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songs for saint lazarus

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i. crash landing

come around, come around
with all that good shit that you’ve found
your dying star run aground
just come around, come around

 

V shows up on his doorstep with a jar of olives and the gall to say, “I got your voicemail.”

Which one? is the first thing that comes to Kerry’s mind, but it must be some herculean feat of personal growth that he doesn’t say it out loud. Instead, he clicks his tongue, arms crossed where he’s leaned in the doorway. “And I just knocked back that martini, too.”

“Could make you another one,” V tries. “Claire’s been teaching me. Think I got the flick of the wrist right.”

“Fuck you,” Kerry tells him, and drags him in by the collar.

He kisses like he hasn’t quite reacclimated to gravity, like he’s reminding himself when and where to shift his weight. It’s clumsy, just a shade desperate, and Kerry groans when the small of his back hits the edge of a counter, hauling himself up onto the bar top to draw V in with his knees.

“Hold on, hold on, let me look at you for a sec,” Kerry gasps. V’s breathing hard when he pulls back, pupils as dark as the cold vacuum he just tumbled out of; his optics are ringed by twin crescent bruises. “Christ, kid, when was the last time you slept?”

He shrugs noncommittally. “Got a couple cycles on the shuttle, I guess. You know they don’t put clocks in casinos? Really fucks with your perception of time.”

“Yeah, I’m sure the whole space part didn’t help too much, either.” Kerry sweeps his thumbs over those dark circles, bumps his nose up against V’s just because he can, just because he’s that close. “God. Hi.”

“Hi yourself,” V murmurs back. This time, the kiss is gentler, pressed into Kerry’s mouth like an offering, like it’s the humblest thing he can give him. It sings down Kerry’s throat all the way to his fingertips, lights him up in an overbright display of shot nerves and sleepless nights. Fuck, when was the last time he had it this bad? “I’m sorry I missed your calls.”

“Eh, who cares? Sure the last thing you needed was me chewing your ear off just so you could get shot between the eyes by some space cowboy.”

“Sounds like something you could write a song about.”

“Yeah, maybe after another ten years of therapy.”

His smile’s always been askew, like he’s afraid of showing it to people. “I’m serious, though,” V says. “The ride back planetside was long, and… I dunno. It got me thinking.”

“Not a great way to start a conversation,” Kerry tells him, but squeezes V’s sides with his knees to soothe him. He lets V get away with a lot of shit he wouldn’t entertain in anyone else.

V seems to realize that, too, and he nods. “I don’t know how much time I got left,” he says. “I don’t think I can keep almost getting myself killed just die before the year is out, you know?”

Truth be told, Kerry doesn’t know. He knows what it’s like to watch, and that’s a fucking nightmare in itself, how V will double over or bleed from his nose without warning. Nearly a century under his belt and yet Kerry doesn’t think he’ll ever truly know what it’s like to be V, to be staring down that barrel all alone, and it makes him want to yell himself hoarse. “Yeah, I get you,” he replies, thumbing the hinge of V’s jaw. “What do you need?”

“I figured…” he starts, then pauses, his eyes searching for something in Kerry’s expression. Permission? Understanding? He should know better, know that he’s had all that and more for a good while now. “If you’re still interested, I wouldn’t mind gettin’ started on one of those sitcoms you were talking about.”

It shocks a laugh out of Kerry. “What, seriously? All the crazy shit you could get up to, and you just wanna lay around on the couch with your output?”

What he’s not expecting is for V to say, “Yeah,” like it’s the simplest thing in the world, like it’s the most straightforward, matter-of-fact decision he’s ever made. “Yeah, Ker, I’d like that.”

And there’s a voice in the back of his head calling it a surrender. Something old and bitter and not entirely right prowling in the back of Kerry’s skull, a mangled shadow of black hair and chrome skin and cruel intentions, I should have figured he would fucking give up, what was the point? But he knows the shadow sometimes better than he knows himself, knows that it’s only borne of his own fear and self-doubt—knows that the form it takes, while familiar in its anger, would never be quite so unfair.

He leans his forehead against V’s, brings his arms around to loop his shoulders loosely. The scent of him isn’t exactly the same, too much ozone and pressurized air, but it’ll fade back in with time. Leather. Metal. The heat of his skin.

“Alright, alright,” he whispers, and can feel V’s subtle breath of relief fan out across his lips. “I’d like that, too.”

He doesn’t know how long he’ll get to keep V. But he’ll keep him.


ii. dark matter

dark matter binds us together
with particles of anger
with atoms of hope
with the ancient dust of distant stars

 

Kerry still doesn’t understand what happened in Mikoshi.

It’s not that V won’t tell him. He tries to, he really does; he can lay out the details, the sequential order of events that ultimately resulted in Arasaka’s implosion, but it’s like he’s recounting the esoteric beats of a dream instead of a real, living horror he experienced only two months ago. A terse meeting with Hanako Arasaka; barely dragging himself through the threshold of Vik Vector’s clinic; their final phone call to one another, V’s voice and his fatigue and his short life hurtling to an ugly end. That night… I had a great time.

Then things get blurry. A jungle, and Adam Smasher. The body of Rogue Amendiares cooling on the floor.

It doesn’t serve either of them to dwell on it. Kerry can tell that it bothers him, watches as he bores holes through the floor trying to piece it all together, and to be frank, it bothers Kerry, too. There are parts of V that must have been ripped away in the datastream, splinters of his thoughts and memories that are locked behind the Blackwall forever, but what good does it do to mourn him while he’s still here? He can still run his fingers through V’s hair, still taste his skin, still listen to his heartbeat; he’ll have more than enough time to miss him soon enough.

The parts of V that matter, the parts that make him V, are still there, still plain to see. He’s still cuttingly perceptive, still unyielding in his principles; he still melts like ice in the sunlight when Kerry catches his hands, makes him laugh, kisses his neck. Everything they share, from the late night coffee trips to the sunset boat vandalism, is still there, still tucked away inside the ravaged recesses of his brain, and if there are gaps that he can’t fill, Kerry’s happy to fill them for him.

