"So who are you today?"
It was habit now, the first question out of his mouth the moment his roommate returned for the night. Sebastian had no idea why it mattered so much, but it did. Probably because he tended to be different depending on the persona du-jour. More likely because Sebastian felt that the only way to learn anything about the short, intimidating, chocolate haired boy was through these masks. The only way to get to know him at all was through each emulated facet, each moment of pretend. It had been three years already and Sebastian still had no idea who this kid was.
"Francis," his roommate answered matter-of-factly. There would be no more talk of this new face until Sebastian enquired. So he did, as always.
"I borrowed yours this time," Francis winked, throwing off his leather jacket and flopping down onto the bed with a contented sigh. He had a rather obvious love-bite purpling just under his pulse point. "Hope you don't mind."
Sebastian didn't, but he refrained from answering either way. There were more questions to be asked.
"Anything you need me to get you out of?" He started. He asked because it didn't matter the name; his roommate was always getting himself into something. Sebastian never felt particularly allowed to ask what, but nine times out of ten, it wasn't exactly on the right side of the law. Which always required Sebastian's follow up question, "Anything you need me to fix?" It was an open ended offer: a bully to run down, a lover to persuade away, a distraction to handle. A mistake to erase. Francis merely shrugged, throwing his hands behind his head and cracking his neck.
"You mean you can't smell him on me?" Francis glanced at Sebastian out of the corner of his eye, lips quirking up into the grin he'd come to associate with deranged thoughts and perverse fantasy, regardless of persona. It was something no mask could restrain, at least not in the presence of Sebastian. "Surely you can, can't you, Basher?" He stretched out languorously across the bed, hands running first down his chest, then back up, pushing his t-shirt until it sat hiked under his armpits. His eyes fluttered closed; Sebastian's were stuck wide. "As hard as he fucked me, the scent of it all must still be thick and hot and stuck to my skin." Francis' hands dipped low again, fingers inching beneath the waistband of his jeans. "Is it, Basher? Come over here and see."
This wasn't the first time his roommate had returned from a similar venture, but it was certainly the first time he'd put on a fucking show. Sebastian felt the need to look away, knew there was something Francis wasn't saying, something underneath the writhing mess he was portraying that Sebastian was supposed to figure out. It was always a fucking puzzle that Sebastian was supposed to solve, like a test of his skill or his intelligence or his loyalty. But this… Sebastian didn't know what to do with this. So he fell back on the usual, swallowing down the rush of disappointment in himself and ignoring the way his prick strained almost painfully against his own jeans when he turned around.
"Just let me know if he gets clingy," Sebastian mumbled, grabbing his jacket off the hook by their door and storming out. The cackle of amused laughter that accompanied his exit sounded even louder with the door closed.
He went through an entire pack of cigarettes before even bothering to head up to bed.
It was barely a week before his next face, the boy stumbling into the dorms at four in the morning reeking of booze and muttering to himself through a continuous giggle, all under the guise of his newest act. It wasn't unusual for him to change personas so quickly-it was something Sebastian had come to expect at least three times a month-but the drunkenness was rare. Sebastian sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes to regain some semblance of focus.
He prided himself on being able to tell a new face instantly. Be it in his gait or his expressions, it was easy to see when his roommate was putting on a new act, emulating a new style of person. Sebastian liked to think he could do this because he knew the boy so well, but in reality, he didn't know him at all. When he'd first arrived at Uni, he'd been sitting on Sebastian's bed waiting for him, barely allowing for introductions before jumping right in.
"Feel free to call me Davis for now," he'd said, cleaning under his nails with the business end of a butterfly knife. "I'm about to change it, though, so don't go getting used to that one. Boring twat. No help to me at all."
Sebastian had assumed it was an illness at first, some form of multiple personality disorder or schizophrenia, but it turned out to be deeper than that. It turned out to be, both simply and complicatedly, how this boy lived his life. Whatever he needed for any given situation, he had a face for, a personality better equipped than his own; whatever it might have been before it was probably long ago abandoned. So Sebastian learned to recognize the differences, learned to ask the right questions. He learned to be the closest thing his roommate had to a confidant, and he told himself it was good enough.
