"Eye of the Beholder: Examination"
High school freshmen weren't supposed to have single dorm rooms, Now, thanks to a quirk of random fate that had demolished his last chance at one, he'd been thrust further into the real world than even the change from hospital to boarding school had been. Another foray into the world of the normal. He'd have to share a room like everyone else...
A problem, that. He wasn't like everyone else. He wasn't like anyone else.
Sergei's knock on the door was hesitant. He still wasn't sure this would work out. But an invitation was an invitation...and when it didn't work out, he could just go back to the school administration and ...it would be nice to not be alone anymore...
Even remembering the meeting with his roomie-to-be, or may-be, days ago, he had misgivings.
After a long day helping to pay the tuition with paid work around the school, resetting some heavy bay windows this time, he'd just wanted to put his feet up. The boy's common room he passed looked empty. He'd entered, dumping the tool pack, next to a heavy upholstered chair, pulling off the dirty work gloves, and letting the overlong sleeves fall beyond his fingertips. He stretched, yawning. Anyone watching, if there had been anyone there to watch, would have noticed something slightly off about how he moved. He had a sort of odd grace, but nothing too much out of the ordinary at first glance.
It was second glances and what came after that, that could be...difficult.
He was sweaty, and the thin shirt had clung to his odd contours. He pulled both hands through his ragged mop of hair, revealing both sides of his face. One side, cute enough to get a cheek pinched...the other...not. The only sign that the cauliflower-like mass had any relation to a face, at all, was the bright emerald eye that peered from its depths, looking as wide, surprised and anxious, as its twin.
Startled, his hands still up in his hair, he stepped backwards, onto the tool pack, tried to recover, and fell, sliding bent double into the space between the heavy ottoman and chair...unable to get a purchase on the upholstery behind his head, he was well and truly stuck, his ratty sneakers flailing in the air.
He'd gotten his wish, at least. His feet were up.
And instead of the expected - anything from rude laughter to politely-hidden disgust, he got a hand up.
Even so, a hand up, and a roommate were different things. Now, would be the test.
"Dyakuyu.... T'ank you...."
Sergei limped in the door of the doubles room. Not quite a limp, really, but with an odd off grace, even to those who didn't notice that his knees didn't bend in the same place on each leg. carrying nothing but a six-foot length of something wrapped in burlap. He set the thing against the wall, and locked the door. Wordlessly, he moved the thing to the open closet door, and hung it, removing the burlap. It was a mirror.
Liam might tell, from the way Sergei carried himself, and the way he did not quite look at him, that it was yet another of those awkward moments. Sergei began to speak, looking at the mirror, instead of at Liam.
"I...appreciate offer, yes...but have never roomed with anyone before. It needs...how you say? Acid test. I do not want you coming upon me at night, and screaming like little girl..."
Sergei accent had thickened considerably, a sign of strain. He quirked a lopsided grin, which vanished. He was obviously trying to make a joke, but the tight way he said it made it clear that he had seen that very thing happen, too many times.
"I have to make...examination. Hospital in town is impatient. Must do, every day, but hate it, so...put it off, usually....but, you have to see, you have right to know...um, no hard feelings, if you change mind, ok?"
It was one thing, to have a new friend...quite another, to force him to live with his ugliness, day after day. This was his chance, to give this WilLiam Light a chance to back out, and still save face.
With the air of someone who ripped at a band-aid to get the pain over with, he stripped off his clothes, down to a pair of loose dark blue gym shorts. He'd been grabbed and stripped often enough, by bullies wanting to gross each other out, or make their girlfriends scream, or by doctors who coldly poked and prodded, so had gotten used to wearing what would preserve some shred of dignity. He began his examination, viewing himself as clinically and coldly as any doctor, trying not to be conscious of the other pair of eyes.
He looked precisely as if two people had been fused together along the centerline. The one on the right could have even been called handsome, or at least cute, in a slightly exotic European way, almost elfen. Delicate features, long fingers and finely formed chest and limbs, that hinted at the wiry strength of one long used to physical labor.
The one on the left was European, too - in the way a troll from a fairy tale could be said to be so. Rough-hewn as if out of some ugly lump of rock, heavy and hunched, as if it bent to match the smaller half, it was covered in random. sprawling, vaguely mottled patches of cauliflower-like skin from the left-side of the face downwards. The oversized limbs were bent, to make it possible to walk and move with some bare semblance of normalcy. He even showed an odd grace, as he turned to examine his misshapen back, then turned back to the mirror again. A hand that looked like a bundle of sausages clenched and unclenched nervously, the only sign that he fully expected a sound of disgust, and the muttered declaration that rooming might not be a good idea......that's why he hadn't brought anything more than the mirror.
The medical checklist would probably have sounded as foreign to Liam as Sergei's native Ukrainian...filled with alien terms like 'cerebriform nevi', 'hypertrophic hyperplasia', and 'plurifocal hamartomato' something-or-other...
"Condition is name after Greek god...am thinking you know is not Adonis..." The voice tried for light and matter-of fact, but managed something more akin to sardonic. Not bitter, but darkly amused at his own dark joke. The fact that the boy opposite easily qualified for the Greek God title wasn't lost on him. That put the nail in it. Too often, the handsomer the face, the less willing to tolerate the company of lesser beauty. The other boy had said nothing yet, and Sergei bit back the sick urge to babble on, to fill a silence already over-full with dread.
Sergei had dealt with this body all his life, he knew how to work it. But it didn't mean he liked to look at it...or inflict it on anyone else. It was sad, and frustrating even to him, as if some sculptor had simply left his left side unfinished, still stuck inside unyielding stone, and wandered away, an absent-minded Pygmalion unaware that his statue was half-alive, struggling to pull himself free from the inanimate stone of the left half. But better to look at this, than at the expression he feared to find on Liam's face...
There was a flicker of movement in the mirror, and Sergei startled, catching the gaze of the taller boy reflected there.
Liam had moved towards him, not away. Sergei remained silent, wide-eyed and worried, and waited for Liam to say his piece. He flinched, tense at first, feeling the arm go around his shoulders, his own gaze gone sharply intense. For a knife-edge moment, he felt like bolting.
In the eyes that looked back at his reflection, no disgust or fear, but only kind, open, friendly concern, and a little curiosity. Sergei relaxed, then, utterly, as if the arm was a support he could put his whole weight on.
Indeed, Liam supported more than he knew.
Sergei suddenly felt smaller than he already was.
"Vibachte...sorry...for throwing this at you so sudden. Had to know too. Have to hide self, so much. Must be free in own room, are seeing dis? " He shook his head, a little frustrated. "No. Academy is safe place...good place..I mean...don't know how to say... " He shrugged.
"You see, once someone...pretty girl, too...was telling would refuse to see my deformity, like no exist. Only see inside, she say. But, was pretending, as if she trying to see someone else, when she look at me. Trying not to see what is true. It no work. And bullies and doctors, see only deformity, nothing else. Forget, that boy with feelings, part of package."
He turned to look up at Liam with the slow beginnings of a beatific smile. "You, though. You see like parents, like Baba, do. You see all - good side, bad side, inside, outside, all same. Are seeing true, seeing _me_. Is different kind of safeness."
Suddenly, Sergei was hugging Liam, hard, as he had hugged his parents many times, as he had hugged Baba.
He pulled away, with a grin, no, not like like a child at Christmas, but rather the bright tree. His eyes shone with his interior illumination, and with tears. And Liam did see, what his parents saw, and Baba had seen, but he himself had not. That joy alone, can create beauty.