by Lassiter

In Project Mayhem they have no names. They have a kiss-shaped scar on the back of their right hands and no hair, no past, and a dissipating sense of self. They have frustration for the way the world works and resentment at the possibility that they're responsible for it.

The house on Paper Street runs on the exhaust of the exhausted. You can make napalm using simple household items and you can make an army out of people who have nothing to lose.

This is how you raise the dead.

Most of the time, Ricky makes soap, spreads misinformation, and feeds wet breadcrumbs to pigeons on the roofs of Lexus dealerships. Sometimes he beats the shit out of people. If he's supposed to be disturbed by this, well, the bottom line is that he's not. Not really. He knows that Tyler Durden runs a society that's as much as a sham as the one they all ran from. Tyler must have realised that the trick to keeping this society alive is to have no one see this illusion. But Ricky sees past the smoke and mirrors. What surprises him is that he doesn't care that he can see.

The thing is that Ricky knows that life is just a collection of habits. The ache in his body after a fight night is a habit. Seeing the blood trickle out of a wound, pressing your hand against it and smearing skin red when you're trying to pin the other guy to the ground. That's a habit. The heady rush of everything going too fast to think about, the utter confidence in your own purpose of bringing everything crashing to bottom. Organised chaos can be a habit, because the way world works is that it's always easier to criticise.

When you're riding a bike, it's easier to go downhill.

There are habits that leave you cold and dying, and there are habits that remind you you're human, made of flesh and bone and freefuckingwill, and you can make of that whatever you want.

Ricky sees and he stays.

There is nothing left to lose.


The first time he appears in Ricky's bed, it's a mistake.

Ricky pulls off his ski mask and expects to flop down on the mattress and fall asleep. There's already someone there, lying on his side like a zigzag and already asleep. Bent at the knees, bent at the waist, elbows, head tucked forward and obscured by an arm.

Ricky holds on to the upper bunk as he raises his leg and kicks the other man awake. The guy spasms. Clutching his stomach where Ricky kicked him, he groans, "Fuck..."

The first thought through Ricky's mind is why haven't they made you shave your head. He's seen the guy around, bleached hair and angel- faced and all, and it's piqued his curiosity, but there are no questions in Project Mayhem.

What Ricky says is, "You're in my bunk."

"I'm in my bunk, what the fuck."

"No, you're in mine." Ricky nudges him again and the other man curses and smacks his foot away. "Get up."

"Fucking... stop that!" Angel Face rises purposefully and faces Ricky, pushing him backwards and out from between the beds. "Look, okay, my bunk is sixth from the wall." Keeping an iron grip on Ricky's shoulder, he points at the wall, saying, "Look, one, two, three, four, f... Five." He releases his grip and steps away from Ricky, scratching his bleach blond head. "Five."

Ricky raises his eyebrows.

Angel Face concedes, throwing his hands up. "My bad."

Ricky sits down on his bunk and takes off his jumper. He takes off his boots and he hears Angel Face mutter, "You didn't have to fucking kick me, man..."

"I could have shook you awake," says Ricky. "But that would have been too motherly. And who's to say your reflexes wouldn't act up and you'd suddenly punch me in the jaw."

"My reflexes are shit."

"Yeah? So how're you still alive?"

Angel Face shrugs. "Luck. I don't know."

"You believe in luck?"

"Maybe. I believe in coffee," he says, and heads up the stairs. "Sweet dreams."

Because there are no names in Project Mayhem, Ricky doesn't ask him for one. He'll have to stick with this ridiculous moniker until further notice, and there probably won't be any such applicable notice. The newly christened Angel Face trudges heavily up the basement steps, yawning and rubbing his eyes like a child. Ricky tips backwards onto the mattress and in less than ten seconds, he's asleep.


The next night is a fight night. Someone taps Ricky on the shoulder and he automatically steps forward into the ring. That's all people have to do these days. They tap you and you go into the ring without even seeing who it is. A fight's a fight.

