipper, though, still grinning as he pulled him through the door. “But I don’t do this kind of thing often. The slutty thing.”

Elliot’s brain went soft around the edges at that word on Marc’s lips, at that lip getting caught between teeth as Marc worried at his lip ring. “I’m cool with that,” he said, and resigned himself to the fact he wasn’t going to be catching his breath for a while.

“No, really!” Marc was still grinning like it was Christmas morning. He got them out of shoes and socks–an important first step towards eventual nudity–and then got him by the belt loops again to lead him to his lair–not that he had far to go. His place was a studio, with makeshift walls made by bookshelves (at least half filled with comic books, Elliot noticed with some muted glee) creating a bedroom, and it wasn’t more than a dozen steps before he was standing in front of Marc standing in front of a unmade bed. “There’s just something about you.”

“Really?”

“Honest. You feel like the best idea I’ve ever had.” Marc dropped down to sit on his bed and bounced a little before pulling his shirt off over his head. Elliot started to count the new tattoos revealed on Marc’s skin–the skeletal pirate and his ship sailing up his bicep, the lines of what looked like poetry inside his forearm, the thorny vines looping around a scar on his side, the branches of a tree creeping over his shoulders from his back–but got distracted at the sight of the rings in his nipples. He was kneeling on the bed between Marc’s knees and tugging at those pretty little things with his fingers before he could even actively think fuck yes; who needed to be drunk to give in to instincts? Marc hissed in breath and arched, pushing into Elliot’s fingers. “See, like that, fucking fantastic idea, fuck.”

Marc braced his hands behind him on the bed and thrust his hips up, squirming to grind his hard-on against Elliot’s thigh, rough and desperate through his jeans. Elliot kept twisting and toying with the warm metal in his fingers, figuring what made Marc shudder, what made him groan. He passed on the idiot porno talk that would have normally come out of his mouth, the mush-mouthed slurs of ‘you like that, baby?’; obviously he liked it, every inch of Marc was telling him how much he liked it, and most people didn’t recreationally put holes in sensitive parts of their body without liking it. Elliot could keep this alone up for hours, but he’d already gotten off tonight; Marc was veering rapidly into frustration, whining into Elliot’s chest when their height difference meant he got a mouth full of Elliot’s shirt instead of his throat when he stretched up for a kiss.

“Fuck, fucking, what are you, fuck,” he said pointedly, and then both of his hands were on tugging on Elliot’s belt, and damn but could he handle some man, since the next Elliot knew he was on his back on the bed, with Marc climbing on him to straddle his thighs. Elliot couldn’t resist going for his nipple rings again–so shiny, so fun–but Marc swatted his hands down, fit them to his ribs instead. “Fuckfuck, if you keep doing that I’m going to come in my pants.”

“Is that bad?” Marc’s skin was hot and still a little tacky from the sweat of the stage; Elliot brushed his fingers along the line of hair that trailed down from Marc’s navel. He could see another tattoo peeking out from under the waist of his pants, and the promise of seeing that was a damn good argument for getting Marc the hell out of his jeans.

“I’m not seventeen anymore, man,” Marc laughed breathlessly as his fingers crept under Elliot’s shirt, pushing it up slowly, like he was trying to pull off some kind of stealth operation.

“Seventeen’s not so bad,” Elliot mumbled as he pulled Marc down to kiss him. It had been far too long since they’d last been kissing. He let his hand go lower to feel out the shape of Marc’s cock through his pants, thick and hot and hard, and when he pressed with the meat of his palm Marc growled. He bit Elliot’s lower lip and he fucking growled, so Elliot got to unfastening button and zipper quickly before Marc unveiled some darker bestial nature or whatever twist was waiting to stop this night from being so fucking awesome.

Marc wasn’t wearing underwear. So that explained his rapidly decreasing jeans enthusiasm. The head of his dick was wet when he pushed it against Elliot’s hand, a little fuck-shudder into his palm. Elliot wrapped his fingers around him, enough for one good stroke, but then Marc was sitting up and pushing back again to wriggle the rest of the way out of his jeans. The tattoo Elliot had seen the hint of before was clear now, three dark bold letters a few inches above his dick that read “NOW”. Elliot really could not argue with that one.

“You are still wearing all of your clothes,” Marc said as he threw his pants across the room to thunk against his window. “What the fuck.” And seriously, yeah, good point, what the fuck?

