King Of Hearts
by Lassiter

Justin thought that maybe it hurt only because it wasn't true.

"I'm the only one who really cares for you," said Richard, into his cellphone, across the front lawn, to Justin himself. From that distance, Justin couldn't see the expression on Richard's face, which was fine. "I'm the only one who really cares for you," said Richard in a voice too proud to fake total sincerity, and what Justin was thinking was, you don't care for me at all.

When it really came down to it, Justin wasn't sure who started it. He could remember the metamorphosis of their relationship, from bully and victim, to grudging respect, to tentative tolerance, and perhaps they did eventually become friends. Sometimes he was sure they were friends, and other times not. Perhaps they bypassed friends altogether and went straight to what they were today, whatever that was. And about the birth of this crime thing, this freedom issue, this murder idea... well. What he could remember of that was Richard's smile, which had always struck Justin as a dangerous kind of smile. He remembered the conversations that skirted around the subject, and Richard's taunts and goads that became increasingly vehement and insulting, pushing Justin into a corner, until Justin found himself detailing the plan aloud, crystallising their vague ideas of ruthless freedom into words. Richard smiled that smile of his, and Justin didn't know whether he came up with this idea by himself or whether Richard had manipulated him towards it.

How the hell Richard did it, and why the hell he did, was something Justin didn't think about, because he didn't like to think of himself as something that could be preyed upon.

Led by the hand.

Pulled by the collar.

Kissed by the light of a dying sun. They had been at the bluff, in the threshold of the balcony. Justin wondered how they looked from inside the room. The shape of their silhouettes and whether they looked like one merged entity or two mismatching jigsaw pieces trying to fit.

They were talking, but that was not the important part. They were always talking. The important part was what always happened when they talked.

Whatever Justin said, no matter how he said it, was a house of cards. Richard knocked it over with a word, a raised eyebrow, an unrelated jibe. It was a game: Richard held as many hearts as he could in his hand and when there was too many, he crushed them into smaller pieces so they'd be easier to hold.

This whole death thing, this crime and freedom issue, this murder idea. Their road to hell was not paved with good intentions. Manipulation and leadership. How synonymous were they? Neither of them would confess to being the prime initiator here. Richard's smile was muted and slippery, and Justin looked into his eyes because that was the last place he wanted to look.

"Blink, Pendleton, it's not a crime."

So Justin blinked and, tired of the condescension on Richard's face, mumbled an excuse and turned to leave. Richard's hand closed around his wrist. Richard wasn't even looking at Justin anymore, but had his eyes fixed on something near the horizon. Justin didn't move back. Richard didn't let go.

"Come on," said Richard, tugging Justin closer.


Richard didn't say anything. Just faced Justin and tucked a lock of hair behind his ear, letting his hand linger. This wasn't new. This touching. This was Man since the dawn of Mankind, asserting himself over what he deemed was his property. Richard was no Midas. Nothing he touched turned to gold. Richard's power was greater than that. What Richard touched became Richard's.

The atmosphere changed, as it does during the build-up of a kiss. Either it goes heavy or it's stretched tight. Once again Richard was smiling, and once again Justin was looking into his eyes because he didn't have the guts to look anywhere else. Justin thought that narcissists have the deepest eyes.

He told himself, "Just another control tactic." He told himself, "A new level of the game."

Richard leaned forward.

Richard leaned forward and hovered, two centimetres away. Someone somewhere had pressed the pause button. Richard's tongue flashed between his lips, as if tasting the air, testing the circumstances. Justin swallowed, which made Richard chuckle: a flash of white teeth, a cracked and husky sound.

The world passed by in calculated slow motion. Richard was controlling time.

Justin could feel Richard's exhalations on his mouth. Richard's lips slightly parted like an invitation, a promise, an inside joke, and in Justin's head, it was already happening. In Justin's head, Richard had already pressed their lips together: warm, soft, and gently pleading. Justin could already feel him tasting his lips and teasing them open with his tongue.

Back in real life, in real time, their noses touched. Their foreheads touched. Richard turned his face slightly to the left so that he was kissing the corner of Justin's mouth. It wasn't a kiss, but that kind of pseudo-kiss that happens when hugs become too intimate and the other person ends up resting their face on yours.

Richard brushed his lips against Justin's cheek. Along his jawline. Maybe that was Richard's tongue darting out to taste, once or twice, lightly, quickly. His lips never quite left Justin's skin. There was only the barest hint of suction, and there was a knot in Justin's stomach for every feather touch.

Justin tilted his head to the side, barely, just slightly. A controlled, distilled movement. A supplication.

Richard acceded.

Justin imagined that their silhouette looked like Siamese twins, joined at the mouth.

And Richard said, "There you are. I was beginning to feel like a necrophiliac."

Richard tugged Justin closer, or stepped closer to Justin. Richard tasted like cigarettes, bitter and hot, and for a moment Justin thought that maybe he should really ask himself why he let Richard do this to him, but he didn't.


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