By Jack Llawayllynn
Chapter 30: Skin Deep
Matt climbed the porch steps warily, his insides both ice cold and strangely watery. He had no idea what to expect, what reception awaited him behind the modest yet suddenly intimidating door. His hand fluttered up to his chest, his fingers barely brushing the mild lash marks left by Gunner's torture. What Sin's reaction would be to those Matt could not fathom. Sin could hardly blame Matt for them after all - it was Sin's own fault that Matt had sought solace with another man, another Master. Matt knew his arrival had not gone unnoticed, he had seen the curtains twitch more than once but the watcher remained hidden to him. Matt took a deep breath, slowly let it out and knocked, three raps hard enough to be heard but also tightly contained so as not to sound like pounding demands for entrance. A sudden and nearly overpowering fear washed through him and his breath hitched even as he took a step back away from the door, fighting the urge to flee. Fight or flight syndrome, that is what he had heard it called before, the sudden feeling of being so trapped that one had only two choices, run for one's life or fight to the death for it. Matt gritted his teeth and pushed the feelings down, controlling them, taming them. He would face Sin with no fear on his face.
The door swung open, inward, into an inviting gloom that seemed to offer shelter and cool refreshment from the heat of the sun and grit of the hot wind that barely ruffled Matt's hair but still managed to throw grit up into his eyes from an invisible dust devil. Matt blinked hard but all thoughts and feelings were suddenly suspended and transformed as Sin stepped forth out onto the porch, glowering. Such a typical and twisted snarl of a glower from Sin but one that shivered Matt with a delicious feeling of relief, of rightness, of HOME. Matt could feel happiness surge over him, long denied and couldn't fight back the grin that bloomed across the face, the sparkle of joy that he could actually feel in his eyes, the surge of - god help him - LOVE, that swelled inside him.
"Sin..." Matt said, the name so sweet on his lips as though he had been thirsty for days and had only now been given a taste, not only of pure water, but from the fabled fountain of youth itself. "Your hair, you cut it..." Matt's words suddenly caught in his throat, his voice cracked, faltered and left him. His shoulders drooped. This man was not Sin.
"You must be Matt, the boyfriend," the man before him said and Matt found that not only had he lost his confidence but that he had also lost ground. He was now standing on the first step below the man, looking up at him. He had no memory had having backed away.
"He isn't here, is he?" Matt heard himself croak, losing ground once more, both physically and mentally. His hope was quickly deflating even as he took another step backwards, down another step.
The man with Sin's face shook his head. "No. He isn't."
The differences now between Sin and this man in the doorway were now more pronounced than ever, so different in fact that Matt, though accepting in his mind that this man was closely related to Sin had not connected them as twins. At the moment only the differences were visible to him. It was more than the short hair, the darker tan and the neatness of the man's attire. It was in the way he tilted his head with true pity, the softness in his grey eyes, the compassion in the set of his mouth. It was in the musical accent of his voice, the lack of cruelty in the dulcet tones, the absence of bitterness in the pronunciation of each word.
"Please, come in." The man swept a hand toward the door. "We'll talk."
"Talk?" Matt croaked out, trying to think past the thickness of crushing disappointment in his head.
"I'm sorry," the man said, seeming to think that he had offended Matt. "I know I did not seem very friendly when I opened the door. I guess I was expecting you to be just like him. The look on your face though..." the man sighed, shaking his head as if in wonder. "I've only ever seen that look on three faces in my entire life. My mother's, my wife's and my daughter's. You love my brother don't you?"
Matt could only nod as he backed up again, the last step down.
"I thought you'd be an asshole like him. I know better than to judge anyone before I've met them. I had him prejudged and I was dead wrong. I had you prejudged and well, wrong again. Please, could we start over?"
Matt couldn't look away but he couldn't seem to answer either. His throat was parched and aching, as if he were dying of thirst, the kind of pain in his throat that one sometimes feels right before they break down into a flood of tears. Matt realized he was blinking too rapidly.
