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Hi, guys! Happy Friday! I post bearing more original fiction.

Specifically, another vignette in my Pape and Danforth series. Remember them? No? Why am I not surprised? ::g::

Here is the most recent master list of all the stories, listed in order with the first story in the narrative (more or less) at the bottom:

The Girl in the Kitten Toque
Boots or Hearts
The Old Man at the Window
The Nesquick and the Dead
The Old Lady and her Dog
Stealing Costs Everybody
Pape and Danforth

Title: Side Effects May Include Sleep Problems
Length: 1,912 Words
Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Warnings: Mention of recreational drug use
HC_Bingo Square: Exhaustion (Bingo card is here.)

Summary: Charles shook his head. "It's nothing," he croaked. "I just…" I need proof that you're alive, but he couldn't say that. He reached for him instead, because the one true difference between real people and dead people was that if someone was dead you couldn't touch them.

Kind of Long Author's Note: I have to say I'm a bit disappointed that I wasn't able to come up with anything less directly related to the prompt. I generally like being more subtle. But on the other hand this is a pretty unsubtle series anyway, so hopefully it fits. :)

I also didn't intend for the whole thing to be such a Public Service Announcement. As of this addition, I've written about the evils of stealing, smoking, neglectful parenting, and now drugs. Next I'll probably write something about the importance of wearing a seat belt. All I can say is that I'm sorry and I'm really not proselytizing; It just kind of happened.


It was just about six in the morning and Charles was almost asleep, finally, right on the edge between the world and warm black nothing when he was slammed completely awake by the gunshot rattle of Josh's key in the lock of the front door.

The door banged open a second later and Josh crashed into the apartment. The light clicked on and stabbed everything, reminding Charles how he'd meant to close his bedroom door when he went to bed and obviously hadn't.

Charles clenched his seared eyeballs shut as Josh cheerfully stomped whatever snow and salt had survived the lobby and the elevator ride off his boots, then let the heavy front door slam shut, ruffled and thudded off his winter clothes then stamped and hummed his way into the kitchen, turning more lights on as he went.

Sometimes Charles was sure Josh completely forgot that other, normal people slept at night. Not that Charles actually had. A cupboard thumped open and closed and then so did the fridge, and Charles was wondering if there was any way he could get up and close his door without Josh noticing when Josh walked into his room.

"Hey, you awake?" There was more than enough light from the rest of the apartment for Charles to see that Josh was beaming at him with his hundreds of big, impossibly white teeth. He had a glass of milk clutched in both hands.

"I am now. Thanks," Charles said. He rolled onto his side and yanked the covers up over his head. He was so tired that the room did a slow loop with him when he moved, following like an afterimage. "Go away."

Predictably, Josh came into the room instead and turned that light on too. Charles squinted at the brightness under the blanket where he'd left enough space so he could breathe. There was a soft whap as Josh sat on the bed.

"Sorry." Josh didn't sound sorry at all. "I figured you'd gone out or something."

"Until five in the morning?" Charles pulled the blanket down and flopped onto his back since it was hot and it was too bright in the room to sleep. He squinted up at Josh who was noisily drinking the milk and probably not listening anyway.

Josh blinked at him over the glass, then pulled it away from his mouth and wiped his lips on his sleeve. It looked like he'd stolen one of Gloria's shirts again because this one was black and tight with a pink ankh on it.

"It's five in the morning?" Josh checked the big, expensive wristwatch his father had bought him, almost upending his glass in the process, and then smiled innocently. "Oops?"

Charles sighed. He closed his eyes against the bright light and only realized he'd been dozing when Josh moved. "What?" he asked, forcing his eyes open.

"You okay?" Josh asked him. He must've put the glass on the floor because his hands were empty and resting on his thighs.

"I'm really tired," Charles said, which he thought was pretty obvious. "I didn't sleep all night." He hadn't slept well for days. Mostly he just lay in the dark with his eyes wide open, sure that any second the ghost with the throat hole would come back; or if not him than a new one: some other dead stranger gate crashing Charles's life with no history or name but sometimes--if he was really unlucky--traces of what killed them.

"That's too bad," Josh said. "You should've come out with me! It was awesome." He gave Charles another of his blinding grins. His pupils were so large they'd swallowed nearly all of the colored iris. With all the lights on Charles wasn't sure how Josh could see.

"Are you high?" Charles demanded, even though he was thinking, Josh would never do that. Josh got drunk, not stoned. He got drunk and started fights and came home with bruises and shit-eating grins and laughed when Charles worried about him. But he didn't do drugs then come home with pupils like doll eyes and no marks on him at all.

But Josh just smirked and said "Yeah. Matt scored some Percocet, so I tried it. It's cool." He lifted his hands and wiggled his fingers. "I'm all floaty."

"Percocet?" Charles echoed. He didn't even know what that was. He sat up then shoved his pillow aside so he could lean against the wall behind him. Maybe he had fallen asleep and he was really dreaming this. Josh didn't take drugs. He thought anyone who did was a loser. "You don't take drugs."

Josh shrugged, looking guilty. "Yeah, well. Matt really wanted me to try it. So I did." He grinned again. "Having sex on this stuff is awesome."

