0.04: Everything.

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The world flew by outside of worry and concern as an old blue truck sped down the dusty abandoned road. A soft, comforting silence filled the well-worn cab. Windows down, the warm Pacific breeze washed over them like a refreshing shower of light. It had been months since Sylus had left La Sombra. A strange sense of nostalgic ease washed over him as the last of the substance released the vehicle from its grasp. The actual warmth of the sun was refreshing to flesh that had long done without it.

Jeron drove down the vastly empty road with one arm on the sill of the driver’s side window, gazing wistfully into the brilliant summer day. He kept taking quick glances to check on Sylus. It was hot outside the mist and he was wearing a full suit and tie. Sylus sat in his chair, hands in his lap, facing into the breeze as it filled the cabin of the truck. He was at ease and on the border of falling asleep. Jeron caught him catching himself nodding off several times. It brought a gentle smile to his lips.

Sylus’ tendril hung over the back of his chair, swaying with the movement of the truck and the bursts of wind that flew in through the windows.

Daniel had fallen asleep against his window in the back.

It was just that kind of day.

This is quite nice.

“Mmm,” Sylus muttered in his barely waking state. “Wait,” he sat up slowly, rubbing his eyes, “What’s nice?”

The warm rushing air. It is so very refreshing compared to the cold stagnation I’ve grown so used to.

Sylus glanced behind him at his tendril.

Yes. But rest assured, it is not a constant link. I can only feel when I pay attention to it. My mind is so scattered these days...

“I know the feeling…” Sylus sighed, once more feeling strange relating to such a being.

“Qaitax?” Jeron shot a glance in Sylus’ direction.

“Hm? Oh, yeah…” Sylus returned to staring out the window.

Greet your fellow mortals on my behalf.

“He says hi.” Sylus sighed as he sat upright in his chair, staring vacantly out the windshield.

“Hi?” Jeron glanced at Sylus again.

The smaller man sagged into his seat. “‘Greet the other mortals for me’ or something…”

“Oh…” a moment’s pause passed as Jeron considered his response. Somehow he felt saying nothing at all would be just plain rude and he wasn’t entirely certain he wanted to upset the creature that hid behind Sylus’ eyes. “H-hi, um, Qaitax.”

Praise him for saying my name correctly.

“He says thanks for not botching his name.”

Jeorn snorted, “Really?”

Sylus nodded as he arched his head back against his headrest.

Jeron found himself staring just too long at Sylus’ undulating throat. Every breath… Every gulp… Jeron’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. It was only when he felt gravel under his tires rather than road that his attention returned to driving. With a hard, overcompensating turn, they were back on the road. Sylus opened an eye and grinned.

“You know he would go away if you killed us all,” he laughed.

“Hell no,” Jeron’s voice shook as the adrenaline slowly ebbed from his system, “I’m not killing anyone.” He placed a hand on his lover’s lap, “Especially not you.”

Sylus looked into the back. Daniel was still fast asleep.

“And Daniel, of course.” He patted the slender thigh before giving it a squeeze and returning both his hands to the wheel.

Sylus smiled.

You are aroused.

Sylus glared obstinately out his window.

I like this feeling…

“Go away, Qaitax,” Sylus sang in an irritated tone.

Tell him to stop the vehicle.

“Good byeeee, Qaitax,” he repeated, his displeasure growing.

Take him into your arms. Put your mouth tendrils together. Do that tasting thing. I enjoy tasting things…

“Holy shit, Qaitax stop!” Sylus bellowed as he sat completely upright in his chair.

Jeron spun so fast he nearly gave himself whiplash. “Everything okay over there?”

“Ah, yeah, s-sorry…”

Tell him you wish to devour him.

“Qaitax. Stop. Humans don’t talk that way to each other and you’re getting weird. Just… Go away for a bit. Please?” Sylus pleaded as best he could.

Hm. Fine. I will attempt to sleep, but if I return and this desire is not sated, I will be disappointed.

“Good. Join the club of disappointment. I think they have shirts and hats now…” Sylus scoffed.

Silence settled in the truck once more.

“I-is everything… A-are you okay, Sy?” Jeron gave his companion a series of quick glances as his grip tightened on the steering wheel.

“He gets weird sometimes. I’m not sure he understands restraint… That could be a problem…” the pale man sighed as his gaze drifted back out his window.

“Restraint? As in…” Jeron had a small, hopeful idea of what that might mean.

“Well,” Sylus breathed, “he’s told me to murder Henley more than once.”

“Sounds reasonable to me.” Jeron shrugged.

“Among other things…” Sylus felt a deep disappointment in himself for being so easily excitable. He’d never felt this kind of love before and he was sure he was going to screw it up somehow.

“Like?” Jeron pressed.

“Ah, personal things.” He did his best to dodge the question.

“Liiiiike?” There was no stopping him.

Sylus sighed, “Inappropriate things, okay?”

A coy smile crossed Jeron’s lips as he gazed out the windshield on the road ahead. Leaning over to Sylus without turning toward him, he whispered, “You want some chocolate, don’t you?”

A gust of air shot from Sylus’ nose. A deep red immediately overtook his pallid features.

“That’s good,” Jeron leaned away, “Because I could use some marshmallow and you know how it goes… Chocolate and marshmallows make s’mores. And I fucking love s’mores.”

Sylus shrank back into his chair as far as he could.

Jeron grinned to himself, “Come on, Sy, we’re a thing now, right?”

“You two finally kissed?” Daniel called from the back as he idly watched the world fly by.

“DANIEL!” Sylus bellowed as he spun around to face his son.

“Well? Did you?” The boy turned to his father’s beet-red face.

Jeron burst out laughing.

“‘Bout time,” Daniel muttered before staring back out his window, “The suspense’s been killing me…”

Sylus spent the rest of the trip crammed as deeply into his seat as he could. Embarrassment over every inch of his face. All the while, Jeron couldn’t help but continue smiling if only to no one but himself.

