Title: School's Out
Fandom: The Thirteenth Floor
Pairing: Douglas / Whitney
Summary: The beginning of a highly unlikely friendship (Asperger's Syndrome?)
Disclaimers: A fan fiction story based upon The Thirteenth Floor. Includes shortened quote from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" [= Blade Runner] by Philip K. Dick.
Notes: Thanks again to lonelywalker for proofreading and for providing the counterweight.
Hey Whitney, how’re you doing?
With the streetlights breaking in his cut-edge, sapphire-blue cold gaze, Douglas Hall paces down an alley on campus, dead-eye stare and two-bit suit, damn ready to scare any potential lurkers out of his way. Unfortunately, there aren't any. It's the night before the term break. Tonight's the big party and yet he has been writing and rewriting another project in economic mathematics up until the very last minute. Tomorrow, with the most part of the students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Doug will be going home.
The night air around him vibrates with music, beer and excitement, and he is not at all happy about this. Once more, this semester, he has done nothing but pursue his career. Granted, he is the chairman in a few charitable committees, including one for handicapped children, but the point in those committees is to be seen to attend the meetings rather than to actually change something. Besides learning this valuable lesson for future management, Douglas effectively senses that there is something he should be atoning for.
He isn't in the mood for cheering. He rather feels like burying himself in the last place anybody would go to on the ultimate party night before the summer vacation. Doug pulls the lapel of his business suit jacket straight, checks the time on his brand-new Apple Newton MessagePad and determinedly sets off for that creepy and ugly place he has avoided for yet another semester. He goes to the gym.
The gym! A location of unexplainable mysteries, a suspicious stage of human drama derived straight from the Stone Age. Doug likes sports, but he despises the basic, archaic theatre displayed during official matches. The sweat, the tasteless role-play of rutting, the shouts and the plain, un-specious rivalry. He would have liked to join in if his study colleagues had dragged him to shoot hoops in front of the dorm simply on the level of playful friendship. In class, he's among the five best in his subjects. Doug the smart-ass. Never would they think about inviting him to partake in a basketball game.
He enters the dark hall, musing on the Prisoners' Dilemma, listening to the sound of his own footsteps. The majesty of the huge dark room grips him. He needs space after the crowded rat hole of his dorm room, and halls always appear grandiose in the darkness, making interesting echoes, sounding hollow and mysterious. He takes a deep breath, sensing the smell of parquet floor polish and talcum, and human drama gone sour.
In the meagre light of the street lamps falling through the windows, he guesses rather than figures out what must be the hoop. Doug has never been much of a team player, but with his sharp sight he glimpses a forgotten ball and fetches it. It ought to be fun for his study colleagues to learn that the smart boy actually made an attempt at playing. For as long as he can remember, Doug has always felt awkward in his body, having been living with a stunning inability to learn team sports or even the simplest of dances within a reasonable time. The latter had become a huge embarrassment on prom night. Still he's glad that Hannon had picked him up only after he had graduated from high school and been thrown out of West Point.
Suffering a breakdown and being hospitalised after having been dismissed from the country's most renowned military academy had been a kind of heroic failure. His inbred sense of rebellion might have been alleviated by adequate measures such as compulsory dance therapy. However, Doug would have rebelled against even the idea of being sent to an anthroposophist high school to learn veil-dancing in compulsory eurhythmy classes. Being thrown out of a military academy was one thing - being made to look like an idiot in a dance class was quite another.
Doug gets the ball. He picks it up. His muscles tense and get ready for the jump. He mentally prepares to dump the ball into the hoop, together with gaming theory, with the criticism of his lecturers, with the Nash equilibriums of two-player zero-sum games, when suddenly, suddenly …
His over-sensitive hearing brings him some noise out of the darkness, and he clearly identifies it as human. For a moment, he calms his jumpy nerves telling himself that it's only an auditory hallucination, a quirk of his sore mind-muscle playing tricks on him. Then, there it is again. This time, he curses his overly alert senses for bringing him the wrong sensations at exactly the wrong moment. He had learned a tough lesson that day of a rally in his military time at West Point when, during a superior's angry rambling, he had left his position to go watch a grasshopper that had made an irresistible chirp-chirp in the grass. He now detects the sound coming from the basketball fence and approaches it with the smooth alertness of a predator. Back in the military, he had paid admiring a curious insect in the grass with seven days of room confinement. Given his unassailable habit of being rapt by noises, what will he have to pay for his curiosity for this time?
