The Stains Beneath Our Skin {mxm}

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Casper the Cowardly Lion

Eventually, the insides of the house spat them out onto the pretty skin. A long corridor trailed away left and right. This length possessed an understated elegance, ornate lamps studding the wall and a Persian runner over the polished wood. Cain stopped outside a room just down the hall and once he stood aside from the open door, Casper shuffled inside.

Fucking money oozing out of its seams, this study. Mahogany panelled the walls, broken only by two huge windows either side of a crackling hearth in the far wall, both still showing the dusky blue of the sky. The desk was huge, big as a bed and covered with a sweep of paper and tomes that wheezed dust.

The ghoul went straight over to that, sprawled out on its back with its head dangling over the edge, nails tapping against its reflection in the crystallised glass of the drink’s cabinet. It could hardly reach across the gap even with its obscenely long arms.

It was … nice though. Quiet. A bookshelf smothered the wall to the left and even its sturdy wood seemed to sag beneath the books packing out its shelves. The tomes jammed against each other and spilled out into little piles on the floor. A drift of scrolls adorned the very top. Vanilla and tickling incense filled the air and the heat from the fire crackling between the windows on the back wall engulfed him in a shroud. A larger version of the carpet that had run the length of the hall outside lounged over the floor, thick and sumptuous and soft.

Casper tracked straight across it in his filthy socks to stand in front of the fire. Hot. Closer, the scent of woodsmoke danced beneath his nose. Now he stood in this warmth, the shivers waiting in his bones came out. They wracked his body as he clutched his hands to his chest. Was he even still cold? His wrists were, but … then why did he shiver so violently?

The door shut. Casper jumped, his heart flying up his throat.

“Do you want anything?” Cain’s footsteps tracked muffled across the room toward the desk. His dim reflection passed across the right-hand window and settled on the edge of the desk. “You look cold…”

Casper’s tongue moved. Rude of it considering he wanted to stick to surly silence. “I … I could really use a drink.”

“Mm.” Cain stood up from the desk. The ghoul snatched back its arms before Cain could walk into them. “I think I could use one too.” Amber whisky glimmered in a crystal decanter on a small end table just beside the cabinet. Cain shot him a playful glare over his shoulder as he unplugged the decanter. “Considering your dreadful treatment of my head and general face area.”

“I had a dream last night that I dug my fingers under your skin and tore off your face.”

Cain’s shoulders dropped in the reflection and his sigh filled the room. “I take it that was a good dream.”

Two glasses clinked together as Cain set them down and the whiskey glugged out of the decanter. Casper sunk to a crouch by the hearth and the heat licked at the palms of his hands.

“I’m glad it wasn’t a nightmare,” Cain said.

Casper shot to his feet, spun around with a snarl on his lips. “Who fucking said shit about me getting nightmares?”

The dry tilt to Cain’s head told him who. Fucking idiot. Casper hissed a curse and crouched back down by the fire. Not to mention if Cain had come anywhere near the bottom of that staircase while he was having one, he’d have heard him scream. One of the many reasons Casper couldn’t live with roommates, all under the bold print heading of GENERALLY DYSFUNCTIONAL JUNKIE. He didn’t function with other people in his space. Couldn’t cook or eat or shit. Couldn’t exist. So he forked out the sky-high rent for a bedsit and forked himself out to pay it.

Maybe it was worth it. Not that it mattered anymore.

He’d never see his flat again. Never smoke out the window and claw some bare appreciation of the cityscape out of the view. Never curl up on the sofa with Mackie on the rare times he put some self-care into his day off, warm and maybe a little tipsy but at least mostly sober, and a comfort film on TV. Never wake up to Jack burning breakfast in the kitchen, but that happened rare enough now anyway.

Would Jack miss him? Had he even noticed Casper was gone yet?

Slow footsteps crossed the room. Cain held out a glass, and in the corner of his vision, it refracted the light of the fire. The amber of the whiskey glowed like sunshine through autumn leaves.

Nice tumbler that. All cut glass and it felt solid cupped between his cuffed hands as he took it from Cain and tipped the whole double down his throat. Nice whiskey too. Too nice. It didn’t even burn.

Casper dropped the glass above the slate hearth, but it never hit the tile. It stopped an inch up, and nausea clutched his gut as the glass floated up past his eyes and out of sight.

Magic. Alright, that was why he was shivering. Fucking magic.

“Can you not break my glasses?” Cain said. “Otherwise I’ll have to go out and buy you a plastic sippy cup with some teddy bears on it.”

Asshole. “I like lions better.”

A snort of laughter. “Very well—” Cain lowered himself to the floor beside Casper with a grunt, one knee up to his chest and the other leg stretched out long in front of him. The fire danced across his skin. Shadows flickered over the right side of his face which was fully turned from the fire, but his left eye lit up as amber as the whiskey still held in his hand. He smiled, faint but there. “Lions then.”

“You know—” Casper scratched his nail against the tile. It was too long, and it left little white marks against the slate— “the Cowardly Lion. His name’s actually Casper.”

Cain laughed. “Oh piss off. I read all of those.”

“I think he looks a bit like me, you know the guy in that old film?”

“Not even slightly!” More laughter, and as Casper glanced out the corner of his eye, he found the dopey grin stretched back across Cain’s lips. It was … easy, wasn’t it? Anything but outright vitriol and Cain fell for it. The blind man tumbling off a cliff as he followed the sound of a waterfall thinking it a spring.

“Of course, that makes you the tin man. You know, no heart?”

So satisfying to see that smile crumble. Casper grinned as he scratched his nail against the tile, and he made sure it was an ugly one.

Cain spoke softly, his eyes turning back out into the room. “You know neither of those things were true in the end. That was the point of the story. The scarecrow was always wise. The tin man … had a heart, and the lion was the bravest person Dorothy had ever known.”

Stupid fucking pathetic asshole. Casper dug his nail against the tile until with a lance of pain through his finger, it snapped. “Guess his name isn’t Casper then.”

Cain sighed and took a long drink of his whiskey. Then a longer one, and as the last trickled down his throat, he crooked his finger toward the side table and the decanter came drifting into his hand. Casper froze as it moved. He couldn’t look straight at it. Just tracked the beast from the corner of his eye, ice crawling down his spine. His heart beat quick. Hard.

“This isn’t real,” Casper croaked. The fire baked his face and he blinked dry lids over his cooking eyes. His hands began to shake again. “This can’t be real.”

“I take it you mean the sorcery.”

Really, he meant everything. He’d found Casper. Years later and the monster he’d thought he’d left behind had closed its jaws around his head and snapped them tight. Then someone had kidnapped him. A psycho who thought he was his reincarnated lover had actually fucking kidnapped him and now here nutjob was, slapping the fucking supernatural across Casper’s face. How could any of it be real?

Maybe he had jumped. Maybe the heroin had killed him. Maybe this was the afterlife and he still wasn’t sure if it was heaven or hell.

He nodded anyway, hunkering down in his crouch. That maybe was probably the only thing keeping him going.

“Here—“ The whiskey glugged out into the glasses, one then the other, another over-generous helping. He handed the glass to Casper and took a respectable gulp out of his before continuing— “What do you want to know?”

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