You're not sure when it started. Not really.
You think it was the three days you looked for Brian when he didn't come home. When you went through club after club and felt the eyes that weren't like any others, the way your skin crawled at the brush of cold fingers in late spring on your sweat-slicked skin. You remember cursing his name and thinking why you should give a shit, if this was the way he wanted to deal.
You remember Babylon's backroom and the smell of copper and the limp way bodies lay on benches by the door, but you didn't think much, then. You remember pushing through a crowd and drinking something cold and sweet, from a bartender who didn't even look at your money, only smiled with white, white teeth. And you remember Brian, just *there*, just in front of you, and his arm around your waist, and the brush of his hands on your bare skin, and how he made you flinch.
He felt cold.
You were angry, and you were hot, and you were tired as shit, and you still let him kiss you with cold lips and feed you hits from between his teeth and then you couldn't get enough of him. Every brush of skin when he stripped you to your jeans in the middle of the floor was like ice, and you went down on him to something techno and shitty, the beat pounding beneath your skin and in every rush of your blood. Right. There.
He held you up against the wall in the backroom and kissed you, held you so you couldn't fight him off, then bit your lip, and you felt it, those tiny, pinpricks of shock that ran through your body like ice. He looked at you with dark, knowing eyes, licking your blood from his mouth, and you stared back.
And you *knew*. And you said, "Please."
You curled your fingers helplessly in his hair when he pulled down your jeans, and the second time, the second time he bit you, you screamed into the ceiling and came so hard you almost blacked out.
He took you home and you let him.
You finish up the stakes and stack them up for Michael. Your arm doesn't ache like it used to, and your hand, your bad hand, is so much better. Something in your head chatters about necessity being the mother of recovery and all that, but you ignore it.
You ignore a lot of things.
"How much longer?" someone says, and you think that might be Todd, who you dragged out of Babylon's back room minutes before Michael burned it down, kicking and screaming and saying no, no, please no, and you'd just kept pulling and ignored his voice.
Michael called it something, some word, what they did to you when they had you. Made you beg for it, crawl for it. Glamour, or some comic-book-word like that. Ignore it when they fight you, he'd told you, because he's read a million comic books and so knows everything there is to know. They'll understand when they're free.
Sometimes, they did. Sometimes, like with Emmett, they really didn't.
"One and a half hours," you say without thinking, and somewhere outside the walls, you can hear them crawling over you, over this building, looking for the way inside. They've chased you from basement to attic to abandoned warehouse in the west side, back when the west was safe, before Michael knew that the big fires kept ash in the sky for hours and they'd walk in daylight like it was dusk, run after them, climb fire escapes and through elevator shafts to get to them.
You don't remember what it's like not to run. But you know now a car isn't protection at all.
Ethan showed you that.
"Soon," Michael says, like he's comforting a child, like you're anything close to one. He lays a feverish hand on your shoulder and you try not to wince away.
Ethan was early on, though you don't know when anymore. God knows how he found you, dirty-stumbling-mass of rags and crusted scars, curling reluctantly into your arms like an exhausted child while you touched him, back when warm flesh felt good and right and needed, before.
Before a lot of things.
But he looked for you, found you, let you clean him and dress him and spray antibiotic on the cuts and the bites and stare at his scars a little too long, but he didn't seem to mind. He told you about nights at the Baths, when the floor was wet with come and blood and they rolled in it, soaked in it, fucked in it like animals. Told you so much you didn't already know.
He told you who he saw, and what he saw, and what they did, and what they did to him.
He'll never play violin again. You didn't look at the bandaged, ruined remains of his hands that made Michael retch into the toilet. He didn't tell you who did that. You already knew.
You held him all night, humming because that's what he used to like, your voice close by his ear. He told you about Ben and about fine razors and slippery, slick, filthy sex on wet floors, and he tells you how it tasted and smelled, and then he shuddered and said he'd never be warm again. You thought he just might be right.
He didn't tell you anything about Brian, and that told you everything.
You knew then how Ethan had found you.
He rolled over in the night, sliding onto you, bracing himself somehow, pulling your cock out, pushing you inside him. You don't know how he did it, but he felt good, like you remembered, tight and hot and sweet and better than anything and anyone you've done in so long, God, too long, but he shivered, almost pulling away when you reached for his thighs. His mouth tasted like salt and copper when you kissed him.
