|MJ's a little (flirty) wrote in doorslogs,|
@ 2013-10-29 03:39:00
|Entry tags:||beast, cheshire cat|
Who: Daniel Webster & Lin Alesi
What: Daniel returns from hiding in his Door, Lin shows him yo-yo tricks, part I of II
Where: der Dom, natürlich
When: BACKDATED to a hella long time ago, pre-Halloween plot
Warnings/Rating: Swears, sobriety, unhealthy relationship models
The Dom had grown smaller during Lin’s stay, actively shrinking by day, ceilings dropping feet overnight, walls inching in as the Chandler wobble tipped Earth from its rotation. The apartment was closer-fitting, safe in its cemetery of books and the open skulls of empty whiskey bottles that sat as warning to the living that were brought near by curiosity. It didn’t feel quite so cavernous, or quite so cold—whether that was normal human thermoregulatory response to cold, as acclimation (or, better said, habituation), the thermal micro-climate he’d created with a pastiche of sweaters (the few he’d managed to bring), or the gradual loss of fucking caring, the boy didn’t know. He didn’t dwell on it either. He didn’t dwell on much, because, if he did, he would end up clambering atop one of the taller stacks of books, muttering some cliched words to all the other books gathered around about the world and how cruel it was and goodbye, and jumping, all before the next hour was up. His mind continued to take in information, of course, the mutineer that it was, and to process and sort, but it did it quietly, with only the hum of action that was too ubiquitous to notice giving it away. It remembered the photos in stomach-turning red and sockets not hollow of viscera, it remembered to worry about Daniel and Sam and Louis and Neil and Ella and Beth, it remembered the cracks that grew alongside sulci and gyri and threatened to fucking let the dike fall, to just expose that sunless little room in its recesses to the dust-dulled light of Daniel’s apartment, it remembered the man, too, with the curls and the blue eyes who was wasting away behind some door, it remembered its clenching anger, but Lin—the boy in the comes-in-a-six-pack plain white v-neck, and thin-legged gray cords? He didn’t remember it, any of it. He chose not to.
Instead, he launched himself fully into a flurry of distraction, something he was very, very good at, with years of fine-fingered practice behind him. First, he set up a base in the crypt, a spread of thick comforter over the false sarcophagus of the bed, pillows piled high. The bed was empty save for a notebook no one had ever seen, old, Lisa Frank cats with loving rainbow eyes and tails held aloft on the cover, closed over a pen near Lin’s laptop. On the floor, amid shoes, stood bottles of nail polish and a miniature library of foreign language books, all marked with torn pieces of lined paper shoved in thoughtlessly when concentration sputtered out in the black of night. There were a couple rubber balls marbled in neon colors, and a sparkly-skinned 3DS abandoned nearby.
Second, came the cleaning of the apartment and the caring for QP. The woman whose name Daniel still didn’t know had been angry, very seriously informing Lin that messing with the hermit’s books was to invite the same man’s ugly, alcoholic wrath (or so he assumed, since he couldn’t actually understand her), but that didn’t stop him. There were speakers shoved to the spine of the sofa where he’d hook up his phone and full-volume blast Katy Perry, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Beyoncé while he fucked with the archaeological miracle of dust that safeguarded Daniel’s beloved, but shunned literature. The drapes were kept closed, with rooms lit by yellow lamps and bare walls, but the neglectful decoration of skin cells and meteorite particles was very conspicuously gone. (At first the boy had been wary about fucking with Daniel’s space, but then the man disappeared and he stopped caring.)
Third, Lin spent hours teaching himself some motherfucking sick yo-yo tricks from the very serious yo-yo wiki, because he enjoyed accruing useless talents. It was proof of ...something, probably. He was in the middle of one lesson at present (the offstring whip), with QP in attendance as always when things were flying around and he wanted them. But, it had been interrupted by Sam’s warning on the comms of Daniel’s impending return—which resurrected a strange anxiety from the bottom of Lin’s stomach, one he chose not to investigate, as well as the pressure of time. It created a confusion in the small body the boy occupied and he noticed his concentration slipping as he attempted to pop his yo-yo (a yellow-stringed 4mm YWET by Anti-yo) out of the loop he’d created, as per step three, non-yo-hand (industry lingo, not even kidding) failing to offer the correct angle for success.
Rihanna sang to her rude boy as Lin collapsed in a fold of skinny boy on the striped sofa, muffling the speakers with his side, but singing along. His socked feet peeked over arm in a collision of pink and purple on rich person turquoise and black, and he unfurled his arm sideways in preoccupation, sending the yo-yo arcing in a breakaway, very aware of the looming flood his brain was preparing to loose on him and very unhappy about it.
The chinking glide of the metal doors and the oiled creak of the cables were a new chorus for Daniel as he made his way back up to the gilded burrow he had made in the Las Vegas sky for himself. He tried to reorder his priorities as the elevator slid him ever upward into the thin atmosphere held off by curtained glass. The brass felt cold under his palms as he leaned all of his weight against whatever wall would take it, knowing that he had somehow allowed Lin and Sam to slide into the chinks in his armor and settle comfortably in the vault as if it never had a door. It was a failing, a screw up, a willful mistake, perhaps something he should have foreseen. Daniel turned the guilt over in his mind and could do nothing except prod at it, turning over the old rusty twist of it in the pit of his stomach. He should do something now, something he hadn’t done then, something to force them off into better company, but they had maneuvered that option into non-being with the continual physical threat of the outside world. Fucking Ian and everything the man stood for, he had made it so cold outside that even Daniel’s frigid fortress counted as warm.
