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Ghosting

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It had been a god awful week. 

Nathan was sat on his bed, knees to chest with his eyes peeking up from crossed arms. They stared through furrowed brows at the muddled, black and white projections which cast eerie shadows up the length of his walls. The projector hanging from his room's ceiling emitted a beam of white light, highlighting the floating dust in the air with a soft halo. 

The 9mm pistol that had been sitting on the boy's desk was hard to ignore. It radiated a menacing energy, catching some of the light from the projector and reflecting the harsh white in a distasteful way.

Nathan didn't like to think of using it. He kept it with him as a scare tactic, just another motivator to get what he wanted if being a Prescott wasn't enough. But it had always been enough. It had always been enough... so why now? Why did he have to overachieve and try to drug that shitstain punk freak? She wouldn't have even made a good subject, her expressions were always too rough. They held an unappealing edge even after the drug had kicked in, her drooping eyelids not being enough to mask the glare of pure resentment -- like a cornered and desperate animal. Then of course she had to fight like an animal too, kicking at Nathan before using the distraction to make her quick getaway. 

Maybe he had done it because he knew what her intentions were. She wanted to rob him blind, to take advantage of his wealth while drunk. As if he would let that happen, that dumb money licking bitch. It would've been an insult -- a spit in the face -- if he had let her get away with it. His plan would've worked out fine if he had just executed it correctly

God, he was so fucking stupid. 

The phone beside him vibrated, the screen illuminating to reveal messages from the familiar blue haired girl that had been harassing him for the last hour. She had been insistent on the two meeting immediately in order to discuss conditions securing her secrecy regarding the whole ordeal. Nathan felt his nails dig into his sleeves, navy blue cotton wrinkling from the pressure like ripples in a disturbed pool. In a sudden burst of anger, he grabbed for his phone and wrenched his arm back, preparing to throw the device as hard as possible against his dark carpeted floor. 

With a frustrated, nearly scared cry, he let loose and the phone's corner hit the ground, bouncing once before landing face down. That helped for just a few seconds, allowing Nathan to get up from his bed with his hands running through his hair.

"Cool it, Nathan. You're fine, you're fucking fine! Everything'll end okay, it always does. Do not lose your cool." His words came out through grit teeth, his jaw clenched so hard that it threatened to pop. The boy's chest heaved up and down as his eyes flicked past the bleak walls of his room, searching for anything that could calm him down.

It did quite the opposite, for his gaze settled on a note that had been resting next to his gun, the angrily written words of Chloe seeming to challenge him. He had found it slid underneath the door of his room, demanding to meet. Who the fuck did that bitch think she was? Nathan was a Prescott for Christ's sake. Did the reject Hot Topic cashier really think she could order him around so easily? Huh?

Well the cunt had another thing coming.

Nathan made his way to the desk with clenched fists, knuckles threatening to turn white while his palms suffered from crescent shaped indents. He took a long look at the gleaming pistol before him, meticulously polished and waiting to be armed with. It would be rude to leave a gift untouched. 

The boy forced his tensed expression to loosen, brows unfurrowing as he let a sigh escape from his chapped lips. "It'll be a quick discussion, bro. Nothing to get fucked up over. You literally own this place, Nathan! No one can threaten, let alone touch you here." With that final pep talk he took the gun, feeling the cold metal against his reddened palms. The weapon gave him a reassuring sense of power, a feeling that almost seemed foreign recently. 

He grabbed his red varsity jacket and slipped it on before turning to approach the door.

"Holy shit." An unfamiliar voice. Inside his room. 

Nathan started so bad he nearly dropped his gun. He hurried to put it away into his jacket before rushing the unfamiliar figure in his room and pinning him against the wall by the collar of his shirt. 

"What the fuck are you doing in my room?" His furious blue eyes bored holes into the stranger's brown ones, the composed version of Nathan gone without a single trace. His grip on the boy's collar grew tighter, tight enough to feel the bite of his nails through the fabric. He was certain that his door had been locked. "Answer me now, asshole!"

The brunette lifted his hands in surrender, tilting his head back and puffing up his chest as if to merge into the wall behind him, into the poster of the tied up girl behind him. Anything to escape the feral creature he was facing, the Nathan with upturned lips that formed into a nasty snarl; the Nathan that looked on the edge of ripping him apart limb by limb. "Jesus, relax! I just heard someone yell and thought I'd check in! Didn't think you'd be holding a-a gun." His voice dropped to a cautious whisper at the last word, looking towards the door that had not yet been closed. 

Nathan looked to his right, suddenly feeling incredibly vulnerable as his intense eyes followed the stranger's and also landed on the open door.

Motherfucker. 

He kicked it closed and it responded with a loud bang. His temper was slipping more and more into dangerous territory as he spun his company away from the door, towards his bed. He felt his trembling hand uncover the gun that he had hastily hid in his varsity jacket-- though it didn't exactly feel like he had total control of himself. It was as though Nathan was watching a projection of his actions, like the ones being displayed above his leather couch on the farther wall. 

His hand slowly went up, pointing the barrel of the gun straight towards the kid's chest. Shit, shit, shit. What the fuck are you doing, Nathan?  He could hear his own frantic thoughts swarming in his head like alarm bells, yet they seemed to be completely disconnected from his body. His body that seemed to be moving on its own.

Well it's not like I'll actually use it. Scare tactic, just a fucking scare tactic. 

"I'll ask one more time, freak. How the hell did you get in my--" He paused, brows shifting upwards in confusion upon fully taking in the situation. "Wait, what the fuck? I've never seen you here before and I've seen every sad fucker in this shithole of a town." Each word came out laced in venom, his shaking hand closed tightly around the grip of the pistol. The boy in front of him backed up slowly, each movement calculated through a mind that's been warped by sheer terror. 

"E-easy dude -- I'm just new, okay? Transferred. It's my first day."

"Bullshit, you trying to make fun of me or something? School already started last month, genius." Nathan imagined that his glare was enough to burn through a wall with how scared the kid looked. He couldn't help it. Nothing was making sense. It felt as though the world was mocking him, playing tricks on him and stretching out his already existing problems to emphasize them tenfold. Why couldn't he have a single peaceful day? Was it entertaining? To drive him crazier with each passing second? To make him feel more fucking insane than he already knew he was?

What a sick fucking joke. 

"I don't know what else to tell you, man! Shit happened and I had to come in a bit late but that's seriously it. What do you want me to say?" The intruder's brown eyes were trained on the gun and a sheen of sweat started to develop across his forehead. "I was leaving my dorm when I heard a scream and got worried... it just sounded really serious." Those wide eyes finally left the gun and flitted to Nathan.

"If you're worried that I'll snitch, I won't -- I swear. Memory of this entire situation? Poof, gone. Just like that." He snapped for emphasis which seemed to be quite a feat for him, with how tense his stance had gotten. 

Nathan didn't know what to do. He couldn't tell if the bastard was spouting lies or if he was telling some nonsensical truth. Recently it seemed that he didn't know anything anymore, his vision getting cloudier with each drag of a day. His door had certainly been locked -- it always was -- yet this complete stranger was able to just sashay in and see him with his damn gun! The more he tried to make sense of it, the more his thoughts got distorted by damaged pride, anger, and fear. His head hurt, it hurt, it hurt, it hurt. He didn't have time for this. The boy found his eyes subconsciously drifting towards his phone still on the ground. The buzzing had stopped but he wasn't sure if that was reassuring or not. What was he supposed to do? He couldn't "I'm a Prescott" his way out of a situation that made absolutely no sense. 

Frustrated groans reverberated from his throat, grip on the gun going slack as he brought the other hand to his face. "I never understand anything anymore. Just one day, just one fucking day where no one's on my damn case... is that too much to ask?"

He couldn't see his company through the palm against his head, but we sensed that the boy had eased up a little. He probably thinks I'm patheticHe's probably laughing at me in his head. I won't let him. I won't let another person--

"Tell me what to do." 

"What?" Nathan spits out the question through grit teeth, tone sharp and dangerous. 

"I mean like...d-do you need something? You're shaking." Through the slits between his fingers, Nathan can see the brunette look around. "Like a stress ball maybe. Do you have any around? You're tiring yourself out like this and as much as I'm terrified of your gun, I don't want you to pass out or anything, y'know?" 

When Nathan doesn't answer, he keeps listing suggestions. 

"A certain book? Video?" He glances at the MP3 player behind him. "S...smooth jazz?" 

Is this kid serious? 

Nathan wasn't sure how to react but before he could figure that out, a short, breathy, and helpless chuckle escaped from his lips. It sounded hysteric but then again, most of his laughs did. He dropped the gun -- ignoring the fact that it very well could've fired -- and brought his now free hand over his mouth. "You're fucking shitting me. I was just holding a gun to you and you-- Jesus I can't fucking believe this." He pushed back loose strands of hair from his forehead before taking in a deep breath. He pushed past the stranger and retired to his bed before looking up.

"Get out." 

The tone of his words was still sharp yet they held much less malice. Nathan's blue eyes studied the brunette's reaction.

"Huh?"

"You're safe just this once. Now get the fuck out before I change my mind." 

The stranger blinked once before registering his words. "Oh. Yeah, sure." Nathan watched him shuffle towards the door before calling out on a whim.

"Wait. What's your name?"

"My name?"

"Oh my god -- yes, your fucking name," Nathan replied exasperatedly. The figure by his door shifted on his feet for a few seconds before replying.

"Warren," a brief pause. "Graham. Warren Graham." With that, he opened the door to leave but much to Nathan's dismay, paused once more and made Nathan's eyebrow twitch in annoyance.This stupid fucking dickbag shit eating-- "...Do you want me to close the door on the way out?"

"Get the fuck out of my room!" 

After the door was slammed shut, Nathan reached for his MP3 player and turned it on. The serene audio of singing whales eased his mind and allowed for his eyes to close, painting vivid animations of the graceful creatures swimming freely in the ocean. 

Oh, what he would give to be able to do the same.

Chapter Text

A bright flash of light. That was the first thing he saw before an unbearable plummeting feeling overcame his body. It felt like he was falling, falling fast towards God knows what. It was hard to breathe, his chest feeling tighter and tighter as he descended (or at least he assumed) deeper down into the unknown. He couldn't see his own hands in front of him, let alone any of his surroundings.

This horrible sensation seemed to last an eternity, completely depriving him of sight, speech, and hearing. He was left alone in the blank canvas of pure white, with nothing to accompany him but the uneasy pounding of his heart.

I don't like this. What's happening? 

Just when the feeling started to scorch at his lungs, it subsided just as quickly as it had arrived. The light slowly became more muted and the boy -- or at least he thought he was a boy -- started to regain his vision, making out shapes and figures around him. Where was he? Everything felt foreign, like he had just been born for the first time.

...born for the first time?

Who am I?

As the white completely dimmed down, he lifted his hands in front of him. A surge of relief made his chest ache as he flexed his fingers and saw that everything was normal. Looking down, the boy could see the hem of his dark blue shirt, along with rolled up yellow sleeves. He looked up to see brown hair, a lock hanging just above his eyes. He was real. He existed. Yet why did he feel so strange?

Then it hit him, the impact of the revelation nearly enough to knock the dazed brunette off his feet.

He had no memory. Nothing at all dating before that flash of white light. No family, no friends, no homes, no hobbies, absolutely nothing.

His mind was nearly a blank slate. He had believed it was... until he searched further. Two names. The only things he could recall were two names buried amidst the white noise. 

Warren and Nathan. 

That was the extent of his knowledge yet he felt a magnetic pull towards Nathan's name. It was a strange feeling. While the name Warren felt more... comfortable and familiar, the name Nathan stuck out as undiscovered and mysterious. He wanted to find out more about Nathan and why his name held such a prominent place in Warren's mind.

Warren's mind?

The boy referred to himself as Warren without a second thought. Okay...so I'm Warren. He wasn't sure how he knew but assumed that no answers would come from questioning it either way.

 Warren finally inspected his surroundings further, noting that he was standing in what seemed to be a dormitory hall? In front of him was a door accompanied by a blank whiteboard. He turned around to find another door with a whiteboard, though this one had writing on it. THE PRESCOTTS RULE THIS TOWN, was all that it said in a harsh red handwriting. Prescott? The name didn't particularly trigger anything in his memory so he was about to move onto the next doors when an alarming, guttural scream echoed from where he had just been looking.

 Warren stood frozen in place for a few seconds, then moved closer only to hear more muffled speaking from the "Prescott" door. It sounded panicked, frantic. Almost like someone reprimanding themselves. Then he realized what he had heard. 

"Cool it, Nathan." 

Though the speech was slightly muted by the door, Warren was certain that he had heard someone say Nathan. This was it. Behind that door was the one person in his mind that remained prominent through whatever had happened to him. 

Somehow the boy found himself hesitating, shifting on his feet nervously as he stared at the suddenly intimidating door. His brown eyes drifted to the whiteboard again. Prescotts....Nathan Prescott? There was no way of him knowing if his guess was correct but the name sounded... correct enough. Still, there was a heavy doubt in his mind, along with a sense of apprehension. 

If the person inside was in fact the correct Nathan, how would he even explain himself? Oh yeah, I just materialized into a fully grown male body in the middle of a dormitory hallway without a single memory of anything I care about. Apart from you. So...why don't we hang?  Warren scoffed to himself, shaking his head. If that had ever happened to him, he'd call the cops and get the person arrested. 

He was about to just walk away and explore more when another string of aggressive reassurances were heard, resembling the sound of someone talking through a pillow. The tone of the voice clung to Warren's conscience like a needy child gripping at someone's shirt. It sounded so...desperate. Broken. It would be the highest level of douchebaggery to just leave after hearing someone like that. 

After some thought, the brunette cautiously went for the door handle, making a note to turn it gently in order to avoid startling the person on the other side. 

However, it was apparently his turn to let out a scream -- or at least, he was about to until he swiftly moved his other hand to cover his gaped mouth. His fingertips had gone through the handle. He had reached forward to grab the knob when a strange, light feeling overcame his fingers as they phased through. His breath hitched in his chest. Warren was about to shit himself. 

This isn't real.  There's not a snowball's chance in hell that--

He waved his arm towards the door and sure enough, the entirety of the limb phased through as if it were a hologram. A tight knot formed in Warren's throat as he realized what this could mean. Drawing his arm back, the boy knelt down to glare at the handle and then his hands. Then, upon taking a shaky breath in, he decided to test a hypothesis. He concentrated the hardest he could -- given his disheveled state -- and went to open the door once again. 

This time, he could feel the cool metal of the handle against his palm. An incredible sigh of relief escaped his lungs and he only then realized that he had been holding his breath. Now he started to have fun with it, despite the otherworldly-ness of the situation. He'd make his hand solid, and not solid, solid, and not solid. An incredulous laugh was breathed out hesitantly before the boy brought his hands -- solid hands to his face. He jumped up into the air, not sure how to react to the overwhelming feeling he couldn't quite name. 

There was excitement, yes. But there was also the suffocating fear of the unknown. What was happening to him? 

He nearly continued to just stand there, phasing his hand in and out of the door handle when he eventually remembered the original reason why he had even tried to open the door. "Shit..." He muttered under his breath before giving the hallway one last look around. He didn't know the limits of his ability...or what his "ability" really was. It was a completely unexplored zone for him... and probably for anyone. It wasn't everyday that people were just poofed into existence fully grown. 

Despite how the odds seemed terribly against him, Warren urged himself to phase entirely through the door, recalling how scared the person inside had sounded. He kept his eyes closed during this, for he didn't know the details of what he could do exactly -- along with the risks. In all honesty, he was frightened. 

A cold feeling enveloped his body as he went through the door and finally, he opened his eyes to find himself on the other side. The door was still closed and the brunette had to hold back a strange, high pitched sound of disbelief. He looked up to see a figure by a desk, fiddling with something in their hand. His heart seemed to skip a beat. 

Warren glanced at the door and instinctively opened it so it would at least look like he had gone through it normally. Hopefully whoever lived in the room didn't remember he had locked it. 

He was about to call out when the figure put on his jacket and turned around. He was holding a gun. He was holding a gun. He was holding a gun, he was holding a gun, he was holding a GUN. 

"Holy shit." 

That had been the start to an unfavorable development of events. Warren got a gun pointed at him, he witnessed what appeared to be a near breakdown, and it was suddenly his job to comfort... Nathan? Well, it wasn't technically his job but it seemed like the proper thing to do. Also he couldn't exactly leave because 1. He would be acting like a total ass and 2. The gun was still in Nathan's hand. 

Fortunately, Warren's sad attempt to get his company to calm down had worked out with no bloodshed. It didn't quite work in the way he had meant for it too but it... certainly worked. He'd take that over a bullet to his chest any day. 

Their following exchanges had been short and clipped, making it clear that Nathan didn't want him around for any longer than necessary.

"Wait. What's your name?"

"Warren." The boy had to pause and think for a few seconds. It had never occurred to him until then that his memory did not provide him with a last name. Just Warren and Nathan. He couldn't possibly say that his full name was Warren Nathan. 

Somehow, something in his conscience told Warren to respond with, "Graham. Warren Graham." He wasn't familiar with Graham but suddenly, it felt like the right thing to say. Similar to when the name Warren seemingly adopted him as a person. 

With that, they spared a few last words -- more aggressive than Warren would've liked -- and he left the room the normal way. He lingered outside the door for a lengthy amount of time, long enough to hear the sound of whale noises (he wasn't certain but it sure sounded like whales) echo from behind. It was soothing, yet almost haunting to listen to -- especially with the way the wall between them made it really sound like the audio was straight from underwater. He was nearly convinced that he could open the door to see an aquarium in there instead of a dorm. 

Not exactly smooth jazz but Warren was glad that Nathan did have something to relax him. 

 


 

It felt as though a parasite had latched onto Nathan.

He didn't notice at first, he had just assumed that the brunette -- that Warren took the same route as he did for classes. He had only realized when the creep started to be within eye distance of each and every one of his classrooms. Class would end and Nathan would leave to see the boy hanging out by the lockers nearby or lingering in some vague proximity of the door. Either way, he was always there. They even made eye contact a few times, Nathan always being the one to break it due to the awkward unwillingness of the other.

Was he... was he being stalked?

Nathan pondered this as Victoria spoke to him about some girl that had gotten on her nerves. The two were seated on her desk to poke fun, just another one of Vic’s suggested antics to antagonize her unfortunate enemies.

"Um, hello? Nathan? Are you even listening?"

He blinked, eyes drifting away from his hands and towards Victoria. "Course I am. Max is a total fucking suck up." He hoped they were talking about Max.

Victoria leaned back on her palms and let a laugh escape from her rouged lips. "Exactly. Do you think Max will be pissed that we're sitting at her desk?"

"Oh I'm sure she'll report us to the principal. Like I give a flying fuck."

"Or she'll run to Mr. Jefferson. Like he gives a shit."

"Like anybody does," Nathan could feel the presence of the girl in question drawing closer, though she seemed to hesitant to confront them immediately. "Max is such a little--"

"Shh, I think she can hear us." The two nudged each other playfully as Max Caulfield finally showed up before them, disguised as a pixie hipster as always.

Nathan managed to exchange a few words with her -- the typical malice filled ones that he seemed to use as an instinctive defense mechanism -- before they moved to the corner of the room to continue talking. He didn't have much against the girl but anyone who got on Vic's bad side was automatically on his, and vice versa.

The bell rung moments after and the two shared their last parting words before getting sent away by Jefferson. Nathan and the teacher met eyes as he left the room, hardened and cold blue meeting a deceivingly warm brown. The mere sight of him was sometimes enough to make the boy shudder and he found himself subconsciously speeding up to get away from him.

Along with the issue regarding Jefferson, there was another problem that Nathan had tried to ignore since the day before. Due to stalker boy's stunt yesterday, he had gotten distracted and completely forgot to meet the punk dyke who had probably been waiting for him. So far his phone was clear of any messages from her, but he had a feeling that the peace wouldn't last.

As Nathan exited into the empty hallway, he saw a tuft of brown hair peeking out from behind one of the lockers. It wasn't so empty after all.

He decided it would be best to end this game of hide and seek fast so he quickly approached the brunette, not giving the boy a chance to escape.

"What the fuck's your problem?" Nathan's voice came out demanding and forceful, brows furrowing and lips upturning into a scowl. Warren's back was to the wall while lockers stood tall on either side, his company standing in front of him to guard the only exit. The brunette brought a hand to his head, itching at it nervously and causing his locks to become even more unkempt.

"What do you mean?"

Nathan rolled his eyes. "You know what I fucking mean, Graham. You're acting like I can't see a twee creep shadowing me the whole day. Do you even go to your classes?"

Brown lashes batted as the boy blinked. "...What about you? Don't you have class right now? It’d be bad if you miss it, probably."

He could almost scoff. Nathan had gotten used to people trying to panhandle money from him but it got frustrating when they started to feign concern. Those exaggerated expressions and dramatic voices; it was enough to leave a bad taste in his mouth.

It was especially so in Warren’s case. Though his inquiries seemed fairly sincere, they felt plain patronizing after what they had gone through the day before. What, did he feel obligated to look after him upon witnessing that shit fest? It was as though he was rubbing it in that yes, he had in fact seen Nathan’s meltdown the other day and it wasn’t pretty.

"You think you know me?" He leaned in slightly and loosened his hunched shoulders a bit to make up for their size difference. Warren was frustratingly taller than him. "You think just cause you saw my psycho breakdown that it's suddenly okay to be all buddy-buddy with me? Piss off Graham, or I'll start to think you have a puppy crush on me."

He turned to walk away when the sound of rushed footsteps echoed through the barren halls. Rushed, clunky footsteps of someone well built.

"Yo, Nathan! You gotta check out the girl's dorm, there's some crazy shit going down!" Of course it was Zach. He continued down the hall and went to each of the classrooms' doors, barging in to spread the news.

It would've been a lie to say Nathan wasn't interested. He took a distasteful glance at Warren before turning on his heel and heading for the doors. He could feel the presence of the brunette as he followed, pace rushed to keep up.

There was a tense silence as the two exited through the main doors and picked up into a faster speed. The other students started to file out now, the energy being one of apprehensive excitement. They didn't know what to expect and the only thing they were certain of was that it had gotten them excused from class. That was all that really mattered to them.

Nathan glanced at Warren who had managed to catch up, eyes settling on the roundish and friendly face. His expression looked slightly curious but it was more composed than he would’ve expected. That seemed to be an ongoing theme with the boy, starting from yesterday when he had somehow calmed Nathan down after being held at gunpoint. He still helped despite the heavy feeling of having narrowly escaped death.

Well, it wasn’t as though Nathan was actually planning on shooting him but the threatened brunette didn’t know that at the time. Was he overwhelmingly thoughtful or just plain dumb?

His thoughts were interrupted as they reached the girl’s dormitory, the air thick with shuddering breaths. Rain was starting to batter down hard and it created a solemn mood throughout the courtyard. Drops clung to people’s shirts and reflected warped images of the mixed faces in the crowd, some being frightened while others looked amused. The security officer, David Madsen, sprinted past them to reach... the roof?

Nathan didn’t understand until he followed their gazes, eyes trailing up the front of the building before settling on the figure at the edge of the roof. He heard Warren gasp but ignored it as he squeezed through the people to get a better view of the display.

Kate .

The girl’s silhouette was mottled due to the barrage of rain that seemed to blur her out like a censor. She stood tall at the very edge of the cement barricade and though her expression was unclear, Nathan could feel that it was extremely distraught.

This is my fault.

