The original title of this was No Sleep, but then I remembered that there's a subreddit named No Sleep which has a lot of neat horror stories. Now the title is an inside joke.
Uh, this isn't a horror story by the way. It's a bit of me procrastinating on things by doing other things and I originally thought this would be a lot shorter but it grew into its own monster.
The words come to him like the droning of a schoolteacher, and for a moment he's back in his old schoolhouse, the scuffling of his underachieving seatmate's swinging feet fading into the background in the way that he wishes he could. He gives a huff just soft enough to pass off as an unnaturally loud exhalation of breath and slides his gaze over to the man sitting next to him.
Back hunched over and face hidden in the circle of his arms, he sits with an offensively indolent posture that makes Cecil's lips twist to the side. A few stray locks of his black hair are rebelliously curving up and back; his clothes-which look suspiciously like nightclothes-are just as ruffled as his hair, the collar wrinkled against the back of his neck.
Oh, so that must be what the back of my neck looks like, he idly thinks just as a hand slams down onto the table before him.
He turns back to the front, vision filling with the face of that underachiever from his school days. His eyes, which used to stare through him so drowsily, are now narrowed as they look upon him with what he feels is unwarranted disdain. This is not how Cecil imagined meeting his old classmate again, and he finds himself glaring back if only for the sake of his crumbling image of an amiable reunion.
"Victor," he returns flatly. "Is something wrong?"
"Or rather," he continues, cutting off Victor as he leans back in the chair. "Do you think I'm not paying attention because I'm not looking at you?"
The other man hovers over him for a bit, his fingers clenching the edge of the table. When he opens his mouth, however, the person next to Cecil begins to stir.
He lifts his head, and Victor mutters "uncanny" under his breath. Cecil silently agrees;it's nothing short of remarkable. This man sitting next to him is like a mirror image. The same dark green eyes (though his eyelids are heavy from sleep), the same subtle turn of the nose, the same curious quirk to his eyebrows. It's tempting to just reach out and grab each stray strand of hair to hold up to his own and see if even the lengths are the same.
The man turns his head towards them in an awkward creaking way, his flyaway strands swaying with the motion. "Mm? Is the lesson over?" he mutters, bringing a hand, with creases from his clothing decorating the length of its skin, to rub his eyes.
Victor's shoulders go slack. With a lump in the back of his throat, Cecil notices his old classmate slowly dragging his hands off the table, as if they have no place in the line of sight of the man next to him.
"No, Your Majesty," Victor answers, the tone of his voice all lightness and decorum. The corner of Cecil's mouth twitches as he takes care to keep a neutral expression, but he still regrets not doing something more while the king was out. A scathing critique of Victor's lesson plan, perhaps? Or even sardonically addressing him as "Teacher?"
Instead, he was all too content to watch the boy, who once trailed like a shadow behind the louder personalities of the classroom, attempt to teach him basic court etiquette in the same monotone voice he always used.
The king turns to him, and Cecil reflexively smiles back at him even as he wonders why the castle isn't in an uproar over the missing sovereign. The king takes a moment to study his features before his mouth curves up into his easy smile. "You're my very likeness," he remarks, not for the first time that day. "If I kept you around, I feel that I would forsake a mirror entirely."
"I doubt it-," Cecil's abrupt answer has Victor clearing his throat. "-Your Majesty."
The king lets out a chuckle, looking sincerely amused. "You doubt correctly, my friend! I don't exactly dress myself in the mornings. And on that note, I am oftentimes not where I am supposed to be in the mornings."
Cecil glances away quickly, his face flushing. Though the king's face is not well-known enough to reach his town, the rumors of the man's infidelity are unsurprisingly far-reaching. He had hoped, when this venture had first started, that they were simply hearsay.
"E-excuse me, Your Majesty, may I ask you something?" he says.
"The queen-," another disapproving throat clearing from Victor, "-Her Majesty. Will she notice our exchange?"
With the question comes the little bit of courage Cecil needs to return the king's eye contact. The brief second of coldness that flickers onto the ruler's face is startling to see, but perhaps, simply an illusion.