Daniel thought he should isolate. It should have been easy, a plane ticket, a new apartment, just a new door and a new vault, this time without chinks. Yet it wasn’t possible for Daniel to do further damage when he knew how fragile the two of them were, especially without the comforting veil of liquor to blur the lines between protecting them and protecting himself. And it was far too late to drive them off, especially since Sam knew that tactic well and Lin was smart enough to make Daniel pay for the attempt in whatever means were at his disposal. Daniel thought Lin could be very creative if pushed, and as Daniel had very little he valued that was physical, he realized how vulnerable he was where Lin was concerned. He lifted his eyes and stared back into the vague smudges of blue dyed sunset in the bronze finish of the elevator doors. “Fuck.” Even his voice sounded like a stranger’s.
Daniel kicked the ripple of bronze marking the barrier between the elevator and the hallway as he entered. It was an aggressive, angry scuff of nearly new sole on expensive hardwood, and it marked an intentional transition that Daniel rarely indulged in. As he stepped through the door, the sharpness of his edges and the unmistakable gray glint to his blue eyes spelled out layers of awareness that Daniel did not normally have. Even his movements were terse and studied, like abbreviations on a page. One could easily imagine his tongue would be the same.
Daniel stopped just inside the door. The horrible woman coming out of the speakers made his ears bleed, but that wasn’t what he noticed immediately. He kicked back to shove the door closed behind him and the resulting air pressure made book pages quiver and the decided lack of dust echo in the room. At first he looked around, as the tinny horror had no real source, and the back of the couch obscured his view of anything else. “Lin?”
The white cat came around the corner and became nothing but a pale streak in Daniel’s direction, too young to remember that masters long missing deserved disdain, not attention.
The first thing that happened was the yo-yo, caught in the surprised spasm of a hand gone rigid, dropped, as if suddenly remembering gravity’s insistence. There was the soft clatter of molded plastic on carpet. The music grew louder by a breath and Lin’s socks (uh, and feet) disappeared from the arm of the sofa as he swore, leaned forward, and tried to retrieve the piece of shit and fix its fucking magically tangled string. His heart decelerated from its spike of speed, both feet on the brakes, brain wrapping hands around the throat of its fucking presumptive amygdala. (How dare it induce flight or fight? How dare it be scared by an unexpected change in perceived routine? Fucking garbage!) With no hesitation thereafter, the boy’s head poked over the back of the sofa seconds after his name was uttered, black hair still spray-painting anarchy A’s all over town. He gripped the stripes of the couch and brought himself parallel on knees to the backs of cushions. The yo-yo sat next to him.
Sam was right about the need for ironing. Daniel was like a week-old newspaper tossed aside, headlines no longer pertinent. His clothes were wrinkled and he looked drained, the gaunt exhaustion that came from crossing an enchanted threshold and living for weeks in the mind of someone else without human sustenance or, you know, whatever, apparent on his face. Lin could tell the man was sober—not because Sam had told him or by, you know, fucking following the logic that lack of sustenance equaled lack of alcohol (wow, amazing), but simply from the razed metal edges of Daniel’s shoulders, the quantum colors of his eyes clouded, and the fucking look on his face as he stood near the door of the Dom, little QP frolicking at his feet, captivated by some stray thread on Daniel’s pants or something—all of which the boy had trained himself to notice with a tip of the head and a glance.
“Daniel,” he replied with no smile or any inclination toward movement. It was a straight word, unfettered with useless animation of the eyebrows. He plucked up his toy and shifted so he had more room for movement, keeping himself not-on-his-face-on-the-floor with his chest pressed to the sofa’s back. “Watch this cool-ass trick.”
It was called Split the Atom. Strong sleeper throw, split bottom mount, bring non-yo hand index finger underneath the yo-yo, once more, then take right-side string and thread the yo-yo onto it, down and catch. It had taken him about three days of hours and hours of practice to get it right, to keep his fingers from fumbling (he did it while reciting Russian vocab to make it stick), but he finally got it, and damn, if he wasn’t going to show it to fucking somebody who wasn’t a cat. The boy grinned, proud of himself and his motor skills, with the youth inherent therein pushing whatever details of his own insomnia and uncertainty from his face, and presenting Lin as he ever was.
The anger he’d felt—and still felt, honestly, in deep tissue and muscles that wanted to constrict and suffocate—was drowned, and whatever tears he’d cried alone were long gone by now. The boy left behind was perhaps a little more brittle for it, like to snap, but weeks alone had mellowed him. First and foremost, he was fucking happy to see someone (who, again, wasn’t a cat) and for that someone to be Daniel, regardless of the man’s crumpled appearance, regardless of any and every-fucking-thing.
Quickly, wordlessly, he dropped the yo-yo to the floor and jumped over the sofa as Rihanna sang on. A crack appeared on Lin’s face then, a snap of ice in warm water, and something showed in the way he didn’t look up from his feet as he moved. The space between couch and door was crossed thoughtlessly. It was probably stupid and it was probably needy and it was probably weak, but he didn’t give a fuck. Careful not to crush the adorable kitten beneath jazzy socks, the boy insinuated himself nearer to Daniel and hugged him.
Daniel wasn’t sure what to make of Lin’s initial greeting. He had not been this sober for this long in months, maybe years, depending on the date, and he was realizing that the nuances of reality were more difficult to assess. He saw a lot more than he had before, noticed more about the darkness in Lin’s eyes and the set of them into the boy’s face that indicated more age but less maturity, picture drawings that etched more securely into Daniel’s memory and nestled conclusions there that he ordinarily ignored. For the first time it occurred to Daniel that Lin’s youth and boyishness, the thing that made him boy and not man, it was an aura of behavior and nothing intensely physical. The brief revelation set little thunderstorms alight in the back of the Mediterranean blue speckling the width of his irises.
