Chapter 1


A month later, the kitchen was still a disaster. While the stovetop had been the catalyst for the fire, the hungry flames hadn't been contained to that space during the blaze. They’d found their way to the cabinetry, fused the wiring of the refrigerator, and melted the laminate flooring. It hadn’t even been a large fire; it had been easy enough to combat with the household extinguisher once the surprise and panic had passed and reason had reinstated itself. The room still smelled faintly of burnt eggs, though; eggs, apparently, were prone to exploding when cooked, or so the accidental arsonist had explained.

Most of the kitchen’s contents had been tossed into the trash, including the frying pan that had been the scapegoat for the fire, the cabinets, myriad pieces of dishware and a few bags of scraped up flooring. Deconstruction had become a sort of hobby for Julian as he found himself at home more often than not these days. And though it was a tragedy to lose the kitchen (and the rent deposit for certain), it was hard to hold a grudge against such an apologetic man.

“I promise I’ll have someone come by to fix everything soon.”

Julian smiled and held the phone against his ear with one hunched shoulder as he began to pry up more of the melted laminate with a large metal scraper. “I know, Surge. It’s not that big a deal, though. I hardly ever cooked anything in the first place and the mini-fridge you bought me is working out great.”

Surge hadn’t dared visit his apartment since the night they had found Sasha by the door, after his stay with Maxwell. It had been an interesting climax to the night, or so Julian had thought at the time. Surge and his cat had taken the couch so that Sasha could be comforted in Julian’s bed, and, waking up before them, Surge had decided to make breakfast. If he’d succeeded, it would have been a very welcome gesture, so in that way it was certainly the thought that counted. As it happened, though, a man bursting from the seams with electric energy and a kitchen stocked with electric appliances were an explosion waiting to happen.

“It’s still my responsibility to fix your kitchen,” Surge continued to insist, “and I’m sorry it’s taking so long. It’s not that I don’t have the money. I’m just trying to figure some things out.”

“Don’t worry about it. Ripping out all the damaged stuff has given Sasha plenty to do to keep his mind off things. We’re down to the flooring now. He’s actually pretty handy. I think if you just give us the money, we can probably install most everything ourselves. That’ll save you on the labor.”

“I’m not at all worried about the cost. I just want to make it right.”

Julian smiled and threw another chunk of laminate over his shoulder towards the pile in the corner. “Well, you could come over sometime. You’re not banned for life just because of one little fire.”

“I’m sure your boyfriend would prefer I not come by all that often.”

Julian rolled his eyes and stood, dusting himself off before heading to the living room for a drink. “Sasha is not my boyfriend. He’s just living with me for now is all.”

“How is he?”

“He's still pretty crazy, but I think he's coming out of it.” He took a soda from the mini-fridge and plopped down on his couch. The click and hiss of the can opening was almost as refreshing as the drink. “He says he sees things--people that aren’t there and stuff--but when I asked him about it, he said they weren’t really ghosts. I don’t know. I really don’t know what I’m going to do with him. I mean, I can’t have him living here forever, but I can’t just kick him out either.”

“Guess not.”

“So you should come over some time. We'd love the company.”

There was a short silence on the other line before Surge's spoke again. “I believe his exact words were ‘what the fuck do you think you're doing trying to seal Julian away from me? I don't want to see you over here again ever.’”

“That was a month ago. He's calmed down since then.” Which was and wasn't quite the truth; Sasha had been doing better and was less needy than he had been at the time. There were other factors at play, though.

”I'll think about it.”

Julian sighed. That was as good as a no and they both knew it. “Well, when you decide you’re available, just let me know and we can go out somewhere for dinner or drinks. My treat.”

The front door opened, Sasha walked inside, and the door closed behind him. As though the phone in Julian’s had was invisible, he began talking loudly as he paced wearily to the couch. “That is the last bag of shit I’m taking down to that god damned dumpster. My shoulders are killing me.”

Surge’s response had been lost in the noise. “Hold on, Surge, Sasha just came in.” Julian pulled the phone from his face and looked at Sasha expectantly. “Yes?”

Sasha looked at him blankly. “Yes what?”

“I’m on the phone, Sasha. Was there something you needed to tell me or did you just want me to know you’re back?”

“Who are you talking to?”

“Surge.”

“Can I say hello?”

Julian sighed and held the phone up again. “Surge, Sasha wants to say hi.” He passed the phone over.

“Hey there, Surge.” Sasha crossed his legs on the couch as he assumed his phone call posture. “What are you up to? ...Sounds boring. You know, if you don't have anything worthwhile to do, you could come carry all that burnt shit downstairs to the dumpster.”

“Sasha, gimme the phone.” Julian put his hand out, but Sasha turned away, putting the phone to his opposite ear.

“Huh? No, Julian just wants the phone back. I heard you. But, ya know, it’s been a month and still no kitchen. Kinda sucks, Surge. Whole month? Seriously takes this long?”

“Sasha, give it!” Julian put his drink down on the coffee table and climbed onto Sasha’s lap to take the phone back by force. Sasha held it out behind him to keep it away, one arm around Julian’s waist to keep him from making further attempts to reclaim it. He pressed the speakerphone button with his thumb.

