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Danger Days: True Lives of the Hakogaku Killjoys

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 WRT2 Radio station. 2019. Zone 5. Ten miles outside of Battery City.

 

Every story starts with a question. Different questions for different tales, sure, but it always has to begin with something.

 

“What happened to mommy?”

“When did the world start going to shit?”

“Why are we in the desert?”

“How the fuck did we get here, anyway?”

 

Every story starts with a question, and this story was no damn different.

 

“Who are the Fabulous Killjoys?”

 

Deceptively difficult to answer. The short version-- the half-lie and plastic truth-- was that the Killjoys were legends. Heroes of the broken. Scourge of that hell called “the Desert,” or Saviors of that haven called "the Zones". All depended on who you’re talking to.

 

The long version?

 

True to form, that would take a little longer.

 

“The gang started with Stone-Face and Devil Demon, but back then neither was called either of those things and the world was still painted in Drac-mask grayscale. Then came Sleeping Beauty with a splash of neon, and finally Wild Wolf-- growlin’ and chompin’ at shadows ‘till Stone-Face showed him what’s what. The four of them didn’t start out as much, but you all know how the legend got built, don’t you?”

 

The kids shook their heads.

 

DJ Tea Time leaned back in his chair and passed a smile to Bambi Blondie. They had an hour or two to kill, didn’t they? And a responsibility to educate future generations of Zonerunners and Crash Queens. Blondie smiled from behind his bangs and slipped back to man the turntables while Tea shifted his attention to the motor-baby mugs in front of him.

 

“Settle in, kiddos. I’ll tell you all about it.”

 


 

 

There had been a plan: two hours to gain information and understanding, to help crack down on the simmering population of undesirables congealing in the damp underbelly of Battery City. He didn’t like the idea of the mission, didn’t want to have to dirty his clothes in that villainous world underneath them, but there’d been a plan.

 

Twenty minutes later and Fukutomi can’t even remember why.

 

He wanders for a while, overwhelmed with everything he finds. He’d been to government-sanctioned functions before this, but the movement of this underground club-- this Hyperthrust -- is so much more. He’d been prepped, told that this would be here, that this is what he’d find, but experiencing it is something he was wholly unprepared for.

 

A man clad in dyed leathers and colored denims watches him from the corner; material he has read confiscation reports about but never really seen, and certainly not in the haze of a closed room. Fukutomi matches eyes with him for a few moments before turning back to the mass of people at the center of the club swaying in sync with the music. He doesn’t notice the pair of men in the corner, whispering as they watch him become blinded by color. At some point he finds himself leaning against the bar, staring down at a drink in his hands. He doesn’t remember how it got there, doesn’t know what could be in it, but is struck with the urge to drink it anyway.

 

“Something wrong?”

 

Fukutomi looks up to see someone-- the owner or the leader maybe, he has that sort of bearing-- standing next to him. His eyes are piercing green, bright in the darkness, and he stares for a moment too long. Fukutomi turns back to the drink, lets his eyebrows furrow closer together.

 

He needs to answer. Something that won’t give him away. Ideas filter through (”Your bartender seems to make these differently than I’m used to,”  or   ”Just thinking about how much I hate BL/I,"  or ten, twenty others) but he can’t manage to pick one.

 

“Not used to the color, maybe?”

 

Fukutomi’s eyes jerk up and the man is smiling in a way that makes him feel see-through. It’s like he knows everything: knows that Fukutomi is here for a reason, that he isn’t a nameless Zonerunner, that he’s actually a company man wearing the salvaged rags of some sad soul who couldn’t run fast enough when the Dracs came. Fukutomi is frozen to the spot, eyes wide, and the man chuckles lightly before turning to set his back against the countertop, elbow leaning on the space right next to Fukutomi’s glass.

 

“You can call me Snake Eyes, and we both know you don’t belong here.” He looks back over the rim of his glasses, obviously amused. Fukutomi meets his gaze, sizing up this ‘Snake Eyes’ character, before he realizing how futile all of this really is.

 

“Snake Eyes.” He says, low, almost reluctant.

 

“Snake,” He repeats with a shrug far too casual for the situation, tone shifting to match that look in his eyes, amused and unruffled, “You’ve never seen anything like this, I assume.”

 

“No.”

 

Snake chuckles and Fukutomi feels something in his chest get lighter. At the same time his stomach drops, his mind reels, and he knows that speaking with Snake at all goes against everything he’s been taught since he was old enough to understand the word “don’t”.

 

But there is something intoxicating about this man’s laugh, his presence. If Snake really is the leader of this underground resistance, it’s no wonder he attracted the sheer volume of followers that he did.

 

“Which is why--” Snake continues, attention still on Fukutomi’s face, “You’re overwhelmed with it. Color, lights, sounds- you don’t get much of that up there, with them.”

 

Fukutomi tenses, holding back what had been his immediate answer: "yes".  He jerks his eyes back to the drink, away from Snake, unsure about what it means that he’d been ready to answer that way at all.

 

“I’ve seen you watching this place up top. Studying us. You probably know more about the details of my bar than I do. But you still came down here... Curiosity, maybe?”

 

Fukutomi doesn’t respond; that is apparently answer enough for Snake. He chuckles again, turning back around but closer this time. Fukutomi can feel the warmth of Snake’s bare arm under the bright sleeveless vest he wears.

 

“You know,” He says as though he’s sharing a secret, and despite Fukutomi’s earlier hesitation he turns his head closer, leaning in. “You have a unique perspective. You know what it’s like up there with BL/I, and now you’ve seen the other side too.”

 

Part of Fukutomi understands what Snake is getting at before he even opens his mouth.  “You might not believe me, but despite whatever they’ve told you up there... you do have a choice.”

 

He feels his jaw tighten when Snake stops talking. What he’s suggesting is outrageous, and against more than just training--

 

But it’s true.

 

“Why are you even talking to me?” It doesn’t make sense, try as he might to fit the pieces together. Tactically, why would Snake let a present threat remain in arm’s reach? The Zonerunners are violent: murderers, thugs, thieves. Parasites of the wasteland. Anyone so ruthless would have put a shot in his head the moment he saw a BL/Ind agent set foot outside the door.

 

“If you know who I am, why I am here, you could easily...”  Fukutomi’s eyes flicker down to the blaster in Snake’s belt. The tug of a frown edged with the downturn of pity pulls at the corner of Snake’s full lips.

 

“True. I could.”

 

Ha, there’s the Zonerunner ruthlessness. Fukutomi doesn’t have time to feel vindicated before the fear starts to pour in-- before his adrenaline spikes--

 

Until Snake meets his eyes and everything stops.

 

“But I won’t.”

 

The fear clenches into suspicion, adrenaline cooling into churning uncertainty.

 

“Why not?” Fukutomi asks, unable to pull the question back from thin air after it gusts out.

 

There’s a long silence filled with ambient bar-noise static. Snake considers the question, starting to phrase his words carefully as they piece together into reason.

 

“I… I like to think of myself as having a strong moral code. I will not take a life that has not directly threatened me or my friends, my family,” Fukutomi opens his mouth to respond but Snake holds up a finger, halting him, “You are a potential threat. I do not mistake your intentions for being here; but you yourself have not made the choice to hurt anyone-- yet.