He knew exactly why the girl was up there and a few of the students in the crowd didn’t have sympathy for that exact reason. They held up their phones or sneered, only remembering Kate as the slut from a viral video at the last Vortex Club party.

But they didn’t know the full story. They didn’t know that Nathan had in fact, drugged her. He recalled that night as he looked up through the rain, remembering the unconscious Kate being duct taped by Jefferson. Remembering the way her glazed eyes teared up with each flash of the camera.

Click, click, click.

It must have been unbearable for her. The bright white lights, shining down as if she were some exhibit at a museum. They made her vulnerable, every expression being captured in full detail without mercy.

Click, click, click.

He remembered driving her back to her room and leaving her there with a sense of pride, for Jefferson had praised him for his good work. It filled him with an overflowing warmth, tinging his mentality with distorted views of good and bad.

Nathan was snapped back into the present as he brought a hand over his mouth, realizing he had been smiling. A sick, hopeful smile that had no place in a crowd of bystanders about to witness a suicide. He knew it was wrong, but the lingering probability that Jefferson might praise him afterwards remained dominant in his emotions.

He was sick, he was fucking sick but he couldn’t help it. If Nathan had any say in how he reacted, he would’ve changed it long ago.

Warren was sure to have picked up on the wicked expression but he was kind enough -- or just frightened enough -- to feign ignorance. Either way, Nathan continued to watch through the rain with a look of helpless awe. He didn’t think he could explain himself properly if questioned, especially without revealing extremely dangerous information regarding him and Jefferson.

In all honesty, he couldn’t stand how he was being used. He knew that Jefferson was only acting as a puppet master, twisting the delicate string around his fingers while the other ends connected to each of Nathan’s limbs. The worst part was that he was letting it happen, his mind warped by the constant gentle praises that had seemed foreign for far too long.

The fact that he was aware of the manipulation didn’t make it any less effective. He hated that damned teacher but more than that, he hated his dependency on the damned teacher’s approval.

Jefferson just knew exactly how to act and what to say, right down to his calculated body movements and open posture. His expression was usually one of gentle guidance -- at least until Nathan started to act up. Then it would became a mask of pure disappointment, eyes hardened as if he were a stranger.

That dreadful expression was what he seemed to fear the most.

The crowd of students unleashed a wave of gasps and cries as Kate jumped. Warren, Max, and even Victoria were there watching with horrified eyes. It was a fairly gruesome sight, her figure contorted against the pavement as blood started to pool out from underneath her limp body. Her cross necklace sat in the crimson puddle, the rich gold undyingly glinting and staring straight into the sky. It was as though the crucifix was challenging God -- or whoever was watching from up there -- to do something about the now cold and forsaken girl lying dead on the concrete.

No miracle of any sort occurred.

Kate Marsh had committed suicide.

The asswipe security guard finally emerged onto the roof and looked down. His figure loomed back from sight solemnly as he realized it was too late. More staff arrived at the scene, rushed footsteps and directory shouts of concern filling the area in front of the girl’s dormitory.

The moment felt like a blur. It all seemed to happen too fast.

Some students were huddled and in tears while others checked the footage from their phones. Madsen appeared back on ground level, spitting harsh words into his walkie talkie before going to guard the corpse until authorities arrived.

Nathan tore his gaze away from the dead girl and they subconsciously drifted towards Warren. He had forgotten the boy was there. Even after forcing himself to look away, the brunette’s eyes were still wide in disbelief and a hand slowly went up to cover his mouth as if to hold back a gag. It was a reaction that anyone would expect after witnessing such a tragedy.

Obviously, Nathan bitterly thought as he forced his expression to neutralize. Warren’s not fucked in the head like you are.

Eventually the sound of sirens filled the air, overpowering cries and hushed conversations of the death. The courtyard turned into something not far from a crime scene as the officers rushed in and covered the body.

The students were dismissed to go back to their rooms and Nathan relaxed his hunched shoulders at the thought of being able to take a break. He wanted nothing more than to unwind in his room after another exhausting day, though this time it had been adjourned with being stalked and witnessing a suicide. That was fairly new.

Nathan would be certain to give Jefferson a call about Kate’s suicide after returning to his room. He found himself silently hoping for the fatherly words of approval but recoiled the second the wish manifested.

He felt so helplessly gross and of course, being a twisted asshole obviously had its consequences. As he was returning to his dorms, he was stopped and ordered to come into Principal Wells’ office for an investigation regarding Kate.

Nathan felt as though his soul nearly escaped with the dramatically deep sigh he released before heading to the office.

 

 


 

Rays of golden hues streamed through the tall window in Wells’ office, casting shadows onto Nathan as the principal paced before his desk. A cop stood to the corner while Madsen and Jefferson stood vaguely on either side of Nathan. The air was thick and heavy as Principal Wells continued to lecture about whatever bullshit “values” he had regarding the safety of the students.

He turned to Nathan.

“Mr. Prescott, since you are responsible for the Vortex Club parties...and since Kate Marsh did attend your last party, you’ll have to answer some more questions.”

The entire meeting dragged on monotonously. It was a back and forth case of interrogation followed by answers loaded with not so subtle threats. Nathan felt his leg bouncing but ignored it, continuing to run Wells into a corner with the act of an incredulous rich kid.

There was no proof to condemn him of any solid accusations and eventually, the questioning shifted to Jefferson and then to Madsen.

Principal Wells had a sheen of sweat on his forehead, the wrinkles from not only age but also stress being accentuated with his consistently shifting expressions as he listened to each person speak. Their testimonies were given but in the end, no verdict was met and no punishment could be issued to any of the three people in custody.

“Excuse me, I think Nathan needs a break before we grill him further. A friend and fellow student is dead… he doesn’t need this forum right now.”

“Yes, I’m kinda devastated right now. I’d like to be with my family.”

With that, they all signed a form to confirm their sides and with a tired look in the principal’s eyes, they were dismissed with no consequences.

Nathan left the room after the security officer and waited until he was gone from sight. Then he turned to Jefferson, trying to mask his expectant expression as he faced him.

He opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by the teacher.

“I’ll call you later tonight to meet me at the barn.”

His tone was hushed and his face was neutral, yet somehow the air around him was grim and threatening. Nathan felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up straight as he merely nodded in response.

The tension in the air grew unbearable and he turned on his heel to leave the school in a huff, fists clenched and nails boring into his palms. That exchange did not go how he had expected and it made him feel unpleasant -- no, scared .

He couldn’t let it get to him though; he had promised to visit Victoria after meeting with Wells. The scariest thing about her was neither her vicious insults nor her relentlessness. It was how well she could read people and that didn’t spare Nathan.

The boy walked through the front pathways of the school while taking deep breaths, working to relax his tense muscles and giveaway expression. When he finally thought he was calming down, a figure emerged from behind a tree.

“Hey.”

Nathan almost shat himself.

“God, you again? What the fuck do you want?” He looked at Warren with violent eyes and imagined them shooting lasers right through his skull.

“...Do you wanna walk to the dorms together?”

“Eat shit.”

“I’ll take that as a no.” There was an awkward pause between them and Nathan used that opening to start back on his trail to Victoria’s dorm. He rolled his eyes so hard in hopes that they’d just fall out of their sockets once he heard the brunette lumbering after him.

“What did they want with you in there? I saw the security guy leaving and he looked pissed.”

Though he had no obligation to answer the kid, he wondered if it would get him off his trail.

“Just Principal Wells pretending to care about Kate offing herself today.”

Warren hesitated in his tracks, his step lingering just for a second longer than usual.

“Who doesn’t care? How’s it possible to not care about something like that? Someone died!”

Nathan shook his head as he continued towards the dormitory.

“You have a lot to learn. The only thing Wells really cares about is how he looks in the press. Not whateverthefuck lecture he pulls from his ass.”

There was another lengthy pause following that and it gave room for the October wind to blow between them, sending the tails of Nathan’s varsity coat up into the air. The rain from earlier had stopped but its remains were still evident in the wet grass of the courtyard, along with the darkened pathways from the heavy drops.

Though the weather had been fairly warm, the slowly setting sun brought on the chill of autumn nights.

The boy beside him muttered something, so low that it was masked by the sound of leaves flickering in the breeze. When Nathan continued to look at him with a blank stare, he repeated himself.

“This place is hell.”

An unexpected, rather condescending laugh escaped from chapped lips. Though it was short, it seemed to lift the spirit for a few seconds. “Fucking tell me about it.”

The two reached the main dorm building and Nathan continued towards the girl’s wing. Halfway through the door, the brunette lingering behind him called out.

“Do you wanna walk with me tomorrow?”

“Piss off.”

With that he closed the door and headed to Victoria’s room. Thankfully, it seemed that Warren wasn’t following.

Nathan was about to pass Kate’s room but paused for a few seconds, eyes shifting from the whiteboard to the memorial by her door. There was a photo of her, along with candles, flowers, and a wooden cross.

His expression contorted into one of white rage.

Just moments before, he had been egging on her death in his mind -- and for what? For a second’s worth of approval? And from someone as manipulative and twisted as Jefferson?

Nathan felt a sudden pang in his gut, a heart wrenching feeling that threatened to draw tears from his eyes.

I’m fucking disgusting. No wonder everybody hates me. Who could like someone as mental as me?

His usual thoughts came to his mind, biting at his conscience and edging his vision with black.

The boy forced himself to calm down, taking deep breaths and focusing on a single spot in the carpeted floor. He willed for his hands to stop trembling and for his eyes to clear up -- it wouldn't do to expose such a side to Victoria especially when she was going through emotional turmoil too.

It would be unfair to drag the attention back on him like always. What kind of friend would he be if he couldn’t be a stable support for a brief moment?

He muttered to himself under his breath, low words of reassurance to accompany him as he made his way towards Vic’s door.

After another second of calming himself down, Nathan opened the door and faced her with a smile.

 


 

It was late into the night when Nathan left to Victoria’s room. They had talked for a long time -- far past sunset -- about Kate.

He was taken aback by how remorseful she felt but there was a part of him that expected that too. Victoria was never a truly bad person and he knew that.
Of course she could be a colossal bitch at some times but it was a defense mechanism that Nathan was far too familiar with. The difference between them was that she sincerely felt apologetic from the second she had seen Kate go up on that roof.

The hallway of the girl’s dorm was dark and dreary, an air of grief hanging thick like a fog. A warm glow flickered by Kate’s door, the memorial still burning strong despite the hours that had passed. The candles had melted down a significant amount, creating pools of wax inside their holders.

It was finally Nathan’s turn to mourn. He gazed at the memorial through blurry vision, the tears in his eyes starting to warp his vision as the flames of candle wicks danced at his arrival.

His legs gave out and the boy sat himself onto the ground, knees curled into his chest as his shoulders started to shake. This was all his fault. He was the one who had drugged Kate. There would’ve been no video if it weren’t for him.

If Nathan hadn’t listened to Jefferson that day, Kate would’ve been alive at this very moment.

His lips parted and made way for a voice that would’ve been unrecognizable to anyone in Blackwell. It came out high pitched and shaky, as though it was being forced to exit his steadily tightening throat. The words were all muddled pleas for forgiveness and Nathan could tell that he wasn’t addressing only Kate. The long overdue apologies tumbled from his mouth, quiet and soft as if it were taboo to speak them outloud.

He could’ve stayed like that the whole night, begging for someone to forgive him and repeating “I’m sorry,” over and over again.

Yet through the stillness of muffled cries, a phone call rang out in such sudden fashion that Nathan jumped.

He fumbled through the pocket of his jacket to take out his burner phone and saw that it was from an unknown caller. The painful clenching of his chest told him exactly who it was.

The boy took a moment to collect himself, his breath still highly unstable as it forced his back to heave up and down. He ran his hand roughly over his eyes and nose before answering the phone.

“What?” He winced as his voice came out coarse.

“The Dark Room. I’ll be waiting.”

Before Nathan could protest, the call hung up. His eyes couldn’t tear away from the photo of Kate sitting propped against her door and in an impulsive, last minute action -- he grabbed the cross and a flower from the tribute before leaving the girl’s wing of the dormitory.

His knuckles grew white as his grip on the wooden cross grew tighter with each step. He didn’t know what he was doing really -- maybe he wanted to keep pieces of Kate’s memorial as a reminder to him. A reminder of how psycho he was and that getting praise wasn’t a good enough reason to do anything that he was doing.

Getting praise would never be close to a sufficient reason. And to think he was valuing that over someone’s fucking life… it made him sick to his stomach.

He went downstairs to the boy’s dorm on ground level and headed for his room. He wouldn’t let Kate become a distant memory of just another person he hurt.
The halls were surprisingly quiet for the boy’s dorm and it made Nathan believe that the students really weren’t all douches. The whiteboard to the room beside his had a message addressed to Kate and it made him look back in shame at his own.

THE PRESCOTTS RULE THIS TOWN

He shook his head before entering his room hastily. It would be hard to explain why he was holding onto bits of Kate’s memorial. No one would hesitate to jump to the conclusion that he had stolen them out of further disrespect for the dead girl and as much as he hated it, he had to own up to it.

No one made that impression of Nathan except for himself.

The boy made his way to his closet, somewhere secluded so that no one would be able to see the memorabilias apart from him. He set up the cross against the wall with care and added the single sunflower at its base.

“I’m sorry.”

With that one last apology, he left his room and started for the parking lot to take his truck to the meetup spot with Jefferson.

The air had grown colder, a brisk gust of wind bringing red hues from Nathan’s cheeks. He shoved his hands in his pockets as he walked -- half expecting the familiar brunette to conveniently show up.

Surprisingly, nothing happened and though it made him slightly more suspicious, he brushed it off and approached the red pickup truck.  It was a modest, rather rundown thing for his taste but it was good enough.

Nathan got in, gripping his hands tight around the steering wheel before pulling out of the parking space and heading for the old barn.

The drive to the Dark Room was always one full of dread. The forested roads felt suffocating -- it was as though the towering trees were closing in on the red car, ready to grab it with crooked limbs. The only solace was the moon, allowing streaks of silvery light into the car which illuminated the edges of Nathan’s face with a soft glow. It felt comforting.

The rest of the car ride was spent accompanied by whale noises from his phone, along with the monotonous hum of the truck’s engine.

Eventually the tires rolled up onto the dirt, causing leaves to crack under the weight. The doors to the ratted barn were open and Jefferson’s car was visible, parked by the stacks of hay and discarded equipment.

Nathan stalled his own truck by the entrance to the barn before getting out, breathing in the musk of the aged wood and rusted metal. The wind caused the old structure to creak and groan, almost as if it were to collapse at any second.

He paced towards the open latch to the Dark Room and put in the passcode with a slightly unsteady hand. The sleek hatch opened in a way that contrasted far too much from the rest of the barn -- it felt unsettlingly out of place.

“Nathan,” The hauntingly familiar voice spoke out to him in a gentle manner. “Sit down.”

His last statement definitely wasn’t a request. The boy obliged, taking a seat on the smooth white couch that faced the backdrop. The teacher was by his desk, looking through an open binder with concentrated eyes.

Music played from the hi-fi at an open closet, a soft jazz tune that danced around Nathan in soothing leaps. It was urging him to let his guard down. He tightened his fists before speaking out confidently.

“Did you get a load of the show at Blackwell today?” He paused to make room for a laugh. “Talk about melo-fucking-dramatic.”

Jefferson didn’t respond and the stillness encased Nathan like a glass tomb. He was suddenly extremely conscious of his every action -- right down to the rhythm of his slightly disturbed breathing. His leg started to bounce.

“Nathan,” After what seemed like an eternity, Jefferson finally spoke up. “What do you see in these photos?”

He walked up to the polished grey table and placed an open red binder down. Kate’s binder.

The photos of the dazed girl held a white luster as it reflected the harsh lighting of the room -- it made the images more haunting. Nathan felt a cold sweat start to form at the base of his neck.

“Innocence turning into… corruption and shit.”

He couldn’t really see anything special, just a drugged up girl lying miserably on the ground.

Jefferson hummed, leaning forward and flipping the black pages with calculated movements.

“That’s right.” He moved his other hand to rest it on the armrest of the couch. “Innocence turning into corruption. Kate was an exceptionary subject… raised with such purity and warmth that acted as wool over her eyes.”

Jefferson straightened up, moving towards a trunk at the side of the room. He picked up the glass of a vague, deep red beverage and swirled it.

“And in a single second, all that was taken away. She was defiled and I captured it with my lens. That confusing mesh of a moment where the long guarded innocence met a crushing blight.” He brought the glass to his mouth and took a drink, eyes still on the open binder sitting in front of Nathan.

The boy picked at the knee of his jeans, refusing to look at the teacher. “Yeah yeah, I know enough about your wet dreams. Why did you call me here? Aren’t you happy that she threw herself off that roof?”

“Why would you assume that?” Jefferson finished off his drink and started back towards the table, still holding the cup between his fingers and holding it up to the light. His voice had come out uncomfortably harsh, like it was testing Nathan and ready to snap at the first sign of a wrong answer.

“Isn’t suicide like… I don’t fucking know, the grand master of corruption? Isn’t that what you wanted?”

The cup was placed onto the table with enough force to shake the binder; it made Nathan jump and he looked up towards Jefferson.

“What good is a subject if she’s dead?” His voice came out sharp and venomous, laced with a dangerous edge that sent chills down Nathan’s spine.

“What? It's not like you were gonna kidnap her again and take more photos, right? I don’t get what your fucking problem is.” The boy hoped that the aggression in his tone could mask the sense of fear that crept underneath but somehow he doubted it.

“Nathan.”

He hated how he said his name.

“Did you learn nothing from what happened with Rachel Amber? I chose you as my pupil because I genuinely believed you had that potential -- to develop into an artist like me.” The teacher slammed his fist down onto the glass top of the table, making the entire frame rattle. Nathan twitched and felt his nails dig into his palms. “How the hell am I supposed to do that when you keep messing up and killing every subject I bring in? What if I find the perfect muse one day but you murder her like everyone else? How am I supposed to put my trust in a student like that, Nathan?

Each word came out clipped and raw, full of the violent energy that was usually sealed away beneath a facade of composure. Nathan felt himself growing red, his skin warming up and his forehead starting to feel slick from sweat. He didn't know what to say -- a part of him instinctively wanted to bring his hands up to protect himself. Jefferson seemed to notice and his eyes glazed over with a look of feigned compassion.

“Nathan… I’m sorry. I didn't mean to yell. You know you’re like a son to me. It's just that sometimes you can be such a damn handful.”

He brought a gloved hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose as he spoke the last sentence.

“You're going through a lot right now. I understand that but I just can't have you making any more mistakes like this. You can leave for now but don’t you forget -- you can’t be careless for a single fucking second. Don’t dampen my expectations for you more than you already have.”

With that, he closed the binder and took it back towards the desk -- out of Nathan’s eyesight. He was left to his own thoughts in the midst of soothing music and the doctor office-esque lights of the Dark Room.

The boy wanted to scream. He wanted to tear apart the walls of the bunker and cause the ceiling to incave on both him and Jefferson. He truly felt that that was the only way he would be able to escape the woven trap he’s been ensnared in.

Unfortunately, Nathan didn’t have that power nor the courage to do anything of the sort. His leg bounced violently before he silently stood up from the couch, head down and hands shoved into his pockets. They were clenched onto the fabric in tight clumps and for a second -- he believed his nails would bore through and unravel the cloth at his fingertips.

Silently, the boy maneuvered around the couch and past the desk, without sparing Jefferson a single look. He feared he would break down and that couldn’t be allowed to happen.

Just how many more mistakes would be overlooked before Mr. Jefferson decided Nathan was better off dead?

The sultry tones of whateverthefuck song was playing grew muffled as he shut the metal hatch behind him, going up the steps to the hay scattered barn above. It felt like traveling through decades of progression backwards and Nathan couldn’t help but wonder if it mirrored the strength of his own resolve.

He rushed to his car without giving his composure a chance to break down -- it wouldn’t do to have a tantrum in such close proximity to the cause of it.

The drive back to the dorms was full of tearing at the steering wheel and shouting explicit curses into the still night. The headlights of the car casted distorted shadows that started to formulate into humanoid figures -- familiar ones.

He drove by countless versions of Jefferson and his voice seemed to ring in his ears, echoing harsh scoldings accompanied by gentle guidance. It made Nathan’s head spin and his vision became edged in a deep red.

Further down the road, the figures morphed into impersonations of his father. His unbearably cynical father with the permanent scowl of disapproval; each of his duplicates were angry and lecturing, hands waving in exasperation and disappointment.

It was too much.

Nathan let out a guttural cry, the car swerving into each of the figures and leaving tire marks in their place. The illusions vanished into the air right before impact, the only aftermath of them being a ghostly cold that went straight through the boy and his consistently weakening demeanor.

Then a voice cut out from the darkness of the surrounding trees and Nathan didn’t have to see who it was to recognize it.

“Murderer!”

Rachel’s accusing cry echoed from the shrouded woods, enveloping around him like hands around his throat.

“No… I didn’t mean to.”

“Murderer, murderer, murderer! You killed me and you killed Kate. Now you’re leaving a path of even more death. You’re nothing but a disgusting killer!”

Nathan’s eyes instinctively snapped towards the rearview mirror and the sight was enough to make him gag. There were bodies littered all throughout the road, staining the asphalt with hues of deep red. It wasn’t just his father -- there were the bodies of all the people he hurt before. Rachel, Kate, Max… even people who were run out of business due to his father.

“Crazy fucking murderer. You’re no better than Jefferson. At least he didn’t kill people!”

“Shut the fuck up, you’re not fucking real!” His voice came out shrill and panicked, laced with a desperate fear that clawed at his throat.

The boy’s foot slammed onto the pedal harder, causing the trees to whip by in blurred distortions of grey. His vision was unclear from the sheath of tears that had pooled at his waterline, creating a damp trail down his reddened cheeks. His mind was clouded, he couldn’t think straight.

“Murderer, murderer, murderer…” The voices continued to swarm around the red truck, taunting its driver as he continued to yell hysteric rebuttals that fell on deaf ears.

The entire ride seemed to be a race against dead bodies, the headlights in front of him revealing nothing but a trail of blood that stretched on with no end. The night that had once seemed peaceful was broken into a loud and dreadful chaos that Nathan just wanted to escape.

Eventually the surrounding trees cleared out and the voices grew quieter as the car emerged from the wooded path. He was trembling and sweat trickled down his face, merging with the tears that hadn’t stopped falling since the illusions first showed up. His mouth felt dry and his energy was completely drained from all the shouting.

The boy glanced at his reflection in the side window and started -- he nearly resembled the ghastly faces of the corpses he had just left behind. He forced his eyes to focus on the passing scenery around him, the pressure on the pedal only now starting to ease up.

The distorted hallucinations were completely gone, spare for the trail of blood that refused to go away. It followed him back to Blackwell and continued even as he rushed to the dormitory, appearance disheveled and exhausted.

It got worse from there, of course it did -- it was just Nathan’s luck. The blood continued up the front of the dormitory building, climbing up the walls and stopping at the lip of the roof. When his gaze settled on the figure at the end of the trail, she jumped off without giving him a chance to think, much less call out in time.

“Shit, Kate!” The boy rushed forward towards the spot in front of the door where Kate had fallen, only to see nothing there. He looked up and found that the trail of blood had completely vanished -- it was never there since the beginning.

Nathan stayed standing for a few seconds, his expression dazed. Then, he slowly sat down on the steps and brought his hands to his head. The cold bit at his still damp cheeks but it felt refreshing, along with the familiar stillness of the night. The familiar stillness with no disconnected voices, no manifestations of false figures amidst the shadows.

