Like Knives and Silk

Warning: Language, Descriptions of Violence, and Ghoul-love ahead. If you're not old enough to read this type of language and sexual content, then, please, slap your parents for buying a Mature-rated video game for you. Really, they should be paying more attention to these kind of things.

There was something about the way he was sitting that just got to me. Burrowed under my skin and sat there, sinking claws in deeper with every breath I took.

His arm was stretched to the side, fingers wrapped around a beer bottle on the table, lazily holding it as if the table wasn't doing a good enough job of keeping it upright. He was slumped down, just a little, legs spread, getting comfortable. He hadn't moved much in the last hour. I think he enjoys his time to relax.

But, God, the more scotch I get in me, the more it burrows into me, this thing. It gets me right in the gut and crawls all around my back and shoulders, right up my spine with a shiver. I can't shake all the words that are floating up into my head. Different strings of sentences, but all with the same intention.

This thing, this tiny beast that mocks me, keeps the thoughts in my head, keeps the words right on the tip of my tongue. The more scotch I get in me, the harder it is to keep from saying it.

My guns have been cleaned and set aside. My boots are by the door. My jacket is hanging somewhere.

I feel helpless without supplies strapped to my back. It might just be food or scrap metal, but the weight makes me feel covered, safe. It's too unfamiliar to be just me sans weapons. Three months ago, I didn't like the feel of a pistol in my hand. Tonight, I rub my fingers together, wishing for the familiar weight of a rifle, cold metal warmed beneath my touch, and the thin, yellowing cloth around the barrel for grip.

I'm jumpy, most times. Here in Megaton, it's easiest to feel safe and take a night to really rest, but it's still not easy.

It's hard to remember what it felt like to be naïve to this world. Before I knew what it was like to squeeze a trigger. Before I killed that first raider with multiple, erratic 10 millimeter shots to the chest, then fell to the ground vomiting. Just looking at his glassy eyes and bloody chest, and knowing I was the reason his heart wasn't beating, I couldn't stop crying for near an hour and kept heaving long after there was nothing left to puke up.

Now, I can pick one off with a single shot to the head, and strip the corpse of gear without a second thought. It's scary sometimes to realize the vast gap between who you were and who you are.

He looks at me and I look at him. There's not much going on. He can look at me with an expression that says he doesn't expect me to say anything. I never expect him to say anything.

Goddamn, the more scotch I get in me, the worse off I'm going to be. Easy to keep your trap shut when you're sober. Easy to push everything aside on the Wastes. So frigging easy to look away, clean the assault rifle and go to sleep, singing la la la in my head so I don't think of what I try to think of.

It's dim in here. Not many places with good lighting that I've seen anyway. I like it, though. Makes this place a little more homey. Gives everything this coating – nothing is really clear so you can imagine that time is moving a little slower and you have license to venture things you normally wouldn't. Or maybe that's the booze.

I've never been much of a woman. Most people, I think, look at me like the androgynous hero. I have this shaggy short hair and I'm a walking arsenal. Not exactly feminine qualities. I've told stories that impress Jericho. I intimidate most men I meet. And most of the time, I just feel like a person, not a woman in particular.

But that's just how I am. I don't much think of myself when someone's looking at me, asking for help. I melt. I melt into them and become their will. The 'me' in me disappears and it's just a body on autopilot aiming the barrel of a .44 rifle between a mutie's eyes, no thought of me, no self-interested debate about whether or not I feel like a proper woman at the time.

So maybe, I think, that's why he's getting to me like this. Why this thing is creeping into me harder and deeper and the more scotch I get into me, the stronger it grows.

Maybe, the more androgynous I try to become, the more woman I yearn to be, even if only in the briefest moments when I'm on my own. That's why he gets to me. I need someone who's more man than the rest of these wasteland assholes to make me feel like a woman.

And the more scotch I get in me, the more I pay attention to every small movement his fingers make, slowly tightening around the beer bottle every time he gets ready to take a sip. And the more I study the frown on his face. The way his thigh muscles tense as he shifts his feet, ever so slightly.

It gets into me – watching him do just about anything. Cleaning his shotgun – the small, practiced movements his digits make as they disassemble and retool the weapon.

God, I'm left with too much time to watch him. And too little courage to say shit about it.

