Leo grabbed the face cloth from the counter and wiped the water off his face. The lights to their master bathroom were the kind that could be dimmed as bright as desired. Leo had dimmed them due to Niles already waiting for him in bed. Yawning, Leo set the face cloth back on the rail along the side of the wall and dialed down the light before exiting.
Niles was a lump in their king-sized bed. Leo trailed his feet along the plush rug along the foot of the bed. Niles didn’t stir, even when Leo sat on the edge of the bed and opened the covers, crawling in. Shuffling over, Leo curled closer to Niles, nestling his face on Niles’s shoulder.
The last couple of days blurred and churred in Leo’s head, centering around the mysterious figure of Owain. Owain, who after multiple stabs and other attempts was alive. Owain, who had gone out with them cellphone shopping. Owain, who had come over and ate ramen with a vigour that left Niles and Leo without words.
Owain who was immortal.
Leo shifted again. They had let Owain go, as promised. A part of Leo’s mind still screamed at the choice. The unknown was a dark pit of swirling emptiness that left no light of guidance for Leo. Curling his fingers over nothing, Leo closed his eyes, exhaling. He couldn’t touch Owain. The only person he was able to touch in the moment was Niles. If Leo wanted, he could press Niles into the mattress and Niles wouldn’t fight him. Niles, who would only look up at Leo with his singular blue eye, open and waiting. Niles, who wouldn’t flinch no matter what Leo desired to do with him. Niles, who would only stare and smile if Leo pressed a knife to his throat. Niles who wouldn’t come back if Leo sprayed their bed with his blood.
Leo opened his eyes and curled closer into Niles. Niles was warm and breathing. The image of a bloodied bed washed away from Leo’s mind. Just because Niles would allow him, didn’t mean Leo was ever going to go through with the dark thoughts. Fantasy, desire, brutality: all three swirled and coiled within Leo, unable to detach from one another. Control through all three of those elements surged within Leo. Or at least, until Owain.
Owain was out of Leo’s control. Leo’s heart thumped roughly in his chest, loud and quick. Leo’s heart rate increased. Shutting his eyes, Leo breathed softly and slowly. Owain had many logical points: who would believe him? His evidence was circumstantial at best and ludicrous at base. Even if Owain told someone his secret would be on the line. Owain had chosen to ask them to not stab him multiple times rather than just letting them go through with it and witnessing his immortality. Owain wanted to keep his immortality under wraps and exposing Leo and Niles wasn’t the way to keep his secret. If Owain had it secret up until he met Leo and Niles, then Leo assumed Owain wanted to keep it that way. Only now, his immortality was shared with Leo and Niles. It was their connecting thread that bound them together.
Leo bit his lip and exhaled deeply again, his mind focusing on the singular thread binding them. Owain’s immortality was truly an astonishing display to witness. Controlling Owain wasn’t a possibility. Curiosity on the other hand. Curiosity begged to be explored. Curiosity begged for venturing and discovery. Curiosity helped balance Leo’s desire for control.
There were endless possibilities. More involved possibilities that needed more preparation and longer clean up. There were other swift possibilities — swift executions and deaths that occurred in a blink of an eye. There were possibilities that were drawn out — hours and days. They wouldn’t have to plan out their victim…
Niles gave a deep hum in reply. Leo raised his voice a bit above a whisper.
“Hey Niles, I was thinking. Owain’s immortality is fascinating. Letting Owain go without a fuss is a waste.”
Niles hummed again.
“There are endless possibilities we could explore. What if, we asked Owain to be our—” What was the term he could use? Friends with a murder benefit? On dial murder victim? “—murder guinea pig.” Leo settled.
Niles shifted and half turned around. Leo saw the blue of his singular eye, hazy with sleep, blink owlishly. “What?”
Leo flushed a bit at the insufficient response. “Is it too late to discuss this?”
“No…” Niles muttered, turning around fully. “Just surprising.”
Niles then opened his arms so Leo could press himself fully into Niles’s chest. The smell of Niles’s hair and body warmed Leo. He inhaled the familiar smell of spices before speaking.
“Perhaps that’s the incorrect term to use.” Niles slowly said, fingers slowly running through Leo’s hair. “I mean, it’s surprising that our thoughts were on the same wave length.”
Leo looked up at Niles and pulled himself up so they were staring at each other. Leaning in, Leo whispered and their lips brushed as he did so. “Is it?”
Niles smiled against Leo’s lips. “No, it isn’t. We are, after all, partners.”
