This is going to be the last new story I'm starting, I promise! Anyway, I really like this one, so please let me know how I'm doing! Thanks for reading!


Atlas
Chapitre Un


Matthew's hesitance was unnoticed. Brown eyes flickered at the crouched figure, unsure, wary, and for a brief moment he considered moving closer. To do what? Inquire? Provide consolation? Perhaps. He knew it wouldn't do much anyway. Jacob had a tendency of shutting out the rest of the world in these instances, after all. Even if he bothered himself with the man's business, though he always did in the end, he'd probably be ignored anyway.

But after Jacob remained still for several more moments, head bowed as he'd found him, Matthew decided it would only be for the best if he helped his friend. Who else would bring Jacob back on his feet, if not Matthew? And having known the man since high school, Matthew knew well that Jacob wasn't capable of doing it on his own.

Matthew ran a hand through his brown hair before clearing his throat. It was more for his own sake, though Jacob hadn't responded to the noise. He sighed, quietly, and he shut his eyes to think of his first words before asking, "You okay?"

No response.

He didn't try again in a louder voice, because he knew Jacob wouldn't respond regardless his volume. He was used to it; if things were as he expected them to be, this wasn't the first time he'd found Jacob like this. In fact, Matthew was quite used to it, rather unfortunately. It hurt him, to see Jacob moody and angry more often than Jacob should've been upset. At the least, if Jacob was doomed to such a fate, at least Matthew was still able to bring Jacob back up and running, however long that always took.

This time? Matthew hoped it didn't take too long.

When Jacob still showed no sign of life, Matthew went off to fetch the man a glass of water, patting Jacob's back gently as he passed. He wondered, briefly, who the girl was this time. There had been... Nicole, was it? She'd passed by the apartment the other night, looking for Jacob and asking Matthew to relay a message. She seemed decent, though. Not capable of turning Jacob into this mess. Then again, that girl Hannah had seemed nice, and she'd probably caused him the most damage.

Some of them had legitimate reasons. The very first time this had happened, back in their senior year of high school, Jacob had been dating a girl named Michelle. They'd been well, but even Matthew could sense from miles away that their relationship was slowly dying. He even thought Michelle had gone about it nicely; their breakup could have been much worse. Yet it still tore Jacob apart, leaving Matthew to pick up the pieces for the first time among many soon to follow. Though he never told Jacob, Matthew knew that having stayed with Michelle longer would've broken him far worse than having it ended it then.

But most of them, unfortunately, weren't so well. Like that girl Ashley, who'd been sweet for about two weeks before admitting she'd only been in the relationship as part of a bet. And then there was that girl Tiffany, who'd slept with his brother after a week into their relationship. There had to have been ten girls by now - no, more than - and most of them had ended in, well, a broken heart moping at their kitchen table.

Sighing once more, Matthew returned with the glass. "Here, it'll help," Matthew whispered softly, placing the glass slightly to his left. He'd learned from previous times not to place it directly in front of Jacob; once, in a fit of emotional rage, Jacob had swiped the glass off the table and onto the floor.

Jacob remained unresponsive. Sometimes Matthew wondered why Jacob allowed himself to keep doing this. Not that dating women was exactly his fault, and not that each woman breaking his heart for one reason or another was his fault either. But he still willingly entered relationships afterward, right? Wasn't his willingness to open his heart again the very reason he kept getting hurt?

But then, if he didn't, you would have no more pieces to pick up.

Matthew cursed himself internally for his stray thought before turning back to Jacob. Still unresponsive. He wondered again what had happened this time around. Jacob did seem much more out of it this time around, and his unresponsiveness was beginning to worry Matthew. Not that he ever took such a short amount of time to fully recover, if he ever did, but at least by now Jacob would've said something.

As a result, after a few more moments, Matthew willed himself that further prodding would do nothing to help Jacob open up. He bit his lip and shut his eyes and hoped Jacob would be all right, and when he opened his eyes once more he whispered, "I'll be in my room if you need me, all right?"

He swore he'd heard an affirming grunt as he'd left the kitchen and passed into the hallway leading to his room. But then, he might've just been imagining it.

-.-.-.-

Matthew was hesitant in leaving him at home by himself, despite the fact that Jacob was a fully grown man with a college degree. After all, Jacob had not seemed to move after two hours, when Matthew had entered the kitchen, dressed in his work uniform, to fetch his car keys. He frowned at the sight, frowned more upon realizing Jacob's gaze was still empty and downcast. But then he noticed the glass of water had been emptied, which was encouragement enough, though still little, to leave for work.

