Skin

Skin

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Every day, when he rises, he observes the ritual. Humans are always full of existential dread. When they wake up in the mornings, there are things they need to establish. For most, the immediate questions, which require at least a few neurones and synapses in the brain to be firing in some sort of meaningful way, are: ‘Who am I?’ ‘What day is it?’ and ‘Am I late?’

He isn’t human, and for him the existential dread is so much more than any human could possibly imagine. That makes the Great Question of the morning very much simpler. It’s a little known fact that the most important questions in the universe have the simplest expression. E=mc2. He’s already late, has been for two hundred and fifty years, and the day of the week is inconsequential. What really matters to him, and to every human being on the face of the planet if they did but know it, the moment he awakens and prepares to rise is: ‘Who am I?’ And so, he has the ritual. It is his litmus paper, his acid test. The skin test.

When he’s clean and fresh he opens the closet and wonders whether he will wear them today. Whether he will wear another skin. That’s all they are, just skin; the dead remains of a dead animal, treated and cured, and fashioned into garments that cover the legs. That’s true, but they are so much more than this, and when he has them on, he’s not sure whether he wears them, or they wear him, in some strange form of symbiosis.

He remembers when he bought them, all those years ago. Whistler had pulled him off the streets and given him a slim, blonde reason to get cleaned up. He had only the clothes he stood up in and, if he’s honest, those clothes didn’t need him to be in them in order to stand up all by themselves. So, Whistler took him shopping.

He’d seen these, and wanted them. He’s always had a thing about skin. The demon wanted them even more. He, too, has always had a thing about skin, usually prettily patterned with purpling bruises, sharp-edged cuts or elegant trails of blood. Or simply removed from its original owner; a bit like these. They’d been wrapped up with the rest of his purchases, and gone onto the shelf in the closet. Whichever shelf of whichever closet he’d been able to call his own at the time.

The first time he had thought to wear them the demon had been exultant, relishing the feel of skin on skin, drinking in the sounds and speech of leather. The demon was used to wearing skin. After all, it had worn him for two and a half centuries. With these on, he wore them, and it wore him, like a nest of Russian dolls.

Except, sometimes he doesn’t know who wears who. Might he be a man wearing a demon inside him? That’s what he’d like to think. That’s what Wesley once said. That’s what he tries to be. If he can remember that, if he can be the skin that presents a face to the outside world, the skin that holds everything else *inside*, like a wineskin – except that this wine is very sour indeed – then all might be well.

But he’s too well aware that it’s only skin deep, and sometimes it’s just too damned skin-tight. Then the man-skin splits, and the demon sheds it, like a snake emerging jewel-bright and perfect from the worn and shabby old skin of its past incarceration. Sheds him as easily as the man has shed these other skins that he holds in his hands each day. Cuts him away like an unwanted foreskin. Peels him away like an onionskin, leaving only tears before bedtime. Makes sharkskin out of sheepskin. This garment is the skin that the demon puts on then. These are its new face. Then, it’s time for some skin games.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and he’s pretty sure he’ll feel the pain of all of them, before his time is through. He’s already felt more of them than he wants to remember. More than he wants his friends to remember.

So he doesn’t wear them. He can’t afford another skin, pressing him closer to the demon. Any way, if he did, he’s pretty sure that by now his friends would try to stake him first and ask questions afterwards.

So each day, he has the ritual, to find out who he is today. This day, he puts them back on the shelf in the closet, and prays that tomorrow, he’ll be able to do the same.

THE END
16 June 2004

Spoilers: None
Rating: PG
Content: Angel. Perhaps.
Summary: To wear the trousers, or not?

Feedback: Pretty please. Send it to Jo
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