The boy was still trembling when he felt someone come up behind him, causing him to jerk up and swivel at his heel to face whoever had approached him. He was ready to gut the intruder on sight, brows furrowed to create an intense, guarded look.

It was Warren, that dumb brunette. His expression looked sympathetic yet he didn’t say a word, only looking at Nathan with a soft gaze. Nathan had been dreading that knowing face just hours before yet somehow, his presence was comforting and in that moment, it felt completely okay to start sobbing on the spot.

The night betrayed no sound but the chirp of crickets and the quiet cries of the boy as he felt all the stress of that day cave in. His company gave him all the time he needed, offering the most genuine comfort that the boy had gotten all day. A single hand on his shoulder. That was all he needed to feel a little less lonely in his problems for that moment.

Chapter Text

At first he assumed that everyone was ignoring him.

Warren would approach people and greet them, hoping to get an explanation for why he was at the academy under such strange circumstances. It didn’t take too long before he realized that the students he approached couldn’t see him at all.

They would look right past him as if he were made of glass, continuing on their path without giving the boy a single glance of acknowledgement. He always jumped out of their way in time -- he found himself scared to see what would happen if someone happened to run into him.

Would they feel him? Or phase right through like Warren had done with the door? Either way, the prickling feeling of anxiety remained as a knot in his throat and convinced him to stay away from the strangers as they walked towards his direction.

Receiving the cold shoulder like that caused a horrible panic to erupt in his gut. Everyone acted as though he was invisible, which left the boy with questions about where he would reside and to what extent his “nonexistence” reached. Did he have anywhere to go? Anywhere he could unwind and enjoy a day as a normal being?

Inevitably, Warren found himself peeking his head through the other dorm rooms in the area. He would urge just his face to phase through the doors, closing his eyes because 1. He was still worried about the sensation he would experience and 2. Frankly, he didn’t want to see anything he didn’t have to see -- being that the dorms belonged to sweaty teenage boys.

Somehow, after only two attempts, the world finally decided to be merciful as it presented Warren with a vacant room. It was conveniently right across from Nathan’s room and had an extremely basic layout, blank walls and bleak furniture making the place less than pleasing to the eye. A single window sat in the center of the furthest wall, allowing a wash of yellow hues to stream in and paint the furniture with a soft overlay. The bed had basic sheets and blankets, clearly meant to be replaced with personal ones upon arrival -- though no such thing would happen in Warren’s case.

A desk in similar fashion sat under the window, along with a chair that had collected a small amount of dust over the summer. A wooden closet remained untouched, no sign of having ever stored clothes apart from a single discarded black sock in the corner. Warren made a face before phasing into the room fully and falling onto the neat bed.

Before he could process it, the boy felt himself fall straight through.

The sudden feeling was enough to make the boy flounder around in disorientated sounds of alarm, arms flailing as though he was trying to stay afloat in water. His sad attempts accomplished nothing and soon enough, the boy found himself sitting on the ground within the bed, eyes closing instinctively as the mattress stood above his head and blocked out the streams of pale light from the window.

Warren took his time to get up, mostly because his strength felt completely sapped from a hysteric disbelief. Him falling through the bed was just more dreaded evidence pointing to a conclusion that he couldn’t bring himself to accept.

Warren, the boy with dark hair and dark eyes, with specific facial features and strangely bright clothing, did not exist. Or at least, he wasn’t supposed to.

Was he a spirit? A ghost?

Could Nathan only see him because he was some strange medium psychic?

As the brunette sat on the bed, -- after urging himself to not fall through, of course -- he found his mind conjuring up more developments and stories than he found himself comfortable with. He bit at his nails and stared at a single spot of wrinkled blankets on the bed, feeling himself get more and more lost within his own head.

Was he some mysterious entity? A monster? A god?

Why would a god look so disturbingly simple? Couldn’t he at least have been formed with a cooler outfit? A more daring hairdo? A chiseled jaw?

Yeah no, definitely not a god. Appearances aside, why would a god suddenly materialize in the smelly dormitory of male students? That was not the kind of god that Warren was familiar with.

That brought him back to his suspicions of being a ghost or spirit of some sort. Perhaps he was already dead and he was only being kept in this world due to a sense of unrest that locked him out of heaven -- or hell.

But wouldn’t Warren know the reason behind his unrest? Most ghosts were hellbent on fulfilling their last needs, right? That would require them to know about the specific causes for their unsuccessful departure -- and jack shit came to his mind upon brainstorming. Unless, it had to do with Nathan?

Was that why Nathan’s name was the only other name that remained prominent in Warren’s blank slate of a mind?

No answers were able to formulate and eventually, the theories that had been building themselves up unraveled like a hanging thread, pulling apart the flimsy tapestry of guesses and uncertainties.

The only sense of security that Warren had was the troubled boy he had intruded on earlier, the reddened face and trembling shoulders still fresh in his memory like a photograph. It felt ironic to find comfort from such a character but he couldn’t help it. That person was the only one who recognized Warren as a fellow living, breathing human. Not some silhouette or shadow of a ghost without an identity.

Nathan gave him a sense of belonging -- despite having been chased out of his room with nasty snarls in hot pursuit.

The boy wasn’t far off from being the last person on Earth to Warren.

That dependent relationship that had established itself urged him to stay close, following the red jacket like a bull to his matador. It was possible that upon explaining his situation, something would click in Nathan’s mind and he would make sense of all of Warren’s concerns. He couldn’t allow himself to lose Nathan, the single person he could possibly confide in -- though it wasn’t like he had a choice.

The rest of the day dragged on at a snail’s pace, the door across from his never opening once. Did the guy ever need to take a piss?

Warren shook the question from his mind before standing up from his bed with the intentions to leave and explore the school a bit more. There was nothing else he could really do and it would most likely be helpful to know the area he was going to be following someone around in. Either way, the sun was far from setting and he was starting to get antsy from sitting around and watching the stream of students outside his window for hours on end. He could make out each of the cliques as the individual clusters of teens made their way out of the dormitory grounds, holding books and carrying backpacks of supplies.

It wasn’t long before for the subtle longing for that same experience overcame the brunette and convinced him even further that it was fine to go outside for just a little bit.

He took his time to explore the area, discovering that the boy’s dorms were located underneath the girl’s, separated by a single flight of stairs and a door. Warren walked through the front pathway, noting a strange bird totem along with a janitor feeding a few squirrels that had found their seats on one of the benches. The weather was fairly warm, which made the boy wonder what month it even was. He had no grasp on his setting, using the oranged leaves and occasional breeze as his only hints pointing towards the fall season.

Once Warren reached the main school building, the longing in his chest grew stronger.

Spots of light dotted figures as the sun proved its shine to be resilient against the trees’ outstretched branches and leaves. Students here and there were seated underneath the shade of trees, some sketching and others reading. Groups of teens sat at wooden picnic tables, conversing loudly amongst themselves with wide, gaping smiles and squinted eyes. They all had their own share of stress and troubles without a doubt, but something about the scene looked so peaceful.

It didn’t take much investigating for Warren to discover what he needed to know about the school. It was called Blackwell Academy, a private school with esteemed arts courses that were funded by the Prescotts, along with various other things.

Based on the colorful remarks of students he passed, feelings towards the Prescotts didn’t stop at admiration or gratefulness. The influential and filthy rich family donated the entire dormitory to the academy, but they also ran countless people out of jobs. It was clear that they were hated and Warren couldn’t help but recall the boy from earlier, with his disheveled appearance and crumbling demeanor.

The boy from earlier, with the whiteboard beside his door reading, THE PRESCOTTS RULE THIS TOWN .

The brunette whistled to himself as he got a grasp on who exactly he was dealing with. Of course the one name he recalled was the name of the most hated person in their town, Arcadia Bay. He generally wasn’t talked about in a friendly manner, or a manner coming close to positive at all.

Rich kid.

Spoiled dickbaby.

Motherfucker the asshole cunt.

Warren would think they were being paid to come up with the most creative insults. While a part of him felt sorry for Nathan, another part inevitably became curious as to why he was being referred to in such fueled ways. No one was just called motherfucker the asshole cunt for no good reason. Did the kid brandish his gun in school or something?

While the trip around the school answered a few of Warren’s questions, it left him with plenty of new ones -- especially regarding Nathan. When the boy finally left the building, he found that the sun was slowly starting to set and the students were leaving their classes to head back to the dorms.

Relief panged in his chest as he realized Nathan must’ve not attended class at all that day. In his state, it wouldn’t have been safe for anyone and it looked like the kid needed some rest either way.

The dorms were bustling with energy, a stark contrast from just that morning when most of the inhabitants had already gone to class. Warren got a glimpse of the shower room, grimacing at the completely wrecked state of it with towels, boxers, and -- and condoms (?) strewn everywhere. He hoped his form was one that never required a shower.

The boy managed to reach the hall where his self proclaimed room was, standing between his door and Nathan’s. After a moment’s hesitation, he concluded that it would be best to leave the guy alone for that day. He had barged in one too many times and he figured he wouldn’t get so lucky with that gun the next time around.

Phasing through his door, Warren breathed a tired sigh into the still air of his room. Obviously not a single thing had been touched, and he decided it’d be best to call it a day. It was surprisingly draining to not exist.

Before he could even wonder if he required sleep, the boy’s eyelids grew heavy and he felt himself fall into the comfort of his bed, not passing through but instead rolling himself under the covers.

Though rays of light came in through the unclosed blinds of the window, they hardly stood a chance against the dark exhaustion that enclosed around Warren as he fell asleep.

 


 

It was clear that Warren wasn’t good at discreetly tailing people; it didn’t take long for Nathan to realize and the next thing he knew, he was trapped between two lockers and a fairly pissed looking boy with eerily immaculate hair.

How much did it take for it stay like that?

He had been following Nathan the entire day, always lingering a couple steps behind in order to not give himself away. He felt indescribably shady but it probably would’ve been shadier to just go up to the boy and try to be friends with him.

Something told Warren that it would take a lot for his status as an annoyingly persistent mosquito to evolve into something even edging towards “friends.” The confrontation confirmed those suspicions further as he struggled to stare literally anywhere but the livid blue eyes in front of him.

The utterances between them were humiliatingly stalemate; Warren couldn’t seem to form coherent sentences for the damn life of him and he could almost see the counter of the ticking time bomb going down rapidly.

Thankfully, a jock he had seen a few times while exploring, came running in. He caught Nathan’s attention and the boy reluctantly backed away from Warren, brows still furrowed and gaze still seething through his flesh. It felt as though someone had let Warren out of a bear trap and the brunette uttered a silent ‘thank you’ before following the steadily forming crowd.

From that point on was an incredibly distasteful concoction of emotions, conjured up by whatever sick force that allowed for such a situation to ever occur. It felt as though Warren was witnessing everything through a film reel, each individual frame being harshly captured in his disturbingly blank memory. The boy wished he could just close his eyes and shut out the panicked cries of the people around him, but the cruelty of reality allowed for no such sugarcoating to happen.

An unfamiliar girl was standing at the lip of the roof, looking out through the merciless barrage of rain with reddened eyes. He didn’t remember her from his brief exploring the day before -- but something gave him a sense that she wasn’t one to be noticed easily.

Though Warren had been desperate to find something else -- anything else to train his eyes on, he wished he hadn’t looked over at Nathan. He had wanted to make sure the boy was alright -- it wasn’t rocket science to understand that watching a suicide could trigger other people with similarly unhealthy minds. Unexpectedly, Warren was faced with the exact opposite of the reaction he had assumed would be plastered on Nathan’s face.

Instead of an expression of shock or horror, there was an eerily calm smile on his face; it stretched from one cheek to the other, holding a damp luster from the buffet of rain. He looked the most at peace that Warren had ever seen -- that fact alone sent an unwanted shiver down the boy’s spine.

He hurriedly forced his eyes back to the girl at the roof’s ledge and before he could even utter a word, she jumped.

That was that.

No miracle of any sort happened. No one swooped in to save her in time. She was just dead , her body growing cold against the hard pavement that had darkened from the rain seeping through.

Warren could hardly believe it. He felt his chest tighten and his throat close up. His entire body grew tense as though moving would somehow make the situation worse. As if it could be worse. It was his second day being… alive (?) and he just watched a girl jump from the fucking roof right in front of him.

What exactly was happening at Blackwell? Apart from the nasty rumor mills and name calling, how could anyone let it get that bad? What exactly did Warren get thrown into?

Eventually, the police came and the boy was jolted out of his thoughts as the sound of sirens encompassed the entire area surrounding the dormitory. The teens were ushered back to their rooms as a heavy feeling of dread hung in the air like a web, the students acting as the flies unfortunate enough to be caught within those woven strands.

Warren watched Nathan start towards his room, though he was subsequently stopped and spoken to in harsh, muted words by a security guard who had come down from the roof. The guard spoke into his walkie talkie and towards Nathan back and forth, and though he couldn’t exactly make out what was being said, the aggravated manner in which the boy reacted offered enough clues for Warren to piece the bits together.
He instinctively stepped forward to follow the red jacket like he had done the whole day -- and was considerably surprised when he found himself hesitating. The film reel in his head was playing back and it kept getting stuck at Nathan’s smile; his genuine smile. It would’ve been nearly heartwarming in any other situation, but in their context it was the furthest thing from sweet.

Warren really didn’t have any idea who he was dealing with. He had seen one dismantled side of the kid but that didn’t tell him anything close to the full story. In reality, he was depending on an absolute stranger, and on top of that, the stranger wasn’t the most adored person in town. He had just witnessed him smiling at the sight of a girl on the verge of suicide. That, plus the descriptive names being thrown around the academy did not give off the best impression of the boy he had been pitying just a day before.

The doubts felt like heavy weights on Warren’s shoulders, each thought making his gut churn more and more. The figure of Nathan was becoming more distant by the second, his hunched silhouette muddled by the rain as he paced off towards the main building.

After a long moment of hesitation, the brunette shook his head.

“Oh, what the fuck.”

Upon grumbling those few words beneath his breath, Warren started towards the familiar back he had been tailing since the beginning of that day.

 


 

They weren’t in the building for nearly as long as Warren had expected. He was waiting beneath a tree, eyeing the door as the sun started to descend in the sky. The campus was drowned in golden hues from the last fighting rays, and it casted glowing highlights onto the statue standing tall within the center fountain.

Golden hour?

The rain had died down in the blink of an eye, the menacingly grey clouds clearing up as though they were only there to add a ghastly atmosphere to the event from earlier. It upset Warren to even think about it -- the way the girl stood weakly at the ledge was embossed into his vision, he could still see it in the darkness of his closed eyes.

The worst part was that he couldn’t even do anything about it.

To be fair, it wasn’t as though he knew her or had much of a chance of reaching her at all but despite that, the feeling of helplessness felt overwhelming and it bit at the back of his skull in the form of a nagging headache.

As the door to Blackwell’s main building opened, Warren sucked in a breath. It was time to become someone else’s headache. The security guard from earlier stormed out, hands balled into fists as a nasty snarl sat plastered on his face. Just a few moments after, Nathan followed in similar fashion, though he was clearly making an active attempt to calm down. The boy’s chest was heaving up and down, not in a way that was foreign to Warren as he recalled the other day.

He wasn’t able to really plan a proper entrance as the boy came his way -- if something like that even existed for his circumstance -- so he just stepped out from the shadows of the tree that had been shielding him from his company’s line of sight.

“Hey.”

It clearly startled him, evident in the way he jumped and took an extra short step, kind of like an impromptu dance move. It wasn’t very elegant and neither was the exchange of dialogue they had from there. It was brief, and Nathan took it upon himself to educate Warren on how the head of Blackwell ran things. It triggered a sour expression on his face and the boy looked down at his shoes as they walked, unsure of how to handle the information.

A girl had died and yet -- according to Nathan -- the principal was only saying what he had to in order to avoid criticism from the press. He didn’t know how anyone could manage to be that apathetic about a damn suicide; the idea alone made a tight knot form in his throat.

Warren had seen too much in not even two full days. The brutal name calling, the breakdown of a gun wielding infamous asshole, a girl jumping from the fucking rooftop. Of all the places he could’ve come into existence, it had to be a prestigious yet absolutely abhorrent school riddled with infectious teen drama and inadequate staffing.

It took a moment for his incredulous reflection to subside, allowing enough room for him to utter the first words that came to mind.

Nathan didn’t seem to hear so he repeated it once more, a little louder. He wasn’t worried about how the boy would react, it seemed as though he was just as tired of the place as Warren was -- and he had spent much more time there than the latter.

“This place is hell.”

The statement was met with a dry laugh, but a laugh all the same. Warren found himself wondering what would make his company snicker genuinely but then shuddered at the thought, receiving a memory that he hadn’t wanted to recall ever again.

Ultimately, they reached the dormitory and the brunette watched Nathan start up the stairs towards the girl’s separate level. A crack of orange light streamed in through the doorway as Warren stood in its path, the only darkness resulting from the shadow of his hesitant figure. The gold painted portions of Nathan, moving with the wrinkles in his clothes and coloring half his face with that pleasing luster.

The sight was beautiful, to say the least.

“Do you wanna walk with me tomorrow?”

“Piss off.”

The boy finished up the stairwell and shut the door to the girl’s dorm -- leaving Warren behind in his lonesome, accompanied only by the floating dust in the air around him. He considered following but concluded that it would probably be best not to pursue a boy who was going to the girl’s floor. He could almost smell the rancid teen spirit wafting from that situation alone as he continued towards the boy’s dorms on ground level.

Warren only realized how drained he was upon entering his room, feeling the blankets fold underneath his weight as he fell onto the mattress with a loud fwump.

He rolled onto his back, having pretty much mastered his strange ‘phasing through’ quality at that point. It was a mere prick in his side whenever he forgot about it, but other than that, it was no big deal and he learned to adapt to it fairly quickly. It was actually pretty convenient to be able to walk through walls without opening any doors, especially in his state where opening a door could possibly trigger panicked cries of hauntings. He wasn’t sure if that was what would happen but frankly, he wasn’t the most willing to test that hypothesis.

Additionally, he found out that food wasn’t something necessary to his being. There was no feeling that resembled hunger, despite the fact that the boy hadn’t eaten at all since first appearing in the halls of the dorm. While this immunity was met with more bitterness than the other, he accepted it with the reluctant resolve that trying to eat in public would probably just look like floating food disappearing into the mouth of a nonexistent consumer.

His final discovery of that day was the fact that everything he interacted with eventually defaulted back to their original state. Warren had woken up earlier that morning and stood up, only to turn around and see that the bed’s covers were perfectly made -- they looked untouched. It startled him and lead to a few trials of moving objects before turning around for a few seconds. Upon facing the object again, it was moved back to where it had been before he laid a hand on it. It happened with each of the things he interacted with, ranging from his pillow to the wooden desk at the corner of the room. The boy had no permanent means of physical alteration with his environment.

He knew there was nothing he could do to change it and the idea brought on a cumbersome weight of isolation that hung at his ankles like weights. Warren felt so utterly lonely… separated from the vast population of regular people who had an actual handle on their surroundings. What exactly was he? That recurring question in his head refused to go away, being reminded of it each time he phased through an object or moved it to only find it reverted back seconds later.

On top of those burdensome discoveries, the events of the day were still ringing in his head, like screams of people begging not to be forgotten. The migraine was still there, nipping at the base of his skull with jeering taunts that picked away at Warren’s resolve. There was too much to figure out and each time he revisited his imaginary conspiracy board, the more confused he became within the mesh of red string and dead ends. After witnessing the death of the poor girl, he found himself wondering if he was placed into Blackwell Academy’s interior for the sake of some weak justice.

Perhaps the completely blank slate of a human was meant to change something at the god forsaken school, change it for the better in order to prevent any more tragedies from happening.

That theory was met with its own stalemates, much like every other that came before it. If Warren was meant to fix the mentality of the school, students, and staff… why was he not visible to any of them but Nathan? Was he supposed to use Nathan -- the most hated kid in the school -- to somehow improve the attitude of everyone in Blackwell? It was a ridiculous thought that Warren found himself shaking off easily.

Was his focus solely on Nathan? He had been urged into existence by some cruel force with only his own vague identity, and the red jacketed boy in his mind. It was like having those big, Las Vegas light up arrows in his head, blinking and flashing urgently as they all pointed in the direction of the now familiar, hunched figure.

That would explain why Nathan was the only one who could see Warren, but that didn’t make anything much easier. He was basically invisible to the boy either way, or at most he was a pestering toddler who refused to stop tugging at his sleeve. Was he meant to improve Nathan alone? As a person or… mental-health wise? Either way, the final verdict was simple and not a very arguable one. Warren had to befriend Nathan, or at least make it possible to be around him often.

While there was a brief inner debate regarding whether he should tell Nathan the truth about his own existence, Warren was aware of the answer he would come to from the start. He had to tell him, especially if he was planning on being around the boy often. It was bound to get found out either way, it was just a matter of how exactly the truth would be revealed. It was better to get it over with quickly -- it would be hard to explain why everyone thought Nathan talked to himself when he was really talking to Warren.

He wasn’t sure how long he had just been lying there by the time his never ending track of inner dialogue finally came to a still. The unfurnished room betrayed no way to tell time so the boy turned his attention to the window, seeing that the sun had completely set. The only light that came in was from the lampposts outside, emitting that artificially white glow that drew in moths and gnats mercilessly.

Though the boy waited for the sound of the door across from his, it was never heard and eventually, he succumbed to the exhaustion that had followed him around for that entire day.

 


 

The sound of a car door jolted Warren awake, causing him to sit up way too fast and turn his head to mush. His vision was edged in darkness as the boy blinked away the brief dizziness before recalling the moments leading up to his sleep, and he groggily scrambled to the window to see who would enter the dormitory’s courtyard at such a presumably ungodly hour.

After a few minutes, a faint figure finally appeared underneath the harsh white lights of the campus lamps, casting a ghostly silhouette on the boy. He looked considerably distraught, the usually immaculate hair bearing uncharacteristic loose strands.

Warren waited by the window for a beat longer than he meant to -- he just found that it was hard to tear his eyes away from such an eerie sight. There was an incomprehensible gap between the Nathan everyone knew and the Nathan he was watching, and while it was a depressing thing to witness... there was something undeniably captivating about it. Something private about it, like a secret that would be snuffed away by a single breath.

An extra second followed before Warren finally parted from the window, phasing through his room and heading down the hall to meet Nathan at the entrance. The way the boy looked, it was clear that being there for him was a good idea. Though he could almost hear the egotistical, dismissive remarks already, the brunette continued until he was standing before the main door, swallowing down a hard lump that had formed as if on reflex.

The door never opened like Warren had been expecting and he felt another nervous ache form at his chest, knowing he’d have to be the one to open it and confront the figure on the other side. What was Nathan even doing? Wasn’t it cold outside?

Taking in a gulp of breath, he cautiously wrapped his fingers around the handle and opened the door, as though there was an untamed beast on the other side. The situation didn’t feel too different and he started to wonder if he should’ve brought some form of protection -- it was hard to tell when exactly the red jacketed boy kept his gun on him.

A breeze of crisp, cold autumn air was let in as Warren opened the door. He felt a bewildered shock for a split second, for Nathan wasn’t there when he looked straight ahead and it made the boy do a double take. Then, his eyes slowly trailed down to rest on the hunched, folded in figure seated on the steps. He was trembling but something told Warren that it wasn’t a product of the cold.

