Piece of a Legend

 

 

Chapter Five

 

"Going out again?"

 

Aaren shrugged, and didn't even try to keep the smile off his face as he regarded his sister across the table. They were eating together - the difference was that he was eating lunch, and she was eating breakfast. "Tucker helps his dad at lunch for a while since there are people on vacation - I just meet him after."

 

Blair raised an eyebrow. "You guys are spending the day together again? Didn't you get sick of it after yesterday?" She shook her head. "If I spent so much time with someone, I'd end up shooting them or something."

 

"Not if they shot you first," he added agreeably, taking another bite of the toasted sandwich he'd slopped together. "We get along pretty good."

 

It was an understatement, but he didn't mind giving it. Aaren felt good inside - like he'd acknowledged something great, like he'd been given something great. Even better than both of those, actually. He wanted to stand some place high up and shout it out, but he wanted to keep it private, just for himself. And all he could think about beyond a surface level was Tucker - how he smiled, how he talked, the tentative glances they'd exchanged while hanging around town with ice cream and casual chatter, both of them still too awkward at first to take the initiative and suggest moving somewhere less private. After lunch, he would - Aaren had made up his mind about that. The feel of Tucker's touch and Tucker's kisses was still strong in his memory, urging him on with excitement and anticipation and… well, probably a lot of hormones, too.

 

Not that that was necessarily a bad thing…

 

"Really?" Blair's voice was laced with sarcasm; the look she gave him had 'do you think I'm stupid?' written all over it. "I'd never have guessed. Enlighten me further, why don’t you."

 

That was an invitation if he'd ever heard one; Aaren grinned. "All right, then I think you need to shave again - you missed a spot this morning."

 

She made a face. "Fucker."

 

"You think so? Thanks."

 

"Oh, shove it." Blair didn't seem too upset, though - she set the fork down on her mostly-empty plate and leaned back in her chair with a loud sigh, then opened one eye to regard him again. "You still look happy."

 

Not news at all. Aaren shrugged, picking up his sandwich again in a show of nonchalance. "Yeah?"

 

She was still gazing at him, almost shrewdly. "Different from before, though," she added, pursing her lips a bit as if trying to figure out what she was looking at.

 

I guess it is different. He took a bite out of the sandwich, and considered that. The excitement was different, too - it felt more sincere, more real, this time around. That was what made it so exciting, though - that sense of being grounded, that feeling that this was happening without a doubt. It had always seemed like a dream or a fantasy before…

 

"Maybe it kind of is," he admitted after a moment, and grinned at his sister before downing his glass of orange juice.

 

He didn't know if this was the right way to go… but he couldn't wait to find out.

