Tangible Schizophrenia


Do Electric Sheep Need a Shepherd

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17.
Pairing: Rufus/Reno, Tseng/Thomas Anderson (Neo), implied Vincent/Sephiroth
Feedback: Good lines, typos, etc.
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me.
Notes: Cyberpunk AU. Crossover with the Matrix Trilogy.
Summary: True guidance by right probably doesn’t exist.


“If Jenova had any brains, she’d attack right now. I’d guess most of your forces are here, waiting for me to twitch the wrong way, and most of mine are doing the same, so the rest of the city is flat on her back with her legs wide open,” Rufus said. He heard a little irritation in his voice and clamped down harder on his temper.

They didn’t even risk having furniture in the room, so he and Aeris were standing, and his leg was already starting to ache. He kept his hands tucked in his coat to hide their trembling; she had hers folded together in front of her, looking as cool as a holograph.

“Jenova does not think like a human being,” she calmly replied.

Rufus bit back his ‘really’ and continued to stare at the line of wrapped corpses laid out at one end of the room. The protective wraps over them were opaque and thick so not much detail could be made out, but he was still able to tell that most of them weren’t complete.

“They were all affiliates, and not actually of my House. Valentine didn’t create a totally unresolvable situation—though it is difficult.” Aeris walked over to the corpse closest to her, the click of her footsteps slowly falling into rhythm with the spasms of pain in Rufus’ leg. She paused to take down the fields surrounding them, then knelt to pick at the wrap till she could uncover the top half of the corpse.

During their pre-meeting talk, Smecker had let slip that Aeris was near-impossible to read even for him, but Rufus still sorely missed having mods that would’ve let him track her heartbeat and changes in her body heat distribution. As far as he could see, she had very few to none herself, but that didn’t mean too much. She could be similar to Sephiroth, with biological modifications taking the place of silicon chip implants, and then Rufus would still be at a disadvantage.

A shadow passed over Aeris’ face as she looked at the body, though it wasn’t of disgust or of disappointment. She stretched out her hand, then abruptly pulled her fingers away as if she’d been stung; it reminded Rufus a little bit of how he’d seen Kadaj act around the clone corpses. “Was Valentine acting on his own? He refused to answer me directly, but that was how it seemed.”

Rufus felt a brief flash of anger at that, then ruthlessly suppressed it. Valentine had put him in an awkward situation, but he’d already decided doing something about that would have to wait. “He was. I assure you, I had no idea till afterward. And I think you know that when a few of my top officers heard, they rushed in to bring Valentine back.”

“Some of my people weren’t sure that wasn’t a second wave of attacks,” Aeris said. She hadn’t reacted abnormally and she knew perfectly well they were referring to Zack and Sephiroth. Perhaps the gossip had got it wrong and the feeling there was all on Zack’s side. “I don’t think so, but I have to listen to their concerns.”

“Understandably. There was a…breakdown in communications,” Rufus reluctantly admitted. He dug his nails into his palm, but had to stop when that seemed to increase his hand’s trembling. “We were concerned about limiting the damage done to another great House, and so we crossed into your territory before contacting you for permission. I apologize, but at the time it seemed better to err on the side of prevention and not on the side of bureaucracy.”

After a moment, Aeris covered up the corpse. If that had been meant to be a bit of theatricality, it’d been oddly lacking in punch. She stayed kneeling, apparently unconcerned about the obvious filthy state of the floor. “My goal right now is to protect my people,” she said. “And to be honest with you, this is not what I want because I know that Jenova has to be destroyed and not only stopped. But my first duty is to my House.”

“Likewise with me.” Rufus crossed the room to lean against the wall, needing the support as his leg continued to lose strength. “How do you know about Jenova? Because of what Valentine told you?”

“No, I—he didn’t discuss this with you?” Aeris sounded a bit surprised.

Only a few minutes ago, Rufus had had to verbally admit he didn’t have total control over his House. Now she was asking him to admit he didn’t even have the confidence of all those who were supposedly under him. He needed to know what Valentine had said to Aeris, but even if that was real sympathy in her voice—which he could have done without—he needed to maintain his standing among his peers. “I’d like to know your version.”

* * *

Tseng pressed himself against what he assumed was a wall, only to stumble through it into the real wall. He caught himself with one hand and went still, then relaxed when he realized no one else was near him. Apparently the opaque screen was good enough to fool the rest of the people in the packed club.

