Once upon a time in a far away land… there was a kind-hearted Prince who was erased from the memories of his true love. He was forced into a deep, deep sleep by an Evil King and for a long time the Prince was helpless. Helpless to do anything but sleep… and possibly make the whole world sleep with him.
Until, one day a boy became visible through sleep’s thick and heavy fog. The Prince mustered up what little strength he had and put all his faith in the boy. This young man would have to go on a journey, put his bravery to the test in order to wake the Dragon and bring fiery and fierce wrath down on the King and his kingdom. All the boy had to do was listen—
Sean Cassidy woke up, his breath caught in his throat like he was going to call out to someone. He rubbed his eyes, flopping back down onto his lumpy pillow and stiff, uncomfortable mattress. His heart slowed down back to something that Sean supposed was normal as he checked his cell phone.
It was four-thirty in the Goddamned morning. Sean grimaced and yanked the blankets back up. He went back to sleep and didn’t dream for the rest of the night.
The thing about Sean Cassidy was that he wasn’t a hero or anything like that. He ate the cheapest food and lived in a crappy apartment in Brooklyn. He didn’t have a hot girlfriend (or boyfriend) and even his friends-count was depressingly low. Sean had never thrown a punch in his life and he’d never ridden anything fancier than the subway.
Sean rubbed sleep out of his eyes as he got off on his stop, pulling his hoodie tightly around himself as he adjusted his backpack. He walked down the sidewalk, jamming to his tunes as he pushed open the door to Logan’s Video Rental.
Logan growled like a beast in the dark. Sean’s sheepish smile trembled around the edges.
“Sorry, Logan. I, uh, didn’t get a lot of sleep.” Logan was built like a lumberjack and Sean was pretty sure the man ate cigars for breakfast… with an extra helping of badass on the side. Logan raised his eyebrows and Sean swallowed. “Sorry.”
Logan grunted and crossed his massive, hairy arms.
“Don’t let it happen again, kid.”
Sean nodded frantically, his red hair flying all over the place.
Sean quickly retreated to the checkout desk, not up for much more of Logan’s intimidating bravado at such an early hour. He slid into the seat and slung his backpack off of his shoulders, pulling out his sketchbook and flipping it open on the counter. While Sean didn’t sketch, per say, he did doodle, and he was good enough to make some friends laugh at his zany drawings.
“No offense, man, but you look like shit.”
Alex Summers’ early-morning raspy voice made Sean look up into those light hazel eyes that seemed to change their hue daily. Sean bit the inside of his cheek, hoping his cheeks weren’t as pink at they felt because that would be so lame.
“Sleep’s a bitch, dude.”
Alex’s crooked smile made Sean want to whine and curse the universe for its twisted and sick sense of humor. He almost whimpered when Alex scooted up onto the counter, swinging his long denim-covered legs until he slid down so he was right there next to Sean.
“Is it those dreams again?” When Sean blinked, Alex nudged him. “Spill.”
Sean rolled his eyes.
“Quit teasing, asshole.”
“M’not teasing!” Alex squeezed Sean’s knee and just that small bit of contact and pressure sent a hot jolt skittering down Sean’s spine. Sean was pretty sure that Hell had a name—and that name was Alex Summers. “You’ve got the imagination and—” Alex waved his hand around. “All that stuff. It’s cool.”
There was a long silence. Sean could vaguely hear Logan grumbling as he reorganized the DVDs like he did every morning. Sean heaved a dramatic sigh, crossing his arms.
“Fine. Where did I leave off?”
Alex pulled up a stool, resting his elbows against the counter.
“There was an Evil King and a Prince who was taken away. That’s all I remember.”
Sean smiled a little.
“Well pull up your socks, I’m gonna blow you out of the water.” Alex laughed. Sean loved it when he could make Alex laugh. Sean licked his lips, trying hard to remember everything that his subconscious had projected to him. “Now there’s a Dragon.”