Soon enough, they were pulling into the mall plaza. The grocery store was a large portion of the expanse acting as the main anchor for the strip. Though he wasn’t the one driving, Sylus could feel his anxiety mounting as Jeron searched for a parking spot anywhere near their destination.

“We can walk!” Sylus and Daniel both cried out as their blue truck was almost T-boned by someone trying to cross a lane through the parking spaces.

Jeron settled for a spot far out in the middle of nowhere.

As everyone piled out of the truck, Sylus made sure to straighten his attire.

“Dad?” Daniel began as he slid out of the back of the cab.

“Yeah, Dan?” Sylus muttered as he straightened his tie in the rearview mirror.

“Can I go to the arcade?”

Sylus wasn’t very familiar with this mall. He had to study it a bit to find an arcade a few doors down from the grocery store. It seemed to have clean windows and a well-illuminated sign. Didn’t look dingy in the slightest. Sylus found this acceptable.

“Sure, after…”

“I mean, while you two are shopping,” he glanced around the bed of the truck at Jeron compulsively smoothing his bandanna in the mirror. “Or whatever,” Daniel added.

Sylus and Jeron both stood upright, ending their preening sessions and turning to the boy.

“Can I have $20 to leave you two alone for a bit?” the child offered an open palm to his father.

Sylus stared at him a moment before glancing over the bed of the truck to an equally stunned Jeron who was now leaning into the bed, moving empty coolers around as if making sure they still existed. His eyes darting back to his son, he reached for his wallet. Finding a twenty lodged deep in the folds of the worn leather contraption, he held it out before his son. “What’s our password?” He had no intention of just handing it over.

“Password?” Jeron winced in confusion.

Sylus nodded, “We have a word that we use to let each other know if we need help.”

“Dad…” Daniel whined as he dropped his hand to his side, “Please don’t make me say it…”

“Dan, if you get into any trouble, you might only have one word to tell me you need help…”

“I’ll be fine, Dad, I promise! There are adults all over the arcade!”

Sylus grimaced, “That’s what worries me. What’s our password?”

Daniel’s gaze darted to Jeron, “Look I know it, okay? If anything happens, I’ll call or text. Please don’t make me say it…”

A deep, disappointing scowl crossed Sylus’ brow. “Then you’re joining us for shopping,” he slid the money back into his wallet.

“Bubsnap.” Daniel finally spat under his breath.

Sylus glanced down at him out of the corner of his eyes. “Again?”

“Dad…”

“Daniel.”

“Fine.” He turned to Jeron, “The word is ‘bubsnap’ because when I was a stupid baby I used to call bubbles popping bubsnap. There,” he turned back to his father, his hand once more outstretched. “Can I have some money now?”

With a smile, Sylus handed the twenty to his son, “Spend it wisely.”

“Here,” Jeron swiftly rounded the truck, placing another twenty in Daniel’s hand, “Buy yourself some lunch, too. P-pizza or something.”

Daniel gave Jeron a sly grin, “Lunch, huh?” he pocketed both the twenties, “Don’t mind if I do.” With that, Daniel ran back down the lot, pausing only to look both ways before crossing the main road.

“You sure he’s your kid?” Jeron chuckled.

“He’s his own kid, Jer. He’s my son, but he’s his own person.”

Jeron nodded sagely in reply. It was an answer he was more than pleased with.

“So,” Jeron spoke, his hands jammed deep in his pants pockets, “I figure we have a while with Daniel fully funded for the afternoon…”

Sylus smiled, his gaze watching their steps as they slowly made their way down the lot. “Yeah,” he chuckled.

“Hey,” Jeron paused a moment. Taking Sylus by the shoulders he turned the diminutive man toward him, “Was that okay?”

“Was what okay?” Sylus was honestly confused.

“Giving Dan that money… Was that okay with you? I didn’t even think…”

Sylus placed his own hands over Jeron’s. “Daniel’s never had two people he could depend on.” He patted Jeron’s hands gently. “He only ever had me, and I was never all that dependable…” Sylus scoffed, “He deserved, deserves…” his hands fell away to his sides, “Better…”

“Sy… Sy I didn’t mean…”

Sylus shook his head. Looking up into Jeron’s nearly golden eyes, a nostalgic grin crossed his lips. “Jeron,” he placed a hand upon the taller man’s shoulder, “Daniel needs someone like you in his life. Whatever happens between us, please remember he looks up to you…”

Jeron scoffed, “A high school drop out with daddy issues?”

“No,” Sylus laughed, “A human who’s struggled and came out the other side whole and intact.”

Jeron rolled his head on his shoulders with a sigh, “That’s you, Sy.”

Sylus, realizing the redundancy of the action, shook his own head, “I’m not entirely sure I’m on the other side yet…”

Taking hold of Sylus’ hand, Jeron leaned in and spoke with a whisper. “Then neither am I.” Leaving a gentle kiss on his ear, Jeron leaned away, swinging their joined hands out as he did. “I was thinking,” he continued as they resumed making their way to the grocers. “Maybe we should grab a bite to eat first?”

Sylus paused mid step as his stomach growled as if on cue. Loud and almost painful, he doubled over a bit. “Yeah,” he groaned, “Maybe we should…”

With a smile, Jeron tightened his grip on his partner’s hand. “Any preferences?”

Sylus eyed the length of the mall. There were quite a few options, but he was torn between the ease and infinite fill of a buffet and a nice cozy lunch with his new found love. “I’ll let you decide,” he smiled up at Jeron, a thin purple film forming over his eyes.

“You still with me?” Jeron whispered as he noticed the subtle change.

“With you?” Sylus looked up to him once more, confused.

“Your eyes… They’re hazy… Purple, kinda… That’s not Qaitax, is it?”

