A/N: Well, man. I know I have two unfinished things up here, but this is something that IS finished and I feel dusty with writing since I've had blocks for those other two continuing story-things for FOREVER. This one started out more serious, and I was watching X-files, and then just kind of got quirky and the two characters got more snarky and affected. So it was just fun to write. It's in three parts, and this first part is quite long.

Title: In Manitou

Author: Alyn Drasil

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: Mine, and stuff.

Warnings: Swearing, as always, m/m stuff (not really in this part at all), unbeta-ed

Part I: Waxing

The woods were cold for the late afternoon, and only occasionally could Holm see the falling sun glinting through the thick blanket of leaves above him. His jean jacket was thin and caught on rough bushes and snagging branches as he picked his way through the underbrush. He wasn't sure how many miles he had tromped through the forest now, but he'd been at it for about an hour, and the daylight was fading faster than he had expected.

Holm turned his face upwards and shivered as a chill wind whipped through the gully he had just climbed down into. He wouldn't even be in these stupid woods if he hadn't been so stupidly…stupid. Taking an enormous detour off the mountain road to try and make a shortcut through the woods had resulted in ramming his dad's old truck into a gorge of granite boulders and effectively breaking the front axle—the truck wasn't going anywhere, anymore. And now he was here, trying to find the road again, as night was approaching and the cold was getting…well, colder.

He clambered out of the gully and nearly slid as the ground began a slope downwards, the dried leaves littering the ground making a slippery carpet over the wet ground of the forest floor. He caught his hands on branches and brambles and leveled himself out, picking his footing carefully as he moved down the incline. Maybe the slope was heading down to a road. He could only hope.

The ground dried out as he moved out of the overhanging shadows of trees and into more stubbly brush and brambles. Dirt now puffed out from around his feet and dried the air, and when he looked up again he saw that instead of leading him to a road, he was now looking at a small, narrow valley.

There was no road. The valley was full of large lumpy brush and the occasional tree jutting up at an odd angle. The bottom of the valley was oddly flat, and there was an enormous square area at the far end that was clear of any bushes or trees, and instead was full of waving tall grass. But tt the far end of that field was a dark, boxy, house-shaped structure. There were lighted windows and a tendril of smoke easing out of a narrow chimney.

"Thank God," Holm said, distracting himself for a moment and missing his footing. His leg shot out from under him and dragged the rest of his body down the slope, slithering through the dust and weeds. He slid to a stop at the bottom, his jeans caked with dirt, but he wasn't too put off. A house was almost better than a road. Maybe he could stay the night there instead—use the phone, call his parents. The sun was just touching the top of the valley wall on the other side, fading into dusky pinks and yellows. The sky above was fading from pale blue into a darker, deeper navy.

Holm wound his way through the thick underbrush that carpeted the valley floor, eventually coming to the wide field. He crunched through the tall grass, which reached nearly up to his waist and left snagging burs on his clothes. The grass up to about ten yards around the farmhouse had all been cut short and mashed flat, and Holm broke out of the weeds and stumbled across it, brushing various plants from his jacket and pants as he walked up to the house.

The house looked like a mix between a cabin and a farmhouse, made of rough wood and two stories tall, with a wide front porch with wooden balustrades. The windows all had shutters drawn across them, but warm yellow lights glowed from within and seeped out from under the front door. Holm had no idea who would live here, in the middle of a real nowhere, but he was glad they did.

He reached out and rapped on the door. Nothing stirred within the house, not even an answering voice. Holm knocked again, more firmly.He forced his body to not bob up and down, and instead tangled his fingers together.

Another thirty seconds passed, and Holm knocked again, louder this time, more insistently. The chilled breeze had started up again, and blew through the dip in the valley, and biting through his denim jacket and jeans easily, raw and icy on his face and hands. He knocked again and then jammed his hands under his arms for warmth.

A minute inched by. Holm's lips were starting to feel numb, and he bit on them nervously, pulling tiny strips of skin off with his teeth. When he tasted a faint coppery tang in his mouth, he stopped, instead mashing his lips together tightly. He knocked yet again, and still nothing.

"God dammit!" He kicked the door vigorously with a booted foot. He turned away, headed for the steps. Maybe he could just camp out here on the deck. Short of breaking into this person's house, there was nothing else to do. And he wasn't willing to risk a felony. Yet.

Something behind him creaked loudly, and Holm stopped, pausing on the middle step down. It had sounded like a door—but he didn't want to get his hopes up. He risked a glance over his shoulder, and saw that the front door had indeed opened, spilling a warm orange light onto the worn wood of the porch, and a tall figure was leaning against the doorjamb, half-silhouetted in the light.

"What?" the figure asked, a drawling annoyance in the tone. "You knocked for about five fucking minutes, it must be really important."

"I—" Holm swiveled the rest of the way around, already half-intimidated by this man he hadn't even fully seen. "I'm really sorry to bother you, but it is actually important. See, I…well, my truck broke down a couple of miles back in the woods. I was hoping I could use your phone to call someone, or…yeah, I just need a little help, is all. Yours is the only place I saw around here, so…"

He trailed off. The man in the doorway didn't react for a moment—Holm still couldn't see his features well—and a thin trail of white-grey smoke blew out from the end of a smoldering cigarette held near his face. Holm could smell it even in the strong breeze that caught the smoke and whisked it straight across the porch, towards the edge of the woods.

"Don't have a phone," the man said abruptly, and took a step back into the house. "Sorry."

"Wait—what? That's it?" Holm started, stunned. "Look, I don't know if you heard me, but my truck is broken. I can't get out of this valley, and I don't know how cold it gets here at night but I don't think spending the night in my truck is a great idea. You really don't have a phone?"

"No, I just enjoy telling people I don't have a phone." Holm could almost hear the eye-roll in the man's voice. "I really don't have one, kid."

