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Thicker than Forget

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You have a problem. A dilemma. A fucking predicament. You’re at an impasse, in a bit of a jam, a lose-lose situation. You could go on, have more cliches available, could invent a few snazzy new ones just for fun, but that’s putting off the inevitable.

Whatever the inevitable might be.

No. Fuck. You know what the inevitable is going to be because it’s the same outcome every time, but …

But.

But is it the right outcome?

Is doing this the right choice?

It’s a fork in the metaphorical road where neither path leads to a good outcome. A catch-22. And funnily enough you knew the guy who came up with that one.

But Ian Gallagher needs you, the corporal you, more than he needs anything else from you right now, and there’s nothing you won’t do for Ian Gallagher. So, decision made. Fork fuckin’ chosen.

And fuck, how that fork will hurt. A sharp, jagged point; rusted and biting. Straight into your poor, bruised heart. You’re familiar with the feeling, but centuries of choice don’t make it any easier. And you do have a choice – you always have a choice. Some choose to do it once, twice, three times a year while others have only done it a handful of times. It’s a choice.

You’re fucking finicky about this choice.

It takes some work, getting into human form. You can never remember how to do it, it just happens, somehow – there’s light and dust, slivers of sunshine and grace, and eventually you’re standing in his bedroom, thin carpet beneath your bare feet, staring down at the lump in the bed.

He hasn’t been out of bed to do more than use the toilet in three days. And even that’s not happening all that often. You’ve been worried about his mental state for a while, but his physical condition is deteriorating by the hour. He’s going to give you a hernia by the end of the week.

“Wakey-wakey, motherfucker,” you sing-song, the sound of your own voice always a surprise to your ears.

Sixty-plus years is a long time to go without speaking.

You move towards the bed and stumble slightly, catching yourself with a hand on the corner of his mattress. You know everything there is to know about the human body, but using it for the first time in so long takes a little getting used to. You stand up straight and roll your shoulders, shake your arms out a little, and bounce on the balls of your feet. When you try again, your step is elegant and purposeful.

“Wake up, sleepyface,” you say a little louder, and reach down to give the bed a little wobble. When he rolls over, his pale face makes you sigh. “Jesus Christ, Gallagher, if I’d known things would get this bad I woulda come days ago.”

He opens his mouth to talk, probably to ask who the hell you are and how the hell you got inside his apartment, but all that comes out is a barely-there croak. You cock an eyebrow and nod to the three-day-old water on his bedside table, waiting as he reaches for it and takes a sip.

“You’re naked,” he says once he finds his voice again.

You glance down and, hey, so you are. Which is fine, happens occasionally, but nudity has never been an issue for you. Humans, though … “You got anything I can wear?”

He points to a pile on a nearby chair. “I think that stuff is clean. Mostly.”

Mostly? It’ll do. You dig around until you find some black jeans that might fit and a worn t-shirt. And Ian Gallagher, weird little dude, keeps his eyes averted the entire time.

“Well?” you ask, arms out to your sides. You stare at him until he looks up. “How do I look?”

“Like an intruder. Who the fuck are you?”

“Ahh, such eloquence for such an acclaimed poet.”

He groans and sits up. “How did you get in here? Seriously, I became a paranoid shit during my last manic episode and now have five locks on my front door. I’m pretty sure I didn’t give you a key to any of them.”

“The how of all this is a long, indescribable story,” you say digging through the jean’s pockets. You find a crumpled twenty and hold it out to him triumphantly. “A story for another time. Now, how about some food?”

“Food? Jesus fuck.” He looks at you with what you think is supposed to be indignation, but just looks like exhaustion. “Who are you?”

You were hoping to get him up and out before delving too far into this, but he’s a stubborn fuck. You bite at your lower lip for a moment before giving in. “Well, I’ve had a lot of names throughout history – a given name, one I prefer, a couple I’ve hated … to be honest, some people pick a name they wanna call me and go from there, so you can do that if you want?”

“People choose – oh, shit, are you a hooker?”

You scowl, but you’ve been asked that so many times it’s stopped being offensive. “Charming fucker, aren’t ya? And no, I’m not a fucking hooker. I’ve just been given a lot of names.”

“Such as?”

“John, Steven, Garret, Edward, Edna –“

“Edna?”

You shrug. “Sometimes my form is male, sometimes female. Sometimes fluid.”

He blinks at you. “What was your first name?”

“Erato.”

Erato,” he repeats.

“No need to roll the r,” you mutter.

“Like the muse?”

You always knew he was a smart guy. Even without you doing what you do he knows his stuff. “Exactly like the muse. Precisely like the muse.” You wave your hands in the air, give a little flourish. “Literally the fucking muse.”

He scoffs, which honestly just sounds sad coming from his bed-ridden form. “You’re telling me you’re the muse Erato?”

“I’m tellin’ you I’m your muse and the first name given to me was Erato.”

“Erato. The muse of love poetry.”

You grin. “Poet, meet muse.”

He stares at you and you stare back. Their resistance to believe you never gets any less frustrating, especially since you have no real proof of what you’re telling them, but sixty-plus years is sixty-plus years – you can wait a few more minutes. And a few minutes is all it ever takes; the link - the connection – between an artist and their muse is too powerful to deny.

Ian continues to stare, and you continue to stare back. You lean back against his bedroom wall, cross your arms over your chest and your legs at your ankles, and wait. You’ve become an expert at waiting. A whole lot better than the people you work with.

“Am I so deprived of food that I’m hallucinating?” he finally asks, and now that he’s mentioned it, you could really go for a steak. “I mean, I think I had an edible the other day, but was it laced with something? And now I’m hallucinating a Greek fucking tragedy in my bedroom?”

“Oh, please. There’s only one tragedy in this bedroom and there was nothing but bad weed in that edible, bitch. The only thing you’re deprived of is your meds. You should get back on those, by the way. You know, the anxiety meds you decided to stop taking three weeks ago? Christ on a cracker, I shoulda come days ago.”

“How do you know about my meds? Also, Christ on a cracker? Who even says that anymore?”

You wave a hand. “Old habits, I ain’t been around in a while. Now, you plan on getting up or do I have to drag your ass into the shower?”

He stares at you and you stare back. He narrows his eyes again and you raise both eyebrows. He pulls the blanket up to his chin, and you swing your arms, bored.

“Listen,” you finally say. “How about you have a shower and get dressed, then take me out for a nice meal. I’ll explain everything you want to know over dinner.”

He glances at you and you almost feel sorry for him. He has such little fight left in him that you know it won’t take much more than a gentle nudge.

“C’mon,” you say. “I haven’t eaten in sixty years and I’m dyin’ for a steak.”

He nods. “Okay.”

 

The restaurant is dimly lit, has too much red furniture, and the flickering fire along the wall has your human body sweating. It’s spring, for fuck’s sake. But your steak is rare enough to have a pulse and blood dribbles down your chin with each bite. It’s mouth-watering. So worth it. Even with Ian’s eyes on your every move.

“That’s disgusting,” he finally says.

You roll your eyes and talk around a mouthful of food. “Fuck off, man. You can’t pull the whole vegan, tortured-artist thing with me. I know you eat meat.”

“I eat cooked meat. There’s a difference.”

“Yeah, the difference is taste – this tastes good, well-done tastes like absolute crap.”

“Oh? You have a lot of experience with the taste of crap?”

You grin, swallow, and take a large drink of Coke. “I’m a muse. Even when I do what I do some people still turn out page after page of utter crap. Can’t be helped.”

“Is that what I’m doing?”

“Whatcha mean?”

“The last good line I wrote was months ago,” he says, voice high and tight. “And even that was mediocre at best. Everything since has been miserable, self-loathing crap that shouldn’t see the light of day.”

You lower your knife and fork and stare at him because he’s not wrong. He lost that special blend of inspiration, motivation, and magic a while ago, and no matter how hard you tried, nothing could be done about it. But that’s why you’re here now.

“You’ve been pretty sad lately,” you say, though it’s a slight understatement. After losing that special blend, he got sad, and when Ian gets sad, he stops taking his meds, and when Ian stops taking his meds, he gets sadder still … it’s a vicious circle that you need to put an end to.

“Your observation skills astound me,” he says.

“You ever heard of Mattie Stepanek?”

“Of course.”

You nod and go back to your food. “He once said that poetry is a beautiful way of expressing feelings … simple, right? And you’re for sure feeling a shit-load of feelings right now, but I wonder if maybe you’ve stopped seeing the beauty in things.”

He shrugs and picks at his salad. “I can appreciate a pretty face when I see one.”

“Thanks,” you say, and he rolls his eyes as you continue. “But is that all it is? A pretty face? Or is it incandescent and ethereal? Winsome and resplendent? Heart hammering, sweat-slicked palms, exquisite? If you can’t see the beauty, how the fuck are you going to write about it? Really, passionately write about it?”

He stares and you stare back, and there’s a look in his eyes that you haven’t seen before, and you can hear his heart pounding.

“I hate you,” he says.

“Excuse me?”

“You say that, pick words out of thin air,” he waves a hand in your direction, and you’re not even sure what he’s indicating, “and all I can come up with is some mess about the next-door neighbour’s limp hair and thinning eyebrows. You’re a fuckin’ shitty muse, dude.”

“You wound me, Mr. Gallagher!” Your hand grasps at your shirt, right over your heart. “I’m hurt! My feelings! How could you … seriously, douchebag, get better insults.”

“You’re my muse,” he retorts, “come up with better insults for me.”

You laugh. This kid is something else.

“You fucker. You’re just full of jokes this fine evening, aren’t ya? Who knew all it would take was a good meal and some divine company? Oh, that would be me.”

He takes a sip of his water – something you had insisted upon – and stares at you over his glass before asking, “Are all muses like you?”

“Incredibly delightful?”

“Disturbingly modest.”

You smile, but you don’t miss the moony look in his eyes. It goes with the job, though, and you know by now not to let it win you over.

“Seriously, though, I think that’s where we need to start. By looking for the beauty in things … and maybe cracking out a thesaurus.”

“Is that why you’re here? To help me write again?”

You pause before you answer. “To help you write? Sure, man. Maybe also to help you live? Things looked like they were getting spectacularly dire for a while there and I’m not ready for you to give up just yet.”

Spectacularly dire. That’s your polite way of bringing up just how low this guy’s gotten. While corporal you knows nothing of his thoughts and feelings other than what you can see and read on his face – or, if you’re lucky, what he tells you – unconfined you knew everything, and the negative thoughts he’s had lately have gone from everything sucks to kill me now in a matter of days.

“You’re capable of some amazing things,” you say. You kick out and nudge his foot beneath the table. “And I don’t doubt you’ll do them … you just need a little help along the way.”

He takes a deep breath and you pretend you don’t notice how shaky it is. “Why do I believe you? How is it that you can tell me the same thing people from my writing class tell me, but from you it feels like the truth?”

“It is the truth.” You shrug and lean back in your chair, arms crossed over your chest. “I’m unable to lie to you.”

“Really?”

“All part of the connection we have. I can tell a white lie here and there – bend the truth, a harmless fib, endless bouts of sarcasm – but no outright lies and nothing that could mess with you.” You go back to your steak but cock an eyebrow towards him. “You weren’t a little concerned with how quickly you believed I’m your muse?”

“I assumed I was going crazy.”

You frown at his word of choice; it’s not the first time he’s described his mental health that way, and his voice is so low, so broken, that it tears at you. You look at him, but he doesn’t meet your gaze, just stares down into his bowl of limp lettuce with a lock of red hair falling over his forehead. You want to push the hair out of his face. You want to pat him on the back, give him an encouraging smile, tell him everything’s going to be okay …

“Not crazy. Just connected. All muses have connections with their artists, some stronger than others. It won’t last, but it’s there.”

Some so strong it pulls you in wrong directions, makes your head spin, sends you delving into feelings and emotions that could ruin you.

“This connection, does it … fix me? Because I’ve been down for a long time – like, really fucking down – but being here with you –” He stops and rubs both hands over his face. “I don’t know. I’m still sad, but life doesn’t feel quite so bleak, you know?”

The human heart of the human body you’re currently inhabiting thuds in your chest – connection, concern, pity. “Like I said, some connections are stronger than others.”

“This connection feels pretty strong.”

You shrug and pull a pill bottle out of the front pocket of your jeans. “Take your meds,” you say gently, and he does, without argument.

 

You make him take you for ice cream after dinner.

“Ice cream? Seriously?” he asks. “All I wanna do is go back to bed.”

“Ice cream. Seriously.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s fucking delicious, that’s why.”

He doesn’t have it in him to fight you. Or maybe he wants ice cream, too. Either way, he turns left and starts down the street. You walk beside him and think through your words over dinner; it’s always hard to know how much to tell an artist. There’s a very fine line between too much, just enough, and nothing at all, and a lot of it depends on the artist’s mental health.

I’m still sad, but life doesn’t feel quite so bleak, you know?

You’re not a cure for his Bipolar, or any other mental health issues he might suffer from, and though you don’t feel like he needs to be reminded of that, you’ve been caught out before. It’s the connection. The connection exists and it makes him feel good again, makes him a little infatuated with you for a day or two, makes him excited to write and create and be.

And after a couple of days, once the infatuation wears off and the creativity reaches boiling point, that’s when he’ll go back to feeling his usual self, whether that be good or bad. The connection you made won’t be enough. It’s never enough.

Which is why you made sure to bring his meds to dinner. Why you’ll make sure he takes them again tomorrow, calls his therapist, does yoga …

You’re there to help him – live, write, be – and you’ll do whatever it takes to inspire him to do so.

It’s your job.

“What flavour?” he asks once you reach the shop window.

“I dunno. What new flavours have they come up with in the last sixty years?”

He gives you a look and you stare back. He narrows his eyes and, again, you raise both eyebrows.

“Jesus,” he mutters. “Literally all of the best ones.”

“Bullshit.”

“Check it out for yourself.”

“Yeah, yeah.” You wave him off and head for the display, talking over your shoulder the entire time. “Chocolate ice cream was invented in the sixteen-hundreds and nothing can beat that.”

You stop at the display, though, and the sensation that flows through you is as close to overwhelmed as a mystic being inside a human body can get.

“Holy shit.”

“Sixty years, right?” he asks, standing right next to you.

“Sixty-one and change.”

“A lot can happen in sixty-one years.”

“Including eleven-hundred new ice cream flavours.” You think that’s only a slight exaggeration.

There’s a small smile on his face and it’s almost the small smile you became familiar with before his downward spiral. Could be the connection or the infatuation. Or it could just be the ice cream.

“Which is your favourite?”

He turns to ponder the display. “I’ve always been a sucker for mint-chocolate chip. Or something fruity.”

“Fruity, huh?”

He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, but anything chocolate is good. If chocolate’s what gets you goin’.”

Your eyes zoom in on the variety of stupidly-named chocolate ice creams and your human mouth literally waters.

“Damn.”

“Guess they didn’t have all that sixty years ago?” Ian asks.

You turn to look at him and ignore the stupid smug smile on his face. You pull the twenty you found earlier back out of your pocket and hand it to him. “Here, get whatever you want, it’s on me.”

He takes his own twenty out of your hand. “So generous.”

You take a step back and watch him talk to the bored girl behind the counter. He orders something extravagantly chocolate for you and a mint-chocolate chip for himself, and you don’t miss the size difference he gives while doing so.

“You’re only getting a small?”

He grimaces. “I’ve barely eaten in three days and just downed a burger and salad –”

“Half a burger.”

“– so, you can’t expect me to follow that up with a giant-ass ice cream, too.”

“Fine.” You take the cup he hands you and start down the street. “But I want a taste. And we’re comin’ back here tomorrow.”

“Why?”

You grin over your shoulder as he hurries to catch up. “Because I have eleven-hundred new ice cream flavours to try before I leave you, and you’re gonna help me.”

 

He doesn’t go straight back to bed when you get back to his place, but you can see the exhaustion written all over his face. You say nothing about it, though, because it’s good that he doesn’t immediately jump for bed. It’s good that he goes to the kitchen and grabs two bottles of water.

“Got any beer?”

“You’re allowed to drink beer?” he asks, going back to the kitchen and swapping one water bottle for a beer.

“It’s not like I have a boss, man. There’s no one to tell me not to drink on the job.”

He relaxes back on his sagging couch and you take the chair opposite. “But are there rules?” he asks, waving his hand in a gesture you don’t understand. “Things you can’t do?”

“’Course. There’re rules in every job, though these are more like guidelines and … and inability to do certain things.”

“Like what?”

You cock an eyebrow. “You already want a list of the shit I can’t do? Most people wait a day or two before asking something like that.”

In truth, most people don’t ask a lot of questions. The connection helps them believe that you are who you are, and from then on, it’s down to business. They don’t have any interest in you other than the connection and what you can give them.

Ian, though.

He looks at you with a sincerity you haven’t seen in at least two centuries, and you cave. Maybe it’s the connection, maybe you like the idea of taking the chance to talk about what you do for once.

Maybe it’s the hope on his face.

“You saw at the ice cream shop, right? I gave you the money and told you to order?”

“Sure.”

“And at dinner I told you to order my steak rare with a large Coke?”

He plays with the lid of his water bottle. “I’m not following.”

“I can’t talk to other people.”

“Bullshit.”

You shrug. “Can’t lie to you, remember?”

He shuffles a little in his seat. “You can’t talk to anyone else? Only me?”

“Only you. They can see me, and they can hear me when I’m talking to you, but I can’t physically speak to them. I’ll open my mouth and … nothing.”

“That’s so fucking weird.”

“And waking up to a muse in your bedroom wasn’t?”

“A naked muse, at that.”

You fight the urge to smirk at him because the look in his sleepy eyes is a little darker than usual and you’ve fallen down this rabbit hole before. This messy, painful rabbit hole that ends in tears. Artistic tears that become best-selling novels or million-dollar paintings, but tears nonetheless.

“I can’t speak to other people, I can’t deceive you,” you pause to take a swig of beer. “And I can’t tell you what to write.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that I’m your muse, Ian, but that doesn’t mean I can give you all the answers.”