Ricky's fighting Angel Face. Angel Face is grinning. Neither of this surprises Ricky.

"Is this about the bed?" asks Ricky, knowing he's being drowned out by the crowd.

Angel Face mouths, "What?"

Ricky lunges at him. His shoulder slams into Angel Face's stomach and they both fall to the floor. It's slippery, already slick with other people's blood and sweat. Angel Face covers Ricky's face with his hand, trying to push him off, and Ricky can feel the wetness against his face. Can smell it. It's going to leave a bloody handprint and they haven't even broken skin.

It's Angel Face who throws the first punch and he doesn't miss.


So they're throwing punches, and at one point, Angel Face scratches Ricky's arm. At another, Ricky almost bites him. Ricky has him pinned to the ground and suddenly Angel Face's fingers are in Ricky's mouth. He tastes salt and sour and he chokes. Ricky feels like hell and if Angel Face feels like hell then that's fucking great. That's the way it's supposed to be.

In the end, Angel Face wins. The crowd roars its approval and Angel Face offers a hand to Ricky, and pulls him up.

Yellow hair stained red. Angel Face is grinning again. Ricky wonders if he grinned through the entire fight. He's pulled into a sweaty embrace and Angel Face's voice in his ear says, "We're even."


Ricky washes off the blood and sweat over the sink in the bathroom and he catches sight of a new bruise in the mirror. It's a dark mark on his clavicle. He remembers the pain of it, the knuckles that pinched the skin against the bone. He leans closer over the mirror, fascinated, fingering the bruise. All his bruises fascinate him.

Ricky thinks that if he holds this one up to the light at a certain angle, it looks like the face of Jesus.


The next fight night, Ricky taps Angel Face's shoulder, and as they step into the ring, Ricky says, "No, we're not."


Things tend towards equilibrium. It would make sense if, over a number of fights, Ricky and Angel Face's fighting evens out so that they're eventually at equal strength and equal speed, and their next fight would go on forever.

There are a number of fights, but this doesn't happen. They fall into a pattern, sure. They recognise each other's grips and swings and dodges and the fights do last longer, but hardly forever. Ricky suspects that each fight is always a little bit longer than the last, but the thought is too trivial to confirm.

Angel Face's fist swings in his periphery and boxes him in the ear. The other fist slugs Ricky below the eye. Ricky goes down.

Ricky goes down and he knows that what's coming next is a flurry of blows and punches. Angel Face is going to sit on top of him and pin his arms to the floor with his knees and punch the fuck out of his face.

This doesn't happen.

Angel Face can say whatever he wants to about his reflexes but he's got a hell of a punch. Things feel like they're rearranging themselves in Ricky's head. His cheek feels like it's going to fall off. All he can see are moving white lights. He holds out his hand protectively and it's a fluke that he catches Angel Face's next punch. It's a fluke. It's the luck Angel Face doesn't know to believe in.

On his knees, Angel Face makes a fist, and Ricky lunges forward and grabs it before it comes down.

All Ricky can see are shivering blurs.

He yanks Angel Face's hand behind his back and Angel Face utters a strangled yelp. Ricky pushes him the floor and Angel Face, all protest and pain, bucks. Ricky loses his balance and he falls, sprawled across Angel Face.

"Fuck," Angel Face gasps out. "Fuck..."

It's like dancing, sort of. They hold each other's hands in a death grip, rolling around on the blood-slicked floor. They can do more damage if they get on with the fist-throwing, but a primal stubbornness has seized them and they refuse to let go, grunting and panting and strained.

Ricky has Angel Face on his back. Angel Face's hands push up, Ricky's push down, and their heads are like the heads in the face-and-vase illusion. Symmetrical. Eyes blazing with intense effort, gritted white teeth showing through parted lips, and warm, uneven breathing. The sweat drips off Ricky's forehead and onto Angel Face's like a fucked up baptism. Angel Face throws him off with a hoarse cry. They start over.

