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Slash and Yaoi Fiction
Title: Aftermath
Author: Juxian Tang
Fandom: Ai no Kusabi
Pairing: Raoul/Katze, Guy/Killie
Rating: NC-17
Warning: contains a scene of abuse/non-consensual sex
Status: complete
Archive: yes
Feedback: juxiantang@hotmail.com
URL: http://juxian.slashcity.net
Timing: set after the end of the novel/anime
Summary: Riki and Iason are dead; the others try to get on with their lives...

AFTERMATH

This story is for Blue, with lots of love

Raoul

Will I ever forgive you? I know you don't need my forgiveness, the same way as you never needed my advice when you were alive. I can imagine the lightness of your hands that gather my hair, pull it away from my face - a brush of your smooth cheek against mine and your quiet, silky voice against my ear:

"What makes you think I care, Raoul?"

Your voice, your touch equally cold, reminding me about the wall of ice that you used to surround yourself with as soon as it seemed to you I went too far, pushed too insistently. Your coldness always put me off, made me feel awkward and unfit. But I'll tell you something, Iason. There is almost nothing I wouldn't give to see this detachment in your eyes again, this 'don't go there' compression of your lips. I would give everything to see you alive again, to talk to you.

Well, I am talking to you. No, I don't see a ghost - and I am not insane. But as I walk around the billiard table, rolling the balls aimlessly, I tell you how I miss you, how the void you left in my life can be filled by no one else. I tell you that Jupiter misses you, too - I can always feel it in the touch of its weightless hand on my cheek. I tell you how no one can replace you quite successfully in your job although we all try.

But I don't say what I really want to say. I don't ask you how you could forfeit your life, your position, our friendship for a whim of a worthless being, of someone less than a human, someone who should've adored you but never even did that. I don't ask you whether you see where your choice brought you, how the way you'd taken ruined you. You did wrong, Iason, and you died because of it.

Why then do I keep thinking about it? Why sometimes, for a split second, do I wonder whether something that was worth you dying for could be something really right? And what if I miss this something in my life - since my life has never been so empty.

I know there, under the icy surface of yours, there must've been a blaze - you just never let me in there. Neither did I want you to. But now, with you gone, I keep thinking about it; I feel like I am trying to find something - something that probably even isn't there.

I can't forgive you for making me think and leaving me without answers; leaving me alone.

Well, actually, I am not alone any more. I found someone to talk to, someone who is as willing to talk about you as I am, who has as much memories to share and as few of them satisfying. Someone who had no place in the world of fire you lived and died in. Someone who misses you, too.

* * *

The veil of smoke was grey, the veil of hair was red. Behind them, Katze's voice sounded smooth, richly accentuated with the notes of amusement as he continued telling another story, rather an anecdote, about an operation he carried out for Iason. His thin body settled in a curved armchair was all angles and long limbs. He crushed a cigarette into the ashtray and his fingers moved slightly as if he wanted to reach for another - but he didn't.

"Well, I believe no Blondie has ever got lung cancer," he said apologetically, interrupting his story. "So, passive smoking is not an issue for you."

"It's okay," Raoul said curtly, pacing around the room.

It wasn't that he minded an interruption; he rather found it faintly bothering that, whatever Katze talked about, he liked to listen - and not only when Iason was concerned. Iason had been the initial reason of all that. But somehow, on the way, the situation changed. And Raoul was not sure he liked how it was now.

He'd met Katze several weeks after Iason's death - the weeks that were the worst. The weeks when he woke up at night with his fists pressed to his temples in a gesture so showy that he felt relieved no one, except Jupiter, would know about it. He felt as if he tried to physically expel a never-ceasing question that sounded in his mind: why. Why. What was there to make Iason Mink, who was a favorite of Jupiter, an unrivaled one, to give his life away? Was there anything at all?

He asked Jupiter - and Jupiter appeared to be worried, worried for him; he felt a very gentle, almost non-existing suggestion in their communication, about a healing mind intervention. It scared Raoul but didn't rid him of his doubts.

It was as he ran into Katze on the threshold of a nightclub in Eos when a possibility of a way out appeared indistinctly for him.

He'd heard that Katze was doing all right, even without Iason's supervision, accumulating more money and more power. He answered a short nod of the man and realized that he was staring, greedily, almost indecently, at Katze, at his composed, carefully blank face, as if trying to read through him, trying to find in Katze's eyes something that would mirror Raoul's own feelings.

"Would you visit me tomorrow?" he asked on a impulse, without having time to stop himself. "I'd like to talk."

A moment later Raoul regretted these words, vowed fiercely that he wouldn't forgive it if he saw even a shade of mockery in the man's eyes, an unsaid question: what are you so desperate for, Blondie? But there was nothing like that in Katze's eyes or his voice as the man said with a shrug, putting another cigarette in his mouth.

"I will come."

Only later Raoul realized that he hadn't said what he wanted to talk about. As if there was any other variant. It made him feel strange, to know that there was another person who could tell him as much about Iason as he knew - who needed to talk as much as Raoul needed. It made him feel elated at first - and angry, just a little bit later, after he already asked this question:

"Why did he have to die?"

"Maybe, because he lived."

Does it mean that I don't live, he wanted to say and never said it.

It was not the answer he wanted - especially not coming from a person like Katze, someone out of slums and a half-respected member of society. Maybe, any answer from him would make Raoul angry - because he didn't have one of his own.

The dependency he felt made him angry, too; the way he kept meeting Katze, time after time during next weeks, waiting for his visits almost anxiously. Could Katze somehow hold for him more fascination than just the things he said? Katze's face, with its sharp features and the eyes of dark amber had a weird effect on Raoul; both soothing for the pain that seemed to take a permanent lodging inside Raoul since Iason's death - and, paradoxically, making him strangely restless.

He didn't want to be obliged to Katze; he didn't want to have anything in common with Katze - neither his feelings for Iason, his loneliness - nor this strange intimacy he sometimes felt. He didn't want to know that the only man he could talk to recently was a mongrel and a former furniture. He didn't want to rival with Katze for the man who was dead and cared for neither of them.

"He'd chosen a pet, of all things, Katze."

"This you'd never understand, Raoul, would you?"

Taunting in Katze's voice incensed Raoul - made him feel strange longing, too, reminding him about Iason with a pain of a probed wound. This dry, cold irony Katze had in common with Iason - and Raoul wondered if he'd picked up it from Iason or if it was just something integral for both of them.

It made him feel uncomfortable - to think about Iason and Katze in the same context. They couldn't be more different; if anything else, it would be an abomination to compare them, a Blondie and a castrated mongrel. Yet sometimes Raoul caught himself on doing it. Too often, during last time.

Raoul looked at Katze again, intently, as if trying to remind himself what a proper state of things was. Katze met his gaze pointedly, continuing his story. He had a curious manner of meeting someone's eyes, Raoul thought, as if proving that he could handle the stare - and then, when he thought it was not noticeable, turning his head, showing his unblemished profile, hiding the scarred one in the shadows.

Iason had a cruel hand, he thought suddenly. And an unfaltering ability to mark for life.

He wondered, inconsistently, how Katze could adore Iason so much - Iason who'd done to him something that apparently caused him a constant discomfort, even after so many years.

"Iason felt very satisfied with the results of the operation," Katze summarized.

"Is it the only way you ever satisfied him?"

The question was ugly, awkward - and Raoul could barely believe he'd blurted it. It was so undignified - more humiliating to him than it was for Katze. As if he cared; as if it matter.

He saw Katze's lips part slightly, as if for a moment he was confused - and then he answered, deliberately easy:

"Sometimes I can't follow the leaps of your mind, Raoul. I wonder if you yourself..."

Raoul moved convulsively, a part of him wanting to hit Katze - but he also felt another urge, another impulse - the one that probably was the best proof to Katze's words. He went with that one. He leaned over Katze, putting his knee on the armchair, and reached his hand to the man's face.

The phrase died on Katze's lips; Raoul reached his hand and moved the curtain of smooth red hair away. What he revealed was the line of high cheekbone, the corner of wide, ironic mouth - and the stare of liquid-gold and yet chilly cold eyes.

For the first time Raoul could see Katze's scarred face unhidden - and yet, probably because Raoul expected worse, the scar didn't seem so bad to him. Actually, it made Katze look complete, in some odd way, he thought.

Katze's eyes were unblinking, calm - but the man's body was not so much in control. Raoul could feel him trying to retreat deeper into the armchair, as far as it was possible - as if in attempt to escape Raoul's hand without really shaking it off. Raoul ran his fingers over Katze's face, not touching the scar, in millimeters over it.

It surprised him when his voice sounded hoarse and unsteady:

"Did Iason ever do it... with you?"

He knew he was incoherent, omitted parts necessary for understanding again, and yet he knew unmistakably that Katze understood.

"No. *This* was the only time he touched me," Katze answered in a quiet, elaborately calm voice and raised his hand to show what he meant. His fingers nearly met Raoul's over his cheek. Nearly but not quite - and this non-touch sent a pang of pain through Raoul, making him want more all of a sudden.

Katze had a lively, derisive mouth, the mouth that Raoul used to see clamped on a cigarette or curved in a distant smile. It seemed almost soft from so close. Raoul felt another irresistible urge to touch it, to check if Katze's lips were really so soft. He did what he wanted, pressing the tips of his fingers to Katze's mouth. The man's gaze didn't falter, just became frozen, more controlled as Raoul's fingers wandered over his mouth and then ventured further over his face, along the line of his jaw, over his temple to his forehead.

Raoul sighed out as strange relief descended on him. The tormenting restlessness was going away. It felt somehow right to do what he did, to feel Katze's features against his fingers. It made him feel complete. Maybe, it was what he needed all along, he thought, maybe, it was the reason why he wanted to have Katze here, first of all.

