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Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted when Clay Kaczmarek vanishes

Chapter Text

If asked, Desmond would undoubtedly declare Monday mornings his favorite time of the week. After all, it was the first morning after a hectic weekend at Bad Weather, where he could rest for as long as he wanted and sleep until it was nearly midday. He didn’t have to be the alert bartender or manager; if he wanted to, he could be just another lazy New York City citizen.

Unfortunately, old habits die hard, and Desmond had never been the unproductive kind. If there was a job to do, he would get it done. Sure, he might complain a bit about it, but he’d finish it. And while Monday was technically his free day and his own to structure, over the years he had dedicated quite a bit of it to other people. The first few minutes after he had gotten ready for the day, Desmond would spend with one Elisabeth Smith and her two children.

The young mother had moved into the apartment at the end of the hallway of Desmond’s floor just two months ago. By now the kitchen, living room and the room of her children were fully furnished. The mismatched arrangement of colorful second-hand furniture, as well as the kid drawings lying around everywhere, added a warm atmosphere to the previously bleak rooms.

Desmond knocked on the door, the first two times fast, the last two slow and a second after his hand had disconnected, the door was ripped open by two exited nine-year-olds.

“Morning, Desmond! Mom’s in the kitchen, do you want pancakes? We were still eating. Did you see the drawings we made yesterday?”

The two chatterboxes kept talking a mile a minute, seemingly not taking a single breath between sentences.

Sarah, declared the younger one by her brother, was feeling particularly brave today and even took Desmond’s hand as she led him into the kitchen. Her brother Max, meanwhile, elaborated on the family’s plans for the day. In a hushed voice, he told Desmond that the big kids upstairs had promised to take him on the roof this afternoon.

Desmond tried to recall if they had fixed the fence surrounding the roof yet and vowed to ask Alex and their roommates later. If the teenager had decided to entertain Sarah and Max for an afternoon, they could also take responsibility for it. As they entered the kitchen, the twins immediately sat down at the table, attempting to outtalk each other.

“Let the poor man take a breath,” Elisabeth told her son and daughter good-natured, though her smile was still too forced to be entirely genuine. Nevertheless, she looked a lot better now, less tired, less haunted, but cautious still.

“It’s no problem at all,” Desmond replied. After weeks of daily visits, he was used to it, and kind of enjoyed it as well. There was something very calming about seeing exited children after they hadn’t dared to come out behind their mother’s legs the first days of knowing him.

“I just wanted to ask if your new IDs came in yet?”

Elisabeth shook her head. “Ah- no. But they should have, right?”

Desmond frowned, recounting the days since his order. The new IDs should have arrived a week ago already at the latest date. It was unlike Kaczmarek to be late at all, especially miles away from the agreed-upon deadline.

“Yeah, definitely. I’ll go check why they haven’t arrived yet today, I promise.”

Elisabeth relaxed visibly, the tension in her shoulders decreasing. “Thank you, Desmond. For everything.”

“It was no problem.”

And that pretty much summed up Desmond’s attitude towards everything he did in life, mainly helping other people out. He didn’t necessarily consider it to be outstanding work he was doing. He was only trying to give back a bit of the kindness he had received upon escaping the Farm. He could have ended up everywhere, Desmond was well aware that he had been lucky to be taken in by Bad Weather’s owner. Even though Desmond would like to claim that it was his winning smile and charisma that had charmed his boss into giving him a job, in reality, it was probably the owner's worry and pity for a sixteen-year-old cult runaway with next to no identification.

“Will you join us for dinner tonight?” Elisabeth asked, pulling Desmond out of his thoughts.

“Sorry, not today. Alex roped me into cooking for the teens tonight.”

The teenager insisted on weekly homemade dinners for reasons Desmond couldn’t claim to understand. He was a terrible cook, alternating between spaghetti with tomato sauce, pizza, soup, random vegetable mixes and an ever growing amount of scrambled eggs for five years now and yet, like a clock, Alex and the other teenagers living upstairs ate with him every second Monday.

His exasperation must have shown on the outside as Elisabeth tried to cover up a laugh with a cough and failed miserably.

“Have fun tonight then!”

“Thank you. I just hope I can get them all out before they fall asleep in my living room again.”

“That wouldn’t be too terrible though, would it?”

Desmond opened his mouth, but no witty reply came to his mind. Instead, he settled for the truth, and the fondness he really kept within himself. “No, it wouldn’t be terrible at all.”