Alex’s smile widened and Sean forgot to take a breath.
“Uh…” Sean cleared his throat. “Yeah. But like, the Prince and this Dragon were best friends or in love—I can’t remember which. Maybe both. Anyway, somehow the Dragon can’t remember his Prince, like a spell has been put on him.” Sean closed his eyes for a moment, trying hard to remember. “And… that’s bad because the Prince is in this deep sleep and he can’t wake up no matter how hard he tries. And soon the Evil King is going to make the Prince put the entire world to sleep.” Sean opened his eyes and instantly backpedaled. “That’s the latest, I think.”
There was a pause before Alex smiled.
“Cool. Sucks to be that Prince, though.”
Sean laughed a little.
“Tell me about it.” Sean bit his lip and pushed the sketchbook across the counter, the pen rolling a bit. “It’s your turn to start today’s comic.”
Everyday they’d doodle back and forth to make something that could resemble a story before Logan barked at them that it was closing time. Sean can’t remember how it started but he’s glad it did. Alex grumbled but took the pen, hunching over the sketchbook, biting his pink tongue between his teeth. The pen scratched the paper as Alex licked his lips, torturing Sean just a little bit more.
“I hate starting.” He glanced up quickly at Sean. “I’m not as good as you.”
Sean’s heart squeezed itself painfully.
“Please.” He shook his head. “I just doodle.”
Alex put the pen down and slid back over the counter, his shirt riding up on the way down—Sean needed to stop staring because he was scarily close to venturing into “creeper” territory.” Alex did a half-smile half-smirk thing that never failed to make all thoughts in Sean’s head scatter.
“I think you’re good, Sean.”
Alex squeezed Sean’s shoulder before making his way to the back, probably to go through the new releases. Sean groaned and let his head fall down onto the counter. Life was a crazy bitch who needed to get laid. He smelled smoke and heard Logan grunt.
“This is getting’ kind of pathetic to watch, kid.”
Sean flipped Logan off without looking up.
“We can’t all have balls of steel like you, boss.”
Logan chuckled and ruffled Sean’s hair before sauntering off to let Sean wallow in his own pile of misery and sexual frustration alone.
By one-thirty Sean and Alex made a lot of progress with their daily comic. This one starred a little girl and her pet dinosaur and their crazy antics. Alex sat with him behind the counter, dealing with a customer as Sean chewed on the sleeve of his hoodie, trying to accurately portray the intricacies of a t-rex in ballerina gear when a familiar voice made Sean drop his pen and look up.
“Make way, make way, emergency services coming through. Yes you too, sir, get out of my way.” Raven pushed her way to the front of the line, a few perfect blonde locks falling in front of her face. She handed off her heavy backpack to Alex before Sean offered his hand to help pull her up and over the other side of the desk. “Thanks, Sean.”
“No problem.” Sean watched Raven pull at her hair tie, shaking it out as she sank to the floor. “Rough day?”
“Ugh.” Raven massaged her temples. “Like you wouldn’t believe.”
Alex and Sean took care of the midday rush. Logan clocked out for lunch, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth by the time he was one step outside. Sean put up the “out to lunch” sign and joined Alex and Raven on the floor behind the checkout counter.
Raven was, in Sean’s opinion, an angel. She was gorgeous, funny, and would give them free sandwiches everyday. Raven was a “sandwich runner” which meant she’d drive around on a scooter all day and deliver lunches to companies—and yet she’d take time out of her day to stop off at the tucked away video store and sneak them two sandwiches.
Sean took a bite of his sandwich and moaned. Salami, cheese, with a dash of mustard… his favorite.
“You’re a goddess.” Sean smiled around a mouthful of bread and meat as Alex snorted. “I’m serious, Raven, you’re—you’re perfect.”
Raven rolled her eyes but her cheeks were pink.
“Quit it, Sean.” She smacked his shoulder. “I’m not in the mood. Another perverted suit made a pass at me today.” Raven closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the stool. “God, I hate men.”
