Notes: "Ok, this was sort of an exercise I did with myself...What you do, pick 5 or 10 or however many movies you want and place your characters in that movie. Sort of like a bunch of mini Alternate Universes. The goal: see if you can get anyone to correctly guess all the movies...Happy reading."
He missed his hair. Missed the color and the shape of it. Missed the way it sort of flopped over his eyes in the morning, and the way he used to run his hands through it just before tucking it under a cap during the icy Pittsburgh winters.
Oh, sure he missed plenty of other things too. Breakfast that didn't taste like runny eggs (or snot depending on who you were talking to). The color of the clear blue sky in the mornings when he would ride his bike to class, and the soft navy shades it changed into during his nightly rides home. Being able to run his hand across the back of his head without feeling that thing. Yeah, he missed all of that.
But really, it was the hair loss that bugged him the most, and it wasn't so much out of vanity as it was out of necessity that he wanted it back. He'd never known someone's head could feel this cold. He was grateful that the peach fuzz that had covered his scalp the last two months on the Icarus was finally growing longer. He wondered if they would let him grow it out. Would that be allowed? What sort of cultural distinctions ruled this strange place so far down the rabbit hole? He would have asked Paul, but Paul had disappeared only moments after they'd docked.
"Take the elevator up, all the way to the top," Paul had yelled over his shoulder, grunting under the weight of cords and wires that he carried. "They'll find you some place to stay."
So here he was, leaning against a slow moving, and rather interesting looking elevator, staring down at the brand new reality that he'd willingly signed himself up for. He was so deep in thought, that he jumped a little when the elevator stopped and the doors slid open. A shorter man, possibly younger then him by a few years, with the blackest, thickest hair he'd seen in what felt like a very long time stepped on.
To Ben's utter embarrassment, the words, "Nice hair" tumbled out of his mouth.
The day after Burt Campbell's front door turned blue (it had always been blue, but now it was, well really blue) Ben's bookcase turned green. Not to say that it hadn't always been green, he'd painted it himself just last winter, but now it was?.greener.
He hadn't noticed it at first. Almost walked right by it on his way to work, but when the difference had finally registered he'd only been able to stare, amazed, and a little bit afraid of the strange new difference to his home. It wasn't just the shelf color that had been affected either. The books were different too.
That day he didn't go to work, and he'd never not gone to work. Instead, he pounced on every text, poured over ever chapter, and sentence. Reading so much, and for so long, that sometimes the words blurred together and he would have to remove his glasses and rub his eyes before he could continue. He read like a man who had been dying of thirst and never known it until someone poured a glass of water down his throat. The morning became the afternoon, the afternoon the night, and even the lazy beams of sunrise trudging through his windows the next day weren't enough to stop him. That was when he noticed that his hands had gained new colors of their own.
He wore gloves to the library. A copy of E.M Forester's A Passage To India hidden in the brief case that usually held bundles of student papers. Willing no one to notice, certain that everyone did. He wanted to see if his own private book was different then the library's public one. Anyone could read the copy at the library. Would they have changed the words inside of it because of that? Was it right to do that? There were so many new questions in his head.
Crouched amid the library stacks he found the two copies were identical. Feelings of relief, quickly followed by feelings of joy swam through him. It was then that he saw Michael Novotny leaning against the far library wall, hidden in the stacks, looking miserable.
Michael looked up, and Ben suddenly knew the reason. Michael's eyes were brown. The color of soft earth. Wide, frightened and upon seeing Ben just a little bit panicked.
"I was... I was just looking," Michael tried to explain motioning to his eyes. "I didn't mean too... they just changed. I... I... can't change them back. I tried."
Ben looked down at the book in his hands. The cover had changed, and was now a mix of browns, blues, greens and yellows. Meeting Michael's eyes, he peeled off the gloves, gray and lifeless, shoving them in his back pocket. Stretching his hands forward he turned his now flesh colored palms face up catching some of the dull library light.
"Do you really want them to?"
"Ben, we are not stealing a motorcycle!"
"Shh! Keep your voice down! We can't allow anyone to hear us speak English."
"I'm aware of that, but I didn't spend last night crawling through a man made hole so that we could get caught and sent back!"
"You honestly think driving us across Nazi-occupied Germany, on a motorcycle, with passports we made ourselves, that we're not even sure are going to work at all the check points, is going to get us to Switzerland?"
"It's worth a shot."
"Oh, God, don't say shot!"
"It is not ridiculous!"
"Ok, one person, maybe it would work, but two people? There's not a chance in hell. You planning on leaving me behind?"
"Of course not!"
"Fine, do you have a better idea?"
"I say we steal that rowboat over there and get ourselves on one of the ships. We take the boat we're in Switzerland in a few days. We take the bike we're dead by tomorrow. Come on Ben, trust me."
"All right. We'll try your plan."
"Hey, don't look so worried, this whole thing could be much worse."
"How exactly could this be any worse?"
"One of us could be blind."
The street in front of Red Cape Comics was filled with cars. Its glowing streetlights caught Hummers, Volkswagen beetles, motorcycles, trucks and brand new Bonnevilles so expensive that Michael would never have even dreamed of owning one in pools of sickly yellow light.
Shiny and fun as each motor vehicle may have seemed, Michael couldn't help but feel relieved and a little smug that he didn't own one. Especially since road repairs had caused a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam to appear in front of his store. Still smirking he gave the chain lock one last tug before he was satisfied that the store was sealed up for the night, then slipped the keys into his jean pocket. Turning to retrieve his bike, he ran directly into a warm body that had been standing behind him.
"Shit, sorry," Michael said surprised. He took a few steps back to get a better look at the man he'd run into, and found himself standing face-to-face with..