Daniel couldn’t remember if he had heard his name spoken on such neutral tones before, and it made him nervous, a feeling that he ruthlessly identified and clamped down into stillness almost as soon as he detected its presence. The softer curve of his mouth settled down deeper under the influence of new gravity, and a little chain of muscles into movement around the edge of his right eye. Even his weight shifted backward toward the door, old instincts putting nerves into escape before Daniel made a conscious decision to consider running.
Then he was watching a yo-yo trick, and he didn’t know why. Drunk, Daniel probably would have been semi-mesmerized by the performance, perhaps even wondered about its scientific significance in the way of physics and then purely for its bland entertainment, but this version of Daniel was through that little train of thought within the first four milliseconds of the yo-yo making an appearance. His attention visibly moved away from the demonstration. He saw more of the things Lin had changed, noted that all the old newspapers were gone, that his books had been moved or ordered (perhaps both), that curtains and fabrics meant to be left to the dust were hanging lightly in the stirring air.
As Lin beamed, Daniel blinked and looked down at the cat. The white furball had doubled in size and was alternating between sinuous deposits of white hair on his ankles and continued attempts to climb his leg with claws and determination alone. “Beeindruckend,” he said. It was impossible to tell to which of them he was referring, but given that the cat was generally the recipient of French, more likely the yo-yo.
Daniel watched Lin approach with some trepidation, and he had still not decided what to do even when Lin had already wrapped his arms around him. People did not come to Daniel for comfort, neither men nor women, knowing too much about his inherent selfishness. When Daniel was physical it was because he wanted something, and not for any other reason. Daniel’s parents hadn’t touched him more than was absolutely necessary, and he didn’t have siblings or close friends that did anything more than shake his hand. The hug took him by surprise, and he had no idea what to do with it, as it spelled out more intimacy that he was ready to deal with in the first five minutes of arriving.
After a second, the insides of Daniel’s elbows scraped down Lin’s shoulderblades, and a brief compression was all there was to the embrace itself. Far more intimate were the four fingers that curled against the base of Lin’s neck as Daniel’s right hand traveled the circumference of the hug, solid pressure that sunk in and stayed there.
Lin already knew it was impressive, the yo-yo trick—most human feats were, in their own way, weren’t they? An unlikely choreography of millions of increasingly complex systems that had evolved over billions of years, all resulting from a jump start of electricity to primordial soup, operating in a world whose own existence was nearly impossible, against physical laws no one fully understood. It was downright awesome, when you thought about it. Plus, it was him, so...—and he brushed the pseudo-compliment aside with disregard for its receipt. He didn’t need to be told. The German was something of a comfort though, for reasons Lin had again decided against dissecting. He shucked aside the inklings that reminded him that it was familiarity, that it reminded him that he had been alone and probably would like just about anything right now. And he shucked them aside violently.
The pressure of the returned embrace on his shoulders was almost perfunctory (worse than Aaron even), textbook, an alien’s interpretation of human affection according to a diagram printed in colors the alien couldn’t even fucking see, but it was nice all the same. It was solid. It was something, and after a whole lot of nothing, it was enough. Or, ...close enough.
Fingers rested against cervical vertebrae with weight. Lin’s chin was on Daniel’s shoulder, his head angled toward the man. The dirigible of Daniel’s chest was held onto, hard ribs against the insides of elbows. There was nothing perfunctory about the boy’s own delivered hug, and if there was anything more than comfort-mongering going on, he was unaware, and he was quiet. He just stayed. He never did have a real understanding of the tricky concept of ‘enough’ when it came to others, a lesson everyone seemed to have learned in one of the grades he skipped. The boy didn’t break away. He was almost worried he would cry. Because his life liked to throw hardballs at his head and laugh when he started bleeding. God. That’d be a fucking cherry on top of the bullshit (whatever), wouldn’t it? To break down now?
His chest was tight, but Lin was tired and he wasn’t sure his body could create more tears at this point, sources dried up, luckily for them both. His supply was exhausted and the machinery suffered malfunctions, maintenance was busy. What did it matter?
He knew, with a distracted certainty he didn’t listen to, that he should’ve been angry at Daniel, and maybe he was, he didn’t know, everything superseded. It had been weeks, and it had been selfish, but necessary, maybe. He didn’t want to think about it. Ian was dead and surely everything would go back to normal. Right? Lin would find a place to go for himself. Right? -- In that buried place within chambered walls, there was a bottomless pool of guilt, tapped often, but in secret. Lin had made the man take him in, he’d dragged him into the fucked up fucking Ian business, he brought him to the hospital to see Sam, which drove the bro to his fucking door for weeks, he had broken his own word and, uh, came onto him, and, ultimately, don’t tell anyone, but he didn’t want Daniel to hate him, so he felt he needed to stop. Right?
It was no use. He didn’t know. All he knew was that without Sam at the hotel, Daniel probably wouldn’t have come back.
Lin pulled away, back into the cold of the room. He rubbed his nose and blinked at the man from inches away.
“I cleaned,” was all he said.
Daniel relaxed as the hug went on a little longer. Lin did not seem to expect anything from him or the gesture, and rather than seizing up and drawing away with discomfort, Daniel relaxed. His muscles softened, his shoulders lowered, and his chest offered more acceptance and less resistance. The embrace became warm, easier as Daniel let himself breathe. Daniel’s clothes smelled musty, as if he had only recently escaped total abandonment in an old closet. Beneath that his skin smelled paper dry, with maybe twenty-four hours’ worth of perspiration and neglect. The resultant aura was more purely Daniel, the musky, thick smell that was usually flavored more strongly by whiskey, but when left alone was more male than anything else. The hints of Passages Hotel clung to the edges of that musk, flavored with age and the dank decaying smell of old wet carpet and warping wood.
