|MJ's a little (flirty) wrote in doorslogs,|
@ 2013-06-26 15:13:00
|Entry tags:||beast, cheshire cat|
Lin wasn’t sure this was going to work. In fact, he was pretty sure it wasn’t and that he would just end up crying somewhere. But still he hadn’t bothered to send word ahead to find out beforehand. It was best, he thought, to use the element of—if nothing else—surprise to his advantage, to appear like an especially beleaguered rabbit on the top hat of Daniel’s doorstep. He was too worn from his time with Aaron to do the puppy dog eyes thing, so he’d just have to rely on Daniel being drunk as hell and/or his own inherent adorableness (that’s a joke) to win the man over. And, if that failed, miserably, like the fucking August Putsch, and Daniel, like Gorbachev, only anti-glasnost, brushed him off (and the country (apartment?) destabilized and dissolved?), then Lin would Charlie Brown-drag himself back over to his brother’s, apologize for being an ass, and grin and bear it.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like staying with Aaron. It was fine. But he could tell he—or his hilarious series of periodic table puns—was wearing away at the man’s already limited patience with the regularity of the NIST-F1’s seconds. They hadn’t been together for more than say, four hours at a time in a good seventeen or so years, and the sudden, forced cohabitation was rough on the both of them, Lin included. There had been a lecture about loud music, about the tapping of pens on tables in patterns that distracted. His bed was a spread of comforters over a bland sofa. And there was Aaron, who was too used to his younger brother’s antics to provide said younger brother with much entertainment after about two days of stone-faced staring. So, while he greatly, greatly appreciated the hospitality and, you know, shelter from death, Lin was also ready to go away for a couple days. And he decided he would go away to Daniel’s.
Sam was obviously out of the question. Thea lived with her aunt. Shai was hard to contact. Aubrey was a no. And Louis? Well... yeah, no. Lin wasn’t ready to do that. So he rationalized his choice. Who was more cut off from the non-newspaper world at large than the cranky author? Daniel lived behind so many check-points and up so many floors, behind so many other people, he seemed safe. Plus, even still, months later, in Lin’s mind he was equated with the Beast, with anger, but protection, and that had to count for something, right?
So the boy came to Turnberry and he took the elevator high, Ian R’s promise riding hot on his heels, and he arrived in front of Daniel’s door with his old-school, ‘80s jazzed up backpack slung, one thick, purple strap, over his shoulder, held to the true blue of his NASA Space Camp shirt by a single thumb—the selfsame shirt he had been wearing the day he’d fled Meridian. And he steeled himself. And he sent a foot out to knock, rubber sole to wood, on Daniel’s door in three long, loud kicks.
Someone immediately came to the door, but he was absolutely no help whatsoever, as all he did was scrabble small paws on the wooden door and mew nonstop--except for a single pause to swipe a pink-toed pad through the crack under the door, obviously in a fruitless attempt to pounce the unwary visitor. It took several more kicks and high-pitched mews to get Daniel to the front door, and it was undoubtedly a serious process. He bumped into something that thunked against a wall, hit a pile of books that caused a thunderfall of domino thuds, and swore a blue streak in Italian at something whose mother apparently offended him.
When the door swung open, Daniel was presented in a haze of post-Bacchanal glory that made the light around him waver as in a heatwave. He smelled like vodka tinged with cherries rather than his usual whiskey thickness, and he was wearing an extremely crumpled shirt with Italian-style rolled sleeves in Mediterranean blue cotton. His old book muskiness was pervaded with a distinctly young magnolia perfume, and somebody had re-buttoned his shirt askew. He stared blearily out through the door.
The cold apartment behind him was dead silent.
Daniel held the door aside and leaned on it as if it was his only anchor. The white fluff kitten was substantially bigger, and now he resembled a thatch of cotton rather than a dandelion. He bounded out to meet Lin, pouncing his feet and prowling around, leaving soft white bits on his ankles. Daniel looked down at it through his obvious hangover.
QP blew around the unwary visitor’s Vans like a spastic tumbleweed and Lin smiled down him. He shifted his bag to the floor and he squatted to play his fingers through the cold, alcohol-soaked air that rolled out of the Dom. He grinned at the pink paws that shot out of fluff as they reached for him—with admittedly much more skill than last time around.
After he’d managed to get some affectionate ear scratching in between the flying claws, the boy stood again. And as he did so, his smile dried up, the effect of the mirage of QP’s adorable desert. He blinked at the man he’d come to for help, immediately regretting his choice.—He’d heard the ringing avalanche of books, shoaled, no doubt, by Daniel, victim of an extreme hangover (home edition), now clinging to his door like he was in the fucking Atlantic in 1914. He’d heard the bit about the mother in Italian. Plus, dude smelled like flowers and it was really weirding Lin out.
The boy lugged his bag back onto his shoulder with effort and squinted. A part of him wondered if Daniel had female company over, but he remembered, the grouch didn’t bring people home. ...So maybe it was just that he’d recently returned from some tryst in a fucking field of maraschino cherries.
“Mecheny, you look terrible. And you smell like a 12-year-old girl,” came Lin’s charming greeting in a voice like a new penny. He smiled nicely and inched forward. He kept everything in, all packed tightly. “I need to ask you... for something.”
