Several years ago, I wrote a short story for a British anthology. Most of you never saw it. That’s okay. The book was full of stories even I didn’t like (and couldn’t read), but I still enjoy mine. 🙂 As the rights are now mine again, the entire thing will be posted here, complete. It runs around fourteen pages, so pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee, or a glass of wine, and settle in.
Wag sat in a windowless room all day, every day, creating computer viruses for his boss, the owner of a company that marketed a popular antivirus program used by easily half the PC owners in the country. The owner had a nice enough name, but Wag called him Big Evil Boss, (i.e., Bob). Not to his face, of course. That wouldn’t have been prudent, as jobs like this were hard to find unless you wanted to enlist in the Anonymous corps of worldwide hackers, and Wag enjoyed his paycheck too much to do that.
The Tardis Tornado that had swept the Internet six months ago? Wag had created that. He’d thought it was hilarious having the Doctor stick his head out of a blue police box every single time an exe file was run. The spoken words “Do what I do. Hold tight and pretend it’s a plan!” added a nice touch. Bob had sold a shit ton of programs, even as the nasty cleverness of the virus was admired online for weeks. Wag’s bonus had been substantial. He’d bought himself a new couch, though he was seldom home enough to enjoy it. His life was code, and he was damn good at it.
The morning everything changed, he was at his station, tapping away on the keyboard while acid rock blasted through his earbuds, when Bob opened the door and came in. Accustomed to the way Wag zoned out on music while he worked, Bob waved his hands wildly until he got his employee’s attention.
He removed the buds. “What’s up?”
“We hired someone and need to put him in here until we get another space ready. Is that okay?”
Like it wouldn’t be? No one tells the boss “No, won’t have it, can’t do it.” There’d been an extra desk in his office since he started, shoved up against the back of his.
“No problem,” he said dutifully.
Bob glanced around. “Plenty of room.” His gaze landed on Wag’s collection of action figures on the credenza, some of them set in poses others might find objectionable, and he frowned but didn’t say anything. “The new guy likes to think he’s a rebel without a cause, but he’s not doing what you’re doing. Understand? He’s one of the regular coders.”
He understood. The new employee wasn’t to know what Wag did for the company. He fought a sigh. This meant he’d have to be extra vigilant and come up with fake code to switch to if the guy peeked over his shoulder.
Bob went on. “It’ll only be for a few days, maybe a week or two, so no worries, right?”
He nodded. After Bob left, he went back to work.
An hour later he was interrupted again when one of the tech guys came in and installed a new computer on the other desk. Wag didn’t say a word and neither did the installer, and within minutes he was gone.
Late in the morning, Bob was back. Once again Wag removed his earbuds.
“Meet your temporary office mate.”
Bob stepped aside to wave someone in. The young man was slender, of average height, had dyed-black hair to his shoulders, and his dark eyes were lined with something green that glittered under the fluorescent lights.
Wag had never seen anyone so pretty. He was instantly in lust.
“This is Silver,” Bob said with faint distaste, tripping a little over the man’s name, and he realized his boss was embarrassed. No one normal had a name like that.
Careful not to jostle Wag’s new office buddy, Bob nodded to them both and slipped out of the room, his substantial stomach leading the way.
The door closed, and Silver looked at Wag, holding up a hand and ticking off each finger by counting down in a whisper. “Five… four… three… two… one. Okay, he should be far enough down the hall we can talk without being overheard.”
He smiled. “Are you going to say something he shouldn’t hear?”
Shrugging, Silver perched on a corner of Wag’s desk. “I often do. I’m incorrigible, or so I’ve been told.” He grinned, flashing straight white teeth. “That’s what he tells me, anyway.” He waved a hand at the door. “He’s my uncle, but don’t tell anyone. He doesn’t want it known, yeah?”
Oh, one of those employees. He wondered if Silver knew anything at all or if he’d be sitting at his desk every day playing solitaire.
“I’ve lost three jobs in the last year. I have a problem getting anywhere on time. What can I say? I march to the beat of a different drum.” Silver tapped a finger on his knee—the nail was polished black. “Don’t know why this won’t be different, but he said I could make my own hours. Maybe that will help.”