When Lin pulled away Daniel offered no resistance. His arms fell flat and the calm sea blue of his eyes opened easy. He looked odd without the extreme relaxation of whiskey or the intolerable twisting tension of fear, and his ability to stand without a sway seemed strange indeed. Daniel stooped and picked up the cat, cradling it into his chest with both forearms. A riotous purr took over the conversation.
He looked up to Lin and allowed his head to tip ever so slightly to one side. He stuck to German, for some reason. “I noticed.” Daniel assumed that Lin would make the apartment as much his own as physically possible, but he also (incorrectly, it seemed) assumed that Lin would go home as soon as possible. “I’m sorry I was gone so long I…” He seemed to debate lying and decided against it. “...I didn’t want to deal with shit so I just stayed in there. I wasn’t paying attention to how many times I turned around.” Daniel’s gaze leveled on Lin’s face, clear and straight. “I’m surprised you’re still here. You don’t want to leave?” The blue flashed around the room. “Can’t be fun being here alone.”
Lin slid back onto heels with his usual jittering, bones clacking under skin and socks quiet against relatively clean carpet. He watched Daniel scoop up QP with a blankness; after so much time by himself, he found parts of his brain had shuttered in preparation for the inevitable. It made him feel a little like he needed to remember how to fucking talk to live people who weren’t sobbing or screaming. Ugh. Daniel smiled, even as the apartment dropped out from behind the boy liked a canyon with a coolness stirring around the cuffs of cords, a yawning suck from the expanse—Lin knew, he could just tell that not too far away the fucking Eagle Nebula—the Pillars of Creation—had erupted in elephant trunks of ionized sulfur, double-ionized oxygen, hydrogen blinking green amid hot stars and UV light.
He smiled, too, and shuffled backwards through the extempore light years in an attempt to get Daniel to follow him out of pure human gravity, celestial mechanics and the orbits of artificial satellites, and gene-deep responsiveness that monkey-barred on double helices. (The man was still a goddamn flight risk.)
Lin didn’t mind the clarity of the dude’s expression, however unusual (it was actually very intriguing; of course it was a sobriety thing, he knew that. It just wasn’t as dangerous as it had felt the last time and that meant something), and his hands slipped into his pockets as he skirted a tower of books, drifting farther into the Dom.
The boy listened—to the apology, to all of it. He observed the brevity of the pause in explanation without comment and a nod. He draped himself over the back of the sofa, away from Daniel and QP, hardly noticing the German was German, with toes barely brushing the floor. He turned Rihanna off with a click, then decided spontaneously not to slide back onto his feet. He hung there, an oort cloud suspended by stomach on starchy sofa and thought a moment, looking over his shoulder to speak. He kicked his feet childishly.
“No, it’s been lonely,” he admitted without venom. Lin’s soles met the carpet and he turned to lean against the sofa and face Daniel. He kicked the man’s shiny-ass shoes (this was maybe the second time Lin had seen him in shoes and it still looked weird) lightly with his big toe, black-brown eyes dropping to watch. He shrugged and sucked on his bottom lip, all very seriously. He had nowhere to go.--But he should find one, right? Probs. Frankly, leaving hadn’t crossed his mind, outside of the internal pressure to not be such a fucking irritation to people that helped him. “But QP would’ve died. That would be less fun, I think. Not to mention, fucking heartbreaking.”
The boy looked up to Daniel almost abruptly, jarred by a realization. A more familiar childlike expression of open curiosity replaced his solemn moue.
“Do you want me to go?”
Lin’s little trick to draw Daniel into the interior of the apartment worked like a charm, and it was probably one of the few things that he could do that a sober Daniel wouldn’t notice was a trick at all. Still cradling the cat with a certain type of embarrassment reserved for people who were stupid about their pets when no one was looking and were self-conscious about it when someone was around, Daniel took a step forward into the entryway, passed a door, and finally pulled himself into the central living room. The white cat had all his claws firmly in Daniel’s shirt and was purring like a motor while the author’s square fingertips worked down under a layer of silk fuzz on either side of the feline spine.
Daniel kept his attention on Lin. The nod of acknowledgment for the apology was not particularly reassuring, but Daniel didn’t think he deserved better and was not disturbed by it. His expression of relief when the high wailing woman on the radio gave way to empty silence was so tangible that one could actually feel it coming off of his body. The sound of the cat took over to the point where Daniel’s breathing was an almost inaudible counterpoint.
The dark curls rearranged on the crown of Daniel’s head as he tipped it slightly to one side. Lin was literally the only person he had ever heard say that he was lonely out loud in German, and it sounded peculiar to his ears. It was an admission of weakness to most men, and a come on for some women, and to Daniel the bare meaning of the word was still elusive. Daniel’s eyes slid down to watch the boyish socks bounce off the toes of his ill-fitting shoes. Immediately, he put one toe behind the opposite heel, stepped down, and pulled one foot free, then did the same in a mirror image until he was standing to one side of the shoes, which now looked as if they’d come straight off the rack.
“It was nice of you to stay and take care of my cat,” Daniel said, still in German, flicking off the boxy syllables effortlessly. The possessive slid right off his tongue, no problem. Daniel’s eyes went evasive, darting around the room. His guilt was harder to spot now, little flint edges in the corners of his jaw and the climbing silhouette of his shoulders. “I’ll stick around more.” He didn’t want Lin to think that it was stay or the white cat was a corpse.
Daniel’s gaze came back up with enough time for the blue to smack hard into Lin’s questioning gaze. Much of Daniel’s inherent charisma was apparent in the intelligence of that look. The alcohol did an excellent job of hiding it on most occasions. Daniel thought for less than a second. “It would be better for you if you went. But you don’t have to.” Immediately after this, he said, “No, I guess I don’t want you to.” The guilt shone a little brighter there, just for a moment.
