A kiss in the moonlight

A slip of tongue between my lips

Bitter salt in my mouth,

The taste of sex in my veins

 

Stronger than sour mash

Harder than liquid steel

Your hands on my skin,

Pouring fire into my veins

 

—“The Devil’s Brew”

 

 

MIKI EYED Damien suspiciously. His best friend was leaning over a glass case, staring down at rows of sparkling watches, and shaking his head at the salesman reaching for a diamond-encrusted timepiece.

“Nah, Sionn’s not like that,” Damien muttered. “Something solid. Not too heavy, but it has to have some weight on it. Good quality. Not flash.”

“Walmart has some Seiko watches, I believe. Perhaps that will be more your style, sir.” The man sniffed.

Miki rolled his eyes and took a step away from the counter. Damie’s entire body stiffened, and he knew that cue well. Stepping away seemed like a damned fucking good idea, and if he’d known the sales guy was going to be an asshole, he’d have brought a tarp with him to spread out over the floor.

“Too bad about the carpet,” Miki muttered to an older woman with a nametag attached to her lapel. Her overly painted mouth dropped open an inch, as if she were about to ask a question, but she stopped when she caught a good look at Miki. Her lips parted again, but the only sound coming out of her mouth was a high-pitched, whistling sigh.

It was soon lost beneath the cut-glass sharpness of Damie’s Brit-tinged snark.

“Look, asshat—” Damie didn’t get a chance to get wound up. The woman was quick; Miki had to give her that. Despite the distance between them and her pencil-high stilettos, she practically flew across the carpet and slid in between Damien and the salesman, a ring on her hand hitting the glass case hard enough to make it chime.

The Giants probably wished they had her to cover second base, because she could move.

“Gary, I’ll take it from here.” The look she gave the man behind the counter was worthy of an Ark of the Covenant opening with damnation hot on the trails of hellfire. Caught in her withering glare, he slunk away, disappearing into the shadows of a service desk near the door. “Let me see if I can’t help you find something, Mr. Mitchell. Perhaps a Rolex?”

The watch perusal lasted too long for Miki’s thin patience, and he rubbed his Converse on the store’s dark blue rug. If he’d known Damien wanted to go to a pricy jewelry store, he wouldn’t have worn his most comfortable—and torn—pair of jeans or Kane’s threadbare Finnegan’s Pub rugby shirt. It was bad enough he’d been dragged through the stacked concrete tiers of the high-end mall. What made everything worse was knowing he didn’t belong.

Because he never really belonged.

Damien didn’t have that problem. He could fit in as easily at the Wet Queens bathhouse as he did among the diamond set, shifting his behavior and language to what he needed it to be. Even dressed in early rocker, something about Damien set people at ease, assuring them he was okay to be any damned place he wanted to be.

Gary had been an aberration. Fucker was lucky the woman stepped in, because Damien didn’t like being shoved aside as if he were trash. Unlike Damie, Miki knew trash was pretty much what he was and tried not to pay attention to his best friend’s ranting to the contrary.

“Don’t stick your dick in or argue with crazy,” Miki reminded himself while his best friend described what type of watch he wanted to buy his lover. Hoping to sneak a peek at a price tag, Miki was horrified to discover nothing in the cases actually listed a price. “Jesus Christ, we’re in a If you have to fucking ask, you can’t afford it joint. What the fucking hell is Damie thinking?”

They were definitely smack dab in the middle of crazy.

“Hey, whatcha looking at?” Damie snuck up behind him and put his chin on Miki’s shoulder, peering down at the case Miki’d been staring at. “Those are tennis bracelets. Really?”

“Who the hell wears shit like this when they play tennis?” Miki rolled his shoulder, dislodging his friend. “And who the fuck do we know that even plays tennis?”

“I can play tennis,” Damie offered up, and Miki huffed his disgust. “What? Nothing wrong with playing a sport.”

“Fucking someone who plays a sport is good enough,” Miki grumbled. “Why the hell are you buying Sionn a watch? And why here? Dude, I’m scared to ask how much the plastic cups cost if I want water.”

“Sinjun, in a place like this, if you ask for water, they’re going to give it to you in an actual glass, not some fucking red Solo cup you use for beer pong.” His friend grinned back at him, a stupid smirk curling up his wide mouth. “And it’s for Valentine’s Day. I wanted to get him something nice. It’s the first one for us.”

Jesus,” Miki spat back. “Isn’t that the point of fucking a guy? That we don’t have to do that kind of shit?” Damien stood very still, and Miki groaned at the oh-so-familiar assessing look in his brother-friend’s eyes. “Don’t you fucking start. I’m not broken. Well, fucking not on this. We’re guys. We don’t have to do this romantic shit. God fucking damn it. That’s a damned het holiday thing.”