“That’s a lie. You’ve got your big nerdy boyfriend.”
Raven’s pouty lips pulled into a dreamy smile.
“He’s not a man, he’s a beast—”
“Ew.” Alex got up, taking his sandwich with him. “Gross, Raven. Seriously. Too much information.”
Raven cracked one eye open.
“Sounds to me like someone’s jealous.”
With an almost violent scowl, Alex left, muttering under his breath about bratty girls. Raven smirked victoriously, but Sean groaned, pressing his hands against his eyes.
“Fuck, Raven, he’s going to be all… broody now.”
“Oh, shut up.” She winked at Sean like they were partners in crime or something equally as insane. “You like it.”
So, yeah. Sean’s life was basically always unfair.
Later, when the sky was dark and Logan began closing up shop, Sean tugged on his hoodie and backpack just like he did everyday. Alex and Logan did their daily “we’re so manly it should be illegal” banter while Sean shifted awkwardly in his jeans and purple Converse. Sean was never the cool kid. He bet Alex was born a cool kid. Sean had been born as the weird ginger kid who had crazy hair and too many sketchbooks.
“Hey.” A calloused hand closed around Sean’s shoulder—and Alex was right there. “Space cadet.”
Sean forced a laugh and tried to stop his stupid hands from shaking.
“Yeah. I’m trying to get better, you know?”
Alex nodded, chuckling a little. They would go down the street, to the parking lot where Alex parked his bike. Sean jumped a little when he felt Alex’s elbow nudge him a bit.
“Are you cold?”
Sean was, a little bit, but he shook his head anyway because only losers felt cold in the fall.
“What? No, why, are my lips blue?”
Alex laughed like he was startled into it.
“No—it’s just, your hands are shaking, man.”
“Oh.” Sean thought he did a pretty good job of not panicking. Yeah, Sean was pretty much a boss at totally not panicking. They came to a stop at Alex’s bike, a motorcycle. “Yeah, they do that sometimes.” Sean smirked. “Wily bastards.”
Alex mounted his bike, putting on his helmet with the visor up. Sean watched Alex turn on the bike, a rumbling growl filling the empty lot. He started at Sean in a way that made Sean want to take a picture so that he had actual proof that it happened.
“You’re weird.” It wasn’t even close to being the first time someone had said that to Sean. It was, however, the first time someone had said it while grinning on a badass motorcycle before flipping the visor down. “See you tomorrow.”
Just like that, Alex drove off, leaving Sean to stare at where Alex had been just a few minutes before until it got too cold to replay that smile over and over again in his mind.
God, Logan was right. He was pathetic.
That night Sean ate leftover Chinese food and took a quick shower before falling into bed. His backpack was at the side of his bed and his purple Converse were in the doorway like always. He set his alarm and closed his eyes. He figured that tomorrow would be just like that day—full of sexual tension and unrequited something. And Sean would tell himself to quit and get himself another job, but he never would follow through.
Rinse, wash, repeat. Welcome to Sean Cassidy’s amazing and fascinating life.
He fell asleep.
Sean’s awful, evil, malevolent alarm went off at six-thirty. Even though it had been doing so for the past year or so it didn’t make the sound any less hellish. Sean blinked his eyes open and went to hit the clock like he did every morning—only this time when his fingers hit the crappy plastic Sean shrieked with pain.
He bolted upright and fumbled with the light switch, blinking away spots of color as he stared at his fingers. They were curled and clenched—and Sean couldn’t move them. Sean’s breath caught in his throat. Every time he so much as attempted to flex his fingers it hurt like nothing he’d ever felt before.
“Ow… ow. Fuck.” Sean leaned back against his headboard. His chest heaved under his Bugs Bunny t-shirt and he squeezed his eyes shut. “Oh God, please.”
