Chapter 3


Sasha swiped at the air beside his left ear and hugged his knees more tightly to his chest. There was something hovering over his shoulder, just close enough for him to know it without having to look, but if he turned his head, it would move too, staying just out of his line of vision. It was the type of shadow thing that knew he could see it, so it liked to play games with him when it could get his attention. The only thing to do was to wait for it to get bored and leave him alone, and when Julian was at home that was easy enough to do, but alone in the apartment all he could do was huddle on the couch and try as much as possible not to look around at all the things that came creeping out when they knew he would notice them.

In general, the voices bothered him less than the visible things did, but they always piped up if the room got too quiet, insisting that he try to communicate with the things around him. He wouldn’t have to listen to them now if Julian were at home instead of out with Surge.

His eyes drifted over to the collage of wanted posters on the opposite wall, stopping on the one in the center.

The Surge. Wanted Alive. Reward: 100 million credits.

They could be very, very rich men. It would be easy; despite the necessity of paranoia in his work, Surge seemed like the type who would never expect that sort of thing from people he trusted.

Sasha forced his gaze back down to his knees. There was no way Julian would do that to his friend, and he had to admit he probably wouldn’t either, if only because he knew what would happen to Surge if he did. He’d read about reclamation in school, and about how it was almost never used because it was such a horrifying process. The technology to rewrite a person’s mind should never have been developed, and even though he wasn’t that fond of Surge, after his own small taste of having his mind warped by outside forces, Sasha wouldn’t wish that on him.

Not even for a hundred million credits.

The door swished open. Sasha looked up and felt like he was drowning in relief when he saw that Julian had come home alone. He stretched his legs out, taking up most of the couch. The thing behind his ear retreated now that something else had captured his attention.

Julian stepped inside and nudged the door closed. When he saw Sasha waiting for him on the couch, he gave him a small smile.

“So how was it?” Sasha asked, and without thinking, added, “He wouldn’t put out on the first date?”

Julian’s expression turned sour. “Surge isn’t like that. Not that it’s any of your business.”

“No, I bet he’s a real gentleman. A nice challenge for you, huh?” Sasha was amazed at the words coming out of his mouth. He hadn’t intended to say anything of the sort. He turned impotent anger on the voices in his mind, silently demanding they explain, but they had faded beyond his ability to hear them.

Julian opened his mouth, probably to defend himself or Surge, then shook his head and said, “I don’t know why you’re being such a bitch. And I just told you, it isn’t any of your business”

“What do you mean, you don’t know why I’m being like this!” The words burst out of his mouth unbidden. The anger he’d been directing inward switched targets abruptly and mingled with the hopeless dejection and anxiety he couldn’t totally shake off these days.

Julian took a deep breath and ran his hand through his hair, pressing his bangs back off of his forehead. He started to walk to the bedroom. “I don’t want to fight with you right now, Sasha.”

Sasha leapt off of the couch and grabbed Julian’s arm. Julian was stronger than he was, but he let himself be pulled around to face Sasha, and for that Sasha was grateful.

“It’s not like I want to be this way,” he half-wailed. “It’s not like I mean to be.”

“I know.” Julian’s voice was just tired. There was no comfort in it.

The senseless anger backing Sasha’s outburst had already melted away. He clutched at Julian’s shirt with his other hand. “I can’t help it,” he pleaded.

“I know.”

This wasn’t how Sasha had wanted this conversation to go. He’d wanted to just ask how the date had been, if Julian had enjoyed it, what they’d talked about. He didn’t know why he’d reacted with so much violence. There was a bit of murmuring in the back of his mind, telling him all the things he should do: plead or barter with Julian, make promises that he may or may not have been able to keep, kiss him passionately as though it would make him forget all of their problems, even one unappetizing suggestion to strangle him until he passed out and then carve him into pieces with a knife. Sasha ignored all of these patently useless ideas and stood in silence, trying to cling to the moment he was in and not get caught up in the tumult inside his mind and lose track of himself.

He was startled when Julian reached up and brushed his bangs out of his eyes. Even though Julian’s face and voice were only tired, the gesture was gentle.

“You’re not going to be abandoned.”

Those words were all it took to make his emotions settle back into place, making them manageable again. Somehow, Julian had identified the nameless fear inside him and addressed it directly. Sasha released his grip and let his hands fall back to his sides.

“I’m going to shower.”

Sasha nodded without speaking and watched as Julian walked away and disappeared into the bathroom. He glanced around the room and decided to retreat to the bedroom, passing through the ghost body of a small girl--half porcelain doll, half burn victim--who always stood in the entrance to the hallway. Her form distorted and stretched around him; gossamer strands clung to him as he moved away, stretching between them, as though she were trying to keep him close. The first several times this had happened he had passed by her at a run, but she was no longer a source of fear for him. She might as well have been a table or a chair.

At the door he stopped to look back at her. She had turned her face to look over her shoulder at him. He offered her a small smile, even though he knew it made no difference to her; she just wanted his acknowledgement. He could sympathize with that.

In the bedroom, he curled up in bed. He knew he wasn’t fun for Julian anymore; he wasn’t even a friend so much as he was a pity case and a fallback for when Julian was lonely or his ego had taken a blow. He didn’t even contribute; he just lived in Julian’s apartment, ate Julian’s food, and used Julian’s things. He was a pest.

With a sigh, Sasha closed his eyes. Things would have to get better eventually, or at least more tolerable. He would figure out how to fix things then.