by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)
illustrated by engine
Honestly, I was only half-interested in the dead body. I could see the basic shape of the crime from twenty paces away — looked like a robbery gone sour, definitely something more complicated than that — but I was much more interested in the detective standing near the body. It’d been a long time since I’d seen anyone like him, too damnably long. He had a shine to him, a glow that came from the center of him, white and pure, crackling on the edges. I’d seen a lot of people in my time, but not enough like him — and definitely not enough cops.
I got close enough to the scene of the crime to see him more than just his light, focusing my eyes past the layers of the world I was so bloody blessed to see to get a look at his regular face, and my, oh my, he was a special one. Having an innate core of goodness, oh, that was lovely, of course, but that face? I’d have to ask Chief Martinez if there’d been a change in hiring quotas, some city-wide push to get more incredibly handsome fucks on the force. A good plan, definitely — I was already feeling a heightened enthusiasm for murder-solving.
I stepped under the police tape, nodding to Officer Phillips as he held it up for me, and came up beside him, where he was surveying the scene with his hands on his hips, pushing his jacket back from them. A looker in the face, yes, but I’d been all over the world and had still never met a cop who knew how to buy a suit that fit him. I looked over the scene, following the leylines and feeling out the ripples in the world fabric of what had happened. No real robbery at all — the poor bastard had known the man who’d shot him, and in a terrible indignity, that man had used the poor bastard’s own gun. I could see the hand on it, feel the cold of the murderer’s ring on the grip of the gun. No face yet, but those didn’t always come. It was less fun when they did, honestly.
“I know what you’re thinking,” I said, mimicking the detective’s pose to push my own coat back from my hips. He turned to look at me with wide, startled eyes. “Of course it looks like a robbery. Wallet’s emptied out, phone’s gone.”
“Who the hell are you?” the detective asked. “What do you think you’re doing at my crime scene?”
The coroner looked up from where he was examining the body. “Was wondering if you’d show up, Mars,” he said, and the detective shuffled a little looking between us.
“Felt like getting a little fresh air,” I said. “And you know you owe me, Mulrooney.”
“I don’t know why I keep betting you,” he said, shaking his head as he examined the tiny scrapes on the poor bastard’s fingers with gloved hands. He’d think they’d come from a scuffle with his assailant, but I saw the true echo of it — he’d been ditching something in the dumpster at the edge of the alley. “I just don’t see how you can deduce who’s going to be eliminated on Idol.”
“No deduction about it,” I said, and that was fairly the truth. I did fairly little deducing; I just saw. “I just have a finger on the pulse of the tastes of the American people. So, that’ll be twenty bucks.”
“Ah, you’ll get it when I’m done,” Mulrooney said, and then the detective let out a teakettle blow of breath from his nostrils.
“What the hell is going on here?” he asked, voice pitching up into the realm of histrionics. Oh, he was crackling now, spatters of angry, defensive, protective light shining through him. “Who are you? Who is this guy, Mulrooney? What the hell?”
Mulrooney looked from me to the detective and back again, placid as could be. When you handled corpses for a living, it took a lot to get you worked up. “Oh, so you haven’t met Mars.”
“No, I have not met Mars.” He glared me up and down, and I smiled, which made his brows knit harder. “What is this, this some kind of prank on the new guy?”
I held out my hand to him. “Roland Mars. Pleased to meet you, Detective.” He stared at my hand like it was dripping with acid, then went back to glowering at my face. “I take it no one’s mentioned me? I sometimes consult for the police department.”
“Consult?” the detective asked, saying the word like it had just been a dire insult to his mother, and oh, I could see from the ripples in him that he was one who loved his mama.
Mulrooney nodded at me. “Show him your tricks, Mars.”
“Ah, you know I love jumping through the hoops.” It’d be easier if he shook my hand, but I could tell this pretty picture wasn’t about making anything easy. I let the physical world fade out and looked at him, looked into him, letting what the patterns of the earth knew about him flow into me. Aw, he was a nice one.
“Let’s see… thirty-two years old, always wanted to be a detective but you only got the job a month ago and it made your mother very proud, although you’ve been worrying about her since you got promoted and have less time to spend with her, so you take extra time to visit her in the mornings and she makes you breakfast. French toast with honey, not syrup, and a coffee with artificial sweetener.” He was gaping at me now. It always was fun. “Do you want me to go on?”
The detective stared at me a while longer, then closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. When he opened them again he looked at Mulrooney. “If you’re going to haze a guy, do you have to do it on a murder investigation?”
“No hazing,” Mulrooney said. “Mars here is our pet Sherlock Holmes.”
“Details, details, it’s all in the details,” I said, wiggling my fingers in the air. Utter bullshit, but constructing the story was half the fun. “Still wearing the shoes from when you were on the beat. Lines under your eyes because you’ve not been sleeping enough. Someone tied your tie for you this morning, and it wasn’t a girlfriend — untrimmed nails and chapped lips like that? You’re single.” His nostrils flared at that, and I grinned. “And then there’s the smudge of honey on your cuff and the bits of sweetener scattered on your lapel, but anyone would notice that.” He had neither honey nor sweetener anywhere on him, but it was funny — you told people things like that, and they’d convince themselves it was true. I pointed at the corpse. “And this poor bastard here was shot by a professional colleague, and you’ll find a couple of torn-up business cards in that trash can over there to give you a list of names to start questioning.”
The detective stared at me, like he was trying to see through the folds of reality to suss me out. He didn’t stand a chance, so I held out my hand again. “As I said: Roland Mars. Pleased to meet you, Detective.”
He looked at my hand, then shook his head and let out a long sigh before taking it. “Santiago,” he said.
“Alvin Santiago,” Mulrooney added, and there was actually a little smirk on his face.
“Detective Santiago,” Santiago corrected.
“Looking forward to working with you, Detective Santiago.”
He let go of my hand and pointed his finger at me. “You? Are weird. And I only like weird if it’s in the form of a little packet of Japanese candy. Right now I have more reasons to believe that I’m secretly being filmed for someone to laugh at on the internet than I do to believe that you didn’t commit this crime.”
