O’ Heartless Man
A slow, cold breeze drifted under the back door, ruffling through Casper’s hair. Beneath the skewed doormat, an arcane circle poked out, and that draught put eddies through the black smoke that still seeped from each line etched into the wood.
Another one. Casper wondered how many strange circles were hidden in back rooms and beneath carpets like lost portals to another world.
The ghoul scratched at it, a whine low in its throat – not a scrabble, but with purpose as if it sought to scratch new lines into the intricate pattern. A deeper chill crept into Casper’s gut, one that twitched where it lay, scratching at the walls of his stomach with vicious white claws.
“R2,” Casper whispered, “could I have a knife?”
Cain cried behind him, and no matter how much the sounds ripped at Casper’s chest, he couldn’t make himself take his eyes off that circle until the construct zipped up behind him, long, wicked kitchen knife bobbing above its head. Casper snatched it, crouched down, and hacked at the circle until with a puff of rot in the air so sickly sweet it made him gag, no more smoke seeped from the lines.
The ghoul seemed pleased. Stupid creature scampered off up the hallway, springing between the walls, and Casper had to press his lips tight against laughter.
His balls looked fucking ridiculous swinging about like that.
A fresh wail wrenched through the corridor, and the laughter died. Some strange lump lodged in Casper’s throat, right high up above where it still scratched and burned when he spoke. Casper twisted around onto his hands and knees, and it put him almost in Cain’s lap. The corridor was so narrow that if Cain slumped anymore and stretched his legs, they’d touch the opposite wall. The draught off the back door made Casper twitchy, and the corridor went on too long, a throat swallowed up by shadows where the lights didn’t reach.
It was what it was. No matter how much that sensible bit at the back of his skull itched for it, he couldn’t make himself get up. Did that make him brave? Or did it just make him even more the wet fucking coward that he couldn’t make himself get up and run?
This close, with the decay wafting off the circle gone, copper clogged the air. Cain stunk of it. It was stuck to his skin and soaked into his shirt. Smears of it went across the bottom of it and gleamed on his trousers where he must have wiped the worst off his rust-stained hands. It eased back into tacky gore at his wrists but stopped in splatters and sprays before it reached the messily rolled cuffs of his shirt.
This was stupid. Cain had clearly killed someone. No other way he was getting that much blood dripping from him. Logically, Casper knew murder equalled bad person equalled definitely deserved to be crying in a hallway by himself and hopefully choking on his vomit. Hell, nutso kidnapper alone deserved it by Casper’s book.
Casper the Cowardly Lion gnawed on the inside of his mouth, scowling at Cain and his stupid, heart-wrenching tears, and hey, maybe he could be the lion after all. Maybe he could get his fucking feet and piss off down the hall. One little night of praying for it, and if Cain still woke up tomorrow, Casper could pretend he hadn’t seen shit and get back to the game the right way. Take it slow. Prove bit by bit he wasn’t wolfsbane until he ripped out Cain’s heart for good.
But he’d already said it, hadn’t he? The lion was the bravest person Dorothy knew, and he sure as fuck wasn’t Casper.
With a sigh, Casper shuffled the last little bit of distance and sat back on his heels. Cain jerked out of his wobble, and his bent leg slapped down onto Casper’s thighs. A mumbled shout; his eyes flew open, hands scrabbling at the skirting board until his hazy eyes landed on Casper. The sharp nutty brown of them was murky with drink, and they slipped and slid like sunlight nosing its way through water clogged up by sediment and dying leaves.
They still had to be the most beautiful eyes Casper had ever seen. Especially when Cain’s lips trembled and they filled up with tears again. The light seemed to dance in them as they welled across his waterline, a swell of diamond dew caught across his eyelashes in the indrawn breath while he reached for Casper’s face.
Everything was silent but for the whistle of the breeze.
Of course the idiot was totally fucked, so the moment lasted right up until his pawing hand nearly took Casper’s eye out. Casper flinched back from it and Cain’s lip gave a pitiful wobble that looked so bizarre against the gore staining his face that Casper could only stare in fascinated horror as Cain fell off the edge again and burst into tears.
What was he even meant to do? Pat Cain’s head? There’s a good psycho kidnapping murderer. It’s all okay. Casper floundered, and each sob just got its claws and dug them into his heart and tore at it, and the rip twisted tighter and tighter until with a gasp, a hitching in his own chest, Casper just … gave in.
Cold radiated off Cain when Casper fell into him, arms thrown around his shoulders and his face buried in Cain’s throat. Somehow it was better that the blood wasn’t warm while it still smeared tacky against his cheek and sunk into his t-shirt. If it wasn’t for the metallic bitterness squirming down his throat, he could pretend it was something else. Melted ice cream. A spilt drink.
No matter how drunk he was, Cain’s floundering hands still found Casper. They scratched at his back then flattened there, pawing flat-palmed all across the expanse as if pressing the entirety of Casper into him would ensure he never left. There was something desperate to the action, a conscious strike beneath the uncontrolled sobs that burst from his lips. His chest heaved beneath Casper’s, and Casper clung to him like they were both ships in the ocean, cast adrift and battered by each crashing wave of the storm.
And maybe that was the best metaphor he’d come up with for them the whole goddamn time.
“Cassie.” Cain moaned the word, his slur trapping reverberations in his throat, ones Casper felt against his cheek. His head stayed tipped back, as if anything but cold air across his face and the total exposure of his misery would suffocate him. “Cassie, baby, I’m sorry. I’m—I’m so sorry. I don’t—I can’t lose you, Cassie. I love you. I just wanted to make it all better. I—I just wanted it to be good.”
It was all he kept saying, over and over again. The drunkard’s prayer knelt to worship at the altar of mad obsession. Casper choked on the raw honesty, his own breath catching in his throat, a pain wrenching deep through his chest where his heart should be.
Warmth gathered where they held each other now, and it was like basking in the belly of the beast.
In the end, the tin man had a heart. Maybe his chest was nothing but hollow fucking metal and all those demons in his skull jeered otherwise, but it was there, and maybe just like any other flesh and blood heart, it could only take so much before it broke.
Still those hands pressed him tight, and in that moment, Casper couldn’t breathe.
In that moment, Casper belonged to him.