He was running late, though it was nothing surprising. The interstate didn't want Matthew to ever get to work on time, it seemed, as it was only nice to him when he was already late. In the days he left the apartment early, there would be traffic waiting for him. He was grateful enough that his boss was sympathetic towards his problems of being late, that she didn't have him fired or the like. He needed the money for his portion of the rent, after all, and with the state of the economy, how would he survive if he lost his job?

For the moment, he was working at the local movie theater. It'd been a job he'd kept since his first years in college, a job he was afraid of letting go due to a lack of job opportunities. Even with a degree in civil engineering, jobs were scarce; he wanted to eventually pursue something in architecture, which required graduate work towards a master's degree, and there was no way he could afford something like that at the moment. So instead he chose to remain in the limbo that was between graduating, getting a job, and pursuing even more education.

And Jacob was in the same situation, anyway, stranded and clinging onto a part-time job that wasn't quite suited for the degree he'd spent a little over four years to earn. As far as Matthew figured, might as well go at it with a friend.

He arrived fifteen minutes later than he should have, though no one commented on it. He put himself to work immediately. At first it seemed slow, because he couldn't stop worrying about how Jacob was doing back at the apartment. He should've put away that glass, now that he thought about it. Now there was a chance he'd have to pick up broken pieces of glass when he got home, and after eight hours of work that wasn't a task he particularly wanted to undertake.

After a while, though, his thoughts of Jacob became more of a distraction than a mind plague, and instead of slowing down time it ended up helping the time pass more quickly. He barely registered the number of hours that had passed when his boss had told him to go on break, and if it weren't for the clock he would've called her a liar.

He wondered, briefly, as he filled a plastic cup with water, how Jacob was doing. Not that he hadn't already wondered, but the more hours that passed the more worried he became. Jacob was old enough to take care of himself, naturally, yet Matthew still didn't trust the man with his own thoughts. Well, he did, obviously, or he wouldn't have gone to work. Yet there was still that --

"You look like your mother just passed away," said a voice in his ear suddenly, and in his absorption Matthew was caught by surprise; he recoiled from the voice and stood up abruptly, noting briefly that it was merely Ashley before realizing the stained water now on his pants. "She didn't though, did she?"

"She didn't what? Who's she?"

"Your mother," replied Ashley. "She didn't really die, did she?"

"Ah... no." The girl Ashley nodded before offering Matthew paper napkins, which he gratefully accepted, and with a sigh she took a seat at the table at which Matthew had been previously seated. This Ashley was not to be confused with the Ashley who'd dated Jacob as part of a bet. No, Matthew trusted this Ashley more, or at least at the limits of a coworker. She was only seventeen, after all, who still seemed to be conflicted with boy troubles and high school drama. Or so he thought, at least, because Ashley never really mentioned her problems around him.

"Good. I would've felt like a jerk if she had." Ashley smiled for a moment, but it faded rather quickly. "Well hey now, if it's not your mother, then...?"

"Jacob," Matthew said simply, and Ashley gave an understanding nod.

"Ah. The elusive roommate," she said melodramatically, and though Matthew wasn't quite sure what made him so elusive, he affirmed the statement anyway. "Same shit at last time, or...?"

"Same. As always." She nodded knowingly, even though Matthew hadn't really told her much. Nor had I intended to, Matthew reminded himself. If it hadn't been for that time, after Tiffany, in which Matthew had arrived to work in a complete emotional wreck, she may never have found out. But instead the girl Ashley knew about the heartbroken roommate Jacob and how Matthew was always trying to get him back on his feet.

Only because no one else will, if not me, he said to himself, and his mind scoffed at the partial lie.

But as far as Ashley knew, Matthew only stressed over it because he hated seeing his friend in that state. She knew nothing about why he hated seeing Jacob like this so much. She knew nothing about the things that went on inside his own head.

"And I suppose you're moping about it because you haven't fixed him yet?" Ashley deduced, and Matthew didn't bother trying to deny her speculation. "Look, I'm sure he's fine. You can't expect him to get over it after only a few--"

"I know," Matthew interjected, completely missing Ashley's last few words. "It's just, he seemed so... sad."

"As opposed to?"

Matthew glared in her direction. "You know what I mean. Empty, that kind of sad. Wouldn't even respond to me. Normally he'd at least try to convince me he's all right, even if he never was." He sighed, running his hand through his bangs and clenching a fistful of his hair. "I just... worry about him. Wonder why he still puts up with it."

"Why he puts up with it?" Ashley echoed, with a hint of curiosity.

"Yeah. Why he still falls in love if this is all it gets him."