Sylus shrugged, “It could be, but he’s not exactly here right now. Maybe it’s a side effect…” He wiggled the tendril under his suit jacket, “A lot seems to be changing at once.”

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to talk to the guy, I’d just rather it not be so startlingly sudden and against your will… That… That still rubs me the wrong way, Sy…” Jeron rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand.

“Jer,” Sylus smiled gently, following Jeron as he lead them toward the cozy eatery at the end of the mall, “It was against both our wills.”

“You’re sure about that?” Jeron spun around to face him.

Sylus nodded firmly. “I know that feeling, Jeron. Of being powerless and having zero control… Of waking up and not knowing where you are much less who you are… I…” he sighed, “I just don’t think that’s something you can fake. Not so genuinely.” His eyes had returned to their normal muddy-brown hue.

“You give that monster a lot of credit… What if it just read you and copied those feelings?”

Jeron had a startlingly jarring point. Sylus had no concept of how pervasive Qaitax could have been. How deep he could have already settled himself in Sylus’ mind. How much he could just have been mimicking for his own? And if he was… was it even intentional? Qaitax had expressed anger and frustration with the nature of their connection. If he was sponging some of Sylus’ own demeanor, was it malicious? Or just a side effect of their bizarre relationship? Sylus couldn’t help but consider the lighter side of the scenario. He refused to believe that he was falling prey to an ancient evil.

“I have to believe, that whether or not that’s true, that it’s all part of some greater misunderstanding… I…” Sylus sighed, “I refuse to accept that this thing is evil. It could be, and I could be a fool, but for now, I have to take him at his word.”

“Why, though?” Jeron hissed, “What if we all just piled in the truck and left La Sombra? He’d go away wouldn’t he?”

Sylus stifled a laugh, “You think you could ever get your old man out of that Diner of his?”

Jeron slouched knowing full well he’d never have a chance at convincing his father to leave his life’s work.

“We’ll be fine, Jer,” Sylus slipped his arm around Jeron’s toned waist, “Just…” he leaned in as close as he could, “Stay with me, okay?”

Jeron wrapped his arm around Sylus’ shoulder, “I’m in this for the long haul, buddy.”

With a quick mutual squeeze, they resumed their journey to the restaurant, hand in hand.

Walking in, they found themselves surrounded by a warm darkness. Dim lights hung from the ceiling. Small candles flickered on the tables.

“If this is lunch, could you imagine dinner?” Sylus muttered as the host approached them.

“Table for two?” He asked, a hint of reservation in his tone.

“Two, yes,” Jeron replied, raising the appropriate number of fingers.

“Thank you,” Sylus added.

With a curt nod, their host led them fairly far back into the dining room. They were sat at the furthest booth in the entire place. Sylus was quick to confirm that they weren’t put back here alone. Another couple sat catty-corner to them across the lane. He sighed in relief. In the moment it took him to observe their presence, Jeron was behind him, his hands on his jacket shoulders, trying to assist him in removing it. With a gentle sigh, he shrugged the jacket off and into Jeron’s hands.

Once they were seated, the quiet sound of piano music filled the air between them.

A soft smile and gentle snort came from Jeron as he continued examining his menu.

“What?” Sylus looked up from his reading.

“Hm? Oh,” Jeron chuckled, “Nothing nothing…”

Sylus glared at him. He wasn’t about to let it go. “No really, what was that?”

“What was what?” Jeron forced a laugh.

“That laugh. That little chuckle snort thing, what was it for?”

“The music,” Jeron laid his menu on the table and pointed up toward the ceiling from which the music seemed to emanate. They both listened in silence for a moment.

“What, generic piano stuff?” Sylus wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be hearing, “Sounds like that song from the titanic…”

“Because it is!” Jeron laughed. “No, but seriously…” he sighed, “I used to play my keyboard for Mom… It made her smile… It never sounded like a real piano, and I was never very good…” his voice shook a bit, “But it made her smile…”

“You played, Jer?” Sylus peered over his menu.

“Not well,” Jeron snorted, “I wasn’t exactly allowed to practice… Never really had the chance…” his words trailed off as a slew of unpleasant memories resurfaced.

“She sounds like an amazing woman,” Sylus beamed, resting his menu on the table.

“Oh, she was!” Jeron grinned from ear to ear, “My mom was the best chef in the whole damn world! She had an amazing gumbo recipe she took to the grave…” he laughed awkwardly, “For the best. I’m not sure anyone could do it justice.” There was a moment’s pause as fonder moments came to the surface. Sylus rested his chin on his clasped hands, watching as smiles ebbed and flowed from Jeron’s ebony features. His brilliant hazel eyes lighting up and fading out. Whistful memories and those less worth remembering.

“May I get you anything to drink?” their waiter asked as he filled their glasses with water.

“Water’s fine for me, thanks,” Sylus bowed his head slightly.

“Hm…” Jeron muttered as he snapped back to the present. “That won’t do. What kind of a date would I be if I let you have only water?”

“A practical one?” Sylus muttered into his glass as he took a sip.

Jeron glared at his date, “Champagne.”

“I-I don’t drink…”

“Do you have sparkling grape juice or anything?” Jeron gazed up at a rather dismayed waiter.

“We have club soda.”

“Sy, you sure you don’t want something nice?” Jeron was nearly pleading with him.

“It won’t make or break the evening… And I’m a terrible drunk so…”

Jeron turned to the waiter once more, “Your finest, middle-of-the-road champagne please!”

With a heavy sigh of disappointment, the waiter wrote in his pad as he walked away.

Silence once more settled across the table. Wash examining their menu with a soft smile on their lips. The quiet was suddenly interrupted by someone’s growling stomach.

Sylus doubled over in pain, clutching at his gut. “Holy shit that hurt…” He groaned in agony.

Jeron was quick to lunge across the table, “Hurt? Hospital?”

