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Skyglass: Chapter 14 (final)

Buy the complete novel: ebook | paperback (coming fall 2016)

Crackle

MOSS

My room was dark, but not like a box. It felt open. There was a forest on the soul-paint–murky around us, but thinning out toward a moonlit meadow or silver fog or gentle dawn. Marko and I faced each other just inside the threshold: making brief eye contact, looking away, locking gazes again, then breaking down under the tension and glancing anywhere that wasn’t each other or the bed. After a long moment, he curled his fingers around the edge of my shirt and pulled lightly.

“Are you sure?” he whispered.

I nodded.

“Can I–” he started to ask, but I cut him off.

“Stop asking, Marko. Please. Unless you want something really weird, I’m gonna say yes, so just–fuck me. Okay?”

My breath caught when he didn’t move, when he just stared at me blankly–had I said something wrong?

But then he murmured, “Okay,” and slipped my shirt inside out and over my head. He bent and pressed his face against my throat, his mouth and teeth against my clavicle. My hands ran down his flanks ’til I found the waistband of his pants; I followed it around to the front so I could press both palms against him.

Marko moaned, hot breath panting against my skin. He grabbed my ass and thrust us together at the hips, trapping my hands between us as he edged me toward the bed. The mattress sank beneath our weight; he fit a leg between mine and bent low, flattening his tongue against the left side of my ribcage, running it up to my throat–I choked and pushed toward him, trying to find his hips, his heat. He mouthed the skin behind my ear, slipped down to my throat again, his mouth slick and warm and sharp. I clenched my teeth, my fingers digging and digging into his shoulder.

I took a deep breath, let it out, took another, let it out.

I didn’t want to mess this up. It had been a slow build–it had taken years to get here–but Marko was the first person I’d ever really wanted. Any other attempt I’d made had been out of a sense of obligation. I’m with you. You want this. I should want this. But I never had–not really. This time, though, I did. I wanted it. I couldn’t quite grasp why–safety? Intimacy? The end of the story? A cycle? Or maybe this was just how it worked for me: I found someone who didn’t push me, who had my back. Someone I could trust with my wounds. We got close. Now I wanted to get closer.

“Hey.”

I blinked. Marko was watching me.

“What?” I breathed.

“You went away for a second there. You know we can stop. Any time you want.”

“Sorry, I–” I shook my head. I was thinking too much. I wasn’t here to think.

I sat up and forced Marko onto his back, his neck and shoulders taut as he hung from the bed’s edge. I laughed, breathless, when I spread my legs so I could seat myself across his hips and he whined at the pressure. I snagged his shirt in a hand; the brown skin beneath was darker with blue shadow.

“Mind if I ruin your shirt?” I asked.

He pulled himself up a little, the muscles across his stomach defined and shifting. “Wha–? No, go ahead.”

“Good.” I put a hand flat on his chest and pushed him back down. He fell back with a laugh, letting his arms fall and hang bent and loose over his head. I grabbed his boot knife; it was sharp enough that his shirt parted in one slice. The blade clicked back into its sheath when I replaced it.

Next, I opened up his pants, slid them down along with his boxers.

“Moss,” he moaned, as the heat of my breath touched him. “You don’t…”

But I want to. Marko cursed loudly; I could feel the strain of his body as he kept himself from thrusting. I liked the way he fought against himself, how badly he wanted me.

I retreated and spat saliva before it ran from my mouth. He sat up and stared at me, dazed, hair everywhere around his head and across his face. “That…felt good,” he said, smiling as he brushed back his mane and tossed the scraps of his shirt into a corner. I shook my head, and waited to see what came next.

He spread a hand and put it against my face. “You are beautiful. You know that, right?”

I shook my head again, and he just sighed, a little sadly. “Are you ready?” he asked.

Air hitched in my throat. Was I? Still, I nodded.

“We’ll go slow,” he promised, leaning in to kiss me. Then he stood briefly to kick off his pants and boots. He beckoned to me. When I was before him, he reached down and undid my pants for me; he pushed the heavy, tight cloth down my hips, but stopped when he saw I was wearing exactly nothing beneath.

“Damn it, Moss,” he muttered, resting his chin against my head for a moment, before helping me step from my pants.

“Phoenix made me wear them for the show. Nothing would fit under.” I could barely breathe. My mouth felt dry now–I wondered what I looked like to him. How could it be any different from what I saw every day in the mirror? I turned away from him, the line of my mouth breaking as my resolve collapsed. The want remained, but it didn’t make sense. I didn’t get why he wanted me. Me. I’d weathered so much of my own piss and still it all came down to this. Why had I eaten tonight? I felt sick, I felt heavy like lead–

“–do you want to stop?”

