“Good morning, sleepyhead.”
Sylus lifted the blankets just enough to peek out into the room. Jeron stood with a tray full of food in his hands.
“I was going to wake you up eventually, but it looks like your timing is perfect,” he rested the tray on the coffee table in the middle of the vaulting living room.
Sylus peered up at him from beneath his den of blankets. Jeron caught his gaze between the fabric he’d wrapped himself in. He couldn’t help but smile.
Rounding the table for the couch, Jeron gently tapped Sylus with an unspoken request for him to sit up. With a snorting groan, Sylus obliged. Jeron was quick to take his seat. Unwilling to fully wake up, Sylus leaned against his shoulder, keeping the blankets wrapped firmly around himself. Jeron lifted his arm and placed it along the back of the couch behind him.
“How did you sleep?” he nearly whispered.
“Mmm,” Sylus squirmed a bit closer to him, “Better than ever,” he muttered through his groggy, waking mind.
Jeron slid his arm down across Sylus’ shoulders. Squeezing him tightly for a moment, Jeron fought the damning desire to do something more. Sylus, instead, took matters into his own hands. Leaning up against Jeron’s side, he planted a small kiss on the man’s cheek before resting his head on his shoulder.
“Breakfast smells delicious,” Sylus breathed as he slowly undid his blanket cocoon.
Jeron was completely locked in place. A thousand thoughts sped through his mind yet he failed to focus on a single one. The speed was so blinding, he felt as though his mind was completely empty rather than exploding with a million different feelings.
Sylus froze as he reached for a piece of toast. The realization of what he’d done finally caught up to him. He sat back in silence. Resigned disappointment plastered on his face.
Silence. Long, drawn-out, painful silence. They both stared across the room at nothing. Jeron returned his arm to the back of the couch. Sylus sat shrunken into the back of the piece of furniture. Unmoving, unblinking… they stared.
A loud growling sound came from deep inside of Sylus. His eyes widened in horror as he became aware of the weight inside of him.
“Oh god…” He spat as he threw the blankets aside. Jeron turned to find him staring down at something moving inside of him.
“W-what the… Sy what the hell is that?!” It took more control than Jeron thought he had to stifle what should have been an outright bellow into a quiet shriek. The last thing he wanted was to summon Daniel to the room.
“Shit,” Sylus sighed, “I thought it was just a dream…”
Jeron was caught off guard by how calm Sylus remained. He wasn’t sure if he should run for help or try to perform an impromptu surgery himself. He may not have any medical experience, but he knew how to use a knife.
“Sy…” His voice shook, “What the hell is that? Do I need to get help? I-I’ll go get Henley…” Jeron stood up to leave, but Sylus was quick to grab his arm.
“Don’t. Please.” The calm of Sylus’ tone was betrayed by desperation. “Don’t panic. Please. I know I did for a second there, but I need you to try to stay calm and stay with me.”
Jeron slowly sat back down on the couch, his gaze locked on the writhing thing inside of Sylus.
“D-does it hurt?” he choked the words from his drying throat.
“Not… Not really,” Sylus muttered, “It… It just feels… weird…”
“Shit, Sy…” Jeron hissed as he finally managed to look away, “What the hell is going on!?” Tears burned in his eyes, “Are you okay?”
“I-” Sylus thought a moment, “I think I’m okay. I think…” his stomach growled a bit, “I think…” he lowered his shirt with a sigh. “I think I need to leave, Jeron. I-I’m so sorry,” he stood up, dropping the blankets to the floor, “I-I’m… There’s… I… I don’t even know…”
Jeron stood up behind him. “Just tell me what’s going on.” The rattle in his voice was replaced with a stern commanding tone. “Tell me what I can do.”
Sylus paused at the top of the stairs, his hand gripping the railing for dear life.
“Sy, I want to help. Please. Just tell me what the hell is going on and what I can do to help. Please…” The wavering in his voice had returned, but rather than being born of fear, concern dripped from every syllable. “Let me help, Sy. Please.”
A cold, sharp laugh shot from Sylus’ lips. He shook his head before slowly looking over his shoulder.
“Jeron,” his voice devoid of emotion, “I am a freak. A monstrosity. I’ve always been that. Nothing more…”
“You tolerated me, and I found comfort in that. But in the past few days…” Sylus paused a moment to fight back his tears, “I’ve become nothing short of a monster. A true, real-deal, nightmare-inducing monster.” He turned to face the man he cared so deeply for. “And now I’ve ruined everything.” A single tear managed to make its way down his cheek.
“Sy, come on, please… Let’s just talk…” Jeron took a hesitant step towards him.
“About what?” Sylus bellowed, “There’s something inside of me… It… I…” he scoffed, “It made me think I was something I’m not. I forgot who and what I am.”
