"Whiskey, coffee, cigarettes. Pick one," Dr. Henry said.
Jack stared at him.
"One of them has to go. I'd prefer it if you quit smoking first."
"Would you also prefer me to go insane?"
"I'm sure Dr. Tobin already has you on plenty of medications for that."
Jack sneered and turned his gaze towards the window. The morning's snow was turning to sleet and tapping on the window like insistent fingernails.
"Jack, you're twenty-nine. You're in good health, but you've got some bad habits. Alcohol is okay once in a while but no more than one or two drinks. Coffee I can almost understand. You've never been a morning person, but caffeine almost certainly doesn't help your sleep. And smoking ... well, honestly, kiddo, I thought you were smarter than that."
"I think they shut off some of my intelligence when they shut off my powers."
"Pick one vice and give it up."
"As a New Year's resolution. I'd like to see you live past the age of 50."
Jack glanced away from the window. Dr. Henry was looking at him with that patient but slightly exasperated expression that Jack was all too familiar with. Dr. Henry had been his physician since he was twelve, and the old man's concern wasn't just that of a doctor for the health of his patient. Jack didn't have the heart to tell Dr. Henry that none of it mattered. He wouldn't live past 40, bad habits or not.
"All right," Jack said. "I'll cut back the caffeine."
That was the Monday before New Year's Day. In those few days, Jack managed to drink more coffee than his usual five or six (large) cups a day. He hoped he could store up the extra caffeine the way a bear stores up extra fat before sleeping off the winter.
The only way to do it was go cold turkey. Gradually cutting back would only prolong the pain of giving up his beloved coffee.
Day One didn't get off to a very smooth start. Jack woke up at four AM from a nightmare of a troupe of pale hands pulling open his skull like it was a foil candy wrapper and his brain was a chocolaty, chewy treat. Getting back to sleep was out of the question. He trudged out to the kitchen and stood there, staring at the empty countertop and wondering why the hell someone would steal his coffee maker before he remembered that he'd put it in the cabinet under the sink. He opened the cabinet then let it close. He didn't have any coffee to make anyway, and four in the morning was no time to go grocery shopping. The Ark would open at six; he could wait two more hours. Except that it would do no good to go to a coffee house when he wasn't supposed to be drinking coffee.
At the office, he tried decaf and decided he'd rather drink day old coffee that had been used as an ashtray. His head was throbbing by then, so he grabbed a caffeine free soda and popped a couple of pain relievers.
By lunch time, Jack felt as if his head were no longer attached to his body, that it was floating gently upwards into the grey, snowy sky.
"So the no coffee thing isn't going too well, is it?" Sam asked as they walked back to the office.
"What makes you say that?" Jack asked.
"You've got two lit cigarettes in your hands,"
Jack looked at his hands. Sure enough, a cigarette waited in each, neither of them more than half smoked. He tossed both into the icy runoff in the gutter and shoved his hands in his coat pockets. "I'll get through it," he said. "I don't know why I'm bothering, though."
"Of the three things Dr. Henry asked you to quit, you started with the hardest one. That's just like you, you know."
"You'll sleep better."
"With my nightmares? I doubt it."
Day One ended about as smoothly as it began. Without one last cup of hot coffee before he tried to sleep, Jack was too tense to close his eyes.
Day Two passed in a sluggish smear of exhaustion and dull, throbbing pain, but he slept that night. Not soundly of course; that just wasn't in his biology, but it was sleep. He didn't remember any dreams. He supposed that was a good thing, but he wasn't comfortable not knowing what went on in his mind at night.
Day Three brought heavy, wet snow and an alertness that Jack didn't quite attribute to being relatively well rested. Things seemed brighter somehow. Edges looked sharper. Sounds and smells were easier to detect and identify. He watched the ceiling for a while, waiting for the morning to dull his senses. It didn't.
He sat up and stretched, reaching down to grab his toes. Something made a very loud pop. He froze and waited for pain. There was none. He felt fine. Experimentally, he moved his head from side to side. The creaking of his muscles and tendons was loud, so loud he found it impossible to believe the sound was coming from inside his body, but it was.