Marko was talking. I resisted the gravity of dread and forced myself to meet his eyes. The need I’d seen there minutes before was gone–of course it was, of course, because he was Marko, he was nice and good–now replaced by concern.

Boneless and too vulnerable to want anything else, I crawled beneath the covers and curled up on my side. The mattress shifted as Marko sat on the far corner of the bed. I could feel him watching me. “Should I go?” he asked.

No, I wanted to say. I didn’t. But don’t you? I wanted to ask.

Again, the mattress moved. He came closer. “What’s wrong?”

“Are you lying?” I finally managed to force out.

“Wha–?”

“I don’t want to be fucked out of pity.”

“I don’t pity you, Moss. I love you. And I want to fuck you. You’re so fucking gorgeous I can hardly stand it.”

My head pounded, trying to reconcile the idea of me and beauty.

He moved even closer, this time near enough that he could put a hand on my shoulder. “Moss,” he murmured. Then, more insistently, “Moss,” as he found my hand and held it tightly. “You are beautiful, and rotting hot, and I really want to fuck you.”

I sighed, and finally let my body loosen. Marko didn’t lie like this. If he said he wanted me, he did. I bit my lip and grabbed Phoenix’s gift from beneath the pillow. It was inside a small bag of felted wool.

“Uh,” I began, not sure how to explain.

“What?”

I let out a long breath. “Phoenix made something for us. She…said it might help me. To relax. I’m just…not quite sure what it is. Exactly.”

He nodded slowly. He released my hand and held his out, palm open. “Show me,” he said, smiling.

I dumped out the bag’s contents; two round spheres rolled onto his palm. They looked a little like the earth once had, eddies and warped stratum of blue and white–but deeper in color. Marko laughed a little, and nudged one of the beads. “It’s an edible ancillary Blowup–you’ve never heard of them?”

I shook my head.

His grin went crooked. “Guess I’m not surprised. They don’t really hide or block out anything. Just enhance the experience, you know? You could say they lubricate the process, if you wanna be lewd.”

“Which I do,” I muttered, refraining from grabbing them back and hurling them across the room.

He pressed a kiss to my shoulder. “I’ll do it if you do. For what it’s worth, I think they might help.”

“You don’t think she did anything…weird to them, do you?”

Marko frowned for a moment, but shook his head. “Phoenix is…wild, but she really does care about you, Moss. I don’t think she’d do anything that mean. ’Least not your first time.”

I handed him a bead, then tossed the other into my mouth. Marko joined me under the covers as I settled back down.

Just having him close was almost enough to center me, but then the opening notes of Fallin’s album Rain Season on the Edge of the World caught me up in its jilted, downward-spilling chord progression. It was like I’d been sonically possessed, with melodies overrunning my body and relaxing my limbs.

Phoenix…

I let myself slip back against Marko’s chest; I reached behind and guided one of his hands down my chest, down my belly; he gripped me and stroked until I was moving with the certain rhythm of his hand, stretching back my head, exposing it for his mouth. My relief was strange and sudden when he kissed me there.

Fallin continued through all my senses, accompanied by the soft growl of distant thunder that ran a pleasant, shivering current through the mattress and along the walls. It was all in my head, but I didn’t care. Leaves and rain blew down from a misty ceiling, dissolving when they brushed across our skin.

“Want you,” Marko breathed against the back of my neck, cuddling impossibly closer.

“Guess it’s that time,” I laughed, amused at how he somehow managed to be both incredibly sweet and aroused all at once. Glad he made me feel comfortable enough to laugh.

***

Gradually, the rain stopped. Fallin’s wretched melodies dwindled.

Marko wiped us clean with the sheet and tossed it on the ground. I considered getting up to shower, but moving sounded like too much work. All I really wanted was to sprawl myself across his chest and sleep, and maybe not wake up for a week. Things weren’t going to be like this forever, but right then, I wanted his sturdiness–the guarantee of his presence, a reassurance that he’d still be there when I woke the next morning.

He didn’t speak–he just kissed my forehead goodnight (a gesture I smirked at), flopped back all head-loll and spread-eagle, and drew me to his side. He couldn’t stop smiling. I closed my eyes and hoped absently that I wouldn’t drool all over him in my sleep.

I didn’t know how long I slept there, but when I woke, something was wrong.

