The Stains Beneath Our Skin {mxm}

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Spectacular

A rare lull had descended on the street, and other than a middle-aged couple dawdling arm-in-arm down the other side of the road, not another soul disturbed the gentle quiet. The streetlamps cast pooling amber light across the precise shapes of the flagstones, and as they passed into a shadowed interlude, Casper slipped his hand around his waistband. His fingers met chill metal, a switchblade in a pocket sewn into the inside of his waistband, and some tension ebbed out of his shoulders. Some luck for once. Just in case.

“So how come I got my food half off ’cause she saw me talking to you?” Casper asked.

At the edge of his vision, Cain blinked, startled, out of the lingering stare he’d had on Casper since they started walking, dopey grin and all. “What?”

Casper laughed. “Seriously. Are you high or something? Where did suave mister rich man go?”

“Oh...” Cain’s cheeks flushed, and that touch of colour contrasted starkly against the clarity of before. Not even a hint of the bite of cold, and he still walked in that shirt and trousers as if it were the middle of summer. Nut. “I think that was the difference.”

Drunk confidence then. Casper could appreciate that, and this—this was far more endearing. It put him at ease. Hopefully not too much at ease.

“You going to tell me why I got my food cheap, then?”

Oh. Did you?”

Casper nodded. “Half off after she grilled me about talking to you. How come?”

“Ah...” Cain’s long fingers ran over his lips. “I go there a lot.”

“She didn’t bow to you ’cause you go there a lot.”

A mutter, an inaudible word with a rueful sort of smile on Cain’s lips. For a moment, Casper heard only the precise taps of his shoes against the paving stones and the muddy thumps of his own boots. A car slid past, sleek and black and almost silent. Even got a bit cold as it went by, and Cain frowned at it, his fingers dancing a little through the air.

What was that smell? Just a little wisp but it stunk like something had died. Was it him? Surreptitiously, Casper pulled his collar out and sniffed. Goddamn, Roach, you need a shower. Not quite death though. He’d been worse.

Cain’s words startled him out of his thoughts. “Alright. This sounds dreadful though.”

“Hit me with it.”

Cain nudged Casper around the corner onto a narrower street. Residential, lined with tall terraces with a posh old-timey vibe. The city fell even quieter here, and all the cars outside were shiny and new. Dark, heavy trees shaded the distant end, looming above wrought-iron fencing.

“Well, it was the Chinese I used to go to—a while ago, when I lived somewhere else. I swear her husband’s cooking is the best that will ever grace your tongue, but they weren’t doing so well – the area, you know? So, when I moved here, I...” Cain grimaced, fingers scratching at the back of his neck as he studied the houses they passed. One of the little balconies was so abundant with plants that the railing was lost amongst the leaves. “I bought the new shop and put some money into their business to get it running, that sort of thing.”

Cain’s eyes flickered down and he must have found Casper gaping at him, because he looked away again and groaned. “That really sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? I didn’t buy it or anything. It’s just my favourite Chinese and—god, I’m just making it worse, aren’t I?”

So Cain was that kind of rich. The bring your favourite Chinese with you when you move rich. Fucking hell. Was Casper even wearing anything new? Shit, did he even buy his boxers new or were they a pair that had been too small for Jack? Shit. He’d even cut his hair himself. Why was this guy even looking twice at him? What did he want?

And Cain’s cheeks were bright red, free fingers tugging at his shirt cuff. Like he was embarrassed by it.

For fuck’s sake.

“So you actually meant that it’s your Chinese.”

No. I—I mean that’s the point. It was a gift. They just don’t charge me anymore – you know because I—“ Again, Cain’s words died as Casper burst out laughing, the scratching sound ringing down the empty street, and Cain groaned. “You brat.”

Brat?”

A sharp hiss between his teeth. “No, not brat. I mean—“ They stopped by the fence, a small gate set into an ingress in the rails, and Cain broke off, shaking his head. “Never mind.”

Was this it? A shiny padlock glared up at them from the heavy chain looped around the gate and the fencepost. Casper gave it a rattle. Locked. “So much for your park.”

“Well I was hoping you wouldn’t be too averse to climbing over...”

So mister suave-when-drunk dopey rich man didn’t mind some breaking and entering. Certainly nice to know.

