Author's Note: Another story and quick too. Actually, that's a lie. Was working on this one before I even started the one with Karl. Anyway, though these two stories complimented each other in a way. A switching of roles sort of. Tom's being pissy as usual. Kasey's a little, fish-loving, college student I made up, and I love him despite the fact that he's kinda creepy and annoying. Anyway, lets get this thing going.
"Gee…you look angry. Are you angry?"
Tom flicked his attention up from the book he'd been staring at for quite some time, not even reading it though reading was one of the few things he was still allowed to do. He'd heard the voice before, but he had never seen its owner, which surprised him and struck him as odd. He'd made a point of recognizing those that shared the wing with him. Shared his fate. Not so much out of curiosity but as a defense.
He was surprised to find himself looking up at someone he could have sworn was no more than a kid, or at least a bit younger than he was. He had been fairly certain that he was the youngest in the wing and was a bit unnerved to find that he was wrong. It wasn't so much the age thing as the having missed something. What else didn't he know? The kid still had the eager look of youth on his face, which was something Tom hadn't seen in a long time. Fancied that he must have had it at some point before all of this. Usually these walls had a way of stripping all the life out of a person, both patients and staff. Why should this guy be any different?
"Well, are ya?" the boy, couldn't call him a man, asked insistently, blinking much too green eyes that distracted Tom further. "Man…you're real quiet."
"Maybe you're just too loud." Tom placed the old book down, not even remembering its name and gave the kid a look that screamed 'fuck off'. However, the other must not have picked up on it, or had chosen to ignore it, for he laughed, taking a seat beside Tom on the stiff, industrial, cushions of the couch that until now Tom had been occupying himself, the boy taking the time to cross his legs and dig his elbows deep into his thighs. He tilted his head curiously, and Tom snorted, creasing his brow as he stared at the other. "Don't you have other things to do?" Tom asked though he already knew the answer.
In a place like this, in any place like this, there was nothing better to do. Nothing one had to do apart from take their meds on time, allow themselves to be assessed periodically, keep quiet at night, and quietly slip into a different kind of psychosis than the one they had been placed in here for. Irony oozed from every last inch of the building, colored like sickness, and the smell of it made Tom sick to his stomach more often than he'd like to remember. The bathroom had gotten quite familiar with his insides. In fact he was about to excuse himself due to the mounting nausea he felt in his gut when the boy's voice cut the silence to ribbons and caused Tom to push his sickness back down.
"Yeah, of course I've got better things to do, but I don't want to. I don't have to. Kinda the only charming thing about this place. I don't want to do anything, but I do want to talk to you." The boy's smile widened, and the tilt of his head became more apparent.
Tom recoiled visibly at the bluntness, even more so as he wondered if it was that kind of bluntness that he had. Wondered if his initial reaction was the same feeling he gave other people. No wonder the world tended to avoid him or found ways to make their minimal interactions with him brief. He was struck with childhood memories of overhearing adults speaking of him in hushed tones they thought he couldn't understand, repeatedly encountering the phrase "that boy ain't right".
He felt his tongue press up against his cheek as he stared back at the kid who was still looking at him expectantly as if his words warranted some kind of proper response. Tom poked his cheek, forcing his tongue back in place and shrugged.
"No one wants to talk to me. I don't see why you'd be any different," Tom said dully. "And I'm never in the mood for pity. Given by fellow patients or by the inept staff. It's all the same." He could have sworn his eyes had glazed over as he spoke, remembering, or at least trying to remember, the days when he would have been absolutely enthralled to have someone pity him. Now, he just didn't have the energy to care about that sort of thing. He lived in an infinite loop. Any change would set the whole thing out of balance, so there was no sense messing with the way things were.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Tom turned his face to the floor, not wanting to answer, but the kid just wouldn't let up. "I never said I pitied you either. You assume everyone pities you?"
Tom let out a sharp laugh and shook his head. "No, if people pitied me my life would be so much better than this. Trust me on that."
