Author's Note: Not dead. Just lazy. Here, have a story I mean to finish ages ago while you (whoever you are...) wait for me to have a decent start on the chapter story. (Four chapters done. Or something...so far) But anyway, yeah, story time.
Agitation. Nerves. Anxiety. The feelings whizzed around Tom's mind and body as he made laps around Sebs' coffee table. He dug his hands into the pockets of his sweatshirt and back out again, occasionally dragging his toes on the ground as he came to a stop, tapping the ground and sharply turned to walk around in a different direction. He'd been at it for quite some time now, not saying a word.
"You're going to wear a hole in my floor," Sebs commented from his spot against the wall. He'd been watching Tom quietly and curiously but hadn't known whether or not to say anything. Tom hadn't said anything was up, and for all he knew Tom was just waiting for something to come on TV. It was so hard to tell since Tom's emotions only had two settings, on or off. Gradation was just far too complex.
"I'm nervous," Tom whined as he brought his hands in close to his body as if the gesture would support him.
"I couldn't tell…"
"Shut up, Sebs…"
"I was thinking I'd say something," Tom continued. "You know…telling." Tom rubbed his arm anxiously as if he thought it wasn't going to be there from one second to the next, looking over to the wall and avoiding Sebs' gaze. Sebs couldn't decide what to say, and he knew a face would be pointless, so he just stood in silence hoping Tom would elaborate. Luckily, Tom was in one of his talkative moods. "Jac still doesn't know about me…I want to tell her, but I really don't want to tell her. She's going to think I'm a freak. She's going to think I'm horrible. She's going to hate me, Sebs. She's going to hate me."
Sebs frowned, the expression feeling strange on his face. "But she already likes you, and she already knows you're kinda…weird, but in a good way," he offered, trying to sound hopeful though he really had no idea. People kept secrets, but murder and kidnap was a bit of a biggy when it came to such things, not to mention an extended stay in the loony bin. Yeah, that was generally stuff one told people. "You've got that going for ya."
"Oh, great…I'm a delightfully crazy murderer. Why, I'm just the prime example of a human being. Fantastic." Tom's face went eerily stoic for a moment or two before giving it up, halting his pacing and flopping onto the couch, bowing his head and digging the heels of his hands into his forehead. "I'm sorry…see? This is why people don't like me. I'm irritable and crazy and just generally unpleasant."
"So are most people," Sebs shrugged as he took a few steps toward the couch. "You just had the balls to act on it."
"Thank you, Sebs. Your support of my insanity makes me feel so much better," Tom drawled. "I know you're trying, but…people already hate me, but that's okay because I've stopped caring about them. I've stopped worrying about what they think, but I just can't…I can't have someone I actually think I like hate me. If you hated me for some reason Sebs…I just…I don't think I could take it." Tom was still staring at the ground, but he was tapping the sides of his head with his fingers and rolling one foot on the floor, his voice wavering, making Sebs tense up. Tom's mind was so calculated in its defenses but also incredibly sensitive, capable of breaking at the hands of its own system. "I'd freak out, like really freak out…" Tom continued his voice getting the uncomfortable pitchy to it.
"Tom," Sebs said firmly as he fought the urge to go up and shake his friend.
"Don't worry. I'm fine," Tom sighed, his voice becoming even again and his foot and hands ceasing motion. "I'm just nervous. That's all. Am I allowed to be nervous?"
Sebs paused, wanting to say the right thing. It was worse than playing minesweeper, and this explosion would actually get you if you stumbled on a mine. "Yeah, of course you're allowed. You're only human"
"Painfully so, but thanks," Tom sighed, straightening up and pushing his hands up until his fingers were in his hair and he scratched his head idly seeming oddly…was placid the right word for it? Calm, detached…yeah, that seemed about right. He breathed out slowly, ruffling his own hair and seeming to enjoy it before letting his hands drop, his hair still sticking up a bit but slowly falling back. He made a groaning sound before he continued. "I want her to like me, but I want to be honest because keeping it to myself whenever we're hanging out makes me feel sick. My stomach gets tight and I feel like my heart's swimming inside it, making it worse…I just want to make it stop."
"Then why don't you?" Sebs offered. "Tell her. She's bound to find out eventually."
"I hope it's that simple. I want it to be," Tom concluded, finally turning to look at Sebs, sounding uneasy though his face was blank. "My plan is to just up and say it. No pretense. Just…go for it. Maybe she'll think it's cool or something."
"Cool isn't exactly the right word for it…"
"I'm doomed aren't I?"
"I didn't say that."
"I'm doomed. I like these odds," Tom said with a defeated shrug.
