The Stains Beneath Our Skin {mxm}

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Casper held Cain’s hand all the way to the breakfast nook, and Cain looked like he was just about floating the whole damn way. Maybe he’d just float right on off through the ceiling and leave Casper to this little haven in peace, but that’d be way too much good karma. Plus, he didn’t like to think about how agitated he’d gotten when Cain wasn’t there whenever he went looking for him. Call it co-dependency, like he needed more personality flaws. It was just this pretend getting to him, but he’d keep his head where it mattered.

The smell of cooking already suffused the kitchen, something nutty and rich like Chinese. Every single meal Casper had eaten here had been vegetarian without him even asking. Looked like obsessive nut here at least remembered what he liked to eat.

Jack never really did.

They settled on either side of the solid table. Casper’s chair, when it was daylight, peered out on cascading lilac flowers and twisting wisteria branches. Butterflies and bees and all sorts of other insects always fluttered through it and the soft sunlight turned it into a pastel dream. For now, though, there were only blurred silhouettes against a dusky blue sky, the first stars just starting to stud the expanse with their sparkling brilliance.

The little sprite was there – R2. It was almost like a spinning top crossed with a robot, but all in blocky black material. It was almost like shell but too dark, too thick, slickly reflective and so otherworldly that Casper had studied it for hours trying to find a better comparison. Wispy blue light drifted around it, and sparks more like crystalline dust than electricity fluttered out of its joints as it moved.

R2 brought them both coffees – the best coffee Casper had ever had, all dark and earthy and full without the sharp bitterness of everything else he’d ever drunk – and he stirred the black liquid absently while he rested his head on his hand and stared up at the stars.

“I love seeing the stars like this,” Casper said.

Soft and doe-eyed, Cain mimicked Casper’s position, but Cain only had eyes for him. “I know you do. Why else do you think I got this awful place?”

Casper blinked and tore his eyes from the window. “What?”

“This—” Cain flitted his fingers through the air— “I wanted somewhere big enough to give you space, but I remembered what you said when we … talked. You said you wanted to see the stars and you wished everywhere was open and green and real. I mean I know the house isn’t real. All this extravagance is so disgustingly fake I wish I could gut the place, but outside, that’s real, and the window in my room – I had one in my last house, and I think I just about managed to bodge together the building work with sorcery. I knew you’d love being able to look at the stars like that.”

And Casper wasn’t even going to touch on the sheer thoughtfulness. No, that was all getting shut up and away and forgotten about. It made his head spin so much he felt sick, and in the grasping of his mind, he settled on one comment and turned it spiteful. “And how many other mes liked seeing the stars and that fucking crap?”

Sure didn’t expect that wide smirk on Cain’s lips, a hint of teeth showing between his lips. “None. Well, you always loved the stars, but I don’t think any version of you has ever actually hated the city so much. It’s … It’s the only thing I do to find you. I go there. The one time I didn’t bloody go, I actually—” Cain laughed, his eyes sliding to the window and the great expanse of the sky beyond.

Shut up.

He just kept talking and each soft word fell into an abyss between Casper’s ears, one that grew and grew and grew and it swallowed him, his brain and his tongue and his lungs and his guts, all of him.

“It’s such a stupid story.” Cain sat back in his chair and tipped his head back, the shadows creeping out of his hair to swallow the edges of his face. “There was this woman I knew, and—and—well it doesn’t matter exactly what, but I just woke up there one day in a hotel—”

Shut up.

“—and I got my stuff together ready to piss right off and I walked out of the building and I walked straight into you going down the stairs. You had a mohawk that time, and your boyfriend punched me in the face. I ... I kept seeing you everywhere then.” Cain laughed and shook his head. He smiled, but there was something missing behind it – the hollowness of tragedy. Casper’s heart thudded. He forgotten how to breathe. “The single bloody you I’ve ever met that travelled, isn’t that crazy?”

Shut up.

“The point is every single life you always find yourself there. But every time I’ve actually … gotten to know you, you’d never want to live anywhere else. It’s … fascinating that you’re different.”

Just when he’d been settling in and now Cain went and talked his fucking crazy deep enough to make him sick. Worse, it didn’t fit. Not with the fixated psycho murderer talk. Almost but enough that it gave him fucking vertigo thinking how much better it fit if it was all true. Everything he said. Everything he did.

“I don’t want to hear this.” The voice sounded a thousand miles away, some other Casper speaking those words cloaked behind the ringing that whined between his ears. This Casper spiralled in freefall and even though the land below him was a paradise, it was still going to smash him to a fucking smear when he hit.

It had to fit crazy psycho stalker. It did. It had to.

That was fucking that. It did. Casper wasn’t a fucking puppet in the hands of fate that kept shoving them together. He wasn’t some fucking Juliet to his Romeo that’d get all love at first sight with him every life he led. The only reason he fucking fell for it was because Cain was so assured that he was already in love with Casper that he treated him better than anyone else had in his miserable life.

Fate wasn’t fucking real. The world was a messy smear of chaos and this was Casper’s slice of it. Everything he’d ever dreamed of – magic and freedom and escape and a man who loved him like a fucking romance movie – all twisted into horrorshow hell.

Casper’s feet caught under him getting up, and the tiles smashed into his knees and elbows hard enough to make him gag. Cain’s chair clattered, but it all sounded behind a concrete wall, not part of this world. The hand that settled on his shoulder belonged to a stranger and Casper almost vomited as he threw it off and staggered to his feet.

Did Cain call after him as he ran down the corridor, or was that just a dream? A memory?

He feels so familiar. Why does he feel so fucking familiar?

The heavens opened above him with a punch of cold through his whole body. His t-shirt didn’t give an inch of resistance to the howling wind as he sprinted down through the grounds. Not out. Never out. But that one spot down by the stream where the trees blocked off the house and by there he could stand and pretend all that existed was the hills rolling out before him to the horizon.

Cain said he’d gotten this place for Casper, but that was stupid. No one could get a fucking house in like a day. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Gasping, shuddering, Casper fell to his knees by the stream and wrapped his arms around himself. He turned his face up to the stars and screamed.

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