The two of you are in his office with the high lavender windows. You’re kicked back in your seat across from his empty seat, offhandedly explaining about how you’re really benefiting from this whole change of scenery. This place is a definite improvement, it’s got great color coordination and there’s no parking meters, no vending machines, no snooty smiley brother—
“Brother?” he echoes, flipping over a desk ornament that doesn’t agree with him. It’s a little model of the old DEI building, like yours. You figure from the way he’s turning it over that he’s thinking the thing is due for an upgrade.
“Rodger,” you say, “the mayor?”
He lifts an eyebrow at you. You can tell he thinks you’re an idiot, which is just unfair, really. You’re the same guy. If anyone should be on your side, it’s him.
“When I took over the tristate area, Danville had a lady mayor,” he tells you, apparently losing interest. “Some Hirano woman. I never had a brother.”
You pause, and you think about that. It’s inane, but what you really wonder is whether he ever had to go through the Year of the Dresses, like you did.
“No brother,” you say, rolling the words around in your mouth. “No Rodger.”
You try to imagine. You fail. “So…” you say, “Mother loved you?”
He ignores you, rummages through the papers on the top of his desk, and pulls out a blueprint with a flick of his gloved hands.
“Here,” he says, “what do you think of the Goozam pit design? I think it needs more spikes.”
Perryborg pushes through the door empty-handed, and you know immediately there’s going to be trouble. Your double turns, takes one look at him, and points at the floor in front of himself, like he’s calling a dog or something. Perry slips past you, doesn’t even seem to notice you, and stands in front of the self-styled emperor.
“Nothing,” he says, hands on hips. “You got nothing.”
Slowly, like a rusted machine, Perry shakes his head.
The cyborg drops to his knees. He’s still got a stocky sort of remnant of the real Perry’s grace, and he sits back, waiting. You shuffle a little closer. You haven’t got the slightest idea what’s going on, but come on, it’s Perry! This is your nemesis! Sort of! Whatever’s going on, you’ve got to see it.
The other Heinz lifts one black leather boot and nails his Perry right underneath the chin. You think your eyes must go wider than saucers. Perry tumbles back and lands flat against the floor, some of his circuitry making mechanical noises of protest.
“You know, when I tell you I want something I expect you to get me something,” your double says, leaning down over the expressionless body. “How hard is it to track down a couple of brats and yourself? He’s not even augmented, it should be a piece of cake. Maybe you need an upgrade.”
He lifts the same boot and presses it down squarely into Perry’s throat. You can see the prone body flinch, just slightly, but he still doesn’t say anything. You start to get nervous. You always assumed your Perry could talk, if he really needed to, so this—is every Perry actually mute, or is this one—did this Heinz—
Your double grinds down.
“Look,” he says, “it’s not that hard. When I give you an order, you don’t come back till you’ve got it under control. Perryborg, if I ordered you to get me some milk from the corner store, would you come back without milk? Hmm?”
You can hear faint wet noises from Perry’s partially open mouth.
“Of course you wouldn’t!”
You feel lightheaded.
Up until this moment it’s been kind of like a fantasy, this city and this you, but this is the moment when it finally becomes personal. Truth be told, violence is a more tangible reality for you. The high blown neon and the black leather upholstery don’t carry the same sort of gravity as a boot to the throat. That, you’re familiar with. The neurons start flashing while you’re standing in the corner with your hands in your pockets. And you’re having flashbacks of what’s happening to Perry right now, right here, or at least to some version of Perry—one that you don’t know. It’s happened to you. And while his trachea is collapsing under the weight of your double’s heel, you’re remembering what that feels like.
Perry’s breath is coming out in a low hiss, a helpless resigned hhaaa. He doesn’t move, he doesn’t shift, he doesn’t wrap his huge mechanical fingers around the scrawny heel of your double. His eye doesn’t even flicker. He just stares up, barely blinking, into the empty air or the ceiling, while a boot crushes his windpipe.
And you can feel that—you can feel that in your own throat. Your hands are in your pockets but you want to reach up and grab the skin beneath your chin just to make sure that no one is kicking you as well.
This is the moment when you start to perceive that there is something more, something more different between you and him than his being ‘the grumpy one’, or besides the ability to recognize someone—apparently—with or without a hat on. There’s something there in the smile he’s smiling right now, something you’ve seen in too many faces. But you don’t say anything. You just stand there in the corner, with your hands in your pockets, and you wait until he seems like he’s finished.
