We must show in our hearts (we must
That there was forgotten love (that there was love)
So we won't exhaust or fall down (you)
We will live as one.
So we won't exhaust or fall down
We will live as one—Outside Castle
Will finds him outside his doorstep one morning, dirty and tired and broken. He hesitates for a good full ten minutes before the boy's shallow, labored breathing and the ashy quality of his skin compels Will to drag him inside, where he deposits him onto the couch, then, after a little thought, the bed.
The boy doesn't wake up during this entire process, and Will almost thinks he is dead—except there is a faint but steady flutter of breath, something which the dead have no need of. He walks into the kitchen, he gets a class of water, and he sits and waits for his mysterious guest to wake up.
Bony arms and legs. Pale skin that would have been nearly translucent save for the unhealthy gray that colors it. A pointed, angular face, made even more accented by the jagged, inky locks that frame it. A slender, aristocratic nose. A pale rosebud of a mouth. And a pair of wide, impossibly wide, black eyes that watch him warily.
"Do you," Will asks, awed and cautious of this boy who perches on his bed, knees drawn up, "do you need to see a doctor?"
"No!" It is a whisper-turned-scream, and the boy (how old is he, no more than sixteen surly?) cowers against the wall. "No, no, no, please—"
"I'm not a doctor," Will says slowly, "I can't help you, and you need help."
"I just need food. Please. Please. No doctor."
Will eyes the knobs of bone jutting from shoulders, elbows, knees. Food is most definitely needed.
"Please…I swear, I won't be trouble or anything. I'll leave if you want me to, just—no doctor—don't call one—"
One last glance. Then, "I don't have much in the way of food. But…you're welcome to whatever there is."
The boy is named Ralph. Ralph eats ravenously, cold pizza and leftover spaghetti, and drinks the cup of water that Will keeps refilling for him as if there's been a drought these last seven years. Ralph sits in an odd manner, perched on the edge of his chair, knees up in a crouch, like he's ready to fly away somewhere. Ralph cannot (does not) hide the wary fear in his eyes every time Will gets too close, or passes near the phone. Ralph goes back to sleep once he has eaten, now curled up under the covers.
Ralph is bereft of a home.
Ralph is without a family.
Ralph is too young to have a real job.
Ralph is a complete mystery, and—
Ralph is beautiful.
Will decides to let him stay, and already he feels a catch in his breath when he looks at the boy, when he thinks about him leaving, flying off.
Housekeeping does not come easily to Ralph, but he tries. Eventually he learns how to not burn the toast; how to scrape eggs and canned tuna together to make some sort of mash; how to keep the dust off what furniture Will actually has; and how to tell insistent visitors that no, they have the wrong house, because this Will Parry doesn't have a brother, a sister, an aunt or an uncle.
"Why won't you talk to them?" Ralph asks him one night as they sit in front of the T.V.
Will gazes blankly as the minister extols the virtue of their country, the seamless blend of secularism and religion in a perfect government. "My family is dead," he says.
"You mean that metaphorically."
"No. I mean that literally. I have no family."
"Why would you ignore your family but take care of a complete stranger?"
"Because you look like my dead brother."
"I've seen your brother. He looks nothing like me."
"You've never seen him. He's dead."
Ralph sighs. "My family is dead. I'm the only one left."
Will glances over at him, face unreadable. "Then I guess we're both all alone in this world."
Will can stop himself from thinking about it, but at night he dreams. He dreams about crippling summer heat, smog-choked air and sticky humidity. His lips press against another's, sweet and hungry. Every night, he dreams about the rough scratch of brick through his thin cotton shirt, back pressed against a wall, hands roaming. A pair of light hazel eyes, sparkling, and a whisper of laughter.
Then he dreams about harsh shouts, blows. A sharp, sudden pain to his head, and he wakes up, sweat pouring down his body. He massages his forehead with his knuckles, as if the pain is real and can be kneaded away.
These nights, the only difference is that he wakes up next to Ralph, who gazes at him with solemn eyes.
