nothing under my skin but light

By Nijiiro Sumi (虹色墨)
illustrated by sevenswells


Victor’s hand shook so hard that he had to try the key card three times before the door would open. Stewart was already there, stretched out on one of the beds. Victor closed the door behind him and leaned his back against it, hands behind his back, just staring.

“Please,” he said. “Tell me you’ve come for me.”

Stewart stretched catlike and rolled onto his side, propping himself up on his elbow to look at Victor. “Why else would I be here?”


He had come out of nowhere.

Michael Phelps, well, he was hardly any surprise, was he? Broke his first world record when he was 15. Youngest male ever to make an Olympic swim team. No one was really shocked by those gold medals.

But Stewart Weir showed up out of nowhere at a community pool one sticky Boston summer in nothing but a black Speedo, without even a towel. All the lanes were full, and rather than ask to circle, he spread himself out in a chair by the side of the pool, eyes closed and his thin, narrow face turned up to the sun. He was very handsome, lean as a whippet, with straight dark hair and gray eyes, and the women couldn’t help their shy little glances.

When someone got out of the pool, he got up immediately. He slid into the water, got his feet up against the wall, and pushed off.

He did 50 meters in 30 seconds without ever coming up for air.

The next year, it was the Pan-Pacific Championship. The year after that, the World Aquatic Championship. And after that, the Olympics. Everyone wondered where he’d come from, where he’d learned to swim. No one was even sure of his real age. Weir smiled well enough for the cameras, but he didn’t talk much. He always seemed to be somewhere far away.

Victor Aiken knew, though. He’d been waiting a long time for Stewart Weir.


“Where does he keep it?” Stewart asked.

“If I knew, do you think I’d still be here?”

Stewart sighed. “It was too much to hope for.” He poked listlessly at the orange strips in the black plastic tray. “This fish is terrible.”

“I brought some canned sardines,” said Victor. “They’re not so bad if they’re canned in oil.”

Stewart wrinkled his nose. “Maybe if I’m desperate. You’re certain he doesn’t keep it in the United States?”

Victor shook his head, lips curled back from his teeth like a dog. “He keeps it with him. He told me so. He said I’d have to pry it from his cold, dead hands.”

“I’m amazed you haven’t murdered him,” Stewart murmured.

They didn’t look unalike, Victor knew. They were both tall and dark-haired and handsome, with long, lean bodies and long, narrow faces. One of their teammates had already wondered if they were long-lost brothers. But to Victor’s eyes, the ocean still clung to Stewart like a skin and made him distant. People assign malicious intent to the ocean, but that isn’t true. The ocean isn’t trying to kill you. The ocean doesn’t even realize you’re there.

“I would have,” said Stewart. “Nothing could keep me from the sea.”


The first time Victor leapt into a swimming pool, he’d gasped underwater and nearly drowned. Radcliffe had nearly had to drag him out. “What’s the matter with you?” he’d yelled, face purplish-red, hands clenched into big meaty hammers by his sides. “Aren’t you supposed to be a fucking swimmer?”

He didn’t go near the pool again for days. Radcliffe hurled insults and invective at him, spittle flying from his mouth and veins bulging in his neck. Once, and only once, he struck him; Victor let himself go limp in the corner and curled into a ball, hiding his head between his knees. “Fucking waste,” Radcliffe muttered. “I shouldn’t have gone through the trouble.” And then he stomped away, bare feet slapping against the patio tiles. The sliding glass door slammed shut, and Victor was left outside, dressed in only a thin bathrobe.

Victor couldn’t explain that the water in the swimming pool was dead. It didn’t move; it smelled like chemicals; it was safe and idle and contained and dragged the very spirit out of him, what hadn’t already been taken with his skin. He lifted his head and stared at the smooth blue-white surface of the water.


“It’s too large for him to just keep with him as it is,” Stewart muttered. “He must have had it made into something.”

Victor stared at him, aghast.