His head hurt and his ears were ringing, but when he pressed his fingers against them, the ringing only seemed to go up in pitch. The music was a muddy blur of deep bass with odd vibrations just beyond his ability to hear, and he knew if he’d still had those mods he’d be able to distinguish notes that would trigger specific bodily responses, but without them he simply felt nauseated. He pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to force himself into a trance, but couldn’t summon up the necessary concentration: something in the aromas being piped into the club was interfering with his thinking.

A crackling noise made him look up. The field’s opacity went both ways, and outlined against its blackness was the rough shape of a lean man. Then Thomas came all the way through, staggering a little as he groped for the wall. “Hey. Great hiding place—the field’s infrared-absorbing, so I couldn’t even find you by body heat.”

Exerting all his will, Tseng managed to momentarily center himself. His head cleared and the pain receded, but then his concentration splintered and he collapsed back against the wall, breathing hard. When he reached into his coat, his hand was shaking.

Thomas moved closer and put the back of one hand against Tseng’s cheek. “Sensory overload?”

“That and something circulating in the air. I had my drug-blocks updated two days before they took me to you, so it must be relatively new.” Tseng pulled out the breathing filters and pushed the small cylinders into his nostrils, then adjusted the clip so it didn’t cling painfully to the cartilage dividing the nostrils. He took one breath, let his head try to equilibrate, then pulled the filters back out. “These aren’t working. I’m done here—did you finish?”

“I had one guy left to talk to, but I can get to him somewhere else,” Thomas said. His hand was still pressed against Tseng’s cheek. He slid it down to cup Tseng’s chin and pull that up as he leaned down.

His mouth was warm, wet, familiar. The feeling of it grounded Tseng with an almost physical shock, and he abruptly seized Thomas’ arms, pulling the other man towards him. His lips parted, but Thomas simply blew into his mouth; startled, Tseng choked a little before catching on and taking the other man’s breath. They repeated it a few times before Tseng’s head felt stable enough for him to try walking.

Immediately after going through the screen, the pressure of the crowded club caught them up and nearly forced itself between them. Tseng barely hung onto Thomas’ arm, then forced himself into the other man’s side with all his strength. He had to gasp afterward and whatever was in the air struck hard so he went limp. Hands and hips ground up against him, crushing Thomas’ elbow into his side, but then Thomas moved his arm and Tseng slipped into its hold, desperately clutching at Thomas’ coat.

Thomas dragged them out of there. He had a good sense of whenever the air got too much for Tseng and would lean down to blow air that’d already had that absorbed out of it into Tseng’s lungs, and he didn’t stop to linger about it, which would’ve turned it from an issue of practicality into one of concrete dependency.

Which was what Tseng was, but his pride—he coughed hard as they finally went through a door into an alley. The atmosphere wasn’t much cleaner, but he was used to its acrid pollution. And the filters worked out here: he pulled those out again and popped them in. Then he slumped involuntarily back against a wall, misjudging his recovery time.

“I think it’s a time-delayed mild hallucinogen,” Thomas said. He stopped a few feet in front of Tseng, idly kicking at the ground. “I was starting to see horns on everyone.”

“We need to purge it later,” Tseng muttered. He started to straighten up, then had to double over again as a rattling cough took him. He grabbed at his knee, stiffened, then reflexively lunged to grab Thomas’ arm.

Apparently he moved fast enough to catch the other man off-guard, since Thomas lost his balance as Tseng dragged him behind himself and went to one knee. He asked something, but Tseng was paying attention to the empty overhang just above them, which he knew wasn’t really empty.

“There’s nothing up there,” Thomas said after a moment.

“Tseng,” Valentine said.

Thomas made a gagging sound, then fell silent. His arm twisted and his hand came to rest on Tseng’s arm, but he stayed where he was.

Valentine appeared after a few more seconds, slowly coming into view as if someone were pulling a dark cloth off of him. He was crouched on the edge of the roof, and had apparently been there for at least the last minute. “I’d like to speak to you.”

After a moment, Tseng managed to form a reply. “Fine.”

That was enough for Valentine, who turned around. He was moving slowly enough to signal an expectation that they follow.

“We really need to sit down and talk about what else has been done to you. I didn’t pick up on that at all, but I know I got all your mods,” Thomas muttered. He slowly got up, eying the roof-edge, then bent over to grab the foot Tseng lifted.

