Plights of Perdition
"Each thing I show you is a piece of my death."
—The Reflecting God, Marilyn Manson
In the corner of the bedroom stood a tall, thin lamp whose dim light bathed a boy of a similar description. He stands six-foot-one and is, so his friends tell him, remarkably skinny. He's underweight by two pounds, maybe five, maybe ten; he doesn't remember anymore, nor does he care. As long as it meant his little sister would get fed, he'd give up any food that was to be his. Lately he hasn't had a problem getting food, actually, thanks to a certain black-haired boy his age named Craig Tucker.
The aforementioned Tucker had just arrived in the room, carrying two boxes of Chinese takeout and resorting to nudging the door closed with his foot, careful not to make a sound, lest his parents or sister be awoken.
They seated themselves on the edge of his bed, pressed together leg-to-leg as if there weren't an empty expanse of blue sheets spread out behind them, and ate in contented silence. The first boy, a freckled blond named Kenny McCormick, attacked his noodles with fervor before Craig even had a chance to offer him soy sauce: this brought a small, brief smile to the latter's lips, soon obscured by a chunk of reddish chicken dripping with copious amounts of duck sauce.
Kenny made a string of disgusted faces at the other's food choice while Craig dutifully ignored him in favor of watching the grainy black-and-white film currently playing on mute on his television. The silence was only broken when the food was completely gone.
The dark-haired teen spoke first. "Happy birthday, Ken."
Kenny hummed noncommittally but finally offered his thanks when the other gave him a look.
"How old are you, again?" It was supposed to be a joke, but Craig's voice wasn't one well-suited to humor and therefore remained flat; Kenny still found it funny in an endearing sort of way.
"Sixteen, you asshole."
Craig would've smiled had he not begun to over-think things, as he was wont to do. He thought about the fact that Kenny was spending his "Sweet Sixteen" eating take-out at two in the morning in the darkness of some other boy's bedroom.
The circumstances that led to that arrangement were known by practically every kid in town. Not one of them dared breathe a word to their parents, for Kenny often vocalized his fears of being sent to a foster home again. He didn't mind, of course, and neither did Kevin. Karen hated it, however, and Kenny would rather take all the beatings meant for Kevin and all the drunken yelling aimed at Karen than have her suffering somewhere foreign to her.
Solace was always waiting for him in the Tucker household, anyway. Though it didn't really solve anything, he didn't ache so much when he was around Craig. At the moment, he seemed happy, and Craig wouldn't ruin it for him by bringing up his family.
"So," the Tucker began as he eyed the kid beside him, "get any good presents?" When the inquiry was met with static silence he continued speaking, more quickly this time. "Ah, well, everyone in this town is poor as shit, so it's to be expected, I guess. Happens to me every once in a while, too, man." That was a lie, and Kenny knew it, yet he never said a thing to indicate he believed otherwise. "I don't have any money right now, so I don't have your gift quite yet, but—"
The first real emotion Kenny displayed that night crossed his face in the form of widened eyes and fast-moving lips. "No, dude, fuck that. Don't you dare buy me anything else." Slowly, he recovered from this sudden burst of shock and eased into a grin that didn't quite reach his eyes. "I mean, ya already bought me food, didn't ya? And you're letting me stay the night, so there. That's your present to me."
Craig knew that arguing would be pointless, so he simply nodded once and let it be. The silence stretched on, leading the blond into a staring match with the wall and the taller of the two to aim his own gaze at those glazed-over blue eyes he'd come to know a little too well. Being so absorbed in Kenny cost him the time to think of a proper excuse when the other caught his stare, but the way the freckled boy smiled sweetly took away the need for such an explanation. He didn't realize he looked so startled until Kenny pointed it out.
"I was just thinking," Craig answered at length, not daring to blink too often for the peculiar fear that he'd lose eye contact.
"How anyone could actually hurt you." The confession surprised its speaker more than its receiver, and Kenny only chuckled more the wider Craig's eyes got.
"It's okay, dude. Don't worry about me, I can handle it."
"You shouldn't have to, though." Craig swallowed hard, then finally directed his eyes to the TV again. "How bad is it?" The mental curses came soon after he'd spoken the question, for he'd promised himself he wouldn't ask about Kenny's parents and had done it anyway, as if he had no amount of self-control when it came to his friend.
Kenny blinked once, twice, then three times without answering. Craig felt more and more guilty with each passing second, but the overwhelming curiosity and concern overshadowed the guilt.
Eventually there came an answer, but in the absence of words there was movement—slow at first, then a little more confident. Craig's eyes snapped back to the blond, who had just unzipped his parka and tossed it on the floor. It didn't go unnoticed that he was unnaturally focused on the brightly-colored garment now resting against the faded gray of the carpet, aggressively avoiding eye contact even after he pulled his cotton t-shirt over his head and shuffled to sit back on his legs in the middle of bed.
Craig took that as his cue to sit in front of him, just barely touching his knees to the blond's in a gesture that made him feel just desperate enough to be pathetic; this projection of weakness didn't matter to him anymore, at least not with Kenny. Never with Kenny.