“N-no…” another growl, “I-I’m just…” He looked up into Jeron’s fear-filled eyes. The violet stain had returned, “I’m hungry…”

Slowly leaning back into his booth, Jeron narrowed his gaze. He didn’t believe that was all there was to it.

“I-I’m so…” Sylus’ stomach felt like it was going to tear itself out of his body, “I’m so hungry… Like I haven’t eaten in years…”

“You’d be dead, but that aside, do you need to go to the hospital?”

Sylus shook his head as a wave of relief passed through him. Leaning back in his seat, resting a hand on his stomach, he let loose a heavy sigh. “I think I’m okay. I just need to eat… Fast.”

Jeron laughed, “Maybe the buffet would have been a better choice…”

The violet film coating Sylus’ eyes seemed to light up “I’d rather be here with you right now. Sure I could probably eat an entire buffet right now,” he laughed, certain he wasn’t that hungry, “But this is nice, Jeron. I want to be here.” Another pang of hunger shot through him. He couldn’t hide his wincing.

Jeron lifted Sylus’ menu toward him, “Let’s hurry up and order, then.”

When the waiter returned, he showed them the bottle of champagne he’d obtained. “Middle-of-the-road, as requested.”

Jeron stared at the bottle wholly unsure of what he was looking at. Sylus, on the other hand, couldn’t stop remarking on the bottle. The brand, the flavor, the year… When the waiter answered every one of his questions in a satisfactory manner, Sylus finally allowed him to fill their glasses.

“Appetizer, Sy?”

“Hm? Oh yeah sure!”

“Calamari?”

Sylus drew his lips in tightly, stifling what was sure to be a bawdy guffaw.

“Oh god…” Jeron pinched the bridge of his nose as he caught on, “Fried calamari,” he demanded as he turned to the waiter. “I’ll also have the fillet medallions with the truffle sauce.”

“Your starch?” the waiter muttered as he filled out their order.

“Loaded baked potato.”

The waiter paused a moment to study Jeron. Judging him severely. “Comes with a salad,” he finally continued.

“Greens with balsamic vinaigrette.”

“Very good. And for you, ma’am?” The waiter turned to Sylus; apathy dripping from his lips.

In an instant, the room turned frigid as if all the heat had been completely removed from every surface. Time seemed to freeze everywhere but at this one table. Jeron pressed himself back in his chair, unsure if it was his place to speak up. A brilliant violet light shot from Sylus’ eyes as he continued staring at his menu. The trickle of something violet seeped from the corners of Sylus’ eyes like smoke rising from a flame. He looked largely unphased save the abnormal look in his eyes.

“Try again.”

“E-excuse me?” for some bizarre reason, the waiter had yet to flee.

“Try. Again.”

Jeron knew that voice and he knew damn well it wasn’t Sylus.

“I-I don’t…” the waiter stammered completely taken aback by whatever was happening.

Sylus stood from the table with a start, hand slamming on its surface. An audible snap coming from his jaw.

“Try. A. Gain.”

A line had split across his face from the corner of his lips all the way up the entirety of his jawline.

“Qaitax!” Sylus’ gaze shot to Jeron who was also up on his feet. “Stop.”

“This mortal has made an insulting mistake that my host will do nothing about. I will fix that.”

“Qaitax,” Jeron sighed, “It’s really up to Sylus on how he wants to handle this… Not you.”

“He will do nothing! He does not stand up for himself!”

The waiter had only just begun backing away from the table.

“Where are you going, digestive?” Qaitax grabbed the waiter by the collar with long, pointed fingers. He pulled him to the table, a maddening grin on his distorted lips.

“QAITAX STOP!” Jeron bellowed, slamming his own hands onto the table. “I get you’re offended on Sylus’ behalf. So am I. But goddammit, that doesn’t give you the right to act or speak for him!”

Qatiax recoiled, releasing the waiter. Shock and surprise riddled his warped features. Slowly sitting back down, he kept his gaze locked, unblinking, upon Jeron’s furious glare.

The room became warm again and Sylus’ eyes returned to normal.

“Very good. And for you, ma’am?” The waiter turned to Sylus; apathy dripping from his lips.

Jeron looked around the room in utter shock. He was quick to sit down before anyone noticed him. It was as though nothing had happened. The couple across the room still sat muttering among themselves and their waiter simply repeated himself as if none of what just happened, well, happened…

Sylus winced, clutching the sides of his head. It took him a moment to acknowledge the waiter. “Hm?” Jeron sat, squeezing himself into the back of his seat. He still had no idea if he should intervene. Instead he did the only thing he could think to do. He reached across the table and took Sylus’ hand in his own. Sylus returned his soft smile before addressing the waiter. “Sir, if you don’t mind.”

With a shrug, the waiter replied “And for you, sir?” It carried the same level of apathy as the prior statement had. No added inflections of mockery. Good enough.

Sylus ordered a second appetizer, a sampler of sorts, and the largest steak on their menu. The waiter looked him over fairly certain a waif such as him would be incapable of eating so much food. He even tried to talk him down to a smaller steak, but Sylus would have none of it. With a shrug and a sigh, he left to put in their order.

“What was that?” Jeron spat in a hushed tone.

“Hng…” Sylus winced, “I think it was Qaitax…”

“No I KNOW it was Qaitax, but he can’t be doing that kind of shit!”

“Did he embarrass you?” Sylus groaned trying to bring his vision into focus.

“No, and it seems no one even remembers him coming around, but… But Sy… You can’t let him speak for you…”

“Speak for… what?”

Jeron looked around the room. The couple across the way had paused a moment to glance at them, but had happily returned to their conversation.

“I think he was about to eat our waiter for misgendering you…”

“Oh…” Sylus cringed. The grimace slowly shifted into a smile, “Oh! Could you even imagine!” He guffawed.