He came dangerously close to the drunk, but all he ended up doing was squeaking through the door with one hand to Daniel’s chest to move him out of the way a bit. The contact was dropped quickly enough and Lin grabbed the offending fingers with his other hand and squeezed them white in an overt expression of his nerves. And if that didn’t betray the state of his mind, perhaps the fact that he didn’t bother beating around the bush did. His teeth were practically chattering in the odd quiet.
“A dude is threatening to kill me or something. Uh, can I like, crash on your couch for a couple days? I promise to make no untoward advances and I’ll—fuck—I’ll play the cello for you or whatever. I don’t care.”
Daniel didn't give way under Lin's approach immediately, setting his weight against the open door, which was too large and well-maintained to protest about the negligible burden. He was unmistakably hungover, with a pale puffiness to his eyes and a stiffness to one shoulder and dangling limbs. It took some squinting against the chique lighting of the hallway for him to fully focus on Lin, but once he did he stayed focused. There was a quiet in which the cat was too pleased with his victim to meow and Daniel was obviously pondering some obscure aspect of Lin's personality, and then finally he let the solid warmth of Lin's palm push him clear of the door.
Daniel's bleary blue eyes slid up Lin's arms and then laid a solid gaze on the twisting fingers. "She had to be at least twenty," he said, in English clipped out of sleep and sodden cardboard. He did not smile, but lifted one eyebrow up into the mess of his dark curls. Rolling off the edge of the door, he slammed it with more effort than he meant to use. Something in another room fell off the wall with the tinkle of breaking glass. The door received a peeved look for its insolence.
"'Dude'?" Daniel repeated, obviously confused. His tongue formed the word too quick for him to catch up, and he slid sideways through the dim, unresponsive air before tripping on a book and ending up with one hip heavy against the curved stripes of the living room's aquamarine elegance. Sometimes Daniel felt like he was living inside a German chocolate box. "You tell a bad joke?"
Lin didn’t care about the twenty-year-old girl, the cherries, the stupid buttons someone did up wrong, the glass that had just shattered in another room. He didn’t give a fucking fuck and whatever flimsy front of smiles and splintering jokes he’d borne in public the past however many endless days was starting to slip, there at the corner, and rapidly at that. He was getting desperate. He hadn’t come around to beg or anything like that. But the impervious chipped ice of Daniel’s demeanor, reflected in his eyes, was not at all what the boy wanted or needed.—He wasn’t so delusional as to think he would get anything different, not really, but encountering the shit in person was, it turned out, much worse than half-imagined scenarios in the driver’s seat of his car. His heart insisted on rattling its tin cup on the bars of his ribs.
Just as Daniel was busy somehow tripping over books (no, really. How?), Lin was dropping his bag and turning to follow. He made no comment on the spectacle and shifted his attention to his own breathing, in an attempt to slow it and to smooth the crease that hitched between his brows. He needed to calm the fuck down.
When he finally arrived at the sofa, landmines of literature away, he placed his hands on the back of it, but he didn’t round it and he didn’t sit. Nor did he look at Daniel.
“Dude took Sam.” Lin sighed. He didn’t know where the drunk had been, why he hadn’t been around on the comms, and again, he just didn’t fucking care. Two dark eyes, as if repelled by Forward’s analysis of negative inertial mass, planets falling, tipped to the the teal of the sofa where skinny fingers picked at tight seams. He tried Sam’s ’solution.’ “She’s fine now. They got her back. But he had her. He said he didn’t, but he did, and I knew it. I was just stupid about saying so. Then it turns out he’s a psychopath. He got my address. I was dumb. He found out—” The whip-quick words stuttered to a stop.
The boy glanced up, suddenly, his own eyes very clear. He smiled almost helplessly, because fuck if he knew what else to do when shit came down to this. It was that or crack, and he wasn't ready to do that.
If Lin had asked Daniel where his journal was, the man wouldn't have been able to tell him. There wasn't a great many places that the leather book could be, and despite its relatively portable size, Daniel had made no effort to bring it with him on his latest excursion into the exterior void that made up an entire desert city outside of his domain, and it was therefore lost in the latest clutter on the plush carpet.
Daniel recognized the signs of oncoming panic very late in the game, as he had a blistering headache and the smell of his last partner's perfume was starting to make him sick in an unidentifiable way that pervaded his entire system, stomach to tongue. What he saw made him pay attention, and he paused in the act of kicking a book out of his way. The white kitten dodged the dangling toe and started climbing up the sofa next to Daniel's arm with determined needle claws and whiplash fuzz tail. Daniel's knuckles went white against the absurd striped sofa as soon as Lin's words managed to sink in through the throbbing behind his eyes. Five fingers yanked out of the kitten's reach before he managed to reach his prize. Daniel's thoughts were transparent. Sam did he just say? Daniel's spine aligned in coordinated fall of sinew and bone, drawing the curly head up off the exhausted slump of his shoulders.
"Had her?" Daniel's voice rose sharply in a volume that spoke eloquently about his low opinion of restraint. He put out a clammy hand for Lin's arm where it met his shoulder in a gesture not threatening but rather intentional, a clutching of fingers that was closer to questing than warding. Daniel pulled in an attempt to look into Lin's face. His voice went still higher. "Why did he want Sam? What did he do?" His tongue practically lashed against the back of his teeth as he moved forward once more, forgetting his damn head and angry blood pressure long enough to move forward into Lin's space in an attempt to force the full truth out faster. "How does he know where you live?"