After ten minutes with no changes, Sean realized that Logan would maul him if he was late again. He gingerly pulled his pants on and slipped into his hoodie with little problems. Brushing his teeth and putting on deodorant, however, was nearly impossible—but Sean managed. Barely.
Every time someone bumped into him on the subway—it hurt, his fingers still frozen. Sean had to zip up his backpack with his teeth… that’s how bad it was. He ran all the way to Logan’s store, not caring that his Converse kept almost falling off his feet because there was no way in hell that Sean was tying his shoes with his fingers the way they were.
Sean pushed the door open and sagged against it, closing his eyes. He only had to wait a minute before Alex was there.
“Sean, what’s up?”
Sean opened his eyes, turning to see where Logan was.
“In the back.” Alex was yanking on Sean’s hoodie, manhandling him back behind the counter. On any other day it would be glorious but Sean’s fingers decided to be total attention whores and distract him with unholy amounts of agony. “What’s going on, Sean?”
Sean bit his lip and he hoped Alex couldn’t tell that he’d cried, just a little, that morning.
“I can’t move my fingers.” Sean sucked in a breath that he hoped portrayed his ruggedness. “I couldn’t even tie my stupid shoes.” Alex pushed Sean so that he sat on one of the stools before he sank to his knees like that was something he could do. Sean’s mouth was suddenly bone-dry. “W-What are you doing?”
Even Sean winced at how his voice cracked. If anyone was an expert at humiliating Sean, it was himself. Alex just looked up and quirked one of his eyebrows.
“You can’t go around without shoes. Logan will kill you.”
There was a sharp tug at his feet and Alex Summers was tying Sean’s shoes. Madness. It was absolute madness. Sean gulped as Alex frowned, straightening up. Sean took a deep breath, trying to calm himself.
“Thank you, Alex.”
Alex shrugged off Sean’s gratitude, his lips pulled into a broody frown.
“Don’t mention it.” He grunted. “Here,” Alex reached for Sean’s hands and on instinct Sean yanked them away. Alex froze and his frown deepened. “Sean, I’m not trying to—I’m not trying to hurt you.”
“I know.” Sean flashed Alex a smile that twitched around the edges. “I know, dude, it’s just—they really hurt.” Alex’s pink tongue peeked out between his lips. He murmured something but Sean didn’t catch it. “What?”
“I just want to help. I think I could help your fingers, um…”
Alex kept biting off his sentences and Sean knew that if he didn’t get it out than Alex would be in a shitty mood all day. Sean took a quick breath.
“Okay.” He held out his curled, frozen fingers. “Okay, let’s try it.”
Sean offered his best smile and it got Alex to relax. And then Alex was taking Sean’s right hand into both of his. Sean jumped a bit, not because of the small dash of pain—but because of the rough but hot skin that was on his. Alex bit his tongue and ran his fingers lightly over Sean’s skin. It made Sean shiver a little and Alex cleared his throat.
“I, uh, went to massage school for a year or so. Laugh and I’ll kill you.”
It wasn’t funny. It was hot. Sean swallowed, smiling.
“Nah, I’m not laughing. I think it’s,” fucking hot, Jesus, “cool.”
Alex stared at them, but then decided that Sean was telling the truth. His fingers started to apply pressure very gently. It hurt at first, but Alex kept shushing Sean even though Sean hadn’t made a sound, he’d checked. It was weird, but eventually the prickling sensation went away and all Sean could feel was Alex’s fingers… his calloused fingers massaging each one of Sean’s fingers individually.
“Has this happened before?”
Sean was pretty sure his brain matter was dribbling out of his ears.
“Wha—oh. Um… no.” Sean’s fingers twitched, and this time it merely ached a little. “I mean, yeah, my right hand will cramp up if I draw for too long, but this so far beyond that—” Alex dug his thumbs into the center of Sean’s soft palm. Sean’s eyes fluttered shut and when he was able to open them again everything had a nice fuzzy edge to them. “Oh, you’re good.”
