[A/N: This is m/m, although not particularly graphic.]
There was a troll living underneath our stairs.
The house was an old one, peeling wallpaper, broken windows, pipes that spat brown water. We had gotten a good deal on it because it had been vacant for so long. I wanted to rent, but Gavin had been watching those real estate shows. He had the idea that we would fix the place up then resell it.
The fact that neither of us could tell the difference between an allen wench and a phillips-head screwdriver didn't occur to him.
It did to me, but I couldn't say no to Gavin. He'd smile and open those hazel eyes wide and I would crumble like feta cheese.
So now I was part-owner of a house that threatened to collapse in a strong wind and on top of that, there was a troll.
"There's a troll underneath the stairs," I said.
"Ow! Christ. Did you say something?" Gavin wiggled out from beneath the sink, rubbing his head.
"There's a troll."
"A troll," I repeated. "You know, about seven feet tall, blue skin, tusks."
Gavin sat up into a cross-legged position. His hair was falling out of its braid, loose strands hanging his face. He was dressed in faded jeans and a white t-shirt covered in grease.
It was unfair that someone could be that disheveled and that hot at the same time.
"Have you been taking your medication?" he asked.
"You know I have."
Gavin watched me take my pills every day. I would have resented him, but the last time he trusted me to take them on my own, I flushed them down the toilet.
I didn't like the pills. They made my head fuzzy.
"All right," Gavin wiped his hands on a rag and stood up. He was lean with a long torso and narrow hips. I was shorter and broader, with wide shoulders, like a football player.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Let's go take a look," Gavin said. "Better than me lying on my back pretending I know what I'm doing."
"What happened to your book?"
"I left it at work."
"Lot of good it's doing you there," I said, following Gavin to the front hall.
There was a panel there with a small hole about waist high. Gavin hooked his finger through it and pulled the panel open. There was a hidden storage area, big enough for a few boxes and some cleaning supplies.
Or a troll.
"It looks empty to me," Gavin said.
"It must have left," I said.
"Hmm." Gavin scratched his head, frowning.
"I did see it."
"Maybe it was a trick of the light. It's an old house, kind of creepy-"
"It wasn't the light," I said. "There was a troll, leering at me. I swear to God, Gavin, I'm not making it up."
Gavin smiled at me.
"I know you're not," he said. "Just- maybe you should talk to Dr. Marcus."
"It wasn't a hallucination!" I shouted.
"Ethan," Gavin clapped a hand on my shoulder. "Go lie down, okay? Relax a little bit."
I stomped up the stairs, slamming the door to my room. The stairs squeaked as Gavin followed me. He paused outside my door, then turned and left.
I wasn't always crazy. Growing up I was just like any other kid. Then, when I was about twenty I started to get really depressed. I stopped showering or shaving or eating. Gavin would visit me and force feed me ramen noodles. It was when I started ranting about being poisoned by aliens called Reyents that he forced me to get help.
After I got out of the mental hospital, my old friends avoided me. My mother started crying every time she saw me and my sister treated me like a science experiment. Gavin was the only one who acted remotely normal.
Was it any surprise I fell in love with him?
Unfortunately, I was just his crazy best friend. I'm pretty sure seeing someone in a full schizophrenic episode tends to destroy any thoughts of romance. I'm okay now, most of time. I have a job, not a glamorous one, but it pays the bills. I'm even taking classes again. Sometimes I hear the occasional voice, but with medication and therapy I could deal with it.
Until that fucking troll showed up.
I tossed and turned, unable to fall completely asleep. My pillow wasn't the right shape. There were too many blankets, then not enough. Eventually, I sat up, flicking on the bedside lamp.
A pair of huge, yellow eyes stared at me. They were gummy with mucus. Beneath the eyes was a short snout, dripping great gobs of snot. It exhaled, a gush of warm, rotten breath hitting my face. The troll opened it's mouth, black tongue slithering out, and-
I shrieked and scrambled off the bed, diving between it's legs and running for the door.