He looks annoyed. Most people are furious. You don’t think he has the energy for anything more than annoyed.

“How does this whole thing work, then?” he asks, but even in his annoyance his eyes are drooping. “How do you fix me?”

He’s asleep before you can answer, but his question leaves a very deep, very human ache in your chest.

 

“Cookie dough.”

“Cookie dough?”

“Trust me, man, it’s a classic.”

“If it wasn’t around sixty years ago then it ain’t a classic, man.”

Ian rolls his eyes. “Led Zeppelin weren’t around sixty years ago and they’re considered classic rock.”

“Oh, please. If you’re gonna try that at least do it with a band you actually love.”

“I like Led Zeppelin. Doesn’t everyone like Led Zeppelin?”

You catch your tongue between your teeth for a quick second before replying with a smirk. “Sure, but when you get high and horny is it Robert Plant’s lyrics you jerk it to? Or Jim Morrison’s?”

Ian blushes like a fucking schoolgirl. “It’s fucking poetry, man,” he hisses. “It’s beautiful. And I’m high! I can’t help it if I get a little weird when I get high.”

You fight a grin. “Sure, man. The poet is hot for poets, I get it.”

“Fuck. How do you even know this shit, anyway?”

“I’m your muse, dude. It’s my job to know which lyrical poets get you hard.”

“Fuck,” he says again, but this time he turns away and paces the length of the ice cream store a few times before continuing. “Whatever. I stand by my previous statement. Cookie-dough ice cream is a classic.”

“A classic. Like the Doors are a classic rock band?”

“Sure.”

You shake your head. “You’re seriously comparing cookie-dough ice cream to one of the greatest rock bands in history?”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s completely different.”

“How is it different?”

“You tell me. Does cookie-dough ice cream do it for you the same way Riders on the Storm does?” You try to stare him down, but he puts up one hell of a fight. You sigh and cross your arms over your chest.

“Fine. Listen, I’m not saying that a flavour or food – whether it be ice cream or something else entirely – isn’t a work of art, okay? Whoever invented pigs in a blanket? Fucking genius. But that doesn’t mean it even compares to People are Strange or The Soft Parade! And don’t even get me started on Moonlight Drive. That shit’s a fucking masterpiece.”

Ian fucking grins at you and he looks more awake, more alive than he has since you arrived. “I’m sorry, who’s hot for poets?”

“I’m the muse of love poetry, asshole, what’s your excuse?”

He sighs and throws his arms in the air in defeat. “Would you just try the damn cookie-dough?”

You shrug. “Sure.”

Sure? All I had to do was ask, huh?”

“I stand by my previous statement,” you say, and he shakes his head at you, “but I’ll concede and try the cookie-dough ice cream today.”

“You put up one hell of a fight, man.” He continues to shake his head as he walks away to order the ice cream, but he’s smiling the entire time. You watch him go, but reply quietly, so he can’t hear you.

“No, Ian, you put up one hell of a fight.”

 

You sit opposite him on the L, scooping up the remains of the cookie-dough ice cream he ordered for you – silently conceding that it is pretty fucking great – while he finishes up his caramel macchiato flavour.

“You woke me at seven, asshole,” he said when you questioned his choice. “I need all the caffeine I can get.”

“’Better routines for a better state of mind.’” It’s a quote from his therapist. “I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of that.”

He shoved a spoonful of his ice cream in your mouth in response and you flipped him off. Four flavours down; ten thousand, nine hundred and ninety-six to go.

“Hey.” He kicks out and nudges at your foot with his own, but doesn’t move it when you lift your gaze from your cup to look at him. He keeps his foot right there, his shoe pressed against yours, and you take note of that.

Infatuation.

“What’s up?”

He has a strange look on his face when he asks his next question – half amused, half confused – and it’s kind of adorable. “What do I call you?”

You snort out a laugh. “Finally realised I don’t have a name, huh?”

“I mean, you’ve got a name,” he says with an eye roll, “but calling you Erato sounds weird. You don’t seem like an Erato.”

“Yeah, don’t really feel like a Greek myth these days.”

“So, what do I call you?”

“Whatever you want, man.”

“That’s not helpful.” He tips his cup up to collect the last few drips on his tongue. Infatuation is only occasionally mutual, but … “What was your name the last time you were human?”

“Kathleen.”

“Kath –” He sputters and you grin. “Jesus Christ, dude, the last time you had a dick!”

“You’re fucking lucky this carriage is empty. You could get us kicked off with language like that.”

“I ask again, are all muses like you?” But there’s a twinkle in his eye that you know all too well. “You said there’s a name you prefer – what is it?”

You shrug. “Mickey.”

“Mickey.” You like the way it rolls off his tongue. “Well, Mickey, how was your ice cream?”

“Fuckin’ terrible.”

He laughs. “Thought you couldn’t lie to me.”

“Think what you want, man. Cookie-dough ice cream is no fucking classic.” But it is awesome. “It’s white lie. Whatever.”

He laughs again, hard enough that he holds onto his belly while he does it. He took his pills with breakfast, you’ll get him back into a routine, and maybe, once the connection ends, he’ll still be okay.

 

“I’ve lived in Chicago my entire life and I’ve never been here.”

You stand with Ian outside the Chicago Botanic Garden, and while he seems eager to go in, you’re not sure it’s the right move. You don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but you’re not sure it’s going to achieve the desired goal. But none of the other places you can think of feel right, either.

“Does that really surprise you? It doesn’t surprise me and I only know your history, man. You lived it.”

He shoves his hands into his pockets and nods. “Fair point. Growing up with Frank and Monica hardly screams botanical gardens.”

“You ever thought about coming here?” you ask. “Sometimes the simplest things can inspire.”

“You mean flowers? Sure, they’re pretty, but worth waxing poetic over? I dunno, man.”

“Pretty.” You scoff and lead the way in. “Some fuckin’ poet you are.”

“Yeah? What adjective would you use, then, oh mighty muse?”

“Nope, not how this shit works, Gallagher. I don’t give you the words, I simply …” You trail off and wave your hands in a vague gesture that’s supposed to explain everything.

“You simply …” he makes the same gesture before continuing. “Take me places that are supposed to inspire me? Force me to buy eleven hundred ice creams? Wake me so fucking early that I can barely function?”

“Sure. Whatever works.”

He turns and stares at a colourful display of crocuses. He focuses and you can tell he’s trying too hard.

“Nothing,” he says, turning back to you with a shrug.

“Nothing, huh?”

“Not a thing.”

“Wow.” You keep walking, leading him through the garden and towards a bridge. You stop at the top of the bridge and throw an arm out, indicating the pond below and the willows that surround you both. It’s one hell of a view with the bright morning sun shining above.

He stares out, lifts a hand to brush fingers through the willows that droop above you, takes a deep inhale … “Nothing.”

“You’re a jerk.”

“You’re a crappy muse.”

You glare at him but decide to give it one last shot. “C’mon.”

It takes almost ten minutes to reach the crab apple trees, but when you do it’s an abundance of blushing flowers, miniature fruits you want to sink your teeth into, and a mouth-wateringly sweet scent that you inhale immediately. You figure if it’s not enough to make Ian want to write, maybe he’ll at least be inspired to bake you a pie.

You turn to look at him, smug smirk in place. “Well?”

“It’s beautiful,” he says, turning on the spot. He breathes in deeply and his exhale sounds like ultimate satisfaction. “But it doesn’t inspire me.”

“You fuckin’ serious right now?”

He shrugs. “Sorry.”

You turn away from him and a feeling runs through you that you can’t name. You’ve struggled before, that isn’t new – sometimes finding the right way to inspire an artist can take days – but this sudden feeling of hopelessness is new. It’s new and it exists only for Ian.

You didn’t have a plan. You never have much of a plan. A couple of hours with the artist and things begin to fall into place. Usually, they begin to feed off you, off your energy and the connection. Sometimes, though, you need to bring them to places of great beauty – iconic architecture, a golden beach at sunset, the most famous garden in their very large city.

Ian wasn’t feeding off you or your connection, and there’s a chance you’ve simply brought him to the wrong place, but …

“Mickey?”

You look at him and you want to say more than you should want to say.

“Don’t be sorry, man,” you tell him. “This isn’t your fault.”

“Does it mean you can’t fix me?”

Fix me.

You haven’t heard the words all day, but now he’s saying them again and that ache in your chest is back. You move to sit at a nearby bench and he follows.

“That shit depends on what you mean by fix you, Ian.”

He shrugs. “Help me. Help me write again. I know I’ve been in a downswing anyway, but … shit, Mickey, I just don’t feel like myself when I’m not writing something.”

“Which is why you stopped taking your meds?”

“I guess.”

“You gotta take your meds, Ian –”

“I know that.”

You pause because you hear the irritation in his tone. He’s had this conversation before, multiple times, so you hold your hands up in an offer of peace.

“Not having a go, okay? I’m just saying that there’s only so much I can help with, only so much I can … fix.”

You really didn’t think you’d have to remind him of this, and maybe you don’t, but he keeps using those words – fix me – and you need to know that he understands. You’re not a cure.

He stares out at the crab apple trees for a long time before answering.

“You can’t help the depressive episodes,” he finally says. “You can’t fix my bipolar.”

“Nothing can fix that, Ian.”

“I know. Fuck.” He leans back against the bench and rubs at his face. “I know that, I do, but I’ve felt so fucking good since you got here. And I haven’t been writing! I haven’t felt this good while not writing in years, Mickey. So how can I feel this good while not writing if you’re not a cure?”

“It’s the connection. It’s like a … like an instant fix, but a short-term one.”

“So, the connection starts, I get better, but only for a while?”

You meet his gaze head on. “You don’t get better, Ian, you feel better. There’s a difference.”

“And then once this connection ends, I’ll go back to feeling like shit again?”

“I don’t think so, but that’s really on you.”

“What the fuck is the point, then?” he asks, voice pitchy and emotional. “I get depressed and I can’t write. If that’s just going to happen again then why’re you even here?”

You think over the last few weeks of watching him. “You’re blaming your inability to write on your downswing, but it’s the other way around. You had writer’s block, a shift in creativity, whatever you want to call it … and then you stopped taking your meds and that’s where the problem lies!”

“The problem lies with me having this fucking disorder that I can’t control.”

“But you can control it.” You nudge his knee with your own. “You do control it. But then you let writing take over your life and forget that there are other aspects, other things you can do to make you happy. Or, at the very least, keep you stable.”

“Taking my meds, calling my therapist, fucking yoga …” he rattles off the things you tried to bring up that morning.

“Healthy eating, sleep schedule, the list goes fuckin’ on, man, and I can keep goin’ if you really want me to?” You grin at him, relieved to see a small smile in return.

“How do you know so much about this shit?”

“Bipolar? Please.” You roll your eyes and cross your arms over your chest. “You think you’re the only mentally unstable, poetic genius I’ve worked with?”

His eyes light up. “Poetic genius?”

“Maybe. Eventually. With a shit-ton of my help.”

“Hmm. Poetic genius,” he says again, and relaxes against the bench. And there’s an entirely different look on his face as he stares out at the crab apple trees.

 

The ride home is different. You sit opposite him again, but this time it’s because the train is full and there’s no other option. It also means you can’t talk about anything related to who you are, and you know Ian has questions.

Being human, you don’t have insight to the inner workings of his brain anymore. You don’t know his thoughts and feelings, when a drop of creativity hits and misses, when his brain works overtime to make sense of something. But you can see it on his face. Can see that the more you tell him, the more he wants to know.

And the more you want to tell him.

The ride home is silent. A couple of kids scream and beg for snacks down one end, a group of teenagers have music blaring down the other, and there’s endless chatter in between. But you and Ian are silent.

It’s happening, though, you can feel it. The connection is getting stronger and his infatuation is growing. It’s been insignificant so far, but you can feel it every time you look up and meet his gaze. He stares at you with such intensity, such concentration, that you feel weak. You’re not supposed to feel weak, even in human form, unless your artist is creating.

You look up again, look into his eyes, tell yourself that it’s the connection. Infatuation.

But it’s different. You’ve been stared at plenty, had a connection with every artist you’ve helped. It’s never been like this, though. It’s never given you such human physical feelings from something as simple as a look.

You bite at your lip – a human trait you never seem to lose – and glance around the train. It has to be an attraction. Though the infatuation is only sometimes mutual, Ian is hot. It’s that fucking simple. And while you expect him to become more infatuated with you as the minutes pass, you can’t seem to ignore your attraction to him. Whatever human form you’ve taken over the centuries, your interest in men has never changed, and Ian is … Ian is definitely man.

You look back at him, meet his stare with one of your own, try to figure out everything going on in his brain, in his eyes, in his heart.

All you see is confusion and more questions and something really fucking close to want. And you kind of want it to end. You want Ian’s infatuation to last for as short a time as possible. The less infatuation, the less pain when you leave.

When you get to your stop, you follow him off the train without a word. Neither of you say anything, but you can almost hear his brain working, his heart beating, the drops of sweat breaking out on his lower back. Mid-afternoon on a beautiful spring day.

You say nothing as you leave the station, and he says nothing on the walk to his apartment, but when he makes a left turn towards the ice cream shop without a word from you, you think the connection has solidified.

 

Ian gets antsy that evening. After stopping for ice cream – in which you agreed that his Very Berry Strawberry tasted better than the plain coffee flavour you chose – he picked up some beer on the walk back to his apartment, ordered pizza for an early dinner, and then started in on the questions.

Not the questions you were expecting, though.

Harry Potter?”

You roll your eyes. “Of course, I’ve heard of Harry Potter.”

“But did you have anything to do with it?”

“Nope.”

Friends?”

“Like, the tv show? Nah, though for legal reasons I can neither confirm nor deny that I know the muse who might have had something to do with that.”

“Really?”

You shrug and take a swig of beer.

“Hmm.” He picks a piece of pepperoni off his pizza slice. “Cronuts?”

“Seriously?”

“You said yourself that food can be art!”

You laugh, but you try really fucking hard not to. “Yeah, okay, van Gogh.”

“Fuck you, you know what I mean.”

“To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t had a part in any food creations.”

“Right.” Ian nods and bites his pizza. He continues with his mouth full and it’s stupidly endearing. “Muse of love poetry, not food conception.”

“Exactly.”

“Is there a muse of food conception? Someone who inspires the masterminds behind shit like cronuts and deep-dish pizza and those fucking coffees with all the different flavours that everyone pretends to hate but are actually fucking delicious?”

You grin. “A food muse? I dunno, man. Not one I ever knew.”

“But you did know other muses?”

“Sure.”

“Is it, like, a thing? You all get together once a century to compare notes? See who had the greatest artist? Or is it a group-chat thing? Where you keep in touch all the time and just give each other shit?”

You give him a look. “You have a fucking strange idea of how this muse thing works, man.”

“Yeah, Greek mythology was never really my thing.” He drops his unfinished slice back into the box and heads for the fridge. “Want another beer?” He grabs you one without waiting for an answer, and a can of Coke for himself. You watch as he takes a drink and washes down his meds while he’s at it, before coming back to the couch.

“How does this work then? This muse thing?  Does your mojo float through the air and into my brain? Is just being around you supposed to help? Like your magic somehow rubs off on me?”

You shrug and give him an apologetic look. “Can’t say, man. It’s different for everyone.”

“What do you usually do to make this shit work? Take them to famous botanic gardens and hope for the best?”

“Again, it’s different for everyone.”

“Hmm.” He seems to take that in stride, but gets up. Starts pacing.

You set your beer down. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” He wipes his palms on his jean-clad thighs and keeps pacing. “I just …”

“What is it, Ian?”

He pauses, looks at you with wild eyes. “I gotta write.”

You fight a smile. Play it cool. Pick up your beer. “Don’t let me stop you, man.”

He has a notebook he used to use daily, but he doesn’t go for it now. He heads to his crappy little desk and reaches for the first pen and piece of paper he finds. It ends up being a used envelope, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Once he’s got pen to paper, ink flows and the words don’t stop.

And you can feel it. It’s always been somewhat draining, having the artist take the creativity from you, even when you’re giving it willingly, but it isn’t at all draining with Ian.

You wriggle, get more comfortable on the old couch, and relax.

An old movie plays on the small tv, but you pay no attention to it. Your eyes drift closed, your breathing slows, and you listen to the scratch of Ian writing. It doesn’t stop and it feels like forever. Scribbling, shuffling for new paper, going back through old papers … he’s writing, and you haven’t felt this good in a very long time.

You sleep when you’re corporal. Not as much as humans sleep, but your body does need the rest, and you think you might start to doze just as Ian falls onto the couch next to you.

“Mickey.”

His voice is a whisper. You open your eyes and his body lounges next yours, relaxed and happy. And when lift your gaze to meet his eyes, they’re green, so green that you want to write sonnets about them.

You’re the muse of love poetry; you give creativity, you don’t use it.

You shift a little and take a large drink of the beer that’s still held precariously in your hand.

“You got somethin’ to show me?”

His smile blinds you and he hands you a pile of scrap paper. “It’s a mess,” he says. “Words and phrases everywhere, but … it’s something.”

You take a look at the paper, and he’s right, it is a mess; backs of receipts, backs of shopping lists, even the back of an expired ice cream voucher. You begin to shuffle through them, not finding any order to the paper or the words, but stunned by the devastating beauty of them.

“Ian …”

“It is, right? It’s something?”

And he really shouldn’t need your assurance, not with this.

“Yeah, man, this is …”

You shuffle through the papers again –

Hushed blues and dusty peach

Blushing petals unfurl with desire

A slow, tempting swell of a spring breeze

“This is something, Ian.”

“Something good?”

He looks hopeful, but he should know better. You cock an eyebrow. “You know your own writing, man. You know how this compares to the last few weeks. You don’t need me boosting your ego.”

His smile is exhilarated, but his face is drawn. “I’m exhausted. I could fall asleep right here. I want to keep going, but …”

“Sleep.” You hand him back his papers. “Put these somewhere safe, and head to bed.”

