Summary: If Shawn were harder to convince, but Jordan was just as determined.
Warnings: Rated PG. m/m
The nights were the worst. The sign outside Shawn's window--the one promising cheap rooms by the hour--was on the fritz, had been since he'd gotten there, probably would be until the end of time. This was not a place where broken things were fixed, and the neon flicker that spilled into his room was just random enough that he could never predict it or get used to it or just plain ignore it.
The noise didn't help, either. The lewd thump-thump of the headboard against the wall in the room next door. The screaming matches of the couple down the hall. Bitch, please. Don't make me come over there! The muffled scrape-thud above him, a sound disturbingly like bodies being dragged across the floor. Worst of all was what he could hear in his own room, the telltale skittering that made him huddle in the middle of the bed, arms drawn in, blanket tucked tightly around him like it might protect him from something.
Only a few hours until he had to get up for work, but closing his eyes was like some kind of switch for his brain, flipping it into overdrive. Sometimes he saw Kyle in these waking dreams, the way he'd been in the hospital, a darkened shell, medical equipment all around him, like something out of a too-modern fairy tale, little boy lost in the mechanical forest. Other times, it was his mother, the way she'd looked at him when he did whatever he'd done to Danny, that expression on her face, you're not my son, I don't know what you are, as plainly as any words.
Occasionally, even Jordan Collier made a guest appearance, the scene in his office playing out again, that day when Shawn had gone running to him for help. "You've come to the right place," Jordan had assured him. "Here everyone will see you for who you really are. Someone with a destiny." He'd leaned back in his leather chair, looking so sure of himself, convinced he knew all the right buttons to push. Sometimes in the endless nights, when Shawn was so awake it felt like electrical current was surging under his skin, he would try to imagine how Jordan Collier had looked a second later, after he'd gotten up and turned around and walked out of his office. He tried to guess if his expression had clouded over or cleared with realization as he figured it out. That Shawn didn't want to be special. He didn't wanted to be anybody at all.
Two Neptune burgers, three large fries, rings, strawberry shake, the order crackled over the sound system, followed by several earsplitting seconds of feedback.
"Fucking broken-ass shit," Jamal, the new guy on the line, muttered.
Shawn just shrugged and threw two more frozen patties on the grill. Drops of grease hopped up, caught him on the wrist, but after a month at Burger Planet, he'd stopped paying attention to it. Hazard of the profession. The ancient fan whirred noisily above them, an irony really, since there was no air at all. Steam clung to the walls, the hot smell of grease permeated everything. Shawn had to believe that Burger Planet would have shut down by the Health Department a long time ago if it weren't the only fast food place in the neighborhood.
He pulled out two buns, opened them with one hand, flipped the burgers over with the other. One Cosmos sandwich with extra Big Dipper sauce. Shawn moved automatically, throwing down an icy block of chicken. This probably wasn't what the future had in mind when it sent him back. But then, he imagined, neither was almost killing his brother.
He picked up the burgers with a swipe of his spatula, laid them on the buns, scooted them down to Andre, who was on condiment detail.
"Man, where is that mayonnaise? I asked for it ten minutes ago. I'm almost out," he snapped at Jamal.
Jamal put his hands on his hips. "You wanted me to go fill up the straws, remember? Or do you have Alzheimer's disease?"
"And it takes you ten minutes to do that?" He shook his head. "Lazy."
Jamal scowled at him. "Man, who ever said you was in charge anyway? Fucking ass-kisser."
Shawn kept his head down. He didn't talk much, that's how he got along. The chicken was done, and he fished it off the grill, slapped it on a bun, slid it down to Andre. At the other end of the line, the manager Mr. Phillips went right on making milkshakes, as if he hadn't heard anything, either. People losing their tempers in the greasy swelter was nothing new.
I need those three orders of fries, an exasperated voice came over the mike.
Andre glared at Jamal. "You're supposed to be on the fryer."
"You want your mayonnaise? Or you want those fries? 'Cause I can't do everything."
They stared each other down, neither making a move to the fryer, and at last, Cora, one of the girls working the counter, came stomping around the corner, her silver jumpsuit crinkling with each step, the antenna atop her headband quivering with impatience. "Where are those fries?"
Andre made a disgusted noise and slammed down the knife he'd been using to cut tomatoes. "Fine. I'll do it myself." He pulled a handful of frozen fries out of the bag and threw them into the grease. The splatter hit Jamal square on the arm.
"Son of a bitch!"
Andre shrugged. "If you'd move your lazy ass out of the way."
Jamal's expression darkened furiously. "Oh, yeah? Well, let's see how you like it."
If Andre had seen it coming, maybe he could have gotten out of the way in time, but Jamal moved too fast. He grabbed Andre's arm before he knew what was happening and pushed it into the deep fryer. A second later, everything was pandemonium: Andre screaming and people running to see what was happening and the thick stink of burning flesh overtaking the cramped space.