It didn’t take long for the guarded boy to notice Warren’s presence and once he did, he shot up without a moment’s hesitation, swiveling on his heel rapidly enough to give Warren whiplash. He was taken aback by how much worse Nathan’s expression was up close -- he could make out the telltale damp cheeks of his, along with reddened eyes emitting an unrelenting resentment that shot straight through his skull.

Warren stood his ground without saying a word, softening his own stance to counter the painfully tense one of his company’s. It didn’t feel necessary to try and ask what was wrong -- at least not in that very moment -- so he just continued to watch with sympathetic eyes.

It was a soft twitch at Nathan’s lip that gave away what would come next, and even then, Warren couldn’t conjure up what to say. The boy spluttered and cried, doubling over with his hands back at his face like it was some weak attempt to keep the tears contained. Something in Warren’s chest throbbed with heartbreak as he watched the fortified walls around Nathan collapse. It was hard to believe that this helpless, worn down kid was the target of such immense hatred. He knew there was a reason, there was always a reason, but that didn’t stop his emotions from fluttering with a need -- a longing to help.

If Blackwell could see Nathan now… would everyone still feel so justified in their shit talking?

Warren hesitantly reached out a hand before placing it on the boy’s shoulder, not daring to make any further contact with the crumbling, hunched figure before him. He knew that he was pushing it enough, the foreign touch of comfort causing his company to startle for a split second -- though eventually, his tensed muscles relaxed.

They stood in that fashion for a while, keeping each other company as the night continued with its chorus of crickets and rustling leaves -- as though singing a lament for the two boys who were utterly alone in their own drastically different ways.

 


 

The room looked exactly the same as the last time Warren intruded, right down to the projector that was still running and emitting those bleak images onto the roll down screen. That and the dim lights above frames of body horror were the only things keeping the room from being completely pitch black, washing the entire area in an ominous shade of watered down orange.

The two stumbled in, shivering from staying outside in improper clothes that failed to defend against the relentless sting of midnight wind. Nathan was allowed to enter first and he made a beeline for his bed, kicking off his shoes and wrapping himself in the dark covers. He pulled the blanket to cover half his face, and the orange lights behind him casted a weak halo around his silhouette that blotted out his facial features even more within the shadows.

Warren lingered at the doorway for a bit before breaking the silence with an unexpectedly hoarse voice.

“Are you gonna be okay?”

He didn’t want to ask for details behind the boy’s situation -- if anything he would wait until they both had gotten enough rest to prepare for any conversation resembling serious. It also depended on if Nathan was willing to talk about it at all. He didn’t have much faith in that variable and half heartedly concluded in his mind that the events of this night would never be brought up again.

“I don’t need your help.”

Warren paused, letting his words lull at his lips for a beat before responding.

“I know.”

With that, he stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him, letting his hand rest on the handle for a second longer than intended. There was a part of him that was scared to leave Nathan alone, but another part of him argued that forcing his company wouldn’t do anything other than make him feel pressured.

In the end, Warren let go of the handle and headed back to his own room, phasing through the door and falling onto his bed, not in a way that was unsimilar from Nathan. He stared into the darkness of the ceiling for a long time, feeling tired but not tired enough to fall asleep -- and of course, this allowed for his thoughts to kick in and go rapid fire again. He was worn out from all the thinking but there was nothing else to keep him company amidst the inky blackness of his self adopted room.

He couldn’t even purchase a checkerboard or something to distract him and that again, reminded the boy of how secluded he was from the rest of the students at Blackwell. There was absolutely no one he could rely on -- the one person he was visible to required more help than he did.
It was tiring to be a support for someone while carrying a shit ton of his own issues.

Warren found himself hoping that their relationship would develop into one where they could both depend on each other to help deal with their individual set of problems. It was what he needed the most at that moment and he couldn’t deny the longing to latch onto the one person in the world who acknowledged his existence. There was just the undeniable factor that Nathan wouldn’t let that be an easy task.

He was arrogant and surrounded himself with equally arrogant people. The feeling of receiving attention or care from someone -- Nathan seemed to perceive it in a patronizing manner for the most part and therefore rejected it.

Warren had been subconsciously biting his lip as he ran through his thoughts, planning out a proper way to approach Nathan as if it were some battle tactic. He realized that was the first wrong move he had been making. He planned his actions as though he was approaching some puzzle, not someone he was looking to befriend. Though it was a natural -- and fairly reasonable -- reflex when dealing with the boy, it was one that would be best stifled.

Still, it wasn’t bad to plan greetings ahead, right? Warren wanted to avoid any awkward standstills in conversations, especially with the glare Nathan shot out with enough power to melt off people’s faces. Probably. He wouldn’t be surprised if he was actually capable of doing that.

As the hours dragged on, the boy on his bed didn’t even notice the sky outside get lighter as the sun started to peek out from the horizon, coloring the sky in tints of pinked honey. Streams made it through the slits in his blinds and casted bright lines across his carpeted floor, highlighting the bits of leftover dust and crumbs from whoever had stayed in the room before him. His attention was only caught when the birds awoke and started to sing their delicate songs of buoyancy, signaling that the early morning of a new day had begun.

Warren hadn’t slept a single bit, even though he wanted to. His eyes remained open as they looked straight into the ceiling, blinking more often than usual in a futile attempt to chase away the groggy dryness. He regretted taking a nap earlier -- it lasted longer than he had intended and it forced him to be awake through ungodly hours that he would’ve otherwise spent sleeping like a baby.

At some point the other students started to stir, the sound of opening doors and dazed chatter lightly overpowering the birds’ chirps. Warren blinked hard before rubbing his fingers over his eyes, feeling not unlike a recently dug up corpse. Every fiber of his being rejected the thought of getting up and starting the day but the fact that Nathan would be leaving his room any second now gave the boy enough motivation to slowly crawl out of bed.

He stood unsteadily before doing anything, taking his time to gather his consciousness and urging his head to become less cloudy. Though it wasn’t possible for him to physically dirty, it felt as though he was caked in five layers of teenage distress and dirt. After taking a hearty breath in between his hands on his face, Warren stretched and let out a tired groan.

Though he wanted to just fall backwards into his bed again, the circumstances were never that merciful. He wasn’t given any more time to collect himself, for the sound of the door across the hall from him came out muffled through his own.

Without much time to prepare -- though he had technically been preparing the whole night -- the boy rushed to open his door and face the equally groggy figure before him.

They shared a tense silence for a few seconds as Warren completely blanked out on everything he had gone over during the hours leading up to their meeting.

“M... morning.”

Nailed it.

He winced, waiting for the familiarly fueled response with probably enough expletives to make dogs cry. Somehow it never came.

Nathan looked back at him with his blue eyes, glazed over in an unkempt look of exhaustion -- it was clear that he hadn’t gotten enough rest either. His skin was pale and his lips were chapped. They parted to make room for words but nothing came out but silence.

In the end, he didn’t spare Warren a single word as he rubbed his eyes with pink knuckled hands, letting out a groan that paralleled the one Warren had let out just minutes before. With that, Nathan turned away and left towards what Warren remembered to be the shower room.

He blinked, still standing in place rigidly as though his company had just rejected a proposal.

Baby steps, Warren. Baby steps.

The brunette’s eyes flicked from Nathan’s door to the turn in the hallway before following, steps shuffling softly against the ground as he maneuvered between the other boys leaving their rooms. The noise levels had slowly gone up but were still considerably hushed  -- until someone from the bathroom checked his phone.

“Yo check it out!” The unnamed teen, presumably a jock, held up his phone to display a text message sent from what appeared to be the Principal. “Classes are cancelled!”

A chorus of cheers erupted from several rooms, one definitely unfitting for the day following a girl’s death. Warren got an unpleasant feeling at the base of his throat but swallowed it down as he waited for Nathan to emerge from the crowded shower room. How long did it take the kid to take one shower?

Eventually Warren got bored of just standing outside so he took it upon himself to phase just his head through the wall.

It was natural for a guy to get curious, right? It wasn’t like he was going to look through one of the curtained showers.

The shower room was pretty basic, the classic white tiled floors reflecting light that flooded in from the single window next to the sinks. There were two people there brushing their teeth -- far beyond what he had been expecting from the boy’s dorm. It was easy to tell that they hardly used the sinks, judging from an untouched, sick sheen of green on the majority of them.

The mirrors were fogged up from the steam that poured from the top of the shower slots, moistening the graffiti on the walls with clinging drops of water. It made the air starkly different from the outside of the room and Warren’s head grew disproportionately hot compared to the rest of his body.

Jesus Christ. Is he shedding his skin in there or something?  

People kept coming and going as Warren waited for Nathan to exit from the shower, having gotten impatient enough to just phase his entire body through and find a moderately clean sink to sit on. He had probably spent enough time observing the room to name each of the spaces between tiles where grime had built up. Hell, he wouldn’t be surprised if he could identify the separate scents in the mesh of manly axe body spray odors.

After a few more long minutes of waiting, Warren bit back a heavy sigh before hopping off the sink and turning to face the fogged mirrors. His reflection was clouded and unclear, a film of white creating a distorted, vague rendition of himself. He reached forward with his hand and wiped at the glass, clearing away the steam to get a better look at his face. It never occurred to him until then that he didn’t actually know what he looked like.

Though the sheen of white crept back up quickly, it gave Warren enough time to get a better look at himself. An oval face adjourned with brown almond eyes, framed by messy tufts of brown hair -- the latter was the only part of his appearance that he had been sure of. Though he was secretly hoping to be stunningly hot, average was the best way to put it.

An average guy in an average body.

If only his situation mirrored that averageness.

“Are you fucking kidding?”

Warren had been so pressed against the mirror that he didn’t see the shower curtains open -- nor did he hear the sound of the water turning off. The voice that emerged from the space behind them was enough to tell him who it was.

Nathan looked considerably better than the night before, with his damp hair pushed back from his forehead. Though his deep set eyes still held discolored bags beneath them, they were less noticeable along with the muted twinge of exhaustion. He was fully clothed, presumably having changed in the shower. When did he even get the chance to do that?

“Can you get off my ass for like two seconds?”

Warren was about to respond when someone else answered for him.

“What?” Someone who had been applying a sickly amount of deodorant turned around from the sink to face Nathan. “This is a public shower room, Prescott.”

Fuck.

“I’m not talking to you, genius.” He gestured towards the very invisible Warren who was now shaking his head rapidly, swinging an arc across the side of his neck in an attempt to get Nathan to shut the fuck up.

Those actions were merely met with an off put glare which was soon replaced with a guarded one as deodorant boy let out a short, dismissive laugh. “You’re fucking weird.”

At that point, a few murmurs rung out from the other occupied showers and the compromising attention burned hot at the base of Warren’s neck.

Nathan’s brows furrowed, posture hunching into the familiar, animal-like demeanor that Warren had gotten used to seeing. He opened his mouth to snap back and the brunette could nearly choke on the amount of malice that was waiting to be delivered from those chapped lips.

Warren didn’t give him a chance, stepping up between the two and interrupting with an loud, inappropriately forced laugh. Obviously, deodorant boy didn’t hear but Nathan sure as hell did and he reacted with the previously furrowed brow raising slightly.

“How about we book it out of here? Let’s get breakfast or something -- whatever you want. You’ve been showering so long I think I’m going to pass out from the stuffy ass heat of this place.”

Deodorant boy didn’t make it easy for Warren to intercept, calling out to Nathan because to him -- there was no interruption and the boy was just staring strangely right past him. “Go on, Prescott. You gonna tell me why you’re talking to yourself? I mean I knew you were fucked but damn .”

“What?” Nathan’s tone came out dangerous, edged with a demanding violence that the brunette was grateful for not being at the receiving end of for once.

Warren stepped forward with his hands held before him, closer to the aggravated boy he was facing. “I think -- I really think we should get out of here.”

“Forgot to take your meds today?”

“You’re fucking dead.”

Nathan stormed forward with the blues of his eyes shadowed by his lashes, creating a deadly glare that Warren felt in his core. He was distracted by the pure animosity of them that he didn’t process the fact that Nathan was headed straight for him in time.

The boy jutted his shoulder out to push past Warren and the boy shut his eyes, holding his hands in front of him as a reflex -- they were too close for him to avoid it so he might as well wait to see what would happen.

No contact was made, the impact that he had been bracing for completely nonexistent.

Warren opened his eyes to see Nathan phased through one entire half of his body, a thin glowing line sitting at the parts where their figures intersected.

So that’s what happens.

Nathan stood there, frozen in what was assumed to be shock. A completely valid response. He blinked and slowly moved his shoulder away from Warren’s, staring at the way their limbs passed through each other’s with that thin line of convergence.

“Holy shit.” Deodorant boy was of course, still there, without a single clue about what was happening between the two of them. “Nathan Prescott has finally lost his fucking mind.”

The boy mentioned wasn’t even listening -- he just kept passing his arm in and out of Warren’s torso. His bewildered face was nearly comical but the tension of the situation didn’t allow for any laughter.

The brunette cleared his throat before craning his neck to glance at deodorant boy, seeing his frustratingly arrogant expression. In an impulsive moment of stifled inner debate, he pulled his body back from Nathan before reaching out again with his just hand, grabbing the boy’s wrist upon urging himself to be -- um, solid.

Thankfully, it worked the same way it did with objects and the rather overdue contact was finally made.

“I can explain.”

Warren’s voice cracked as he spoke and with that confident stroke, he practically dragged Nathan out of the room, leaving behind the baffled assholes in their deodorant stenched company.

There was surprisingly little resistance as the two ran out from the dormitory, out into the fresh air that crashed into Warren like a wave of frigid water. An unfortunate amount of people were outside, sitting on the benches or amidst the shaded grass, enjoying their day off with relaxed postures. He looked around for a fairly secluded spot to stop at but was unexpectedly pulled into the direction of the parking lot.

Suddenly, Nathan was the one leading them, running ahead without his signature jacket that Warren had gotten used to identifying him by. Their strides were long and rushed as the two emerged onto the parking lot, black asphalt licking their heels as the sun overhead started to warm up the air. They slowed near a red SUV -- what Warren assumed to be Nathan’s -- and before he could say a single word, the boy entered the vehicle, slamming the door shut with a bang that startled the birds away from their branches.

Warren blinked, unsure if he should join Nathan but that question was answered rather quickly in a clipped tone.

“Get in.”

That was all the boy offered from his rolled down window and Warren didn’t dare to hesitate as he rounded to the other side of the truck and slipped in, feeling the tightness of his chest harshen. He was pulling the seat belt over himself when the car lurched into motion without a single warning, sending the boy back into the seat with his head jerked by the momentum.

“Ow -- Jesus!” He scrambled to get his seatbelt on in time, instinctively grabbing for the handle hanging from the roof of the car, as if it would help much. The truck swerved out of the parking lot with enough rigor to send Warren sprawling against the door, providing him with a moment of gratitude for learning how to control his solidifying characteristic before going on this death ride.

The disheveled boy glanced over at his company in the driver’s seat to see him resting his elbow on the open window, left hand gripped over his mouth while his other clenched the steering wheel with white knuckles. His head was tilted downwards, forcing his eyes to stare up menacingly like a hunter tracking his prey through the scope of a gun.

When the silence continued for a few minutes, Nathan’s fingers started to strum against the steering wheel, accompanying the sound of the engine with rapid tapping. Soon, his leg followed in pursuit, bouncing up and down in a way that made Warren antsy. He instinctively shifted in his seat.

“Well?” Nathan’s voice came out expectant; demanding. “Tell me I’m not losing my fucking mind.”

Warren lead his gaze away from the driver and out his side window, watching the scenery flick by in a disorientating blur. He wasn’t sure how to start, despite having rehearsed this multiple times throughout his sleepless night. There was just something about revealing his nonexistence that didn’t come too easily.

“I don’t really know the details. I just--” Warren felt his voice catch in his throat, as if it was refusing to come out and admit what he knew he had to admit. The act of saying it out loud was somehow infinitely more daunting than actually experiencing it -- telling someone about it just seemed to confirm the reality of his situation. The urgent tapping of Nathan’s fingers felt like the ticking of a clock, building up the pressure against Warren’s skull.

“Spit it out, Graham. I’m not taking you for a joyride so you can just sit on your skinny ass without explaining shit.”

Warren shifted his hand down from the handle, moving his elbow onto the open window beside him and resting the side of his mouth against an upturned palm.

“I..-on’t...ist..”

“What?”

“I d....on’t -xist..”

What?

Warren removed the palm from his mouth and let out an exasperated groan, mostly at himself for being such a pussy.

“I don’t fucking exist!”

A heavy silence followed, rendering Warren completely vulnerable as his ears turned red. It was painfully tense and the boy could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand straight up. He found himself wanting to sink through his seat, avoiding the threateningly brooding figu-- wait.

Warren urged his torso and head to phase completely through the seat, reclining into the narrow back space of the SUV. Almost immediately, the car swerved and caused the boy to scramble inelegantly in his brief moment of solitude.

“What the hell?” The brunette demanded, clutching his chest as if he was lying down from having cardiac arrest.

“Stop, that’s fucking creepy!”

Nathan continued to drive in sporadic swerves until Warren decided avoiding the awkwardness wasn’t worth calibrating his center of balance all over again. He snapped up and hastily grabbed the handle once more, putting his life entirely in its hands. Or his hands. That were grabbing the handle. What?

A breathless, undefined sound of irritation came from the boy beside him, interrupting his thoughts that became significantly derailed.

“I knew it. I’m insane. Completely out of my fucking mind.”

“Actually, no, that’s not really confirmable yet,” Warren offered half heartedly.

Nathan craned his neck to face him, sparking a flash of terror in Warren’s gut.

Please watch the road.

“Oh yeah, of course not. I always give my self aware hallucinations rides. Gosh fucking golly, how could I forget?”

The sharp sarcasm in his tone stabbed at Warren like a heated blade. He struggled with his words, trying to find any possibly rebuttal he could make but in the end -- he was more unsure about his own situation than Nathan.

In a defeated sigh, the boy sank back into his seat -- but not enough to phase through. He didn’t want to deal with unscrambling his insides again in the threat that Nathan could turn his truck into a blender without batting an eye.
The rest of the ride continued in that uncomfortable quiet that made Warren want to run away. He could most definitely just phase through the entire car and get left behind in the middle of the road, but that would completely destroy his resolve of trying to be friends -- or even acquaintances with Nathan. It would also be really, really pathetic.

On the other hand, Warren felt that he was completely justified in wanting to escape. The mood around them felt suffocatingly hostile and it threatened to snuff the breath from his very lungs. It was difficult to believe that just moments earlier, he was hounding Nathan down like some eager child.

The car suddenly swerved once more before coming to a stop, causing Warren to lurch forward into his seat belt. He hadn’t been paying attention to his surroundings as he stared out the window -- until then. It wasn’t hard to focus in on the sign that was standing tall just a short distance from them, portraying two whales above the words, “ TWO WHALES DINER.” Warren blinked. He didn’t take Nathan for a ‘eat at a diner angrily after getting involved in the most confusing ordeal in your entire life’ kinda guy.

Nathan didn’t even bother to look over at his company, just turning off the ignition and getting out of the car in a huff. 

 


 

Nathan stormed inside first, not bothering to hold the door open for Warren but he knew even the thought was too far fetched. He trailed in and followed the boy to a booth, taking the seat opposite to him and letting his eyes drift over various parts of the interior.  Immediately, an aroma of buttermilk pancakes and freshly brewed coffee wafted around Warren and made his mouth water. It felt comforting -- there was just something nice about the white noise of diners; the clinking of utensils, the chatter of strangers discussing trivial things, the sound of coffee mugs being placed on wiped down counters.
The jukebox beside their booth caught Warren’s eye but he remembered with an unwanted pang that even if he decided to play a song, it would eventually revert to silence just a few seconds later. Following that rather depressing surrender, his gaze moved onto a few of the posters hanging in no real uniform around the place.

The entrance had been adjourned with various fliers regarding events, advertisements, and most noticeably, a missing girl. If Warren recalled correctly, it had said a nineteen year old girl named Rachel Amber was missing. A portrait of her was plastered onto the posters, a pretty, hazel eyed girl with a feather earring. He found himself wondering if she had gone to Blackwell and what she was like.

Upon giving the entire place a fairly good look through, Warren finally -- and wearily -- turned his attention back to the boy seated in front of him, who was tapping on the table as he scanned the menu with brooding eyes. Warren himself looked down at the laminated menu, reading each offered dish with a pitifully remorseful look. Everything sounded amazing and though it was all at his fingertips, it was so unattainable.

The sound of clicking heels got closer to their booth as a waitress approached them, hair clipped back neatly to reveal gold hooped ears. A nametag on her blue uniform read Joyce , and Nathan looked up at her as she spoke.

“Good morning, Nathan.” She had a singsong, accented voice that somehow felt comforting. “I heard school’s been cancelled for the day. It’s a terrible thing that happened yesterday but I’m glad you’re still out and about without letting it take too much of a toll on you.” She reached forward and poured some coffee into Nathan’s mug before continuing to speak.

“The worst thing that you can do after such a tragedy is become impossibly weighed down by it. It’s a good thing to mourn but letting it consume you won’t help anyone, I know that for a fact. I just hope you’re pushing through alright.”

Warren was worried that his company would reply in some asshole, typical Nathan kind of way but to his pleasant surprise, the boy simply nodded in a curt fashion, and that was that. “I’m fine, Joyce.” The brunette scoffed and was promptly met with a glare enough to turn medusa to stone. “I’m fine.”

Joyce offered a knowing smile. “Glad to hear it, kid. Now enough with my lecturing -- what would you like to order?”

“Pancakes with extra syrup.” He paused to glance over at Warren who was as always, very much invisible to everyone. The brunette blinked, unsure of what exactly the boy was looking for and just settled with a small wave to him. He didn’t appreciate the gesture but that was to be expected. “That’ll be all, thanks.”

“Of course, dear. Be back in a few.”

With that, Joyce walked off with the pot of coffee, her heels continuing to clack against the reflective, white tiled floors. Nathan immediately dropped his head into his hands, elbows propped up on the black table top as he let out an immense sigh. There were spots of sticky residue, the remnants of syrup and spilled coffee from the countless people who had eaten there before them. Warren sat stiffly in his booth before clearing his throat to break up the silence that had once again fallen on them.

“So. Do you have… questions or..”

Nathan looked up at him through furrowed brows. “No, I’m perfectly content with everything that happened today -- of course I have fucking questions, dipshit.”

“Okay, Jesus.” Warren shifted in his seat. “Fire away.”

“What the fuck are you?”

“Whoa we’re really starting with the hard ones, huh?”

“This is the most basic goddamn question I have and you better give me something at least resembling an answer or I think I’ll blow my own fucking brains out right here and now.”

Warren swallowed hard as he remembered the very real gun that did in fact, exist in Nathan’s possession. “Okay, okay. I don’t have the most clear explanation but I can tell you everything I know since I first started, uh y’know, existing.”

With that, he went on to describe every event he had experienced since materializing into the dormitory hallway, first starting with that cryptic flash of white accompanied by his disturbingly blank memory. His retelling of the past two days was jumbled and disorganized despite the fact that all he really did was follow Nathan around like a shadow. At one point, Joyce came back with a hot plate of pancakes, doused in so much syrup that it made Warren question if they had over exaggerated Nathan’s request. Apparently he was wrong and Nathan was perfectly content with his syrup drowned pancakes. Fucking weirdo.

