Compassing Wonders
by Glossolalia

A second son, of a second wife, Daniel was given to the monastery at six. He was taken up in the lama's train three years later. From New Drepung, on the banks of the Sauk River in Washington State, they travelled the country, then the world, looping messily among the faithful.

On his travels, Daniel learned how to polish brass, to string beads, to play the guitar, piano, and violin, to craft tormas from both butter and barley flour as well as papier mache, and to chant in time and tune. Winters were spent back home, polishing, chanting, meditating, studying. He was well-suited to this life, though no one remarked on it; to do so would have been inappropriate. Small and quiet, his hands made quick work of sandalwood beads, butter and dough, the strings of new instruments. His eyes were wide and watchful.

The spring that Daniel was fifteen, the lama dreamed three nights running that blood ran heedless through dirty sand. They left on the fourth morning for Verona Beach on a mission not so much of conversion (they don't do that) as comfort.

Daniel stayed. He told Lama Ben that he had never seen colors like these, that the illusions resident here yearned to be studied. Ben nodded and ran his hand over the back of his skull, through his rattling dreadlocks. It is unorthodox, he had said, but perhaps you are right. We'll return for you.

It is warm here, like it is in India, and the ocean is like bathwater. The people are vivid in their faith, their lives. They dance in the streets and solicit favors in broad daylight. Or in the dead of night; early-morning hours when he walks home from work — he spins two nights a week at Noise Enough and barbacks another four — there is always something happening. Women weeping, children shooting cap guns or, sometimes, real ones, men falling to their knees in prayer.

Within the templar quiet of his skull, these events flutter like moths, wings neon-bright and antennae quivering. Daniel watches and remembers.


It was nearly a week before the tall stranger spoke to him. After each morning's study for his first-order Geshey, Daniel went to the beach every afternoon. He read in the shade of the old ferris wheel, non-tantric volumes he found in dustbins and on charity tables, and he noticed the man right off.

He let time take its course.

He saw the man at Noise Enough one night; Daniel was hidden behind the speakers, tracing out rhythms and sorting echoes on the turntables, but he could see the dance floor well enough. Beside the tassels to one of the canopies, the tall man lounged in a silver suit and blue shirt open at the neck. A slighter, darker man, about his age, wreathed and twined around him, all in crimson and copper, drawing loops of sparks in the air around them, sliding his palms beneath the tall man's shirt, licking his lips like a man condemned to thirst.

This day was no different than any of the previous ones, during which the man had sat on the patio of Rosencrantzky's, a cup of soda in his hand, gaze fastened on Daniel. Hours at a time, rarely sipping from his cup, only occasionally turning the pages of the newspaper in front of him.

Daniel would forget him for hours as well, as he became absorbed in Classics Illustrated or the second volume of Carlyle's French Revolution. There is so much he never knew about the world; there are so many questions and so much pain.

Yet whenever he looked up, the man was still there. Dark glasses hid his eyes, but his posture was turned, focused, intent.

Daniel finished the Carlyle, slid the loose, brittle pages back into the spine, and set the book next to him on the sand. Within moments, the stranger rose from his seat and made for him. He wove in and out between impromptu dancers, hands in his pockets, before reaching the paint-peeling sign to the Furious Fickle Wheel and leaning easily against it.

"I have a library, and many books," the man said. "You're more than welcome there."

Daniel considered this, the man far more than the offer. A lined face, dark-green eyes set in starbursts of wrinkles, like paper folded again and again and then roughly smoothed out. Wild hair, well-raked by nervous hands, stuck up around a pair of sunglasses, dark lenses catching and spattering the sun's light. His clothes were soft, tactile, inviting; a blue-and-pink-flowered shirt, cut gently as a pyjama top, clinging to broad shoulders and still-narrow waist, and well-worn black jeans. Creased black boots sinking a little in the filthy sand.

"What's your name?" Daniel asked, folding one arm over his chest. He was underdressed by comparison, just an old undershirt and a pair of red trousers the community at St. Athanasius's had donated to him.

"Gilles." Pronounced as if it were French, or Russian; Daniel has heard a lot of languages but picked up few. Zheels, the 's' below a whisper.

"Like Blue-Beard?"

"Precisely. Although, I'd hope, not quite so dangerous."

"Well." Daniel smiled and tilted his head. "Did you ever ride with a warrior girl named Joan?"

Gilles closed his eyes, shaking his head. "As a matter of fact," he said, opening his eyes again, "I did."

"Okay." Daniel extended his hand and Gilles helped him up. It had grown chilly in the shade, prickles of cold piercing the ever-warm air, and Daniel shivered. He was here to learn, to study. To meet illusions head-on and sort out the wrathful from the beneficent.

A large orange cat lived under the rusty, rotting scaffolding to the Mad Flesh Mountain ride, an alpine adventure for the kiddies. His ear was torn and one eye closed to a slashing scar; he greeted everyone but Daniel with a hiss and gobs of spit.

As they passed, twilight gathering and thickening the shadows, Daniel heard the cat's rumble and paused to crouch. He had the remains of his lunch — fried fish — wrapped in an oil-spangled napkin and unrolled the napkin, tipping out the scraps.

Gilles stood to the side and cleared his throat while Daniel stroked the cat's flat skull as it devoured the fish.

"You like animals," Gilles said, something like a question but calmer.

"Yeah, a lot."


"Nope." Daniel shifted his weight back onto his heels and stroked the tom's bellows-swelling side as he squinted upward at Gilles. "Human. You?"

"Jesuit," Gilles said and the cat's back arched before it settled back to its meal. "At one time, that is. Defrocked. Do you know what that is?"

He spoke like he already knew Daniel, knew all about his ignorance and the questions that coiled and shifted, serpentine, in the center of his chest.

"Can't wear a dress?" Daniel asked and took Gilles's hand again, hauling himself up. Close to, and Gilles smelled like limes and alcohol. Mojitos in his paper cup, not soda. Gilles smiled and cocked his head a little; his earring, heavy as a pirate's, glinted a little. "No, I get it. What'd you do?"

They were well away from the beach by the time Gilles finished the tale; the more economical question, Daniel realized, was what hadn't he done. Reverse exorcisms, demon-consorting, buggery and study of heretical texts. Daniel clung to his hand as they made their way through the dark; it had been ages — months, actually — since he'd touched another person. Since his roommate Tim left town and headed back to Greece.

In the mews behind Hotspur Street, the shadows were as thick as curtains. Daniel stumbled and Gilles caught him around the waist, breathing citrus and intoxication over his face, before kissing him. A sudden jolt, butter-lamps alight at noon, thunder through gongs, shuddered through Daniel. He wrapped his arms around Gilles and opened his mouth. This, he thought, is something new and good.

As quickly as he had leaned in, Gilles wrenched away. Something laughed coldly in the dark — a white face, platinum-bright — and Daniel stared. A black-egg being, shimmering and illusory; it was there, laughing, fangs tearing its own lips, and then it was gone, punched to dust under Gilles's hand.

Breathing heavily, Gilles turned back to Daniel. Touched his shoulder with a light, avuncular palm. "Do you know what that was?"

"A demon."

Gilles clucked, an odd, high sound of surprise. "Well, then. Yet you did nothing. A soulless thing, evil, and you —"

Daniel stepped alongside Gilles and toed at the greenish dust. "Not soulless."

"Oh, no?"

"Just — different."

Gilles drew his knuckles over the loose collar of Daniel's shirt, up his neck and over one cheek. Daniel shivered again but returned his appraising gaze.

"You have no sense of self-preservation, do you?" Gilles cupped his hand around the back of Daniel's neck and pulled him in for another kiss. Hotter this time, tasting like the dust overlaying the citrus.

"I do," Daniel said against his lips.

Gilles ran two fingers down Daniel's backbone until he reached the waist of his trousers, then slid his hand beneath the undershirt. Warm, smooth palm, cupping the small of Daniel's back, fingers drawing runes and equations over his night-chilled skin.

Gilles spoke into Daniel's mouth, using only tongue, not sound. "We'll see —"


Daniel usually walked everywhere; his soles loved the roll from pavement to sand and back again.

He knew the city at a strolling pace, slow and detailed: Torn corners of handbills stapled to telephone poles, slants of sun over faded, blistered stucco walls, half-moons of sweat gleaming on smiling cheeks. Gilles, however, was a driver.

He led Daniel to a parking lot and opened the passenger door to a handsome convertible, its hood occupying half its length. Brilliant white paint except for the crimson on the doors and the upholstery, and Daniel thought, for a moment, of his own clothes. But his undershirt was nearly ivory, almost primrose under the arms and around the neck, and if his trousers had ever been that perfectly red, it was well before they passed into his hands.

Gilles touched Daniel's elbow. "It's all right," he said. "You can get in."

He had been hesitating and didn't even know it.

"Thanks," he said, and waited for Gilles to slide into the driver's seat. Daniel fit easily in the car; Gilles had to slouch and fold himself, part his legs in order to steer. "Pretty car."

"Austin-Healey 3000," Gilles said as he pulled out onto Bacon Boulevard. "Mark Two, but it runs more smoothly than Mark One."

Sometimes, Daniel simply nodded. He rarely understood what people said, but they liked it because it seemed as if he were agreeing. He'd never had to do that in New Drepung, but then again, he had known everyone there, known almost beforehand exactly what would come out of their mouths. Here, there were questions and replies, the words to which he despaired of learning.

Past sunset, and the streets were just as busy as ever, nearly as bright. The wind broke over Daniel's face like the scum of ice on the river in the mornings. When he started to shiver, Gilles put his arm around Daniel's shoulders and pulled him in, steering with one finger looped around the wheel.

Everything was so much more frantic when seen from a car; people's movements and the streaks of neon off the signs were sharp, fragmented, stuttering, like the choreography in shadow-puppet plays. All the colors were sharper, too, shade and hue flattened by speed, until Daniel's vision was full of streaming banners, snapping in the wind.

He was still breathless long after they parked, as they rode up in a creaking iron-cage elevator to Gilles' apartment. The building was blocky and imposing from the street, acid-yellow stucco with tall windows narrow like goat's eyes, but inside, as they stepped off the elevator, it was massively empty and dark. Daniel knew the ceiling was far above him, but could not judge just how far, and his boots echoed on the uneven floor.

"My home of love," Gilles said from somewhere behind Daniel, and then the space sprang out from darkness as he switched on a light, "if I have ranged, like him that travels, I return again."

Daniel stood in the center of a room that must have stretched from one side of the building to another. The walls were lined with bookcases, three times as tall as he, and the floor was bare asphalt in some spots, broad-planked in others. Furniture crouched like sleeping beasts, settees and chairs, tables and, in the corner between two windows, a bed wider than any he had ever seen.

In the middle of this room, large enough to hold a world, Daniel was tiny. A mote, light and easily overlooked. He felt smaller than he ever had. Smaller than the day his mother's unmarried sister left him at the foot of the access road to the monastery with a bologna sandwich and a sweater in case it got cold.

"Yours as well," Gilles said, much closer now, nearly whispering. The hairs on Daniel's nape quivered under his breath. "If you like."


He thought it was a simple question. Gilles folded his arms over Daniel's chest and pulled him back, resting his chin on the crown of Daniel's skull. He didn't answer.

Daniel closed his eyes against the light and the size of the room. Gilles' embrace was snug, his breathing slow and regular. He didn't know what a home of love was, nor a home, plain and simple. Navigating this city, the life he attempted to follow here, took extreme effort, sent nausea plunging through his gut and vertigo yanking at his spine. It had been the same in the monastery; things were either too large or too small, and he veered and stumbled most of the time. Home was where people dwelled, slept, loved, ate, and relaxed; he thought he liked the idea.

The room he rented by the week on Sycorax came with a narrow mattress stained black and purple and a yellow shade over the window. Occasionally, when he meditated while sitting on the floor, he felt cosmoses flooding his skin, stars bursting into life, wheeling through variable constellations, then dimming, flickering out into tense, cold rocks. Neither was comfortable, nor right.

Daniel cleared his throat and tried again. "Why did you talk to me?"

Gilles guided him to a sofa, soft and yielding as spring clover under him, and sat beside him. "Looked like you could use a friend," Gilles said. "Or at least a few square meals."

"True," Daniel said. "Both things."


Gilles fed him, good and simple food, hot soup and soft rolls, sliced beef and mounds of green beans. Daniel ate carefully, his eyes on Gilles the entire time. The man picked at his food but drank his wine methodically, glass after glass. Silhouetted against one tall window, his tanned face glowed a little, pale afterimage of the wine against crystal; behind him, the sky was dark as new mud, streaked with pink clouds and rising blue smoke from a bonfire on the beach.

"Will your friend be here?" Daniel asked when Gilles finished a story about two men from the city, and how one of them regained his love for a woman only after knowing her when disguised as a boy.

"I've many friends."

"He's tall, with dark hair." Daniel sipped the wine Gilles had poured for him at the beginning of the meal. Warm as sunlight, it filled his mouth and seemed to rise like mist through his nose into his skull. "You dance with him."

Gilles smiled and, rising, grasped Daniel's wrist, pulling him to his feet. "Are you worried?"

"No. Curious."

"Abel comes and goes," Gilles said, leading Daniel toward the bed. "Much like his name, both ephemeron and victim. Names have powers of their own."

Daniel closed his eyes as Gilles knelt before him on the floor, tugging the shirt over Daniel's head and running his palms down his sides.

He knew Sanskrit, English, the Tibetan of the southern regions, Latin, and some Hindi. Gilles was correct; the names for things — jivatu, vita, life; jaladhi, mare, sea — changed the things as you spoke, read, thought about them. The names made different sounds, created new ideas that were never the same from one tongue to another. The things in the world shifted and stayed in motion when he realized that, that life and the sea and everything else were inconstant and incommensurable. Never to be captured, never at rest.

He lay back on the bed, running his hands up Gilles' arms, pulling him forward until Gilles straddled his hips. He unbuttoned Gilles' shirt and slid his hands over whispering hair and warm skin, squinting a little to make out the marks and runes inked over Gilles' chest. Thorns, crosses, names of saints and martyrs: His skin was a reliquary, memorial to an alien faith.

Daniel's palms tingled and his mouth was dry, sour from the wine, until Gilles kissed him, murmuring into his mouth.


Daniel knew about pleasure; before he left, Tim shared his bed with him, and before that, the young monks had communal quarters.

And he knew there are many ways in which one might explain pleasure. As a series of electrical impulses along twining, blooming nerves, delicate as threads of saffron or silk, which then floods the brain with chemicals. As friction, skin brushing skin, communication as deliberate and complex as bees' dances and rising smoke signals. As, above all, a dream, nonsensical and ricepaper-thin as anything else one experiences, but — like Verona Beach itself — more attractive than other dreams. Preferable, if one has the choice, to nightmares and sweaty terrors.

Until he came here, however, Daniel had never guessed that pleasure could, let alone would, be taken from pain.

People exulted in pain here. They sought out torture's relics and representations, kissed them, clasped the pain to their breasts and sang through tears and screams. He wanted to know why.

Gilles bent over Daniel, one hand on his chest, the other stroking his hair. The heavy silver crucifix on the chain around his neck dangled over Daniel's throat, tickling and scratching. A dead man, a corpse nailed to wood, moving against his skin. Gilles asked, "Do you know — what this is? What we're doing?"

He knew what sex was; the monastery was remote, but not puritanical. Besides, Daniel had read many magazines; all sorts of things turn up in the trash. He nodded. "Yes."

Gilles settled back on his heels, both hands on Daniel's bare chest now, nearly big enough to span it. "And do you want to?"

For a moment, Daniel thought of one of the senior monks, examining him on recitation, asking if Daniel truly thought that memorization could substitute adequately for understanding. Daniel blinked now as he did then, uncertain if Gilles' question was a riddle, a test, or merely sincerely curious.

Gilles touched Daniel's face, eyelid, temple, top of his ear. Touch coaxed out the reply.

"Yes and no," Daniel said. He reached up and hooked his finger around the crucifix. Half as long as his pinky and intricately detailed, glinting in the dark of the room; an agonized face, trails of blood picked out in metal. It was warm from Gilles' skin.

"And why is that?"

"Feels good, so yes." Daniel craned his neck, kissing the warm silver chain, then the side of Gilles' neck, never releasing the dead man. "Don't trust you, so no."

"Precisely," Gilles said. He smiled like a snake sunning itself, lips curving slowly. "You have a sharp mind for someone so quiet, you know. It's gone to waste among those pagans."

Daniel opened his mouth to speak — not a pagan, not in any pejorative sense, and he was quite sure Gilles meant it pejoratively — but Gilles pressed his finger over Daniel's lips.

"I believe you'll learn, the more time you spend in civilization," Gilles continued, "that pleasure and distrust are twinned. Conjoined, inseparable as form and cause in any ghost."

That's where he was, then: Civilization, and Daniel was invited to know it. Learn it, both surface and depth, skimming fingertips and warm dark mouth.

Gilles touched him as if he already knew which spots would make Daniel whimper, which would bring up goosebumps and which would arch his back and close his teeth around Gilles' tongue.

The crucifix bit into his palm as he squeezed it, wrapping his legs around Gilles' waist, pulling him in and down and closer. That was the first pain, insignificant and fleeting, and Daniel squeezed again, recreated the red flare beneath his skin as Gilles moved over him, opening his trousers, skimming them down Daniel's legs.

Naked, Daniel lay on his back, forgetting questions and curiosity in favor of the heat communicating from Gilles' touch and voice into his skin, marking him like ink, making him twist and answer back. He sounded to his own ears like a wounded animal, eager for another blow, whenever Gilles scraped his teeth over Daniel's nipple or slid his palm down the underside of his cock.

He was skin, eager and open, splayed open, gulping air.

Gilles told him he was a good boy. Daniel didn't know what good was. Words meant nothing, but the sensations, whether dream or electricity, were good. Urgent, piling on one another, slipping, begging for more. Heat stretching out in long, whipcord-thin streamers, tangling and growing, in his chest and between his legs and then.

Then, when Gilles poured warm oil on him, on his cock and over the secret skin behind, then worked a finger up inside Daniel's body, the heat sped all the way through him. Up the center of his spine, fire sluicing fast and sure until stars burst and wheeled in his skull, blinding him. Daniel folded into a V, holding his knees against his chest, panting against the light and heat breaking around, within, him.

"More, more —" he chanted. "More, now —"

Gilles' voice hoarse and amused: "Desire's not so imaginary, is it?"

Daniel shook and bore down, hips rocking. "More."

"Hungry, hungry boy." Gilles' laughter was fuel, more oil, shaking Daniel from the inside out, gold suns on red skies. "You'll get more. You'll get everything."

SarvaaH, omnia, all.

All skin, spread and channelled, afire and devouring, and Daniel craned up, clutching at Gilles' shoulders, shifting forward until he could touch in return. Cyclic and reciprocal, this was who he was at the moment, touch and touched, palm wrapped around Gilles' prick, mouth on his chest, body speared on his moving, tunnelling fingers.

Gilles pulled him up into his lap, placing Daniel's arms around his neck and thrusting his hips until his prick pushed inside, and this was pain and heat, electricity and cosmological creation, comets and bonfires.

Daniel closed his lips around the crucifix, sucking it deep until it scraped the back of his mouth, and Gilles moaned. Pulled at Daniel's hair so the cross moved in and out of his mouth and Gilles could watch.

Moaning and cursing, Gilles pushed harder, faster, his voice ever-louder. "Take the body, fucking take it —"

Death sounded like pleasure, drumbeats and swansongs, and Daniel twisted around the iconized pain on his tongue and the fiery, plunging pleasure between his legs, rocking between the two, taking them deeper as he stared at the wild darkness radiant in Gilles' eyes.

Skin, heat, pain: These were the elements, Daniel learned, as Gilles shuddered and pushed upward and mauled him with blunt teeth and clever fingers, of pleasure. They were unimaginable without experience, inconceivable then, but now, now he was learning as he flamed out, shot across the night wilderness deep in Gilles' face, and this knowledge was true.

Nothing but skin and pleasure. Easily pinched and gleefully tortured, but just as delightedly touched and stroked, and Daniel shook against the pillows, within Gilles' arms, whispering and gasping.

"Maiden blood," Gilles whispered. He raised his hand, palm streaked with the blood that beat out like gongs from the midst of Daniel's pleasure, then wiped him tenderly clean. Holding Daniel close, Gilles kissed his forehead, reverently, as Daniel had seen mourners kissing caskets, worshippers kissing the dead man's bloody feet, young women in black lace kissing beads that were made not from sandalwood but pressed roses. "Virtuous and holy, chosen from above. By inspiration of celestial grace, to work exceeding miracles on earth."

Daniel was empty now, hollow and aching, and Gilles' voice rasped like wool over him. Words black and buzzing, wasps consorting with gnats, filling him like smoke, then dispersing.

His mouth felt scraped, full of pulp and meat, wine and song, so when he spoke, it was hoarsely and hesitantly. "That was —? That was civilized?"

Gilles kissed his forehead again, and then once more. Ritual and choreography, but Daniel didn't feel like a relic, couldn't be an icon. "What do you think?"

"Yes," Daniel said. Answered all the questions at once. "Home, and good."

Gilles stroked back his sweaty hair and pulled a soft quilt over them, lying down on his back with Daniel curled against him. "Smart boy."

"Still don't trust you."

"Brilliant boy, then."


"Don't trust me," Gilles had whispered in the dark, "nor the flattering truth of sleep. But dream well and sweetly."

The bed was, however, too soft, and Gilles' body too warm, for Daniel to sleep easily.

Inside his new skin — which blazed and sang — his bones were a jumble of gnarled sticks, kindling roughly and hastily bundled. They poked into the mattress; he could not arrange them well, could not find their comfort but only new contortions.

Gilles slept on his side, facing Daniel, his arm flung out as if to grab him if he moved too far away. His face was slack, open and relaxed, his lips moving softly. Daniel wondered what Gilles dreamed of; his eyes moved rapidly back and forth, reading, absorbing, scanning.

Above the bed, the ceiling was cut away, replaced with broad glass panels. Light from fireworks and the ambient reflections of the city's activity filtered down over Gilles' body. His skin glowed, almost ruddy against the white sheets, his limbs long and corded with quietly stirring muscle. The tattoos danced and hovered over his skin in the shifting light.

Daniel traced the length of Gilles' torso, his finger skimming a fraction above the surface, all the way from one broad shoulder, the knob of bone turned out like a piece of carved beech, down over his ribs and into the tapering bands of muscle at his hip and waist.

In Pawtucket, Daniel had seen dolls woven from silken tassels, braided and looped into human figures; he suspected that Gilles was one of these, sheathed in painted skin, then animated.

He had no way of learning whether he guessed right; he could hardly lift free a flap of Gilles' skin and peer inside. He could only touch the surface, press two fingertips lightly into the space between ribs, tilt his head and continue to wonder.

Daniel must have dozed, chin on one hand, the other pressed to the ink of a bleeding heart, anatomically perfect, a rose sprouting from its hollow vena cava, just over Gilles' own, lively heart.

He opened his eyes to milky light, cream and rose clouds shining through the glass overhead and blanching Gilles' skin. For a moment he looked like Daniel felt, as fair and thin as a sheet of paper, as one of the texts Daniel memorized.

Sighing in his sleep, fragrant with mulled citrus and the brine of exertion and sex, Gilles was, perhaps, the text.

More mysterious than any half-invented, half-inspired chronicle, Gilles could not be memorized. Nothing stayed still long enough.

Pictograms gliding on the surface and secret rivers twining beneath, full of blood and electricity, pores arrayed in trapezoids like thousands of minute, intelligent eyes, the twist of muscle and quiver of groans.

Daniel rose from the bed. Early morning brought with it prayer and bathing; having studied Gilles, he decided it was time to bathe.

In the kitchen, he retrieved a large bowl, wide and shallow. He piled the oranges and grapefruit it had held on the counter and carried the bowl to the far corner of the room. Past the elevator, past the table at which they'd eaten dinner, all the way to the bathroom.

Beneath another skylight, behind a set of sliding opaque screens, he found the toilet, basin, and a tub larger than his old bed. It crouched on the bright marine-blue cement floor atop thick, heavy claws, a gryphon's or lion's. When he stepped inside, the tub reached the middle of Daniel's thighs.

He ran warm water and filled the bowl, then squatted in the center of the tub, knees up to his chin — like gargoyles decorating the corners of cathedrals, like the monkeys grooming each other on the balconies of apartment buildings in Mumbai — comfortably shifting his balance as necessary.

It was like washing in the river at the monastery, water slopping over his feet as he washed each limb carefully, rinsing off by pouring a wide stream of water from the lip of the bowl.

Gilles' soap, however, smelled much better than the lard-and-lye mixture they had used at the monastery; this soap was creamy and fresh, like butterfat and mown clover. Daniel closed his eyes, soaping up his face and savoring the fragrance before splashing clean from the bowl.

When he opened his eyes, Gilles stood there at the end of the tub, smiling slightly. His hair stood on end and stubble shadowed the hollows of his cheeks. He wore snug white shorts that reached mid-thigh; they reminded Daniel of men's bathing costumes in old black and white photographs, yet on Gilles they looked modern.

"Good morning," Daniel said and Gilles' smile broadened.

"Morning," Gilles said, sitting sideways on the edge of the tub and touching Daniel's wet shoulder. "You can fill the tub, you know. You won't drown, even if it is both filled and running."

Daniel looked down at the soapy water sloshing over his feet, the suds trailing like trash in the surf. The skin on his cheeks stiffened hotly and he tried, then failed, to turn his gaze back up.

He'd never felt quite like this; he'd often felt small and insubstantial, of course, but just now he felt stuffed with steam, rigid and immobile.

It must have been Gilles' presence; he supposed this was shame, being caught out, not knowing how to bathe himself. Not knowing much of anything.

"It's all right," Gilles said. "You'll learn soon enough."

Daniel nodded, his stomach and mouth twisting around hot, empty air.

Gilles rubbed slow circles over Daniel's back and neck, bringing up a flush at once hot and cold. "Let me wash your hair."

Daniel reached up, intending to clasp Gilles' hand, and brushed instead the rocky heat of his cock, trapped beneath the thick cotton of the shorts. Gilles chuckled, smiling down at Daniel as if in pride.

"Wait —" Daniel turned until, on his knees, he faced Gilles. Looking upward, he gripped the lip of the tub and leaned forward, his mouth opening.

Bathing and prayer, he thought, recalling the ritualized cannibalism he'd witnessed when he'd first come to Verona Beach. When the congregation of St. Athanasius took him in, he'd attended their prayers and rituals.

He thought now of the row of worshippers, heads bent and hands resting on the railing, while the priest crept down the line, offering bread and wine from elegant white fingers, whispering blessings and old stories of transformation.

Gilles stared down at him, nodding. Daniel gazed back, still and hopeful, lips parted.

"Oh, what you do to me —. Yes," Gilles muttered, palming the back of Daniel's skull. "Ab omnibus iniquitatibus meis, et universis malis: et fac me tuis semper inhaerere mandatis, et a te numquam separari permittas."

Elegant brown fingers, whispering over Daniel's lips, then tugging free his cock, bruise-bright silk around heated steel, from the white cotton.

Kissing the head, hearing the whispered Latin above him, Daniel tasted both brine and heat — heat had its own flavor, salt crusting sand and shimmering air over tar — and he dug his nails against the porcelain of the tub until the tips of his fingerbones pulsed in time with Gilles' heartbeat.

Names and skin, ancient languages, the secret and the obvious, twirled together into Daniel's mouth as Gilles rocked his hips, fast, then faster. Daniel's lips burned around the shaft, his tongue and palate the tightest channel, direct route inside, expressway to his skull.

Above him, Gilles towered, fierce and shaking, his mouth open, twisting black and red around incantations, as his skin wavered beneath the black words and pictures. Something terrifying and half-bestial and thrilling, the sight captivated Daniel. Hotter and more bitter than the wine last night, the understanding that Daniel could do this, effect such shuddering, clawing need, swept through him, cascaded in sheets of bright fire.

"Sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea —" Gilles shouted and the words were rocks, sharp-edged and heavy, hurled at the sky and into Daniel all at once.

Words meant things, conjured-charmed-tricked them into existence, passion in old Latin and need in guttural grunts. Gesture was a language, too, the tremor of Gilles' cock and the slap of his balls, the scrabbling grip on Daniel's hair, and Daniel plummeted down through his own body, wrapping his arms around Gilles' waist and cracking open his jaw, pulling and grasping and suckling.

Tears of exertion streaked the aching skin of his cheeks and his knees were smashed flat on the tub's floor, and Daniel sought more.

He knew he should not, knew that hunger was a disease, the sicksallow fever symptom of life, but he could not stop himself. Could not stop moving, touching, sucking deep and tasting everywhere.

There was, around the top of Gilles' thigh, exposed now by his twisted, rucked-up shorts, a black circlet — blackpurple, like pansy petals or the inner ring of a child's eyes. Daniel thought it was another tattoo, but when the side of his hand grazed it, Gilles gasped, breath sounding in a whine as sharp as metal slicing metal.

A bruise, intricately linked, crowned with pinprick scabs. Daniel tasted it — blood staining skin from beneath, terribly tender — and pressed his knuckles against from behind until Gilles cried out and would not stop. Crystal-etched whinny of pleas and urges, to stop, to never stop, and Daniel pressed harder as he plunged his mouth back over the nova-hot head of Gilles' cock.

He had never known, never had cause to suspect, just how various and vulnerable the skin and its secrets might be. The spurting, overrunning flood of Gilles' orgasm, spilling from Daniel's lips over his cheeks, hot and bittersweet as crushed weeds and small, early flowers, promised more. More secrets, more revelation, mysteries upon mysteries.

Gilles' cry was release and demand, sharp and high.

Daniel fell back into the tub, gasping and shaking, vibrations of sympathetic magic rocketing through him as he wiped his mouth.

"Darling, dirty boy," Gilles crooned, gathering him up, washing Daniel's face all over again with trembling hands, kissing his bruised lips with sharp teeth. He sucked clean Daniel's mouth and communion, reciprocated and profane, began to make a rough kind of sense.

"Let me clean you," Gilles whispered, hoarse and apologetic, "you whom I've defiled, whom I will pollute again, let me bathe you."

Gilles stared at him, and Daniel realized he was waiting for something — permission, acknowledgement, admission.

"Yes," Daniel said. "Please."

Gilles reached past him for a bottle and sang a little, under his breath, as he poured soap into his hands.

"Dunk your head, sweetheart," he said quietly, and then, only then, was Daniel able to move again. Leaning forward, he poured the contents of the bowl over his head and face. Gilles grasped Daniel's arm and pulled him back against the side of the tub as he swung his other leg inside. "Good. Very good."

Gilles' hands were redolent with the scents of the new soap, honey and ground almonds, as his fingers worked gently, slowly, through Daniel's wet hair.

The touch was sure and careful, pulling Daniel back to himself, reminding him of where he was, who he might be, alive and warm in shining new skin.

He drifted a little, held there between Gilles' knees and under his fingers. They dug at his scalp, rubbing and tugging clean his hair, and whatever shame and confusion he had felt started to loosen and ran rapidly down his neck with the soap.

His scalp bristled and hummed, a song brighter and faster than the hymn spilling from Gilles' mouth, but the rhythms lifted together, intertwining. Not just his scalp, but his skull, too, touched with clever hands, set singing like old prayer bowls, the music travelling along the seams of bone, opening them, streaming and overbrimming.