But the relief didn't mean that he was satisfied, that his need was gone as well. In fact, it was more powerful than ever.

"I want you to undress."

His lips almost touched Katze's face; his fingers traced the thin line of the scar. He knew Katze would do what he said - couldn't reject him.

Oops. A sting of pain pierced his wrist as Katze's long fingers clasped on it, pulling his hand away, non-violently but inarguably.

Katze's hand was cool, gripping hard, and Raoul thought with surprise that the man was strong. Not so strong that Raoul wouldn't be able to free himself - but, maybe, enough to leave faint imprints on his skin.

"And why, for Jupiter's sake, would I do what you want?" Katze asked. He let Raoul go, pushing him slightly away, and, unexpectedly, Raoul obeyed him, took away his knee from the armchair and stepped away. He saw Katze smile. It was an unpleasant smile that turned the corners of his mouth up but didn't reach his eyes. The man shook his head slightly, almost in disbelief, and let his hair slip over his cheek again.

Unreasonably, Raoul felt a prick of loss, seeing it.

"As difficult as it is for you to accept it, Raoul, I don't have to follow your orders." Once the protective cover of his hair returned to its place, Katze's voice became civil, patient. "Since Iason is gone, I don't belong to anyone any more. You can make me obey, of course, but you'll have to do better for that than just order me. I am not your servant, let alone your pet."

"I can turn you into a pet, you know that!"

It was stupid. Raoul regretted saying it at the same moment - and, of course, Katze was not going to let it slip. His laughter, cold, merciless, cut through Raoul's nerves.

"Oh no, Raoul, you can't. A former furniture - and of my age - a pet? Your reputation won't survive it."

Raoul wanted to say that his reputation was his own concern - and bit his tongue realizing that it was not his words but Iason's. Real good. He already imitated Iason.

And it wouldn't be true, anyway. Iason might've been unafraid for his standing - or was too arrogant to care for it. But Raoul had always been the reasonable one. He couldn't afford anything stupid.

And why would he want to? He could have any pet he wanted, the most attractive ones. He really didn't need Katze, did he?

Raoul bit his tongue, realizing suddenly that he had this dialogue with himself, looking for arguments and justifications no one asked him for. And over whom? Over a furniture... Was it rubbing off or what?

He looked at Katze who settled back in the armchair and regarded Raoul calmly, as if expecting something more. Raoul folded his arms on his chest resolutely, deciding that there would be nothing. He'd already put himself in a position awkward enough - a situation where he couldn't win without losing as much.

"I am glad we understand each other, Raoul," Katze said standing up. "You are a reasonable man. Unlike Iason was, right? And I think it's time for me to leave. Next time, when you call for me, make sure it'll be a business talk."

Raoul deliberately was not going to look at him, studied the intricate ornament of geometric figures on the wall. Yet he could hear clearly Katze's steps towards the exit, the slight hiss of the opening door.

"Wait!"

He thought it was too late for Katze to hear - and even if it was not, Katze wouldn't stop all the same. But he could feel the man stop in the door, sensed Katze's expectant gaze on himself. Angry - nervous and even angrier because of it, Raoul walked towards him, making Katze move back into the room. There was an unlit cigarette between Katze's lips. He watched Raoul who slammed his palm into the panel, locking the door.

There was an attentive but unperturbed expression in Katze's eyes as he observed Raoul return to the table and push the switches down, insulating the room, making it inaccessible for surveillance. Katze was silent and Raoul, having finished what he was doing at last, knew he was the one to speak.

"What should I do?" He sounded grumpy, somehow resentful - and yet, almost with disbelief, recognized a note of resignation in his own voice. "To make you... go along?"

He didn't know if Katze's snort was about the awkward expression he used or about the whole meaning of his words. He looked at the man almost with defiance, biting his lip; in fact, gnawing into it so hard that he already could taste blood.

"What for, Raoul? Why do you need me to go along?"

"Because I want you." It was very blunt - but Raoul said it before thinking about anything else. Somehow the whole situation was affecting him, affecting his wits... whenever did he say or do so much without thinking? He didn't know why it had to be like this, what Katze was doing to him. Surely it was not the physical need - it wouldn't be enough to do it?

He saw Katze move the cigarette from one corner of the mouth to the other - and felt almost desperate for touching the man's face, for sweeping this hair away and looking at his face uncovered, clear.

"And what if I don't want you?" Katze said, with something very harsh underlining his words - something quiet and not amused and because of it somehow scary. "What if for me it is not enough that you were Iason's friend - even if it's enough for you that I was Iason's furniture? Sex by association - it won't help you, Raoul. You won't know Iason better through fucking me."

Iason... Somehow his name sounded out of context for Raoul. Katze should've been right, it had to be about Iason. Iason - beautiful, distant, unfathomable. Who else? And yet somehow Katze's words hurt. Somehow the implication that Raoul was for him just that - a simulacrum of Iason, another Blondie in whose face he, totally desperate, could sometimes seen Iason's features, irritated and pained him.

"I thought..." He couldn't quite believe he was saying it, but the urge to speak out overwhelmed his haughtiness. "I thought it was not just about Iason. I thought you came here and we talked - and you..." he couldn't bring himself to saying 'cared for me'. "...liked it," he finished.

He saw Katze blush suddenly; a very brief flush of red on his cheeks, gone almost immediately - and the cigarette, still unlit, traveled to the other corner of his mouth. Raoul found it became very difficult to look at Katze's face, to expect a derisive smile appear on his lips, waiting for retribution for what he'd just said.

Raoul turned away, wrapping his arms around himself. He felt hollow inside, more than ever, not even angry any more.

"I did." The words were very quiet. Katze didn't move, Raoul could feel it - but he also could feel as if something changed, an invisible wall separating them going down. Hastily, in need to fix the achievement - and not letting himself think again, Raoul turned back.

"If you undress, I'll undress, too."

There was a sparkle of humor in Katze's eyes - but not unkind this time, not like before. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and dropped it into the ashtray.

"You'll get a rotten end of the stick from the deal, Raoul. I am not so aesthetically pleasant when naked as, undoubtedly, you are."

"Do it." He didn't care; he couldn't wait. His fingers clasped the fastening of the high collar almost feverishly and he froze, waiting for Katze to take off his jacket. Their eyes were locked on each other's as their hands moved, very carefully in unison, discarding their clothes piece after piece.

It was slow. But Raoul's breath was hastened, uneven, a draft of the air against his bare skin chilling him and yet making him feel as if he was flushed, felt too warm to touch.

He didn't know if Katze would find him 'aesthetically pleasant'. He was reasonably sure of it. He couldn't quite determine, though, what it was he felt as he looked at Katze who straightened in front of him. Was it a curiosity, unexpected, undignified in his position? But well, wasn't he is a way past dignity now?

He'd seen every possible kind of naked bodies in his life and got bored with whatever they could offer him. Sometimes he thought whether what Iason had done was not so ridiculous, after all, could be a way out of a kind. Perhaps it was - or why would his heart speed up like that, make him feel young and vulnerable as he'd involved himself in this dishonor... But he knew that even if he was going to regret what he'd done later, he surely didn't feel regrets now.

As it happened to most furniture, castration had made Katze tall and thin. He was almost as tall as a Blondie, but bonier, the lines of his body less smooth. And, unreasonably, Raoul found this imperfection enticing, making him study Katze greedily for it. It was not boring. It was... a proof that Katze was real - that he was exactly the one Raoul wanted.

But of course, Katze was. His genitals - his cock half-hard, which strangely gladdened Raoul who was conscious of his own straining erection - looked unusual because of shriveled, empty ballsac. Raoul recalled how he and Iason discussed the advisability of this kind of mutilation - and his own words that he didn't understand the point of putting a distinguishing mark somewhere where no one but its bearer would see it.

Now he could see it, too.

The deformation was undeniable - but, strangely, it didn't look ugly, the same as Katze's scar didn't look ugly. It looked just right, Raoul thought, it made Katze what he was. He shouldn't feel self-conscious about it...

And, almost as if in reply to his thoughts, Katze moved his hand up, covering not his groin but his face.

"No..." Raoul barely recognized his own voice, so low, so urgent it was. He stepped towards Katze, covering the distance between them in one stride, and pushed the man's hand away from his face. "I want to see you."

This time Katze didn't resist. But the truth was that Raoul couldn't really see anything. They were so close that Katze's face blurred, white skin and red hair and darkened almost to bronze-brown eyes. Raoul's hands were on Katze's face, cupping around it, his fingers feeling unblemished softness of his skin and rough texture of the scar. Katze's hair fell over his hand, smooth like heavy silk, cool against Raoul's flushed skin.

He needed more touch, more contact - and yet was unwilling to let Katze's face go. Their bodies touched below, his cock pressing against Katze's as he felt the man's erection harden to full extent. It made Raoul feel glad and dazed, as if drugged - and in desperate need for more. And yet he was not sure what more could there be, what he could do without relinquishing too much.

As if he already didn't relinquish more than it was safe.

He felt Katze's hand on his temple, sliding into the mess of his hair, pulling his head closer. And then Katze's mouth was on his, tasting cigarettes almost in a familiar way, almost as if Raoul had tasted it before. And so soft. Raoul felt Katze's tongue in his mouth and met it unthinkingly, probably awkwardly, since they pushed and licked against each other, hastily and clumsily. He knew his body moved in cadence with these licks, his groin and his chest rubbing against Katze's - and his hands left Katze's face, travelling over his shoulders, exploring the curves of Katze's collarbones and the soft hollow with beating pulse between them. He withdrew slightly to take a breath and kissed Katze's mouth, kissed all his face and buried his face against the man's neck. He knew his motions were desperate, as unguarded as never before - and Raoul thought it was all right. He had to get as much as possible before it was all over.