His trigger finger drums on his thigh and it only draws my attention to the leather over his legs and the regions just north. The familiar buckles and straps holding on additional armor and gear have been discarded on the table, and the leather suit half-unziped and pushed down around his waist. The black tee-shirt underneath is tight, and how sick is it that I just want to slide it up to see what's underneath.

I want to tell myself it's the scotch talking, but I also, so very badly, want him to really make me feel like a woman.

I want to tell myself it's just my loneliness and not him, but it's not the way he looks but all of him. Too often I'm left alone with this man – tall, strong, protective. Sometimes I feel like I could smell the testosterone if I got close enough. Maybe it smells like brahmin leather and gun powder.

The more scotch I get into me, the more lust builds up inside. And it's not some impish little creature sent to tempt me. It's not the booze or the loneliness. It's him, pure and simple. It's his quiet consideration. It's the brutish honesty. It's his rough manner and it's the man beneath the decay.

It used to intimidate me, but somehow with each day and each night, it's easier to see through the layers to the human inside.

One way or another we all have some level of decay going on, mental or physical. It's more about what's left than what's lost. Much like this world, it's about salvaging the humanity beneath the rubble.

"Hand me another beer?" he asks. Some sounds are so loud when you've been quiet so long. My mind is slow and every syllable is potent – the rasp of his voice is somehow melodic. How crazy would he think I was if he knew how his voice could do such things to me? I rise to reach his outstretched hand, and he places the lip of the bottle against the table edge, using his fist on the top to pop the cap.

I'm still standing, and I just can't make myself sit down. The words kill. They run through my head again and again and again, but I don't know which ones are right and which ones are moronic and awkward. I don't think my head will ever stop swimming until I say something. I don't know how much longer I can hold it in, and the more scotch I get into me, the less I remember why it's important to keep it to myself.

Briefly, I recall that it's because he probably doesn't think of me that way. I'm the gangly tomboy thing that holds his contract. Never a woman. Never strictly friends. I'm a job and a kid and a young girl, if that. Even if, I'm not old or experienced enough to be a woman.

And yet, and yet. The lust and booze that clouds my mind tells me that I can ride along on instinct, if I just really listen to myself. For many things, society ingrains in us this feeling where we judge our attempts on other people and focus on inexperience. Long nights when I couldn't do anything but imagine, it slowly became clear that if you listen carefully to your instincts, you're better off than you think.

Before I'm done deciding if it's a bad idea or not, I swing my leg over his and sit astride his lap. He doesn't move – still has one arm hanging beside him, and the other on the new beer bottle. For a moment, I realize what I'm doing and freeze – lean in a little, but pause, reconsidering, debating, wondering what to do or how to do it. He just waits to see what I'm doing to do.

Finally I'm able to say fuck it, I'm on top of him already, might as well do what I came to do. Vaguely I notice that my one hand is gripping the sleeve of his shirt for dear life, and then my lips are over his. They're thin and dry, and still cold from the last sip of beer. Taste like it too. And, God, my stomach is turning flip flops.

He makes the smallest kind of reciprocation, probably out of instinct more than want.

For a moment, I savor the feel of his body – every place we're touching – because I'm sure that I'll be climbing off and apologizing within the next minute.

I pull back to check his reaction, but his expression is still vague.

"I..." I begin but don't know what in the hell to say. He's looking over my shoulder at the wall. I know it. I knew it. Why do I let myself do things I know I shouldn't do? "So...uh... Are you just sitting there because you want me to get off or because you're wondering why?"

He doesn't say anything for a long moment so I begin to stand, but he places a warm hand on my thigh and I stop.

"I'm... just not used to providing these kind of... favors."

I let out a deep exhalation. "It's not..." I begin but my voice cracks. "It's not... a favor." God, all this time, there was a subtle idea that if I just went about it in the right way, he'd have as much passion as I did. You'd think after however many years – I assume – he'd be... full of pent up feelings, right?

And with this much scotch in me, his hand on my leg is driving me crazy even though he probably just put it there absentmindedly. Every breath I feel him take is maddening, and I just want to hold onto him tight and feel his heartbeat.

"Then...?" he begins, his eyes meeting my own for just a second then darting back over my shoulder.

