There’s no real fall in Florida, not like you see in all the movies, and there are times that Effy kinda hates that, unable to kick his way through the leaves and saunter down fog-swirled streets like he could if he was in - to point at random on a map - San Francisco, for example. There are times when the mugginess of the climate bothers him, not least when it’s late October and he’s wearing too much leather to be truly comfortable. Still, fabulous and comfortable don’t often go hand-in-hand, and he’s always preferred to be the former. But when it’s raining most of the day and that just makes the heat rise further, like someone’s poured water on the coals in a sauna, he finds himself wiping the sweat off the back of his neck and out of his immaculate beard, and muttering darkly about moving somewhere with real seasons.
Effy knows the figure he makes, like something out of a Tom of Finland art book, pants tight enough to leave exactly nothing to the imagination, while covering everything. Ass impossibly rounded, bulge tantalising in size, he stalks, rather than sways. The boots help, of course, as does the fact that, as much as he knows everyone is watching him, he doesn’t care. The way the purple of his spiked leather jacket blends into the purple of the sunset, chest hair showing the deep vee of his t-shirt; it’s all calculated and performative and so fucking tedious. He’d find it amusing, but he’s been past that since puberty blessed him with everything he needed to be exactly gorgeous enough to get his own way in everything. Now, at a twenty-something he won’t elaborate on, it gives him just enough laconic energy to crook his finger and watch them all beg to be at his feet, choose the right one, take them home, and kick them out when he’s taken his fill. He’s heard them compare him to an incubus, and laughs. At least if meaningless sex was how he got his macros in, it might feel less like a performance by rote.
He unlocks his door, easing the damp jacket from his shoulders and listening to the rumble of the thunder far above, having got home just in time. After he hangs it up to dry, he strips off his t-shirt, too, using it to wipe the sweat off his chest as if it isn’t mostly a wet rag by this point, before throwing it into the hamper, lip curling in disgust. He catches himself in the hallway mirror, and runs a hand down his chest, tucking it in the waistband of his jeans as he smirks at his own reflection in a practiced manner, then shakes his head, lets the smirk be replaced with the slightest hint of a real smile, and looks away.
“Get over yourself,” he murmurs to himself, and heads for the shower, not noticing the black and white flicker of movement that isn’t a part of his reflection.
The problem with a hot shower is that it only increases the humidity, fills his lungs with heavy air, soaked in warmth and wetness that reminds him of nights after drinking, of the difficulty of breathing when you’re so fucked up you can hardly see, and that sends him to the bedroom and the relief of the AC as soon as possible. It’s one thing to choose to wallow in the memories, but quite another to have them light up his synapses on their own and display themselves in technicolor. He’ll choose his own moments of self-flagellation, and how he chooses to take them, and he’s done with being alone and breathless. It takes him a second, stepping out of the shower, swaying, to find his feet and find a towel, and even if he glanced at the bathroom mirror, the heat fogging it would keep him from seeing what waits there.
As Effy flops down onto the bed, towel falling to the floor, the mirrored door of the closet slides silently closed, meaning he’s reflected in his entirety, one foot on the floor, the other on the bed, at the perfect angle for one of those more risque shots he’s always enjoyed sending out to those who will best appreciate them. He doesn’t notice, and instead meets his own eyes in the mirror and considers himself. When he’s alone, all sardonic wit dropped, he picks through his own flaws, inch by inch, and then quirks a smile anyway. Who gives a fuck? He’s the only one who ever sees himself like this, and the only one who ever will, if he can keep this up. No one gets to look at him like this when he doesn’t want them to - not the nudity, that’s never something he’s felt ashamed of, but without the swagger and style and eyes that tell whoever meets them that he’s already mentally undressed them, and is waiting for them to make that a reality. He’s not sure, anymore, what the mask is hiding, only that he’s too scared to let it drop. And that it doesn’t really matter, because no one cares to look at what’s under the flirting and the bending over and his chronic availability to anyone who gives him a first look, never mind a second.
He sighs, rolling over to turn off the light and pull himself under the sheets, spreading out in the way only those committed to sleeping without a partner can manage, and is asleep before he can hear the disappointed noise from the flicker in the mirror, before it, too, is gone.