He doesn't think about how or why Ralph started to share the bed with him. They don't do anything, anyway. Ralph huddles to one side and Will takes the other; the distance isn't lessened any when morning comes, even when sometimes Will stares at the moonlight on soft skin, slender shoulders, and feels some force of sheer feeling overwhelm him, until he slips out of bed and into the bathroom. There, long, languid strokes push him over the brink, and he comes back to Ralph feeling empty and unfulfilled.
He doesn't think about this either, the same way he doesn't think about the way Ralph flinches whenever the news talks about angels being eradicated, and thank goodness, good riddance to an abomination. "They're people, too," he whispers, and leaves to his—their—room.
Will knows the theology about the angels. Descendants of the angels who rebelled against God and fell to earth. Spawn of the evil. Abominations. He doesn't spare too much thought (he can't or else—) to debate it one way or another. Sometimes, though, it makes him remember other eyes, other voices calling for help, and then—gone. Every time, he closes his eyes and pushes it away.
The day the minister makes a public speech announcing that the last of the angels have been eliminated, the last pack wiped out, Ralph drops the dish that he is cleaning. His face blanches, but there is no other reaction, not even when the screen flashes to a pile of corpses being thrown into a ditch; he merely closes his eyes. For once, Will notices, really notices that Ralph's expression is the expression of someone who has no tears to cry anymore. It is set and still, numb.
"Ralph?" he asks. "Are you okay?"
"Y-Yes." The boy bends down and carefully picks up the fragments of the dishes. "I'm just—it's just a surprise, that's all." He throws the pieces away, then whispers, "I think…I think I'll just go to our room."
Will sits at the sofa after Ralph disappears. That look on the boy's face—he knows it. Once, he sat in front of a mirror and saw the same expression on his own face.
"He's dead," they said to him. "Killed right outside our door. Disgusting. Though he did deserve it, the sicko, going around and touching innocent boys," and Will passed a hand over his lips and felt tainted.
Now he gets up from the couch, walks past their room. Ralph isn't in there, but from the bathroom the sound of water drifts. He puts a hand on the doorknob and twists—the lock has never worked.
Steam is curling everywhere, in whorls and twisted shapes. Will thinks that the water must be scalding, and it is, he discovers when he looks into the tub and sees Ralph. The boy's skin is pink, a delicate flush from the steaming water he is standing under. What is he trying to do, Will wonders, burn himself clean? He steps closer, and Ralph turns. His eyes are wide, water trickling down the curve of his cheekbones, the slope of his neck and shoulders. Will takes a shuddering breath and steps into the shower, clothes and all.
The water burns him. He doesn't flinch. But Ralph backs up against the tiled walls. "D-Don't," he whimpers as Will reaches out and touches him. Without speaking, Will pulls Ralph toward him and runs a hand down his back. There are two knobs there, spaced evenly apart. A protrusion of bone. Will imagines the muscles that used to be there, probably in some ancient ancestor; muscles that contracted then expanded, to unfurl in an explosion of feathers, a graceful arc of white.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asks.
Ralph closes his eyes, to hide the fear in them. "Because…you would have reported me."
"No. I wouldn't have." He finds this to be true.
"Why not?" It is a whisper. "I'm dirty. I'm an abomination."
"Because…you remind me of someone."
"Your dead brother?"
"I never had one."
"Then I guess we're both really all alone in the world."
Oh, we are, we are, he thinks, so he pulls Ralph closer, closer, and then their lips meet. He thinks again of tainted lips, his, and tainted hands, his, and he presses himself closer to this boy who is fallen through no fault of his own and begs for forgiveness.
At night he still remembers. He can never forget, and he knows that. But now when he remembers he remembers a pair of light hazel brown eyes, sparkling, and the memory of a smile that fades again as he wakes to Ralph breathing peacefully next to him, the two of them alone, together.
A/n: So... this story kind of confuses me. It still confuses me. I set out writing it with a vague idea and it just took shape, with some help from the song "Outside Castle," by the Korean band H.O.T. I highly recommend you search it on YouTube or something; not only is the music gorgeous, but the video is as well. The choreography is amazing. Lyrics can be found here: