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The Lights You Make

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The day started out normal for Kobra.
He and Ghoul woke up early, before the desert sun had even risen, and were on a simple supply run. It was just the basics: food, water, maybe a new jacket for Party cause he’d ripped his old one pretty badly, and some battery packs for their guns.
All in all, a simple run.
Party, as always, was hesitant to let him and Ghoul go out on their own.
It made sense really, Kobra being his younger brother and all. Party always was protective of him, sometimes to a fault.
As for Ghoul, well he and Party weren’t officially ‘dating’ but they sure acted like they were. Stolen kisses and soft looks were common and Kobra had a suspicion that they’d told each other their names.
It was a big deal, something he wasn’t sure he fully supported, but he trusted his brother’s judgement.
He didn’t know for certain though, his brother always changed the topic whenever he asked. When he tried to confront Ghoul, he’d just blushed horribly and ran off.
It was dumb, considering Party had literally saved Ghoul’s life last year.
He’d nearly died, something Kobra would never forget, but he was content with wasting time in admitting his feelings.
Sometimes when Ghoul took his shirt off, the desert heat got rid of any modesty that they had, Kobra found himself staring. Not in an attracted sort of way, Ghoul was so not his type, but more in the morbid fascination sort of way.
He still had scars left over from his near death experience. There were five of them in total, Kobra knew because he’d helped Party sew him back up. Five bullet wounds that were on his chest, shoulder, stomach, and hip. There’d been two in his shoulder.
Ghoul was a lucky bastard to say the least and yet he was still content with dancing around his and Party’s feelings. To Kobra it was obvious they both liked each other but who was he to argue with their logic.
He’d never win anyway.
“Dude I’m gonna fuckin’ melt,” Ghoul whined from the passenger seat.
Kobra didn’t look at him, eyes kept on the road, but he smiled a little at his friend.
“Stop bitchin’.”
Ghoul groaned and sunk a little in his seat with only a muffled curse. He was acting like a child but Kobra had learned quickly not to humor him. It was better to just ignore the attitude until he stopped.
He cared about Ghoul but sometimes tough love was the only option. Unless Kobra wanted to listen to him complain about the heat for the rest of their trip home. Which he most certainly did not.
Besides, they had the windows down and the old Trans-AM’s roof was open as well. The wind that blew in their faces stung a little ‘cause of the heat and the sand mixed in.
Air conditioning had once been a feature in the car, however after years in the desert it was no longer a comfort they had the option of. Kobra kinda wished they knew a real mechanic so they could get it fixed but, he also knew that trusting new people would get you killed out here, more often than not.
“How much longer?” Ghoul asked, making a valiant effort in keeping his whining to a minimum.
Kobra shrugged. Maybe another half hour before they got home, depending on whether or not they made it through the final stretch without any incident.
This run had been… uncharastically easy.
They’d found a running convenience store out by the edges of Zone 3, gas pumps and everything, and had stocked up. The prices were high, 50 for a fucking pack of granola bars, but it was their only option unless they wanted a fight or to steal.
Despite feeling a bit cheated by the prices, Kobra was in a good mood. Their trunk was packed full of supplies, enough to last the three of them well over a month.
They hadn’t managed to find a jacket for his brother but that wasn’t a priority, just something that he’d like to have. Party probably wouldn’t mind too much, seeing as they’d at least tried.
“Shit. Time ’s it?” Ghoul mumbles, leaning forward to fuck with the radio dial.
Kobra glances at his watch.
“Quarter ‘till three,” he says, watching Ghoul grin and turn on the radio.
Doctor Death Defying’s voice soon fills the speakers, giving the traffic report like he did every day at this time.
“Good evening Motorbabies! Looks like a peaceful day out here in the Zones. No raids or Dracs ‘av been spotted by my Eyes but that don’t mean y'all should go all soft on me. Quiet ain’t ever a goo-”
The broadcast cuts out abruptly, Kobra swerving a bit as he looks at the radio. After a few tense, quiet moments, the radio cuts back on and the broadcast continues.
“Sorry ‘bout that darlins, just got word of a patrol heading down Guano. Looks like they’re coming out of Three and down into Two as we speak. So, keep your eyes peeled and your guns close ‘cause I’ve gotta bad feelin’ ‘bout this one folks.”
Kobra and Ghoul exchange a worried glance.
They cross into Zone two at that moment, their current base being there, and instantly Ghoul is alert. His gun is in his hand, eyes trained on the road behind them while Kobra keeps watch in front. It’s tense, neither of them really breathing.
A clap with a bunch of Dracs is not something they wanna do today. Not when there’s only two of them. Hell, not even when there’s three of them.
It’s silent except for the engine thundering as Kobra guns it down Guano. They need to get home, now.
The radio kicking back on startles Kobra but he manages not to swerve this time as his brother’s concerned voice comes through.
“Party to the AM.”
Ghoul grabs the CB radio’s microphone, clicking the button in and answering Party quickly so that he doesn’t feak more than he probably already is.
“Sup.”
Kobra fights back a smirk, knowing how worried Party probably is. He continues to keep his eyes on the road, searching for the tale tale signs of Dracs, as Party answers.
“You guys okay? Doc’s broadcast said there’s Dracs out.”
Ghoul looks over to Kobra, grinning.
“Are we okay?” He asks Kobra, serious except for the mischievous gleam in his eyes.
If Party doesn’t punch him, Kobra will.
“Just answer ‘im before he has a heart attack.”
Ghoul frowns at being shut down in his joke but listens to Kobra all the same.
“Yeah we’re milkshakes dude. Haven't seen anythin’ yet. Prolly gonna make it back without seenin’ ‘em.”
Being a City rat, not Kobra’s favorite term but the first one that came to mind, Ghoul had struggled a bit in understanding their slang at first. He’d ask why they shortened everything and gave everything a nickname, which of course led to Kobra and Party teasing him endlessly about it. Lovingly of course.
He’d soon picked up on it though. His long, drawn out sentences that flowed together perfectly transformed into chopped bits of slang and filler words.
A true rebel if Kobra ever saw one.
“Thank the Witch,” Party’s relieved voice came over the radio a moment later. “Just get yer asses home safe. That’s an order.”
The last bit was teasing, supposed to lighten the mood.
Party had only just recently realized that hey, they were a crew and that crews were supposed to have shit like leaders and baddass names.
They were still working on the name part, toying with Demolition Lovers and simply Venom. However, Party had been a bit shocked when Kobra and Ghoul had agreed, unanimously, that he should be their leader. He was still trying to get a feel for the dynamic of the whole thing.
They already basically followed his lead but none of it was official.
Not until recently at least.
“Yes sir,” Ghoul said, mock saluting and turning off the radio.
Party couldn’t see him but it did make Kobra break a small smile.
A small one.
Just as Kobra began to think that they would get back home without incident, the radio kicked back on. This time it was the normal one, still turned on and tuned to Doc’s station.
“Bad News my darlin’s, looks like an unlucky bunch jus’ ran head first into that Drac patrol. My Eyes are tellin’ me that they took most of the City’s goons out but their damages are still being assessed…”
Doc began to talk about keeping safe again, warning them all to stay inside and not go out unless they had too.
Kobra wasn’t listening, attention now on the dusty cloud kicking up about a mile ahead of them. He could just barely see the outlines of Drac vans and what might be motorbikes but it was clear this was the clap Doc had mentioned.
Kobra, keeping one hand on the wheel, used the other to pull his gun from it’s holster on his thigh. He takes a deep breath, mentally preparing himself for whatever may be ahead.
All of Ghoul’s jokes are gone, replaced with stone cold concentration. He’s afraid but hiding it well.
As they speed closer, the vans began to come into view. They’re all shot up, laser marks scorching all over them. Kobra can’t see any movement but still they park the car about a thousand yards away.
Glancing over at Ghoul, they share a nod and get out to investigate.
It stinks of burned metal and clothing, nearly making Kobra gag. As they get closer, he wants to throw up for a different reason.
Scattered out over the road and into the sand are bodies. A fuck ton of them.
Dracs lie dead, still smoldering wounds in their chests and on their masks. Even worse though, there’s rebels laid out as well.
Their bright colored hair mixing with the sand as they lie, masks on and guns still in hand. Ghoul reches behind him and Kobra feels a pang of sympathy. He’s never been in a real firefight. Not like Kobra and Party have.
That doesn’t make it any easier though as the two of them wonder around the battlefield in a state of shock.
That’s what it feels like.
Like one of those old pictures from the Wars, bodies everywhere and no way to tell who is who.
It’s horrible.
It’s so quiet, unnerving, when Kobra knows that just a few minutes ago these people were alive and fighting for their lives.
All of the bikes are turned on their side, the crew probably having to hop off quickly. There looks to be about 15 bikes, a big crew, and Kobra can’t bring himself to count the bodies.
A piercing cry breaks through the silence, scaring Kobra so badly that he fires accidentally out into the open desert. Looking around hastily for the source of the sound, something unnervingly close to a baby’s wailing, Kobra’s eyes land on one body in particular.
It’s a woman; her long, curly brown hair tangled and covered in sand. She’s laying facedown, a huge blaster wound burned into her back. It’s still smoking a little as Kobra leans over.
The screaming is loudest here, whatever it is laying right underneath the fallen rebel.
He turns her over, gentle as possible, while Ghoul hovers behind him. When the woman is turned over, her eyes peer into Kobra’s.
They’re full of pain but they also have a softness to them that he was not expecting.
Then he sees the thing she was on top of.
A small, squirming and screaming, bundle lay on the ground the woman was laying over. All Kobra can see is a freaking mop of curly hair and the beginnings of a forehead poking out of the blanket, but he’s already picking the baby up.
He pulls the blanket away, revealing a red-faced and screaming infant. She looks pissed, as every baby is, but unharmed. So, he wraps her back up in the light material to keep her from the worst of the sun’s radiation and turns to Ghoul.
She’s stopped crying now, going still in his arms and Kobra swears she cuddles up to him.
Ghoul is still staring, unmoving as he watches Kobra.
“What are we gonna do?” Kobra asks.
They’re not cut out to raise a baby. They’re freaking teenagers in the middle of a goddamned desert.
There’s a groan, not Ghoul’s this time, and Kobra instantly is standing and searching the bodies once more.
Maybe someone else is still alive. He allows himself to hope so, needing some good out of this whole situation.

They find the groaning man only a few feet from where they found the infant. He’s got similar hair to the child but that’s the only good thing.
Lying prone in the sand, he’s got one hand over a nasty wound on his stomach, and the other shielding his eyes from the sun. He’s filthy and there’s a cut on his forehead that’s bleeding pretty badly, sand and shit sticking to it.
Kobra hands the baby to Ghoul, who takes her without complaint, and goes over to the man. He seems conscious but only barely so, the wound in his stomach likely the cause of that.
“Hey,” Kobra says, keeping his voice quiet and calm. “Hey, can you hear me?”
“Whoosethere” the man slurs, removing his hand from his face and squinting at Kobra.
“Friendly face here to help.”
With that the man opens his eyes fully, looking around in growing panic at the scene around him.
“Oh god,” he mutters, visibly turning pale at the sight of his crew’s dead bodies.
Then a look of absolute horror passes over his face and he tries to push himself up. He fails, unsurprisingly, and collapses back down onto the sand.
A little bit of blood begins to trickle between his hands and Kobra tries to get him to stay still. All the while the stranger keeps mumbling about a woman and something about a sidecar, none of which Kobra has any clue what he means. He’s fighting surprisingly strong for a man shot in the stomach and Kobra has to give him a bit of credit for that.
If only the stranger could fucking realize he’s trying to keep him from dying out here and just stop fighting him.
“Hey. Hey, dude calm down, can’t understand ya.”
The man does calm a little but Kobra notices more blood coming from his fingers and places his hands over the man’s own. Pressing down, the stranger winces and groans, but he looks at Kobra with clear, fear ridden eyes.
“My ma, she was with us. I went down and I-”
The baby decided to cry again at that moment, perfect timing Kobra would realize later, and the man jerked his head to try and peer around Kobra.
Ghoul was shussing her, his hand holding her head as he bounced a little with her against his chest in order to soothe her.
“Oh god, is - is that- is that-”
He’s breathing fast, nearly panicking as he fights Kobra’s hands and tries to get up again.
“Damn it dude, stay the fuck down. You’re gonna bleed out-”
“My sister- she’s my-” The man interrupts, stuttering and causing Kobra to loosen his pressure just a bit.
Ghoul swears behind him but gets the baby to calm down again. They should probably get her out of the heat.
“She’s okay,” Kobra tries, pressing again against the torn skin and clothing of the man’s abdomen.
All of his thrashing and fighting has torn the blaster wound pretty badly and Kobra knows they need to get him to calm down before he does himself in.
“She’s okay?”
The stranger’s voice is weak all of a sudden, fight leaving him as he stares through half opened eyes at Kobra. He’s watching somewhere beyond him, probably at Ghoul and the baby.
“Yeah. Not a scratch, can’t say the same for you though.”
“Ma?” he questions, the single word slurred as he begins losing the battle for consciousness.
Kobra is convincing himself that he’s just falling asleep, instead of ya know thinking of the possibility that the, attractive his head supplies unwantedly, man was dying.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers sincerely.
Suddenly the man is moving again and Kobra can’t stop him in time. He sits up in a blink of an eye, a blaster in his hand that they hadn’t noticed, and fires.
He freezes, realizing that this might have been a trap for the stranger to lure them in and then kill him. Kobra waits for the burning pain and unconsciousness that will accompany being shot.
It doesn’t come.
However, a thump comes from behind him and Kobra turns around quickly as the stranger collapses back against the sand. A sinking feeling tells him that it’s Ghoul who has just been shot and is laying in the sand dead. Instead, he’s met with a new body, but not his friend’s.
A Drac lays dead now, only a few steps behind a very surprised Ghoul. He’s holding the baby close to his chest, eyes wide as they glance from Kobra to the dead Drac and then to the rebel.
His attention back on the stranger, Kobra realizes that he saved them. Their attention hadn’t been on the Dracs and they would have just been ghosted if it weren’t for the rebel laying in front of him.
The man is unconscious already but there’s still blood coating Kobra’s hand, coming out far more quickly than before. His brain is trying to think quickly, to find some way to save the man.
Do they just carry him over to the Trans-AM and bring him back to their base?
They can’t just leave him here to die though; he just fucking saved their lives.
Kobra’s mind is made and he leans over to pick the man up.
It’s difficult, the man is taller than him and built sturdy instead of his scrawny form, but he manages to hurl him over his shoulder with some effort.
He nods to Ghoul, telling him wordlessly to follow back over to the Trans- AM.
Fuck.
Party’s gonna have a lot of questions when they pull up.

Chapter Text

Honestly, driving is the easy part.
Even with an infant in one hand and the wheel in his other, Kobra feels relatively in control of this situation. However, if you add in what's going on in the back seat of the Trans-AM, well Kobra’s no so in control anymore.
He’s used to driving one handed; often times it’s necessary when they have to shoot their way out of something. One hand on the wheel and one on a gun is normal, comfortable. But, a dying man in his back seat is all but that.
Kobra can hear Ghoul cursing under his breath at every bump they hit. No one ever said Guano was an easy road to drive on. Sand, rocks, debris, you name it is piled up and down the stretch of pavement. It runs long ways through the Zones and there’s always wrecks and things happening near daily.
The sand is the biggest issue. Like it is in just about everything else.
Newer rebels, ones who haven't exactly been in the desert long enough to know how to drive on a sandy road, often wreck. They assume the sand gives them better traction and end up spinning out if they’re lucky, flipping if they’re not.
Kobra knows cause he was one of those idiots that flipped.
It ended up being okay but at the time, Party was both pissed and absolutely terrified. His brother still has a scar on his ribs from the glass that had ended up there while they’d flipped. He of course was more worried about Kobra than himself at the time but that was beside the point.
Now, Kobra knows how to keep all four tires on the road and the car in his control. That doesn’t mean though that it’s a smooth ride.
Especially because he’s pushing well over a hundred on the speedometer.
Each second that ticks by the man in the back gets worse. Ghoul’s already told him that he can barely feel a pulse and Kobra’s waiting for the news that there isn’t one at all.
“Fuck,” Ghoul calls from the back seat, promoting Kobra to chance a glance through the rearview mirror.
His friend has the stranger half strewn out on his lap, his long legs bending a little to fit him in the back seat. Meanwhile, Ghoul has his legs crossed in the seat and the man’s head on his lap.
Kobra watches his friend keep one hand on the man’s stomach, which has bled through the makeshift bandage they’ve got pressed against it, while the other runs over his forehead.
“How’s he doin’?”
Ghoul looks up, making eye contact and simply shakes his head.
It’s bad.
Before they’d left, Kobra had made sure to radio Party and told him to have their medical things ready for when they got back. Of course, that led to some panicking on his brother’s part but after he was assured that it was neither Ghoul or Kobra who were hurt, Party had agreed and told them to get there quick.
As if Kobra was going to go slow or something?
Ghoul was also freaking out though. Normally it was him who was the one needing patched up. He had some sort of weird death wish involving homemade bombs and picking fights with the wrong rebels. Sure most of the time those people were assholes but you don’t just pour out someone’s water supply after they call you a name.
Okay, so it had been a pretty bad name to be called. Especially since Ghoul was ya know, sorta in a relationship with a man.
Party and Kobra though, they’d been in the desert a long while. Enough to where they knew, for the most part, which battles to pick. They rarely needed patched up, other than the small shit like scraped up knees or something.
In other words, Ghoul’s never been in a life or death situation, that wasn’t about his own life, and it’s showing. Kobra can see him trying to not freak out, for which he’s grateful.
“Oh fuck,” Ghoul exclaims, eyes wide when Kobra chances another look through the mirror. “He’s not breathing.”
The simple sentence sends ice down Kobra’s spine.
They’re so close, maybe two minutes away, and he might just be able to see the outline of the old shed they still call home.
With no regard for the car’s engine, Kobra presses the gas pedal to the floorboard.
He doesn’t care what his brother will say later, the baby in his arms and the man in his back seat pulling all of his attention.
It’s exactly a minute later that Kobra brings the car to a halt, sand and dust flying everywhere as he jumps from the car the moment he cuts the engine.
Party is already waiting, probably has been standing in the doorway, and makes his way over to them quickly.
Kobra has the door open in record time. He still has the baby in his arms, can’t just set her down in the sand, so he stands there awkwardly as Ghoul and Party maneuver the guy inside. Ghoul gives Party the brief version of the story.
They found him shot and laying in the sand. There was a baby. The guy stopped breathing about two minutes ago.
With both his brother and Ghoul working, the stranger’s limp body is placed on what is currently functioning as their kitchen table. It’s just a long piece of plywood with four plastic buckets on each corner to keep it up. Not exactly sturdy but it’s all they have. Plus, it’s cleaner than the floor.
It’s low to the ground though and Party has to kneel to be at the right level. He’s in full medic mode now, hair pulled back in a hair tie and attention on checking the man’s vitals.
Shrugging off his own jacket, Party turns to Kobra.
“Set the damn baby down and c’mere.”
He doesn’t argue, knows it’s pointless when his brother is like this. So, Kobra finds a lawn chair, a comfortable one that has netting along the sides underneath the armrests. The baby looks maybe two or three months old, he’s not sure ‘cause he knows fuck all about babies, and he doesn’t wanna risk her rolling off.
Once he’s sure that she’s secure, Kobra returns to his brother’s side. The three of them work to pull the man’s leather jacket off as well as his t-shirt underneath while at least one person keeps pressure on the wound at all times. Both pieces of clothing are covered in blood because the wound is still bleeding heavily despite it being the better part of an hour since they’ve found the man.
Party pulls the bloody rag away from the man’s stomach, inspecting the wound with extreme concentration. Even Kobra can tell that the blaster was shot at point blank and has most definitely hit some organs. There’s way too many layers of skin burned through and it’s a literal hole above his navel instead of a burn or blister. Though those cover the area around the hole, black and painful looking.
There’s blood still pouring out of the wound though and they really can’t get a good look. Kobra may or may not be slightly panicking.
He feels responsible in a way. If they were faster…
“He’s still not breathing,” Party’s calm but urgent voice says as he presses his fingers to the man's neck. Kobra can tell when he doesn’t find a pulse, the way his face drops.
Nodding to himself, Party gets to work fast.
Connecting his hands and placing them on the man’s chest, he begins to press down in quick, strong beats.
“Pulse.”
Understanding what Party means, Kobra presses two fingers against the man's neck and feels for a pulse. After a few sets of the compressions, Party looks to him for a pulse. Shaking his head no, Kobra watches as his brother pinches the man’s nose and breathes for him.
The cycle repeats.
Three, maybe four times, before there’s the slightest thump under Kobra’s fingertips. He nearly thinks he imagined it but then it happens again.
Party’s on compressions, sweat beading down his forehead from the effort and mouth parted in a silent count.
“Got one,” he informs Party, who nods sharply and places his own fingers on the man’s neck beside Kobra's.
He pulls away a second later, seemingly pleased with the irregular beating of the stranger’s heart, and leans back on his heels.
Party takes a deep breath, wiping his forehead and looking back down to the man.
“Right,” his brother says, mostly to himself as he picks up their first aid bag from the floor beside him.
Even while Party gets the bleeding to stop and begins to clean up the wound, Kobra keeps his hand on the man’s neck. He counts the beats in his head but some of them are so faint that he’s not sure if they’re actually there or not.
He’s got a tight feeling in his chest as he watches his brother work.
Party is fully focused, needle now in hand as he sews up the man the best he can. It’s sorta ironic, how good his brother is with this sort of thing but when it comes to himself Party would probably rather die than let someone near him with a needle.
Still, his hands are steady as he ties the last bit of thread and packs away the sewing things. Reaching for the bottle of antiseptic, Party cleans his hands off a little and then gets to work cleaning the man’s stomach once again.
Without all of the blood and stuff, Kobra thought that the wound would be small or something. That he’d be able to be like ‘wow, all this fuss over this little thing?’
That was most definitely not the case.
The wound covered most of the man’s stomach, right above his navel and nearly to his chest, and there was a deeper part directly in the middle from where the gun had rested against his skin. It was sickening to say the least but Kobra trusted Party’s skill.
He hadn’t always been this good with stuff like this but when you’re new to living in the desert, sorta like Ghoul, you end up getting hurt a lot. In their early days, Party patched Kobra up more times than he can remember.
Again, he wasn’t the brightest when it came to this stuff at first.
“How is he?” Ghoul’s question interrupted Kobra’s train of thought.
Ghoul was hovering on the other side of the table, arms crossed in front of him but hands not touching his shirt. They were covered in red, as were he and Party, so Kobra made an executive decision while his brother took a few minutes.
“Gonna grab some water.”
With that short explanation, Kobra pushed himself up and went over to their storage room. Really it was a tiny closet in the far corner of the shed but it was packed full of their most important supplies, and relatively easy to hide if someone tried to find it.
He pulled out two water bottles, the clean kind not the treated stuff they had so much of. Party had just worked his ass off and deserved the real shit, and Kobra was pretty sure the stranger should have clean water while he recovers.
That brings his thoughts back to the baby, still sleeping in the chair across the room. He wonders when she’ll need to eat.
What can she eat?
Where the hell are they gonna get formula?
Kobra doesn’t dwell long on that though, instead grabs a few bottles of the treated water as well and goes back over to his brother and friend.
As he sits down beside Party, Ghoul is already letting him lean his head on his shoulder. It’s a soft moment, one that Kobra knows they don’t realize he can see, and he feels bad for interrupting it.
“Here, you need it,” Kobra says, putting one of the bottles of clean water in his brother’s lap.
This gains his attention and Party pulls away from Ghoul enough to take the water. He’s right back against him the next moment though, head laying on his shoulder and eyes closed.
Party looks exhausted, which he probably is. Saving someone’s life wasn’t exactly easy.
Plus, one look out the little window tells Kobra that it’s well into the night now.
Maybe after midnight? He can’t see the moon from where he’s sitting but the shadows on the sand look right.
“Come on Party, hands,” Kobra says, already grabbing his brother’s hands and a clean rag.
Thankfully he doesn’t protest, just turns so his back is to Ghoul’s chest as Kobra uses some treated water to pull the worst of the staining from his hands. Party doesn’t speak but he’s watching Kobra as he works.
He keeps glancing at Kobra and then tuning a little to look at Ghoul. Kobra pretends not to notice, focusing on the caked blood under Party’s nails, but after the fifth time he has had enough.
“What’s on yer mind?” he prompts.
Ghoul flashes him an appreciative smile; he’d been thinking about asking too.
However, Party takes his time answering. He’s no longer looking back and forth between them, just set focused on Kobra’s hands cleaning his own.
“He lost his whole crew,” Party whispers, still not looking at either of them.
He and Ghoul look up at the same time, making eye contact as Kobra’s hands stop in their scrubbing. It’s Ghoul that speaks though, twisting his arms around Party’s chest and squeezing gently.
“Yeah but that ain’t your fault. You just saved his life Poison and his sister is alive,” Ghoul comforts, voice as soft as his brother’s.
Suddenly, Kobra feels like he’s intruding on something. He wipes the last bit of the stranger’s blood from his brother’s fingers and closes the bottle of treated water he was using. Ghoul has convinced Party to drink some of the real water, for which Kobra is grateful.
Setting the other bottles of water and things down, Kobra stands up. His brother and Ghoul are lost in their own world, not even noticing as he gets up.
Ghoul’s got Party wrapped protectively in a hug from behind, rocking them slightly to try and keep his brother from freaking out.
Family shit always got to him.
Kobra could understand it, really he could. His brother’s whole world revolved around him and Ghoul, to loose them would be worse than death. Kobra knew this because he felt the same way about Party and Ghoul.
Even without Party saying anything, Kobra could tell that he was running scenarios through his head of how he and Ghoul could die a horrible death.
Being killed by a patrol of Dracs like the stranger’s crew would probably fall under that category. However, as much as Kobra wanted to leave and go to the other room with the baby, he just can’t. The stranger is still laying on their table, wounded and unconscious and Kobra can’t bring himself to leave.
This man just lost everything; he shouldn’t have to be alone too.
Well, Party and Ghoul were technically there but Kobra knew they were so lost in eachother that they’d probably not hear a damn bomb going off.
Now, it’s not like Kobra is jealous or anything.
Fuck no, it’s not that.
It’s just that as Ghoul and Party get closer, Kobra is left a little to the side. His brother still loves him just as much as before and he knows that nothing has changed, not really. Ghoul is- well he’s Ghoul so he’s a bit of a little shit but it’s all well intended and he’s loyal as fuck.
Kobra trusts Ghoul a lot more than he ever thought he would.
So it’s not jealousy or that Ghoul is taking all of his time with his brother away from Kobra.
It’s more… lonely.
Kobra still has Party to talk to. His brother knows literally everything about him, from his anxiety to his favorite pizza topping that he totally has never eaten because pizza isn’t a thing anymore. Everything from the bad to the good, Party knows about Kobra.
And Kobra knows a fuck ton about his brother too.
How he does remember what pizza tastes like and how he remembers their parent’s faces even though Kobra has no recollection at all.
Even Ghoul knows a lot about Kobra. Well, more than most people anyway.
He’s just that kinda person, Ghoul is, who is so easy to talk to at 3am because you can’t sleep after a nightmare. He’s a damn good listener, which is honestly surprising, and he can be really sweet when he wants to be.
But with Party, Ghoul is different. He’s more soft and open. Kobra knows that it’s because they’re both in love or some cheesy bulshit but are too damn stubborn to actually admit it. He’s never seen two people kiss and do couple shit like holding hands like they do and still not admit that they’re dating.
Maybe that’s the problem, Kobra realizes as he sits back down, all thoughts of leaving the room gone.
His brother and Ghoul still aren’t paying attention to him, Party’s eyes have slipped shut.
He wonders if any of them will be able to get more than an hour or two of sleep tonight. It’s not rare, nightmares and things keep the three of them up pretty regularly.
But, Party looks comfortable and Kobra doesn’t want to jinx his brother’s chances of a few good hours of sleep.

Kobra wonders what it’s like. To have someone hold him like Ghoul is holding Party.
For someone to latch on and fight away all of the messy shit in his head.
He’s never had anyone like that. Sure, he’s had a few one night kinda things but they’ve never lasted because Kobra gets too attached. Still, he wishes that there was someone out there who actually would want him for more than a night.
Maybe he’s a hopeless romantic but watching Ghoul with Party makes Kobra’s heart ache. He wants this, so badly.
The baby cries, his brother stirring in his sleep as Ghoul looks up sharply at the sound. Kobra is already on his feet, going over to the baby and picking her up.
He tries to shush her before she wakes Party up, Witch knows he needs the sleep, but she won’t stop crying. Again his mind goes to food and how often a baby needs it.
Bouncing her in his arms, Kobra turns around to Ghoul.
Instead, the room is empty save for the unconscious man and a creaking floor telling Kobra that Ghoul moved Party into the bedroom.
He’s alone again with no clue how to care for this baby.
If anyone should know it’d be Party. He was like four when Kobra was born so he’s bound to remember something. Maybe.
But Kobra can’t ask because his brother is sleeping and he really doesn’t want to wake him.
Somehow, he gets the baby to stop crying. It takes fucking forever and he’s beginning to worry about Dracs or other rebels hearing the sound because holy shit. How can so much freaking noise come out of something so small?
Still bouncing the quieting baby, Kobra goes over to the sleeping man.
He’s about the same as before, all pale skin and shallow breathing.
It reminds Kobra of how Ghoul looked that first week after they’d saved him. He’d been in much of the same state, however he hadn’t actually, ya know, died.
The memory of his brother restarting the man’s heart from a few hours ago pulls another, older memory as well. One that Kobra would rather not remember.
Still, the quiet sounds of his brother sleeping in the other room aren’t enough to push the memories away as they resurfaced.
Like he said, he didn’t have the best track record for dating.
Often, Kobra would end up in some shitty bar and take home the first person who smiles at him. That in of itself was probably not a good thing and he hasn’t done anything like that in a long while. However, one night in particular stands out.
He’d gone to some new bar out in One.
Party hadn’t wanted to go.
They had fought over Kobra not needing to go and how Party wouldn’t go to watch him because being the only sober person isn’t fun. Now, Kobra knows he was being a dick that night but he’d just wanted to do something.
Something other than sitting around in their car and smothering in the heat.
So, after Party had gone to sleep in the back seat he’d snuck out and fucking walked to the bar. By some miracle, he’d brought his mini radio with him and was able to call for Party when things went downhill.
All Kobra can really remember was his drink tasting funny and then the panic of the guy as he realized he’d spiked his drink way too much. The asshole had fucking overdosed him by like three times and Kobra only just had managed to fumble with his radio to call his brother after the dude just left him there.
The rest is really blurry in his mind but he remembers his brother doing those compressions on his own chest after he stopped breathing.
He hasn’t gone to a bar since.
Or really hooked up with anyone since either. It’s all just way too many bad memories and close calls.
The baby is asleep again, curled up on his shoulder and Kobra has to admit that she’s adorable. Her curly hair is somehow messy and perfect at the same time, just like a certain other curly haired person, and it’s precious. She’s breathing quietly in his ear, tiny hands grasping onto his shirt like her life depends on it.
Rather than trying to put her down, which he knows will be useless, Kobra sits back down on the floor beside the unconscious man. Her brother; the only bit of family that she has left.
Kobra can understand that; he knows how that feels.
There’s shuffling and a thump from where Ghoul and Party are, making Kobra turn his head quickly at the noise. He’s worried about nightmares until he hears a sharp intake of breath and another thump followed by a moan.
And just like that, Kobra is grabbing a blanket off of the floor and heading outside. He wraps the baby and keeps her close so she stays warm as he finds a spot to watch the stars.
They’re bright tonight, flickering without the obstruction of clouds or smog like in the City. He pretends that he can’t hear the noises from inside and wonders if they still make sound canceling headphones. Or maybe he can find some ear plugs.
He’s by the car and abstently sits down on the hood. From this spot he can see a good deal away, nearly every direction except the small space the shed takes up.
Deciding to keep watch, Kobra repositions the baby, making sure she’s still warm and bundled well enough, and pulls his gun. He’s got the blanket around both of them, letting their body heat keep her warm.
The desert is quiet and he can just barely see the bits of pavement that make up this stretch of Guano.
It’s crazy to think that just a few hours ago that the man unconscious inside was unharmed and with his family.
The guy looks to be about Party’s age, maybe a bit older, and his features are soft but attractive. He looks nothing like the others Kobra’s been with and yet the little flutter in his chest when he thinks about him is all too familiar.
He sorta wants to scream but also wants to keep thinking about the man.
He does the quieter of the two.
Thinking back to the few words that he’d spoken to the man, Kobra realized that they were going to have to break the news to him eventually. It was doubtful he’d remember the conversation with Kobra, he had been dying after all, but Kobra can very much remember.
The way his hair was laying out around him in the sand, curly and wild but beautiful all the same. The gentleness in his eyes and the relief when they’d assured him that the baby was okay.
Little things like that.
Kobra trusted his brother’s skill with stuff like this but couldn’t help but wonder if the man was going to wake up at all. The fever hadn’t even set in yet, something that Kobra knew was coming but dredded all the same.
The next few days were going to be hell.
Kobra got lost in his head, only abstently keeping watch as he thought about pretty curly haired guys. Or one in particular at least.
Before he knew it, the sun was coming up. The desert sky burned with the sunrise, streaking fire across the heavens and warming the sand way too quickly.
It was already getting uncomfortable, the blanket he had around himself and the baby was removed and placed in the passenger seat of the car within moments.
He should be tried but he’s not.
The front door opens and a short shadow comes out into the sun. It’s Ghoul and Kobra tries to ignore the way his hair is all kinds of fucked up and the sorta dopey smile he’s got as he comes over.
“Poison ‘s sleep,” he mumbles slightly as he gives Kobra and the baby a long look.
Squinting, Kobra tries to figure out what exactly Ghoul is trying to find by staring at them like he is.
“What?”
Ghoul shakes his head and doesn’t answer. Instead he goes over to the trunk.
As he opens it and begins to stack the crates of their supplies, Kobra begins to follow suit. He’s still got the baby sleeping in one arm so he can only hold like one small crate.
Together, they take all of the things inside.
It takes a while, Party apparently still sleeping, but they make good time. The sun is getting way too hot, it’s nearing noon, and they finish just in time.
As Kobra sets the last crate down, he wonders again what the baby can eat.
“Ghoul?”
Without looking up from his raiding of the overpriced granola bars, Ghoul hums.
“What do babies eat?”
Ghoul snorts and Kobra glares at him.
“You know what I meant damn it. Like we’re gonna have to go on another supply run cause she hasn’t eaten in at least a day.”
That sobers Ghoul up and he nods seriously.
“I’ll go,” Party says as he enters the room.
He pulls a granola bar from Ghoul’s hands earning a whine from the small man. Party just laughs and shoves the entire thing in his mouth. He wipes his hands on his jeans and goes over to the unconscious man.
Chewing like a chipmunk, Party does a quick check up on the man’s condition. Kobra wonders over to watch him as he does, curious if the man is recovering well or not.
“Fever’s beginning. It’s not too bad just yet so hopefully we’re able to keep it controlled ya know,” his brother says under his breath.
He’s got one hand feeling the guy’s pulse again, muttering as he counts to himself. Whatever he’s found seems to be relieving.
“Yeah. His heart’s already gettin’ stronger.”
Kobra finds himself smiling, more relieved that he probably should be.
“Okay, Kobes, you know what to do with the fever,” his brother says, turning to him now, “me ‘n Ghoul’ll come back as soon as we can.”
Of course Kobra should have known that Ghoul would be going with Party. He restrained from rolling his eyes and took his revenge by grabbing the new granola bar in Ghoul’s hands and taking a huge bite.
Ghoul groans overdramatically and pouts with his arms over his chest like a child.
“S’matter Ghoul?” Party teases, grinning brightly.
“He took my food!”
As Kobra takes another overly large bite of the granola bar, Ghoul groans again and points to Korba.
“Poison,” he wines, sounding more and more like a little kid.
When Party doesn’t do anything but laugh at his ridiculousness, there’s a full box still sitting in his lap, Ghoul takes matters into his own hands. He jumps up and goes to tackle Kobra for the food; he’s only stopped by Kobra pointing at the half-awake baby in his arms.
“No fair.”
Smirking, Kobra finsiehs the granola bar and plops himself down onto the lawn chair.
“You guys go, I’ll keep a watch on the dude and put this shit away,” he says, waving his arm to the mess of supplies thrown around the small room.
Party nods, leaving to grab his gun from the other room while Ghoul continues to pout in the corner. When his brother comes back in, Ghoul stands and goes over to Kobra. He gently pets the baby’s head, smiling a little through his pout.
“Here,” Kobra says, handing Ghoul his empty wrapper.
Ghoul sputters, a mix between actually angry and just fucking done with Kobra’s shit.
“Come on Ghoul, lets go.”
With that, his brother and Ghoul are gone. Kobra is left alone with the baby and the unconscious man.
He gets to work putting away their shit. It takes forever because he has to tend to the stranger too. It’s not that he’s complaining really, he honestly doesn’t want to think about what Ghoul and Party could be doing in the car at the moment, but he’s growing worried about the man.
The stranger’s fever comes in full force, despite the damp rag he’s got on the dude’s forehead. It’s bad though, spiking way too high way too quickly and Kobra is more than a little worried, especially since his brother isn’t here.
Party would probably know some trick for helping the fever drop but Kobra sure as hell doesn’t so he’s left there, holding a fastly warming wet rag to a stranger’s forehead. The heat coming off of him is coming through the rag and Kobra knows that it’s getting bad. This is worse than what should be normal.
He pulls the light blankets off of the man, hoping that that will make some form of difference. It doesn’t.
The man starts moving, nearly scaring Kobra half to fucking death, as his eyes twitch behind his eyelids. A fever dream most likely.
He begins mumbling soon after.
Kobra can only pick up snippets of whatever he’s saying. Something again about a woman and sidecars and someone named Grace?
He’s not sure. It’s not really making sense so Kobra does not dwell on the slurred words leaving the stranger’s mouth.
Turning to soak the rag again in the treated water he’s got on the floor beside him, he looks back right as the man’s eyes fly open.
Too shocked to do anything, Kobra can only watch as the man looks around bearlilly. When he can think clearly, he tries to assess whether or not the man is actually awake or if he’s delirious.
The man looks right at him, eyes squinting and struggling to stay open as he breathes heavily. Somewhat awkwardly, Kobra puts the soaking rag back on the man’s forehead. The stranger groans in obvious relief, eyes flickering shut as a soft exhale leaves his lips.
Kobra needs to not think about his lips.
So instead he watches his eyes and waits for them to open again.
They do a few minutes later. The man finds him instantly, a small, tired smile finding its way to his lips and making Kobra’s heart flutter.
It’s not awkward, weirdly enough, as they sit there in silence and just take each other in.
The man is beautiful, somehow despite everything, and Kobra can’t help but to notice how bright his eyes are. Well, okay they’re a little hazy from fever and ya know, nearly dying but the life in them is mesmerizing.
“Hi,” Kobra says lamely.
Rather than judging Kobra’s fucking awkwardness, the man smiles again.
“Hi,” he whispers.
The stranger closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, one hand sneaking over to rest over the wound on his stomach. Without opening his eyes he asks,
“Not a dream?”
Kobra’s face falls, suddenly wishing anyone else was here so he wouldn’t have to be the one to tell him.
“No. I’m sorry man, I really am. The baby is okay though; she’s asleep right now and the others in my crew are out gettin’ her some formula.”
The man opens his eyes. There’s so much pain, exhaustion, in them. It’s not the physical kind, at least not entirely, and Kobra doesn’t know what to do.
“Thank you,” the man whispers again.
Kobra nods awkwardly. He doesn’t deserve a thank you. If anyone does it’s Party; he’s the one who saved the man’s life.
The man takes a shaky breath, obviously trying to stay put together despite well… the death of his entire crew.
“Also,” the man starts suddenly, voice lighter than it was a few moments ago, “man isn’t exactly the right word.”
Kobra must look confused but he waits for the stranger to explain further, pouring some more water on the already warm rag and putting it back on his forehead.
“You called me ‘man’. ‘S not the right word,” the stranger explains weakly, eyes slipping closed as Kobra keeps his hand on the rag this time. The closeness should be as nice as it is.
Now he understands though. Well sorta anyway.
“What do you prefer?” Kobra asks gently.
“They/them.”
He doesn’t answer, suddenly feeling guilty for all of the times he called them ‘him’ in his mind. It’s not like he knew but still.
“Ah. I’m sorry,” he says even more awkwardly than before.
The stranger opens their eyes, smiling a little.
“It’s fine. You didn’t know.”
Their eyes close yet again and their face scrunches up a bit, hand still resting on the fresh bandages that Kobra’s brother had tapped there.
“How bad s’it?” the stranger slurs, the fever and exhaustion getting to them now.
Kobra sees no point in lying to them.
“Pretty bad. My brother is good at this shit though so you don’t gotta worry.”
The stranger nods slightly and takes another deep breath.
Remembering the water now, Kobra bends over to grab one of the clean waters. He opens it for the stranger and tries to coax them into taking some.
“Here,” he says gently, the stranger’s eyes flickering open tiredly. “You need it.”
They don’t protest, just allow Kobra to lift their head enough for a few good mouthfuls of the clean water. There’s pain on their face from the movement and Kobra feels bad for causing them anymore discomfort.
“You should sleep.”
The stranger smiles again and Kobra’s heart does the flutter yet again. He pushes it away, a thought for another time, and takes the bottle from their hand.
“Stay with me?” they ask, quietly.
Kobra can’t say no, doesn’t want to say no.
“Of course.”
“Don’t even know yer name.”
“Kobra Kid,” he says, a real smile on his own lips.
It’s strange how warmed up he is to this stranger, how he’s already trusting them with his name. Not his real one of course, he’s not that dumb, but even his rebel one can be bad if told to the wrong person.
Maybe he really is losing his mind, trusting a stranger the moment they flash pretty eyes at him.
The stranger studies him for a moment longer, something gentle in their eyes as they mummer something under their breath that Kobra can’t make out. They’re asleep again before he can ask.
He hears the engine of the Trans- AM get closer, he would know that sound anywhere, and tries to forget the soft fluttering of his heart every time he thinks about the stranger and their beautiful smile.

Chapter Text

Kobra looks up as the front door slams open.
In stumble Party and Ghoul, cursing and talking angrily about something. As the two look over to Kobra, who is still sitting beside the stranger, he realises that they’re stripped.
Party has his jacket off, nowhere to be found, and his loose, grey shirt is covered in holes. New holes, i.e. ones that weren’t there before, ones that look suspiciously like burns.
Without even looking at Ghoul, whose chest is completely bare, Kobra closes on his brother. He searches for the blaster wounds he just knows are behind the holes in his shirt. He’s waiting for the stagger, for Party to collapse and for them to find the blood, the burns.
The skin Kobra finds behind the holes is burned.
Party lets Kobra inspect him, pulling his shirt off with a wince when he tells him to. One glance at the red, angry skin tells him though that these aren’t blaster wounds. They look familiar but Kobra just can’t place them, he knows he should be able to.
“Fuckin’ rain,” Ghoul curses from somewhere in the room, Kobra not paying any mind to wherever he’s gone.
So that’s what happened.
Kobra can see the proof now. The slight wetness to the fabric of Party’s shirt in his hand, the splatter look to the red blotches of skin on his shoulders and front. But acid rain doesn’t fall sideways. Does it?
The skin of Party’s chest and stomach is red, angry; Kobra wants to get him sitting down so they can clean the burns. But he has to know what the hell happened first.
“The hell kinda rain did you find?”
From where ever he is, Ghoul laughs, making Party chuckle a little as well, like they have some sort of inside joke that Kobra doesn't know.
He’s not dumb. Acid rain is the only kind of rain in the desert and in order to get actual, drinkable, water from it takes a hella long process. They treat it anyway, the process honestly cheaper than buying the real shit.
However, the sky outside the window, at least from what Kobra can tell, is clear and shows no sign of a storm strong enough to make it rain fuckin’ sideways.
“Seriously, how’d this happen?” Kobra asks, serious despite the idle talk between Party and Ghoul that he can’t be bothered to actually listen to.
“Hell of a storm comin’ in from the City. People ‘round us were talkin’ like the City made it on purpose.”
“Yeah,” Ghoul interrupts Party, “All of a sudden, the sky became really dark, like it was nighttime, and the wind picked up. The wind was so bad we couldn’t see right in front of us and we assumed that there was going to be a dust storm. We started to head back but the rain began as we did so. With the wind blowing so harshly, the rain literally came in horizontally.”
For Ghoul to use such long, proper sentences told Kobra how bad this had scared him. He was even shaking a little as he handed Party some burn salve from their first aid kit. Once again, Kobra was reminded of how little time he’d spent in the desert. Party and Kobra have been out here for years, Ghoul on the other hand was maybe a year and a half in.
Water falling from the sky that melts your skin is sorta scary, a part of life out here but scary all the same.
“It was freaky Kobes. Like hell on earth kinda shit,” Party says with a grin.
Only he would find fake acid rain, that nearly burned him alive from the sound of it, interesting. He would have kept talking but Kobra opened the little tube and began rubbing the contents on the worst of the burns, making him hiss and squeeze his eyes shut. There was one in particular, right on his right collarbone, that looked worse than the others. It covered a larger area and it made Kobra sorta worried.
Burns got infected very easily and fuck knows what was in that rain. Especially if there is a possibility that Better Living tampered with the weather. Fuck.
Was that even possible?
Still, Kobra had more important things to worry about. He wasn’t sure what they’d do if Party got an infection, if he was down for a while. His brother was their main source of income, charging gently for his medical services to anyone who needed it. They made a little extra cash by pawning Ghoul’s freaky hand-made shit and anything valuable that they stumble on. But if Party is down, sick for a while or fuck- worse, then Kobra doesn’t know what they’re gonna do.

They have already spent way more than they’ve brought in this month and they didn’t even get the damn formula for the baby. Plus they wasted gas in the process.
She was going to fucking starve at this rate.
A strange, but not necessary unwelcome, sense of responsibility falls onto Kobra.
The baby needs food, they need money, and- and he was the dependable one, the one who would just be a third-wheel if he stayed.
Closing the tube and passing it to Ghoul, a little bit of passive aggressiveness coming through because he can’t bring himself to actually rub the cream on his burns. Which, they do look sorta painful. He’s got more than Party, covering a large area of his skin and Kobra realizes that he’d had his shirt off while in the rain.
Kobra shakes THAT thought out of his head, of why Ghoul might have been shirtless, and instead just leaves him to put the cream on himself. He goes over to the baby, sleeping on her chair. She’s pale, quiet and Kobra knows that the water they’ve given her isn’t enough. She needs real baby food.
“I’m gonna go-”
“The fuckin’ hell you are,” Party interrupts, head snapping up to glare at Kobra.
Picking up the baby, Kobra just sighs. Just what he needs, Party to go into protective mode.

“She’s starving, we don’t have food for her, and we need money. You need to stay to take care of her sibling and Ghoul needs to stay to take care of you. I-” Kobra sets the baby down again gently, holding her now only a reminder that they need formula, desperately. “I can take the car, trade some shit and get her food.”
“I said no. I call the damn shots remember?”
Party looks ready to argue further but Ghoul comes between them, standing with one palm towards Kobra and the other towards his brother.
“Okay,” Ghoul starts, like he’s trying to keep them calm.
Kobra un-clenches his fists, not realizing how worked up he had been getting. His brother looks to be fighting back his argument as well, eyes still defyant even as he raises his hands in surrender.
“Okay,” Ghoul turns to Kobra now, probably waiting on him to give up.
“I’m going. Ghoul, you got anything for tradin’ this month?”
Now Ghoul looks ready to argue but for whatever reason he doesn’t. Instead he nods once and points to the little work station in the corner of their base. It’s just a mess of disorganized shit, most of which Kobra never even goes through, and thankfully Ghoul goes over and hands him a wooden crate full of his specialty. Homemade explosives. Yay.
Kobra shrugs on his jacket, letting Ghoul hold the crate for a moment as he holsters his gun as well. Ghoul looks over to Party, who’s sat down in the chair by the stranger. Party looks genuinely worried as he checks their temperature and pulse. So, naturally, Ghoul sets the crate down beside Kobra and goes over to Party.
Paying no mind, and totally not wanting to see whatever couple shit they’re about to do, Kobra continues to check and make sure he’s got everything.
Gun is in his holster, fully charged. He’s got a spare charge in his jacket pocket along with a small bit of money.
“Party?” he hears Ghoul whisper.
It doesn’t sound heated or anything else that would make Kobra scarred for life if he looked over,
so he chances it.
Ghoul is beside Party, talking to him quietly while he looks over the stranger. Kobra can’t make out whatever it is that he’s saying but Party looks…. Pissed? Or maybe frustrated.
“No,” Party hisses, keeping his voice down. “I gotta look after this guy. His heart is still weak and I don’t want to risk anything with his fever spiking.”
Kobra pretends to not be listening, which totally works because both Ghoul and his brother are now completely focused on eachother. And not Kobra.
Surprised?
“Party, you at least have to rest for a while. You inhaled some of that rain, I heard you coughing so don’t deny it. Just please, take one evening.”
There was Ghoul saying Party again. It was strange, how neither of them seemed to catch on to the difference in Ghoul. He was terrified, hands grasping Party’s as he spoke.
Ghoul never called him Party; it was always Poison because he claimed to like that part better. For him to be reverting to this, shows Kobra how worried he is for Party.
He did have a point though, if Party had inhaled some of the fumes from the rain he needed to take it easy for a while, let his lungs get rid of the toxin naturally. Not lay down, that was worse and would lead to fucking lung infections, but just rest.
Kobra can hear it now, the slight wheeze to his breath as he speaks. It’s not just because he’s whispering, the nasty shit in the rain got in his lungs. Maybe Kobra should take Ghoul’s side.
“No. I’ve had worse Ghoul, let me work.”
It seemed like the argument was over.
Kobra should probably have told Ghoul, Party was too damn stubborn to actually listen. It’d take something big, like getting shot or dying from disease, before he actually took a day. And sometimes even then he would fight it.
“Please Gee-”
And that had Kobra snapping his head up so fast he got fucking whiplash. It seemed like Party had a similar reaction, shooting daggers at Ghoul the moment the words left his mouth. To Kobra’s horror, and frustration, Party softened. He sighs, running a hand through his tangled hair and smiles gently at Ghoul.
Ghoul looks like a kicked puppy, eyes down so he missed Party’s change in demeanor.
“Hey, I’m sorry,” Party whispered, so quiet Kobra could barely hear it. “Took me by surprise is all.”
He hears nothing else, the thoughts swirling in his head are too loud.
That means that they did tell each other their names. Fuck.
It was okay when Kobra was just suspicious of it but to know that they did-
That was the one piece of his brother that Ghoul didn’t have. The real him, not the man hidden behind walls put up to keep them alive. The dude who got excited over fucking acid rain and tried to use all of their money to buy a comic he found in someone’s shop.
His big brother, who’d saved his life more times than he could count. Who would lay up with him when his nightmares got bad or let him sleep on his floor when he was scared to sleep alone.
Now that was gone.
It felt like Ghoul knew his name too, his past and everything about him.
It was irrational, Kobra knows this. He would like to think that his brother wouldn’t tell Ghoul his name too, like to think that that was his secret to tell.
But now, it’s almost like he’s the bad guy.
The one who won’t tell Ghoul, who keeps him out of that part. It’s not like he hates the dude, far from it actually. If he’s honest, he’d gladly jump in front of a blaster for Ghoul. The kid is part of his crew. Damn near family at this point.
And yet, even now, Kobra isn’t ready. He’s not ready for anyone other than his brother to know.

 

When he chances a look back to Ghoul and Party, they’re on something else. They talk quietly about the stranger, mentioning heart rates and bandages.
Party clears his throat inconspicuously a few times but they soon turn into coughs.
They’re not bad, just his body getting rid of whatever shit is currently in is lungs, but still Kobra worries.
“Hey, Kobra,” his brother calls, oblivious to what he just heard. “He wake up while we were gone?”
Pushing everything down and schooling his face back into the blank, expressionless thing he normally has going for him, Kobra walks over to his brother. He’s got the crate resting on his hip, itching to get going before the storm hits.
“Yeah, they did. I gave them some water and we talked for a little bit, they were still pretty out of it though.”
“Wait,” Party says, turning to Kobra with a confused expression. “They actually talked to you?”
He knows the hidden question in there and Kobra simply nods. Party smiles to show his understanding and goes on with checking the stranger over. It’s crazy how fast they can go back to being okay after a fight. He wouldn’t trade it for anything though.

“The dude tell you his name?” Ghoul asks, forever the oblivious one to Kobra and Party’s ‘weird sibling bulshit’ as he calls it.
“No. They were still really weak Ghoul; we only said like three sentences total.”
He purposely put heavy emphasis on the ‘they’ in that sentence and finally Ghoul seemed to catch on, his face going into an ‘oh’ shape.
It seems like maybe Kobra has one little bit of the real Party left, one piece he wants to hoard away from Ghoul. He’s selfish, fight him.
“What’s the verdict on them Party?”
His brother seems to finally notice the name thing too, already eyeing Ghoul with a silent question. Apparently, he comes to no answer because he just goes back to the stranger.
“They’re… better. It’s gonna be a while though and I’m gonna ‘av to change the bandages tonight.”
“We got enough bandages?” Ghoul asks as Kobra finally manages to take a step to the door.
If he continues looking at the stranger they’re gonna be the reason he stays. Their pale, sunken face is hard to look away from. Even their breathing, which is definitely better than before, sends pangs of fear through Kobra.
He’s getting attached, way too fast.
“Yeah, got some extra hidden in the closet. If we don’t change them soon there’s a chance for infection.”
Kobra is nearly to the door when he feels a hand on his shoulder, forcefully, but not painfully, turning him around.
“Hey. Just- be safe okay?” Party says, looking at Kobra with ‘the look’.
He calls it that because there’s no easy way to describe the way he’s looking at Kobra. Party is open, scared as he silently begs Kobra to make it back to him. ‘The look’ is his way of telling Kobra how much he means to him in a way. That he cares about Kobra more than himself and that he better come back safe or he’s gonna kick his ass.
It helps bring in some of Kobra’s frustration about Ghoul, to push it down and focus on the important shit.
Like getting the baby food and making it back safe.
Ghoul is going around the room, stuffing anything and everything cloth around the two small window frames to keep the fumes out. Kora knows he’s going to do the same to the door once he leaves.
“I will. I promise.”
Party smiles, small and light. There’s still something troubling him, Kobra can see it in his eyes but he says nothing.
“We should probably get some more water too if you can find it. The pure stuff, these two are gonna put a strain on our supply,” Party says, pulling Kobra in for a hug.
It’s a bit awkward with the crate and the cream still on Party’s chest and stuff, but it’s nice all the same.
“I will,” Kobra says, pulling back, a smile now twitching on his own face.
Going out to the car, he gently places the bombs in the floorboard of the back seat so they’ll be safe. Closing the door, he hops into the driver’s seat.
Fumbling for a bit to try and set the seat so he can drive, apparently Ghoul was driving because the seat is damn near touching the steering wheel. It hurts, that Party would allow Ghoul to drive the car.
It took four years of begging for Party to let Kobra and here Ghoul was, driving after a fucking year. Okay so Kobra had wrecked it before but that was beside the point.
Looking for the keys, he can’t find them. They normally set in the cup holder but are nowhere to be found.
Groaning loudly in frustration, Kobra gets out of the car. There are dark clouds coming in from the west, a stain on the blue sky that is getting closer by the second.
He moves quickly, walking back towards the shed.
“-the hell would you do that?” Party’s voice comes through the door, right as Kobra is about to knock to let them know it’s him.
“I’m sorry. I was just worried because you already look ill. What if you get sick? What are we goin-”
“God damn it Frankie, I’m not gonna fall over and die after I get caught in the rain! My brother doesn’t know that you know my name yet. He would probably gonna freak if he’d heard you just now.”
Kobra is reeling.
He just heard Ghoul’s name. His real name and it wasn’t even Ghoul who told him.
This feels wrong, deceitful to stay and listen to the argument but his feet are frozen in the sand.
“Why?” Ghoul asks, voice quiet and scared.
“What do you mean?”
“Are you ashamed or something? That we told each other and yet we’re not ready for anything else.”
“What?” Party sounds confused but edging on upset as Ghoul starts talking loudly.
“That we can kiss and hold hands, do all that other shit, but the second I tell you I care about you. Or god fucking forbid that I love you, you freak out! You shut down.”
Kobra doesn’t hear the rest of the conversation, making a big deal of stomping the sand at his feet like he’s walking up. He huffs overdramatically and knocks on the door like he was planning to do in the first place.
He can hear Party shush Ghoul before the door swings open.
“Keys,” Kobra demands, palm out.
Ghoul drops the keys in his hands, completely avoiding eye contact. Wait- were those… tears?
He needs to leave, he needs to let them sort this shit out because this is so not his area of comfort. This is so far from anything he’s comfortable with.
“Thanks.”
Turning on his heel, Kobra stalks back to the car.
He’s so beyond pissed and he has no clue why.
What he needs is a good, long drive and no more arguing, name telling, crew mates to pester him. He needs to relax, to sort through all the shit going through his head right now.
So he does, tearing down Guano and going way too fast.
There’s a traveling farmer’s market of sorts out in Six. He could probably sell all of Ghoul’s bombs there and get the formula and water. Plus, it’s a safe bet because Party knows he’s most likely to go there. If something goes wrong, they’ll be able to find him.
Plus, it’s a long drive, plenty of time to think.
So he drives.
Towards the oncoming storm.
The windows are up as the first drops of rain hit the car. The wind has picked up, forcing Kobra to slow down. It’s okay though, more time to think.
He’d known of course that his brother and Ghoul were doing… intimate shit. Many nights he’s had to sneak out side because of certain noises coming from the other room. He’s also seen them hold hands and kiss, everything that Ghoul mentioned. They’d done that shit from the beginning.

The moment Ghoul was awake they’d flirted and they kissed sometime soon after that. It wasn’t like they had particularly taken it slow.
However, in the year that they’ve known each other though, Kobra has never heard them say I love you.
Party and Kobra do. It’s their fucking thing, they’re brothers and the world can suck his dick if it thinks that he’s not going to tell Party that he loves him. Either one of them could die at any moment and Kobra will be damned if he doesn’t let his brother know every chance he gets.
Thinking back now though, they hadn’t said it before he left.
Okay that stings. He wasn’t that mad at Party, just frustrating in general. This was the first time he’d left without saying it.

But Ghoul. Ghoul had a point.
They did the non-spoken I love yous, Ghoul and Party. The ‘stay safe’ or ‘eat somethings’ that meant Ghoul really did care.
They looked out for each other. They were in love, it’d take a blind person to not see it, but they hadn’t said it out loud.
That was the weirdest thing. The small thing that was bothering Kobra the most.
They told each other their names, the literal single biggest secret ever, and yet could not whisper an I love you. They shared their fucking colors, their names, and yet, from the sound of it, Party was the one holding back, taking it slow.

The rain is coming down heavily now, the sound of it hitting the metal of the car drowning out the radio Kobra has playing quietly. Static comes through and he realizes it’s from the CB after a moment.
“-arty to the car-”
Grabbing the microphone, Kobra answers quickly, fearing something is wrong.
“Kobra here.”
“Jus’ testin’ if it’s gonna work in this rain.”
“Yeah. Loud and clear.”
The signal is a little shitty, cutting in and out a bit, but Kobra can understand Party well enough.
“Good. Doc says this is a bad one.”
“Understood. Keep down.”
He prays that Party won’t try and tell him to come back. If it’s bad enough for Doc to make a broadcast, then he’s sure Party is worried sick.
“You too.”
He can hear the implication in those words. He’s begging Kobra to make it back and he’s sure that Party is giving ‘the look’ to him through the radio.
“Always.”
“The stranger is aw-”
Whatever his brother was saying is cut off, the radio instantly going to static. It’s loud and hurts Kobra’s ears as he tries to find the single again.
“Party?”
Nothing, just static.
Of fuckin’ course.
______________________________
On Party’s end, he waits for Kobra’s answer. He’d figured his brother would be excited to know the stranger, who he now knew went by Jet Star, was awake and asking for him.
But no answer came.
Just quiet static of radio.
“Why’d he not-”
“Hush,” Party says harshly, interrupting Ghoul as he continues to wait for his brother’s reply.
As the seconds tick by, his worry gets worse.
Jet had woken after Kobra had left, the argument and things probably what woke them. They were quiet, withdrawn but they seemed to recognize Ghoul. It made sense, Ghoul and Kobra had been the ones to save them.
Party had been half way through changing their bandages when they’d woken. Doc’s broadcast about the rain had come a few moments later.
It’d been record time for Party to grab the radio and call his brother.
Currently, Ghoul is messing with the other radio, the one that picks up Doc’s station. Soon the doctor’s voice comes through the small speakers once again.
“Alright motor babies, we got another one. There’s a patrol of Dracs, and a possible Exterminator, heading down Guano today. They’re making hella good time, already down into Three as we speak. The rain don’t seem to be stoppin’ them so all you darlings just stay locked in place. These boys are lookin’ for trouble.”
Ghoul turns to Party, their fight now completely forgotten as Doc’s broadcast sinks in.
“Where is the market that he’s going to?” Ghoul asks, staring at Party like he knows all of the answers.
“Six.”
“They passed by here and we didn’t even hear them,” Ghoul says aloud, plopping down to the floor.
“Kobra is alone and with shit radio. Fuck,” Party agrees, sitting down beside Ghoul.
Jet Star is just staring at the two of them, recognizing Kobra’s name and realizing the danger. They’ve got their sister in their arms, holding her gently as she cries. She’s not in good shape, hence the trip Kobra is on.
“What are we gonna do?” Jet questions.
Party doesn’t answer. He has no idea.
___________________________________________
So, Kobra has done some dumb shit.
On top of heading out in the middle of a damn acid rain storm, just as strong and terrifying at Ghoul had described it as, he also has lost all radio connection. Not even Doc’s station is coming through, something that is normally a given. For as far as Kobra knows, Doc can broadcast the entirety of the desert and, as some say, beyond.
As he checks the signal once again, now pulled over on the side of the road because it was raining too hard to drive, Kobra huffs in frustration. So much for a relaxing drive.
While he has the time, he tries to get his head straight. He can’t afford to be too emotional out here, something about this whole situation messing with his ability to keep in control.
He still isn’t sure how he feels exactly about all of this.
About Party and names, and love, and fucking beautiful strangers who have the most perfect smiles.
He is so totally fucked.
Okay so it’s not that bad. He should just wait out the storm, grab the formula and water, and then head home.
Easy. Simple.
Well, it would be if he could think clearly.
He’s slowly understanding though that it is Party’s right to tell Ghoul his name if he wants to. It is Party’s name after all, his choice, and really, Kobra trusts Ghoul. He trusts him enough to know he’s not just gonna go running back to Better Living screaming his brother’s name.
So yeah, Kobra might have overreacted a bit on that part earlier.
Party was still his brother, would always be his brother, but they were welcoming Ghoul in as well. He’s part of their crew now, Kobra realises, and because of that he has the right to know everyone’s names.
And yet, even as Kobra accepts that Ghoul and Party told each other, he still isn’t ready to let go of his own. That person isn’t- isn’t him anymore and Party only rarely uses his birth name. Kobra’s real name is saved for moments when his anxiety is spiraling so badly that the only way his brother can keep him grounded is by using it. By reminding him that he’s there and that he’s not going to let anything hurt Kobra.
God. He misses Party already. It’s been like three hours- tops- and he already misses him. It makes sense, they’re really close and they really don’t go too long without each other. However, it has Kobra feeling a little more shitty.
He’d been a bit of a dick and stormed out, even if Party and Ghoul didn’t know why. If the baby didn’t need food, he’d already be on his way home.
But she needed the formula and they needed money.
Leaning forward to look out the windshield and upwards, Kobra can’t see anything other than the dark grey of the clouds. The wind is rocking the car a little and just like Ghoul’s story, the rain is coming in sideways.
Still, he needs to get going. The baby, and everything else, can’t wait forever.
Cranking the car, Kobra eases it back onto the road. He keeps a safe speed, one that feels like he’s crawling, and lets his mind wonder yet again.
This time he’s thinking about the stranger.
They’d saved them, shot a Drac while bleeding out in the sand. That was something Kobra can’t believe happened. The stranger didn’t even know he and Ghoul at the time, and someone could argue that they’d just been trying to protect their sister, but Kobra knew. He just knew that this person was not the type to just let someone die like that.
If the way they’d asked about their crew, both when Kobra had first found them and just a few hours ago, without any regard to their own health at first was any clue.
He should not be this… fascinated by this person. They were just a patient for Party, someone for them to fix up and send on their way. One of the ones that they wouldn’t charge because how could you charge someone for their life?
A part of him wishes that the stranger wont go, won’t head off into the sand for them to never see again. He wants to get to know them, has a feeling that they could be friends. That’d be nice.
To have someone other than Ghoul and his brother to talk to.
A laser beam hits his side view mirror, startling him badly enough so he swerves dangerously. Just barely keeping the car under control, Kobra tries to see where it came from through the wall of rain behind him. He spots nothing, no sign of anyone else on Ghuno.
The only indication that the blast even happened is the black scorch mark in the dead center of his driver’s side mirror.
Cursing under his breath, Kobra pulls his gun, still searching frantically for the source of the attack. Another beam comes, the sound of it burning through something and this time he’s able to see where it comes from.
It hits his windshield, from behind.
There’s a hole in the back window, still smoking a little, and a corresponding one in the front. They’re behind him apparently.
Once again he hears the beam burn through something but he pays no mind, flooring the gas and speeding down the stretch of Guano.
No more blasts come, whoever was behind him apparently giving up the chace. He drives for forever, not relaxing the speed once even as the rain falls heavily.
He can smell it, the mix of acid rain and burning lasers strong in the confined space. Then he sees it, a small cluster of buildings.
He’s still not sure where he is but it doesn’t matter, he needs to find somewhere to wait out the rain. If he dies before he gets their supplies then the trip is for nothing.
Someone comes out as he kills the engine, standing still on the doorstep. The rain isn’t hitting them, a glass door between them and the acid.
Kobra jogs over, his jacket wrapped tightly around himself and a spare thrown over his head and mouth. Getting to the door, he sees the person give him an odd look, seemingly debating letting him in. He can’t tell if they’re a guy or girl, experience with the stranger telling him not to assume.
“Please. I just need ‘t wait out the storm,” he calls over the thundering of the rain around them.
“What’s yer name?”
The person looks about his age, with dark, shaggy hair and a crop top. They have a sorta pastel look going on and it’s oddly attractive. That’s not the point though, Kobra is literally standing in the middle of an acid storm and he’d rather not melt into a puddle just because someone wanted to ask questions.
Still, he answers.
“Kobra Kid. I’m livin’ in Two at the moment but me ‘n my crew move around a lot,” he explains impatiently
Truth is they haven't moved since they’d found Ghoul but this person didn’t need to know that.
The first bits of the burning rain are coming through his layers and if this person isn’t going to help him, then he’s just gonna try his luck elsewhere.
“They with you?”
“No. Just me.”
They give him one more look over and then swing the door open, motioning him inside.
“Oh thank fuck,” Kobra mumbles, unwrapping his head from the cloth and loosening his hold on his jacket the moment he gets inside.
The person is staring when he turns back to face them, eyes wide and mouth open a little.
“Dude?”
“You’re bleeding,” they say simply, pointing to his chest.
He looks down, finding no blood. Confused now, he tries to figure out if this is some sort of joke or-
Oh.
He’s falling, the world just sort of tilting to the side.
The person is lowering him down to the floor, calling for a doctor or something. They put their hand on his back, near his shoulder, and when they pull their hand back, it’s covered in blood.

Chapter Text

Jet is currently more than a little out of it.
Maybe their mind just isn’t working at top speed at the moment. From the information that Kobra Kid had told them, they’d nearly died. So yeah, that would definitely cause some confusion. Right?
Or maybe it’s the effort they’re expending in trying to not think about their ma. Or their crew. How they’re all dead somewhere out in the sand. It’s harder than you’d think to keep those thoughts out, to push aside the creeping dread and panic that threatens to overtake them if they allow themself to think on it for more than a moment.
Maybe its both, who knows?
But, as the redhead named Party Poison cleans their wound, Jet can’t help but be lost. He and the other person, a kid named Fun Ghoul, are still going at it. Bickering back and forth, endlessly. The two of them haven't stopped since Jet woke up.
The room that they are in is small but full of this crew’s things. From their spot on the table (?), Jet is able to see the pile of parts in the corner and the make-shift kitchen area as well. There’s clothes and other personal belongings scattered around messily on the floor, some of it looking mostly clean and other bits like they’ve been there for years.
About directly between where they lie and the far wall, which looks like the ‘functioning’ kitchen, is a small lawn chair. Their sister is curled up there, her brown curls the most visible part of her from underneath the blanket she’s swaddled in.
When they had woken up a little while ago, Party Poison and Fun Ghoul were damn near yelling at each other. They hadn’t been able to catch any details, mind still slow and fuzzy, but it was annoying all the same. Then, after the short radio call to Kobra Kid, their yelling turned into worry that he was missing. And then after the broadcast from Dr. Death, the two of them had gone from arguing to just being outright petty.
Each time Party would ask for a new bandage or another cloth, Ghoul would hand it to him with some form of sarcastic remark. They still have no idea what or why the two of them are so annoyed with each other but it seems something is really bothering them.
Each time Party tells Ghoul to stop or says something cruel in response, Ghoul’s face falls. Even Jet can tell that he’s the one hurting the most in this argument. Not that Party looks all that better by compairson.