"Then…is there anyone else nearby I could get help from? Anything at all?"

The man took a long drag of his cigarette, then blew the smoke upwards towards the top of the doorframe. The wind caught it and whipped it instantly away. "No one around for at least thirty miles," he said.

Holm stared at the man. He couldn't believe this guy wasn't picking up on the obvious. Either the guy was a real jackass or he was just ignorant. Holm was hoping for the latter.

The man was just staring back—or at least Holm thought so, he really couldn't tell. It was an awkward, uncomfortable pause, and Holm actively resisted the urge to fidget, jamming his hands into his pockets.

"Are you just going to stand there?" the man asked finally. "Or are you going to get off my porch?"

"What?" Holm demanded. "You expect me to go traipsing for miles back through the woods to get to my truck that doesn't work?"

"Yeah," the man replied. "Can't do anything for you."


"You deaf or something?"

"No. Just…jeez, that's pretty heartless of you."

"Well, what do you want out of me? You can't stay here."

"Why not?"

"You just can't." The man's tone was suddenly sharp, and Holm recoiled.

"Well, Jesus, what am I supposed to do?" he said, but with much less vehemence then before.

The man was quiet for a moment. "How old are you, kid?" he asked after a moment, and Holm frowned.

"Seventeen," he replied.

"Jesus," the guy said. "What the hell are you doing up here anyway?"

"None of your business," Holm said.

"You're young," the guy said. "Your parents know you're up here?"

"Sure," Holm replied. "It's my dad's truck, really."

"I'm sure he'll be thrilled with you," the man muttered, and Holm bristled.

"Is this all you're going to do—insult me?"

"Well, you aren't leaving. What else should I be doing?"

"How about offering me a place to stay for the night?"

"I told you I can't do that," the man shot back. "You can't stay here."

"Why not?"

"Kid, just believe me. You don't want to be in this house."

"Oh, what? Is it haunted or something?" Holm retorted.

"Yeah, something like that," the guy muttered. "Look, about your truck, I—" he broke off suddenly, lowering the hand holding the cigarette. "Oh, fuck," he murmured. "I didn't think about…."

"What?" Holm demanded.

"Fuck," the man said again, then when he spoke again, his voice was much more congenial. "I guess…yeah, you'd better come in after all."


"Don't argue Just come in." The man stepped backwards, disappearing into the house, and Holm, wondering if he hadn't just gone crazy, walked in after him. The man shut the door behind both of them, then turned around to face him.

The man wasn't exactly the picture of what Holm had formed while he'd been talking to him. For one, he didn't see how the guy could get off with calling him kid when he looked barely older than Holm himself—he couldn't have been older than twenty. His hair was dark and lank and hung down around both sides of his face, the severely straight strands just brushing past his jaw. His body was gangly and tall—more skinny than slender—and he was wearing faded jeans and a white Oxford shirt worn open, a pale chest visible beneath. The half-burned cigarette was held between spidery fingers with knobby knuckles, like a pianist's hands.

"What's your name, kid?" the man asked, his shadowed eyes staring intensely into Holm's own. His entire face was gaunt and pale; an unpleasant pallor, and his eyes were sunken and shadowed—not only because of the thinness of his face, but he actually looked unhealthy, as if he had some illness ravaging his body. Holm wondered how the man could smoke and still be alive. He looked awful.

"Uh…Holm," he finally answered. "Holm Redding."

"Holm?" the man hiked one eyebrow. "What kind of name is that?"

"It's—what? My full name is Sandholm."

The other eyebrow raised at that. "Your first name is Sandholm?"

"Yeah. I know it's a last name. It was my mom's maiden name. She wanted to keep it in the family."

"Man," the guy turned around, stubbed his half-smoked cigarette out in an ashtray on a wobbly table near the door. "I don't envy you."

"Yeah, well…what's your name?" Holm said, unable to actually come up with a better response.

"Simon," the man replied. "Westen. It's normal."

"Hey….shut up," Holm muttered. For some reason the man's name sounded vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place it.

"Hey, kid, I'm doing you a favor. Don't tell me to shut up."

"Stop calling me kid. You're what—twenty? I'm not that much younger than you."

"Twenty four," the man replied. "If I can drink and vote and join the army and you can't, you're still a kid."

"Fine then. Gramps."

"Goddammit. Fine. Holm. Still a fucking retarded name."

"Hey, screw you!" Holm retorted. "I didn't pick the damn thing! You tell me a better name out of Sandholm."

"Yeah, whatever. Done with this conversation," Simon said, rolling his eyes. "Since I'm doing you a favor here, I'm going to tell you some things right now and you better damn well listen to them. All right?"

"Yeah, okay," Holm muttered. Simon pointed to the right of the door, where there was a large living-room type area, furnished only with two couches with mismatched upholstering, and a low table in front of a large stone fireplace. A small blaze was smoldering under the mantle.

"Sit down," Simon said, and Holm did, walking over the couch that was covered in orange-red tartan and a wool blanket, and sinking down awkwardly onto it. Simon didn't sit—instead, he went to the mantle and propped one arm on it, throwing one leg in front of the other.

"All right," he said. "One night, is as long as you're staying here. I'll drive you to town tomorrow and you can get a tow truck or whatever you need. I'll give you a room tonight, under the condition that you stay there. I mean that entirely—don't come out. At all."


"I'm being dead serious, so you just shut up and listen," Simon growled. "It's not anything perverted or weird, all right? You just can't come out. I won't lock you in, but you can't come out. And I'd recommend locking yourself in."

"Okay, any reason why?" Holm asked, starting to wonder if he wouldn't be better off with the truck.

"Yeah, but you wouldn't believe it. Can you just agree that you won't come out. No matter what you hear. You have to stay in the room."

