12: Shine
by Wax Jism

He wakes up and there's something wrong about being this cold with the sharp, white-hot sun in his eyes. Casey thinks, in predictable sequence, I'm cold and someone pull the fucking curtain and must have had a nightmare or something, fell off the bed again--

The whiteness fades to pale blue and he's staring out a car window at a pristine autumn sky. He's curled up with his face pressed up against the glass. Someone's hot breath on his right cheek, freezing glass on his left. He can't feel his feet but there are arms around his waist, hands on his hands.

He moves his head gingerly, and there's pain. A happy mix of a hangover headache, a crick in his neck and that too-familiar ache of a pummelled face. The arm around his waist tightens and there's Zeke's sleep-rough voice on the puff of air in his ear. "I think my back's stuck like this now."

More movement, and Casey realises the hands clutching his aren't Zeke's. He can't diagram their limbs, but Delilah's head is in Zeke's lap, her hair spread over Zeke's legs and falling almost all the way to the floor. She's awake; her eyelashes flutter. The sharp light is on her face.

Casey is breathless for a second. The light is amazing. She's perfect like this, lined with sleep, her hair a crow's nest of dark tangles and dirt and dust. She'd shake her head and make a lemon face if he told her she was beautiful right now.

She blinks one last time and opens her eyes, twists her neck and looks up at them, her eyes in a myopic squint. Casey wonders where her glasses are. Hopes they're not what's poking him in the back.

"Tell me I didn't just sleep in a car," she says. She sounds perfectly awake, much more so than Casey feels, Zeke sounds, than any of them looks.

"You just slept in the car," Zeke says, still in Casey's ear. Casey shivers, either from the cold or because Zeke's mouth touches his skin. It's the cold, he decides, reluctantly, and fumbles for the door handle.

The door swings open and he almost falls out. He would've fallen on his face on the sharp, wet pebbles if Zeke's arm hadn't tightened around his waist and reeled him back in. Delilah makes an annoyed sound and her hands scrabble over their thighs, trying to tug loose strands of her hair that are stuck between them.

Zeke lets him go and he gets up. His legs are waking up, pins and needles, and he leans against the car and waits for them to stop. The morning is sun-bright with almost nothing left of last night's fog. There's still a layer of dew on everything. The sunlight plays and sparkles on the rippled surface of the lake.

They crawl out of the car and stand next to him. Zeke stretches slowly, luxuriously. Delilah tries to untangle her hair with her fingers. They're so brightly lit that Casey can hardly see their faces.

The remains of the fire is a heap of scattered ashes and coals a bit further down the beach. It looks innocent. Like some kids camped out there.

There's a crumbling smudge of dried blood on Zeke's forehead, right under his hairline. More blood stuck in clumps in his wirebrush hair. Casey remembers hitting him but not what it felt like.

He's probably been shivering all along, but he only notices it now. His teeth are chattering. His hands tremble from the cold and he pushes them deep into his pockets. His legs ache now that they've stopped burning. He realises he can see his breath in the still air, faint white cloud of steam that goes nicely with the scattered traces of the fog lifting from the lake.

The sun hides behind a cloud he didn't see coming and bright yellow turns to cold grey around them. Delilah looks older now, harsh and lean as she digs a pack of cigarettes out from Zeke's coat pocket and lights up. Zeke nabs lighter and smokes from her hand. The skin around his eyes is swollen and dark. Casey avoids his own reflection in the car window. He can feel his face; he doesn't need to see it to know what it looks like.

"You're gonna fall over, Case," Zeke says and slings his arm around Casey's shoulders.

"I'm cold," he says. Zeke doesn't look cold.

"Shower," Delilah says. "I'm sure you two Neanderthals can frolic around all day without paying attention to personal hygiene, but I'm not playing that game."

There's a silence. Casey thinks it's different from the silence before, when they were all just trying to wake up. They're awake now and the sun has shaken off the cloud. There's the sound of a magpie bitching them out from a safe place high in one of the weeping willows, and their silence is hesitant and brittle.

"I don't--" he says, and Zeke says, "If we--"

"What?" Delilah says.

This place looks deserted and separate from the world. Birds and trees and the ugliest lake in history with its oily surface and black-pebbled beach, but if he is still for a second, he can hear the rumble of the freeway not far away. Narrow contrails slash across the sky.

He thinks about his parents. They must be awake now, going about their Saturday morning routine. Newspaper, coffee, pancakes maybe. He doesn't think they'll notice that he's gone until ten am or later. He could probably still sneak back, if he climbed up the fire ladder and over the roof to his room.

"I don't want to go home," he says, because he thinks it and they might as well know. He takes a few steps down the beach. This is too close to home. Zeke's house is dangerous. "I don't want to go home."

