|Crossing VII: Fortune's Wheel
Author: Guede Mazaka
Fred started to sit up, but halfway through the action, he flopped back against the floor. "Why do we always end up down here?"
"I wouldn't know." Dean rolled over on his stomach, then stretched like a lazy cat, finger-combing his hair as he did. He still betrayed the faintest bit of surprise when he didn't wince and curl up immediately afterward. The tails of his shirt flapped open and scrunched up against his sides, revealing random patches of skin. "Are you complaining?"
His fingers walked their way across the small space separating them and busily began undoing the buttons on Fred's shirt. Slipping soft fingertips and teasing nails beneath the fabric as they did. When they'd gotten to the end, Fred grabbed the hand and pulled Dean under him, then crossed his arms across the other man's back. Extended one finger and traced the sharp outline of one shoulderblade, then licked the shudder when it reached the back of Dean's neck. "No. Good thing I don't go back to work until tomorrow."
As neatly as a professor, Dean took off his glasses, folded the earpieces and handed them to Fred to set on the kitchen table. Which Fred did.
When he tried to lie back, however, he was interrupted by a pair of arms coming round to trap his waist. Spiced pine and incense filled his nose, and Fred bowed his head so Ahmed could dot kisses along his hairline. A few mewls spilled from his lips, which made the other man laugh. "Already? I haven't even started yet," Ahmed promised.
"Really." Dean had turned half-over, and he was casting a look of mock-disbelief at them, right up until the moment his mouth disappeared beneath Ahmed's. Fred arranged himself against Ahmed's shoulder and watched how the traces of cynicism floated away, how Dean's eyelashes fluttered shut and then twitched every so often, as if he wanted to open his eyes but didn't dare.
But then Ahmed was tumbling Dean into Fred, one hand in each of their hair, gently nudging them this way and that. Fingers stroked down Fred's chest as he nibbled along Dean's neck, ear. Tasted faint soap and stronger sweat, and was pleasantly surprised by pools of sweetness hidden in the hollows at the base of the throat. As Ahmed's fingers slowly slipped away, Fred rubbed his palms down Dean's back and dropped his own fingers between waistband and skin, then brought them around front so he just grazed the growing center of warmth in the other man's trousers.
"What's he doing?" Dean whispered, in between licks at Fred's nipple. Then he bit down, a little rougher than expected, and Fred was pushing up, flipping them over.
Trousers undone and shoved down to knees, then kicked off. Grinning, Fred slotted his leg between Dean's and pressed down. Waited for breath to catch, and then rocked, very slowly, to apply pressure all along the hard bulge. "Do you really want me to stop and look?"
"Cocky bastard. Cockney bastard. I suppose it's bred into you." Despite his dry sarcasm, Dean was nothing but careless relaxation as he lolled back. His hands ran up and down Fred's thighs, occasionally drifting further back. Then he curled his fingers and raked nails down Fred's buttocks, yanking a flash of pain to the surface.
"I'm the bastard? Yankee." But heat soon followed the hurt, and Fred was too distracted by it to prevent Dean's heaving him over and ripping off the rest of his clothes. So he played dead, and waited for the other man to be distracted in turn by Ahmed's return before he struck. And thus had Dean neatly pinned beneath him, where the man looked best. Except for still having on too many pieces of clothing.
Fred was addressing that issue when Ahmed set something down beside them, then pried him off Dean. "Hey…"
"You two…" With a few deft touches, Ahmed had Fred moaning and desperately kissing the other man's jaw. "Do I have to tie you up to make you behave?"
In the time it took for Fred and Dean to exchange a look, Ahmed had made up his mind, formulated a plan and executed it. The efficiency with which Fred found himself blindfolded, with wrists bound in front of him, was slightly disgusting-though it was comforting to hear that Dean's struggle was no less futile. And short.
Fred pushed himself up on elbows and listened: pouring liquid, flare of a match, and the unmistakable scents of burnt sugar and absinthe. "I didn't know you liked that."
"I don't." There was a provoking smile in Ahmed's voice.
Then Fred was being pushed back so his head pillowed on Dean's chest, cradled between the other man's palms and bound wrists. And-"Christ!"
Cool glass. Not very cold, but his skin was so flushed that the touch of it against his forehead was shocking. Ahmed's fingers grabbed his hands to hold him still, and then the glass alighted on his mouth. Slid smoothness down his lips, sensuous echo of other acts that brought even more heat into his cheeks, and tipped a bit of fire-warmed liquor into his mouth. Fred drank it, licked around for the dregs, but the glass was already moving. It danced over his breast, then skipped to tease the jerking muscles of his stomach. He was tensing in anticipation of further downward motion, but instead, the glass suddenly ground against his nipples, one after the other. "Oh, God…"
Muffled groan from behind him, and Dean's body shifted so a heavy erection grazed over Fred's shoulder. The glass came back up and allowed him another sip, then disappeared. He didn't have any time to mourn its passing, however, because strong hands were turning him over…and drizzling something sticky across his back.
