‘A thank you wouldn’t be too hard, would it?’ he asked, and as he looked in the mirror to catch the man’s eye he almost expected...
‘You’re right. Thank you.’ Well. That could just be manners. ‘Now who the fuck are you?’ Excellent. As he had run down corridors towards him, then staggered back down them with the new weight, Damien had refused to taste the hope flooding the back of his mind. Just get out, the voices had said, first in his earpiece and then in his head. Just get him out.
And then they were in the van and Damien hated distrust but the man didn’t trust him and it made him laugh out loud.
‘Damien,’ he shot back, telling himself it was a reward.
‘And are you a friend or foe, Damien?’ Mark asked candidly, though his eyes were a beautiful, guarded caution.
‘Friend,’ Damien started the engine. ‘Definitely.’
Correction, he drove.
After three days most of Mark’s reflexes came back, but he refused to get behind the wheel. Damien hadn’t tried all that hard, hadn’t wanted him to, really, but it was still a refusal. It still sent sparks jittering up his spine. He’d always preferred a rebel. Something denied to him for so long.
It made sense to him the same way it made sense to stop at a different fast food joint each time. They were both starved, and Mark had missed so much about the present. Damien ordered him a different dish every time and threw contraries in amongst the fries, just to hear dissent.
‘That’s ridiculous,’ Mark shook his head, ranch dressing on his chin. ‘Captain America would never...’
And Damien would shrug and smile as though this was normal for him. Because it was normal. That’s why it was so strange.
‘You’re an atypical?’ Mark asked, and for the first time the bubble of glee shook, wobbling uncertainly up Damien’s throat to become nervous laughter.
‘Can’t you tell?’ he twisted in his seat, hoping the words hadn’t come out too quickly, hoping his hope hadn’t come out too quickly, hoping. ‘Didn’t your ability start uh... pinging, or, I don’t know, how does that work?’ Mark didn’t match his smile.
‘I’m a little too tired to give the old superpower a whirl. Give me a few days.’ Just like that. He didn’t even ask what he’d be doing. Give him a few days. He looked tired.
‘But, you can do it, right? Mimic other people’s powers?’
He looked like a child, scooped out of a nightmare, willing to fall asleep against anyone who stood still long enough.
‘I could. I don’t know, it’s been a long time.’
And Damien wasn’t going anywhere. Not yet.
‘Get some rest,’ he told him, the first night.
‘No,’ he murmured, and there was that word again, without fervour or fire but it was still no and it was still intoxicating.
‘I’ve been asleep for two years,’ Mark whispered. His forehead was pressed against the glass, hollow cheeks thrown into sharp shadows by the glow of neon. ‘If there’s one thing I don’t want to do now, it’s stop.’
‘Well shit,’ Damien said, sinking down to his twin bed.’ I can’t sleep with you hovering there like a creep. And I can’t drive if I don’t sleep.’
Mark seemed to consider this, rose quietly, curled himself onto the sofa.
‘I’m not sleeping,’ he insisted.
‘I don’t care,’ he insisted back. They were both lying. When Damien snapped awake at four am, Mark was still where he’d left him, head jammed uncomfortably against the arm rest, an intense glare on his face. But his eyes were closed.
And Damien rolled over and lay there, wide awake, for another two hours until Mark’s breath hitched and he woke up like a drowning man. Maybe he was one. Damien held himself as still as he had ever been as he heard Mark twist to check on him. He wasn’t sure if it was worry he was gone, or imagined like Sam, or just the fear of being discovered asleep. He also wasn’t sure what had kept him here, what prompted him to ask, ‘did you really stay awake?’, what made him shake his head and smile in appreciation when Mark nodded.
They both needed their lies.
He hadn’t cared what someone else needed in a while.
‘Sam,’ Mark said suddenly. ‘Sam told me Doctor Bright was helping me get out.’ Someone else knew, someone else was here. Should have known, should have thought, should have...
‘Sam? Who’s he?’ He would have to get better at controlling his voice, measuring out emotions like prescriptions. Sorry you’ve reached your aggression quota, care for some futile worry instead?
It appeared to be catching. ‘Wait, you don’t know Sam?’ Mark hitched himself up so he sat against the sliding door, pale face catching the mirror and Damien’s eye. ‘She was with me in the Other Time.’ Sam, Sam.
Damien could tell those words were supposed to mean something, but damn if he knew what. Tell me all about it, he’d usually purr, and they would. It wasn’t the right rhetoric here. If misery loves company, the lost must have some kind of bond between them.
