9 – Strange Beast

Holden wondered if he had inherited Roan’s self-destructive streak as well as his detective job. Was that a per-requisite he’d been unaware of?

When Scott texted him his hotel name and room number, along with a request to come by, Holden figured he’d go there and let him know that maybe they should stop this, whatever the hell this was.

But as soon as he was in the door, Scott basically tackled him with one of his overwhelming kisses, the kind that made him feel like Scott was trying to consume him in some way. But Scott was also shirtless, and pressed him up against the door, and how could Holden not respond to that? Once again, Holden found himself surprised by his own libido, while Scott wasn’t surprised at all. They couldn’t get each other’s clothes off fast enough.

After what was, Holden had to admit, a really awesome fuck, Scott started perusing the room service menu. “What d’ya want to eat? Wanna split a frittata with me?”

Holden sat up, and finally decided to ask about the relatively new tattoo on his shoulder. It was of a tiny Bender, the robot from Futurama, with a cigar in one of his metal hands. “I never pegged you for a Futurama fan.”

“Well, I like Bender more than show, really. I like to think he’s my spirit animal. Also, I’m a bit of a bender in other ways too.” Scott smiled at his own joke.

Holden sighed. Bender was a somewhat derogatory term for gay person, although it might have been exclusively British. (Unless it was used in Canada. Holden almost asked, then decided it didn’t matter.) “So now you’re putting oblique clues on your body. Why not just tell your teammates you’re a big bi and get it over with?”

Scott put the menu back on the nightstand. “Since I’ve been out on injury, I don’t think they’d appreciate it if my first act upon returning to the locker room was to come out.”

“You could save it for day two.”

Scott gave him a stern look. “You wanna fight, don’t you?”

“No. Why would I?”

“You tell me.”

“You brought it up.”

Scott threw his hands up and shook his head, turning towards the bedside phone. “Why does this hafta be like pulling teeth? Just say what you’re gonna say. I’m a big boy. I’ll deal.” He went ahead and ordered the frittata from room service, as well as some toast and juice. Holden could see the faint surgery scar on Scott’s shoulder, and had the urge to touch it, but managed to fight it back.

What was wrong with him? Scott actually had a point, which pissed him off even more.

There was an odd noise, a kind of a muffled hum, and after looking around, realized it was his phone in his coat pocket, vibrating away and making his jacket move like there was an agitated mouse caught underneath it. He got up and snagged his coat, pulling the whole thing back to the bed before fishing it out of his pocket. By now, Scott had hung up, and was watching him curiously as he answered the phone. “Yeah?”

“Holden, got a favor to ask you.”

“Of course you do,” he sighed. “What is it?”

“I need someone to put up a runaway foster kid for a couple of days.”

“How old?”

“Fifteen.” In the background, he heard a voice say, “I am not fifteen! I’m seventeen!”

“I’m afraid I got Newt couch surfing with me right now, but I’ll ask around. Jessie will probably have room.”

“Okay, thanks.” He paused briefly. “ You okay? You sound irritated.”

Oh great. Now Roan was picking it up over the phone. “I’m just … it’s been a weird day. I’ll let you know what Jessie says as soon as possible.”

“Great, thanks.”

Holden hung up before Roan could ask any follow ups. But Scott was still here, and he asked, “Why’s it been so weird? Me?”

“Not everything’s about you,” he snapped, and Holden was instantly disgusted with himself. He sounded like the bitchiest person alive.

“’Kay,” Scott said, and was giving him a wary look. “What did I do to piss you off?”

“Nothing. I seem to be in a mood today,” he admitted, getting out of bed and grabbing his pants.

“You don’t wanna take a shower?”

“I’m just going home. I’ll be good ‘til then.” He stepped into his jeans, and felt like a major asshole. Of course, he probably was, so no wonder he felt that way.

“Den, what is it? Why does being with me put you on edge?”

Oh god, that nickname again. Why did he insist on calling him by that stupid nickname? “It doesn’t. It’s just … what are we doing? What is this?”

“A hook up. Or a visit, depending on how you look at it. What do you want to call it?”

“Nothing.” Holden dressed so hastily, he grabbed Scott’s shirt before realizing that it wasn’t his. He tossed it on the bed and found his own shirt.