“Sorry,” Elliot said, and got his shirt off over his head. He had his pants undone and had them halfway off when he noticed that Marc had gone completely still and quiet, his mouth a line and his eyes wide, which was not the expression Elliot ever wanted to see as a first reaction to his nudity. “Something, um, wrong?” He got his pants the rest of the way off as subtly as one could perform such an act, in the hopes of not further disturbing Marc with… whatever was wrong with him now, god damn it, why did something have to be wrong now?

Marc’s voice was soft and almost awed. “You have… more tattoos.”

Elliot almost objected, he only had one stupid tattoo, but then he looked down at himself again, saw all the words in black over his skin, and fucking remembered just why his life was so weird lately. God, he’d been so giddy and smitten and horny that he’d managed to forget that poetry was showing up on him, and there was probably more now, and before he could start to freak out a little, Marc’s hand was on his chest, brushing over the letters of I’m living to meet you on Elliot’s chest.

“Elliot,” he breathed, and he was smiling. “These are mine.”

“What?”

He was finding all the others immediately, homing in on them and brushing over each letter with his fingers, looking like he couldn’t decide to laugh or cry. “It’s my song. The one–” He left one hand gripping Elliot’s arm, holding on to those first words that had arrived on his skin like he might lose them again, and reached over to the table beside his bed to grab a notebook and show Elliot the nearly empty page. “The one I lost. That’s even my handwriting. How long–”

“Yesterday morning,” Elliot said and turned onto his side, letting Marc find the lines on his back and over his shoulders, and feeling his heart nearly explode at the sound of Marc’s relieved, wonderful laugh against his ear. “I guess I… I guess I found them for you.” Marc dropped the empty notebook off the side of the bed and took Elliot’s face in both of his hands to kiss him. He was still hard against Elliot’s stomach, still hot and nearly vibrating from tension, but now there was all of this there too, and it felt like another first kiss, like a hundred things clicking into place at once, like his skin might start making music any moment now.

“I can remember it all now,” he said into Elliot’s mouth, and hummed a little snippet of melody that made Elliot’s nerves thrill, sang some of the words Elliot knew were inked into his belly. Marc laughed and kissed him again. “I knew there was something about you.”

That time when he said it, Elliot could really believe it.

They’d gotten sidetracked by kissing. After getting this far and this naked, suddenly the only right thing to do was to just make out, stupid and horny like teenagers. Marc’s tongue stud clacked against Elliot’s teeth, and his fingers curled up into his hair, making crispy crushing noises near his ears. He put his hands on Marc, sliding down his back and feeling him hot under his fingers, feeling the little rises and ripples of tattoo ink down the length of his spine. Elliot grunted something low and dumb when he grabbed Marc’s ass with both hands, feeling some wonderful caveman kind of instinct ripple through him when he squeezed, thinking, yes, mine.

Marc broke away from kissing him with a noise somewhere between a stutter and a bark, and bit the tip of his own tongue. “Okay, fuck, fuck,” he panted out, and surged up against Elliot, rubbing his cock against his stomach for a few heavy seconds. He pushed himself back to gulp air and look down at Elliot, at where he’d left lines of streaky precome on his skin. “I’m gonna die. Please say you’ll fuck me, or I’m going to fucking die.”

And that hit the switch, putting all those floating, happy, meant-to-be feelings boiling around inside him to the back burner and bringing all the desperation and hunger of a fucking cold and lonely sober year back to the forefront. “Yes… fuck, yes, Marc,” he said, tongue barely able to still make words. He put his hands to Marc’s thighs, pressing his thumbs into the tense, compact muscle and watching his cock jerk and twitch as he brushed his fingers near.

“Thank god, fucking christ,” Marc growled and stretched past Elliot to go for his side table. The motion brought the head of his cock to nestle and rub right against some soft and incredibly ticklish spot on Elliot’s side. It made him squirm and gasp and make stupid noises, and somehow it still turned him on. Marc leaned back again before Elliot got too deep into learning about a new fetish, and dropped a condom packet onto his chest. “Come on, come on,” Marc murmured, and he was smiling again as he uncapped a half-empty bottle of lube.