With his help, Tseng got onto the roof with a minimum of movement. He stepped back as soon as he could to give Thomas the room he needed, and the other man made a running leap up a second later, getting on all the way without asking for any aid.

“It’s just that he had Turk training. I’m…trained to recognize it, in case I ran into a Turk who was undercover.” Tseng looked across the roof and spotted Valentine’s bright red coat. He nodded to Thomas to make sure the other man saw, then started after it.

Thomas wasn’t slow or deaf. He picked up on the odd statement. “I thought you said you were a Turk.”

“I was—” Even at the range they were at, Valentine might still be able to hear them. Not that it mattered; he probably already knew. “I was brought up in Shinra, not recruited. My family produced hereditary bodyguards—I was the last and the Head decided to make me a Turk. That was when I was a teenager.”

Valentine was leading them out of the slums and into respectable Shinra territory. Both Tseng and Thomas slowed, the realization hitting them almost at the same time. Tseng started to risk calling out, but then Valentine dropped off the side of a building just short of the slum’s border.

“Brought up,” Thomas echoed. He cut closer to Tseng, yanking his coat around himself though it was a relatively warm night. “That boyfriend of Smecker’s—Kadaj. I noticed some odd things when I was working on him. Like he didn’t have many mods in the first place. And aside from his hand, Valentine doesn’t seem to, either.”

“It’s not the same thing. My family’s older than Hojo, who was responsible for those two,” Tseng snapped. He grimaced and pushed some stray locks out of his face, then glanced at Thomas. “I don’t know. You can say ‘bred’ if you want. It’s probably more accurate.”

Fingertips grazed over Tseng’s cheekbone. He turned to look at Thomas, and this time the other man’s face had opened back up. “Pretend you still have a problem breathing,” Thomas said, voice rough, and pulled Tseng in. It was an urgent, harsh kiss, and didn’t withstand the jarring nature of their quick pace, but Tseng resisted the end so much that Thomas laughed. “I’m just trying to know where you’re coming from. It’s not like Kisaragi was much better.”

“Well.” Tseng shrugged as they came to the edge of the roof. “I did fine as I was, so I kept Hojo from justifying doing anything to me aside from putting in new implants. He was always more interested in Rufus and Sephiroth. If he—if he had had a hand in me, I wouldn’t be as weak, would I.”

“It’s not a bad thing to be human, actually,” Thomas said. His teeth briefly showed in a smile as Tseng glanced sharply at him. Then he sobered and looked over the edge. “Where’d he go?”

The alleyway was empty, but several of the windows in the buildings on both sides of the street were open. “Inside. I think he went in this one, so we can just take the stairs.”

* * *

“…in a bad mood, so yeah, keep everyone off,” Reno said as he walked in. His eyes clicked from green to blue, too late to hide what he’d been doing.

“If you’re going to have conversations behind my back, you could be smart enough to message them so I have no way of finding out about them.” Rufus sat down almost hard enough to slam himself into the table, then yanked at his sleeves till he’d wriggled out of his coat. He stuffed that down behind himself and started to roll up his shirt-sleeve.

Reno grinned, but his eyes were flatly blank. He went over to the drug dispenser in the wall and tapped a few keys, then pulled the IV attachment out of it and put a sterile needle into it. “Oh, come on. Even if I did message, you’d find out. I figure might as well save myself the effort and do it in the open.”

The spasming in Rufus’ leg was bad enough that he needed to use his other hand to keep his arm still. The needle went in before he’d prepared himself and he jerked away, then caught himself. Luckily, Reno had had a good enough grip on his arm so that the needle had stayed in, and the moment Rufus was still, the other man had it taped down so it couldn’t be easily dislodged.

“Didn’t actually hurt, did it?” Reno asked.

Rufus looked at him in preparation to answer, but glimpsed the tube flowing to his arm and flinched away. He stared straight ahead, perfectly aware of why and of how irrational it was, but no matter how he tried, he couldn’t force himself to look back at the tube.

“Hey. Hey.” Reno snapped his fingers in front of Rufus’ face. “Boss.”

“Go sit outside,” Rufus gritted through his teeth.

The other man let out an incredulous laugh and instead moved to crouch in front of Rufus so they were looking at each other. He tapped Rufus’ shaking knee, then pulled back his hand when Rufus made to slap it away. “Sorry, sir, but somebody’s got to watch when to take out the needle.”

