Never Entirely Free
by K.V. Wylie, 1999


He returned to the flat figuratively called "home" long after dark.  Ash fell from his sleeve as he bent to untie his shoes, and it fell to obscurity in the gray grime of the floor.  The tiles had been washed last courtesy of a spilled drink.  Thanks to a month of dubious finances though, he no longer got drunk enough to lose even a drop of that necessity.  Food they often did without, but not the liquor.

Some noxious party sounded from above.  Footsteps, yells and laughter, furniture gouging the hardwood, a nightly ritual in this building.  The sounds of home.

The tenants below had moved out, no doubt bothered by *his* nocturnal activities.  Demons had a tendency to vacate neighbours.  However, he didn't care any more what anyone heard.  That was obvious, considering what he'd left in the bedroom all day.

He paused to listen at the door before going in.  No sound.  Dead?

No.  The man tied by his wrists and ankles to exposed steel coils in the boxspring was merely unmoving.  Naked and sweat-slicked from head to foot, he regarded the figure at the door before saying, "Good evening, Rupert.  Tough day at work?  Your dinner's in the oven, honey."

The casual tone threw Rupert Giles for a moment.  Then, in the same manner, he replied, "I had a wonderful day, Ethan.  How was yours?"

"Marvelous, except for this little thing of being bound hand and foot.  Unfortunately, I urinated on your side of the bed.  I couldn't hold it any longer, I'm afraid.  Please accept my apologies."

They owned one chair which was in the living room, so Rupert sat on the floor with his back against the wall.

"I don't suppose you could bring me a glass of water, if it wouldn't be too much trouble," Ethan said.

Rupert didn't reply, his green eyes glittering at Ethan in the hazy reflection of a streetlight.  At times like these, they were soulless.  They became hard jade in anger, dark like wet moss when Rupert lay on top of him, and clear to transparency during spellcasting.  Now they were a cat's narrow eyes in the dark of the room.

"If it's a problem about the water, don't bother.  It's just, with the dehydration and all, I could actually die."  Though he still spoke in a nonchalant tone, at the core, Ethan was afraid.

"You should have thought of that before."

Ethan *had* thought of it before, but he'd misjudged.  A common thing lately.  The Rupert of this past summer was not the one he'd started out with a year before.

This one might actually kill him.

A thump came from above, and the sound of something large being dragged.  Startled, Ethan glanced up, though noises from above didn't normally bother him.

"Rupert, my love, I am sorry.  I thought it would be a harmless little incantation, something to brighten your day."

"No, you thought you wouldn't be caught."

"Well, that too," Ethan admitted.  He tugged at a strap experimentally and winced at the sharp rasp on his skin.

"We had a rule, Ethan, after that last debacle, not to send any enchantments each other's way.  You've broken that.  Three times."

"Twice."  He looked over and cold stabbed his bowels at the sight of the emerald eyes.  It was as though a panther waited on the floor.  "All right.  Three."

Ethan could never have imagined this particular scenario a year ago.  Before, it had been Rupert trussed down, and perversely willing to go along with it - not for pleasure, but from some belief down deep that he deserved it, that he had some transgression to pay for.  Someone in Rupert's family, no doubt, had given him that notion, and Ethan used it to his advantage.  But Ethan had never tied Rupert for as long as *this*.

It had been a nervous untapped boy he'd brought home that first night, buzzing with anger and some endowment Ethan could feel but didn't recognize.  The potential, once he discovered it, was far more than the simple high life of pillaging and wanton materialism he'd envisioned.  He'd hoped for a pit, but Rupert brought a chasm, glittering with all manner of appetites and powers, and generations of secrets in his brain.

The change started soon after a spell gone wrong.  It was supposed to be a small experiment, a spirit brought in to possess an animal.  A German Shepherd from across the way served the purpose.  It was given vodka for sedation, fastened within a pentagram, and the spirit was summoned, a mild one for this was a first attempt.

It went wrong.  The first clue was a sudden spark of ozone.  A rumble like a train whipping by came next, and then the dog went, to put it delicately, berserk.  It broke its ropes and leapt out of the pentagram with more fangs extended than a dog had the right to possess.  Ethan managed to jump out of the way.

Rupert panicked.

Ethan heard what came next, but didn't see it, being on the other side of the loo door by now.  He heard Rupert yell, the sound of something tearing, and an eerie high bark.  A shredding sound came a moment later and continued for nearly a minute.  When it all finally silenced, Ethan opened the door cautiously and peered around.

The smell hit him at once, metallic and pungent.  Then he saw it, streaks and winding trails of blood going from door to window.  Standing in the middle, smeared like a butcher up both arms and over the front of his shirt, was Rupert.

He swung a slow gaze over to Ethan and a grim terrible light was in his eyes.  It was a look Ethan had never before seen.

"You left me," Rupert said, in a rather quiet voice.

"Where's the dog?" Ethan asked softly, unsure.

"It…..decided to go."  Rupert turned and went into the bedroom, and the other man left it at that.

Ethan got the chore of cleaning up, which took a while for blood had gone right up the wall to the ceiling.  He went through an entire container of bleach.

They didn't discuss it, not even when their friends commented on the unusually clean living room.  But everything had shifted, and the next one to get tied to the bed during their games was Ethan.

He looked over once more at the shadow on the floor and said softly, "Rupert, my love, let me up and we'll go out.  Perhaps we could cast a sleeping spell on the old man at the off-license, and clean out his booze and till."

"I've got something else in mind."