He didn’t know what to say, so he only nodded.
Silver swung one leg, studying Wag. “How long have you been here?”
“I do my job, no one bothers me, and the money’s good.”
Silver tilted his head, making his long hair swing. “You look like you haven’t seen the sun in a decade. You’re not one of those stereotypical coders are you? The kind that never comes out of their cellar and would rather piss their pants than stop programming long enough to go to the loo?”
He flushed pink and said defensively, “At least I’m not one of those coders who wears Day-Glo eyeliner and spends his nights in the clubs smoking weed.”
Silver blinked slowly, and Wag immediately felt bad. Why would he say such a thing? He didn’t know this man, and Silver was related to Bob, who could fire his arse, and then what would he do? This job was his life.
He was mentally preparing an apology when Silver threw back his head and laughed. Wag noticed he was wearing a silver earring in the left ear.
“No one smokes in clubs anymore, but I bet you’re not as dumb as you look.”
Their friendship was off to a great start.
By the end of that first day, Wag was wishing he’d had his hair cut recently and deciding he could wear better clothes—“better” meaning more hip, not higher quality. Although they were only a year apart in age—he was twenty-three and Silver was twenty-two—Silver made Wag feel a decade older. His job had consumed so much of his life, he hadn’t noticed it was passing him by.
Silver rectified that. “Let’s go out for a drink,” he said when the Betty Boop wall clock chimed 5:00 p.m. He’d been playing on his computer, doing who knows what, all day. “You can buy.”
Deep in coding, he looked up in surprise, eyes unfocused. “What?”
“Day’s over. Time to leave.” Silver turned off his monitor and stood.
He glanced at the clock. He never left this early. “Can’t. More to do.”
Silver came around the desks and grabbed Wag’s arm. “Not now. Let’s go.”
Silver barely gave Wag time to shut down his computer before dragging him out of the office, down the hall to the lifts, and subsequently out to the street through the revolving door. Darkness had fallen, and snow fell past the streetlights, piling up quickly on the sidewalk. When had it become winter?
He wondered why he wasn’t protesting, but then he looked at Silver, pulling him along with strong fingers, and understood. For the first time in ages, he wanted someone, and to his surprise, Silver seemed to like him, too.
As they strode down the street, shoulders hunched against the cold, Wag said, “Are you gay?”
Silver smiled, his teeth a white flash in the gloom. “Isn’t everyone?”
They walked several more blocks to Canal Street, where Wag laughed uncomfortably at a defaced street sign that said Anal Treet. He was shivering hard when Silver directed him through a glass door. The warmth inside hit him with the force behind the Ullapool meteorite that had smacked into Scotland, and he sighed with pleasure as he relaxed into it.
The moment didn’t last. Silver had hold of his sleeve and was urging him toward the bar that ran along one wall. Music blasted from speakers mounted in the corners, drowning out conversation. The air was thick with smoke from a machine, and he resigned himself to getting a headache.
He looked around while Silver ordered drinks. The place was busy from the after-work crowd, and the bass pounded so loudly, his ears hurt. Was this what he’d been missing? So far he didn’t consider it a great loss. The thought of being back in his quiet office, bent over his keyboard, sent a wave of longing through him.
When the drinks came, Silver nudged him, and Wag paid. “When I get my first cheque,” he yelled in Wag’s ear, “I’ll treat you to a night out.”
He raised the glass dubiously and sipped: something fruity with vodka. It tasted like summer, and he licked his lips.
Silver moved with the music, hair and hips swaying as he gazed at the packed room, which was wall-to-wall people. How long had it been since he’d been in a gay bar? About as long as it had been since he’d got laid, he thought, and continued drinking.
After that, things got progressively less clear, and he laughed a lot more. Silver had him out on the dance floor, shimmying his narrow hips against Wag’s, letting him feel his hard-on. Silver kept touching him: his shoulder, the back of his hand, his chest, and once, when he twirled teasingly around him, his arse.
When the young man leaned in to lick his ear, Wag said, “Is Silver your real name?”