“What do you mean, Sy? Talk to me…”
Sylus shook his head rapidly, shaking the voices echoing through his mind. All his own. Screaming, crying, panicking… A thousand voices reflecting the fear and regret that now coursed through his veins.
He took a deep, shuttering breath, “It’s not fair to you.”
Jeron stood silent and still. He wasn’t sure what more to say.
“I… I’ve dragged you and your family into my shitty life and I…” he gasped, “I’m only making things worse for everyone…”
A sharp crack filled the room. The sting of something colliding with his face sent a wave of heat down his spine. Jeron stood mere inches from his face, his hand still poised after crossing Sylus’ cheek.
“Stop it.” He hissed through clenched teeth. “Stop it now.”
“J-Jer…” Sylus could barely focus on the man. He felt as though he was falling into an emotional abyss of his own making. “I’m so sorry…” it took every ounce of strength he had left to whisper those few words.
“Goddammit, Sylus!” Jeron took hold of his shoulders, “You fucking… Why?!”
“I-I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…” He had lost control. Tears streamed uncontrollably down his face. His own hands reached up, weakly taking hold of Jeron’s arms. “I don’t know what came over me… I…”
All at once, he felt himself taken completely into Jeron’s arms. Their lips touched for the first time. Sylus couldn’t think. Every thought he could muster was devoured by this moment. Was this real? Was he dreaming? Just as he felt Jeron leaning away, he finally gave in to the overwhelming desire to return the gesture. Fingers wove into hair. Hands caressed faces. Desperately holding on to one another as if the second this moment ended, they’d vanish completely. Hot breath coursed over ravening tongues. Every inch. Every molecule. Every moment… Tasted. Touched. Felt with every fiber of their being. A soft moan, a gentle tug, noses grazing each other with little care… It didn’t matter. Nothing outside of their starving lips and ensorcelled tongues mattered. This was their world now. And in this moment, it was all that mattered.
Something rested gently on Jeron’s shoulder even though he was certain both of Sylus’ hands were on his posterior. There was a moment’s pause as he pulled away to see what it was. Sylus stared at him desperate for the moment to return. A tendril hung over Jeron’s shoulder, wrapping itself slowly around his arm. Somehow, he remained calm as he traced it’s origin… to Sylus. Sylus followed his gaze.
The moment was dead as Sylus shrieked in terror.
“Hey!” Jeron took hold of his shoulders once more, “Stay with me. Come on…”
“What… What… What am I…” Sylus tried to pull away, but Jeron’s strength far outweighed his desire to escape, “What’ve I become…”
Jeron smiled at him before returning his gaze to the tendril resting lazily on his shoulder. “It’s weird, I’ll admit,” he didn’t have to force the laugh that punctuated his bemusement, “But… It’s you, Sy… Somehow…” he sighed, “It’s part of you…”
Sylus’ gaze wavered as he fought back the urge to melt into a puddle of tears.
“Does it hurt?” Jeron placed a hand on Sylus’ face.
“I-I didn’t even… Feel it…”
As they slowly pulled away from each other, the tendril touched the side of Jeron’s face. Soft, smooth, firm… Gentle… Jeron smiled.
“Must have been one hell of a dream…” he chuckled as he touched the tip of the appendage.
“Ah!” Sylus recoiled almost sending himself down the stairs. Jeron reached out, but the tendril had already wrapped itself around his wrist, staying Sylus’ fall.
“I-I’m sorry… Did…” Sylus took hold of Jeron’s hand, allowing him to help him upright, “Did I hurt you?”
“N-no…” Sylus stared at the serpentine thing as it slowly released Jeron’s arm. “I… I’m…” His face was heating up. The mere touch was a sensory overload unlike anything he’d ever felt. It shot straight to the core of his being sparking something that laid so deeply dormant and neglected that Sylus had all but forgotten he had such a need. “It… I…” He wanted to tell Jeron exactly how it felt, but he was afraid of how perverse it would sound.
The tendril, as if acting on its own, wrapped itself gently around Jeron’s still outstretched hand. His gaze shifting between it and Sylus, he slowly closed his grip.
“Ahh!” Sylus recoiled again, but this time he was steadied enough to maintain his balance. “Ah, Jeron… Stop…”
Jeron was quick to release his grip. “I-I didn’t mean… Did… Did I hurt you?”
“No…” Sylus breathed, struggling to hide the flush overtaking his pallid features. “I-it…” He took a deep breath, “It’s… Very sensitive…” was all he said before pushing past Jeron into the living room. Lifting his shirt, he found his stomach once more flat and devoid of movement. A strange thing to be so happy about.