"Tom, I didn't say that," Sebs insisted.
"But you're thinking it."
"I am not."
Tom fell silent and slumped as he had no comeback, and whether he said it out loud or not he knew Sebs was telling the truth. At least what he thought was the truth. Tom just couldn't wrap his mind around it. He laid back on the couch and stared at the ceiling, finding patterns where there were none and weighing his options. To tell or not to tell? That was the question. The big, fucking, question.
"Sebs…I'm tired of being hated. Not even that…I'm just tired." Tom placed his arms over his face and blocked his view of the ceiling. "I've taken more risks than I'd like to, and now…now, I'm asking myself to go out on a limb again. Present myself to someone else and most likely disappoint them. I'm a disappointment to the world. I don't want to be a disappointment to my friends."
Sebs watched as Tom rolled over onto his side, burying his face into the couch, and could think of nothing right to say. Not even a single word of comfort. Everything he thought to say seemed so unnatural. So scripted. And he knew that Tom would hate that even more than silence. He just stared, keeping his distance. A few minutes passed, and Sebs had sat down on the other side of the room, when he heard it. A sound that made him pick up his head.
"I'm going to do this anyway aren't I?"
"Yeah, you're predictable like that."
"I really need to stop being so fucking nice all the time," he said as he picked himself up off the couch, using as much effort as he could muster.
"Maybe tomorrow you can work on that."
"Tomorrow's not good for me."
"And never is any other day. Are you going to stop being lazy or am I going to have to throw you out?"
"Nah, I'm going. Sebs…"
"Am I disappointing?"
"Only when you want to be."
"Ok…I think I can deal with that."
He walked there, ignoring the other people on the street as best he could with the occasional stares he drew given the condition of his face. It wasn't just the single eye, but he was certain he was also making some kind of pained face as he tried to ready himself in case things went poorly…and what if they did go poorly? What if she hated him? What if she felt betrayed? What if she yelled? What would he do then? What if he reacted badly without his consent? What if this was a doomed mission?
He felt his stomach start to clench and tried to think of something else. Something to put him at ease and settle his nerves. Still, his mind would always round back on him, and it was a fairly considerable walk to Jackie's building. Plenty of time to cultivate a healthy patch of self-loathing. He counted steps and thought in hypotheticals, feeling his heart almost quivering in his chest. This was a doomed mission. He was almost certain of it, and yet he kept on going. What gave him this confidence? Maybe it wasn't much, but it was enough to keep him moving.
The building came into focus, and for a second Tom's feet were lead until he managed to loosen them with a few chants of "you can do this". And could he? He hoped so. If not there really was no point. He had to at least try to tell. Maybe he'd be able to give himself a pat on the back for effort after all of this. Taking a breath he opened the door, and mercifully, his mind when into temporary autopilot.
Up the stairs and down the hall, elevators seemed to complex at the moment, Tom stopped, brushing his fingers against the door as he contemplated what he intended on doing, mind returning to him. Maybe he should just turn around and go back to Sebs' place. Maybe he should lie about it all and not worry about it. Maybe, maybe, maybe…the more he thought it the worse he felt. Heart in his stomach and swimming around making it almost unbearable.
"Door's open." The voice on the other side of the wall caused him to jump back, before he realized it was a person on the other end speaking and not the door itself. That would have been strange and disconcerting seeing as he was certain he wasn't that far gone. Not yet anyway. Doors didn't talk, and this one was no different. Hopefully.
Finally releasing the breath he'd drawn in, Tom reached for the doorknob and turned it, clumsily and slowly, shuffling awkwardly into the apartment, the usually comforting earth tones and green making him feel strangely dizzy. He tried to make some kind of greeting, but he couldn't open his mouth and ended up making a soft whine noise in the back of his throat instead, but Jackie didn't seem to notice as she lounged on her couch, head propped up on her palm and her elbow dug into the armrest, her eyes fixed on the TV, remote held limply in her other hand. "Thought you were never coming in," the woman added, looking away from the screen.
"How'd you know it was me?"
"I know what your footsteps sound like. It's hard to hear, but that's what makes it unique. You gotta listen for it. I heard you and thought you were just going to come in like you usually do, but you didn't so I invited you in. That's how."
"Oh…" Tom moved toward the couch, leaning back before sitting down, processing her words more than was necessary. It was hard to argue with that kind of matter-of-fact way of speaking. Jac had returned her attention to the TV, and Tom did the same, the voices of the people making a strange ringing sound in his ears. "So…what're you watching?"
"Don't even know," Jackie replied, cracking a smile.
"I see…not even a clue what it is?"
