Blurring the Line
Notes: This is intended to the first in a series of stories set in my particular little universe. There will be slash (boy/boy romance) in all parts, so proceed with caution. The prologue to this series is called 'Edges of Reality', but you don't need to read that in order to understand this one.
Brian was on the way home from the library when the world got lost.
It might or might not have been an instantaneous thing; it was dark out, and he'd decided to take the shortcut through the park. As usual, he'd managed to lose track of time, and being late for dinner wasn't going to make him popular at home. But there was a cluster of trees to pass through along that path, and for just a moment or two, there was no way to see the lines of houses in his neighborhood. With the combination of this and the darkness associated with the hour, it took him a few minutes to realize that the houses had failed to reappear.
I don't think that's a good sign… Brian looked forward through the trees. Even in the darkness, he could recognize the shapes ahead: more trees. I'd better go back. He turned to retrace his steps.
There was an immediate problem with that plan, though: the path he'd just walked up had somehow vanished into bushes that definitely hadn't been there before.
Okay. Brian reached up and gripped the straps of his backpack - a nervous habit. No way out from behind. No way out from in front. Where does that leave? To the side. So, go.
Unfortunately, as he soon learned, the familiar cluster of trees in the park had given way to some sort of forest. After about ten more minutes of floundering around, he was forced to give up that idea.
Brian slid his pack off his shoulders. All right, don’t panic. The smartest thing to do when lost, his best friend had told him once, was to stay right where you were and wait for help. Oh, sure. And I can just hear what Tatyana would say if she found out I got lost in the park.
That was the problem, though - this wasn't the park.
This is ridiculous. Brian crossed his arms over his chest and frowned at the surrounding trees. I walked into the park. I've done that tons of times. It only takes fifteen minutes to walk out again, and I'm sure there wasn't a forest around.
And fourteen years was too old to believe in the impossible.
Therefore, there was only one conclusion to be made: Brian Henderson had finally gone insane.
Well, with what I have passing for a best friend, I'm surprised this didn't happen sooner. Brian leaned against the tree behind him with a sigh. Since he was crazy, it probably wasn't a good idea to be wandering out in the park any more - after all, he might hurt himself. It would be better to wait until someone came out to look for him; then he could be brought back home safely, and tucked off into a nice nuthouse somewhere. As long as he had a few good historical novels brought in every so often, life probably wouldn't be too bad.
Or maybe, since he was insane, he could just read the same book over and over and it would always seem like the first time. That would be a definite plus.
"Maybe I should read while I'm waiting," Brian decided out loud. It was all right to talk to himself now that he was crazy, after all. He opened his backpack and reached inside for one of the books he'd just checked out of the library.
And that was when disaster struck.
Before Brian could do more than plunge his hand into the bag, a wiry figure suddenly leaped out of the bushes beside him, clutching a knife that was aimed directly at the brown-haired boy's throat.
"Wha… AGH!" Only reflexes honed by years of sneak attacks from a psychotic best friend saved Brian from meeting a gruesome end ahead of his time. After-school jiu-jitsu training with Tatyana suddenly seemed like the best plan he'd ever put into action in his life; almost by instinct, he hit the ground rolling, and swiped one foot over to take out his assailant's legs.
The attacker must have been expecting that; he jumped back and then darted forward, knife clutched in his fist. He was smaller than Brian was, and very quick. A better fighter, too - that was painfully obvious. Crap! Several times he tried to catch the hand with the knife, but his opponent was much too fast for him.
"Wait! Stop! Who…? Ah, hey!"
Brian was all flailing arms and legs, knocking away anything that came near him and trying to avoid the blade of that knife. He was bigger than his opponent was - and probably stronger as well - but that wasn't doing him any good if he couldn't even get a hit in. How do I get myself into these messes? he thought, dropping as the knife sliced past his ear. He landed hard, rolling over a few times before coming to a halt in front of the same patch of bushes that the attack had come from. Dazed, he stared at the greenery, trying to un-scramble his thoughts.
The bushes stared right back at him.
He didn't have to wait long for an answer; there was a loud growl, and then the dark outline of a full-grown wolf jumped out of the bushes, giving Brian barely enough time to cover his head in panic before it leapt past him and crashed into his approaching attacker. There was an 'oof' sound, and the knife hit the ground, skittering past Brian's face.
