"There's this smell. You need to check it out. It's starting to get to me." Seth stretched and collapsed on the couch, arms pulled taut above his head as he pushed out a heavy yawn. He pressed his face against the leftmost cushion, catlike when he twisted onto his stomach and arched his back. A satisfying crack cut through the room, and he turned on his side to regard Delano. "You have to smell it. It's fucking awful."
"I don't smell anything." Delano had just finished vacuuming and wrapped the cord around the handle so it wouldn't get tangled in storage. The cord was black and nondescript, but he noticed little cracks in its rubber. He wondered if that was a hazard and supposed he'd have to buy a new vacuum or at least replace the sheathing. "Did you use the vacuum? The cord's all fucked up."
"You know I don't clean."
"No, I'm serious. Maybe I just wrapped it up too tight..." He wheeled the vacuum into the closet, then took a seat beside Seth's legs. He rested a hand on his thigh and squeezed, but Seth could not be deterred.
"No, I'm serious. How can you not smell it?" He gestured at nothing in particular, sweeping his hand back to his side. "It's like...mold or something. Mildew maybe or... I dunno. Something gross."
"I don't smell anything."
"You have to be able to smell that. It's overwhelming." He rolled onto his back and propped his head against the armrest, throwing his legs over Delano's lap. His eyes fell shut, but his lips parted when Delano started kneading his calf, working down from his knee. "Babe, you can't distract me. It's fucking horrible... like... like rotting..." But he scooted closer and purred, a sound from deep in his throat. "Come on, stop it..."
Delano's fingertips were talented, deft and sure and callused; they pressed along tempted nerves and massaged a path to the heat of Seth's groin. "I think you're being a little crazy. There's no smell in here."
"Yeah, there is. Is there like...nasal deafness?" His eyelids opened to a sliver; his lashes were thick and encased pale blue like a frame for the sky's microcosmic portrait. His fingers were long and thin and ice cold when they wound around Delano's wrist, urgent. "Stop. I can't get in the mood with that smell. Stop. You need to go... lift the carpet and check or something. It's grossing me out."
"Relax... I seriously don't smell anything."
"Come on. At least check. For me?" He pouted, running his hand up Delano's arm, over his shoulder, and he cupped the back of his neck. A little tug was all it took to seal their mouths in a brief kiss, and Delano rose to his feet like a well-oiled, obedient machine. "Thank you."
"I still think you're nuts."
Delano rolled his eyes and began his scrutinization of the den; they lived in a one bedroom apartment, and if Seth insisted there was a stench, it had to be coming from somewhere near. After all, the kitchenette wasn't touched, the bathroom was immaculate, and the bedroom was downright sterile. The den was where they spent most of their time, and because Seth was unemployed, he spent an inordinate amount of his day watching television. Perhaps he'd neglected to clean up after eating and the foodstuffs had been pushed into some crevice, or maybe there were dirty clothes shoved under the furniture. Delano just wished he'd help out a little more.
He peeled up the rug, checked under the couch, rifled through every cabinet around the entertainment center, and came up with nothing. A frown claimed his countenance, and he furrowed his brow; he could feel Seth's gaze upon him, and he started to get a whiff of that mysterious something. It was vague, almost nonexistent, yet it haunted him; if he turned one way, it would be gone, but if he looked another, it would creep up his nostrils and whisper its revolting presence— it was driving him mad, and he renewed fervor—
The coffee table was bare, and he brushed his hands over its surface, seeking some invisible stain. He pressed his nose into the coarse fibers of the rug, he opened every drawer and analyzed its contents, and he pushed the entertainment center from the wall and lifted each cord; he even checked under the lamp in the corner, as if something terrible could be hiding beneath it, but the search yielded a resounding nothing.
Hands on his hips, exasperated puffs escaping his lungs at an uneasy interval, he realized Seth had been silent an awfully long time. "You know, maybe if you helped..."
"My legs are tired, babe." He sounded drowsy, voice cut to slurred pieces, and he turned his back to Delano. "Can you please just find it? It's really starting to get me. I feel sick."
"Okay." His stomach clenched, and he stepped close to Seth, resting a hand on his neck. The poor thing had a chill, and he pulled the blanket off the back of the couch, tucking him neatly in it. "Go to sleep, angel."
Seth nodded faintly and stilled, save for the pulse of his breaths. Delano sorted out his hair and dabbed a kiss into the tangled locks, coming up with a strange taste stuck to his tongue. He dismissed it and returned to his mission; the odor lingered, and he thought of one place he hadn't checked: the closet.
He made his way to it in quick strides and slammed the door open; it crashed, and he didn't realize he'd pushed it so hard until the knob lodged itself in the drywall. His heart beat against his ribs like it was trying desperately to escape his chest, but all he found was the vacuum and an autumn coat.
Delano pulled the knob free from the wall and sighed, wondering how much it would cost to fix the hole; he almost dismissed the closet, but something caught his eye before he shut the door. It was a passing glint, a hint of that smell, and he snatched the coat off its hanger.
The first thing he noticed was that it was frayed and old, rarely worn and scented partially with disuse. The second thing he noticed was a brown, hard stain that cracked when folded. He chipped at it with his nail, then looked at the vacuum. The cord was in the same state as earlier, but he noticed a splotch stuck to the plastic. He dropped the coat, dropped to his knees, and knew at once—
It was blood, but whose? He supposed he could at least bring that revelation to Seth, and he got to his feet, turned back to the couch, but couldn't move.
Vile fumes held and crushed him, oppressive air forcing diseased inhalation; he gasped like a dying man and gagged, convulsing and almost doubling over. He clutched his stomach, his arms, dragged his nails into his skin. Please stop, please stop— Oh god, don't! Stop, stop. Stop! It burned in his head, and he dragged himself to the couch. "Seth?"
Don't. Please, God, please. I didn't... Stop. I want to go home, stop! Who the fuck are you! My name isn't— Delano covered his ears and willed away the cacophony, but he couldn't stop the malodor, make it cease its assault; it snaked its way into his stomach, caressed writhing bile, and tears sprung to his eyes. "Seth? Seth, please, baby..." He rested a hand on his arm but recoiled.
Cold. So cold. Almost waxy, and he— I don't know you! Don't touch me, don't touch me! I want to go home, I want my dad, stop. Stop. Stop. —pulled the blanket from Seth, flies scattering and landing, picking at the open mauling and seething in festering gore. It reeked, it stunned him, he placed a quivering finger of ligature brands, and Delano remembered—
My name isn't Seth, please let me go.