Scott scoffed. “Every time we have a good moment together, you freak out.”

“I do not freak out.” Damn it, he noticed. He thought concussions did some minor damage to the brain.

“Do you want more or less of what we’re doing?”

“I don’t know,” Holden replied honestly, without meaning to. But he really didn’t know if he wanted to see Scott more, or never again. Could he somehow do both? Both would be good. “Maybe we need a little time apart.”

Scott stared at him. “We haven’t seen each other in over a month.”

“I know, but … Look, Roan asked me to do something for him, I gotta go.”

“Just like that?”

Holden shrugged on his jacket, and knew it was insane that he wanted to run out of here. Did he ever once run from anything? Okay, that sick lion at the hospital, but that was understandable. In this case, he wanted to run away from a hot guy that he just had great sex with. How did this compute? He didn’t know. He just knew he had to go. “Sorry. I’ll call you later.”

“Den, you’re acting like a weirdo,” Scott told him. Like he didn’t know that! It would have helped if he was mad, but Scott just seemed deeply confused, and for some reason, that was just pissing Holden off more.

“Sorry,” he replied, and was then out the door.

Holy shit, he’d never felt so claustrophobic in a hotel room before. What was wrong with him?

**

Scott knew he was going to have to appeal to a higher court here, because he just didn’t get it. Den was acting squirrelier than usual, and that was saying something.

At least there was a planned get together at Roan’s house later. Before then, Scott met up with Grey, who picked him up in his rental car. Scott had no idea you could rent a hybrid car, but somehow Grey did. Also amazing? That he could cram his monster frame into it. “I didn’t know they made these in Frankenstein size,” Scott said, looking over the interior.

Grey sighed. “Wow, I so didn’t see that coming. Get some new material, Conan.”

Being with Grey again made him feel better. Not in quite the same way as being with Den had, but Grey was like the weird, huge brother he never had. Of course, when they were on opposing teams, this gave them the chance to insult each other, but it was hard to keep a straight face while doing it. In fact, last game, the ref asked them to tone it down. Grey told him it wasn’t serious, and the ref said, “I know it ain’t it serious, just shut your yaps.” At first, it puzzled teammates, especially the enforcer on the Canucks, who wasn’t sure if he should warn Grey to back off (and he really wasn’t eager to get into that), but he soon figured out, along with everyone else, that they were friends taking the opportunity to give each other shit. It was a bit harder when he was playing against Tank, simply because no team liked you talking to their goalie, even if you were friends shit talking each other, but they got to talk sometimes between whistles, when they were in his zone. Scott did get a sense that Tank’s new teammates were slowly growing accustomed to his general craziness, which was good. Some people never got the hang of Tank. They were missing out.

On the drive to the place where Tank and Fi were staying, he and Grey did the injury report, where they brought each other up to speed on their various battle wounds. Scott at least could brag his was major, requiring shoulder surgery and all that, while Grey’s worst injury was taking a stick in the face, which required stitches. It had mostly healed over, but there was still a new, pale scar on his left cheek, an inch under his eye. It just made him look tougher, which seemed grossly unfair.

Grey and his latest girlfriend had called it quits, which meant that she had dumped his ass. He denied this, but not too vehemently. It was kind of a given with Grey, as he was attracted to cute girls he had zero in common with, guaranteeing they’d only be together as long as she could tolerate him. This relationship pattern could make you question his sexuality, but really, Grey was just kind of lazy when it came to dating and stuff. Either someone else made the effort, or he didn’t much bother. He was a pro hockey player. He could always get laid.

They didn’t talk about Scott’s thing with Holden, which was for the best, but wasn’t at all personal. Grey never talked relationship stuff with anyone. Either you volunteered it, or he lived without knowing how hot your girlfriend was. It wasn’t that he wasn’t interested in you, he just had no interest in your significant other. In fact, Scott wondered if that was Grey’s big secret. Not that he was gay, but he was kind of asexual.