“I’d really rather not…”

As soon as the smallest bite of food hit their table, Sylus inhaled it. Jeron was quick to gather what he wanted on a serving plate while Sylus devoured the rest. Jeron couldn’t help but watch in morbid curiosity as the man who once collapsed in his diner from starvation ate with barely a breath between bites. The man who rarely ate at all left nary a crumb behind.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the 24oz rib-eye was gone and without a thought, Sylus ordered another.

“My god I haven’t been this hungry since I was pregnant with Daniel,” Sylus leaned back into the booth after chugging his fourth flute of champagne.

Jeron slowly stopped cutting his steak. A strange yet knowing silence came between them. Sylus slowly realized what he’d done.

“Ah,” he sat upright, folding his fingers together on the table, “I-I’m sorry about that…”

“Why?” Jeron placed his utensils on the sides of his plate.

Sylus shrugged as air filled his cheeks before puffing out of his mouth. “Once more I’ve said something that made everything awkward…”

Jeron shook his head. “But you didn’t…”

Sylus motioned to his resting utensils, “You stopped eating. So… Yeah… I made things awkward. I’ll get the second steak in a takeaway box…” Jeron caught his wrist as he stood up from his seat.

“Stop assuming the worst.” Jeron tugged on his arm, “Stop assuming I’m upset or disappointed or embarrassed by something you said. Stop. Please.”

Sylus slowly sat back down.

“Now, if I may… I’m just surprised you’d bring it up so casually…” Jeron leaned away from the table.

Sylus shrugged again, “It’s a thing that happened. I have my son as living proof. Besides,” he sighed, “If I can’t forget it, I have to find a way to make light of it…”

“But Sy…”

“Let me preface this by saying I think I’m a little drunk,” Sylus placed both his hands, palms down, on the table, “But you know how it is…” He stifled a belch before continuing, “I love Daniel. I’ve loved him from the day I found out he was inside of me. Does that mean I have to like how that happened? No. But it isn’t his fault. My son is my son and I’d do anything for him. I just hope he knows that I’m not just saying it to say it, but I really don’t see him as… As a…” Sylus sighed. He hated the term that had more than once been used to tear Daniel down. “He’s my son. How he got here doesn’t matter. He’s here. And I love him.”

As if on cue, the second rib-eye appeared on their table.

Jeron grinned from ear to ear, “Just know… If you ever need to talk…”

“Eh,” Sylus grumbled around his mouthful of food, “You’ve heard it all before.”

With a gentle sigh, Jeron returned to his meal.

Four steaks and an utterly bewildered waiter later, Sylus was finally sated. For the most part. His stomach had stopped growling at least. When the check arrived he retrieved his wallet as Jeron retrieved his own.

“Absolutely not,” Sylus commanded, “If I don’t send my bribe money this month, I can get this.”

He looked up over the bill, his eyes meeting Jeron’s. His lover leaned across the table. “Let her come.” His whisper was nearly a growl.

With a haughty grin, Sylus put a card inside the folder and handed it off to the waiter who did, indeed, receive a very generous tip.

Stepping out from the dim restaurant and into the warmth of a golden sunset, Sylus audibly hissed.

“Did you really just do that?” Jeron snorted.

“I hate it.”

“What the sun?” Jeron chuckled.

“Yes… I-it hurts… I don’t… I don’t like it…”

“I mean damn, Sy, you are pale as hell, but I never pegged you as a vampire or something…”

“Desiccation under the dying sun’s light…”

“E-excuse me?” Jeron sputtered, caught completely off guard.

Sylus turned to him, eyes once more aglow, “Apologies, I was dreaming…”

Or was it a memory…

The light went out and and Sylus once more grasped the sides of his head. “I asked you not to do that, Qaitax…”

I cannot help it sometimes… The veil between us is so thin…

“Just…” Sylus sighed, “I know you can’t help it… That… that’s the truth, right?”

Why would I choose to share a mind with a mortal?

“My thoughts exactly.” Sylus spat before realizing Jeron was witnessing a one-sided conversation. “Oh and no eating people. Please. I don’t think that’s something I’m capable of and I’d appreciate not being torn apart to find out. Thanks.”

He wouldn’t have felt a thing…

“No eating people!” Sylus stomped his foot on the sidewalk.

Mortals are delicious.

“No. Eating. People. And that’s final! Don’t argue with me about this!”

“You okay, Sy?” Jeron finally saw fit to interject.

Sylus gestured with a finger for him to hold on.

“Don’t you DARE ever use me to hurt anyone,” he snarled under his breath, “Or whatever deal you have in store is completely off!”

I could take you by force.

“Don’t you fucking dare.”

I could. But I won’t. Because were I to do so, my plan would ultimately fail. I need you compliant. Not brain dead.

“Then don’t use me to hurt people.”

I- Qaitax paused a moment, I only wish to hurt those who hurt you…

A strange burning sensation coursed through Sylus’ veins. “What does it matter… if people hurt me?” His voice shook.

Silence.

Jeron came from behind, wrapping his arms around Sylus’ waist, whispering in his ear, “Because you’re loved.”

Watery eyes opened, gazing at the setting sun.

“I prefer the dark. Because no one can see you which means they can’t judge you…” Sylus choked.

“I prefer the light. Because everyone can see how lucky I am to be with you,” Jeron smiled.

Sylus turned to face him in his arms. “It’s only been a day, Jeron.”

“That doesn’t mean I may or may not have been wanting to ask you out for a few years now…”

“Really?” Sylus laughed, “I mean I’m not exactly good looking…”

Jeron shook his head, “It wasn’t really about that. And stop selling yourself so short.”

“You know what I mean, Jer…”

Jeron laughed, “Well with all this trouble he’s putting you through, maybe Qaitax could give you a makeover?”

Sylus laughed, “I think that’s exactly what he intends to entice me with.”

“Always read the fine print, bud,” Jeron squeezed his lover tightly before letting go.