Charles blinked at him. He'd known about Josh's boyfriend for awhile now, but only in the abstract. Matt was just a name. He only mattered as a reason for Josh to be out of the apartment, but now Charles kind of hated him.

He scrubbed his face with his hand. It was probably just how tired he was but he felt a little drugged himself. This was all wrong. "I don't think you should go out with Matt anymore."

"Matt loves me," Josh said, like that was the important part when his pupils had swallowed his irises and his skin was white, white, white under the black shirt, like this Percocet crap had drained the color out of him. Turned Josh into just another ghost.

And maybe it really was the exhaustion fucking with him, but suddenly all Charles could think of was the old lady with the little dog. He'd endured a whole conversation with her and then he found out later she was just as dead as her boyfriend Gerald or the woman in the pharmacy, or the vision he'd had of Josh dead, with his face crushed and the boot prints all over him.

But this Josh was still alive. Unless he wasn't.

And if that were true, then Josh was dead. Really dead. Not maybe-someday-if-Charles-didn't-stop-it-from-happening-dead, but forever dead. No more Joshua. Not ever.

"What's wrong?" Josh asked him, big eyed and worried. His pupils shone like metal in the light. "You okay? You look like you're going to puke."

Charles shook his head. "It's nothing," he croaked. "I just…" I need proof that you're alive, but he couldn't say that. He reached for him instead, because the one true difference between real people and dead people was that if someone was dead you couldn't touch them. The cars had driven right through the girl at the bus stop and poor Gerry was like the ice crystals that formed outside when you breathed. But Joshua's chest was solid and warm against Charles's hand, his heart ticking beneath it: I'm here, I'm here, I'm here. The skin of Joshua's face was warm under the slow sweep of Charles's thumb.

If he wasn't so damn tired, Charles thought in the bright flash of the second afterwards, he would've just put his hand around Joshua's wrist or on his elbow or his knee. But he was, and he didn't, and when Charles touched him Joshua lit up like a bonfire, grinning wide and so incredibly happy. And then he leaned forward and cupped Charles's face, and kissed him like this was everything he'd ever wanted.

Charles hadn't been kissed--not a real kiss, not like this one--in more than a year, and really not all that much before that. So just the pressure of Joshua's lips on his own was like a beautiful current scorching down his spine. It felt great. It felt fantastic. But then Josh straddled his thighs and Charles was good with that, that was fine, until he remembered that this was Joshua. And Charles loved Joshua, he really did. But not like this. Not in the way that would lead to what Josh wanted to do.

Charles had been perfectly sure of that, right until this exact moment. But now with Josh's tongue sliding lazily over his and Josh's hand more than half way to his dick, Charles couldn't tell if only his body wanted this or if his heart did too. All he knew for certain was that he was way too exhausted to try figuring it out.

So he wrapped his hand around Josh's wrist like he should have in the first place, and Josh froze then yanked himself away so fast he almost fell off the bed.

"You touched me!" Josh immediately shot at him, all hot indignation. "You--you wanted that! Don't tell me you didn't!"

"I'm sorry," Charles said. He pushed himself up on his elbows but he couldn't sit up because Josh was still on his legs. "I…" What? I wanted to make sure you weren't a ghost? He couldn't say that; he'd sound crazy. It was crazy. Josh would never believe him. "The, um. It was the Percocet. I wanted to make sure you're all right."

Josh's expression was a complicated mess of anger and hurt and embarrassment. "You put your hands on my chest and my face because of the Percocet." It wasn't a question because the words were so obviously a lie. He pulled his leg off of Charles so he could step onto the floor.

"No, wait! Josh!" Charles shot upright and the room surged and ebbed like a tide around him. He grabbed blindly for any part of Josh he could reach and managed to snag the hem of his shirt. "Don't. Don't go. I'm sorry, I…" One at Josh's face and his thoughts scattered like mice. "Jesus. I'm so tired I can't even think." He blinked hard a few times, trying to clear some of the static out of his brain. It didn't help.

"Let go of me before I punch your fucking teeth in," Joshua said. Charles was stretching out his shirt.

"I had a nightmare, before you came in," Charles blurted, desperate. "I dreamed you died, okay? So--so I wanted to make sure you were…um, that you weren't a ghost." At least that was closer to the truth, and humiliating enough that Charles thought Joshua would buy it.

He let go of Joshua's shirt.

"I'm really tired," Charles said.

Josh wasn't smiling, but at least he didn't look so angry anymore.

"I'm sorry," Charles said.

Josh just kept staring at him, and then he ran his fingers through his hair and smiled almost like he wanted to. "Yeah. No, you're right--I'm kind of stoned, eh?" He didn't actually laugh. "I probably should…" He made a gesture that was too vague to mean anything.

"Yeah," Charles said, smiling back at him in relief. "I guess I'll see you later, then."

"Yeah," Josh said. He hesitated, then took a step forward but then stopped like he'd changed his mind. "Yeah, later."

He left the door wide open behind him.

"Damn it," Charles muttered, not really because of the door. He hauled himself out of bed, staggered over to the door and shut it then stumbled back to the bed again. But he couldn't sleep.

Instead he listened to Josh: quiet but not quiet enough as he moved around the apartment. And Charles thought about Matt and Percocet, and Joshua and him, and how if you cared enough about someone, they could make you do anything at all.

END
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