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Chlorine Kiss and Morphine Skies

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Morning, July 2nd

“Look alive, sunshine. 109 in the sky but the pigs won’t quit. You’re here with me: Dr. Death Defying, I’ll be your surgeon, your proctor, your helicopter, pumpin’ out the slaughtermatic sounds to keep you live. A system failure for the masses. Anti-matter for the master plan. Louder than God’s revolver and twice as shiny. This one’s for you fuck-and-rollers, all you crash-queens and motorbabies. Listen up. The future is bulletproof. The aftermath is secondary. It’s time to do it now and do it loud. KILLJOYS, make some noise!”

“Louis.”

The boy opens his eyelids to reveal blank blue beautiful eyes. Something isn’t right. It’s giving him the shivers. He doesn’t turn to the side to consult his bedside clock. He knows it’s eight in the morning. He also doesn’t need to look at the girl in his doorway. It’s his sister Lottie, always ready to give him the first morning scowls. She isn’t happy, in general, that he’s here. In truth, he’s not happy either in that house. And her frowns are fucking getting under his nerves. One of these days, he swears to God…

“Louis. You promised today you’ll find a job.”

Right on point, yeah? My dear sis…hirsute-legged you were in our childhood, you are getting hairy, stuck in my throat now.

“Why don’t you… get a move on, will you? You’ve been doing nothing for the past months. Please, Louis. Please. Sober up…”

Louis didn’t answer. But he raised one knee up, hoping that in doing so Lottie will think he’s about to get and will then leave him alone. Goddamn bitch. Always with that please, please, please, Louis. Do you see what she’s doing? She’s making me the bad guys, always acting as if she’s in my mercy. One of these days you goody-two-shoes fuck.

Lottie waits for him to make more moves and that snaps something in Louis. He sits up in a flash.

“There! See, I’m getting up! If you pleasego away? Thanks a-fucking bunch.”

She flinches. He fixes her with a hard stare. She makes a teary-eyed face. Awww, how cute. Is the baby going to cry again?

“What’s happening to you?! Why are you doing to us? It’s not our fault you got kicked out of Uni!” she exclaims instead, which irks Louis some more because who the fuck wants dramatics in the morning? “It’s your own doing; don’t… just help us on this one, Lou. We were rooting for you but goddamn you… be responsible for once!” she is catching her breath from that impromptu speech and looks at him again with that annoying desperate eyes. Louis is not impressed.

He gave her a contemptuous look. “You’re so dramatic,” he seethed. “Go cry me an ocean and leave me be.”

She storms off.

There is a split second of regret but it is quickly ignored. He hears her cry to their other sisters and he is irritated again. They are going to team up on me. Mother, why’d you have to leave me to these pigs? He tears up himself and thinks of his helpless misery.

Patrick, the strawberry blonde hair boy who serves as the defender of his faith, the one who tells him to always be patient with his sisters and whatever happened in college wasn’t his fault and everything’s going to be okay, is missing for a few days now. No trace, no clue. He said he’s just off to deliver a package. Louis doesn’t care about the suitcase, he just wants his friend back. He is alone and the presence of a fox outside his window and a little boy in a bicycle rounding the streets at night are not helping his anxiety.

He gets up from his bed after his short bout of tears. If Patrick is here, he will tell him to do what Lottie requested. The bills keep piling up and her job in Seven Cloverfields is not nearly enough to make ends meet. As the big brother, he must provide for his sisters. He must be the big man. He must apologize to what he made Lottie feel. He takes a shower then chooses appropriate attire for job hunting. He dismisses the comic pages he’d been drafting last night, the inspirations he drew before waking up long forgotten. He goes down to find that Lottie has gone to her work and the rest of the girls to school. He is unpleased by this so he rushes back to his room and shoves the latest updates of Danger Days in his shoulder bag.

2

Louis immediately hates the man reviewing his transcripts. He hates the way he glances at him from time to time. He’s been sitting in this old chair for 30 minutes; God, give him rejection already! It’s just a cleaning job to this stinking bar, for fuck’s sake; why the hell is this man taking too long? He’s ready to face more rejections and judgments today. Twenty is his quota before he calls it quits and be in the most desired solitude.

The whole world is teaming up on him, he knows it. Not only are they so generous to a fault in giving him rejections, they are as well assholes for making him wait for it, beg for it.

But the Man is surely taking his time. No real conversation has been done between them except for the occasional ‘Princeton?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Manic Street?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Nineteen?’ ‘Yes.’

Louis takes him in. Long face with an equally long hair. Asian. White cotton shirt with green stripes. Khaki pants. One of those people who treats their workplace as their first real home, it seems like. Also one of those who cheery folks who thinks he can crack a joke: whether he’d be a friendly buffoon or a hoity-toity douchebag, it is yet to be decided depending if Louis gets this job or on what century will he get the Man’s decision.

Come on, old man! What are you waiting for? Say “No” already. I’m dying here! Don’t fix me with that ‘compassionate’ gaze. I can see right through it. I know it’s fake!

Finally, finally, thank Jesus, the Man closes his papers. “This says you attended Princeton.”

“I got kicked out.” Out in the open. What the hell. It will come up eventually. Tell me I’m a bad man and kick me like a stray, see if I care.

The Man frowns. “Why?”

Louis squirms in his seat but doesn’t answer. Should I be that open? Now that’s a thought. “It’s… kinda personal, sir.”

“It’s not due to drugs, is it? Abuse of Benzedrine?”

Louis lets out a short surprise laugh. “No, sir.”Does he know?

“Good enough for me.” The Man pats his folder. “Do you plan to attend college again?”

Louis gives a wry smile. “I think I’d like to think about it first… get my life sorted out first.” No way.

“I will hire you. You look like a good kid. And you look like you need help. You can start tomorrow at say… nine. 9pm to 5am, that’s your shift. Capisce? Come, I’ll show you around.” He shows Louis the staff area and the places he would be working; mainly a filthy bathroom. Louis views them all with great discomfort. An employee passes by them when The Man is giving Louis last-minute instructions by the backdoor. The Man greets her and asks what she’s doing so early in the bar.

“Are you serious? Harry and I have swapped shifts since two days ago, Steve. No, don’t give me that I-wasn’t-told-about-this bullcrap – I texted you. I need to look over my kids at night and Harry… well… he’s Harry.”

“Why are you so feisty in the morning, Courtney? It’s not like you were exiled from your house. I know you like the early morning beauty routine but what can I say? I wasn’t told about this.” The Man laughs much to The Employee’s contempt and Louis’ chagrin. “Oh by the way, this is Louis. He’ll be part of our family starting tomorrow night.”

“He looks so young.”

“He’s out of college.”

“Graduated?”

“Kicked out.”

Louis smiles at her but doesn’t try to shake hands. The Employee doesn’t look seem she’s looking for one anyway.

“Looks like you’ll work with our Harry, Louis,” The Man tells him. “You’ll like him, I swear. He dropped out of college last summer.”

Is that really a standard to like someone? Louis doesn’t ask out loud. He gives The Man one of his rare genuine smiles. “Thank you, Mr. Aoki –”

“Call me Steve. I prefer it better.”

“Thank you, S-Steve. I… I don’t really know what I’m doing with my life right now.”

“Does any of us?” The Man laughs while The Employee rolls her eyes then continues inside.

Louis’ smile drops just as soon as he turns his back to them and starts walking away. I got a job, sis. The farthest type of job I got in my mind when I started college. This is how low I am now. Dear Gravity, you held me down so low. Do you want to kill me?

He quickens his pace when he notices the people in the street hobbling in groups while giving him weird looks and talking about him.

3

Danielle Peazer is a bitch. A cock sucking bitch who probably likes it rough in bed. Louis hates prima donnas such as her. Don’t get him wrong, though. He’s seen Liam’s cock one too many times. The guy is well-hung. Louis is sure he isn’t that big when they were growing up together. Magic of puberty, then. He won’t even complain if Liam asks him to suck his dick (overwhelmed, maybe). He might even ask the guy to fuck him in his hole after he fucks his throat, for experience of course, but – where is he? Oh.

Danielle Peazer is a bitch. A cock-sucking bitch too high on her horse. What does she have to say for herself? Just because she’s still in college and Louis isn’t anymore does not allow her to suddenly treat Louis like an illiterate mongoloid. Fucking cunt. They only had one semester without him. What gave her the idea?

Louis’ suicide blonde whispers to his ear. “Lou, stop glaring at Dan. You’re too obvious.”

Louis’ dick stirs hard by Niall’s proximity. How’s long has it been since Niall and him are this close? How long since he’s smelled his cologne, his bleached-blonde hair? How long? A month? Two? He can’t help it. He wants him. He closes his eyes and moans softly at just the feeling of the hairs of their skin ghosting at each other. No one on the table with their fugitive talks hears him do this, only Niall. Niall laughs, again to his ear. Is he planning on killing me?

His suicide blonde feels adventurous today. Louis shots his eyes open when a hand begins palming him under the table. “Ni…” he begs softly.

Niall winks at him before looking up ahead to their other friends. The hand continues cupping and palming Louis’ clothed dick.

“So, Louis,” Zayn asks. “How’s life? You’re going back to Uni or what?”

“Ugh. I plan to, not yet at least. I should work first, I think, put in money for the family.” Louis praises himself for that composed answer when all his brain is tormenting him about sex and sex with Niall.

Danielle rolls her eyes. Louis wants to dismember her.

“Any progress?” Gigi asks.

Gigi, Louis can tolerate. Gigi is cool. She praised his drawings once and little things like that, in Louis’ opinion, should be treasured for life.

Louis collects his cool and presses his thighs close with Niall’s hand trapped in between. “I got a job as a bagger in Saki’s. Then as a janitor in Aoki’s. ”

“This too shall pass, my man,” Zayn says. “This too shall pass.”

“Two jobs. God, you must really be experiencing hard times,” Danielle patronizes. “At least you’re already out in the real world, Louis. Look at us, still stuck in books and academic lies. You, you’re about to gain experience.”

Blah, blah, blah. Keep talking out of your condescending ass, stupid bitch.What the hell is her point? It’s fucking insulting, is what it is. A college undergraduate like him reduced to servicing smug fucks like her for an indefinite period of time? He wants to die. She’s just one of the pigs, is what she is. She—

He hisses when Niall makes a particularly hard squeeze to his balls. Niall drinks on his coffee with his other hand and is uninterested in the ongoing conversation.

“You’re not making Louis feel any better, Danielle.” Nick winks at him. “Insensitive, you are really.” Danielle merely scoffs.

Squirming and sweating, Louis smiles warmly at the guy. “You got me.” He hates owing something to Nick fucking-look-at-me-I’m-rich Grimshaw. He knows deep inside Nick is also glad of his misery.

Oh God. He’s about to come.

They are discussing about the latest in politics now but Louis cannot focus on anything they’re saying. He’s about to shoot cum restricted in his pants, in this table where all their friends sit, in this crowded restaurant, under the skillful hands of a cunning blonde. He clenches and unclenches his fist. He tries to take a deep breath. He mutters a low, “Niall.”

Niall he has a smug look on his face and kneads his groin faster. Liam is looking at them strangely now.

Louis comes in his pants shortly after Nick makes his propositions. When Niall feels the wetness, he withdraws his hand and uses it to stir his half-empty cup of coffee. There is a dreamy expression on his face. Liam does not look amused. His bitch of a girlfriend does not notice his uncomfortable silence, however.

Louis’ knees feel like jelly and he badly wants to lie down. He has nothing to do with his ‘friends’ anymore. But still he manages a weak smile and contributes something to the discussion. “Yeah. I don’t think the new bill will be approved, either. Here’s why.”

4

He comes four more times that afternoon. In a cheap hotel room, he fingers himself while sucking Niall’s dick (one). Niall scissors his insides with three fingers (two) then fists him (three). Before the last one he is in heaven while Niall pounds his cock into his tiny hole. Someone should’ve told them off for being too loud for comfort at three in the afternoon. Outsiders don’t need to know that his name is Niall and his name is Lou and Lou is Niall’s little slut and how rickety the beds of Evverblue Hotels are. Strangely enough, Niall and Louis are even more turned on by that fact. On the other hand, the two young men rely on the chance that the world, awake and working outside, has no idea what their lust are doing to them at this hour. But they couldn’t really care less. Niall shoots loads inside of him and he comes for the last time and completely blacks out.

