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just two londoners in a cvs

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eleven pm. oliver banks stands in the third aisle of the local cvs. he hasn’t slept in two days, hence: drastic measures. in this case, that means walking half an hour to said cvs rather than taking a ride, because he’s pretty sure that if he gets on a moving transit, he’ll fall over and pass out.

“you here ‘cause of insomnia?” the man by his side asks.

“mm,” oliver hums. “yeah. you too?”

the man—tall, chin-length hair, his dark skin pale, like he’s spent long hours inside—nods. “spent a month trapped inside my house,” he says, so deadpan oliver isn’t sure if he’s joking or being straight with him. though, for his own sake, oliver kind of hopes he’s not being straight.

he glances down at the man’s hands. “oh, no, you want this one,” he says, gesturing to the box in his own hands, “that one’ll leave you all messed up the next morning.”

“oh, god,” the man gives a short, tense smile. “thanks for the heads up. my boss would kill me if i came into work anything like that.”

“let me guess the type—short, professional, got a stick up his ass, awkward as all hell in social situations, but nice enough once you get through all his layers?” oliver asks.

the other laughs; eyes widening; surprise. “you sort of nailed it,” he says. “he once talked about emulsifiers at my birthday.”

“…that is certainly something,” oliver concedes, and offers the box he’s been holding up to the man, who takes it. oliver grabs another box off the shelf for himself. 

“so, uh, your work keeping you up?” the man asks.

oliver shrugs; memories of the dream from the last time he managed to fall asleep resurfacing, black tendrils reaching out and out through london. he’s been seeing them for a few years now, but the number and placement of the ways people will die still grow. “something like that,” he says. “something like that.”

“well. uh. i’d better, um, i’d better get to the, uh. the cashier’s and get this payed for, then,” the man says, fidgetting with the box in his hands. 

“yes, probably a good idea,” oliver agrees. “well, let’s get after it.”

the second time oliver’s in is a few months later; he bought himself enough boxes of melatonin to last a while, so he hasn’t had to make the trip. this time, he does take the bus—he’s lost his comfy running shoes and now all he has are the leather boots he hasn’t broken in yet, and he doesn’t particularly fancy having multiple blisters from the walk.

he’s just walked into aisle three to grab some more melatonin when the man from a few months back—whom oliver has not seen, in his dreams or otherwise, the former of which he’s glad for, and the latter of which he…is slightly disappointed about—comes down the aisle from the other end.

“melatonin man,” oliver greets, because he can, and raises a brow. “you look rough. hard time at work?”

the man grimaces; his face twisting up into an uncomfortable-looking expression. he’s got round, pale scars on the lower half of his jaw, and they disappear beneath the scarf he’s wearing—dark and soft, like the man himself, but with a brightness to it from silvery threads that catch oliver’s eye.

“bug infestation,” he says. “we, uh, we had them before, but…we didn’t know how many there really were. we just thought it was, like…a few, but it turns out that there was basically a whole hive of them living in the walls of the institute.”

oliver sucks in a breath. “jesus,” he says, “that’s rough—wait, institute like, uh, like the magnus institute?”

“the very one,” the man confirms, and lets out a long-suffering sigh. “you heard about the incident, then?”

“yeah—fire?” personally, oliver’s pretty sure there’s more to it than that—you don’t attempt to burn down the magnus institute’s archives if you’re just a normal, every day person; that’s more of a targetted, avatar-y thing. going by the bug infestation line, he’s betting that it was the corruption. 

“bug infestation,” the man says, again; and that basically confirms it. 

“gonna go out on a limb here—weird question, i know—, but did you happen to get attacked by jane prentiss?” oliver asks. “worm woman, creepy voice?”

the man blinks. “…yeah, actually.”

oliver hums. “well, shit,” he says. “that’s tough. do you want me to buy you a coffee, or something?”

“i’m a tea man,” he says. “er. and you don’t even know my name, and i don’t know yours, either, just that you know stuff most people don’t.”

“hah. that’s the understatement of a lifetime,” oliver snorts. “and we can fix that right now, if you want. m’name’s oliver. you?”

“martin,” martin says. 

“martin,” oliver repeats. “can i take you out for a tea?”

“after my disaster of a week…i think that’d be nice,” martin says. 

“so. you want to get a tea? like, on a date, i mean, full disclosure. just to be clear, i mean.”

martin grins. “yeah,” he says, and then. “um. we should probably go pay for our melatonin, huh?”

“probably,” oliver agrees.