“But –”

“I know you feel the need to write while the motivation and inspiration are there, Ian, but you need to look after yourself, too, okay?”

He’s silent for a moment, and then – “Better routines for a better state of mind. Yeah, yeah.”

But he doesn’t move. He stares at you for a long moment and, even though you know better, you stare back. You stare back because Ian is beautiful and it’s stupidly hard not to stare. You stare back because the connection has barely started, but it already feels too strong. You stare back because his eyes draw you in like nothing else.

Mostly, though … mostly you stare back because you just can’t help yourself.

He opens his mouth to speak, eyes never leaving yours. “I really want to kiss you.”

You swallow through sudden, human dryness. “That’s the connection.”

“Does that mean I’m not allowed?”

It doesn’t. It doesn’t, but it should.

You’ve been here before, with attractive artists who feel the connection a little stronger than others, where the infatuation slides into mutual. The infatuation is always there for the artist, but the connection itself can differ.

For some it’s purely professional – you push them to work, they excel under your special brand of motivation, and together you crank out tens of thousands of words in a day. Sometimes you fuck in between sometimes you’re at each other’s’ throats, sometimes it’s neither.

For others it’s clingy and desperate. You’re their muse and they come to worship you. To think that they can’t do a fucking thing without you. It gets real messy when it’s time for you to go. It’s depressing as fuck and you hate that it bothers you so much.

For a rare few it’s genuine and too much. It’s tangible feelings and legitimate attraction. It’s soft eyes and stupid smiles.

Those are the ones you struggle to leave. Their feelings, increased by the connection, become painfully valid to them and teeter on mutual. Maybe even fall into mutual. And experience has taught you that kissing, and everything that typically follows, is a bad idea. For both parties.

You turn away from Ian and take a long drink. A deep breath.

“You should get some sleep.”

He’s silent, and when you finally allow yourself to look at him, he’s got those soft eyes and that stupid smile and it makes your breath catch.

“Yeah, yeah,” he mutters. “Connection, shmonnection.” But he gets to his feet, stretches his insanely long body, and pads into his bedroom.

 

You stop at the ice cream shop again the next morning.

“What flavour?” Ian asks, digging out his wallet.

You stand a few feet back from the shop and look at Ian, not the ice cream display. He hasn’t said anything more about wanting to kiss you, or even anything about having wanted to kiss you, but you see the way his eyes stray to your mouth, feel the way his hand lingers when he passes you coffee, hear the smooth way he says your name …

And you wonder.

You really fucking wonder.

“What flavour?” he asks again when you don’t answer, and you want to reach out and wipe the smirk off his face. Instead, you narrow your eyes and make him choose.

“Whatever has the stupidest name.”

“Whatever has the stupidest name?”

“Yeah, man. Yesterday you made me have somethin’ called Mom’s Makin’ Cookies –”

“Ahh, a classic.”

You fight a grin and flip him off. “So chose something even stupider today. Do your fucking worst, Gallagher.”

“You’re gonna wish you hadn’t said that.”

You watch him walk to the counter and try not to think about the connection. Try and fail. It gets stronger every minute – you can feel it – and the infatuation grows, too. If you go by history alone, it should reach boiling point within the next twenty-four hours. Already Ian stares at you, eyes dark and tempting, voice filled with longing when he says something as simple as coffee?

And it’s almost too much. The connection is always reciprocated, but the infatuation … you haven’t been this affected in centuries.

He pays the cashier and throws you a smug grin over his shoulder. You ignore it, but it’s getting harder and harder to ignore him every time he smiles at you or says your name or fucking looks at you.

You take a breath and go for nonchalant when he comes back, two cups in his hands.

“For you,” he says, holding one out, “a No Sugar Added Caramel Turtle Truffle.”

You pause, hand mid-air. “You better be fuckin’ kidding.”

“Of course, I’m kidding, this one’s mine.” His smile is cocky and endearing. “But you should see your face. I could write about it for days.”

“Yeah, yeah, asshole. What’d you get me.”

“A delicious combo of white chocolate and raspberry ice cream, chocolate chips, raspberry-filled hearts, and a raspberry swirl.” He hands you the cup but doesn’t let go when you reach for it. “It’s called Love Potion #31.”

You pause, fingers on the cup, tips grazing his. “That’s a stupid fucking name.”

“I think it’s beautiful.”

“You’re a shitty poet, then. You should be able to come up with something better than that.”

“Like what?” He lets go and you take the cup. “It’s the Connection?”

“That’s even worse.”

“I agree.”

You turn and start down the street, relieved when he follows you and changes the subject.

“Where we headed today?”

You take a spoonful of ice cream before answering and it’s really fucking good. “Well, the gardens seemed to work for you yesterday –”

“No, they didn’t.”

“Fuck you, you wrote last night. The gardens worked.”

He looks at you as if you’re an idiot, but you brush it off with a glare. “So today we’re going to find some more beauty.”

“Another garden?”

“Nah, no nature art today. Man-made art.”

“Hmmm.” He has some of his ice cream and doesn’t make a disgusted face. He might actually like it, and that makes you pull a face. “Like a museum?”

“Fuck no. While I’m well aware that you’re currently living off what Clayton left you when he bit the dust, you’re still South Side through and through. You wouldn’t pay to get into museum.”

He looks affronted as you climb the steps to the L. “I would. If I wanted to.”

“Do you want to?”

“Fuck no.”

“Exactly. Why pay a fortune to look at some old paintings that you can’t relate to when you can look for free at some amazing art, made with the passion of today’s love and animosity and all those other good feelings.”

He doesn’t reply, but when you take a seat on the L, he sits next to you and you’re not at all surprised. You let it happen, too. You tell yourself it’s because you can’t prevent the infatuation – no matter how hard you try, it’s literally impossible – so why bother trying twenty-four/seven? But also …

Also, you want him next to you.

You want him a lot of ways, but for right then, you’ll settle for next to you in a crowded train carriage while you’re both fully clothed.

“So?” he asks, as though you’re supposed to know what he’s talking about already.

“So what?”

“C’mon, Mickey, you’ve tried my last three ice creams; don’t tell me you’re gonna pussy out on this one just because it has no added sugar?”

“Fuck off, it’s not the lack of sugar that’s the problem, it’s the turtle of it.”

His eyebrows draw together. “You know there’s no actual turtle in it, right? It’s just got these tiny turtle-shaped chocolates that are fucking delicious, by the way, and definitely not enough of a reason to not try it …”

You stare at his lips as he talks, at the enticing shape they take while talking about turtles, and it’s torture.

“So?” he asks again, and you realise you zoned out on the rest of his tirade. You meet his gaze and play it cool. “You gonna man up, tough guy?”

You scoff. “Give me the spoon.”

He fills the spoon with ice cream and hands it to you, but he does it with a pause.

“I mean, I could just feed it to you …”

“Give me the fucking spoon, Gallagher.”

He grins and gives you the spoon. “You can’t fight the connection forever, Mick. Eventually it’s gonna come to a head and all kinds of inappropriate things might happen.”

You talk with a mouthful of his ice cream, which is only okay. “The connection is mutual, dumbass, but that doesn’t mean the infatuation is.”

“Infatuation?”

You slowly swallow. “Yeah, it, uh … fuck. It comes with the connection, okay? Totally normal and will leave in a day or two.”

“You think that’s why I wanna kiss you.”

You shrug. “It’s all part of the connection. It happens.”

“With everyone?”

“It’s not always sexual, but there’s some kind of guaranteed fixation. They either want to worship my brains or my body.” You give him back his spoon and throw half a smirk towards him. “Or both.”

“Hmmm.” He puts his spoon in his mouth while he thinks, and it doesn’t escape you that there’s no ice cream on it, that he’s taken it straight from your mouth into his own. You don’t think it gets past him, either, if the look he gives you is anything to go by. “What if it’s not?” he asks around the spoon, jumbled.

“What if it’s not what?”

He takes the spoon out, digs into his ice cream, doesn’t meet your gaze. “What if it’s not the connection?”

You go back to your own ice cream, as unwilling to look at him as he is to look at you.

“It’s always the connection.”

 

The rest of the ride is silent, but when you get off at a stop on 16th Street, Ian perks up.

“The murals?”

“Yeah, you’ve been before?”

“Only once, but it was awesome.”

You offer him a smirk and start down the street. “It’s art, Gallagher, of course it was awesome.”

He catches up and the silence between the two of you is comfortable, easy. Despite the connection, you haven’t had that with every artist, and it’s something you appreciate. Not every muse needs to talk a mile a fucking minute, and there’s not much you like more than when an artist feels the same.

Though Ian does talk a lot. More than most artists coming out of a depressive episode. He asks a lot of questions, most of them silly. Honestly, the fucker spends most of his time talking out of his ass about nothing and everything.

It’s charming and you hate it.

 He continues to glance at you at least twice a minute, but you take it in stride, let it happen. If you let the infatuation run its course, then it’ll be done, over, finito. Twenty-four hours, give or take, and it will go from a burning passion to a barely-there simmer. The connection will follow.

And you can’t fucking wait.

Twenty-four hours. You can ignore his looks for twenty-four hours.

“So, you don’t inspire food and you didn’t inspire any of my favourite rom-coms,” Ian begins, ridiculous smile on his face, “but what about these paintings?”

“What about them?”

He shrugs. “If poetry is art, then art can be poetry, right?”

“If you say so.”

If you say so,” he repeats, his impression of you pretty shit. “Do you ever give a straight answer?”

“Do you ever ask a simple question?”

He stops and turns to face you. Behind him is the first mural on the walk and you want him to look at that, not you. Instead, he shoves his hands in his pockets and gets serious.

“Is art poetry?”

You don’t have a straight answer. You wipe a hand over your mouth and try to get rid of the grin because you can see on his face, hear in his voice, that this is important.

“Ian –” You reach out without thought, go to touch his arm, pull back like it was nothing. “Look, man, you’re an artist. A fucking poet. And a good one, at that. You should know the answer to this question.”

“Is art poetry?” he asks again, as though to make sure you’re on the same page, and you nod. “I don’t know the answer.”

You reach out again, and this time you grab his shoulder to turn him. The catch in his breath at your touch is slight, but it’s enough. You pull your hand back once he’s turned, and do your best to ignore the lingering feeling of Ian on your skin.

He stares at the mural and you move to stand next to him. Silence follows as you both take in the burnt oranges and sharps blues, the intricate details and symmetric lines. You get particularly caught up on the facial expressions the artist has captured, and only pull your glance away when Ian shuffles next to you.

You look at him. “What do you think?”

“About the mural or about art being poetry?”

“About anything, man.”

He sighs and his eyes continue to roam the mural. “It’s cool. Like I said, I’ve been here before and this one isn’t my favourite, but it’s still cool.”

“And?”

“And let’s keep walking.”

You keep walking. His shoulder bumps yours occasionally, and he continues to look at you more than he should in ways that aren’t always appropriate, but the walk itself is relaxed and quiet. He stops outside a coffee shop – for sustenance, he says – and brings you out something called a Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino.

You take a sip and nod in approval. “Remind me to get started on this shit once we’ve gone through the eleven-hundred ice cream flavours, yeah?”

Ian grins. “Frappuccinos are next on the list, huh?”

“They have stupid names and taste amazing. Definitely next on the list. The amount of weird flavoured shit the world has these days blows my mind.”

“Huh. You think frozen drink flavours are interesting? You should check out the flavoured condoms.”

He looks at you with those soft eyes and you force yourself to look away and continue down the street. He lopes along beside you, grin still in place, and knocks his shoulder into yours every couple of seconds until you give.

“Quit it with the eyes, man,” you say, but your smile matches his.

“Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, Mickey.”

“Bullshit. You think I’m that easy, huh? Think you can look at me with that face and those eyes and I’ll succumb to the connection and blow you down the alleyway back there?”

His eyes light up even as his ears turn a light shade of pink. “Fuck, that was specific.”

“Fuck you.”

“Also, my face and my eyes? What’s wrong with my face and my eyes? Is there something about them that bothers you?”

“There’s something about your attitude that bothers me, asshole.”

“Sure, I can bother your asshole anytime.”

You stop walking. “Jesus Christ, Gallagher, how did we get from the deep question of is art poetry to this?”

He shrugs, looking all but innocent. “Must be the connection.”

You flip him off and walk down the street, ignoring his laughter as he hurries to catch up.

 

You finish your drinks as you stand across the road from Ian’s favourite mural. He doesn’t tell you it’s his favourite, but you know it is. You know it is because he stopped talking the second it came into view, stopped walking the second you were the perfect distance away to take it all in, stopped holding so much tension in his shoulders the second the mural overtook him.

You can’t see as much in your human form, but you can see that. Literally see the tension leave his body, see him relax. You like it.

Your cup is empty for a good three minutes before Ian says anything.

“This is my favourite.”

“Figured.”

“You know why?”

“Why?”

He grins. “No, I was hoping you could tell me. You’re the muse, why does this painting make me feel …”

You let him trail off and you don’t push. You’re still a little uncertain on how to help Ian – the gardens inspired him to write, but it doesn’t feel like enough – but this seems right. This feels right, and not just because it’s his favourite.

“Calm,” he finally says.

“Yeah?”

He nods and leans against the wall behind him. “Yeah, like … it doesn’t matter that I can’t write, or that I’m coming out of a depressive episode, you know? When I look at this, I just feel okay.”

“Okay is good.”

“I mean, okay is better than not okay.”

You move next to him, back against the wall. “Okay can be great, Ian, especially when you’ve had so much not okay.”

“You know, for a hot-shot muse, you’ve got a real way with words.”

You roll your eyes at him and say nothing. You want him to keep talking.

It’s another couple of minutes before he does.

“My family thinks I’m stupid.”

A surge of something shoots through you and you answer without thinking. “Bullshit.”

He chuckles. “Not stupid like unintelligent, just … wasting my time.”

“With the poetry?”

“Yeah.” He laughs again, but you can tell it’s forced. “They think I should go to college or something. Something more than night classes that teach me how to write prose, you know? They think I should get a real education … especially since Clayton left me money to use.”

“Right.” You nod, but your voice is bitter. “So, is it the poetry they have a problem with? Or the money?”

“I don’t know.”

He goes silent again, stares at the mural, so you do the same. It doesn’t have the same effect on you – you don’t feel calm, or even okay. You feel angry, in a very human way. You want to hit something, yell at someone. You want to stand up for Ian, and that’s definitely not part of the job description.

“I don’t think it’s the money,” he says, unaware of the feelings you’re currently struggling with. “Seven or eight years ago, maybe, but everyone’s got their shit together now. They’ve all got jobs, no one’s struggling to put food on the fucking table. Plus, I helped them out, you know? When I first got the money. I did what I could.”

“The poetry then?”

“I think so.”

“They give you a hard time about it?” You know this already because you know Ian, and before turning corporal, you knew everything. Sometimes you struggle with not knowing everything.

“Sometimes,” he says. “A lot.”

“Because they don’t understand it? Or because they don’t think it’s gonna take you anywhere?”

“I don’t know.”

And the thing is, the thing that really gets under your skin and makes your human body tingle, is that he’s not sad about it. While he stands in front of the mind-blowing mural you’re both looking at, he’s okay.

“What do you think this mural is about?”

He glances at you, surprised, and it’s the first time you’ve seen him take his eyes off the painting. “Oh. Shit.”

“What?”

He blushes. “I dunno, it’s just … I mean, I’ve only been here once before, but I look at this online a lot and it – it changes every time.”

“What changes?”

“The story.” He shrugs and looks back at the wall. You smile.

“You think there’s a story that goes with it?”

“Sure, don’t you?”

You shrug and plant your hands in your pockets. “I’m the muse of love poetry, man, not whatever this is.”

He’s silent, silent, silent, and then –

“Fuck.”

“Okay, there, Gallagher?”

He takes a deep breath and then turns his back on the painting. He turns to face you.

“This is Mattie Stepanek.”

“Not following.”

“This is a beautiful way of expressing feelings.” He points behind him. “This is poetry.”

He somehow manages to look happy and peaceful and painfully beautiful all at once. You want to kiss the smile on his lips.

“Is it?”

“Don’t you think?”

“Do you think?”

He turns back to the painting and the human ache in your chest is back. You don’t know what it means, not certain you’ve never experienced it before, and don’t think you want to know what it means. But it’s there. While you stare at Ian staring at a mural, it’s there and you do what you can to push it back.

When he faces you again, he looks determined. Still happy, still peaceful, always beautiful, but also determined.

“Art is poetry.” He nods to himself a few times before he continues. “Art is whatever the fuck we make it. Yesterday we joked about cronuts, but you know what? The cake decorators who make those unbelievably detailed cakes? Artists.”

“Artists,” you agree.

“The fucker who came up with cronuts? Fucking genius.”

“Genius.”

“A cake might not tell a story like poetry, but it’s still art. And that painting –” he turns again, “ – tells me a story the same way my favourite poets do.”

“The same way Jim Morrison does?”

“Oh, fuck you,” he throws over his shoulder, and you laugh.

“Sorry, Gallagher, things were getting a little intense there.”

He nods. “Yeah, because I had a fucking epiphany.”

“Yeah? Feeling inspired? Wanna go home and write? Or, shit –” you pat at your back pockets, “– think I brought a pen and paper if you want?”

“No.”

“No?” You drop your hands.

He leans against the wall again. “Nope. Not inspired. I still feel calm and okay – maybe even better than okay – but not inspired.”

“But your entire rant there –”

“Not a rant; a realisation.”

“Sure, okay, and that realisation doesn’t inspire you?”

He turns his head to look at you. “You inspire me.”

“That’s the job, asshole, now do you want a pen and paper or not?”

“I want to kiss you.”

“Shit in one hand, Gallagher …”

His smile is far too affectionate. “You know, for a muse –”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m a shitty muse, I’ve got a way with words, be more original, blah-fucking-blah.”

