Author's Note: I'm currently without internet, this is just a lucky break using my neighbours computer 'cause he's on vacation and we're house-sitting. That aside, thanks for all the nice comments and have fun analysing this chapter. I'm curious to see what you'll make of it. (And btw: No, this story still isn't abandoned.)
Summary: What he wants, what he believes, what he is... It's all such a mess.
Date: Jan. 7th, between Precious Treasure and Flowers (Timeline: http :/ shiruy. livejournal. com/ 3602. html)
He'd always liked the sound billiard balls made when they hit each other. Sometimes he spent the whole evening on the couch in their basement and listened to it while Ian played game after game against himself. It had taken forever for Alex to finally grow tall enough to be able to learn to play too, and then he could never win against his uncle; not a single time.
He opened his eyes but didn't move from his spot on the couch. It was warm, comfortable. The overhead light of the table was a bright cone through the dimness of the room, putting everything in stark contrast. Ian was bathed in light from the shoulders downwards, but Alex couldn't make out his face.
Ian was twirling the cue in his left hand, the motion slow and controlled. It should have looked silly and sometimes Alex had laughed at Ian when he started doing it without even realizing, but down here, with the thin stick cutting through the light, his uncle's habit held an air of menace.
"I have to leave for a while. I'll be back soon."
What? No. No, Alex didn't want that. He tried to sit up, struggled against the heavy blanket on top of him. "Wait!"
But Ian was already turning away, leaving the cone of light and walking into the shadows. By the time Alex had his feet on the floor it was already too late; Ian was gone.
Gone where? There weren't any other exits but the stairs leading up in this room and Alex was sure his uncle had gone somewhere else. Confused and feeling like he should follow Ian, he got up and stepped around the billiard table. It became colder the farther away from the couch he got. Maybe he should take the blanket with him? But no, he had to find Ian. He had to warn him. It was important.
He found that he could see much better once he had turned his back to the single light in the room. The darkness didn't seem quite so dark, or maybe the light just didn't blind him anymore. There was the corner table with a bench and a couple of chairs, a few shelves with books and knick-knacks. The door to the walk-in closet Ian kept his exercising mats in was open a little gap. Strange. Usually it was locked. Was this where his uncle had vanished to?
His fingertips barely touched the door before it swung wide open, but there were no exercising mats or any of the other gear. A corridor, straight and narrow, going on and on and on. It was pitch black where he stood, he couldn't even see the walls, but he knew they were there. What gave him hope though, what made him take a step over the threshold was the glimmer of light flickering on and off in the distance. It had to be Ian. His uncle always carried a little flashlight with him, so that was him up ahead. All Alex had to do was catch up.
He started walking and the blackness swallowed him up easily, eagerly. There was no up or down, no ceiling above his head and no floor beneath his feet. Just his heartbeat, his breath, and the light in the distance. But it was okay. He just had to get there and it would be okay. Ian wasn't moving away, he was waiting for him, and once Alex reached his uncle he'd turn on the light and come back with him. Ian still had to finish his game, after all.
His footsteps started to echo when he sped up and he winced, thought about taking off his shoes to minimize the sound. He knew they could hear him, but speed was more important than stealth. He had to reach Ian, the sooner the better. If he stayed here too long...
A second set of footsteps picked up, the sound mingling and mixing with his own. They'd heard him and now they were coming, but it was okay. The light wasn't too far off now, and once he reached Ian they could go home. It was okay. He started running.
The corridor began to light up and he could make out the walls around him. They were close, closer than he had thought and here and there were pictures. He didn't care to look at them, instead kept his eyes trained on the light before him. It cut through the darkness, a clean line dividing black and white; he couldn't wait to get there. The person following him was moving faster, he could hear them catching up to him even as he ran, but he didn't worry. He was almost there now, only twenty more steps, ten, five, three, two, one...
He crossed the line and stopped short.
Where was Ian? He was supposed to be here. There was the corridor, stretching on and on before him, suffused in a cold, weak light. There was the blackness behind him and a picture on the wall. [It shows a burst window, a torn seat with dark stains, but he doesn't know that because he doesn't look at it.] There was a flashlight on the floor, flickering on and off, about to die. No Ian. He turned around himself, looked everywhere again. Maybe he'd just missed the man on his first sweep. Corridor, blackness, picture, flashlight. Nothing. Ian wasn't here.