“It’s Clay, but I can be anyone, and so can you.” Silver wrapped his arms around him. “What kind of name is Wag? It’s not like you have a tail, although making you sit up and beg is an appealing idea.”
He moved against the slender man, his penis erect and straining in his pants. “Short for Wagner, Mum’s maiden name.”
Silver brushed a hand over Wag’s head. “I’m going to call you Gold, because even in this dump, your hair is bright and beautiful.” He laughed. “Silver and Gold. Perfect.”
And it was.
They stumbled out of the bar a few hours later. He was drunk and not enjoying it. The snow had stopped, and fairy lights strung through the trees glittered on the canal.
Silver leaned on him heavily. “You don’t live with your parents, do you?”
He burped and covered his mouth. “No. Have my own flat.”
“Good. We’ll go there, then.” Silver thrust out a stiff arm. “Lay on, Macduff.”
His flat was a large studio. He didn’t need more space, given he spent so little time there. The walk home sobered him up but not enough. The sudden heat after the cold outside upset his equilibrium, and with a muffled apology, he raced for the bathroom, where he threw up behind a hastily closed door. For several minutes he gave no thought to anything other than how miserable he was, but eventually, as his stomach finally stopped spasming, he remembered Silver was in the other room.
How embarrassing! Groaning over how the evening had ended, he brushed his teeth, checked his clothes for vomit, and gamely exited the bathroom.
When he’d gone to work that morning, he’d left the futon open and unmade. Silver lay face down on it, snoring softly, booted feet politely hanging off the edge, his long hair half-covering his face, the earring winking through the strands.
After a moment of indecision, he kicked off his shoes, shifted Silver around to make room, and crept in beside him. He was asleep in moments.
Sometime during the night, a hand on his dick brought him to full consciousness. That hand knew what it was doing, and he was instantly hard.
Silver, he remembered as the young man chewed on his neck and pushed his hot body against Wag.
“I’ll give you a treat if you beg,” Silver said with a laugh.
He weakly imitated a barking dog, and Silver laughed louder before slithering down to Wag’s groin and taking his cock in his wet mouth.
When the alarm went off in the morning, Silver groaned and buried his head under a pillow. As if trained by Pavlov, Wag got up, though he gritted his teeth and held his aching head. He used the bathroom, dressed, and made coffee. Even that didn’t get Silver out of bed.
When time was growing short, Wag gave him a shove. “Get up. You’ll be late.”
“I’m always late,” he said from under the pillow. “That’s my MO.”
“Not today. Up!”
He had no idea where the strength came from to bully Silver into a shower, but it worked, and they both arrived at the office on time, albeit feeling unwell. The minute they arrived, Silver changed the action figure display so Iron Man was being fucked by Thor, and they were both laughing when Bob made an appearance.
“Good to see you two getting along,” he said with false joviality. He frowned at Silver. “Weren’t you wearing those clothes yesterday?”
Shrugging, Silver returned to his chair, lounging indolently. He looked younger without the green eyeliner but no less hot. “I clocked in on time. You can check.”
“Already did. Keep it up.” Bob turned to Wag. “How’s the new project coming along? Will it be ready in time for Christmas?”
“Yes,” he promised, but for the first time, he had doubts. An unexpected desire to play and have fun rather than beat his head against the code night and day was making itself felt.
“Good to hear. Well, I’ll leave you to it.” His gaze swept the action figures, and Wag wondered just how much he saw in their placement. He’d secretly named the characters after people in the company, and depending on his mood on any given day, they were posed accordingly. Gargamel, the evil smurf-hating wizard, was Bob.
“He’s a stuffy old fart,” Silver said after Bob left. “He’s always the most boring person at the table at Christmas. Talks about his business and all the hard work he’s put into it and how successful it is. If people stopped making viruses, he’d be bankrupt in a month.”
Wag stopped looking at Silver and concentrated on his monitor. “Uh-huh.”
“You’ll see. One day hacker penalties will be harsh enough, no one will do it anymore, and then Mr. Boring’s business will disappear.” He tapped on his keyboard. “Kind of looking forward to that, he’s such a windbag.”