"Something bothering you? You're usually less…dead." The woman muted the TV and gave her friend a scrutinizing look. Tom got that look a lot whenever he did something that concerned her, which quite frankly was often. He was grateful she gave a damn, but still, she had this judging air the came out when she looked at him like that. Like he was supposed to tell her these things ahead of time, which only made the thought of his plans feel heavier in his stomach.
"You sick? I mean, if you are I've got tea or cold medicine or something if you want it," she continued, but Tom shook his head, watching the TV despite its silence and his complete incomprehension of what was going on. "You sure? Because I really wouldn't mind…"
"No, I'm fine. Thanks though."
"Well, you're definitely not feeling fantastic," she frowned, placing the remote on the couch and reaching out to touch Tom's forehead. "You sure you don't have a fever. Your ears are red. Is it too hot?" Jackie's words became a little faster as if they were trying to keep up with thoughts that were coming too quickly into her head.
"I'm fine, Mom," Tom replied sharply.
"I'd say your moodiness was a symptom if I didn't know better," Jackie countered the pace of her voice returning to normal. "Now, why don't you tell me what's bugging you? You usually don't make surprise visits without some kind of reasoning. It's not your style." For emphasis, Jackie punctuated the last three words with a tap on Tom's shoulder after each. "You're not sick, but something's up."
Tom glared back, but he couldn't keep it up. Letting his face fall he shrugged his shoulders. He knew what he had to say, but man…was it ever hard. He opened his mouth, but no sound came from him so he shut it again, grinding his teeth in frustration. He tried again, this time with some improvement, though not much. "It's just…I came here to…" he began, gesturing with his hands for no other reason other than that he had nothing else to do with them, and he couldn't just leave them at his sides. "I wanted to say something to you, but I really don't know…it's…it's hard."
"If that's the problem then I'm gonna have to pass. Not really in the mood right now," Jac laughed.
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"Never mind. I was just kidding. It's stupid. Forget it."
"So, you were going to tell me something?"
"Oh, right…that. Well…it's about stuff. Past things…about me…and other people and my face and…and I sound like a complete idiot. I'm sorry."
"This is about what you did…isn't it?" Jackie asked, though there was apprehension in her voice. Something delicate and deliberate. She knew where she was treading was sensitive territory and could give way under her feet at any second. "About the…um…" Jackie's voice went suddenly low. "About that girl?"
"You already know?" Tom replied his focus fixed on her face as if he thought she was lying. Could she really know it all? The kidnap? The murder? The eternity spent staring at faded out walls and talking to faded out people? Surely there was something she didn't know. There must have been some mistake for if she knew these things why would she let him in? Why would she even bother?
"Well, yeah, I mean, it's not like it's all that hard to find out a person's history…well, one like that," she shrugged meeting his gaze without flinching though she still sounded careful. "I did a little investigating. Sorry I didn't tell you. I figured you'd tell me eventually. Are you really surprised that I know?"
"Honestly…no, I'm not," Tom admitted, a strange lightness coming over his mind. "You know about all of it? The horrible things I've done? "
"I do. Well…I know up to a point. Is that what you wanted to tell me?"
"Well, yeah, but…I don't get it. This doesn't make any sense." Tom shook his head, sounding distressed as the weight returned to his mind.
"What doesn't make sense? I'm your friend. What's to get?"
"It's just that I can't understand why, if you knew all of this, you continue to be my friend. Why would you stick around? I know why Sebs is still here. He knew me before all the shit hit the fan, but you…you only know me from after the fact. How can you do that?"
"It's easy," Jackie smiled. "Yeah, you can be moody and temperamental, but so can everyone else. You acted out on those frustrations, this is a fact I can't deny, and yes, it does cross my mind from time to time, but at the same time I know that it's not you. Not now anyway. I can only imagine your reasons why you did all of that stuff, but…I know I've never felt so strongly, but I guess some people do."
"I'd tell you what I felt if I had better words for it…"
"Look, I only know the facts, or what was said to be the facts. I can't forget what happened because it is what it is. What you did was terrible, but I'm still interested in knowing your thoughts on it though. Your side. I can only know so much," the woman continued. It was true. She didn't condone the man's past actions, but what could she do about them now other than be a good friend in the present?
"I wouldn't know where to start," Tom frowned. "Maybe I will a one point."
"That's fine. You okay?"
"I can't tell."
A silence lingered and Jackie pressed her lips together, something forming in her mind. Slowly she spoke up once more, her words even and hand selected. "You don't have any plans of a repeat performance do you?" She was staring him down, and Tom felt his teeth grinding against each other. She wasn't looking away, her eyes on him and only him. She could see any and all hesitation.
