Yes. We have reached the fan-ficcing-our-own-damn-game stage of the game.
The following is a little piece that came to mind randomly a week or so ago and I decided to jot down (since I need more practice writing my own stories from scratch, afterall). It’s a short prequel story about Tom, set maybe a year or so before the events of the game started.
I hope you (few) readers here enjoy it. I also recently joined Archive of our Own (after hearing Naomi Novik talk about it at Dragon*Con) and have cross-posted it there for the hell of it.
Honestly, I think one of the worst problems with eternity is having to watch the fashions change.
It was Friday night at The Eagle, once the center of the Folsom leather scene, but sometime during the last decade it had mutated into wall-to-wall flannel and ironic glasses. I stared sullenly across the crowd before turning back to the bar, which wasn’t much of an improvement, given the rows of mirrored shelves lit by cheesy LED track lighting. I was glad that the place had come back from hiatus and managed a remodel, but what it had become felt like something trapped between a night club and an Elks Lodge. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirrors—a leather-clad, well-muscled shadow hulking at the edge of a skinny, multicolored crowd—and sighed.
“Where the fuck did all these kids come from anyway?” I shouted over the music to the bartender as he passed.
“What!?” he yelled back. I sighed again. Don’t know why I was complaining to him; if not for his tailored waistcoat and shaped mustache, I’d think he was still in kindergarden himself. He paused, noticing my untouched drink. “Everything all right with the beer, man?”
“Yeah.” I made a show of taking a fake sip and looked away. I was already missing the old bartender, a guy named Russell. He had been a reassuringly stable fixture of my life here in San Francisco for almost as long as I’d been here. The main reason I liked him, though, was because unlike most upstart bartenders these days, he knew the questions not to ask. He looked the other way when I poured my drinks out in the sink, or when I cruised the crowds for a very specific type of guy.
He also looked the other way as he aged two decades and I didn’t.
I stared at the glittering shelves sadly. Russell died the year before, while the bar was closed during the legal issues. I didn’t even hear about it until weeks later. Not that I could have gone anyway. The memorial service was during the day.
I swiveled back to the stage. The band was playing a style self-described as “glam-trance,” which seemed to be largely built around a heavy beat and warbling guitar riffs over weird synths. One of them was even playing a goddamn theremin. The musicians—all bear-like men in their late 50s—were deeply intent on their music, but except for one rowdy group of guys cat-calling from the back of the bar, I seemed to be the only one paying any attention. Normally I’d prefer heavy, rousing rock, but tonight the twisted, wandering layers and the singer’s haunting lilt suited my mood.
I didn’t go out for fun much anymore. Generally when I did, it was a chore, something to be done with the same mindlessness as taking out the trash and paying the rent. Tonight, though, was different. Tonight was the one night a year I came to this bar and sat on this stool and reflected on the night twenty years ago when I had done the exact same thing. The night everything had changed. And, if I was being really honest with myself, it was the one night a year I tried to pretend it hadn’t.
I listened to the twisting rhythms of the music and clutched my beer tighter. It seemed a waste not to drink it, but at least it wasn’t going warm in my hands either.
Finally, with a last, long croon like the dying of the light, the song finished. I joined the crowd in polite applause, then winced as the rowdy group in the back whooped ill-naturedly. There was a sound of breaking glass and I glanced back. I counted four of them, all wearing mixed pieces of biker leathers, but cheap-looking, even in the dim light of the bar. As I watched, one of them scooted over to the next table and leered something at the women sitting there. By the looks on the women’s faces and the way they leaned back, it wasn’t anything good. The guy laughed harder and gestured for one of his buddies to join him. Still glaring at them, I wordlessly grabbed my drink and moved to get up.
But then another drink, a heavy tumbler of amber liquid, plopped down next to my hand. The bartender stood there, grinning smugly, and jerked his chin down the length of the bar. “Compliments of the gentleman,” he said with a wink, and stepped away.
I rubbed my face. Great. The regulars around here knew that I was…selective, and not to approach me when I was in a mood, so I probably had some starry-eyed tourist on my hands that would have to be let down gently. I cast my eyes down the bar, already preparing my no-really-it’s-not-you-it’s-me speech, then stopped.
A young man sat at the end of the bar, tanned, with sun-bleached hair and arms just large enough to fill the sleeves of his shirt. The shirt—a simple tee with an inscrutable company logo—draped across his chest like smooth, cool sheets. My gaze tracked up to his eyes, green eyes shining through the LED light of the bar. He returned my look and smiled.
Of course, my heart isn’t able to stop anymore, even metaphorically, but for just a moment as I sat there it felt like it did. In fact, it felt alive again, lifting and surging.
My god, I thought, he looks just like Rob….
He got up and made his way over to me, moving with sinewy grace through the crowd. I stayed on my stool, simultaneously transfixed and terrified.
“Hey,” he said, with just a slight trace of Southern accent, “I saw you were alone and thought you might like some company. You with the band?”
“Ah, no, no.…” The pull of his eyes was so strong I had to force myself to look away. “No, I’m just out for the night. Visiting some haunts, doing some thinking. You know.”
