My Shadow and Me
AN: This story came to me in, of all places, an airport. I rather liked it, so it's been lurking in draft form in my notebook for a while, until here it finally is!
Reviews are welcomed and adored.
WARNING: This story is SLASH, which means it has homosexual content and relationships between two males. If you have a problem with that, stop reading now. It also has mentions of borderline non-consensual sex, emotionally and physically abusive relationships, incest, twincest, and possible violence in the later chapters, as well as substantial amounts of angst.
NOTES ON THE STORY: My Shadow and Me is set in America - for those who have read my other work, I must stress that it is PRESENT DAY. Since I myself am English, I ask any American readers please not to laugh at me too much if I make mistakes, and to correct me in any glaring inconsistencies if you can be bothered. I have got an anti-Brit-picker, but she's incredibly worshippful of me, and thus cannot be trusted to beta reliably. Also, the things said by my characters are the views of my characters, not necessarily myself. In later chapters, for example, some insulting stuff is said about twincest and writers of twincest, and also about fanfiction - what's said there isn't at all what I really think, I'm an open-minded sort.
Chapter 1: Mirror, mirror
Chris had fumbled a bit with the unfamiliar keys, but gained entry at last, and, heaving his bag up once more, he pushed through into his new room. After a momentary pause, he dumped the baggage on the bare mattress in the blatantly unoccupied half. Glancing across at the second, neatly made, bed, he made a quick mental note to learn as much vital information about his roommate as he could before said personage returned. Who knew what he might be dealing with?
Chris's mother followed him, another bag slung over her shoulders, which joined the first on the bed. He led them out again just as his father, with a sigh, dropped a well-filled box on the floor. Another trip or two, and Chris found himself wishing that the first-floor room had elevator access, or at the very least shallower steps. Even less people would have helped; with the first day of classes rapidly approaching, the dorm building was inconveniently lively, with students tripping merrily in and out of doorways, causing many near collisions and an irritated sounding sigh from Chris's father.
Flipping black hair out of his eyes, Chris took advantage of his newly emptied arms to half-run down the stairs, emerging just in time to see his father briskly slam the trunk shut and open the driver's side door of the car.
"Aren't we going to help Chris unpack and get himself settled in?" his mother asked, dismay evident in her voice as she stepped out from behind her son.
"Now, now, Linda," his father replied, voice pained. "If we dally too long, it'll take us forever to get home."
"Oh, Alan..." Linda's voice held exasperation that was liberally brushed with disgust. "Just because -"
"Mom, it's okay," Chris said quickly. He hated it when his parents argued, particularly when it was over him. "I'll be fine sorting out my own stuff. I'm a big boy."
She gave him a dubious look, as if she, personally, doubted this notion. "Well, be good then, Christopher," she said, the half serious lecturing tone covering her unhappiness at this curt farewell. "See that you work hard."
"I'm a big boy," Chris laughed again, kissing her on the cheek as she ducked into the car next to be husband. "Look after my cat!" he called after them, getting a wave of acknowledgement from Linda before filing back inside to take up the momentous task of unpacking.
Silently he blessed his mother's organisation as he managed to make his bed from the linens she had placed conveniently near the top of one of the boxes. Briefly, he considered lying on it, just to test the old adage, but decided on putting away his possessions as a more proactive alternative.
Something his new roommate had evidently done scrupulously, Chris noted idly as he began to organise himself. He was apparently a tidy sort, as the bed was far more neatly straightened than Chris's recent effort, with all his clothes unseen, presumably confined to drawers and cupboards. A pad of paper and a few pens lay on the desk, along with a small stack of books.
Books, in fact, seemed to be the only clutter his unknown roommate indulged in; there were a pair on the nightstand accompanying the alarm clock and a bottle of water, and a few more arrayed neatly on the shelf. Comparing the prim dustcovers on the 'desk' pile to the more amiably tattered books on the shelf, Chris decided that his new companion had to be organised as well, and already in the know about the local libraries.
The door opened just as Chris, having come to these conclusions at the same instance as organising the last of his clothes away, kicked the empty box to one side, and he was at last able to study his roommate at first hand.