When Effy wakes, he can tell something is wrong. He doesn’t know what, not yet, but he can hear the pounding of the rain, and the rumble of thunder, and when the lightning illuminates his room, he sits bolt upright, clutching the sheets to his chest like some sort of Victorian maiden. Not for modesty, no, he shed that the moment he could, but out of fear.
There’s something crouching by his closet door.
For a second, it’s almost funny, the idea of being afraid of the closet, the way those who’ve met him but do not know him would laugh at him being ashamed of who he is, but the sting of coming out is still there, deep down. But he can’t focus on that, because there’s something crouching by his closet door. It’s got to be someone’s idea of a fucking joke, because he’s not a kid, and not afraid of the dark - but the second flash of lightning changes his mind, because the figure is closer now, almost at the edge of his bed, and then the room is dark once more, and Effy listens desperately for any sign as to where the home invader might be. It has to be a home invader, never mind that it moved like the bastard offspring of a spider and something from a horror movie, never mind the face leering unerringly out at him.
With the third flash of lightning, Effy finds himself pinned to the bed, unable to move, held there by the impossibly lean, impossibly angular figure whose thighs are astride his, who has one hand on his shoulder, and the other pressed to its own lips in a terrible parody of a teacher waiting for silence. He freezes as the room goes dark again, feeling the sinuous body leaning closer. He can smell something; petrichor, ozone, damp leather and burned wood, and he’s still working out what it is as he feels soft, dry skin against his cheek. He flinches back, but there’s just a low, quiet chuckle from the creature above him, before a mouth is by his ear, breathing hotly against his skin.
“We’ll be quiethausen,” the monster - it can only be a monster - says, in a voice that’s half whine and half rasp, and that shouldn’t make sense either, none of this does, “or Danhausen might have to do something unpleasanthausen.”
It takes Effy a second to parse the speech, to get past the sensation of a tongue - is that forked? - touching the shell of his ear, before he realises he’s being threatened to keep quiet. That makes him want to scream, but the creature is still so close, so much unknowable horror in his lap, that he bites his tongue instead. His mouth is too dry to speak, anyhow.
“Danhausen appreciates this,” the figure above him continues, almost conversationally, as if he’s not pinning Effy to his own bed, and honestly, plenty of people have been in that position. It’s just they were people, and he isn’t sure that this thing is. “Do you want to see Danhausen?”
No, Effy thinks, no, I don’t want to see you, because if I see you, you might have to kill me. Yes, he thinks, a second later, because if I’m going to die by mysterious beast, I want to know exactly what the fucking thing was, so I know what happened. I don’t want to die alone, in the dark, waiting for something horrible to happen. Let me see what’s coming.
“Yes,” he manages, and it’s barely a whisper, his voice croaking with fear. He swallows, trying to moisten his mouth, and tries again. “Yes. I want to see… Danhausen.” Effy stumbles over the unfamiliar word, and hopes the apparition isn’t going to take offence. Instead, the weight on him lessens, and the bedside lamp clicks on, dim light making him wince against it, before he can focus on what’s above him.
It looks humanoid, and male, if Effy had to guess. It’s covered on the lower half with something that looks like wet leather, or maybe snakeskin, cupping every inch of its lower body like it’s been painted on. Its upper half is bare, and seems to be the chest of a human male, with a large piece of tattoo-work, although it seems less tattooed and more… carved in, like a jack-o-lantern made of human skin, and shining from within via an otherworldly red glow. The face is caught in a static grin, the sort of grin you only find on birthday clowns and actors who think “mental illness” is as simple as a smile and wide eyes. The eyes stand out because the rest of the face appears to be covered in white greasepaint, with the lips painted black, and black and red circling the eyes, which seem starkly white in comparison. Without thinking, Effy reaches out and wipes his fingers, trembling, down the creature’s face, then looks at his fingertips. No paint residue, and it felt like tinder-dry skin, not like oil and make-up. That’s its real face.
He tries to shove back, away from the creature, but it merely smiles wider, and settles its weight on his thighs again, as if getting comfortable.