“Oh, if we were going to be filmed, I’d’ve worn a better suit,” I said, and he just pointed more vigorously at me. “And if I’d committed this crime I wouldn’t have left the gun up on that rooftop.”
He looked up at where I’d nodded, then huffed out a breath and screwed his feet against the ground. “You want to ‘consult’? You follow my lead.”
“Oh, I always defer to the detective on duty,” I said.
“He does,” Mulrooney said, and Santiago held out his hand to silence him.
“I am beyond done with you,” he said, and Mulrooney smirked a little more. “And you? You stay in line and don’t say anything else about my mother or I’ll put you in cuffs.”
“Oh, such promises and you haven’t even taken me to dinner yet,” I said, and Santiago’s eyes bugged wide. He dropped his pointing finger — awfully phallic, that — and shook his head.
“Trash can, roof,” he said, and threw a pair of blue latex gloves at me. I snapped them on and watched him shimmer, brighter than ever from pressing me. This was going to be fun.
Thirty-six hours, two interrogations, one dunk into the Schuylkill River, several gunshots, and one arrest later, I had to say, yes, it was the most fun I’d had in ages.
“I’d have to say we make a good team,” I said to Santiago as we watched the squad car pull away. He gave me a look, dark eyes soft and appraising.
“Yeah,” he said, and ran a hand over his close-shorn hair. “You’re a complete nutjob, but you do help get the job done, I’ll admit it.”
“And I will accept the praise,” I said. I could see it in him that he was bone-tired, but wound through with energy that would keep him from sleep for hours. It was the sort of burn that made people try things they usually wouldn’t. Hell, I didn’t even need that justification to give it a shot. “Well, now that that’s all settled… I know you haven’t got a date tonight, so how about getting a bit of dinner with me, maybe some drinks?” I gave him one of the most charming variations of my grin. “Or we could skip the dinner and just have the drinks.” I cocked up an eyebrow and let my voice go a little low. “Or we could just…. skip the drinks, too.”
His eyes got wider as I talked, and he didn’t blink. Oh, the precious sweetheart, I could see now he’d never been propositioned thusly. He hadn’t broken my jaw, though, and he wasn’t running away, so those were a few hopeful points. He just stared, for a full good minute, and I smiled. He closed his eyes, and just for a second I could see his light spark, a crackle that went from his core out to his fingertips. He let out a very long breath.
“You are completely insane,” he said, alas. “Goodnight, Mars.”
“Mm, maybe next time, then?” Santiago had turned to walk away from me and gave a little wave over his shoulder. “See you next murder, darling!”
I could see the path of his footsteps spreading out through the city, feeling him along the lines to take him to his mama’s house, where he could check on her before it got too late. Bloody precious, and too rare by far. I’d have to keep him.
We’d see about those drinks eventually.
Santiago closed the door to the shack, a few swirls of snow and another gust of frigid air following him in. “Okay, yes. It is still very dark and very cold out there.”
It was fairly dark and fairly cold inside, but we’d managed a lantern or two and I was working on getting something started in the terribly quaint iron wood stove hunched in the middle of the single room. “Well, look at this way: you’re finally getting to travel!”
Santiago brushed snow off his shoulders and tugged his coat around him. Neither of us were really properly dressed for an impromptu visit to Nunavut, but we hadn’t exactly been given time to pack. Of course, I was completely capable of reaching through the world-fabric and getting my toothbrush from home, but it would be a bit hard to explain to my companion. Ah, the burdens of maintaining the status quo of reality. Always such a bugger. At least I’d managed to produce a lighter from my pocket.
“When I said I needed a vacation, this was not what I had in mind,” he said, and put his hands near the glass of the lantern to warm them. “I was thinking a warm beach, pretty girls, maybe a drink with eight kinds of rum in it. Not thrown in the back of a truck and ditched the snow god-knows-where by some lunatic!” He blew into his cupped hands and made a noise of frustration. “This is so out of my jurisdiction!”
I got some smoulders of fire going. “Oh, yes, the paperwork is going to be hell.”
“I want paperwork. I want it right now so we can burn it.” He bounced up and down a little on his toes.
“I’ll get things burning!” I said, blowing air into the stove, fanning the growing flames. “I just haven’t built a fire in a while.”
Santiago laughed and came over closer to me, standing just behind me as I worked. “Wouldn’t have taken you for a scout.”
“Oh, definitely wasn’t one of those,” I said. “I had much less wholesome and helpful juvenile pursuits.”
Santiago laughed a little, though there was a shiver in it. “Ah, so, arson, then.”
“Ah, never anything big,” I said, and looked over my shoulder to grin at him. It was one of my favorite games of ours, teasing him about how much of a criminal I was or was not. I gave him a wink and he rolled his eyes.
“Just get something burning. I’m freezing my ass off.”
I pointed over to one of the worn cabinets that I’d read when we’d staggered our way into the shack, before the storm had gotten bad. “It’s not eight kinds of rum, but there’s whiskey in there. Might warm you up a bit.”
Santiago got through his brief bit of ‘how did you know that’ eye-narrowing. He was doing that less and less as time went on. “That is a terrible idea,” he said, staring at the cabinet. “It’s been scientifically proven as a terrible idea.” He marched over to the cabinet and took the dusty bottle, uncorking it, sniffing it, and taking a swig. “And this is terrible whiskey.”
It was old, too; the last echo of anyone’s touching the stuff was years ago, and I couldn’t get a clear shape of who it might have been. I didn’t suspect anyone would be coming to make a claim on it. I got the fire worked to something sustainable and gestured for Santiago to sit down next to me. “Terrible whiskey is always better shared.”
He sat down cross-legged next to me on the rough wood floor and passed me the bottle. I could feel the memory of his lips on the rim of it as I took a swig. Ah, that could keep me warm better than the alcohol. Santiago warmed his hands near the stove as the heat did its best to radiate out through the shack.
“So, what do we do while we wait here to die?” he asked. “Make s’mores?”
I took another drink of whiskey before depositing the bottle back between Santiago’s folded legs. “What’s a s’more?”