“Dude, it’s a holiday for anyone in love….”

“Don’t give me a history lesson. I don’t want to know.” Miki threw up his hands to stop Damien’s information vomit.

Miki didn’t know what he was so pissed off about. Well, he did. If he looked hard enough—really not that hard, actually—he felt stupid. Worthless. Things—everything—came so easily to everyone else around him. They talked with one another, laughed at jokes, and even knew what to fucking say to get people to like them. He didn’t have any of that. The only time words and thoughts worked for him was when he put them on paper, and Damie wove a song around them.

Other than that, Miki felt more like a piece of old gum stuck to the underside of a table than someone actually living out there with the rest of the world.

Now he couldn’t even get a simple fucking holiday right. He must have been Kane’s biggest fucking charity case, because the cop could have done a hell of a lot better than Miki St. John.

Goddamnit fucking hell.” It felt good to get it out.

He’d thought he had it down. Wasn’t he trying not to back away when Brigid came at him, her arms wide open and her mouth puckered up for a kiss? Didn’t he sit at their family table on fucking Sundays and eat in the middle of the storm they called dinner? Thank God Donal ran interference for him, or Miki would go insane trying to fight off the Morgans’ attentions. Kane’s dad seemed to always know when Miki was at his breaking point, because Donal would not-so-subtly steer Miki toward the study and close the door behind them, leaving the rest of the Irish mob outside.

There was something sacrosanct about that closed door, because no one knocked at it to get in. It was a win all around. Miki got some quiet, and Donal got to tell stories about his children and wife to someone who’d not been there when the stupid happened.

He really liked the older man. Especially when Donal accidently called him son. It took Miki’s speech, and he could barely breathe from the amount of like pounding through him.

And now he was going to fuck that all up by forgetting a simple damned holiday he thought he didn’t have to do.

“What am I supposed to do? Get him something else? Shit, I already got him something. A stupid something,” Miki found himself saying before Damien could come up with some bullshit about how it was okay Miki’d forgotten another one of life’s rules. “Like what something else?”

The assessing look was gone, wiped away by Damien’s full-throttle enthusiasm. “Dude, you are so going to rock this.”

 

 

FELIX’S FISH and Chip shop was still there. It’d been one of those places Miki wholly avoided during the bleak times when he’d believed Damie was dead. He couldn’t begin to count how many times they’d sat on the shop’s narrow patio, straddling its long cushioned benches and staring out onto the bay. Stuck in between an old clothes factory and a midcentury office building, Felix’s was a bustling, well-kept local secret—nearly hidden between the two taller structures and manned by a handsome silver-haired Hispanic man with an eye for pretty boys.

Its oddly triangular building and patio overlooking the water was a frequent stopping place for Sinner’s Gin. Cheap beer and even cheaper excellent food were a great attraction to a struggling band. It’d also been one of the few places Johnny hadn’t been fired from for letting his New York mouth run off on its own.

“Shit, I can’t believe this place is still here.” Damien beamed at Miki as he handed over two full orders of fish and chips wrapped up in brown paper.

Miki grabbed the food carefully, having already learned a long time ago it was open on one end, and its contents seemed to easily elude their paper prison if tilted the wrong way. Damie set two brown glass bottles on the bench before slinging his leg over to face Miki.

“Beer?” Miki grabbed one of the bottles to examine its label. “Kind of early, no? It’s like one or something.”

“Who’d ever think that would be coming out of one of our mouths,” Damie snorted. “And no, it’s cream soda. Twist them open. I’ll spread out the food.”

“These don’t twist.” Miki held up a bottle after fighting with it for a few seconds.

Damie dug out Sionn’s car keys from his pocket. “Here, Sionn’s got a church key.”

“Shit, how much does he drink that he’s got one of these?” He made a face at Damie. “Owns a pub. Yeah, forgot.”

They switched off, passing over a soda for a helping of food, and Miki made a face at Damie’s drenching a pile of fries with rooster sauce. After breaking off a piece from a strip of deep-fried, panko-coated cod, Miki dropped the bite-sized piece onto the paper and blew on his fingers to cool them off.

“You never could wait,” Damien said wistfully.

They felt right sitting there—together—their knees touching and blocking the wind from chilling their hot fish and chips with their legs. Miki’s eyes drifted to the right, where another bench sat waiting for another pair of men who’d never sit there again, and he blinked, wiping away the sting of tears forming in his eyes.

