When Sebastian walks through the door, he sees a man. A small, scruffy man with messy hair and a baggy cardigan over a cheap white t-shirt. He looks an awful lot like Jim, but he isn’t Jim. He’s something less, and altogether much more substantial (because Jim isn’t real, not in the way normal people are). Sebastian stares for a moment, then turns and heads for the kitchen.
It isn’t until he reaches the doorway that not-Jim takes a step forward and says shyly, “Hi, Seb.” His voice is breathy and nervous with a heavy Dublin accent.
He looks earnest and terrified all at once and Sebastian wants to tell him to stop it. Jim wears people and faces and bodies like they’re clothing, only to discard them after a few days. Sometimes he does it to practice, but Sebastian knows that he mostly does it because he thinks it’s funny.
“What,” he says instead, because he figures Jim wants him to do something.
“How, um, how was your day?” Not-Jim’s hands flutter as he speaks, like helpless birds. He’s visibly trying not to shift or fidget, and he’s failing horribly. Sebastian hopes that this one won’t last long. It’s already irritating.
“Fine,” he says instead, and turns to walk away. He hears footsteps and an anxious “Wait!”
Sebastian exhales loudly through his nose and he slowly spins around.
“I, um.” Not-Jim looks pale and wide-eyed at the sudden attention. “I have something to tell you,” he hedges, and Sebastian waits silently. He figures whoever Jim’s playing, he’ll get there eventually. He just hopes it’s soon.
“My name is Richard Brook,” the man finally blurts out, and he ends the sentence with a nervous, high-pitched giggle. He looks to be leaning away, even though he isn’t moving.
Sebastian waits, and when there’s no more forthcoming information, he nods once and strides back into the kitchen. Richard Brook follows him, steps hesitant but relentless. “Is that it? You’re not going to say anything? Aren’t you mad?” Sebastian grabs two stale slices of bread and looks for a clean spot on the countertop. “I’m an actor,” Richard Brook adds, louder this time, somewhat desperate. “Jim Moriarty doesn’t exist.” Sebastian looks up and Richard Brook freezes, hands caught in mid-gesture, dangling ridiculously near his chest. Sebastian reaches above him and the other flinches. He pulls out a jar of marmalade.
“I-I lied to you,” Richard Brook talks to the back of Sebastian’s head as he walks away, chewing on a mediocre lunch.
* * *
Three weeks later, Richard Brook is sitting cross-legged on his couch, watching a documentary about polar bears. Sebastian doesnt look up from his end, filing down the serial number etched on the grip. He’s bored and annoyed. The longest Jim had ever gone on like this was two years ago, when he tried to convince Sebastian that he’d lost his memory. The is-my-name-Jacob-or-Jared amnesiac lasted for six days until Jim got bored with referring to Sebastian as Ezekiel.
Three weeks was two weeks too long. Especially wearing Richard Brook. Because Richard Brook was quiet. Actually quiet when he didn’t speak. And it was unnerving, because Jim was never quiet. He was always restless, always loud even while he remained unmoving and completely silent.
Sebastian doesn’t miss Jim. He simply prefers Jim over every other mindless, hazy, blurry-around-the-edges human he decides to put on for the day.
“Seb?” Richard Brook leans through the space between them and Sebastian has to look up. If it were Jim, he’d keep right on working (because Jim knew, he knew, that Sebastian was always listening). But this is Richard Brook the actor with impeccable manners and the spine of an invertebrate. He’ll wait until Sebastian is finished and ready to give him attention. (It drives Sebastian nuts that he has to put this much effort in to just listen to someone speak. He hates Richard Brook. He wants to kill Richard Brook.)
Once Sebastian puts down the gun, Richard Brook smiles and says hopefully, “Can we have Chinese tonight?”
Sebastian doesn’t pistol whip him, he doesn’t. But he considers it for a very long time.
* * *
Two days later, Sebastian wakes up at 2:32 AM and feels the mattress dip on one side. He’s instantly awake, and he opens his eyes to peer over his shoulder. He sees a dark head and a pale shoulder. He can’t tell if it’s Jim or Richard Brook, and he doesn’t know what he’ll do if it’s either. He’s mad at both of them right now, and he doesn’t want to deal with a bumbling idiot or a bumbling idiot.
“Sorry, did I wake you?”
Sebastian grunts and kicks out a leg, sending Richard Brook crashing to the floor. “Get the fuck out of my bed,” he grumbles.
* * *
Four days later, it’s a Monday afternoon when Jim comes back, wearing a brand-new cap and a plain blue shirt. He can tell it’s Jim because he hears strains of Chopin coming from the earphones and not the Rolling Stones. He’s sitting on the couch, telly off, playing some wooden block game on the device in his hands.
Sebastian sits on the couch with a rag and his favorite handgun. And if he sits a bit closer than usual, neither of them comment on it.