Threads of Fate
"Thanks for stopping." Alex grabbed hold of the back of the truck, pulling himself up beside a pair of friendly-looking dogs and shooting a grin to where the driver was watching him with a faint smile.
"Not a problem." The woman looked a bit eccentric - wild curls of light brown hair shooting up from under her tightly-knotted bandana. She was small and plump, wearing an oversized plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and seemed tickled that she got the chance to pick up three young hitchhikers. "Where are you headed?"
"Antrim," Marc answered, smiling at her. A breeze was making his hair blow into his face fetchingly, and the sun gave it an almost angelic glow.
Patrick suspected that it was a sneaky, underhanded strategy of some sort, but he didn't want to make the accusation right then. He focussed on following Alex onto the back of the truck instead, and sat next to him. One of the dogs sniffed curiously at his clothing.
"I'm going as far as Maghera. After that you're on your own." The driver spoke with an easy cheer. "You can go ahead and get in the front if you want, lovie," she added, beaming at him.
Alex rolled his eyes as his brother grinned widely at him. "Go ahead. Let her mommy you. Lord, everyone spoils the blond ones."
"Because dark hair is a sign of a dark-minded individual," Marc replied, with all seriousness, and climbed into the front.
Patrick settled himself into a comfortable position before as truck roared to life again. "Are you sure this is safe?" he asked over the engine, absently petting one of the dogs on the head. They were black Labrador Retrievers, probably pure-bred, and attention definitely agreed with them. The one he was petting made an enthusiastic attempt to slobber on his face.
"Everyone does it." Alex shrugged. "It's expected. No one's going to mind us."
"I guess." Patrick had his doubts. He still didn't know why he was going along with them in the first place. Well, other than the dubious assurance of Marc's all-knowing stare - and the fact that he might still be interested in finding a chance to hit on Alex.
What a stupid reason to go hitchhiking across a foreign country. Still, there wasn't much he could do about it by then - he was already along for the ride, like it or not. Patrick shook his head, a rueful grin tugging the corners of his mouth up. "I must be out of my mind."
"If you are, remember I said it first."
Patrick glanced over at the dark-haired boy, who was petting the other dog's head and studiously ignoring him. "If I am, no one's going to believe anything I say anyway, so what does it matter?"
Alex gave him a sideways glance, and then actually grinned a bit. "Well, Marc will back me."
"If he hasn't given up on you and your attitude by then." The moment of companionable silence that followed was a very welcome change in their interaction. Patrick felt confident enough to try for a little more information. "How old are the two of you, just out of curiosity?"
"Twenty-one." Alex frowned a bit, forehead creasing. "I think."
Patrick raised his eyebrows. "You think?"
"We've been traveling for a long time," the younger boy said defensively, turning to look at him again. "Sometimes I forget to keep count. I'm sure Marc knows," he added, with a bit of a smile. "He's better at specifics."
"The two of you have specialties?"
"Not the way you're thinking it." Alex leaned back a bit, with a sigh. His hair caught on the wind and danced wildly around his face, in an odd contrast to the way Marc's had earlier. "We work well together - we've had to. All we have is each other."
There was nothing subtle about the wistful sadness in his expression. On Marc's face, he couldn't tell where he'd gotten the impression from, but with Alex, it was plain. His head rolled sideways and he stared through the glass pane where his twin was engaging in what looked like a friendly conversation with their driver. The expression on his face was almost… lost.
Patrick wasn't too sure what to make of it.
"So an only child like me probably wouldn't get it, huh?" he offered, a bit awkwardly.
Alex's head rolled back toward him; his expression was wry. "Not if you don't try." One corner of his mouth inched up again. "Never mind. You said you graduated this year?"
"Yeah. I majored in English." Patrick smiled back, resting his arms across his upraised knees. "I've got an editing job lined up if I want it - I'm still thinking about grad school, though. How about you?"
He got a raised eyebrow in response to that one.
"All right, stupid question." He turned away to watch the scenery for a bit, feeling a bit sheepish. "Five years of traveling, right? I got it."
Alex shifted up, lifting his head from where it rested - the movement caught Patrick's eye for a bit. Both twins, he'd noticed, had the same light-boned form, a couple of inches shorter than him but with about the same muscle tone. It came with that impression of being very neatly and precisely put together. Under the thin shirt and jeans, he thought the way Alex's muscles moved was fascinating.
"Don't think I'm slow," the boy said a second later, interrupting that thought. His grey eyes were sharp, almost challenging. "I never needed or wanted a formal education. I can be clever enough if I have to, if not by your standards."
Patrick shrugged, somewhat taken aback. "I didn't say you couldn't."
Alex eyed him suspiciously for another couple of seconds, and then let it drop, leaning back again and shutting his eyes against the pressure of the wind that blew his hair in all directions. "Good."
That smile was trying to creep back onto his face. Patrick shook his head, staring out at the scenery again. Even his attitude problem is cute.
Maybe looking for a chance to hit on Alex wasn't a bad source of motivation after all.
