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The first time Sandy feels the black tendrils brush his mind, they’re heavy with a fear so thick it almost chokes him.

He doesn’t understand, at first, why this brightly-lit, bare hallway has suddenly become so mind-numbingly terrifying. He doesn’t understand until the agent in the sober dark suit punches a code into the keypad beside the door, and the door slides aside with a hydraulic hiss.

The moment he sees Pitch, he knows that the other isn’t human. It’s not just the fact that he’s far taller than anyone has any right to be (with spidery legs that seem to go on forever, Sandy notices absently, and then hurriedly pushes the thought away), it isn’t just that he looks like he’s been abruptly plucked from a black-and-white movie, it isn’t really anything about Pitch’s looks at all. There’s something in his oddly-shifting eyes when they meet Sandy’s, something that Sandy can only describe as different.

The agent continues unperturbed, as though he’s seen this all before. “That’s the most interest Subject 627 has shown in anyone so far. Hope it’s a good sign.”

“S-Subject 627?” Sandy stammers, before quickly pulling himself together. He can’t take his eyes from the quicksilver ones locked on his.

“Yes, that’s its designation. We haven’t yet been able to communicate to ask its name. Or species. Or planet of origin. That’s where you come in.”

His name is Pitch Sandy wants to say, but he bites his tongue instead and wishes he knew how he knows.

Sandy’s studied all kinds of neurological disorders, ones that baffle the medical community beyond any hope of understanding. People have sought him out specifically for his expertise; he’s solved medical mysteries that put the ones on those sensationalized doctor shows to shame. He knows everything about the inner workings of the human brain, how it thinks and communicates and how that communication can break down.

That turns out to be a problem.

Pitch isn’t human.

It takes only half a session of trying out the same speech therapies that helped Sandy conquer his once-insurmountable stutter to realise that the problem isn’t that Pitch can’t speak. No, Pitch has a lovely, mellifluous voice, smooth as silk and rich as butter, that almost leaves Sandy breathless with jealousy. But all Pitch utters are phrases that Sandy’s said, repeating them back without even the slightest flicker of understanding. He’s trying, Sandy can tell, but the words mean nothing, and any attempt to discover if Pitch has a language of his own are met with blank and haughty stares.

Sandy wracks his brains for anything he might have missed, spends hours and hours researching pheromone communication and body language, combing through every journal he can find and turning up enormous, frustrating amounts of nothing. He reads studies of people who speak in clicks and shrieks, people who speak in sign language, people who speak to bees. He flips through casefiles he hasn’t touched in decades, bizarre neurological disorders that lead to senses of unreality, an inability to recognize loved ones, fugue states that make people wander off and start over. There is nothing – nothing – that gives him even the slightest clue of how to communicate with someone who doesn’t even use something as fundamental as language.

That night, Sandy dreams of black and gold streaming sinuous across a moonless sky. He wakes to find himself tangled in blankets, drenched in sweat, his heart pounding as though he’s just run a marathon. And, to his embarrassment and confusion, more aroused than he can remember ever being.

He tries to shake it off, but his cold shower rapidly turns into a quick and furious encounter between himself and his right hand. He leans back against the cool tile of the shower wall once he’s finished, feeling no wiser than when he began and a little surprised at himself. Where had that come from? He’s not exactly a teenager anymore; it’s been years since he’s felt this kind of greedy urgency. He lets the water pour down around him for a few more minutes, before turning it up as hot as it will go, and scrubs himself off as quickly as he can. At this rate, he’ll be late for work.

Weeks pass.

Sandy’s clearance is elevated, to allow him to come in to visit Pitch whenever he feels he needs to. Thanks to one slip on Sandy’s part, one casual mention of Pitch’s name in debriefing, whoever is in charge of this...whatever this is, seems to have decided that Sandy’s making progress. It worries Sandy, that perhaps he really can’t deliver and he’ll be taken off the case and someone else will get to try to figure Pitch out, someone who might not be as gentle as Sandy is. (He doesn’t acknowledge the little seed of hot and heavy nausea that settles in the pit of his generous stomach at the thought of someone else spending time with Pitch, figuring Pitch out, getting to see what’s going on behind those enigmatic eyes. Or if he does, he tells himself that it’s professional jealousy. Nothing more.)