He must have heard me scream, because Gavin opened his door just as I skidded to a stop.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"It's in my room!"
"Ethan, it's three in the morning."
"I saw it!"
Grabbing Gavin's hand, I dragged him to my room and shoved him inside.
"Look," I said.
"There's nothing there," Gavin said. "You must have had a nightmare."
I peered around his shoulder. There was my bed, sheets in a tangle. My hand-me-down dresser, my bookshelf full of paperbacks, British mysteries mostly. Pictures of my family, a framed Van Gogh print.
"Shit," I said.
"You want me to stay with you?" Gavin asked.
Yes, yes, yes. Pantless, preferably.
"I'll be fine," I said.
"Yeah. You're right. I had a nightmare."
"Okay." Gavin rested a hand on my shoulder for a second. His touch was warm and I had to fight the urge to lean into him. "See you in the morning."
"See you," I said.
I waited until I heard Gavin's door close, then I grabbed my pillow and a blanket and crept downstairs. I spent the night on the back porch, curled up on a lounge chair.
"Ethan? Where are you? Christ, where the hell are-oh, hi."
I opened my eyes. Gavin was dressed for work, dress pants and white oxford shirt, jacket slung over one arm.
"What are you doing out here?" he asked.
"I couldn't sleep," I said, stretching, the blanket dropping to my waist.
Gavin had a strange expression on his face. He caught me staring and glanced away.
"Are you okay? I can call into work and-"
"I don't need you to baby-sit me," I said. "Besides, Thomas is here."
"He's right here." I patted the floor next to me. "Don't you see him?"
"Ethan, there's no one there," said Gavin.
"What? But he promised to make cupcakes."
"You son of a bitch." Gavin shook his head. "That isn't funny."
"I thought it was," I grinned. "What's the point of being crazy if I can't have any fun?"
"I'm going to work. Don't forget to pick up some milk later."
"I'll just send Thomas out," I said. "He likes to be useful."
Gavin flipped me off on his way out.
I had class, then an evening shift at work, so I didn't linger outside. To tell the truth I didn't want to hang around the house alone.
The shower was cold. Gavin had used all the hot water. Again. I dressed, shivering with numb fingers, then grabbed my bag and keys.
My car was an old beater, more rust than steel, but at least it ran. I flipped through the radio station, searching for something decent and settled on classic rock.
On a long and lonesome highway, east of Omaha, you can listen to the engine-
Ethan. They're coming, Ethan.
I switched off the radio, shaking. My palms were sweaty on the steering wheel.
"It's not real," I whispered. "It's not real. You're not in danger. It's not real."
The light turned red and I braked clumsily. Digging through my bag, I pulled out my cell phone and held it. If I called, Gavin would answer. But then he'd want to come home and take care of me, and I wasn't going to spend the rest of my life coddled by my best friend.
So I just held the phone and when the light turned green, I kept going.
"Remember, your final report is due next Tuesday. I do not accept late papers, so anyone empty handed with earn themselves a zero. Enjoy your weekend."
The professor closed her laptop and began disconnecting the cords. I shoved my notebook into my bag and stood up. I had to be across town in fifteen minutes for work.
The restaurant was packed. You would think being around that many people might be difficult for me to handle, but I liked it. Waiting tables kept me distracted and in an odd way, it was comforting. There was a set of unwritten rules everyone followed. I had my regulars; I knew all the staff. And most importantly, none of them gave a shit about me. As long as I showed up and got their order right, they could give a shit if I was on an antipsychotic cocktail.
"Ethan? Ethan Cyr?"
No, no, no, no, no.
I turned, clutching my tray to my chest. A tall blonde woman was smiling at me from table six.
"It's Janey. Janey Trumble. Well, Janey Henderson now."
"Hi." I forced a smile.
"Biology 101? Remember? That awful study group?"
"I remember. It's, um, nice to see you."
"You too," Janey said. "How're you doing?"
"Fine," I said. "Everything's great."