And it was going to be all over soon, he knew it. It was all because of his depression, all these long months of disorientation after Iason's death... it brought him this far - but there was a place where he had to stop. He had to stop.

He was surprised at the wrenching pain he felt inside as he let Katze go - but he did it, stepped away, turned away, letting his hair fall over his face. For the first time Raoul thought he understood the consolation Katze found in this veil separating him from the world; for the first time Raoul needed this consolation.

"What's wrong?" Katze's voice was soft, quiet. Raoul could feel his gaze on himself.

"Everything," he answered firmly. "Everything's wrong."

He was sadly triumphant on not letting any of raw pain of deprivation he felt enter his voice. He was regaining control; the things were going to be as before. He heard a faint sigh behind him and felt a shift of the air - and then Katze's hands gathered his hair, all the mass of it, pull it away behind his back.

Just like Iason had done sometimes. But the whisper against his ear was warm - and the feel of Katze's body pressed to his from behind was warm, too - and Raoul felt his resoluteness dwindle, drain out hopelessly.

"No, it's right. Just let me show you how right it is."

"You want me to do it your way?" He turned slightly and Katze's amused eyes were so close.

"We already do it my way."

"Okay."

He agreed meekly, in a voice that was a mere whisper - but it apparently was all Katze needed. He took Raoul's hand, walked him to the armchair, pushed him into it slightly. The finest fur of the covering felt startlingly cool and silky against his skin, the contact almost unbearable, making him stifle a groan and stop himself from arching. Katze leaned over him, in practically the same way as Raoul had been over him just minutes ago - but Raoul didn't mind it. In fact, he liked it this way.

"Don't worry. I won't do anything you'll dislike."

Katze's tone should've angered him, especially with the soothing notes in it - as if Raoul needed his reassurance. But, maybe, he did. And, maybe, he liked how Katze said it. With his hair hanging loose, Katze's eyes were uncovered, absorbing on Raoul's face as he leaned closer, bringing their mouths together. The tips of his fingers were on Raoul's skin, so swift and light that Raoul felt lost. He couldn't see what Katze was doing and didn't know what to expect - a brush against his throat, a light squeezing of his nipples, tracing the contours of his ribs and planes of his abdomen. A hand sliding towards his groin.

Audacity of this touch shocked Raoul - and yet he realized he was spreading his thighs, opening eagerly. Katze's rough palm lay on his cock, still, just being there - and he pushed into it, his moan into Katze's mouth sounding plaintive.

What had he done? He'd fallen; he knew it. He'd fallen worse than Iason had - because, with everything, he knew, Iason had never given control to anyone. Raoul didn't care. In fact, the thought of his fall, as creepy as it was, made him feel proud, in a perverted way. No Blondie had ever done that... He would know, would have to mind-cleanse them if they did.

He reached towards Katze when the man broke the kiss. Katze's smile was brief and not mocking. He bent to Raoul's chest, trailing kisses down to his groin.

Raoul knew what Katze was going to do as the man's lips touched his belly and down there. A part of him wanted Katze's mouth on his cock desperately. But a part of him, the one that sang with the realization of irreversibility of the way he stepped in and made him feel as if an answer he was seeking for so long, was finally found, made him act.

He heard a surprised, half-protesting cry of Katze as he gripped the man and overturned him on the floor, getting on top. The impact was heavy enough, even with Raoul's arms softening it, to make Katze gasp. Remorseful, Raoul kissed his face, trying to make up for it. He felt Katze squirm under him and then relax, chuckling slightly, the sound going all through Raoul's body.

"This room is the worst place in your house for having sex, I guess."

He placed a kiss on Katze's mouth, muffling the last words.

"There is no good place for having sex in my house."

He held Katze down effortlessly, kissing his way over the man's torso and then, resolutely, he wrapped his mouth around the head of Katze's cock. He heard Katze suck in a breath and felt triumph at being able to surprise him, to do something Katze didn't expect.

Raoul knew what to do; theoretically - had seen pets doing it to each other. It turned out more difficult, with the head of Katze's cock butting against the back of his throat.

"Shh, easy, easy." Katze's hand was in his hair, patting him. "Mind your teeth. You probably don't feel pain but I do."

Raoul settled into a kind of rhythm eventually, the sliding of his mouth easy and slick with spit. It was a mess; he pushed his own hair way from getting into his mouth but it still got there. Yet somehow it was a mess that felt real, something that made him feel real, too.

He let Katze's cock out of his mouth and moved, getting to straddle the man's hips. Katze's flushed face, the red silk of his hair spread around it, looked almost dazed, lost in passion. He'd never seen anything more beautiful, Raoul thought very clearly.

Katze's cock was in his hand as he spread his thighs wider, setting it against his anus. He was not afraid of pain; he knew he would be able to shut it down, to be aware of it but not let it bother him. He pressed down; the slick cockhead slipped away.

He saw a grimace of discomfort on Katze's face and tried once more, unsuccessfully.

"You cocky little Blondie." Once more, he was surprised with swiftness and strength of Katze's movements as the man sat up, holding him on his lap, his laughing eyes close to Raoul's. 'Little Blondie', hmm... "Let me do it."

Katze's arms were wrapped around him, rearranging his body as if he was a doll or a kitten on his lap. For a moment, Raoul saw Katze look around as if in search for something, and then shake his head, giving up. The sight of Katze licking his fingers was almost too much for Raoul. He moaned pitifully, striving towards Katze. Katze's index finger pressed against his opening, sliding inside it carefully but confidently.

He prepared his mind to control pain - but he was not prepared for pleasure as Katze touched something inside him - as if a flower of warmth blossomed inside him. He shivered and thrust back involuntarily, trying to get more of this finger, tossing his head back.

"Here, here," Katze whispered against his throat, kissing him into quietness. The second finger made Raoul feel stretched and at the same time made him feel good. He felt Katze turn his fingers slightly, loosening the opening. He wanted more.

"Well, let's try again," Katze said.

He rose on his knees, set against Katze's cock once more - and this time its head got in, not quite comfortably - but Raoul kept pushing, lowering himself on Katze's lap. Katze's arms were a warm, solid cradle around him, holding him, helping him. He let out a small noise of relief when he was down all the way.

"It's inside me," he whispered.

"Oh, you bet it is." Katze smiled, his voice light and affectionate. The sound of it, its breathlessness sent the twinges both painful and sweet through Raoul's body, feeling strangely similar to the ones Katze's fingers caused inside him. He took Katze's face in his hands and rose - and slid down again - and rose again, all the time looking into widened, pleasure-dazed eyes of Katze.

He knew he was doing right for Katze - and he also found the angle that sent shivers of enjoyment through his own body. He felt Katze's hands clench on his flanks as the man was losing his control.

"You are perfect," Raoul said, his voice a mere gasp as he kept thrusting his body on Katze's cock.

He was; so open, his face so clear with his hair brushed away.

It made him clench painfully as he saw something bitter sweep over Katze's face, his mouth twitch slightly.

"Do you mean me, Raoul? Or do you talk to Iason?"

It hurt. It was unfair - and it made Raoul feel like striking back, paying Katze in kind, even as his body continued its motions.

"Why do you always keep mentioning Iason? Do you want him to be in my place?"

"Iason? Riding my lap? He'd better be dead." And, before Raoul's mind could proceed deliberate cruelty of these words, Katze's arms tightened around him, laughter sparkling in his eyes. "You are such a baby, Raoul, beneath all this. Come on, stop talking nonsense. Kiss me."

He did - and felt relief flood him, a slow, lingering spasm of pleasure going through him as he came, barely aware of rigidity of Katze's body as the man froze in his own orgasm.

A few minutes later they stretched on the floor, Katze's arm wrapped around Raoul loosely. Raoul found out that with his head tilted up slightly he could see Katze's pale profile and his dreamy, heavy-lidded eyes.

He saw Katze reach for the cigarettes and sighed, providing an ashtray.

"Care for one?" Katze offered him a pack.

"Yeah. Why not?" The smoke felt good - and the concentrated silence as they smoked felt good, too. Then Katze reached for the fur covering on the armchair and pulled it down, spreading it over them.

"How about doing it in bed next time?" Raoul asked, his voice unexpectedly small and hopeful.

"Only in bed."

He heard Katze laugh and sighed in relief and contentment.

* * *

Guy

I don't know what is worse. The times when my missing arm throbs and aches in the bones and muscles that aren't there any more - or when among the bikers, the ones I know so well, I suddenly see your figure. I almost want to call then, to say 'Riki' to make you turn around, to see your eyes, bright, fierce and smiley. But I know it won't be you - you are not there. It's just another one of my phantom pains - the pains I have to live with.

You know when I think about it, it is not even guilt I feel - guilt would possibly be easier to deal with, more understandable. It is the realization of a tremendous mistake I made. What kind of mistake? I wanted you to be free, didn't I? But now you are dead - and I am alive; alive and kicking. Whatever. With quite a stretch of years in front of me - time enough for every regret, every memory to revisit me thousands, countless times.

I know you probably forgave me. You saved my life - once more. You gave me life that hurts living. Burns like molten metal, every intake of air scalding my lungs. Sometimes it feels impossible to drag myself through another day, another night... Well, I don't think you want to hear about the dreams. They are unessential. But do you know - being awake is even worse.

You gave me my life - and how can I take it away? It's easy - too much stout one night, a wrong turn of the bike - and it will be all over. It will stop hurting.

Only I don't want it to stop. It would be too easy - to let myself go. I live because you wanted me to live - and because it's a way of punishing myself for your death. I will be what you wanted me to be, Riki. I know you wouldn't want me to give up.

And I know you wouldn't want the Bisons, who you led, to go down, the guys to die slowly of drinking and boredom. You would put it on me not to let it happen.