"I..." All those fucking words that were racing around my head were suddenly gone. The only thing that vaguely entered my thoughts was the phrase 'I love you' but I didn't want to say that because I don't know what love is and I don't want to fall in love like this. I want to love someone in the make a home and settle down kind of way, but I have no intentions of ever settling down. I just want to roam the Wastes here, finding any kind of people I can help, killing as many muties and Talon mercs as I can before that day I stop getting lucky enough to survive.

Some people, I've decided, aren't meant to have their own lives, just sacrifice for the good of others. Most of the time I'm okay with that because it makes me truly happy, and I just remembered that's why I shouldn't have been climbing into his lap.

But I don't want to say it and I'm sure he doesn't want to hear it, because even if he felt remotely the same, I don't think he wants to deal with that. Or think I'm just getting overly excited and applying a misnomer to my feelings. He'd probably just laugh.

"I couldn't help it," I finally mutter. "I'm sorry. I'm just... really attracted to you." Although his eyebrows are all but gone, the muscles underneath scrunch together in thought. Obviously that was nowhere near any answer he expected. "It's you... not just that you're here right now and convenient, but you, all the time, wherever we are." I think I surprised him into looking at me, because he's suddenly studying my eyes.

There's something behind those cloudy eyes that makes me wonder if the lack of response was only a learned defense mechanism – a way to keep himself at an arm's length if I was just toying with him.

"You know me," I said. "I don't use people for my personal benefit, right? Charon, think about it. You know I wouldn't do something like this if I wasn't sincere."

"Well, I think you're cooped up too much. You're just lonely."

"No," I said in a hoarse little whisper. His words knocked the wind right out of me. It hurts that he thinks I'm just a confused little kid. I feel so small and defeated. Tears begin to burn in my eyes, but I blink them back.

I should have just sat myself back in my chair. I never should have attempted this because it's not as bad to lust as it is to feel this heartbroken. My chest is painfully tight and it hurts to breathe.

He notices how red my eyes are and looks away again. "Hey, don't do that," he says, even while not looking at me. "You just don't know what you're in for."

I frown. "You know, they gave us the talk in the vault too."

"No," he says, shifting under me. "I mean this isn't going to be what you've probably built it up to be. You're going to regret it."

"You don't know that." I'm so tired of him looking away so I tilt his chin up toward me. "Look," I say once his eyes are on mine. "I've thought about it a lot, and the choice is all up to me. You don't have to protect me right now. What I want to know – what I need to know – is what you think about this."

This time he doesn't look away. After a deep breath he says, "I think you're fucking crazy."

So much for the smooth seduction I had had in mind. I move to pull myself away from him and retreat to my room where I can cry in peace, but his hand is on my neck and he pulls me back, kissing me hard. His other hand moves to my back and urges me to press my chest against his.

The contact is electric. Every touch is suddenly rough, fueled by years of frustration. I knew it. I knew it was there. I just had to light the fuse and boom, fire and passion.

I grab his hand from my neck and press it to my breast. He groans into my mouth and squeezes me. God, with this scotch in me it feels like heaven, and the rough vibrations of his voice against my lips and tongue causes me to whimper.

His hands tighten on my breast and back when I let out that little sound and he presses his lips to mine harder.

I never liked having my jacket off much. The feeling of air against my arms and chest made me feel bare and self-conscious. But still, this thought doesn't stop me as I strip off the tanktop and unhook my bra with only the briefest struggle. I have a moment of panic as I realize what I'm doing, but his eyes are wide and his mouth parted as he looks at me, and I don't feel so bad about myself as he's awe-struck.

He touches me again, gently this time, but stops. "This is your last chance to change your mind before I can't stop," he says. The implication of the loss of all control drives me mad and I feel a rush of heat through my core.

"Don't stop," I tell him. "Please don't stop."

When we're out on the wastes, he's quiet. Rarely says a thing, but throw a merc our way and he's spewing every swear word and threat he can think of. Sometimes I would wonder what was wrong with me when the idea of this side of him excited me. He was killing, but it didn't stir me. Me, the saint. All I saw was the side of him he wraps up. The side of him he lets out when he's not paying attention. Full of passion.

Light the fuse, and boom, fire.

So I guess it doesn't surprise me when he lets go. When he knocks the wind out of me as my back hits the wall and his chest is pressed up so hard against mine. In a dull way, it hurts, but in a greater sense it feels so fucking good.

