The Tattoo

The bathroom door opened, ejecting a faint billow of steam and the towel-clad silhouette of Zan, idly messing with the tangles in his long hair. He fussed for a moment with the snarls. Maybe it's time to get a haircut, he mused.

He cocked his head for a moment, listening. Sounds of a muffled struggle and random cursing were coming from the front room. Oh chunky fucking jesus, he's at it again.

Zan walked to the archway, leaning against the jamb, to find Star battling tenaciously with a Playstation, staring intently at the television as digital carnage ensued. Star was hurling epithets at the screen and occasionally punching the floor with his fist. He was hunched down on the floor crosslegged, his hair a rumpled mess, and the back of his shirt ridden up well past his waistline. Zan admired the view of that unintentional, unobtrusive band of careful skin, almost forgetting for a moment that that piece of flesh was owned by a killer.

Yeah, he's a killer. From the second I laid eyes on him, he'd slain me.


Zan had uttered it under his breath, but Star had proclaimed it vehemently at the same instant.

Zan shook his head, then approached Star. "What?"

"...goddamn level boss is chafing my ass."

"How rude. He should at least take you out to dinner first."

Star didn't even pause or turn his head before reaching his arm out behind him and flipping Zan off. Difficult to be so imperious while absorbed in another task, but Star did it with aplomb.

Zan ignored it. He continued to look at the small of Star's back exposed surreptitiously between shirt hem and waistline.

"I've been meaning to ask you, Star...where did you get that tattoo?"

"Mmm?" Star had already returned both hands to the game controller, and was rocking forward with each punch of the button, as if to add a little inertia to his digital player's attacks.

"Your tattoo."

"'S a tattoo. BFD. You've got plenty. Stop coveting mine."

"I wanted to know where you got it, you insufferable prat."

More clicking, another muffled curse. "'Insufferable prat'. How Victorian."

Zan rolled his eyes, held his hair back with one hand, then leaned down silently until his mouth was right next to Star's ear.

"I'll show you Victorian, " he whispered, beginning to carefully trace the line of Star's tattoo that disappeared down into his jeans.

Star yelped, and there was a flurry of legs and arms. A bare moment later, Zan was on his back with Star astride his chest, holding a gun carelessly to Zan's nose.

"The chamber's not even loaded. You're a poor bluffer, Star."

"Now who's being a prat? And how did you manage to keep your towel on?"

"Sheer talent. You know...if I'd known that I could get you in this position, I would've done this weeks ago."



At that, Star snorted, and pulled the gun away. "Jesus, I'm hyper. Why'd you make me drink all that Red Bull, anyway?"

Zan sat up, and began again to work out the tangles in his hair. "Because you were drunk, and I wasn't going to have a drunk boy fall off my bike on the ride home."

"I wasn't drunk. I was...enjoying myself."

"I saw you fawning after that kid at the bar when you were getting your fifth vodka tonic. And yes, I was keeping count, not that it was that hard. But you practically had your hand down his pants, and I wasn't abo-"

"I did not have my hand down his pants."

Zan raised an eyebrow at Star.

"...I had it up his shirt. Big difference."

Zan sighed. "I wasn't about to have you falling off my bike on the ride home. So...Red Bull. Deal with it."

"Great. So I'm hammered and hyper. Thanks a metric buttload."

"Glad to help. But you didn't answer my question."

"What question? Oh. This." Star pulled his shirt up to his armpits, yanked his jeans down to his hipbones, and turned around. Zan took a moment for his pulse to calm down. Thank god I'm not wearing tight jeans.

Along the small of Star's back, wrapping from hipbone to hipbone, was a beautifully rendered Celtic tattoo of two hounds intertwined with knotwork. Simple in color, complex in line. Zan was almost convinced that when he got close enough, he could see eyes in the hounds' faces, watching him.

"Why did you get it?"

Star dropped his shirt, hiked his jeans back up, and sat on the floor in front of Zan, a tight, almost pinched expression crossing his face for a second. "I got it after I left Milo. I told myself that no one would ever own me again. Particularly after that experience." Star then muffled something under his breath.

"What did you say?" Zan asked, thinking Star had meant him to say it.



"I said 'butt monkey'."

"Oh." Zan was momentarily disconcerted. "But what does it mean? And please tell me you didn't just get a design out of a book in a tattoo parlor somewhere to make yourself feel better."

Star snorted. "No. I'm not that stupid. I know tattoos have...power. I researched the bloody hell out of this. My tattoo is a representation of the Cwn Annwn."


"The Hounds of Hades, for lack of a better phrase. They're an old Welsh legend."

Zan frowned. "Not exactly an auspicious concept," he said.

Star grinned. "That's the point, my dear Zan."

"Excuse me?"

"The Cwn Annwn were harbingers of death. Legend said that when someone in your family was about to die, you would hear their baying, from far off. The closer they would get, the more quiet the howling would become."

Zan involuntarily shivered.

Star shrugged. "It was my point of realizing that no one would own me, not even death. If I had the deathhounds with me, if I owned them, I would never have to be controlled, ever again."