"Hi, I'm Nathan," the man said, offering his hand. Matt had to force himself to climb the steps to shake the offered hand.
"Matt," he managed to say, in a voice that nearly sounded like his own. Unfortunately he seemed incapable of phrasing even the simplest of social niceties such as "pleased to meet you" or anything else for that matter. He felt rooted by shock, loss and hopelessness. He already knew from what little this man had said that his encounter with Sin had not been pleasant and from that Matt doubted very seriously if he had bothered to try to find out where Sin planned to go next.
"I know where he is, if that helps," the man said, as if able to read Matt's mind. "Please, come in. We'll talk."
Hope re-flooded Matt in such a torrent that he felt himself go under and moved only under the guidance of Nathan's hand on his shoulder. Dimly he was aware that he had been seated in a cool living room, that a beautiful woman had placed a cold glass of tea in his hand after being introduced to him but he could not for the world recall her name or who she had been. Now he and Nathan were alone again, facing each other across the small room, Matt unaware that he now sat in the exact spot that Sin had upon his own first arrival in this house.
"My twin proved to be my exact opposite it seems," Nathan was saying as he leaned forward in an arm chair, his elbows on his knees, hands clasped, his eyes not on Matt but on his hands. "Our meeting didn't go well. I didn't want to believe he could be gay. That really threw me for a loop. A major loop."
"I can imagine," Matt managed to say, slowly beginning to feel more himself as he used the cool tea as a balm on his throat, felt his mind adjusting to the barrage of shocks. The word "twin" didn't rock him. He could see it now, though for him, unlike Sin, he saw more differences than similarities.
"He's an angry man, a lot like most of the men around here. Being raised off the reservation I expected him to be more...well... more cultured than me, more educated than me, more suave, more everything. I wasn't expecting just another angry breed, especially a gay one."
"Breed?" Matt asked confused. In the gay community the word "breeders" was often used in a derogatory manner toward heterosexuals. This use of the word breed was obviously not in his own lexicon.
"A half blood," Nathan explained. "Not fully native, not fully white either."
"Ah," Matt said, filing it away.
"Bigots exist in every race, religion, nationality, sect, click, on and on in every corner where there are humans. Some form of bigotry lives in the heart of every man. Around here it's against those who are mixed. In the south it used to be against all the blacks. Still is in places but it seems the blacks there are as prejudiced against whites as the whites are against them. Bigotry fluctuates. It always has and always will. Anyway, it is a term I have lived with all my life. I'm a breed too of course. Life is never easy, not for anyone and we all have our flaws."
"Flaws?" Matt asked confused. Nathan looked up sharply at him, studied his face then laughed, a pure sound that could never find its way out of Sin's throat.
"I like you Matt. You're right. Being a breed is not a flaw. It is only what is. Just because others see it as a flaw in me does not mean that I must also view it as a flaw. Growing up as both a breed and a bastard wasn't easy but those are just dirty words thrown around, aren't they? They don't really define who I am."
"Exactly," Matt agreed vehemently, finally relaxing enough to lean back into the softness of the couch cushions, still clutching his glass of tea and nursing it in sips. "Being gay isn't exactly easy either but the word `faggot' doesn't define me, not by any means, nor does it define Sin."
"I never said he was a faggot," Nathan pointed out.
"But you thought it."
Nathan shrugged. "More than once, yes, and much worse I must admit. My brother, if he has a good side, decided to show me very little of it. He seemed as lost, hopeless and listless as the men on the reservation with nothing to do but drink, gamble and steal. He seems ...aimless."
"Pointless is what you were really going to say," Matt said quietly.
"Yes." Nathan looked at his hands again.
"Your opinion has somehow changed a bit though."
"Yes." Nathan repeated.
"Because of you, the look on your face when I opened the door..." Nathan unclasped his hands and leaned back in chair.
"You said you had only seen that look on women," Matt muttered, not sure where this was going.