If he listened carefully, Miki could almost hear Dave’s soft, rolling laugh and Johnny teasing the Southern man about the merits of mashed potatoes over grits. They’d both stuck to the fish, even when Felix got his hands on Dungeness crab to make into cakes. Damien’d sworn they were the best he’d ever tasted, but Johnny refused to put anything that came out of a shell into his mouth. Dave just said he was a purist, sticking to what Jesus gave the masses to eat.

Until Damien pointed out draft beer wasn’t on the Jesus menu, and Dave retorted wine was a pussy drink.

They were stupid, teasing arguments—gone over and over again until Miki could recite them from memory.

And memory was all they had left now—held together with a melancholy joy of Damie sitting across of him.

As if able to read Miki’s thoughts—a definite possibility considering all they’d gone through—Damie held up his soda bottle and murmured, “To Dave and Johnny. God, I miss those fucking sons of bitches.”

“To Dave and Johnny,” Miki echoed. “God help the fucking angels above.”

This time the tears came in full force, and he let them fall. The men he’d shared a stage and a life with deserved them. Hell, Damie deserved them too, and God knew he’d cried his fucking soul out when he’d found out Damie was alive.

He’d spent too many moments looking around for the other two members of the band since Damie’d come back. Time slipped away from him, throwing Miki back with its long, shadowy fingers, and he’d come to almost expect to hear Dave singing totally off-key as he made the morning coffee or Johnny yelling through their tiny two-room apartment because he was trapped in the bathroom and needed toilet paper.

Now the smell of brewing java came with a rolling Irish accent and warm hands rubbing up the length of his body to gently break in the morning.

Although sometimes gentle wasn’t exactly the word of the day and he’d found himself on the floor more than once, wondering if he’d ever walk again after Kane was done with him.

“Hey, Sinjun, it’ll be okay.” Damie set the food on the next bench and grabbed him, dragging Miki into a hug. “I’m here, dude.”

“Yeah, I know….” He sniffed and reached for a napkin to wipe his face with. “Just… fucking life, you know?”

“Yeah, it sucks,” Damie agreed. “You know what sucks too?”

“What?” Miki pulled away, scrubbing his face clean, but the wind coming off the water found the remains of his tears to freeze the damp to his skin.

“I miss playing. On stage. Fuck, I just miss playing,” Damie mumbled. “And I feel like I’m cheating on the guys, you know?”

Miki did know. Damie wasn’t the only one missing the feel of boards under his feet and the burn of amplifiers in his ears. But they were missing half of their body. Death amputated some of their limbs, and now they stumbled, unable to walk straight or grab at things properly because neither one of them could grasp the loss of their bandmates.

The music still whispered to him. Sometimes in snippets. Other times in full-blown nuclear blasts. But their drum and bass lines remained silent when he played out what came to his head. He knew the notes—heard the underlying throb of his melody—but the hands he’d come to count on—the ones who brought his brain vomit to life—were gone.

“I miss them,” Miki admitted. “Hard.”

“You know what I’m glad about—through all this shit?”

“What?” He cocked his head, then stole a fry from Damie’s hot-sauce spiked mound. It was instant regret, but the narrowing of his brother’s eyes was worth the pain on his tongue. “Do not judge me.”

“Fucker.” The curse was without any heat and tempered by Damie’s smile.

“So what gets you through all of this shit? Because, D, I need some help. I keep looking for them, man. I know they’re not coming back. Not like you.”

“No, not like me.” Damie’s smile edged toward bitter for a second, and Miki inched closer to give him a quick hug. Damie returned it, brief but hard, muttering into Miki’s ear. “Their families gave a shit about them. Mine just tried to murder me twice.”

He hugged tighter, drawing Damie in. “I didn’t.”

“Nah, you’re good.” Damien pulled back and cupped Miki’s face, staring with his bright, shiny blue eyes. He bent forward, touching his forehead to Miki’s, and whispered, “You are my best and only family.”

“There’s Sionn,” Miki teased and reached for another fry. Damie reached out to slap his fingers, but he was too quick. “And Kane. Sort of. They count. Right?”

“And Brigid.” Both of them made a face, and Damie laughed. “She’s not that bad. Just very—”

“Loud. Like, her personality is loud. You can hear her sleep.” Miki wrinkled his nose. “Dude, even her hair is loud.”

“Man, she’d shiv a bitch if anyone hurt you,” Damie reminded him, and Miki murmured in agreement. “She loves us. Even if she’s kind of scary.”

“Scary. Yeah, let’s go with that.” Miki snorted. “Families—I don’t know how to deal with them, man. Not all of that stuff. It’s like today. I don’t know what I’m doing here with this Valentine’s Day shit. Suppose I fuck it all up?”

