by shukyou (主教)
The glass in his hand held a pale imitation of the drug that burned through his system — vodka, straight, the way his father had taught him to drink it, a cold fire in his belly that still couldn’t hold a candle to the flame in his veins. Neither the alcohol nor the heroin was strictly legal, but the former was acquired by flashing a fake ID and the latter by having a talented mouth. His missing left arm ached, but it was a far concern from where he was now, the room where the music and noise pounded loud enough to drown out the throb that thrummed his pulse through his skin.
A hand fell on his shoulder, and the lips that accompanied it formed something close to words; but he wasn’t paying attention, so he nodded, and the hand took his good one, leading him through the undulating crowd to the cramped, dirty bathroom at the club’s back. They pushed past three couples in various states of carnal indulgence, and by the time he was pushed face-first into the graffiti-stained wall (most of which he couldn’t have read even if he had been sober, which by now he emphatically wasn’t), he was ready.
The cock that pushed into his ass was thin and long, and he grunted at its unprepared intrusion, half-slick as it was with a bare minimal application of lube. It was enough to fuck him, though, and fuck him the cock did, hard and fast, with no consideration for his own arousal. He took lazily to his own semi-erection, holding its thick softness in his hand; he would jerk off later, thinking about the fucking, but not during the fucking itself.
Fingers about his shoulder gripped tight, and the cock in his ass shot deep inside of him, liquid and hot, dirtying him. For a moment, a body sandwiched his frame against the wall, then withdrew, trailing come in tendrils down the crack of his ass and the inside of his thighs.
He didn’t turn to see the man who walked away. He didn’t have to; for all he’d once joked they all looked alike, he found that it was actually true when he was this fucked up: dark hair, slant-eyes, olive skin, and a sneer wondering just what the fuck a white boy like him was doing in a place like this.
He hated shooting up with other people around, but sometimes you just needed your fix quick, and nothing was quick when your left arm had been blown off by a grenade in An Loc. He lay there with the rubber tube tied around his good right arm, feeling the pulse thrum in his fingertips, waiting for the needle to hit.
And hit it did, first the prick, then the gap as long as a breath — the anxious fear of oh God oh Jesus oh Mary what happens if it doesn’t help this time? — followed by the rush of warmth that flooded into him. He crashed backward, knowing he was falling into pillows stained with puke and come and piss and all sorts of horrible things, and not giving a shit. He could even feel the fire run out to the arm he didn’t have anymore, the arm that had been the cause of much of this.
His dealer yanked the needle from his vein none too gently, and he could see the blood trickling from the puncture wound in his elbow, but his curiosity was mostly academic. “Man, Drew,” said the dealer, a young punk whose fob accent made his name sound like dloo, “you sure pretty when you fucked up.”
“I’ll give you pretty,” purred Drew, writhing on the pillows in what he hoped was a seductive manner. “C’mere.”
The dealer knelt in front of him with a smirk, unzipping his jeans and pullling out his cock. Drew sat up enough to take it all in, mouthing it gently, letting the tip slide down toward the back of his throat. This part was what got him the discount, and he figured he deserved it — he’d been blowing guys as currency since his freshman year in high school when he’d started sucking off most of the football team to convince them not to shove him in lockers, he’d blown guys in the green for cigarettes and candy bars, and now here he was, eating dick to subsidize his morphine-turned-heroin habit. Five years’ worth of practice was nothing to sneeze at.
This, Drew thought distractedly, stroking his dealer’s balls with warm fingers, was about the lowest your life could get.
He liked Chinatown best when he was high, its signs incomprehensible, its windows full of freaky shit. Hell, it made him feel high even when he wasn’t; when he was, it just augmented the experience.
That was how he was — dazed, carefree, paying no attention to anyone else — when he walked straight into the Chinese man in the business suit.
“Excuse me,” the man said brusquely, trying to push by — except there was something different in his voice, Drew swore, something more than just get off me, you fucking junkie. There was a lingering tone to his words, the words that didn’t rush past Drew, but stayed there, lingering over him, checking him out, sizing up his skinny white ass, his big brown eyes, his short blonde hair. Drew knew by now the way words sounded when the person who said them wanted to fuck you.
Drew’s fingers lingered on the sleeve of the man’s jacket. “What’s the hurry?” He tugged them both in the direction of a nearby alley, one Drew knew from personal experience was cleaner than most. “You want to fuck me? I’ll let you. Won’t even charge.”
That stopped the man in his tracks. The street was empty, so late at night, with no one there to hear or interrupt such a transaction. He looked Drew over now for real, with his eyes instead of his words, and Drew returned the favour; the man looked about forty, slightly stocky, but the grey business suit was the only thing really remarkable about him. Probably some bank teller, Drew figured, or some other job where they make you wear a suit but they don’t make you speak English too good.
After a minute, the man shrugged. “Fine, but I don’t fuck in alleys. Come on.” He turned and strolled off down the street, leaving Drew to toddle along behind in a highly amused daze.
Drew was vaguely aware of the route they took home, but by then, he wasn’t in a place to care about navigation. He’d tried to start something in transit, nothing much, just a handjob, but apparently the man (whose name, he’d leaned from quick introductions, was Bill) didn’t fuck on subways either, so Drew just sat with his knees splayed, showing off his hard-on to anyone who wanted to look. As it turned out, Bill was the only one who did.
He’d already gotten Bill’s tie undone, and was working on his belt by the time Bill managed open the door to his apartment. The high was wearing off, but he was honestly horny again, which wasn’t exactly an equal trade, but it’d do. “So,” he grinned, untucking Bill’s shirt from his pants, “where do you want to fuck?”
Bill reached around and grabbed Drew’s scrawny ass, which Drew supposed was meant to be a joke, and laughed. “Bedroom’s that way.” He took Drew’s hand and led him into the mostly darkened apartment, through a door to another unlit room with a low bed Drew swore was the size of Canada. For Drew, who had been fucking in alleys and dives for the past several months, this was swank.
“You want me to suck you first?” Drew offered, draping his good arm around Bill’s shoulder. They were about the same height, and when Drew pressed their hips close, he could feel Bill’s cock jutting against his through all their layers of clothing.
“I don’t think you need to,” Bill replied in a low whisper, and the blurriness that had been gnawing at the edge of Drew’s consciousness seized the opportunity to rush in and dull everything to a low hum.
