From the Mouths of Babes
He groaned as he stretched his neck, muscles complaining loudly from both the sudden movement and the position that Eli had fallen asleep in. Rubbing the pads of his fingers over the muscles in the best apology he could manage without paying a masseuse, the writer pushed back from his desk and closed his laptop to block out the glare of his word document and his novel.
Nearly finished, he thought, dragging a hand down his face and stretching his mouth open with a crack. Might as well take a break.
He stumbled out of his makeshift office, meandering over to the kitchen in the haze that a person lived in after waking up from a particularly groggy nap. Eli was no good at naps; he slept for too long and then he’d wake up feeling as though an anchor had landed on his head, giving him the mother-of-all-headaches. He’d usually feel rather stomach sick, too, which was really unfortunate. Coffee helped him, though.
Planting himself in front of the coffee machine, he flicked the switch on and pressed a button or two, replacing the filter and doing whatever it was he had to in the process of getting heavenly nectar.
Well. It’d be heavenly nectar if heavenly nectar smelt like old socks in your mouth until you added a bit of cream or sugar. Not too much, though, ‘cause then you ruined it. Eli knew; he’d tried everything in his coffee exploration during first year of university.
Listening to the machine as it creaked and sputtered to a start, the writer turned away from the coffee and headed towards the fridge to see if he had any leftover banana bread from the loaf his really friendly across-the-hall neighbour had given him. He couldn’t remember why she had made if for him – he was either too skinny looking or it was a late ‘get well’ present, or the older woman had just made two loaves and decided to give her extra to the apartment closest to her. But either way, it was free food for Eli, and he didn’t feel all too bad about accepting it when it was really good banana bread.
He had just opened his fridge door when he heard the telltale smash of a mug hitting the cheap kitchen tile. Jumping, he turned around quickly, one hand lifted in preparation to blast the intruder with his gift/curse/whatever-the-fuck-it was.
Russell stared at him impassively, staring at his hand with a quirked brow before smirking somewhat and holding his hands up in a sardonic surrender. “Please, Mister Price, please don’t hurt me,” he drawled, accent aiding in his sarcasm. British accents were good at that. He dropped his hands when Eli relaxed, toeing at the pieces of ceramic with his boot, brown eyes staring at them intently. “Seems I made a bit of a mess, didn’t I luv…?”
“When did you get here, Russ?” Eli asked, moving towards the broom and dustpan he kept over in the corner of the kitchen for this purpose. Things got knocked over; it’s why he didn’t use the nice china unless it was a special occasion. Or all the dishes were dirty. He usually kept on top of that, though, he didn’t have a nagging redhead to bust her way into his apartment and clean up after his sorry self anymore…
Shaking his head from his thoughts, he turned back to see Russell had walked over to him, stopping barely far enough away for Eli to breathe without accidentally touching him. The shorter man smiled, reaching up and cupping his jaw with quick hands, before pulling Eli down somewhat and kissing him softly on the lips.
It was soft and almost sweet, with just the right amount of tease to tell the older man that Russell had been up for a while, at least. He’d probably been bored while Eli was writing…
Did that mean Russell had spent the night? Eli couldn’t remember. Why would he be in his office if the other man had spent the night at his place…?
All thoughts of wonder and why quickly left him when Russell pulled back and nipped at his bottom lip, tugging on it playfully and wrapping his fingers around the worn fabric of Eli’s old overcoat. Strange, that he was wearing that inside.
“What’re you thinkin’ about, then?” he asked, voice low and husky and settling right at the base of Eli’s spine. The writer placed his hands on the journalist’s hips, thumbs tracing circles against his sides and fingertips comfortably sliding over the cotton of Russell’s T-shirt. Russell’s hands lifted to press against his collarbones, pressing on them to force Eli back – and suddenly he was sitting on a chair he didn’t remember being there, Russell climbing onto his lap and straddling him.
“Were you thinking about me?”
He asked right against his ear, and Eli nodded slowly, pressing his nose to the pulse in his neck and feeling the steady thrum underneath pale skin. He felt Russell smile against his cheek, and just as he was about to settle back and just enjoy a moment with his lover, the other spoke up again.
“Are you being naughty?”
“You thinking about what you’ll do to me? What you’d like to do? Bet you are; bet you’re thinking ‘I’d like Russ over my desk’. Or maybe against the hallway wall; but probably not. You’re probably thinkin’ just plain ol’ on the bed. You’re kinda predictable like that.”
Eli pushed Russell back a bit, looking at him in confusion while Russell continued to smile at him. He realized then that something was really wrong with that smile; it wasn’t coy, or teasing, or anything at all like Russell’s smiles. He knew Russell’s smiles really well: he paid extra-close attention to them so that he knew as best as he could what was going on in the younger man’s head.
This was not a Russell smile. This was some stranger’s smile, and he really didn’t like it.