As Warren finished speaking, he leaned back into his booth seat and shrugged, allowing the boy across from him to take in the story. He knew it was a lot to swallow and he watched Nathan place his fork down slowly, the prongs still stabbed into the poor syrup doused pancake chunks. He ran his tongue over his top teeth, nodding his head subtly as his eyes remained focused on a spot on the table before cautiously moving back up towards Warren.

“So basically,” He took the fork as he spoke, finishing off what had been pierced on its end. “Either I’m crazy or I’m some fucking medium with a sixth sense for seeing ghosts.” His words came out slightly muffled as he spoke through a full mouth, shaking his head as he stabbed his fork into another bite sized pancake slice.

“Is this karma or something? For all the times I fucked up? God, talk about overkill.” There was a misplaced sneer on Nathan’s face, as if he were entertained by his own unbelievable, curse-like misfortune. Warren wasn’t sure what to offer for comfort -- in the end, he couldn’t provide any sense of security or reassurance regarding the situation they were in. He was just as in the dark about everything as Nathan was.

“Well,” Warren managed to force himself to speak, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table. “For starters, I don’t really think I’m a ghost.”

“Oh great, very helpful Graham. I’m so glad we get to check Casper the Friendly Ghost off the list. What’s next? A spirit? Some obscure god? A freak accident of nature?”

A deep sigh puffed out Warren’s cheeks as he exhaled, moving one hand up to rest his chin on. “I don’t fucking know! You’re not making this any easier by being a smartass.”

Nathan stood from his seat, leaning forward on palms that were gripped against the surface of the table, nail beds turning white. His expression was contorted into one of fuming anger, the mere look in his eyes enough to make Warren wonder if it was possible to die in his form. He straightened back up in his seat, slowly removing his head from the hand he had propped it up against. His brown eyes remained trained on the blue ones in front of him, a part of him being too threatened to dare look away.

“You fucking listen to me, listen to every goddamn word,” Nathan spoke through tight lips and a clenched jaw. “I could care less about you and your situation right now. What makes you think just cause I’m the only one who can see you, I suddenly have to Nancy fucking Drew you out of this?”

At that point, the boy was so leaned forward that their faces only stood a few inches apart. Warren could make out his warped reflection within the brooding eyes before him and for a second, his own expression was enough to convince him that the Warren he saw in the reflection wasn’t really him -- rather a distressed figure trapped, encased within those irises of blue.

“You could wander off to the middle of buttfuck nowhere and I wouldn’t give a single shit. You’re lucky I even gave you a second of my time, so before you start bitching abou--”

At some point through Nathan’s rant, the click of heels had grown increasingly loud as someone neared their table. Though he didn’t seem to notice, Warren certainly did and opened his mouth to warn him, only to be beat by the waitress herself.

“Nathan, what is going on here? You’re starting to frighten the other customers.”

She leaned her weight on one side, crossing her arms and looking down at the boy with a raised brow. She didn’t seem to be judging him -- it was more of a concerned face than anything else, one that was completely justified.

Nathan bit his lip, tearing his vicious glare away from Warren to set it on Joyce. The realization that he had essentially been yelling to himself came slow, though his demeanor changed quickly once it did. His feral expression softened by a fraction, muscles untensing subtly. Joyce continued to look at him expectantly, waiting for a response, an explanation, anything substantial enough to ease the atmosphere of the diner that had gotten noticeably quiet.

He looked from Joyce to the table, and then back up at Warren. After another beat of him presumably processing the situation, the boy uttered out a clipped “fuck,” before placing a wad of cash on the table and squeezing past Joyce to leave. She shook her head softly, not moving to collect the money beside the unfinished pancakes.

Warren swallowed hard before sliding out from the booth and following Nathan reluctantly, picking up his pace significantly as to not lose sight of him. He knew that the boy wouldn’t want to see him and would definitely be less than thrilled to give him a ride back but there was nothing else he could really do but tag along and hope for the best. That was the basic summary of their relationship and though it made him immensely awkward and uncomfortable, there was nothing he could really do.

He pushed open the door and exited into the open air, feeling a draft blow past his figure; it carried a subtle scent of saltwater from the beach just across the road. His heels cuffed against the pavement as he shuffled towards Nathan, eyes trained on the boy’s back as he lagged a couple of steps behind. His red jacket was missing, revealing a grey sweater thrown on top of a dress shirt. Though it muted his rather aggressive image, his posture and gait was enough to make up for the absence of red.

The two slowed at their respective sides of the truck, Nathan grabbing the door’s handle with unsteady hands. He looked up as Warren went to open the door, a deep scowl overcoming his face as he barked out, “Don’t touch my car.”

“I need to get back to the school.”

“Don’t fucking get near my car.”

As Warren opened his mouth to respond, a screech of tires interrupted him as they painted the pavement with dark tracks. He looked up at the same time that Nathan did and he heard the boy respond with an incredulous, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

To say the rusted truck was parked was a generous overstatement -- it stood with the back set of tires still in the road while the front set was rolled into the parking lot, just inches away from crashing into a petition stand. The door opened and closed with a deafening slam as a girl with short blue hair stormed out, eyes trained right on Nathan like she was staring at a target marked in red.

“Hey dipshit!” She closed the distance quickly as Nathan hastily opened the car door to get inside. “Where the fuck’s my money?”

Warren barely made it in time before Nathan turned on the ignition and sped out of the parking lot. For a moment, he was worried that they would run over the stranger but the car managed to skid past her without any contact. The fact that she got away with her life didn’t seem to do much for her; she continued to yell colorful obscenities at them as she climbed into her own truck and followed them in a hot pursuit.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Nathan hissed out as he glanced through his front mirror to see their furious pursuer closing in on them. Warren grabbed at the hanging grip on the roof of the car, a tradition that seemed to occur every time he stepped foot in the thing. He turned his head to see the girl speeding up to their rear in an incredible amount of time for a vehicle that looked like it was just revived from a forsaken landfill.

At some point, Blackwell Academy sped by them along with the numerous trees on either side of the road. Warren glanced at Nathan who was hunched over his wheel with his eyes trained on the thankfully uncrowded road before them. “Where are we going?” His voice came out urgent and more frightened than his pride would’ve liked it to.

“Not the academy where we’ll be sitting fucking ducks waiting for the psycho-bitch to barge in.”

He had a point. Warren accepted that and didn’t respond as the truck proceeded to make several swerves and turns into unfamiliar roads, guarded by lush forests on each side. He consistently turned to see the blue haired girl still following, steering her battered car just as vicariously as Nathan. “God, she’s persistent,” He breathed through grit teeth.

Soon, the road diverged into two separate directions with one sign pointing towards a State Park and the other pointing to what was presumably the name of a nearby town.

“Go for the town and then turn last minute towards the park!”

Warren shouted this over the groan of the engine and the noisy cries of protest from the tires of both vehicles as beads of sweat started to form on his brow.

Nathan didn’t hesitate to comply, turning onto the road for the town before swerving a wide arc around the truck that followed them. The two were leaned to the side by the force of gravity, the entire car tilting for a split second as Warren looked out the window just in time to see the blue haired girl stare straight through him from her respective window. She was very clearly shouting unpleasant remarks through her upturned lips, her expression contorted into one of exasperated frustration.

They left behind their pursuer in the dust as they continued down the road leading to the state park, the forests becoming less dense as the road opened into a wooden bridge. It lead towards what appeared to be a charred park up ahead, one that looked eerie yet once full of life.

Surprisingly, the aged truck that had been following them loyally didn’t ever appear after they had veered past it and Nathan continued to drive without looking back a single time.

He parked his car at the end of the road which seemed to serve as the parking lot for the reserve, evident by the few other cars stalled there in similar fashion. A hearty sigh escaped from the boy’s chapped lips as he propped his elbows on top of his steering wheel and rested his head in his hands. Warren didn’t say a word. His heart was pounding against his chest and his breath felt short in his rapidly heaving lungs, the adrenaline from the car chase still running hot in his body.

Warren knew that asking Nathan about the girl would only irritate him further and truthfully, he needed a moment of peace that wasn’t accompanied by yelling or reckless, life threatening driving.

He gazed out the window and observed their surroundings, a strange feeling of emptiness blooming in his chest as the boy looked out at the park that had been left as a pile of ashes. The bridge that crossed over a crisp, clear stream was charred and blackened, along with a few park benches that had been scattered about the area. The most noticeable tragedy was the drooping tree standing with bare branches, devoid of any leaves that might’ve once adjourned the hauntingly regal shape.

Beside him, Nathan finally looked up from his palms, drained blue eyes brushing over the park they had driven to without much care. There was no empathy in his expression, though there was no more anger on top of that and that was enough to let Warren ease up in his seat.

The afternoon sun beat down on the roof of the car, rendering the landscape in an unfittingly bright tone as the light met the lifeless, burned trunks of the trees around them. Warren started to worry that another uncomfortable silence would emerge between them but much to his surprise, a breathy laugh escaped from the boy beside him. It wasn’t as humorless as he had been expecting, differing from the dry laughs he had heard before. It did enough to break apart the tension and inevitably, Warren joined in as the details of what they had just done finally sunk in.

The two continued to just sit in the truck in unexplainable laughter, Nathan’s shoulders shaking as he hunched over the wheel and brought the crook of his elbow over his mouth in a futile attempt to muffle the helpless, nearly drunken giggles. Warren brought a hand over his face as rather loud chuckles left his dry mouth and disturbed the peaceful quiet of the park, a few figures at the overlook definitively rendering them as unstable.

In a sense, they weren’t wrong but at that moment, the two boys couldn’t care less about how they were being perceived. They very well could’ve been batshit crazy but all that mattered was that they had escaped with their lives intact after a stupidly long car chase by a questionable girl with blue hair. If the fact that Warren was only visible to Nathan wasn’t enough of a bonding experience, that for sure, was.

Chapter Text

Pale sunlight streamed through the sagging limbs of charred trees, trunks reduced to frail pillars of ashes. The two boys stopped at the peak of the overlook, gazing out from the lip of land framed by blackened logs set in uniformly piled stones. The adrenaline that had been rushing through their systems, pounding against their ears and drawing beads of sweat, had finally come to an ease as they let their hearts settle upon reaching the top. Now that the expanse of the park was in full view, Nathan started to feel a biting regret of not bringing one of his cameras. The brunette beside him opened his mouth to speak, finally disturbing the peaceful quiet that had established around them.

“Looks like an apocalypse.”

Nathan sneered, not moving to look at his company and instead flicking his blue irises across the scenery in front of them. “Yeah, the middle aged joggers especially set the mood, huh?”

He saw Warren turn to face him, the boy’s expression growing concerningly serious as he leaned in slightly to close the distance between their heads. “That’s what makes it so bad. It’s the soccer mom apocalypse.”

“Shut the fuck up,” was all Nathan could make out between hesitant snorts, the sounds of their dumb snickers filling up the space that had been left behind by the birds that once frequented the park.

Warren swiveled on his heel and stepped back from the outlook as their laughter died down, finding a charred bench and taking a seat. Nathan could hear him breathe in thoughtfully and it reminded himself of all the issues still very much present in his life. He bent down, leaning his palms against the aged history plaque as he drew his eyes further into the horizon.

The boy he had been laughing with -- that he had just been in a car chase with -- didn’t exist. At least, that was the simplest way to put it. There was no concrete answer for their situation and how could there be? Nothing made sense and every bit of the story went against basic laws of… reality. How could someone be invisible to everyone but a single person? Nathan started to ponder if the easiest explanation was that he had finally lost the last of his shit.

It made the most sense and usually it was the truth that he would accept; being painted as absolutely fucking mental wasn’t new to him. And yet, there was something about that truth that Nathan couldn’t find himself content with. If “Warren” was a completely self induced manifestation then why did he seem so real? So self aware? It was unsettling to the point where Nathan would much rather prefer that Warren was in fact an actual existing human being.

With an inconclusive sigh, Nathan moved back from the edge of the peak and made his way to the bench, not sitting down but standing beside it. A heavy silence hung between them for a few seconds before Warren finally spoke.

“So…” He shifted in his seat. “About the car chase…”

Nathan knew the question would come eventually. He couldn’t even get annoyed -- getting someone dragged into a shit show like that would most definitely call for an explanation. There was another thing about Warren that seemed to make it feel less like he was intruding. It was hard to put a certain word to it but the fact that he couldn’t associate with any of the other people in existence eased Nathan’s subconscious fears that the digging for information was going to be used against him. Being a person like him, he naturally grew used to closing off as a defense mechanism… just in case they were planning on using their knowledge to fuck over his image even more so than it already was.

It occurred to him many times before that it was unfair. Why should he have to be so scared of vulnerability all the time?

Nathan forced his brief thoughts to end short as he responded. “Hard to explain. Shit happened and that bitch’s trying to bribe money from me now.” He tiptoed his way around the topic of what exactly went down between them -- that would cause way too many questions and while Nathan felt more at ease with Warren, he wasn’t willing to spill the entirety of his criminal backstory to him.

The boy acknowledged his answer with a whistle. “Damn, she must hold grudges hardcore.”

Nathan scoffed in response, a nagging pinch forming in his throat as he tried to push back the reality that the truth of the incident would’ve most likely triggered a way more hostile reaction.

A gust of wind picked up and carried Warren’s hair with it, the strands billowing before slowly settling down into its naturally unkempt do. The tense stillness started to creep between them again and it was clear that Nathan’s company could feel it too. He cleared his throat before standing from the bench.

“You think she’s camping for us out there?”

Nathan shook his head, thumbing his car keys from within the pocket of his jeans. “She doesn’t do things like make plans. If she was still after us, she would’ve come towing through the trees in that shitty discounted excuse for a truck.” He allowed for a pause to break the escalated aggression that had risen up through his sentence. “We should leave.”

The brunette beside him nodded and the two began their descent down from the lookout, leaving behind the information plaque and rusted viewfinders. An uneasy truce had momentarily grown between them, a complete 180 from just earlier that same day when Nathan had been ready to kick Warren’s ghost ass to the curb. He still found the kid annoying as shit but there was a strange bond that formed after being hunted by a feral bitch together.

The brunette made it down first, starting for the blackened, unstable bridge that nearly hung over a clear stream.

“So,” Warren uneasily spoke as he picked his way across the bridge in a cautious manner, hands grasping the decaying guard and leaving black stains against his palms. “You still hate my guts or…”

Nathan took his time reaching the bridge, his eyes trained on his shoes with each step. He took his time answering too. It wouldn’t be accurate to say he was caught completely off guard by the question, but it still posed as a challenging puzzle to sort out his mess of emotions -- much less express them out loud.

“I don’t want you to eat nothing but a bag of shit anymore if that’s what you mean.”

“Oh awesome, I get an appetizer.”

“Yeah, a small plate of my middle finger on the side.”

“Score.”

Nathan made it across with a final hop off the swaying bridge, brushing his hands against the thighs of his jeans and leaving streaks of black in their place. Warren’s palms betrayed no sign of ash whatsoever, despite the blinding tint that had been there just a few moments before. Then, he realized with a start that those clean palms had started tilting -- Warren as a whole seemed to lean to the side before his eyes fell closed and his mass toppled to the dirt ground with a muted thud.

 


 

“You are such a nosy bitch, Max!”

Max?

Movement occurred around Warren but they merged together in a mirage of swarming colors and shapes. Voices came out as shouts, yet they were somehow muffled and unintelligible. Warren’s body surged forward despite his will having no say in it.  

Everything felt as though he were apart of an already determined sequence of events. His vision swam with distilled hues of white but he could make out the features of Nathan’s face as he leaned in to push the boy away. The surroundings vaguely resembled the boy’s dorm room but there were two girls, watching Warren and Nathan as the situation seemingly escalated.

Warren felt a surge of new questions as he recognized one of the girls as their blue haired assailant from the car chase. The other was a girl with short brown hair, his muddled vision making way to reveal a cute face stricken with worry.

What the fuck is happening?

Before he could even register the context of the situation, Warren found his hands on Nathan’s shoulders and he lurched forward to deliver a nasty headbutt. He felt the impact of it like a shockwave, though it was slowly replaced with a dull throbbing at his forehead.

Everything happened too fast. In a split second, Warren felt himself attacking Nathan, digging his shoes into the kid’s gut and drawing groans of pain from his chapped lips. The brown haired girl cried out in reaction, firing off instinctive alarms in his head that yelled, She shouldn’t be able to see me. Warren felt a fear spark up in his chest, not necessarily a fear of his situation nor the nonsense of it all. He grew scared of himself -- the version of himself who was mercilessly driving his heels into the person that he had once aimed to become close with.

Before things could get any worse, Warren felt a set of hands pull him back and with that, he jerked forward, eyes opening to meet a completely different scene.

“Jesus, what the fuck--”

Nathan’s startled voice served as a beacon of relief as Warren slowly started to gather himself into some remote form of ‘calm’. His eyes felt groggy, hinting that he had just been woken up from a deep sleep. After a few moments of easing his breathing, the brunette realized that his strangely familiar surroundings were in fact, Nathan’s room.

He was sprawled out over the carpeted floor right beside the bed that Nathan was peeking over, a single brow raised in mild concern.

Warren cleared his throat and closed his eyes before speaking. “You kinda missed the bed.”

“What?”

“The bed. You dropped me right next to it, if you didn’t notice.”

“You’re lucky I didn’t leave your damn body out at the park for the birds to pick apart.”

Shuffling was heard above Warren, suggesting that Nathan had sat up.

“Jokes on you, smart guy, the birds would go right through me.”

With that, he opened his eyes again and leaning on his palms, managed to bring himself to sit up. “How’d you even get me into your truck?”

A shadow seemed to grow over Nathan’s suddenly menacing gaze as he swung his legs over the side of the bed and put down the ridiculously expensive looking camera that he had assumedly been fidgeting with. For some reason he pointedly angled it away from Warren so he couldn’t see the preview screen. “You were solid when I grabbed you so I had to drag your heavy ass by the fucking ankles into the back. Oh you also hit your head but I assumed the blood would disappear eventually so I didn’t bother cleaning it or shit.”

“Oh awesome, thanks so much.” Warren reached his hand back towards his head, feeling for any disturbed spots that could’ve -- should’ve been left behind. His fingers came back clean, which wasn’t surprising given that Warren didn’t feel much pain anywhere either. “How long was I out? Did you just leave my body on the floor assuming I’d wake up eventually?”

“Well what did you want me to do, princess? Call a medium and tell him that my ghost parasite clonked out on himself? You weren’t out for that long -- like barely an hour -- so it wasn’t that big of a deal anyway.”

Warren couldn’t get footing on any way to refute Nathan’s explanation, his reasoning made sense though he didn’t find it very pleasing. He settled with a sign of resignation as his eyes briefly flicked across the details of Nathan’s room, having the chance to see it properly for the first time. Without the rush of being held at gunpoint, of course.

“The fuck was up with you, anyway? You were twitching and shit. Almost made me think you were possessed until I realized there’s no point in ghosts possessing other ghosts. That’d just be some weird demon intercourse shit and I’m pretty sure no one would--”

Warren cut in before Nathan could get the chance to finish the vulgar sentence, though a blatant sneer still sat clear on his face. “I get it, I get it, please stop talking.” He paused before answering the initial question, still trying to process what had happened to him. It seemed like ignorance to wave off his dream as, well, a mere dream.

“Apparently ghosts can have nightmares too.”

“Tough fucking luck.” Nathan stood from the bed and stepped over Warren’s legs to reach the door. “But now that you’re awake, how about leaving so my poor carpet won’t have to deal with your contact anymore? You came out from that room across from mine this morning.”

Warren stumbled to his feet, feeling a sudden pang of nausea from standing up too fast. “It’s a great feeling to be so welcomed here, it really is.” He started for the door before halting at the door frame. “Why’s that room empty anyway? There’s a lot more students that could fill that space up so why keep it vacant?”

Nathan’s eyes followed Warren’s gaze towards the door across from theirs, the blank whiteboard slate isolated from the others with various scribbles. “I seriously couldn’t give a shit. There was some kid who was supposed to move into that dorm but I’m guessing he left this shit hole school for a different one. I’ve never seen him around, that lucky son of a bitch.”

Warren responded with an uneasy nod, the explanation refusing to settle comfortably in his consciousness. Maybe it was because of his dream, but suddenly he was starting to question the authenticity of everything...the convenience of that room remaining vacant for him. There was just something unsettling about how the events in his dream had played out, starting with the fact that he was treated as an actual, physical person. The boy couldn’t help but wonder if the dream hadn’t been just a dream, but a memory and it started planting false hopes in his head.

Warren clearly had been lingering too long in the doorway, evident by the exasperated cough that interrupted his thoughts.

“You gonna leave or what?”

There was an indescribable feeling in Warren’s chest that seemed to act as a weight chained to his ankle. He didn’t want to be alone… with all the newly formed questions and suspicions, there was an embarrassing amount of dread regarding the idea of facing them alone. He knew he’d be pushing it if he asked to stay but he could already feel the words forming in his throat. “Can I-- do you think I could, uh, stay… for a bit longer.”

The expression that surfaced on Nathan’s face weakened Warren’s resolve like prey in the face of a deadly predator. He raised a brow, moving to cross his arms as he leaned his shoulder against the door frame.

“Don’t tell me you want fucking therapy for your nightmare or something.”

When met with no response, Nathan let a hearty sigh drag from his lips. It was the kind of sigh that really made you feel bad, dehumanizing you into nothing more than a burden. Without much less than a warning, he moved back before slamming the door in Warren’s face, literally. A sliver of his profile jutted through the closed door.

“I’m not your fucking babysitter. Go fill that whiteboard up with your anguish if it upsets you so much.” Without even a second glance, Nathan turned his back from Warren and headed straight for his bed.

Warren wasn’t even sure why he bothered. He stepped back from the door and allowed himself to phase into his own self proclaimed room, making a bee line for the bed -- as it usually went every time he entered the room. Every step of progress seemed to do backbends in some sick version of the Olympics called “Make Warren feel as shitty as possible.” Apparently having more than a brief moment of camaraderie was too much of a luxury.

Once again, Warren was met with a dreadfully long amount of time to sort out his thoughts. It was most likely that he would approach Nathan again that same day, it was hardly past morning and the idea of spending the rest of the day just thinking left him with a horrible headache.  

Warren would allow Nathan half an hour, maybe even a whole hour of freedom. And then he'd slink back, and try his friendship tactics again. He was basically asking to get punched at that point but hey, he was a man on a mission. To fill in the void of time before going back to Nathan, the brunette trained his attention on the dream he had just woken up from. It had established an all too detailed scenario involving Nathan, the blue haired girl, and a mystery brown haired girl. He was giving Nathan a gruesome beat down when he felt the latter girl hold him back through shouts. That was the last thing that occurred before he burst into the real world again.

Why did it happen? The dream didn’t even occur when he had been sleeping --  according to Nathan he just completely went MIA from his consciousness for a hot second. That had to mean the dream was important, right? It really couldn’t wait until he was relaxing in his bed and instead it created a self induced fainting.

Warren shifted to his side, staring at the door of his room with blank eyes. Did that mean he had once existed in the world as something more than a freak phenomenon? He once had friends -- or enemies -- and his general presence was actually acknowledged? The mere thought made a ball of cautious excitement form in his throat. He didn’t want to let himself be prey to false hopes but how could the dream be anything else, if not a memory?

But then… wouldn’t Nathan know him? Recognize him as the guy who brutally kicked his shit in? And the blue haired girl would’ve been able to see him during the car chase but in the moment where they should've locked eyes through the passing windows, her jeer went straight through him.

