Some Kind of Something

Chapter One

It all started at an anime convention.

You know, those special little windows of time in which every 'otaku' in the area rejoices and flocks to the location of choice to dress in cat ears, skin tight magical girl costumes – even if they're far from the ideal physique required to wear them gracefully – or carry around an abnormally huge sword for the day with their hair sticking up in seven different gravity-defying directions to pose like their favourite character for photos. They blast breathtaking amounts of money on trivial little things like phone charms, jewellery, plushies, or figurines, whilst squealing in euphoria over whatever DVD or manga they couldn't find in stores, on the local Amazon/EBay site, or anywhere else as though it were God's gift to mankind.

Those with more guts than glory get a chance to prance about on stage during corny Improv skits or belt out a favoured tune in a language they can't speak with faulty microphones. The newest episodes, series, and movies, are showcased in dark, out-of-the-way rooms for anime connoisseurs to sample and nitpick over until they decide to buy them anyways in the Merch Room located in a nearby parkade with no air conditioning and vendors that are sweating themselves half to death. Artists varying from levels of "Wow buddy you should go back to kindergarten," to "OMFG that's liek totally amazing can I have your babies nao plzkthx!one1!1" are crammed into a sadistically tiny area to slave over picture upon picture for drooling and demanding fans.

You know… Those things. Yeah, that's where this all started.

Don't get me wrong, now. I'm not included in any of those categories, because to be perfectly upfront and honest with you, I want as little to do with anime as humanly possible. I've seen up close and personal what that stuff does to people. It's worse than crack, and I got a front-row seat of the agonizing process my best friend underwent during her conversion to a shameless Japanophile who plasters her walls with poster upon poster of her newest 'bishie-toy.'

She flips her lid when the dubbing companies don't get the English voices just right for her favourite characters and can recite the best 'seiyū' and what roles they've played in any given series off by heart. She watches more Japanese movies than North American, and has a bookshelf crammed to the hilt with countless volumes of manga, anime, and owns a small army of plushies and figurines that stare you to sleep at night. She can sing the lyrics for Japanese songs – which is practically all she listens to – in Japanese without faltering, without error, and then translate them for you afterwards if you're masochistic and curious enough to ask. She writes fan fiction and makes me proofread it; she reverts to half Japanese and half English when she's in Con-mode.

Were it not for the fact that her parents are strict vegans – and she can't cook for shit – she would eat Japanese food, complete with the iconic Japanese lunchbox and everything. Were it not for the fact that she can't draw for shit, she would probably be drawing in an anime style, and one can safely bet that the vast majority of her pieces would revolve around some kind of fan art.

And in case I've forgotten to mention this tasty little tidbit… She's taken quite fondly to referring to me as 'Seth-kun' over long distances in over-populated food courts where, even if there hadn't been at least two hundred people, her voice still would have been louder than most peoples' when amplified with a goddamn megaphone.

Yeah. No thanks. Not for me. I'll stick to my video games and computers, thank you all the same.

Let me just clarify something for you right now, though, in case you're assuming something of me that's typically given to my 'type' of people. I like disillusioning those who might be predisposed to stereotype others.

I'm not one of those geeky twigs with thick-rimmed glasses and coke-bottle lenses, braces, and a face full of acne; nor am I an overweight slob who lives in my basement bedroom, fapping to creepy porn, and is never seen without a shirt without some kind of stain on it. I am neither one of those in any way, shape, or form – except for maybe the bit about the basement bedroom and the shirt. That's mostly because I'm a klutz, though. My food is usually out to get me, and... Well, apparently I'm a magnet for mystery-stains. I don't know where they come from half the time – they're just… there.

Nevertheless, I am your every-day teenaged male that's maybe… not entirely normal, but damned closer than any of the stereotypes I've just vibrantly spelled out for you.

I'd be the guy of average stature you see getting yanked through an exhibition hall packed full of those aforementioned Japanophiles by my tie, my captor being the slight girl with brilliant blue hair, a mile-wide grin on pale lips, who's currently hyped up on multiple mixed energy drinks. That's my best friend and eternal tormentor, Andy. Her full name is actually Alexandria, but if she ever caught anyone calling her that, they'd be the one getting strangled instead of me. The only difference, though, is that – apart from knowing her – I didn't do anything to deserve this kind of punishment.

Then again, I did agree with a great deal of begrudging resignation to go to this thing with her if it would shut her up, and shut her up it had… for the five minutes immediately following my surrender. Although I guess that was long enough to prevent her from blabbing out the fact that I had the hots for the local pretty-boy actor, who happened to be starring in our high school's year-end play, in front of half our English class during a discussion about Macbeth, so... Insert resigned sigh and half-hearted shrug here.

Small favours.

In case you caught it, though, and have put two and two together… That right there is one of the ways in which I am your not entirely normal everyday teenaged male, and it's just one more thing that made my predicament oh-so-ever-more delightfully awkward. I don't know how it happened – how I didn't realize what it was from the way Andy kept getting all giddy and giggly – but somehow, the twit had managed to drag me into not just any old anime convention, no. With my rotten streak of luck, it just had to be a yaoi convention.

Now, most people would say, "Well, where's the problem then? You like boys. You're at a convention where other people like boys who like boys. It's totally accepted, there's no need to worry about discrimination or people harassing you about it… What's holding you back from having a bit of fun?"

To which my utterly unimpressed answer would be, "Oh, you have no idea."

First off, I've had random gaggles of guys and girls alike asking me to do poses with one of their friends – who, of course, happened to be male. That by itself is not such a big deal. It's the pose they wanted me to do and the fact that they had a camera in their hands.

Needless to say, I didn't do it. As a matter of fact, I stared at them for a couple minutes, completely deadpan, with their hopeful smiles and sneaky cameras, and then I walked away from them. Why? Because I was about to black out due to the sudden, overwhelming surge of blood to my face, that's why. I needed air, and badly.

Look, I'm not some wimpy, whining, buggy-eyed, hopelessly bashful and blushing 'uke,' so get that thought out of your heads right now. If anyone other than Andy called me that – just like if I called her Alexandria – they would be beaten upside the head with one of those goddamn promotional paddles that've been stalking my ass all day and then thrown into oncoming traffic, cat ears and all. Yes, I know I'm being redundant, but I'll say it again. I. Am. No. Uke. Not. Negative. Antonym of 'yes.' Far other side of the 'yes' scale, without quite reaching 'bear' status.

Here's the thing about it. I start feeling awkward. Really, really, fantabu-fucking-listically awkward. Despite the fact that I'd come to terms with my being gay a long time ago I had never really… you know, adjusted to it. I acknowledged it, yes – I accepted the fact that women are eye-catching, and aesthetically pleasing creatures in general, but sexually, I am attracted to men. I get off on other guys. I get that. That part isn't the problem.

The problem is that I've never really gotten used to… expressing it, with or around others, and I have never been open about it. If the question comes up in conversation with people I trust, sure, I'll kind of self-consciously admit to it; other than that, I leave the topic alone. I keep my eyeing and any relatively smutty thoughts or comments about other guys to myself. Andy is one of a very specific group of people – apart from my rather… unique mother – who I talk to about that kind of stuff, and that's only when we're somewhere private.

I've only had one boyfriend, and he'd been feminine enough in his mannerisms, I suppose, that I could feel at ease with him – when we weren't in public, or with friends. That being the exact reason why Joshua dumped me flat on my ass. He was worlds more secure about his sexuality than I ever was. Or am, for that matter. Therein lies the biggest problem with Andy taking me to a goddamn yaoi convention. There were people – guys specifically – who were walking around with signs hung around their necks saying, "Will yaoi for (insert desired object here)," for fuck's sake! And people were actually taking them up on it! And the sign-bearers actually did it!