“I was gonna say that for a muse you’re really fucking hot, but sure, yours works, too.”

You flip him off and start down the street. “C’mon, asshole.”

“More murals?”

“Nope.” Because if his favourite mural isn’t going to inspire him then the idea is a fucking bust.

“Where then?”

“Ice cream.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

 

Ian chooses a Peanut Butter and Chocolate ice cream and you go a similar route with the one made from Snickers. You’ve been wanting to try it since that first night, but decided to put it off for last. One of those human traits you can’t help but take on – saving the best for last. Now, though, you think you’ve earned it.

You’ve never used so much self-control with one artist, and it’s getting harder and harder every fucking time Ian looks at you.

The ice cream – the one made with Snickers and whoever came up with those was definitely fucking inspired – is a hard-earned treat. Or a consolation prize. Fuck if you know, but it’s awesome and stops you from thinking about Ian fucking Gallagher so hard.

Your next destination is a good hour away by train, and Ian sits next to you again. Close. Really fucking close. But you stuff your face with your ice cream and ignore whatever shit he babbles about because you have to. You need to.

“Mick?”

Until you can’t.

You answer with a mouthful of ice cream. “Yeah?”

“What’s with the ice cream thing? Like, is it just because of all the new flavours? Or do you really love ice cream?”

“Who doesn’t love ice cream?”

“That’s not an answer.”

You sigh and stand your spoon up in said frozen dessert. “Imagine your five favourite foods. And then imagine only getting the chance to eat them every sixty-odd years. That’s the ice cream thing.”

“So, you don’t eat when you’re not here,” he says, indicating your human body, “but you don’t die?”

“Not sure I can die.”

“Do you need to eat? When you’re human?”

You go back to your ice cream. “Human body can’t live without food, man.”

“You could die, then. If you don’t eat, you starve. If you starve, you die. Simple.”

“So simple.” You snort around the spoon and take a second to think things over. “My human body needs food to survive. If I don’t eat, I feel hungry, get weak, all that shit, but I don’t think it would kill me. Maybe I’d lose the body, but then I’d just …”

“Just?”

You wave the spoon in a vague gesture that’s somehow supposed to explain what it is you do when you go from unconfined to a human body. “You know, come back.”

“Would you look the same?”

You fight a smile. “If you wanted me to.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that we appear physically appealing to our artists.”

He’s silent for a long time. You finish half your ice cream before he speaks again.

“Is that why your previous name was Kathleen? Why you’re sometimes a chick?”

“That’s exactly why.”

“That’s weird.”

You shrug, but you understand what he’s getting at. To you, though, it’s just what it is. It’s your life, your existence.

“I think you’d come back looking the same,” he continues.

“Oh yeah?”

“Exactly the same as when you first arrived. Right down to that scar on your left ass cheek –”

“Jesus Christ, Gallagher.”

He grins, and he’s got the tiniest smear of ice cream on his upper lip that you desperately want to lick away. Instead, you turn away and fight for that same self-control you’ve had to use all day. You go back to your ice cream. It’s melted.

Fucking Ian.

“Do you have a preference?” he asks, but you’re so out of touch with the conversation since he started talking about your ass that you frown at him.

“What?”

“Preferred pronouns? He/she? They/them?” He sighs when you say nothing. “Do you prefer to be a boy or a girl?”

You’ve never been asked that before and you’re not sure that it matters, except for the sinking feeling inside of you. You’ve always just appeared for the human artist you’ve served at the time. Infatuation hasn’t always been sexual, or mutual, so your gender hasn’t always mattered, but …

But now that Ian mentions it, maybe it kind of does matter.

You fidget in your seat, feeling that human-kind-of uncomfortable at his staring, and lift your ice cream cup to your lips. You close your eyes – easier to ignore him – stick out your tongue and let the melted ice cream dribble onto it because it’s fucking amazing and you want every last drop.

Ian makes a sound next to you and you look back at him. He stares at you – eyes wide and earnest – and it’s too much.

You suck in a shallow breath and look out the window. “Conversation over.”

He shuffles next to you, moves ever so slightly away, and you’re able to breathe again. You relax back in the seat as you reach a stop. Some people climb off, others get on, and Ian continues to wriggle in his seat. You cock an eyebrow in his direction, because he’s beginning to make a fucking scene, but he ignores you and rubs his palms up and down his jean-clad thighs.

They’re nice thighs, too. They look strong and lean beneath his jeans, and you wonder if they’re freckled like the rest of him. You wonder – gaze travelling higher – if the rest of him is, in fact, freckled.

“Mickey?”

You look at him, bite your lip. He’s red, looks as flustered as you feel. “What’s up?”

“You uh … you got that pen and paper you mentioned?”

You grin. He’s like a fucking addict needing his next hit. You adjust yourself so you can reach into your back pocket and grab out the small pencil and notebook you snatched off Ian’s desk that morning.

“Yeah, man, go hard.”

His smile in return makes you warm from the inside out, and you sit back in your seat to watch him work.

He does, in fact, go hard. Just like the night before, he scribbles and scratches, fills page after page with prose and whispered wishes. He shows no signs of slowing down, either, so you say nothing when you get to your stop. You wait it out because two or three stops out of your way isn’t going to make a difference.

Two stops later, he sits up, stretches and shakes out his hand.

“Fuck.”

“You okay?”

“It’s just … a lot.”

“Guess I’m doin’ my job then.”

He stares at you. He stares and stares and in the late-afternoon sun you’ve never seen anything so beautiful.

“You have no fucking idea,” he finally says.

The train pulls to a stop and you drag your gaze away from him and get to your feet. “C’mon. Our stop was a couple back, but we can walk.”

He shuffles out of the seat and starts for the door, notebook and pencil still in hand. “Never an issue getting my ten-thousand steps with you around.”

“That’s me, muse of fitness and good health.”

“Sure. The steak you had the first night and the pizza you demolished last night totally say that about you.”

“Not to mention the ice cream thing.”

He grins at you over his shoulder. “No, I get the ice cream thing, now. I need a full cooked breakfast at least once a month or I start getting cranky.”

“Huh. That’s the problem, then.”

He shoves you ahead of him and you stumble out of the train before him. He laughs, though, and you can’t help but crack a grin back at him.

“You’re the grumpiest motherfucker I know,” he says, and you walk off the platform side by side.

“Says the poet. Aren’t you supposed to be some kind of tortured artist? Rude, irritable, writing about all the woes of life.”

“I write about love. Hence why I have my own personal love-poetry muse.”

“Love has plenty of woes, Gallagher.”

“Sure.” He gives you his stupid, endearing smile. “But I don’t want to write about that part of it. I don’t feel inspired to write about that side of it.”

“Mmhm.”

“I just want to write the good stuff – the touches, the racing hearts, the bliss when finally giving into the temptation –”

“The muse of lust poetry workin’ you on the side?”

He knocks his shoulder against yours. “Nah, guess it’s just that connection you keep talking about.”

“That’ll be it.”

You don’t like the conversation. In fact, the more Ian brings up the connection, the more you hate the goddamn connection. You hate that it exists, you hate that it makes you feel this way, and you hate that – his sarcasm aside – Ian’s taken to using it as an excuse for his feelings.

Because it is an excuse for his feelings. It’s an excuse for your feelings, too.

And you don’t like that.

“Lincoln Park?” he guesses, pulling you out of your thoughts.

“At sunset,” you agree.

“Sounds romantic.”

You shrug. “If you’re into that kinda thing.”

He walks close to you. Too close. Not close enough. “Well maybe I am. And maybe you knew that. And maybe we should stop and grab some food and make this our first official date.”

“Maybe you should go fuck yourself.”

“Mick.” He stops at an entrance to the park and you turn to face him. He looks at you with so much depth that you almost regret your words. “Your skilled language as a poetic muse never fails to astound me.”

Almost.

You flip him off – it’s becoming a common occurrence – and walk into the park. He laughs as he lopes along to catch up with you and you hate the immediate smile it brings to your lips. Two days ago, he wouldn’t get out of bed, and now he’s laughing and eating and writing. He’s taking his meds and he’s got energy. He’s making jokes and writing prose and hitting on you constantly.

He’s okay.

 

You end up doubling back out of the park to grab food, but it’s not a date. You tell Ian that, and have to repeat yourself twice because of his goddamn grin. But there’s an Italian place not far off, and by the time he receives the food and the two of you make it to a seat near the North Pond, the sun starts to set.

“This is pretty.”

It’s barely started, but he’s not wrong. “And you say my language is skilled.”

He shoves his body against yours so lightly that it’s more of a brush and his bare elbow doesn’t move away from yours. It makes your breath catch, which is stupid because your human body needs to breathe, but you sure as shit don’t.

You continue to tell yourself that, even as he shifts next to you, edges that little bit closer, presses his warm thigh against your own. You don’t need air, so the fact that your chest hurts is fucking stupid. The effect Ian has on you is fucking stupid.

All of this is fucking stupid.

“We should check out the zoo tomorrow,” he says, mouth full of linguine pesto.

You watch the curve of his neck. “Sure.”

“You think the giraffes will inspire me to write?”

“No.” You take a sip of Coke and continue. “But they might wonder what one of their own is doin’ outside of the enclosure.”

“Ooh, a giraffe joke. Original.” He holds a forkful of his pasta out to you and you open your mouth without thought.

“The zoo doesn’t have to be inspiring,” he says, digging back into his food. “We could just go for fun.”

“I’m here for work, man, not for fun.”

“Oh, sure, so these last two days with me have been utter torture then, have they?”

They’re fucking getting that way, but you just roll your eyes at him. “You know what I mean. If we’re gonna go somewhere it’s gotta be somewhere inspiring.”

“Fine. Not the zoo.”

“Not the zoo.” You take a mouthful of tortellini and wait for his next suggestion.

“Dinner and a movie? Followed by a walk along the pier.”

“Sounds like a date.”

“Exactly.”

You nudge his Coke towards him in hopes that he’ll do something with his mouth that isn’t fucking talking. “You’re an idiot.”

“Hmm.” He takes a drink, and it’s a few minutes before he speaks again. “This really is beautiful.”

You look at him and follow his gaze. He’s right, it is beautiful. The sun has set. The hint of pink is gone, along with the splash of purple and smudge of orange; all that’s left is blue. A deep, concentrated blue that’s broken only by the buildings in front of it. But when all of it – the intense blue, the flickering lights of the skyscrapers – reflects on the pond below …

It’s beautiful.

“Twilight,” he mutters.

“Yeah.”

“Who knew?”

“Huh?” You turn to look at him and he faces you. You hadn’t realised how close you were sitting.

“Everyone knows a sunset is beautiful,” he says, his gaze never leaving yours, “but I never thought this is what would inspire me.”

“You wanna write?”

“Not inspired to write,” he says, staring at you in a way no artist ever has. “Inspired to kiss you.”

“It’s the connection.” The response is immediate, practised, overdone.

And then, voice a mere whisper, he says three words you’ve never heard before. “Fuck the connection.”

“Ian –”

“This could be real.” He closes his eyes, presses his forehead to your own. His breath stutters over you when he speaks. “This feels real.”

“It’s the –”

“Don’t.” He pulls back, and does so with his entire body. “Don’t say it’s the connection.”

“But it is.”

“You don’t know that. You don’t.”

You fight a sigh. “I’ve done this before, man. A lot. It’s always the connection.”

He says it again, staring into your eyes, and the darkening sky makes him look fucking exquisite. “Fuck the connection, Mickey.”

You’ve known a lot of artists, had a lot of connections. Never once has anyone ever said anything negative about it. They always want to embrace the connection, make the most of the connection, let the connection take over them mind, body, and soul.

Ian doesn’t want the connection, except that what he wants is the connection.

And you want it, too. You do. You know better, history has taught you better, but …

But this is gonna fuck you up. This is gonna fuck you up so bad and you don’t know if you’re going to be able to handle it, but the way Ian stares at you, how you feel looking into his eyes, you think it might be worth it.

“It’s all I can think about,” he says, one side of his mouth tilted up. “That and …”

“And?”

“Twilight shattering into sapphires. Paint on kiss-smudged lips. Entangled limbs dusted in pollen and sin.”

“Jesus Ian.” His words make you hard, but you’ll never tell him that. “You have to write.”

“I want to kiss –”

You hold a hand up to stop his next word. “You need to write that shit down before you forget it, because if you forget and all my hard work has been for nothing, there’s gonna be hell to pay. Got it?”

“Got it.” But he doesn’t make any move to write. He sits and stares at you like you’re the most endearing thing he’s ever come across and you want to kiss the smile off his lips.

“Write, bitch.”

“Right. Write.” He laughs at his own joke, but it’s shaky and off and he once again reminds you of a junkie. He gets the light on his phone going, then pulls out his pencil and paper from earlier. The paper is covered in scribbles already, so he reaches for the paper bag dinner came in and puts pencil to paper.

Then stops.

He looks at you. “I still want –”

“I know.” You don’t know what to do about it, but you know, and that feels like answer enough. “We’ll talk about it when we get home. Now write.”

He writes. And every bit of creativity he takes from you feels like a blessing.

 

It’s too late to stop for ice cream by the time you head home. Ian makes a big deal about getting you four different flavours tomorrow, and you can tell he’s making fun of you, but he does it with such an easy-going attitude that you don’t care. You like it. It’s gentle teasing with a hint of flirting, and you should be putting a stop to the flirting, but …

But you’re tired. But you’re sick of pretending it’s not mutual. But your willpower is dust.

But you just don’t want to anymore.

His playfulness seems to evaporate when you reach his apartment building. Slowly, like the closer he gets to his apartment, the less light-hearted he gets, the darker his gaze gets, the closer he stands.

And you let it happen.

Infatuation can be mutual. You’ve done it before and you can do it again. You’ve dealt with the aftermath before, and you can do that shit again, too. Because right then, as Ian goes through the five locks to get into his apartment, the connection and the mutual infatuation and whatever the fuck else you feel for Ian are stronger than any dread of what comes after.

He opens the door and lets you in ahead of him, and you try to prepare yourself, figure out how you’re going to give in to him. Just throw him a go for it the next time he tells you he wants to kiss you?

Sounds fucking stupid, and you feel fucking stupid. This isn’t your first rodeo. You remember your first literal rodeo and it wasn’t nearly as terrifying as this. You scrub a hand over your mouth as he locks the door, and work up the nerve to face him. To face Ian. Your artist. That’s all. He’s just another artist and this is like every other time things have gotten a little carried away.

You turn to face him and he’s on you immediately. His large hands cradle your face as he stares intently down at you, and the height difference you hadn’t given much thought to before now takes your breath away.

“Ian –”

“Tell me,” he interrupts, voice a low murmur. “Say it.”

Your human heart has never thudded this hard before, and as you reach up, encircle Ian’s wrist in your fingers, you feel his pulse going just as strong.

“Fuck the connection.”

“Thank you,” he breathes, and then he kisses you.

He kisses you and he kisses you and oh.

Oh.

This is what they were writing about. All the poets, every word of creativity they took from you … it’s this.

It’s this magical mix of connection, infatuation, and feelings. Real feelings, ones you’ve never felt before. Prose and sonnets and emotions that turn one kiss into sparks of desperation.

Ian doesn’t ease into the kiss, either. He kisses you thoroughly and immediately. Your mouth opens beneath his and his tongue strokes and coaxes until you match him move for move, until you let him surround you. It’s effortless and pure, dancing lips, sweeping tongues, and explosions beneath your skin

Because you feel it in your toes. You feel it in your bones. You feel it in the slivers of sunshine and grace that exist only in a muse. You feel Ian’s want, his need, his desire to be in your space, breathe in your air, simply kiss you.

He pulls away, but tilts his head and moves straight back in, caresses your mouth and walks you backwards to his bedroom. You go easily, slip your hands beneath his t-shirt, savour the shuddering sigh he lets out at your touch.

All thoughts of what happens after … gone.

Nothing matters except Ian and Ian’s mouth and Ian’s body. The way Ian pulls away to get your shirt over your head then comes straight back to your mouth. The way Ian reaches for your belt and expertly unbuckles. The way Ian stares at you with heated want as you both take a breath and kick off your shoes.

“Fuck, Mickey.”

They way Ian says your name.

You yank at his clothes, push his shirt up and pull him closer by his belt at the same time. He comes willingly, reaching back to pull his t-shirt over his head while giving you a wolfish smile. One you have to return as you continue walking backwards because everything about Ian is infectious and delicious.

He drops his shirt to the floor behind him and moves to come closer, but you hold out a hand to stop him, you take a step back.

As if you were on fire within

The moon lives in the lining of your skin.

The words come to mind the moment you lay eyes on Ian, half-naked and entirely beautiful, and you stare for as long as he will let you, until the blush on his cheeks is bright in his moonlit bedroom.

“Mickey.” His voice is bashful, but his gaze is impatient.

You meet him mid-step, chest to chest, hands on hips and fingers in hair, and you capture his moan in your mouth and refuse to give it back. You can’t stand the idea of it, of someone else, anyone else, being on the receiving end of that melody, and that’s a problem.

Because that’s not infatuation.

But Ian’s mouth zeros in on every part of your human body that has ever made you weak. He bites at your lobe, sucks at your neck, licks wetly into your mouth until said human body is a deceiving, shaking pile of sinew and flesh, every inch of it for Ian’s consumption.

He holds you close, shuffles and stumbles your bodies until his bed is behind you and your legs hit the mattress, and the fact that you’re both still wearing jeans becomes the biggest grievance of your very long life. But his hands – oh, fuck, his hands – trail down your back, move from your shoulder blades, down your flanks, fingers digging and gripping the entire way.

You pull away with a gasp. “Jesus, Ian.”

“Fuck the connection,” he says, and shoves you onto the bed. “This is all us.”

Maybe it is. It probably isn’t, but all you want in that moment is for him to be right, so you fight the look you want to give him and say nothing. You watch him get his pants off, stop staring long enough to do the same, and then you’re naked and he’s naked and he’s climbing his long body overs yours, lowering, lowering, touching.

