Initially a PWP simply because I once saw a stranger wearing the same jacket (albeit with a leopard print), but then I decided otherwise.
Partly inspired by the manga Loveless by Kouga Yun. Also very vaguely inspired by a particular scene in the anime movie The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (時をかける少女, Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo).
A random, melancholy little tale in simple words and similar sentences.
M/M slash implied.
Sometimes, he noticed the boy who was always in a black jacket, both in school and in the streets. He never did know much about that boy, only that he was in the same year as he himself was, and that his name was Ledin.
Sometimes, he wondered about him.
Sometimes, he wondered not about him, but the two triangular ears on the hood of his jacket, and the small black tail that was attached to the bottom back by a clasp. He seemed like a lost little cat, wandering alone in the corridors even as people snickered and pointed at him, and his strange ears, and his strange tail.
Sometimes, he wished they would stop doing that.
Sometimes, he thought about why the boy would keep wearing the jacket. Perhaps he was exceptionally sensitive to cold. Perhaps it was out of insecurity. Perhaps it meant a lot to him. And perhaps many other things. He never did go forward to ask, and so he never did know.
Other times, he could relate to him — the boy in the black jacket. He often went about his life by himself too, because he was never good at conversation. There were people who were kind and friendly to him, and who also knew he was harmless and merely someone of fewer words than usual.
Maybe Ledin was like him, too.
– – –
He sat down opposite the boy in the black jacket one afternoon during lunch. The boy raised his head, but the hood shielded his face, and he only caught a glimpse of dark hair.
Neither of them spoke a word for the entire hour, only noticing — never simultaneously — what each other ate, and how each other looked like. Peas and carrot, apple juice, fish sticks, tuna sandwich; black shirt, white shirt, pale hands, brown hair, silver watch, shadow after shadow after shadow.
So it was for many other lunch periods, and the boy in the black jacket was always the first to leave. Each time, he would remain in his seat, and wonder what Ledin thought of an unspeaking lunch partner like him, and what the face under the cat-eared hood looked like.
Each time, though, it was Ledin who waited for him by the gates after school, thumbs tucked under the two straps of his bag, hooded face staring at the ground, the fur of the ears ruffling black around dark orange in the winds.
Though they had no inkling of where each other lived, they would walk wherever the road took them, speaking monologues, thinking dialogues, occasionally buying ice-cream from a van nearby, always stopping at a fork in the road to see each other taking the other lane but never following, never asking — least of all the question about the black jacket.
– – –
The night the school staged its annual play, he left the auditorium for the ghostly wings of the building instead. Unlit as they were, each corridor still glowed pale in the moonlight that streamed in from the glass windows, and lay shadows stretching out from under his shoes.
The boy in the black jacket sat against the wall in one of the second-floor classrooms, and he sat down beside him. He saw the pale hands extended from the sleeved arms, clutching at each other between the outstretched legs, and felt his breaths, and heard them.
Amidst the undulating music in the faraway background he asked the only question he had for him.
"Why do you keep wearing this jacket?"
– – –
Ledin said many things to him, many terrible things.
He said that ten years ago, there was a man who took him from the playground and put him into a minivan, which drove him somewhere out of town and far away.
He said the man took him to a flat where there were two other men and a lady, who smiled and fussed over him and promised him lots of toys and placed him in a bath full of nice-smelling soap bubbles.
He said the lady dried him with a towel and told him to sit on the bed in one of the bedrooms, and left with his clothes.
He said one of the men came into the room, and locked the door, and asked what his name was, where he lived, what food and toys and games he liked. Then the man touched his face, and kissed his body, and lay him on the bed, and hurt him.
He said the other two men did the same thing after that.
He said the lady dressed him in his clothes, and kissed his cheek, and drove him back to the playground, where his guardian was nearby fretting and worrying, and drove away again.
He said none of his clothes ever warmed him again after that, except the jacket with the tail and ears.
– – –
He did not know if what Ledin said was true, because his voice had been too matter-of-factly as if he were reading a script. Yet he felt devastated, for the very same reason.
"I'm sorry I asked," he said, weakly.
And the boy in the black jacket reached for him with his arms, and they slipped under his and to his back. He felt the pale face under the hood against his chest, and the pale hands soft on his back, and the ears lightly tickling the corner of his mouth.
He closed his eyes, and wrapped his own arms around Ledin's shoulders, and felt the fur of the ears under his fingers. What right did he have, he wondered, to hold another boy like this, and to remind him of a haunting past? What right did he have to make the boy trust him enough to tell? What right did he have to think that what he did could ever keep the boy safe, the way he wished he could?
Yet in that embrace the boy in the black jacket became the wounded kitten he had always vaguely resembled, and it mewed soft and sad. Under his fingers was a silken mane of black fur, and a slim black tail swished gently behind the feline's back in the half shadows of the night.
When he opened his eyes, Ledin was in his jacket once more, and his head was bowed.
He raised a hesitant hand, and slowly pulled back the hood of the jacket. A delicate face stared at him, along with eyes of the strangest and brightest shade of golden brown.