‘Other Time? What the hell are you talking about?’ He shoots, he misses. Not enough. Sam, Sam, Sam.
‘Why don’t you know Sam?’ Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam. ‘She was with me these past few months. Or, at least I think it was months.’
He was looking for Sam when he first noticed it. But back up, that wasn’t when Damien first noticed it.
They had been the only people in an all night diner, each on their second black coffee and listening to their waitress’ roommate troubles. Or, Mark had been listening. Damien had been contemplating how much free coffee he’d need to drown himself in. Shut up, he thought at her. Just shut up and let us go. But it didn’t work like that, he knew.
‘And she just, like, takes over spaces that are meant to be shared, you know?’ the girl asked, and Mark nodded as though he did. As though he hadn’t been experimented on in a lab for years and spent the last two in the latter days of the Georgian era.
‘And how am I supposed to say anything when all the people are right there, because it’s not like I need it, I just wanted it to be an option, right?’
‘Explain you need a warning,’ Mark suggested, and Damien felt it. He felt the suggestion spill across the counter, propelled by a will he hadn’t expected, hadn’t even been looking for, because fuck this kid and her studies and girlfriend and flatshares. What did either of them care? But Mark cared.
‘...you’re right,’ the waitress rocked back on her inappropriate heels.
‘Maybe you could set up a calendar?’ Mark went on.
‘I’ll buy one when my shift is done,’ she agreed.
‘Hell, go all out on the colour coding.’
‘I’ll be green,’ she breathed excitedly. Then she laughed, and Mark did too, and Damien was too late to join in, so he took a huge swig of cold coffee and wished it was gin.
‘I’ve never been all that good at advice,’ Mark told him uncertainly, as they were stuck in the morning rush out of the next town over. ‘That was always Joanie’s thing.’
‘You seemed to nail that one,’ he replied lightly. Light, bright. Bright, Bryant. Keep everything sunny.
Then it had been a gas station attendant who had a good night, a kid on his cell who watched where he was going, two truckers who left Damien alone before he could even open his mouth. Each time, all it had done was boost Mark’s faith that people were okay, that the world was as he had left it two years ago.
Then there was the bodega. Then there was Mark’s face on a poster.
Have you seen this man? it asked Damien helplessly, and he couldn’t help but glance to him, paper made flesh, pouring over the magazine rack. He reached to tear it down, but Mark felt his gaze and looked up to return the smile he thought would be waiting for him.
He found instead Damien standing with a poster in his fist.
‘Joanie,’ he murmured, and Damien was inclined to agree.
‘They’re looking for me,’ he went on, and still, he wasn’t wrong. Then he was gone, and the poster was in his own hand. Damien didn’t remember letting go.
‘Excuse me,’ he called to the woman at the counter. ‘Did you see who put this up?’
‘No, lo siento,’ she said without looking away from the paperback between them.
‘Would you look, please?’ he said, through gritted teeth, and Damien was two aisles away but had to take a step back as the command whammed into him. She didn’t stand a chance. The book slapped on the tiles as she scrutinised the flyer.
‘Tell me who put this up.’
‘It wasn’t my shift,’ she hissed, and shit, those were tears. He’d always wondered what would happen if he requested something they couldn’t give. Damien began to wind his way towards them, noticing as he did so that everyone else in the tiny store had their eyes glued to Mark. Or rather, the paper Mark was clutching.
‘Let’s go, buddy,’ he muttered.
‘Wait,’ he snapped, but Damien didn’t have to. He yanked, and it broke a spell. Not the one on the patrons, whose heads all swivelled in order to keep the paper in sight, but on Mark, who twisted to take in the scene.
‘What...’ he began, then, tragically quick on the uptake, turned to Damien. ‘What is this? What do you do? What am I doing?’
‘Leaving,’ Damien told him. Mark was bundled into the passenger seat and they had left the shop in the dust before another word was spoken.
Damien flicked on the hazards, drawing up on a grassy bank overlooked by two curious horses. God. He’d really pulled them out into the sticks.
He faced forwards, waited, breathed. Don’t forget to breathe.
‘Hypersuggestion,’ Mark started. In.
‘You put ideas into other people’s heads.’ Out.
‘People do whatever you want them to.’ In.
‘Has anything I’ve done since I got out been my idea?’ Damien turned so quickly spots bloomed in the corner of his vision. All he could see were Mark’s eyes, huge, horrified.
‘Of course,’ he said, or tried to, but his voice felt like he hadn’t used it in years. ‘It doesn’t work on you. That’s why...’