"So who were you today?"
The boy stopped short, as if he'd forgotten what time it was. Or that he even shared a room with someone. Sebastian considered himself lucky that he hadn't brought someone back with him like he had five times ago. Though, he was hard pressed to believe the kid didn't do anything without one hundred percent intention. Which sometimes made it that much worse.
"Um," his roommate cleared his throat, actually putting a finger to his chin as if in thought. It would have been cute if it hadn't been incredibly unnerving. "Nick," he said finally, taking off his shoes and throwing his denim jacket onto his bed. The move didn't make sense until he was climbing in bed beside Sebastian, nestling into the fraction of space between Sebastian's side and the wall. "I'm gonna sleep here tonight, alright?" Nick had his back to the wall, half his face buried in the pillow already, the other loosely covered by his hand.
Sebastian was torn between wanting to ask his usual questions and folding under the obvious sign that Nick had no desire for them tonight. Whatever he'd been doing wasn't Sebastian's business this time. It was more that than chivalry that had Sebastian carefully removing himself from the bed. That is, until a hand shot out and grabbed his wrist with an accuracy severely contradicting his implied inebriation.
"No," Nick mumbled into the pillow, the hand still grasping Sebastian's wrist leaving that half of his face open for viewing. He looked almost peaceful, eyes closed and lips slightly parted. The word, "Stay," passed through those lips on a whisper that made Sebastian's chest tighten. He swallowed thickly, settling himself back down.
Sebastian didn't manage to fall asleep until an hour before he was supposed to get up. When he finally pried his eyes open, he wasn't surprised to find his roommate already gone. It was hard to say whether or not the denim jacket being left behind meant he'd left Nick behind with it. Sebastian pretended not to hope that it didn't.
Sometimes there were no questions.
Sometimes his roommate would storm in in a fit of rage or a flurry of agitation and mutter, "Don't bother," or, "This one was a bust." Then, without further explanation, and without a word on Sebastian's part, his roommate would storm back out. He never knew where to.
Sebastian hated these weeks most of all, not so much because of the distancing-he would be hard pressed to find his roommate willing to spend more than a few minutes with him at a time during these-but because these were the nameless weeks. Sebastian liked to pretend these little bouts of persona-less annoyance were the closest he'd ever see of his roommate's real face, but that face not only lacked his permission to view it, it also lacked a name.
After the first couple of nameless weeks, Sebastian just started calling him Boss.
"So who were you tonight, then?"
"I was Brent Kenneth walking in, but by the end of the night, everyone was calling me Ace. You can take your pick."
The words were offered with a wink, a smirk, and Ace's outstretched hand. A roll of notes was balanced on the upturned palm. Sebastian eyed it warily, mind bouncing back and forth between drugs, gambling, and prostitution, before finally he allowed himself a question he didn't normally ask.
"Where'd all this come from?"
Ace rolled his eyes, but there was amusement there. "I didn't do anything too untoward, Bastian." The nickname wasn't new, but it was interchangeable with many, Bastian being the one he tended to use during his darker facades. Usually it was Basher or Seb, occasionally Sebby, though that one made Sebastian feel like a child, not that he'd ever complain. "Just a couple of black-market stints, nothing to worry about."
When Sebastian didn't take the money right away, Ace groaned, tossing the wad of bills on his bed. Sebastian couldn't resist. "What's it for?" he asked as he picked it up, unrolled it, and flipped through the stack to get a general idea of how much was inside. It was mostly hundred quid notes and looked to be around twenty thousand pounds.
"It's for that gun you wanted," Ace said simply, as if he hadn't just offered to buy Sebastian a fifteen thousand pound, AS50 semi-automatic sniper rifle. Ace chuckled darkly, stretching an arm over his head as he added, "Consider it an early Christmas present." Sebastian nearly gaped, until he remembered that, no matter what face he hid behind, nothing came for free in these situations.