The latter didn't drop his shirt onto the floor right away, but instead wrung it in his hands nervously for a moment. Bony fingers pressed into the fabric with such fervor they paled to a similar shade, and Craig watched silently as dirtied fingernails bore into the shirt soon thereafter.
"If I told you something really fucking ridiculous…" Kenny trailed off and smiled without humor. "This is going to be the dumbest goddamned thing you've ever heard—let's put it that way." Craig only nodded once, so the other went on without hesitation. "I can't die."
There was merely a beat of silence, therefore there wasn't much deliberation as to the answer the Tucker would give. He hardly even heard himself speaking, but he felt the way his lips formed around a whisper of the words, "I know."
The shirt finally dropped to the floor, abandoning shaking hands. "You do?" Kenny whispered back, wide blue eyes rising to search the other's face frantically.
"Yes. Well, not exactly." Here, the McCormick's expression sobered. "But I—"
"It's cool, dude. I mean, no one else—"
Craig didn't know why, but a sudden impulse pulled his hands up to wrap around the other boy's, which effectively stifled whatever remained of his sentence. "Craig." The blond's following laugh was painfully broken and false. "This is sorta weird, don'tcha think?"
The taller of the two answered in the usual monotone, face serious: "Not at all." At once, Kenny's laughter ceased. "Now, not being able to die," Craig continued, "that's weird. I've never seen you die, not once."
"I know, all right?" A hard edge had crept into the skinny boy's tone. "It was stupid to mention. Just fucking forget I said anything." He yanked his hands from Craig's grip, and that was when the latter leaned the slightest bit closer, eyebrows furrowed over sharp, serious eyes.
"No. I don't want to forget the one piece of this I'll be able to remember. I have to say I've never seen you die because I never recall it happening, but I believe you—I believe what you said. You can't die." With his words concluded, Craig sat back again and simply watched the monochrome lights from the TV play across Kenny's face, highlighting his features as they warred between nervousness and relief. The dispute was settled as he sighed, then touched trembling fingertips to a pale splotch just under the left half of his rib cage.
He swallowed hard, then said, "See this scar? It's from a spear wound when I was eight. It went in through my back and came out right here." Craig leaned in to get a better look, then absently pressed a fluttering kiss to the mark. Though he missed the bemused smile Kenny gave, he could easily see where goosebumps raised on his skin and couldn't help but feel mildly pleased.
"Well, shit. I was always told the whole 'someone will come kiss your scars' thing was bullshit."
Craig straightened up to shrug. "I guess it usually is." Just as his own fingers replaced Kenny's on the scar, the latter moved his hand over to his right side, gesturing toward two bruises just above his hip, one of them large and green, one small and purple. "Dad knocked me into a table a few weeks ago, so that's what the older one's from." A brief sigh, then, "This other one's from Damien. Got pissed off for whatever reason and, long story short, just because you're on the ground doesn't mean that kid'll stop kicking. He only got one in before Pip pulled him back, though."
"That killed you?"
"Nah, but I hit the ground hard enough both times to die of fucking subdural hematoma. What shit luck I have, am I right?"
Craig grimaced, and one corner of Kenny's mouth quirked upward. "Ah, it's not so bad. Not as bad as this one." Presently, he pointed toward a mark across his throat that was by no means straight across or evenly-made. It looked as though it had been torn, rather than cut. Kenny noted the green shade tinting the other's face and decidedly didn't explain that one.
A moment was given to allow the Tucker a much-needed break, the end of which was marked by the aforementioned teen chewing on his bottom lip a moment before leaning toward his friend once more. He thought he ought to say something, but he couldn't seem to decide on what to say. Nothing felt right.
He wanted to say "I'm sorry," or "I'll remember this," but the only thing he ended up voicing was a flat, "You sure do get into a lot of trouble, Kenny," at which the blond in question grinned.
"Damn right I do."
"Listen, I don't wanna fuck your day up even more, but I need to ask you something." Craig watched the smile fade off Kenny's face for what seemed like the hundredth time that night; he felt like a world-class expert in killing the boy's happiness (or what was left of it) and, frankly, it was making him feel like more of an asshole than usual. He swore to himself, silently and firmly, that he'd redeem himself.
"Sure, man. Go ahead."
"Does it ever not hurt to die?"
Kenny considered this for a moment. "Not really. I mean, it always hurts, in a way. Even if the death itself is painless, there's always some sort of emotional shit. Like, I'll remember some nice, random thing Stan and Kyle did for me once, or that card Butters made me when I died of cancer. I think of Karen." His eyes darted to the wall so suddenly that Craig wondered if it was an unconscious gesture. "I think of you sometimes, too. More than sometimes. It's always Karen, and it's always you."
The Tucker pressed his lips into a thin line while he took this in, ignoring the sudden flickering of the lamp nestled in the corner behind Kenny. "That's cool," he mumbled, unable to think of anything worth saying until moments later, and by then the blond had already clambered over to the edge of the bed to fish his shirt off the floor and had, Craig assumed, stopped listening.
