Coping Mechanisms, Part II
Julian shouldered the heavy double doors of Stuart House open and burst out into the storm, the tense line of his torso relaxing imperceptibly when the first drops of rain hit. The sun had not fully set, and the dim gray of the sky was enough light to navigate him to his usual spot. Behind Stuart House, a deep curve was cut into the side of the hill that leveled out a hundred feet below near the soccer fields. In winter, the Stuarts used trash can lids, trays, and whatever else they could find to sled down the snowy slope. But when it rained, the cliff belonged to Julian.
The rain was almost painfully harsh when it was whipped onto his face, but Julian preferred that to a comforting spring drizzle, preferred the slap that drew his consciousness to his body and away from everything inside it. He stared determinedly into the distance, where the soccer fields ended and the woods that marked the edge of the Dalton campus began. A bolt of lightning appeared over the woods, followed nearly a second after by yet another explosive crack of thunder.
He tilted his head back, eyes closed, and felt his body begin to shiver in a detached way as the water leaked through his socks and plastered his pants to his legs. Slowly but surely, the tension in his body unwound until all he could comprehend was the feeling of water on his skin, caressing through his hair and down his back. His hands relaxed—he hadn’t even felt them curl into fists—and the sharp bite of nails in his palm brought him back to his argument with Logan.
He breathed in sharply. Logan was a frustration he couldn’t handle, a pressure that had been mounting steadily for three years. Most days, he could control himself masterfully. But his spiteful comments were wholeheartedly felt in the heat of the moment, because as much as he loved Logan he wanted to hate him too. He wanted to hate him for falling for boy after boy that wasn’t him; for never noticing him as anything other than a friend, and lately an adversary; for not taking his medication and flying into rages that left Julian with bruises up and down his ribs; for taking his medication and collapsing into a gray shell of himself.
Pressure built behind his closed eyelids as his breastbone began to ache with the scream he couldn’t let out. But however much he wanted to hate Logan Wright, he couldn’t, and he could only hate himself more.
Perched in the window of his second-story room, Logan stared down at Julian as he stood immovable in the midst of the downpour. Water sluiced down his back and plastered his hair to his head, and Logan suddenly felt a twinge of concern that he might get sick if he stayed out too long in the freezing rain—
No, he told himself sternly. You’re mad at him, you can’t care about that. But he did, against all his judgments about how fights should go. He and Julian had fought consistently over the last year, bickering and yelling belligerently and carelessly tossing out cutting remarks, but they always fought with the understanding that when the other was in need things would start over.
Derek had made him realize just how much the stalker had affected Julian, and considering just how good his acting skills were, it was obviously affecting him profoundly. Logan had been focused on other things this year, on Kurt and Blaine and schemes and love. But Julian had collapsed into the bewildering enigma of himself, keeping everyone and everything at arm’s length, and Logan hadn’t even noticed.
The wind nearly buffeted Julian off his feet, and he opened his eyes to regain his balance. Mildly curious blue eyes met his own, and he flinched in surprise before recognizing one of the Brightman twins.
"Evan, or is it Ethan?" He nodded in acknowledgement, ignoring the altogether ridiculous situation in which he found himself, clothes sopping wet and water dripping steadily off the end of his nose.
The twin—Evan, he guessed—ignored his question in favor of asking, “No umbrella, Cheshire?” A movement above his head, and the flow of rain was cut off as the other twin stepped around him with a large umbrella hovering squarely above his head.
Stepping away, Julian coolly replied, “Thank you, but I’m just fine.” He smiled widely and blankly and wished to God they would just go away. Evan raised an eyebrow, then cocked his head to the side before coming to some sort of conclusion and smiling faintly himself.
"It would appear that you are not."
"In fact, you seem to be the very opposite," Ethan added.
"What is it about the rain?" Evan queried, studying him.
"I like the rain. It helps me think," Julian said simply.
"Does it help you to think, or help you not to feel?"
"Does it matter?"
"Have you ever asked him why he does it?" Logan asked abruptly.
"Hmm?" Derek asked from his desk, still hunched over his chemistry.
"The whole…rain thing. Do you know why he goes out in it?"
"I don’t know. I asked him once and he just said it was his medication."
The corner of Logan’s mouth curled down and he returned to gazing intently at Julian, now confronted by the Brightman twins, whose curiosity about Julian’s spectacle had apparently gotten the better of them.
"Such a fascinating Cat we have ourselves."
"Cheshire, where do you go when you fade away?"
Thrown off, Julian opened his mouth to respond but couldn’t. Where did he go when he wasn’t here at Dalton, wasn’t with Logan? To the set, to New York, to anywhere and everywhere and—
"Nowhere," he said finally. And then, wryly, "to wait for my next cue."
The Brightmans nodded like it meant something to them. I’m done conversing in riddles, Julian thought. He shut his eyes and tilted his head back again, and when he finally looked again they were gone.
The rain continued to pelt him from all angles, the wind cutting through his clothing to keep his extremities numb. He felt exhausted, his limbs barely responding as he weakly trudged back to Stuart. Heaving open the door, he stumbled inside and rested his hands on his knees, his eyelids fluttering shut at the warmth.
"Here," Julian heard, and a towel was carefully tucked around his shoulders. He opened his eyes and looked up to see Logan, regarding him with an inscrutable expression on his face.
"Thanks," he said grudgingly, a numb finger coming up to brush at the corner of the towel. Logan nodded briefly, moving to stand a little ways away from him. When Julian made for the stairs to the second floor and his room, Logan followed. He also followed him into his room, causing Julian to raise an eyebrow and ask, "Can I help you?"
"I could," replied Logan, sounding somewhat uncomfortable. "I mean, your hands are numb and you can’t get your clothes off like that."
Oh. Julian nodded. Logan unbuttoned the white dress shirt and peeled it off him, throwing it onto the floor. He moved to Julian’s pants, looking up to silently ask for permission. Julian nodded again and was divested of the pants as well. Wearing only his boxers, he moved to the bathroom.
He paused in the door frame, not turning around but just saying, “Thanks.” Then he shut the door and gave himself over to the rush of hot water.
When Julian’s body came into view, Logan finally understood what Derek had tried to convey. He could see ribs peeking obscenely from beneath pale skin, the gentle curve of Julian’s waist interrupted by the sickening jut of his hipbones. He looked impossibly fragile.
How long has he been unable to eat? Where was I? He perched on the edge of Julian’s bed, lost in thought until the shower turned off and Julian emerged again.
Julian blinked. Blinked again. No, Logan was definitely still sitting on his bed. His brow furrowed.
"Logan, what—" And then he was being hugged with no warning, Logan’s arms clutched tightly around his shoulders. Logan-hair brushed the top of his head and Logan-smell wound around him. After a few seconds he hesitantly slid his arms around Logan’s waist and just rested on him, closing his eyes for a minute before regaining control and disentangling himself.
"You have to eat, Jules," Logan said firmly, holding his gaze. Speechless, Julian nodded, and Logan left, leaving a faint trace of his cologne in the air. It was a long time before Julian moved again.