“I know. Here, give me the other one.”
Sean moved quickly, thrusting his frozen left hand into Alex’s magic grip. Sean had to bite down every whimper Alex’s fingers seemed determine to wring out of him.
“Seriously, dude. You could—ah—be like, a professional at this.”
“Nah.” Alex never looked away from Sean’s hand as he massaged dexterity back into it. “They said my hands were too rough. Like the skin, you know, calluses.”
Alex kept working Sean’s fingers until he could curl them without much effort. Alex took his divine touch away but Sean was, frankly, too euphoric to care all that much. He sighed a totally manly sigh.
“Well,” Sean sniffed, “if it counts for anything, I think you’re awesome.” Alex rolled his eyes but Sean saw him smiling so that was good. He forced himself to snap back into a reality where Alex’s hands were not deities to be worshipped. He unzipped his backpack and pulled out his sketchbook and pens. He shoved them at Alex, smiling wide. “Here, you start today. My fingers…”
“I just fixed your fingers.” Alex was still smiling as he took Sean’s sketchbook. “Coward. You hate starting.”
“Hey, be nice to me.” Sean screeched merrily. He seriously needed to stop smiling or else his face was going to get stuck like that. “I’m injured.”
Alex snorted and shook his head before turning back to the sketchbook. He opened it, pen in hand as he flipped past the pages they’d already filled—and that was when Alex stopped, grin vanishing as his eyes widened.
“Whoa…” Alex slid even closer to Sean, bringing the sketchbook with him. “Did you do this?”
Sean peered at his worn and weary sketchbook… and his mouth fell open.
Broad black lines swept over the page, spinning and looping to create hair that framed a man’s face. His eyes were open, but the dotes that filled them told Sean that the man couldn’t see anything… or that he wasn’t really awake. His lips were parted, and the words that came out of them were written in loopy, carefree script that curved on the page like cigarette smoke. They read: Please help me.
Without saying a word, Sean and Alex turned the page.
A looming castle filled the two pages. There was a man and a woman’s face drawn into the sky, labeled as the Evil King and the White Witch. Both of their gazes were icy, and even though they were just drawings… it was like they could see Sean and were sneering at him.
With shaking fingers… Sean turned the page.
It was another two-pager. The top three quarters of the page were pictures of Sean, Alex, Raven, and her boyfriend Hank—only they weren’t wearing normal clothes. Sean was clad in a chainmail hoodie, Alex in full fierce leather armor, and Raven and Hank were wearing robes, like wizards or something.
Under them there were dark scales that framed bright, reptilian eyes.
Somehow, artfully etched into the scales, a message in elegant calligraphy waited for them. The words made Sean’s shaking cease while goose-bumps ran down his spine.
Answer the call and go into the Dragon’s lair.
“I don’t know.” Raven tilted her head to the side. “I think they look way cool. Sean, I didn’t know you’re an artist.”
Sean whined, pulling his hair.
“I’m not. I just doodle—and this isn’t even my style. Alex,” Sean whipped around to face Alex. “Tell her, Alex.”
The blonde crossed his arms, averting his eyes from both Sean and his sketchpad.
“The new drawings are different than the usual ones.”
Sean cringed at the obvious doubt in his voice as he held out his hands.
“But I’m not ambidextrous.” Sean bit his lip so hard he thought it might bleed. “Yes, these are technically from my dreams, but I can’t draw like that.” Sean was trying really hard not to panic because the last thing he wanted to do was have an asthma attack in front of Alex. “I mean… maybe it was like sleep walking… but someone else,” Sean sighed, “used my hands or something.”
“So what, like,” Raven put her hands on her hips, “you were possessed?”
“I don’t…” Sean stopped before his voice cracked. “I don’t know, Raven.”