Oh god… Brian scrambled forward, breathing harsh, and managed to clutch the handle in his badly shaking fingers. First a psychopath, and now a wolf… He crouched, ready to run, and warily looked up at his opponents.
The attacker was on the ground.
The wolf, however, was looking right back at him.
Abruptly, thoughts of fleeing or fighting vanished from Brian's mind. He'd seen wolves at the zoo before, but they weren't anything like this one. The eyes that glinted at him from the fur-lined muzzle were calm and aware - almost human in their quiet comprehension of the situation. And unlike most wolves, which had gold pupils, this wolf's eyes were a pure, eerie-looking silver.
Brian rose out of his crouch, panic forgotten. "You're not a real wolf," he said stupidly, shock and confusion muddling his mind. His heart rate was gradually slowing; he slumped a little, losing tension now that the fight seemed over.
Beside the wolf, the prone figure of his attacker stirred and sat up. He didn't appear to be suffering from the same sort of shock Brian was; when he looked over at the wolf, there was no evidence of surprise. "Why'd you stop me?"
From the clear, higher tone of his voice, he couldn't be more than twelve or thirteen years old.
Brian frowned, perplexed. Okay… I'm lost. The park turns into a forest, and a wolf and a kid with a knife attack me. Maybe I fell and hit my head, and this is all a dream. "Uh… excuse me?"
The boy turned to look at him, and Brian got another shock to his system. With his face turned up, and the moon shining in through the trees to highlight it, the face of the younger boy was finally in plain sight - and it wasn't any less unusual than the wolf's. The light-boned outline wasn't that strange, and neither were the huge silver-flecked blue eyes. It wasn't really weird for a boy to be something called beautiful, though it made Brian's throat clench in a way he'd never felt before. But the combination of it all… There was a sort of perfection in that face, a graceful feeling to the way the kid was put together, that seemed to make him unearthly. Too good to be quite human.
Brian couldn't stop staring. Under his loose black T-shirt, his heart was beating even harder and faster than it had been when he'd been fighting. He couldn’t think of a thing to say. Somehow, those icy blue eyes reached directly into his soul and claimed him, and he didn't have the faintest idea of what to do or how to deal with it.
The boy stood up. He was a couple of inches shorter than Brian was, but he had the lean, graceful form of a good fighter. He kept his eyes trained on the older boy for a moment, expression cold and suspicious. Then he turned his face back to the wolf. "Are you sure I can't kill him?"
Brian's daydream bubble burst instantly. "Hey! Now wait just a minute!"
He didn't need to worry; after a brief moment of looking at the wolf, the boy sighed as if in frustration, and looked back toward Brian. "Well?"
Brian blinked. "What do you mean 'Well?'"
The boy tilted his head to the side, as if he weren't quite sure what to make of him. "I mean, aren't you going to ask who I am? Or why I attacked you?"
"Oh. Yeah, I guess." He wasn't thinking all that clearly at the moment. "You don't happen to know where I am or how I got here, do you?"
"In the BorderLands, and how should I know?" The boy shrugged, but his eyes never left Brian's face. "The same way anyone gets in or out, probably: you happen to be in the right place at the right time."
"BorderLands…" Brian felt dizzy. This was just too strange. "That doesn't make any sense," he said flatly, to cover the moment. "It's impossible."
The boy shrugged again. "If you say so," he agreed, in a tone indicating that he couldn't care less what Brian did or did not believe. "I thought you might have food in that bag," he said, glancing at the discarded pack. "That's why I attacked you. She" - he titled his head in the direction of the wolf - "tells me I should stick to killing rabbits."
Psycho pretty boy who talks to wolves… Brian found a tree to lean against, feeling dizzy again. This was seriously messed up. "I don't have any food," he said, trying to force his voice to be steady. "Just books."
Well, this is awkward…
My name's Brian," the taller boy offered, not really sure what else to say. "How about you?"
There was a second of hesitation, and then the shorter boy seemed to decide he didn't really care. His eyes were wary and a little hostile, but he answered clearly enough. "Omen."
"Omen?" Brian frowned. "That's not a name; it's a word."
The boy shrugged a third time, indifferent. "Name or word, it's mine."
