Only the whisper of the wind and the soft rustle of nocturnal life in the forest behind them accompanied them while they ate. The chirp of insects braving the cold; an owl’s hoot. Perhaps that snapped twig was a fox or a rabbit. The drone of traffic still underlaid it all, but it was distant here. Secondary to the immediate world.
Cain’s eyes kept trailing to him, Casper could see that in the corner of his and resolutely, he stayed staring out at the city. Damn idiot buying noodles. Every time they trailed too far past his mouth – the limp, greasy tentacles of a cosmic horror still living in its mum’s basement – his cheeks heated up while he broke them back off into the container. Why did that idiot have to watch him eat? He ate like a ghoul with its face buried in a corpse.
Eventually the mouthful just hurt to swallow, throat tight and dry. His skin itched, down his spine and a flush across his cheeks. Casper gulped it down and forced out the scratch of his voice. “Stop looking at me.”
Wide-eyed, a clump of rice dropped from between Cain’s chopsticks. Who could even eat rice with chopsticks anyway? Especially that elegantly. “What? I’m—I’m sorry I just—“
Casper shook his head, the blood in his cheeks rising to the boil and his eyes fixed on the dwindling pile of noodles. “I can’t eat when people look at me. It—“ He jammed his chopsticks in the noodles and rubbed at his scarred cheek. “Never mind. I’m done—“
“No! No, it’s alright. I’m sorry. Here—“ Cain’s chopsticks wound a noodle out of the pile of worms and pulled it back with a scrap of cabbage which he placed on his tongue. “It’s still warm. Finish it. I’m not watching, I promise.”
Like he wasn’t too fucking embarrassed to eat now anyway. No matter that when he glanced up, Cain had his eyes fixed firmly out on the city, turned just to the left away from Casper. All lax, easy lines, even his slouch seemed unduly elegant, elbow up on the back of the bench holding the Chinese container up to his mouth. He didn’t look weirded out. Still fucking smiling. Casper sighed and leant sideways against the back of the bench.
“Can we talk at least? I’m making it weird, I’m sorry.”
Cain’s eyes flickered back to him, all soft and sweet and smiling, then away again, and he spoke out to the cityscape before them. “You’re not. Don’t worry. You’re just ... I like looking at you, but it doesn’t mean I get to stare like an absolute creep.”
A shock of warmth bloomed in Casper’s chest, cooling his face to something tropical and heady. He ducked his head and prodded around at his noodles. He’d had to think worms, didn’t he? Big, fat slimy worms...
“You have been staring quite a lot.”
“And here I thought I was being at least a little subtle... I suppose it’s a good thing you didn’t notice me until later at the bar. I don’t think I could take my eyes off you the whole time.”
Shit. Another shock jolted through his ribs, this one in the stutter-stop of his heart. The worms swum in their slick broth, glistening bodies writhing together in an orgy of base pleasure. Juices oozed from those blunt heads, digestive slime eating away at the rotting vegetation they’d dragged into their nest.
The primal stew almost spilt over his legs as he jumped, some churn of his stomach surging up his throat. Cain was looking at him again, brows drawn together and his empty container set down the other side of him, chopsticks squared neatly on top.
Hadn’t he had like half of that left?
“Casper? Are you alright?”
“I...” Casper glanced down at his lap. Yeah, still worms. “I think I grossed myself out of eating my food.”
“Look!” The broth almost sloshed out again as he shoved it out toward Cain. “They look like worms!”
“I mean ... a little, I suppose...”
“It’s like an orgy of blind subterranean worms. Seriously, I can’t eat it.”
Laughter burst from Cain’s lips, bright and sharp like it shocked him to find it. His fingers slid through his hair as he sank against the bench facing Casper. That soft wonder suffused his whole face again, casting the city light that illuminated his eyes to a rose-tinted glow. It looked soft, his hair. It looked as if it’d feel like silk between his fingers.
“If you say so... I can get you something else on the way back, if you like? It’s free anyway.”