You know what the first thing I saw was when Andy and I got to this hell-hole? Two guys, with signs, playing a long-winded game of tonsil-hockey in front of an ogling crowd with cameras, and for what? Chocolate-covered cookie sticks!

Being around so much boy/boy loving was wreaking absolute havoc on my nerves, let me tell you, and at that particular point in time, I would have rather jumped off a cliff than stay in that room a second longer.

... Which is exactly why having Andy suddenly disappear on me in the middle of a mob whilst I'd been distractedly browsing the merchandise of a vendor dealing with weapons – replica swords, katanas, battle axes, and other handy, gloriously drool-worthy things of the like – nearly gave me a goddamn heart attack.

She had finally committed her ultimate act of atrocity. She had abandoned me. Of all things, she had decided to abandon me then and there, in the very core of a swarming, seething mass of rabid yaoi fangirls and their malodorous male counterparts.

I… was fucking… mortified.

Elbows jabbed into my sides, strangers sidling by, brushing against my arms and back, and combined with the warmth of the bodies surrounding me, the clamour from other con-goers nearly overwhelmed my senses. My head was bobbing around like a balloon somewhere up near the roof with panic; my heart was pounding like a jackhammer against my ribs. I couldn't see Andy anywhere – not a glimmer of her bright blue hair, not a wave of her familiar hand with its fingerless red and black glove or a glimpse of the white, short-sleeved shirt and pinstriped vest she'd worn for the day. There were no fedoras signalling to me from over the crowd, giving me a beacon to direct myself towards. She'd just… vanished.

I was about five seconds away from hyperventilating or breaking down into hysterical tears as though I were some four-year-old kid who'd lost his mommy in the supermarket. Then again, in a sense, I had. Andy had been my comfort barrier, the single thing that had been familiar to me in this foreign landscape, and she'd just pulled a Houdini out of her short little bottle-blue-haired ass.

I swore to myself then that when I found her, I was going to throw her from the train once we got out of this place, and I had every intention of doing it in the industrial area we would have to pass through where there was lots of nice, broken glass and sharp, potentially disease-causing chunks of rusted metal.

"Andy? Andy!?" I had to stand on my tiptoes to see over the crowd – even though I'm not really that short – to try and pinpoint the scruff of neon blue hair that would be sticking out from under her fedora. Still… Nothing. Lots of cat-girls and boys – lots of anime characters come to life and people roaming around in fur suits, which immediately made me thankful that Andy hadn't fallen into that fandom, instead – but no Andy. No anchor. No security blanket.

No one to keep me from losing it the next time someone wanted a photo of me kissing their male girlfriend or decided to take a swing at my ass with one of those paddles.

"Alexandria!?" Still nothing. That was when my brain muttered, Now you're fucked, and dropped its fist on the panic button.

When my next immediate instinct was to grab my phone from my pocket and text her, demanding her location, I felt the knot in my stomach tighten. She hadn't brought her phone. She'd left it at home, absolutely certain that we wouldn't be separated anyways apart from using the bathroom – it'd just be another thing to carry around.

"Oh my god you little fucking blue-haired half-pint when I find you I'm gonna maul you so bad your own mother won't recognize you," I growled under my breath, impatiently shoving my canvas satchel back behind my hip as I began to hurriedly squirm my way through the crowds, uttering a quick, quiet, "Sorry, coming though… 's'cuse me," each time someone gave me a dirty look for trying to get by.

Well, y'know what? If it weren't for Andy going AWOL on me in my equivalent of fucking Jupiter I wouldn't have to butt in front of you! And damn, either lose some weight or wear more clothing. No one so old with so many rolls should be bearing that much flesh to the public eye. You're not Sailor Venus. Give it up already. And you, you're not what's-her-face from Ghost in the Shell. Go back home and cry in your closet – if you can fit, that is, around your creepy-ass little shrine to the blight of the world that is Anime and Yaoi in particular. Fuck.

My train of thought was brusquely interrupted when a markedly heavy little bundle collided with my chest, punching the breath from my lungs and knocking me back and sideways a good handful of steps – staggering, ironically, into another cosplayer who was trying to have their picture taken. After a brief, hastily gasped apology I got out of their way and swung my gaze around to see what the hell it was that had hit me. At first, there were just more people, an unending sea of unfamiliar faces, but then, the second I heard a hushed, pained voice from below the level of general sight, my eyes plummeted to the floor.

Ahh, and here, my friends, is when we meet a real-life uke. Notice the small stature, the slender, yet sinewy build, the healthy, warmly tanned complexion with a smattering of sun-freckles just under the eyes, and the bright, trademark flush that – in anime – never seems to go the hell away.

"Oww…" Well, this uke was still laid out flat on his ass on the tile flooring, his face twisted into a pained grimace, caught half-way between cradling his elbow and clutching at the back of his head of dirty blonde hair. "Sonuva… Fuck!"

Huh. An uke that swears. Now, maybe this is just because I'm an uneducated idiot in such matters, but when I think of these blushing, virginal stereotypes, the last thing I typically associate them with is cursing… And this one appeared just about ready to let loose an entire volley of the crass little bastards.

"Shit! I'm so sorry," I blurted, coming back to my senses just in time to rush to the young man's side and drop into a crouch, hands hovering uselessly and uncertainly in mid-air. "I wasn't watching where I was going – are you okay?"

But the boy didn't even look at me – he just furled over into a ball and choked out a strained breath. "I think I maybe just broke my ass… and prolly smacked my head on something on the way down. Fucking Christ, ow… What the hell?"

"I'm really sorry," I mumbled again, feeling genuinely bad for the poor guy, mostly because he'd definitely gotten the short end of the stick so far as damage went. "D'you think you can get up?" I asked, extending a hand and managing a feebly jesting grin. "I'm thinkin' the last thing you probably need right now is to get a hand stepped on, or, y'know… trampled. Period."

"Yeah," he chuckled, "no kidding. Thanks…" A warm, long-fingered hand clamped itself around my own, and I couldn't help but notice the numerous colourful bracelets decorating the boy's slender wrist, as well as a watch that seemed entirely too big on it, as I pulled him to his feet in the crowds. He was lighter than I'd expected, and almost half a head shorter than me, too; it took almost no effort at all to get him upright again, but it lasted only a moment before he hunched over with a hand pressed to his tailbone. "Oh god that's gonna bruise," he quietly groaned. "God dammit..."

Light or not, apparently he'd hit the floor hard, and I knew what that was like, being of a clumsier disposition than most. To be blunt… it sucked. Big time. "Like I said I'm really sorry…"

Brilliant blue eyes finally squinted open, peering up at me in embarrassment and understanding from beneath a pierced brow and within a dark fringe of lashes as he grinned and, blushing, waved my apology away. "Nah, 's oka-" The rest of it was lost in a throaty sound of shock as another surging jostle of the crowd sent him roughly stumbling into my chest; this time, his hands instinctively flew up to clutch at the front of my button-down shirt to steady himself.

With a heated flush all my own blossoming beneath the skin of my face – and more noticeably, unfortunately, in my ears – the only thing I could do in that moment was focus on which foot went where, reflexively snatching at his shoulders, in a feeble attempt to prevent either of us from going down. Thankfully, this time it worked.

This time, I had staggered back into a pillar. I don't think either one of us could move immediately after that brief scare, probably out of relief but, I think, on my part, it was more because my nerves were steadily being tugged to their breaking points. I still hadn't found Andy, and I had the decidedly pleasant, and extremely warm body of a rather attractive young stranger still moulded against my own. During our ungainly dance backwards, one of his thighs had become wedged between mine, which probably happened once I'd finally come to a stop, but it was there, and I could feel it there, and holy hell this whole situation was making me antsy. I didn't even consciously realize that people were staring at us, and I was practically looking right at them.