The fence looked climbable, spikes on top every other post, sure, but Casper was lithe and limber and built for exactly this sort of thing. Problem was the fence was ungodly high, and he was a short prick. He couldn’t reach the crossbar with his foot on the filigree, and his foot would be jammed in too tight between the rails to jump.

“Fuck sake,” Casper muttered, and shrugged off his coat, a black wool trench coat that brushed the floor. Cain raised an eyebrow as he handed it to him. “Hold it.”

Hooked over one finger, Cain held it up, a dull, dark shape in the dusky light. “This is a nice coat.”

Casper backed up, scowling at the fence as he stuck his gloves in his pocket. “No, it’s not.”

“I disagree. It suits you.”

“Sure, but it’s a shit coat.”

“Again, I disagree.”

No point disagreeing back. Casper rocked back on his heel and took a running jump at the fence. One foot hit a post and he pushed up. The iron of the crossbar bit like a knife of ice into his palms. A scramble and he got to the top, a spike jutting threateningly up at his balls, and after a moment eating up the satisfaction, he jumped neatly off into a crouch.

Cain didn’t say anything, but a certain smugness coloured his grin. Casper took the coat passed through the fence and caught the tied bag of Chinese thrown over to him, then got busy putting his coat back on. Cold as tits out, Jack would say. Casper didn’t really know what that meant. Never held a pair of tits in his life but he figured they were warm.

Also thinking about Jack could fuck right off. Look at me, asshole, I picked up a guy who’ll buy me a yacht for a blowie.

Better if he didn’t think about that either.

The fence posed no problem to Cain, reached the crossbar easy and all. He grinned at Casper when he landed, not even a hair out of place. Rolling his eyes, Casper threw Cain back the Chinese bag. “That’s just showing off.”

“And you weren’t?”

“Well, I’ve got to woo you somehow.”

Laughing, Cain set a path off between some trees. Asshole even had a fuck-me laugh. After seeking the cold metal at his waistband again, Casper set off after him.

Seemed like it’d be a nice sort of park in the daytime, thick trees but the undergrowth had been cleared from between them, and they walked along a carpet of rotting leaves and pine needles steeply uphill. The canopy overhead blocked out the sky, great swathes of the trees evergreen. Nowhere in the city smelt quite so fresh as it did in this grove, and if it weren’t for the distant rumble of traffic and the whir of some nearby generator, Casper could almost pretend he was away from it all. A vast forest out in the middle of nowhere.

Like the Black Forest up in the Transylvanian mountains. Casper trekking with nothing but a bag and some wooden stakes strapped to his belt, the same ones he’d twirl around his fingers like guns when those two snarling vampires stalked out of the woods in front of him. The fight would finish in a flurry of cartwheels and deathly accurate flung-stakes, and Casper would stand grinning amongst the corpses with black blood trickling over his skin, well and truly alive.

Stupid. All there was out in the forest was bears and wolves, and Casper wouldn’t be fighting either of them any time soon. Dream on, Roach Boy.

The treeline broke into the universe scattered across the ground, and kudos word-nerd, it was spectacular. Casper stopped just inside the treeline, his breath tight and hitching in his chest, while Cain strolled down the slope. It eased out to a bench perched atop a cliff above the entire city. Up here, urban squalor spun out into a tapestry of neon verve, threads of growling traffic weaving together an abstract war. Building lights burst across it like little supernovas, glimmering in the dark.

Why had he never been here before? All these years and he’d never even bothered to climb the hill. His pestilent apathy slapped him in the face and nearly brought tears to his eyes.

The dim orange haze of the sky and all the city glow behind him cast Cain’s face into shadow as he looked back, his silhouette a bit of night peeking free of the amber muck.

“It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?”

Casper could only nod, his hand pressed over his mouth to hide the way his lips trembled.

“Are you coming? Your food will go cold and I kn—“

The break hung abrupt in the air. A snapped twig ending that jolted Casper out of his slow awe. Cain’s fingers carded back through his hair as he half-turned, his profile an aquiline carving against the sky. A quickening of Casper’s heart, and with a deep breath, he followed Cain down to the bench.

Way up here, the breeze came quick and sharp even though the air had hung slow in the streets. It bit into his skin and ruffled the edges of his clothes. This high, it almost lost the petrol stink, and something fresher breathed through it. Sweet petrichor splashing a raindrop across his tongue. Cain’s whole shirt rippled, catching the wind like a sail unfurling on the high seas, but he stood unconcerned as if it were the balmiest of summer gusts.