That’s what was going on now. As Jet lays there, halfway propped up on old jackets and blankets, they’re still too out of it to pick up on every word.
They just barely remember the cute, blond guy who’d been there before. They’re pretty sure he told them his name was Kobra Kid. (their memory was sorta hazy so it might have been something close to that, like Kobra’s Kid or Coroner's Kid. Okay that didn’t make sense but neither did Kobra Kid so-)
The same Kobra Kid who’s missing most likely.
Which sucks honestly because the bickering couple and how drained they feel is making them more than a little grouchy. Mostly they just want to sleep. To fall away from the world for a little while and just rest. They’re exhausted, which should probably be expected, and all they want to do is close their eyes for a little while.
But that’s not going to happen. Not with the mumbling from Party as he works. The words are too low to be made out but they’re frustrated sounding and Jet sorta wants to tell him to shut up.

Most of their grouchiness can probably be pointed towards the literal hole in their stomach though. Yeah that’ll definitely put a hold on anyone’s day. But as much as they wish they could blame it on that, it’s so much more.
They really can only remember pieces of the clap, the one that took their entire crew’s life.
Jet had been separated from the group early on, a bunch of Dracs surrounding them. They’d gone down quickly, too focused on trying to find their mother and sister in the middle of the fight. Not the smartest decision since they are the one that lived and not their mother. Or the majority of their crew.
They stay away from the rest of what that memory brings. The realization that they’d lived, even though they were the first one shot down, and so many others hadn’t-

Well it was too much to think about right now.
Too much for their exhausted mind, especially with the present company.
They also remember getting rescued. Well sorta.
Jet can remember them finding them, telling them that it’s gonna be okay. The pain as he’d pressed down on their wound, sharp and burning. The way Kobra was so focused on saving Jet that neither he nor Ghoul had saw that Drac. Just barely, Jet knows that they shot the Drac before it’d hurt any of the people trying to save them. That stubborn look plastered on his face as he begged Jet to lay still in their panic.
How his voice, strong and soothing, was the only reason they’d stopped fighting against him. They can vividly see Kobra’s face as he presses down onto their stomach, telling them with such sadness that Grace was alive. That she was okay.
That’s another thing they remember. Saving Grace. She was in Ghoul’s arms, safely protected after the fight. They cannot thank the two of them enough for saving their sister.
If only Jet had been faster, had been able to take out the Dracs and save their mother.
She didn’t deserve to die, no one in their crew did if they’re honest, especially not when Jet could have saved her. They could have done something different. Fought harder, thought quicker, just- anything else. A small detail that they could have done differently.
They can’t dwell on that. Death happens out here, way too often. You shouldn’t get used to seeing the same people because tomorrow they could all be gone. If you get too caught up on who will die or who has already, you’ll miss time with the ones still here.
A bit morbid yes, but the truth.
That’s why they’re so amazed to see their sister.
She’s sleeping at the moment. Party had mentioned earlier that Kobra had gone on a supply run to get her formula, seeing as the didn’t have any on hand already. Their mother had formula, hidden in a back pocket of her bag. It was a cooler and it kept the formula from spoiling in the heat.
They wish that they had that bag now, because they’re not gonna lie, she looks sick. Even from their position, and shity line of sight, Grace is way too quiet. Way to sleepy as she stares blankly up at the ceiling through half-opened eyes.
Honestly, Jet’s thankful that this crew is being so kind to them and their sister. They could have just left them there, saved time, supplies and just let them die, but they didn’t.
Jet lays here now, letting Party try and fight their fever, while watching their sister. She’s not really been awake since they’ve been awake and he really wants to hold her. To assure themself that she’s really alive. They wonder if Party would let them?
She’s the only family they have left.
.
.
.
Jet wonders if Party has any siblings.
When Kobra was talking to them earlier, he said that his brother was the one with medical knowledge. Was Party the brother then?
They’re not sure.
“Can ya pass me one last bit of tape,” Party says under his breath.
His attention is focused on Jet’s stomach now, or more accurately the hole in their stomach.
They can’t really bring themself look at it. It’d be too much effort to shift enough to do so and they also would rather not see their own chared insides.
“You sure you trust me enough?” comes Ghoul’s bitter reply.
He hands Party the medical tape though, eyes searching him as he does so. Party doesn’t seem to notice the worried glance but Jet does.
Still, the bitterness is back the moment Party looks at Ghoul. He huffs and turns away from Party anyway. Like he wasn’t just looking at the other like his heart was breaking in to pieces.
If Jet currently had the strength, they’d tell them both to grow up. But they don’t because they can't. They wonder if this is a lovers thing. The side glance to Party made by Ghoul once his back was turned just now, sure looks like it.
Party on the other hand, his jaw is set and his entire attention is seemingly on Jet. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t throw hurtful things right back at Ghoul. Even as he helps Jet sit up enough to take a small sip from a nearby bottle.
It’s clean and real, something Jet hasn’t had for a long time. They savor it, even with the persistent ache and the swimming of their vision as they drink.
“There ya go,” Party whispers, no trace of the anger from before.
He sounds near soft spoken, soothing just like his brother, as he lets Jet drink their fill.
It feels like they haven't had water in years, though they know they had some just before the clap. The burning fever that Party was currently helping them fight was probably the cause of that though.
.
.
.
.
Party begins to cough.
Jet isn’t sure when it starts exactly just that the painful, wet sound wakes them from where they’d unknowingly fallen asleep.
Turning their head to the right as they pry their eyes open, they watch as Party hunches over, hand covering his mouth in some attempt to either stop of quieten the coughs.
Ghoul is there in an instant, their argument apparently forgotten, as he has Party lean over while he rubs firm circles on his back. Jet can’t really see from their position. They want to help; this man did just save their life.
They try and push themselves up, elbows underneath them as they sit. They don’t make it far, crying out as quietly as they can as they fall back once again.
“Don’t,” Ghoul says, hand still rubbing on Party’s back but eyes focused on Jet. “Don’t try and get up. It’ll only hurt, I promise.”
“But-”
In between coughs, Party turns his head to Jet. He’s sweating a little, mouth open as he breathes heavily. Jet notices that he’s gone quite a few shades more pale.
“But,” they repeat, “are you okay?”
“Yeah. ‘m fine.”
Party’s voice is rough, raw and Jet really doesn’t believe him. However, there’s not much they can do to help. Just sitting, or well attempting to sit, has drained them. They’re barely keeping their eyes open at the moment, even as their stomach throbs from the movement.
Jet moves their hand a little, planning on moving a curl out of their eyes, and bumps into the water bottle laying beside them. They pick it up, inspecting it a little while Ghoul gets Party to stop talking.
It’s got real water in it, about half way full.
Lifting it and sorta waving it in front of Ghoul to get his attention, Jet tries to hold it steady.
“What?” Ghoul whispers once he finally sees the bottle in their hand.
“For ‘im.”
Surprise washes over Ghoul’s face as he blinks a little at Jet.
“He needs it,” they say, trying to keep the bottle suspended.
Their arm is shaking and it should be embarrassing that just holding up the water is getting to be too much. But it’s not. Not when they can see how much that coughing fit took out of Party.
He’s fully leaning back against Ghoul, eyes closed as he fights to even his breaths once more.
“You need it more,” Party speaks up.
His eyes flick open, looking at Jet with a mix of surprise and gratitude.
“I had half already,” Jet tries, letting their hand and the bottle rest on the plywood underneath them. “You need some.”
Amazingly, Ghoul relents. He takes the bottle, flashing them with a small smile before opening it and helping Party drink. This time, Party doesn’t fight him, doesn’t argue about Jet needing it more. He drinks it greedily with Ghoul trying to get him to slow down so he doesn’t make himself sick.
Jet knows that that was the last bottle of the clean water, all of the supply had been set beside the table they’re laying on. There’s no more on the floor or anywhere. If Ghoul or Party know, they don’t mention it.
Actually, Party looks just about asleep as he lays against Ghoul.
Ghoul has his one hand rubbing small circles on Party’s back, keeping his breathing even, while his left plays with his hair. They’re both quiet, lost in wherever their minds have taken them. It’s almost peaceful. Yeah, they’re definitely dating. It’s so obvious now to Jet.
The way Ghoul is taking care of him, despite their argument. The way Party is trusting Ghoul enough to doze off like he is.
And oh. Man that shouldn’t hurt as much as it does.
Jet doesn’t have that, has never had that.
Less people than you’d think are okay with them being a ‘them’ and not a ‘he’ or ‘she’. It’s not like they ya know, chose to be who they are. They didn’t wake up one day and decide to try and confuse everyone else or whatever other reasons people think they have.
Nope. They just… aren’t a guy or a girl. And really, it’s not that hard to get. Or maybe it is… they’re not sure. To them it’s easy.
But to others, well, no one wants to be with someone who’s like them. If past experience is anything to go by.
They’re trying, they have tried, to talk to people they’ve found attractive or have had crushes on. Most of the time though, the ‘what’s in your pants?’ question comes eventually and whoever it is runs off soon after.
It’s happened too often, often enough to where they’ve just sorta given up. Maybe it’s them, maybe it’s the other people.
But seeing Ghoul and Party like this, it hurts.
They are sorta relieved as the radio screams to life, loud static filling the room and causing everyone to jump. Ghoul’s hand moves instantly to his hip, a holster rests there.
Clearing his throat, Party pushes away from Ghoul and rises, unsteady, to track down the horrible static noise that means someone is trying to reach them.
Jet and Ghoul accidentally make eye contact and he mouths a thank you to them.
“Found it,” Party mumbles before Jet can answer Ghoul.
They watch as he waves the radio a bit in the air and then grabs the mic to answer the call.
“Party listening.”
There’s a moment of static after he takes his finger off the trigger, too loud and giving them a headache. Or maybe it’s the billion other reasons their head might be hurting.
“Heya Party.”
And Jet knows that voice. It’s slightly deeper, a little hoarse, but most definitely Kobra Kid. They are so far beyond relieved that he’s alive, he’s speaking on the other end of that radio.
They hadn’t realized how worried they’d been for him until now.
Party looks just as relieved, eyes wide as he tries to speak a couple of times before his mouth works.
“Fucking hell Kobra. Where the hell are you? Are you hurt? Did you get caught in the rain? Oh fuck, did you get caught in the Drac partrol?”
As Party lets go of the trigger to run a hand through is hair, Jet hears Kobra chuckle a little on the other end.
“Jesus Party. Okay, I’m in the car and on my way back. And to answer the rest in order, no, yes, and no.”
Relieved that Kobra is okay, that he isn’t hurt or laying out in the sand somewhere ghosted, Jet lets their eyes slip closed a little as a sigh escapes them. They hear a muffled thump and open their eyes to find Party sitting on the floor with his head in his hands.
“Thank the Witch,” he says shakilly. “Why didn’t you call us back?”
“Shitty signal from the rain. Had to stop the car but I didn’t have strong enough signal to make a call.”
Had they all been worried over nothing? Apparently so.
Before Party can answer, the radio comes back on from Kobra’s side.
“I’ll explain everything once I get back Party. I gotta go.”
“Okay. Please be safe Kobra. Please,” he pleads.
“I will. Love you P.”
At that, Party pulls a shallow breath, like he’s about to cry.
“I love you too Kobes.”
Oh yeah. Jet was also right about this. They’re brothers for sure.
As the radio cuts off, Party sits there for a moment. He doesn’t move, simply stares down at the mic in his hand.
Ghoul is still beside Jet, hasn’t said a word since the call started. One glance over tells them that he’s watching Party intently, probably worrying over him.
A soft cough comes from Party’s direction and then Ghoul is pushing himself up and going over to him. Jet watches as he convinces Party to go to bed, telling him that he needs to rest. Amazingly, Party listens.
He trudges over somewhere behind Jet’s head, the sound of a door opening tells them that he’s gone into another room. There’s a soft sound as he lays down on the bed or mattress in the other room and Jet is relieved that he’s finally laying down.
“I honestly didn’t expect him to listen to me,” Ghoul says quietly as he sits back down beside Jet.
“Does he not always?”
“No. He’s too stubborn sometimes.”
“I can see that. Do uh- do you wanna talk about it?”
Ghoul sighs, searching Jet’s face like he’s trying to find any insincerity.

“It’s a long story.”
“I can’t really go anywhere,” Jet prompts, earning a soft chuckle from Ghoul.
“Yeah. That’s fair. Um… I guess it’s just that Party has trusted me with something really important to him and I’ve done the same. There’s this wall though, a wall that he’s put up, that I just can’t break through. I don’t know why it’s there but it hurts- it hurts because he won’t let me in.”
Ghoul sighs, briefly studying Jet to see their reaction. They assume he finds a good reaction because he glances back to the room where Party is before continuing.
“I’m wide open with him. He knows everything about me but when I try and help with something that’s clearly bothering him-”
“The wall?” Jet asks quietly.
Ghoul nods.
“Yeah. If it wasn’t hurting him too then I wouldn’t press him to try and tell me. It is though; it is hurting him but he is still too stubborn to let me in.”
“He knows you care,” Jet finds themself saying.
“Sometimes I don’t know about that.”
“He does. He trusts you.”
“Doesn’t feel like it right now,” Ghoul says in a whisper, head in his hands now as he sits beside them.
“He let you hold him, comfort him. He’s resting because you asked him to-”
“Yeah but-”
“Maybe he’s just scared. Whatever’s on the other side of that wall he’s got around himself, maybe it’s something big.”
“But how am I gonna know?” Ghoul mumbles, eyes just barely meeting Jet’s.
“Continue to take care of ‘im. I saw how relaxed he got when you held him, keep doing stuff like that. Show him that when he’s ready you’re there.”
Ghoul doesn’t speak for a long time after Jet finishes.
They fight to stay awake, somehow even more tired than before. They have to stay awake though, Ghoul needs this.
Which is weird because they don’t know Ghoul. This is the first conversation that they’ve had and yet, it feels like they’ve known each other for years. Ghoul is just one of those people they guess, the ones who are able to make you feel like life-long friends.
“I- I- um- thank you. I just get so worried that he’s going to shut me out. He and Kobra are the only people I have out here; I don’t want to lose them.”
They give him a soft smile, understanding.
“Just be patient; he’ll come ‘round.”
“Hey- why did you shoot that Drac for us?”
Jet can only blink at the random question. It’d come out of nowhere and caught them off guard. When they can form a response they say,
“Because to many lives had already been taken.”
_______________________________________
Steeling himself, Kobra knocks on the door.
It’s dark now but his new jacket protects him pretty well from the freezing air around him. The door swings open, revealing a disheveled looking Fun Ghoul. He has his hand on his gun, not drawn yet but ready if need be. When he sees that it’s Kobra, he relaxes, hand leaving his gun and motioning for him to come inside.
With the wooden crate on his hip, left hand keeping it in place, Kobra walks inside. The crate used to hold Ghoul’s explosives but he’d placed the formula and baby things inside of it when he’d gotten them.
“Fuck dude. It’s good to see you,” Ghoul says, pulling him in for a hug.
Kobra winces, Ghoul notices.
However, before Ghoul can question him, Party walks through the back room’s door. As soon as he sees Kobra standing there in the middle of the room, he nearly sprints over.
Ghoul only just manages to grab the crate from his hands before Party tackles him. He ends up falling, the impact more forceful that he’d expected. They both end up in a pile on the floor, Party hugging him with force.
“Fuck Kobra. Don’t fucking scare me like that,” he says, voice shaky but quiet.
Kobra nods. It takes everything in him not to squirm away from his brother’s hold on him. Their position on the floor is uncomfortable to say the least and he already feels light headed.
When Party pulls away, eyes shining and with a smile, his face drops. Kobra didn’t have time to school is face back into something more appropriate for this reunion. The pain and discomfort were most definitely noticed by his brother.
“Kobra, you okay?”
“Yeah Party; I’m fine. Jus’ got tackled to the damn floor,” he lies, hating himself for it.
“You sure? You’re really fucking pale Kobes.”
“ You’re one to talk,” he counters.
He’s not lying this time. Party looks sick, skin sorta pale and dark circles under his eyes.
“I look like shit because of the damn rain, you don’t have an excuse for looking like shit.”
“Wow. Thanks,” he retorts without humor.
“Seriously Kobes.”
He sighs. Lying to his brother never lasts long; he always sees right through it. However, he can’t. He just can’t tell him. Not right now.
At least… not the whole truth.
“Okay so I might’ve ran int’ the patrol,” he mumbles, shrinking in a little and waiting on his brother’s fit that he’s sure to throw.
“Were you hit?”
He nods, the only thing he can manage.
The guilt is surfacing now but he pushes it aside. Later.
“God fucking damn it Kobra. The hell didn’t you tell me?”
Party doesn’t sound mad… more upset than actually angry as he pulls Kobra’s jacket off and makes him turn around.
“Should’ve known by the new jacket,” his brother mumbles as he pulls his t-shirt off as well.
“Kobra...”
He waits for the scolding.
“Jesus,” Party says under his breath.
Kobra is confused as he feels the bandage being pulled away from his skin, however when he sees it out of the corner of his eye, red stained, he knows why.
“Just sit still. Imma re-dress it,” Party instructs him, grabbing a bandage that Ghoul had brought over for him.
It stings but not as badly as before. Still, Kobra looks over to the sleeping stranger to distract himself.
They look better, healthier.
Shit the baby.
“Ghoul?” Kobra grits out as Party rubs a particularly sensitive part of the wound.
“Hmm?”
“The baby.”
Ghoul seems to get the message, going over to the crate and finding the formula, bottle, and clean water. He mixes it up carefully, with full attention, and then goes over to the baby.
A muffled cough brings his attention back to his brother.
Now that he’s looking, he can see the remnants of a fever.
“You’re sick,” he whispers.
Party glances up, eyes vulnerable for just a moment before he sighs and looks back down.
“It’s not that bad. I’m already through the worst of it.”
That’s all the explanation he gets.
Once Party is done cleaning him up, he’s instructed to sit down by the table. Party goes over to the kitchen, back turned as he rummaged through their supplies. It looks like he grabs some dehydrated things, their plastic bags giving it away.
It’s gross to eat but the closest thing to real food as they’re gonna get.
Ghoul is still with the baby, her in one arm while the other holds the bottle for her. She’s drinking it thankfully and the last bits of worry begin to fade to the back of Kobra’s mind.
“Kobra?” a slurred voice to his left nearly startles him.
He turns, coming face to face with the stranger.
“Heya. Good to see ya awake my dude!” he means it, even more relieved now that the stranger is awake.
“The name’s Jet Star,” they say with a quiet laugh. “Didn’t get a chance to tell ya that the last time.”
Their voice is quiet, their expression still tried, but they already look loads better than they were just the other day. With a little shifting, they’re able to prop themself up on some of the blankets folded up behind their head.
“Pleasure to meet ya then. Jet Star.”
They smile at him, that same blinding, adorable smile that makes Kobra’s heart do fucking summersaults. Fucking hell he’s got it bad.
The moment is broken by Ghoul. He comes over with the baby, her bottle about half empty.
“Grace?” Jet whispers like they’re in awe.
“That her name?” Ghoul questions, earning a soft nod from them.
“She’s gonna be okay ya know.”
Jet just continues to watch him feed her and Kobra tries to not notice the unshed tears collecting in their eyes.
“Can I?” they question after a moment.
Raising his brows, Ghoul looks down at Grace.
“Wanna hold her?”
“Please?”
So Ghoul helps them. He helps Jet sit up a bit more and then places Grace in their arms, handing them the bottle a moment later. The look on their face is soft, loving.
“Hey sweetie,” they whisper.
Kobra can only watch as Jet holds their sister. They whisper quiet comforts and loving words, which turn into hummed songs and scattered lyrics.
If possible, Kobra falls even further. The sight of them, so gentle and caring with their sister is what seals the deal so to speak. Despite being shot, losing nearly their entire crew, Jet is still able to sing nursery rhymes to their sister.
“Thank you,” they say suddenly, catching Kobra off guard.
“For?”
“You got her this formula. You saved her life Kobra,” they whisper, voice shaking slightly.
“Don’t mention it dude.”
They smile at him, that blinding, soft, smile.
“Here ya go,” Party interrupts, oblivious to the moment they were just having, handing him a plate of mush.
It was once probably a real meal but the dehydration process mixed with adding water made it look like sick. He pulls a face at the sight but digs in all the same.
This is the good shit, ironically enough, and they only get it the first few nights after they go to trade. He tries to savor it as Jet is handed their own plate. Grace is shifted so she’s laying down beside her sibling, rather than in their arms, and she falls asleep.
“Honestly, I still cannot understand how you can stomach this. Not to mention how you can call it a delicacy,” Ghoul says, scowling down at his own plate of mush.
Party, who’d just sat down beside Kobra, laughs.
“Are you from the City?” Jet asks Ghoul all of a sudden.
The laughter dies off, even the smirk that’d found its way onto Kobra’s face falls as they wait for Ghoul to answer.
He doesn’t know Jet that well and Kobra has a feeling that he’s not going to tell them. Not that he could blame him or anything for not wanting to.
“Yeah,” he says, surprising Kobra. “Yeah I’ve only been in the desert for about a year.”
“Shit. Welcome dude.”
Then Ghoul smiles that dumb grin he does when he’s actually smiling. When had the two of them had gotten close enough for that?
Kobra finishes his food, though he can feel his brother’s stare. The hell was his problem?
“Why didn’t you tell me you were shot?” Party says suddenly.
Jet looks up quickly, searching Kobra, but he pays no mind.
“Didn’t matter. I was fine until some idiot tackled me,” he bites back.
His brother glares at him and Kobra realises that he’s more upset that he’d thought.
“Don’t pull that bulshit on me. You didn’t have any medical supplies when you left; we’d carried it all in for Jet. So tell me,” Party says, pointing an accusing finger at Kobra. “How’d you get bandaged up?”
Fuck.
He’s so screwed.
“I was at a fucking market Party. I traded shit.”
“Oh so you just walked in with a blaster wound like that and calmly traded? Because right now you look fucking fit to drop and I highly doubt you could have managed that.”
“Jesus Party. Give the kid a damn break,” Ghoul interrupts. “Why the hell does it matter?”
“Because there’s something he’s not telling me.”
Well fuck.
Kobra hates lying but he- he just can’t. He can’t and it kills him.
“Great. Fucking peachy. So now you don’t trust your own brother either?” Ghoul spits back, growing more angry by the second.
“You have no god damned idea what the two of us have been through. I’ve known him for 18 years and you’ve only been here for a year so don’t fucking assume shit!” Party yells.
Kobra isn’t listening anymore, his head spirling through the memories resurfacing.
That first winter…
~flashback~
He stands in the snow, the white powder nearly up to his knees. There’s christmas lights hanging on their porch, his hand in his brothers as their father plugs the last of the lights in.
The whole house lights up in color.
Tomorrow they’ll have to take it down. Tomorrow color will be illegal.
That’s why today they’re doing this. Today Mikey is going to have one last memory of the world with color.
His big brother’s hand is warm, so is Kobra’s own jacket. So they stay there, as a family, watching the snow fall down onto the soft, colored lights.
It’s pretty.
“Mikey look,” Gerard says, pointing to the front door of their house.
Their mother walks out, a tray in her hands.
He’s handed a red and green mug, filled to the brim with hot coco. There’s even whipped cream on top. This is expensive, even at aged four he knows that this is worth a lot of money. So, Mikey savors it.
Or he tries too. The liquid is warm, rich, and he finishes it all too soon.
“Here,” his big brother says, handing Mikey his own mug.
“But-”
“Drink up kiddo,” he says, a bright smile on his face as he looks down to Mikey.
One day, he wants to be as nice as his big brother.
Mikey gladly drinks his coco, savoring every sip this time. When it gets too cold for them to stay out any longer, the four of them head back inside.
-----
He’s woken by a loud, piercing sound.
He already knows what it means, every citizen has been trained to know the sirens and their meanings. This one means bombs.
Scrambling up, terrified, Mikey can’t see anything in the darkness of his room.
Gerard had only just moved into the guest room, Mikey finally being old enough to sleep alone. He hated it but his brother seemed to enjoy the larger space so he tried to be a big kid about it.
Now though, Mikey wishes his brother was here.
When he’d gone to sleep, hot coco still lingering on his tongue, the multi-colored christmas lights had shone in through his bedroom window. They painted his room in soft colors, illuminating his bed.
Now though, everything was dark. There was no light.
The sirens go again, somehow louder this time. He’s shaking now, crying as he sits frozen in his bed.
His bedroom door opens but he can’t see who it is.
“Mommy?”
Gerard is suddenly right beside him, picking him up and holding him on his hip as quickly as he can. Mikey’s always been small for his age and he loves it when Gee carries him.
“Gee? Where are we goin’?”
“Shh. Stay quiet okay?”
He’s confused but he listens to his brother.
Gerard carries him through the house, every room just as dark as his bedroom. Mikey wonders where their parents are. He wonders where Gerard is taking him.
The room around them shakes as there’s an explosion somewhere outside. Mikey cries out at the loud noise, burying his face in his brother’s shoulder.
“Shhh. It’s okay.”
He whimpers as another explosion rocks the ground beneath them. Glass breaks somewhere nearby and wood creaks as Gerard breaks into a run.
“Michael. Gerard. Now where are you boys going?”
That’s his father. That’s his voice but the words sound wrong. They never call him Michael.
“Come on boys,” chimes in their mother’s voice, just as wrong sounding as their father’s.
“Stay inside.”
It sounded like it was said by both of them at once, the words coming from right in front of them. Mikey’s face is still buried in his brother’s shoulder as once again an explosion sounds in the distance. Only this time it’s so much closer. More glass breaks.
“We gotta get outside,” Gee says to them, words broken sounding.
“No we do not. Better Living is protecting us. They know what’s best.”
“No. No they don’t. Please.”
The sound of his brother’s begging is terrifying, somehow more so than the emotionless sounds of his parents’ voices.
“Stay inside boys. Better Living knows best.”
“NO!” Gerard yells.
Suddenly they’re running again, Mikey feeling hands grab at him before the front door is flung open. They bolt down the dark street, Gerard running as fast as he can.
Mikey glances behind them.
Their house is dark, just barely visible.
A red and yellow streak falls from the sky, right towards their house. He doesn’t know what it is until it connects with the roof.
The loudest boom he’s ever heard tears through the night, right as he watches their home explode violently. Suddenly something pushes them over, both he and his brother hitting the ground with force.
The last thing Mikey hears is the horrible sound of screaming as his head connects with the pavement and the world fades around him.
~End Flashback~

Chapter Text

“Yeah? Well maybe I would know if you would actually fucking talk to me for once!” Ghoul yells, pulling Kobra back into the present.
Truthfully, he hasn’t thought about that night, those memories, in a long time and it’s jarring to say the least. They were from a different time, a different life, and Kobra is honestly surprised he still remembers them at all.
“I told you everything!” Ghoul continues, voice shaking with emotion. “You know everything about me Party but I don’t know shit about you.”
“Ghoul… I have- I have my reasons.”
Party sounds exhausted and Kobra can understand that feeling. He was only four when their lives changed, Party on the other hand was nearly eight. His brother remembered way more than he ever would, and that wasn’t exactly a good thing.
“Oh yeah? Well I’d like to hear them. Because from where I’m standing, the reason is simple.”
“And just what do you think it is Ghoul?” Party bites back.
Jet is watching from where they lay, too surprised by the sudden anger to even react. They look tired, would probably be asleep right now if it weren’t for the yelling. Kobra feels for them, knowing already that this one isn’t going to be pretty.
He gains there attention quietly, offering a small smile. They return it, showing him that they understand. Then, they mouth the words ‘are you okay’. Apparently they noticed his absence from the argument and the sudden hit of old memories.
Nodding just a little, he tries to assure them that he’s okay. Which he is…
But it's honestly really adorable, the way they’re looking at him. They’re so- so kind, worried, and it makes this a little easier.
Kobra forces himself to turn his attention back to the argument. Ghoul is shaking, silent tears streaming down his face as he fights to get the words out.
“You don’t care. You don’t care about me because all you need is your brother. I get it, really I do. The two of you have been through everything together and I’m just sorta here- I’m new. It just wouldn’t be so fucking bad Party if you’d told me this to begin with.”
“Told you what?” Party asks desperately.
He sounds close to tears and it breaks Kobra’s heart.
“You don’t love me. You may enjoy- or want my company but you just- you can’t love me. I’m not family. I’m not Kobra. And really, I can live with that Party, or at least I will try to, but you fucking led me on. You held me and acted like you cared when really all you wanted was a warm body!”
Ghoul’s voice is breaking now, the words sounding horribly painful as he speaks them. Kobra flinches, not even beginning to know what to do. His brother is just standing there, eyes wide in shock and pain.
Does Ghoul really not think that Party cares for him?
“Ghoul- I-”
“No- just fucking save it okay. I get it,” Ghoul fumes, stalking over to the other side of the room.
Party runs a shaking hand through his hair, pushing it straight back and out of his eyes. He hasn’t done that in a while, worn his hair like that and Kobra catches the movement out of the corner of his eye, instantly drawing the connection he’d missed before.
Those words have been thrown at his brother before...
~about Six years ago~
Mikey was woken by a door slamming against the wall. Sitting up in a panic, he tries to see the dark room around him.
He can hear voices in the other part of the apartment, angry and yelling. This isn’t new; he’s been woken up plenty of times before to this very sound.
“Who the hell is he?” his brother’s whispered voice demands.
Mikey can tell that Gerard is trying to keep his voice down, to let him sleep. It’s pointless though, once the yelling starts it only ends in one of two ways. Either Gerard will end up apologizing and have to make it up to Bert or… or someone will get hurt. Most often his brother.
“Why the fuck does it matter?” comes the second voice’s reply.
Mikey shivers at his words, slurred and bitter. He hates him, hates the way he talks to his brother. Even worse though are the bruises, just barely concealed, the cigarette burns, the yelling…
He can see, without even being in the room, the way his brother is pushing his hair back. It’s sorta a nervous tick of his; he does it whenever they’re arguing. With how often he runs his fingers through the black strands, combing it directly back, it just sorta lays that way now.
A constant reminder-
“Because I love yo-”
“Fucking save it Gerard. You know damn fucking well you’re just a warm body. You agreed to this; it was your decision,” he spits venomously.
“But -Bert- please-”
There's a sound like a slap and Mikey shrinks down back into the covers. He’s shaking, terrified.
“Do you really think a little fagot like you would ever be enough for me? Huh! You hate this so much then you and the kid can go fucking live on the streets. I’m the only reason you two are even alive but if you wanna drag him to his death then be my fucking guest,” Bert says roughly.
There’s another sound, glass breaking on the floor.
Either Bert’s dropped his beer or he’s hit Gee with it. Both are very real possibilities and Mikey is so terrified. He doesn’t know what to do.
Mikey desperately wants to either hide or go help his brother but he can’t. He’s been on the receiving end of his brother’s boyfriend’s anger too many times. There’s a scar on his leg to prove that beer bottles hurt when they hit you. Especially when they break…
“Please. I- I’m sorry-” Gerard begs quietly, voice shaking terribly. “Please don’t kick us out. He’s only 13. I’m sorry…”
There’s a long pause, one where he knows Bert is mulling it over. Gerard is definitely doing the hair thing, anxiously waiting. Mikey wants to yell, to point out that Gerard is not yet 17 that he deserves to be taken care of too. But age doesn’t matter does it?
Bert is 17 and one of the ‘lucky’ people who got drafted to work for Better Living. He makes damn good money, has an apartment and everything.
What makes it worse is that he’s not lying. Not completely anyway.
Mikey would have died if it wasn’t for him.
After their house was bombed, he’d gotten a very bad concussion from being thrown onto the pavement. Gerard hadn’t known how to help and was pretty beaten up as well. Mikey had been unconscious for a week before Bert caught Gerard trying to steal his wallet.
They’d had no money for a doctor and he’d been desperate.
At first, Bert had helped them.
His family paid to get Mikey admitted to the hospital and he’d recovered just fine. Then Bert and his brother had gotten closer, eventually falling in love. Or well, Gee had fallen.
Everything had been fine until they’d moved in with him on Gerard’s 15th birthday. You were an adult at 15, according to Better Living anyway, and so they’d jumped at the chance to have their own place. To be adults together. Shortly after that Bert had gotten drafted into some chemical factory and the drinking had begun. It’s now been nearly 2 years…
The sound of Bert slapping him comes again and Mikey is out of bed so fast he doesn’t even realize he’s standing in the living room until it’s too late.
Bert has Gerard’s right hand twisted in a tight grip while his left falls back to his side from where he’d hit him. There’s a red mark already forming on Gerard’s cheek but there’s blood on his brother’s arm as well. Broken bits of a beer bottle scatter the floor.
“Stop it,” Mikey demands, more force behind it than he thought he’d be able to manage.
Bert even looks shocked for a moment before the moment passes and he laughs cruelly at Mikey.
“Fuckin’ make me,” he slurs, grining like it’s funny.
Gerard is looking at Mikey in fear but Bert’s grip on him is too strong for him to actually do anything.
“I said,” Mikey demands once again, stepping further into the room. “Stop it.”
Now Bert is seething. He stalks over to Mikey, towering over him. Unconsciously, Mikey takes a step back.
A rough hand finds its way to his hair, pulling so harshly that his feet leave the floor. He struggles against Bert’s hold on him, hot tears falling down his face against his will. It hurts like hell but he’s more pissed than in pain.
“What the fuck did you say to me?”
“Babe. Babe please stop. Let him go-please-” Gerard begs, hands on Bert’s shoulders to try and turn him away.
Mikey continues to struggle, to get away from the burning pain. He’s sure there’s whole clumps of hair pulled from his scalp and the grip never lessens no matter how hard he squirms.
“You better make him go back to bed or so help me-” Bert says with spite, not even looking at Gerard.
However, he does let go. His fingers release and Mikey falls to the floor in a heap. His head hurts, bad, but he’s so much more worried about Gee.
He doesn’t want to leave… knows what Bert will do when-
“Mikey,” Gerard pleeds, unable to even look at him. “Please just go back to bed.”
“But-”
“Don’t worry. We’re okay, just please-”
“You heard him faggot, go the fuck back to bed like a good little bitch,” Bert says with a drunken laugh.
His words sting but Mikey doesn’t want to move. He knows what can happen if he leaves.
But then Gerard nods, looking him in the eye with the soft expression that only Mikey gets.
The look.
The ‘I love you. Please just trust me’ look.
Mikey nods and pulls himself off of the floor. His brother looks like he wants to help but Mikey knows that he can’t. So, he just goes back into his room. The moment he closes the door there’s another slap and Gerard cries out. It takes everything in him not to go back out there.
“Please- please- Bert. I’m sorry I yelled,” Gerard’s plea comes through the door.
“Fine. I guess I can forgive you, so long as you make it up to me.”
Mikey pulls in a shaky breath, knowing exactly what that means.
~End ~

Party shrinks in on himself, eyes down like he’s waiting on a hit that’s never going to come. Well… it better not fucking come. Kobra isn’t 13 anymore and if Ghoul even thinks about laying a hand on his brother he’ll kill him himself.
Finally Ghoul seems to notice the effect what he’s said is having on Party. He takes a half step closer, hand outstretched like he wants to comfort him. His brother noticies and flinches and Kobra isn’t fucking having it.

“Back off. You’ve done enough,” he bites, wrapping his arms around his brother and guiding him outside without looking back.
Jet and Ghoul can wait; his brother needs him right now.
Fresh air is probably a good idea anyway.
Party is shaking against him, pulling trembling breaths as they sit down in the sand beside the car with the sun behind them. It’s cool here, cooler anyway, but Koba doesn’t pay it much mind.
He just pulls his brother close, tries to keep him grounded. He’d like to avoid a full blown panic attack if he can.
Then Party shakes terribly, the first choked sob coming through, and Kobra knows there’s no preventing this one. So he holds his brother, keeps his grip strong, and tries to calm him down.
When finally he starts to come through a few long minutes later, Kobra is shocked by the words that leave his brother’s mouth.
“I’m- I’m just like him-” Party stutters, words nearly too broken to be understood.
Kobra sees red.
In no fucking way. In no universe his brother anything like Bert.
Bert was horrible, manipulative, and abusive. He’d ingrained in Party’s head that he deserved to be treated that way and that it was the right thing for him to do. Still, five years later, Kobra wishes he was the one to kill the abusive asshole.
“No,” he says firmly but keeping his tone gentle. “No you are absolutely nothing like him.”
Party is better now, stronger. He’s learned how to take up for himself; to stay strong when harsh words are thrown at him. Or forceful ones. That had been a challenge of itself.
Still though, Kobra wants no part in his brother’s pain other than helping to end it. So he keeps his voice as soft as he can.
“But-but-Ghoul..”
“Was wrong,” Kobra interrupts.
Ghoul was just working with the fragmented bits of information that he knew and had jumped to conclusions. The conclusions were wrong of course. Kobra knew for a fact that his brother was hopelessly in love with Ghoul and that Ghoul felt the same way.
“I used him. I fucking led him on, just like he said I did. I gave him a place to stay and led him on. I’m no better than Bert.”
Kobra flinches at the name, his brother not having used it in a very long time. He doesn’t focus on that though, too busy trying to keep Party breathing. And yeah- Party is breathing way too fast right now and if Kobra doesn’t calm him down he could pass out.
“No you didn’t Party. You’re scared and that’s understandable. Bert did what he did because he was a sick piece of shit who got off on it. You- you went through a lot with him and there is nothing wrong with you being afraid to open up completely to Ghoul,” Kobra tries gently.
Party finally looks up at him, eyes red from crying and shoulders still shaking a little.
“I guess. But I told him my name Kobes. We’ve- ya know... I was okay with that so why am I freaking over three stupid words?”
”You can’t pick which traumas stay with you the most. Besides, for the names, you and Bert knew each other’s names. They were nothing special back then. Now though, he knows how much it means that you’d share your colors with him. Ghoul knows that.”
“But- But what he said-”
“Ghoul’s just upset. He doesn’t know why you’re afraid and he got frustrated.”
“I don’t know if I can tell him about-” Party waves his hand aimlessly.
“Well… you don’t have to but if you want to, I can be there with you.”
“Why?”
“You don’t have to do this alone Gee,” Kobra whispers, pulling his big brother closer.
After all of the years, all of the shit his brother has done for him, the least he can do is be there when he tells Ghoul the truth. If only for comfort.
Or to murder Ghoul if he doesn’t act right about it. Not that Kobra exactly thinks he would but still-

“I- I haven't told anyone…”
Before Kobra can answer, the door is being all but flung open. It hits the side of the building loudly and Party flinches against Kobra.
Yeah, if Ghoul doesn’t take this well he’s going to fucking kill him.
That being said, as Ghoul jogs over, Kobra can see the poorly concealed emotions on his face. His eyes are red too and he looks both scared and guilty at the same time.
Ghoul is in front of them in seconds, dropping down to his knees in an instant. He reaches for Party, who’s sorta curled up beside Kobra. His brother backs away from Ghoul and burrows closer.
For his part, Ghoul looks even more guilty and Kobra forces himself to not be angry when he speaks. Anger will probably set Party off again.
“Party,” he says quietly, his brother hesitantly looking up at him. “Do you want to?”
A long moment passes where his brother thinks it over. Kobra can see his fear clearly.
If he’s honest, Kobra feels like Ghoul is going to be the exception. Just from the way the two of them have acted, Kobra has a sense that they do really care about each other. There’s no ulterior motive or anything, just some shitty past experiences and fear getting in their way.
His brother runs his free hand through his hair, pushing it back again. The action hurts Kobra more than it should but he doesn’t bring it up. If it’s helping Party’s anxiety about this situation then he’ll gladly relive any bad memories the motion resurfaces.

Party comes to a decision, un-curling himself from Kobra’s side a little and turning to face Ghoul.
“I haven’t- I haven’t told you everything,” Party whispers to Ghoul, not meeting his eyes.
“Party… you can tell me anything.”
Ghoul sounds sincere, open. His brother takes a deep breath, connecting his hand in Kobra’s.
“Um… in the City there was this guy. He wasn’t the nicest and I just- he hurt me ya know…and I thought I loved him. And I’m just afraid that I’ll have to- to go through that again.”
Party’s explanation has left out a lot… more than a lot. The look on Ghoul’s face though, he’s seething from just the little bit he now knows. Was there any doubt he actually cared about Party?
“I- I’m sorry,” Party whispers shrinking against Kobra once more.
And- oh.
He thinks Ghoul is mad at-
“No. No, Party I’m not- I’m not upset with you. If you had a bad relationship before… why didn’t you just tell me? We could have taken it slow.”
“I’m sorry…” he whispers brokenly.
“Don’t apologize. It’s not your fault; it’s mine. I pushed you into this too fast,” Ghoul says sadly. “I never meant to hurt you. I would never do anything to hurt you; I promise Gee.”
The moment he says it, Ghoul’s head snaps up as he realizes what he’s done. He looks at Kobra, terrified with eyes wide. A part of Kobra is glad that Ghoul knows he’d ghost him if he hurt his brother. Party is looking at him as well, cautiously waiting on his reaction.
“You better mean that,” Kobra warns calmly.
“I- what?”
“Your apology. It better fucking be sensire.”
Ghoul seems to catch on, to understand that Kobra isn’t upset over the colors thing. Actually, the opposite is true.
If Party was ready to tell Ghoul his name, Kobra sees that as a step towards the right direction. Maybe they’d gone a little too quick with the ‘I love you’s’ but it seemed like Ghoul had made some serious progress with getting Party to open up. This was just the line and they’d nearly crossed it.
“Yeah. Yeah of course I mean it,” Ghoul turns to Party, who’s watching a little cautiously. “From now on, this is by your rules. If you want me to I will leave you alone, I’ll completely back off. But- but if you can, I’d really love to start over. To actually take things slow and not force you into anything you aren’t ready for. I- I care about you too much to be the one to hurt you. ”
“I- I-”
It seems like Party doesn’t know what to say as he keeps a death grip on Kobra. But seriously, Kobra doesn’t mind.
“You don’t have to answer now. Take your time okay.”
Party nods once and Ghoul gives him a small flash of a smile.
“Kobes,” his brother says, hiccuping.
He pulls Party closer, knowing that he’s asking for a hug. One of the best things that ever happened is that Kobra is now tall enough to completely wrap his brother in a hug when he needs to. It’s not often but in times like these, this is what keeps both of them sane.
They both sorta ignore Ghoul, who’s sat down beside them in the sand. He’s a little bit away, giving the two of them the room they need right now.
“Do you-,” Party whispers, “do you remember our first day out?”
And yes- Kobra does remember their first day in the sand.
They’d left shortly after Bert had been killed, just the two of them. Kobra was 13, had never even seen the sand let alone all of the color and life that was so prominent in the desert. It’d been so strange those first few hours after they’d snuck out.
Nearly instantly they’d found music, real- actual- music in the form of a Killjoy blasting down Guano with their radio turned all the way up. The person didn’t stop, or even look at them, but that was the first time Kobra remembers hearing music.
Whatever it was was loud, fast, and exactly the kind of music he loves so much now.
Of course it was hard, living in the desert.
The two of them, no matter how prepared they thought they were, struggled in the beginning. On top of the heat and the general lack of food, Kobra and Party weren’t exactly the most social people. They’d picked a number of fights through the years, on accident and on purpose.
And yet, those first few steps Kobra took into the sand are a vivid piece of him. That feeling of absolute freedom, something he never felt in the City, was exactly what he needed. To be able to try and fail, to learn from his mistakes.
That was the whole point of leaving the City. In there, people were just numbers, blank faces. But out in the Zones, each person was exactly who they wanted to be. You could be as loud, as crazy, as you wanted. Music and colors were some of the best things Kobra has ever found and it’s only because of the desert.
He was always a little more quiet than the other rebels, a little more hesitant to make friends, but that was okay. No one told him off for it, tried to force him on pills like they had in the City.
It was ironic really, the City’s thoughts on the pills.
They’d tried to get Party on them because, before Bert, he was too loud, too creative, too freethinking. But for Kobra, they’d wanted him on the pills because he didn’t say or do enough. They worried about what he was thinking because they couldn’t tell what was going through his head.
But here, in the sand, if he wants to ignore all other living beings and take a joyride at 2am, he fucking can. No one will think twice about it because it’s normal.
That’s another thing, there’s others here.
Other people just like him, just like Party, who stood out in Better Living’s cookie cutter society. Real, actual people. People who have emotions, good and bad. People who are unique, are their own person.
They can be as cruel or as kind as they want.
Naturally there are some not so nice people in the Zones, you can’t get away from that no matter where you go, but there are also so many people who are kind and genuine.
Take Party for example.
On top of putting Kobra, and Ghoul, above his own safety many times, the moment he realized that he had a knack for things like setting broken bones and fighting raging fevers he’d dived in head first.
To make a difference.
“Remember your first patient?” Kobra asks, smiling at the memory.
His brother has changed a lot in the years they’ve been in the Zones. In the beginning, he was quiet, shy. Really, Party was still recovering from the damage Bert had done and Kobra understood. He truly did.
But that first time he saw the real Party come out, well fuck- he had never been more proud.
It’d been when the two of them had found this middle-aged woman laying out in the sand. She’d been there a long time, sun burned to hell and severely dehydrated. Heat stroke was something Party realized he also had a knack for dealing with.
They’d stayed in a small room in another rebel’s base for about a month and Party had worked around the clock on that woman. He’d not only helped her by ya know, giving her water and stuff, nope, Party quickly became friends with her. They’d spend hours talking as she recovered. Truthfully, they still talk to her to this day.
She became a life-long friend.
Seeing his brother so confident, caring, as he treated her, that was the brother Kobra remembered. Before all the shit life threw at them, that was his brother.
Then he’d taken care of Ghoul, dug literal bullets out of his body, without ever even knowing his name. Party had done much the same for Jet. For Grace.
It was just who he was, what Better Living fought so hard to destroy. What Bert very nearly did destroy…
“Yeah, we should call her soon,” Party says quietly.
He sounds better, voice a little stronger.
“Hey um, can I ask you something?”
At that, Party pulls away enough so that they’re sitting about a foot apart, and nods to show him he has his full attention.
Kobra flashes a look over to Ghoul, still a little ways away. He can definitely hear their conversation and Kobra should probably wait…. But he needs to know.
“How come you told him your name?”
It’s just something Kobra can’t understand.
Yeah, Party is a little wary of this relationship he and Ghoul are trying to build. And Kobra does think that the name thing is different because Party went by a different name when he was with Bert. There was no Party Poison back then so there was no secret being given.

However, with Ghoul it was a secret. The biggest one.
Colors, names, don’t mean anything in the City. There’s no special meaning behind a person’s name there.
But rebellion is a deep seated part of those who live in the desert. It’s not just enough to leave the City, no, there’s so much more. Better Living has erased nearly every trace of individuality in its citizens, so much so that people are just blank faces and dull eyes. There’s no color, no life, inside of the City’s walls.
That’s why it’s so important for the rebels to find theirs.
Their rebel names are who they are. A person’s colors are exactly who they are, whether that be a representation of what they enjoy doing or a mindset that they have. There’s no set way to identify yourself, to label yourself just like there’s no ‘normal’ way a rebel should act.
Each person’s colors are as unique as the person who uses it, as different as their personalities.
~Nearly 4 years ago~
Mikey stands in the sun, the harsh rays beating down on his back. He’s hot, tired, and has never been so thirsty in his life. There’s a headache forming, probably from the heat, and he really just wants to get this trade over with already.
His brother stands just a short bit away, talking with another rebel. And holy shit-
He’s a rebel now too. That’s gonna take some getting used to.

There’s something so freeing about being absolutely and completely in charge of what he does, how he feels. He doesn’t have to fake anything, be nice to anyone he doesn’t want to. It’s incredible.
He can stand here, a scowl etched deep onto his face, and give off all of the ‘fuck off’ vibes he wants.
There’s no facade anymore, no cheerful greeting unless he genuinely wishes to talk to that person. He can tell his brother that he loves him without fear of pills being shoved down his throat. Fuck- he can tell Gerard anything now.
Not that he couldn’t before but there was always the risk of someone overhearing his rants. Of someone deciding that he was too anxious, too worried, and that he needed the pills to function.

But this freedom is still absoluetly fucking terrifying.
At any moment, he or his brother could be killed. Either of them could be shot dead in the next ten minutes and there is no way for Mikey to know before hand.
This rebel Gerard is currently talking to, he could pull his gun and shoot him right now. There’d be no repercussions.
That sort of freedom, that’s the kind that Mikey is afraid of.
This time tomorrow his brother could be dead and he could be all alone. He doesn’t want to think about that but he can’t stop it.
Gerard is too kind for his own good sometimes. That’s why he’s currently talking to the rebel while Mikey is a safe distance away, far enough to run if anything goes wrong.
To make it worse, Mikey knows Gerard gave him the last of their food. It’s terrifying though because he’s already hungry again. He’s also rather nauseous but that just may be from the heat.
Who knows how his brother must be feeling.
But, still Gerard insisted that he stay to the side while they spoke.
He can just barely hear their conversion. Out of boredom and curiosity, mixed with worry, he listens in.
“Look kid,” the other person says in a gruff voice, “I can’t slack on the prices. I gotta make a livin’ too ya know.”
“I do know but at the same time, me and my brother really need this food. Twenty is all I have; isn’t there anything I can get for it?”
“I dunno.”
The man looks at his brother for a long moment and Mikey begins to worry that he’s going to send them away with nothing.
It wouldn’t be the first time since they got out here that they’ve gone without.
“You gotta name?”
“Uh I-” his brother stutters, the uncertainty slipping out.
They’re both still new at this…
“Not yer real one,” the man is quick to clarify, hands up like he’s trying to calm Gerard down.
Right- names are different here than they were in the City.
“Oh um- it’s… Party Poison.”
Mikey is positive that he just pulled that out of his ass but he has to admit, it sounds pretty badass. It seems like the man falls for it. He nods and strokes the slight stubble on his chin.
“You’re new ain’t ya?”
His brother laughs nervously, one arm crossed over his chest while the other goes to his hair. Mikey knows that Gerard is anxious right now, can tell it in the way he stands. If the guy continues to press him for answers, Mikey will have to intervene. Gerard is still trying to get used to being- well- himself.

Bert burned all of his sketchbooks, said they were a waste of time and money. He’d actually broken one of Gerard’s pens by stabbing it into the table one evening, telling him that it was worthless and dumb.
He’d thought everything Gerard liked was worthless and dumb.
It still made Mikey seethe every time he saw his brother back down like this, shy away because he’s been hurt too many times because of things like this.

There’s some things that died the moment their feet touched the sand. He knows Gerard is getting better-

“Look, how ‘bout I give ya the cans for the twenty?” the man offers.
It’s a generous bargain, the food is worth at least double what they have. Gerard nods enthusiastically, thanking the man and pulling the crumpled money from his jacket pocket before he can change his mind.
“And-” the man continues, “I might jus’ accidentally leave my water container over there. I’m pretty forgetful ya see.”
Mikey is suspicious now, certain that this man is faking this kindness. He doesn’t know them, has no reason to be so nice. Maybe Gerard was right to be suspicious...
“But-”
“No buts kid. How old even are you?”
“Um- I’m 17,” Gerard answers cautiously.
There’s a shift in the way he’s standing and Mikey knows he’s getting ready to pull the hidden raygun they managed to find. It’s tucked away in the layers of his jacket.
“Destroya. Okay, m’ name's Cheri Cola and look, just try not to get yerselves dusted kay?” The man says, oddly senseire sounding.
“I- I-”
“Don’t thank me. Just keep running okay?”
__
Two weeks later they’re in an old, rundown motel.
Their luck had been shit. Mikey had caught one hell of a case of the flu. His immune system apparently was used to the controlled environment of the City and he was currently fighting to beat this virus. At least, that’s Gerard’s running explanation.
It was hard though and there were a couple of nights where he knew that his brother was genuinely afraid for his life.
Mikey’s been too busy sleeping or just being miserable to dwell on the fact that he could be dying. But he’s finally on the up end, hopefully.
Party found them a good place to stay that was pretty cheap. It was a little dirty but they didn’t have anywhere else to go.
Sometime during Mikey’s decent into illness, his brother had transferred over to being referred to as Party Poison full time. It was weird at first, his mind taking a moment to make the connections. Oddly enough, it truly suits his brother well.
He’d been right of course, the name had been pulled out of nowhere.

Laying there on the scratchy, old blanket that’d come with the rented room, Mikey tries to distract himself. The fever that’s been plauging him is mostly gone, his body finally gaining ground against this fucking flu.
He still feels like absolute shit of course, all achy and tired. Weak.
He hates it.
Party is asleep right now, soft little snores coming from his curled up form in the corner. Good, he probably needs it.
But with the sun streaming through the dirty windows of their room, Mikey can’t sleep. So instead, he thinks.
He needs to come up with a rebel name.
That’s the top of his to-do list.
Going by his real name is dangerious and just plain dumb if he’s honest. So, he tries to think.
It’s sorta difficult because his head is a little foggy from the illness. Maybe he can pull something from the top of his head like his brother did. Maybe then it’ll sound cool.
Because seriously… Party Poison is a fucking badass name. It suits his brother so well.
He was the exact thing Better Living hated. The literal poison to their party.
Kind, caring, loving, weird, loud, artistic… kinda goth- okay a lot goth. But he’s solely himself and really, Mikey is so god damned proud of him. The fact that he could keep so much of his personality despite Better Living and despite Bert is just insane.
Gerard is so much stronger than people give him credit for.

 

But Mikey, he’s just- quiet, too caught up in his head.
He’s not as… wide open as his brother is. Well at least not around other people.

Maybe he could take a name from one of those old comic book characters?
There’s plenty of them that he still remembers from when Gerard would read to him when he was very small. Those are some of his happiest memories and from what he understands about rebel names, they’re supposed to be representative of who you are.
So maybe he could be… Batman?
No that’s just dumb.
Or maybe-
Something touches him, running up his legs. It feels like something is crawling in his pants and Mikey isn’t sure if this is from the fever or-
Yeah nope, this is real. Looking down he sees the outline of a snake underneath the scratchy old blanket. He yelps and tries to fling the blanket off of him.
Still uncoordinated and weak, it’s a struggle.
He’s cursing loudly as he finally manages to throw the blanket away. However, the snake is apparently in his fucking pants.
“Fucking hell!” he yells though he’s frozen watching the snake.
It’s still now, probably startled by his actions.
Oh god it’s gonna bite him isn’t it?
“What’s going on?” Party asks urgently, apparently awake and standing over him.
His brother finally notices the furious reptile(?) in his goddamn pants and takes action. Mikey is in a pair of light sweatpants, jeans having grown uncomfortable when his stomach was rolling with nausea. This makes it no easier though.

With his pants being pulled off, the snake ends up thrown in a pile of fabric across the room. The snake is wiggling furiously now, trying to get out of the pants.
Party takes his boot and stomps into the pile, there’s a nasty crunch and the pants’ writing grows still.
Mikey is still shaking as Ger- Party rounds on him.
Instantly he’s checking him over for bites, cursing under his breath.
“Please tell me it didn’t bite you Mikey,” Party mumbles, turning his leg over for the fourth time now.
“I’m- I’m fine.”
The adrenaline is fading and he’s beginning to feel the fever once again. Even though he knows his brother is just worried, the fifth time he checks his leg, Mikey bats his hand away.
“I’m fine,” he repeats firmly.
Party still looks worried but he retracts his hand.
“Only you,” Party says with a fond laugh.
“The fuck kinda snake wazit?”
Mikey is aware that he’s mumbling, slurring his words, but he doesn’t care. He’s sick and exhausted and just had a god damn snake in his actual pants. Fucking spare him.
But Party goes over to his sweatpants, that he is so gonna burn the next time he has the chance, and pokes them once. When he’s sure the snake is dead, he turns them over so that its lifeless body falls out of the waistline and onto the floor.
A god damned cobra.
Of course…
“Ha,” his brother says with a short laugh. “You’re like the Cobra Kid.”
~End Flashback~

“Cause I trust him,” Party answers after a long moment, his words coming out in disbelief. “I- I do trust you Ghoul.”
Ghoul is staring, obviously not expecting that answer.
“It’s just- the last time I loved someone, other than Kobra, he- he used it against me. I know you’re not him, I keep trying to convince myself that you’re not, but he was nice too in the beginning and- and I just don’t want to do that again. I can’t do that again…”
Kobra has to fight the urge to smother his brother in another hug. He wonders if Party realizes what he just admitted… the look on Ghoul’s face tells him that he most definitely did.
“I know-,” Ghoul starts quietly, “ I know that I’m not as… well versed in the secrecy of birth names. To me, it’s somewhat of a forein concept. I’m just me by a different name. However, when I told you mine I knew exactly what I was doing. I told you because I trust you; I know for a fact that you would never betray me or use it against me.”
Party is shocked, frozen staring back at Ghoul. His mouth is open like he wants to say something but no words come out.
“The fact that you trust me enough, despite everything, to share your colors with me… I just- I don’t even know what to say,” Ghoul finishes, just as quiet as when he started.
“Oh, Ghoul. I am so sorry that I hurt you,” Ghoul makes a move to interrupt but Party holds his hand up and he lets him finish. “I should have- I should have told you all of this the moment we became more than friends. The moment we both got… invested I should have come clean because now I’ve just led you on and hurt you. I don’t- I don’t know if I’m ever really gonna be ready but-” he looks directly at Ghoul now, “I fucking love you Ghoul. I really do and I’ve tried to deny it, forget it, but it’s impossible.”
Ghoul looks ready to cry and once again Kobra feels like he’s intruding. He would leave, let them have their moment, but about half way through Party’s speech, his brother had connected their hands. A firm grip telling Kobra that he wanted him there for this.
So. He stays.
“I- I don’t even know what to say…” Ghoul whispers, grinning like a little kid. “I love you, fuck from the moment I opened my eyes and saw you, I loved you. And I swear on my life, my colors, that I will never hurt you. I will never ever let anyone else hurt you… I promise.”
There’s something to Ghoul’s words, this sense of genuine honesty. He’s baring his heart for them, each word coming directly from inside himself.
Kobra realises he was wrong to doubt or worry about Ghoul’s intentions. He was so terribly wrong to think for even a second that he would hurt his brother. Party seems to be coming to the same conclusions as he is, smiling brightly and wiping the last of the tears away.

It’s hot as hell outside, even in the shade, and Kobra really wants to go back in. Jet is probably all kinds of confused and Kobra really feels bad for leaving them inside. But they couldn’t exactly bring them out here so-
He wonders if he’ll find someone, one day, to be this open with. To share so much of himself and who he is and know for a fact that he’s putting his secrets in safe arms. A piece of him wonders if Jet is that person, could be that person.
For now though, he’s come to a decision.
“Hey Ghoul?” Kobra says, making sure Ghoul’s looking at him properly.
He gives his brother’s hand a squeeze, needing the comfort. Taking a deep breath, he smiles at Ghoul.
“Mikey.”
Ghoul looks confused for just a moment before it clicks and he gasps audibly.
“You-”
“My name’s Mikey, ‘jus figured I outta tell you.”
Quickly, Ghoul sobers but he’s grinning again. He looks so… proud, happy, and Kobra can’t help matching his smile.
This is the first time he’s said his own name in.. fuck- years? And the only time it’s not been to his brother.
He’s strangely relieved, not anxious like he thought he’d be. He knows Ghoul will keep it safe.
“Mine’s Frank. Frankie.”
Fuck, he sorta forgot how he already knew Ghoul’s.
“I- I already-”
“I know but I figured I'd make it official.”
When did he-
“The look you had when you came back for the keys, I knew you’d heard it,” Ghoul explains with a shrug.
Well fuck.
It’s official now, just like Ghoul said. They’re a crew, a real one now.
Knowing his brother, Party will probably want to do some matching color scheme or something now that this is truly set in stone. They’re a crew… fuck- a family…
Kobra has only ever really had Party, the others just passing faces in his life, but now he has Ghoul too. A tiny piece of him hopes that he’ll have Jet and Grace as well.
_____________________________
Later that day, Ghoul and Party go on a drive.
They both needed to talk, to figure out all of their gross couple shit and really, Koba is perfectly okay with spending the evening with Jet.
They’re awake again though not sitting up. Truthfully they look a little more tired but Kobra is chalking it up to the major fight that’d happened earlier. It was exhausting for him so there’s no telling how Jet feels. He loves his brother and Ghoul but today has been fucking draining. He’s so glad they’re out driving, talking through this shit away from him.
The memories resurfacing today have been hard to say the least. Kobra knows that this was something important that they’d needed to get through but he can’t help but feel terrible for how much he’s held back from his brother.
He wants to tell Party about what happened but he just can’t-

“How are you?” Jet whispers as he adjusts their blankets.
The temperature is dropping fast outside and he wants to ensure that they stay warm. Grace has already been fed, had her diper changed- which was so fucking gross by the way- holy shit-, and been put to bed with an extra layer for warmth. So, now all Kobra has to do is talk to Jet.
He is so not complaining.
“Whatd’ya mean?” he asks.
“Your brother mentioned you were shot?”
It’s worded like a question, like Jet is debating what they heard exactly.
“Oh,” Kobra says, shaking his head a little. “Yeah I was but I’m fine now.”
“Thats- that’s now how that works.”
Okay so their concern should not be as attractive as it is right now.
“I got patched up- or well I patched myself up, and I’m fine now.”
That was close. God he hates lying but he has to…
Or maybe Jet already knows?
“Are you sure? Your brother looked pretty worried,” Jet continues quietly.
“Yeah. Yeah I’m fine, really.”
They give him a long look but don’t press any further. Instead, they push themself up until they’re sitting, without the bundled up blankets for support, Kobra notices.
“Can you hand me Grace? I- I just wanna hold her.”
Kobra gladly puts the baby in their arms.
It’s incredible watching them with her. How careful, loving, they are as they hold their sister so close.
“Can I ask a weird question?” Jet says suddenly, making Kobra realize he was lost in watching them.
“Anything,” he says, probably too earnestly.
“Who’s older, you or Party?”
He laughs, he can’t help it. After the emotional drain that’s occurred already today, this question is just too… normal, mundane, and he loves it.
“Party.”
“Huh, my guess was wrong,” they say, a hint of humor in their eyes the only give away.
They’re so beautiful, sitting there, that ghost of a smile on their lips.
“I’d ask you the same question but,”he gestures to Jet and Grace.
They laugh, high and sweet, making Kobra’s stomach flutter.
He wants to do whatever it takes to make them laugh like that again. To see that happiness gain ground in their eyes.
They’ve been so sad, or maybe just grieving is the right word, the entire time Kobra’s known them. Of course, they hide it well. The only reason he’s seen it is because he often finds himself distracted by their eyes, their facial expressions and the sadness that lays just underneath.
Somehow they’re still so beautiful, even with the weight of that clap looming over them. But Kobra wishes there was a way to fix that, to banish all of that pain away. He would take it all, gladly, for them if it was possible. He’d do anything to make that light shine once again in their eyes.
But as it is, the conversation continues between the two of them well into the night. They talk about anything and Jet laughs again many times. Each time the laughter ends though, it’s only a few minutes until the pain creeps back up.

Chapter Text

That night, so late that it was considered early, Party and Ghoul returned.
Kobra had been dozing, still too wired to sleep properally, as he heard them enter quietly. Their stealth hadn’t mattered though, Kobra had woken fully the moment the familiar sound of the engine filled his ears.
He wondered vaguely if Party was going to comment on the various bullet holes that now adorned the windows and driver’s seat. But more so, he wonders if he and Ghoul are okay?
Today unveiled a lot and really and Kobra still isn’t a hundred percent sure the two of them are ready. However, he knows that if Party needs him, he’ll ask. Well, he’d like to think that Ghoul would come to him as well if he needed to.
But Kobra is still sorta in that weird place between sleeping and waking, his eyes too heavy to open but his hearing still picking up the faint sound of boots walking on sand.
Only slightly, Kobra can feel that his head is resting on something. He’s sorta leaned over, arms curved around his head. He is slowly getting awake enough to where it’s uncomfortable. His shoulder aches in this position but he’s not quite awake enough to readjust.
Very quietly, so soft he just might be imagining it, he can hear someone breathing. It’s slow and deep with sleep. The breaths sound right next to him though and he finally realizes where he is.
He must have fallen asleep beside Jet… his face is probably very close to theirs.
There are a long few moments of silence and the quiet breaths coming from Jet lull Kobra back down into the beginnings of sleep. He’s still awake but only just.
He still does not move, or really attempt to wake up fully once again, as he hears the front door be opened very slowly. It creaks loudly and someone curses. It might have been Ghoul but Kobra can’t be sure. Now he’s a bit more on high alert, something in him finding the action suspicious.

Listening as carefully as he can, Kobra hears a soft sigh of relief as the door closes once again. Is it weird that he knows that that was his brother just from the sigh?
Doesn’t matter, Kobra is already drifting off again, danger forgotten.
“Shh,” he hears Party whisper as the soft sound of the pair’s footsteps cross the room.
He has a feeling that his brother is right beside him now, even though his eyes aren’t open. It’s that somewhat creepy feeling where you just know that another person is in the room with you, or beside you, but they aren’t making a sound so you’re just not sure.
It’s less creepy because it’s Party, he still watches Kobra sleep sometimes. Old habits die hard.

“C’mon, let him sleep,” comes Ghoul’s hushed voice, also right beside of Kobra now.
“I dunno, I wanted to take another look at his shoulder.”
“He’s okay,” Ghoul tries with more gentleness that Kobra has ever heard him use. “You can do that in the morning.”
Kobra hears a soft chuckle from Party.
“It already is morning. Sun’s comin’ up.”
“Party, come on.”
Then Party sighs once again and Kobra thinks he’s gonna leave. Ghoul has a point. His shoulder is fine now, mostly… this current position is sorta painful, and Party needs to get some sleep.
Kobra can’t help but jump when cold hands brush against him as someone lays a blanket down over him. He hadn’t realized that he was chilly until now but the sentiment is nice all the same.
He hears Party shush him, probably thinking he was trying to wake up, running his hand through Kobra’s hair. He falls asleep quickly, listening to the quiet little noises that tell him his friends are right beside him and the gentle pressure of his brother’s fingers in his hair.

____________
After their confessions the other day, things have been… normal.
Kobra continues to get to know Jet, learning about them and what they like. He finds out that they love motorbikes, had one of their own and everything. He learns that they also have a pretty large knowledge about how said bikes work and how to repair them.
“Yeah,” they continue, “the one I had, named her Baby. She’s been mine since I learned how ‘t drive.”
They’re talking fondly, expression distant as they relive old memories. Kobra watches, only half listening to Jet talk about how they learned to drive. He means to listen, he really does care, but watching them grow all reminiscent and fond as they talk is too distracting. He’s once again captured by that small smile and just how fucking soft their lips look. Would it be weird- is it weird that he really wants to kiss them right now?
“But she’s probably gone now,” they finish, snapping rather coldly back into a blank expression. And just like that, the moment is over. Kobra knows there’s pain hidden somewhere underneath their neutral facade but he’s not about to press. Who is he to press for details?
Besidies, they don’t look too horribly distraught or anything so maybe they really are okay and Kobra is reading too far into the details.
“You guys got that car right?”
“Yeah?”
It comes out more of a question than an answer, Kobra not quite understanding the jump in conversation. He’d zoned out a bit and probably missed something. Jet’s looking at him though, eyes kind and curious. Again he gets a little lost in them, too focused on the colors in their gaze to even think about their conversation. He thinks their eyes are brown but in the mid afternoon light filtering through the window they’ve transformed into a honey color. Jet’s eyes are a soft yet deep brown that hides little flecks of gold. Kobra can’t look away, even when he knows Jet is looking at him as well.
“Well, I uh- I heard Party say it’d gotten shot at or somethin’, figured maybe I could taka look at it,” they offer, never breaking eye contact. Never breaking the spell they both seem to be under.
The room around them is noiseless, the world seemingly holding its breath while the two of them don’t even try to drag their gazes away. They’re both too lost, too caught up in swirling blues and rich browns. Unconsciously, they’ve moved a little closer now.
Kobra is mere inches from Jet’s face but still unable to look away, to pull himself out of their eyes. He does though, eyes flicking down to their lips before he can stop himself.
They still look so soft and Kobra wishes to kiss them again.
However, his eyes trail further. The bandages are hidden by the tank top they’re wearing but Kobra knows that they’re there, knows that this is far too soon. So, with everything in him, he pulls away.
It physically hurts to do so, his body like a magnet, fighting to return to where it belongs.
Jet looks confused when Kobra finally manages to look back at them. They’re trying hard to hide it but they look a little hurt as well, and it makes Kobra’s chest constrict with something close to real pain.
Just barely, Kobra remembers their conversation before they nearly… nearly did whatever it is they nearly just did. So, he clears his throat and glances out the window to where the car is just barely visible.
The sun is blistering today, the sole reason they’ve all spent the better part of this day inside. Even with the single electric fan, that has honestly seen better days, using up their megar generator power, the heat is stifling, even inside. The thought of Jet actually going outside in this weather sends real fear through Kobra, making him want to bolt the door closed so they can’t leave the safety of his protection. Or wait- he means the safety of the building. Because Jet isn’t his to take care of or-

Their expression almost seems worried now, like Kobra is going to tell them no that they can’t fix the car or something. They must have realized he’s come back to the previous conversation, too many possibilities swirling in his head about what nearly just happened. Well- okay he is going to tell them no but not for the reason they’re probably imagining. Just listening to Jet talk about how much they loved their bike and how they always managed to find parts to repair it, gave Kobra a pretty good idea that they were pretty damn good with that sorta thing. He nearly felt a little proud, though he’s not sure why.