"Am I going to need it for something?"
Ace cocked his head to the side, the corner of his mouth tugging into something that seemed almost genuine. Before Sebastian could get a good read on it, however, Ace turned away, shrugging out of his coat and hanging it up.
"I found you a couple of sellers but I didn't know which specs you wanted," he said as if Sebastian hadn't spoken. Ace didn't even bother with a final glance at him before climbing into bed. "Just make sure it's bought before New Year's."
Coming back from breaks was hardest.
It wasn't just the mystery of who his roommate would be when he returned, it was what the separation did to whatever camaraderie they'd managed to part involuntarily, part reluctantly create. Coming back meant leaving whichever versions of his roommate he was familiar with behind and returning to find a whole new slew of faces that, for some reason, no longer trusted him. At least not completely. Which was why, when he returned for their final year at Uni, he was surprised to find that his roommate was already there and waiting. Of course, it wasn't the waiting for him that was surprising so much as the look on his face when Sebastian walked through the door. It was a look he'd never seen before, and it sent a rush of something much like heat to settle in the pit of his stomach.
Sebastian cleared his throat, lowering his trunk down at the foot of his bed before asking. "So who are-?" He tried, but the quick shake of the boy's head lodged the words in his throat. Without explanation, his roommate was suddenly across the room, mouth pressing hot and insistently against his own. The back of Sebastian's knees hit the edge of the bed, toppling them both onto it in a mess of limbs and mouths and teeth and tongues.
This wasn't the first time he'd been at the brunt end of his roommate's frustrations, but it had never been like this, never before words could be spoken and names could be given and the brunette could explain what it meant. Maybe not in detail, but enough for Sebastian to understand what was to be gained by it. This was messy and without purpose, and even Sebastian's attempt to call him Boss was thwarted by another fierce shake of the head, lips attaching themselves to Sebastian's neck once he was done doing so. It wasn't a nameless week then, which made his reactions even more confusing.
"Just don't say anything," he eventually whispered against Sebastian's neck, running his teeth along the sensitive skin there. "Just don't. Don't call me anything. Don't speak, don't think. I'm no one, understand?" Sebastian nodded, despite the way his stomach lurched against the word, 'no one.'
Cold hands were suddenly pulling at the waistband of Sebastian's trousers, undoing the zip and plunging a hand inside without preamble. Sebastian hissed at the contact, very abruptly aware of how hard he was, how much he wanted this, needed this. As twisted as it was, it didn't matter to him who those hands belonged to at the moment or who they'd belong to by nightfall. There was someone underneath them, an identity beneath the skin that Sebastian had grown attached to, fond of, protective of. Addicted to. It lingered inside somewhere, under the masks, and just knowing that-being allowed to know that-was enough for now.
Though it took a second longer than he would have liked-and while he found it hard to think about much beyond the feel of his room- his friend's hand working a steady rhythm on his cock-he managed to get at the boy's zip with little problem.
"Oh fuck, Tiger…" The words were no more than a breath of air, a moan lingering underneath like an echo, and while the sound sent a fresh spike of heat to his already throbbing prick, it was the nickname that had Sebastian stumbling. It was new, different, not just in the hidden implications Sebastian was too horny to decipher, but in the way it was spoken: soft and needy, desperate and fond. He wanted to hear him say that name again and again, he wanted him to cry out that name so loud that Sebastian could drown in it, go deaf by it. But there was something he wanted even more.
Sebastian chased the mouth back to where he needed it most, capturing kiss bruised lips with renewed hunger. He imagined he could still feel the name Tiger on those lips, wondered what it might taste like to consume it. Sucking the bottom one between his teeth, he began working a rhythm of his own beneath trousers and pants. His hand was steady, his grip sure, and when he felt the hot spill of his friend's orgasm running down his hand-accompanied by the sweet hiss of that name, that fragile, choked off, unexpected declaration-it was enough to push Sebastian over the edge as well.