More stifled noises from Dean's direction, sounding increasingly strained. Fred could sympathize, a little, because Ahmed was now licking whatever it was from Fred's skin, swirling tongue and scraping teeth against every shiver, then adding a sharp bite whenever Fred made a sound. The other man tugged Fred's chin around and kissed him, spreading the taste of honey through his mouth and the feel of lightning through his body. "Ahmed, please…"
He humped up, shoving himself back into hands that molded to his hips, buttocks. Squeezed and massaged but didn't do anything more except make the hard cock between Fred's legs feel as if its skin was going to burst at any minute. Peel off-no, burn to ashes. "Please…oh, goddamn it, fuck me. Please. Now. Fuck. Me."
"Dirty mouth. And you look like such a gentleman," Ahmed tsked, but his honey-coated fingers were inside, thank God, and-oh. Jesus Christ…what was he doing?
Fred didn't know, might never fully know, but he didn't care. It felt better than right, filling up old gouges and writing new scripts to replace the worn-away ones, and it was striking fire to life all through him, and…and…
And there were the scars and the pain, flaking away as the world blew into a thousand sparks. And there was the flame regathering, fed by ashes.
* * *
If Fred had any idea what he looked like, squirming and writhing worse than the most wild wanton, he'd probably explode. Just as Dean was about to, gagged and helpless on the side, unable to do anything else but watch.
As Ahmed's fingers pushed in and out of a quivering, mewing body, as Fred splayed himself out on the floor and shoved back, as he stiffened and cried out. And the soft, gentle way he collapsed into Ahmed's arms, and how molasses-slow his tiny movements were as the other man settled him well away from the honey jar and the absinthe.
Also how Ahmed's face changed, cracked when even blindfolded, Fred could find his fingers and suck them clean. Nursing, almost. Fortunate that Dean was perfectly comfortable in his perverseness.
But then Ahmed was picking up Dean, helping him straddle lean thighs and rest shaking arms on broad shoulders, and there were new things to pay attention to. Like the rustle of cloth along bare skin as Ahmed pulled off his trousers. Like the fact that it was possible to kiss around a gag, though that act was still lacking in too many things to be very fulfilling. Filtered warmth and wetness, so it was tamed and dampened and damn it, Dean wanted to know what Ahmed's throat tasted like.
Though the probing up and back and in was helping to take the edge off. He pushed down on his arms, managed to raise himself up despite slippery hot skin, and in the process rubbed his erection along Ahmed's stomach. Dropped down, vision spinning, and then fingerflick within him. Firm grip on his cock. Trapped betwixt and between, Dean could rock back into ecstasy-tipped fingers, thrust forward into tight callused warmth and nails teasing his inner thighs.
Ahmed murmured something and kissed each of Dean's eyebrows, then did the same to each eyelid. His hands curved over Dean's hips and lifted them, then eased Dean onto a hard, long cock. Rather-Dean squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep, deep breath, forcing himself to relax. Opened up, all the way to his farthest recesses.
More hands petting down his back and around the dips of his waist. Fred had apparently revived; his blindfold rubbed loose as he nuzzled and drifted down Dean's tingling skin. Teeth closed around the gag where it crossed Dean's cheek, and Fred pulled it down to nudge into a slow, sun-lazy kiss. In contrast to the increasing rhythm of Ahmed's hips, to the frantic need clawing from inside out. Dean pulled away and dropped his head into the bend of Ahmed's neck and shoulder, finally getting his fill of salt and sugar and strange tang of exotic spices. He leaned in as close as he could, rolling and pushing and twisting himself in the other man's lap. Seeking the end of that tunnel of white flames, and then throwing himself out. Seared. Marked.
Drawn back, and soothed while his lungs recovered, while his heart calmed. "Finally. Could've…been doing this days ago."
"Could we?" Ahmed asked, ragged words feathering over Dean's ear.
Actually…no. Not as they'd been, then. Not nearly as good as it was now, though it was vaguely irritating to be found wrong once again. "Stop being right," Dean muttered as he snuggled against the other man.
Ahmed didn't answer, instead lying back and taking Dean with him. He gathered Fred in to one side, and together, they drifted between wakefulness and sleep.
