Beauty and the Deceased:: Chapter2
They sat and fell into a staring match, one Alec had no hope of winning with blinking fast becoming a thing of habit on Will's part—an act he only did when he happened to think about it—rather than a necessary bodily function. In the silence, a cat meowed in one of the apartment's back rooms. The effect would have almost been funny like the cricket sound in movies after the character tries to make a joke, but neither of them laughed.
Will leaned back in his chair. "Okay. One word—damn. That has got to be the most fucked up thing you've ever said. You'll probably top it in the next couple minutes, but, hey…"
It would probably be safe to say that hadn't been the answer Alec expected. He mirrored Will's movement by leaning across the counter. "Oh really?" he said. "That you aren't breathing is the stupidest thing you've ever heard me say? Even considering my history of loser alternate lifestyle queerness that you are oh so considerate and understanding about?"
Will made a gesture as if to say, There. "You topped it. It's like some sick personal goal you have with yourself. Every time you open your mouth, be a little stupider than last time. And please tell me that was sarcasm I heard," he said, and he hurried on just as Alec took a breath to defend himself. "Know what? Don't say anything. Just shut up and listen, here's the deal. Of course I'm breathing. If you watch closely, I might even do it again. And that's ridiculous to say I'm not breathing, I mean… Jesus. How could I be speaking if I didn't have air?" As if it hadn't taken him a few tries to figure out that very thing. "And who the fuck even notices things like that? It's 'cause you're goth, isn't it? Or emo, something. You just assume on principle that everyone is dead on the inside."
Throwing his hands limply to his sides, Alec gestured to his body. "Do I look goth or emo to you?"
In all honesty he looked more like what goths, or emos, (whatever, like it was actually worth the effort for Will to learn the specifics) wished they could look like without spending so much time and money. The most jealousy-inducing part was probably how he'd defied puberty by maintaining a bloomless complexion. Of course, that certain translucence of his skin also made it seem like he'd been living in a basement all his life, but that could be part of the jealousy, too.
Will studied a swirly green and purple blown-glass vase on the counter to avoid looking at Alec more. "Well, uh… today you don't. Mostly. I guess your jeans are more baggy than usual. By which I mean you're wearing guys' jeans."
Alec's head tilted to the side. "You do realize it isn't all just about who's wearing the tighter pants, right?"
"Yeah, sure. I knew that." Will shrugged offhandedly and Alec crossed his arms over his chest, looking unimpressed. "Come on, everyone knows that," Will added. "What I meant was, I always thought it was like herpes and you if catch it you never get rid of it completely."
Alec gave him a long look and blinked slowly. "I wish you were kidding, but you're being completely honest, aren't you?" His hands folded themselves back behind his head and he raised his shoulders in a half-shrug. "Whatever, I don't really care. Who am I to judge if you don't want to breathe?"
Right. They'd been talking about his breathing. "Well you should, because it's one of those… natural occurrences," Will said, jabbing the air with his finger to enforce the idea, though Alec's eyes rolled at Will's struggle to find an appropriately smart sounding phrase. "It's not something to be idly questioned."
"Not something to be idly questioned? Like blinking?" Alec suggested, looking Will over like a psychiatrist studying a particularly interesting raving lunatic.
Will cursed himself and forced himself to blink in response. How was he supposed to fucking remember all these things at once? It was hard enough just to coordinate breathing with the whole vocal cord trick, and then there was blinking now on top of that…
He inhaled deeply and felt a dull twinge on the edges of his lungs, the feel of muscles stretching and pushing bones and organs aside. He stopped and let some of the air out. "Anyway, the point is I'm just like any normal person. I'm very normal, as far as normal goes. The point is there is absolutely nothing strange about me in the least."
"Besides your peer-induced Scroogish demeanor, extraordinary low I.Q. and general lack of compassion for all fellow human beings, I'd have to agree," Alec assured him. "I'd also like to bring to your attention the fact that I don't care."
"Good, Mister I'm-Not-Emo. That means you can shut the fuck up until I'm finished talking. But, um. How did we get on this subject anyway? I mean, me not breathing? That's silly. That's just crazy talk, right there."
Alec sighed and his head fell limp over the back of his chair. "Okay, you're breathing. Fine. I'm sorry for bringing it up. It's obviously a very sensitive subject for you." His head rolled back into a semi-upright position, and he gave Will a curiously engrossed stare. "Are you bugged?"
"Uh, am I…?"