They exchanged a few more words and the twins showed him their new drawings and then Desmond was on his way upstairs to the group of teenagers residing here. Currently, six names were written on the chalkboard on the door, Alex’s of course at the very top. Desmond knocked again and waited for a high-pitched “Coming!”, followed by an even louder “Shut up!”.

Such was the morning of a teenage residential community. A lot of music, laughter and screaming. It had definitely been one of Desmond’s better ideas to put them at the top of the building where they wouldn’t wake up everyone else at hours nobody should be awake.

The door opened and Alex, wrapped in a bright red towel, hair still wet, greeted him with an enthusiastic hug.

“Good morning, Desdemon!”

And here was to hoping he’d outlive that nickname someday.

“Good morning to you as well, Alex.”

With a sigh, Desmond stepped into the apartment and made a beeline for the living room to give Alex a chance to finish getting dressed. For all that teenagers were supposed to be a messy bunch, the living room was surprisingly clean. Sure, a few things were lying around, but it didn’t look like a tornado had decided to party inside of it.

After a few minutes had passed, Alex returned, wearing a hoodie Desmond faintly remembered belonging to his wardrobe.

“So what can I help you with today?” They asked. “Do you want me to set anything on fire? Did my Dad call again?”

Alex smiled like they didn’t have a care in the world and if their voice hadn’t cracked on the second question, Desmond wouldn’t have thought there was anything off.

“No, I don’t need you to set anything on fire. Keep your pyromaniac tendencies to yourself, or I’ll throw you out.”

Alex had the audacity to snort at Desmond’s very real and very serious threat. “I know, I know. You’ve been saying that for four years but I have yet to see proof.”

“One of these days it’ll happen. Anyway, I was wondering if post for Elisabeth or me arrived?”

The teenager shook their head, eyes lingering on the blackboard hanging on the door to the living room. Almost illegible scribbles were written on it, and some notes, as well as letters, were stuck to it.

“No, nothing arrived beside the college acceptance letter for Jack- ah shit!” Alex cursed some more, looking incredibly guilty. “Pretend you didn’t hear that! He was going to tell you tonight! Dinner’s still on, right?”

Alex acted like these dinners weren’t a well-established tradition Desmond cherished quite a lot, even if his cooking skills didn't show it.

“Dinner’s still on. Keep an eye out for the post, please. It’s crucial.”

“Will do, boss!” Alex mock saluted, earning himself a half-hearted glare.

“Alright, see you later then. I’m going out.”

“Have fun!”

Desmond wasn’t sure if his Monday activities classified as fun in the general understanding, but he enjoyed them regardless. Even though he would prefer them without the stress of his three newest residents being not as protected as he wanted them to be. Maybe he should just check in with Kaczmarek himself? It wasn’t like the man lived too far away. Sure, Kaczmarek would probably be offended that Desmond had looked up where he lived and pretended not to know for almost three years now but Desmond paid well enough that Kaczmarek would forgive him.

After all, he had financed most of the man’s tech so doing some basic background checks on him weren't too far out of line. It was a habit Desmond couldn't shake off.

As much as Desmond resented his upbringing, it was hard to get sixteen years of paramilitary cult education out of his system. And if Desmond didn't overthink that and focused more on the people dependent on him keeping track of certain individuals, he could ignore the guilt and anger just fine.

He would have enjoyed being able to simply look at somebody without immediately assessing them for weaknesses and dangers or whether they were an ally or enemy. And as useful as his growing skill in such detection was, he could have done without the headache coming with those blurry flashes of color he had to learn how to interpret. Working as a bartender had been a great help in that aspect.

Remembering that his medicine cabinet was almost out of aspirin, like so often nowadays, Desmond decided to do his grocery run sooner than later. He'd check in with Kaczmarek now, buy his groceries afterward, and by then it was probably already time to start cooking for the brats.

He quickly returned to his apartment, grabbing a jacket and his bag as well as the keys for his bike. On his way downstairs he was greeted by Jenny and Christine, who were just returning from work.

“Everything alright?”

“Yeah, boring dudes, boring night,” Jenny answered with a yawn.

“Mhm, can't wait for my bed. See you later, Desmond,” Christine added and pulled Jenny, who looked ready to drop and fall asleep right there, along further up the staircase.

Desmond smiled at the two's antics and continued on his way downstairs. In the entrance hall, he checked the mail once again, hoping that despite his lousy feeling Kaczmarek issued IDs could be found there. Unfortunately, only empty postboxes greeted him.

Had it really been too much to ask for this to be simple? The last two IDs Kaczmarek had gotten him had barely taken a week, and the quality had been well above what Desmond had expected.