Tom shifted uncomfortably but shook his head. "No. No, I don't. The idea makes me feel sick to be quite honest, and I'm sick an awful lot."
"Always on your mind?"
"How can I forget such a shit thing? They say time fixes, but all it's done is give me time to agonize over it more."
"And that right there is your answer. Why should I live in fear of something that is no longer a threat to my life?" Tom made a strangled noise, but gave no further response. "People live next to active volcanoes, and trust me, those things are a lot more dangerous and deadly than you are."
Jackie gave the man a playful punch to the shoulder and ruffled his hair affectionately. Normally, she would have teased him with this act saying, "bad puppy, don't you show your teeth at me" or "good puppy, you didn't do something stupid today". Some variation on either depending on the topic of their conversation. Now, however, she didn't speak, but smiled fondly as Tom leaned into the comforting tough love.
"You're not scared?" he asked. He looked over at her, his turn to watch.
"I can't find any reason to be afraid."
"So, you're not mad at me, even though I kept this from you? I could have gone forever not telling you, and you could have gone on knowing…wouldn't you be mad I was keeping a secret like that?" Tom asked sleepily though he was doing his best to remain focused now that Jackie was rubbing behind an ear. He really was a dog wasn't he?
"Nah, I'm not mad. People keep secrets from other people, and that's not something I can change. I know better than to think you'd do it again."
"But…I still lied…about something big too…"
"Let me guess, you lied so I'd keep liking you? So that I wouldn't leave you because of your past? That's it, right?" Jackie cocked her brow in typical Hollywood fashion, eying Tom carefully despite the fact that he was certain she already knew his response. Slowly, he nodded, straightening up and distanced himself from the woman before him, feeling ashamed of himself even though she looked calm.
Lying wasn't chivalrous. Lying wasn't what knights did. They were honorable, brave, and strong. They fought for what was good and true. They kept their loyalties straight. They were heroes. They were people to be admired. Tom had done nothing worth admiring in his life. He may have been strong, but he was no knight.
"That's why I'm not mad." Tom stared back at her, not understanding. "You like me enough that you didn't want to scare me. You didn't want to run me off with your deeds. You like having me around. I'd say that's an advantage I have over most people when it comes to your opinions of them."
Tom forced a small smile, but it did not last. "I can't believe it's that simple though…I just can't. I'm just this shitty thing who did more shitty things…why even bother?"
"I guess I just like you too much."
"I don't even like myself," Tom mumbled, but he managed a smile. "You're not even worried about my…well, craziness?"
"I know plenty of people who ought to be placed in psychiatric care. I work with them," Jac shrugged.
"Does that include Sebs?"
"He's on the top of the list."
"You know…" Jac began. "I saw you before…"
Tom tilted his head. "Before?"
"Before the incident. You were the guy who always managed to get to the office to bug Sebs. I remembered seeing you. Thought you seemed nice," she admitted with uncharacteristic hesitance.
"Did ya think I was cute?" he asked sounding both joking and serious.
"Don't push your luck," Jackie grinned, shaking her head and grabbing the hood of the man's sweatshirt, pulling it down to his nose. "But yeah, a little bit. The way you think a little, lost, puppy is cute."
"I'll settle for that," Tom replied shaking his head to remove the visual obstruction. "You still think I'm nice?"
Tom leaned forward and rested his elbows in his legs and chin on the heels of his hands. It couldn't possibly be that simple. He'd said so, and he still couldn't believe it. And yet, somehow it was. Jackie trusted him even with his flaws. Trusted him in spite of them it would seem. It was so…underwhelming. Tom had been expecting something explosive. Surprise. Shock. Awe. Not just some fumbling and "well, how about that." He didn't want to say it out loud, but he was almost upset that it had gone so well. Where was the excitement in that?
The fact was that there was absolutely no excitement at all, and was that really so bad? As far as Tom was concerned it was the worst. Like waiting for an unknown bomb to go off. Tick…tick…
"You want to go for a walk or something?" Jac suggested, the breaking of the silence giving Tom a bit of a jolt. "Relax, I just meant that there's this Thai place I found. You want to get lunch?"
"I'm not that hungry."
"You can lie about a lot, but I know you don't turn down food. So, I'm telling you. We're getting lunch. You're gonna like it. Then we're going to bother some tourists. Okay?"
"Okay," Tom agreed before her had the time to understand and process what had been said.
"Awesome," Jackie said, getting up from her seat on the couch and turning off the TV. "I figured you'd be up for it. I know how you are about food and mischief."
Tom nodded and followed after her without protest, out the door and down the stairs and out the building. It was just what they always did. Just as they probably always would do.