"Fine, fine. I will stay in the room," Holm parroted, figuring it was just easier, at this point, to go along with him. He was starting to think that this Simon guy had some severe problems, ones that stretched beyond just super-human grouchiness.

"Good." Simon glowered. He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a crumpled cigarette carton. He jerked it upwards and caught the end of a cigarette that leaped out of the torn corner between his teeth, bringing a lighter out of his front pocket. He was left-handed, Holm noted when he lit it—or at least he used the opposite hand that Holm's right-handed father used to light cigarettes.

"You smoke a lot, don't you?" Holm said, eyeing the near-full ashtray on the table, and the second one on the mantel. Simon threw him a murderously annoyed glare, jerking the cigarette out from between his lips.

"And?" he snapped, smoke leaking out of his mouth.

Holm shrugged. "Nothing."

Simon grunted and jammed the carton back in his pocket. "Come on."

"Wha—" Holm barely had time for the half-formed response before Simon had stalked away, clomping up the stairs that were between the living room and the kitchen area on the other side of the front door. He scrambled to his feet and followed the other man's wafting scent of smoke. The stairs were wooden and rough and had no backs, and just added to the "rustic cabin" feeling about this whole place. Holm had always hated stairs with no backs.

And he was obviously taking too long getting up them, because Simon's arms were crossed and mouth pulled irately to the side when Holm got to the upstairs landing. The man pushed open a door that lead into darkness, and groped his hand in along the wall until a buzzing light clicked on the ceiling.

"Yeah. Here," Simon said shortly. "Have fun."

"Is that it?" Holm asked, and Simon's sneer dried into a frown.

"What were you expecting, five fucking stars?" The man pushed past Holm and was already halfway down the stairs before he spoke again. "Deal with it."

"Fine, fine," Holm said under his breath, and stepped into the room. The light was still buzzing and flickering, making a clicking noise each time it did, and Holm frowned up at it. As if responding to his thoughts, the light beamed into full brightness, and stayed. "Good God," he muttered.

He stared around the desolate room. There was exactly one item of furniture in the room, and it was a bed with no sheets and a blue, hard-looking mattress. There was a window with slatted shutters above the bed, and a wide wooden door that looked like a closet. Holm went to it and opened it—empty. Only dust and shifting dust bunnies inside. Holm shut the door again and made a face.

There was nothing else in the room. No pictures, no knick-knacks, nothing that indicated human presence. Obviously, Simon didn't have visitors much. Going by his personality, Holm was really not surprised. He turned back to the door of the room, pushing it shut and examining it.

The door had a bulky metal latch that slid loudly but smoothly enough into place when Holm tried it out—remembering Simon's vehemence about locking himself in. He undid the lock, then threw it again. He did it a couple more times before he heard Simon yell, "fucking quit that!" from downstairs, and smirked to himself. He opened the lock again and left the room, tramping down the stairs.

Simon was sprawled across the blue and sea-green striped couch, his gangly limbs everywhere, and a scowl etched onto his face, which deepened when he saw Holm coming down the stairs.

"I thought you were going to stay up there," he growled, and Holm shrugged. Simon was halfway through his cigarette already, and smoke lurked around his head and drifted towards the ceiling.

"You know, those close your veins and give you cancer," Holm said, leaning over the back of the couch.

"You close my veins and give me cancer," Simon threw back, and breathed out a stream of smoke.

"Witty," Holm said. "Why don't you have a phone?"

"Because I hate humanity," Simon said, throwing himself upwards into a sitting position and stubbing the cigarette out in the glass in one fluid movement. "Anyway, aren't they supposed to give you cancer?"

"That's cell phones, you utter troglodyte. Where have you been living? Oh, that's right—Miserable Shackville, USA."

"I can easily kick you out of Shackville," Simon retorted. "Just keep talking."

"You won't," Holm said, and Simon snorted.

"How d'you know?"

"I just do. So. I'm going to go back upstairs now and throw the lock a couple dozen more times."

"Oh, fuck you," Simon called after him as Holm went up the stairs. "Fuck you and that stupid truck you didn't ride in on!"

Holm had to bite on his lip to smother a laugh.

"Don't come down again!" Simon yelled as Holm made it to the landing. "I mean it!"

"Fine," Holm hollered back, and went into the guest room and shut and locked the door. Then he started searching for sheets for the bed.

Five minutes later, he was about to break his promise and go downstairs and bother Simon for sheets, until he found a pile of them stacked up under the bed, sitting in about ten centimeters of dust. Frowning and holding his breath, Holm pulled them out and shook them, frowning when things that looked suspiciously like moths flew out.

The whole room was now filled with a dusty haze, and Hold climbed up onto the bed and wrestled with the stiff wooden shutters until they flung open outwards. There was no glass, and a brisk, wet wind instantly whipped into the room, ruffling Holm's hair and biting through his jeans.

"Jesus," Holm muttered. This was almost more trouble than it was worth. Shivering, he tried wafting most of the dust towards the open window. That failing, he gave up, fought the window closed again, and went about making the bed with musty, moth-bitten bedding. That done, he paced around the floor for a while, pretending he had something to do. He took his pocketknife out of his jeans and fiddled with the blades for a while. He picked at his nails with the edge of one, finally flipping the whole thing closed and jamming it back in his pocket.

He wished he had a watch, or even a cell phone. A cell phone would have avoided this whole mess in the first place. But his dad didn't "believe" in them. Holm hadn't yet figured out what that even meant. Sighing, he flopped back onto the bed and stared at the ceiling, wondering what time it was and why Simon had made him lock himself in this room.

About an hour later, the noises started.

The first thing was a muffled thud downstairs, that made Holm, already half-dozing, jerk up and prick his ears. Then came a second thud, and a loud scraping noise that sounded like wood sliding against wood. Then a hollow, wooden crash and another thud.