But he can’t help but imagine it, sometimes. Can’t help but imagine the flashing lights and wailing sirens of Arasaka Tower, the smell of smoke and charred wires and adrenaline. Chrome hallways stained red, lifeless eyes staring through the black in all directions, and V, standing at the center of it all. Not V. V, but more vicious, a nasty glint to his eye, a thirst to strip the tower to its very bones. A craving for revolution that couldn’t just be chalked up to self-preservation.

He doesn’t know, though. He doesn’t know.


iii. high standards

the price of rest, of good night’s sleep
of something broken left to keep
of all that unrelenting heat
what did it cost you?

 

V sleeps for fourteen straight hours the night he gets home. He’s thinner.

It’s a miracle neither of them eat shit on the way to the bed with how well Kerry’s able to keep his hands to himself, stripping V of his jacket and shoes, but prolonged zero gravity exposure and a traitorous nervous system have other plans for V—out like a light as soon as his body is vaguely horizontal, faster than Kerry is even able to get his own shirt over his head.

So he laughs. “Okay,” Kerry says. He leans down, brushes his lips against V’s temple. “See you soon, rocketman.”

Somehow, the villa doesn’t seem as cavernous as it did before. He takes some phone calls out on the patio, shoots a reply over to Blue Moon about potential single candidates, wrestles with a composition that’s been wandering away from him for days. He strums out the chords as they come to him, pausing here and there to take down notes and make adjustments, and every time he looks up, there’s V, asleep in his bed.

He’s gorgeous. He’s dying.

He doesn’t look all that different from the last time Kerry saw him. He’s lost some weight, sure, and he looks like he hasn’t gotten a solid eight hours since he was born, but there’s no denying that he’s the same V that Kerry relinquished to Delamain only a few weeks ago. Still, there’s a new sharpness to his face, the angles of his cheekbones and his jaw a bit more distinct than before. His complexion’s a little duller. His breathing isn’t as deep.

I don’t wanna lose you.

He’s destined to lose him, just like he was destined to lose everybody else he gave a damn about in his life. Kerry’s used to this particular loop, used to letting people in knowing full well how big and bloody the exit wound is going to be. It’s never deterred him before, though; happiness always finds a way to mold into pain, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

It eventually occurs to him that he’s drifting, playing the same two chords back and forth, over and over. Darkness pours in from the villa’s sprawling windows, studded with the twinkling neon of the Night City skyline. Crawling into bed is more a mercy to himself at this point, so he does, dimming the lights with a flick of his optics and sliding in against the steady presence of V behind him.

When he wakes up, it’s to the feeling of lips pressed to his throat.

Kerry hums as he tilts his head. “Mornin’,” he mumbles. V’s always had something of a fixation with his vocal cyberware, tracing the gold lines with his tongue and his teeth at any given opportunity.

“Hey,” V replies. “You’ve got drool on your face.”

Kerry blinks at him, then laughs, wiping at his chin with the heel of his hand. “Ugh, my image is ruined,” he says, then shifts onto his back, catching V in a kiss. He’s so much softer now, relaxed in a way he wasn’t the night before. “How you feeling?”

The sound V makes is indifferent. “Not too bad,” he says, eagerly returning to his earlier pursuit. He nips at the sensitive spots where skin meets metal beneath Kerry’s jawline, and it makes Kerry’s eyelashes flutter. “Don’t have to be at the Afterlife for another few hours.”

“That’s good. You should eat something,” Kerry tells him even as he spreads his legs, making room for V to settle between them.

“Mm.”

“If we get a move on, we could hop down to City Center, grab a table at Saffron.”

“Mhm.”

“Or, y’know, Ariel says my scrambled eggs aren’t half bad. When I don’t burn down the kitchen.”

“Sure.”

He chuckles as he cards his fingers through V’s hair. “You’re not listenin’ to me at all.”

“Course I am,” V objects. Then, with a languid kiss to Kerry’s neck, he says, “I’m taking it under very,” and another, “careful,” and another, “consideration.”

“Yeah, you can consider my—” But he never finishes that thought, cut off by a gasp as V rocks his hips down, slow and mean.

Well. Kerry’s always been more of a brunch guy, anyway.


iv. vision of your memories

remember the day we met?
first time i saw you, it was match point and set
never told you, was never the right time
that in that moment, i knew you’d be mine

 

He’s pretty sure he couldn’t have made a worse first impression on V.

The first time he spoke to him—him, actually him, not the pissed off ghost joyriding around inside his brain—Kerry was practically six feet deep in a grave of alcoholism and lackluster press. Hell, he hadn’t even been dressed the first time he talked to the kid, patting his cheek to snap him out of his own liquor and pseudoendotrizine haze.

“You two have fun at least?” V had groused, struggling to keep his head from lolling side to side.

Kerry can remember smirking at him. “That a hint of disapproval I hear?”

But in retrospect, V’s hooks were already in him by then.

At least in that instance he could have said he was caught off guard, but from there it was just one questionable decision after another, a laundry list of reasons why V should have cut and run. Lemme get that V guy to help me blow up an equipment van, Kerry had thought to himself, lemme get V to threaten an international pop group at gunpoint. There had never been any examination of V as the accessory, V as the individual; to Kerry, V had been a body, an impressively eloquent and ambulatory corpse, able enough to hold a weapon and look scary while doing it. It spoke to Kerry’s mental state at the time most of all how every unknown variable was a threat, how anything could have materialized in the dead of night to push him from atop his ivory throne.

V did end up doing that, just not in the way he had been expecting.

There was no turning back after that early morning at Caliente, still cloaked in the scent of burning plastic and asphalt. He can so easily recall his heady euphoria, the mania of endorphins that masked his crippling terror, and V, sipping coffee right across from him, too keen for his own good. He had (and still has) the kind of intelligence that would get most guys like him killed, if not for his extraordinary knack for neck-breaking.

“This city doesn’t forgive,” V had told him, picking at the sleeve on his coffee cup. “It eats people alive. But you—well, you survived.”