The boy appeared to think a little too long on Tom's words, causing him to bristle defensively as the boy squinted his eyes and wrinkled his nose. He looked like he was trying to decipher some kind of ancient and complicated code. Tom wanted to tell him that it wasn't nearly as complicated as he was making it out to be, but his tongue was searching his teeth idly, and he didn't want to disturb it.
"My name's Kasey. What's yours?" the boy asked suddenly, or rather, Kasey asked suddenly.
"Tom." His name came out quickly and somehow squished despite its length or lack there of. He bit down on his tongue, but he was too slow to catch the word before it left his mouth. Why had he said it like that? Why had he given it up so easily to someone he hardly knew? Stupid kid with a stupid name. Made him feel at unthreatened, a bit at ease. Much too close to feeling "safe". Safe enough to just blurt out things and talk, heaven forbid, like a normal person. Small talk and all its nitpicky rules. Tom didn't like it one little bit, and he felt his agitation rise within him the more he thought about it. He picked up his book again and dug his fingers as hard as he could into the binding. Maybe if it yielded to him he'd feel better, but the cover barely flexed.
"I like that name. I've got a brother named Tom, you know. I doubt you're a lot like him though." Tom picked up his head, mildly interested and trying not to look overly enthralled with the conversation. Still, it was something to do despite the fact that it was irritating. "I dunno…maybe I'm wrong." Kasey leaned back as if he was taking everything, assessing and preparing a proper answer to a question that hadn't even been asked. "I think you're interesting."
"And your brother's not interesting?" Tom asked still looking up at the boy.
"No, it's not that. He's interesting, but not in the same way."
"Yeah, if he was interesting like me he'd be in here," Tom replied sharply, and Kasey visibly drooped, and the man regretted his flippancy. "Sorry…" he apologized quietly, his pride not quite ready to go all out with the "feeling" thing.
"Nah, it's true," Kasey sigh still looking wilted. "I guess that's just another thing my brother and I don't have in common. One of many things…He doesn't overreact to anything."
"Ah, you can't be that bad…" Tom frowned, voice low as he did his best to sound what he thought to be comforting, unsure of how his flip in mood had come about. Oh well, his moodiness wasn't news. Something about this kid being younger drew up remnant feelings of protectiveness. He wasn't all that old himself, but this guy, Kasey, was just a kid. Tom imagined he probably had a lot of anxieties and awkwardness, a feeling of not quite belonging. Feelings Tom was all too familiar with, and he found himself sympathizing. He reached out slowly as if to pat the others shoulder, but he stopped before making contact, his hand hanging limply in the air.
"But I am," Kasey whimpered, shying away as if Tom had struck him. "If I wasn't so bad I'd be like my brother. I wouldn't be in here trapped like a rat."
"So, why are you here?" Tom asked without bothering to think on the appropriateness of the question.
Kasey's eyes widened for a second before drooping again, as if he'd wanted to be surprised by the question initially. Less so now it would seem. Even he wanted to avoid reality as much as he could despite his own eagerness to ask questions and to pry into the business of others. Tom would have thought him to be quite the hypocrite if he didn't know that he himself was no pillar of human decency or morality. He was something more akin to a ditch when it came to such matters. Any privilege of judging others had been stripped of him the moment he'd acted on his less than civil impulses. Still, as much as Tom wanted to speak and banish the silence to a far off corner, he could tell that Kasey had words in him yet. The boy's mouth was doing some interesting things like he was gasping for air as subtly as he could, and his fingers gripped and released his knees.
"I have anxieties. I don't do well under pressure."
"I don't get it," Tom replied, focusing his gaze.
"You do though," the boy insisted. "That's why I wanted to talk to you so badly. You get it. Just trust me on that, ok?"
Tom nodded, but he still couldn't put it all together. A lot of people were anxious, some more so than others, but certainly that was no reason for that sort of thing to get him into this particular ward. Not by a long shot. Here they watched you like hawks. Couldn't close your door at all without someone asking you why, and you couldn't take a piss without someone monitoring you and timing you. All about efficiency and control. Kasey looked and sounded harmless. Of course, that could mean absolutely nothing, and Tom didn't need to think long to remember that fact. So, what'd he do? What unholy, inhuman, act had he performed? He couldn't just up and ask him. That method had already backfired. That wasn't how this boy's mind worked. As far as Tom could tell anyway.