Lips were captured in a kiss. Leo closed his eyes and pressed himself forward so he was the one pinning Niles to the bed. Niles lay back obediently, his singular eye glowing. All traces of sleep erased. Leo felt the sides of Niles’s body against the inner of his thighs. Now straddling Niles, Leo looked down. The image of blood pooling from Niles into their sheets edged into Leo’s mind for a moment before Niles vanished. In his place was Owain. Leo sharply gasped. The Owain in his mind had a busted lip, scratches along his face, and purpling along his neck in the shape of fingers. Owain’s arms were tied behind his back and blood pooled outwards, like a puddle of melted wax wings.
“What are you thinking of?” Niles asked, lightly bucking his hips, grinding into Leo’s thighs.
The warmth of Niles returned under Leo’s body. The sheets were clean and Owain vanished. Leo leaned in, bending at an angle that caused his lower body to drag along Niles’s body. Niles sharply exhaled. Leo lay his arms along either side of Niles’s head and pressed his lips against Niles’s. Niles parted his lips and they shared a messy kiss. Fire raged inside of Leo. Niles was his. He was Niles’s. Entangled and entrapped in a bloodied world they shared.
“I was thinking of how beautiful Owain would look, bruised and bloodied under us in the fleeting illusion of death.”
Niles sharply and thinly smiled, his mouth a razor blade. “You’re perfect. I love you. Now, kiss me again.”
“Demanding,” Leo murmured, “but who am I to deny you?”
They kissed again.
Conventional friendship stated in order to have a friend’s number it was given with permission.
“Conventional” wasn’t a word Leo would use to label him or Niles. Which was why, that morning after breakfast Leo picked up his cellphone and called Owain.
Owain picked up on the second ring.
“Are you free?” Leo asked immediately.
“No hello?” Owain asked calmly. “Not even a greeting? Is this how a phone calls works nowadays?”
“You didn’t say hello either. Consider us even.”
“Fair point. What can I do for you and Niles this fine morning?”
Leo barely flinched at Owain knowing who had phoned him. “I was thinking of a proposition. We wish to talk to you.”
“You’re talking to me now.”
Owain paused. “Is this where you tell me you’ve changed your minds and you want to keep me under lock and key?”
“You know what they say about assuming.” Leo retorted. “However, rest assured, we have no desire to lock you up. At least, not unless you want that.”
“Oh? So, being under lock and key is my choice now?”
“Yes.” Leo answered. “However, discussing locking you up temporarily isn’t the crux of our discussion. Can we discuss this in person?”
“Fine. I know this great café…”
“Oh. I see. I’ll text you my address then.”
His address? Leo supposed that Owain was exercising caution. Location didn’t matter provided they were in private. “Thank you. We’ll be over at two.”
The line cut. A second later Leo’s phone lit up with a message. It was from Owain with the address. Leo quickly looked it up, just to clarify Owain wasn’t leaning them out to nowhere. It led to an actual condo in an established residential area.
“He said yes.” Niles commented, suddenly leaning against Leo’s chair, his hair tickling the side of Leo’s face.
“He did.” Leo handed Niles his phone. “We’re going to his place at two.”
“Interesting.” Niles muttered before handing Leo the phone back. “I’ll meet you there. If any problems come up, I’ll contact you.”
Leo half turned and kissed Niles tenderly. “I’ll see you then.”
Niles left and Leo returned to his morning. Staking out to see if Owain was planning anything beyond them just visiting was a pain but a necessary precaution. After all, precaution was what kept Leo and Niles free and their past time undisturbed.
Owain’s place wasn’t crawling with police or anyone suspicious. Leo double checked his time and the address before exiting the car. Niles glided to his side smoothly. Where he had been before, Leo wasn’t sure and he didn’t really care. Locking the car door, Leo walked up with Niles to the condo and rang the bell. A beat of silence filled the area before the door opened. Owain poked his head out and eyed them.
“Three minutes.” Niles promptly answered. “Do you want us to wait in the car for that amount of time or can we come inside?”
“I was teasing.” Owain stepped aside and opened his door. “Come inside.”
Owain’s condo was standard in design. The furniture was functional but not expensive. There was a distinct lack of photos or personal affects. The only personal item Leo spotted was a laptop on the kitchen table, shut and plugged in.
“Make yourselves at home.” Owain gestured vaguely around. “I’ll make coffee or tea. Which do you prefer?”
“Either or.” Niles muttered.
“Coffee it is.” Owain shrugged and disappeared into the small kitchen.
