torch, August 1998

Disclaimer: I am making this up. It's not actually happening. And I think I'm probably erring on the side of caution with the rating. It's Susie's fault, in a way, indirectly. This one is very short, so read slowly. Do not archive this story without permission.

Witness tree

It gets so dark sometimes. I swear the nights are longer and blacker now, to hold everything that has to get done. There's work you can only do in the nighttime; there's a certain way you feel, in the dark, that makes you let go of things you might have believed in once. The air is cool, rich with the smell of wet grass. The rain stopped an hour ago, after soaking my shoes. I lean back against the tree trunk and close my eyes, open them again.

The bark is smooth, and no initials were ever carved here. Leaves greenish gray in the day, black now, black lace and trace of branches above me. Another small town, quiet misery, people with haunted eyes. They're not even puzzle pieces, they're tiny fragments, their information twisted and incomplete. You need infinite patience to deal with that, which is something I've never pretended to have.

He's coming across the field, following the same path I did earlier. The moon comes out from behind the clouds and I can see him for a moment, walking slowly on long legs. It amuses me to think that his feet don't quite touch the ground. He knows I'm here but it's not until he's standing right in front of me that he looks up, looks at my face. And frowns. "What happened?"

"I walked into a door." Exchange of looks, there in the dark, a small battle. "Yeah, okay, I had help. I found another underground compound."

"Anyone left alive?"

"Not now." I see him wince. "You knew what my priorities were when you agreed to work with me."

"Yeah. Thanks for reminding me in your usual subtle and delightful way." He rubs at the back of his neck and I can feel the soreness of muscles as though it's me he's touching. That slightly numb feeling as you push at the stiff spots.

"They were making hybrids. Kids. At least, the vats were small. Place was empty except for a couple of guards who had orders to shoot on sight." And I hit the doorframe when I ducked. I reach into my inside pocket and note that he doesn't even tense up, doesn't track the movement of my hand. That bothers me. "I could kill you right now."

He looks impatient. "I thought we'd dispensed with the formalities a long time ago."

"And when they send someone with my face?" I get the plastic bag out, check that what I put into it is still there — the disks, the scraps of paper, the small glass tube with the tissue sample. "Here. Don't lose it." It annoys him when I say that, so I always say it. And half the time he does lose the stuff, it gets mysteriously mislaid, misfiled, mistreated into unrecognizability in labs, the usual. We're getting closer, though, our nights as long and dark as theirs.

He puts it in his pocket, sighs. "It's been a long day." And he changed before coming out to see me, put on matching black.

"You want a blow job?"


I push myself away from the tree trunk, stand up straight and flex my toes inside the damp boots. "I'm outta here, then."

But he lifts a hand and puts it on my chest, no force, just holding it there. "Wait." He takes a step forward, a step closer, and there's a slump to his shoulders, a certain set to his eyes and mouth that I know though I can barely see it, here in the dark. "I'm just so damn tired."

"Tell your shrink. I don't care." I lift my hand and grip his wrist, but I don't have the strength to pull him away, the palm that's resting at the center of my chest, I can't move it. "I have to go."

He falls against me, flows into me, wave of darkness, the full weight of him leaning into me, not heavy enough. And slides down slowly, kneeling before me in the wet grass, the mud. "I don't want a blow job," he says and starts to unbutton my jeans.

Speechless, I look into the night, looking for clues. There are pale flowers growing over by the ditch; I don't know what they're called. He's touching me, stroking me softly, letting me grow hard under the slow caress of his hand before taking me into his mouth. This isn't how it goes. This isn't what we do. On his knees in front of me and Jesus.

It gets so dark, and then his tongue laps at me like a flare of lightning.

"Don't do this to me."

But he does, he sucks slowly and thoroughly, eating my distraction, my distance, forcing me to be here, panting for breath, pressed back against the tree. So close. We shouldn't share this too, we're already tied to each other in so many dangerous ways. There's a certain way you feel in the dark. His tongue on me. I asked him once if he fucked all his informants and he hit me, and I asked him if he hit all his informants and he looked at me and said, that is not what you are.

And I tell myself I won't make a sound, and I drive my nails into my palm, and his mouth takes more of me, so greedy, my sin eater. I never knew. When I look down, the moon comes out again and I can see and it's enough, I'm coming.

I've fused with the tree, its bark is my skin, I'm heartwood. He lets me grow soft in his mouth and carefully buttons my jeans again before standing up. He's still too close. So close, one hand on each side of my head. Lips brushing over my black eye. I think about breaking free, running.

"So fucked up," he says, very tenderly, and kisses me.

We don't do this. This is not what we do. I want to spit out the intimacy, carve his touch from my flesh with a razorblade. I want to crawl inside his body and wash my sins away with his blood.

The taste of him, semen and fading spearmint.

Released into breathing, I stare at him, try to see his eyes in the dark. "Don't do that again." And my voice is like the wind in the leaves and nothing more. There's a light in his eyes like the bone gleam of the moon, a glitter like tears.

He walks away, and the grass whispers wetly against his legs.

I turn away into solidity, forehead against the hard trunk. Close my eyes, see nothing. And my fingers hurt, scraped raw as I claw at the tree, scratching away at the bark. Making no marks. Writing nothing.

* * *

Fool star

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