Bright lights, maybe phosphorescent, since it's so damn cold in here. He was hoping to go the rest of his life without needing to blink that green-yellow glow out of his eyes. This was a newer supermarket but they still couldn't get rid of that nasty corona that came with those chemical-bulbs. He was a creature of the night, albeit a reluctant one. Dragged out into the day. He wasn't exactly thrilled to be here in this place of cold and white-walls and light that looked so much like a hospital (the hospital), but Sebs had insisted.
Well, maybe not insisted. But he'd pretty much insinuated that he couldn't be held responsible for whatever healthy, cardboard-tasting crap he brought home for Tom to eat if he didn't come along.
Grocery shopping. A normal enough task for normal enough people but normal was something Tom would never be. His eyes followed the other customers around the store, they all looked normal enough-the kind of people you'd expect to see in a grocery store. Women, mostly, but a few men too. Parents, lovers, friends. He envies them for being so normal, for not even considering for a minute that something could be wrong with their normal routine, one of their mundane, "safe" places. The arrogance of never considering that a threat could be lurking somewhere in their midst.
A threat like him.
He had no reason to hate these people, no reason to want to hurt them, but he knew that he could. That was enough, for the moment, to incite the feeling of power stirring in his chest; a low, rumbling, yet inflammatory rage. He's done it before and that's enough to brand him for life- if any of these people knew what he'd done, it'd be tantamount to a current offense, as incriminating as if he'd done it yesterday, as if he'd done it to one of them.
How would they react? To have their sphere of innocence and monotony shattered?
Tom suddenly became aware that Sebs was watching him curiously.
As they moved into the produce department, Sebs got Tom's attention.
"How do you feel about spinach?"
"Am I supposed to have feelings about spinach? What has spinach ever done to me?"
"Your physical said that your white blood cell count was low and spinach is really good for that. Same with broccoli, strawberries-"
"I was taking care of myself before you came along, you know. I don't need you to announce to the entire store that my immune system's bad because I'm on crazy-people-drugs."
"Who's announcing anything? You're the one who's shouting." Sebs was doing that maddeningly calm thing that he was so good at. "Besides, your immune system could be compromised for other reasons."
"Not unless you think I could pass as an AIDS patient."
"You might, if you don't start eating better," he turned back to the vegetables, "so, spinach is out then?" He proceeded to pick out the salad stuff and vegetables he usually stocked before moving on.
Tom spitefully picked up a bunch of bananas and plopped them in the cart.
Sebs nodded in acceptance and proceeded puttering around the oranges and citrus fruit, looking for what he wanted. Tom turned his attention to the apples and the other stacked fruit. So perfect and polished, covered in invisible wax. A plan for a more silent type disruption occurred to him. Life was so tenuous so easy to disturb. Like pulling out one apple in order to bring down all the rest. He could see the floor, in his mind, covered in the glossy, strangely unfragrant fruit. It wouldn't amount to more than an inconvenience for the store, or maybe a tripping hazard. Tom's great revenge...how the mighty have fallen. He wasn't as anonymous as he thought he was, he realized... There were security cameras, he'd already forgotten about those, and he was easily the most distinguishable person in this store. The fruit-spilling pirate would be pretty memorable.
Sebs eyed him critically.
"You in the mood for some apples?"
"You could say that."
"Well, get some then."
Unwilling to explain the inner-workings of his mind, especially when he himself could identify them as totally weird and, (admittedly) fucking crazy, Tom sheepishly grabbed a few apples and stuffed them into a bag.
"What kind?" Sebs asked, indicating the plastic-bound fruit.
Sebs (rightly) considered the conversation to be over.
They made it through the produce without too much more effort. Tom found himself looking longingly at the red meat section and Sebs noticed.
"Get whatever you want. Can't deny a wolf his meat."
You got that right.