So, I pull myself together - prodding myself into action - and I pull them together: Luke, Sid, Norris. The expectant looks in their eyes almost make me feel good, make me feel alive.

"I have a plan," I say. "We have work in Tanagura next week."

* * *

We waited in a ventilation duct. Below us, the bright-lit corridors of Plaza were almost empty, just a couple or two walked past within quarter an hour.

It was going to be the shortest work the Bisons ever did - would take a second and a half all together - but waiting was everything. Timing was everything.

"He's coming." I heard Luke's quiet voice in the earphone. I knew Sid heard the same thing and was ready.

A man appeared from behind the corner, dressed in an over-expensive suit, the one that changed color depending on the illumination. It didn't help him much, his bulky figure with a big belly marked him as a stranger. He had a flat brown suitcase in his hand.

The courier.

He walked briskly but casually, his stance not giving away any of the tension he might've felt - and when Sid appeared from behind the other corner, the man's face became alert only for a moment. Sid walked past him, with a big spacey grin on his face.

The man's expression became the one of slight repulsion as he must've smelled alcohol from him. He stepped aside, letting Sid pass - and that was when Sid swayed, clinging to him for balance. Their bodies collided, the suitcase knocked out of the man's hand.

"Oh, I am sorry, I am sorry!" Sid was slurring but polite. He grabbed the man's hand and tried to pull him up - just to make them fall again.

I think the man would react more violently, felt more threatened - yet he must've known there was no one else in the corridor. As they rolled on the floor, Norris moved the ceiling panel away - and I slid into the opening on the sling wire, another suitcase in my hand. I didn't even touch the floor, put my suitcase down and picked up the other one - and Norris pulled me back, putting the panel at its place soundlessly.

The man was on his feet now, grabbed the suitcase immediately, worry replaced with relief in his face.

"Get away from me," he spat, outlandish accent very clear in his voice. Sid just nodded, sitting at the wall as if in half slumber. The man marched past him, not looking back.

Three minutes later, with Sid and Luke joining us, I forced the tip of the knife into the lock of the suitcase and threw the lid open.

"Wow."

It was wow, indeed. A scattering of fine, bright yellow gems, exquisitely polished. I buried my hand into them and felt their coldness and their weight and how they spilled between my fingers. I had a strange feeling that I wanted to have the other hand, to touch them, too.

But it was as impossible as seeing Riki's face among others, triumph in his eyes. I had only what I had. And it was the first successful operation of Bisons after six moths of nothing.

"There is so much! We can take a break now! Can go to the sea! To the best hotel. Good drinks! Girls!" The guys all talked at once, in hasty, excited whispers. "Lying in the sun the whole day! Did I mention girls?"

They pushed each other and pushed me until I closed the lid.

"Now let's go."

The ventilation ducts were probably the most inconvenient path for someone one-armed. I was the last one as we crawled, trying not to fall behind, letting the air through my teeth carefully. The crowded rooms and corridors under us required silence.

It was as we moved over one of the rooms Luke stopped suddenly, nearly making me bump into his backside.

"What the fuck are you..."

"It's Killie."

"What?" His words didn't make sense. At the first moment I thought I misheard. He turned to me, his spectacled face with the streaks of dust on it slightly drawn.

"It's Killie down there."

He moved a little away from the duct bars, letting me see.

The room was small and empty, without windows and with a door that had no inner handle - and the man there was crouched at the wall, his arms around his knees and his head pressed to his crossed wrists. All I could see were longish strands of light-brown hair falling over his hands and knees.

"Why do you think it's Killie?" I whispered furiously.

"I saw him look up."

I winced. Part of me didn't believe him - but Luke was not a liar. He was also the most stubborn person I'd ever known; if something got into his mind, he was going to insist on it with foam at his mouth.

"I thought he was somewhere on the beach, having fun. Who could think he'd wind up as a pet?"

There must've been something in my face that Luke considered it necessary to explain:

"These are the rooms for the pets for the show. Don't you look down, Guy?"

I would - if I had to put less effort into crawling one-handed.

"He's a bastard," Luke noticed sententiously, "but it's ill fate for him, I'd say."

The guy down there was dressed - or, I would say, undressed, as a pet, true - I could see it. His knee-long breeches of leather consisted of thin straps all along the sides and revealed more than covered. I couldn't see if he had some top but his arms were bare, with strange leather cuffs around his wrists. He had the same ones around the ankles of his bare feet - something too crude to be decorative - and yet giving him an exotic and strangely forlorn look.

"Guy, what are you going to do?" Luke's desperate whisper made me glance at him.

"Follow the others and wait for me in the junction A. I'll be back in three minutes."

I fixed the end of the sling wire on the pipe, moved the panel away and slid down.

What I was going to do? It was indeed a good question - but I didn't think Luke would like the answer to it.

It was not that it was going to change anything. The past was the past - and Riki was dead - and so much happened after that set-up in the hangar that I almost wondered if there was something more than a few bullets entering flesh, a few ribs broken under the boots of the policemen.

But the past never could be just the past for me. Not when it hurt like this.

The pet raised his face when he heard me landing - and for a split second it seemed to me that it was Riki looking at me, with bitterness and pain I'd seen in his eyes when he undressed for me then, in Dana Bahn. But it was just a moment, indeed. Then I saw the eyes... the eyes always were going to give him away.

Killie's face looked paler than it'd been in Ceres - and there was also something new in the way he looked. As if he looked younger, even though I knew it was not possible. Not in his features - but his gaze, lost, somehow disoriented - like he was constantly surprised with everything that happened around him, was disconnected with reality.

"Long time no see, you little son of bitch." I made a few steps towards him. "Didn't expect to meet me? It's payback time."

Even one-handedly I was sure I would be able to snap his neck. And then I would spit on his body.

And then I'd probably have another dream where Riki would look at me sadly and silently, not blaming me for anything - but making me feel that he became even more distant from me.

Killie's thin eyebrows moved together over his mismatching eyes, not real fear in them but as if he had difficulty to figure out the meaning of my words. He didn't make a sound, didn't try to call for help or fight. I put my hand on his throat and pressed, feeling the warm beating of his pulse under my palm.

I had killed before. It was a knowledge I lived with every day, even if sometimes it seemed almost unreal for me. I killed Riki - and I killed the Blondie, Iason; for him I, however, didn't feel remorse. Perhaps I hadn't done it with my bare hands - but it was the same sure as if I had. And, speaking about hands, I knew how Riki's blood felt on them, the warm stream over my fingers as I cut through his ballsac, his body unresisting, spread open for me not in love but in resignation.

Just like Killie didn't resist me.

His lips trembled as I pressed and his eyes went wider, his pupils going huge in pain. He raised his hand and touched my arm but not quite in struggle, a very inefficient gesture that wouldn't ever stop me.

I let him go and stepped away, suppressing a shiver. Bastard. Why didn't he struggle?

"What's wrong with you? Are you drugged out of your mind?"

He stared at me with these wide, strangely bewildered eyes, rubbing the place on his throat where my fingers had been. His voice was broken with gasps as he whispered - a sound so soft that I barely could hear it:

"You can't hurt me. My master didn't allow you."

His master... A wave of repulsion covered me. The Killie I knew was an asshole - but a cocky one - and never he would call anyone his master.

"Don't you recognize me?"

Asking this made me feel uncomfortable. Was he mind-wiped? He must've been, I was pretty sure. That would explain the childish expression in his eyes, his inability to take care of himself even basically.

"Do I know you?" There was the strangest mix of fear and careful hope in his eyes.

"You tell me."

It was pointless. I should've been going; three minutes I promised to Luke already passed - and Killie not even remembering me made any revenge meaningless.

"I... sometimes things slip out of my mind."

"Then look better."

I didn't know what made me kneel in front of him, closing my face to his - why I wanted so much for him to acknowledge me. To recall - me, Riki, whom?

He made a tiny gesture, a protective one, as if trying to scramble away from me. But a moment later his disconcertment was gone - and he just started in my eyes, as if hypnotized.

He would probably stare in anyone's eyes like this.

Then something shifted in his gaze - incredibly - and he said in a small, careful voice:

"G-guy?"

I didn't know why it shocked me so much. Didn't I want him to remember? But how could he... Perhaps things were not slipping out of his mind - but slipping into it, from time to time. Someone had done a sloppy job on mind-wiping him.

"Where is your arm, Guy?" he asked.

I wanted to say I lost it in playing the games with a Blondie, just like he lost his memory. But at this moment Killie's face changed suddenly, terror and distress filling his eyes, tears springing from them instantly, like it happen with very little children.

"Why am I here, Guy?" His hands clenched on my jacket, pulling me closer, his head pressed to my shoulder as despaired, unrestrained sobs racked him. "What have I done? I don't want to be here, I don't like it! Did you come to take me away?"

I listened to his muffled, desperate voice, felt his body pressing to me. I didn't know what to do. Five minutes ago I hated him enough to try to kill him. Now I was not sure what I felt.

It was not right. It didn't have to be like this. It didn't have to happen to Riki that he had to yield into being a pet. But it also didn't have to happen that Killie was turned into what he was, a puppet, with a mind of a confused child while his body became an instrument of entertainment. I didn't know why I thought about them together, like this. I shouldn't even think of putting their names together - but I couldn't help it. Killie might've ordered his own fate when he betrayed us - but the revenge was mine. It didn't feel fair for me that he was wrecked like this, casually, by a Blondie for whom he was no more than an insect crushed under his foot.

"Please, Guy!" His fists still clutched on my shoulders but his face, wet with tears, was tilted, crying eyes staring at me. "I can't stay here! My master... he makes me do things... it hurts. He wants me to be hurt, he likes it. Please let me go with you. I'll be good, I'll be quiet. Don't leave me here, okay?"