“Maybe later dude. I don’t think I’m too comfortable with you going out in the sun so soon,” he says, trying for a smile.
It’s still sorta awkward, the weight of their- fuck was that nearly a kiss or?- the weight of their close proximity still lingering over them. Kobra hadn’t moved far, just a few inches until he felt like he could breathe without wanting to throw his restraint out the window and say fuck it.
But he still sorta did. Their little confused look they shoot him, wary curiosity like they’re waiting on him to tell them they’re not good enough. Or that he doesn’t trust them.
Vaguely he wonders where that might have come from. Had someone hurt them before?
“Oh- yeah. Right.”
Jet is sitting up right now, all on their own Kobra might add, legs hidden by a thin, old blanket they’d found laying around. Currently, the two of them are waiting on Party and Ghoul to finish getting the laundry off of the clothesline out back.
Today, Jet is no longer going to have to sleep in the middle of the room. It’d been a pretty easy decision by Party to move them into the other room. There’s a decent mattress in there and all that really needed done was to change the sheets.
The three of them normally take turns sleeping on that mattress but are all willing to make due with the floor or a chair so that Jet can have a more comfortable place to rest. Sure at first, it probably was the best idea to keep them in the main part of the shed, close enough for Party to keep an eye on them at all times.
Now though, the fever is completely gone. Jet is regaining their strength at a very nice rate and they’re stable enough to be moved. Though, Party still brought up their heart. The main reason, other than the lingering fever, for keeping them out front was because of their heart. It’s still a little on the weaker side, likely due to Party having to restart it, and he’d said it might be a while before it’s fully recovered. Kobra questions it though because he’s had his restarted too but has no memory of his heart being any weaker afterwards. Maybe that’s something he should ask Party.
However, at the moment, Jet is doing much better.
They’re sitting up and everything, which Kobra counts as a very good achievement. He’s still not sure if they’re gonna cary Jet into the other room or are going to let them walk. Truthfully, he’s not certain if they’re able to walk just yet. Baby steps ya know. He sorta wants to carry them…

Party barges in, the dirty, white plastic clothes hamper perched on his hip overflowing with semi-clean linen. He tries to blow a few strands of hair out of his eyes but they seem stuck to his face with sweat. It’s gross but funny at the same time as Kobra gets to watch his brother huff dramatically and just use his hand instead.
They don’t wash the sheets often, the process wastes a lot of water and takes time. Plus, sheets hanging outside are like a beacon should there be a patrol passing by.
This was necessary though so they’d all decided to risk it. They couldn’t exactly have Jet sleep on dirty sheets. Kobra really didn’t sleep on that bed anymore anyway, it having sorta become his brother and Ghoul’s ‘place’. He honestly tried not to think about what had been done on that mattress so he was glad that Party suggested that they at least wash the sheets.

“Alright,” Party says cheerfully, “lemme get these babies on the bed and you’re all set to go.”
Jet simply nods shyly, eyes downcast.
Then Ghoul walks in, his own basket almost as big as he is. It’s all Kobra can do not to laugh at him and wonder if he’d be able to stuff him in one of those baskets. He doesn’t doubt he’d fit in one.
But Jet doesn’t react to Kobra’s poorly hidden laugh, nor do they make any indication that they saw Ghoul flipping him off as he passed.
Kobra wonders what’s wrong. Maybe talking about their bike wasn’t a good idea? Had he mis-read the situation and made them uncomfortable by nearly kissing them? Oh god he hopes it’s not that. He doesn’t want them to hate him, to think he’s some creep just trying to take advantage and get in their pants or something.

Bumping their shoulders together gently, Kobra tries to get them to look at him.
“Hey,” he tries when that doesn’t work. “You good?”
“Yeah. I just was thinkin’,” they reply dejectedly.
He wonders if they meant to show him that sadness or if it was just too great for them to hide?
“Your bike?”
“Mhm. My Ma gave it to me and I guess I just miss her is all,” they say with a quiet sigh.
Kobra feels for them, wishes there was something he can do to make this better. He wonders if it’d be a good idea to go back to where the clap had taken place, to rummage around and see if he could find their bike. Maybe having a tangible piece of their mother would help them?
“Do you wanna look for it?” Kobra asks, searching their face for any indication that this is going to hurt them more than help.
His searching is inconclusive. He’s still not sure if Jet’s okay or not. Kobra’s not the best at reading people but right now he wishes he was.
“Yeah. I- I’ve actually been thinking about going back,” then they add, “Once I’m able of course,” before Kobra can protest.
It’s like they know he’s worrying about them. He’s not sure how he feels about that- but if they’re assuring him then maybe they don’t mind him being so… protective.
“Um… maybe I could help you look?”
Really, he’s not trying to like impose or anything. They can tell him no and he’ll probably let them go on their own. He’s not like their partner or anything so he can’t stop them.
But at the same time, the thought of Jet going out- alone and recovering to the place where they nearly died, where their crew died, is absolutely terrifying. He’s not sure if he even really feels any safer at the thought of himself going with them but he just knows that he doesn’t want them to go alone.
“I’d like that,” Jet says gently.
They’re messing with the blanket on their legs, fingers twisting the ratted strings as they sit there together. Kobra wonders if it’s just a nervous thing or they don’t realize that they're actually doing it.
“Okay!” Party says brightly, poking his head out of the door frame to the other room. “It’s all ready for ya.”
Kobra turns to Jet, once again attempting to figure out how they’re gonna do this as Party comes into the room completely. He stops beside Kobra and has his hands on his hips like he’s thinking.
“What?” Jet asks from under their staring.
They look really confused and Kobra feels a little bad. Jet’s not used to their weird sibling thing yet. Hell, Ghoul is still getting used to it.
“Might as well ask,” Party says to Kobra with a shrug. “You wanna do the trip on your own or have one of us help you?”
There’s a long pause as Jet seems to get a little lost in their head but then they’re looking right at Kobra and smiling as they answer.
“Oh-Oh yeah okay. Um I kinda wanna try it myself.”
______
(Jet’s POV)
Jet looks up to Party and Kobra. They seem to be having a debate about something, Party with his hip all stuck out and Kobra doing that adorable thing where he squints when he’s thinking hard about something.
So yeah, they’re sure that the brothers are having some sort of conversation but they’re not sure what. It’s a little uncomfortable though because both of them are staring as they think. Really, Jet’s beginning to worry about what they’re looking at.
“What?” they ask, trying to get at least one of them to answer.
There’s a moment’s pause but then Party Poison turns to Kobra
“Might as well ask,” he says with a shrug.
Then Party turns to Jet finally.
“You wanna do the trip on your own or have one of us help you?”
And oh- yeah that makes sense.
They hadn’t really thought of how they were going to get into the other room, were too busy getting excited for a real-actual- mattress to sleep on. That and the almost kiss they and Kobra had almost had. Was it even considered an almost kiss?
They’d wanted to move that short distance, to connect their lips, but they couldn’t bring themselves to. Then, Kobra had backed away, something unreadable on his face. It sorta hurt but Jet didn’t allow themself to worry on it.
They wondered why the others were giving them the only mattress though. Not that they weren’t eternally grateful for the place to sleep that they already had but-
Seriously it was a piece of plywood.
So yeah, they’d been too caught up in thinking about a vaguely soft surface to sleep on and cute boys to wonder how the hell they were going to actually get to said soft surface. Truthfully, Jet’s not sure if they’re ready to do the whole walking thing. At the moment they feel fine but they haven't even stood on their own yet. Hell they can only really sit up for an hour or two before they get really sore and tired.
Still, it couldn’t hurt to try it themself and then ask for help if they needed it.
“Oh-Oh yeah okay. Um I kinda wanna try it myself,” they say, mostly to Kobra.
They try for a smile, to assure him that they’re okay and ready for this. He always seems so worried and Jet wants to make sure he doesn’t do so continuously.
Kobra and Party both seem to agree and they step to the side so that Jet can get through. Ghoul then pokes his head out of the other room, eyes searching the room. They land on Jet and he gives them an encouraging nod, pushing himself off of the door frame so he’s standing in the middle of it.
Willing themselves to actually do this, Jet moves the blanket aside first. With it bundled up in the corner of the ‘bed’, they simply twist to get their legs over the side. Since they were already sitting, it’s a little easier but only slightly. Their stomach stings instantly as the healing skin is pulled.
They take a deep breath, consciously ignoring the three pairs of staring eyes, and push themselves off of the ‘bed’. Somehow, they manage to not fall but the sharper pain coupled by the headrush leaves them leaning a little on the ‘bed’. They can hear their own heart beating in their ears, loud and annoying.
Instantly, Kobra is by their side, his hands on their shoulders to support them while they try and steady themself.
He doesn’t ask if they’re okay but Jet can hear the question without it being spoken aloud.
“I’m shiny, jus’ gimme a moment,” they mumble willing the faint feeling to go away.
After a long few deep breaths they push off of the bed, which really wasn’t that supportive because it was so low to the ground, and take a single step. This time, they manage though Kobra’s hands never leave their shoulders. He provides them with unspoken but greatly appreciated support as they very slowly make their way across the room.
When they get to the doorway, Ghoul scoots to the side to allow them through.
This room isn’t much bigger than the main one. From what Jet can tell it’s just as cluttered and lived in as the rest of the shed. The only difference is this is more personal. They can see old polaroids carefully taped to the walls along with quite a few stacks of what might be comic books. There’s also quite a few CD’s and cassettes sitting in a wooden crate in the corner of the room that Jet makes plans to look through.
The mattress sits on the wall directly across from the door, only the head of it actually touching the wall. With the fresh sheets it looks like heaven and Jet ungracefully, yet purposefully, falls face first down onto it the moment they get close enough.
Kobra makes a startled sound, instantly turning Jet over onto their back.
“Oh fuck are you okay?” he asks, sounding panicked.
“Yeah ‘jus wanna nap.”
And that’s the truth. The short trip has drained them and they really just want to curl up and sleep. However, they can tell where their little belly flop onto the bed could have scared Kobra. His worry is strangely comforting though. It makes Jet’s heart beat a little more crazy to know that Kobra cares as much as he does.
Also Kobra was probably right to be worried because that fucking hurt. Jet was nearly asleep so they hadn’t felt it but now that Kobra’s talking to them they can most definitely feel the pain. Their whole stomach burns now, whethere that be from the dumb way they’d gotten on the bed or from the trip they’re not sure.
“Okay Kobes, lemme over,” Party’s voice says fondly from somewhere in the room.
Jet hadn’t noticed that they’d closed their eyes but the darkness is sorta nice. Maybe they will just take a quick-
________________
(Kobra’s POV)
Yeah Jet just about gave him a fucking heart attack. Who in their right mind would fall face first onto a mattress rather than just gently laying down?
Of course he gets it, they do look rather exhausted now that they’re looking tiredly back up at him. His brother comes over from the other room, medicine bag under his arm as he shoos him aside.
If it was Ghoul, Party would be hovering too.
Wait- does that mean Kobra thinks of Jet like Ghoul and Party think of each other? He’s not sure he wants to delve into that right now. Especially since it looks like Jet has either fallen asleep or passed out.
“Jet?” Party whispers once he’s beside them.
They received no response, their suspicions that Jet’s sleeping confirmed. Kobra’s not freaking out, not really, but still he’s like- low key- freaking out. What if they’ve reopened the wound? What if they weren’t ready to walk like that and have over done it?
“Yo- Kobra,” Ghoul says, suddenly behind him.
His hands are on his shoulders, pressing hard enough to ground him back into the room. Ghoul was careful though and didn’t get near the still healing blaster wound on the back of his shoulder.
“Are they okay?” Kobra asks Party, voice sounding small even to himself.
“Yeah. They’re fine Kobes, trip took a lot outta ‘em is all.”
Kobra breathes a sigh of relief, still ignoring the possible reasons for his worry. If Party or Ghoul notice, they don’t say so.
He just watches as Party cleans the wound a little and puts fresh bandages over it. Jet’s only in an old, torn tank top so thankfully his brother is able to tend to them without much interference. Still, the room is already getting chilly since the sun is going down and Kobra wonders how they’re gonna keep Jet warm.
Party tucks Jet back in, ensuring that the blankets cover them well enough to keep the worst of the chill away. Kobra sorta wants to crawl in the bed with them. Not- not in that way. Just to keep them warm really. He knows it’d be hell if they get sick and he worries that they’re uncomfortable.
Still, Jet looks so peaceful and warm that Kobra knows it would be weird if he curled up beside them. No matter how badly he wants to. Plus, they’re asleep and if they don’t want Kobra beside them then they couldn’t say. That keeps Kobra from acting on his impulses. He would never want to do something like that.
As Party packs away his supplies, Kobra goes back over to sit beside Jet. It’s not creepy that he’s watching them sleep. Right?
Party does it to him all the time so it’s not creepy. Maybe.
They’re so relaxed right now, face soft as they breathe deeply in their sleep. Maybe Party was right, they’re probably exhausted and they definitely look like their body is enjoying the rest it’s currently getting.
Distantly he hears Ghoul leave the room, something about going to work on some stuff to trade. Alone now with the sleeping form of Jet Star and his brother, Kobra takes a breath.
“Hey Party?”
“Yeah?” his brother says instantly, though his attention is mostly focused on inventorying their medical supplies.
“You said that Jet’s heart is all fucked up because you had to restart it that first night right?”
That makes Party look up and he sets the medkit down.
“Well,” he explains, “that along with how much blood they lost. It really can do a number on your heart ya know”
“Okay but you restarted mine remember-”
“How could I forget?” Party interrupts, the simple statement loaded with pain.
“I know- I’m sorry- but you did the same thing for me. The only difference was an, accidental, overdose rather than blood loss but that’s still trama right?”
“Yeah?”
Party sounds confused now, looking at Kobra as he waits on him to explain.
“So like, why is my heart fine when Jet’s is- is the way that it is?”
“Oh. Oh um…”
Then Party just pauses, thinking hard for a few moments. This is doing nothing to help Kobra though, only confirming his worries that this isn’t normal.
“I- I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?” Kobra asks fearfully.
“I mean you’re right. You were in bad shape for a couple of days but we haven't had any problems since and Jet is well on their way to recovering so- so it just doesn’t make much sense.”
Kobra watches as his brother goes over, fingers finding Jet’s pulse easily. He watches him count quietly to himself, wondering what Party is looking for.
“No it’s definitely not as strong as I’d like it to be. The rhythm is still sorta broken, or irregular I guess, even in their sleep,” Party explains, bringing Kobra no relief.
“Okay so why then? It’s been like what, four or five days? They should be through that by now right?”
Party doesn’t answer right away. Instead he seems to be lost in thought, staring down at his fingers and where they press slightly into Jet’s neck.
“Maybe they have a weak heart? I mean, it’s possible. This might just be how it normally is ya know?”
He doesn’t sound too sure but Kobra can’t find any other explanation. So he just agrees.
“I’ll ask ‘em when they wake up again. Maybe they can tell us why,” Kobra offers, taking in Jet’s still form.
They look… peaceful. Their hair is in a soft halo around them, curls just as defined as ever. Is it weird that Kobra sorta wants to touch their hair, to run his fingers through it. To play with those soft ringlets and twirl them in his fingers. To see if it’s as soft as it looks.
“-obra.”
He blinks, his brother’s concerned face now inches from him. Party is searching him, looking for any hint of why he zoned out.
“What’s goin’ on? I lost you there for a bit.”
“I just- I was just thinkin’ is all,” he says, not sure how to tell his brother how badly he’s falling for Jet.
If he ignores it, maybe it’ll just go away.
He doesn’t need this right now, Jet doesn’t need this. They’re mourning the loss of their entire family and Kobra really doesn’t want to take advantage of their vulnerability like that. He would never be able to forgive himself if he were to do something so cruel.
So he keeps his mouth, and thoughts, to himself.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good. They weren’t bad thoughts.”
“No,” his brother says, one hand now resting on his uninjured shoulder. “No I mean- can I take a look at your shoulder?”
“Oh. Yeah sure. But I’m okay Party, really.”
Party still helps him shrug off his jacket, knowing without saying it that the action would be painful. Very gently, Party pulls the bandage away, the tape they used pulling on his tender skin. It’s not painful exactly but still uncomfortable.
He feels his brother poke gently around the wound, muttering something as he does so.
“What?”
“Huh? Oh I was just saying how quick it’s healin’. It’s a good thing but sorta a surprise.”
He can hear the question that deeply hidden in his brother’s statement.
“Yeah maybe I should be the one patching folks up rather than you,” he retorts playfully.
Party laughs a little before pressing the bandage back into place.
“Seriously Kobes… you’d tell me if something else happened right?”
“Yeah,” he says instantly, hating himself for it. “Yeah you know I would.”
When he turns around, Party is giving him an easy smile.
___________________
Late that night, Kobra sits up.
He’s been ‘sleeping’ on the floor, bundled up in a blanket his brother insisted he use. Party and Ghoul’s snoring come from the floor across the room, the two of them tangled up and sleeping deeply.
Kobra stands as quietly as he can, wincing a little when his shoulder gets twisted a little. He’s fine, just like he told Party, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not sore.
Grabbing his gun and jacket, Kobra heads outside.
It’s a little after midnight, the moon beaming down at him. The moon isn’t as strong, as violent as the sun. It’s rays are soft and they wash the desert with a blue, hazy glow.
The outline of the Trans-AM calls to him and he finds himself curling up in the passenger’s seat. He’s not exactly sure why he’s awake but he can make a good guess. It’s almost like the dull throb in his shoulder is a reminder of the lies he’s told.
He feel horrible for it and maybe in some way that’ll make up for deceiving his brother. His family. But for now, Kobra reaches over to the CB radio.
Flipping the thing on, he pulls the mic up as close as he can to his mouth. He feels guilty, paranoid that someone’s going to hear him.
“K calling out.”
Instantly there’s a reply.
“Took ya long enough,” a gruff voice replies.
They sounded amused but exasperated, and Kobra felt a little bad for making them wait.
“Sorry, personal shit.”
“You keepin’ an eye out son?” they say, making Kobra do a quick glance out of windows to make sure they were safe.
For now it seemed like he was alone. It’s just him and the radio.
“Yeah. ‘things fucking shiny here.”
If the man on the other end noticies how bitter that statement sounds, he doesn’t mention it.
“Look, I got word of another storm comin’ in. Ya’ll darlins need ‘t stay safe okay.”
Kobra sighs audibly. Of fucking course there’s gonna be another storm.
“Is it gonna be bad?”
“Looks like it.”
“Okay. I’ll stay safe.”
“Check in tomorrow,” the other person says, hinting at something close to concern.
“Will do.”
“Out.”
“K. Out.”

Kobra sighs once again, turning off the radio and running a hand down his face. Just what they need, another goddamn storm. The last one had been bad… so bad that about a handful of rebels had been dusted because of it. Dr. Death’s broadcast early that day told them at least seven were dead directly because of the rain and that a good number of people were sick.
It seemed like Party was one of the lucky ones, the toxins having left his system rather quickly.
Even so, the desert really didn’t need another acid rain storm right now. They were already over the normal amount of rain for the year and Kobra knew that this wasn’t natural.
Sure, they lived in a post- nuclear war desert wasteland but even their weather wasn’t this fucked up.
He wonders what the weather was like. Real actual nature rather than the synthetic kind the City had. Or the scorching, burning kind they had here in the desert. Sure, he’d seen snow and rain before but it’d all been fake. The City had learned how to manipulate the atmosphere into displaying something close to seasons again. But the range was limited; it only really worked up until the City’s borders.
Still, he can’t dwell on this. Not now.
He goes back inside a few hours later, just as the sun begins to rise, and turns on the radio. The normal sound of Dr. Death’s morning broadcast wakes the others. Well everyone but Jet.
Party and Ghoul crowd around Kobra as they all listen to him announce that another, possibly worse, storm is on its way.
His brother curses loudly, as does Ghoul, but Kobra is sorta stood in one place. He can’t bring himself to react, even though he should so that they don’t think he already knew.
“We’re gonna have to board this place up, keep all the water ‘n shit out,” Party says, already eyeing the windows.
“What about the wind? This building isn’t nearly strong enough to withstand wind gusts any higher than the previous storm.”
Party considers Ghoul’s input for a moment.
“We’ll ‘av to make do. No where else to go.”
Kobra nods, his mind too worried now about the rain.
What if the toxins get in anyway? Party’s lungs are still gonna be a little weaker because of the last storm and Kobra doesn’t want to press their luck.
Plus, Jet’s not exactly in the strongest condition at the moment. This storm could definitely fuck up any progess they’ve made. Or worse.
But there’s nothing they can do but buckle down and wait it out. Kobra hates waiting, hates being unable to make an active effort to help those he cares about.
So, he does what he can. He helps Party and Ghoul completely secure the door and windows. He picks Grace up afterwards, holding here close as they stand around the window to watch the pitch black clouds creep ever closer.
It feels like a movie, everything still and quiet as the first burning drops hit the windowpane. He uses an old piece of cloth to cover Grace’s mouth and nose, keeping the fumes away from her. Jet has no windows in their room but Party still gave them a bandana.
All at once the heavens seemed to open up, the wind gusting as if it wanted to tear the building off of its foundation.
Kobra shivers, for more reasons than one.
It’s going to be a long day.

Chapter Text

Jet is currently sitting alone.
Not in the high school lunch table sitting alone sort of way. More so in the, possibly the worst storm the desert has ever seen is happening right now while me and the crew who saved my ass are hiding from it, sort of way.
Well, okay so Jet never went to high school. They’re one of the few people actually born in the desert and have been here their whole life. But they get the main idea of that sense of loneliness that’s thought of as a 16 year old kid eating alone. Sure, they’re not 16 anymore but they can understand how alone that kid may feel.
The others are currently in the other part of the shed, keeping watch and trying to keep the water and everything out. Party came in a little bit ago to bring Jet breakfast and Ghoul followed soon after, setting Grace down in their arms. Apparently, their room is the safest, the most secure, place in the shed. But Kobra hasn’t come in today.
Jet’s not sure exactly why. Maybe he’s regretting that moment they had the other day and Jet’s not quite sure what day it is, so who knows what is going through Kobra’s mind after he’s had time to think about it. In the moment, it felt like Kobra had wanted it too.
Sitting there the other day, so close to Kobra, they’d gotten lost in his eyes a little. The way he was looking at them, blue eyes all soft and big, captured Jet like nothing else. They hadn’t been able to look away.
It was funny, they’ve never been to the ocean, only seen pictures on old postcards in abandoned gas stations, but they imagine it looks a lot like Kobra’s eyes. At least, they hope it is as beautiful as his eyes are. From all of the talk of the ocean that they hear from older rebels, it should be. And even if it’s not, Jet had gotten a glimpse into their own ocean, right here in the middle of the desert.
They’d gotten so entirely lost in Kobra’s eyes, in the almost mesmerized way he was looking at them, that they hadn’t realized how close the two of them had gotten.
A piece, a very big piece, of them wonders what would have happened if Kobra hadn’t pulled away. His eyes had flickered down, maybe to their lips, but had trailed further before he’d backed away like they hadn’t just been two inches apart for like 10 minutes. Like Jet hadn’t been moments away from capturing his lips like they so desperately wanted to.
In the back of their mind, Jet wonders what Kobra might have seen, might have thought, that would lead him to pull away like that. Maybe it’s the same problem as always…
Maybe Kobra asked the ‘what’s in your pants?’ question to himself and didn’t like the answer he’d come to. That’s happened a couple of times too so honestly, Jet shouldn’t be this upset over it.

And yet they are.
Kobra’s been… well he’s treated Jet and their sister like old friends, even before he even knew who they were. He saved them, along with Ghoul’s help of course, and his crew has continued to feed, patch up, and provide for them. So really, Jet should not have this ache in their chest when they think about what kissing Kobra might have been like.
But they do.
Their chest aches with every thought of how soft his lips may be and how he would wrap his arms around them as they kiss, until one hand finds its way into Jet’s hair…
They take a deep breath, trying to dispel those thoughts as far away as possible. If Kobra had wanted that then he’d done just that. But he hadn’t and so Jet shouldn’t allow those things to plague them.
Grace giggles in their arms, pulling their attention down to her. She’s grinning, toothless, with one tiny hand wrapped tightly around Jet’s finger as they hold her.
“Hey sweetie,” they say gently, “did you think I was ignoring you?”
They know she’s not going to answer but still, just talking to her like this is nice. Grace coos, her little feet squirming under the blanket she’s wrapped in. She’s so happy, just the knowledge that she’s okay is enough to dispel the worst of the ache in their chest.
Jet plays with her for a while, just making silly faces to try and get her to laugh. It’s nice, normal. Even with the sound of the rain drowning out everything except their voice and Grace’s giggles. They don’t want her to be afraid of the rain… not like they were when they were little. Like they still are a little bit now.
When they were small, their Ma would always hold them during storms, especially ones like these. She’d hold them and chace away their fear in the way only mothers can...

~18 Years ago~
A bolt of lightning strikes right outside and the immediate booming of thunder shakes the entire building. Ray squeaks, the sound more of a whimper than anything, burrowing even closer to their Ma.
She’s got them held tightly against her chest and is humming a nameless tune to try and soothe them. It’s sorta working but they still feel like their heart is beating out of their chest with each clap of thunder. They always get like this during storms… Their Ma is always here though, always willing to protect them in times like these.
“Shh baby, you’re okay.”
The room around them is dark, only the flashes of lightning providing them with any indication of where they are. They’d woken up to the storm, had hoped going to sleep before it started would allow them to sleep through the night.
But with the first claps of thunder, Ray had woken quickly and hasn't left their Ma’s side since.
“Ma,” they whimper as the rain picks up once again.
It’s loud and pounding. Too much noise. The rain is no better than the thunder and lightning really, all of it is dangerous. And Ray hates all of it.
“He at it again?” comes the rough voice of Snake.
He’s somewhere in the room with them, though Ray can’t see him, and is their guard for the night. Their crew normally travel, they never stay in one place too long, but on nights like tonight they always find a place to ride out the storm. Somehow Snake is always their guard.
“They’re just scared,” their Ma bites back before turning gently to them. “ Ray, sweetie, are you okay?”
Ray shakes their head against their Ma, trying so hard to ignore the sounds of the storm outside. They still hear Snake sigh.
“Really? You’re still letting him do this ‘they’ thing?”
“Yes really. It’s not just a thing,” Ray’s Ma says pointedly, wrapping her arms a little more tightly around them as thunder rolls once again.
“He’s four-”
“You knew you were a guy at four.”
“Well I-”
“Snake, just leave us alone okay. You’re supposed to be guarding, not harassing me and my already terrified four-year-old. So if you could please just do your job,” their Ma says, using one hand to wave to the door.
Rather than arguing, Snake just mumbles something Ray can’t hear and goes back to the door.
Now, Ray is a big kid. Sure, they’re sorta small for their age, according to their Ma anyway, but they’re mostly grown up. Ray can tie their own shoes, open cans of food, and even steer their Ma’s bike sometimes. They even get to pick their rebel name on their birthday next year and the year after that they get their own gun!
They’re not a little kid anymore and should definitely not be as afraid of the storms as they are right now.
So, they try and think of all of the big kids and adults in their crew. Their Ma doesn’t count because she’s really young, that’s what the others always say. She’s a grown up but Ray doesn’t think they could ever be as brave as she is. It’s just not possible.
But the others are not afraid of the rain, they just go to sleep and wake up when it’s over. Maybe it’s time for them to learn how to be just as brave.
Ray pulls themself out of their Ma’s grasp, making her look down at them worriedly. They then pull away completely, sitting on the sleeping bag with actual space between the two of them. Ray feels proud of themself, that they could sit here like this even with the storm.
“Ray?”
“Imma big kid,” they say, crossing their arms over their chest.
“I know you are, sweetie.”
Ray’s Ma sounds proud, happy, and it makes them feel a little more secure.
A near blinding bolt of lightning flashes just outside the dirty, old window in the room, illuminating them all for a brief second. Ray squeaks against their will and has to fight not to go back over to their Ma.
The thunder rolls.
“But-but rain is scary,” they add in a small voice.
“It is. You know, I used to be scared of the rain too.”
They hadn’t been expecting that answer. All they can do is stare at the Ma in surprise and wonder how someone as brave as she is could be afraid of the rain like them.
“You?”
“Mmhm. I used to never be able to sleep when it stormed but you know what I did to make it easier?”
“What?” they ask, staring up at her kind smile.
Ray is beginning to forget about the rain, forget about the rolling thunder and harsh lightning in the way only their Ma can manage.
“I found someone to snuggle with,” she says, pouncing on them and pulling them into another hug.
This leaves Ray in a fit of giggles as she tickles them. Squirming a little, she finally lets up and they snuggle close to her.
She smells of sand and gasoline. Home.
This is their favorite place to be, in their Ma’s lap as she holds them against her chest. They can hear her heart beating, a steady rhythm that lulls them right to sleep. She holds them all night, humming and singing even after the storm ends.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Kobra stands by the window, watching with growing concern as the old fabric that’s stuffed along the edges gets steadily more soaked. There’s holes forming in the cloth now, some parts even steaming a little as the acid in the rain eats away at it.
They’re so screwed.
Each gust of wind shakes the shed and Kobra is beginning to worry about how much longer it’s going to hold up against this storm. In all of his years in the desert, he’s never seen a storm so strong, so violent.
It’s absolutely terrifying, knowing that the people he cares about are only a few flimsy metal inches away from the storm outside. What makes it even worse, if that was even possible, is when a particularly close lightning strike kills their generator. The few lightbulbs swinging from the ceiling flicker out at once, as does the old fan.
Great.
“Fuck,” Party curses loudly.
Kobra can’t see where he is, the next moment the clap of thunder assaults his ears. It’s loud and he’s positive it shook the walls. The room is dark now though, even the desert sun struggling to penetrate the fierce clouds swirling outside. It looks like it’s those final moments of twilight, the sun flickering out to make way for the night.
Except it’s currently noon.
Party had been stood over Ghoul as the younger man worked on his explosives and stuff. Only he would want to do that in a storm like this. But it’s kept Ghoul’s anxiety down so Kobra hadn’t said anything.
He’d tried to get his brother to lay down for a bit as Party had been looking a little run down. Kobra chalked it up to the chest thing he’d been fighting but didn’t press when Party said no. It wasn’t like Kobra could convince him to rest if Party didn’t want to.

Still, all Kobra can see at the moment are the half formed shadows that make up his brother and Ghoul. He can see just enough to where he’s almost certain he won’t run into something should he try to walk around the room. Maybe.
There’s rain coming through the front door, has been for a while now. The puddle of acidic water is getting bigger and Kobra is beginning to wonder if this storm will ever end or if they’re all going to die here. It’s not a nice thought, far from it really.
There are so many things he still needs to do-
“Is everyone okay?” Party asks to the dark room, his voice drowned out nearly completely by the storm.
Kobra had nearly forgotten about how close that lightning strike had been. The hairs on his arms were still stood up with the static electricity lingering in the air.
“Fuckin’ peachy.”
Maybe Kobra should have laughed at Ghoul’s sarcasm but he can’t bring himself to. There’s too much going through his head for that.
The smell, the acidic tang in the air is getting stronger. Kobra has his own bandana now tied securely on his face but he can still smell it. His skin sorta tingles, the exposed bits anyway, in a way that tells him how bad the acid is tonight.
“Fine,” he answers his brother at last, unable to say anything else.
He’s still overwhelmed with guilt at the moment. This is his brother, the only person he’s known for the entirety of his life, and here he is, lying to him, withholding information. But there’s some things that he just- he just can’t tell him. In the future, hopefully sooner rather than later, he’ll be able to.
Party coughs then, deep and painful, making Kobra turn quickly to try and find his brother despite the darkness of the room. He tries to catch his breath, Kobra able to hear the sharp intake of breath as he does so, but it is quickly overcome by another, more harsh, cough. This is turning into a fit and Kobra feels the guilt swelling once again.
If he’d gotten them out sooner, convinced them to leave-
His brother has been trying to hide it but Kobra saw how he was still a little too pale, a bit too quick to get out of breath. Party might be acting like he’s fine but he wasn’t completely better. Yeah, Kobra should have convinced him to lay down earlier.
All of this acid in the air is absolutly not good for his lungs and fuck-
This is all Kobra’s fault.
“Party?” he asks frantically, his mind already running worst case scenarios.
Then he hears the creaking of a door opening but from the lack of rain and wind pelting him, he assumes its to the other room. The room where Jet and Grace are.
“Guys?”
Jet’s voice sounds strained, borderline afraid, and Kobra wishes he could see them more clearly. But the room is too dark and even the frequent flashes of lightning don’t provide enough illumination for him to see them. Not really.
But Party continues to cough, so harshly it sounds like he’s retching, and all Kobra can see is the blurry outline of his hunched over form. On the next flash though, he’s able to see him hunched over with Ghoul hovering right beside him.
The room around them flashes from slightly visible to near pitch black again. Even the rain seems to be getting stronger, if that was possible.
Kobra is afraid now, not sure what to do. Three of the five people in this room are particularly vulnerable to this storm and he feels like this is his fault. They should have gone. They should have left this shed in the fucking dust.
Hell, even the car would have been a safer bet than this.
Finally, Party seems to gain his breath. His shadow blends in too much into the background, only forming a shapeless blob against the slightly different grey of the wall behind him. On the next flash of lightning Kobra is able to see Ghoul ease him down into a chair. The constant shift between near pitch black and bright flashes are giving him a headache.
His head throbs behind his eyes but Kobra ignores it.
“We gotta go,” he says, loud enough for the others to hear.
Ghoul laughs disbelievingly and Kobra can see the look he’s giving him without even being able to actually see it. Yeah, this sounds crazy to him too.
“And just where do you presume we go?” Ghoul challenges.
“Anywhere but here. It’s not safe.”
“And- and out there- is- is any safer?”
Over the rain and everything else, Party’s voice sounds even weaker than it should. At least, that’s what Kobra is telling himself…
“Yes. This building isn’t gonna hold up. The door is leaking bad and so are the windows,” he says matter of factly.
However, he can’t help the bubbling pit of anxiety growing in his stomach. This building may not be the most steady but their car is still parked a good few yards away. They’d have to traverse the storm in order to get to it.
Then, Grace cries on the next clap of thunder, drawing Kobra’s attention to the shadowy outlines of Jet. They look mostly upright but his chest constricts at the thought of them up and walking like this. Just yesterday they barely managed the trip across the room. And that was with Kobra’s help. They really shouldn’t be up, let alone doing this by themself and with an infant in their arms no less.
“It’sa long way to the car,” Party points out.
Maybe Kobra’s eyes are growing adjusted to this near darkness because he can see more clearly how Party leans against Ghoul, even though he’s sitting down. He can see how Jet is leaning rather heavily against the door frame, the baby held tight in their arms as she continues to cry loudly.
The storm isn’t letting up.
“I’ll go out first, get the car like right next t’ the door for you,” Kobra says already trying to figure out how far he’s going to have to run to get to the car before he fucking melts.
It’ll be worth it though. There’s a few real buildings that are abandoned scattered around this Zone, maybe they could inhabit one of those till this blows over.
“No,” Party says but has to cough once again. When he restarts, his voice is so quiet Kobra can barely hear it. “No Kobes, it’s-”
He can’t finish, breaths too shallow, and really, that makes Kobra’s decision for him.
“Jet,” Kobra says determinantly, “Sit down, please, before you fall. Party you stay down too.” He turns to Ghoul, “And Ghoul, please can you just grab out stuff. Just the major shit. Food, money, medkit.”
Just barely he sees Ghoul nod and Jet push themself off the door frame with a grunt. They wobble over to the other chair and all but fall down into it.
They hiss and Kobra thinks he sees a hand snake over to their stomach while the other holds on to Grace. He feels horrible now, knowing that all of these people are in danger.
Jet, Party, Grace, Ghoul, they all need him and he’s not going to let them down. Party may be the leader but right now this is on him. Second in command or some shit.
It’s the least he can do-
“I’ll be right back,” Kobra says, already zipping his jacket up as far as it will go.
With the zipper of the jacket holding the lower parts of his bandana in place, Kobra then finds a spare piece of fabric, he doesn’t care enough to figure out what it is, and wraps it tightly around his head. Assuring his bandana is firm against his nose and mouth, Kobra takes a deep breath.
“Be safe,” Party asks horsley, another bout of coughing hits him a moment later.
Kobra’s heart breaks.
“I will,” Kobra assures, even before his brother is able to pull in a steady breath.
_________________________________________

 

Jet can only watch as Kobra flings the front door open purposely, an instant gust of wind flying through the room. They hold on tightly to Grace, turning her face towards them to try and protect her from the worst of whatever is in the air. And it burns their eyes, whether that be whatever sand is in the air or the acid they’re not sure.
Party continues to cough, only able to pull in a few wheezing breaths while Ghoul jumps up to slam the door shut. The wind had caught it but Kobra’s shadow was already faded into the storm and he hadn’t been able to shut it.
“Fuck,” Ghoul mumbles under his breath but goes about gathering their things anyway.
Honestly, Jet wants to do something. They can’t stand just sitting here but they don’t know what else to do. Their little trip was hard enough inside and Witch knows how hard it would be to get to the car through this storm.
They’re scared, can admit to that at least. This is by far the worst storm they’ve ever seen and Jet’s not sure if they even want to think of the possibilities flowing through their mind at the moment.
What if they’re all no better off in the car, in another building?
With the storm as bad as it is… how are they even going to find where they’re going?
Kobra can’t have been gone five minutes before they hear the engine roaring beside the door, telling them that he’s right outside.
Slowly as they can with their stomach and the urgency, they stand. Just barely through the dark room, they see Ghoul shoulder a large bag and support Party with his other arm as he too stands. There’s still a few more bags of their things sitting around the floor.
“Stay, we’re going first,” Ghoul says, “grab the blanket from the other room. Use it to cover you and the kid, once I get Poison out I’ll come back.”
They nod, though they’re not sure he can see them.
“No- Ghoul,” Party interrupts quietly. “No. Them first.”
“What c’mon Party-”
“Them. First,” he objects, pulling from Ghoul’s hold defiantly.
Jet kindly doesn’t acknowledge the way Party’s shadow sways as he loses Ghoul’s support, figures that won’t help this situation. Ghoul just sighs loud enough for Jet to hear over all of the background noise and goes to grab the blanket for them. They’re sorta stood in shock, not really knowing what to do or say.
“I-” they start, not really knowing where they’re going with it,
“You don’t gotta ‘pologize. You ‘n her need out first. Ain’t the end of the world.”
Again, Jet doesn’t know what to say so they just wait for Ghoul to get back. When he does, he hands them the thickest blanket from the mattress. He’s got it folded a couple of times but it’s still long enough to drape over their head and upper body, protecting them and Grace.
But not Ghoul-
“Wait- whatta ‘bout you?” they ask.
They are currently struggling to remain standing, legs progressively feeling more like lead with each passing moment. If they’re going to go out in the rain, they need to do it now.
But Ghoul will be completely exposed, these sheets in Jet’s hands are the last ones.
“Fuckin’ trust me,” is all he says, pulling the fabric over Jet’s head and guiding them out.
They feel the moment the door is opened, already tucking Grace as close as they can against their chest. Suddenly they don’t feel so safe under this blanket. There’s just a few small layers of thread between them and the storm and-
“Go!” Ghoul yells over the howling wind, nearly pushing them out the door.
Jet can’t see a thing as the three of them trudge through rain-soaked sand. It’s only a few steps but it’s nearly all they can do to stay upright. Ghoul’s got his hands on their shoulders, gripping tight and guiding them towards the car. Hopefully.
The wind is harsh, blowing against them with enough force that they’re truly struggling. They’re running out of strength quickly, more quickly than they should be, but there’s nothing that Jet can do.
Finally, after a lifetime, their shoes already soaked through and the acid beginning to burn the skin of their feet, they hear a car door open. They’re all but shoved inside, the blanket ripped off of them as they fall inside.
They’re breathing heavily, blinking as the interior of the car comes into view. Kobra’s got the lights on inside, allowing Jet to see the wall of black surrounding them just outside the windows.
Fuck-
They’d just walked through that.
Suddenly they remember Grace, turning her away from their chest to inspect her. Even as they do so, the car door slams shut, meaning Ghoul has gone back for Party.
They’re more caught up with looking at Grace though; her cheeks pink and her eyes wide. She’s terrified but safe.
“Shhh,” they whisper, rocking her. “You’re okay.”
It takes a surprising few moments for Ghoul to return. Sure, their trip had felt like forever but not- not this long. They can tell Kobra is getting anxious too. He’s drumming his hands against the wheel in a fast rhythm, eyes fixed on the spot the shed most likely is.
“Fuck,” he exclaims at last, “I’m going in for them. Stay here.”
And just like that, Jet is left alone.
________________________
Kobra is on fucking fire.
His jacket and the shirt he’s got wrapped around his face are doing very little to protect him as he walks through the ten feet between the car and the front door. The skin on his face burns like he’s pouring bleach on an open wound and the air literally is stinging his lungs.
Honestly, Kobra can barely see but he’s determined to get to his brother. He’s got a bad feeling that something’s wrong.
Pushing the front door open, Kobra stumbles inside. It’s just as dark in here as it is outside so it takes him a moment to land his eyes on his brother. His shadow is hunched over the floor by the chair Ghoul had sat him down in. Party isn’t moving, not that Kobra can tell, and Ghoul is nowhere to be found.
“Party?” Kobra calls.
Instantly the shadowy figure of his brother moves and Kobra’s pretty sure he turns to look at him.
“Kobra help.”
That’s not Party’s voice, that’s Ghoul’s and - oh
- oh no.
He’s by Ghoul’s side in seconds, his own discomfort forgotten.
Party is apparently on the floor by Ghoul’s feet, unmoving. He curses under his breath but Ghoul is already talking.
“I helped him up again to take him outside and he just collapsed. I can’t wake him up Kobra. He won’t-”
“Hey,” Kobra interrupts, maybe a bit too harshly. “Don’t think like that okay. He’s fine, we just gotta get ‘im into the car okay.”
Kobra hears Ghoul mumble his agreement.
Looking around, Kobra thinks he sees the outline of the sheets they’d used for Jet. He’d only caught a glimpse of them as they’d been pushed inside the car but the sheets would be useful with Party.
“Can you grab the sheets for me. We can cover ‘im with it and carry him out together.”
And so they do, lifting Party’s limp body up and draping the semi- soaked fabric over him. They do their best to arrange it so the driest part is touching his skin, not wanting to risk anything else.
Together they cary Party outside. Ghoul uses his foot to close the door behind them, the rain beating down heavily and wind blowing just as strong.
With his arms busy holding up his brother’s chest and head, Kobra can’t protect his face from the rain. It stings and burns his eyes so badly he’s worried it’s going to affect his vision.
Ghoul’s in much the same position, his arms preoccupied with holding Party’s legs.
When they finally get to the car, Jet opens the door door for them, allowing Kobra to push his brother head first into the back seat. It’s sorta cramped but Jet maneuvers so Party’s head rests on their lap.
Party isn’t the tallest person so he compacts pretty easily into the back seat.
When blanket is removed, Kobra still standing in the rain, unable to move, he can see how pale his brother has gone. There’s definitely a fever once again; Kobra could feel it as he’d carried him.
“I gotta go back! Still some supplies left!” Ghoul shouts behind him.
“No! You get in, I’ll go and get it. Take care of him!”
He gives Ghoul no room to argue, back already turned as he goes through the rain once again. Their medical supplies are in those bags, along with food, real water, and baby stuff. If he leaves it here then there’s a very good chance that it’s gonna be their names on the next morning broadcast. Ghosted from a storm.
The wind is horrible still. Somehow, in the hours this storm has been on going, it’s still just as strong as when it began. Kobra is truly beginning to believe that Better Living created this.
It’s just too unnatural, too strong, to be normal.
-----------------------------
Hours later they pull up to an abandoned looking diner.
During their drive the rain had finally let up, allowing them to actual navagate onto Guano and find a place to stay. The storm was still going on though, even as Kobra helps Jet inside.
Flashes of lightning are still common, the thunder still loud, as he guides them. The sky is dark as ever, painting everything in shadows.
Each time the lightning flashes, Jet tenses up. Kobra’s not sure if it’s left over nerves or if they’re afraid of the storm.
He doesn’t press though.
Getting them inside is hard. He is exhausted, face feeling like it’s sunburned from its exposure to the rain, and the adrenaline finally crashing. However, Kobra doesn’t have time to sit down and rest for a few moments.
Not when Jet is only barely standing right now. Not when his brother is unconscious and running a rather dangerous fever just inside the diner.
Kobra thinks that maybe this is karma of some kind. Payback.
But, he reminds himself, this is for the best.
Then, Jet pitches forwards, a weak groan escaping them as they do so. Kobra only just manages to catch them, now supporting them completely.
Their eyes are scrunched shut, head lulling to their chest as Kobra slings their arm over his shoulder. He drags them inside like that, his own exhaustion forgotten as he gingerly lays them down in a nearby booth.
Grace is crying somewhere in the room but Ghoul is currently hovering over Party. He’s got him stripped down to just his undershirt, an old, grey one that says ‘keep smiling’. Ghoul mumbles as he brings a hand up to feel Party’s forehead.
The shirt feels ironic right now.
“He’s burning Kobra,” Ghoul says dejectedly, turning fearful eyes towards him.
Crossing the room, Kobra takes in his brother’s form.
Party lays on top of a nearby table, his knees bending and falling off of the edge. He’s damp, either from the rain or sweat, and his breathing is short, labored. There’s a definite wheeze and rattle to his breaths as well.
“We just gotta cool him down. Here,” Kobra takes off his jacket, bundling it up to make a pillow.
They can’t let Party stay completely horizontal, gotta get him at least somewhat upright so he can begin to get the shit out of his lungs. Again.
“Kobra,” Ghoul whispers, making him turn his gaze away from his brother.
Ghoul looks terrified, eyes still wide and his fingers trembling where he’s got them resting on his brother’s forearm.
“He’s -”
“He is fine. It’s gonna take a lot more than a cough to bring him down. Just trust me,” Kobra reassures him, purposely leaving out how hot his brother’s skin is with the fever.
“I-I’m gonna- I’m gonna bring in the bags in, ‘case the rain starts again.”
Kobra just lets him go, knowing he needs to get rid of his anxious energy somehow. With him alone now, Kobra just sets about doing the routine checks that he’s learned from his brother.
Make sure the unconscious person is breathing, heart beating, unconscious...
The list goes on. It really helps a little to reign in Kobra’s anxiety, to get a conscious feel for the state his brother’s in.
Party isn’t actually in that bad of shape, just out of it because of the fever. So really, he’s worrying for nothing. Probably.
When Ghoul returns, four duffle bags slung over his shoulders, Kobra can’t help but notice how shitty he looks. He’s got acid burns all over him, nearly head to toe, and he’s got a sinking feeling Ghoul didn’t cover up.
“Stop starin’,” Ghoul says grumpilly, setting the duffle bags down at Kobra’s feet.
“You look like shit.”
“Yeah. Sucks.”
“No seriously,” Kobra presses, pulling out a water bottle. “Did you not cover up?”
Now, Ghoul looks almost guilty, staring down at his boots like he can’t meet Kobra’s eyes. Sure, he’d gone out unprotected on the last trip too but he is nowhere near as burned as Ghoul.
“Jet and the baby needed it more,” Ghoul says quietly.
And now Kobra just can’t be pissed at him for being reckless. He’d done the same thing so really, it’d be hypocritical to get on Ghoul now. So, rather than yell, Kobra just searches through the bag with their medical supplies.
“Okay, but you should change outta those clothes first. I’ll find the cream okay?” Kobra tells him quietly.
Ghoul just nods and grabs his own bag, presumably full of the few changes of clothes he owns, and wonders off for a private place to change. Before he leaves, Kobra passes him the tube of burn cream, telling him to use as much as he needs.
While he’s gone, Kobra works on finding some piece of cloth or something to use as a rag. His brother’s fever needs to be fought but all of their fabric and stuff they’d had was either ruined by the rain or was in use because of the rain. And also back in the shed.
Finding no other option, Kobra pulls his jacket off, his shirt coming off next as well. He winces a little as it pulls his shoulder but continues with what he’s doing. He flips out an old pocket knife from his front pocket and sets to work.
He cuts his shirt into as many little square shapes as he can, figuring they’re gonna need more than one rag. Once that’s done, Kobra puts the jacket back on and zips it up. He’s not exactly comfortable being shirtless right now…
By the time he’s pouring the water onto one of the pieces of t-shirt, Ghoul returns. He stands beside Kobra, watching him as he presses the cool cloth to his brother’s forehead. The fever isn’t that bad but they need to keep it under control. The reason he’d fainted was probably because it’d spiked and Kobra wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.
“How is he?” Ghoul asks quietly.
He’s wearing a black t-shirt with yellow along the borders, his jacket nowhere to be found. Kobra can see the red blotches of burns all over his neck and face, with smaller burns covering his arms where the water had gotten in.
“Party’s just got a fever dude. He’s okay,” Kobra assures him.
Maybe if he downplays this his own anxiety will shut the fuck up. Maybe.
“But he like full on passed out. That’s not okay.”
Ghoul does have a point…
“We just ‘av to keep the fever down Ghoul. I promise he’s okay.”
Ghoul looks like he doesn’t believe him.
“Can I?” he asks, pointing at the strip of t-shirt in Kobra’s hand.
“Yeah sure.”
He lets Ghoul take over, the short man sliding into the booth as he does so. Kobra watches as Ghoul takes his brother’s hand, whispering something he probably doesn’t want to hear.
So, Kobra goes over to Jet, lets Ghoul and his brother have their moment.
He finds Jet exactly where he left them. They’re laying down in one of the booths, just barely conscious. Thunder rumbles once again and he watches Jet flash a worried look towards the door. This building is way more sturdy than their shed and the windows are insulated enough to where the rain won’t get in. Even the air is more clear in here.
Party should be able to get the shit out of his lungs much easier here.
“Hey,” he calls, making them flash tried eyes up at him. “You don’ alright?”
They just nod and it’s then that he notices their hand. It’s resting on their stomach, right above the bandages.
Maybe this is from ignoring his anxiety over his brother and it’s finally coming to a head, but Kobra has a split second moment of pure panic. He’s certain they’ve torn the wound open, that he’s going to lose them-
“I’m fine,” Jet mumbles, seemingly oblivious to his mild panic. “Just wiped.”
They look to be telling the truth. There’s dark bags under their eyes and their arms shake as they pull themself up until they’re sitting. Jet is still mostly hunched over, their elbows resting on the table of the booth but hey- at least they’re sitting.
“You should eat somethin’ then get some rest,” he says, noticing once again how pale they are right now.
He wishes he could do something more, could help them recover more quickly. Actually, there is a way… the proof is in his own shoulder but- but he can’t. This isn’t the right time.
But fuck-
He promised him that he’d call back by now. It’s okay, Kobra assures himself, all he has to do is find an excuse to go out to the car. Then he can make a quick call; it’ll all be fine.
Hell, maybe he’ll have some advice for Kobra. Maybe he can find a way to get some things to help speed along Party and Jet’s recovery...
Jet nods and makes to say something else but Kobra is already turning around. His mind is sort of on overdrive. He can’t stop thinking about everything that just went wrong and everything that could go wrong. Can’t repel those lingering feelings of guilt because this is his fault, even if it is indirectly.
Kobra makes himself busy, rummaging through their bags to find something for Jet to eat.
_____________
Hours later Kobra once again is the only one awake.
They’ve managed to keep Party’s fever mostly under control, though it still isn’t falling any. That’s where Kobra is right now, sitting in the booth beside his brother. He needs to wake him soon, some water and food would probably do him good, but for now Kobra lets him rest.

There’s sweat beading on Party’s forehead, his eyes scrunched shut as his eyes flicker beneath, and Kobra knows he’s fucked up.
Honestly, the only reason he’s lying, the only reason he’s not telling them is because he told him not to. The man had saved Kobra’s life and really, at the time this secrecy had seemed like a good idea.
Now though, Kobra isn’t so sure.
Maybe it’s his brother, laying here like this, that’s fuling this decison. Seeing him like this is difficult to say the least and it’s making Kobra rethink everything.
It’d be so easy to come clean. Hell, it may even help them out in the long run.
Party groans in his sleep, face twisting even further into a grimace. He mumbles something under his breath as half coughs escape him.
Reaching over, Kobra just re-wets the piece of t-shirt and puts it back on his brother's forehead. It’s odd doing this now, mostly because it was Jet in this position just the other day.
“Mh- gotta- got-”
Party’s words are starting to form but Kobra still can’t quite make out what he’s saying. He’s getting worried though, worried that this is going to turn into a nightmare. His brother’s dreams are bad enough without a fever, there’s no telling what horrible shit his subconscious will be able to dig up while he’s in this state.
So, he shushes him, runs a hand through his red hair, and does his best to keep his older brother calm. It works, sorta.
“Gotta get- get out- we- bombs-”
“Party?” Kobra questions quietly, not sure if his brother is waking up or just dreaming.
“We gotta get out. Come on Mikey- Mikey-”
This turns into Party just calling his name, over and over. Kobra can’t react for a moment, too caught up with what's happening to fully process it. When he does though, he shakes his brother’s shoulders as hard as he dares.
He needs to wake him up before the whole damn desert hears Kobra’s name. Before Jet hears his name.
“You gotta wake up. Wake up Party.”
After a few rough shakes, and a dozen half shouts of Kobra’s name, Party finally wakes. He sits bolt upright, eyes wide and panicked as his hands reach towards his holster all their own.
“Hey- shit- it’s just me. It’s just me,” Kobra tries.
Party looks at him and just deflates the moment he realizes who it is. He coughs once into his arm but still offers Kobra a weak smile afterwards.
“You were dreaming,” Kobra states.
“I-I was. Did I-”
“You were calling my name… my real one...”
His brother curses under his breath but Kobra takes this opportunity to pass him a granola bar and some water. Once his brother is sufficiently taken care of in that manor, Kobra allows himself to think as Party pulls his knees up to his chest.
The way he’s sitting, still on top of the table, makes him look so small. In times like these, Kobra can see how Jet thought maybe Kobra was the oldest. Party appears so young right now, his shoulders shaking every so often as he coughs.
“What did you see?”
Maybe Kobra can help… maybe talking about it would help.
“Just- just us,” Party says, muffled through his arms. “The night we left home…”
“Oh-”
“Haven't thought of that in a long time… do you remember- do you remember it at all?”
“Yeah. Yeah I do. And I remember the lights and the coco the day before,” Kobra says, surprising himself at how… happy that part of the memory makes him.
Party lifts his head to look at him, eyes searching for something in Kobra.
“Didn’t think you remembered, with hitting your head and you being so young and all.”
“Well I do. You gave me your coco cause I finished mine in like two gulps and when I went to sleep that night the lights made my room look like a rainbow,” Kobra tells him, smiling to himself at the memories.
“Wow. You really- you actually remember?”
“Yeah. You’ve always taken care of me…”
“I always will Mikey,” Party says, voice barely above a whisper.
“I love you ya know.”
His brother smiles, suppressing another cough in his arm.
The diner around them is quiet, Jet out cold with Grace in their arms and Ghoul on guard duty outside. Just around dusk the storm had finally dissipated but the radio signals were still shit; they couldn’t even get Doc’s station they were so bad.
So, they were alone.
Kobra wonders if the station he’d called the other night would be able to get their signal. He could try it, at the very least just to see if it’d work. Or maybe to actually come clean and-
“Can I ask you something?”
His brother’s question is surprising but Kobra finds himself noding all the same.
“What actually happened when you went to get supplies. I’m- I’m not dumb Kobra, I know that something happened. Even if you did patch yourself up, that wound looks a week old rather than a couple of days. Plus, I heard you step out last night, right before the broadcast about the rain you came back in.”
“Gee I-”
“Don’t ‘Gee’ me, I know something happened. What could be so bad that you keep it from me? From your crew?”
Fuck… he’s got him backed into a corner.
Really, Kobra wants to come clean but it’s just-
Before he can stop himself, Kobra starts talking. He can never really lie to his brother, never has been good at keeping secrets. Party knew he wasn’t straight before Kobra even really knew… just has the ability to read him so well. He always knows...
So, Kobra starts talking.

Chapter Text

“I fucked up,” Kobra starts, his eyes already falling down to his hands.
He can’t even look at Party right now, can’t stand to see the hurt in his eyes. Really, this all wouldn’t be so bad if he’d told them from the start.
“Please, just tell me,” Party asks gently.
The trust in his brother’s voice is somehow painful. It’s like a flashing sign of the exact thing Kobra is destroying right now. But he answers all the same.
“I never- I never actually went to that market,” he begins but Party doesn’t say anything, just lets him continue. “A patrol found me about halfway there but I managed to shake ‘em. But I had to stop ‘cause of the rain, didn’t even realize I’d been hit at first.”
Party pulls a sharp breath and Kobra chances a look at him. He doesn’t look pissed, which is honestly surprising. Instead, Party is staring at him like he’s the one who just passed out from fever a few hours ago. It’s that concerned older brother look that he wears so well and Kobra’s heart somehow gets even more heavy.
He doesn’t deserve this.
“I found this compound by accident and stopped t’ see if they’d let me wait out the storm ya know,” Kobra just keeps talking, hoping maybe if he gets this all out faster, then it’ll hurt less. “The ‘joy who answered the door noticed my shoulder.”
This is it, no turning back. Kobra’s nearly shaking with the anxiety of this and-
Party reaches over to connect their hands, offering silent comfort just like Kobra had for him with Ghoul the other day. Somehow this is almost worse...almost.
“I managed to find Doctor Death,” Kobra says in one breath, though he does pause before continuing. “One of his runners is who let me in and the Doctor himself patched me up.”
“I-I-” Party is looking at him like he’s grown a second head.
Really growing two heads is just about as probable as finding Doctor Death without meaning to. Hell most of the time people can’t find him when they want to. Kobra is either very lucky or very unlucky. The jury is still out on that one.
“You did what now?” Party asks incredulously.
“I accidentally found Doctor Death.”
“Fucking hell.”
“There’s - there’s more,” Kobra offers quietly and Party gestures vaguely for him to continue. “While I- like- rested up afterwards, we talked. He asked who I was and how I’d found him. I told him the truth, because that’d be really fucking dumb to lie to him-”
“But lying to your brother is any better?” Party cuts him off.
From the look on Party’s face, he hadn’t meant to say that out loud. But yeah… yeah, apparently Kobra could lie to his brother. Who’d have known?
There’s more than anger in the way Party is looking at him, there’s hurt too. Broken trust.
“I-”
“Just finish what you were saying,” Party says bitterly, waving his hand.
It’s difficult to speak around the lump in his throat but he’s already gotten this far. Kobra knows now how stupid it was to keep this from his brother. Maybe by coming clean he’ll soften the blow just a bit. It would be so much worse if Party found out without Kobra telling him so really, this is probably the best way this situation could have gone.
Still, Kobra can barely get the words out. Party is looking at him so intensely right now, waiting on him to drop another bomb. His face is schooled blank, something Party learned how to do a long time ago. It’s easier to have your heart ripped out when no one can tell it’s happening.
But this is his brother and Kobra knows exactly what he’s thinking.
“Well it uh- it turns out he already knew who I was, knew who we were Party. Apparently, word’s been gettin’ around about us helping people, enough so that Doc’s heard about it.”
“Fuck-” Party whispers, meeting Kobra’s eye for once.
There’s a glimpse of relief from Party, where Kobra knows he’s just happy that they helped all those people. But there’s also a sense of pride as well. They’re making a difference, a tangible difference.
“Yeah,” Kobra breathes, “but he said that’s why he helped me. When I accidentally mentioned the supplies I was on that run for, he just offered them to me. Had the same runner who let me in go and grab the stuff. He wouldn’t let me pay for it either…”
A stray roll of thunder interrupts him, Party jumping more than he does at the sudden sound. His brother coughs once again but is able to regain his breath quickly.
Small victories.
“He told me a lot too,” Kobra continues after Party shifts a bit. “He told me that all the attention wasn’t necessarily a good thing. We- we’ve been noticed by Better Living, Party. They’ve been sending spies out here who know our names to get information on us. Doc’s caught a few of them trying to weasel information about us out of other ‘joys. We’re on their radar.”
Party doesn’t say anything but from the way his fists are clenched against the fabric of his jeans, it tells Kobra enough about how pissed off he is right now. He knows better than to continue, than to just gloss over this.
“Real or rebel names?” Then he adds, “Are there posters?”
“Our rebel ones. And closer to the City, Zone 1, but yes,” Kobra answers honestly.
But Party doesn’t yell, he just swears colorfully under his breath. Party is angry, frustrated and Kobra shrinks away a bit. He understands why.
If Better Living sets their sights on you it’s essentially a death sentence. They’re ruthless and aren’t above ghosting whole crews for one person. They’ve burned neutral towns to the ground just because there were rumors of someone they’re after staying there. You were lucky if they dusted you. There’s talk of them bringing ‘joys back to life, turning them into mindless soldiers. Dracs.
Posters make it even worse. Anyone can see those, can recognize his or his brother’s face, and rat to the City. There’s awards and shit; people sometimes choose their own crew’s safety over that of others’.
Being a rebel, living in the desert, isn’t just about the colors and the music, it’s about fighting. It’s risking your life, giving up the hope for a long life, in the off chance some of the noise you make will actually make a fucking difference.
So if they’re important enough for their faces to be plastered over Zone 1, someone has definitely noticed and they’re in way more danger than before.
This is the kind of information a normal person would tell their crew leader, their brother especially. But no, Kobra’s an idiot and thought waiting was the best option. His brother seems lost in thought, one hand mindlessly filing through his own hair. He combs it directly back and even with the color and length change, it makes Kobra’s chest tighten uncomfortably. Party is the one person he should have never lied to.
All he’s ever done is take care of Kobra, even as the expense of his own safety. Often times at the expense of his own safety.
This is a whole new level of danger for them though. The chances of them dying before 25 just fucking shot through the roof so yeah- Kobra can understand why his brother is upset.
“Fucking hell Kobra!” he says at last,exasperated “ you didn’t think to tell me this?”
“No. I- I wanted to. Party, the second he told me I fucking asked for a radio so I could warn you but-”
“But?”
“But he told me no. There’s more.”
“Of course!” Party exclaims, mostly to himself.
Kobra winces at that but his brother doesn’t seem to notice. Fitting words it seems...
“He gave me names. The names of the division sent after us. We’re not like- we’re not top priority but they’ve got an eye on us ya know. Apparently, this new guy, an Exterminator named Korse, is the one on our asses. And he is ruthless.”
“How?” Party breathes and Kobra has to ask him what he means. “How does Doc know all this?”
“He’s got someone, a few people actually, on the inside. They’re smuggling information along with food and shit out of the City. He’s got a further reach than I’d thought really…”
“Food and shit,” Party quotes, looking at Kobra expectantly.
“Yeah?”
“Your shoulder.”
“Oh- yeah. Doc’s been able to get some top quality medical shit out too. The stuff is being prepared for distribution right now. Soon it’s gonna be at the markets though.”
“And why must this be kept a secret?” Party demands, a tiny bit of his City accent escaping him.
It hurts, hearing his brother so upset over something he’s done. Really though, Kobra can’t blame him.
“In case- in case someone we know is one of their spies…” Kobra forces out at last.
Party simply stares at him, furious underneath the calm disbelief schooled across his face.
“Kobra,” he bites. “Kobra do you really fucking think that Ghoul, or Jet even, is a Better Living informant? Seriously!?”
“Well- no- I mean not- I tried to tell Doc but he insisted that I at least wait to tell you.”
“So what, you’ve just been keeping an eye out for Ghoul to shoot me in my sleep or something?”
“Party- no that’s-”
“That’s not what Kobra? Tell me that’s not what you’re implying here. Do you think Jet is going to do the same, that they’re going to poison your water or some shit?”
His brother is nearly yelling right now and it’s all Kobra can do to not freak out at the possibility of the others waking. As hard as this is, as hard as the wavering trust his brother has for him is, Kobra isn’t ready for the others to hear this. Isn’t ready to possibly be the one to destroy this crew before they ever really get a chance to do something with themselves.
“No. No Party it-”
How can he tell his brother that this has eaten him up from the moment he radioed back, lying and saying he had gone to the market? How can Kobra let him know that he feels horrible, like a terrible brother for even thinking about this but-
“I was just trying to keep you safe,” he whispers at last.
“Me?”
“Yes you. It’s really fucking coincidental that Ghoul just happened to find the random place we were sleeping that night. The chances of him finding us are so fucking small Party and we’ve had the short end way too many times. New people are dangerous but so are older ones.”
“Kobra,” Party demands angrily, his voice low and quiet.
There’s a dark look in his eyes, one Kobra recognizes. He’s crossed the line.
“After everything- everything we talked about the other day, the three of us, you seriously believe that? You fucking gave Ghoul your name! If you’re so convinced he’s a traitor then why the hell would you do that?”
“Cause I- I don’t know. I trust him Party, like really. I would die for him the same as I would for you. I fucked up okay! I didn’t know what to do but I’ve been certain he’s not with Better Living since that conversation.”
Kobra doesn’t continue, all of his strength being used to not break down right here. He knows he was wrong but hearing his brother point out all of the truths he himself already knew makes it even worse. He’s ashamed, pissed off at himself.
“Mikey?” that makes him look up, ready for whatever his brother throws at him.
Then, Party’s hand squeezes his own. He’d forgotten that his brother had connected them. Even while as pissed off as he is, Party still hasn’t pulled away from him. His brother is still trying to comfort him despite the shit he’s just told him.
“Mikey,” Party takes a shallow breath, “yes I’m pissed that you kept this from me but- but I can see why you did. You had to make sure it was safe to tell me and I can tell how badly you didn’t want to lie. But it is my fucking job to take care of you, dumbass. You could have told me about Doc’s suspicions and we could have debunked them together. You’re not in this alone.”
“But-”
“No buts,” then Party pauses, uncertain. “Unless there’s more?”
“No,” Kobra says honestly. “No. That’s all.”
Then Party smiles. It should make this better but it doesn’t…
Without saying anything, Kobra stands. There’s a physical pain in his chest as he pulls his hand from Party’s, his brother’s grip lingering until he realizes Kobra is trying to leave. His brother makes a shocked sound but doesn’t try and stop him as he walks outside. He’s thankful for that. Maybe Party will get some more rest and the last bits of his fever will pass.
So he goes outside. Truthfully, Kobra doesn’t want to see Ghoul right now either but he knows he’s just out here.
He’d tried to forget the way he’d kept a wary eye on Ghoul when he’d first gotten back, almost like it was natural. Doc’s words rang in his ears.
There are spies everywhere.
After Ghoul and Party’s argument/confession the other day, all of those doubts had been dispelled. There was no way Ghoul was faking this and if he was then he was a damn good actor. But that’s not the point. The point is that Kobra didn’t trust him. Maybe it was only for a day, but he’d seriously doubted one of his best friends. Ghoul has already done so much for them and yet, Kobra was so easy to become suspicious.
And Jet… god Kobra was horrible for even beginning to doubt them. In the week or so they’ve known each other, Jet hasn’t done a single thing for him to doubt them. They’d saved Kobra’s life, Ghoul’s life, the day they’d met. Jet hasn’t asked a single personal question that was forced or prying nor have they even mentioned the pretty intense argument between Ghoul and Party.
They don’t deserve the doubt that Kobra had for them, that he most definitely does not have anymore, but he’d still taken Doc’s words too far.
Despite this though, or maybe in some way to make up for it, Kobra pushes the front door of the diner open. The air is still slightly acidic but the storm has passed, only the most brief flashes of lightning can be seen in the distance. It’s the sort of eerie calm that washes over the air after the heavens open up. The shocking quiet after the continuous roar of rain and thunder. The air feels far too open, anxious, as if the desert itself is waiting for the storm to resume.

He finds Fun Ghoul to the right of the door, sitting on one of the benches out front. His gun is in his hand and he jerks his head to the sound of Kobra opening the door. However, Ghoul relaxes the moment he sees that it’s him.
That sends another pang of regret though him. Ghoul has so much trust in him…
Kobra knows that Ghoul heard Party cry out his name in his nightmare, his brother shouted it too many times, too loudly, for it to be ignored. And yet, Ghoul had remained outside. He’d trusted Kobra with the man he loved. And how has Kobra repaid this?
By lying his ass off and thinking his best friend is a traitor.

