At the last two words, Cain’s voice cracked, and he straightened, hands coming up to rub across his face. He stood there like a martyr, shaking shoulders and the wind tearing at his clothes. Made a kid sick. Like everything else hadn’t. Like everything else didn’t gather like black ooze in Casper’s gut and now, the foul mass of it overflowed. It crept up his throat to seep from between his teeth.
This was where he ran away, spat at Cain’s feet and sprinted across the grounds, the petrichor a poison on his tongue and the long grass tangling around his feet. Find a new place to hide away, bury himself in the earth or crawl inside a tree and pray, pray, pray that the ground swallowed him up, and he just died trapped there beneath the soil with his mouth full of dirt.
Dirt which squirmed in prudishness against the touch of his filthy skin.
But the earth only swallowed his feet, and Casper couldn’t move. Hatred boiled in his gut like a physical thing, but this hot, red shame clamped down on his tongue, and he stood in stupefied silence while Cain hunched amongst the howling wind and tortured himself.
Why was he doing this? It was sick. It was sick and stupid. Only that Casper who’d held Cain’s hands and whispered apologies would ever get free. Only that Casper could keep afloat and not drown in this pitch-black tar that consumed him from the inside.
That Casper was a dead, false thing. All that really lived in this shell was the ghoul.
It wasn’t here. He couldn’t see it because he was it and it was him.
When Cain lowered his hands, it wasn’t to tears and heartbreak. His face was dry and implacable, calm but for the sneer curling his lip. All of him was the immovable rock around which the wind howled, impotent, for an eternity while never abrading from him an inch.
“Let’s do this again, shall we, Casper?” Cain said, a flat, black murmur that sounded in Casper’s ears as if it had been whispered against them. “What do you want? And let’s be reasonable this time, hm? You have one ask, so don’t make it a stupid one.”
Swallow that spitting poison, Roach Boy. Psycho looked serious. More backbone there than Casper had ever dreamed, and for the sake of a scratch against this iron he presented, it wasn’t worth missing a chance. Casper’s heart knocked against his ribs and he swallowed around the dryness in his mouth.
His throat hurt. Right down in that weird place that Jack had never been able to understand hurting. The ripping sensation he got when he screamed too hard or long. Casper pressed his lips together and rubbed his hand over his throat.
“Why is this happening to me?”
It was a whisper. His lips barely moved and Cain either didn’t hear or chose to ignore it.
What did he want? Give me dope. Let me go. Let me die. No deal this time, Roach Boy. The buzzer sounds but it’s not a happy noise, so what’s the right answer?
Louder, Casper said, “I want to go out.” Not that his voice even scratched above the wind.
Immediately, Cain snorted, the impassive mask turning to one of derisive humour. “Well, look at that, love. Here I’d thought you weren’t bloody stupid, but it looks like—”
“Not let go.” Casper bared his teeth and crept closer. Did it as if he was trying to be intimidating with all this five foot not-even-quite-a-half and not just closing the distance for his voice to travel. “Not that that should be stupid, you fucking nut. I wanna go out.”
Cain’s lips tightened. “You are—“
“I’m sick of being in here! It’s the same fucking day over and over and you’re never here and I’m going crazy!”
It wasn’t as if Casper had actually had friends. None worth the name, and only a handful that could take it for lack of a better moniker, all of whom he saw exclusively out getting fucked up. But it wasn’t the point. It wasn’t about loneliness; it was freedom. So, so many days he’d spent as drifting flotsam on the scum-choked currents of the city streets, and he hated the clamouring noise and the chaos, but sometimes, he stumbled onto something a little more.
A quiet coffee shop, a garden where the overhanging trees muffled the noise, a cat curled up beneath a post box.
Now he was trapped here with one man, some nutcase fucking lunatic, going absolutely cabin fever fucking crazy.
And let’s not touch on ‘you’re never here’, cretin.
A touch of wetness brushed Casper’s cheek. Good excuse to look away from the knives Cain wielded against him with that gaze. The clouds still brooded low and as Casper turned his face up, another two droplets splashed against his skin. Quicker, they came. Eager to escape the greedy hold of the clouds, but their flight ended only in death dashed against the unforgiving earth. Casper opened his mouth and one broke against his tongue.
Their suicide tasted so sweet.
With a sharp hiss between his teeth, Cain relented. “Fine. You want to go outside? I’ll take you outside. We’ll go back to your flat and get everything I’ve missed, how’s that?”
Casper’s heart lurched. Out. Out. The word blazed in his mind like fireworks lit up the outlines of those three splendid letters, and the possibilities smacked him so hard his mind just stopped. He hadn’t even been angling for that when he asked, but now it was there and … the city. The crowds and the chaos and the infinite places to get lost. It … It couldn’t actually be that—
A sharp, acerbic laugh slapped him back the other way, into the reality of the wind like knives against his cheeks and Cain’s brooding figure cut against the sky. His lips twisted into something cruel and an unfamiliar darkness lurked behind his eyes.
“I’m not that stupid, before you get any ideas. Pet wants a walk, pet stays on a leash.” And as if to prove a point, a cold beyond all that raked on the winter air curled around Casper’s throat, a breath, a promise, snuffing out the brief candle of hope. “Tomorrow at nine. Take it or leave it, Cas. You’ll get nothing better, especially when you’re being such a foul little brat.”
And with that, he stalked away. Every wind-strewn branch that he passed swept into the air as if whipped up by a tornado and rocketed into the distance in a streak of black malaise.