He nodded absently and got to work. The Christmas virus centered around a rather nasty Santa and a vindictive elf, and he was having trouble coding a suitable expression on the latter’s face.
Precisely at five, Silver locked his computer and turned off the monitor. “Time to leave. Ready?”
Unbelievably, Wag was. He suffered only a slight tremor of guilt as they departed.
This time they had dinner first: fish and chips, which they ate as they walked. It had warmed up overnight, and the snow had melted off. People were strolling rather than racing toward shelter. In the Village, they sat outside next to the water. Wag liked how walkable Manchester was.
He and Silver grabbed a table to finish their meal, and then they barhopped until it was time to go home. Wag drank cautiously and was relatively sober when Silver insisted they return to his place. Who was he to argue? He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t looking forward to getting in bed with him again.
As they undressed, he said, “You live at home or something?”
“You mean because I like coming here?” Silver tossed his underwear on a chair. “Yeah. When I lost my last job due to excessive tardiness—and okay, I also put a goldfish in the bottle of the water dispenser—I couldn’t pay the rent on my flat and ended up moving back in with my parents. You don’t mind, right?”
“Having you here? No.”
Naked, he smiled and flung out his arms. “Brilliant. How do you feel about topping?”
Silver may have been slender, but he had curves and angles in all the right places. Wag was able to appreciate him in a way he hadn’t last night. “I’m versatile,” he said, pulling Silver against him.
“Me, too.” Silver cupped Wag’s ass cheek and squeezed.
As they tumbled into bed, he asked hesitantly, “Why me?”
Silver grabbed the ragged ends of Wag’s hair and pulled. “I’m a sucker for blond hair and blue eyes. Oh, and intelligence, which you obviously have in spades.”
They didn’t speak again for a long time.
As the days passed, more and more of Silver’s personal belongings migrated into Wag’s flat. He didn’t mind. He liked spending time with the man, whether it was at work, in the Village, or at home. With less fuss than he’d thought possible, he acquired a boyfriend and all the wonderful things that went with that. Also, some of the bad things.
“Could you maybe rinse out the sink after you shave?” he suggested one morning as they rushed to get ready for work, sharing the one small bathroom.
“No problem, sweetie.”
Silver always said that, and Wag always rinsed the sink.
“And the toilet paper goes on the holder over.”
“Under in my house. What’s the big deal anyway? Who cares?”
Wag cared, and he felt like a jerk bringing it up, but he couldn’t stop himself. Being anal-retentive was part of why he was a good coder, but it sometimes made him sound like an arse.
It didn’t take long for Bob to catch on to their relationship, especially when Wag was responsible for getting Silver to work on time every day. Generally he seemed to approve, but he never mentioned it, only nodded to Wag once after looking at the clock and then at Silver, yawning over his keyboard but there. There was no more talk of moving Silver to a different area.
“Your parents know where you are, right?” he’d asked after Bob left.
“Course. I’m not evil enough to make them wonder.”
They went out almost every night in the beginning. The bar scene quickly got old, so they visited cheap restaurants instead, went to the cinema, or window-shopped holding hands. True to his word, after Silver got his wages, he started picking up the tab at least half the time and even contributed to rent and utilities.
So why was Wag waiting for the other shoe to drop?
One day at work, he went to the loo and remembered halfway through he’d forgotten to lock his computer. He’d been working on the Santa virus, and it was easy to neglect his usual procedure when leaving the room, his head was always so full of parameters. Even before Silver moved in, he’d tried to observe common security measures.
He finished, quickly washed his hands, and scurried back to their room, expecting to see Silver pecking away on his keyboard. But he was in Wag’s chair, staring at the monitor. He skidded to a halt, his stomach sinking.
Silver looked up. “Is this what I think it is?”
Bob was going to write him up, he just knew it. He’d been expressly forbidden to tell Silver what he did. “What do you think it is?”
“A soddin’ clever virus, is what.”
He nodded, trying to swallow the lump in his throat.