It sounded like Simon was randomly hurling furniture around the downstairs. Each thud was accompanied by a shaking of the farmhouse walls, and a flickering of the overhead light. Holm eyed it, just daring it to cop out on him. He sat down on the bed and put his flattened hands between his knees, listening to the thudding and shaking and wondering just what in the hell Simon was actually doing.

There was an abrupt, horrible rending noise from downstairs that jerked a chill up Holm's spine and nearly startled him off the bed—it sounded something like a human voice, except twisted and distorted to an insane pitch. The noise came again, like both screaming and roaring strung into the same voice, and abruptly cut off. There was absolute quiet for a long moment, then there were heavy steps on the stairs, coming up.

God, maybe this house is haunted, Holm thought, backing up onto the bed, rubbing his sweating palms against his jeans. A series of thuds slammed away down the landing, and a door banged open. Another strangled scream shrieked through the house, and Holm's back hit the wall behind the bed. His blood was rushing through his veins, cold as ice. Or maybe an animal or something got in the house.

He liked that idea better, but he still remained tensed on the bed, his back pressed to the wall and his eyes riveted on the door. He saw shadows under the door, as the thing came back, pacing back and forth along the landing. Whatever was beyond the door was breathing heavily, almost panting. The moving shadows stopped in front of the guest room door, holding in place. Holm couldn't move at all. His breathing was loud in his ears, joining the roaring of blood that surged through his veins. Every inch of him burned with adrenaline.

The shadows moved away again, a rhythmic clomping went down the stairs. There was another thud, a metallic squeal, and then a door banged—open or shut, Holm couldn't tell. Silence descended upon the house, throttling in his nervousness. Holm couldn't move. There were no noises in the house. He didn't even hear Simon. He wasn't even sure if the other man was alive anymore. If a wild animal had gotten in the house…

The adrenaline faded, leaving a cold, hollow feeling in his veins, a constant prickle at the back of his neck, and a thin sheen of sweat on his skin. He remained on the bed, rigidly still against the wall, for hours. There were no more noises, no more sounds. Eventually, sleep stole in and claimed him.

Holm jerked and snorted against his collarbone, waking abruptly. He was still leaning against the wall, his back sore and pinched, and his neck ached from being bent down. He rolled his shoulders, moving his limbs and shaking the stiffness from them. It was lighter in the room now, and when he climbed to his feet on the bed and looked at the shutters, there was graying, watery light coming in between the slats. Morning, but exactly how early he wasn't sure.

He pried open the shutters. The window looked out to the back of Simon's house, where there was another large patch of waving grasses that eventually ran up into the edge of the woods. Early morning fog lurked low among the weeds, fading everything to washed-out grey, and everything was still and cold. The above sky was overcast with soupy clouds, and only faint light trickled through.

Holm shut the window again and clambered off the bed. He paused, listening carefully, but the house was silent except for the occasional crick of wood, house sounds. He went to the door and rested his hand on the bolt, and hesitated again.

Somewhere downstairs, a door slammed open. Holm jumped, his heart in his throat, and flinched away from the door. Wood creaked downstairs in time with slow, heavy footfalls, and then came a muffled thud and then—silence again. Silence except for quiet snuffling noises, like breathing, or crying.

Ignoring his sense of caution, Holm threw the bolt back and left the room. From the top of the stairs he could see that the front door was thrown wide open. Cold leaked into the house, Holm could feel the draft from the top of the stairs. He loped down them quickly, reaching the door and pushing it closed. It was then he heard the rough breathing again, from somewhere in the living room. He whirled around.

It was Simon. The man was on the rug in front of the dead fire, crouched on his hands and knees. He'd pulled the woolen blanket off the back of the tartan couch and it was wrapped loosely around him, but not enough to hide the fact that he was entirely naked. He was shuddering, gasping, his entire body shaking and covered in sweat. Breathy, half-sobs were coming from his mouth, like he was beginning to dry-heave.

"Oh, shit," Holm breathed, barely aware he'd spoken. In an instant he forgot what an asshole the man had been to him earlier. He rushed forward, kneeling by Simon's side.

"What's wrong?" he asked, putting an arm around Simon's shoulders. The man's body hitched and he exhaled, then gulped in a rough gasp.

"G-get…the fuck…away…" he choked out.

"Yeah, I don't think so," Holm replied, tightening his arm around him. "Can you get up?"

"I—no," Simon muttered. "I c-can't, I—" He cringed slightly, towards his right side. Holm pulled back the blanket, and nearly recoiled when he saw the dark red stain on the other side of it, and the deep slash across the man's arm. It wasn't clean like a cut, but more like something had shot past him and clipped his arm, something like--

"Were you shot?" Holm demanded, and Simon actually smiled. Weakly, but it was there.

"Maybe a little," he said. Holm grabbed the man by his uninjured arm and started pulling him to his feet.

"Get—come on," he said, Simon a complete dead weight. "Do you have a first aid kit? Medicine cabinet—anything?"

"You'r'ot a fuckin' doctor," Simon murmured, his words starting to slur together. Holm wasn't sure how much blood he had lost, but he was either starting to faint from it, or was going into shock.

"That's not an answer!"

Simon made an inhuman groaning noise, and one hand flew up and clawed at Holm's abdomen, fingers catching in his shirt. "Up—stairs…" he managed to say through laborious panting. "M' room—bathroom. Under—cabinet."

"Okay," Holm said. "Okay. Good. Here—I'm taking you to the couch."

It was a distance of just under three feet, but it took Holm nearly a minute to finagle Simon's unnecessarily heavy body over to it and heft him up. The man was shaking consistently now, his eyes wide and staring, his breathing coming in fast, deep pants.

