This isn't exactly a stand alone, as it references things that I haven't written yet, but all you need to know is that Setzer and Shadow are business partners of sorts and have slept together at least once in the past when very drunk. It will possibly be incorporated into the longer fic, but I think it runs on a slightly different timeline.
Takes place before 'fall' and possibly in a different timeline from that, as well.
Setzer was sitting by the fire as he often did after a successful night, staring blankly into the flames while shuffling a deck of cards. He had discarded his coat by the door and rolled his shirtsleeves up to the elbows; the black leather of a wrist sheath stood out in stark relief against the gambler's skin.
Shadow sat beside the little table and sharpened his knives, watching Setzer watching the fire. It was late- it was always late when they got back from a night playing the tables. Most nights ended like this, Shadow watching Setzer watching the fire until the sun threatened the horizon and they stretched out on opposite sides of the bed to lie awake in awkward silence while the walls of the dingy little third rate inn closed around them. This looked to be another one of those nights.
Sometimes it was different; sometimes Setzer would leave the casino and head for a bar or another inn with a pretty whore on either arm instead of returning to their room with its sometimes-awkward silences. He would come back before sunrise, reeking of sweat and sex and alcohol and fall asleep in his chair in front of the fire. After the first time, Shadow had watched the other man wake up in the afternoon with lines of pain etched deep into his face; Setzer had walked with a limp for the rest of the day. Ever since then, he waited until Setzer fell asleep before putting him to bed, ignoring the scent of drunken debauchery that clung to him.
Most nights were like this, though. Setzer shuffled and re-shuffled the cards, making them dance and disappear between his long, slender fingers. Magician's hands; they could make cards and coins disappear in the blink of an eye and call them back into existence with a snap. Shadow watched those hands and remembered through a dim, drunken haze exactly what else those magician's hands could do.
It was strange that they'd ended up together again, despite what had happened. A card flicked into the fire with enough force to embed itself in a log before the flames consumed it. Ace of spades. Maybe it wasn't so strange, after all; between the two of them they had the market cornered on poker faces. He'd come a long way from card sharking, but that wasn't what they did, not exactly.
Setzer didn't cheat- that was the remarkable thing. His poker face was a smile, one that encompassed his whole face and spread to include the whole of the room; the cards, the players, the universe. But he didn't cheat, and his wins were spectacular and his smile never flagged.
Most of the time Shadow simply watched Setzer work his magic on at the tables. Sometimes they would both play, and Shadow would force up the betting while Setzer pulled in the money; sometimes their roles were reversed to give Setzer more opportunities to work the crowds. Shadow lost, sometimes; Setzer never let him cheat. Setzer always won. It wasn't really a scam or a con; it was Setzer's way of alleviating the boredom and he was never entirely sure what to call it. It was dancing with Lady Luck and keeping a step ahead of the music.
It was almost like magic, only magic was dead and Setzer just grinned like a skull when questioned.
He wasn't grinning now, though, which was something of a relief. Another card joined the first in the blaze; two of hearts. Shadow didn't trust men who smiled or women who pouted- which meant that he didn't trust Setzer any further than he could throw a yeti because Setzer smiled and pouted enough for either sex.
Setzer continued to not smile, and his expression turned inwards, brooding. The jack of clubs sent up a shower of sparks before curling into ash. Setzer blinked, a brief, startled expression flitting across his face. This was new. This was different.
Shadow liked routines; they'd kept him alive in the past. Get up, feed the dog, sharpen the knives, stretch, run through katas, eat (he always forgot that one), move on. Never stay in the same place for more than a day or two, and never deviate from the pattern. Travel became monotonous- just another routine. Occasionally a job would interrupt, but even that irregularity had a certain rhythm to it; take the money, find the man, kill the man, move on. No need to stick around for thanks- the one time he did that, it landed him on a floating island, half dead and without his dog.
He'd lost the dog again. That was new, too. Everything was new. New world, new routine, new partner- and Setzer was alien, didn't know the meaning of routine and didn't seem to want to learn. At least Setzer would have the courtesy to kill himself without Shadow's help, if it came to that. Shadow doubted it would, but the thought was some comfort.
The ace of hearts didn't fly true; it flipped sideways in the air and fluttered into the fire like a dying bird. Setzer stood suddenly, and his face might have gone paler at the movement, but how could you tell? His eyelids flickered unsteadily, an almost-blink of pain. Shadow watched him, hands still and silent around knife and whetstone.
Setzer was silent, and that too, was something new. He was often silent after a good night, filling a quota of quietness that lasted him until they went out again, and then there was no shutting him up. But this was a different quiet, an unnerving, dead silence. Normally the quiet was a laughing one, filled with satisfied smiles and the clink of coins until the lamps were dimmed and the awkwardness settled in.
He began undressing, and Shadow pointedly ignored every pale inch of skin being presented and tightened his grip on the whetstone. There was a spark of desire there, low and bright, and that was new, as well. It was one thing to want, but it was another thing completely to take, even if it was being offered freely.
Shadow didn't trust things that were given freely. There was always a catch, and the more tempting the offer the worse the hidden consequences. It was a nonsensical desire, really. If it was a warm body he wanted, there were plenty of more willing and more beautiful ones in the bars and casinos, The thought of bedding a whore was as distasteful as it had ever been- and there were just as many boys as girls to choose from. Both were equally detestable. So why the strange and alien want for a man, a pale, self-proclaimed unnatural freak?
It was frustrating. There was no logic to it, and what could he trust if not logic? Shadow had grown too out of touch with his emotions to place any trust in them.