Already tired of the day, Desmond left the house and headed straight for his bike parked just a few meters away from the door. He had gotten the used bike a couple years ago, and it had been love at first sight as. It had been worth every dollar. Never mind that taking the taxi or the bus to work had been annoying and exhausting as hell.

The drive to Kaczmarek's apartment took barely twenty minutes. It was located in a somewhat shady neighborhood, and nobody batted an eye at another stranger. Desmond entered the apartment building easily enough and walked up the staircase, thinking of what he should tell the other man.

That was when things started to get strange. A flash of red hit Desmond's vision as he took another step forward, immediately alerting him. He hadn't figured out yet how to actually consciously activate his gift, it just always seemed to spur into action when he was in danger.

Red footsteps lingered on the floor, though they seemed days old already. Carefully Desmond moved forward, hyper-aware of his surroundings. He could hear his heartbeat and his blood rush through his veins. It took all his concentration as well as well memorized breathing techniques to focus his sight on the outside world and reduce all observations of his own persona, even though his ability seemed to affect much more than just his vision. His senses expanded while the mechanisms of his own body disappeared entirely from his awareness. The silent steps of the cat in the apartment to his right were just as loud as the pacing of the woman one story up.

Alright, he could do this. He only needed to follow the red up to Kaczmarek's home and hopefully not get ambushed by the people responsible for the colors staining the gray.

The further Desmond got, the more did his anxiety rise. He expected attackers in every shadow he stepped into, yet he was greeted by none and soon stood in front of Kaczmarek's door. He made short work of the already abused lock; somebody had definitely already broken into the apartment.

He opened the door and was greeted with even more red, but also specs of light blue and bright gold. Chaos ruled the entrance to the apartment and followed the crimson trail into the living room where it ended. A few drops of dried blood lingered on the floor, but not enough to make Desmond worry about finding a corpse stashed away somewhere. Whoever had jumped Kaczmarek had been fast and not above drawing blood, but definitely wanted Kaczmarek alive.

Great, just what Desmond needed: a freaking crime scene.

While he doubted that the neighbors would notice the disappearance of Kaczmarek, the apartment still might be watched. He needed to be quick. Following the gold, Desmond picked up a backpack with Kaczmarek's laptop, a tablet and a phone as well as some papers that reeked of forgeries. Between those papers, he also found the IDs he had actually come for. He'd get all of that home first and come back for a proper investigation later. Preferably with back up. Whoever had come for Kaczmarek, it probably hadn't been for his technical equipment – maybe they needed only his genius?

Either way, Desmond would figure it out. Kaczmarek was a nice guy. Sure, a bit strange and sometimes it was hard to follow his thought process, but nevertheless, he was totally alright in Desmond's books. A little illegal activity didn't make anyone a criminal, especially when it only harmed those who deserved it or could stand it. His teenagers' music library indeed agreed on the later.

So, Desmond would figure out what happened to Kaczmarek, and he would find him.


Chapter Text

Eight years ago

When Desmond had been younger, he had loved the rain. It had been a welcome relief from the monotonous everyday life at the Farm, washing away all the dullness and gray. The rain had been fun as long as he had a roof to return to once he was thoroughly drenched. Nowadays he had no permanent shelter from the storm and couldn't watch the heavens drowning the world from behind a window with a cup of tea in his hands.

The sixteen-year-old pulled the hood of his rain jacket up and eyed the club across the street. He'd been watching it for about half an hour now and was pretty sure he could sneak inside in-between the next group of college kids without raising suspicion. He stood taller than most of his peers, and if nobody spared him a second glance, he could pass for a slightly baby-faced twenty-year-old. He knew how he needed to move so that he would vanish between a couple of excited party goers. He had spent the last months watching all kinds of people, learning as much as he could while switching from one homeless shelter to the next, avoiding the police to the best of his abilities. So far that had worked just fine as well, but winter was approaching, and Desmond didn't want to freeze to death. So he needed sturdy clothes, shelter, money, and cigarettes. The later was a great help against the hunger gnawing at his bones, and it was easy enough to snatch a pack of cigarettes or a bit of cash from a drunk.

Desmond waited a little longer until he saw a bigger group walking towards the club. He hurried to catch them and seamlessly integrated in-between the laughing passersby, hiding between two slightly taller guys. Once they arrived at the club and the bouncer checked IDs, Desmond ducked out of sight behind the men and entered the club. Loud music boomed through the speakers and the warmth hit him so suddenly, his face flushed.

