Behold! Another update! We're making history here people. This time, this chapter is delightfully being uploaded for you from my school computer lab between classes! Because I can't wait! It's a littlle shorter than the first one (cough-about halfas long- cough) but it seemed like a good place to cut it good news though, is that since my Networking class is so boring, I have used the time to kind of come up with an outline fort his thing. yay potential future structure! *Cheers* Anyways, I'm not sure how I feel about this chapter, but I hope you enjoy it :)
Warning: This chapter contains this author's attempt at humor, refrences to old English literature, and was Beta'd by me myself and I, not because I don't appreciate the offers I've gotten from other people but because I literally just finished this thing and want to get it up. I'm impatient. It's a curse.
Also: I don't own things. I own my characters, my plotline, and the flashdrive this was saved on. Nothing else though. I don't own Trivium or Candy Crush or Starbucks. Basically if it sounds cool and profitable, just go ahead and assume it's not mine. This goes for the first chapter, as well as all following chapters after this one.
Lastly, I would like to give a BIG THANKS to all my readers, but ESPECIALLY to my SUPER-SPEICAL-AWESOME friend CC. She made my my beautiful new cover image up there, and for that she gets ALL MY LOVE!
"Am I a whore?"
"I don't know. How much did you charge him?"
It had taken three days, but Oliver had finally broken down and confessed to the events of that night, carefully glossing over the more illicit parts with a somewhat comforting vagueness that had left Natasha insanely curious and largely dissatisfied. When no amount of probing had encouraged him to disclose the juicy details, however, she'd gone for another strategy: Putting in a movie and exercising a patience against which Oliver was hopelessly outmatched. Natasha could wait out a rock; Oliver was too twitchy.
It had admirably taken him a good half-way through The Avengers before blurting out his insecurities. This was an improvement. She was proud.
She grinned, folding her body into a sitting position, tucking her feet up underneath her. "What? You asked. It's a valid question."
"I didn't charge him anything." Oliver grumbled his face flushing. They'd set his laptop up on a TV tray at the foot of his bed and it threw faint flickering light, it's glow mostly drowned out by the lamp on his nightstand. "He didn't charge me anything either. For the charm I mean!" he added hurriedly as her grin turned wicked. "Jesus."
"I don't think Jesus would approve of being dragged into this conversation." He flipped her off, arms folded across his chest, pointedly staring at the wall. "I don't really think he'd approve of that either."
"Can I just get a serious answer Nat? Jeeze."
"I was being serious." She replied. Straightening her back, she folded her hands, appearing to look as serious and professional as one can while sitting cross-legged on a bed. "Being a whore implies some sort of monetary compensation for the sexual activity. Doing it for free is just kinda slutty."
He groaned. He was settled back against his headboard, his knees drawn up against his chest, a fluffy bed pillow sitting on top of them. He promptly dropped his face into it with somewhat excessive force.
"That's not any better." His words came out muffled through the pillow he was attempting to suffocate himself with. Natasha was quiet for a moment, during which he hoped she was constructing something helpful to say, some sort of useful advice as to how to proceed. Some answer to his problems.
"Well, I think technically it's still considered whoring if goods are exchanged instead of money." She replied thoughtfully, one finger pressed to her glossy lip. "We could count the charm as payment if you want. Would that make you feel any better?"
He peeked up from the pillow just long enough to glare at her. "It really, really doesn't."
She gave an abortive little laugh like a muffled snort and reached over to pat him on the back in a delayed show of sympathy. "Oh come on, so you're a whore by technicality. You're not the first and believe me, you will not be the last. Besides, those little beads looked like real crystal."
"What does that have to do with anything?" he asked incredulously, shrugging off her hand. It was a kind enough gesture, but when coupled with her words and stifled snickers it just came off as mocking.
"It ups the retail value." She explained, completely serious. "If you're going to be a whore you might as well be a reasonably expensive one."
"Why did I think I could talk to you?" He groaned raggedly in defeat, dropping his glowing red face back into the pillow. The tips of his ears were visible, blending into the orange of his hair. Natasha just grinned.
"Be proud of your crystals Sweetie. No one likes a cheap plastic bead whore."
"Oh yeah?" The words came out hopelessly muffled, but she made them out anyways, her grin spreading wider.
"Of course. Everyone knows those are the ones with the clap."