It was a weakness, and he doubted he could afford the consequences. "Partners, then. We can work the rubes for money and be honest thieves. I want you as a friend, if nothing else, and I'll not touch you again- unless you change your mind." His mind had never been made up in the first place.
Madness. Sheer madness. He looked down at the knife in his hands and wondered what blood would look like against that skin that had clearly seen more than enough of its own blood spilled. In the neat black and white world he lived in, it always came down to the same choices: possess or destroy. His carefully crafted middle ground was sliding away beneath his feet and he was searching for a third option.
Setzer wore a robe to sleep in, a huge, bulky, warm garment. It was cold at night, and Setzer shivered in his sleep- but then, he shivered in the warm air of their room when the fire blazed, thin skin providing little insulation for delicate bones. He looked tiny and bird-like wrapped up in his robe as he sat before the single grimy mirror and began to brush his hair.
Shadow placed his tools to the side and crossed the room silently. Setzer met his eyes in the mirror. The gambler was tired, his fingers loose around the brush.
It was surreal, for the one man to sit still and quiet like a girl while the other brushed and braided his hair like a dour nursemaid. The spark of want did not go away though, and if anything, the feel of thick, brittle hair between his fingers only fanned it higher.
His hands were trembling, and Setzer was smiling. It was a small, tired smile- perhaps the only real smile Shadow had ever seen.
"It's cold tonight." The gambler's voice was light, conversational. Shadow did not point out that Setzer was always cold, and that the fire was burning so high he could feel it's oppressive heat from across the room.
"Yes." He tied off the braid with a length of black ribbon. Setzer looked younger with his hair back. Shadow traced a scar on the back of his neck with a fascinated sort of intensity. He did not see Setzer's smile widen. "You're quiet tonight. Quieter than usual."
"Don't strain yourself." The slightly biting retort was a reflex, something to fill the spaces in conversation.
"Oh! So funny, truly, ha. I can barely contain my laughter. Your grasp of the hilarious leaves me breathless."
Neither of them was smiling. Shadow's hands settled around Setzer's neck; they felt comfortable there. Setzer tucked a stray tendril of hair behind his ear and said nothing.
His thumb traced the edge of Setzer's jaw line, gently, and he tiled Setzer's head back so their lips could meet in an upside down kiss.
Normally he would have been angry at the rejection, but something of Setzer's mood had infected him as well. He sat on the edge of the bed, feeling slightly numb. Setzer turned in the chair, his eyes dark.
"We do this my way, and you don't get to change your mind. Either you want me or you don't- nothing in between. Do you understand?"
Shadow scowled. Words were never his strength, and this would require words. "I don't understand you at all." That would probably always be true. "But I know what I want." The what was easy; it was the why that always tripped him. Don't make me choose. Choices led to death.
Setzer nodded, hearing the words that Shadow did not know how to say. "I see. I don't want to worry about waking up with a knife in my throat. I don't need you to suddenly decide that I'm not what you want. You and I can be lovers, or we can be partners; being both at once will be much harder, and if that won't work for you, it's one or the other and you have to choose now."
He wondered, for a moment, what Setzer would do with him if they weren't partners. It didn't matter. "I want you." He was sure of that. Don't make me choose. That would always remain the same, and he did not need to figure out why.
Setzer raised an eyebrow. "All of me?"
He wasn't sure of the details after that; the rest of the night was a series of moments. There was a moment where the back of his head hit the pillows, and a moment where his shirt fell to the floor in a crinkle of silk. The next moment was all Setzer and his magician's hands, and an infinity of deliciously bared skin.
At some point they were both naked beneath the sheets, and his hands were clutching narrow shoulder blades as his legs spread wantonly and then there was nothing but pain and pleasure and endless warmth.
They fell asleep curled around each other, and the silence between their syncopated breathing wasn't at all awkward.
Shadow woke up to sunlight slanting through the window with tendrils of silvery hair tickling his nose. Setzer's head was tucked beneath his chin, one slender arm trapped between their bodies and the other draped lazily across his waist. Shadow was alarmingly sober.
This wasn't a bad thing. He closed his eyes again and examined that thought. This wasn't a bad thing, at all.
It was something he could get used to, certainly.
"I was thinking..."
He didn't jump. He wasn't going to let Setzer know he'd been caught off guard.
"Did it hurt?"
He could feel Setzer smirking against his chest as the gambler's arm reached lower. "Does this hurt?"
Bastard. Shadow growled low in his throat, and captured the offending hand in his own. He was sore. But again, there was no need to let Setzer know that.
"Touchy. Having second thoughts?"
The gambler was entirely too talkative most of the time, particularly for someone so worried about waking up with a knife in his throat. He had much less to say with Shadow's tongue in his mouth.
"I'll take that as a no, then?" Setzer was smiling again. "That's good. That's very good." His hands stroked long, aimless patterns across Shadow's back. "I wouldn't have to talk for the both of us if you actually spoke occasionally, you know."
He had a point. "Sorry."
The gambler laughed, the corners of his eyes turning up around the edges. "Worth a shot...I was thinking, we should probably move on after tonight. Maybe go to Figaro, or Jidoor. If you still want to continue, that is. Either way, I'll be leaving tomorrow morning. I've been on the ground too long."
"That's fine." He turned over, pinning Setzer beneath him and capturing the gambler's wrists in his hands. "I'll go. Partners, remember?"
"Yes." Setzer's smile was as warm as the rest of him.
It was good.