Vaguely, Kobra wonders if he’s going to have to tell his story to Ghoul as well or if Party will end up telling him. He’s not sure which one he prefers.
The air is cold though, the sun’s radiation has not absorbed into the sand during the day because of the storm, and Kobra shivers a little, wishing he had another shirt to put under his jacket. But Ghoul looks cold too and he’s been out here since the storm let up.
“Go in and get some sleep,” Kobra says as gently as he can.
Ghoul stifles a yawn, nodding once before pulling himself up with a grunt. He hides the pain well but Kobra knows he’s sore. He is beginning to feel his own blistered skin protest it’s lack of care but he ignores it. Ghoul’s burns aren’t bad necessarily but they need to take care of them.
“Oh wait-” Kobra calls before Ghoul can get inside, making him turn around. “Your burns, how are they?”
He’s worried, knows that with Party currently down that taking care of any more sick people will be a struggle. Truthfully, Kobra knows that the moment he’s able, Party will be up. Keeping him resting just won’t happen but still, he’d rather not see Ghoul in any more pain nor would he like to see his brother work himself back into that fever.
“They’re fine. That cream is the shit by the way; I’m just a little stiff,” Ghoul says with a smirk.
Somehow Kobra knows he’s telling the truth. Had Ghoul been able to tell his thoughts? Was Kobra getting that easy to read?
“Good.”
“Is Poison awake?” Ghoul asks, making Kobra seriously wonder if he’d heard Party’s nightmare and their- Their argument. Kobra’s truth. Whatever the hell you want to call it.
“Yeah- he was when I came out anyway,” Kobra answers, gesturing inside.
Ghoul just smiles again and heads inside. So, Kobra makes himself comfortable, pulling out his own gun and taking Ghoul’s spot on the bench.
__________________________________________________

Currently, they’re laying in one of the booths in this abandoned diner the others found during the storm yesterday. Really, Jet had not expected to be so drained just from freaking walking but here they are, sore and exhausted despite sleeping like the dead the moment they’d finished eating.
Now, they can tell something’s happened. The way Kobra hasn’t come inside all day, the back of his head visible through the window from where he has stayed on guard duty.
Party too, he’s anxious, quiet. He’s playing it off obviously but still. Jet notices.
But Kobra, his guard shift ended when the sun came up but it’s currently mid-morning and he’s still outside.
Jet is certain he’s not slept at all.
Now from what they’ve gathered about him in the week they’ve known him, Kobra is pretty stubborn. He also only seems to really come out around his brother. He’s quiet, always thinking.
So, this wouldn’t be that concerning if Party wasn’t flashing worried glances to the window every so often.
He’s trying to be subtle but Jet can see right through it. Something’s happened, they’re just not sure what.
Quietly though, from across the diner, they can hear Ghoul and Party talking. Or well, flirting endlessly. They’ve been super clingy since Jet woke up, Ghoul refusing to leave Party’s side. They’re both joking but Jet can see how worried Ghoul had been as well.
“I’ll get sick all the time if it means I get to lay with you like this,” Party whispers.
The two of them must think Jet is still asleep because they’ve been doing this all morning. Party is still sick though and under very strict orders to not leave the booth that’s acting as his bed at the moment. His fever had finally broken sometime in the night while Jet was still asleep. From what they can see of him, and they try not to look over too often because these two cannot keep their mouths to themselves, he’s still tired looking. His coughing has decreased though and it seems like he’s able to breathe more easily, but it’s obvious he’s probably not in any shape to get up or anything. They’re honestly just relieved that he’s doing better. He did save their life just the other day. That and he’s starting to be-
Well, can Jet say that they’re friends with Party and his crew? Are they friends or just passing faces?
“You scare me like that again and I will personally fill your blaster with sand,” Ghoul threatens seriously.
They hear Party mock gasp.
“That’s low Fun Ghoul. Even for you,” he says, smirk practically visible in his words.
Then the two of them burst into giggles like they’re twelve or something. Really, Jet can’t be all that mad. The past few days have been stressful and it’s nice to see the couple not bickering or worried out of their minds.
“Shh. Gonna wake Jet up if you don’t shut up,” Party hisses ironically, his own giggles barely contained.
“Meanie.”
“Dumbass.”
As always, it seems like Grace has perfect timing. Or the worst, depending on the way you look at it. But all the same, she starts wailing from her little corner of the room.
Both Ghoul and Party curse and it sounds like they’re shuffling to get up. But Jet is already pulling themself up, using the table as leverage. They make their way over to where Grace is supposed to be sleeping, laying in an old dresser drawer that someone had found.
The wooden drawer has what looks like a bunch of changes of clothes packed into the bottom and along the sides, with Grace lying directly in the middle of it. The way she’s crying tells Jet that she’s hungry, nothing serious, and they go about finding the things to make her some formula.
“Hey,” Ghoul says, suddenly beside them as the open an empty bottle. “Um- Party told me to tell you, and I quote, to ‘sit your dumbass down and let Ghoul make the damn formula.”
Jet laughs and looks over to Party. He’s sitting up, back against the backrest of the booth. He nods when they look over to him and the serious look in his eyes leaves no room for argument.
“Do you know how?” Jet asks Ghoul, the bottle still in their hand.
Sitting down again sounds nice but they know Grace should eat. They can stand up long enough to make some formula; it won't be the end of the world.
“Yeah. I’ve done it before for her. Take her over to your booth and I’ll make the food,” Ghoul tells them with an easy smile.
They nod and shuffle over to lift Grace. Their stomach is still sore, something they shouldn’t be surprised about, and it’s pretty painful to bend over and to lift her. She can’t be more than 13 pounds but it’s still hard to mask their discomfort.
All the same, Jet plops back down into what they guess is now their booth. They hold Grace, rocking her gently to try and get her to calm down. She’s still wailing though, her tiny face all scrunched up and hands squeezed into fists.
“Jesus,” Party mumbles. “I’m glad I don’t remember Kobra much at this age.”
Ghoul laughs as he passes Jet the bottle, filled with just the right amount. It’s even a little warm, the perfect temperature, and when they ask Ghoul just shrugs it off. He points to the corner where an ancient microwave sits behind the counter. The kitchen and waitstaff area is just beyond that.
“Thanks,” they say at last, turning their attention to getting Grace to eat.
When she’s done, thankfully the tears and the screaming finally do stop, Jet sees Ghoul press a hand to his forehead like he’s got a headache. Jet feels for him, really; Grace can scream when she wants to. Jet’s gotten used to the loud noises their sister can make because they often would take care of her to give their Ma a break.
They miss that. That small, grateful smile their Ma would give when Jet offered to take Grace for a few hours. They would spend as much time as possible with her because they knew their Ma needed the rest; raising a baby in the desert is hard. Jet’s not sure how she did it when they were that small and their Ma was so much younger. But they’re sure she did it amazingly. Most of their memories of her are good, happy.
Helping take care of Grace was something they didn’t mind doing at all. Not only do they absolutely fucking adore their sister but they knew their Ma appreciated the couple hours of uninterrupted rest that she’d get.
But for Party and Ghoul, it seems like they haven't been around babies much. It’s amusing to see their visual relief at the quiet now encompassing the diner. For now.
“Fucking hell,” Party curses quietly, making Jet laugh a little.
That phrase seems to be Party’s favorite and for whatever reason it’s really funny to them. The way he says it always makes Jet crack up a bit because it’s completely unironic. He says it genuinely and somehow that’s all the more amusing. Maybe it’s just because of the slight accent that slips out when he says it. All they have to do is listen a little and the City accent is right there.
They wonder how long Party’s been out? Can’t have been long, not with the accent, but Ghoul’s apparently been out less time. He doesn’t talk like a City person though. Well, only in like sentence structure, not actual pronunciation.
It’s actually interesting really, hearing two people, both from the City, talk so much alike and so different at the same time.
“You get used to it,” Jet teases him, making Ghoul laugh again.
Ghoul laughs a lot, Jet notices. He’s always joking or poking fun at all of them but it’s so innocent, or maybe friendly is the right word. Party may be the medic but Ghoul seems to be the kindest, most open.
“She’s lucky she’s adorable,” Party says under his breath, grinning all the same.
Party gets up, slowly and much to Ghoul’s frustration, crossing the room to lean over their shoulder and peer down at the baby in their arms. She’s all smiles now, bright eyes blinking up at them.
“Party,” Ghoul warns, already hovering again.
Apparently Party isn’t too concerned though, he just grins down at Grace, messing with her hair a little.
“Oh fuck off. She is cute dude.”
Jet is sorta thankful that Party isn’t contagious, not that they think he’d risk being this close if he was, but at the same time Ghoul’s anxiety is clear. Though, that’s probably because Party had fainted yesterday. This family sort of thing, the way Ghoul watches over Party while Party watches over him while Kobra watches over all of them, it’s refreshing. There is always someone looking out for someone else; it’s safe.

“Can I take’a look at you real quick Jet? You did alotta walking yesterday and I just wanna make sure you’re still shiny,” Party offers.
Now, Jet feels fine. They could totally shrug Party off but he has a point. They’re really sore this morning and besides, Party will probably insist anyway.
“Uh yeah,” Jet agrees, already handing Grace over to Ghoul.
It’s odd that the explosives expert, Party’s words not theirs, is so good with her. He holds Grace carefully but not like he’s afraid of hurting her. Jet is thankful that there’s someone who’s so good with her, just in case something happens to them.
Party helps them get their shirt off, the cotton t-shirt has definitely seen better days, and has them sit on the corner of the seat. They face out into the diner rather than the seat on the other side as he looks them over. After he helps them pull off their shirt, they debate just leaving it off. The day is already blistering and they’re burning up.
Looking down, there’s only a small bandage on their stomach now, really only there to keep the sand and shit out. The only part that still is really painful is the hole where the beam had hit because of how deep the wound is. The burns surrounding it however, while they’re uncomfortable, they’re not as sore as that spot. Really, it’s a miracle the blast didn’t go all the way through them.
The whole area is still really tender though, especially with someone cleaning it. Even though Party is being gentle, they have to hold their breath while he cleans certain places. They make a mental note to never get shot again.
They distract themself by watching Party work. He puts a few drops of antiseptic, handed over by a concerned Ghoul, on the rag and dabs at the outer areas of the main wound. They haven't really looked at it yet…
It strangely looks worse than it feels. Like they said, it’s sore as hell, but it doesn’t feel like they should have a fucking hole in them. Maybe it’s like denial or something?
Somehow they get caught up on the rag. They’re probably losing their mind but the rag looks… familiar. Like they should know it from somewhere.
It’s got yellow and black stripes but the pattern seems way too big for the small piece of fabric, almost like it’s a piece of a bigger cloth-thing. The edges are a little frayed and uneven, like someone cut them in a hurry.
“Is that what I think it is?” Jet asks, though it’s a bit grumbled through the pain.
Yeah, they know what it is now. That’s Kobra’s shirt, the yellow and black stripes now a dead give away.
“What the rag?”
“Mmhm.
“Yeah. We ran outta cloths.”
“But his shirt,” Jet insits, sort of upset that Kobra would ruin his only shirt.
“Just a shirt.”
Well okay, that’s fair but still. Kobra cut up his own shirt to take care of his crew, of Jet, and that sets… surprisingly nicely in their head. It’s a warm sorta feeling, how much Kobra takes care of them all. Maybe Party doesn’t see it, maybe Ghoul doesn’t either, but Jet does.
It’s extremely subtle but they can see Kobra as he turns his head slightly, glancing inside to make sure they’re all okay. He’s stayed up all night, and who knows how long before that, so that they all could get some rest.
Kobra was even shot just so he could bring back formula for Grace. That’s something they’re still sorta reeling from. Kobra went through all of that… just for them, just for Grace.
Maybe they have a thing for like protectiveness or something because that should not make him as… interesting as it does. It’s concerning, obviously, that he’s willing so easily to put himself at risk but at the same time, it makes Jet feel almost special in a way. That Kobra would not only protect his crew but near strangers like Jet and Grace as well.
“Okay,” Party says under his breath, pulling Jet’s attention down to where he’s crouched in front of them.
He’s set focused on his work now, brows knit together in concentration as he cleans over the stitches. For home-made, freehand stitches, they’re pretty solid. They’re neat and clean, though it’s nearly time for them to come out. Jet can see how large the wound was before, the edges pink and healing. It’s a miracle that they’ve survived.
Party works with the attentiveness of an experienced medic, something Jet knows that he very likely is. You see, word sorta gets around in the desert, especially if you travel. They’ve heard a few stories of other Killjoys who Party and Kobra have taken in, healed, and barely even asked for a carbon. There’s plenty of people they didn’t charge at all.
Some people call them angels, say that they are sent from the Witch herself to take care of wounded ‘joys. Jet likes the thought of that. Though, now that they’ve sorta lived with them, they know that they’re just people. Just kids fighting for what they believe in just like everyone else.
It makes the mindset no less impactful though. And really, Kobra is sort of an angel. Okay that’s cheesy, they can admit to that. Still, the way he took charge yesterday, saw that his brother was in no shape to get them out and took matters into his own hands. All of that, the way he’d put everyone else’s lives over his own. That’s exactly what this rebellion is.
Despite the evil in the world, Party and Kobra have worked hard to help anyone who needed it. It was who they are, something the City probably tried to drug out of them. That’s a sad thought.
Party without his sarcasm and kindness and Kobra without the protectiveness and loyalty. Jet doesn’t want to think of the world without that.
Jet wonders what they can ever do to repay these people, Kobra, for everything they’ve done for them.
When Party is done and their stomach once again bandaged, the front door opens and Kobra walks in. Jet’s still got their shirt off, putting off pulling it back on because it’s probably gonna take a lot of effort and they’re lazy, plus it’s hot as fuck. Kobra sorta freezes in place, stuck staring at Jet from where he stands, only two steps in.
“Kobes?” Ghoul calls, pulling Kobra from wherever his mind had gone.
He walks further into the room, shaking his head as if to clear it, but now refusing to even look at Jet. They try to ignore it, to not let it hurt. They know something happened between Party and Kobra so really, his actions aren’t that surprising.
Kobra just makes a straight shot to the counter where someone has set the keys. Wait-
“Wait, where are you goin’?” Party asks, still crouching down beside Jet.
“Out. I’ll be back later.”
That makes Party stand quickly. If Kobra notices his brother stumble to try and regain his balance, he doesn’t show it. Ghoul however does and takes a quick step forward to help. Party just holds his hand out to stop him and turns full attention to Kobra’s back.
“Why?” Party questions, voice surprisingly calm.
“Need t’ think.”
“Kob-”
“You told ‘em yet?” Kobra asks quietly.
It seems like he hadn’t meant to ask that question but he turns around to face them all the same, waiting on his brother’s answer.
Jet still isn’t sure what Party was supposed to tell them but from the way the brothers are looking at each other, it’s big.
“No. I would- Kobra it’s not my thing to tell.”
Kobra’s face is surprisingly blank, devoid of anything that could give him away.
“Might as well fucking tell them. Be back later,” he says again.
He’s out the door and gone before anyone can even move.
They’re all just stood still, minds still trying to process everything. Party moves first, sitting down heavily in his own booth. He sighs and Jet watches him rest his head in his hands.
Party looks older now, worn down as he runs his hands through his hair. It’s like a nervous habit of his and Jet wonders where it came from. Party even wordlessly takes the water that Ghoul offers him.
The car’s engine starts up, startling Jet. They’d assumed Kobra had already left but now they’re realizing that he only just now started the car.
“Fuck,” Party says to himself, one hand going to his hair again.
He pushes it back, out of his eyes even though only a strand or two had fallen. Ghoul looks concerned too, eyes flicking back and forth from the door to Party and then over to Jet. No one talks.
“Um-”
“I should have stopped him,” Party starts quietly.
“Whadya mean? Dude he always goes on drives when he’s pissed. It’ll do him good.”
If Party finds comfort in Ghoul’s words, he doesn’t show it.
“Come on Poison. What’s goin’ on. What was he talking about?” Ghoul presses gently.
“It’s a long story.”
_ _
Jet really isn’t that… affected by the truth. They barely know Kobra, barely know the others, but they can see how difficult this is for Ghoul for Party. Naturally, the fact that the brothers are now under Better Living’s watch is concerning to say the least. Jet is sorta pissed at themself for doing nothing when Kobra left earlier because well- he’s alone and upset and that’s just asking for trouble on a good day. On a bad day, which it seems like today is, it’s even worse.
More than that though, Jet can see how much the distrust Kobra had has hurt Ghoul. Hurt Party. But Part seems just tired while Ghoul looks almost heartbroken, staring at something on the floor as Party finishes.
“He told me though that after we talked outside the other day, he knows he should never have doubted you,” Party says quietly.
It does nothing for Ghoul, he just sits quietly. His hands are fiddling with something, a piece of metal maybe, but Jet can see the burns there, on his hands and arms from helping them through the storm. Jet barely knows Ghoul and yet, they can already tell how loyal he is.
He guided them through that storm, let them cover up with the blanket and walked through the fucking acid rain with nothing but an old jacket. Would a spy do something like that?
It’s surprising how fast they’ve gone from worried to actually angry. How could Kobra think that Ghoul, of all people, is a traitor. Ghoul takes more care of Party than Party does himself. He takes care of Kobra too, the kid just doesn’t seem to notice it.
“Ghoul?” Party asks gently.
The diner is dead silent for a moment. Jet begins to think that he’s not going to answer. Ghoul just continues to fiddle, knee bouncing nervously as he does so. The chair he’s sitting on is old and wooden, creaking with every little movement.
“What?” he asks finally, dejectedly.
“He realized his mistake. C’mon-”
“Don’t. Please just-,” Ghoul sighs. “How could he think that? Even for a second?”
“I- I don’t know. He should have came to me, to us. But, Ghoul, I’m pissed off too. He’s messed up, yes, but not-”
“How could he think that about them?” Ghoul interrupts, waving an arm in Jet’s direction.
“I don’t know. Okay? If he hadn’t have left I’d ask him myself!”
“So why would he tell you now? Why now of all times?”
It sounds like Ghoul wants to be mad, is doing everything he can to be mad, but his anger is fading. Slowly.
“He was so guilty Ghoul,” Party explains softly. “ You should have seen him when he was telling me. I think he meant to tell us earlier if I’m honest, but he was too afraid.”
“I-I just don’t understand how he could- how he could keep this from us?”
“I um,” Jet interrupts, surprising themself with how they’re defending him, “I dunno, did you see how much he was beating himself up over this? I don’t think he meant to lie, at least not this much. And I mean, we’ve been busy as hell these past few days so he hasn’t had much time to come clean.”
It’s the truth, at least to them it feels like it. This is a big deal yeah, and of course it stings, but it’s not to the point where they’d never forgive him or something.
However, Party and Ghoul simply stare at them for a long moment, faces more shocked than anything else. Really, they’re nearly expecting the two of them to tell them off. To point out that they don’t know Kobra as well as they do. Which is the truth.
But they don’t. No one speaks but Party does flash them a small smile, appreciating their comment apparently.
Ghoul does nothing. He doesn’t really acknowledge anyone, instead he just goes behind the counter and disappears into the kitchen. The door closes, blocking Jet from seeing anything else.
“Hey-” Party coughs, his sentence breaking.
Jet looks over, worriedly, but Party recovers quickly.
“Um, I just- thank you for that. I mean, I’m pissed as hell that he lied to me but he’s my brother ya know?”
They nod.
“I’d do anything for him,” Party continues quietly. “No matter what, I’d do literally anything. If I had to fucking sell my soul to Better Living to make sure he was okay... I would. So yeah- I can’t believe he didn’t trust me enough to tell me this but at the same time… I could never hate him.”
“He fucked up.”
“Yeah,” Party agrees with a laugh. “Yeah he did.”
“Where do you think he went?”
“Oh on his drive? I’m not sure. He normally jus’ goes where- the fuck- ever he wants. It’s more the driving part than the destination.”
“Is it- safe?” they ask, feeling a little dumb to be as worried as they are.
“Yeah. He’s careful, even when he’s upset. He probably won’t go far, at least I hope not. But, Kobra will be back by morning.”
There’s a crash from the kitchen, muffled swearing coming through the door. Jet nearly stands to go and check on Ghoul but Party just motions for him to wait.
“Fucking dumb ass!” Ghoul’s voice yells. “There’s gotta be some sorta food in here. Jesus!”
They watch Party roll his eyes, a fond smile forming as they listen to Ghoul curse loudly at every empty cabinet.
“He’s always fuckin’ hungry.”
“I can tell,” Jet says, their own laugh forming as well.
“Aha!”
Ghoul’s head pops out of the door, a rectangular blue box of what looks like noodles in his hand. He holds it proudly, face beaming.
“Look what I found fuckers!”
“Can we even boil water here?” Party questions.
“Hell yeah we can. We got lighters don’t we?”
“Okay. Okay. Just please don’t burn the place down. Or blow anything up,” Party warns.
“Yeah. Sure. I’ll do my best but no promises, Poison!”
Ghoul ducks back in before Party can throw something at him, laughing like a crazy person as he does so. There’s more crashes as they hear Ghoul try and make them dinner.
Jet’s not scared at all.
“He’s actually a good cook,” Party tells them, leaning back against the backrest once more.
“Yeah?”
“Messy as fuck but his food is pretty good.”
“Weird.”
And yeah. That’s weird that this chaotic ball of energy is actually a good cook. Jet’s suspicious but they’ll just have to wait. They find themself dozing off as they do so. The diner is mostly quiet, except from the noise in the kitchen, and Grace is sleeping peacefully in her little make-shift crib.
Jet just lays back in the booth, letting the peaceful atmosphere lull them into sleep.
They wake sometime later, Party standing at the end of their booth. He’s smiling, reaching a hand out for them to take. They do, allowing him to pull them up.
“Ah- fuck-” they curse, forgetting for a moment how sore they are.
“You good?”
“Yeah,” they mumble.
“Food’s done,” Party says kindly, “we’re gonna eat at the bar if you wanna join us.”
“That sounds good with me.”
And wow, yeah the noodles do look good. Apparently, the box was for mac and cheese. The bright yellow noodles are plopped down onto their plate by Ghoul, two whole spoons full.
“This is the fuckin’ good shit right here,” Ghoul tells the two of them.
“Fake news dude.”
Ghoul mock laughs at Party’s comment.
“This,” he points to the pot in his hand with the spoon he’s using to serve them, “ is fucking real ass mac and cheese. It’s the blue box and everything!”
“Uh huh. Yeah, sure.”
Party has the most disinterested look on his face and if Jet didn’t know him, they’d think he was being serious. But the ghost of a smile on his face gives him away.
“Jeeet!” Ghoul whines, “Poison’s being a meanie!”
“Can’t help ya dude. Not my problem you like fake cheese in your macaroni.”
Ghoul gasps over-dramatically, gesturing with the plastic spoon as he does so. Yellow sauce ends up on his black shirt but he doesn’t seem to mind.
“How dare you? This is real, free range, artificial cheese powder! I only feed my crew the best ya know!”
“Oh so dog food and granola bars are the best?” Party challenges.
That seems to be it, Ghoul dissolving into a fit of giggles. More yellow sauce gets on him, and the counter, and on Jet, and on the fucking wall. They don’t mind though. The mac and cheese is delicious and they’re actually enjoying it.
Ghoul passes them out waters after he catches his breath, Jet and Party getting a pure one, and then finally makes his own plate. There’s only a little left in the sauce pan but jet doesn’t mention it. Party is busy stuffing his face, happy little sighs coming from where he’s sitting after every bite.
After one that is way too freaking close to a moan escapes him, Jet has to intervene.
“Do you want some alone time with the noodles Party?” they ask seriously.
Party looks up from his plate, obviously lost in thought until Jet caught his attention.
“What? Oh,” he rolls his eyes. “Ha ha. Funny.”
Then, Party gets a small, little smile, eyes growing distant as he stares down at his fork.
“It’s dumb…”
“Poison?” Ghoul prompts.
“Well, it’s just that this used to be my favorite. We’d have it every Wednesday when me and Kobra were little. I just- I haven't had it since we left home.”
Jet can’t speak, doesn’t know what to say.
“See,” Party says, “Told you it was stupid.”
“No. Poison that’s the most adorable and heartbreaking thing I’ve ever heard. I’m gonna go out tomorrow and sell all my organs so I can buy you every single box of mac and cheese I can find,” Ghoul tells him seriously.
Jet has concerns that Ghoul is actually considering that, the look on his face too determined.
“I think I’ll pass on Fun Ghoul’s body part noodle, thanks.”
Ghoul snorts, obviously his mind firmly in the gutter. Jet’s laughing too as Party finally seems to make the connection. He blushes furiously, stuttering as he tries to redeem himself.
“No. Ghoul- I-”
“You’re too cute when you’re flustered,” Ghoul says under his breath, leaning over the other side of the counter to pull Party into a kiss.
It lasts long enough for Jet to have to look away. They’ve still got a grin, though they wish, not for the first time, that they had something like what Party and Ghoul have.
“Okay dust mites,” Ghoul says with way too much enthusiasm. “It’s fuckin’ nap time. I’ll take guard while both of you get some rest.”
“But-”
“Nope. You’re going to nap if I have to fucking tie you down.”
“That’s kinky,” Party says under his breath and now it’s Ghoul’s turn to blush.
“You’re a dick.”
Though, Ghoul does have a smile on his face as he users both of them back to the booths. A nap does sound fantastic if they’re honest.

Chapter Text

The diner is quiet as the late afternoon sun streams through the large windows that adorn the front wall. Their booth is right next to the front window and they can see the desert stretch out into the distance. The sun is sinking, the air already cooling to make way for nighttime. Even the winds seem to be a little more calm.
But Kobra’s not home. Not yet anyway. It’s actually only been a few hours at the most since he left and a good deal of that time Jet was asleep. They blame their still healing body for that. Now though, they’re well rested and more than a little bored. There’s not much to do at the moment, not much that they can do other than think.
They shift between getting lost in their own head and watching Ghoul and Party.
Ghoul’s been anxious, or at the least fidgety. At the moment though, he’s finally getting in a much needed nap. This is only after Party pointed out how he was staring at the wall for like 20 minutes without moving. So needless to say, Ghoul didn’t argue much and curled up rather quickly. His quiet snores are currently loud against the lingering silence of the rest of the diner.

Looking around, Jet’s just bored enough to take in the little details that they hadn’t really paid attention to earlier. Like the shades of red in the cushion of their seat and the thick layer of sand coating nearly everything in sight.
For whatever reason, the booths are set up in a sort of ‘L’ shape so Jet can see Ghoul curled up in one of the seats, his face pressed into the cheap fabric of the backrest. They also notice how his feet don’t even fall off the edge of the seat and into the walkway. He’s able to curl up, quite comfortably it looks like.
Jet’s not all that tall but their feet do fall over the side of their booth. So do Party’s.
Moving on from Ghoul’s tininess, which they have nothing against it’s just kinda adorable in the same way that Grace is, they continue to look around. There’s an old rug that runs from the front door, which is on the same wall their booth is, all the way to the wooden bar. It’s pattern is long since faded and covered up by sand. It might have been grey to begin with though.

Jet can also see the old microwave sitting on top of the bar, on the far right, nearly out of their view. And that makes them think of Grace once again.
They twist enough to get a good look of Party from where he sits on the barstool. His back is turned to them and they can’t see Grace from this position, but they know he’s holding her. When she’d begun to cry a little bit ago, Party had offered to take care of her.
It was a bigger deal than they’d thought it’d be, Party holding Grace. The moment Grace was in Party’s arms, Jet had watched his face fall.
He was vacant for a few moments, staring down at the fussy baby like he was so lost in thought that he’d forgotten where he was. It’d taken Jet a while to get him to tell them what was wrong.
Even then, Party only told them that Kobra was the last baby he’d held.
He is still holding Grace though, her bottle in one hand, as he talks to her quietly while she eats.

It’s really sweet if they’re honest, something not everyone would do, even in their own crew.
Babies are a liability out here and no one really wants to get too close to them because it’s so easy for this life to… well to kill them. It’s a horrible thought but Jet doesn’t correct themself or try and work their thought process out of it.
The desert kills, it’s as simple as that. Hell, their crew is a shining example of that fact.
Their crew had been a large one, one of the biggest, and yet a single Drac patrol had ghosted all but two of them. It’s sorta ironic that the baby is the one who survived, not the rebels who’d lived in the desert longer than Jet’s been alive.
Jet has always enjoyed taking care of their sister, doesn’t really mind at all if they’re honest. They love her more than just about anything. Even Ghoul seems comfortable feeding her and changing her diaper. That’s nearly surprising, the way Grace has grown on Ghoul. Kobra too. They’re not afraid of Grace, don’t see her as a burden, something extra that they have to look out for.
Party though, well he’s not been mean or cold towards Grace. No, he’s been just as kind as the others, though hesitantly so.
Today is the first day Jet has seen him holding her, because, for the most part, Party’s been keeping his distance. Jet’s not sure what’s changed today but they’re not about to question it.
He holds Grace so gently right now, so carefully, that Jet wonders if this is how he was with Kobra. Since they know Party is older, he probably held baby Kobra just like this. He’s talking to her, voice too soft for Jet to hear but it sounds calm, gentle. It’s the older sibling in him most likely. Jet can understand that.

This all reminds them of their Ma. As much as remembering her, the others, hurts, Jet allows themself to anyway. They can’t block this out forever, these memories they still have. It can’t possibly be healthy for them to lock this away, to try and convince themself that everything is okay. That they’re not hurting. That their chest doesn’t still ache with the memories.
Somehow memories hurt worse than the hole in their stomach. They can’t push them away, not right now, because they owe it to their Ma to remember her. To remember those they’ve lost even if they know it’s going to feel like this.
They can see the memories, flashing across their mind like an old slideshow.
The way their Ma would keep her long, curly hair back in a loose ponytail, little curls that never stayed put falling down to frame her face. Her kind eyes, shining with love as she taught them everything they know. The way she played guitar...
When they would stop at night, their crew would always make a huge circle with all of the bikes. They’d build a fire directly in the middle and there’d be music and singing. It was always so much fun to watch their Ma play that old guitar. It had definitely seen better days but she’d taken care of it. It was going to be theirs one day...
Jet’s heart hurts to think about where that guitar is now.
Probably laying in the sand, still in it’s special pack on their Ma’s bike. Right next to her body, that is if Better Living didn’t come back to get it.
Oh god. That’s even worse.
Becoming one with the sand is seen as almost interchangeable to being burned by your crew. Really, it’s all on the individuals preferences but still, to rob their Ma of that peace…
They can’t think about this anymore.
Jet’s heart is beating almost frantically and they need to stop before they can’t pull themself out, and the others notice. They really don’t want to explain to Party why the have the urge to sprint back to the spot their crew died and make sure their Ma is still there.
Kobra’s promise, that he’d go with them to retrieve their bike, it is strangely comforting. Maybe soon they can go. But for now there’s nothing they can do to check because the car is currently in use and last time they checked, they still have a hole in their stomach. They doubt they’d get far anyway.

They turn to look out the window once more. It’s getting dark fast, maybe only an hour of sunlight left before the dark and cold set in. There’s really no reason to worry about the heat though.
Ghoul found a generator out back and tuned it up while he was on guard shift. Not that Jet and Party had a shift but yeah-
There had already been a little bit of electricity in the diner, enough for the microwave and like one row of lights. After Ghoul messed with the generator and circuit board, the whole building now has power.
They’ve stayed in the main part of the diner so far; for some reason. Jet’s not really sure why but everyone else seems okay with staying here. They know for a fact however, that there’s stairs leading upwards behind that door to the right of the bar.
They hadn’t gotten a good look at the place when they’d walked in, rain and shit getting in the way, but there’s a chance that there’s living space up there. Jet could get up and go investigate but then that’d mean they might miss Kobra coming back.
So they stay.
Ghoul snorts in his sleep, twitching as he sits upright suddenly. His eyes are wide in an instant as he looks around in a fuzzy state of panic. He’s breathing rapidly, a hand already on his holster and gripping his gun.
“Ghoul?” Jet asks, concerned by the state Ghoul seems to be in.
Even Party’s turned around, watching them both now. He hasn’t gotten up yet, is just watching to see what’s going on.
Ghoul doesn’t answer. He just flops back down onto the seat and sighs, one hand rubbing at his eyes. Jet’s going to assume it’s him rubbing sleep from them rather than tears. They can understand that he probably doesn’t want to draw attention to this. So they look away, back outside, as he sniffles and takes a few deep, calming breaths.
It’s obvious now that it was a nightmare, a pretty bad one from the looks of it. Not really new territory for any of them if Jet’s honest.
“You good?” Jet presses gently as they hear Ghoul sigh quietly.
They’re worried though. The panic on Ghoul’s face was real enough for them to think this was worse than normal.
“Yeah.”
Ghoul’s voice is quiet, still full of sleep. He does sit back up after a moment, groaning as he does so.
“Stupid fucking chairs,” he curses, shooting a deadly glare to the one he’s been sleeping in.
And yeah, these weren’t the most comfortable place to sleep but Jet’s slept in worse so they really don’t mind all too much.
“Yelling at chairs Ghoul?” Party teases from the bar, his expression a strong contrast to his words.
He speaks like he’s joking but Jet can hear a silent question of whether or not Ghoul is okay.
“Maybe. The fuckers deserve it.”
Ghoul is pouting now, arms crossed over his chest and bottom lip stuck out. There’s a smirk on his face though, telling Jet that he’s alright now. Or at least, better.
“Gonna get revenge on ‘em?”
“Maybe. Will you fight with me? Together we can take on the bastard booths and their treachery!” Ghoul says with enthusiasm, fake punching the back of his seat.
Jet laughs as Party nods seriously, pacing one hand over his heart with enough feeling so it seems real.
It’s odd how quickly they can go to this childish playing after events like today. Party is grinning as Ghoul pretends to karate chop the seat, only succeeding in hurting his hand when he hits the wooden lining around it.
“Ow! Mother fucker!” he curses, bringing his hand up to inspect it.
“So much for revenge.”
Ghoul sticks his tongue out at Party’s playful teasing.
“C’mon Ghoul, I thought you were tougher than a chair dude,” Jet says, their own smile pulling at their lips.
As childish as this all is, it’s rather nice at the same time. The easy sort of air between them all is a nice mask for the anxiety they still have. It’s refreshing to be able to act like children.
“That’s a loaded statement and I want my lawyer!”
“Fucking hell Ghoul,” Party says with a sharp laugh, “there ain’t lawyers anymore you dumb ass.”
Ghoul fake gasps, something Jet is learning he’s pretty good at, and brings his hand to his chest like he’s shocked.
His fingerless gloves are black just like his shirt and they’d blend in completely if it weren’t for the white bones stitched onto the fabric.
“Maybe I’ll be one when I grow up!”
Party just snorts and spins around in his chair. Jet is left thinking again though.
Ghoul’s words made them wonder just how old he is. He can’t be much older than Party, not with how short he is and the youthful spark still in his eyes.
Jet decides to risk asking, for the sake of curiosity more than anything else.
“How old are you dude?” they ask, earning a smirk from Ghoul’s direction.
He looks at them a long moment.
“Wondering if I’m legal?” he says, wiggling his eyebrows and earning a glare from Party’s direction.
“Okay okay,” he laughs, “I’m 17 and techincally legal if you go by Better LIving’s standards.”
“When have we ever gone by their standards?”
Ghoul just laughs yet again at Party’s statement though he softens when he sees how upset he is. Jet notices too, the way Party is looking at them. He looks… lost almost, sad.
“Dude you know I’m kidding right?” Ghoul says gently.
“Yeah.”
Then Party just turns around again, seemingly ignoring them. Ghoul just gives them a shrug.
Had they done something wrong?
“Sorry,” Party says suddenly. “I know you guys were joking.”
Ghoul seems to make the connection that Jet has yet to make, and he gets up to wrap Party in a hug from behind. He whispers something in Party’s ear, something Jet can’t hear, earning a soft sigh from the red-head.

Ghoul moves away soon after, always unable to sit still, apparently, and wonders over behind the bar and into the kitchen. Jet sorta wants to go after him. He looks too shaky to be as fine as he’s pretending to be.
In the end, Jet decides to go. They figure Party wouldn’t mind taking care of Grace for a few more minutes anyway. So they go after Ghoul, walking slowly behind the bar and into the kitchen. Like most things as of late, the walk is more difficult than it should be. Their stomach protests the movement as their heart seems to think they’re running for miles with how fast it’s beating in their ears.
Now in the diner’s old kitchen though, they can tell that it’s not that large, mostly just cabinets and prep tables. The fridge is still there though, resting against the side wall. If there was food in it, Jet would rather not open it to find out. Who knows how long it sat before Ghoul had turned the power all the way on.
They can see the gas burning stove on the wall to their right, the sink right beside it. There’s cabinets all along the walls and a long, metal table with wheels locked in place in the center. That’s where Ghoul is, laying on top of it with his knees pulled up and his arms behind his head. He looks stuck staring up at the greasy ceiling even as Jet clears their throat and walks in further.
The small form of Ghoul is vastly different than the confidence flowing off of him just a moment ago. He was hiding this from Party apparently. Jet’s not sure why though...
“Don’t. Please,” Ghoul whispers before they can get any closer.
Yeah no can do. His voice sounds shaky and does nothing to assure them that he’s okay. They want to help but really don’t know how.
“I- I’m just- worried. You looked freaked.”
They won’t push him if he doesn’t want to talk but after everything he’s done for them, this is the least they can do.
Ghoul pulls up his shirt, surprising Jet a little because it was unexpected but they’re more focused on the old, fading white scars on his stomach and hip. It makes their next train of thought fiz out as all they can do is stare. The scars are round, old but still pretty large. For the life of them, Jet can’t figure out where they came from.
“My first month or so out, I found a diner like this one. I tried to spend the night and got shot for it. I’ve got more scars from that mistake than just these two,” Ghoul says quietly, one hand absently rubbing over the scar on his hip.
“What kinda weapon does that?”
“Real guns apparently. Poison and Kobra saved my life, literally. It’s just,” he sighs and sits up, still on top of the metal table. “Being back in a diner, even though it’s not the same one, it brings it all back ya know?”
And yeah. Jet can understand that. They’re not even physically back to the spot the clap took place but just going there in their memories is bad enough.
“They seem to do that a lot,” Jet starts, pulling Ghoul’s attention. “Save people I mean.”
Ghoul just laughs a little, pulling his shirt back down.
“Yeah,” he agrees, amused.
The tension breaks all at once, the air now more breathable. Their still trying to get their breathing back under control from their walk but seem to be doing a decent job. Jet takes a deep breath, holding it for a moment before relaxing as they push it out. That dispels the last of the tension and helps them recover that final bit.
Then, Ghoul pats the open part of the table, inviting Jet up.
“Seriously?” they ask, not really understanding why he wants them up there.
Sure there’s plenty of room with Ghoul’s tiny ass sitting up there but it’s not like Jet is waiting on him to move so they can get up there.
“Easier to hang out when you’re not across the room dude.”
Ah okay then.
Jet crosses the room but pauses in front of the table. They’re not sure how the hell Ghoul got up here, he’s short as fuck, and they doubt they can climb it right now. The table goes up to about their hip, definitely too tall. As if to prove a point, their stomach throbs in a warning.
“You comin’?” Ghoul asks, tone joking but eyes vulnerable.
They place a hand over their stomach protectively, already knowing how bad it’ll hurt if they attempt this.
“I-” Jet starts but Ghoul catches on the moment they begin to explain to him how this just won't work.
“Oh- oh shit- duh- I’m a dumb fuck, sorry.”
Then he just hops down off of the table and picks Jet up in one swift motion. Suddenly they’re being held in his arms, maybe like four feet off the ground if they’re being generous, and gently set up on the table. Ghoul just grins as he scales the leg of the table to get back up.

Jet’s the one out of breath, for some reason. The room sorta is spinning and they’ve got a head rush. They shouldn’t feel this weak but they mask it as quickly as they can when they see the way Ghoul is looking at them.
“You alright? I didn’t hurt you did I?” Ghoul asks, concern dripping in his voice.
They didn’t hide it quickly enough it seems. Really, Jet doesn’t need any more sympathy. It’s all getting a little redundant anyway. They look like shit, they feel like shit. No freaking surprise.
“Yeah.”
And yes. They’re fine, a little light headed but fine. It’s nearly like karma for calling Ghoul short and tiny. Even though those things are a hundred percent true.
Besides, this isn’t about them. They remember the reason they came here in the first place. To talk to Ghoul.
“You think Party’s right?” they ask, attempting to change the subject.
“‘Bout what?”
“Kobra comin’ back before tomorrow morning.”
Ghoul stiffens for a moment. He relaxes a bit shortly after, sighing deeply and looking up at Jet with tired eyes. They wonder how much sleep he really got.
“Yeah. Poison can read him, I swear they’ve got like telepathy or some shit sometimes, so if he’s not worried about Kobra coming back late, then we shouldn’t be either. But,” Ghoul says, fiddling with the strings of his boots.
Jet realizes he's slept in them and the sandy mud still clings to them. The strings are just as dirty as the rest of the boots but Ghoul doesn’t seem to mind winding the string of his right one around his finger as he talks.
“But,” he continues, “Par- Poison is worried. Obviously he’s trying to hide it but- yeah. And I can sorta understand why Kobra would leave for a while but at the same time, Poison’s name is out there too. It’s both of their asses on the damn posters so you’d think Kobra would realize that they’re safer together.”
He’s got a point. It’s a bad idea for the two of them to be separated, especially with the possibility of Better Living on their tails.
“I just,” Ghoul sighs again, his free hand rubbing at his eyes. “I just can’t believe he’d think I’d betray them. They’re all I have Jet…”
“He does trust you. Maybe he forgot a little along the way but he does.”
“Yeah,” Ghoul breathes.
“Can I offer some advice that’s probably not like certified or anything?”
“Course,” Ghoul agrees gently, looking over at them trustingly.
“When he gets back, just try to put yourself in his shoes. Like- don’t yell or anything. Hear him out I mean.”
“When did you get so wise?”
They laugh a little, leaning back on the table until they’re sprawled out. Some of the tension melts again as Ghoul lets out a quiet laugh as well. They’re tried again, should probably nap, but they really don’t want to miss Kobra coming back.
“Thank you Jet. I- I really appreciate it.”
They can hear the smile in his voice even though their eyes are closed. Jet’s heartbeat is in their ears, a quick rhythm that hasn’t calmed since they stood.
“Hey,” Ghoul is suddenly really close. “Hey are you okay?”
Had they fallen asleep?
“Yeah. Walking is fucking exhausting apparently.”
He laughs but they hear his grunt as he pushes off the table and his feet hit the floor.
“Poison’ll kill me if I let you skip dinner dude.”
With a lot of effort they pull themself away from the sleep that’d been creeping up on them. They allow Ghoul to help them down, the room once again spinning and their heartbeat quickening. He’s got his hands on their arms, silent support as they regain their balance.
“Dude,” he says, “Your heart is like freaking the fuck out.”
“‘M fine.”
He gives them a disbelieving look, hand still pressed against their wrist. Jet pulls away, standing on their own and following Ghoul out. He doesn’t mention it again, though Party tells them to lay down while Ghoul cooks again. They must look like shit.

 

____
After yet another nap and another meal prepared by Ghoul, Jet’s still in their booth. The sun is down now, the cool air a welcome relief from the heat of the day.
Party walks behind their seat, pulling his gun from its holster as one hand reaches for the door.
“Party,” Ghoul whispers as to not wake the sleeping baby, looking at him anxiously.
They stare at each other for a long moment.
“You took guard like four times already. I’m fine now so I can take the shift,” Party assures him.
“It was like two times really, and no you are not fine. You’re still coughing and I-”
“Ghoul,” Party interrupts gently, a fond smile sneaking across his face. “I’m literally sitting on a bench for four hours. It’s not like I’m runnin’ a marathon or some shit.”
“But what if Dracs come?”
“Then I’ll wake you guys and we can kick their asses together.”
That seems to be it, the shift decided as Party zips his jacket up and steps outside. Just the small blast of cold air is enough to make Jet shiver and they unconsciously wrap their own leather jacket closer around themself. Their attention however is once again on Ghoul.
He doesn’t say anything as he slides into the seat across from them, only the table between the two of them. Ghoul’s already watching out the window, seeing Party sit down on the bench and gaze out into the blackness of the desert.
“Don’t say it.”
“Say what?” they ask, Ghoul still not looking at them.
“I worry too much.”
Ah. Okay well he does worry a lot but not necessarily too much.
“I don’t think you do. You’re within reason.”
“Thanks,” he says gently, smiling a little.
He gets up soon after that, fliting around the diner doing seemingly random things. They watch as Ghoul opens and shuts only one cabinet, flick the lights on and off exactly three times, and then taps the counter like a crazy person.
“Oh!” he says randomly, startling Jet.
They’d been dozing off again but are waking up once again as they watch Ghoul produce the radio from their bag. He turns it on, scanning until he gets to a certain station and cranking the volume.
Right. The storm has dissipated so the radio signals should be returning soon. Doctor Death is probably doing a broadcast right now.
There’s some god awful static for a few moments before Doctor Death’s voice rings out. Ghoul had been right.
“-worse each time. My signal is still fightin’ through darlings so you can expect to hear these updates right on time. Biggest news though, Better Living has sent out yet another partrol. For those of you keeping’ count, that’s three just this week. Stay hunkered down kiddos because this patrol is campin’ in Zone three tonight. They seem t’ like it there. Maybe it’s time for a vacation-”
The signal cuts out and by the time it reconnects, Doctor Death is playing music and his broadcast is finished.
“Another patrol?” they ask in disbelief.
There’s way too many, way too close to where they are for this to be normal. Ghoul seems to make the connection the same moment they do.
“They’re after them,” Jet says, mostly to themself.
Oh- god- Kobra’s still out. Is it too much to hope that he’s out of the Zone right now, safe from the patrol? He’s alone and all of the possibilities are close to suffocating.
By any means, they knock on the window, gaining Party’s attention and motioning for him to come in. He swears colorfully after they tell him what Doctor Death said.
“They’re after me ‘n Kobra, that’s for sure now. We gotta hunker down like Doc said.”
“But wait,” Jet interrupts, “shouldn’t we leave? It seems like they’re only searching this Zone so if we go further they won’t find us as quickly.”
“No. Kobra won’t know where we are for one. And two, I’m not moving you again. You need actual rest and even the shitty kind you’re gettin’ here is better than what you’d get if we ran for it.”
“But I’m fine,” they insist.
“Your heart is still too weak Jet. I can’t risk another high stakes thing again knowing that. Too much stress, be that mental or physical, won’t be good for you.”
“My heart?” they ask, this being rather new to them.
Sure they’re still tired easily but that’s normal. Right?
“It’s sorta… it’s not at full strength,” Party tries to explain. “for whatever reason. I’m sure you’ve noticed dizziness or felt faint after you stand or get too worked up?”
Yeah… they have.
“Is it from getting shot?”
“That I really don’t know. Could be that, could be something else. Either way, we’re staying here ‘cause it’s our best bet,” Party says with finality.
Ghoul nods once, crossing his arms over his chest as he stares down at his boots.
“We need to contact Korba,” Ghoul states.
“Agreed. My brother normally has enough sense to keep the CB open so I should be able to talk to him.”
“While you do that, I’m gonna go on guard duty.”
If Party has any objections to Ghoul’s statement, he doesn’t show it. Jet watches him plop down beside their bags as Ghoul goes out, the bags still unpacked, and rummage around for the portable CB.
It’s strange seeing him so serious, without that smirk that’s nearly a constant part of his features. Now, Party’s fully concentrated on turning on the radio and finding the right signal. They watch as he produces a hair tie from somewhere, pulling his hair back in a quick ponytail.
They make eye contact as he presses the button and begins to speak.
“Party calling to the car.”
His finger leaves the button and neither of them breathe as they wait on Kobra to answer. Party repeats himself, worry now lacing his words.
Still nothing.
“Kobra answer the fucking radio!” Party growls, his finger snapping off of the button.
The radio remains nothing but static.
“God damn it!”
____________________________________________________________

 

Everything is too loud. There’s shitty music playing from what seems like everywhere and the room around him is hot. Way too hot.
He giggles at that, the unintentional pun hilarious for whatever reason.
Vaguely he knows he’s sitting. Or more like slouched over on some old table. Everything fucking stinks too.
It smells like beer and sweat mixed with way too many bodily fluids. It’s disgusting but Kobra can’t bring himself to move enough to leave.
This may be gross but honestly, his head is way too messy for him to be judging. Maybe the bar is going through the same shit he is?
Through his intoxicated state, he’s got enough sense in him to feel guilty.
Guilty for lying. Guilty for doubting his friends. Guilty for drinking.
He knows how much his brother hates the drinking, hates to see Kobra like this. At the moment, this guilt is distant though. He’ll probably hate himself later but right now he can’t care.
This sort of fuzz around his mind is exactly what he needed. He needs a break, a chance to just sorta be here while also not being here.
That makes no sense does it?
That’s okay though. He doesn’t care enough to make that intelligible.
Even with his eyes scrunched shut the room still spins. There’s still a bottle in his hand, half finished and he chugs the rest down in one go. It’s warm and gross just like the rest of whatever he’s drank tonight.
He’s lost count.
A hand finds its way to his shoulder and Kobra lifts his head to glare at whoever is bothering him.
“Hey dust angle. Whatcha doin’ drinkin’ all ‘lone like this?”
Their voice is gruff, their grip a little too tight. Even in this state, Kobra knows this person is trouble.
“Eh, fuck off,” he slurs.
“Yeah okay. We’ll do it my way, then.”
Before he can properaly tell who ever this is to fuck off, their hands are yanking him up. They man handle him until he’s standing, the room spinning unbearably around in his vision.
The disco lights look like they’re forming some sort of modern art- thing with the way they’re streaking across the room. Even the music seems to have gotten louder as they push him until he stumbles into a walk.
“The hell-” he slurs, trying to force himself to sober up enough to escape them.
“Keep walkin’.”
They’ve got his hands behind his back, twisted painfully in one hand while the other wraps around the back of his neck. He can’t move, can’t break away.
“Why?”
“You’re worth a lotta money lil’ one,” they tell him and he knows they’re grinning.
He lets his head fall down to his chest before going completely limp. The fear is working to counteract the alcohol in his system. It’s not a lot but he’s able to reason enough for a plan to begin to form.
The person kidnaping him curses, struggling to hold onto his dead weight. Kobra just stays limp, pretending to be out cold.
They let go for a moment with the hand holding his hands, probably to readjust, and Kobra takes his chance. He kicks out harshly, the sound of bone snapping and the person grunting in pain comes a moment later.
Kobra is suddenly in the sand face first- when had he gotten outside?- and he fails to catch himself. He feels about two seconds from throwing up everything he’s drank tonight but he fights off the growing nausia and looks around frantically for the pesron trying to fucking ransom him.
His still way too intoxicated for this and Kobra can already hear his brother’s speech he’s going to give him.
“You’re gonna pay for that!” the person yells, suddenly springing up from the sand.
But they’re favoring their right leg, the other bent at a weird angle from Kobra’s kick. He grins, rolling to the side as their fist connects to the sand.
They curse again and suddenly there’s a knife in their hand. Kobra rolls again until he can sit up, fighting off the dizziness as best he can. He watches the person lunge at him, them now kneeling on their knees in the sand.
He dodges and pushes the person’s shoulder down, forcing them to hit the sand face first. Kobra takes his chance, hauling himself to his feet as quickly as he can.
It’s dark now, something he hadn’t noticed happen, and he frantically searches for his car. Somehow he spots it, sitting right where he parked it beside the bar’s entrance.
He sprints over to it, tripping every other step and nearly falling multiple times. When he at last gets back to the car, he lets the door slam shut. Without even pausing to catch his breath, or debate whether or not he was sober enough to drive- which he most definitely is not- Kobra turns the key in the ignition and hauls ass down Guano.
With any luck, he'll be back on time and sober by then.
_____________________________
“Maybe he doesn’t have any signal?” Jet tries, watching Party attempt the radio for the fifth time.
They’ve gotten nothing but static each time and they’re beginning to wonder if this is the after affects of the storm or if Kobra is ignoring them.
“Yeah right. The storm is gone and he should at least have enough for this.”
Party’s definitely pissed now.

Chapter Text

They’re still behind him.
Whoever attacked him in the bar is still right behind him, chasing him down Guano. Kobra tries to ignore the rolling in his stomach and the thick layer of fuzz covering everything in his mind as he grips tight to the steering wheel. He’s holding it tightly enough to where it hurts but the discomfort is almost welcoming, almost helping him to think more clearly.
He needs a plan, some way to get this person off of his ass so he can get back to his crew. It should be simple, pull his gun and shoot the tires. Easy, clean getaway.
But nope, Kobra had to be an idiot. He doubts he could manage getting his head out the window without puking, let alone being able to aimand shoot his gun accurately.
That’s one good thing though, he still has the blaster strapped in it’s holster on his thigh. He hasn’t pulled it yet, not knowing what use he’d be with it right now. Truthfully, he can’t exactly see straight so-
He pushes down on the accelerator, momentarily creating more distance between him and the car on his tail. The car gets further away, the headlights no longer blinding him through the mirrors, but soon it begins to catch back up.
The turn is coming up, the one that’ll take him right back to the diner. He needs to shake this car before he turns though. The absolute last thing he wants to do is lead whoever this is back towards his crew. Actually, maybe they’ll be able to take the dude out?
As far as Kobra can tell, it is just one person.
He reaches for his radio before his mind has even really been made. Grabbing the mic, he turns on the CB, taking one hand off the wheel to do so. He swerves dangerously and only just manages to keep control. Kobra swears under his breath once he gets the car back in control, as he takes a hold of the mic again.
Before he can even string the sentence together, there’s a click as someone on the other end starts transmitting.
“Kobra! Answer the fucking call!”
That’s Party! That’s his brother’s voice!
Kobra has never been so fucking happy to hear his brother so pissed off. And yeah, he sounds livid. Still, he ends up fumbling with pressing the button to answer, fingers feeling stubby and uncoordinated, so Party’s next words come before he can speak.
“Please Kobra. Please just answer. I-”
The signal cuts out for a second but Kobra has heard enough to know what’s going through his brother’s mind right now. He’s really fucked up this time, can hear it in his brother’s tone.
“Kobra to the diner.”
He winces to himself at how cold that sounded, especially after his brother just begged over radio for him to call back. Radio signals could get tapped and Party knew this. It didn’t stop him, unsurprisingly.Who knows how long his brother has been transmitting, waiting on Kobra to answer.
The radio clicks once, twice, three times, telling Kobra that Party heard his answer but keeps bailing on responding. He’s fucked up so bad. It forms a pit in his stomach, laying heavy and nearing painful.
“What’s our name?” Party asks finally. “Our crew name. If you’re Kobra you’d know it.”
And oh-
Yeah he knows it… at least he thinks he does…

“We don’t have one. But we’ve been toying with uh- Venom and- fuck-”
Kobra knows the answer, he does, but the car is already nearly touching his back bumper. One tap and with how fast he’s currently going-
He can’t think straight, too much is going through his mind at once and the name just won’t come. It’s dumb because he was there when Party thought of it. His brother thought it was a good idea because of how edgy it sounded. He’s still a goth kid despite all the color he wears now. Not that Kobra would ever want to change that part of him. He’s got a little of that in him too.
“And?” Party presses.
He sounds almost hopeful… but ready for the worst too.
Fuck. Kobra knows the other name but it’s just… it’s just on the tip of his tongue. The car gets closer again and he has to hit the accelerator once again so that the car behind him doesn’t hit him.
He keeps losing his train of thought, has to backtrack and try to think clearly enough to remember the name. Kobra can remember that Ghoul laughed a little at first but Party had gone into great detail, a full story behind the name, and they’d all put it on the list. That’s what they’re going to do, make a list of awesome names that they all like and then pick from that one.
However, at the moment, the speedometer is currently resting a little over 120 and he knows he’s towards the end of this car’s capabilities. Kobra doesn’t have time for this.
“What else. There were two,” Party demands.
“Look okay, I’ve got some asshole trying to play bumpercars with me on Guano and I’m currently too fucking drunk to shoot out his tires so, if you could, please just shut up and help me make a plan to get out of this?”
“Other. Name.”
His brother’s voice is strained, clipped. Kobra has a feeling he knows it’s him but he’s not going to get any help until he can remember the other name.
It was something about lovers…. Had a really good ring to it.
Yeah. Lovers was definitely one of the words but the other-
Destruction?
Delorian? No…
Demolition!
“Demolition Lovers!” Kobra says hurriedly into the mic.
There’s only the slightest pause before Party answers.
“Kobra? The fuck were you thinking!?”
“I know. I know. Please just help me shake this asshole.”
There’s a pause, then,
“Why is he after you?” Party asks, tone neutral but still a little strained.
Somehow that’s more painful than how upset he was earlier. Once again though, Kobra racks his brain. Everything is too freaking thick for him to pull full memories but he thinks the dude wanted to turn him in to Better Living.
Maybe.
Still, he tells his brother this and waits. The car is maybe two inches from his back bumper, the headlights no longer visible. He can’t push his car any further without risking blowing it up.
“Just one person?”
“Yeah,” Kobra breathes.
He tries to keep his breathing steady, to keep the panic out of his voice. The road is swimming in and out of view and he’s about ten seconds from spewing. God he’s never drinking again.

That’s what he said the last time...

“There’s a patrol out too so you’re fucking lucky it’s just the one. For now though, bring ‘em here. Me ‘n Ghoul can take him out since you don’t seem to be able to.”
“But whatta bout-” he cuts himself off, remembering how relatively easy hacking radio signals is.
“They’re both fine. We’ll keep it outside. How far out are you?”
Each word Party says is clipped, sharp and Kobra can feel it tearing at him. It’s well deserved yes, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
“Coming up on the turn off Guano now.”
“Copy. We’re waiting.”
He fumbles yet again with setting the mic back, his hands shaking too hard for him to grip properly.
Kobra looks to the rear view mirror, seeing the black car behind him. The darkness outside does nothing to help his situation. The car is literally maybe only inches away.
He takes a deep, calming -sobering- breath and yanks the wheel.
The car veers sharply to the right as he fights to keep it in control. As the tires hit sand, he starts sliding instantly, nearly all traction lost.
He curses loudly, correcting as best he can. Kobra can no longer see the car behind him but he’s not really looking either. His car is going sideways and it’s all he can do to straighten it out. Is it too much to hope that he lost them?
Taking off again in the sand means that he has to go much slower to keep his traction. It’s terrifying because he still can’t see the other car.
It’s late and even the moonlight isn’t enough for him to tell for sure if the car is behind him and has just turned it’s headlights off.
Just barely, he can see the soft glow of what must be the diner ahead of him. Maybe they’d gotten the power sorted out?
Kobra makes it there, no problem. Sure, he’s shaking from adrenaline and everything but… but he’s fine. He can see Party and Ghoul, both of them standing in the doorway. He can feel their glares from here. Their shadows are surrounded by a warm glow from the light inside. It’d be calm, a nice thing to return to in any other situation.
Killing the engine, Kobra takes a deep breath. He’s definitely more sober than he was but he’s still noticeably drunk. Probably.
Fucking who knows.
He exhales sharply, reaching over for the door handle as he does so. Thoughts of the car and the dude chasing him are gone, the events nearly forgotten the moment he saw his brother. He’s almost out of the car, fighting against the nausea to try and actually stand up.
Bright light assaults his eyes. It takes Kobra a moment to tell that the lights are coming from his left and he jerks his head in that direction. Two headlights in the dark, not that far away. They're getting bigger…. No closer?
The roar of an engine gets closer as well, nearly drowning out his brother’s yelling. Wait…
Is Party yelling?
His eyes flick over to the shadowy outlines of his brother. Ghoul is turned away, gun in his hand as he fires bright, burning laser fire towards the oncoming car. His expression is hard, focused, and he doesn’t even look at Kobra.

Kobra’s mind is currently soup, he can’t seem to make it click in his head that the car is getting closer. It’s going pretty fast though and if whoever’s driving isn’t careful, they won't be able to stop.
Wait.
The car door is yanked fully open and strong hands are pulling him out. He sways, the world shifting and turning around him violently. Groaning, Kobra leans heavily on whoever just grabbed him, only distantly hoping it’s not the person trying to kill him.
A hand snakes around his waist, keeping him upright as whoever this is starts firing their own gun. They curse and the engine grows louder, closer.
Then there’s a pop, like a huge balloon being busted and the sound of metal and sand colliding. Kobra drops, knees giving out as everything he drank earlier in the day resurfaces. He groans lowly but he can’t stop. Head pounding, it’s all he can do to keep himself sitting on his knees and not falling face first down into the mess in front of him.
The sand starts to get closer and he’s falling forward before he knows it.
“Jesus,” someone curses and suddenly he’s being held up again. “Let it out Kobes.”
Party…
He recognises his brother’s voice now, recognizes his hands holding him up so he doesn’t choke on his own vomit. Party’s hands are brushing his hair out of his eyes, trying to keep the mess off of it too.
That’s all he can really think though, over the horrible twisting of his stomach and the pounding of his head. His throat burns, each breath a hasty, greedy inhale before the next round begins.
They stay like that for what feels like forever, Kobra on his knees in the sand and Party doing his best to keep him from passing out in the growing puddle of his own sick.
.
.
.
Kobra’s pretty sure he passed out, or like died or something because the next thing he knows, he’s blinking awake.
The only reason he’s sure time passed is because the sun is being an asshole and shining right into his eyes, only increasing the pounding in his head. That and the fact that he feels worse than he did last night.
He groans, the action making his raw throat burn. Brining a hand up to shield his eyes, the other person in the room decides it to be a good time to make their presence known.
Whoever it is laughs at his discomfort- the fucker- and if Kobra could do more than feel like death, he’d totally tell them off.
He wines, giving up on trying to keep his eyes open and letting them fall closed once again.
Fuck this.
Consciousness is overrated anyway.
“Don’t get all whiny on me. This is your own damn fault and you should consider this payback for the shit you pulled yesterday.”
Yep. That’s definitely Party and he is most definitely furious with him.
Which yeah, Kobra really fucked up. All he knows for sure is that he got drunk but that’s enough.
So much for sleeping off this hangover; Party sounds like he’s disappointed. Kobra can’t ever think of a time where his brother was this… upset, disappointed whatever you wanna call it.
It hurts but he knows it’s well deserved. Still, he has to say something, can’t stand to just let Party think he doesn’t care.
“Sorry,” he manages, tongue feeling way too big in his mouth.
He’d kill for something to drink-
Party sighs, tapping his arm to get his attention. Blinking up at his brother, trying to see beyond the burning light assaulting his eyes, Kobra slowly realizes he’s trying to hand him a water bottle.
With Party’s help, Kobra sits up and drains the bottle as quickly as he can. It helps but he already wants more. That and some like- fucking perscription strength migrane relief medicine. God, his head is splitting.
“Do you-” he has to clear his throat. “Do we have pain meds?”
He sounds pitiful but experience tells him he’s fucked up enough to lose any ‘sad baby brother’ points he may have on Party.
“No.”
That’s a lie. He knows it’s a lie because they gave some to Jet like- just last week. But he knows better than to argue. It won’t get him anywhere anyway.
“Do you still feel sick?” Party asks, some of his concern slipping through the cracks of his anger.
That’s at least something. He still cares about Kobra at least.
“ A little,” he answers honestly. “Mainly jus’ my head.”
“You should sleep.”
He would argue, really he wants to, but Party knows what he’s talking about. Kobra just sighs and lays back down in what he’s now realizing is one of the booths in the diner. One of the ones that Jet had been resting in…
Jet.
He wonders where they are, why he didn’t see them in the very brief glance he’d done around the room. Are they okay?
“What is it?” Party whispers, carding his fingers through Kobra’s hair.
Even as furious as he is, it seems Party can read him just as well as always.
“Jet. I don’t see ‘em. Where-”
“They’re in the other room with the baby. Ghoul’s on watch again, not that you asked.”
“They’re okay?” Kobra presses, though he’s more worried that they’re pissed at him too.
Which really, he deserves it so-
“Yes. Jet’s fine. Sleep, please.”
“Kay. Okay... yeah,” Kobra mumbles, already sinking back down.
He’s more exhausted than he’d originally thought and is out in seconds.

___________________________
Jet watches from the doorway into the kitchen.
They can’t hear what Party and Kobra are talking about but they can see the frustration as Party answers. He’s still taking care of his brother though, despite everything. As Kobra falls asleep again, finally getting rest that Jet knows he hasn’t gotten in a while, Party runs his hands through his brother’s hair.
It’s filthy and sorta matted but Party just calmly detaingles the short, blond strands. He works for a while, apparently unaware of Jet watching. They should probably turn around, go back into the kitchen with Grace. But they can’t.
There’s this… this ache in their chest at the thought of Kobra waking up alone. They know it won’t happen, that Party is literally right beside him, but they can’t bring themself to turn away.
But at the same time, they don’t want to talk to him. They’re not sure what they’d even say and if they’re honest, they don’t know how they feel on all of this to begin with.
He scared the shit out of them, running away like that and getting into trouble. So naturally, yes, they’re concerned. Yet, he’d been so quick to doubt not only them but Ghoul as well. There’s this- this almost sickening feeling tied to that knowledge. They don’t know what it is exactly or why but- but it’s there and they want to figure it out for themself before they confront Kobra.
“You don’t have to stand so far away,” Party says in a whisper. He looks up to them, using his free hand to motion them closer.
Up close, Kobra looks like shit. He’s sweaty and still a little green, though the rest of his complexion is far too pale. Jet knows he hasn’t been sleeping enough and seeing Kobra like this is proof of that assumption.
Neither of them speak though, no words really to describe the way they’re feeling. Jet truly can’t tell if they’re furious with Kobra or if they want to cuddle him into freaking oblivion.
They’re pretty sure that Party is on that same train of thought.
Surprisingly, Party is the one who speaks first.
“How’s the other dude doin’?”
They look across the room to the last booth in the ‘L’ shape. A stranger, the one who was chasing Kobra last night, is laid out in the seat. They’re unconscious and have a pretty nasty gash on their forehead from the crash. But it’d been them or Kobra so really, Jet can’t blame Ghoul for shooting the person’s tires out.
In all honesty, Ghoul had wanted to leave them, to just focus on taking care of and punching the shit out of Kobra- his words not theirs, though they fully support the idea- But Party had refused.
He’d gotten this look, like the world rested on his shoulders and it was his job to help, his weight to cary, if someone was hurt. The way he’d looked at Ghoul, so vulnerable and begging, they knew that they were going to help this stranger. Besides, they were defiantly a rebel, the dip-dye ty-dye of their outfit says it all. Their colors are muted but still far more vibrant than anyone associated with Better Living would be caught in.
Later, after they’d all calmed down some and the two patients were taken care of, Party had explained that they needed to wait and hear the full story. His reasoning was that if Kobra was as drunk as he had sounded, maybe the other dude was too and it was all a big misunderstanding.
The possibilities of that are low but Jet keeps that to themself
And yet, the Killjoy sleeping in their booth looks equal parts intimidating and harmless.
Their face is soft, only the lightest bit of stubble covers their chin, and they have short, natural blond hair. But then, they’d found three guns, other than the one in the person’s hand, tucked into their jacket and jeans. They also had a pretty nasty fracture in their leg, presumably made by Kobra.
“Out cold still,” they answer finally.
Party hadn’t looked up from Kobra, his attention solely focused on his brother. He looks troubled, his brows kit together in thought and his knee bouncing anxiously.
“Good,” he says, only halfway in the conversation, really.
They don’t try and keep it going; there’s no point when Party is as lost in thought as he is. Looking outside, they watch as the insects buzz around in the heat and the sand drift in the wind. It’s too calm, too peaceful, especially when Better Living could show up at their door with no warning.
They know Ghoul is just outside but he's been getting just about as much sleep as Kobra has. Meanwhile, Jet has slept away the biggest portion of the past week. Really, they’re the one who should be on guard. They’re well rested now and their strength is returning in stride. Beside some lingering soreness and the occasional dizzy spell, they’re fine.
Party’s words, his mentioning of their heart, stays in the back of their mind. They’ve never really noticed anything different about it before… not really anyway. Still, they don’t think on it too long. There’s not much they can do if there really is something affecting their heart. Either they’ll just have to live with it or they’ll heal in time.

Decision made, Jet pats Party once on the shoulder, surprisingly managing to pull him out of his thoughts. They stand carefully, flashing a small smile to Party when they see the look of confusion and worry on his mind face. He moves, as if to stop them.
“I’m taking watch,” Jet explains with an easy smile.
“Wha- What. No Jet-”
“It’s way past my turn.”
Unsurprisingly that does nothing to change Party’s mind.
“No. Jet it’s hot as hell out there and I-”
“I’m fine Party.”
“But-” he shakes his head. “Jet I really don’t want you out in this kinda heat. I saw your face when you stood just now, you’re still sore and you’re still recovering.”
He does have a point but Jet’s fine, they feel better than they have for a week. It’s refreshing to be able to sit and stand on their own, something they’ve never thought twice about until now.
“Like you said yesterday, it’s just sitting on a bench for four hours.”
Party sighs, eyes flicking down to his brother and then back to them. He glances outside, gaze unfocused and lost in thought.
“Three. Three hours, Jet,” he agrees, much to their surprise. “Then you’re coming inside and I’m gonna check you over.”
“Okay. Three.”
Party relaxes, looking back down at his brother. They take that as their cue to leave. But first.
“Did you guys keep my gun?” they ask, only now remembering the blaster.
They know they had it when Kobra and Ghoul saved them but there’s a good chance it’s gotten lost after everything this week.
“Uh- yeah I think it’s in one of the bags we brought.”
They wander over to the pile of bags in the corner, squatting down with a gunt to search through each one. The bags were packed quickly and so there’s absolutely no organization to them, just whatever Ghoul could grab was thrown in. The first bag reveals mostly Ghoul’s things, shirts and pants along with battery packs and some food. His explosives must have already been taken out. Jet doubts that he’d leave them back at the shed so they must be in the diner somewhere.
Much like the first, the second bag brings them no luck. This one seems like Kobra’s, a pair of jeans that look way too long to fit either Ghoul or Party thrown right on top. Further inside, there’s a few comics and some more food. In what must be Party’s bag, Jet finds all of their medical supplies. However, a good bit of it has already been used on them and now on the stranger sleeping across the room. The clean water also is in this bag.
In the final one, Jet finds their gun.
It’s buried along with all of Grace’s things, bottles and formula along with a change of clothes for her. Doctor Death seems to have given Kobra a good deal of baby things, which is a little odd if they’re completely honest. Why would he have all of this stuff just sitting around? Even if he somehow did plan on distributing it, there’s not that many babies in the desert. Plus, why would Doctor Death just give it to Kobra?
They don’t allow themself to dwell on this though and they quickly grab their gun from the pile of Grace’s things. It still has a little charge left, enough for an emergency. But they dread asking for more charge, knowing how expensive the stuff is.
Standing once again, Jet waves to Party as they pass towards the door. Outside, they find Ghoul exactly where he’s supposed to be. Except, he’s out cold.
For a moment they panic, certain he’s been shot or something by a patrol. A closer look however, reveals no burns or any other injuries. He snores, loud and deep, telling them he’s simply fallen asleep. They sigh, pushing their thick hair out of their eyes as they debate waking him. It won’t be good if he overheats out here but at the same time, if they wake him he probably won’t go back to sleep.
In the end, they decide to wake Ghoul up rather than risk heat stroke. They shake his shoulder gently, calling his name.
“C’mon Ghoul. You can’t sleep in the sun dumbass, you’ll turn int’ a Wavy.”
That seems to get his attention and his face scrunches as he looks up at them.
“ Wha- ‘Sit?” he mumbles, blinking slowly like it’s difficult to wake up.
“You can sleep inside dude. I’ll take yer shift, kay?”
Finally Ghoul wakes up enough to recognize them, sitting up and offering them a grateful smile.
“Fuck- didn’t mean ‘t fall ‘sleep,” he tells them blearilly. “How long I been out?”
“Not sure. Everything's quiet though so I wouldn’t worry.”
“Kobra?”
They sigh, glancing through the window to where they can just barely see Party still beside his brother. His hands aren’t moving anymore but he rests them against his brother’s head. Once again, without anyone to distract him, Party’s lost in thought.
“He was up for a bit, real fuckin’ hung over.”
“Good,” Ghoul remarks with a snort. “Serves him well.”
“Yeah.”
“I’m gonna go crash inside. Wait- did Poision clear you for a shift?”
Ghoul seems to be more awake now, looking at them with growing concern.
“Yep. We bargained. I stay for three hours and he looks me over after,” they tell him with a shrug.
“Kay. Be safe dude, please.”
They nod, smiling a little to try and ease Ghoul’s worrying. He worries too much, maybe about rational things but still a little too much.
After he’s gone inside, they sit down in his spot and survey the desert that stretches out in front of them. The Trans-AM is parked right where Kobra left it, about ten feet from the front entrance, a little to the left. The bullet holes from his first car chase this week are still there and Jet remembers how they’d offered to take a look at it.
The car definitely needs a tune up after how far Kobra pushed it this week so they add that to their list of things to do.
To their right sits the other person's car.
It’s an old one but it’s mostly just mixed-matched parts now so they can’t really tell what it used to be. That and it’s turned upside down and crumpled like a can. It’s driver side tire is deflated from Ghoul’s shot, the reason whoever it was wrecked.
They hear movement in the diner and they twist around to get a good look, just in time to watch Party carry a fussy Grace back into the main room. They can’t see Ghoul so they assume he’s already laying down in one of the booths.
Twisting back around with a grimace, they set their attention back on the horizon. For all their talk, they wonder if the four of them would actually be able to take on a patrol and survive. Jet knows first hand how easy it is to be overtaken by an experienced patrol and the thought forms a pit in their stomach.
They only just got this back, only just found people like them, they can’t stand to lose this… not now.
________________________________________________________________

Yeah it’s official, Kobra’s dying.
His head is still pounding, the nap doing fuck all to relieve the throbbing pressure in his head, and if he moves too quickly he risks puking up what little he’s eaten today. Plus, the cold way his brother is acting towards him makes this even worse.
Party is still taking care of him, always has always will it seems, but he does so without much else. He gives Kobra some water, tells him to sleep, and hands him a can of Powder Pup, all the normal shit for hangovers. But there’s no, ‘how are you feeling?’ or the fond ‘you’re an idiot’.
There’s just… nothing. He’s just another patient.
To make things worse, at the moment, it’s just Party and him in the main part of the diner.
Ghoul had been sleeping in the room with them but he’d woken up a bit ago, deciding to nose a bit around the diner. He’d disappeared up a flight of steps Kobra had never noticed before about thirty minutes ago.
The baby is asleep, her little make-shift bed rests on a nearby table.
The strangest thing though is that there’s a random person sleeping in a booth across the room. Whoever they are, they look familiar but Kobra can’t place them exactly. They’ve got a bandage on their forehead and one of their legs wrapped like it’s been fractured.
“You remember him?” Party asks suddenly, following his line of view.
Neither of them have spoken since Kobra woke up again, the silence nearly deafening. Party’s tone is cold, disinterested. Still, he must have noticed Kobra watching the stranger. They’re sitting across from each other but they havn’t spoken since Kobra woke back up.
“Not really,” he answers honestly. “He’s familiar but I-”
“What do you remember of last night?”
“Um-”
His brother makes a hurry up motion, his face scrunched up impatiently.
“I told you what happened with Doc?” Party nods for him to continue, “And I left after my guard shift. I think- I was at a bar somewhere… maybe in One? I don’t- I’m not sure where. I drank too much and I- um… I drove back here?”
Party sighs audibly, rubbing a hand over his face as he does so. When he looks back at Kobra he seems to have aged decades in the few moments that have passed.
“From what I know, you were being chased down Route Guano by this guy,” Party waves his hand to the sleeping stranger, “and you told me you were too drunk to shake him. I told you to lead him here and we ended up having to shoot his tire so he wouldn’t t-bone the parked car.”