It was, but Casper would never take him up on it anyway. Regardless, “I’ll eat it when I get home.” Casper snapped the lid back on and handed that and the spring rolls to Cain when he held out his hand. Everything went in the bag, tucked neatly under the bench.
Cain didn’t mention leaving. Casper didn’t want to. It felt as if he could sit out here all night and still not want to go home, no matter how the cold ached across his cheekbones and through his nose, a deep grumble against the burning chill on his fingertips and the tip of his nose and the rough, chapped skin on his lips. But he didn’t know if that was the place, the isolation, or how home meant nothing but a cramped flat, alone in the dark as he stared at the ceiling, light creeping in and sleep still miles away no matter how high he dragged himself, and each hour brought him closer to the next debasement.
Every job was a debasement when you looked like he did. When you were him. People didn’t buy his body to treat it like a pretty thing. Roach boy was built for filth.
What sick mind was Cain hiding behind that awestruck smile?
Fucking sort it out, Roach Boy. Wallow when you’re stuck by yourself.
Didn’t mean shit that he didn’t deserve it. He was here, wasn’t he? Leech mouth with its ring of needle teeth stuck into his smooth skin. Was it smooth? It’d always been too dim to really tell, but it must be just like his hair. Like silk.
Get to know the guy. That’s what you did, wasn’t it? Ask him what his job is. What’s his salary and how many pushups he can do in one go.
“You seen Star Trek?”
Nice one, you fucking cretin.
But hey, Cain was just about beaming sunshine from that smile. Slam dunk from Roach Boy.
“Obviously,” he said. “Best series?”
“Definitely the original.”
“Oh come on. You can’t say the original, that’s such a cop out.”
“What’s your favourite series then?”
“Deep space nine.” A slow crooked smile lifted one corner of Cain’s mouth. “And the original.”
“Ha!” Casper sat up and wiggled his fingers at Cain. “Alright – do you read?”
“There’s my next question ticked off – do you use words like voraciously, you weirdo.”
Cain rolled his eyes. His hand slipped into his trouser pocket and came up with a pack of straights. He put one between his lips and spoke around it. “Remind me to cross it off my list of words to use on a date. Here—“ he held out the pack— “want one?
Like he’d still be Roach Boy if he turned down a free cigarette. When he had it hanging from his lips, Cain snapped open a Zippo and they bent in together to light them from the dancing flame. Cain’s shielding hand hid them from the wind and the city beyond behind like they whispered secrets together. Like they hid a kiss from the world.
The flame lent his eyes an amber tint. The glow of the streetlights. A sliver of the sun trapped in the rays of his eyes. They devoured him.
Smooth smoke flooded Casper’s mouth on the rolling sands of the desert, the heat of Cain’s eyes stealing all moisture from dunes that had once been luscious jungle. Casper held it. Lungs straining, heart pounding, he held onto the moment. The heat of the flame against his lips and the slightest tickle of that silken hair against his cheek as the wind rippled through it. The way each of Cain’s sharp breaths came hitched and laden with smoke, lit cigarette still between his parted lips.
He drank it all in until black edged his vision and his eyes fluttered closed and then, behind the thin veil of smoke whisked away on the wind, he leant back. Away. The chill air sunk its claws into his face and shivering, Casper pulled his coat tighter.
“You’re so bloody beautiful,” Cain said, and his words came hoarse like the low, awed breaths, “you know that?”
A jolt shot through Casper’s chest, a bloom of fuzzy warmth chasing out the cobwebbed chill. Had anyone ever called him beautiful before?
Jack liked hot. Jack liked sexy. Sometimes he even went pretty or cute. Both of them knew Casper wasn’t beautiful. Inside or out.
Shit. Casper rubbed his hand against his cheek and took a deep drag on his cigarette. His heart pattered like mice feet. Why couldn’t it stop doing that? “Not pulchritudinous?”
A groan, the last of the trance shaken off, and with his fingers sliding back through his hair, he took a drag as well. “Oh piss off. That’s the last time I use a word more than two syllables.”