I'm betting it was probably because I had someone's groin crushed against my thigh, and consequently one of their thighs wedged between my own, and hard as I tried not to focus on its presence there – to simply… ignore it…

I couldn't.

My heart was going a mile a minute, I knew I was all but seconds away from hyperventilating again, and every gasp of air that was sucked in through flared nostrils brought with it the citrusy scent of the boy whose face was pressed into the base of my throat. And I could feel him breathing, as well – hot, strained, quivering brushes of breath that set every last one of my nerves on edge. Not necessarily in a bad way, ei... Whoa!

Down boy!

Trembling fingers, all at once, snapped up and away from his skinny shoulders, my body sucking itself back against the brick pillar as much as it was physically able to with my palms held stiffly in place as though to ward him off. Or, all things considered, as though I were completely and totally terrified of touching him – which is probably more likely. "Sorry," I croaked, a shakily constructed smile tugging unsteadily at the pierced corner of my lips as I swallowed, an elementary action that, in that moment, took far more effort than it normally should have.

The boy gave a quiet, nervous laugh as warm hands seemed to force themselves to release the folds of my shirt, the complete opposite of the way mine had all but flown away from his shoulders like he'd burned them. When he awkwardly unlatched himself from my chest, slowly withdrawing to a relatively safe distance – and when I got up the guts to steal a glimpse of the embarrassed grin curled at an edge of his mouth as he distractedly tugged at the legs of his cargo shorts to readjust them – he didn't meet my eyes, instead vying to stare doggedly down at the tile floor beneath our feet.

"N-no, it's okay," he mumbled shyly with a muted chuckle, head with its boyishly shaggy hair bent, shoulders slightly hunched, distractedly rubbing the knuckles of his right hand into his other palm. "I mean, I kinda fell into you, and…" Bright, swimming pool blue eyes emphatically widened, even as the flush blossoming in the boy's cheeks darkened – not that I was faring any better, honestly; I probably looked like I'd just run a mile through the fuckin' desert – and a long, slow breath sucked itself in through his nose. "Wow this is awkward. Uh…"

Of course, by this point, yet more passer-bys had begun lending us a long, intrigued look as they trickled by, but still… I barely even noticed them. Perhaps it was because I was both petrified with mortification while being nearly overwhelmed by the urge to just shut my mouth and book it out of there as fast as humanly possible. With me, though… Honestly? You never know.

I was so wrapped up in my own head, my own embarrassment and discomfort, that I'd hardly realized how we'd just been awkwardly standing there, frozen and silent, for the longest, most painful of moments before the boy finally spoke again, his grin flashing wider as he glanced up at me.

"Well, uh… Thanks for, um," Utterly tropical blue eyes darted back down, flicking out to glance at everything but me; lips briefly pursed themselves before a crooked smile burst free on the arm of a breathy chuckle, "y'know, keeping me on my feet this time."

Yeah let's just ignore the way we ended up in that intimate little… catastrophe. Yeah, I like that plan. I was still trying to drag a corner of my mind away from where it was dwelling on the rather personal warmth that had been temporarily welded to my thigh, and the way that brief, flashing moment of closeness had lit a fire beneath my skin I'd yet to successfully extinguish. Not something I wanted to deal with under the best of circumstances, much less now. In the middle of my very own version of Hell, tailored down to the last modicum in a way that would exploit all of my many weaknesses simultaneously!

A frail grin hooked itself into the corner of my mouth and gave a forceful tug. Not knowing what else to do with them, I stuffed my hands in the pockets of my well broken-in jeans, and fiddled, distractedly staring at the tanned calves exposed by the boy's cargo shorts. "Nah, it's… um, nothing, I guess."Those calves, by the way…? Yeah, as far as I could tell, they were hairless. Very nicely shaped. My head wanted to tilt itself so I could get a better look at them and wonder how smooth his skin might be elsewhere.

My mental self, of course, punched itself across the face before dropping said face into its palm in shame.

Hey, I said I had problems with openly displaying my sexuality – I said nothing about how my brain worked or how similar it was to any other adolescent male's as far as things went in the 'smutty thought' department. Lay off.


In spite of all of my thoughts, however, I wanted so badly to hear a, "Well, nice running into you," that would precede the boy's departure. I wanted him to leave, to head out to finish whatever business had sent him racing through the crowded convention like his life depended on it. Not that I disliked him or anything – thus far my hormones were declaring the polar opposite, actually – but frankly that had been the most action I'd had practically ever and it had been with a complete stranger and I needed a couple minutes to myself in a locked bathroom stall so I could tell my body to calm the fuck down.

Not that I'd sprung a hard-on in the middle of that very large and very expansive crowd or anything, but… Let's just say it had given the more libidinous parts of me a rather forceful wake-up kick to the head, if I haven't already made that obvious. Which means that if I didn't get hold of myself, pronto, things would start going south in a very bad, very humiliating, and quite possibly scarring-for-life kind of way.

I was embarrassed as all hell. And seeing him still standing there from the edge of my peripherals frustrated the piss out of me because every second longer that he stood there, I had to try extra hard to forget what had just happened.

Thigh, meet cute stranger's Groin. Cute stranger's Groin? Meet my Thigh.

Fuck. Quit it!

I could have left. I could have been the one to say, "Sorry, gotta go find the deserter I came here with," before fading back into the crowds and my search to locate Andy so I could wring her yaoi-loving little neck. Or, you know, just lock myself in the washroom and try to drown myself in the sink. We could have parted ways, without another thought, like most strangers inevitably do after such encounters. That would have been the end of it.

Too bad I was still fucking petrified. My brain had shut off, and my body was preoccupied with dwelling on that fleeting moment of physical contact and elaborating on it, while simultaneously trying to smother the warmth beneath my skin so it could get the hell out of there. C'mon… Move, dammit!

The boy was staring at the floor, a corner of his lower lip worrying itself between his teeth, obviously lost in thought for a while as his vibrant eyes crawled over broken-in high-tops that had been the repeated victims of Sharpie doodles.

Dear god please just say good-bye and go away, already. I didn't know how much longer I could stand the awkwardness of all this. I just wanted to crawl into a small dark hole and never show my face again, and really, that wasn't asking too much, was it?


"My name's Asher."


Instead of my much-desired farewell, I got that, and a smooth, warm palm that thrust itself towards me, with its wrist carrying that too-big watch and a brilliant assortment of hemp and rubber bracelets. My stomach lurched and rolled over, twisting yet tighter a knot already elaborate enough to put those of Celtic origin to shame.


When my eyes crawled up from his hand, all I saw were hopeful blue irises, a glint of steel in his left eyebrow, and a shy, slightly crooked half-moon smile complete with neat white teeth. The heat beating beneath my skin intensified, throbbing with a maniacal glee through my system as it reminded me once again how it had felt to have another body crushed against it.


"Uh…" My hands were sweating, balled up into nervous fists in my pockets, but I didn't have the sense to find some way to wipe them dry as I withdrew one and tremulously shook the hand that belonged to a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy named Asher. I managed a weak, probably uncertain grin, but nothing more. "Seth." Okay said hello – now time to say goodbye, find Andy, and get the hell outta here.

"Kinda unconventional circumstances, I guess," the boy chuckled, "but, um… Nice to meet you, Seth." Asher's hand, however, took its own sweet time to withdraw once things had been said and done; I was the hastier of the two to pull back, and my treasonous skin noted every trailing path of warmth his fingers left in their wake as they lightly skimmed across my palm and grazed my fingertips. I had to resist the urge to itch at my palm once I'd reclaimed it – maybe it was just my nerves but even that little touch had tickled more than it should have.