* * *
Ahmed leaned against the windowsill and stared at the bed he'd vacated only a half-hour before. Fred and Dean were still sleeping, as tangled in each other as the interlacing of moonlight and shadow that dappled them. The smoke from his cigarette curled around the scene, seemed to frame it in mournful evanescence.
A minute sound from the doorway: G, carrying the last of their bags. She glanced at the bed, then at Ahmed, her face solemnly beautiful. Still, a lively spark in those green eyes saved her from becoming Maria Dolorosa.
He nodded, then held up two fingers. She lifted her chin in acknowledgment and turned away, silently padding toward the hallway door. Ahmed put out his cigarette and crossed to the bed. He placed one hand on the pillows, about two inches from Fred's hair, and for a moment, simply breathed in their scent.
"Leaving?" Dean's eyes slit open. His face was too composed, compared with the slight trembling in his fingers as they brushed over Ahmed's hand. Then his arm fell to drape across Fred's waist, over the blankets.
"Yes." Ahmed leaned down and drank of the other man one last time, then stole an equal amount of breath from Fred's slightly-parted mouth. Fred, who appeared to be sleeping, but who had silver wetness shining from the very corners of his eyes. "Three months."
"All…all right. See you then." Dean laid back and hid his face beneath Fred's chin. The gesture exposed the nape of his neck, sweet defenseless curve, and Ahmed dearly wished he could cover it with his hand, trace its line with one knuckle, but there wasn't time. He did stay another second before tearing himself away and exiting, every step like impaling his foot on a stiletto.
G was blessedly silent while Ahmed locked the door, and while they were getting into the coach. He started to go inside it, but then thought of the danger of loneliness in the dark and instead climbed up to sit beside her. She clucked at the horse, and they moved off, clip-clop gradually turning into a constant drumming.
"Are you all right?" As she asked, she passed over a hip flask, which proved to be filled with mead.
Ahmed gave the question careful consideration before he answered her. "Yes. I am. Did you say goodbye to Godley?"
"Two hours ago. Poor man, he's on duty tonight." When G turned her face into the gaslight's yellow haze, she betrayed a hint of pensiveness. But then she brightened, and snitched back the mead. "It looks like the girl might be responsive. Hopefully, he won't be kept too busy for the next few weeks. Summer ends so fast here…he won't have much time if he wants to take her out and about."
He pulled out a cigarette and lit it, then blew the smoke before them so the wisps traced shapes against the night. "The chill of the past two weeks…that was because of Liana and us. It'll leave when we have. But things won't stop."
"You wish you could keep them free of that." She smiled, sardonic, and her eyes were suddenly far older than her appearance. "Stop worrying. They'll be fine, and they'll come. Start thinking about how we're going to spend those three months."
"I already know how we're spending them," Ahmed replied, taking another drag. He toyed with his cane, then carefully stowed it in the back. "Mexican vampires. Which are supposed to be less widespread than they are right now."
G laughed, her amusement ringing through the quiet like heralding bells. "Sounds nasty."
"It will be. But I'm told we might meet some familiar faces. At least one of your old friends has laid claim to that country. Should we visit?" Surprising himself, Ahmed managed to dig up a genuine smile.
"Why not? He was always nice. And he likes people, too." Her grin widened, and she tossed off the rest of the mead before whipping up the horses. "The time will pass, Ahmed. And if I have anything to say about it, you won't even notice."
Perhaps. He gazed back over his shoulder at the disappearing building, then flicked his eyes up to the tiny dark square that was a window to Fred's rooms. Then he turned back front and leaned back, closing his eyes and lifting his face to the moon.
Seeds of a poem, suddenly sprouting as the rain of grief gave them plentiful water. Ahmed started composing lines in his head, occasionally trying out the better ones for G's benefit. He wondered if he could finish it before he returned.
* * *
Crescents of blood droplets, vibrant against the black backs of Fred's eyelids. Silver flashing this way and that, and brilliant scarlet fabric. His head pounded to an invisible drumbeat that fluttered and stilled like a butterfly wings, first soaring in the sky and then being brutally slapped to the earth.
He stiffened at the shock of the vision, drawing a long breath, but did his best not to move too much. Dean clenched fingers in Fred's shirt and pulled him closer, twisting the linen into soaked knots. The other man pressed his face into Fred as if he were trying to force the ribs apart and crawl inside, but he didn't make a single sound.
Soon reality went from two layers to one, and Fred could relax a little. He buried his face in Dean's hair, smelling it and stroking it with one hand. After the space of ten breaths, the other man slowly settled and went lax in the grip of sleep.
It was a long, long time before Fred followed him. One wind had blown out of the city, but another had replaced it, and he felt a chill at the vague rumblings that accompanied it.