Who would name their kid 'Omen'? Still… Brian decided not to push it. Omen looked like he might be touchy about some things. There was a sort of masked hurt about him, like there were bad things that had happened in the past, or that still happened, that he'd resigned himself to experiencing. The brown-haired boy found himself beating down an irrational urge to sweep him up and carry him off where no one could hurt him.
He'd kick my ass if I tried that…
"Do you live around here?" he asked, putting that thought aside.
Surprisingly, Omen smiled at him; it wasn't exactly a friendly smile, but it was enough to make Brian's heart skip a beat. "You don't know much about the BorderLands, do you?"
It almost sounded insulting, the way he said it. Brian scowled. "I've never even heard of this place; how the hell am I supposed to know anything about it?"
"There's no such thing as a stable place to live in the BorderLands," Omen explained, as if he hadn't said anything. "Every few days, everything changes and you have to move again."
Brian wasn't sure he liked the sound of that. "Everything changes?"
Omen gave him that not-quite-friendly smile again. "You'll see."
Beside him, the wolf's ears suddenly perked up and it - she? - turned from them abruptly, loping back into the shadows on silent paws.
Brian blinked. "What's she doing?"
The shorter boy appeared to have tensed up. "She's hunting," he said shortly, staring after his furry companion. He seemed about to follow her, but hesitated for a moment, then turned back toward Brian. "I suppose I'll have to feed you, too," he commented blandly - before turning completely and fluidly melting into the darkness as well.
I resent that… Brian scowled again, sitting down with his back to the tree where he'd left his bag. He was willing to admit that he'd probably be worse than useless in a hunt… but did he have to say it like that? He made it sound like I'm some kind of house pet!
Brian sighed, burying tanned fingers in his hair and resting his elbows on the knee he'd brought up. This was the weirdest experience he'd ever been caught up in during the entire course of his life - and that was saying a lot, considering his best friend was Tatyana Dugerman. 'The BorderLands,' Omen had called the place. And they changed - whatever that meant. Even if that were somehow not really weird, he'd just been saved by a wolf after being attacked by a boy who talked to the wolf.
But the weirdest part - by far - was that unreasonable feeling he got when he'd first seen Omen. And when he looked at Omen after. And when he thought about Omen now.
What's wrong with me?
Even though he didn't notice girls at all, he'd never thought of himself as gay before.
But I'm not! I mean, I wasn't before… Brian let his hands slide down from his hair to cover his face. He'd never even considered the possibility. He didn't look at other guys that way; maybe he didn't notice girls, but he'd never noticed boys, either.
He sure as hell had noticed Omen, though.
This is nuts. Brian sat up straight, shoving his hands together purposefully. Logically speaking, I have to like one of the other. Right? Omen isn't his own gender… He was noticeably male, despite the smooth perfection of his face. Gah! Stop thinking that! I've never thought of guys that way!
But he'd never thought of girls that way, either.
Brian grimaced. This has to be puberty gone horribly wrong. That's all. A freaky accident that I will pass through soon enough, following which I will move on with life as a normal person. Being gay wasn't something he'd exactly aspired towards, but if he was, he'd better accept the fact and get over it. Being attached to just Omen and no one else was probably not conductive toward continuing good health.
I've got to stop thinking about it!
And the best way to do that was to pull out his best tactic for ignoring whatever - or whoever - was bothering him: a book.
Brian reached into his bag. He'd just come from the library, so he had more than one option when it came to reading material. The first things that came out of the bag were his reading glasses, which he removed from their case and slid on immediately. The second was one of the thick novels he'd just signed out.
And the problem was, it was too dark to read anything.
I don't think this is what Tatyana was thinking when she roped me into taking that survival course… but I'll probably need a fire if I want to eat, anyway. Brian pushed himself to his feet, and set out to work.
Omen and his pet wolf didn't make it back until quite a bit later; by that time, Brian was sitting by the small fire he'd set up with an engaging novel following the lives of fictional characters who were living in Rome during the time of its fall. He didn’t even notice that they'd returned until a pile of small, dead animals was dropped unceremoniously beside him.
At that, he jumped, lost the thread of what he'd been reading, and looked up automatically.
The look of Omen's face was strangely haunting in the shadows of the fire. "That's one of those books you said were in that bag?" He didn't seem to expect an answer, dropping into a crouch and looking at the book curiously. "What's in it?"