That initial spark, a flare of flint hitting stone. Brief and brilliant, too small for Kerry to see in that moment, but the beginnings of a wildfire that would reach farther and wider than he could have ever imagined—across rooftops, across the marina, into the very depths of space.

V fell into his life as a favor to a mutual friend, but that’s not why he stayed. Too keen for his own good, too intelligent—sneaking around Kerry’s life and throwing open curtains, cranking up the spotlights, all while Kerry could hardly think of him as more than a walking death wish. Then, he turned around, and all the shadows were gone.

Playing his song for V on the marina had hurt so bad he could taste it in the back of his throat for days. He wanted so much. Kerry remembers wanting to forget the whole thing, the stupid fucking yacht and the label and Kovachek, toss the axe overboard and climb into V’s lap and kiss him numb, surrounded by the scorching sunset, by the flames it carried across the water.

He didn’t, though, and things still turned out okay.

Kerry’s biggest mistake, in hindsight, was just how long it took him to see it—see that V was, and still is, wildly alive.


v. brand new leather jacket (ft. us cracks)

watch them bend and wave toward you
move mountains for you
love, praise, adore you
but never like me
no, baby, never like me

 

Nowadays, there’s not a single soul at the Afterlife that hasn’t heard about V.

It’s a perfectly nice club, though it mostly just makes Kerry miss the Atlantis. He’s only been a handful of times, namely to play a few gigs ahead of the fourth album and to dig up a couple business associates who aren’t on MSM’s payroll. The Afterlife is undoubtedly V’s kingdom, his weighty inheritance from Rogue, and Kerry has no problem leaving him to his affairs with it.

A lot of people call the Afterlife a watering hole, but there are a couple names that come up often enough for Kerry to recognize them. There’s Claire, of course, who V seems to share a notable kinship with, forged in drink mixing and street racing, and Weyland, V’s wisecracking right hand. Nix takes care of the club’s netrunning business from the back, and Emmerick holds the line at the door, probably the most skeptical out of all of them but gradually acclimating to V’s newfound authority.

They run a tight ship, or tight as they can with the crater Rogue’s death left behind. V’s more accustomed to solo work than he is to being a fixer, but he’s getting the hang of it; Night City’s got no shortage of edgerunners, and now V has every one of them a phone call away, fiercely vying for his approval.

And here he is, eating cold pad thai in Kerry’s bed.

“I should just handle shit like this myself,” V mutters, scrolling through his backlog of client debriefs. “Did I ever tell you I nicked one of your guitars for a gig? Guy had a whole shrine to Samurai set up in his penthouse.”

“If it’s not here, it’s garbage,” Kerry says. He taps V’s phone with a plastic fork. “Hell, half the guitars in this house are garbage. Eat your fuckin’ noodles.”

V snorts, but does as he’s told, returning to the takeout container in his other hand. Kerry can’t help but preen a little, knowing he’s the only one who gets to see him this docile—undressed, sheets pooled around his legs, poking at a box of leftovers like he didn’t just make Kerry come his brains out less than an hour ago. “Don’t get how Rogue had the patience for it, is all.”

“Well, she did it a hell of a lot longer than you, kid,” Kerry reminds him. “Besides, that kind of thinking’s what landed you up in the Crystal Palace, don’t forget.”

“Yeah, I know,” V sighs. He sets the takeout aside, and Kerry elects to let him get away with it, just this once. His stomach’s probably all sorts of fucked up from the shuttle. “I just… I wanna do right by her.”

There’s more than just household insecurity behind that sentiment, a minefield of guilt through which V is surely still wading. Rogue Amendiares gave up everything to afford V an extra five minutes on Earth, and it’s no small task to make that sacrifice mean something. The Afterlife needs a fixer, after all, but they’re gonna need one just as much when it’s V’s number getting called.

Kerry shimmies closer to him. “Not that I got the greatest track record in lettin’ people go,” he starts, “but in my experience, the dead don’t much give a shit what you do for ‘em once they’re gone.”

V’s brow is furrowed, but he doesn’t make a move to argue, so Kerry keeps on. “You could… I dunno, paint a mural or something. Erect a statue.” He averts his eyes, abruptly self-conscious. “Write a mortifying twelve-minute rock opera about it.”

“Bullshit.”

“I’m begging you to not go through my catalog,” Kerry says, kicking lightly at his knee. “My point is that it don’t matter what she would have wanted anymore, ‘cause there’s no way for you to know for sure. What do you want, V?”

All that power, right there at his fingertips, and now he has to choose what to do with it. Any other Night City jackass in his position would have cracked immediately, drunk on all that money and unassailable status, but not V. V doesn’t answer the question, but he doesn’t have to; I want to live is spelled out clear as day on his face.

Rogue didn’t die so V could replace her. She probably didn’t want to die at all, but as far as successors go, she couldn’t have done a better job of setting herself up.

They clean up breakfast (loosely speaking) and clamber into the shower together, for the most part behaving themselves save for the one or two fresh bruises blooming on Kerry’s collarbone. He extricates himself first, leaving V to luxuriate in the pressurized hot water after so many weeks in orbit, and hums a riff to himself incessantly to keep from forgetting it as he gets dressed.

He’s tapping out the rhythm to it, guitar propped up on his knee, when V finds him.

“Hey, Ker?”

“Hm?” he replies, then jumps when V ducks to kiss him.

“Thanks,” he says. He’s spinning the key ring to his bike around his index finger, and the shirt and jeans he’s wearing aren’t the same as the ones he came home in. Kerry can’t remember when he started keeping clothes in the villa. “Y’know, for letting me crash here.”

Kerry scoffs, hooking a foot around V’s ankle. “C’mon, you practically live here. Besides, it’s not like I didn’t get anything out of it.”

That makes him laugh, which is a small triumph in itself. “Still, it’s… I’m glad I’m back. It’s good gettin’ to see you.”

And Kerry watches him for a moment, watches for any specter of self-reproach in the stark lines of his face. When he doesn’t find it, he reaches up to pull V down by the nape of his neck. “Ditto to you,” he murmurs, kissing him soundly. “And I’m gonna hold you to that martini, by the way. Claire ain’t no slouch.”