“The only way you could fuck it all up is if you tell Kane to get the hell out of your life.” Damien’s laughter exploded out of him when Miki shot him a horrified look. “See? You’re not going to fuck it up. And that’s why I’m kind of glad I died there for a bit. It made you reach out to Kane. If I hadn’t been off fake pining for the fjords, you guys never would have hooked up.”

“So now you’re taking credit for me and Kane?” Miki shoved his friend on the shoulder, then retrieved his food from the bench. “Fuck, the fries are cold.”

“Here. Vinegar them up. It’ll be all good,” Damie said, tossing Miki a few malt vinegar packets. “And yeah, I love you. You know I do, but you weren’t exactly looking to enter into holy boyfriend land before all of that shit went down.”

“I wasn’t looking for it when Kane came around the first time,” he mumbled as he fought to open a packet with his teeth.

“Give me that. It looks like it’s been gnawed on by the world’s shittiest beaver.” Miki handed Damie the vinegar packets. As he tore them open one by one, Damie sprinkled the pungent liquid over the other man’s fries. “Here. And yeah, you might not have been looking, but there he was. It’s cute how you two love each other.”

“Says the guy who coos at Sionn in the kitchen?” Miki side-eyed his friend. “You guys are like a step away from passing each other notes in crayon.”

“More you. Less me,” Damien ordered. “Listen to me, dude. You and Kane. You’re solid. He loves the fuck out of you—don’t give me that look. You don’t think I can’t hear you guys sometimes. There’s only so much noise-dampening rubber strips you can use on a door. I’m going to put a fridge or something up in our room so I don’t have to come down to Fuck Fest 2000 in the middle of the night when I want some water.”

“Is there a point you’re getting to here, or is it just a ‘fuck with Miki’ kind of conversation?”

“The point is, Sinjun, you needed me to be dead for a little bit. So you could love the guy you found. Well, the one who found you. If I’d been around, you wouldn’t have crossed that line. Not because we’re fuck buddies or anything, but because we’re good together. We don’t need anyone else around. Being apart kind of showed both of us that there’s room in our lives for different kinds of love. Even the kind of love Donal gives you, because, shit, you wouldn’t have gone near anyone like him a couple of years ago.”

“I definitely don’t think about Donal the way I think about Kane.” Try as he might, Miki couldn’t shake the idea of sharing a bed with Donal. “Dude, I’m gonna have to bleach my brain. That’s kind of my… shit, Donal!”

“He’s cool, and he takes care of us. Probably because we’re with Sionn and Kane, but still, he’s fucking cool.” Damien matched Miki’s grin. “Thing is, without them, we wouldn’t have the Morgan family. Or each other, really. So you reaching out to love Kane—that kind of brought us back together.”

“I was a fucking mess without you, D,” Miki confessed in a soft whisper.

“Dude, you’re a fucking mess with me too.” Damien hooked his hand around the back of Miki’s head and shook him gently. “The question is, what are we going to do about all of it?”

“I want to play.” He hated saying it, but Miki burned with the need to make music. He missed it as much as he used to miss Damien. Nearly as much as he missed Johnny and Dave. “I love Kane, but—”

“Sinjun, you live, eat, and breathe music. Hell, maybe even more than me, and I can’t even wake up in the morning without thinking Sionn is snoring in an open A5.”

“Yeah, Kane’s more of a B5. And only if he’s really fucking dead tired.”

“I think we should start another band.”

Miki heard only a little bit of a buzzing noise as Damien continued to talk. The shock reverberating through his brain was too loud for him to do anything but shake his head, hoping Damie would give him a moment, but finally he had to hold up his hand to get his friend to stop talking.

“Hold up. Did you just say start a band? Really?” He leaned back, exhaling all of the dead air from his lungs. “Dude, how the fuck can we? Are you serious? I just—”

“If you were dead, would you want me to start another band?” Damien pushed his black hair out of his eyes. “And don’t give me that look. Think about it. What would you want from me?”

“I’d be fucking pissed off,” Miki blurted out. “But I’d be fucking pissier if you sat around and jerked off on your guitar while I was taking a dirt nap. You’re too good for that shit. You’re too good to wallow.”

“You wallowed,” Damien pointed out in a soft voice. “That’s what I’m saying here. Without Kane, you’d be drowning in it.”