This didn't sound good.  Ethan wasn't sure how many more 'something elses' he could survive.  He tried to swallow, then gave in and said the safety word.  "Please."

"Let's play a game, shall we?"  Rupert uncoiled and rose, but it was only to take a candle from the bedside table.  He set it on the mattress between the other man's legs, and lit it.  "Free association.  I'll say a word, and you say the first one that comes into your head.  Ready?  Virgin."

Ethan watched Rupert come around the side of the bed.

"I didn't hear you," Rupert said.  "Virgin."

"Uh, Diedre."

"Wrong."  Rupert bent to reach under the bed and came up with a large silver object.  He held it in the light from the window and revealed a butcher knife the size of his forearm.  "I don't think it's wise to get two incorrect answers in a row, dearest.  Let's try to do better this time.  Burn."

"Candle," Ethan mumbled, looking down at the flame by his groin.

"Very good."  Rupert grasped one of Ethan's ankles, smiled slightly, and in one quick motion, brought the knife down.

Ethan tensed but no pain came.  He looked down tentatively and discovered a leather strap dangling from the end of the knife.

Rupert tossed it into the corner as he moved to the other side of the bed.  "Kick," he said.

Ethan thought quickly as the knife hovered over his other ankle.  "Stab?" he offered.

"I'm impressed," his friend told him as he let the edge of the blade skim along Ethan's skin.  The knife caught on something and Ethan sucked in his breath, but he felt only the slightest tug.  A second strap fell to the floor.

Rupert padded to the head of the bed, running the knife lightly along Ethan's stomach and arm.  He paused at the belt holding one of Ethan's wrists and twirled the point of the blade just over the artery.  "Retribution."

"Deserved," Ethan whispered hoarsely, his eyes caught on the spinning silver.

The knife jerked up and he cried, but the sharp metal hit the belt.  It slid off Ethan's arm and over the side.

Rupert strolled slowly around the bed, moving the knife alongside of him.  He skimmed it across Ethan's thighs and penis, then across his chest to rest at the remaining tied arm.  "Love."

Ethan stared.  "What?"

"Wrong."  The blade nicked skin.

"Oh Goddess, Rupert, let me try again!" Ethan begged, then froze when the candle nearly toppled.

Rupert gazed down with those appalling cat eyes.  "Love."

"You," Ethan said.

Rupert glanced down.

"Wrong?" Ethan ventured.

"Not what I expected."

"We're together, aren't we?"

"Only because you're still picking my brain."  Rupert drew a line down Ethan's chest.  Dots of blood welled up.

"Then why are *you* here?" Ethan asked, watching the knife's path.

Rupert ignored him as he etched an 'R'  on the other man's abdomen.  Thinking about the candle, Ethan tried not to move.  "Don't forget a heart around it," he gasped.

Rupert drew a little tail on the 'R' before casually flicking the knife up and cutting the last binding.  He slid the leather to the floor, studied the stained blade for a few seconds, then, in a sudden swift movement, hurled the implement across the room.  It pierced the plaster and hung, shivering, at Ethan's eye level.

At the action, Ethan's bladder let go.  The stream landed against the candle, sending it over, and he yelped as the flame grazed his leg.  He reached down to grab it but the fire snuffed out in the growing wet spot.

"Oh Goddess," Ethan gulped as he sat upright and drew a painful breath.  Then he looked over.

Rupert stood with his back to the window but his eyes still gleamed.

"Did you like the floor show?" Ethan asked, thoroughly unnerved now.

"It seems…..anti-climatic."

"Rupert, I--"

"Save your words.  They're meaningless."

Rupert went into the living room.  Ethan glanced at the knife in horror, left within his reach as an insult, and mumbled a prayer before stumbling to the bathroom and drinking out of the tap.  When he emerged a few moments later, holding toilet paper to his side, he found Rupert by the window.  He didn't turn as Ethan came up to him.

"What is that?  Neil Diamond?" Ethan asked, referring to the thump of a stereo from above.  "We have got to get out from under those people."

"*We*?" the other man queried.

"Are you going somewhere, Rupert?  If you do, and if you come back, bring a mattress, will you?  We seem to need a new one."

He returned to the bedroom, grabbed the edge of the box spring, and, with what little strength he had left, heaved it over.  The candle rolled to the floor, coming to a stop under the knife.

Ethan turned his back on the sight and dropped onto the filthy mattress, brushing away dustballs  as he tried to find a position that didn't cause pain.  He finally found one on his side, drawing his knees up and crooking one arm under his head as a pillow.

He couldn't hear Rupert, didn't know if the other was still in the living room or creeping up behind him in the dark, those green eyes glowing as he pulled the knife from the wall.

Ethan squeezed his eyes shut as a shiver went through him.  A moment later, he felt a weight on the mattress and nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Here."  Rupert's voice.

He felt someone lift him slightly and a cool glass press against his lips.  Ethan took a sip and grimaced.  "Milk?"

"It's not…..completely sour.  It's all we have."

"You could do that thing at the off-license, love" Ethan said when he finished the milk.  But after the glass was removed, he heard it smash in the corner.

He laid back down and Rupert curved around his back, draping an arm over his stomach.  "You know, Rupert, I think we shall never be entirely free of each other.  Even if you do leave, where will you go except, eventually, back to me?"

"I think you have that ass-backwards."

"Someone does."

"Shut up, Ethan."  Rupert pulled the other man tightly to him.

Ethan took one last look at the streetlight, then closed his eyes.


K.V. Wylie's "Gilesean Vibrations"