This time, Kerry can feel his smile against his own mouth. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Drive safe, alright?”

“You know I won’t.”

Kerry shoos him away, grumbling about edgerunners and how none of ‘em seem to have even an ounce of good sense, and goes back to plucking out the notes to his newest melody, something breakneck and brutal for a nice mid-record jolt. Outside, an engine turns over, and the low rumbling ushered in with it starts out on the winding journey through North Oak.

The Afterlife awaits him. The Afterlife will always await him.


vi. under new management

the mask begins to crack
starts to fall away in pieces
all that faceless, heartless conviction
and that self-assured affliction
doesn’t seem so rock solid anymore

 

The night V and Rogue kneecapped Arasaka, a fucking satellite fell out of the sky.

It was crazy enough to witness on its own, the terrible flash of it igniting the air like a bomb dropped from the stratosphere. Kerry had known in the pit of his stomach that V was involved somehow when he saw it, but to find out later that it was the handiwork of Alt Cunningham herself was really what knocked him on his ass.

Kerry knew Alt, or as well as he could know her when she was always getting whisked away. She was beautiful, and lethal in that way that only unassuming things are; too goddamn smart for the company she kept, that was for sure, but Kerry had had enough on his hands at the time minding one other person’s business, let alone two.

When she died… well, he can’t say that he was shocked. That was (and is) Night City’s favorite hand to play, sniffing out its best and brightest and strangling them until they’re blue in the face. He was sad, sure, but the type of sadness reserved for sick relatives passing away, or the last mom-and-pop store on the block going out of business. Everyone could see it coming.

Which is why he almost choked when V told him it was her that brought him back from cyberspace.

The finer points of it are a little high-concept for him, something about the Blackwall and artificial intelligence and Arasaka crunching the human psyche down into binary strings, but it was bizarrely comforting to learn that it was her—or some version of her, in any case—that shepherded V through the bowels of Mikoshi. From V’s descriptions of her, she must have been unrecognizable, a machinelike stranger where once stood a living woman, but Kerry’s pretty sure he’d still trust her judgment before he’d even trust his own.

At least, in most regards. Not all, though.

It’s been a week or two since V touched down, and a routine is finally forming around the erratic momentum of both of their lives. V’s got the Afterlife and Kerry’s got the album, two equally fickle obligations around which their schedules stagger, but they make a point of carving out space for one another, even if it’s just to pass out on the couch in front of a slate of reruns.

There’s a pack of label guys and their personal assistants bickering about cover art concepts in Kerry’s living room when his phone lights up with a candid of V, perched on that crimson Arch of his. He excuses himself, not that any of them are paying attention, and swipes at the call to accept it.

“To what do I owe the honor?”

“Hey,” V responds. He must be driving, if the compressed roar of the bike’s engine in the background is any indication. “You home?”

“Yeah, what’s up?”

“Can I swing by? I’m ten minutes away.”

Kerry frowns. He tucks the phone against his neck, turning back to the living room. “Alright, everybody clear out! I’ll pick one and send it over by the end of the week.” A predictable ripple of complaint arises, but he waves the lot of them off. “Yeah, yeah, I get it, I’ll send you all a gift basket or somethin’, just hit the road.”

They start filtering out, albeit reluctantly, and he brings the phone back up to his ear. “Was that important?” V asks.

“Absolutely fucking not,” Kerry replies, raising a hand to the least annoying of the assistants as she retreats. “Door’ll be unlocked.”

It’s not long until the rolling thunder of the Arch is pulling into the driveway, cutting off almost faster than it can come to a stop.

“So is this business or pleasure?” Kerry asks when the front door slides open, but he gets no response, no answering volley. When he looks up, V’s standing there, and he seems… shellshocked, kind of, staring at him like he’s never seen him before. Kerry gentles at the sight of it. “You okay, Vince?”

His name rattles him. “I’m… I think so,” V says, his brows knit. “I just came from my ripper.”

“Vik?”

“Yeah, you remember him.”

“Sure. How’s he doing?”

V shrugs faintly. “Good, he’s good. Swung by to check up on him and Misty, haven’t had the chance since I got back.” He trails off, the line of his gaze drifting to some faraway place; Kerry edges closer to him, and he blinks hard. “He, uh. Offered to give me a tune-up. Update my firmware and whatever.”

It wouldn’t be the first time an unplanned visit to a ripper ruined some poor bastard’s day. “Okay,” Kerry says, just wishing it wasn’t his poor bastard.

V opens his mouth, then shuts it again. He sucks at his teeth. “Do you mind if I just show you?”

The suddenness of it throws him, but eventually, Kerry nods. The rings of V’s optics sear a vivid blue, and soon enough, Kerry’s vision is overlaid by an array of charts and medical imaging, the notes and numbers scribbled in their margins entirely lost on him. V isolates one of the panels in particular, a diagram of neural tendrils snaking through a brain.

“Vik took this the night before Mikoshi,” he explains. The spindly branches of the nervous system are highlighted in angry red strokes, not quite extending to the whole organ but just about. “This is what he saw when he told me I only had a few hours left.”

Kerry’s chest tightens. He harbors no illusions about V’s rate of decay, but it’s another thing to see it mapped so plainly in front of him. He swallows, then says, “Alright.”

The scan shifts over to make room for a new panel, positioned side by side.

Unevenly, V says, “He took this one today.”

On the surface, they’re not so different from each other. Both brain scans, both suggestive of the tissue atrophy that should have ended V’s life under normal circumstances, but the second one… the second one is less red. It’s hardly noticeable, but there’s a circle of white, untouched webbing right in the center of the tree of nerves. Growing. Spreading out.

The panels collapse, and Kerry winces as his eyes readjust to the light of the room. “I don’t… V, I’m gonna need you to spell this shit out for me, it looked like…”

He can’t find the words for it—or, rather, he’s too scared to, an uncharacteristic superstition befalling him, like saying it out loud might make it untrue. V takes a step toward him, then another; he reaches out to brush his fingers against Kerry’s, not so much grasping his hand as anchoring against him.