"You look good."
"Thanks. Listen, I've got to work."
"Sure. Here, let me give you my e-mail. We should get together. Reminisce."
I crammed the business card into my pocket.
"See you," I said.
As I walked away from the table, I caught Janey leaning towards her date.
"...went completely bonkers. Thought aliens were trying to kill him or something."
Janey never did know how to whisper.
I shut the door and slumped against it, letting my bag drop to my side.
"Hey, did you remember the milk?" Gavin stuck his head out the kitchen door.
"Shit. no," I said, slapping my forehead. "I'm sorry. I had a crappy day. I'll go out and get it now."
"Don't worry about it. We'll just have black coffee in the morning."
"I hate black coffee," I said. "What are you still doing up?"
"Come here," he said.
A pot was bubbling on the stove and the cutting board was out.
"You made dinner?" I asked.
"Yeah, but look." Gavin turned the knobs on the sink, gesturing at the stream of water. "I fixed it!"
"Great. Now we just have to rewire the entire house, peel off a century of hideous wallpaper, paint, install toilets that actually work and we'll be all set."
Gavin's smile faded.
"I'm an ass," I said. "It's fantastic, really. I'm impressed."
"Me too," Gavin said. "I was thinking, tomorrow we can work on the front room. It's your day off, right?"
"Spend the day stripping wallpaper? Exactly how I want to spend my free time."
"We can rip up the carpet too." Gavin bumped his shoulder against mine. "Come on, it'll be fun."
"Fine, fine. What are you making?"
"Pasta with vegetables in a garlic sauce."
I made a face. Gavin laughed.
"Just try a piece," he said. "It won't kill you."
"I don't know. You could have poisoned it."
"Ethan." Gavin looked aghast.
"It was a joke," I said.
"It's not fucking funny!"
I took a step back. Gavin never cursed, not like me. I had a mouth like a pirate.
"Sorry. I just don't like hearing you say things like that."
"Don't like being reminded your roommate is nutsville?" I asked.
Gavin turned red.
"Barmy? Mental? Round the twist? Unbalanced? Deranged? Mad as a March hare? One crayon short of a full box?" I said. "A few fried short of a Happy Meal?"
"One twist short of a slinky," Gavin said, smiling.
"A few sandwiches short of a picnic."
"Doesn't have all his dogs on one leash."
"Missing a few buttons on his remote control."
"Playing hockey with a warped puck."
"Um...I think I'm out," I said. "And your pot's about to boil over."
Gavin turned off the stove, setting the pot aside.
"Here, try some zucchini," he said. "For me? Please?"
He held up a chunk, waving it in front of my face, making airplane noises.
"Coming in for a landing, control," he said.
"No way," I said, backing up until I hit the wall.
"Open up," Gavin said in a sing-song voice, pressing the zucchini to my lips.
He moved closer, until there was barely an inch between us. Suddenly, it was very difficult to breath. Gavin was looking at me, the tips of his fingers brushing my mouth, sending tingles down my spine.
"Come on," he said, voice deep and husky.
I gasped. Gavin popped the zucchini in, then stepped back, grinning.
"So?" he asked.
"It's disgusting," I said, chewing.
"Well, then you can eat noodles and eventually die of malnutrition."
"I think it looks pretty good," said Gavin. "What do you think?"
"It's not bad," I said.
The room did look better. The pale yellow paint brightened it up and once we got rid of the horrible carpet, it would be quite nice.
"I could use a shower. You?"
Do not imagine Gavin in the shower. Gavin naked in the shower, rubbing against me, soap slicking our skin.
"You zoned out there for a second."
"Sorry. I was thinking."
"Well, I'm going to get a shower," said Gavin.
I laid down on the horrible carpet, inhaling paint fumes, listening to the shower run.
Was Gavin getting undressed now? Sliding his boxer-briefs over that perfect ass. Stepping underneath the stream of water, wincing slightly as it burned his skin. Running his hands through his hair. Spreading the soap over his chest, fingers tracing lean muscles, down to pull at his cock.