Things stretched out into a series of stills, pretty photos in his eyes while he got lost in the thrum of the blood rushing in his ears and pooling in his cock. He saw Marc’s teeth caught on his lip ring, pulling the skin taut and strange as he slicked up his own fingers and brought them back down between his legs. He couldn’t see Marc fucking himself open on his own hand, and what a crime that was, worst thing that had happened that day, honestly, but he could see the way his face went slack while he did it, wet mouth parted and eyelids fluttering. Elliot got a little lost there, because then Marc was pinching him, right in that spot on his side. “Come on, teamwork,” he said in mostly breaths, and Elliot worked on remembering how to get a condom wrapper open and to get the thing on. Fuck it all if it hadn’t been since like his junior year of college since he’d been on this side of the equation, since the true tragedy of his alcoholism was that he had almost always been too much of a boneless drunk fuck to make a strong case for how much he loved to fucking top.

Marc was getting incoherent, nothing but rough groans and iterations on the word “fuck” coming out of him as Elliot made teamwork happen, got his cock slick and then left wet fingerprints on the tattoo of a laser gun-wielding Cupid on Marc’s thigh as he moved him, got them matched up. “Nng, fuck, finally,” Marc growled and pulled his fingers out of his ass with a fantastically lewd sound and put them straight to Elliot’s dick to guide it to where they had been. “God, I need, fuck–” Elliot slid into him, just that first stupid amazing tight inch, and he wanted to take it slow for his own sake–it was so good and had been so long–but then Marc laughed, giddy and breathless, and kept moving down, taking him deeper. “I–oh fuck–just need your cock, fuckfuck, gonna come in like five seconds, sorry, just–please, please, Elliot, fuck me fuck me.” Elliot felt assured that he would be able to make one hell of a strong case here.

 

illustrated by iianbe

Marc couldn’t stay still; he burned through with energy, riding Elliot hard and restless until Elliot put a hand on his hip and made him just hold for a second, enough to make him whine, and then they could move together. Elliot’s hips came up from the bed to meet Marc each time he drove himself down on his cock until they had a hell of a rhythm, and found some harmonies too in shared moans and filthy words. There was music in his skin after all, and Elliot wanted more; he pulled and twisted at one of Marc’s nipple rings until he sang with it, until he could see his poor neglected cock shuddering against his belly. He wasn’t going to tell him to stop now, so he let loose his hold on Marc’s hip and wrapped his fingers around Marc’s cock to stroke him hard and tight. And in that second, he was the most beautiful thing Elliot had ever seen–he was the only thing he could see, his skin flushing red under his ink, that sculpture-perfect line of his throat as he leaned his head back, the shape of his parted lips as he’d gone past even being able to make sound. It was over fast; Marc was true to his words and with just a few more strokes was coming hard in long streaks over Elliot’s stomach, shuddering and arching for such a long time as Elliot kept fucking him through it, like he could stop now.

When Marc was spent and Elliot could see him, feel him fighting the need to lose control of his spine, he took hold of his hips with both hands and flipped their positions, rolling Marc onto his back and letting his legs wrap around Elliot’s waist. The movement made him have to pull out for just a second, long enough for Marc to make that little whine again, and how fucking fantastically greedy was that? He was blissed out, completely gone and grinning and squeezing his thighs against Elliot’s hips. “Come on,” he said again, all lazy purr this time, stretching his arms up and tilting his hips to just give, and yes. Elliot was just gone after that, fucking him into the mattress, until Marc had to brace his hands against the wall to keep from getting crumpled back into it. Elliot came shaking, and sweating, and best of all with Marc’s smiling mouth pressed against his cheek.

He sort of checked out for a while in the aftermath, losing of any sense of time as he came back down to earth, and possibly falling asleep a little. His first real coherent thought was that he probably needed to pull out and ditch the condom, but that thought was annoying, so he rescheduled it to come back in about another three minutes, after he spent some more time enjoying how they were sticking together and how the cooling sweat on his skin was starting to make him feel goosebumpy, and on how much he liked the little snippet of melody Marc was humming in his ear.

Elliot groaned and moaned and untangled himself from Marc long enough for the necessary, and then he was back to tangle limbs together again and stare dreamily into Marc’s pretty eyes and to totally love how kinda stupid his hair looked spread out all mohawkily on the pillow. He’d never felt so good in his life, and it would have been scary if it weren’t so awesome. Marc was still smiling, which gave him the dizzying feeling that the sensation was mutual.

“Oh, whoops,” Marc murmured, and Elliot followed his eyes down to his own chest. “Censorship!” A half-dried blob of come was blotting out part of the lyric on his chest, leaving it to read just I’m living.