But the upgrade does ensure that Sandy gets to stick around (for now), to see Pitch, to try out his different theories and approaches. Nothing works, of course, and Sandy still finds himself massively frustrated at every turn. He takes to simply sitting in Pitch’s room, reading through files or, on occasion, a good novel. He finds that Pitch seems most interested when Sandy’s absorbed in an ill-chosen Stephen King novel forced on him by a dear friend, and tries, despite the nervous tension that both book and public speech fill him with, to read aloud. But between Sandy’s still-present stutter and Pitch’s apparent incomprehension it just seems easier and better all around for Sandy to simply read silently.

Still, he could swear that somehow, Pitch is listening.

The second time he feels the dark tendrils brush his mind, Sandy is sure he’s dreaming. And maybe he is. He hasn’t been sleeping much lately, not since his dreams have turned...strange. Not exactly nightmares, but not exactly normal, either. And given his aversion to caffeinated beverages, a last-ditch effort to improve his paltry height, it was surely only a matter of time before he fell asleep on the job.

Then again, the way the letters of the book dance and jumble could merely be caused by sleep deprivation, the fact that he reads the same paragraph four times without taking in any of the information contained therein attributed to his unwillingness to continue reading just in case something horrible happens in the next paragraph. For a moment, Sandy wonders if this is how Pitch feels whenever he talks, before he sets the book aside with a sigh. Perhaps it’s time to try something else, even just to walk around for a bit and –

Perhaps he should read a little more. Find out what happens next. After all, the monster is approaching the little girl’s camp and he really wants to see what it’s going to do to her –

It’s then that Sandy realizes these thoughts can’t be his. His head snaps up, and he stares at the room’s other occupant, leaning forward with an unusually unguarded expression on his angular face. The moment Sandy meets Pitch’s eyes, he knows that he is not alone in his own head. The knowledge is almost overwhelming; Sandy feels flayed, exposed, laid bare in the most impossible and intimate way.

He snaps the book shut and jumps up, ignoring the way that Pitch recoils, returning to his usual impassive look. Sandy can almost feel the soft slither of retreating consciousness.

Well. That explains why he hasn’t been able to get through to Pitch through more conventional means.

“I’m d-done for the day,” he says aloud, more for the benefit of the cameras and microphones that he knows dot the room than for his patient. He turns on his heel, gathers up his things, trying to ignore how badly his hands are shaking.

He leaves without looking back.

That night, his dreams are golden.

He dreams a bathtub seashore, a leviathan stirring in vasty deeps, sticky golden sand between his toes, sun hot on his face and moon cool, an impossible castle of filigree and lickety-splits and handstands doing battle with a clipboard larger than the sky and greyer than Pitch’s fine soft skin (Sandy could just run his hands down that lean chest what does his muscular structure look like does he have two hearts does he have anything inside but shadows)

there’s a vast golden leviathan stirring

Sandy wakes to find that a dream-Kraken isn’t the only thing stirring.

He doesn’t go back that day. He sits in his small apartment (which feels too large and too empty, now, without a companion to share the space) and fills out reports he’s been neglecting, responds to emails he’s been sent, returns phone calls, apologises a thousand times. No, there’s this project he’s been caught up in. Yes, he’s quite sorry, really, but it will keep him occupied for the near foreseeable future. No, he can’t talk about it, good day.

He looks out the window every few minutes, at the drizzle and the dreary grey sky, and tries not to think about bare grey skin and how it might feel under his fingers or, heaven forbid, his tongue (like clouds? like sharkskin? like nothing more or less than flesh?). He tries not to think about the heavy presence of dark tendrils moving through his thoughts.

He tries very, very hard not to think.