"I said I only ever saw it on three faces, they all just happened to be women. Perhaps if I had known a loving father I would have seen it there too, or if my twin hadn't been separated from me at birth..." Again Nathan trailed off, his eyes taking on a far away look. "Well, he was. At any rate, what I meant was I had only seen that look on the faces of those who truly loved me. There must be some redeemable quality in my brother to inspire such a look."
Matt nodded. "There is."
"He hides it well." Nathan's voice had taken on a rough edge, close, but not harsh enough to sound like Sin.
"Very well," Matt agreed. "He's had to, all his life. Being raised off the reservation was not a blessing for him as you imagined. It was horrible."
"I know, well a little bit anyway. I know he ended up in foster care instead of with our father."
Matt nodded. "It's a long story and one that isn't mine to tell."
"You won't even tell me a little bit of it?" Nathan asked, almost pleading.
"No. That is up to Sin." Matt leaned forward, pulled a coaster closer and set his tea on it, suddenly conscious of the muddy wetness on his hands from the cold sweat of the glass. He was dusty from his drive and probably looked like a vagabond. Suddenly self conscious he wiped his hands on his dusty jeans. "Sorry, it's been a long trip out here. I know I need a shower. I was so eager to get here and I didn't see any motels anywhere nearby where I could get a room and shower."
"There aren't any nearby, you'll have to travel another thirty miles or so in any given direction to find one. There's a bathroom just down the hall there if you'd like to wash up a little. Here, I'll show you," Nathan offered as he stood and Matt followed him. "I'm sorry, I should have thought to offer earlier."
Still feeling a bit grungy and disheveled but at least a little more presentable Matt returned to the living room after using the bathroom, washing his hands and face with a cloth provided by Nathan and combing his wind-blown hair. Out of his peripheral vision Matt had caught a glimpse of an adorable impish face peering at him from around a corner as he exited the bathroom but decided to play her game and pretend he hadn't seen her. When he resumed his seat on the sofa and lifted his glass once more and Nathan picked up the conversation as if it hadn't been interrupted.
"I don't understand why you call him Synn, the surname given to him by his adoptive parents. From what little of that story I got from him they didn't seem to be ideal parents." Nathan looked more than a little bemused.
Matt laughed. "I don't, not really. I call him Sin, S-I-N, phonically the same, totally different meanings. I guess he has come to represent the dark side of me but a side of me he definitely is. Two sides of the same coin."
"So what does he call you, `Redemption'?"
Matt laughed again. "He calls me Matt."
This time Nathan shared a chuckle with him, both becoming more relaxed in the other's company. "Is he always so...edgy?"
"Yes," Matt answered without hesitation.
"Is it..." Nathan paused and seemed to study the room around him as if he too were a visitor here. "Is it...does it have anything to do with a drug problem?"
"Occasionally, yes, but not as often as you would think and he knows when he's had enough that he shouldn't drive."
"So not a severe drug addict or an alcoholic?"
"No. On occasion I have seen him horribly drunk. I won't lie to you, I've also seen him sample drugs. These times though are rare. Especially with the drugs. He admitted to me that he had a problem with them in the past but I've been living with him long enough now to know that he isn't a junkie, at least not for drugs and alcohol."
"But something else? You say that as if he has a different but significant vice."
"Violence and sex." Matt watched Nathan's face blanch.
"I see. Would you say he's a danger to himself and others then?"
"Not really. Mainly only to me. That's not to say he doesn't have a very short fuse on his temper. I've seen it blow with those who have provoked him but he doesn't mindlessly blow his lid and go on shooting sprees if that is what you are afraid of. And he's no pedophile either. He's extremely protective of the young and defenseless, and of the young and dangerous for that matter," Matt added, thinking of Drift and Sin's reactions to the young man. "No, he's not an axe murderer, nor a rampaging pervert, nor anything else horrible. He's just deeply troubled. He carries more on his shoulders than he's responsible for and it frustrates him. Sometimes he takes it out on me but only because I not only allow it but encourage it."
"You mean you intentionally provoke him?"