Leo heard the water run briefly. Turning his attention to the condo he picked the living room to sit in. The couch was comfortable and Leo sat at the end. Niles sat beside him. Owain appeared with some mugs, a sugar bowl, and a small pitcher of creamer.
“We’ll wait for the water to boil.” Owain said as he set the stuff down. “So, what’s this proposition?”
Waiting or beating around the bush would be ridiculous. Leo went for it. “We want to ask if you’d be our murder guinea pig.”
Owain blinked. “I’m sorry. You want me to be what now?”
Leo internally winced at his wording but that was about as concise as he could make the proposal. “If I could explain a bit further. You’re immortal and your immortality fascinates us. We want to test your immortality out through a variety of ways.”
“Basically, a murder friend.” Niles supplied.
Owain pressed his lips together. “I went to the bar to make friends. I wasn’t expecting to become a murder couple’s guinea pig for off the wall murder ideas.”
“Who said they’d be off the wall ideas?” Niles muttered.
“Is that a no?” Leo continued. “We’re serial killers and you’re immortal. I think this outcome is a foregone conclusion we all would have reached eventually. I honestly don’t know what you’re expecting at this point.”
“Ramen.” Owain easily replied.
“We delivered.” Niles answered.
“I delivered.” Leo corrected.
“We’re a team, dear.”
The kettle went off in the distance with a click but Leo pressed on. No doubt the kettle was an electric one. Owain wouldn’t need to leave to turn off a stove or make sure the water didn’t overboil.
“So, before we start, do you have any objections you wish to bring forth? Or can we talk about the details of this arrangement now?”
Owain stared. “I didn’t realize my silence meant I was going to agree to this arrangement—”
“We’ll cook for you.” Leo quickly interjected. Food worked in the past to bring Owain around to their plans.
In the background, Leo swore he heard Niles mutter “So, now it’s ‘we’” but Owain spoke and covered up whatever else Niles was muttering.
“—but I am open to negotiations.”
Negotiations. Leo’s spine tingled and his heart thumped in his chest. A smile spread across his face, small, but present. Beside him, Niles straightened up. Owain had granted them the opportunity. Leo was not going to bungle up their negotiations with Owain.
“Let’s start then. Our attempts are mostly going to be at our place, in the basement.”
“I wouldn’t expect it otherwise.” Owain nodded. “In fact, I have very few conditions.”
He did? Leo raised an eyebrow.
“Give me notice, at least twenty-four hours in advance.” Owain listed. “Don’t ruin my clothing excessively. Let me know what you’re planning on doing so I can mentally prepare myself. Feed me afterwards.”
“Those are rather bare basics.” Niles pointed out. “You’re you don’t have anything specific?”
Owain paused and then nodded thoughtfully. “Don’t ever kill me or attempt to kill me if I’m playing a video game. Especially if I’m in the middle of a boss battle.”
“I thought you said we needed to give you notice.” Niles countered.
Owain shrugged. “I said notice I didn’t say you always needed to give me a specific time.”
Interesting. Leo filed that away. “Anything else?”
“I don’t know?” Owain looked at them. “Perhaps some rules will come up as we go along and see what works and what doesn’t?”
“Just go along?” Leo asked.
“Unless that’s inconvenient?” Owain titled his head. “I just think we could run ourselves in circles with the endless possibilities. We can start off slow.” He then stood up. “I’ll go get us the coffee.” Owain then half turned before he looked over his shoulder. “It’s funny, I’ve never willingly given permission for someone to kill me. It’s sort of exciting.”
Exciting. Owain took the words right out of Leo’s mouth.
“Is this fine?” Owain asked as he adjusted his position.
Their afternoon blurred as well as their week. It wasn’t until the next weekend that Leo managed to sit Niles down and discuss their first official attempt on Owain. In the end, it was simple to decide what to do and Niles dutifully went out the next day and bought what they needed. Now, here they were, in the basement, Owain lying on the floor exactly as Leo wanted. The silken sheets under him were light, almost a pale peach pink, and it complimented the tanned tone of Owain’s skin along with his bright eyes. His shirt was off, tossed somewhere in the corner but Owain’s pants remained on. The darkness of the fabric only helped bring the peach tone out. Overall, the composition was perfect. It was only marred a bit by the plastic underneath the silk sheets but clean up was important. Leo could sacrifice aesthetic for practicality. His blood sang and danced with a fever that consumed Leo’s mind. He wanted to kneel down and begin. His body ached to move but precaution came first.
“It’s perfect.” Leo muttered. “You’re not tied up too tightly?”