Santiago turned his head to stare at me with bulging eyes. “You don’t know what a s’more is?” He shook his head slowly. “You’re the one always telling me things about, like, how you can tell what brand of nail polish the murderer was wearing or whether or not my mother did my laundry. You know every stupid detail about everything, and you don’t know about s’mores?”
I smiled at him. “Is it a euphemism?” I asked, hopefully.
He shook his head and drank more whiskey. “Probably somewhere, but not here.” He made a gesture with his hands, fingers bent to describe the shape of something sandwich-like. “Graham cracker, chocolate, marshmallow. You get it all toasty. You eat it. It’s delicious.”
“Ah, sounds lovely,” I said. Santiago shivered a little, and I moved closer to him. “Don’t think we have any of the necessities here, though.” I reached into my pocket and past my pocket, my fingers finding their way through the bends to pick up a little something that I knew was on my counter at home. I gave him the bag of M&Ms. “Should go well with shack whiskey.”
He opened the bag up and ate a few. “You got anything else useful in your pockets? Maybe a flare? Radio? Jetpack?”
I dug around a little in my coat. I honestly probably could do the flare, but now was not the time. “Ah, fresh out.” Santiago shivered again. I got up a little to reach over to the little cot in the room, pulling the ancient blanket off of it and putting it around his shoulders.
He made a little face. “God, this thing’s probably full of… ticks or woodlice or earworms or…” He sighed and pulled the blanket around him. “I don’t know. I’m not a woods guy. I should be in my apartment with my overactive radiator screaming at me.”
“We’ll get out of here tomorrow, don’t worry,” I said. “Once that storm clears I can get us to civilization, I promise.”
Santiago swigged more whiskey, ate a handful of M&Ms, and leaned a little against me. I did happen to be quite warm. “Oh, of course. Master detective and outdoorsman. What other tricks do you do?”
“Oh, I have plenty of tricks,” I said, and rested my hand on the floor behind him, giving him the length of my arm to rest against. “Some of them I could even show your mama.”
Santiago let out a soft laugh and passed me back the whiskey. It tasted better after each time he drank from it, lingering ripples of his light twining with the faint taste of chocolate. “You leave my mama out of this.”
“She does love me, though,” I said. I kept the whiskey in my grip. Santiago wasn’t a lightweight by any means, but I could see the haze coming over him on both levels. One did tend to get drunker faster when cold and hungry.
“Because you bribe her,” he said.
“Baking isn’t bribery,” I said. “I just made too many tarts and thought she’d enjoy them.”
“Tarts,” he said, and shook his head. “Tarts. I swear, you know how to bake all those little damn tarts and you don’t know what a s’more is. I think you’re from the moon.”
Somerset, actually, but why bother? “See, this is why my partnership with you is so useful. You teach me new things every day.”
Santiago snorted. “We’re not partners.”
My arm was around his waist now, beneath the blanket, keeping him close to me, sharing warmth. I could smell the whiskey on his breath, feel the warmth of it fog out on my neck as he scooted closer. “Mm?” I said, near his ear. “So, what are we, then?”
He held his breath and I could feel him go still, feel the flush of warmth through him as his heart sped up. I’d’ve loved to been able to read his thoughts then, but the best I could get were the flashes of future outcomes, the one where he pushed me away and wrapped up in the blanket alone, the one where he just laughed, and the one where… oh, that one was nice, I really hoped for that one.
The one I got, though, was him letting out his breath and saying, “Yeah, I guess we must be. Who else would get into a situation like this?”
I ate a bit of the chocolate and tugged the blanket more around his shoulders. “Who, indeed.”
“I am not comfortable with this,” Santiago said, and I slipped my arm around his waist.
“Oh, darling, don’t worry,” I said, tugging him close as we went through the club’s door. “You’ll fit right in.”
“That’s why I’m not comfortable,” he said, and I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. It was early, so the club wasn’t too crowded yet, but we still had to press through some bodies to get to the bar. When I’d first gotten my abilities, places like this would short me out, leave me gibbering and unsure of where my hands started. Now, though, I enjoyed it: the pulse of the people, the echoes of everything that had happened here, the feel of eyes on… well, some of them on me, but most of them were on Santiago.
It was fair; he looked good. Mulrooney and Pulaski had made some cracks about leather pants, but this wasn’t that kind of bar, though I would not object if we got a lead that lead us to that kind of bar. I didn’t see Santiago dressed casually enough, and now here he was in a well-fitting pair of jeans and a t-shirt that clung to his torso, showing off the workout regimen that his usual suits gave little clue of. Of course no one would look at me; I was just the lucky bastard with a fox on my arm.
We found space at the bar and I brushed my hand down the small of Santiago’s back; he tensed for a second, but then took it as the signal I meant it as — he needed to relax and look natural. The bartender made his way to our end of the bar, took a look at me, and broke into a smile.
“Roland!” he said. “Hell, I haven’t seen you in ages! How are you doing?”
Santiago was getting better about his pokerface, but I could still feel him twitch a little. “Nice to see you, Victor. Given up on working at Gloria’s?”
“Ah, I take a weeknight shift every now and again, but the tips are better here.” He grinned and jutted his chin out to the crowd of men behind us. “View’s better, too.”
I looked from him to Santiago. “Yes, it seems I’ve got a very good view right here.” I winked at Victor and he laughed, as I slid my hand up around Santiago’s shoulder.
“Oh, mine definitely just improved.” He glanced down the bar at other men trying to get his attention and ignored them. “Who’s your friend?”
I gave Santiago a little squeeze and he managed a smile; I was so proud of him. “My partner, Alvin.”
“Partner!” Victor said, and laughed. “Never thought I’d see the day. Well, first round’s on me.”
“Two gin and tonics,” I said, and leaned in to Santiago. “That good with you, sweetheart?”
Santiago blinked rapidly a few times, then remembered to smile. “Oh, yeah, just… just fine.” Victor nodded and went for a bottle on the back of the bar, and Santiago let out a breath.
“So, do you just know everyone?” he asked, barely audible over the music.
“Mm, I’ve been around a bit,” I said. Victor brought our drinks and I dropped a few dollars on the bar. Tips get you tips, I’d learned long ago.
