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Decoy and Retrofit: Chapter 3

A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #043 back issue and Hazel + Bell’s Patreon.

Griffin was watching Noel sleep.

He wasn’t waking up anytime soon. Griffin had figured that out when he had dragged the deer carcass over to the campsite, swearing loudly enough that birds flew out from the trees. Noel just lay there, slouched against a rock, dead to the world.

Right then, cooking dinner seemed like a waste of time. All Griffin wanted to do was look at Noel. He wanted to sit down beside him and drink in every detail, every change that had happened to his appearance since they had last seen each other.

But Griffin was hungry and the deer was going to attract flies, so he worked. He hurried along, cutting apart the deer carcass with a hunting knife, fumbling together enough aluminum for cooking, falling into a rhythm timed with Noel’s soft snores. He skinned the pelt, trimmed the fat, carved meat from bones as tidily as he could manage, blood staining his arms from fingertip to elbow. When the cleaned meat was in the fire, Griffin finally took a break to sit next to the fire and watch Noel sleep.

Noel wasn’t seventeen anymore, that was for sure. He was taller and broader, skin tanned from exposure and muscles defined from exertion. And then there was the hair. Bright blue, colorful and frivolous and dumb next to Noel’s sensible windbreaker and boots. Seventeen-year-old Noel was not blue hair, Griffin thought, wiping blood off his fingers. He was a punk because he aggravated authority figures, hijacked the school PA system, and religiously used the Anarchist Cookbook to blow up shit in Griffin’s backyard. Not because he had dyed hair.

Noel also slept like he was in pain. His eyeballs twitched beneath the thin skin of his lids, the bags under his eyes smudged dark as bruises. His eyes barely escaped his jagged scars, streaking through his hairline like cracks on glass, from the back of his skull and straight across his temple. They were old scars, but they didn’t take away from the expression on Noel’s sleeping face, with his gritted teeth, palms clenched tight in his sleep, black nails digging into the glowing blue of his hand.

New Noel’s arm. It came as a set, with New Noel’s head scars and New Noel’s surprisingly bland personality.

It was a reminder to Griffin that this Noel was not the same Noel he remembered. Noel didn’t belong to Griffin anymore, he belonged to something else.

Apollo belonged to something else, too.

The thought stirred something in his chest that sent Griffin back to the truck, scrambling under the seat until he found the six-pack of beer that he knew Kenner had shoved there the last time they had driven through Prince George with the ice cream truck. Griffin cracked open the beer, drinking it over the fire as the meat cooked. He tried to keep his thoughts fluid, drowsy, not wanting to focus on the reality in front of him.

When Noel woke up, Griffin pretended that he didn’t notice.

***

They ate dinner with a few curious questions filling the gaps in the years since they had seen each other last. Griffin wasn’t taken off guard until Noel casually dropped a question that he hadn’t expected.

“Hey, do you still play the guitar?”

Griffin glanced up. Noel was just looking at him, cool and relaxed. He felt his heart kick up a drumbeat against his ribs.

Noel had taught him how to play guitar. It was one of the few things they had shared, a single thread of experiences that didn’t fray off to knit around Apollo. Griffin didn’t know how to respond. He looked down at his tinfoil wrapper from dinner.

“No, I don’t,” said Griffin.

“Oh, too bad.”

And that was it.

Griffin didn’t let himself get disappointed that Noel didn’t press it further, even when he was tossing his bones in the fire, telling Griffin to go to bed. They had “a long day tomorrow,” whatever that meant. Griffin guessed it meant driving more distance between them and Atlas while their payload defrosted in the back of the truck.

Griffin didn’t want to think about that. He didn’t want to think about any of this.

When the fire began to make bright spots dance in front of his eyes, Griffin dizzily stood up and grunted something about taking a piss. He drunk-stumbled to the treeline, wondering how the hell he had managed to get intoxicated off of beer, how impossibly weak his tolerance was now, even on an empty stomach.

It made him want to do something stupid.

Luckily, Noel was still at the fire when he got back.

“I thought you wanted to go to bed,” Griffin muttered, standing over him, enjoying the way the firelight cast his shadow over Noel’s sitting form.

Noel didn’t look up. “I can keep watch,” he offered, taking a swig of beer. “I already had a nap.”

“That’s what you call it.”

Noel shrugged. “What would you call it?”

Griffin didn’t know. He sat on the ground next to Noel, crossing his legs. They stared into the fire.

“We camped in your backyard acre once, didn’t we?” Noel said suddenly.

Griffin glanced at Noel. Noel’s eyes were wide, like they were trapped in a memory. Griffin didn’t say anything.

“We stayed in a tent, with Apollo,” Noel breathed. “We had so much trouble trying to start the fire with matches since the logs were wet, but you got it going. You went back to the house and got the dryer lint trap. Do you remember that?”

Griffin took a draw of his own beer, swallowed it, and placed the bottle on the dirt. Then he leaned in and pressed his mouth against Noel’s.

