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Smells Like Margarine

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When you often viewed the world from the standpoint of a rooftop, you saw things that the regular citizens didn’t. You saw things differently, heard things that you couldn’t hear in the noise of the street.

 

Up here, Black could hear the cars honking their horns, and the shopkeepers shouting, braying their wares to whoever would listen, sure, but he could also hear snatches of music, tendrils of it floating up from some open window somewhere - something that sounded like jazz and reminded him of the black and white films that they played on Tuesday evenings at the gaudy little theatre on the corner, nestled between the tiny Chinese grocer and the unsightly tall office building that had tinted windows that reminded Black of bottles -- dark carbonation that burned his throat -- reflecting back the sky in a sort of murky brown. Not many citizens knew of the plethora of pawn shops and used bookstores that were housed in the basement levels of the building, but Black did.

 

He knew this town inside and out. Even if Gramps always told him that it wasn’t his - to be careful and all that, Black knew this place, and no one could take that away from him. He knew it better than anyone.

 

His brown eyes scanned the skyline for something out of place, waiting. The world was a faint rusted brown colour through his goggles. There was a flash, just a split-second glint in the corner of his eye and he tensed and looked, and there was White, springing up onto the top of a slender metal chimney and almost toppling right off. His watch glinted again in the sun - one of his many watches and Black heard the sound even from here as White scrabbled to regain equilibrium and wind-milled his arms briefly through the air before righting himself and standing up straight.

 

Black stood up and White’s eyes landed on him, and even from here, he could see that cheeky, gap-toothed grin. Despite himself, he smiled.

 

“Hurry up!” He called. The sun was setting slowly but he wanted to get back home before night fell. It was the beginning of Spring, and the nights were getting warmer, but not if you were soaked to the skin. And the town, it had begun to smell like rain. They’d never get a fire going with damp paper and wood.

 

They took the streets instead of the rooftops because White wanted to see the sun setting, reflecting in the building’s windows. Black reached back hooked his fingers in the collar of White’s shirt when he dragged behind, his knuckles grazing the younger boy’s collarbones as he tugged him forward a few steps, gently. “Come on,” he said, and they started to run.

 

They reached the car that was home just as thunder rumbled through the air, which was thick and heavy like a blanket. They draped a torn tarp from the roof of the car - held down by a heavy cement brick, to the ground, where they kept it in place with another brick and lit their fire. With the car door propped wide open underneath their flimsy shelter, they were almost totally blocked by the rain.

 

Black made White sit in the driver’s seat, closest to the heat, and he huddled in the passenger seat, pressing his arms to his chest with his legs drawn close, trying to keep the heat in. He started to drift off when the rain had been pounding down around them for an hour or so, the sound lulling him into a stupor.

 

White’s fingers felt warm against his cold skin and Black raised his forehead from his knees and looked blearily at him. The rain was still pounding down relentlessly, and thunder roared directly above them. They both jumped a little, more out of a life of living on the streets than out of fear, but it was only when lightning forked through the sky and lit the inside of their little car a strange electric blue that Black saw fear in White’s eyes. Immediate, as opposed to distant - the way he got when he got a bad feeling.

 

“White,” he said, his voice heavy with sleep - when was the last time he’d slept through the night?... He couldn’t remember.

 

White’s fingers closed tighter on Black’s arm and he looked down. “What is it?”

 

“I don’t likes the rain, Black,” White said.

 

“It’s just rain, White…” Black said, hesitantly. Storms had never bothered White like this before and he searched his face, one side of it dimly lit by their dying fire. He remembered suddenly White holding the match last year - how pure and beautiful he’d looked in that moment. It had held Black quietly spellbound - just watching White watch the little flame. It has struck something in him, something low and deep in his belly, something that made it just a little hard to breathe… until it had burned him, startling both of them out of their thoughts. Black had laughed, then.

 

White bit down on the inside of his cheek, twisting his mouth to the side and Black sighed and leaned over him to find the lever near the floor that pushed the seat back.

 

“Whoa,” White said, falling back so easily, like a ragdoll, all awkward childish limbs and almost boneless - that was what saved him all those time he’d fallen or been hit - going limp. It didn’t hurt so much then. Black grasped one white shoed foot, just under the ankle, and White’s left calf and turned him as he climbed into the seat next to him. It was a tiny car, and it was cramped, White sitting almost at Black’s height, half on the back of the seat. He reached back and grabbed the thin blanket from the back seat and wrapped it around both their shoulders, stretching it over their joint backs and holding the ends tight with one hand near their chests.

 

White pressed into him after a moment, laid his head on Black’s shoulder and shoved a boney knee into Black’s thigh. He just pulled a face and shifted a little, glancing down at White out of the corner of his eye, and brushing the end of White’s purple hat away from the scar over his eye. He normally wasn’t so… like this.

 

But then, after he’d come back - after that horrible winter where he was lost in the labyrinth of his own mind, and White was gone… White had been more… close. Sometimes Black would catch him watching him. He ignored it, thinking that maybe it would just go away, but it unnerved him a little.

 

At the same time, it made him feel more solid. Like he was still Black. Still Black and not… something else.

 

Time passed. The fire died and the rain stopped and in the distance, the sun was rising all orange and bright, and Black hadn’t slept through the night, yet again. White shifted in his sleep and pressed his face into Black’s shoulder, his hat slipping off his head and a little bit of drool slicking Black’s upper arm. He wrinkled his nose and smiled, looking down at him, and then it faded into something softer - that look he’d had watching him holding that match.

 

Black closed his eyes and lowered his face into White’s hair, inhaling deeply, and feeling sleep finally overtaking him. The blanket slid from their shoulders as Black’s fingers relaxed their cramped grip and his hand fell into his lap.

 

When White opened his eyes, Black was still curled around him, a little too heavy, his legs, pressing White’s against the back of the seat, his face pressed into White’s hair. White could feel his breath on the back of his ear and he turned his head a little.

 

Black made a sound, unguarded and so young, but he slept on. White took a deep breath, in and out (the pavement smelled like margarine) and looked out into the morning. The bad feeling that had clenched his heart was gone now. It wasn’t the storm that had scared him last night. It was the way Black had cried out his name in his sleep - frightened and lost.

 

White knew, now… who Black was pleading with when he slept.

 

“Please… please don’t, please, no, no, no… please,” That part was familiar. White knew that… but, last night…

 

“White… stay with me...”

 

It was him. It was White that Black wanted.

 

And it had hurt him more than anything - for some reason, it had frightened him more than a little, and he’d reached out to shake Black’s arm. He didn’t want him to have those dreams anymore. He didn’t want to hear them either.

 

White’s brown eyes flickered down, and as the sunlight stretched across the pavement, and crept through the car windows, White slipped his hand into Black’s, lying like a sleeping flower against his thigh. He curled his fingers around Black’s, ducked his head and smiled a little, sweet and content.

 

He’d found a way to make the bad dreams go away.