Sam he’d just said. And the (almost comically slapstick) reaction the name garnered, the salient slip of pitch and the brushing forward Lin felt was compelled as much by worry as it was territoriality, was exactly what the boy had expected, despite Sam’s own half-dazed assurance that saying she was fine would be enough to stymie whatever tide was coming. And in that moment, the kid in the Space Camp shirt who so enjoyed knowing things couldn’t help but think that, sometimes, being right had an awful lot of drawbacks and, really, ultimately, wasn’t that fun. There was no satisfaction, no self-gratifying pat on the back accompanying the Tower of Terror drop of his stomach. There wasn’t even a smile. His arm was grabbed. He was jostled.
Coming here was a bad idea. Why, oh why couldn’t Lin make friends with people who fucking hugged?
“Had her. I don’t know. I don’t know why. He’s fucking deranged. She was drugged, Louis said. Her head was bruised. She was in the hospital briefly. I talked to her and she said—” Lin stopped short a second time as he stared at Daniel with eyes wide with alarm. He saw again in the blue there the flat salt expanse of Salar de Uyuni and the same wild ire that had rolled like oil in the Daniel-thing’s pupils once upon a time.—At least the news had shaken the man from his self-reflexive misery, right? The boy pressed on, trying to keep from wrapping his arms around himself and failing. “She’s okay. I mean, she’s not okay, but, she’s okay. I talked to her. She told me to tell you she was okay. She said—” There came a weak laugh and Lin looked away. “She- she said you would be okay as long as I told you she was okay. Which we both know is bullshit, but she insisted.”
Full truth? No, thank you. Whatever more there was to Lin’s story went unsaid for the moment. Instead, his words coiled into one another, like so many Matryoshka dolls, and offered a messy sort of picture, safe for a child’s coloring book, of the events that had transpired while Daniel had had his shirt buttoned by an idiot. Lin took a deep breath, he eyed the stupid wink of the offending button. He made a face and put a palm to Daniel’s chest again, as if to push him away. He twisted under the man’s grip like a child.
“Jesus, can you stop smelling like motherfucking Chloris for a minute? You’re making me dizzy.”
"Chlorine?" Daniel repeated, momentarily set askew by this commentary, and not at all in the proper frame of mind for Ancient Greek references that didn't encompass thundering divine rages and Persephonic abductions. A second later he dismissed the comment as unimportant in a twist of his mouth and a flip of his free hand. Stray knowledge was waved aside. Contrary to letting Lin go, Daniel pulled him a little closer, his own back to the door to block out the rest of the world from entering, his full attention on Lin's face. The dim light from the kitchen had no effect on wide dark pupils, and for the first time a frenetic hint of something other than alcohol suggested itself in the battering fringe of lashes and damp cotton against cold skin. The dizzying thickness of vodka on his breath died down as his mouth clamped closed and he made an obvious effort to restrain some explosive vocalization, as if a scream was fighting out of his chest.
The first bad sign was a spastic switch to Italian, which came out in a garbled flood flavored with the faint thisp of Campagna. "Drugs? He gave her drugs? What drugs? Is Louis with her?" Daniel pulled Lin still closer so that the both of them could lean into the support of the couch and yet still see each other under the weak reach of the kitchen window two rooms away. Daniel made an attempt to stand entirely but obviously couldn't pick a direction fast enough and tipped back over his hip into the couch to stay. The Italian trailed into a dark place, a Stygian growl at the back of his throat not entirely meant for his own ears. The blue eyes and sharp tongue came in and out of focus like a bad camera. "I don't know why he would… How would he know that…? How did they get her back? ...She is with Louis now?"
The white kitten, while generally deaf to the tone of Daniel's voice, was obviously not accustomed to this many vocal vibrations, and ran for cover under the sofa.
This was going poorly. Tension ratcheted up in the cold snap of the room wildly and Lin couldn’t help but compare the feeling of his breath snagging in his throat to the way it had in the bloody dream, and, to be quite honest, he was terrified. Despite heels to the carpet, he was reeled in ever closer, a fish caught on a hateful line, and he knew he needed to do something to derail the ill-advised course the conversation seemed to be taking. The whole thing was like a fucking... fucking... well, it could either be like a spacecraft, placed on a certain trajectory with only a few small attitude rockets to help with deviation, but with little overall flexibility, or it could be like the Titanic chugging toward the iceberg, full steam ahead. Either way, it was bad. Doomed, a fatalist might say.
He would just have to use the gravity at play to swing the shit around. Like, Apollo-style. The Titanic metaphor was waylaid. First: begin in a circular orbit.
“Please—” Lin began, but he quickly changed tactics, that single word coming out as something much too pleading and small. It followed QP under the sofa to hide. The boy removed his arms from his self-imposed hug. A part of him feared that anything he did would simply provoke the man, but... oh, fucking well. He couldn’t do a goddamn thing about that. Hands went to Daniel’s shoulders, ignoring the cold, and held him there firmly. Retrograde burn to lower periapsis to just above the surface. “Daniel.” The name was uttered with force and overt sincerity, accompanied with eye contact meant to break the man’s attention from its spiral before Lin continued. Which he did in careful English. Coast to periapsis and restart engine to perform turn descent. “She’s okay.”