Cain stayed quiet as he handed out the food once they’d both sat down. It felt like him giving Casper a moment to absorb the view.

It was so much better looking out at the city while the wind whipped against your skin and the heavens touched the horizon. Almost at the crooked kiss of sky to land, the lights faded, sparse then gone all together, and where those lights ended felt like the place where life begun.

“I wish everywhere was like this.” Casper’s throat was tight and his broken voice wouldn’t lift above a whisper. “It feels real.”

“Like what?”

Real. Green, open, natural. I hate it down there. I feel so trapped all the time. I just want to look out my window at night and see the stars.”

The wind whistled in the silence between them. Had that been too much already? Casper peeked out of the corner of his eyes. The city lit Cain up now: the slow, breathless smile on his lips, his food forgotten on his lap, elbow on the back of the bench and his head resting in his hand. Staring. At Casper.

Fucking asshole didn’t have an inch of shame. Gave it all to Casper instead, heating his cheeks with this blatant ogling.

Food. Talk about food. Nice and simple. Casper picked his up, tapped the chopsticks between his fingers and pointed them at Cain. The address by the wood startled him, all wide blinking eyes again, and Casper startled himself by giggling.

Giggling. Shit.

“What did you get?”

“Shrimp Thai green curry. You?”

“Seriously? You can’t get the shrimp curry!”

“Well I wouldn’t have if I’d known I’d be eating it with you!”

If there were more colour to the light, Casper was sure that shadowing on Cain’s cheeks as he turned his head away would be bright pink. Casper poked Cain in the arm with his chopsticks, and when his eyes turned begrudgingly back, Casper asked, “Why does that make a difference?”

“So I’m not that guy who gets shrimp curry at the Chinese.”

Casper laughed. “It’s alright, you’re already that guy who took his local Chinese with him when he moved house.”

A groan. Cain slumped back in his seat, fingers back through his hair and a helpless smile on his face. “Oh, piss off. I wish I never told you that. What have you got anyway?”

“Changing the subject?”

Yes.”

“I got vegetable udon noodles and these spring rolls.”

A delicate arch lifted Cain’s eyebrow, his hair tousling on a stray gust, and it looked as if Casper had finally found someone who did raised eyebrows better than him. “You’re a vegetarian?”

The sandwich chicken he’d scoffed a whole pack of at his last trick’s wouldn’t agree but... “I try my best.”

Cain nodded slow and tilted the container, rice in a creamy green sauce, toward Casper. The motion of his hands didn’t distract from how ... intent his eyes were. Seriously, who got intent about vegetarianism? “I suppose you don’t want to try some of this then.”

Casper shook his head and shifted around on the bench so that he faced Cain more, one of his knees bent up against the back. “Let me have some rice.”

It was good. No denying that. Light and fresh and a little hot, creamy with coconut and lime. Casper pinched a shrimp, evading Cain’s snap with his chopsticks, and planted it in his mouth around the laughter.

“Oi!”

“This is good!” Jesus Christ, Roach, at least swallow it first. “Congratulations, you’ve converted me.”

“I’m sure that poor shrimp would disagree.”

Casper groaned. “Stop it. It’s barely got a brain cell.”

A broad smile spread across Cain’s lips, a glint of the city lights against his teeth. Cain’s head tipped back. Shadow cradled the side turned away from the galaxy beneath them while his eyes traced Casper’s face. Funny that Casper still wasn’t quite sure what colour his eyes were.

Funny how he wanted to know.

A wooden clack snapped through Casper’s sappy falling into his eyes crap, and Casper tore his gaze away from the stars glinting in them. No more of that this evening. Absolutely not. Roach Boy didn’t do getting lost in his eyes. Getting lost in eyes meant feelings and he couldn’t afford feelings.

Cain’s voice slid soft through the susurrus whisper of the wind. “Eat your food, Casper. It’ll go cold.”

Shit, and his name in that velvet voice already had him melting. Play it cool. “Alright, dad.”

“Piss off, brat.”

There it was again. It fit this time, though. Just an affectation, and an annoying one. Grinning, Casper popped the lid off his noodles and gazed out across the city while he ate. He didn’t turn his body away from Cain, elbow hooked on the back of the bench.

And the city was so goddamn beautiful he couldn’t really breathe.

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