He groans into your shoulder and his body moves against yours. You lick at the sweat on his collarbone and meet every thrust he makes, and it’s quick, instinctual – the connection – you move this way, he moves that, and your cocks brush. A jolt of something white-hot flashes through you and you move again, again, and again until Ian’s panting into your open mouth, gripping your ass in one hand and your hair in the other.

“Get in me,” you gasp, his bottom lip between your teeth.

His hand leaves your ass to fumble for the drawer next to his bed, and when he can’t find what he’s looking for, his mouth disconnects from yours with a snarl. You smirk and reach up to attach your teeth to his neck as he searches his drawer for lube.

He eventually finds it and brings a condom back with him, drops both onto the bed next to your hip. You grasp the condom and throw it to the side, off the bed. Ian lets out a strangled sound that fucking thrills you, and you bite at his jawline.

“Bare.”

“Fuck.”

You’re in a brand-new body, you have no diseases. And before the body, before you were human, you knew everything about Ian. You know he’s clean. You don’t know everything anymore, but when he opens the bottle of lube and sits back on his haunches, you know he trusts you.

Connection.

You force it away because you can’t handle it and you stare up at Ian. Watch him as he runs a trembling hand down the inside of your open thigh, watch his jaw drop when his fingers glide over your balls, watch his chest heave when he finally touches your hole.

“Fuck,” you whisper, and his gaze shoots up to yours.

“Yeah,” he whispers back, and leans down to kiss you again.

He kisses, distracted as he lubes up his fingers and your ass. He kisses, deep as he pushes one finger slowly inside. He kisses, messy as you grip his wrist and demand more. He gives you more. He gives you more and more – two fingers, three – and he presses and strokes and stretches and –

The noise you make is unintelligible when the pads of his fingers hit your prostate. The noise he makes in response is utter filth.

He drags his fingers out, rubs a wet hand over your hip, and moves to straddle you. Rubs his dick against your own, kisses you, kisses you, runs his hand up and down your chest, and you utilise every second you have with him to touch, to feel, to memorize his skin beneath your hands.

I am in the most exquisite distress,” he whispers into your mouth, bites at your chin, “astride you now.”

You close your eyes, familiar with his words. You open for him as he moves back between your legs.

Sweating, feeling an impromptu volcano,” he continues, pressed the head of his cock to your hole, “strain at its peak.

You moan, thread your finger into his hair, open your eyes and stare into his.

Inside.”

He fills you with an unsteady exhale, and you grip him tight between your thighs.

Wanting to explode,” he says, eyes squeezed shut.

You reach up and kiss his lids.

My sweetest self,” he murmurs, so private, just for you. His eyes open, he speaks against your lips, “all over you.”

“Ian.”

He begins to move.

 

You wake to a stabbing pain in your ass cheek. You groan slightly and remove your head from your arms to try and look behind you. Ian’s farther down the bed. You can only just see him in the light from the lamp, but he’s still gloriously naked, and your dick twitches at the sight despite the two rounds you went before passing out.

You don’t know if he was trying to prove a point against the connection or against any other artist you’ve banged, but Ian was thorough in his fucking. You’ll feel his stamina and strength for the next few days, and you’re a-fucking-okay with that. And with the three orgasms, but that’s beside the point.

“Watcha doin’?” you ask, but your voice is still sleep-slurred.

“Writing.” He barely glances at you. You turn a little more to see exactly what’s going on back there, but he drapes his forearm across your lower back to keep you in place and your spent dick twitches at the movement.

“Managed to find a pen but couldn’t stop for some paper, huh?”

He snorts. “Could’ve, but no canvas is as beautiful as this one.”

“You’re a cheesy piece of shit.”

There’s another pain in your ass cheek, but it’s not a pen. You groan slightly as Ian’s teeth drag over your skin and he uses his tongue to soothe the spot.

“Stop distracting me,” he says, but his arm leaves your back and his free hand grasps the cheek he’s not writing on. Because he’s still writing, even as his other hand spreads you open.

“Fuck you.” But you squirm even as you say it, as you try to thrust into the mattress and push your ass out for more of Ian’s touch. He says nothing in response, simply spreads your cheeks with both hands and gently blows on your hot hole. “Fuck, Ian.”

There’s a clatter as Ian throws his pen to the wooden floor, then he crawls up your body, holds himself up with one hand while two fingers of the other slip easily inside of you.

“Jesus,” you whisper, spreading your legs for him.

“Still think I’m a cheesy piece of shit?” he asks against the shell of your ear.

“Why? You tryin’ to prove you me wrong?”

He crooks his fingers and your body breaks out in goosepimples. “Maybe.”

“Then give me more, fucker.”

“Already so fucking tight around me.”

“Brand new body,” you remind him, still moving against the mattress, still moving against his fingers.

“Hmm, does that mean I deflowered your virgin body earlier today?”

You groan. “How the fuck did you go from erotic poetry to that kind of shit, Gallagher?”

You can feel his smile against your skin as he adds another finger, fills you, strokes at your walls. “I wrote poems inside of him with my fingers,” he misquotes, but you know it’s on purpose.

“You fucker.”

Our story began with his scream.”

“Don’t stop.”

He fucks you with his fingers and the momentum pushes your dick harder against the mattress and it’s good, it’s so good, and you’re already so close …

And ended with his soul on my lips.”

You come with his name on your lips.

 

The next time you wake it’s to a fully dressed Ian and an array of ice cream. You groan and sit up, shoving at the pillows behind you to get more comfortable. The lamp is off, but the room is bright with early-morning sun and you throw a glare towards the window.

“The fuck time is it?”

“After nine.”

He sits on the bed in front of you and you take a good look at him – pale, dark circles under his eyes, a couple of hickeys here and there. All in all, he looks shitty. Fucking gorgeous, but still shitty.

“Did you sleep?”

“Not much,” he admits, “but I’ve been taking my pills and I feel stable. Mostly stable, since I’m still coming out of a downswing, but I don’t feel manic.”

“You sure?” And you shouldn’t ask, you know this from before you became human, but you can’t seem to help yourself and you hate the half-scowl on his face.

“I’m sure.” He takes a breath and meets your gaze. “I’m okay, Mick.”

You nod and take the coffee he offers you. “You’ve been writing?”

“Most of the night.”

You think about the ink on your ass cheek which leads you to appreciate the pleasant sting in your ass which leads you to cock an eyebrow in his direction.

“You wrote on my ass cheek.”

“I did.”

“And then you thought it’d be a good idea to come all over it? Effectively ruining all that hard work?”

He smiles, smug and adorable. “You sayin’ you don’t like it when I come on you?”

You sip the too-shit coffee and hope the steam excuses the blush on your face. You don’t remember the last time you blushed.

“S’not what I’m sayin’.”

“Thought so.” He seems to take pity on you and reaches for the ice cream. “I took the initiative and chose four flavours you haven’t had yet, so take your pick.”

You look in the bag, intrigued by the strawberry-cheesecake flavour, but disgusted by the cotton candy. All thought of ice cream is gone when Ian gets to his feet and heads for the door, though.

“Where ya goin’?”

“Only went out because we’re outta coffee,” he says, turning back to look at you. “Gotta get back to the pen and paper before I lose all these fucking words floating around up there.”

His smile, his drive, his attitude all fit with him being manic, but you know better. You know that this is part of the connection when it’s at its peak. And you know that Ian said he’s okay, and you believe him.

You drink your coffee for a few minutes while you listen to him shuffle papers in the living room. Then you get up, throw on a pair of boxers, and take the ice cream to the freezer. It can wait. If you know Ian at all, and you damn well do, you know that all he’s done since coming home last night is fuck you and write.

He needs breakfast.

 

He eats the toast you make him. And drinks the coffee. And takes his pills. He doesn’t look up once, though. He writes, turns to a fresh page, picks up whatever you put next to him, and continues to write. A couple of hours and two glasses of water later, you stick some crackers on a plate next to him and he reaches for them without looking. An hour or so after that you place a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of Coke next to him, and he still doesn’t look up.

You grin down at him. “I could put my fuckin’ dick on a plate and you’d gobble it down without a second thought, huh?”

“Hmm?” He’s got a mouthful of sandwich and doesn’t look up. You snort and leave him to it.

It’s good. No. It’s fucking amazing. You don’t have to read what he’s writing to know it’s incredible; as a muse, you only become human for those with real fucking talent and Ian Gallagher has real fucking talent. The kind of talent you would do anything to protect.

The kind of talent you will do anything to protect.

Thoughts of after resurface.

After the connection seals. After the infatuation reaches its pinnacle. After the creativity passes its highpoint.

Ian knows that the connection will end, and he knows the infatuation won’t last, but you’ve never said anything to him about the creativity. You never thought you’d need to. You thought this would go like most of your other experiences with artists because you thought you weren’t stupid enough to fall into this kind of situation again.

You’ve been here before – strong connection, mutual infatuation, feelings that feel legitimate – but not in a long time because it’s always a mistake that ends in pain. You learned your fucking lesson. You leave and your artist grieves. You watch on as they smash out outstanding novels or exceptional poetry. You carry on with the memory of the connection and infatuation and feelings while they forget you ever existed.

They just … forget.

And that’s what will happen with Ian. That’s why you tried so hard to keep him at arm’s length, to convince him it was the connection, to not give in to those soft eyes and that stupid smile.

It always ends in pain, and Ian …

Ian feels different.

Some artists you can’t wait to leave; you argue so passionately with them that you’re exhausted by the time you leave. Some artists you’re sad to leave; their gratitude is written all over their faces and the connection you make with them is genuine friendship … sometimes familial. Some artists you genuinely don’t want to leave; the idea that they’ll forget about you within days, followed by the reality of it happening, fucking sucks.

Their legitimate feelings fade quickly, but yours can linger.

Ian feels different.

Ian feels like a fist to the gut, hard enough to break skin, reach up, and tear out your human fucking heart.

You swallow heavily and glance around the living room, but your gaze automatically goes back to him. He sits at the desk in front of the window, bathed in sunlight, fucking glowing with creativity and beauty and happiness. You’ve never met anyone like him. You don’t think you ever will.

He doesn’t look at you, too invested in whatever words are flowing from his mind, his heart, out through his pencil. You smile, though, one side of your mouth quirked up in a half-grin, because that’s what you want for Ian. Happy, healthy, and writing. You can’t ask for anything more.

You won’t.

You go to the kitchen and pull the ice cream from the freezer. You stare at Ian, watch him write and memorize every inch of skin you can see, and devour all four flavours.

 

Ian writes through most of the night. You stay up as long as you can to watch him, but your human body needs sleep and, unlike Ian’s, isn’t running off the creativity of its own personal muse. You are his own personal muse, and you can feel things getting low.

When he finally falls into bed beside you, one arm across your stomach and his face smushed into your neck, the clock next to his bed says it’s after four. His soft snores start immediately, and they make you smile, but you don’t fall back to sleep until the sun begins to rise.

When you wake again, he eyes you with a soft smile.

“Should still be asleep,” you mutter, reaching up a hand to thread your fingers through his hair.

“It’s a beautiful day,” is all he responds with.

“Mmm?”

“Yeah.” He noses at your cheek and you maybe smile a little. “Wanna go the zoo?”

“Seriously? You don’t want to stay home and write all day?”

“Na. Wanna do something fun with you.”

You stare at him and he stares back and an ache in your chest expands. It’s already starting.

“Thought we agreed the zoo wasn’t inspiring?”

“I don’t wanna go there to be inspired, Mick, I’m already inspired. I wanna go there to spend time with you and look at the animals and have fun. Spring means babies, right? Doesn’t that sound fun?” He gives you the eyes. “I’ll buy you breakfast first. A proper cooked one – pancakes, bacon, the works.”

“We both know that breakfast is more for your benefit than mine.” You pretend to think it over, but you already know you’ll do whatever Ian wants whenever he wants it. Especially today. Time is running out and you need to make the most of what you have left. “Fine, but we’re stopping for ice cream, too.”

“Goes without saying, doesn’t it? Which reminds me, we should probably make a list.”

“A list?”

“Yeah, to keep track of the flavours you’ve tried. Maybe even take note of which ones you like and dislike.”

“Sounds far too similar to a pros/cons list, Gallagher.”

“Oh, haha, asshole.” He sits up and grabs the pen and paper next to his desk. “What did you think of the ones I brought home yesterday?”

“As expected, the cheesecake one was awesome and the cotton candy one tasted like ass.”

“You have a lot of experience with the taste of ass?”

You lift both eyebrows. “Don’t you?”

The sound he makes gets you hard, but he goes back to his list. You know exactly what you’ll both be doing tonight, though, and that alone makes it worth the wait.

“Never eaten any ass that tastes like cotton candy,” he says.

“Probably a good thing. Health-wise.”

He snorts and stops writing long enough to look at you. “Nutty Coconut?”

“Jesus, Ian.” Because his timing couldn’t be better. “Wasn’t a fan. Don’t love coconut.”

Pralines ‘n Cream?”

“Better than pralines and dick.”

He grins at the reference but shakes his head. “One out of four is terrible. I need to be better at picking flavours for you.”

“Don’t stress it, man.”

“Oh, I’m stressing it,” he says, and climbs out of bed to get dressed. “You wait. This morning’s pick is gonna be a zinger!”

“A zinger?” you ask, but he’s already on his way into the kitchen.

 

The zinger is German Chocolate Cake, and it’s such a fucking zinger that you kiss him after the first mouthful, tasting the Raspberry Sorbet on his tongue and going in for more.

“Fuck the zoo,” he mutters against your lips. “Let’s go back to bed.”

But now that you’re dressed and out of the house, you want to go to the zoo. More specifically, you want to go to the zoo with Ian. You want to walk around and hold hands, get food and look at animals, and … and it’s a fucking date, whatever.

You pull away and start for the L, shoving another spoonful of ice cream into your mouth as you go.

“C’mon, Gallagher. You wanted to go to the zoo and we’re going to the fuckin’ zoo.”

“Whatever. You wanna go, too.” He catches up and brushes his arm against yours. “You just wanna see the babies. Big, tough muse wants to see baby animals.”

“You even know for sure that they got babies?”

“No.”

“Your ass is gonna be shit outta luck if we get there and just see a bunch of knocked-up mamas and no babies.”

“Shit outta luck like I’ll be disappointed? Or shit outta luck like you’ll hold it against me?”

You look up at him and fight a grin when he waggles his eyebrows at you. “You’re an idiot.”

He presses what can only be described as a smooch against your cheek and leads the way up to the train platform. You shake your head and follow, and the whole thing feels weirdly normal. It’s normal to be eating ice cream with Ian, riding on the L with Ian, going to the zoo with Ian.

And not because you’re used to it after the last two days, but because it feels … normal, natural, human. It feels like two dudes going to the fucking zoo together for no other reason than to go to the fucking zoo together. It feels like no big deal. It feels like an everyday occurrence of someone’s life.

Ian’s life. Not yours.

You don’t know what that means, but you can guess. You can guess that it means excruciating pain when you leave. For you, at least. Maybe not Ian.

You might’ve said fuck the connection, but you know better. And you know yourself. Agreeing with Ian – fuck the connection, this is all us – was nothing but an excuse to give in, to submit to the want and need and fucking feelings that fill you constantly just from being around him.

Fuck the connection. Agreeing to that doesn’t mean anything except that you’re weak.

The connection and infatuation have both lasted longer than expected, but the creativity is dwindling, it’s on its own downswing, and you know what that means.

Excruciating pain.

Ian will move on, though. Despite what he thinks, what he says – this could be real, this feels real – you know how this shit works. You’ve got centuries of experience in giving in and being forgotten.

 But when you get off at your stop with him, when he smiles his most dazzling smile at you and reaches for your hand, all you do is smile back and walk alongside him.

Fuck the connection.

For now, you just want to go to the zoo with Ian.

 

“You got a favourite animal?” he asks as you leave the food stand. He takes a bite of his giant pretzel while you linger on the scent of your hotdog, and you make your way towards the next animal.

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“Fine. Let me rephrase. What is your favourite animal? You, as a muse who has been around for centuries and centuries and has probably seen things I could never even imagine.”

“You know unicorns are fantasy and not extinct, right? Like, just because I’ve been around for a while doesn’t mean I’ve seen things that don’t actually exist … you do know that right?”

He flips you off and stuffs more pretzel into his mouth, then talks around it. “Answer the damn question.”

You smirk. “I like cats.”

“Cats? Fuckin’ seriously?”

“Fuckin’ seriously, asshole. They’re a good choice.”

“A good choice. Please.”

“The fuck have you got against cats?”

He reaches out and picks at the hotdog bun in your hand. You’d forgotten it was even there.

“Cats are assholes,” he says.

“You’re an asshole.”

“Good comeback –”

You cut off the rest of his dig at your great language skills with a wave of your hand. “What’s your problem with cats?”

“They scratch. They bite. They only want you when it pleases them.” He states each fact by ticking them off on his fingers. “They’re snobby little fuckers. They’re lazy. Want me to continue?”

“I’m sorry, did you begin? All I heard were the excellent qualities of a fucking awesome animal.” You bite at your hotdog and chew thoughtfully. “Maybe it’s not the cat that’s the problem, Ian, you ever think of that?”

“Cats are assholes,” he reiterates.

“Well, as a muse who’s been around for centuries and centuries, I’ve never met a cat who didn’t like me.”

“Yeah, well, you probably had connections with them, too.”

You cock an eyebrow. “What happened to fuck the connection?”

“Oh no, fuck the connection still stands. This thing between you and me? Nothing to do with some fucking connection, unless the connection is, like, soulmate bullshit –”

“Soulmates? Really?” Your eyebrows skyrocket; you haven’t heard that one before.

“Why the fuck not?”

You grin and tease because the opposite is unthinkable. “You’re adorable when you get all romantic on me.”

He flushes slightly. “My point is, you had connections with other artists – and probably cats – not me.”

“Unless it’s soulmate bullshit?”