 

~~~~~~

 

"About half an hour," Tucker said, with a sheepish sort of grin, tugging the dish towel in his hands almost nervously as he looked at Aaren. "Not more than that, for sure."

 

"Okay." It wasn't that awkward - it shouldn't be that awkward. Aaren smiled back, resisting the urge to fidget. It wasn't awkward in a bad way - there. That fit. "So… should I just…?" He motioned at a four-person table that had just emptied near him.

 

"Oh. Yeah." Tucker shrugged a bit, grinned some more - a little too widely, maybe, it made him look like kind of a goof. But that was Tucker. He backed up a step, almost into one of his co-workers as she tried to get around him with a full tray. "Sarah will get you a lemonade or something - just wait, okay?"

 

"Who's paying for that?" one of the waitresses - Sarah? - asked pointedly, poking him in the shoulder as she moved past with a cloth and spray bottle, obviously from wiping down one of the tables.

 

Tucker turned, with a last apologetic look at Aaren, and moved to catch up with her. "Take it out of my salary."

 

"What salary? Your money goes to that broken window - salary is a lost concept for you, Cardinal."

 

"Well, yeah, but I still - " The rest of the conversation was lost when the two of them vanished behind the counter and a small group of girls filled their place, laughing a bit at some joke or another as they got up to pay their bill.

 

Aaren shook his head and sank into the seat he'd picked out, resting his chin on his hand and staring absently after Tucker. He's a nut.

 

In a good way, though.

 

"Hello. Aaren, right?"

 

That startled him out of his reverie. Aaren snapped his head back around, staring at Laqueta with something like apprehension, surprise, and the slightest little jolt of fear that had crackled up when she'd spoken and then just as quickly fizzled out. "Oh. Hi."

 

"Would you mind if we sit here?" she asked, adjusting the ridiculously wide-brimmed straw hat that was perched delicately on top of her artful brown curls.

 

We? Aaren glanced at the woman beside her - the same woman who had addressed Tucker from the window, if he was remembering right. If anything, she had even more of a presence than Laqueta - but at the moment, her eyes were distant. "Sure," he agreed, pushing aside some reluctance. There was nothing wrong with Laqueta - she was nice enough…

 

"Thank you." The girl pulled up a chair for her mother, and sat herself down, brushing out her skirt with some dignity. "This is my mother, Alastrine," she told him, dark eyes watching his face with a searching gaze.

 

Aaren squirmed, feeling a little exposed under that look. "Nice to meet you," he said awkwardly, looking over at - Alastrine? It figured that she'd have another of those weird names - more to avoid her daughter than to address her properly.

 

She nodded, still with that vague look. He noticed that she had the same hair as her daughter, but somehow it seemed less arranged - more natural. "No, I suppose it isn't," she said in a distant - but agreeable - tone. "Excuse me," she added, before Aaren could react, and turned away from the chair to wander back into the crowd.

 

"Oh, mother!" Laqueta said, in an exasperated tone, and sighed, rolling her eyes upward. "She's always like this when she's working with a client," she confided to Aaren, sniffing.

 

"Oh." At least this was relatively normal. Aaren felt that Laqueta in a silly hat sitting in the middle of a café griping about her mother's odd habits was a lot less intimidating than Laqueta in a dimly lit room being psychic.

 

"Are you waiting for Tucker?" she asked him then, in a calmer voice.

 

Aaren nodded, and couldn't keep the smile from tugging at the corners of his mouth at that. "Yeah. We're hanging out."

 

"That's nice." Laqueta held up a hand as the waitress came to set Aaren's lemonade down on the table. "I'll have a Shirley Temple with a touch of lemon juice, please."

 

"Sure thing." A good-natured grin answered that; apparently, the girl was used to this particular customer. "Back in a bit," she added, turning to head behind the counter again.

 

Laqueta gave Aaren a slightly curious look, and then let out a breath, seeming to give in to some urge. "Do you mind…?" She stopped, then abruptly reached across the table to brush at his hair. "Just…"

 

Aaren caught his breath, hand freezing in the act of reaching for the glass in front of him. He felt a brief sort of shiver pass over him at her touch - and then it was gone.

 

What…?

 

The girl smiled at him, eyes glittery and face serene - a psychic again, rather than a teenaged girl. "I'm happy for you," she said simply - and cryptically, of course.

 

Aaren let out the breath he'd been holding. I probably don't need to ask what for… "Um. Thanks." It wasn't enough to make him blush, but he felt embarrassed all the same.

 