“It is possible you will make that choice. In that case I would not hesitate to kill you. But I also believe that punishing a man for a crime he has not yet committed is also reprehensible. People must be given a chance to act on their better natures. I find that sometimes...” A kind gentleness smoothes the tight lines of Snake’s face and suddenly the idealistic youth that had been tucked away behind hardened maturity peeks out,  “Well, when given the chance to do the right thing, people will surprise you.”

 

They meet eyes for an eternal second and Fukutomi feels a rush the likes of which he doesn’t understand.

 

“There’s going to be a raid. Tonight.”

 

Snake’s smile falters, just for a moment, but Fukutomi doesn’t move.

 

“Tonight?”

 

Fukutomi nods, once, before looking back down to the drink between his hands. “They’re going to take everyone in here under custody, anyone they can catch. You have about thirty minutes before the first Dracs arrive. There will be Scarecrows but only to do the cleanup work. If you hurry, you can get everyone out of here before they come.”

 

This time Snake is quiet, and Fukutomi can feel him sober up next to him. He misses Snake’s easy smile from before, he thinks, but pushes that pang of present-tense nostalgia away.

 

Fukutomi stands up from where he’d been leaning on the bar, “I should go.”

 

“Wait--”

 

A hand at his elbow stops him, and when Fukutomi looks Snake is watching him closely, curiously.

 

“You didn’t have to tell me that.”

 

“No.” The truth.

 

“Why?”

 

Fukutomi looks back to the floor in the middle of the club, hears the music and watches the churning brightness of the colors, savors the sensation for another few moments. This will probably be the last he sees of these things for a long, long time.

 

“This place… isn’t what I thought it would be. You do not deserve what is coming. It’s not right,” He steels himself, “Get your people out of here. Now.”

 

Snake fixes him with an inscrutable gaze but nods, and runs over to the two men behind the bar who start coordinating the evacuation. All the zone runners, motorbabies, crash queens, rev-heads-- they make quick work of high-tailing it out. They’re used to this. Fukutomi is able to direct them away from the direction of the drac patrols and down back alleys that aren’t going to be watched. He learns that the large man and the one with long hair are both men of Snake’s, Grizzly and Creepy Crawley. Good men, from what he could tell. [Rightfully] suspicious of a turncoat BL/I agent. Smart. Loyal. Strong.

 

Less than half an hour later and they are the only people left inside, cleaning out the last of the valuables. Fukutomi is standing near the stairs with Snake, silent, body coiled in anticipation and one hand on his BLI-issued blaster which will be disabled as soon as they figure out he’s turned traitor. The doors rattle and Fukutomi’s eyes go wide.

 

“You need to leave.”

 

The rattling gets louder, and Fukutomi turns back to where Grizzly and Crawley are behind the bar. “ Go !” is all he gets out before the door is kicked in and Dracs pour in. Fukutomi isn’t sure exactly what happens, but Snake manages to pull them both back behind a table to avoid the laser fire. He yells out and two guns are tossed over to them. Snake hands him one-- a show of faith Fukutomi isn’t sure he would have been able to replicate if their situations were reversed.

 

Despite the number of Dracs that swarm in, despite how everything about this screams failure,  Fukutomi feels like there’s a chance, somewhere in here, for this to work; so he fights anyway. And when the Dracs continue inside, he and Snake move out from behind the table.

Fukutomi wonders if the Dracs recognize him and why they keep fighting if they do, he doesn’t let the question hold his focus for too long. Shots fired and glass breaking, tables tossed and movement-- all the wrong types of movement-- at one point, he and Snake end up back to back which is how he feels the moment Snake gets hit and slumps over. Crawley and Grizzly see it as well; they dive in and cover for him when Fukutomi ducks around to hold Snake up and carry him to the back exit. Once they’re all safely out of the bar Crawley turns around, takes something small and dark out of a pocket, and pulls a pin. Fukutomi doesn’t see what happens but a few seconds later the building behind them is in flames.

 

 

They keep running, and running, and running, until they’re all breathless and tucked away in a corner of the sewers where a ramshackle safe house is built into one of the dead-end alleyways. Fukutomi sets Snake down on a table so he can lie out, Grizzly steps outside to contact their medic. Crawley fiddles with a lock on something in the corner.

 

Snake must be strong, because he’s still conscious and looking up at him with a smile, “What will happen to you, then?”

 

“Me?” Fukutomi studies the dark red stain blooming on Snake’s shirt and guilt weighs down his chest. The concern coming from Snake isn’t surprising, but Fukutomi can’t help but wonder why he’d care so much about a man who, until an hour ago, was intent on making sure him and every one of his friends was incarcerated. It was also his fault that Snake took a bullet to the chest. He owes Fukutomi no sympathy.

 

“They’ll punish you if you go back to them.”

 

“I know,” He’s seen what they do to dissenters. Might give him a brainwipe, even. He’s experienced too much color to go back to BL/I black-and-white now. “But I have nowhere else to go, and you have your people to worry about. I will carry my own burdens, and bear whatever punishment BL/I deems fit--”

 

“Don’t.”

 

Snake’s breaths are heavy but he’s determined to say his piece, and he doesn’t give up even with a hole in his side, “Come with us. You’d be a damn good zonerunner. You’re a skilled hand in a fight, and you’ve got more scruples than anyone I’ve ever seen out of the Industry. You’re a good man, and you’re strong. I could use your help.”

 

Fukutomi is silent. He studies the taut lines of Snake’s face, the pain but also the sincerity, the guarded mask but also the open hand. He doesn’t understand how someone could be so kind and generous to his enemy. Sure, it could be a ploy. Maybe Snake was going to turn around and kill him as soon as they got out of here but either of his comrades could have done that ten times by now. They could have left him to the Dracs, or--

 

“Oi, Stone-Face,” Grizzly lumbers back into the room and it takes Fukutomi a second to realize that Grizzly is referring to him, “We need to move Snake to the medic’s. Give us a hand.”

 

Crawley gets the door open and goes inside to pull out a modified BL/I motorbike with a makeshift sidecar attached. Fukutomi helps Grizzly gently lift Snake from the table and set him down in the sidecar’s seat.

 

“Come with us,” Snake smiles through a wince, “There’s a new life for you here, if you’ll take it.”

 

“Just make up your mind quick.” Crawley grumbles and pulls a second, smaller bike from the storage. He swings a leg over it while Grizzly mounts the first.

 

A deep well of gratitude springs up from within him, and Fukutomi bows.

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Thank us later when we’re out of danger. We’re still on the run, yeah?” Grizzly growls and motions for him to get on the bike behind him, which Fukutomi does.

 

He holds Snake’s hand all the way out into the desert.

 


 

“Snake got stitched up nice by Lady Gearhead (who’s almost as good with bones as she is with bikes, turns out) and Stone-Face spent the next short while detoxing from the muffler pills while rebuilding Snake-Eyes’ joint with Grizzly and Creepy Crawley. Worked odd jobs when he could and kept his mug low-profile.

“That is, ‘till one of his jobs involved picking up a guy livin’ feral in the streets. No one could figure out how a sad soul like that avoided the Drac patrols for so long--- ‘cept when Stone-Face went to go grab him he figured it out. Guy wasn’t just feral, he was an honest-to-god Destroya-possessed Demon.”

 

Tiger interrupted the story here, “So that’s where Demon’s name came from?”

 

Tea Time sighed, passing Blondie an exasperated glance that was answered with a silent head tilt, “Yeah.”

 

“Um, Mr. Tea?” Four-Eyes piped up, “I met Demon, and he seemed really nice?” He glanced around to Princely and Tiger for corroboration, who all shrugged and nodded in agreement.