"Did you think it might be--" but she stopped there. Matthew eyed her curiously, expectantly, but she only twirled her hair through her thin blonde hair before shaking her head and turning away. "Er, nothing."

"What were you about to say?" Matthew tried again, but Ashley bit her lip and shook her head.

"Nothing. I'll tell you later when it's true, I guess. I don't wanna say stuff about your friend when I barely know him." She tried to smile, but it faltered when Matthew's spirits deflated visibly. Sighing, she shook her head and said, "You know, for a twenty-four-year-old man, you seem to have a lot more drama shit than I do."

"Twenty-three, thank you very much," Matthew snapped, but it had been enough. He took one look at the grin that had formed on Ashley's face, and within moments he too couldn't help but to grin with her. And there, right there, was one of the reasons he didn't mind finding consolation in Ashley, now that she knew his problems. One day he'd return the favor, somehow.

"Break's up," Ashley remarked, glancing at the time, and upon following her gaze Matthew sighed. But he took another glance at Ashley, who'd said "He'll be fine. Trust me," and nodded resolutely before returning to work.

-.-.-.-

The lights in the apartment were all off upon his arrival home. At first Matthew panicked--natural instinct, perhaps--but then he calmed down slightly, when the quietness of the house began to set in. It could be worse, right?--there weren't any ambulances parked outside or anything. But still, Matthew was still slightly anxious as to where Jacob was and what he was doing, so immediately upon taking off his shoes he headed straight for the man's room.

There was a dim light coming from inside Jacob's room, which meant he must be using his lamp and not the bedroom lights. Matthew sighed in relief; that usually meant he was reading a book in bed. Or, at least, that was the only thing he ever saw Jacob doing when that lamp was on. At any rate, reading was certainly better than other things he could be doing, so Matthew found no reason to complain. Maybe he was reading to get his mind off of things?

Ashley was right. Jacob would be all right. Well, he wasn't really all right, Matthew knew, but at least he wasn't doing anything irrational. In time, perhaps tomorrow or the day after, Matthew would help him get back on track once more.

But right now? Matthew couldn't deny that he kinda wanted to see how Jacob was doing. But would it be okay? Or would it be better off leaving Jacob by himself until tomorrow? He'd ignored him earlier, after all. Maybe he really just needed to sort things out by himself, despite how much Matthew disliked the idea.

"I know you're out there." His voice was so low, perhaps wavering, to some extent. If the house hadn't been so quiet, Matthew might've missed it completely. But Matthew had heard it, and almost immediately he began to panic. What to do? Would Jacob be angry with him for lurking outside his door? Did he want him to come in? Matthew settled on the latter question, and like before Jacob gave no reply.

Or maybe you just can't hear him, his mind offered. Hoping Jacob wasn't entirely opposed to the idea, Matthew closed his eyes and opened the door slowly, sliding quietly between the opening. He closed it just as quietly, waiting for Jacob's protests. But they never came, and so after a few moments he opened his eyes, and found things to be exactly as he'd expected--namely, the lights off, the lamp on, and Jacob reading a book by the bedside.

Jacob wasn't looking at him, nor were there any signs of anger upon his face. He certainly didn't have the same empty face from before, though his expression was still rather stoic and only vaguely humane. His sandy brown hair fell messily as it always did, reaching only to his eyebrows, though it was the length Jacob liked it to be. Once or twice Jacob made an effort to sweep his bangs to the side, but not once did his eyes leave the book to look up at Matthew.

The darker-haired man smiled. As emotionless as Jacob seemed, at least he seemed to have life in him again. It was something, right? And if anything, Jacob was calm, at ease. He almost wanted to ask him what he'd done in the last eight hours to calm himself to this level, as it was a feat Matthew himself never managed in the past. Yet something was telling Matthew that probably wasn't the best of ideas, so he let it go.

So instead, Matthew settled with something simple. "You seem alright."

"I do."

"Yeah, you do." And it wasn't a question, Matthew reminded himself, beating himself for the outburst mentally.

But Jacob didn't seem to notice this, and he grunted to himself before asking, "What do you want?"

Cue nervousness. "Er, nothing really. Just checking on you. Wondering if you need anything."

"I'm fine." So prompt, so uninformative. Matthew only wished he'd say more, or at least sound more convincing. To tell him he was fine, that he was over whatever chick he was currently strung on, that he'd move on with life, that he'd never fall for anyone again, to never get himself into this mess again, to....

Oh, who was he kidding? Of course that would never happen. And with this understanding Matthew sighed, though to Jacob it seemed to be a sigh in response to what he'd said. And so, without skipping a beat, Jacob muttered, "I really am fine, Matthew. I'm not as fucking fragile as you--"

"I didn't say you were," said Matthew, cutting Jacob off in mid-sentence.