I couldn’t tell what it was at first, but after listening, I realized it was the silence. The stillness. There was too much of it. Marko’s breathing was too quiet and his chest was motionless and tense.

“Mark?”

No response, which was odd. I knew he was awake.

“Marko?”

If I hadn’t been listening so intensely, I would have missed his sigh. “I woke you,” he said.

“You weren’t moving.”

“Yeah.”

I grimaced. What had gone wrong? He’d been so blissed-out when I’d closed my eyes.

“Are you okay?”

“No.”

I blinked, surprised at the immediacy of his reply. Quiet, but without hesitance. So unlike him. I pushed myself up. Marko was on his back, stare fixed on the ceiling until he met my gaze when I pressed our palms together.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. He was worrying me.

He frowned. “I think I should go.”

“What do you mean?”

“It hurts too much.”

That hurt. I wanted to look away, but I didn’t. I forced myself to stay steady. How many times had he held stable for me?

“Go on,” I said softly.

His smile was small and weak, but I was still happy to see it. “I’ve lived my life looking for someone,” he said. “And then I find him. Again and again. Always different, but still him, you know? And then I… Everything goes wrong.”

I wanted to tell him there’s nothing wrong with this. But I couldn’t. It wasn’t so simple as that.

“Nothing with me was your fault,” I murmured instead. He hadn’t admitted it outright, but it wasn’t hard to see that he was struggling with guilt.

“But it always ends,” he said. His breathing was unsteady and each word sounded strained and jumpy–like he was holding back tears. “A different person every time, but I’m the constant. How can it not be me?”

I shrugged, helpless. I was way out of my depth.

“Maybe I just fall too hard.” His smile was gone, but his hand closed on mine. “But you were worth it. You were the first one who didn’t break my arm or cheat on me or die on me.”

I shifted, abruptly nervous. I still made myself talk. “I…was close to dying. More than a couple times there.”

“But you didn’t.”

“Only because of you.” I glared at Marko, willing him to believe.

“Fuck.” He squeezed his eyes shut, releasing my hand as he rolled away from me, curled on his side with his arms wrapped around his stomach. I reached forward hesitantly and ran my fingers through the hair at his temple.

“If you hadn’t been there for me, I…don’t think I’d be here right now.” I sighed and drew back my hand. “Nothing’s ever going to be right or the same, but you kept me from dying and that’s a lot.”

After a long silence, Marko relaxed a little and turned onto his back again. “Thank you.” He laughed. It wasn’t a happy sound, and his face was wet now. “It must seem stupid to you,” he said. “That I’m so fucked up just from having sex.”

I tightened my jaw. “After all the piss I’ve been dealing with,” I mumbled, “of course I don’t think that’s stupid.”

Marko’s mouth tightened, but he didn’t answer. A little knot of anxiety twisted in my gut.

“Was I…bad?” I asked quietly.

“No,” he grunted, tensing under my touch. “No, don’t think that. It’s not that at all.”

“Then I was…good?”

“The sex was really good. That’s the problem, though.” He quieted for a moment, and all I could do was wait for him to gather his thoughts.

“I’ve had a lot of sex in my life, Moss,” he said at last. “But I don’t fuck at random. I want a connection with whoever I’m with–that’s what makes sex good. The feeling that there’s something more. And I think there is something more between you and me, it’s just not quite what I want.” He rubbed his face with his hands, then kept them there, hiding his eyes. “I thought I was okay with that. I am okay with that, but I’m also…not. I can’t do it anymore. I’m not strong enough.”

I pulled his hands away from his face, gently as I could. “You’re plenty strong, Mark.” He took a breath, then slowly got out of bed and gathered his pants and boots. At the door, he paused and turned back to me.

“You are really fucking gorgeous, Moss. And I love you. I’ll see you in the morning.”

I smiled–despite myself, despite the tragedy of it all–as the door shut behind him.

***

It was early morning when I woke next, according to the time-sensitive soul-paint across the walls. My com was screaming at me from somewhere on the floor. I lurched out of bed and stomped around, cursing, until I found my pants and dug the com out of a back pocket.

Phoenix. Of course. Before I could ignore the call, though, the ringing stopped, and was abruptly replaced by my housemate screaming words of impending doom. I held the shaking, yelling com further from my face and cursed Zinn, who was probably to blame for that little sew-up.

“This is a message for all members of Skyglass not aboard the Pixilikker–and anyone connected to Skyglass that they might currently be fucking. I, Phoenix–the fire-spirited popup prodigy of devastating splendor and supreme wit–have hijacked the ship, along with everything in it. If you want to keep your gear or any humanoids you may have left on board, please return ASAP, and join me on a raging and spontaneous tour of the galaxy. That’s all, hope to see you soon–and when I say you, I’m talking to you, Moss. Get your ass back here, with or without Marko’s cock attached. Your choice. I don’t care. GOODBYE.”

