Nathan could barely find energy to fight against the pull of gravity, dragging him more quickly than he desired down the cement stairs that led to his apartment. The soles of his slipshods slapped too noisily beneath him; their echoing clapping becoming a calamitous applause in the enclosed stairwell and landing.
Given the cacophony, he was only somewhat surprised to see the entry to Franks’ apartment slide open. Franks himself leaned against the intake wall. He looked well, causing Nathan to wonder what refreshers his neighbor had mixed this week.
Nathan stopped walking. The two men stared at each other. Franks moved first, standing away from his angled scrutiny and smiling. “Damn, man. You look iced!” He moved toward Nathan, and made a mock-reverential circle around him. Laughing, he added, “I didn’t know you could make a skin look so good.”
Nathan faked a cough. “Yeah, considering what you got for me,” he answered.
Franks laughed again. “You better watch out, or I’ll take it back,” was his return gibe. He stopped circling to meet Nathan’s gaze. Being shorter by several centimeters, this meant a balanced scrutiny from tiptoes.
Curious, Nathan glanced down. Franks was on literal tiptoes, as his feet were bare. Nathan pulled back to meet Franks’ stare.
“Use the drops?” Franks asked.
Franks sunk back down; stepped back. He acted suddenly distracted, as he usually became after a tick or two in Nathan’s company. Looking around and rubbing the back of his neck, Franks asked, “Need an SC?”
“No.” Nathan still had the Skin Conditioner it had come in, and knew Franks knew that as well.
“Right,” his distracted neighbor responded, stepping closer to his entry and not making eye contact again. “I’ll word your comm later,” he said. He was inside when he added, “After Neo.”
“Right,” Nathan called to the closing slider. Once it made full contact, he felt himself relax from an automatically-tense position. He didn’t relax fully, of course. Franks might still change his initial agreement and come demanding repayment anytime. Nathan would feel better once inside his own apartment, though the wall neighbor could easily get through one of the weaker sections if desperate.
“Hopefully, he has enough charge,” Nathan said, under his breath.
Turning, he intentionally walked a more quiet tread to his own entry. He withdrew his comm to unlock and activate the exterior door. Entering, he initiated living lockdown by applying his palm quite solidly against the doorscan. Fortunately, it was able to read through his skin after only a jiff.
He trudged wearily to the bedroom to relieve himself of the suit first. It looked like he’d thrown it at the hanger when he was done, but at least the garments were suspended. He returned them to his closet-hole, set his comm on the nightstand, and shuffled off to the adjacent bathroom.
Nathan activated the shower, and opened the SC he’d left in there since morning. As the water warmed, he stared distractedly at his distorted reflection. I did it, he thought, tiredly smiling. Thinking over the interview, Caill’s last expression, and Pull’s eyes, he grinned widely. He could feel the skin loosening with the movement, and ambient steam. He felt around to the back of his neck, rubbing to detach the vertebral bonds there.
Still grinning, his barely-perceptible reflection watched from the swirling clouds as he carefully peeled off his skin.
Continued from Skinwalkers, XI.
Read to Skinwalkers, XIII.