“Huh,” Jeron turned to face him. With his back turned to him, he could see that the tendril came from high along his spine. It had slipped out over the collar of his shirt and hung awkwardly over the material. “Here,” Jeron approached him from behind. Stuffing the tendril back down Sylus’ shirt, he found its emanation point and tore into the fabric around it. It took a moment for it to find its way to the hole, but once it did, it hung a bit more naturally out the opening.
“Thank you, Jeron,” Sylus smiled.
“Is it at all strange that I find nothing wrong with any of this?”
Sylus turned to face him. “I think it means you’re insane.” He replied with a short laugh.
Jeron shook his head, “I’m not sure that’s what it is. I mean, I won’t lie. I’m not sure what’s going on and I am confused and mildly weirded out… But I’m not afraid.”
“Your flight instinct is broken, then,” Sylus laughed.
Jeron looked over his shoulder at the tentacle just floating around behind him, minding its own business.
“Maybe,” his gaze returned to Sylus’, “But I think I’m more curious and a tad bit concerned than I am afraid.”
A nervous laugh shook Sylus’ body, “I’d run if I were you…”
Jeron approached him slowly. Placing both hands on either side of his face, he whispered, “I really don’t think you would.”
“Heh, and why’s that?” Sylus stared back into Jeron’s beautiful brown eyes. They were more striking than ever as they pierced his own wavering gaze.
“Because,” he placed a soft kiss on Sylus’ lips, “You’d know that no matter how I much might change, I’d still be me.”
A shaky smile made its way across Sylus’ face. His lips quivered as his eyes began to water. He could do nothing to stop himself from embracing the man who’d been there for him from the very beginning. The man whose life he was so certain he’d ruined. He cried into Jeron’s chest.
“Shhh,” Jeron ran his fingers through his hair, “It’s still you, Sy. You’re still you…”
A gross sob lurched from Sylus’ lungs. Jeron held him close, rocking him slowly as they stood in place.
“I’m not-I’m not-” his voice kept hitching on his haggard breath, “I’m not a monster?”
Jeron seemed to ponder the idea a moment, “Well, if you are, you’re my monster, right?”
“Y-yours?” Sylus pulled away slowly.
“Ah, well, if that’s alright with you…” Jeron’s gaze awkwardly drifted away.
“Sy, I have no idea what I’m doing,” Jeron sighed, “Thirty-year-old virgin and all that. I just know I have feelings for you and I want to see… Well,” he rubbed the back of his neck, “Let me put it this way. If you just spurted a tentacle out of your back, and I’m not running for the hills, then I think It might be worth a shot to at least…” Jeron sagged, “Try it out… Try us out… I mean… As long as you…”
The tendril rested itself gently against Jeron’s lips.
“Yes.” Sylus breathed with a certainty he’d never felt before. “I would like that. Very much.”
Jeron grinned from ear to ear. The tendril patted him gently on the cheek before returning to its place floating behind Sylus.
“Weird, but effective,” Jeron chuckled, “Wonder what else it can do…”
Sylus gave a wry chuckle of his own, “We could find out. Someday. One step at a time.”
With a firm nod, Jeron replied, “One step at a time.”
Sylus’ stomach growled once more. “I-I think…” he looked down at the beautiful breakfast Jeron had made, “I think I’m hungry,” he smiled sheepishly.
“Then let’s eat!” Jeron plopped himself on the couch, offering Sylus a piece of toast.
Taking it with his tendril, he took a bite. “Perfect.” Sylus murmured as he took his seat beside the love he thought he’d never find.
Breakfast didn’t last long. Sylus found an insatiable hunger tearing through his body. He ate nearly everything on the food-laden tray. Jeron watched in confused awe as the man he’d known to seldom eat at all devoured a family’s worth of food. All the while, his tendril rested on the back of the couch.
“So… When you’ve had a moment to breathe,” Sylus looked up at him with egg on his lips. Jeron laughed, “Mind telling me where that came from?” He pointed at the tendril.
“Oh,” Sylus swallowed his mouthful, “Ah well…” he wiped his mouth on a cloth napkin, “Long story short?”
“As long as it has to be,” Jeron smiled.
“Well, in a word, Qaitax.”
“Qaitax?” Jeron winced at him, “That’s not the thing that’s in your head, is it?”
Sylus nodded as he jammed another piece of toast in his mouth, “Its name is Qaitax.”
Jeron groaned as he pressed the palms of his hands into his eyes.
“It’s okay, Jer,” Sylus swallowed hard, “It’s… not so bad…”
“Really? You mean a thing that can take control of your body at any second is ‘not so bad’?” Jeron scoffed, “You’re really, REALLY going to have to talk me through this one.”
Leaning back on the couch, Sylus did his best to explain.
“You have to understand, I’m not oblivious to the threat it could pose, but at the same time…” he sighed, “It made a compelling case for both our situations.”