Santiago picked up his drink, sipping it through the two skinny straws. He made a little face. “I really hate gin. Tastes like something you’d sterilize a cigarette burn with.”
“I know you do; that’s why I ordered it.” I took a drink of my own; ah, Victor always made them strong. “Don’t want you getting too tipsy and forget why we’re here.” I leaned in to him, speaking closer to his ear. “You might start having too much fun and I’d lose you.”
Santiago laughed nervously. “No, I don’t think that’s going to be too likely.” He messed with the lime in his drink and cast a glance back around the bar. “So, uh, you got any leads? Anyone who looks like might be our guy?”
“Not anyone yet,” I said. I had a certainty our murderer would arrive here tonight, but I couldn’t see who he was yet. I kept myself tuned to the lines and waited for the right ripple. “So we just relax and have a good time.”
He did manage to relax a little, and even stopped grimacing every time he sipped his drink. Victor came by to chat now and then, and oh, I was so proud of Santiago when he managed to supply the answer of “work” when Victor ask how we’d met.
After a while, a man came to the bar to stand beside Santiago. He was tall and blond, with sharp eyes that went right for Santiago. He ordered a beer and kept ogling him; Santiago was oblivious, though, fussing with the melting ice in his drink. The man met my eyes and I gave him a smile. I could see just what he wanted.
“Looks like you’re empty,” he said, gesturing to Santiago’s drink. I gave his hip a little squeeze, a signal that he should play along. Well, also a signal that he should play along.
He looked down at his drink and back at the man. “Oh, ah, I guess I am.”
“Would you mind if I bought you a drink?” he asked, and then looked at me again. “If your friend doesn’t mind.”
“Oh, it’s fine with me,” I said. “Always good to meet someone friendly.”
The man looked at Santiago expectantly, and he smiled a little and said, “Oh, ah, a beer is good. Whatever you’re having.” Victor brought him the beer and Santiago gulped down a third of it. He sucked foam off of his upper lip and took in a breath.
“Haven’t seen you around here before,” the man said. He glanced up at me, but I knew where his focus was. “First time?”
Santiago laughed, a little less tense than before. He could improvise; I’d seen it before. “Yeah, I don’t get out a lot. Kind of a homebody, really.”
I moved my hand up to rest between his shoulderblades. “But every so often even a good boy has to step out. Variety, you know.”
“Oh, variety is important.” The man rested his hand on top of Santiago’s. “I love variety.”
He trailed his hand up Santiago’s arm as I reached over to brush his jaw with my fingers, turning him towards me. To the man, it’d look like we were kissing, but I just leaned in to whisper into his ear, “He’s our man. Just play along.” I’d seen it on him from the minute he came close, the lingering shadows of the murders he’d committed clinging to him like a foul odor, but I’d become certain of it the minute he touched Santiago. I could feel it through him, his body a conduit.
Santiago gave me a little nod, just a scrape of his cheek against mine, and turned his hand over to take the man’s. I could only see half the smile he gave to him, but damn if I wasn’t jealous. The man curled his hand around Santiago’s and pulled him away from the bar, guiding him back to the bathrooms. He frowned a little when I started to follow — unsurprisingIy, as I didn’t fit the profile of his usual victims. Santiago was perfect bait, though — young, fit, black, and ostensibly gay — bless his poor beautiful face, but our murderer was just going to have to deal with me.
I pushed past the two of them into an empty stall, taking Santiago’s other hand to pull him in close to me. I could feel his pulse racing under my thumb just as well as I could feel our murderer through him, the darkness of his intent. I brought Santiago’s hand up to my face as I leaned in to kiss his neck. He gasped, his fingers curling into my hair, as the man closed in to him from behind, sandwiching his body hot between us in the stall. He touched Santiago’s waist with his fingertips as I breathed against his adam’s apple, and damn it all, did I want our murderer to take his goddamn time before he pulled out that knife in his pocket.
“Shit,” Santiago whispered as I brushed my lips up just beneath his ear. That made him spark; oh, I’d found a spot. I allowed myself some wishful thinking and made a good note of that. He was playing along so well that I could’ve kissed him, but feeling out the threads of that possibility didn’t lead to a lot of good endings. He breathed in my ear, I let my lips rest on his neck — and I gave him just a little nip as I grabbed the knife from the man a second before he slotted it into Santiago’s spine.
A bathroom stall was not the most ideal place to have a tussle with three men and a knife, but by the end of it I was bleeding lightly and Santiago had the man on the floor, pinned to the ground with a knee digging into his back.
He looked up at me, breathing hard. “You all right?”
I wiped the blood away from where he’d caught me across the chest. I’d liked that shirt. “Nothing serious.”
“Good,” he said, and swallowed as his nostrils flared with breath. There was blood and sex in the air, and you didn’t need my abilities to sense how it shaped the room. Santiago took his cellphone out of his pocket. “Pulaski. Get some men down here. We got him.”
After backup arrived and our murderer was packed away in a squad car, Santiago lingered by me as the EMT bandaged up my wound. It was nothing, I’d said, but he’d been insistent. We watched as men cleared out of the bar — nothing ruined a good night at the club like an attempted murder and a bunch of cops.
“Don’t suppose we’re going to be allowed back,” I said, and sighed theatrically. “And here I was hoping for a second date.”
Santiago was quiet for a moment, looking at the entrance to the bar and not at me. Then he shook his head and put his hands on his hips. “You wouldn’t get one anyway, man. You got me one drink, didn’t pay for it, and I hated it! The murderer was doing better than you!”
I laughed, and the EMT scowled at me for moving. “I’ll get you a beer next time.”
“You owe me a beer,” he said.
“I owe you a lot,” I said, and he turned to look at me, dark eyes steady.
“Yeah,” he said, and when he breathed in I could remember the feel of it next to my ear. “I do, too.”
Santiago was quiet as I drove him home from the hospital. The mild concussion he’d received meant the doctors didn’t want him behind the wheel. It was likely the only situation where he’d let me drive his car. I followed him up the stairs into his apartment, and he made no objection as I closed the door behind the two of us. I went to his fridge and pulled out two beers, handing one to him. That probably wasn’t a good idea with a concussion, either, but I wasn’t a doctor.