Gilles refilled the bowl and rinsed Daniel's hair, one hand shielding Daniel's eyes. Behind his hand, Daniel could see only a faint red glow of fingers as silver water poured down his back.

"Better," Gilles said. "Now just to part the knotted and combined locks. Stay still."

Daniel held his breath as Gilles drew a heavy bone comb through the clean hair. Its tines scraped his singing scalp and he only released the breath when he felt Gilles lean forward and kiss the dome of his skull.

"Cold?" he asked when Daniel shivered.

"A little."

Gilles helped him stand and wrapped in a large blue towel the same color as the floor, rubbing first each leg, then his back and front, then each arm. He turned and extended Daniel like one of those dolls made from silk tassels.

If pleasure could dwell with pain, Daniel was also coming to understand that gentle care might coexist with a sort of harsh, intense scrutiny. Gilles' hands and words were tender, light and warm, but his eyes were dark and attentive. Hooded, like falcons, against eventual wild liberation. Wheeling against the white sky, diving for the kill.

Dry and clean, his skin rubbed pink, Daniel waited on the rim of the tub while Gilles cleaned himself, body, face, and mouth. In the mirror, Gilles' eyes seemed even larger than ever, purely dark as some animal's, river cat or nocturnal predator, fastened on Daniel as he sang and chatted.

Gilles led him, naked and flushed, across the loft, back to the bed. Daniel touched his drying hair; it was softer and longer than it had ever been, and he wondered for a moment what he looked like. It hadn't occurred to him to check himself in the mirror.

"Here," Gilles said as he turned from the open wardrobe. Its curtains were thrown back, revealing racks and racks of clothing, crowded together like people on a bus. He held out a white shirt and a pair of blue trousers, still on their hangers. "Clothing, grave ornaments. For you."

Daniel took the hangers and pressed the clothes against his body. Their fabrics — smooth and light on the shirt, puckered and soft on the trousers — felt cleaner than his own skin, much finer. They hung against him, exactly the right length, and he looked up at Gilles.

"They fit."

"Yes, of course," Gilles said.

"How? Magic?" Daniel recalled, somehow, stories about enchanted mice sewing gowns from the trash.

Gilles removed the shirt from its hanger and helped Daniel into it. "Not magic," he said, buttoning up the shirt and rolling the sleeves to Daniel's elbows. "Expectation. Hope and preparation. Elements of magic, to be sure, but entirely mundane in this case."

"You knew I was coming," Daniel said.

Gilles tugged the shoulder seams until they lay straight, then cupped Daniel's face in both his hands. The shirt was alien, so thin and soft that it made Daniel think of bird skins, of the air off hummingbird wings, not quite of this earth, but Gilles' hands were smooth and warm. More familiar, somehow, Daniel thought, than anything. "As I said. I hoped. Never knew, never will, not for sure."

He sounded sad, and Daniel meant to ask him why, but Gilles was handing him the trousers.

"I need —" Daniel started, and then had to pause, search for the right word. "Underwear, first."

Laughing, clapping Daniel's shoulder, Gilles showed no trace of his former sadness. He kissed Daniel's temple and pressed him down onto the bed, handing him the pants. "You'll survive without them. Indulge me."

Daniel wore his trousers naked from then on; even clothed, his skin was regnant, brushed and alive, brimming with music.


Grave ornaments, indeed. The clothes Gilles gave Daniel were fine but exceptionally plain — severely cut, nipped at the waist and boxy at the shoulders — not at all adorned and loose like what most people wore here. Their colors were as simple as their tailoring — most were white as the moon, as water in a basin, and the others were black, spring blue, dark green.

Daniel had always admired the vivid, lurid colors in this place, its acid greens and neon yellows, throbbing reds and strange, clattering blues seamed with silver.

He'd known, by heart and skin, just three colors in New Drepung: the shifting, brilliant green of the forest and river banks and the red and saffron-gold of robes, temples, worship.

Here, however, electricity and fireworks and magic crowded out simplicity, brought garish, novel colors into being. They made him thirsty, hungry to touch and see more.

Gilles shook his head regretfully when Daniel spoke of those colors. "They're lovely," he said, "and very exciting. But they don't suit you, dearheart. They wouldn't look right."

"I don't know what I look like," Daniel said.

Gilles' hands moved up Daniel's shoulders and squeezed his neck. "But I do. I can see you."

Daniel turned his head, kissed one of Gilles' thumbs as it massaged his jaw. "I'm glad."

"Are you?"

Questions were like mouths, Daniel thought; if language was a skin, as he was beginning to believe, thin and superficial as well as utterly complex and secretive, then questions were lips. Where the skin folded into itself and opened, inviting you inside.

Gilles rarely asked questions. He knew far too much, dwelled in this world so confidently, that Daniel trusted that he didn't need to ask questions. Didn't, couldn't, fold and open.

When he did ask, however, his voice softened slightly. It reminded Daniel of a cat's fur, damp after it has groomed.

"Yes," Daniel replied. "You have good eyes. Intelligent and wild. What do I look like?"

Gilles' eyes closed and his mouth curved; just for a moment, he looked at once happy and agonized, pleased and bereft. Then his hands moved back into Daniel's hair and he tilted Daniel's head back, opening his eyes. "You look like you," he said. "Innocent, chaste and immaculate in very thought. Beautiful."


That first morning, they retrieved Daniel's few belongings — texts and books, his sockful of cash, and his worn prayer mat — from the rooming house.

It all fit in a sack at Daniel's feet in the car; Gilles marvelled that they didn't have to open the boot.

In the loft, Gilles rearranged some furniture and so Daniel had his prayer space in a corner before a narrow window overlooking the sea. The books on the shelves below the sill made way for Daniel's candles and the postcards of his shrine, as well as a small wooden statue of the Buddha.

"He's just decoration for me," Gilles said when he gave it to Daniel. "Perhaps he'll work for you."

Gilles spoke of things — the dead man hung around his neck, this statue, a fading gold-leafed portrait of a sorrowful woman in a blue veil — as if they held magic. As if power and potential lay coiled in the Buddha's belly, in the plaits of her hair and silvery tracks of tears on her cheeks, within the thorns piercing his god's forehead. As if, with the right combination of luck and diligence, magic would be released and everything transformed.

"Your faith is a false one," he told Daniel, "but innocuous. Quite attractive, actually. All that gold and quiet."

Daniel nodded; gold, quiet, and reaches, expanses, of green and empty space. That was where he had been, where he found himself still when he meditated. But it wasn't where he was, not any more.

"Take my mother as well," Gilles said, handing him another picture. It could be the sorrowing woman's sister, brighter and more modern, her blue shawl electric and hair brassy-gold, crimped and curling. Her sorrow resembled rage and Daniel thought of those goddesses who bear compassion in one fist but trample the skulls of the dead beneath their dancing feet. "We are enjoined to praise the ornaments and the buildings of worship. Likewise images, and to venerate them according to what they represent."

"And she?" Daniel asked, fingering the edges of the portrait, at once fearful and captivated by her anger. "What does she represent?"

Gilles kissed his cheek and turned away. "You'll see, darling boy. I'm sure you'll see."


Gilles had few visitors, all of them female. He called in a large, mouth-breathing seamstress named Delia to take in some of Daniel's jackets; there was a deaf Japanese woman who cleaned the loft; and messengers arrived at odd hours of the day with packages and letters. These last did not leave the elevator's cage, but passed their bundles through the bars and departed without saying a word.

Gilles was frequently on the phone or answering correspondence, but he and Daniel were alone for the most part.

"You don't mind?" he asked, indicating the neat piles on the cherrywood table he used as a desk. "This life, sadly, doesn't pay for itself."

"I don't mind."

Most mornings, Daniel studied on the roof, beneath a green awning Gilles had erected to keep Daniel fair. He sat cross-legged, snug within the small square of shadow, while the sky burned and glared, blinding, around him. Time passed for him as it always had: Methodically, without much notice.

Gilles often joined him midway through the mornings, bringing a phone, his computer, and a book or newspaper to read.

The quiet was mutual and comfortable; Daniel was used to studying anywhere, with any distraction. At the beach and at the club, he had grown familiar with Gilles' distant scrutiny; up close, it was simply more intense but never disturbing.

Daniel resigned his job bussing and barbacking at Noise Enough; he entered the back office tremulous and wary of the club's owner, and emerged instead promoted to DJ'ing three nights a week, with a generous raise.

Things were changing, ever-fluctuating, and he knew it had something to do with Gilles. He just didn't know what that was.


Early one morning, before the sun was fully up and while Daniel's hair was still damp from the bath, Gilles gave Daniel keys, a heavy ring of them, to each floor and every room in the building.

They lay awkwardly splayed, like something with many arms dragged from the depths of the sea, in Daniel's cupped palm.

"I doubt, of course, that you'll ever need any of them," Gilles said. "But if anything should happen to me, you'll have them."

Daniel nodded, absorbed by the spread of toothed metal catching the morning light. It took some time for him to understand what Gilles meant. "What could happen?"

Gilles' grin was wide and full of teeth. "Any number of things, I expect. None very likely, but anything's possible."

"All right," Daniel said an started to drop the keyring into his pocket. Gilles grabbed his wrist, stopping him.

"Second floor." Gilles plucked at the key painted with a large black number 2. "You won't need to go in there."

Daniel squinted — the sun was starting to flood the room through the windows behind Gilles and he was black against the brightness — first at the key, then at Gilles. "Bluebeard?" he said quietly, smiling, and Gilles squeezed his shoulder and laughed.

"Death's the key to unbar those locks," Gilles said, drawing Daniel into his arms, close against his chest, his lips wandering warmly over Daniel's forehead and cheek. "The soul dead through sin comes back to life in order to live with me. Tenderness of years, take this key, give enlargement to your soul."

He sent Daniel on the occasional errand. Dressing him first in the quiet, plain clothes of schoolboys — blue blazer, plaid tie, gray flannel pants too heavy for the climate here — Gilles then loaded a worn knapsack with packages to deliver. He rested his hands on Daniel's shoulders and gave him directions: "Take the 23 bus to Nerissa, then the 106 to Rialto Heights. Walk four blocks, and in front of the milk bar and cheese store, there's a red metal rubbish can. Put the envelope in there and come home to me."

So Daniel saw more of the city than he ever had on foot. Verona Beach's bus system ran through the suburbs and over knotted freeways as well as the bright, overcrowded downtown. The buses reminded him of odd glass boxes, aquariums on wheezing wheels, the windows grimy and smeared with people's sweat and breath.


Daniel was searching the bookcases one afternoon when Gilles rose suddenly from his desk and crossed toward the elevator. Only then did Daniel hear it shuddering and groaning upward.

"Where the hell have you been?" Gilles said, wrenching open the cage.

A small woman, nearly Daniel's own height, strode into the room, the heels of her scarlet cowboy boots clicking on the cement floor. She tossed a red jacket at Gilles and planted her fists on her hips, staring at Daniel.

"The fuck's he?"

Daniel crossed his arms over his chest and willed himself not to shake. For all her noise, she was tiny, blonde hair close-cropped like a novitiate's to her skull, except for a long, curling fringe tucked behind one ear, a gauzey red shirt knotted around her waist above gold trousers as slim and neat as anything Daniel wore these days.

"Joan, this is Daniel," Gilles said, hanging up Joan's jacket and moving toward the kitchen. His eyes met Daniel's and he shot Daniel a tight, almost worried smile. "Daniel, meet Joan."

Daniel moved to the couch closest to Gilles and held out his hand to the girl. Joan ignored the gesture, yet kept moving closer and closer. She touched his hair and the sleeve of his shirt, then stepped back. Her eyes were odd, large and green-speckled, constantly in motion.

"Looks like you found your little acolyte finally," Joan said, cocking her head. She looked Daniel over appraisingly, her strange eyes flickering like a cat's in the dark. "Pretty, too. For a boy."

Gilles stood behind the kitchen counter, knuckles gone white on its edge. When he spoke, his voice was silky and false. "Would you like a drink, my dear?"

Joan glanced over her shoulder. "You know I don't touch that shit."

"I don't either," Daniel said. He wanted her to smile at him, but he didn't know why.

Digging in her pocket and cursing until she found what she was looking for, Joan then waved a small glassine envelope and grinned at no one in particular. "My hasty powder, on the other hand —" She dropped next to Daniel on the couch and, curling one foot around the table's leg, yanked it closer. "This is the good stuff. Blow your breath like it's hurrying from the fatal cannon's womb."

"That'll burn up your nose," Daniel said as she emptied the white powder on the table-top and started chopping at it with a playing card. "Put a hole right through it."

Joan looked at him, then over at Gilles, her lips curving.

Gilles cleared his throat and leaned over the counter. "How do you know that, sweetheart?"

"Not sure," Daniel said. He had tried it once, or been about to, after the club closed for the night. He remembered the warnings; recalled the sting and thrill of it over his gums better. "Doesn't everyone?"

He watched a glance slide, nearly visible and geometrically precise, back and forth between Joan and Gilles. Finally Gilles smiled at him and said, "Generally, they do, yes. But not little forest nymphs, no. Where there's no temple but the wood, one doesn't expect much."

Joan squeezed Daniel's knee — her grip was as strong as Gilles', bruising — and laughed like her mouth was brimming with the sound. "I like him," she said, then leaned over the lines of white powder. "Cool kid."

When she snorted, the sound was ugly, harsh and fast, and Daniel watched Gilles grimace, then turn away. Her hand never left his knee, and she just squeezed more and more tightly until finally two columns of powder were gone and she flopped back, rubbing her knuckles against her nose. Her nostrils flared red and wet.

"S'okay, little guy," she said and Daniel realized he was staring. "The nose'll be fine. Hell, I've died a couple times and you don't see me complaining."

Daniel looked at Gilles, but Gilles was pouring himself a large glass of wine.

"Sugar-Daddy here tried to clone me," Joan continued, and slung her arm around Daniel's waist, pulling him closer as if he, too, were a piece of furniture. Her hair smelled like woodfire smoke but it brushed against his cheek like light, weightless and golden. She lifted her chin in Gilles' direction and Daniel felt the laughter rising through her chest. "Went all Aztec mojo on me, tried to make me a legion of sisters, some shit like that."

"That's quite enough —" Gilles said, his voice low, reverberating against his glass.

"Army of Marians," Joan continued, leaning forward again, bringing Daniel with her. She inhaled another column of powder and the shudder ran through her, then through Daniel, like rainy wind. "Wasn't that it?"

"Daniel's not interested."

"Sure you are, aren't you, Danny?" She reclined, nearly horizontal on the couch, and pulled Daniel with her, a hand in his hair. "Danny. Little brother. How do we look, Daddy? Like the family you never had?"

"How was Paris, darling?" Gilles replied.

"Lots of French people," she said. "C'mon, Daddy. Answer the question."

"And the French vampires?"

"Dust just like Yankee ones. Can I kiss him? Would that be so wrong?"

Daniel breathed through his mouth; Joan smelled rich and flowery, too many flowers, soaked in alcohol, and the scent choked him if he breathed too deeply. Her fingers twined in his hair, and he supposed, given how well she seemed to know Gilles, that she also knew just how Gilles touched your hair. How his fingers moved in these same slow ovals, over your scalp, down the hair, back again.

The upholstery creaked as Joan turned on her side, closing her fist in Daniel's hair, and pressed her lips against his cheek. Daniel held himself still, trying not to squirm away, not to be rude. Her breath beat like wind under hawks' wings, hot and sweet in his nose, loud in his ear.

Time stuttered and paused; her nails dug into his scalp, her breath blew on his skin, and Daniel felt himself drop away, tumble down and down even as he remained on the couch.

Gilles' glass of wine shattered against the elevator cage. Shards of crystal, spray of red like blood, and then Joan laughed and pushed Daniel away.

"Guess I shouldn't, huh? You're right. That'd be kind of —" She stood, snapping her fingers and furrowing her brow. "Incestuous, yeah. But sinful. That's the word, right? Father?"

Daniel could not look at her; her hair and her movements were too staccato, broken wings and swift shudder of snakes through dirt, and it all made him feel dizzy even though he was sitting down. The hole beneath him opened wider and he continued to fall, whirling and plummeting, as he stared into the corner.

The stink of wine flowed through the air, everywhere, clouds birthing clouds. "I don't think I want to kiss you," he said, addressing the ivy trailing over the floor, licking his lips.

Joan clapped, once-twice-three times, the sound sharp, barking and reverberating through Daniel. He imagined it must be worse for Gilles, being so much closer to her. He glanced at Gilles, but saw only the harsh set of his face, lips invisible and eyes hooded, as Joan linked her arm through Gilles' and tipped her head against his arm.

"Each toy," she said, her voice dropping, her fingers very bright against his pink shirt, "seems prologue to some great amiss."

"Nonsense —" Gilles bent, and kissed her head, and Daniel was confused. There had been rage, and hostility, but now there was only a kind of awkward tenderness between them. "In dumb significants our thoughts are proclaimed, yes. But not always."

He helped Joan into her jacket and rode down in the elevator with her. Daniel waited, alone, confused.

He curled up on the chaise near the bed, turning the pages of one of Gilles' books of emblems and allegories. Like the comic books he used to read, pictures and text mixing together, like the tattoos on Gilles' skin, but the lines in these were rougher. Jagged, the effort it took to carve and ink them still nearly palpable, and he liked to trace them with his finger.

When Gilles returned, his face was drawn, his eyes averted. He apologized for Joan's behavior and Daniel shivered at the sadness in his voice.

"It's all right," Daniel said. "Thank you."

Gilles settled behind him on the chaise, turning Daniel until they faced the wide steel-framed mirror. He pressed his face into Daniel's shoulder and his chest inflated against Daniel's back, as he unbuttoned Daniel's shirt with skillful fingers.

The mirror was almost perfectly square and Daniel watched them, Gilles' dark head bent in the thick afternoon light, bright as metal, and Daniel's own narrow chest, pale as paper.

"I lost her when they took my dress," Gilles murmured, lips on the back of Daniel's neck. "I'd lost her already, irrevocably, but that was the last time."

"I'm sorry," Daniel said. "Tell me?"

Gilles was silent; keeping one arm around Daniel's waist, he leaned back and removed his own shirt. He pulled Daniel close again and unclasped the chain around his own neck. The crucifix slipped and tickled down Daniel's back before Gilles tugged it free and tipped Daniel's head against his shoulder. Gilles wrapped the chain around Daniel's neck, snug against his throat.

"That which you loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven," Gilles said, voice slow and regular as the chain, as he refastened it behind his own neck, tying them together, "that which you bind on earth is bound in heaven."

Gilles caught Daniel's wrists, laying his palms flat on his thighs. Every movement was short, measured, the chain keeping them closer than ever.

"And that which you lose on earth," Gilles continued, "shall be lost to heaven."

Daniel took short, shallow breaths, the chain cutting into his skin. "Nothing's ever lost—"

He stopped, closing his eyes, as Gilles released one of his wrists and walked his fingers up the center of Daniel's chest. Insects and small animals, gentle whispers and tiny feet, and Daniel shivered again. Gilles lifted the crucifix, suspended on a further chain, from the hollow of Daniel's throat and brushed it over his skin.

"And you, darling boy?" Gilles asked. "Look at me."

Daniel opened his eyes. Gilles' face shadowed by Daniel's own, the glimmering crucifix against white skin.

"Tell me your losses, sweet boy."

"I—" Don't have anything to lose. Never did.

The bright tip of the crucifix danced up his chin and Daniel tried to bend, open, capture it in his mouth. Gilles moved it back, out of reach, and the chain tightened.

"Do you touch yourself?" Gilles whispered. Daniel wondered whom he was addressing: Himself, the Daniel in his arms, the brighter boy in the mirror, the Gilles trapped in that radiant square. "Pleasure yourself?"

The dead man, agonized and brilliant in the light, ticked like a pendulum before Daniel's mouth. Gilles' free hand moved up Daniel's leg, curled fingers rubbing his crotch.

"Yes," Daniel breathed.

"How often? When? Where?"

Daniel wanted to shake, twist around and cling to Gilles as he usually did, let the sobs and shudders take him. He could not, not now, tied to Gilles with the chain and mesmerized by the mirror.

"Tell me," Gilles said, sliding his hand into Daniel's open fly, pressing the dead man's spread arms and screaming face, warm metal and old death, against Daniel's lips. "Reconcile yourself and make an onement with me."

"Every day," Daniel said, frozen in place, his breath and guts sliding fast and hot beneath his skin. Gilles could probably feel it, close as they were, bound by the chain. In the mirror, Daniel saw himself wild-eyed and open-mouthed. His lips craved the crucifix, his hips needed to buck into the stony stillness of Gilles' hand. "When you touch me. In the bed, in the bath."

Gilles licked the back of Daniel's ear. "Good. What do you think about?"

Caught, mind and body, Daniel searched for the words as he felt himself trembling in place. "So much. Fire, and storms. You, your hands. Mouth, your —"

Behind him, around him, Gilles trembled, too, the light catching and jumping off the crucifix in his shaking hand. When he spoke, he sounded strained, breathless, fighting for control. "Do you think about my cock? Hmm, dirty boy?"

It was not filthy, not dirty. Nothing Daniel felt, so much hunger and need, fires so bright and hot, unquenchable, none of it was the dirt Gilles called it.

"Yes," Daniel said. "I do." He did, he thought of Gilles' prick painting scents over his face, passing into his mouth. He thought of Gilles turning him over and telling him to open himself, thought of the breaching fire when Gilles entered him. He bit back a gasp now when the shaking hand on his own cock brushed the head.

"Fucking you? Making you cry out? Fucking your mouth, your sweet, hot mouth?" Gilles held him more tightly, thrusting against the small of Daniel's back. In the mirror, Daniel saw Gilles' eyes, flashing, and the crucifix, silver and radiant, and his own body, thin and twig-vulnerable.

"Yes. Fires, everywhere —"

"The fire never ceases burning, moving us to wailings without number, for our sins are without number," Gilles growled, biting the side of Daniel's neck and wrapping his fingers around Daniel's cock, pulling as he pushed the crucifix into Daniel's mouth. "Tell me, boy."

"Fires, like rain," Daniel said, breathless against the chain biting his skin, tongue wrapping thickly around the crucifix. "Explosions under my skin. Whirling."

"Yes," Gilles said. Breath and sound thunder in Daniel's ear, his hands moving, clawing at Daniel's skin. "Good boy. Filthy, despicable, sinful boy. Beautiful. So good."

"Always think about it—" Daniel said and Gilles pushed the crucifix deeper into his mouth, stopped his voice.

"Hungry," Gilles said. "Greedy, gluttonous boy. You want more?" He drew out the crucifix and stilled his hand on Daniel's cock.

The moment hung, dangling like one last autumn leaf, withered, and Daniel did not have the breath to moan. Until, somehow, impossibly, Gilles held him more tightly, drew him closer, and there was space, negative and hot, in which to breathe and speak.

"Yes. More, you, all the time." Desire was a cancer, rotten black slime crouching in the center of a flower's bud, and Daniel writhed into it, sucking it down as hungrily as some loathsome insect. He wanted Gilles, wanted his voice and his fierce stare and the fire he stoked over, throughout, Daniel. "You. Fucking."

Gilles covered Daniel's mouth with his hand, trapping the crucifix inside, stopping the curses, and Daniel sucked on his knuckles as Gilles stroked him, hard and fast, muttering in his ear. Words Daniel didn't know well, things about fire and penitence, going with grace and absolving. Erasure and salvation.

The dead leaf crumbled in the fire, the slime sputtered and boiled, and Gilles rubbed himself like an animal against Daniel until he, too, was groaning and shuddering.

"Wail for me —" he shouted, directly into Daniel's skull, ripping his hand away and shoving them forward until Daniel screamed out his pleasure, black and steaming, delicious, the chain snapped, the dead man on the cross scraped over Daniel's palate, and Gilles kissed Daniel's back and shoulders fervently, his mouth sliding and hot and desperate.

In the mirror, they lay heaving and splayed, Gilles blanketing Daniel and dropping softer, drier kisses over his head, murmuring gratefully and brokenly.

Daniel wondered if this was what love felt like.


Whether he arrived with Daniel at the beginning of the night or met him there later, just before last call, Gilles always took up the same position, leaning against the pillar directly opposite the DJ booth. He remained still amid the twitching, drifting mass of dancing bodies, the twirling lights spinning abyss-deep shadows over his eyes and picking out the glow off his fine nose and smooth, radiant skin. Daniel watched back, could not stare enough at this odd man, both cruel and gentle.

Daniel did not know how it was he had become so fascinated by Gilles. Nor did he entirely understand how everyone seemed to know of this change in him. Before he'd met Gilles, there had been several men at the club who, night after night, tried to catch his eye from the dance-floor or his elbow as he passed. They were still here, still smiled hello, but they looked at him differently — more directly, far less coyly. No dancing eyes and minnowfast grins now but friendly acknowledgement, no more.

Nearly every night he worked, Gilles watched Daniel for hours, fixedly, his eyes steady and darkly invisible. Daniel wondered just what Gilles could see, how there could possibly be enough about him to capture Gilles' attention. The dancers could be watched, the music heard, and Daniel himself could stare at Gilles for days on end, but that was different. He spun the music, let it boom and unspool, one song melting into the next or clanging against it. Invisible Daniel, teasing out the beats and rhythms.

He was fresh, the manager said. Brought something new, fresh, to the music. "Like you've never heard it before," and Daniel simply smiled. Gilles, knowing more about him, had said something almost exactly similar: "When you warble, child, you make passionate my sense of hearing."

It was shortly after he first met Joan, several days at most, when one night Gilles dropped Daniel at the loft after he finished the night's work.

"You're not coming up?" Daniel asked after Gilles kissed him, deep and thoroughly, and reached past him to unlatch and push open the car door.

"I'll be back," Gilles said. "You rest."

At home, Daniel changed out of his work clothes — black velvet trousers and a white shirt with tiny, glinting steel buttons, his pentecostal altar-boy costume, Gilles called it — and into his old red pants and one of Gilles' v-necked undershirts from the hamper. He liked having Gilles' smell against, around, him; it made the loft seem smaller, more easily navigable and far less spacious and overwhelming. After the snugness of his booth, not even as wide as his spread arms — "your cell, and you might be saint or lion" (Gilles) — at the club, the loft was far too large, full of echoes and shadows, and too hushed.

He left his jewelry on; he'd become accustomed to its weight, the thick chain that hugged the base of his throat, the squared-off cuff bracelet on each wrist, the heavy rings on his fingers.

Daniel cut a melon, its flesh the same pale numinous green as the jewel in his thumbring, and carried his plate to the chaise by the bed.

The creaking, shuddering grind of the elevator grew as it rose upward and Daniel gripped the plate, startled, certain he would drop it.

The elevator rose all the way to the top floor, groaning to a stop, and the outer door shook as someone tried to open it. It unlocked only with a key held by Gilles or Daniel; messengers passed packages through the grille and visitors waited to be welcomed.

Daniel stood before the cage; Gilles was not inside, but a taller, younger man, much bigger than Gilles. Wide shoulders, seemingly broader than the cage itself, and the flash of angry black eyes.

"Hello?" Daniel said and took a careful step backward.

"Get Gilles," the man said, gripping the grille. "Or let me out. In."

Daniel tilted his head. The man was handsome, like everyone seemed to be here, but very pale. Almost as pale as Daniel himself, while everyone else here was tanned, golden and aglow, livelier than Daniel ever thought he could be. The man's hair, dark and close-cropped, stood up over his broad forehead like pickets in a fence or crosses over an old battlefield.

"He's not here," Daniel said. Unlike Joan with her clattering, clacking energy or the quiet reserve of messengers, this man gave off a strong sense of latent power, coiled just below the surface, visible in the twist to his lips and his white-knuckled grip on the cage.

"Where is he?"

"I don't know."

The man sighed and shook at the cage again. "Who're you, anyway?"


He glanced up, squinting, mouth twisting again into a sneer. "Yeah, okay, right. The old bastard's little rentboy. Heard about you."

"Okay," Daniel said. There were still so many words and phrases that passed through him as easily as beams of light, leaving only questions, like shadows, in their wake. Rentboy was just another one of these. "What did you hear?"

"Usual bullshit — maiden blood, light of the moon, alchemy of the hunt. Me, I figure you're just keeping his evil old bed warm, tending to the good father's every, you know. Need."

Daniel shifted his weight back onto his heels. "I can tell Gilles you were here."

"You're going to let me in," the man said. "I'll wait."

"No." He thought of the black-egg monster in the alley, the first night he met Gilles, smelled again rotting lilies and dust of bones, and willed himself not to become scared.

The man grinned, flash of teeth and flicker of lashes, at Daniel. "Smart kid. Yeah, tell him I came by, everything's fucked, and I need to talk to him ASAP."

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing you need to worry your pretty head about," the man said.

"You can tell me," Daniel said. Thought of Gilles breathing hot secrets into his ear, crying out his fears. "Maybe I can —"

"Yeah," the man said. "Don't think so. Tell him Mick was here."


"Yeah," Mick said. "You brain-damaged or something?"

Daniel rarely felt stupid around Gilles any longer, and it surprised him now, talking to other people, that he still must seem so thickheaded and slow. He pressed the elevator's master button and Mick glanced around wildly as the cage shook, preparing for its descent.

"Tell him—!" he called as the elevator dropped.

"I will," Daniel said under his breath before turning back to his fruit.

The melon was warm now, chewy in his mouth, and he spit it out, grimacing.


Daniel slept on the middle of the chaise, cheek pillowed on a book about the Spanish conquest of the Incas, hand curled around the plate of uneaten melon.

He woke slowly, blinking at the brightness he expected but did not find. Gilles crouched next to the chaise, face shadowed, wild hair tipped with silvery light from the window, his palm curved over Daniel's hip. Difficult to pick out his gaze in the shadows, so Daniel shifted forward, tipping the plate nearly over the edge.

"Are you all right?" He whispered because it was dark, because his mouth was dry. Because Gilles remained so still. Because fear and unquiet from Mick's visit caught like barbs and brambles in his skin, pierced his thoughts.

"Quickly dreaming away the time?" Gilles whispered as well, pulling Daniel the rest of the way toward him. Sleepheavy and relieved, Daniel slung his arms around Gilles' neck and, murmuring a faint protest as he kissed Daniel's throat, Gilles pulled him up. Daniel did not know where Gilles hid such strength, how he concealed it in his lean body.

"Not really," he said, clinging with arms and legs as Gilles carried him, not to the bed but over to the narrow iron stairs up to roof. "No dreams."

On the roof, he found the sky stained with lemon and silver clouds, the air close and hot, damp with the day's effort, as Gilles knelt and deposited him on the quilted mat. Sleep clung to Daniel, clogging his throat and slowing his thoughts even more than usual, and everything was heavy as waterlogged paper as Gilles removed Daniel's shirt and then his own before drawing him back between his legs. Gilles breathed rapidly from the climb and Daniel twisted a little, palming the sweat from his chest and rubbing his cheek against Gilles' shoulder. He smelled of exhaust-fumes and exertion, sour bitter things, and Daniel kissed off the beads of sweat from the center of his collarbone.

"You should dream," Gilles told him, ticking two fingers up the length of Daniel's spine, knocking each vertebra, pausing, then moving upward. "Sleep should kill those pretty eyes, and give as soft attachment to your senses as infants', empty of all thought."

"I do. Sometimes."

Gilles pressed his lips to Daniel's forehead, kissing a spiral down to the bridge of his nose. "I do wonder what goes on in here. In this head of yours."

"Lots," Daniel said. Sleep and worry wound thickly through him despite Gilles' embrace. "And nothing."