It absolutely puzzles him to find a person crouched crying on the floor, wearing the uniform of a basketball player. A wave of shaggy blond hair reflects the meagre light and thrills him. How Doug would love to run his fingers through the dyed streaks, to calm his nervous senses in its fuzzy feel. But he's struck with the inaudible imperative of his mentor. Hannon Fuller had taught him, affectionately yet stringently, telling him clearly that 'You Don't Touch'. This guy here with any eye-catching appearance similar to an alarm sign seems to be a rightfully good find, intriguing enough to justify any consequences. Or is it a girl? Doug doesn’t know if the university has a women’s basketball team at all. The definition of roles of guys as the heroes, girls as the decoration in sports has always defeated him.
Doug violently hauls the guy to his feet and gently pushes him towards a seat on the bleachers. He feels slight annoyance over the apparent display of heartache. The player's blubs weigh so heavily that they seem to fill the entire hall. Finally, Doug sits down in a spectators' seat next to the player, feigning an in an understanding expression.
Maybe it's the sensitive hearing that weakens his cut-edge reason. Or the damn Nash equilibriums. The fact of having been "beaten" into conformism in West Point so badly that it had nearly killed him. Or Hannon's benign, warm-hearted, but nevertheless obligatory set of rehearsed directives, including the promise to be friendlier, that binds him from a distance of 2,600 miles away.
Doug takes a breath and boldly tries a venture, trying to focus his sense[s] to the eye-catching yellow of the greasy long streaks in order not to be distracted by the clumsy attempt of conversation he’s going to try. The hair's musky odour together with the sour sweat seems to naturally belong to the player. It seems like herd smell. Soon the guy will tell him some pointless story about a desired or run-off girlfriend. It’s always about a girl. Doug had constantly had a hard time trying not to tell conversation partners that racking his nerves about people was futile, that there were more important things to worry about.
"Everything alright?" Doug dares, making a conscious effort to soften this voice.
"Yeah, it's nothing," the player replies without looking up, body trembling with muttered sobs.
Doug is not good at foretelling reactions, but the obvious discrepancy of the body shaken by tears and the explicit message that there is nothing wrong makes him feel a little concerned. "What's your name?" he goes on awkwardly. It's not the best thing to say, but it's still better than saying nothing at all.
The player raises his head to the question and dark eyes pierce him with emotion. In the pale light falling in through a window, Douglas recognizes an impressive shiner around one eye.
"What happened? Who did this?"
Doug forcibly touches the player's chin, scrupulously turning the player’s face into the sparse light. He doesn't like riddles. Although some folks would always mistake his sincere concern for aggression, Douglas Hall is not at all assertive. He just wants things to be clear.
"Do you want me to call the police or something? The university security?"
"No, I know who did this. It was them."
Doug cautiously dares himself forward on mined ground, hoping he doesn't make wrong assumptions. He lets go gently of the player's chin, allowing him to let the hair curtain the bruises. Then he sits by himself musing, trying to connect the dots between the man's player uniform and the crying, all under the chancy working premise that, in fact, such connections do exist.
"The last game didn't go too well?"
"No. I made the decisive points. I won the championship for them. Don't you read 'The Tech'? The students' newspaper?"
Good one. Oh, congrats. At least a little part of the conversation has been deducted right on the first try. In fact, well … Doug has better things to do than burning his organized schedule reading about pointless basketball results, but he tries hard not to let this slip out right now.
"I'm Whitney. Jason Whitney. The guy scoring a basket on the front-page of the latest issue. You're not into basketball?"
"No, sorry, not at all."
Douglas answers in the negative, and without warning, is leaned against. He isn't a pillow or something. He feels helpless having a klutz of a man resting against his body, drenching his shirt with tears, exhaustion and pure human misery.
"I think I'm going to drop it totally. Put my energies into computer science. No more basketball."
This makes even less sense to Doug than the previous statements about the students’ newspaper. However, he has resigned himself to the fact that sometimes communication doesn't make any sense at all. Given his impressive past of selfishness this semester, remaining here to provide solace to this guy feels like the sweetest thing he could do at the moment. In that, there's nothing Hannon could hold against him later. Although his spluttering intuition has almost never served him to get out of trouble, Doug vaguely feels that this here is something about which he should not tell Hannon a dying word.
