indrid looks you dead in the eye as he pours a kettle’s worth of boiling water across the back of his hand.
you damn near scream, leaping forward in a half-hearted attempt to swat away the hot kettle — god, what the fuck is he doing — what kind of shitty pleasure does he even get from scaring you like—
“see?” he interupts, holding his completely uninjured hand up like a flag of surrender. “i don’t exactly burn easy. now shut the fuck up, if you please, duck, and let me rest my back against the radiator without you having a quiet little conniption about it every time you glance my way.”
“i didn’t even say anything,” you protest, laced with as much venom as you can muster without letting the worry in your voice reach a fever pitch.
“you would’ve.” he shrugs and sits back down, his side curled up against the searing-hot metal of the radiator again. you wince to hell and back. “might’ve,” he self-corrects quietly, and the air in here smells like burning. like a demolition site. it’s miserable.
“great. wonderful insight. i also didn’t. or have you spent enough time hidey-holing yourself away from humanity to forget what free will is, cold?”
he glares at you with a darker look on his face than you’ve ever seen from him. “no, actually, i know a great deal about free will. in fact, i know precisely enough about it to know that the people who are actually given some? people like you and i? the seers and the destined and the special little chosen ones? we’re really quite good at messing that privilege up.” he sighs quietly, some nasty twinge of emotion galvanizing the edges of his voice with something you’re almost tempted to call fear.
you consider telling him to shove his monologue up his goddamn ass, but you’re distracted by a lick of icy wind from the crack beneath the door, so you just crouch down on the floor beside him to warm your hands. your knees feel like garbage, and the nape of your neck flushes with the numbing heat of the air as you brush aside a stack of ruined sketchbooks and empty plastic water bottles to give yourself some space.
you have no idea how (or why) he manages to stay seated like this for so long.
“free will’s a messy bitch, indrid, i get that, i do. it’d just be nice not to have my future handpicked for me without my input. just once. that’s all i’m askin’.”
he stares into the space in front of him for a moment, pensive and bitter. “don’t talk to me about ‘free will’ until your free will drags you along as a useless witness to tragedy after inexorable damned tragedy. if you’re going to prance around claiming you aren’t fate’s bellboy, then stop blaming destiny for every terrible mistake and selfish choice you’ve ever made.” he notices you flinching away from the heater and, after a long moment’s pause, turns it down two notches, much to your appreciation. “you… are flawed. you, like everyone, are tremendously flawed. you’re an imperfect person, duck. and you hate that you’re like that, sometimes, you really do, and i get it, but that’s your albatross to bear. that’s your tax for getting a tiny say in the course of events every once in a while.”
you clench a hand in your hair, still damp from the snow outside. “for a guy who claims to hate being a seer, you’re sure as hell willing to offer me some real insight, aren’t ya’?”
“that’s not seer’s knowledge, dear, it’s just the words of a man who’s lived with too much doubt for far too long.”
“don’t call me that,” you say, but he says it along with you; the hangdog gaze and the stiffness in his shoulders suggests that the diminutive was simply somethin’ he let slip, not a taunt, not a condescension, so you just give up and sigh and move to grab for your keyring from your jacket.
“why’d you even come here, duck?” he interrupts, before you can even manage to think about heading to the door, let alone take out your keys. his hand brushes your coat. you freeze.
“what? you can’t fuckin’ predict that, seer-boy?”
“don’t call me that,” he snaps, and you manage to pace your retort just right, saying just the same thing at just the same time. some surprisingly good luck, which you’ve now wasted on being snippy to a moth.
he glares in response. (you think. it’s tough to tell with those glasses.)
“hear that, seer-boy? i don’t need magic future-predicting powers and whatnot to know you’re as predictable as everyone else. you just like to act all mysterious for the goddamn aesthetic.”
indrid rolls his eyes. “that would’ve been a great comeback, had you not also possessed magic future-predicting powers. and whatnot.”
“i… alright. damn. you got me there, bud.”
he smiles at you, and you damn near forget how angry you’re supposed to be. “you never answered my question,” he prods.
“i didn’t need to, i don’t think. why am i here, cold? go on and take a gander.”
he pauses. “you’re looking for some sorts of answers, i suppose. about fate. about your future.”
“and did you find them?” he asks, almost sounding… curious. thoughtful.
“haven’t decided,” you deflect, and step through the trailer door, a calm flurry of snow coming to rest on the crests of your shoulders.
see, that’d’ve been a lovely dramatic exit, had you not immediately needed to walk right back in, giving him your very best not-mad-just-disappointed-and-also-definitely-a-little-mad face as you do.
“hand ‘em over.”