And a word flashed through his mind the very moment he looked into those eyes he knew he could never forget, and the boy in the black jacket stared back at him all the same.
"Can I . . . can I call you Ginger?" he asked softly.
The boy blinked once, and did not answer; he did not know why he had asked, and he did not expect a reply either. But the moment was over, and Ledin removed himself from him, settling instead by his side, close enough for touch.
From his pocket he took out his mobile phone, and selected the camera function. He held the device at arm's length, and they stared into the tiny lens, and neither of them smiled. There was an ersatz click, and applause rang from far away.
– – –
Ledin had failed terribly in his final year examinations, and the school had expelled him, all to 'uphold its honour', or so it strived.
He heard it from anyone but Ledin himself, and tried to appeal for him in vain. On his last day Ledin waited for him outside the gates as usual, with the cat-eared hood over his head. The boy only smiled, and said, "It's okay," and nothing else.
They paused for a long time when they reached the fork in the road for the final time. His foot fell onto the path towards Ledin's home, but the boy shook his head, and he did not follow. He watched as Ledin and his schoolbag went further down the road, and disappeared into the distance.
"Ledin," he whispered the boy's name, for the very first time. But it felt wrong coming from his mouth, and, ashamed with himself, he abandoned the words that would have come next, and went his lonely way home.
– – –
In the small hours of the morning, his mobile phone rang on a cluttered table.
He half-woke from around a barricade of his portfolio essays and documents, and sat up stiffly in his chair. Then he grabbed the ringing device, and stared wearily at the small screen.
He pressed a green button on the phone, and put it to his ear.
There was no reply.
"Hello? Who is this?"
He stared at the screen, and listened again, and thought he heard the softest of breaths.
For a few minutes neither he nor the caller spoke a word. He did not know who the caller could be, and if it was a prankster it was not a very successful one. Yet it was only after this long stretch of connected silence that he suddenly remembered something he said five months past and, heart pounding, hazarded a guess at the caller's identity.
"Ledin," he said quietly. "Is that you?"
The caller hung up.
– – –
The city in winter was cold and grey. He turned into a busy street, with a laptop case tight in one hand, and a small rock eased from his mind.
His latest freelance project had gone well, and both he and the client were happy with the finalised design of the company website. He would have the money to pay the rent for the next two months, and the time to study for his term examinations.
He walked along the pavement, as people went past unnoticing. When he raised his eyes from the ground, however, a familiar figure caught his eye.
Ledin had paused in his steps, too, while walking from the opposite direction. He was well-dressed, with a classy brown coat and slim black trousers over his svelte frame, and a warm scarf around his neck. Yet the hood which had once covered his delicate face was gone, and those forever shielded eyes gazed into his, amber and beautiful as ever.
With a hand on the young man's back was an older man, in a black fedora and black trench coat and black leather shoes. His blue eyes looked from Ledin, to the person he was looking at — one in a grey overcoat and black shirt — and back to Ledin.
"He's an acquaintance of mine," Ledin told the older man, who nodded to the other young man in question, who nodded in polite return. "Can I meet you in Le Cercle in maybe half an hour's time? I'd like to . . . chat with him for a while."
The older man slid his hand up the back of Ledin's coat, and gave him a sultry smile, and an even one to the stranger in the grey overcoat, before walking off.
– – –
He and Ledin sat on a bench in the city park, with a few inches of cold space separating them. He had bought a cup of chocolate ice-cream from a glum little lady who looked as if she should have headed south, but Ledin had bought a cup of latte from an elegant café nearby.
He offered Ledin some of the ice-cream, but Ledin smiled, and declined.
They said nothing for what seemed like several minutes. Then, he asked Ledin what he had been doing for the past two years.
Ledin smiled again, more to himself than otherwise. "Not much. Just making people happy."
For the second time he wished he had never asked anything. He tightened the grip on his laptop case in his lap, then eased.
"Are you happy, then?" he asked again, quietly.
Ledin looked at him, and he could not bear to gaze back into those eyes once more. "Yes, I think so," the young man replied, in a rather prosaic manner. "The money's good. And I get to live at different places all the time."
". . . So you don't go back home anymore?"
"No, not anymore."
Ledin sipped at his coffee; he took a small spoonful of the ice-cream, and it burnt his tongue.
"I'm happy to have . . . known you, actually," Ledin suddenly said.
He shut his eyes, forcing back something clawing at the inside of his throat. "We could have been much more," he whispered very softly, and bitterly.
Ledin did not reply.
The late afternoon sun dipped behind the skyscrapers, and the sky deepened. He shoved down the rest of the ice-cream to dull whatever that had been in his throat, and the sheer chill of it made him talk.
"I've rented an apartment somewhere near the university — it's just a few streets further down. If you like you can move in there with me, I don't mind. There's space for one more person."
He knew he had no right to plead with the young man to live with him. He knew he had no right to make the young man quit what he had ended up doing. But he had already asked.
Ledin gave him yet another smile — one he hoped was more out of wistfulness than graciousness — and took the empty paper cup from his hands. "It's all right. I'm fine with where I am now," he said.