He allows Whitney to embrace him, to soak him with emotions a little. Even so, Doug was never going to hug him until his arms fell off, having decided this before allowing Whitney to touch him in the first place.
After a long while, Whitney has finally caught himself and slowly gets up to change his sporty gym dress for sportive-looking casual clothes meant to be worn outside. When he returns to Douglas he's freshly groomed and showered, but nevertheless there's something about him that pisses Doug off. It's the obtrusive fake fruit aroma of a synthetic soap hitting Doug's nostrils like the olfactory equivalent of wall-paint. Doug decides to choke back any comment, slowly guiding Whitney outside the gym.
"Listen, Whitney. Can I take you somewhere?” In the near-dark, Douglas squeezes Whit's shoulder, grateful that the stars have aligned in order to allow him to do this. Doug has always avoided the beer rounds in his dorm, the brawling, which always reduces everyone to the lowest common denominator. But he knows as well that broaching difficult subjects over a good glass in a decent place may loosen the tongue and prove to be a kind of medicine.
"No thanks. Don't drink. Thanks anyway, man. And I got to pack my stuff for tomorrow," Whitney remarks with a timid smile and leaves him alone.
Douglas is left dumbfounded realizing that the player just rebuffed him, proving that Whitney had more self-value than Doug had held him capable of. Seemingly the stars or the guy above them have decided he should do without an auld lang syne drink. Apparently, good deeds never go unpunished.
He's got to get that snot out of his shirt.
The troubles of the previous night are quickly forgotten. It's Friday noon, the start of summer vacation. In the chaos of general departure, with guys back-slapping and girls kissing on the cheek, the world is a mystery to him. Doug will miss his study colleagues but he hates touching and violently defends his boundaries against intrusion. Even slight touches disgust him, and hugging to say goodbye feels like dropping his pants and offering everyone the chance to squeeze his balls in public. So, with all the warmth and comfort around him, and Douglas not being part of it, Doug may as well have stopped on an alien spaceport waiting for his ferry to Mars.
In the distance, he glimpses his limousine to the airport. He's surprised he finds it immediately although he is usually sidetracked by just about everything. It's the first time he has seen it since it had brought him here nine months ago. If he had pushed for it, he could have demanded the limousine far more often. Hannon would probably get him a driver if he wanted to leave the campus to go buy ice-cream, but on the other hand there is a realistic chance that he might get lost at the airport without assistance. Doug stares at the limousine with an odd mixture of pride and detestation. He will take it only after the other students have vanished, with them probably believing that it belongs to a politician or to a university executive. Douglas doesn't need to draw their attention, to make his fate any more miserable than it already is.
He therefore picks up his bag like a soldier and decidedly marches to a delivery entrance, where he had ordered the driver to wait. Forcing his way through the crowd on campus, he fakes smiles to everyone he sees there, absent-mindedly shaking some hands, trying to fight the creeps that it gives him.
Suddenly, in the anthill of the campus, his eye catches Jason Whitney hanging on in the sunlight, looking desperate near a disorderly pile of bags and bundles. Daylight brings the larger-than-life dye of Whit's streaks to full brilliance, attracting like an advertisement poster or a piece of minimal art. To Doug, who is weak at recognizing people, it's a singular fixed point in a brimming sea of faces. He vaguely identifies the too-long hair as an odd feature, as something about Whitney that should ring an alarm bell. The socks-and-sandals. The overly loose sportswear. At least the hair. It should provide him with some exceedingly significant, crucial information. But in this very moment, by chance, his instinct has gone where no man has gone before and deserted him. Living without it is a bad thing, so they say.
"Hey, Jason. Recognize me? It's me, Douglas."
In the darkness, everything was easier. But now, seen by light, Whitney starts, backs away, shunning the stern eyes, the white shirt, the two-bit suit.
"Anyone to pick you up? Friends? Parents? Waiting for them?"
"Whitney. People always call me Whitney. My mother wanted to pick me up, but her car broke down, and she told me to take the Greyhound."
The player is about to cringe and Doug can't tell why. Maybe after this he should go to law school. It's the same old unexplainable trait which helped him to win the university debating competition, always starting with a harmless question being asked.
"You're not going to take the bus, are you, with all of this stuff?"
Whitney looks surprised, lips moving in silent stammer.
"I could take it to my car, and drop you at the bus station, so it wouldn't be so much for you to carry."
Maybe Doug really should go to law school after this.
