The Hot Country II: Negotiations
by Gemma Files

"No knives in the bed," the Priest says, pulling the two of them apart at the mouth to do so. Then starts fumbling with Bill's waist before Bill can barely start to form a yea or nay, complaining: "How's this thing come off, and d'yeh never clean it? A man can barely get the buckle apart..."

"Buckle's a trap, a cheat t'get fools close enough to gut--there's a breakaway clasp at the back, near the pouch for the cleaver."

"Design this implement of Hell yer ownself, did yeh?"

"Christ, no; I got no skill for that sort of frippery. Just tutored him who did."

"Ah...there! That's done for yeh, yeh contentious piece of--"

No end to that sentence, though--the Priest just sends the whole tool-belt flying into a corner with a thump and a clatter, same as he done for Bill's battle-cap or his own collar, the long leather coat, the shirt underneath. And they sprawl down together intertwined, back onto the bed itself--soft pallet full of goosedown or such, a frame too sturdy to crack and a wealth of rucked, fine-wove linen sheets. Must be the Priest's usual sleeping-room, Bill guesses, up here in this part of the longhouse he ain't set foot in as yet; sixteen years' worth of unending, ever-healing Hell for the Priest down here in the Hot Country, and this place's the recompense. But then again, as Jesus Almighty knows--and here's yet more proof of it--they sure do take care to sleep, feed and ply you well with drink for some damn reason, in between bouts...

But there's no point to any of this rambling, not with the Priest all big and warm under him like another mattress altogether. Rubbing against each other, hands everywhere, dizzy with it: A thousand unnatural shocks, sparks all up and down like bonfire-spread in a high wind, like Independence Day firecrackers popping close enough to stink and burn. Oh, Holy Lord God King of Hosts, America's Patron, Dagger-lord of Vengeance, Wrath and Ruin to any true Patriot's enemies...

How many times before, exactly, has Bill complained that this so-called Hot Country ain't nearly hot enough? Well, he's burning now: On fire, forever, just like the God-botherers always warned--burning from the inside-out, with not even a sip of water to cool him. With nothing to soothe his fever but more fever still, brought back and back and back once more on the Priest's swooping, punishing, tormentuous mouth.

At least the Priest seems to feel everything just as strongly as Bill does, though, which Bill supposes is a mercy of a sort; 'least he's not the only one in this crazy, sinful transaction being...swept away? Rolled under this huge wave of improbable desire, helpless, like some crab in the tide?

So deep out here, so Goddamned treacherous; nowhere Bill's never been, leastwise not from this particular angle. And the Priest's hard like church-stone against him, making Bill all the harder in return, juicing so his crotch fair swims with it--something to be writhed and beat against, but never to be denied, no more than the hiss-worthy shock of the Priest's lips on Bill's neck, his palm, his cheekbone. This wet, prickly flush running all up and down him in the half-darkness like a plague, exhausting and exciting him all at once.

"You done this before," Bill says, hoarsely, sure it must be true. To which the Priest just smiles, so shameful unashamed--and asks, his hands still busy:

"What's that matter, William, in the moment? Yeh don't like what I'm doing, is that it?"

Bill gasps, gasps again. Manages, finally:

"...don't mind..."

The Priest laughs out loud, a triumphant rumble. "No, and I don't think yeh do, either. Not too much at all, 'f I was to hazard a guess."

And: Aw, you thick Mick bastard bastard bastard...

Back to the latest version of that same endless kiss again, then--the Priest diving tongue-first, in like he got no fear of what Bill might do to him, he just took a mind. And why should he? Time's not finite anymore, not here; nothing's ever just done and over with, permanent-like. Which makes all the terrifying power Bill's ever derived from being willing to kill or die for his principles gone to dust for good, now he's in his own ground sweat and can't do neither.

The Priest's the one what has the experience, down here; Bill's got no maps for this particular territory, none at all. A tree-trunk bulk pressed up close, moustache just as fierce as his own scratching his face-skin, plus those huge hands all over him--maddening in their familiarity, manhandling him like they got a perfect right to. Like the Priest's the victor, which must make him...what? Loser, lost, the lesser man? The--


Bill snarls at the very thought, automatically all on point. But the Priest don't even seem to notice. Just breaks away, husking: "It's foolish--here we are, and yeh won't even doff yer shirt."

"I'm nothin' but scars," Bill replies, without thinking. And sees the obvious blaze up in the Priest's "mild" eyes, turning them in a twinkling to twin blue suns.

"And what d'yeh t'ink I am? Shall I show yez a few?"

He takes Bill's hand, shoves it hard up against the side of his torso, just above the ridge of one hipbone; Bill can feel the place where his first knife went in knitting and pulling against the pads of his fingers, and knows he must be blushing deep red--shameful blood in the face, hectic, like the influenza. Like a moll's when she's caught out, and knows it.