He was vaguely aware of helping Bill undress, even more vaguely aware of being undressed himself — he got rolled on his left side at one point, and was immediately overtaken with both the usual surprise of missing the arm he’d spent eighteen years with, and the newer surprise of having his prosthetic gone (and when was the last time he’d let a stranger do that?) — but then he was knees-down on the bed, with his face against a pillow and his ass in the air, and that was the extent of usable knowledge to him for quite some time. He remembered later being surprised when he felt Bill’s cock in him, the sliding-slick of latex, not bare skin, and Drew wondered who the fuck bothered using condoms these days anyway?
But he hated it, too — so smooth it didn’t hurt, only felt good. It wasn’t supposed to be this easy.
Drew felt Bill’s body bend over his, Bill’s slight middle-aged belly pressed against the bony small of Drew’s back, a hand that wasn’t his own stroking his cock to hardness, and son of a bitch if he didn’t come with all the strength and surprise of being hit by a train. He yelped and bucked, slamming his ass against Bill’s groin, pounding his fist into the pillow and shouting things he didn’t think were words as he shot what felt like a week’s worth of spunk all over the sheets. If the building’s other residents had any doubts as to what their suit-wearing neighbour got up to on his spare time, well, they were probably gone by now.
By the time he came back enough to do anything on his own, Bill was lying next to him, petting Drew’s ratty hair. He supposed Bill had gotten off too, but couldn’t really remember, and using a condom meant he didn’t have come in his ass to tell him one way or another. The world felt kind of thin around the edges, and Drew wondered if this was supposed to be the part where he got his underwear and arm thrown at him on his way out the door.
Instead, he felt a warm, damp cloth cleaning the crack of his ass, wiping away the lube that was already starting to get sticky. “You get the wet spot,” Bill announced, as though this were some prize he’d won for being a good lay. Or a bad one, hell, he didn’t know.
“Aw, fuck,” Drew murbled, already well beyond the stage of mounting any protest when it came to sleep.
Drew’s first thought on waking was that he couldn’t be in his own bed, the sheets didn’t smell like shit. His second was that he needed a hit like he’d never needed one before in his life. Third, and only slightly more pressing, was his bladder’s telling him that if he didn’t get up and get to a toilet right away, it couldn’t be held responsible for what followed.
He decided to heed his bladder’s good advice, and staggered in the direction of the sound of water running. His keen observations rewarded him with a bright white bathroom, with Bill standing at the sink, clad only in a fluffy white towel that hung half-off his ass, brushing his teeth with a befuddled sort of expression — but more importantly, with a toilet. That merit badge in Orienteering hadn’t been a total waste after all. He made his best half-awake attempt at aiming and let fly.
“Good morning to you, too,” grunted Bill, spitting into the sink. He rinsed his mouth out with a glass, not his hands, which Drew thought was a totally faggy thing to do. “Shower’s free, if you want, towels in the cabinet. I’ve got a deposition at nine, so I’ll probably be gone by the time you’re done, but you can let yourself out; the front door will lock itself.”
Drew’s brain had barely made the shift to first gear, and so the only part of Bill’s words that penetrated the haze around his brain was the sound of the words themselves. “…You, uh — you don’t sound like a fob.”
“That’d be because I’m not.” Bill reached for a comb at the side of the sink and began raking his thick, damp black hair into place. He was actually really handsome, Drew could see in the bright morning light — not movie-star gorgeous, but good-looking just the same, with full lips and deep eyes. His body had a softness to it, particularly around his stomach, but that definitely didn’t make him any less nice to look at. “My family hasn’t been fresh off a boat since the mid-1800s. Odds are by this point I’m more American than you are.”
“No shit,” Drew said, because he couldn’t think of a better response. He flushed the toilet because it was polite, then decided to go after a towel and take a shower. Considering last night’s activities, he probably needed one. “So, uh, what do you do?”
Bill shook up a can of shaving cream and began to lather his cheeks and neck. “I’m an attorney.”
“What, like a lawyer?”
“Exactly like a lawyer.” He plucked a safety razor from a drawer beneath the sink, removed the cap, and began cutting swaths through the snowy foam on his face with great precision. “William J. Ma, Attorney at Law. Which rhymes and sounds really stupid, so I try not to say it that often.”
Drew knew he should go on and get in the shower, but something about the routine was captivating. “…You know, I didn’t think Chinese guys had to shave.”
That brought the razor to a halt in its path, and Bill looked at him through the mirror’s reflection, one eyebrow perched distinctly higher than the other. “No,” he deadpanned after a moment’s consideration, “we’re all as hairless as women. There’s no blade in here, and I’m just doing this all just to confuse you.”
“Huh.” Tossing the towel over a hook, Drew swung open the pebbled-glass door to a shower that was about the size of his kitchen. “…Wait, you’re making fun of me.”
“Now why would I do that?” Tapping the razor off against the side of the sink, Bill brought the edge of the towel up to brush the remnants of the foam from his jaw and neck. “Enjoy your shower, Drew, and it was very nice meeting you. Oh, and if you’re going to steal anything after I’m gone, take it from the china cabinet in the living room; it was all my grandmother’s and I hate every last tacky piece of dreck in there.”
“Uh, thanks,” Drew grunted back, stepping under the shower head and turning on the spray just as hot as he could stand. It burned and felt good all at once, but his veins told him he couldn’t stick around an enjoy it — he’d been stupid last night, and he’d be even stupider if he didn’t get home for another fix before he really started crashing. When he got home, he could shoot up in peace, everything would be okay, and he wouldn’t have to worry about any of this real life shit any more.
When Bill opened the door a week later, Drew was wearing what he hoped to be his sincerest face. Bill squinted at him for a moment, eyes widening with recognition after a few seconds’ scrutiny. “Can I help you?”
Drew scuffed his shoes against the floor; the pride he’d thought gone had resurfaced at just the wrong moment, making this all the more difficult. “…Got kicked out.”
Bill frowned a little. “Of your house?”
“Apartment.” Drew shrugged the knapsack against his back, and could sense Bill’s gaze going to the two army-issue duffels at his feet. He’d managed to haul them one-handed all the way across town and up three flights of stairs, but wasn’t sure he could make it much farther. “Crazy chink landlady, said I hadn’t paid her, I told her my check wasn’t here yet, it’d come next week, but she threw me out anyway.”
