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"Come on. You said I could, last night."

"That was only because I had to before you'd let me fuck you."

"A promise is a promise." Ethan tugged him over to the card table under the only decent light in their flat and half-pushed him into the seat. "Don't worry, you'll like it. Let me see your hands."

Ripper surrendered, stretching them out on the table. They were so strong and capable, Ethan thought. Like a craftsman's, always, whether he was casting a spell or smashing a fist into someone's face. The fingers were sturdy, marked with calluses and tiny cuts from the guitar-playing and the fencing and, Janus help them all, the rowing. The sight made Ethan want to just forget about his idea, get down on his knees, and mouth them for hours, but it also made him want to...play. So he slid into the chair at Ripper's left and took the two bottles of polish, purple and gold, from his pocket. He uncapped the first, then laid his own hand across the back of one of Ripper's. "Hold still."

He sniffed at the fumes rising from the bottle before beginning. He had always liked the acrid smell of polish; it was charged with childhood memories, though it had been a long time since he'd had to resort to something so ordinary to get high. He tapped the wand against the mouth of the bottle with care, then bent his head over Ripper's hand. His long hair fell around his face, curtaining off the space in which he worked. He stroked the paint on slowly, every sweep a caress of color. Each nail had to be perfect; only if they were all heartbreakingly beautiful would they be suited to Ripper. And subversive enough--gorgeous hues on those vigorous, virile hands--to make every gesture of his that night a part of Ethan's rite.

Ripper reached out with his other hand and tangled it in his hair, pulling it away so he could see better. "Having fun?"

He wanted to turn his face, nestle it into that hand, but instead he kept his eyes on his task. "Shhhhhh."

Purple meant mystery and royalty, authority and wisdom. Ripper didn't have to understand that. There was so much he didn't understand yet, about himself and about Ethan. He didn't have to know what it meant for Ethan to be able to take that other hand under his and mark it--mark it with his own claims for him, his own claims on him. It was enough for now that he was there, and smiling in that odd way that he sometimes had, serious and rapturous at once. Ethan could hold him in that, if only for the time until the color set.

He recapped the bottle. "Now, don't fidget. You'll smudge it."

"Would that be bad?"

Ripper lifted a hand towards his face, curling his fingers inward, and Ethan suddenly saw himself, his face streaked all over with Ripper's purple, bending to worship--But no. He caught his wrist only just in time, carefully returning his hand to the table. "Just wait."

"I'm not very patient, you know." He brushed a knee against his. "You'd better distract me."

"You can manage. Look at the way they shine." He wanted terribly this time to be quiet with him. They so rarely were quiet. Ripper craved noise, craved excitement, craved action, but the feverish way he pursued them disturbed Ethan sometimes; it made him fear what would happen when they weren't enough to distract him anymore. He had to make him see that it was safe for them to be still together, that Ethan by himself could bring him peace, without the help of the magic or the music or the drugs.

Perhaps Ripper felt the need, too, because he did not object further. They waited in silence under the drowsy light, lost in contemplation of the way it played over the color, until the paint was dry. Then Ethan opened the other bottle. This was the tricky part, where sudden movements could cause problems beyond the aesthetic. But the risk only added zest for him, and what Ripper didn't know wouldn't hurt him. Probably. For this bottle Ethan had a different applicator, finer and more like a paintbrush. He knew these particular runes quite well, but he had never tried to reproduce them on such a small canvas before. However, it was just as always: with each stroke he managed, the brush was more impatient to make the next, soon sliding along as easily as if there were already a groove there to guide it. The trick was not to try to direct the energy now flowing smoothly through his fingers, but simply to yield to it, thus mastering it without a struggle. Ethan was a clever boy; he had learned that lesson some while ago. There were no mishaps as he worked.

When he was done, the runes shone brilliant on Ripper's fingernails. He stared down at them, flexing his fingers slowly and watching the marks shift subtly with each movement of the light. "What did you do?" he asked in a whisper. "I can feel something..."

"I dedicated your hands to chaos for the evening."

Ripper looked at him sharply, and for an instant there was a watchfulness in his eyes which struck deep into Ethan, but then the gold caught his attention again, and his gaze softened into fascination. "What does that mean?"

"That's the beautiful part of it--I can't say for sure. All I know is that you'll do all sorts of strange and wonderful things with those hands tonight, and chaos will be well served by them. Shall we go out and discover what they'll be?"

"Maybe we should stay in and discover them instead," he suggested, sliding his fingers around Ethan's wrist and smiling at him again. A different smile this time, the dangerous one, but brighter than the runes themselves. He did like it, then, whether he said so or not.

"I was thinking that that bit would come later."

"Just now," Ripper purred, tightening his grip, "I don't think it matters what you think."

Ethan suddenly felt as if he'd taken a lungful of the polish fumes. "No...but--But it does matter what chaos does. We mustn't disappoint it."

"All right." He released him and rose, coming around the corner of the table. "So long as you don't disappoint me later."

He still needed to ask. "Are you disappointed now?"

Ripper dragged his fingernails across Ethan's cheekbone, admiring them as he scratched the skin, making Ethan squirm against the power in them. "Not in the least, Ethan. Not in the least."

Chaos, he thought, was a generous master.


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