Jack lay back down and closed his eyes. He hoped he was actually still asleep and just dreaming this hyperawareness. He could always tell when he was dreaming, though, and this didn't feel like a dream. He lay as still as he could and listened.
He could hear everything. Bones and muscles gently creaking as he breathed, like the hull of wooden ship rocking on the waves. Blood rushing through his veins, his heart pulsing, he could even hear his brain chemicals rushing around and the distant pop and hum of synapses firing off.
He opened his eyes. A cacophony of colors hung over him. "Fuck," he said and watched the sound of his voice join the fog of bodily functions. It was vaguely blue, and he wondered if everything he said would come out that color or if his choice of language had any influence on it. Before he could experiment with that, he noticed the smell.
For a moment, he thought maybe it was just his own mucky morning breath amplified by whatever the hell was going wrong in his brain. But it wasn't. It was the smell of the word he'd spoken. He could smell all the other sounds, too.
His gut twisted, and he lurched out of bed, barely making it to the toilet before he threw up. He wasn't sure what was worse -- the taste of the acidic bile or the horrible amplification of the taste, the smell, the sound, the color of it.
An hour later, maybe more, Jack was hunched up in a corner of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his head. He had tried to take his medications, but the thought of having to listen to his stomach acids melt the pills down made him throw up again. He tried to take a shower, but he couldn't handle the needles of water poking at his skin. The only thing he could do was huddle where he was and try to keep as still and silent as possible. Maybe the synesthesia would go away or at least become tolerable once his body learned to function without caffeine. He hoped the medications he was already on would help, too. He didn't relish going through the trial and error of finding the right combination of drugs.
His cell phone rang. He clamped his hands to his towel-swaddled ears, but the sound buzzed through anyway. When he opened his eyes, the color was there, too -- a deep, pulsing, cold red. It was Sam, and Sam was worried.
Jack uncoiled himself and gingerly went back into the bedroom. He didn't get to his phone in time to answer the call, but Sam's number was flashing on the display. He started to call Sam back, but he couldn't stand the sound and the electric blue flashes of pressing the numbers. He sent a text message instead, which was only slightly less painful, but it got the point across in six concise words. "At home, need help, bring coffee."
Sam's reply came seconds later, still red and cold with concern that bordered on panic. "OMW."
Jack buried his phone between the mattress and box spring and hoped that would dampen any further calls to a tolerable level.
Sam found Jack curled up in bed with a pillow clamped down over his head. He sat down on the bed. Jack peeked up at him from under the pillow. "What's going on?" Sam asked.
"Coffee?" Jack asked.
Sam held up the large paper cup. Jack sat up and reached for it, but Sam held it out of his reach. "This isn't just some ploy to go back on your promise to Dr. Henry, is it?"
Jack winced at the sound of Sam's voice. He shook his head, but that was worse -- the sound of muscles working, the sound of his hair shifting. He whimpered and curled over, shoving the pillow down over his head again.
"Okay, okay," Sam whispered. "Here." He put the cup in Jack's hands.
The heat prickled Jack's palms, and he nearly dropped the cup. Sam held it steady for him. The first few sips were difficult, but as soon as the caffeine began to buzz through his blood, the synesthesia began to fade. After half the cup, the colors were faint, and his senses were dulled to tolerable levels. He unfolded his body bit by bit, gun shy of the creaks and pops, but none of the noises were as disturbingly loud as they had been. He relaxed a little.
"Thanks, Sam," he said.
"You're welcome. What the hell happened?"
"I'm not sure. Apparently, I need caffeine more than I thought. Something about the way it interacts with the rest of my drugs maybe. Without coffee, it's synesthesia overload."
"Well, it is a psychoactive drug."
"And you are a psycho."
"Drink your damn coffee. Did you take your meds yet?"
Jack shook his head. "Couldn't stand the thought of listening to them work."
Sam disappeared into the bathroom and came back with a handful of pills. Jack dutifully washed them down.
"So," Sam said. "Quitting coffee didn't work. What's next? Whiskey or cigarettes?"