"Daniel —" Palm on his cheek, Gilles turned Daniel's head and in the shadows, his eyes moved searchingly. "You fear? Your fear will prove a giddy world."

Daniel inhaled the warm night air before speaking. "Your —" He meant to say your friend, but however well Mick and Gilles were acquainted, Daniel did not think the word was appropriate. "Mick came up in the elevator."

"You didn't let him in?" Gilles did not move, but his hand pressed more firmly against Daniel's cheek and his voice went low and careful.

"No. He was angry."

Smiling briefly, humorlessly, Gilles nodded. "Mick is —" He frowned, deepening each line in his face, like ink-strokes still wet and glistening. "Troublesome."

"Rough," Daniel said.

"Yes. A fleshed soldier," Gilles said, "rough and hard of heart, quick to anger."


"Absolutely. And yet you stared him down."

"Did I?" He thought Mick had retreated because of Gilles' authority. Like the men at the club, he moved away because of something Gilles said or might do; he had, Daniel thought, respected Gilles, not Daniel himself.

Such a situation made sense, after all; Daniel was a slip, a scrap, little more than a wisp while Gilles was solid, hot and real.

Gilles stroked one finger over Daniel's cheek, coming to rest in the corner of his mouth. Only then did Daniel understand that he was frowning. When he looked at Gilles, he saw a gentle smile, almost vague, blurring his features and softening his eyes. "You did indeed. You really have no idea what you're capable of, do you?"

Ideas were no better, often even less reliable, than perceptions. "No," Daniel said. "What do you think I'm capable of?"

Gilles pushed one hand through Daniel's hair, pressed the other over his heart, and spoke with his lips against Daniel's throat. "Not for me to say, dearheart."

Daniel could not remember — he had never known — this was strange: Gilles resisting an opportunity to speak, judge, evaluate and describe. He placed his own hand on the back of Gilles' neck and touched his cheek to Gilles' own.

"When I dream," Daniel whispered, "sometimes I see you. I think about you, too."

He felt Gilles' smile stretch and curve against his own skin, then a hot flick of Gilles' tongue over his upper lip. "Strange news that I've not yet dreamed of."

Daniel twisted until he knelt between Gilles' legs, resting his hands on the sides of Gilles' neck. Off the traffic below, bright shadows, neon and flaming, swept over Gilles' face, flattening him, then carving unknowable depths. Sleepwarm, heavylimbed, Daniel thought this might be a living dream, kissing Gilles and pressing him back, and down, blanketing him with his thin, restless body and roving palms.

Gilles held him loosely, and his words came as lightly as the slow wind, barely audible over the noise of the nightswathed city. "You show a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed."

"Nonsense —" Daniel kissed the thorns on the rose protruding from the inked heart on Gilles' chest, sliding his teeth over the black skin, then diagonally over the nipple there in the center. Gilles' chin tipped up to the sky as he moaned, gripped Daniel's waist, thrust once, and the noise and motion were nearly helpless, subvocal and involuntary.

"Sometimes I think about kissing you. For hours. Tasting you, feeling you against me. Tasting all the different places, tasting myself and you."

Gilles worked his lips soundlessly before he said, "Is that so?"

"That's so." Daniel thought perhaps he could slip into Gilles that way, open lips on secret pores, spill out through his capillaries all the questions and, branching, match them up with the answers awaiting him inside.

Mysteries, like cells, split and multiply, grow in exponential leaps, and Daniel felt them gather under his skin, both light and dark, sparks and shadows, desperately tangled. Darkly bright, they were bright in dark directed, and Daniel pressed closer, in, and down, trapping himself like a bird in lime-twigs within Gilles' arms.


Hot days, warm nights, the ceiling fans spun lazily and the city held its breath under a low cloud of pollution and fear. Gilles did not often leave the loft, even less often the building itself.

He showed Daniel movies in the evenings; when the curtains were lowered, the entire space was thrown into silken darkness, pierced only by a long cone of silver light from the whirring projector.

Daniel sat in the tub to watch, Gilles behind him, spooning cool water over their bodies as the pictures flickered and faded over the screen. Cinema and sweat, droplets and shadows, the slosh of water and hum of gears. On the screen, women in white dresses danced with men in tails, and biplanes dipped in the sky while more women danced on the wings, and everyone sang out their emotions as naturally as people in the streets of Verona Beach.

Gilles hummed along, but Daniel leaned forward, arms looped around his knees, eager for more information.

Bright shadows, brighter lights, all sliding over his own hand when he held it up before the screen, painting him.


One morning, Daniel found the schoolboy's costume laid out for him and he wore it as he studied on the roof. Murmuring sutras to himself, checking his accuracy, he floated a little in the haze of concentration until a resounding crash from within the loft shook the awning and killed his mindfulness. He crept downstairs and stopped halfway, crouching. Dangerous, he heard Gilles say in his memory, the low thrum of his voice prickling the back of Daniel's throat. Gilles and two men — one was Mick, the other a stranger, even taller — were busy unloading wooden crates from the elevator.

"Company," Mick said, dropping the box he was carrying and jerking his head toward Daniel. "Might want to watch that."

Gilles straightened up and smiled at Daniel; it was as if he hadn't heard a thing Mick had said. His smile tugged at Daniel, made him rise and descend the rest of the stairs, and if he played with the cuffs of his shirt and kept his gaze unfocused and downcast, at least he could move.

"Interrupting," Daniel said. "I thought —"

"Never interrupting," Gilles murmured, so low that Daniel doubted either of the men could hear. "Your very goodness and your company overpay all I can do."

Daniel chanced a quick look at Mick and the other man, but they seemed absorbed in stacking the crates. "I'm finished for the morning, so I —" He was not sure if he should mention the errands he ran for Gilles, so he just lifted the knapsack and met Gilles' eyes.

"You're ready?" Gilles asked.

Daniel looked between him and Mick, back again, and nodded. Gilles brushed his fingertips over Daniel's forehead before handing him an envelope, which Daniel stowed in the bag.

"My Hermes," Gilles said, tying the locket with a picture of the blonde virgin around Daniel's neck, tucking it under his collar. Charm and luck, a warm piece of metal which Gilles believed could watch over, if not protect, Daniel from danger. "Swift and fleet, fly."

"Him? You're sending your fucktoy?" Mick rose from his crouch and leaned against the pile of crates, toying with a length of twine. He sounded faintly bored.

Wincing at the obscenity, Gilles raked up Daniel's hair and kissed his forehead. Warm mouth, momentarily so insistent that Daniel almost swayed. Without turning, he said, "I suppose I could send you. Shame about your sun allergy."

"What makes you think you can trust him?"

Daniel touched the lump the locket made under his collar and swallowed. It was a question he had asked himself many times, but could not seem to speak aloud to Gilles. He should not trust Gilles; they had agreed on that since the first night. Yet he was trusted with secrets, packages, errands, and regrets. Sometimes he had the sense that he could ask Gilles anything, if only he could find the words.

Sweet powders, Gilles had said when Daniel asked what was in the packages, Mockeries of unquiet slumbers. Health and fair time of day; joy and good wishes. Why, Daniel asked, what should these powders be used for? Gilles stroked his back and said, with something dull and resigned in his voice, so full of shapes is fancy, it alone is high fantastical. That is, Daniel understood him to mean, dreams and illusions were available for the taking, for the right price, if one needed it enough, could give enough in return.

"Faith, my friend," Gilles said.

Mick grabbed his crotch and his tongue flickered over his lower lip slowly as he looked Daniel up and down. "That's what you're calling faith these days? Next you'll be telling me it's true love."

Inhaling sharply, striding quickly forward, Gilles struck Mick, open-handed, bone on bone. Mick remained still, and Daniel thought that he had been waiting for the blow — he inclined slightly toward Gilles while his hands curled at his sides.

The red print of Gilles' palm glowed hot on his white cheek. Coals in snow, fire before the sails.

"You don't know anything," Gilles said, voice thin as sheetmetal and just as sharp.

"I know a lot," Mick said. "I know plenty. Just don't believe any of it."

"Faith believes," Gilles said, drawing Daniel back and guiding him to the elevator, "hope and love pray. But without faith the two last cannot exist."

Mick snorted, then spat on the floor. "You don't know anything about love, old man."

"Where there is love, there of necessity will there be faith and hope."

"More a fool than I thought, then."

"Daniel —" Gilles turned to him, and Daniel saw his hand tremble like a sick bird for a moment. "Enjoy your walk. I'll see you after lunch?"

Nodding, Daniel stepped into the elevator. The grille's latticework framed Mick and Gilles, facing each other again, silent and stationary, as the cage began to descend.

His walks took him throughout the city, from the outskirts of Scaliger Heights across the palm-lined avenues of Borsari. The buses' routes, vivid tubes of orange and cerulean on the maps, were arteries of and for experience, leading him forth, depositing him at street markets, before rows of pink and lemoncurd stucco townhouses, massive marble banks fronted by wide, empty plazas.

On these errands, he was an extension of Gilles; doubled, his eyes and senses still his own, but his hand and movement Gilles' now.

Daniel slid the envelope into the gap between two bricks at the entrance to an alley, brushed off his hands, and started back toward the bus stop. He had to cross a small square, which had been empty when he arrived. Now, however, it was early afternoon, the sun was high and hot, and the square was full of children.

They sat in messy rows before a small red tent and a man juggling butcher knives. One caught the sun as it rose, flashing, and Daniel stopped, staring, as it transformed into a small flame. The children shouted and clapped and the man continued to juggle.

Daniel leaned against the trunk of a palm tree, its ratty bark digging into his arm, watching as raptly as the children. Fire spun, five flaming balls speeding up until the man seemed to be turning a single fiery wheel. Daniel blinked, shaded his eyes, and the wheel slowed and paled, becoming a metal hoop that the man palmed in one hand and sent rolling through the crowd.

Squealing and yelling, the children clapped hard and the performer bowed deeply.

Daniel recognized him: Gilles' friend, from the club. His dancing partner. Abel.

Out here in the daylight, commanding attention and delight from the children, he looked just the same: Slimhipped and willowy, a shock of dark shining hair and large, amused eyes.

He moved behind a table and shook out a large white sheet. On the third flap, the sheet dissolved into white petals, floating over the crowd's heads. One caught on Daniel's hand, damp and soft; when he sniffed it, it smelled faintly of roses.

Two blue books, fat and tall, slapped together, became a tiny tornado, whirling over the table, spinning out into steam and air.

This was magic out in the open, control and transformation exercised for play and entertainment. Yellow parakeets, chirping loudly, burst into confetti, which poured over Abel's hands and filled a glass bowl with blue water. Nothing remained static; everything shifted and shimmered, like Gilles' movies on the screen, like the tattoos on his body, his voice in Daniel's ear. Mysteries spun into gold, concealing more secrets, bursting into fireworks and cascades of green and scarlet sparks.

Daniel could not stop smiling. Illusions wreathing together, drawing laughter from the children and smelling like roses. He thought that Abel noticed him — several flashes of black eyes, twists to the lips — but there were other bystanders, other adults mesmerized by the show.

A sheet of white paper crumbled to gray ash, spilling over the table into scuttling scarabs, shiny blackgreen shells. The play continued to shift, and Abel did watch him now, one eyebrow cocked upward, as he poured red wine into a pitcher, trapping the writhing flame it became with his hand, and shook the pitcher until its walls ran with blood.

Three graybrown eggs, larger than lightbulbs, cracked and birthed fierce dragons of blue smoke, breathing yellow fire.

Sick, his smile twisted to a grimace, Daniel's mouth ached and his stomach roiled.

This was for his benefit, he was sure, revulsion shaking through him, thick and bilious. He wanted to turn, to run for the bus, but when Abel lifted his face and smiled at the crowd, requesting an assistant from the audience, Daniel moved forward.

He could not say why, but the air was hot and Abel smiled, and Daniel moved.

"And now for the scrying portion of our entertainment," Abel announced. He poured clear water into a shallow square pan and lifted the pan on its side. The water clung to the bottom and did not spill. "Give me your hand, boy —"

Pinching Daniel's wrist as if it were a distasteful piece of garbage, Abel pressed Daniel's palm against the water. It felt cool and wet, like water, but resisted the pressure; his hand floated on the surface as the sunlight caught and bounced around him. Abel dropped Daniel's hand and it fell to the table. In the center of his palmprint, the water darkened, thickened, sketched out Gilles' kneeling figure.

Head bowed, hands steepled to his chin, Gilles prayed.

"A faithful one, eh?" Abel told the crowd and it murmured back, demanding more. He laughed, loud and long, gongs hit too fast, the sound ricocheting against Daniel's head. "Now, now. Just watch."

A length of shadowed water broke away, coiled and then whipped across Gilles' curved back, again and again, and the expression on Gilles' face — mouth open, eyes closed — was ecstatic. Daniel had seen that face, above him, in the mirror, descending over him, and he shuddered in sympathy.

Gilles leaned forward, lengthening and exposing his back, and the position begged for more blows, harsher, faster.

If you live after the flesh, Gilles had told him when Daniel fingered the redpurple stripes of bruises on his back, you shall die, but if through the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.

One of those remarks of Gilles' that sounded impenetrable, a snake swallowing its own tail, and still Daniel knew it could not be entirely true.

"Stop it —" Daniel whispered now, choking on the breath in his throat, peering at Abel. He wavered and clouded just as much as the image in the tray, distant and hazy. "Make it stop."

"Only he can," Abel said. "I just show what's happening."

Gilles' head tipped back, his mouth still open and his eyes squeezed closed, and Daniel could almost hear the singing groan breaking from his lips, the sound that reverberated against his bones, set them shaking like tuning forks. He did hear Abel laugh, low and careful.

Gilles was no longer praying, no longer being punished. Boys and men passed by him, through his arms, blond and darkhaired, tall and slim, young and old, and he kissed them all, whispered to them all, as his face smoothed and paled and he was younger, youngest, kissing a younger Abel and whispering urgently into his ear.

"Or, of course, what has happened," Abel continued. "And what will, surely, happen again soon."

Behind Daniel, the crowd was quiet; perhaps it had dispersed. The show was for him, about him, and, in the strangest, most unsettling way, he was the show, Abel now the audience. Feeling his backbone want to bow and melt, Daniel pushed his fists against his thighs and forced himself to look at Abel.

"He's a good man," Daniel said. Abel rolled his eyes and smiled. "He's —" Daniel did not know what Gilles was, whether just a single word could possibly say it; surely it was multiple, impossible to express, but he still tried. "He believes in —"

"That's his great tragedy," Abel said, laughing. "Or his foolishness. Defrocked and excommunicated, booted out, and yet he still believes. Pathetic, really."

Pathos, Daniel thought. An appeal to the audience's emotion, rather than character or reason. The description did not suit Gilles; if anything, he played far more with one's character and mind than emotions. Anything Daniel felt for him was, surely, Daniel's own doing.

"He watches you, doesn't he?" Abel pushed back a dark lock of hair. His smile curved at the corners of his mouth, insincere and slippery. "Can't take his eyes off you."

At the club, in the bath, throughout the day, Gilles did watch him. Daniel did not wish to deny it. "Yes."

And I watch back. All the time. He kept that truth silent, even from Gilles.

"You know what happens to mirrors and toys, don't you? They break. Get thrown away."

So many questions, none of them actually requiring Daniel's response. "They change," Daniel said. "Everything — changes."

"Is that so?"

Words like Gilles', reaching and twisting, pushing the uncertainty back at Daniel, the question whipping as sharply as the leather across Gilles' back.

Abel reached out and Daniel pulled in on himself, certain he was about to be touched. Grabbed and hexed, but, laughing, Abel pressed his fingertip against the surface of the enchanted water. Gilles' face turned to follow the swirling patterns drawn by Abel's finger, until the waves reached him and he started to whirl, cloud, and smear away.

Daniel released his breath, thinking of the smack of Gilles' hand against Mick's face, the sweaty grip of Gilles' legs pinning him to the floor, the empty intensity of his stare across the dancefloor.

The water stilled. Ink streamed over the surface, forming welts and whips and screams of pain and a snarling, bestial face. Distantly, he heard Abel laughing.

Daniel tore away, running faster than he thought possible, the air breaking like ice against his face, the necktie streaming over his shoulder, then into his mouth, and his feet pounded the grass of the plaza, then the marble sidewalk, and he kept running in no direction he had ever seen, hoping that the world was in fact round, that wherever he headed, he would eventually loop back to Gilles.

Everything inside him, seams of bone and threads of capillaries, the knot of his guts and backs of his knees, and he might have torn apart, certainly dived into the sea that encroached on three sides of the city, but.

Tires yelped and peeled. A honk sounded like a fogwarning.

A white hand grabbed him.

Everything spun, curb-street-yelling driver-blue sky-green tree, whirling, and his chest heaved, pain and fear rattling through him like drunken dancers. Soon, eventually, his heart beating fast in his face and the soles of his feet, he managed to see clearly.

White face, wide green eyes beneath ink-precise brows. Beautiful face, a holy of beauty and a kind smile.

"Daniel?" Sister Inez spoke so softly he could barely hear her over his breathing. "Daniel, where have you been? We've been so worried about you, Father Theophorus especially."

Daniel had never been able to look Sister Inez in the eye. She was taller than he, slim and strong beneath her ashen dress, her skin as fair as the white linen around her neck and hair as dark as the small cape on her shoulders. She was a Daughter of Wisdom, native to Verona Beach and originally named Lily, a bosom friend of St. Athanasius's young priest Theophorus and wholly intimidating.

After his run, Daniel could not move on his own; he could have been one of Abel's puppets, dangling there, jerky and graceless. So he let the good sister lead him to her linenwhite car and answered her worried questions while she drove him speedily home.

"You're in school, then?"

His head tipped back against the seat, Daniel fingered his tie, then the locket's chain biting into his neck. He could not lie, but he did not answer, either.

"We were arranging for you to go to school," she said, weaving the car expertly among the nearly-static traffic on Mantuan Road, taking the safety lane and sidewalks for her own. "You have so much to learn, about Our Blessed Savior, his saints and martyrs. His plans for you —"

In profile, Sister Inez's face seemed at once both more severe and more beautiful, ivory fluted and shaped like skin, but less warm, more lovely.

To be known, Daniel heard Gilles saying while laughing and deferring Daniel's questions about where they would dance that night, what sights they might see, shortens my made intent.

He repeated the address several times for Sister Inez and although she complied, drawing the car up before Gilles' massive warehouse, she held Daniel's shoulder and would not let him leave.

"You're not consorting with him?" she asked. Her voice slid like eels in a bucket, fast and dark and certain, and Daniel looked at her. Green, then gray, storms in her eyes while her face remained still and her fingers dug into his shoulder. "Daniel."

Daniel twisted away, wrenching open the door, but Inez caught his hand before he was all the way out of reach.

"He's dangerous, child."

"I know you think that." Sunlight glazed the windows, made them both bright and blind, when Daniel looked over his shoulder. Blinking the green and white afterimages away, he levelled his gaze back on the nun. She had only ever been kind to him, speaking loudly and slowly as if he were both hard of hearing and slow of mind, smiling gently, giving him a pink plastic string of beads and lavishly illustrated version of her holy book. "Dangerous, because your church expelled him."

She smiled then, and it was neither gentle nor slow, but knowing and rapid. "He was expelled because he is dangerous. Logic, Daniel, works in a single direction, like sunbeams."

Her grip on his hand tightened; looking down, Daniel realized how thin her wrist was, as thin as his own, but he was a snapped twig to her fierce strength. "Because," Daniel said, thoughts clearing like water trickles over a fogged pane of glass, "he sinned."

This time, Inez did not smile, but her eyes both widened and darkened as she released Daniel's hand. "Because he got caught."

The bones of his hand ached and throbbed numbly as Inez gunned the motor and her car pulled away as smoothly as a swan through water.

The elevator did not respond when he pressed the button, but Daniel was early in returning, so he climbed the stairs. Dark and musty in the stairwell, nearly as narrow as his booth at the club or the circle of Gilles' arms, but through the skylight above, the light fell and twisted in a single complex braid.

She was wrong, Daniel thought as he climbed, light moved as both mote and wave, grit and tide, and as such it moved everywhere, both irresistible and inexorable. It passed through water but bounced off stone; it shot and resounded, spread and filigreed.

A howl snapped through his thoughts and Daniel stopped on the landing to the fourth floor. Part animal, a cow in labor with breached twins, and part decisively human, full of memory and pleas, and he pushed through the door toward the sound.

At the end of the hall, from behind a black door nearly as wide as the elevator, another scream came. Closer now, Daniel could unthread soul from sound, person from pain, and it was Gilles. Gilles, screaming in his veins, through Daniel's own throat, and he pushed the door open onto a nightmare.

Because this was ecstasy, the room as dark as the bottom of the sea, only Gilles' bare flesh glimmering faintly and the crack of the whip from Mick's hands.

Scream, whip, silence. Then cruelty measured in words: "You are corrupt in God's eyes," Mick said, "pleasing yourself, and eager to please in the eyes of men and boys."

Whip-snake-scream. A scream that sounded like yes.

"You foul what you touch, you rot with your desire. An upright, just, and true-disposing God?"

Whip and no scream, just shattered breath and blood black as ink on Gilles' back. Daniel watched and the heat snaking through him was both sick and aroused. Fearful and intrigued. Gilles was helpless, pained and bound, and Daniel's mouth could half-taste the sour bruises as his hand could already heft the whip.

"How can we thank God that you, carnal cur, prey on the issue of our mothers' bodies? You make us pew-fellow with others' moans."

Whip, silence. Bruise and tears thick with salt, in Daniel's mouth and on Gilles' cheeks.

"Where is your God?"

Across the battered expanse of Gilles' ivory back, Mick grinned at Daniel, tipping up his chin and licking the corner of his mouth.

"You fuck him —"

Gilles turned an agonized face and brimming eyes on Daniel, and Daniel found the floor rising to meet his knees. He crawled forward, ducking the hiss of the whip, reaching for Gilles.

"— and yet it is evil to use amiss that which is good."

Gilles was naked and bloody, ecstatic and pleading for cessation, and Daniel reached him, wrapping his arms around the clammy, heaving chest.

"Leave," Daniel told Mick. "Go away."

The whip dropped as Daniel kissed Gilles.

Blood, tears, sea-currents and hissing pain, Daniel tasted it all, fingers trailing in blood, gathering Gilles close, sucking him inside, eating his cries.

Make an onement. It was, at times, command and order which Daniel obeyed and bent toward; other times, a question, curving at him like wings, inviting him closer; still others a line tossed against the water, a torch swirling against the sky, his to accept if he wished.

But this, now, this onement: Daniel kissed and twisted over, around, Gilles, sucking the salt off his face and pinching the flowering bruises on his back. Bloodfilled skin, pooling and heating Daniel's own, sliding him closer.

Kisses, and caresses that made Gilles shudder and whimper, fingers in torn flesh and pleas melting into recrimination, and soon their hips moved together, surf and scum and flotsam, crashing. Gilles cried out again, his shoulders straining and bowing against his bonds.

Opening his pants, tugging himself out red and hard, Daniel closed his hands over the ropes and pushed against Gilles, found him harder and more desperate, slick with salt.

They rocked together as Daniel bit off Gilles' moans, swallowing them, swabbing out more with tongue, lips, teeth, until Gilles bent back at the waist and Daniel dragged his mouth down his throat and the sound emptied into the black as ink dissolves paper, as the pulses of Gilles' orgasm hotly spattered Daniel's belly.

Falling forward, Gilles latched his lips into the center of Daniel's shirt, the fabric ripping in his teeth, and Daniel thrust-rubbed-screamed as his spine spun like razor wire, blowing sparks and shredding him fast, until the heat exploded between his legs and Gilles lapped madly at his bared skin.

Gilles' eyes were red and wet as he gazed at Daniel, ecstasy shimmering through the tracks of tears and twists of pain.

The room went cold as Daniel shook apart.

"Sorry, so sorry —" he choked, grief battling sorrow, blinding and dazing him. "Sorry, oh, Gilles, I'm —"

Black under his lids, shame slithered downward into his stomach, curling and flicking its serpentine tail, baring its fangs.

"Ssshhh," Gilles whispered. "Dearheart, hush —"

Air like kelp, strangling him. "Sorry —"

"Sshhhh," Gilles said. "Look at me."

Neither command nor demand, but a request, and Daniel blinked the smears from his eyes. "Gilles —"

Gilles kissed his chest with closed lips, slid lower, licked clean Daniel's belly, and the sensation shivered through Daniel like secrets and promises. "You, sweetest boy, are most able to discern pure affection from unholy desire," Gilles promised and kissed upward, over the torn shirt, to the locket tangled up with the tie. His eyes were stormtossed leaves and falls of rain as he smiled, despite and because of the pain, and kissed Daniel's skin once more. "Where my treasure is —" He kissed the locket. "— there will my heart be also."

Daniel closed his eyes and saw Gilles all the better for it.

Things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.


Daniel helped Gilles out of the room, arm around his waist, and then to the elevator. It was operating now, and Daniel tightened his hold on Gilles' clammy skin as he guided Gilles inside. They both sagged, sweat stinging their eyes, and as the elevator haltingly rose, Daniel used his shirt to clean Gilles' face.

Gilles looked, more than anything, like his own ghost. Blanched and trembling, eyes hollowed and darkly burning. When he spoke, his voice came on dry wheezes and determined heaves of breath. Fear and worry spread over Daniel's skin, thin and sticky as oil, clinging.

In the loft, Daniel helped Gilles to the toilet and ran cold water in the basin, crouching beside him.

"I'll be fine," Gilles said.

"Of course you will." Daniel wrung out the cloth and swabbed away blood and sweat from Gilles' chest. "You look terrible, though."

"So beauty blemished once is for ever lost?" Gilles shivered and his hands opened and closed on his knees. "In spite of physic, painting, pain, and cost?"

"You'll be better," Daniel said, drawing the cloth over the swollen tracks of the whip on Gilles' arm. No broken skin, but so much blood, rioting just beneath the surface. "Promise."

Gilles smiled down at him. "Those wounds heal ill that men do give themselves."

Even if Gilles had arranged the beating, and Daniel believed he did, Mick was the one who had wielded the whip. Pain, Daniel was beginning to understand, sprang from as many sources, contradictory and clamorous, as beauty. "He likes hurting you," Daniel said, wiping the blood away with the cloth.

Gilles ground his teeth when Daniel touched the wound on his right shoulder that snaked around his ribcage to just below his heart. "No matter. Don't I like hearing you scream?"

"Different," Daniel said. "He wants to hurt you. Not pull pleasure out of bruises. Just make you bleed. He delights in it."

"He's a difficult creature," Gilles said. He was not replying to Daniel so much as restating what Daniel had already said. Repeating what he himself had said days earlier. As if agreement were all that mattered.

"You want him to," Daniel said. Slowly, he understood; the shape of comprehension firmed and sharpened in his mind. Sharp and bitter, understanding overtook him, pushed pity and worry out of its way. Or, better, swept up both pity and worry, transmuted them into fear. "You want it."

"Of course I do. Tie myself up, encourage the mortification. I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection." Gilles smiled then, gently, matching the careful patience of his voice, jarring against the pain tightening his eyes and streaming out the welts on his skin. "Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, we are told to arm ourselves likewise with the same mind: For he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin."

Ancient words, from troubled souls in devastating times, slipping from Gilles' lips with the authority of millennia.

Daniel shook his head. "Not spiritual. You want him to hurt. You wouldn't mind if he killed you."

Gilles did not reply. Instead, he turned his face away, closing his eyes. All is pain, Daniel thought, needing and desiring foment misery out of misery, generations of squalor.

Daniel did not want him to agree, nor did he want to Gilles to hide. However much he understood Gilles' need to scourge himself closer to death, he could not swallow that fact.

His mouth was dry, his throat closed against it, yet he did not know what to say.

He should have fully understood death and pain as the gates toward release. All illusion stems from attachment, as the great Tilopa sang.

Cut the root of a tree
And the leaves will wither;
Cut the root of your mind
And samsara falls.

Death could be, he knew — or had been taught — the step from illusion into clear light. Clear light, empty mind, the Spirit Gilles frequently spoke of — if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law — and intellect — with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Tilopa's song resounded in his skull more forcefully and more sweetly than any music he spun out from the turntables. Overwhelming for that, drowning his own thoughts, light and wispy as they were: a gush of bright flower-water that swept over the shreds and hopes of his thought.

In Mahamudra all one's sins are burned; In Mahamudra one is released >From the prison of this world. This is the Dharma's supreme torch. Those who disbelieve it Are fools who ever wallow In misery and sorrow.

Gilles stroked two fingers over Daniel's chin, then his mouth. "What is that?"

Daniel looked up. "I was singing, wasn't I?"

"You were. Lovely."

"Not really," Daniel said. He thought of the prison of the world, the world as prison. Inescapable except through death, through the final moment of powa, when no succeeding breath is taken.

Gilles had been in prison, a real one with bars and armed guards. He spoke of it lightly, as a vacation, during which he ate poor food but learned to play bocce. Difficult to imagine Gilles being captive anywhere, not with the quick, swordsmooth motion of his gestures and the intensity of his mind, flaring behind his eyes, spilling over his words.

Gilles looked at him steadily, green sparks among crisping leaves, the skin around his eyes infinitely, tenderly creased. He was so rarely still that Daniel held his breath so as not to disturb him. Looked at from a certain angle, everything was a prison, from the marrow on outward. Especially the skin, an envelope so fragile that escape could be had through enough lashes of the whip.

Thick with cream, Daniel's fingers skated over the topmost welt. Gilles' eyes did not leave his. "Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain?"

"No," Daniel said. Gilles sounded empty, as he had while Daniel helped him to the elevator, hollow as a lute or the air around a still gong. Words wrapped around nothing, echoing Daniel's own fear. "I just don't want him hurting you."

When Gilles blinked, his lashes were wet, tipped into points as fine as brush-tips, glistening brightly. "You never speak —" His hand curved around Daniel's neck, tugging him inexorably closer. "Such certainty there."

"You shouldn't hurt."

"No? And on your certainty and confidence, what do you suggest?" Gilles' thumb slid down the center of Daniel's throat, tapping the hollow over the windpipe. Its pressure recalled to Daniel the hot billows that opened within his chest while he watched Mick beat Gilles. Stoked higher with each crack and resulting squeal from Gilles, each curtain of sweat and blood sent flying outward, each twist of joy and pain to Gilles' face. "Hmmm?"

"Mortify, if you will," Daniel said, the words small and his voice hoarse. Gilles embraced him, torn skin on whole, hands in his hair, on his back. "Just don't —"

"You're disgusted." Gilles smiled against Daniel's shoulder before pulling back. "Yet you loved it. Fucked thin air for it. Dirty boy."

"Because you—" Daniel tried to look away. Failed. "I was—. Seeing you—"

"You loved it," Gilles said slowly, "because you hated it."

His tone was familiar, the care and pleasure of a teacher advising a diligent student. Daniel dropped the washcloth. "Another test?"

"No. Not a test. Call it an observation."

Daniel wrenched closed the taps and spread the cloth to dry over the lip of the basin. Small gestures, inverse to the confusion and fear billowing through him. "An observation?"

"You loved it. If my observation—which very seldom lies—by the heart's still rhetoric disclosed with eyes, deceive me not now, you, dear, are infected."

Because he got caught, Inez had said. Daniel remembered Gilles' face turning toward him, the unreadable torque of his features, both surprise and relief. Perhaps he looked to be caught. "You wanted me to see."