His inner turmoil was realized in an instant. "What's the matter? Got somethin' to say?" This was punctuated with a snort, though it was muffled by the shirt that Kenny had been tugging back over his head.
"I'm glad you think of me."
The McCormick paused in the midst of shaking his hair back into place and slowly turned his head to look at the other. He looked mildly off-put at first, but the seconds ticking by saw his expression fading into a bashful smile.
"I think, maybe…" the dark-haired teen clawed through a myriad of words to find the right ones, only to end up with nothing but an irritated expression.
Kenny reached out and awkwardly patted Craig's shoulder. "It's fine, Craig. I'm glad I could tell you all that."
"Glad I got to hear it, I guess," the other answered, trying his damndest to look less involved in the moment. He looked at the blond, who was now moving about to gather his things and head back home, and thought to himself that he may just be the most perfect being he'd ever seen, with all his imperfections. He wanted to say that he loved him, maybe. He felt like he did. After all, he couldn't imagine being this close to anyone else after tonight, when he'd been granted permission to hear all the other's secrets and sufferings.
"Kenny—" he began a little too loudly. The moment his friend met his gaze, he heard himself sigh and managed a half-smile. "Why don't you stay the night?"
The shorter boy snorted again, then pulled his backpack on and walked up to the spot just in front of where Craig sat. "Are you kidding? My parents are probably already looking for me."
"Hey, man, I'm trying to be nice. You'd be better off with me." He hadn't meant to say those exact words, but he decided he wouldn't try to take them back. Even still, he didn't expect Kenny to respond the way he did.
After the very deliberate dropping of his bag back onto the ground, the blond crawled back over to his previous spot right in front of Craig and regarded him with a completely serious expression. "I know that, but you know I can't leave Karen back there with them."
He knew Kenny was right and there was nothing to argue, but he couldn't seem to stop himself from doing it, regardless. "You always give her your phone before you come here, though. If she needed you, she'd call me."
The lamp in the corner, which flickered erratically along with Kenny's hushed apology, finally blew when his lips met Craig's, and sometime during the sound of blood rushing in his ears, the latter registered the sudden cold space before him, indicating that Kenny had darted off the bed.
It took him a moment to recover, but by then Kenny had already grabbed his things and rushed out the door. Craig was after him in a heartbeat, ignoring the fact he'd likely awoken his sister as he headed down the stairs. "Wait!" he hissed in a hushed tone, catching the elbow of the rapidly-retreating orange parka. "What just— Why did you—"
Kenny huffed and turned back around to face the other. "I don't know," he returned, much quieter and considerably more composed than Craig. "It just felt right, I guess."
"And staying doesn't?"
"Hell, you know I would, but…"
"I understand. I guess I just wanted to know why you fucking kissed me and then ran off."
The shorter boy's face flushed at that, but he tried to look angry for the sake of appearing less vulnerable. "It was an accident."
"The fuck it was."
Craig rolled his eyes, slid his arms around Kenny's hips, (paused to curse the backpack inhibiting him from actually hugging around the waist), and leaned in to return the favor, only to pause centimeters from his friend's lips. A smirk arose on his part, as he was faced with a now-completely-red-faced McCormick who glared him down and muttered profanity at him for a full ten seconds before leaning up to do the job himself.
"Now you're gonna tell me that was an accident, right?"
"Fucking right it was an accident," Kenny replied with a scoff.
Before a response could be made, the distant click of a light switch somewhere in the house registered to both of them. Kenny pulled away from the other to yank the front door open and muttered a hasty, "If they ask, you were taking the trash out," as he backed onto the porch.
"I'll—" A pause, then, spoken with a wide smile, "I'll come back tomorrow, okay?"
"I'd like that."
"Yeah. Now get your ass back home."
The sweet smile morphed into a mischievous grin. "Y'know, I could tell you it ain't home, but it's somewhere."
Craig rolled his eyes again pointedly before he shut the door, hovering to lock it back as much as to watch through the window while the parka-clad boy took off running down the street. Though he was looking directly at the glass, the small heart drawn in the prickly frost went unnoticed. He only shook his head with a fond smile when Kenny finally disappeared from view, then shoved his hands into his pockets and returned wordlessly to his room for the night.
The moment Craig's door clicked closed, Ruby tiptoed out of her own bedroom, her nightgown swishing around her knees and her hair nothing short of a frazzled disaster. Blue eyes squinted at the early streams of sunlight coming through the downstairs window, then widened once more when they caught sight of a little heart drawn into the frost, tucked into the bottom left corner of the glass.
She turned her head toward her brother's door and grinned knowingly. Holding a smug air, as one tends to do when they know something they aren't supposed to know, she crept back into bed. The only real wonder she had wasn't so much why Craig liked Kenny, but why it had taken him so long to realize that the McCormick was just as infatuated—not to mention just as dense.
At least it looked like they'd worked it out, she thought. It really was about time.