“I plan to do exactly that.”

With a coy smile, Jeron took his hand as they headed back toward the grocery store.

“I almost forgot that’s why we came here…” Sylus sighed as they pause outside the arcade, “Mind popping in on Daniel?”

“Of course not!”

Not far into the arcade, they found a crowd of kids swarmed around a machine. It was an old fashion arcade case of yore. Sylus motioned for Jeron to follow him toward the crowd. There, in the midst of them all, hands firmly planted on the joystick and buttons, stood Daniel. Eyes glued to the screen. The kids around him muttering something about a high score. All Sylus could understand from it was that it was some kind of fighting game and Daniel was apparently about to place on the leader board. The game chimed a rather upbeat tune, as the stage seemed to be cleared. The high score list came up, the cursor blinking at the top.

D_ _

DA_

DAN

The kids cheered.

“I had no idea arcade games were still this popular,” Jeron laughed.

Sylus shrugged, “I think anything can be interesting if you make it so.”

Daniel spun around, eyes dry and red from staring at the screen. A wild grin filling his features upon seeing his father at the back of the crowd.

“You saw that, Dad?!”

“I did!” Sylus laughed.

“I beat a forty-year-old high score!” The boy cried out at the top of his lungs as he ran up to his father, embracing him with a tight hug.

“I’m so proud of you, Dan,” Sylus sighed contentedly.

“Psh, it wasn’t even that hard…” Daniel scoffed as he leaned away, “It’s all about the patterns.”

“Have you eaten yet?” His father was beaming.

“No. Not yet, but can I borrow some more money? These guys have been cheering me on for a while now…”

“You already have forty bucks!” Sylus cried out.

“I HAD forty bucks..”

Sylus could hardly form a syllable in response. With a heavy sigh, he reached for his wallet. Finding one last twenty in its folds, he handed it off to Daniel.

“Such is the price of immortal victory,” Jeron palmed off another twenty. “With your blessing, of course.”

Sylus grinned, “Of course. Spend it wisely, Dan. Jeron and I are finally getting the groceries. We’ll be back when we’re done.”

Daniel nodded, “Sounds good. I’m getting tired anyway. How was lunch slash dinner?”

“Nice.” Jeron and Sylus chimed at the same time.

Daniel laughed, “Alright. Pizza time!”

The remaining kids cheered.

“I really didn’t think kids these days really cared for ye olden arcades…” Jeron shook his head as they stepped back outside, “I especially didn’t think kids these days would give a crap about a high score on some forty-year-old game…”

Sylus shrugged, “Kids these days are a hard lot to judge. They probably just saw one of their peers overtaking over some old person’s score and thought it was cool.”

“Man… Can you imagine being in first place for forty years only to have a thirteen-year-old kill it?”

“Whoever it was, they were probably thirteen when they scored it…”

Jeron nodded to the side, “Point made and taken.”

As they approached the grocery store, Sylus paused a moment. Jeron followed his gaze to a table with a lone red-haired girl behind it. She was hawking boxes of cookies.

“Sy, you just had a good dinner. You don’t need cookies.”

“Where are her parents?” he muttered under his breath.

Jeron looked around. “I’m sure they’re close by. Don’t worry, Sy.”

Without another word, Sylus approached the girl. “Can I have two boxes of mint chocolate?”

The girl’s green eyes seemed to light up as she darted under the table. “Two boxes! Can I interest you in a chocolate coconut for half off?” She gave him a confident grin.

“Sure,” Sylus laughed, “Why not?”

Screaming a little, she reached under the table again and handed him another box.

“$18.75 please!”

Sylus looked into his wallet only to be reminded he’d given Daniel the last of his cash.

There was a moment of panic in both their eyes.

“I’ve got no cash,” Sylus sighed.

“I can take credit!” she whipped out a card reader for her phone.

“No no no. Will you be here in like, twenty minutes?”

The girl looked out into the parking lot. “I’m here until the sun goes down. So probably?”

“Okay, look. I’m gonna go in, get my groceries and come back with cash. That sound okay?”

Beaming, she put his cookies under her table, “I’ll keep these waiting for you.”

“Thank you very much,” he smiled at her with a nod.

Jeron sighed as Sylus returned to his side. Without another word on the subject, they went inside.

The second they entered the grocery store, Sylus felt completely overwhelmed. Being surrounded by so many people was always an obstacle for him. The sounds the sights… It all came rushing in leaving him a bit dazed and confused. Luckily, Jeron was well aware of his situation and wrapped their arms together.

“Stay with me,” he whispered, “Everything’s gonna be okay.”

Leaning on Jeron’s arm, Sylus grinned from ear to ear.

Grocery shopping was largely uneventful. Sylus had a talk with the lobsters in their tank while Jeron obtained some choice fillets. They made sure to approach every sample station. Separately. Claiming they needed a second sample for their significant other. Every table, including the one with the arthritis bone juice. Jeron spit it out while Sylus chugged his share.

“Tastes like shit, but I can’t stop myself…” he muttered as Jeron pulled him away from the table.

Approaching a table serving cocktail weenies, Sylus jabbed Jeron in his side. “Distract that guy and I bet I can eat all those without anyone even noticing.”

“His manager will notice!” Jeron guffawed, “And you ate enough today! Four fucking steaks!”

“I’m still hungry. I feel like I’m always hungry…” Sylus looked back at the lobster tank, “Let’s get one of those.”

“What so you can eat it whole? Like you tried with our waiter?”

“That wasn’t me,” Sylus muttered around a mouthful of mini hot dogs.

“What the hell did you do!” Jeron shrieked.

Swallowing hard, Sylus pointed behind himself at a gently waving tendril. “I can apparently make it invisible.”

“Y-you used y-” Jeron stammered, “You used your eldritch horror abilities to steal a bunch of cocktail dogs?”

“Yes.”