"It's a historical novel." Brian set the book down, warming to his favorite subject. "The author made some fictional characters who are supposed to be typical of citizens in that time period, and set them in a time when historical change of some sort is happening. It's really good."
Omen stared at the book for a moment longer. The look on his face made Brian think of someone struggling with the question of what they wanted to eat for lunch when offered the choice of their two favorite foods. The light made it easier to see the coloring of his skin: he wasn't as tanned as Brian was, but he didn't look like a work of alabaster, either. It was a bit of a contrast from the almost impossible perfection of his features; the touch of realism was attractive.
Okay… that line of thought stops right there.
After a moment of what looked like indecision, Omen sighed and turned his face away. "I guess we need to eat," he said, sounding regretful. Half turning, he gestured to the silver-eyed wolf lurking behind him, and she dropped to her haunches by the fire. "There's a stream where we can get water to go with this," he added. "I'll show you after we've eaten."
"Want me to cook?" Brian offered - and blinked in surprise as both wolf and boy turned their attention abruptly to him. "What? You caught it. It's only fair, right?"
Omen shrugged, picking up a dead hare by the ears. "Most of the people I've seen have some strange idea that it's demeaning for a male to do any sort of food preparation. I didn't expect you to know how."
"Where do you come from, the dark ages?" Brian tried not to grimace as he took the dead animal. "My father's been raising me on his own for the past eight years, so between the two of us, we have to know how to cook and clean. And I took a survival course with my best friend, so… We're going to have to skin this, by the way. Can I borrow your knife?"
The wary look was back. "I'll skin them," Omen said, taking back the rabbit. "You make a spit."
Suspicious, isn't he? Brian decided not to push it. "Whatever you say," he agreed, and looked around for a branch. Roasted rabbit probably wouldn't be the tastiest meal, but he wasn't stupid enough to let Omen know he thought that.
Surprisingly, dinner wasn't as stomach-turning as he'd expected. He used the still-fresh memory of the survival course to clean and then toast the meat, and Omen vanished briefly - to return with a strange combination of wild herbs that, oddly, made the meal somewhat edible. Brian didn't know where he'd found them, but he wasn't about to complain. The wolf, not surprisingly, ate her meal raw.
"So how did you end up traveling around with a wolf?" Brian asked, when he'd eaten as much as he thought he could keep down. "I thought wolves were pack animals."
"They are." Omen paused in the middle of downing his hunk of rabbit meat. "I'm like her pack, I guess." He shrugged. "She saved my life after my mother left me."
Brian was more shocked by the casual way he said that than anything. "Your mother left you?"
"When I was five years old," Omen said, indifferently. "That's about the usual age, but because I'm so much weaker than I'm supposed to be, I almost died. The wolf taught me to hunt, so I survived. We're used to each others' company by now."
The usual age? Brian remembered the early question he'd had, about what kind of person would name their son 'Omen'. Apparently, this was his answer. Geez… that's nuts! What kind of wacky society did he come from? Now more than ever, he wished he had the ability to defend this wild boy's honor. "Do people where you live just abandon their kids or what?"
Omen set down the remains of his meal. "Where I used to live," he began, looking straight at Brian, "people were fond only of themselves. And after five years of raising a child, whatever interest that child held was already gone."
"Nice." That sarcastic comment was about all he could think to say.
The boy seemed unconcerned. "I hated her anyway. I wasn't raised to love her, the way you hu - you people do it. I like it better here in the BorderLands."
Brian frowned, but didn't say anything about the slip. "Just what exactly are these BorderLands, anyway? You said everything changes… what does that mean?"
"The BorderLands are the place where all worlds connect." Omen said it like he might say 'a cat is a furry animal with four legs'. "It supports them and provides them with basic elements - such as earth, water, fire, and air. The things present in all worlds. It was the first place to exist, or so they say."
Brian stared at him. Maybe I was right the first time - I have gone crazy!
"Anyway, it's supposed to be present in all worlds at once," Omen continued, unperturbed. "That's why it changes - to resemble them all."
That was just a little too weird. "Okay," Brian muttered, looking away. "A world in all worlds that changes… that's great. Time to wake up. Come on. I'm sure it's morning by now…"
"Is this the usual reaction for someone from a world that's never heard of the BorderLands?" The younger boy finished his portion of the meat. "I was taught about this place when I was really young." He looked back up at Brian, eyes glinting from the firelight. "Does your ignorance make you happy?"