"Shock," Holm muttered. "Dammit." His mother was a nurse at the local hospital in his town, and he knew some things about medicine and general doctoring just from that, but he had no idea what to really to do for Simon. Other than disinfect the wound and hope that was good enough. He took off for the stairs, taking them three at a time, and skidded around on the landing until he located the door to Simon's room, to the right of the landing.

Holm barely looked at the room itself as he ran through it, heading for the door to the bathroom he spotted immediately on the left wall. The bathroom was small and smelled of chemicals, and there were two cabinets—one over the sink, and one beneath it. Holm took Simon's incoherent "under cabinet" to mean the one beneath the sink, and dropped to his knees to search through it. Within a minute he had located an old, battered plastic box with a worn red cross stickered onto it. He flipped it open, ran his eyes over it to make sure there were the things he needed inside, then slammed it closed and ran back down the stairs.

Simon's eyes were closed, and for a moment Holm was afraid the man was dead. But then he saw Simon's chest falter and rise, and the man's eyes wince more tightly shut. He wasn't hyperventilating any more, and Holm though perhaps his amateur diagnosis was incorrect, and Simon had merely been freaking out, and not going into shock.

"Hey," he said, touching the man's shoulder. Simon flinched. "Can you talk?"

"Fuck you," Simon spat, his eyes still screwed shut. "You just fucking left me."

Ignoring the fact the Simon had, at first, demanded that he leave, Holm knelt in front of the couch.

"I found your first aid kit," he said. "If you can sit up, I'll try and disinfect it."

"The first aid kit?"

"Your injury."

Simon laughed, which sounded more like a cough. "Yeah, I know."

He's making jokes? Holm thought, and briefly considered punching Simon, if not only to make himself feel better, but to shut the other man up.

"Can you sit?" he asked, and Simon responded by trying to pull himself up on his elbow. His left arm was retracted tightly against his body, his entire arm now painted in blood.

"Gah," Holm said, startled. Simon glanced down.

"Pretty, isn't it?" he sneered. "Are you doing something about it?"

Scowling, Holm pulled open the medicine kit and pulled out the bottle of peroxide and the gauze. Not taking any time to be careful, he dumped the liquid on the gauze and pressed it unceremoniously against the gash in Simon's arm. The man hissed sharply and pressed his forehead into the crook of Holm's elbow and grabbed the boy's leg. Startled, Holm only managed to not pull away.

"That really fucking stings," Simon gritted out. "What the fuck is that?"

"Hydrogen peroxide," Holm said. "It was in your cabinet; you don't even know what it is?"

"I don't know what half the fucking chemicals in there ar--OW! Shit, goddamn it!"

"You are a wimp," Holm said. "Calm down."

"Hydrogen peroxide," Simon muttered. "Wasn't that the shit they filled the Hindenburg with?"

"That was just hydrogenYou know, a gas. Do you have a certificate around here that labels you as legally stupid?"

"I'll bite you," Simon snapped. "I'll bite your arm and you'll bleed to death like I'm doing right now."

"You're not bleeding to death. You're just annoying. Shut up."

"Fine," Simon muttered, and Holm had the notion that Simon probably never shut up, and wouldn't be now if he wasn't so weak. Either way, he stayed quiet other than a few hissing flinches, his grip tightening on Holm's thigh each time.

Holm finally pressed the lump of cotton against the wound and wrapped the gauze around it, tearing the piece off with his teeth and tying it around Simon's arm. When he looked up again, the man's features were creased.

"I don't want to move," he muttered. "Don't suggest that I go to bed."

"You should go to bed."

"Fuck you, asshole."

"Gosh, if that's an offer, I'm flattered, but uninterested."

"I fucking hate you," Simon growled, but sat up again, holding his hand over the gauze.

"What happened to you?" Holm asked, with little hope of an answer.

"Not your business," Simon said.

"Right. I only just prevented you from bleeding to death."

"You said I wasn't."

"You could have been."

"Which is different from actually doing it, so shut up. It's not your business what happened. And if you really think I should go to bed, you'll have to fucking take me there, because I'm not moving."

"Fine." Holm grabbed the man's uninjured arm and slung it over his shoulders. "I will."

Simon tried to pull back. "I didn't actually mean—"

"Too bad." Holm stood up, dragging Simon off the couch and forcing the man to scrabble for footing. The wool blanket dropped to the floor and Holm looked carefully upwards. Simon swung his bandaged arm around and caught Holm around the midsection, finally gaining his balance.

"Asshole!" he muttered, and Holm smiled grimly.

"Hang onto me," he said. "We're going upstairs."

Simon hissed something unintelligible, but his grip on Holm tightened. Holm steered them both towards the stairs, briefly glad that it was Simon's arm that was injured, not a leg, and the man could still walk. Even still, it took long minutes to get them both up the stairs, and Holm couldn't quite ignore the fact that Simon was still naked. Especially since the man was pressed so close to him. But that was Holm's own fault.

He dragged Simon across the landing and back into his bedroom, this time taking a moment to notice what it looked like. Unlike the guest bed, Simon's bed was large and covered with fluffy comforters in pillows of a midnight blue color. Holm tipped Simon onto it, and the man immediately rolled over and buried himself in the covers. When Holm tapped his shoulder, he didn't move, and when Holm rolled him over, his eyes were closed and his face pale. He had either fallen into sleep, or unconsciousness.

"What the fuck happened to you?" Holm muttered, arranging Simon's akimbo limbs in a less awkward position, and pulling the comforter up around him. "What the hell is happening in this house?"

Simon remained pale and still and motionless, and Holm left the bedroom, leaving the door open. His chances of getting down the mountain today were now resting at none, and as it couldn't be past nine in the morning, he had a long day of doing nothing but watching over an unconscious hermit before him. He might as well explore the house, now that the owner was out of commission.