"You can't go with me." The words had a bitter taste in my mouth. I didn't know why I should've felt like this - almost as if it was guilt I felt. I didn't owe anything to Killie, the little bastard deserved everything he got...

But, speaking about guilt, maybe, I deserved it even more. Maybe, I had debts I could never even hope to pay.

It still didn't change anything. I couldn't let Killie go with me. Not when we had a fortune in yellow diamonds in the suitcase with us.

"I have to go, Killie," I said, uncurling his clenched fingers from my jacket. Despair in his eyes made something knot painfully inside me. I tried not to meet his gaze.

"He wants me on the show," he whispered, his body curling, arms around his knees as if he was cradling himself, trying to shield himself from the world. "It's going to hurt. I don't want to go there."

"You'll be okay." I touched his shoulder awkwardly. These were trashy words. I didn't know if he was going to be okay. But there wasn't anything I could do, anyway.

The steps at the door startled me - and I saw Killie press to the wall even closer, his eyes wild. A little whimper he made was the one of a cornered animal. The sling wire raised me back to the duct a moment before two androids entered the room.

"You go, pet."

"Guy!" he called for me. They didn't react, probably defined him for what he was, mad and raving. "Guy, help me!"

One of the androids pressed his palm to Killie's shoulder, a shot of current making Killie cry out as he slumped on the floor. They picked him up and dragged out of the room.

* * *

In the junction A the guys checked the watch nervously as I appeared.

"Three minutes, Guy, huh?"

I shrugged.

"So," Luke, of course, had told them everything. "It was Killie?"

"Yes, it was."

"You killed him..."

"No." They didn't ask for any explanation and suddenly I felt warm realizing that they were not ready, didn't want me to go this far, even if they wouldn't judge my decision.

"Let's go."

"You go," I said. "I have a business here."

This made them hesitate.

"It's risky, Guy..." At least they didn't say 'Look what happened the last time when we took a stroll around'. But they didn't need to.

"Luke, take the suitcase home. I'll be in Ceres by the time we meet the fence."

This decided things. I saw their puzzled faces as they looked back at me, descending to the elevator shaft.

As they were gone, I unscrewed a panel in the wall, checking for people around. There was no one and I jumped out and walked along the path.

Plaza was not the place we'd been in Tanagura last time - when Riki led us - but it looked much the same: light, glass and bright colors. And it was not the only reason why the feeling of déjà vu seemed to wring my heart to bleeding. It was pointless - I realized it and fought it - and yet the longing to turn and see Riki next to me was almost unbearable.

If only I could turn time back... Did I think about anything more often than about that? If only I could undo what I'd done. Things would be different now. They wouldn't be necessary good, Riki wouldn't walk with me as I would want it - but he would be alive. It was the only thing that'd really matter - Riki would be alive. Maybe, he wouldn't be even unhappy in the arms of his Blondie.

And, maybe, I would be dead by then, killed by stout, or another crazy bike race, or in a police raid. It would be better - I couldn't even say how much better it would be.

But I was alive - and Riki dead. And Killie was where he was.

The show room, a huge hall full of people, resounded with a constant buzz of too many voices, bottles clicking against glasses. No one looked at me; it was easy to be alone and anonymous in the crowd. I walked up the stairs on the second floor over the scene.

I saw the creature at once, on the scene - shock made me suck in a breath. That time, when we were at the auction with Riki - we saw a mutant in a water-filled tank, his huge body, gills and fish-like tail even more hideous in combination with a human face.

This one was not an amphibian - but he was not an ordinary human as well. His huge body was covered in glistening, red-brown skin, his long arms ending not in hands but in claws. But his face was anthropomorphic; the long slits of black eyes and big, very level teeth, visible when he raised his upper lip in an imitation of smile.

His anatomy was human, too - his nipples pierced and his gigantic member erect between his thighs.

I was by far not the only one who stared at him, of course. People around me cheered and exchanged remarks, approving the creature as he showed himself. I was startled to realize that he apparently understood what was said, walking around, striking the poses.

I almost missed the moment when Killie appeared. The same androids that had picked him up dragged him to the scene, his bare feet stumbled on the floor. The cuffs on his ankles were connected by the rings, I saw, making his walk painfully awkward.

The crowd shouted, almost deafening - and the androids pushed him on the scene.

I should've known what was going to happen. It was not this difficult to put two and two, right? But I think my mind deliberately refused to make the connection, to come up with the answer that was the only possible one.

When I decided to take a walk around Plaza, instead of going home with the Bisons - did I really want to get convinced that Killie would be okay, as I said to him? Perhaps it was true, no matter how little I wanted to admit it. And perhaps I knew he wouldn't be okay.

But the show - it couldn't be... about that. They couldn't put Killie... couldn't put any human, come to that, against this creature. Anyone would be just... incompatible with him.

The audience went quite wild. The mutant turned towards Killie who tried to step back carefully, as much as his linked ankles allowed. I wondered why it was done - to prevent him from trying to escape? As if there was anywhere he could go.

The android touched him again. The blow of the current made Killie convulse, his careful treading broken as he fell on the floor. The mutant made a few steps towards him.

It took an ugly turn very fast. I saw Killie get on his feet awkwardly - and then the mutant just swept him down again. In the spell of silence from the audience I heard a painful shriek Killie made.

"Get up." There was a voice near the scene - a quiet voice giving the orders - and Killie obeyed, like a marionette, getting back on his feet clumsily. He looked as if he sprained his ankle, cuffed together as they were.

The mutant hit him over his face, a broad, almost casual slap that sent Killie rolling on the floor.

"Get up." The watchers were almost silent now - and I could hear the voice clearly; I could also hear the little sobs Killie made as he dragged himself up on his feet again. This time, when the mutant hit him, he caught Killie's wrist and, as the blow threw him down, I heard a loud snap of the shoulder.

Killie's anguished scream made my stomach twist.

A reminder of sharp, wrenching pain pierced my own shoulder, spikes of heat going through the stump and lower, where there was nothing. I knew how it felt to have my shoulder dislocated, I knew it too well.

This time the crowd exploded with applauds, and only when they calmed down a little, I could hear the insistent voice of the man:

"Get up, pet. Don't make it difficult."

I didn't know why the fear of this voice was worse for Killie than anything that the mutant could do to him - but he got up on his knees, his arm like a lash along his body. The mutant knocked him down again, his knee slamming against Killie's chest. I knew he broke his ribs, heard the sickening sound of the crunching bones. Killie's chest fluttered as if he tried to take a breath and couldn't - and then bright-red blood ran out of his mouth as the bits of broken ribs must've pierced his lung.

I felt choking. There was no blood in my mouth but I still could taste it, felt it in my mouth - like when I looked up from the floor at the implacable face of Iason as I tried to get up, just to be swept down with another blow. No one told me to get up then - except the voice of my anger that was more powerful than any order.

The anger that had nearly caused my death - and that had killed Riki - the anger that was, maybe, a wrong thing to build my life around - but it was the only thing I had.

I looked at the mutant lean down towards Killie. Killie's fight was even more doomed than mine with Iason had been - because I at least had hurt the Blondie, showing him the ring, as much as he hurt me - and Killie didn't have any chance.

I saw the mutant latch his claws on Killie's pants - and I knew what was going to happen. He ripped the leather as if it was paper - and he didn't have a problem with the leather cuffs, too, separated Killie's ankles easily. Killie made a high, desperate shriek as the mutant yanked his legs up and apart, wide enough to accommodate his body between them.

I heard people clap, someone laugh.

I should've blown up this place, not Dana Bahn, I thought, listening to them.

Killie's body was vibrating with pain and, maybe, fear, as the mutant leaned his weight over him. The first thrust made Killie scream, his head thrown back, his hands scraping on the floor. Later he just made small, choking sounds as if he was too weak to scream. These little cries meant that he was conscious, even though his body was limp, doll-like as the mutant kept thrusting into him. The mutant's organ, glistening with blood, emerged almost completely out of Killie's body - and went back, got buried to the hilt inside him.

I couldn't look at it - and yet I couldn't look anywhere but at the scene, following every ravaging, wrenching thrust with my eyes. Killie's eyes, rolled up, showed whites between unceasingly trembling eyelashes.

My anger was gone - all my feelings were drained out. All I felt was anxiety, need for it to be over as soon as possible.

It went on, though, for minutes, until the mutant, pulling Killie's unresisting body closer to himself, froze, an expression of bliss coming up in his features. He ejaculated and pushed Killie away, without his cock going soft. His shaft dripped blood and come as he rose on his feet, making a few bows.

Killie lay on his side, curled slackly, motionless, and a pool of blood spread on the floor under him. I could hear his hitching, wet breath and it told me he was not dead.

I stumbled down the stairs, towards the scene, pushing my way through people. I had no idea what I was going to do, what I could do.

By the time I was at the scene, there were the androids over Killie, picking him up and putting him in the stretchers.

"Stitch him well." The voice behind me made me shiver, I recognized it immediately; Killie's master. "He's a gift from a friend, I don't want to lose him."

I squeezed between people, until I was at the stretchers. Killie's face, waxen-pale and with ashen lips, looked empty, exhausted beyond possible.

"Killie!"

I didn't care if anyone heard me. Anyone hardly paid attention. I was not even sure Killie would hear.

But he opened his eyes, no mismatching colors in them, just black. I saw his gaze focus on me slowly and his bloodied lips move.

"Don't talk," I whispered reaching to him and touched his forehead. "I'll take you away from here. I promise."

I didn't know if he understood. They carried him away and I was left in the corridor, with people walking around me like a live stream.

Then I turned around - and stopped as if shell-shocked. A little away from me, two people stood at the window, engaged in a conversation, one of them with a flow of red hair falling over his face. The other one, with Katze, was... Iason.

