Ian wakes up again on the street.
Cold corner, cold morning, and a crick in his neck. He blinks, and his eyes focus on the only colorful thing in sight: a gasoline stain spilling a metallic rainbow across the asphalt.
He's lost track of the days since he got that hit in the black back room of that greasy, overgrown apartment, where just leaning out the window made him feel sick. Now, it's just gray stretching back and forth and through and out like the streets of this dead city, its memory clotted with rubble.
He draws himself up slowly, bones cracking--fuck, falling always hurts the most--and sits cross-legged, back against the wall, waiting for the weak sunlight to soften his aches, and chase the last of the fog from his brain.
Last night he dreamt of flying.
Pigeons skitter past on the street, and Ian has to crack a dry, bloody-lipped smile to himself. Sky rats for comrades, he thinks.
The pigeons bob and scatter for leather boots scuffing asphalt and the slide of metal: jacket zippers and a silver Zippo lighter clinking open, then shut.
The guy stands there, cigarette smoke coiling in the thin morning air. He looks down.
Hard eyes, cropped hair, square jaw and a twitch to the lips that could be the start of a smile or a scowl. Ian looks aside--he has to squint to look up, and it only makes his headache worse. He notices that his left pant leg has ridden up enough to show synthetic and steel, and draws up his knees to hide the tug as he pulls the edge over his shoe.
The guy is still standing there, looking out over the mostly-empty street--around here, numbers would only mean trouble. A siren sounds from somewhere beyond the rooftops, pitch almost holding a single melodic note before sliding back into a whine.
The guy speaks in the wake of the siren, voice cutting through the air like a steady knife blade.
"You look like shit, kid."
And Ian has to bite back a laugh, a cough.
He knows what he looks like. He knows what's happening to him, the shadows and the scars.
He wants to stop.
He wants to be out of the rain, the cold, the burn, the ache. He wants not to want.
But wanting has never been enough, and his hands still shake even when he's not shuddering in the cold.
And he knows a part of him will never let him go.
So all he can do is look up at this stranger spilling gray ash and glass suggestions in this empty street, and ask him with his eyes.
The man reaches into his back pocket and for an instant Ian's fingers twitch, anticipant, but the guy only pulls out a pack of cigarettes. Ian feels himself sag against the wall, hands loosening.
The guy taps a cigarette out, holds it between finger and thumb like an offering or a dare, Ian doesn't know which.
The man looks down at him as he slides the pack back into his pocket. He inhales fire and ash, takes it away from his mouth with his other hand.
"What's your name, kid?"
And he meets his eye.
If it means anything he doesn't show it. The smoke dissipates into the white, overcast sky.
The guy drops the cigarette with a flick and it bounces off of Ian's left shoe.
"See you around," the guy says, and is gone.