His only response was a frustrated sound emitted deep within the cushion of the pillow. Natasha just laughed, looping an arm around his shoulders and settling herself comfortably against him to watch the end of the movie.
He'd never told her about the scarf, carefully washed and dried and folded neatly in the drawer of his nightstand. It seemed very at home next to his slowly expiring condoms and little bottle of lubricant. It was probably a familiar sight. He had, however, done a little poking around, discretely working Stacey's name into conversation and watching for subtle clues of recognition. Which of course, for Oliver, meant mulling over his phrasing for an hour and working the conversation repeatedly in his head before getting all anxious and blurting, "So hey, who the fuck is Stacey Sherman?"
It wasn't his fault. She was the one who had wanted to come to the coffee place downtown, the one around the corner from that dinky little psychic's shop. He'd been avoiding anything within the near vicinity of that place like the plague and being suddenly thrust into such close proximity was making him nervous. He'd been more fidgety than usual, his constantly messy hair an unusually tangled mass, stuck up at odd angles from having his hands run through it ad-nauseum. He chewed the edge of his lip a little, waiting.
Natasha just blinked, presumably because the question was so far out of left field that such a metaphor would be best left to someone with an actual working knowledge of baseball. After a beat or two she arched an eyebrow up into her hairline, setting her coffee and Shakespeare notes aside to stare at him, accompanied by several other Starbucks patrons. A young mother glared at him, slapping some money on the counter before quickly ushering her two small children out the door.
Oliver flushed and tried to melt down into his seat with little success.
"Sherman? Pink hair, whacked out fashion sense? What about her?"
"Yeah- Wait? You know her?"
She spent the next several seconds very blatantly weighing his intelligence. If the look on her face was any indication, he was obviously found lacking. She started to respond a number of times, opening her mouth only to close it a second later like an incredulous fish, tapping her naturally long fingernails against the table as if trying to fill the silence. Finally she just gave up, draining the last of her coffee before shoving back from the table and walking back to the register. When she returned several minutes later she had a new, larger cup of something that smelled very strong and a little packet of madeleines. Obvious fortification. The grim set of her face was that of someone heading off to war. Oliver shifted a little, tapping his feet in a tuneless little rhythm against the floor. This did not bode well.
Sitting back down, she fully closed her Shakespeare notes. She sat very straight in her chair, like she did when she wanted to appear more serious, carefully tucking an errant strand of glossy dyed-red hair behind her ear before folding her hands on the table. When she finally spoke, it was slowly, as if to a toddler.
"Yes Oliver, of course I know her. You know her. Or at least you should, considering she's only been in the same chemistry class with you all semester. We worked together on our midterm project like two months ago. All of us. You, me, Stacey and that friend of your brother's. The big quiet guy in all the black that you hate so much. Steven or whatever? We met up like three times. She's sat next to him all semester! And I mean, come on, not even counting the midterm you spend so much time glaring in that direction that you have to have at least seen her. I mean, for Christ's sake Oliver she's half pink-"
He knew that she was still speaking, her words a vague humming on the edge of his consciousness, but she'd been drowned out under the sound of his own dawning awareness. He was beginning to recall vague flashes of a girl he'd paid little attention to sitting next to Stefan StPatrick. He remembered cursing the day he ever got stuck in the same class as his brother's asshole best friend, remembered many a class period spent glaring at the back of his head, vindictively attempting to lower his grades through sheer force of will. He refused to consider the fact that maybe that was the reason for his own poor marks, instead passing the blame onto Stefan: If he hadn't been there to glare at than maybe he'd have paid better attention to the lectures.
He hadn't noticed he was glaring, completely lost in his thoughts, until a flash of Stefan-shade black caught his eye. When he saw it again, he instinctively redirected his glare towards it, just in time to startle a barista in a black shirt who'd come over to clear away his long-empty plate of cheesecake. She jumped, pulling her hand back and clutching it to her chest as if burned.
"I-I'm sorry." She stammered. Her large dark eyes looked hurt, her bottom lip trapped between her teeth. "I can come back-"
"No, no. Don't mind him" Natasha said hurriedly, snatching the plate from him with an evil look of her own, extending it towards the girl. "It's not you, really. He's just very passionate about Iago, the damn bastard. I mean, sure the dude's fictional but well, you know Shakespeare. He's all about intensity and shit. It was really good" she added gesturing towards the dish. The girl had hesitantly accepted it, holding it close as if for comfort and was now hovering there looking flummoxed and still a little scared.