“Actually, you’re a little bit boring. Which is just awful for me, ‘cause I’m all young and spry and don’t like to be bored.” He sighed dramatically, tapping the tip of his finger to his bottom lip, leaning back on Eli’s legs to look at him contemplatively. “Boring and old, now that I think about it; what’s the difference, thirteen years? Goodness, Eli, you’re practically robbing the cradle.”
“Shhh, Russell’s talking,” the journalist pressed a finger against Eli’s lips, looking at him with that alien smile. “I’ve been thinking, though. I am young. And you are old. Why’d you go for someone like me? Why’d you leave Kaelan for me?”
Eli winced, staring at him with wide blue eyes and wished for him stop talking. This wasn’t Russell; this was some weird alternate reality again. Where Russell was evil and heartless or something and he just hadn’t realized it until now. But he acted so much like his Russell. He even looked like him, and usually there’d be some physical change about him that warned him there was something weird going on.
But this was Russell on his lap.
But it wasn’t.
“Well…Kaelan was younger, too, wasn’t he? Let’s see…you were 36 when you met him..he was 27…so that’s nine years. Was that not enough for you? Did you see me and go, ‘ah, fresher meat’?” Russell traced a line down Eli’s throat, following the uneven staccato of his heartbeat and smiling all the while. It was becoming unnerving. It was reminding him of a time when Russell used him because he could and he had the power and that wasn’t real it was not real.
“God, Eli, how long did you actually think this would last for? It was fun for a while, but you’ve become a bit predictable. I can even guess what you’re thinking. Reminds me of David, in a way; he was predictable, too. And look at how easily I left him.”
That slapped him in the face. It stung, too, with how easily Russell brought up quiet David Moore, as if it were just a blip in his past that he didn’t really like thinking about.
There was a knock on the door, however, that cut him off, and Russell slid off of him as slippery as a serpent, sauntering over to the door and opening it without even bothering to check who it was.
“And who might you be?”
“Someone Eli knows very, very well.”
Eli’s head snapped up at that, his eyes widening as Annie Kirkpatrick stepped into the apartment, looking around with a blank look to her eyes, before looking at Eli and narrowing them.
“…What the hell have you done to yourself now?”
Eli gaped wordlessly, staring at Annie to Russell as Russell turned to Annie and stared at her pointedly. After a moment, Annie turned to him, staring down at him dryly.
“Who are you, then?”
“I already told you.”
“Someone Eli knows ‘very, very well’ – wait, is that some kind of code?” Russell turned to Eli then, pointing at Annie with his thumb. “Did you bang her? Good lord, she actually looks your age. You’ve just been getting younger and younger. You’re gonna leave me for a high schooler, aren’t ya?”
“Don’t be crude, Eli and I have never done anything so base,” Annie said shortly, walking away from Russell and moving towards Eli. “I was basically Eli’s caretaker back in university…I dragged him out of his funk when he was ready to throw in the towel…isn’t that right, Elijah?”
“Ohh, she calls you Elijah~.” Russell snorted, walking back slowly and slipping onto Eli’s lap as if it were his seat. Annie pushed Eli’s head back, fingers gripping onto dark strands of hair as she looked into his tired eyes. “I thought for a mo’ there I was special.”
“You’re being useless again, Elijah,” Annie said softly, her voice a whisper that crept down his spine and settled into the marrow; a tattoo on his core. “Absolutely useless. Who are you depending on now? You used to depend on Peyton, but she left you. She wouldn’t even tell you she was alive – you thought she was dead for years.”
“He had a grave for her and everything.”
Annie hummed, turning Eli’s head forcefully so that he had to pay attention to her. “After Peyton left, you rotted uselessly for a while. And then you found me. I became your Peyton.”
“Did you leave him, too?
“I did. I couldn’t stand the codependency.” She let go of him, then, stepping back and closer to the middle of the room. “Eli’s a clinger. He’ll find someone and he’ll attach himself to them, slowly sucking them dry until there’s nothing left of them. Peyton ran away and let him think she was dead. I ran away and didn’t talk to him for years. Kaelan cheated on him. And you, Russell…you’re a flighty bird, aren’t you? All colours and sound…but you’ll fly away as soon as you can.”
Russell gave that sharp smile, again, the one that didn’t belong on his face, and wound his arms around Eli’s neck to squeeze him tightly. “Oh, that I am, lady. That I am.”
“…and then Eli will be alone and useless again,” Annie said softly, her voice a breath of a whisper. “Alone…and useless…and no one will care.”
“Alone…and useless…and no one will care.” Russell repeated, voice just as soft, his eyes fixed on Eli’s but staring through him.
Eli finally moved to say something, or push Not-Russell off of him, or do something – show he wasn’t useless –
– but then he woke up, hands twisted in his shirt and eyes wide as he stared at his computer screen. The first draft of his novel blinked back at him, innocently, pinging off a headache every time it blipped on and off, and he closed his laptop, covering his face with his hands and hunching over his desk.
And all he could hear was no one will care.