“Nope.” Owain wiggled a bit to show that he could still move his fingers. The darker tone of the rope also added to the visual Leo wanted.
“You’re sure you want to keep those on?” Niles asked, gesturing to Owain’s pants.
“I’m sure.” Owain replied. “They’re old anyways.”
“You’ve remembered our safe word?” Leo asked.
Owain’s mouth crinkled into a half smile. “Parsnip.”
“And if you can’t talk?” Niles pressed.
“I tap you three times.”
“Do we need to run through the scene again?” Leo asked.
“I don’t think so.” Owain replied. “I got it down.”
“Very well.” Leo exhaled. “Ready?”
“Yes.” Niles looked at Owain.
“Let’s finish so I can have some ramen.” Owain replied.
Leo closed his eyes and exhaled before he knelt carefully, straddling Owain’s waist. The warmth of Owain’s torso reminded Leo that Owain was very much alive. Gently, Leo touched Owain’s cheek with his gloved hand.
“I’m going to murder you.” Leo whispered before he struck Owain across the cheek.
Red swelled and the skin was warm. Leo struck Owain again and watched as the blood blossomed under the skin. Behind him, Leo heard Niles move to the side before kneeling by Owain’s head, gently touching Owain’s skull.
“You look divine under my husband.” Niles muttered. “You’ll look better in blood and bruises.”
Niles then curled his fingers around Owain’s neck and squeezed. Owain’s eyes widened and vividly brightened with tears. Leo kept smacking Owain’s face until he was hitting Owain hard enough to bruise his cheeks. Tears freely ran down Owain’s face and the small whimpers of air that escaped Owain’s lips sent blood rushing all through Leo’s body. Fantasy was slowly becoming brutal reality and Leo wanted more. Trailing his hands gently down Owain’s bare torso Leo took a knife off his being. Pressing the blade gently into Owain’s side Leo lightly traced idle patterns. A cough and gasp came from Owain. Leo saw Niles remove his fingers. There were bruise marks along Owain’s throat that would purple if time allowed it. Leo shoved the blade of the knife into Owain’s side. Owain didn’t gasp out and coughed instead. Blood slowly pooled, sticky, wet, and smelling of primal life. Leo moved on and plunged the knife into Owain more and more. Blood pooled into a puddle, staining the silk sheets. Leo watched the blood stain the fabric bright red. It ruined and perfected the fabric all at the same time. Niles then took out a knife and as Leo stabbed Owain more and more, Niles carved scratches into Owain’s reddened cheeks. It was a shame Niles couldn’t scratch Owain but cleaning finger nails up was a pain. Owain coughed louder and the force made Niles’s cut wobble to the side drastically.
With each press of the knife and spilling of blood, Leo lost himself in the art of murder. Their timer for when Owain would regenerate and every trace of their activities erased from him was unclear. Leo made a small note to ask Owain later before Leo raised his knife.
“I’m going to make you into something beautiful.” Leo promised Owain before stabbing Owain cleanly through the heart.
Owain let out a small snap of air and limply fell to the floor. Blood welled up from the wound and poured down his chest and onto the already bloodied sheets, trickling down his sides like the fountain of life. Standing up, Leo surveyed his work. The blood had pooled mostly along the sides of the sheets and around Owain’s torso. Some blood stains were on Owain’s skin, mostly from Leo’s knife and his hand smearing and smudging. Blood stained Owain’s skin like a kiss from a butterfly or the faintest of a bloodied kiss. His neck was bruised with Niles’s fingers marks standing starkly on the skin. The cuts and slashes along with the blushing of red from Leo’s smacks painted Owain’s cheeks like the darkest of red blushes applied to the cheek bones to give life. The bloodied peach background complimented the scene softly. The knife cleanly glimmered in the light. Leo let out a high moan at the sight and wished he could take a photo to savour the memory. Blood pooled deeply in his stomach. Leo turned to Niles and pulled the knife out of Owain’s chest. The blood surged up a little and trailed down.
“Kiss me.” Leo ordered Niles as he held the bloodied knife.
Niles pressed himself on Owain’s corpse so his legs brushed against Leo’s and kissed Leo hotly. Their kiss was lightning; fast, dangerous, and wild. Leo wanted it all. He wanted to take Niles right then and there but he could feel Owain slowly stirring from under his legs. Pulling away from Niles, Leo licked his lips and pressed his finger to his lips before getting off Owain.