He’d been around enough men to know they were pretty sexual, while Grey was almost conspicuously not. Oh, if it was brought up he could shoot the shit and be as crude as anybody, but if Scott had learned anything about Grey after living with him and sharing rooms on the road with him, it was that his sex drive seemed lower than most men. Maybe it was just part of his low key type B off ice nature, or maybe he was just weirdly private about his desires. But Scott couldn’t help but ponder if his generally accepting nature stemmed from a genuine absence of sex drive. It might explain his lack of interest in relationships, and why all of his were doomed to immediate failure.

But Scott didn’t ask. If Grey wanted to tell him or talk about it, he would. Just like Grey didn’t bring up Scott being bi even though he figured it out long before Scott admitted it to him, it only seemed respectful and fair to treat him in kind. Maybe he didn’t know the term asexual and what it meant; maybe he felt he had a low sex drive but wasn’t actually asexual. Whatever it was, it was Grey’s thing, and Scott wasn’t about to take it away from him. It didn’t really matter anyways. He was his brother (emotionally), and he loved him, and he knew Grey loved him too. Because if he didn’t, he’d be wildly indifferent to him, or crush him in his humungous fists.

Tank was Tank, meaning French and larger than life and kind of nutty, and he’d grown a kind of closed cropped goatee that he said he’d grown only to piss off a teammate he didn’t like who couldn’t grow a beard to save his life. Perfect Tank logic there. Thing is, it made him look even more like Layne Staley, pre-death, so Scott assumed Roan would comment on it. Fi certainly did, teasing him and offering to get him heroin. Totally tasteless, but still kind of funny.

There was a little discussion at what went on at the funeral, but not much. It was weird and awkward, and the fact that Roan got shot again made it all the weirder. At least he wasn’t hurt. Tank was sorry he couldn’t be there to help, but he’d had to catch a later flight out. Fi had apparently gotten weary of all these infected haters, and just kind of pitied them, while the rest of them were pissed off. She probably had the best handle on it all though, the most mature. They just wanted to break heads, which didn’t solve anything. It just made them feel better for a while. Still, it would have been nice to smash some heads over this. At least Roan had scared the shit out of them.

Fi also wasn’t sure about Roan’s medical state. He hadn’t been in a coma lately, and he seemed okay, but what she understood was he was kind of precarious. Not all his tumors were surgically removed, and it seemed more than likely they’d come back. Roan acted like it was no big deal, and Dylan preferred not to talk about it, but it seemed like there was no happy ending in the offing. It was weird to think about. Roan seemed indestructible, the world’s first genuine superhero, and how could he be wiped out by something as basic and stupid as a virus? Even if it was the virus responsible for giving him his powers in the first place. But as soon as the subject was broached, it was dropped, because it was too fucking painful. It actually made Scott’s heart hurt to think that he might lose Roan soon, and he didn’t even have him. But at this rate, he’d never have him. Still, it was a thought with too many edges for all of them, so they went on to other, lighter topics.

Eventually they left for Roan’s place, stopping along the way to pick up some microbrews as a hostess gift (in a manner of speaking), and the place was more or less the same as it had been the last time they’d seen it. Roan was still improbably hot, while Dylan was logically hot (hey, he was younger, and a half naked bartender – you didn’t assume plainness on his part). The house smelled great, probably because Dylan made veggie lasagna, and on top of being good looking, he was a great cook. It was unfair how one guy got so much talent, and Roan too.

They still didn’t have a dining table, so they ate scattered about the living room, which was actually kind of nice. It reminded Scott of dinner at home, mainly because sit down dinners growing up were pretty much restricted to major holidays, and even then felt super weird.

He waited until Roan went to the kitchen to get a beer, and the others were distracted by one of Tank’s awesomely weird stories about a former teammate who was found insufferable by his teammates, but was bizarrely loved by the GM of the team for reasons unknown to all of them.

Presumably joining Roan in grabbing a beer, he whispered to him, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

Roan looked at him curiously, green eyes bright and searching. Was it just his imagination, or was Roan looking a little more … feline nowadays? Not that Scott could pinpoint what exactly had changed to make him look that way. Maybe it was just his expectations coloring his perception. He figured that was why he sometimes got the weird feeling that it wasn’t only Roan looking out through his eyes. “You’re talking to me now,” he whispered back.