My mind is reeling with the pain and pleasure and his hot mouth on my neck and the freezing cold metal against my back, the softness of his cotton shirt and the friction burn the leather gives me on the insides of my thighs.

I would have never imagined I would like it, but he grabs my ass firm, then pulls his hand back and smacks it. All I could do was gasp as he held me. The sharp pain where he made contact suddenly melted to soothing heat. I'm completely helpless, pinned to the wall, my legs around his waist, and I love it.

There's something about being on the Wastes that most people living in settlements probably don't get to experience. There's a death hanging around. It's danger and loss and grief and pestilence and hate. It's a sickness floating around with the radiation.

No matter how many good things I do, and no matter how pure my actions are, there's an infected part of me, a tiny spark of sickness. The part of me that begins to lust when I watch him kill.

He turns to me when it's over, after everyone else is dead, wipes the blood from his brow and sheathes his knife. He looks at me and we understand it. It's that lull after when we feel the sickness burning out there. It's what makes us do this. What has infected everyone else out there. We brave it together, and we keep each other somewhat sane.

He's taking me up the stairs and he has to go slow because I'm tugging at his shirt all the while. I'm trying so hard to control myself so he can balance, but it's just so hard to do.

Alone, on the wastes I felt the world begin to tear at me. Many nights I wanted to break down and cry for the whole world and all the pain. I never made an immoral decision, but the sickness made me wonder what would happen if I did – how easy it would be to get away with it. And I wondered if the only thing stopping me was my sense of morals, and I wondered if the consequences were real or imagined. Is it truly bad to hurt someone, or is it the devastating look in their eyes and my own inability to tolerate it that make it so? The wastes tried so hard to swallow me up, whispered to me to turn my pain into anger, harden myself to the plight of others.

And without him I was so lonely and without respite.

He sets me on the bed and is on top of me in one fluid motion, never breaking the ever-more addictive contact. The mattress is bare and the frame is rusted and creaky. Really, it's two beds pushed together to make one. One thing we have in common is that we're both jumpy, even in Megaton, so when we sleep here, I'm against the far wall and he's on the edge, in between any real or perceived danger and me. There's enough room so that we could always call it decent or platonic or in the interests of protection, but, God, those few feet were the bane of my existence.

And now, that's what I think of – long nights awake and dwelling on how close we were – as he strips the last of the leather off, with some difficulty.

It's hard to reconcile this man – this passion-filled, rough man – with the stoic ghoul that watched over the Ninth Circle all those weeks ago. When Ahzrukhal told me I could buy him, the saint in me could neither find the strength to use force on the slaver (essentially, he was) or to leave it be as a harsh reality of the wastes. I sat and counted out the caps, unsurprisingly came very short, and headed downstairs to sell off as many supplies as I could bear to part with.

In many ways, it started in from that first meeting, in a blinding explosion of light and skull fragments. The stoicism was eclipsed by a humanity, and a need, however brutish, to bring justice. I was shaking, just a dull kind of shiver because of the unexpectedness and the close proximity of a human life exploding against the wall, but as we left Underworld, there was some sense of a soul that understood – that could feel what I was feeling – because he did what I had truly wanted to do.

With so little between us, it's easy to feel every bit of him that is pressed against me. I'm running my hands over every muscle in his back, and there's only a thin cotton shirt stopping our skin from making contact. I'm excited and I'm terrified. It's the feeling you get when you fire a new gun for the first time in a firefight. You don't know what the merc or the mutie is going to do, you're hiding behind a thin barrier and it's the weapon in your hands that determines whether you live or you take a bullet in the eye. You line up your shot, and it's the moment before you fire when you don't know how it aims or how much it's going to kick back into your shoulder or how far you can be from your target before the bullet can arc enough to miss and you can't remember how many shots you can fire before you hear a hollow click and the chamber is empty.

In this way, I'm terrified of what's underneath. I don't know what's going to happen, but it's going to happen regardless. I don't know how much skin he really has left underneath, but really it doesn't matter.

When he's walking back to me after a fight, there's an electricity between us. The bloodlust that is called up by our sickness, the adrenaline after the battle, being so close to death that we finally understand what being alive means. All this, most people we encounter couldn't understand. What we share, only two people who do what we do can know.

Oftentimes, there's no one I'd rather be with than Charon. Sometimes I don't feel all that comfortable with people who don't understand.