No, of course, he was not. It was just an illusion - the same as the one that made me see Riki's face in Killie's. Just another Blondie, this one - with the hair of darker, brighter gold and a face somehow warmer - or, maybe, it was just an expression in his eyes when he looked at Katze.

These two I hated, too, I thought.

They seemed so wrapped into each other, in the world of their own, their bodies not in contact but in a fine dance of subtle movements, striving to each other, attuned almost to perfection, their eyes never breaking a contact. I saw Katze raise his hand and sweep the strands of his hair away from his cheek, revealing the scar.

They never looked at me as I walked past them.

* * *

There was white light; there was no sound. Raoul knew his eyes were closed but he didn't have to look to see. He knew that he was seated comfortably in the armchair, in the focus of the light that came from the slender, pale figure on the pedestal in front of him. His hands were at ease of the elbow-rests and he could feel smooth, always cool surface of metal under his palms. But at the same time his body was floating, wonderfully light, unanchored.

Or, maybe, there was no body at all; just a limitless, joyous linking of minds; his own, heavier and less lustrous, dissolving into the shinier light of Jupiter.

//"You do all right in everything, Raoul. I am proud of you."//

These were not words, actually, but the spikes of brighter light - fingers of shininess that reached through his mind, caressing him there. He was vaguely aware that Jupiter didn't change Its position, didn't touch him. But It didn't need to. They were already closer than any other Blondie could be to Jupiter.

//"Thank you for serving me, my hawk. I know you won't let me down."//

Raoul felt the invisible, non-existing links withdraw from his mind, indicating that his report on the work he'd done was listened out and accepted. At the same moment his body started acquiring weight, became material. The feeling was dizzying and yet somehow calming down; he hadn't and wouldn't ever admit that sometimes he was afraid he wouldn't be able to regain substance after this linking. But somewhere deep, not in his bones or his brain, a pang of pain was born and lingered there - regret of losing Jupiter's touch.

Ever since he was a child, Raoul knew this feeling. He knew it was not what other Blondies felt with Jupiter - not to this extent at least. He didn't know, though, if it was his innate ability that brought him his position of Jupiter's assistant in mind control - or it was how he was designed, according to Jupiter's plan and for Its use. There were others, granted, those who could mind-wipe a pet, for example. But help Jupiter to monitor and govern the state of mind of the elite - in it Raoul was unique.

He didn't know if sometimes he regretted it - his unusualness, the way even a simple weekly report to Jupiter could become something scaldingly intimate.

//"I like how you changed recently."// He felt Jupiter's voice in his mind, more casual, less intimate, a normal telepathic contact. //"You feel better. You sleep well, don't you?"//

//"I re-acquire the taste to life,"// he said.

There was no point of denying the changes. There were others who could tell on him - and he wanted to be the first one to let Jupiter know, to give It his version of events. Raoul knew how to do it. He was not going to lie or to hide, he knew it was pointless.

Denial had brought Iason nowhere, just caused Jupiter's disapproval. Raoul was not going to repeat those mistakes. He was more experienced than Iason was, more careful.

And, the truth was, something told him Jupiter wouldn't oppose his private affair with whoever it was so much as It had opposed Iason's.

//"This new toy of yours is good for you, I can feel it. Even though he is not intended for the way you use him."//

//"Yes, I have fun with him,"// Raoul said. He filled his mind with images, of Katze at his feet, a worshipping expression on the man's face, his eyes hazed with adoration, his hands trembling in need to touch himself but not daring as he waited for Raoul's permission.

//"I don't know why you want to watch a defected being, instead of enjoying a perfect body,"// Jupiter slithered through his mind. A tiny part of Raoul's soul clenched in fear, expecting a punishing strike as Jupiter would recognize his lie. But there was nothing. Jupiter's voice was soft, sad and kind, as always. //"Enjoy it, then. But remember - just watch."//

//"I'll remember."//

//"I allow you to continue this affair."// Jupiter's gentleness was almost as devastating as Its anger could be. //"I want you to be happy, my son."//

//"I know,"// Raoul answered. He wondered suddenly if the lack of Jupiter's love was exactly the thing that was enough for It to wish him happiness. He wondered again why it was that Jupiter chose him for the special kind of mind link they shared, him who was not Its favorite, would never be - even now, when Iason was gone. He wondered whether, if it was Iason in his place, it would be just too destructive, Jupiter being unable to take Its fingers of light out of Iason's mind, until it would be shredded in pieces.

He recalled the anguished scream of Jupiter as It felt Iason's death, the scream that resounded through Raoul's mind and, maybe, even echoed through the minds of other Blondies.

//"I want all of my sons to be happy,"// Jupiter said and the lightest shadow of mourning passed to Raoul from It. //"I wanted Iason to be happy, too - but he left me."//

//"He didn't mean to,"// Raoul said.

//"Liar."//

What did he think about - slipping a social lie to Jupiter? He saw the figure disintegrate as Jupiter moved towards him, Its hand reached out. Fear knotted cold and painful in Raoul's stomach as he waited for a touch. A warning touch or a punishing touch? He'd never been touched in a punishing way since his childhood, since the time when he'd tried to destroy one of his peers out of competition. The splitting agony of it was unthinkable... and it would turn his mind inside out, making his little sham about Katze discovered.

He felt a wave of pleasure wash over him - warmth, acceptation, gratitude, closeness. A rewarding touch.

//"Kind liar. You love me, Raoul, don't you?"//

"I do," he whispered.

Outside the door of Jupiter's hall, still carrying in himself the afterglow of the touch, he suddenly felt weak and half-slumped against the wall, choking, sweat trickling over his temples.

He'd lied to Jupiter and managed not to be caught - on the real lie, the lie that mattered. About Katze, about what was really going on between them. It made a part of him feel cold and hollow - as he'd never felt after a meeting with Jupiter.

Raoul stayed in the empty corridor till the spasms in his throat passed and he regained his discipline.

Yet, as he drove home, Raoul still felt as if his balance was knocked out away from him, the ground under his feet not steady any more. He snapped at the android servant who apprehended him in his living room with some message. He entered his study and stopped still on his tracks, looking at the man who unfolded his long body out of the armchair and got up on his feet with a small smile on the wide mouth.

"Katze."

"I thought you'd probably have some half an hour for me." The man's voice started in a reserved, quiet way as he moved towards Raoul, his smile a careful, almost distant one. His smile became a chuckle as Raoul reached his arms towards him impatiently, snatching him, tugging him closer, pressing Katze's face against his hair and burying his own face against Katze's neck. For a few moments he knew his embrace was almost painful, too strong, pressing Katze convulsively towards him. He felt Katze's fingers lace through his hair - and as the man leaned away slightly, looking in his face, there was nothing inhibited in his face any more. "Or, maybe, you'd have some couple of hours for us," Katze said, taking Raoul's face in his palms, kissing it. "Or the whole night?"

Slipping down on his knees and tugging Katze's zipper, Raoul thought absently that it was a good idea to have his study soundproof and unobserved. He also thought that he felt stable again. And then he didn't think much at all.

* * *

It took two weeks to get rid of the diamonds and to send the guys to the sea. They looked quite incredulous when I said I wouldn't join them but their minds were already out there, somewhere on the beach, so, they were not going to be heart-broken over me.

I waited in the empty apartment, standing in the shadows where the lights from the street couldn't reach me. At last there was the sound of his steps at the door and faint clicking of the buttons as he entered the code. He didn't notice I'd tampered with the lock before him, his security was remarkably low for someone who was into his kind of business. I heard his voice - he didn't talk to someone but murmured a tune, a little ballad I recognized, popular in Ceres some years ago. "He's just someone I used to know..."

The light switched on as he entered, allowing me a brief look at his distracted, faintly smiling face with a dying cigarette between his lips - and at the next moment he froze - and turned towards me slowly, his hand sneaking for the weapon.

"It's me, Katze," I said.

"Guy?" His long, yellow eyes narrowed - the apprehension of danger was gone from his face but hostile, rejecting look stayed. I shivered as I looked at his face. It was always like that when I saw him - just too much coming back at once. His face was what I'd seen through the red haze of pain, of unconsciousness covering me in black waves - as he dragged me away from the blazing hell of Dana Bahn. There was the same hatred, the same implacability in his eyes then. "What are you doing here?"

He still had his hand in his pocket, on the handle of the gun - and I wondered if he was tempted to shoot me down. He had the full right to do it - I was a trespasser, let alone a mongrel. But I didn't think he would shoot. He hadn't let me die then, when Riki and Iason died, no matter what he thought of me.

"I need your help," I said.

His laughter was a crackle of dry wood and his pose became relaxed, casual.

"What makes you think that I, of all people, would want to help you?"

When I had been at the hospital, where they amputated my arm, he came to me once - his loathing towards me drawing him like a magnet. I knew he was hating me, blaming me, no less than I hated and blamed myself - and yet his face was the only close one, he was the only one I could ask for an answer.

I asked him why - why did Riki have to return. I remember the sparkle of triumph, of a dark joy flash in his eyes at this question and, I knew, what he said was as much to hurt me as it was probably true.

"Because Riki loved him," he said.

"I don't have anyone else to ask," I said. "I need a man inside Tanagura, someone who can hack the computer system."

He could've kicked me out at that moment - to stop all that. Perhaps I wouldn't give up at once - but I would, eventually. It was probably the repulsion he felt towards me that made him continue, with a strange feeling of distasteful fascination.

"What for? Another hoist? I thought what you ripped off in the fraud with my courier was enough to last you longer."

"It's not a hoist," I said. "There's a pet, Killie. I want to take him away."

I knew at once he knew whom I meant. I thought *I* couldn't forget things, nothing of what was connected in any way to what'd happened; but he couldn't forget, too.