Shoving long black strands of hair behind his ears, Silver studied the monitor once more. “So he hires you to create viruses that get released somehow, and after people get infected, they purchase his program to undo the damage.” He sighed, a sad, low sound. “Do you also write the code that stops them?”
Biting his lip, he dropped his eyes. He couldn’t speak. Silver’s obvious dislike over his discovery upset him, even more than the thought of being taken to task by Bob. So what if he left hairs in the sink or neglected to close a cabinet drawer? Who cared if he liked the toilet paper under rather than over?
“You realize you’re part of the problem, right?” Silver got to his feet and laid a gentle hand on top of the monitor. “My uncle is a success partly due to you. How many others does he have writing code that fucks up the computers of so many?” Silver shot him an icy look. “Any idea?”
He painfully cleared his throat. “It’s my job, Clay. Everyone needs a job.”
“Don’t call me that!” he hissed. “You are so much better than this.”
Silver strode past Wag and out the door.
His flat felt empty without Silver. Every place he looked held either memories of his lover or things that belonged to him.
He did not revisit the places they’d both gone to, and he especially avoided Canal Street. He devoted every waking hour to finishing the virus in time for the holiday, going home only to sleep. Depression settled over him like the darkest, most impenetrable cloud. He couldn’t remember what he’d done before Silver danced into his life, and he was so sad, he didn’t care.
Silver stopped coming to work. When Bob asked Wag where he was, he shrugged, not meeting his eyes, and tapped on his keyboard until Bob finally left. Only then did he permit a tear to slide down his face.
He couldn’t concentrate. Try as he might, the virus was incomplete by deadline, and Bob threw a fit.
“I pay you more money than you deserve! You’ve let me and this company down.” Marching over to the action figures, he swept them off the table so they clattered on the floor. “And I hate these silly plastic things. What do they mean anyway? Kid stuff.”
He sat quietly in his chair, taking Bob’s verbal abuse, cringing as his boss lashed out at him, and when Bob stomped out of the room, still trailing invective, he barely had time to breathe a sigh of relief before Bob was back.
“Stay until it’s done. Order in your meals and get this finished.”
Bob was aghast. “What did you say?”
He heaved a quiet sigh. He’d been thinking about it since Silver left, and he realized he no longer wanted to be Bob’s dirty little secret. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“Do what? Work?”
“Create viruses. It’s mean.”
While Bob huffed in disbelief, Wag packed his few personal things and all the action figures but one—he left Gargamel behind with a hastily written note taped to it: BOB—and went home to his empty flat. Dropping the bag by the door, he shrugged off his coat and crawled into bed. He couldn’t remember when he’d last felt so alone.
He wasn’t allowed to collect unemployment benefits because he’d quit, and while he had some money in savings, it wasn’t so much he could afford to wallow in grief. Every morning when the alarm went off, he got up as usual, dressed in the best clothes he had, which wasn’t saying much, and went off to look for a job. He followed up on the adverts and signed with recruitment agencies that promised they’d have him working in a week. It was the wrong time of year, though, the economy was still struggling, and he received no offers. He wondered how much of this was due to the kind of work he’d done for Bob, and not for the first time, he regretted going to the dark side. Being clever and sneaky weren’t things he could brag about, and they didn’t look good on a CV. He’d suffered tunnel vision when it came to his job.
The Christmas holiday came and went without him saying a word about his situation to his parents; why worry them needlessly? He’d find something any day now.
But he didn’t, and depression set in with a vengeance. He eyed the homeless people as he tramped around Manchester, slogging through the January slush, and wondered if he would soon be one of them. Where did they sleep? What did they eat? He thought about bins full of moldering food and shuddered.
He redoubled his efforts to find work.
The new year began, and he was still pounding the pavement. One particularly bad day, he arrived home to find Silver sitting on the floor outside his apartment. He looked much as he ever had: shoulder-length black hair, eyes lined with iridescent green, a silver earring glinting in his left ear. His long black winter coat looked new, and there was a jaunty striped scarf wound around his neck.
He stared at him. “What are you doing here?”
Silver rose gracefully and stuck his hands in his pockets. “Uncle finally told me you left.”
