Streetlights pulse, orange flashes through the dark. Feet pound on pavement. Memories burn. Oliver is past as much as present as he moves, as visions of time turned backwards flicker through his head.
A pair of silver eyes glowing in the dark, boring into him, eyes that used to shine a soft, deep blue.
Graham’s eyes had captivated Oliver first, when they’d met – concerned, gentle like a clear sky in summer as he led the way to a class number etched on the paper schedule trembling in Oliver’s hands. As he guided Oliver through the rest of secondary school with an easy smile and a furrowed brow. As he brushed his thumbs gently over Oliver’s cheekbones to soothe frightened tears.
Even in the depths of his own struggles, Graham had been Oliver’s anchor – his life raft in the sea of grief that was watching a parent slowly waste away, his sanctuary when home felt crowded by the hovering presence of death at his mother’s bedside, his refuge from his father’s misplaced anger in the inevitable grief following her funeral.
For years, home hung heavy like a shroud in the back of Oliver’s mind. For years, it was only Graham who could pull him from the depths of his own psyche. Glances were reassuring, a wide-eyed gaze upon him proof that someone saw him amidst the dark, despairing stupor that consumed so much of 2002.
2001 had haunted Graham just as thoroughly, after all. Car crash, two lives lost. A family fragmented in the wreckage, its only living member gifted with – bound to – a too-big flat just outside of London. No, Graham was no stranger to grief.
He opened his arms and home when Oliver mentioned wanting to finish his degree in the city, and so 2003 began in a whirlwhind of moving trucks and antique furniture shopping.
(Oliver never quite understood Graham’s fascination with furniture, but he admired it endlessly, listening fondly as his favorite voice spoke in tones of hushed excitement about the newest clock or chair he had found on his way home from class. Watching the way his eyes lit up, Oliver always found himself filled to the brim with a mixture of adoration and bashful envy, a silent wish that he could find that much joy and meaning in life outside of the whims of other people.)
The wind began to change in September of 2005, with Graham’s newest attempt to keep the drifting at bay – a criminology course. But it wasn’t the course that caused the shift. No, that was the table. The intricately patterned table Oliver found himself drawn to while looking for a birthday present for Graham, full of lines that wound themselves tightly around his heart until he resolved to take it home with a red ribbon tied to its top.
A table – the table – that kicked off the downward spiral, that captivated Graham so thoroughly he couldn’t look away from it, that brought with it a pervading sense of something not-quite-right to the flat. Oliver learned a new sort of unease from the way the drain pipes outside the flat’s window started to shift at night, unfurling into tall and almost humanoid shapes in the corners of his eyes, normal once more when he turned to fully watch them.
Yes, the table changed the wind, turned the tide, and November saw Oliver plagued by the same eyes that had once comforted him. Blue, frozen over, no longer consoling but watchful. Glowing an unnatural silver in the dark.
The feeling of eyes boring into Oliver’s neck hadn’t been what frightened him. No, it had been the sight he’d been met with when rolling over in bed – the flashbeam glare of unnaturally coloured irises and black hole pupils that still enters his head unbidden at times.
Seeing the phenomenon in one person he had loved had been enough for one lifetime… he can’t bear to see misty grey turn to silver distrust, too.
A hand falls casually on Oliver’s shoulder, cold even through his heavy coat, and he leaps through time to land back in his present day body. He doesn’t know what he expects to hear, but it isn’t a pealing burst of resonant laughter.
“A little jumpy tonight, are we, Oli?” Ria’s voice rings with amusement in his ears, and it takes all the strength he has left not to break down into disbelieving laughter.
“Hello, Ria,” he sighs, letting exasperation seep into his words and demeanor. He shrugs off her hand more indelicately than he would if she was anyone else, letting out a heavy exhale as he wills away the creeping advance of the icy End that is so everpresent in her touch.
“Oh, we’re back to talking again, good!”
Ironic laughter threatens to bubble up again. Ria doesn’t seem to register Oliver’s discomfort – or, if she does, it doesn’t stop her from playfully nudging his arm in a gesture too friendly, too casual for what she is.