Lin’s hands fell back to his sides—were forced back there. They were so close. Every vein running bloodshot in Daniel’s eyes was picked out against the sclera. His hair stuck to the white of his forehead. The boy’s eyes skipped down to the button again and lingered.
“I need... I’ll tell you whatever, but I need you to let go of me so I can get a sweater, okay? Everything already happened, she’s okay, they got her, so you need to like,—” Lin dug a palm into his eye unhappily. He couldn’t help the sudden frown that pulled at his lips or the burning that threatened to turn shining eyes into decidedly wet ones if things didn’t change. “Please let me go. You’re scaring me.”
Daniel's altered mind was only too ready to paint him pictures, dire images colored in the pastel of peeling frescos, coloring in the dusky face of a man with angry black eyes and empty soul. Daniel had not lifted a finger to prevent an enclosing dark fate of which Carlita was only the first victim, and only his parents, likely by pure bloody-minded coldness alone, had managed to stand aloof from what Daniel assumed was the natural midnight of any association with him and his actions, conscious or otherwise. He had accepted Carlita's brother as some instrument of retribution, heavenly, karmic, or some other unknown, a weight to balance some scale he could not see but stood askew by his own sins. Daniel was the kind of man to hide from his scale rather than attempt to balance it, but that did not mean he was ready to watch the scales tip so easily into oblivion once more.
It made perfect sense to Daniel that such specific wickedness would this way come.
It was not his hands, but Lin's careful, thoroughly American pronunciation of his name that managed to successfully stymie this unexpected whirlpool of combined fear and pointless self-recrimination. It did not once occur to Daniel that this might have nothing to do with him, and he therefore responded to his own name in a way that nothing else would have managed. He didn't remember what kind of white powder he had mixed into his system in the past night, but it was enough to make him sharp and relentless while still blurring one hour into the next. Only Passages' many doors were an equivalent to that kind of oblivion. He was slow to surface. The distinctive flatness of the last vowels made him blink twice more, and the dark pupils in the whirl of shallow ice flexed into a low curl not unlike the one that kept obscuring his right temple as he moved his head to shake off the twist of thoughts.
Slowly, Daniel's fingers released Lin back into the danger of the world outside of his grip, one by one sacrificing the anchor, and he watched them to be certain they would cooperate. "Mi… mi dispiace." Daniel reeled himself back, his absence against Lin's hands a puff of cold air in the otherwise still room. "I… I need coffee," he said in English. He touched three fingers to his neck, as if to see if a pulse still worked under the prickle of skin. "I can't think. Make some." He made a helpless gesture at the door behind him, and tried to catch Lin's gaze before the boy retreated entirely. "Please… don't leave. I need a second. Just…" Daniel let go of the back of the sofa and wheeled around toward the master bath, trying to assemble his thoughts and stay afloat in a sea of confused thoughts made choppy by Vegas substances.
And just like that, he was free. Lin stood, more than a little dazed, still using the sofa for support, as Daniel teetered away with an apology half-heard. He blinked back the rasputitsa threat of tears and looked on with the all the quivering alertness of prey, the whites of his eyes bright, as the man’s hand fluttered like a dove to his own throat to compress his carotid artery to bone, to check for life. (Okay, what the fuck?) Then he was shifting, catching his own geodesic, and orbiting off, asking Lin to stay, telling him to make coffee, looking him in the eye and saying please.
Lin’s expression went worried, but he said nothing. His own heart was throwing some kind of conniption fit or victory dance or fucking something, so grateful it was to still be beating, and it was distracting enough that he had no time to respond. He watched Daniel go, and, without realizing he was doing as he was told, he did as he was told. (Maybe it was the end of the world. If this was the apocalypse, it was a fucking shitty one.) After fetching whatever sweater was the first to find his fingers in the bag by the door and donning the scrappy thing, a(n ...ugh, cherry) red cardigan more reminiscent of Mr. Rogers than anything hip, thick corded and prim, the boy passed into the filtered dimness of the kitchen. He ignored the littering of pens and swilled glasses, Daniel’s two pastimes, and he ignored the face-to-glass press of his own thoughts as they recalled—no. He found the coffee pot near the sink where the weak claws of light held quick.—Lin didn’t drink coffee because it tasted like shit, but he’d worked long enough with the sort who did to know how to make it with reasonable proficiency. He had to root around for grounds, but it was only a matter of minutes and the maker was burbling warmly.
He left it.
Tugging the sweater closed at the throat, Lin wandered with intent anemic into the crypt. It was colder in here, darker save for the gold sectio divina squaring the floor as it fell from the occupied bathroom, but he didn’t care. Lin didn’t even look toward it. He situated himself on the edge of the black bed that spread toward the wall opposite like a galaxy unto itself, with his back to the headboard. The boy curled his knees to his chest and propped his chin there. He thought about fire. He waited.
In the bathroom, Daniel made a studied attempt to force himself into mere humanity once more. He did it by applying a great deal of cold water and empty air. He was momentarily tangled in the attempt to strip off what he was wearing, which was generally more complex than normal and in better shape despite the greasy hands and arcane substances that had worked into the fabric. Daniel paid little attention to what he was wearing in the cavernous protection of his apartment, and it took him a moment to realize he was wearing a shirt with buttons and slacks instead of detergent-soft jeans. He found it strange that he didn't feel cold yet, so he walked into a frigid running shower and back out again without even attempting to fumble with soap.
