Kane leaned against the kitchen counter, sucking orange juice straight from the carton. He stared morosely into nothingness, trying simply not to think. Not an easy feat on the best of days, and this day was anything but.

It was Monday morning, and Ian—his best friend, roommate, and sometimes fuck buddy—was on his way to work. As Kane should be. But no, on Friday he’d gotten fed up after three years of bullshit and told his boss to go suck himself in very colorful language.

 

 

Friday morning.

“Look, Kane, I don’t know how the data was stolen. But you’re in charge of our computer security. It’s your job.”

Kane held on to his patience with extreme care, but the hold was tenuous at best and fading fast. “I can’t force everyone in the company to follow the security protocols I put into place. Especially the idiot VPs who think it’s okay to shut down any damned thing running on their computers any time they feel like it. Or worse yet, the salesmen who think it’s just fine to loan their laptops to customers. Am I supposed to be there to keep them from doing that?”

“Can’t you lock them down?”

Kane shifted on his feet, pinching the bridge of his nose. “From what? From the salesmen themselves? Am I supposed to make it so they can’t use them too?”

“Well… what about a password?”

Kane’s hands went up into his shaggy black hair, refraining—just barely—from pulling it out. He had no idea how an idiot like this was ever put in charge of their IT department. No, that wasn’t true. He did know. Kane was fairly certain the man had fucked his way into the job. Kane’s boss had been giving him lewd looks since it was discovered that he was gay. Kane had kept it fairly quiet, for the simple fact his personal life was none of their damned business. But on a particularly bad day, Ian had come over at lunch to comfort him and they’d been caught kissing in the stairwell. Fucking office rumor mill.

He took a deep breath, trying again to scrabble around for some sort of calm, and dropped his hands. “The laptops already have passwords on them. If the salesmen unlock the damned machine, there’s nothing I can do. It’s called physical security. You know? The thing that everyone’s so fucking worried about here? Why we fucking get patted down going in and out of the fucking building?”

His boss stared at him, mouth hanging open, but no sound came out. He blinked a few times, then apparently realized he was gaping and snapped it closed. “So what are you going to do about this?”

Kane blinked at him. “Do? What am I going to do? This isn’t something I can do anything about! One of your salesmen gave his fucking laptop to a customer. A laptop that had not only his customer’s information on it, but the information for all of Amos Thackery Insurance’s customers. The damage is done! The best you can hope for is to get the data back, extract some kind of contract from the customer for silence, and apologize profusely to every goddamned customer that was affected!”

His boss drew himself up—well, the best the little rat could in the ridiculously large leather office chair. The man was so short his feet didn’t reach the floor, his bald head sported a bad comb-over, and his mustache put Kane in mind of bad seventies porn stars.

“I would appreciate it if you would watch your language, Mr. Harris. This is a professional office. When you’ve come up with a plan for how to salvage this situation, please bring it back to me. In the meantime, you are dismissed.”

Kane gaped at the man, his jaw nearly hitting the floor this time. “Plan? I just told you the only thing you can possibly do.”

“That is not a viable option. We must not let our customers know what has happened, and we can’t risk angering the customer that has the data. There must be some other way to handle this.”

“Fuck the customer. He should be lucky he doesn’t get thrown in jail.” Kane shook his head.

“That also is not a viable option. You caused this mess. I expect you to clean it up.” He turned his attention to his computer screen in dismissal.

Kane had enough. He leaned across the desk and grabbed the weasel by the ridiculously awful lime green polyester tie. “I will not clean up this mess. It’s not mine to clean up. In fact, while you’re cleaning up this mess that your salesman created, you can find yourself another computer security specialist. And in the meantime, you can curl into a little ball and stick the tiny little dick I know you have into your own mouth and suck it. Or better yet, go get sucked or fucked by the salesman who caused this, because it’s the only motherfucking thing you’re going to be able to get for a very long time.”

He spun around on his heel and stalked down the hallway to his office. He snatched up the anime figures he had on a shelf, the picture of him and Ian at their high school graduation, and left everything else. He spent nearly ten minutes fighting with security over his personal thumb drive until he finally convinced them to check it—and of course, they found nothing but his personal damned MP3s.