Good to know that, potentially dying or not, Roan was still a smart ass. He would go down fighting and snarky. His tombstone would probably read Don’t You Ever Wipe Your Feet You Messy Bastard? “Is something going on with Holden? I mean, out of the ordinary?”

Roan took a swig of his beer before replying. “As far as I know, no. Why?”

He told him a condensed version of what happened today, leaving out the fantastic sex, but Roan could probably guess that part. Holden would hardly drop by his hotel room to say hi and leave. Just from the expression on Roan’s face, he knew he had an insight he had missed. “You’re screwing up his shit, Scott.”

“What d’ya mean?”
“I mean, Fox is untouchable. He’s a slick bastard who feels nothing, and has no weaknesses. But you’re making Holden feel something. He likes you. He may more than like you. And he isn’t sure how to deal with that.”

That was basically what Scott thought, but it was really hard for him to gauge how Holden felt about him at any moment. Well, except for turned on. He knew turned on. But the rest was a mystery. Holden didn’t like to share anything approaching a feeling. Poker face neutral was his default state. Sometimes when they shared a joint or a couple of drinks, he could get him to loosen up a little, but he still seemed in very tight control. Scott really didn’t know how Holden could do it, because that would exhaust him after a while. And here the team trainers told him he had great stamina. “So what do I do?”

Roan shrugged, and grimaced to show he felt bad about it. “You’re kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t here. If you confront him, he may freak out and just end the relationship. If you don’t, he may freak out and end the relationship anyway. There may be no way to win here.”

“Goddamn it.” He actually came to that conclusion, but for Roan to say it meant it was confirmed in some irrevocable way. “What happened to him? Why is he this way?”

“Honestly? I don’t know. I know he got screwed over in a high school relationship, but that can’t possibly be all of it. But as far as I can tell, he confides in no one. I like to think I have trust issues, but they’re nothing compared to Holden’s. I feel for you, but he is hard to handle.” He paused briefly. “Okay, I probably could have phrased that better. But you know what I mean.”

“Yeah,” he reluctantly agreed. So how did he feel about Holden? He’d been trying to come to grips with that for some time. He liked him a lot, and when he couldn’t see him for a couple weeks, he started too miss him terribly. Scott supposed that, in his own way, he wasn’t facing his feelings about Holden either. At least he wasn’t bolting from the room, but still, he was ducking the issue.

Goddamn it. He was going to have to work out how he felt about Holden, and then he was going to have to figure out how to confront him in a way that wouldn’t result in casualties. That shouldn’t have seemed so tough. But holy hell, it was. It seemed like an insurmountable problem.

Not for the first time, Scott wondered why he had to have such deep attractions to impossible men. His life would have been so much easier if he was attracted to any other kind at all.

**

Holden knew exactly why he was upset, and it upset him even more. He was pretty sure he had a borderline personality disorder – he couldn’t feel something for anyone.

Except, of course, he kind of did. He was very protective of his boys, for example, and that was feeling something. Also, he was kind of fond of Roan, although over time he realized that didn’t count. Not only did his pheromones play havoc with everyone, but there was something naturally endearing about him. He was the true patron saint of lost causes, as no one was more of a lost cause than Roan himself, and yet, that wasn’t enough to stop him.

But Scott? Okay, to be fair, he wasn’t a dickhead like most alpha jock types were, but that might have been because he was a closet stoner (closet bi really didn’t matter in this case). But they had little in common. Scott was hot, sure, and a great fuck buddy, but that was all. About the only thing they had in common was the Roan mutual appreciation society. Were they settling for each other because they couldn’t have him?

He hated thinking about it, it made him angrier, so Holden poured himself a tumbler of gin, cut with soda water and ice, and started searching for the hidden chat room of Omega. Assuming there was one.

Anyone could find the usual, more public face of Omega. A simple Google search would turn up everything they wanted you to know, but the deeper, more honest stuff was well buried, and harder to find. Therefore, it was tedious, and made extra tedious by spotty wi-fi. Still, it took his mind off of this whole Scott thing.