“And what case is that, hm?” Jeron folded his arms as he had yet to be convinced of the benign nature of the creature that haunted his friend.
“Well… From what I can understand, it’s trapped somewhere and wants to be set free…”
“So you’re considering traveling through time and space to find some kind of eldritch monstrosity and set it free?” Jeron laughed incredulously, “Have there not been enough stories of what happens to mortals when they set god-like beings free? We already have enough problems with the Rift and the ‘Works… Do we really need another enemy?”
Sylus thought a moment. Jeron’s concerns were very reasonable, yet he still found himself unsure if they were necessary.
“It claims it’s very weak,” he continued, “and that it’s imprisoned somewhere…”
“And what if it’s all just some ruse to get you to set it free so it can destroy our world? Hm? It hast be trapped for a reason. Someone put it where it is, why should you free it?”
Sylus couldn’t help but sigh. He had nothing to truly counter Jeron’s concerns outside of a vague feeling that he could actually trust the creature.
“And what if it’s imprisoned for some other reason? What if it’s locked away for some other reason than because it’s evil?” Sylus mused aloud, “It claims mortals put it where it is. Maybe we could learn how to do that, too? Trap these creatures if we have to?”
Jeron rolled his eyes.
“Jeron, look,” Sylus sat up on his knees, “I’m weak. I’m pathetic.”
“This thing is offering me the strength to protect you all! How can I refuse something like that, Jer?” Tearful passion welled inside of Sylus, “It’s all I’ve ever wanted. To be a good father. A good friend. A good…” he sighed, the idea of being a lover was still too foreign for him to acknowledge.
Jeron sighed heavily, “I just worry that this is all a pile of lies. That it’s doing something to you, conditioning you, feeding you false hope…”
“Jer… Please…” Sylus’ gaze fixated on the vaulting roof, “Trust me. Please, trust me.” Jeron gave an unconvinced grumble. “I’m still in control. Like you said, Jer: It’s still me. I’m still here. That won’t change. I promise.”
Jeron stared at the tendril. It laid mostly still save for the gentle undulation of its flesh.
“Goddammit, Sy…” Jeron pressed his hands into his eyes again, “I trust you, but… I have to be able to know when enough is enough. When you’re in too deep and need to be pulled out…”
Sylus gave a wry laugh, “Jeron, I was in too deep the second I started working at the ‘Works. As of yesterday?” he took a deep breath, “I feel like I’m drowning…” he turned to Jeron once more, “I need every edge I can get.”
“Sy… Don’t fall for the power trap… Please… You’re smarter than that…”
Sylus nodded, “Believe me, I’m still skeptical. I’ll remain that way until otherwise proven wrong, but I’m not fully on board with anything yet. One thing it said is that it can’t force me to do anything. That I have to do it on my own. That I have to make the conscious decision to help it…”
“Yet it can possess your body!” Jeron bellowed, “Of COURSE it can force you to do things! It’s already done that!”
“You believe that?!”
“Jer…” Sylus rested his face in his palms, “I really have no choice but to at least hear it out. We’re stuck in each other’s minds and it’s clear neither of us want that.”
“You believe that? Really? That you bother it as much as its tormenting you?” It was clear that Jeron was on the verge of throwing his hands in the air and walking away.
“Jer… That’s the only thing I actually believe entirely. Everything else? I’ll play it all by ear, but that?” Sylus groaned, “That part I believe. Without a doubt.”
“Why?” Jerons’ voice shook with frustration.
“Because… The way it spoke… Something about it… It sounded so familiar… Like I could have been the one saying it…”
“Manipulation,” Jeron barked, “That’s all it is. It has to stop, Sylus…”
“How? Henley is the only one with an idea and I kinda sorta maybe strongly dislike the idea of being forced under someone else’s control against my will…”
“And how is that different from what this Qaitax does to you?”
Sylus paused a moment in thought, “Maybe on the surface, it really isn’t any different. But I have to rely on intention. Henley scares the shit out of me. He used his power to kill. Qaitax hasn’t actually hurt me in any way. Sure it’s haunted my dreams for years, but… There’s… Ugh…” Sylus groaned, “When I talk to Henley, there’s always a hint of deception. Of ill will. When I speak to Qaitax, I get a sense of desperation and fear. Like its afraid of something. It feels a lot like I do sometimes… I don’t think anything can fake that… Even some god-like creature… It’s something so distinctly human… I…” Sylus sighed, “I can’t convince you, Jeron and I won’t try, but I just ask that you work with me on this and, well, stay with me. I might still need you to pull me out someday…”
A long silence set in.
“I just don’t want you to get hurt, Sylus,” Jeron finally breathed.
Sylus pressed himself against Jeron’s side, “I have something now that I’ve never had before…”
Jeron looked down at him with a soft smile, “And what’s that?”