Book 2, Chapter 9

Jin whistled as he put the finishing touches on Greg's mask. Today was Kalyphtian and after several days of tactical cajoling, he'd finally convinced Greg to agree to go out and enjoy it with him. It would be a nice change of pace from staying in the apartment and screwing and being catty, and, Jin hoped, it would provide Greg with a chance to prove that under all the psychosis, he was a human being.

Jin rolled over onto his back and held the mask above his head, admiring his work: a winged tiger drawn onto the white half-mask and crowned with a spray of fake feathers. He smirked to himself, amused at how well his rendition of his family tattoo had come out and at the imagined reactions of his coworkers to the fact that he actually had a bit of artistic talent. Careful not to smear the still-drying ink, he rolled off of his bed and began to get dressed.

If Greg was human, then whatever it was Jin was feeling for him would be legitimate and he could move on as though their relationship were perfectly normal. He'd like that, he reflected, buttoning his shirt, but knew that "normal" was not a word that was ever going to accurately describe anything in which Greg was involved. If he was honest with himself, Jin knew that really he was just hoping today wasn't going to turn into a nightmarish disaster. It didn't hurt to daydream a bit, though, no matter what Ath'ran thought.

Dressed, he checked his appearance in the mirror on the back of his door and smiled at how good he still looked in this costume. It was his second-best from when he'd still lived in Xifeng: emerald green and embroidered with gold threat in the same pattern he'd painted onto Greg's mask, cut in what his family claimed was a "classic Chinese style”. It was a perfect imitation of the antique silk version he had wrapped in paper in the box under his bed.

He'd thought about wearing the original, since it was a special occasion, but had discarded the idea quickly; if Greg decided to get rough later on in the evening, he didn't want the outfit to suffer the combined abuse of Greg's ministrations and his own sorry sewing skills. And there was no way he would take it to his aunt to repair and risk trying to explain what exactly had happened and why he had been wearing the family heirloom in such a situation in the first place.

So he'd settled on his second-best set of performance wear. He had nothing for Greg except the mask he'd made, but he was sure that the man wouldn't have agreed to wear any sort of costume anyway. Still, he felt that Greg would be pleased by the fact that he'd carefully linked their costumes together with the winged tiger motif, if he noticed it. Greg liked demonstrations of ownership like that, even if he didn't quite approve of Jin claiming the role of owner rather than owned.

He picked up the mask again, to check that the ink was dry, but didn’t move toward the door yet. Instead, he set the mask down gently and knelt in front of the small alter table he had tucked in a corner where none of his housemates would be likely to see it. With measured movements, he drew a stick of incense and a lighter from a box beneath the table. Smiling at the Buddha image, he lit the incense, and, after discarding the lighter, put his hands together, palm-to-palm with the incense held between them. Slowly, he bent forward at the waist until the edges of his hands touched the floor, his forehead was pressed against his thumbs.

"Let today go well," he murmured in Chinese, and held the pose for a moment before sitting back up and standing the incense up in the small container of sand at the Buddha's feet. He bowed again, this time to the picture of his mother that stood beside the statue, holding the pose for several beats, then bounced to his feet, collected Greg's mask and left the room.

He bounced on the balls of his feet in the elevator on the way up to Greg's floor and while he waited for Greg to answer the door. When the door slid open, Jin entered without invitation, brandishing the mask he'd made.

"Here, put it on so we can go." He fidgeted while Greg took the mask and turned it over in his hands.

"Why do I need to wear this?"

Jin rolled his eyes. "So no one will recognize you. Don't look at it that way, I did a good job. It even matches me. Now put it on."

"What are you supposed to be anyway?"

Jin rolled his eyes and took the mask from Greg. "I'm supposed to be Chinese, genius." Standing on his toes, he put the mask over Greg's eyes. Greg hunched a bit obligingly, then fingered its painted edge when it was in place.

"I'd rather stay in," he said, and his tone of voice was the one he used when he was sure he was getting the final say.

"Too bad." Jin smiled at him, then sidled around behind him. Planting both hands in the middle of Greg's back, Jin steered the taller man to the door and out of it. In the hallway, he smirked to himself; if Greg had really not wanted to go anywhere, Jin would not have been able to move him.

They took the elevator up rather than down in order to access one of the upper pedestrian areas. Jin chattered during the fifty floor ride, content that he was in charge of this expedition and that it would go well.

"I think we should get on a tram and go a little Core-ward," he said, lounging against the elevator railing. "That's where most of the fun usually is."

"How would you know?"

Jin grinned at Greg. "Are you kidding? This is pretty much the only time all year anything fun happens in this city, and you think I'd miss it? Anyway, once we get there, there'll be lots to do. Stuff to look at, food to eat, people to point and laugh at."

Greg's eyes were amused behind his mask. "They have Kalyphtian where you're from?"