All Kobra can do is stare at his brother. He doesn’t remember any of that… just a vague sense of danger? Fuck- he doesn’t know. His head is still too damn fuzzy for this shit and the way Party worded his explanation sounded like he was waiting on Kobra to finish it or chime in. The thing is though, Kobra’s about as lost as Party.
“You don’t remember any of that do you?” his brother asks quietly.
“Not really, no. I-”
“Save it. I don’t- I don’t want to talk about it right now,” Party says, cutting off his half formed apology. “You’re in deep shit, at least with me, and I need some time to think. Just- just drink this whenever you’re thirsty and I’ll bring you another when it’s gone.”
Party hands him a bottle of treated water for and disappears into the kitchen. He’s left staring at the spot where his brother was. Suddenly alone, all Kobra can do is think.
Really, Party is a hundred percent right. He fucked up, big time. But at the same time, no one else knows how it felt for him. He’d doubted one of his best friends and lied to his brother. That guilt is still eating at him. Doesn’t that grant him a little room for error?
Logically he knows that it really doesn’t. He can’t even explain it away with Better Living being on their trail because he endangered not only himself but his brother as well by leaving him alone. Oh god-

If Better Living had showed up while Kobra was gone….
He doesn’t want to think about that. He does his best to convince himself that Party and the others would be fine… even with Jet’s recovery-
Oh shit, Jet.
He hasn’t seen them since he got back and he’s beginning to wonder if they're as upset as Party is with him. Pushing himself up until he’s sitting, Kobra takes a good look around the room. His headache, which he knows better than to ask again for pain meds, is still raging but he manages to spot Jet.
Their curly hair is visible through the front window of the diner. It takes a second for him to register that their on watch, which leads to a mild panic. Are they even ready for that yet?
It’s bound to be hot as hell outside and they’re still recovering. They’re sitting very still and he’s beginning to fear that they’re unconscious and-
He stands unsteadily, having to grip the back of the seat to stay upright. Cursing loudly, Kobra goes over to the door. He knows that Jet’s probably just as mad at Party is, doesn’t blame them really, but he can’t stand the thought of them overworking themself like this. They should be resting, not sitting in 100+ heat while Kobra gets to lay around inside.
Walking over to the door, he pulls it open quickly before he can change his mind. Jet stays turned forward, their curly hair hiding their expression as Kobra gently shuts the door behind him.
“Told you I’m fine, Party. I still got another hour befo-”
They turn their head, finally noticing that it’s Kobra and not his brother. Their mouth snaps shut and instantly their expression turns guarded. Before he can say anything, Jet turns to face the distance once more.
“Um- I uh-”
“What is it?” they ask, cutting him off.
“Are you alright? I mean, it’s just- it’s really hot today and you’re-”
“Why do you care?”
That shocks Kobra into silence. Of course he cares… Jet’s… they’re like- they’re practically an honorary member of the crew at this point and-
“You’re still recovering and I just don’t want-”
“I’m fine. I’m not yours to worry about so just go inside and get outta the heat. Right now you’re worse off than I am,” they interrupt, tone neutral and empty.
It stings, badly, but Kobra just nods, turning away and all but rushing inside. Tears sting at his eyes, though he’s not sure why, and he wipes at them furiously as he sits back down. Sniffling, he tries to calm himself down, not really even sure what’s wrong.
Naturally, Party comes back in at that moment and of course he noticies Kobra. He may be pissed but they’re still brothers. At least, Kobra hopes he still cares about him like that…
“Hey, hey. Whoa what’s- -what’s this all about?” Party says gently, crossing the room in long strides to kneel down in front of Kobra.
By this point he’s a hiccuping mess and he can’t get the words to come out.
His heart hurts, physically, and he just wants to curl up, to sleep for a few years and-
And his chest is tightening and he’s getting too worked up. Kobra can’t concentrate on it though, can’t focus enough to think clearly and bring himself out of the oncoming panic.
Breathing is getting harder and it feels like there’s a physical weight on his chest, pushing down forcefully and preventing him from taking a deep breath.
“No, shh, c’mon Kobra. Breathe okay. Just try and match your breathing to mine.”
He’s being pulled up against Party’s chest. He can feel each breath his brother takes and tries so hard to copy it. It hurts like hell but after a few long moments he can finally take a deep breath.
“There ya go,” Party whispers, a hand already carding through his hair. It helps calm him further.
“Easy Mikey. You’re okay. You’re okay.”
His breath hitches at that, the name feeling forein but not necessarily bad. Still, he can’t figure out why Party is being so nice to him, why he’s helping him when just a few minutes ago he was furious with him.
“Why-why?” he hiccups, praying his brother knows what he means.
Party sighs sadly, pulling Kobra close to his chest again.
“Just because you screwed up doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop taking care of you.”
“But- but you-”
“I’m still mad, yes, but I’m not gonna stop loving you. You’re my baby brother, idiot, you’re stuck with me.”
Kobra can’t really answer, his chest still a little too tight and his head reaching a new level of pounding. After a few long moments, Party sits down in the booth beside him, letting him lay his head on his shoulder as his breathing slowly evens out. They stay close, comforting each other.
“I fucked up so bad…”
“We all do sometimes.”
“You’re still mad?” Kobra asks quietly, fearing the answer he’s about to get.
“Yes and no. I’m more frustrated than anything else. We had talked about this- After what happened last time, I thought you wouldn’t do the whole bar thing again. I know you’re like- like your own person and shit, and that you can make your own decisions, but it just-”
“It what?” Kobra prompts, Party pausing to squeeze him a little more tightly.
“Just brings shit back ya know.”
Oh-
fuck….
“God. That’s- Party that’s the last thing I wanna do. I just-”
“You’re not responsible for my shitty past,” Party interrupts before he can get too worked up again. “I don’t blame you at all, for any of it. If anything, you’re the only reason I got out.”
“I still shouldn’t have gotten drunk. There’s better ways to deal with shit than that. Actually, I shouldn’t have left at all. I- fuck- I am so sorry.”
Party smiles a little, reaching up to mess with his hair again. He grows a little distant, like he always does when he’s thinking. Kobra feels small again, tiny and safe in his brother’s arms.
“When you were little, you always used to love it when I’d carry you. Even after you learned to walk and everything, I’d get in trouble for carrying you everywhere. They were afraid you’d never learn how to do it on your own. Part of it was because I loved holding you, you were so freaking small, but the other part was if I was holding you, you couldn’t fall and get hurt. You were safe.
“Eventually I had to learn that if you didn’t fall, you wouldn’t learn. Little kids have to fall down in order to know how things work. You can’t jump off of the top of a slide without risking scraped up knees at the least. It’s a part of life ya know.”
Kobra just nods against Party’s shoulder, not really knowing where this is going. But yeah, he can remember his brother carrying him places. Holding on tightly to his neck while Ge- Party carried him around the house or to the park. It was one of his favorite things.
“I’m still learning that, I think. I want to keep you close, just like this,” Party squeezes him gently, “but you’re grown now. I’m grown. And we both have to make our own decisions and live with the consequences. I think we both could have handled this situation a little better, yeah?”
Really, Kobra has no words. He’s exhausted, whether that be from the panic attack or everything else, all he wants to do is curl up in Party’s arms. With the diner so quiet around them, he’s fairly certain that he can still hear a slight wheeze to his brother’s breaths. Maybe they can nap together?
The words Jet said to him, the coldness in their tone, it still hurts. His chest still stings from the daggers they shot at him. He can’t blame them though. Party cares about him because he’s his brother but Jet…. they- they’re just-
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
He’s getting worked up again and it takes Party rocking them, talking to him quietly, for a few long minutes until he’s sure he can breath again. He was just starting to- to really care about Jet… like almost in a more than friends way and-
They have every right to be mad at him…
Caught in the moment, he sniffles and looks up at his brother.
“I messed up so bad, Gee.”
Party smiles at him, sad and understanding. His brother opens his mouth like he’s about to say something.
The front door slams open, making contact with the wall. He’s sure there's gonna be a dent there with how hard it hit.
Jet stumbles in, sweaty and breathing hard. They’ve got their gun out, holding it tightly in their hand.
“Patrol. It’s here.”
Kobra’s blood runs cold and he feels Party tense up beside him. To his surprise, Party looks down to him, silently asking if he’s okay. He nods once and his brother lets go. They stand in unison.
He gets a small head rush from standing too quickly but Party is already passing him his gun. Ghoul comes down the steps a moment later, stepping into the room as Party checks his gun’s charge.
“What’s goin’ on?” Ghoul asks from the bottom of the steps.
Kobra tries to ignore how neither Ghoul or Jet will look at him and focuses instead on his brother as he explains what’s going on. He’s as close to forgetting this hang over as he can get.
“The patrol found us,” he tells Ghoul before turning to Jet. “ How far out?”
They shake their head, curls bouncing a little at the motion. One hand is pressed to their stomach and despite everything, Kobra feels a pang of worry surface.
Truthfully, they look tired. They’ve been worse than that, very recently in fact, but he still worries.
“Five minutes tops. There’s at least four cars but could be more that are just faded into the horizon,” they say calmly.
Party nods, hair going up into a ponytail before he hands a hair tie to Jet as well.
“Easier ‘t shoot without all that hair in yer eyes.”
They smile and thank him, fumbling at first before getting the hang of it.
And oh- wow.
Kobra has to remember how to breathe for a moment. He’s never seen them with their hair pulled back, with their soft face no longer being framed by the curls.
A few stray strands fall down beside their ears, curling perfectly. Kobra wants to touch, wants to run his fingers through their hair and-
“I said are you ready Kobra?” Party says loudly, clapping a hand on his shoulder to draw his attention.
He nods, trying to pretend he didn’t just get caught up in staring at Jet. They make eye contact on accident, his gaze still lingering even as Party asks them all to check their charge. Jet has an unreadable look but quickly it’s gone as they focus on checking their gun.
Kobra checks his too, finding it to be nearly fully charged. When he hears Jet curse under their breath, he looks up.
“I got maybe three shots left. I used most of it in the fight,” they explain shyly.
They avoid eye contact, like anyone in this crew is gonna let them go into a fight with only three fucking shots.
“That’s why we packed extra,” Ghoul says, speaking for the first time in a while.
He goes over to the bags, pulling out a fresh charge pack from one of the pockets and passes it to Jet.
“You sure?” they ask, holding the charge but not changing it yet.
“Pay us back by shooting some Dracs,” Party tells them, grining.
They nod, making the curls around their face bounce. Their hand moves from their stomach as they stand tall, changing the charge quickly and allowing Kobra to watch a little longer. It might be creepy, it might be bacause he knows they hate him now, but there’s just-
There’s just something about Jet that makes him not be able to take his eyes off of them.
Jet has their gun charged in no time, looking back up at Party with determination. Kobra feels a swell of pride but it’s quickly all but struck down by the knowledge that he’d fucked up any chance of something more with Jet. He’s gonna be lucky if they still wanna even talk to him after this.
And yet, there’s nothing he can do. Not now anyway.
“Let's show these fuckers what’s up,” Party says loudly, earning nods and grunts of affirmation from the group.
He sneaks a glance at Kobra, one last question of his mental health. Kobra’s still shaking a little, more than a bit hungover, and definitely not okay but still, he nods to his brother all the same, even smiling a little even. It feels fake.

Chapter Text

It feels like walking to his death. As soon as Kobra steps foot outside, the moment his feet hit the sand and he takes his place beside his brother, it feels like the end.
Which is ridiculous because he’s 18 years old; he should have years ahead of him. Right now though, with the sun beating down on him and the wind stinging his face, Kobra has a sinking feeling that this is it.
Something is going to happen. Something is going to change.
Maybe it’s because Ghoul clung to Party just a moment ago, prevented him from stepping outside as he held on so tightly, arms wrapped firmly around his brother’s neck. The two had kissed, quick and yet full of passion. Almost like a goodbye.
Maybe it’s Jet, the way they keep looking at him but won’t keep eye contact when he tries to catch their gaze. He wishes he knew what to say to them. What he could do to fix this…
Or maybe yet, it’s the hands gripping tight to his. Party is holding Kobra’s left hand while Jet has his right. Their hand is wrapped snug around his wrist while he holds his gun loosely, letting it hang. Without looking he knows that Ghoul has Party’s other hand in the same way that Jet is holding his. It feels like they’re breathing as one.
The roar of engines grows louder.
The patrol is only moments away, the cars hidden by a wall of dust and sand kicked up around them. It’s moments, mere moments, until they get here. Until everything is decided.
Maybe he’s being too dramatic, maybe everything will be okay.
Or maybe it won’t. This is his doing… somehow he knows that it is.
He watches Party as he clears his throat, rolls his shoulders, and lifts his chin. They’re doing this.

His brother’s hand leaves his and Party aims his gun, Ghoul mirroring his actions. Following his brother’s lead, Kobra sets his jaw, raises his own gun, and forces himself to watch as the cars get closer. His mind wanders without his permission.
His gun is heavy in his hand, aimed even though his finger does not rest on the trigger. Jet is un-moving, yet strong beside him. Kobra knows they can hold their own, you don’t survive in the desert if you can’t, but he worries all the same. Even Ghoul is quiet, serious, on the other side of Party.
His mind lingers on the thought of Jet. The last time he looked, which he forces himself not to do now, they were pale, sweaty. They’re not yet fully recovered, better yes, but still- this is too soon.
He hears them pull a shaky breath, then sees their own gun rise out of the corner of his eye. They form a line, Kobra realizes, the four of them. It’s them between Better Living and the baby sleeping just inside. Him against the in-human things who want to kill the people he cares about. They’re after him, after Party, and Kobra knows how quickly this can go wrong.
“Ready.”
At Party’s instruction, Kobra’s finger moves to the trigger at last. He holds his breath as the cars finally stop, just a few feet from where they stand. He pushes the doubts and fear away, controlling his emotions as best he can. The patrol forms a line just as they do. However, the cars’ line is clean cut and perfectly even and they, despite all of the dust and sand, seem to be in pristine shape. They’re bright white and spotless. It’s unnerving.
In unison, all the car doors open and 15 Dracs- he manages to count each one- step out into the sand. Their white uniforms reflect the desert sun, making them almost alien in the distorting glare. It sends chills up his spine, seeing so many in one place. One by itself is bad enough. But this many-
The grotesque masks help little in making them seem more human.
However, such clear cut lines and formation make it obvious that someone is missing. Four from each car would mean 16 and yet- there are only 15 Dracs, standing completely still beside the vehicles.
Kobra does another sweep with his eyes and-
On the right, the very last car, the driver’s side door. It’s not opened; the driver hasn’t come out yet. Party seems to have noticed as well, gaze passing over the numerous Dracs to stare directly at the driver. The windows are tinted so dark that Kobra can’t even tell if there’s anyone in there at all. But there has to be; cars can’t drive themselves.
Though he’s been wrong before-
“Fucking come out, coward!” Party yells, his voice rolling through the empty desert beyond them.
There’s a moment of pause, of silence, as everyone holds their breath. Kobra begins to think that they have it wrong, that there’s no one in that seat- until the door opens and a man rises, gracefully, out of the car. He stands in full height, cold eyes staring intensely at Party, and slams the door closed.
“Why hello. I presume you must be Party Poison,” the man says, voice an octave higher than Kobra was expecting.
He’s dressed formally, bland clothes more elaborate than that of the Dracs surrounding him. The fabric is still only in shades of white and very light grey. His bald head gleams with the sun and that would make anyone else look ridiculous.
Yet, he holds his own stark white blaster in a way that appears lazy but shows he can aim and shoot instantly. Even the way he stands, tall, confident, but ready to move quickly if need be, holds an air of intimidation.

It tells Kobra he’s far more dangerous than he looks.

Thankfully, Party, it seems, has a similar train of thought as the grip on his gun tightens a fraction. All the same, his brother doesn’t act. He keeps hold of the little control they have, fighting for authority through words rather than weapons.
For the moment at least.
“Well, since we’re being all formal, I should ask who do I owe the pleasure. You seem to know me but I gotta say,” Party flashes the bald man a smirk. “I ain’t gotta clue who you are.”
The bald man is close, maybe only a foot or two behind their Trans-AM, so Kobra can just about make out the expertly hidden scowl that forms on his face.
“I am Exterminator Korse. You shall address me as such,” the man, Korse, says, voice dripping with authority. “You are correct though. I do know a great deal about you young man.”
“That so?”
“Yes. I know you are from Battery City, quadrant three until you were eight if I remember correctly. That lanky boy to your right is your baby brother and the two of you are here, in the middle of this rebellion, playing medic. You are 21 years old and he is 18. Shall I go on?”
Kobra is all but seething. He didn’t even know what quadrant they’d lived in before they ran away. By the look on his brother’s face though, Party does remember and Korse’s words are the truth. How does this Exterminator know facts about his own life that Kobra doesn’t even know?
“I will give you this Poison, you’re skilled. Your talents are wasted here, squandered on worthless rebels like him.”
As he says that, Korse waves a hand in Jet’s direction. It takes a moment to click with Kobra but when it does, he has to force himself to stay still. Every piece of him is fighting against his mind, begging for him to pull the trigger of his gun, to shoot this Exterminator right in his head.
First of all Jet is not a ‘he’ and second of all how fucking dare Korse speak about them like that?!
“You get one chance, Korse. Leave now and my crew will not follow,” his brother spits, tone brimming with- barely, just barely- controlled fury.
Kobra chances a look over to Jet. They look frozen in place, eyes wide as they stare at Korse. The hand that’s not holding their gun is balled into a tight fist,
Korse’s words obviously are affecting them. He wants to comfort them but he knows that he can’t, not with the situation right now. They can’t show weakness, it’ll only lead to the Exterminator gaining an upper hand.
But he longs to retake their hand, to squeeze it and ground them. But he can’t-
Shouldn’t.
His comfort isn’t welcome, they’ve made that clear.
“Interesting. Should I feel threatened? Do you really think the four of you are going to be able to win this fight?”
“Do you want to see for yourself?” Party retorts, tucking a stray strand of hair behind his ear carelessly.
Then, Korse all but snears. If this was an old cartoon, Kobra is sure the Exterminator would have disgruntled squiggles drawn above his head.
“A third of these men,” Korse now waves to the Dracs standing at attention beside the cars. “took out Jet’s crew. 17 and a half rebels. Gone. There’s three of you; keep in mind that I do not count Jet because I know the state my men left him in. He won’t be much use, never was in the first place really, so yes, Party Poison. I do want to see for myself how you think you can win this fight.”
Jet’s gun is shaking in their hand and Kobra really can’t blame them.
These Dracs, these mindless soldiers, are the ones who killed nearly everyone they knew, who almost killed them. Korse is gloating, taunting them, and it’s working. As much as Kobra hates this, it’s working; it’s getting under their skin. But it seems like Korse isn’t done yet.
“Do you really think I left Jet alive on accident? I knew you would find him just like I knew that you would try to help him. He led me right to you.”
Kobra can’t help it, he gasps. He watches the horror as it passes over Jet’s face, watches the way they shrink in on themself. Their hand shakes terribly but they keep it up, keep it trained on Korse even as they lower their head to their chest. They breathe deeply for a few short moments while Korse’s words sink in for all of them. Then, Jet looks back up. They’ve got burning fire in their eyes, the hand holding their gun no longer shakes.
“You’re going to fucking pay for that!” Party yells, the calm demeanor gone.
He opens fire before Kobra can even process what is going on. Instantly the Dracs return fire and burning laser beams fill the air. Kobra blows out a breath and begins shooting as well. He aims for anything that is white, be that a car, a Drac, or an Exterminator.
His aim is good and he manages to drop a few and pop some tires, but the Dracs still out number them. While he’s distracted, Ghoul seems to have flipped the bench that sat beside the door and is using it as cover. Kobra watches Party motion for him to take cover as well, while he continues to give cover fire. But Kobra can’t move, not when Jet is frozen in place right beside him. He follows their line of vision, now directed right to Korse.
The Exterminator is staring at them too, gun still not even aimed, as Jet remains fixated on him.
“Are you going to shoot me?” Korse taunts, voice carrying over the sounds of the fight around them.
Party grunts somewhere behind him, probably trying to get to cover, but Kobra can’t turn away, can only hope his brother is okay and that Ghoul will be able to take care of him if not.
“Give me one reason not to!” Jet demands.
Their words are nearly a yell and Kobra has never heard them so angry, so furious. A small spark of pride ignites inside of him. He has a feeling that Korse isn’t ready for the rage that Jet is holding back right now. Kobra’s never seen them like this and he knows that underestimating them will be a fatal mistake.
“You won’t. I know you won’t because you’re too weak. You were the first one down weren’t you? You were unconscious while my men slaughtered your whole crew.”
If Jet doesn’t shoot Korse soon, Kobra will himself.
He watches as they take a step back, clearly- and understandably- Korse’s words hurting them. Kobra has no clue, not even the beginnings of one, of how this must feel for Jet. He wants nothing more than to help them but he just doesn’t know how. Or if his help is even wanted.
Is this something they need to do on their own or with the support of people who care about them? Kobra, as much as it would hurt, would gladly let Party or Ghoul help them instead of him if it meant that they would be okay.

“You’re a monster,” Jet breathes, only just loud enough for the Exterminator to hear.
He laughs at them, actually laughs.
“And you’re the only survivor. A worthless pawn in all of this. You’re not worth my time, son; I’m here for the brothers.”
Before either of them can blink, Korse raises his gun. It’s pointed directly at Jet’s chest, Kobra able to follow it’s aim with his eyes. He’s hyper focused as the fight around them grows distant and dim all at once.
“Get out of my way,” Korse snears, pulling the trigger.
Kobra leaps, crashing into Jet and sending both of them to the ground.
_____________________________________________________________

 

All Jet can do is stare up at the bright blue sky.
There’s ringing in their ears, high pitched and annoying, and their chest feels heavy. They’re laying on something that’s only a little uncomfortable, comfortable enough to where they know it’s not the sand.
Korse’s words ring in their ears as well.
Jet knows for a fact that he used ‘he’ on purpose, just to get to them. It’s not- it’s not pleasant but misgendering won’t kill them. But-
They were left alive on purpose, Korse left them on purpose just to get to Kobra and Party. Jet wasn’t lucky or whatever you want to call it, they were used. What if they were the spy Doc told Kobra about?
Jet definitely didn’t consent to being a fucking piece of bait but they were used as one all the same.
Ghoul is suddenly in their field of view, his mouth forming words that they can’t make out. All they can do is blink and hope he gets the message. Their chest is still so heavy, tight, and they can feel a distant pain in their middle.
Then Ghoul shakes their shoulders gently and pulls them until they sit up. But they’re boneless and they fall face first into his shoulder. They’re too dazed to make anything out other than the heart beat in their chest, beating quickly but muted.
After a moment, Ghoul begins rubbing their back in hard, pressing, circles. It hits them then, that they’re not breathing. They must have had their breath knocked out by the fall and-
Jet gasps as they’re fucking finally able to pull in a breath. They continue to breath heavily, leaning on Ghoul as he massages their muscles into doing their fucking job.
The ringing fades a bit and they can finally hear Ghoul talking to them.
“-ya go Jet. Fucking scaring us like that. Wait-”
Suddenly he pulls them away, only far enough to where they’re no longer leaning on him. Jet’s pleasantly surprised when they are able to hold themself up as he gives them a once over. They’re still pretty dizzy but even that is fading.
“Shit- I think the stitches broke.”
They look down and sure enough, the few stitches still holding the larger part of the wound together seem to have broken. There’s a small patch of red on their shirt but there’s very little tearing when Ghoul lifts their shirt to have a better look. They look healed enough to where Party probably won’t have to do any more stitches, something they’re extremely grateful for.
“Got lucky dude,” he tells them, grinning.
They’re able to think clearly now, the shock and daze from what just happened finally fading. The way Ghoul is looking at them, obviously relieved that they’re okay, somehow helps more than they would have thought. A part of them feared that Party and the others would kick them out after what Korse just told them.
After all, Jet was only bait.
“Kobra, you okay?” Party’s voice cuts through the silence.
Jet turns in time to watch Party help his brother to sit up. It comes to them a moment later, the realization that Kobra jumped in front of a blaster for them. They search frantically for any burning marks on his body, any sign that the ray actually hit him.
His hair is sticking straight up as he squints and looks around in confusion, trying to push his brother’s worried hands away. Kobra groans but ignores Party’s hovering, pushing himself up and standing. His jacket is covered in sand and dust, the zipper open a little. Kobra’s bare chest peaks out above the metal of the zipper, telling Jet that he does not have a shirt on underneath. He’d cut up his only shirt so that they could have rags the other day.
And then Kobra had literally saved their life, twice now.
Party mumbles something under his breath but stands up beside Kobra all the same. Then, Kobra sways a little, groaning. His brother acts quickly, wrapping Kobra’s arm around his shoulder to support him. Kobra takes a few deep breaths as Jet can’t pull their eyes away.
They can’t have gotten this lucky; there’s no way they all made it out unharmed. Not with only four of them. Not with an Exterminator-
Jet suddenly remembers Korse and they turn to face the line of cars. No more Dracs are standing, all of them slumped over car doors or laying in the sand. Only the Exterminator remains standing, but only just. There’s a smoldering hole in his shoulder, low enough to cause real damage, and he’s leaning on his car door, watching them.
Jet shot him.
He says nothing but, as the others follow Jet’s gaze, they all hear his promise.
Next time.
_______________________________________________
Bed rest freaking sucks. You’d think they’d gotten past this part of the recovery process but it seems their luck just isn’t the best.
Per Party’s orders, Jet is currently on bed rest until tomorrow evening. Party explained to them that the stitches had come out a little too early and that if they didn’t want to go through getting them re-done, then they’d have to take it easy for at least a day.
But laying around all day when you’re actually too weak to get up is one thing-boring as hell but at least then you can sleep some of the time away. However, Jet feels fine. Their only issue at the moment, physically- emotionally they’re all a mess- is how tender their stomach is again. Just the movement of their tank top over the- new- bandage Party had been put here is uncomfortable. Other than that though, they’re fine.
Another good thing is that apparently, they were right. The diner does have living spaces upstairs. It’s not a large area but it was converted into four tiny, one room, apartments. Each one is more than a little dusty from lack of use but it’s preserved so well. Remove the dust and it’d be like whoever owned this place had left only moments ago. Grace sleeps in her little drawer in the chair beside their bed, against the window. The weak evening sun kisses her skin as she sleeps. They’d fed her earlier, even played for a while. She’s going to start teething soon and they’re wondering where they’re going to find the proper toys and things for that.
The person who’d tried to turn Kobra in doesn’t get a spot upstairs. They’re still unconscious downstairs, none of them know what to do with the unnamed rebel just yet.
Looking around the room a little, they take in what is now- apparently- their space.
The bed sheets are still relatively clean, just a fine layer of dust had coated them. The door hadn’t been open to this room since whoever lived here left it seems. All it took was a quick shake out the window and the sheets were clean. There’s even a book sitting on the table beside Jet’s bed, half read with a hand-made bookmark sticking out the top.
The bookmark is well made, the baby blue thread knitted tightly into an intricate pattern. There’s a little hook at the top made from the same thread where a single purple bead is sewn on.
There’s clothes in the drawers and in the closet, mostly too small to fit them unfortunately, and still folded neatly. Beside the desk sits a waste basket, still containing a few crumpled sheets of paper and food wrappers.
Whoever lived here left in a hurry.
Jet’s only been in this room for about an hour and a half, their middle still sore enough to discourage them from going against Party’s orders and exploring further. They long to, though.
They know that Kobra is just down the hall, sleeping off the last of his hangover and the exhaustion. There’s this pull inside of them, a force that’s pulling them to go and talk to him.
They were pretty harsh to him earlier, before the fight, and they know that they walked into something between him and his brother afterwards. It had looked like Party was trying to comfort Kobra, who had definitely been crying, as Jet had barged in.
In the moment, however, they hadn’t had time to feel bad for interrupting. Now they do have time.
Kobra’s obviously going through something and Jet’s beginning to think that they’d been too harsh, too quick to get upset. Really, and they know no one will say this out loud, he’d been correct. Jet was a set up, not a spy exactly but a danger all the same.
That’s another weird thing.
Even after Korse admitted to why he left Jet alive, Kobra had still jumped into action and saved them. They’re not sure what they would have done if he’d been shot. If he’d died protecting them.
That lingering sick feeling in the pit of their stomach is fading. They’re still not a hundred percent sure what it is but they’re beginning to figure it out.
The only way that Jet can think to put it is broken trust. They’ve only known Kobra and the others a little over a week but in that time, they’ve grown to trust them. To trust in the safety the three of them have built together. They look out for each other, protect each other. When Jet came into the picture, that trust hadn’t shaken. Maybe there was the whole thing between Ghoul and Party in the beginning but the two of them are closer than ever now.
That sense of security, of trust, of family, was extended to Jet very quickly. They now know that it’s just who Party and the others are. They take care of others.
So that’s why when Kobra admitted he’d been doubtful of them and Ghoul, it shook the very foundations of their crew. To someone from the outside, it may seem like they’ve all over reacted but Jet is beginning to understand how much the three of them rely on that trust.
Jet knows that it’s not broken, not even cracked, not really. It might have been shaken, strained, but it is still very much intact. Kobra seems to think that he’s broken it though.
He’s obviously eaten up about it and the night before’s events still weigh heavy in their mind. However, Jet is realizing that Party and Kobra especially, but all of them really, are already well on their way to being- normal. Jet’s not sure the word for it but that’s what comes to mind. Normal.
Party, in spite of everything, has continued to take care of his brother. Even Ghoul, who seems to have a harder time than they and Party are having, helped Kobra up the steps earlier. Kobra had leaned on him, too exhausted to tell who it was most likely.
Jet had asked Party about that as he’d cleaned them up, why Kobra seemed so tired, absent, after the clap.
They don’t think Party meant to tell them but-
Apparently Kobra had a panic attack earlier, on top of not sleeping for a few days at least, and fighting through a hangover. Yeah- his exhaustion makes sense.
And yet, they have a feeling he’s not asleep.
With how much is running through their own mind right now, they’re certain Kobra is over thinking things as well. Jet wants to go to him, to actually talk to him and tell him that-
That they forgive him, that they understand.
Maybe then he won’t keep beating himself up over everything.
Right as they’re about to shove the blankets aside and go do just that, there’s a soft knock on their door. Jet sits up a little, wincing but ignoring the discomfort as they watch the door open slowly.
Maybe it’s Kobra? What if he’s thinking the same things they are?
What if-
Ghoul’s head pops in and he smiles once he sees they’re awake. He slips inside and closes the door behind him quietly. They notice that Ghoul holds an off white bowl in his hands. He’s still smiling, eyes bright and gentle as he sets the bowl down beside the book on the end-table.
“Hey, wanted to bring you some dinner,” he says sitting down on the end of their bed.
“Thanks.”
They grab the bowl from the table, peering inside to see brown mush and a little, silver spoon.
“Is this Power Pup put in a bowl so it looks more edible?”
“Shit. You caught me dude,” Ghoul smiles, raising his hands in defeat. “Eat up, though. You did a lot today and you need to build your strength back.”
“Ah yes. Dog food, all of the nutrients you need. Recommended by all of the doctors.”
Ghoul laughs out loud, eyes squinting shut as he does so. He looks so young again, just a kid.
“It’s recommended by Party and he’s basically a doctor just without the fancy paper.”
Now it’s Jet’s turn to laugh. They do eat the food though, even the horrible taste is bearable after they realize how hungry they are. It seems like Party was right once again.
“Hey, uh, Jet?”
They look up. Ghoul has his hands in his lap, anxiously balling his hands into fits and then relaxing them over and over. He’s got his jacket off, it’s more of a vest really- the thing has no sleeves. Ghoul’s yellow and black shirt is filthy but he hasn’t changed it. They’re beginning to think it’s the sentimental part of his outfit, rather than the jacket. Normally a rebel’s jacket holds their colors, is their main display of themself. It seems like Ghoul’s is this shirt.
Jet fiddles with their own jacket sleeve while they wait for Ghoul to continue.
“I just- I wanted to thank you. Korse- he wasn’t after you today but you still- you still faced him like that. It just-” Ghoul finally looks up at them. “It means a lot that you’d take up for us like that. Me ‘n Party, Kobra, we’re family ya know. More than a crew. And you stood up for that.”
“You guys have done the same for me and I’m barely more than a stranger,” Jet says in a whisper.
“You are way more than a stranger Jet. Yeah I’ve known ya a freaking week but I dunno, it feels longer. To me at least…”
“Yeah,” they’re quick to assure him. “Yeah I- I feel the same honestly. I may have lost my crew but- but you guys have made me feel less alone.”
He smiles again, anxiousness fading. Jet can’t help but return the gesture.
“All the shit with Kobra, hell even the shit with Korse, it’ll pass. And for what it’s worth, you’re welcome in our crew any time.”
Jet must have a clear look of shock on their face because Ghoul begins to backtrack instantly.
“I- I just mean that we care about you Jet, all three of us do. If you ever wanted to try the whole crew thing again, I can speak for the others when I say that you’re always welcome with us.”
“I don’t know if I’m ready for that…” they admit quietly.
“No pressure. It’s not a formal invitation or anything. I’m just- I’m just letting you know that you’re not alone, no matter what Korse or Better Living says. You mean a lot to us and we’d be happy to have you is all.”
He’s smiling at them still, warm and kind. Jet wonders what it’d be like to be a part of their crew. With all of their baggage though…
With the baby...
“Even with Grace?” they find themself asking.
“Especially with her. Dude I freaking love her to death.”
“I don’t know yet, but maybe- maybe one day…” they admit quietly.
“Take your time. I’m gonna go pass Kobra his food and your bowl better be empty when I come back through,” Ghoul says brightly.
They nod, looking down at the mush in their bowl.
These people actually care about them, have gone out of their way to make sure Jet’s okay.
“Oh and Jet,” Ghoul’s head pops back in for a moment and they look up at him. “If you do adventure into Kobra’s room, be careful and don’t over do it. And, please, keep everything PG.”
He’s gone before they can even fully comprehend what he’s just said. Keep things PG….
Oh-
They feel their face heat up with realization. Are they that easy to read?
Whatever they’re feeling for Kobra- and they’re not sure what that is exactly, thank you very much- wasn’t that obvious. Was it?
But they’re most definitely not going to like- pounce on him or anything like Ghoul was suggesting. So what if they had wanted to pay him a visit and had nearly done so right before Ghoul knocked. As they finish their food, they weigh their options.
On one hand, they can totally go and find Kobra. Jet wants to check in on him at the least, talking to him would be even better.
On the other though, Ghoul knows. He knows that Jet’s starting to feel- something- for Kobra and if they go into his room then it’ll only confirm what Ghoul said.
They want to though, to see Kobra.
There’s a lot they need to say, don’t really know how to say. Maybe in person it’ll be easier to construct their thoughts into tangible, understandable, words.
Right as they get the last spoonful of Power Pup, there’s another knock and the door opens yet again. Ghoul steps in and they’re half expecting another joke from him. It doesn’t come.
Instead he just takes the bowl from their hands without a word. His eyes are downcast and- and they’re red.
“Ghoul?”
He stops in his tracts, head still down.
“Hmm?”
“What’s wrong. Is everything okay?”
Ghoul doesn’t answer but he does sit down heavily on their bed again. His head goes into his hands.
“I talked to Kobra,” he says quietly. “He um- well he asked about you- but he- he just- thought that I hated him. Like when I handed him his food he actually asked me why I was being so nice to him and when I was gonna kick him out.”
Jet pulls a shaky breath, waiting intently for Ghoul to continue. Surly he didn’t leave Kobra still thinking that, right?
“It took a lot to convince him that I didn’t hate him. Yeah I was mad but I didn’t think he’d assume- and then he flinched, actually flinched, when I put my hand on his shoulder. I felt horrible, fuck I still feel horrible. How could I let him think that I hate him? He means so much to me Jet, he’s like a brother to me, and he actually thought I was going to hurt him or something.”
“He’s not used to unconditional love or trust,” says a voice from the doorway.
Both of them look up to see Party leaning against the door frame. He pushes himself off of the wooden frame and closes the door behind him.
He’s changed his shirt since Jet last saw him, the grey T-shirt being exchanged for an old, faded band tee. The logo on the front is long since faded and the sleeves are long enough to touch his elbow. There’s a padded spot on his left arm, where Jet knows he’s finally bandaged the graze he’d gotten in the fight.
“It’s not completely my story to tell but- Kobra has seen how vicious love that comes with conditions is. It’s not love, not really. My first boyfriend, he- he was like that. He took care of us until we did something he thought was wrong. I would be punished for it, Kobra had to watch. That’s why he thought you hated him Ghoul, why he’s so worked up about this,” Party sits down beside Ghoul, pulling him close so he rests his head on his shoulder. “That kinda stuff stays with you, it’s hard to forget. Both of us are still learning.”
“I told him that I’d never hate him,” Ghoul says finally. “I told Kobra that he’d always be family to me.”
“And that helped?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I think so. We talked for awhile after. I just- I couldn’t understand how he would think that.”
“Kobra thinks we all hate him?” Jet asks, voice quiet.
They’re still trying to process the peak into Kobra’s past that Party just gave, still trying to wrap their head around all of this.
“He might not believe it completely but yeah- he’s worried that we do,” Party answers.
“I gotta talk to him.”
Then there’s a burst of movement as both Ghoul and Party try and prevent them from getting out of bed. They fight it though, shrugging out of their grasp and sliding off of the bed. Besides a slight head rush and the painful pull of healing skin, they’re able to do so without hindrance.
“You’re on bed rest,” Party argues, watching them as if they’re about to fall down.
“I’m fine. I’ll go slow. I just- I need to talk to him. I don’t want him to think I hate him, I-”
“I know,” Ghoul says now, “I know but without the stitches you can very easily tear the wound. Plus, dude, you’re heart is goin’ nuts.”
They look down, not even realizing that Ghoul’s got their wrists in his hands again.
“Let me,” Party interrupts before Jet can say anything.
He pushes them back gently until they’re sitting on the bed again. Party’s hand goes to their neck, fingers on their pulse. All they can do is sit there, listening to the loud beat in their ears. They hadn’t even realized it’d gotten so frantic. Jet notices the lightheaded feeling now, the way everything is just a bit blurry around the edges.
“Shit,” Party breathes but continues mouthing numbers to himself as he counts.
“How bad?”
“Not bad necessarily but way too fast for them just standing up, even with what we were talking about,” Party answers Ghoul without looking up. “Jet I need you to breathe slowly and deeply for me. Match to my breathing if you have to, okay?”
They nod and do as he asks.
The last bits of dizziness fade away as the thumping in their ears gets less noticeable, eventually fading away as well. Their eyes closed sometime a little bit ago and they’re honestly not too anxious to open them again.
“Stay with them, keep them sitting and calm, I’ll be right back,” Party says from somewhere nearby.
Jet hears the door close and then feels the bed dip as someone sits down beside them.
“You still with me, Jet?” Ghoul asks.
“Yeah. I-” they open their eyes. It’s dark out now, no telling how long they’ve been sitting here trying to control the frantic beating of their heart. Someone's turned on the overhead light, illuminating the room in a soft, orange glow. “I’m okay now, I think.”
“Good. God, you scared me there for a second.”
“Sorry.”
And they mean it. They don’t want to scare Ghoul, don’t want to be the cause of any more of his anxiety.
“Okay,” Party says, quickly re-entering the room. “So, drink this.”
They down the glass of water he hands them, not quite understanding why it was so important. Ghoul seems to be wondering the same thing.
“What just happened?”
“I’m working on the explanation right now,” Party says, watching them intently. “You’ve never had issues with your heart before?”
They think hard.
If they’re honest, they’ve never really noticed anything. Most of the time they've stayed in the back while their crew did all of the heavy fighting. Their mother was always over protective, sometimes to a fault, but they knew it was within reason. The desert is a hard place for a kid to grow up.
“Not that I know of.”
Party nods, running a hand through his hair as he considers them a moment.
“So, what about- like- super close calls. Any of those, other than the most recent?”
Jet thinks for a moment, staring down at their hands. Again, they really stayed away from anything too dangerous. They’ve done so since they were little.
“No. I don’t remember any. Unless you count that time I got the Zone flu when I was like eight.”
“How bad was your fever?” Party asks suddenly.
“Not too bad. Our crew had a good doctor and I got through it pretty easily. I was lucky, kids normally die from it.”
“Yeah I know. I nearly lost Kobra to it,” Party says quietly.
He keeps dropping information, likely unconsciously. Jet’s not sure what to do with it all but-
It’s almost comforting, refreshing, that Party is comfortable enough to share this kinda stuff with them.
“But even with how high his fever got, his heart is fine. Hell, if we want to keep comparing, I had to restart his heart after an overdose a couple ‘a years back; that hasn’t had any lasting effects on him.”
“Wait-” Ghoul interrupts, holding a hand up to make Party pause. His next words are soft, concerned. “He overdosed?”
It seems like once again, Ghoul is following their train of thought. Had Kobra really done something like that? The thought alone leaves a horrible taste in their mouth and makes their chest constrict painfully.
“Oh. No, not like that,” Jet and Ghoul breathe a sigh of relief in tandem. “Some asshole drugged him. But my point in all of this is that his heart is healthy, strong. So I’m just trying to figure out what happened with yours.”
“I- I’m not sure,” they admit.
“Hmm. Do you think it’s always been like this? Like-uh- have you always had to take a break sooner than everyone else when you’re doing something that’d make your heart rate rise?”
No, Jet always kept up with the others. They were all older than Jet and so they’d had to fight to keep up in training.
“No. I’ve always been normal.”
Party’s brows knit together and they know they’ve debunked his answer.
“And you’re sure nothing has happened that could cause this?”
“It might just be from getting shot point blank Party,” Ghoul offers.
“No. Blasters don’t have that kinda electromagnetic strength and you know it. It’d take literally pressing the battery charge to their chest and pulling the trigger for it to create this kinda lasting effect.”
“Maybe it’s nothing?” Jet tries, shrugging a little for emphasis.
“Maybe… but for now I want you resting. Your heart rate was just over 140 from simply standing so we’re going to take it slow for a few days.”
They nod, making Party let out a sigh of relief. He glances at the door and Jet knows he’s thinking of Kobra.
“And Jet,” adds Ghoul once he sees that Party is about to leave, “do you-um. Do you mind if I stay here with you awhile?”
“I’m not gonna like die in my sleep or somethin’ dude.”
“No- no I know that. Actually, it’s uh, it’s for me…. Um- Party,” Ghoul turns to him, “I figured you’re gonna be with Kobra tonight and I just- I don’t wanna be alone.”
Ghoul looks down at his hands and Jet finally notices the tattoos covering his skin. They’re not sure how they didn’t see them before but… both of his arms are covered, as are his hands. They realize that this is the first time he hasn’t had his gloves on and that his shirt sleeves, which are three-quarter length apparently, are rolled up. Honestly, Jet had assumed the designs were part of his clothes but no… no these are tattoos. They quite literally cover him and Jet can’t help but wonder how he got so many, so quickly.
He’s so young, still a kid, and Jet is agreeing to his question even before Party can say a word. Like they're going to let Ghoul sleep alone? They’ve already seen that he has nightmares even with people in the room. Who knows how bad they might get if he’s alone, especially after today.
“You’re sure it’s okay?” Ghoul asks them quietly, hands moving anxiously. They watch until they can read the letters inked onto his fingers. ‘Halloween’
Interesting.
“Ghoul I-”
“He needs you more, Party. I’ll be okay; it’s just a precaution I guess,” Ghoul says, cutting Party off before he can insist that he can stay.
“I don’t mind if you stay, Ghoul.”
They flash Ghoul a smile and despite everything, things feel… okay.
“Plus,” they add as an afterthought. “You can tell me about your tattoos if you want.”
His face lights up now, a grin breaking through his vulnerable expression.
“Hell yeah I can do that. Most of ‘em don’t have a story though, I’m too impulsive for that shit.”
Party laughs a little but it only takes a few moments of persuasion before he relents and leaves for his brother’s room. Really, with the glimpse into Kobra and his past that Jet has just witnessed, Kobra needs his brother right now. Besides, Ghoul is already going into detail about his tattoos even before the door is closed.
So, they lean back onto the bed, resting against the pillows. They’re definitely more sore now but it’s manageable, especially with the light gleaming in Ghoul’s eyes as he speaks.
“This one,” he points to his neck, right below his ear, and moves his hair out of the way to reveal a scorpion inked there. “Was my first. Got it it like my second day out as a big fuck you to Better Living.”
Then Ghoul goes into detail about the sleeves he’s working on, adding little pieces here and there. Really, like he’d said, most of them are spur of the moment decisions and they have no real meaning. Jet finds it interesting all the same.
“So, my hands,” Ghoul spreads his hands out, palms facing down for Jet to inspect. “Again, most of these are just whatever I was feeling or what I could afford at the time. But! Little secret that only Kobra and Party know, I got Halloween across my knuckles because that’s my birthday!”
“Oh shit.”
And yeah. Oh shit. That is really freaking cool and Jet’s only a little jealous.
“Yep, I’m a Halloween baby. I don’t actually, ya know, remember any of that holiday ‘cause I was too small when they stopped lettin’ people celebrate it. So, to make up for it, I’ve done all kinds of research on it. Like how it got started back in like- fucking ancient times, to how people dressed up and partied and ate candy up until Better Living got involved.”
Jet has never celebrated the holiday, their mother having moved to the desert as soon as the Wars had gotten bad, but they were still intrigued to learn about this. They’d never thought twice about it, really. Until now.
“That’s freaking cool, dude,” they tell him, unable to hide the grin on their face.
“Yeah and like my parents named me after a monster and everything!”
“Whoa, really?”
“Yep. Frank. Just like the old book, Frankenstein!”
It takes a moment to process but when it does, their jaw just about hits the sheets laying on top of them. Did he really just-
“Dude, close your mouth before bugs crawl in,” Ghoul says, laughing.
“But- but-”
“I trust you.”
Jet can only stare at him.
Frank…
He literally just gave Jet his colors and-
“You don’t have to tell me yours. I’m from the City, I was there way longer than most rebels so I’m still- I guess I’m a little more eager than others to share that part of me. But I understand that it’s a big thing and this isn’t something like- impulsive or anything. I just wanted you to know that I do trust you, despite anything Korse might say. You’re my friend, Jet.”
Ghoul’s smiling at them, his age once again showing. They want to scoop him up, to protect this small bit of innocence that has survived.
“Thank you,” they breathe.
“No problem. Now, wanna keep going?”
They nod and he delves right back into telling them about the tattoos that cover his skin. He distracts Jet, keeps their mind off of Kobra and off of their crew. It’s nice.
The two of them stay up for hours, Ghoul doing most of the talking but Jet interested all the same. It’s well after midnight when Jet finally drifts off, but only after Ghoul falls asleep. His head is resting on their shoulder, their blanket covering his lower half to keep the chill away.

Chapter Text

Opening the door to his brother’s room as quietly as he can, Party isn’t quite sure what he is expecting. Would Kobra be pacing the floor, anxious and unable to sit still? Would he be curled up in the corner or in the sheets, overthinking everything?
Pushing his hair out of his eyes- he should probably get it cut, it’s so fucking long- Party lets the door slowly creak open. The old wood pops and protests opening, making him wince at the sudden, loud noise. Jet is probably trying to sleep right now and he’d really rather not wake them. Thankfully though, the door doesn’t make a sound on the last few inches.
The inside of Kobra’s room is surprisingly dark and none of the small lamps have been turned on. Party knows for a fact that there were at least three in this room alone, so his brother not having one on was surprising. Ghoul had just been in here, maybe an hour or so ago, and Party doubts that his brother would be able to sleep so soon after-
“Kobra?” he calls quietly, stepping in further.
He leaves the door open and the small bit of light from the hallway helps to illuminate the room just enough. Party is almost certain that the lump on the bed is his brother, curled up and turned away from the door.
After a few moments of quiet Party realizes that the lump is in fact his brother, can see the little tips of his hair poking out from the top of the covers pulled up to his nose. But he’s asleep, eyes closed gently and breathing even. He was wrong it seems. Kobra’s asleep and he’s grateful for it really. He needs it.
A smile finds its way to Party’s face as he closes the door as quietly as he can behind him. Sitting down in the wooden chair by the small desk, he settles in for the night. He fumbles a bit but finds the switch for the smallest lamp, the one that sits on the very edge of the desk, and flicks it on.
Soft light fills his corner of the room and he does a double check to make sure Kobra is still asleep. Thankfully, he seems to be out pretty hard.
Party had wanted to talk to him, to make sure that wasn’t still convinced they were all against him. He knew how sometimes, in the mists of anxiety, Kobra’s mind could play tricks on him, convince him of things that weren’t true.
Settling back against the chair, Party brings one knee up to his chest and leans over to wrap his arms around it. He sighs, watching Kobra’s back move as he breathes in his sleep.
Truthfully, Party’s waiting for the moment when he wakes up. Not when Kobra wakes, no, himself.
They all survived today, and other than some mental stuff they all need to work out, they’re fine. No one was hurt, not really. Sure, Jet’s on bedrest and Kobra’s probably going to sleep like the dead for the next day or so. And yeah- a laser beam got a little too close to Party’s arm for his liking, burning a painful- but not deep- graze in his left arm.
To walk away with just those minor injuries though…That’s just- it’s not possible. Party is just waiting to wake up and it be a dream, for this peace to be nothing but a figment of his imagination. Because as painful as what’s going on between his brother and them, a reality where he loses his crew is so much worse.
Lost in thought, Party shifts without thinking, elbow hitting the lamp on the side of the desk and sending it to the floor with a sharp crash. He freezes in place, eyes wide in the sudden darkness.
He hears a groan come from his brother’s bed. Then the sheets shuffle.
“Whosethere?” Kobra’s voice mumbles in the darkness.

Even though he sounds half asleep, Party’s sure Kobra’s awake enough to know someone is actually in the room with him. Thankfully, he’d spotted his brother’s gun on the table by the bed so Party knows he’s not about to get shot just for waking Kobra. Not that he’d blame him really. It’s better safe than sorry.

“It’s just me. Knocked over the fucking lamp like a dumbass,” Party says, laughing a little at himself.
He gets up and flicks on the overhead light. Kobra is sitting up in bed, looking more than half asleep, while the broken lamp sits shattered on the floor where Party had sat.
“Did it cut you?” Kobra asks quietly, groggy eyes flicking up to meet his.
Party shakes his head; he’s fine.
Kobra breathes a deep sigh of relief and only now does Party notice the anxiety as it leaves his brother’s frame. He’s all slumped over with dark bags under his eyes and the blankets pulled up around his shoulders like a cocoon. Honestly he looks exhausted and Party is a little guilty for waking him.
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” Party tells him, “Let me just clean up the broken bits and you can go back to sleep.”
He gets no response but that doesn’t bother him, just takes it as his cue to hurry up. Party gets to work, finding an old wastebasket and carefully disposing of the jaggid bits of plaster and glass that used to be the lamp. Once he’s done, Party sets the basket aside and double checks his work.
The floor is clean now, the hardwood making it relatively easy to find broken bits of lamp. No one will get stabbed in the foot by tiny little shards of lamp anytime soon.
“Alright. Clean as it’s gettin’ I guess,” he says, mostly to himself.
Standing back up, Party goes to turn the light back off. Kobra hasn’t said a word for a while so he’s assuming his brother is either very nearly asleep again, or just wants the quiet. Both of which are okay with him.
Reaching for the switch to turn off the light, there’s a shuffling noise followed quickly by the sound of bare feet on the hardwood floor. Two arms wrap around his middle and a head presses against his back the next moment. His hand pauses on the switch, waiting to see what’s the matter.
“Kobra?”
“Leave ‘em on, Gee,” he whispers into Party’s back. “Please.”
He smiles sadly, understanding the request. It takes a lot of shuffling and some strategic repositioning to get both of them back to the bed, but Party manages. Kobra is very rarely this clingy but when he is, it’s nearly impossible to get him to let go. Not that Party is complaining or anything.
So, when he manages to finally get his brother back into the bed and under the covers, Party knows to not even attempt to pull away from the arms still gripping to him. Kobra’s face is buried in his chest, his arms wrapped around Party tightly enough for it to make it difficult to breathe. He’s thankful the acid burns on his shoulder and front have healed enough to not be sore because this position would be painful as hell if not.

This is all so reminiscent of years before, where Party would hold Kobra as he cried. They’d both gone by different names then, both had cried over things that didn’t apply anymore. There were no more abusive boyfriends or discusting pills shoved down their throats. Party remembers once case, one particularly bad month. You see, he and Kobra had managed to stay off of them, the City’s pills, but unfortunately once his brother got to school… they’d put them in the kids’ lunches. Naturally, Party found out and had fought to homeschool him after that but- seeing a little fucking kid go through withdrawals was- it was horrible.
But that was all in the past. Those things couldn’t hurt them anymore.
Kobra’s grip is unrelenting and it’s beginning to make a pit form in Party’s stomach. What’s wrong?
“Kid,” Party breathes, trying to stay quiet, “I’m right here.”
“You could’a died today.”
Unintentionally, Party stiffens. Well yeah, it’s true. He very well could have been ghosted today. But he hadn’t. They all could have died if he’s honest. They were lucky, extremely lucky.
“I didn’t. I’m okay,” Party assures him.
“But you could have. So could Ghoul and- and Jet and- I- I fucked up again.”
Kobra sounds too shaky, maybe moments from another anxiety attack. All Party can do is let him hold on to him, let his brother ground himself while they talk. He recognizes it now, the clinging. It’s Kobra trying to keep himself calm. With any luck, they’ll be able to avoid another panic attack. Hopefully anyway.
“Why do you say that?”
“You were all worried ‘bout me ‘cause I ran the other night. We might have seen the patrol coming sooner if-”
“Hey-” he interrupts, “I think we all did pretty good for a last minute thing, don’t ya think?”
“I guess- but-”
“No buts Kid. We did it. We’re okay, all of us.”
Party sighs when Kobra doesn’t answer. He knows his brother is continuing to blame himself but just- he just doesn’t know what to do.
Then, Kobra is resting against him now, no longer holding so tightly. His head sits gently on Party’s chest, very likely listening to his heartbeat. Some of the tension in his body is gone as well. Party counts it as a small step in the right direction.
He needs to confront Kobra about Ghoul and his conversation but- he just doesn’t know how. Ultimately, Party decides to just go for it because he doesn’t want to miss the chance to talk to Kobra about this.
“Hey, look, Ghoul said he came in here earlier,” Kobra tenses up against him and takes a shaky breath. “Said you guys talked for a bit.”
A muffled agreement from Kobra has him continuing. However, any plan he’d had is thrown out the window now. Kobra doesn’t need to be grilled on the whys of how he’s feeling, truthfully Party already knows the answer. Right now, his brother needs something else.
“You know that I love you, right?”
Finally, Kobra looks up at him. His eyes are red and vulnerable as he studies Party’s face.
“Yeah,” he answers in a whisper.
“Good. Cause I fucking love you Mikey. There is nothing that would ever change that, okay?”
Kobra looks down for a moment and Party can practically hear the sound of his mind going a million miles an hour. He’s over-thinking it, like always.
“Even…”
“No matter what. I love you; you’re my baby brother and no one, no-thing, can change that,” he promises with a quick nod.
Kobra rolls his eyes lovingly, in that way only siblings can. Somehow Party knows he’s said the right thing; he’s helped.
“I just- I don’t get why Ghoul is- why he’s acting like nothing’s happened.”
“He cares about you too Kid, you know that. We’re family, all three of us, and you don’t just start hating someone after they make a mistake.”
“Five?” Kobra says so quietly that Party nearly doesn’t catch it. “Jet and Grace, they- they’re family too right?”
He agrees. Sure, they have quite literally known them like 8 days total but- but yeah- they’re family. There’s not anything he wouldn’t do for Jet, or the baby. They’ve both grown on him in a very short amount of time.
“Yes. Yeah, you’re right.”
There’s more he wants to say, more that Party needs to say, but Kobra yawns. He’s blinking slowly, trying to stay awake.
“We can talk, all together, in the morning. Get some sleep, Mikey. You need it.”
Without protest, his brother curls a little tighter around him. In moments, Kobra’s breathing evens out and he’s asleep.
Party doesn’t move, stays as still as possible so that his brother doesn’t wake again. His mind wanders, naturally.
He thinks about Kobra, about how far he’s come in his time in the desert. From that scared kid who was tasting freedom for the first time, to the way he’d saved Jet’s life today. Kobra could have died, he could have misjudged the distance and the blast from Korse’s gun could have burned a whole through him.
Party doesn’t like to think of that scenario, doesn’t allow himself to dwell on it for even a second after it’s created. Instead, he takes comfort in the knowledge that his brother did survive, he did save Jet’s life, and he’s currently-finally- resting.
The diner is quiet, the only sounds Party can hear are that of his brother’s breathing and- and now that he’s listening- the low tone of Ghoul’s voice as he shows Jet his tattoos. A smile finds its way onto Party’s face at that. Jet and Ghoul seem to be getting close, becoming good friends in a short amount of time.
He should be worrying about the risk of another patrol but truthfully, with how little noise is in the building right now, they’d be able to hear the engines before they approached. Plus, Party is almost certain that Ghoul is going to fall asleep soon and then wake up in a couple of hours. It’s slightly concerning but Ghoul never gets more than two or three hours in one sitting. He takes short little naps during the day whenever he can spare the time but Party has never seen him get more than five hours in one full day.
But, in this situation, it’ll come in handy because Party physically cannot bring himself to pull out of Kobra’s arms. The kid had to sleep alone too many times in his life and Party will be damned if he has to again tonight.
When Ghoul wakes in a couple of hours, he’ll be fidgety and full of nervous energy like always and so, he’ll go on watch until everyone else wakes.
Party doesn’t sleep though.
Even as he hears Ghoul’s voice taper off, telling that he’s finally fallen asleep, and the building goes into that otherworldly state when no one else is awake but you. It’s only Party, he’s the only one awake, the only one to hear the whistling of the wind outside, the sound of sand hitting the glass window as it’s kicked up. It’s only him.
But Kobra mumbles something in his sleep and before Party can react, he’s rolling over and literally laying on top of him. Party had been sitting up, leaning against the headboard while his brother slept against his side. Now though, he’s slid down onto the pillows with Kobra laying completely on top of him. The kid’s light, even in sleep, and truthfully, Party doesn’t mind in the slightest.
The body heat keeps the chill away. And it, hopefully, will keep any and all nightmares away from his brother.
_______________________________________
The next morning, Jet Star actually wakes first. Surprising right?
Well- wait. Actually, they’re pretty sure that Ghoul was in here when they’d fallen asleep and he’s gone now so…
Okay, they’re the second one up. Still, an achievement.
They feel pretty good, all things considered. Their stomach is really sore though, likely from everything yesterday and the stress they’d put on a literal open wound.
Oh well.
Jet sits up carefully, using their elbows to prop themself up and look around the room. Everything is bathed in that soft morning glow and the heat of the day hasn’t really begun yet, though it will very soon. They can’t see the window from their position but they can see Grace, her face soft with sleep. She’s thankfully, not awake yet and they have a few more moments of quiet.
Actually, the entire building is quiet.
If Ghoul is up yet, and not just passed out somewhere else, he’s being silent for once. If Jet is honest, that is more suspicious than if he was being loud.
Sitting up completely, they push the blankets off. It’s getting warm, not uncomfortably so but enough to where the additional layers are not needed. They pause before standing, Party’s request coming back to them.
He wanted them to rest, to take it easy until they figured out what the hell was going on with their heart. Which, really, is terrifying.
On top of everything else they’ve had thrown at them this past week, of course their heart has to pitch a fit and start acting up. Jet prays it’s nothing, that this is just left over from their near death experience. That it’s something that will go away in time.
The alternative… leaving Grace behind… it’s just not an option.
Shaking their head, Jet stands. They need to do something, can’t stand laying around all day. Mostly, they just want to talk to someone, preferably Kobra.
They need to talk, the two of them, and Jet’s not too keen on waiting any longer.
But wait- he’s probably not even awake yet. They remember how dead on his feet he was the night before. The chances of Kobra being up right now are slim.
With a sigh, Jet sits back down on the mattress. It dips a little with their weight, the old springs creaking.
Even the bed is protesting them laying around all day.
But, if they’re really, really honest, they know they should take it easy.
That’s the frustrating bit. Everything that’s keeping them from talking to Kobra, from actually talking to the others about the fucking bomb Korse dropped on them yesterday, is completly resonable. Jet needs to rest, so does Kobra, and it’s almost like the very universe is pushing them apart.
Sitting here in this bed, alone and in the quiet, Jet drifts.
First they’re just thinking about Grace, how they’re going to find her some toys to replace the ones she lost in the clap. And just like that they’re crying.
It’s not a soft, quiet cry. No this one hurts, it burns and tears at them as they try and muffle their sobs in their hands.
They don’t know how well they’re doing with keeping quiet but at this point they don’t care.
It’s not fucking fair.
Why did it have to be their crew? Why did Korse single them out to get to Party and Kobra? What was so goddamn important about them for him to make that decision?
Even worse is the probability that Korse chose at random. He chose to murder their entire crew, to leave them alive, entirly on a whim.
Their chest constricts painfully at that. God- what did they do to deserve that?
Jet’s nose is running, their face sticky and too warm with the never ending, salty tears that pour from their eyes. They’re breathing in short little gasps, chest way too tight to do any different.
It hurts, down to their very core.
They’d tried so fucking hard to not break down, to not let Better Living win. Their Ma wouldn’t have wanted them to give up.
But sitting here, right now in the silence of the room and the horrible constricting in their chest, they don’t know how to keep going.
If all of this was planned, or, at the least, out of their control, what was the goddamn point?
Sobbing harder, Jet leans over until they’re laying back down on the bed. They curl in on themself, not even bothering to remove the hair sticking to their wet cheeks.
They try to calm down, to get themself under control, but it’s hard, unbelievably so. Their head is literally splitting and their entire body is numb, almost like it’s not connected to their mind at all.
Eventually, they do stop sobbing. All that’s left are those silent tears, the ones when you’re too exhausted to do anything else, they’re still streaming down Jet’s face but they don’t make any move to wipe them away.
Hiccupping, they do bring a hand up to press against their forehead. Their own cool hand brings at least some relief to their burning skin.
They take a deep breath, their lungs practically shuttering with the effort it takes.
Then, they hear it.
At first it’s too quiet for them to make out, just a soft sound in the air that carries over their stuttering breaths. But then it gets louder, more confident.
Someone’s singing they realize.
It sounds distant, like the singer is outside.
The words are harder to distinguish, mostly mumbled. The notes remain, strong and steady. Whoever this is can actually sing, like really well.
Their voice is a little whiny but deep and ragged at the same time.
Ghoul, they realize a moment later.
Who would have thought he could sing?
But yeah, it’s definitely him.
Jet still isn’t sure what song he’s singing, or if there even is one and he’s not just singing nonsense to himself at ass o’clock in the morning.
Even still, it helps them calm down.
They finally brush the hair out of their face, noticing the trembling in their hand as it passes their face. Feeling dizzy, Jet decides not to try and get up just yet.
Laying in bed all day doesn’t sound so bad anymore.
___________
It’s mid morning when Grace wakes.
They were drifting in and out, mind too hazy and tired to pull them completely in either direction. Hearing her cry, more of a ‘I’m alone and I’m bored; pay attention to me’ sort of cry, makes Jet finally move. Just rolling over takes too much effort and if it were anyone, anything, else, they wouldn’t have even tried.
But this is their sister, the only thing that Korse hadn’t taken from them, and they can’t just ignore her. They don’t want to ignore her.
Finally sitting, Jet takes just a moment to catch their breath. God- they’re sore as hell. They groan but pad over to Grace as quickly as they can.
“Mornin’ little one,” they coo, voice rough and weak from earlier.
Grace doesn’t seem bothered, she grins up at them, gums and all, and reaches out for them to pick her up. They do, bringing her close to their chest and filling their aching lungs with her smell, hearing her soft breaths.
“How’d you sleep?” they ask her quietly.
She, of course, does not answer. But if the way she’s making happy little baby noises in their ear is any indication, she’s in a good mood.
“Yeah? You’re smiley today Grace.”
Jet pulls her back, holding her at arm length. She squeals and giggles as they pull a face.
Just like that, that crushing weigh in their chest lifts. It’s still there but they can breathe, can function a little easier now.
“You’re getting heavy!” they tell her, pretending like it’s a monumental effort to pull her back against their chest.
Again she lets out a series of high pitches giggles and clings to Jet. They hold tightly to her, relishing in the knowledge that they have this. They have her, alive and happy and healthy.
She’s so small, so vulnerable, and the thought of all the danger outside makes them want to keep her this close forever.
“I love you Grace,” they whisper, pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead.
Jet lovingly spits out the hair that found its way into their mouth, realizing that they wouldn’t trade this for anything.
“She loves you too,” comes a soft voice from the door.
They spin around to find Kobra leaning against the frame, just as his brother did last night. Jet freezes, their mind suddenly both racing and entirely blank.
They almost certainly look like they’ve been having a breakdown all morning- because they fucking have- and they really don’t want Kobra to see them like this. They’re bound to look an absolute mess and they’re not at all certain they won’t start crying again if he asks them about it.
But at the same time- holy shit this is their chance to talk to Kobra without interruption.
“I- I-uh-”
“You’re a good sibling to her and she loves you, appreciates you,” he tells them like he speaks baby or something.
Kobra is smiling so softly at them, something unreadable in his eyes.
“Thank you.”
They don’t know what else to say.
Jet really hoped Grace knows how much they love her…
Looking back at Kobra, they take in that he looks… good- better than good really. The bags are gone from under his eyes and his posture is tall yet awkward. It’s familiar and they’re more than relieved that he’s finally gotten some rest.