Oliver sunk lower in his seat, attempting to cease his current existence and jumping when Natasha jammed the pointy toe of her boot hard into his shin. "Y-yeah! Cheesecake. Best damn cheesecake ever." His hand was back in his hair, wringing it into nervous little tangles. He gestured helplessly towards his notebook, still very much open in front of him. "And um…yeah…Shakespeare. Iago. The guy's a douche." He finished with a shrug, giving a nervous little laugh and rubbing the back of his neck, looking just about as awkward as humanly possible. Natasha gave her a pleasant little smile and a wave and the girl returned it half-heartedly while backing away, carefully retreating to the safety of the counter. Once gone, Oliver dropped his head on the table with a thump. Natasha smacked him with her notebook.
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" she hissed. She hit him one more time before shoving her notebook into her book bag. "My God you are such a freak show. Jesus, come on. Let's get out of here."
"Are we done studying?" he asked, refusing to lift his head from his arms.
"No." she snapped. "Not at all. But the guy with the fauxhawk over there looks like he wants to shank us."
Lifting his head a bit, he followed her pointing finger in the direction of the counter. The girl he had unintentionally traumatized was standing back there amidst the safety of the coffee filters, handing a drink to a much nicer, socially competent older gentleman in a suit. Beside her stood the other barista on duty, his dark hair swooped up in the middle, indeed looking like he would very much like to run Oliver through with a coffee stirrer. Awkwardly gathering up his belongings, he allowed Natasha to shuffle him out the door, all the while muttering about what a loser he was, as if he didn't already know.
He wondered if it was possible for a blush to become permanent.
"You are such a loser" she groaned for about the millionth time. They had made it roughly a block away, Natasha practically flying down the street on her clicky black heels, dragging Oliver to stumble along helplessly behind her. Her fingernails were hooked mercilessly into his wrist, digging little crescents into the flesh. He wondered if there would be blood upon their retreat.
"Oh gee, really? I hadn't noticed." His snark might have had more of an impact had it not been panted breathlessly.
"Do you know the size of the tip I had to leave? I don't even know if that's a thing, tipping at Starbucks, but I had to. I mean, did you see her face? She was probably new or something and you scared the shit out of her."
"It's not like I said any-"
"Her lip was quivering Oliver! There were lip quivers because you looked like you wanted her to die. Seriously, it was an empty plate. What the-"
"It wasn't the plate." He mumbled, trying futilely to twist his arm out of her increasingly painful grip. "It didn't have anything to do with her. I was just thinking about…stuff…"
"What the hell kind of stuff do you think about?"
"Different things" he mumbled self-consciously. He tried to fuck with his hair, but it was his right hand she had trapped. He considered using his left hand, but that required thinking and effort and it wasn't really something he did consciously anyways. He tapped his fingers against thigh instead. It wasn't the same. Judging from the way her nails stabbed harder into his wrist, that wasn't a legitimate answer. "Ouch! Fine, Stefan kinda stuff alright? Retract your claws, jeeze.!"
It was all he could do to avoid crashing in to her as she slammed on the brakes, spinning around on her skinny black heels. She heaved a sigh, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Please, please tell me I just had a stroke or something and that you didn't just say that."
"Seriously Oliver, what is your deal with that guy, because I don't get it. I didn't really get it before either but I just figured…you know. Whatever. But I've just spent the entire fall semester watching you glare holes in the back of a guy who, aside from dressing like the freaking Unibomber, seems perfectly alright." She finished with an irritated huff, her fists planted firmly on her hips. Oliver bit back a sigh, somehow restraining himself from mentioning that maybe someone walking around looking like a terrorist shouldn't be written off so quickly. She was right, she didn't get it. She'd transferred in their junior year, after Stefan had graduated, and had thus never understood his animosity towards a man who had, to her knowledge, never done a damn thing to him. Oliver knew better though.
Two years older than him, his brother had worked to make Oliver's life in high school a living hell. Brotherly moments were few and far between, mostly reserved for private moments or family tragedies. Or that one time he beat up Billy Lincoln for breaking Oliver's nose in the fifth grade. That had been kind of nice. For the most part however, he seemed to derive the most pleasure out of watching his younger brother squirm, his best friend Stefan his co-conspirator, a silent sentry for all manner of Aaron's cruelties. He made good back up, standing there all tall and intimidating in a bulky black hoodie that Oliver had rarely seen him without. Oliver had only heard him speak a number of times, but it was usually to tease him, or one of many chuckles he'd had at the younger man's expense. Needless to say, this had failed to endear the man to him.