Lin could appreciate the finesse with which Daniel plied the German genitive case, the smoothness of a language spoken with fluency, despite what many perceived as a back-of-the-throat harshness, plosives and glottal stops (it wasn’t really harsh), and it showed on his face, though the sentiment itself (thanks for watching my cat? wtf?)—so fucking Wonderbread bland it might have come from any weird, attractive stranger whose cat he’d watched while they were away in a magical land hiding from their rl problems—settled right at the bottom of his stomach with the weight of clay silt. (And by the way, he totally noted the head-tilt the confession of loneliness elicited.) He shrugged, as was only expected. Narrow lift, the slip of eyebrows, eyes to the side and a turn of bottom lip, a mosaic that offered an ‘yeah, okay, it’s whatever’ expression of the shoulders.
Daniel removed his pretty shoes and Lin moved backward and hopped to sit on the back of the couch, his hands keeping him upright.
His ability to remain serious for a stretch of time, continuously, had greatly deteriorated over his host’s absence. That sorry muscle had been overworked, had torn in a shred of red, and needed the recuperation it was seldom allowed in weeks past. He tried though, for Daniel, for what he assumed was wanted when someone came back from hiding. For all his worry and irritation and latent anger and loneliness, it was difficult. Whatever had split across his face as he went to hug Daniel was gone.
“Gee, you’re welcome, Uncle Billy,” he replied in his best Leave It to Beaver voice, with that wavering Midwestern sweetness and bubble of milk at the back of his throat that bespoke of shit like baseball in a vacant lot and a whole lotta social inequality. He kicked a foot to Daniel’s thigh. Lightly. “Mom says it builds character, just like white bread does. She says it’ll help me grow and vote Republican, just like Dad.”
Lin observed the rise and fall of the Guilt Dynasty (the Union of Alcoholic Guilt Complexes, UAGC; port-wine birthmark and all) on the ice-sharp features of the man’s face, even as the dude turned to look away; all it took was a characteristic glide of brown, watching how the strange emotion washed, how it dropped an Iron Curtain—but how that Curtain dissolved like every mandated policy forced by tyrants, it was like the fucking Autumn of Nations in 1989.—He saw too the flicker of that motherfucking, dickhead charm in the blue of Daniel’s eyes as his gaze returned to the boy perched on the sofa. Lin shook his head at it, vehemently.
“No,” he stated firmly to the glint. There was a rapid shift to colloquial English, a pendulum swing that had become part of a pattern in his conversations with Daniel. He flitted between languages with glee, too. It was obvious from the sly, but childishly apparent smile that quirked on his lips when he did it. He slipped off the sofa and pushed Daniel’s elbow to get past him, with no outward acknowledgment given to Daniel’s ‘I guess I don’t want you to go’ answer. (I’ll leave the mental reaction to your imaginations.) “I don’t want that shit, girl. Your fucking womanizer shit. I don’t need that. I have very important shit to do. Probably over here.”
He began winding toward the hallway, pausing a few seconds later to look at Daniel. He blinked.
“Well, come on, Skippy. Let’s go.”
Daniel’s dark brows lifted ever so slightly at this strong Germanic denial. The determined swing to English made him blink, but it didn’t phase his understanding, and if anything his attention only sharpened. Lin was good at keeping Daniel’s attention, even as the cat sunk claws into his sleeve and attempted to climb up his shoulder. There was limited success in this endeavor, and Daniel put a palm up to catch the furry white body as it started to slide back down toward his hip.
It wasn’t Daniel’s style to do much interrupting of movement, but he didn’t like it much when Lin brushed right past his elbow. This sober Daniel didn’t like being ignored, didn’t like being part of the furniture. He wouldn’t be moved like he was nothing, and some of the strength required to shut himself away was temporarily visible in the crystal rime that came over his blue eyes. He turned again to face Lin’s retreat toward the hallway. Some of the sharpness eased, to be replaced by very temporary confusion, then that too evaporated.
“You’ve never seen my ‘womanizer shit,’” Daniel said, in English, not bothering to hide his amusement. After a tickle of his fingers under the furry white chin (the cat attempted a half-hearted gnaw) Daniel bent and put the cat on the floor. It seemed like a very long movement, though Daniel was not very tall.
In a vague movement that mimicked Lin’s a moment before, Daniel made a short, three inch move backward toward the kitchen. The come hither was entirely imaginative, faint hints, static bits of dust shifting to follow. He thought maybe he left the laptop there last, maybe under piles of the newspapers that were delivered every day from various European capitals. “We have things to do here, first. For Sam, so she doesn’t get herself into more trouble.” He hesitated, looked at the hallway’s blank layers for a moment, then looked back at Lin. “After we can go wherever you want.” Daniel let his lips curve. It was only a few degrees, a slick little thing of a few dozen facial muscles and just enough scruff to set a match on fire.
Daniel had levers and pins littered throughout his guarded, polar landscape, hidden knobs and trap doors that would drop one’s ass down a chute, without warning, to begin a long haul in a Rube Goldberg-worthy succession of falling dominos and very hard lines tightening at the corners of jaws. Lin had fun pushing buttons, as a rule. He liked to see what did what, if he pressed this key, what did it turn on or off, what gear ground to teeth that spun a top, that cut a line, that forced the rhipidate swing of tethered apparatus. Was there a brake?—Such exploration (and often puncturing) of boundaries was an extension of his natural curiosity. He saw it as an opportunity to learn, even if it didn’t win him any friends. And, as such, he knew well enough which trap doors held land mines and which were a harmless fall. His eyes caught the momentary mask, the chip in blue the brush aside earned him, and the check to keep it in place. Lin grinned and raised his eyebrows at the man holding the kitten.