 

Blondie folded his arms, “Mm.”

 

“He is,” Tea Time translated the esoteric weirdness that was Blondie’s silent language, “to us . You ever see him go up against Dracs?”

 

“No,” Tiger's eyes flitted to the dust motes on the floor.

 

Blondie smirked, as if to say: “If you had, then you’d get it.”

 

Tea continued to speak.

 

“Demon’s shit I only heard about through Bumble Bee. She’s more willing to talk than anyone else. Stone-Face and Wolf will throttle you if you pressure Demon about it-- even Beauty won’t say much, and Beauty runs his mouth off about absolutely everything, so.

“You know that Demon and Bee are siblings. Bee’s younger by a few years, and Demon’s a protective big brother. They were sittin’ pretty in Battery City and going about their lives, except for one thing-- Bee’s a girl, and BL/I declared her male when she was born. She started wearin’ dresses and makeup and BL/I wasn’t too happy about it, so they made her a target for braindrain rehab.

“What they didn’t count on was her brother loving his sister more than he feared the ‘crows and the dracs. He put up a fight, she got away and found the zone runners before the dracs could take her and the runners protected her, kept her safe. Demon? He got caught and tossed in the ‘Pen.”

 

The collected gaggle of motorbabies went silent, each one knowing that no one came back from Better Living Penitentiary.

 

No one.

 

Tea Time settled back in his chair, “Bumble Bee's a natural crash queen, born to be a kid of the carburetor. She took to the life just fine; and even when Stone-Face and Snake and everyone was tellin’ her that her brother was good as gone-- she kept an eye out. He’d given up everything for her. No doubt she’d do the same for him in a heartbeat,” Tea Time leaned forward, quiet like a secret,  “But even Bee doesn’t know the extent of what happened to him down there, so I’ll tell you what we do know.”

 

 


 

BLI Report - Page 1 

BLI Report - Page 2

BLI Report - Page 3


 

 

“He slaughtered ‘em, and on top of that he set more than fifty other prisoners and captives free. That’s how Musclehead avoided staying in there for more than a day, by the way-- good timing and Demon’s break. Demon ran out and lost the Dracs in the streets, hid in the underground. That’s where Stone-Face picked him up. Turns out they were friends as kids, before BL/Ind took over and they were moved into different housing settlements. Brought him back to the zone runners and Snake’s place, reunited him with Bee, got him up and running again.”

 

Tea Time paused to check that the record on the plate was still spinning, that he hadn’t left any dead air. He motioned to Blondie to switch it over to the new Mad Gear and the Missile Kid single.

 

“So they were the first two Killjoys to own the name. Week or two later, Beauty joined in.”

 

 


 

 

From the time he was young, Beauty had been taught that art is the spice of life. It’s what makes fighting the good fight worth it, what separates the zonerunners from the dracs, the mindless drones of the city from the stubborn weeds of life that refused to be killed by BL/I-brand exterminator spray. Birthed in the city but grew up in the zones, bloomed in the zones.

 

And he had bloomed pretty well (if he did say so himself).

 

Walls are the best canvasses, and the place with the most walls is Zone 1. The first zone ring around Battery City is dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing-- when the patrols run, where the cameras are, how to paint fast and get out-- but Beauty knows just fine. Years and years of guerrilla artwork burned those things into his bones. This piece has taken longer than he’d like; his back hurts from bending at a weird angle but there’s only a few more details left to do, and now he doesn’t have time to stretch before he’s got to hit the red and split. Drac patrol swings by in two and a half minutes and there’s just enough gas in his bike to outrun them to Snake’s and crash with Crawley-chan for the night. Crawley doesn’t know he’s coming over yet, but what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, right? Right.

 

Has to keep his best rival on his toes!

 

The thought puts a smile on Beauty’s face as he shakes the spray can and gives the piece one last flourish, then tosses the paint into his bag and pulls it all over his shoulder. From one of the side pockets he produces his most recent pride and joy, a functional polaroid camera, and snaps a picture of his handiwork. Chances are that BL/I will find it when the next patrol swings around and have it painted over within the hour-- but beneath the bandanna he feels his lips crack (ugh, he’ll have to get something for that later) because even temporary triumph inspires a grin anyway. Transience is beauty and all that philosophical shit. Besides, that’s what the photos are for!

 

Low motors rumbling from the south are his warning bell. Everything gets tucked away tight and he jogs to the yellow bike glowing like a bleeding gash on the dusky blue of the twilight sand. Rev one, rev two--

 

And he’s off. The wind howls around his ears and the bike purrs beneath his hands and the world is bright and beautiful, and inside this moment he can go fast and far enough to leave the city and the desert and the zonerunner struggle behind. All that’s left by the time the dracs get there is a wall full of color, the dust of the one that got away.

 

 

Crawley-chan is sitting at the bar when Beauty gets back to Snake’s place, which means he was worried. Not that Crawley would ever admit it. Frankly he doesn’t have to, not when the frown lines on his forehead soften into relief and write out the words he never says plain to read, clear as day. Everyone says Beauty wears his heart on his sleeve; Crawley wears it on his face.

 

“I’m ba~ck!” Beauty trills and bursts through the door, making heads turn in the relative quiet of a typical midday business slump. Stone-Face and Snake are tinkering with something behind the bar (fixing the broken sink, perhaps, though that thing’s been held together with duct tape and twine for more years than Beauty’s been frequenting this joint) and Grizzly is stocking the pantry with the fruits of his most recent grub run. Good timing, too, because Beauty can only do so much before he resorts to eating something as revolting as Power Pup.

 

DJ Tea Time announces the next song over a crackling radio in the space between Beauty, the doorway, the bar, and Crawley. If Grizzly grumps as Beauty bounds over to pull Crawley into a tight hug-- oof! -- Beauty ignores it.

 

“I think I’ve got you this time,” He grins.

 

Crawley fumbles and wrenches himself out from the hug like a Drac shying away from a paint gun, but the sharp edges of his tone are a smile beneath his grimace, “You do, do you?”

 

The photo Beauty pulls from his bag is still developing, but there are distinct whorls of color and large black BL/I block letters marking the exact location. “Zone 1, sector A, right between cameras 4 and 5. Whole wall, covered.”

 

Crawley examines the photo and ignores the weight of Beauty’s giddy anticipation. He allows himself a wry tug of the mouth that only barely qualifies as a smile. Barely.

 

“Guess this means I need to put up a tag to even our score…”

 

“I don’t know,” Beauty settles a gloved hand on the sharp jut of Crawley’s shoulder beneath a technicolor shirt, “You could just admit that I win. But then what fun is having a rival?”

 

He’s rangy but strong, so it doesn’t take much for Crawley to hide his chuckle by shoving Beauty away from where he was leaning over Crawley’s seat. They both know this song and dance-- the teasing, the competition, the banter. The occasional rough housing. It’s natural as pulling breath and curling towards the warmth of a fire, and just as instinctive. Magnets and gravity.

 

“Beauty,” a low voice calls, and he looks up to see the ever-inscrutable Stone-Face, “May I talk to you for a moment? I have a request.”

 

One wink later and Beauty leaves his best rival to follow Stone-Face through the narrows of the residential hallway hidden behind the bar, tucked behind shelves of paint cans and cleaning supplies. His eyes adjust to the dim as they press forward and stop at the last doorway on the left. Stone-Face raps gently on the door, and a muffled voice says something unintelligible that sounds affirmative, so they step in.