I stuffed my hand back into my pocket and bent a finger inwards to scratch at tender skin still tingling from Asher's touch. Jesus, what was wrong with me?! One close encounter and it had reduced me to a shivering puddle of hormones. I mean, I know I said I wasn't good with the whole sexuality thing when other people started getting involved – and I'm not much of a people-person to begin with – but this was just fucking ridiculous!

Before I could start wondering whether Andy had dropped some kind of aphrodisiac or something into my drink behind my back – which, sadly enough, wasn't quite as far-fetched as it sounded – Asher gently cleared his throat and wrenched my attention back to him.

"Ah, sorry, did you say something?"

"What?" For a moment, the younger boy looked clueless, blue eyes wide and confused before something clicked behind them. "Oh! Oh, no, um, not really. Not yet, anyways." A flash of a grin again as he shyly dipped his head with its cute, surfer-boy haircut, and hooked his thumbs into his back pockets. I didn't even have time to be relieved before he continued with brows thoughtfully raised, his shoulders freezing in the middle of an inquisitive shrug. "I was just kind of wondering if, y'know – unless you're with someone –"

Blue-haired deserter bitch, my mind petulantly grumbled, barely even paying attention to what Asher was saying so it could chew the image of Andy's face off. Swear to god, once I find her there's gonna be Hell to pa-

"Maybe… we could check out the con together?"

-ay-Wait, what?

But Asher barrelled onwards, blissfully unaware of the way my eyes went a bit wider, my lips clamped themselves shut, and my lungs temporarily stopped taking in air.

"I mean, I came here with my brother, but he's doing commissions for people in Artist's Alley, so I've kinda been on my own all day, and, I dunno, these things just seem like more fun when you've got someone to hang out with, y'know?" Asher dipped his head, shoulders shyly hunching, as a grin flickered on the outskirts of his lips, "And you're kinda the first person I've run into–" A slight, embarrassed and self-debasing snicker as he dealt himself an endearingly obvious mental kick to the head, "ah, lame pun totally not intended, by the way. Anyways you're the first person I've met that hasn't been all, you know… cliquey."

Wondering with a pitiful desperation what I'd done in my past life for God to spite me like this, I forced myself to take a breath, wet my lips, and I began the gruelling process of coercing words from a less-than-co-operative tongue that suddenly had a bizarre urge to lick Asher's cheek. It was a nice cheek, really – smooth and stubble-free. "Uh, actually, I'm kinda looking for my friend…" Why I was aiming my thumb back over my shoulder I did not know, 'cause I hadn't the fuckin' slightest as to where Andy'd buggered off to. For all I knew, she might as well have booked herself a trip to the goddamn moon.

If Asher had any hopes that I might jump at his invitation, however, I'd just dashed them. Only he was polite enough to look courteously deflated, instead of ruinously disappointed by my answer. "Oh… Okay, no problem."

Which kind of made me feel like I'd just kicked a fuckin' puppy. If it weren't for the fact that I am… the way I am, I probably would have said, "To hell with Andy," before accepting his offer and doing whatever it bloody well took to convince Asher to let me nibble on his earlobes with their six-gauge plugs a little. Along with whatever else he felt like letting me get my mouth on. Instead…

"Sorry, it's just… She, uh…" A short, utterly humourless chuckle, "She kinda pulled a Houdini on me." My mouth rambled onwards, even after I'd planned on stopping, and whatever leash my brain usually kept my tongue on was nowhere to be seen. At least it wasn't making a move for Asher's face, which at that point was my biggest concern. "This whole thing was kind of her idea to begin with and now she's left me high 'n dry and about ready to have a heart attack, 'cause I'm, uh… Well… I'm only kinda so-so in big crowds like this so I'm a little overwhelmed, and, uh... And I'm rambling, aren't I?"

"Just a little bit, yeah – but that's okay. I don't mind."

I gave an embarrassed laugh, raking my fingers back through my dark hair for my grip to linger at the nape of my neck. "Sorry, I tend to do that when I'm a bit... Y'know..." I made a dramatic, harried-looking face with my eyes bulging wide, teeth gritting, my mouth pulled downwards in a taut line, and forced my clawed hands to shake. My brain roused itself from its nervous, hormonal stupor long enough when Asher only laughed to notice something that my libido had overlooked entirely. "Come to think of it… Aren't you, uh – I mean, no offence or anything, but aren't you a little young to be in here? Isn't this an eighteen-plus kind of thing?"

Once again… Face? Meet palm. Palm, meet Face. This is what you get for having your head up your ass and allowing yourself to be distracted by hormones and cute blondes. (Because yes, I can and will admit that Asher was cute. Why else do you think I magically transformed into a gibbering idiot? Current circumstances aside, of course.) Christ, someone just shoot me now and be done with it already. I think I've suffered enough indignity without the help of my big mouth and its overwhelming love of uncontrollable word-vomit.

Asher, remarkably, didn't seem at all offended by my question – and if he was, he hid it well. I wasn't sure whether or not I should be relieved by that. Instead, he sucked in a long, slow breath between his teeth as he flashed me an embarrassed but understanding grin. "I know, I look younger than I am, but I'm seventeen, so..." Thumbs still hooked in the back pockets of his cargo shorts, he gave a lax shrug and began flushing with colour all over again. I could kind of understand why.

Seventeen? Shit, I'd thought he was at least a year juniorthat, which suddenly made me feel like an unbelievable asshole for bringing it up in the first place.

Then again, knowing he was only a year younger than me also made me feel like less of a creepy cradle-robbing pedophile, which is always a good thing. Maybe I'm just cracked in the head, but I would much rather deal with the image of the asshole as opposed to the creep who likes picking up jail-bait – because sure, technically Asher was still a minor, but the fact that we were only a year apart age-wise also made everything I'd just done, and thought, perfectly legal. Which, for me, was a huge relief.

Dealing with my sexuality was enough. I wasn't really all that inclined to start adding things like pedophilia to the equation, now or ever if I could possibly avoid it.

"I'm kind of half-helping my brother with his commissions and so long as I don't go into the 'Adult' section," Asher added with an innocent cough, sketching a neat set of air-quotes with his fingers, "Then I'm allowed to run around as I please. Besides, believe it or not, this is actually an all-ages thing. The more explicit stuff is in that section over there, and they ID you before you go in." He pointed out, nodding his chin towards the far end of the gallery where a large cluster of gaggling men and women with bags and wallets full of money had already gathered.

Hm. All righty then.

I think I've just solved the problem of the missing Andy.

"Actually, speaking of…" Clearing my throat as I tore my gaze away from a particularly nummy-looking individual sauntering past with a finely muscled chest exposed by the black mesh he wore – Focus… I told myself sternly – I turned my attention back to the present and replaced my attention on Asher as he rocked back onto his heels. "You haven't seen any girls with blue hair wearing a pinstriped vest and a fedora around recently, have you? Stands about yay tall…?" I levelled my hand at about the height of Asher's eyebrows and the underside of my chin, fingers waggling, cocking my head and squinting a bit in the hopes that it might jog a memory. "Probably squealing over some kind of yaoi like it's God's gift to mankind?"

"Is that your friend?"

Unfortunately. "Yeah…"

"Mm…" Balancing with a perfect stillness on his heels, Asher's lips arched upwards towards his nose in something I'd heard Andy refer to as a 'mouth-shrug', those tropical eyes of his wide as he raised his brows and stared off to the left in thought. Which, unless Asher was left-handed, I knew meant he was trying to recall something factual.

One thing that I will admit about myself right now is that, yes, I am an utter nerd, and am in love with TV shows like 'House', and 'Lie To Me' – former purely for the quintessence of wit and snarkiness that is Hugh Laurie, and the latter for the embodiment of random weirdness and useful information that is portrayed by Tim Roth. Never mind the fact that I think I have a bit of a gay crush on both men, despite their being old enough to be my father.