Jacob growled. "So what was the sigh for?"

"Just... something else." Matthew turned away. The last thing he wanted was to get Jacob upset. And sure, he'd taken it all before, but at least then Jacob had been amidst emotional instability. But now Jacob seemed somewhat more sedated, which only made the anger hurt more. He should've left him alone, he was right from the beginning, he should never have come inside.

Jacob tensed. Perhaps he'd been thinking the same thing, because moments later, in a much softer tone, he whispered, "You should go."

"W-what?" Matthew stuttered, despite the fact he'd been thinking the same only moments before. "Y-You sure?"

Jacob nodded tersely. "I-I just want to be alone." He closed his eyes before setting the book down, hanging his head. "Don't take it the wrong way. Sorry." Matthew only stared for a moment, possibly lost in the moment, and only after a moment did he nod profusely, turning on his heel.

"If that's what you really want."

"It is," Jacob said quickly. And then, just as quickly, he added in apology, "I'm sorry, Matt."

"Sure." For a moment a rage swelled inside of Matthew, a wave of anger he couldn't quite explain, let alone risk revealing to Jacob. But in moments it too passed. Matthew sighed, turning around to Jacob, and said in a faltering tone, "I'll be in my room if you need me, yeah?"

"Yeah." And only then did Jacob lift his gaze to Matthew's. It only lasted a second; Matthew couldn't bear to look into how hurt, how lonely, he looked. So he turned away, said his goodbyes, and rushed out of the room, remembering only at the last second to shut the door quietly after him. He didn't even wait to enter his room; in the hallway, he fell back to the wall, defeated, and sank slowly to the ground.

-.-.-.-

How many girls did that make? Matthew had lost count. Did Jacob know? Could Jacob name them all?

Matthew growled, tossing himself so that he was now on his side. Sleep should have come to him ages ago; it was bad enough his workdays had him coming home past one in the morning. Now it was nearing three. Slightly short of ridiculous.

Jacob would be waking up in two hours. He'd be leaving in three, to open up the restaurant he worked at for their breakfast hours.

Would he be all right? Would he make through his workday? The questions race through Matthew's mind, like the blurred lights streaking past outside a fast-moving vehicle. His mind, it seemed, would not let him rest until he got answers. But there was no way he could get answers, not with Jacob still pushing him away....

Was he really okay? Why did he keep doing this to himself? Why couldn't he just see what it was all doing to him? Why couldn't he see that Matthew would always be--

--no.

Matthew shook his head and flipped himself to his other side. He needed to stay realistic, stay positive. Feed himself with real, tangible hope. Nothing false. If he let himself crumble, they would both fall.

But it's true, isn't it? You really will always be there for him. Even if your motives conflict with his own.

"Shut up," he hissed through gritted teeth, slamming his pillow on his head, as if trying to knock out his conscience. The fact that he'd just talked to himself didn't even register; he was too frustrated, consumed, concerned....

It was only supposed to be a stupid high school crush, the kind that never worked out because it was with his straight best friend. He was supposed to get over him when Michelle came along. He wasn't supposed to get so attached to him when they broke up. He was supposed to move on, find other objects of affection, especially in the world of university. Jacob certainly did. Why hadn't Matthew?

Was he too busy trying to fix Jacob's life? Though it was the reason Matthew used, he knew it couldn't be the only reason. And now, almost six years later, he was still at Jacob's side, almost pathetically, halfway torn between being his support and finding a new purpose in life. When Matthew would begin to pursue his career as his university degree had intended... would he finally be able to leave Jacob behind?

It was a scary thought. Who would make sure of his health? Who'd make sure he was fine? Who'd make sure that he didn't make a mess of things, that he'd live life properly again? Did Jacob... could Jacob...?

Matthew closed his eyes once more and sighed. So many questions. And at the rate they were going, none of them would be answered.

-.-.-.-

The sound of breaking glass woke up Matthew to a dreary start. The sound had got him out of bed, but the minimal hours of sleep he'd gotten - no, hour of sleep - had him moving at turtle's pace. Once he'd gotten out his bedroom door, though, once his brain had fully acknowledged that that'd been glass breaking, that it could only be a result of either a burglar or Jacob, that it could be Jacob, that had him slowly hastening towards the kitchen.

It was all somewhat blurry, given his fatigue and the lack of his contacts. But from what he could see, Jacob had dropped a glass of water, its contents and the pieces of glass splayed across the floor. Matthew didn't even bother to look at Jacob, who had been focused intently on the mess he'd made anyway, and without hesitance he grabbed a towel that had been hanging on the stove's door handle and began to wipe down the mess.