Raven left Sean and Alex with two untouched sandwiches. The entire book had been pilled with drawings of faraway places that couldn’t exist in the world Sean and Alex lived in. Towering trees that disappeared into the clouds. A cave with glowing rocks that led to the Dragon. As the pages began to run out the drawings became less intricate, then words just replaced any sort of illustration. Words like, “help me,” and “listen.”
An idea came to Sean, a dangerous but almost hopeful idea. He tugged his hoodie tight around him and spared a glance at Alex. The man’s shoulders were tight and he pointedly looked at anything that wasn’t Sean.
Alex flinched. Sean had never seen Alex flinch before and he couldn’t help but recoil a bit when those hazel eyes flickered to meet his gaze.
“Um, well, I-I wanted to ask for a favor.” Sean took a breath before he completely lost his nerve. “If this happens again—I don’t want it to, you know? And I’m doing my best not to totally freak out here but that’s getting really hard because it’s not like there’s anything close to a reasonable explanation for this and you probably think I’m a total freak of nature—”
Calloused fingers squeezed Sean’s wrist as Alex grounded him.
“Spit it out, man.”
Sean nodded and forced himself to get the words out.
“Will you spend the night just in case… it happens again?” Alex’s mouth actually fell open. Sean scrambled to find anything to sweeten the deal. “I’ll order pizza.”
The pause almost did kill Sean. He reached into his pocket for his inhaler when Alex spoke.
“Yeah.” He seemed surprised that the word left his lips, but he kept talking like he was just making sure he still could. “I’ll do it. And you’re not a freak, Sean.”
Though the sentiment was appreciated, Sean felt kind of hollow when their eyes both strayed to the elegant calligraphy and dragon eyes that called for action.
It had been so long since Sean had ever had someone stay over that he forgot that he wasn’t the cleanest of guys. As he pushed his door open he remembered, “Oh yeah, I’m kind of a slob. Shit.” Sean couldn’t stop wringing his hands as Alex walked into his living space.
“Uh… sorry about the mess.”
Alex turned at Sean’s voice, his eyebrows raised.
“I’m not a girl, dude.”
“I know that!”
Alex’s smirk kind of made Sean want to die.
“Good. I’m a guy too so it’s um… cool.”
Sean somehow managed to order the pizza without coming across like a total tool. It was a fast delivery, which meant the actual pizza was going to be shitty, but it was food so that counted for something. Alex insisted on paying and Sean fought tooth and nail because that was just ridiculous. But then Alex just fixed Sean with this look as he pulled out a twenty and gave it to the uncomfortable looking delivery boy.
They ate and Alex looked through Sean’s DVDs which led to an hour-long conversation about where they would go first if they lived in Middle Earth. It dwindled down until Sean was just wearing his comfort-hoodie and boxers, sitting nervously on the bed as Alex pulled up a chair, sitting next to the bed.
Sean swallowed nervously. It was kind of scary how often he’d thought of Alex being in his apartment. Granted, when Sean thought of it there was a lot more kissing, licking, and all around touching… yeah, he really needed to stop thinking like that or his dreams wouldn’t be about some fairy tale.
God it would be mortifying if Alex witnessed Sean having one of those dreams. Crap.
“Is something wrong?”
Alex’s voice made Sean snap out of his thoughts, his grip on his sheets loosening as he cleared his throat.
“No. No…” Sean paused and then hunched over a bit, grabbing a pillow because sometimes it was easier to get things out if he was holding something. He looked at Alex from under his red bangs, trying to smile. “Just… I’ve never been this afraid of just going to sleep.” Sean huffed. “It’s stupid.”
In the movies, this would be the part when Alex would softly tell Sean that it would be all right, that he’d sleep with him for the night just to make sure the dreams didn’t come back. And Sean would whisper, “You would do that?” And Alex would flash that crooked smile of his had say “Duh,” right before he kissed Sean, his thumb drawing circles on Sean’s cheek as the scene faded to black.
