Same As Always
Casper’s feet stuttered, but Cain dragged him along. “Cain—”
“And here I thought you weren’t talking to me, love.” A low, dark laugh accompanied the words and Cain leant in, his lips brushing against Casper’s ear. “Whatever changed your mind?”
And Jack had to catch Casper’s eyes right while he shuddered at the catch of Cain’s teeth against the shell of his ear. First, Jack squinted, then his jaw dropped, and then anger twisted through the confusion in his face. Casper’s gut just about plummeted out to splatter across the dirty pavement.
Yeah, like this fucking looked good. Had he just been to Casper’s flat? How many times had he been before? Shit. Shit, shit, fucking shit. Could he tell Jack he’d been kidnapped? Blink Morse code at him? SMFFS – Save my Filthy Fucking Soul. Like Jack could do shit to fucking Houdini here anyway.
Cain drew back, his steps slowing as he finally clocked Casper dragging his heels. “What?”
As soon as Cain said the word, something stiffened in him. Cold raked through the air and brought with it a breath of that corpse reek.
The hammering cacophony of the cars and the people suffocated in whatever strange thing he did to the world. The arm around Casper’s shoulders drew him in tighter, Cain’s fingers pressing bruising into his skin. That grip kept Casper too close to fully see Cain’s face, but those dark eyes scoured the street – a hawk peering out where the serpent should be.
Then his gaze stopped just ahead, and the foulness dropped out of the air. Casper flinched at a blaring foghorn and the thunder of a lorry hammering past a stalled car. The grimy Ford had stopped just beside where he and Cain stood, and its owner cursed, slapping the steering wheel and wrenching at the keys.
“Fucking right, nutjob.” Casper dug his elbow into Cain’s side, shoving him away. “Fucking let go of me.”
“Hey!” And that hollered shout was Jack’s brain finally readjusting itself to this new reality he faced. Fists clenched, he shoved past a group that stepped in front of him, spitting something back at the complaints, and bulled his way down the street.
He looked like nothing had changed. Going somewhere, or rather coming from somewhere seeing as Jack was never up before twelve unless it meant still up. Beat-up leather jacket instead of the staple hoodie, a come-down draped heavy across his stubble-shaded face – incongruent brown against his bleached hair – and the dark circles stamped beneath his eyes – it all said bender going on a few days. The sight of him still dried Casper’s mouth, but this glimpse of his old life…
Cain hadn’t let go, but Casper found himself sinking in against his side.
“I’ll get rid of him, shall I, love?”
Yeah fuck that actually. Casper gave him one last shove and finally, Cain’s arm drew back from his shoulder and Casper stumbled free. The least he could do, right? Tell Jack what was up, that he wasn’t coming back.
Getting free, yeah. Coming back here? He just couldn’t do it. Not with everything he’d had here already sliced off. The fingers that had been pinned beneath a weight now wriggled their bloody stumps while you stared in horror at your mutation of a hand, but now it was loose, you sure as hell jam that amputation back beneath the weight.
Casper took a shuddering breath and glared at Cain, jabbing his finger at him. “You shut the fuck up, alright?”
Cain gave him big, wide eyes and a pout, but that didn’t net him any puppy-dog. More like a goddamn shark playing coy while guts dangled from its teeth. Then Jack was there, his glower pinned on Cain’s shrug and the flash of serpentine innocence across his face.
“Who the fuck is this guy, Cas?”
Damn, his voice sounded rough. “How much have you been fucking smoking?”
Jack’s eyes slid down to Casper, and a catch of softness came into that sneer. “You can’t fucking talk. Jeez, Cas, you alright? Where the fuck you been, baby? I was just at yours.”
Casper shrugged, huddled shoulders with his hands in his pockets. It was hard to look Jack in the eye, but he managed. Just. “Obviously I was out.”
The bell on the shop beside them jingled as a customer shouldered in. Best One, and the old man who worked the desk ID’d Casper no matter how many times he went in for baccy. The thought drew his twitching fingers to his zipper, and he tugged it down, casting his eyes inside his jacket as he dug around in the inside pocket.
There was a long silence from Jack while Casper didn’t look at him, just the rub of the leather and the slight jingle of the chain hooked onto his jeans as the wind nipped at it. Just as Casper’s fingers found the filters where they hid at the bottom of the pocket, Jack groaned.
“Fuck, baby, you ain’t still mad about the other week, are you?”
Oh, you’ve got to be fucking…
Casper’s hand froze halfway out his pocket, the pouch clutched in his fist, and then like the way a feather drifts, it fell to his side. Jack had to be kidding. He actually had to be fucking kidding. The sheer understatement about how much fucking anguish had splintered his eggshell skull since the other week was incomprehensible. Even if it had been what Jack had done alone, it was enough to be pissed for eternity.
Out of the white splash across Casper’s mind, something black gathered. A weight settled across his thoughts and his brows drew together into a scowl. Jack still had his lip curled, fists gathered to rocks and his grey eyes stuck on Cain, who stood idly tapping a cigarette out of his packet.
Jack would probably punch Cain before the end of this. How volatile was Cain to anyone not Casper? It’d been getting to the point where Casper might have laughed at that, waved his hand – not at all. But the past few days…
What exactly could that black sorcery do?
Still mad about the other week. That thought staked out its spot in his brain with a flag that was nothing but a visual representation of his screeching mind. The other week when, if Casper hadn’t met mister psycho nutjob kidnapper here, there was about a fifty-fifty chance of him being a fucking blood smear on the road.
If Jack knew, he’d be in tears but … he wasn’t some new testament miracle worker. No splash of the tears of true love on Casper’s ragged guts and brains to put him back together again. Crying over it or not, that’d be that. Fin. The end of Roach Boy because boyfriend – ex-boyfriend – had anger issues up the fucking wazoo. Something twisted in Casper’s gut, pushing at his throat, and he couldn’t tell if it was the prospect of how close he’d come to death or that Jack could actually say something like that to him.
Not still mad, are you?
“You’re joking, right?”
Jack startled at the scratch of Casper’s voice. He stared for a moment, then snorted, scratching his fingers back through his hair. “Yeah, figured that’d be it. Just like—” Jack’s eyes flickered, something ugly touching them. “Dude, fuck off.”
Casper followed his gaze and almost took his own fucking eye out with the straight Cain held out to him, balanced delicate between those long fingers. He had another pinched between smirking lips and both had cherry red embers smoking at the tips.
Casper filched it. Obscene distortion of his previous life or no, would he really still be Roach Boy if he turned down a free cigarette? Even better, perhaps, that the growing anger rolled off Jack in near palpable waves. He always did get jealous easy, and Cain must be so easy to get jealous over.
And with that sly twitch to the corners of Cain’s lips as he watched Jack stew with hooded eyes, he must know that.
Look how easy the melancholy seeing Jack vanished in a wisp of white cigarette smoke. Casper took a long drag. It was a straight, so it tasted like shit and nothing at once, but at least it wasn’t menthol, and at least it soothed this knot winching tight in his mind.
Not still mad, are you?
Yes, Jack fucking darling, I am still fucking mad. Same as fucking weeks ago, Casper still wanted to tear off this skin, run screaming into the road, and smash his head against the tarmac until a car shattered his fucking skull.
That was the cold fucking truth of it.