“Uh-huh.” Now Bill was leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed, expression clearly wondering why this was his problem. Beyond him, Drew could see the edges of a nice apartment, one he had been too fucked-up to appreciate the first go ’round.
Drew shrugged, prodding at the duffel with his toe. “…So I can stay here for a while?”
It was a good sign, Drew figured, when Bill didn’t laugh outright, and a better one when, after a long moment, he reached down to take one of Drew’s bags in hand. “Come on in.”
Not willing to tempt his fortune, Drew hitched up the other bag and followed, setting his things down in the apartment’s foyer as Bill latched the deadbolts behind him. It was a very nice apartment, in fact, with lots of things in it Drew was certain were expensive. Everything was black, white, and steel, the kind of minimalism made possible only with money to burn. Well, even if this didn’t work out in the long term, he’d make sure to hit up that china cabinet before he went.
“I’m not going to let you stay here just to fuck you,” Bill said, though Drew heard the word just and figured that at least a little fucking was in order, which was more than all right with him. “My last housekeeper got deported, and I haven’t gotten a new one, so you’re it.”
It was Drew’s turn to blink in confusion. “Wait, you want me to be your fucking maid?”
Bill wandered back to one of the living room’s two recliners, picking up the newspaper that lay across the ottoman and unfolding it across his lap as he returned to where he’d obviously been before the doorbell rang. “Windows, vacuum, bathrooms, kitchen, you’ll figure it out.” He flipped to the business section and appeared to contemplate the stock listings. “Oh, and laundry. There’s just something nice about white people doing my laundry. Feels right.”
“Whatever.” Drew shook his head, already on his way to dump his few worldly possessions into the bedroom.
The lacquered sticks slid from Drew’s hand, and he cursed loudly, plucking them off the floor yet again. “Don’t you have real silverware in this place?”
“I do,” said Bill, making no move to indicate where he might keep such things, choosing instead to continue chopping at some foul vegetable Drew was pretty sure was in his contract that he didn’t have to eat — except that he hadn’t cleaned anything all morning, then spent the afternoon trying to pretend he had, somewhere in there forgetting lunch entirely, so that by now, even the weird thing Bill was making smelled pretty good. He’d figured himself a pretty sorry maid while he was elbow-deep in unfolded bedsheets, except Bill had actually regarded the place with an approving nod on his return from work that day, and that had to count for something.
There was food in front of him now, though — a little green salad in a bowl, with some weird brown dressing — but try as he might, Drew could not make the chopsticks work. He tried again, with a little more enthusiasm, but the extra force only served to send both sticks and tomato flying across the small kitchen, landing inches from Bill’s expensive shoes. With a polite sigh, Bill picked up the carnage, gave the sticks a quick rinse under hot water, and returned them to the linoleum-topped bar where Drew sat, staring longingly at his salad. “What’s that?” Bill gestured to Drew’s neck.
“What, these?” Drew lifted the dog tags from his chest with his thumb. “My tags. If I die in a combat zone, and so on. Name, number, type O, Roman Catholic.”
Bill lifted the thin metal plates, running his thumb over the stamped letters and frowning. “…That’s your name?”
Drew threw him a sour expression and yanked the tags away, recommitting himself to figuring out how to eat his salad. “Andrzej Szczepanski,” he sighed as Bill turned back to the pot whose boiling over had suddenly demanded his attention. “Parents moved here while mom was pregnant with me, so they didn’t quite know you’re not supposed to give your American-born kid a polak name.”
“Well, at least you don’t discriminate,” Bill shrugged, turning the burner down to its lowest setting.
In a moment of inspiration, Drew took a single stick and used it to spear a slice of tomato — success! He was so gratified by his new discovery that he proceeded after a few pieces of lettuce, then delivered the entire mess, kebab-style, into his mouth. Bill cast him a bemused glance over his shoulder. “That’s not how you do it.”
“Shut up,” Drew retorted, though with his mouth full the true weight of the command fell somewhat short.
Another pot started to boil, and Bill measured out dry noodles to set in the water as Drew stabbed another rack of greens. “It just seems to me you could get away with a lot fewer z’s than that and still have it come out the same.”
“Yeah, well.” His technique was not entirely without flaws, as evidenced when a cucumber slice broke free of its skewer and landed in his lap. Well, Drew thought as he went for a napkin, now he knew who’d be cleaning that up. “Just because you guys can’t pronounce anything that isn’t ching-chong ping-pong ding-dong….”
“That’s a dangerous line of conversation to take with the man who’s preparing your dinner.”
Another stack of lettuce met its speared demise, though Drew was starting to run low on big pieces, and wondered how he was supposed to deal with the shreds of carrots left to him. “Yeah, what’re you putting in there anyway? Dog? Cat? Rat?”
“Cilantro, you racist little fuck.” Bill, as always, appeared entirely nonplussed by things Drew knew from experience would have gotten him kicked out of most chink food restaurants. Already in the day and a half he’d been here, Drew had tried his worst (he didn’t want to get thrown out, of course, especially now that he had nowhere else to go, but so often his mouth seemed to have an agenda of its own, and that agenda was getting his face pounded in), but Bill had seemed completely unmoved every time. It was just plain unnatural.
Grouchy at once more failing to have gotten a rise out of the man, Drew settled down to concentrate on the chopsticks, trying to remember what Bill had told him. One on the bottom, the other one like you’re holding a pencil, grab near the back, and pinch–
The sticks clanked together, sending the desired piece of carrot tumbling back to the bottom of the bowl. Drew grunted in disgust. “I’m never gonna get this.”
Bill, tending to something on the stove, didn’t even turn to look. “Try using your real hand.”
The chopsticks whizzed past Bill’s ear nearly hard enough to embed them in the far wall, but Bill just shook his head and went to wash them again.
Bill kept a busy schedule; he was gone early each morning, and came back each night at about the time Drew started getting hungry and wondering what the hell he was expected to do for food if left to his own devices — though it never came to that, not with Bill, his love of culinary arts, and his small army of cookbooks.
(He’d told Drew to look through them and plan out a week’s worth or so of meals he thought he’d like. For Drew, who’d spent a non-insubstantial portion of his life eating army food, it was like Christmas. The next afternoon the doorbell rang, and Drew, having been given no instructions not to answer it, answered it. His curiosity was rewarded by a ratty-looking guy with a cardboard box of groceries under his arm. The food, Drew was told when he asked, had been charged to Mr. Ma’s account — but a tip hadn’t. Having recently spent the last of his money on a fair bit of stash, Drew apologised and said he had no cash on him, but offered a blowjob. Nah, said the delivery guy, who seemed a friendly sort; he’d pass, but the thought was appreciated.)