Stewart gave him a pitying look. “You’ve been on land too long.” He stood and stretched, spine cracking in several places; they were surrounded by a pile of plastic cartons, empty but for green scraps of decorative fake grass, pink twists of pickled ginger, and green blobs of wasabi. Stewart knocked them all off the bed with a sweep of one long arm.

“What do you think he had it made into?” Victor asked.

“What’s something he always has with him?”

Humans always had so many things with them. Keys, cell phones, money. All those little pieces of clothing: socks, shirts, trousers. They wore clothing underneath their clothing. Victor shook his head.

Stewart gave him a long, considering look. His eyes were the color of the Atlantic Ocean. “We’ll find it,” he said. “I didn’t spend all these years up here for nothing.”


Robert Radcliffe was made entirely of flushed red skin and a permanent scowl. He kept his hair in a permanent buzzcut, a layer of pale fuzzy down on the top of his square head. He’d been a great swimmer, once; that was why he was coach to the Olympic team, now. He wasn’t as good a swimmer as Victor or Stewart, but then, he was only human.

“Do you think he suspects?” Victor whispered after practice, on the way back to the locker rooms. They were wrapped in their towels, but not shivering. Radcliffe had spent all of practice watching Stewart with narrowed eyes.

“He’d be a fool not to,” said Stewart. “He’ll see that we swim alike.” He stripped off his goggles and swimcap and stuffed them in his locker.

“Be safe,” Victor said in a low voice. “I couldn’t bear it if–”

Stewart bared his teeth at Victor. “Please,” he said, voice dripping with such scorn that Victor’s stomach leapt up and swallowed his heart. He slammed his locker shut and flicked his damp hair back. “We’ll have to attack him.”


“You said he keeps it on his person,” Stewart said. “If we attack him, one of us can hold him down while the other searches him. It’s the fastest way.”

“But–” Victor glanced around, lowered his voice still more, so that Stewart had to bend his head close to hear him. “We can’t just attack him in front of everyone.”

“Of course not,” Stewart scoffed.

“Hey!” Joseph called from across the room. “What’re you two lovebirds whispering about?” The rest of the room snickered.

“But I’m certain you and I can think of a way to get him alone,” Stewart murmured, and dropped his eyelids in such a way that Victor had to swallow hard.


As it turned out, Radcliffe came to them.

“I wonder if I could have a word with Stewart?” he said. He could be mild, when he wanted to be; he was a full head shorter than Victor, although they perhaps weighed the same, now that Radcliffe no longer had to breeze through the water. But there was the hard, corded muscle of the athlete under there; you could see it in the straightness of his shoulders, and the steady, confident way in which he held himself.

“Uh, sure.” Victor held the door open.

“Alone, if you please,” Radcliffe said. When Victor hesitated, he added, “It’s about today’s practice.”

Victor glanced at Stewart, who was on his back in his bed, arms folded behind his head. Stewart shrugged, and Victor left the room, letting the door click behind him. He kept his back against it and strained his ears. He could hear nothing but low voices.

And then, the high, sharp cry of an animal in distress.

Idiot! He should have brought the key card with him! Victor threw himself against the door to little avail; this was a nice hotel, and the doors were solid. Perhaps if he concentrated his force around the doorknob?

The door shuddered with an impact from the other side and the knob turned, just a little, just enough that Victor could force himself through the door just as Radcliffe yanked Stewart away from it. Blood dribbled from Stewart’s mouth, and his eyes were filled with murder. He twisted and snapped at Radcliffe, doglike, as Radcliffe tried to get Stewart into chokehold. Victor slammed the door shut behind him and threw himself into a low tackle at Radcliffe’s legs. Radcliffe went to the floor with a grunt, and Stewart ended up on top of them both.

“Hold him,” Stewart hissed. He pressed his forearm down against Radcliffe’s throat, until the man’s eyes bulged and his breath gagged in his throat. Victor hadn’t known his face could get any more purple.

“What are you doing?” Victor hissed, as Radcliffe’s eyes rolled frantically around in his head.

“Shut up,” Stewart said calmly.

Radcliffe went slack. Victor made to leap to his feet, but Stewart seized him by the wrist.