Louis wakes up at six in the evening. Immediately his mind starts to wander at home. Lottie must be home. They must be looking at him. Or nah. He doesn’t feel welcome in that house for ages.

“G’morning, love,” Niall jokes and kisses his parched lips. He is sitting up in bed, reading Louis’ comics.

Louis looks below to his blanket-covered body and frowns. “I can’t feel my legs.”

The blonde lets out a startled laugh.

“No. Seriously, Ni.” He tries to move but nothing happens.

Now even Niall is worried. He drops the bundle of papers to the bedside table and aligns his body down with his boy, brushing the hair from his temple in a soothing motion. “Shit. I was too much… earlier. I’m sorry, Lou.”

“It’s fine. I should be fine later on… I think. Shit, I’ve got a job tomorrow. Stay here for the night?”

“Of course, of course. God, why shouldn’t we? I missed you.”

Niall gets up some time later to get Louis water to drink then they are back in the comforts of each other’s arms again. Louis has to admit that even with Patrick’s disappearance and the darker, filthier, more unacceptable change that goes along with it, Niall’s presence still soothes his being. It should. Niall is the only one out here in this world that doesn’t treat Louis like shit. Louis supposes he loves him. He feels sleepy again.

“I like where your story is going,” Niall says softly, kindred of sincere admiration, alluding to Louis’ Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys comics.

Louis shrugs in the soft contours of Niall’s elbow.

“Though I have to ask. Where are the Youngbloods? Aren’t they coming back? I thought they’re back from the dead?”

Louis hums. “No. They only got to come back to defeat the Ringleader then they had to return to Death Valley again to face the Prince of Darkness. They haven’t saved Battery City yet. It’s the Killjoys who will try this time.”

“I kinda like the old guys better. But I liked the concept that we had to wait 70 years – had to wait for the dystopia – before another group of heroes arise. I like it.” When Louis hums again in appreciation, he asks. “Where are you getting your ideas, Lou?”

A split-second decision to tell him or no. Why not? He is his boyfriend. Why? He wouldn’t believe him. “In a dream.”

Niall looks down at him incredulously. “Really? All of those came to you in a dream?”

“A few of them.”

“Explain.”

Louis knew it is a bad idea to be talking of this. Now it’s embarrassing him. “I dreamed… of dying. I was getting inside an elevator bound to heaven but then there’s this little boy who controls the lifts and he sends me to hell instead.” He doesn’t tell him that the boy in the dream looks exactly like the boy in the bicycle wheeling around Manic Street every night. “I was going down and down. When I reached my landing, all I saw was red and a cult of women dancing in the dark… to this music. I couldn’t describe it. The music is beautiful… eerily so. But the sound is evil. It has a dark spell in it casted by the Ringleader. It makes you violent. I looked up and saw in the balcony the Ringleader. There’s this logo behind her; the anti-music logo. She saw me. She smiled this sickening smile and commanded one of her girls below to open a door. A man with a fedora hat and a hook for a hand stepped out. I knew he was sent to kill me.” Would it affect Niall’s liking for the original four if he found out that Patrick’s whole persona is based on that Hook-liked character? “Then he was chasing after me while the Ringleader mocks me from the balcony. She’s crying, ‘Go boy! Go boy! Run for your life!’ I distinctly remember her catcalls… then I woke up. And I started Danger Days: Save Rock and Roll from there.”

“Wow,” Niall says. “Must’ve been a real nightmare.”

“Yeah.” A thought occurs to him. What if Patrick is back with the Cult Campers? What if the Ringleader kidnapped him again and that is the reason he’s missing? What if he’s wreaking havoc right now and there’s no one to stop him? Last time Louis checked, Joe is still in Death Valley, Pete is in Capitol Station and Andy is in Rome. Who then? What then?

“Louis?”

“Uh. What is it?”

“I asked if wouldn’t it be nice if someone else reads your work. I mean, it isgood. You’re on the second chronicle of Danger Days and I bet no one has the read the finished first one yet – besides me and Liam and Zayn, of course. No dissension between the three of us, your story is cool. There’s a comic-con for budding comic artists in Uni in September. Find a printer, Louis. We got your back, Lou. Try it. Heck, maybe it will even save you from handling two jobs. What do you say, Lou?”

“C-can I think about it first? My sisters are not really my greatest fans right now. They want me to find a job – preferably a real one – immediately.”

“Okay.” Niall beams. “But I tell you, Louis. Your story is the bomb. It will blow others away.”

Truth is, Louis wants to keep the world he created to himself. No one deserves to live there but him. And no one should dare to get it away from him.

5

Morning, July 3rd

He doesn’t expect Lottie to forgive him readily just because he’s found work. But he at least expects a little warmth, a little happiness for him. A little ‘Good job, bro!’. But maybe it’s too much for good old Charlotte Tomlinson, is it? The little goody-two-shoes didn’t even seem to register Louis’ great news. She’s angry – angry! – that Louis didn’t come home last night. No demand for explanations either. Just that, ‘Before you decide to abandon us for the night, next time care to call me first’ before going to her work.

It irritates Louis. It irks him, it frustrates him! Who does she think he is to make him feel that every move he’s making is wrong? What… what…

He hits the wall with a tightened fist repeatedly until he hears a soft crash. Good job. Now he won’t be able to draw for days? But that’s what Perfect Lottie wants, right?

He won’t be able to draw for days.

I won’t be able to draw for days.

“FUCK!!!” he screams at the top of his lungs. “Fuck you bitch! Fuck you all!” He runs to the kitchen and grabs the first aid kit at the top of the refrigerator. Quickly as he could, he dabs ethanol to the hurting knuckles. Then he bandages his right hand. After that rush of adrenaline, he looks down blankly to his piss-poor job. The hand is numb. The hand is still shaking. He sits back to the chair and laughs. Oh, how comical had it all been! Why the fuck did he punch the walls? Why couldn’t he just contain his anger? The next time he would bash Lottie’s head and that would be a pretty sorry sight and that is not good for all of them.

Still would be a funny scenario, though.

The doorbell rings once. Louis looks at the direction of the door and waits for more. Nothing. He makes his way to the door and opens it. No one outside. No one around in the neighborhood. There is a plastic bag hooked on the doorknob, though, and Louis is strangely dismayed upon the sight. Not only is his bandaged hand shaking but his whole body is as he inspects what is inside.

The wretched blue-eyed boy curses. Someone’s severed hand is what is in the white plastic bag. A left hand with a tattoo of a crown on the foreskin between the thumb and the forefinger. This is Patrick’s hand.

He looks across the street once more and now comes the bell of a bicycle. The boy is back. He stops in front of Louis and gives him a creepy smile. Louis is just too stunned to make a movement let alone utter a single word. Oh, God. What have they done to my friend?He wants to weep but couldn’t.

The boy looks behind him, to the corner where he came from. Louis follows his gaze and his horror adds up when he recognizes the car that’s rolling by to his house He remembers the black Volvo with white stripes and a nameplate of RATATAT. He knows that car. He knows this boy. He knows this hand. He knows because he drew them all based on a dream.

The Volvo stops behind the boy. Louis is still too shock to move but he knows he has to run. This all here is trouble and his life is in grave danger. The window rolls down. It stops halfway and a hand shoots up to wave the boy away. The kid bicycles away without sparing Louis another glance and saying any more word. The window resumes its journey downwards.

He’ll see the woman again, Louis thinks. The Ringleader. But didn’t she die? Didn’t the Youngbloods finish her off? What does she want from me? My death?

But the face that is revealed is not the blonde woman he knew. It is no blonde and it is no woman either. It is a he. A young man Louis is sure he’s never seen, never created, never drawn. A specter outside the limitations of his imagination. An outsider invading his brain. Who is he? Where did he come from?

The young man has emerald green eyes, a nest of messy silky jet-black hair, a hauntingly beautiful face, and a smile promising menace. Woman or not, the figure in the car is the Ringleader (the new one), Louis is sure of it. The man motions a hand to his driver and suddenly music is heard. Louis remembers that eerie music. As the tempo picks up, he yelps in agony. He drops the bag. He tries to cover his ears but the enchanting pain of music has already attacked his brain, echoing and ricocheting, telling him to move his legs, go inside the car, sit with the Ringleader, and be with him for all of eternity.

Glass break from up above him, interrupting him from hearing more of the evil music. Louis looks up. His room window shatters outwards. Pieces of broken glass and Louis’ many paperworks rain on him and the car. In a trance, Louis watches his drawings of Danger Days dance and circle in the above wind. The music is drowned out. The sight is surreally beautiful.Louis sees in amazement a leg kick out from his room. A red leathered-jacket man was squatting on the window ledge, fixing his helmet. He jumps and lands in front of Louis. That’s when Louis sees the three other men who have been in front of Louis while he’s busy looking at his comic pages. All in multicolored leather and jeans. He recognizes them as well. Kobra Kid, the one who jumped from his window. Fun Ghoul, the short brunette one in yellow shirt and mossy green vest. Party Poison, the redhead one in blue jacket. And Jet-Star, the curly-haired one in a dark jacket. Their backs are on him but it is easy to figure out that Party Poison is chomping on his bubblegum (always how Louis makes him do during standoffs). They are all inching to draw out their guns but the Ringleader is not doing anything besides look at them with contempt.

The Ringleader scoffs after a long time and waves on his driver again. They leave the premises. It takes a while before Louis feels like breathing again. The Killjoys then turn to him gravely. Party is wearing his mask.

“I… I…” Louis does not know what to say. His body mandates all his strength to leave his body and his legs give in to the order but he does not fall to the ground as Kobra Kid catches him.

“Easy,” Kobra Kid says.

Louis turns to the other three. Now that the Ringleader is gone, his priorities come back in waves of uncontrolled emotion. “Patrick is missing! You’ve got to help him! Please! The Cult Campers, they’ve got him.”

Jet-Star raises a hand to ease him down. “We know, kid. We know.”

“How did you…”

“We received message from the owl. Pete told us of this new trouble,” Fun Ghoul replies.

“T-then, what are we going to do?”

The rest turns to Party Poison. He spits out his gum before speaking. “We’re sure that Patrick is not with the Cult right now. Yet. The case he is to deliver is, according to Pete, last detected on a train going to Gem City. Patrick must be staying there. It’s probable that he’s still got some control of his sanity and he is hiding from the rest of the world. We better get to him quick.”

“What’s in that stupid case he has, anyway?” Louis asks in spite.

“We don’t know, kid,” Jet-Star answers. “But it is important for the salvation of Battery City, that much we know.”

“What makes the Ringleader I’ve got the case?” he moans. “How did he find me? And what happened to The Head Bitch from before?”

The men exchanged an amused glance to each other. “The young man earlier,” Party Poison says. “Call him Mr. Sandman. He’s been the Ringleader for the past decade. He killed who preceded him to get the title. Maybe he knows Patrick’s your friend.”

At that Louis curses. Patrick. Patrick is in danger and Louis will be, too.

Fun Ghoul picks up the white plastic bag from the ground. He almost drops it upon seeing what the content is. He passes it to Party Poison while he goes behind the bushes to vomit.

“Patrick’s,” is all what Party Poison says after he peeks inside. “Kid,” he barks at Louis. “Whatever this means, this is not good.”

“You don’t say,” Louis says sarcastically but he’s afraid just the same.

They laugh amidst the tension. At length, Party Poison looks off the distance to the rising sun. “This is not good,” he repeats. “Kid, you can’t stay here any longer. You’ll be safer with us.”

6

Afternoon, July 3rd

“Look alive, sunshine. 109 in the sky but the pigs won’t quit. You’re here with me: Dr. Death Defying, I’ll be your surgeon, your proctor, your helicopter, pumpin’ out the slaughtermatic sounds to keep you live. A system failure for the masses. Anti-matter for the master plan. Louder than God’s revolver and twice as shiny. This one’s for you fuck-and-rollers, all you crash-queens and motorbabies. Listen up. The future is bulletproof. The aftermath is secondary. It’s time to do it now and do it loud. KILLJOYS, make some noise!”

“Louis.”

He opened his treacherous eyes slowly. Something isn’t right. Lottie is standing by his doorway, looking too negative at seven in the morning. It is her sole mission on earth, Louis is convinced now, is to share with him her misery anytime of the motherfucking day.