“Alt said,” he starts quietly, carefully, “that she didn’t anticipate my neural pathways rewriting themselves to accommodate the engram.” He’s shaking, so subtle that it’d be easy to miss. “I think… I think she also didn’t anticipate that they might do it twice.”

Clever and acutely mindful, she was. And near-sighted, perhaps, rendered cynical by the lines of her code. “So…” Kerry starts, but it’s thick in his mouth, too large to give voice to.

“Vik’s gonna take new readings next month.” V steps closer still, and the air in Kerry’s lungs hitches, their fingers twining together like it was inevitable from the very start. “Every month. He said that it might get worse before it gets better, but…”

But yesterday there had been no better.

Something wounded claws its way out of Kerry’s throat, and then V is enveloping him, crushing Kerry against his front and burrowing his face into his neck like he can’t bear to look at him any longer. “Jesus, kid,” Kerry breathes, clutching him back just as tightly, running his arms around V’s shoulders and cradling his head and holding him there, holding him fast against the future sprawling out before him.

Kerry never got to say goodbye to Alt Cunningham. He wishes so badly he could see her one last time now—wishes he could thank her for being wrong.


vii. shivers

the dealer gives you a wicked grin
who knows, maybe you’ll win
and that’s when you feel it
my body on your skin

 

Kerry’s first thought when V had kissed him on the roof of Dark Matter was, Well, this is a bad fucking idea.

Anyone with a functioning pair of eyes, cybernetic or otherwise, could take one look at the kid and tell he was in dangerously short supply of something important. He was menacing where it mattered and soft-spoken where it didn’t; restless, restless, restless, like to sit still would be his undoing. Kerry didn’t hold it against him, not when the biochip chewing through his synapses was plenty enough to deal with, but there was a certain amount of professional detachment that would leave them both better off in the long run, as far as he was concerned.

But then V had kissed him, pouring through him, casting him in bronze from the inside out.

He’s far from the worst decision Kerry’s made in his life. His memory is long, and it stretches over the broad parade of people who have graced and left him—people he was certain he would love until he died, people he was certain he would murder given the opportunity. V is only one of those people, the latest in a rotating selection of fuck-ups who wandered into Kerry’s headlights only to end up splattered on his windshield, and dammit, he had kinda been hoping he could be more than that for him.

The last time someone Kerry cared about picked a fight with Arasaka, he vanished into thin air. Why should this time be any fucking different?

In the end, it wasn’t just V who stumbled out of the smoldering carcass of Mikoshi. It was V and the heavy yoke hung around his neck, of Rogue and Alt and all their ambition, of Hanako Arasaka and the birthright V had torched; it was V, and steadfast Weyland, shouldering his weight as they limped back to the Afterlife; V, and the burden he would now be tasked with carrying alone.

Where could he even go from there? What could he even do? Everybody mistook him for a glory hound, some punk with a boatload of luck and an axe to grind, and even Kerry had nursed his own doubts—the same exact stunt that killed the greatest rockerboy who ever lived, and V had just… done it. Done it and walked away, come out the other side.

“I’ll have to remember this moment,” V had said to him. Humorless. Tired. “Kerry Eurodyne’s worried about me.”

It was enough to convince him not to question V’s methods of survival ever again.

For the most part, he was right—letting V kiss him on the roof of Dark Matter had been a bad idea. V is unrelenting, laser-focused, absolute; his kinship with death forged a clarity in him, the likes of which Kerry has never enjoyed in his life, a presence of mind to isolate what he wants and how to get it. It’s an attribute that Kerry would be supremely envious of, if not for V how looks at him, speaks to him, touches him. At some point, V surveyed the finite resource of his life and decided that he wanted to keep Kerry Eurodyne in it.

There’s something profound about that, the kind of shit Kerry would write songs about it when he was younger. Maybe he still will, if inspiration strikes him, but for now, he’s just content that V chose him at all.


viii. flood the desert

the roar of your ocean in the shell of my skull
your fingers between each of my bones
drag me deep underwater, feel the riptide grow hotter
i can’t leave your hunger alone

 

They don’t take any chances. They do everything by the book.

Vik hadn’t been kidding about things getting worse. V’s general preference is to keep the ugliest of his episodes to himself (though Kerry’s reminded him on countless occasions how idiotically self-sacrificing that is) but that becomes less and less tenable as the days and weeks wear on. More than once, Kerry finds him blacked out in bed by a prizefighter migraine, or retching out everything short of his soul in the bathroom, and he’ll wonder if perhaps they got their hopes up too soon. But invariably, it passes, just like it always has before.

It always passes. It has to.

The day of the checkup, Kerry resolves to go with him, because how could he not? V tries to talk him out of it, reassure him that it’ll be about as riveting as a root canal, but Kerry shuts him up with a kiss against the front door and a strategic swiping of his keys from his back pocket. In due time, he’s got V in the passenger’s seat of his own ride, chin cushioned in his palm as the landscape melts from Japantown to Kabuki to Little China in a smear of color. They don’t talk much, but Kerry holds his hand out about halfway there; when V takes it, his fingers are freezing.

Vik Vector’s clinic is in the basement of an esoterica shop, as if Kerry needed any more reason to instinctively like the guy.

Vik is a consummate artisan, equal parts bedside manner and zero tolerance policy. It’s no surprise to Kerry whatsoever how V managed to survive so long with a ripper like him, a man who can stitch up a bullet wound one moment only to shatter a jawbone the next. V gets a ration of shit from the good doctor over the fancy car parked outside, and Kerry watches as it strips the tension from his shoulders in degrees, a taut bowstring finally falling lax.

Then there’s Misty, who runs the aforementioned esoterica shop upstairs. She’d been waiting for them in the stairwell with a hug for V and a warm smile for Kerry, and she perches in the doorway now as Vik gets to work. She pulls Kerry down to sit beside her, offers to read his palm for him in the heavy stillness of the clinic; she points his life line out to him, short and deeply set into his skin.

“You spent a lot of time alone, didn’t you?” she asks, and it’s a mercy that she doesn’t look up at him, doesn’t see the blood that drains from his face. “But gosh, look at what you’ve been through…”

“Ker?”