Hey, Andy's got a hard-on for Sean Connery. Why can't I have one for Hugh Laurie and Tim Roth? (Oh, god, and how could I have possibly forgotten Jensen Ackles? Not old, but just as delicious for different reasons. That man in three words? God. Of. Yum. My mom just laughed when I asked for the Impala his character drives in 'Supernatural' – with Mr. Ackles naked and hog-tied with a ribbon in the trunk – for my eighteenth birthday. See? I'm not totally in the closet. Just… mostly. I still have three limbs and a torso to get out.)

Tipping forward onto the flats of his feet with a quiet 'thwap' from the soles of his Converse sneakers, Asher's head dropped as he quietly frowned to himself and searched his memories for anyone who might have matched my description. I have to admit, he was certainly earning himself points in that respect. I mean, I'd shot down his offer to hang out during the con, and yet he was still perfectly willing to help me find the traitorous blue-haired wench I'd politely snubbed him for without a single ounce of acrimony or indignation.

So I'm not going to even bother lying and say that I didn't take that moment while he was distracted to do a more thorough eyeballing of him as a whole and appreciate the single modicum of luck that had made us run into each other, literally. And just when I was starting to quietly grin to myself, wondering if maybe he'd be more patient and understanding with my issues than Joshua had ever been, Asher's head whipped up with his eyes all lit up like he'd just realized the answer for the million-dollar question.

"Oh yeah, I think there was someone like that over in the Alley! C'mon, if we hurry she might still be there!"

No one needs to be a rocket scientist or a psychologist to be able to tell you that when Asher seized my hand just then and began barrelling through the hordes of Anime worshippers with me trailing along behind him, I was again feeling just a tad bit more than awkward. That was the first time I'd actually had my hand held, or held another's in return, since Joshua threw our meagre relationship back in my face. I know, it seems like such a stupid, petty little thing to get all worked up over – and I was well aware of the fact that Asher was leading me by the hand not for the reason of familiarity, but so I wouldn't fall behind or get lost – but even so… It was the intimacy of human contact.

I've already told you that I'm not really a people-person; apart from Andy or my mother, it's not very often people get so familiar with me that they'd cross the boundary into the casual touch. Even then, I wouldn't go shopping with my friends holding their hand, and of course, because trying to discount events that had already come to pass would be a futile and useless waste of time, I couldn't deny that I kind of liked Asher. He was a cute kid, modest and honest and kind. First he'd been plastered against me like a sheet of Saran Wrap, then he'd tried to pick me up, and now he was holding my hand.

The action in and of itself held some pretty painful memories – considering that despite how slowly our relationship had developed, I had actually harboured deep, genuine feelings for Joshua, and his rejection had only worsened my already crippled sense of security – but for the moment I decided to grin and bear it. Instead, I focussed on the task of keeping one foot in front of the other, dodging con-goers, and trying to keep up with – while not blatantly staring at the rather nice ass of – the spirited little blonde leading me, reminding myself again of fulfilling my vow to force-feed Andy her freshly bought goods for abandoning me once we found her.

Never mind the fact that another part of my mind was selfishly hoping it would take the rest of the day, and that Asher – kind, eager soul that he was – wouldn't mind aiding me in the search.

Just when we'd come within sight of the door to the showing room that housed the many cramped tables and heat-producing masses of this so-called "Artist's Alley", the devil herself popped up out of absolutely nowhere before us like any number of very real ninjas, a mile-wide half-moon grin on her face. We barely managed to stop in time to avoid barrelling her over, but still, she faltered just long enough to cast a curious look at the attractive young man holding my hand – which was even warmer than it had been when we'd first met, and I suspected I knew why – before she grabbed the only other one I had to drag me headlong past the tables.

The only thing that immediately registered in my mind was that Asher was suddenly no longer there. Once Andy had snatched me, his fingers had been ripped free of mine, and then he was gone.

A lesson to be learned by all: Just because one person is shorter than the other, do not assume that they are neither strong nor fast, because I had a full head over Andy, and she could still move like the wind while taking me with her without even so much as breaking a sweat.

Somehow, I had a nasty feeling that no matter how bad I'd thought my previous situation had been – even though, by the time I'd gotten out of it, it had improved substantially – I was bound to end up in another that was much, much worse. After all, out of the frying pan and into the fire, as they say. And when Andy violently whiplashed me staggering and stumbling and swearing profusely into one of the tables, my gut instincts proved, once again, most regrettably, to be correct.

A bottle of water that had been left open next to a set of markers jerked as the table lurched forward from the impact of my weight; all I could do was watch, petrified, unable to move quickly enough to prevent catastrophe from striking yet again as the bottle tipped and slammed down against the tabletop, unleashing its contents on the many half-finished pieces of art that littered the surface. Ink began to run all too quickly, neat, talented pencil strokes began to go fuzzy, and Andy began to panic – although, not for the art now being drowned because of her recklessness whilst handling me. No. She was worried about the artist, who had mysteriously vanished in the time it had taken her to track me down and get back to their table.

And ruin their commissions. Which she hadn't noticed yet.

"Dammit, dammit, dammit! I wanted you to meet him Seth-kun he was so awesome you would've loved him!"

I could've decked her just then, and I probably would have too if I hadn't been so preoccupied with having a heart attack over destroying someone's hard, beautiful work. I was busy madly scrambling to get everything out of the way of the rapidly encroaching flash flood, while a small crowd of likewise startled artists and onlookers gathered to gawk in appellation and help me feel like even more of a clumsy idiot. It wasn't long, however, before Asher was once more by my side; his bright eyes were wide in horror as he frantically dashed into the fray to my aid… Or perhaps it was to aid the drawings, but you know what? I was too mortified and furious and too many goddamn other things to care. He was helping, Andy wasn't. Case closed.

This carried on for what seemed like an eternity, Asher shouting at other scrambling artists for paper towel while we all but threw as many things from the table as we could to save them from getting drenched and therefore destroyed. After long enough, I had to turn and walk away, snarling at Andy to clean up the mess she had created, and then to apologize to the artist when they came back for being reckless and trashing their commissions.

Hey, not like it was my fault. She was the one who'd whip-lashed me into the table.

And frankly, I was no longer in the mood to humour her or tolerate her childishness. Period. Enough was enough.


The weather that embraced me when I shoved my way through the door was nothing short of absolute bliss in comparison to the noise and the heat that had enveloped absolutely everything inside the building. A surprisingly crisp autumn breeze wound itself around my body, cooling the beads of sweat that clung to the flesh of my forehead and slithering about with a delicious chill beneath my clothes. I had to shield my eyes from the sun beaming down because it made the entire world seem red after the time I'd spent beneath artificial lights, but even so, having burned off most of my anger on my way out of the college, I couldn't have forced myself to grumble about it even if I'd wanted to. I was just glad to be outside.

Away from Andy, away from the crowds, away from the horrific seme/uke stereotypes openly mocking reality, and away from those goddamn provocative sign-bearers and the hyperactive ani-cracks running around smacking people's asses with hard wooden paddles.

And more so than anything else – the sun, the fresh air, and the freedom of movement that left me with an almost irresistible urge to twirl and dance simply because I could – the concessions stand that stood not but twenty feet away could have brought tears to my eyes. I'd never really noticed until just then, what with all the stress and thigh-humping and being dragged through crowds and flung into tables and whatnot, but I was fuckin' starving. I was so hungry I could have eaten a horse. Or, if it wasn't for the fact that it would have made me a flaming cannibal, someone could have piled up about twenty of those fangirls on a plate, poured a couple gallons of hickory smoked barbecue sauce over them, and I would have been as happy as a clown pretending to be Hannibal Lecter. Eradicate both hunger and the main source of my aggravation in one fell swoop. Two birds with one stone. What more could a guy ask for?

