Imagine a butterfly. See it float on the breeze, turned this way and that, fragile little wings held stiffly as it lands on the stem of a flower, any flower, one flower out of a million.
And maybe it flaps its wings.
And maybe it doesn't.
James Cerrington woke up slowly, taking the usual inventory of his physical status. Headache, that was usual, the bruise on his shoulder, that was fading, too old to have a bite in it anymore, twisted ankle, yeah, that was from last week, definitely better, he could recall walking with it, toothache, nothing new, itchy wrist, gashes healing nicely, skinned up knuckles, yeah, that was when his file had slipped, ribs felt like they'd been half caved in. That was new. Huh. He couldn't remember getting hit in the ribs. And the headache felt a lot grittier than a hangover. And he felt so tired…And his throat hurt.
Make that, his throat hurt, a lot.
A hell of a lot.
He cracked an eye open, the one closest to the floor, impression first- white. Hospital? Nah, he wouldn't be. Open both eyes…room. Small room. White room. He was on a cot, gray plaid, white top sheet, checkered light gray blanket. Warm. What the-? It wasn't a padded cell, he knew he looked too young to be carted off to a nut house. That came in handy, although it was a royal pain in the ass when it came to getting booze.
So, sitting up- he made the attempt and gave up immediately as his newly acquired splintered ribs screamed. Wasn't going to happen. Fuck. So, further inventory- he could feel the fabric against his shoulders, arms, stomach, feet. That would make it pants, definitely, and either his shirt had gotten bunched up or someone had bandaged him. That would be logical, if anyone would bother. Which they wouldn't.
Only they did. James felt the stiff roll of gauze with a growing sense of bewilderment.
"Oh, you're awake."
James glanced sharply over his shoulder with an ugly snarl, partly out of habitual menace and partly because something shifted under the bandages and pulled painfully. There was a man in the doorway, holding a bowl of soup in his hands and a pillow under his arm. Built like a beanpole, long face, neatly parted brown hair, trimmed goatee. Round glasses. Grayish green shirt, brown pants…didn't seem aggressive. Probably gay. Fags were easier to deal with than most. After a moment, the man walked cautiously to his side and squatted down on his heels, setting the bowl and the pillow just out of arm's reach. It smelled like chicken soup, and made him realize abruptly that he'd forgotten to check his stomach, which was now reminding him just how empty it was. When had he eaten last…?
"-en sleeping since last night, actually; I'm glad you don't have a concussion or anything. I checked your pupils but they were dilating normally, so I assumed it was just a bad bump. What were you doing out there, anyway?" The man's voice broke into his thoughts.
The man blinked. "You wandered onto the road at two o'clock last night in the pouring rain and I hit you with my car because it was two o'clock at night and I wasn't expecting anything like it. Why were you out so late two miles past city limits in such bad weather?"
James eyed the soup. "What's in the soup?"
"Wha-? Oh. Chicken noodle. From a can, I have to admit."
"Gimme that and I'll talk."
The man nodded, picked up the pillow and slipped a hand gently under his shoulder, then jerked back in surprise when James flinched violently away.
"Fucking hell? Don't touch me!"
The man scooted back, hands raised. "I'm sorry. I didn't think you could sit up on-"
James pulled himself savagely upright. The room lurched disorientatingly around him, then settled out. "Don't tell me what I can fucking do. Now gimme the goddamn soup."
The man looked as though he'd say something for a moment, then frowned and handed over the soup, settling cross-legged on the pillow himself.
James glowered at the man for a moment to get the point across before the smell of the soup overcame his pride and he gulped it down, burning his tongue and not caring. Pain was pain was pain was one more point the world got against him but hell, it tasted good so score one for him.
After he had peeled the last noodle of the bottom of the bowl and swallowed it he dropped the bowl between them on the floor with a satisfying clatter. The man raised an eyebrow again, didn't say anything again. Just sat cross-legged, hands on knees, watching. James glared back. His head hurt. When was the last time that it hadn't? Fuck. The man was still looking at him.
"I asked you a question."