Of course, the movies lied. The real world didn’t have orchestral accompaniment or dramatic lighting. There was just Sean’s shitty low-watt bulbs and Alex’s foot bouncing on the floor.
Alex nudged Sean’s knee roughly with his fist.
“It’s not stupid. I’d be, uh, scared shitless too.”
Alex rolled his eyes.
“I’m serious.” Alex ran his fingers through his hair. “And at least… well, I’ll be here in case something happens and I’ll wake you up, I promise.”
Something hot burst in Sean’s chest and when he took a breath it stung a little.
“You’re… you’re kind of awesome, you know?”
Alex ducked his head down.
“Well, you’re covering for me when I’m passed out at work tomorrow.”
“Totally. You bet.” Sean watched Alex straighten a little, his leg not bouncing anymore. Sean laid back against his pillows, keeping the one hugged against his chest. He laid on his side and closed his eyes. “Goodnight, Alex.”
There was a click and Alex must have turned the lights off.
Just those two words made Sean ache in the best way. He just held on tight to his pillow and waited as his breaths evened out and his limbs became heavy.
Pretty soon Sean was asleep.
Ice-cold wetness seeped in Sean’s clothes and he sucked in a harsh, stuttering breath as he blinked, wiping water from his eyes. He shivered and stripped off his soaked hoodie, rubbing his skin because Christ it was cold.
“What—” Someone flipped on the lights and Sean covered his eyes. “What was that, what happened?” Sean took his hands away to see Alex holding Sean’s plastic water pitcher, the one Sean kept in the refrigerator. Christ, he was fucking cold. Alex was wide-eyed and out of breath. His back was pressed against the wall, his knuckles white as he clutched the pitcher tightly. “What is it?”
Alex exhaled like it was punched out of him.
“You—you don’t remember anything?”
Sean shivered and then realized that he was shirtless and wet and Alex was right there. Sean yanked his sheets off the bed and pulled them up around in him a makeshift toga.
“I, uh, I said goodnight to you.” Alex blinked and Sean pulled the sheets tighter around him. “What happened, Alex?” Alex didn’t say anything and he stared at something behind Sean. Sean turned and shrieked, stumbling back and tripping over his sheets. Plastic bounced across the floor and strong arms kept Sean from falling down. “Oh God.”
The wall above Sean’s bed had been vandalized by a sharpie marker. Alex kept his hands on Sean as the words sunk in.
My name is Charles Xavier. Please help me—
The plea stopped because the marker dragged across the wall. Sean was gently let go and Alex moved along the wall until he was in the kitchen. Sean could see scratches on Alex’s arms, red and painful.
“You were talking with a British accent.” Alex’s eyes were red around the edges. He kept rubbing his knuckles as he stared at the tiles. “Sean… you were crying. You kept begging me to help.”
Sean scrambled through his nightstand, pulling out his inhaler. He winced as air forced its way into his lungs. Sean picked up his water pitcher, not really caring when the sheets pooled around his ankles because his hands shook too much to keep them up. He moved into the kitchen and Alex immediately stepped away. Sean stopped, his inhaler tumbling to the ground.
“I’m not—I’m awake, Alex.” Alex made eye contact for a brief moment before looking down at the floor. Sean tried to catch his breath but the pain in his chest was making it obnoxiously difficult. “Jesus, Alex, I’m not going to do anything.”
Alex nodded but the movement was jerky and forced.
“Yeah, I know.” Sean’s heartbeat was so loud it was like a roar that pounded through his veins. Alex picked up his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. “I’m gonna go.” Sean had time to fumble for his inhaler before Alex had his hand on the doorknob. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
When the door slammed Sean had a choice. He could either chase after Alex or keep breathing. Hours later Sean was still sitting on his kitchen floor, occasionally taking puffs from his inhaler. When his alarm went off Sean didn’t even flinch.
The next day was quite possibly the worst day of Sean Cassidy’s life.