“Louis, I’m just checking up on you. I thought you said you found a job at Saki’s Grocery? Why aren’t you—”

“I won’t start until one,” he cuts her off. He thinks, is this how she monitors my ‘well-being’? It’s not very comforting, is it? It’s plain irritating. Getting on my nerves. I swear one of these days…

“Louis, it’s twelve,” Lottie begs.

One of these days.

He swings his legs upward and sits up on bed. He groans. “I’m up, see? Now leave me alone.”

Oh, now he knows what’s not right. There, on the wall across from him, is a hole where something was. What was it? What was in there?

Lottie doesn’t leave to let her poor brother solve the piece. “Louis, I…”

He looks at her over his shoulders with no real interest and completely forgets about the hole. He grunts in annoyance.

“Louis, I want you to know that I don’t hate you. Even if we ended up like this…”

Oh God. They know his weaknesses. They know he’s sensitive in topics like this. They are bringing the sweet five-year-old Lottie who adores Louis so much; she views as her hero without a cape.He can’t help it. He misses her. He growls like a wounded animal and tears immediately start blurring his vision.

“… I just… these past few days. I just miss you, okay? If you want to talk…” she walks off with a gasp, unable to finish her sentence because of tears.

He weeps in her absence.

But like any other day for the past few days now, he finishes it off quickly. Patrick is nowhere to comfort him. He and Killjoys are off to Gem City to save him now. He needs to leave this town quick.

This town is full of pigs. When he was younger, his family visits his grandparents in the farm a weekend once every month. He liked feeding the animals; the cows, the goats, but the pigs… oh, the pigs! Damn animal immediately gobbles up what you throw in front of it without second thoughts. Gobbling and gobbling up. He tosses food and its mouth is at the ready to eat them up; its snout making these horrible noises. The pig wants more. He gives more because he is kind and innocent and none the wiser. When Louis has nothing to throw anymore the pig wails. And it’s horrible, too! It’s loud and it won’t stop! It sounds like the music the Cult Campers are always playing. It won’t stop until you feel bad at yourself or until you go crazy with the sound it makes. That is the world. That is what the world is doing to him at this very moment. It won’t stop at nothing until Louis comes up with a way to give it nourishment. Louis has to come up with something, or else it will eat him. But maybe it has already decided to eat Louis anyway? It has gotten sneakier lately. It’s using her sister and his friends. And whatever else are those unnerving stares of the people at the street for?

They already got Patrick. But Patrick escaped – lucky bastard. But Patrick loves Louis. Maybe his friend wants him to follow him to his rented hideout in Gem City where they would be safe from the pigs that wants to eat Louis and the Cult Campers that wants to use Patrick again for their evil plans. The owl from Pete was sent to tell Louis this. And the Killjoys are sent to help him escape, too.

Now if only he can figure out what was in that hole across from him…

Chapter Text

Evening, July 3rd

Louis reads:

‘666’ ‘May God find a place in your heart’ ‘we will pray for you’ ‘I HATE LUKE’ ‘I hate myself’ ‘I hate my LIFE ‘hang in there’ ‘BOYS suck’ ‘that they do’ ‘Lol’ ‘DOWN WITH DOUBLE STANDARDS!!!

‘Nice,’ Louis thinks as he reads all the vandals on the inner door of the second stall. ‘Girls are really weird, could have your common sense torn asunder,’ he thinks, then unhinges the door from its frame and puts it down gently on the newspaper-covered floor. He adjusts his facemask, gives a little stretch, then pulls a paintbrush from a bucket and covers all the written texts wood brown. He is careful with his hand with every movement. It still bleeds underneath the bandage.

It’s been a long day and Louis wants to sleep so badly. But it’s only one in the morning – he doesn’t get to leave until five. On his first night in Aoki’s, he is alone. The Man greeted him amiably enough earlier before he sent him away with few cleaning instructions. He is to close out the ladies’ bathroom, instruct patrons to take a piss in the next building should one come stumbling in, and repaint the whole place because, apparently, Harry called dibs on the men’s.

Now, about this Harry lad…

Louis hasn’t seen him yet; he checked in with still no sign of the man and he’s been holed up in this toilet ever since. He can hear muffled shit club music coming through the closed doors but otherwise, it is quiet. However the men’s room is just next to the ladies’, and he supposes that the men’s is close too, and the whistle of an unfamiliar tune is coming from none other than his coworker. Not that he’s looking for a company, not really. But wanting to see Harry, just to see what he looks like, he does. His curiosity is killing him. A 25-year-old college dropout?Maybe he is a buff man with lots of tattoos. Plaid shirt. Has a pretty girlfriend who he has accidental kids with. Has a small apartment in the outskirts of town. Or maybe he lives in his mother’s basement. Has an addiction to drugs or computer games or Hello Kitty stickers.Whatever. He will still be in a better disposition than Louis is in, he reckons.

Now the whistles are louder, as if Harry is working real close behind these walls. Almost as if he’s plundering the old walls just so Louis could get to hear him clearly. Distractedly, Louis looks over his shoulder to his left. He inches closer towards the wooden wall of the second stall toget more of the whistle, when he accidentally kicks down the bucket of paint.

“Shit.”

The whistle stops. Then comes a knock on the wall.

“Hello?” a voice from the other side says. Deep and a little raspy.“You alright? You’re the new guy here, yeah?”

Louis doesn’t want to answer. He directs his focus (and his unexplained contempt) to the spilled paint. Fuck. Fuck the pigs.

“Hello? Are you there?” Louis ignores him. “Louis?”

Surprised, Louis turns his attention to him. “H-how do you know my name?”

A short laugh. God, the sound is hypnotizing. “What a way of introduction. How do you suppose? Steve told me.”

“You’re Harry.”

“I am. Nice to meet you.”

Louis tries to relax. Hell, Niall is right. He’s getting paranoid lately. This Harry won’t harm him for now. Louis is still feeding the pigs. He has still something to feed with. He won’t get eaten, not yet. Not today. Harry won’t eat him.

Now that all his paint is all onto the floor, he doesn’t know what to do anymore. Fix it up and get a new bucket, maybe. Or preferably tell The Man he’ll call it a night. He doesn’t feel too well. He needs to lie down and sleep. He stands from his placetries for the door but his legs won’t suddenly cooperate. His ass ends up back to the floor without grace. What the fuck.

“Mr. Benzedrine? Are you still there?”

Louis’ heart skips a beat. He doesn’t even turn his head to the wall to ask. “A-and how did you know about that name?”

No answer.

Louis’ head aches. Suddenly, the walls of the bathroom – the whole room –seem to be closing in on him. It warps, giving Louis nausea. He can’t breathe. The walls open their mouths and they are whispering, whispering, whispering… cursing him, mocking him. ‘A nervous wreck,’ they say. ‘The mighty has fallen,’ they mock.‘Broken,’ ‘Undeserving,’ ‘You’re going to hell…’And that’s all his ears are hearing. Very soon he’ll go deaf if they didn’t stop. He wants to scream stop but air is escaping from his lungs.

Someoneis outside the bathroom door. Someone’s coming in to where Louis is. Mr. Sandman, Louis is sure. He has no energy to go for the lock, let alone get up. He grates his teeth in both annoyance and defeat. What exhaustion is this?

Mr. Sandman – Harry – reveals himself when he opens the door and beams at Louis. Louis wants to cry. He really is him – the beautiful green-eyed devil in the black Volvo yesterday, the one who sent him Patrick’s hand as a warning. And if not for the Killjoys, he would be under his dark spell today. But there are no Killjoys with him today.

“Mr. Benzedrine,” Harry greets him. He closes the short space between the door and the tiny boy – his footsteps echoes loud – and kneels beside him. “Nice to finally meet you.”

He tries to say something but no words come out.

The villain reaches out a hand, pulls Louis’ facemask off and caresses his cheek with, Louis dare thinks, extreme affection. “Shhh…” the fiend says. But the whispers around them don’t stop. The walls are leaning in to listen, closing in on them more and more.

“Oh, Louis.How easy it is to find you so defenseless.”

Louis sees gray.

“Don’t you dare faint on me,” Harry warns and pulls hardly at his hair. But the hurt didn’t really help, not really. He embraces darkness but not before he goes to rest, he hears Harry’s final question.

“Have you ever wanted to disappear?”

2

Morning, July 4th

When Louis comes to, it takes a while before he realizes he is in his boyfriend’s bedroom. He remembers the setup: window above him and to his left that gives the whole room generous lighting; bureau to his right, the stupid Buzz Lightyear lampshade, a jar of jellybeans, on the bedside table by his left; bookshelf here, guitar stand there, band posters, books, pencils and sheets scattered that should give this room a filthy look but is betrayed by the vivacity of it. Everything in this tight space fits perfectly. This is Niall’s. Though what he wants to know now is how he ended up in this place. Did he come to Niall’s again out of a troubled thought? And where is the Harry? Is he safe from him now? How safe? For how long?What time is it? Why is there hammering inside his head like fucking St. Joseph building a house for Mary and Jesus?

Now, it couldn’t have been that late in the morning. What time? What time?He has a job to get to. At Saki’s he remembers. He’s a bagger there, right?

He hears the muffled sounds of the television coming from the den. Is his suicide blonde there?

“Niall?” he calls.

Immediately, he hears shuffling of the feet from the outside, as if his boyfriend is waiting for his call all along.

Niall comes in with a glass of water and a pill in his hands. “Trouble sleeping?” he asks with an easy smile.

Louis frowns. “I just woke up.”

Niall puts down his delivery on the bedside table with a sheepish smile but doesn’t answer. Louis watches him for any wrong move. Not too long ago, he had decided that Niall would be one of the pigs, even though it hurts to think about that. He is too good for Louis – too good to be true. Sometimes Louis thinks that he is a just a bait; inconspicuously luring him to the hall leading to the World’s hungry mouth. It is only the assurance of Niall’s touch that tells Louis he is an ally. Whatever Niall is doing to keep the World from convincing him to kill Louis, Louis doesn’t know. What he knows is it won’t last forever.

Niall mounts the bed and doesn’t know about Louis’ mortared thoughts.

Maybe now has come the time to distance himself from his boy before he gets hurt by the sure betrayal that is to come, Louis thinks.

“What are you thinking?” Niall asks curiously.

He shrugs. “Just how did I get here... I think I’m starting to have lapses again.”

Niall’s smile drops. “Oh, no. What do you remember last?”

The eagerness to help without asking how it happened or what has gone wrong, that’s one of the many things Louis likes about him. Where could he find anyone else like that? “That I was at my work in Aoki’s,” he answers the question and omits the fact of his encounter with his coworker.

“Uh, that was just this evening. Last night was your first night in Aoki’s, right? You crashed in here at…” a glance at the bedside clock, “five thirty and we’ve been awake since. You decided to come to bed not five minutes ago. Louis, I know you got this feeling that you just have woken up but please try going back to sleep. You’ll be exhausted, surely. At one you got a work, right?”

Yes.Helping without questions. Louis really likes that. He will miss it.

Niall playfully pushes him back to bed and Louis lets out a pleased laugh. He also lets Niall brush his hair like a mother to a child.

“What’s that pill?” Louis asks, eyeing the medication beside him.

“Sleeping pill. I thought you said you have trouble sleeping for the past few days?”

“I suppose… can I have it now?”

“Here.”

“With tea, please.”

“Right.” Niall gets up. “Green tea?”

“With honey.”

“Honey is for bees, silly bear. No. I only have plain green tea. Wait here.”

Louis sits up again. While Niall is gone, he tries to retrieve more of his memories back at Aoki’s, the first one-on-one he had with Harry. He tries to gage if that encounter was just a hallucination – a dream – and instead he lapsed time and nothing bad really went on. Maybe the Hello-Kitty-sticker-horder-living-in-mum’s-basement-25-year-old-college-dropout is really in existence and not a beautiful thane with green eyes and melodic voice and devilish smile with the name of Mr. Sandman.

Have you ever wanted to disappear?

But Niall is taking too long and Louis doesn’t feel sleepy. His thoughts go from Harry/Mr. Sandman to Niall’s extendedabsence. What could he be doing? No. He couldn’t rampart Niall’s innocence any longer. Quietly, he leaves the bedroom and goes to the kitchen where he thought Niall is. He passes through the den where the television is still on and finds the kitchen is empty save for the half-prepared green tea. He listens. Niall is out in the balcony talking to someone over the phone. Whoever it is, they must be real special that Niall had to go that far away. Must be the pigs persuading Niall again to eat Louis. Or could he be cheating to Louis with someone else? Even Louis finds that hard to believe.