I tried muting the sound, because after GOODBYE, the message began to cycle again–but it kept blathering on. I tried ending the call so I could get in touch with Marko, but my com ignored any attempt I made. I will really, truly kill Zinn the next time I see him.

After wrapping my com in a bunch of dirty clothes, I threw it and the rest of my belongings in my bag, struggled into yesterday’s clothes, and headed to Marko’s room. He didn’t answer when I rapped on the door, but it was unlocked, so I went in.

He wasn’t inside–but his com was, spewing out Phoenix’s repeated message to his rumpled bed and the scattered contents of his pack. I cursed and headed for the Pixilikker. Maybe he was already on board? It seemed unlikely, but where else was I going to look?

There weren’t many people out and about at that hour on Midmoon, but I pulled up my hood anyway; I was far from in the mood for an encounter with a band of raving poppers or a murder of crows. The docking terminal, with its transparent vaulted ceiling, was dim and golden when I reached it. The hall echoed beautifully in its emptiness. I slowed to a stop just before reaching the Pixilikker’s bay; I clapped once and smiled at the cathedral ricochet of sound. I was half-tempted to unload my drums in there and spend the rest of the day playing. Instead, I tilted back my head and stared past the ExTOP’s pearlescent neons to the faint starpricks beyond.

“You like it up here, don’t you?”

I didn’t startle at the interruption; Marko’s voice was too familiar.

I took a deep breath and faced him. “Yeah,” I said. “Things aren’t so heavy as they are down below.”

Marko was still disheveled from bed–hair soft around his face, a little dazed-looking. He had a cup of what smelled like coffee in one hand and a sealed bottle of whiskey in the other. He set the bottle on the floor and held the cup out to me.

“Coffee,” he said. I watched his shoulders faintly rise and fall with his deep, slow breaths. They shivered every time he couldn’t quite get the air in right. I took the cup with a soft thank you.

Marko was putting up a good front, trying his best not to collapse in front of me, but it wasn’t enough. I’d never seen him so raw or fragile as he’d been last night…or now.

I gripped the cup of coffee, but didn’t drink from it. “You aren’t coming with us, are you?”

He shook his head slowly. “I want to,” he offered.

I smiled wanly. “I want you to, too–”

“Don’t. Please.”

I swallowed. I knew better than that. He would come with me if I asked and that was probably the worse thing I could do to him right then. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay. When do you think you’ll be back?”

“Weeks?” I tried. “Months?” A year, I thought–hoped–but I didn’t say it out loud. I really did like being up here and had little desire to return to earth any time soon.

“That’s good. For Skyglass and…” He trailed off.

“For you?” I said.

He nodded.

A burst of light flared from the Pixilikker and then Phoenix’s voice echoed through the terminal. “Our time is sweet and precious, Moss. Stop wasting it.

“I think that’s your cue,” Marko said.

I bit my lip. “Okay. I… Bye.”

He nodded again and said something that might have been, “Yeah.” His hand opened and closed once, like he wanted to reach for me, but instead he took a step back.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I headed for the airlock. I felt a panicky nausea grow with each step I made down the tunnel. It felt wrong to leave him so coldly–it didn’t make sense. What we’d built between us, no matter how strange and skewed, had always been warmer, genuine. Especially from him. I dropped my bag and set down the coffee.

He looked confused as I approached him. I gave him a moment to back away, but he didn’t, so I wound my arms around him and pulled us close. Marko’s reaction was immediate; he gripped the cloth of my jacket and squeezed me tightly, bending in toward me so he could bury his face in my hair.

Thank you, I thought, hoping the sentiment leaked through my fingers.

“Gods,” he mumbled, voice muffled by my head. “You smell so good.”

I smiled against his chest. I wouldn’t say it out loud, but I was going to miss this, sometimes.

“Maybe I should come,” he said, second-guessing himself already. I had to fight down the urge to say yes. He sagged against me; I could feel him shaking his head. He kissed my hair and pulled away.

“Take care of yourself, Moss,” he said, folding his arms across his chest, hands gripping his shirt.

Words built in me again, and this time, I let them out.

“You, too, Mark.”

I headed back for the ship, stopping only to grab my stuff. I didn’t turn back a second time.

Proceed to Chapter 14, page 2–>

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