The new arrival was shorter than Chris, but not much below average in height. Thin: not long limbed enough to be deemed 'lanky', but not far off. Perhaps 'coltish' would be a better term. He had a fine face, with a slightly pointed chin, surmounted by brown hair that would probably have been curly were it longer, its shortness reducing it merely to being a wavy, touselled mess. His eyes were a soft blue-grey, his nose had an anime tilt and a tendency to freckle, and his lips curved in a shy, tentative, and slightly startled smile.
"H-hi. I'm Daniel," the boy introduced himself hesitantly, lifting his gaze from the cardboard case that had so suddenly moved to impede his progress. "Daniel Thorne."
"Chris Bailey," the boy greeted him easily, stepping past the box to offer his hand, which Daniel shook uncertainly, palm down. "Sorry about that," Chris continued, nudging the box back onto his side of the room.
"It's not a problem," Daniel replied quickly, with a kind of awkward courtesy, as uncomfortable as if he'd been the one to make a social misstep. "Just arrived?" he asked, and then bit his lip in a silent degradation of his own inanity.
Chris's cheerful smile soothed him, brown eyes warm with an infectious good humour. "Just," he agreed. "My parents had to take off, so I was duly abandoned. How long have you been here, then?"
"About a week," Daniel shrugged, awkwardly sitting on the edge of his bed as Chris returned to his unpacking. "I came in early."
"I would have, too, if Dad had his way," Chris said, seemingly unfazed by his parent's lack of affectionate clinging. "But Mom insisted that I stay as long as possible. I doubt they'll be able to visit much in term time."
"Your father - you don't -" Daniel flushed, and looked away, hands clenching into fists at his sides as he fell into silent confusion.
"Get along?" Chris supplied. "Nah. He's just a bit strict and straight-laced. You know how dads can be." His roommate gave a half-shrug, and studied his feet. "Or... not?" Chris finished uncertainly.
"He died when we - when I was two," Daniel's eyes were almost apologetic with their lack of accusation when they met Chris's. "Car crash. I never knew him."
Chris tried to ease the tension with a more light-hearted tone. "Then I'm surprised you came in early. Your mom must surely value you." When Daniel just shrugged again, words burst from him in a rush. "Oh, don't tell me that you're an orphan and I just made a huge social gaffe!"
That at least brought a tiny, startled smile to the boy's face. "No, no, she's fine," he waved away the concern. "It's just... she's always been closer to my brother than she was to me. And as for the early arrival - it was just easier to get a train ticket for a week ago."
"Train ticket?" Chris repeated the term in a raised eyebrow voice. "Ticket, singular? You came by yourself?" Taking Daniel's abashed silence and redirected gaze as assent, he shook his head disapprovingly. "That seems cold."
"It's not important," Daniel muttered to his lap.
"But -" Chris saw how downcast his roommate looked, and stopped speaking with a twinge of sympathy. "Sorry. I shouldn't pry."
"It's okay," Daniel murmured indistinctly. He sighed, and looked up at last; his face was calm, apart from the diffident expression that Chris had already learned to associate with him, but his lower lip was still shiny and wet, as if he'd been chewing on it. "Oh, sorry, I've just been sitting here while you - do you need help at all?"
"I'm fine, really." Chris laughed the offer away. "It's just half a box, now, won't take me long."
"If you say so," Daniel allowed, finally moving to curl up at the head of the bed, propping a pillow against the wall and leaning on it. With an uncertain glance at his companion, he slipped one of the books off his stand, letting the scrap of paper he'd used as a page marker fall unnoticed to the floor. Chris felt a faint tinge of relief; this was a good sign, at least, that his roommate would not be completely anal about tidiness. While Chris was far more neat than many of his contemporaries, he wasn't certain he was up to Daniel's standards.
Daniel customarily raised his eyes in a quick, darting look as he turned each thoroughly read page. Chris paid it no mind, except to catch his roommate's eye at one point, and smile, making him blush and bury himself in the book. Chris smothered a tolerant laugh for his bashful new roommate, and scooped up the bag of random toiletries from the bottom of the box before slipping out - quietly, so as not to disturb the reader, who was frowning consideringly at a particular passage.