“I was drowning, D.” He looked away. He had to look away. Sometimes the truth burned him, and staring directly at it was like dropping into hot lava. “I didn’t want to be around this crap anymore. I couldn’t take breathing anymore. If Dude hadn’t walked into the open door that day—”

“I’d have beaten your ass so fucking raw once I got home they’d be selling it for ground-up chicken.” Damie reached up, clenched Miki’s shoulders to give him a gentle shake. “Don’t ever do that to me. Don’t ever leave me like that, okay? Don’t do that to me. Don’t do that to Kane. I know shit gets dark sometimes, but dude, not that. Never that, Sinjun.”

“No, I get it. I do,” Miki murmured, unable to look Damien in the face. “Life just got too… big. Too heavy. I get it now.”

“There’s always someone to lift it up for you,” Damie whispered. “Kane, for instance. If I’m not around, of course.”

Miki picked at his fries, hunting for hard, overdone bits amid the vinegar-drenched potatoes. “You feel that way about Sionn? Like he can lift you out of the shit?”

“Lift me out?” Damien leaned back, tilting his face toward the watery San Francisco sun. “Sinjun, Sionn can wash it off of me. That’s how you should look at Kane. Like he’s got his hand on a fire hose and can blast off everything crappy clinging to you.”

“Heh, you said hose,” Miki snorted. This time, he let Damie’s playful punch land, knocking him slightly to the side.

“You’re a fucking dick sometimes, Sinjun.”

“Like you wouldn’t have said the same thing.”

“Yeah,” Damie laughed. “Probably.”

The fish-and-chip shop must have started a new batch of fries, because Miki caught the sound of crackling coming from the take-out window punched through the front of the building, and the starchy perfume of cooking potatoes momentarily masked the scent of seagull shit and baked concrete. Just beyond them, the bay crinkled and flashed, its gray-blue waters catching a silvery sheen from the sun. The day was a bit of a stew, his conflicting emotions fighting to rise to the surface while newer, happier times bobbed along merrily in Miki’s brain.

“Whatcha thinking about?” Damie said through a mouthful of fries. “Talk to me, Sinjun.”

Nothing much had changed. Here they were, sitting on the bay, and Damie was more interested in picking apart Miki’s brain than eating their lunch.

“Fish, dude. And chips,” Miki reminded him. “Eating.”

“You can eat and talk at the same time, dude.” Damien nodded. “I know. I’ve watched most of your meals go down your throat. No lies. Just talk. It’s only you and me here.”

“I was thinking I was really drowning before Kane.” He turned, focusing on the man. It was scary to say what he felt out loud—to talk about how he’d considered downing every single pain pill the doctors had given him because he hurt so damned much inside. “Dude broke that open—that crap inside of me spilled out—but Kane? He healed it. Healed me.

“Don’t get me wrong. There was a big fucking Damie-sized hole inside of me. It ached all the time. Every time I heard someone mention us or there was some stupid radio station playing one of our songs, I bled inside, man. Kane made it okay. Because I could bleed like that, and he’d wipe it away. He makes everything okay, D. You know? Like he can hold me, and I can—breathe. It made missing you a little less achy. And I hated that. I felt scared I was going to lose you again because there was Kane, and he made the hurting—less.”

“Loving Kane doesn’t mean you lose me, asshole,” Damie teased. “I’m always there. It’s not a hole. It’s like an imprint. A part of me. Like a snow angel I left on your heart. Doesn’t matter if I’m here in the flesh—”

“Let’s not test that one. I kinda like having you here,” Miki interrupted. “Die on me again, and I’m going to fucking piss on your grave. Shit no—I’m going to sell every single damned song we have to a children’s show with puppets.”

“Yeah, okay—it’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s all I’ve got. What I’m saying is, he gets you. Hell, he gets me. He’s not going to let you drown, Sinjun. Ever. You’ve got to believe that about him.”

“I do,” Miki whispered softly. “You were the first one I knew wouldn’t let me go. It’s kind of how I knew I wasn’t ever going to shake off Kane. He was just there—folding over me. Like you did. I knew I loved him when I realized he was going to be inside of me—no matter where he was, I’d always have him there.”

“Well, if you play your cards right, Sinjun”—Damie winked—“he’ll be inside of you tonight too.”

“Dude, I’m not worried about the sex.” He jabbed at Damie’s stomach with a soft fist. “I’m worried about fucking up Valentine’s Day for him. I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

“It’s not that hard, Miki. Wiggle your ass and toss the present at him. Chances are, anything you give him is going to be perfect. Kane’s just that kind of guy. It won’t really matter what you give him, just so long as it’s you giving it to him.”

“Right,” Miki said, rolling his eyes. “That’s ’cause you haven’t seen what I got him in the first place—before the jewelry place. He’s going to fricking hate it. Just wait and see.”