Surrender to Instinct
Inside the Chinese was warm and clean, and it smelt like five spice and soy sauce. Real dream come true, that. Casper could bathe in soy all day long and sniff himself all night and never get sick of the scent. His shoes clicked against the tiles and the lucky cat on the counter waved hello. Yeah, it was nice here. Sort of place he’d come all the time if he had as much money as rich boy outside.
Really ruined the atmosphere when the old Chinese lady at the till got really shifty with him and asked if he knew tall sir outside.
Casper scowled at her. “No. I just want some food.”
But she just huffed, hands flying up in the air as her brows got tighter. “You talk to tall sir outside. You friend?”
“No, I’ve literally met him twice. Can I get some food, please?”
“No, but you talk to tall sir, yes?”
Fuck this man was giving him so many fucking obstructions to his monotonic trudging apathy it was unreal. Casper rubbed his hand over his scarred cheek and sighed. The heat had started to itch beneath his collars, trapped against his throat. “Yes, I talked to him. I just want some vegetable udon noodles and the vegetarian spring rolls. Please.”
With a sage nod, the woman finally tapped his order into her register. It came up four dollars forty no matter that Casper was staring at the menu and putting two and two together to make eight.
“That’s not right,” he told her. Like a total idiot.
“Four dollar forty,” she told him right back.
Like he was going to argue over a half price meal twice.
Then for some stupid reason, Casper went back outside. Dickhead was still there. Obviously. The door opening startled him from his smog-gazing and that same stupid grin brightened his face.
“It’s far too warm in there, isn’t it?”
Casper raised his eyebrow and as soon as he did, the man’s fingers trapped the bridge of his nose and his eyes rolled skyward, his lips moving around some inaudible muttering.
God, he was so endearing Casper just wanted to run away.
The shop window didn’t creak and bow as he put his back to it, unlike his old Chinese. Rock solid like a window probably should be, and no steel grating waiting to drop come close. All those bare branches sketched motionless through the air, the tips trembling as they reached for the touch of their neighbours and fell achingly short. Everyone who walked past looked at him. People usually did, and it made his skin crawl, but the trees were almost like a veil between him and the world. Few enough frequented the street this late on a Sunday as it was. All the more a strange coincidence meeting him here.
At the flare of his lighter, the cigarette smoke flooded his mouth and nose and lungs. A dry drowning. He pulled deeper and closed his eyes, trapping the smoke down in his lungs with his lips pressed tight together. Too easily, his head whirled, floating up to heaven as an offering to the stars in place of the smoke. His stomach growled its reminder. His legs trembled. One by one, the nerves in his body woke up until the whole intricate web screamed out a plea to breathe. Casper denied it until with a final, petulant wail, his body asserted its will and let the smoke go. Survival, lighting up his nerves.
Surrender to instinct.
“What’s your name?”
The man’s eyes flew back down to him, the light from inside flashing across the brown. “What?”
Casper’s lips twitched. “You seemed a lot more together last time we talked.”
“Oh, I—“ The man’s voice stalled, and he rubbed at the bridge of his nose again, the smile making its inevitable return to his lips. “That wasn’t what you said.”
“Well, what was it?”
That probably deserved something sarcastic, but Casper just put his head back against the window and croaked through his lungful of smoke, hooded eyes on that fragile, expectant look on the stranger’s face. “Your name.” Why did his voice have to sound like this? This creak like a rusted hinge. Tight smoke throat or no, he always sounded like he was mid-drag. Hideous. “What’s your name?”
“Oh...” The man turned a little, wide-eyed. Pink dusted light across his cheeks and his smile came slow, timeless. His cigarette had burnt down to the filter and gone out, but he still had it pinched between his fingers like he’d forgotten it. “Cain. It’s—It’s Cain Smith.”
“Cain...” It rolled off his tongue like an old friend, and the man – Cain... Jack had never looked so pleased to hear his name on Casper’s tongue. No one had. A sinkpit dug out the bottom of his stomach, and Casper put his hand to it as he turned his eyes away. No one should.
What did he see when he looked at Casper? And how could any variation of it invoke a happiness that pure?
With his eyes turned away, he caught the cashier bustle out of the back, a small plastic bag in hand. Undoubtedly, her squinting through the window meant it was Cain’s, and Casper jumped on it.
“Your food’s done.”
“My... Oh—“ A silverleaf rustle of cloth. Shit, they even sounded expensive. Not even dress up this time, but the clothes he wore to the Chinese. The cashier’s eyes flicked up above Casper, and she bowed, hands together, deep over the counter and beckoned him inside. “Yes, I suppose it is...”