He looked around, searching for a dark corner and found one in the back, shielded by a bunch of people dancing – or making out. Desmond passed through the masses in circles, picking a few dollars here and there a package of cigarettes off somebody, before settling in the corner with a beer in his hand. And so the night passed slowly, the beat of the bass keeping him away. Once in a while, Desmond would dance, enjoying the warmth, the burn of the alcohol and the cash he picked up sloppier and sloppier. It didn't matter either way because everyone else was even more trashed than him. Nobody actually kept their hands to themselves, and Desmond had been trained to pickpocket like his life would depend on it, it was easy enough.

Around 4 am. the club slowly emptied. Desmond's pockets were full, and he was comfortable nursing a martini. It certainly hadn't been the cheapest drink, but a blonde guy had offered to buy him one and Desmond was nothing if not opportunistic. So he had made some small talk before pawning the guy off to a busty brunette. Desmond glanced at the clock, noting that he had about an hour left before the club closed. It had been a successful night, maybe he would treat himself to a good breakfast. He hadn't eaten eggs and bacon ever since he had over-gorged himself on it two months ago.

It was then that he noticed somebody walking over to him. It was an elderly man, his hair was full of gray streaks already, and if Desmond recalled properly the man had been sitting at the bar all night. He had looked so out of place as he appeared to be approximately thirty years older than the rest of the crowd, yet he strolled over to Desmond like he was just as comfortable as everybody else.

Desmond's grip on his drink tightened as he searched for a way out of the situation before he would be caught. A thousand thoughts ran through his mind at the same time. The man could be from the police or maybe somebody from the Farm. Desmond had never stayed in one place for too long, thinking that maybe his parents would find him, that he would have to go back. And it didn't matter how awful and hard his life was right now, at least it was his own life. He wouldn't go back, not now, not ever.

Before Desmond could make a move though, the man was already standing in front of him, mustering Desmond.

“Can I help you?” Desmond asked after a moment of silence.

“Maybe,” the man replied and sat down at the chair next to him. “What is a boy like you doing in a club like this?”

“Having a good time, like everyone else.”

The man nodded absentmindedly and eyed the drink in Desmond's hand. “Do you know how to mix a proper martini, boy?”

The question caught Desmond by surprise. He frowned and let go of the glass, his hands disappearing under the table. He kept a pocket knife on him, it made him feel safer, and it was practical enough. Sure, he probably shouldn't stab a man with such a big audience, but just the knowledge that he could lifted the weigh on his shoulders.

“No, I don't,” Desmond finally said.

The man snorted and stood up again. “Of course, you wouldn't, or you'd be offended by that drink in front of you. Come on, I'll show you how to make one properly.”

He watched Desmond expectantly, waiting for him to stand up. The teenager couldn't comprehend it. What the hell was the man thinking?

“Why- why'd you do that?” Desmond stuttered.

He hadn't meant to sound so unsure, so weak. It only gave his opponent an advantage and made it easier for him to take Desmond out. Yet the man didn't seem bothered by it and just smiled almost cheerfully.

It was then that Desmond decided that he should try to make a run for it. This definitely wasn't normal behavior for some random stranger in a club for college kids. What had he gotten into now?

Desmond stood up and looked to the right where the entrance to the club was. He was fast, he could push through the last people dancing and be out of the house and gone in the dark before the bulkier man could follow him.

But Desmond definitely wasn't fast enough to escape the man's reach should he grab Desmond's jacket.

“Why would I do that?” The man echoed Desmond's question. “I'd do it because my current bartender sucks, because you have keen eyes, because I saw you pick pockets all night without anybody else noticing and if a teenager can handle a crowd that easily, you must have potential that is wasted wherever you are stuck right now. So?”

The man crossed his arms, waiting for Desmond to finally decide whether he would- what? Let himself be taught a lesson by a stranger?

This whole deal was off, there had to be a catch somewhere. Nobody was kind without a good reason or ulterior motives.

“And if I don’t want to?” Desmond asked.

“Then you are free to go, but I’ll ask you to leave everything you stole here as well. I can’t have you ruining the reputation of this club.”

But still, he would simply let Desmond go? What kind of person did that after catching a thief? Desmond had met a lot of strange people in the streets but nobody as odd as the man in front of him.

“Who are you?”

The man smiled, or at least the corner of his mouth twitched upwards, and he held his hand out to Desmond.

“My name is Nick Jackson, I own this club and a few other establishments. Now, do you want to learn how to mix a proper martini?”