That woke him up.
As always, Daniel moved around the counter and watched his feet to avoid looking into the fucking extravagant line of mirrors that tried to catch his gaze at every turn, and then he put a towel on and stepped out into the bedroom, blinking owlishly and focusing on one task at a time. He was still thinking in Italian, little whips about history repeating itself, but he kept his mouth shut and there was no chorus of swearing or absent mutters. Living alone for so long gave Daniel a tendency to talk to himself and reveal things no one had business hearing, and he smiled whenever he thought about having a deaf cat for company.
Daniel looked up and around for the kitten, noticing that he was not present, and then he saw the wrapped up form of Lin sitting on the end of his bed. He halted in the square of light from the bathroom and brought up his chin entirely, trying to get a good look at Lin through the dimness. His attempt to employ his usual powers of observance failed completely in the absence of sobriety, so he gave it up fairly quickly, shaking water out of his wet hair and circling the edge of the bed, both ends of the fuzzy towel clamped in one hand at his right hip. The scar on one shoulder was mostly invisible on the curve of scapula and degraded muscle, and Daniel was perfectly certain that with the weight he lost he looked better in clothes than out. He was not overly concerned about it, but he'd always had an air of being certain that his body what was it was without his influence.
He sat down. Not too close, not too far. "What happened?"
Somewhere in those moments, as water splashed on splendid tiles in the other room, Lin got a little lost. He followed the mania of his thoughts through their Wonderlandian rabbit holes (which he could now identify with an unshakable certainty) and tumbled with them, down into a darkness that didn’t involve angry Italians between stucco walls or hares enjoying tea. No. It was a small, blank space in his mind. It had been inhabited before—it was well-used even, though it had seen little of the boy over the past few months. And as his mental feet found the familiar grooves worn into soft tissue and fell into a once-habitual pace, he felt oddly at home, safe in that faraway room, rent paid only in freewheeling anxiety and worry, in an omniscient despair.
However comfortable it was, the boy knew he didn’t want to be there.
He’d stayed before, and each and every time he had, he’d ended up some months later in the salt lick of a hospital bed with machines beeping around him making sure he knew he was alive, gloating at their technological triumph. It was pointless to think it was pointless. So he walked out of the room in his mind, slamming the door behind him as he went.
Then Daniel spoke. Lin’s head snapped up in surprise. He hadn’t realized he was no longer alone, that much was obvious. Willing his eyes to not blink quite so wide and returning himself to the solidity of reality, the boy on the bed shifted, taking note of the distance between himself and the mostly naked man. Daniel was in a towel cinched at the waist and his skin, Lin could feel from where he was, was still damp. Brown curls were impossibly dark in the black of the room. At least Lin didn’t have to look at the dumbfuck button anymore. Careful not to allow his gaze to dally, he looked at his own knees dressed in gray. Fine. He spoke to them.
“Sam’s brother, Joey—he wrote in the comms, looking for Sam. Everyone—all the fucking Donovans and their crew—started to chime in, asking where she was, so it was obvious she was missing. Then this guy comes in, offering assistance. Ian R. Sam told me about him last time I was at her place. He’s fucked up, I guess. Fucked with her sister, Marquis de Sade shit.—Anyway, he’s there. Everyone thinks he’s creepy but they don’t think what I think when I see the way he’s writing, with this- this smugness. So I went after him. Of course, everything went downhill from there, but at least, I think, it and his own general sleaziness called attention to fact that he was involved, which I knew he was, even though he said he wasn’t. Turns out he fucking was. Louis and the Scooby Gang went to the dude’s house and got Sam. He told me afterward, Louis did. Said he showed up and she had a bruise on her head and was obviously drugged so they took her to the hospital, where she stayed for a few days. I talked to Sam a couple times while she was there. She said she was confused and couldn’t remember a lot, but her head was fine and that she was fine. And she told me not to lie to you about what happened, but to say she was fine.”
Finally, the words stopped. That was at least 80% of the story. He hadn’t gotten to the part where he was stupid as fuck yet, but... Lin sighed, shoulders slumping toward knees in an apostrophe. He turned his eyes from his faves knees to Daniel. He pulled fretfully at the red cuffs of the sweater. “Your coffee is probably ready.”
Daniel curled up over his knees, stretching out a knobbly spine against pale skin in a long curve and propping his weight up on his knees. Rather than looking directly at Lin, who he was not able to read with any accuracy even after a short baptism in cold water, he stared blankly off into space, a crimp in dark brows the only sign that he was listening.
Daniel hadn’t known that any of Sam’s brothers were in town except Louis, who he took to be as a sort of half surprise that didn’t count. He wasn’t sure if this sister was as much of a half-surprise or not, because if Sam had ever mentioned a sister, he hadn’t been paying attention. He went over it in his mind a few times, but was unable to come up with a solid surety that she hadn’t said something of a kind. There were too many blurred blank spots in his memory. He put them there, so he should be pleased, but right now they were an inconvenience.