"Sweetheart, if I could, I would hide everything from you. Tell you fairy-stories, wrap you safely in iron, dress you in water."

"I want to see," Daniel said.

"Of course you do. That is both your genius and your bane. I seem to have corrupted you quite thoroughly. Infected you utterly."

Daniel knew Gilles was wrong, knew that this was no corruption, whatever Gilles or the monks of New Drepung would say. Sight was not corruption, nor was he so gullible to think it was revelation; it was simply itself, an unfurling bolt of images both profane and beautiful. He had seen much, watched fixedly, well before ever meeting Gilles.

Now, however, he had a glass with which to focus.

He had, in whatever indescribable manner, Gilles.


And yet there was nothing at all like enlightenment, no burst of clarity or angelic choir, to accompany such an epiphany. Daniel did not mind; he did not expect much, and had already well exceeded any reasonable ration of imagination and wishes.

He continued his study, continued watching Gilles, continued dancing with him on both marble floors and gritty sand, continued running errands in costumes both sacred and secular — brown hemp cassock and severely-cut tuxedo — continued working in his booth and returning Gilles' carefully predatory gaze across the multitude.

He continued his life.

Inez found him when he walked down to the fruit market on Pier Four. While he turned a starfruit in his hands, holding it up to the sun to see the seeds through its tender green skin, she stepped in front of him. Blocked the light with her dark hair, such that it flared russet and her eyes were invisible.


Daniel moved sideways to find the light again. "Sister Inez," he said and swallowed. Gilles was to meet him shortly, and he did not want them meeting. "How are you?"

"A parambola," she said, lifting the fruit from his hand. "Five points, five joys our Mother had in her Son."

Daniel nodded. He knew nearly as many stories as any of the worshippers at Inez's church. "Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, and Assumption."

Inez smiled widely and dipped her head. She was beautiful, bright as marble, and Daniel fought the urge to run. "The joy that gives me, Daniel, you have no idea. You must have returned to the fold —"

"I've read a lot," he said and chose a pineapple from the stall. Heavier, its hide prickly and uneven, and, he hoped, less prone to overinterpretation than the starfruit. "That's all."

Inez's smile vanished. "Daniel, you're not still—"

She reached for him and Daniel went still, thinking of rabbits caught in illegal traplines in the forest, of the alcoholics spilling out of alleys and doorways he saw on his errands. Her fingers, cool and soft, brushed over a bruise peeking from his collar.

"You're still with him," she said. No question, but statement as a trap. "He hurts you and you're still with him."

Gilles had sucked up the bruise that morning, while Daniel squirmed and gasped on his lap and Gilles wrapped his arms around Daniel's chest to hold him still.

"I'm fine," Daniel said. The heat and soreness of his skin made his eyes water and his groin ache pleasantly. "Not hurting. Believe me."

"Why should I?"

"I —" Daniel stopped and shrugged. He thought it was enough to ask her for her belief; he was wrong.

"You know what his fraternity says, of course," Inez said. "There are many wise men that have secret hearts but transparent countenances."

He didn't know what she meant; such a description fitted, Daniel thought, just about everyone he had ever known. "Sure," he said. "But that's —"

"Yet this would be done with a demure abasing of your eye as those Jesuits also say."

She was warning him, Daniel began to think, not against Gilles but his sect in general. Everything, if you believed as both Gilles and Inez did, everything in the world abased your eye. He saw no reason for it to be related to Gilles' brethren.


Inez inclined her head and took his hand, drawing him close. Daniel felt his skin chill and tighten in her grasp. Her voice was even slower and softer than usual. "Your Gilles lies, as he was taught. He conceals, dissembles, equivocates. You know what equivocation is, don't you?"

"Equal speech," he guessed.

Inez ignored him. "Of course you don't, poor boy." She sounded genuinely sad and she smiled at him with great pity. "Equivocation is nothing else, but when a speech is partly uttered in words, and partly reserved in mind, by which reservation the sense of the proposition may be diverse."

"Everyone holds something back," Daniel said. That much he had learned, both at New Drepung and then here. In both places, honesty was praised and prized, but the surfaces of things, all the transparent countenances and vivid displays of emotion, slipped messily over secret hearts and abased eyes. "It's just — normal."

"Concealing the truth," Inez said and squeezed his wrist, "Is not normal. Your Gilles, in fact, maintains that it's no sin. That if he do but keep, or reserve, or understand his real meaning in his mind, though the words which he speaks be never so false, yet he tells no lie."

In one hand, the starfruit, in the other, Daniel. He wondered which felt better to her, more real. Daniel twisted his arm and pulled it from her grasp. "Gilles doesn't lie. Not to me."

"You know who this man is, then," Inez said, replacing the starfruit on its pile and folding her hands before her.

"I do."

She spoke smoothly, syrup over sugar, the corners of her lips twitching as if she were struggling not to smile. "He is, Daniel, more than you could dream. An open maintainer of mischief, a drunkard, a manqueller, a simoniac, a poisoner, a perjurer, an extortioner, and — but this, I'm sure you already know — an open buggerer."

Daniel remembered then how to move. He stepped sideways again, close to the edge of the pier, and said, "Your Church already expelled him. Already punished him, called him before a council —"

Inez followed his motion with her wide green eyes, tracking him in a long, unblinking sweep. "A council is not so much to be desired, boy, as would be all the multitude armed with stones to kill him as a common pestilence of all the world."

Her voice remained mild and sweet, her face lovely, and Daniel backed away, clutching the pineapple. Certainty cleaved through him, the sudden calm understanding that he did not have to speak to her. "I don't have anything to say to you."

"Of course you don't," Inez said. "Just remember this. All that's in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, pretentious life, is not from the Father. It's from your lover. It's from the world."

Of course it is, Daniel thought as he hurried away, through the throngs of shoppers, ducking his head. There wasn't enough air, too much salt and sweat, until he came to the sand. He loved the world; that was what Verona Beach had done to him.

Daniel waited at the foot of the pier. He found himself between a sausage-seller and a stooped Cuban man in vibrant guayabara rapidly folding paper into cranes, carp, wolves, and geese.

He bought one of each for Gilles, yellow and red and bright green, and strung them on a length of yarn from his pocket.

Menagerie and protective charm all at once, it twisted in the breeze, the indigo carp nipping the wolf's heels, the goose butting heads with the antelope.

Simply paper, folded so intricately as to be transformed.


On Daniel's next night off, although clouds scalloped and swept the sky and they had not yet eaten dinner, Gilles drew Daniel toward the wardrobe.

Smiling, he said, "Every man should put himself into triumph — some to dance, some to make bonfires, each man to what sport and revels his addiction leads him."

Gilles dressed him in fabrics nearly as soft as the water he wished for, moonblues glinting with silver and white linen pants. "You should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white," he said, stooping to drag the trousers up Daniel's legs. He himself wore dark purples, like foreign fruits, and blacks that picked out the russet of his tan.

They were to go dancing, on the beach, under an awning woven with tiny lights. On Bohemia, one of the islands just off the coast, all rocks and hobos and strange beasts. The bridge to the island was hardly wider than Gilles' car, strung like a necklace between promontory rocks, though Gilles drove at his usual reckless speed, taking the sudden corners without blinking.

The sky rioted with curtains and fleets of clouds, gunbarrel-dark, obscuring the moon, smearing its light, scudding both fast and slow through the air.

Gilles parked in a tiny lot before shingled hut and pulled Daniel close, combing out his hair and kissing him. The night was oddly cold, but Gilles' mouth was warm and his hands sure.

"Don't go too far inland," Gilles said, guiding Daniel on the rocky path toward the beach, his voice full of laughter, teasing and warning all at once. "This place is famous for the creatures of prey that keep upon it."

"Is it?" Daniel asked, smiling, grasping Gilles' hand. "Wolves and bears?"

"Oh, yes," Gilles said, laughing, pushing him forward. "Hideous creatures, goblins swift as frenzy's thoughts."

Near the rocks, before they reached the beach and the party, Gilles pulled Daniel back against his chest, circling him in his arms, whispering in his ear. "This most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave overhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, darling, this is nothing. Congregation of shadows and old ash compared to you."

Daniel shivered in the cold damp breeze off the water. "What am I?"

"You're plumed like estridges that wing the wind, baited like eagles having lately bathed, glittering in golden coats, like images, as full of spirit as the month of May, and gorgeous as the sun at midsummer," Gilles said, drawing his tongue around Daniel's neck, smoothing out his blue shirt with his palms. "You are wanton as youthful goats, wild as young bulls, chaste as orphaned cygnets. Fierce as the yearling wolf."

Images in words, like the tattoos spread beneath Gilles' skin, like the comic books Daniel read when he could not sleep, air twisted into sound as light twisted to images.

"Nature teaches beasts to know their friends," Daniel said, twisting, pulling Gilles down to his knees so they sank a little on the sand.

Gilles kissed him, and his mouth on Daniel's chilled skin was hot and slick as glass being blown. "So who does the wolf love?"

Pressed this close to Gilles, face to knees, Daniel saw only stretches of autumngold skin and the dark flash of Gilles' eyes.

Daniel kissed back hungrily, fingers closing in Gilles' shirt, tugging it up, baring skin and pinching as Gilles' tongue plunged between his teeth. Such hunger was inexplicable, untraceable, springing not just from proximity to Gilles and his touch, but from the air around both of them, driving Daniel desperately. Moans sank between them, swallowed, and Daniel kissed harder. The first way in, the truest way, into Gilles.

Gilles turned Daniel around, facing the distant tent and dancers, pushing him onto his hands and kissing down Daniel's bared back.

"Hmm, dearheart? Who does the wolf love?"

Breathless, rocking forward into the half-forgiving sand, Daniel looked over his shoulder. Gilles, purple, part of the night, gazed back at him. Daniel drew a shaky breath and thrust back against Gilles. "The lamb."

"Yes," Gilles whispered, palm on the small of Daniel's back, lips above his parted buttocks, "to devour him."

Daniel rocked backward against the sliding heat of Gilles' mouth, and moaned into the teasing, endless kiss, his fists curled into sand, helpless and hungry. He heard the surf, murmuring in time with Gilles' eager kiss and his own stuttering breaths, and the sky was shot through with impossible streamers, comets of his own making, lemonyellow and bright, painful green. Heat that corkscrewed, inside and outside, spreading in entwined circles through him.

Everything stilled, suddenly, when Gilles' mouth pulled away. Daniel twisted, cold wind tearing at his skin, and looked back, about to beg, when Gilles grasped him by his thighs and pulled him back.

"To devour? Or to marry him, to make two in —" Gilles pushed forward, rough and hard so that Daniel fell forward, sand in his mouth, choking his groans. Gritty, concentrated heat now, always too large, too much, yet never enough. "— one flesh. Let us be glad and rejoice —"

Grunting, face tight with heat and gorgeous pain, Daniel bore down, shoving back. Gilles' voice rose to a shout, exclamation and promise scissoring together as he thrust in deep and pulled out, shallowly, until Daniel twisted the other way, pleading and tightening, trapping Gilles, then tightening more. Gilles groaned, high as a choir, circling one hand around Daniel's cock, pulling it in lunatic time with the rocking thrusts, and sang throatily. "Give honor to him, to you, for the marriage of the lamb is come —"

So much heat, the surf and Gilles' hand and his cock, bearing deeper, scraping up embers that flew and whirled before Daniel's eyes. Daniel bucked forward, a shred of the party catching his eye.

Dancing shadows, winding in the night, spangled with the tiny lights. Leering faces, fluttering hands, stamping feet.

Daniel saw it all from afar, dim beyond the brilliance Gilles pushed him full of, stuffed him to bursting until his pores were about to widen and burst.

"Like an animal," Gilles said, bent over Daniel, breath thundering over his shoulder, into his ear. "Take you, make of us one, flesh and sin, and you cleanse me with holy blood and love —"

He thrust harder, breath wheezing, sweat spattering Daniel's cheek, and in the furnace embracing Daniel, Daniel was a single scrap, central yet unconsumed.

"More, fucking more —" Daniel gasped, impossibly swallowed by hunger.

"Yes, more, evermore —" Hand on Daniel's hip, Gilles wrenched him back as he pushed deeper and then there were lights blazing in concentric, whirling spirals and no air that did not flame within Daniel's ribs. "Give you everything, offer everything to you —"

Daniel shook apart, his spine bowing, dipping in a torrential blaze, and he came into Gilles' hand, against his own belly and the disturbed sand. Trembling, he collapsed, forehead burrowing in the sand, and only Gilles' arm held him up at the waist. The shudders that clenched through Daniel echoed, reverberating more loudly, in Gilles' curses and the clap of the surf, and Gilles pushed in more pleasure, brighter light, blinding and deafening, until he, too, fell, clasping Daniel and rolling him over.

Something just birthed, just tossed ashore from stormridden seas, Daniel drew wet, shallow breaths and clutched at Gilles' arms.

Gilles kissed Daniel's face with dry lips and raucous breath.

Later, he said, "Lamb and flesh of mine, this is the offering. All I have for you."

Daniel kissed the base of Gilles' throat and pushed the sweaty hair out of his eyes. "Take you all. Give you anything, all I have."

Gilles' eyes closed, and the shadows deepened over his face. "Don't. No, dearheart. Don't say that."

Sand ground into his skin, his mouth, the afterfires dulling down, leaving him open and yearning, Daniel cupped his palm around Gilles' skull and drew him in close. "Yes. Already said that."

Gilles' forehead rested against his for half a moment, then another. Then he was pulling himself away, stumbling to his feet, wiping his mouth and doing up his trousers.

Wildhaired, shadoweyed, Gilles said, "No."

One syllable, hard, its facets sharp against the cold breeze. Daniel struggled up to his knees, reaching for Gilles' hand; if he spoke wrongly, he could always touch, show what he had meant to say.

Gilles slapped Daniel's hand away. "Despise me, when I break this oath of mine —"

"Just mean to —" Daniel raised his hand again. "Gilles, please. Just to comfort —"

"All strange and terrible events are welcome," Gilles said, raking both hands through his hair and looking everywhere — sky, sea, party — but at Daniel. "But comfort I despise. And love. You and your —"

Daniel's hand trembled in mid-air, pale and insubstantial in the dark; sandgrains bit at his skin and Gilles' voice struck welts across his face. Taking one breath, blinking once, Daniel folded his arms over his chest.

This was another Gilles, the cruel and heartless one everyone warned him against. Cunning and equivocating, speaking only half the truth.

Daniel lifted his chin. "Go, then."

Gilles caressed Daniel's head, fingertips in his hair. "I have long dreamed of such a kind of love." Thumb over Daniel's brows, around one eye-socket. "So beauty-swelled, so young, and so profane." Cold fingers, describing Daniel's skull, his death-mask. They rapped three times on Daniel's temple before withdrawing. "But, being awakened, I do despise my dream."

Gilles turned, still stumbling, and ran. Not towards the tent, but away, into the rocks.

Daniel watched him go.

The sky glowed like metal.

He pulled his shirt more tightly around him.


The party boomed and shook the beach. Daniel turned his back on it and drew his knees to his chest, resting his cheek on his knees, staring at the damp lichens texturing the darkness around him.

He could hardly approach the party now. He could not ask someone for a ride home, nor could he walk the narrow bridge without certainly being run over.

As soon as they occurred to him, the possibilities, both walking and asking, sank quickly in a thick haze of panic. He could not, he believed, speak, nor could he be seen. Not yet, not like this, disheveled, stained, spattered with sand, tears, and come.

He needed to bathe. He needed to get away from this place.

Daniel stripped off his ruined shirt and stood, pain throbbing dully in the center of his back, to untie his shoes and pull off his pants. The pants, with their keyring clipped to one empty belt-loop, he tied around his waist, the shoes around his neck.

Everything else, he left behind.

The skin of the water shone, threaded with the silver underbellies of the clouds and reflections from Verona Beach, which glittered, like knotted strands of cheap Christmas lights. The L'Amour Cola sign throbbed red fire just beyond the huge ferris wheel, The Sovereign Eye, flattering the black water with spinning gilded flecks.

Not so far; he'd swum father many times. The water twined him in cold currents as Daniel pushed ahead, toward the lights, away from the beastly island.

He did not look back; its crags and battered, twisted pines he already knew better than most of the city, the sputter and flash of bonfires and cruelty already sunken into his memory.

Dolphins no longer swam these inlets, poisoned by decades of sewage-dumping and discharge of fuel oil from the freighters that arrived in port at all hours. But Daniel felt like a dolphin, small and slick, moving with the water, his burdens streaming out behind him, the cold of the air penetrating him down to the marrow, only to vanish in the swirling warmth of the confused currents.

Swimming could be meditation, just like walking, just like folding up lotus-tight. Daniel's skin was his own, his mind empty except for the sign's glimmer. No emotion, no filth any longer. If he thought of Gilles, and Gilles' face kept bobbing up, contorted with pain and equivocation, the thoughts dispersed like the slices of the moon on the water ahead of him.

As he neared the shore, he swam like a frog to save his arms' strength, keeping his head above water, gulping down air like insects, his eyes on the L'Amour sign.

He slept on the beach when he landed, a thin strip of dirty sand sheltered from the sun by the backside of an old ammunitions factory. He spread out his pants next to him like an amputated ghost to dry.

He dreamt of fireworks and elaborate silver-and-coal choreography and howling beasts.


His pants were still damp, redolent with salt and rot, when Daniel woke and pulled them on. His shoes squished as he hiked up the beach and swung over the guardrail to the Mitylene Road.

Mid-morning, and the commuters still whizzed by, trapped in their metal boxes, doing their makeup, singing with the radio, gulping their coffee. If he followed the road westward, he would come to the center of the city and then work his way through the side-streets to Gilles' loft.

He had nowhere else to go, and his books were there.

Daniel preferred swimming to picking his way along the narrow, pebbled pedestrian walkway, buffeted by the exhaust from trucks and the screech of horns. He kept his arms wrapped around his chest, knowing he would burn anyway, and measured the distance in squishes of his soles.

A black car, boxy and ridiculously long, nearly took out the guardrail as it swerved to a stop in front of him. Daniel jumped back, ducking his head against the rocks thrown up.


He knew Mercutio from the various clubs, from snooker shot at the Globe, knew him to smile and stride forward to grasp his hand.

Mercutio hauled him close, up against the hot metal of his car, embracing him awkwardly through the window.

"Morning constitutional?" he asked and Daniel nodded. Mercutio's hair danced in hundreds of twisted hanks, as enthusiastic as his smile. "Worthy lad, you'll burn. Your exercise has been too violent for this time of day. Come, get in."

Daniel glanced into the car; a blond man was sprawled in the back seat, one hand cupped against his groin, the other flung over his face.

"It's all right," Mercutio said, laughing. "Ignore him."

Despite his sleep, Daniel was tired and he found it impossible to refuse. He slid into the car and Mercutio peeled away, toward the city, weaving in and out of traffic as if the rest of the world were just tin obstacles in a child's maze.

"You've been to the sea?" Mercutio asked, his hand on Daniel's thigh, his nose wrinkling. "How it chafes, how it rages, how it takes up the shore!"

"Swimming from —" Daniel did not say whence, but stopped and nodded.

"Where to, dolphin my boy?" Mercutio asked when traffic slowed. He had his arm slung around Daniel's shoulders.

"Mistress Quickly's!" the man in the back seat croaked.

"No, no." Mercutio twisted around and smacked the man's thigh. "Come, I am for no more bawdy-houses. Shall we go hear the vestals sing? Daniel?"

Mercutio's arm was warm and heavy, and his skin smelled like cocoa butter and sandalwood. When he smiled at Daniel, his eyes were the brown of leaves at the bottom of a well, sunken for years, pierced by sunlight.

Daniel did not want to look away. He knew, however, that this loneliness was no love for Mercutio, kind and handsome as he was, but simply the absence of Gilles.

"I-I need to get home," Daniel said.

Mercutio shrugged and squeezed his shoulder. "I'll do any thing now that is virtuous," he said and kissed Daniel quickly, tasting as sweet as lilacs and dew, as if acknowledging Daniel's unspoken decision, "But I am out of the road of rutting forever."

His friend laughed uproariously and kicked both feet against the back of Mercutio's seat.

"You and the ghostly father?" Mercutio asked as Daniel directed him to the loft. "He's the best for dreams and slumbers, your priest. Tell him I could use a refill, in fact."

Daniel curled his fists, ready to hear another round of warnings, but Mercutio just nodded and grinned.

"Impressive, boy," he said, popping the lock. He kissed Daniel again, more roughly, and swatted his ass as Daniel climbed out of the car. "Hold onto him. He's sure to take you — well, places, at the least."

The motor laughed, nearly as loud as the two men, as the car pulled away.

Daniel crept into the silent building.


Everywhere he looked, he found empty space. Shadows were the most substantial occupants of each floor and Daniel tracked each one down, alert for any sign of Gilles.

In the loft, he held himself tight and small, ready to turn at any moment and see Gilles. In the bathroom, on the roof, even in the depths of the wardrobe.

Daniel searched, mindlessly, carefully, and found nothing.

Nothing had changed, but the life was gone from this place.

Through the windows, the breeze blew in scraps of revelry, fumes and cooking-smells, and Daniel waited.

He was patient and time, supposedly, meant nothing.

But he could not sleep; he passed out, on the floor, in a chair, never on the bed, but he did not sleep.

Always, he listened for Gilles.

Two days passed in silence. No enlightenment, only patience and loneliness.


He still had to work, however.

Daniel wove through the crowd, going up on tiptoe, sliding sideways, dancing his way back toward the booth. The lights spun, and at times, entire moments, the crowd seemed frozen — arms crooked over their heads, mouths open in eternal yells, hips cocked and feet raised — then melted back to motion.

Niches that might have held statues or relics were full now with bodies, black-indigo-purple, and pale sliding skin. Hair rippled, lifted in the currents of song, then fell.

Bodies parted and a cap of gold and thin legs wrapped in red leather brightened into focus before him. Daniel's mouth opened, about to say her name — Joan — when her head fell back, exposing her tan throat and small breasts in a red bra, and she kicked out one red leg, wrapping it tightly around someone's thighs.

Joan, dancing, groping. Around a taller woman, stormdark in black, gray, and white, willowy and writhing up against Joan, one sharp white hand on her back, the other on Joan's throat. Black hair, glowing skin, curve of one architecturally perfect brow. Inez.

Inez, who was quiet, sharp, smelled like hothouse-flowers and told Daniel what to do.

Inez, who was kissing Joan now, digging bonewhite fingers into the redleather hip, dragging a scarlet tongue down Joan's golden throat and rocking a black knee between Joan's red thighs until Joan thrashed. Wildly, out of time, Joan spun and dipped past the rhythm of the music.

Daniel pushed forward and away.

Perhaps it was not Inez; perhaps it was her twin, a double just as beautiful but stuffed with all the love and passion Inez herself had forsworn.

Split, like some impossible dialectic, the one that Gilles somehow managed to live through and for, the division of body and spirit.

Ringing through the music then, Daniel heard Gilles, heard him laughing as they tumbled across the bed, heard him shout as he tickled and thrust, there's another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

Bodies and song, pulsating with the spinning lights and splashing colors, pushed him to the end of the dancefloor.

Breathless, synaesthetic waves roiling through him, Daniel grasped the rungs of the ladder to his booth and felt his knees buckle.


He had lived alone before, of course. Before he met Gilles, and since; there had been nights, sometimes several, when Gilles travelled and Daniel slept alone.

And it had only been a few days.

Silent and empty days.

Daniel knew that he had done nothing wrong, had simply spoken the truth. No equivocation for him; his secret heart was as vivid and visible as any fireworks display. The truth had scared away Gilles, frightened him deep into the dark.

Because he could not sleep, Daniel missed his dreams.

He set up the smaller projector and opened reel after reel of home movies, the strips of film as wide as his thumb and no wider. Movies of Gilles posing and aping at the beach, laughing, beckoning Daniel closer; moves of Daniel himself in the tumult of the bed, naked, touching himself according to Gilles' urgent directions; movies of Gilles and Daniel together, wrestling, rolling in and out of frame, limbs flailing.

Garish colors, so bright it was as if everything — sky, skin, foliage and bedding — was illuminated from within as well as without.

Silent movies, overwhelmingly bright. No words here, nothing that could be concealed, only patches of color in constant motion.

Daniel's favorite movie, however, was almost static. It showed Gilles just out of the bath, leaning against the partition with a white towel wrapped low on his waist. He smiled slowly, knowingly, as he noticed Daniel with the camera at his eye, and scrubbed his hand through his dark, slick hair. Scrubbed it into disordered, shining spikes.

All of Gilles there, broad shoulders and long, tapering chest alive with inked ciphers. Lean muscles, golden skin, long arms, all glittering with droplets of water. The towel dipped over his hipbones, brilliant and blank against his skin, dropping to his shins.

Daniel watched this movie again and again. The rise of Gilles' hand, the steady widening of his grin, amused and confident. Squinting eyes, lazy scratching of his belly.

He stripped off his own clothes and stood in front of the projector. Opened his arms to the light. Colors spun in a thick rope until they hit his skin and broke apart, became images. He made himself a screen.

Thus he held Gilles closer than he ever had, right against his skin with no obstruction.

This was everything and nothing, bathing in vivid motes of light arranging themselves into Gilles. Something like Gilles. Slippery, but the film could be threaded again, never had to end.


Daniel kept Gilles' absence a secret. Who would he have told? He saw Mercutio the same night he came across Joan entwined with Inez, and told him that everything was all right.

He protected his loneliness. He didn't know where Gilles was, if he was safe or lost, happy to be away or desperate to return, exiled or travelling, but Daniel guarded the absence.

The third night that Gilles was gone, Daniel walked down the shore past the amusement park and across the footbridge to the Gardens to meet Mercutio.

He had told Daniel to meet him in the greenhouse, entering from the side, and Daniel arrived early.

The zoo animals were invisible in their dark cages, the paths to the greenhouse twisty and overgrown.

The greenhouse crouched at the rear of the park, an intricate wrought-iron dome and bony buttresses supporting pane after pane of milky glass. Like an invisible cathedral, a preliminary and careful blueprint done in black ink on soft paper, for a faith and congregation that had never caught hold. It was both Greek temple and medieval church, vaulted and soaring over the dark park. Daniel stood beside a thick-trunked oak and craned his neck to see it all.

To his eyes, it was old, obsolete, but the building itself puffed up with its own importance and originality, so where his gaze met the glass an antiquated novelty arose. A concretized, wrought mirage, fata morgana trapped in unanticipated glass and premature iron.

Inside, the plants stooped and ramified, massive prehistoric ferns, spun yew trees and overhanging monkey-puzzle trees. So much vegetation, alien and half-animal in the gloom. He wondered about the name Green House, how houses were to shelter the needy, both people and gods, but this place was both rich and kind enough to shelter and tend to plants.

Mercutio never appeared.

Daniel waited on the shallow marble step, just in front of the side door, breathing in the lush loamy air and watching the lozenges of nacreous light move over the hedge abutting the greenhouse. He toyed with a long blade of grass. Warm and broken in his palms, it eventually bent like a ribbon or strand of hair, perfectly pliable, and he wound it three times around his wrist.

Here where he waited, the old garden wall was evident, half broken down, overgrown with hedged shrubs and, twisting among their branches, grapevines. Although the sea was well behind him, at least half a mile away, Daniel heard water gently moving. Ahead of him, beyond the wall.

He grasped one of the thickest vines and pulled himself up and over the wall. Releasing the vine, he landed on his hands and knees in the midst of something like a maze. The path was worn marble, split by grasses and flowers, the walls composed of thick, glossy-leaved shrubs, and it all curved around gentle corners toward the madrigal whisper of the water.

At the center of the old garden, the pool was shaped like a star, full of black and shining water, bordered with softly glowing limestone. A low fountain in the middle of the pool continually spilled fresh water.

Inside, Daniel felt quiet, as untroubled as the water, for the first time since leaving Bohemia. The searing ache around Gilles' absence still burned, but as he crouched, then sat, at the edge of the pool and dipped his feet in the water, the pain became memorial. He missed Gilles terribly and wished that he could see this place.

Underwater, his feet glimmered, seeming very far away and insubstantial, the skin nearly glaucous.

Daniel bent at the waist and watched them hang there, suspended like fish, and breathed in the scent of fresh water.

He heard someone approach behind him; thinking it was Mercutio, he didn't turn, but said quietly, "You're late."

"Am I?" Joan asked and dropped down beside him, shucking off her boots. "Didn't know that."

Daniel kicked his feet back and forth and smiled. "Sorry. Thought you were someone else."

"I'll say," Joan said, slipping her arm around Daniel's waist and pulling herself closer. "Remote spot you've got here, hon. Quite the curious-knotted garden, all unweeded. Things rank and gross in nature possess it."

Daniel glanced around at the flat water and looming hedges, then down at the cuts and welts on his hand from the vine and fall. He smiled at her. "I kind of like it."

Joan tipped her head against his shoulder. "Yeah, me too."

They sat together, silently, watching the underbellies of clouds drift over the water and disappear into the shrubbery. Daniel wondered, but did not ask, what brought Joan here. Silence, it seemed, just as it had brought him.

Sighing and stretching — she was never still for long — Joan dipped her toes into the pool's dark water. "How's he treating you?"

"Well," Daniel said. "He's — was very kind."

She laughed and he felt himself smile. "That's a new one."

"He was cruel to you?" Tenses of verbs captured memory, made Gilles a figure of the past, just as remote as Tilopa or Achilles. Daniel straightened his spine and stretched out his hands against the sadness of that thought.

"No, he —" She shook her head, pushing back the long lock of hair. "He's a good—. He's all right."

"But not good?"

Joan sighed and pulled him closer. "I don't think like that any more. Used to, but it fucked me up. Take my advice and don't even bother trying."

So many layers, sheets of brilliant color shifting and sliding together. The skin of the world, sloughed off in radiant fragments, bits whirling and jangling. He didn't trust Gilles, never had, but he could not deny his kindness, either. Inez warned him to stay away from evil and avoid sins of the flesh, then appeared dancing with Joan.

Daniel wished for a moment that he could think as Gilles did, through structures marble-fast and judgments that clarified matter and boiled away contradiction.

Branches snapped and creaked, the pebbles on the path ground together, and both Daniel and Joan twisted at the waist to see who approached.

"Daniel," Mick said, crossing his arms. "There you are. Looked all the fuck over for you."

"Hey," Daniel said. "Right here."

"Supposed to take you home —" Mick grabbed his arm and pulled Daniel to his feet.

Daniel curled his toes and did not move. "I'm fine here."

Joan stepped between them, although Mick did not release Daniel's wrist. "Leave him be."

Mick grinned. "Hey, babe. Just running an errand. Don't get huffy."

"Fuck off," Joan said. "Kid's okay here."

"Following orders."

Joan blew the lock of hair from her eyes and tilted her head. "Since when?"

"Old man's indisposed, you know that. Got to get this pretty little thing safely home."

So Mick had seen Gilles, and Daniel bit his tongue, tasting hope like flowers, about to ask where Gilles was. Until he thought that Mick was as much a liar as anyone here. Mick would say anything, do anything, to get his way.

"Fuck. Off," Joan said again. "Just crawl back under your rock." She took another step forward, hand on her hip, pushing back her jacket and revealing a dark wooden stake, mahogany or rosewood.

Mick dropped Daniel's arm — red bars on his skin, pulsing in time with his heart, where Mick's fingers had been — and shook his head. "On your head if anything happens to him."

Joan laughed. "I can live with that."