“Party told me that you pulled the stitches yesterday, I um- how’re you feeling?”
Kobra looks down at his boots and suddenly Jet is very much aware that they’re currently only in their tank top and socks. They’d stripped sometime when talking to Ghoul, the jeans proving uncomfortable to sleep in. Jet hadn’t thought twice about it last night, Ghoul was just Ghoul, but now-
They need some new clothes before they die of embarrassment.
“I’m fine.”
And there it is. It’s that age old white lie. The ‘I’m fine’ that you tell when your insides are currently burning with the weight of everything running through your mind. If only to prevent the worrying that you know will occur if you tell the truth.
But then Kobra gives them this look, like he knows they’re lying. Jet feels the tears prickle their eyes and they fight, hard, against it.
“I am. I’m good, never better.”
“That’s good,” Kobra says, looking at them like he knows exactly what’s going on in their head.
“Yeah.”
“Jet?” he asks suddenly.
They set Grace down in her bed, crossing the room to stand a bit closer to Kobra. From this distance they can still see the tiredness in his eyes, the disheveled look of his hair and clothes telling that he’s not as okay as he’s acting either.
“You can tell me if you’re not. I know that- that I fucked up, that I broke your trust in me. But, as long as you want me to be, I’m here for you. If you- if you need to talk, or anything, I’m here.”
That has to be the longest sentence they’ve ever heard him say and they’re left shocked by that knowledge for a few moments. Then, their mind reminds them that they’ve been waiting on their conversation for a while.
“It’s okay,” they say seriously, because it is.
The reasoning behind Kobra’s actions makes sense, even if his decision was not the best one, and Jet just can’t bring themself to stay mad at him. He did his best and he’s working hard to fix the mistakes he made.
Kobra relaxes visibly, a weight likely taken off of his shoulders. He stands much easier, waiting on them to keep going.
“I just- what Korse said, I-”
They fight back the tears, pressing roughly against their eyelids to try and keep them at bay. It doesn’t work, they feel the hot tears once again cascade down their face, down their arms.
“Oh, Jet. No no, don’t-”
Then Kobra is beside them, pulling them against him and wrapping them in warmth. That’s the only way to describe it, warm. It’s as if Kobra is this bright, burning force, chasing away the shadows creeping up, overtaking their mind. These tears are different now, less hopeless more cleansing.
“The- the worst part,” the whisper into his jacket, his cologne filling their senses with nothing but the thought of him and the peace he’s bringing to their mind. “The worst part is that it was for nothing. They died for nothing.”
They’re shaking again and they’re sure they'd have fallen if it weren’t for Kobra keeping them upright.
“Shh,” he soothes, taking his own steadying breath before continuing. “They died fighting for what they believed in. Your crew died fighting Better Living, they fought to make a difference.”
“But it doesn’t matter because Korse was just after you!”
The words leave their mouth before their mind has even caught up. Kobra tenses against them and they hear him take a shaky breath.
“And I will do everything in my power to make him pay for that,” Kobra tells them, the sincerity and intensity of his words hitting them full force.
“I mean it, Jet. Korse will pay for everything he’s done.”
All they can do is nod against him.
They hadn’t even noticed the tears stop, hadn’t noticed that their own heart is now beating with his and that they’re leaning entirely on him. He’s a rock, a focal point keeping them afloat.
“You’re not mad that Korse used me to get to you?”
Jet had to ask, the unknowing like a spike to their heart.
“Never. I would never be mad at you for something like that.”
Jet sighs, closing their eyes. Kobra is warm, strong and they never want to leave this moment.
“Thank you,” they whisper.
They stay like that for what feels like forever, Kobra slowly putting the pieces of Jet back into place.
________________________________________________________
Later, there’s a soft knock on the door.
Jet’s back in bed, laying on top of the covers with one of Kobra’s comics in their hand. Kobra himself is holding Grace, pointing out random things out the window and telling her all about them.
They both look up at Party comes in. He smiles when he sees Jet following his request, probably not believing that they were going to listen and actually stay in bed.
“Sup,” Kobra says from the window, already back to showing Grace the desert.
She may be a baby but she’s seen plenty of desert already in her life. They don’t bring that up though, just watching Kobra with her makes their heart flutter with warmth.
“Mornin’,” Party answers, setting down his bag on their bed and giving them a look of sympathy. “Sorry Jet, gotta clean it again. Without the stitches you’re gonna run a greater risk of infection for a couple of days.”

So, he cleans their stomach as Jet continues to read. This comic is old, predating the Wars, and it’s well worn. The pages are flimsy with age and use, no longer crisp and smooth. However, it’s evident that Kobra has taken very good care of this book, kept it safe for a long time.
“Whatcha readin’?”
Jet looks at Party from over the comic.
“Uh- somethin’ Kobra gave me. Ain’t sure what it’s called.”
“It’s one of yours, Party,” Kobra adds from across the room.
They let Party look at the comic after he packs the supplies back into his kit. His expression grows reminiscent as he runs his hands over the pages slowly.
“I didn’t know you still had it.”
“Yeah. Kept it hidden. Ghoul musta’ grabbed it on accident when we left cause I found it in my bag this morning.”
The brothers smile in unison, both very likely relieving some old, fond memory.
Party passes the comic back to them a moment later, telling them to be gentle with it.
“So, Jet,” Party starts, seriousness returning. “How’re you feeling this morning?”
“Honestly?” He nods.“Sore as hell.”
Party cracks a grin at that but continues with his questions. At the change of topic, Kobra sets Grace down and walks closer, listening in.
“Any times yet today when you’ve felt your heart get fast again?”
“Yeah. Now that I’m looking for it, whenever I stand I get lightheaded for a moment and I can sometimes hear my heartbeat for a few seconds.”
Party nods,thinking it over.
“There’s gotta be a cause of it, and I plan on figuring it out,” they notice Kobra roll his eyes at that. A question for another time as Party continues.
“But for now, you’re off of bed rest but I want you taking it easy okay? I know I’m being sorta controlling but you mean a lot to me Jet, and I really don’t want to see something bad come of this because I let you take off sprinting through the desert with a weak heart.”
They laugh, they can’t help it.
Jet does agree though, Party’s shoulders sagging a little in relief.
“Alright. Mandatory meetin’ in the diner in thirty.”
“Everything okay?” Kobra questions, noticing the hint of something else in his brother’s tone.
“Yeah- just, I’ll tell you all once we get downstairs okay?”
_____________________________________________________________
Thirty minutes later, Jet follows Kobra downstairs.
Instantly they notice something is off.
For one, it’s way too quiet.
There’s no noise, nothing, not even the constant sound of Ghoul doing Witch knows what in the background. Actually, now that they look around, they can’t see Ghoul anywhere.
Wasn’t this supposed to be a mandatory meeting?
Jet watches Party, hoping to gain some sort of clue as to what’s going on.
He sits across from them in what used to be their booth. Kobra sits beside Party, a space between them because this day is already setting up to be a scorcher.
Ghoul is still suspiciously not here.
The only indication as to what Party wants to talk about is the radio that sits on the table in front of them. It’s turned on but the volume looks to be all the way down.
Thankfully, Kobra looks as lost as Jet currently feels.
After a while, Party takes a deep breath.
“So. First order of business, that stranger who tried to turn Kobra in.”
Kobra instantly looks down, fiddling with something under the table.
“Whatta ‘bout him?” Kobra asks without looking up.
“Ghoul’s currently holding him at gunpoint.”
“What?” both Jet and Kobra ask at once.
“He woke up a couple of hours ago,” Party explains with a shrug.
“And?”
“And he said some shit about Kobra and I had to stop Ghoul from beating him to death.”
At that, Kobra seems to pause. He thinks for a few moments before asking his next question.
“What did he say?”
“You really want to know?”
Kobra nods, even though Jet really would rather not want to hear what he said about him. If it was bad enough for Ghoul to want to kill him over…
“Basically that he wishes he wasn’t as drunk as he was cause he’d have, and I quote, ‘made that scrawny twink ass mine.’ Ghoul broke his nose shortly after that.”
“You’re way to calm about this,” Jet states, confused as to how Party can be so nonchalant when talking about this perv.
“Eh. Kobra’s safe as can be because Ghoul can and very likely will shoot his ass if he tries anything.”
“Can confirm,” Kobra adds.
“Okay… so what are we gonna do?”
“That’s why we’re here. Or at least part of why. Do we kill him, scare the shit out of him and then let him run off back home, or mysterious option three that I’ve yet to come up with?”
“I can guess Ghoul’s vote,” Kobra says with a smirk. “I personally, since it’s literally my ass on the line, vote we beat the shit out of him and let the sand decide his fate.”
“I can get behind that. Jet?”
“Yeah, that works,” they answer with a sharp nod.
The hell is wrong with the dude? Not only have Party and the others saved his life, after he tried to kill/turn in Kobra no less, but they let him recover in their base?! You’d have to be stupid to start shit like he just did.
Jet wonders if Ghoul will let them get in any punches? They’d certainly like to release some anger by beating up a creepy, tratorious perv like this guy.
“Okay, cool,” Party continues. “Next order, Doctor Death.”
“What about him?” asks Kobra as he rolls his sleeves up.
Yeah, it’s really getting hot now. But it’s not the normal heat though, the air is almost thick with it. Jet feels like there’s a layer of sticky clinging to their skin. There’s that distinct smell of acid rain lingering and they have a feeling that this is a precursor to another storm.
“You said he’s gotta fuck ton of supplies right outta the City, right? Well, he’s our best bet in tradin’ then. We’re running low on damn near everything. I’m gonna try and see what we can scrounge up to trade becuase we got fuck all in carbons.”
“Sorry,” Jet apologizes quietly.
If they hadn’t taken in Jet and Grace, their supplies probably would have lasted a lot longer.
“Don’t be.”
That was Kobra. Jet glances up, finding that easy smile back on Kobra’s face. With how rarely he’d smiled when they’d first met him, seeing him like this -multiple times even this morning- makes the butterflies in their chest go haywire. They want to do anything and everything to get that smile to return.
“Seriously,” Party adds. “We don’t mind at all, just gotta make some accommodations is all. Now, Kobra, you have Doc’s frequency right?”
Kobra agrees sheepishly, flashes of guilt returning.
“Perfect. Can you contact him for us, tell ‘im we need to trade and that we finally ran into Korse?”
“Yeah, yeah I can do that.”
Jet watches Kobra nervously dial the radio until he finds Doctor Death’s personal frequency. The one he normally broadcasts to is one way, meaning they can hear him but he can’t hear them. It’s safer that way but inconvenient in times like this.
“K. Calling out.”
The reply is instant, almost like Doctor Death has been waiting on Kobra. Yet, the voice on the other end is very much not the DJ they know. This voice is softer, younger.
“You’re in deep shit K.”
Kobra huffs out a laugh, seemingly relieved. Jet and Party share a look, both are confused.
“Yeah. Yeah I know. Look, can I talk to the Doc?”
“I dunno man, he’s busy.”
“S, I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important. Please just put me on.”
“He’ll have my ass for it if it’s not.”
“I know,” Kobra says, finally meeting Jet’s confused gaze.
He just flashes them a smile as they wait.
Jet mouths ‘who was that?’ to which Kobra replies, ‘later’.
Great, that was super helpful.
Then the radio crackles back to life.
“About damn time son.”
That’s Doctor Death, Jet’s honestly a little surprised. They’ve never heard him outside of his broadcasts. This version of him isn’t different exactly but it’s less dramatized, less for show.
“I know. A lotta shit’s went down since I called last. I ended up comin’ clean,” Kobra tells him.
“Was anyone a snitch?”
“No. Not really,” he looks over to Jet. “But there was an ‘unwilling bait’ situation. Korse found us yesterday.”
“Shit. Ya’ll make it out alright?”
“Yeah. But I gotta favor to ask you.”
“What is it?”
Doc sounds skeptical, like he’s dealt with ‘joys who ask for too much before.
“Willing to trade with us? We recently acquired a coulple’a new souls and we’ve found ourselves runnin’ low.”
“I don’t give freebies,” Doc warns, though his tone holds no malice.
“I know. We’re prepared to trade, just ain’t got any cash.”
“That’s fine. You know where I am.”
And just like that, the conversation is over.
“Wait,” Jet asks, just to make sure they’re on the same page as everyone else. “We’re going to see Doctor Death?”
“Looks like it,” Kobra tells them, sinking down in his seat dejectedly.
“C’mon. Lets deal with Val first.”
The name is unfamiliar…
“Who?” Kobra asks Party.
“The fucker who’s currently probably shitting himself at the sight of all four-foot-eleven of Ghoul, Val Velocity.”

Chapter Text

Val Velocity...
Now, Jet’s been traveling the desert their entire life. Because of that, they know personally a lot of people and have at least met a great deal more.
They know most of the big names. The runners who can be trusted the most, the rebels you can count on to not rob you of everything you own but instead will gladly get you out of a tight spot.
Even despite Jet having never met Doctor Death, their Ma had. Hell, they’d heard whispers about Kobra and Party for years. Two, seemingly new, Killjoys choosing to help their fellow rebels out of sheer goodwill and as a big middle finger to Better Living, made word travel pretty fast.

The point is, that being part of a nomadic crew meant you know names. And yeah, they know a lot of people, but, Val Velocity is not a name they know.
“Who’s that?” Kobra grumbles.
He’s still slouched over in his seat, his face neutral but Jet has a feeling that this whole situation is affecting him more than he’s letting on.
“Dunno. He’s not new, I don’t think. Ain’t a City Rat for sure, at least if he is he can hide the accent pretty damn well,” Party tells the two of them with a shrug.
“Kay. We gonna do this or what?”
Party nods sharply and slides out of the booth, Kobra following a moment later. Taking their time, Jet also scoots out and stands. They must take longer than they meant to, because Party stays back. He watches them carefully, clearly trying to decide how they’re doing.
“Hey, I meant to ask earlier, but, you doin’ alright?” he asks gently.
“Yeah. I’m good, barely sore.”
“No, I mean I’m glad you’re healing and shit but-” Party pushes his hair back, taking a deep breath. “You just had a lot dropped on you yesterday and you just-”
“I look like shit.”
He looks a little shocked by their interruption, the rest of whatever he was saying dying out as he breathes out a sharp exhale.
“Yeah, I know. I told you, I’m fine.”
They leave him standing there and then they pass Kobra just outside of the front door. Blinking through the change of lighting, Jet tries to keep their thoughts as blank as possible.
“What’d he want?” Kobra asks behind them but they keep walking.
Party comes out a moment later, thankfully walking fast enough to where he overtakes their stride. Or well- their shuffle.
They’re getting sick of being so sore all the time.
Even so, Jet follows Party, only a step or two behind him, as they walk around the right side of the building. Their attention is caught for a moment on the Drac cars that remain parked in front of the diner.
The Dracs lay where they fell.
It’s an eerie sight and Jet has to look away after just a moment.
As the dead Dracs fall behind them now, Jet can’t help but wonder if one of them is the one who killed their Ma. Is the one who shot them.
Attention back on walking, because the sun is literally burning them alive- holy shit- they find themself trying to hide how heavy they’re breathing. Jet’s not sure if it’s from the heat, their anger, or their wound, but they do know they don’t want to let the others in on how much they’re struggling.
They wipe the sweat that’s beginning to fall into their eyes with the back of their hand.
The air outside is somehow more sticky than it was inside and even with their experience with the heat, this is miserable. And yet, the sky remains a bright, clear blue. No storms or clouds in sight. They can practically taste the acidity in the air.
Already they can’t wait to go back inside, at least in there there wasn’t any sun.
Finally, they round the other side of the building - seriously, how big is this building? It most definitely did not feel this big on the inside- and their eyes land on Ghoul. And- oh. There’s another building apparently, much smaller than the diner, sitting just a few feet away.
Ghoul’s currently leaning with his shoulder against a wall while he keeps his eyes trained on the person kneeling at his feet. Half of Ghoul is in the shade provided by the extended bits of roof, the other side of him in the sun. It casts odd shadows over his face, the loathing expression on his face cut in half by the shade. It’s mildly terrifying. This is way different than the Ghoul they were talking to last night, than the kid they heard singing this morning.

Jet purposefully pushes those thoughts down even as their gut twists painfully in memory. Rather than go through yet another break down this morning, they turn their attention to the kneeling form of Val Velocity.
He’s literally in the sand and is absolutely filthy, blood and dirt caking to his face. Jet can see him grinning though, teeth bared and stark against the rest of him.
There’s blood pouring out of Val’s nose but his biggest problem is Ghoul’s blaster, pressed tightly against his temple.
“I’m just saying’ we could share if you’re that hung up over it,” Val finishes as the three of them come to a stop in front of Ghoul.
“Fun Ghoul.”
Ghoul jerks his chin up sharply at Party’s greeting but doesn’t look away from Val.
“Ah. The famous brothers at last. Ya know, they say that both of you in one place is a bad omen,” Val smirks at them, seemingly uncaring about the state of his face.
Or the blaster.
And yeah, up close like this, Jet can tell that his nose is very,very broken. Also, his voice is nasally and his nose is literally bent so badly that it almost is resting against his cheek.
“I was just tellin’ Ghoulie here that since he’s so hung up on me wanting a piece of Kobra’s tight, tight little ass, that I’d be more than willin’ ‘t share. I mean I’m sure Kobra could handle two-”
Ghoul is swinging even before Val can finish his thought. His fist connects sharply with the other man’s jaw, the force of it making Val’s head jerk
violently to the side. Jet watches him spit his own blood into the sand as Ghoul shakes his hand out. The blaster returns to its spot against his head the moment Val straightens back up.
“Thanks,” Kobra tells Ghoul.
“Fuckin’ gladly.”
“Val,” Party starts, tone calm but authoritative. “You better have a damn good reason for singling Kobra out.”
“What’d ya mean?”
He’s clearly playing innocent, though Jet has no clue why. No one else could be the one who tried to turn Kobra in, nor is there any way he could talk his way out of the comments he’d just made.
So he must be doing it just to toy with them, just for fun.
And just like that, their frustration morphs into something else as Val makes Jet’s blood boil.
Maybe it’s the arrogance, the glint in his eye that tells that he knows that he’s guilty, even as he flashes confusion up at them all. It makes Jet sick.
“Is it really my fault? I mean, have you ever even looked at him?”
Nevermind the fact that it’s Party’s brother that Val is referring to, the implications in his tone only fuel the fire inside of Jet.
“You make one more comment about my ass and I’ll let Fun Ghoul shoot you,” Kobra threatens venomously.
At this, Val actually shrinks a little, his smug expression falling. Just barely, Jet notices Ghoul’s lip twitch in a concealed smirk.
He’s actually scared of Ghoul- and for good reason it seems- but is hiding it well. So far anyway.
“Fine, ” Val grits out, the phrase seeming painful for him to speak.
“Good. Now, why did you single Kobra out at the bar?”
“Keep in mind,” Ghoul says lowly, “ make one more comment like you did earlier and you’re mine.”
Val gulps but nods his head.
Ghoul releases some of the pressure on his gun, no longer digging it into Val’s head. It remains just a few inches from his skin, still deadly range.
“I do what I gotta do okay? And I mean, have you seen the bounty on your heads? You’re worth enough for someone like me to be set for a long ass time.”
He spits again, grimacing. This is the first time he’s shown the pain he must be in but Jet holds no sympathy.
“And you’re prepared to sell out a fellow rebel for a few carbons?” Party presses.
“I’m starvin’ man. Look, I was drunk and dumb. I probably wouldn't try it again if I were sober so- so you should just let me go. Really, I think we’ve drug this on long enough.”
“You tried to crash your car into his parked one,” Ghoul interjects roughly. “With him still inside.”
“Again. Drunk. Listen, so was he. I mean if he hadn’t have come onto me we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.”
“What?” Party asks slowly, eyes daring Val to lie.
“What? Oh- little Kobra didn’t tell you that bit? Yeah, he came onto me first. It ain’t all my fault assholes!”
Ghoul punches him again, hard, and this time he has to turn Val’s head back to face them again. Honestly, the other ‘joy looks really dazed and Jet remembers that Party had mentioned that he’d had a possible concussion the other day.
As angry as they are, that thought brings them back down. Taking a deep breath, they exhale slowly, attempting to push out the anger still burning inside of them. As pissed as they are, they don’t want to kill this dude.
“Kobra?”
Party turns to Kobra, waiting on him to explain. Form the look Kobra has on his face though, he doesn’t remember.
“I-I- don’t know. I can’t- it’s all a blur…”
Jet’s chest constricts with that. Had Kobra really been at the bar to hook up with someone, to forget about the shit back home long enough for a quick fuck?
They shake that thought from their head. Jet can’t think on that, can’t follow down where that pain leads because it will inevitably end in only more pain.
“But, I’m almost certain that- I- I mean I wasn’t there to do that. I just wanted to drink, not go home with anyone,” Kobra finishes quietly.
“How sure?”
“Like 80 percent? I don’t fucking remember Party!”
He’s clearly frustrated but not at Party. Jet understands, this whole thing is just fuckin’ stressful in every way.
“I ain’t yer type or somethin’,” Val pipes up.
He looks really dazed, eyes closed to near slits even as the grin plastered on his face remains.
“No. Not in the slightest,” Kobra tells him furiously.
“Okay fine. You caught me.”
They wait on him to elaborate. Surely he wouldn’t just flat out lie like that just for kicks? He’s not that dumb.
“I came onto him. But wouldn’t that be a story and’a half? Famous brother begs to be fucked by random stranger in a bar! I can see the headlines now.”
Ghoul just barely moves, ready to hit him again, however Party stops him.
“Wait,” he says. “You hit ‘im anymore and his brain’s gonna be mush.”
“Serves him right.”
“Ghoul,” Party says more forcefully and at that Ghoul does lower his hand. Then, Party addresses Val once again. “One more chance.”
One more opportunity for Val to give a valid reason for what he did/tried to do. Or at the least, apologize. Somehow, Jet doesn't think either of those things are going to happen any time soon.
“You’d think The Kobra Kid would be able to fight his own battles, wouldn’t ya?”
For a moment, the tension in the air is so think that it’s almost as suffocating as the heat. No one speaks, no one even moves as Jet waits for Party to let Ghoul have his way. They’re just waiting on the bright laser beam to pass right through Val’s head.
“You think this is a battle?” Kobra says at last.
He seems emotionless on the surface, bored. Jet knows however, that he’s beyond pissed.
“Oh honey, you ain’t seen nothing I got yet. You get that fuckin’ gremlin to get its gun outta my face and I’ll show you exactly what I’m capable of, angel.”
The next punch comes from Jet.
They’re swinging before they even realize it, fist connecting to Val’s cheek not even a second after he finishes talking. He slumps, no one making a move to catch him as he falls into the sand face first. Somehow he’s still conscious but finally seems to be able to keep his mouth shut. Took him long enough.

Jet on the other hand is feeling fantastic.
The fucker deserves this because- seriously- who the hell talks to other people like that? Actually, better yet, who tries to sell a person for money?
“Jet,” Party warns, though he’s smirking. “Now we gotta wait on ‘im to wake up again.”
“Still- “ Val coughs, groaning a little after. “Still awake fuck faces.”
They look down at Val. One cheek is pressed into the sand, the other -the one they hit, Jet realizes- is already bruising. So are the places where Ghoul hit. His nose is still bleeding but he’s glaring up at them through glossy eyes.
“Damn. Can’t fucking get rid of ya,” Kobra deadpans.
“Is there a goddamn point to this or are you just doin’ it for kicks?”
“Mostly this is payback but it’s fun for us too,” Party tells him, his hip stuck out and everything.
Val groans, pushing himself up off of the sand. He doesn’t try to stand but his injured leg is stretched out at an odd angle from his body. And-yeah- he’s got bruises forming all over his face. Even Val’s short, blond hair has a red tainting to it from his own blood.
To Jet’s surprise, Ghoul doesn’t press his gun against his head again. He keeps it close but his finger isn't even on the trigger anymore.
“And uh- when is this fun gonna end? I think I’ve more than made up for the mistakes I made when I was drunk.”
Something unreadable passes over Party’s face but it’s gone so quickly Jet isn’t sure if it was even there at all.
“We can be done here,” Party begins, Val breathing out a loud sigh of relief. “If, and I mean if, you start walkin’. If I ever see you again, or if anyone in my crew sees you again, we will not be so generous. Understood?”
Val stares up at Party for a few long moments, dragging it out so much that Jet begins to think he’s going to argue.
After punching the shit out of him, the adrenaline that comes with that sort of anger is fading from them. Jet’s aware once again of the sun beating down on them mercilessly. They are also realizing that punching people hurts, their right hand throbs painfully.
Aware of how miserable the heat is right now- and it can’t be later than like 10 or 11 in the morning!- Jet wishes this would go faster.
Yeah, they’re glad that Val is being forced to own up to the shit he did but- but it’s just-
-god why is it so hot?-
They blink, trying to focus back on their train of thought, only to find a fuzzy blank in their mind. Great, perfect.
Jet wipes the sweat from their face and does their best to tune back into the conversation.
“Fine. Fine, I’ll go,” Val says, holding his hands up in surrender.
That feels fake. Jet doesn’t believe that he’s learned his lesson, not in the slightest.
“Up,” Ghoul commands waving his gun but not pointing it.
Val listens instantly.
His leg must not be broken, just fractured or badly bruised, because he’s able to put weight on it. The grimace of pain on Val’s face is enough to tell them that he’s struggling though.
“Here. Catch!”
Party chucks something at Val and he manages to catch it by some miracle. As he turns it over in his hands, looking back up at Party for confirmation, Jet realizes that it's a canteen of water.
“Move it!” Ghoul says, pushing Val into a walk.
He stumbles but catches himself. Then, Val begins to walk- or more like limp- away. He pauses after a few steps, turning back to face them..
Val starts like he’s going to say something else but backs down before he does so. He wipes the blood off of his face with the back of his sleeve, only really succeeding in smearing it. Then he turns and starts walking again.
The four of them stand there until he’s just a little dot in the distance.
Ghoul moves first, falling down into the sand with a thud and a groan.
“Fucking Christ it’s hot as hell!”
Jet watches him fan himself for a minute.
“After all of that and that’s the first thing you say?” Party teases, clearly amused.
“Well it is! C’mon it’s still early and the heat’s already horrible. You guys ain’t been out here all damn morning now have you?”
Party laughs but Jet isn’t really listening to their playful bickering anymore.
Kobra is still watching the horizon and hasn’t moved from his spot.
“Kobra?”
“Yeah?”
It’s more of a breath than a word.
“He’s gone.”
Then, Kobra finally turns to them. He’s got sunglasses on, something Jet only is just noticing, and they can’t see his eyes. Which sucks because his eyes are beautiful and not being able to see them through the sunglasses is a crime.
But they know he’s looking at them.
“I know,” Kobra pauses, going quiet long enough for Jet to think that he didn’t want to keep talking. “How’s your hand?”
“Oh so I punch the fucker like eight times and no one asks about my hand!” Ghoul yells behind them.
The kid they were talking to last night has resurfaced apparently.
Jet looks over, finding Ghoul sitting cross-legged with his back against the wall. He looks his age again.
He has clearly been in the sun all morning, just like he’d said earlier, and they sorta want to insist they all go inside for a little while. Ghoul could probably do with some shade and water.
But, what makes his statement ironic, is that Party is currently inspecting his hand right at this very moment. Even Party looks up at Ghoul and sighs deeply, rolling his eyes.
“Quit bein’ dramatic. I’m literally looking at your hand right now, dumbfuck.”
“Oh, you gonna kiss it better?” Ghoul teases.
That’s when Jet looks away, back to Kobra. He’s watching them, they realize, waiting on their answer.
Holding their right hand out for him to look at, they shrug.
“Not bad. Ghoul’s right, I only hit ‘im once.”
Their hand is only a little red at the knuckles, it might not even bruise.
“But you knocked the fuck outta him. I’m sorta proud, didn’t know you were a puncher,” Kobra tells them with a laugh.
That’s the thing. They’ve never actually punched anyone before, never felt the urge to. But the way Val was talking about Kobra just ignited something in them. They’d been pissed and at the time it seemed the best answer. The anger has faded now though and they sorta feel bad for how dismissive they were of Party’s concern earlier.
“You alright?” Kobra asks them.
“Yeah, my hand barely even hurts.”
Which is the truth. They must still be going off of adrenaline or something because there’s just a dull throb along their knuckles, nothing bad.
“No. I mean, you’ve gone sorta pale. Actually, scratch that, I think we should go back in,” Kobra says, taking their left hand and leading them inside.
“We’ll follow in a minute,” Party calls as he turns Ghoul’s hand over.
They stumble as Kobra pulls them along. He walks a little too fast and they’re out of breath by the time they make it back inside.
The air is definitely cooler inside but only slightly. Jet doesn’t have time to appreciate the cooler temperature as Kobra is already pushing them to the bar and telling them to sit.
They’re really out of breath now, head growing a bit dizzy. Their heartbeat sounds in their ears and they remember Party telling them to take it easy.
While Jet hadn’t sprinted though the desert like Party had teased, they had speed walked in above average temperatures and were currently paying the price.
Laying their head down on the counter, which is amazingly cool against their skin, and using their arms as pillows, Jet tries to relax. They’re beginning to feel faint and the pounding in their ears makes it difficult to hear whatever Kobra just told them.
But he goes back into the kitchen as soon as he says it and they can’t ask him to repeat.
So, Jet focuses on breathing.
They ignore the sweat pouring off of them, the way their mouth feels entirely too dry, and just breathe.
“Hey- oh my god, are you okay?”
Kobra sounds distant, sorta far away, but Jet doesn’t lift their head to figure out where he is. They’re breathing more easily but they still feel drained. Being in the sun has sapped their strength it seems.
“Hey,” Kobra’s hand touches their back gently. “Hey, you with me?”
“Yeah.”
It comes out as more of a groan.
“What’s wrong? Do I need to get Party?”
“No,” Jet is quick to assure him. “Sun’s gettin’ to me is all.”
Their voice is muffled by the counter and their arms, making everything they say sound even more mumbled than it probably already is.
“Shit.”
He checks their pulse then, catching on to what they’re trying to convey in the fewest breaths possible.
Kobra’s fingers against their neck is somehow far more intimate than Party’s. As he presses gently, Jet has to fight back a shiver that runs through them. They want to lean into his touch but they force themself not to. Not with the persistent light headed feeling and the way they want to sink into this stool and never move again.
“It’s definitely up. Why didn’t you say something?”
“Wasn’t bad until we started walkin’ back,” they explain simply.
“Do you just feel out of breath?”
“Mmhm. I’m tired.”
They could probably fall asleep right here…
“Jet,” Kobra’s voice is urgent all of a sudden and they find themself turning their head and blinking up at him. “You can nap in a minute but not on the bar stool. You gotta to eat something first.”
They really, really don’t want to. That sounds like entirely too much effort but Korba’s looking at them with so much concern in his eyes- when had he gotten rid of the sunglasses?- that they nod their agreement. He relaxes and produces a plate from somewhere, setting it down in front of them.
“Eat. I’ll go grab some water.”
As Kobra walks back into the kitchen area, Jet finally pushes themself up and stares down into the plate of dog food in front of them.
They dig in, all at once too hungry to complain or even think twice. The food is nearly gone by the time Kobra returns, a small water bottle in hand. He chuckles but hands them the open bottle all the same.
After they’re done, Jet finally doesn’t feel on the verge of passing out. They’re still drained though, can’t wait to lay down.
As they push the empty plate to the side, Kobra sits down beside them. He sighs, twisting to face them.
“Thank you.”
“For what?” they ask.
“Taking up for me like that. That dude was all kinds of gross and I’m glad you knocked the crap outta him.”
“I’m pretty sure Ghoul did more damage than me.”
Kobra laughs a little, tension leaving him as he gives them an easy smile. Butterflies erupt in their stomach and for once, they don’t fight it.
“Maybe but I’m still glad you were there. Just- thank you.”
“Any time.”
They’re close again, Kobra’s body only a few inches from theirs. He’s almost leaning towards them, like any distance between them is too much.
“I uh-” Kobra whispers and Jet’s eyes find his lips, “Um. You should probably go upstairs and rest.”
Jet blinks, not expecting that to be what Kobra says right now. Because seriously?
They're slowly realizing that whatever they’re feeling for him, whatever this feeling in their chest whenever he’s nearby, is, it’s definitely not a platonic thing.
They can’t help but want to see just how soft his lips are, to feel how his body feels pressed against theirs. Not necessarily in a sexual way or anything, just out of the want, the need, to be close to him.
But Kobra seems oblivious, or at least hiding it extremely well.
They agree all the same, letting him help them up. Standing on shaky legs, Kobra guides Jet up the stairs.
________________________________________________________________

Jet is supposed to be napping.
Kobra knows for a fact that they’re exhausted from the heat and they really need to rest for a little while. However, after helping them back to their room, the two of them found themselves unwilling to actually rest.
Well, now that’s not true exactly. They’re not like dancing around or running through the halls or anything. Jet is currently laying on top of their bed, eyes closed and relaxed.
Meanwhile, Kobra is sitting on the edge of the bed, Grace in his arms. They’ve been talking for a while, Kobra just asking random questions about life as a desert born and Jet answering as best they can.
“So how old will she be when she’ll get to pick her rebel name?” Kobra asks.
He watches Jet’s lips pull into a soft smile. They don’t open their eyes but he knows they’re not asleep. They’re thinking, reminiscing.
“Traditionally it’s five years old. That’s when I picked mine anyway.”
“And everyone just calls you by your real name until then?”
That hardly seems safe to Kobra. There may not be that many people in the desert but still, five years going by one name means a lot of people would know it.
“You only really tell those in your crew or people who are close to your parents,” Jet explains, “So, for me, only my Ma and my crew knew my real name.”
“You guys traveled a lot right?”
Jet hums in agreement, one hand moving up to absently play with their hair. It takes considerable concentration for Kobra to remember his question and not file his own fingers through their hair instead. It looks so soft and he longs to touch it.
“So how would your Ma introduce you to people before you picked a name?”
“She kept me sorta hidden, just for safety, but if she had to, I was just ‘kid’.”
“Huh. That’s sorta weird…”
“I never thought twice about it really.”
Kobra looks down at Grace, noticing how similar her features are to her sibling. They both have those soft eyes, the round face, and, of course, the curly hair. Grace’s is long for her age, maybe a few inches, while Jet’s is past their shoulders. It’s bound to be uncomfortable in heat like this. Kobra would never want them to get rid of it or cut it though. That feels like a crime to even think of it.

“What made you pick the name you have?”
If Jet asks him to drop it, he will. This one is edging on extremely personal grounds and Kobra doesn’t want to pry. But he’s curious and he also doesn’t want this conversation with Jet to end so soon.
“It’s sorta a cool story actually,” they start, opening their eyes and sitting up. He notices them hold their stomach protective but pain doesn’t make an appearance on their face so he does his best not to worry.
“I’ve always enjoyed looking up at the sky, especially at night. There’s just something about laying in the sand, feeling the chill of the air in your bones as you stare up at the never ending lights and darkness above you. I know the names of all of the constellations, all of the planets, and when the best times to see them are. But, when I was little, my Ma would lay out with me. We’d sleep under the stars sometimes and just name as many as we could. It was like a bedtime story for me I guess.
“But about a month before my fifth birthday, I was watching the sky like always. That night, I dunno, I just had a sorta feeling that something was going to happen. I was waiting for it, even though I didn’t know what I was waiting for exactly. Then I saw it, this huge shooting star. It was so bright, brighter than any I’d seen before, and it stuck with me.”
“Whoah.”
It’s all he can say. That’s so… pure. So completely Jet that it takes Kobra’s breath away. His chest is constricting but in a good way this time.
“Yeah…”
Kobra wishes it was nighttime so that he could sit out with Jet, naming the stars and bundled close together to keep the chill away. They could maybe set out a blanket, bring snacks or something, and lay out all night. They’d be pressed close against him, their head on his shoulder as they both look up…
“Kobra?”
He blinks, realizing that he’d gotten lost in the fantasy. Shit.
A blush rises to his cheeks and he looks down to Grace, simply for something to do. If he looks at Jet, he runs the risk of them noticing what’s going through his head.
“How uh,” they start anxiously. “How’d you get yours?”
Kobra feels a little bad for sorta ruining the mood of their conversation by thinking about things like that. Jet is a friend, who probably doesn’t even like him like that, and he should most definitely not be thinking about star gazing with them as a date.
He instead tries to focus on the conversation again, to push down how badly he wants that fantasy to be a reality. Kobra’s name origin isn’t exactly a feel good story like Jet’s. It’s not wholly bad but it’s still not stargazing and shooting stars.
“Well, about a few weeks after I left the City, I got sick. At the time, we didn’t think anything of it, but later I learned that it was the Zone flu. I was young, like 13 or 14, and I got lucky I guess because I pulled through. But I was really sick for a while, scared Party half to death. On one of the first few days were I felt actually human again, a snake managed to crawl up into my pants somehow. Party killed it but…”
“That’s how you got your name,” Jet finishes for him.
“Yeah. My brother named me.”
Then, they’re just smiling at each other with Kobra having no memory of how it started or how long. He’s just stuck in their gaze, pulled in by that look on their face.
He knows that they didn’t give their real names or anything but just this much information is still a big deal. If Kobra is honest, he’s a little surprised that Jet told him.
He’s reminded of earlier today, how much of Jet’s pain, their grief, they allowed him to see. Kobra had known of course that they were struggling with the death of their crew but Korse’s words seemed like the final push on the already weakened dam they’d built around those feelings.
Jet showed him a very vulnerable side of them, a very broken side, and he’s determined to not break this trust. He will do everything he can to help them, anything they need.
Looking at them right now, you wouldn’t be able to see the hurt lying just under the surface. They hide it well, worryingly well, behind gentle brown eyes and soft smiles. But Kobra can see a bit deeper, see the way they keep one hand hovering over their stomach while their eyes periodically find their sister. He remembers this morning, their words and the way they’d let him hold them up while they sobbed.
“Hey, I just wanted to say, I sorta didn’t get a chance to earlier but uh- thank you.”
“What for?” he asks, confused by what they mean.
“Saving me. If you hadn’t pushed me out of the way yesterday, I would’a died. So yeah, thank you.”
“Don’t worry about it, really don’t. I know you’d do the same for me.”
Jet looks at him for a long moment but doesn’t answer. They push themself up further, until they’re resting their back against the headboard.
Kobra is reminded of how drained they were earlier. Jet spent way too much time out in the sun today and they really should be resting right now. But isn’t that what they’re doing? They’re laying- or well, sitting- in bed and have had brunch so Kobra can’t find any reason to tell them to try and sleep. They probably should get a nap in, just to be safe, but, again, he doesn’t want this conversation to end.
“Can I tell you something?” Jet asks suddenly.
Kobra nods. Anything.
“Ghoul told me his name last night…”
By some miracle Kobra manages to keep the shock from showing on his face. But still, what the hell is with Ghoul and just telling people his name? Kobra gets that he’s new to all of this, but they’ve known Jet a literal week!
Then again, they seem like the least likely person to abuse that knowledge.
“But,” Jet continues, making Korba realize that this wasn’t their main point. “He also showed me the scars he has from getting shot. Our first night here he told me what happened and I just- I worry about him.”
“What do you mean? That was over a year ago, he’s all healed up now.”
“Physically maybe but I mean just in the time I've been here he’s hardly slept at all. Today, with Val, he looked exhausted.”
Kobra wants to point out that Ghoul had been standing in the sun for a good hour or so, probably punching Val on multiple occasions during that time. But he doesn't say that because Jet has a point. Ghoul doesn’t sleep and when he does it’s either for very short amount of time or it’s plagued with nightmares.
“Yeah. I know what you mean,” Kobra says instead.
“I just worry about him.”
“He’s stronger than you think. Ghoul acts tough, like today, and he is, but if something like that is really bothering him, he’d tell someone. My brother would probably be the first to know and you’ve seen how protective Party gets over him.”
“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.”
There’s a knock at the door, Party striding in a moment later. Ghoul is thankfully not with him, Kobra unsure how he’d be able to pretend like they weren’t just discussing his mental health or anything.
“Hey Kobes, Ghoul’s downstairs, says he wants to talk to you ‘bout somethin’. I dunno, but he was real adamant about it.”
Kobra nods, standing up and passing Grace to Jet.
“Have fun,” he tells them.
They roll their eyes but they’re smiling again as Kobra leaves.

Apparently, Kobra left Jet’s room to help Ghoul dispose of the bodies of the Dracs. He wants to use the cars for parts to trade and for making his bombs.
Seriously, Kobra left Jet for this shit?
But he says nothing and gets to work. Ghoul really does look tired, even though he’s cracking jokes and bitching about the heat.

 

_____________________________________________
“Alright!” Party says enthusiastically.
Jet just looks at him, completely confused as to why he’s in such a good mood. Sure, Kobra and their conversation was nice, more than nice really, but Jet still wouldn’t classify themself as being in a ‘good mood’.
Today held a lot of weight, from their shitty morning to the whole thing with Val. They’re just not feeling peppy right now.
Which is what makes it so strange to see Party so… bubbly.
“Okay?” they ask.
“You’re gettin’ a makeover!”
“I’m doing what now?”
He can’t be serious.
“You’ve laid up in bed all week and we’ve all had a bad day so, I’ve come up with a plan,” he tells them, waving his arms enthusiastically. “We gotta sort through all of the shit in these rooms anyway so while Kobra and Ghoul are doin’ their thing, we’re gonna find you some new clothes!”
“What’s wrong with what I have?”
Jet looks down, noticing their stained tank top and jeans. Both articles of clothing have definitely seen better days.
The shirt isn’t their’s, they don’t know where it came from but they’re assuming Party or one of the others gave it to them after their own was torn by the blast that’d nearly killed them. The jeans however, these are Jet’s. They’re not horribly sentimental about them, or at least they weren’t, but these are the last article of clothing they have from before the clap. Other than their jacket of course. It’s currently draped over one of the chairs in their room, Jet not having the heart to put it back on. It feels wrong to do so.
Still…
“Both of those are ripped to pieces dude and they’re covered in stains. You don’t gotta throw ‘em away but you at least need to change. C’mon, it’ll be fun.”
Party leans forward dramatically, practically beaming down at them. He’s got a hand on his hip, the other gesturing wildly as he speaks. The red of his hair is particularly bright in the mid-day light, the sun capturing the color and making it pop.
“I guess.”
He must take that as a shout of glee or something because the next moment he’s reaching a hand out to help them up. They take it, carefully standing. There’s a moment of pause, where Party’s good mood subsides as he watches them stand. After he realizes that they’re not about to like collapse or anything, the overly excited Party is back.
Party leads them down the hall and into another bedroom, talking the whole way. He tells them how he found some ‘wicked shirts’ in one of the drawers in his room. Grace giggles in their arms, seemingly enjoying this side of Party.
“Plus,” Party is still talking as they glance around one of the unclaimed bedrooms. It’s either gonna be Party’s or Ghoul’s but no one's things are in here yet. “I gotta try and find a new jacket. If I’m gonna be kicking Better Living’s ass I wanna look hot as fuck doin’ it.”
Jet giggles, sitting down on the bed to watch Party rummage through some drawers.
“I’m thinking something blue for me, to go with my hair ya know?”
They agree, even though blue and red don’t exactly go together.
“I got some lipstick I’ve been saving so I might actually use it when we go see Doc. I wanna make a good impression.”
“You have lipstick?” they find themself asking quietly.
Jet’s never worn lipstick, mostly just stuck to old tees and jeans, but for some reason they really want to try some.
“Hell yeah I do. It’s bright red, naturally.”
“Naturally,” Jet agrees, laughing a little.
Their mood lifts as they continue to watch Party. He mostly throws things on the floor but occasionally, when he finds something he likes or thinks would look good on them, he’ll throw it on the bed beside them. He’s, surprisingly, got good aim.
The pile on the floor is much bigger but Jet finds themself sorta excited to try on the clothes Party’s picked for them. Generally, they stick to neutral colors. They normally wear mostly blacks and greys but the color looks too good to not at least try on. Maybe some blue?
“Okay!” Party says, plopping down on the bed beside them. “ So, I think I’m gonna try on this stuff. You’re free to anything else you want and if you try something on I wanna see.”
They nod and he disappears out the door to change.
Looking down at the pile of clothes that Party didn’t take, Jet begins to rummage through them.
By the time Party’s returned, Jet still can’t decide on what they want to wear. It’s all so different and they’re not sure what their style really is if they’re honest. Some things are just too… feminine, like the cotton sundress that’s a beautiful shade of light blue. It’s gorgeous but not them.
Other things are just not practical, like the pajamas that Party put in the pile on the bed for some reason.
In other words, they’re completely lost when Party walks in.
They have to do a double take when he does though.
He’s swapped his faded jeans for a delicate grey skirt that comes down to just above his knee and the light grey shirt he had on before is tucked into a belt. There’s bright red lipstick on his lips too. His boots somehow go with the outfit and Jet is understandably in awe.
“Yeah?” he asks, doing a twirl.
“Hell yeah.”
“Nice! I’ve always wanted to wear a skirt, never had the chance until now,” he tells them, smiling down at himself.
And wow- this can’t be the first time he’s worn something like this. They way he’s holding himself is just too- too natural.
“No way. There’s no way you’ve never worn a skirt before.”
“Never have. That shit ain’t allowed in the City. They won’t even let you be gay there!”
“I’d die,” they tell him seriously.
Because yeah, just about Jet’s entire existence is against the City’s beliefs.
“Yeah. Don’t ever go there; it sucks.”
“Why do I feel like that’s an understatement?”
Party laughs, striding over to the bed and looking down at their pile.
“No winners?”
“No. None of it’s me.”
He nods wisely, then produces a hair tie from his wrist. After his hair is up, the look is complete. Party looks stunning to say the least. Jet can’t believe this is his first time dressing like this.
“Okay, so how ‘bout we mix and match?” he asks, looking up at them for conformation.
“What do you mean?”

So the next few hours are spent with Party instructing Jet to try on this ‘adorable top. C’mon it’s got sequences!’ and him telling them that ‘holy shit that does wonders for your ass!’
Jet laughs, each comment somehow sounding over the top and genuine at the same time. They do find things they like though. There’s a plain black shirt, with large, crossing rips up the side that they really like along with a brown, leather shirt as well. Jet claims both of those things.
Their search moves on to the next room.
Most of the things in here are Party’s size, him being tiny as hell, but Jet does find one thing that catches their eye. It’s a pair of leather pants, dark blue and exactly the right fit. They hug Jet’s waist perfectly and coupled with the black shirt, Jet is left staring at themself in the dirty mirror.
“Hell fucking yeah!” Party encourages behind them, giving two thumbs up.
“Yeah?”
“You look amazing dude!”
Their cheeks are beginning to hurt from smiling this much. And yeah, this outfit feels right. It feels like them. Only one thing is missing.
“You think my jacket would look good with this?” they ask Party curiously.
Jet does a spin in the mirror as Party thinks.
“Yeah. That’d be badass too! OH!,” he suddenly jumps up. “Here, try it with this!”
A small tube of lipstick is pressed into their hand. They look down at it, debating whether or not they wanna try it.
“I mean. You don’t have to, if it’s like- not your thing, but I was just thinking it’d look cool and all.”
Party seems toned down a bit, catching onto their hesitation.
Deciding fuck it, Jet uncaps the tube and turns back to the mirror. However, they soon realize they have no idea of how to put the lipstick on.
“Need some help?”
“Yes please?”
They hand him the tube, turning to face him.
When he’s done, Party hands them a random piece of clothing to get rid of the excess lipstick. He’s grinning as he turns them around back into the mirror.
And- wow- holy shit. Red is so their color.
The bright red somehow stands beautifully with their tanned skin. It's the perfect addition.
“Lipstick I do have some experience with! Told you you’d rock it,” Party says behind them, his reflection looking at them proudly in the mirror. “Now, let's go blow Ghoul and Kobra’s minds!”

Chapter Text

Kobra grunts as he throws the last body down off of his shoulders. The pile of dead Dracs lay in front of him, all 15 of them. They’ve been working for a couple of hours now, cleaning up after the clap. Kobra tries to think of anything else than the corpses that he carries, the ones he helped to kill.
It’s hard to forget about that though, especially when the only other thing to focus on is the sun beating down relentlessly. Honestly, he can’t wait to go back inside. Rather than complain, because he knows it's no use, he turns to Ghoul.
“Ready?” he asks.
“Yep. Now we just gotta light it up and watch the show.”
He lets Ghoul do the honors, tossing an old Zippo lighter onto the bodies. They catch flame instantly, as all Dracs do. It’s hard to watch as the flame eats away at their clothes, at their masks. He turns away when it gets to their skin.

They’re not human, Kobra reminds himself. Maybe they were once but they are no longer people, just mindless bodies controlled by Better Living’s drugs. Very quickly the fire grows larger and they have to step back.

They stand and watch for just a few minutes longer, even though Ghoul’s smile doesn't make an appearance. Normally he’s grinning his head off whenever they get to light something on fire. Right now his face is blank, almost sad.
“Hey,” he begins, turning to Ghoul.
Ghoul looks at him for just a moment,very likely reading him.
“What’s wrong?”
He’s probably able to tell by Kobra’s voice that there’s something on his mind. It’s sorta odd.

Most of his life, his brother was the only one to be able to tell when something was bothering him. Kobra has a resting expression that makes it look like he hates everyone and everything. People normally assume he’s like a robot or something, or someone who is biter towards the world. But Party always knows what Kobra is thinking; it’s almost second nature to him. Ghoul on the other hand, well it’s a bit surprising that he’s able to read Kobra like this. But if the way Ghoul’s regarding him means anything, it’s that he knows something is on his mind.
Ghoul’s expression is almost concerned as he waits on Kobra to speak.
That’s another thing. He’s one of the few people who Kobra can have full conversations with by only saying a couple of words. Ghoul just picks up on what Kobra means without all of the filler that most people use.
He’s grateful for it. Trying to backtrack to explain something is annoying and makes Kobra hate people even more. Or well… certain people.
Shit. He’s getting off track.
Looking back at Ghoul, Kobra finds him waiting patiently. He really needs to say this, to show him how much he really appreciates Ghoul. Kobra honestly can’t imagine what he’d do without him.
“I just wanted to say sorry, officially. You’ve done so much for me, for Party, and I should never have doubted you.”
Ghoul gives him a gentle smile, turning back to face the fire once again.
“It’s already in the past dude. It was a hard situation and, all things considered, I think we got through it pretty well,” Ghoul tells him, attention solely on the burning fire once again.

And just like that, they’re okay.

After a few more moments, where they both watch the growing lames, Kobra wonders what he’s thinking.
“Ya know, I’m an only child. I never had what you and Poison have, that total trust and understanding. You two are amazing sometimes, the things you can do as a team and how well you know each other. I’ve always wanted a sibling, someone like that. When I found you two, I got as close as I’ll ever get. And yeah Poison and I are a different kinda relationship but you’re like a brother to me Kobra.”
Shit. Kobra has to fight hard against the tears pricking his eyes.
“You two gave me everything I didn’t have in the City. A life, a family, a purpose. Honestly, I don’t think anything could ever break that. Sure I was upset with you but I’ve never stopped caring about you.”
After Ghoul finishes, Kobra is stuck in silence. Something tells him that Ghoul understands, knows that he’s just unable to form his thoughts into words at the moment.
Kobra has a feeling that Ghoul knows he’s a brother to him too and Kobra would literally do anything for him.
“Let’s go back,” Kobra tells him.
And they do, leaving the fire behind them. They have to do this in the day so that it’s not a beacon for trouble but the flames make the air even hotter than before. Kobra peers up at the sun, looking at it sorta sideways to avoid going blind. He’s not that dumb.
How can something so small, so far away, make
him so miserable?
He thinks back to his conversation with Jet earlier, how they told him about their love of watching the sky. Kobra wonders if they enjoyed the daytime sky just as much.
“Hey. Uh, why do ya think they burn so easily?”
Kobra turns to Ghoul as he begins walking right beside him. He looks genuinely curious so, really, Kobra finds no harm in telling him.
“The shit the City pumps ‘em full of, to wipe their minds or whatever, it’s super flammable. Dracs have so much in them that it makes their skin light up like paper.”
“Oh.”
All at once, Ghoul’s curiosity is gone and he finds his boots very interesting. They pass the cars and Kobra gets an idea. A change of topic seems in order.
They’ve all had a pretty shit day so far and he knows that getting Ghoul to think about something other than the burning bodies behind them will increase his mood.
“Whatcha plannin’ on using the cars for?”
Kobra already has a good idea about the answer but he’s sure Ghoul will be more than willing to tell him about his plans.
“Huh?” Ghoul says, looking up at him confused.
So, understanding he was probably lost in thought, Kobra repeats himself.
“Oh. Uh I was thinkin’ I could use the batteries and shit for bombs. Poison said we needed shit to trade, though I dunno when we’re goin’ exactly, and so I figured it’d be better than just lettin’ them rust, ya know?”
“Makes sense,” Kobra pauses, stopping in front of one of the cars.
It’s all beat up, shot to hell, but relatively intact. He wonders how Ghoul’s going to make anything too useful out of it though.
“Also, we can siphon the gas for the generator and the car. That’s gonna be real fuckin’ fun; we’re gonna be tasting gasoline for weeks. Ya know, some people actually drink the stuff. I knew this guy-“
Ghoul starts talking a mile a minute, going into detail about someone he used to know. Kobra feels sorta bad for ignoring him, or at least tuning him out, but he’s currently too caught up in thinking.
Ghoul’s plan, with the gas and the batteries, it’s actually really freaking smart.
Okay, wow. That sounded like he thinks Ghoul is dumb or something, which is honestly not true in the slightest.
Ghoul is really smart, like scary smart. He can do some pretty hard math in his head like it’s nothing and he is a wizard with any type of science or chemistry stuff.
So his plan...
Yeah, it works.
They have to drive to Doc’s place soon, maybe as early as tomorrow, and they’ll definitely need the gas. The generator is also a good idea. With how much of the lights and things they’ve been using over the past few days, it’s bound to be running low.
“How long do you think it’ll take you to make the bombs?” Kobra cuts in during a brief pause in Ghoul’s story.
He pauses, arms mid gesture, and his face falls for a moment. Then he takes a glance around at the cars they’re standing next to, clearly thinking it through.
“Uh- depends really. I gotta see what typ’a batteries these are and then find the right pieces and shit ya know?”
No, Kobra doesn’t know. But he gets the main idea.
Ghoul then goes over to one of the cars, the one Kobra had stopped in front of, and pops the hood. Inside is full of all of those car things that he has no idea the name for. He’s really only partially sure he could point out the engine.
But Ghoul looks for a long time, engrossed in whatever devious plans are forming in his head.
If they let him go unsupervised with all of this stuff, he’d probably blow a hole in the sand 10 foot deep in about five minutes. Kobra’s speaking from experience on that one.
“So, what, if you start now, you think they’ll be ready by sometime tomorrow?”
“Yeah. That sounds pretty reasonable. Why though? We leaving tomorrow to trade?”
“Yeah,” Kobra says with a shrug, “I feel like the sooner the better.”
“Well, I can get ‘em done in time. First though I’m goin’ inside and taking a break and you can kiss my ass if you think otherwise.”
He laughs, watching Ghoul slam the hood down.
“No thanks, dude. I know for a fact you ain’t showered in fuckin’ months!”
“Hey!” Ghoul gasps dramatically, like he’s actually offended.
He does pull off his shirt though, exposing his very sweaty, naked chest to Kobra. Doing his best not to stare at the old scars covering Ghoul’s bare skin, he tries to look disgusted.
“Jesus dude. Put that shit away!”
“Fuck off! I’m hot as fuck!”
Kobra flips him off even as they both chuckle at the pun. As they start walking back inside again, Ghoul twists his shirt and throws it around his neck. He’s not sure what the purpose of that is but-eh he’s learned better than to question the weird shit Ghoul does.
In the distance, there are clouds on the horizon. Kobra does a quick turn, catching the angle of the sun to figure out his directions. And yeah- he was right.
The clouds are over the City, dark and looming.
That’s odd. The City normally keeps their weather pretty mild but with how large the storm looks, it’s probably what is making their day so humid and miserable. Kobra just hopes the storm either passes in the night or steers clear of them entirely. He’d really rather not deal with another acid storm so soon. Especially not a fake one.

Opening the diner door and walking inside is like a breath of fresh air. There’s no air conditioning but the heat and humidity outside makes him all the more appreciative of the partially cooled room.
“Okay, I know I’m like new at this shit and all, but the desert isn’t supposed to be fuckin’ humid is it?” Ghoul complains behind him, closing the door.
He passes Kobra, making his way into the kitchen without waiting on him to answer. Plopping down on a bar stool, Kobra ignores Ghoul’s question and instead finds himself wondering where Jet is.
They’re probably upstairs, getting looked over by Party and taking it easy if he’s honest. He can’t forget how they punched Val, just fuckin’ socked him in the face with no warning. It was that same anger he’d seen in them during the shoot out with Korse.
Seeing Jet like that was sorta scary if thinks about it.
Normally, they’re so quiet and kind. Watching them get that mad, mad enough to shoot Korse and punch Val, makes worry twist in his stomach.
That sort of anger can be dangerous. It can consume you if you’re not careful.

But at the same time, cause he’s gay as hell, watching Jet be that badass was also really fuckin’ hot.
“You’ll never fucking belive what I found!” Ghoul calls from the kitchen, emerging a moment later.
He’s got something in his hands, what looks like a large, stout cylinder. It obviously held some kind of food, probably outdated. The label is too far away for him to read but the red bottom and black lid look so familiar to Kobra.
He just can’t figure out what it is.
“What is it?”
“Dude! It’s goddamn actual fuckin’ coffee!”
Ghoul’s nearly bouncing, thrusting his hands out so that Kobra can get a better look at the container.
“No fucking way!”
“I don’t know how I missed it before but this is the real shit too! It ain’t instant!” Ghoul exclaims, now opening the black, plastic lid to show Kobra the inside.
Sure enough, there’s ground coffee filling the container. It looks barely used and, from the smell wafting up from the container, most definitely not out of date.
Kobra hasn’t had coffee in literal years, like since he got out in the desert. He can barely remember the taste of it but he already can’t wait to try a cup. The heat of the day is all but forgotten as he longs to brew some, maybe even a whole pot. For sharing of course. He’s not that mean.
“Wait, do we even have a coffee pot?” he asks, now afraid that his caffeine dreams are about to be crushed.
He and Party used to drink it together, back in the City. Truthfully, Kobra was probably too young for that much caffeine but he can vividly remember how much his brother loved the stuff. He used to drink it all day whenever they had the money.
“Yeah, found one in the cabinet when I was looking the other day,” Ghoul tells him, carefully placing the lid back on.
Good. Better to preserve the freshness. It’d be a goddamn crime for it to go stale.
“Go get Poison,” Ghoul instructs him quickly, “I’ll go put on a pot!”
Kobra nods, ignoring the fact that Ghoul just told him what to do. He’s not childish enough to bicker about that. At least not now anyway, not when the possibility of caffeine is so close.

Right as he stands, footsteps sound on the stairs. He turns, watching two pairs of boots step down and into view. Instantly, he recognizes Party, just from those well worn boots that his brother wears constantly. Then, as he steps down, Kobra is able to see Jet’s boots as well.
And then he’s left standing in awe.
Really, Kobra can’t pick which one of them to focus on because his mind is a torrent of- holy shit!- only broken by the question of ‘what the hell were they doing up there?’
The swinging doors to the kitchen creak as Ghoul goes through them, apparently not noticing Party or Jet.
But the two of them are all Kobra can concentrate on.
Kobra focuses on his brother first, the only thing he can do with his brain at a total standstill right now.
Party has on this delicate, rippled skirt that’s half tucked into a matching loose grey shirt. There’s a belt buckle poking from the front of the skirt, where the shirt rests behind. He’s also wearing lipstick as red as his hair and has a hand on his hip.
His brother looks good, even Kobra can acknowledge that, and if the look on his face means anything, he knows it too.
Finally, Kobra turns his attention to Jet.
And- whoa
Just whoa.
They’ve got on a pair of dark blue,leather pants, which are a very nice mix of tight but comfy looking, accompanied by a loose black shirt with rips crossing along the sides. The collar of their shirt is low, giving Kobra a rather nice look at their collarbones and that beautiful, tanned skin.
But what is truly pulling his attention is the lipstick carefully drawn across their lips. It’s the same color as the kind his brother is wearing but- not that he’d ever tell Party this- it suits Jet so much better. The shade of the red is stunning against their olive skin and Kobra is finding it hard to breathe as he doesn’t even fight the staring this time.

 

Jet’s looking down, cheeks blushed, while holding Party’s hand tightly. They’re nervous but Kobra has no idea why. They look absolutely amazing and the abrupt stop of all his conscious thoughts is absolute proof of it.
“I can smell the smoke from here Kobes,” Party teases, giving him a knowing smile.
Fuck.
He wipes the dumbstruck look off his face as best he can.
“You two look really good is all,” he says at last, face heating in a blush.
His brother just gives him a tiny, yet wildly grateful, smile, only barely telling of the nerves he was hiding as well.
“Thanks.”
Jet’s voice is whispered but Party gently guides them the rest of the way down the stairs without incident. The two of them stand in front of Kobra and does his best to remember to breathe.
Jet’s even more beautiful up close…
Even as their arms are crossed protectively across their chest, like they’re trying to hide. Actually it’s adorable the way they look so unsure. He suddenly has a million compliments right on the tip of his tongue. They deserve to know how amazing they look, how beautiful they are.
But he pauses, unsure if he should voice these thoughts or not.
“Okay, I’m gonna go make Ghoul’s head explode. Be right back!” Party says before strutting into the kitchen.
That leaves Kobra and Jet standing in the open, only a few steps apart. When had he started walking closer to them?
Jet’s still looking down nervously and Kobra’s urge to tell them just how stunning they are increases.
They’ve always been beautiful to him, even that first day as they laid in the sand, bleeding out. Maybe that was a weird thing to think but he can’t help it. But in the way their hair had lain, how their eyes had found his as they’d worried so much about their sister, it was not a day Kobra would ever forget.
Now though, the features that he’s noticed before are defined, accented, and it makes his heart flutter in his chest.
But how can he put that into words? Especially without sounding like a creep?
“I really like the new look.”
God, he’s hopeless isn’t he?
Somehow it works and Jet looks up at him, smiling shyly. They’re still hesitant but they uncross their arms at last. He watches their tanned skin, revealed by the rips in their shirt, along their sides as its partially hidden by their arms. His eyes linger on it, maybe a moment too long, before meeting their eyes.
“Thanks,” they say again, though this time it seems like they just might believe him.
There’s a pause, one where Kobra is trying to figure out what to say next. He wants to keep complimenting them but what if they take it the wrong way? He’s not entirely sure what the wrong way is but that only makes it more easy for him to do things that way if he doesn’t know to steer clear of it.
Kobra is aware he’s being a bit too anxious over this whole situation but his mind is still trying to recover from the whole shock of seeing Jet like this. It’s like all logic and reason have left his brain and the only thing left is that part of him hopelessly attracted to them.
Before he can find what to say next, a voice comes from the kitchen.
“Oh my god…”
It sounds borderline moaning and Kobra is about two seconds from grabbing Jet’s arm and sprinting them upstairs. Because seriously, don’t Ghoul and his brother know that they are like right fucking here?
“Why the hell don’t you wear this all the time?” Ghoul’s low voice asks a moment later.
“Ghoul, would ya shut up for a second. Is that actual coffee? Holy shit. Ghoul! No goddamn way!”
At that Kobra relaxes again, no longer a moment away from bolting and taking Jet with him.
“What the hell is going on in there?” Jet asks, looking behind him at the kitchen doors.
“Coffee apparently.”
“For a moment it sounded like…”
Jet’s face is red once again and Kobra is finding that entirely too attractive. He has to look away, too caught up in the pink dusting their cheeks.
“Yeah but it’s just coffee.”
“Why is your brother so excited over coffee?” they ask, following Kobra’s lead to sit back down on the bar stool.
The clatter of the kitchen sounds in the background, Party telling Ghoul to hurry up while Ghoul bitches lovingly about it. Every other word Ghoul says is a complement though, going from a neutral ‘wow’ to ‘you have no idea what I wanna do to you.”
Kobra ignores the rest of what Ghoul says, focusing on his conversation with Jet.
“We haven't had it in years.”
“Why?”
At that he turns to them. Jet has their face all scrunched up in confusion, eyes curious as they wait on him to answer.
“The real stuff is super expensive. I mean, we’ve had the instant kind a couple of times but it’s not the same ya know.”
Kobra shrugs, trying not to shiver at the thought of how nasty that instant shit tastes. It’s essentially bitter, brown water.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had coffee,” Jet tells him, “ never really been around the real stuff.”
He gasps and for a moment it looks like Jet is afraid he’s actually upset with them. But after they see Kobra’s smile they relax, glancing back into the kitchen as more noise comes from within.
“We’re gonna change that today. I’ll make sure Ghoul pours you a cup. Hang here for a sec.”
Kobra goes into the kitchen, trying to mentally prepare himself for whatever he’s about to walk in on.
Thankfully, by some fucking miracle, coffee is actually being made. However, it seems like Party got sick of Ghoul’s comments on his looks and is currently shutting him up by kissing the hell out of him.
The two are pressed against the wall and so caught up that they don’t hear Kobra come in. He clears his throat loudly, making Party nearly jump off of Ghoul. They’re both panting but Ghoul looks way too smug for having been caught.
Gross.
Kobra shakes that thought from his head.
“Seriously? You two couldn’t wait until the coffee was done?” he demands bitterly.
If it were anyone else, they’d think he was actually pissed off. But this is his brother and Ghoul so all he gets it too middle fingers and some eye rolls.
“The coffee is almost done,” Party says innocently.
His lipstick is all over his face, all over Ghoul’s face, and there is a very brief moment where Kobra wonders what Jet would look like with lipstick covering their face.
He shuts that thought down quickly.
“Which is a miracle. If you two would’a spilled it…”
“But we didn’t!” Ghoul interjects.
“Lucky for you.”
And ew, he’s still got his shirt off and Kobra can see even more lipstick covering his skin. God, do they have like- no goddamn decency?
“Ghoul, put your shirt back on,” Party says, picking up on Kobra’s internal stroke.
He approves of his brother and Ghoul’s relationship but that doesn’t mean he wants to see this side of it. Hand holding and small kisses are fine but this was very clearly almost way more than that. If the way Ghoul is strategically covering his crotch by standing close to the table in the middle of the room is any indication that is.
“Aw but Poison; it’s hot,” Ghoul whines.
“Tough luck. You’re killing Kobra with your pasty skin.”
Kobra fights to conceal a smirk at that. Ghoul’s not pale, hasn’t been since they first met him. When he’d gotten out at first, Ghoul had only traveled by night and so his pale skin from the City had remained until he found them. Now, he’s not exactly tan, still considered a bit pale when compared to some other rebels, but he’s definitely not pasty.
“Hey! I have a gorgeous tan and both of you fuckers know it!”
“Yeah yeah,” Party says, rolling his eyes.
His brother does, apparently, have the dignity to grab a nearby towel hanging on a hook attached to one of the cabinets. Party wets it and wipes his face, getting most of the lipstick off, before handing it to Ghoul, who does actually have his shirt on now.
Just then, the buzzer for the coffee goes off, telling that it’s done with two high pitch beeps. Party lights up instantly, bolting over to the pot.
“Ghoul? Where are the cups?” he asks impatiently.
“Top shelf, first cabinet.”
Naturally the biggest mug is the one his brother chooses and Party quickly begins filling it with steaming coffee. The smell alone is wonderful and Kobra is just about as excited as his brother is.
“Save some for Jet too,” he adds before he forgets.
Party nods passing the pot to Kobra.
Grabbing a cup for him and one for Jet, he fills them carefully. There’s still a little left after he’s done, thankfully enough for Ghoul to have one as well.
When they’ve all acquired their coffee, they plop down onto the bar stools. Kobra reclaims his spot beside Jet, sliding their mug to them. He waits to drink his own, watching for their first reaction.
They bring the mug up to their lips carefully, eyes closed as they take that first sip. Jet looks up at him a moment later, face beaming and eyes wide.
“It’s so good!”
He chuckles and they smile a little brighter.
“I knew you’d like it,” he tells them gently, watching as they take another sip.
“You gonna drink yours?”
Oh. Right.
Kobra looks down at his mug, at the brown coffee swirling around. It’s still steaming and it looks strong. They probably shouldn’t be drinking this with the heat right now but Kobra doesn’t care.
He takes his first sip. Oh yeah, Jet was right.
This is good coffee. Strong.
Had Ghoul used some of their real water for this? It doesn’t have that bitter aftertaste.
Even as he takes another sip, Kobra watches Jet quickly drink from their mug. Their face is relaxed and soft as they do so, the smile never leaving their face. Every so often they’ll look his way, catching his eye and making him look back down at his drink once again.
The sound of a mug setting down on the counter has Kobra turning to his brother. Beside him, Party is watching Ghoul finish his own mug but he’s is also looking down at his own. It sits on the counter, empty. Party looks actually sad, heartbroken. There’s no more coffee and it was unspoken that they weren’t going to make another pot, at least not today.
So, Kobra presses his shoulder against Party’s to get his attention. When his brother looks up, confused, he wordlessly slides him his own mug. It’s still mostly full, Kobra only having taken a sip or two, entirely too caught up in watching Jet’s first tastes.
Party’s eyes are wide, like Kobra is offering him a million carbons or his right leg. It’s just coffee though. But he totally would give his brother that much money if he had it. The leg is up for debate…
“Kobra I can’t.”
“Drink it,” he insists, smiling a little to convey his point.
Still looking in awe, Party carefully takes the mug.
Was this how his brother felt all those years ago, giving up his hot coco for Kobra. The two of them could never have known that that was the last time they’d ever have any. But this somehow feels the same. Kobra would give anything for the easy smile that’s currently resting on his brother’s face as he drinks. He looks so happy and it makes Kobra’s heart swell.