It was as he prepared to stash his belongings in the modest en suite bathroom that he came across the first odd note; in the tiled box of sterile, strangled cream was a square of dark blue hanging just above the wash basin. Dropping his things on the counter, he fingered it curiously: it was thin cloth that looked to be a butchered bedsheet. Nonplussed, he pulled it away from the mirror underneath, wondering if perhaps it was broken, and the cloth was to prevent someone accidentally getting hurt on the glass shards - but no, the mirror was the plain, institutional, bolted-to-the-wall model he'd been expecting, with nary a crack to mar its silvery surface.
Chris reached up and detached the sheet from the hooks drilled into the wall above the mirror, and dragged it behind him back into the room. "Daniel," he called softly, but despite his cautious tone, the boy jerked in startlement, his eyes flying to the cloth in Chris's hands as his face turned a guilty pink. "Do you know what's with the sheet curtainy thing?"
"It doesn't matter," he said quickly, turning away and holding the book up slightly higher than before, to obscure his face.
"No, really," Chris pressed, intrigued, now. "You hung it up, didn't you? Why?"
"I said it doesn't matter!" Daniel retorted, stung from his shy reticence into a sharp answer.
"Whoa, there," Chris eyed him. "No need to get angry. I'm just curious."
"I have a dangerous psychological condition," the boy said, voice tight with truculent sarcasm. "It leads me to smash every mirror I see."
Chris just looked at him steadily. "Really, now," he drawled.
Slowly, Daniel flushed with shamed contrition and lowered his gaze. "I don't like seeing my reflection," he spoke softly, tersely, as if hoping his words would swallow their own insignificance and not make it to his roommate's ears. "I don't like being... looked at. Oh, people I don't mind - but I can't stand the way the mirror is always staring at me."
Chris was more than a little confused, and uncertain at this point whether Daniel might in fact have some psychological condition. "It's just you, in the mirror," he pointed out.
"Yes, I know, but -" Daniel's voice lapsed into silence for a moment, before he shrugged. "I don't like mirrors. It's just my own personal weird habit. Do you mind -" he hesitated again. "Maybe you could leave the cloth on? When you aren't using the mirror, I mean? I -"
"It's not a problem," Chris said after a bemused moment. "I'll go re-hang it now." He did so, slowly putting his toiletries in accessible places. He wondered, as he shuffled his possessions in pointless displacement activity, if Daniel had gone to the trouble of drilling in the holes for the little hooks, or whether they'd been there already - and he wondered why his roommate didn't like mirrors.
After a few minutes, Chris shook his head and re-entered the room. "I guess we'll have plenty of time to get to know each other's quirks," he commented ruefully. "Although - I can't say I'm too enthused about the idea of sharing a bedroom. I'm an only child, and I've never had to share anything."
Daniel had been sitting tensely, not even pretending to read the book that hung slackly from his hands, but as Chris made no more approaches on the lapsed subject of mirror curtains, he began to relax once more. "So, I should keep in mind that you're likely to be selfish and pushy?" He quipped, with a shaky attempt at dry humour. "I've shared a room with my brother since I was a baby - I guess you could say I'm used to it." He smoothed the book open on his knees once more, but his gaze was too unfocused to be reading, and his fingers twitched and clenched where they held the front cover.
"Older or younger brother?" Chris asked idly. "Hang on - wouldn't that be hideously awkward when you tried to bring girlfriends home?"
Daniel blushed again, and his fingers tightened into fists around the book, before he raised his chin with nervous determination. "I'm gay," he said tightly, his eyes wary as if expecting a blow.
"Really?" To Daniel's surprise and relief, Chris appeared more far more amused than he was horrified. "I'd wondered, you're so cute and all." The blush deepened, and the boy rubbed nervously at his cheek. Chris's lips twitched at this awkward reaction to the compliment. "Y'know, I'm bi," he continued, with a mischievous look in his eyes. "We could get dinner sometime?"
Daniel covered his eyes with his hand, trying to hold back the burning redness in his cheeks. "You're just trying to embarrass me," he muttered reproachfully (and accurately). A couple of deep breaths, and he continued. "Um, thanks but no thanks. I, uh, don't really want that sort of thing right now."
Chris's eyebrows went up. "Bad break up?" He asked, voice more sympathetic now. He flopped back onto his own bed to hear the answer.
"You... could say that," Daniel mumbled, before shooting a pleading look at his roommate. "It's - not something I really want to go into -"
"Understandably," Chris agreed with an easy nod. "So, onto less awkward things. What're you majoring in? Where do your family live? Any other siblings? You never told me if your brother was older or younger, by the way. Are you out to your family? ...Did I say less awkward? I guess not..."