 

The boy sprawled out under the blankets on the cot is awake (barely), shivering and shuddering in the way only civs detoxing from the happymaker pills do. His eyes are hollow and sunken. Red curls are plastered to his forehead with dewey sweat, but he still sits up as best he can and smiles weakly as they come in.

 

“Juichi--”

 

Stone-Face steps over quickly and hushes him, and Beauty doesn’t register that he’s just said Stone’s real name out loud until the moment has passed and he’s left to deal with the surprise on his own. Stone is always a little brusque, but Beauty’s never seen him be so gentle with anybody; maybe Snake, but that’s different. There’s a distance of platonic friendship that sits between these two; but they know each other’s names so they’ve got to be close. Beauty can’t tell if the lingering edge of awkwardness is just Stone-Face’s normal brand or if it’s a particular kind that comes with lost time.

 

“No names here,” Stone-Face mutters, sitting on the edge of the bed and glancing back to Beauty. Beauty knows his name too, now, but if Stone-Face is uncomfortable with that he doesn’t show it-- and Beauty isn’t about to betray his trust. Beauty is a lot of things, but untrustworthy is not one of them.

 

The boy on the cot bobs his head in understanding and glances up. His gaze is flat, dead like a week-old corpse, and it makes Beauty’s skin crawl. He doesn’t know what could have happened to rip someone’s soul out of their eyes but he doesn’t want to imagine it.

 

“So, what should I call you, then?” The boy on the cot asks.

 

“Sleeping Beauty,” He finds his grin again, “Beauty’s fine, if that’s too long.”

 

“SB, got it.”

 

Beauty is about to correct him when he catches Stone-Face’s slow head shake. The words already starting to form in his throat come out in a long huff.

 

“Well, what’s your name?”

 

T he smile on the boy’s chapped lips tugs tight and melancholy, “Don’t remember.”

 

That makes Beauty’s eyebrows raise.

 

“Crawley and Grizzly have been calling him ‘Demon’. He is a White Stripe who escaped from a BL/I facility a week ago, and an old friend,” Stone-Face offers by way of explanation, and Beauty can feel his eyebrows shoot up even higher. It sure as hell answers one question, but that answer brings up even more: He ESCAPED? How? Is it safe to keep a White Stripe around? Is it even POSSIBLE for people to escape the BL/I Pen?

 

“Wait wait wait, back up here--” Beauty rubs his temples and forces himself to start from the beginning, “You are a White Stripe. And you got out.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Of the ‘Pen.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“That’s impossible.”

 

“So I’ve heard,” ‘Demon’ manages an amused chuckle that turns into a shallow cough.

 

“How?”

 

That’s when the smile slips off Demon’s face entirely. Beauty watches his eyes flicker to the wall, and at first he thinks it’s just shyness but when he follows the gaze he sees something he didn’t notice before: the walls, the door, the ground-- they’re all covered in scratches. Mad, angry things. Trails of red follow the lines, and when Beauty looks to see Demon’s hands he notices that every nail has been ground down to the quick and sports scabs where his fingertips should be. At the foot of his bed are handcuffs, one end locked around the bed frame and the other broken open. The angry rings of red around his wrists match.

 

“I don’t remember much of that, either.”

 

Beauty doesn’t push Demon further.

 

Stone Face lets out a long breath through his nose, “His memory is getting better, and detoxing is rough but he should be fine with another few days. They had him on a low dose, so the process isn’t as bad as usual. What’s more concerning is that we have no way to try and stop his occasional… fits.”

 

Demon winces and opens and closes his hands slowly, staring at his scuffed palms, “I used to be able to stop them, before they took me in. They would start coming and I could calm myself down, let them pass without any rage. After they took Yuu--”

 

No names, right. Beauty watches Demon remind himself that.

 

“--my sister, I couldn’t stop, and that’s when they found out about me. About the fits. They were already going to take me in anyway, I think, after what I did when they came for her. But once they figured out what I can do, they figured they could try and put me to better use. They took Usakichi from me, so I couldn’t calm myself any more and...”

 

Stone-Face stops him with a gentle hand to his shoulder. Demon swallows thickly, closing his eyes and focusing on steadying his breath. Beauty would be lying if he said he doesn’t feel his heart clench with the desire to go over and comfort Demon, too-- but the question at the forefront of his mind still needs answering, and that has to come first.

 

He clears his throat.

 

“I’m flattered that you trust me with all this stuff. I really am. But what do you need my help for?” Beauty looks to Stone-Face, “I’m an artist, not a doctor. Want something painted? I can do that. Not sure what you have in mind bringing me in on…” He gestures feebly to the room, “...this.”

 

“You don’t give yourself enough credit, Beauty,” Stone-Face stands, ”You are much more than an artist, though you certainly are skilled at that. You are also the only person who has so consistently and successfully evaded the Drac patrols and gone in and out of Battery City. That is no small feat.”

 

Beauty lets himself be flattered and studies the indigo paint on his nails, “Well, yes.”

 

“And we need to retrieve something from the city.”

 

“Alright.”

 

“And we need your expertise.”

 

Ah, flattery will get you everywhere. Beauty looks up, coy.

 

“So. What are we-- hypothetically-- retrieving?”

 

Demon and Stone-Face share a look that Beauty can’t quite interpret, but there’s a hint of a smile on Demon’s lips when he answers:

 

“A rabbit.”

 

 

The last thing Beauty ever expected to be doing was sprinting out of a BL/I storage facility with a bunny in hand, but lo and behold: here he is.

 

Fuckin’ hell, those two owe him. Big time. Let no one say that Beauty can’t carry through on a deal, or that he isn’t the best damn stealth master in the zones, and GOD DAMN IT can this bunny stop squirming so much he is TRYING to make an escape here--

 

He can see the taillights of Stone-Face’s motorcycle up ahead, and with one last push he leaps forward to swing on behind him just as the engine revvs and they launch out into the desert, Drac patrols ghosted and smoking in their wake.

 

Okay, running with the Killjoys ain’t always glamorous, but that feeling of getting away with the wind in his hair and a laugh in his wake? Beauty wouldn’t trade it for the world.

 

 


 

 

“Demon got his bunny back, and that helped him get stable enough that he could go out on missions. But damn, Crawley was so red when he heard Beauty went out on something that dangerous. He looked like a tomato, red face with that green hair of his. And not like he’d go around admitting how worried he was, either, stubborn ass. The two of them became an item after that, and you’ve seen them around so I don’t need to tell you what they’re like now.”

 

Tea smirked, “Anyway, Wolf joined up last, a few years ago now. Killjoys found him wandering the zones half-ghosted.”

 

 


 

 

Wolf’s heard the Killjoy name whispered even among the gangs of the far-flung outer zones, but that doesn’t mean he’s about to swoon and lick their damn boots just ‘cause they got recognition.

 

He tells them as much when they find him in the desert, limping along with a bloody baseball bat and a broken elbow.

 

“An’ another thing--”

 

“Are you going to say thank you?” The pretty-boy guy with the white bandanna cuts Wolf off, “Because we did just save you from dying like a rat out on Route Guano--”

 

“Fuck off! I was doing just fine before you assholes showed up.”

 

“We can drop you off again, if you like,” Demon smiles amicably behind his half-mask, toothpick lazily dangling off of one plush lip.

 

“No, just--ugh FUUUUCK.”