You rolled onto him and pushed his legs up and had him, crying a little when you looked into his eyes, and you weren't sure he was seeing you at all. You're not even sure he wanted to, knees against his chest and begging like a whore, begging for something you couldn't give. You traced his scars with your fingernails, like your hands still knew how to draw, remembering your body in his. You bit him, and he came, harder than he ever had with you before, shuddering and shaking, teeth chattering, and turned his head away when you came, the taste of him coating your mouth.
You saw the ragged marks of your teeth in his throat, rough and brutal beside the elegance of pinpoints, and you weren't really surprised when he was gone the next morning, before the sun rose.
You looked for days--God, you were so *stupid*--you drove half of Pittsburgh after dusk with a cross and a stake, like you could be any threat at all. You saw no one and nothing but you felt the eyes that watched, and you got out, because *stupid* and you thought of Ethan and of Emmett, and then you thought of Brian and thought of the eyes at Babylon, being seventeen and untouchable, unfuckable, because of Brian.
You thought then he might have marked you and you just didn't know it.
Now you were sure of it.
They led you to him--with their little sounds and little glimpses and the trail of bodies, to the car, to Ben's car, that crashed into a lamppost, the one that Ethan took and ran, and you don't blame him, not really. Ethan was in the driver's seat, and in the passenger seat, and in the backseat, and you took a step back and threw up and then curled up in on yourself, shaking with dry heaves and unshed tears.
You thought that he looked happy.
"Almost there," Michael says, and you nod, because that's what you're supposed to do. You lick furtively at the drying blood on your arm when Michael looks away, wishing you could go back to the huddling crowd and strip the bandage away, open it with your teeth, roll the taste on your tongue.
You could be crazy. Anyone would be, you reason, and you pick up a stake and look at it, this ornately carved mahogany that used to be someone's dining room table.
"Mikey," you say, and you feel him behind you, hands on your shoulders, leaning close. So *warm*, you'd know him anywhere now.
It's been like this forever, since it started, and sometimes, you try to remember how long it's been and sometimes, you don't. You remember things in people, like Emmett and Ethan and Daphne and Molly, or you remember in places, like the Baths and Babylon and the warehouse on seventh, ravers under sparkling lights, circling like animals while they danced on blood-soaked floors and you watched. You watched Brian among them, so beautiful it hurt to look at him, and you knew he knew you were watching. Glowing under green and yellow and blue-red-orange-purple-white, and Ben, Christ, twined like they wanted to crawl inside each other's skin but made do with other people's.
Hot. God, they were hot.
Ever fastidious Brian, who'd never get dirty and bloody, flawless in black and jeans, Brian, watching you back from half-lowered lashes and with a half-smile, licking someone's blood from his mouth. The flash of that sharp little knife that made you hard, instantly, watching him with someone else, someone that wasn't you, cutting fine lines into slim, pale bodies before your eyes.
You could *feel* it.
You ran a razor over your arm and imagined that was you, and you came in your jeans, sweating cold through your shirt with the taste of your blood on your tongue.
"It's almost over."
Michael thinks like that, that it could be, that it might be, that anything can happen, that everything can still work out. He's like that, and you wonder where he learned that. Why in the name of God he believes it. You never have.
You wonder when you tilt your head enough to kiss him, lick his mouth open for you, soft and sweet, like soda and popcorn. He always draws back at first, and you can sometimes read it in the touch of his lips.
The first time, he cried, pushing his face into the cool concrete of their basement hole like he couldn't bear to look at you, reddened eyes and hands clawing at nothing, and he'd made it hard to just *do* it. Mikey's never been a very good trick.
You remember that, remember how Michael's soft hands had explored your body after, curious, leeching warmth in that cold stone basement, and you remember him curling into you, head pressed to your shoulder, and you remember thinking, poor Mikey. You'd wished you could help him. You were kinder the second time.
You wonder if you've been that kind since.
You pull him into your lap and hold his face between your hands and kiss him again, taste him, familiar shape to wrap your arms around. He fights you at first, he always does that, but you can make him ready, you know how, with your hands beneath his shirt, with your tongue in his mouth. He whimpers when you slide your fingers up his chest, pinch his nipples, run your nails over his back.