“Coffee tastes better when it’s been sitting there a little while,” Daniel said, in a casual use of false truth that was accompanied by a somewhat frenetic push of his fingers through the sodden curls at the back of his neck. “You said you, quote, went after him. What does that mean, Lin?” He was making a very obvious attempt to stay calm and be rational, but it was taking a lot of effort to process and he was overdoing it. It came out somewhat schoolboy, a little recitation and not reaction.
Lin wasn’t sure he liked the way Daniel appended his name to the very question he didn’t want to answer, and the frown and sweep of the eyes back to his knees betrayed as much. It wasn’t meant, he was fairly certain, as a finger jabbed in his direction, nor was it said as such, but it felt like that under the already burdensome weight of ugly guilt that wreathed his shoulders. He didn’t want to deal. With any of it. Uncharacteristic worry pulled at the corners of Lin’s mouth and he sighed into his knees.
But he had to deal, didn’t he? Fuck life.
“I asked him, in so many words, where Sam was. He said he didn’t have her and know nothing about it, he asked me to be polite. I said he did know and to shut the fuck up. He denied it further. I called him names, I think. He—uh—didn’t appreciate it.” Here the boy paused and turned his attention to the ceiling. He continued lightly, with hands withdrawn into his sleeves. “Somehow he got a hold of my adoption records and taunted me with them. Told me... stupid shit. Then he set fire to a building nearby my own. But I was staying with Aaron, so it was whatever.”
The strong sense of injustice and hatred of bullies that had loaned Lin the energy and defiance to (foolishly) stand up to Ian had, at this point, waned to nothing more than a crescent, well on its way to a new moon. And though he still felt strongly about the ordeal and his views hadn’t much changed on how it ought be handled, the boy was tired. Where a week ago he would have spoken with much more virulence, he now simply said. Lin didn’t usually simply say anything. With fingers emerging from the red sleeve, he palmed an eye absently and looked at Daniel.
“I talked to one of his... idk, contract killers or whatever, and they basically told me he would kill everyone I ever knew if I bothered the dude enough. They turned it into an allegory about soda. It was fucked up.” Lin blinked in the darkness and shrugged, like he just couldn’t believe any of it anymore. And really, he couldn’t.
Daniel couldn’t sit still through that. He knew that there were dangerous people on the journals, some of them driven by their insane counterparts, some only complimented by their situation, and he himself had certainly done little to concern himself while he was cutting entirely random swaths of nastiness in black ink. Daniel didn’t care about his own safety, and sometimes it was satisfying to put himself in passive danger, as it meant that something could finish this whole thing that required little extra effort from him, a special brand of cowardice he reserved only for himself. This was something else. This was something he had to watch.
The blue eyes met Lin’s gaze, faintly narrowed and broken sharp, before Daniel broke the gaze completely and pushed himself into movement.
Daniel got up, dragging the towel with him. He didn’t even get the chance to wonder who Aaron was. Daniel went forcefully around the edge of the bed, kicking discarded clothes and a paperback book out of his way. Somebody went to the effort of folding clean clothes in the chest of drawers, but most of it was for naught as Daniel started pulling things free. He kicked the towel under the bed to get it out from underfoot.
Daniel pulled on a shirt and some faded boxers with blue stripes, and he had the look of a recently escaped mental patient when he sat down on the edge of the bed to pull on jeans. He was putting too much effort into all of his movements, but he wasn’t in a hurry. Something Lin said made him stop and sit up, turning his chin around. Sharply, he said, “Contract killers? Why does he have contract killers?” This did not match. It wasn’t right.
Daniel was up, he was moving in the black of the room like an overcareful android, and Lin had no idea why. He was—what?—jarred into action, into clothing himself because inaction was too... inactive? (Sometimes it was hard being so smart.)
The boy watched with bland curiosity, only slightly flustered by the whole thing. He wondered if he should try the door again, the one in his mind, if that was where this was headed. But he didn’t, and instead, he swung his own feet to the floor in an effort to stop hugging himself like a baby. ...A baby that was old enough to sit up and link its arms around its knees in an attempt to stave off guilt, anyway.—He even managed to stand and run fingers through his hair before Daniel’s chin came up and the man’s eyes of broken glass were trained on him again. He faltered.
“What? To kill people, I assume.” It sounded like a smart-ass answer, but it wasn’t. Lin’s voice picked up a little inertia. He held the throat of the sweater closed without thinking. It was a protective gesture. “I told you. He’s a psychopath. I’m sure he’s done much worse than fucking kill people. He—look, we can’t do anything about it. I tried. I want to. It’s not -” He was having trouble finding a good enough reason. What could convince someone like Daniel to stand down, if he was, indeed, trying to stand up? Lin put his hands over his eyes. He tucked his chin to his chest as he continued. “Louis said they would figure it out and to stay out of it. The idk, spy dude who told me about the fire said to stay out of it. The anonymous fucking assassin said to stay out of it. Someone else involved with him who couldn’t even write without shaking said to stay out of it. Sam says to stay out of it. I’m trying to stay out of it.”