Warren had gotten accustomed to being invisible and that moment was no exception. Life really decided now would be the best time to throw a curveball and make him feel unsure again?

With a heavy sigh the boy turned in his bed to look out the window, groups of people littered beneath trees and atop the aged benches. His chest ached at the thought of fitting in with them as a human, at the thought of having meaningless conversations, sharing complaints about homework… just normal teenage things. Why had he been robbed of that right? Wasn’t it unfair?

Then again, how much of a “normal teenager” were any of the students at Blackwell? Not only had there been a suicide, but Warren recalled the mass of contemptuous energy as he walked through the main academy building, turning his head one way to see terrorized kids sitting alone, and turning his head the other way to see groups of plastic faces blurting out the same garbage over and over. How much of these students lead actual normal lives?

And then there was Nathan, with his hardened exterior cold to the touch and eyes brooding with years of unfaltering anger. What had he truly gone through in his own life? The possibility that it was worse than what Warren was going through didn’t seem far fetched with how damaged the kid seemed. How did he last so long?

Warren remembered his objective from one of his earlier deep thinking sessions and felt a guilty conscience slowly creep up his spine. He had aimed to befriend Nathan and accepted the dragging amount of time that it would take, forming a solid resolve on wanting to create a relationship beneficial for the both of them. And yet he had just tried to impose himself on the boy, glazing over the fact that he had bothered to bring Warren back to his dorm in the first place.

He couldn’t help but feel there was a part of him that hadn’t appreciated Nathan’s smaller actions enough that day; the laughs that they managed to share and the humorous remarks that would easily dissipate tension. That should've been enough progress to keep him satisfied for the next whole week, compared to their relationship just a day earlier.

Warren frowned. That thought kind of made him feel like an asshole. 

 


 

Nathan swallowed down a lump in his throat that had formed from his interaction with Warren just moments before. He didn’t dare look back until he reached his bed, hitting the covers with all his weight and letting out a muted sigh when turning to see no figure at his door.

He quickly grabbed for the camera that he had discarded on his mattress, its display casting a white glow against the dark sheets. He brought the screen to his face only to feel a tinge of disappointment at the product -- photo after photo of just his carpet, devoid of anything resembling a human or living thing. A small frown edged at the corner of his mouth.

It would’ve been hard to explain so Nathan had tried to hide the view from Warren, though clearly it wasn’t necessary. He had completely disappeared from the shot, the tousled hair that had framed his face, the furrow in his brow that twitched throughout his sleep… all of it just gone without a trace.

It would’ve been a good portrait. His defenseless yet guarded sleep differed from all the other portraits of Nathan’s dreaming subjects. Something about their expressions felt artificial, wrong. Their drowsy states were forced onto them and that feeling clung to each photograph taken, though it could always just be his shame that made him feel that way.

Nathan thumbed the delete button on his camera, spamming it without much less glancing at the screen, his focus trained on the vacant spot on his carpet where his company had been laying.  He knew for a fact that the boy had been there when he took those photos and he forced back the festering suspicions that Warren was just a manifestation of his own mind again.

Nathan turned his camera off before putting it on the dresser beside his bed. He wondered with a sudden start if he had kicked Warren out with too much force.

He had been too focused on getting the boy away from the camera as fast as possible and forgot his tendency to slip into asshole supreme dialect when getting defensive. Nathan wasn't in the wrong though, right? It wasn't his job to listen to every worry his poor little poltergeist dealt with; it wasn't like it was his fault that Warren was only visible to him. 

In fact, Nathan usually wouldn’t give two shits if he shut someone out aggressively. It was his right to and Warren should've been grateful to all fucking hell that he had gotten to sleep in Nathan's room in the first place. On top of that, Warren should’ve been getting the worst of it all with how aggravatingly confusing his whole situation was. And, not only that, but their first encounter had been an absolute fucking disaster! Nathan huffed, feeling thoroughly justified after his flaming session against Warren, with his stupid unkempt hair and his audacity to be tall. 

Though, given all that, he couldn’t quite name why Warren was so easy to talk to. There were a few supporting factors, such as the fact that he definitely had no underlying intentions of getting close to Nathan just so he could betray him in the future. The guy had no connections with anybody, it was impossible so there’d be no point in trying to spread rumors or some shit that other people would try to do.

Was it the fact that Warren was such a clean slate? He had no history, no memories, no hometown. Nothing to judge and pick on him for -- apart from his pathetically awkward personality at times. It all worried Nathan more and more that there was no possible way that this was real. Yet it had to be real. He couldn’t accept any other answer than it being a reality after all that they had gone through just in that day alone.

It made Nathan feel slightly shittier about chasing Warren out like that. Something in life decided that he should get an opportunity to possibly befriend someone new and he blew it just like that. God, he was impossible. Impossible but also completely justified in all his actions. 

Nathan wondered if the version of him from, fuck it, a year ago would've apologized for his aggressive demeanor. He probably would've considered leaving and stopping by Warren’s makeshift room but just the thought was nearly enough to make him gag now. Sure he was an asshole, but approaching someone to apologize to them was an action that reminded him too much of when he was a naive, weak kid -- prone to bullying and torment. Nathan was different now. He'd make anyone who even thought of doing that pay with their entire college tuition. 

In fact, he had apologized enough in the last two days to count for a lifetime, swallowing down the now embarrassing memory of his breakdown at Kate’s memorial. Excluding the act of saying sorry to a dead girl, apologizing to someone genuinely felt like a foreign action, a disgustingly frail one that Nathan would never show in public anymore.

Fuck, he hated being left in his own thoughts. He reached over the side of his bed and turned on the soothing call of whales from his music player, allowing each note to swarm past his ears and release strands of tension. The mattress beneath him creaked as it was spared from his weight, Nathan standing up to slip a plastic bag out from between a few binders on his dresser. It was his weed stash. He just needed something to take the edge off further, and now that his pesky company was gone, he wouldn't need to worry about having to deal with some ghost's existential crisis for a while.  

A ringtone broke through his thoughts and made Nathan jolt in surprise right as he was reaching for his rolling paper. A feeling of dread immediately washed over him as he tossed the weed back on his dresser in exasperation.

The boy followed the sound behind his couch and dragged it forward to reveal the burner phone he had kept taped against it.

Jefferson.

Nathan shifted his weight from foot to foot, scanned his room, bit his nails, anything to try and stall picking up. He knew it was inevitable and in the end, he answered, putting the phone to his ear.

“You took your time.”

The corner of Nathan’s lip twitched. “I was doing something.”

“I see.  I have something set up, a surprise of sorts. Meet me in the Dark Room.”

“What? Right now?”

“Don’t take too long. Oh, and bring your camera.”

Nathan opened his mouth to respond but was met with the silence of an ended call. After the way they ended their last meeting, the thought of having to face him again made him want to tear his skin off. He had fucked up majorly and knew what Jefferson was planning… it was always the same.

He’d get reprimanded for some dumb mistake and they’d leave on bad terms.

Give it a day or two and Jefferson would call back with some ‘surprise’ or ‘gift’.

Then they’d meet, things would go well, and the sick cycle would start over and over again. Nathan would have to look at his horribly patronizing expression again, the one that provided him with a sympathy he had been starved of for most of his life. The worst part was that it would work every time and Nathan was the one who let it.

With a huff, he pocketed the burner phone and put on his jacket in a familiar course of actions that seemed preprogrammed at that point. He turned off the audio player and grabbed his camera before leaving his room, locking the door behind him. He subconsciously let his gaze linger on the door across from his for a split second. There had always been the option to ignore the call, to ignore Jefferson. Now there was an extension to that option… he could vent out his feelings to someone without the fear of getting turned into the cops, without the fear of getting dragged into the investigation as the corrupted, fucked in the head sidekick.

Nathan almost sneered at himself as he walked past the door and out of the boy’s dorm wing. As fucking if. If he told Warren about anything he was involved in, the boy would be disgusted and probably settle with being invisible alone for the rest of his existence. Nathan knew that was how it would go. Not having a solid form didn’t mean lacking a remote sense of right and wrong. In the end, he was utterly alone and it would be best to shut out any sense of doubt regarding that fact.

The sun was still high in the sky as Nathan walked across the campus to get to the parking lot. The endless blue betrayed no hint of a cloud, leaving the unchallenged sun to wash the world in its harsh light. He always hated that time of day. The shadows were short and the sunlight was sharp and jagged. It accentuated every aspect of its surroundings, sparing not a single shadow to soften someone’s features or form a silhouette. It reminded him of the studio lights in the dark room, painting bodies with a saturated white that seemed to bleed into the backdrop.

The drive to the barn was an excruciatingly slow one. Nathan blinked out the memories of figures he had hallucinated the last time he drove down this road, their agonized expressions forever seeming to haunt the corners of his peripheral vision. He didn’t like thinking of last night -- the night he was reduced to nothing but a blubbering, whimpering idiot.

Nathan hated the version of himself from those recollections, his temper through the roof and his tantrum at the edge of causing a blood vessel to pop. They made him feel so powerless and weak, so vulnerable and full of open insecurities. Easily taken advantage of… easily distorted in the views of others. He had to work on that, work on sealing that side of him off. He was lucky that the only witness had been his oh so great ghost pal. If any of the Blackwell students were to have seen him… Nathan didn’t even want to think about what he’d do.

Eventually the dense woods surrounding the road made way for a dirt path, his truck’s tire tracks still there from the night before. He parked lazily by the ‘NO TRESPASSING’ sign that stood unsteadily by the length of the fence that ran around the entire property.

Stepping out, he breathed in a lungful of fresh air as if he were about to go diving. Except being underwater would be much more calming than where he was really about to go, with its suffocating atmosphere that even seemed to challenge the deepest parts of the sea.

Let’s get this shit over with.

With that last thought, Nathan headed for the barn.

 


 

Nathan smelled it before he saw it, an awful stench that forced its way up his nostrils and down his throat like the tendrils of some Lovecraftian creature. He immediately brought the collar of his shirt over his nose, scrunching his eyes as they began to water at the morbidly familiar smell.

“What the fuck is that?”

Jefferson was standing by the backdrop, his eyes focused on a camera screwed onto a tripod before turning to face Nathan.

“Glad you could make it, Nathan. Come here and take a look at our subject for today.” His voice blended with the jazz music playing softly in the background, his tone converging with the mocking chords of bass and saxophone. Nathan continued towards Jefferson, a knot of curiosity forming in his gut as he craned his head to try and see what exactly they were photographing.

It eventually came into view and sparked mixed emotions in Nathan’s conscience.

A dead rabbit.

It had clearly died on the highway or something, evident by the splotches of dried blood against its matted, brown fur. The eyes were still open and revealed dark, dull pupils that had been drained of its glint of life. A part of Nathan knew there was something sick about this but he didn’t care. He wanted to take the shot.

Without taking a breath, he drew his camera from a custom made, leather camera bag, and brought the viewfinder to his eye. Jefferson watched him and took his gloved hands on Nathan’s wrists, pulling them down gently to a lower angle. His soft words tumbled smoothly from parted lips, dancing with the music in a way that suddenly didn’t seem so distasteful.

“Yes, like that Nathan. Remember what I told you, use the rule of the horizon line. Break up the space and don’t have it dead center. Right there, that’s good.”

His guidance seemed to act as a tripod, steadying Nathan’s shot and providing a support to make him confident in taking the photo. It was like a father guiding his son through a baseball game, a math equation -- and it made Nathan feel at home despite his horrible urge to not show up just moments before.

Jefferson settled into a silence as the click of the shutter filled in the space left by his words, Nathan taking multiple from different angles, different ISOs, different white balances. He had to have at least one photo come out perfect; Jefferson had prepared this whole set up for him and the thought of wasting his effort made Nathan recoil.

He should’ve been thankful that Jefferson even invited him back to the Dark Room after how badly he had fucked up. If it were anyone else in Jefferson’s place, they definitely would’ve kicked Nathan to the curb and left him there, lecturing about how he was a horrible kid, about how he screwed up everything he ever touched.
Nathan could almost scoff. That’s how it had always been until Jefferson took him in. He was forgiving, he never abandoned Nathan for too long and even apologized himself for the way he would snap at him sometimes. He needed to make Jefferson proud with these shots, make it up to him.

Upon taking one last photo, Nathan pulled the camera from his face and pressed the button to see them, not noticing how he started to hold his breath as Jefferson leaned in to take a look.

The two scanned each photo together, though Nathan’s eyes would rhythmically shift to Jefferson in a futile attempt to interpret his expression, the look in his eyes as they flicked across the pictures. Nathan went to press the ‘next’ button again but was stopped, the gloved hands maneuvering under Nathan’s to take the camera from his grasp. He pulled the screen closer to his face, a subtle smile forming at his lips.

“See, Nathan? I always tell you,” He angled the camera to let Nathan see his work again, a photo with a lower ISO that washed over the rabbit’s carcass with a film of darkness. There was a slight griminess that dampened the mood of the image in the familiar style that filled most of his portfolio. “You have real potential. I knew what I was doing when I chose you to be my assistant, this could appear in a showcase of Irina Ionescu’s works and I wouldn't question a thing.”

Nathan felt a hotness in his ears as he swallowed hard, glancing away from the camera to scoff despite the blooming pride that made a home in his chest. “You’re just blowing smoke up my ass.”

“No, Nathan.” Jefferson lowered the camera slightly and lifted his gaze to meet Nathan’s, his dark eyes shadowed from the studio lights pointed at the backdrop. “I’m not. I’ve never been more proud of a student in my entire life, you know that’s the truth.”

Words like honey dripped from his venom laced mouth and soothed any residual bits of tension that tugged at Nathan’s limbs.

Jefferson brought the camera back to his face and went through the rest of the photos, an expression of pride -- be it feigned or not -- making a point to ease Nathan further. He had done well. He hadn’t disappointed Jefferson again. The boy didn’t have much doubt that another slip up would have costed more than just a lecture… maybe even their relationship. The thought made him shudder.

“What’s this?”

A pang of panic struck Nathan in the chest as he raised a brow, wondering what he possibly could’ve fucked up this time. “What? What’s wrong?” His words were guarded yet fragile, the undertone of fear coming out more than he would’ve liked.

Jefferson tilted the camera back towards Nathan, revealing a vacant image of his carpeted floor. Fucking fuck.

“This photo isn’t like you. No intention nor purpose. Why did you take this?”

You fucking headass negative-braincelled ass.

Nathan scolded himself in his swarming thoughts before clearing his throat and attempting to put on an uncaring demeanor. “Oh, who the fuck knows? My finger probably slipped when I was messing with the settings. Just delete it, it doesn’t matter.”

Jefferson’s squinted eyes methodically traveled from the camera’s screen to Nathan, the cogs in his head clicking and trying to formulate the real explanation hidden behind the clearly fake one. He drew in a sharp breath before speaking in a calculated tongue. “I don’t want you keeping secrets from me. I know I snapped at you yesterday and I’m sorry… you know I hate yelling at you. It was just a long fucking day and I was tired.”

Nathan felt Jefferson’s gaze testing him, watching him for the idle motions of anxiety that usually surfaced during confrontational moments like this. He mustered up an unenthusiastic laugh, staring right back at his mentor accusingly. “Apparently you’re still tired. You really think I’d make up some lame ass excuse about a carpeted floor? It was an accident , no need for a fucking conspiracy wall.”

The pressure from Jefferson’s cautious bore threatened to press Nathan flat against the wall behind him but much to his relief, the camera was handed back with a muted sigh of resignation.

“Fine,” He turned back to the set up, taking his own camera off the tripod and dropping to one knee. “Let’s photograph the subject with film cameras now and develop them later. I want you practicing different mediums of photography, just shadow my techniques and I’ll tell you what to do.”

Nathan watched Jefferson’s back, his posture slightly hunched as he worked with the setting of his film camera. The boy couldn’t push down the feeling of relieved contentedness as he was handed the camera, and the two continued to hone their skills together, standing beside each other as they fluidly captured their artistically gruesome shots. Their styles intertwined, evoked different emotions beneath their same photos in a gothic orchestra of somber tones. It was the only time when Nathan felt that his style was truly appreciated, seen as more than an unhinged freak's portfolio. Jefferson understood his messages, the beauty in his otherwise bland shots. 

And Nathan? He basked in that feeling.

 


 

Warren stood stiffly in the room as though he were a spy caught in enemy territory. He felt afraid to touch anything and even looking at the surroundings too hard felt like an intrusion -- a deadly intrusion -- of privacy against Nathan.


He had meant to apologize to Nathan for being so pushy earlier, but was met with a vacant room upon peeking in. Now, as he stood inside the dimly lit prison of a dorm, the unsuppressable urge to take a good look around overcame him. Sure it was a horribly nosy thing to do, but Nathan would never know. Warren literally couldn’t touch anything if he didn’t want to so nothing would be out of place.

No, that is such an asshole thing to do, Warren. Stop thinking about it.

He couldn’t stop thinking about it. Everything about Nathan interested him, the way that he carried himself confidently yet crumbled in solitude, the way that his posture defaulted into a defensive one in public but melted away within the walls of this room. He wanted to know more, see more of that side of him that didn’t have alarms set up 24/7.

In all honesty, Warren was scared of what he would discover but he felt a cocky spirit start to emerge at the base of his chest, a feeling that seemed to say ‘try me’ .

YOU’RE BEING SO FUCKING NOSY.

Just one look around.

HE’LL HATE YOU EVEN MORE IF HE FINDS YOU.

It wouldn’t take long. Nathan had already been gone for a while, maybe there was a chance he wouldn’t get back till late.

YOU FUCKING MONKEYBRAIN, YOU CAN’T.

Warren switched on the radio, the soothing sound of whales drowning out his rational thought and lifting the mood of the room by a fraction. A strange music choice but who was he to insult the DJ of a room he had essentially broken into?

The boy studied the images on the walls, the New Romantics poster, the orange lit body horror with all its unnatural curves and contortions. He wondered what kind of depth Nathan found in them because to him, they were nothing but a mass of disfigured flesh.The music automatically turned off as he shifted to look at the couch. He had almost forgotten that his actions were only temporary, and the reminder engulfed him in an unpleasant, lonely feeling.

The couch had been pulled forward, leaving marks against the carpet that Warren hadn’t noticed before. Was it moved often? He shrugged it off as his eyes flicked over the expensive camera equipment on Nathan’s desk, their lenses catching the glint of the projector overhead.

Nathan was obnoxiously rich and everything in the room just supported it further.

There was a part of Warren that envied him and his possessions. Not because of their prestige or cost -- just the idea of being able to own objects for his personal interest felt like a privilege that he had been wrongfully robbed of.

Warren forced the thought from his head with a shake. No good would come from dwelling on the things he could and couldn’t do.

He shifted away from the desk and moved towards a dresser beside Nathan’s bed, the shelves stocked with binders, seemingly the only object in the room that wasn’t monochromatic. A ziploc bag sat there discarded, holding a gree- Holy shit, is that weed?

Warren gulped and forced himself to turn his attention away from the sack of, um, herbs as he opened a drawer on a whim. Basically anything to try and bury the discovery that Nathan was a stoner. 

Thankfully the drawer didn't hold underwear, instead a single note written on looseleaf being tucked away amidst the neat folds of towels. After letting out a hearty sigh, Warren hesitantly picked it up to get a better look, squinting as he read the messily scrawled words in black ink.

“HEY ASSHOLE. We need to talk or I’m going to tell everybody what you did. And you’re going to pay motherfucker.”

Warren was able to piece together that the note had been from the blue haired girl from their thrilling chase earlier, but now as he brushed his fingers over the creases in the paper, he wondered what really happened between the two.

Nathan’s explanation had been extremely vague, and though Warren was used to his snipped words, it made an uneasy sensation rise from his gut. It wasn’t his place to feel lied to though. The only reason he had a sliver of suspicion was because he had been the one to snoop around in the first place. To be completely fair, Warren brought it upon himself with his dumb, curious attitude.

That was a quality of being a scientist, after all. Wait, what?

A scientist? Is that what Warren was?

Another unnameable feeling drew over his mind, similar to when he had blurted out his name to Nathan. Science… science is something I like. What the fuck?

It was as though the hobby had taken ownership of him, declared itself present in his jumbled mess of a backstory that started resembling an unraveled tapestry. Warren instinctively reached a hand up to his head in a weak attempt to combat the migraine that had suddenly surfaced at the base of his skull.

I have hobbies? Interests?

He wanted to be real. He wanted to be real so bad.

Do I have things that make me happy? Things I do to relieve stress?

Why should he be the one with no background, no existence? How was that fair?

The chemical equation for photosynthesis is 6CO2 plus 6H2O yields C6H12O6 plus 6O2. Cellular respiration is a set of metabolic reactions and processes that ta--

“What the fuck are you doing in my room?”

Warren’s attention snapped towards the hunched figure in the doorway, posture guarded with arms crossed tightly over the familiar jacketed chest. He immediately felt beads of sweat start to form at his brow as blue eyes burned holes straight through his own.

“Welcome back.” Warren’s voice came out pathetically cracked.

Nathan's suspicious glare flitted from Warren to the dresser he was standing by. "Did you... did you smoke my weed?"

"What? N..no, I didn't! Promise!" For emphasis he crossed his fingers over his heart, the rapidness of his heartbeats becoming a parallel to their first encounter in that very room. 

Nathan’s expression of distrusting contempt defused for a split second as his eyes left Warren’s and landed on the couch. His chest puffed up with air and the whites of his eyes became wide, an indistinguishable look coming across his face.

“Uh,” Warren started, unsure of why the boy seemed so… anxious? “It was like that when I got here. Didn’t touch anything. Zero, zip, nada.”

Nathan’s fingers flicked against each other, the polished toe of his dress shoe starting to bounce up and down. “What did you do in here?” His voice slinked out hushed, coarse, and it made the hairs on Warren’s neck stand straight up.

“Nothing! I just got in, didn’t have time to snoop around or anything, I swear.” He lifted his hands defensively, the note that he had been holding now disappeared back into the closed towel drawer. There was nothing to incriminate him, nothing to hint that he had looked around and for once he felt thankful for the side effects of not existing. “I’ll leave now if you want. I was just going to uh, apologize… for y’know, trying to stay over when you were probably already sick of me.”

Nathan’s highlighted figure glowed white under the shine of the projector, emitting somber images over the folds of his clothes and the curves of his face. His eyes were shadowed, stripping Warren of the ability to see his expression clearly and he started to wonder if he had a fear of the unknown. Or just Nathan’s unknown.

It felt like an entire lifetime had passed by the time the boy spoke up, his heel bouncing and fingers jittering. “That's the reason?” Nathan picked up his gaze and found Warren’s again, blue meeting brown, bewilderment meeting meekness. “Of all the possible things you could've apologized for, you chose a shitty reason like that? Literally, out of every fucking thing you did, make me freak at some random asshole in the bathroom, make me drag your heavy ass back to my truck, you chose that?”

That wasn’t the reaction Warren had been expecting. In his mind it would’ve gone a little more something like, “Fuck off fucking dipshit asshole bitch! I’ll shoot your brains out, did you think I'd accept your horseshit apology?!!”

“Well… do you want me to… take back the apology or something?”

Nathan stepped away from the couch, his face now normally lit with softened shades of dim light. He rolled his eyes, though something in his expression seemed to say that he wasn’t sure how to react either. “No dumbass, you just have the judgement of a fucking dung beetle.” His words came out quieter than usual, less fueled. Was he in a good mood or something?