Mick leaned in and Daniel wrapped his arms around his waist reflectively. But Mick just smirked as he stroked the curve of Joan's cheek. :Taking him back to your nun? I'd pay to see that. Bet he'd like it, nice fish sandwich like that. Blush real pretty."

Raising her tiny white hand, Joan shoved Mick backward.

"Going, Christ —" he muttered, raising his hands, twisting, stumbling back through the foliage.

Turning, Daniel rubbed his arm and stared at the still black water.

"Guess now you bitch me out for rescuing you, right?" Joan said, sitting on the corner of a low marble bench and tapping out a cigarette.

"No," Daniel said. He swayed a little as cold air and worry crept inexorably back around him.

The match flared, orange and scarlet, as Joan sucked on her cigarette. "Good, 'cause I didn't." She tossed the match toward Daniel, and it died on its arc. "Rescue you. Just like to piss him off."

"Thank you," Daniel said. "Regardless."

"Such an asshole —" Joan offered her cigarette and Daniel shook his head. If he stood much longer, he was sure, he would crumple to his knees, so Daniel took the other corner of the bench and slid his wet feet, grass clinging to him, into his shoes. "Him, not you, I mean."

"Yeah," Daniel said. "I — I really don't like him."

"Smart kid." Joan exhaled a dragonstream of smoke and leaned back against the hedge. "Such a prick. He'll court you, kiss you, say he loves you. Then he fucks you once and he's gone."

She was talking about Mick, but Daniel uncrossed his arms and looked down at his hands, thinking of Gilles. He didn't know what to say, and the thought that Gilles and Mick might be in any sense similar sickened him, writhed sourly in the pit of his stomach.

Joan smoked silently, sending blue smoke against the dark sky, and the soft lap of the water against the marble sides of the pool was the loudest sound.

"Full moon," Daniel said, as clouds parted against Joan's smoke.

"C'mon, kiddo." Joan stood, pulling Daniel to his feet. "Let's get you home."

They wove through the dark garden, brambles snagging fabric and scraping their bare arms, hand in hand. Joan was nearly exactly his height; Daniel had forgotten that, had remembered her as much larger.

Against the broken shells and pebbles of the parking lot, her motorcycle gleamed smooth and alien. Bright silver, even in the dead of night; scrolling red letters like flames picked out its name — The Scythe — over the gas tank.

"Got it off an old lady," Joan said, handing Daniel a helmet and helping onto the motorcycle.

"Inez?" He buckled the helmet and Joan slid in behind him, reaching through his armpits to grasp the handlebars.

Joan laughed as she kick-started the motor. "No —" she yelled, spinning the motorcycle around and roaring toward the highway. "But that would be fucking awesome."

They poured like light through the night, towards the shore, swooping around corners and slicing off oncoming traffic. The wind battered at Daniel's face and swept through his body until he felt almost as he did when a moment or two from climax: both joyful and terrified, ecstatic in every possible sense. Joan pressed against him, pushing him forward, molding her body to his.

Sooner than his pounding heart and flying skin would have liked, they sluiced up the street backended by Gilles' warehouse and Joan turned the bike to a grinding, shuddering stop. She wrapped her arms around Daniel's waist, not letting him rise, and he twisted to see her.

"Stay safe," she whispered, just in front of his lips, before kissing him and slapping him away.

Daniel staggered awkwardly off the motorcycle, his limbs windblown and hollow, and tried to speak. But Joan was already gunning the motor and pushing away.

Inside the elevator, he slid to the floor, grasping the bars of the grille, and when it arrived at the top floor, he had to pull himself up through a wave of nausea and exhaustion to his feet. He stumbled into the loft, wind shrieking in his ears, and collapsed on the bed.

Maybe he would sleep tonight.


Daniel woke, as he always did, with the sun.

In the emptiness of the loft, he was alone, more silent, less certain, than ever.

He washed and pulled on a pair of jeans he'd found in the recesses of Gilles' wardrobe, denim softer than velvet, and a loose shirt of Gilles', printed with spring-green vines and tangled bundles of blue and white primroses. He rolled the sleeves to his elbows, scrubbed a towel over his face, and went to his morning prayers.

Meditation ought to be peace. The blank gaze of the Buddha, murmur of his own breath, scrolling smoke off the stub of incense: Here he should have rested, found the quiet abyss within and without.

It was peace, narcotic and smooth, blank as the eyes. He could have dwelled here, galaxy-wide and atom-dense, and never had to feel again. In the truth of the void, where solitude devolved to nonsense because there was no Daniel, no world, nothing and no one to miss.

He craved meditation, the quick slide into black-ice mindfulness, into peace where he did not miss Gilles because Daniel himself was not.

Killing oneself need not be violent, he knew. It didn't even need to make noise; he could have slipped beneath the frost of peace, dissolved himself into primordial light, rejoined reality by abandoning illusion.

Shuddering, Daniel pushed himself to his feet, found his old flip-flops by the elevator, and ran breathlessly downstairs. Two steps, three, taken at a time, he ran.

He probably should not have gone out, not after Joan's rescue of him from Mick last night, but he headed for the coffee shop two blocks from the building. He needed people, activity, he needed to find something else.

Mick never went outside during the day and Daniel was hungry.

The loft could so easily become the world: Empty and lonely. He was too much there, too much alone and too much battered by doubt. Despite the gracefully-curved furniture, despite Gilles' beloved books, despite the square curtains of light falling from the glass above, the loft was squalid. Despicable, and Daniel too self-focused, too arrogant, to bear either the place or himself for very long.

Annica: He craved the fugitive light, the transitory world. Without Gilles, Daniel had felt himself swell. Like a boil, occupying Gilles' absence.

Outside, however, he was at once smaller and thing were more proportional, fleeter.

The sunlight beat like hammered brass over the neon signs that stayed lit all day, against the rough vivid stucco walls. Flower-colors, obscenely twining orchids and infinite poppies, and the traffic contended in volume with the sea, the sun for garish dominion in the faces all around him as he walked.

Alvaro's cafe was small and long, an old, soft-edged Airstream trailer on a cement foundation long ago grown over with kudzu. Daniel thought of the trailer travelling the country, looping and doubling back over highways and backroads, all the stars that had passed over it, the canyons that had opened before its blunt nose, the breaths of all its drivers and the winds that had blown through it.

The trailer was still now, having found its way to the edge of the land, all the way to the sea and Verona Beach. Stopped now, forever, but its travels were carved into its scuffed aluminum walls. Like canyons, like snowfields, the motion was etched into the surface, and, therefore, persisting, long after it had ceased.

Alvaro treated Daniel to a large cafe con leche, identical to his own, and half a sweet roll before waving him out the back door. His sons-in-law had built a patio back here, teetering on railroad ties and stilts, opening over the sea and walled with climbing vines and potted evergreens that whose tangy smell reminded Daniel insistently of New Drepung.

It was still early yet for the bulk of the breakfast crowd. Only other person occupied the patio.

His back was to Daniel, but the whiteness of his shirt, flat and sharp as snow, caught Daniel's eye as the hook barbs a fish's swollen lip.

Holding his cup and saucer in both hands, the milk unfurling through the oily black coffee, the steam swirling up over chin, Daniel simply stopped.

His senses continued working — sighing of the sea, salt and coffee and pine needles in his nose and mouth, the porcelain and sun burning his skin — but only in the most distant manner. Otherwise, he stopped, dropped away from his body and skin, mind and self.


Question and statement both, a window opened and rope tossed overboard, the sound left his mouth and names were tiny, fluttering labels, the last leaf curled dry and dark at the tip of a branch.


White shirt, shadows darkening the folds as the figure turned, ink sliding off paper, and then.

Then there was Gilles' face, lined and beautiful behind dark glasses, bruised red, his mouth a dark gash of pain, question, apology.

"Take this —" Daniel set down the coffee and bread before Gilles, then touched Gilles' wrist, guiding his hand to the food.

Beyond vows — to do no harm, to take suffering and return compassion a hundredfold — there was simple decency. Daniel understood that now, in a motionless rush, either so rapid or so gradual that it seemed stationary. Longing and loss, all the empty yearning he'd felt for Gilles, still prickled at the edges of him, and would return soon enough.

Now, however, there was only the amberdark coffee, the awkward curve of Gilles' bruised and scabbed-over hand, and the soft, plump roll.

Daniel slipped his arm around Gilles' shoulders and drew himself nearer until he sat on one of Gilles' thighs, hand covering Gilles', fingers stroking the angry red scabs, his mouth on Gilles' ear, forehead to temple.

"Eat," he said. "I've missed you."

Cold inside, the static Arctic terror like death, but so warm outside, sunheavy air and the pressure of Gilles' body against his own again. Gilles' cheek was bruised and scraped as well, tender against Daniel's own, swollen with blood and pain.

"Daniel." His voice was hoarse, full of burrs and brambles.

"All right now."

"All may be well — but, if God sort it so, it's more than I deserve, or should expect —" Gilles hung his head, speaking dully, lips hardly moving.

"Not now," Daniel said and pulled Gilles' arm around his waist. He broke off a piece of bread, the softest core, and brought it to Gilles' lips. Scabbed and flaking, burnt from the sun or some other fire, they scratched at Daniel's fingertips. "Just eat now."

Gilles kissed Daniel's fingers and accepted the bread, then sipped the coffee.

Daniel held him close, rubbing the root of Gilles' neck, murmuring in singsong nonsense. He didn't dare close his eyes, look away, lose sight or touch of Gilles. Silence slipped around them, even as the patio grew crowded and noisy, as horns and chatter rose like fiery streamers around them.

Gilles had closed his eyes; he touched Daniel's face with both hands, lightly, tracing the rise of bone and dip of nose. Daniel caught Gilles' wrists and held his hands there. When Gilles opened his eyes, Daniel said, "Don't go again."

"Protecting you. Believed I was saving you."

"Don't," Daniel said. "I can take care of myself."

"So whatever do you need me for?"

"For you," Daniel said. "I —" He took a breath. Whatever protection Gilles thought he was providing, believed that Daniel needed, it had also been Daniel's admission, tantamount to love, that drove Gilles into the night. He couldn't take it back; he needed to impress it harder, more deeply. Make it clear. "I want to love you. Difficult without you."

Quietly, Gilles regarded him. When he spoke, it sounded to Daniel like a radio broadcast, alive with static and interference, impersonal and cruel. "Let sin, alone committed, light alone upon his head that has transgressed so. Let guiltless souls be freed from guilty woe."

Daniel shook his head, felt glaciers pressing his head in their vise. "Please."

"I do love you," Gilles said. "Feverishly, guiltily. With such infection as to kill hundreds. Monstrous, and horrible, I've charmed you into calling this sickness love."

Cold that ground and shattered without falling, throughout Daniel's body, brightice fear shining through his mind. "Not charmed —"

Gilles nodded, speaking carefully, softly, more to himself than Daniel, though he touched Daniel constantly and gently. "Charmed you, through the pride of elation, or through false philosophy; or else entangled you through sacrilegious rites, in which, while casting down headlong by deceit and illusion your mind, I hold you captive also to magical trickery."

Surprised that he did not shiver, Daniel leaned in, kissing Gilles' face, drawing the heat up through his lips, roiling inside, certain and full of need. "What made me love you?" he asked. "Not trickery. You. Can that persuade you there's something extraordinary in you? Come, I can't cog and say you're this and that, like you can. I don't know the words, I don't know much of anything —"

The wind off the sea smelled like trash and sex, thick oily carnal things, and Daniel broke off, coughing against the cold within.

"Wiser than you know," Gilles said. His own voice now, roughened and sad, but his own. "Kinder than any deserving."

"I can't say, but I love you. None but you," Daniel said, quickly, steam billowing in his mouth, hunger and love, "And you deserve it."

Words ran out then, far later than he might ever have imagined, and Gilles embraced him. Silently, and that was both comforting and fearful. Gilles had never lacked for words before they went to the island, but now the words were as tender and unexpected as the bruises covering his face.

Daniel tried to breathe through his mouth, not smell the sea, just hold on to Gilles and let hope give birth to itself. But he shuddered and coughed and realized, as slowly as honey, that Gilles was speaking. Replying, saying love and I'm sorry and tell you anything.

"Are you equivocating now?" Daniel asked, words in a dream, the colors bright and air soaked with stench.

Gilles smiled, thin and unamused. "Whatever could you mean? I don't lie, not to you."

"Not lying," Daniel said and tried to reconstruct what Inez had told him on the pier. "Not lying. But speaking only part of what you think. Keeping the rest silent."

Gilles smoothed down Daniel's shirt, straightening the placket, fingering its buttons one by one. His glasses had slid down his nose, and his eyes were closed, the lids tender and creased. "How do you know that word? Where —?"

"Are you?" Daniel asked again.

The roots of knowledge, its origins and teachers, were one matter, and he would tell Gilles everything about Inez. But the other matter, factual and apparently plain, whether Gilles equivocated, was more difficult. He knew this was the reverse; usually, answering yes or no was far easier than explaining why and how you know.

He touched the creases over Gilles' brows, finespun lines nearly smooth, hard to feel.

Looking up, Gilles kissed the side of Daniel's palm. "Of course I am. All the time."

Daniel wanted to know why. But Gilles' voice was rough, his eyes blank. "You don't need to. I —"

"You're a saint," Gilles said and laughed a little. "Blessed and pure and far, far too good for this world. Let alone me."

There were no saints for Daniel; he enjoyed reading about them, their acts and bravery and martyrdom, in Gilles' books, but he also enjoyed the stories about Queequeg and Ishmael, Jonah decked with kelp and praying from the fish's belly, Nickleby and Gradgrind, and the adventures of the Fantastic Four as well as the Pro-Solar Mechanics. He did know, however, about tulkus and other incarnations walking the earth from other, better realms.

He wasn't one of those, either.

He kissed the center of Gilles' forehead and drew back. "Not a saint," he said. "Not here, not with you. Not ever."

Gilles tightened his arm around Daniel's waist. "You swam through filth and bracken?"

"I did."

"You fled and, fleeing, sought the better shore?"

"I did."

"Dear boy," Gilles said and buried his face in Daniel's neck. "Your all-reviving beauty yields such joys to my sad soul, plunged in waves of woe, that worldly pleasures seem to me like toys."

Daniel stroked Gilles' hair and the nape of his neck, rubbing the knobby spurs of bone and taut skin there, the depression where spine hinged to skull. Clouds covered the sky now, slate-dark and strangely flat, dimming the borders between light and shadow, darkening the sea and foliage.

"I owe you much," Gilles said, speaking over Daniel's shoulder. "Such kindness and indulgence already. But for that swim —"

"Not exchange," Daniel told him, moving his hand over Gilles' neck, tipping up his chin. "No tit for tat, quid pro quo."

"All exchange," Gilles said. "What I owe, I must repay."

"Nothing. No debt, no accounts. Just —" And now Daniel closed his own eyes and felt the freeze of fear. The clouds glowed reversed against his lids. "Don't leave again. Stay."

Under his hand, Gilles shivered. "I'll infect you more. Use and break you. Like Abel and Joan, Theo and —"

"I'm not them," Daniel said, opening his eyes. He didn't even know who Theo was; he suspected his was one of the multiple faces in Abel's water show, passing through Gilles' arms, eyes full of desire, mouth twisted in love. "You're not him, not now."

There was so much else to talk about, apologies and rebates, where Gilles went and why Daniel waited. But they were kissing now, shallowly, gently as infants draw breath in sleep, and Gilles' hand skimmed up under Daniel's shirt and pressed against the small of his back, warm and large and still.

Gilles had not answered him, and Daniel lacked the words to press him further. He was more than nothing and Gilles was far from everything, but their lips were soft and open, and in the space of the kiss, Daniel tried to rest.

So much to say, no words to use.

Gilles had come back. That was the best he knew.


No exchange. Neither was whole; they did not pass gifts and emotion back and forth like circuits channel energy or gears engage their wheels. Daniel didn't know what they were, what they did, but it flowed and described the space around them and between them. Not exchange, but a sort of fluid, constant construction.

That fluidity was what they once had, what could be again, at any rate.

At home again, later, near dark, after sleep that descended more rapidly than a car crashes into the guardrail, Daniel sat on the couch, legs folded behind him, touching Gilles' arm, side, thigh, testing his solidity. Cold metal, clanking together; they kept moving, awkwardly, trying to find that old fluid grace. He was telling Gilles about the greenhouse and the night garden.

"You were meeting this man?" Gilles drank down his wine and did not look at Daniel. "So soon and —" Around his bruises, his face went pale, drained and nearly sallow beneath the tan. Bloodless lips and hooded eyes. The glass shattered in his grip as he threw it against the wall. "Without me, free, looking for —"

"Gilles. No, nothing —"

Shards of glass, brighter than blood. "He'll be dead."

Daniel drew himself up, holding Gilles' bleeding hand in his own. "No."

Reaching for the bottle of wine, Gilles looked at Daniel. He wore both a sneer and a question on his face. "I could kill him."

Arctic inside, yearning-melting outside, squeezing Gilles' hand until the blood welled, Daniel tried to smile and soften his voice. Gilles was no longer beaten and apologetic; such curses and promises were far more characteristic and reassuring. "You don't even know who he is."

"Show me the strumpet that began this stir, that with my nails his beauty I may tear. I will —"

Daniel traced the length of the largest cut with his thumb, drawing blood up to his knuckle. "No, you won't. You'll stay."

Gilles folded his bloody fingers around Daniel's hand. Fear still hovered, massive and cold, within Daniel's chest, but Gilles' grip was hot and slick with blood, thrumming hard, shreds of open skin and pain.

"Monstrous," Gilles muttered. Two syllables of exhaustion and defeat. He covered his face with one hand; he tried to bring the other up, but Daniel held on, kissing the sticky blood. "You were thus surprised, sweet boy, ravished and wrong, and you will again be, forced into ruthless, vast and gloomy woods. Again, and again."

Daniel wound around Gilles, arms and bloody hand and mouth on his neck.


The loft glowed like crystal against the night walling them in.

Warmth persisted, duly and dependably as the sun, but Daniel needed more. If he was alone, he feared Gilles would not reappear; if he was hungry, he knew he would starve. He had no words, nothing to explain, but he could not simply cleave to Gilles and let hope plaster him there permanently.

He had made the most fundamental mistake imaginable, becoming attached to emptiness, addicted to detachment, drunk on the void.

There was no void. Everything passed in multiple veils of illusion, but truth was in the passage, in love for the world, not in retreat from it, in rejection and abandonment. Transmutation was far simpler, much plainer, than Abel's garish entertainments and, as such, much more terrifying.

Gilles did not believe him, could not accept any of this.

"I'll show you," Daniel said, pulling him away from his desk toward the bed. He lay down, wrapping one leg around Gilles' knees, and breathed out obscenities that were natural for anyone else, anyone normal. "Fuck me. Take everything, and you'll see."

Smiling crookedly, already breathing raggedly, Gilles asked, "And if I'm right?"

"Then," Daniel said, pulling Gilles to him, thrusting against his palm, "We'll have enjoyed ourselves regardless."

Gilles kissed him, filled Daniel's mouth with his tongue, seeking and hot, kissed him until dark stars spun before Daniel's eyes. "Those are terms I can accept."

"Can you?" Daniel asked, kissing his way down Gilles' neck, wiggling closer. "I'd like to see you try."

Laughing, Gilles caught Daniel by the wrists, shoving him back on the bed, nipping at his arms and face, laughing harder. "Reckless boy," he said, squeezing Daniel's wrists, raking his teeth over Daniel's chest, panting. "Defying me?"

"Perhaps —" Daniel pushed his hips up, gasping. The rules of the game, Gilles' laughter and their mutual need, strung out like sugar on a string, twisting, glinting, and sweet. "Maybe just doubting."

"So I'll reassure you, shall I?"


With black cord, silk that rasped on skin, Gilles tied his hands to the headboard but left Daniel's clothes on. "So lovely," he said, touching Daniel's cheek with just one finger, lightly enough to make Daniel ache, ghosting his other palm over Daniel's shirt and the waist of his jeans. "So flushed. Dirty little boy, already so hard."

This was heat, approaching and enveloping, scouring Daniel's throat. Gilles needed defiance to feed his need, and Daniel needed Gilles fierce and exacting, and so he knew what to say. "Not so dirty. You're worse, you're the one who should know better."

"Oh, I do know better. But you, you're so lovely, pink and straining." Gilles kissed Daniel's instep, his ankle, pushed his tongue up under the ragged hem of his jeans. He glanced up when Daniel tried to move. "Stay still. Always making me need you, more and more."

Hands on fabric, distant heat, and Daniel pushed toward it, made Gilles laugh. The cords bit his wrists and his fingers flapped numbly, broken useless wings. "Am I?"

"Oh, yes. So dirty, the way you look at me." Gilles raked his nails down Daniel's stomach, then leaned back. "Talk to me."

"Just want you —" Daniel stopped, breathing hard, feeling his hips roll even as Gilles pushed them down into the mattress. The game pushed the world inside-out. Inversion and reversal, switching places, and he spun, free in his constraints. This was play, asking for what Gilles needed to give him. "To feel good."

"Is that so?" Gilles asked, breathing harder, tugging at the locket of the virgin mother around Daniel's neck. "You do, you know. Filthy. Fucking pagan."

"Your god," Daniel said, truth shining out of the corners of play, "Is a masochist. He wants you to scream."

Gilles slapped him, first one cheek, then the other, red sounds and sharp colors. Through the bright haze of pain, Daniel smiled. "Like that. He doesn't care, he's not even real."

"Real enough," Gilles said, kneeling over Daniel, hands on his arms, mouth on the ropes, like a hyena over its kill. "Be not so holy-cruel: love is holy —"

The crucifix, emblem of torture and desperate passion, swung from Gilles' neck; Daniel caught it in his mouth, then spit it up at Gilles. "Want —" He choked on the sound, weak and afire. "Please, Gilles, please —"

"What do you want?"

"You." Play stopped and Daniel stared. Gasped. "I'm not dirty, I just —"

"Sssh," Gilles crooned, dropping his hips and rocking against Daniel. "Safe here."

"Gilles —" Heat that throbbed in his skull and against his restraints. Gilles could do anything to Daniel, and they both knew it, and Daniel's legs wrapped around Gilles' waist. "Fuck, please —"

"I can clean you. Take it all out. Shall I, sweetheart?" Flicks of his tongue over Daniel's neck and chest, hot and too fast, and Daniel writhed under the touch. Gilles was the one who wanted to be clean; he called Daniel filthy and pure, and just now, Daniel wanted heat, wanted the force of Gilles above and inside him. "Stand no more off, but give yourself unto my sick desires — say you are mine, and ever so —"

"Yours. Foul me —" he said and thrashed. The nets of the world, tangled and unknowable, and he was caught, sunk into the depths, Gilles pushing him further down. "Please. Do what you will. No God here, just —"

Groaning, Gilles pushed himself to his knees, opening his pants and spitting on his hand, yanking down Daniel's jeans until the buttons popped and his cock sprang out. One hand on Daniel's cock, the other on Daniel's neck, Gilles lowered himself again. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him. Aren't they, boy?"

Daniel could barely breathe; dark speckled over his vision and he went still. Gilles needed this, permission and admission, and Daniel chewed his lip, trying to nod. Gilles jerked his cock roughly and squeezed his throat. "Yes —"

"Yes," Gilles said, relaxing his hold on Daniel's neck, pulling more roughly on his cock, "the mere taint of the ancient filthiness is sure to corrupt your soul with its foul stink, and to shut out the spiritual fragrance of good —"

Heat trembled under Daniel's skin, wrenched with pain and sucking the last of his air, and he came as trees explode in the advent of the forest fire, the sap splitting them open, baring the wood to the flames. He came screaming and Gilles laughed, never slowing his jerking, sliding sticky lube between Daniel's thighs as he thrashed. Teeth flashing, Gilles pushed inside, deep and rough, while Daniel still gasped and strained at the ropes.

Consumed, flashing from white to ash, steam thundering from his throat, Daniel sank under Gilles' weight, pulling his knees to his chest and pulling Gilles further inside himself. More heat, the pressure unbearable — so much, compared to this the ropes were fairy's threads, spider's webs, sticky and weak — and he rocked up to meet Gilles. His bones hollow as bamboo, hungry and empty, and Gilles was still laughing, growling.

"Harder —" Daniel said, remembering how to play, beating his heels on the small of Gilles' back. He'd promised to show Gilles, show him the love for the world, the love for him, and they were nearing the proof. "More, harder, all of it —"

"I'm always, forever, gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself —" Gilles pushed himself up on one arm, head dropping, knocking Daniel's face as he thrust his cock, nudging aside Daniel's lungs, so much fire and tension that Daniel kept exploding. "It is foul, and I love it. Love you. Love to perish."

Flash of dark smoke, unrolling over Daniel from within, and he was getting hard again, soaked with Gilles' sweat, thirst raving for more, the ropes squeaking in time with Gilles' ragged thrusts.

"I love my own error — not that for which I err, but the error itself. You, filthy boy, fucking faithless pagan soul. Base self, falling from the firmament to utter destruction — not seeking aught through the shame but the shame itself —" Gilles threw his head back and Daniel pushed up with him, his cock trapped and ground between his belly and Gilles' hips, the pain writhing like snakes and kudzu, relighting him, emptying his hunger.

"Love you," Daniel said, and his lungs were foul sacks, heavy with slush and ash, but he knew what to say, knew that this was truth and game all at once. Knew what Gilles needed to hear. "Love —"

Shrieking, mouth red and a cut over his eye opening, blood streaming, Gilles fucked harder in shallow thrusts, grasping Daniel's hair, grinding himself out, flint and ember all at once. "Yes —" he screamed and Daniel wrenched open his legs even farther.

"More, all, Gilles — now —"

Gilles clenched at him and froze, slickened with sweat, tears, blood, and Daniel's come, actually filthy, and then he shuddered like the ground and came, neck nearly snapping as he collapsed. Mewling low in his throat, Gilles squeezed shut his eyes and heaved for breath. Daniel kissed his neck, sucked hard, sang in his ear.

Later, ages later, when the sweat had cooled and they were both dimpled with goosebumps and a faint hazy glow had begun to creep over the sky, Gilles lifted his head. Daniel would have traced the faint smile on Gilles' face, but he was still tied, still immobilized, so he smiled and whispered, "You see now?"

"Almost," Gilles said hoarsely, reaching to untie the ropes. "I will try."



Gilles took him shopping.

A series of small stores, narrow and glinting as jewelry boxes, hung with so few garments they could have been a tourist's wardrobe hung in the hotel closet. Gilles swore this was not exchange, not repayment, but merely simple enjoyment. Happy, he moved so quickly, smiled so often, that Daniel chose to believe him.

"Poor and frail these attempts may be —" Gilles said, pushing a square bracelet up Daniel's arm, sliding another onyx ring on his thumb, holding him while a scowling mustachio'd woman threaded a needle twice through one earlobe and once through a nipple, then laced heavy silver rings through the aching holes, "but you're too beautiful, I too base, to do better."

"Do I look all right?" Daniel asked. The mirror meant nothing; Gilles' eyes were all. Without quite meaning to, he added, "Do you like them?"

"Beauty itself does of itself persuade the eyes of men without an orator," Gilles said, stroking the metal and Daniel's skin with his fingers. "I've no tongue, all eyes. Yes."


In his booth, Daniel made the music throb out in rolling, restless waves, nearly visible, great silvery beats of sound catching up the crowd, tossing the dancers until they screamed in laughter.

Gilles watched from his usual perch, greeting friends and whispering in the noise's grottoes, conducting business, but Daniel knew his eyes were on him. Saw their motion, sweeping up his body, fastening on his face, and he moved with them, rocking on his heels, dancing in the tiny space. The club grew hot and he loosened, then removed, his mossgreen shirt, dancing alone, dancing with himself and with Gilles' gaze in just his undershirt and gray pants, sweat spangling his vision.

Descending his ladder, entering the crowd: It felt like the opposite of drowning. He wove toward Gilles, let him grasp him by the hips and lift him up onto the corner of the bar. With hot palms, Gilles sponged off the sweat, burying his face in Daniel's chest, licking his collarbone.

"Fine apparition," he crooned, "My brave spirit. Delicate Daniel."

Daniel slid a little way downward, holding Gilles between his legs and kissing his forehead, hair, cheek, and eyelid.

Other music swirled now, aqueous and smooth, as Gilles' fingers plucked at the hem of Daniel's undershirt, at his ribs, at his nipple. Heat roses budded and bloomed, doubletime, over Daniel, thickening and warming. Gilles' voice in his ear was light and air, dust-dazzled and wise.

"Shall I have you?" he whispered, and bit at Daniel's jaw, the tender flesh behind his ear, the tiny rings in sore holes, tugging them with his lips.

Daniel squirmed, clutching at Gilles' shoulders, looking wildly around at the crowd. So many faces, eyes like wells and stars, depthless and bright. "Here?"

"Here." Gilles flicked at the ring in Daniel's nipple until silver pain, cold and hot all at once, delicious, shot through his chest and arms and he collapsed against Gilles, mouth dry and seeking. "Here, and mine."

"They'll see —"

"Let them see. Let you sin before them." Tangling his fingers in Daniel's hair, Gilles pulled him up into the kiss he sought. "Are the birds ashamed to fly in the park? The bee to find his flower?"

"No," Daniel moaned, sucking with teeth at Gilles' throat. "They —"

One hand on Daniel's back, supporting his boneless, melting form, Gilles scraped his mouth over the lump the rings made under Daniel's shirt and traced out the heat of Daniel's cock through his evermore overtight trousers. "Where the bee sucks, there suck I."

Simmering now, floating through nectars and syrup, sweet and dazed, Daniel rippled under Gilles' hands, hips rising, mouth opening. There must have been eyes on him, he knew, even in this dark corner, but the crowd pulsed and frothed indistinctly. His lips strove for Gilles, for attention and sustenance, and he willed himself enough strength to twist away.

"Let me —" he said as Gilles gaped at him, sudden fear tightening his face. Daniel slid off the counter, wrapping his arms around Gilles. "Let them see. Watch you, watch —"

Gilles lurched forward, biting Daniel's mouth in a rough kiss, eyes rolling like a terrorized horse's as he tore at Daniel's undershirt and raked his nails down Daniel's back. "Yes," he muttered, teeth in Daniel's cheek. "Yes, fuck, yes. Do it —"

He pushed Daniel to his knees with one hand, yanking open his fly with the other. Breathing like a beached fish, Daniel stared upward, the dancers pressing against him in a hot tide.

"Make them watch." Everyone said he was a toy. Daniel thought now that he knew better. Toys got played with, then tossed aside. They never invented the game, never dragged the owner out to play. He smiled up at Gilles, dragging his lips around Gilles' cock.

Gilles nodded, fingers digging into Daniel's hair and scalp, and Daniel wrapped his arms around Gilles' thighs, palms on his buttocks, swirling his tongue over Gilles' slick cockhead, tasting the straining velvet there, daubed with salt, so much pressure pounding for release. Gilles yelped, clawing Daniel's hair, when Daniel nipped down on the tightening foreskin, sliding it back, then rolled his tongue around the underside, making a channel of his mouth, suckling lightly as a hummingbird.

"Are they watching?" he asked, unable to turn and see. Gilles nodded again, roughly, face twisting as Daniel tongued his balls, rocking them over his lips, tugging their short curling hairs with his lips. If this was filth, utter enslavement to the flesh as Gilles claimed — and who would know better than Gilles, rapt and enthralled as he was in that which he loathed? — then Daniel was determined to celebrate it. Revel in it, suck it down, scroll spit and heat around Gilles' cock until Gilles was thrusting raggedly, grunting low in his throat, pulling Daniel's hair.