So we are comrades and friends, employer and employee, guardian and child, man and woman. We are so many things to each other that it's difficult to articulate how I feel about him. It's never as simple as a one word answer. Every moment holds a different combination of contrasting feelings, so really, it's a thousand shades of grey.

We are equals. I have power over him. He has power over me. Never a static plane, only a revolving orbit of power struggles.

Many times, in this lull of sickness and murder and shame, I want him to hold me. I want him to hold me and reassure me that it was necessary. That the killing is a means to an end, and hopefully a better end. That by ending one person, another better one can live. That this sickness isn't terminal. With every cell in my body buzzing with activity and I can truly feel the life-providing power of every thump of my heart, and every lungful of air is a gift and a miracle, I want him to hold me and tell me that he understands.

But I don't ask, and I know what he sees. He sees my eyes, red around the rims but without tears, and my jaw set, and he sees a young girl who is trying so hard not to feel anything anymore.

The things he's doing to me, I can hardly believe. The way he's touching me is driving me insane and I have to grip the sheet underneath me hard. Using this feeling to cloud my apprehensions and bolster my courage, I grab his shirt and pull it up as far as it will go. He pulls the shirt over his head and I let my hands wander as they please.

There's a real sick justice to it all. Ideally, I should be able to talk my way through anything. Ideally, no one ever dies. But things rarely go according to plan.

He has a way with justice sometimes. Not in the way that I would handle it, but underneath, I think he does good. He blew away Roy Phillips just like he did Ahzrukhal when we realized what he had done to Tenpenny Tower. After all the time I spent talking it out for him, he just wastes the whole building. And then Charon wasted him. He had muttered on our way out that the bastard gave other ghouls a bad name.

It was violent, and it was full of rage, but there was a sadness in his eyes that he held back. A real sense that it affected him.

I want to ask him sometimes, if the fight in him is his way of taking out the rage and powerlessness that builds up inside, the explosion of raw emotion just a way of channeling the pain so it doesn't kill him. But I don't. I never ask him. I think about it, but then I clean my rifle instead. I think I know the answer anyway.

I'd probably end up the same way if the only power I got to have was the power to take life away. This is what good looks like when it's beat into submission.

He's so good at hiding the feeling behind his eyes. How you take it away is almost foreign to me, for no expression on your face can truly hide what your eyes give away. It takes so much to hide your eyes. When he thinks I'm not looking, there's sympathy in his eyes for a slave. There is rage behind the expressionless face when a ghoul is called sub-human. There's a good smoldering beneath, I know it. He's just so good at keeping it inside.

When we were alone on the Mall, he smiled at me, a true smile, though I'm not sure if he knows that I saw him. But he smiled out of pride for me. For the good I had done. He laughs when we joke, and he grins when I make a fool of myself, but amusement and pride are very different. That I laid it all down for a handful of slaves in Paradise Falls and walked them days across the waste and downtown to the Lincoln Memorial was almost a given for me, but for him that kind of saintliness was a fairytale. Not a sickening sugar-coated child-like whimsy, but a genuine care for those that many people consider less worth it.

Every bit of praise I've ever heard meant nothing next to that smile.

And when I stop in the middle of everything to pick up scrap metal, carefully tucking it away for those in Underworld, there's affection in his eyes. When we just stop to drop it off and rest before running out again, he's amazed when I get sidetracked with Winthrop, trying to fix the water pipes that keep bursting.

It almost seems fitting, the violence. Just a little bit of an outlet to help us cope with the rage and the pain and the helplessness.

And in a brilliant moment of realization, there's a sense that you can't know the whole of things without knowing both good and evil, and it's the good in me that can recognize the difference between the two. In the vault I was a child saint, but poor in the perception of reality. Idealism only sets you up for failure. Though some might say that the world needs good people like the kid I was, it's tough to want to go back. I cannot, and not for lack of trying, choose ignorance or innocence, both being pretty much the same thing.

There are, in this order, the bad, the good, and those that know the whole of both.

Knowing both, the saint in me imagines, would be disastrous. It would mean evil. It would mean corruption. That there was evil in my heart would mean the end of me and my worth. The saint in me would self-destruct sooner than know a taste of evil. The saint in me was a martyr and a fool.

His hands are rough with callouses but I like the feeling on my skin.