Downstairs, he picked up the wool blanket from the floor and folded it, placing it back over the couch. He hadn't noticed before, but the furniture was all pushed around to odd angles, and the coffee table was upended. That explained some of the noises from the night before. Holm went around pushing it back into place. As he did, he noticed a large bookcase nestled against the side of the stairs that he hadn't paid attention to before. He made a mental note of it and went into the kitchen.

There was only one light, a bare bulb that hung from the ceiling and buzzed and flickered much like the guest room light. It cast long, stretched shadows over the cabinets that Holm opened one by one and inspected. Simon had an armada of canned soups and other various packaged foods, but it wasn't until Holm hit the last cabinet that he found any dishes. There were only five, all mismatched and chipped. Two bowls, two plates, and a mug. A handful of silverware was loose in the drawer below the cabinet. Holm closed them both with a grimace.

"How does this guy even live?" Holm muttered, leaving the kitchen and entering the hallway that separated it from the stairwell. It too was badly lit, and led to three different doors. The first on the right was a second bathroom, this one only containing a toilet and a sink, and extremely dingy. Some of the pipes were uncovered and were dripping rust stains down the off-tan wall. Grimacing again, Holm shut the door and moved on.

The door to the left was locked. Holm hesitated for only a moment, then dropped to his knees and brought out his pocket knife. Within a few minutes he had managed to jimmy open the lock and push his way inside.

The room was surprisingly nice, and looked something like a private office. The walls were a little darker colored, and a few abstract pieces of art hung on the walls, black and white renditions of faces that could have been paintings or photographs. There were navy blue curtains over the window, and a wide rolltop desk with a sleek looking desk lamp, and next to that, a flat black rectangle sprouting cords.

"Oh, you bastard!" Holm grated. "No phone, but a computer?"

But on second inspection, there didn't seem to be anything that hinted that Simon could actually contact the outside world with the laptop. Nothing was plugged into his Ethernet jack, when Holm looked around the room, there wasn't even a phone jack. There wasn't a hub for wireless. If there was something connecting Simon's computer to anything else, Holm couldn't see it.

Holm tried opening a few drawers of the rolltop, but they were also locked. Writing Simon off as paranoid as well as crazy, Holm flopped into the task chair and pushed himself around the room on it. It rolled easily over the floorboards with a rumbling noise. Holm shoved himself back to the desk and lifted up the top of Simon's laptop. After another brief pause, he thumbed the power button. He spun aimlessly in the chair while he waited for it to boot.

The powering up sequence ran, and then the screen flashed up with a prompt for a password. Holm scooted up to the desk and poised his fingers over the keys.

ASSHOLE, he typed, and a bubble popped up asking if he'd forgotten his password, and to remember it was case sensitive.

BASTARD,he typed, smirking. ASSMUNCH. TROGLODYTE. The computer blooped a notification of his failure each time. Finally Holm punched in a random string of Z's, then shut the computer down again. He spun one last time in the chair, then left the room, making sure it locked again behind him.

The last room was also locked. Sighing, Holm got to work with his pocketknife again. And when he got it open, he couldn't figure out why it would have been locked. It was just a laundry room, containing a washing and drying machine, as well as a tall cabinet filled with odd contents such as a half-empty bag of cat food. There was a door on the other side that lead, Holm could see through the one small window, to the outside. Other than that, the room was completely uninteresting. Holm turned to leave, and froze.

The inside of the laundry room door was covered with deep, rough scratches, hewn through the wood as though some animal had been kept penned here, and had been desperately trying to escape. There was a layer of dust and dirt inside the scratches—they weren't new. Holm reached out to draw his fingers lightly across one, drawing back when splinters punctured the flesh of his hand.

He glanced back at the other door, which had no marks at all. If an animal had been in here, it hadn't been trying to escape. It had been trying to get into the house.

Holm opened the door that lead outside and peered around it. The other side of it had the same deep gouges, cross-hatched like insane tic-tac-toe games. Holm spread his fingers and tried to match them to the marks—they were about as wide as his hand could spread.

A chill sweeping over him, Holm went back inside and shut both doors firmly behind him. He left the hallway and went back to the living room, sitting down on the blue-green couch and pressing his hands between his knees. After a moment he got up and went to the bookshelf, and grabbed a book at random. He returned to the couch and tried to read, but his mind kept returning to the laundry room doors. His stomach growled, but he ignored it.

He got up, paced around the living room. He walked back to the kitchen, looked out of the windows. He went back to the living room and sat on the stairs. One of the posts in the banister was loose, and could swivel around in its sockets. Holm spun it aimlessly, then got up and went to go check on Simon.

The man was still asleep, or unconscious. His breathing was slow, and heavy. Some of his hair had flopped into his open mouth, and Holm brushed it out. He pushed the blankets down, and checked the bandages. They might bleed through soon—he'd have to change them at some point. There was enough gauze and cotton in the medicine kit to do that maybe twice, maybe three times more. Then Simon would just need a doctor.

There was a small alarm clock next to Simon's bed, reading the time. Or what Holm hoped was the correct time. 9:56, it read. Holm went back downstairs and picked up the book again, and sat on the couch. The novel was some strange psychological thriller/mystery, and Holm had to put it down after a few pages. He didn't need anymore disturbing images added to his life. He grabbed something else form Simon's bookshelf, and returned to the couch. And the day just went on like that.

He checked on Simon about twice every hour, and each time the man was still asleep, lost in a tangle of pillows and blankets. A few times he tugged the comforter down and looked at Simon's arm, replacing the bandages twice, but the bleeding was slowing down. It still worried Holm, as he had no real idea how much blood a person could lose before it was too much for the system.