After a terse text to Ian saying he’d quit and would explain more later, he drove around the city aimlessly in his beat-up silver Honda Accord until he’d nearly run out of gas. He filled up the tank, kept driving, and found himself in one of the parking lots set up to overlook the bay, contemplating what he’d done.

There was a chance the company might come after him for their fuckup, but he really hoped not. With any luck someone higher up with brains would realize there was no way they could really pin it on him and do what they needed to do. He stayed there for quite a while, watching the sun start to descend, but after the fourth frantic text from Ian, he finally gave up and went home.

By that point all he’d wanted to do was crawl into bed and forget the whole damned day. It had been a stupid thing to do. Even if the economy wasn’t as bad in their little corner of the world as it was in other places, a computer security specialist position wasn’t exactly the most high-demand job. People found a good one and held on to them. Usually.

But instead of letting him crawl into bed, Ian had insisted holing up in his room wasn’t the answer and pulled out their club clothes—tight, well-faded jeans, the snug button-down, sleeveless shirts they both liked, left open on both ends so there were only a few buttons holding them closed, and the half boots. Kane had then replaced the retainers in his nose, ears, and eyebrows with the silver loops he liked and even grudgingly wore the chain Ian had given him for his birthday.

Then Ian had dragged him out to Decadence, the industrial club high on the hill overlooking the bay, and Kane had to admit he was glad for it. They’d spent the evening dancing, the pounding beats and heavy bass helping to clear his head. They’d lucked into it being one of the nights their best DJ was spinning, purple-spiked hair peeking over the top of the booth, so it was even better, the music shifting with the mood of the crowd.

He’d gotten nice and worked up, with enough alcohol in his system to flatten most people, though not him; he’d always been able to hold it well. Then he’d spent the night rubbing up against Ian’s body, the other bodies pressing in from other sides, the heat of the dance floor closing in, and the atmosphere of the iron-and-brick converted factory all working together to make him plenty fucking horny. At one point they’d damned near fucked right there in the middle of the crowd.

They’d just barely managed to escape to the garden outside the club before he was on his knees, Ian’s cock in his mouth. He’d taken his own dick into his hand and started stroking quickly, Ian’s taste making it go even faster. Neither of them had lasted long, and they only went unnoticed because there were plenty of other “fucks” and “goddamns” being heard throughout the cool evening air.

When all was said and done, he’d managed to not think about much at all until the following morning.

 

 

Kane shook his head. So much for not thinking. He stowed the half-empty carton back in the refrigerator and left the kitchen. He headed into the spare bedroom of their apartment, which had been set up for exercise and working out. Geeks though they were, they both insisted on staying in shape too.

It wasn’t a large room, but it was equipped well enough for the two for them. A heavy punching bag hung in one corner, weights were stacked along another wall, and a stereo system sat on a small set of shelves. Space was more important than décor.

He turned the stereo on and switched from WKIB—he hated morning radio—to the iPod dock. He flipped through his playlists until he found the one he liked for his workouts. Slipknot came thumping through the speakers, and he started his short warm-up. Right after it switched to Disturbed, he was into his push-ups and starting to feel a little better. By the time Godsmack took over, he’d finished his sit-ups, had the gloves on, and was imagining beating the shit out of his ex-boss.

Somewhere in the middle of Linkin Park, he stepped back. He could feel the workout thrumming throughout his body, his muscles singing, his hands reverberating from the thuds. Sweat coated his skin and he was feeling great physically, with the bonus that he’d stopped thinking for a while. Evanescence helped him cool down, and then he flipped the stereo off and headed for the shower, stripping out of his pajama pants along the way.

Unfortunately his clear mind didn’t last. As the hot spray pounded his skin, he started thinking about the prospect of job hunting. He hated it with a passion. He hated trying to sell himself, hated trying to word his résumé just so, or write his cover letters so they caught the right person’s attention. There was a reason he was a geek. He liked machines, computers, and the anonymity of them. Ian was the same way: He wanted his networks, switches, hubs, and cabling, wanted his servers and his computer screens. Oh, they could deal with people. They weren’t completely socially inept. But most people were simply too much for them to want to deal with.