He stared at the flickering flashlight, worry beginning to creep up in him. He should go back. He wasn't supposed to be here. Except there was someone behind him and they were coming closer, closer, closer while he just stood there and he should run away. Whereto, though? There was only one path ahead and the light was too dim, too grey to see where it was leading. What if it was a dead end? If you're running away always make sure it's not a dead end, that's what Ian had told him. He couldn't make sure this time and he couldn't go back.
Okay, so he had to keep moving. He could do that. At least there was a little light, even though it wasn't nearly as bright as it had seemed from farther away. He started walking again, and then, when the other footsteps echoed in his ears, he sped up to a jog. It would be alright. They hadn't caught him so far and he'd just keep moving. All he had to do was keep running straight, even though that got difficult when the hallway started to twist and bend around corners and curves. It was weird, ahead of him the path always looked straight, but with each step he took everything changed and he had to be careful not to run into any walls suddenly rising up right in front of him.
And no matter how fast he ran, the footsteps were always catching up.
What if he wasn't fast enough? What if they caught him? The worry started to morph into fear and his heartbeat thundered in his ears, louder and louder, until it started to drown out the clattering of footsteps. They were going to catch him, weren't they? They were going to catch him and hurt him and he'd never get out of this maze ever again. Oh god, he should have listened to Jack and just told them no this time. He should have done something, anything.
There was ice underneath his feet, turning each and every single step into a slick trap. He almost fell several times and had to slow down. If he hit the ground he knew he'd never get up again, but at the same time he was barely moving forward at all and they were still catching up, each step slow and sure, like a predator closing in on its prey. They didn't even need to hurry anymore.
Was this it? Was it finally going to be over? All he'd ever wanted was to get Ian back. Was that really too much to ask?
[dark stains on a torn seat]
Suddenly his foot hit only empty air instead of solid ground and he gasped, stumbled, fell. The freezing water hit him like a punch to the gut. What the-! His eyes opened wide but it didn't change the pitch black darkness around him, the undertow dragging him down deeper and deeper. He needed to get back up to the surface, he needed to breathe, but he couldn't even move, couldn't think past the horrible cold biting into his skin, his flesh, down to his very bones. It was cold, so cold, so cold.
"Shh, it's okay, you're okay, you're going to be alright..."
He gasped and thought he could taste the water [mud, garbage, ice], but what he choked on was only air. He coughed roughly, his body trying to bend with the motion, and a firm arm around his chest prevented it. Again, there was that voice.
"You'll be fine, deep breaths, come on, Alex."
He thought he should recognize the voice but his head was too fuzzy, everything far too achy and he was still so cold. He shivered and pressed back into the warmth at his back, tried to leech as much of it as possible into himself. He had to get warm, had to get up, had to run. They were still coming after him, weren't they? If he stayed here they'd find him in no time at all and then what was he going to do?
He must have said something because suddenly the voice at his back answered, "It's okay, don't worry, nobody will find you here. They can't get you here."
They... couldn't? Wait, he'd gone with Yassen, of course they wouldn't find him. Yassen wouldn't have taken him to this flat if anyone knew about it. Which meant that he really could relax for once; it was going to be okay. No running, no hiding, no waiting for the next phone call to turn his life upside down.
He sighed and smiled into his pillow, relishing the warm weight at his back and the fact that he could lie here for however long he wanted. He smiled even wider when instead of that arm just holding him, fingertips started to wander over his skin, the shadow of a touch. He wanted to return the touch, but if he moved... no, better to stay still. There were lips sliding over his shoulder, warm breath brushing against his neck and he shivered, getting goosebumps on his arms even though he was anything but cold. A low chuckle, and that sound alone was enough to make him flush all over. He knew Yassen was smiling, that barely-there upturn of his lips, the crinkle in the corner of his eyes and he wanted to see, needed to see it to believe it...
Except when he turned around he was sitting on a bench in a park and Yassen wasn't smiling, wasn't even looking at him. [Or he wasn't looking at Yassen?]
"Alex. I... am sorry about your-"
What? No. No, no, no, "NO!"
He jerked awake with a gasp, his eyes blinking rapidly against the weak light of dawn drawing shadows on his ceiling. His ceiling. Right. He was home. Had been for a couple of days.
With an explosive sigh he fell back into his pillow and closed his eyes, one of his hands pressing down on his chest as if trying to push the confusing wisps of dream-memory right out of him. It didn't work, and failed spectacularly at calming down his racing heartbeat besides.