But Natasha, looking down at him from the peaks of her towering heels, knew none of that. She wasn't there when Aaron zip-tied his laces to the lunch table, or made a target out of him in dodge ball. She'd never watched as he slunk into the back of the classroom, his teeth chattering in the mid-November chill as toilet water dripped in icy rivulets from his hair because Aaron's friends thought it would be funny. And she'd never seen Stefan StPatrick hold his books above his head so Aaron could pants him, shove him into a locker or stand guard during any number of Aaron's "pranks". Aaron's lackeys had come and gone as quickly as his girls, but Stefan always remained an unfortunate constant that Oliver could always depend on.
But Natasha didn't know that. She knew what other people had done…or tried to do anyways. The two older boys had marked Oliver for the rest of high school, painted a target on his back for everyone else who thought it might be fun to torture the vertically-challenged ginger kid, until after becoming friends Natasha had decided she would have none of it. Some football player had once made the mistake of hassling him within her eyesight only to find himself retracting his balls from his throat. It still wasn't the same though. She had met Aaron a few times and agreed that he was a dick, but she'd never known them together in their prime and God willing never would. He'd told her a little, but they were memories of a time he would much rather forget than dredge up and recreate for her enlightenment.
"Look Nat" he mumbled, shuffling uncomfortably. He'd crammed his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans, his fingers scrambling against the bottoms as if trying to delve deeper. His hands didn't want to be here either. "It's just…" he swallowed. "Look, you know me, right? I don't hate people for no reason. So just believe me when I say the guy's a dick okay?" The corner of his lip tasted of blood where he'd been grinding the chapped surface beneath his teeth and he licked at it a little, a nervous little gesture. He had too many of those, like a paranoid squirrel or something, but he couldn't help it. He studied the toe of his sneakers attentively, waiting for Nat's response, his heart in his throat until he heard her sigh. Not a frustrated, exasperated sigh, but one of surrender.
"Yeah, okay." She replied, not unkindly. She looked down at the slender silver watch around her wrist. "So do you want to go get lunch or something? We could bring some pizza back to your place. Finish studying there."
Oliver grinned. He knew it probably looked a little tired but hoped she would just ignore it. "Nah. No don't look like that", he added when she started to pull a face, "It's not because of any of… this. It's just getting kind of late is all and I promised Nathan I'd help him with his poetry explication. At last count it was one hundred fifty words and he was literally dying. He swears he's put actual blood sweat and tears into this thing. I'm kind of concerned." When he smiled again, it was more genuine, if still a bit frayed. "Plus Travis has his frat bros over tonight. We couldn't have studied anyways."
She pulled a face anyway, but this time it was one of disgust, her nose all crinkled up above her downturned mouth. "Really? I'm getting turned down for Briney."
She may not have fully understood Oliver's completely justified hatred of Stefan StPatrick, but Oliver had an equally hard time comprehending her own dislike of Nathan Briney. One of Oliver's closest friends, the first one he'd made during his Freshman year of college, Nathan was nice, friendly, and reasonably attractive. So he told the occasional off-color joke and had a horrible grasp on literature? Oliver didn't really see the problem. Natasha, however, had met him once, smiled politely, and then excused herself to go to the bathroom only to never return. Oliver had been forced to make up a story about how she had suddenly gotten her period and had been forced to flee to the drugstore for feminine hygiene products, not because he especially wanted to talk about bleeding vaginas but because it was one of the few surefire ways to prevent follow up questions. It had worked spectacularly, Nathan spending the remainder of the night staring forlornly into his basket of onion rings and avidly avoiding the ketchup. It would have been hilarious had it not been so damn pitiful.
Oliver often wondered if there was more to the story than he knew, but he'd never asked and neither one had offered up any sort of explanation for him. Mostly he just shrugged it off, sending them confused looks every now and then but ultimately just setting aside separate time for each of them. They both got along with Travis at least, so that was something. This evening, however, the irony might actually kill him. Folding his arms stubbornly he arched an eyebrow and just waited. Natasha spent several seconds pointedly avoiding his gaze before finally just giving in with a sigh.