He splutters for a moment then takes a deep breath. “Cats are assholes.”

You laugh and relent. “Fine, what’s your favourite animal, then?”

“Dogs.”

“Of fucking course.”

“You got a problem with dogs?”

“Nope.” You grin. “Never met a dog who didn’t like me.”

He stares at you in silence for a long moment, before grabbing your hand with a suffering sigh. “Fine. Let’s go find some cats to look at.”

 

You find the cats, and even Ian admits that they’re fucking awesome. There are no babies, but it doesn’t matter. Watching the lazy fuckers lie in the sun, only moving when they get too warm, is good enough for you. You make your way along the big cat walkway, stopping once so Ian can grab a bottle of water, before heading for the exit.

“Let’s stop at the gift shop,” Ian says. “I want a new coffee mug.”

“You have, like, fifteen coffee mugs.”

“I don’t have a zoo coffee mug.”

“I literally used your Lincoln Park Zoo mug last night.”

He rolls his eyes. “I don’t have a Brookfield Zoo coffee mug. And anyway, I’m a writer, Mickey, I can never have too many coffee mugs.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Or too much coffee.”

“If you say so, man.”

“C’mon.” He grabs your hand, all smiles. “I’ll even buy you something.”

“They sell ice cream there?”

“No.” He tugs you along, but he doesn’t have to try hard. You’ll always go willingly. “I’ll buy you a souvenir. A memento of our first date. Well, first official date. I maintain that watching the sunset over the lake while eating Italian was a total date, but I’m also not gonna argue with you on it.”

“Gee, thanks, Gallagher.”

“Anything for you, Mick.” He’s got that stupid smile and those soft eyes and you’re teasing each other – banter with an edge of flirting. That’s all it is.

Except that it’s not.

You let him drag you into the gift shop and maybe it’s kind of fun. You know shit, being a muse, you know what goes on in the world while you’re not in human form. While the ice cream adventure has been fun and mostly delicious, you know what a smartphone is, you know how the internet works, and you know that 3-D printing can do amazing things.

But walking into a gift shop full of rainbow sloths, animal-print coffee mugs, and BPA-free tumblers is something else.

“Holy shit,” you mutter.

“Found something you like?”

“Uh …” You cock both eyebrows and look around. It’s all overpriced and unnecessary as hell, but you’re kind of into it. You want to touch the rainbow sloth and feel how soft it is. You want to drink out of the mug with the owl on it, even if you can’t figure out what the fuck an owl has to do with coffee. You want a goddamn BPA-free water bottle with a bison on it even though it would cost you nothing to refill an old bottle of Ian’s.

“I’m gonna choose something for you and you have to accept whatever it is, okay?”

“What?” You look back at Ian and shake your head. “No way, man. It’s enough that you pay for all my food and ice cream requirements. You don’t need to buy me presents or whatever.”

“It’s a souvenir. And I want to.” He gives you a wicked smile. “Got Clayton’s money burning a hole in my pocket, remember, and there’s nothing I’d rather spend it on than you.”

He leaves without another word and you don’t have it in you to fight him on it. Or anything. Instead, you turn back to the coffee mugs and try to figure out which one Ian would like. It’s tough, though, because they’re coffee mugs and none of them have dogs on them. Meerkats, zebras, polar bears, sure, but no dogs. Which is dumb because the map clearly indicates there are wolves and African painted dogs here.

You scowl and turn away. If the mugs don’t have dogs or poetry or breakfast food or something else that Ian particularly likes, then what’s the point in choosing a specific mug? They’re all used for the same thing, and so are the fucking BPA-free bottles … they’re all made for Ian and the other idiots here to waste their money on even though they’re completely unnecessary.

You walk away, hands shaking, breath coming too fast, your entire human body behaving in ways you’re not used to.

It feels like goodbye. Like you’re finding something for Ian to remember you by when you know damn well that there’s nothing. Nothing can make him remember you, not even some thoughtful gift from a legit gift shop. You know this, you’ve tried this shit before. No coffee mug or water bottle is going to keep you in Ian’s memory.

But …

You stop and stare, something warm flowing through you, and you reach out to the table in front of you. It won’t help Ian remember you, but you want to get it for him anyway. You want to take hard-earned cash and spend it on Ian because you want him to have something nice.

You don’t have any hard-earned cash, so you glance around, snatch it up, and stick it into the back of your jeans.

Ian finds you a few minutes later, bag in hand and smile on his face. You want to smile back. You want to kiss him. You want to take his hand and never let go.

You want to do a lot of human things you’ve never wanted to do before, and the lump in your throat is unfamiliar.

“Ready to go?” he asks, and you can only nod.

 

The sky clouds over on the walk back to the L stop, and the rain starts before you get there. Ian laughs and pulls his jacket tighter, and you can’t help the involuntary shiver that runs down your spine with the drips of rain.

“Jesus,” you mutter, hurrying to the nearest bit of shelter.

Ian keeps laughing at you, but then his face lights up and he fucking beams. “Oh, I have just the thing!”

He hands you the bag he’s been carrying since the gift shop and you look at him, unimpressed. You open it, though. You open it because he looks at you with such adoration that you’ll do your very best in the short time you have left to keep from ever disappointing him.

Inside is a hoodie. Cream coloured, with a grey tiger face right over the heart, and about two sizes too big. You bite at your lip; you know damn well Ian chose to buy it extra large so he could wear it, too, and it makes everything inside of you warm, even as the cold wind picks up around you.

“Put it on,” he yells over the bad weather, and makes everything extra awkward by trying to help dress you. But his smile when you’ve got it on is worth everything. He adjusts the hood to fully cover your hair, keeps his fingers clasped on the drawstring casing, and leans in to kiss you.

The kiss is wet from raindrops and aflame from Ian. He keeps his hands right there, on the hood of the hoodie he just bought you, and kisses you until you can’t feel your toes.

You end up missing the L and having to wait another twenty minutes for the next line, but your hoodie is warm, and Ian is with you, and it’s entirely worth it.

 

Ian heads straight for the shower once you’re home and after a minute’s hesitation, a minute to stuff what you stole down the back of the couch, you join him. You wash his back and his hair, and then he washes yours, and it’s really fucking nice. It’s easy and natural and the kind of thing two guys in a relationship do.

But you’re not in a relationship because you can’t be in a relationship. Everything’s lasted a little longer than usual, but you know it’s all due to come to a head. The connection will end, the infatuation will end, and every piece of creativity you can offer Ian will be gone.

You won’t let that happen.

You just need to figure out how to explain it all to Ian.

He sucks at the water gathered in your clavicle, distracting you. He’s good at that, and maybe you’re easily distracted because you’re avoiding the conversation, but when tells you to get into bed so he can suck your dick, it’s a non-issue. Connection, infatuation, creativity … none of it matters when Ian kisses you the way he kisses you, when Ian touches you the way he touches you, when Ian looks at you the way he looks at you …

Connection and infatuation and creativity are non-existent. It’s only you and Ian.

He kisses down your body, licks wet paths over still-damp skin, and goosepimples erupt in his wake. You shudder beneath him, partly cold, mostly turned on, and thread your fingers into his wet hair. The strands feel like silk, and he groans when you tug slightly.

“Fuck, Mickey.”

Your reply is choked as he licks a stripe up your dick, tongue firm and skilled and Jesus, Ian, don’t ever stop.

He doesn’t stop, but he doesn’t go any further. He continues to kiss you, to taste you, moving from your hard dick to your thighs, from your thighs to your hips, lavishing attention to your skin wherever he goes, and you’re so clouded by lust, by the way he makes you feel, that you don’t notice him murmuring against your skin.

But then you do, and you stop squirming and panting, you try to listen.

Words. Phrases. Prose.

He closes his eyes and continues to sigh sonnets into your skin, and you don’t know them, you don’t recognise them, but they’re idyllic, erotic, enamoured. And they’re him. They’re his words, and you don’t know if they’re ones he’s written in the last twenty-four hours, or if he’s speaking them as he thinks them, but they’re his words …

His poetry.

And they’re all about you. You’re the muse of love poetry; you know by the touch of his hands, the movements of his lips, the shake in his whispered breath that he’s speaking words of poetry inspired by your body.

You push him away. You push him, roll the both of you, and climb on top of him because if you let him continue, if you have even a moment to think about what he’s doing and what you’re feeling and what it all means, you’ll end up doing something really fucking stupid.

So, you kiss him. You kiss him and kiss him until he’s groaning into your mouth, grinding his hard dick against your own, gripping your ass in his huge hands, and then you continue. You kiss his neck, you kiss his shoulders, you kiss his trembling stomach.

You kiss every inch of him, intent on committing his skin to the memory of your lips.

 

Ian likes to sleep with the window open when it rains. He doesn’t get the sound of rain on his roof anymore, not being on the top floor of the Gallagher house, so he likes to open the window, feel the slight chill, listen to the rain hit the pavement only two floors below.

You like it, too. You like the sound, you like the way the curtains dance in the gentle breeze, and you like that it’s cool enough to sleep in the hoodie Ian bought you and then in Ian’s arms.

You like a lot about a lot when it comes to Ian and his apartment and his life. It’s concerning.

He snores softly behind you and you hate to move, hate to get out of his arms, but the longer you lie there the harder it will be to leave. You lift his hand from your waist and ease yourself away from him, out of the warmth and wellbeing he provides. You’re wearing the hoodie and a pair of his flannel boxers, and you move to sit on the edge of the bed, elbows on knees, hands clasped between.

Shit.

Everything’s gone too far. You let everything go too far.

And now you have to stop it.

You pull the hoodie off and your skin instantly chills. It’s not much, but it’s a start, and already your human heart feels heavier, sicker, sadder.

“Mickey?”

You stand. You don’t know how to do this. No. Shit. You know exactly how to do this, you’ve done it multiple times before, but never like this. Never with Ian.

You turn to face him. He’s beautiful in the glow from the streetlight, and he holds himself up on one elbow, looking at you with bleary eyes and a sleepy face. He hasn’t even been asleep for that long, and you hate yourself for waking him.

“I, uh …” You hold out the hoodie. “I want you to have this.”

His smile is confused, but you don’t know if that’s due to your words or because he’s barely awake. “Huh?”

“This. You should have it.”

“But I bought it for you.”

“I know.”

He sits up and rubs his face with both hands, muffling a chuckle behind them. “I’m so confused right now.”

“Ian.” You wait until he looks at you before you continue. “You should have this.”

“Why?”

“Because … because you’ll need it more than I do.”

“Doesn’t make sense, you have no clothes of your own.”

You’re silent and you can’t meet his gaze. You lower your hand, the hoodie, your eyes. You stare at the bed, at Ian’s bed, and wish desperately that it could be yours, too. Even as Ian climbs over the bed to reach you, kneels in front of you, you avoid his gaze.

“Mickey. What the fuck’s going on?”

“You bought me a hoodie, Ian.”

“Yeah, I did.”

“But it’s spring.”

He huffs out another laugh and reaches for your hips. “Yeah, then after spring comes summer, then autumn and winter. Trust me, you’ll need that for a winter in Chicago.”

“Ian.” You meet his gaze and press the hoodie into his chest. “Ian, I won’t be here for winter in Chicago.”

He stares at you, confusion and defiance. You wonder if there’s a part of him that knows.

“Bullshit.”

“Look, that’s just how this shit works, okay? I don’t – I don’t get to stick around forever.”

“Well why the fuck not?” He climbs off the bed and storms past you, but turns back to face you, waiting.

“It’s not how it works –”

“How what works? The muse thing? The connection and infatuation crap?”

“I mean, yeah –”

“Oh, bullshit,” he says again, voice rising, frustrated. “You and I both know there’s no fucking muse connection between us. Whatever it is, whatever connection is there, it’s fucking real.”

“Soulmate bullshit?”

“Yeah, fucking soulmate bullshit.”

You say nothing. He says nothing. He juts his chin out and you bite at your lip, desperately trying to think of how to explain it all.

“Everything comes to a head,” you eventually try, “the connection, infatuation, and creativity, they all reach a peak and then begin to fade.”

“How many times in this conversation do I need to call bullshit?”

You swallow back everything negative, everything in you that wants to fight back, and try to stay calm. “It’s just how it happens – after a couple of days together, it reaches a highpoint that involves intense feelings, a shit-load of writing, and sometimes fucking. After that …”

“After that what?”

“After that everything fades.”

“Fades?”

You shrug. “I told you already, man. The connection ends, the infatuation doesn’t last.”

“Well, as much as I don’t believe in this connection and infatuation bullshit, I don’t feel like it’s fading. But maybe that’s just me.”

“It’s not,” you admit, “but it’s not just the connection and infatuation. Ian, the longer I stay here, in human form, the less creativity I have to give you.”

“You think I give a shit about the creativity? You think I’m in this because you’re my fucking muse? Fuck you, man, this has nothing to do with that!”

“Ian, it has everything to do with that.”

“It doesn’t.” All his anger seems to dissipate, and he steps forward, grabs at your hips again. He leans into you, touches his forehead to yours, breathes you in, and you can’t help but do the same. “Mickey … Mick.”

He kisses you, soft, sweet, innocent, and you let yourself get caught up in it for a moment, let yourself relish in the feel of his mouth against yours.

Then you pull back. “The less creativity I have to give you,” you say, looking him dead-on, “the more the muse inside of me will take from you until you’ve got nothing left. It’ll take back what I’ve given you, and then it’ll keep on taking. It’ll take and take until you’ve got nothing, until you wouldn’t be able to write a thoughtful thank-you card.”

He sucks in a breath, but only hesitates for a moment. “You’re lying.”

“I can’t lie to you.”

He sniffs. “Well, then, take my creativity. I don’t care.”

“I do.”

“I want you to stay with me.”

“I won’t do that to you.”

He lets out a snarl, rips the forgotten hoodie from your fingers, and throws it to the ground.

“Ian –”

“Fuck you!”

“Come on, man –”

“It’s all bullshit,” he yells, and walks away again. When he turns back to you, his face is wrought with anguish and your heart physically hurts at the sight. “Not just the connection and the infatuation, but the entire muse-thing, Mickey, it’s bullshit. You think your voodoo muse powers made me write that first time? You think it was seeing the garden or the murals that inspired me? Fuck that, it was all you.”

“My job –”

“It wasn’t the connection; it wasn’t you being a fucking muse. It was you. You. The way you talk with me, the shine in your eyes when you’re teasing me, the colour your lip turns when you bite it. It’s your love for ice cream and sun on your cheeks and the way your thighs tremble. There’s nothing muse-like about the way you inspire me, Mickey. It’s all you.”

He doesn’t get it. Everything he’s saying is the connection, is due to the connection, but you could tell him that until you’re blue in the face and you don’t think he’d ever believe you.

You pull out your trump card, your last resort to make him realise none of what he feels for you is real.

“You’ll forget me.”

“What?”

“It’s not me, Ian. It can’t be me, because once I leave, you’ll … you’ll write and write and – and you’ll forget me.” And if you have to force away whatever choked up feeling is going on inside of you, then no one has to know about it.

“What does that mean?”

“It means I see it happen time and again – I’ll leave and two, maybe three days later, you won’t remember me. You won’t remember any of this.”

He swallows, hard enough that you can see his Adam’s apple bob in the light from the window. “I don’t believe you.”

“It’ll happen. It’s what always happens.”

“With other artists.”

“Yeah.”

“But not me.”

“Ian –”

“And if it does then it’s a lose-lose situation, isn’t it? You stay, I can’t write. You go, I won’t remember you. Where’s the fucking logic in either of those options, Mickey?”

“There is no option, man. This isn’t a choice I’ve been given. I’m your muse, my job is to help you write, and I can’t do that by staying –”

He steps forward. “Look, I love you. I love you. And whatever it is you think has to happen, it just doesn’t, okay? You’re staying and I’m gonna keep writing and – fuck it, even if I stop writing I’ll find something else to do and it doesn’t fucking matter because you’re staying. Got it?”

His voice quivers and his eyes are wet. You can’t fight him anymore, not when all you want is to nod in agreement, do whatever the fuck he says, acquiesce to all his requests. Not when everything in you aches to stay with him.

“Got it?” he repeats, voice a soft whisper, and you nod.

He sniffs again then turns away to pick up the hoodie. You take the five seconds of privacy to wipe at your eyes with the heels of your hands and suck in a tight breath. Tears. You’ve never experienced tears before.

“Bed,” he mumbles, and you let him manoeuvre you back into bed, let him crawl in beside you, let him stuff the hoodie between the two of you as he wraps his arms around you.

 

You wait until the clock next to Ian’s bed says 3:15 a.m. before you dare move. He’s only been asleep for a little over an hour, but you can’t wait any longer. If you wait any longer, you just won’t do it. Already you’ve had to wait however long it took him to fall back to sleep, holding you tightly and breathing through his feelings.

 Even asleep, his grip on your waist is tight. You remove it, keeping your eyes on his face the entire time, watching and waiting to see if he wakes.

He doesn’t.

You don’t bother dressing. You walk into the living room and grab the stolen items from the back of the couch. They make your heart heavy, but you know they’re the right items to have picked. You glance behind you, into Ian’s bedroom. He’s still out like a light, and you watch him for a minute too long before walking over to his desk.

You place the journal and pen on his desk and stare down at them. They’re nothing special, not really, but when most of Ian’s musings the last few days have been on scrap pieces of paper, you kind of feel like they’re something. Not goodbye. Not a souvenir. Just … something.

You open the journal and pick up the pen. You haven’t thought about it – about what to write, all the things you could say, everything you want to say – but the words come to you immediately. You put pen to paper and write five simple words. Journal closed. Pen down.

And then you leave.

It takes some work, getting out of human form. You can never remember how to do it, it just happens, somehow – one second, you’re in Ian’s apartment, fighting every urge you have to turn and look at him one last time, the next …

Your human form no longer exists.

 

You stick around, though. You stick around the way you used to stick around before you became human for Ian. It’s not to be creepy – if anything it fucking hurts to still be there – but you need to make sure Ian is okay. Because Ian has been okay – taking his meds, talking to his therapist, doing yoga – but you need to see it.