Too much was happening. Lin’s words grew increasingly frazzled and frayed. Living each day by working until he couldn’t any longer, dragging himself to the hotel to while away evening hours, and finally, hurrying back to whoever’s place he was staying at with the hope that he wasn’t being followed, that he wasn’t about to get someone killed, was wearing on Lin, slowly, but surely. However resilient he was and however many bullies he’d faced in his life, baseball bat in hand, he wasn’t impervious. And his ability to shrug things off was finding itself underdeveloped when it came to shit like this. His muscles just weren’t strong enough.
Lin looked up. His hands dropped.
“The problem is I’m not out of it. He already knows too much about me. He’s --” What did it matter? The boy waved a hand in disgust. Getting worked up was not going to help.
Even in this state, Daniel noticed the many efforts to wrap up and close down, something Lin did compulsively when he couldn’t help it. Daniel’s response was a peculiar desire to strip the closure away, to pull at the neck of the sweater, to clutch at and reveal. It wasn’t an entirely sexual impulse, nor was it entirely chaste. He did not have the wherewithal to analyze it, and only just stopped himself from standing up and moving closer. If there had been a microscope or magnifying glass, he would have used it.
Raw and ragged like an oversharpened pencil, Daniel’s shoulders flexed against the confines of the horribly worn white shirt, and he found his feet again. He ground his heels into the carpet as if he wanted to run. “I don’t understand. He has never burnt buildings before. Intimidation is a close thing, but it was always...” Daniel trailed off, staring into Lin’s face as if he could read things in print if only he knew the language. His right hand reached out of its own volition and gently caught Lin’s jaw just under his ear with four fingers to pull his gaze up so he could see it better. Confusion fluttered over Daniel’s lips, and he pressed them together. Restraint was in every muscle.
“The fuck? You know him?” Lin’s bewilderment was obvious, almost childlike, the snap of carbon filament Edison would have been proud of. If he’d been in a cartoon, his jaw would have dropped and his eyes would’ve popped in the hilarity of hyperbole. As it was, he just appeared somewhere between outraged and the distressed kind of confused, with hands open in the air between bodies. Had Daniel not stepped forward in that moment, there is no doubt that the boy would have curled back up on himself to just force everything away. He was getting real tired of the world’s shit. He was tired of the way everything in his life was connected and how it all boiled down to the stupid book and the fucking hotel.
But Daniel did step forward and the surprise shifted, sideways, a lateral tumble toward shock as the man’s fingers found the bones of Lin’s jaw and held him there, tipping his head up. He almost glared. But the sloping anger blinked out as the boy’s mind caught up with the words that had been said. He made no move to free himself, he just peered at Daniel with a sieve-tight curiosity.
“'It was always what?”
All in all, the boy was proud of himself. He hadn’t thus far kept from crying, and that was a real fucking accomplishment.
Daniel paused. It was a nakedly agonizing moment, a long stretch of guilt-ridden confusion that was mostly bleeding anger and egotistical assumptions. His face was a combination of parchment-fragile rage and crippling self-doubt that wiped most of his personality away simply to make room for everything in a single expression, thin slivers of ice blue and deep trenches at the corners of his mouth and brows. Daniel slid his tongue over the roof of his mouth and simply ceased movement. His hand stayed where it was, the fingers frozen in place, thin chest without breath. “Angelo?” Daniel said, speaking the hated name with a fluidity in a language that made the conflict of etymology and purpose clear.
The name was—well, it was wrong. It was a handful of sand on a sputtering fire and it doused it well enough. In a long, distended moment of confusion, Lin looked at Daniel blankly. Dark eyes caught the light that spilled from the bathroom. He surveyed the damage on the man’s face. He turned over the expression in his mind, what it might have meant, and why on earth it was that name of all names that was clung to, close-fist around a tall A, and then he frowned. Very, very slowly, he pulled his chin away from Daniel’s hand.
It was so cold in the room. Lin’s hands found each other again and wrung together thoughtlessly. His own well of desperation quelled in the face of utter unknowing.
“Ian.” It was a syllable without decoration and the boy tilted his head to the side. Whatever questions crowded his tongue then went unsaid and Lin tried a smile for no conceivable reason.
Daniel stared without blinking, fingers clutching at nothing, and then he dropped his arm. It was heavy and it clattered down against his hip. He moved away from it reflexively as if someone had hit him. He was stuck in the Italian like a wheel in a rut. “...Ian? Who is Ian?” A drop of frigid shower water came free of a dark curl over the arch of one brow and fell into his eye, and he blinked to shield the fragile wide pupils from the assault, reeling for a second on his feet. His stomach suddenly clenched, and he felt sick under the crashing drop of the high receding.
However terrible this bullshit was, it was something of a relief that Daniel didn’t know Marquis de Sade. It was a pebble in a landslide, but, fuck, whatever. Lin shrugged at the question and shifted on his feet uncomfortably. He didn’t know if he was supposed to do something here or if he was just supposed to watch Daniel attempt to force reality into the constraints of his mental box with little success.
He opened his mouth. He had the words at the ready, a short description of who Ian was, but he paused. His jaw snapped shut and Lin put a hand on Daniel’s elbow as if to guide him.
“Your fucking coffee is going to be frozen if you don’t drink it soon,” was all he said.