He doesn't know if he means forever or just for today. He can't really think that far ahead. His head hurts, but he feels like he could just go. Just go and not think any more about his father's morning papers or his mother's banana pancakes.

He turns around to see Zeke flick his cigarette to the ground and rub his head with careful fingers. It must hurt after last night. Zeke's shrug looks a little stiff. "Okay," he says. "Let's just go."

"Yeah," Delilah says brightly. "Because running away is a really good idea. Mature, too."

They look at her. She's smiling, still squinting; she probably hasn't noticed that her glasses are gone. "What?" she says. "I'm coming with you, of course."


He sits alone in the backseat because Delilah calls shotgun. They don't say anything for a while. Casey thinks they're avoiding things. Good idea.

He waits eleven songs before he speaks. His Rammstein tape, from Sehnsucht to Küss Mich, and then he asks, "Where are we going? Columbus?"

"No!" Zeke snaps, and Delilah twists around in her seat and says, "Are you crazy? Looking like this?"

"Where then?"

"Who cares?" Zeke says. Casey's not entire sure how fast he's driving, but it feels fast. If it wasn't winter, it would be pretty cool to have a convertible. No one's said anything definite about this trip. He's pretty sure it's a Saturday day trip, and right now that seems good enough. He keeps forgetting that Herrington exists, though. He looks out the window at the landscape rushing by and it looks endless, and he forgets that this is just a kind of bungee jump and the rubber cord around his foot will pull him back sooner or later.

He's proud of the bungee metaphor and opens his mouth to tell Zeke and Delilah about it when Zeke says, "Gas station," and swerves into the lot without hitting the brakes.


The bathrooms are around back. Zeke parks and they sit in the car for a while. "I'm not going in for the key looking like this," Delilah says.

"You're up, Case," Zeke says.

The proprietor is very tall and very old and wears a frayed and oil-stained Reds cap. He looks like he might be hiding his Winchester under the counter. There's a certain patina to the place. It's been here a while and isn't in any hurry to leave.

He picks up three cans of Red Mountain Dew and a pile of Slim Jims. "Two packs of Pall Malls and the key to the restroom," he mumbles.

"You eighteen?" the guy says and squints at him over the counter. He's freakishly tall, taller than Zeke by a couple of inches, and has a craggy face with a nose that droops over his mouth like Gonzo's beak.

"No," Casey says and gives up trying to stop himself from laughing. There's a grin growing on his face. It's almost like it's got a life independent of his. The guy frowns and squints even more, but rings it up. No smokes for Zeke, though. Casey giggles through his independent grin, a little more hysterically than he'd like, but he can't feel the bungee cord and the guy looks like a freak and Zeke and Delilah are probably making out in the oil-slicked backyard.

"Hey kid," the guy says when he's paid and turns to leave.


"You got something on your face." Casey touches his face automatically, and there's the sore spot. Two sore spots, really, the crown of his cheekbone and the place next to his nose where the skin is thin over his teeth.

"My boyfriend hit me," he says and still can't stop grinning.

"Punk," the guy mutters at his back. He's never been called that before.


Zeke and Delilah are, in fact, making out in the backyard, leaning against Zeke's car and kissing slowly. Zeke has his hands on Delilah's hips and she's burrowed hers under his coat. They look like they belong together, both a little scruffy and road-worn, tall and dark and pretty. Casey stops grinning.

Delilah spots him and waves at him, waggles her fingers and twirls away from Zeke. She has a smile for Casey, a kiss for him and a quick grope before she snatches the bathroom key from his pocket and flits away.


They stand in front of the sinks, in a row. The room is surpassingly clean. The mirror's cracked but they can still see themselves in it. Casey notes, not for the first time, that he's pathetically short next to the two of them.

"Oh, Christ," Delilah says. "I look like a homeless person. I am a bag lady."

"Don't see any bags," Zeke says and leans forward to study his hairline. "I haven't puked today, so I guess Casey didn't give me a concussion."

"Lucky you," Casey says. He feels dirty all over, gritty and greasy and covered in caked, crumbling mud. He thinks fondly of his toothbrush. It's in its holder, baby blue next to his mother's red one and his father's navy one. Their toothbrushes are cosy and happy together.

"I'm gonna go buy a toothbrush," Delilah says. "I can't face the day with dirty teeth."

"You wouldn't survive a day after the apocalypse," Zeke says and ruffles her hair. "Oh my GOD, how can you live with yourself, woman! Your hair is filthy."

She swats him over the head and marches out. Casey ignores Zeke and washes his face carefully.

Zeke picks dirt and dried blood out of his hair. Casey fails to feel bad about clubbing him. He supposes it's wrong somehow. An image of Miss Burke's earnest and clueless face appears. "I hit my boyfriend with a piece of wood because he was trying to kill my girlfriend" sounds a little extreme. Sounds like one of those English kitchen sink dramas, except in one of those they'd never speak to each other again.