"Sometimes. He needs SOME sort of outlet. Sin is a complex creature but human nonetheless. He needs me as much as I need him, though he's loathed to admit it and right now he's running from it." Matt drained his tea glass and set it back down on the coaster. "Right now he is trying to run from himself, not really me. It took me a while to realize that. That's why I have to find him. He needs me. You did say you knew where he was?" Matt's eyes now bore into Nathan's making the man shift slightly but not to look away. Nathan nodded slowly and settled further back into the cushions of his chair.
"I know where he is, and who he is with." Nathan's eyes were now as challenging as Matt's, waiting to see what reaction this would get. Matt flinched. His face darkened not with anger but with pain but he only nodded at this news.
"I see," Matt said quietly, sadly.
"No. I rather expected it in a dark corner of my mind. Sin likes to play. Is he...is he happy do you think?"
"Not at all from my reports. Quite restless and uneasy."
Matt's face brightened at this. Remembering that Nathan had known his name at the door Matt asked eagerly, "So, Sin told you about me?"
Matt's face fell again. "But...you knew my name."
"From O'Neal. O'Neal Corban that is. He's a big-shot in these parts. Owns a lot of land, a lot of businesses, has a huge stock in the local bank. He also owns the soul of a lot of mortgage holders. That's just speaking locally. I also happen to know he owns just as much land over in Texas as he does here, complete with oil fields and more cattle than you can count. Other states he's collected chunks of are Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Arizona and a small part of paradise in the Virgin Islands. I hear he has his sights set on parts of England next." The twist on Nathan's face was unpleasant, more like Sin than Matt had yet observed in him other than the glower on the porch.
Matt grunted as though he'd been punched, a double-whammy. One fist was having to face the fact that Sin was indeed shacking up with someone else, the other fist having to look at the twisted face of Sin's twin, so reminiscent of Sin's own that it actually hurt to see it. Matt reached for his glass, realized it only contained ice and a small amount of melted off water and drained it anyway, the small amount of liquid hardly refreshing. Suddenly the beautiful woman was back, whisking the glass from his hand and replacing it with a fresh glass of tea.
"Thank you," Matt stuttered out, looking up in amazement, in time also to see the deep sorrow and pity in her eyes. Sorrow and pity for him, for what he was going through. She quickly tried to hide the expression behind a polite smile. "You're welcome," she said softly and was gone again. Matt realized that she must have been lingering nearby, listening to every word.
"She's very beautiful," Matt said sincerely to Nathan.
"Yes, she is. But don't try to change the subject now. This is, after all, what you came here to learn, isn't it?" Nathan pressed, his face no longer twisted.
Matt sighed and nodded. "Yes. Tell me all of it please so I can decide if I should turn around right now and high-tail it back the way I came from."
"O'Neal picked my brother up in some bar, one of the many that Corban owns personally. He was totally sloshed at the time, my brother, not Corban. That was one of the things that made me think perhaps he was a raging alcoholic like so many of the Native men around here. O'Neal has a vested interest in most of the area so he likes to make happy with the cops when he can. All too often we are called out to settle some riot or stabbing in one of his establishments. It's in his best interest to throw us a bone when he gets the chance. Keeping me informed of my brother's whereabouts and activities is what he considers throwing me a bone but O'Neal is a damn chatty bastard and fills me in on too much information, things I would much rather not know. At any rate, he calls me two to four times a week, depending on what bit of juicy gossip he thinks I'll want to hear. Personally I loathe the man, and so do most of the men in the station, but from time to time he is useful. He's the one who told me about you. Many things. From what he has said I have to agree that when he said my brother was a danger to you you were not exaggerating in the least. He said my brother has violent dreams about you despite the fact that when awake he says very little about you or his past at all. O'Neal has pieced a lot of it together from things he's heard while my brother is asleep. It appears that we both share the problem of talking in our sleep."
Matt sighed. "He mostly only does that when deeply disturbed over something."
"Same with me. In some ways we are eerily alike, in other ways worlds apart."