"What's that, then?" The Priest demands. "If yeh remember."

Bill squirms. "That's...a wound."

Moving it east, and dangerously southwards: "And that?"

"...a wound..."

Pulling it up against his breastbone: "And that?"

"That," Bill says, reluctantly, "is a kill."

"So yeh do have some recollection."

Bill snorts, tries to turn aside, refusing to meet the Priest's accusing gaze: As though he could forget, for fuck's sweet sake. But--

The Priest's chest looming wide and hot against his arm, the Priest's heart beating bright and sure and steady under his palm. The Priest glaring down at him, his eyes narrowed holes of sky.

Hands at his shirt-tail, lifting head-ward; Bill snaps and thrashes, desire turned instantly to rage, but the Priest just chuckles at the sight. Keeps on going, up and over, slicking past Bill's hair, his shoulders --the whole tangle of shirt bunching around his upper arms, snaring his fists like a pair of cloth crushers' irons. Bill fights ten times harder at the feel of it, barely managing another snap--cut with a glottal bark of protest--as the Priest presses down full-weight, crushing him into submission. Ordering:

"No, yeh don't bite me, yeh don't dare! Just lie still and take what's finally comin' to you, Bill Cutting--lie still, blast yeh! Lord and Savior, Butcher, but yeh're a difficult bloody creature..."

At the same exact time, meanwhile, Bill snaps back: "Get the hell off me, Paddy! You God-rotting Mick--"

And the Priest slaps him for that, so Bill rears forward, trying in vain to slam brow against brow: Here's a Bristol kiss for ya, pigfuck. Strains to stick his thumb in the Priest's accusatory eye, too, only to have the Priest bend it back, and pin him flat. Gets him down, swoops in to lave the rigid cord of Bill's neck, the insulted knot of one exposed nipple; Bill hisses, twisting. Wanting to do something, or nothing...or just lie there like the Priest said, 'cause it's getting so damn hard to know what best to do, under the circumstances...

But then the Priest's hands are at his waist once more, pulling the other way--and that's instant war.

"What're ya--you, you stop that, Goddamnit! Fuckin' Papist deviant--"

"Now, Bill, there's only the two of us here, each just as guilty of everything we already done together. An' the plain fact is, things'd go far more easy if yeh just let me--"

"Fuck you, Vallon: I ain't no she-he to turn up my heels at no man's pleasure, and you ain't doin' nothin' like-a-wise to me, you take my meaning?"

"D'yeh think that's how I account yeh, after all that's passed between us? I'll do what I like, and you'll like what I do."

"Oh, you don't say. Well, how 'bout I just--"

"--shut up?"

(Not a bad idea, that.)

And then their mouths are grinding together again, Bill's lips already whisker-burnt to a fine, raw fever; he groans out loud, muffled by Priest's tongue, barely able to breathe. Not that the Priest seems like to let him, anytime soon--

You can't die of that, though, can you? Not for real. Not here, anyroad.

A truly terrible refrain, beating in every part of Bill at once: Can't die, can't kill. Can't do nothing but make all the compromises you never would, upside--the ones you were never able, or willing, to even consider. Just go belly-up like a beaten dog, show your most vulnerable side to whoever you feel most...



But: "Safe", hell with that. Ain't no "safe" in this world, or the next. Or--

"This" meaning that world, though, Bill guesses; the world before the Hot Country, wherever it really in located. The world Bill was born and died in, same one he once killed the Priest to rule...

Yet here's the Priest disengaging, still poised above him; must've wrestled Bill's battle-trousers off after all, somehow, during their last tussle, peeling hot leather away like skin and planting himself square between Bill's long legs before Bill had the slightest chance to protest. Angling them both just right at the groin, too, so's they slip and slide together like two leaky pumps--metal-hard, enough to strike sparks or start fires. Enough to burn the whole of the Five Points down, probably, with just one incautious embrace.

The Priest leans close, closer, like he knows Bill ain't like to bite. And tells him, gently--

"Time t'open yourself to me now, William. You know it's only the very least yeh owe me."

And Bill hears himself make some noise issuing up from Hell itself, like a cat with its tail in the grate. Like a cheated child. Like something for nothing. Like it always should've been. Like it is.

The Priest is far too heavy to throw, though, even if he filled himself to the very brim with necessary rage. So Bill falls, instead--backwards, downwards. Flops all his limbs out, loose, and shuts his eyes.

"Just do what you want, you son-of-a-bitch," he says, finally. "Do, and be damned to you."

Says the Priest, leaning in: "We're damned together, then."

But Jesus, he certainly does take his time about the thing itself, like he's trying to be nice to Bill, or something; lining up, positioning them so's he won't bust Bill's still-trapped arms. Then starts rummaging 'round for something in the bedclothes themselves, which spurs Bill to spit out--

"What're you waitin' on? Go 'head and do it, ya pig-fucking Miss Nancy!"