“Reno. Go. Out. Side.” Anger helped keep Rufus focused.

At first it looked like Reno would laugh again, but then his face went serious and he peered more closely at Rufus’ face. He frowned and put his hands on either side of Rufus’ jaw, tightening his grip when Rufus attempted to move away. “Your eyes are dilating. That’s not—shit, that’s what the doctors—”

“Get off!” Except anger had a bad habit of spiraling suddenly into panic. It flooded Rufus before he could react at all, and Reno was gone, the room was gone, everything was gone except—

Now what shall we try today? I’ve got a new formulation that I think would work quite well.

--it’d always been cold, so the heat was a shock. Rufus cried out, felt something slip into his mouth and gagged on it. He pushed out with his hands, trying to get it out, but his arms were pinned back and he couldn’t get any leverage. “No, please, don’t put any more, don’t give me—father, don’t--”

“He’s not—fucking bastard, wish I could kill him twice—Rufus. Rufus, damn it, he’s not—fuck.”

The thing in Rufus’ mouth left, then slid up the side of his neck and it was so hot. He whined, his fingers clawing for it, and the pressure on his one arm moved so he could wrap it around somebody’s body. His other arm was still strapped down, but at least he could hold on to them. Hold onto a person, he was a person, oh, he couldn’t—he needed breath. He gasped and a warm wet thing pressed around his lip so he let his mouth fall open wider, and it came in again and so did a gust of warmed air. Rufus sobbed in relief, his lips reflexively tightening, and then he sucked at it, wanting more.

The edges of his clothes dangled against him, flopping around and then rasping as somebody pulled them out of the way, cursing. He pressed down with his free arm and something collided with his knee, but a rough shove at that had his legs open and then he was leaning up, rubbing his bare skin over scratchy fabric, buttons catching his nipples, as a hand fumbled between his legs. “Please.”

Fuck, you’re so not…move, Rufus. C’mon, lift your ass a little. Just a little so I can get my…yeah, there. There. Fuck, you’re so tight.”

Rufus buried his face in a neck, a shirt-collar scratching the side of his nose. He smelled the fabric, sweat bringing out a strange natural odor. His cheekbone slid along warm smooth skin, then a slicker capsule-shaped section: an implant. He flinched away, shoving down deeper till he only felt fabric and skin.

His legs weren’t totally under his control, but he tried to spread them wider as he felt the fingers sink into his body. They were tentative, delicately pushing around till suddenly his lower body explosively melted and he sagged against the other man, little sobs dragging out of his throat again. He twisted as the fingers slipped out, then again as a blunt cock-head tried to replace them. “Wait, wait, all right, now, now.”

“Demanding son of a bitch,” gasped into his ear. A trail of wet kisses were pressed along his neck and jaw as one hand grabbed his left buttock and lifted his weight onto the other side of his ass.

He breathed in, feeling the burn spread from a white-hot pinpoint just where his body was clenched around the cock, and then out as he adjusted and the burn turned dull red, smoldering. “Damn it, Reno, now.”

Reno stiffened. Then “Oh” like a thanksgiving in Rufus’ ear, and his cock slamming in and out of Rufus till Rufus was clawing at his shoulder, eyes wide open with the room light blazing into them, imprinting the image of their surroundings on his retinas in a flash of red.

They’d only half-settled afterward before Reno cursed and jerked them both up, lunging at the wall panel. He did something there, then dropped them back. “Good thing my timing is amazing. Hang on a moment and I’ll get the needle out—sir?”

Rufus looked at the fingers he had pulling on Reno’s sleeve. “That was—abnormal.”

“Yeah…I’ve never seen you do that when we’ve got the—” Reno dropped his voice slightly “—docs in looking at you. Do I need to like, make an appointment or something?”

“No. No, that was just…” Rufus bent forward. His head felt as if it were filled with lead and his neck ached. He rested his forehead on Reno’s shoulder for a moment, then lifted it again. The pieces of himself were slowly hauling themselves back into place. “Gainsborough upset me. The spasms—it’s supposed to be a problem with my nervous system. It’s reasonable for my mental state to have an effect on it and vice versa.”

Pain sparked in his arm as Reno pulled out the needle, then dulled when the other man sprayed the spot with antiseptic-sealer. “And your father was a fucking bastard.” Reno grinned like usual, but his tone was a bit restrained. He left his fingers hovering over Rufus’ arm for a moment before pulling them away. “Just for the record, I never…y’know…fucked you while you were…out of it. Don’t know if it matters to you, but it just…didn’t work for me.”