"It's our fault, remember?" Marc smiled in that vague sort of way that seemed to characterize him about half of the time. Sometimes, he seemed almost normal, but others…
Patrick decided not to think too much about it. He didn't like headaches enough to invite one. "You're letting me travel with you - otherwise I'd be on my own. Anyway, how could it be your fault? My watch broke down and I wasn't paying enough attention to the time, that's all."
Alex let out a sigh, leaning against the side of the motel building. "Who cares? Just figure something out - I'm hungry."
"We'll pay," Marc repeated, glancing quickly at his brother. "Alex, how much do we have converted now?"
"There's no way I'm letting you pay for my motel room," Patrick cut in, before the dark-haired twin could answer. "I've got two thousand dollars, and my father's done everything but fly up here himself and throttle me to get me to spend it. It makes more sense for me to pay."
Marc frowned a little, his eyes still seeming focussed on something far away. "It wouldn't feel right for us to take charity…"
Patrick shifted the bag he was carrying on his back. "And you think I'd feel right about it?"
"Would both of you just stop foostering about and get to the point?" Alex pushed himself away from the wall, eyeing them impatiently. "If neither one of you wants charity, then just bloody well pay for your own rooms! And then we can eat."
The other two glanced at each other sheepishly.
"My overly clever little brother has a point, I suppose." Marc smiled at his twin. "We'll be getting separate rooms anyway, most likely. You pay for yours, and I'll pay for mine - does that seem fair?"
"Little?" Alex repeated, indignantly.
"You're the one who insisted that twenty minutes made a difference. I haven't forgotten."
Patrick grinned. "Okay, deal. Let's get some rooms, and then we can feed this guy here." He hooked a thumb in Alex's direction. "Sounds like the more time passes since his last meal, the shorter his fuse gets."
"He should've eaten more at breakfast, if that's the case," Marc answered without sympathy, and ignored his brother's glares. "Come on then."
Maghera was… well, tightly packed - that was Patrick's impression. The houses seemed a lot closer to each other than he was used to. He'd seen it before during the first two weeks of the trip, but it always made him just a little bit claustrophobic before he got used to it. There didn't seem to be enough room on the streets for traffic.
Guess it's a good thing I'm not driving.
"No more guff this time," Alex snapped, as Marc and Patrick both reached for the bill after their meal. "Everyone can bloody well pay their own way - no eating anyone's head off over who buys the food."
Marc gave him a sideways smile. "Of course not."
This was an occasion for which Patrick had come to the restaurant prepared - reaching into the back pocket of his jeans, he pulled out a small, thin pocketbook.
Both twins blinked at him. "What are you doing?" Alex asked after a moment, as the older boy flipped through the pages.
"Huh? Oh." Patrick showed them the title of the book. "Just expanding my knowledge."
"Slang dictionary," Marc read. He looked up, grey eyes a bit surprised. "Um…"
Alex was giving him an incredulous look. "You need a dictionary?" he affirmed, and shook his head. "You’re off your nut."
Patrick met his gaze over the book, unembarrassed. "I'll be looking that one up next," he reported, with great dignity, and went back to flipping pages.
Marc laughed softly, and picked up the abandoned bill to go pay his portion.
The motel they were staying at was nothing very impressive - not as cozy or friendly as the hostels Patrick's tour group had booked, and nothing special or luxurious like a nice hotel. But it was cheap and clean, and - all things considered - that was more than good enough for a one-night stay.
"I think I'll have a shower," Marc announced, as they came up to the pair of rooms that had been given to them for the night. There were only two stories to the motel, and their rooms were on the ground floor - with doors leading outside to save space. The blond handed Alex one of the two keys that had been given to him for their room, and moved on ahead. "That way it'll be free for you in the morning, and we can start out earlier."
Alex looked a little confused. "You don't have to - "
"It's good, Alex." Marc unlocked his door, shot Patrick a meaningful look, and smiled at his brother. "Why don't you stay out and talk for a bit? I won't mind."
The dark-haired twin's face slowly shifted from pale to scarlet; he sputtered uselessly for a bit, eyes swinging wildly from Marc to Patrick and back again. "B-But…I… you…"
"Good night, Patrick," Marc said, in as calm and reasonable a voice as possible - and then he slid inside and shut the door in their faces.
There was a very awkward silence.
Patrick cleared his throat. "Uh… well." That wasn't a good start - but how was he supposed to get a good start, with Alex stubbornly ignoring him and staring at the door as if it had mortally offended him? His skill at flirting seemed to have decided to let him fend for himself. Traitor. "Nice weather?"
Apparently Alex didn't read a lot of contemporary romance novels - or anything that mocked them. "S’alright," he muttered, and shifted his gaze from the door straight down to his feet, shifting from one foot to the other. "Not too cold."
Topic switch… We definitely need a topic switch here… "So, uh, know anything about astrology?"
Oh yeah. Brilliance at its best. Patrick winced.
"Star formations, that sort of thing?" At least the question got Alex to lift his head, even if it was only to stare at him in perplexity. "No. Why?"
