It happens unexpectedly. No one else looks at him for longer than it takes to hand him a receipt and absently wish him a good day; the camera, for all that it's always recording, is rarely pointed at himself. He gets lonely, and it's a weird loneliness different from the constant kind that clings to the inside of his ribs. It only worsens until one day he finds himself standing alone in another grimy midnight gas station bathroom, snapping mirror shots on his Android. And it helps.
Jay doesn't know why it helps. A spark of vanity that he retained from somewhere, maybe. Or because seeing his own face, not as a reflection on his laptop's screen superimposed with a code or editing software, is a reminder that he hasn't become all this. Not completely. Mostly he doesn't think on the 'why', instead holding his phone at eye level and then at arms length like he vaguely remembered being popular on MySpace. (Wondering what the viewers would think if they saw the pictures immediately makes him resolve to renew his twitter password.)
He keeps doing it, since it helps. In the relative safety of motel rooms he makes exaggerated faces and gestures and snaps pictures of them. He messes with his hair, bending it backward until it sticks up at odd angles, soaking it through with water until it hangs dark and passingly dramatic above his eyes.
Jay reminds himself of gothy kids he hung out with in high school when he does that. The ones with parents who wouldn't let them dye their hair black, who spent lunch hours bent awkwardly to get their head under the sink tap, while he watched at the door for adults who would make the kids towel off or take out their piercings or wipe their make-up. The heavy almost-chemical smell of his wet hair is almost the same as theirs was. He remembers the smell, and the dull roar as the other kids imitated drum solos on the bathroom's drywall, and the triumphance their faces had when they got through. In the mirror he tries to mimic that. Sometimes he almost manages it.
The goth kids wore their dark hair and bright piercings for people to see. Jay doesn't, though. If anything that's against the point. He'll never show the phone pictures to anyone, and that'll be fine.
Then Tim walks in on him. Of course. Since it helps Jay he keeps doing it, even after Tim joins him on the road and he becomes just a bit more paraanoid than usual-- but, apparently, still not paranoid enough to remember to lock the goddamn door behind him. Tim doesn't knock. Jay is right in the middle of puffing his hair up like some kind of movie starlet might (not thinking of Alex and the History of Film class they took together, definitely not) when the door swings open. Jay freezes, and Tim blinks. He looks at Jay's phone in his still-outstretched hand, at the mirror, and then back at Jay. He's holding a toothbrush.
Jay is made up entirely of obtrusive angles. Tim takes a breath and he's numb; he waits for the mocking tone, the verbal jab, the snide remark about his vanity maybe.
Instead Tim just says, "Sorry." He backs off with his toothbrush in hand and re-shuts the bathroom door. Until Jay's lungs remember to re-inflate Jay can hear Tim moving around in the room they're sharing, finding something else to do.
It takes Jay a couple seconds to thaw, and when he does he immediately turns off his phone and stuffs it in his pocket like it's burning him. Then he splashes his face in hopes of stopping himself from blushing or something stupid. He catches himself in the mirror when he looks back up-- somehow he looks even more vaguely ill than through the lens of his camera, even though the light's the same. Fluorescent never does favours for anyone. He smooths his hair back down self-consciously (it doesn't help), gives himself about a minute to wallow in whatever this is he's wallowing in, and then goes back out into the hotel room. He stuffs his hands in his pockets for lack of anything non-stupid to do with them.
Tim is on the far bed, laptop perched in his lap and earbuds in. Jay has no idea what he's doing on the computer. He stands there awkwardly for a second until the other man looks up.
Tim takes out one of his earbuds. “What?”
Nothing else. Jay pauses for a second longer and then shakes his head. “Nothing." Thanks, he thinks of saying, but can't figure out why exactly.
In the days following the awkward encounter, nothing really changes. Tim knocks more often and Jay remembers to lock the bathroom door. For all that they sleep in the same room at night and spend most of the day following each other, they don't know each other well enough to make a joke out of it. Since Tim had elected not to turn it into a jab either ignoring seems to be the order of the day. They have bigger issues.
After another couple weeks, though, the weirdness of being in close quarters with a stranger who happened to go through some of the same shit Jay had starts to wear off. The weird loneliness wears off with it. Jay wasn't expecting that. It's... better.
The picture folder on his cellphone steadily increases in size. By now he's moved past the need for the mirror all the time, maybe because it wasn't to help remind him he was real anymore. Maybe not. Either way, he and Tim look for signs of Alex, and Jay immortalizes the stupid poses he pulls against fountains which have attached memories that make his chest sore.
On a whim one afternoon he snaps one of Tim. They were driving, and it was Jay's turn to take a rest. Tim had been wearing sunglasses which reflected light that made it look like he had hyper beams coming out of his eyes. Tim looks over at Jay with his eyes narrowed for a second and then turns his attention back to the road. It wasn't a bad reaction. So, on a feeling that left 'whim' and became more 'misplaced steely determination', Jay starts snapping pictures of Tim pretty much whenever he can until there are almost as many pictures of the other man on Jay's phone as there are of Jay. (Getting candid shots of Tim proves difficult unless he intentionally pulls a face right when he notices Jay holding up the phone; the man is almost annoyingly photogenic.) While Jay would not describe him as 'patient' in pretty much any context, he is long-suffering, enough to not protest very much after the occasional glare.
Jay still thinks that Tim is hating him quietly. He keeps thinking that, right up to one night when totheark had made a new code and none of the viewers figured it out in the first few hours (which they did sometimes), and Jay couldn't afford to lie down and fall asleep. He and Tim set up on the hotel bed for lack of a more comfortable place to sit. A couple hours into the work Jay wakes up sharply after a scheduled doze-break, using Tim's bent knees as a backrest, and he can't find his phone in his pocket. He panics internally until he notices it sitting on top of the blankets beside him. Suspiciously, the screen's lit up. Jay grabs it and taps his passcode; it opens on his picture folder.
The first image was taken about ten minutes before: Tim holding the phone above them and making elementary school-grade rabbit ears above Jay's napping head. The man was almost completely serious-faced, one corner of his mouth turned up a tiny bit.
Jay stares, his mouth twitching into a warm smile that felt strange on his face. “You're a jerk,” he says casually over his shoulder to Tim, who he knew was awake since he was tapping on his own phone (playing Bejewelled, probably, he was obsessed with it).
Tim snorts. “It's just payback,” he answers without particular feeling.
When Jay switches to the front-camera mode on his phone he sees Tim's smiling behind him.