For what he is.
Silence stretches taut between them until she cuts through it again. “What managed to spook you so much, anyway?” With a step in front of him, she blocks his path, deceptively human-looking – save for the depth of emptiness in her hazel eyes as she studies him with a slight squint.
Uninjured, she is almost more unsettling a sight than she was after falling into a car crash – when she lifted her broken body up off the street with unnatural fortitude. Oliver barely stops himself from betraying his unease with a sharp inbreath, instead opting to stay firmly planted in place as he meets her gaze with as much calm wariness as possible.
“What do you want?”
“Can I not say hi to my friend?”
“How did you find me?”
“I didn’t. Just lucky, I guess.” Ria reaches out a hand towards his shoulder again, and this time, he can’t stop himself from flinching away. A flash of… something passes over her features, drawing her eyebrows together and filling her eyes with temporary emotion before nonchalance smooths her brow once more. “Still struggling with the path you chose, I see. You only make this harder on yourself.”
And then, with a sharp turn over her shoulder, she’s stalking away as Oliver stays locked in place, pitch-black ponytail swishing behind her.
With one last pause she calls out over her shoulder, words carrying just far enough to reach his ears. “I’ll come back when you’re feeling more reasonable.”
Oliver shakes his head at her retreating form. He’s seen her version of “reasonable.” It isn’t a state of being he’ll ever give himself over to.
Allowing himself an unsettled intake of breath, haunted by nothing but memories that emerge from shadows around the fragile sanctuary of a blinking streetlamp, he leans against the wall behind him and lets his eyes scrunch close. He stays there, standing in some caricature of respite, until he hears the cautious approach of footsteps he knows well.
Oliver opens his eyes when the sound stops, trying for a smile as he takes in the messy, swept-back hair and uncharacteristically makeup-free face in front of him. Gerry’s eyes still glow faintly silver, but they search Oliver’s face with concern, not suspicion.
“Hi,” he mutters on an outbreath, breaking his worried gaze to glance at the ground with painful, uncharacteristic timidity.
“…Hello.” Oliver chances a step away from the wall to move closer to Gerry, reaching out hesitant arms. After a brief glance of disbelief and the shaky but definitive nod he’s given in return, Gerry falls into the embrace with a sigh of palpable relief.
“M’sorry I scared you.”
“Well, you weren’t quite the one who scared me.”
Gerry pulls back a bit to study Oliver’s face again, worrying at his lip piercing in thought. His hands flutter up to Olivers shoulders, settling firmly there to ground him in the physical world. His eyes spark with latent curiosity, with questions, then sober with what Oliver recognizes as a determination not to ask.
In reply, he gives as much of a smile as he can muster, and Gerry returns the expression with an aching genuineness. The hair Oliver combs his fingers through is artificial black, not brown streaked through with premature grey. The eyes staring back at him are silver-tinged mist, not sky blue with silverharsh overtones. Gerry’s face is more angular than Graham’s ever was, and he stands a couple inches shorter, tilting his head up at Oliver rather than looking down at him.
This is not the same person who has haunted him for eleven years, and he cannot allow ghosts of the past to strain the first new connection he’s been able to develop in ages. Oliver glances between Gerry’s eyes and mouth, only half cognizant of the action until Gerry echoes it back. His breath hitches in his throat as the hands on his shoulders still.
“Can I?” The question is soft-spoken but unmistakable.
Out of words, out of anything more than tired happiness only slightly tinged with familiar fear, Oliver nods. Gerry’s lips are pressed to his in a moment, warmth interrupted only by the cool metal of a studded piercing. Gerry’s hands clasp protectively around the back of Oliver’s neck, and as Oliver gently wraps his arms around his waist, he presses closer with a shuddering sigh of contentment.
Swaying under the streetlamp, they hold fast to each other, sheltered from the world until the sun starts to rise. There are questions that must be answered. For now, they remain unasked, and Oliver’s bone-deep exhaustion eases the slightest bit with the lack of immediate pressure.