Oh. What had he been doing last night…? Couldn't remember. "Fuck you. Did you drug the soup?"
This surprised the man. "Why would I?"
He didn't know. "Fuck you. People do weird shit."
"I didn't drug the soup."
"You better not have."
"Why were you out so late last night, two miles past the city limits?"
"You did say you'd talk."
"Where do you live? I'll drive you home."
He didn't live anywhere. He was running away. That was what he'd been doing, he remembered now. He'd stolen that old lady's purse, she'd been fucking loaded, he'd gone out and gotten drunk and it had been too long since he'd eaten so it got to him faster than he'd thought it would…
"What did you do with my stuff?"
"Your suitcase? I have it."
"Give it back."
"Give me an answer."
"I ran away. Got lost. What are you going to do about it?" James sneered. Like this man would have the balls to take him to the police.
"Give you back your 'stuff'. Hold on."
The man left, taking the bowl and unused spoon with him. He returned with the battered suitcase and two apples, one of which he handed to James and the other he continued eating.
James raised the apple, hesitated. Fruit? Nerdy. What he wouldn't give for some soda or some shit like that. A fucking apple.
His stomach grumbled. He was still hungry…He crunched into it angrily as he checked through his case. Clothes, still some money, CDs, player, sketchbook, tools. Supplies. All there. He glanced over at the man, who was watching him neutrally.
"Would you like me to wash your clothes for you? Today's my laundry day anyway."
"What are you, mother fucking Teresa?"
"The man didn't respond.
"Yeah, fuck, sure." James said, tossing the admittedly filthy clothes at him. The man caught them, set them beside him, resumed waiting.
"What are the metalworking tools for?"
"None of your goddamned business."
The man waited.
More waiting. James studied the room. There was a widow, smallish, on the wall at the foot of the cot, opposite the door. Sky outside, still raining. Part of a tree at the very edge, green, dancing in the wind. Nice. Not a sickly city-tree. Where the fuck were they, anyway?
"I do jewelry and stuff," James said finally. "Armbands. Necklaces. Earrings. Shit like that." He checked the still-neutral expression on the man's face. Don't tell him about the knives, he decided. He was halfway done with a good one, it'd kill him if it got taken like the last one. He'd found good steel to work with this time, too, off an old cleaver, fifties metal- enough for pretty much anything he could think of and there were so many possibilities- he'd used up half his sketchbook. Stainless, shone like silver. Didn't make metal like that anymore. Took forever to trim down, drill through, he'd had to steal a new set of drills because his old ones hadn't made a dent. Was going to be fucking beautiful...
"Did you do the rings on your face?"
"Uh? Oh. Yeah." James tipped his chin up, curled a lip. What are you going to do about it, huh?
"I like the dragon one."
"Yes. It's an interesting design."
"Really?" James glanced back at the man, serious expression his long face, big elbow of a nose. Faggot wasn't joking? Fuck, of course he was. He gave the man his best sneer. "Ha ha haaa."
The man shrugged, picked up the dirty laundry, walked out, paused at the door.
"Don't try to get up with those ribs. Call me if you need anything. Name's Edgar. Edgar Vargas."
James flopped back on the cot, resigned himself to the growing fatigue simmering behind his eyes. Watched the man stand upside-down. Cracked ribs, fuck, that would take a lot out of him for awhile to deal with. But the dude didn't seem too bad. He'd wait awhile, find out the deal. He was good at that shit. Hurt to talk.
He felt too hot.
"Edgar... Hell of a name. Your parents must have hated you… Call you Eddy?"
The man smiled a little.
"Is that an 'i-e' or a 'y'?"
"'Y', I guess."
"By all means, then. Your name?"
"I- uh. James." Huh. Been a long while since anyone had asked that question. Felt weird, saying it out loud, talking to another person. Screaming didn't really count…
"Call if you need anything, Jimmy."
"Issat with an 'i-e' or a 'y'?" Jimmy muttered, yawning.
"With a 'y'."
"Nhhh." He managed, before keeping his eyes open was too much to bother with.