“Sorry about that, Surge, Julian just sort of became overwhelmed with animal lust for me and I total missed that last thing you said. Come again?”

“You lying jackass!”

“Um...I should probably hang up now....”

“Aw, so sad. Well, bye then. Maybe next month we can have a kitchen again? That sound about right?”

Julian punched Sasha in the chest. “God damn it, Sasha. Sorry about this, Surge. I’ll call you back later.”

“Yeah. Sorry...bye.” The display screen flashed that the call had ended.

Julian punched Sasha in the chest again.

“Ouch, hey, knock it off! Here!” He slid the phone into Julian's back pocket, keeping both arms loosely around him as Julian sat straddling his lap. “Sorry about breaking up the conversation between you and your boyfriend but come on, you’re being way too lenient about the whole thing. He should have had your kitchen fixed weeks ago.”

“He’s not my boyfriend and it’s my kitchen, not yours. You’re not the one who pays rent here--it’s none of your business what’s going on with the repairs.”

Sasha scoffed, almost rolling his eyes but thinking better of it at the last second. “The only reason you’re being so nice about it is because you want to fuck him. Can’t blame you there, but having a kitchen is a little more important than getting laid. And if it’s none of my business, why the fuck am I helping you clean that mess up in the first place?”

“Because you owe me!” Julian punched him again, to Sasha’s dismay. “You want to talk about people taking their damn time, you’ve been holed up in my apartment for as long as my kitchen’s been out of commission! I’m not rushing you to get back on your own feet, so why the hell would I rush Surge? And you know, just maybe I’m not as shallow as you think I am and just maybe I see more than just the physical when it comes to Surge.”

“But not when it comes to me.”

No. Not when it came to Sasha. Sasha wasn't the kind of guy one got serious about. Julian slouched forward, shaking his head in exasperation. “God damn it, Sasha, what do you want?”

Sasha looked up at him with the same lost, frightened look in his eyes he had had that night in the hallway. “I don't know. I just want to be normal again...normal people have a kitchen and can make something to eat when they're hungry.”

Julian kissed his forehead and stroked his cheek to try and soothe the demons that were starting to cloud the albino’s thoughts. “It’s okay to not be normal. Who says everyone else is normal anyway? You’re like me now is all. That's not so bad.”

Sasha knocked his hand away. “I’m not like you. You get to be young and beautiful forever and I get to see freaky shit no matter what I do. I can’t even look in the mirror, Julian. They stand behind me, all around me, and I can’t ignore them when I’m looking back at them like that. It’s not the same. You wouldn’t trade with me even if you could and it’s bullshit to say this is normal. This is like a bad acid trip.”

”Well there’s nothing that can be done about it. If you really are the Witness like the voices told you then this is just something you‘re going to have to learn to live with. At least you’re not a phsyco like Greg. You heard about the monster he was."

“I see him every day.” Sasha rested his head against Julian’s shoulder, pulling him against his chest like a shield. “Him and all the others. They’re always watching us now.”

The thought gave Julian chills. He wrapped his arms around Sasha, letting him hide his head against his chest if it helped to soothe him. “I know it’s scary. I know you wish things were they way they were before. And giving it more time isn’t going to make you happier about the change, but it’ll make it tolerable. I’ve been there and even if you think I lucked in, I was one terrified kid when I realized I was different. You may feel alone but you’re not.”

“I can’t be alone, they’re standing all around me.”

Julian kissed his head. “You know what I mean.” He held him, waiting for Sasha to pull away when he’d had enough, but the other man remained curled into him, his hands clenched in Julian’s shirt. Julian gave his back a few pats, trying to signal the embrace needed to end soon. “So, did I hear that you’re hungry? Want to go get something to eat?”

Sasha nodded but still did not let go. “Yeah. I don’t have any money, though.”

“Don't worry about that. I got it. Just tell me where you want to go and we’ll go.”

Sasha raised his head but only far enough to rest his chin on Julian’s shoulder and pull him closer. “How about we just order pizza and stay in?” His hand began to stroke through Julian’s hair and Julian closed his eyes and relaxed against him.

“We had pizza two days ago.”

“Well, I want pizza again.”

Julian sighed. At least he had full control over his metabolism. “Alright. Pizza again. You call--you probably know my cred card number by now anyway.”

“8126--”

“Yeah, whatever.” Julian reluctantly pulled away from the soft touches and stood up, grabbing his drink from the table and taking one more sip before tossing it into the wastebasket. “I’ve been working on the kitchen all morning. I’m going to take a shower.”

Sasha turned to watch him from the couch. “Aw. I kinda like that sweaty man smell.”

“Yeah, so do I, just not on me.” Julian stretched and plucked the phone from his back pocket. He tossed it back to Sasha. “Get some cheese bread too. And try ordering from a different place this time. We can at least mix it up a little bit.”

Sasha caught the phone and nodded as he dialed, while Julian retreated to his sanctuary of steam in order to sort his thoughts as much as to freshen up.