Tom explored the meat options slowly, lingering over the food he hadn't been able to stomach properly in at least a year. He knew that Sebs would willingly pay for whatever he picked out and really, this would all be so much easier if Sebs wasn't so committed to making him happy, the asshole. It was stupid, felt stupid, going through the motions like this, like he was just some normal guy on a casual Saturday trip to the store, like food is one of his biggest concerns in the world. Only real people deserve to eat, never mind enjoying it. He ran his fingers over the packaged meat, enjoying the smoothness of the plastic and the coolness of the chamber it was resting in. The sausage was looking a bit too much like intestines at the moment (thanks but no thanks), the chicken too plastic and everything else too...dead. It was strange to say it. He'd once reveled in the deadness of meat, practically thrilled by it. There's nothing like being reminded that you're at the top of the food chain. Now the selection, stark and pink and sinew and bone and raw, simply looks too real. He wants something though, if only because he couldn't have it (he still won't give that crap the honor of being food) for so long. He finally decided on hamburger meat, since it looked the least like an actual animal while still being edible. Besides, making them into food would give him something to do besides sit around and try to figure out what the hell he was supposed to be doing with his newly granted 'freedom'. Tom turned to go and grab Sebs and instead found himself bumping into one of those cardboard displays full of nothing anybody ever really needed. Feeling a surge of irritation he kicked it, unwittingly sending the thing to the ground. Sebs turned suddenly, looking from the mess to Tom. There was no one who'd seen it.
"I didn't do it," Tom said uselessly, having taken a few steps away after the initial fall.
"Okay," Sebs replied simply, no mockery that Tom could detect, "Sure. I'm just gonna grab my coffee now, okay?"
Sebs set off in search of his precious coffee while Tom found himself wandering towards the cereal, maybe looking for one of his old favorites, though he wasn't sure which one. He wasn't expecting what came next.
An entire aisle of cereal.
Healthy crap to colorful sugar balls, and everything in-between. He thought that he must look mesmerized walking through it, half out of his mind (slippery slope), but he couldn't help staring at every box like it was a museum piece. The colors and fonts came together like an abstract blur. So many choices, for people who have choices. He knew that he hadn't been away that long, not as long as he could have been and not even that long when you think about it in terms of a life span, not if you live to eighty or a hundred and he can't even imagine living to a hundred, not even eighty, hell, the idea of thinking about next week gives him a pain in his chest like that time he held his breath too long in a childhood pool. Or was it a lake? He can't remember now.
He finds his beloved fruit loops in a line up of sugar cereal but the memory of taste in his mouth stirs up sickness in his stomach and he options for something safer and softer, oatmeal, which would probably please Sebs anyway.
He followed Sebs into the frozen food aisle, which was on his shit-list already by way of being at least ten degrees colder than the rest of the already chilly store. His stamina had been returning, slowly but surely, and he had been getting cold less easily, but prolonged exposure to air-conditioners and the like were still uncomfortable. Beyond that, the nerves surrounding his little accident were chilling him from the inside. It looked like the freezers had just been stocked, the way they were all fogged up. Reminded him of a meat-locker. Of body parts hanging from the ceiling; frozen animal chunks with shiny marbled fat, then of human limbs like they showed in horror movies. He didn't like not being able to see inside the freezers, he never liked the idea of things being hidden from him, disguised. He knows there's nothing in there, logically, nothing could live in there. At the same time, it gave him an inexpressible fear of opening the door, not knowing what he could find(the only things that aren't living are dead...).
Like coming out of a dream, Tom heard Sebs' voice.
"I said, do you want some toaster waffles? You might want to have them around..."
"Like you used to," Tom supposes Sebs wants to say, except he doesn't. Probably because he's assuming that the last thing Tom wants to be reminded of is that something's different now, as if he's not already thinking about it. Like he's going to fucking forget.
"Sounds good, I guess. Yeah." For a moment, Tom entertained childhood memories of toaster-warmed waffles full of melted butter, with powdered sugar clotting and clogging up the flow inside the little square wells. The image only made his stomach inexplicably sick, feeling imaginary sugar sticking to his teeth and tongue, piss-hot butter burning his mouth and trickling down his throat...