“Pff. Please. I’ve seen that bullshit smile. Lucky for me, I know you’re too much of an asshole to mean it.” It was blasé. A joke. There was a wave of the hand.
Some of the challenger’s smugness waned, however, as Daniel bent in half to set QP down. Four white paws met the floor. Black-brown eyes widened. The boy opened his mouth, ready to protest what he saw as gross manipulation—it was unfair to come waltzing in after weeks away, even in wrinkled clothes, and just be all fucking wanton about 2-Live Crew interpretative dance. But, before he was able to voice this opinion, Daniel was shifting backward toward the kitchen, and with as little awareness as the man moments before, Lin was following, slowly. He dipped back to the sofa to get the yo-yo.
“What happened?” The question, in that snap of second, was sincere. Trouble? Sam? The waylaid worry flooded back beneath brown skin, electricity frizzled across his brain, prickling universes of what-ifs and could-bes into being, only to be stopped short by the look back and the condensational smile. There were more what-ifs, different ones. Rude-ass ones. Lin returned the quirk of lips, though his was sweet, free of any insinuation, as he came forward and moved into the kitchen. He paused only to tip his head against Daniel’s shoulder with exaggerated rapture before he continued. “Fucking finally, we can go to the ball-pit at Burger King and then go inline skating. I knew you couldn’t hold out.”
The boy situated himself next to the sink where he occupied himself with running the yo-yo along the lines of tiles with a wavering precision. The room was as clean as anywhere else, save for the mess on the table. Lin didn’t eat at it and so he’d left it. There were a few newspapers opened, mostly German, a few Italian and a French, and dots and dashed lined them with notes from a ballpoint pen. But most remained where they had fallen.
Daniel did not laugh at the joke. He hadn’t made one, and didn’t see it. His brow furrowed slightly, but it was just one brow that inched up, very gently. It was a perfect expression, and it communicated both Daniel’s lack of comprehension, and then a continued understanding that was meant to say, quite clearly, I wasn’t joking. Again he smiled. This one was flavored slightly by blue flame, long and low.
Daniel turned entirely toward the kitchen and strode toward it. The curls on the back of his head were pressed flat against his skull, causing his gaze to be faintly lopsided with most of the curls pressing forward against his ears and his face. It was obvious that the curls grew that way when he didn’t take the trouble of shoving his hand through them every ten minutes. He smiled at the mention of the ball-pit at Burger King. It was like he was envisioning it and somehow, impossibly, managing to think of dark things in warm places.
“She’s okay. But she doesn’t know what the fuck to do about these lawyers and settlements. She put all the money into property, but she doesn’t know about taxes or how to handle anything that’s not spelled out.” Daniel said this all with flippant intensity, aware it was insulting but also ignoring a societal expectation that he be kinder about his assessment of Sam’s financial abilities. “She doesn’t have a job, health insurance, and she’s talking about art school like it’s someplace she can just show up and someone will write her on a list.”
Daniel commanded the kitchen with his presence as soon as he was inside it, going straight to the kitchen table and sorting through what was there in the vain hope that he would find his laptop. It didn’t turn up, so he rotated in place and looked at the cupboard where the bottles were. Any other expression fell from his face.
Lin practiced his split-bottom mount. With his bottom lip caught between teeth and eyebrows furrowed, he calculated the necessary momentum to bring the spinning purple of the yo-yo up from its long sleeper throw, and onto the length of string. It took two attempts at present, which was a lot less than before, and he was happy with that. The move was the basis of the Boingy Boing, a more complicated bit of cooperation between central nervous and musculoskeletal systems that he was trying to get down. He didn’t look up from the web he’d created between fingers as Daniel searched and spoke.
“I think she could legit get in somewhere with her welding. I saw her arty Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought interp at Neil’s. It wouldn’t be that hard for her, I don’t think. Girl’s got skills.” Lin shrugged from the side of the room, still focused on bouncing the yo-yo off the string, back and forth, to recreate the whole ‘boingy boing’ thing. He glanced up to see Daniel staring at the cupboard he kept his bottles in like he’d just seen Jesus and Jesus had flashed him. Lin’s brain blanked on sending along the message to deep flexors and superficial flexors. The yo-yo jerked hard sideways from the string, hitting the yellow line off-center, and careened into the lip of the sink. Very fucking loudly.
The boy jumped like a scared, decidedly not deaf cat, surprised at the sound he’d made, leaving the toy to dangle uselessly from the loop tight around the knobbed knuckle of his middle finger, until it unraveled far enough to smack onto tiles. He immediately stared at Daniel, the expression on dark features the guiltiest it had likely ever been in the cathedral of an apartment.
It occurred to Lin that the man was seeking his laptop.
He tugged the yo-yo free and discarded it a second time. The kitchen was smaller than the living area, bulldozed of the redwoods of hardcovers with rings that went back years. Softly on socks, Lin cut across the space. He didn’t know what the fuck was happening, but that look—the lack of look and the lack of going for a bottle straightaway with any kind of fucking traditional Daniel coolness, drew the boy in closer, his alcoholic-spidey senses tingling. He hooked an arm around Daniel’s and leaned against him, eyes skimming up the cupboard from hardwood feet.
“Come on, your computer is in the bedroom,” he said to the man, dropping a hook under stormy seas in Italian, hoping it would catch.
Daniel sent a bland look at the yo-yo. It must say something, he thought to himself, when a grown man occupies his mind with a child’s toy. The surface skill offered only deepened Daniel’s private concern, as it said something about what Lin had been doing with his time, and it wasn’t something Daniel considered healthy. Daniel was unhealthy, so he knew what it fucking looked like. He reached up, thumb spread far away from his first finger, and rocked the resulting L under the rough edge of his chin. The contemplative look was new and wildly sober.