Trying not to linger on recent events, knowing all too well that it'd accomplish little more than to get my hackles up again, I pulled out my battered, neglected wallet from my bag as I shambled up to the cheerfully coloured vendor, grateful that everyone else currently lingering in the daylight was free of all cat ears and/or various other anime paraphernalia. For the time being, I had returned to reality, and god damn, it had never smelled more divine to me than it did right now. Stepping up onto the platform beneath the mobile vendor's overhang, I stole a glance at the menu, skimming over whatever it was that this particular stand had to offer before I finally gave up on eyeing the mouth-wateringly greasy slices of pizza and ordered one of those with a Coke to wash it down.

I had stayed at Andy's place the night before – and since her mother's a Vegan as well as the main cook, any meal that hadn't been smuggled in like an illegal immigrant was entirely animal-product free – so I figured I could use a nice chunk of greasy baking piled high with diced meats and sticky, stringy cheese on it to reacquaint myself with the diet of normal human beings. When I got it in my hands, the frigid can of pop cradled securely in the crook of my elbow, I was more grateful than ever for the fact that I was, down to the very core of my being, a healthy carnivore, and one that had no plans on taking the vegetarian road unless forced to at gunpoint. Even then, on the off-chance that I did go green, someone would have had a damned hard time trying to force me to live on products that were one hundred percent animal-related-free.

Just like anime – not for me, please.

This was all too good to last, though – the pizza and the Coke and the blessed solitude – because when I opened my wallet up, I opened it up to see a whole lot of nothing. Not a single bill. Not a single loonie, toonie, quarter, nickel, or dime. I didn't have my bank card, or any receipts hastily stuffed inside to mark past transactions. I didn't even have a goddamn moth to flutter out to declare how broke I was!

"There a problem?" The vendor asked, peeking down from her elevated viewpoint to see for herself what was producing the holdup.

"Uh…" With a nervous grin dancing about on my lips, I glanced back up at her only for guilt-ridden russet eyes to be sent scrambling back down to my oh so horrifically empty wallet, tilting it at an angle so the contents that it did not contain would be obscured from her wandering gaze. You've gotta be kidding me… I whined to myself, quietly grimacing as my stomach growled, savouring the fragrant aroma of hot grease, tomato sauce, and delectably juicy slices of meat, before forcing me to imagine having to give that up. Wonder how far I'd get before she sics the cops on my ass…?

"Six dollars, yeah?"

At the abrupt entrance of a deep, smooth, and alluringly accented voice over my shoulder, I twitched, instinctively jolting back from the taller man reaching past me to hand a ten dollar bill up to the grinning vendor.

"He- wh-whoa, wait a minu-"

"And could you add, ahh… an iced tea to that, please? Thanks."

"Two-fifty is your change – have a nice day."

"Same to you."

"Wh-…" The exchange had taken place so fast my brain didn't even have the time it needed to form a proper, nor punctual response to the out-of-the-blue act of generosity. Some air-headed part of me registered that the accent was faintly Australian, but that was about it. By the time I'd finally gathered my wits about me enough to notice that the man that had paid for my food had begun to walk away – his change glinting brightly in my wallet – I could do little better than stumble over my own feet as I launched off the vendor's platform and ran after him.

"H-hey, wait a minute!"

"I wouldn't open that pop o' yours very soon, my friend," The man grinned, the genuine quality of his smile reaching up into entrancing, granite blue eyes as they glanced at me out of the corners of narrow rectangular glasses. "Unless, of course, you feel like taking an impromptu shower in the bathroom sinks. Talking from personal experience, though, bein' that sticky when you can't wash properly…? Gets annoying pretty damned fast, so I'd suggest you just save yourself the trouble and give it a good tap before you pop the tab."

That made me falter again – such a fucking random comment; who said shit like that to complete strangers? – but I continued to pursue him anyways, unrelenting in my protests. "Look, you didn't have to do that. Matter of fact I wish you hadn't I could've just given her back the food and then everyone would've been happy."

Those dark irises shot me another glance laden with meaning from behind thin lenses and even thinner black frames. "Except you."

"No," I countered in a stubborn drawl, "I would have been fine."

"That's funny – y'look awfully hungry to me."

"Well I am, but-" Oh, wait. Damn. Stranger: one; Seth: zero. Word-vomit strikes again. Back to Plan A. "Look, I would have been fine regardless!" Sure, so my reason was redundant, but so what? When I can't think of anything better to argue with, I'll use my only available resources until they've been ground into dust from exhaustion.

The man kept walking, the breeze playfully tousling the messy black sheaves of hair brushing his cheekbones and catching in dark, thick lashes behind his glasses. Realizing belatedly that the rest of it had been pulled into a rather short, but thick spiky brush of a ponytail at the back of his head, my mind lent another moment to fleetingly take note of the eight stainless steel rings piercing his left ear, and a tiny ninth ring piercing his tragus.

And then it hit me he was actually really attractive.

"Whatever you say, mate." The black-haired stranger chuckled, only stopping when he'd come to one of the benches situated against the glass walls of the campus building the convention was taking place in so he could flop himself onto it with a relishing groan of relief.

Rooted speechlessly in place, staring incredulously down at the man as he tilted his head back towards the sky, lids drifting shut with a serenity I wish I had, I heaved a tired sigh and wondered what in the hell it was about me that seemed to draw trouble like a magnet. Bad karma was as good a reason as any, I supposed, although what I'd done to earn it I didn't have the slightest. I hadn't expected today to be a total cakewalk, but this…? This was just… Argh.

I mean, there's nothing wrong with encountering some decidedly good-looking individuals during an otherwise shitty day, but… Jesus! First Andy ditched me, then Asher unintentionally wound up grinding my thigh, then I had to go and mentally molest the poor kid; Andy had sabotaged any chance of forming a relationship with aforementioned cute blonde, flung me into a table, dumped water all over an artist's hard work, and now…?

As the matter of the change in my wallet brought itself back to my attention, I sucked in a long, slow breath, and gave it another shot.

"Well, here. Take your change, at least," I persisted, awkwardly shifting my paper plate of pizza and my shaken can first from one arm to the other as I tried to get into my worn and predominantly empty old wallet. That attempt soon went under so I gave up, snapped it shut, and simply tossed it at the new guy from my mix-and-match position.

Muscles throughout his tall body winced at the sudden weight that landed in his lap – not that there was much in there that would have made it very heavy, I broodingly mused – and the shorter locks of his bangs were tugged in front of his eyes once again as he tipped his head forward to first peer down at my wallet before frowning and looking up enquiringly at me.

"Take it back," I said again.

"But it's not my wallet."

What? Was this guy a complete simpleton? I wasn't telling him to take my wallet – I was telling him to take his change! "No, the change that's inside my wallet." Oh please for the love of God… Don't argue, just take the feckin' change. I just wanted something to go right today.

"But then that'd be stealing."

"It's your change!" I mulishly shot back, voice hiking up an octave in frustration.

"But it's in your wallet, therefore that must mean it's yours," The man slowly drawled, brows arched, the arms he'd spread lazily across the spine of the bench remaining where they lay with no indication of moving to either accept the change or give my wallet back. "Ergo, any move I make to take it would count as theft, and I'm sorry if I come off like that kind o' person, but I'm not in such dire straits that I need to steal two-fifty from someone who couldn't even buy themselves a slice of pizza." He finished with a chuckle and a wry, crooked smirk.