They lay there for a moment, doing little more than panting against each other and willing their hearts to slow. Sebastian found himself enjoying the heavy, tangible weight of his friend still settled on top of him, enough so for the absence of it a moment later to leave him cold and empty.
"I'm going to go shower," He said, not quite looking Sebastian in the eye. So Sebastian took a leap of faith.
"Want me to join you?"
This time, when the boy finally looked at him, his eyes were blank, his features carefully schooled. He was someone else again, just like that. The smile that followed that stare was almost painful to look at. "Aren't you sweet," he chuckled, grabbing a towel off the rack and heading for the door.
Sebastian almost managed to swallow back the words, almost managed to hold back the bite in them when he couldn't, but they still came out harsh. "Not 'no one' anymore, then?" The question wasn't meant to be literal, they both knew it, and yet, the answer Sebastian received was so offhand, so distanced, it was almost expected.
"How about Richard?" He smirked, as if it didn't matter one way or the other. As if a lot of things didn't.
Appearing at all hours of the night (and sometimes not at all), parading around bruises and teeth marks and scratches on pale skin, wasn't uncommon for his friend. Even poorly concealing the occasional track mark, eyes red rimmed or blown wide, Sebastian had learned to expect. All that and more. But while picking up some damage wasn't unusual during whatever his friend got up to-bruises that needed icing, scrapes that needed bandaging-just the way he was suddenly stumbling into the room was enough to have Sebastian jumping to his feet in a panic.
The boy looked broken, one eye sealed shut and already bruising, bottom lip busted clean open, his expensive looking suit splattered with what Sebastian hoped wasn't all his blood. Sebastian was across the room in an instant. Literally within seconds of getting his hands on trembling shoulders, the boy's knees seemed to give out. Both of them collapsed to the ground, Sebastian using his own body to brace his friend's fall. By the way he groaned in pain when Sebastian touched certain areas hidden by fabric, it was easy to tell he was badly bruised, probably kicked. When he pulled away the buttoned shirt, however, he didn't expect to find splotches of bruising that stretched all the way up both sides, the ribs literally covered with them. He also didn't expect the knife wound.
Sebastian felt his heart beating in his throat, the need to yell at the idiot for not having Sebastian there to protect him only barely outweighed by his need to keep his friend calm, keep him here and safe and present and alive. Most of the wounds were cosmetic, but others were going to need more care than Sebastian felt able to tend to. But that wasn't his choice. It had never been his choice what happened to the person in his lap, whoever he was at the moment. Sebastian chose to focus on that instead; a life line.
"So who are you today, then?" Sebastian asked as steadily as he could, hands working quickly to remove as much clothing from his friend with as little movement as possible.
The answer was part cough, part laugh, which Sebastian took as a good sign. "Jim, I think." And then not a good sign.
"You think?" Sebastian tried to smirk. "That's not like you. Got a last name to go with that, Jim?"
"I haven't decided yet," Jim coughed again, wincing when it apparently tugged at the knife wound, the slit weeping another line of crimson down too pale skin.
"That's gonna need stitches," Sebastian tried to focus, wracking his brain for anything in their dorm he might be able to use. They had antiseptic under the sink and a first aid kit with gauze, but no needle, no thread.
"I'm leaning towards Moriarty," Jim said, as if he hadn't heard Sebastian speak. Though perhaps he hadn't wanted to. "What do you think? Jim Moriarty? It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"
"Sure thing, Jimmy," Sebastian frowned, taking off his own shirt-it was closest-and pushing it against the bleeding gash. Jim gasped, clenching his eyes tight for a moment before settling back down into Sebastian's arms. "But let's focus on you not bleeding out, alright?"
"Jimmy, huh?" Jim laughed, but it was weak and hoarse. "I think I like that too. I'll let you know."