“He’s speaking to Lottie about your condition.”

Louis slowly turns around. The boy usually in bicycles is there in the kitchen with him, lingering by the door. Fuck. “What are you doing here? What do you want?” he demands in spite of the fear in the pits of his stomach.

The boy smiles the creepy smile of his. But he is alone and small; Louis could easily take him down.

“What have you done to Patrick?!” he shouts. Before he’s got a chance to strangle the boy, he is given a chase. The boy runs to the hallway and hides inside the toilet at the end of it. “Get out of there!” Louis pounds the door and jiggles the knob but nothing happens. “Get out, you son of a bitch!” He stands back and with all his might, kicks the door open.

The toilet is empty. Louis becomes frustrated. Louis curses. So they’re playing with him again, huh? Aside from torturing and hacking off the hand of a completely nice guy, do they really think that it’s funny to mess up with people’s minds? “FUCK ALL OF YOU! FUCK YOU!” He hits something blindly beside him which turns out to be the medicine cabinet. He is distracted for a moment.

With a curiosity borne out of nowhere, he opens the compartment. A sheet of paper falls out and ends up on the lavatory below. It gets wet in places but Louis can still make out the texts in it, can even remember when and what for it was taken. It is his prescription drug for Benzedrine. He thought he got rid of it when the uni kicked him out? He looks up and sure two unopened boxes and a half-empty one of the drugare stacked in.

“They are going to make you take all of it.” The boy reappears by his side but Louis doesn’t look at him, only at the tyrannical drug with horror. “Feed you with it. Like a pig.”

“Louis?” There is Niall by the door hobbling with uncertainty and concern. “Needed a wee? I finished your tea.” He laughs a little but he sees what Louis has found so he frowns.

They have gotten into Niall.

“Of course we will get into him.”

Louis glares at the boy to shut him up. “Goddamn you.”

“Lou, what’s happening—”

“What are all these for, Niall?” he motions to the three boxes. “I didn’t know you’re dieting. Or is it your new type of drug? Do you like champing it at the bit?”

Niall appears offended. “Louis… Those are for you.”

Louis rolls his eyes and waves up the prescription in the air. “Figures. Are you going to make me high as fuck and green as a mead again?” he spats.

“Lottie and I both agreed—”

“Fuck that bitch!”

“You need help, Louis! Everyone around you knows you need help. We are all worried.”

He flinches. “No. I don’t,” he says weakly.

“You need help,” Niall tries again, almost whispering now. He grabs a hold of Louis’ wrists which Louis is unable to tug back. “It’s bad. According to Lottie there’s something going on with you. Whatever it is, it’s bad… I can see for myself. I-I’ve been giving you Benzedrine for some time now…I thought getting back to Benzedrine is all you need but there are other things as well. You’re acting weird. You’re obsessed with nothing but your comics. Just earlier you admitted that you’re having time lapses – again. I’m worried, Louis. Is something bothering you? You can tell me. I’m your boyfriend; you can trust me. Or we could get you a therapist and—”

“Fuck you, you pig!” Louis pushes him off and runs away.

Inthe den, he ends up. Niall is calling to him but he seems to be eons and dimensions away. In the television, there shows a scenery of an amusement park – a carousel with four colorful and ridiculously-clad boys singing on board. They are singing to Louis, calling him. Louis steps towards the television cautiously.

“Louis, please listen!” Niall is approaching in the dimensions.

He looks longingly for the door where Niall is to appear. He longs for Niall. Maybe it is not too late. Maybe he can save him. Maybe he can get Niall out of here, take him on his journey with the Killjoys to the Gem City, to Patrick, to salvation. Things between them don’t have to end this way. Not when he loves his suicide blonde dearly.

Niall, come in.

Before he can see Niall, he is grabbed inside the television by numerous pairs of strong arms. The next moments are a flurry. Cameras are flashing at him. Everywhere he gets his eyes on all he sees is cartoonic version of everything. He fancies his body becoming 2D cartoon. The four boys don’t stop singing about falling in love with sins. Everything is loud and bright.

He falls into a ditch with green toxic waters and he blacks out.

3

Day, 2086

With a start, he wakes up. He looks around. It is noon. The sun outside looks tormenting.Everywhere he look is a turret of heat. He is in a desert, in the backseat of a beat up Volvo with two others. Some rock and roll music is playing from the car radio.The pain in his arm when he pinched it tells him he is awake; this is all real.

“Finally, the princess is awake,” Fun Ghoul cheers beside him. Jet-Star is at the other end of the backseat while Party Poison is taking the wheel and Kobra Kid is riding shotgun.

“Had a good night’s sleep?” Fun Ghoul asks to which he nods.

“You were dreaming,” Jet Star says, concerned expression obvious even with the sunglasses.

“I don’t remember if I had any,” Louis says.

“Want me to buy you a dreamcatcher, princess?” Fun Ghoul asks.

Louis snorts. “Fuck off.” He looks around. “Where are we?”

“A desert,” Party Poison deadpans. Louis scoffs at that while Kobra Kid’s lips twitches into a little smile and the rest sniggers. Just like that Louis remembers that they’ve been driving for four days now. The dry lands don’t seem to have an end.

“We’re stopping for batteries at the next station which should be… six miles from here,” Party Poison calculates. “Short time, only. It’s still a long ride to Gem City. We decided, while you were sleeping, to switch drivers every four hours. Can you drive, Benzedrine?”

The use of the name startles him. “Y-yes.”

“Good. And how’s your hand?”

Louis flexes and unflexes his right. “Okay now.” He tears the bandage off and watches it ride the wind first before disappearing from this view.

The rest of the journey to the next station is silence between the five boys. Dr. Death is playing Under Pressure. Kobra Kid taps his feet to the beat while Jet Star tries to sing along. Party Poison is focused on the road. Meanwhile Louis is thinking about his dream. He doesn’t remember much of it. There was a carousel in there, he thinks.A box of pills to his name.He thinks he also saw Mr. Sandman in there. And a vandalized door. What could he make out with all of those?

“Man, I’m bummed out,” Fun Ghoul says with a sigh. “I haven’t seen people since four days ago.”

“This is the wasteland, you fucking idiot,” Kobra Kid monotones.

“I know, I know. Still, kinda creepy though if you think about it. Won’t you say so? Anyone?”

“We’ll see people at the station, okay? Quit your yapping,” Party Poison says.

Fun Ghoul rolls his eyes and goes to bother Louis. “I like your shirt.”

“What?” he turns his eyes below and reads Donnie Catcher on the blue shirt he’s wearing beneath the hoodie.

“Where’d you get it?”

“Beats me.”

“You’re no fun.”

“Says the man smitten by a shirt. How do we know if Patrick’s still in Gem City?” he asks the other boys.

“Pete’s owl will seek for us should any development take place,” Jet Star answers.

“I hope he’s okay,” Fun Ghoul says. When Louis looks at him in askance he adds immediately. “I mean, I don’t know much about the guy. That’s you. But I guess it sucks to kill or get killed by a Youngblood.”

“He’s not himself,” Louis retorts.

“Yeah, yeah. That’s what I said: I hope he’s okay.”

“Anyway,” Party Poison cuts in, “We will meet up with Pete and Andy in Battery City once we pick Patrick up. From there, we’ll figure something out. Like maybe how to overthrow the enemy. I think it’s time.”

Fun Ghoul nods in agreement. “So, kid, you better hold on to that. Your hero will need it.”

Louis clutches tight the plastic bag containing his friend’s left hand.

4

Stealing is a crime. Stealing batteries is blasphemy, punishable by torture described only by eyewitnesses as something worse than death. Louis thinks they aren’t out of luck yet. For one, no one seems to recognize the outlaws with him. Wanted by the government, the reward for each of their heads skyrockets to almost a million carbons – one shall live in paradise if he captures at least one of them. But as said, no one bats an eye at them in this reloading station. Kobra Kid is catching some sleep in the passenger seat of the car; he is utterly defenseless. Jet Star is chatting with folks that live in trailers beside the station. Fun Ghoul is bargaining with the tradesman in the post for provisions, effectively leaving Party Poison tofurtively hack the battery machine for energy – that’s for two.

He had thought going to a station means seeing civilization but this here is still a badland. The station is surrounded by trailer houses and car wrecks. The people seem unforgiving and not at all trustworthy – almost creepy. Definitely not the place to stay the night in.Earlier he saw a young man wrestling with an alligator inside a cage while another watches him with maniac joy. Louis wants to be out of here.

His three adult friends come back at the same time. Looking up towards the post, Louis notices with a frown the tradesman closes his place down with so much haste. Fun Ghoul makes a comment similar to Louis’ about the spookiness of the place. Party Poison wakes Kobra Kid up to take over his position in the driver’s seat. But Jet Star says, “I think we should spend the night here. A couple offers us their place.”

“No way, Jose,” says Party Poison immediately. “Running out of time, we are.”

“Listen. We got about ten minutes before sun goes down. People here talk about the Scarecrow.”

“Bullshit.” “Bull.” “The what?”

“Mystical creature that roams at night killing anyone at sight,” Fun Ghoul explains to Louis.

“He’s not a mystical creature. He’s a plain psycho. He’s still just a mortal,” Party Poison argues.

“That still kills people,” Fun Ghoul re-butts. “Anyway, it could be a ploy to hand us to the government. I don’t believe this Scarecrow shit one bit. It’s perplexing that we only hear of Scarecrow now, when it’s most convenient to these pigs to trap us.”

Kobra Kid supplies, “Come to think of it. Last we heard of Scarecrow is he is hanging out in the wastelands.”

“Well, what are we afraid at him for?” Louis asks. “We’ve got guns. And we got a car.”

“Ask him,” Party Poison motions to Jet Star with mischief.

Said man seems to be losing it. “Because, kid, and the rest of you because you seem to not take this seriously – it’s not funny, Ghoul. Shut up – the Scarecrow is with the Cult Campers. He’s killed 12 people here the past three weeks, the couple said. There! Happy?”

With a laugh, Party Poison adds, “He likes to drink the blood of his victims. He hangs them upside down, slits their neck, and watches the blood drip to a bucket he places below. That’s what we’ve heard.” Louis looks at him in horror and he laughs again.

“He was just a normal kid before the Cult took him and messed him up – kinda like what they’ve done to Patrick,” Kobra Kid puts in.

“Yes. And you know what kind of monster Patrick has become.” Jet Star spares Louis a little apologetic glance. “Now can we please just stop here? We’ll be safer inside.”

Fun Ghoul groans in frustration. Fortunately though, Party Poison has assented. “Well, better safe than sorry. And if these people think they’ll hand us to the government, well, that’s why we got our guns.”

They lock the car and make their way to the trailer house nearest to them where a couple waits for them in the steps. Both the man and the woman look so tired. Black bags under their eyes and a trying smile give them a look of death. Three minutes before sunlight dies. They exchange quick pleasantries with the couple by the doorway and when Louis steps in through the door, he…

5

Evening, July --??

He ends up drowning in a sea of sweaty, dancing bodies. Lights are dim and roguish and a DJ is playing a beat. What the fuck. What is he doing here? Where are the Killjoys? That wretched couple! They’ve trapped them! They’re going to hand them to the government!

A pair of arms snake around Louis’ waist. With a start, Louis starts to turn around but the tight grip keeps him there. The man behind him continues to sway his hips to the music, taking Louis with him. Louis feels the outline of the man’s erection pressed against his ass.

“Louis,” he slurs in his ear.

“H-Harry?!”

Harry sniggers. “Why so surprised?Missed me? Anywho, d’you want to come over at my house?”They handed me to the Ringleader!

“Get off!” he pushes Harry away. He tries to push aside the throng of kids dancing around them butthey don’t let him. They pretend they don’t notice him but Louis knows. Louis knows they are all onto him. He is eventually shoved back to Harry’s spacewithout even making an advance. He looks at Harry with utmost contempt. “Where are my friends? Where are we?”

Harry seems shocked by his actions before he glares back at him. “Are you just playing with me? Do you think this is funny? One minute you’re seducing me and the next you act like I’m the last person you want to be around. Look here. I’m fine with just being your rebound but, by God, you can’t even do that properly!”

“M-my what?”

Harry shakes his head at him and gives him a condescending look. “Don’t even try to deny that that’s what I am to you.”

“B-but… rebound? Niall and I didn’t break up… did we?”

