Quick explanation: the sections are named after the ten Avatars of the Hindu preserver God, Vishnu.


Fish

The ocean is the colour of ink. If Luka wrote poetry, he would have written it in the ink of that expansive water. If words came easily to him, he would have scrawled them down, line after line, in the blackness of that ocean.

Footsteps come up behind them.

"Hi." A teenage boy sits down next to him on the high, rickety railing. Luka's never seen him before, he's sure, but the face looks so familiar nonetheless. "Isn't it a little cold to be out here without a jacket?"

Luka opens his mouth to say something harsh, explain that where he's going it's nothing but hot-hot-hot all the time, but the words stick; fearful that they will escape, he cradles them beneath his tongue. He shakes his head, wraps his arms around his skinny body. Every rib pokes out of his thin skin. His fingertips find the scars on the tender inside of his elbow and he bites his mouth.

The other teenager surveys him, eyebrow raised. "You can talk, right?"

"Of course!" Luka replies, a little affronted. Then he glances back at the water underneath him.

"You think a fall like that would kill you?"

Luka shakes his head. "No," he whispers in admission. His hands are getting cold, and he clings to them. "I've tried it before. It barely even hurts.."

For a long moment, they sit on that rickety railing, eyeing each other like pelicans.

"I'm Dev," says the boy. The wind and glassy water seem to echo his name, over and over again.

"Luka," replies Luka.

Dev glances down, and without hesitation, he slides into the water.

Gasping in the breath of Twilight, Luka follows him into the dark.


Tortoise

When Luka's phone finally dries out, the first thing he does is dial the number Dev gave him.

"Hello?"

He jumps at the sound of that voice. Instead of opening his mouth, Luka listens to the breaths, one after another, on the other end of the line.

"Luka, right?"

Luka nods, though Dev can't see him. "Yeah," he whispers. "I was...wondering what you're doing." For a moment, he scolds himself: no doubt Dev is busy with a dozen other people, better and smarter and more entertaining than Luka can ever hope to be.

"Nothing. You want to hang out?"

They meet by the water. The ocean is lapping at the rocks, devouring them and swallowing them into its wide mouth. Luka takes his shoes off and picks his way over the rocks, bare feet sliding over them. They climb out the endless line of rocks and when Luka looks back, they are in the middle of the sea.

Luka dangles his feet into the water, even though the cold makes him want to scream.

"Tell me all about you," Dev says, leaning back. Luka does the same, and rocks dig into his back.

"I'm 17," he says. He feels, suddenly, impossibly young. "I don't believe in God."

His only god is a needle that eats away at his life bit by bit and bone by bone. He prays to it with the sacrifice of his mind and body, and in return it soothes him in his darkest hour. Lying on the rocks beside this half-stranger, feet in the water and chests rising and falling beneath the winter stars, reminds him of the yellow sickly monster inside his syringe.

It's not so bad to be here now.

"What're you afraid of?"

Everything.

Luka shrugs his skinny shoulders. "I don't know," he whispers. He doesn't know what secrets to tell because sharing them will make them truths and he is afraid of the truth. "What about you?"

"Nothing," Dev says. "I'm not afraid of anything except ceasing to exist." He holds his mouth in such a way that it seems like he is holding words in his mouth the way he might hide something alive in his hands.

Their hands brush and they fall silent beneath the sickle moon.

Luka feels, inexplicably, infinite.


Boar

"Let's cut school together," Dev said that morning, when Luka found himself yanked into an abandoned hallway and pressed against a wall. "I don't have anything interesting to do here."

Absently, Luka nods. He tugs his sleeves down over his arms, because they're particularly sliced up this week, and he lets Dev lead him stealthily out of the school. Past the asphalt there is a fence, and past that fence there is freedom in fields of high grass.

"How did you find me?" Luka asks, when they've run across the fields to the mini-mart. It feels like their escape should be heralded with more than bottled Starbucks coffee, but it isn't.

"You reek of loneliness," teases Dev.

They smoke cigarettes under the eaves of the supermarket, sharing a lighter from Dev's pocket. The camels dissolve into smoke and ember, one after another. Something about the way they touch each other —fleeting, almost accidental but not quite— reminds Luka of the death of a star: burning, unrealized until it's long over.