“You mean out of it before my father died, I take it.” Since Rufus certainly hadn’t been in tune with the world a few minutes ago. He sighed and made a half-hearted attempt to straighten his clothes, then turned to ask Reno for something to clean himself off with, only to find the other man…Rufus snorted. “I’m not going to kill you for just now. Just don’t start counting on that happening again.”

“Hey, I’m perfectly happy to have you ream out my ass, sir,” Reno snickered, relaxing considerably. He finished shutting down the wall-dispenser. “What did Gainsborough say? Can I ask, sir?”

Rufus stared straight ahead, thinking about it. He absently moved his arms when he had to so Reno could deal with his clothes. He finally started to answer, but had to start again when it was clear he’d taken Reno by surprise. “Valentine has been holding out information. He had a theory about Jenova and he went to go confirm it with her—somehow he knew that back in the mists of time, the Houses of Gainsborough and Shinra once worked together on certain projects. Including whichever one unleashed Jenova.”

“Well, I want to kill that red-eyed prick anyway,” Reno said. He waited a few more seconds, then shrugged and gave Rufus a hand up out of the chair. “What now?”

“Tell Elena and Rude to start watching Tifa Lockheart. And—Zack, I suppose. Tracking down Cloud Strife’s just become our number one priority.” The Shinra forces, already overstretched, would have to be redistributed. Rufus was going to lose territory. He’d be the first damn Head in decades to do so, and it made him almost physically ill, but…he’d already had his mental spell. He had to start thinking again.

* * *

Valentine didn’t mince words. “I need one of Jenova’s clones alive. It’s the only way to track back to their source.”

Thomas was unimpressed. “Great. I need to know what you’re basing that on, how good your sources were, and also what I’m supposed to do about it. Physical work isn’t my specialty.”

“I wasn’t talking to you.” Valentine had been looking at Tseng the entire time. He hadn’t glanced away even when Thomas had interjected his comment. “By the time they get into Shinra territory, they’re already deteriorating. They’ve already been cut off and all they do is complete their mission. I need one that’s still connected.”

Tseng leaned against the wall, absently twisting his hand around his wrist external. The katana had been too awkward, but they hadn’t wanted to risk putting any mods in him so Thomas had just made a sheath mod Tseng could wear like a bracelet. “I don’t think I understand.”

“Did you understand what I’m asking for?” Valentine asked.

“Yes, but I don’t—”

Valentine left. It was difficult to describe it any other way, and at any rate, Tseng was preoccupied with controlling his temper for the first few seconds afterward. “The next time he comes, I need to explain that I don’t work for him.”

“Yeah…why would he want you to do it, too? Why can’t he do it him—” Thomas went still, then abruptly turned so he was standing in front of Tseng. He angled himself so he wouldn’t be in the way if Tseng needed to draw the katana.

Tseng hadn’t sensed anything. He dropped his hand from his wrist, which he bent, ready to trigger the mod.

“Stand down, Tseng. And whoever you are—you’re working for Smecker, I presume. I don’t want to deal with Smecker’s complaints if I don’t have to, but I’m not in a good mood right now.” Sephiroth walked out of the hallway and continued on towards the window, where he stood looking around for a quite a while. “Vincent didn’t notice me,” he said, mostly to himself. “He’s in a hurry.”

“Hurry about what?” Thomas snapped. He darted a nervous look back to Tseng, then turned around, but edged backwards several more inches. This had to be the first time he’d ever met Sephiroth.

Tseng reached out and touched Thomas’ elbow. He felt the other man shake once, hard and sharp, then go still. “I heard…they’d let you out again. That you were sane enough.”

“More or less. I don’t want to talk about it. It’s not relevant.” After another moment, Sephiroth turned around. He’d lost some muscle mass, but not any tone, and the intelligence in his eyes seemed as sharp as ever. But something was clearly wrong with him: before he’d never wasted a movement, his elegance in his severe austerity, but now he constantly moved his hands and his head like a watchful animal. “Tell me what Vincent told you, and I’ll tell you what I think he’s up to.”