“not sure i know what you mean, duck,” he says in the primmest and most innocent voice you’ve ever heard, a shit-eating grin plastered on his face.
“oh, these keys?” he dangles them from his fingers tauntingly. “sorry. i couldn’t let you leave just yet. you forgot to ask me about something.”
“i… huh? what’d i forget?”
“still not a mindreader,” he complains.
you wait in vain for an explanation, your comprehension slow and dawning; after a much too long pause, you furrow your brow and frown. “wait. shit. shit.”
he smiles faintly. “do continue.”
“you said… you said ‘people like you and me’. you — hell, you just joked about me seeing into the future like it was somethin’ that everyone did. how did you know? that i… have ‘visions’ or ‘premonitions’ or whatever, too? i haven’t — i haven’t told anyone that. i certainly haven’t told you that.”
he thinks for a moment. “you almost did, the night after you met me. for some incredibly brief moment, you thought of me, the incredibly suspicious oracle-cryptid-stranger, and trusted me so immensely and overwhelmingly that you considered storming over here and telling me everything right then and there. that consideration, that possibility, was shown to me, but that particular future, like a countless number of others, simply never came to be.”
he’s right. you hate that he’s right. you hate how distinctly you remember every nook and cranny and detail of that night, and of that though, and of that possibility.
“perhaps one of these days,” he ruminates, “i’ll discover what prompted you to so seriously consider such a preposterous thing.”
couldn’t tell ya, you realize. you’ve got the very same question.
he pours himself a bowl of salt and vinegar chips from a crumpled up bag, looking absently over his shoulder at you. “you’re in all of them, you know.”
“all of… hmm? the hell do you mean, them?”
“the futures. as far as i can tell, you’re in every single one. even in the most wildly unlikely, fleeting chances of futures, you’re always there, always alive, always mucking up some sort of trouble and causing a big ruckus.” he opens up a drawer and pouts dramatically at its contents. “you will never leave this place, not without me somewhere in tow, not without a damn good reason. i know this goes rather strongly against my previous statement on free will, but i think you’d be charmed to know that fate seems rather fond of keeping us as close together possible.”
you just… you don’t know how to respond to that. so you don’t. respond, that it. because there’s no good response to, “oh, by the way, we’re both freaks of nature who are side by side in every version of every future, and, oh, yes, also, free will is only mostly an illusion.” there just isn’t.
“in other news,” he continues, swapping back to an eerily smiley voice as he roots through his cupboards, “i’m out of hot cocoa mix, so my life is essentially over and pointless now. goodbye forever, duck newton. this is the world’s greatest tragedy, and trust me, i’d know.”
“cold, you poor, mothy boy. cocoa mix is the coward’s way out. you gotta make that shit from absolute scratch.”
“don’t really have the ingredients for such an endeavor.”
“i do. you can’t have ‘em, though. they’re mine.”
you grin. “you can, however, borrow my kitchen and all its ingredients, for a nominal fee of ‘half the finished hot cocoa’. oh, and while you’re there, you can also meet my talking sword. which is not a euphemism,” you clarify, “he’s just a literal talking sword and he is, in essence, the actual worst. his name is beacon and he sucks. i was hoping you could help me understand why i’ve been cursed with such a horrendous thing, since you’re all up in that fate nonsense. that, or you could just find a way to kill him for me. either one works.”
“you know it’s late, right? it’s nearly nightfall.”
you nod. “i do.”
“you know what, duck? i’d love to,” he says after an almost-too-long moment of thought. “but fair warning, if your car doesn’t have a good heater, do know that fate or not, i’m still entirely willing and able to seek my bloody revenge against you.”
you pat him on the shoulder with a grin and snatch your keyring back from his hands. “sounds like a deal.”
introducing indrid to beacon goes surprisingly smoothly. indrid vaguely confirms your ‘yeah-this-definitely-has-some-bullshit-to-do-with-destiny-or-whatever’ suspicions, which doesn’t surprise you in the slightest, and beacon manages to only insult him two or three times, which is probably a new record of some sort. all things considered, it’s not a disastrous meeting, compared to the fire and brimstone it easily could’ve been. indrid even manages to not overhear beacon’s snide comment of ‘hhhhhh duck newton your taste in mennn is rrrepugnant’ blah blah blah whatever—
here’s the thing, though:
you introduce him to beacon, and in turn, beacon introduces him to one of your cats, and your cat introduces him to your complete inability to name things competently.
“this cat’s name is. this cat is named. it’s. bartholomew,” indrid manages to articulate in beacon’s general direction, though barely, through his silent, shaking laughter.