"Bugged. Are you recording this?"
It occurred to Will for the first time that they were perhaps not as close to being on the same wavelength as he had thought. "Uh, no. Why would I be recording this?"
"Because this reeks of one of your lame antics and if you were trying to scare me I'm sure the rest of them would've wanted to see it. Especially considering all the work that's gone into this one," he muttered, pointing vaguely around at other parts of Will's person.
"I'm not recording this."
"Then what are you here for, if not for recording this and not for your... breathing?" His eyes narrowed as Will thought of something to say. "I don't mean to idly question, but you're doing it again."
Will watched out of the corner of his eye as Alec got up and walked toward him around the bar. "Doing what?"
Alec went past him and disappeared out of his peripheral, but Will didn't turn around. Having him back there unsupervised made Will uncomfortable, but his vision of Alec looming behind him getting ready to swing a cast-iron skillet at his head was childish. Really. What could be any worse than his current state? That is, if he actually was dead, not just… stuck in some biological misunderstanding. But zombies were supposed to burn really well, weren't they? Maybe he was back there strapping on a flamethrower.
"You don't really believe what you're saying," said Will. "Do you?"
Alec, out of sight and sounding darkly amused. "I don't?" Will listened to him messing about by the couches in the living room. Looking for a box of matches, insisted Will's shoulder pessimist.
"No." Will tiptoed around his words. The conversation was a minefield. "Because it's impossible to not be breathing and still function. Can we agree on that? If you believed I wasn't breathing, and really thought about it, you'd be running out of here screaming like a banshee on a bad LSD trip."
There was the slightest of pauses. "Well, I'm not running. This may be hard for you to believe, since the sun revolves around you and all that, but I honestly don't care about your respiratory tribulations."
"That's what I mean. You've missed the big picture," Will said. "You still think it's a trick, or there's some reasonable explanation, or the curtains are going to part and you'll see the man at the controls and tell him to quit it, or you'll wake up and it'll somehow all be better." He stumbled with his words, and it had been a bit too gushy at that. The silence behind him was heavy, thoughtful. Alec was probably picking apart every word, inspecting for hidden meaning. Will turned around. "So I'm not breathing. Hypothetically. Is that explainable? It could be a coma where I'm awake or something, couldn't it?"
Alec stood only a few feet away and turned and leaned back against one of the couches when he realized Will was looking at him. He ran a hand through his thick hair and stared out with a faraway look in his eyes. "I have no idea what you just went off about," he admitted in a calm voice. "Could you paraphrase?"
Will said sharply, "What the fuck is wrong with me?" and Alec's daydream expression lifted. He settled back into the familiar fed-up frown.
"Besides?" Alec said, almost playfully. "Could you be more specific?"
"Besides being dead, smart-ass," said Will in a pretend patient voice. "Try to keep up. And bugging me to get you freaking out on camera doesn't even sound like something we would do."
Alec laughed a little. "That sounds exactly like something you would do," he said and suddenly tilted his head to the side, as if hoping if he turned his other ear to the front he would hear it correctly. "Dead?" he repeated.
"Yes. Dead. If I'm not breathing then what's the explanation? Are there any medical conditions that make people look like they're dead when they're not?"
Alec looked him over. "Not like what you're saying, but I'm confused. Are you breathing or aren't you? Because you adamantly denied you weren't, and now you're admitting that you aren't, but you're dead too?"
It was almost paralyzing, the mix of Alec's blindness and Will not wanting to completely give himself over. Will had to brace himself a little before answering. He wouldn't be able to take back later if Alec planned on continuing to be stubborn.
"Yes, I'm not breathing," Will said, wishing there had been a way to not let himself look like he didn't know what he was doing, and seeing with a flash of gloomy insight he couldn't have picked a worse person to put all his hopes on. The least he could've done was pick someone he didn't hate and who didn't hate him back with even more enthusiasm.
Slowly, Alec raised his shoulders in a shrug. "Look, I don't mean to sound… unappreciative of the effort you've put into this. It must have taken at least a week to get that rambling, rather nonsensical speech memorized. And the makeup, while unrealistic, overdone and devoid of any artistic vision, probably took a lot of work as well. I'll acknowledge that, at least. Bravo."
Will's head whipped around. "Makeup? What makeup? In what universe would I ever wear makeup?"
"Gee. Let me think." Alec bit his lip and made a deep-in-thought face. "Oh wait, that's right. This one."