All this time, I've worried this. That the evil would consume me. That the sickness was progressive - once you catch it, you're done for. That I was slowly becoming that which I fought against.

But, like when you're pinned against a wall with no ammo just waiting for that last explosion and then the feeling of death or blood or both, then a kind voice says 'open your eyes' and instead of blowing your head off, they offer a hand to help you up, like this is the feeling that I have. The feeling like I'm waiting for this evil to devour my beating heart, but it never comes. And I don't think it will.

I guess the saint in me was wrong. I think that knowledge of the bad and being consumed by it are different things. Maybe you need to understand it to truly face off against it.

It's a much sadder picture of the world. Where I used to see a spark of good in everyone, I see the tiny flame of sickness instead. Behind the sincerity and the smiles and the vibrant beauty of their lives and love, far deeper than even they can see, there's a small little flicker. It's in the grey ones and the good ones and it was always within me.

Because of this, it's easier and easier to see what kind of fuel it'll take to blaze them up. It's easy to see the exact split where my father could have taken my mother's death as a desire to finish what she had started and cultivate everything she loved, or to destroy her memory and everything reminiscent of her, to hate the world that killed her, and to hate the child that took her life.

It's not about being contaminated with the sickness, it's about diagnosing and treating it.

I think there's a comfort between the two of us. A trust. A non-verbal agreement that until now made it okay for minor touches to be had without apologetics. When there was a threat, he could grab my wrist rather than whisper to me without having to say sorry or feel me recoil at the touch. I loved it though. I loved feeling the worn leather glove and warm fingertips around my forearm. Any touch was welcome.

And he was free to tell me when my plans were horseshit, and he let me ramble about whatever I was on about on any particular day, even if it were things I wouldn't tell my father or Amata.

So when we let go with one another, there's not another thought to censoring what we're thinking. Whatever our bodies crave, we do. Whatever words our brain strings together, we say.

"Tell me you want me," he rasps into my ear, desperately, like he really needs to hear it. With all he's doing to me, I can't help but gasp out the phrase, in full honesty.

"Tell me how bad you want me."

"Oh God, pl...ease. I can hardly stand it. I want you so... much."

"Tell me," he says, pressing harder in the perfect spot. "What you want me to do to you."

I gasp at the touch before I can speak. "I want... I want you inside me."

This sickness that burns us down, we have to fight it. It's caught our humanity in it's flame and we must stomp it out. Barring that, we must control it. We can't let the sickness wash over us when so few people are doing anything good.

Before, I thought that given the chance, people would do good, and those that didn't just needed to be helped. Now I know that the good choice is a difficult one for many people, and maybe that makes it better. Being good for the sake of being good just seems arbitrary. Doing good despite your best judgment, now that's courage. Blindly running in is stupidity, not bravery. Knowing the risk and knowing how easy it would be to walk away, but running in anyway, that is heroic.

It's not temptation or a streak of evil, it's just understanding the options. I'm never tempted to walk away anymore, but I know that I can, and I know that many people would. And I know that I want to do good, which is the most important trait of all.

In many situations, it's one thing to know the right thing to say, and it's another to know why it is the right thing to say. And in many ways, I'm not there yet because I only know what to say in my head, playing it out, or revising the conversation hours later.

It hurts like I thought it would. Feels completely foreign and my body half doesn't know what to make of the feeling. He bites down on my shoulder and groans. I'm still trying to figure out what this feeling is supposed to feel like but his ragged breathing is making it harder to dislike it.

Right in my ear, he says, "Holy fuck..."

He stays where he is and looks at me to gage my reaction. I bite my lip, unsure of what to do. His eyes plead and beg, but he's trying not to give that away. He pushes himself up, guides my hand between us and urges me to pleasure myself. Slowly, he begins to move against me.

For every burn I sustain, and every part of my soul that is torn to shreds in this world, his touch heals me, and his eyes take away the pain. Every bit of hurt in my heart vanishes, but also makes it burn hotter, white hot, all at once. Because when we look at each other, we see ourselves clearly at the same time. There's a lot of happiness and pain in my heart all jumbled up together, like knives and silk rolling around inside. There are many things that can't be totally explained in words, like the feeling I get when I see the whole of him and the whole of myself all at once. It's a bigger and deeper feeling than words, with many layers on top of one another, like a chaos of voices talking over each other – like hearing so many at once it just becomes noise but also hearing and understanding each of the thousand voices at the same time.