"How about you let me know what you want me to do about your injuries first," Sebastian growled, unable to shake the feeling that Jim didn't want to do anything at all. "Tell me what to do. If you're going to get yourself into shit like this, the least you can do is let me help you." Jim was watching him now, eyes scanning his face as if taking something in, analyzing. So Sebastian kept talking. "If you want to be an idiot, fine, but you're not doing shit like this without some kind of protection next time. You're the one who bought me that fucking rifle. Let me use it."
Jim only stared at him for a moment, and then blinked slowly, methodically, as if reminding himself to. When he finally spoke, his words were amused, but surprised. "Wow, Tiger. I didn't know you cared."
"Fuck you, Jim." Sebastian rolled his eyes, trying not to let the sound of that nickname resonate as deeply as it did before. "Of course you did."
"You're right," Jim chuckled and then coughed. "I did."
"Tell me what you need, and I'll do it." Sebastian pressed. "And then I'll find the fucks who did this to you and shoot them each between the eyes."
"The Sig in my bedside table might be better," Jim smirked. "You know. If you're looking for blood."
Sebastian didn't have to tell him he was. It was written all over his face. As soon as Jim was taken care of, they would be too.
"I have some surgical supplies under my bed," Jim said at last. "I normally patch myself up, but looks like I'm a bit beyond that this go around. Do you mind?"
Sebastian just shook his head, a breath of a laugh escaping past his lips as he carefully propped Jim up against the edge of the bed. There was a needle, thread, alcohol wipes, and bandages inside the kit, all of which Sebastian did his best to utilize correctly. Even so, despite his best efforts, he wasn't surprised whenever Jim hissed in pain or groaned at some unintentional contact.
"It's probably going to scar," Sebastian said once he'd finished off the last line of stitching and cut the thread. Jim smirked.
"Not exactly a doctor in training, I take it?" Jim leaned over and grabbed one of Sebastian's shirts off the floor, working his arms through it and pulling it down over his battered chest with some difficulty. "It's fine. I want it to scar." Sebastian wanted to ask why, but didn't. He knew Jim wouldn't give him an answer anyway. Jim did, however, lean back against the bed and close his eyes, muttering softly. "Jim Moriarty. I think I'll keep it."
Sebastian blinked, thankful that Jim's eyes weren't open to see the moment of surprise that had flitted through them. His voice was thankfully steady. "For good?"
"For now," Jim opened one eye and looked at Sebastian tiredly, almost smiling. "Jim's got a lot to offer. I can tell." Sebastian wasn't given any more than that before Jim's eyes fell closed and his breathing became steady. Sebastian toyed with picking Jim up and lowering him into bed-he'd get a crick in his neck and back if he stayed that way all night-but moving him in his current state seemed even more dangerous. So Sebastian sat himself down next to him and closed his own eyes, crossing his arms over his chest and listening to each quiet inhale/exhale of Jim's breaths.
When their rhythm stuttered for a moment, Sebastian opened his eyes, glancing at Jim just in time to watch his head loll, resting quite intentionally on Sebastian's shoulder. Jim wiggled more completely into Sebastian's side before letting out a soft, only partially pained breath.
"Thanks, Tiger," Jim whispered. Sebastian placed a hand on Jim's knee and squeezed, reply enough for them both.
After graduation-which Sebastian was mildly surprised to see Jim as valedictorian of considering he'd never seen the boy attend a single class-Sebastian accompanied Jim into the world of Criminal Consulting. It hadn't even needed discussing, Sebastian more than willing to follow Jim through all manner of illegalities. Even living together had been expected, Jim having handed Sebastian the keys to their flat within minutes of receiving their degrees.
"For ease of access," Jim had shrugged it off. "I'd prefer to know where you are at all times, in case I need you to kill someone on short notice."
"Of course," Sebastian had nodded, proud of how he managed to keep his grin under wraps as he pocketed the key.
And if, over the years, he heard Jim call him Seb or Bastian or Basher or Sebby, depending on his mood, it was perfectly alright. Because sometimes he also called him Tiger, and sometimes Sebastian still called him Boss, and none of that mattered much at all anymore.
Because at the end of the day, he was always still Jim.