“Alright,” Ghoul starts, pulling Kobra out of his thoughts. “I’m gonna go start workin’ on those bombs.”
That makes Party look up anxiously. Ghoul’s accidentally blown himself up a number of times and it’s a miracle he still has all of his limbs and fingers.
“Please be careful. Don’t actually test ‘em until we’re all out there, okay?”
“Will do!” Ghoul says, jumping up from his seat.
He places a quick peck on Party’s lips and is out the door in record time.
“He’s gonna give me a heart attack one day,” his brother says, shaking his head.
“You didn’t seem that upset with him about ten minuets ago.”
Party’s slaps him on the back of the head for that one. Yeah, he deserved it but it was so worth it.
“I’m gonna go check on Grace,” Jet says, setting down their mug.
They get up, disappearing up the steps a moment later. Kobra may or may not watch them walk away.
Party shoulders him, wiggling his eyebrows when Kobra turns to glare at him.
“Fuck off,” Kobra says bitterly.
“Oh c’mon. I’m not blind.”
“I don’t know what you’re thinking but you’re wrong.”
“Sure,” Party says, shrugging a little.
He takes a very self pleased drink of his coffee.
Fucker.
“You’re wrong.”
“Wrong about what, Kobes?”
And now he’s just messing with him. Kobra’s face heats up against his will and he turns away to try and hide his blush from his brother.
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah. I do.”
Does Party have to sound so smug about it?
“So,” his brother continues. “You gonna tell ‘em?”
“There’s nothing to tell, Party.”
“Kobra. Seriously?”
He sighs, watching his brother give him that stupid look. Kobra is fine so why is Party doing the ‘look’?
“What?”
“You know they’re not like that, right?”
“What are you talking about?” he asks, now actually confused by what his brother means.
“Jet. They’re not gonna be like those fucking sandmites. You gotta know that Kobes.”
Oh.
It was a thought that he definitely had but hadn’t allowed himself to think too long on. Everyone else he’s been with has hurt him, either physically or emotionally and that kinda thing leaves a mark. And yeah, he’s honestly, afraid.
But Kobra knows for a fact, just like Party’s said, that Jet isn’t like that. They’re too kind, too gentle to hurt him in that way. But in the back of his mind, it’s still there, telling him that they’re going to reject him.
“I don’t even know if they like me back,” Kobra admits quietly.
He picks at his fingernails, finding nothing but sand, dirt, and something that suspiciously looks like blood.
This is the first time he’s come close to admitting how he feels aloud. His heart is racing, as is his head, and he’s not sure he’d be able to put this into words if he tried.
“Now, I don’t have a whole lotta’ experience, but I’m pretty sure that they do like you too.”

“But,” Kobra counters, “It’s just- it’s not the right time. They’re going through a lot and I don’t wanna take advantage of that. What if they like- agree right now but regret it later?”
“Oh, Kobra,” Party says sadly, ‘the look’ boring into Kobra’s very soul.
He’s being pulled in for a hug, one he didn’t know he needed but is eternally grateful for now that he’s in it.
Only Party can really read him like this, know how he’s feeling before he puts the pieces together himself.
“If you’re that worried about Jet regretting it, then do what your gut is telling you and wait. But, just don’t wait too long. Okay?”
Party is speaking from experience, Kobra knows this. Him not telling Ghoul what was wrong very nearly tore their relationship apart. It was all for good reason but still, it’s enough to make Kobra realize that he does need to tell them. Maybe not right now but soon. At least for some closure if they don’t end up feeling the same way.
“I won’t wait too long. I just wanna make sure they’re okay first, ya know.”
His brother nods, squeezing once more before letting him go. They both turn back forwards and Kobra traces the patterns in the old wood of the counter.
“Thank you,” Kobra tells him seriously.
“Always.”
“So,” he starts, hoping to change the topic away from himself and actually towards important matters. “I told Ghoul we’d probably leave sometime tomorrow for Doc’s station but I wanted to see what you thought.”
Party thinks for a moment, twisting to look out the window across the diner. Just barely, they can see Ghoul. He’s leaning over one of the cars, head buried in one of the hoods as he works.
“Tomorrow sounds good. It’ll give Ghoul time to work and Jet some more time to rest.”
Kobra nods.
“I’m gonna try and find whatever carbons we have left. I wanna try and get as much as we can on this run because I gotta feeling that we’re gonna have to lay low for a bit,” Party finishes, twisting back around to look at Kobra.
“Do you think Korse will come back soon? We might should start looking for somewhere else to stay.”
“No. We showed him that coming directly to us won’t work. We kicked his ass and he’s probably getting chewed out right at this very moment. They’ll either send raids out to us or just write us off as too much trouble.”
“You think we’ll get that lucky?”
“Nope. But this place is good, sturdy, and defendable. We’re probably not going to find anywhere safer. I think we should be okay staying here,” Party explains.
“Yeah. I like this place too but…”
“But?”
“Ghoul. It’s just- me and Jet are worried about him. He’s not sleeping, even more so than normal, and we sorta think it’s cause the last diner he was in he got shot.”
Kobra feels a little bad for telling Party this, it feels like going behind Ghoul’s back. But at the same time, he is legitimately worried.
It’s obvious Ghoul doesn’t like to stay inside here. He’s had an excuse to be outside just about constantly.
“Yeah I noticed too. I was waiting on him to say something, honestly. We haven't slept in the same room together for a while so I don’t know about the nightmares.”
“So what do we do?”
“I’ll talk to him. If being here brings back those memories then we can leave. I won’t force him to stay here,” Party tells him quietly.
They won’t move for Better Living but they will for Ghoul.
That thought actually makes Kobra feel a little better. He’s not sure why exactly but it’s comforting.
“Have you eaten yet?” he asks Party.
By the way his brother looks down, Kobra knows that he hasn’t.
“C’mon. Let's go scrounge something from the kitchen.”
“But I need to supervise Ghoul,” Party protests.
Something in Kobra’s chest breaks a little at that. His brother must read his expression because he’s quick to assure him.
“No. No, Kobra it’s- it’s not like that. I’m really not that hungry and Ghoul’s out there by himself and-”
“Ten minutes. For me?”
Party sighs, nodding once.
He watches to make sure his brother is following him as he goes into the kitchen. There’s a few cans of dog food still on the counter, everything else they had has already been eaten. They’re running low.
Kobra opens his brother’s can first, dumping the contents into a clean plate from the drainer and handing it to him. Party takes it, digging in a moment later.
He grabs a plate for himself and stands by his brother. Their backs are to the metal table in the middle of the kitchen as they eat.
“Thank you,” Kobra says between bites.
“You know I didn’t mean it like that right?”
“Yeah. Yeah I know but I still worry.”
Just how Party will always worry about him, Kobra will always worry about him as well. It’s what’s kept them alive this long.
They eat together in comfortable silence, lingering even after their food is gone. It’s nice to be able to relax, the insaneness of the past few days having finally caught up to them enough for this to be relieving. Quiet is something Kobra has missed very much.
There’s no coughing from his brother, no bickering between Ghoul and Party, and no barely hidden groans of pain from Jet. Things are actually, possibly, looking up.
Just then a low boom shakes the walls around them, the cups and dishware in the cabinets clinking together noisily. Kobra startles, gripping tight to the table behind him for balance as the very walls shake.
It only lasts a millisecond before the silence returns. The hair on his arms is standing up and his breath his caught in his throat.
“What the fuck was that?” Party questions shakilly.
Then, panic and terror mix on his face and he’s bolting from the room before Kobra can even move.
“Ghoul!”
Oh shit- Ghoul’s bombs.
Kobra follows his brother out, dodging counters and chairs and everything else in his way to get outside. The sun is once again his enemy and Kobra struggles to spot Ghoul in the blinding light.
The patrol cars remain exactly where they were and he can’t see a smoking, chared hole anywhere in the sand. But he also can’t see Ghoul either.
Party is running still, now next to the cars and still calling Ghoul’s name. As Kobra catches up, beginning to help him in his search, they see movement. On the other side of the diner, where they’d interrogated Val, a dark plume of smoke raises up towards the sky.
His heart sinks to his stomach as they break out into a run yet again.
Rounding the building, Kobra is met with the burning sand he’d worried about before. There, on the ground lays Ghoul.
He’s covered in black and is unmoving.
“Ghoul!” Party yells, sprinting over and dropping to his knees beside him.
But Kobra just stops a few feet away.
The sand isn’t burned, isn’t charred. It’s literally glass, still smoking slightly.
Lightning.
That’s the only thing hot enough to do this.
“Ghoul?” Party is shaking Ghoul, pushing his hair out of his eyes for him.
Then Ghoul coughs, all at once startling back to consciousness. Ghoul flails in Party’s arms, eyes suddenly as big as saucers while he gasps and coughs a few more times.
Ghoul’s hair is stuck up, nearly completely and Kobra can literally feel the electricity in the air.
“I told you not to get fucking blown up you dumb ass!” Party chides but he looks moments away from breaking down.
“I’m fine.”
And Ghoul is telling the truth. He pushes from Party’s arms and stands on his own.
“No, wait. Ghoul let me at least make sure you’re-”
“It didn’t hit me. I’m okay,” he assures Party.
Kobra watches Party stutter, overwhelmed and unable to argue any further. Ghoul just pulls him into a hug while shooting Kobra a confused look. He’s not sure how he survived either.
“Oh my god, I’m gonna kill you. You scared me half to fucking death!”
Party pulls away, angry now even as he shakes from emotion.
“I’m okay,” Ghoul assures him once again.
“What did I miss?”
Kobra turns to see Jet right beside him. He hadn’t heard them come out but they look just as shocked as the rest of them.
“Ghoul just got struck by fuckin’ lightning,” Kobra says, the words feeling strange even as they come out of his mouth.
“It didn’t hit me, got really fuckin’ close though.”
“I am never letting you go outside again,” Party says, wiping off Ghoul’s shoulders anxiously.
Party also uses one hand to wipe away some of the soot or whatever it is that’s all over Ghoul’s face. He only succeeds in making a semi-clean smear and gives up shortly after.
“Um guys,” Kobra turns back to Jet as they speak.
They have one hand pointing towards the horizon and Kobra’s eyes follow it.
Just like the other day, there’s a literal wall of dark clouds cutting through the blue sky. Except this time, it takes up the entire skyline on both sides, as far as Kobra can see.
The storm wasn’t this bad earlier and there is no way it got this large this quickly, it just isn't possible for it to grow that much in such little time.
They have bigger problems though.
A harsh gust of wind blows through, strong enough to make Kobra stumble. Ghoul very nearly falls, Party only just catching him. Using his arm as a shield from the sand picked up by the gust, Kobra tries to measure how close the storm is.
They have maybe half an hour, if he’s being generous, before it hits.
“What do we do?” Jet asks, turning to Kobra.
“There’s no outrunning this one, or driving through it. We just gotta buckle down, maybe catch Doc’s broadcast before the signal goes out again.”
Party agrees, letting Ghoul wrap an arm around his waist to stay steady. The wind isn’t letting up, just one constant gust.
“Let’s get inside,” Party tells them.
“Wait, my bombs. They’re in the shed.”
Ghoul points towards the other building, its door still open from where he’d gone outside.
“Got them,” Kobra says, jogging over and peering inside.
He finds the half finished bombs easily and gathers them carefully. When he comes back out, the storm is already closer. Thunder rumbles in the distance, low and daunting.
Without a word, they all hurry back inside.
More thunder rumbles and Kobra begins to be able to taste the acidity in the air. As the front door slams shut, Party helps Ghoul sit down. Thankfully he looks okay, mostly just in shock and shaky.
He keeps repeating that he’s okay, even as Party hovers anxiously around him. At one point his brother leaves and comes back with a wet towel to try and clean him up a little.
Kobra only half watches, entirely focused on helping Jet secure the door and windows. They lock each window, the same with the door in some hope that the water will stay out this time. The windows and things seem pretty tightly sealed and Kobra isn’t as worried about water and acid getting in.
They do stuff rags from the kitchen along the door and window panes, just for extra precaution. Jet excuses themself a moment later to go grab Grace. It’s better that they all say in one room and so he lets them go without offering to tag along. Even though he wants to.

Ghoul sits in one of the booths, looking around a little dazed as Party seems to finally have grabbed the radio.
“-one is really bad folks. I ain’t ever seen a storm get so big so damn fast and I gotta bad feelin’ about this one. It’s best if ya’ll stay indoors, preferably someplace strong and secure, because this storm is the worst yet. I’m gonna stay broadcastin’ as long as I can but I don’t think these radio waves are gonna last much longer.”
Doc’s voice brings Kobra no comfort. It simply confirms his fears. This is as bad as he thinks it is.

Chapter Text

Jet is fine.
That’s what they keep telling themself.
This is fine.
The storm can’t hurt them, Ghoul didn’t nearly get killed by a lightning bolt, and Better Living is most definitely not going to come knocking at their door looking for Party and Kobra. Their friends are safe and it’s going to stay that way.
If they keep repeating that over and over, maybe it will continue to be true.
They should be terrified, unable to even move with the constant barrage of anxieties on their thoughts. But it’s almost like they’re numb or looking out through glass rather than in experiencing this in person. So they’re, in a sense, aware of what could go wrong but it’s just sorta there yet not affecting them like it probably should.
And then, as the reach the top of the steps and the door to their room comes into view, they remember Grace. This brings a whole new torrent of worries down onto Jet’s mind.
She’s just an infant, completely and horrifyingly vulnerable. There are so many things that can go wrong, that very likely will go wrong, that Jet can’t stop themself from thinking on it. If the toxins from the incoming rain got in her lungs, she won’t recover as quickly as Party has. That is, if she recovers at all. If Dracs find this base then she will be unable to defend herself. Her only defense is Jet and the others downstairs.
The odds could be worse but still, they’re not good.
Jet does their best to not panic, even through their numbness the thought of Grace getting hurt makes their chest constrict painfully. They try to keep calm as they enter their room and scoop her up. She was sleeping, somehow. The close call with the lightning seems to have not woken her. In fact, she barely sturs when they lift her and pull her close to their chest.
It’s like she knows that she’s safe with them, that they will do anything and everything to ensure that she is okay.
Jet only hopes that their best is enough.
The thought of losing her, of losing anyone more than they already have, is simply too much to even think about. It sends sharp spikes of anxiety through them, turning their blood to ice.
So much for being numb.
But it’s still muted, capable of being forced back down and ignored.
They’re fine.
Thunder rumbles, closer than before, and Jet can’t help but tense. They’re no longer scared of storms, haven't been since they were small, but the stronger ones always make them nervous.
They try to ignore the shaking of their legs and the racing of their heart as they hurry out of the room, pulling the door shut firmly behind them as they do so. Jet takes the steps as quickly as possible, any soreness or exhaustion forgotten and eclipsed by the weight of this situation.
As they enter the diner part of the building, carefully shutting the door to the stairwell behind them, Jet hears the last of Doc’s broadcast.
This one is worse he says but somehow they’d already figured that out. However, hearing Doctor Death himself say that this storm was going to be even stronger than the previous ones makes it more real.
More dangerous.
They take a look around, noticing Party is currently sitting pressed close to Ghoul in one of the booths, Ghoul looking on the verge of sleep. He must be exhausted, having been up for who knows how long. They wonder if he’ll be able to sleep through the storm?
Kobra’s sprawled out in a booth to himself, a little out of the way and fiddling with their two-way radio. He looks up when they get closer, making eye contact. Jet can’t tear their eyes away.
He’s filthy and worn down, slumped in the seat with his long legs going up and over the table that’s connected. Jet notices there’s holes in the knees of his jeans, the fabric stretched and fraying.
Kobra meets their eyes and Jet doesn’t look away this time. His gaze peers into them, silently asking if they’re okay. The weight of Grace in their arms grounds them, helps them to pull free of the swirling anxiety in their mind and give Kobra a quick nod.
They’re fine.
He smiles then, a rare feat. It’s not a smirk, not full of mischief or teasing. The pull of his lips is soft and only for them. Jet’s heart flutters but they don’t look away.
“Kobra,” Party speaks up, making them realize they’ve been standing in one place for who knows how long.
They quickly make a decision, before they can think better of it, and claim the booth connected to Kobra’s. He moves his feet to the side a bit so that they can see each other and gives them another little twitch of his lips. The bottoms of his boots are absolutely filthy but Jet doesn’t really mind. Besides, it’s not like they actually eat in these seats or anything.
“How’s the radio comin’? We got enough signal to call out?” Party finishes, his voice quiet as to not disturb Ghoul.
“Yeah. Gotta make it quick though.”
“Then stop stallin’ and do it,” Party tells him, no hint of actual frustration in his words.
Kobra nods once, fiddling with the radio for a moment longer before grabbing the mic and pressing the button to talk.
“This is K. Callin’ out.”
A few moments pass.
There’s no noise except the harsh sound of the sand hitting the sides of the building and the windows, kicked up by the steadily strengthening wind outside. Jet does their best not to shiver at the sound. They wish they were small again, if only so that they could hide beneath the table. Then they would be safe, however childish that may sound.
“-an you hear me-this is S.- got shit singa-”
“Yes,” Kobra says quickly. “ I can hear you but it’s choppy.”
Another pause.
“-ood. Is- thing all right?”
“We’re in the storm’s way, can’t make it out to trade like we promised.”
“S’okay. We’re also gettin’ ready for- storm. Do- need- help?”
“Na. We found someplace sturdy.”
“Good. Doc’s been- you, found out you got- on your-”
The signal cuts badly, nothing but static escaping the radio’s speaker for a few long moments.
“Fucking bulshit! Damn this old ass, mother- radio- Kobra! Are you there?”
Stifling a short laugh, Kobra responds.
“Yeah. Yeah I’m here, couldn’t hear what you were sayin’, Pony.”
“More patrols are out- can’t see where they are exactly- lookin’ for you!”
“Pony? You there?” Kobra asks, worry now lining his words.
Who the hell is he even talking to though?
Jet doesn’t know anyone named Pony. They’re pretty sure they’d remember if they did. Unfortunately, Party looks as confused as they are.
“-here. Gotta go Kid. Stay safe.”
Then the radio goes to complete static, loud and jarring.
Even though the signal is lost completely, Kobra still brings the mic back up to his mouth again.
“Stay safe.”
He turns the radio off soon after, setting it back down on the table. Jet watches him twist to look out the window behind him.
The clouds are darker now, making it appear far later than it really is. It’s mid-afternoon, no later than five or six, but it currently looks like nine or ten with the dark coverage of the storm clouds.
Somehow the rain hasn’t begun yet but Jet knows that it’s only a matter of time before the heavens open up.
“Who was that? Definitely wasn’t Doc,” Party asks, tone still quiet.
Ghoul looks truly asleep now, curled tightly against Party. His hands are fisted into Party’s shirt like he’s afraid he’ll leave while he’s asleep.
“This runner named Show Pony who works for Doc. They’re a friend.”
That makes Jet pause. Did he just-
“They one that answered the door for you ain’t they?” Party asks and Jet can hear a question lingering in his words.
“Mmhm. Probably saved my life honestly. You don’t gotta worry about them.”
Party simply nods.
Meanwhile Jet’s mind is absolutely racing.
There’s someone else, someone like them!
They’ve never really met anyone who was like them and now there’s another person who uses ‘they’ and Jet just can’t wrap their head around that.
“Whoa, Jet, you got really spacy. You with me?” Kobra asks gently.
They blink, realizing they’ve been sorta gone for a while, caught up in their thoughts. With a quick glance around, Jet finds that Party’s now got Ghoul twisted a bit so that they’re more laying down than sitting. Grace squirms in their arms as if in protest of their absence.
“Yeah. I just- you said ‘they’ and I- it was just a new thing for me.”
“What do ya mean?”
“It’s just- I’ve never met anyone who’s… like me…”
Jet looks up, searching Kobra’s features to see if he’s going to laugh at them or tell them that it’s not that big of a deal and that they’re being over dramatic. But all they find is understanding in his eyes. He looks sad, almost heartbroken, like this is some depressing secret.
“You’ve never met anyone else who uses they?”
“No. I mean… I know people do but I just- I didn’t really talk to people whenever we went somewhere new. So...”
“The world’s a big place,” Kobra tells them, swinging his legs so his feet are off of the table and shifting so he’s leaning towards them. “But I promise you’re not in it alone.”
He smiles again, faint and yet strong enough to make their chest swell.
Then, Kobra leans forward a little further, covering their hand that’d been resting on the table with his. He gives them a small squeeze, the simple action making their face heat in a blush.
He’s so close, his eyes focused only on them. Jet can nearly forget about the storm and everything else. Kobra rubs his thumb over the skin of their knuckles, his touch so gentle it’s barely there.
“You’re not alone, Jet,” he tells them earnestly, squeezing their hand again.
They’ve forgotten how to breathe, all functions of their body at a standstill as he doesn’t move away. It’s a little awkward, the angle odd because Kobra is reaching over the table to rest his hand over theirs, but it’s also so, so nice.
His hand shifts and for a moment Jet thinks he’s about to pull away. However, he simply turns their hand over and slots his fingers between theirs. This is an even odder angle but Jet truly doesn’t care.
Because, this is it. They’ve died or fallen asleep and this is some figment of their imagination because- holy shit Kobra is actually holding their hand!
They stay like that, holding hands and just sorta being in each other’s company as the storm truly begins. It starts with another lightning strike, this one worryingly close, and the harsh explosion of thunder the next moment. By the time the rolling sound fades it’s replaced by the rhythm of the rain, fast and hard, unrelenting.
Outside is truly dark now, the diner fully cast in heavy shadow. Jet can hear the rain hitting the side of the building, increasingly loud. They unconsciously tense up, eyes darting between the windows.
What if the rain starts to get in again?
Will they just go upstairs or will they run for it again?
But can they run from this one?
That’s the scariest thought. This storm is already much stronger than the previous ones and Jet doubts they could even drive at all in it.
Party clears his throat and Jet remembers how sick he was the other day. Just because they can’t smell the acidity in the air doesn’t mean it’s not affecting him.
What if he gets sick again?
“Hey,” Kobra squeezes their hand to gain their attention, voice nearly drowned out by the heavy rain. “You shiny?”
Another bolt of lightning, close enough for them to see it hit the sand, to see the smoldering sand be burned into glass. It hurts to look at, has left a little after image in the shape of the bolt in their eyes. The thunder that comes next is strong enough to shake the windows.
Jet’s unable to move, unable to look away from the superheated sand outside the window, already being doused in the heavy rain.
Kobra catches on, rubbing his thumb over the skin of their hand again before letting go.

They do their best to pretend to not miss the contact and it’s not impossible as they watch the storm that’s raging outside. There will be no driving through this one if things get bad here.
They’re stuck here, in this mess and there’s nothing they can do about it. If something goes wrong-
They’re being scooted over as Kobra slides in the seat with them. Jet repositions Grace a little, keeping her away from the windows as best as possible. Kobra gets closer, until their shoulders are touching and Jet finally is able to look away from the storm. Kobra looks relieved when they glance to him.
“I don’t like storms,” they answer lamely, by way of explanation.
They feel like they need to explain themself to him.
What desert born is afraid of storms?
It’s nearly laughable.
“We’re safe here,” he tells them kindly. “The storm can’t hurt us.”
“But what about the patrols that may or may not be on their way? They could find us and with the rain we wouldn’t be able to tell they were coming until it was too late and-”
“Hey, hey, we’re watching the windows aren’t we?”
Jet nods once despite not understanding where this is going. Their hands are shaking but they try and hide it by making a tight fist with their left, the one Kobra is beside, the most obvious give away should he look down, and using the other to keep a good grip on Grace.
They’re fine.
“So, between the two of us, I think we stand a pretty good chance of catching the patrol before it gets too close.”
If they’re honest, they hadn’t thought of it that way. Peering out the window, Jet watches the rain. It’s heavy, covering the horizon in a hazy image of grey. But still, they can faintly make out the cars outfront. If a patrol comes from Guano, which is the most likely way they’ll travel, either Kobra or Jet will be able to see them.
“But what if the storm gets worse?” they ask anyway, unable to let go of the anxiety clinging to them.
Kobra wordlessly connects their hands again, making Jet’s mind slow to a crawl. If he notices the shaking through the connection he doesn’t bring it up. It’s insane how just this simple contact relaxes them so much. His hand in theirs makes it easier to breathe, dispels some of the anxiety clawing at them. But they’re still nervous, unable to stop thinking about Dracs sneaking up on them, and unfortunately no amount of hand holding- as really nice as it is- will change that.
“Then they won’t be able to see either,” Kobra tells them reasonably.
“Oh.”
“I promise, we’re safe here.”
Thunder claps again and they jump unconsciously. Kobra doesn’t laugh at them or tell them they’re worrying for nothing, which Jet is so relieved by. They know it’s sorta irrational but they can’t help it.
Instead, Kobra leans a little closer and presses against their shoulder with his. It’s distracting enough for them to look away from the windows again, for them to watch him as he reaches a hand over to boop Grace on her nose.
She giggles and so does Kobra.
He does it again, gently pressing the pad of his finger to her little nose. Grace smiles wildly, gums and all, and giggles. Kobra actually grins, big enough for his teeth to show.
And maybe Jet’s like- really- weird, but those are nice teeth if they’re honest. Kobra’s lips aren’t too bad either, pulled into that soft little smile after a few moments. He watches them, notices their gaze, but doesn’t bring it up.
With the storm outside, they have nothing better to do than to simply have this moment. It’s peaceful and calm and Jet never wants it to leave. The anxiety has bubbled down, dormant almost in their mind. They wonder if it’ll fade away completely.
What remains is that numb feeling of security, where you’ve been raked clean after worrying for who knows how long and you’re just too tired now. It’s dangerous, Jet knows this. They shouldn’t feel nothing and they do feel something right now, but everything is too muted and they’re too exhausted to dwell on it.
All they do, all they can do right now,is focus on the feel of Kobra so close, the way he’s playing with the hem of their shirt. His chest moving as he breathes.
“Ya know, I understand how this feels, the anxiety part, always thinking of ways things can go wrong,” Kobra shares after a while.
“What do you do?”
“Normally I talk to my brother, annoy Ghoul, but recently, just being with you helps.”
-

Sometime later, Jet begins to feel the day’s events weighing on them. They’re tired but it seems to only have hit them just now. They never did get that nap in earlier and- oh
They’ve stayed up all day today, no naps, nothing. It’s the first time they’ve done so since getting shot.
Well no wonder they’re exhausted. That and how emotionally draining today has been.
“You can get some sleep if you want. Me and Grace can hang out while you do,” Kobra offers gently, catching on to their tiring body.
Jet gladly accepts his offer. A nap sounds really good right now.
Even with the rain and thunder that only seems to grow louder as time goes on, Jet passes Grace to Kobra. He takes her carefully, using his left arm to hold her and his right to pull Jet even against his side so they’re nearly laying on top of him.
Their face burns in a blush but they don’t even think about pulling away. He’s really warm and rather comfy so Jet just leans into him and lets their eyes slip shut.
_____________________________________________________

“They asleep too?” Party’s voice whispers from across the room.
His brother has Ghoul protectively curled up in his side, holding him gently as he sleeps. Jet’s in much the same position, only less curled up and more just resting on Kobra. Which he doesn’t mind at all.
With how anxious they were a little while ago, he’s glad they’re relaxed enough to get some legitimate rest.
So, in fear of disrupting Jet’s sleep, Kobra just shakes his head by way of answering his brother.
“I dunno how they can sleep through this,” Party states, waving one hand to the storm outside.
And yeah, the rain and thunder is really freaking loud. Party is whispering but it’s more like a whisper/yell so that he can be heard over the constant noise consuming the background of their conversation.
“Ghoul ain’t slept for real in Witch knows how long,” Kobra tells him, “ and Jet’s been up all day.”
Party hums in agreement, turning his attention down to Ghoul. He’s relaxed, face soft with sleep. Kobra watches Party start carding his fingers through Ghoul’s hair, untangling the dark strands as best he can. Ghoul’s hair is getting long but he’s refusing to cut it, says he likes it better long.
It’s nearly as long as Party’s, only just stopping short a few inches. Still, his hair almost touches his shoulders, plenty lengthy enough to become an absolute nightmare of tangles and knots.
Kobra glances at Jet. He can’t see their face, it’s sorta half hidden by their hair and his own jacket, but they look like they’re sleeping well. Kobra sorta wants to run his fingers through their hair, to see if it really is as soft as it looks.
It’s all spread out, defined curls cascading down around Jet’s face and onto the jacket Kobra’s wearing.
Thunder claps again and this time the power blinks.
“Shit. You think we’re gonna lose the lights?”
“Hopefully not,” Kobra answers without looking up.
Someone groans, cursing quietly in the next breath.
Kobra turns in time to watch Ghoul stumble his way into consciousness. So much for a good, long rest. It can’t have been more than a couple of hours since he’s fallen asleep.
Ghoul groans again, sitting up and pulling from Party’s arms. He runs a hand over his face and blinks tiredly at Kobra and his brother.
“Time’s it?”
“Not late. Barely past dinner time,” Party answers with a shrug, shifting so Ghoul can stand.
He never does sit still for long.
The short nap can only have done so much and Kobra is able to tell because Ghoul stands very ungracefully, his face twisted in a scowl.
“Why’d you let me sleep so long?” he grumbles, trudging over to one of the windows and peering out.
“It was like an hour. You should’a slept longer,” Party points out, standing too and making his way over to Ghoul.
They’re nearly shouting over the rain and Kobra quickly checks on Jet, only to find them sleeping soundly. They must have been exhausted to be able to sleep through this storm and he’s not sure if he’s worried or relieved.
“Na. Too early for bed, Poison.”
“Not when you got maybe two hours tops last night.”
Ghoul just shrugs, purposefully ignoring Party’s implications. He needs to sleep, Kobra can see the exhaustion still clinging to him.
A few hours nap after days of not sleeping properly is not enough.
“I’m fine.”
“Ghoul,” Party pulls gently on his arm, causing him to turn from the window and finally look at them. “C’mon. At least sit down again and rest for a little while longer. It ain’t healthy to be up this much.”
“No. I’m fine.”
“Ghoul,” Kobra interrupts, making Ghoul’s head snap up to glare at him. “Go the fuck back to sleep. There’s nothin’ to do anyways.”
“But…”
Ghoul then turns away from them, looking out the window yet again.
“But what?” Party presses carefully.
“Nothing. I’m gonna go scrounge up some dinner for us. Any requests?”
There’s a pause where Kobra knows he’s waiting on a sarcastic response from either he or Party but it never comes. Ghoul’s only met with two pairs of concerned eyes and silence.
He doesn’t say anything else, instead just groans in annoyance and shuffles behind the bar, disappearing into the kitchen.
“He’s gonna be the death of me, I swear,” his brother says, plopping back down in the booth.
“Maybe it’ll catch up with him and he’ll crash for like a week?”
“I’d rather it not get that bad but I think you’re right. He’s not gonna sleep any more than he has to unless we force him.”
___________________________________
Jet wakes up comfortable. They feel better, less panicky than before, and they wake still pressed to Kobra’s side. He’s focused outside, eyes scanning the horizon for threats.
There’s a moment where they don’t want to move, don’t want to disrupt this moment because it’s nearly perfect. Take away the storm and the slight ache in their chest and Jet wouldn’t change a thing.
They can hear Kobra’s heart beating quietly in his chest, strong and even. It’s grounding, despite them not being particularly anxious at the moment. The steady rhythm in their ear keeps most of the more anxious thoughts at bay.
Even so, they shift eventually, alerting him that they’re awake as they sit up. Jet’s stomach only barely protests, a tiny twinge of soreness, nothing compared to the ache that it has been.
“Sleep well?” he asks sincerely.
Kobra speaks quietly, or well, as much as he can over the noise outside.
The storm isn’t letting up but this building truly is far safer than the last one they were in. No water seems to be getting in and the acidity in the air is barely detectable, not overwhelming like before.
Good, no one’s going to get sick this time if they’re lucky.
They twist, searching the room for Party but coming up short. He wouldn’t be outside in this mess would he?
“What’s wrong?”
“Your brother, he was just sick the other day and with the acid in the air again he could get sick again,” Jet explains quickly, doing another search.
“He’s fine. I thought the same thing so he’s in the kitchen right now. More walls between him and the windows ya know?”
They nod, relived.
“Whatta ‘bout Ghoul?”
Jet hadn’t seen him either when they’d looked around the room.
“In there with him. You really think I could separate those two if I tried?”
They both laugh a little at the truth behind that statement. Never mind the fact that they and Kobra are literally like zero inches apart right now.
Sometime later, Party comes back into the room. He hands both of them a bowl of dog food and a bottle for Grace.
“Thanks, Party,” Kobra says, taking the bottle and feeding Grace so that Jet can eat first.
They pause though, looking up at Party. He’s tired looking, tense. His face is worn, if a little pale, and he merely gives them a tired smile when they thank him for the food.
“You eaten yet?” Kobra asks him, not yet digging into the food in front of him.
“Not yet.”
“Party,” Kobra warns quietly and his brother’s face falls a little.
“Later.”
He leaves before they can ask him what’s wrong, turning quickly and going back into the kitchen. Kobra doesn’t bring it up so Jet doesn’t press, even if they’re more confused than worried at this point. It’s not the first comment Kobra has made about Party eating or getting something to drink.
After they eat, Jet finds themself pressed back against Kobra. He uses one hand to wrap around them and lets them rest on him, Jet’s back against his chest. They find themself slowly falling asleep again, more tired than they’d thought.
The ‘what if’s’ still plague them, images of imminent danger flashing across their eyes every time they close them.
Jet fights sleep for a while, the storm and potential danger at the forefront of their mind. They steer clear of anything else, thoughts about their Ma, about their crew, are like landmines. If they entertain those memories right now, it will break them. Jet is simply too worn out to hold themself together through those thoughts, memories. Maybe another time, when they’re stronger.
“Sleep, Jet. I know you’re still tired.”
“But the storm,” they protest halfheartedly, not wanting to bring up everything else on their mind.
“Is out there and we’re in here. It’s really late, time for bed anyway.”
The rain grows louder, beating against the building furiously even as they give in and allow sleep to pull them back down.
Kobra is right, they deserve some rest. Today has been hell and it’s really taken its toll.
But, they think as they slowly fall back asleep, it wasn’t all bad.
Jet’s falling asleep in Kobra’s arms, closer than they’ve ever been to him. He’s keeping them safe, protected from the storm and everything else.
___________________________________
“They out again?” Party asks from the window.
He’s got his back turned to Kobra as he worriedly keeps watch on the storm. Kobra nods, forgetting for a moment that his brother can’t see him do that.
“Yeah. They never got to rest after the whole thing this morning.”
“Good. I’m glad they’re getting it now.”
Kobra looks to the corner of the room, watching as Ghoul connects two wires. A spark of electricity is produced the moment he does so and he grins deviously. Unaware or uncaring of Kobra’s attention on him, Ghoul goes about connecting this to that and arming his bomb.
If the Dracs come, they want to be prepared.
Bombs are good when visibility is as low as it is right now. You just have to aim for a general direction when throwing it and you’ll normally get lucky.
Kobra notices the slight tremble in Ghoul’s hands as he works, barely there but enough to make him have to concentrate a little more. Maybe they can convince him to lay down again? Kobra says they because it’ll probably take both him and Party begging Ghoul before he listens. That is, if he does at all.
The baby is sleeping nearby, wrapped protectively in her blankets. Ghoul talks to her as he works.
The lights flicker and all three of them glance up at the rectangular lights overheard. It happens again before there’s a bright flash of white light. The power surges and nearly all of the bulbs break or burn out.
Kobra doesn’t hear the thunder, likely because the lightning hit the building and was too close. And if it does sound, it blends in too much with the continuous rumble of the storm anyway.
The lights are out, the room dark and all at once suffocating. Kobra takes a deep breath, forcing himself to stay calm. The baby cries once but Ghoul shushes her, very likely picking her up, and she quietens down.
“Everyone okay?” Party asks the room.
Kobra grips Jet a little, checking to see if they’re awake. They don’t react so they must still be out but thankfully unharmed.
“We’re fine,” he answers.
The next moment Ghoul pipes up, confirming that he’s okay. His voice is shaky though, scared.
Jet moves in Kobra’s arms, twitching a little. He looks down, even though there’s absolutely no light for him to see by. It’s as if his eyes are closed and he sees nothing but darkness. Even the lightning isn’t enough light for him to tell what’s Jet and what’s the rest of the seat.
“Jet?” he calls over the roaring of the rain.
It’s still going strong and Kobra is beginning to smell the acid again. He worries for a moment about his brother but his concerns shift when Jet jerks in their sleep.
They flail a little, crying out as they sit up in one movement. He can hear their breathing over the sound of the rain. They’re panting, their pulse racing against Kobra’s fingers when he takes their hand.
“No, no, no, no-”
They keep repeating it, each word broken and whimpered. Kobra’s fairly certain they’re not fully awake but he takes their other hand in his. He grips tightly, trying to pull them out of their panic.
“Ma! No- I can’t- NO!” Jet shouts and Kobra doesn’t know what to do anymore.
They’re literally shaking, whimpering and sobbing through their nightmare. Even though they’re sitting up, they’re not awake. They’re stuck in whatever they’re seeing, stuck calling for their Ma.
Kobra’s heart shatters in his chest.
“Jet,” he tries calmly. “Jet c’mon. It’s just a dream. You gotta calm down.”
They freeze, their body now completely still before they simply collapse against him. He hears Jet sob harshly, feels the wet of their cheeks against his chest where his jacket isn’t zipped all the way. Wrapping his arms around them and twisting so they can lay against him properly, Korba tries to get them to calm down.

He can feel their heartbeat through their back, dangerously fast and erratic. They’re literally breathing in gasps, broken only by whimpers as they shake against him.
“Shhh. Jet it was just a dream. You’re okay-”
Jet coughs and he waits for the wheeze of their breath to come again.
It does, a few painful moments later, too long of a pause. They’re trembling against him, whatever horrors their mind had shown them keeping them in this state of panic.
Kobra rubs their back, feels it expand outward with each breath they manage to take. Their heart is still pounding, too fast.
“Easy.”
“Ghoul, think you can get the lights back?” Party questions from somewhere in the room.
The diner remains far too dark for Kobra to tell where anyone is, everything muted into the shadows.
Jet’s warm against him, heavy and nearly limp.

Ghoul doesn’t answer but Kobra hears the door open and shut, telling that he’s gone out to the generator.
“Kobra?”
“Still here, in the booth,” he answers, as loud as he dares.
With the storm still raging outside, Korba has to speak up but he doesn’t want to spook Jet any more than they already are.
Their panic is finally ebbing, their sobs soft enough to mingle with the pounding of the rain. And yet, Jet’s breathing does not slow down. Neither does their heart.
The sound of Party stumbling over makes Kobra turn his head, searching on instinct despite the near zero visibility he has right now. A hand finds his shoulder the next moment.
“What’s goin’ on?”
“Nightmare I think. Jet,” Kobra looks down to Jet, forgetting that he won’t be able to see them. “Can you hear me?”
Their hair is in his mouth, their breath ghosting over his chest as their hands twist the front of his jacket in a death grip.
He gets a shake of their head as response. It’s a quick motion, could almost be a twitch.
“Jet? Can you answer me?” Kobra tries, needing to hear their voice.
“Mmhm. I-”
They cough against him, trembling afterwards once again. Jet whispers his name the next moment, voice raw and entirely too drained.
“Party?”
“Right here,” his brother squeezes his shoulder.
“Their heart. It’s bad.”
“Lemme in.”
So, fumbling in the pitch black of the room, Kobra shifts enough to let Party into the seat with the two of them. He keeps Jet in his arms, safe.
Party curses quietly and Kobra knows he’s taken their pulse and found for himself how rapid it is.
“Jet?” Party tries, earning a quiet groan in response. “I need you to do something for me. Can you hear Kobra’s heart?”
They nod against him, something that Party can’t see but he continues anyway.
“I need you to focus on it, listen to it.”
Thunder rolls, lightning flashes, and Kobra gets a glimpse of the curly hair right next to his face. It tickles his nose but he doesn’t dare move.
“Good,” Party says after a while. “Good. Now, can you feel him breathe?”
“Yeah.”
“Focus on that too. If you can, breathe with him.”
They sit there a few moments longer, Jet leaning boneless on him as they fight to bring their racing heart back down under control.

Kobra doesn’t want to even think of what could happen if they let it get too high. Would it just give out, stop working?
A faint hum sounds and Kobra realizes the storm has gotten a little more quiet. Is it too much to hope that it’s ending soon?
But the hum is familiar, low and electronic sounding.
The generator.
Moments later, the remaining lights flicker back on. They illuminate the room around them in a faint light.
Kobra can see Jet now when he looks down. Their eyes are closed, brows knit as they focus solely on his breathing. There’s tear tracts down their face and stray hairs stick to it.
When he looks up, Kobra is met with his brother’s eyes watching them carefully. Party is close, only inches from him, anxious as Jet slowly calms down. They share a long look, Kobra trying to hide how terrified he was. He needs to stay calm though, Jet’s own sense of calmness depends on it.
But it’s hard when Party is giving him ‘the look’, saying without speaking that he loves Kobra, that everything will be okay.
How can they know for sure?
Grace makes an annoyed sound across the room, clearly displeased by being left by herself for so long and being ignored.
With a quick glance to Kobra and Jet, and a nod from Kobra, Party goes over to retrieve the fussy baby. Her crying probably won’t do Jet good by any means. They need to stay calm.
“Shhh,”Kobra soothes, rubbing still on their back.
Jet’s breathing better now, matching his. He knows how difficult that is when your lungs stop working as they fill with panic. He knows the strength it takes to pull yourself out, even with the help of a rhythm to guide you back.
“You’re doin’ so good,” he tells them in a whisper.
The rain has stopped, the only noise coming from Party taking care of Grace and Jet’s quiet breaths against Kobra.
“Kobes,” they whimper, not even moving away from his chest to speak.
“Shh. I’m right here.”
The door opens and this time Kobra is able to watch Ghoul. He’s soaked, apparently having gone without protection yet again.
“Ghoul,” Party scolds, rounding on him and fussing over his red and blistered skin.
He didn’t even have his jacket on, just that old t-shirt.
“‘M fine. How’s Jet?”
“No. Nope, you’re not going to brush it off that easily. Sit the fuck down while I go grab the cream. Strip while you’re at it,” Party commands lovingly.
Ghoul obliges, plopping down and pulling his shirt off carefully. He tries to hide the wince but Kobra notices. Fresh worry fills Kobra.
“Don’t fuckin’ say it.”
“I wasn’t. Party’s gonna kick yer ass for me.”
“He’s the one who told me to,” Ghoul defends, tone whiny but playful.
“Not without your jacket at the least, you idiot.”
“But-”
“No buts. I agree, you’re an absolute idiot,” Party cuts in, coming back into the room with Grace on one hip and the burn cream in his free hand.
Ghoul looks down, his face falling.
“Oh.”
“Hey, you may be an idiot but only you would be able to get the generator fixed that quickly in the middle of that storm,” Party tells him, smiling as he bends down to rub some of the thick cream again Ghoul’s burns.
He winces, hiding a groan, but has a smile on his face all the same.
Ghoul and Kobra somehow lock eyes as Party continues to help him with the burns.
‘They okay?’ Ghoul mouths, nodding his head towards Jet.
They’re still a dead weight against his chest but they’re calm now, breathing deep and even. He knows they’re not asleep but Jet’s clearly exhausted.
‘Better,’ he answers back.
“Alright, can you do the rest?” Party speaks up, oblivious to his and Ghoul’s brief conversation.
“Yeah. What the hell happened though?”
Both he and Party look to Kobra, waiting on him to answer.
Rather than do so, he simply watches Jet rest for a moment longer. Kobra uses the pad of his thumb to gently clean the tear tracks from their cheeks. They tense slightly at the first touch but relax once again before he can pull away.
“Nightmare, I think. They got overwhelmed and we got worried about their heart.”
It’s strange to explain this so bluntly when just moments ago Kobra was utterly terrified that their heart was going to give out. He can’t bear the thought of losing them…
“Shit.”
“Yeah,” Party answers Ghoul, already coming back over to Kobra.
He looks to Kobra for consent before gently placing two fingers against Jet’s neck. They’re either too exhausted to fight it or unaware of Party checking their pulse.
He’s not sure which is better.
“Well?” Kobra asks, hopeful.
“This really put a strain on their heart. The rhythm is really weak, sorta- broken if that makes sense.”
If Jet hears them, they make no acknowledgement of it.
“What can we do?” Kobra finds himself asking, wishing there was a definite way to fix this.
“I think they’re already asleep. That’s their best bet; rest.”
But Party doesn’t sound sure.
“Is there anything else we can do?”
“Like what Kobes?” he questions, annoyance slipping into his tone.
Kobra feels bad instantly.
He knows that Party is as worried and scared as he is.
“I dunno. Just something so we avoid another scare like that.”
They’re all whispering and yet it feels too loud, like they’re shouting from the rooftop that Jet nearly just fucking died.
The anxiety that he’d pushed away is beginning to resurface, making itself known.
“They might bounce back from this. Jet’s been recovering pretty well up until now so maybe this is just a one time thing.”
“And if it’s not?”
“Then- then maybe we start searching for new solutions.”
“Like what?”
“You said Doc has people inside the City, smuggling medical supplies out, right?”
“Yeah?”
“There’s bound to be like- medication or something available that’ll help them. But I don't wanna risk it unless they can’t recover on their own.”
Jet sturs, seemingly waking up. Or coming out of a trance.
They groan, shifting against Kobra to get just a little closer. It’s odd, how okay he is with this contact. Normally the only person who gets this close is his brother, and that’s only sometimes. Ghoul has no boundaries but even he knows that Kobra does and respects them. Mostly.
But Jet against him doesn’t feel threatening. He honestly wouldn’t rather them be anywhere else. Like this, he can feel each breath they take, hear each little sniffle they make.
They’re safe in his arms and he will not let go. Not unless they ask him too…
“Kobra?”
Jet’s voice is more clear now, less broken.
“I’m right here. How are you feeelin’?”
“The truth?” they joke without humor.
He nods, knowing they can feel the action.
“Heavy, tired.”
“Then rest,” he tries, even though he knows the answer.
“No. I - I can’t…”
“It’s okay. I understand. Can you sit up a moment? The storm’s over and I’m sure you’ll be more comfortable in your own bed.”
Jet agrees quietly and tries to sit up. They press their palms against his chest to push themself up but their arms are shaking so hard that they collapse back down against him without making it more than a couple of inches.
“I- I can’t,” they breathe.
His heart hits his stomach.
Making eye contact with his brother, Kobra wonders if this is an effect of the nightmare/full blown panic attack, or from the strain they just placed on their heart.
“It’s okay,” he assures, even though everything in him screams that it’s not.

Chapter Text

“Jet?”
They twist their head enough to look up at Kobra.
He’s watching them with carefully hidden worry, his features soft but wary. They’re better now… maybe not okay, but better, and he shouldn’t worry so much about them.
Jet can breathe more easily, their chest no longer feels like it’s caving in, the air no longer suffocating them. They don’t remember what they were dreaming of… not really anyway. Mostly it’s just vague flashes of indecipherable scenes and an overwhelming sense that something was horribly wrong.
But all of that is distant now as the panic leaves them. Jet realizes they’re still laying on Kobra; he’s still holding onto them as they sit together in the booth.
The seats are slightly too stiff and the old material is itchy where it touches their bare skin. They weren’t made to be used as a bed but with Kobra as a pillow of sorts, Jet is far from uncomfortable.
“Jet?” he repeats.
“Yeah?”
Speaking brings that odd feeling back to their chest, like they can’t breathe, but it doesn’t linger. Jet is truthfully just downright exhausted from whatever just happened along with the great effort of attempting to push themself up. It’s like they weigh a ton and any slight movement entirely too draining right now. Jet had heard Party and Kobra saying something about their heart a little bit ago but it’s difficult to get their thoughts to actually connect and make sense of things.
What they can focus on is Kobra. His voice. The warmth of him. They use that to stay above the horrible mess inside of their head.
Later.
Later they’ll sort through it but right now it’s impossible. Jet just wants to rest, if only for a short while.
“Trust me, okay?”
Jet doesn’t have time to ask what he means, though they do trust him entirely, before he repositions them. Kobra then lifts them from the seat and stands carefully. He does it slowly though, releasing a breath as he straightens out. Their vision spins, making Jet scrunch their eyes shut to try and escape the head rush that follows.
With one arm under Jet’s knees and the other against their lower back so that they can lean their head on his shoulder, Kobra swiftly walks across the room. The others in the room fall away, Jet unable to focus on whatever Kobra and his brother say before he is slowly carrying them up the steps. It’s a long trip, at least it feels that way but they know it can’t be all that lengthy. The world is fading in and out as they slowly begin to lose the battle to stay awake. One thing that keeps them from falling under is Kobra.
Jet can’t help it, they feel like a burden.
This is bound to be a strain on Kobra, lugging them upstairs like this, but he doesn’t show it if it is. He’s not tiny necessarily but lanky all the same and Jet knows that they’re not light by any means.
And yet, Kobra’s doing this voluntarily. He’s right, the booth would have been a shitty place to sleep but they didn’t think he’d just carry them like this. Kobra doesn’t seem bothered by it either, just keeps his hold tight on them as they take each step one at a time.
And Jet begins to drift again.
They’d rather not fall back asleep, aren’t quite sure what nightmares wait for them, but they do so anyway. The warmth of Kobra, the soft sway of each of his steps, the sound of their own breathing, it all lulls them under.
.
.
.
Jet wakes as Kobra carefully lowers them down onto their bed. The soft mattress dips as they sink into it, swallowing them. It’s comfortable though with the blankets and pillows as protection from the chill in the air.
It must be late.
They wonder if the storm is over by now?
Forcing their eyes open, Jet searches the room briefly for Kobra. They can no longer hear the rain, just the quiet hum of electricity and the wind outside. Sometime during all of this Jet’s boots and pants have been taken off, leaving them in just their socks and shirt. It should be embarrassing except their lower half is carefully tucked into the blankets and they’re actually the perfect temperature. They don’t have to look far to find Kobra though. He’s sitting on the edge of their bed, back turned a little as he sets something on the nightstand beside where the book is.
“Kobra.”
He turns, relief flooding his face as he finds their eyes. Kobra smiles and lets out a quick breath.
“Feelin’ any better?”
The soft light of the lamp beside their bed isn’t enough to illuminate the whole room. With the shadows still clinging to the edges of their vision, Kobra’s face is showcased by light source that’s so close to his face. His bleached hair shines with the soft glow, his light skin painted yellow in the odd light. Jet can see the bits of scruff around his cheek and chin, only visible through this angle, as well as the tiny little imperfections on his face. A tiny scar on his left cheek, thin and invisible until just now. Another scar rests on his forehead, larger but still unnoticed before. It looks older, faded. The light doesn’t touch his eyes and they remain a darkened shade of blue, still beautiful, captivating.
“A little,” they answer honestly.
Jet is thankful they don’t remember much about what they must have dreamed about but the freak out they’d had after was very much clear in their mind.
Jet can still feel that horrible pain in their chest, twisting and twining of their lungs until each breath physically hurt. That pounding in their head as they’d been bombarded by their own heartbeat as it refused to relax.
But that’s gone now. Jet can breathe easily and their heartbeat is nonexistent in their ears, finally relaxed enough to be normal.
“I’m glad,” Kobra replies sincerely.
He looks even more relieved at their assurance and Jet wonders how tonight must have felt for him. Kobra told them he had anxiety too so watching them freak out like they did earlier probably took a toll on him as well. He doesn’t show it though.
The only indication they can find is the weariness in his eyes, in the way he lets his head lower a little as they sit here.
“Um- I was wondering if you’d mind me staying here tonight?,” he adds after a moment’s hesitation.
That’s something Jet would never refuse. Kobra is a calming force, a steady rock that helps them stay afloat. They genuinely enjoy spending time with him, even in situations like this one where they can almost feel the worry he’s trying so hard to mask with a neutral expression.
But that’s why they don’t mind him spending tonight with them, though Jet isn’t quite sure as to why he would want to. Maybe it’s to keep a watch on them, to assure that they don’t have another panic attack. Or, maybe he’s worried about their heart…
Maybe, just maybe, he just wants to spend a little more time together.
They’re still thinking, trying to figure out why he’d want to stay here with them as Kobra quickly attempts to explain himself.
“I just worry about your heart since this was such a close call and I- and I also just don’t want you to have to sleep alone.”
He mumbles the last few words as if he’s afraid of Jet’s reaction to them. Like they’d be able to tell him no if he put it that way.
Jet pushes themself up on shaking arms and falls back onto the pillow that rests against the headboard. It takes a great deal of their strength and they’re nearly breathless because of it, but at least they’re more upright now.
Their movement seems to have cut Kobra’s train of thought off and he’s just sitting there with his mouth open in surprise. He looks ready to help them, one hand outstretched.
“You don’t have to ask,” Jet tells him quietly.
Kobra looks away, down at his hands as they fall to his lap, something almost like shame on his features.
“I didn’t want to just assume.”
“Kobra,” Jet breathes, surprised by how worried he was that they’d deny him.
Kobra reaches over then, connecting their hands on top of the sheets. Their face heats in a blush against their will, one Jet’s sure Kobra can see. His hand is warm, calloused, and somehow a perfect fit in theirs. Kobra’s touch is hesitant at first, like he’s waiting for them to pull away, but when Jet squeezes his hand gently, he is quick to hold their hand properly.
Their heart speeds up for an entirely different reason.
“We’re pretty sure the storm is over so you should probably try and get some rest,” Kobra starts, though he stops as they shake their head.
No, sleeping is the last thing they want to do right now.
Between the chances of another nightmare and not getting to hold Kobra’s hand, Jet would much rather stay awake.
“Jet,” he tries gently.
“I’m not tired.”
Its a weak lie, a completely see through one, and they know it.
“I’ll be right here.”
Jet doesn’t bring up the fact that they were using him as a pillow when the first nightmare had begun. Somehow they don’t think just being close is enough to dispel whatever the hell is going on in their head.
“But what about Grace?”
“Party and Ghoul have her. She’s gonna sleep with one’a them tonight so you don’t have to wake up for her,” Kobra explains. “Nice subject change by the way.”
He caught them. It’s like Kobra knows they’re trying to avoid actually admitting they’re tired. He knows them too well.
It’s oddly… not a bad feeling.
“I just- I don’t want to do all that again.”
“You won’t have to. I’ll keep the light on so that if you do wake up you’ll know exactly where you are. And I’ll be right here the whole time.”
Kobra has a point. They desperately want to sleep but that fear still clings to them. What if it's worse this time and they can’t pull themself out and their heart actually gives out?
“Lay with me?” they whisper.
He doesn’t answer right away and Jet’s afraid that they’ve asked for too much. Then, Kobra’s hand grips theirs a little more tightly and they meet his eyes hesitantly.
He’s giving them that soft smile again as he nods.
“Of course. All ya had to do was ask.”
The blankets are being pulled down as Kobra helps Jet move enough to lay back down. He lets them sink down into the warm heat of the bed before he pulls the covers back over their body. The last of the chill is fought away as they fight to stay awake. It’d be a shame if they fall asleep so soon after asking him to stay.
Jet hears Kobra’s boots hit the floor with two quiet thuds before he leans back and lays down beside them. He’s not under the blankets but he’s still only inches away from them. Their hands are connected over the blankets and Kobra traces invisible patterns on their skin.

The lamp remains on and Jet is thankful for how low the light is. They can still see Kobra, one hand laying on his stomach and his other connected to theirs, but everything else is dim.
Exhaustion catches back up to them and they blink very slowly to try and fight it for just a few more minutes. What if they wake up tomorrow and he’s not here with them?
What if they don’t wake up at all?
“I can hear you thinking,” Kobra whispers, his voice low and gravelly.
Jet wonders how tired he must be and they feel guilty for keeping him up so long.
“Sorry.”
“It’s okay, it’s not your fault. Sleep, I’ll see you in the morning, okay?”
Jet simply hums, already drifting off once again.
__________________________________
As Jet falls asleep, Kobra takes a deep breath.
His mind is still racing from earlier and as tired as he is, he knows he won’t be able to sleep anytime soon. If any at all tonight.
Twisting his head to look over at Jet, he takes in their sleeping features in the soft light provided by the lamp.
They’re relaxed, mouth slightly parted as they breathe evenly. Jet still has one hand intertwined with his, holding on loosely even as they sleep. It makes something pleasant rise up in Kobra’s chest.
Jet wanted him to stay, wanted him to lie here with them, wanted to hold his hand. It’s all too much but in the best possible way.
There’s that nagging part of his mind that worries that this is only temporary. After they get things with their heart and everything else sorted will Jet no longer want to be so close to him?
Kobra hopes not.
Whatever is growing between them feels special, important, and he prays that it’s not just because of circumstances. It’s real enough in his own mind anyway.
Jet sighs in their sleep and Kobra quickly tries to discern if they’re having another nightmare. He’s ready to wake them in hopes that it won’t be as bad as earlier if he pulls them out of it more quickly.
Their face scrunches like they’ve got an inch on their nose that they can’t scratch but there’s no fear in their expression. He pauses.
As Kobra is watching, making sure that they’re okay, Jet turns over. Their body is now pressed close to his side, one arm bent up next to their head and the other still somehow connected to his. Jet sighs again, a content sound, and doesn’t move.
Kobra holds his breath. It’s as if him breathing will wake Jet and they’ll move away. But they don’t, they stay right next to him with their face barely three inches from his own. He can see the stress of the day practically melt from their features.
In this moment, Kobra never wants to leave. If he could hold onto this for as long as possible he would. But he knows the vastly approaching morning will come eventually and either he or Jet will have to get up and face whatever tomorrow brings.
___________________________________

Picking up Grace and holding her carefully against his chest, Party returns to his seat at the bar. He twists the seat around so he’s facing the rest of the diner and turns his attention back towards Ghoul.
Currently, Ghoul is elbow deep in a mess of wires and batteries and Witch knows what else. Very quietly, Party can hear him mumbling to himself as he works.
As Grace cries a little in his arms, he bounces her in an attempt to actually get her to go to bed.
It’s late, so late it’s basically early at this point, and Party is damn near exhausted so the infant in his arms should definitely be asleep by now. But nope, she’s beaming up at him with a toothless smile, full of energy.
He looks back to where Ghoul is, by the door. Party hears him sigh and watches as he rubs at his eyes tiredly. It doesn’t seem like he’s noticed that Party is paying attention to him right now because he groans softly, displaying the fatigue he’s tried so hard to hide.
Ghoul glances up, catching Party’s eye.
Instantly he masks his face and tries for an easy smile. Party’s obviously not fooled but he’s not sure if he’d be able to convince Ghoul to sleep anyway.
“Please don’t say it.”
“It’s true,” Party retorts, repositioning Grace as she wiggles in his arms.
“I slept earlier, literally on top of you.”
“For an hour and a half,” he presses, trying to convey how very inadequate that amount of sleep is.
“I’m fi-”
“If you say you’re fine again I’m going to knock you out myself so maybe you’ll actually get some fucking sleep.”
Grace giggles, apparently amused by his frustration.
But Ghoul, he doesn’t make a sound. He’s staring down at his hands, balled into the fabric of his jeans.
“I’m sorry,” Ghoul says at last, without looking up.
“Please? Just tell me why at the least.”
“It’s sorta complicated…”
“I ain’t got nothing better to do.”
“Technically that’s a double negative so in actuality you-”
“Ghoul,” Party cuts him off, “You’re stalling.”
“Right. Yeah.”
He takes a sharp breath, fiddling with a hole in his jeans just above the knee. Party’s pretty sure he ripped it tripping over a cactus last month and had bitched about ruining his ‘good jeans’ for literal days. He didn’t seem too upset about the cactus needle embedded in his skin at the time.
“I just don’t like the memories this place brings I guess. It’s all too similar to when I got hurt and I can’t keep the two separate when I’m asleep like I can when I’m awake,” Ghoul explains slowly, twisting a stray strand of fabric in the rip of his jeans. “It’s just easier to not sleep as much, less of a risk I guess.”
“Ghoul…”
He looks up finally, vulnerable.
“Why didn’t you tell me this place had such a negative effect on you? I would’a already fuckin’ packed my bags and we’d be someplace safer.”
“That’s an even longer story,” Ghoul says quietly, abandoning his nervous fidgeting for once to instead just slide his finger in the hole at his knee and leave it there.
“I have the time Ghoulie.”
That earns Party a ghosting of a thankful smile, although it’s wary.
“I just was tryin’ to keep things slow like we agreed on. I figured adding in all of my baggage was not something to do while we were helping you become comfortable again with this type’a relationship. I just didn’t want to make it about me…”
“Ghoul,” Party whispers, his heart breaking at the thought of that.
Sure, they were both working hard to overcome Party’s past but he’d never intended for Ghoul to just ignore his own. Even he knows that that’s not how things are supposed to work.
“I know… it sounds dumb when I say it out loud but I just don’t- I don’t wanna make it all about me.”
He’s repeating himself Party notices.
“Admitting that something is bothering you does not equal making it all about you,” Party tries gently.
“Okay but with everything with Korse and Jet and Kobra, and the whole thing the two of them have going on, me not sleeping really isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things.”
“I beg to differ. Just because all of those things are important doesn’t mean your struggles aren’t,” he tells Ghoul, watching his reaction.
Ghoul’s confused for a moment, struggling to grasp that Party does actually fuckin’ care about him.
“But-” he argues weakly.
“Nope. I told you, no buts.”
“I-,” he looks down again, “I’m still not sure if I can sleep.”
Hell, that’s fuckin’ partial success. Party’s at least gotten him to acknowledge something is wrong and admit, albeit by implications rather than actually saying it aloud, that he needs to sleep.
It’s progress.
“That’s okay. At least lay down for a while, rest.”
Party is fairly certain it’s not going to be that easy but he has to try. Ghoul just shakes his head, stopping halfway through the motion like he’s changed his mind.
“What about the bombs? Plus the chances of a patrol finding us tonight are high because they always come with or directly follow a storm,” Ghoul says as he waves his arms as he voices his concerns.
“The bombs can wait, you shouldn’t be messing with them right now anyway, and I’ll be awake with Grace for a while. I plan on taking watch. Plus, I’m pretty sure Kobra’s not asleep either; he’s probably keepin’ an eye on Jet. So, that’s half of us on watch. We’ll be okay.”
Ghoul looks ready to argue, his mouth already open like the words are just on the tip of his tongue. But he doesn’t.
Much to Party’s surprise, Ghoul nods slowly and begins cleaning up his work. He places the unused wires and things in an old crate they’d found before carefully lifting the most completed bombs and placing them safely on the nearby table. Party knows enough to be fairly certain they aren’t armed, or really at a risk to blow, but he still isn’t too keen on them being out in the open like that.
It doesn’t matter, Kobra steers clear of all of Ghoul’s explosives and Jet’s probably going to sleep for a good while so there’s no real risk.
As Ghoul stands and comes to a stop beside Party’s bar stool, he leans over and presses a quick kiss to Grace’s forehead. She giggles and Ghoul actually brightens just a little.
“What, none for me?” Party teases, earning a half-hearted glare from Ghoul.
He does kiss him though, a soft slow press of their lips to say goodnight.
“I’ll take her with me,” Ghoul offers, gesturing to Grace as he pulls away.
“You sure?”
“Yeah. You gotta keep watch and uh- I don’t wanna sleep alone.”
Ghoul hurries through the last part, making it near impossible for Party to understand what he meant as the words all jumble together. But when he does register what Ghoul just said, he quickly passes Grace to him.
He visibly relaxes the moment Party hands her to him, smiling down at the baby in his arms. Ghoul is so good with her and it makes Party wonder if he’s been around babies before. Maybe Grace is just special.
“I’ll come up later to check on you, okay?”
Ghoul shakes his head and gives him one last, quick kiss goodnight before turning and heading upstairs.
___________________________________
The morning light shines directly into Kobra’s eyes.
It’s low-key pissing him off as the bright beams burn into his retinas or whatever the hell you call them.
Only a few hours have passed since he brought Jet to bed but it’s already morning. They’re asleep beside him, curled up against his side and he can hear their tiny little snores. It’s really fucking adorable for some reason.
Jet’s hair is once again in his face and he’s pretty sure there’s some in his mouth too. But he’s not complaining, not when they’re as close as they are right now.
He’ll deal with all of the sunlight burning his eyes and all of the hair in his mouth gladly if it means they can stay like this.
Sometime in the night, Jet’s hand left his. Now, they’ve got one arm slung over his middle and the other still by their head. He hasn’t moved an inch other than to wrap a cautious arm over the one over his middle, terrified that he’ll push some unseen boundary that they have.
There’s a near silent knock at the door, so quiet he barely hears it. Whoever it is doesn’t wait on him to answer or get up, not that he’d willingly leave this position unless he absolutely had to.
The door creaks open and his brother quietly shuffles in. Party mouths a ‘morning’ to him after he notices Jet is still asleep.
Kobra tilts his head as much as he dares in a greeting.
He watches through half lidded eyes as Party goes about checking up on Jet. Party takes their pulse before pressing a hand to their back to monitor their breathing, all while wearing a stupid, all knowing grin.
Without a word, Party nods once to show Kobra that while they’re not a hundred percent, they are doing better.
Kobra mouths a ‘thank you’ to his brother, who just smiles knowingly. Then Party holds up one finger in a ‘be right back’ motion before quietly slipping out of the room.
He returns a good half hour later, two mugs in hand.
Party hands Kobra one, after waiting patiently for Kobra to carefully wiggle enough to sit up without waking Jet. Kobra takes a deep breath, inhaling the coffee’s fragrance and lets it linger in his breath long enough to where he can almost taste it. His brother doesn’t leave, just takes a seat in the desk chair and begins sipping on his own coffee.
Kobra follows his lead, savoring the taste of every sip.
He looks down when Jet stirs. They scrunch their face again before throwing their arm back over his waist. Kobra’s heart basically stops at this point.
Instantly, Jet’s face relaxes in their sleep as they once again have at least one part of them touching him.
When he finally is able to look away he finds Party flashing him that knowing smile yet again. Kobra’s face heats up and he forces himself to think only about the warm mug in his hands.
The sun isn’t miserable yet as it continues to fight off the last of the night’s chill so the warmth the mug provides is pleasant. It reminds Kobra of the few moments of peace that he and Party had in the City.
There weren’t many but sometimes, when things seemed to align, it’d just be him and his brother, sitting together like this and sharing a warm drink or something sweet. If there was anything he misses about the City, it’d be those moments.
Party leaves an hour or so later, whispering that he’s going to do a walk around to check things out after the storm. Kobra doesn’t protest, despite how much he wants to, and lifts his free hand in a parting wave.
The heat is kicking in now, making the room grow steadily uncomfortable. It takes some effort and a lot of internal cursing at how much he’s probably disturbing Jet, but Kobra finally succeeds in kicking the blankets off of Jet so they don’t get overheated. They remain clinging to him but he’s not about to detangle himself from them completely. If it’s helping them sleep without any nightmares it’s worth any awkwardness he may feel.
He keeps his eyes on the ceiling, tracing the patterns in the old paint so that they can retain their privacy. Kobra had striped them last night merely so that they’d be comfortable. Sleeping in leather pants was probably not going to feel so great against the healing wound on their stomach.
It would be crossing so many boundaries if he stares at them now while they sleep and really, he respects them too much to try and sneak a look.
Maybe it’s past experience, with assholes not caring if he didn’t want them coping a feel or staring at him. He’s been fucking drugged before so he knows that people can and do take advantage in situations like this.
That’s why Kobra refuses to actually do any of the touching. He will not be like those sandmites and he will not take advantage of Jet.
Even if he wants to wrap a hand around their waist and pull them close, to run his hand up the back of their shirt and feel the warmth radiating off of the soft skin there. Kobra would love to lean over and press his lips to their forehead, their eyelids, their lips, as they sleep, but he would never. Not unless they wanted him to. And he has no way of knowing unless they’re awake and he asks them.