He lets you stretch him out on the floor under you and closes his eyes. He can't possibly mistake you for Ben. Not when you press his knees up and kiss his mouth, roll on a condom and push your fingers inside him, hear him whimper something that's not a name and may not even be a word.
It's methodical and slow and you jerk him off with wide open eyes, staring at his face. The pulse of blood in his forehead, his throat. The slim blue veins on the insides of his wrists that you mouth when he comes, short and sharp, that you bite when you come, long and easy.
You roll onto your back and think of the fingers that pick the brick apart, inch by inch just outside.
"One hour," you say softly.
You wonder if Brian's out there, waiting for you.
Tonight, you went down three alleys before you saw him, smoking a cigarette and watching the sky, and you have never seen him so casual. Brian's too intense for casual no matter how he plays it, and it's times ten now. You stopped, because you hadn't expected it, even though you must have.
You *must* have.
"Where you headed?"
He was there one second, beside you the next, close enough to breathe, and you didn't seen him move. Close enough to feel the cool of his skin when he touched the air around your face, brushed the hair from your eyes, smiled at you like he was thinking of you naked, screaming for him. Like he always looked at you, like you always wanted him to. Cold, cold fingers brushed your skin, cupped your jaw, and you closed your eyes when he kissed you.
And it was cold.
You were waiting for this, for him, for this touch, for this feeling, his hands pushing you into the crumbling wall under cold moonlight, sharp tongue tracing your mouth, and he reached down and threw away the stake caught between your fingers and for the life of you, you couldn't understand why you still had it. His thumb brushed against the scars on your wrist, opening new ones with a flick of his nail, and you shuddered and closed your eyes.
You touched him. Hard and strong and cool and perfect, running your hands up his back, your fingers through his hair, riding the thigh between your knees. He sucked bruises into your skin, scratched you with sharp teeth, kissed you like you were water and air both. Fingernails drew blood on your back and you pushed into his fingers and wanted more.
You always wanted more, right from the first, wanted him, just him, and he made it so easy, made one thing make sense. It was Brian, who was everything, the only thing you knew how to want anymore. Familiar and unfamiliar and so much more real than basements and attics and burning buildings and Michael. So much better.
Brian made *sense*.
"Justin," he said in your ear, and you caught your breath at the touch of his tongue, slow and right, making you harder, making you grind against him. No one ever said you name like that. Touch me, you wanted to say, and you did, hissed into summer-humid air. Please touch me. Please. "Justin."
Anything, you almost said, but he cut your lip and you bled for him, felt his tongue lick it away, following the line down your chin. He murmured things into your skin that you couldn't hear, but then he looked at you, hands on your face, like you might look away, like it was even possible to want to. "Justin. I can give you forever."
You caught your breath and leaned your head back into the wall. "You'll never see another dawn," he murmured. He promised.
And you believed him.
Michael doesn't get up when the sounds stop, but you do. You climb to your feet and fasten your jeans, and you think how much you miss clean clothes and clean skin and long showers, cold water washing all over you.
Around you, you can feel them, the others, relax, like they think it's almost time, but your blood knows better, you know, and that's why you're not surprised when someone knocks on the door.
Michael sits up then, but you're walking toward it. "Justin." He sounds confused. You don't really understand why. Of all people, he should understand.
You think of Brian's skin and the way he tastes and how hot the room is. How he'll feel when you're wrapped around him, when you're touching him and tasting him and feeling him come inside you. How wrong it's been since Michael took you away. How right everything will be when you can go back.
Maybe you'll be able to draw again, someday.
You stare at the boards you and Michael nailed up hours before and wonder if you're strong enough to pull them off yourself.
It's low, from outside the door. It's your name, but Brian's never said it like that before, like you're something needed like water and air, something precious and wanted and God, yes, you'd do anything to have that, to keep it.
Your hands begin to pry at the wood, not caring about splinters and breaking nails, the pain in your hand from all the work it did today. Behind you, Michael's yelling, about glamour and how much stronger you are than this, frightened murmurs like the white noise of a Babylon crowd, but you don't care.
You just don't *care*.
You're too tired to do it all, and you press your hand to the cool wood and think you can feel him, just on the other side.
"Justin," he says, softly, and you close your eyes and imagine forever. He's stronger than you are. He always has been. "*Justin*."
And you say, "Come in."