 

Demon laughs and Wolf squeezes one arm tight into Stone-Face’s waist, who remains impassive as ever as they tear through the desert horizon (even while he’s being slowly strangled to death by a guy whose entire vocabulary consists of nothing but permutations of the word “fuck”).

 

“Just get me to your doc or whatever and then fuck off.”

 

 

Dr. A’s “clinic” is actually just the back room of Lady Gearhead’s garage. The two of them have a joint operation: LG plays nurse to her Doctor girlfriend (she can treat most basic stuff: laser wounds, sprained ankles, shit like that), and the Doc ends up giving LG a hand when she needs an extra pair.

 

“Hey guys!” She chirps as they pull in and grins up at them from under the hood of a Trans-Am she’s working on, “What’s up? Something need fixing?”

 

Stone-Face motions to Wolf, who’s grumbling and holding his bad arm to his side, “He needs medical attention.”

 

LG nods and dusts herself off, jogging to the back and shouting, “Hey babe! Killjoys are here!”

 

Muted curses sigh from behind a scrappy blue medical curtain and precede Dr. A’s footsteps, boots squeaking against the concrete as she rubs at her eyes and yawns. Doc’s not chipper on the best of days, but it’s hard to miss the way she perks up a little when LG swings by to give her a kiss on the cheek and leave a smear of motor oil in the shape of a handprint on her white doctor’s coat.

 

“What’ve you got into this time, huh?” She sizes them all up, eyes settling decisively on Wolf, “Hn. You’re not a Killjoy, not a part of Snake’s crew or the Colormakers. Not a Wavehead. Those patches look like they’re from the outer zones.”

 

His eyes narrow in answer, and Dr. A’s mouth twitches up in validation. She comes closer and studies the limp arm at Wolf’s side.

 

“So you’re an outside Runner. And you’ve got yourself a pretty little elbow break right there. Infected, already healing wrong--” Wolf’s about to bark back when Dr. A shooshes him and turns to Stone-Face, “Piece of work you’ve picked up, Stoney.”

 

“He hasn’t shut up since we found him,” Beauty sighs, all dramatical-like and exaggerated.

 

“Didn’t fuckin’ ask for an elbow break, did I?” Wolf shakes off the jab and bares his teeth at Doc, as much in held-back hurt as in attempted intimidation, “So can you help or not?”

 

“Yeah, yeah. I’ve got it.”

 

And she does. He grouses the whole way through, but Wolf isn’t a bad patient-- just a loud one.

 

“Helps with the pain,” He barks when Beauty bitches about all his shouting, “Better’n feelin’ like my arm’s gonna fall off.”

 

“How’d you break it, anyway?” Demon tilts his head and Wolf has to look away from the pretty curve of his neck.

 

“I, uh--” Gearhead chooses that moment to pull the wrap of the cast tight around his arm, and it’s enough to make him hiss and let loose some colorful curses, “Drac-fucking sunnova--”

 

“Done!” She chimes and lets Doc inspect her handiwork. Doc nods sagely and sits back, cracking her knuckles.

 

“You should be good to go. Don’t do anything stupid, and try to keep it still.”

 

“Yeah yeah--”

 

Doc shooshes him again and looks to Stone-Face, “I’m saying it to you guys. This one’s an idiot, I can tell. He’ll try to do something dumb and it’ll heal wrong. Keep him honest, got it?”

 

Demon smiles and pats Wolf on the back. Wolf flinches.

 

“We’ll take care of him.”

 

 

Wolf half expects being “taken care of” to mean “throw you back out there with no more than a ‘sayonara’ and a bum arm and see how you survive”; so when he’s brought to a Hyperthrust on the edge of the city, fed, and given an actual bed  to sleep in, it makes sense that he’s incredulous. Runners and Crash Queens take care of their own, sure; but only their own-- not random strays, left to die by the desert.

 

Does he resent them? No. That’s stupid. He’s alive, isn’t he? But the Killjoys-- they’re dumbasses who don’t make sense, don’t play by the rules of survival. Who the fuck do they think they are to go around saving people like fuckin’ goody-goody superheroes like it’s just whatever, you know? People don’t just do that, especially not Zonerunners who scrap tooth and claw to get by! Wolf punches the wall with his good hand and curses when it makes his knuckles start bleeding.

 

Okay, maybe he does resent them a little. Resents them for busting his iron-clad set of expectations wide open, walking away from the explosion left in their wake like it was no big deal. Why pick him up and get him patched? Why bother?

 

When Stone-Face returns to bring in a plate of food and check on his rest, Wolf gets his chance to ask.

 

“Because it was the right thing to do,” He states.

 

Wolf wants to sock him in that goddamn rock-set mouth of his.

 

“‘Right’? What the fuck do you mean, ‘right’? Who cares about that shit any more?” He sits up and growls, “‘Rightness’ went and died back when we got nuked to fuck in the Helium Wars in the first place. All that shit doesn’t mean anything now, ‘least not to sane people--”

 

Stone-Face levels him with the barest trace of something to make Wolf’s stomach churn. He realizes, belatedly, that it’s ‘pity’.

 

“I used to work for BL/Ind, you know.”

 

Wolf shuts up quick.

 

“My whole family did, we were with them since the beginning. I was on track to become a Scarecrow, myself.”

 

Before Wolf can think to stop himself he asks, “What happened?”

 

Stone-Face seems pleased, and Wolf’s got a ‘fuck it, don’t mind’ on the tip of his tongue when the answer comes.

 

“I realized that what separates the Zonerunners from the company men is how we act on our principles. Principles we decide for ourselves, not that are put upon us without asking why. That means there will be conflict. There will be disagreements. The people out in the zones who left you for dead wouldn’t do what we did, but at least both of us got to make a choice: whether to be strong and act on the higher calling of morality, or whether to put survival above the things that make survival worthwhile in the first place. The right to that choice is what makes the difference between us and them. BL/I doesn’t even pose the question.

“So I acted on my principles, and it led me here.”

 

Wolf’s desire to lash out is replaced by quiet regard, thoughtfulness that would seem uncharacteristic if it weren’t the genuine article beneath the habitual verbal abuse. Stone-Face’s eyes meet his, then, and Wolf has the answer he was looking for.

 

 

Recovery gets smoother as time crawls on. Wolf doesn’t rebuff the offers of help quite as violently as he once did, and is careful about letting his arm heal. His newfound respect for Stone-Face doesn’t go unnoticed, either-- the first one to comment is Demon, while they’re both working through a meager lunch of bland rations and sitting in the quiet dust of the midday bar.

 

“I’m glad you talked to Stone,” he says around a mouthful of food, and Wolf wants to laugh and shut him up and smile at how dumb he looks, all at the same time.

 

“Hn,” He responds, swallowing it.

 

“Sounds like you get our whole credo a little more now, I think. That true?”

 

Wolf answers with a huff and a noncommittal shrug that makes Demon chuckle.

 

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

 

The silence that follows is hung with questions, but somehow Wolf is comfortable in it. Demon makes no move to pressure him into more talk. Wolf likes that about him.

 

They meet every day: sitting at the counter. Eating. Shootin’ the shit. Demon will smile and chuckle and bump Wolf’s good arm with affection, always looking like he’s in the best of spirits even though he’s got that blank stare that drifts off into the distance when he thinks no one is looking. Wolf looks.