Even what should have been their first weekend together was nearly pre-empted by Bill’s practice — something about elderly clients and deathbeds, Drew gauged from the half-heard telephone half-conversation that had (to mutual disappointment) pulled Bill off him at an unpleasant hour of a Saturday morning. He’d likely be gone all day, Bill said, fastening his tie while Drew sat, grumpy and naked, atop the unmade bed; there were leftovers in the fridge if ‘all day’ managed to run past dinnertime.
So prepared he had been for having the day to himself that he’d carried on his morning routine in a somewhat belated fashion, and as such had bothered with neither clothes nor his prosthetic by the time the front door’s clicking open startled him from his nap at half past one. He’d barely managed his eyes open from where he lay sprawled on on Bill’s favourite armchair before Bill’s mouth was on his cock, sucking him deep and utterly without preamble. Ah, thought Drew, sinking into the sensation as he lay in a small puddle of sunshine, this was the life.
Contentment was rudely pre-empted, however, as Bill’s mouth suddenly withdrew. “What the fuck is this?”
Drew’s head was cotton-foggy, half from sleep and half from the heroin, and at first he didn’t entirely register that these had been words. “…What?”
“What the fuck is this?” Bill’s voice repeated, growing increasingly agitated.
“What?” It was like some sort of bad joke.
“Are these needle tracks?”
“Here! On the inside of your thigh!”
Drew’s entire vocabulary had been reduced to a single word of incomprehension: “What?”
“Are these needle tracks on the inside of your thigh?”
“Do not tell me I have been fucking a junkie.”
“Are you high right now?”
“Are you shooting up in my house?”
Drew blinked down at the angry man kneeling between his thighs, and his brain finally began putting together several crucial elements, like how maybe Bill had never before seen him naked in full daylight, and how he’d maybe never mentioned his little addiction, and how when the only people who’re fucking you are either junkies themselves or never really look at you (or both) you sort of stop caring about not leaving the deep purple lines on what had seemed at the time the most sensible vein for a guy minus his entire left arm. “….Why did you stop?” he groaned, miserable.
Bill’s response was a snort, though the corner of his mouth lifted despite his gruffness. “That’s it. You’re going to see my analyst.” He pulled himself to his feet and walked over to the briefcase on the couch, taking out his address book and thumbing through the tabs. “Plus you’re not even hard, and that’s rough on a guy’s ego.”
“Am so–” Drew looked down, ready to mount a protest, when he saw his cock curled sadly in its nest of hair, spit-slicked but otherwise uninvolved in the process. “…Oh.”
Bill shook his head, cradling the receiver against the crook of his shoulder and spinning the old-fashioned dial. “Maybe she can even see you today.”
This was all happening entirely too fast for Drew’s liking, and he had the sneaking suspicion that when this fire in his blood went out, there would never be another to replace it; that alone was enough to rouse him from his stupor with a flash of panic. “Wait, fuck, I’m not going to see a shrink–”
“Too late.” Bill drummed his fingers against the planner. “Ah, yes, this is William Ma for Dr. Bennett? …Yes, I’ll hold.”
“Fuck that, I’m not going to–”
“It’s called withdrawal. I don’t have to be a junkie to know that you’ll– No, a friend, but the sooner the better nonetheless.” More than a little put out by this recent turn of events, Drew opened his mouth to protest, but Bill silenced him with an icy glare Drew was certain made him real popular in court. “That’s great. See you in an hour.”
Drew shot Bill the meanest glare he could manage, though judging by Bill’s bemused reaction, the expression had as much bite as the indignation of a really cute puppy. “Didn’t you have something better to do today? A client sick or something?”
“She died.” Bill shrugged.
“…Oh,” was all Drew could think to say. Faced with the crushing weight of the inevitable, he stumbled into the bedroom to try and remember where he’d left his arm.
“I swear,” Bill clucked his tongue, wandering in with a tray on which balanced an obscenely large bowl of oatmeal. “You’re the stray cat who followed me home, threw up on my carpet, and ran me a thousand dollars’ worth of vet bills.”
“I really fucking hate you,” Drew muttered. “You’re loud and your oatmeal smells like shit.”
Once, Bill had bothered to look offended when Drew, in the most shit-awful stages of doctor-managed opiate withdrawal, had insulted his cooking; by now, he didn’t even budge. “I put apples in it this time.” Someone had apparently put it into Bill’s head that the best thing for a man coming off heroin was to fill him to the brim with Quaker Oats. At the beginning, the associated nausea had given an all-mush, all-the-time diet a certain charm, but by now, Drew had grown a dread of mealtimes. “And cinnamon.”
Cinnamon changed his entire outlook on breakfast. Drew hauled himself up into a better sitting position, king-like on his throne of pillows, and eyed the tray across his lap. A silver spoon lay across a folded napkin; at least, he thought, Bill had better things to do than give him chopsticks just to fuck with him while he was like this. The brown swirl across the top was to Drew’s estimation ungraciously thin, and he frowned. “Stingy cinnamon. What’d you do, steal little packets from the deli?”
“Pain brings out the subtle racist bastard in you, I like that.” Bill rolled his eyes and patted Drew’s knee. “You sound like you’re doing better today.”
Drew shrugged. It was hard to tell sometimes, from one day to another, when everything just plain hurt, what ‘better’ even felt like. It reminded him of the time he’d had the flu when he was eight so bad his mother’d had to take him to the hospital, only a thousand times worse, and with a limb that wasn’t there anymore but made its absense known all the same. Bill was partly right, however; he’d been growing increasingly more lucid and able to interact with the world around him in a way that didn’t involve vomiting or twitching. He stabbed at the bowl of oatmeal with the spoon, grimacing when it made an unhappy little squish.
As he ate, Bill rubbed his back in a way that should have been irritating, but was actually quite comforting. “You know, I was thinking. The night we met, you were pretty fucked up, weren’t you?”
Drew almost snorted oatmeal through his nose. “Um, yeah,” he admitted.