She squeezes his hand once, then lets him go.

He hovers by V’s elbow as Vik lays out the gallery of scans for them both. The progress in the newest scan is by no means miraculous, but it’s there, the tiny ring of healing tissue in the center of V’s brain having widened in diameter. The flood of relief that courses through Kerry is almost powerful enough to bowl him over—V’s nervous system is yet again reshaping itself around the biochip’s engram, but this time, that engram is just him, only him.

“I’ll give you something for the worst of the symptoms,” Vik says, turning to rummage through his supplies. “You should probably take it easy, but I think you’ll pull through.”

Kerry waits until Vik has wheeled off into the wings of the clinic to cup V’s cheek, kiss him hard and fast and so fucking… something that it threatens to overwhelm him, buckle his knees with the sheer enormity of it. Whatever it is, it must wash over V too, because all he can do is kiss him back in response, his grip around Kerry’s wrist white-knuckled and trembling.

(It occurs to Kerry, later, that Misty could probably see it, but then again, Misty sees everything.)

After they say their goodbyes, V takes his hand, leads him up the cramped stairwell to the similarly cramped roof. Night City isn’t exactly what Kerry would describe as picturesque, too smoggy and brutally architectural even on a good day, but as V shows him the lights and the plastic lawn chairs and the ledge overlooking the alley, the very spot where he had called Kerry and asked him about the record, Kerry muses that it at least makes a half decent backdrop for prettier things.

V sits him down in one of the chairs and leans across from him, peering down at the teeming foot traffic of Little China below. They talk for a while, Kerry about those first few weeks after the bombing, V about Mikoshi, and about the dashi parade, and Konpeki Plaza. His story is a series of fragments that Kerry’s only heard once or twice, whenever he could muster up the energy to tell it—about Watson, and Jackie Welles, and wanting to swallow the whole world.

Kerry can sympathize, he thinks. He was that age once, and he remembers how it felt to rule over the city with somebody he adored.

The weeks that follow are better, thanks in no small part to the new pills from Vik. Sure, there are still mornings that Kerry rinses blood out of the sink, but they’re fewer and farther between, and V’s able to sleep through most nights without shivering. His ribs fill out, his hair looks glossier, he gets more rest on the whole; his duties to the Afterlife are simple enough to handle from his apartment, or from Kerry’s place when he deigns to make the drive, which is often.

There are afternoons he spends tinkering with his bike out in the driveway, his arms and back tanned by the brunt of the North Oak sun, or swimming in the pool that no one ever uses, or tracing aimless patterns into the sensitive skin of Kerry’s thighs. They serve as reminders to Kerry that, even in the midst of his recovery, V is strong as hell.

Kerry’s dizzy, dizzy with want and with steam and with the thick slide of V’s cock, snapping into him again and again. V’s got him pinned against the slick granite of the shower wall, hot water beating down on them both from overhead, and his arm is locked possessively around Kerry’s middle, his other hand latched onto the jut of Kerry’s hipbone.

V is good at fucking, better than he has any right to be considering he doesn’t seem to have a complex about it. Kerry’s had his fair share of sex, both life-changing and mediocre, but V is something else, this intoxicating blend of technique and intensity that knocks the air out of his lungs and leaves him breathless, every single time.

His pace is firm but unhurried today, his chest and stomach a scalding brand where they’re pressed to the length of Kerry’s spine. Every thrust wrenches a gasp out of Kerry, his back arched and legs spread wide to try and take more of him in, but V’s a sadist; he keeps bringing him right up to the mind-numbing precipice of his orgasm only to stall out, buried to the hilt inside of him while Kerry bucks and writhes and begs for release.

“C’mon—” Kerry growls, interrupted by a wanton groan as V pounds into him again, his dick blood-hot and throbbing. “C’mon, Vince, that all you got? Why don’tcha fuck me like you mean it?”

It’s a dirty trick, one that Kerry employs far too frequently to get what he wants. His name just always does something to him, tapping into some primal ferocity that thrills Kerry to his very core, and this time is no different, V pausing to grind into him in filthy, agonizing circles.

“You think I don’t mean it?” V asks, his teeth grazing along the delicate shell of Kerry’s ear. The gun callouses and coprocessors adorning his hands rasp over Kerry’s abdomen, a delicious drag of friction that makes him quake with desire. “You think I’d fuck just anybody like this?”

As if to punctuate it, he draws all the way out, slamming back into Kerry in one heart-stopping motion. A strangled cry rips from Kerry’s throat, his thoughts obliterated by the lust-drunk ecstasy of it, and he fumbles behind him blindly, fists his hand in V’s hair to steady himself.

“Prove it, then,” he pants, even as V hitches one of his legs up into the crook of his elbow.

V tuts, the cocky bastard. “Your funeral.”

“Holy shit—”

The rhythm he adopts is ruthless, nearly bending Kerry in half and holding his legs open, railing him within an inch of his life. The new position leaves Kerry with very little leverage to do anything but take it, the shameless moans rattling out of him overloud in the chamber of the shower. The assault on his prostate is ceaseless and pinpoint accurate, a litany of right there, right there, fuck, don’t stop accompanying each and every impact of V’s perfect cock sinking into him.

Kerry loses track of how long it goes on, his mind numb with the relentless pleasure of it—hours, days? It all seems plausible, all seems in keeping with how V undoes him, wrings him out, drives him crazy. His own dick is bobbing, swollen and untouched, against his stomach, and when V finally reaches around to work it in short, efficient strokes, it’s almost embarrassing how quickly Kerry comes, his whole body going rigid with it as he sobs.

He’s still wading in that hazy bliss when he feels V seize up inside of him, a ragged groan fanning out against the overheated expanse of Kerry’s back. His hips are twitching in aborted little pumps as he spills into the condom, and Kerry paws at him, pressing sloppy kisses to his cheek and to his temple, anywhere he can reach. Kerry hisses when he pulls out, and V nips at his earlobe in apology, lowering his leg back down to the floor.