He held the bottle limply between his fingers as he sat down on the couch. He didn’t drink, but I sure as hell did, swigging back half of it as I sat down at the chair beside him. “You going to be all right?” I asked, after a moment of just watching him breathe.
He closed his eyes. “How did you do it?”
“I saw you. I saw her.” He rubbed his hand over his eyes. “Vega fired the gun at her. And then she was standing next to me, with you. And Vega was dead.” He shook his head. “I’ve thought about it, and thought about it, and it doesn’t make sense. None of it makes sense. What did you do, Mars?”
I took a slow breath and put the bottle aside. “I saved your mother’s life, Santiago.”
“Did you?” he asked, sharp and loud, eyes open and glaring at me. “Because I’m pretty sure we just left her in the hospital.”
“She’s going to be fine,” I said, and I really was almost entirely sure of that fact. “It was just the shock of it all. She’s going to be fine.”
“God help you, she’d better be,” he said, and wiped his fingers over his eyes again. “But just in case she’s not, you’re going to tell me what happened there right now, or we are over. We are done.”
I opened my mouth, then closed it again. I’d never gotten so close to someone as I had Santiago. I’d never let someone get in so deep. I’d never looked so deep. “It’s… hard to explain.”
“Well, you’re going to find a way to make it easy,” he said.
I’d never told anyone before. It was hard to find a way to phrase it. “I have misled you about the nature of my abilities,” I said. It was a start. Santiago just waited in silence for me to go on. “I… look, this is going to sound insane and you’re not going to believe me.”
“Try me,” Santiago said.
“When I was younger, I got involved in things I shouldn’t been involved in. And I don’t mean just silly criminal things, I mean things I really shouldn’t have been involved in. Things not… not on this plane. This realm. This layer.”
Santiago frowned. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“I see things,” I said. “And I don’t mean the Holmes garbage; that’s all a con, and I know you’ve known it’s a con.” I gestured around the room. “I look around this house and I see the elemental nature of everything in it, everything that’s happened here, every… everything. What you see? What you see when you look at me right now, that’s just one layer. I can see all the others. Time and space and causality and energy and… everything. Just everything. That’s how I do it.”
He blinked very slowly. “Are you saying you’re psychic?”
I shook my head, then grimaced a little. “No? Not really. Sort of. It’s different. It’s not like I read minds,” I said, and I saw a flicker of surprise on Santiago’s face, as though he was just realizing the possibility that I could have been reading his mind, followed by quick relief that I hadn’t been. “There are just lines of energy through everything. And I can follow them backward and forward, in and out, up and down, directions that don’t even exist.”
Santiago put his hand over his eyes again. “You’re insane.”
“Yes, for a while after I first became able to do this, I definitely was.” I sighed and drank more of my beer; it tasted like nothing now. “But I figured out how to not be insane, and now I just…. try to help. Solving murders, helping old ladies find their cats, just whatever I can do.”
Santiago was quiet for a long time. “So, what did you do? What did you do to my mother?”
“It’s… well, after long enough seeing the lines and layers, I’ve learned how to manipulate them a little. Just sort of give things a, a nudge. Fold it a bit.” I sighed, frustrated. “It’s how I’m always pulling things out of my pockets.” I reached in my pocket and pulled out Santiago’s driver’s license. “See? And I’m no pickpocket.” I didn’t know exactly how he’d handle this next bit, but it had to be done. I held out my hand, fingers clear in his sight, and when I closed my fingers, they were around his wallet. I put his license back inside and handed it to him.
“Jesus Christ…” Santiago said as he looked it over and patted at his pockets.
“So when Vega fired at her, I grabbed her and put the bullet in his back.” I made a gesture, folding my hands together, twining my fingers. “I wrinkled things up and pulled them straight again.” I drew my hands apart, fanning out my fingers.
He stared at my hands. “Why’s she unconscious, then? Did doing that hurt her?”
“I…” I stopped and drew a breath over my teeth. “I don’t know. I’ve never done it to a person before.”
“If you hurt her–” Santiago started, and then broke off with a choked breath. He balled his hand into a fist and pushed it against his mouth, clenching his eyes tight. I moved to sit beside him on the couch and put an arm around his shoulders, standard rules of masculinity be damned. I rubbed the back of his neck and he leaned against me.
“She’ll be fine,” I said, softly. “I promise, she’ll be fine.”
“Yeah?” he said, voice broken. “That one of your tricks? You see the future?”
“Sometimes. A little,” I said. “I know in my gut, though. No tricks required.”
He sniffed hard and wiped at his eyes. “This is completely fucking insane,” he said. “But… thank you.” Santiago laughed a little, that crackling way you did when you were still half in tears. “God, it explains so much.”
I tucked him under my arm and he allowed it, pressing against me as I stroked his bicep. “Should’ve told you sooner. I trust you,” I said, and let out a breath. “You’re the only one I’ve trusted in a very long time.”
He rested his head against my shoulder, soft and quiet. “I trust you, too. You’re crazy, but… you’re my partner.”
“I’m your friend,” I said, and brought my hand up to rest against the side of his neck, giving him the best approximation of a hug I could in this position. His heart beat under my fingers, stirring faster as I touched.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, you are.”
I turned my face to kiss the top of his head, and we stayed that way, the sunlight fading from the windows, until Santiago got the call that said his mother was awake.
I could feel that something was wrong the minute I heard the knock at the door. It was Santiago, no doubt about that, but something was different, something was changed. I opened the door to find him smiling at me, all teeth and heavy eyelids. He looked drunk, but I could tell he wasn’t. This was something new.
“Roland,” he said, and good graces was that a red flag right there; he never called me by my first name. “Can I come in? Let me come in. I really needed to see you.”
I opened the door to let him in and got a better look at him; something was different within him. His light was changed from the usual bright crackling beauty it was to something darker, heavy and red. Something had been done to him, and I had a terrible feeling I knew the cause.