Noon passed. Holm found a saucepan hanging behind a tall cabinet door in the kitchen and popped open one of the hundreds of cans of instant soup. He wasn't going to starve just because Simon was unconscious. Maybe he'd save the man some. If he felt like it. If Simon even woke up again. Holm ate his meager lunch in the living room and thumbed through another bizarre mystery book. Soup got on some of the pages. Holm found he didn't care.

Afternoon was halfway over by the time something happened. Holm had decided to open the blinds on the windows in Simon's bedroom, because his room was depressingly dark otherwise, with just one small lamp on the bedside table. He yanked the cord and the blinds flew up with a shing, and Simon groaned.

Holm jumped back, startled. The lump in the bed that was Simon was stirring around, and one thin, pale arm came out and pushed the blankets down. The weak light from the open window struck the man across the face, and Simon moaned again.

"Ugh," he said faintly, raising his hand to shade his eyes. "What—who…"

"It's still just me," Holm replied. "You've been out for a while."

Simon lowered his arm, squinting up at him. "Holm?" he asked incredulously. "What the hell are you still doing here?"

"Well, I can't leave, and you crawled in this morning with a bullet wound in your arm. I thought, you know, you might not want to die from it or anything," Holm huffed, reaching over and yanking open the blinds on the second window. Simon groaned when the light hit his face and rolled over.

"This morning?" he muttered. "What time is it now?"

"About two," Holm replied. "You've been sleeping all day. You'll probably be fine if you get a doctor. I'm not an expert, but I disinfected the wound."

"Yeah, I remember that," Simon glowered. He pushed himself upwards on the pillows, examining his bandaged arm. "Apparently you know what you're doing," he muttered.

"My mom's a nurse," Holm replied. "So I know some things. Anyway, I used your kitchen to make food. I'm assuming you won't mind. There's stuff left; you should probably eat."

"What are you, my mother now?" Simon groused, but he looked half-interested

"For now. Since there's no one else around." Holm went to the side of the bed and reached out for Simon's arm. "Let me see."

The man held up his arm obligingly, and Holm checked the bandages. The wound was bleeding less now, and had barely soaked through the first layer of gauze.

"How do you feel?" Holm asked him, and Simon's lip curled.

"Like shit. How do you think?" he snapped, yanking his arm away, and then wincing. "Fucking hurts."

"Holes torn in your body tend to do that," Holm remarked. "Do you think you can get up?"

"Yes," Simon spat, and sat up. He started to get out of bed, throwing back the covers, then paused.

"Why don't I have clothes?" he demanded, glaring at Holm.

"Because you didn't have them this morning," Holm replied. "I can leave, if you want."

Simon grunted disinterestedly and climbed out of the bed, moving past Holm and going to the closet. Holm heard him rummaging through drawers.

"Yeah, I'll just be…downstairs," he said, already awkward enough without needing to watch Simon get dressed. Simon muttered something unintelligible and probably offensive, and Holm walked out.

He had been prepared for Simon to continue to be a bastard, but it angered him that he was now an ungrateful bastard. Maybe Simon had considered it Holm's duty to help him, since he'd let him stay in his house. Pretty poor fucking trade, Holm thought, reaching the bottom of the stairs and going to the kitchen. The canned soup was on the stove and Holm turned the heat back on and stirred at it morosely.

In a few minutes he heard a noise on the stairs, and turned to see Simon slouching down them, leaning heavily on the banister and still looking horribly pale and sick. He had dressed sloppily, loose jeans and a pale blue Oxford shirt, the buttons misaligned. He had pulled his hair up into a half-ponytail, which revealed the narrowness of his face even more than usual and made him look somewhat effeminate. Holm probably would have made fun of him for it if the man wasn't looking so awful. He made it to the ground floor and practically collapsed onto the blue and sea-green striped couch, tipping his head back into the cushions.

"Hey," Holm called to him. "You want that food?"

Simon nodded wordlessly, and didn't move. If the man didn't look so generally terrible, Holm would have told him to at least come into the kitchen. But at this point he wasn't sure if Simon could even talk let alone get off the couch again.

Holm poured the rest of the soup into the only other clean bowl in the kitchen, briefly considered looking for a tray, then dropped the idea. He plunked a spoon into the bowl and took it over to the living room, putting it on the table in front of the prone man.

"Here," he said, and Simon cracked open one eye.

"Thanks," he said after a moment. He struggled into a sitting position, using only the one arm, and leant forward over his knees. He started to reach out with his left hand, then winced and retracted it quickly.

"Forget that," he muttered, and tried again with his right. By the awkward and ungainly way he accomplished that, Holm knew he'd been right about Simon being left-handed. He would have offered to help, but that would have just meant feeding the man, and there was no way he was offering to do that. Feeling too much like he was watching a severely retarded child, Holm started back to the kitchen. He could clean the dishes; that would be something to do. He'd left his from lunch.

For a while, all he heard was the sound of water running, and the scrub brush hitting the plates. He didn't look to see what Simon was doing, and so he jumped when a voice by the door suddenly said, "hey."

Holm turned. Simon was leaning against the doorframe, hugging it with his shoulders.

"I guess I should take you into town," he said.

Holm threw the scrub brush into the sink with a splash. "Are you kidding? You can barely walk. You could barely eat. You'd run us off the road. We'd die."

The man scowled. "You're so terribly uplifting," he sneered. "What do you propose, then?"

"How about I take your car, or truck, or vespa, or whatever it is you own, into town and call my parents and get you a doctor. How's that for an idea?"

"Like I'd give you my keys."

"What do you think I'm going to do, elope with your vehicle?"

"You wouldn't be the first," Simon muttered, and Holm contorted his face into something between confusion and disbelief. "And I don't need a doctor."

"Right. Sure, Mr. I Only Got Shot A Little. Check it out, you're bleeding again."

Simon looked down at his arm, where the gauze was soaked crimson and a red trickle was snaking down the pale skin of his arm.