"The one who set you up? I think you can be satisfied - one can say he paid for it."

"I know." I felt a wave of sweeping anger cover me, the anger that made me blind. The anger was my curse, had made me do so many stupid, outrageous things in the past. I wished I could believe now I controlled it better - but I knew it was not true. I took a deep breath, trying to erase the image of the mutant from my memory. "I want to take him back to Ceres."

"For meting out your own revenge?" Katze's mouth twisted contemptuously and yet with some bitterness.

"It's none of your business," I said.

"Indeed." He shrugged, taking his hand out of his pocket. There was no gun in it. He didn't see me as a threat. "Why would I care what you mongrels do to each other?"

I could feel the underlined 'you' in his phrase but I was not going to take the bait.

"Anyway, you don't need me, Guy, to get your little buddy out of Tanagura," he continued. "I am sure you can find a way to snatch him away without anyone's help. While his owner doesn't permanently live in Tanagura, he appears there often enough for it not to be a problem."

"I need his ring to be taken off," I said.

I saw Katze's long eyebrows break in a mock-surprise over his eyes - yet there was a small ripple of pain in his face, too. It was not over Riki, not over what I had done, I knew, but just a memory that hurt him no matter what, was beyond his control.

I knew in advance what he would say - and he knew I knew it. He said it all the same:

"I think you already have some experience of freeing pets from their rings without the help of their masters."

Yes, I knew he would say it. It still hurt. A little pain, incomparable to the one I was in when I let myself dwell on it, on what I had done. Sometimes I was glad Iason crushed every bone in my arm and I lost it - at least it was a kind of payment, of redemption.

Too little, too late, huh?

"I make mistakes," I said. "But I don't repeat them."

He looked at me; another ripple of distaste mixed with interest went over his face.

"You want to free him, then?"

"Yes," I said. "Yes."

He paused. I didn't know if he was surprised or if he wanted to say something - and I felt sorry for saying what I said but there was no way to take it back.

"Whatever, Guy," he said at last. "I am not going to help you."

"Very well."

I shrugged and walked to the door, past him. Our shoulders almost brushed and he stepped away, letting me pass. I pulled the gun out.

"What that's for?"

He was smart, didn't try to reach for his gun, not with mine pressing to his chest. His hands rose in a pacifying gesture, gesture I didn't believe.

"Well, I have to do it," I said. "Now when you know my plans, I have to kill you."

"I won't tell anybody..." he started. It was not even funny; I rolled my eyes up in annoyance. And then he pushed me, slammed his body into mine, breaking down both of us on the floor.

He was very strong; and he had one arm advantage over me. I kicked him, at last breaking away, and pointed the gun at him again - just to face the dark muzzle of his own weapon.

"You never learn anything, Guy. You can't better me."

"So, kill me. Why don't you?"

It meant pushing him further than it was safe - but I didn't care. It was a 'no win' situation for me, whether he shot me now or sent for the police. His gun was directed point blank at my forehead. I tried not to focus on it, see something else - and yet it seemed all the rest, his face including, became blurry - except the black round hole in front of me.

"You are shit, Guy," he said. "You are a fool and a murderer. You make me sick."

"And you give me creeps," I said weakly. "So, I think we are quits at that."

He sighed, almost incredulously; his hand that held the gun didn't falter - but the sound was as if he was tired. We sat on the floor in front of each other, pointing the guns, and kept silent.

"Why do you want to free the little traitor, anyway?"

"Because I don't want him to be there," I said. I tried to find another answer, the one that would be less revealing - but what was the point, anyway?

"I thought, after what happened, you'd give up making people happy despite their wish."

"Wrong." I couldn't resist a moment of triumph over him. "Killie doesn't want to be there. And... you know, anywhere will be better than where he is now, even the slums."

Well, I mean Katze had been there, on the show - what else was there to say?

"He betrayed you," Katze said stubbornly.

"And you mind-wiped him, okay? So, he doesn't even remember it. So much for atonement."

Atonement... Since I couldn't forgive myself, maybe, it was just fair to give a second chance to someone who was by far not so guilty.

"If not for him, Riki wouldn't have to return to Iason." What was he trying to do, I wondered. To piss me off, to make me snap - since he knew that I was inclined to doing stupid things when angry? He already won over me, what else? Did he want me to give him an excuse to shoot? I didn't think so; Katze was not the one to look for excuses.

And, as I looked at his face, there was no nasty suggestion in it, just exhaustion.

"The little bastard set you up. Because of him Riki had to give in - and to save your life, to free you, too. Riki gave everything for you - and your hand didn't falter as you mutilated him! And now you want to spare this traitor - even though who deserves it more than him?"

"I do," I said. "You do. You arranged it all, so, why don't you put the blame where it belongs? Don't tell me how much you cared for Riki. You didn't wince to see him die for your Iason. You were a lapdog of Iason - and now you are romancing with another Blondie..."

"Shut up!"

I thought he'd shoot. His face twisted and the muzzle of the gun jumped. I waited. When he didn't pull the trigger, I let out the breath carefully.

"It's none of your business what I am doing, Guy."

"Sure," I said. "What-fuckin'-ever."

"I didn't send Riki back to Iason, you know," he said carefully. "He made his choice himself, freely."

I couldn't listen to it; I would drop the gun and cover my ears - only I wouldn't be able to do it successfully all the same. It was that: I'd thought what I was giving Riki was freedom - and he wanted something else...

"I would gladly die in his place," Katze said. There was stark, unmistakable pain in his face. "Do you believe me? But I let him die with Iason because I thought it would make Iason happy. Maybe, it made Iason happy. And I have to live with it."

I did believe him.

I saw him put the gun down and slump against the wall, his hands put loosely over his knees. I saw a little motion he made and somehow I knew he wanted to reach for the cigarettes but probably recalled about the gun in my hand and gave up.

A part of me wanted to see him dead; but a part of me wanted to reach for him, touch him. He would possibly jump three feet high if I touched him, as if with a lick of a snake - but for a few moments I felt like holding him, hugging him - sharing with him what I felt.

"Are you going to shoot?" he asked hollowly. "Or you don't have bullets in this shit?"

"Help me get Killie out," I said.

"You never take 'no' for an answer, do you? Wherever it brings you."

"At least it's the way to do something," I said.

* * *

"Is it Mr. Hazali's suite?" I came out of the elevator on the top floor of the most luxurious hotel in Tanagura. Far away from voices, music and laughter below. "He complained he had troubles with light-level variations. I am here to check."

The guard studied my dark-blue uniform and the hologram sign of the electric company on my lapel. I had a coat draped over my left shoulder casually, masking the empty sleeve.

"Here is the pass."

It was okay, he could check it all he wanted. He buried his nose into the paper - and I hit with the side of my palm against his neck. His eyes grew huge and bewildered as he caught for the air and then he crumpled on the floor. I wrapped my arm around him and pulled him into the niche. The blow was going to keep him out cold for fifteen, twenty minutes. I hoped I wouldn't need more.

"I'm at the door," I whispered to the transmitter in the corner of my collar. I heard the little squeaking of the data streaming into the code lock. - and at last the door slid away.

I entered the suite. It was the first time I was in a place like this and for a moment I felt overwhelmed with the hugeness of the rooms, all that light and crazily expensive settings. But what I was interested more was a stationary computer in the center of the first room, with its screen glimmering.

"I heard the door. Is it Harvey?" I recognized the voice at once and clenched my teeth, fighting a wave of intoxicating hatred. Killie's master.

A moment later Killie walked in.

He looked recovered, just thin and unwell looking, with bluish shadows under his eyes. His hair grew a little longer, falling over his eyes. He had this dreamy, turned inwards look again, his arms in faint lines of scars wrapped around his chest as if he was cold.

One moment his eyes slid over me as if he didn't process my presence or forgot what his master sent him for - and then he sucked in a breath.

"Guy?"

So, he remembered.

"Keep quiet. We are going away, understand me?"

For a few moments there still was that helpless, confused expression in his eyes and then he nodded and gave his hand to me. I heard a faint jingle of the chain connecting his pierced nipples.

"Not yet," I whispered.

"What 'not yet'?" The man appeared in the door, his robe opened on his chest and belly, a newspaper and spectacles in his hand. "Who the hell are you and what are you doing talking to my pet?"

"An electrician, sir. You have troubles with light, didn't you?"

"Nothing like that. Why did Harvey let you in? I think police will find out." He stepped towards the computer.

"I don't think so."

He turned towards me carefully and faced the gun. It was a good gun, not like the one I tried to use with Katze - but a rapid-fire one. And with a long extension of silencer on it. The man's eyes widened. And at the same moment the light started waning.

"I told you there were troubles," I said.

The light hadn't gone away all in all, just became orange and dim and the computer's screen blinked pitifully. The man's eyes were locked on the gun and he unglued his stare with an effort, passing it on my face.

"Are you a terrorist? What do you want?"

Yes, I am, I wanted to say. And I want you dead, you sick bastard.

"Your pet."

He sighed out in relief, 'ah, that' expression appearing on his face.

"Sure. Take him. I hope you'll enjoy him."

"At first I want you to take off his ring. And to cancel his registration."

I saw the man's eyes dart from the computer to me.

"Don't try your luck," I said. "If you didn't guess it yet, all your messages are going to be apprehended."

"It's madness," he said. "You can't take him away. I got him as a present."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. A souvenir from a Blondie friend. Very touching. But you'll have to manage without him now."

It felt like I could read the man's thoughts, so clearly he was thinking.

"You won't get away far, with taking someone's property," he said.

"Then you really don't have to worry," I shrugged. "If you are going to get him back, is the whole thing worth risking?"

I knew it got to him. The line of his mouth was very stubborn - but he was not a fool.