Ricky won't remember which of them says stop. He and Angel Face lie in a tangled heap on the floor, arms and legs criss-crossed, bodies overlapping as they face each other. Their eyes are open but unfocused. Angel Face's forehead rests on Ricky's chin, and Ricky can feel his shallow pants on his neck. He can hear the dull roar of the crowd and, as his eyes focus, he can make out Tyler Durden, the only motionless person in a writhing blob of an audience.

Tyler Durden is smirking.

"Get the fuck off the floor," he orders.

Ricky pretends not to hear. Angel Face pretends not to hear. With their hard-ons pressed against each other's legs, they lie on the floor in their coincidental embrace and wait for the world to stop spinning.


Ricky is the last person to get the shower. This may or may not have been a calculated decision. He waits his turn smoking a cigarette on the porch, staring at nothing in particular and listening to the muffled noise from inside of men still riding the post-fight high. The sweat has seeped into his shirt and never mind whose sweat it is. It's sweat and blood smeared on his skin, absorbed by his shirt, dried by the cool night air. Ricky feels crusty all over and the sleep is already creeping up the back of his eyes.

Inside, some men are cleaning up the soap-making in the kitchen. Some others are in the den with Tyler. (Ricky thinks it's the den; all the rooms look like shit and it's hard to distinguish.) They're fiddling with something he can't quite see. Probably another homework assignment.

The TV is on.

The constant buzz of the house on Paper Street has softened to a murmur and creates the lulling illusion of domesticity.

The showerhead sputters and hacks and vibrates before vomiting slightly brownish water that tastes like rust and various unclassified grime. After his first ever mouthful, Ricky just keeps his mouth shut tight. He used to carry anti-bacterial lotion in his pocket and here he is bathing in dirty water. It's thrilling. Maybe Ricky ought to be worried about the germs and the tetanus if the water seeps into his cuts, but Ricky would say to himself, "Fuck it." He would say to the general populace who carry anti-bacterial lotion in their pockets, "Fuck you."

The water is freezing, but the cold is just another habit.


The house is asleep by the time he's finished. Project Mayhem has shut down for the day. Outside the bathroom, the hallway is one shade away from being lightless. The light comes from an open door on the wall to his left and he makes his way towards it, cautiously, peeks inside. Tyler Durden sits on the edge of the bed, leafing through a tattered Reader's Digest magazine. Ricky can only see the top of his head.

Tyler's body suddenly tenses. There's nothing to indicate this but a slight change in the air that Ricky's instincts, which he thought long dead, pick up. By the time Tyler looks up, the doorway is empty. Hidden a few steps down the stairs, Ricky leans against the wall and watches the light warp and darken as Tyler stands in the doorway. There is a creak, a click, and darkness.

A few lightbulbs from the floor below make vague shapes of the steps and Ricky continues on his way.

The stairs crack like old bones and the basement stairs are worse. None of the monkeys hears a thing, transformed to silhouettes with the onset of dreams. Ricky counts five from the wall.

The second time Angel Face is on Ricky's bed is now.

In the basement at night, shadows are not timid. Ricky only sees the sprawled legs, and from the thighs up he sees a vague silhouette. Black on black with a trace of blond at the top.

"You're in my bunk again," says Ricky.

"Yeah?" says Angel Face, and makes no move to do anything about it.

Ricky steps between the bunks and stands over him, and he realises that they're both shirtless. "I'm not really in the mood to fight you again."

Angel Face turns his head to face Ricky and from this angle, it catches the light better. His expression looks the way his reply sounds. It is an answer and a question and a dare.

"So don't."


The love story is different these days. Boy meets boy. Boy fights boy in a no-holds-barred brawl. Boy... something. No one knows what comes next. This is new.

The love story is different these days because it isn't about love.