You need to know.

He begins to stir early, despite the unsettled sleep, and you wonder if it’s because you’re not there, if he can feel your presence gone from the bed. Wonder … hope. Whatever. You watch him rub at his eyes, stretch his gorgeous body, then sit up.

It only takes a moment, and your heart breaks the entire time. He looks around, eyes widening as they move from bedroom to living room. He can’t see into the tiny kitchen or bathroom, but it doesn’t matter. He knows.

“Mickey?” He tries anyway, and now that you’re out of a physical body again, you know everything; you know there’s a lump in his throat to match your own, you know his heart is thudding harder than yours ever did, and you know – you know – the agony he’s experiencing.

You know he knows you’re gone.

He gets up anyway, stumbling out of bed, tripping over blankets, and hurries into the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom, back to the living room.

“Mickey?” His voice is a broken whisper and you’re never hated yourself more.

He swallows heavily, wipes at his eyes, and takes a few steadying breaths. When he pulls his hands away from his face, there’s a look there you’ve never seen before – part ruined, part furious, part resigned. You hate yourself that little bit more.

He looks around the room, and you know when his gaze lands on his desk, on the journal and pen. His eyes stop, twitch ever so slightly, and he slowly makes his way over.

Human habits have caught up to you, and though you don’t breathe when you’re not in human form, you do the equivalent of holding your breath as you watch him. He moves slowly, as though what you’ve left behind will disappear if he gets too close, and doesn’t take his gaze off it once.

He reaches for the pen first. Caerulean, shiny, perfectly curved for his long fingers. Those same fingers graze over the length of the pen as his breath comes in short, shallow bursts. He sniffs and places it on the desk, reaches for the journal. A deep brown, likely not real leather being that you stole it from a zoo, but it looks real enough. There’s no fancy design on it, like some of the others you saw with birds or flowers, but it has a strap around it that stands out, looks professional.

Ian touches the strap, almost reverent, before untying it and opening it. His fingers trace your words, and he mouths them, not quite a whisper.

Ian,

Don’t forget me.

Mickey

And it’s not enough. It won’t stop him from forgetting you, but you hope like fuck it’s enough to make him realise, at least for now, how desperately you didn’t want to leave. You need him to know that, even if it’s only for a couple of days. Because in a couple of days, once he does forget you, the inscription will still be there, but it will mean nothing to him. Mickey will just be some guy, someone he vaguely recalls giving him a journal, but that’s it.

There will be no feelings, no memories, nothing. Just an inscription that he’ll eventually stop looking at. That, when he does glance at it, he’ll chuckle because oops, kinda forgot who that guy is and that’ll be it.

He sets the journal down, but keeps it open, still touching your words. While you can’t read his mind in this form, you know things about him and you know he’s fighting at least ten different emotions. Eventually, he stands up straight, breathes in slowly through his nose and exhales through his mouth.

He turns and tries one last time.

“Mick?”

You do nothing.

 

Ian doesn’t fall apart over the next thirty-two hours. He doesn’t sink back into his depressive episode, he doesn’t let out the unrelenting anger and hurt you know is inside him, and he doesn’t stop his better routines for a better state of mind.

He also doesn’t stop writing.

He makes an appointment with his therapist. He takes himself out for breakfast. He buys more ice cream.

And that one really hits you hard.

You watch him get to the ice cream shop, the same one he bought the majority of your ice creams at, and pull a piece of paper out of his back pocket. You think for a moment that he’s inspired, that he wants to jot down some prose really quick before he forgets it. But then he opens the paper and it’s not just any piece of paper.

It’s the list he made. Your list of ice creams you’ve tried. Next to the few he asked you about is either a tick or a cross, depending on your review. The rest have question marks, and you wonder if he’s going to do something about those.

He stares at the list for a really long time, the crease between his eyebrows deepening every second. In the end, he folds the list back up, shoves it into his back pocket, and walks up to the counter.

Mom’s Makin’ Cookies,” he says, voice nothing but defiant. “Three scoops.”

 

That night he gets a little high and he gets a little drunk. He scratches filthy, beautiful words of sex and fucking, puts the Doors playlist on shuffle, then jerks off.

You should look away.

You don’t.

You watch him come with his jaw clenched and your name falling from his lips.

 

You leave. It’s been forty-eight hours since you physically left, and you can’t stick around any longer, even in muse form.

Ian’s passed out, face-down on his bed, arms curled around the pillow you had taken to sleeping on. It hurts to look at him. It’ll hurt more to leave him. It’ll hurt most when you come back.

Just because you’re not there, physically, doesn’t mean you’re no longer his muse. You’ll leave, help someone else – form a connection, deal with infatuation, offer a creative high – and then you’ll come back and have your very essence torn apart. It’s the usual routine, only ten-million times worse because Ian.

But you need to leave now. It’s been forty-eight hours, and you know what comes next.

You won’t stick around just to watch him forget you.

 

There’s a teenage girl in Melbourne, Australia that needs your help. She writes historical romances – some of the best you’ve come across, and you don’t even like that shit – but her self-worth is so low you’re worried she might never write another word again.

She’s sitting at a desk, doing her homework when you arrive, but visions of Ian still flitter through your brain, and you have to take a moment. You have to stop and collect yourself because now you’re gone. Really and truly gone and you miss him and you hope he’s okay and everything about your existence hurts.

But you pull your shit together. Because you have to pull your shit together. Because Leah needs your help in human form and it’s your fucking job to help her.

So, you take another moment. Just one more, to go through what you know about her, what you need to remember, and then you do it. You become human again.

And she freaks the fuck out.

It’s hardly a new reaction, but it’s still annoying. No matter how stupid some people behave when they first see you, it never gets fun. All you want to do is speed up the telling part, and get to the doing.

“Chill the fuck out,” you say, and hold a hand up in peace.

“I don’t know where you came from, but if you don’t leave right the fuck now, I’m gonna scream.”

“Oh yeah? Who the fuck’s gonna hear you? You live in bumfuck nowhere, and no one else is home.”

“Jesus Christ.” Her eyes widen and she trembles slightly. “Are you going to kill me?”

You frown. You’ve never had that reaction before. Shit, you’ve never had someone genuinely terrified of you, but her quickening breath has you worried.

“No, I’m here to help you.”

“Yeah, I bet that’s what all serial killers say.”

“I’m not here to kill you.”

“You gonna assault me? Because I will put up the biggest fight you’ve ever seen, asshole.”

“Holy fuck.” You step back and raise both hands in surrender. “I swear, I’m here to help you. I’m your fucking muse.”

“Muse?” She pauses, eyebrows drawn together in a deep frown. Then she takes a slow breath and gets to her feet. “Muse. Right. So, you’re a psycho and you escaped from a nearby mental institute. Okay. Cool. Whatever, man. Whatever you need.”

You roll your eyes. “Leah.” She stops ranting when you say her name and whispers a soft fuck. She’s against the wall, inching her way to the door, and you tilt your head in consideration. “I’m here to help you.”

“Ivan Milat probably said the same thing to his victims.”

You sigh. Ian never put up this much of a fight, nor was he so unwilling to believe you. If only all artists were as laidback as Ian. Shit, if only all your artists were Ian and only Ian. You run a hand over your weary face and figure you’re going to compare every artist to Ian for the foreseeable century.

“Look,” you begin, then glance around her room. Posters of Tom Holland, Harry Styles, Timothée Chalamet … all young, unassuming guys who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Perfect, because as her muse, you’ll look similar. “Do I look like I’m here to hurt you?”

“You look like a middle-aged dude covered in fading hickeys, asshole.”

You look down at yourself and two things hit you at once. One, you’re not naked like you were when you turned up at Ian’s, which, thank fuck for that. But two, you’re wearing the same black jeans you put on that first day at his place, the boots he let you wear every day, and a hoodie. Your hoodie. The hoodie you left him.

Your breath hitches at the sight, at the fact that you’re wearing it, and you frown. You move without thought, over to Leah’s mirror. You’re a muse. You’re supposed to appear physically appealing to whichever artist you’re with at the time, but wearing Ian’s clothes – clothes you wore when you were with Ian – while you’re with another artist is – is …

You don’t know what it is because it’s never happened before.

“Fuck,” you breathe out once you get to the mirror, because it’s you. It’s the same you it was forty-eight hours ago when you left a sleeping Ian alone on his bed, fading hickeys included.

It’s Ian’s you.

You look back at Leah, and the shock on your face turns into a scowl when you see the shotgun in her hand. She smiles.

“Like you said, I live in bumfuck nowhere. And no one’s home because they’re all out working. On the farm. Where we live.” She adjusts the gun on her shoulder. “I feel like shooting a serial killer would be easier than shooting a dying cow, but what do you think?”

You think this is all too much.

You do whatever it is you do to make your human body leave.

 

Leah lowers the shotgun once you’ve disappeared and stares at the spot you were standing for another five seconds before she grabs her phone and calls her father. Her father tells her to call the police, and she does that, too. She stares where you were the entire time, and you stand invisible in her room and try to figure this shit out.

The connection is supposed to be instant. It might not be perfect, but it’s always there, always immediate.

After a few minutes of going back and forward with you, Leah showed no signs of relenting. And now, five, ten, fifteen minutes later, when her parents and brothers rush inside, shower her with worry, throw out comments about killing the psycho who intruded on their girl, she’s still scared.

Your artist is scared of you, you’re wearing Ian’s hoodie, and you look like Ian’s you.

Something’s fucked up and you don’t know what it is. All you do know, is that you miss Ian like crazy.

 

You find her that evening, sitting on an outside swing seat. The sun bursts with colour as it lowers behind her and her dog sits with its head in her lap. You reach down and pat the dog’s head, and Leah doesn’t even flinch.

“Am I gonna get shot?” you ask, but keep it casual. You shove your hands into your jean’s pockets, and something brushes your fingertips. You pull it out, confused to find a twenty-dollar bill, just like when you first put the jeans on at Ian’s.

“My parents are back on the paddock and my brothers are getting high in the living room,” she says, and you shove the money back into the pocket. “I think you’re good.”

“Hmm. They must’ve been really concerned.”

“Shut up. I still think you’re a serial killer.” She takes a deep breath before meeting your gaze. “But I also saw you disappear right in front of me.”

“Muse magic.”

She scoffs. “You know how hard it was trying to explain that one to the coppers? They thought I was bat-shit crazy.”

“Maybe you are.”

“Who the fuck are you?”

“I told you, kid, I’m your –”

“Muse, yeah, and I call bullshit.”

You clench your jaw, reminded of Ian. And because she reminded you of Ian, you reach deep for a British accent you haven’t had to use in a while, and hit back hard.

As the second child and only daughter of a long and dwindling line of aristocrats, Eliza Bexley knew she was destined for one thing and one thing only –

“Oh my god.” Her face drains of colour with every word you say. The dog doesn’t even react as she jumps to her feet, slaps a hand against your mouth, and whispers a fierce “Shut up.”

You raise both eyebrows and wait for her to lower her hand. She eventually does, and you smirk.

“Shall I continue?” you ask, still with the accent.

“I hate you.”

You shrug and drop the accent. “Not uncommon.”

“How do you know that stuff? I’ve never shown anyone.”

“I’m your muse. I know a lot of shit about you.”

“Muses don’t exist.”

“And yet.”

She stares at you, eyes wide, then shakes her head and sits back down. “I must be going crazy.”

“You’re not going crazy.” You slowly move to sit next to her, but keep the dog between you. You take a slow breath and lean your head back; you never knew a broken heart would be so exhausting. You sniff and glance at Leah. “I resent that middle-aged comment, by the way.”

She snorts. “Fine. Mid-to-late twenties.”

“I was supposed to look younger. You know, something like those guys on your bedroom wall.”

“And yet …”

She’s a smartass. You like her. Or maybe you’re just tired.

“Don’t know what the fuck happened, to be honest. Usually when I arrive at a new artist, I’m supposed to appear physically pleasing to them, so …”

Her entire face changes. Moody teenager morphs into something you don’t want to call disgusted, but is basically disgusted.

“If this –” she waves a hand up and down in your direction, “– is supposed to be pleasing to your artist, then you’ve got the wrong artist, mate.”

“This is how I turned up to my last artist. He didn’t seem to mind.”

“Oh.” Her entire demeanour changes. “He didn’t mind, huh?”

“Whatever you’re thinking –”

“Of course, you’re not going to assault me, you’re gay.”

You roll your eyes. “I’m not gay.”

“Aren’t you?”

You pause, a conversation with Ian coming back to mind. “Sometimes I appear as a chick, and not a chick who fucks chicks, so …”

“Oh my God, can you please stop referring to women as chicks? We have chickens on this farm and the way you’re talking is really starting to weird me out.”

“My point is, I’m not gay.”

“Did a man or a woman give you those hickeys.”

“A guy, but –”

“And do you prefer men or women?”

You shrug. “I like guys, but –”

“And do you prefer to be a man or a woman?”

Ian asked you the same thing and you didn’t know how to answer then. You know you prefer being in a male body, but that’s not the point of you and who you are. You’re a muse, and part of the job is to appear however your artist wants you to. You tell Leah that and she scoffs.

“So, muses aren’t allowed preferred pronouns? Sounds pretty shitty.”

“I dunno, man.” You sit back in the swing and pat the dog. Hermie. “S’not something I ever thought about before Ian, you know? He started asking questions, and now you’re asking questions, and I don’t have a fucking clue.”

“Ian is your last artist? The one who likes whatever look you’ve got goin’ on here?”

“Yeah.”

“Hmm.” She stares at you long and hard. “No gender preference at all?”

“Does it matter? I look how I look. I can’t control that shit.”

“Maybe you can.”

You look at her. She stares back without any of her previous fear. Hermie climbs from the swing and sits at your feet.

“I didn’t choose to look like this when I turned up in your bedroom.”

“Fair enough.” She drops the subject. “Still don’t believe in muses, though.”

You shake your head. “How are you already such a pain in my ass?”

 

You turn up next to her the following morning as she walks to the bus stop. Bush-lined paddocks line each side of the road and there are sheep in the distance. Leah jumps when she sees you, but it’s less of a reaction than the day before.

“Jesus Christ, can you stop doing that?”

“Sorry.”

She glares at you, but it’s weak when she’s dressed in her school uniform, school bag on her back. “Not that I believe any of this muse crap, but can other people see you?”

“Of course.”

“So, they could see you appear out of thin air like that?”

“Yeah, but I made sure you were alone first.”

“Ugh, creep.”

You ignore her and walk alongside her. Normally she takes a quad bike to the bus stop before school and leaves it in a neighbour’s garage, and you wonder if you have anything to do with her choice to walk today. With some artists – like Ian – you stay human the entire time, but others – teenage girls like Leah – it’s not possible or appropriate. The plus side to that is, between bouts of being human, you’re able to go back to knowing things.

And you know she still doesn’t believe you’re a muse.

You shove your hands into the pockets of your jeans – Ian’s jeans; still Ian’s jeans and Ian’s boots and the hoodie he bought you – and try to figure this shit out. You’re dressed in Ian’s clothes – which is something that pains you, more than comforts you – your appearance hasn’t changed at all, and Leah still doesn’t believe you’re a muse.

The disbelief is only supposed to last a few minutes. The connection is there to make sure of that.

You wipe at your mouth and think of something to say. “You do any writing last night?”

She scowls. “No.”

“Liar.” She wrote five-thousand words while her parents yelled at her brothers for getting high inside the house.

“Muses don’t exist.” She blows out an angry breath. “They don’t exist, but last night I wrote for the first time in six months!”

“I know.”

“And I’m supposed to believe that it’s all because of the weirdo who turned up in my bedroom?”

“Well, yeah, you are.”

“Does everyone else just believe? Did Ian?”

Your eyes narrow and your heart constricts and you hate that you’d ever mentioned Ian’s name to her. “None of your fuckin’ business.”

“I’ll take that as a no.”

“Take it however the fuck you want.”

She laughs, but it’s mean. “For a muse, you’re kind of an asshole.”

“Never claimed to be nice.”

“You should work on that, you know, if you want people to take you seriously. A muse is supposed to help, right? No one’s going to want your help with that bitchy attitude.”

“Oh, I’m the one with the bitchy attitude? Those teenage hormones are running rampant in you, bitch.”

Maybe it’s a little mean, but you don’t care. A part of you has stopped caring about anything and you know exactly why. Leah stops and faces you, not even slightly horrified at the name calling, and you can see the bus stop down the street behind her.

“Let’s say this is all true, that you really are a muse and you’re here to help me. And let’s be real serious for a second, yeah?” She crosses her arms and cocks a hip and you wave an arm for her to continue. “Why would I believe you, or want your help, when you’re acting like such a dick?”

She’s got a point, but you struggle to answer. You haven’t had this kind of relationship with an artist before, not about this. You’ve yelled and hurled insults at artists, received them at the same time, but it was always after … after they shrugged off you being a muse, after the connection began, after happily accepting your help.

But not Leah.

You shrug and say the only thing you can think of. “You wrote last night for the first time in six months. You think that was a coincidence?”

She eyes you for a long moment. “You’re not supposed to look like this?”

“I … no.” Both eyebrows skyrocket. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Tell me about Ian.”

“The fuck?”

“You turn up here looking physically appealing to him, not me, and I wanna know who he is.”

“He’s no one. Just an artist I worked with.”

“Crock. Of. Shit.”

You see the bus arrive at the corner behind her and throw an arm out in its direction. “School time.”

“Are you kidding? I have a short-tempered, so-called muse on my hands, no I’m going to school today.”

“Your parents will be pissed.”

“Like I’ve never ditched before.”

“Go to school.”

“Tell me about Ian.”

You turn and walk away, heart beating faster than it should be. You’re well aware that you could physically leave, but you don’t and you don’t want to think about why. Leah follows, tearing up gravel as she hurries to catch up.

