There's no way I'm going to make another idiot mistake like running off without paying my bill. Alton is creepy enough as is. I don't need to give him a reason to be angry with me. What he doesn't know won't hurt me...
Nathan shook his head, not releasing Avery's hand until the teen lowered his head in defeat, making it clear that -- as much as he may have wanted to -- he wasn't going to open the door. With a sigh, he pressed his ear back against the door. Nathan rubbed the back of his head, moving next to Avery to join him. He could at least make that compromise.
"So what are you calling yourself these days, Lu?" The question came from the other voice, which Nathan just knew he'd heard before. "Something clever, no doubt."
The shopkeeper chuckled. "I don't think so. The name is Alton. Alton Sterling, and you have my adoptive father to praise for that. I prefer not to choose my own name, unlike you." His voice suddenly dropped, becoming serious and dark. "They aren't as ignorant as you seem to think."
"Your words, not mine," the other man corrected. "But you and I both know the importance of names."
"Human names hold a different weight than our real names. Different meanings. Which is why I let them choose mine."
"You let man define you?"
For a moment there was utter silence, a complete stillness that settled in even beyond the door. Avery shivered, while Nathan shifted in their hiding place. The tension between the two men was so powerful it was almost tangible, so intense they could feel the air shudder with the ambient energy.
Just as quickly as it had set in, the energy abruptly dissipated.
"They like your name, you know," Alton remarked casually. "Many people in this town use it." A pause. "So, what are you going by?"
"Micah St. George." There was a great deal of pride in the man's proclamation, but for whatever reason, this announcement made Alton snort.
"Oh, ha... you're serious, aren't you?" he managed with a few escaping chuckles. "Micah? Really?"
"And what is wrong with it?" Micah asked, the agitation in his voice growing the less Alton was able to keep back his snickering. "It is a very practical name. Appropriate." His voice lowered to a dangerous growl. "There is nothing funny about my name."
"You may as well have used your real name," Alton told him, giving up and letting himself laugh fully. "And St. George? Are you trying to tell me something, Micah? You know as well as I do that there is little truth to that myth..."
"Then let us call it symbolic of my duties."
Alton stopped laughing suddenly. The seriousness in Micah's tone was enough to make even the eavesdroppers shiver in fear.
"T-that's a bit harsh, don't you think?" Alton asked, voice shaking. "Surely you jest. Micah..."
"We are both seeking the worst evils in the world," Micah stated. "The sorts of evil only man could create. My job is to destroy it. Yours, to nurture."
"Ah, but that's where you're wrong, my friend," Alton sighed, saddened and frightened by this misunderstanding. "I am not here to nurture the evil in this world, in this town. I am here to manage it."
"Ha! You mean as you managed to unleash it in the first place?"
"You know very well I was doing my job, just as you did yours."
"Agreed, but the fault is yours all the same."
"Fine, I'm accustomed to being everyone's scapegoat. Mankind's or anyone else's."
There was another uncomfortable pause. Avery looked up at Nathan, brows knitted in confusion, but the other man only shrugged. He had no idea what they were talking about either, but things just went from mysterious to downright weird.
The other man coughed before he continued. "For a moment, I thought you might say it."
"You know I can't," Alton said, almost too soft for the men on the other side of the door to hear. He sighed, and Nathan could almost see him pushing his glasses up the edge of his nose. "Just tell me why you're here Micah and be off. You still haven't told me what you want."
"What I want is simple," Micah explained. "You can sense them. I cannot. I want the Attractor."
"What?" Alton was flabbergasted. "But..."
"Unless you can somehow relinquish your ability to sense them -- which I know you cannot -- then there is no argument. Let me have the Attractor."
"No, Micah. That's not just something I can give you. That's not how this works. He has to choose his side."
"Hmph," Micah scoffed. "That should be easy enough, assuming you have not already corrupted him..."
"You have met him already, have you not?"
"You're being absurd..."
"Stop calling me that."
"Well, answer me."
Alton swallowed hard, and it took him a moment to answer. "Yes."
"I see." Micah drew in his breath, as if quelling his rising anger. "Well then." He drew another breath. "I had better have the opportunity to meet him myself, otherwise there will be consequences."
"What sort of consequences?" Alton dared to ask as footsteps moved across the floor. The front door creaked open.
"Let us simply say that my name will become less symbolic."
The door shut sharply and silence fell over the shop once again.
Avery couldn't contain his curiosity anymore and he reached for the knob, turning it and opening the door before Nathan could stop him. Even still, he was slow to emerge from the stairwell, but once he was sure the coast was clear he tugged on the other man's arm, encouraging him to follow. They could see Alton just through the partition to the shop, and Nathan couldn't do anything except go after Avery as he stepped through that curtain.
The bookseller had slumped down against the front counter, his fingers woven through his hair while he held his head in his hands. On the floor was a broken urn: the crash they'd heard earlier. Avery looked over to Nathan to do something, too afraid to say anything himself (since they had been spying). Nathan sighed and knelt beside Alton, placing his hand on his shoulder. "Hey, are you going to be..."
"I suggest you leave."
Nathan exchanged looks with Avery as Alton shrugged him off, standing. The shopkeeper turned to him, staring at him with that immobilizing gaze again. "And I recommend doing so quickly."
Nathan felt compelled to listen to him (that, and he didn't want to be there when Alton figured out he and Avery had been eavesdropping), and simply nodded, backing towards the door before turning and letting himself out. The storm had turned into a steady trickle, so he started to jog. He wasn't sure where he was going to go now. He could go back to his apartment, perhaps, but Nathan had so many questions running through his head he didn't know what to do.
He was just reaching the intersection when a canary yellow sports car pulled in front of him, blocking his path. It was remarkably immaculate for the weather, and when the driver rolled down his window, Nathan fought back the urge to gasp: it was the stranger from the restaurant.
That's him! That was who Alton was talking to! And... he wants me to get in his car? Somehow, that seems really... ominous. But, oh man, I have so many questions. Maybe he can answer them... although he's even creepier than Alton.
But DAMN that's a sweet car!
Should I just get in or run while I still can?
Somehow, I don't think this is going to end well...