Instead, here they are. Zeke ducks his head under the faucet and holds it there for a while. He reaches out with his hand to hook a finger into a loop on Casey's jeans and pull him closer. Casey waits and Zeke strokes the small of his back, just because, apparently.

Nothing like that in kitchen sink dramas. Nothing like Zeke's crooked smile when he straightens up, his hair dripping water down his neck and over his face. Nothing like his hand on Casey's ass and his wet head pressed against Casey's cheek, his wet mouth against Casey's neck.

"A two-by-four to the head won't stop me," he mumbles.

"It wasn't a two-by-four, it was a willow branch," Casey says. It's like it doesn't matter that shit happens. It makes no sense; it should matter. Miss Burke's worry, his parents' suspicious eyes, even Zeke's mother's contemptuous eyes tell him that.

Zeke's large hands on his hips don't tell him anything more than that Zeke wants him. That's easy to read. He arches his back a little, turns his face to Zeke's.

Zeke just leans down and kisses him, and that is like a movie. Casey closes his eyes. Zeke runs his hand up his back to cup the back of his neck. Casey clutches at his arms.

The door opens and someone says, "What the hell--"

Zeke freezes but doesn't let go of Casey immediately. When he does, he draws back slowly.

A gaunt middle-aged man stands in the door, outlined in sunlight. "See something you like?" Zeke asks mildly. He still has a hand resting lightly on the small of Casey's back.

The guy steps into the bathroom, makes a detour around them and heads for a stall. He makes a face, Casey sees, like he smells something rotten. He might have mumbled something. Maybe "faggots." That's what it sounded like.

"What did you say?" Casey asks. Zeke's hand presses at his back; the other hand is wandering down his chest, fingertips tracing the buttons on his shirt.

The guy stops and turns to them. "You boys shouldn't be here," he says. He still looks disgusted. Casey cocks his head. He's picked up that from Zeke. Zeke has a way of tilting his head a little to the side that makes him look dangerously interested. Casey is pretty sure he doesn't look quite as dangerous, but he feels it. Like he could kick ass. Zeke's fingers have found skin and Casey moves his hips forward. He's staring at the guy, but everything else in him is feeling Zeke's hands and Zeke's legs pressed against his, Zeke's breath on the side of his face.

"Wanna stop us?" he asks, hissing through his teeth when Zeke's hand cups him and rubs. It's wild, he feels completely reckless. "Fuck," he mutters, turning back to see Zeke's eyes crinkle with amusement, "oh, fuck--"

"I'm calling the--" the guy starts, louder now, but Zeke snaps his head around and says, "Try making it out the door first, asshole," hauls Casey even closer, yanks at his fly. His hands are hard and fast now and Casey thinks about the fucked up first time in the school bathroom. His breath is catching and he's lost his balance; the only thing between him and the floor is Zeke's arm around his waist.

He's almost forgotten about the guy, just like that - out of sight, out of mind - but Zeke yanks him around suddenly, fast enough to make his head spin, and the guy is trying to get past them and Zeke's hand shoots out and grabs him by the collar. Casey is stuck between them. The guy is afraid. Casey can hear his quick breaths, quicker even than his own.

The door opens again. There's a short between-seconds breath and then Delilah says, "What are you idiots doing, playing musical toilets?"

"Hey!" the guy says with startled, high-pitched indignance. Casey snickers. Zeke smiles, wolfishly.

"Short-eyes here was ogling Case," he says and lets the guy go.

"I wasn't!" the guy says, backing off. He doesn't look disgusted anymore, just scared. Casey's snickers grow into a laugh.

"These places are always full of perverts," Delilah says.

"Run, pervert!" Casey breathes between peals of laughter. His stomach hurts and it's weird to laugh and be this turned on at the same time, but it's like the part that laughs and the part that wants to fuck aren't connected at all.

He doesn't see if the door hits the guy in the ass on his way out because Zeke grabs him and lifts him, slams him against the wall, and it's almost like that first time, but he's not afraid now, not afraid at all, just breathless and ready, still laughing through his gasps.

"You guys are demented," Delilah says somewhere close to him, close and getting closer, and her hand turns his face and her mouth meets his while Zeke pushes hard against him and runs his teeth over his collarbone.


His father's face is a caricature of anger. Eyebrows pulled together, a deep groove between them; his mouth pressed into a tight line and his cheeks dangerously flushed.

"Been out," Casey says, trying half-heartedly not to sound smug. He feels smug. You can't stop me, he thinks. This new carelessness is like power. What are they gonna do, anyway? Chain him to the radiator?