"Alright, I get something," the older man offered, hoping to regain some of the boy's trust. "Sometimes stuff just keeps pushing you. Pushing and pushing…"
"Until you just can't take it anymore," Kasey concluded, his eyes glassy and far off. "You get anxious and worried and impatient. You get to the point where you…you just gotta act. React in some way."
"Yeah…" Tom tried to not sound overly eager, fearing that if he pushed too hard the other would clam up, but no matter how he tried he couldn't remove the pained curiosity from his face.
"See? I told you. You get it," Kasey grinned, face brightening up suddenly. Tom's curiosity faded, and he silently cursed the boy's good nature and upbeat tone. It was so much easier to pry into others' minds when they were down, when they were low. Perhaps it was manipulative, but Tom knew that was just the way he was. It was his nature, and while it was offensive to some it was quite the asset to him. Occasionally he'd feel bad, but today it would seem that his mood was leaning more toward amoral that usual. Oh well. He was a sociopath. It wasn't like this behavior was anything new.
"I only 'get' what you explain to me," Tom replied flatly.
"Explaining isn't something I'm all too good at."
"How can you know that if you haven't tried?"
Kasey's face became distant again, and he shook his head. "I tried to explain. No one gets it, but…but you do. You get it. I get it. Why don't you understand that?"
"I'd tell you that if I knew, but I'm not all the good at explaining either," Tom shrugged.
"Pity." Tom flinched at the coolness with which Kasey let his words drop, almost literally putting a chill in the air. An iciness that did not suit him covered the young man's face, and the blankness on his face made Tom bristle defensively. And that word…that word. Pity. Tom's nose wrinkled as it permeated the air with its arrogance. Who did this kid think he was to say something like that? Especially after Tom had told him about his feelings concerning it. Little shit probably used it on purpose. "I've told you very little though, so I guess that's okay. I don't remember hearing anything about you being all that smart." The hairs on the back of Tom's neck stood on end, and his annoyance from earlier spit and kicked in his gut. To be talked down to such was something he'd thought was reserved for those other than his fellow patient. He expected that sort of tone from nurses, aids, doctors, and the like, but not from this kid. This punk-ass kid who came on friendly and turned out to be snarky and unpleasant. Tom's annoyance only grew as he realized just how familiar that behavior was.
"You guess?" Tom sneered. "You can question my intelligence all you want. I'm used to that, but you just have to guess don't you?" The man half growled out a laugh. "You can guess. You're allowed. You can figure and think, but me? No, I don't do those things. Not anymore. I know things like how I know you're a little prick who thinks he knows everything or at the very least thinks he knows more than I do. Fat chance." Tom smiled as Kasey shriveled. Clearly he'd struck some kind of nerve, and that had been his intent. "I know your type. We can smell our own kind. So, who'd you kill, you creepy little fucker?"
"I didn't kill anyone!" Kasey blurted out, face red and voice strained. "I-I couldn't kill anyone…I'm not that much like you…I just couldn't. I couldn't…" he continued, turning his voice down to a whisper as a nurse shot him a dirty look.
"I didn't think I could kill anyone either," the other smirked, voice coming out as a cruel hiss, the smirk more like a baring of teeth in display. The poor sheep had thought himself to be one of the wolves. How very foolish of it to think it could pass undetected. "Of course, we all know how that worked out. Besides, you're plenty like me. I understand don't I?" Tom waved the book in his hand for emphasis, poised to go back to 'not reading' it now that he'd cracked Mr. Happy's defenses.
"I couldn't kill anyone else. I just wanted to kill myself…"
"Huh?" Tom's smile dissipated, giving way to confused understanding. He had heard that correctly, but something about it he just couldn't decipher. It made no sense, and the words sounded like gibberish in his head.