A long moment of silence passed just then, with me gawking at him, and him staring complacently at me, and maybe it was just the sudden cool breeze that slithered down my neck, but a tight little shudder abruptly rolled over my spine, like someone had decided to trickle ice water down my naked back. Clouds scudded over the sky and sent dancing shadows traipsing over us, each one darkening intense grey-blue eyes before a beam of sunlight would illuminate them and make them shine like some sort of rare, precious jewel, emphasizing a depth I hadn't seen before, a clarity that, for some reason, reminded me of the marbles I used to have as a kid. Tiny, sparkling diamonds of light glinted off of the earrings decorating the curve of his left ear, and alerted me to two more steel rings piercing his right lobe with the barbell for a horizontal industrial spanning the upper half to top things off. And since I was taking our moment of silence to subtly take in this strange, handsome creature, I couldn't help but notice the necklaces made of black twine and pewter ornamentation that lay against the base of his throat and dipped down beneath the unbuttoned folds of a charcoal shirt that gave anyone who looked a tantalizing glimpse of his sternum.

Add worn, faded jeans – complete with a hole in the left knee – beaten flip-flops on naked feet, and the numerous leather and twine bracelets on deliciously sculpted wrists, and suddenly Asher wasn't the only one getting me hot under the collar.

Chee-rist. Today was just not my day, was it?

I nearly dropped my pizza when he languidly chucked my wallet at me in a back-handed toss. "Keep it," he cordially grinned. "It might come in handy."

Too bad the guy was a total weirdo. Staring at the odd, obviously demented man, I gave in with a sigh and went to sit down on the bench next to his. "No offence," I mumbled down at the concrete, before russet eyes slid to their corners to pin him with an implicative scowl, "but I don't even know you and I can already tell you're insufferable. Besides, what in the hell'm I gonna do with two freaking dollars?"

Those perfect granite blue pools shot me a friendly wink as he snapped open his can of iced tea. "Two-fifty, actually," he affably corrected me. "And you can buy yourself a little 'kawaii' souvenir keychain if you're here for the convention."

I gave a cynical snort. Yeah, that was really worth my money – although I had to give him points for the air-quotes of sarcasm.

"And why'm I insufferable?" He continued in vague bewilderment. "Because I didn't steal your money or leave you to starve?" Making a small noise under his breath, he took a drawn-out draft of his drink as he considered the notion with raised brows; unconsciously, I think, my gaze wandered to his throat, watching the somehow attractive bob of his Adam's apple as the fluid went down. Licking his lips as he settled back against the bench, he peered off at something in the distance for a moment before he gave a quick, nonplussed shake of his head, did that little mouth-arch thing and jerked his shoulder in a blasé shrug. "Must've changed the definition recently." He turned a pleasant, somehow annoyingly unruffled grin back to me, "I thought it was called being chivalrous."

Insufferable… indeed. I just stared at him for a second, eyes narrowed, probably grimacing like I had a bad taste in my mouth as I tried to decide whether or not the guy sitting next to me was really from around here – or if he was even human, for that matter. He just sat there quietly smirking to himself at some secret joke as he sipped his iced tea, one elbow still resting on the spine of the bench, ankle wagging itself on his knee with the hole in his jeans, and watched the world move on without us.

After another second, I gave up, shook my head with a subtle, indifferent roll of my eyes – after all, if he wanted to be a weirdo he was totally entitled to do so – and focussed on my food, which was going to go cold before I even got a chance to taste it if I kept arguing with him like this. "Grocery-toting old Grannies and Fluffies stuck in trees the world over should be rejoicing right about now. Thought saps like you'd died out with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table," I muttered as I voraciously bit into my pizza, startling and inhaling a thick chunk of sausage as I did so when all of a sudden the psycho I had decided to sit by burst out in laughter.

Doubling over with a violent coughing fit, I pounded my fist against my chest, choking and gagging until my eyes were red and watering before I'd managed to dislodge the rogue sausage from my esophagus.

Was it even legal to put slices that thick on!? It almost damn near killed me!

"Ah, I'm sorry, mate; couldn't help it," the man snickered, a broad smile still adorning his features as he wiped a long, ink-stained finger beneath one of his eyes. Residual chuckles continued to shake his shoulders for a minute before he took a deep, grinning breath to calm himself.

And suddenly, I made up a name for him. Dr. Chuckles. Ph.D. in Psychopathy.

O'course, the nickname was abruptly defeated and thrust into nonexistence when he switched his can to his other hand and extended a large palm to me with a grin. "M'name's Miles Strife."

I stared at him like an idiot for a second before I could grasp exactly what was happening on a deeper level as the cheese on my pizza began to slide off onto my fingers. When his brows rose, however, those pure grey-blue pools watching me with a sort of patient expectancy, I smacked some sense into myself – not literally, otherwise I would have left a gruesome streak of cheese and sauce all across my face, not attractive – before viciously rubbing my fingers down with some napkins and taking his hand.

But only because it was polite.

Unlike Asher's, Miles's hand was cool against my own, strong and firm as it clasped around me but smooth to the touch. My heart gave a stupid little flutter against my ribs as I glanced down and realized that, apart from the smears of ink and what looked like marker, he had Greek symbols tattooed onto the bases of his right index and ring finger just before the knuckle in plain black ink – Alpha, and Omega, by the looks of things. Steel rings occupied his thumb and middle finger, and all it took was one brief peek at his left hand to see more symbols tattooed there – Oriental characters of some kind, scrawled on the back of his hand between his thumb and index finger – as well as three more rings around the first three digits.

Before I had a chance to drift yet further into La La Land and a more detailed ogling – call me weird, but I have this thing about hands, and from what I could see Dr. Chuckles had damn nice hands – I gave my head a clipped shake. "Uh, Seth. Seth Carter," I coughed, if somewhat awkwardly.

There was a quality in that quirked grin of his that didn't strike me as eccentric anymore. No, I thought I just barely caught a glimpse of something… warmer, almost. "Pleasure to meet you, Seth," the man purred, dipping his head to peer at me over those glasses of his with smiling cobalt eyes.

"Um… Likewise?" Yeah, this was odd all right. Especially when he kept holding my hand even after our rather firm-gripped shake ended – and that purr. Not that it didn't tie my stomach into knots all over again before turning it into a steaming extra-puréed gut-smoothie, laced with a generous shot of double-crossing teenage hormones, 'cause it did, but I was starting to pick up on some seriously intense predator vibes from this guy, and they were starting to make my hair stand on end. My skin was crawling and I wanted so badly to just fucking shiver and be done with it, but… Dammit, I felt like a deer in the headlights when he kept looking at me like that! I could no more shudder than vault onto the bench to spontaneously bust out the moves from Michael Jackson's "Thriller," for Christ's sake! And I loved that song!

Peeking from side to side, picking out possible escape routes or anyone who looked like they might help me if he suddenly went psycho and decided to jump me or something, I pulled a nervous grin onto the pierced left corner of my lips and gently cleared my throat.

Despite his being drop-dead gorgeous, fuck this guy was making me twitchy. There was no way normal people were this… I-don't-even-know-what!

"Uh… Can I, um, have my hand back? I kinda need it to, y'know, eat." I gracelessly chuckled, wiggling my fingers against the underside of his hand. Relief jerked at my heart when those granite eyes cleared and widened with a blink, flitting down curiously to our joined palms – mine having gone limp and reticent far sooner than his had, obviously, otherwise we wouldn't have been having this conversation.

But this Miles guy just laughed again, that crooked grin of his tweaking just a bit higher on one side than the other as he finally let go. "Sorry about that. Got a little tangled in this messed-up head o' mine."

Well, if that wasn't comforting, I didn't know what was. "Eh, no worries." I guess, I added in the back of my mind. Suddenly coughing with a stomach that twisted and jolted with nerve faster than the fangirls inside could pounce upon their favourite reality-mocking yaoi manga, I turned my attention back to my food.

God, why hadn't I just stayed inside? Sure, I had thought at the time that I would be able to escape into reality for a few sparse seconds, but I guess in that moment I had forgotten just how many loonies there were out here, too. The hush that settled between us didn't last long before Miles spoke up again.

