“I went out into the night,
I went out to pick a fight-- with anyone.”
-'Neighbourhood #2: Power Out', Arcade Fire
“Do it now and do it loud!”
It was Fun Ghoul who first found the kid. An accident of timing; the others were only a half-step behind, but he had known that there was a single hydrated can of Caffeinated Beverage right in the back of the long counter inside and damned if anyone except him was going to get to it. Slower men could go fuck themselves.
So he'd come barreling in through the side door, snickering when he heard Party Poison's shouted threats from inside the garage (he was a slow man), and had already vaulted over the counter with his hand on the sacred coffee knock-off when he realized that the flare of dusty white under the table a straight shot from where he was standing hadn’t been there when the crew had left.
He almost pumped off an actual shot too, his brain going directly from 'white' to 'danger' and getting his blaster out of its holster almost before he had conscious thought.
The Drac wasn't moving; he didn't know if it'd just not noticed him somehow or what, but he stalked right over to it and dragged it out from under the booth's table by the scruff of its jacket, blaster ready. He breathed in, ready to hold his air against the blood spatter and shoot to kill.
But it wasn't a Drac. It was a kid.
Ghoul was so surprised that he actually dropped them with a dull thunk. A kid.
Their eyes opened at their head's connection with the diner floor, woozily, and stared up at him like they had no idea what they were looking it. Their eyes were brown, caked with dust around the outside, and deep like they were still two-sixths dreaming. They looked sun-baked almost to the bone. Ghoul could feel the heat radiating off of them the same way it radiated off the ground outside. The kid's skin was dark like Jet's, but the kid’s cheeks and the top of their nose definitely still had a red tint to them, burnt crisp. The skin on their forehead right above the space between their eyebrows had started to peel off in thin layers, revealing slightly paler skin underneath. Freckles covered their face where it wasn't burned. The kid had hair like Jet's too. Lighter colour but all curly-Qs growing all over the place.
There was a great crash from behind him and hurried footsteps, the tell-tale sound of denim sliding briefly over the old-ass plastic of the counter and then a loud curse. "Fuck you and your mother and your mother's pets," Kobra Kid's complained behind Ghoul.
"You should’ve killed me when you had the chance," Ghoul called over his shoulder reflexively. He checked that his Caffeinated Beverage can was tucked securely on the inside of his done-up vest with his extra fuel cells for Fun Ghoul II, and then looked back down at the kid.
Their eyes had slid shut. They were breathing kinda quick, he thought, although he wasn't an expert in the subject. That would be the dude who was still pushing around things in the counter like there would be another can someone had missed somewhere (fat chance) and seething silently in that loud way he had.
"Hey snake brain," Ghoul said. "Need your eyes over here."
"Why--" Kobra actually looked over and then cut off his own dumb question. “What the balls.”
Ghoul raised his eyebrows as high as he could without pulling them off his face. No shit.
Kobra abandoned his caffeine-searching, joining Ghoul in a crouch beside the little one. He didn't say anything except in mostly dumfounded staring. "It's a kid," he said inanely. "Why the hell is there a kid here?"
Ghoul shrugged, re-sticking his blaster in his holster again. Whatever threat this kid might be (he wasn't immediately fooled just because of the cuteness, okay, he was not), they were too out of it now to even get up. "You know as much as I do." He nudged Kobra in the ribs. "You'd know more if you checked them over," he said pointedly. "They don't look too hot, huh?"
Kobra crouched down with a creak in his bony knees and took off his fingerless gloves so he could reach out careful-handed. He pressed carefully on a spot on the kid's neck, then on their forehead and the spot just by their cheek under their ear. "I'd say too hot as a problem," he said. He scrutinized the kid’s sunburn-peeling skin. "Help me pull 'em out the whole way."
The two of them did. After the kid’s boots were clear of the table’s shadow, Ghoul stepped back a little, giving the med man room to do his observing work.
The mystery kid didn't look any better when they could see all of them, splayed out on the floor. “The motorbaby's definitely been walking a long way," Kobra muttered. "These boots are scraggly as shit, look."
The kid's boots were ragged. That wasn't that weird; almost every dusty body had boots that could use replacing. What was weird was the kid's jacket. Pants, too, but less obviously. They were loose and looked like they might have been white, once upon a time, and there were three familiar letters stamped in the seam of one of the pockets. BLI. City stuff, what dead eyes wore to and from their work or school or whatever. But they were also torn up, like the kid hadn't had anything else to wear for a long-ass time; the blankness of the jacket was mixed up by the kid's shirt, too, a Hectic Glow one that someone must've shook out themselves at one of the travelling band shows. The kid had a faded pale purple bandana tied across their mouth and nose. No city face carried those. They had mass-produced circular rebreathers instead, gross boring looking things-- or Drac masks, of course. More to the point, no cityface got out this far without a Drac mask, no matter how old. Let alone a roadgoblin who wasn't old enough to even stand with two feet aground on a bike.
Kobra gingerly pulled the bandana off of the kid's mouth. They were breathing but only barely. The skin of their lips was cracked and dried with blood in some places.
Kobra's own face twisted a little. "Dehydration," he muttered. “On top of the sun sickness. Probably lacerations somewhere on the feet, from all the walking.”
Ghoul frowned. “Well, shit.” He felt worse—worry and sorrow—for accidentally dropping the tyke now that he knew they were all sick like this, but he quashed down the feeling like he’d squash a spring that had popped out of place. Kobra could help the kid, if anyone was gonna. Now wasn’t the time for Ghoul’s feelings.
At that moment, just to make the atmosphere a little more lively and fun, the rest of their crew came trooping in. Jet Star in front, Party Poison behind him. They were uptalking about the show they saw at the Fuck You House they'd just come back from, the same one they'd go back to tomorrow if the weather kept up nice. Ghoul whistled at them and then said, “Hey, sorry to break up the chitchat but we've got an interloper.”
“What?” Poison asked sharply.
Ghoul stepped back and then gestured grandly with his hand. They wouldn't believe him if he said it out loud.
While the two of them walked forward and got their gawk on, both of them saying the obvious out loud, Ghoul crouched back down, opposite Kobra who was still crouching there with one hand on the very upper part of the kid's skinny chest. He kept half a finger-measure or so down from the thin hollow of their neck.
To know if they stopped breathing, Ghoul guessed, and tried to suppress a feeling of horror that welled up at the thought. He was curious, now; he hadn't seen a kid unattended for a long time out here. And this roadgoblin's clothes suggested they had a weird tale to them. Plus, how in the fuck they had ended up here was a yarn in itself. That was always entertaining, especially if you could respin it to someone like Doctor D and have him make the most of it possible. More simply, well shit, they were a kid. They couldn't just send a motorbaby back out to the desert with a cracked mouth and so heat crazy they couldn't stand up anymore. No fucking way.
“I found them,” he said, making the others look up at him. He had his hands hooked through his belt loops and a steady gaze as he looked at the others. “I say we keep them.”
“What? This isn't a fucking...” Poison paused, looking around for words, “They aren’t a goddamn piece of tech or something, you dick. You can't just grab them up and say you found them so they’re yours.”
“Well then, what?” Kobra said steadily. He looked up at Poison over his shoulder from where he was crouched, still keeping track of the youngling's breathing and heartbeat. He didn't say it like a challenge, just a smooth question of fact.
Poison didn’t go unquestioned, but more often than not, he ended up getting last word. Jet and Ghoul looked over at the him too, empty–handed and without speaking.
Well then, what? What other choice did they have?