That trail off sounded as if he expected Casper to say something. A blessing, maybe, anointed on him like the fortune bestowed by that plastic cat’s bobbing paw. When nothing came, a deep sigh filled the quiet and he brushed past Casper to go inside.
Casper put his back to the glass and pressed his hand to his mouth.
What was this?
That sinkpit had grown monstrous, feeding off his guts and filling his insides with its swirling, black maw. A black hole gnawing away at the core of him, and his chest ached as if the hunger dragged in his heart and his lungs. A strain against inevitable death, and his breath gasped against the greed.
That’s all this was. It was greedy. Gluttonous – a parasite feeding off the innocence that made this man look at him as if he were something other than scum.
Roach boy. Little sub bitch looking to give you a good time.
Casper dragged his sleeve over his eyes. They burned, and it felt as if tears should smear across his face, but there was nothing there. Nothing but the throb of the fading bruise across his cheekbone. Tremors wracked his hand as he lifted the cigarette to his lips, but that flood of nicotine did nothing to calm shit.
The door opened, and the stranger – Cain – stepped out with a white plastic bag dangling from his fingers. The glow of the streetlight drifted across his face and illuminated the smile that bloomed as he looked down at Casper. Hesitant, now. A little cramped at the edges, and his eyes touched tragic as they trailed over his face.
Casper’s jaw tightened and he looked away. Gone and ruined it already.
Just beside him, there was a sigh and then the rustle of the plastic bag. “I think she gave me yours too. Here—“ More rustling— “you can keep the bag.”
Fuck, it was just like the universe was slapping him around the face telling him to give into this little snatch of care. Go ruin it completely, Roach Boy. Make his lip curl with disgust when he looks at you once you’ve fed off all his good.
Jack never looked happy to see him anymore. Casper had fucked them up too many times.
“Look—“ Way too aggressive, and Cain flinched as Casper turned to him, two containers balanced in his hand. Shit. Casper banged his head back against the window, a dull thud going through his skull, and squeezed his eyes closed. He pitched his voice lower, closer to the soft Hades rasp. “I—Like, are you—do you want to eat those together? If you’re not busy that is. I mean you’ve probably got like a million things—“
“I’d love to. I ... I’d absolutely love to.”
Casper’s eyes flew open, and the smile on Cain’s face knocked every particle of air out of his chest, a soft, fuzzy warmth lifting in its place. Like Casper had just asked him to marry him or something, not eat a fucking Chinese together. God, this idiot was so bloody soft. His eyes shone in the soft light, and all the gentle sounds of the street cradled the flutter of his heart in his ears.
Why couldn’t life be like this? Sweet, gentle, unhurried. Not this grimy scrabble for survival that tore him apart. Half his skin spattered like sodden leaves on the floor, but still they kept peeling it away. His throat had burned so raw he couldn’t even scream anymore.
It’d been a long time since he could.
Casper rubbed his hands over his face, and the heels met the fading relic of a smile. Shit. This was already going to hurt when it went sour.
“My place is just a couple of blocks away. Do you want to...?”
A sharp jolt broke through the warmth. Had to be twenty different front doors he’d walked through this week, and that wasn’t even counting the motel rooms. Of those, he could count on one hand how many he’d felt safe in. He couldn’t do another one tonight.
“No.” Cain’s smile dropped. “No, I mean ... we—we can do mine, if you like. I mean actually it’s fucking grim, but if you give me like two secs to—“
“There’s a park near here,” Cain cut in, pointing in the direction of Casper’s and the opposite to where he’d indicated his. “It’s a bit dark but there’s a bench there with a spectacular view.”
Spectacular. Did he actually say spectacular? A smile twitched at Casper’s lips and shaking his head, he straightened up. “So you’re asking me to come somewhere dark where no one’s going to hear me screaming?”
“No! I—“ Cain’s eyes flew wide. Idiot even threw his hands up and had to juggle his Chinese containers to stop them flying off. “Cock. I just meant—“
Cain’s voice died when Casper started laughing, some exasperated roll of his eyes to go with that fond smile that flooded onto his lips.
And just like that it was real. This stupid perfect guy wasn’t just looking. He was right fucking there, talking to Casper. Sober. Like not quite in the light but close enough because light really didn’t do Casper any justice at all. Soft streetlights cast Cain’s face with the topaz warmth and that stupid freakin’ sappy smile sent Casper’s head whirling up to the grungy sky as they started off down the street.