Daniel was startled into a tiny bubble of laughter by the cap on the barrage of questions, and Chris felt a glow of triumph. "Uh, let's see. I'm majoring in English -"
"Thus the books," Chris nodded to himself, waving his roommate on.
"Yes, thus the books. I live in what's practically Hicksville - next state over. No other sibs, it's just me, Mom, and Michael, and, um..." He looked awkward again. "I don't think Mom knows I'm gay, but my - b-brother does." His voice faltered slightly on this last, and Chris gave him another considering look. "Michael's older than me," he added in a rush.
"Did he give you a hard time about it?" The other boy guessed, again taking the evasion of the turned head as his affirmative. "I only came out a month ago. Dad lectured like anything, but I didn't have to share a room with him, so I could at least avoid him. Mom's been cool about it, which is great, and she's been trying to make Dad see reason, which is... less great. It makes them argue. But still, with one supportive parent, I consider myself pretty lucky."
Daniel let the light conversation soothe him once again, and turned back to see Chris's wry smile. "It's your turn to answer the other questions," he pointed out shyly.
"Gosh, I'm actually being encouraged to talk more - I like you," the boy began inconsequently, startling another flush from his listener. "For classes - I'm a drama student mostly, but I'm doing a couple of other random classes, art, music and suchlike. I'm not great at the others, but it should be fun. For whereabouts - nothing special, just a biggish sort of town a few hours away. My parents I mentioned, no siblings, I said - oh, but I do have a cat."
"So... does your cat have a name?" Daniel asked as he blinked, taking in this cheerful pile of information.
"He's called Alice," Chris supplied blithely. Then, "Yes, he's called Alice," was repeated firmly to the querying look on Daniel's face. "Look, I am bi, I'm allowed to have a gender-queer cat if I want."
His roommate struggled briefly to follow the logic behind this statement, before shrugging and admitting defeat. "Right," he sighed, slumping against his pillow. As the silence dragged on, he bit his lip, uncomfortably aware of Chris's scrutiny, but unable to work out anything to say to continue the conversation.
"You don't talk much, do you?" Chris's voice was odd; amusement, certainly, but also curiosity, and a shadow of the gentle tone he'd used earlier, when querying Daniel about his former relationship.
Daniel twitched at the break in the silence, and looked slightly guilty. "I know I should be more sociable," he said, almost shamefaced. "But at home, Michael always did all the talking, and I just stayed quiet."
Chris promptly began to paint a mental image of the unknown Michael; he would be an opposite to Daniel in every way. Obnoxiously loud and overbearing, the cause of his roommate's reticence. Messy, of course, that would have provoked Daniel to become the tidy person he so obviously was, particularly if he ended up picking up after both of them. Attention stealer, blatantly. They probably looked totally different, too; perhaps Daniel took after his mother, and Michael after the deceased father, and that was why mommy dearest favoured him so.
Chris was startled at the vague animosity he felt for this character he'd never encountered, and shrugged it off as he replied to Daniel. "He sounds like a complete bastard," he said decisively. "But surely you could get away, go talk with your friends?"
It was the wrong thing to say, causing brilliant spots of glowing humiliation to mark Daniel's cheeks. He stared intently at his own feet. "I - didn't have friends in high school."
Chris could hear old, smothered misery in the voice, and immediately felt remorseful for bringing it up. And, again startling, a flare of righteous indignation at the heartless high-school-ers who had let a lonely, unhappy boy continue unaided on his solitary path. "I didn't mean to prod a sore spot," he apologised. "But I can't imagine why you didn't have friends. You seem really nice. And not just because you don't mind my chatter."
The smile Daniel produced in response to that sally was effortful and wan. "Doesn't matter," he mumbled, shrugging the matter away with hunched shoulders.
"Well, you have a friend now," Chris declared firmly, causing a wide-eyed, startled look from his newly dubbed 'friend'. "And I'll force you to be sociable, if it's the last thing I do!"
Daniel smiled a bit, then wider, as his friend assumed an expression of farcical determination, laying his clenched fist over his heart. "That -" the smile came more easily now, and the voice held a touch of shy laughter lurking beneath. "That sounds good to me."