It’s such a common-sense argument that no one could reasonably object if not without losing face. Whitney comes from, and is on his way back to, hard-up circumstances. Dumping it all onto such a respectable, sturdy gentleman sounds like a terrific option, even if it's only for the fifteen-minute illusion of a comfier life.
Douglas shoulders two of the bags, watchful of Hannon's moral lectures to be attentive, feeling the uneven load strain his back muscles weakened from too many library visits. Staggering the long way by the cafeteria delivery ramps and trash containers, he scolds himself for being too proud to direct the car to the main entrance, still hoping that Whitney will not start shrieking all over the place and draw the attention after spotting a limousine. And how about Hannon's lectures on helping? Convincing someone into that they should accept help was already tricky enough.
"Damn, what do you have in those bags?" he gasps. "Did you swipe some dark matter from the astrophysics cabinet?"
"No, it's just my life. Computer code books. Dirty socks. My video collection."
"In your life, is there space for a comb? Could there be one?"
"Yeah, I had one, but I lost it six months ago."
Whitney cackles and the soft laughter helps them both to lose their unease. They walk down the alleyway to the limousine when Douglas suddenly feels a question arise and painfully pierce his entire reason, causing him almost bodily aches. He can't remember how many times Hannon has told him instructively not to hit sore spots, but the subject immediately demands an answer, otherwise his own curiosity just would kill him off.
"Whitney, how is your face?"
Whitney quickly flinches as if under a new battering.
"It's … I'm doing … fine."
"What about stopping by and getting some … you know, ointment? Don't you think that's a good idea?"
"No, me … I'm coping." The dark eyes are flickering. "Man, I'm coping, it's all right."
Douglas makes out the fearful flicker and takes this as a fail-safe indicator to go on to the next step: immediate pressurizing. "Why do you stay on that basketball team if they beat you?"
"Because I have to. If I was leaving, I'd lose my scholarship."
'And if you stay, they may beat the crap out of you', Douglas silently adds, carefully weighing his next venture. "So what is the scholarship for, Whitney?"
Damn. Douglas frustratedly clenches one hand in his pocket, comparing the informal "punishment system" acted out against this player to his own experiences at military school. He's glad like hell he had gotten out of there despite all the troubles that had followed. It's frustrating to see similar grievances inflicted upon somebody else with no valid solution. Seems that the world of Jason Whitney had its constraints as well.
"You live around here?" Douglas finally embarks on to switch topic.
Whitney draws away with a fearful expression, expecting another bashing. He hesitantly reveals himself to Douglas after realizing that there won't be any.
"No, I'm from Seattle."
"Any specific plans for the holidays?"
Whitney faces him, hoping to find eyes filled with compassion. "No, we're … well, my mom does without a lot of stuff to send me here, and I got that small scholarship –". Instead, Whitney meets the hypnotic gaze of a reptile, feeling oddly gripped and transformed down to his shoe-soles by this deadly cold stare.
"See, I don't want to know that. I just thought, after you were so worn-out yesterday, you might need some days off. Something completely different. Something to get you out. See, what about an entire week off in California?"
Whitney drops his stuff on the spot, looking thunderstruck and alarmed, unsure whether Douglas is playing games with him, whether this rich guy has fun imagining him living with roaches.
"You're kidding me."
Doug doesn't like not to be taken in earnest, as he usually stands by what he says. It makes him feel like he is being questioned, and he doesn't like to be questioned by an anxious fellow in overly loose clothes. "Just get into the car," he briskly instructs Whitney.
Whitney unthinkingly hands his stuff to the driver, and when it disappears into the huge trunk it suddenly doesn't look so burdening anymore. Within a few seconds, he finds himself snuggled against the thick beige plush on the backseat, waiting to get a comfortable sightseeing tour of the city. And all of this in the company of Douglas. He has trouble believing that all of this is really happening. Or that it could end so unbelievably soon.
Gladly for him, he'll still have a few minutes around Douglas. It looks like the car he's sitting in will get stuck in a traffic jam soon enough.
At this time, traffic jams were frequent. They were the one of the reasons why Doug had dared to expose himself initially to public transport notwithstanding the risk of suddenly finding himself in San Luis Potosi not knowing how he had got there. But now it's different, this limousine is his ground, and he just has to sit there waiting for his conversation partner to break with tension. With Whitney, the critical point is reached soon enough.
"Man, a trip to California, I could never afford that," the blond player all of a sudden bursts into the silence. "See, I got a little money but I already spent it on an extra class on computing at the end of August."