Cain glared at him, ruined by the playful smile crooking the corner of his lips. “That’s the last time.”
Cute. Definitely too cute. Casper hunkered down, elbows on the knees of his crossed legs, and smirked up at Cain whose dark eyes traced the ember of Casper’s cigarette as he put it to his lips, the cherry flaring bright in the darkness.
“Who said this was a date anyway, rich boy?”
It might have been comical, the way his face fell, if it wasn’t so sweet. A slow fall to kicked-dog eyes and a pouting bottom lip until he shook his head and mastered the expression. “No one, I suppose...”
Casper pouted at him, chin resting on his knuckles. A drift of ash whipped away in the wind. “Better mind your tongue then.”
“Alright—“ Cain twisted in his seat, arm over the back of the bench and his cheek resting on his loose fist. Shadows gathered beneath his cheekbones sharpened them to carved marble and his voice harkened to the old black-gold velvet. “Call this a turn of fate then, pretty boy, and I’ll ask the question. Let me take you on a date.”
Shit and it was hard to keep the grin off. Best he could do was limit it to widening the smirk. Casper wagged the cigarette back and forth before him, the glow caught like an ember buried in his eyes. “And how’re you going to make that worth my while?”
“Mm...” Cain tilted his head further to the side, heat simmering behind every precise turn of his features to pure sin and the crooked half-smile put him right back behind the bar, his blood racing as this stranger made him melt. “I’ll play then, Casper. What’s your time worth?”
The coy reply died unspoken, sinking and rotting to nothing more than a black pit of nausea in his stomach. And it hadn’t been going to be about money. Maybe he’d been going to ask for a kiss, but...
He really prodded that question out like an expert.
The breath of smoke scratched through his voice as he spoke down to his lap. “Don’t ask me that.”
A hiss, forced between Cain’s teeth, and his body closed off, turned away and shut down. Casper cut back in before he could speak. Shit, his chest was getting all tight now. It made his voice even worse. All stupid and cracking.
“I didn’t think I’d actually be talking to you like this when I made that a joke, I’m sorry. Just don’t, please. It’s—it doesn’t feel right.”
His response came soft, a single word. “Why?”
And for some god-fucking-forsaken reason, Casper told him. Call it the exhaustion and the dope-sickness creeping in.
“Because every time you ask, up here—“ Casper tapped his head— “I’m checking my price list. Five hundred for a date, if you’re wondering. Don’t like them. Every time someone forks it out, I’ve gotta sit there remembering I’ve never been on a real one.”
Oh. Summed it up, didn’t it? What would it be tomorrow? Hungover, he’d sprawl in bed staring at the ceiling until a call came in. Five men want you in my house later. Two holes, three dicks. Bring dope and drink the spiked drink they give you, so you won’t remember it in the morning. Maybe meet me in a scummy motel room – old, fat, tiny dick, pretend to moan while I hump you for five minutes and refuse to pay an hour.
Earlier this week, he’d gone to his fourth of the day, last one before he headed to an overnight, and the guy had beaten him up and stolen his money and kicked him out because he’d come too high to even struggle.
Someone else had punched him in the face, but they’d paid him to do that.
That tight feeling knotted through his throat and beneath his eyes, a deepening of the aching cold sinking into his bones. It was that feeling that felt like crying, but it had been so, so long since he’d been able to cry.
A survival mechanism he hadn’t been able to shed.
If only he could make himself look up to at least look out at the city. The expanse of the sky might loosen the rope tightening around his neck. Might at least jerk it closed and get it over with. Casper picked at the white lichen splattered across the rough wood of the bench with the edge of his thumbnail. Nice bench, really. Old and solid, like a relic of the times when people cared about things like benches in parks in the sky.
How could you care about benches when the world died only a little slower than your panicked scrabble to the bottom? How blessed would it be to find someone to slow that plummet just a little?
Now he’d gone and messed it all up.