His head drops to rest in the sweat-damp juncture of Kerry’s neck, his arms snaking around to encircle him. “Proof enough for you?” V asks, his voice all gravel.

Kerry hums in the affirmative, leaning back into the breadth of his chest. He hadn’t needed proof, and they both know that, but goading him into that headspace, that hunger, is always too satisfying to pass up. V tends to be a little more tactile after he comes, like the detachment he shows in public is only an exercise in practiced restraint; he ghosts his lips across the line of Kerry’s neck and down his shoulder, gently swaying as they both catch their breath.

For a while, they hang suspended there, shreds of lucidity returning to Kerry in fits and starts. The muscles in V’s forearms, wrapped around him as they are now, are strikingly defined, the solid weight of his form encompassing Kerry from behind. V’s stepped away from mercenary work temporarily, but there’s no doubt that he remains a powerhouse, all that brawn and vigor he built up during his solo days still undeniably there.

When Kerry turns to face him—“C’mere, c’mere, wanna see you,” and V complies—there’s a lovely flush to his face and down his sternum, his lips kiss-bitten and red. He looks healthy. Even back when he first broke into Kerry’s villa, he never looked so healthy, and it delights him as he leans up to claim V’s mouth, licking inside to catch the warm water and the contented groan on his tongue.

He doesn’t even realize he’s smiling into it until V pulls back, resting their foreheads together with an amused exhale. “What’re you laughing at?”

“Nothin’,” Kerry replies, though he most definitely is laughing, at least a bit. “Just thinkin’ about what all your chooms at the Afterlife would say if they could see how pink your cheeks get.”

V chuckles, and it must be the post-coital stupor that keeps him from shying away when he grins. “Are you making fun of me?”

“Who, me? I’m fucking offended.”

You’re offended?”

He yelps as V makes to pinch him, absconding from the shower to the chorus of V’s laughter bouncing off the walls. The sound of it is breathtaking, full-bodied and unselfconscious, and it reverberates in the echoic corners of Kerry’s memory for days on end.


ix. corpsebringer

singed chrome, frayed wires
a bundle of unrealized desires
a machine not born to work but to survive
the thankless task to see it thrive
you saw the light in it, didn’t you?

 

Decades of substance abuse and untreated anxiety are, predictably, not the best cure for insomnia, but that’s an uphill battle that Kerry’s still figuring out. Dealing with that particular misery, however, is marginally more bearable now that he has company.

V’s apartment is crammed right in the heart of Night City, limned at all hours by blinking billboards and the prying high-beams of passing cars. That partial darkness is what Kerry wakes up to every now and then, his exhaustion gnawing away at him as he stares through the windows or at the ceiling, watches the measured rise and fall of V’s chest beside him. But not tonight.

He emerges to a drowsy sweeping of fingertips across the back of his neck. Kerry mumbles, tucking his face into the humid curve of V’s throat. “Why’re you up?”

It barely qualifies as a coherent sentence, the syllables vague and misshapen. The motion stops, though. “Sorry,” V responds. “Go back to sleep.”

“Nope, too late. Gonna have to deal with me.” Kerry’s jaw cracks open on a yawn. “What’s eatin’ you, kid?”

He doesn’t reply. At first, Kerry thinks he might have dropped it, so he just huddles closer, planting a kiss on the underside of V’s chin. He’ll bring it up in the morning, provided he doesn’t forget, and he’s already half asleep again when—

“Do you still hear him?”

It’s like ice water, bracing and raw.

If he hadn’t been awake before, he is now. Kerry doesn’t ask him what he means, because he doesn’t need to. “Not like you do. Or… did, I guess.” V taps softly at the base of his skull, a hypnotic tempo that alleviates some of the sting of thinking about it. “It was like… hearin’ a voice when you’re supposed to be alone. Like maybe you just imagined it. Maybe you’re just tired.”

Kerry watches the bob of V’s Adam’s apple as he swallows. “I still see him sometimes,” V confesses. “In the corner of my eye. The back of the mirror.”

He’s tried to describe it before, the surreal phenomenon of riding shotgun in his own brain. Kerry’s never been able to wrap his head around it fully, how somebody could be there without actually ever being there at all, but the truth is that it sounds a lot more familiar than he’s willing to admit.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” he asks, neither accusatory nor unkind.

V’s entire body is coiled tight, tense with uncertainty. “Because…” he begins, then hesitates, like he can never take back what he’s about to say. “Because it shouldn’t make me happy, y’know?”

Kerry could swear that his lungs cave in with grief for him, a grief he’s carried ever since the bombing at Arasaka Tower. He draws back to appraise him, and what he finds in V’s expression is fear, total and all-encompassing; he brings his hands up, framing V’s face.

“You miss him,” Kerry says, like it’s the simplest fact he’s ever known.

V can’t meet his eyes. “I didn’t even know him. Not the way you did.”

“I didn’t know him the way you did, either,” Kerry rebuts. “And that was the thing about him, too. He didn’t need long. One minute you’re fine, just livin’ your life, and the next you’re wondering who the hell you even were at the start of it all.”

That’s a distant part of his history, a part he was sure he had locked up and shoved away. The pain that it dredges up is old, rendered toothless by the many years since, but for V, it’s much more recent, still an ornery, snarling thing. To go from dying with a friend to dying alone in the course of one night would have scared the hell out of anyone.

V is quiet, his hand having fallen to the small of Kerry’s back, brushing idly there. He’s struggling to stay afloat in the pull of a current that Kerry can’t see, so all he can do is lean forward, press his lips to the tender skin beneath V’s eyes.

“It took me more than half my life to get him out of my system, V,” he says, then breathes a laugh, “and I still don’t think I did that good of a job of it, to be honest. You deserve to take your time with it, too.”

Months ago, he’d told V that he wasn’t interested in the mire of his glory days, if he could even call them that, and it might have been unfair of him in hindsight. V is young, with miles of heartache and tribulation straight ahead of him, and it’s a disservice to tell him that, someday, he’ll leave all this behind. Kerry had wallowed in it, let it consume him, but he’s still just a mosaic of everything he’s done, every person he’s known.