Confusion gave way to irritation. "I dunno," he said, letting his tone gain some sarcasm. "Does being a smart ass make you happy?"
Omen shrugged. "I don’t know that term," he admitted, and turned his silver-specked gaze on the older boy expectantly.
"It's… rude. Not very nice." Brian frowned, trying to think of how to word his explanation. "Mocking someone else. People do it as a joke, but it's impolite to be serious about it. Calling someone ignorant to their face doesn't make you popular in the wide world of civilization, you know."
Omen's mouth quirked up in a half-smile. "What makes you think I'm interested in what you people call civilization? It's got an awful lot of problems, from what I've seen."
"Everything has drawbacks." Brian poked at the fire, trying to avoid looking at the younger boy. He was getting entirely too content with staring at his face. "Besides, if you're not interested, why were you staring at my book like you wanted to eat it?" He grinned.
Omen flushed, a little. "I like stories, that's all," he mumbled, not looking at Brian.
This was the first time he'd seen the apparently indifferent boy show some emotion - though embarrassment wasn't what he would've originally gone for. "In that case, I think I may have found a kindred spirit," he said, hoping to get a different one. "I've got more books, if you want to look at them."
Omen shook his head, regretfully. "I can't read," he admitted.
"You can't?" Brian had to suppress a shudder. He couldn't imagine anyone having the same hunger - this need for words - that he had, and not being able to read and satisfy it. "And you call me ignorant! Look…" He tried to think of a good offer to make. "I'll tell you about some of the ones I like. It's not exactly the same, but it's better than nothing, right?"
The younger boy looked up at him, as if trying to determine what his motive might be. "I…" He frowned, again looking like he was struggling with himself. In the end, though, it did seem that he and Brian were kindred spirits, because he shifted a little closer, cautiously, and said, "All right."
"Cool." Brian tried not to let a dippy grin paste itself onto his face. "One of my favorites is set during the French Revolution," he began, poking at the fire again to avoid meeting that enchanting silver-blue gaze. "So I guess I should tell you something about our history…"
Early morning had always been Brian's favorite time of day. There had been more than one time when he'd stayed up late reading, but he always liked to get up early, even if it made him cranky all day. It was always so fresh at that time. Crisp and clean… like new. Even if he was just lying in bed thinking about nothing in particular.
It was refreshing.
This isn't a bed… That thought filtered into his brain as his mind drifted comfortably toward wakefulness. I'm on the ground…
His eyes slid open lazily, and he caught sight of another huddled figure across an empty fire pit. A beaten grey shirt encased the slender back that met his eyes; the boy was curled up on one side, facing away from him.
Omen… Brian pushed himself up, rubbing at his eyes as the memories of his surreal evening started to come back. Pretty boy psychopath. He stole another look. Now that it was light out, he could clearly see Omen's coloring - the hair that he'd assumed was just blond was actually an odd blend of orange and yellow that could probably only be called 'gold'. And it looked like it had been hacked into its short boyish cut with a knife.
Which is probably about right.
And the sight of him still called up those strange, embarrassing feelings that he'd hoped would be gone by the time morning came around.
But I don't like guys! I'm not gay!
It was awfully hard to tell himself that when he was looking at Omen's peacefully slumbering face, and remembering how he'd spent the evening with the younger boy staring at him in mute fascination. A good story, he'd learned, could spellbind him. Omen had seemed to warm toward Brian by the end, even gracing him with a hesitant - but genuine - smile that could and did eliminate the memory of his wild hostility. He actually seemed… nice.
Brian ran a hand through his hair, letting out a long breath. I wonder where that wolf went, he thought - more to distract himself than because he was really very curious.
As if called up by his thoughts, the bushes near him rustled and the wolf came back into the clearing. In the light, he could see that her fur was such a dark shade of grey that it might almost be mistaken for black. What a strange-looking wolf…
Her odd silver eyes fixed on Brian, and he had to briefly force down an irrational wave of panic. She was a fair-sized wolf, after all… he had a reason to be a bit jumpy.
After that first moment, though, she seemed to lose interest and trotted around to the other side of the fire pit. Lowering her muzzle, she prodded at the sleeping Omen.