When he searches that face that looks so much like his own, he finds nothing but the man's customary open friendliness as he answers, "The queen is aware of what we are doing, and she is nothing but supportive of my idea. A good thing, too. She's much too sharp for me to keep anything secret from her."
Like your affairs?
The unwanted thought drifts into his head regardless, and Cecil hopes the king can not see the question in his eyes, or take it from his mind in the telepathic link that twins are meant to have. Hopefully, their "uncanny" resemblance, as Victor puts it, is just that: uncanny.
Thankfully, the king's smile remains clueless, and Victor cuts in with a curt question directed to Cecil about whether or not the lesson can be continued.
Cecil looks up at Victor for a long while, contemplating his choices. To suffer through an instructor who has no love for him would be...interesting, but just thinking about the man's monotone voice lecturing him and his dark eyes constantly leering down at him makes his head throb ahead of time.
And so, with the theatrics of a fibbing schoolchild, he lifts his right hand onto his forehead, gazes up tearfully at Victor through his eyelashes, and whimpers in a pitiful voice, "I have a headache."
Next to him, the king is left in hysterics, the legs of his wooden chair creaking as he rocks back and forth. Up in the front, Victor's eyebrows are drawn low on his forehead, the skin of his lip pulled tight as his teeth clamp down on it. He's furious like Cecil's never seen him during their school days, and more than his mirror image brought to life, more than his newfound knowledge of the king's love affairs, this just may be the most remarkable thing he's witnessed today.
The drag of his feet against the pale wooden floor has integrated itself so smoothly with his mornings, its absence would be like the hush of sound of a body creeping up behind him.
The shuffling of that boy through the aisles is a bit like creeping, with his arms hanging limply at his sides and the curve of his neck bent in such a way that his hair falls over his eyes. He slides into place beside Cecil, and his eyes meet Cecil's. He lifts his eyebrows as a greeting, but doesn't make eye contact long enough to see Cecil nod back.
Instead, Victor opts for arranging his slate on the desk and leaning his cheek against the palm of his hand, his eyelids already fluttering shut. On the hotter days, his hand tends to slide against his sweat-slicked cheek, and he's let his chin collide with the unforgiving surface of his slate a few times already.
Today's relatively cool, so throughout the lesson he changes positions with a sleepy mumble, arranging his arms on the desk before plopping his head down onto it. The mole on the back of his neck catches Cecil's attention, and for some reason, he's starting to find it more worthwhile to stare at his classmate rather than the teacher. His deep breaths punctuate the aging schoolteacher's droning, rattling through the rise and fall of his chest and thrumming against Cecil's fingertips as he writes.
The other boy didn't have that mole two summers ago; it had started as a speck on his skin which seemed to darken with each passing day. On his walk home from the schoolhouse, Cecil liked to imagine it on the back of Victor's neck, slowly turning black under the midday sun.
The teacher never does notice Cecil's lapses in attention, and neither does his lethargic seatmate. No, Victor stirs for no one but giant, bulky Sam, who brings his fist down onto the boy's spine after lessons with an audible thump.
"Get up, you bum," Sam growls as Victor blinks groggily up at him. The bigger boy catches Cecil looking and sends him a warning look. Cecil answers with a smile that tugs uncomfortably at the corner of his lips, none of the bitterness he feels showing through.
"Follow me instead," he doesn't say as Victor unsteadily gets to his feet. He bites down on his tongue, keeping back the promise that he'll be a better leader than Sam will ever be, that he'd trade all the knowledge he had learned staying awake in class just to be reflected in the dreams of this slacker.
Even slouching, Victor stands a good few inches taller than Sam, but his demeanor is so benign as he trails behind him that nobody in the class pays him any mind.
As the days pass, Cecil collides more and more often into a girl with flowing tawny hair, and when she giggles and her fingers splay against his chest like butterflies alighting onto a flower, he finds that settling into her hair comes just as easily to him as enveloping himself in Victor's sleeping breaths.