"Wicked boy, take it —"

Hunger burst all over again in the pit of Daniel's stomach, abysses yawning open around him. This was what Gilles showed him, shared with him, hunger and need. Not a gift and not an exchange, because it was mutual, they fell and felt and flew together.

Groaning in reply, Daniel worked one hand sideways between Gilles' legs, licking it wet, teasing and touching the damp tender skin behind Gilles' balls until Gilles nearly yowled and doubled over, then straightened, gasping, rocking. Within the music, Gilles' noise descanted into words, a torrent of urges and demands, pleas and whines. "His eyes are upon me and I am not worthy, I am entangled in the stains of this world and swamped in foul sins, you are witness to the fall, to appetite's destruction of all the virtue in the world, fucking glorious —"

Desperately, two fingers locked in the crease of Gilles' ass, nearly clawing at the whorled hairs and secret skin of his hole, his palate scraped raw and bright, tongue thickened with sour brine, Daniel dragged teeth down Gilles' shaft and swallowed thick spit and the heat of Gilles' cockhead, thumb twisting and pulling at his balls.

Never enough, always needing more, and Gilles' hand tore at the roots of Daniel's hair as he screamed and came, spattering Daniel's face, flooding his mouth. He loved to paint Daniel's skin with his release, to kiss it up, cleanse him back to purity, and now, with an unseen audience, he did so as tenderly as ever, taking Daniel in his shuddering arms, murmuring as he licked Daniel's cheeks, kissing away the tears of exertion and warm come with equal care.

"So reckless," Gilles whispered, lifting Daniel up, kissing his throat, turning them and pushing out into the alley. "Such a wicked, beautiful boy. My boy."

"Did they see?" Daniel asked, butting his hips against Gilles' palm, tension contorting and heating him throughout. Gilles did not give him this need; it pre-existed, air and water and fire, swallowing them together, furious tempest and raging hunger. "Did you watch them?"

Chuckling, the sound rich and liquid in the stale quiet of the alley, Gilles flicked his tongue at Daniel's earrings and tugged open his fly. "I watched, and they watched you. You'll do anything, won't you?"

"Yes, anything, yes —" Air whirled and the ground kept tilting sharply, this way and that, and Daniel could barely breathe as Gilles touched his cock.

"You liked the audience?"

"Yes. With you, secrets, out there displayed —"

"Want to fuck you in there," Gilles said and wrapped his hand loosely around Daniel's cock. Trembles and chills shot through Daniel and he swayed into Gilles. "Bend you over a stool, let everyone see us —"

"Yes, want you, want that —" Words pulled like skin, fragments of need, spilling from his heart, and Daniel pushed into Gilles' grip, switching his hips back and forth. The crowd's eyes, fastened on him and Gilles, imaginary as it was now, made him shake and gasp. "Pulling my hair, fucking me open —"

"I'll pull open your mouth —" Gilles twisted at Daniel's balls, pushing him back against the wall until the stucco scraped at Daniel from waist to scalp, and kissed Daniel until he mewled. "Pull your head up, open your mouth, watch you suck them off, one by one while I fuck you —"

Pinned and shaking, talons of hungry need wrenching him apart, Daniel tasted come, could already half-feel Gilles' cock buried inside him, pushing deeper, felt the sequence of anonymous dicks inside his mouth, pouring more come over his face as Gilles shrieked and fucked harder.

"Sweet little mouth, sweeter ass," Gilles muttered, pulling on Daniel's cock, and Daniel's hips jerked even faster, helium rushing through his veins.

"Yes, please, with you —"

"Come inside you, keep fucking while you suck, wanton little whore, getting me hard again —"

Daniel felt it, whirling in place between the wall and Gilles' body, knew that Gilles could do it, stay inside him and keep thrusting for hours, and his mouth yawned open, sour, gulping at the air as his spine went up like a Roman candle, sputtering sparks and twisting fast. "Don't stop, don't —"

"Never stopping —" Gilles scraped his thumbnail down Daniel's shaft and twisted it, squeezing as Daniel wildly fucked his fist. "You'll choke on their come, you'll pass out, and I'll still be fucking you, can't stop —"

"Never stop —" Daniel yowled and tensed, flames sheeting down his chest and the channel of his spine, and Gilles knew him, loved him, kissed him, fucking Daniel's mouth with his tongue as Daniel came, screaming silently, limbs jerking like a broken puppet's.

Gilles held him and Daniel clung, like something drowning, like a sick baby monkey, slack and overcome, to Gilles.

"Love you. No lies," he whispered, heat and light still writhing irregularly through him. "No secrets, please —"

"No, no." Gilles' mouth moved over Daniel's face. "Not anymore. No secret —"

They clutched at each other, Daniel swaying, Gilles murmuring, tangled together and loath to part.

"Nothing's secret, not for long," a voice — Inez's, of course — said behind them. "The prince of this world will have his dominion, too arrogant and stupid to hide himself."

Gilles stiffened, body going taut, and Daniel stumbled in front of him, pulling up his pants, breathing hard. "Go away," he said, remembering Mick and the strength Gilles said he had.

"There is both one's own secret sin, by which the devil fell, and another's sin, by which man is seduced," Inez said, smiling widely without showing any teeth, shaking out her hair and touching Daniel's shoulder, "so as by consenting to make it his very own."

He flinched, although her hand was light, and said, "Leave us be."

"I can't do that, child." She almost sounded sad.

"Not your child," Daniel said. Gilles crossed his arm over Daniel's chest, and for a moment, Daniel wasn't sure whom he was shielding, himself or Daniel.

"You're a man, the dust of the earth, clay, kinsman of the clod." Inez cupped Daniel's cheek in her palm, removing the sweat on his upper lip with her thumb. "You're the son of the race of beasts. Just a stupid child."

Swallowing, taking Gilles' hand in his own, Daniel looked her in the eye. "You don't know anything —"

Inez laughed, skin bright against the gloom. "Be quiet, Danny, won't you?"

Clearing his throat, Gilles crossed his other arm over Daniel and drew him close. "Can I help you, sister?"

"We'd like back what is ours," Inez said, her eyes flickering fish-quick over Daniel, then moving away. "You know that."

"I've given you everything," Gilles said and closed his fingers around Daniel's bicep bruise-tight. He might have been reassuring Daniel or anchoring himself. Perhaps both.

"You say that, yet you're still here. Still enacting foul plays and abhorrent masques. Still toying with children and crafting the dreams of those who don't know any better."

"Do an inventory," Gilles told her, turning for the street, pulling Daniel with him. Thick-limbed and dizzy, Daniel struggled to keep up. "You'll find everything you seek."

"Catalogued your girl," Inez called after them. "Right down to her last freckle and warped misconception —"

Daniel wove his fingers through Gilles' and tugged him farther away. Any mention of Joan was certain to infect Gilles with rage, and they were too soon reunited for Daniel to risk losing him to anger.

He checked over his shoulder, but Inez stood at the threshold of the alley, fingering her string of beads and staring through him as if he'd never existed.

"She hates you," Daniel said, pulling his shirt back on against the chill off the sea as they walked home. "She'll say anything to hurt you."

"No," Gilles said and stopped at the curb. Usual tumult of nighttime revelry, strange masks and unearthly hollers, the hooting of car horns and cries of the sea-birds. Hand on Daniel's back, Gilles turned and guided them into the pink fluorescence of an ice cream parlor. "Pistachio cone, sugar, not that hideous cake, and a dish of double-scoop red-bean," he told the tall, sleepy-eyed girl behind the counter.

Daniel buttoned his shirt up against the cold of the shop and the ice of Inez's gaze, still boring through him.

"She does hate me," Gilles continued, handing Daniel his dish and licking his green cone. "But it's not personal. Not simply personal, that is." He paused to savor the taste of his ice cream, smiling as widely as a child. Daniel smiled back. "She adores her vocation. That it affords her every chance for cruelty, all the better."

On Daniel's tongue, the sweet cream melted with the remnants of saltsour come, and heat stole over his face at the thought. He looked down and took a bigger bite. Words and desires that came so easily in Gilles' arms seemed impossible now, so powerful as to sweep him away.

Gilles broke off and, licking his thumb, wiped away a smear of ice cream from the corner of Daniel's mouth. His hand smelled like sex, sea and lust, and Daniel shivered at the heat.

"Thanks," Daniel said, the flush brightening down his neck. Gilles was no longer trembling near rage; rather, he was still smiling, suckling at his cone, sliding his arm around Daniel's shoulders. His eyes narrowed in the breadth of his smile and glinted kindly. Even in the bright neon chill of the shop, which blanched everything else down to crisp, stark outlines, Gilles was vibrant. Darkly tanned, his face both severe and joyful, and Daniel pushed away his nearly empty dish to kiss Gilles' cheek.

"Sweetest love," Gilles said lowly, bent over his cone, looking up and over at Daniel through his lashes. "And I shall here abide the hourly shot of angry eyes, not comforted to live, but that there is you, jewel, in the world that I may see look upon."

"Some day," Daniel said, "I'll get older and you'll stop looking."

Gilles' eyes closed; Daniel counted the time for two heartbeats before they opened again. "No. No, that won't happen."

Daniel smiled and traced the edge of Gilles' eye. "I won't get old?"

"I won't stop looking."

"Finish your cone," Daniel said, not moving. "Melting."

Gilles smiled again and Daniel moved forward.

When he kissed Gilles, their lips were frigid and sugary, warming fast.


Over several days, Gilles' wounds healed and his bruises began to fade. The scabs went dark, then hoared over inwardly while the scarlet and purpleblack bruises shrank and faded below his tan. The skin on his face loosened a little again as the swelling receded; it was no longer taut and heated to the touch, but soft and slightly wrinkled again.

The darkest of Gilles' bruises had nearly disappeared, leaving behind only faint impressions of color — mauve and waxy violet, flax and cornsilk. He looked more like himself these days; his eyes no longer burned from beneath a half-ruined face, his speech was clearer and surer.

The worst of the bruises were the color of late-summer leaves now, blanched and subdued. As if Gilles were coming back to himself, resurfacing.

Everything, however, was still tender. Soft to the touch, certain to bring up a wince. On Gilles' skin, and between him and Daniel, and around them. Daniel did not know how long things had been changing, nor at what speed. Like a bruise, the origin could, of course, be identified. The slap of palm was unmistakable, as was the moment of Gilles' return.

But origins were not what Daniel sought.

"Does this hurt?" he asked, pressing his palm against Gilles' cheek.

Gilles covered Daniel's hand with his own and held it in place. His eyes narrowed slightly. "Yes."

"How'd you get it?"

"Fighting, a bellyful of fighting," Gilles said. After a moment, he added, "I won."

Daniel's other hand touched Gilles' stomach and he asked, "And now? Still fighting?"

"For the peace of you," Gilles said, circling his arms around Daniel's waist, "I hold such strife as to be a dream."

Not origins, but the consequences. What followed the beginning; Daniel wanted to know all of Gilles' body, the story of each bruise, chronicles of the tattoos, legends behind the scars and their constellations. Since Gilles' return, they lived together as close as bruise and skin, surrounded in swells and trembles of disturbed air.

Gilles brought his work upstairs, a large metal apothecary table and beakers of stones, liquids, and powders. Mick hauled wooden crate after crate of dried flowers from the elevator and piled them beneath the table.

Gilles seemed as loath to leave Daniel's presence as Daniel was to leave his.

In the mornings, Daniel read while Gilles worked, and their afternoons and nights were free. Daniel curled up on a long chaise, watching Gilles bend to his work with an intensity that on anyone else might have seemed maniacal.

He ground bezoars in a pestle and filled small transparent sacs with the shifting powder. With a razor blade, he cut quivering tangles of cubozoan tentacles, emptying their liquor into tiny vials; then he coaxed the gelatinous mesoglea out from between the layers of jellyfish skin. It shimmered and bunched on the tabletop and Gilles hardly breathed as he sliced it into smaller and smaller quarters, finally sweeping them onto a ceramic tray for drying.

This was another kind of magic, combined with the fire that Gilles could produce by muttering between thumb and forefinger and breathing out shaking sheets of flame that hovered over the gelatin, drying and crisping it. This magic was all concentration and dismemberment, extraction and transformation.

Daniel stood beside Gilles and rested his hand on the edge of the table.

Gilles pinched the head of one flower and made a single tiny incision down its side. He squeezed the head and Daniel held his breath as a sharp-smelling milk oozed out the cut and into a shallow dish. The flower's petals, dried now, no longer crimson but dark as old blood, were piled in one corner of the table. One was dry like crepe in his fingers.

"What does that do?" he asked when Gilles had pierced ten flower-heads and the dish was filled with the milky liquid. It smelled acrid and sweet all at once, like alcohol and honey.

Gilles put his left arm around Daniel's waist and pulled him closer. With his right hand, he stirred the liquid, folding it over and over. "Sparks joy and dreams."

"Did you ever try it?"

"I have, yes," Gilles said. "I received despair and nightmares."


"Too monstrous, fallen too far, for this to work," he said quietly. He dipped his finger into the milk and offered it to Daniel. "You don't need this."

Daniel closed his eyes and sucked the sharp honey from Gilles' finger. His mouth warmed as if he'd inhaled steam and soon his tongue and palate softened as his eyes watered and the warmth unfurled into his skull. He would have stumbled as his spine brightened in time with his heartbeat, but Gilles held him securely, pushing his finger in and out of Daniel's mouth.

"Do you like that?" Gilles whispered.

Blinking, trying to keep his eyes open, Daniel saw lilac light washing over Gilles' face, and he smiled, nipping Gilles' knuckle and sucking harder. His mind swam, thoughts like pink dolphins in rivers of milk, and Gilles caught him as he cascaded forward. Kissing Gilles, groaning at the thick, kindling buzz creeping through him, he sought out Gilles' tongue, felt a hand in his hair and one supporting his ass, and the warmth flowed from his mouth outward.

"I like that," he replied as Gilles lifted him onto the edge of the table and jerked at his fly. When he traced his fingers through Gilles' hair, he dragged blue sparks and mauve lights both felt and seen. Gilles pressed his palm into the dish, then wrapped his fingers around Daniel's cock. Daniel arched back, whipcrack fast, the sensation so sharp and the colors speeding past his eyes and up his spine dizzying. They would have been frightening, but Gilles was kissing him again, murmuring rapidly into his mouth as he tugged at Daniel's cock, and the sea of color-milk-chorus tingles pouring through him intensified.

"Innocens manibus et mundo corde qui non accepit in vano animam suam," Gilles chanted against Daniel's cheek, tightening, then twisting his fist. Daniel bucked, and grasped, Gilles' chanting speeding through the miasma of color and sensation, clarifying it, pulling Daniel higher. "Adoro te devote, bellus puer, quae sub his figuris vere latitas: tibi se cor meum totum subiicit, quia te contemplans totum deficit."

Scrape of teeth down his throat, speeding hand on his cock, and so much warmth flowing like honey and Daniel arched away from Gilles, driving his hips forward, and he heard Gilles singing, urging and adoring him, as he came, jerking spasmodically so the table and all its contents rattled and clanked and the pleasure was torn from him. Gilles licked his palm clean and gathered Daniel against him.

"Those are the dreams," he whispered, kissing away the sweat. "Fantasies of pleasure for those who need to feel. Before, a joy proposed, behind, a dream."


Things like a bruise that refused to heal. Worries and vague questions, light as clouds at dawn.

Gilles, perhaps, regretted knowing Daniel, caring for him, promising him not to hide. For his part, Daniel did not care to push Gilles and test those promises. He was content — or ought to have been and did try to be — to appreciate Gilles, to welcome his return again and again.

He did not know what he was doing: Ever, but especially now. This place — Verona Beach itself, tawdry and swirling with light, but also the warehouse and the loft on top — was, he sometimes thought, too much for the likes of him. Yet he did not, he was certain, miss the monastery and the dark of its forest. He breathed in neon and exhaled Roman candles here, and he could not go back.

Half a moment from sleep one night, and Daniel thought he heard Gilles speak while touching his hair and stroking his cheek. "If there be nothing new in you," Gilles whispered, forming thoughts aloud, "but that which is has been before, how my brain is beguiled."

Daniel lay still, feigning sleep even as he ached to move into Gilles' touch. He looked like others Gilles had touched — everyone said so, including Gilles — but Gilles, like the others, found him different.

"For you, no farther can my thoughts move, and I still with them, and they with you."

Drawing a sharp breath, Daniel willed open his eyes and found Gilles peering at him, looking at him like a stranger he could not recognize. "And mine with you," Daniel whispered, catching Gilles' shoulder as he tried to jerk away.

"It is nothing rational." Gilles sounded sad, derelict and lost, but he let Daniel hold him there. "Reason must kneel, and leave sense, and those which sense's objects are. Deal it with powers of thoughts, leave love to will."

"Not rational, no," Daniel agreed, rolling against Gilles, splaying his legs over Gilles'. He could not explain why he felt the way he did, but Gilles, he knew, sought analysis and reason with far greater need and determination. "Not sensible either."

Gilles, whatever his reservation, at least did not seem to push Daniel away. Perhaps his escape on the island had been too violent, too upsetting, even for him — he who was attuned to violence, who sought and crafted disorder only to smash it back into clarity. Daniel could understand that hesitancy, drowning in just what you think you need and want; if he was out of his element, it was a rough, strange comfort to think that Gilles might be as well.


Late afternoon, and the sun-worshippers have departed this beach for others that face west, and Daniel sat across from Gilles on the edge of the old carousel. The beasts that used to spin, griffon, pony, eagle and dolphin, were long still now, their paint peeling off in wide strips, blanking their eyes and mottling their hides.

They had a wedge of watermelon and Gilles' switchknife, and no napkins; Daniel's face was sticky and the bees adored him.

"I was wrong, you know," Gilles said when Daniel started to tell him about the night garden, and Joan, and Mick's attempt to take him away. "You have a greater sense of self-preservation than anyone I know."

With his less sticky hand, Daniel combed Gilles' hair from his forehead and smiled. "What about Abel?"

Tired and pained as he clearly felt, Gilles managed to return the smile. "Excellent point. Abel —" He stopped and kissed Daniel's forehead. "So young. No comparison."

"And Mick?"

"He was supposed to guard you," Gilles said. He handed a section of watermelon to Daniel, a waft of sweet air preceding it. "Watch over you, ensure —"

Grinning, Daniel disinterred the seeds with his thumb and sucked the juice from his fingers. The idea of Mick as any kind of guard or protector was difficult to hold for long. "No —" he said when Gilles did not smile to let on that it was a joke. "Really?"

"Yes. Not, admittedly, the best plan —"

Daniel tore the slice apart and handed one half to Gilles. "But you never —" Never said, never mentioned, never _told_ me.

"I never," Gilles agreed.

A breeze picked up, spattering sand and leaves of newspaper against the edge of the carousel. The fruit's flesh was warm to the touch and Daniel sucked out the juice as he peered at Gilles. He wanted to apologize, but he did not know what for. An apology wasn't quite what he was looking for; he wanted to speak to Gilles, draw skin-close and be done with words.

"I —" He scored the rind with his fingernail. "Where did you go?"

"The island. You know that."

"For three days?"

"Yes." Short burst of breath, enough for one syllable and no more.

Daniel had not let himself wonder where Gilles might be; there were too many possibilities, an array as wide and distant as the horizon. Swimming, he had not looked back. "I'm sorry."

Gilles tipped his forehead against Daniel's and drew him back into the shadows between the blue pony and the brazen dolphin. "Sssh. As gentle and as jocund as to jest, come I to love; truth has a quiet breast." His fingers worked open Daniel's collar and pressed against his breastbone as he kissed Daniel almost shyly. "You see?"

Daniel did not see, but he relaxed against Gilles, as he always did, and the kiss drew out trembling waves across his skin.


Daniel disagreed. "I don't think I want anything."

"You must have wanted something," Gilles said.

He thought about the temple complex, the long hours of silence and study and the grieving sounds of wind through the pines. He wanted to answer Gilles, but, more, to find the answer for himself. If the answer existed, he might be able to snatch it from the air, plaster it to himself and add to the collage that he was becoming. "To please the priests, maybe?"

"So nothing has changed, then." Gilles grinned as he spoke. "Only the priest and how he might be pleased."

It was a joke, Daniel knew, and he smiled because the comparison was so absurd. "I wanted — I wanted —" He stopped and shrugged. "Want? It's an impossible word."

"Surely you enjoyed some things more than others?"

"Swimming," Daniel said. "Reading. I —"

"And friends? Other boys?"

"I never had friends. Don't."

Curving, Gilles' eyebrows approached each other, then rose. "Of course you do. You've many friends. Me. Joan, however bizarre the thought of that may seem. Your mysterious greenhouse date. Everywhere we go, you smile at several people you somehow know."

"But they're —" Daniel stopped. "I like the people here. They're kind, and very interesting." He made himself stop; he sounded ridiculously foolish, as he always used to do. Gilles looked as if he was trying not to smile. "Those are friends?"

"I think they qualify," Gilles said. He glanced at the volumes of his massive dictionary, arrayed on the bottom bookshelf. "I could check, if you like —"

Ducking his head, Daniel grinned. "All right. I think I had a friend here, before you. I'd talk to him a lot, help with chores, ask him questions."

Gilles touched the top of Daniel's spine, two fingers circling lightly. "And?"

"I failed," Daniel said. For a moment, he was back there. Sitting in the last pew on the left at St. Athanasius, the onionskin pages of the hymnal smooth against his palms and lingering incense tickling his nose. He closed his eyes as Gilles' touch increased its pressure on the back of his neck, and he could hear the sharp intake of Father Theo's breath, how he drew out the syllables of Daniel's name as if they were poisoned, then the sharp clicks of the priest's heels as he hurried away.

Opening them, he was back in the loft and Gilles was staring at him, unreadable. "I won't again. I'm not stupid."

"Never were," Gilles said, drawing Daniel against his chest and kissing his cheek. "You never were."

"Maybe. But I won't again."


Things happen — events occur — and Daniel was not so foolish or arrogant to believe that he could have any control over them. He did think, however, that it might be possible to...intervene? If not influence, at least appear.

What happens, Daniel wanted to know, after promises are made?

Gilles had returned, and searing hunger had burst back over Daniel along paths old and new. Its explosion was mirrored in Gilles' eyes and restless touch, but it while it drew them together, it was not the answer.

Old hunger, shining through more recent loss, washed over with new heat. Daniel remembered and felt it all: Gilles' presence, disappearance, and return. The variant and contrary memories sheeted through him dizzyingly. Gilles had changed, in ways Daniel could not precisely name, as had Daniel himself. He was not the boy who stepped off the beach and swam away; he was that boy, and the one who had welcomed Gilles back, and the one in midstream to boot.

Everything at once, the image of what Gilles lusted for as well as the person Gilles swore he loved.


Daniel found the motel after several false starts, a small, round-cornered building behind a mews and unmarked save for the raven on its sign. He knocked on the door to room #3, and a skeletal hand shot out through the gap admitted by the deadlock chain. It grabbed the tiny silver envelope on which Gilles' calligraphic hand had written the name and address. No money was exchanged; how Gilles was paid for the deliveries Daniel made was between him and the dreamers.

He rode the streetcar back to the heart of the city, standing with his knees bent because he still had not accustomed himself to the rocking; when he descended the steep steps to the street and turned for the avenue that led to his next stop, his balance was off and he did not see Inez until, stumbling, the steel-gray of her habit filled his vision.

Daniel straightened his back. "Do you follow me?"

Inez crossed her arms and shook her head fractionally. "Why? Don't you want anyone to know where you are?"

"I don't want to talk to you," Daniel said and turned to go.

Inez caught him by the shoulder. "Daniel. That's not very kind, is it? What could you be hiding?"


"Then you should not mind being seen."

Daniel dropped his shoulder from her hand and adjusted the strap of his satchel. "I need to go."

She grabbed for his bag as Daniel stepped away. "Do you know what he has you carry?"

He twisted, but her grip on the strap immobilized him. Smiling to herself, Inez tugged him to the bench at the streetcar stop and upended the bag. She tore open the largest envelope and shook out its contents on the seat between them. A cascade of red braids and blue capsules and vials of rust-bright water.

"Dreams," Daniel said.

"Poisoned dreams, vile fantasies."

"Yes," he said. "But —" He could not defend Gilles, but he was more curious why he felt he must.

"It's quite profitable," Inez said. "But then —" She touched his ring, then his bracelet. "You know that."

He hadn't know that, not for a long time. Not until Gilles asked what had happened to his ring. "Chipped it," Daniel had said. "So I took it off." The ring, Gilles told him, cost $700 and Daniel did not how to apologize. "Don't apologize," Gilles had said and Daniel believed him. "Yours to decorate and improve."

"Talk to Gilles," Daniel said now. "I'm not the one you want."

Inez smoothed the scarf at her throat, then piled up the pills and vials with the side of her hand. "You're mistaken. I don't want either one of you."

"But you —"

"Oh, I care about your immortal soul," she said and when she smiled, her lips curved like snakes. "I'd be derelict if I didn't. But this is far more important than you or that sick, sad old man."

Inez picked up a single capsule, red and faceted as a garnet, and turned it against the sun.

"You can't stop him," Daniel said. He knew that much; people wanted Gilles' deliveries, craved his dreams, stopped him in the street to ask for more. "People want it."

Without glancing at him, Inez crushed the garnet between her thumb and forefinger and its contents ran down her hand. "You're a sweet boy. Captivated, enthralled, entirely stupid. But very sweet."

Heat throbbed outward from his chest along a fine, spider-intricate network and Daniel pulled himself up. "Hypocrite."

"Oh, no," Inez said. "A realist, perhaps. But never a hypocrite."

"You talk about goodness, about faith and love —"

"No. Your sugardaddy does. I talk about weak souls and the need to care for them. Tend to them, lead them. Shepherd them."

"People —" Daniel tried to say and kept on, even though Inez was smiling at him again. "They're not sheep."

"This is a sick and hollow world. The one to come will be glorious, abundant with reward. But only for those of us who've done our duty. Who have lived righteously and well."

Her words were clear and forthright, sharp as crystal, and for a moment Daniel knew that he must be the one in the wrong here. If he could not understand her, and he couldn't, it was because he was stupid, because she was right.

"That's right, child," Inez said when Daniel had remained silent too long. "You're not capable of grasping these mysteries."

"Not your mysteries, no." Daniel stood and Inez opened her mouth. He could not think clearly, not with her words singing shrilly in his ears, and he needed to escape. "They're ridiculous. Cruel."

"Yet a primordial void, empty of all but light? That's not ridiculous?"

He ground his lips together and shrugged. When Gilles made light of his beliefs, Daniel could smile; Inez's motivations were obscure and suspect, and thus far more hurtful. "No."

"Think on it, then. In the meantime, enjoy your base perversion." Inez rose and rested her palm briefly against his cheek.

"Tell me what you want." Horrible word, all about grasping and ownership and control.

Inez was smiling again, widely, girlishly. "I want only what's right."

Daniel glanced down the street, then back at the pile. "For all this to vanish."

"Stupid boy," she said. "Of course not."

He did not want to ask again what it was that she wanted; Inez's definition of what was right was, he suspected, even more intimidating and incomprehensible than she herself. She strode away and Daniel squatted beside the bench to pick up each capsule and vial.

He did not complete his errands, deciding instead to return to the loft. He needed to tell Gilles. Rushing to make the light, Daniel turned his ankle on the curb and limped toward the space between two buildings. He leaned against one wall, lifting his foot and flexing it methodically against the pain.

Across from him, the wall of the next building sported the remains of years of posters and fliers, advertisements for entertainments long since forgotten. Each old poster was stripped off before the new one was glued up; he'd watched the process many times in the early morning hours, the squads of half-grown children scuttling awkwardly under the weight of paste buckets and rollers as tall as they.

Here, though, was a wall they had missed for a long time. The old paper hung in strips, layers of it, their enticing colors — crimson for L'Amour cola, bottle-green for whiskey, yellow for pain relief potions — faded down to dots and texture. The wall they covered was candy-pink stucco, nearly glowing in the slanting sun, scraps of it still vibrant between the strips.

Breathing away the pain in his ankle, Daniel studied the wall, examining a lozenge of blue, a segment of a woman's laughing mouth, a webwork of black cross-hatches, he began to imagine that the layers were first.

The strips and fragments, that is, preceded the whole posters, laid the ground and contained the essential qualities of what had disappeared. The collection of fragments became, as he watched, its own thing, complete if incomprehensible, broken details relating more directly to one another than to their former contests. His vision swam with color, itching and textural, and it was nearly overwhelming.

His ankle was still tender, but Daniel pushed himself away from the wall and hurried away. The assemblage of paper, paint, and fragments burst and deepened behind his lids.

Gilles met Daniel as the elevator settled to a stop on the top floor. "Daniel, what —?"

Daniel pushed the satchel at him. "Inez, and she's seen your dreams."

Stumbling backwards, the bag in his arms like an infant, Gilles looked between it and Daniel as Daniel leaned against the arm of the nearest couch. "You saw her?"

"Saw her, argued with her," Daniel said. Exhaustion poured through him, leaving him weak and rubber-kneed. "She follows me, dogs and taunts me."

"That venomous worm-hag —" Gilles said and Daniel covered his eyes. "I'll cly the foul girl. From my ruin that cursed procuress rose."

When he next looked up, Gilles was pulling on his linen jacket. He held the elevator door open, keys jangling in his hand. "We'll finish this. This blow must be the be-all and the end-all here."

Daniel followed him, confused, unable to say anything. Gilles was furious and never looked at him once as they got into the car. Gilles peeled out, the tires smoking behind them. In the raging silence, as the city flashed by as fast as a nightmare and Gilles ran light after light, Daniel became convinced that he must be at fault. All the signs were present — the granite set to Gilles' face, his silence and the scream of the tires and horns of cars, the departure from the loft. He was at fault, and he was being discarded.

When Gilles made a sharp left across two lanes and pulled into the parking lot of St. Athanasius, Daniel's fear liquefied like lava. "Please —" he said as Gilles jumped out of the car. "I can't —"

He'd rather go back to New Drepung, vanish into forest-quiet and lonely thoughts, than be returned to St. Athanasius.

Gilles did not seem to hear him. He yanked open Daniel's door and set off up the walk to the church.

Daniel caught up with him in the vestibule. Gilles splashed his fist in the basin of holy water and crossed himself violently. He bit his thumb and turned to the door marked Private.

"Gilles, please — " Daniel tried. "Don't leave me here."

He should apologize for failing, beg Gilles' forgiveness, offer wild promises of amends. He could not; he was not proud, but nor did he have anything to apologize for.

As he turned toward Daniel, Gilles' expression loosened, shifting from fury to tenderness. His brows lifted, then knitted, and his eyes softened. "Darling, not you. Never you."

"Then —" Daniel started to ask, but Gilles put his arm around Daniel's shoulders and pushed through the private door. Gilles' stride was long and Daniel rushed to keep up. At the end of the corridor the priest's office, off the vestry, was behind another door that Gilles opened with his fist.

Father Theo sat at his desk, calmly watching their entrance; Daniel was shaking inside from Gilles' repressed violence, but Theo merely gestured at the chairs before his desk.

"Gilles," he said. He looked just as Daniel remembered him, thin and tall, even sitting down, his black shirt and white collar immaculate and crisp, his voice careful and measured.

"Theophorus," Gilles said, the chair creaking as he dropped into it. "This is becoming ridiculous. I need your help."