"You'll rip, I do it without--"

"I'll heal," Bill snarls back, without even letting him get close to done. And sees the Priest nod just a little, if grimly; it's true enough, as they both know.

"It don't have to hurt, yeh know."

"Yes it does."

(Just like everything else.)

Anything worth anything, that is. Anything real. Anything...good.

All lined up, so Bill hooks his heel in the small of the Priest's back and pulls, savagely--then howls like a New York alleycat at the result: Rough, intrusive pain, a tearing glide that opens him up like a letter from Hell. But hugs the pain to him nevertheless, 'cause that's the way he wants it--set me on fire, let me burn 'till there's nothing left but ash, please. Please, please, please.

Christ knows, though, the Priest won't help him there.

"My God, but you're something fine," the Priest gasps, all unaware and uncaring in the face of Bill's self-imposed penance--on him, in him, like God's own curse brought to life and set stirring down deep where nothing should ever touch anyone, let alone Bill the fucking Butcher. Sleeking him down the sides with callused palms, spanning and spreading Bill's wiry hips and thrusting further, further, like he's digging for something.

Which he finds at last, and touches, sending a great convulsive pulse of pleasure up Bill's spine. Rippling over him, everywhere at once, rictusing his face and drawing tears: The worst, the best feeling...

Ever. Ever, ever.

Oh, my Jesus God...

"Stop it," Bill hears himself say, panting, and curses his own weakness the very second the words leave his lips. Especially so when the Priest points out:

"Thought yeh wanted it to hurt, or so yez said."

And: I did. I do. I, I, oh...

But Bill's eyes turn upward; right, left, both of 'em, those traitor Hell-gifts. He groans so loud it seems to , as the Priest simply nods.

"Yes, that's right. come on wi' yeh...oh, my poor William. Did you really think you'd escape judgement? That your punishment wouldn't fit your crime? Yeh poor, pitiful, faithless American..."

His Passion, his death-wound times two, times ten, times twenty--this dreadful, glorious skewering, with not even a clean new stab waiting at the end of it. It just goes on and on, and the Priest smiles down at him, infinitely understanding: Condescending Papist shitsack! With his slanting eyes and that smug little curl to his lip, head the size of a fuckin' bull's nuzzling Bill's cheek as the rest of him swells to fit, then beyond; takes Bill in hand and strokes him, gently. Watches Bill shudder, drinking it up like Goddamn Communion wine.

"It's a martyr yeh want t'be," the Priest whispers in his ear, "just like yeh always did. But I'll not give you that satisfaction."

Not that, no. But oh, oh, oh my GOD--

Punishment or reward, the fit's on them both now, for good and all: Bill crying and coming both, and the Priest hugging him, soothing him, gentling him like a kicked dog or a thrown-by child. Cracked open, forgiven, understood in the most embarassing way possible. Excruciating in every sense of the word, good and bad and indifferent.

And then it's a mere heart's flutter later, as the Priest roars his own climax into the side of Bill's neck. They lie there knotted tight, hearts hammering, a hot mess gluing them both together: Blood and spend, possibly in equal parts. Or not.

"Ego absolvo te, William Cutting," the Priest whispers, kissing Bill's sweat-slick forehead. "Go in peace, now."

And: "Go?" Bill repeats, stunned--betrayal ripping through him, up his spine like lightning-strike in the lightning's wake, leaving him weak beyond words or deeds. But the Priest just folds him close, even closer, shushing and tutting him like a five-year-old; the sort of God-bothering, canting tolerance'd boil Bill like a lobster, 'cept that he's far too exhausted to do anything about it but snarl and weep and kick out feebly while the Priest smoothes his hair and kisses him, again and again and again--eyebrow, nose, cheek, lips, parting his teeth deep and stealing what's left of his breath. A profane benediction.

Begging him: "Sssh, Bill, for God's love don't fret yourself: Yeh don't have to tonight--not yet, might be not ever. Not 'till yez want to."

Purgatory's the one you can get out of, Monk McGinn's silent voice reminds him, meanwhile, in one ear; a temptation, or maybe just a threat. But--

I've a raft of paying yet to do, Bill thinks, weirdly cheered by the thought of his own sins' long and colorful parade. And he falls asleep at last, rocked in the Priest's strong arms--slack as a baby, breathing in his one true enemy's scent like balm.

His one, his only. And he the same to the Priest, if he isn't much mistaken.

No, this won't be something can get resolved in a few small encounters, not never: It'll take time, care, politesse. Negotiations.

As Bill the Butcher and Priest Vallon both drift into unconsciousness, the sun rises outside the longhouse. It's another fine Hot Country day. And they sleep well, both of them, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that the rest of their battle will keep...

...'till they wake.


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