Hopefully Tucker wouldn't be upset that the secret was sort of out.

 

She tilted her head at him then, that curious look seeming almost calculating instead, as if she were sizing him up based on that little brush at his consciousness. "You have something you want to ask me, don't you?"

 

He licked his lips, nervously. "Um… sort of." I just wasn't sure if I was going to ask. "Is it…?" He paused for a moment, not sure of how to phrase things exactly, and feeling a little unsettled by her steady gaze. Get a grip, Aaren… "Uh. Is it normal that I… sort of feel things? When you're doing your readings and stuff, I mean."

 

The question did not seem to surprise her. "Not precisely," she admitted, in an unruffled sort of tone. "You're a bit of a special case." Shutting her eyes, she leaned forward a bit, and then looked up again, more seriously. "You see Them," she said, voice low. "It's why They can't take you - and why They want you so desperately."

 

A cold buzzing thrill ran down Aaren's spine - this was as frightening as it was fascinating. "How come I can see Them?" he asked, lowering his voice as well. "And… could you explain the last part?" It hadn't really made sense.

 

"There's a certain amount of spiritual energy in every living thing." Laqueta shrugged, as if this was common knowledge. "Some have more than others - like Tucker, for example." She gave him another of those penetrating gazes. "The beings that live within that forest feed off of this energy - no matter how much They take, They long for it. It's why so many who venture in do not come out - They steal those unfortunates away." She sighed then. "I'm certain you saw it for yourself."

 

The remembered image of the silver-haired boy who had hovered so possessively over Tucker came back to him with a shocking clarity. Aaren swallowed, feeling cold. He leaned into the touch… "Yeah," he agreed, pushing that thought aside. It wasn't a pleasant one.

 

"The reason I'm… psychic, I suppose you'd say," Laqueta went on, with a hint of 'normal people can't understand what it is I do' in her voice, "is because of that high level of spiritual energy I carry. It's the reason I don't go near the forest." She shook her head. "Attracting Their attention, even if I'm not susceptible to the tricks They play to seduce away Their victims, is not a good idea."

 

Seduce… Aaren remembered how the boy with green hair had hovered over him on his bed, and swallowed again, feeling queasy. And I thought it was a good thing… I thought…

 

The memory from that morning was still strong in his mind, too - the sense of fear, the feeling that his consent didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things…

 

God…

 

"You have enough energy that you can see Them," she was saying, still in a calm voice, as if to calm his discontent. "I warned you yesterday to be cautious - They can't hurt you, exactly, but They are dangerous all the same. It's not a good idea to have contact with Them at all."

 

Too late. Aaren bit his lip, anxiety taking over his thoughts. That boy was going to keep appearing at the end of his bed - it wasn't like he could do anything to stop it. And Tucker - that silver-haired boy was going to… to…

 

He shook his head, and stared at Laqueta helplessly. "Is there any way - ?"

 

"Hey, I'm back!" Tucker abruptly bounded over and leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table, glancing to either side at the two of them. "L! Nice hat! I like the new fashion statement." He grinned, bouncing a little on his heels. "So, what are you guys talking about? Something cool and mysterious?"

 

"Too mysterious for you," Laqueta told him coolly, leaning back a ways as if to distance herself. Then she smiled, just a little. "You can come by for a reading tomorrow, if you like - I suspect you'll be busy tonight?"

 

The question was innocent enough - but color spread across Tucker's cheeks all the same. "Um… well - I…" For one of the few times Aaren had seen, he seemed to be caught speechless.

 

Suddenly, Aaren just wanted to get away - it was too much, sitting there and listening to Laqueta talk about the forest, and Them… He didn't want to think about Them. "Let's go, okay?" he said, and pushed his chair away from the table.

 

"Oh - yeah." Tucker's recovery was almost instantaneous - he beamed at Aaren, straightening up. "Catch you later, L!"

 

"Of course," she agreed, with a short, dignified nod.

 

"Bye," Aaren told her with a kind of careless briefness that he hoped she would take as a hint. Don't say anything else… Just let me forget about it - let me pretend it's not happening…

 

"Goodbye," Laqueta replied, distantly - but her eyes were sharp when she looked back at him.

 

Aaren licked his lips, squared his shoulders, and deliberately turned away from her to follow Tucker out of the café.

 