He blinked when Lin started speaking. Daniel picked it up halfway through the second sentence; because he wasn’t listening, not because he was too drunk to process. “Maybe. But even that won’t provide health insurance. And fucking Neil isn’t going to do a goddamn thing.” If Daniel could have possibly loathed anyone more, he would not have been able to use a colder, denser tone. It was like the words grew ice and sank down to the bottom of some nonexistent ocean right underneath his feet. In the resulting current, his eyes flashed, and he reached up and tossed the cupboard door aside to pull out a bottle and put it down on the counter. It made a heavy, complete clunk.
Daniel stopped what he was doing and took his hand off the bottle long enough to look down at the yo-yo on the floor. The small window over the sink was quiet and uninhibited, and it had a kind effect on the lines on Daniel’s face. He watched Lin come toward him and the expression changed to something impenetrable, something that happened under newly lowered eyelids.
The Italian had precisely the intended effect. Daniel knew it did, and he knew Lin knew it did, and he let it wash over him for a second, turning slightly toward Lin’s body as the new heat came closer. “Is it really, or you’re just saying that to get me in there?” He responded in the same tongue because he was expected to. In a show of obedience he took a step toward the bedroom again. Lin was right, the laptop wasn’t here. He needed to contact people about Sam’s finances, have other people take care of her. As soon as he could do that, he could go back to… to whatever it was he fooled himself into doing.
Lin didn't reel his catch in right away. He stood on the starboard lip of his proverbial boat and cast a look into the black twilight of the legit, extremely frightening, also proverbial ocean. He didn't care for the "contemplation" leveled at him by blue eyes and, as such, like Lucille Bluth, he chose not to respond to it. Maybe he even sniffed, knowing with some precision what was running through Daniel's head. There was nothing unhealthy, he would have argued, with picking up hobbies that challenged mental and physical agility (or even those that didn't, so long as they weren't, like hardcore parkour or drinking or drugs). A yo-yo wasn't chess, no, but chess was a game too—a toy, if you got down to the dictionarial nitty gritty, so fuck everyone who thought bits of plastic ought be placed differently on the hierarchy of exterior-indicators-of-mental-health due to their mold. Lin would have happily played one of those water-loop games too—you know, the things you always find in waiting rooms-the colorful rings send onto spindles with air, and would have argued its benefits just as passionately. It took a margin of skill and it was entertaining. There was nothing unhealthy about that.
But, right, Lin was doing that not responding thing. He ignored the yellow corpse of the yo-yo and shifted his weight to his left foot, away from Daniel. He began reeling with the quiet skim of fishing line on bobbin. Warm-blooded hands surrendered their hold on Daniel's arm and took that cut-glass bottle by the neck, that liquid bit of oblivion, and opted to save it for another day. The thing was put back in the cupboard wordlessly, its own little collapsar. Lin shot Daniel a sideways look, looped his arm through the man's once again, and began to lead him to the room with feet trying to find stubborn traction on artful tile.
"Nah, girl," began Lin in the stilt of his own idiolect, before sliding into the sea-sand of Italian, with a touch more fluidity to words than before, though they continued to lack the Rubik complexity of the boy's English. (Practice, practice, practice.) He offered his most kittenish smile. "You know my favorite way to do that is make some verbal jab and run in there when you're angry enough to follow and allow myself to be cornered."
Over the threshold, from the cold shell of the kitchen that settled on Lin's bare arms like snow he no longer felt, down a thin, black throat, and into the crypt, where lack of heat bit down to the quick of the circulatory system and light angled in from the bathroom. Daniel's laptop was—yes—there on the night-stand, under a couple of hastily placed books.
Lin released the man and crawled across the bed to the shallow indent he’d worked into the mattress. There was no word per the state of the room. He picked his own computer up from the foot of the bed and opened it. The screen flicked a moment, then came on fully. The boy lay on his stomach, black hair tickling neck, elbows propping him up enough to pick at the keyboard. He didn’t look over, but he did speak, picking up a track from the conversation moments prior.
“Are you telling me you don’t think fucking Neil would help this situation? Because I was ready to extend my… uh, hand for such a cause. I thought it would really do some good.”
Daniel had his illusions about chess. Trying to twirl around a yo yo or juggle beanbags didn’t provide the necessary distraction he usually needed when he was halfway to sober. To Daniel those things were performance art, things learned to entertain other people. Chess did not entertain anyone that wasn’t involved in the game, unless they were gawkers who thought better. Chess required planning and concentration and engagement. Playing by move, writing down letters, that required even more concentration, and effectively shut most of Daniel’s thoughts on other topics down completely. Chess allowed him to talk to people in the same way liquor did. It hurt less.
A flicker of red-veined anger moved across Daniel’s face as Lin took the bottle away. It was the principle of the thing, the high-handedness of it, that lit the small match. It fizzled and went out alongside the unraveling ice skein in his eyes, but something of the scorched smoke remained, even if it couldn’t be seen. “You are too used to rearranging my things.” The German was harsh and far down the back of his throat, and he meant that possessive to be fast and sharp as new buttons on an old suit. Daniel almost took his arm back, but Lin was already moving them out of the soft light of the kitchen back toward the bedroom. Daniel did not appreciate being treated like an invalid, and his whole expression narrowed dangerously--but he didn’t immediately say anything.
Daniel paused in the threshold and looked around the room. It looked like it had when he just moved, almost empty in its organizational sparsity, and to Daniel it seemed that empty it gained a number of extra dimensions that made the interior hard to face. Fortunately Lin was still inside it, and the skinny brownness of him seemed to fit and warm it a little bit. Uncomfortable, Daniel put one palm flat under his sternum, a vague inexplicable gesture that he held in place until his heart gave a weak burble of life through stiff cotton and flesh.