Daniel refused to move. His feet seemed part of the carpet, and he was unable to pull away. His entire body leaned into Lin’s hand without putting weight there, unthinking gravitation. “This was not him? Not... not him?” It was obvious who Daniel meant but he tasted the man’s name like poison and avoided it with a childish superstition. His mind tried to right itself and process the new information that there was some other sadistic psychopath after Sam, but he was unable to accept it. His face went abruptly gray, all color flushing out of his face immediately. The sway turned into a fall, and Daniel had just enough time to turn and sit heavily on the bed once more. He put his head in both hands.
What the hell was happening? As Daniel all but collapsed onto his bed, Lin stood there, his brain skipping like a needle over that single, spinning groove of a record. It caught and fell into place after a second with that mind-numbing scratch of vinyl. He blinked, made sure the man was, you know, not crying with a cursory glance to the left, before leaving the protoplanetary disk of the bedroom at a brisk pace.
When he returned not forty five seconds later, Lin had the fucking coffee. It was cold. He hadn’t taken the time to dig under the mounds of outdated newspapers for a mug, so it was in a glass, but Daniel was just going to have to live with that. It was warm between his palms and, just briefly, the boy almost wished he drank the shit. The familiarity of its smell and the deep brown liquid, even the sound it made washing side to side in the glass, offered a strange modicum of comfort. -- But, he wasn’t quite ready to make the leap into coffee-drinker territory.
He seated himself next to Daniel and held the glass out to him with more patience than was usual.
“Not Angelo, no. Just some asshole named Ian. Here. Take the coffee.”
Daniel was coherent by the time Lin had returned. He wasn’t as skilled with retreating; Daniel’s mind did not allow him that kind of solitude, too intent on working, on constantly pushing and pulling reality through the gears of his of guilt and passions combined. Daniel needed chemical assistance to find his way free of that movement, to freeze the gears, to prevent the wheels from turning. The major similarity it shared with Lin’s secret little room was that it was complete. All or nothing. It turned everything off without focus, and Daniel paid that price without hesitation, when he had the leisure.
He looked up, and he put a hand out to take the glass, but it was shaking, and in the end he just flexed his fingers and let it stay in the air between them. “You are hiding here?” Daniel said, in English. The coffee smelled good, and Daniel let exhausted eyes trickle down to the glass, widening out his thumb from his palm somewhat helplessly.
Lin was situated close enough to Daniel to lean against him, which he did. There was the press of shoulder to shoulder, red on white, a small amount of warmth, and the boy turned his gaze away from the man, from the tremors in the cold-palmed hands, out to the room at large, its little icebergs of clothing and literature dotting the landscape, before, finally, he just looked at his own feet. There was a certain kind of defeated (or defeatist, maybe) quality in his eyes, but he made sure it went unseen. His legs were open at the knees and his feet were heel to heel on the carpet, picked out only in their garish green.
The boy thought about the melodramatic answer, I’m hiding everywhere, but it only made him have to bite back a weak laugh. Instead, he went for a stripped down response, accompanied by his habitual shrug.
“If you let me, I guess.” Lin scratched at the back of his head. He frowned at his shoes.
Daniel leaned back. He had no melodramatic answers. Nor did he have melodramatic questions. He didn’t have anything in him but a sick, sweltering mix of exhaustion, fear, sickness and thirst. The last was stronger than the other three, but it always was. “Yes. You stay.” Daniel brought his hand back close and made an abortive movement to touch his hair, but his fingers only made it halfway, and he rubbed at the scar on one shoulder. “As long as you can stand it. You can have the study. I think it’s empty. Furniture that came with the place, maybe.” Daniel assumed Lin would want to get away from him as soon as possible. He was unpleasant company for longer than an hour, and he knew that for certain. Daniel flexed his hand once more, and finally took the glass with caution. He seemed not to feel the heat. He asked no more questions.
Of course, Daniel’s assumption was wrong (Lin was one of those people who was comforted by the presence of others. Like a cat or something), but it didn’t matter. Thin fingers released the cut crystal of the impromptu coffee mug and turned to the buttons of the Mr. Rogers cardigan. One hand in the thick black of his hair, another on round red buttons. The boy’s nerves were manifesting themselves with as much physicality as ever. But he didn’t notice. He nodded in a terse movement of muscle and never did look over at his, um, let’s call him a housemate, not even as the man leaned against him.
Drawing his legs up, feet curved into the edge of the bed, Lin sat a moment as Daniel considered the coffee. Neck swanned forward, chin on his knees, he thought idly on tungsten light bulbs, on the element of krypton vs. argon, and vacuums. He closed his eyes, a brief meeting heavy of lids, before finally sweeping his attention back to the man and his dumb-as-ever blue eyes.
Normally, he might have defied the wishes—the implication present in the ‘study’—he would have forced his way into the crypt and would have smothered himself in blankets and that would’ve been that. But, ah, well, this wasn’t so normal, was it? A zero-lift turn had been enacted. Shit was real. Three cheers for the USSR.
“Spasibo, Mecheny,” began the boy with a measure of earnestness that was usually beyond him. He smiled. It held for the span of a synaptic flare. Then he was pushing away, backwards, onto the bed, until he could snag the corner of the heavy duvet he’d cocooned in during his last visit. He dragged it past Daniel. “I’m going to borrow this.”
He shot the man a worried glance.
“If you die in the middle of the night, I’m going to be pissed.” Those were Lin’s last words before fleeing the crypt altogether to arrange himself some kind of nest in what he decided would be known as the vault.