You have to move with the times.

Angel Face hooks two fingers onto the waistband of Ricky's trousers and pulls him closer. The next move eludes Ricky. He knows it's not a kiss on the lips because that would be too intimate, too soft and sincere, for this.

Angel Face takes his hand and upon feeling the deep grazes on his palm, he says, "Did I do that?"

"Yes," says Ricky.


"You lied."


"About your reflexes. They aren't shit."

"Well. Thanks."

Angel Face sits up, feet on the floor, hand resting lightly on Ricky's hip, and plants an open-mouthed kiss on his abdomen. Ricky doesn't breathe as Angel Face's tongue applies pressure. He doesn't think anything except that this feels good and he likes it. He doesn't make a noise. He doesn't resist as Angel Face pushes him back on the bed and straddles his hips.

This could have been a snapshot of a fight.

Any second now a fist would come flying out of nowhere and punch out a bicuspid.

This doesn't happen.

Ricky puts his hands on Angel Face's hips, tentatively, warily, like he's waiting for a sudden red light, a protest, an angry voice telling him they wanted black pens not blue. He can barely see Angel Face's expression, shrouded in shadow.

"Fuck..." Ricky whispers hoarsely, barely audible as Angel Face undoes Ricky's pants.

Angel Face holds a finger up to his lips. Shush.

"Pretend whatever you need to," says Angel Face.

Ricky closes his eyes.


In Project Mayhem they have no names, so they have to find other ways of recognition. Touch. And taste.

Ricky can't pretend. Angel Face doesn't feel like a woman. This is a body carved of wood, simultaneously damaged and sustained by a backwards attempt at salvation. Ricky's never been with a woman like that. This is different. All different. The hands on his hips are rough and unmistakable. Ricky is licked and sucked to hardness not by an apathetic high school girlfriend, but by a man who finds his calling in burning down modern society.

He comes, and it's good, and in a vague, detached corner of his consciousness, he can't fucking believe it.

Firm muscles that flex and tense and tastes like rust. Even the taste of a woman's sweat, he thinks, has a different quality. Every time he feels Angel Face's mouth on his skin, Ricky makes a stifled, strangled noise, and whether it's from arousal, dread, or disorientation, he can't even tell. Fingers digging into his side. Teeth biting his nipple. Voices speaking in tongues in his head, a Pavlovian reaction, encouraging destruction.

Later, when Angel Face arches his back, mouth open in a wordless moan, Ricky learns what semen tastes like. Strange yet familiar, salty and distressing as hell. He feels it pooling at the back of his mouth, and, unnerved, he swallows.


Ricky sits at the foot of the bed, feet on the floor, elbows on his knees. He can hear Angel Face putting on pants behind him.

"Hey," says Ricky.


He hesitates, mulling over which question to ask. "Why haven't they made you shave your head?"

"...Tyler likes it."



There are follow-up questions on the tip of Ricky's tongue, but he doesn't give them voice. He doesn't really feel like talking. Angel Face continues dressing, and Ricky feels his mattress move, lightened of weight as Angel Face moves back to his own bed. It's less than two fucking feet away. Fuck that. Fuck that. He should be more than two fucking feet away tonight. Fuck everything.

Ricky rests his head in his hands, subtly blocking his ears so he doesn't have to hear if Angel Face falls asleep immediately or not. A bed creaks across the basement as some random guy rolls over in his sleep but other than that, the night is still.

There are habits that leave you cold and dying, and there are habits that remind you you're human, made of flesh and bone and freefuckingwill, and you can make of that whatever you want. Ricky stares at the floor, making a conscious effort to pretend his tongue is made of stone so he won't taste what he doesn't need to. When he lies back on the mattress, he finds it uncomfortably warm. Ricky wonders if he really can feel every wrinkle in the sheet or if it's just his mind fucking with him.

What Ricky needs to do is to go blank for a while.

This doesn't happen.


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