 

 

“So what’s your deal, then?” Wolf breaks the quiet one groggy-hot griller of a day, the two of them stopped to snack under the awning of an abandoned gas station out in zone 3 after taking out a Drac patrol getting a little too close to Tea-Time’s radio station. Demon looks up like he doesn’t understand the question, even as Wolf had just seen him go batshit on a couple of Dracs a few minutes prior. He tries not to let his tone betray just how interested he is in Demon and his business.

 

“I mean, what’d you do before bein’ a Killjoy? You a former BL/I drone, too?”

 

Demon stops eating for the first time since they’d sat down, a shadow passing over him and settling in the circles under his eyes. He still tries to smile all the same, and visceral instinct makes Wolf want to grab him and wipe that phony attempt at happiness off of his dumb lippy mouth. Somehow, that fake smile is sadder than if Demon started bawling his eyes out right then and there.

 

“Nah,” He shrugs and stares blankly at the flat horizon, “Not like Stone was, anyway. I was in the ‘Pen.”

 

It sounds like part one of two, an unspoken ellipsis in the air, but Wolf can be patient, “Yeah?”

 

Demon chews on a rough dry patch on his lip, scarred from cracking and bleeding and scabbing and then starting the whole process over again, “I, uh… I'm not sure if you'll believe me when I tell you.”

 

“What, you escaped from the ‘Pen? Have to have done that to be here, I believe it.”

 

“Not that.”

 

Wolf fixes him with a flat snort, “Try me.”

 

“Just, please don’t freak out--”

 

“Just spit it--”

 

“I was a White Stripe.”

 

Just hearing the name makes Wolf shiver.

 

“You were a Stripe?” Wolf looks over just to see if Demon is fucking with him, but there’s not a shred of humor on his face now. He’s actually serious.

 

What do you say to that? ‘Sorry you were imprisoned and deemed too dangerous to live outside of a prison cell and tortured and all that shit!’ They don’t make any damn cards for this. Hell, most people think Stripes are urban legends, anyway: violent monsters with white blindfolds lurking in the dark, the kind of thing cityfolk tell kids about so they’ll shut up and stay in line.

 

Wolf wouldn’t believe they exist either, if Demon didn’t look so sincere.

 

He fumbles, “Fuck. Sorry for, uh, bringing it up. Y’don’t have to talk about it.”

 

Affection turns the corners of Demon’s forced smile into something bittersweet and real, “Nah, it’s fine. I need to start talking about it more, helps remind me that the past is past.”

 

He bumps their shoulders together and manages to bring his eyes back up to Wolf’s. They stay that way, shoulder to shoulder, breathing in the Santa Ana winds and watching a crumpled-up something tumble by in the breeze.

 

“You wanna know how I broke my arm?”

 

“Hm?”

 

The question is so out of the blue that it almost shocks Wolf as much as it shocks Demon. He studies Wolf’s face with such open interest that it’s endearing-- Wolf can feel himself turn pink at the tips of his ears and tries to will it away.

 

“A secret for a secret. That’s only fair, yeah?”

 

Wolf will kick himself for telling this story later but he wants to, dammit, and if he stops now his judgment will catch up to his mouth.

 

“Old crew I used to run with-- the Fightin’ Dogs-- they were gonna skin and eat a stray cat I found out in Zone 8. They said ‘we don’t got enough food to live, not to mention to keep a stupid pet’-- said the little guy ‘should BE food, not take it from the mouths of people’. Assholes. Poor thing was skin an’ bones, not like it’d have done them any good anyway, but those fuckers wouldn’t hear it and I got in a fistfight with the leader and hurt his shoulder, so his yandere shitbag of a minion got some of his little friends together and broke my arm in revenge and tossed me out in the dust. Drac-suckin’ fuckwads,” he grumbles something unintelligible, the end of which is: “‘Least the cat’s ok, got away before he could become dinner.”

 

There’s a moment where Wolf braces for insults, or dismissal, or laughter, but it never comes. When he glances up Demon is smiling: for real, this time.

 

“That’s amazing.”

 

If skepticism shows in the curl of Wolf’s frown Demon ignores it, or never sees it in the first place. It’s hard to tell.

 

“Y’know, you’re a really great guy, doing that for a cat.”

 

“Hn?”

 

“I mean--” The face Demon makes while piecing together what he wants to say is so bare, so unguarded, he looks like a completely different person. Maybe this is what he looked like before, Wolf wonders, before the ‘Pen and the White Stripe and the sadness bandaged up in forced smiles. Demon continues, “Like, the thing about living out here is that the whole point is to be living, right? It’s rough but we’re doing it, doing it on our terms, without being tied to a system that can only sustain itself by killing and hurting. We gotta be better than what we left behind-- so doing bad to creatures that are more vulnerable than yourself is terrible, you know?”

 

Wolf studies him, then, looking for something in his face he’s not going to find.

 

“Hell, don’t make it sound so grand an’ shit. I’m just a stubborn asshole who didn’t want to see a cat get skinned,” his scoff isn’t so convincing, apparently.

 

Even as he looks away to rub at the hair on the back of his neck, Wolf can hear the honesty in Demon’s voice, “You’re compassionate. I really admire that.”

 

Talk about ‘compassion’-- Wolf’s never seen a guy with such a big bleedin’ heart. How the hell did Demon survive in their wasteland heap of a world with that kinda kindness? A lot of strong people fall apart out here in the desert and the city; not a lot of people put themselves back together again.

 

Fuck, now he’s waxing poetic. If Wolf’s ears weren’t red before, they’re cherry-cola  now.

 

“Ah-- I, uh, well-- er--” he sputters, flattered and ruffled and settling on indignation for lack of a better way to respond, “How do you go around just saying embarrassing shit like that with a straight face?”

 

“Because I mean it.”

 

Demon is so deadpan sincere that Wolf isn’t sure if he wants to kill him or if he’ll die of embarrassment first--

 

Until that cheeky grin crosses Demon’s face and lights up his eyes, and the bottom of Wolf’s stomach drops out, and wow.

 

He’s so fucked.

 

 


  

 

Tea Time let out a long breath and took a swig of something out of the bottle on his desk.

 

“Makin’ a name for yourself isn’t easy out here, yeah? But they’re skilled in a clap and have something to fight for, and you’d be surprised how far that and a little luck can take you. Sometimes it’s straight to Destroya, but sometimes--”

 

Blondie gave Tea-Time a little nudge and a nod, and he laughed.

 

“Right, right. Gotta stop getting dramatical. Point still stands, though, the Killjoys got all their shit done lickety split. Rose through fame so fast, so meteoric it broke atmo and made a new crater on the moon. Legends like that get attention, get followers, get a crew. Happened to those guys after a while, too, and soon enough they had their own gaggle of gunslingers to shepherd. Not enough room at Snake’s place to babysit that many, so it was a natural idea to start thinkin’ about making a ‘chateau du Killjoys’ of their own.”

 

 


 

 

 

The first time Wolf and Demon show Stone and Beauty to the abandoned gas station they’d been frequenting, Beauty lets out a low whistle.

 

“Honestly? I’m worried that it’s gonna collapse next time someone sneezes,” he folds his arms and walks the length of one rusty old wall, trailing his eyes along the cracks and rust and dirt.

 

“Sure, it ain’t pretty--”

 

“--But if anyone could make it shiny it’d be you, SB,” Demon’s smile drips honey and he does nothing to hide it, Beauty knows he’s being enticed but doesn’t particularly care. They could use a place of their own. Snake’s is pretty crowded, and it’d be nice to be farther away from the security patrols of Battery City. Less worry about having to move at a moment’s notice, more of a place to settle and work out of. He hums, “That is true.”