“More like editing,” Elliot said, and god, he was a mess, but he could not really give half an ass right now.

“Heh. White-out,” Marc said, with a little thirteen-year-old boy juvenile laugh, and licked his finger to wipe that much of Elliot’s skin clean.

“Gross,” Elliot said, but he was laughing too, and then Marc put his finger into his mouth, and yeah, actually not gross pretty much at all. He closed his eyes and felt pretty content nibbling on the guitar-string calluses on Marc’s fingers.

“So, we should go out again, okay?” Marc said as he snuggled in closer, pulling up a blanket over them to fight the rising goosebump plague.

“Very okay,” Elliot said around Marc’s finger, and then cracked an eye open. “I’ll teach you to play Magic.”

“Yeah. Sounds like fun.” Marc just fit against him, felt like a puzzle piece snapping in when he snuck his head under Elliot’s chin, and it was so easy to fall asleep just like that.

Elliot woke up feeling very twenty-seven years old, and alone. He was creaky-boned and sore and fuzzy tongued, and the first thing he saw when he opened his eyes was the skin of his forearm, utterly blank. No ink, no letters, no lyric, and he closed his eyes again to fight the half-awake wave of unbearable doom, of oh god, it wasn’t real. He opened his eyes again and while he still had no tattoo on his arm, he was definitely not in his own bed, he was definitely still covered in dried spunk, and he was definitely hearing birds and guitar, which meant that a) he was in Brooklyn, and b) Marc was absolutely real and was about twelve feet away working on chord progressions.

He needed a cup of coffee and a cigarette and a shower, but he settled for just finding his pants. The cellphone still in his pocket gave a little text message bzzrt-bzzrt as Elliot was trying to work out how to get both pant legs right side out. He solved the mystery and checked the message. It was from Lisa, and all it said was DETAILS; he really owed her for all of this, so she could get those later. For now he just put in as many smiley faces as the text limit would allow and hit ‘reply’.

Elliot emerged from behind the bookshelf wall to find Marc sitting crosslegged on his futon with a guitar and a notebook, looking as serious as one could while bouncing a pen between their teeth. “Hey,” Elliot said, all sexy cracky morning voice, and Marc dropped his pen when he started grinning.

“Hey! Morning.” He put his guitar aside and came over to wrap his arms around Elliot’s waist and slide fingers into his back pockets. “Sorry I didn’t stick around for snuggles. I really wanted to start getting this song down.”

“It’s cool. I was only scared for a few seconds.” Marc laughed and popped up on his toes to get a kiss. Elliot was a little relieved that he wasn’t minty-fresh either. “So… the tattoos are gone,” he said when they broke apart. Marc gave him a weird look, and ah, was this going to be it? Did he just make up the tattoo part?

Marc poked a finger into his chest. “Nuh-uh.” And, okay, that one was still there, i’m living to meet you. But Marc was checking the rest of him over, turning him around and tugging his pants down a little to find that Elliot was basically right, all of the other lines of lyric had left his skin. “Huh.”

“So, that’s a little weird.”

“No, I think I get it,” Marc said, and nodded back to his guitar, and the notebook next to it. He grinned a little. “I just took them back.” He rubbed his finger over the line on Elliot’s chest. “I guess this one stayed because I changed it a little. Made it ‘I am’ instead of ‘I’m’, that worked better with the melody I’ve got going.” He tilted his head up to Elliot and gave him a little apologetic smile. “I guess I could change it back…?”

Elliot put his hand over Marc’s, pressing it to his chest to cup over the tattoo completely. “Don’t you dare,” he said, and Marc’s face lit up.

“Maybe this’ll happen every time I write a song now,” he said, and sounded pretty enthused about the idea. He wriggled his hand loose under Elliot’s to start distractedly playing with Elliot’s nipple.

“You know what? I’m pretty okay with that.” Elliot felt he’d be pretty accepting of whatever stupid things the powers that be or fate or whatever wanted to have inked into his skin, as long as it meant he got to stick around with Marc.

“Nice,” Marc said, and gave him a last little pinch before stepping back. “Come on, you want to hear what I’ve got? It’s not all there yet, but I want you to hear it.” He was already heading back for his guitar, and Elliot took a seat on the futon and tucked his legs under him to listen.

“Yeah, play it for me.”

Marc just smiled at him a little while longer, then got his guitar strap back over his neck. He began to play, and then he began to sing.

Elliot had a new favorite song.

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