“I wouldn’t call myself a dumbass, I mean…”

Another roll of the eyes. “Oh yeah, sorry Einstein. Do ghosts even have a brain capacity or is it just full on,” Nathan paused to make a slicing motion across his neck before continuing. “...up there too?”

“No, I’m serious… I think I’m actually like, smart and shit.”

“Yeah and I’m the best fucking photographer in the world. Now that we established that, it’s my cue to say fuck off from my room again. If you existed you’d have eight fat lawsuits stacked up on your name so consider yourself lucky.”

Warren swayed on his feet, unwilling to leave yet. With the new memory that had popped up into his head, he understood now that for sure the dream from earlier hadn’t been just a dream. A flashback maybe, some remnant of the life he used to lead. And he had to tell Nathan.

“Fine. I swear I’ll leave in a minute, I just need to say one thing and I’ll piss off out of your hair, okay?” That statement drew out a groan from Nathan but he made no attempt to reject the offer, instead looking up towards Warren expectantly with a brow raised.

He finally felt like he had a chance to breathe, and inhaled deeply before starting. “I got back some of my memories today, like, detailed ones. No fucking way they were made up or anything. I remember more of who I am now… I just don’t know why I’m in this mess.”

Nathan’s fingers drummed against the arm of his jacket as he shifted the weight in his stance. “So, were you always this much of a loser?”  

Warren scoffed, shaking his head. “Even worse, get ready for this -- I was some brainiac science nerd.”

Chapter Text

Light streamed through the blinds and casted stripes of white against Nathan’s face, accentuating the edge of his slim jaw, his squinting eyes. The dust between them refused to settle, as though the feeling of uneasiness in the air had formed into a net that held each particle in place. 

Warren swallowed hard as he watched Nathan intently, waiting in anticipation to hear his interpretation of everything, the dreams, the memories. Describing the dream was the hardest task of all. The way Nathan’s expressions changed from anger, to shock, and then to a muted… what was it, concern? Fear? Either way, it was hard to watch and it made Warren wonder if it was a good idea to have told Nathan the truth behind the dream in the first place.

After the deafening extension of silence, Nathan slowly drew in a breath, making Warren hold his. 

“So basically,” His eyes were trained on the leg of the couch Warren was seated on, and they pointedly refused to look up. “You’re not some poltergeist from my fucked up imagination. Even worse, you’re a loser .”

“How is that worse?”

“At least I’m used to hanging out with my hallucinations. Now I have to deal with this ‘i’m a real boy!’ bullshit and it’s about a science nerd that I usually wouldn’t give a peek of my shoes to.” Nathan feigned a gag, motioning his finger to his mouth. “Fucking typical.”

“Gosh, I’m so sorry.” Warren shifted in his seat and put on a look of over exaggerated remorse, upturning his brows and sticking his lower lip out. “This must be such a pain for you, huh?”

Without missing a beat, Nathan responded. “Yeah it fucking is. Now what? You’re gonna tell me we need to get to the bottom of this or something? We need to form some Scooby Doo gang and solve this supernatural mystery to live happily ever after?” 

“Well, you obviously have to have something to do with it… why else would you be the only one that can see me?” Warren bit his bottom lip, forcing down the suspicion that it was because Nathan was who he had interacted with last, looked at last, focused all his emotion and intent on last. He just felt the need to stall, have someone to help him. To be completely fair, there was no way he’d figure any of this out alone. 

Nathan’s face contorted under the shifting light saturations emitted by the projector, but it wasn’t a trick of the shadows when his whole expression became exasperated, on the cusp of completely hostile. 

“I have my own shit to deal with, Graham.” Each word came out clipped and sharp, and it proposed the statement in a way that made it seem even more dire than Warren’s situation. That wasn’t possible, right? They were talking about the very existence of him as a person. He knew that Nathan was going through some tough shit, but there was no way that they’d measure up to what was happening to him, it wasn’t possible. 

Warren threw his hands up in helpless aggravation, sitting back in the couch and letting his head fall against the wall. “Then what do you want me to do? Wait till I pass out again and keep piecing together my memories from there?” 

“You don’t have any other choice. What difference does it make if I’m involved or not? Absolutely fucking none. What are we gonna do, search everything up online and hope this happened to some other unlucky bastard too?” 

Warren was about to reply with his own snapping remark when he thought about it for a second. It wouldn’t hurt to search it up, the internet was an endless abyss of information and experiences. Sure it wasn’t always the most reliable but Nathan was right, what else could they possibly do?

Warren’s silence seemed to translate his thoughts to Nathan perfectly, because they were soon interrupted with a low groan from the now standing boy. “Are you fucking serious? You’re gonna search it up?” 

“Well,” It wouldn’t be possible for him to search it up, with the temporary aftermath of all his actions. His eyes traveled up to meet Nathan’s pleadingly, managing a tiny smile that took a lot more bravery that it should’ve. “Can you search it up, maybe…” 

Nathan stepped back and shook his head adamantly. “No fucking chance. No. Fucking. Chance.” 

“You suggested it…” 

“No.”

“It’d only take like one second.”

“Drop dead.”

“You know I can’t do it myself!”

Nathan brought his hands to his head and inhaled sharply before whipping his hands back out in a stiff, X motion which sent arcs of air through Warren’s hair. “I’m not doing SHIT for you, Graham! I don’t know how I fucking lasted with you leeching off of me for so damn long, I deserve a goddamn medal.” He stepped towards Warren until they were only a few inches apart, and jabbed a finger hard into the softness beneath the brunette’s collarbone. That was when he knew for a fact that telling Nathan about the fight in the dream had been a mistake. The suddenness of this full throttle fury couldn’t have been the byproduct of anything else, it wasn’t like the usually restrained responses that were scary enough on their own. 

“If you thought for a second that we were going to become a detective duo or something, you might want to reconsider that big science passion of yours, dick-for-brains. Now fuck off and stop being such a damn parasite before I shoot your fucking brains out.” 

Without even a glance back, Nathan turned and stormed out of the room with the tails of his red jacket flicking into the air. 

The door shut with a bang that was probably loud enough to shift tectonic plates within the Earth's crust, and it left Warren feeling like he had just survived a war zone. Without a clue of what to do or how to possibly calm Nathan down, the boy was left sitting on the couch with a wide eyed, dumbfounded expression.

 


 

 

The sun was sat lower in the sky since the last time he had left his truck, the garnished paint a bright red to match the scorching nerves sitting at the base of his throat. Nathan slammed the car door shut before storming off towards the diner for the second time that day, apparently the only place he could go to for a sense of… he wasn’t really sure. Was it a feeling of being at home? Every place that was supposed to serve as his actual living quarters doubled as a prison cell to him, so that made the most sense. 

The door opened with a chime and the boy made a beeline for his usual table, his pace unnecessarily rushed against the noisy ease of the diner. He didn’t bother making eye contact with anyone, and he hoped to whateverthefuck that there were no other Blackwell students nearby. His aggravation was through the damn roof and seeing a single reminder of the place would probably make it skyrocket to fucking Pluto.

As he waited for Joyce, Nathan ran through his churning ocean of thoughts that sent waves crashing against his skull in the form of a biting headache. 

Warren was real, he was a real person with a real personality and real interests and real talents. The entire foundation of Nathan’s trust towards him felt battered, rusted. A small, weak part of him knew that it was unfair for him to lash out because of that but he couldn’t help it. 

The blank canvas of a person had been drowned in hues, distasteful ones. And above all, the one person Nathan thought he could trust without a doubt, turned out to have beaten the shit out of him in some strange distorted memory that Nathan himself couldn’t quite recollect. 

It didn’t make any sense. He knew for a fact that the ‘dream’ Warren had wasn’t real. Nathan would’ve remembered it damn well if he had been beaten up by that parasite before. He didn’t remember, but yet the flickering sense of distrust was fanned into a wildfire at the thought. It made him flick his fingers, bounce his leg, draw a sheen of sweat across his forehead. 

The idea that Warren was capable of doing that to him made him feel indignant, betrayed almost. Nathan could nearly scoff. Betrayed about what? Were they ever friends in the first place?

The familiar click of heels against tiles accompanied a smell of syrup as Joyce approached his table with a mug of hot coffee already poured. “At this point I think you’re keeping the whole diner in business yourself, Nathan. I’ll take a wild guess and say you want pancakes with extra syrup again?” 

Nathan nodded before sighing deeply through his nose, his eyes remaining trained on the glossy surface of the table in front of him. Human interaction was starting to become irritating and he hoped that Joyce would leave quickly before giving him a chance to snap at her. She was maybe the only adult he didn’t hold any hatred for, which was quite a fucking feat. 

However, much to his dismay, Nathan didn’t hear the fading click of heels signalling that Joyce had walked away. Instead he heard her take in a thoughtful breath, and he could almost see the way her lips parted to speak. “You sure you don’t want anything heartier hon? While I have pride in my pancakes, I wouldn’t say they’re the best dinner option at this place.” 

“I’ll be fine, Joyce.”

Another pause drew a prickling feeling at the base of Nathan’s throat, a feeling that only intensified when Joyce put a hand on her hip and settled into her lopsided stance -- the stance that usually meant she was about to start a conversation. 

“Is everything really alright with you, Nathan? I know I already asked you this before, but I’m just a bit worried about all the students today. No one this young should have to witness such a tragedy like that.” 

Nathan shut his eyes tightly, trying to drown out the suddenly harsh lights of the diner. 

“It’s not like that. I’ll manage just fucking fine on my own.” Though he had been biting his tongue through the words, his natural dialect slipped and presented itself way more curtly than Nathan had intended. He knew what was coming next by the low hum from the waitress, and he could do nothing to avoid it but take a dragged out sip of his coffee. 

“You’re not being truthful, and listen, I understand. I’m sure some old woman serving you food at a diner isn’t the first person you’d go to for your troubles. I just want you to know that I’m here to listen if you need to talk.” She shifted on her feet, moving the weight from one side of her hip to the other before continuing. 

“It’s just an offer, hon. I’ll go and get you those pancakes you’re so crazy about, sorry for taking your time.” With that, she finally stepped back from the table and turned towards the kitchen. 

Nathan put his mug down and released a muted sigh as he added creamer and sugar to the coffee. He knew that she meant the best -- she always had an air of genuinity around the way she formed her words, performed her actions. If he could trust anyone now, it was her.

But how could he even consider complaining about his situation to her when he couldn’t figure out the truth behind everything that had been happening to him? On top of that, there was no way he could just tell her that “ Oh yes, my ghost leech turned out to be a real human who kinda beat the shit out of me in some alternate life. Fucking blows, I know, what do you think I should do??” 

Nathan would probably be charted off to some damn facility before he could finish his sentence. At least, that’s how it would go with his dad, anyway. 

The boy raised his eyes from his mug and lead them to gaze out the window, taking in the view of the bay with its calm waves and noisy seagulls. The expanse of the sky was devoid of any clouds, just a stretch of vast blue that paled at the horizon and made way for the silhouettes of fishing boats. When did my life get so fucked up?

Nathan could remember running along the foaming waters of the south end of Florida, the sand sinking beneath his heels and the wind blowing the smell of the sea through his hair. He’d look back from the waves to see his mother and sister, laughing and waving. Sometimes Kristine would run after him and they’d sprint through the dunes until the sun set and they grew sick of the grittiness of the beach and the sting of the salt water. 

It wasn’t always perfect but it was a time before the full extent of life’s pressures had bestowed themselves on his shoulders. Before his dad unraveled from a parent to more of a coach, a merciless director. Before he moved to Arcadia Bay and it all went to pure horseshit. 

Nathan could nearly scoff at where he was now. Sitting in a diner, maybe the most distasteful yet soothing place in the entire town, with the smell of bacon and toast wafting around him. A pitiful bay to replace a once beautiful and dream-like beach, like a watered down mirage of what his life could’ve been. 

He couldn’t see any reason behind leaving Florida for this shithole, only to be despised by everyone and waste wealth on facilities to merely don the Prescott name -- not for the sake of the actual residents in this anthill of a town. 

Most of all, Nathan now had to deal with this new supernatural phenomenon known as Warren Graham. Everyone in Blackwell -- save for just a select few -- already made him want to shove his hand into a blender, yet of course the world decided that it hadn’t fucked Nathan over enough by making him the most hated kid in the entire damn town. It also had to involve invisible people with past lives or whatever bullshit he was dealing with now. 

If having the most unlucky life imaginable was a contest, Nathan would win first, second, and third. Though in the end, that was just the same as losing. 

He took in another deep breath and sipped his coffee, the question of “What really is there for me here?” sitting at the pit of his chest in the form of an aching blue. He enjoyed Vic’s company, there were times when she felt like his own sister, and Hayden wasn’t a complete douche either. While Nathan knew that Jefferson wasn’t completely sincere with his words, his nagging suspicion was always dulled down by the guidance of his actions, the fatherliness of his persona.

It was pathetic. There wasn’t a lot tying him down to Arcadia Bay, yet it felt like everything was at the same time. 

The clatter of silverware against the table brought Nathan’s attention back to reality, and his eyes parted from the lull of the waves to the buttermilk pancakes set out in front of him. Joyce refilled his coffee and managed to catch a side glance of what he presumed was a dictionary definition of a troubled teen’s face , and it made him want to pull the collar of his shirt over his head. 

“Is that all you’ll be needing today, dear?” 

Nathan knew what she meant by that, and he found himself wanting to confide just because he was offered the chance to for the first time in… in a long ass time. It wasn’t like his psychiatrist who was asking out of obligation to fill up the hour and a half session they had together in that bleak office. It wasn’t like the calculative questions of Jefferson, the way it felt like he was testing the waters before determining whether it was optimal or not.

“I know someone and we’ve been, I don’t fucking know, spending time together today. I’d never hang out with someone like him usually but--” Nathan didn’t know how to continue. There was no way to word his situation in a way that wouldn’t raise doubts, and the regret he felt manifested itself as beads of sweat on his brow. 

Joyce shifted her stance to pop out her hip again, one hand sitting at her waist. “Was this boy your friend?” 

That was the question Nathan wasn’t sure how to answer even to himself. He didn’t want to think about it because he felt that it might make the situation more aggravating. 

“I don’t know. I, no, I don’t think so. But I got used to him always hovering around me. I…” Nathan paused to just come to terms with the fact that he really was venting to some waitress at a diner. He shook his head and sneered. “Nevermind. This is so fucking stupid, I’ll figure it out myself.” 

Nathan was overly conscious of Joyce’s presence as he moved to cut through his pancakes, making it a point to stare at them until he was certain she was gone. She didn’t move for a lot longer than he had hoped. 

“No matter what you might claim, I think you were probably fonder of him than you realize. I’m sure you don’t want to hear another word from me, so I’ll get out of your hair after saying this. Sometimes it’s essential to let both sides talk it out, I cannot stress enough how important communication is. Maybe it’ll help you sort things out with him, whatever it is that went on between you two. Connections like this are important and it’s worth the effort to try and salvage them sometimes.” 

With that, Joyce picked up her pitcher of steaming coffee and offered Nathan a smile that he could only see from the edge of his vision. “I hope things go smooth sailing with this boy, I know you have it in you.” 

Nathan only relaxed after seeing the waitress walk away from his booth, and he mumbled a string of curses at himself for being so damn pathetic. A brief wave of panic grew over him as he turned to check the booths around his, scanning the diner -- thoroughly this time -- for any familiar faces from Blackwell. If anyone from school had heard him, he wasn’t sure what he would do. 

The one small mercy of that day was that no students seemed to be at the diner, and it allowed Nathan to relax further into the cushion of his seat. He knew Joyce was right, but he couldn’t imagine himself starting a conversation with that dumbass Warren to try and sort out their feelings like some cheap therapy session. 

There was a part of him that knew he had been overtly asshole-esque to Warren earlier but could he blame him? The fact that Warren recalled something like that, then kicked it under the mat to proceed and ask Nathan for help in solving his problems -- it was so infuriating that he could choke. 

Was it possible that Warren didn’t know the weight of his words and his actions in the dream? Of course but the kid had to have better judgement still. Anyone would know not to go, “ Hey, I severely pummeled your ass in my dream/memory but don’t worry about it! Anyway, can you help me solve my identity crisis and return to my normal self, the person who beat you up? Thanks!” 

Nathan worked on the rest of his pancakes in a silent fury of justifying himself, as it usually went after interacting with Warren. It was hard to believe that he had only found out the truth about him earlier that morning. This day was probably one of the longest days Nathan ever had to deal with and he was relieved that it was finally ending. 

A vibration in Nathan’s jacket pocket nearly made him jump, but his nerves were eased when he remembered that he had shut his burner phone off. 

He pulled out his main phone to see a text from Vic. Just checking in on you, Nate! Sooo excited for the party tomorrow, I know you’ll be getting the good shit for it too. Maybe we can hang later to discuss and catch some cute curfew cocktails while we’re at it? V. 

Getting drunk with Vic sounded exactly like the kind of break Nathan needed, but he knew that by the time he got back to the dorms, he’d K.O. on his bed in no time. It wouldn’t be fair to Vic either to plan and hang out half braindead. 

Hey V. The party’s gonna be fucking wild, Blackwell isn’t ready for it. Let’s plan tomorrow though, like a few hours before the party. I’m tired as shit and you know how mental I get when we mix cocktails with that. Catch you tomorrow around 5? Cheers, Prescott. 

Upon finishing off his plate, Nathan paid for the meal and slid out of the booth. A gust of cool wind greeted him as he opened the door to leave the diner, stepping out under the now golden sky and taking in the smell of the sea. The sun was setting and it drew out the shadows of everything around him in a forest of shade as he crossed the street towards the bay. 

As exhausted as he was, he didn’t want to go back to Blackwell just yet -- he still had to sort things out in his head and he had time before the curfew (though it wasn’t like that would’ve stopped him anyway). The view of the lighthouse in the distance stuck out against the backdrop of yellowed hues, and before Nathan made any conscious decision, he found himself heading for the hill. 

The stinging cold of the wind carried the pockets of Nathan’s jacket into the air, his undershirt and sweater billowing up with it. He missed the warmth of Fort Lauderdale, with its palm trees swaying in the tropical weather and the photogenic docks hosting rows of yachts. 

However, there was a different kind of charm regarding the lighthouse that of course, dulled in comparison to Florida but was still a small ray of interest compared to the rest of the town. Nathan had taken photos there before and it withheld a feeling of genuinity that was lost within the bright lights of boardwalks and clubs. 

Eventually nearing the top, the boy could start to see the walls of the abandoned building by the base of the lighthouse, littered with empty bottles and drawls of some fake deep poems. He took in a breath as he made his way to the bench that sat facing the sinking sun. 

The talk he had with Joyce had been a change of perspective, to put it simply. Nathan knew he should probably listen, though it was naive of anyone to expect him to completely comply to advice. It wasn’t that he thought it was wrong or anything -- he just couldn’t bring himself to. His pride was through the damn roof and the whole town knew it. 

Nathan wondered if he would ever bring himself to agree with helping Warren. The thought made his skin crawl -- the idea of going this way and that to solve puzzles with the damn nerd was like some humiliating joke. 

He knew that without any help, Warren probably wouldn’t get far. The kid didn’t have any way to connect with people other than Nathan, so there was no possible way he’d be able to find any information other than by blacking out and getting more psycho visions. 

But Nathan wasn’t obligated to help Warren. He couldn’t control the brunette’s fucked up circumstances, and he had no say in being the only person that could see the guy. It was unfair to Nathan the most, if anything. Why did he have to be stuck with babysitting the ghost parasite, why not someone who didn’t already have piles of shit stacked on them?

Despite it all, Nathan did somehow feel calmer now compared to earlier when he had first been told the whole recollection of Warren’s dream.  Going out to the diner, and then watching the lapping of waves from the lighthouse was more therapeutic than Nathan would ever admit out loud. 

At the very least, he was thankful he still lived by a body of water. The crisp foaming of water at the shore and the endless stretch of blue reflecting crystals of light, it was maybe one of the only sights that could ease Nathan’s constantly anxious demeanor, the bouncing of his leg, the twitching of his brow. 

The boy took out a pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket, taking one out and lighting it before inhaling. He was starting to crave a joint, and decided a cigarette would be the best replacement until he got back to his dorm. God, he hoped Warren had left the place by now. 

Nathan had left in such an angry hurry that he had forgotten about leaving Warren his room, completely open to snooping around. He wasn’t even sure if he trusted the kid’s claim about not having looked around in the first place. Sure, he probably didn’t take any of his weed - the pussy didn’t seem like the type --  but if he had opened a drawer or something, it would’ve reverted to its original state in a few seconds. 

The thought evoked another annoying spark of distrust in Nathan’s throat, and he exhaled fumes of smoke into the hazy air before standing from the bench. He might as well go back to the dorm, now that he remembered it had been left at the complete mercy of Mr. Sherlardass Homo. 

As Nathan turned to head down the slope of the walkway, he took his gaze into the sandy dunes of the beach and nearly inhaled his entire cigarette. Lying amidst the folds of grainy tan, was Mr. Sherlardass Homo himself. 

 


 

 

The sun was sinking closer to the horizon by the second, sending fractures of red and orange hues through the cloudless sky. Warren breathed in the smell of saltwater as he propped his head up on his clasped hands, knuckles pressing into the grittiness of the sand. 

The view was beautiful, yet the feeling of aching hopelessness remained prevalent in the pit of Warren’s stomach. He had been left to his own devices, which was expected after how badly he had fucked up earlier. Looking back on it now, he could almost scream at his own stupidity.

Yeah, great move Warren. Go ahead and tell your best buddy all about how you beat him half to death. Oh and this would also be a great time to ask him for his help in solving the mystery of your entire sad existence!  

After he had been left in Nathan’s room to wallow in his own pitiful lack of brain cells, Warren eventually started having the desperate urge to get out from the damn dormitory. He didn’t know how to get anywhere, nor where to go exactly, so he decided on the one spot he was familiar enough with from earlier that day.

The beach.

Warren started off by walking but apparently, his ghost physique wasn’t in the best condition, evident by his dragging legs and tight chest after just a couple minutes. That was when he resorted to hopping in random people’s cars that were going in the same direction as his destination.

It wasn't very effective half the time, because it would be a difficult game of timing exactly when to jump towards the moving car to land in a seat. Warren landed on his ass in the hard asphalt more times than he would’ve liked to admit. 

But, looking at the scenery now, there was a bit of satisfaction for all the work it took to get there. Warren could lift his hand to cover the sun, and it would highlight the edges with gold, casting a shadow over his eyes that shielded them from the blinding luminescence. The lighthouse standing tall in the corner of his vision added onto the serene atmosphere as seagulls flew over past the infinite waves of shimmering blue-orange. 

If he were to remain as an invisible person forever, he was glad there’d be chances to enjoy sights like this at the very least.

“Hey. Dipshit.” Something kicked sand over Warren and he jumped, startled by the fact that someone could see him. Was this it? Was there really someone else who could-- 

“Oh. Nathan…?” Warren blinked to make sure he wasn’t just seeing things. Standing over him was the brooding, familiar figure of Nathan Prescott, the boy he was sure would never speak to him again. Why was he here?

“Damn, don’t be that excited to see me.” After a brief moment of hesitation, Nathan slowly took a seat in the sand beside Warren’s hips, his eyes trained on the horizon so that the boy couldn’t make out his expression. 

“No, I mean, I’m glad to see you but I just… thought you hated me.” 

That statement was met with a duration silence, and Warren found his eyes drifting to the slight incline of Nathan’s lips in his sun showered profile. He wondered how many things were lulling at the tip of the boy’s tongue, waiting to be said but being bitten away in distrust. He knew he hadn’t helped with that at all, and the guilty conscience slowly rose once more.