“Well, that’s my fault for being unobservant.” He settled closer behind Drew, resting his head against the back of Drew’s neck and drawing his arms around Drew’s waist. It was a very uncharacteristic gesture for the otherwise straightlaced lawyer, yet instead of being put off by its strangeness, Drew found himself leaning into the contact. He’d been fucked and injected and prodded by doctors quite a great deal in recent memory, but couldn’t remember clearly the last time he’d just been held, absent any other obligations. “But the next morning, you weren’t much better.”
“Nah, I was hurting pretty bad.”
Bill hummed thoughtfully, petting Drew’s stomach. “So … how did you get back here?”
“In ‘Nam, I was the guy with the map. If I hadn’t been good at finding my way around new places while seriously fucked up, we’d never have made it out of the jungle.” Drew poked at his oatmeal some more, gratified to find a greater trove of cinnamon that had chosen to conceal itself initially by congregating at the bottom of the bowl. “…Plus, I stole your phone bill.”
“I was wondering where that had gone, you little thief.” Bill punched Drew lightly on the thigh, and Drew laughed. It felt good to get one on Bill once in a while — and while he’d managed his way back to the neighbourhood completely independent of outside reminders, the address on the envelope had come in handy when all the apartment doors had suddenly looked alike.
Of course, he couldn’t explain why he’d felt that urge that morning, standing in the empty apartment — why, with a thousand expensive things to lift, many of which would have gotten him out of dire financial straits for at least another month, the only ill-begotten thing with which he’d absconded had been an envelope with an address on it. Even at the time, the reason had seemed unclear enough that he hadn’t dwelt on it for long. Maybe it’d been sheer perversity. Maybe he’d wanted to make sure if he forgot something, he’d know where to get it. Maybe he’d wanted a souvenir, a memento of the strangest trick he’d ever turned.
Or maybe he’d just known he’d be back.
“…You know,” Bill mused, hand rubbing the place it had hit just a moment ago, a gesture that more than made up for the gentle reprimand, “you don’t talk about the war.”
“No,” said Drew, taking another bite of oatmeal, “I don’t.”
The problem with doing heroin, Drew had to say — the problem that beat out all others — was that it was the best thing in the world for not making you give a shit about anything apart from doing heroin. The sneaky thing about the problem was that you didn’t notice it was a problem until you stopped doing heroin. He’d been given a bill of health as clean as could be expected from Bill’s dyke analyst, and had given it two more days to be sure, but the return of the nightmares was definitely not a mere withdrawal symptom.
He almost went to the dealer’s again, almost, his feet had nearly done it for him, they could find the place in his sleep. But he thought of Bill, and that made him angry and sick at once — angry enough to avoid the dealer’s neighbourhood, but sick enough not to be able to go back to the apartment.
He thought of Bill, sound asleep in his ridiculously large bed, having moved back in from sleeping on the couch only a week ago, when the worst had passed and Drew wasn’t in a constant state of restless motion; Bill, who slept soundly enough after an orgasm that with any luck, he’d never know Drew was gone; Bill, who’d fucked him (scratch that, made love to him, how weird was that?) just a few hours previous and now had no idea that Drew was out cruising the streets, looking for more.
His beat-up army boots (a bitch to lace one-handed if ever God’d made one) padded down sidewalks carrying him to the less reputable night stops, the below-ground doors, the dingy back rooms, the otherwise normal-looking establishments with the blacked-out windows. Fags everywhere had the same camouflage.
Everything was too real now — nerve endings, street smells, nightmares. The heroin had cut it all, a liquid flak jacket that let the shrapnel bounce harmlessly off. Without it, everything got through, everything wounded. Everything seemed like it had once during war, the hyper-real rush of knowing your life never stopped being in danger. He watched the street for trip wires, sure that there’d be one lying in wait to take his other arm as a trophy. Seemed like something those shit-smart gooks would do.
Gooks. Now there was a word he hadn’t thought in a while.
A clutch of three young men passed him on the mostly empty street, all slant-eyed, all looking at him with suspicion, sizing him up with hungry looks, working through that classic male fight-or-fuck threat response. He stuck his hands in his pockets and shrugged, trying to look nonchalant, making the decision for them. “Want some?”
They chattered among themselves in a language he couldn’t understand, words he couldn’t hope to place. Drew wondered if they were Chinese, Japanese, Korean, what. They couldn’t be Vietnamese, though; maybe he couldn’t tell the difference, but he knew that much about the world. He felt the bottom of his stomach clench up, then drop out; he’d never had three before, he was biting off more than he could chew, he should just walk away.
“Want to fuck?” He puffed up his chest, trying to sound larger than he actually was. “All three. No charge.”
The big guy at the lead grinned, showing eager white teeth. “Okay,” he said, with a tone of voice that sang your funeral. Drew gestured them into a gap between a pair of buildings, letting them follow him to where he knew he’d find a handy service staircase, which was even kept moderately clean most of the time, if you cared about things like that, if you cared about anything at all. He leaned back on the concrete steps, spreading his knees and letting them size him up. As the guy with the grin stepped forward, undoing his belt, Drew closed his eyes and let them come.
Everything got left in the living room — boots, pants, shirt, even his arm. If Bill asked, Drew’d say he’d had a late-night craving for Twinkies; if Bill cared, he could blow Drew again to prove he was clean. Wishing he’d been smart enough not to draw it closed behind him in the first place, Drew pushed the bedroom door open and snuck across the soft-carpeted floor, frantic guilt keeping him from classifying the odd smell that had crept into the room.
He’d almost made it to the bathroom when he heard a soft, polite ahem, and no, that was not the throat-clearing noise of a sleeping man.
“Go back to sleep,” Drew said, though he knew it sounded like utter bullshit saying that to a man who was fully awake — and, Drew could see as his eyes adjusted to the dark, not lying in bed, but sitting in a chair by the window. “Why are you up?”
“Why are you?” Bill asked in kind, and Drew’s brain finally caught up with his nostrils. He’d never been a smoker, thought it was a nasty habit (pot, kettle, he knew), but here he breathed in deeply and took in the tobacco fumes that were the only things crossing the distance between they two. Funny, he hadn’t known Bill to smoke.
Drew shrugged, scratching the back of his head with his hand. “…Couldn’t sleep. Quick walk.”
The red coal at the end of the cigarette flared to life as Bill took a deep drag. “For four hours?” Smoke rolled from his lips as he spoke, wispy grey against the pale city light through the open curtains.
