There were many words throughout the world to describe Alexander Zharkhov's relationship with Justin Gilead. Destiny... Fate... Hitsuzen... Schicksal... Het lot... Words and symbols. The coiled rope... the golden strings... the red threads... Symbols so similar to the snake that Gilead wore on an amulet around his neck; the snake was ready at every moment to strike at Zharkhov and let the deep poison sink into him.
The bite had been slight. A whisper of a touch between young boys at a chess match. Long before one became the Prince of Death, while the other became the Patanjali, Zharkhov had felt then the touch of Destiny winding around him, making his eyes follow Gilead's slight frame across a room of chess masters.
Destiny's grasp only coiled tighter as time went on. Each step he took was countered, mimicked at times by Gilead, as if each step had been known even across cities, countries, and oceans and intercepted beforehand. And each time he snatched at Gilead's ghost, at the wisps of his spirit — just trying to keep the man dead for once — Destiny dug her claws deeper into him until his heart could take the pain no more.
It had been many years since he'd heard the Grandmaster's name spoken, and even longer since he'd seen Gilead's face, leaning over him as the man — ancient seeming even then, despite his young years — pulled him from the confines of a Russian prison. Later, he justified Gilead's actions with reason. That Gilead had only saved him to return a favor. That Gilead had only saved him because it was his responsibility to kill Zharkhov, not a group of nameless, faceless torturers, whose only purpose was complete obedience to the current Premier.
But the years between that last meeting and the next, inevitable one were meaningless. They were practically immortal, the two of them — unable to die while the other was still present. The governments of their respective countries changed hands and laws. Politics raved around them. Power, in all its ravenous forms, jumped from host to host without preference. Zharkhov was old enough to be thankful that power bypassed him again and again, and he was still young enough to wish that he'd retained the power he'd had.
That was Destiny, however. And Zharkhov hadn't been the only one to feel Destiny sink into his body with absolute and irrevocable certainty.
The bar he occupied sat on the north east coast of the American mainland. Dark and a bit grungy, it suited Zharkhov's purpose perfectly. While he waited, he wanted to lose himself for a moment or two in the bottom of a dusty glass of liquor — scotch, perhaps, or whiskey would do. But he hadn't even seated himself in one of the stools before Gilead entered.
A breath of fresh air filled Zharkhov's lungs; he could smell incense and dust and Gilead himself as the tall American rested a hand on his shoulder and another on the hand Zharkhov had raised to order. There was no pressure that he could feel, but Gilead's sudden presence and unspoken invitation were palpable to him. Fire lit across Zharkhov's skin as a golden medallion tapped against his arm, swinging from where it was hung around Gilead's neck. There was nothing in Gilead's eyes that doubted Zharkhov would accept the invite.
They walked beside each other for only moments. Zharkhov wondered if Destiny had sped up time for them because his watch told him it had been fifteen minutes of wordless silence between them. Fifteen timeless minutes brought them to some motel room in the middle of the city — dark and anonymous, but filled with warmth when Gilead flipped on a lamp in the corner.
"You—" Zharkhov couldn't bring to call Gilead anything at this point, not with the man standing before him. Though the names ran through his head: Grandmaster. Holy One. The Wearer of the Blue Hat. Gilead. Justin.... Patanjali. The last one seemed most significant; it was the one name that had remained their secret, the name that was not even known to those closest to them. Only the two of them.
Gilead swept his words away with a gesture. "You know what I'm here for," he said and seized Zharkhov by the collar. "I know what you're here for. So, let's just get this done."
Their clothes were on the floor in a matter of seconds. And while Zharkhov was pushing Gilead into the bed, hands scratching and itching to be inside the American's body, Gilead was wrapping his hands around his neck, pushing the jaw up enough to allow him access to the throat. Zharkhov knew Gilead's destination even before his long tongue touched the scar that was there — the coiled snake that would be burned into his skin forever, like a memorial to the man who lay beneath him.
Gilead was undoubtedly the Patanjali now — the sacred reincarnation of a god — no matter that he was letting his more human side take the reins. Zharkhov could feel it in his fingers — the power — and it leaked into his body as if Gilead could not even contain its greatness. It tingled and warmed his limbs. There was a knife in the folds of his clothes, somewhere beyond an arm's reach of the bed, and though the urge to bury that knife to the hilt into Gilead's stomach was great, the craving to bury himself into Gilead was far greater. When Zharkhov's fingers dug into Gilead's shoulder, he felt the American smile slightly against his skin before biting down on the scar. With a low groan, the craving was shared between them.
Heat laced through Zharkhov's body and he shoved Gilead away, bending himself to mouth at the scars that formed a lattice across the frail-seeming body. Whether by fire, stone, or bullet, most of these scars Zharkhov had put on Gilead himself. Although they were no where near as permanent as the scar Gilead had allowed him, the imprint of their repeated infliction would last forever.
After that, it seemed that there was little more preamble before Zharkhov sank into Gilead's body. There was pain enough to make Gilead hiss. And Zharkhov felt himself getting squeezed so tightly that he thought he would never be able to retreat from his current position. Gilead flipped them, rode Zharkhov with a terrible kind of control, and denied them both release again and again until they could feel it — that sweet union of two halves of a spirit. The release and the calm that came with being whole again. The relaxation that let them both come — with an intensity that both had begun to associate with how life was supposed to be lived, painfully and with purpose. They kissed over and over, though neither would remember anything more than the phantom of the feeling in the morning. Their touch grew gentle, and they cradled each other closer so that their bellies and chests were side by side.
Zharkhov has been bitten often and hard enough that he knows, intimately, that pain that accompanies it. So, when he wakes the next morning and the hotel is empty of Gilead's presence, the pain is there — deeper than in the beginning, as it will be deeper the next. It was a wordless parting. Justin Gilead enters and leaves his life as he always has, on silent footsteps and leaving nothing behind except a terrible wake of fire.
That was Destiny.