“You expect me to believe anything you say? You’re a full-grown man who turned up in my bedroom, but you won’t tell me anything about one artist you’ve worked with! The same artist who I’m willing to bet gave you those hickeys!”

You spin around. “Ian is no one! Got it? He’s no one. Nothing. Just another artist in the list of many, and you’re next on that list, so get the fuck over it and deal.”

She’s silent. You say nothing. It’s a staring contest, only broken by her smirk and slow lift of one eyebrow before she speaks in a whisper.

“Bullshit.”

You open your mouth to reply, but stop, jaw hanging.

Bullshit.

“Fuck.” It comes out as an exhale, and your face must do something concerning because Leah steps forward, frown on her face.

“What? What is it?”

“It is bullshit. It’s fuckin’ bullshit.” Because Ian is everything.

“Okay.” She pauses, looks around. “You wanna elaborate on what’s happening right now? Because the bus is long gone and you’re starting to freak me out again.”

You swallow once, twice, and blink quickly to try and make sense of what the fuck is going on. When you look at Leah, she does look freaked out and you make a point of taking a step back.

“I can’t lie to you,” you tell her.

“Sounds fake, but okay.”

“No, it’s … it’s a muse thing. It’s all part of the connection I get with the artists. I can’t lie to them.”

“You think you telling me that you can’t lie to me is going to make me believe you can’t lie to me. Ever heard of show, don’t tell?”

You nod; she’s got a point. “Your hair is blonde.”

She pulls her brown ponytail around. “That’s a lie.”

“Yeah. It fuckin’ is.”

“I don’t understand.”

You step closer, something unexplainable running through you. “Do you feel anything?” you ask her. “Anything for me?”

Ew.”

“No. Fuck.” You run a hand over your face, turn away and then back again. “Like a … like a connection.”

“Honestly? All I feel for you is contempt. And a little pity for whatever party is happening right now.”

You stare at her. “There’s no connection.”

“I still don’t know what this connection is supposed to be, but, like, I wouldn’t be sad if you left. Does that help?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

Maybe she just feels the connection differently to most others. Shit, to all others. You’ve never had this with an artist before and it’s messing with your head. She barely believes a word that comes out of your mouth, she can’t stand to be around you, and she doesn’t give a shit if you leave despite the words your creativity helped her write last night.

“Listen,” she says, glancing around. “My parents won’t care that I’m ditching – my grades are solid, it’s not an issue – but that doesn’t mean I want to get caught any time soon, so can we get the hell off the road for whatever conversation this is?”

“And go where?”

 

She leads you to the junk-filled garage she would usually leave the quad bike in.

“My brothers used to hide beers in here,” she tells you, hoisting herself onto the bench, “but the old guy who lives here found them and started drinking them. Guy’s an absolute pisshead.”

You try your luck. “I’m the muse of epic poetry.”

“Hmm. You don’t look like a Calliope.”

You nod and lean against the bench. “You know your muses.”

“I may have dabbled in some Percy Jackson fanfiction once upon a time. What is your name?”

“Mickey.” Zero hesitation. “And dabbled is a bit of an understatement, don’t ya think?”

“You know about my fanfiction?”

“I know pretty much everything.”

“Jesus,” she mutters, but she seems to have thawed to you somewhat. She reaches for her backpack and pulls out an apple. “Tell me about Ian.”

“Give me the cookie in your lunchbox and maybe I will.”

She rolls her eyes and pulls out the cookie. “I want every detail. Wait. Not every detail. You like dudes, Ian’s a dude, he gave you hickeys … yeah, I do not need every detail about two twenty-something dudes doing it, thanks.”

You smirk. “We just had the fanfiction talk. You think I don’t know about Stucky?”

“Till the end of the line, asshole.”

You bite at the cookie and tell her about Ian. Maybe you shouldn’t, you don’t know. She’s right about the connection – you don’t feel it, either – but there’s too much going through your head, so much shit you’ve never experienced before, and you need to talk it out. And she’s your only option.

You keep it brief, though. Like she said, she doesn’t need every detail. And there are some things that are private, that you want to keep just for you and Ian. Even if you never get to be physically near him again. You tell her what she needs to know, and the relief of getting it all out is instant.

“So, you turned up, he immediately believed who you were because of this connection, and then you fell in love. You think it’s just the connection and infatuation on his part, but now that you’re gone, you still look how he wants you to look, you have no connection with me, and you’re suddenly able to lie. Does that about sum it up?”

“I mean, it’s a shitty fuckin’ love story when you put it like that, but yeah.”

She nods, takes a bite of apple, and talks with her mouth full. “There’s only one explanation.”

“And that is?”

“You’re soulmates.”

Your stomach drops. You didn’t tell her about that, about the soulmate bullshit. You swallow and shift your gaze.

“You believe in soulmates, but not muses?”

“I write romance, not fantasy.”

“Yeah, yeah, seriously though.” You pause, wipe at your nose with your knuckle. “You believe in that shit?”

“I believe in true love.”

“Right.”

“Don’t you?”

You look at her and see nothing but genuine curiosity on her face. “Yeah. I do.”

“And I believe Ian is your true love.” She pauses, stares into your fucking soul. “Don’t you?”

You’ve been alive for over two millennia and your feelings for Ian are unmatched. You don’t know if that makes him your soulmate – you don’t know if you believe in soulmates – but you know it means something. The love you have for Ian is earth-moving, possibly even myth-changing, and you wish like fuck you’d told him.

But just because you feel that for Ian, doesn’t make it mutual. Connection. Infatuation.

“When I leave, the artist usually forgets about me after a few days.”

“Usually?”

“Always.”

She says nothing for a moment, then drops to her feet. “Sure, but aren’t you supposed to always appear physically pleasing to your artist?”

“Yeah …”

“And yet …”

“You think he’ll remember me?”

She begins to wander around the garage, opening boxes and digging through piles of junk, before finally holding her hand up in triumph.

“My brothers are idiots,” she tells you, walking back over, “hiding beer when everyone in town knows the guy who lives here has a major alcohol problem. Dad tells us at least once a month that he just doesn’t know how ol’ Jed still has the farm … anyway, point is, he can smell beer from a mile away, but he’s never smoked a joint in his life.”

She holds the baggie out in her palm, wicked grin on her face, and as tempted as you are …

“I don’t know how comfortable I am getting high with a seventeen-year-old.”

She rolls her eyes. “Would you be more comfortable had I found beer? Legal drinking age here is eighteen and I’m only two months away from that.”

“It’s not your age that’s the issue, it’s the age difference.”

She jumps back onto the bench. “How old are you?”

“Decided to stop counting at two hundred and twelve.”

She grins, eyes focused on the joint she’s rolling. “You are a creepy old dude.”

“Hey. Fuck you.” But you lift yourself up next to her anyway. You bite your lip and look away, already hating your next words. “You really think he’ll remember me?”

“While I don’t personally find you unforgettable, something clearly happened between you and Ian that fucked things up a little. I saw the look on your face when you told me he was nothing to you – not only was that an obvious lie, but it was obvious you hadn’t lied in a long fucking time.”

“Don’t remember the last time I told a lie before today. I mean, I can’t speak to anyone except my artist, and I can’t lie to my artists, so …”

She pulls the lighter out of the baggie, lights up, and inhales deeply. “Maybe you should test out that theory while you’re here.”

“Talk to someone?”

“Give it a go.” She passes you the spliff, but you know she’s not talking about that.

You take a long pull, hold it for as long as you can, and exhale with a sigh. “You think ol’ Jed would be up for a chat?”

She laughs, and it might be the first genuine, positive sounds you’ve provoked from her. “Nah. Maybe try my dad. He’s always up for a good yarn.”

“Oh yeah?” You take another hit then hand it back.

“Oh yeah,” she says, grin on her lips. “And the fact that I gave him a very detailed description of you last night won’t matter at all. I swear.”

“Christ, kid, I’ve never had an artist give so little of a shit about me before.”

“You’re welcome.”

You snort out a laugh, but silence falls over you both. You pass the joint back and forth a few more times, and the ease it inspires inside of you seeps throughout the entire garage until everything is hazy and calm.

“How does it work?” she asks a while later.

“Hmm?”

“The muse thing.”

You look at her, ready to make a snide comment about her believing you, but the look on her face stops you. It’s complete and utter devastation.

“What d’you mean?”

“I thought I was doing okay. I mean, I’ve got zero confidence in myself, but I’ve put hundreds of thousands of words into a book series that no one will ever probably read, but I still did it. I did that. At least, I thought I did it.”

“You did.”

“What about the words I wrote last night? I only managed them because you turned up?”

“Maybe.” You consider your next words. Ian asked you the same thing – how does it work – but somehow his question was entirely different. “Look, me doing what I do … that doesn’t make it my work. You wrote those words, last night and before. Not me.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s all you, kid. I provide a … shit, an essence of creativity, a force of inspiration. That’s it. What words you write, what order you write them in, that’s all you.”

She smiles. “You swear?”

“I’m here to make you write, not make you happy.”

“Yeah, no shit.”

It’s not a connection, but for a teenage girl, she’s okay.

 

Just being around you is enough to get her back writing, so you take the time you have with her to convince her that she’s good. Like, really good.

“I wouldn’t be here otherwise,” you say later that afternoon. She’s sitting on an old tractor tire, with one of her school books on her lap as she writes furiously. “I don’t go to talentless people.”

“Just assholes who can’t get their words out?”

“Basically.”

“Hmm.” She sticks the end of her pen in her mouth before answering. “What’ll happen when you leave?”

“You’ll do what I said and polish that original fiction up. Keep doing the fanfiction if you want to, there’s no fuckin’ shame in that, but I know it’s the other shit you’re really proud of. And it’s the other shit that’ll get you off the farm.”

“No, I mean … what happens with you. Will I forget you?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you lying?”

You shrug. “I don’t know. Everything’s fucked up so I have no clue. But you’ll remember this feeling, this inspiration. It might go away again – all writers get blocked – but you’ve got it in you to do some awesome shit.”

“Thanks. I think.” She taps the pen against her paper. “Are you gonna go back to Ian?”

“I don’t know.”

You will. Ian is your artist, it’s your job.

Also, you can’t go two minutes without thinking about him, so there’s really no choice in the matter.

“I think you should.”

“I think you should enter that competition you told me about.”

“Ugh.” She sets the notebook down and buries her face in her knees. “But if something good comes from it then people will know I write.”

“Not the end of the world.”

“Maybe not for you.”

“Definitely not for me; I’ll be long gone by that stage.”

She sighs and looks up at you. “Prick.”

You watch her write for another half-hour before a feeling overcomes you. It’s not the connection, but something finished. A feeling that, even though you’ve only been with her twenty-four hours, even though there’s been no connection or infatuation or creativity peak, it’s time to go.

“Already?” she asks when you tell her, but she doesn’t even look up from her notebook.

“Yeah, I’ll miss you, too.”

“Just let me …” She writes quickly, lips moving occasionally with whatever word she’s writing, and the feeling of finished increases. “Okay. Okay.”

“Yeah? You’ll allow me to leave now?”

She gets to her feet and stares at you for a long, calculating moment. “I mean, you’re not hideous.”

You bark out a laugh. “Thanks, shithead.”

“I still don’t believe in muses –”

“Jesus Christ.”

“– and I definitely don’t feel any kind of connection, but I also don’t hate you.”

You nod. “You’ve been a fuckin’ pleasure to work with, too.”

“And I no long feel like you want to kill me.”

“I want to kill you more now than I did when I arrived.”

“I’m not giving you a hug goodbye.”

“I’d be disgusted if you did.”

She smiles. “Good luck with Ian.”

Deep breath, maybe more of a sigh. “Thanks, kid.”

You leave.

 

You check on a few other artists – maybe because it’s your job, maybe to procrastinate. Either way, you take some time to recover from being human and dealing with human feelings. And maybe do some recovery in advance for whatever you find when you get back to Ian.

You’re not sure how you’ll cope if he’s forgotten you. After everything that happened – or, more rightly, didn’t happen – with Leah, you’ve gone and got your hopes up and you should know better.

You stop in on a middle-aged woman in London, a grandfather in Cairo, and a single mom of two in Winnipeg. You don’t make yourself known, but you hang around, watch them work or write or paint, let them feed off your creativity until enough time has passed.

And maybe, for a few minutes here and there, you silently resent them. You have creativity for them, more than enough, and it doesn’t seem fair that Ian used all of his up, that the muse inside of you wants to take it all back from him until he’s got nothing, just because he used what he was allocated.

At least, you think that’s how it works. You’ve never given it this much thought before. You don’t know if each artist is dealt a certain amount of your creativity, or if it’s just the way the highs of the connection and infatuation work. They reach the peak, and then … nothing.

You leave the single mom before you get too mad. You need to stay calm.

You leave Winnipeg.

You arrive in Chicago.

 

Specifically, you arrive in the South Side, in Ian’s neighbourhood, and the familiarity of it hits hard. You’re not in human form yet, but the pressure on your chest at the sight of the place you first had dinner and the coffee shop he frequented is real.

You’re in the middle of the sidewalk, people passing by you without realising you’re there, and you know you need to move before you become human again. Not just because you can’t go turning up in front of a bunch of strangers, but because this entire situation is an experiment. It’s a risk and a theory and you have no idea if you’re going to turn up naked or not.

You start down the street. There’s a side alley up ahead, one that backs into a Starbucks, and that’s your intended destination. On the way, though, you take in what’s around you and stop at a magazine stand.

It’s a Sunday.

You’ve been gone five days.

If Ian was going to forget you, he would have done it days ago.

You turn into the alley and stop behind a dumpster. Not the most romantic of places to become human, considering what it is you plan to do once you’re human, but you’ll take what you can get.

You give yourself one more moment, though, because holy fuck.

And then, once you’ve made sure there’s no one around, you change. Light and dust, sunshine and grace. A human body.

You glance down and, sure enough, you’re in Ian’s clothes. Minus the hoodie. You frown, not sure what to make of that, but don’t let it deter you. You’ve come this far, made solid fucking decisions inspired by whatever the fuck has been going on with your muse powers, and there’s no turning back now.

Ian’s boots, Ian’s t-shirt, Ian’s jeans. You check the pocket and let out a shaky breath. Ian’s twenty dollars.

You leave the alley. The ice cream shop is around the corner, and so fucking close to Ian’s apartment that your heart speeds up with every step you take and then your steps speed up until you have to keep yourself from running. You put it down to excitement, nerve, sheer fucking terror at everything that might or might not happen.

Your breath hitches as the shop comes into sight, and you slow your steps, take it easy. By the time you reach it, you’re hesitant, almost cautious. You’re not sure you’ve ever been scared before.

You take the twenty out and stare at it. It’s not the same twenty – you doubt that’s possible – but it’s a twenty and it was in Ian’s jean’s pockets and it’s a sign. Another fucking sign that something’s changed. Or, shit, maybe it’s you that’s changed.

The girl behind the counter looks bored, and your heart lurches when you realise it’s the same girl. The same one who served you that very first night and maybe you’re reaching, maybe you’re jumping to conclusions and hoping for something that can never be, but at this stage you don’t care.

She gives you a look of impatience and you step forward.

“What’ll it be?” she asks.

You swallow through the dryness in your mouth and take a breath.

Mom’s Makin’ Cookies. To go.”

The words come out. You hear them. The girl behind the counter hears them. She grabs a container and starts to scoop, and you turn away, eyes wet.

“Fuck.”

 

You stand outside Ian’s door for a long time. Long enough that the bagged ice cream you’re carrying is probably inedible. It doesn’t seem to matter, though.

Scenarios keep running through your head. What if he doesn’t remember you? What if he’s not even home? What if he does remember you, but he’s pissed at you for leaving? What if he remembers you, but now agrees that it was all connection and infatuation? What if he remembers, but he’s changed his mind, he doesn’t want to risk losing the creativity?

There’s nothing muse-like about the way you inspire me, Mickey. It’s all you.

You hope like fuck that’s true.

You don’t know what’s going on with him; you don’t know if he’s writing, if he remembers you, if he’s okay. And you don’t know what’s going on with yourself; you clearly still have creativity to give, but there was no connection with Leah. All you do know is that something’s changed and you’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t use that alone for everything it is and try.

After standing in front of his door for nearly ten minutes, you inhale a shaky breath and let out an even shakier one.

Then you knock.

Your heart thuds painfully as you wait, and then, finally, the door opens and Ian stands in front of you.

A breath punches out of you, and you swallow the lump in your throat at the sight of him. He’s unshaven, jaw messy and scraggly and beautiful. The hair on his head isn’t any better, long strands falling into his eyes. And his eyes …

He stares at you. You stare back. It’s too much, so you lower your gaze, take all of him in. His bare feet, the old jeans, a hoodie.

Your hoodie.

Everything inside of you sinks and you can’t tell if it’s a good feeling or not.

You meet his gaze. He continues to stare at you.

“I, uh …” You clear your throat and try again. “Look, I don’t know if you know who I am, but, uh, I bought ice cream. And … and I love you. Fuck. Should’ve said it days ago, don’t know why I didn’t, but I am now. I love you. And I brought ice cream.”

He’s silent. Still. Still enough that you can see his pulse beat on his neck. Then he opens his mouth.

“You know, for a muse, you’ve got a real way with words.”

Your jaw drops in shock, awe, adoration, but before you can reply, Ian grabs your face and kisses you.

He kisses you, and every poem you’ve ever inspired comes to mind, every sonnet, every word of love, everything that makes you the muse of love poetry encompasses you when Ian kisses you.

And it doesn’t stop. Not when he drags you into his apartment. Not when he sheds you both of clothes. Not when he lifts you onto his unstable dining table. He whispers things to you; filthy, obscene words that make you groan in want, followed by deep, soulful prose that make your body tremble.

He fucks you on the table, your legs wrapped tight around his waist, forehead pressed against your own. You don’t know what’s going on with him. You don’t know what’s going on with yourself. All you know is that Ian remembers you. Ian loves you. And you love him.

Maybe it is soulmate bullshit.