Doug looks at him without the least bit of agitation. "The place we're going to is just a rundown little beach house. It's the wind and the water, nothing impressive. Really a little boring. Don't you worry. Going swimming is free."
"But … Doug … how would you get me a plane ticket? I mean, doesn't it have to be booked in advance?"
"Whitney, you can still take the bus if it doesn't work. Help yourself to a drink in the meantime. "
Doug has the car stopped at a Wal-Mart as Whitney wants Pepsi and they do not have any on board. In the meantime, Douglas pulls out the antenna of the heavy car cell phone and bawls at a few people who won't comply and sell him a ticket. At Logan International Airport there's not much to be achieved. Well, this was to be expected. But then he dials a Los Angeles number and gets Hannon's assistant on the phone, telling her some hackneyed story about an urgent business meeting that is to be held on the airplane at any price. No doubt Hannon will enquire about this once he's back, but what the heck, Doug will find an explanation. At the moment, Hannon is at his computing seminar in Munich, and is nothing to worry about before the end of next week.
A few minutes later, Hannon's assistant calls back confirming that FullerCorp has arranged another seat on business class reserved for Jason Whitney. After having Whitney back safely in the car, Doug orders the driver to take an alternative route he just made up using his visual memory. Much quicker than expected, the glass front of the airport entrance is ahead of them.
"Welcome, Sir, to Logan International," the driver nods to Doug with a smirking expression. "Mr Hall, if I may comment, you know far Boston better than I do, and I've been living here for twenty years."
"Thank you, Hans-Juergen," Douglas answers. At a proficient pace, he follows at the heels of his driver, hoping that his service person will be professional enough so that Whitney or anyone else won't notice that he actually hasn't got a clue where to go. "Now, do you want to come or don't you?" he challenges Whitney, who gazes after him leaving from inside the car.
"What is it?" Douglas answers edgily, but he stops and spins around - for a hesitant smile in answer.
"Douglas, can I use your cell phone? I need to call my Mom."
Well, Doug had only met Hannon about two years ago, but in these terms, as long as he could remember, holidays at the beach house had always been boredom itself.
The house was small and comfy, and its polished wood structure was probably only ever going to be interesting when someone finally burned it down. This wasn't L. A. itself but some godforsaken speck on the map north of the city. A place where Hannon could go buy milk without having to worry about reporters, and more importantly, sensibly teach Doug the basics of gaming theory and its economical and psychological applications, as well as the basics of when to say "Thank you" and "Good morning" without raising too much unsolicited interest. Doug had spent his first days of recovery from recovery in this house under a blanket in a deckchair on the veranda, staring at the waves to forget everything that West Point had brought. Although the house was appealingly situated on the beach with almost no visitors to disturb the peace, it still gave Doug a queasy feeling every time he entered here.
But visiting the beach house in the company of Whitney, he had got his first glimpse of that serenity Hannon must have been feeling when retreating here. Exuberated, Whitney had been gaping at even the slightest details, feeling utterly amazed that one could step out into the warm sand almost immediately after opening the veranda door. After the exhausting flight, Doug had collapsed into the nearest deckchair, trying to take rest from the traineeships and the M. I. T. academic treadmill - indulging in the sweetest luxury of doing nothing at all.
Whitney starts him up, by instantaneously planting himself in front of Douglas' computer. Hannon had given Doug something really expensive, groundbreaking, stylish, a laptop, a smaller version of a computer to hold on the lap. Whitney occupies it with the single-minded eagerness of a kid having found a dinosaur egg to play with, and thus reminds Doug that he had left Hannon's exclusive gift out of his mind.
"Hey man, can I have a look at your machine?"
"Yes, but be careful. I need it for online broking. Don't mess it up."
To be honest, Douglas is a little shocked that, comma first of all, Whitney would not drop his ominous layers of clothes to mindlessly throw himself into the water. Wouldn't the beach … ? Well, sometimes people didn't react as you expected, but nevertheless, this attitude was a little bizarre. Not seeing Whitney burst with childlike joy about the water, Doug feels betrayed of something fundamental, notwithstanding that he isn't trained in rescue swimming and wouldn't know how to pull Whitney back out. Instead, he has to see his playmate stare into the computer screen, when Whitney suddenly remarks "Doug, would you get us some fodder?" without deigning him a look.