"So what brings you to this, eh, madhouse?" He innocently asked, nodding his head back to the plate glass behind him.

"My friend dragged me here," I muttered around a mouthful of pizza, remembering with an inner twitch the blue-haired twit that had abandoned me before throwing me into a table. Oh yeah, who needed enemies when one had friends like her?

"Oh?" Miles' brows arched over his glasses, inviting further elaboration – which I didn't really feel like giving. I kept eating. He turned his gaze out to the circular drive before us, staring past that into the busy street at the end of the long road. A distant grin curled his lips, smaller than what it had been before. "Taking a break from all the excitement, then?"

Giving a harsh snort around my pizza, I sent him a scathingly bewildered look from the corners of my eyes. "Excitement? Are you out of your friggin' mind? You call that asylum…" I trailed off in a loss for words, outstretched and accusatory finger suspended over my opposite shoulder, my jaw hanging until I simply shook my head and stared down at the pavement in exasperation. Excitement, my ass. I said it before and I'll say it again – my very own personal Hell, tailored down to the last modicum to target and abuse each and every last weakness I possessed as a more or less sane human being.

A quiet chuckle wriggled its way out of his throat. "Unwilling attendance, I take it?"

"Farthest thing fuckin' from it, trust me," I sniped, scowling out at nothing in particular.

"I see."

"You?" I asked, compelled by a sudden, indecipherable desire to find out more about this guy. Although the exact reasoning behind my inquiry was a bit skewed, or more along the lines of nonexistent, I just had to ask. Chalk it up to curiosity. I may still be half in the closet, but I'm a curious bastard, so sue me.

"Well, my circumstances are a bit different," Miles allowed in a soft, breathy drawl, "but I'm right there with you in the unwilling box, mate."

My inner Gregory House watched him for a minute, lips pursed, before glancing away in thought with a soft click of the tongue. Interesting. I couldn't help it; I had to ask. "How so?"

"I'm working in the Artist's Alley for a while," he explained. "The heat was startin' to drive me batty, though, and the people were startin' to get on my last nerve somethin' fierce. But…" A heavy sigh made his shoulders rise and fall, and Miles bowed forward to lean his elbows on his knees, something taking root within his eyes as he set his can aside on the bench. "My kid brother thought this would be a good way for me to meet people, and he wouldn't leave me alone about it, so…" He wasn't looking at me, staring down at long, dirty fingers hanging suspended and twined together between his knees instead as he shrugged in obvious, worn resignation. "I thought, what the hell. Why not."

Little brother? Suddenly reminded of the seventeen-year-old blonde I'd bowled over during my lone escapade in the mob, something plucked at the outermost recesses of my mind before it vanished. The entire sequence happened too quickly for me to properly understand its meaning, but something about it just wouldn't leave me alone. My brain kept running back to the image of that blushing youth with the big blue eyes as he fidgeted and tried to flirt with me. Hadn't he said somewhere along the way that his brother was working here, doing commissions in Artist's Alley? And Andy… after she'd thrown me into the table. She'd been whining about a missing artist that she'd wanted me to meet. Come to think of it, in tiny, subtle ways, I thought, quietly scrutinizing Miles from my peripherals, he and Asher kind of looked alike.

With an abrupt rush, everything began to click together, but before I had the time or thought to actually ask about it, that same young man blasted through the doors nearest us. His golden face was flushed with red, his shaggy dirty blonde hair dishevelled as though he'd been struggling through the same crushing, raucous crowds in which we'd first encountered one another.

He faltered for a minute when he saw me, sky-blue eyes curiously lingering on me with my utterly forgotten half-eaten pizza before he snapped out of it and dashed to – what I was beginning to assume was – his brother's side. Huh. No wonder they were both good-looking; good genes tended to do that to siblings. "Miles where've you been I was looking all over for you!"

The artist shot me a look from the corner of his eye that said clearly, if silently, 'oh, goodie.' It was swiftly turned into a forcedly nonchalant grin. "Well, here I am. What's up?"

Asher's mouth burst open as though to say something, and then those impossibly blue eyes of his flitted back to me, loitering for a long moment until he composed himself and returned his attention sheepishly to his brother. "There's kinda been an accident," he mumbled swiftly, gaze shooting down to the ground and his fingers picking at each other at his waist.

Miles, however, didn't look in the least bit concerned. As a matter of fact, he was off staring out into space again, allowing his gaze to attach to various passers-by for a fleeting second of detached observation before they wandered elsewhere to find a new subject of interest. "That so…?"

"Y-yeah," Asher meekly continued, his flush intensifying as he grimaced and bowed his head. "I was kind of in a rush to find you after I'd found this really cool thing in the Merch Room, a-and there was something on the floor and I-"

Realization hit me like an ACME anvil. Those drawings we'd soaked earlier, courtesy of my hyperactive best friend whiplashing me into a table? Yeah, those had belonged to Miles.

Compelled by reasons unknown, I lurched forward in my seat, raising my voice with an obnoxious abruptness to cut Miles' little brother off before he could offer himself up to become a martyr. "W-whoa, look, I am really, really sorry about that, man, that was my fault. My friend was dragging me into the Alley and we crashed into your table and there was this bottle of water, and…" Of course, despite the fact that I had opened my big mouth in the first place, I just couldn't bring myself to tell him that all of the beautiful drawings he must have worked his ass off on were now, more than likely, totally ruined. Both valuable time and money had been wasted, and now not only had I set him back in a very huge way as far as his workload was concerned, the people who'd commissioned him would be pissed at having to wait even longer for work they'd paid good money for.

Which is why my brain couldn't make sense of why he was grinning like an idiot, like he hadn't just had the news broken to him that his work had been brutally raped and drowned by an overturned bottle of water.

He closed his eyes and leaned back into the bench, laying his arms across the top, knees comfortably splayed, as he tipped his face to the brilliant blue sky. "Ah, no worries. They weren't that good anyways."

... Come again?

Before I even knew what I was doing, I launched up from my seat, dumping the remains of my half-eaten pizza on the concrete with my arms flung wide – and the scariest thing is, I didn't even notice the wasted food. "Didn't you hear me!? I just told you I totally wrecked your commissions and here you are acting like I sawed off some friggin' chain of oppression or something!"

Cracking a single granite eye open, Miles pinned me to the spot with a careless lopsided grin. "Yeah, thanks for that, mate."

Okay, now this was just… fucked. I hadn't left the Twilight Zone at all. No, I'd thrown myself right into the very freaking heart of it!

"W-what?" I stammered. Now can you really blame me for not being able to grasp that? I mean, come on… Wouldn't you be at least a little bit mad after receiving such god-awful news?

"That chain of oppression you were talking about earlier?" Miles archly reminded me, brows raised like this was all totally normal and I was the one overcomplicating things. "You were right. You severed it for me, and I'm expressing my thanks."

"What!?" Yup, still wasn't getting it here. A hint would have been appreciated. I squeezed my eyes shut tight, fingers adhered to my temples as I struggled to understand, to grasp even the slightest thread of comprehension. And I still didn't get it. "N-no, look, I don't think you're listening to me here, buddy. I just ruined your commissions. All of them. All that hard work has just been flushed down the crapper – why aren't you mad at me!?"

Miles gave it a moment of thought, peering up with a meditative air to the clouds drifting serenely overhead, before he gave that mouth-shrug and a careless shoulder-shrug to go with it. "'Cause I like you. 'Cause you're cute." His grin twitched wider at one corner, eyes endearingly crinkling just the slightest at their outside edges as he pinned me to the spot. "I think that's reason enough – don't you?"

Yup. Who was that eccentric young man with his jaw metaphorically scraping the ground and his eyes blown up to five times their original size? That… was me.

My name is Seth Carter – welcome to my life.


To Be Continued…


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