"God, man, stop!" Shawn yelled.
That seemed to snap Jamal out of it. He let go of Andre, who slumped to the floor, still screaming. Jamal's eyes were wild, and he lunged for the knife on the counter, held it up. "Get back. Or I'll cut you! I swear."
No one moved, and Jamal ran around to the front, hopped over the counter, knocking customers out of the way as he fled the restaurant.
"Oh, God," Andre moaned.
He moved his hand, and then they could all see the bubbling flesh.
"Sweet Jesus," Cora murmured.
Her face turned nearly the same shade as her jumpsuit, the color of ancient ashes in a forgotten fireplace. No one could think fast enough to catch her before she pooled to the floor in a dead faint.
"Mr. Phillips, shouldn't we call somebody?" one of the other counter girls asked half hysterically.
But Mr. Phillips just stood there, a helpless, horrified expression
frozen on his face. Andre had gone silent, eyes staring straight
ahead, pupils too large. Someone had to do something, and Shawn
dropped to his knees, propelled by instinct. He tried not to look
at the burn, tried not to pay attention to how it felt, how Andre
flinched when he put his hands on it. He took a deep breath and
focused, and then the familiar heat lightning hit him, arcing
from his body to Andre's. The flesh trembled like water beneath
his fingers, the sear turned back like the tide, healthy skin
spreading in ripples until that was all there was.
Andre blinked, and after a second or two his eyes regained their focus, fastened on Shawn, his mouth falling open. "What-- what are you?"
Shawn rose slowly, glanced around. Everyone was staring. He started to back away, and the sea of onlookers parted with biblical gravity, and then he turned to run just like Jamal had. After the first block, it was clear no one was coming after him, but it didn't matter. The violence of his feet on the pavement, the way his lungs felt, like they were going to burn up, made it impossible to think, and thinking was the last thing he wanted to do. Only when he had the hotel in sight did he slow down, his chest heaving, as he tried to catch his breath.
He was nearly to the door when he noticed the car, silver BMW, not a common sight on this street, especially not with Jordan Collier leaning casually against the hood of it.
"Hello again," Jordan called out, perfectly casually, as if Shawn weren't wild-eyed and winded like hell itself had been chasing him.
"This isn't a good time to talk," Shawn said in a breathless rasp.
A corner of Jordan's mouth turned up in what might have been a smile. "From the looks of things, I'd say our conversation is rather overdue."
Shawn stared down at the sidewalk, and his feet wouldn't move, not into the hotel, or down the block, or over to the car.
Jordan opened the door for him. "Come for a ride, cool off."
Maybe Shawn just needed someone to tell him what to do, because his sneakers unstuck from the sidewalk, and he found himself sliding into the passenger seat without argument.
Jordan pulled away from the curb, and for a long while all they did was drive, in complete silence, a comfort to Shawn not to have to talk. He kept track of their route at first, but Jordan kept randomly looping around, going nowhere in particular, and he lost touch eventually, no idea where they were, which was also strangely a relief. He stared out the window, at parts of the city he'd never seen before, and it was easy to feel like no one, like nothing.
He would have gone on forever like that if he could, but Jordan interrupted at last, "So, you want to tell me what happened?"
Shawn shook his head, but that did nothing to deter Jordan.
"You used your gift, and people didn't understand."
Shawn snapped his head around. "Are you spying on me?"
Jordan met his eyes. "I don't need to do that. I understand you, Shawn, what you're up against."
Shawn looked away, staring determinedly out the window.
"You can't run away from who you are, you know," Jordan told him, in an infuriatingly sensible tone. "But you don't have to be alone, either."
Shawn didn't answer, and Jordan abruptly pulled the car over.
"Look, Shawn," he turned in his seat, fixing him with a look that wouldn't let him glance away, "I may not have expressed myself as well as I could have when we spoke before. When I said you have a destiny, what I meant is that we have a destiny." He leaned into the passenger side, cupped Shawn's jaw in his hand. "Together." And after a pause, "All of us."
Shawn frowned, because it sounded like Jordan was saying one thing, but it felt like something else entirely, something that gave him the same too-hot, too-alive sensation he got whenever he healed someone. And the more he stared into Jordan's face, trying to figure it out, the less certain he was of anything.
"I can turn the car around, and you can go back where you were." He moved his thumb in a slow, deliberate circle on Shawn's cheek. "Or we can go forward, to where we're supposed to be. It's up to you."
Shawn wasn't sure how long he sat there; it felt like forever. In the end, all he could manage was to nod.
Jordan understood it, though, or maybe he was only willing to accept one answer. Either way, he took his hand away and turned the engine back on, with a satisfied smile. "You made the right choice."
The car sped off again, and Shawn leaned back in the seat, closed his eyes. The air rushed against the windshield like it was coming to meet them, and there was a sense of inevitability to that, to everything. Shawn let out his breath and thought: Okay.