Daniel hadn't ever heard Theo's full name; everyone at St. Athanasius, from Inez to the altar boys and parishioners called him Theo.

"I can't help you." Father Theo pressed both palms against his desk-blotter and spread his fingers. "The Church has done with you. The city has branded you."

"You are neither church nor city," Gilles said gently, as if reminding him. "You are also more."

Theo appeared to smile, but it was a sad, small thing. "I am no one, Gilles. Merely an organ of a much larger body."

"I once thought you a friend."

Theo did smile now, his narrow, handsome face lighting and loosening. "We both know that's not true."

Gilles rubbed his chin; behind his hand, Daniel glimpsed the spread of his smile. It was not the kind of smile he used on Daniel, but with Mick and Abel: a daring, challenging one.

"You really ought to have been a lawyer," Gilles said. "Or a politician. I always said that charm and the acuity of your mind were wasted under the collar."

"I'm quite happy where I am."

Gilles stretched out his legs, crossing them at the ankle. "Come now, Theophorus. You can't say you don't envy me."

Theo's beard was shorter than Daniel remembered it being, cut close to his cheeks, accentuating their hollows and the recesses of his eyes. "What's to envy? Scorned and rejected by your brethren, a grasping old pederast without love or comfort?"

"It's clear to everyone that where envy and malice are, there charity is not. Such feelings outstrip fornication and adultery, for these go no farther than he who performs them," Gilles said, slowly, musingly, "but the tyranny of envy has overturned entire churches, and has destroyed the whole world. Envy, or so I've heard, is the mother of murder."

Theo shook his head slightly, though his eyes did not stray from Gilles. "Nothing is worse than what you revel and indulge in, and you know that better than anyone. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want."

Gilles tapped his index finger against his upper lip. Glancing between the two men, Daniel realized that they were each enjoying the conversation, volleying recrimination and theology at each other.

Flushing, Theo leaned forward. "Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. All of which, I'm certain, you've accomplished." Theo lowered his voice, and Daniel recognized the tone; it was the one he used to conclude sermons and "I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."

Gilles nodded along as Theo counted the flesh's works off on his fingers; at some, he smiled more widely, at others, he pressed his lips together and looked entirely grave. "Of course," he said. "Whence the envy. Yours is a restless soul, Theophorus. You know that, I know that all too well."

Theo leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms loosely. "There is the greatest necessity for observing the order of reason in this matter —"

Daniel smiled, remembering Gilles' capitulation to love and abandonment of reason. Theo's eyes flickered over to him, and in the pause, Gilles leaned forward and spoke. "Precisely. If anything is done against the dictate of reason's ordering, it will be a sin. But what if reason dictates the madness of love? Is that sinful?"

Tipping his seat forward, Theo shook his head, just once. Daniel saw Theo's face shut down, saw the pleasure drain away and heard the hardness come back into Theo's voice. "They who have committed sodomy with men or brutes are as murderers, wizards, adulterers, and idolaters."

Gilles, too, must have sensed the change. He sat up straighter and reached, briefly, for Daniel. "Call off your harridan, at least."

Theo touched his mouth, then the rim of his collar. "Inez?" His smile shrank down, becoming something tighter and more private.

"Do you have more?"

"I advise several sisters," Theo said. "And there is, of course, Joan."

Daniel watched as Gilles' hands tightened into fists and his expression hardened. Gilles sat forward and said in a low and careful voice, "We don't speak of her, never her. Of your habited whore, however —"

"Inez is an example to all her sisters. You'd do well to remember that."

"She is a fool, a nasty queen, a slut, a vixen, and a scold."

Theo inclined his head and took a long, audible breath. "You're in no position to judge."

"Call her off."

"You seem to think that I —" Theo slid his hands from the desk. "I have no such power over her."

Gilles began to laugh, the sound loud, barking, humorless, and Daniel studied the floor.

"Indeed," Theo continued, "the only enthralled whore is present here. Daniel —"

Daniel blinked, believing for a moment that he saw the grain of the pews and worn corners of the hymnal covers. He raised his head and forced himself to meet Theo's eyes.

They were as blue as ever, deep-set in Theo's pale face, and they narrowed as Theo smiled at him and spoke soothingly. "Know that we are ready to help you again. Whenever you come to your senses and wish to return, we will welcome you back."

"I don't think I'm a whore," Daniel said. Beside him, Gilles' chair squeaked, but Daniel could not look away from Theo.

"And those clothes? Your jewels. I suppose you've never knelt for them, never opened your legs."

Daniel's skin froze, broke, and froze again as he sat motionless. "No. Not like that."

"It is childish to admire excessively dark or green stones, and things cast out by the sea on foreign shores, particles of the earth. For to rush after stones that are pellucid and of peculiar colors, and stained glass, is only characteristic of silly people, who are attracted by things that have a striking show."

Theo's voice droned like the recordings of organ music he played when travelling to suburban churches. Daniel shrugged. "There are far worse things," he said, "than being childish."

"Precocious boy you have," Theo said to Gilles, then turned his eyes back on Daniel. "Never attempted to trade your body for comfort and safety, then?"

Theo spoke of that afternoon in the last pew, of Daniel's foolish grab for affection and Theo's own eventual, mocking rejection.

"Never like that," Daniel said. "And those who do such things —"

"Are whores."

"Are to be helped."

At that, Theo finally looked away and Daniel stood up, placing his hand on Gilles' shoulder. "You're not what you pretend to be. I should have known that."


"Quiet tonight. So quiet and so sweet a style," Gilles said over dinner.

"It's strange. I can say anything while you're touching me," Daniel said. "But other times, it's impossible. No words, nothing to say."

Gilles set down his napkin and ran his hand through his hair as he tipped back his chair. "You should speak easily."

"I guess."

Daniel was different when Gilles touched him, charged with hunger and desperate to make noise. Language then was never the dense, inert thing it usually was, but fast as wind and just as bright. But usually — now — he was stuck before words, chips of marble and ice in his chest and throat, stopping him to silence.

He looked at Gilles, saw the vivid tan and network of lines around his eyes and the hair sticking up every which way, and smiled. Sometimes, most of the time, Gilles seemed younger than Daniel felt. Looser, more brazen.

"Grave eyes," Gilles said softly and the phrase made Daniel think of cemeteries, the blank gazes of marble angels guarding the crypts. People here died with great style, and their funerals were parade and celebration. In the cemeteries, however, everything stilled except for the whisper of Spanish moss. "Graver boy."

Daniel met Gilles' gaze and tried to smile.

Cemeteries, he thought, and spirits infecting the corpses. "Does Joan really kill demons?"

Gilles frowned as he pushed away his plate and picked up his wineglass. "Of course. It's not a myth."

"Like that one, the first night we met?" Daniel asked. He could still see the malformed face and ragged teeth, then the explosion of greenblack ash.

"Like that one. She has a sacred duty."

"She's a nun?"

Gilles laughed. "Joan? Hardly. Just a girl."

"And you were her father?"

Gilles squeezed shut his eyes and turned his face away. Flattening and paling, his lips nearly disappeared. "Yes."

Daniel had heard all of this; he knew that Gilles had taken Joan in, showed her how to fight. Lost her, and blamed himself for that. Thought of himself as earthly and ghostly father both. Daniel shook his head now; he should be more careful when he did speak. He should have been able to predict the effects it would have on Gilles.

"I —"

"It's all right," Gilles said, surprising Daniel. The grief that had been tightening his face vanished. Daniel sat up and straightened his shoulders. "It's all right."

Gilles could have been reassuring himself, but he was looking straight at Daniel as he leaned back and reached for Daniel.

When Daniel settled on his lap, Gilles pressed his face into Daniel's hair, lips on Daniel's ear. "Promised to tell you anything," he whispered. "Remember?"

"Yes," Daniel said. "I remember —"

"Then believe it. Please."


Daniel knew Gilles' stories better than his own. They were, first, stories, full of characters and reversals, shifting locales and overbrimming emotions, while his own memories were paler. Smaller, haiku rather than fairytales. A tree struck by lightning, the old monk who drowned in the river, a certain haunted expression on a woman's face.

He practiced, however, as he walked the city, practiced watching what he passed, turning experience into story half a moment after it happened. He tried to narrate events to himself, find just the right words so he could tell Gilles when he returned to the loft.

Gilles claimed to like Daniel's stories, fragmentary and odd as they were. His glasses would slip down his nose as he listened and his eyes would move slowly back and forth, as if Daniel's face was a manuscript page or a tray of jewelry.

Daniel was telling him about the little girl who dropped her change-purse and stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, head tipped back, screaming at the sky. Gilles nodded seriously as the story, such as it was, trailed to its end.

"What is it?" Daniel asked. He wondered if he should feel embarrassed.

Blinking slowly, as if he was waking from a dream, Gilles said, "Nothing."

"Are you sure?"

Gilles smiled with half his mouth. "Very sure. Finish your story."

"That's the whole of it," Daniel said. "I — I kept walking."

He lived, inhabited his body, insofar as Gilles watched, touched, talked to him. Daniel could not decide if this was right; surely he ought to live as himself, whether or not Gilles was present. He would have liked to know what it was like for other people, Abel and Inez and Father Theo and Joan. They lived, for the most part, alone, untouched, without anyone to regard them. They might be lonely monsters, deformed and less than whole, or he might be the monster. Fastened like a leech on Gilles, fattening on his blood and attention: one of the demons that Joan hunted and killed.

Gilles had promised never to stop looking. Daniel wondered whether the joy he felt at that was itself the monster.

He had lived without Gilles. He had thought, and moved, and spoken. That he preferred now to be with Gilles did not have to mean that being alone was impossible.

"Why?" he asked, early in the morning, waking to find Gilles touching him. "Who am I, that you're — that you —?"

"You should flee. There is so much sin, from here —" Gilles pressed his palm against his chest, just over the bleeding heart, "and outward. Encompassing you —" He drew his fingers, crooked into claws, down Daniel's ribs, then up again, playing the ribs as if they were the strings to a mandolin, "dear boy, and everything else."

Gilles spoke of sin as if it were a garment, tapestry-heavy and endlessly unfolding, or an element, weaving through the air. Like wind, a localized storm, which he had once raised but which now mastered him.

Sin was, when Gilles spoke of it, like alcohol, both intoxicating and cleansing.

Perhaps it was like music. Invisible, but influential, screeching or soothing.

"Not fleeing," Daniel said, and it did not occur to him that his questions, fragmentary as they were, had gone unanswered.


"We'll have a party," Gilles said. He had been pacing beside his worktable, muttering charms and incantations that refused to take. "For Joan's birthday, and for you."

"I don't need a party."

Gilles grasped both of Daniel's hands and pulled him into the center of the room. "You'll meet friends, and dance, and all shall take hands, til that the conquering wine has steeped our sense in soft and delicate Lethe —"

By now, Daniel was laughing; Gilles looked excited, nearly ecstatic, smiling widely and crooning the final phrases. He darted in, kissing Daniel with hot, open mouth, then swung away; he spun them faster and began singing.

"Come, thou monarch of the vine, Plumpy Bacchus, with pink eyne! In thy fats our cares be drown'd, With thy grapes our hairs be crown'd: Cup us, till the world go round, Cup us, till the world go round!"

Daniel stumbled to keep up, his hands going sweaty in Gilles' grip as they circled faster and faster and Gilles' song ended on a long, high note.

"We'll have a party, then," Daniel said, hiccuping, laughing, as they careened dizzily against each other and Gilles gasped into his hair.

"Excellent choice."

Gilles held the party on the roof because, as he said, there were too many people with grubby hands he did not trust, who might molest his books. "Not to mention you," he added, and caught Daniel's hand before his slap could connect. The freight elevator went all the way to the roof, and he barred its entrance to the loft and lower floors.

On the roof, a lacy network of tiny golden lights wove along the edges and between larger freestanding globes that studded the open space. Two bars flanked the dance floor in addition to three food stations — a roasting pig, a narrow table for a sushi chef, and a long banquet crowded with cheese and vegetables. Music throbbed and cascaded from speakers studding the floor.

"Sound familiar?" Gilles asked, circling his arms around Daniel's waist and pulling him close.

Daniel listened. The music was familiar, memories of beats and bridges he had spun, brought back to life. "How —?"

"Recorded you," Gilles said. "Every night, well before we met."

The music he played, Daniel had thought, was momentary. Ephemeral as breaths, spinning out into the club, then vanishing as soon as the next beat arrived. Hearing it again, as if it was new, was strange. Like moving among friendly ghosts.

"Wow —" Daniel turned and Gilles smiled. "Thank you."

When he worked at the club, Daniel saw the celebration, but he was alone in his booth, apart. This party, however, was unbounded and he moved through it, part of it, caught up in it.

Joan arrived with two friends in tow, a redhead her own height and a taller girl with long brown hair that seemed almost too much for her delicate frame.

Denizens of the club jumbled with people Daniel recognized from his errands, with waitresses from Gilles' favorite restaurants and clerks from the shops he frequented.

Abel wore burgundy trousers and a filmy black shirt and snapped his fingers, producing a camellia, damp with dew, that he tucked behind Daniel's ear.

Daniel danced with Joan and her friends and tried to duck her dares to kiss the redhead. When Joan bent his arm behind his back and pushed him at the shy girl, her lips tasted like beech-bark and rainwater and her nose bumped his painfully.

Mick never arrived; one moment, he was simply there, materializing out of the jostling crowd at the bar while Daniel waited for his drink.

"Hello," he said gruffly, touching Daniel's elbow. Mick looked handsome, his shirt soft against Daniel's arm, its fabric nearly as pale as Mick's skin. "Seen Joan?"

"Yes," Daniel said. He tasted his drink and grimaced. Not his drink; this was blood, chilled and runny, and it tasted horribly of the brass bowls he'd had to clean with his tongue for a week at New Drepung as punishment. He handed the glass to Mick. "I think this is yours."

Mick's mouth opened as Daniel wiped his lips. "You know —?"

Daniel nodded and found his glass of wine. "Not stupid."

When Mick smiled, his face changed; he looked like a child, younger even than Daniel.

He danced, and drank, and glimpsed Gilles, occasionally meeting him at the edge of the dance floor, kissing him gratefully. He next saw Joan on a low couch, half-wrapped around Abel and laughing with her friends. Abel alternated nuzzling at Joan's neck and pulling flowers from the air, charming them into birds, and the canaries into gold coins that pattered against the floor.

"He likes getting his hands on anything that's Jilly's," Joan said, untangling herself from Abel and lifting his hand from her waist. "Hey. Are those my jeans?"

Daniel touched the seam of his pants; they were his favorite, and he'd worn them since Gilles' disappearance. "Maybe?"

Joan clapped and grinned. "You can wear my clothes! Take off your shirt, we'll trade —"

Daniel glanced around, then uncertainly back at Joan.

"Yes," Abel said, leaning in. "Let's see what's so precious, shall we?"

Ignoring Abel, Joan said, "Don't be silly." She pulled off her shirt, and her bra was black, lacy, almost too small for her tanned breasts. Daniel dropped his eyes and, cursing, Joan tossed the shirt at him. "Come on, little brother."

Abel smirked at him, but Joan was still laughing, and her friends were, too. Holding her shirt between his knees, Daniel unbuttoned his own and shrugged it off. "Here —" he said, handing it over.

She reached for it, too far, and grazed the ring in his nipple. A charge shot through his groin and Daniel felt the matching heat on his face.

"Ooops?" Joan said, then touched the ring again, lifting it and tugging gently. "Don't worry, I've got a couple, too."

Daniel looked at her breasts, the swells of flesh over the lace of her bra, but saw nothing like rings.

"Further down," Joan said, pulling his shirt on but leaving it unbuttoned. "You can touch 'em if you want. Fair's fair."

"No, thank you —"

Joan's shirt was gauzy, far lighter than his own, and as he moved away, the girls' laughter tinkling behind him, Daniel felt as weightless as the fabric and the time of the party, flowing and difficult to grasp.

Guests spoke to him, some whose faces he recognized — Esteban, the dark sailor who received Daniel's deliveries three, sometimes four times, a week and who tonight looked much better rested than Daniel had ever seen — and some who seemed to know him without ever having been introduced.

Daniel padded through the party, letting it pulse and sweep around him, looking without much hope for familiar faces.

Gilles leaned one shoulder against the wall, his wineglass dangling from two fingers, shaking his head at something Abel had said. "Really, you overreact."

"That's what I'd hoped," Abel said. "Merely a trifle, then?"

"Of course."

"Then you'll meet Lavelle? You'll love him — far closer to your ideal than the strange, pale mute one you've got now."

Gilles finished his wine and smiled. "Show him to me."

Abel turned, his eyes intent on the crowd. Then he began to smile as his fingers danced at his sides. A figure emerged, brightening and sharpening out of the dark mess of the crowd. He was nearly as tall as Gilles, probably almost as handsome as Abel had once been, his dark hair curling against his neck, his wide black eyes fastened on Gilles and Abel. His skin was golden against the night, his shoulders wide and hips narrow; he grinned and Daniel felt himself smiling back, though no one knew he was present.

"You see?" Abel murmured as the young man approached them.

"Oh, yes," Gilles said. "I certainly do."

He moved away, turning, weaving through the people, and saw Father Theo leaning against the corner of the elevator shaft.

Unlike the others, he looked neither celebratory nor all that happy. His collar shone silver against the tan of his throat and he gripped the stem of his wineglass tightly.

"Daniel. There you are," he said. Theo's cheeks were darkly flushed. "Lovely, lovely party."

Theo was very drunk, Daniel realized, and it made his voice harder and more precise than ever.

"Yes," Daniel said. "Thank you."

Theo looked him over, and Daniel held himself still, wondering just what it was that Theo saw. What he was looking for. "Secular debauchery has its advantages," Theo said, lifting his glass and draining it before reaching out and touching Daniel's shoulder, then the base of his neck. "Gilles is a terrible but very lucky man, that old catamiting cankerworm."

Someone grabbed Daniel from behind, laughing like water in his ear. Joan, rescuing him again. "No demons or crosses here," she said, pulling him back out of Theo's reach. "Go away, Ted."

Theo drew himself up and narrowed his eyes. "You're drunk, girl. Probably feeling other things as well. Does Sister Inez know where you are?"

"Doubt it," Joan said, tickling Daniel. "Which means she's all yours tonight. Why don't you go find her?"

A couple ran past them, between Joan and Theo, the woman clutching at her wig as it slid off the back of her head, her pursuer shrieking at her to stop.

"Madmen, all of you," Theo said.

"It's a party," Joan said. "Madness is the joy of it. Now go."

Theo straightened the placket of his shirt and fussed a moment with his collar. "To leave you in your madness, t'were my sin: I will not."

Joan shook her head and laughed harder. "Fools cure not mad folks, Ted."

"He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a boy's love, or a whore's oath."

"Fuck off." She spun Daniel away, still laughing. "Prick. Guy's got way more than Inez's eight-incher up his ass. That, or he needs something more."

He lost Joan in the press of the dancers, but found her friends back on the couch they'd occupied with Abel. The redhead rubbed her nose and smiled ruefully when she saw him; the other girl held one of Abel's charmed canaries in her hands and whispered to it.

He was tired, and he'd certainly had too much wine. The music pierced through him, streamers drawn on blunt steel needles, and Daniel wavered a little on his feet as he descended the stairs to the loft.

Joan's voice carried through the stairwell and Daniel slipped off his shoes so he wouldn't be heard. "No way — can you imagine me saddled with a kid?"

A deeper voice replied; Daniel stood outside the door to the loft and listened, but could not make out what it said.

"You know what happened last time," Joan said. "Imperfect's what we're doing. Back way or mouth, your call."

He slid his key into the lock and pulled the door open as quietly as he could before slipping inside. While lights and noise swarmed the roof, the loft was as dark and silent as night ought to be. Daniel dropped his shoes beside the door before locking it again.

The curtains to the bed were drawn, but at the farthest corner, they did not meet; he meant to slip through them and lie down on the bed.

He found, as he stepped through the crack, Gilles and the golden-skinned boy — Lavelle — already there. Lavelle's shirt was off, and he lay sprawled across the foot of the bed, his fly half-open, an arm across his eyes, his other hand tickling his own chest.

On the edge of the bed, Gilles sat with his back to Lavelle, head in his hands, fists in his eyes, his own clothes twisted and wrinkled.

"You'll not tell Abel?" he asked and for a moment, Daniel was confused enough to think that Gilles was speaking to him.

"Man, don't worry about it," Lavelle said, his voice thick and slow with both wine and the drawl, at once French and Spanish, of Verona Beach natives. "Long as someone coughs up the ducats, my lips are sealed. Or —" His head rolled to face Daniel and he smiled as slow as his voice. "Wide open, as the case might be. Hi, darling."

Gilles raised his head. When he saw Daniel, his mouth opened and it was a black, empty hole.

"Hello," Daniel said. Layers and currents of emotion and temperature writhed through him, fear and heat and pity at the sight of Gilles, and curiosity about Lavelle and cold. "I — I wanted to lie down."

Lavelle sat up on one elbow, twisting, and all Daniel could think of were sweet, sticky things, toffee and candy apples and sunbathers coppery and somnolent.

"Bought you a friend," Gilles said, his eyes dropping and lips twisting together.

Lavelle laughed as he looked Daniel over. His smile was wide, friendly, teasing as if this sort of thing always happened.

Daniel moved to Gilles' side, touching his hair. "Friends aren't purchased, are they?"

"This one is," Lavelle said and pulled himself up, pushing his hair off his forehead.

"But —"

"Trust me. I know the difference."

"Between what?"

"Fucking and friends. You could be my friend. Right now, though, I'll fuck you well. You'll be happy, I'll enjoy it, and be paid well for my pleasure. Fair game all around."

Heat billowed and raged through Daniel when he heard Lavelle promise to fuck; it was a word used promiscuously, everywhere he went, but he associated it with Gilles, with need and hunger.

The currents streaming through Daniel did not mix, but contended with each other. The viscous heat, studded with grit and nettles, glowed when he looked at Lavelle. When he looked at Gilles, the streams were faster, smoother, chillier, rapids of feeling that ran choppily through the center of him. The first was bright and hot, all sweat and sunblock and candy, clinging to his skin, but he could bathe and be free of it. But the second, Gilles, was environment and presence, inescapable, impossible to imagine absent.

Daniel sat on Gilles' knee, arm around his waist, facing Lavelle. Gilles kissed his hair, his ear, his neck, all hungrily, as if starving and half-convinced Daniel was just an illusion.

"I can make my own friends," Daniel told Gilles, then kissed him on the mouth. Gilles kissed him back, fanning the waves and riptides of cold and hot tangling through Daniel. "You said so yourself."

"One ahead of the old man, then," Lavelle said, taking Daniel's hand. "And if you can get it up, you'll have him beat in two."

Against him, Gilles shook, rolling his forehead against Daniel's neck.

Daniel already knew the answer, knew the look on Gilles' face when he had first seen Lavelle, knew what it meant to find them on the bed together, but he asked anyway. "You and he?"

Gilles did not answer, but tightened his hold around Daniel's waist. Lavelle laced his fingers through Daniel's and tugged gently.

"Said he wanted to," Lavelle said. "Willing, but his flesh was weak. Soft as dough."

Gilles was trembling harder now as he tipped back his head and muttered angrily, "Do it. Go on. Screw the boy, love him more. Make me watch, expose me to my shame."

Cold now, shaking in time with Gilles, the only warm part of Daniel was his palm against Lavelle's. "Don't watch. Enjoy, and perform."

"No." Gilles shut his eyes and turned his face away.

The tendon of his neck stood out like a buttress, tight and arcing, and Daniel found the words he needed to say. He kissed Gilles' cheek, then the side of his mouth. "Yes. Tell me, how many sins are there?"

"Countless. Sandgrains on every beach."

"And how many loves?" Daniel drew his hand up the middle of Gilles' back. "How many?"

Gilles shook his head and Daniel shivered, feeling Lavelle draw closer, push a warm palm under Daniel's shirt, up his back.

"Gilles," Daniel said. "Look at me?"

Gilles slowly, finally, turned his head. Daniel pulled away from Lavelle's questing hand and wrapped both arms around Gilles' neck, kissing a line up his throat, over his chin, and finally his mouth as he shifted and squirmed until he straddled Gilles' lap.

The kiss warmed Daniel and slowed Gilles' trembling.

"Thousands of loves," Daniel said. "Yours, deep as it is, is not endangered by a night's love for him."

"Show me," Gilles whispered, and again. "Show me?"

"Only with you."

Lavelle wrapped his arm around Daniel's shoulder and kissed Gilles' neck. Grinning, he asked, "Tell me, what wants me here, to work delight?"

Lavelle's skin tasted of coconut and old butter, left too long on the counter, and he moved differently than Gilles. His hips rocked more smoothly, and he whimpered like a cat rather than grunted when Daniel mouthed a figure-eight over his chest. Anatomy was a generalization, a category composed of facts, while sensation, Daniel began to realize, was particular and eccentric.

Over Lavelle's skin, Daniel's mouth ran like children through a summer shower, skipping and circling. Whenever he kissed Gilles, knelt before him or took him deep inside, it was more than play, it whirled him out of Kansas.

Lavelle worked his way between Daniel and Gilles, one leg hooked through Daniel's, and Daniel watched, captivated by the sight of Gilles kissing someone else, by his familiar hands on new skin. He knew, could feel as half-present memories, just what Gilles' touch and kiss felt like. Lavelle wriggled around and kissed Daniel deeply, hand playing over Daniel's chest, toying with the nipple-rings, weaving sensation as shockingly novel as it was welcome. He opened his eyes, watching Gilles watching back, his gaze intent and sharp, then felt Gilles' wide hand on his hip, pulling him closer. Daniel wrestled with Lavelle, spread over him in a squirming blanket, too many hands to track moving over him. Pinning Lavelle, laughing, Daniel nipped at his chin and Gilles' hand never left the small of his back as Gilles' fingernails dug in searing half-moons.

"Hold him down?" Daniel asked Gilles, less for the help than to play with both men at the same time. "With me?"

Chuckling slightly, almost nervously, Gilles shook his head. "He's a professional. Tell him."

The expanse of Lavelle's skin kept drawing Daniel in. Gilles' tattoos told stories, snagged attention and held it, while Lavelle's tan was unmarked, taut and dark, his chest rising rapidly. Pushing one shoulder down, Daniel pulled back until Lavelle went still. His eyes were black and huge, his face flushed, and Daniel could not be sure that he was feigning any of this, especially not as Lavelle's swollen lips parted and want, clear and hot as a geyser, shot through Daniel. He wanted — everything. Wanted to taste every inch of him, wanted to make him shake and cry out, wanted Gilles to help and see and be there.

"Go on, little boy," Lavelle drawled. "Try me."

Kneeling between Lavelle's legs, Daniel nodded slowly, returning the teasing smile and pressing Lavelle's shoulder more firmly down. Lavelle turned his head, first to the left, where he kissed Gilles, then to the right, biting and licking Daniel's wrist as he lifted his hips so Daniel could pull down his jeans. The mattress shifted and Lavelle whimpered, and Daniel realized that Gilles was behind him now, hands on his chest, fingers strumming the rings and opening his fly, breath coming hot and loud in Daniel's ear.

So much contact everywhere, constant charges running over his skin, two games playing at once — the one with Lavelle, wanting and teasing, and the one with Gilles, pretending not to worry and determining to enjoy — and Daniel leaned forward, kissing Lavelle, unable to go very long without tasting him, all toffee-rich and sticky, tickling his upper thighs and the patch of trimmed, rough hair until Lavelle's hips bucked and he groaned into Daniel's throat.

None of the compulsive hunger to learn, to strip away skin and discover; instead, Daniel felt as if he were playing. Wading in the surf of a new beach, spotting shells and kicking up water. With Lavelle, it was another sort of hunger, not for life and sustenance, but for a second dessert, a chocolate bar merely because it tasted good.

Gilles' chest slid and stuck against Daniel's back as they moved together; he did not resist when Daniel took his hand and put it on Lavelle's cock, smiling at the hiss and thrust Lavelle responded with. He wanted to stay here, trapped and tangled up between them, Lavelle's hand on his own cock, Lavelle's sweat and Gilles' spit in his mouth, Gilles' bulk pushing and groaning against him.

"Watch," he said, twisting around, seeking Gilles' mouth. "Want to make him shout, want to suck him off."

Gilles' face was twisted, shining with sweat, and he grunted, pulling Daniel even tighter against him.

"Play in front of you, delight your eyes," Daniel continued. Shame was the knife's blade Gilles held to his pleasure, sharpening it, threatening to kill it. "You want to see. You need to watch and debauch your sight."

Groaning, lips working, Gilles nodded and pushed Daniel's head down, hand splayed in his hair, as he yanked Daniel's hips back and up. Daniel kissed the hot, sweat-damp skin of Lavelle's inner thighs, parting them and kissing higher as Gilles tracked his mouth down Daniel's spine in a thick, wavering, ever-hotter line that concentrated the sparks and bursts of hunger into a single twisting, dense vine stretching from his mouth to his ass.

Wet mouth, wetter fingers, over his ass, teasing and spreading him, as Daniel gnawed at the crease of Lavelle's hip and squeezed his balls; he danced in place to the whistles and grunts rising off the bed, strung between want and need.

"He likes this, doesn't he?" Laughter in Lavelle's voice as Daniel swallowed around his cock, then held still, his tongue pulsing and twisting around the shaft. "You've taught him well."

Gilles did not reply for several moments. Lavelle was, Daniel suspected, trying to include Gilles, inviting him further into the game.

"Taught him nothing," Gilles said at last and began moving his fingers inside Daniel again. "He's perfect, always was."

Daniel's mouth played over Lavelle's body and he knew that most love was ephemeral, that Lavelle was temporary, but that didn't mean any of this was trash.

Gilles worked three fingers inside Daniel, making him gasp and jerk back his head. "Love him more," Gilles hissed again. "Teach me my error and reason's grace."

"Baby boy," Lavelle said, hips rocking to meet Daniel's mouth as his hand guided Daniel's head back down. "Little baby cocksucker. So good —"

He drew out his attention to Lavelle's cock, breaking each rise toward pleasure by changing direction, slowing his pace, exploring some more. This love, because it was love, obsessive and delighted, was temporary, but his body could not believe that. It lived now, only in the present, and it sought more and more joy.

"My filthy little fucker," Gilles murmured, pulling his fingers out, emptying Daniel to a yearning ache. Daniel stilled, starting to raise his head, and Gilles smacked him, two times, then again. The pain, red-bright, arched his back and pushed him against Gilles' groin. "Don't stop. Revel in your filth, suck the whore dry. Try him till he breaks. My boys, to suck, to suck, the very whore to suck, such an unwholesome food." Under his words, the wet squeak and slap of hands on flesh, and then Daniel grunted, squirmed, against the always-overwhelming pressure of Gilles' cock against his hole.

Mouth stretched open, hollowed around Lavelle's shaft, and now his hole breached, reformed into something thin, black, and pulsing, one size too small for Gilles' cock, and Daniel was pushed-pulled between the two, not enough air and so much burning sensation everywhere.

"Eique angelum tuum sanctum députa custódem: et quorum quarúmque córpora hic sepeliúntur, ánimas eórum ab ómnibus absólve vínculis delictórum —" and at the Latin, Daniel knew that Gilles was here, playing and participating. Blasphemy was his game, as discovery was Daniel's, and Lavelle writhed and groaned under the doubled pressure, cursing in counterpoint to Gilles' chants.