“that …. is correct … hhhhhhh-unfortunatelyyy…”
he turns to you. “bartholomew.”
“it — seemed like a good idea at the time?”
he turns back to beacon. “bartholomew.”
“yessss, duck newwwton is… errr … positively … hhhh … horrrrible. at… most. things. really — truly, jusssst. incommmpetent,” crows beacon, but indrid is too busy sobbing with laughter in a heap on the floor to hear him say any of this, so you shove him back in the armoire and thank whatever gods or ghouls or what-fuckin’-ever is out there that this actually manages to shut him up.
“bartholo-mew!” wails indrid from the floor, absolutely fucking delighted.
“that was — not intentional,” you protest grimly.
indrid sits up. “hey. duck. guess what,” he whispers from the floor.
he points at your cat. “bartholo-mew.”
your cat meows.
indrid breaks down laughing again. it’s your new favourite sound.
you sometimes feel nostalgic for a past that never happened.
it’s a creeping ache, an incurable yet gentle one, like a poisoning in reverse. it’s the sharpness of your old handheld game cartridges beneath your fingers, that sense of wonder and mystery you once felt about the locked glove compartment of your mother’s car, the smell of candy cigarettes and floorwax and pop in your favourite arcade — but not at all like those, not really, because you have no memories for these missing pasts, just the feeling, just the taunt of greener grass and carefree times and the faintest hint of having been there before.
you’ve come to define this feeling as wanting, but that’s really not the right word, is it? it’s not wanting something. it’s needing it. it’s needing it back, even if it was never yours to begin with.
this feeling has never been as striking and intense as it is in this moment, right now, with him.
his hands are clutched around a saucepan and a stack of spices with a smile sweeter and more confused than you could’ve ever prepared yourself for in a million goddamn years.
“what’s this one?” he asks, holding up a small bottle.
“vanilla,” you manage to choke out against the incredible distracting thoughts of you’ve missed him you’ve missed him and it’s not even possible you just met him but somehow you’ve missed these moments that you’ve never even had before so goddamn much —
indrid huffs and ruffles his hair in what you can only assume is a wildly failed attempt to get it out of his eyes. “nice try, you goof. we’re making hot chocolate. not hot vanilla. ”
“it’s — adding vanilla doesn’t make it not chocolate, y’know.”
“wrong. next.” he holds up a large jar. “this one’s cinnamon, right?”
you shake your head solemnly. “that would be the cocoa powder.”
“pretty sure those are basically the same thing.”
“how about this one?” he holds up a gallon of milk.
“really, indrid? that’s mi— oh, goddamnit, you’re fucking with me, aren’t you?”
“incredibly so,” he says with a victorious glint in his eye. god, that expression is so familiar, why the hell is it familiar, why does it feel like you’ve known him your whole life, what sort of cruel trick is fate playing on you this time, why does he feel so much like home —
(‘you like him,’ your brain supplies unhelpfully, and you quickly brush the thought off to the side, because if that’s true, then you placing your hands over the backs of his to guide him to the right measuring spoons would be flirting, and flirting is something that you have never once in your life done ever, because you are duck newton and duck newton does not flirt.)
(and if indrid blushes something fierce when you stand behind him, arms wrapped around his waist and your chest against his spine, as you unnecessarily drag out the simplest of recipe steps to have an excuse to stay right where you are — well, that’s his own personal problem, isn’t it?)
as you sip idly at your scalding drink, you (unwisely) ask him to tell you more about how being a seer conflicts with his take on destiny, which rapidly tangents into a way-above-your-paygrade philosophical discussion that you can barely follow, let alone contribute to. at some point during his ramblings on the ‘moral implications of determinism and incompatibilism’, whatever the fuck that means, he calls you ‘dear’ again. you don’t think he notices this time, so you don’t bring it up. yeah, that’s definitely the reason. you definitely don’t melt when you hear it. you definitely don’t hope he calls you that more often.
you almost let your cocoa get cold ‘cause you’re too busy watching the excited smile hinting at the corner of his lips every time you pretend to understand what the word ‘metaphysics’ means to even remember to drink it. your jacket has been abandoned on some nearby chair — though he’s eyeing it like he might just take it for his own — and his glasses have long since been pushed up onto his forehead (which apparently gives him no trouble maintaining his human form; when you ask, he tells you that as long as they’re somewhere on his person, they work as intended).
this particular state of undress also lets you actually see his eyes for the first time, which you immediately discover are a deep, unsettling, lovely red.
because of-fucking-course indrid cold chose his own ‘human’ eyes and of-fucking-course he made them like — like that . of course he’s gonna keep up the aesthetic of a goddamn — a really weird, really hot demon-moth-man-mothman-thing who you’re obviously gonna keep staring at, because, fuck, man. seriously? fuck. c’mon.
your apartment ain’t exactly the fuckin’ biltmore estate of kepler, but it’s definitely got enough chairs in it for you sitting barely inches away from him to be a little ridiculous. he’s got one of your old blankets slung sweetly around his shoulders, the fabric draped across his form like wings. he also has one of your favourite mugs in his hands, and a tower of your oldest books stacked on a coffee table beside him, and a smattering of cat hair across his clothes. he smells like coal and sugar and you. he smells like you.