Doug gets up from his chair, slightly bothered that anyone would give him an order, but then, realizing that it's Whitney, he feels a little amused.
"Hamburgers and French fries and soft drinks. Please. Would you?"
Doug eyes the blond man who is passionately glued to his computer, hardly moving an inch. He feels the fire of enthusiasm take hold of his friend. "If you take an entire Junior Meal, Whitney, it would be cheaper," he teases. "You would get coke and an apple pie in addition, and also a toy."
"The toy would be fine. But I drink Pepsi," Whitney sulkily answers in the tone of an offended oenologist.
"All right then." Doug grabs his car keys. "Can I leave you alone for a while without facing a crisis?" In fact, not knowing about a fast food chain that serves Pepsi comes pretty close to one. Maybe he should use the yellow pages and call them one after the other. The white gravel of the walkway grinds objectingly under his feet as he carefully closes the door behind him to get tuna fish rucola salad for himself and junk food for Whitney, engrossed over finding a takeaway that has all of this. But then a thought suddenly crosses his mind and he wonders why he should go out to buy Pepsi and French fries and leave his computer with an MIT programmer. MIT was full of geeks, but the programmers and mathematicians were sort of the geeks' geeks, nothing like an ordinary MBA student; they were a bunch of their own. Irately, Doug sprints back the few meters to nearly break in his own door, suddenly recalling the nation-wide scoop of how 6 students from higher semesters had conspired to raid the casinos of Las Vegas last summer. They had re-discovered and made use of the mathematical rule underlying an allegedly aleatory card-game and handed the money won over to the mafia. They had given themselves an odd name, calling themselves "The Amphibians". Maybe he invited just another "amphibian" into his beach house to maraud on his stock accounts using his computer, while Doug is out to get groceries for him.
"Hey, Whit, what are you actually doing with that computer?"
"Me? Writing code. Your machine is more application-oriented, so I'll have to compile everything later… kind of translate it into another program language, you see. Here I only have a simple text editor. The computer won't understand the code in this form, but it will do … for the moment."
"But what the hell are you actually doing? Writing code for the controls of an atomic bomb?"
"No, man. You see, it's for a game. For a computer game. About elves and orcs and such."
"You can see elves and orcs in that program code?"
"Well, you can't?"
Whitney gives him a gorgeous smile and Douglas, apprehensively, smirks back.
Doug returns with the food, finding that Whitney has moved his sitting place and has changed his occupation, which shows an excessive amount of activity for the day. There's a book in Whit's hands, and his dyed hair falls over his shoulders and the Roadrunner gapes from his shirt as he sits there reading. With his loose clothes and the long blond hair Whit looks vaguely like Saint John wearing sneakers, giving Doug a sudden impulse to cradle him to his chest.
Doug stretches out his hand, and struggles hard to fight down the yearning. Would succumbing to an itch be a good idea? Reaching out to hug someone had never had been a good one. To win Whitney over, it was much wiser to do something community-oriented, practical, something everybody could agree with, such as removing the salad from its original plastic bowl in which he bought it, cramming it into yet another. He really didn't have the patience for daft chores and the light kitchen work suddenly irks him, targeting gentle Whitney sitting peacefully in a corner, sunk in a used old paperback.
"Hey! Where the hell did you get that from?" Doug assaults him. "It's my hand-signed first-issue copy of Blade Runner. You've taken it from my bedside table!"
"No, I found it looking for Pepsi. It was in the kitchen. I'll put it back."
"Don't try to bug me, Whitney." Doug suddenly warns with a threatening sub-tone, gradually building himself up to full dominance. "I know where I put it. I'm generous. I don't mind others borrowing my possessions, but if there's something I absolutely don't like it's abusing my trust and taking the chance of my absence and the hospitality that I offer for sniffing through my stuff."
"It was in the kitchen! It was in the kitchen! Okay? I'll put it right back."
Whitney fights hard to stay poised, but Doug can tell that internally this guy from Seattle is dangerously close to losing it with unadmitted anxiety. Doug is mad as hell over seeing the younger man on the edge of crying, but he really can't remember why of all he should have dropped his hand-signed first-issue copy of Blade Runner near the kitchen sink.
"Don't get mad, man."
With visible regret, Whitney gets up from his chair lazily, unwilling to put it out of hand, reluctantly trying to place the book at its supposed place of origin. For a moment, Doug is willing to consider that Whitney has been saying the truth, that the book actually was … He can't quite remember but in any case he feels it is wrong to snap at Whitney. Seeing his ever-gleeful companion unhappy is like sulphuric acid on his arduous, challenging heart.