It seems to be the final straw for Harry for he scoffs then walks away. The crowd departs for him. Louis follows him but he is lost in the dancing throng. No slightest sign of Harry, he opts to trudge mightily his way where he thinks the door is. This is Aoki’s. I remember this is Aoki’s. But am I not supposed to be working here?

He reaches the door, turns the knob and he’s standing on a sidewalk across from Niall’s apartment building. Lights are on in his flat on the fourth floor and Louis can see the silhouette of his boy by his bedroom window and another larger man. Though veiled by a crimson curtain Louis remembers buying with him before he moves in this building. The two occupants of the room are kissing now and Louis’ heart seems to have stopped beating.

When? Why did this happen? But Niall loves him. He said he always felt this way towards him from the intimacies of their boyhood and he will feel it until the end of time. On the day Niall confessed when they were both just fourteen-year-olds behind their school gym, that’s what Niall said. And he needs Niall so bad he won’t be able to breathe when he’s gone. So why did this happen?

He stares stupidly at his trembling hands. “I lapsed again, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

He spins around and finds Harry sitting behind him on a waiting shed. He’s still on his clothes he was in at the club, which means I haven’t lapse today for too long.

“Harry…”

The man has a thoughtful look on his face. He groans. “Jesus Christ. I thought when you told me sometimes you forget things, you are just messing up with me. This is the first time I see someone do that. So I’m sorry, I guess, for not believing you?”

“Harry.” He sits beside him. “When did this happen?” He motions towards Niall’s floor.

“Four days ago.”

“And why?”

“I’ll turf myself out if I should think for a jiffy that I’m in the right place to tell you. Maybe you can ask him. You said he knows your condition. I know it will be awkward but—”

“Do you think I can ask him after witnessing him fuck another boy?!”

Harry runs a hand through his curly hair, sighing. “Yeah… that’s the reason you broke up. You t-told me he is replacing you with your other childhood best friend.”

Louis glances at the crimson-curtained window. “So that’s Liam.” Liam Payne, his sworn brother. Why is the world full of traitors?

Another sigh from Harry gets Louis’ attention. The older man pulls out a box from his over-the-top overcoat. “For surviving your weekwith us. I’d give this to you earlier but...”

Louis accepts the gift but does not open it, only regards it with a queasy smile.

“How do you feel?” Harry asks with a smile, showing his dimples. Louis finds it attractive. “A-aside from this Niall business, of course.”

“Confused.”

“Wh— Confused?”

“Because you’re the Ringleader of the Cult Campers.You’re government rebels. You’re Mr. Sandman and I have something that you want. You had something that I want. You’ve abducted Patrick. You’ve hurt him. He’s disappeared. And you want to hurt me, too. You will hurt me. So here I am wondering, why don’t you take this opportunity to do it? I am alone. I am unguarded. My only defender, my suicide blonde, left me for one of this World’s puppets. My suicide blonde has become one of the pigs. They’ve done this to make me weaker. You can take me now. So why? Why are you suddenly so nice to me? What do you plan?”

Harry appears dumbfounded. He laughs. “Is this another one of your quirks? I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Mr. Sandman.”

“Oh, what’s the matter with kids these days?Teenagers. You scare the living shit out of me.”

He talks slow. He makes every droning sentence sound like a sweet lullaby. “Harry,” the tiny boy whimpers.

“Louis.” He pulls him under his arm and Louis doesn’t fight. It’s over now. Niall left him. The Killjoys are gone. Patrick disappeared. What’s there to fight for? Let the world eat him.He even nuzzles close, tucks his head under the devil’s chin, tempting the fiend to breathe in the scent of his hair. It’s nice.“Fuck. Louis, you smell so nice.”

“Eat me then.”

Harry chuckles. “You’re really peculiar.” He pulls him impossibly closer until there is no space between them. “Louis, have you ever wanted to – I’d love to.” His voice faded out and faded in. It has gone to few octaves lower, the voice he’s had in their first meeting in the bathroom. The holdin him hardens. Harry drops off the act and reveals his Ringleader self.

“Mr. Sandman.”

“Correct.” Louis can see the smile without even stirring. He also talks faster now. “Do you know what the world thinks of you?”

Louis feels emptier by the second. “The world hates me.”

“Yes. Yes. It hates you. It wants to destroy you. It hates your guts. It will take from you everything you own. And when you think you cannot go any lower with where you are now, it will ardently disprove you… assiduously, every minute. But you know the crazy part is, Mr. Benzedrine?” He pauses, really waiting for Louis’ answer when the latter knows he’d have no idea any. “You should hate the world, too.” Louis lifts his head from the crazy comfort Harry’s shoulder offers and gazes at his sole companion with astonishment. “And I’ll be with you. I hate it. Let’s hate it. Ever since it has been my enemy. The question is, are you willing to be my – Louis.”

Suddenly, his voice fades back to the slow reverberating comfort he’s (always) had. Even the rigid arm around Louis turns a little loose, offers freedom to breathe and shield to this cold, cold night.

Louis blinks at him, clueless as to what just happened.

The contempt his handsome face wore earlier is gone in a flash and is replaced by complete sadness. “Louis… have you ever wanted to disappear?”

It takes a while before he answers. “Quite often.”

He kisses Louis’ temple. “Me too,” he says softly. He begins to alternately brush his hair and rub Louis’ back with one hand while just keeping the shorter boy pressed close to him with the other. It is all nice.

Soon Louis falls asleep in those comforting arms. When he wakes up later, it’s four hours too late.

Chapter Text

For his part, Louis has no idea how this happened. One minute he is dreaming about nestling with Mr. Sandman, the next he is shaken awake by the Killjoys and the loud trappings on the door – he doesn’t know what came in first. And now he is surging through the maze-like trailers in the station, away from the white-clad animal-masked government men that managed to track him and the Killjoys down (one guess and he gets the odd untrustworthy trailer-keepers correctly); separated from his comrades, followed by gunshots and absolutely no idea where to run to.

Eventually he reaches a clearing away from the trailers and danger. Now he stops to catch his breath. The place is ablaze with fire. He doesn’t feel sorry for its residents who he can see are running for safety from the burning inferno. They have done them wrong. They ought to be burned alive, all of them. They should have realized that government will fuck them too even if their intentions are holy, so to speak. The government always leaves no trace of its job. He watches the embers until his hypnosis to the blazing beauty wears off. He, then, starts to look for his friends.

He decides getting to the front of the station where they left their car, assuming it is still there, is a sensible idea and stumbles upon a wounded Jet Star along the way. He was shot in the knee while trying to escape, is his account. Jet Star mutters his ‘Thank God you’re okay’ before enclosing him in a one-armed hug. He leans on Louis for support as they walk.

“Where are the others?” Louis asks with understandable worry.

“Bite me if I know,” is the grunted reply. Louis worries about his companion more. He’s heard of ammos embedded with poison. He wonders if what was shot on Jet Star’s right knee is the thing of the sort. And, blasted idiot. A bullet lodged in the knee? Where can they find someone who can operate their unlucky friend? If Louis is to be asked, it would be better if the leg be left chopped off. He would do it. He should do it and soon. If only his katana is with him. And, oh, that’s another thing. Who dare brings a blade in a gunfight? He should ask Party Poison later (if they all get over this) for a gun. Curse Pete Wentz for thinking it’s a grand idea to pass his weapon onto Louis.

“There they are,” Fun Ghoul greets them when they finally see them by the roadway.

“What happened?” Kobra Kid immediately takes Jet Star from Louis.

“Shot. Right knee,” Jet Star growls now. He looks to be in so much pain. “Fucking pigs did this to me!”

“We should do something to his leg, quick,” Louis says. He sees their vehicle have made it out in one piece from the inferno. Their bags were carelessly thrown in the backseat and Louis’ katana is among them. He eyes his weapon with queer interest. “I think the bullet’s poisoned.”

Jet Star cries. “No. Don’t let him cut it off, Party.”

Fun Ghoul pokes the wounded knee with a stick, eliciting more cries from his friend. Louis believes his companions are sadists like that. “Yep. It’s poisoned, all right,” Fun Ghoul confirms. “See that skin around the hole? It’s melting. It isn’t supposed to be like that.”

Even with his state, the invalid manages to snort. “No shit.”

“Sorry, Jet.”

“Party?” Jet Star begs their red-headed leader.

Kobra Kid slaps the offending hand away to make a tourniquet for Jet Star, quietly cursing Louis for not thinking of doing that earlier.

Party Poison jumps off the hood of their car and walks to them. “Can’t help it, can we? We need you, buddy. This is for the best.” Whether Jet Star hears all of that or not is a mystery; he is plunge in unconsciousness right in Kobra Kid’s arms. Fun Ghoul looks down at the man with an indiscernible expression. “He shouldn’t have trusted them,” he mutters. “We should’ve left this place when we can. I told you there can be no Scarecrow hanging around here.” He examines the wound closer.

“What happened to the rest of you?” Louis asks.

“Making amends,” the leader replies. Party gestures for Louis to see the other side of the car. Louis does so. He sees three gagged, bounded and blindfolded people kneeling on the dirt: the couple that let them in and one government pig.

“What shall we do with them?” Louis asks dryly.

“What do you think is proper?” Party Poison asks. “They planned to hand us over to the government. They’d lied to us. They’d sneak on us on our sleep.”

“They poisoned Jet Star,” Fun Ghoul puts in.

Louis watches their hostages for a minute and takes in their forms: the woman is crying, her husband still and the man in white seems to be unconscious. He hates them. He eyes his katana on the backseat of the car. “We ought to behead them.”

Party Poison reaches for the weapon himself and presents it to Louis. “Do the honors, Benzedrine.”

Louis takes it without hesitation. The blade glistens in the moonlight. He eyes their captives speculatively. “Who should go first?”

The man grows stiffer and his wife wails louder.

“The woman it is,” Louis decides. Party Poison and Fun Ghoul drags the woman in front of Louis. The woman’s gag falls off and she takes that chance to beg for mercy from Louis complete with ridiculous promises. Her husband gets up blindly and attempts to follow her through her voice but Fun Ghoul kicks him back to the dirt.

“Wait for your fucking turn, you fucking pig,” Fun Ghoul spats. “Do it, Benzedrine.”

Louis touches her neck once with the tip of the blade, before executing the punishment with perfect swing of the motion. The cut is clean and the head lands somewhere in the distance. Louis watches the body twitch then fall to the ground. The blood squirting from the neck makes the thing more beautiful, always has.

“Woah.” Fun Ghoul laughs. Party Poison grins at Louis approvingly.

“Who’s next?” he asks with a rush of adrenaline.

Fun Ghoul answers. “Her hubby. Then that scum. Then Jet Star’s leg.”

And thus Louis gave his judgment to the sinners. They left their bodies on the road with no intention of giving them proper burial let alone search for their heads. They drive off quietly in the remaining hours of the night, leaving the people lost as to how and why such fire happened in the first place and lost in count of the large number of government force that keep arriving by the second. They are told they are looking for certain outlaws who may have been the reason to this disaster. They are shown sketches of the outlaws; the poor residents thought those young renegades had left before sunset. As for the tradesman in the post who had the opportunity to converse with Fun Ghoul and who could have been a key witness to all of these, well, he died in that catastrophic night.

“Next stop, Gem City,” Kobra Kid says stolidly as he drives. Fun Ghoul is in pensive mood beside him while Party Poison and Louis cradle Jet Star between them. They had operated the man before they left. Louis cut off the leg and they stopped the bleeding by burning the stump. Jet Star is in delirium. Louis feels guilty for operating on his friend. But then again, what was he supposed to do? He just hopes that the painkillers will hold off until they reach Gem City.

“Party,” Louis whispers.

Party Poison doesn’t answer but he cocks his head to show that he’s listening.

“I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“I don’t know. I just feel like everything is my fault.”

“Nonsense. None of these is your fault, Benzedrine. No one’s fault is this. Not even Jet Star’s, do you understand?”

Louis tries to but he can’t. He nods but he’s not convinced.

“Ben. Benzedrine.” Party reaches for Louis’ chin and makes him turn to him. “Ben.” He smiles despite of the sadness in his eyes. “You’re just a child, yeah? We’ll be okay, you’ll see.”

The ‘child’ clasps Party’s hand and keeps it there. He doesn’t know why but he feels the need for comfort lately. Maybe it is the longing for his strawberry blonde friend. There is a hole in his bitter heart and he doesn’t know what should fill it up. But being close to Party and being with the other Killjoys, knowing Jet Star is safe, gives him contentment. Not much, but it’s there.