‘Why what?’ It didn’t take superpowers to know what Mark wanted him to say. He wanted him to lie. It didn’t take superpowers to get Damien to do what you wanted.
‘You can say no.’
‘How would I know if I wanted to say no?’
‘Doesn’t work like that. They know they didn’t want to before but...’ This wasn’t helping. Mark’s disgust was palpable, and for the first time words failed Damien. He’d never had to talk his way out of something without... help.
‘Look, I... don’t use it,’ he heard himself say. ‘Not on purpose, not for small things. It was how I got to you, that night.’
‘And why put in all that effort?’ It had started to rain. The wind took a shuddery breath and exhaled across the window. Damien knew how it felt. In. Out. When had breathing started to hurt?
‘God.’ Mark rolled his neck and shoulders, testing each joint. ‘Years without a body, without pain; being back? Ugh.’ Damien let a smile twitch his lips as various thumps and malformed complaints drifted out of the back. ‘I was in a coma for two years, you said?’
‘As far as I know.’
‘Shit.’ And he wasn’t heartless. He wasn’t a complete monster. He didn’t even need to act at this point.
‘Yeah, no kidding.’
‘She felt so real.’ And just like that, they were out of his territory again. Anger at the man, sure. Hurt and comfort? Girl trouble? Fucking time travel? Well.
‘Sorry man. Once you recover, we’ll find you a nice girl. A real one.’ Telling people what they wanted to hear. What he thought they wanted to hear, anyway. He had no idea. Hadn’t that been what he wanted?
‘I just wanted...’ he paused, because until then he hadn’t really known. What do you want? ‘An argument,’ he decided, finally.
‘Yeah?’ Mark spat. ‘Well you’ve got one. Is it everything you dreamed?’
Yes, he wanted to say, but now he couldn’t do what he wanted. Waste not want not, I just want to, wants you in his office, wanted in connection with, want a piece of me?
‘What do you want me to say?’ he asked quietly.
‘Wanting is what started this shitshow.’ Mark ran a hand though his hair. It hadn’t been cut since the institute. Found wanting, want out, wanted posters, know when I’m not wanted. What do you want?
‘Fine then,’ he whispered. ‘I needed. I needed someone I couldn’t do it to. I needed someone who could choose.’
‘And you thought they would choose you?’
Damien blinked. It broke the connection, and his eyes slid to watch the rain instead. He felt, rather than saw Mark relent.
‘Shit. I’m sorry. That was... that wasn’t what I meant to say.’
‘It’s what you wanted to say.’
‘No,’ Mark pulled up his knees under his chin. ‘It wasn’t.’
‘Then what’s the point?’ Damien snarled, throwing the stick in gear. He wasn’t one for checking blind spots, but right now he’d look anywhere but shotgun.
So the touch took him by surprise.
Mark’s hand had joined his on the stick, matching the grip born of fury, and shame, and...
What do you want?
‘People don’t always do exactly what they want,’ Mark said. ‘Even you must know that.’
Damien still couldn’t look at him. He watched the hands instead, disconnected, abstract. In. Out. What do you want?
‘How about now?’ he asked. ‘Is this one of those times?’ The hand left his, and there was the answer. Mark wanted out. And he was free to do exactly what he wanted.
Then the hand was under his chin, and Damien was forced to look. Mark had shifted, kneeling on the seat so he towered over him. The hand slipped along his jaw and pulled, so even as Mark’s head bent Damien’s was turned up to meet it.
‘No,’ Mark whispered. And it was still the best word he had ever heard.
‘Let’s just, get you better, huh? Get that power of yours up and workin’ again.’
‘Doesn’t work on you, huh?’ Mark wanted to know, and Damien groaned. The majority of his concentration was taken up with unlocking the motel door without relenting his claim on Mark’s collarbone.
‘I’m just making sure,’ he went on, his words catching slightly as Damien nipped roughly. The door clicked and he backed in, Mark dragging his mouth up to his. They managed a brief connection before the back of Damien’s legs hit the bed and he stumbled. Or had Mark pushed?
He was regarding him now, taking a moment, breathing. In. Out. Damien waited, watching Mark’s mind work, and though he could never really know what was going on, he saw him come to a decision.
Mark’s knees dug into his hips as he lowered, returning to what he must think was unfinished business around Damien’s jaw, chin and lips. The kisses got deeper, leaving him feeling hollowed out and hypersensitive all at once. Mark took another second to press their foreheads together.
Slow it was.
‘So how will I know what you want?’ Mark asked, if it could be called that, breath with the faintest hint of words carried on it. In. Out.
‘You know,’ Damien promised. ‘You know.’