Like thinking of a million colors in a second, all on top of one another and distinct but indistinct.

Holding two completely contradictory ideas at once – a paradox and a symphony. Like the literal, there's pain and pleasure and hot and cold and unity and loneliness and fear and comfort.

And because of all this, I feel like my heart has stopped, and there's a long beat where there's no room in my lungs for any air. Every process in my body is hanging on hold. It's a long moment where my head is filled with every thought ever thought and absolutely nothing at all, both at the same time.

The terrible and the beautiful between us is among everything. It's what I feel for myself, and for him, and for the world. I don't think that there can be such a thing as beautiful without the tragedy. I think they hold each other up.

But these are the thoughts I'd expect to run through the mind of someone my age. Lots of confusion, the cold truth of reality, the remnants of a blissfully ignorant childhood, the who am I problem. Really, I think at least, it doesn't matter who I am, just who I want to be. I have to ask my dad when I visit him at the Jefferson Memorial next, if love is just supposed to be like this – because we were always told it's happy and wonderful, and they never tell you that when you see every beauty someone possesses, you see their mortality too – their beauty and their tragedy.

My life is death and injustice and lust. That's what it boils down to. Every literal and figurative meaning for each. Emotional deadening, physical death. Lust for justice, lust for knowledge, lust for this man. And even through the haze of booze and the buzzing of my incessant thoughts, there's a real burning heat running through me like I've never felt before. Vaguely, I realize that my toes are curled so hard they hurt, and he's making beautiful, primal noises I've only heard in my fantasies.

And in this moment, my worlds collide and if I don't love him, then I'm pretty sure love is impossible. But love sounds so flowery and there's not much skipping through meadows and holding hands in our future. It's more like we share the burden of the wasteland horrors, and we battle the sickness together. It's a dark kind of love and a sad kind of love.

My life is everything my father wished to shelter me from.

Every vibration of his voice against my ear is heaven, especially with this feeling running through me.

For a moment, he remains where he is, face nestled into my neck, much of his weight on me, and I hold him there, because every moment where we're close enough to melt together is astounding. Suddenly, it's very clear how finite our time together is.

Soon, too soon, he pushes himself off and lies beside me.

"I warned you," he says.

"You warned me I'd regret it, not that you'd fuck me senseless."

He stares up at the ceiling for a long time. "The way you are – I thought you'd expect slow and sweet. I don't do slow and sweet."

"I'd be an idiot if I thought you would."

"You going to be okay?" he asks, his fingers brushing over my thigh.

"Yeah. Kind of hurts just a little, but after a few more times it'll be comfortable."

"A few more times?"

I sit up a little and raise an eyebrow. "If you think you're going to do those amazing things to me and then never touch me again I might have to fire you."

"Christ, I'm still in shock that a pure little saint like you likes taking it like that. Forgive me if it takes longer to grasp that someone like you even allows me to touch her."

Someone like me. The way he says it, I can't tell if he means a young woman he lusts for or a standoffish bitch. I think he's saying what I was thinking about him – that sometimes you build someone up as unattainable and it never occurs that they might need your touch as much as you need theirs.

"Don't talk like that," I tell him. "Don't make it out to be like I 'allowed' you to do anything. I wasn't 'allowing.' I was begging and pleading for it."

He closed his eyes and a small smile stretched his lips, as if he were reminiscing about it already.

I take in the expression for a moment. It's hard to see the ghoul, and it's easy to see the man right now. It's moments like this where he forgets.

"There's no one in the world I would rather be with right now than you," I say, finally something close to 'the right thing.' He just looks at me for a moment as if trying to truly figure the statement out. "There's a lot of things I want to try to say to you. Just so many things."

"Hey, listen," he says to me. "Anything worth saying can be said without words."

This he says to the queen of the long-winded explanation.

I laugh. "Well I don't really work that way, so I'll just try to put it succinctly. One: we both promise to keep each other sane. Two: I promise to never use your contract to my advantage. And Three: you promise to fuck me like you own me."

He gives me a devilish smile. "Now that's love."

In many ways, he's the literal to my metaphorical. Underneath his decay, he's more good than he cares to admit. Underneath mine, I hope I'm still the good person I want to be. As long as he's around, I think I can do it.