 

There aren’t a lot of standing buildings out in the desert; as far a this one goes it’s got four walls and a roof, which is a great start.

 

“If we can secure materials to fortify the structure, I believe this is a strong choice,” Stone-Face nods decisively, “I’ll talk to Snake and Grizzly and see what they know about getting some more sheet metal and construction supplies.”

 

“And I’ll grab some paint! ‘Stroya knows this place needs a new look.”

 

Wolf and Demon pass a furtive smile between them.

 

“Don’t worry,” Demon runs his hands up and down the rough lines of the doorway affectionately, like petting a giant animal big enough to crane his neck, “We’ll fix her up. She’ll be a home.”

 

 

Construction doesn’t take as long when you’ve got some some helping hands. Musclehead's hero-worship means that he jumps at the chance to help Demon out with pretty much anything, and no matter how much grumbling Black Cat does everyone knows that he’s happy to be there, too. It’s a good thing he comes along, because someone has to look out for Maestro bumping his head into beams and knocking over more shit than a freakishly tall bull in a china shop. Sometimes Dead Angel will breeze in and make an attempt to help out, but usually he ends up splitting after an hour or so unless Rep is there to drag him back to the construction projects. Even then her efforts are often wasted; Angel spends more time sleeping in weird corners and roving the zones than he does anything else. Getting productive shit done? Don’t count on it with him, it’s like trying to catch the wind in your hand. Still, the fact that he shows up at all is an encouraging sign.

 

 

Beauty says as much, watching Angel lounge across the half-finished roof as he and Crawley sit down in the shade of the overhang. Crawley never knows what to make of Angel, but it seems to Beauty that Crawley doesn’t know what to make of most people; at least, anyone that isn’t a paint can or a canvas or Grizzly.

 

“Anyway, I think it ties everything together, creates a cohesive decor,” Beauty grins up at the fresh mural covering the front wall of the gas station, a brilliant and unfiltered thing so bright that Crawley stares at it and can’t tell if he’s thinking about Beauty’s smile or the painting.

 

“Yeah,” Crawley licks over a crack in his lips, “It does.”

 

“Never thought it’d look this good, but if anyone could make this old dump look like a shiny new gun, it’s us,” Beauty leans over to bump Crawley’s shoulder against his, “I think this is a pretty great first collaboration, too. We’ll have to start doing more!”

 

“Yeah,” Crawley nods, quiet as usual but with an edge of distance that makes Beauty pause.

 

“Hey,” He turns to Crawley now, pride softening into concern, “What’s that face for? We just made something gorgeous!”

 

“Hn? Oh, uh…” his eyes snap back to Beauty’s face and quickly fall away in the power of his gaze, “Never mind, ’s nothing.”

 

Beauty raises his eyebrows knowingly, “As soon as you say it’s nothing I know it’s something, Crawley-chan. You can’t fool me.”

 

Something wry worms its way into the edges of Crawley’s smile, and he looks a little more like the Crawley that Beauty knows and loves, “I beg to differ.”

 

“Don’t change the subject,” He whines, “I can’t read your mind, Crawley-chan, so you need to tell me if you’re sad or angry or whatever.”

 

“I’m not sad--”

 

“Well you always look kind of sad but maybe that’s just your face--”

 

“Well thanks,” Crawley rolls his eyes.

 

“So if you’re not sad then why do you look sad?”

 

“You were the one who said it’s just my face--”

 

“You know what I mean, Crawley-chan!” Beauty huffs, “Stop being evasive and answer the question!”

 

Crawley pauses and snorts, muttering something about “how does he know a word as long as ‘evasive’...” that Beauty can’t hear well but decides deserves a playful nudge to the shoulder anyway. Crawley has the decency to play along and look wounded.

 

“What’s that face for?”

 

He takes a second to gather his thoughts, and Beauty waits patiently while the words piece themselves together on the tip of Crawley’s tongue.

 

“I’m… happy,” he says finally, staring at a pile of dirt he toes with the tip of his boot, “Right now, I’m really happy. And it’s been a long time since I remember feeling that way.”

 

He glances up to Beauty and then back down to the ground, “Gotta try to remember it as best I can, after it goes. It’ll be over soon-- hell, everything is ending a little bit all the time-- so I just…” he folds his lips tight and gathers the courage to meet Beauty’s eyes for real this time, “I want to take it in.”

 

That makes Beauty pause.

 

Before he can stop himself (it’s so ugly to cry, after all), Beauty feels the tears rising and his heart aching in his chest. Here, in this moment, he is so overwhelmingly present, consumed by single-minded focus on the lines of Crawley’s face, the mole spotting his jaw, the graceful droop of his eyes and the dark roots of his green-red hair and the thin scarred pink of his lips where he’d bitten them over and over again. He wants to kiss everything from the paint under his nails to the jut of his bones, it’s so beautiful-- beautiful in the nerve-rending depth of the kind that bypasses consciousness and shoots marrow-deep understanding straight into your veins, pervasive and huge and monstrous and sublime. It is a full-body buzz, and he is shiny in the wake.

 

Never in his life has Beauty wanted to do what he is about to do, but apparently this is a day of firsts for him.

 

“Crawley--” he breathes, pincushion-hands tingling as he reaches over to lace their callouses into the crooks of each other, “I want you to know my name.”

 

Crawley’s brows shoot straight up, blue of his eyes suddenly striking against the expanse of white sclera and whiter skin. He looks like he wants to say something, to brush off his moment of vulnerability and close up in that beetle-shell he wears so well, but they both know it’s far too late for that. They’ve been past the point of no return for a while now.

 

His voice drops quiet and becomes the whole goddamn world.

 

“It’s Jinpachi. Toudou Jinpachi.”

 

“Jinpachi…” the name is cradled in Crawley’s mouth, turned over on his tongue as something precious he doesn’t want to break. It’s never sounded so good.

 

“You don’t have to tell me yours if you’re not ready,” Toudou hastily adds, “Last thing I want to do is force you, I just--”

 

“Yuusuke,” he smiles crooked and small and knowing in the inches sitting between them, “Before the Helium Wars, I was Makishima Yuusuke.”

 

The grin that Toudou wears puts the radioactive sun to shame.

 

“Guess my Crawley-chan is actually a Maki-chan, huh?” He chuckles, reaching up to brush some hair out of Makishima’s face. He looks good in a little bit of pink, Toudou thinks, just a blush over those nice cheekbones. Looks even better from up close. When Toudou leans in and Makishima meets him halfway, the stomach-churning excitement is only tempered by some gut feeling that this was inevitable, that they’ve always been heading this way, that they’ve found a small piece of destiny in the desert, where nothing blooms but the acid-rain cacti and this: this moment, right here.

 

 

“I dunno what those two are talkin’ about but they’re so sappy I’m getting sick just watching ‘em,” Wolf grunts and drops a heavy slice of sheet metal against the garage wall.

 

“I think it’s nice,” the piece of metal Demon sets next to his is twice as large, and he leans wistfully against it with a serene smile, “Gotta take what happiness you can find.”

 

Wolf wipes sweat off his forehead and it’s brown on the back of his hand. “Yeah yeah, all that kumbaya crap,” he mutters and slumps against the cool shade of the wall. He doesn’t need to look to know that the weight settling next to him is Demon.

 

“Jealous?”

 

“Psh, why’d I be jealous?”