Oh, shit, had he been awake the whole time? “Yeah,” Drew shrugged, feigning casualness in a desperate attempt to override the shame that roiled at his stomach. He had to make it to the bathroom, to the shower; he was sure Bill could smell it on him, in him. “I, uh, walked around. That’s all.”
They waited there for a moment, poised at odds. Drew would have given his other arm to know what Bill was thinking, had to bite his tongue to keep from blurting out it was just a dirty gangbang in an alley, I’m not back on heroin, as though that might somehow make it all better. But it had been the drug that had consigned the memories to amnesia; the sex was mere expiation for his sins, Hail Marys for the kind you couldn’t confess to a priest.
Finally, Bill stubbed out his cigarette in an ashtray Drew’d never seen there before. “It’s your life,” he said with a casual dismissiveness so sharp that Drew wanted to fall to his knees there and beg him to care, yell, scold, tell him he’d been bad, say something, say anything. But Bill only shrugged as he stood, drawing a faded blue bathrobe around his shoulders, waddling the ungraceful step of a middle-aged man long deprived of sleep back to the bed. “But whatever you’ve got locked up in there is going to eat you alive.”
Drew took the opportunity to escape, darting behind the bathroom door and right into the shower, turning on both taps as far as he could stand. The ice-cold spray hit him first, and he stood through it, teeth bared, until the hot water crept in to join it. He wore out a bar of soap awkwardly scouring himself clean, nearly howling in pain the first time he brought its lather down the crack of his ass (those boys had been none too gentle, had they, and he hadn’t wanted them to be, hadn’t he?), falling to his knees on the tile to keep from passing out. And if he did, down there he’d have shorter to fall.
Somewhere in the process he became aware of a crying noise, so distant he at first thought it might have been Bill — except it was Drew himself, his racking sobs that could not entirely be subsumed by the shower’s force. He tucked in on himself, letting the spray strike his exposed skin, letting it run down his body toward the drain, and wailed wordlessly all the guilt and grief that had clogged inside him like dried blood.
He must have fallen asleep there on the floor, because when he woke up, the Thursday morning sun was smiling in through the windows, the shower above him had been turned off, and Bill Ma, Attorney at Law, was gone.
Drew thought of him as The Kid, when really, he knew he was just a kid, and The Kid was maybe two, at the most three years younger. There was something wrong with The Kid, they all knew, because these villages never had anyone but women, the young, and the old in them, yet here he was, a teenaged boy who hadn’t run off to join up with Charlie. The Sergeant said the kid was probably a retard, look at the way he never speaks, look at the way he follows his mama-san’s skirts like he’s too shit-for-brains to find his own way around, and they’d all had a good laugh about that one.
They said all gooks looked alike, but that wasn’t true, not of The Kid. While Drew’s company stationed themselves that long week in the village, Drew got a good long look at The Kid. His eyes were dark black, but rimmed around the iris with a sort of blue halo, curtained by long eyelashes. Most of the time he found himself staring at The Kid, only to notice The Kid staring back at him, and he didn’t know how much of it The Kid understood, but it was unnerving. The Kid never smiled, and he never spoke, just gave them all that thousand-yard stare. Almost instantly, The Kid became sort of the unofficial company mascot (and if the company mascot was a retard, well, that was a piece of irony he wouldn’t get until he thought about it months later while sailing through the ether in a San Francisco hospital, now, was it?).
Then came the day the bombs went off, grenades that killed the Sergeant and two other men, until everyone was mad and screaming, and someone (Drew didn’t know who) got it in his head that The Kid had told Charlie where they were, The Kid had been the spy there all along. Ratting them out. Setting them up.
To even the marginally sane mind, this would have sounded a lame conspiracy theory at best, but sanity had been checked at the door here, even without body parts of friends strewn about the ground and fire still crawling across the thatched roofs of the houses and the gas-stink of napalm that settled in the back of your mouth. When Drew stepped into one of the few remaining houses, wondering what the noise was, he saw one of his buddies balls-deep in The Kid’s ass.
Hey, Szczepanski, called the man, a Brooklyn-born Italian who knew how to say polak names. Wanna go home and tell your girlfriend you fucked a spy for freedom?
The Kid didn’t look up, or down, or at anything but the wall; he was bent over a table — suspended, really, as his ass hung in the air and his feet didn’t quite touch the ground. His mouth was slightly open, and the tip of his dust-pink tongue showed from betwen parted and cracked lips. Judging by the stances of the three GIs around him, the Italian wasn’t the first one to have his turn. Despite himself, despite his best intentions, Drew felt himself getting hard. Military cocks around him softening beneath army fatigues, his blood already running panic-hard in his veins, the skinny curve of The Kid’s ass, the grunts the Italian (what was his name? shit) made as he rammed into him again and again, the laughing little choke that told the room he’d come, the long wet strings of white come that trailed from hole to cock as he pulled out.
And that made it Drew’s turn, and he’d never been so hard in his life, so hard he could barely cross the three steps between him and The Kid, so hard he couldn’t stop his dick from practically jumping out of his pants the second he undid his fly. That earned him some laughs, but by then he didn’t care. By then, conscious, rational thought had taken a backseat to blind need. In that moment he was glad The Kid didn’t speak at all, much less speak English, so he couldn’t say no, please, don’t — because Drew didn’t think he could’ve stopped even if The Kid had. He leaned forward, braced himself against the table with the left arm he’d still have for another day and a half, and reached for his cock with the right.
The only thing Drew remembered thinking before he began was, boy, what a shitty way to lose your virginity, here on a dirty table under a smoldering roof right smack dab in the middle of Hell.
Then he was in, and the guys were laughing and whooping, and The Kid beneath him was still (like fucking a corpse, though he couldn’t remember if he’d thought that at the time or written it in later), but to a kid with no basis for comparison, it was the best thing in the world. He leaned forward, bracing himself, leaning across The Kid as he barebacked him, fucking and grunting hard as he could. He supposed he was making some downright stupid sounds, judging by the way the other soldiers laughed at him, but they could have been on Mars for all he gave a fuck about them now. It was The Kid he was thinking about, The Kid with the weird eyes and the pretty face, who was probably not a spy at all but just the slowest gazelle this pack of hyenas could sink their teeth into, the nearest target for a bunch of fucked-up men who needed to hit something and didn’t care what.