Sebs wrenched open the freezer door and, Tom flinched before his eyes could tell him that there was indeed nothing in there that shouldn't be, only waffles, pancakes, and assorted breakfast sandwiches. Sebs reached his hand in and Tom tensed up with dread, anticipating an icy hand grabbing Sebs' wrist as if it were his own. Plunging his hand into the depths...Those freezers always looked ridiculously deep. Endless, in fact, like some kind of demented, Narnia-style ice world. The words were absurd, were supposed to make him laugh, but all it did was make the image more foreboding. Some kind of frozen realm where everything was cold and sharp and you could barely breathe for want of moisture in the air. That was something he had never understood about Superman...for all the places you could have a Fortress of Solitude, why live in a fucking ice desert? There were a lot of things Tom didn't understand about Superman. Sebs retrieved the waffles without any freezer demon intervention, however, and tossed them in the cart. Superman versus the Deep-Freeze.
"Is the cold bothering you?" Sebs asked suddenly, "It's bothering me. Come on, let's move."
Strange. Sebs rarely complained about cold. One of the few advantages to being made of ice.
Somehow, they'd made it to the dry food-either the supermarket wasn't as big as Tom had first presumed it to be, or they simply hadn't bought much in the way of variety. Upon glancing in the cart, he realized that he couldn't remember how some of those items had come to be there.
He was getting irritated in that itchy, nagging sort of way. Unreasonably annoyed (he could even admit it) that Sebs should be so calm when Tom was so thoroughly full of unease, Tom wanted to disrupt. To shake him, to scare him, to make him feel some of the fear and discomfort that was haunting Tom like a fucking ghost, gnawing at his thoughts like an escaped hamster with a wire.
On a whim, Tom tossed a variety pack of Ramen noodles in the cart. Sebs glanced at it, but said nothing.
"Aren't you going to complain about how bad it is for me? Nothing about how I'm going to clog my arteries or give myself rickets or scurvy or maybe some kind of lecture about how I need my nutrition, especially now?"
Sebs just shrugged.
"It's your life. It's not up to me to tell you what you can and can't do. It wouldn't help you anyway."
Tom was undaunted.
"Very good, Sebs. Did you read that in How to Train Your Pet Psycho?"
Sebs didn't even flinch.
"You've never listened to me before, why should you start now?"
Sebs moved away from him, distracting himself with the boxes of couscous in a manner that was no doubt meant to be nonchalant.
You know why, you asshole. At least, you think you know.
"Whole wheat or plain?" Sebs asked holding up the boxes, "Ooh, they have the kind with sun-dried tomatoes..."
Tom stared at him like he'd grown another head.
"That was a joke. I know you don't eat it. You think it tastes like bird food. You don't eat tomatoes either." He tossed one of the boxes in the cart and continued pushing it down the aisle. "Unless you want anything else from over here...?"
Tom shook his head no.
They walked past jars and jars of pasta sauce that probably all tasted the same, or near enough to it. Organic, meat sauce, veggie sauce, added cheese, added mushrooms...What difference did it make? As long as it made you full.
Sebs surveyed the shelves full of olive oil, pickles, and other jarred stuff, looking for who-knows-what. Tom followed his eyes...Breakable jarred stuff. He paused for a moment, seeing a phantom jar on the ground, splintered from the sheer force of the fall. He heard the crash and the snap and the screaming as if it had occurred just now, rather than uncounted years ago.
"Thomas! What on earth is wrong with you? I know you know better..."
He raised his eyes to the shelf of pickle jars. So close to the edge. So...precarious. He could smash the whole shelf if he wanted to. Would that take Sebs by surprise? Would that scare him, make him jump? Maybe he'd even piss himself. It was funny to imagine, composed Mr. Sebastian pissing himself like a scared child. Taking a dump in his pants. Tom had certainly seen more of that than he ever cared to in the last two years, though not from Sebs.