 

There’s a silence that unwinds like a shrug and Demon pulls out a PowerPup™ NutriBlock to unwrap and munch on.

 

“What, are you jealous of them?” Wolf continues, eyes still trained on Crawley and Beauty where they’re curled towards each other.

 

“Yeah, a little.”

 

“Don’t see what’s worth gettin’ green over,” Wolf grumbles and suddenly becomes more interested in picking at the frayed seam of his vest than looking up.

 

Demon chews the end of his snack thoughtfully, “It’s okay to want to be happy, you know.”

 

“No shit--”

 

“But not just be ‘happy’ like, ‘I’m alive and have food and shelter for a few days’,” Wolf finds himself at the end of Demon’s scalpel-gaze, piercing and hooded, ”That’s just surviving. I’m talking about being really happy . Fulfilled. Actually having a life and a future instead of just getting by.”

 

A hot wind sweeps Wolf’s eyes to the horizon, the expanse and the climb of the desert mountains on the edge of the Zones. The question of what the future could hold always seemed pointless, too lofty to consider when you couldn’t be sure you’d see another day. Futures were one more luxury BL/I had seized from the world. Anything outside of their long-arm grasp? Smoking in the dust.

 

“I want to be happy,” Demon says, lips curled up around the food bar as he gestures to the progress they’ve made on fixing up the gas station, “I want to have a life and a home. That’s what this is, Wolf.”

 

“It’s a gas station, dumbass.”

 

He doesn’t bat an eye at Wolf’s insult, of course he doesn’t, just swallows his bar and laughs-- “Heh, yeah, that’s true. But it’s also a thing that will last beyond tomorrow, or next week, and maybe even next year if we’re lucky.”

 

“So?”

 

“What we’re doing right now is planning for a future. Don’t you want a future?”

 

Demon is close now, leaning in to get a good look at Wolf’s face as he stares down at a rock and kicks it. His breath is hot where it laps at Wolf’s skin. What the hell, does the guy know nothing about personal space? At all?

 

Not that Wolf is, y’know. Complaining.

 

“I--” He meets Demon’s eyes and his brain starts shorting out, words dissolving with his resolve, “Yeah--”

 

There’s no time left to continue because as soon as Wolf starts saying whatever incoherent string of syllables he can muster, he’s silenced. Demon leans in and presses their lips together.

 

That one second stretches out and out farther than the endless highway, longer than the vault of the sky; and just when his brain begins catching up with precisely what is happening at this moment all of the sudden-- it’s over. As he pulls his face away, Wolf is so close that he can pick out constellations of freckles across Demon’s nose, the dilated pupils sunken in the deep blue of his eyes. The open affection writ large across that face terrifies Wolf in a way he has never been scared before; but on second thought, that’s not it. His heart races but he knows the feeling of fear, knows what it’s like to run for your life and fight for it tooth and nail. This? Well, it’s not that. Wolf does want to fight-- what else is new-- but right about now, for the first time in a long while, he wants to fight  for something instead of against it.

 

Maybe this is what having a future feels like.

 

 

Dusk drips over the sunset until the night goes dark, the Zonerunners pack it in, and everyone sets up camp in the safety of the unfinished station. Relics of old food stands and shelves and chairs all littered the floor this morning, now shoved aside to make room for haphazard bedrolls and blankets and pillows. It’s a squeeze, but sleeping with a roof overhead for once is pretty damn luxurious, so they bear it with relief.

 

Snake and Stone-Face set up side-by-side in a small room off the main storefront, in what was probably an office back when this place was functional. Tight space. Luckily, even big as they both are, it’s just enough room for two if they don’t mind cozying up. They don’t. Soreness carries through their touches, gentle tender forces as Snake lays him down and kisses patterns into the sharp lines of Stone’s collar, his ribs, the vee of his hips. For someone with so hard a namesake he is remarkably pliant beneath Snake’s lifeworn hands.  Both of them are sweaty and naked and tangled in each other by the time Stone’s infallible deadpan warms into a bewildered smile; Snake feels it against his skin before he sees it.

 

“Good?”

 

“Yes.”

 

He leans his face into the short blonde sweep of Stone’s hair. From here he can count the steady breaths, trace the notches in his partner’s spine. The baritone mumble humming into Snake’s shoulder is garbled, but he knows well enough what Stone is saying.

 

“Thank you.”

 

“For what?” Snake cards his fingers through the pale fluff at the nape of Stone’s neck.

 

“For everything.”

 

Words are small vessels for something large as a heart. Juichi kisses Shingo instead, hoping that actions are more capable messengers.

 

 


 

 

They almost missed the sound of motorbikes pulling up outside the ramshackle radio station building. Blondie and Tea Time put hands on their blasters and eyed the shadows outside before a bark made them visibly relax.

 

“Oi, Tea. You got the Motorbabies in there?”

 

“Speak of the devil,” Tea chuckled and stood to unlock the front door, “Yeah, we got ‘em.”

 

Wolf and Demon filled the doorway, helmets under their arms and dusty as dead men. Demon grazed on the toothpick hanging out of his mouth, eyes half-lidded. Wolf sneered, but that was just what his face looked like all the time. Probably froze that way.

 

“Good. C’mon brats, takin’ you back to our spot. Request from Snake.”

 

“Thanks for keeping them safe here,” Demon smiled at Blondie and Tea, “Ah, Tea, What’s the traffic?”

 

“Drac patrols spotted in zone 1 and 4, keeping close to the City today on Route Guano. Other roads are squeaky clean and in business.”

 

Beauty’s laughter trilled from behind Wolf, “Perfect! Gives me time to paint on the way back.”

 

Wolf snorted and folded his arms, “Do that shit on your own time. First thing’s first.”

 

Four-Eyes scrambled to his feet, followed by an excited whoop from Tiger and Prince silently watching them from the rear. They filed out with waves and hollers and were whisked away on the growl of the Killjoy’s bikes, the station slowly filling with the absence of their presence.

 

 

“Well?” Tea Time glanced up to Blondie, who sat on the arm of his chair and inclined his head.

 

“Heh, yeah,” the record was nearing its’ end. He popped his headphones on over one ear and leaned into the sound. Blondie settled a hand on Tea’s hair, running his fingers through it and letting his eyes float closed to listen. The track finished, Tea flipped the microphone’s switch, and they were live.

 

“It’s DJ Tea Time here on WRT2, back online with the fine sublime. What you had comin’ into your earholes was Mad Gear and the Missile Kid’s new single called ‘Black Dragon Fighting Society’.

 

“But before we get back to the tracks, I’ve got a shout-out to spit: a homerian homage of radio waves dedicated to the last legends of the Zones in an age where heroes are nothin’ but nothin’. Kids are a thing of yesterday, tumbleweeds, yet here there are gentlemen and ladies and theydies playin’ with guns and danger, brawlin’ the good fight, neon antimatter shinin’ blinding in the watchful eyes of the flies. So, without pretense or bullshit, a toast:

 

“Here’s to the rock ‘n rollas, the crash queens, the motorbabies.

 

“Here’s to the Dust Angels and the skulls in the sand, the firefight flash of the laser, the shout and the sound and the clap and the static.

 

“Here’s to the names of the ones eaten alive by the Dracs ‘n Scarecrows, an here’s to escapin’ rubber burners hittin’ the red on the getaway mile.

 

“And here’s to art-- Art is the weapon against life as a symptom. Remember your ghosts, remember your art--”

 

“And let’s raise one to the Killjoys, because Killjoys never die.”