Thomas glanced back at Tseng again, clearly leaving it up to him. This wasn’t something Rufus would do, and Tseng didn’t think it’d be something Smecker would instigate either. He’d never been particularly sure of Sephiroth’s motivations even when things had been relatively stable, and now he had no idea. But he recognized the desperation in Sephiroth’s mannerisms, and he knew Sephiroth would catch him in any lies. “He asked us to capture a live Jenova clone before it got to Shinra territory. Something about it would still be connected then, but once they are past Shinra borders, they—”

“He went to see Aeris Gainsborough the other day,” Sephiroth abruptly said. His eyes were fixed brilliantly on Tseng. “Did you hear about that?”

Tseng had, and he’d had to stop where he’d been for a moment. But it’d been a good while since he and Aeris had had any kind of connection, and in the end he’d merely assumed that that had been politicking, trying to avoid an inter-House war. “Yes.”

“He went because he figured out something, and he thought she could confirm it for her. Why would he think that?” Sephiroth turned and started to pace back and forth across the room, the agitation bleeding off of him. “What does she know?”

Why did Sephiroth think that Tseng would—wait. “I don’t…I can’t tell you, I don’t know. But according to House history, Gainsborough and Shinra have intermarried several times. Very long ago.”

“If I’d asked Smecker, it would’ve taken forever to get a straight answer from him,” Sephiroth said. It might have been a compliment. “Back in Jenova’s time, you mean?”

“I don’t know,” Tseng replied. “I’m not sure when she—happened. She’s not in the archives I have—had access to.”

“She’s not in the official archives at all.” Thomas tensed when Sephiroth looked at him, but didn’t move. “Someone started deleting mentions of her starting…oh, five years ago. I don’t think anybody at Shinra noticed till this year; I’ve been trying to reconstruct the data for a year and a half, but it’s not all that easy. Since I’m doing it illegally.” He shrugged. “You could say I’m working for Smecker, but that’s mostly because he’s the one who offered to shield me from repercussions.”

Sephiroth glanced from Thomas’ head to his feet, eyes briefly glowing brighter: he was taking in Thomas’ stats. Then he looked away, back out the window. “Vincent isn’t telling me anything, but I can hear her. And what she says…I thought it was her insanity at first, but analysis of the dead clones says it might be the truth. She needs a body. A good host. Then she can come out of the networks and breed, and truly wipe us out.”

“She’d want you alive,” Tseng commented, bending his wrist again.

He stopped when Sephiroth looked at him. For a long moment, the other man stared at Tseng. “I’m human.” His mouth twisted around his dry tone. “Of a kind, but I’m still human. She’s not happy about—I believe she’s starting to give up on changing my mind. Anyway, Vincent did something to keep her from mutating me any more, and she needs…she’s also in a hurry for some reason. She can’t take the time to finish changing me.”

“So who’s she going for?” Thomas asked.

“Strife, I’d guess. He’s the only candidate Vincent didn’t manage to get to, though I think that’s what Vincent is trying to do now. If you manage to find a clone in time, contact me. I’ll deal with it,” Sephiroth said, attention now clearly elsewhere.

Then he left.

Thomas let out a breath so harsh and loud that Tseng flinched. The other man shrugged in apology and cautiously moved towards the windows, checking for anyone else. He signaled that there weren’t, then headed for the stairs. “They should get together. They’re alike enough.”

“I think they are. At least, when I…could you find a clone in time?” Tseng pressed his hand to the side of his head, trying to weigh things in his mind.

The other man shot him a curious look. “Which one are you thinking we go along with? Do we have to go along with either?”

“We can’t ignore them. They’re too—much. But…I think Sephiroth is thinking more clearly. He knows more about who he is. He’s…”

“…angrier about it,” Thomas wryly finished. He sighed and shook his head as they mounted the stairs. “Well, I can try. Try to do that and zillion other things…do you want to send a message to…Elena? I can get one off tonight.”

Nodding, Tseng reached down and took Thomas’ hand in his own. He hefted it, though the other man held his arm so barely any of its weight was resting on his fingers, then pulled it up to kiss its back. Thomas let him, but then twisted his hand to stroke it across Tseng’s cheek, smearing the damp spit between them. He kept his hand there so Tseng’s skin warmed instead of cooled.

“Just my way. No disrespect meant,” Thomas said after a moment.

“I’m learning.” Tseng reached up and pressed at Thomas’ hand, then pulled it down. He let go so he could pull himself through the hatch onto the roof, then reached back and grabbed it again to help Thomas up.