"Are you a big Dick fan?" he says, kneeling down, squeezing Whit's shoulder, forcing himself to soften his voice. "It's okay. You can read it. Just don't make any Pepsi specks on it, right?"
Whitney doubtfully nods, asking himself whether Douglas still likes him, questioning himself whether this wasn't the last rap over the knuckles. He cautiously gazes up and his stomach churns at the dead blue eyes staring at him. Man, he's so keen on winning Doug's affection, even if there's so little he has to offer, but … Let's face it, for him, in Doug's eyes, there's just antagonism and strictness; maybe Doug has so much stress and no time for kidding; maybe it won't be long before this rich manager-to-be grows tired of him, using his fancy cell phone to invite a bunch of fancy companions of a league of his own.
"Whitney, it was a long flight. See, I need to rest a little," the MBA guy finally admits, looking exhausted and messed-up.
Sore, Doug dumps himself on a huge black leather couch that somehow doesn't match the rest of the country-style interior. Hannon had thrown it out of his conference room because of the inconvenient trait of absorbing so much heat that sometimes you couldn't even sit on it. Whitney scrutinizes it carefully. He is afraid that Doug may go to his bedroom, and leave him alone. He doesn't …Well … Damn. In the dorm, Whit had always stuck to his computers, heedful not to be the source of trouble. Well, he liked them spending time together; Doug's house was not a dorm room, and this was Doug's house, but …
"What? The couch? You like it?"
"Yeah, man. It's imposing and stylish and everything."
Doug smirks. He doesn't protest as Whitney helps him to unlace his shoes and to lie down. He knows he shouldn't accept this help, that it's wrong and more than a little creepy, but he's been through hell lately. Classmates at M.I.T. loved watching the smart guy botch experiments in chemistry classes despite his colossal knowledge because he had two left hands. Good-natured assistants usually did not pop out of nothing. The next thing he perceives through his light daze is a blanket put on him and a glass of Pepsi being placed on a small table. The smell of something sugary reminds him of a funfair from his childhood, with the fresh sound of the effervescent bubbles next to his left ear. On the couch, he keeps tossing, unsuccessfully trying to get a mental blackout. After a while, he opens his eyes, embarrassingly noticing that Whit hasn't moved a spot from where he had been standing.
"Can't sleep, man?" Whitney warily steps closer. "I could read you something," he timidly offers. "If I couldn't sleep, my mother would read out loud to me. It usually helps."
"What? You want to read Blade Runner? Deckard butchering innocent people? Why not? Will give me some interesting nightmares." Douglas shrugs. "Anything."
He tries to get more comfortable, trying to stretch his strained muscles, and Whitney sits down on the couch resting Doug's head against his legs, his voice filling Douglas' mind with the instructive power of a storyteller.
" ' He had wondered as had most people at one time or another why precisely an android bounced helplessly about when confronted by an empathy-measuring test. For one thing, the empathic faculty probably required an unimpaired group instinct; a solitary organism, such as a spider, would have no use for it. Ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated. As long as some creature experienced joy, then the condition for all other creatures included a fragment of joy.' - Doug, are you listening? – 'However, if any living being suffered, then for all the rest the shadow could not be entirely cast off ….' “
Douglas blinks. “I'd rather have something sweet. Whitney," he groans. "I think I’ll try the Pepsi”. Staring at his companion, he sits up to sip the syrupy beverage, feeling its caffeine suddenly electrify his senses. Moreover, it pleases him to have Whitney in sight, watching him drink. Oddly, the stimulant soothes him, not unlike the cup of strong black coffee he'd take every dark and thunder-stricken night in his dorm room before ultimately being felled by what was exhaustion, and not a genuine desire to sleep.
"Doug, if you still can't get your eyes closed, try counting sheep, but make sure they're electric."
"Whitney, no electric sheep and no real ones. Sheep drive me mad." Sighing, Doug lies down again, trying hard to stay in a reclined position, bursting with the barely subdued need to jump around and DO SOMETHING, gripped by hyperactivity. "Sheep are not happy but when they’re being flocked together, they love having themselves barked at. Whitney, I can't stand sheep. Sheep bah."
Whit sits by tenderly stroking Doug's hair for a long time until Doug for once surrenders, giving in to colourful dreams.