"...Still. It's creepy."

Star smiled. "And that changes your estimation of"

"Point. But...where did you get it done?"

"Here, in town. Good artist, does a lot of Celtic knotwork. Nice guy. Why?"

Zan paused. "Well, I was considering getting another one."

Star feigned shock. "I swoon! I faint anon!" He collapsed in a heap at Zan's feet. Realizing that his knees were up, and all he was wearing was a towel, Zan instantly crossed his legs and sat forward.

Star looked up at him, and grinned. "You're such a prude."

"Fuck you. And since when did you ever playact?"

"Hey. I've read Shakespeare. I just remember all the good parts. Like how everyone dies at the end."

"Uh, pardon me, but not everyone dies in Shakespeare's plays."

"Only in the good ones, they do."

Zan rolled his eyes again.

"See? Prude."

This time it was Zan who flipped Star off. Star flashed his most endearing smile at him, then sat up. "So. You're thinking of getting another tattoo. Where?"

"Where you got yours."

"Just above your ass? Damn, that's almost risque for you."

"Twit. I meant the tattoo parlor you got yours at."

"I'm not that slow, Zan. I was just playing with you. It's just so easy. I couldn't resist."

Zan snarled at him. "Where's your gun? I need it."

Star waved his hand dismissively at Zan. "Seriously. What are you thinking of getting?"

"I'm not sure yet. I was thinking of getting something along the lines of one of the Lakota animal totems. Or maybe going outside Lakota. I don't know."

Star frowned.

Zan paused for a moment before continuing. "I'm grounded, yes. Not like how you were when you got yours. I have my angel to keep me where I need to be. But sometimes..."

Star picked up the line. "Sometimes you need a connection, more than you need grounding. You've been planted, but you need to grow roots."

Zan looked hard at Star, then smiled, carefully. "You're bigger and deeper than you let on, you know. And yes, you're right."

"I try not to think too much. Thinking is what gets people in trouble, gets them killed. I stopped thinking a long time ago."

"But when you think, it's sexy."

"Fuck you."

"If that's an offer..."

Star grabbed a hold of Zan's towel in one hand. Zan balked. "Don't you dare..."

"I'm drunk. I have an excuse. What's yours?" Star was showing teeth.

"My excuse not to is that I'm indeterminately leasing space to a higher being so that I can keep my soul. If you can come up with a better reason than that for me to get in flagrante delecto with you, I'm listening."

Star sat up and ran his hands through his hair. "Sorry. I didn't mean - "

"I know you didn't. Drop it."

"Okay. So...want to go see it?"


"The tattoo parlor."

"It's three in the morning! They're obviously not open."

"So? I'm wired, I'm still drunk, and I'm tired of sitting here. I'll show you where it is. It's not far from here. You could practically walk there."

Zan smiled a sideways kind of smile. "Okay. Just don't fall off my bike."

Star smiled honestly this time, and held up his hand. "Scout's honor."

* * * * * *

In the alley, Star climbed behind Zan onto his bike as he started the ignition. The air had a bite to it, heralding the beginning of autumn.

Zan spoke over the rumble of the bike engine. "I might get a thunderbird."

Star settled into place, feeling the warmth of Zan's body against his on the seat. "A thunderbird? Like a phoenix? All fire and lightning and ashes and rebirth?"

Zan gunned the engine. "Something like that."

"Where on your body are you going to get it? Somewhere I'm not allowed to see? I've already seen your other tattoos, but it if you got one I wasn't allowed to see, I'd be so..."

"Frustrated? That, maybe, would be worth it."

Star reached down in front of him as Zan coasted the bike down the alley, and grabbed Zan's ass in both hands, squeezing unmercifully. Zan squealed. "Bastard!"

"Hell. If you're going to taunt me, I'm going to return the favor."

Zan laughed as the bike's gears caught. "Yeah. Maybe I'll get it somewhere you can't see so that you'll have to find it later."

Star was silent for a moment.

"I think you might be more evil than I am."

"You think?"

As the bike rolled towards the street, Zan and Star's voices echoed down the alley. "So. Where is this place?" "West 7th." "What?! You said it was walking distance! That's clear across town!" "I've walked that far before, no problem." "You're psycho." "And that's news to you now?" "Well...I never knew that you were quite so..."

Far down the alley, there was a slow, slinking movement. A white, ragged dog with pale eyes peered around the corner, watching the bike leave the alley. It stayed motionless for some time, continuing to watch the empty space at the road entrance. A rustling motion a moment later made the dog's head turn swiftly up, scrutinizing and patient.

A bird, possibly a raptor of some kind, had landed on a power line just overhead, and after ruffling its feathers for a moment, settled into place. It was immense. It turned its unblinking eyes down the same line of the alley that the dog also watched, before slowly turning its head down to meet the gaze of the hound. After a few long and silent moments, both creatures left, departing the way they had arrived - carefully, quietly. Just a part of the early morning gloom.

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