"Get me a broom," Matthew muttered, but Jacob did not move. He could see Jacob's feet from where he was, unmoving, and he bit his lip and paused before asking again. "Jacob?"

"I-I," he began, but Matthew cut him off.

"It's fine, really. Just get me a broom." Jacob's feet shifted and, though slowly, made their way towards the laundry room. Matthew returned to cleaning the floor, mopping up the puddle of water while making sure to avoid the glass. For a minute he scolded Jacob for the accident; if Jacob wanted a glass, he should've just asked him for one! But then Matthew remembered that, well, it was probably only a little after five, definitely not past six, and he wasn't and wouldn't have been awake anyway.

But he still dropped the glass. Was he... was he really alright? Jacob worked as a waiter, after all. If he couldn't even hold glasses properly in his own kitchen....

Jacob returned with a broom, which Matthew accepted after standing up. He should've begun sweeping the pieces of glasses, especially before someone stepped on a piece, especially knowing Jacob was walking around barefoot, having stared at his feet only moments before. But he couldn't stop staring at Jacob, watching for signs, any sign, that he was really alright. And was he?--Jacob wasn't making eye contact with him, at any rate.

"Sorry," Jacob muttered, eyes still on the soaked towels and glass shards.

"It's fine."

"You, you weren't supposed to wake up." A moment's pause, before Jacob amended, "I mean, I wasn't supposed to wake you up."

"Yeah," Matthew said quietly. He quickly began sweeping the floor, now that he had a reason to, now that he needed a distraction to keep himself from.... "It's fine. Are you hurt?"

Matthew had to look up to see Jacob's shake of his head, and with a smile he exhaled a breath.

"That's good. You sure you're...?"

Jacob frowned as Matthew attempted hand gestures to explain his thoughts, but to no avail. "What?"

"Going to work. You sure you're fine?"

"Yeah." It was only then that Jacob looked up, met Matthew in the eye, and attempted a smile. But even Matthew could tell, despite contacts, how half-assed it looked, how tired and strained Jacob really was, and it almost pained him as much as he knew it was paining Jacob. "Someone's got to help pay the bills."

"I make enough," Matthew retorted, but Jacob only shook his head.

"I'm fine. It was just an accident. Put some faith on your bud, yeah?" Their eye contact was only momentarily, with Matthew being the one to break it. Why was Jacob being so indignant? It was only for one day. He could use the rest, the time to recuperate. And he clearly wasn't alright. And yet...?

"Jacob, you--"

"--just go back to bed," Jacob said quietly, yet tersely, and the sudden coldness caused Matthew to jerk his head up.

"W-what?" Matthew asked, wide-eyed. "But you--"

"--it's a fucking Saturday, and you're meant to sleep in," he interjected, his eyes narrowing, and Matthew had actually recoiled in fear. And he must've shown it, because Jacob's eyes had widened too, and by the time Matthew had stood up properly Jacob's head had hung towards the floor once more.

Matthew faltered, bit his lip, and tried to think of what next to say, but after moments he could only come up with "I'm sorry. I'll leave. And you should get ready, you're going to be late."

Jacob nodded stiffly. "Yeah. Sorry for waking you. And, er, thanks for helping me clean up."

"It's fine." Matthew sighed, daring a glance at Jacob, to make sure he was okay. But it was only after several minutes of still silence when Matthew finally turned his back and retreated to his room. He hoped, prayed, minimally, that Jacob would tell him to stop, to turn around, to let Matthew into his life, to go ahead and fix things like he was used to doing. This time around, he seemed more reserved, and he was building walls faster than Matthew could tear them down.

What... what had happened, exactly?

Matthew returned to his bed and collapsed onto it. For a moment he wondered, briefly, if Jacob would be alright, as if he hadn't wondered about it enough. But fatigue, it seemed, had finally caught up to him. He tried to hold on to the thought, as if it was the only thing preventing him from being swept away in a windstorm. But the fatigue was drowning him, pushing him to sleep, and at last he gave up the fight. He allowed himself to close his eyes and rendered himself vulnerable to his dreams.


I'm not really sure if a twenty-three-year-old is considered a man. But since "boy" reminds me of young kids or teenager at most, I stuck to 'man.' I hope it doesn't weird anyone out. Anyway, next chapter talks a bit more about their past. Maybe get Jacob to be less hostile/confused?

Thanks for reading. Feedback is nice! Hopefully I'll update this and my other stories soon. Classes end in less than a month, so we'll see.

A Caustic Destiny