Jin was pleased at the break in Greg's normally apathetic demeanor. "Nah. We have more traditional holidays. But New Year is a lot like this in Xifeng."

Greg was quiet a moment, then asked, "Do you miss it?"

"Xifeng?" Jin blinked at the sudden interest in his past. "Yeah, sometimes. Mostly I miss the food. Fresh fish and seafood almost every day was the best thing about that place. Aunty Xiao sends me canned crab sometimes and it's great and all, but it's nothing compared to fresh. But other than that, I guess I just miss the familiarity. I mean, my family's in Triumph or somewhere now, so it's not like I have any more connection to Xifeng other than ethnicity."

Greg nodded.

"But that's all unimportant." Jin waved one hand dismissively. "What's important is now, and now we're going to have fun." He hoped that Greg picked up the implied “or else” at the end of the statement.

Instead of replying, Greg looked up and watched the numbers flicker past above the elevator door. That was fine with Jin--he filled the silence easily with inane chatter about last year's festival.

After exiting the building, Jin did not give Greg a chance to take command of the outing, but steered him toward the nearest tram stop. They did not have to wait long, and soon stepped out of their carriage into a writhing mass of color, noise and smells.

Greg's upper lip curled a bit as he took it all in. Jin, watching him closely for any signs of distaste, grabbed his arm and dragged him forward. He would not give Greg any chances to not enjoy this. They would have fun, or Greg would pay the consequences. Jin giggled to himself as he tried to think of what consequences could possibly intimidate Greg, and pulled the other man toward a row of food vendors.

After scanning the carts along the street, Jin lit up. "Crepes! Crepes are just the thing!"

"Just the thing for what?" Greg's voice was amused as he went where he was led.

"Anything!" Jin was pleased to find that there was no sort of organized line at the cart and elbowed his way forward. He ordered for himself and Greg, assuming that, like most other people in existence, Greg liked chocolate, and a few moments later returned with the food.

Glancing around, Jin quickly found a clear space on the curb and sat down. "No better way to create romantic atmosphere than by eating crappy street vendor food." He punctuated his statement by taking a large bite of his crepe.

Greg sat down next to him and pushed his mask up onto the top of his head, to make both eating and watching the milling crowd easier. Jin watched him from the corner of his eye while he enjoyed his crepe, and wondered what Greg was making of all of this noise and activity. They sat in silence filled with the blasting music from a temporary stage nearby while Jin ate his food.

As he was picking pieces off of Greg's largely ignored crepe, a young woman who appeared to be wearing a skimpy outfit made entirely out of belts and netting danced over to them. She was laughing and at least somewhat drunk, if the way she fell into Greg's lap was any indication. He almost dropped what remained of his food, but turned a stoic gaze on her.

"Mmm, dance with me, sexy," she managed to slur over the noise, planting a sloppy kiss on Greg's jaw and pressing against him. "Short stuff'll be alright on his own while the grown ups have fun."

Jin bristled. "Bitch! Back off, if you know what's good for you." He leaned across Greg and bodily pushed the girl out of his lap onto the ground. Snarling, he spat next to her. "He's mine and I'm not sharing with a dumb cunt like you."

The girl was stunned for a moment, staring at him, then laughed again and glared. "Fine, whatever. Bastard," she added, getting to her feet and disappearing back into the crowd.

Greg was also watching Jin, though his expression was contemplative.

Jin settled back into his spot and held his hand out for what was left of Greg's food. "Here. I want it."

Greg handed it over without a word; Jin felt the man's eyes on him as he wolfed it down, but ignored him. He knew how long it had been since the meat in Greg’s refrigerator had run out, and he’d seen how edgy he was getting. The slutty girl didn't know what she had escaped or how narrowly, and that was the way Jin wanted it.

He didn't tense when Greg's hand wrapped around the back of his neck. The gesture seemed almost affectionate by now. "Yours?"

"Yes." Jin tilted his head back to smirk at the other man. "Mine. You're wearing my mark."

Greg rolled his eyes up to the mask on his head and then turned an unreadable gaze back on Jin. "I think you've got it backwards."

"Then you thought wrong," Jin shot back, grinning to cover his irritation. "You're mine because I command your attention. You didn't actually think you were the one in control did you?" He punctuated his question with a laugh and leaned against Greg a little.

Greg turned his head to look at him out of the corners of his eyes, then laughed as well. Smiling to himself, Jin licked his fingers. The other man might have thought he was just trying to be cute, but he had spoken the truth. He was the sword swallower here, and Greg was just the sword; dangerous if mishandled but exquisite if wielded with skill.

He got to his feet. "Come on, there's lots of stuff to do. I'll show you. And fix your mask. It defeats the purpose if people can see your face."

To his pleasure, Greg complied and followed him into the crowd.

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