Owain shifted and yawned, as though he were waking up from a dream. The gashes on his cheeks were slowly fading along with the red. The bruising faded rapidly like a time lapse video, and the hole in his chest filled until the only evidence of their scene was the bloodied sheets and the blood staining Owain’s body.
“Wow, you ruined this sheet.” Owain touched it. “What a waste.”
“It wasn’t.” Leo assured Owain in a breathier voice than he anticipated. “You looked amazing against it.”
“Was it everything you wanted?” Owain asked as he sat up, examining his jeans with his fingers. “Did I perform admirably?”
“You were splendid.” Niles answered as he cut the rope to Owain’s arms. “How do you feel?”
“I feel like someone smacked me with a sandbag and then stepped on my body multiple times.” Owain answered. “I’m also hungry.”
“We’ll fix that.” Leo assured. “You can shower. Do the same to your jeans as you did the first time. We have an extra towel on the counter for you as well as a clean pair of pants. I’ll take you there.”
“Thanks.” Owain stood up. “Do you want help cleaning up?”
“I have this.” Niles replied. “Take your time.”
Leo nodded. “Follow me.”
Leading Owain upstairs just in case, Leo opened the bathroom. Owain stepped in and Leo flicked the lights on.
“You didn’t have to escort me.” Owain said as he took his pants off without shame.
“It makes me feel better.” Leo replied.
“I see.” Owain muttered as he set his pants into the black garbage bag. “Say, you didn’t answer my question.”
“Was it everything you wanted?”
Leo didn’t have to close his eyes to see Owain’s corpse on the sheets, bloodied and bruised. His heart wildly thumped and Leo still felt the heat in his stomach as he kissed Niles viciously only a few minutes earlier. The line of brutality and desire was always being danced and Owain allowed Leo to dance along it.
“Good.” Owain muttered.
“What about you?” Leo asked. “Was it everything you expected?”
Owain closed his eyes. “It was a bit nerve wracking. I don’t usually allow people to stab me. I suppose there is still some instinct within me that tells me I shouldn’t live through the attack. However, I don’t think I hated it.”
On the scale of responses that was on the “better” side. Leo tallied it as a victory.
“That wasn’t a conventional answer.” Owain mused with a half laugh.
“I never said Niles and I were conventional.”
Owain opened his eyes and for a moment, Leo saw the universe in them, the expanding galaxy and stars twinkling. He saw life and death and rebirth. He saw swirls of knowledge and endless time looping over in a spiral. Leo saw a sliver of Owain, the Owain behind layers and layers of wrapping, like the prettiest of tissue papers that hid the truth within. Owain was Timeless and Endless. Owain was removed and within. Owain was all and nothing. Owain was theirs and not theirs.
Owain was immortal.
Leo found himself stepping in and touching Owain’s face. Under his hand, Leo felt warmth, felt life, but it was also hollow. Owain was shell mocking the human form.
Owain leaned into Leo’s touch and gave a half-lidded smile that leaked everything Owain could and couldn’t say.
“Something the matter?” Owain asked instead.
Reality slipped to Leo. Here he was, standing in Owain’s personal space, hand on his cheek. Owain was almost naked save for the boxers he was still wearing. Both of them were stained in blood. The layers of Owain were back and suddenly Leo’s cheeks burned slightly. He stepped back, his heart twisting in his chest.
“Nothing.” Leo replied. “I’ll leave you to your shower.”
“I won’t go anywhere.” Owain said. “I still want some ramen before I leave.”
“Right.” Leo stepped out. “Take your time.”
Numbly Leo shut the door and looked at his hand. He still felt the warmth of Owain under his palm. Clutching his hand, Leo walked back to the basement. Niles had already cleaned up and washed the knives and the plastic sheet was hanging to dry. The sheets were no doubt in the black garbage bag at Niles’s feet, ready to be burned later.
Walking up to Niles, Leo pressed his face into the crook of Niles’s shoulder. Niles smelt of spices and blood. Leo hugged Niles.
“Something wrong?” Niles asked.
It mirrored Owain’s question. Leo pulled away a bit so he could turn Niles around. Niles looked at Leo. Leo looked at him and gently touched his face. Niles was warm under his palm the same way Owain was, familiar but different at the same time. Pressing in, Leo kissed Niles slowly. Niles responded and when they parted the twisting in Leo’s chest had faded to a dull tingle.
“Nothing.” Leo found himself parroting what he said to Owain earlier. “He’s in the shower. I’m going to shower in the other bathroom and make ramen. Want any?”
Leo stepped away from Niles and nodded before heading upstairs, away from the fantasy created in their basement.