My hands moved on their own, rubbing myself through my jeans. I moaned softly, biting my lip as my hips shifted. Popping open the fly, I slipped my hands inside, rough strokes hampered by layers of cloth.
The door flew shut with a bang.
I leapt up with a small yelp.
"Gavin, I-you're not Gavin."
The troll inched closer, arms hanging low, claws nearly touching the ground. It looked incongruous in the sunlight, somehow more terrifying in the bright room.
"Oh, fuck, please be a hallucination," I said. "Please, please, please."
I squeezed my eyes shut and counted to ten. When I opened them, the troll was three feet away, smacking it's lips
"I'd taste terrible. Really. I'm pumped full of drugs. Probably make you sick. Like bad chinese food."
So I was babbling. Under the circumstances, I think I was allowed.
"Plaaaaaaaaaaaaah," said the troll.
I clamped a hand over my mouth. It's breath could melt marble.
"Plaaaah," it said. "Plaaaaaaaaaaay."
"Are you...are you trying to talk?" I asked.
The troll nodded it's massive head.
"Play? Are you asking me to play?"
"Play," said the troll, stretching it's mouth wide.
I think it was trying to smile.
"Do you have a name?" I asked.
A loud, incomprehensible string of grunts dribbled out of the troll's mouth, along with a not insignificant amount of drool.
"How about Bob? Can I call you Bob?"
"Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaah-oooooooooob," said the troll.
"Good, good." I was grinning like a crazy person, but then I was a crazy person. "Um, I'm guessing scrabble is out. What about Sorry? You like Sorry?"
"I'll get the board."
"You're cheating," I said.
"Nooo cheeeat," said Bob. "Yooou terrrrrrible."
"Am not. I am a Sorry guru."
"Hey, do you want to go back to your cupboard?" I asked.
"Fine. Best two out of three."
I reset the board. I was blue. I was always blue.
"Ethan, I'm out of the-Eeek!" Gavin stood in the doorway, a towel slung around his hips. He raised a shaking finger. "Wha-wha-wha-"
"That's Bob," I said. "Bob, meet Gavin."
"Neeeeece toooo meeeeeeet yoooou," Bob growled.
"Oh Christ," Gavin whispered. His eyes rolled back, and he collapsed in a neat heap.
"Pansy," I said.
"Mmmmm," said Bob.
"I should help him upstairs."
And if I happened to sneak a peek under his towel, then all the better for me.
"We'll finish this later, okay? It'd probably be better if you weren't around when he woke up," I said.
Bob looked disappointed. If you've never seen a disappointed troll, then well, you just haven't lived.
"Don't worry, he'll come around. He's very understanding."
I pulled the blanket up and sat down on the bed. Gavin was still breathing, so I assumed he was okay. I checked his pulse, just to be sure.
I lingered over Gavin's throat, trailing my fingers down the faintly stubbled skin, across his collarbone, pressing my palm against his chest.
"I love you," I whispered.
Gavin's eyelids fluttered.
Oh, shit. I snatched my hand away.
"Ethan?" he mumbled. "That you?"
"Morning," I said. "Sleep well?"
"What happened? There was a...a...a thing. And you were playing a game with it!"
"Yeah." I faked a sigh. "I'm sorry to tell you this, but it turns out insanity is catching. Not to worry. Straitjackets are more comfortable then you might think."
"I saw it," Gavin said. "It had horns and these tusks and..."
I nodded, patting his wrist.
"You want to borrow some of my meds?" I asked.
"I didn't hallucinate!"
"It sucks being on the other side, doesn't it?"
"Okay, but it was real, right?"
"As tempting as it is to keep teasing you, yes, it was real," I said. "His name is Bob."
"There is a troll living in our house."
"I told you so."
"Then maybe you are crazy."
Gavin rubbed his head.
"His name is Bob?"