"The ring."

I saw him look at Killie, an annoyed expression in his eyes, as if he wanted to ask whether he really was expected to do it.

"Come here, pet."

"Stay where you are, Killie," I said. Least of all I needed some crazy situation. "I am afraid, sir, you'll have to come up to him."

A painful grimace distorted his features as he walked up to Killie.

"Don't try to hurt him," I said. I knew his touch could tighten it as well as loosen it. He looked at me askance.

It was so easy, how he took it off. Just a few moments and it was done. With Riki, it'd taken time. There was blood... and he squeezed the belt in his teeth but still couldn't stifle the cries of pain.

I wish I could forget it; but at the same time I knew I wouldn't have a choice but to live with these memories.

"Now the registration."

He moved to the computer; the ring slipped out of his fingers and rolled on the floor. As he put on his glasses, his face became so scholar-ish, so harmless.

"Open the channel," I whispered to the transmitter. The man entered the number and his signature - and the confirmation record flickered on the screen. "Close the channel."

It was done; I felt I could breathe normally again.

The man started turning to me and I broke the handle of the gun on his nape. He slumped on the floor soundlessly. For a moment I wanted to send a bullet through his temple, he wouldn't even feel pain. I put the gun away.

Killie looked at me with his wide, mesmerized eyes.

"Put this on," I handed him the coat. He did it; I took his hand and we walked out.

There were a few people in the elevator and they stared at us but no one said anything. It was specifics of the overpriced places like this - if you were there, it meant you were supposed to be there; and the alarm was not on yet.

We took the turn to the auxiliary exit and in front of the panel I reached for Katze again.

"Enter the code."

The little blips sounded and the door slid open. And it was when the alarm hit.

I pulled Killie after me, plunging through the closing door. It shut down a split second later.

The night air, cold and fresh, never tasted better.

"We are out," I said and paused a little. Katze couldn't answer me, could just hear. "Thank you."

I pulled the transmitter out and squashed it with my foot.

The bike was parked in the shadows under the wall. I saw Killie reach to the seat carefully and stroke the leather with the tips of his fingers.

"I remember that," he said. "You can ride it."

"We'll ride it," I said getting into the saddle. "Sit behind me and hold on."

"Bike. It's a bike," he said as his arms tightened around my chest.

* * *

"Raoul?" Katze's eyes, red-rimmed of long staring at the compute or of cigarette smoke, blinked tiredly; but his voice was warm at once, its sound making Raoul's heart sink. He stood in the doorway of Katze's flat, appeared there without knocking, his authorization enough to open any lock of a common person's place in Tanagura.

He hadn't ever been there. He'd had a fair guess how Katze's apartment would look like - and it was about what he expected, the only light in it of the computer screen, casting flashes of white against Katze's cheek. He saw Katze raise his hand and tug on a strand of his hair as if Raoul's silence unnerved him.

"Come in. What are you..." He got up from the computer and made a few steps towards Raoul - and that was when Raoul hit him.

His fist slammed in Katze's jaw so hard that pain resounded through his wrist. It threw Katze against the wall, his face going blank and his eyes wide and dazed. It all seemed to happen very slowly - as Raoul hit him again, backhanded him, feeling the softness of Katze's lips split against his knuckles. Katze's head rolled with the blow, his smooth hair getting tangled and falling on his face. Raoul hit again, now with the open palm.

He saw Katze clutch at the wall, trying to stay on his feet. With a part of his mind, Raoul wanted to continue; to make him fall down and beat him, mark him worse than Iason had ever done. Anger bubbled in him, anger and pain. But another pain was stronger, was settled deeper - and this pain was draining him out. He raised his hand again - and let it fall.

"You stupid bastard, Katze. Do you even know how stupid you are?"

He saw the involuntarily protective stance of the man change slightly as Katze straightened. There were slow trickles of blood crawling out of his nose and a bruise was forming almost immediately on his jaw. His eyes were down as he touched the trail of blood with his fingers.

"You aren't going to ask me what it is about?" Raoul said bitterly.

A moment later Katze snapped his head up, meeting Raoul's gaze.

"What is it about, Raoul?"

There was no defiance in his voice - and Raoul didn't know if it disarmed him or made him feel even worse. He'd thought he'd feel better - after hitting this stupid idiot, after letting out his anger. But now he felt just awkward, disoriented. He'd felt nearly as much disoriented as in the worst days after Iason's death.

"Why did you have to do it?"

"To do what? Is it what you expect me to ask?"

"Why did you have to get into that affair? It's not a black market deal, Katze - it's a crime. An attack on a respectable member of society, a robbery - it can be even qualified as an attempted murder. The police is head over heels hunting those mongrel idiots. They'll show no mercy, believe me. How could it happen that you got involved?"

"Let's suppose I know what you are talking about." There was no hostility in Katze's eyes, just tiredness. "Why do you think I have something to do with it?"

"They traced the computer signals to your lair," Raoul said wearily. "You probably knew they would, so, you had enough presence of mind to get out of there before they appeared. And, of course, the place was registered on a dummy. But don't you know that it's possible to look through the whole chain, right to the real owner? And this owner is you."

"Oh," Katze said.

It was too little, this small sound - and these wandering eyes, a distant look in them - all this infuriated Raoul; it made him feel ravaged, empty inside. The way Katze looked at him - even only a long time ago, when there had been nothing between them, he didn't look this detached, this... alienated. As if he had nothing to expect from Raoul, nothing to hope for.

"Well, I suppose you've come to tell me that I am arrested?" Katze said.

The brittle, almost imperceptible sound of pain in Katze's voice made something break inside Raoul.

"N-no."

"So," Katze's voice was very careful, his eyes so intent on Raoul suddenly found it difficult to stand this gaze, "when will they come for me?"

It was impossible to bear. Raoul turned away, pushing out the words with an effort.

"Never. I deleted the registration entry on your name before they managed to trace it."

He heard a faint sound Katze made, recognizing surprise in it and hardly any relief - a very guarded sound. It made pain flood him - for everything that was happening with them, for what they both had done.

"You did that?"

"They won't find you. You are safe."

"Why did you do it?" Katze's voice became vibrant, almost desperate. Raoul didn't want to think for an answer; there was only one he could give - and he gave it.

"I couldn't stand losing you," he said. "I wanted you to be with me. Not in prison or outlawed - but with me."

"Jupiter will know," Katze said painfully. "He won't forgive you."

"I can deal with Jupiter." It was a presumptuous thing to say but it was his only hope. "I know some tricks."

"You are willing to lie to Jupiter for the rest of your life..." Katze started, his voice strong and incredulous - and then fell down to barely perceptible. "...for me? You, his right hand man..."

Raoul shrugged.

"Yeah, right. An interesting question - who would cleanse the mind-cleanser?"

It didn't matter so much, what was going to happen between him and Jupiter - not now, anyway. Something... everything felt wrong. Somehow he'd managed to mess up everything. By this moment deleting the entry was the only thing Raoul didn't regret.

"You are one crazy, arrogant Blondie, you know that?"

He turned back to Katze and saw the man's mouth curve. It was a slow smile, an awkward one, as if Katze was out of habit doing it. He snorted blood and pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, put one of them into his mouth.

This barely restrained laughter in Katze's voice - Raoul thought he'd never heard anything better.

"If you do something, you go to the very end, right?"

"I..." he said. "I don't know."

"If you are good - you try to be the best. If you are bad - then..."

Maybe, he'll feel bad one day, Raoul thought. He was a criminal, a criminal many times, in the eyes of Jupiter and of Tanagura. He couldn't care less now.

"I love you because of it, too," Katze said.

"What?" He flinched. "What?" he asked carefully.

"I love you," Katze said. His body made a small movement, as if he wanted to reach for Raoul and didn't dare - and Raoul felt a pang of pain at seeing this. He could never get used to how bold, almost brash Katze could be at some moments - and how guarded, curled inside his shell he was sometimes.

Katze's eyes were agonizingly steady - with pride and shame beneath this steadiness.

"You mean me? Not Iason, not someone else? Me?" Raoul just wanted to hear it once more. He wanted to be sure - before he would believe.

"How many times do I have to repeat it?" A small smile flickered on Katze's lips. Raoul sighed, letting the pain go, and wrapped his arms around Katze.

It felt right, it felt good - the thin long body in his arms, the soft smoothness of hair against his cheek, even the unlit cigarette in Katze's hand that he somehow crushed between his fingers. Raoul held Katze until he felt the man's body relax against his, Katze's fingers clutch on his clothes.

He caught Katze's mouth, kissing it, washed over by relief. He knew later he would be able to relish all other things that Katze's words implied: safety, certainty, closeness. But at this moment he just felt like he'd done something terribly difficult - and he'd done it successfully - and he could rest.

He tasted blood on his tongue, probably the one he licked from Katze's lip. He withdrew slightly and touched Katze's face carefully, wetting the tips of his fingers in red.

"I am sorry."

"I thought it was the last time you touched me," Katze said clearly - and added. "But you held back, didn't you?"

"Why, for Jupiter's sake, would I?" Raoul rolled his eyes mockingly. "I was angry with you. I am still angry, if you want to know."

"I don't," Katze said, running his knuckles against Raoul's cheek.

* * *

Raoul

Will you ever forgive me? I watched you as you moved towards your end, created your own death. And I warned you about it, I told you it was going to be as bad as it eventually was. I hadn't told you there was a way for it not to be the means of your end; there was a way to live and yet be happy. To protect what was dear to you - and stay alive.

I am sorry, Iason; I hadn't known it myself.

It's too late now for you - but can you forgive me because it's not too late for me?

Once you asked me whether I would laugh if you said you loved Riki. I wish you were here. I wish I could answer you. I wouldn't laugh at you. You can laugh at me.

THE END

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