Daniel tore his hand away from his chest and sat down on an armchair, stuffed cotton and typically draped with discarded clothes and not available for sitting at all. He put the laptop on his knees and started it up. It took him a few taps to get a mail client up and several tries for him to remember what his fucking email password was. He ignored all the messages that were sitting there, as the email was for Daniel to communicate with other people, not for them to communicate back. His fingers flew, and Daniel was fifty times the typist he was drunk when he was sober. A slight line appeared between his brows as he concentrated on what he was doing, sending out bribes and orders, hiring a small contingent of lawyers and bankers to work on various financial management proposals for Sam, should she decide to be smart and sign where they told her to sign.
While he worked he spoke, and between typing and speaking his left hand gripped the set of four right knuckles hard, working pressure into his hands. He was beyond thirsty by this point, and it was becoming more difficult not to think about himself. “I think fucking Neil is going to be fucking useless as always.” Abruptly Daniel stopped what he was doing and dug into the chair’s cushions to pull out a container of neon nail polish. He stared at it and ground his molars together. Slowly, he bent over the keyboard to set the little bottle down out of the way under the chair, just behind his left ankle. The cat would probably steal it within ten minutes. “You thought what would do some good?”
Lin pushed himself upright, distracted by the burgeoning light of his screen, a flicker of infinite interactions of the additive RGB color model, distracted by something that moved, some sideways pop culture ribbing with tongue couched firmly in cheek as indicated by the lopsided, thoughtless smile that opened on his face—it was an easy thing. A secondary, second gear movement of facial muscles that were so often choreographed into the right expression, a means to an end. Of course, he wasn’t Daniel and he didn’t have untapped depths, really, things he let no one see, initials he only broke out when he was drunk enough to not even know himself. That smile wasn’t anything new, but it was a change. (And after the past few weeks of being unobserved and unobserving? Profoundly so.) The boy scrolled on as he shifted. He folded his legs together in gray corduroy origami to ease the action of typing as his mind conjured some manner of “delightfully pithy” response to the post that, surely, the world needed to hear. Surely they’d die without it.
If there was a looseness where nervousness so often sat, it was a blip of a reaction that had managed to hang on a moment past its due. It was relief of the burden of being alone, a plague unique to the extroverted, to the caged bird who happened to fucking like to hear itself sing and to have others hear it. The anxiety would seep in soon, it would return to its roost in a manner of blinks, but, hey, the shit was something, right?
Daniel’s dull blue-flamed anger was there, sure, pervading the empty air of the room. It was surface tension, capillary, thinning, kept back by a jaw clenched together in sobriety, but, what the fuck ever. Lin was far too happy to have the man, ...er, home that he didn’t even worry about abating it. He had given the German no thought. He heard it, understood it (dude was probably right), and then proceeded to lob it out of his mental window with a fucking rimshot, gleeful at the registration of points on the scoreboard with no mind for consequences. He bit his lip as he composed whatever twist of language he was exploiting for the benefit of the denizens of the internet, and slapped the laptop closed as soon as he hit the ‘post’ button, self-satisfied.
The boy curled in on his knees immediately, however, in the manner of tinder under flame, and watched Daniel type in a flurry of paper white fingers behind black screen. A bottle of nail polish was rooted out of some crevice and put aside with the extreme carefulness of rage. (Lin was glad to see he hadn’t lost the highlighter yellow. Shit was necessary for any flashy Tuesday. Lin liked to make working with the odd UV-A light and bit of fluorescein more exciting, even if the mandated gloves kind of put a damper on the whole thing.)
“I was re-interpreting your emphatic ‘fucking’ as a gerund verb, asshole. You know, fucking. Like sex. Fucking Neil. Get it? A sophomoric joke because you hate him and it’s funny to watch you react,” was the straightforward explanation provided, sardonic tone included free of charge. The boy sat quietly, thoughtfully, with feet patting sheets in a rebirth of anxiety beneath skin, his attention slipping elsewhere.
Lin lay back on the bed then, one leg folded to keep the laptop from spilling to the floor. The apartment already had a casualty count of one. It didn’t need any more. He jiggled a foot to the tune of a song heard only in his head. He looked at the ceiling.
“You like Boethius, don’t you?”
Daniel raised both eyebrows at the sophomoric joke. He didn’t so much as smirk. “Hilarious.” Daniel watched the distinctive, snail-like curl of the boy on the bed. A second later he broke the gaze by stretching his spine out backwards and rolling his shoulders up to his neck. Whatever Henry was doing over there, it didn’t leave Daniel feeling refreshed, just tired and incredibly sober. Give Henry long enough and whatever weird fairy tale shit he had going on would clean up any wounds or bruises, but whatever was wrong with his shoulder left it stiff and unyielding. It felt like a joint that would never oil up, and if he wasn’t drunk or asleep it made Daniel feel like a baseball pitcher eternally stuck in the windup.
Daniel ended the stretch quickly because he had to reach forward and stop the laptop from sliding off the edge of his knees. He caught it with four fingers on the screen with his left hand, and he hit the last “send” button before closing the screen flat on the keyboard in a gesture of finality. It would probably be at least eight hours before anyone came back to him, because he had listed a number of very specific, complex requests, and being lawyers and bankers they probably had to call seventy people before they could even begin to be productive.
Daniel tipped his head and searched his memory for the Latin name. Eventually he found it, tracking the memory backwards from bad xerox copies to a professor he met in Rome with bad teeth all the way back to the first year of college. Humanities. “Medieval philosophy? Don’t remember. I skipped a couple weeks of classes that year to go to Miami with some sorority.” Daniel scrubbed at the underside of his chin with the edge his palm, thinking. He didn’t think long. “Come here for a minute, Lin.”
Cont. to part II