“Does Effy know why Danhausen has come to visithausen?” the creature - Danhausen - asks, lilting curiosity in that odd voice. “Do you like what you seehausen?”
Effy shakes his head, words chased away by this monster, perched on him like the incubi of old, like a million different night terrors and tales of sleep paralysis, hands scrabbling in the sheets ineffectually.
“You’re - “ he manages, and is that voice really his? That frightened squeak? “How did you get in my house?”
Danhausen laughs, and where Effy expected some sort of cackle, instead it’s an almost pleasant, almost human sort of noise.
“You let Danhausen in,” he says, like it’s something obvious, and not a patently ridiculous statement. “Danhausen watches you, sees you in the mirrorhausen. Where you look sadhausen.” At that, the impossible smile turns down, proving it can’t be face paint, and he looks at Effy with something that could be concern, on something human. “Effy too pretty to be sadhausen.”
The creature thinks he’s… pretty. Effy doesn’t know what to make of that, doesn’t know how to find the words for that, and so he tries his best to ignore it, shaking his head again.
“Look, I normally expect people to at least buy me a drink before getting into bed with me,” he says, trying for something other than manic brightness in his voice. If he can treat this just like every time someone at the bar grabs his wrist and offers to buy him a drink like he’s not already holding a pint of water, maybe he can keep his sanity. He hasn’t taken a drink offer in years, but he still smiles when they’re given, when someone shows they know absolutely nothing about him aside from the fact that he’s got a nice arse and a face they want to see screwed up into pleasure. “So maybe we could do this the proper way, and you can meet me when I’m out, not by climbing on top of me in my bed without my consent.”
When he says the last word, Danhausen shrinks back, like a vampire confronted with a cross, his weight - and he’s so heavy, for something so spindly, like his body doesn’t contain all of the weight he has - shifts back and off Effy, until he’s a huddled ball at the foot of the bed, wide eyes staring at Effy.
“Danhausen… hurt Effy?” he asks, quietly, and he sounds so upset that Effy almost forgets this is something that claims to have been watching him from his mirror. “Danhausen doesn’t want to hurt Effy. Effy specialhausen.”
That’s almost more concern and consideration than anyone he’s taken to bed in the last year has shown him, and it makes Effy pause. Maybe he’s judging the book by its cover, though admittedly, if Danhausen was a book, it’d be bound in human skin and full of spells. Maybe, just because something looks terrifying, doesn’t mean it’s actually here to hurt him. He sits up, letting the sheets drop to his waist, and offers a trembling, tenuous smile. A real one, albeit faint.
“What did you want to do?” he questions, softly. He’s afraid of the answer, but weirdly, he feels like he owes Danhausen at least a chance to speak his piece. Besides, he’s pretty sure that if you hurt the feelings of some undead monster, it’s far more likely to drag you to hell or eat your flesh or whatever.
“Danhausen’s is a strange request,” the creature says, hesitantly, uncurling a little. “Effy will not agreehausen.”
“You never know,” Effy says, ruefully, thinking of a few times he’s agreed to what someone else wanted and seriously regretted it the morning after. He winces just from the memory - shibari might be fine with the proper rope, but when all you’ve got is some gardening twine that’s been lying about, you’d be better off getting a rain check than going ahead with it. Chafing’s a bitch. “I’ve done a few strange things in my time.”
Danhausen looks almost excited by this, and Effy wonders if he’s said too much, and if he’s about to be the star player in some demon’s vore fantasy, but, well, he did ask.
“Danhausen wants to make Effy happy,” the demon says, and Effy has to close his eyes against that, biting his lip and taking a slow, measured breath in, and out, and in again. “Danhausen seeshausen. Effy is sad. Effy wants to be lovedhausen. Danhausen can give Effy what he wants.”
“Fuck you,” Effy spits, before he even knows the words are coming. “Fuck you, I’m not some broken toy you can fix, don’t you think others have tried that? Your cock isn’t a magic wand you can wave to make me stop wanting to do something to destroy myself.” He’s furious, with this monster that’s come to moralise to him, like he’s Frankenstein’s creation and demands to be treated like a person - and he’s angry, too, at himself, for believeing anyone or anything would ever look at him as something other than something to fuck or be fucked by. He’s even angrier with himself when he feels a tear slip down his cheek.