"I'm not wearing makeup. There's no way I'd ever wear makeup. Ever. Like, seriously."
Alec scoffed. "Please. If they asked you to, you'd roll in it. But the point is, I don't mean to, you know, belittle your sacrifices and hard work," he said, sounding more and more like some memo-spewing asshole of a CEO, and not a particularly kind one at that, "but I'm just not in the mood for it. I bet if I was in your place and you were in mine I'd be getting a kick out of it, but it's stale, you know? Is it even fun doing it to me anymore? I'm sure there's some recently-outed freshman who would've welcomed the chance to experience hate crimes in high school before they got to the real world."
Will raised his eyebrows. "It is so hard to tell anymore, but I'm going to out on a limb and say you're not serious."
"If it was a tossup between harassing me and harassing some random 9th-grader I'd much prefer you pick on me." Alec shook his head and laughed. "This is ridiculous. You are bugged, aren't you? There's no other reason for this."
He fought the urge to throw his mug at Alec's face, less and less sure why he was fighting the urge in the first place. "What would you do if I was dead?" he said, turning back to the counter again with a faux huff of irritation. Faux huff, not irritation.
He could almost feel Alec shrug. "Celebrate?"
"No, like, right now. If I was dead, right now, now as I'm talking to you."
Will's mouth split in a grim smile. "I thought so. You don't actually believe what you're saying when you say 'Oh Will, you aren't breathing!'."
"You're doing it again," Alec said.
And believing, foolishly, that he knew the punch line, Will said, "Not breathing? Not blinking? Something else I've forgotten about?" He spun around in the high chair till they were facing each other.
So Alec's answer hit him square between the eyes. "Being a patronizing asshole."
Will smirked and gave a small, breathy laugh. "I would so love to break you. Throw you out the friggin' window. You as a bloody mass on the sidewalk? Very attractive."
Alec came back into the kitchen with an armful of heavy candy-colored candles, pretending to be shocked. "But Will, that would be murder. And we both know you're not quite bright enough to get away with it." Gracious enough to point out the obvious flaw in Will's plan.
They glared, daring each other to be the one to break the silence.
"Anyway," said Will, but making it clear in his voice there were loads of other things he would rather have been doing than talking to Alec right then. "Let's examine the facts. I'm not breathing. I'm sitting here talking to you. There are no medical conditions that explain all of the above. Can I be completely honest with you?"
"For some reason it makes me sick to my stomach when you say that," Alec said, arranging the candles on either side of them on the counter.
Will ignored him. "I think I'm dead. Like, really dead."
"That might be why," Alec muttered to himself. He sighed again, but it was overly dramatic, and his tone was pure theatrics. "Okay. So, taking a look at this sudden confession along with the rest of the evidence, I'd have to say my diagnosis is still… prank." He accentuated the last word by pulling out an electric fire starter from his pocket and igniting it with a punch of his thumb.
Will stared at it as Alec lit the candles. He didn't feel any sudden fear, nothing that could be called instinctual, but all the same he eased away from the counter. "This probably doesn't make any sense to you right now, but that isn't very helpful. What would you do," Will said again, "if I was dead? You know. Theoretically."
"Is this a trick question? I'd call a mortician," Alec said. "Or the police, maybe. I guess it depends on how I found you. What exactly do you mean, dead?"
"Apparently a different kind of dead than what you're thinking of," said Will. He found it difficult to look away from the tip of the lighter as it passed from candle to candle, but with a little effort pried his eyes away. "Why do you have to light so many?"
From the expressionless way Alec was looking back at him, he'd been monitoring Will's trance for several seconds. "Because you smell," he said humorlessly. "These are all scented."
"Couldn't you spray something out of an aerosol can? These all smell like crap."
"No, you smell like crap," said Alec, painfully close to sounding patient. "These smell like Lavender Lullaby, Rose Riviera, and Pumpkin Paradise."
Will picked dirt out from under the nails that were still intact. "I smell?"
"When I said you smelled I was being polite, let's put it that way."
"Okay, next question and be honest. Would you say I smell like crap," Will said, looking up, "or rotting flesh?"
Alec let his thumb off of the lighter and the flame went out. There was something about the abrupt manner of it Will didn't like, along with the way Alec was suddenly giving Will every bit of his attention. "You really think you're dead."
"No, I'm just holding my breath." And he had every right to sound irritated about it. "For the heck of it, Alec. Honestly."