There’s part of you that must be in him that can’t look away from the spectacle. Well this is your nemesis, right? Or, it’s his nemesis, and he’s you, and the two of you are on the same side, aren’t you? His win is your win, or something. If he’s grinding the air out of Perry, hand hung across his knee, then it’s basically you there too. If Perry is gasping and tipping his chin back slowly, like his whole body is going through mute and carefully modulated convulsions, then—
That part of you wants to know what it feels like to be the boot, and not the throat. You shiver and twist the lining of your labcoat.
You can’t decide if it’s actually a relevant thought, or if you’re just trying to distract yourself from all this uneasy philosophizing, but you find yourself wondering what Francis meant when he said this man was into that freaky stuff.
“Come on,” he says, “haven’t you ever?”
The bed is huge and covered in pillows and dark purple velvet—you are so jealous—and here you are, perched uneasily at the very end of it, with your hands fluttering over the duvet. The bed is so high off the ground that even sitting you would be at eye level with him, if you weren’t currently hunched into yourself and staring at the floor.
You bite your lips and fiddle with your hands and think back to a couple biting cold winters when you were young, and you think that it would be nice if the worst true thing you could say about those days is that you once cut open a horse and slept inside it. That’s pretty terrible. You mean, it’s gross, right? Maybe it is the worst thing, actually, it’s just not the most embarrassing.
“Well,” you hedge, “I never exactly—it doesn’t count if you…”
He’s giving you that really intimidating look, the one with the eye patch and the narrow lids and the flat mouth and he looks so unamused, he looks a lot like your father, he makes you want to start rambling and never let up until you finally stumble across the right combination of words to satisfy him.
“Maybe… once or twice,” you admit, under the full force of his glare. “When I was young.”
You look around at the snazzy décor and the portraits on the wall, and you think about that stupid train, about Rodger, and part of you goes sour.
“I guess you probably never had to,” you add.
He shrugs. There’s a lot of things he won’t tell you and it’s positively driving you crazy, you guys share the same DNA for Pete’s sake, what’s he got to keep so secret from you?
He leans in, and you can see in the half-twist of his lips that he thinks he’s won. You guess he probably has—it was probably inevitable, you never learned how to control your self-destructive impulses and he is not helping. You have been successfully talked around.
“So, Heinz,” he says, throwing an arm over your shoulder. “Give us what we want.”
Tonight is a pretty eventful night. You’re nose to nose, your hands are on your hips and his are crossed over his chest, and there’s no reason why you can’t be the boss for once!
You are pretty tired of getting pushed around. It doesn’t even matter any more that this is his palace and his regime and his bed, seriously whatever, he’s been periodically reminding you of that for a week now and you’ve come to the conclusion that you actually could not care less. You’re just as strong as him, probably more—probably a lot more—and maybe it’s time you reminded him of that.
“You listen to me,” you say, tipping up your chin. “I—”
His hand shoots out, snaps closed around your throat, and you stumble back into the wall behind you with a dull thud. You blink and try to regroup as his wraps the other hand over your neck too, soft black leather over your pounding jugular.
He just raises an eyebrow challengingly at you while you’re gasping for breath.
His thumbs are leaving heavy hot bruises on your throat, and your hands are scraping at the plaster of the walls. You try to squeeze out a sound but he chokes the noise right out of you, it’s mostly mute and barely louder than your thumping frightened heart. You know he’s just trying to make his point, he’s so pushy, he’ll let go soon enough—but your heart? Your heart doesn’t know that.
Your lungs are starting to beg for oxygen. It’s just little whimpers of adrenaline now, but you know any second now they’re going to start screaming, you can tell from the way your hands are shaking against the plaster. Or were they shaking already? You reach up to grab at his fingers, pry them off you, but his grip tightens vicelike over your delicate windpipe, and he says in a voice like darkness in an endless forest, “Bewege dich nicht.”
Your hands slam palms flat against the walls. Your whole body goes ramrod stiff.
That seems to be good enough for him, because he finally lets go. One hand hovers, like a threat, above your collarbone, but the other slips down. His fingers move so lightly, tracing a dotted line from your clavicle to your hip, a surgeon marking out the line of incision. You shiver against the touch—maybe the surgeon metaphor was a little too on the nose? You think of Perryborg, and you feel that familiar mixture of fascination and fear.
His lips get thin at the involuntary shudder that’s rippling through your muscles. He pulls back and rams his elbow into your chest, so hard that you curl up around the injury and sink to the floor, fighting for thick heavy breaths.
“I said don’t move,” he growls down at you. “What part of bewege dich nicht don’t you understand, Heinz?”
You want to tell him you understood—you want to tell him you know, you heard him, you’re sorry, you didn’t mean to, honestly, you didn’t mean to—but your lungs are completely incapable of doing anything but sucking in wet, desperate breaths right now.