Before he can do anything about it, there’s a soft, spindly-fingered hand at his cheek, swiping the wetness off his skin. He watched numbly as Danhausen licks the tear from his finger, forked tongue wrapping around the digit in a manner which is obviously supposed to make one think about it being wrapped around something else. All it does is make Effy shake his head.
“Danhausen desires your body, true,” says that voice again, a whisper and a croak all at the same time, “but that is not all Danhausen wishes to givehausen. Danhausen has powerhausen for Effy.” He smooths his hand down the side of Effy’s face again, and it’s so hard not to lean into that touch, which feels both reverent and possessive all at once, and completely different to how anyone else has touched him for years. “Besides, Effy likes sexhausen, when it’s not a transaction.”
Effy tries to remember when the last time was that he took someone to bed for more than just to shut them up, to stop them offering alcohol, to stop them asking questions he doesn’t want to answer. The last time he picked a partner for what he wanted, rather than being someone’s else’s walking wet dream.
“It’s been a while,” he says, looking at Danhausen. Is he really considering doing this? Letting - no, choosing to start something with a barely-human monster who watches him from the mirror? Danhausen’s smile is softer now, maybe even fond, and as Effy eyes the rest of his body, the creature stretches, showing off cut abdominals and the vees of his hipbones leading into those pants, which could be latex, could be snakeskin, but nevertheless outline everything hiding therein. He makes up his mind. For once, he’s going to do something because he really wants to. “But I think I remember how it goes.”
When he wakes, the almost-afternoon light filtering into the room, Effy’s alone in his bed, splayed out like he always sleeps. His hand stretches out across the mattress, but there’s no one else there, and he tries to pretend that doesn’t hurt. He was stupid, he’ll admit that, he was stupid and let himself feel something, and this is just a reminder of why he doesn’t do that anymore, why it’s too dangerous.
He wonders if it was a dream, if he’d fucked up the night before, or seen some weird movie, but he’s sore in what would be all the right ways if only someone else was with him. As it is, they’re just familiar ways, the morning-after walk of shame past his own reflection as he tries to pretend he’s not judging himself.
He gets up and catches sight of himself in the closet’s mirrored door, and pauses, breath taken away for a second. There’s bruises on his thighs, on his wrists, a huge dark hickey on his throat and one behind his ear. His hair’s a mess in only the way that at least three rounds gets it, and his lips are red and swollen. He turns a little and sees the scratches down his back, long, livid lines of red, and turns back to see where they blend into the claw marks on his chest and stomach, darkening as they get deeper, blood dotting his skin. He looks incredible.
He watches his reflection as a long, angular arm snakes across his chest, tracing the marks there, gently, with care.
“Danhausen needs to be sorry?” comes the voice from behind him, and Effy keeps his eyes on his reflection as that now-familiar face appears over his shoulder, and presses an open-mouthed kiss to his throat. “Left too many markhausen?”
Effy turns away from the mirror, and smiles, a real smile, broad and wicked and fond and soft all at the same time. He can see where he’s left his own marks, where half-moon marks of nails and circles of blunt, human teethmarks sit on Danhausen, and it makes him feel warm, and wanting.
“No,” he says, as he folds himself into the arms of his lover, pressing close and feeling the ache and sting of a night he’ll recall for as long as he lives. “No. It’s exactly what I wanted. It’s perfect.”
“Then… Danhausen can stay?” his beloved monster asks, and Effy laughs, a sweet, gentle sound, and drags him into a kiss, being careful of the sharp, pointed teeth hiding behind those dark lips. When he pulls back for air, the smile is still there, and Danhausen is matching it.
“Yes, you can stay,” he says, like it’s a foregone conclusion.
“Good,” says Danhausen, firmly. “Danhausen made coffee.”
Effy watches him slink to the kitchen, all limbs and darkness, and then follows. Coffee, after all, is a better reason than many to keep a lover. He’ll give this one a chance.