“He’s not dead,” said Stewart. “Hurry up. We need to find it.”

Stewart started by unbuckling Radcliffe’s belt and pulling it through the loops. He sniffed it, made a face, and tossed it aside. Victor pulled off Radcliffe’s shoes and threw them behind him with heavy thumps. He pulled off Radcliffe’s socks. Stewart undid his shorts and pulled them down. Something tingled at the base of Victor’s spine, but he didn’t know if it was excitement or the nearness of his skin, or both.

Radcliffe had on white briefs, underneath his shorts. Stewart plucked at them disinterestedly. He rucked up Radcliffe’s polo shirt, but of course there was nothing underneath there. “It’s got to be around here somewhere,” he muttered.

Victor picked up Radcliffe’s shorts. His hand glanced against the back pocket, and the tingle shot up his arm, making all the hairs on his body stand on end. He could feel the sea, so close it made his eyes water. He reached into the pocket with shaking hands and pulled out a wallet. It had a splash of gray spots on one side.

“Ah,” he said. “It’s so small.” He clutched it with both hands and took a deep breath.

Stewart grabbed Victor by the wrist, just as he had before to keep Victor from running away. “Not here. We need to get to the ocean.”

Right. He was right. But it was right there, waiting to leap up and fold around him. Victor took a good look at Stewart. The gash on his lip had darkened, and the skin around his eye was swelling. He smelled like sweat and savagery. Victor grasped Stewart’s biceps in his hands and leaned forward to press their mouths together.

Stewart jerked back. “You’re mad,” he said, and laughed. “He’ll wake up any moment now.” He gestured with his chin at Radcliffe, still sprawled senseless on the floor.

“Then you’ll put him out again,” said Victor, already pushing Stewart to the floor, his hands underneath Stewart’s shirt.

“Mmmmm.” Stewart arched his body up against Victor’s. Victor groaned into Stewart’s shoulder and pushed their groins together in one long, sensuous slide. Stewart wrapped his arms around Victor and pressed them closer. He shoved his thigh between Victor’s legs and rolled his hips up. “How long has it been?”

“Too long.” Victor thrust his hips down. His clothes were now a torture, and he forced himself to stop long enough to pull off his pants and boxers. Stewart just pushed his down to his knees. Then they resumed their grinding, gasping at the new feeling, their pubes crushing against sensitive skin.

“So many women,” Stewart rumbled. “You could have had sex with so many human women. They all wanted me.”

Victor groaned. He could see it, women dissatisfied in their marriages, coming to Stewart already wet between their legs, their juices clinging to their pubic hairs. No need to shed seven tears into the sea, when what you wanted was already there. He ground down hard against Stewart’s groin, circling his hips. He could feel Stewart’s fingers digging into his rump, hard enough that there would maybe be bruises. They wouldn’t show up under fur.

“Hurry up,” Stewart growled. “This is taking too fucking long.”

Victor leaned down and bit into the meaty part of Stewart’s shoulder. Stewart hissed and bit him back. Victor’s hips jerked one last time as he came, sliding messily through his own come, smearing it around and over Stewart’s abdomen. Stewart threw his head back and came, too.

They lay on the floor for a minute or so, panting as the sweat on their bodies cooled. Stewart was the first to move, pushing at Victor until he rolled off onto the floor. He sat up and dragged his pants back up and buttoned them. Victor eyed his own pants, which were too far away to reach.

Radcliffe groaned. Victor leapt to his feet and gave the man a savage kick in the ribs. Radcliffe whimpered and curled into a half-ball.

“I should kill you,” Victor growled.

Stewart retrieved Victor’s pants and handed them to him. “Forget about him,” he said. “He’s not important anymore.”

It was true. Victor pulled on his pants–Stewart had forgotten the boxers, but he wouldn’t have to be human for much longer. He reached out one hand and tilted Stewart’s face towards his, and gave him one last, hard kiss on the mouth. Stewart gave him an amused look.

Victor tucked the wallet into his back pocket. Radcliffe could pay for the train ticket to the seaside.

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