I closed the door behind him and then he was on me, hands on my shoulders as he smiled at me, the two of us dancing a little as he came nearly nose-to-nose with me. “Hey,” he said, dreamily. “I just needed… I just need… hm.” He put his head down on my shoulder, rubbing his cheek against my neck like a cat. “I feel funny.”
‘Drugged’ would be the simplest explanation for it, but there was more to it than that. I put my hands on his waist to steady him and to get a read on what he’d done. He sighed into my neck and pressed up against me — well, that made it harder to concentrate… that and the big blocked wall I found when I tried to read the threads that had brought him here. Oh, hell.
“Santiago, what did you do before you came here?” I asked, and he shivered when I spoke into his ear.
“It’s funny,” he said, his mouth against my neck. “I ran into that friend of yours. Your spooky friend, what’s-his-name.”
“Adam,” I said. God, of course. The only other man I’d met who had the same abilities I did, and he used them to be a right bastard. He’d steal anything — money, goods, energy, virtue — and now this was how he’d repay me for not returning his phone calls. Petty little prick.
“Oh, yeah, that was his name.” My hands tensed at Santiago’s waist as his teeth skimmed just behind my jaw. I really ought put distance between us, but by god, it was hard. Just one of a few things that was hard, actually, judging from what I felt when Santiago pushed his body against mine. “He says hi.” Santiago put his hand around the back of my neck, skimming trimmed nails across the short hairs there. Hell’s bells, that was my spot. I bit my lip.
“I’ll be sure to write him a thank you note.” I got a good grip on Santiago’s hips and pushed him away as much as I could, but he clung to me with octopus arms, whimpering as I denied him contact with my skin. I held him an arm’s length away, but I couldn’t keep his hands off me; they roamed over my throat, across my chest, up to brush over my lips.
“Roland, I’ve been thinking,” Santiago said, and even in the dark shade of his eyes I could see his pupils were blown wide. “I think we should fuck.”
I closed my eyes and drew in a sharp breath. Oh, it just lovely to hear Santiago say that, and to say it to me, no less, but this was no right state. Santiago had an unblemished history of heterosexuality — save for any of the times I’d teased him — and was not about to take a saunter to the other side so easily. His fingertip pressed between my lips, and while I considered myself a man of a strong moral code, I couldn’t stop myself from suckling it a little before I reached up to grab his wrist and hold it down.
“I’d love to,” I said, and he grinned at that. “I’d really love to; you have no idea how much I’d love to. But you don’t really want this. And even if you do want it, somewhere deep down in your most repressed little corner of your mind, you don’t want it like this.”
I had him by both wrists now and he fought me, squirming to try to get out of my hold and back to press against me. “You don’t know what I want,” he said, low and breathless. “I could suck you. I could fuck you. You could fuck me.” His smile was feral now, a brandishing of teeth. “All of it, we’ll do all of it, just let me.”
“Okay, fine,” I said, and turned him so I still had his hands, but his back was facing me. He groped at my stomach and tried to grind his ass against my crotch as I marched him to the bathroom. “But I’m terribly picky and like everyone to be nice and clean first, so let’s just pop you in the shower.”
I manhandled him into the bathtub and when I let go of his hands, he grabbed for my face, turning me to try to kiss me. It would have been so easy to let him, to just take this one opportunity and get a good taste of that mouth of his, but damn it all if I’d be able to live with myself afterwards. I turned my face so his lips just skimmed over my cheek, and reached past him to turn on the water. He shuddered when it hit him, and I turned the tap so it wouldn’t be quite so cold.
I disentangled myself from him and stepped away, leaving him to dampen under the spray. “You just stay right there. I’ll be right back, I promise.” He was tugging at his clothes to remove them when I left the bathroom, locking the door behind me. I sat down on the floor in front of the door and waited, listening to the rush of water within, and the rush of blood in my ears. Damn it all.
I dozed off at some point, coming back awake when I heard the shower being turned off. There was quiet for a while, and then a little tap at the door. “Mars?” Santiago said. “Why am I wet and locked in your bathroom?”
I opened the door and found him dripping, shirt unbuttoned and tie dangling untied around his neck. It was a fairly good look on him. “You were drugged, I’m afraid,” I said. It was essentially true. “You showed up here completely out of your mind. I tossed you in the shower to sober you up.”
He ran a hand over his face, then shook his damp fingers off. “Did I… do anything bad?”
“Nothing,” I said. “You don’t remember anything? Anything at all?”
He frowned for a moment, looking at the floor, then at my neck, my mouth, my eyes, and then anywhere but those. “No. I don’t remember anything.”
I let out a soft sigh. “Well, good.” I pushed into the bathroom and grabbed a towel. “Come on, then, we’ll dry you off and figure it out.”
Santiago had his big sock-clad feet up on my coffee table, and I put his beer down right next to one of them. He looked at me with a serious glare. “Oh, come on, now,” he said, pointing at the bottle. “You can clearly see how comfortable I am, and you’re going to put that so I have to sit up to get it?”
“I am an evil man,” I said as I sat down next to him on the couch with my own drink, and laughed a little as he grunted to sit up and take his.
“Completely evil. I’m going to arrest you later,” he said as he settled back into his comfortable position on my sofa.
“After you finish watching football on my TV,” I said as I watched men in green and white uniforms line up against men in slightly different green and white uniforms.
“It was an emergency, man,” Santiago said. “My cable went out.”
“Could’ve gone to a sports bar,” I said, putting my feet up next to his.
He tipped his beer bottle to me. “Then I’d have to pay for the beer.”
“Ah, taking advantage of me, of course,” I said. “I give you so much, and I get nothing but abuse.”
“Hey, it’s mutual abuse,” he said. “The advantages are mutually took. Taken. Whatever.”
I laughed softly and let him watch his game. It meant little to me; I had no head for sports of any type, but it was nice to just have him here, spending time together without the excuse of a murder or something dire. Just the two of us in our stocking feet.
I slid over on the couch until my head was resting on Santiago’s shoulder. “Oh, Alvin. Won’t you tell me how this noble game of American football is played again?”
He snorted and put his hand over my face. I gave his palm a little kiss and he smooshed it into my nose. “No, not anymore,” he said. “I’ve done it like six times. You refuse to learn.”