* * *
It was deathly quiet in the room, except for the incessant ticking of the clocks. Dean briefly pondered the wisdom of smashing them, then decided that that was too much trouble. Instead, he stabbed at his breakfast.
"Don't do that." Across the table, a depressed Fred was chasing his food around the plate.
"Why not? It's probably the most entertaining thing I get to do all day. In between finally cleaning up my store and trying to make it livable." But Dean nevertheless stopped, not having the energy to be truly nasty. He gingerly stood, then paused as the twinges of pain triggered cascade after cascade of memory.
"I don't understand how you can be so-"
"Cold?" Dean finished with a sharp laugh. He leaned against the table's edge and stared at the opposite wall, trying to ignore his goosebumps. "It's called surviving, Fred. From one day to the next, until suddenly you find yourself past the rough spot. Of course, that might put you in the middle of another one, but what can you do?"
As he'd expected, no words answered him. As he hadn't expected, Fred got up and came over to face him, laying hands against his chest. Then skating them up to cup his face and tilt it so their brows rested against each other.
He wasn't going to have even this, back in the store with only books and papers and pen-scratchings to keep him company. And the idea of that hurt. Scooped out pieces of his gut that had just recently been filled. Dean slowly, tentatively raised his hands and put them on Fred's waist, feeling the muscles of the back shift. "If I were to show up later with a few bags and my ledgers…"
"I think I have a spare key," Fred said at the same time. They stopped talking, and then he chuckled, nuzzling into Dean's throat. His hands sloped down Dean's shoulders and trailed over Dean's arms. "This is why we keep ending up on the floor."
"Yours is nicer than mine," Dean grudgingly admitted. "But you need to learn how to cook. Or at least find a nice neighbor that's willing to do that."
"I need to go into the station now." The other man's face became somber again, and he pursed his lips as he drew back and stared over Dean's shoulder. "Had a vision last night."
Dean sat back down and ate some more, his appetite inexplicably having decided to reassert itself. "Quiet one. I didn't hear anything. Or see anything."
"About that…I know you've never had visions before Ahmed and G showed up, but you said you had two, neither of which related specifically to the books. Which makes it a little less likely that it was simply an isolated event, brought on by them." As he spoke, Fred buttoned up his coat, then wandered into the next room. He soon returned and deposited a key by Dean's hand.
"Wonderful. But I'll deal with that when it comes. Moving is going to be complicated enough without my mind being elsewhere." Dean picked up the key and slipped it into his pocket, making sure it was somewhere it couldn't be easily lost. Then he caught at Fred's hand so the other man couldn't immediately leave. "Thank you," he muttered, feeling a little heat rise in his cheeks.
Fred wisely chose to make a noncommittal noise and quietly leave so Dean could finish his breakfast in complete, empty silence. Except for the clocks, of course.
"Damn it." Dean pinched the bridge of his nose and stared at his tea, which had mocking swirls of leaf fragments in it. He wondered if doing the dishes would help; at least then, he would have the sound of running water.
* * *
When Fred walked in, he was greeted by a grave-faced Godley and a simple, telling statement. "There's been a murder, sir. Last night."
"A woman. And there was a knife," Fred muttered. He threw his bag onto his chair, then came back to the other man and began ushering them outside. No point in delaying the business.
Godley bent a half-suspicious, half-awed look upon him, and for a moment, he desperately wanted to go home and argue with Dean's no-nonsense sarcasm. "You saw her?" the other man questioned.
"I saw a red petticoat." It had been quick as lightning, no face. Fred rubbed his temples and tugged his coat more closely about him. Only the first day of September, yet the air had more than a tinge of ice to it. Then again, it'd been like that for most of the week.
His friend glanced at him again, looked away, but didn't say anything until they were walking toward the body. Even then, Godley had to start twice before he finally got the words out. "Sir…are you all right? I know that they're gone…but that American is still around, isn't he?"
"Yes." Fred snapped out his reply, making it very clear that he didn't wish to discuss the matter. Godley's eyebrow went up, but he didn't pursue the line of conversation, and instead began relating the information collected so far on the victim, a Polly Nicholls.
Then they were at the body, which was a surprise. Fred frowned and wracked his memory, but he couldn't find any contradictions. Even without having seen the faces, he was certain. "That wasn't the woman I saw."
"Are you sure?" Godley asked.
"Yes." Back to work, Fred thought with no small sense of irony. Back to wading through the blackest sides of human nature.
Three months, less a day now. Take it one at a time, Dean had said. And at the recollection that Fred would be returning to at least one part of himself, his mood brightened a little. "Right, then. Let's get down to it."