Drew tried to make an exception of himself, but it wasn’t true, not in the slightest. Those were his guys out there, their arms and legs and guts in the muddy red dirt, and he was in the left testicle of the world, fighitng a war because the fucking yellow monkeys in their fucking fever jungle didn’t know enough to stop living in swamps, much less to tell Uncle Ho and his Commie Circus Bullshit to go fuck themselves. He could be home right now, eating his mom’s kielbasa, finishing up his last year of high school, banging the prom queen (no, he’d been honest with himself even by then, it was the prom king he’d rather have screwing his brains out in the back of his dad’s old Chevy), except for some backward country he doubted he could find on a map where every slant-eyed pajama-wearing gook they met wanted to see him dead. And that wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t right, and Drew was going to stuff his cock up The Kid’s ass so far he’d feel it hit his tonsils once for every day he’d spent rotting away in this tropical hellhole, see how those little double-disc eyes looked when they were–
They weren’t moving. In fact, they hadn’t been moving for a while now, and Drew pulled back enough to see the wet puddle of red that had formed beneath The Kid’s head, dripping down onto the floor, spreading so far down along his bare body that it’d managed to put a nice dark stain on the thighs of Drew’s pants; its source was a second mouth across that slender neck, the only smile he’d ever seen The Kid wear. The Italian, Drew thought with a sick jolt, when he had pulled out and that’s why they were laughing and The Kid had died without a sound and oh God oh Jesus oh Mary Mother of–
There were some processes that couldn’t be stopped once they’d been started, and Drew came at the mercy of one of them, shooting his load into The Kid, The Dead Kid, with the kind of single-minded determination only a virgin could summon. He pulled out a half second later, face writ with disgust and anger, but the damage had already been done, done on so many levels. He staggered out of the hut, intending to throw up, but ended up dry-heaving, so the only fluid that ended up on the ground was the leftover come dripping from his dick. The other GIs walked out, still laughing and clapping each other (and him) on the back, already talking shit about what kind of shit they were going to pull next.
Shit for shit, that sounded about right. That was what it all was.
He’d think of this later, as the chopper lifted him out above the burning canopy, as the field medic put her fingers to his pulse every two minutes to make sure his condition hadn’t slipped from ‘critical’ to ‘toe-tag’ (apparently guys who’d had limbs blown off tended to scream their fool heads off, not lie stone-quiet, who knew?), and regret most of all that the grenade hadn’t taken the rest of him along with it, left him in a million pieces to be bagged up and shipped home, just like the rhyme promised all good soldier boys.
“…So, yeah.” Even Drew’s whisper sounded like thunder in the pitch-dark room. He lay on his back, staring sightlessly at the ceiling. “Now you know.”
Bill sat against the window, another cigarette burning its way through the night in his hand. “I guess I do.” There followed a long pause, and when Drew did not respond, Bill spoke up, “So what exactly do I know? What are you trying to tell me?”
Drew squeezed his eyes shut; he wasn’t sure what he’d expected — not poor baby, not there there, not from Bill — but the semi-hostile indifference left him at sea. “…Fuck it, never mind.”
“I just want to know what you want.” Bill took another drag from his cigarette, let it out in a heavy exhale. “Do you want me to forgive you? I can’t. I’m not the man you hurt. And I’m pretty fucking sick of your cracks about how we all look alike, so don’t even start there.”
“I don’t know, okay!” Tears began to sting at the corners of his eyes. “I … fuck, fine, I’ll go.”
“No, you won’t. I’m trying to say something to you here.”
“Fuck! Just say it, and quit with your crypto-psycho-analyst bullshit! Christ, you sound like Crazy Judy.” Bill’s analyst insisted on being called by her first name, which Drew thought incredibly weird.
“Shut up.” Despite his reprimand, Bill’s tone was not unkind. He stubbed out the cigarette among its cold fellows, then immediately went about the process of lighting another from the pack. “I think I’ve got a picture now, is all. But I can’t fuck you in the ass and make it go away, Drew. I’m an attorney, not Jesus.”
Drew now soundly regretted having said anything at all to Bill. “Never said you were,” he muttered, sitting up in the bed. He could pack in the dark, could get on the road. He could hitch east, be out of California in a day. Maybe the trick was to keep running.
“…I want to know what you want. That’s what I’m saying.” Bill’s voice cut through his escape plans. “If it’s something I can give, that’s fine. If it’s not, then maybe we ought to talk about a good way for you to go after all. I don’t really like it, but I kind of love your skinny racist ass, and I’m not going to put up with being the knife you cut yourself with. Or the needle you stick in your crotch.”
He felt as though he should have some sort of clever response, some retort to put all this bullshit at arm’s length, but Drew had been caught defenseless and open, and the damage had already been done. He sat there on the bed, naked and helpless, just staring at what there was to see of Bill in the dark.
“I can’t fix you,” Bill continued. “I can’t make it not have happened. Your arm’s not going to grow back. You’re not going to stop being a junkie, or at least that’s what Judy keeps telling me. You’re not going to stop being a rapist, either, or a murderer, or anything else that heap of shit you got tossed into turned you into. It’s not going to get better.You’re not ever going to be okay, and you probably shouldn’t be. So what I want to know is if you can get up every morning, know all of that about yourself, and get over and get on with it. And what I want to know is what you want.
“What do you want, Drew?”
No one had ever really asked him that before. In fact, he realised there in the dark bedroom, no one had really given a shit about what he thought about anything before.
Nobody but Bill.
“…I don’t know.”
“You need to.”
“I don’t know! I want it to stop! I just … want it to stop.”
Bill shrugged. “Then I can’t help you.”
“I don’t know! …I don’t want anything.” There, it was a lie, but one that sounded like an answer, which made it better than the others.
“Yes, you do.”
“I don’t!” Drew slammed his palm down against the bed, which felt good in an two-year-old-having-a-tantrum sort of way. “Leave me alone! I don’t, and I tried, and I don’t know!”
Bill’s voice was calm and soft, never moving even as Drew’s rose to a fevered pitch, the last steady place in an earthquake. “Drew….”
“What if I can’t?” And there it was, his mouth having spoken the terror he didn’t even know had wound its way into his heart. “What if the guy in the mirror never stops being anything he is right now?”
“What if he doesn’t? Can you keep looking? Can you find something to keep going for?”
“…What if I can’t?”
“Then you’re going to break my fucking heart,” Bill said, cold and plain. “And if you are, I want to know. …That’s all.”
“…I want to stay with you.” It was another truth he didn’t know before he said it.