The young man in the scarf stood up and left the park for a restaurant, one he would be meeting someone else in for dinner. The young man in the grey overcoat continued sitting on the bench alone, wondering and wondering into the early evening.
– – –
He locked the door behind him, tossing the keys onto the already disorganised desk, and sat down against the wall.
It was a humble space, with a small living room doubling as a bedroom, and a tiny kitchen, and a bathroom. Near the window was a desk with a computer, a scanner, a printer and several files and sheaves of papers stacked haphazardly against the corner. It was a home, and a library, and a studio, and what he at twenty could afford only with his savings and his job as a freelancing designer.
So that was what he thought about as he sat there, kneading his head with his hands. He had a string of term examinations beginning from the week after next, and a new project with a new client to meet over the weekend.
And he remembered someone in the past — a boy in a black jacket.
He remembered the triangular ears, and the clip-on tail, and the hood that covered the boy's face. He remembered seeing that face once, and he remembered the story behind that face. Most of all, he remembered those eyes — those beautiful but sad eyes that had looked into his at one time, that he had suppressed the small desire to touch his lips with, as a promise out of the blue.
He imagined the boy living with him in this rented apartment, and imagined returning home one evening to see him in the kitchen, pondering over a cookbook and a bubbling pot. He imagined the boy curled up on the couch, sleeping, while chamber music wafted softly from the radio. He imagined himself gently carrying the boy onto the bed, and letting him sleep in peace for perhaps the first time in years. He imagined, and he smiled in his thoughts.
The boy would wear the black jacket everywhere, even inside the house, and he knew he would let him do that, because he knew the boy felt safe in it, and he knew he would never force him out of it.
Yet at the thought of the young man in the scarf — the young man whom he met today — in the apartment, he gave a shuddering sob, and brushed his eyes with his sleeve.
From inside his damp overcoat he retrieved his mobile phone, and pressed the buttons that navigated him to an old folder inside the storage of the device. In the folder was an image file, and it opened to show a pixellated memory of him and a boy called Ledin, looking into the camera, expressionless, in a classroom on a moonlit night more than three years past.
He was beginning to understand why he had never deleted the only picture of the two of them he ever had, even after this long while.
His fingers touched the cold, smooth screen of shimmering rainbows, and a single tear slid past his closed eyes.
– – –
Ledin sat on the spread of the bed, his legs in striped thigh-length socks of black and grey, and folded flat on his sides. He stared at the dark silken fabric covering the pillows and cool under his body, and touched the black vest of the same material he was wearing, and at the bands on his wrists, and at his neck.
Beyond the French windows, he could see the distant lights of the city, fuzzy behind the veil curtains and the glass that shielded the room from the cold night wind. A hummed tune drifted into the dimly lit room, amidst the rapid streaming of hot water.
Ledin closed his eyes, and clasped his hands under his chin, and quivered.
Alastair was a generous man: he had offered two thousand dollars to Ledin for a full day, including the morning and noon after. But the brief half-hour absence had displeased him slightly, and he had changed the price by two hundred and fifty. The difference would have been much more, if Alastair had noticed how withdrawn his escort had been after the meeting with his 'acquaintance'.
Several times Ledin had told himself that his current client would be the last — yet some of those who had had him before asked for him again, and some of those who had heard of him were interested too. And when they were willing to pay more than what he charged, he would waver, and procrastinate.
He remembered the first time someone had asked for his services in exchange for cash, and how that man had touched him all over, and penetrated him so much that he had screamed in pain. He had put his clothes back on in the middle of the night, while the cruel man slept, and taken his money, and ran to a public phone to dial the only number he could recall. He had suddenly wanted to hear a voice, but when that voice had recognised his presence he had hung up the phone abruptly, and wept hard into the morning.
Yet he also remembered another person, not much older than he was, who booked him one night long after his first. He was gentle, and did not speak much, and had collapsed into confused tears when Ledin had tried to take the clothes off him. They had lay in bed, and the man had told him about a boy he had once loved, but who had died in a recent accident, and how he missed the boy so terribly.
Ledin had held him throughout the night, and refused any payment from him.
The humming ceased, and the sounds of water diminished to an inconstant dripping. Ledin took the black cat-ear hairband from the top of the bedside drawer, and set it into his hair. For the night that followed, he would be Ledin no longer.
Barely a minute passed before he felt a hand touch the rear of his black silk shorts, and run the length of the long, furry tail that extended from them.
"You beautiful creature," Alastair muttered into the cat's other left ear. He put his hands around its small waist, and it purred, nuzzling up against his neck.
The older man was not one of fetishes, though he did not mind the entire feline persona which distinguished his escort from the rest in the district. Nearly twenty minutes later he was sufficiently aroused, and he pushed the little cat from his arms and unlatched its long legs from around his hips, and it tumbled onto the black bed.
"Lie on your stomach, Ginger."
And the young man inside the cat wept deeply, at the name he had adopted for his new self, the very name given by a boy who was now another young man, who could perhaps have loved him and kept him safe regardless of his past, who he should never have allowed himself to think of — for he had tainted himself so much further than he had once been, and never again would he be worthy of that young man and his love.