He nodded and held a hand out. “I’m Michael. I’m new to the city. Just started at Tesseract.” He pointed to his shirt and the bizarre logo of some kind of mutated square.
I gripped his hand briefly, then pulled away. “I’m Tom,” I muttered. “I’m, ah, not new here.”
He looked me up and down slowly, taking in my leathers and my build. “Tom…of Finland? Or maybe Tom of Frisco?”
I tensed. “Son, first thing you’d better learn about this city: don’t call it that.”
He laughed. He didn’t sound like Rob, and lord knows Rob wouldn’t have been caught dead in The Eagle wearing a t-shirt, but Rob’s attitude radiated off of him, sparking memories I’d thought were long extinguished. He voice was full of youthful bravado, the sound of someone who thought their hardest days were behind them. He smiled and leaned in.“So, are you?”
I blinked. “Am I what?”
I looked away, watching as the band checked their instruments and launched into their next song. “In a sense.”
“All of them.”
Silence greeted this response. I glanced back. Confusion, and a little bit of hurt, flickered across his face. I sighed. “Look, son, I’m sorry, but I kinda need to be by myself tonight. Dealing with some shit.”
He worked his way back to that winning smile. “We all are. Maybe we could share our shit?”
I stared at him. “If that’s your idea of a come-on you’re gonna need more help than I can give you.”
He laughed. He said something, muffled by a rising swell of the music, and reached out to touch my hand.
Suddenly the senses—and the hunger—I had finally, painstakingly dulled through quiet reflection and trance-y music snapped back into focus. I felt the warmth of his hand pulsing into my own, smelt his sweat and expensive hair-care products. I looked into his green eyes and he froze, still as a hare, nostrils quivering with rapidly increasing breath, radiating fearful submission, enough to trigger any predator into overdrive—
I tore my gaze away. “Look, son,” I said, gently lifting his hand off my own, “You’re sweet, and you’re cute as hell, but you’re really just not my type.”
I expected him to get sad, or angry, or even just quietly resigned, but I sure didn’t expect him to light up with even more mischievousness. “Aren’t I?” he said, lifting one arm and pulling the sleeve back with the other, revealing forearm muscles twisting up to a wrist encircled by a stainless steel bracelet. I peered closer. A…medical alert bracelet….
I tensed. Oh….
“One of my friends told me, he’s a regular here,” he was saying, “Said that you hang around with the poz crowd. I’d already seen you by then, so, you know…I figured it was kismet.”
I glanced around the bar to avoid his gaze, taking in all the people engrossed with their neighbors—even the rabble in the back were entertaining themselves by irritating each other. His words, though, echoed in my mind. “I don’t know if Fate is something that exists,” I muttered, “but I don’t think it would be something I’d want to believe in even if it did.”
He chuckled and leaned in. “What do you believe in, then?” He took my hand again, then laughed. “Obviously not gloves; your hands are so cold!” He took my hand in both of his, gripping hard to pour warmth into them.
The dark pressure inside me roiled. I quickly removed my hand and clutched my drink. “My circulation is bad,” I muttered. “Probably still chilled from the ride over.”
His eyes lit up. “You ride a bike? Fixie or hybrid?”
I stared back. “Um…Harley….”
He laughed again, this time with a slight air of condescension. “My grandpa drove a Harley! You should really get with the times. Get a Ducati at least.”
I frowned. “When you get to be my age, you stop caring what other people think.”
“Your age? Come on, you’re practically younger than I am!”
Irritation finally started to overpower attraction. I gave him a flat look and said nothing.
He laughed again, this time resignedly. “Well, if you change your mind and need some company, look me up sometime. I could use a native guide around the city.” He handed me a card with the same inscrutable logo as his shirt. I took it out of habit, nodded at him, then turned back to the bar.
I watched him, though, in the bar-shelf mirrors as he walked back to his seat. My eyes traced the haughty line of his jaw, grinning good-naturedly as he traded words with a companion and shrugged. Confidence, even in the face of defeat. Rob was like that once, so assured that the darknesses of the world were beneath us, that Fate’s plans would work out, as long as we fought for the Right Thing.
Well, I thought as I watched Michael zip up a hoodie and bid his companions goodbye, maybe Fate’s plans do work out, it’s just that none of us realized Fate is a sadist.
Michael strapped himself into a messenger bag and produced a bike helmet from underneath the bar, probably to go with his “fixie” or whatever the fuck the hipsters are calling it these days. He looked a little ridiculous, trussed up in flannel and designer biking accessories, but I still felt deep, rolling urges telling me to follow him as he left. I glowered. I don’t know much about my…situation…but the predator within me has learned to speak in multiple voices over the years, and I try to ignore them all. But I let myself watch him, watched how the bag slid against his thigh, watched the line of his legs, muscular from biking, marked how he seemed to limp ever so slightly, favoring his left side….
Suddenly I realized that I wasn’t the only one watching him. The rowdy group in the back had gone silent, heads all turned toward Michael as he made his way out. Their attention, I could tell, was drawn by different things: his expensive bag, nice clothes, and general air of naivety as he walked blindly into the night, staring at his phone the whole way. One of them whispered something to another. Both men laughed. I tensed, eyeing them closely.