Gilles thrust deeper yet, pulling Daniel's hair, and Lavelle stiffened, then cried, his voice high and breaking as a terrified child's. His come spattered over Daniel's mouth and cheek as Lavelle sank back and Gilles yanked Daniel up to his knees, twisting his head and scouring his face clean with teeth and tongue.

"Get him off. Swallow him, and be honored to do it —" Gilles ordered Lavelle and Daniel was contorted, twisted in Gilles' arms, the shaking boy flattening himself and burying his head between Daniel's legs. "Swallow him down like a great pin —"

Suction and pressure on both sides, too much, so much, and Daniel shook against Gilles. The game was doubled, the play with Lavelle and the pretense with Gilles, and Daniel stretched, his spine incandescing, twisting more. Over Gilles' shoulder, he glimpsed a figure standing by the open curtains.

One figure, but two bodies; two dark heads, white faces with red mouths, watching. Theo, and Inez behind him, her mouth on his ear and her hand inside his open fly. Twins — long handsome faces and arching brows and matching expressions of hunger and revulsion — twined together.

Grunting, lapping and twisting his head, Lavelle swallowed hard, Daniel's cock pushing into the hot pressure of his throat, and Gilles shoved Daniel's hips down as he thrust up. Hot mercury flooded Daniel's spine and as he came, his bones rattled like flatware and his head threw itself back and he lost sight of the watchers.

When he opened his eyes again, they were gone. Lavelle knelt in front of him, holding him and Gilles at once, and Gilles was kissing Lavelle, sucking Daniel's come from his mouth, and flashes of sheet lightning and arctic wind warbled in and out of Daniel's body.

Daniel dozed in Gilles' arms, Lavelle against him, snoring slightly. He woke later, the noise from the party undiminished, and saw Lavelle standing at the foot of the bed, yanking his pants up his legs. "Such a pretty romance," he said, laughing. "You with your little boy, twined together like marriage ivy."

Gilles dug in the drawer for his wallet and pulled out several bills. "Here. Payment, and more. Like a whore, unpack my heart with words. Go."

Lavelle smiled at Daniel and shrugged as he scratched his belly. "Thanks."

Daniel stumbled out of bed and caught Lavelle's arm as he pushed through the curtains. "He's not — that is — I'm sorry."

Still smiling, Lavelle kissed his forehead. "It doesn't matter."

"It does to me."

Lavelle drew his hand down Daniel's side and squeezed his hip. "Told you I know the difference. May be a whore, but I never lie."

Daniel unlocked the elevator gate for him and watched the cage's descent, watched the top of Lavelle's head as he shrank out of sight. When he turned to go back to bed, his fingers were locked in the gate and he could not move.

"Daniel?" Gilles called. "Daniel?"


The unclean cleanses! the ruiner sets free! the damned absolves! He will, forsooth, destroy his own work, by washing away the sins which himself inspires!

Gilles called again.

Daniel could not answer.

Lavelle disappeared, Daniel watched him go, and there was nothing he could say.

"Daniel?" Gilles called again, voice morning-rough, sharply edged with worry and pleading.

It was not yet dawn. The shadows in the loft were still deep as pools, the air heavy and granular with the dark. They might be in a mausoleum or cage as much as they were at home; everything was tarnished silver, clouded and dim.

Daniel carefully unbent his fingers from the elevator cage and returned to the bed. The curtains stirred against his legs and he waited another moment, watching Gilles roll onto his back and lift his head from the pillow. The pillow's wrinkles scored Gilles' face, criss-crossing his red eyes and bristly cheek, and he blinked back at Daniel, sleepy and confused.

Against the white sheets, his lean body was very dark, a tangle of cords that stirred and lifted as Gilles reached for him.

Daniel came up to the side of the bed, lips aching for a sour, lingering morning kiss, for routine that could supplant the strangeness and pain of the previous night.

"I'm going to take a bath," Daniel said, but Gilles caught his arm and pulled him down.

They rolled across the bed, Gilles' sleep-hot skin sliding against Daniel's, their legs interlacing and scissoring, and Gilles still clung to Daniel's arm.

"Just a bath —" He felt sticky, coated with the remnants of sex inside and out. He thought of the warm water pooling in the tub, pouring over his skin, with something like longing.

"Let me wash you," Gilles said and straddled Daniel, pinning his arms at his sides and covering him. He lowered his face, the stubble on his cheek rasping against Daniel, abrading and bringing up heat, sweat, and sorrow.

Gilles licked his chest, gnawed along his jaw, bit the knob of each shoulder, muttering and groaning as he moved.

This was cleansing with teeth and tongue, hard as an alleycat's, baptism interspersed with murmured questions and incantations, and Daniel quivered inside. Outside, he was still, feeling his skin as if from a great height, as if through Gilles' eyes, carved into being by the words that escaped Gilles' grinding jaw.

"Did he kiss you here?" Five fingers spread over Daniel's ribs and squeezed, reminded him of the structure of his flesh.

"Here?" Incisors scored his navel.

"Touch you here?" Jut of hipbone, curve of waist, and Gilles' fingers, gaze, words everywhere.

Gilles seemed to need to erase it all. Any remnant of what they had done, of Lavelle's presence in their bed — every touch and kiss and heavy-lashed glance — was to be scoured, erased, replaced. His attention was exact and fierce, not loving in any sense, whether from tenderness or the wrenching intentness Daniel had come to associate with Gilles.

Daniel held still, all too aware of the passion that coiled and waited inside Gilles, the glimpses of it in his eyes and portrayed in his tattoos. This was not sex, though Gilles' hard prick dragged along Daniel's thigh, and Daniel himself could hardly breathe for the tension and heat in his own groin. Sex, and love, and conversation: All those things had momentum, moved forward and upward, rushed toward a consummating, imploding point, then spread out, warm and slack and safe.

This baptism was unending and relentless, never varying its pace.

He wanted to accede to all of this. He would have acceded, lain back and begged for forgiveness, let Gilles enact another scene of punishment and retribution not all that different from the one with the whip and Mick's glowering face, but he was not at fault.

Neither of them was to blame for the previous night.

Daniel wasn't even entirely sure that it was such a blameworthy event, but, whether that was the case or not, he certainly wasn't the tempter, nor the sinner.

He had found Gilles with Lavelle. He had — they would have —. Daniel's thoughts faltered and Daniel opened his mouth to protest.

Lifted his head from the pillow and caught Gilles' eye and they regarded each other, Gilles' face twisted and illegible, Daniel's mouth open, and suddenly he heard what Gilles was saying.

"Munda cor meum ac labia mea —" Rough, pleading words, matching the wet spikes of Gilles' lashes, heavy with tears. "Ita me tua grata miseratione dignare mundare —"

Daniel touched Gilles' cheek, rubbing at the tears with his thumb. "It's all —"

Gilles shook his head. "Lavabo inter innocentes manus meas. Ne perdas cum impiis, animam meam: et cum viris sanguinum vitam meam."

This was no longer baptism, and a far cry from simply washing. Daniel traced the curving line of Gilles' grimace, and all he could do was nod. This was plea, and confession, this was the only way Gilles knew to translate the weight and heat of sorrow into something he could speak.

"Tuum cor," Daniel said softly, "et tua labia —"

"Et praesta, ut in me non remaneat scelerum macula, quem pura et sancta refecerunt Sacramenta —" Gilles said.

Daniel knew the Latin, the English, and he echoed it silently back to Gilles with dry lips and aching skin: and grant that no trace of sin be found in me, whom these pure and holy mysteries have renewed.

Something shifted, lightly as the curtains, between them. Gilles' tears soaked his cheeks and caught in the rough hairs of his beard, while Daniel reached for him, wound around him.

The apology showed Daniel something he had never understood. Never at the monastery, never once in these weeks with Gilles: Prayer was plea, pure and rough and shaking with need, whatever the language and to whomever it was spoken.

Clinging to Daniel, Gilles curled around him, his face buried in Daniel's neck.

"Our secret," Gilles whispered against Daniel's throat. "No one need know."

It was question and statement both. Drawing his fingers through Gilles' hair, Daniel nodded. The darkly-twining, two-headed figure of Theo and Inez condensed in the shadows by the corner of the bed, reminding him that nothing was secret.

"Yes," he told Gilles, squeezing shut his eyes. "Just ours."

The curtains lifted and fell in the breeze from the fans as the room slowly brightened and their bodies melted fractionally, gluing together with sweat and tears.

Dawn came and Gilles slept.

Another shift would come, Daniel was sure of it.

He nearly felt the change tremoring unseen, just outside of his vision, lying in wait. Something large and coiled as a beast, tiger or wolf or basilisk, with sharp hidden teeth and ferocious power of movement. But he could not see it, could only expect it, and he shivered through uncertain dreams and less certain thoughts as Gilles clung to him.


Daniel climbed up the narrow stairwell and let himself out onto the roof. After talking to Gilles, after having bathed and eaten, he was more confused and disturbed than ever. Gilles had risen, eaten half a roll, and kissed him before setting off on some errand too important to trust to anyone else.

Daniel paced the length of the roof, willing the air to carry away his clatter of his thoughts.

The detritus of the party littered the roof. Shattered wine glasses, lengths of bright paper, the satin lapels of a dinner jacket and spilled jet bangles from someone's dress. The red velvet cushions that had softened the benches were askew or completely thrown to the ground amid broken glass and dropped food crowded with insects.

What he saw now was a withering, hurried along by the morning wind, of an interstitial zone, the passing of a carnival, leaving only greasy paper and overturned glasses in its wake.

He settled out of the way of the wind next to the lean-to under which he usually studied. On a velvet cushion, incongruously lush and vibrant against the silvered morning, and looked out over the city. His back to the sea, its slowly-crawling noise constantly in his ears, he watched the city.

It was vast and irregular, a collage of sharp angles and intense colors, glinting water towers and rough stucco walls, red metal roofs and swinging traffic lights. From this height, it seemed to creep with concealed life, souls the size of fireflies glittering and hoping. He saw it all anew, huge and incomprehensible, remote and untouchable.

He knew absolutely nothing.

The thought came to him, and it was not a shock. Nothing violent occurred as it arrived and settled in and immediately became familiar. It was only the muted whisper of a curtain lifting in the breeze through an open window, of a page peeling back in a book.

Gilles spoke of what he knew as if it were property. What you know, his words suggested, is your source of value. Knowledge was itself an economy, full of double-dealing and speculation and blackmarket hoarding.

The extent of what Daniel knew was a single image — Theo and Inez by the bed — and that was worse than useless. That was sickening and guilt-inducing, and he wished he could forget it.

He knew, and possessed, nothing; all he had was what Gilles gave him.


But Gilles acted as if the apologetic baptism were the end of the story. He seemed, in the next several days, to treat Daniel as he always had. For his part, Daniel acceded to the charade as he could not have done to the blame.

More than anything else, he was relieved. He sat in Gilles' lap, kissed him gratefully, donned his softer-than-silk clothing and slept sprawled on top of him at night. He danced with Gilles at the jewel-box nightclub that had burst into existence up the back stairs from an old pool hall, ate with him at the loft or in the stucco-encrusted French restaurant around the corner, fetched him coffee from Alfredo's cart in the mornings and handed him scalpels, tweezers, or hex-books while Gilles worked at his large table.

This was normal, as far as Daniel could tell. This was how they lived here.

The city lay beneath lemony storm-clouds and the palm trees shook out shadows as he passed; men danced in the streets and girls shouted at each other from open windows. Glimpsed from every window, the sea curled like ripped green paper. When Daniel knelt before his altar each morning, Gilles would ruffle his hair and tease him about false idols; later, as Daniel studied or, simply, read, Gilles lobbed spitballs at him and turned quickly away.

The balls bloomed into dry paper flowers in his palm, covered with Gilles' small, Gothic script, packed with endearments.

He could ask for anything. He knew that now, knew that whatever it was that had happened with Lavelle had been because he asked for it. There was power there, in the way Gilles looked at him sidewise, how he traced the back of Daniel's neck with his finger whenever he passed, how he would set aside his wine at dinner and open his mouth but say nothing, just look at Daniel.

In the bath one night, Daniel knelt before Gilles, tracing the vine of one bleeding rose that coiled over Gilles' shoulder with a soapy finger.

"How did you get so many?" he asked. "So many tattoos."

Old ones, small and gone blurry with age, Gilles received on the street, with his small gang. The plain Egyptian-style eyes, the angular cuneiform that named masters and hierarchies.

Larger, brighter ones, he said as he shaved Daniel — Daniel lying on his back, legs hooked over the sides of the tub, with Gilles kneeling and pulling taut the ticklish, oversensitive skin on Daniel's testicles with his right hand while he whisked the straight razor with his left and made Daniel gasp and grit his teeth against moving — those tattoos he received in prison. He stood Daniel up, tottering and brimming with heat, to dry him thoroughly with a wide white towel, and showed the first prison tattoo on the outside of his left hand, curving script that read Ave Maria, Ecce Homo over his knuckles.

"There was a brilliant young man there," he said, wrapping and folding the towel around Daniel's waist. "All his needles were modified from biros and bird feathers. Later, I learned to do it myself."

Gilles smelled like incense and soap when he sat on the couch and drew Daniel into his lap. Daniel kissed the soft lobe of his ear, then whispered, "I want one."

"You do not."

"I do. Want you to draw on me, make me something new."

Gilles' fingers clawed at the towel, then slipped inside to grip Daniel's thigh. His eyes closed before he spoke. "Mark this beautiful skin?" he asked, sliding his hand farther upward, running his thumb over the shorn, yearning skin of Daniel's balls. "No."

"We mark all the time," Daniel said, smiling as he pushed against Gilles' hand and Gilles opened his eyes. "Bruises, bites."

Gilles smiled back. "Yes. We do, but —"

"May I?" Daniel asked, and his throat burned, closing up, when he heard himself. He really could ask for anything, and that was too much, responsibility and power and more things he didn't know how to name. "I —"

Gilles pulled him close, nuzzling his ear and laughing lightly while his free hand sketched the air over Daniel's belly. "There. How's that?"

Daniel looked down and saw — a gargoyle. No, an imp, a tiny little monster with bulbous eyes and curling claws, drawn in heavy black outline, blinking up at him. At a murmur from Gilles, it hunched, then sprang forward, running up Daniel's chest and down his arm, leaving behind tiny ink tracks that tickled and pricked.

It leapt onto Daniel's hip, going invisible in the air, thickening back when it landed, and ducked under the towel, exploring his crotch and making him laugh helplessly.

Gilles bit the curve of Daniel's ear and snapped his fingers, bringing the imp back to Daniel's chest, where it nosed around one nipple and nuzzled it with its blunt, chilly snout. Daniel couldn't stop laughing.

The laughter at its antics felt rich, intoxicating as wine had never been. Daniel's eyes watered and his chest tightened.

"A real one," Daniel said when he caught his breath from laughing. "You know what I meant."

The imp squatted in the center of his chest now and winked at him.

"That's real," Gilles said. "Look, he likes you."

The imp lowered his head and made as if to kiss Daniel's breastbone. His mouth left behind spidery, trailing letters that spelled out AMOR.

Daniel choked on another round of laughter, his head falling back against the arm of the couch as Gilles chased the imp with his fingers, tickling and maddening Daniel's skin until he writhed and gasped. He clutched at Gilles' head when Gilles bent to lick up the letters of AMOR and tugged open the towel to close his fist around Daniel's cock.

The imp faded as Gilles ignored it and gave all his attention to Daniel, and Daniel did not notice its disappearance until well after he'd jack-knifed in Gilles' arms and come in his hand, panting for breath around Gilles' thrusting tongue.

"Just like that," Gilles murmured against Daniel's cheek, smearing his sticky hand up Daniel's chest. "So red, my boy. So beautiful."

Sex slid in and out of being; maybe it was always happening. Every glance and brush of bodies, every word and sigh, was another step in flirtation. Daniel could be patient; he was patient. When he had the strength, he stood and led Gilles to the bed. Opened the sheets and pressed Gilles onto his back before climbing on top of him, kneeling there, holding Gilles' hands on his waist.

He was patient, but he doubted that he knew how to speak, what to say. Gilles was fiercely beautiful, lying there, his broad chest rising and falling, the tattoos writhing and the planes of his muscles shifting.

If he could just be a body, a slip of skin knotted with pleasure, it would all be so much easier. Gilles could touch him, Daniel could feel it, and there would be no thought, no doubt.

No love, either.

Loosening his hand from Daniel's, Gilles raised it and traced the swell of Daniel's lower lip. "Scared?"

"No," Daniel said. "I — No, not scared."

"At the church," Gilles said. "You were frightened."

Daniel blinked, kissing Gilles' finger before it dropped away. "Yes. I suppose — Yes, I was."


"I was wrong," Daniel said. "I thought — I thought you were taking me back. Leaving me there."

"And if I had, which I would not, what then?"

"I don't want to go back." The certainty that Gilles was taking him back, abandoning him at St. Athanasius, had overtaken Daniel. He felt it again now, or a shadow of that certainty, souring into fear, and he swallowed hard against it.

Perhaps doubt was preferable to certainty.

Gilles' mouth curved and he cocked his head, damp hair whispering against the pillow. This was his patient, amused expression, the one he often wore, the one Daniel inspired, though he didn't know how or why. "So you would leave again."

When Gilles said it like that, so plainly and almost lightly, it sounded terribly simple. Daniel had left once, walked out of the church without looking at Father Theo's narrow, hunched back, and he had never gone back. "Yes, I would."

"Well, then. It's the same now. No one can force you stay here, you know."

Daniel squinted; Gilles had slipped from the simple to the absurd. "I want to stay here."

Gilles smiled, his hand lifting to rub at his chin, and he let out a long, soft breath. "I'm glad to hear that."

"You doubted?"

"I always doubt," Gilles said and cupped Daniel's cheek. "You may have noticed."

Nodding, Daniel sucked in a breath. When he spoke again, the words surprised him. "I'm sorry about Lavelle."

Gilles' eyes squeezed closed and he shook his head a little. "Are you? Do you regret it?"

If Daniel said yes, Gilles might be reassured, even delighted. But he was squinting at Daniel, hand on his face, and he had already asked, already questioned Daniel's apology. He had already made it a potential, provisional lie.

"I regret hurting you," Daniel said slowly and Gilles closed his eyes. "But, no. Not the rest of it."

They were silent then, Gilles pulling Daniel closer and resting cheek against the top of Daniel's head. The silence might have worried Daniel; perhaps it should have worried him. Words deserting Gilles was akin to fish fleeing a river. Daniel felt no worry, however. He listened to the whisper of Gilles' breath, the brush of Gilles' skin under his cheek, the beat of the fan over their heads, and let that be enough.

Maybe Gilles already knew how quiet love could be. Outside of bruises and harsh cries, away from spangling strobe lights and deep shadows, just here, quiet and soft-edged. Maybe he did, because Gilles knew more, and more deeply, about more things than Daniel had ever seen. Maybe — anything was possible — but Daniel doubted that he did.

He doubted because, later, when the room had brightened and he tipped back his head, Gilles was looking down at him. His cheeks, Daniel saw clearly, were wet and his eyes stained red.

"Don't, please —"

Gilles swiped the back of his hand over his face. "Sentimental old fool, you see."

"I did it, didn't I? By — kissing him. Wanting him."

"You fell, yes," Gilles said. "Slightly, just a fractional descent, but you fell nonetheless."

The air tasted sour, briney, as Daniel opened his mouth.

"But this —" Gilles indicated his wet cheeks, then touched the tip of Daniel's nose. "All this, this was my doing. You fell in my mind, nowhere else. You remain — you —"

In the dark of the room, the air was blue and shadowy as steel, and they spoke quietly. There was no one to overhear them, Daniel knew that, no one but the two of them, and that was why they lowered their voices.

Gilles grinned, or smirked, or grimaced, when Daniel caught his eye, but the expression loosened and lifted while they regarded each other, until both were smiling.

"Give me grace to eschew doing anything more that I should rue," Gilles whispered hoarsely.

"Yes," Daniel said.

Gilles ran his thumb over Daniel's brow, then each eyelid in turn. "When our tears testify our ruth, we need not rue, or of them be ashamed."

His own eyes were wet — because he had fallen, because he possessed far more than he wanted or needed, because Gilles, pained, frightened him — and Daniel could only nod.

"Yes," he said again, and that was enough.


The library was hushed, even quieter than St. Athanasius's. The church creaked in the wind off the sea and its stained-glass rattled and jangled within its sills. But the library was true quiet, the hush of paper and held breaths; this, Daniel imagined, was what it had once been like within Gilles' mind.

Four rows of wide, low tables filled the room, their polished surfaces studded with reading lamps that cast sharp, white light in precise lozenges. All around the room, books rose three stories high, silent and still on their shelves.

Daniel was here to deliver a tiny velvet satchel, half the size of his own palm, to someone named Rosie Berg. He wore his light gray suit and a white shirt. While Gilles said that Daniel could never hope to blend in, being a luna moth among creeping caterpillars, Daniel thought he might as well try. He carried a leather-bound notebook and box of pencils.

Having asked for Miss Berg, he loitered at the mahogany reference desk, admiring the library. He preferred Gilles', where light fell across the shelves and burned the spines into vibrant colors, but this was an interesting space nonetheless. Communal, the scholars sharing tables, but intensely private all the same. No one looked directly at anyone else; every glance was a footnote, sidewise and small.

Miss Berg was Joan's friend, the redhead from the party. Here in the library, humbled by the soaring books, she seemed much smaller. More delicate, wrapped in a gray dress, her hair tied decorously on the nape of her neck, her smile when she saw him wide but thin.

She greeted him warmly, clasping his hand in both her own, leading him to the last chair at the last table in the corner. She treated him like one of the scholars.

"Would you like to see some of our books?" she asked.

Daniel nodded as he hung his jacket over the back of the chair. Gilles' clients frequently received deliveries at work; he had eaten lunches, browsed imported scarves, ridden on the tourist paddleboats around the bay, all while waiting for a chance to pass over his delivery.

"Take a seat," she said. "Let me show you, and we can...exchange our treasures."

The delivery he carried for her rested in the false bottom of his pencil tin. Glancing around, noting how the other researchers conducted themselves, he imitated them as best he could. He opened his notebook, unlatched the tin, rolled up his sleeves, and studied the pages of his notebook where notes would have been if he were a scholar.

Miss Berg returned with a small armful for him, containing a large folio, several smaller books, and a roll of parchment on top.

"Enjoy," she whispered and smiled as he slid the delivery over to the side of the table with his pencil, then tipped it to the floor. She bent to retrieve it, the light catching her hair in long licks of flame, then straightened, stowing it in her pocket and hurrying back to the desk.

Daniel opened the smallest book, a worn, soft-cornered thing barely larger than his own hand. The type was heavy and closely-packed, the date of printing late in the eighteenth century, and the illustrations dark engravings of monstrous dreams and screaming human faces. Frightened, he turned to the next, taller and slimmer volume. Its pages were onionskin, fine and half-transparent, and the margins on each embraced the narrow columns of poetry and prayer.

How Miss Berg had chosen these books, he couldn't work out. There were visions, prayers, accounts of sea voyages and cemetery registers. Perhaps they had been chosen for their age, perhaps for their beauty. He paged through the biggest volume, skimming the entries in a captain's journal, then returned to the smaller book of poetry and prayer. He realized, opening it to the end, that this was a bound copy of several pamphlets, printed at different times, accounts of witches and leviathans intermingling with the prayers.

Whether it was the engraving a square-faced priest yelling in the midst of an angry crowd, a gibbet rising in the background, or the line of poetry about fair hearths wait for me, if only I cleave to him, or the combination of spectacle and meditation, Daniel knew that Gilles should have this book.

He glanced around the room. Miss Berg was at the desk, her back turned, and the other scholars were bent over their work, oblivious to everything around them. He could take it.

Gilles' own library was full of books with the marks of other libraries, from Paris and Rome to Calcutta and Kyoto. He would only smile when Daniel asked about the marks, then murmur something about desire being nine-tenths of possession, and possession nine-tenths of the law.

Law, property, desire: The problem resolved itself in Daniel's mind and he closed the book. The decision was two-fold; Gilles should not simply have the book, but Daniel should give it to him. He had nothing to give Gilles besides himself, and there must be something in the way of repayment.

He was a scholar here; that is, he pretended to be one, so he was. They stole from each other constantly, citing or failing to identify their sources. Whether they did or not, they lifted entire passages and reworked them, made something new out of material not their own. Like Gilles bent over his table, sifting out ground bezoars, like the monks at their scrolls, like each body at the tables here: they all borrowed, memorized, transformed.

He slid the book into his notebook, then closed his tin of pencils and packed his bag. Breathless, anxiety lying taut and warm over him as he rose, Daniel shouldered on his coat, swung the bag onto his shoulder, and left at a carefully hurried pace, waving goodbye to Miss Berg and tapping his wrist as if to apologize for not having time to talk.

Gilles was not in the loft when Daniel arrived home. He did not come home for several hours, during which Daniel had the time — too much time — to doubt what he'd done, whether Gilles would want the book, whether anyone had seen him take it.

Then Gilles was home, stepping out of the elevator, smiling, and Daniel ran into his arms.

"Slow down," Gilles said, laughing, as Daniel took his hand and pulled him to the dining table. "I didn't expect you back so soon."

"Close your eyes —" Daniel settled on Gilles' lap and drew the bag toward him across the table. He hadn't dared open his bag while he'd been alone; superstitious, maybe, but he worried that if he saw it again before Gilles did, it would crumble to dust and blow away. But it was there, snug in the notebook, waiting. "Hold out your hand."

Gilles started to say something, but then shrugged and obediently extended his hand. When Daniel placed the book in his palm, Gilles' eyes flew open.

"What's this now?"

Anxiety and pleasure felt perfectly similar just then, hot and tight and full of wild, constrained hope. "For you," Daniel said. "A present —"

Gilles bent over the book, opening it with thumb and forefinger, and Daniel could feel him holding his breath, his jaw tightening as he paged through it. He went back and forth, skipping several pages, then moving back, tracing the borders on the engravings and forming the words of prayers with his lips.

Daniel held his own breath.

"I ought to be very cross with you," Gilles said at last. He looked up, squinting slightly at Daniel. "I ought to lecture you about stealing. Perhaps even raise my voice."

Daniel saw how Gilles held the book — tenderly, almost cradling it, fingers spread to support its leaves. "But you can't."

"No —" Gilles smiled broadly. "No, I can't. Thank you."

Exhaling with more than relief, Daniel kissed Gilles' temple. "You're welcome."

"My recompense is thanks, that's all," Gilles said, encircling Daniel in his arms and kissing the side of his neck. "Yet my good will is great, though the gift small."

Outside, an ambulance hooted its long, sorrowing shriek and Daniel shivered, wondering who was hurt, what tragedy had passed unseen below him.

"No repayment," he started to say, then shifted to lean back against Gilles' forearm. He tilted his head, taking in Gilles' handsome face, the pucker of thought over his nose and creases fanning out from his eyes. Payment, gifts, knowledge: He understood for a moment, felt resolution tremble like water-magic, and held his breath until faith settled through him. "Tell me everything."

"The less you know about me," Gilles said, "the safer you remain."

"Safe from what?" Daniel asked, then realized that Gilles had not said he was safe, only, simply, safer. Comparative, and thus relative.

Gilles circled his hand. "Enemies and danger, of course. You think, what? There are eyes on you for you? For your beauty?"


"Because you're mine."

"I'm not —"

Gilles raised his hand and cupped Daniel's cheek. "You and I know that. But the imaginations of others — those are paltry, impoverished things."

"So they think —" Daniel thought now of Abel's show, the gaudy succession of bodies in Gilles' arms, where the interest and momentum lay in the succession rather than in the individuals. "I'm the latest toy. They still think that."

"Yes. And, further, that I'll heave into tantrum if my toy's snatched from me."

Daniel was silent. Gilles leaned forward, hand sliding around the back of Daniel's neck, thumb rubbing at the hollow over his windpipe. It was threat and promise, and Daniel held still.

"My precious metaphor," he said. "An alien soul, transferred to me, all undeserving. Capable of transformation and great magic, ludicrous were you not so simple. So beautiful. They see you — pretty, lovely boy — and me — decadent old wolf — and they only know the literal."

"They don't like me?" Daniel squeezed his eyes shut at the question's absurdity, the plaintiveness crawling through his voice, but Gilles laughed and kissed his forehead.

"Exactly," Gilles said, smiling widely. "You're not real to them. Nor, I suppose, am I."

"But all your friends — the party —"

"There was no love there. Fear, and a temporary suspension of great dislike."

The roof, the morning after the party: a zone of vanished joy, deserted clamor.

"Joan loves you," Daniel said. "I do."

"You do, yes." Gilles held Daniel's face in both hands, nodding once before kissing him. "More blessed I."

"And, maybe, Mick?"

"Mick is loyal," Gilles said. "That's a very different matter."

Before Daniel could reply, Gilles hooked his arm around Daniel's waist and rose to his feet, letting Daniel slide down his body until his sock-clad feet hit the floor. Gilles took a long, thirsty swallow from his wine, squeezed Daniel's shoulder, and pushed him toward the elevator.

"Two," he said, and handed Daniel the key to the locked floor.

The elevator shook and complained downward and Daniel felt slippery, lighter than paper, clinging to Gilles' hand as he hadn't since they first met.

The heavy door swung open into a vast room. It appeared to occupy the entire second floor and it dazzled Daniel's eyes. Everywhere, there was glass: two levels of long, narrow water tables, folded like intestines into the space. Everything was made of glass — the tables, the tubing that snaked below and along the tables, and through it all, water in motion, glinting and spinning against the glass.

In each table, blood-red flowers with night-black centers floated, their dark roots reaching into water. The roots were wispy, moving with invisible currents. Seen from below, as Daniel blinked and squinted at the glittering array, it seemed as if the flowing water condensed upward, darkening into root-tendrils, then stalks, and finally bursting into bloody blooms.

In the far corner, a bulky figure shuffled slowly, testing taps and tightening the seals on the pipes.

"Mick —" Gilles called and the figure straightened up and moved toward them.

He was dressed like an astronaut, like a beekeeper, like someone visiting an alien and dangerous place. The costume slowed him down, emphasized his thick frame and heavy tread.

Gilles dipped his finger in the nearest tray and held it out for Daniel to taste. Sweet water, honey and allspice and something...else, and Daniel sucked at it eagerly until Gilles pulled away as Mick joined them.

"Holy water," Gilles said. "Delicious to you, but worse than venom for Mick here."

Doffing the helmet, Mick scowled as he nodded. "Superstition and bullshit, that's all."

Gilles made as if to flick the water at Mick, and Mick ducked, cursing, before turning away.

"Dreams, born of flowers," Gilles told Daniel, sweeping his arm around the room. "This is my all, or nearly so. Nearly —" His hand dropped onto the back of Daniel's neck. "And now you know."

Daniel was sure he did not yet know, but he saw. The water shone and pushed upward into poppies, into trembling bloodstains that would be plucked, their seeds bled out, for Gilles' spells and potions.

"You offer water and blood," Daniel said, leaning against Gilles' side, snaking his arm around Gilles' waist.

Gilles palmed the back of Daniel's skull, nails scratching lightly at his scalp, and bent to drop a kiss on the crown. "Tomorrow, this weekend, we'll go to Arden. Stroll the grounds, see the zoo. Would you like that?"

He could be anything, alien and transformative, and Daniel breathed in the poppies' sweetness, the water's spicy mysteries, before going up on tiptoe to kiss Gilles' cheek.

"Anything," he promised. "Give you anything."