Matt snorted with little mirth. "Well, I certainly never expected to find that Sin had a twin brother but even if I had known about you earlier I would have known that it wasn't possible for Sin to have the fabled `evil twin' running about. Sin IS the evil twin. That makes you the sane one, the good twin so to speak. So, how does it feel to be presented with an evil twin?"
Nathan's snort echoed Matt's own, more sarcastic than mirthful. "Disturbing."
Matt nodded. "It must be. Please, tell me everything, if you have time."
Nathan shrugged. "I got off work an hour ago. I have a few hours before I zonk out. It's my turn on night shift. Are you sure you want to hear all of what Corban told me?"
"Yes, I need to know all of it."
Nathan turned his head away, facing toward the doorway through which the woman had twice appeared. "Honey, Matt and I have a lot to talk about. Do you think you could take Fawn out for a bit?"
The woman materialized in the doorway, this time the imp that Matt had spotted earlier clinging close to the woman's legs and staring at Matt with her huge, curious eyes. "Yes, of course. Come on Pumpkin, let's go out shopping." The woman stooped and gathered the girl easily even though she must weigh heavily on such a small woman. Matt figured that mothers were used to carrying such heavy baggage, and did it with glee. As Matt watched them depart he met the little girl's eyes as her head swiveled to look over her mother's shoulder. Matt smiled warmly at her and lifted his hand. Her huge grin revealed a missing tooth and an adorable dimple in one cheek. Matt couldn't help but think of the child as his niece. Why he felt that way he wasn't sure. He didn't have Sin back yet, had no way of knowing for sure if he could get Sin back from this O'Neal Corban bastard but still he felt drawn to Sin's family, wanting them to be a part of his own family as well. He actually felt the aura of emptiness in the house after mother and daughter had left, leaving him entombed in a hollow home listening to details of Sin's activities that he wished he could avoid. He remained seated though and gritted his teeth through Nathan's recital of Corban's gossip. During the long conversation, peppered only occasionally by questions from Matt, Nathan had retrieved a couple of beers from the kitchen to replace their now empty glasses of tea.
"So how do I find him?" Matt asked finally, his heart in his throat, feeling sick. He knew the nausea wasn't from the many bottles of beer he had swilled while listening to Nathan, it was from what he had heard of Sin's activities.
"Go to the bar would be my suggestion." Nathan said and stifled a yawn.
"I've kept you up. I could use some rest myself. Tell me though, is there anywhere around here I could purchase a used car or truck? Pulling up on that bike would be a dead giveaway."
"So would your clothes, if you plan to go into the bar. Go pick up a duster. There's a store on the corner in town, can't miss it. They sell boots, coats, spurs, hats, chaps, whatever you might want in western wear."
"Anyplace around here that sells that stuff used?" Matt asked.
"Ah, short on money huh?" Nathan asked, his eyes suddenly taking on a slight wariness and Matt realized the man thought he was hinting around for a loan.
"No, not in the least. I can pay cash for a car and any clothes I need but if I show up in spanking new clothes I'll stand out even more than I would in my own clothes."
"True," Nathan said thoughtfully, his eyes no longer sharp with wariness. "Tell you what, I've got a duster you can have if you buy me a new one. Mary hates it. She says I wear too many dark colors and wants me to get one in tan. You'll find a second hand shop about two miles out of town. They'll have some old hats, boots, things like that."
"It's a deal," Matt said reaching into his pocket. "How much do those dusters run? About three hundred?" He threw three one hundred dollar bills on the table.
Nathan stared at the money in shock. "Uh, no. Not nearly that much."
"Keep it," Matt said with a shrug. "Consider the rest of it room and board."
Nathan gathered the money, his face troubled and doubtful but Fawn did need some new clothes, she outgrew them faster than he could buy them so he shoved his protesting conscience into a corner and pocketed the cash.
"Old man Greyfeather has a beat up piece of shit truck for sale. It needs a little work though. Nothing major, brakes, fuel pump and tires as far as I know."
"I can manage that," Matt assured him.
They spoke a little longer, Nathan giving Matt directions to each of the stores and to the Greyfeather home before both of them agreed sleep was needed and headed off to separate rooms.