“This time could be the time it sticks!” I said, my voice muffled until he pulled his hand back. He pointed at the screen.
“Ball is there. Guys want to take ball over there. Other guys stop them.”
“Oh, it’s so complicated,” I sighed, and he laughed.
“You’re like most of my girlfriends.” I sat up straight again and watched him, smiling at how intensely his eyes were jammed on the screen.
“Well, I didn’t object when you ordered those chicken wings,” I said, nodding to the destroyed pile of bones in the middle of the coffee table. “Samantha was hell to you about your diet.”
“Yeah, she was a bit of a control freak,” he said, and then rubbed his face. “Well, hopefully her needs are being met in prison.”
I reached over and clinked his bottle with mine. Santiago had an amazing ability to attract women who were current or future felons. He was just catnip to the kind of girl who might end up having someone run into her knife four or five times. Oddly, he was also popular with lesbians. “You’ll get a good one someday,” I said. “Misdemeanors only.”
“Yeah. Juvenile offenses at best,” he said, then sighed and melted into the cushions. We were quiet for a while, him watching the game and me watching him. I could have saved him a lot of time and just told him who would win right then, but I’d learned he rather hated it when I did that. He drank his beer and didn’t seem to be too enthused about what was happening on screen.
After a while, he spoke again. “Can I ask you something?”
“Of course,” I said. “Anything.”
He glanced over at me sidelong. “Have you always been… how you are?”
I laughed a little. “You are really going to have to be more specific than that.”
“I mean… before you got your–” He reached out to wiggle his fingers in the general vicinity of my forehead. “–woo-woo, were you basically the same guy?”
“More or less,” I said, then laughed. “Well, a bit more of a prick, actually.”
Santiago snorted. “That’s hard to imagine.”
“Isn’t it, though?” I shook my head. “But… really, with my abilities, it helps me see people for who they really are. See the good parts of everyone. See more than just skin deep. Really sort of expands the whole empathy thing.”
“You saw something in me?”
“Oh, yes,” I said, and realized I’d never told him before. “God, Santiago, most of the reason I showed up that night was because of you. You just…” I spread out my fingers in an explosive fan. “You’re just a light.”
“I am?” he asked. “So, what’s that mean, I’m inherently good? I can’t be evil?”
“Something like that.”
He shook his head. “Well, if you say so.” He tapped the rim of his beer bottle against his lips for a while, an image not without its appeal. “What else can you see when you look at me? You tell what I’m thinking?”
“Not really,” I said. “I mean… if I really tried, I could, but it always seems a bit rude.” I waved my hand a little. “And even then, not really thinking, more like… feeling. Instincts, shapes, things like that.”
He looked to me, his eyes darting up to mine for just a moment. “Have I looked different lately?”
I leaned back a little to squint at him, take every layer of his presence in. He seemed his usual self — light, beautiful, sparking with energy. “You look about the same as always. Something troubling you?”
“Yeah, I just…” He took his feet off the coffee table and put his beer down, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his knees. “I’ve been thinking lately.”
I could’ve followed along the lines, seen where this was going, counted out the possibilities. But I focused in on just him, just his face and what he needed to say. “Yeah?”
“I, uh. I remember what happened,” he said, and looked over with me. “That night I was drugged. It’s all kind of hazy and weird, but I remember what you said.”
Oh, sweet hell, what had I said? My main memories of that night were Santiago’s lips on my skin and trying to calm the resulting massive erection. “Oh?”
“You said you wanted to,” he said, and rubbed the back of his neck, “but you didn’t do anything. That was real good of you. I mean, I know the state I was in, I’d’ve gone for any damn thing.”
“Of course I wouldn’t do anything in a situation like that,” I said. “You weren’t yourself.”
“Yeah, I guess I wasn’t, but, uh…” He rubbed his hand over his stubbly cheeks. “I’ve been thinking since then, and — okay, I’ve been thinking since before then, if I’m gonna be honest, and maybe I, uh…”
No. No, not really? No, he couldn’t. Really? “Yeah?”
“I mean, you know I’ve never done anything with another dude before in my life, and I’ve never even thought about it, but…” He looked up at me dead solid, those pretty dark eyes nice and wide. “You’re my partner, and my best friend, and yeah, maybe I’ve been thinking about kissing you.”
I took in a very slow breath against the racing of my heart. “Now… now, it could be just a lingering effects of what Adam did to you.”
Santiago shook his head. “I was thinking about it before that. Like…” He rubbed his hand over his brow. “Like, longer than I think I want to really get specific about.”
I looked at him, every inch of him honest and exposed, not a hint of outside influence anywhere in what I could see. “You want to kiss me, Santiago?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I think I do.”
I turned my body towards him and smiled, making a space on the sofa for him to come closer. “Well, come here and do it, then.”
He let out a shaking breath and started to scoot over on the sofa, leaning in to me. All the times I’d felt his breath on my skin were nothing compared to this, but he stopped just a few inches from my mouth. “If I decide this is not actually my thing after all, are we gonna be cool?”
“Completely,” I said, and I mostly meant it. Our friendship meant more than anything physical we might enjoy. Hell, I could always get a fuck — a partner, though? Those were hard to come by. “It’s not for you and we just go back to how we were. No change at all. I promise.”
“Right. Okay. Okay,” he said, the last word barely more than a breath as his eyes drifted closed and our lips touched. We kissed like that for a while, soft and barely touching, and then he pulled away. My heart clenched up as I waited, dizzily ignoring all the possibilities of what could happen next.
“Yeah, okay,” he said, and pushed down into me, really kissing me then. I’d had my experiences with men and women of all types, gentle and aggressive, and I was pleased to feel that Santiago was falling into the latter category. Our teeth collided as he lunged into kissing me, early hesitation fading quickly as he went for my mouth with a fantastic hunger. Oh, he had been thinking about this, I could tell.
He backed me a little into the edge of the couch and I grabbed at him to just encourage this. His skin was hot under his shirt where I grabbed at his waist, and with my other hand I brushed my fingertips just underneath his ear, that one little spot…
“Nn, fuck,” he said into my mouth, and I did it again, smiling as he jolted against me.