The car stops. Louis watches the cause of their delay against the blinding morning rays coming from the horizon.

“Do you think he will move if you blare the horn?” Fun Ghoul asks Kobra Kid jokingly. He is reaching for his gun.

“Why don’t we run him over?” Louis suggests.

The man in billowing black coat starts to move towards them. Louis runs a hand over Jet Star’s figure protectively.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” the stranger says with a small smile.

Louis swears he has seen this raven-haired man before. He doesn’t show this to his comrades, though.

“Good morning,” Party replies to the stranger amiably enough.

“Say, I am traveling for some days now – I’ve lost track of the days, actually? I think I’m lost.”

“Where are you headed to?”

“Capitol Station.”

The outlaws exchange a wary look to one another. It is in their map that the shortest way to Gem City is through Capitol Station. Fun Ghoul censures their leader with a glare to bid him from saying this fact. With the events of last night they don’t know if they could trust this familiar stranger.

“Oh, just follow this direction. Straight ahead you’ll be in Capitol Station in three days,” Fun Ghoul says.

The stranger’s face shows a little disappointment. He is expecting to be invited to this ride.

“What happened to him?” he asks of Jet Star.

“Not to be rude but the fuck do you care?” Kobra Kid elbows Fun Ghoul at this rude sentiment.

“I can clean his wounds properly. I’m a doctor, see. And I have the proper medicine.” He gestures to his rather large and heavy-looking traveling bag.

“Does that entail stopping here with you? Because if it isn’t obvious, we’re actually running from someone,” Louis confesses.

The raven-haired man smiles. “Oh, you are? Well, to answer your question, I believe if I am to do a good job to help your friend, we really must stop. But I’ve got a good hiding place. If you must, after this, I just really need to get to Capitol Station by tomorrow night. Don’t worry; I’m harmless until nighttime.”

“What the fuck was that supposed to mean?” Fun Ghoul snaps.

He ignores him and turns to Party Poison instead, having decided based on how the red-haired man subtle reactions, that he is the leader of this little group.

“Please. I can help. You’re friend might not survive the day if you won’t let me at least clean this man’s wound. It seems you’ve done a poor job—”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Party, don’t you dare,” Fun Ghoul warns. “The last time you relented to some preposterous deal, we were almost handed to the government.”

“We’ve got a medical emergency.”

“Who the fuck suggested to use flame to close Jet’s wound?”

“Please, enough, the two of you.”

“Jet’s leg is in the trunk.”

“The one I have to meet in Capitol Station, well, let’s just say that he is not a fan of our government – I am not one myself – so it’s safe to say that I’m not going to surrender you to them,” the stranger tries again.

“Where is this place you’ll be trapping us in?” Fun Ghoul asks sarcastically.

“It’s a shelter for lost travelers. It’s over there,” he points to the east.

“And if the government party comes driving by?” Party Poison inquires.

“I’ve got some spare clothes you can disguise yourself in. Someone can be on the lookout while I operate and he can portend us if someone comes…We’ll hide your car, too.”

“How long is the operation?”

“It won’t take long. But your friend needs at least a day to rest.”

“I think…”

“Fuck you, Party! Whatever, Benzedrine is coming with me.”

“Where the fuck are we going? We’ll be safer if we stick together.”

“My ass.”

“We’re going with him, Fun Ghoul.”

“You’re a complete idiot, Party Poison.”

“Don’t you want Jet Star to get well?”

No comeback.

Louis opens his side of the car to the stranger. “Come in. What do we call you though?”

“Zayn.”

2

“Louis.”

Louis looks up. He feigns a smile. “Steve…”

The Man says, “It’s five now. Time to check out. You can go home now. Come on, you need to rest. You look tired…”

Louis laughs softly, that was fake, too. “Yeah. I’ve been getting that a lot lately.” He returns the mop to the cabinet. He can feel The Man’s eyes on him.

“Well, you can sleep in my office if you think you can’t make it home. I’m about to head out myself and I won’t be back until this evening.”

“Nah. Courtney might see me. I don’t think she likes me that much.”

“Don’t you mind her. She acts like that all the time. She likes you,” is the soft reply. The Man looks insistent but all Louis wants to do is go home and continue his comics. So with a sigh, he turns down the offer once again and gets out of the place. He sees Harry with his girlfriend in front of the now-deserted club. They are busy making out by Harry’s car that they don’t notice Louis walk by. Harry introduced Taylor Swift to Louis two nights prior. She’s pretty and tall and blond and bland and a bitch and one of this world’s pigs. Louis doesn’t like her – that’s not news. Louis doesn’t like the fact that Harry went away to find a girlfriend when Louis’ right here. He genuinely hoped that Harry might at least consider him as a friend. After that night – when was it? He can’t remember – the night when they had cuddled in front of Niall’s apartment, he hoped he’d found a friend. Without so much a word, though, Louis witnessed them have a ‘meet cute’ in the ladies’ bathroom. He watched her come every night to the club. He watched them fling. He witnessed himself being ignored. But him being not good enough is not news either. Ask Lottie and Niall for that. So much for getting a “rebound.”

He hates going to work now. Before he’s had Harry’s company. He was convinced before that Harry and Mr. Sandman are different entities, that Mr. Sandman possesses the seraphim’s body every so often. Now everything is spoiled. Mr. Sandman and Harry are the same and he is no seraphim and he is only to mess with Louis’ head. They were that close in getting Louis’ trust. Why, Louis almost proposed to the Killjoys to have an alliance with the Ringleader. He wants to kill himself sometimes for being so naïve.

Taylor notices Louis when he’s passed by. She tells this to Harry and they laugh before getting inside the thane’s car. Louis hates them. Is that news? Ask all the people who are giving him judgmental looks right now as he walks dejectedly home.

3

He rings The Man that night and excuses himself from work, says he’s got a massive headache. Truth is he is in another bar, watching Niall perform from the back. It was Zayn that texted him about this little event. Louis knows he shouldn’t have come but he misses his boy. He misses his suicide blonde. It doesn’t mean that he wants them back together, though. Once a trust is broken, it will never come to again.

Niall doesn’t know he’s here, it appears. So much the better. Louis doesn’t want him to know he is longing for him. He’s heard from Zayn that Niall turned down Liam after all. Louis doesn’t dare hope or think too much of it. Damage has been done; he has witnessed Niall and Liam cheat on him. He hopes Niall is breaking and aching for him, hurt just as much as he had hurt him. But looking at him now, Louis is annoyed to see that Niall is happier, more energetic than before when they were still together.

Was I really that heavy of a burden? He drinks from his liquor glass.

Louis studies the young men onstage with newfound contempt. Niall and his band are singing about long-lost loves and miserable lives. Where have they got the right? He scrutinizes them from their seats. He knows all of them: Niall fucking Horan, Josh fucking Devine, Calum fucking Hood, Michael fucking Clifford. Rich boys, still in Uni, with wide array of talent and promising futures; perfect boys with perfect lives, really. And they are singing about tragedies? What a laugh. They deserve to die.

The men sitting beside Louis start to irritate him as well, with their talks about the latest in politics and the start of a potential killing spree in this town and a short list of missing persons. They are loud and they are getting under Louis’ skin. He can’t take their noise anymore and the stares from the bartender and the people around him. Even the politic-enthusiast-men beside him shift their conversation to a ‘despicable nervous wreck’ in the room. They just won’t leave him alone.

He hops off the bar with a desire to go home but before that he decided to make a quick trip to the toilet. And who should he meet there after his business if not anyone other than Niall?

Niall looks at him in utter surprise. Louis looks at him with tired eyes.

“Louis.” He smiles and tries to reach for the blue-eyed boy but he checks himself in the last second. “I… I didn’t know you’ll be here. How did you..?”

“Zayn told me.” He stoops a little, avoiding Niall’s intense gaze.

“Oh. They – Zayn and the others – they aren’t here. They said they have better things to do than watch my ‘sorry excuse of band’.” He laughs self-consciously.

“You know Zayn is an idiot. You were great up there, you know.”

“Thanks.” There comes the smile that Louis knows so well and loves.

“Aren’t you going to return..?”

“No. Our set’s done. There’s another band but… me and lads are going to… do you want to have a drink with me?” he blurts out. “Sorry. I just missed you so.”

“It’s fine, Niall. I’m fine. You look well.”

“You… you look exhausted.”

“I know. I’ve been getting that lately. I look so exhausted you could knock me out with a feather,” he laughs but it is without humor. “It is nice to see you, Niall. But I have to go now.”

“Is Lottie taking care of you?” Niall asks before Louis has a chance to exit. “Are you taking care of yourself?”

Louis shrugs. “I try to.”

“Louis.” He grabs a hold of Louis’ arms. “Louis. You don’t look good. Let me take care of you.”

“Like how you took good care of Liam?” he deadpans. “Did he say thank you afterwards?”

Niall withdraws his hand as if scalded. “You’re being unfair,” the blonde whimpers.

“Fuck off,” is the unimpressed reply. “It doesn’t matter if you’re not seeing Liam now. What matters is what you’ve done. And you… you broke me. Do you know that? I will never believe you, never again.” A gentle but desperate tug at his hand stops him again. “Honestly, Suicide Blonde, I’m fine. I need to go home now.”

“W-what did you call me?”

“Suicide Blonde. You were my Suicide Blonde.” He kisses Niall’s cheek softly. When he steps back, Niall looks so troubled and grief-stricken. “Niall…”

“What’s happening? Please, come with me. You need help. ”

Louis pulls away. “I don’t need any help. Don’t need any… I’m all right,” he says sadly. “I’ll be fine on my own.”

“Louis, don’t—”

He walks away before he can hear the end of whatever Niall is about to say.

4

Louis finds Lottie waiting for him in the den when he comes home. There’s two cups of cold tea on the table; probably she’s been waiting for him all night long. Quietly, Louis joins her company on the couch. Lottie says nothing and Louis is just contented to watch the fire in the hearth whilst sipping the offered tea. Moments like this Louis tolerate his sister’s proximity.

“Hey,” the profaned sister begins with an effort of a smile. “You… you saw Niall tonight?”

The older brother nods. He doesn’t ask how Lottie knew about that; he knows the two have been keeping in touch even after their breakup in their unanimous ‘concern’ for Louis’ health.

“And? What happened?”

“I told him to fuck off.”

“Is that what you really want to say to him?” Lottie asks after a brief pause.

Louis thinks. “No. I should’ve told him to fuck his mom.”

His sister winces. “Louis, that’s not…fair. He’s sorry for what he’s done.”

Probably Niall told her that, too, for Louis doesn’t even remember Niall’s apology. He doesn’t bother. “Why do you think he slept with Liam, Lotz? What’s the matter with me?”

“Nothing. He just made a stupid mistake. Liam only went to him in his moment of weakness. But Niall still loves you, Louis, with all his heart. You’re the one he wants. I know.”

“And why did he have a moment of weakness?”

“Louis, that’s not the point.”

“That’s very much the point. Am I being hard on him? Was I becoming too much for him? You and he both said I need help. If I got that help you swore I need, would Niall have that moment of weakness? What’s wrong with me, Lottie?”

Lottie scoots closer to her brother and touches his arm. “Lou, I can’t say. I don’t know.”

“Do you think I’m sick?” Lottie’s silence is the answer. “Am I sick in the head?”

“Oh, Lou.”

“Sometimes I fancy living out of this world. I see myself traveling a different dimension. I don’t know where I’m going in that world but its fine. I like that place. I hate this world. I’m alone here. All around me, people are judging me. They always get in my head; read my mind and judge what’s in there. They always look down on me, Lottie. And you can’t blame me for my hatred, right? I always try my best but all they do is bring me down. Am I the one that needs help or them? Because no one can live everyday with their stares and criticisms – what have I ever done to them? Why is everyone staring at me, Lottie?”

His sister is crying, though, and that vexes him.

“Hush. I didn’t mean to make you cry. I just want to ask… when and why did you become one of the pigs?”he asks with cruelty and real curiosity.

“No, I’m not one of them!” she protests at his droll accusation. She doesn’t know what Louis means (to be fair, she finds herself not being able to ride on Louis’ infamies these days) but she has got to get Louis’ trust. “I don’t want to judge you! We love you. Me and Fizzy and Phoebe and oh… Niall, too! We’re with you, Lou. If only you can see that. And no, you’re not sick in the head. You only need to communicate with us. We are your family.”