"I had a gun. They thought I was gonna try and shoot up one of my classes or something like that…" Kasey explained, eyes trained on the ground. "It was for me. The gun was for me, but my roommate walked in on me just staring at it…" Tom's pride had left him having been swiftly kicked in the balls by guilt and the beginnings of shame. Damn, having human feelings could be such a pain in the ass, but the kid…Kasey…Tom's nausea returned as he watched him, and he pressed his hand to his stomach to settle it. "They have to watch me. That's what they say. I'm a danger to myself and others. That's what they said. I'm a danger…those exact words."
"Kasey..." Tom fumbled out. "I…I'm sorry. I didn't mean-"
"You meant it. I know you did," Kasey said without so much as a whimper of emotion.
"Yeah, well, I just…I got annoyed."
"I know." Kasey's eyes remained fixed on the floor, and Tom followed the stare. Right between his toes, his fingers rubbing against the cover of the book. "It must suck getting so frustrated all the time."
"It does," Tom nodded, voice low. "You understand, don't you?"
Tom looked over at the boy who had looked away from the ground and met Tom's gaze. Tom opened his mouth, but all that came out was a strangled squeak that faded back into uncomfortable silence. What could he say? Was there ever anything to say? There was no social script for this kind of thing, and he'd never been good with them to begin with. On top of that, Tom knew he was too wrapped up in his own self-pity too much of the time to know how to react and deal properly with someone else's pain. He had trouble enough translating his own feelings into proper thought, let alone deciphering someone else's. So, why did he want to?
"It's really shitty."
"Yeah, it is," Kasey nodded. "Being put away is no cure for it either. It's shit too, but at least there's people that understand, or at least are better suited to understand, around here, and we both know it's not the doctors and their pills."
"Yeah…what'd you want to do?"
"Before all this, what'd you want to do?"
"Fish." The young man paused and smiled. "Marine biology. I like fish." As he elaborated his smile grew, his mood slowly improving.
"I'm not too fond of fish," Tom commented. "They don't blink. It's freaky."
"Eh, just a little bit," Kasey laughed. "What about you?"
"Yeah, you. Surely you must have wanted to do something. I figure this wasn't your goal. What'd you want to be?"
Tom bit his tongue and thought. No one had ever asked him that before. "I wanted to be someone people would remember. Someone people would talk about."
"I think in that respect you succeeded," the boy teased.
"No," Tom shook his head. "Give them time. They'll forget. They always do."
"Maybe you should give them a reason not to forget."
"I'll pass. I think I'm liking the idea of being forgotten…" Tom leaned back on the couch, stretching against the almost unyielding cushion. "Maybe then I'd get some peace of mind."
"Peace of mind sounds nice."
"Yeah, especially since recovery seems unlikely."
"Perhaps there's some recovery in being forgotten?" Kasey asked, and Tom sat up, tapping the book against his chin in thought.
"Perhaps," he mused. "But until then it's nice to have someone get it…"
"Yeah," Kasey grinned, pausing momentarily before continuing. "Told you so."
"Told me what?" Tom asked, cocking a brow and sitting forward.
"That you understood. That you got it."
"I guess you are right about some things," Tom replied dryly though without malice. He watched closely as Kasey stared out across the room at its emotionless walls and zombie occupants. Tom lifted his hand as he had before, though last time he hadn't followed through with the gesture. Taking a deep breath he stretched out his arm, hand making contact with the young man's shoulder and sitting there between them and their silence.
"Thanks," Kasey smiled, his voice soft as appreciative.
"No problem," Tom said trying again at comfort, feeling his protectiveness returning to him. His discomfort still hung around, but at least now he understood why. He could understand Kasey for he felt the same way. The same anxiousness and discomfort, and it was strange to see a reflection of himself after so long of thinking himself to be somewhat rare. "Might as well have understanding if nothing else," he added.
"Yeah," Kasey nodded. "We may not get better, but at least we're not alone like we thought we were."
"Never have I heard truer words spoken," Tom laughed. "Never before in my life."