"Goddammit!" he barked. "Do I have a fucking femoral artery in my arm or what?"

"It might be because you insist on exerting yourself." Holm grabbed him by the collar of his mis-buttoned shirt and hauled him across to the living room and pushed him down on the couch. "Sit. Stay," he said. "I'm going to get the doctor-type stuff. To fix your ridiculously leaky arm."

"I'm not a dog," Simon snarled, trying to get up. Holm pushed him back down.

"Are you really that bitter that you would bleed to death just to one-up me?"

"I am not bleeding to death from my arm."

"No, because apparently you're bleeding from your femoral artery."

"Shut the fuck up, I can't believe what a smart-ass you are—"

"And I can't believe we're having this conversation. Stay on the fucking couch."

"This is my fucking house, I'll do whatever the fuck I want!"

"Like, oh, I don't know, faint of blood loss?"

"Get the fuck off of me." Simon tried to throw him off, but being thinner, sicker, and weaker than Holm, he failed before he had even really started. Holm pinned him back to the couch, no longer interested in humoring the man.

"By the way," he said peevishly, holding Simon down easily with his arm across the man's chest and gripping his shoulder. "Your femoral artery? Is near your femur."

"Oh my God. Really?" Simon jerked his shoulder away from Holm's grip. "I know where the fucking femoral artery is."

"No, apparently you don't. Now are you going to stay here while I go upstairs?"

Simon sneered at him, but he was panting and sweating, and didn't look in any condition to move. "Where else am I going to go?"

"Fine. I'm going."

"Good. Go," Simon snarled, and Holm went. He wasn't sure if he was more amused or angry, but there was something burning in his chest and it was because of Simon. He had never met anyone who was even vaguely like the man. He wondered if all people who hermitized themselves ended up like this—utterly intolerable but fascinating.

When he came back down with the medicine kit, Simon was slumped to the side with his eyes closed, breathing slowly. Holm though he had fallen asleep again, but then the man cracked open one eye, then struggled back up to a sitting position.

"Took you long enough," he groused.

"Shut up or I won't touch you."

"I would rather you not touch me. Ever."

"Fine. Fix yourself then." Holm shoved the kit into Simon's arms and stalked back towards the kitchen.

"Come back!" Simon hollered after him. "I don't know how to do this shit!"

"Then stop fucking insulting me!" Holm bellowed back. "I'm sick of it!"

"Then why don't you just leave?"

"Because I have a goddamn sense of compassion," Holm snarled. Simon smirked at him.

"Then come compassionate me."

"That's not a fucking word," Holm said, but he went back over to the couch and sat on the table. Simon offered his arm, and Holm took it without a word. He only had enough gauze left to do this once more.

"I'll try and cut down on it," Simon said suddenly after Holm had been working for a few moments.

"What?" Holm said distractedly, gauze between his teeth.

"Insulting you. If, you know, you can't handle it," Simon's sneer seemed like an afterthought.

"Thanks," Holm answered. He paused for a moment, then said, "you need to see a doctor about this."

"No," Simon said immediately. "I told you."

Holm fell silent again, and so did Simon. The man was pale and sweating badly, and Holm almost leant forward to sponge his forehead off with the gauze, but caught himself at the last second. Apparently too much of his mother's profession was rubbing off on him.

"So who eloped with your vespa?" he asked suddenly, and Simon choked out a disbelieving laugh.

"What?" he demanded.

"Well, before. You said I wouldn't be the first if I eloped with your vehicle. So who was it? Sounds like an interesting story. You know, Springer-worth. "My wife left me for a passionate tryst with our Yamaha!"

Simon was laughing, and muffling it, badly, against his wrist.

"Are you some kind of idiot savant?" he said eventually. "Because I don't think I've ever heard anything stupider than half the stuff that comes out of your brain."

Holm smirked. "It doesn't come out of my brain, it comes out of my mouth, and answer the question."

"Okay, fine. No one eloped with anything. It was more like they took off with it. I got out-favored by a hatchback."

"That's harsh."

"Yeah, well, he wasn't exactly high class. Frankly I was glad to get rid of that POS car."

"Frankly I'm amazed anyone put up with you long enough to actually blunder into a relationship." He, Holm thought. He let it slide for the moment.

"It was probably an accident."

"Yeah, maybe you blind-sided him with your appalling charm." Holm ripped off a piece of tape with his teeth and secured the bandages. "There. You're all better."

"Thanks, mom," Simon muttered. "Can I get a cookie and a glass of milk, too?"

"Shut up," Holm replied placidly. "Now, that we've proven you are not better---keys. Tell me where they are."

"What? I said no."

"Look, I can either look for them myself and waste a lot of time, or you could just be a helpful human being for once and tell me where they are. I'll leave my wallet here or something if you're so worried about me running off. I just want to call my parents. And get you a doctor."

"No fucking doctor," Simon snarled, starting forward. "I said that."

"Well, it's that or keeping me around to take care of you, since you can't tell your femoral artery from a—"

"Oh my God, shut up! Shut up! Shut up about the fucking femoral artery! It was a fucking joke! You're such an idiot and I hate you! This is why I hate people! Jesus!" Simon threw himself into the couch cushions and plastered an impressive glower onto his face. Holm just rolled his eyes.

"You're twenty-four?" he said, shaking his head. "I'm skeptic."

Simon shook his head. "I can't believe I even let you into my house," he muttered.

"Tell me where your keys are and I'll leave."

"Yeah, with my truck."

"I'll come back," Holm barked.

Simon's mouth was a pressed, white line. "Upstairs, third drawer down in the dresser," he said after a hard minute. "Get the fuck out."

"Yeah," Holm said, already going for the stairs. "I will."

"But you'd better fucking come back."

"I will."

Alright, next part sometime in early November. Hey, that's soon!