“Communicate…” Louis repeats.

“Yes. And trust us. We won’t drag you down, okay? We’ll make it, together.”

He kisses the top of her head to show his gratitude. “Poor Charlotte. You have to toughen up because of me. What would I do without you?” He embraces her.

She shakes her head beneath his arms. “We’re a family,” she states firmly. “We and… and Niall. Please don’t exclude him from the picture, Louis. It’s Liam’s fault.”

“I’ll think about it. I miss Niall, too,” he admits shyly.

“He’s waiting. I really want Niall for you, Lou. He understands. I don’t trust Harry.”

Louis frowns. When did Lottie meet Harry? He could have sworn they had never. He steps back and considers if the pigs are luring him into a trap again. But Lottie is changing the subject.

“Next year Fizzy is going to enter college.”

In spite of himself, Louis’ heart becomes warm. He will always love his sisters no matter how much they are hurting him. “I’m sorry you didn’t get a chance to go to college yourself, Lotz. I’m sorry for the way I act these days. I’m sorry for everything.”

“It’s fine, Louis. I don’t really have a plan to attend a university, even back when Mama and Papa are still here. You know I hate academics. But forget it. It’s not about me. It’s about Fizzy. She will need all the help she can get and we will be there for her… won’t we?”

“Of course. You and I.” He sighs. “We will pull this through. If Mama and Papa are watching over us right now from heaven, they will be proud of us. Especially of you.” He smiles brightly.

Little did Louis know that that sweet statement, which is the sanest thing that he uttered so far, saved him from the mental institution that Lottie was planning to call that night.

Little did Lottie know that that ‘sane’ statement is devoid of any feelings, for Louis figured out a little while ago that to save himself from being eaten, he needs to play along to these pig’s theatrics, be them his sisters or not.

He doesn’t ask anymore how Lottie knew of Harry or what the reason is for Niall’s moment of weakness. They resign to their respective bedrooms, both feeling good of themselves. Lottie, for the hope that everything will start to fall to their right places. Louis, for the good acting he put up.

That is not Lottie, he decides. That is a pig dressing up as her. The real Lottie, my peroxide princess, has been kidnapped and I know where they took her. In the ruins of Rome. I need to return to the Killjoys now.

He closes the door to his room with a new sense of urgency. The hole in his wall is getting bigger now and he still has no idea what’s in there but for now he doesn’t analyze it. There are more important things to do. He pulls his chair to his drawing table, more than ready to continue the Killjoy’s adventures. But he stops when he kicks something under his desk. He touches the unknown object with his foot – no, there are two objects. Two as big as a basketball, it seems. His foot slips on something thick and wet. Slowly, he looks under his desk. He can’t see the circular objects clearly. Annoyed, he reaches for both and he nearly screamed when he touches a nose. And he couldn’t mistake the smell of blood that hit his nose. There is hair growing on the offending spheres; he yanks them both and just as soon he drops them with a stifled scream. The heads of the immemorable betraying couple in the trailer station; this is where their heads landed.

Oh God.

He kicks them back under his desk, unable to take the faces registered on the mutilated heads. He wiped his palms on his shirt, feeling dirty.

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God – wait.

We decapitated three bodies. The man in white! Where is his head?

He looks around the room in panic. His eyes land on his closet and just like that he knows. Feeling a little scared, he very carefully approaches his closet then pulls it open. Down came tumbling not just the rogue head but the bodies of the three unfortunate people. Last came his katana – Pete’s katana – still bloody fresh. They all lay around Louis who is now grimed in blood. He can’t even utter a weak scream.

“Louis?” a voice inquires outside his room. Lottie. “What’s that? I heard something fall.”

He immediately crosses to his door. “It’s nothing! I’m fine,” he croaks.

“Are you sure? What was that?” She attempts to open the door but he locks it. “Lou?” She knocks instead.

“I said I’m fine, Lottie.” He is nearing the end of his patience now but he manages a measured reply. “Please, Lottie. I want to rest. I have a work tomorrow, remember?” You have to go before I open this door and use the blade on your god-forsaken neck.

He hears the retreat of steps. “Oh. Okay. Good night, Louis.”

“Good night.”

Back to the problem. He looks at them with hate. Even in death they manage to get him into trouble. He examines the bodies. He examines their sizes. Then he looks for suitcases in his closet. He hopes to find three. He has to dispose of them tonight. He has to prove to Party Poison that he is a reliable member of the Killjoys. He has to avenge Jet Star somehow. But there are three of the bodies. He can’t carry all of these, can he?

Suddenly, the woman opens her mouth. “Call… Mr… Sandman… He… will…know… what… to… do…”

He smiles at her. That was a good suggestion but he can’t bare to see Mr. Sandman right now, not when he does not look to Louis in the way he wants to and is heels over head in love with Taylor Swift. “Thanks. But no thanks. I still hate you, by the way. I hope you rot in hell.” He spits on the head before stuffing it with its body in a black and blue suitcase.

He moves around the sleeping house with precision, looking for more suitcases in the basement; rags and mop in the kitchen; cleaning his room, the garage. He disposes all the utensils he used along with his shirt in a garbage bag. After all of that, he decides that the swamp behind the hospital would be a great place to throw all these.

A car. Where can he find a car? He can call a taxi of course. He can use the payphone in front of the 24-hour convenience store across the block. He will just haul of all these bags there one by one. It will be tiring but who cares. One by one, he carries the suitcases in front of the house. A homeless guy wearing nothing but a bathrobe offers his help to carry them to the store, no questions asked, in exchange for alms, which Louis accepts gratefully. He gives the poor man food money afterwards; after which Louis is in high spirits to continue and finish the tower of Babylon that he started. He phones a taxi company, and after being instructed to wait for the driver for at least fifteen minutes, he thinks better of the situation. He tells the same homeless one to look over his suitcases while he rushes back to the house to get a fourth suitcase and the katana concealed in a guitar case.

Chapter Text

Evening, August --- ??

When they were kids, Louis never dreamed to be a comic writer. He never dreamed a lot of things, actually. He, Niall, Liam and Zayn only wanted to be what they saw on movies Greg Horan let them watch in the Horan’s basement. They watched Police Academy, they wanted to be police officers. They watched Ocean’s Eleven, they wanted to become thieves. They watched Saving Private Ryan, they wanted to be soldiers. Primal Fear, defense attorneys. Samurais in Seven Samurais. Mob bosses in The Godfather. In Forrest Gump, they dreamed to be raging intelligent lucky retards. They laughed their asses off during A Clockwork Orange (Greg was grounded for letting these kids get their hands on that movie and they couldn’t understand why until Zayn proposed to re-enact the Singin’ In The Rain scene in school and the principal called in their parents). They dreamed to conquer the Great Wall of China in every Jet Li and Jackie Chan flick. They slept through 2001:A Space Odyssey. They dug through Louis’ backyard to find artifacts and called themselves Indiana Jones. They learned to sew just to be Jedis or wizards or hobbits. Their childhood life is a movie, so to speak. How they came from raving kids with wild imaginations to dull and depressed adults Louis could never answer. It’s not like Louis wants to go back to the past and be the Hermione again just because they need a girl in Harry Potter. It is this malady that has gotten the best of us, when the going gets tough, that we wish to be back to the old days that it was okay to coward, irresponsible and no one batted an eye. It is the closest thing to an emotion Louis feels these days. For most of the time he feels empty and he knows that that is not normal so he wills to thinks of the past. Next to obsession to continue his adventure with the Killjoys, it is better than nothing.

That’s why he finds himself in the Tomlinson’s own basement, looking among the old VHR and DVD that had tickled child-Louis’ fancy.

“Is it really this important?” Fun Ghoul asks him. The shorter man is undoubtedly unimpressed by this turn of events but proceeds to help search through the movie library nonetheless. “We have to go back, you know. I can hear Jet Star bitching from here.”

Louis just smiles. What should he watch first: Unbreakable or The Departed?

“How about this?” Kobra Kid shows him the case of American Pie. Louis laughs.

“That’s Lottie’s.”

“That’s for girls,” Fun Ghoul snaps at the quiet man.

“Louis, are you here?” Fizzy’s head pops up at the head of the stairs. “What are you doing? Dinner’s waiting.”

The older brother waves the DVD cases in the air. “I need to burn some calories tonight, Fizz. I’ll pass.”

“Again? You didn’t eat dinner last night, too.”

“I’ll have some noodles later tonight.”

“If you say so…” she’s about to leave her brother alone again when she remembers. “Oh, someone called you earlier tonight. Asking when you’ll return to work.”

“What work?”

“At Aoki’s.”

“Oh… If Steve calls again later, tell him my stomach got upset ‘cause of his Caesar’s agaric soup. I’ll check in tomorrow if—”

“It’s not Steve, it’s Harry.” And she looks at him as if he is being silly which makes Louis perplexed. How is it that it seems all of his sisters know Harry? When did this happen? How did that bastard snake his way to his family?

“What more did he say?”

“He said he misses you.” She makes a face. “Seriously, Louis. He’s 25. You couldn’t get any other younger guy to date?”

“He’s got a girlfriend, Fizzy. Make no fuss about it.”

“Alright,” she sing-songs. “He’s handsome, though. When are you going to invite him for coffee again?”

“I did what?”

She leaves him to wonder about her last statement. In her mind, her dear older weird brother is just being forgetful again. If there’s one thing Louis wants to thank Lottie for, it is that she keeps all these worrisome matters – especially Louis’ health – to the rest of their siblings.

Fun Ghoul has the same confused expression on his face as Louis’. “Did I hear that right? You invited the Ringleader for coffee. Here? In our territory?”

“What—I don’t –”

“You’ve been patronizing with the enemy!”

“Listen, idiot! I don’t remember doing any of that!”

“The Ringleader seems to have fallen to your sister’s liking,” Kobra Kid observes.

“Not Lottie. She doesn’t trust him,” Louis says.

“And you?” Fun Ghoul questions. “What is he to you? Should this be a cause for worry, Benzedrine? Should I report this Party?”

Louis sighs. His mind replays Harry and Taylor’s meeting and flirting and fucking. “No,” answers he to his trigger-happy comrade. He takes the plastic bag with the chosen DVDs. “Let’s get this upstairs.”

2

Date unknown, must’ve been the morning after

Danielle Peazer is a bitch, a typical lah-di-dah with basic personality and hard judgments waiting to be out inside her mouth… and she is crying. They are sitting outside Saki’s. She was shopping inside and Louis was her bagger and he asked for a ten-minute break when he noticed how unusually sad she was.

“Problems at school?” he asks lamely.

Despite herself, Danielle manages a laugh. “No. You know that that’s not it.”

Of course he knows. He is as sure as to the fact that the Atlantic is the 2nd largest ocean in the world. Danielle and Liam have been together ever since senior year in high school. And if that teeny-weenie fact right there is not enough to upset the strongest of hearts, nothing could.

“How do you do it, Lou? How do you sleep at night knowing they slept together – not once but twice?” She takes a good look at his worn state. “Or don’t you sleep? Oh, Louis. How could they do this to us?”

He says nothing. He’s never been the one to comfort crying messes like this one, never having any idea how. He stares at the car park in front of them and the soft rain that pattered against the roofs of the vehicles. Suddenly, Danielle is clinging to his arm, resting her head on his shoulder. Louis is suddenly uncomfortable. “Hush,” he says in feign sympathy and pats her hand consolingly when he wants to slap it away. How dare she touch him when she was nothing but mean to him before?

“I loved him,” she wheezes.

Louis wishes his ten-minute break is over so he can excuse himself.

Danielle looks up to him with such pleading eyes that Louis can’t help but feel pity for this creature, if only for a split-second. “Yes,” he whispers, realizing she is waiting for something to support her statement. “I loved Niall, too.”

“They betrayed us, Louis,” she says with seething anger. “We should get revenge.”

Again, he doesn’t answer.

“He asked Niall out!” Danielle adds hysterically. “After he dumped me, he asked him out! And I know Niall turned him down but… and I know it’s what Liam deserves but it’s not enough. We should have a payback. What do we have to do, Louis?”