~~~~~~

 

As it turned out, Tucker and his father lived in what Aaren would've called a duplex but which Tucker seemed to think counted as an apartment. The building was not very tall - it looked pretty much like an ordinary house, with a large front lawn lined with neat hedges and a small patch of garden with prettily arranged flowers. It was made mostly of wood, but the paint job looked new - a nice peach color that was set off by touches of burgundy on the window sills and at other points.

 

There was a paved path and a small set of stairs that led up the front door, but Tucker led him instead down the driveway and through a gate leading down a longer set of stairs into the wide - but mainly bare - back yard. There was a mailbox and a welcome mat at the back door as well, Aaren noted as his - friend? - unlocked the door and swung it open wide for the two of them to move inside.

 

"It's like our bachelor pad," Tucker commented brightly, with a slightly nervous grin and a brief, jerky shrug, as if he thought he somehow needed to brush aside his home as something unimportant. "Just me and dad - it's not messy, though," he added quickly, alternately trying to keep his eyes on Aaren as he talked and move through into the room to switch on the lights. "Dad's kind of a neat freak. Funny how that works out, huh? He's always saying mom was so messy and she drove him crazy half the time. I make a lot of messes too, so it's lucky he doesn't have to deal with both of us or he'd be off his rocker already."

 

"I'll bet." Aaren squinted at the room. It was not that big, but it was - like Tucker had implied - very neat. There was an average-sized TV on one end, with a two-seat couch and an armchair arranged so that the occupants could see it well. At the center of the room was a coffee table. It had a thin book, two remote controls, and a stack of coasters sitting on it. There was a door to his left that he could see led into a small kitchen, and another one that led into a hall that looked as if it branched off to either side.

 

Nothing like Aaren's new home, that was for sure - but he liked it all the same. It seemed more… lived in. Which made a lot of sense.

 

"My room's this way," Tucker pointed out after a moment of uncertain silence, stepping backwards towards the hallway. He still had that almost spastic grin, looking nervous and excited and possibly a little embarrassed, although Aaren wasn't sure why.

 

The first two, though, he could understand. They were mixing around at the pit of his stomach as well, with a good dose of anticipation. "Okay," he agreed, and felt what was probably a pretty dopey grin spreading over his face in answer.

 

The hallway had three doors - the middle one clearly led to a bathroom; it was open, and Aaren could see the sink and the edge of the bathtub. The one to the left was probably Tucker's dad's room, and Tucker's was at the far right, near what looked like a hall closet.

 

"It's not that big or anything," Tucker told him almost apologetically as he opened the door, and Aaren had to agree when he first saw it - it was probably about two-thirds the size of his new room.

 

Then again, his room didn't have the sheer amount of stuff this one did. There was a bookshelf on one side that looked like it was holding more comic books than actual books, a desk with a stereo and a bunch of CDs scattered on the top, a dresser, and two plastic shelving units stuffed with what looked like DVDs, CDs, comics, and various other junk.

 

And Tucker's bed, an average-sized pair of mattresses shoved over on one side of the room with a blue cover. That was the part Aaren was really interested in.

 

"It's cool," he said casually, instead of expressing that interest, and walked inside, randomly picking up one of Tucker's CDs. "MuchDance?"

 

"Uh, right." Tucker shrugged again, a slight upward jerking of his shoulders, and grinned sheepishly. "I like techno. Sorta."

 

"So does my sister," Aaren told him immediately, and then put the CD down, feeling odd. Why are we talking about this? My sister just came into the conversation. I don't want Blair in the conversation right now. "Um," he began, and then had to stop, because he had no idea what to say next.

 

This is harder than I thought it would be…

 

"Okay. Yeah." But apparently Tucker got the idea, because he took a step towards Aaren, reaching out with a painful sort of hesitance to touch his face, just with his fingertips, below the left cheekbone. "I, uh," he started, and then coughed, awkwardly. "I like your glasses."

 

Aaren felt his heart drum a little faster; he followed Tucker's example by raising his hand to brush some of those bright red strands of hair from the other boy's face. "My glasses?" he repeated, licking his lips unconsciously.

 

Tucker's eyes dropped to his mouth instantly; Aaren could see the muscles move in his friend's throat as he swallowed. "Yeah. Um. I mean, I sort of thought it would be cool to, you know, take them off." His hand shifted over, cautiously, and Aaren felt the fingers hook around the wire frame of his glasses. "Like - like this," Tucker added, and carefully slid them up over his ears, down the bridge of his nose, and then off the end of it, all the while watching Aaren's face as if he couldn’t take his eyes away, breathing stopped for just that moment.

 

Some of the surroundings blurred a little as Aaren lost the seeing aide, but Tucker's face stayed clear - his expression was an odd mix of wonder and anxiety and excitement and… that was probably lust, but different from how the green-haired boy had looked. Aaren felt his skin prickle, and thought to himself, He looks sexy. "Then what?" he asked once his glasses had been set off to the side somewhere, and his voice came out just a little breathless - but that was okay.

 

"Then - Then I'd probably, um, kiss you. Or you'd kiss me." Tucker grinned again, just a little, letting out a bit of a breath, and leaned forward. "Sort of like…" he began, and didn't end up finishing the sentence.

 

Tucker's kisses were like his moods, Aaren realized dimly. They went from hesitant to eager, soft to hard, timid to bold in flashes that left his partner feeling a little bewildered. The kiss started closed-mouthed and gradually got more open-mouthed - and more intense - as it went along. Aaren dimly remembered - in the part of his brain that still somehow functioned - how the green-haired boy had worked his tongue in, and thought that this might be a very good time to put that bit of knowledge to use. Bracing one hand on Tucker's shoulder, leaning into the kiss more and feeling the shivers building in his gut, he tentatively prodded at the line of the other boy's teeth.