"Are you trying to move those pickles with your mind or something? A jedi, you are not."
That would be a lot of mess for somebody to clean up. He's already caused enough messes.
Sebs had apparently selected whatever he was looking for (olive oil, and Tom could never tell the difference with that stuff anyway), and was now perusing the canned tuna. Tom couldn't take it anymore.
"What's wrong with you?"
"I'm looking for tuna. What's wrong with you?"
"How can you stand this? Acting like everything's all normal."
"This is the most normal trip to the grocery store I've ever had."
"That's the problem."
"Yeah, I know. Look, is something bothering you?"
"Everything's bothering me. I feel like I'm on some hidden camera show where everybody's waiting for me to fuck up so they can come drag me back to the people-zoo. I feel like anybody who looks at me can see right through me. Like I'm some walking freak-show. You get it?"
"I think so."
"Sebs, I'm crazy."
"Yeah, I got that."
"And this," he made a sweeping gesture, "this doesn't bother you? Not at all?"
"Not to make light of it, but you didn't go after me. And honestly, I don't think I'd feel too much differently if you did. The problem's with your chemistry more than you yourself, if I understand it right, and it would be really shitty of me to hold that against you."
"What if it's you next time? You gonna keep giving me pep talks from your hospital bed?"
Sebs held his gaze.
"I guess that's a chance I'm willing to take. Besides, no offense, but I'm pretty sure I could take you right now."
Despite himself, Tom smiled.
Sebs tossed his tuna in the cart and Tom turned back to the pickles. Pickles could be a nice snack for later. When he'd made his selection, he turned around to see that Sebs was...gone. The cart and everything. He felt his chest tighten as unbidden fear flooded through him.
"Sebs?" He heard his voice trill as it rose with panic, "Sebs?" He moved towards the end of the aisle as he called, moved faster than he realized.
Sebs emerged from somewhere in the next aisle.
"I'm sorry, I thought you were following me."
"You-you were just over..." He heard his voice crack and he felt heat building up behind his eyes. He doesn't remember the last time he cried, maybe it was when his dog died, or maybe it was in some memory-blocked breakdown that occurred since and he's not going to, he's pretty sure he's not going to but this is what he remembers it feeling like. Sadness and frustration and self-pity stewing in his stomach and head.
"I'm here, Tom," Sebs said, and for once Tom is grateful for Sebs' need to make things simple, "You know what? It's been a long day. Maybe we should get out of here, huh?"
The grocery store does not constitute 'a long day' for normal people.
Afraid to open his mouth, Tom simply nodded.
"Just let me grab one last thing, okay?"
Tom nodded again, impulsively grabbing onto the cart, which only emphasized his feelings of regression.
Sebs moved past the health foods and into the section for supplements. Tom had to protest.
"Sebs, I don't need vitamins."
"What makes you think they're for you?" he asked innocently, reading the label on one of the bottles nearest to him, "Maybe they're for me."
"I've never seen you take vitamins."
"Maybe it's time to start. Besides, you wouldn't necessarily see them. They go in things, you know. But now that you mention it, it's not a bad idea."
Sebs' games would've bothered Tom, if he hadn't just proved himself to be as stable as a volatile three-year-old.
"Do you know if they have gummy ones?"
"They're probably here somewhere," Sebs replied as he started to look.
This wasn't surrender, nor was this defeat: it was compromise. Surrender had been the loss of his voice and, subsequently, his freedom. Defeat had been the moment he had begun devising plans for people he barely knew, casting himself as the hero into someone else's story. This was his story now, like it or not. It could only go forward, that was for damn sure.
In the meantime, he'd take up Sebs' inevitable suggestion of food and a nap. He'll take vitamins and do normal things like buy groceries and wash clothes and take care of himself until those things don't feel so much like pulling teeth. Because it'd be nice, really nice, after being poked and prodded and monitored and so aware of everything, just to let his poor mind rest.