"Hey, Todd. How's it going?"
"Fine," Todd replied, moving a few steps back to give Michael some space. The light of the nearby streetlamp caught his face.
"Jesus Christ," Michael said softly. "Are you ok?"
Babylon's most popular bottom was sporting a black eye and a still bleeding lip. When he smiled, Michael could see that two of his front teeth were missing, the gums still angry and red.
Todd shrugged. "Naw, like I said, I'm fine. Got into a little fight."
Michael made a move to retrieve the store key from his pocket. "Do you want me to call someone? Were you attacked?"
"No, no nothing like that. I'm fine really."
Unsure, but not wanting to pry, Michael nodded.
"Mind if I walk with you for a while?" Todd asked.
Seeing Todd outside of the back rooms at Babylon was strange bordering on creepy, and Michael really just wanted to hop onto his bike and peddle home to Ben and Hunter, but something wouldn't allow him to just let the bleeding man walk alone. Giving him a tentative nod, Michael began to walk, pushing his bike along side the other man.
"You're boyfriend's that professor guy, Ben, right?" Todd asked.
"He's my husband. We got married a few months ago," Michael responded.
Todd looked impressed. "Wow, congratulations. That's really great. But doesn't the guy have HIV?"
Hardly anyone was ever this blunt when it came to talking about Ben's HIV status, and it startled Michael. Well, ok, strangers were never this blunt. His friends and family were a completely different story, but Todd pulling the topic out of the clear blue sky made him feel uneasy. "Right, yeah. He's positive."
"So, he give it to you yet?"
Todd shrugged, nonchalant and casual. "I'm just wondering if he's managed to infect you yet. It's only a matter of time. That the reason you two got married?"
Michael could feel his grip on the bike's handlebars tightening.
If Todd noticed Michael's growing anger, he didn't show it. "Why would you start dating a pos guy anyway? You get a boner from the risk of it or something? I mean, well, you're not a bug chaser, are you, Michael?"
That was when Michael's fist connected with Todd's nose, the blow sending the other man to his knees. Michael froze. "Aw, shit. I-"
Todd was back on his feet in a flash, and though he'd been waiting for just such a response, tackled Michael to the ground. Todd blackened the smaller man's left eye and split his lip before Michael's brain woke up, screaming at him to fight back. Todd was pulling his fist back for another blow when Michael punched him hard in the ribs. Todd grunted, his hands moving to protect his torso. Bucking his hips, Michael rolled over until he had Todd underneath him and punched him again, this time on the side of his face. Todd coughed and spit a large glob of blood that stained the pavement. The sight of it made something in Michael's gut tighten. In his hurry to get off the other man, he almost tripped over his fallen bike.
Both men were panting. Both men were bleeding. If any of the motorists in the unmoving cars on the street had noticed their fight, they had made no effort to help or break them up. Todd continued to lie on the cold sidewalk looking pleased. Michael stood stunned, his breath coming out in small hurried clouds.
"You ever been in a fight?" Todd asked curiously.
"Not that I've won," Michael responded, cradling his aching fist.
Todd pulled himself off the ground, an odd smile stretched across his face. He wobbled a little, but soon had his footing down.
"Did you like winning?" he asked curiously. No anger in his voice, no malice in his words, just honest curiosity.
There was blood on his knuckles and the gums around the gap in Todd's teeth were bleeding again. Michael had liked winning and, at the same time, he really, really hadn't. Still feeling punch drunk and confused, he gave no answer.
"If you ever feel like maybe winning another fight," Todd said, still casual, still calm. "You should maybe try showing up here." He pushed a piece of folded paper into Michael's hands. "Just one thing you have to know. The first rule is that you're not allowed to talk about it."
The man is shorter than Hunter, but not by much. One, maybe two inches, and that's only if he squints, but it's enough to make him feel as though he can get away with doing something stupid. Something like leaping across the counter and punching him in his round, fat face or maybe wrapping his hands around the guy's throat and throttling him. He won't though, but not because the asshole in the faded Ramones t-shirt has at least seventy-five pounds on him. Not even because the man's eyes are like chips of broken brown glass, sly and wicked enough to fight dirty. No, Hunter has made a solemn vow to not kill this man, because he knows what will happen after the fists have flown and the blood',s been shed. Somehow Michael and Ben will find out, most likely informed by the Chicago police, and they won't be too happy after hearing he's been brought in on charges of murder. Especially since this trip had been considered a mini-vacation of sorts. So, in a last ditch effort to keep his foster parents happy, he's going to try talking to the guy one last time.
"Dude, just sell me the fucking record. I've got the cash. I have exact change for Christ sake. You don't even have to put it in a bag. Just sell me the thing!"
Standing safely behind the counter, the fat store employee glances at him with feigned boredom. Sliding the record half way out of the slim cardboard case, he caresses the round black half circle before letting it slip back into the protective covering with a soft slick.
"Mmm, I'm thinking no."
"Why the fuck not!" He's so angry he's practically humming.
The cashier raises and eyebrow at him. "How old are you? Fourteen? Fifteen?"
"However fucking old I have to be to buy that fucking record!"
"Before I sell a record I have to ask myself, `What exactly would a teenager want with a vinyl copy of the 1985 REO Speedwagon hit, "Can't Fight This Feeling?'"
"It's for my dads," Hunter growls.
If the mention of him having two fathers throws the pudgy, brown haired man, he doesn't show it.
"Do you even know your dads?! No one listens to REO Speedwagon anymore," the man exclaims. His hand goes up to cover his mouth in mock shock and sympathy. "Are they in comas or something?"
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