“— and i know,” he continues, rambling at mach speed, “that all sounds way too simple to you, right? kane’s just chilling, schopenhauer’s off doing god knows what, lucretius is barely upholding a sloppy veneer of pretending he knows what he’s even talking about, you know, the usual — actually, he was probably dead by this point, i don’t quite remember — but then all of a sudden the quantum indeterminacy physicists show up and —”
“— and then shit gets weird, right? because now it’s actual, theoretically-provable science claiming that the universe’s course of events quite literally cannot be entirely predetermined —”
“— which i still think is nonsense, though, because entanglement or not, just because some fuddy-duddies with doctorates can’t find a reason for quantum particle behavior doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason —”
“yes, dear?” he says suddenly, looking up at you, and then looking away from you, and then, after a short pause, looking very, very surprised.
and then he kisses you.
which is pretty weird, in your personal opinion, because you were just gonna kiss him, and it’s not exactly like you told him that out loud. goddamn seer. that, or he’s just capable of reading basic context cl—
his hands grasp at your shirt, which immediately snaps you out of whatever fucking train of that was because, alright, okay, this is what’s happening now, this is your life now. you’re kissing him. you’re kissing the literal goddamn mothman on your goddamn couch in your goddamn apartment. sure. fine. why the hell not. if everything else in your life is an uncontrollably surreal catastrophe, your love life might as well be too.
his skin is hot. not hot in the sexy sense (although, yeah, alright, that too) but rather in the “seriously, does this dude have the world’s worst fever or what?” sense, which is both concerning and comforting and also very, very on brand for indrid. that, and the faintly sharp teeth, and the flashes of red eyes, and the silky, churning energy you feel under your fingertips when you touch him, which you know damn well ain’t entirely human in nature — it’s the same energy, the same feeling you’ve been getting quite a lot lately, in those moments when you ‘miraculously’ survive something that should’ve mutilated you in seconds, and instead, against the odds, you hop back up without a scratch on you. it’s intoxicating. terrifying. liquid adrenaline for the semi-immortal.
you move your hand up to his neck, and he leans into you like — well, you were gonna go with ‘a moth to the flame’, but that’d be a bit gauche given the context, eh? so you go with this: he leans into you like he likes you. like he likes you a whole goddamn lot. like the two of you have been handpicked by fate as seers meant to tackle the ineffable tides of predestination and the forthcoming apocalypse together. or. y’know. like he really, really likes you, which is seeming more and more likely, given all the pretty sounds he makes when you wrap your arms around his back and pull him flush against you, in the darkness of the room.
you rejected this life a long time ago, you remind yourself, watching him breathe so slow beside you, your hand still draped across his hip.
you wanted a normal life.
that was the reason you gave, wasn’t it? saving the world was a burden. being the protagonist of whatever shitshow story the universe had in store for you was a weight you had no intent to carry. you just wanted to play castlevania and eat pizza and smoke behind the gas station and do dumb teenage shit with your friends. you wanted to grow up and get a job and a cat and an incredibly niche hobby like normal people did. you wanted that. you really did.
and now you’ve gone and slept with the mothman, and it’s the most overwhelmingly normal thing you’ve done in months.
and now, like an idiot, you’re probably in love with him.
he doesn’t even know your first name, but he knows the only secrets you’ve ever bothered keeping, which stings in a way you can’t properly describe. you, however, don’t know the first goddamn thing about him. hell, you don’t even know for certain that he’s not the big bad monster in all of this. he could be a demon in the rough. he’s certainly lying about a great deal.
given the overwhelmingly poor luck your life consists entirely of, he’s probably gonna break your heart to bits, one way or another.
you don’t want to fall asleep, because if you do, you might dream. dreams mean knowing, and knowing means you can’t claim ignorance when you wake up wrapped around him tomorrow morning with secrets you didn’t know the night before. you want just one night of certain silence. just one moment of fearless, naive peace. that really isn’t all that much to ask.
so you press a kiss to his hair, and stare blankly at the wall, coated in the watery blue light of the moon and snow.
you like warm.