Wag blinked. “We had a disagreement, and I thought it more prudent I find other employment.” Fumbling for his keys, he unlocked the door and went inside.
Silver followed, standing uneasily in the entry. “Yeah, well, you don’t know the whole story.” Kicking off his wet shoes, he slipped out of his coat, tossed it over the back of a chair, and sat on the futon, which was, as usual, left open as the bed. His bright red shirt almost glowed in the pale light coming through the dirty windows. “I see the place hasn’t changed.”
He went to the kitchen area. “Tea?”
“Sure. Uncle blames me for you slacking off, and he knew it was you getting me to work on time. He was pissed when I didn’t show up. He had my parents in an uproar over me screwing up yet another thing.”
He handed Silver a cup of tea and took his mug to the couch he’d bought with his bonus money. He didn’t care that his shoes dripped water on the thin carpet. “Why didn’t you come back?”
“Because I’m a bloody fool, that’s why. I was angry with you and upset by what you were doing. You know, the cutting off my nose thing, but that was the best job I’ve ever had.” He looked away. “Best boyfriend, too.”
He sipped without slurping. “What are you saying?”
Silver put down his cup and joined Wag on the couch. “I know we weren’t together long before I mucked it all up, but I thought we got along all right. Didn’t we?”
Wag didn’t have to think twice about that. “We got along. Until you found out what I did for Bob.”
Silver plucked at his pretty shirt. “I may look and talk like a badass, but I’m not comfortable with you releasing viruses on an unsuspecting public. It goes against the greater good, you know. It’s the whole thing about not being evil. Too much damn evil in the world.”
He released a long sigh. “Well, I don’t do that anymore. I don’t do much of anything, actually.” He drank more tea, liking the way it warmed his stomach. Since being out of work, he’d learned to appreciate the little things.
“I have something to tell you.” Silver angled himself so he could look Wag in the eye. “My uncle owns only 49 percent of the business. His father—my grandfather—owns the other 51 percent. When I told him what you’d been doing, he was livid.” Silver grinned. “Granddad felt the same way I did about it. He got into it with my uncle and laid down the law. It seems some virus you created around Doctor Who caused him untold grief a few months ago, and not only him but also a woman he’s been romancing online. They weren’t able to Skype for almost two weeks, which was deeply upsetting to him. He figures he has only so much time left, and he doesn’t want to waste any. He’s seventy-two, so every day counts.”
Wag wondered where all this was going. So far, it didn’t sound promising except for the “boyfriend” mention. “Bob isn’t to create any more viruses then?”
“Absolutely not. Granddad said it was ‘capitalism gone amok,’ and it would be the downfall of civilization.” Silver laughed. “He’s not far off, I think. I told him he should hire you back, that you were a loyal employee who was only doing what you’d been told.”
He felt a flicker of hope. “I’m getting my job back?”
“Yeah, but no more viruses. Are you okay with that?”
He nodded. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking these last few weeks. It was the challenge I loved, not the end product so much. I thought… maybe one day… I might make computer games. What do you think?”
“You’d be great at it. I’ll even help.”
“You’re a real coder?”
Silver sidled up next to him and took his mug away. “You thought I was only playing solitaire every day? Silly man.”
They kissed, and it was possibly the sweetest, sexiest meeting of lips Wag had ever experienced. From darkest night, his life had turned completely around. A weight he hadn’t been aware he was carrying lifted and floated away.
Silver tongued Wag’s bottom lip. “I’m returning to work, too. Granddad insisted. He said I show promise if I straighten out my habitual tardiness, and one day his share of the company would come to me. I’m his only grandson, and he’s fond of me.”
They kissed again, and Silver led Wag to the bed. “How would you feel about me moving in with you? Mum’s been wanting to turn my room into a craft area for the longest time, and I think I’ve about exhausted her patience. We could even get a bigger place if you like, though this suits me fine.”
Wag thought Silver moving in was a great idea. “Why me?” he asked, knowing he’d put the question to Silver once already but in sudden need of assurance.
“What is silver without gold?” Silver answered and rolled on top of him.