There was one last warbling cry of the theremin, then the band finished. The crowd heaved as people used the opportunity to move around the bar, blocking my view. I leaned around, trying to keep them in sight, but when I finally got another clear window, the rear table was empty.
Shit…. I stared around the bar, thinking. It could be nothing, of course, but I know the look of someone on the hunt and those guys definitely had it. The next question, though, was if it was any of my damn business. He was just some guy, after all, and irritating to boot.
But I remembered those green eyes, staring at me from across the room, from across decades long past….
“Goddammit,” I muttered. I got up, threw down some cash to cover my untouched drink, and made my way out of the bar.
Cold, wet air hit my face the moment I stepped out the door. I surveyed the scene and shrugged into my jacket. A few smokers were standing nearby, chatting with the bouncer, but besides that the street was quiet. I spotted Michael halfway down the block, slouching along with white earbuds dangling from his head, oblivious to the cold and driving fog.
And, apparently, also oblivious to the four gang members, silently following him not ten steps behind.
I hunched my shoulders and followed them with equal silence. Stupid, kid, stupid stupid stupid….
Michael fiddled with his bag, removing a set of keys, and turned a corner into an alley. The gang followed close behind, so intent on their prey they didn’t bother to scope out the scene before disappearing into the shadows. Once they were out of sight, I jogged up and peered into the darkness.
One of them already had Michael in a choke-hold, pinning him up against the brick wall, muffling his gasps with the other hand. Another guy wrestled Michael’s bag off his shoulders, while a third was fumbling with the U-lock on an expensive-looking bike nearby. The last guy had a gun aimed at Michael, and was yelling an encyclopedia’s worth of insults and slurs.
Shit, shit, shit…. My brain ran quickly through possibilities. With my reserves already low for the night, I’d have to be efficient about this. If I took out the guy with the gun, that might distract the other ones enough for Michael to pull out of their grip and get away, and I could probably trip up the others to slow them dow—
A roar suddenly erupted behind me, three motorcycles blowing past at full throttle. The sound echoed off the walls of the alley and everyone within jumped and turned to look at the street.
And saw me silhouetted against it.
Instinct took over. Moving faster than even I could comprehend, I rocketed into the alley just as the gunman pulled his arm around and barreled into him as he pulled the trigger. A blow like a sledgehammer rocked my chest, followed by a bloom of pain, but I continued forward, driving him into the opposite wall with force enough to crack bones and brick. One of the others jumped me from behind, also trying to grab a choke-hold, but I flung him off like an orca tossing a seal. The third came, slashing at me with something that glittered in the weak streetlight, but I didn’t get a chance to identify it before I slammed him into the opposite wall with a sloppy round-house kick.
The last guy was still holding Michael, but weakly, staring at me with wide eyes. I turned and stared back, muscles quivering with tension and blood from the gunshot wound dripping down my chest. He dropped his hold and backed up, but before he could run I threw myself against him, knocking him back against the wall with a skull-shuddering crack. His eyes drooped closed and he dropped like a sack of meat. I looked down dispassionately.
Still breathing. They were all still breathing. I could smell every one of them, warm bodies sprawled under a cloud of fear and adrenaline, laced with the sweet tang of blood. The scents washed over me, pouring into me, dredging up new reserves of power. I froze, struggling to push it back down….
“Holy shit,” Michael breathed, staring at the unconscious men around him. He gripped at his hair, his medical alert bracelet glittering like a beacon in the shadows. “Holy shit, was that some kinda martial arts or wha—“
Before I knew what was happening I was on him, shoving him back into the wall, burying myself in his neck. He jerked and yelled once, then relaxed in my grip, quivering slightly. Warm, rich power flowed into me, erasing my bruises and sealing the hole in my chest. I fed to heal my wounds, and then I fed some more, trying to sate the yawning chasm inside me, the deeper power that tore at the life flickering in my grip, surging in triumph as it felt that life start to go out—
I tore myself away, staggering back. Michael slumped to the ground, sprawled next to his assailants, eyes closed. The darkness inside roared in frustration, urging me back for the kill, but I remained motionless, waiting until it finally calmed down. The writhing hunger was soon overwhelmed with a new sensation.
I wiped absently at the blood on my face and stepped forward, reaching carefully to Michael’s bloodied neck. His wounds were sealing as I watched, but I didn’t relax until I felt a pulse. Weak, so very weak, but still there.
His tanned skin had gone deathly pale, and his tousled hair was matted with blood and dirt. The ghostly reflections of Rob were gone, drained out, but as I stared, my mind flashed back to my old lover anyway, a vision of him from a different time: thin, skin ashen between angry lesions, surrounded by a forest of yellow pill bottles, wracked with coughing that never seemed to end.
The distant wail of an approaching siren shook me out of my reverie. Someone at the bar had probably heard the shot. It took me another long moment, though, to tear my gaze away from the boy lying in front of me. When I finally did, I turned around and disappeared silently into the night.