After he scrubbed himself, he shut off the water and stepped out, snatching the towel from the bar next to him. He had about six months’ worth of his half of the bills in savings he could rely on, but he knew if he didn’t start job hunting right away, it would only get harder the longer he waited. Sighing into the towel, he dried himself, then wandered into his bedroom, dug a pair of sweatpants out of his dresser, and tugged them on.

He had to start, and he had to do it that day. Giving in to one more sigh, he stopped long enough to get himself a cup of coffee, then settled in at his desk. The large L-shaped surface connected to Ian’s identical one in mirror image at the other end. Their main computers sat on the short portion of the L, with their personal servers in between. His end of the desk had four monitors, three twenty-four inch screens for his main computer and a fourth smaller screen with a switch box that led to their servers.

He bumped the mouse to wake the computer up, and when it chugged and groaned, taking its time, he realized it’d probably been way too long since he rebooted. He’d worry about it later. There were other things to think about right then, even if he didn’t want to. He double-clicked on the orange-and-blue icon to start his browser and paused to look over the current headlines.

When nothing caught his attention, he loaded his Gmail and scanned it for anything interesting. Ian had checked in, and he fired off a reply to stop worrying, that he’d be just fine. He doubted Ian would believe him. The rest of it could happily go into the trash, and that was where he sent it. He stopped to check his web comics, loaded Facebook and read a few status updates, then forced himself to just close the damned thing down. He was stalling and he knew it.

Taking a deep breath, he dug through his hard drives looking for his old résumé, eventually having to go into his backups to find it on their server. He opened it up and grimaced. It was a mess and would take more time than he wanted to put into it to update.

He stared at the line of certification logos under his name. One of the reasons he hated job hunting was that he didn’t have a four-year college degree. He had a two-year degree from the community college in town, but he’d never finished his bachelor’s. He had nearly ten years in the industry, more certifications than most human beings had a right to, but not the actual degree. And because of that he often got turned down out of hand. It was intensely frustrating.

He finally forced himself to work through the thing piece by piece and managed to put together something reasonably resembling a current résumé. He started his web browser again, updated his job site listings, including Monster, CareerBuilder, and a few others, uploaded the new résumé, and set up new job alerts. There wasn’t anything currently listed, but that didn’t mean much. The biggest part of the game was finding the right headhunter to pick him up and submit to the companies for him.

He sighed and closed the window. Sitting back, he rubbed his eyes as he contemplated his options. There really wasn’t much else he could do. But the thought of going back into yet another company with the same pile of office politics, inept bosses, and bullshit policies made his skin crawl.

He glanced at the clock. It was nearly one, and he hadn’t eaten yet. Fuck it. He’d done enough for one day. He set his computer to reboot, then headed into the kitchen. After slapping together a sandwich, he sat back down, logged back in, and double-clicked on the little gold ring icon on his desktop. He needed to kill shit.

 

 

Ian coaxed his ancient Toyota into the parking spot next to Kane’s Accord and shut off the engine. He was exhausted. He’d gotten into a fight with the IT director again, was given another project to work on with the database developer whom he hated with a passion, and had been forced to sit through no less than three completely useless meetings in the afternoon. All he wanted to do was eat something and go kill something. Not necessarily in that order.

He dragged himself out of the car and locked it, tossing his bag over his shoulder. He trudged up the steps, giving a halfhearted wave at their elderly neighbor, a sweet old lady not entirely with it anymore. She was out on her balcony in little more than a nightgown, watering nearly dead plants. She smiled a wide, toothless smile and he gave a weak smile back.

He finally made it to the apartment door on the third floor. He slammed the door deliberately so Kane would know he was home, then kicked off his shoes, hung his keys up, and shed his jacket. He put it in the closet before heading down the hall.

Their living room wasn’t all that big, but they didn’t care. Half of it was taken up with their computer desks, stuffed next to each other and covering one entire wall. Opposite them was the large flat screen TV and entertainment center, complete with all three major gaming consoles, a home theater system, and large collection of movies and games. In front of the TV, between it and their desks, was the one piece of furniture they’d spent any real money on: their couch. They’d had more than a few friends crash with them, and they’d finally broken down and bought a decent one for them to sleep on. It had certainly come in handy a few times when they’d decided to fuck there in the living room too.