“Oh, I remembered that,” I said, leaning in to speak into his ear. I kissed where my fingers had been and he groaned against my neck. “Thought about that a lot, the way you felt.”
“Yeah,” he gasped into my shoulder. “Yeah, me too.”
I licked along the line of his jaw, following the trail of light I could feel under his skin, and he rewarded me by grabbing my hair and pushing me harder against his skin. I’d seen it, little flickers of interest in him, but I’d never thought it more than a bit of fleeting curiosity that might dance across any straight man’s mind now and then, to be quickly dismissed and covered with beer. But this close, wrapped up with him, I knew; he’d been thinking about this, the kind of thinking that ended with you in bed with your cock in your hand and a mess on your belly. God, I wanted to see that in reality.
We pawed and kissed at each other like hungry school-aged lovers, twining up on the sofa and threatening to fall off. I discovered that the hollow of his throat was amazingly delicious, and I lapped at it until he grabbed my hair again to force my head back and kiss me hard. My lips were getting bruised and I could feel him hard in his jeans, grinding into my thigh.
“Santiago,” I said, barely getting the words out through the insistence of his mouth. I slid my hand under his shirt and around to spread my fingers out on the tight muscles of his stomach. His breath caught and he drew his mouth away. I pushed my fingers down to brush the edge of his belt. “You want more? You say no, and I won’t do a thing.” I mouthed at his chin, unable to keep from feeling him for more than a few seconds. I would stay true to my word if he decided to back out, but god, it would be hard. “I want to touch you.” I licked along his jaw, my tongue scraping across stubble. “I want to taste you.”
He hesitated for less than a second. “Yeah,” he said, the word barely more than hot breath on my skin. “Don’t stop.”
“Say the word and I will,” I said, but then my mouth was buried against his collarbone and my hand had slid down to feel his cock through his clothing. He whimpered against my temple and I grabbed his shoulder to flip our positions, sending him on his back on the sofa with a mild thud.
“Sorry about that,” I said, and before he could get his bearings I was on top of him, pushing his shirt up beneath his underarms to run my hands all over that fit, lovely torso of his. I bent my head down to bite at one of his dark nipples and he nearly arched entirely off the sofa. Ah, that was another spot. I really enjoyed the way this list was shaping up.
I was no pickpocket of any skill anymore, but I was damn excellent and undoing a man’s belt with just my off hand. Santiago’s hands were twisting up in my hair as I pulled his cock out, gripping it tightly in my fist. I lifted my head to glance down, then up to smile at him. “Oh, just lovely, darling,” I said, and stroked him hard.
“Glad you… glad you think so,” he gasped, and grabbed me again for a kiss. The palm of my hand got slick with precome as I stroked him, and I rubbed my palm around the head of his cock. “Fuck,” he said, and couldn’t manage to kiss me anymore. I bit at his neck and smiled in his skin.
“You want me to suck you, Santiago?” I breathed into his ear.
“Yes,” he said, immediately and with a certainty I’d never heard him have about anything before. I laughed a little and slid down the end of the sofa, crowding myself in the corner between his knees. He was breathing hard as he watched me, and I grinned at him as I licked my hand where he’d made it slick. Oh, I liked his taste. I supposed I’d just have to have more.
I swallowed him deep right away. He was no small fellow; I could feel him nudging the back of my throat as I started to suck him. Damn, did I like that feeling, taking someone in so deep, feeling my mouth stretch to take him. If this was good, god, it would be just fantastic when he fucked me — but I didn’t want to get too ahead of myself just yet.
He clawed at the back of the sofa with one hand as the other worked through my hair, pulling and grabbing but never pushing me down. Of course, I hardly made it necessary, what with my enthusiasm. Interconnectedness with the essential and elemental forces of the world was all well and good, but really, nothing like some good cocksucking to really make you feel at one with the world.
I could have teased him, could’ve taken my time. He could’ve changed his mind when this was over and this could’ve been the last time we did this. But he felt so good, tasted so good; my favorite person in the world was here in front of me for me to take all I wanted, so I couldn’t hold myself back.
“Fuck, Mars, I’m gonna come,” he gasped, fingers curling up against the base of my skull, just nudging against the sensitive parts of the back of my neck enough to make me groan. I appreciated the warning, but I wasn’t pulling back for anything less than a five-alarm fire. He lit up like fireworks when he came, and I swallowed every drop, hot and beautiful and all mine.
I sat up and wiped my mouth off on the back of my arm, watching him as he cooled down, his breathing slowing down, his cock softening against his belly, still wet and shiny from my hard work. His eyes were closed still, so I gave myself a little rub through my trousers, just to take the edge off.
I brushed my fingers over his knee. “You good, Santiago?”
He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly before opening his eyes to look at me. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I’m good.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “You good?”
“Oh, I’m very, very good.”
He glanced down at the bulge in my trousers. “Yeah, but, you good?”
I laughed a little. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” I said, even though my mind was a pornographic explosion of thoughts of what Santiago could do to make me good.
Santiago snorted and shook his head, reaching out to grab me by the belt for purchase to pull himself up sitting. “Okay, even if I were having a straight-dude freakout and wanted to run out that door right now — which I’m not, I’m really, really not — you think my pride would let you score that point on me without me getting my own back?”
I laughed and wrapped my arms around his shoulders, leaning down to nuzzle his lips with mine. “I suppose I wouldn’t know you well at all if I thought that.”
“Yeah,” he said, and kissed me softly. “And you know me better than anyone else.” He tugged on my belt again and started to try to sit up. “C’mon, your couch is too small. Show me your bed.”
I got to my feet, giddy and happy, and when Santiago stood, too, I wrapped around him from behind, curling my hand up under his shirt to rest over his heart. I could feel him beating, more than just his heart — I could feel every inch of him telling the world that this was just where he wanted to be. I kissed the back of his neck.
“Eagles win 24-21,” I purred into his ear, and he glared back at me.
“Man, do you even want to get laid?” I laughed and squeezed him tight before he pulled me off to my bed.