Lonely, maybe, but they can be lonely together.


Half Man, Half Lion

Luka watches the lava lamp as the bubbles in it move and burst like tiny galaxies moving in and out of real space. Little blobs of wax move infinitely up and down inside of it, breathing with heat as if they are alive.

He thinks existentialist thoughts as the lava in the lamp breeds carbon copies of itself.

"Luka."

His mother has spoken softly to him for so many days. Her voice is low, like the sound of bird wings. It makes Luka think of sparrows ramming themselves against glass windows until they die: not because they sound the same, but because he is angry.

"What?"

"No one can come over," she says. "And you can't go out. This...isn't okay. This neglecting school and doing drugs and hurting yourself. You can't do this to me."

As if everything he has ever done is culminating at this moment, and he wants to hurt her. As if he has nothing better to think about.

She leaves to answer the doorbell after a time, and Luka sits in his room, watching the green wax move up and down in its little glass chamber. It's hot to the touch, and he reaches out to burn his finger gleefully.

His window rattles.

"Open up!"

When Luka complies. Dev jumps from the tree outside Luka's window and balances on the window ledge. He perches, eyeing the other boy.

"She wouldn't let me in," he says absently. "And wouldn't let you out."

Luka climbs onto the ledge as well, and they sit together in purgatory.


Dwarf

Luka pretends that he doesn't need more junk to feel the same way.

"I don't understand," he murmurs into Dev's shirt. He doesn't understand anything, and his mind feels foggy and he wonders if it's the drugs. They never made him feel like this before: he used to feel alive as his skin was pierced with silver needles but not it seems like his entire life is being sucked into that syringe. "I don't feel good."

Dev's hands slide down his back, soothing him with murmurs that sound like reeds brushing against each other. They curl up under the orange duvet and cling to each other like bats.

"It's okay," Dev tells him. "You're okay."

Luka shakes his head. His mind seems to rattle inside of it. "I'm not okay," he whispers. "I'm not okay. I don't want to be alone. I can't be alone."

"I won't leave you."

Pressed tightly against Dev's body, Luka sighs. The other teenager smells like smoke and orchards, even in winter. "I want to give you everything," he tells Dev in a voice hushed like the rustle of leaves. The sheets stuck against his slick skin even though it's winter. He's drowning in his own body. "All this earthly shit, I don't want it."

"What will you give me?"

Luka considers. "Whatever you can take without leaving me. Whatever you want. Take anything." He imagines the endless needles that are under his bed, all dripping with poison, locking away the infinite and doling it out in increasingly smaller doses.

Without speaking, Dev leans forward to kiss him.

It's like dynamite. It's like the Empress card from the tarot deck has spontaneously combusted and the entire galaxy has given up to a nihilist fuck-fest. The lava lamp observes the celebration of pressing skin against skin against skin until there is nothing left but endless, seamless flesh.


Rama with the Axe

"No one loves you."

Luka's cheek stings and he stares up at his father and his father stares back. Nietzsche told stories about how the abyss scrapes into your soul and Luka never believed it until that moment, until that sudden burst of fear and clarity and nothing matters at all.

He climbs to his feet and dusts himself off.

"You and your boyfriend have seen the last of each other."

Luka knows he shouldn't smile, but he does anyway: sick and twisted and so depraved is his grin that his father takes a step back and he a step forward. He likes it when people —even in their most disparaging voices— call Dev his boyfriend. He only wishes.

"You can't keep me here," he growls. His skin itches and he wants to leap out of it, become a lion and tear out the throw of anyone who stands in his way. "You can't hold me forever."

He's almost eighteen, he's almost eighteen.

His father shakes his head and turns on his heel, leaving Luka alone in the great, wide living room.

Before he can think though, before everything can settle and the woodpecker in his head can stop drilling into the titanium of his common sense, his father comes back with a box that Luka recognizes all too well. He feels his throat close up and trap all the breath and words down there in his lungs, where they will stagnate until he chokes.

In that box are all his tiny universes.

"You're going to rehab," his father says. "No more drugs, no more boys."

No more drugs and no more boys will kill him. He'll be dead, bones all bleach-white on the beach and they'll be washed away into that ink-black sea.