It seems to mollify V, or as much as it can after the downright gauntlet of a year he’s seen. He pulls Kerry toward him, tangling their legs together under the sheets, and when he bends to kiss him, it tastes almost like thank you, like I promise this isn’t all that I am.

Of course it’s not, but a friendly reminder never hurt anyone.


x. seamurai in smoke

and i’ll be here beside you
a fucked-up mess to guide you
this bleeding wound inside you
together on that burning shore

 

V makes it pretty obvious that he likes Kerry’s house.

When it’s up to him, he basically always elects to spend their nights together in North Oak, rifling through Kerry’s vinyl collection or ragging on the nude portrait for the hundredth time in as many minutes. It’s not quite admiration that V expresses for the villa, considering the place is a fucking mess and tackily decorated and Kerry knows that, but he’s drawn to the Samurai memorabilia, the rampant disarray, the indisputable evidence and aftermath of living.

Kerry, meanwhile, is kinda charmed by V’s swanky new pad. It’s smaller than the villa, utilitarian in a way he sorely appreciates; there are touches of V’s presence here and there, and Kerry’s too, now that he’s keeping a guitar and part of his wardrobe there. Some (read: V) might argue that it’s impersonal, but to Kerry, it’s a blank slate, uncluttered and purposeful, and he intends to take advantage of it, goddammit.

It wasn’t long after V had moved in that he transferred an access key to Kerry, offhand and casual like it wasn’t a considerable extension of trust. It comes in handy when he’s in the neighborhood and V is otherwise occupied, flitting in and out for a change of clothes or someplace to crash where his manager won’t find him. Now, though, its convenience is somewhat less self-serving.

Sunset is an abstract affair in Night City, the shadows cast by the towering buildings looming over the streets and freeways. Kerry’s got the lights in V’s apartment turned down, the amber hue from outside pulling most of the weight in illuminating the space. The lounge downstairs has been straightened up, the glassware laid out, the music set low, and Kerry, uncharacteristically skittish, is rapidly running out of things to do.

He’s fussing with his hair in the bathroom mirror when he hears the door to the apartment slide open at long last.

“Ker?” V calls up to him, a suspicious tint to his voice.

“Nice try, but no! Two more guesses.”

“Right, it must be Jeff Peralez here to gift me with a key to the city.”

“Christ, I forgot you used to work for that guy,” Kerry shudders, rounding the stairway to meet him on the first floor. V’s shrugging his jacket off, tossing his keys onto the counter by the door. “Sure as fuck hope he never hung out in your place when you weren’t home.”

“Nah, the V-sanctioned B&Es are reserved for friends and temperamental musicians,” V chuckles. He pecks Kerry’s cheek. “What’re you doing here, anyway? Thought you had that party.”

Kerry rolls his eyes. “Fuck the party, label’s just pattin’ me on the ass for wrapping the album.” He hooks his fingers into V’s belt loops with an impish grin, backing up as he leads him toward the sofa. “Wanted to surprise you, yeah?”

“Surprise me with what?” V hazards, though he lets Kerry tug him along.

The surprise isn’t anything too fancy—not for Kerry, anyway, not when his pockets are as ludicrously deep as they are. Real French champagne, none of the synth shit that everyone at the MSM party is surely blasted on, imported via air freight and more expensive per centiliter than an emergency blood transfusion. It’s the kind of opulence that would normally spin him into a self-perpetuating ethical crisis, but there’s no denying that good booze is good booze, and nobody has a right to indulge a little more than V.

Kerry hauls it out of the ice bucket on the coffee table, tries not to smirk at how V’s eyes widen. “We’re celebrating.”

He pops the bottle, cackling as a deluge of foam streams down its sides. V, whose confusion is slowly giving way to mirth, grabs the wine glasses from the table, holding them out for Kerry to serve it.

“What are we celebrating again?” V asks him as he sets the champagne aside. He swirls the golden liquid experimentally like it has half a mind to jump out and bite him. “If it’s not the album, then—”

“It’s been a year,” Kerry interjects.

V furrows his brow. “A year since…?”

“Since Mikoshi.”

He screeches to a halt. V’s eyes, clear and stunned, snap from the bubbles in his glass over to Kerry, his hand frozen around the champagne. “Shit,” he breathes, something like wonder or disbelief rippling through it, then says again, “Shit,” as he sinks to sit on the couch.

Kerry follows his lead and lowers to face him, propping up his elbow on the couch’s back cushions. “How do you feel?”

V’s free hand is rubbing at the back of his neck—or, rather, over the implant that should have killed him months ago. “Good, I—I feel good,” he says, like it’s a shock to even him. “I still get headaches from time to time and all, but…”

He looks away, the cut of his jawline sharp and stiffened like it gets when he’s trying not to laugh. Kerry huffs, nudging him with his foot. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothin’, it’s stupid.”

“Okay, now you gotta tell me.”

He turns back, his gaze inquisitive as he searches for… well, Kerry doesn’t know. It might be the same old inhibitions—permission, understanding, an acceptance of his role in Kerry’s life as if he isn’t the best thing that’s happened to him in forever—and he’s pondering the absurdity of it when V says, “Did we miss our anniversary?”

A burst of laughter erupts from him. “Fuck, did we?” Kerry asks, reveling in the smile that’s sneaking its way onto V’s face. Jesus, who was the last asshole he toasted an anniversary with? He’d stopped keeping score of shit like that after the middle of the century, after he’d realized that he had exes whose names he couldn’t even remember. “Hey, that’s just another cause to celebrate, then, huh? I like today better anyhow.”

“Can’t say I disagree,” V replies warmly, the clasp of his hand finding Kerry’s knee.

A year ago, Kerry’s best friend from a lifetime past disappeared for good, and V, indomitable and weary, came back to him in one piece. The last gift Kerry ever received from him, that irritable phantom they share, should have been his career, the courage to strike out and make it big on his own, but hadn’t it been so fucking typical of him to have one last thing up his sleeve?

V holds his glass out. “To beatin’ the odds.”

And Kerry just grins, clinking it against his own. “Black and blue.”


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