Black wool, white teeth behind closed lips, beacons when the cavern opens.
It does not open.
Breath, quick and silent and through the nose, cold air reaching down the throat, into the lungs, encircling the heart, reminding the head of the sharpness of the night.
Up and up and up, rough hands around rusty handrails and then gone, sailing to the next breathless grip. He tries to keep silent, to keep in check, but the night is exhilarating and he wants to scream his joy, his aliveness, deep into its heart.
He does not.
Over a rooftop, a leap and a roll on flat shingles. Purple and green bruises from her boyfriend’s teeth on the insides of his thighs rub together, the light pain a comfort, matching the red weals on his arms. A different injury. A “learning experience.”
Too many nights fighting himself, fighting and fighting and then leaving his tiny room and fighting someone else for the hell of it. Just to feel something. A rush, maybe. Fresh wounds, maybe. Bruises to prod and push on for the next couple of weeks, bitter reminders and gasping relief. Maybe.
“Don’t tell him you’re a masochist,” she had said to him, her eyes bright. At the other end of the bed, her boyfriend grinned.
He remembered this exchange often. When had his life turned into that? When did he stop being homely and odd, shut up in his room, weaving stories in the cracks on his ceiling?
When had sharing someone else’s bed become normal? When had his hands learned the muscle memory: now pull her hair, now fingernails down her spine, now her lip between your teeth, now her soft body tight against yours.
He was never given lessons.
And they all said he was good.
Just like he was never given lessons in blade-work, knives slipping between his fingers to land squarely in the target. Bullseye every time.
The city fell away, the pulsing heart of nightlife and neon blurring into melted rainbows in the black streets below. Laughter does not float this far up. Deaf, but for the sound of wind in his ears and the ever-present lapping of the ocean.
He wants to fight. He always wants to fight, but this is different. Pent up, straining at his very skin, he controls himself carefully though his muscles are as hard and rigid as lines of iron. He wants a dirty fight, a knee-to-the-nose fight, a no-holds-barred cage match, a screaming roaring tearing pulling spinning thing. This is not something he can get by wandering down to tavern row and pushing around some belligerent old drunks.
No, he would need a real opponent.
He fairly slides down the narrow staircase. A catch, a tear, a grunt, and a splash of blood redder than the lights below flies, falling twenty stories to the street. He wraps his cut hand in a rag from his pocket and continues as if he doesn’t feel it.
Of course, he doesn’t.
He outgrew feeling it a long time ago.