No, spoke Drew’s suspicious heart; no, that had been too easy. “…Why?”
“Why didn’t you kick me out?”
Bill snorted smoke through his nose. “Because I didn’t want you to leave. It’s not exactly rocket science.”
Then maybe it was just that simple. Maybe, Drew thought, listening to the soft sound of Bill’s exhales, there were no catches, no trip wires, no ambushes here. For the first time in a long time, despite his best instincts’ demands he run, maybe he was safe. He sat for what he gauged to be nearly ten minutes in the darkness, sorting through his thoughts, through the information, chewing again and again on the question of what do you want? until he came to a conclusion: “…I want you not to give up on me.”
“I won’t. I never will.”
“I want you.”
That brought an audible smirk to Bill’s words. “Yeah? How do you want me?”
Now this was just embarrassing — for all his years of practiced dirty talk, his filthy mouth seemed to have failed him utterly. A flush rose to his cheeks. “…I want you here.”
At least that roused Bill from where he sat, drawing him over to the bed. He reached out for Drew, and Drew moved in reach, letting Bill’s hand fall across his bare shoulder, just above where the remaining flesh and bone knotted together in a deep red scar. “You’re going to have to be clearer than that. Haven’t you heard chinks don’t speak English that well?”
“Fuck you,” Drew laughed, and then it was no joke, but the answer to the question. “…Fuck you. I want to fuck you.”
Bill smiled, leaning in to kiss at Drew’s earlobe, his voice husky and deep. “You see? That, I can do.”
As he was bent over Bill’s frame, their hips locked together, his mouth on the back of Bill’s neck, deep inside, he thought only two things not immediately related to the actual business of fucking. The first was that he’d spent so much time with his ass in the air, hell-bent on enacting some imagined penitence, that he’d never have imagined he’d have another man like ths again. It didn’t erase what had happened, Bill was right, nothing could — but as he pressed his body against Bill’s, feeling his lover’s pulse against his lips, he felt memory quiet, until it would never again be able to swallow him whole.
The second was a cadence, catchy as a child’s rhyme, a marching rhythm he’d barked responsively on countless morning runs, one every GI from Vietnam knew by heart by now: If I die in a combat zone, box me up and ship me home. Except that wasn’t all of it — oh, there were other verses about medals and mothers, but he’d forgotten most of those long since. What’d stuck with him had not been any official couplet, but something he’d heard only once. He’d been in the hospital at the time, drugged and lost, set up for a roommate with a blind guy (Willie or Wally or something like that, morphine was not kind to the memory) who one night, in the worst of Drew’s pain, had come to his bedside, taken his palsied hand, and offered up the first two lines as a sort of prayer, then followed with his own response:
If I die in a state of sin, close Your eyes and let me in.
Drew gasped as he came inside Bill, hard and lost and found all at once. Just like all he’d ever wanted.
The numbers on the digital clock read 7:30 when Bill yanked the covers off Drew. “Rise and shine.”
“Fuck you,” Drew grunted. “This is when assholes wake up.”
“Lucky for you, then.” Drew cracked open one bleary eye to see Bill already showered and dressed, holding up a hanger with a grey business suit. “I was never as thin as you, even back when I used to wear this, but we’re about the same height, so with a belt maybe no one’ll notice.”
The man was talking nonsense. “Fuck your mother.”
“That’s your hobby, not mine. Now get up!” Bill prodded him with one black-socked foot, laughing. “Get up! I am not going to let you sleep the day away when you could be a productive member of society!”
As unpleasant as the idea of being awake at this early hour was, Drew judged it less unpleasant than being poked by Bill’s stinky feet, and so sat up, batting away the assault. He eyed the suit. “…Who died?”
“Your days as a freeloader. You’re coming to work with me today. We have a mailroom I’m sure would love to have a veteran of your paper-sorting talents.” Bill lay the suit gently across the bed, then went to sort through his rack of exceedingly boring ties. “After all, what good is being partner if you can’t use your status to get your racist junkie cripple boyfriend a job?”
“I liked you better when you were making me do your laundry.” Drew cast a baleful glare at the suit, which stared back at him with its mid-’60s tweed pattern. “You know, I think my dad owned this suit. When I was ten.”
Bill glared at him over his shoulder. “Careful, or I’ll return you to your kindergarten class. Which is another thing, we should get started on your GED. You’ll never get past the mailroom without it.”
Despite the hour, despite his aching head, despite the absolute crazy talk that was coming out of this man’s mouth, Drew felt his soul lightened — almost as though the past year had been a fever dream, a hallucination finally run its course. “I’m not wearing this,” he protested even as he lifted the pants.
“It’ll make a good first impression. We’ll go by my tailor later.” Bill tossed over a dull blue tie. “There, it matches your eyes.”
It most emphatically did not, but Drew let it go. “…I hate it when you smoke.”
“Well, maybe I’ll quit.”
“I hate chopsticks.”
“Then you don’t have to use them any more. You’re such a whiner.”
“I hate….” Drew searched the room, looking for anything that might complete the sentence. “I hate this suit. I’m serious. I really hate this suit.”
“Won’t work.” Bill shook his head, taking Drew’s hand and pulling him to his feet. “I love you and you’re coming to work with me. Now go take a shower so HR won’t fire you on your first day for smelling like you spent all last night fucking an Asian guy.” He pushed Drew in the direction of the bathroom, swatting him on his bare ass as an incentive to move.
Drew staggered into the bathroom, flipping on the lights. The guy in the mirror stopped short when he did, ran his fingers through his hair (with his left hand, not his right), and stared back at him. Though he knew he should get in the shower and get a move on, he couldn’t take his eyes away. The man behind the glass was still a rapist, a murderer, a junkie, a thief, a dropout, a racist, a fag, a slut, a cripple — and a guy about to go get his first civilian job with another guy he was kind of in love with. For all the things he could never stop being, there were a thousand more he could become.
And maybe, just maybe, that was okay.
This story is deeply and gratefully indebted to: coloredink, for being my racism and Chinese culture coordinator; jesus_h_biscuit, for knowing everything about gay sex and heroin addiction; peripheralsight, for patient, loving encouragement; and drmoonpants, who wrote all of Bill’s good lines. Also, everything I know about the Vietnam War comes from Wikipedia, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and Stephen King’s Hearts in Atlantis — especially since Mr. King appears to have made up entirely the second half of the cadence I used.