 

Tucker made a little startled noise, and then his mouth was open, hot and wet and inviting, for Aaren's enthusiastic perusal. The redhead's arms came up almost as a reflex to clutch at his shirt where it bunched around his waist.

 

Oh, this is good… This is very good…

 

They broke away after another moment, breathing hard. Aaren's eyes were half-lidded, and he felt warm. In the middle of a blurred, unrecognizable world, it seemed that Tucker was the only solid thing in his vision.

 

"A, you - " Tucker paused to get his breath, bit his lip a little as if figuring out what to say. "You've, uh, you've done that before?" he asked, in a low voice.

 

"Just a couple times," Aaren admitted, and shrugged a bit, feeling the way his shirt tightened briefly as the fabric caught on Tucker's fingers. Somehow, that sent another weird shiver down his spine; it was strange, the things that affected him.

 

Probably just because it's him, and we're - yeah.

 

A quick flicker of apprehension hit the other boy's face. "So am I okay?"

 

Yes. Yes yes yes. "I think so. Yeah."

 

Tucker looked relieved. "Okay, good," he said quickly, and in a completely cliched move, fell backwards onto his bed with his grip on the waist of Aaren's shirt pulling the other boy after and on top of him.

 

The afternoon progressed in a fairly predictable manner after that.

 

Aaren left at about six - as late as he could really stay without getting into trouble, and it was close to when Tucker's father would probably be home, anyway. All the same, he hovered around the doorway for a while longer, feeling shaky and happy and finding it impossible to stop grinning, no matter what he tried.

 

At least Tucker looked about as goofy as he probably did. "Wanna meet after supper?" he asked eagerly, leaning forward a bit.

 

Aaren nodded. Yeah, I'd be happier if I wasn't even leaving. "Uh-huh. I'll come here this time, okay?"

 

"Naw, it's cool - I like walking out to your place." Tucker shrugged, and then his eyes brightened. "Hey! Want to go see L and then hang out in the forest tonight? It's really cool in the dark - I mean, hard to see and all, but man, A, you just gotta see the - "

 

"Um." The word 'forest' had sent an icy chill through him - Aaren swallowed, trying to recover that feeling of contentment from thirty seconds earlier. It's okay - just be cool. Okay? Cool. He fought to keep his voice casual. "How about tomorrow instead?"

 

"Sure, that works too." Fortunately, Tucker didn't think it was too unusual or disappointing; his voice was light in a way that didn't sound forced or suspicious. "Give us more chance to see L before we go, right? Anyway, we might want to hang around with C and B some time - just so they don't think they're getting away from us, huh?" He grinned some more.

 

Aaren let out a low breath, trying not to be too obvious about it, and smiled back, relieved. "Yeah, that'd be cool." Maybe he could come up with a good excuse by tomorrow for not going.

 

"So… about two hours?" Tucker suggested, bouncing against the doorframe a little, almost absently. "Call me if you need more time - or less time," he added, quickly. "Definitely if you need less time. I'll be right there."

 

"Okay." He didn't have a problem with that - far from it actually. Still, something made Aaren pause before he moved back around to the stairs - some hint of danger, or even a premonition. "Promise you won't go without me," he blurted out, and felt his cheeks flush a little. It sounded so childish.

 

Tucker blinked, and stopped bouncing to stare at him. "Huh?"

 

"To the forest," Aaren clarified, and pushed on determinedly, ignoring that edge of embarrassment trying to shut him up. "Don't go without me, all right?" Somehow, it seemed important enough to sacrifice a little of his dignity.

 

With the memory of that silver-haired boy still reasonably fresh in his mind, he had a feeling he knew why. But…

 

"Well… yeah, okay." Tucker still looked a little startled; his voice was bemused. "What's with this all of a sudden?"

 

I don't want to lose you. He couldn't say that, though. Aaren pushed down the unease, and forced himself to look casual, shrugging a bit. "Bad feeling, that's all. But wait, okay? We'll go together."