“… I don’t think much about it now. I’ve got lots of more important – and more fun – things to spend my time with. Being with that pig is fun but… I’ve come to my senses.” He gently pushes her away. “Last night I had a vision. Listen. The one that slept with Liam, that wasn’t the real Niall. No. My Suicide Blonde is waiting for me in the ruins of Rome, with my Peroxide Princess. And it makes more sense because they are always together to keep me happy. They love me. I’m going to find them. I’d ask you to come but I don’t like you. I mean, I don’t even know why I’m telling you these.” He laughs with uncertainty.

The look she gives is full of venomous rage. The tears are gone and what is left is incredulity. “What are you talking about?”

Louis gives him a cold look. “That’s what I thought. You wouldn’t understand. You belong in here.” His ten minutes are up. His boss calls for him by the doorway, but Danielle has already gotten Louis’ attention.

“Ask her if she stays in her dormitory,” Kobra Kid whispers to his ear.

“Dan, will you sleep in your dorm tonight?” Louis asks an incredulous Danielle.

She braces herself for leaving. “Not any of your business.” She starts to walk out in the rain. Louis catches up with her.

“Ask her if she stays alone in the dormitory,” Fun Ghoul whispers.

“Are you alone for tonight, Danielle?”

“Leave me alone, Louis, or I swear to God…”

“Ask her if Mr. Moth ever told her anything about your childhood.” Kobra Kid makes him ask again.

“Did Liam ever tell you we liked seeing movies during our childhood days?”

“I said fuck off!” Danielle screams to his face. “Fuck off! You’re crazy… I-I’ll tell Niall about this. No wonder he left you.” She leaves him in a run.

“Good luck with your revenge!” Louis calls after her, then he mutters low, “Bitch.”

3

Off to Aoki’s that same day, Louis found himself with some kind of new energy. It is the coming with a decision, he thinks, to leave this dreadful city… and saying it aloud. Saying it to an enemy. God, what will they do? Go full on Philip of Spain on me? Could be, but I’m not scared anymore. He can’t wait to be out of here. He hasn’t felt this kind of excitement for so long.

“Had a good day, Louis?” Harry asks as he takes the seat beside him on the concrete outside the club.

He doesn’t look up to the newcomer but he nods to the question.

“Good. I hate to see you upset almost every day.” Harry takes out his cigarette from his coat and for a while there is an agreeable silence between them, muffled only by a David Guetta track playing in the background.

“Did you talk to your ex?” Harry asks and Louis scrunches his nose.

“I can’t get a hold of him… It’s better this way, anyway.”

“Oh. I could’ve thought he’d convinced you to come back to his arms.” The older man chuckles.

“No… what about you and Taylor?”

“What about us?”

Louis just shrugs.

“You know… making out here and there, fucking, staying for the night, watching romantic comedies in Netflix… fucking again, shopping with her, meeting her friends, you know. The same boring stuff… I’m bored – she’s boring me.”

“If you’re bored then why don’t you break up with her? You know you’ll only hurt her more if you keep up like this. The girl doesn’t deserve that just because you’re ‘bored’.”

Harry laughs again. “Why. I had no idea you’re this proper gentleman, Louis.”

“Fuck off.”

“Wait. Didn’t you say before you hate this Danielle-whoever-she-is? And sometimes your sisters too.”

Louis is silent for a moment. “There are always exceptions to the rule, Harry.” At that response Harry howls. Louis smiles a little, hearing him laugh.

“Shut up. I love my sisters, asshole.” My real sisters who are not here right now.

“Yeah, yeah. Of course. I get you. My sister is really irritating sometimes but God knows how I will gladly start another Seven Years’ War on anyone who messes up with Gemma. Hey, you should meet her. I think you’ll like each other.”

“Yeah? Like how my sisters like you immediately over just one coffee?” Louis aimed to tease. He still doesn’t know how and when and why Harry came over for coffee and how and why Fizzy likes him and Lottie doesn’t – he only said that question in an offhand kind of way, hoping to find indirect answers to his questions. But then Harry is frowning.

“I haven’t met your sisters, Louis…right? I haven’t. Not one of them,” he says unsurely. “W-what? Over coffee? What?”

Now Louis is troubled again. “But they said you were there… And Lottie doesn’t trust you but you seemed to have won Fizzy’s heart and…”

They are both puzzled now, staring at each other. Suddenly, the Man is calling to them by the door.

“I am not paying you two just to sit there and look pretty! Start cleaning, asswipes!” they hear him say.

It is Harry who breaks their gaze to each other. He clears his throat. “Okay. This is some honest shit. We should talk about this later. We should. I’m not ready for some Edgar Allan Poe-Stephen King mystery today. Come with me after we check out.”

Louis shakes his head firmly. “I can’t.”

“Why?”

“I have to watch a movie.”

Harry is even more perplexed.

4

Party Poison is not at all happy with Louis, Fun Ghoul and Kobra Kid right now. Like a nagging parent, he gives them a long-winded sermon about how they should stick together, these are the hard times, Jet Star needed moral support, somebody could have been a lookout, and “WHY THE FUCK YOU LEFT JUST TO WATCH A STUPID MOVIE?!”

Fun Ghoul groans. “Come on, nothing happened—”

“And that! Don’t give me that fucking argument, Ghoul! You know how much I hate that fucking argument. You have no idea—”

“I’m starting to have an idea now,” Fun Ghoul quips which makes Party Poison redder with anger.

Jet Star is awake now, looking at them with eyes hazed of medicine. Zayn is by his side, watching them, too with apprehension. For a moment, Louis wonders about his statement earlier in the morning, about meaning harmless but only until nighttime. The sun has set outside; aside from Party Poison’s anger, Louis is becoming wary of their new companion as well.

“Whose idea was it?” Party Poison asks the three wiry males standing in the center of the room. “To watch a movie? Who?”

Both Fun Ghoul and Kobra Kid steal glances from Louis before hanging their heads (and they are really like scorned children at this moment, it’s not even funny). Louis can’t look at their leader but he manages to say, “I-I did. I’m sorry.” He couldn’t bear to see the disappointment in Party’s face.

“What’s your excuse?” he hears their leader ask in a measured tone.

“No excuses… I was just bored.”

“You know you need to be punished, right?”

His head snaps up in shock. The redhead is already pulling out a small knife from a strap of his left boot.

“Party, you don’t need to—”

“Shut it, Ghoul. I need to. Louis needs to remember this so he won’t do it again.” He twirls the knife in his hand and sizes Louis up and down. “Strip.”

The youngest of them blushes. “Um…”

“Out with your shirt, Benzedrine.”

Zayn scuffles from his seat. “I… I think I need to go. I need air or something like that,” he says awkwardly.

Party’s eyes don’t leave Louis. “You’re excused,” he tells Zayn. “Be back soon, though. We’re leaving tonight.”

“I’m waiting, Benzedrine,” Party tells Louis again when Zayn has vacated the shelter.

“W-will it hurt?”

“Of course,” the redhead answers, unblinking.

Slowly, he gets rid of his hoodie and his shirt and still looks away from Party when the process is down. He could see Jet from the corner of his eyes fast asleep, Kobra fallen by his side. Ghoul has walked to the solitary window, possibly watching Zayn outside.

Party approaches him in slow pace. He stops when they are face to face, not a foot between them. He grazes the tip of the knife along Louis’ ribs. “Where do you want it, Ben?”

He couldn’t answer.

The leader decides for him then. Without anymore warning, he makes a five-inch cut that runs from his ribs to his belly. Louis bites his lip down to assuage the hurt. He leans onto Party and grips a handful of his jacket to keep himself from buckling over.

Party steadies him. He is boring his eyes into Louis’ hunched figure intensely. “Did you at least enjoy your movie, Mr. Benzedrine?”

“We had to leave midway,” he grits out, “when we heard you calling for us.”

He traces the injury he made in Louis’ body with a finger. “And the girl?”

“We shouldn’t worry about her from now on,” Louis says against the pleating of Party’s shirt. And despite the tears of shame and pain, he sounds proud.

5

August 8th

It is Zayn who found Danielle’s body that afternoon. He had been checking for her ever since the news broke out in their little group about Liam and Niall’s treachery. Truth be told, he hadn’t like her from the start; he, who also had complicated feelings for Liam before Gigi came along, thought also what Louis thinks of her: a plain, good, old simple bitch and nothing more. But unlike Louis, Zayn knows how to give people a chance and though it took some time before he gets used to the idea that he can’t be with Liam like that, he get the hang of befriending Danielle and even liking her to some degree.

Now he is looking at her body lying face down on her bed.

He had been knocking for a long time in Room 249 in that shitty little co-ed dormitory. He could have left earlier with a thought that maybe Danielle went outside but he was hearing something playing inside her room, like a movie or some shit. He was surprised upon finding out that the door isn’t locked when he tried on the knob. And just like that, Danielle’s lifeless body greets him when he enters that bedspace of a room.

He doesn’t know why but he immediately closes the door when there are few students walking about outside that could also be a witness to this and could lend him a hand. He doesn’t know why he doesn’t call 911. He doesn’t know why he feels the need to assess the situation first before doing something a sane person could have done.

A moment of anguish and hate passes. Her back is all red and jagged from a million of knife wounds. Fuck, he could see redness of meat peeking through from the bathrobe she is wearing. He touches Danielle’s hair once before turning her face up in bed. Oh, he couldn’t bear to look at her face. There are a couple more stabs on her stomach, he didn’t dare to examine any longer. All he can register is that look of pain and panic on her face

The end credits of a movie is playing on the DVD player that Danielle managed to squeezed in into this tight hellhole with an old television (and really, who couldn’t love Danielle for that? She, who believes that desk is only for studying, television is only for watching, and laptop is only for typing). Playing detective, he scans the DVD that is still on the player and finds out that it’s A Clockwork Orange. He doesn’t need to be a detective to realize that his friend does not own a copy of this nor is she a fan of Stanley Kubrick. Whoever killed Danielle, watched the movie after or while doing it. But why flee the crime scene and leave this important evidence? Which means the murderer couldn’t be far behind. And there could be fingerprints in there.

Fingerprints. Fuck. Zayn must have been smudging fingerprints everywhere. He needs to get out of here.

He peeks through the door and panics when more students keep arriving from their weekend trips. They will see him and they will think it’s him that’s done this. He can’t possibly leave now.

Suddenly, a thought came barging through. If he, Zayn, can’t leave with all this crowd of people, what happened to the murderer? What if he’s still there with him in the room? What if the monster that killed Danielle like a pig is watching him at this very moment?

Zayn peeks under the bed. No one.

The small wardrobe. No one.

He collects himself as he approaches the little toilet, grabbing Danielle’s tennis racket as he twitches so. He braces himself and opens the door. No one.

What was in there, wet and clean under the sink, is the knife, the murder weapon.

Zayn retreats to the room and sits with Danielle’s corpse. There is nothing he can do for now. He counts the minutes, the hours passing. He devises a plan to leave in the middle of the night. He thinks of possible suspects: Louis, he hates her. Liam, he broke up with her in bad terms. Niall, not likely but Louis hates her and Niall goes all out to defend Louis’ honor. Nick, impossible. Danielle’s creepy biology professor, more than probable. Just some random weirdo/psycho, yeah must have been. The dude Danielle claimed to be stalking her on Facebook for three days now, maybe that’s a bingo.

A Clockwork Orange. Man, that’s a clue right there. He just watched Sherlock: A Game of Shadows before coming in here, and so he is in detective mode. It’s a habit he formed from childhood, being ridiculously inspired by some shit movie he just watched and springing into action caused by that movie– well, Liam, Louis and Niall were all like that. And A Clockwork Orange

Wait. Did the assailant rape Danielle, too? Did Danielle even give a fight?

He shakes his head. Let’s not go there.

And A Clockwork Orange. It delivers incongruous childhood memories. That one time in the school recital, when the four of them re-enact the Singin’ in the Rain scene and all their classmates were open-mouth and their teachers looked ready to vomit and their parents were totally unimpressed and Greg Horan looks ready to die. It brings a fond smile to Zayn’s face despite his current predicament. They had two mannequins play as the professor and his wife back then. And Liam played Alex Delarge just because he was the most good-looking out of them four and he had the best singing voice.

Did Liam kill Danielle?

Stop suspecting your friends, Zayn! Fuck!

What if somebody comes knocking and frames Zayn of this crime? Zayn doesn’t let his mind wander there.

Gigi must already be in the restaurant where they agreed to meet earlier in the day. In fact, she is texting him now, asking him where he is.

Fuck it. Something needs to be done.

He calls for Liam.