Ian shook his head at the thought and turned his attention to Kane. He had his headphones on and there was a battle going on the screen, one hand was on the keyboard, and the other was on the mouse.

“No, goddammit! He was… fuck. What do you mean you’re out of power? That’s not what I see! Just… send in the pet. Fine. Look, we’re in the bottom of fucking Moria. You can’t fuck around like that!”

Ian leaned against the wall, crossing his arms, and watched the battle. There were way too many enemies for Kane’s group—he could see that from there.

Goddammit!” Kane shouted, ripping his headphones off and throwing them onto the desk.

“Pick-up group?” Ian asked.

Kane spun around, and Ian glanced over Kane’s shoulder to see his character’s corpse lying on the ground. “Yeah. Why do I get into them again?”

Ian shook his head. “I don’t know. They’re not usually that bad in Middle-earth, though, are they?”

“No, which is why I’m so pissed.” He sighed. “Must be the daytime players.”

“Want to order in tonight?” Ian asked, crossing the room to stand next to his friend.

“Chinese?” Kane looked up hopefully, and Ian laughed.

“Sure. If we can order from the place that does the sushi too.”

“Done!” Kane grinned and snatched at the menu he kept pinned to the small bulletin board over his desk. “How was your day?” he asked as he looked over the menu.

Ian sighed. “Long. Meetings all damned afternoon. I hate meetings. I hate people. And, um, don’t you have to deal with your group?” He pointed at the screen.

Kane shook his head. “No, I dropped it. I should port back, though.” He turned back to the computer and clicked a few things. His corpse revived, the pretty green swirls surrounded him, and the loading screen came up, complete with a twenty-four-inch version of a spider.

Ian shuddered and looked away. Instead, he turned to inspect his friend. He could tell something was bubbling under the olive skin and nearly black eyes. He knew it was very likely the old job, the new job hunt, and the frustration Kane was likely feeling over it. Kane always thought too much, spent way too much mental energy worrying about things.

“Did you work out today?” he asked, giving in and playing with a bit of Kane’s shaggy ebony hair.

“Yeah,” Kane said, and that one syllable told Ian enough: that while the workout might have done some, it most certainly wasn’t enough. He knew Kane would have gotten started on what he had to do, would have done what he felt he needed to, and hated every second of it. He was likely worried about money and not looking forward to working for another bullshit company with bullshit politics and bullshit people.

He knew his friend well.

They’d been friends since they were six. He’d met Kane one hot summer day behind his house, and from that point on, Kane had just always been there.

Kane spun back around in his chair and surprised Ian. He wrapped his arms around Ian’s waist and pulled until they were tight against each other, burying his face in Ian’s stomach.

“Kane?”

It’s not that they never hugged or touched. They did—quite often, in fact, for two people who weren’t committed lovers, but this was… different.

“Sorry. Just….” He didn’t continue, instead shook his head a little.

At a loss for what to do, Ian wrapped his arms around Kane’s shoulders.

They stayed that way for a few moments, and then Kane pulled back. “I’m sorry. Just overthinking things today.” He peered up at Ian. “And you’re tired. Let’s get dinner ordered. Want to play for a while?”

Ian considered him for a moment. As much as he wanted to log in and play too, he knew Kane’s current state of mind was not conducive to making any kind of progress. They’d end up dying more than once; then they’d get frustrated over it. Death in the game was relatively painless, but it was still annoying and inconvenient. Which would only serve to make things worse.

Maybe what he needed was another type altogether. “Maybe. Maybe what you need is a different kind of play tonight.” Ian watched Kane’s eyes. His pupils expanded just a bit and his breathing quickened. “Would you like that, pet?”

“Yes, Sir.” Kane’s voice was clear and deferent, his eyes dropping away.

Ian’s own breath quickened and he worked to get hold of himself. “Very well. Strip, get the cushion, and get on your knees. Wait here for me.”

“Yes, Sir,” Kane answered, voice already rough with anticipation, and as Ian stepped away, he hurried to obey.