It was warm. Warm, dry. Soft. Noel’s lips twitched, and Griffin pressed in tighter, shifting his lips enough to open his mouth against Noel’s, feeling the swell and roughness of the dry skin against his. Noel breathed against Griffin’s face, warm and hot, and Griffin’s stomach unknotted in a rush, his fingers tangling in Noel’s shirt, his chest surging forward to press against Noel’s body, slipping his tongue between his lips to touch Noel’s–

“Griff.”

Griffin cracked open his eyes. Noel was looking down at him, panting hard, his hand curled against the back of Griffin’s neck. His pupils were huge. Griffin wanted to drown in them. He leaned in again, tilting his chin, closing his eyes.

“Wait a sec, Griff.”

The hand at his neck was firm now, holding him back. Griffin glanced up, annoyed. “What?” he whined, his bare legs shifting in Noel’s lap.

“Griff, you’re kind of drunk.”

Griffin frowned. Like that ever made a difference. “I’m fine,” he said, hiking his thighs up Noel’s hips, settling down against him as much as Noel’s restraining hands would allow. “I’m doing just fine.”

Noel shifted under him. “Did you want to talk about…this?”

“Not really.” Griffin went for Noel’s mouth, pressing closer with his body, when he felt solid palms against his shoulders.

Griffin blinked.

Noel was looking away, into the fire. Griffin could see how the light reflected in his eyes, so dark and elegant like wet stones. Then Noel’s fingers pressed against the back of his shoulders in soothing circles, his breath and voice just unsteady enough to make Griffin’s blood run warm. “I don’t know if this is the best time.”

Griffin blinked at Noel in absolute confusion.

Noel shook his head. “Let’s talk about this tomorrow morning, okay?”

“Talk?”

“We should get some rest, we’ve been on the road for a while, we’re both tired.”

Noel was looking down at Griffin with those dark eyes, so full of warmth and affection, his thin lips pressed into a smile that seemed to hold Griffin in place, cocooned and cherished for everything he was.

“Let’s get you to bed, okay?”

“Okay,” Griffin heard himself saying, with no permission whatsoever from his brain.

He let himself get pulled to his feet, led across their campground on shaky legs, shoulders tucked under one of Noel’s arms. He felt himself get lifted off his feet and laid down against a soft surface, the fabric of the truck bench bunching under his face.

The shape of Noel’s body blocked his vision. Griffin felt his breath quicken as Noel leaned down and brushed a strand of hair away from his face.

“Come on,” Griffin panted, fumbling for him in the dark, his fingers latching onto Noel’s arms, feeling desperation mount in his chest. “Noel, come on.”

“Griff–”

Griffin let out a whine, quiet and muffled in the cab. “Noel, please.”

But then there was something dry against his forehead, the press of lips against his skin, before the body hovering over his drew back.

“Goodnight, Griff.”

And with that, the truck door slammed shut.

Griffin lay there for a minute, staring up at the truck ceiling covered in bullet holes and spray paint, the only sound in his ears his own ragged breathing.

He was alone.

“Fucking hell.”

***

Griffin Wells had noticed that, somewhere between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two, Noel Phan had gained enough of a conscious to not drunkenly fuck his best friend’s little brother across the hood of an ice cream truck.

He wasn’t falling for Griffin’s side-eyes, his bare thighs, or his innuendo-laden lines. He hadn’t let Griffin kiss him like they’d done in the past, thick and dirty and full of all the tongue and spit they could manage. And now, even when Griffin had begged, Noel had left him alone in the truck to sleep it off like a drunk at a party.

Noel hadn’t responded to Griffin in any way that acknowledged the relationship they’d had before Apollo had smeared Noel’s face across the asphalt of a Denny’s parking lot.

So Noel had gained a moral compass, or maybe alien-endorsed asexuality. In any case, Griffin was panicking. He’d been in a nebulous state of horniness since he’d first pinned Noel under his boot and pointed a gun at his head. Here he was, the guy who was the direct cause of every messed-up kink he had. Here was ground zero of his sexual awakening, and he wasn’t even acknowledging it.

Griffin didn’t know what to do. Noel’s allegiances were twisted, Noel’s personality was twisted, this truck was twisted. This whole situation was twisted. And now, instead of sleeping and getting a fresh start on the road tomorrow, all Griffin could think about was sitting on Noel’s dick.

Griffin let out an angry, frustrated grunt and flipped over onto his stomach, letting his drunken brain drive his thoughts, spiraling him into a mess of negative emotions that ate away at him.

He missed his brother.

Proceed to Chapter 3, page 2–>

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Comments (3)
  1. Olivia Williams Olivia Williams

    Well, then. I wasn’t expecting that to happen quite so fast, or quite so explicitly outside of Cherry Bomb. Not that I’m complaining.

    I’m glad to see the boys have acquired a murderpuppy mascot. Can’t wait to see the mindlink with it (him?) from Noel’s perspective.

    Also: “You’ve become a handsome young man.” Noel. Dude. You sound like someone’s grandmother.