Eventually, the lips parted and Warren flicked his eyes away. 

“You really got fucked over by materializing in this shithole town, huh?” The words came out wispy, quiet, as if they were meant to be aggressively fueled but the sentence drained his energy before it could come out that way. 

Warren shrugged, despite knowing Nathan couldn’t see him. “For all we know, I could’ve been born and raised in this shithole town too. And it’s not all that bad, the view’s amazing.” 

That triggered a scoff from Nathan, and Warren could almost see the sneer on his face. “Like you’ve been anywhere else.” 

Warren realized that it made a lot more sense for Nathan to have moved from somewhere, rather than having been born here. He always referred to the town as a shithole, and maybe the long time residents wouldn’t be as keen with calling it that. 

Warren wondered where Nathan could’ve lived before coming to Arcadia Bay. A city would match his energy more than a quiet suburban town like the current one. Some place with a body of water though, judging from his whale tracks. New York City? San Francisco? 

A dog barked from an RV nearby, and Warren was slowly phased out of his thoughts as he grew overly conscious of the boy beside him. He knew he should say something about what happened earlier. The easiest thing would be to apologize but would Nathan even accept something like that? He didn’t want to make it seem like he was trying to get back on the boy’s side just so that he would help. 

At this point, Warren had accepted that he’d have to figure his situation out alone. 

“Listen, about my dream. I know, I’m a dumbass and I fucked up.”
“Yeah no fucking kidding.” 

“I’m not gonna expect you to help me anymore, I know it was your choice from the start. I also want you to know that I’d never beat you up like in my dream.. I don’t know why I have a memory like that but it’s not who I am.” Warren paused for a moment, giving Nathan room to reply. When no response came, he continued with a single compliant mutter. “It’s completely fair if you want me to rot still…” 

An unexpectedly relenting sigh escaped from Nathan’s chapped lips, and it made Warren hopelessly enthusiastic. 

“Fine. I don’t know what the fuck is up with your psycho dream but you do seem like too much of a pussy to do anything like that right now.”

“Completely true.”

“Just don’t be a fucking dumbass next time and learn to time your requests better, jesus.” 

“Noted.”

Another quiet fell upon the boys as the whitenoise of crashing waves and rustling tree leaves created a dreamlike atmosphere around them. The sun’s curve was touching the horizon now, drawing streaks of red across the ripples of the bay like clumsy strokes of a painter. 

Warren felt that he really hadn’t gotten the short end of the stick by being spawned, or whatever, in Arcadia Bay. Sure, Blackwell seemed damn miserable but there was a lot of beauty in the town that nearly outweighed the artificial, feigned happiness of the people around him. 

There was something charmingly organic about the scenery, the golden bay, the charred state park. The events of that day had also been winding but in a chaotically good way; the car chase, the car hopping. 

While he had nothing to compare it to, Warren felt as though he experienced and saw much more this day than maybe any other day of his actual, physical life. Obviously he could be completely wrong, but something in his gut told him that Nathan had allowed him to experience more than any typical, genuinely alive Blackwell student. 

So at least that was something to be proud about. 

Warren’s eyes tore away from the reddened waves to Nathan’s face -- or the parts of his face that were visible from that angle. Only the whites of his left eye’s corner were visible, and surprisingly dark lashes seemed to brush against the gusts of wind that flew through them. His stoic figure looked as though he was contemplating something, and as if on cue, Nathan parted his lips once more to make way for slowly spoken words. 

“Search up your situation online.”

“Huh?” The statement took Warren aback, it wasn’t what he had been expecting even after their presumably successful relationship mending. 

“That’s what you wanted me to do, right?” 

“Well, yeah. Only if you want to though.” 

Nathan nodded so that the movement barely existed. “God, fuck it. Fine. Whatthefuckever, I’ll do that.”

Warren practically leapt up and leaned against his hands, unraveling them from his makeshift pillow and into a prop against the sand. “Really? You’ll really do that for me?” A smile of… a lot of different emotions surfaced on his face, most easily described as pure joy, and it stretched from one cheek to the other.

“Stop acting as if I just donated to some orphanage under your name. This is a one time thing, Graham, don’t get used to it.”

Warren nodded frantically, a lock of brown falling between his eyes. “Of course, yeah! Thanks Nathan, for real!” He nearly went in for a friendly elbow nudge but caught himself, not wanting to risk accidentally flipping a switch in the kid. 

“Whatever, you owe me big time.” 

The smile on Warren’s face grew lopsided as he scrunched a brow. “I don’t know what I could really do for you at all but trust me, if I can help with anything, I will.” 

For the first time since meeting again on that beach, Nathan turned to face Warren, revealing the blue of his eyes that reflected shards of amber sunlight. He scowled slightly, though it was easily identifiable as a sheepish scowl if anything. 

“Jesus, stop looking so happy -- it’s grossing me out.” 

“What, is my smile too dashing for you?” 

“Shut the fuck up, I’m going back to the dorms.” Nathan stood up from the sand before giving Warren a chance to comment, pulling the front of his jacket together to shield from the cold. 

Warren eased down his own smile before following suit, standing from the dunes and brushing off his jeans to rid it of any grains. It was of course unnecessary but it just felt like the natural thing to do. 

The two climbed up to the rolling hills of sand and passed the parking lot, where Warren watched Nathan’s gaze drift to the RV briefly before returning to the road in front of them. 

Warren could see Nathan’s red truck sitting in the diner parking lot, and he wondered if that’s where he had been the whole time, eating morbidly sweet pancakes again in the sticky booth seats, sharing the same view as Warren as the two unknowingly gazed at the same sun. 

“How’d you even get here anyway? Not like there’s some fucking, ghost taxi, is there?” 

“I wish. It was like some sick gameshow level. I had to jump into cars at exactly the right time or I’d just fall through onto the road.” 

A single, condescending laugh erupted from Nathan, the boy leaning his head back slightly to make room for it. “That’s fucking gold. I should just stop giving you rides.”

“Don’t you dare.” As Warren retorted back, he took a side glance at Nathan and managed a small smile of relief. He had been worried that they might not be able to ever share these snarky remarks again -- it was the single solace keeping him from completely losing it sometimes. 

As the two entered the truck, the sky above them began to darken completely, leaving only faint trails of orange and red at the very edge of the horizon. “Today was a damn shit show, wasn’t it?”

Warren was slightly shocked that Nathan initiated a conversation first, but he took it with gratitude and eased back into the carseat before answering. “Today felt like 9 years. Like more than my entire existence in this world so far.” 

“Fucking tell me about it. I’d bet I had it a hundred times worse though.”

“Yeah? Like you passed out and had some unknown freak flashback? Like you had to carhop to get out of Blackwell for once?” The words came out jokingly, more as a friendly challenge if anything.

“And guess which unlucky fucker had to drag your body back to the car after you passed out? You wanna try playing the part of the parasite host?” 

They bickered in that same fashion for the majority of the car ride, comparing their own tragic sequence of events and exaggerating the circumstances tenfold to make a point. Through this banter, Warren would often catch moments of hesitation sitting at Nathan’s lips, unspoken words wanting to be said but ultimately bitten back. 

His curiosity ran rampant in his skull, but the brunette forced himself to hold back. He’d be told what Nathan wanted him to be told, nothing more, and that was enough of a mercy for their shaky relationship.  

By the time they got back to Blackwell, it was completely dark and the bright floodlights of the parking lot left the shadows of moths flickering against the asphalt. 

The truck slowed to a halt at one of the vacant spots before letting Warren phase out gently. He stretched, head turned upwards and to gaze at the silver moon above them, emitting its soft glow that paled in comparison to the sun. 

The wind around them had settled, the air held nothing but a slight chill now. 

Warren turned to face Nathan but found the boy already walking alone towards the dorms, hands shoved in pockets and shoulders defaulting into that hunched posture. He sped up to catch up with him, his steps light from the fact that Nathan had agreed to help him despite the way he had fucked up severely earlier. 

The campus was devoid of any students, and a few windows had their lights on to reveal the studious ones, or just the ones staying up late to binge watch some show with their friends. 

Warren wanted to do that with Nathan, but he figured it’d be a while before the two would be lying in bed, giggling and eating popcorn together while watching an obscure horror movie like some teen girls at a slumber party. 

The two stopped at the hallway between their respective rooms, and Nathan looked up at him with exhausted eyes. Warren figured he couldn’t look much better -- that was, if his figure could even age or be affected by outside aspects. 

“Tomorrow. We’ll do all the ghostbusters shit tomorrow.”

“Sounds good. I need some shuteye after this bitch of a day.” 

In response, Nathan scrunched his nose and Warren quickly began to panic mentally, trying to figure out what he did wrong.

“Stop trying to talk like me. It’s gross.”

Warren was silent before finally  understanding what the kid was referring to. “You know you don’t… own cursing, right? Like, other people curse too?” 

Nathan shook his head. “I know what you’re doing.” The sentence didn’t come out serious enough to tick off Warren’s ‘ Nathan’s pissed’   alarms and he then understood what was happening. 

Nathan turned to his room and closed the door as Warren managed a laugh, though most of it was airy with relief. He was joking. They had just cracked a joke together. Jesus christ. I need to learn to relax.

After lingering for a brief moment to catch his breath, Warren too turned to his own self proclaimed room and phased inside. He crashed into the bed with enough force to bounce up once, and he felt the blankets fold under his weight. 

At that point, Warren was used to things reverting to their natural state, and he enjoyed the softness of the blanket while it lasted. The day had felt way too long and chaotic to even care about the little issues that came with his state of being anymore. It almost seemed as though he had aged by twenty years.

Embracing the feeling of exhaustion that fell over him like a blanket itself, Warren finally allowed himself to fall asleep as the silvery light from the window created dancing shadows against the walls. 

 


 

 

“So did you get a chance to check out the movie booty on my flash drive?”

Birds sang as the girl before him smiled, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear before parting her lips to speak. “Yeah, thanks. You had some cool shit on there, from ‘Akira’ to ‘The Twilight Zone.’ Which seems apropos today...” 

Shit. It’s happening again.

Warren couldn’t control himself, his idle motions of picking against the seams of his jeans and tapping against the hood of some sick car. As his vision cleared up completely, he recognized the girl as the short haired one from his first flashback. The boy’s heart leapt as he urged for nothing dramatic to happen, nothing violent, nothing uncharacteristic.

“I consider myself a pop… cultural pirate connoisseur.” 

“That does sound better than thief.”

“Ha ha. Make sure you watch ‘Cannibal Holocaust.’”

Obscure horror films. Warren liked obscure horror films, he remembered now. The Serbian film, The Green Inferno, Ichi the Killer… all the titles were coming back to him in a disturbing swarm of bloody memories. 

“Seen it. I was more disturbed by all those emo-vampire movies in there.” 

Warren felt himself smiling, and it was clear that he often enjoyed the company of this girl like that, conversing lazily under the morning sun while sharing laughs.

“Can’t a sensitive high school boy love sensitive vampires too?” As the words left his mouth, spots of white started to pool at the corner of his vision. He was returning to reality but he still had too many questions to go back so soon. Who was this girl? Why was he remembering such a seemingly trivial conversation? 

Before any answers could be delivered, the entirety of Warren’s vision became washed in white and his hearing muffled to the point of deafness. 

 


 

Warren awoke with a start, his eyes snapping open with a faint afterimage of the girl still remaining in his vision. He heard the peaceful sounds of a lazy early morning, the rustling of students waking up, the muted phone alarms through walls. 

“Cannibal Holocaust. I seriously forgot about Cannibal Holocaust?” 

Slowly sitting up, Warren brought his hands to his face and sighed into them, though it turned into a yawn midway through. Morning had come too early and it felt as though the boy hadn’t gotten a wink of sleep. He didn’t want to move from the bed, its covers neatly made with every fold and wrinkle now being recognized by memory.

Warren just wanted to dissipate into the sheets forever and ignore the fact that he was a foreign being in a foreign world. A half asleep, dazed intrusive urge suddenly popped into existence, and without much thought, Warren listened to it.

The boy clumsily removed one of his sneakers, surprisingly worn and ragged, and effortlessly chucked it through his door and -- hopefully -- into the room opposite of his. 

Not even a second had passed when an angry yell came out, muffled by the walls between them.

“What the fuck? ” 

A smile stretched across Warren’s face as he phased through the door, across the hallway, and into Nathan’s room. “Morning.” He picked up his shoe that was lying by the bed, just the heel sticking out from one of its legs.
Nathan glared at him with tired eyes and mussed hair, just a bit stiff from a fresh layer of gel that he was in the middle of applying. “What the fuck was that?”

“My shoe.”

“I know it was your fucking shoe, dumbass. What made your supreme ghost genius brain decide to launch it into my room?”

Warren shrugged, though his smile still sat blatantly guiltless. “My fingers slipped.” 

“Uh huh,” Nathan combed through his slicked back hair and wiped his hands on his jeans before putting on the staple red jacket. “I’m gonna be kinda busy today. The vortex club party’s tonight and I’ll need to pick up some shit for it, help plan.”

“Oh, the party.” Warren had seen the fliers pasted around the school building on his first exploration spree. He should’ve figured that Nathan was in charge of that too. “So when are we gonna bust out the Sherlock Holmes guns?” 

“Don’t get your panties in a twist, we’ll do it right now.” Nathan pulled out the chair by his desk and moved the mouse, flicking the screen from its screensaver animation to Google. He sat down and started typing, making Warren hastily shuffle to see the screen better.

How to exterminate invisible stalker parasite?

“Hey!” Warren yelled in protest, though the overly exaggerated indignance in his voice probably gave it away as a joke.

“Fine, fine, what do you want me to search up? I woke up as a ghost with amnesia?” 

Warren leaned in over Nathan to squint at the screen, trying to hypothesize what would bring the most logical answers. 

“Try, I wake up invisible and with no memory?”

Nathan shook his head but complied, and Warren could hear the boy mutter, “That’s basically what I just said.” 

Upon hitting enter in the search bar, an abundance of links immediately popped up, though it was obvious that only a few would be helpful even by a fraction.

“Sleep paralysis? Brain injury?”

Nathan let out a short laugh and pointed at one of the links. “Ha, I’m in a coma and everything that’s happening is all in my head. Wouldn’t be fucking surprised if that was about me.” 

“Great job dragging me into the coma with you then, was that really necessary?” 

“You bet your ass it was.” 

Save for a few humorous remarks, they two scrolled through the rest of the results in pretty much silence. They could hear the muffled sounds of yelling boys and suspicious laughter through the walls, and here they were, trying to search up whatever phenomenon was happening to the two of them.

“Hey, rip in time?” Nathan pointed to another link.

Warren let out a clipped, doubtful laugh. “Like Primer ?” Wait, would Nathan even get that reference?

“Nah, Primer ’s more about time travel than time rips. And they didn’t blank out on their entire life after time traveling, even after multiple versions of Abe were left alive.” 

Warren blinked before turning his head to face Nathan. “You know Primer ?” 

“Who the fuck doesn’t?”

“Like, most people in existence.” 

Nathan shrugged as he continued scrolling through the results. “What, just cause I’m an asshole doesn’t mean I’m uncultured. How do you know it anyway? Isn’t all you remember just about science?” 

“I got another weirdass flashback last night. I was talking to some girl about these movies and I remembered that I was a major horror/indie movie junkie.” 

The boy beside Warren leaned back in his chair. “Pointless fucking thing to remember.” 

Warren was about to reply when he saw the glimpse of a link, pulled out of sight as Nathan kept on blankly scrolling.

“Wait, wait! Go up.” 

Nathan scrunched his nose but obliged, scrolling back up and allowing a clear view of the link.

I’m a shell of a person in the wrong timeline. I can’t remember any of who I once was, but I dont belong here .

Nathan squinted before raising a skeptical brow at Warren. “Is that… on reddit?”

“Reddit’s better than nothing. There’s a ton of cryptic shit on there anyway, it’s worth a shot, right?”

With a relenting sigh, Nathan clicked on the link and it lead them to, indeed, a reddit page. It was in the subreddit of time travel and was basically three paragraphs of someone’s vague experience with… wait.

Nathan snorted. “This is someone talking about how they’re in the wrong time as in, they want to be living in the 1920’s.” 

“God dammit.” 

“You’re fucked, huh?”
“Yeah.” 

Warren fell back onto the carpeted floor, eyes staring up at the ceiling as he felt his soul seemingly leave his body in hopelessness. “I’ll be stuck here forever.”’

“At least you’ll see a sick party tonight. Might as well get drunk and high on batshit to get comfortable.” 

Warren grimaced at the thought. “No thanks. I think I’ll stick to Kool-Aid--” 

A bland ringtone cut through Warren’s sentence just as it ended. He looked up at Nathan who was now swiveled around in his chair to stare at the couch, and his expression unnerved Warren. It was that expression that he seldom wore but when he did, the brunette remembered. 

The last time he looked like that was when Warren had told him about the dream of beating him up.

“Uh… do you need to--”

“Get out.”

“What?”

Nathan stood from his chair and ushered Warren to his feet, nearly causing him to trip. “Get out and stay in the other room. Don’t come back until I tell you to, and don’t you fucking dare eavesdrop.” 

Warren was basically carried out of the room in a confused daze, and before he could register what was happening, Nathan’s door was already shut in his face. 

What… the fuck?

 


 

 

“What?” 

Nathan answered the phone with a snapping resonance, his nerves too on edge to care about damage control.

“Watch your tone, Nathan.”

The boy swallowed hard and hooked a hand to the back of his neck before speaking again. “Sorry. What do you want?”

“I found our next muse. I’ll need your help especially with this one.” 

Nathan’s heart skipped a beat at the request, and he forced himself to slow his breathing as to not implode on the spot. “Who is it?”

“Victoria Chase.”

The pang of nausea came like a tidal wave, and it pushed Nathan to sit on the edge of his bed. It felt as though his throat was closing in on itself, and each struggle for air was harder than the last. Victoria? Why her? Anyone, ANYONE but fucking Vic.

“Are you… sure you want her ? She’s not a typical… pure innocent girl you’d go for.”

“Stop trying to protect her. I know you two are close but sometimes for the sake of art, you need to jeopardize things like that. And if you don’t fuck this up like you did with Rachel, chances are she’ll never know you were ever involved. ” 

“Why not someone like Max? She’s in one of your classes right? That bitch is practically obsessed with the innocent aesthetic, why not her?”

“She’s on the list too. I was actually choosing between her and Miss Chase but the circumstances today are more in favor of the latter. It won’t be difficult, just tell her when she wins the Everyday Heroes contest that I’ll do a private photoshoot with her at the barn, and take her there. She’ll buy it, it’s basically her dream come true, right?”

The knuckles of Nathan’s hand grew white as his grip around the phone tightened. He didn’t know how to get out of this but there was no way in hell that he would ever agree to throwing Vic under the bus like that. Anyone but her. 

“Mark. You know how much I like working together on projects and shit, but you know what you’re asking me to fucking do, right? Vic is my sister. I can’t do this. Name anyone else, but not her.” 

With each second of silence that passed, Nathan felt more and more of his life being cut short. He knew what he was asking was risky and that point, he had to accept whateverthefuck was gonna happen to him.

All Nathan knew for sure was that there was no flying snowball’s chance in hell that he would help Jefferson kidnap and drug his best friend. 

“I expected so much more from you, Nathan. Yesterday’s session was so I could reignite the passion I once had towards you and your work but I’m going to be frank with you -- the passion’s gone. I guess you could say that river has run dry.” 

“What the fuck are you saying?”

“I’ll give you a chance to reconsider. Call me with a different answer before the party tonight. I’ll wait for your response.” 

The call was cut before Nathan could reply, and he felt the pressure of what he had just done barrel down on him like an avalanche. “FUCK.” He threw the burner phone against the wall, but the sound of the screen cracking wasn’t satisfying enough.
Why was his life just one whole shit train going through a shit town with shit people? Nathan knew he had fucked up big time with Jefferson, the last time he heard such malice in the teacher’s voice was when he had… OD'd Rachel. 

Nathan hated remembering that moment and the guilty conscience that had formed through that experience never truly went away. But he was different now.

He got his best friend killed once, he wouldn’t let it happen again. 

Nathan blinked, and realized that Warren was still shoved into the opposite room, probably suspicious as hell of everything that had gone down. He murmured a sound of frustration from his throat before picking up the cracked phone and pocketing it. With a hearty sigh, he left his room and crossed the hallway to the opposite door.

Nathan opened it and Warren looked up, his expression a mixture of relief and curiosity. “Is everything… okay?”

“Fan-fucking-tastic.” Nathan dwelled in the doorway for a few moments, leaning his shoulder against the door frame and crossing his arms. “So now what? Searching up your problem didn’t work.”

With that, the brunette’s face immediately dampened to a slight frown. “I don’t know. I know there has to be scientific explanation behind this… I just don’t know where to look anymore.” 

Nathan scoffed, leaning his head slightly as he peered at Warren. “You’re trying to make scientific sense of this? Life just decided to fuck us over with no questions asked. We’re not gonna figure anything out, we’d literally get more answers from watching Primer over and over again instead of actually trying.” 

A glint in Warren’s eye made Nathan realize what he had just suggested. 

“Are you saying we should have an obscure sci-fi movie binge session for the sake of science?”

“I didn’t say that. I literally never fucking said that.” 

“No, I think I did hear you say that. I have 20-20 hearing, you see.”
Nathan rubbed his hands over his eyes and breathed into them deeply. “No… not today. I have too much shit going on today.” 

“C’mon, we can watch some movies right now. If we start early you’ll still have time to plan your party in the afternoon.” 

Nathan chewed on his bottom lip, weighing the options. He seriously couldn’t afford to get distracted today of all days. He had to pick up shit for the party, Victoria was on Jefferson’s hitlist, and he could potentially be fucking dead by the end of the day if he didn’t help. 

“Pretty please? Consider it as a break from all your wretched ghost parasite hauntings.” 

Technically speaking, Nathan did have time before meeting Vic, and he could warn her once he was there. Then they’d… he didn’t know for sure yet. Would they run away from Blackwell for that night? It seemed like a promising idea upon first glance, but it was naive to think Jefferson would give up his pursuits after just one night. 

The party didn’t start till what, 8? And if he needed to, Nathan could just say the word and it’d be postponed for another hour. It gave him plenty of time to plan with V, pick up the goods, and warn her to stay the hell away from Jefferson -- maybe he’d even be able to formulate some plan to save both of their asses.

With a reluctant mumble of relent, Nathan gave in to Warren’s pleas. “Fine. But this dumb movie session needs to end before 5pm. You’re damn lucky my main class for today was cancelled, I have tons of shit to do.”

The brunette became embarrassingly perky, his toothy smile and upturned brows contrasting severely with Nathan’s stoic expression. “Really? Awesome! I’ll get the best pirating websites so we can watch people’s guts get blasted in ultra HD.”

Nathan snorted, his face shifting into a condescending contortion. “Pirating websites? No need for that when you have the limited edition DVDs of every sci-fi horror movie your geek ass could think of.” 

“Holy shit…” 

The day was starting to look a little brighter as Warren scurried to Nathan’s room and blabbered about random shit as he looked through the DVDs. With a slightly strained gaze, Nathan started to wonder if this was really alright -- sitting back and watching movies while the knowledge that his best friend could get kidnapped gnawed at his mind. 

His thoughts were wisped away as Warren shoved a DVD into his face and exclaimed. “You have Time After Time ?”