“Well then,” Jeron sniffed in mock indignation, “I guess I have no choice but to keep you around because that’s a skill I’d like to have on my side.” Sylus beamed up at him, “But seriously, please stop fucking around with the hourly employees. They have it shit enough as it is.”

Swallowing another round of hot dogs, Sylus looked up to Jeron, “Yeah you’re right…”

“Sylus stop!” Jeron was stuck between annoyance and sheer amusement.

“Well buy me my own hot dogs then!”

“Minis or real dogs?”

“Foot longs.” Sylus replied completely deadpan.

“Sh-should I be reading into that?”

“Maybe? But I’d really just like to stuff my face with hot dogs right now…”

“You just ate four steaks!”

“Yeah, but hot dogs,” Sylus pouted his lips and widened his eyes.

“H-hot dogs…” Jeron scoffed, “Y-yeah… yeah okay… Hot dogs. We’ll get a bunch…” He turned the cart as if on autopilot, “How many do you want?”

“All of them.” Sylus growled.

Jeron whirled around to make sure it wasn’t Qaitax he was suddenly accompanied by. It was Sylus, but the violet film was coated his eyes once more. “A-alright, but… Let’s diversify a bit… How about some steaks? Burger meat?”

Sylus’ gaze locked onto a larger man placing a pack of ground beef in his cart. Jeron followed his gaze. “No eating people, remember?”

Sylus shook his head, “No. I-I just thought of something,” he muttered as he jammed his hands in his pockets.

“What?” Jeron began pushing the cart again.

“N-nothing,” he laughed nervously, “It’s kinda weird anyway.”

Jeron stopped abruptly. “Sylus. You have a tentacle coming out of your back and I’ve witnessed you eat more than should be humanly possible.” Sylus bit his lips. “Try me.”

“You know what it’s like to be small and unnoticed to the point of being stepped on?”

“You’re small, Sy, but not that small…”

Sylus shook his head, “I don’t even mean physical size… I mean…” he took a deep breath, “Being so beaten down you don’t even know if you’re worth the air you breathe… Like… Like you’re so insignificant that even if you screamed at the top of your lungs… no one would notice…”

Memories of a lonely childhood returned to Jeron. He was far more familiar with this feeling than he wanted to admit.

“You ever get so tired of no one even noticing you, that you want to just… Get in people’s way? Just so they notice you? Even if they think you’re being an asshole?”

“I know what it’s like to want a voice in a world where everyone just wants you to shut up and obey,” Jeron sighed.

“Close enough,” Sylus smiled sadly.

“But what does that have to do with a fat guy getting burger meat?” Jeron started pushing the cart once more.

“He can’t be ignored.”

Jeron opened his mouth to reply, but couldn’t find a suitable response.

“I’d kill to take up more space,” Sylus breathed, “Maybe not be that big, but just…” he looked down at his hands, “Not some invisible rail.”

“Sy,” Jeron took Sylus’ hands in his own, “I can see you just fine.”

“I-I know… But…” he looked down in shame, “I don’t…” tiling up to face Jeron with an eye closed, “Would you hate me if I put on some weight?”

“Hate you?!” Jeron balked, “Sy, I’ve been trying to put meat on your bones for years!”

Sylus closed the distance between them, embracing Jeron with all his strength. Letting go, he took his lover’s hand as they continued their journey gathering groceries.

Throughout checkout, Sylus kept his eyes trained on the bags filled with all the meat he’d gathered. Tugging on Jeron’s arm he whispered, “I want the hot dogs in the car. I’m hungry.”

Jeron, rolling his eyes, handed him the bag laden with various kinds of hot dogs and sausages. “Don’t eat them all at once or you won’t have any for later.”

“Fair do’s, fair do’s,” Sylus laughed, placing a bag in the cart.

Swiping his card, it wasn’t until he was prompted for cashback that he remembered the girl outside.

“Ah shit… Hope she’s still there…”

With a sigh of relief, they finally left the store. Stepping out into the cool night air was the most refreshing feeling either of them had felt in a long time. They paused a moment, taking in the cool breeze coursing across their skin.

“This is why we came out here,” Jeron sighed, “This beautiful weather…” he turned to the west where the Mist could be seen reaching into the sky, “And then that shit came along…”

“Well, if it’s any consolation,” Sylus had dug into his hot dog bag and opened a package, “I came with it.”

Jeron burst out laughing, “And it’s a good thing you did or there’d have been nothing good about that entire mess!” He reached for the hot dog bag Sylus clung to for dear life, “Here,” he grinned, “Let me load up the truck while you go get Daniel.” Sylus pulled the back away from him, “I’ll leave your meat on your seat, okay?”

Eyes darting between the bag and Jeron’s irresistible grin, Sylus decided he could wait a bit to continue stuffing his face. With a disgruntled sigh, he handed the bag off.

“If I finish first, I’ll bring the truck up front, alright?”

Sylus swallowed his hot dog, “Alright. Shouldn’t take long to fish him out of there.”

Jeron patted him on the back, “You’re a great father, Sy.”

“Oh right!” Sylus turned to where the girl had been. Lo and behold, she was packing down her things.

“Hey!” he called out as he approached her, “Hey! Sorry… Still have those boxes?”

She looked up to him, sunglasses now obscuring her eyes. A brilliant green light came from behind the lenses as she smiled uncontrollably. Sylus backed up a bit as it all seemed wholly unnatural.

“Sure did!” she reached into her pack and retrieved his boxes of cookies, “Is $18.75 still okay?”

“Of course!” Sylus handed her the twenty he got at the checkout. “Keep the change.”

She smiled so brightly that the glow behind her glasses flashed even brighter before dying down.

“I-are you…”

“Oh…” she covered her sunglasses with her hands, “Yeah these dumb things have lights in them and they act up sometimes. I just use em to see my way home.”

“Where are your parents?”