"I thought it'd be interesting." This was encouraging. Patrick felt a bit more confident. Apparently the old ones were the best in this case - Alex wasn't experienced enough to have heard of cheesy lines like 'what's your sign?' "I mean, it's a good night for star-gazing - really clear and all."
Maybe it was brilliance, hidden really well. After all, he'd managed to connect his two conversation topics - that was a good sign.
"I'll have to take your word for that." Alex's gaze darted from side to side, as if he wasn’t quite sure what he was doing out there, and wanted to find an escape route. He licked his lips nervously; Patrick's eyes caught on the motion, and he found it really hard to look away. The last guy he'd been with - that was a while ago. If it were almost anyone else, in this situation, with the attraction thing out there and them standing in front of each other, he might've been more confident. But it was someone like Alex - prickly, short-tempered, and not familiar with the kinds of things most other people took for granted.
Someone he seriously wanted to at least kiss before they went into separate rooms for the night. And he wasn't sure how to lead up to that in a way that wouldn't make him bolt.
Well. Nothing to do but try, I guess. Patrick sucked in a long, slow breath through his teeth. "I - "
From inside the twins' room, there was a loud, ugly-sounding thud - and then the air around them shuddered.
Alex's gaze snapped around, eyes widening with sudden fear. "Marc," he said out loud, voice laced with panic, and all but jumped for the door. "Oh, fecking - " His hands were shaking and clumsy; he yanked at the handle with a kind of desperation. "Open, you bloody piece of…! Marc!"
Patrick felt another shiver run through the air, and fought to keep a threatening wave of fright from overtaking him. There was something happening - a kind of saturation trying to impose itself in the atmosphere, in brief stuttering waves, like a car engine attempting to start up on a cold day. And Alex was well on his way to panicking completely, struggling with the key and banging on the door, calling out his brother's name in increasingly frantic cries. Someone was going to have to be calm and cool about this.
Even if that someone was seriously confused and a little scared about the whole business.
"Move for a second," Patrick said in a carefully flat-toned voice, and quickly wrestled the key from Alex's fingers. He used his elbow to rudely shove the other boy far enough away from the handle so that he could hastily unlock the thing, pushing the door open with his free shoulder before some kind of retaliation could dislodge him.
Alex's protests were interrupted as he just about fell forward into the room, but he was quick to take advantage of the situation, pushing himself up and forward and rushing over to the prone form of his brother on the floor. "Marc!"
The convulsing prone form - Patrick stopped, frozen where he stood as he took in the scene. Marc's body twisted and bucked violently like someone in the throes of a nasty seizure; his arms and legs flailed wildly, hitting shelves and walls and anything in their path with a force that looked painful. Strangled gasping noises and little, animal-like cries escaped him as he writhed, head thrown back, eyes rolled up so only the whites showed.
Jesus Christ… What's happening to him?
Marc's breath left him in a sudden, eerie hissing noise, and several more waves of shuddering oppressive heaviness washed over Patrick, making him flinch back involuntarily. Whether he was more afraid of waves themselves or the boy thrashing around on the floor creating them wasn't clear to him right then, but he was definitely afraid of something.
"Marc… Marky…" Alex grabbed at his brother's arms, trying to pin him down and hold him still. His voice was distressed. "You don't need to - it's okay - stop fighting me, Marky, come on…"
It was hard to say who would have won if it had become a contest of strength - Alex probably had the advantage of his weight to help him, but Marc was having some kind of fit, and couldn't hold back even a little. In the end it didn't come to that, though - as soon as pressure was applied against him, the blond's convulsions lessened, gradually growing weaker and smaller. Alex's voice calmed, just a bit breathless still. "It's okay… it's okay…" He repeated it again and again, like a chant, and Patrick wondered, in some impassive corner of his mind that wasn't bothered by the shock, if it were to comfort his brother or himself.
There was one last hiccuping burst of a wave, and then Marc's form shuddered and went still.
Alex didn’t move. Patrick took a couple of cautious steps forward, and saw that he was shaking - not terribly, but it was obvious to anyone close enough. His fingers clenched and unclenched in his brothers shirt, as if he were trying to convince himself that Marc wasn't going to disappear.
"She was there…" The blond twin interrupted his feeble attempt to ask for an explanation, almost making Patrick jerk back - he hadn't realized the boy was conscious. Marc's eyes stayed closed, tightly - it looked almost like he was having some kind of religious experience. "I saw her…" And then his expression crumpled up, as if he wanted to cry but somehow couldn't manage it.
"Her," Patrick repeated to himself, slowly. No matter how he thought about it… this didn't make sense at all.
Alex looked up at him then - in contrast to his brother's, his face was tight, almost angry. "You'd better just hump off," he said, voice almost low enough to be a growl. "Now."
There woudn't be a good way to argue with that - especially not with Marc in such a vulnerable state. "All right," Patrick agreed, backing off toward the door again. He resisted the urge to hold his hands up - no matter how much it looked like he might, it wasn't likely Alex was going to jump up and attack him. "I'm going."
As he closed the door behind him, though, he had a feeling it was going to be a long and not very restful night.