After a short time Alec sat back down at the bar. "Want to hear what I think this all is?"
"Sure," Will said, glaring out from under his hat. "I could use another laugh. Just don't say 'prank' again. That one's stale."
"You've spent the last week at some jerk group retreat doing drugs and you haven't come off it yet. Sound familiar?"
"If by familiar you mean I've been listening to you rant about it for the last ten minutes, yeah." Will couldn't help but feel disappointed. He'd felt like they were actually getting somewhere, like Alec was actually getting it. He emulated Alec's detached tone. "If not, then I have no idea. Can't remember much of last week, to tell you the truth."
"That kind of settles it, wouldn't you say?"
"Sure. Sounds dandy. Between drugs and pranks, you've got a good working theory going there," said Will as he laid his hands down, palms up, in front of them on the counter. "But first thing's first."
"What?" It would have been hardly noticeable if Alec hadn't been sitting so still, but Alec moved away from the counter as Will put his hands down.
"Check my pulse again. For the record."
"What's the point? There's obviously some trick to it I'm not getting."
"Check my fucking pulse." Touching Will was clearly the last thing Alec wanted to do, either because of simple hate or he thought it was another part of the prank unfolding, but Alec brought his hands up above the counter without another word. The apartment got quiet again. Will only heard the sound of one person breathing.
With not even an inch to go before actually making contact with Will's skin, Alec stopped. Slowly, feeling as though he was stepping right into a trap, Will followed Alec's eyes down. By then and in comparison to Will's bigger dilemma, it wasn't as surprising to see the bruises, faded almost to nothing but wrapped all around his wrists like painted-on bracelets. The only thing even a little worrisome about seeing the marks on his own body, Will thought, was that he had no idea how they got there.
As though on some secret signal, they both glanced up at each other at the same time. Alec's eyes, questioning, sought him out but Will turned his head to the side. "Is there a reason you're taking so long? Just do it already."
He heard Alec give a small sigh and his fingertips touched down on his wrists. At first they only touched, tiny spots of fire on Will's cool skin, but a short second later Alec curled his hands almost shyly around Will's wrists, completely covering the ghost bruises and holding them like he expected at any moment to be thrown off.
Will waited, feeling charitably patient and strangely embarrassed. At last Alec lifted his hands away, looking nervous but trying to hide it. "I don't think I'm doing it right."
"Do you have a stethoscope or something?"
Alec did. He fished it out of his mother's room and came back into the kitchen, absentmindedly putting it into his ears. Will glared.
"Why do you have to do it?"
"I thought it was for the record, in which case it wouldn't make sense for you to do it. It works better if someone else does it, anyway. Don't worry, I'm not going to make you take off your clothes," Alec said as he held the end of it over Will's heart. Alec hesitated, and then pressed harder against the scrub Will had stolen from the hospital, moving the end of the stethoscope around in larger and larger circles. "Breathe," he ordered finally.
"What the hell does it matter if I breathe or not?" Will asked. "You're not taking my blood pressure. It's zero, in case you're wondering. I'm way down this month."
"Just do it," Alec said, and Will smugly heard the first tremor of uncertainty in his voice. He breathed and Alec listened before pulling away and, putting a few feet between them, turned his back to Will.
Will could guess what he was doing and grinned. "Thought you said it worked best when someone else did it."
"I wanted to make sure it wasn't broken!" Alec took it out of his ears and came back to the bar, holding the stethoscope in his hands like a fallen comrade. Will wouldn't have been surprised if Alec had started pacing and muttering in a half-crazed way. "This can't be right. It's a bad joke, but it's still a joke, isn't it?"
"Who's laughing?" said Will.
"Levi, probably," Alec muttered, dropping the anxiety in a second and sitting down again opposite Will. "And all the rest of you." He folded his arms across his chest and exhaled slowly. "Are you going to leave yet or do we have to play this out more?"
Will practiced a sigh. "Let's just say, for the sake of the public service of putting you in an early grave, the stethoscope was broken. Any other way of testing it?"
He couldn't stop from flinching away as Alec leaned his body over the counter, elbows on the fake marble, and put his hands on Will's neck over where the blood should have been pounding merrily away. The instant Alec made contact Will felt a shiver had run down his spine. It reminded him more of what he always thought ghost limbs felt like on amputees, but it was more like walking unexpectedly into a warm room.