“You’re unbelievably pathetic,” he says. “Look at you! You’re a grown man and you’re still cringing like a dog—you know what? Actually I take that back, you’re worse than the dog. The dog had some self respect.”
You know, you know you know you know.
He kicks you. It’s not hard enough to do more than bruise your ribs, but it draws a weak little moan out of your abused throat. He buries his glove in your hair and he yanks you up, onto your knees.
“I,” you start to say. The air isn’t coming in like it should. “I,” you try again.
He grabs your hand and presses it flat against his thigh, and you grasp instinctively at the smooth black cotton of his pants. Gosh they look good on him, you want a pair too, they could look like that on you.
You shove away the long hem of the lab coat and fumble with your left hand at the fastenings, haste and adrenaline making your movements unsteady. Jeez that’s pathetic. You want to swallow everything you can get your mouth around.
He’s probably going to choke you again.
You lick your lips.
Tonight is an uneventful night.
You unbutton his collar. You’re talking as you do it but you’re not paying much attention to yourself, it’s just a trail of whatever rolls through your head as your fingers fumble with the tiny button. Right now it’s something about hoooow does he do this every day with those gloves of his, really, this is absurd, does he at least take the gloves off first?
He has this sense of style that you don’t quite get—of course you understand the appeal of the ensemble, but these tiny buttons, the long hemline on the jacket, it’s so stern. You’re not really stern people, you Heinz Doofenshmirtzes. You’re not sure where it’s coming from. He keeps his hair slicked down too, like you did when you were a child, and you think maybe all those things are like strands spinning out from a spider’s web, but you lose the thought as the collar finally comes undone.
Ah. His neck is so pale. Lately yours is covered in mottled bruises, purple and green splotches of ink underneath the skin. You keep getting distracted when you look in the mirror at night, holding your thumbs over the angry ovals of discolored skin. It’s getting to be a problem. Turtlenecks: not only a snappy fashion choice but also a major relief on the attention span.
You run the pad of a finger over the column of his throat as you peel back black cloth. His eyes narrow, you catch the flicker of it in your peripheral vision, and he’s watching you now, his hands tightening like a warning on your hips where they had been resting before, more like an afterthought. You press, as you go, but you never let up on the chatter and in the flicker of a second you’ve come to rest on his collar bone, and he relaxes. Like he thinks you didn’t even notice.
You pop another button, getting the hang of it now, and another. You push cloth back into bunches over his shoulders, marvel at the clean unscarred skin on his left arm. That’s where there would be an ugly white rope of connective tissue, if your bodies were reversed. It’s surreal to touch it, human skin unbroken to human skin. You haven’t had that since you were a child, and it’s like—oh, it’s like touching your childhood, you guess. Or, it’s like your childhood grew up without you.
He gets bored, or antsy or something, at this point, and pulls you into a kiss that strikes sharp across your lips. You can’t really kiss while smirking, the two motions are sort of mutually exclusive, but his kisses feel on the tongue and the lips like his smirk looks. And after that, you lose track of the comparisons, for worse or better.
You collapse, sucking in heavy gulps of air while the last of the buzz works its way out of your nerves, down your limbs and out through your digits. Neither of you says anything.
His warmth disappears, briefly, leaving you alone on the floor remembering winter a long long time ago. You run hot with sickly sweet loathing. And then he’s back—he’s shifted all his clothing neatly back into place, unlike you—you’re an absolute mess. That's typical. He pulls you back into his lap and runs his still-gloved fingers over the bruises forming on your midsection, pushing up the black hem of your turtleneck to get his hands on all the dark sore places.
One hand cups the front of your neck, like he’s going to strangle you again, and you suck in a nervous breath, but he only thumbs the bruises there. It’s almost reverent—well, you don’t think he could ever be genuinely reverent, but it’s a little like that. He moves his hands in such a way that you can feel the fascination in him. You’re fascinated too. He grabs one of your hands and brings it up to your throat, so that your thumb and forefinger are digging into the dark spots he left behind.
You have the same hands. His and yours cover the same space, have the same bony tips and strong thumbs. This could be your hand on his neck just as easily as it was his on yours. You know this. You don’t think he knows that you know this.
He smiles into your neck, you can feel the wet flatness of his teeth, and you’re not stupid even though he thinks you are. You know he’s not smiling because he’s thinking anything nice. You know he's smiling because he's thinking about the same thing you are, about your hands and his neck, and he's smug about it. He's thinking it could be you, but it isn't, and he's smiling.
Maybe he thinks you would take offense, but the thing is? You kind of don’t.