 

"Whatever you say." The slight smile on Tucker's face suggested that he was just humoring his companion - but he didn't make any comments, for which Aaren was grateful. "I'll see you in a few, then."

 

"Yeah." At least that was a nice thought… Aaren pushed aside his bad feelings, and focussed on that for the rest of the walk home.

 

He really needed to stay away from scary psychics.

 

~~~~~~

 

Blair went for dinner with Seymour that night - which made Aaren a little envious, but he reasoned that spending the entire morning and afternoon with Tucker negated it. She did agree to meet the two of them later on for an evening of "exciting sitting around" - her words, not his, and said with an overdone eye-roll.

 

Aaren ate dinner with his mother - leftover pot roast from the night before - and waited until she trekked upstairs to check her email. Then he called Tucker.

 

"I'll be there in twenty minutes," was the bulk of the conversation. "No wait - fifteen. See you!"

 

"Yeah," Aaren agreed, partly amused and partly flattered. He wandered around the downstairs a couple of times, attempting to sit down more than once and failing due to general restlessness, and then began to debate seriously with the idea of walking out to meet Tucker on the way.

 

Why hadn't he suggested that, anyway?

 

It was starting to get dark. Aaren had always liked that time of night - you could call it twilight if you wanted to be romantic about it, and there was something… eerie about it. Mysterious. He eventually ended up leaning against the windowsill that faced roughly northwest and staring at the way the orange-red of the leftover sunset spilled onto the trees, seeming to be sucked back into its source as night gradually pushed the sun back.

 

It was hard to look away, somehow.

 

I should go meet him. There was a kind of restless urgency to that thought, but it lacked the immediate power to force him into action. Aaren stared at the thinning edge of sun for another moment or two as the feeling built up inside him, pounding on the edges of whatever kept it contained, until it got to be too much and he tore away and stood up.

 

It had been thirteen minutes since the phone call.

 

Aaren paced across the kitchen, where the fading light spilled in over the table and chairs from the window by the door, holding back the edge of darkness that was gradually creeping up on them, silent and sneaky as a thief coveting something precious. The back door was shut and locked, but you couldn't stop this kind of burglar - sometimes it just wasn't possible to stop something.

 

Fourteen minutes.

 

Close enough. Aaren followed his instinct out into the hall and through the door, careful to shut it behind him. It wasn't much cooler outside, but the sun was almost down, and there were dark edges to everything. Some things, though, seemed almost illuminated. It made him pause for a moment, somehow - he'd seen the sight before, but it seemed… off somehow. Not quite the same.

 

What is it?

 

Straight down from his house, he could see the fence at the end of the road, bleached an odd greyish color in the dimming light, grass snaking up from the untended side in even brighter shades. And - that was it! - a darker shape moving jerkily over the top of it, like it was climbing from the human side of the road to the other.

 

Aaren caught his breath, suddenly afraid.

 

Really jerky, those movements - like the person lacked the kind of fluid grace that even the clumsiest human being possessed. Either that, or that grace had been taken. Sometimes it happened to those who no longer had control of their own bodies - he'd read that in a book somewhere; one of his favorites, probably, because it seemed like something he'd read over and over again.

 

At the opposite end, where the forest began, Aaren could see a faint hint of bluish-grey color in among the trees. Waiting.

 

Anticipating.

 

No. Abruptly, he was moving - clattering down the porch steps at a frantic pace, sprinting across his driveway, down the dirt road that led to the main one, two off-kilter pounding beats from his feet and heart echoing loudly in his ears.

 

"Tucker!"

 

It was already too late - Aaren knew that as soon as he crashed into the fence, grabbing the top of it with both hands and letting his momentum carry him to lean over it as far as he could without falling onto the other side. The dark human-shape was gone entirely, as if it had vanished when it reached the trees.

 

No!

 

From just beyond the line of forest, his frantic gaze caught on the surprisingly clear figure of the grey-clad, silver-haired boy from before. A slight, malicious smirk was present on that face as its eyes met Aaren's - without any other indication of recognition, the boy stepped back and faded into the bushes, as smoothly and seamlessly as if he were part of the atmosphere itself.

 

To the west, the last edge of sunlight was gone; the field and the forest were completely dark.

 

~~~~~~

 

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