The girl froze. “I-I don’t…”

“D-do you need a ride home?”

She shook her head a moment before eyeing Sylus up and down. “No offense, uh, mister?”

Sylus smiled with a nod.

“I appreciate you buying some cookies, but I don’t know you and I’d rather just go home the same way I always do. It’s not far. Thank you, though.”

Sylus laughed, “Fair enough. You be safe okay?”

She nodded, “You, too. You know where to find me! Every weekend! Crack of dawn to crack of dusk, Cassidy Jones peddles her wares!”

“Cassidy Jones?” Sylus chuckled.

“That’s m’name don’t wear it out. Tell your friends. Tell your family! I’m not above cutting a deal to make a sale! But…” she looked back out over the horizon, “I have to go right now. Maybe see you again sometime?”

Sylus smiled, “Probably.”

With a grin of her own, Cassidy returned to packing up her things.

Returning to Jeron’s side, the man stared at him with a warm look on his face.

“Three boxes of cookies, Sy?”

“What? Here,” he handed Jeron one of the mint chocolates, “Take one before I inevitably devour them all.”

“Did you need three boxes?” Jeron laughed.

“Not really. I didn’t even want the ones I was going to buy intentionally…”

“Then why?”

“Because…” he glanced back at Cassidy, “Something about her…”

“Sy… You can’t save every child in the world…”

“I-I know… Least I could do was buy some cookies so why the hell not?”

Jeron wrapped an arm around Sylus’ waist, pulling him in close to kiss him softly on the cheek.

“You’re a good man, Sylus Synclaire. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

With that, Jeron began pushing the cart toward his truck in the barren side of the parking lot. Sylus stood bewildered for a long moment.

“Go get your son!” Jeron called back to him.

With a smile and a waive, Sylus turned to make his way back to the arcade.

I think I like that mortal…

“Good. Because I certainly do,” Sylus murmered as he began making his way to the arcade.

The ride home was uneventful. Sylus and Daniel both dozed off while Jeron drove in placid silence. Arriving at the Synclaire’s, they sluggishly unloaded the truck and put everything away. The refrigerator was now brimming with meat. Daniel was just happy to see a steak or two.

“Don’t eat it all, Dad, I want some, too,” Daniel yawned as he slowly made his way up the short flight of stairs toward his room.

“Don’t worry, Dan, as certain as I am that I could eat it all, I didn’t buy it just for me. We’ll have a nice grilled steak some night. And loaded mash,” Sylus held up a bag of potatoes, “I know you like your starches.”

Daniel smiled wearily, “Thanks for taking us, Jeron.”

“Oh, you’re very welcome. It was nice to get out of this ghost town for a bit,” he turned to Sylus, grinning.

Daniel yawned again. “Alright. Good night, you two.”

“Good night, Dan,” Sylus returned his weary grin.

“Good night, Daniel,” Jeron waved from just inside the door.

They had both spoken at the same time. Shaking his head, Daniel disappeared into his room.

Each sighing and shaking their head, they turned to each other.

“Good night, then?” Sylus rubbed the back of his neck, his tentacle now handing freely over his shoulder.

Jeron nodded, “I need to at least check on, Dad. Make sure he didn’t have a coronary over me not opening the damn Diner…”

Sylus chuckled, “Thought it was twenty-four hours?”

Jeron scoffed, “I mean I can stay awake for hours on end. It’s like I don’t get tired anymore… Something about this…” he waved his hand around, glimmers of Mist swirling around him, “This stuff… But you know,” he sighed again, “Dad’s gotten more and more tired… Not to mention fewer and fewer people come from the Riftworks. Dad had counted on that being our income retention… Guess no one wants Diner food anymore,” he chuckled, “Except you and Dan of course.”

Sylus continued beaming at him. “Jeron you could cook anything and I know I’d eat it.”

“Something tells me I wouldn’t even have to cook it and you’d eat it…”

They both laughed a bit awkwardly before moving toward each other.

“Good night, then?” Sylus repeated as he reached out to place his hands on Jeron’s hips.

“Good night, Sy,” Jeron took hold of his shoulders, planting a kiss on his forehead, “I’ll text you with how things are back home.”

Sylus laughed, “If the old man gives you too much shit, you know where you can crash.”

Leaning in once more, Jeron left a tender kiss on Sylus’ lips. Barely pulling their lips apart, he whispered, “Let’s hope he’s pissed.”

Sylus snorted. “Good night, Jeron,” he breathed as their lips touched briefly once more.

“Good night, Sylus,” Jeron whispered as he poked the tip of Sylus’ tendril.

“Go home!” Sylus shoved him with away a laugh, “Go check on the old man!”

With a grin and a wave, Jeron finally headed home.

A deep, contented sigh filled the empty living room. Just as he thought he could be no happier, the roof was raised and Sylus found himself in utter bliss. His mind wandering around the revelations of the past day, his legs carried him to his bed. Standing before the mirror, once more put off by his own appearance, he undressed and put his suit away. He’d have to go out of town again to have it drycleaned. This was the most he’d ever worn it. Maybe he could ask them to hem it a bit so it actually fit right. With a short laugh, he collapsed onto his bed. His hand wandered until it found the charging cable for his phone. Resting it on the pillow beside him, he awaited Jeron’s text.

“Good night, Jer,” he whispered aloud as he turned off his phone’s screen. Resting it on his chest, Sylus drifted off into the most comfortable sleep he’d ever had in years.

No matter what horrors the future might bring, he knew he’d never have to face it alone. For once, Sylus Synclaire wasn’t afraid of or worried about a single thing.

Life was finally worth living. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to. For once, Sylus Synclaire was happy right to the very core of his being. For once, he fell asleep with a smile on his face.

And in this crazy life
And through these crazy times
It’s you, it’s you
You make me sing
You’re every line
You’re every word
You’re everything

Michael Bublé – Everything
 
 
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