"--grounded. yeah, I know." It's exhilarating.

"This attitude is--"

"Sorry," he says, not sorry at all. His father gapes at him.

"What's wrong with you, Casey?" his mother asks. She's wringing her hands. Her face is wide-eyed and hurt; he tries to remember what it felt like to regret hurting her. "Is it-- Does this have to do with Zeke?"

"Save it, Eliza," his father snaps. "He's not listening. He thinks he's a rebel now. Go to your room, Casey."

"No supper, either," Casey says and goes to his room, biting back the laughter until he's alone.

They've been through his stuff again. Looking for drugs or Satanist paraphernalia, no doubt. He doesn't care. He has nothing they can take from him.

He's hungry, but it's a small discomfort, easy to ignore. They ate at noon, in a small roadside diner, surrounded by truckers and tourists. Delilah, her face washed and her hair brushed and tied back, had stopped bitching about looking like a homeless person. Sex mellowed her out a little, interesting sex mellowed her out even more, and she'd come with his hand jammed down her jeans, gasping and cooing in his ear, while Zeke held onto his hips and bit his shoulder. Casey's seen National Geographic documentaries about lions mating, and Zeke's like that: he bites triumphantly and possessively. Casey just likes to taste blood.

His parents are jabbering about him downstairs, but he doesn't feel like eavesdropping. He thinks about the sun in Delilah's hair when they turned back onto the highway - it was a little greasy and strands kept working loose from the scrunchie, and she would brush them back with an impatient gesture. Once, Casey reached out and did it for her, and had one of those short, stunning moments of holy fuck, is this me?

Delilah Profitt with greasy hair and her glasses perched a little unsteadily on her nose - Zeke'd found them under the front seat, and it seemed someone had stepped on them at some point - and Casey had stared at his fingers on her cheek with silent awe. Holy fuck, is this me?

Zeke's wide grin at him in the rear-view mirror had only made the feeling stronger, and he'd actually shivered, a slow, sharp-fingered frisson all the way down his back.

Sitting on his bed, still in his dirty and ill-used clothes from yesterday, Casey thinks, that's me, all right. Typical of him to have his moments not some time when he's actually got Delilah pushed down and naked, but from something so innocent as his hand stroking back a strand of her hair, touching the curve of her jaw, the delicate shell of her ear. Her smile, half-sweet, half-annoyed.

"Lovebirds," Zeke had said with a snort from behind the wheel, and Casey had met his eyes again. He didn't think it was jealousy in Zeke's eyes; that would be stupid, wouldn't it? Zeke had him in the palm of his hand. In the clench of his fist.

There are bloodstains on his shirt collar, grass stains and mud stains on his jeans, probably come stains on his underwear. He undresses slowly, drops his clothes carelessly on the floor. "Good luck, mom," he mumbles and pads naked through the hall to the bathroom.

A whole day on the lam, driving directionless along unfamiliar roads. Zeke had seemed to pick them at random, and neither Casey nor Delilah protested. Delilah leaned her head against Casey's shoulder and smoked in silence, and Casey enjoyed her presence and watched the landscape change from rural to urban to rural to urban, over and over.

At three PM, Zeke pulled over, parked the GTO on a tractor crossing and got out of the car. Delilah and Casey followed.

"We go any further, we won't make it back today," Zeke said and dug his hands into his pockets. Casey thinks, now, that Zeke looked a little sick - he probably had a headache like crazy. Zeke wasn't the type to let on, though.

Casey had just mumbled a vague, "uhuh." Zeke called the shots in the car. Casey thought about the road going on and on and maybe leading somewhere out of the reach of this town and everyone in it, but the next thought had been, not today.

The shower awakens all sort of aches and pains in his body. He's almost forgotten about them; the slow honey of the day has seeped through him and covered the hurt, but it's back now with the pounding heat of the water on his shoulders.

He pokes gingerly at the bruise on his face and hopes, viciously, that Zeke has one motherfucker of a headache. Then he simply wishes Zeke were here to lock him into his arms in bed. Zeke has that tendency to grab hold in sleep; it's almost impossible to tear loose once he gets a good grip. It's claustrophobic and comfortable.

They'd sat down on a row of boulders on the side of the field. It wasn't very warm, and the sky had clouded over, but they stayed there for almost an hour, mostly in silence. Cars occasionally passed them on the road. Casey had leaned his head back and watched birds circle above them, dark specks against the blue-fading-to-grey. There'd been a few more Moments. It was just that kind of day. The sight of a rip on Zeke's jeans or a dead leaf clinging to Delilah's coat cut him somehow, pretended to take on some kind of meaning - or rather Meaning, capitalised - vague and taunting him with importance he couldn't grasp.

He turns off the shower and thinks he might just have been happy.