Alex never came back to the checkout counter once and even Logan noticed that something was off. When Raven came in she just took once look at the both of them avoiding each other’s eyes and shook her head, her eyes steely.
“Oh no. I’m not dealing with any drama shit today.” When she pointed her index finger at both of them Sean shrunk away. “I’m serious. Sort this shit out because visiting you two is the best part of my day. Don’t fuck that up for me.”
Raven stomped off in such an angry huff that even Logan moved fast to get out of her way. Alex kicked at a dust bunny but just stalked back to storage to “take inventory” even though Logan had done that the day before. Sean felt numb and everything sounded like white noise. There was an odd tingle in the back of his head… and it would be Sean’s luck to get a migraine on top of everything.
Before closing time Logan slid onto the stool beside Sean, his big arms resting on the counter. Sean didn’t look up from his hands that lay limp on the table as Logan grunted.
“Hey, kid, you gave it a shot. That’s more than most could say—”
“I didn’t tell him about,” Sean’s fingers twitched, “you know.” Sean figured Logan wouldn’t mind too much if he quit tomorrow. That would leave an open spot for someone who either had more testosterone or tits than Sean. “That’s not it, boss.”
Sean opened his mouth to give his two weeks notice but Logan slapped a hard hand on his back which sent Sean into a coughing fit.
“C’mon.” Logan hoisted Sean up like he was a ragdoll. “We’re goin’ out for a drink. Alex!” Logan barked and Alex peeked out from behind the horror section. He’d been there for the past fifteen minutes. “You’re closin’ up tonight.” Logan tossed the keys over like he was James Bond. “Don’t fuck up. I’ll know.”
Alex caught the keys and actually looked Sean in the eye for a short moment before Logan steered him away and out into the chilly night air.
Sean was guided down various alleyways that would have been nightmarish if Logan hadn’t been there with him, keeping all the shadows in check. Sean soon found himself in a smoky dive bar that would have normally had him reaching for his inhaler but he definitely didn’t want to do that in front of Logan.
The bartender was some old hound-faced man that just grunted at Logan in acknowledgement. They sat on the end of the bar in the darkest corner. Logan ordered two beers and slid a tall glass over to Sean. It was huge and Sean made sure not to grimace when he took a sip. Logan lit up a cigar and spared Sean a hard-boiled glance.
“I’ve never seen you so quiet, kid. You, Alex, and that sandwich girl always seem to be laughing about something.” Logan rolled his shoulders, his leather jacket stretching with him. “It was too fuckin’ quiet today, like a damned library.”
“Sorry.” Sean ducked his head down. “I’ll—I’ll be better tomorrow or—”
“Forget it, kid.” Logan sighed and Sean took an uncomfortably large gulp of beer so he didn’t blurt out something stupid. “I ain’t mad at you. Shit happens.” Sean nodded and let his fingers curl around his cold glass, his shoes brushing against the floor. “So if it wasn’t a heartfelt confession, what was it?”
Cold beer churned in Sean’s stomach as he tried not to think about the look on Alex’s face when he left.
“Personal stuff. Just…” Sean shrugged. “I dunno. I’m a freak, I guess—”
“Hey.” Logan’s tone of voice made Sean tense up because the last time he’d used that particular tone had been when some asshole had been trashing up the store because they apparently didn’t have enough variation. “Don’t take shit like that from anybody.”
Sean blinked rapidly.
“But nothing. Are you a cannibal?”
“Than you’re not a freak.” Sean’s throat was too tight for any kind of response so he just took another gulp of his beer. Logan’s cigar burned, the smoke curling in the dark. “If a guy or girl can’t take all of you, well, tell them to go fuck themselves.”
Sean choked on his beer and smiled for the first time that day, a startled laugh tumbling from his lips. Logan’s lips curled in return as he squeezed Sean’s shoulder. They finished their beers in comfortable silence and some time later Logan walked Sean to the subway station.
It was almost a good night.
Part Two // Mastepost