It took Will longer to realize it wasn't really there. He imagined it so vividly he could almost feel it, but there was no actual shiver down his spine and he was left frozen and feeling abandoned, peering into Alec's face only a few inches away, waiting for him to look back.
"You look a little startled," Alec said harmlessly, refusing to so much as glance up through his eyelashes. "Afraid I was going to strangle you?"
Because that would have so thrown off his breathing. "More afraid of catching your gay," Will replied too late to count as a flippant reply, but it made the vocal intonation equivalent of flipping Alec off. So that was good.
"Right," Alec spat. "Your pure hetero skin. You know, in some countries people might be afraid of insulting someone who had their hands so close to their throat."
"Some countries are more dependent on oxygen than I am." The words sounded hollow, possibly because he had in fact mellowed out, becoming very still and quiet. Just his luck some old human instinct not to fuss when something's wrapped around your neck would rear its head right when it didn't make a lick of difference whether Alec accidentally crushed his windpipe or not.
The hands slid up towards Will's jaw line, then down, fingertips forcing his chin up in search for the nonexistent pulse. At first he thought Alec had a fever, or it was another ghost sensation, because Alec's hands burned where they touched. It warmed his skin so Will felt the trails of heat several seconds after Alec had moved on. But no ghost sensations this time, just body heat, like when he'd touched Will's wrists. With Alec internally heated around some twenty to thirty degrees above Will's room core temperature, of course it would be impossible not to notice the fiercely warm air along the side of his neck as Alec exhaled. Of course.
Just another reminder. It made Will almost home-sick. Life-sick. A nod to what he didn't have, possibly wouldn't have ever again. Unless he moved to the equator.
But this was leagues more intense than when Alec searched for his pulse in his wrists. The heat bore down on him, made it hard to think. It felt like it was spreading, too. He hadn't been aware of how cold he was until just then. "Won't be able to talk if you press any harder," Will almost slurred.
"No complaints there," Alec said under his breath.
"Do you even feel anything?"
The question finally knocked Alec out of his find-the-pulse trance, and he pulled his hands back as if he'd been shocked. Boneless, Will slumped forward till his forehead hit the counter.
There was a pause.
"What's wrong with you?" Alec said. There was some way he said it that made it an accusation rather than a question somehow related to Will's lack of pulse.
Will rolled his head to the side, but couldn't see Alec. "You're gonna have to be more specific," he mumbled and used his hands to prop himself up. The sudden weakness had vanished as fast as the heat from the phantom shiver and Alec's hands.
"Why'd you fall over?"
Will would have laughed. "I have no idea what the fuck that was. It was like… um. When you stand up fast and black out? Only more like you stand up fast and all your bones turn into rubber and your muscles dissolve and it's in a sauna when it happens. But only a little bit. It's fine."
"Okay, but I asked what's wrong with you, not what's wrong. Implying that I don't actually care if you're fine or not, and I'm more concerned about your mental stability at that." Alec met Will's gaze and Will found himself almost in love with Alec's sudden apprehension and uncertainty. It made him ridiculously happy Alec had no poker face, and he hadn't noticed it before but Alec's lies practically announced themselves as they left his mouth. Which probably explained why he'd been asking Will about everything but his pulse.
"That it must be weird," Will said. His body was back to being cold again.
Alec's eyes widened. "What's weird?" he said defensively, as though he knew the answer and was only hoping the answer wasn't exactly what he thought it was.
"The feeling where you suddenly became aware that, of the two people in your apartment, you're the only one whose heart is beating."
A second of horror on his face, then Alec stood up, pushing himself almost violently away from the counter, from Will. "First of all, I don't know what you're talking about," he said, and Will ticked it off gleefully in his head: lie. "Second of all, I want to know how you're doing that." Will stared at him hard and didn't say anything. "How are you doing that?" Alec repeated.
He'd been fighting to keep a serious look on his face, but almost on a whim Will smiled. "What do you know," he said, "about zombies?"
A/N: Thank you all for your time in reading and all the feedback, especially to: peach, Lost Griffin, CatseyeRose, wizzan, the agent j, happilynuts, Vera Dicere, gummybaby, vimaro22, Osunale, Liviania, KnittingKneedle, -Iaabi'SabeL, abbybyrd, Nikki, emoteddybear, magalina, plumblossom, merrymowmow, Mademoiselle Rouge, and Amindaya, who gave the time to review! I'm totally blown away over twenty-one reviews on the first chapter. I'm not worthy! ((hunches over keyboard, keeps writing))