Luka gasps for air.


Rama

He gets letters.

They're written in the same scrawling handwriting, jagged and pretty and lazy, like Dev. They're shoved into plain white envelopes that have been opened and resealed by the hospital staff to make sure there are no razors or needles. There never is though —there wouldn't be anyway— and in place of the pain there's just dried flowers.

Every day for a month, Luka opens an envelope and in it there is a burst of wild flowers that lingered for too long between phone book pages. He picks them up and smells them and they smell like the ocean, like salt, like the fusing of skin against skin against skin—

"What's what?"

Luka's head snaps up and he comes face to face with a boy from his ward.

"None of your business," he whispers.

After that, he hides the flowers under his pillow and only opens them at night.


Krishna

The boy from the ward, Michael, isn't bad looking. Luka figures this out some time in the second week, after he's grown weary of those long days without junk or sex. He tells himself that's what he misses, what the white walls deprive him of, because that is what is least painful to consider.

Michael sidles up to him during art therapy.

Luka raises an eyebrow at him. He's covered to his elbows in scrapes of black charcoal. "What do you want?" he asks, tilting his head to get a better look at Michael. The other boy really isn't bad looking: broad shouldered and blond, strong features.

"You know, no one ever checks the broom closet on the third floor." As if they're getting coffee. "And I've got some skag but I don't just give it away."

Luka has nothing to trade but his lovely bones.

And Michael isn't bad looking.

He hesitates for a moment.

"No," he says finally. "I have someone else."

He's not entirely sure he does. He doesn't really expect to be worth waiting for, but the glow of hope in his belly makes him keep his head down, the medication under his tongue, all those infinite universes out of his suckling veins.

The memory of someone more beautiful than he will ever be keeps him sane amid those white hallways.


Buddha

"You have a visitor, Luka."

All the nurses in their starch white uniforms speak with such soft voices.

Luka grumbles and climbs to his feet. "I don't want to see my parents," he says, but he follows her down the hall anyway. "I hate them. I hate them so much." His arms wrap around his body and he wants to shrink into himself, fall into his skeleton.

"Luka!"

But it's not his father's voice and it's not his mother's voice.

Dev.

"I missed you," says Dev. He stands amid all that white, glowing like an inverted angel, like negative space.

They connect like photons fired at the same space. Like blobs of lava lamp wax. Like the beginning and end of a cyclical universe. All sorts of thoughts, giddy and gleeful, run through Luka's head.

This touch makes him infinite, without the silver junk addict needle fuck.

"Stay together," Dev whispers in his ear. Luka shivers, clinging to him until his arms begin to ache. "I love you."

Luka opens his mouth, but he speaks only silence.

In the distance, a jack hammer slams against the concrete, breaking it to bits.

"I love you too," Luka whispers, unsure if Dev can hear him.

After Dev pulls away, leaves him alone in limbo, he wonders if it matters.


Eternity

His parents don't pick him up.

They don't see him walk across the stage in the cafeteria, pick up the unframed certificate with bears and rainbows on it and the doctor's signature claiming that "Luka completed the Get Clean Challenge!" which might not be what it says, but Luka never bothers to check. He balls it up, throws it into the trash can.

It's winter again. It always feels like winter, like winter is swallowing up his everything and leaving him by himself.

"I'll pick you up at seven," Dev had told him, when they'd last spoken on the phone. "I promise."

They haven't touched but through glass since the end of Autumn. Dev smelled like leaves that fell from branches, like the rain that clung to his hair. He smelled like wet concrete and the outside that Luka wanted so badly to touch with the flat of his palm.

Luka stands out in the cold, waiting.

Maybe he's deluding himself. Maybe he's alone. He's eighteen now, he can take out a loan and buy a car and fall asleep in Walmart parking lots. He can forget what love is, turn back to slicing his veins and pumping them full of bright, hot bliss to dull the ache.

Instead, he checks his watch. It's seven, exactly, but nothing about Dev has ever been exact.

He feels unending, untouchable in that winter evening.

There is no more fear.


Vishnu's finally form has yet to come.

Hey, so this was originally a Christmas present for one of my friends, but I decided to share the love.
Thanks for reading!