Friday nights in London, Ethan thought, staring down at the brush in his hand, simply weren't as much fun as they used to be. The city had changed in the most unaccountable ways.
There had been a time when anyone was his for the asking--and most of the time, he didn't even need to ask. In the anonymous encounters in clubs and tearooms and rest stops, he was always the one who received the pleasure. He never had to give a thing, unless he felt like it, and when he did, it wasn't just a quick blowjob he provided, but some kind of charm along with it, to wreak havoc later and please Janus. In the places where they did know each other's names, he still had only to lean back and wait. Lover after lover had fought for the right to be at his side. He'd smiled and sipped the drinks he never paid for and thought that the old books were wrong, that woman's cruelty and inconstancy were nothing compared to what a beautiful and heartless man could achieve. He wasn't, actually, heartless, but no one knew that in the new circles he travelled in, and that was close enough.
Those days were gone now. A great many of the old places were gone, too, but in the few haunts where his kind still flocked, more guiltily now and clutching the little foil packets, the men looked right past him. He had to initiate, to give, to find himself used and discarded in the space of five minutes. Not that he objected to that in itself, but a steady diet of it was tedious. In the parts of the community that had dragged themselves to a bizarre kind of bohemian respectability that made him snigger, the men his age--his age? Impossible--said they were looking for "committed relationships" and kept their gazes fixed on the younger, prettier boys. It would be funny, if it weren't so fucking pathetic.
Rather like him, pretending that it was the city that had changed instead of him, when the truth was perfectly obvious. He was older now. He knew he looked it; the time in prison had not dealt kindly with him. His skin was weathered and he moved stiffly in cold, damp weather, which was almost all London seemed to have to offer those days. But he suspected it was more than that which had changed, more than his beauty which had faded. His brown eyes no longer mocked and scorned the way they once had, the way that had given him an air of unattainability far more than his delicate face and slender body could. He found himself sometimes looking into a mirror and seeing nothing but sheer neediness there. The neediness had, of course, always been present, but dammed into a single pool collecting for one person only. Since Nevada, the dam, it would seem, had cracked, spilling his desperate hunger for anyone who touched him, physically or otherwise, out into the open. No wonder they looked elsewhere. He himself, as a younger man, would only have noticed his current self as a good mark.
A year and a half had been a terribly long time to go with no company except white walls and glass and cold, indifferent machinery.
Ethan put down the brush and the tiny pot, frowning into the glass. It wasn't going to help. A glamor could hide the lines on his face and the limp of his left leg, but nothing could eradicate the look in his eyes. There was only one thing that could take care of that, and he was no closer to getting it than he had ever been, and maybe even further than usual. So he could go out and get nothing but frustrated, or stay home and brood. He was spoiled for choice, he was.
He turned his head. A blond and disgustingly gorgeous young man was leaning vaguely in the doorframe, looking at him with mild, innocent puzzlement. "Hello, Sebastian."
"You've come back. You were gone so long, I didn't think you were ever going to."
"Off seeing the world," he said carelessly. "I've been back six weeks." He was ridiculous these days; he actually felt a faint stab of hurt that his lovely, addled neighbor had failed to notice his return.
"Oh. I was away. With someone."
Of course. Sebastian did have his bills to pay. "And how did that work out for you, hmmm?"
"He wasn't very nice." He drifted partway into the room.
"Did he hurt you?" It gave him a sour pleasure to think that even the pretty boys of the day had to suffer.
"Mm-hm. And then he got tired of it and threw me out." Sebastian sat down in the window and looked blankly out at the industrial wasteland that surrounded them. "So I came back here."
"I see." How lucky he was, to be able to live among moderately-priced rentboys as well as promising young artists and photographers of dubious morals. "And you...dropped by to pay me a visit?" The thought almost warmed his heart.
Ah. So it was that. "And?"
"I thought you might have some more." He fluttered a hand. "Of that...stuff."
Anger, unreasoning, undignified anger; he knew it was pointless and disproportional, but he didn't seem to have any control over it. "What's the matter, don't you have the dosh to pay your dealer?"
Sebastian's eyes were confused. "No. I mean, yes, but...Your stuff, it was just so good, and you always shared before..."
"When I wanted something, Sebastian. I don't want anything now."
"Oh. You never...I mean, we never did it like that, I didn't realize you thought..." He got up. "Sorry, I guess."
The poor boy was entirely right--they had never engaged in a formal exchange of drugs for sex, but rather something more casual, less brutally obvious--but somehow knowing that only made his voice harsher. "Go find yourself another sugar daddy. I'm otherwise occupied."
Sebastian took two steps towards him, hesitant. "Are you all right, Mr. Rayne? You don't look so well."
"I'm fine," he snarled. "Get out of here. And drop the hurt little innocent act," he added as Sebastian jerked back fearfully, then headed for the door. "It doesn't fool anyone."
Sebastian looked back at him, bewildered. "Act? It's not an act..."
...It's who I am. Ethan stopped cold, rage suddenly displaced out of him by something else. "But you could act, couldn't you?"
"Act. For me. For some of that 'stuff' you like so much."
He grew hopeful. "Sure. I guess..."
"Come here, then." He was already scooping the paste out of the pot with the brush. Dark hair, green eyes, broad shoulders...he could do that. Easily. Rather more easily than the boy could play his part, a critical voice in the back of his head pointed out, but he told it to sod off.
"What do you want me to do?" Sebastian asked, standing there passively as he smeared the mixture over his face.
"Just--" He almost choked on it, seeing the familiar features emerging from beneath the goop. "Just act as though you want to be with me. I'm sure you know how to do that." He paused. "And...let me call you Ripper."
He couldn't remake himself, but the city...