Also helping, kind of, was Newt. He was splayed on Holden’s couch, channel surfing between three distinct, odd things: one of those hoarding reality shows, a twenty year old sitcom with a super abrasive laugh track, and what looked like a clog dancing competition on one of the lesser channels. Holden would have asked him to stop, since the sometimes jarring contrast in soundtracks could be super annoying, but sometimes he wondered if Newt’s drug pickled brain worked this way. He couldn’t concentrate on one thing at a time, but three? Doable. As long as none of them were too complicated. But he could have had better taste in shows.

“So you’re looking for this cult?” Newt asked, about twenty minutes after Holden had answered his question.

“More about this cult. We know where they are. Is that fucking clog dancing?”

“I dunno. Can’t read the subtitles.”

Holden turned his attention back to his search. He’d finally found something in a sub Reddit forum, and he followed it to a forum on a website with an Eastern European IP address. (He’d let Fiona install a few interesting programs on his laptop. He didn’t understand how they worked, but he knew how to use them.) It was sifting through the usual ugly anti-gay/anti-woman shit that seemed to clutter most internet forums that he discovered something really troubling. “Oh shit,” Holden said, unable to stop himself. “They know who I am.” Someone had identified him as a “man whore who works forMcItchen” (McItchen was probably meant to be some kind of insult, or it was just a constant, weird misspelling the entire board had decided to adopt), and they had a mug shot photo of his from about ten years ago. Which was super weird, because where the hell did they get his mug shot? On the other hand, it had been ten years, and several hair styles and colors ago. He might be able to get past them.

“What does that mean? You a target?”

“Not necessarily. It means I might not be able to go undercover, though.” These freaks were welcome to try, though. If they wanted to throw down, he was game, but he really hoped they had their wills made in advance. He didn’t play, especially if some fuckers came after him.

“In the cult?” It sounded as if this was news to Newt, even though Holden had already told him twice.

“Yeah.”

“I could do it,” Newt said, and sat up so he could look back at him. “Might be the thing I need to get my blog going again.” Newt, when he was relatively sober and relatively stable in his living arrangements, blogged about “first person journalism”, as he really did want to be the next coming of Hunter S. Thompson, despite the lack of actual journalism training. He wasn’t a bad writer, though, not when he focused.

Holden frowned at him. “Dude, these guys aren’t just a cult. The FBI thinks they may be planning some serious domestic terrorism shit. If they think you’re a plant, they might kill you.”

Newt scoffed. “Me, a plant? A drug addled, homeless drifter?” Newt suddenly looked deeply sad, on the verge of tears. “When I found out I was infected, I thought it was the worst thing that ever happened to me. But the worst thing that’s happened to me has been everyone else. I don’t wanna die without my life meaning something. And I don’t wanna die without getting back at those bigoted fuckers who ruined my life.” His lower lip trembled, and he sniffed loudly. Then, after a second, he grinned maniacally. “Can I sell it or what?”

“Jesus Christ,” Holden exclaimed, genuinely impressed. “You have an act, Newt.”

“Hey, I’ve smuggled thousands of dollars worth of ecstasy tabs and Mexican Viagra past the border patrol. Just try and out bullshit me, son. I will flip your reality.”

This could be a really horrible idea. Chemicals had altered Newt’s brain to the point where it was hard to trust anything he said, and you couldn’t always rely on his memory. But he would make a great operative, because he was the last person you’d suspect would be working for anyone. He was a burn out in the making, and his shifty past, along with his open dislike of the cops, made him prime paranoid cult material. And it wouldn’t be Newt’s first time with a cult. He was actually born in one, as his parents started with some weird, radical Catholic offshoot, and then eventually split off into a weird Christian Science one. (Which they then gave up on in time too. Newt came by his religious skepticism the honest way – religion made his parents crazy, and he could never see it as anything but a group delusion.) Newt was actually kind of fascinated with religious cults, or at least the people who bought into them. He always felt bad for the kids, because he used to be one.

“You’re gonna hafta meet Roan. He’ll have the final say on this.”

“I trust you to sell me to the Hulk,” Newt said, laying back down on the couch. “So, hey, if I’m working with you superheroes, am I an official sidekick?”

“I’m a superhero?”

“Yeah. You’re The Punisher.”

“Goddamn right I am,” Holden said, pulling out his phone to call Roan.

Roan had a lot of weird t-shirts, right? He must have had one with a skull on he could borrow sometime.

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