"Alright, fine. Pot. Kettle. I get it." She waved her hand in a little circle, rolling her eyes. "Although to be fair, I'm not the one letting my obsessive dislike affect my day to day life. Like passing chemistry or ordering coffee." The words fell from her mouth as if under duress, but by the end she was grinning playfully, hitching her bag a little higher on her shoulder. "Abandon me if you must. But don't forget to study some more later too okay? Fuller's Shakespeare final is supposed to be like, the bane of all existence. I've heard it referred to as The Holocaust of the English Department. Guy takes his shit seriously."
"Yeesh…" Oliver winced, his eyes briefly falling down to his book bag in horror. His little Shakespeare notebook just sat there innocently, looking for all the world like the sweetest little school supply ever. He wondered if it would cackle evilly before the test was through. "Well, we have all night to cram I guess…" He suddenly resented the day he thought an eight AM Shakespeare class would be a fun idea… "I'll see you then?"
"I'll bring the coffee." She nodded grimly.
Unsurprisingly, Nathan's paper had taken much longer to fix than Oliver had originally anticipated. He had no idea why the guy whose biggest poetic insight into John Donne's "The Flea" had been that "That guy needs to get laid. Bad." had decided to take an entire class of upper division poetry, especially considering that his entire athletic scholarship hung in the balance, but after several hours he'd managed to jerry-rig his paper into something resembling a questionable excuse for a passing explication. Nathan, bleary eyed and drained, had offered Oliver everything from a box of Pop-Tarts to his first born child in gratitude before promptly falling asleep over his notebooks, mumbling curses towards fleas and virgins. Oliver had just sighed, rolled his eyes, and headed home smiling much later than intended.
He didn't mind the late hour, Nathan was a good guy and even if his foolish unrequited crush had faded after a month or two, it still felt good to help him out. Unfortunately, however, that meant that he was going straight to bed, do not pass GO, and most definitely do not drag out any more study materials. His eyes were crossing as he slid his key into the lock, opening the apartment door as quietly as possible. The living room was dark, bodies scattered about haphazardly, lit only by the blue screen of the television. Stirring at his entrance, Travis lazily lifted a hand from the couch in a pathetic attempt for a wave. Stepping over a mass of textbooks and spilled popcorn, Oliver wondered just how long they'd crammed before giving up and popping in a movie. Oliver liked the guys, they were pretty laid back and surprisingly friendly, but they weren't exactly known for their lengthy attention spans or voracious study habits.
He stumbled into his room, yawning and rolling his scratchy tired eyes towards the little clock on his nightstand. It was blinking the numbers 2:30 like a threat, glowing and red and ominously warning him that he'd only get five hours of sleep at best if he passed out right this second. Groaning he dropped his book bag to the floor, hurrying to take off his pants, prioritizing sleep over tooth brushing that was going to take place in the morning anyways. It wasn't until he'd stripped down to his boxers, reaching to shut off the light, that he noticed the little piece of glinting silver at his feet.
It lay there innocently on the floor, apparently having spilled from his fallen bag. With a sense of wary apprehension, Oliver scooped it up. It was an oblong little stone made of metal, cool to the touch, its surface a swirling silver like solidified Mercury. He froze helplessly, watching as the colors mixed and mingled visibly within the stone, but when he traced one finger along the top he felt no movement. Just the faint indentation of a carving. It was subtle, but there were three wavy lines etched in thin white scars across the top like a miniature wave amidst a tumultuous Mercury sea.
There was a note fastened to the chain, no bigger than a fortune from a Chinese cookie and completely superfluous. He knew with an uncomfortable certainty exactly who it had come from. He swallowed hard, a lump of panic sitting firm in his throat doing its level best to choke him. Suffocate him. He collapsed on the edge of his bed, staring at the pretty swirling stone in his palm. He wasn't sure how long he sat there, forcing air in and our around the knot in his throat, one hand pressed against the increasing queasiness in his stomach. He wasn't sure about a lot of things anymore: How long had he had this? When was it given to him? And how? By who, if anyone? No, sitting there in the dim light from his lamp, the only thing he was sure about anymore was that he was that these were powers beyond his understanding, and that he was definitely in over his head. And that he probably wasn't getting any sleep tonight.
Glancing at the slip of paper he erupted into a hysterical little laugh.
Press to your throat for relaxation and calming.