"M'awake." The boy raised a hand to push her away. "M'up." He slowly rose into a sitting position and yawned, stretching out. His back arched and his arms spread widely over his head.
Brian felt red creeping onto his cheeks. I'm. Not. Gay. I'm not…
Omen glanced over and caught sight of him. "Oh," he said, blinking to clear his vision. "Right. You."
That's a nice way to greet someone. Brian frowned. "Someone really should've defined 'polite' for you," he pointed out. "By the way, good morning."
"Define it for me yourself, then." The boy ignored the greeting. "Do we have enough meat left for another meal?" he asked, pushing himself up to check.
Brian decided to give up at that point. He wasn't patient enough to try and complain about Omen's rudeness. "I can cook some more if we need it," he offered around a yawn, rubbing at his face. His throat felt dry.
"We're fine." Omen examined the diminished pile, set on a bed of leaves. "The wolf made sure our food wasn't taken. She likes to scout at night."
"Oh." Brian looked at the wolf. "Thanks."
Omen sat again. "You don't need to thank her. She'll do it anyway."
"Sure, but it's polite." The older boy shrugged. "That way, I can show that I'm grateful. I don't want some wild animal picking at me while I sleep, right? I'm glad she watched out for me."
The boy's gaze settled on him, eyebrows coming down. "I don't understand," he confessed.
"It's called courtesy." This was going to get frustrating. "Normal people use it. Rude people don't. It's to show respect for other people."
Omen frowned at that. "What if you don't respect them?"
"I hear you." Brian made a face. "There are some people… But I guess the way it works is that it's better to be civil when you can. Otherwise there'd be a lot more wars and less peace conferences."
"Rudeness causes war?" The boy raised an eyebrow skeptically.
"Well, yeah. Different kinds of rudeness." Brian grinned, warming to the subject. "When you infringe on someone's territory, that's rude. Trying to impose your views on others without their consent - that's rude, too. These are the kinds of things that started wars in the past - and it'll probably happen in the future, too. That's why studying history is so important… the only way we can learn and continue to grow is by looking at the past."
That wistful sort of hunger was back in Omen's eyes again. "Can you tell me more about your world?" he asked, almost plaintively. "You told me some of it last night - but that's only a piece, isn't it? I want to hear it all."
"My world? Oh." Brian grinned sheepishly. "I wish I could. I don't know it all - even by half. Do you have any idea how much we have recorded? And that's just what we know about. There's so much out there that I couldn't even touch on."
Omen shrugged. "Tell me what you know, then," he said, absently moving aside as the wolf nudged at him and sliding nearer to Brian. "I'll listen."
Brian blinked, losing his train of thought for a moment. "What I… Everything?" He gave the younger boy an apprehensive look. "That'd take a long time. Didn't you say you liked to move around?"
"We can do that later," Omen replied, waving it aside. "It doesn't make a difference. All we're doing is existing. What I want from you is something to think about."
Something to think about… okay… "Where do you want me to start?"
"Wherever you want." Omen moved closer to him, and offered another hesitant smile.
Brian swallowed, something in him twisting in response to the way the younger boy looked at him. His throat was still too dry. "I… I need some water," he said, standing. "Can you show me where that stream from last night was, again?"
"Yeah, okay," Omen agreed. He sounded a little disappointed. "Through here," he said, standing fluidly and pushing his way into the trees.
"Wait a second!" Brian grabbed his bag - just in case - and followed, pushing branches out of his way. He couldn't move nearly as fast as the younger boy could, and it was hard to see… "I can't see you. Wait for me, will you?"
Still rude, Brian thought grouchily, shoving aside more branches. The least he could do is answer, even if he's not going to wait. Just to tell -- That ended mid-thought as he broke free of the trees.
And onto a very familiar path.
"Omen?" Brian called out, tentatively. He got no response.
This is too weird… And why was it so dark? It was morning… Even if it was early, it shouldn't be that dark. Was that the sort of thing Omen meant when he said things changed?
Brian turned down the path. He didn't remember it being there the night before, but maybe he'd just been too preoccupied. Besides, if things really do change, then -- His thoughts came to another halt.
In front of him, just down the path, were the rest of the park and the familiar houses of his neighborhood.
Shrouded in mid-evening darkness, just as he'd left them.