"Not really," I said. "But I couldn't pronounce his real name. I was thinking we could fix up the back room downstairs for him. Underneath the stairs is a little cramped."
"You want to keep him?"
"He was here first."
"Bob's a good guy. Troll."
Gavin sighed and mumbled something.
"Nothing," Gavin said. "Got any idea what a troll eats?"
"From his breath, I'd say garbage."
"That's convenient. Er, am I naked?"
"You did just get out of the shower."
"And in your bed."
"Yup, naked in my bed," I said.
"My room was closer. I had to haul you upstairs and frankly, you're heavy as shit."
"Are you calling me fat?" Gavin asked.
"You are getting a little squishy around the middle."
"Oh, that's it."
Gavin pounced, pinning me to the bed and stuffing a pillow over my face.
"What was that?" Gavin lifted the pillow, grinning evilly.
"I said, uncle, you bastard!"
"That's not very nice," Gavin said.
I squirmed, trying to wiggle free. It occurred to me that Gavin was still naked and we were still on my bed.
The problem was growing rapidly.
"Get me off!" I snapped. Gavin's eyebrows rose.
"Get off of me. I meant, get off of me."
Gavin frowned. He pressed his hips down, shifting slightly.
I shoved hard, knocking Gavin off the bed. Heart-racing, I jumped over him, running to the bathroom and locking the door.
Shit, shit, shit! I fucked up. Everything was going to be awkward and strange, and I couldn't live alone. I just couldn't. And I was never, never going back to the hospital.
"Ethan? Ethan, open the door."
"Go away," I yelled.
"Open the door now or I'll break it down," Gavin said. "I'm counting to three. One."
"Just leave me alone."
"Three. I'm coming in."
I unlocked the door and stepped back. Gavin walked in, closing the door and leaning against it. He had pulled on a pair of pajama pants at least.
"You need to calm down," he said.
"I am calm. I am fucking calm!"
"Ethan, please. Just sit down, okay?"
"Fine." I plopped down on the tiled floor, crossing my arms over my chest.
"Thank you," Gavin said. He wet a washcloth and knelt in front of me. "Here."
"Thanks." I wiped my face, then pressed the cloth to the back of my neck.
"Earlier, when I was waking up, you said something. What was it?"
"It doesn't matter."
Gavin reached out, cupped my face.
"Just tell me," he said.
I could never say no to him.
"I said...I said that I love you."
"As a friend?"
I closed my eyes.
Gavin didn't say anything. Then I felt his other hand wind through my hair, tipping up my face. His breath brushed my lips before he moved closer, pressing our mouths together. It was soft at first, then deeper as Gavin's tongue intertwined with mine, searching, tasting.
It was the best kiss I'd had in years.
Okay, so I hadn't been kissing a whole of people since the whole alien episode, but it was still a fucking fantastic kiss.
"Hi," Gavin said, pulling back.
We grinned at each other for a bit.
We spoke at the same time, then laughed.
"This is ridiculous," I said. "We're acting like teenagers."
Gavin smiled, playing with my hair.
"I should tell you something," he said. "I've kind of been in love with you for ages."
"I thought it was obvious, actually. Insisting we buy a house together and fix it up. Always finding excuses to touch you. Trying to impress you."
"I thought you were taking care of me so I wouldn't start saving my urine in jars."
"Ethan, you haven't had an episode in years. As long as you keep taking your medication, you should be okay."
"Yeah, but...you really don't mind?"
"I really don't mind."
"I am definitely not in love with him," Gavin said. "I can't believe we have a troll. I am going to sue the hell out of that real estate agent."
"You do that," I said. "So, um, does this mean we can have sex?"
"Oh, yes. But not here."
"No bathroom sex?"
"Well, maybe later," Gavin said. "I can never say no to you."
[A/N 2: This isn't a serious story, and isn't meant to be taken as such. If anyone out there has experience with schizophrenia and wants to call me to task, then feel free. I much prefer getting my information from people than the internet.
The song Ethan listens to is Turn the Page, by Bob Seger.]