Sometime later, Kobra grows restless. He’s not as fidgety as Ghoul but even he can’t lay in one position for any longer. So, he carefully detangels himself from Jet’s arms and sits on the edge of the bed.
He is painfully aware that it is very unlikely that he’ll get this close to them again but there’s nothing he can do for now.
Standing and stretching, Kobra wonders over to the window. The sun is high now, making it nearly mid day, and he can see the heat waves as they bounce off of the sand, distorting the horizon in odd ripples.
There’s debris laying everywhere, probably blown in by the storm last night. He’s on the opposite side of the building so he can’t see the shed where Ghoul was working nor can he see the Drac cars that are still parked out front.
Wait-
No. Maybe he’s wrong.
There are cars out of the window, in a straight line.
It takes a moment to click that these cars are moving, that he is on the side of the building instead of the front, and that the cars are getting closer.
Kobra curses loudly, turning hastily and searching for his gun. By some miracle his blaster is sitting in its holster on the nightstand. He rushes to put it on as he’s fast walking to the door. He gives Jet a passing glance, deciding against waking them. They shouldn’t be in the fight anyway, not with the close call they’d had last night.
Letting the door shut behind him, Kobra breaks into a run. He makes it a total of four steps before stopping, suddenly remembering that Party was going to try and get Ghoul to sleep after he’d gone up with Jet. If he did listen and go to sleep, he might be in his room on this floor. Should Kobra wake him?
He hates to admit it but yeah, just he and Party won’t last very long against the patrol. Kobra turns on his heel and books it to the unclaimed rooms. By another miracle, the closest one turns out to be Ghoul’s.
And holy shit-
Ghoul is actually fucking asleep. He’s laying sprawled out on the bed, mouth open and snoring loudly. The blankets are twisted around him and his boots are thrown haphazardly on the floor beside the bed.
Grace sleeps in a new drawer on the table beside the bed. She’s peaceful and Kobra does his best to not wake her.
He feels horrible for it but Kobra quickly crosses the room and shakes Ghoul’s shoulder gently.
In an instant, Ghoul twitches and his eyes shoot open. He looks panicked until he notices Kobra.
“What’s goin’ on?” he asks groggily, even as he sits up.
“Another patrol. They’re on their way.”
Kobra should spare the time to actually apologize for waking Ghoul from his first real sleep in days but he doesn’t. The Dracs are getting closer and they really don’t have time to waste.
“Where’s Poison?” Ghoul questions in a grumble as he detangels himself from the blankets and hastily pulls on his boots.
Shit, Kobra’s shoes are still by Jet’s bed.
They don’t have time to get them but he still chides himself for forgetting.
“Outside. Last I heard from ‘im he was going to check for damage from the storm.”
Ghoul glances to Grace, making sure she’s okay while Kobra answers.
“Fuck. He know about the patrol?”
“Not sure.”
And with that the two of them race down the hall together, Ghoul only stopping to grab his own gun.
As they burst out the door, after making sure Party wasn’t in the diner, Kobra runs directly into his brother. Ghoul is behind him so he catches his fall as he’s knocked backwards with the force of how hard his brother was running.
Out of breath and pale, Party stares wide eyed at them.
“A patrol,” he tells them hastily. “Comin’ directly off’a Guano.”
It clicks in Kobra’s mind as he stands back up.
Guano is directly in front of the diner and yeah, he can see the patrol as it speeds closer.
But the one he saw was to their right, cutting through the desert rather than taking the main road.
“There’s two.”
“What?”
“Two patrols. I saw one outta Jet’s window and I was comin’ to tell you!”
Party curses loudly and they all jog over to the side of the building. Running through sand in just your socks is not fun and Kobra debates gluing his boots on so he doesn’t forget them again.
But Kobra was right, there’s two patrols.
Both are a good five minutes away, not enough time for them to make an escape. Not with Jet and the baby.
Party seems to be thinking the same as him, glancing to their car and back towards the building as he considers it.
“We keep them,” Party instructs, gesturing to the patrols, “out here and Jet and Grace in there.”
Both he and Ghoul agree.
“Follow me,” his brother continues before leading them away from the diner’s entrance. On instinct they’d come back to the front of the building but in that position they couldn’t see the second patrol at all.
They all stop at the corner of the building on the right side again. From this angle they can see both the patrol off Guano and the one cutting through the sand. It’s a good spot but Kobra can’t see any cover, nothing to hide behind should they need to.
But this as good as it’s gonna get.
“Everyone got a full charge?” Party questions, already checking his own and wincing.
“‘Bout 80 percent on mine.”
He’d glanced at his own when he’d picked it up on the way down.
“Little over half,” Ghoul adds as well.
“Yours?” Kobra asks, already having a bad feeling that it’s low.
“Enough.”
That alone tell Kobra that Party’s is probably damn near out.
“Run ‘n change it. We got time if you go now.”
“No,” Party shakes his head. “We don’t have any more charge. We’re running really fucking low on supplies.”
Fuck.
Kobra feels that familiar tightness in his chest. It’s not bad, nowhere near a full panic, but he’s getting there.
“Take mine,” Ghoul speaks up, already pressing the holt of his blaster into Party’s hand. “I gotta plan.”
__
It’s a dumb plan, one Kobra very much does not like. But he has to admit, it’s also the best shot they have.
He watches Ghoul run back inside, hears the front door close loudly. Party holds Ghoul’s gun carefully, his features blank.
The patrols get there at the same time, coming to an abrupt halt about 20 yards away. With this angle, Kobra and Party are essentially backed against the building. Behind their backs is the wall of the diner and on both sides, sit the cars. They can’t even go forwards, the ends of the lines of vehicles forming a sharp point and connecting the two patrols.
There’s a total of eight cars this time though no one’s gotten out of any yet.
A car door slamming to his left makes Kobra jump. He’s blaming his nerves even as he jerks his head to watch Korse step out of the car closest to him. Party stands to Kobra’s right, the opposite side of the Exterminator, and his presence gives him the confidence he needs.
“Well, well. Looks like our little storm didn’t drown you like I’d hoped. Is it too much to wish for one of you to have gotten horribly burned by the acidic rain? Or perhaps you’ve breathed in too much of the toxins and your lungs are shutting down as we speak?”
Korse’s voice is just as odd as before. It’s smooth, higher pitched, but still chilling.
“What do you fuckin’ want egg head?” Party demands, glaring at Korse whole-heartedly.
“I informed you last time that my name is Exterminator Korse and that you will refer to me with the respect I deserve.”
“Good fuckin’ luck with that Humpty Dumpty!” Party hollers with a smirk.
Korse bristles and Kobra actually has to hide his own smile. This shouldn’t be as fun as it is.
“Resorting to name calling suggests that you know you cannot win this fight. This is merely a stalling mechanism, one that I do not intend on tolerating,” comes Korse’s clipped reply.
“Oh yeah? And how do ya know I don’t just like to mess with you Mr. Humpty, sir?”
Party’s having fun with this too. He hasn’t even aimed Ghoul’s blaster yet.
Apparently, Korse has had enough of his brother’s bulshit.
“Surrender now and I can assure you that you will be reintroduced into the Great City as a high class citizen. You will never go hungry nor will you weather the elements again.”
“And you can kiss my ass!” Party yells, finally aiming the gun in his hand.
Briefly, Kobra searches Korse for any indication he’s still suffering from the wound Jet gave him.
But unfortunately, the Exterminator looks to be in full health. He’s fucking insane but physically sound. There’s no way he’d be standing so easily if the wound was still there.
It’s complete bulshit that Korse didn’t have to suffer though the painful injury and recovery when Jet is still fucking recovering. If they had to endure the pain and everything that came with getting shot like that, then Korse deserves it ten fold.
And Kobra will make sure he gets it.
“I shall do no such thing. I will however, give you one last chance to surrender. Think of your brother. He’s just a kid. Does he really need to see another firefight? Can you protect him this time?”
Korse knows how to get to them. Kobra can see the hesitation on his brother’s face. He knows that Party would never surrender but he can also tell that he knows Kobra could get hurt in this fight. Never mind the fact that Party himself is also at as much risk as he is. The moment of hesitation is gone in the blink of an eye and Kobra’s pretty sure Korse didn’t even catch it.
“Korse,” Kobra speaks up, determining now a good as a time as any to enter the conversation. “Tell me honestly, did you loose your hair in a bet or were you born bald as a fuckin’ eagle?”
Yep. Taunting Korse and watching his anger slowly increase is just as much fun as Party had made it look.
“The desert has fried your brains, child. Eagles aren’t bald,” Korse says slowly, like he’s taking to a small child.
“Well if I were you, I’d invest in some sun cream for your head the next time you come out, ‘cause you’re gonna turn int’ a wavy if you ain’t careful!”
At that, Party actually chuckles beside him.
“Enough. I’m done with your little games. You’ve stalled plenty enough. Men!”
Every car door opens at once and instantly chills run down Kobra’s spine. There’s too many, way too fucking many.
He counts over twenty Dracs and cold dread sits hard in his stomach. Jet and the baby are just inside and there’s no way Ghoul’s ready yet.
They need more time but it doesn’t look like they’re getting any.
“Open fire,” Korse says calmly, as if he’s ordering lunch at a casual restaurant.
Kobra doesn’t have time to blink before Party is shoving him down face first into the sand.
The cloud of dust kicks up quickly as he hears the Drac’s beams connect with the diner wall they were just up against.
Turning his head as much as he dares, he finds Party right beside him in the sand.
They make eye contact.
Holy shit they just survived that!
With the amount of dust in the way, the Dracs have continued to fire straight ahead rather than down at the ground where he and Party lie. The moment they stop the dust will settle and then they truly will be screwed. He just has to hope that Ghoul’s ready in time.
“How much longer?” Kobra asks as loud as he dares.
“Don’t know!”
Shit.
“Hey assholes!” Ghoul’s voice projects over the sound of laser fire. “Wanna piece of me too, ya fuck faces?”
The laser fire comes to a stop abruptly. Smoke fills Kobra’s lungs, stinging his eyes as he lay deathly still in the sand.
He hears the sound of a car engine, followed soon by the sound of the Dracs starting up their own vehicles.
Good. They’re taking the bait.
“You gonna try and catch me?” Ghoul continues to taunt.
Party erupts into coughs causing Kobra to jerk his head in search for his brother. He’s right where he was the last time Kobra looked, except now he’s got the crook of his elbow over his mouth as he continues to cough.
Fuck. The smoke and dust.
His lungs must still be weak...
With the dust slowly clearing, Kobra watches Korse look over, away from Ghoul, to where he and Party lay. The moment he realizes that they’re still alive Kobra realizes they’re screwed.
“Someone did get something in their lungs I see, a shame it hasn’t killed you already. You two are quickly becoming a pain in my-”
Korse is cut off from his taunting by a scorching blast skimming past his cheek. Instantly, the skin turns red and blistered were the beam just barely missed him.
He turns swiftly, raging.
“Do you have a death wish?” he demands of Ghoul.
Ghoul just shrugs and revs the engine of their car. The top is down and he’s only a few feet away so Kobra can see his determined smirk. Party’s gun is in his hand, still pointed at the Exterminator.
Finally, his brother stops coughing but when Kobra chances a look over to him he looks worn down, pale.
Fuck!
He will not go through the fever again. Not if he can fucking help it.
“What, you think I wear these clothes for nothin’? Gotta tell ya, it ain’t a fucking fashion statement!” Ghoul says with a smirk.
His eyes are trained on Korse but Kobra sees the slightest of glances in his and Party’s direction. Kobra makes no move to communicate with him. If they can distract Korse again their plan may still work.
“I think you are a very long way from home young man.”
“Gonna offer me a chance to be a citizen again? I gotta say, I ain’t lookin’ forward to having to go to work again.”
“No,” Korse says seriously. “You are beyond redemption. Not even our strongest medications can wipe clean the pure chaos in your mind. You are irredeemable.”
Kobra flinches, Korse’s words cutting harsh even though he’s not even the one they’re aimed at. But Ghoul’s face remains neutral, bored almost. Like he’s heard that one too many times before.
“Yeah? Then why don’t you actually fucking kill me this time?” Ghoul shouts, turning the radio on full blast and gunning the car, taking off towards Guano.
Some pre- war song blasts from the speakers, loud with too much base. Korse takes the bait, signaling his men to follow the Trans-AM before getting in his own car and doing the same.
Ghoul sticks one hand up through the open roof, flipping off the cars behind him but signaling Kobra to the next part of the plan.
“C’mon. Party we gotta go!” Kobra says, nuding his brother with a boot.
His brother nods with tired eyes as Kobra stands. He pulls Party to his feet a moment later.
“Good?”
“Yeah,” Party rasps but he’s already back to a normal color.
And they take off running towards the old patrol cars out front. They can still see Ghoul driving, not yet at Guano, with both patrols not far behind.
Seeing as Kobra is a- very slightly- better shot, it’s unspoken that he will be riding shotgun and Party will be driving.
The car cranks on the second try and soon they too are speeding towards Guano.

Chapter Text

You know that feeling where you’re too tired to wake up but your mind is already not only awake, but running at full speed? All while you lay there, eyes closed, praying for just a few more moments of sleep.
That’s where Jet is right now.
They’re only sort of awake. The soft blankets under them and the heat of the day are contrasting in their semi-conscious mind. And it is hot, boiling almost as they lay here. Jet’s fairly certain they’re on top of the blankets but again, they’re only half awake so who’s to be sure?
But they’re also comfortable. The blankets are soft, familiar almost even though they’ve never had a bed to call their own before. Maybe it’s simply because Jet is so used to their sleeping bag rather than an actual mattress.
Even with the uncomfortable heat, with how exhausted they feel Jet knows that they should still be asleep.
Something else has woken them but they’re not sure what exactly.
With a lack of anything better to do, Jet does their best to recall the previous night. They remember pieces of the storm, staying pressed against Kobra literally the entire time, the aftereffects of their nightmare, and then-very vaguely- they remember falling asleep in here. Kobra was with them, of that they’re nearly positive, but he’s not here now. Not that they can tell.
As pathetic as it is, Jet feels the familiar pang of loneliness at that realization. He’d promised he’d stay and here they are, waking up alone.
But it’s not like it’s Kobra’s job to stay with them when they sleep all day and it’s bound to be sometime around lunch with this heat the way that it is. Maybe he got bored watching them drool in their sleep.
Maybe he regretted sleeping in the bed with them entirely…
Jet forces themself to take a shaky breath, in through their nose and out through their mouth as they try to stay calm.
They’re overreacting anyway. Kobra isn’t here but it’s not like he has to spend every waking moment with them or anything. Sure, they’d asked him to stay and he’d said yes, but that doesn’t mean he has to stay all day.
There’s a billion reasons why he might have left and it’ll do Jet no good in agonizing over it. It’s a simple solution really, get up and find Kobra, then ask him.
And they do want to find him. Already they miss him, like a phantom ache in their chest. They are beginning to see past those layers of indifference that he broadcasts out. Behind that bored expression Kobra wears all the time, his mind racing and he’s nowhere close to as stone cold as first glances might insist.
He worries, a little too much, constantly, but hides it so well until it literally boils over.
Last night, that anxiety had nearly boiled over but he’d fought through it. For them.
Talking to him afterwards last night proved that Jet had scared him pretty badly.
His heartbeat still echoes in their ears, anxious yes, but strong.

Jet truly can’t describe the feeling that bursts in their chest as they think of those things. Of how- perfect, kind, amazing, sweet, caring…- well Kobra fits into their life. How much he helps them, how much he means to them.
And they miss him. He can’t have been gone long but Jet already misses him horribly. They want to see that little glint in his eyes as he silently judges something Ghoul says. That little smirk when he and Party are bickering just for the hell of it. And that smile, that soft twitch of his lips when he catches their eyes on him.
-
Holy shit-
They love him.
-
That realization gives them the motivation to actually make an effort to get up.
Prying their eyes open, Jet allows themself just a moment longer to rest. They’re still exhausted and they already dread the amount of effort it’s going to take to go find Kobra. It’ll be worth it but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be fun. Besides, something deep in them is screaming that there’s something off. They have a bad feeling but aren’t really sure what it’s about.
They savor the peaceful quiet of the room around them for a few more seconds before taking another deep breath and pushing themself up onto their elbows.
It’s more difficult than they’d expected but soon they are standing by the bed, ears ringing. The world sorta tilts afterwards in protest and Jet has to hold onto the mattress for support until the feeling slowly passes.
How bad was the thing with their heart last night?
Like they actually feel weak, their legs unsteady under them and their head light even as the tiling fades to a manageable degree.

They find their pants carefully folded and laying on top of the desk chair. Their boots sit on the floor beside it. As quickly as they can, Jet slips into the pants and pulls on their boots. It gives them a head rush, moving around so much, and they have to pause and sit in the chair while this one passes.

The moment they’re able, Jet crosses the room and stands by the window. They can’t help but notice that Kobra’s boots are still on the floor by the bed. He left in a hurry but they doubt he’d be outside without them.
The window is dirty, covered in muddy sand that’s been caked into every crevice by the storm last night. There’s a lot of dust kicked up outside, rolling in waves along the slight breeze.
Something still feels off.
Jet’s not sure if it’s Kobra exactly they’re worried about or just like - things in general.

Watching the window has given them no actual leeway in figuring out what feels wrong. They should just go find the others, take their mind off of things.
Maybe the others are downstairs, making breakfast- or maybe even more coffee. Even if not, that seems like a good place to try and find Kobra, is probably their best bet. He’s bound to be with either his brother or Ghoul.
But that’s easier said than done.
Attempting to make their way to the door, Jet has to stop and rest by the bed before finishing the tip. They haven't felt this weak since they’d first gotten shot and being in this state again, after already having gone through it only a little over a week ago, is just as annoying as it sounds.
Their stomach doesn't hurt- thank the Witch- but it’s like every little movement costs twice the normal amount of effort. It’s frustrating and they curse themself for freaking out so much last night.
Party had warned Jet to try and take it easy until they figured out what was wrong with their heart. So naturally, they’d gone and had a major panic attack after being exhausted by the sun. This is their own fault.
But, even so, Jet isn’t frustrated enough to push themself too far. They know that they need a break. Which is why they’re leaning against the side of the bed and willing their knees to not give out under them.
Jet can’t help the little voice in the back of their mind telling them that Kobra’s gone, that the reason the building is so quiet and there’s so much dust outside, even after the storm must have been gone for hours, is because the others took off in the night. Leaving Jet alone.
But wait-
Grace.
Surly, she’d still be here right?
Jet tries to remember where she was last but everything revolving around last night is blurry and hazy in their mind. Just as they’re debating on the chances of her being upstairs with them, a loud explosion rocks the building.
With their legs as shaky as they are, Jet nearly falls from the shock. Their heart is beating loudly in their ears again, something they’re growing to hate.
Maybe Ghoul’s just testing his bombs or something…
Then another explosion comes, somewhat smaller but still just as terrifying.
It might be another test. But deep inside of them, they know that that’s not the case. There’s something wrong, they can feel it.
___________________________________
Did Kobra mention that he hates Ghoul’s plan?
Sure, it’s simple, doable, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.
His plan is far from it, actually. Ghoul was never one for subtlety but this is crossing a line even for him.
But it’s the best one they’ve got, the only one they’ve got, and there’s nothing Kobra can do now that it’s started.
He trusts Ghoul. The kid is quite literally his best friend. But that’s exactly why he’s got a bad feeling about this; Ghoul always ends up being the one hurt. He’s always the one to take the brunt of the disaster.
Sure, he’s gone on a pretty good streak recently with not getting hurt- unless you count the not sleeping thing and the recklessness- but Kobra knows that that can change in an instant. The Witch doesn’t care about winning streaks. She guides your soul whether you like it or not. When it’s your time, it’s your time. Very few people can cheat her, can cheat death, and those that do normally end up doing something important, being someone important.
People like Jet.
Like Kobra.
Hell, Ghoul too.
But, both he and Jet have starred their own death right in the face. And here Kobra is, in yet another clap with a Better Living Exterminator.
Maybe fate does exist, maybe he survived just so that this fight could happen.
Or, maybe there’s something greater that he has a part in. Kobra may never know for sure but he does know that he’s here now. That’s what matters.
He watches as Ghoul makes it to Guano at last, the car stopping in record time on the cracked pavement as he spins it around to face back where he’d come from.
To face the Exterminator.
The patrol cars stop too, still in the sand but plenty close enough to shoot him if they wanted to.

Ghoul sits on the other end, back tires almost touching the sand on that side of the road. A few feet of faded, cracked asphalt is all that’s between him and the Dracs.
Party and Kobra are in their stolen car, parked a little off to the right side of the patrol and thankfully unnoticed.
The stalling engines fill Kobra’s ears, the smell of gasoline and hot pavement bombard his senses. He’s not exactly panicking but he’s getting close. He can still hear the music coming from Ghoul’s radio, loud and somehow familiar.
“Ready?” Party questions confidently from the driver’s seat.
When he chances a look to Kobra, his face falls.
“Hey,” he tries instead, quiet, sincere. “He’s got this.”
“There’s too many.”
Kobra’s voice is hoarse, a whisper. He’s surprised his brother can hear him at all.
But Party just blows a sharp breath, as if in doing so he can relieve all of the tension that’s sitting in the air around them.
“Ghoul knows what he’s doin’. This is his thing.”
“Right. Yeah.”
Kobra tries to make the words set in his mind, to use them as an actual comfort rather than just letting them slide off.
Ghoul knows what he’s doing.
He watches as Korse steps out of his car, signaling the Dracs to do the same a moment later. They round on the Trans-AM, coming towards Ghoul in a semi-circle until they’re close enough and then they move to surround him at all sides.
The music shuts off and the silence that follows is drowning. Kobra forces himself to stay calm. If he freaks out it’ll only make their situation worse. They can’t afford to fuck this up.
The Dracs are only a few feet from Ghoul, entirely too close for Kobra’s liking. The gun that Ghoul has is almost out of charge and there’s no way he could take on this many if Korse causes them to deviate from the plan.

“What can you possibly be planning?” Korse’s voice booms, loud enough for Kobra to hear. “Are you giving up?”
“What’d ya fuckin’ think?”
Ghoul spits the words at him, Kobra able to see the smirk and look of disgust on his face even though his own view is blocked by the Dracs. He can see the backs of their masks, where the little latch is that clips them on. It sends shivers down him, the thought of what those masks do. Of what they represent.
They all have guns, all pointed at Ghoul.
Kobra’s own blaster is heavy in his hand and he knows that if they open fire Ghoul is done for.
But then, something happens that Kobra doesn’t see. A Drac falls backwards, hitting the sand with an audible thud.
“Now. What exactly did that accomplish?” Korse taunts as he looks back to Ghoul.
“This!”
And then Ghoul is hitting the gas, running over the Dracs standing in front of the car. The Exterminator jumps aside at the last minute as Ghoul jerks the wheel. He spins the car around again, the back tires sliding sideways over the sand and kicking up a wall of dust.
Shit.
The Trans-AM disappears in the cloud of dust and Kobra can only watch as Korse stands and aims his gun into it.
“You think hiding is going to help you?”
The engine roars again and Ghoul plows over even more Dracs on his way back through, Korse only barely managing to sidestep again. The Exterminator does shoot at the car though, succeeding in hitting the side view mirror.
Ghoul’s on the pavement again and Kobra can see his shit eating grin.
Has he already done it?
“Eh. It’s just fun,” Ghoul shouts, chuckling a bit at the end.
Then, he looks down, presumably at his lap, and the smile falls from his face. The car roars again and he hits the gas at the same time he throws something in the back seat.
As the Trans-AM goes through the remaining Dracs, -maybe 10 left standing- Ghoul dives out of the car.
That’s their cue.
Party hits the gas hard enough to make Kobra’s head connect painfully with the headrest. As they go onto the pavement and cut sideways to get to Ghoul, the Trans-AM reaches the Dracs.
It seems he timed it perfectly because the moment it’s in the middle of their formation, the car explodes.
Fire and metal skyrocket, the shock wave strong enough for Kobra to feel it even though they’re a good thousand feet away. His brother drives quickly, isn't phased by the explosion and the literal fire falling from the sky.
Kobra jumps out of the car the moment they make it to where Ghoul jumped. Another explosion, probably the fuel igniting, seems to rock the very sand beneath his feet. Cursing, Kobra forces himself to not watch the scene to his right. Ghoul’s more important.
He looks like he did yesterday morning after he nearly got struck by lightning. Pale and covered in black.
Shit, was that really only yesterday?
Right now though, Ghoul’s laying curled up on the pavement. There’s road burn on just about every inch of skin that Kobra can see, red and bleeding sluggishly. His clothes are torn and more blood appears beneath the ripped fabric. And he is pale, really freaking pale.
“Ghoul?” Kobra tries, placing a hand on his shoulder and shaking him.
It’s one of the few places not burned to shit and Kobra nearly passes out when Ghoul groans. He uncurls himself slowly as Party runs over, coming to a skidding halt beside them.
“Ghoul!” his brother yells, already trying to assess the damage.
As he pulls his hair up into a hair tie, Party gently pokes and moves random spots along Ghoul’s body, probably searching for broken bones or even worse injuries.
“Ghoul, c’mon asshole, wake the fuck up,” Party whispers rather loudly, his voice damn near breaking.
He lifts Ghoul’s arm, inspecting the torn skin there and bending his elbow.
“Stop all that fuckin’ yelllin’ ”
His voice is gravelly, slurred but Ghoul does look up at them a moment later.
“I’m going to fucking kill you,” Party says lovingly, as he continues to check Ghoul for any broken bones.
Nothing seems to be broken. He got really fucking lucky it seems.
Ghoul shakily pulls his hair behind his ear, his hand bleeding pretty badly and really only succeeding in rubbing a smear of red on the skin around his ear.
It makes Kobra wince. The road burns have got to hurt like a motherfucker, he knows this from experience.
But Ghoul’s face is just set in a scowl, not betraying any pain or anything other than a mild frustration.
“Didn’t even get ‘t see the ‘splosion.”
He’s still slurring his words barely flowing together. Kobra worries about a concussion around the time Party begins to check his vision for signs of a head injury.
“I’m going to help him kill you,” Kobra adds to Party’s earlier statement.
Because…. Seriously!?
Ghoul just nearly fucking died and he’s pissed he didn’t get to see the car explode?
Taking a glance over, and letting Party do his thing to make sure that Ghoul’s okay to move, Kobra watches the flames eat away at the Trans-AM.
There’s not much left at this point, just a burning metal skeleton. Bits of the car are scattered about, along with other things.
Kobra doesn’t think on it a moment longer than he has to but there are Dracs laying in the sand as well. Some are on fire, others are just… pieces. Some of their cars are on fire too but not all.
Korse catches his attention.
Kobra’s gun is raised and he’s standing before he’s released another breath. If the Exterminator wants to get Ghoul, he’s gonna have to to through him first.
Ghoul’s done enough today.
“I must say, that was a rather interesting turn of events don’t you think? Is that little Ghoul sprawled out on the pavement? I do hope he survived that jump.”
Korse is taunting them, speaking loud enough for him to hear over the low roar of the burning car. Then he steps closer and Kobra trains his blaster on his forehead.
“Oh my. Are you going to shoot me?”
Tightening his grip on his blaster, Kobra tries to pull the trigger.
But he can’t.
Something in him is preventing him from moving his finger enough to set the laser off. It’s incredibly frustrating but… he knows why.
This is a person.
Not a mindless Drac, a real person who may be insane, but he has feelings too. He can feel the pain of being shot. Even though Korse deserves to suffer, Kobra can’t bring himself to pull the trigger.
“I thought so.”
“ ‘s that baldy?” Ghoul slurs behind him.
Kobra hears a shuffle, likely Party keeping Ghoul from jumping up and trying to fist fight the Exterminator. Which is something that Ghoul would try to do.
“I’m gonna fuckin’ kill ‘im.”
“Ghoul. Stay the fuck down,” Party bites back. “If you broke somethin-”
“I ain’t broke nothin’. Lemme up.”
And then Ghoul stumbles his way to stand beside Kobra. His brother hovers anxiously to the side of Ghoul and Kobra understands why. He’s swaying, bleeding from multiple road burns, and probably has hit his head on the way down. But Ghoul just aims Party’s gun right at Korse.
“Ah. A shame then. You four really are like vermin; I just can’t seem to get rid of you,” Korse says in disgust before turning on his heel and calmly walking back to his car.
Ghoul sways dangerously and Party pulls his arm over his left shoulder. But Kobra can’t move.
He watches Korse just drive away, back towards the City.
This feels like a loss.
“Help me get ‘im to the car,” Party cuts Kobra’s thoughts off.
He shakes it off, every feeling other than the need to get Ghoul back to safety. That’s a top priority, getting Ghoul cleaned up and out of danger. Then, Kobra is going to check on Jet. He hates the thought of them waking up alone but at the time, this was more important.

With the two of them, getting Ghoul’s tiny ass back to the car isn’t difficult. The sun is still blistering though and Kobra feels like he’s already lost half his damn body weight out here today.
They ease Ghoul into the car, trying to avoid hitting the patches of raw skin that cover his arms, legs, and face. He groans under his breath but sits up straight in the seat.
“Party?” Ghoul asks quietly, making his brother pause.
Party’s half way in the backseat still, hunched over an exhausted looking Ghoul, while Kobra rests his head in his hands in the passenger seat.
“Why’d you change?” Ghoul finishes.
So, yeah, Party had traded the skirt for a new pair of faded, ripped jeans, but Kobra had barely even noticed it. Why would Ghoul, now of all times, be concerned about that?
“Wasn’t practical. I don’t want sand in my fuckin’ undies ya idiot,” Party says with a smirk.
“You should never wear pants. I’ve told you that before.”
“Okay, that’s where I draw the line,” Kobra speaks up, shaking his head to try and not picture his brother without pants on. “ just ‘cause ya nearly died doesn’t mean you can go and put those sorta images in my head.”
“Fuck you. I look fuckin’ hot as hell with or without pants on.”
Kobra cracks a smile but thankfully the conversation drifts away and he’s able to enjoy the silence as they drive back.
___________________________________
The sound of a car engine makes itself known right as Jet enters the diner. There’s no one downstairs, not that they can tell. They still don’t know where Grace is either, which adds a whole new layer to the anxiety running rampant in their mind right now.
Then, the car outside gets closer and Jet hears it cut out.
Had the others gone on a supply run or something?
There’s no way Jet slept more than a few hours, right?
A car door slams, making them jump.
Footsteps in the sand getting closer. They don’t dare peek through the windows, instead they’re stuck frozen in place at the bottom of the stairs. If this isn’t Kobra and the others Jet is done for.
They have no weapon and they’re currently breathing like they’ve ran for fucking miles.
The smell of smoke and something burning fills Jet’s lungs, not strong enough to make them cough but definitely noticeable.
What the hell is going on?
The front door swings open and Jet nearly falls over in relief. Kobra stumbles in, head down and gun in hand. But something else catches Jet’s eyes.
Blood.
There’s some on his jacket sleeves, a bit on his face, and quite a lot covering his hands.
Instantly, Jet’s rushing over to him. He nearly loses his balance as they all but tackle him. Pulling Kobra into firm hug, they pull away just as he recovers from his shock and wraps his arms around them. They’re thankful for that.
Jet’s knees have gone to pure mush and it’s surprising they’re still standing.

But they pull away and Jet holds Kobra’s arms in their hands, inspecting every inch of the fabric of his jacket and hands for the wounds they just know are there.
They find nothing but tanned, unmarked skin.
“I-I-”
“It’s not mine,” he states simply.
“Who…”
“Ghoul. He’s okay, Party’s gettin’ him outta the car no-”
Jet cuts him off by colliding their lips together. They don’t think, don’t even allow themself a moment of second guessing.
But he freezes against them, going stock still long enough for Jet to worry they’ve read this all wrong.
Then, slowly, Kobra begins kissing them back. He pulls them against him as their knees finally give out, holding them close. His lips are soft, if a bit chapped, and they somehow seem to fit perfectly against theirs. Jet can hardly think over the feel of Kobra’s lips against their own. It's mind numbing in the best possible way. And Kobra sighs a little into the kiss, letting Jet melt against him. They pull apart but only just enough to rest their foreheads together. Somehow this is better than they ever had thought. His breaths mingle with theirs as Jet keeps their eyes closed just a moment longer. Kobra's safe, he's right here.

Chapter Text

Kobra’s not freaking out. Nope not at all.

Except, yeah, he totally is.

His and Jet’s foreheads rest together, his arms wrapped around their waist, effectively holding them up. They’re leaning against him heavily, breaths mixing with his own. 

The feeling of their lips against his own lingers even after they’ve pulled away. The kiss was both terrifying and incredible at the same time. 

Jet had taken him by surprise, just pressed their lips together with such force that you’d think the world was ending around them. He could feel their fear for his safety pouring into the kiss. But it was incredibly soft as well, gentle and exploring. Kobra can’t stop thinking about it. 

Thinking about how warm they are or how well they fit against him. Jet’s eyes are closed, mouth open slightly. Their lips are slick, if a little swollen, and Kobra wants to capture them again. 

He still worries that this is somehow taking advantage of them but there’s another part of him that’s screaming that they kissed him first. If Jet hadn’t wanted to then they wouldn’t have kissed him.

Does that mean they feel the same way about him?

It just- it feels so sudden. Sure they’ve held hands and Jet’s fallen asleep on him but that doesn’t mean that they like him too. Or does it?

Kobra has no idea.

“Can I kiss you again?” he whispers, only just loud enough for them to hear.

That's the only thing he knows for sure, that he needs to kiss them again. He's gotten a taste and now he's hooked so to speak. But he won't kiss Jet unless they want him to.

 

Jet opens their eyes, smiling brightly before flicking their gaze to his lips.

“Please,” they breathe and that’s all he needs.

He carefully connects their lips once again. Kobra lets Jet set the pace, lets them lead. The very last thing he wants to do is to assume something and take this too far, to do something they don’t want to happen. 

But Jet doesn’t seem to hesitate, just kisses him with enough feeling and purpose and meaning that he can feel it in his toes. Kobra can’t think of anything else that has even come close to feeling like this. 

He’s kissed people before, sure but it has never been like this any of the other times. He’s never wanted to keep kissing someone as much as he does with Jet. The smell of them, that dirt and sand smell that’s mixed with something mechanical almost, it’s intoxicating. Kobra could get- is getting- drunk off of Jet. And it’s better than any alcohol he’s ever had. 

Jet is the one to break away first and Kobra’s mind is so far gone that he chases after their lips, needing more, not wanting this to end so soon. Jet chuckles breathlessly and presses a quick kiss to his lips again. 

“Fucking took you two long enough,” Party says loudly, causing Kobra to flinch.

His face heats up, realizing that they’ve been caught.

“I-I-uh-”
“Nice. You fried his brains, Jet,” Ghoul adds with a short laugh.

Ghoul’s being led inside by Party, one arm slung over his shoulder as he all but stumbles inside. Thankfully, it looks like most of the road burns have stopped bleeding and he’s no longer slurring his words like before. 

Kobra is very surprised when Jet doesn’t pull away at the entrance of the others; they just continue to allow him to hold them. He pulls them to his side, wrapping an arm around their waist. 

Wait-

Are they shaking?

Taking a second glance, Kobra finds that yes, Jet’s shaking like a fucking leaf and they’re also really fuckin' pale in comparison to their normal skin tone.

As Party gets Ghoul to sit down while he goes to find the med kit, Kobra tries to fight off the fear creeping up in his mind. 

“Jet?” 

They hum, leaning to lay their head on his shoulder. Jet looks exhausted and Kobra’s not sure how he didn’t notice it before now.

 

It's obvious now that he's looking.

“What’re you doin’ up?” he tries instead. 

That makes them look up at him, eyes wide and vulnerable as they consider his question.
“Woke up and you were gone,” they admit quietly, looking away to avoid his eyes. “Then I heard something blow up and I got worried.”

 

Without thinking, Kobra looks over to where Ghoul lies. With the attention no longer on him, Ghoul seems to have simply deflated in the booth he’s sitting in. He’s lying long ways in the seat, boots just barely reaching the edge of it, with one arm over his eyes and the other resting on his middle. He's absolutely covered in blood and about eight kinds of sand. 

“Ghoul had a dumb plan and it worked.”

“He looks like he blew himself up,” Jet counters, clearly not okay with the shitty explanation that Kobra provided.

“There was a patrol, two of ‘em actually, and we had to get them away from the diner. So, we led them to Guano and blew them sky high.”

Jet blinks. Once. Twice.

“Two patrols?” they asks incredulously.

“Yeah, Korse was with ‘em.”
“Holy- what the hell Kobra? Are you okay?” 

At that, Jet begins to search him for any injuries. They look horrified by the thought and Kobra has to remind himself to breathe. Jet shouldn't be worried about him.

“I’m fine. Not a scratch.”

“Thank fuck,” Jet whispers, leaning back against him and letting Kobra wrap his arm around their waist again. 

They look relieved but once again exhausted.

“You shouldn’t be up.”

It’s a statement. 

Jet feels entirely too shaky, like they're going to fall over any second now.

“I was worried.”
“We’re okay. Ghoul just ate some pavement and me ‘n Party ain’t hurt at all. You should go back to sleep for a while,” Kobra tells them gently, rubbing his fingers in the fabric of their shirt. Its soft and already carries their smell.

Jet just sighs but shakes their head all the same.

“ 'M not that tired,” they protest softly. “Just wanna sit down for a bit.”

Kobra knows that that's an understatement, that their heart being so weak is what's causing them to feel so poorly, but he doesn't want to argue. Sitting counts as resting anyway.

So, he helps them over to a booth, letting them slide in before scooting in beside them. A quiet snore fills the room and Kobra wonders if Jet’s fallen asleep that quickly. But no, they’re awake and leaning their head on his shoulder so…

The sound is coming from Ghoul. 

He’s still got his arm thrown over his face but his mouth is open, and the snores grow in volume a bit. 

There’s no fucking way he’s asleep right now. Holy shit-

“I don’t think I ever seen him fall asleep so quick,” Jet mumbles, slightly in awe.

Which yeah, Kobra’s shocked too. Ghoul doesn’t do falling asleep in random places, he’s too paranoid for that shit. 

Party comes in sometime later, med kit in one arm and a giggling Grace in the other. As much as Jet had protested that they weren’t tired, they too had fallen asleep after a few moments. They’d only really relaxed after Kobra had told them that Grace was upstairs in Ghoul’s room, safe.

It was exactly minute later that they'd finally relaxed enough to fall asleep. 

“Sorry it took me so long. Grace had made a fuckin' mess in her diaper and I had to clean her up,” Party explains quietly, bouncing the baby on his hip a bit. 

“S’okay. They’re both asleep anyway.”

“Shit," Party mumbles as he realizes that yeah, Ghoul's actually asleep right now.

 

He hands Grace to Kobra, who unfortunately has to take one hand off the sleeping form of Jet in order to hold her. But Kobra just keeps her close to his chest, letting her wiggle around a little. Grace is all smiles today it seems, hands grasping at his jacket and his face while she stares at him with those wide, hazel eyes. Kobra lets her pat her way around his jaw as she tries to pull on the slight stubble growing there. He’s thankful it’s not any longer or Grace would definitely be yanking on it.
Party goes over to Ghoul, moving his arm off of his face and inspecting the burns covering his skin. He gently pulls Ghoul’s shirt up and off, getting better access to the injuries. As he works, Party's face goes into a deep frown while he concentrates on cleaning the raw skin and taping bandages to the worst of it.

“He gonna be okay?”
“Yeah, lucky little bastard,” Party replies, tapping another bandage down. 

Ghoul winces, even in his sleep, and Party whispers an apology. Then he moves on to the acid burns, still pink and painful looking from the day before. 

As Party finishes cleaning Ghoul up, he reaches in his lap for a small pack of wipes that Kobra hadn’t noticed before. He sets to work wiping the rest of the grime from Ghoul’s face and neck before moving down to clean the rest of him. The spots where Party had wiped his skin with rubbing alcohol to get to the burns, both from the rain and the asphalt, is pale in contrast to the dirt and grime covering nearly every inch of him. But as his brother works with the wipes, slowly Ghoul’s skin goes from grey and dirty to his normal lightly tanned color. 

All cleaned up, Ghoul looks way better than he had a few moments ago. He looks fine, except for the bandages plastered all over him, and Kobra feels the knot of worry inside of him lesson a little.

“When he wakes up, I’m gonna double check that he didn't hit his head,” Party explains, mostly to himself, as he tosses the used cloths into an old box in the corner of the room. 

They’re good fire material and it’d be a waste to just throw them away. Besides, they’re low on supplies so it’d be dumb to not save what they have left.

The air smells like the cheap cleaning chemical that the wet wipes were probably soaked in, something almost fruity. It’s a smell that Kobra knows but just can’t place his finger on. 

“Fuckin’ hate oranges,” Party mutters as slides in the seat across from Kobra.

Ah, so that’s what it is.

“Have we ever eaten oranges?” 

Kobra’s not sure. He was so young and sheltered through most of his time in the City that he doesn’t know for sure what he has or hasn’t tried.

“You? Uh- I think when you were really little. There’s like an age where parents introduce all these new foods and shit to babies, to see if they’re allergic to anything I think. You had ‘em then but I don’t really remember any time after.”
Party sounds far away, lost in remembering a life that doesn’t exist anymore. Sometimes Kobra wishes he could recall more, could share those moments of reminiscing with his brother. But the hints of pain and loss on Party’s features make him realize that it’s probably not all good memories that resurface.
“I hated oranges. They smelled so fuckin’ bad Kobes. Like that wipe has nothin’ on the real thing,” Party starts, tone teasing and arms waving in exaggeration, “I could never understand how people could just fuckin’ eat them straight up. It was so goddamn gross.”

He shivers and pulls a disgusted face, making Kobra laugh a little.

“But they were really expensive, like a once a year kinda thing, so I didn’t have to suffer through them very much. They were Bert’s favorite though; he had to have a fucking orange cream cake every fucking birthday.”

The smile falls from Kobra’s face and he watches Party closely, looking for any sign that he’s not okay. 

“What?” Party asks, brows raised and smirk still on his face as he realizes Kobra’s been staring.

“Just- you mentioned him and like didn’t freak out. I just- I never thought-”

“Me neither," Party breathes, catching on. "I didn’t even realize I did it if I’m honest.”
Kobra has to try so fucking hard to not cry right now. It’s dumb but this is something he never thought he’d see. His brother able to talk about Bert and do so without blaming himself or being dragged into painful memories. 

This is growth or healing or whatever the hell you want to call it.

“Don’t get all weepy on me asshole. You’re gonna make me cry too,” Party says exasperated as he discreetly wipes his own eyes. 

“Sorry. Sorry. It’s been one hell of a day.”

“Fuckin’ amen to that,” Party laughs a little. “So…”
He wiggles his eyebrows and gestures to Jet. Kobra’s face heats again but he doesn’t fight it. He instead looks over to them, peaceful and sleeping deeply. 

“I dunno. I didn’t do anything.”
“They kissed you first?”
“Yeah,” Kobra replies breathlessly, still in shock from it all.

“And you were fuckin’ worried that Jet didn’t like you back.”

Party shakes his head fondly but he’s grinning all the same.

“I can’t believe it,” Kobra whispers, unconsciously holding onto Jet a little more tightly.
They don’t pull away, just snuggle closer and effectively make Kobra’s brain implode.

“I’m so happy for you, Mikes. I can see how much Jet cares about you and I’m just glad you’re starting to see it too.”

“Who’s being all weepy now?” Kobra teases, though he’s smiling too.

Party just laughs quietly and shakes his head.

______________________________

 

It’s two hours before either Jet or Ghoul even begin to stir.

In the quiet of the diner, Party too has too drifted off. He’s leaning forward, his arms as a pillow while rests his head on the table. Party doesn’t snore but his breathing is deep, even, and Kobra knows he’s asleep.

So, it’s just him and Grace left awake.

She’s still energetic, giggling and cooing almost constantly. At some of her louder sounds, Ghoul stirs but never actually wakes. Kobra’s thankful he’s actually a deep sleeper for once.

As for Jet, well they’re still leaning on Kobra as they sleep. It’s the same position as yesterday but somehow it feels more intimate right now. He can feel every time they shift in their sleep, every breath ghosting over his neck. 

Kobra still can’t believe that Jet kissed him. Like, that’s a concept his brain just won’t process because while he had his hopes, he never actually was sure that they liked him. If he thinks hard enough, Kobra’s sure he could come up with like- fucking stockholm syndrome or a rebound or something- anything other than what his heart is telling him.

And it’s really fucking cheesy and dumb but if he ignores the swirling pits of anxiety in his mind and stomach, Kobra can fucking feel how much he cares about Jet. How if they feel about him is even a fraction of that, then the anxiety is dead wrong.

Honestly, Kobra doesn’t want to overthink this. Hard facts prove that Jet is at the least attracted to him. They’re sleeping against him, again, and they actually fucking kissed him first. Plus, Jet let him kiss them after that.

Maybe he’s read this all wrong. Maybe they’ve liked him from the beginning and he’s just been too damn nervous to spot it.

It still feels unlikely that Jet’s actually had feelings for him for any amount of time though. He tries to think back and look for signs, of little tells that might show Kobra when they started liking him. 

Was it just last night? When he’d helped them through their panic attack?
Maybe before that, with the coffee?

Kobra has no idea.

He’s not used to this slow fall in love thing. Hell, he’s not used to the attraction being more than for one night. And that’s the odd thing. 

They’ve only just kissed but normally Kobra’s crushes stem from much more. He falls for people after they’ve thrown him aside. It’s like his own brain is trying to cause him as much pain and heartache as possible.
But with Jet, this really has only just begun. 

Kobra is finding himself savoring the small things. The feel of Jet’s hand in his own, the weight of them against his side as they sleep, the light in their eyes when the two of them are talking. It’s all enough to take his breath away. 

“I can hear you thinking,” Jet whispers, making Kobra realize that they were awake now and that he’s been staring off into space.

What time is it?
The shadows outside say late evening, as do the cramps in his lower body for sitting in one position for so long. 

“Did you just quote me, at myself?” Kobra asks with a short laugh, twisting a bit to halfheartedly glare down at them.

Jet giggles but sits up, stretching and yawning. They squeak a little at the end, making his stomach do somersaults. He can’t help but stare as they fix their shirt a bit, twisting it back around from where it’d shifted in their sleep. 

He gets a small peak at their stomach, of the slowly fading scar that rests there. It’s still pink but almost completely healed. Jet rubs the sleep from their eyes and Kobra is absolutely fucking entranced by the look of the evening sun on their face.

The failing light paints them in hues of orange and red, making them appear nearly sunburned. It highlights the stray curls of their hair, the tiny strands illuminated now that they’ve been caught in the light. 

Kobra notices that small scar on their forehead, left over from the clap, that he’s barely paid attention to. His brother had bandaged the shallow wound at first but it healed enough to where he’d forgotten about it. Besides, they’ve all had much bigger things to worry about.

But now, just remembering how much shit Jet’s been through in the past week or so is infuriating. If Kobra had it his way, they would never get hurt again, never be in pain again. But he knows that that’s not logical, or even remotely possible out here.

With their heart acting up, Kobra also knows that this is also probably not the end of the struggles for Jet either.

So, he does something he so rarely does. Kobra prays.

He believes in the Witch in the way that you sort of offhandedly believe that karma will come around to that one asshole who cheated you outta three carbons out in Four last week. In other words, he likes to think that it’s real but he doesn’t put any real stock in it.

Right now though, Kobra can’t stand the thought of Jet losing anything else, of suffering anymore than they already have. He prays to the Witch, asking her to watch over Jet and pretty-pretty please not take their soul any time soon. Kobra asks the Witch to give them strength to fight Better Living, to fight whatever is wrong with Jet’s heart. He also thanks her though.

He thanks her for putting him in the right place at the wrong time and allowing him to meet Jet. If that hadn't happened, if Kobra had been just a few minutes later, Jet wouldn’t have survived. That thought leaves a bad taste in his mouth, just the idea of them never meeting. 

Of Jet dying alone in the sand.

Finally, Kobra thanks her for Jet making the first move, for showing him that they feel the same way.

He doesn’t know what else to say, doesn’t know how to pray- not really. But he figures the effort is there and that’s all that should matter.

Even if Kobra doesn’t pray to the Witch every day like some do, he respects her and those that believe in her. If she is out there, he hopes that he’s been convincing enough.

He’d give anything to ensure that Jet doesn’t suffer anymore.

“Kobra?” 

Jet sounds truly worried now, one hand on his shoulder to try and bring him back. It's a tiny twinge of discomfort on his nearly healed blaster wound. Distantly, Kobra remembers that he was shot last week. He should be much more concerned about that but he’s not. 

“I’m here.”
“Didn’t seem like it. Are you okay?” Jet asks softly as they take his free hand in their own.

“Yeah. I was just thinkin’ is all.”

And then Jet leans over, stopping for just a moment to make sure Kobra’s okay before connecting their lips again. 

It’s a brief kiss, just a good evening, I’ve missed you sort of thing but Kobra feels like he’s flying. 

“Should we turn on the radio?” Jet asks randomly after they break the kiss.

Kobra’s mind is still trying to catch up but he manages a nod. Music sounds nice, something to make the time pass by more quickly while the others sleep off whatever the hell today was.

Since he’s not really paying attention, Kobra thinks nothing of it when Jet moves away. Their shoulder no longer touches him though and that’s what makes him realize they’re planning on getting the radio themself. Which is not going to fuckin’ happen. 

Jet could barely stand earlier and there is no way in hell he’s gonna let them just get up and search for the radio. If they want to have any hope of actually beating this thing with their heart, Jet needs to take it easy. To not put any unnecessary stress on themself. 

“I got it,” he says, quickly passing Grace to a somewhat bewildered Jet before jumping up and beginning to search for the radio.

He works as quietly as he can in fear of waking the others while searching just about everywhere he can think. But, unfortunately, he’s not certain where the last place the radio was. 

Had it been on the floor beside Ghoul? Or maybe on the table with them?

“On the counter,” Jet calls in a hushed tone, barely containing their amusement.

Waving his hand as a thank you, Kobra turns and spots the radio exactly where Jet said it would be. He grabs it, along with the two way radio sitting beside it on the bar’s counter, and quickly settles back in with Jet in the booth.

After fiddling with it for just a moment, Kobra gets Doc’s station to come through. The volume is just a tad too loud and he has to quickly try and turn it down, but the music does the trick.

He doesn’t recognize the song but taps his fingers to the beat anyway, letting Jet reclaim their spot against his side. They sigh gently, more of a breath as they relax.

“Feelin’ any better?”

They hum, blinking soft brown eyes at him before an almost shy smile graces their lips.
“Yeah. ’m just really tired.”

“Can I ask you somethin’,” Kobra whispers, linking their fingers together and helping them hold Grace a little.

“ ‘Course.”

“Do you really have no clue how your heart got this bad?”

The moment he’s said it, Kobra realizes how assuming that sounds. It’s like he’s implying that Jet lied about their heart straight to his face. Which isn’t at all what he means by asking them this. It's just that he just hopes that maybe looking back over things now may bring some possible cause into light that they hadn’t seen before. 

“I mean- I mean that maybe we missed something ya know. Like- shit I sound like such an asshole I am so sorry Jet I-”

They cut him off with a rather hard press of their shoulder against his, making Kobra stop mid sentence to look at them.

“Don’t worry, I know what you mean,” Jet gives a soft, reassuring smile, “But no. I really can’t think of anything. Maybe Korse had that Drac just set their blaster really fuckin’ high when they shot me, I dunno.”

“I didn’t think they could get strong enough to do that.”

“Me neither but that’s- that’s the only explanation I could come up with.”

Jet’s voice is quiet, nearly inaudible over the music playing in the background. He can see them worrying about this, trying to think of anything that might be the cause.

But the conversation seems to fall away, both of them too tired to sustain it any longer. That’s okay though. Kobra lets them drift off again while he too slowly begins to fall asleep. The diner is quiet and for the moment, they’re safe. 

___________________________________

The next day is shaping up to be a boring one. 

It’s Party who wakes up first, stretching groaning as he sits upright in the booth. He doesn’t remember falling asleep and has a very brief moment of panic until he realizes where he is.

In front of him sits Kobra, Jet, and Grace. The three of them are all cuddling up, Jet laying on his brother’s side and Grace being held by both of them. They look peaceful and Party watches them sleep for just a moment.

He can’t stop the smile that forms while taking in the scene in front of him. Kobra is so relaxed, sleeping more deeply than Party has seen him do in a long time. He’s even got the slightest upturn of his lips, a hidden smile breaking through the layers of sleep.

After Party’s back begins to protest the way he’s slept, and the hunched over position he’s in right now, he begrudgingly slides out of the booth. He feels inherently old as his feet hit the hardwood floor. 

He must have taken off his boots sometime in the night and the cool floor sends ice up his legs. Groaning quietly, Party rubs a hand over his face. 

Scanning the room around him, he finds that Ghoul is still asleep as well. Somewhere distantly, music plays. The weak morning sun streams through the dingy diner windows, painting everything in oranges and yellows. It’s not hot yet- thank fuck- but Party sorta wishes he had something other than this t-shirt on. He shivers, rubbing his hands over his arms to try and fight away the goosebumps.

Then, Party had to do a double take, his mind still fighting through the clinging grogginess. But yep- Ghoul is still a hundred percent asleep. It’s so odd, seeing him so at ease and sleeping soundly. It’s a rare sight to be sure. 

If he looks more closely, Party can see that there are no frown lines on his face, no telling of horrible dreams plaguing him. It seems that exhaustion has finally caught up with him. But that makes Party wonder how long Ghoul will seep. Will it be only a few more hours or even longer?
In an embarrassing moment, Party allows himself to miss Ghoul. It’s strange because Ghoul is quite literally right over there but he’s not talking, not fiddling, not filling the room with the continuous stream of bulshit that flows from his mouth.

 And Party misses it. 

But- he reminds himself- Ghoul needs to sleep.

With nothing better to do, Party trudges into the kitchen. He feels a little bad for it but he really fucking needs some caffeine in his life right now. The others can have some when they wake up, he doesn’t plan on drinking a whole pot anyway.

So Party sets the coffee maker to half a pot and noses around the kitchen while he waits. Mostly, it’s just old, dusty kitchen appliances that he finds. Some of the cabinets are open, revealing only more dust. One cabinet, the top one on the far left, holds their food. There isn’t much, just eight cans of Power Pup left, two bottles of treated water, and a decent amount of Grace’s formula. To say they were running low is an understatement. 

Almost as if in protest, Party’s stomach grumbles as he handles a dusty can of dog food, wiping the grime off of the label absently. He ignores it and puts the can back. 

 

With four of them here, those eight cans will only last two meals, or two days if they only eat once a day. Maybe soon they can go and trade but until then, they’ll just have to make do. Besides, Party’s like the most healthy one here at the moment- besides maybe Kobra- so he can live with skipping a meal or two. And it’s not like he’s going to let his brother miss any, the kid’s lanky enough as it is.

The coffee maker beeping pulls Party back into reality and he sets the can of dog food back on the shelf carefully before rummaging around for a mug. He finds a large, dark green one that might have had a picture on it a long time ago and fills it halfway with the steaming coffee. 

Sighing, Party goes back into the dinner. The sun isn’t really up yet, just barely peeking over the horizon. With the past few day’s events, Party’s sure that the others are probably going to sleep for a good while. So, he settles in a booth to himself in the corner. 

He pulls a tiny spiral notebook from his pocket, pleased to find that it’s not any more crumpled than normal. It’d been in some ‘joy’s shop that they’d passed by a few months ago. The thing was literally tiny, smaller than Party’s hand, but it was real, lined paper connected by an equally small metal spiral. He’s been using it sparingly, unsure when he’ll be able to find another, but right now feels like a good time as any to lose himself in decorating one of the pages. 

Hours pass but Party doesn’t even realize it, too drawn in by the way his little wooden pencil, sharpened by his own pocket knife, flows over the page, leaving soft grey lines in its wake. The sun is hot now but he only barely registers it, focusing instead on drinking the last of his room temperature coffee and trying to make these two lines just a bit softer. Maybe if he smudges it just a bit with his finger?

“Whatcha drawin’?”

Party damn near jumps out of his skin and it  makes him jerk the pencil, drawing a very dark, very harsh line through the half finished doodle. Cursing, he tries to use the nonexistent eraser on the end of the pencil to fix it. It only succeeds in smearing it even worse and Party huffs, setting the pencil down a little more forcefully than necessary.

 

“Shit. Sorry, should’a figured you’d be lost in yer own head,” Kobra says with a sympathetic chuckle.

The frustration fades as he resolves himself to the knowledge that the page is ruined but there’s nothing he can do about it anyway.

“S’okay. Didn’t hear you get up,” he says instead, motioning for his brother to take the seat in front of him.

Instead, Kobra takes the one he’s sitting in. 

Ah, must be a touchy kinda day.

And Kobra does press his shoulder against Party’s, suddenly interested as he leans overtop of him to inspect what he’s been drawing. Kobra's just about laying on top of him as he lifts the notebook closer to his face. It’s just a scribble really, nothing special. 

“Why are you drawin’ fucking spiders?”

“Thought it looked cool," he says with a shrug, "Might be something we can paint on the ca-”
Party stops abruptly, realization hitting him halfway through that they no longer have the Trans-AM and any thoughts of painting it are useless now. They’d been trying to save up for some real paints, and maybe some stencils if they were lucky, but it’s been hard. 

 

In their shed, which is probably fuckin’ gone by now, there’s three cans of spray paint tucked very carefully into the one of the loose boards in the floor. Spray paint is rare, and really fucking expensive too he might add, so they’ve been slowly trying to add to their small inventory of it.

But it’s useless now. 

The shed is probably gone and the car definitely is.

“Hey, we can get a new car ya know. That ain’t the only one in the whole desert.”
Party appreciates what Kobra’s trying to do but really, it’s not like they have enough money for food, let alone expensive things like paint.

And naturally, Party’s stomach takes this moment to protest it’s emptiness. Except it’s not fuckin’ empty; he just had a whole cup of coffee not too long ago. That’s gotta count for something right?
Kobra hears the grumble, of course he does, and gives Party a knowing look. His face is stern, daring Party to deny that he’s hungry.

“When’s the last time you ate,” Kobra asks softly, his voice leagues different than his expression. 

At that, Party pauses. He’s not sure exactly. 

“C’mon. Don’t tell me it was the other day when I literally forced you to!” 

Kobra’s voice is rising in volume and unconsciously Party shies away. He can’t help it but the hurt in his brother’s eyes and the way he deflates after realizing it makes Party all the more guilty. He hadn’t even realized he’d done it until he saw Kobra’s face fall. 

“I’m fine,” he insists weakly.
“If I hear any of you three say that again I’m going to actually fucking tie you down and force you to take care of yourselves. Jesus Party. You’re not fine. It’s been days since you’ve eaten.”

“I don’t-”

“C’mon,” Kobra demands, yanking on his arm and dragging him out of the booth. 

He follows without much protest but his mind is racing. If he eats now they’re only going to have seven cans left and-

“Shit.”
Kobra’s led them into the kitchen and has opened the cabinet, seeing for himself how low on food they are. But he still remains determined, producing a pocket knife and opening the can before handing it to him. 

“But-”
“Nope,” Kobra says finality. “I’ve decided that today is going to be an us day.”

“What?”

The actual fucking hell is Kobra talking about?

Party’s not sure exactly what is going on but the weight of the can in his hand feels ten times as heavy as normal. It’s like it’s weighing him down, telling him that he’s being an idiot and not seeing whatever Kobra’s seeing. 

“Today we’re not gonna stress about food or water or any-fucking thing else. You are going to eat when you’re goddamn hungry, Ghoul’s gonna sleep as long as he needs to, and Jet is gonna take it easy and finish getting their strength back from the other night.”
“Kobra, we-”

“No,” he interrupts gently but with determination. “No. I’ll keep watch and do whatever else needs done but you three are going to fucking take it easy if it fucking kills me.”
All Party can do is nod and bring the spoon of dog food up to his mouth, allowing Kobra to continue if he wants to. However, he must have been more hungry than he thought because it actually doesn’t taste that bad. 

His brother seems to catch on to the fact that Party’s not going to argue any further and plops himself up on the table in the center of the room. Party follows suit, offering him a couple of spoonfuls as a peace offering. 

His brother is clearly upset and Party's realizing that maybe he's been ignoring basic things like eating for a little too long.

 

Thankfully, Kobra takes the offered food and relaxes more the longer they sit there. After a while, when Party’s can is very nearly empty, Kobra lets out a deep sigh. It expels the final bits of stress from his features, the creases lessening and his shoulders easing just a tad bit more. He still looks stressed but this is an improvement.

“I'm sorry,” Party finds himself mumbling around the last bite.

“Just, you gotta take care of yourself. You were really sick a few days ago and don’t even lie and say that you’re completely better. I know you’re not. That coughing fit yesterday proves it.”
Party doesn’t know what to say so he just sits the now empty can to the side and waits on his brother to finish. 

“And Ghoul got really fucking lucky, twice, and I just- I worry that one day he won’t get lucky and-”
Kobra has to stop and take a shaky breath but he’s back to speaking before Party can properly comfort him.
“And I just wish he’d try to be more careful. I think I’m gonna talk to him about it later, to tell him that I’m sick of finding him half fucking dead.”
At that, Kobra gives a humorless chuckle but leans his head on Party’s shoulder all the same. He already knows his brother’s next train of thought.

“And Jet?” Party offers, showing Kobra that he doesn’t mind if he continues to rant. 

It seems like Kora needs this, more than he’s let on. To just vent and tell them all how dumb they’ve all been acting, how reckless.

“They haven't been as bad as you ‘n Ghoul but I still want them to take today to just rest. You shoulda’ seen ‘em yesterday Party, they could barely fuckin’ stand. Today should just be spent, by everyone, lazing around and sleeping off the past few days. Tomorrow we can go back to stressing over supplies, to planning when, where, and how we’re gonna go trade, but can we please just take today?”
An odd sense of pride wells up in Party’s chest, seeing his brother like this. Here Kobra is, taking charge and telling him when he’s acting like an idiot. Which yeah, he very much has been an idiot and so Kobra’s idea of a day to themselves sounds really fucking nice right about now. 

But it’s that older sibling sort of pride where he knows that Kobra’s been stressing over this and has decided that he’s to be the one to call them out on their bulshit.

“Okay,” Party says at last, nodding his head a little for emphasis.

“What?”
From the pure shock in Kobra’s voice, it’s apparent he didn’t expect Party to agree so easily.
“I said okay. You’re right. We all need a break and you’re- you’re right.”

He’s never been good with words, more adept in music notes or colors on a page, but that’s the thing about Kobra; he can make sense of Party’s sub-par wording and find what he’s trying to convey. 

“Thank you.”
They move back into the diner, after Kobra’s had some of the coffee of course, and Party finds himself hovering over Ghoul yet again. His brother is gently taking Grace from Jet’s sleeping hands, bitching about her “Stinking ass diaper holy fuck how the hell does it smell so bad!” and running upstairs to change her. Meanwhile, Party tries to keep from getting lost in the sight of the man he loves like this.
He’s fine, Party knows this, but seeing Ghoul so still and quiet just feels inherently wrong. But the road burns are already scabbing over when he peeks under the bandages and there’s no sign of a head injury when he checks for that too. All in all, Ghoul’s fine.

To ignore, or at least put off, how much he misses him, Party takes the time to go find the radio that’s been playing music all morning. He finds it in the booth with Jet, the volume barely turned on and softly playing an old song. This is Doc’s station and Party recognizes the song. He’s not sure the band’s name but he’s pretty sure the title of the song is “American Idiot” or something. 

So, Party carries the speaker over to the booth he was in earlier and sets it up beside his notebook. He goes back to drawing, letting the world fade away yet again as the music drums deep inside of him. He sings along without really realizing it, the words somehow known to him despite him not remembering ever learning them.

___________________________________

After putting Grace down for a nap, Kobra comes back downstairs and is greeted by his brother’s quiet singing voice. Party very rarely sings, even less so in front of people, so he knows before he makes his way into the room completely that the others are still asleep. 

Party sits in the booth off to the side a bit, hunched over and drawing rather furiously, his hands flying over the page. There’s pencil lead all over him when Kobra goes a bit closer, covering his hands and the table from where he’d sharpened it. A few smudges of grey are also on his face from him rubbing it there without realizing. He’s lost in his own world, just like earlier, and the only difference is this time he’s singing.

Kobra hears Doc’s station, recognizes the type of music that’s playing as something Doc is known for, but the song isn’t all that familiar. But Party is singing along, knowing every word and quietly hitting every note. He’d deny he can sing if anyone asks. 

So, Kobra leaves him be. It’s been a while since he’s drawn so much anyway.

 

Rather than having to find something to do other than lay around all day, Ghoul stirs as he’s walking over. Detouring from Jet’s booth, where they’re still very much asleep, he ventures over to Ghoul’s.

He sits down as Ghoul drags himself up into something close to sitting. Kobra watches him wince and hiss as the raw skin under the bandages is rubbed by the movement.

When his eyes meet Kobra’s, Ghoul offers a soft little smile. He’s still half asleep, his hair sticking up like a fucking mohawk, but he already looks loads better than yesterday. The dark bags under his eyes that have been ever present are gone now and his eyes seem brighter.

“Mornin’,” Ghoul mumbles, scratching at his side a bit.

Kobra watches him for a few moments, trying to make sure that he really is okay.

“Okay,” Ghoul sighs, “somethin’s eatin’ ya up. What’s wrong?”

" I wanted to talk to you but I'm jus' tryin' to figure out how to start it.”

Good. Now that he's said that much he has to tell Ghoul; he can't back down.
“Okay? Is something wrong or?”

“No, no,” Kobra is quick to assure him. 

Party’s normally the one with a plan but now that it’s Kobra sitting here and taking charge, he realizes how hard it’s got to be for his brother.

“What is it then? You look all-”
Ghoul pulls a face, twisting his features into a mock stressed look and making Kobra laugh a little despite himself.

“Yeah. Sorry, lost in my own head I guess. Today is gonna be a lazy day so to speak. No one’s gonna stress today and you especially are going to, at the very least, take it easy. No bombs, no guard shifts, just relax.”

“Can we afford a lazy day? Dracs were here fuckin’ yesterday and we really need to trade with Doc,” Ghoul points out.

“We have to. We can’t keep going like this. You slept for a good 14 hours Ghoul and that alone is proof of how hard we’ve been pushing ourselves. I'm so- I'm just tired of finding you unconscious or bleeding and I just worry that the next time you won't be-"

Kobra cuts himself off, physically unable to form the words that come next. He tries to just pick up where he left off, glossing over the thought of Ghoul ghosted on the pavement or in the sand. 

"Tomorrow we’ll make real plans and get our shit together okay?”

Ghoul takes a deep breath and nods.

"Mikey, I ain't goin' anywhere anytime soon," Ghoul assures in a fragile tone. " but I promise to try and be a little more careful. I didn't mean to scare you so much."

It's the first time he's used Kobra's name, and rather recklessly if Kobra wanted to nitpick, but it holds the intended effect. He relaxes, almost against his own will, and makes an effort to push the last of the worry away. To trust that Ghoul will try to be less reckless.

Meanwhile, Ghoul looks relieved, clearly more hesitant about the whole name thing than he'd let on. He was trying so hard to be respectful, Kobra knows this. Ghoul isn't used to the past being such a secret, to it literally being another life for so many out here. But he's doing his best and he's genuinely helped Kobra more just now than he will probably realize.

And yet, shit, convincing Ghoul was way easier than he’d thought.

“You give the same talk to Poison?” Ghoul prompts after a few moments of comfortable silence.

“Yeah. Got ‘im to listen to me for once.”

“He always listens to you Kobes. Sometimes you’re the only one he’ll listen to.”

That statement feels wrong, false. Because Ghoul gets through to his brother too, maybe on a different level, but he’s helped Party through things Kobra could never accomplish, not in the same way. 

“Don’t downplay yourself either. I’ve seen the progress and I’m really proud of you two,” Kobra admits, eyes flicking over to his brother. 

Party’s still singing quietly, blind to the world around him.

That earns him a grateful smile from Ghoul as he sits up a little in the seat and adjusts until he’s actually comfortable. The amount of frustration on his face makes it clear that the burns area still bothering him quite a bit but after a short while he falls still and relaxes a little.

“So then can I ask about the progress between you and a certain curly haired person?” Ghoul teases with a smirk.

“I dunno what you mean?”

Maybe Kobra can play it down, pretend that his brother and Ghoul didn’t see one of the single greatest moments of his life. Kissing Jet had been like nothing else he’s experienced and even now, after he can no longer feel their lips on his own, he remains in pure awe. 

They actually like him back. 

Kobra doesn’t believe in soulmates or any of that other bulshit but he has a gut feeling that him and Jet were supposed to meet. That they were supposed to fall for each other.

But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to tell Ghoul this yet. 

“C’mon, we totally saw you two suckin’ face earlier.”

“Wow, nice way to put it Ghoul,” Kobra bites back, teasing.

“Well it was. You like didn’t move for like 30 seconds. That’s one hell of a first kiss dude.”

“I was holding them up,” Kobra counters, hating the way his face is burning.

“Oh wow. That magical huh?”

Ghoul smirks, winking at him and doing overly suggestive eyebrows. It makes Kobra roll his eyes as Ghoul completely misses what he was implying.
“Yes it was magical,” he says exasperated, using Ghoul’s description against him, “but what I meant was that they’re not back to full strength yet. I worry about them ya know.”

He twists around, checking up on Jet to find them, unsurprisingly, still asleep. He remembers how hard they were shaking yesterday, not only from fear but from exhaustion. Once again he wishes he could take this on for them, to take on their struggle and just give them a break for once.

“We’ll figure it out. I know we will."

The song in the background fades out, the last note of the guitars ringing in the air for a long moment. Then there’s a brief moment of static before Doctor Death’s voice comes through the speakers. Party quickly turns the volume up, setting his pencil down to listen to today’s report.

“Look alive darlin’s, this is Doctor Death Defyin’ coming in hot with your mornin’ report. It was another busy day yesterday. There were two patrols roamin’ through Three again, ‘sept this one ended with a literal bang. According to my eyes, whoever those goons were tryin’ t’ get blew them all the way back to the fucking City. Two patrols worth of cars were found burned to hell and in pieces and a decent chunk has been cut out of that corner of Guano.”

Doc goes on about staying safe and possible temporary relocation for those living in Zone three because of the constant threat. But Kobra is more focused on the fact that Doc’s “eyes” had been close enough to give him a report but none of them had heard them from the diner. 

Just then, three loud knocks sound from the door. Party jumps up, hand already on his blaster and cautiously walks to the door. Meanwhile, Kobra too readies himself to pull his own weapon should he need to but he’s fairly certain that this person is someone he knows.

Party opens the door slowly and Kobra’s theory is confirmed. Standing there in the doorway is Show Pony themself, hand on their hip and their outfit as flamboyant as he remembers. Kobra smiles as Pony introduces themself and after a brief nod from Kobra that they’re telling the truth, his brother lets them in. 

As glad as he is to see Pony, Kobra just hopes that the others still get to take today off. They all need it and he doubts they’ll be able to do much in the state they’re currently in, himself included. 

But Pony doesn’t talk business, doesn’t tell them they need to leave or get their shit together, just plops down in a booth like they live here. They talk openly with Party, answering every question he asks them and attempting to earn back his trust.
Maybe they’ll get the rest of the day off after all. 

Chapter Text

“That’s no fucking fair!” Ghoul whines loudly as he dramatically throws his hand of playing cards into the pile that sits in front of them on the table.

Jet just chuckles and leans forward to gather up the cards, unable to hide their smirk. Ghoul may be smart as hell but he’s shit at cards apparently. This is the fourth time in a row they’ve been able to beat him. 

“You’re such a sore loser,” Kobra teases from his position behind Jet.

They’re sorta all tangled up, with Jet leaning their back against his chest and his arms snugly, yet carefully, wrapped around their waist, but their legs are stretched out long ways in the seat. Kobra’s voice is soft, light in their ear as he continues to mess with Ghoul, teasing him just for the hell of it. 

When Jet had woken up, Kobra’d kept his promise. He was sitting across from them at the time, deeply embedded in a comic, but they hadn’t been alone. They are incredibly thankful for that. Jet hadn’t been panicking exactly when they’d woken but they’d been on edge enough to where they had spent several minutes in Kobra’s arms until they could breathe normally once again. 

He’d held them without them even having to ask, just wrapped his arms around their stomach and spoke to them in a quiet voice until they were okay again. 

Nothing really was the cause exactly for the anxiety but there were a million things they could have used to fuel it if he hadn’t been there to distract them. 

 

There’s two voices coming from the kitchen as they set the game back up for another round. One of the voices belongs to Party, who is currently bombarding the other person with every question under the sun. Jet can’t quite hear what he’s asking them but they’ve picked up enough to know that this person doesn’t mind answering anything Party throws at them. 

“I’m gonna kick yer ass this time. I was just warming up before hand,” Ghoul tells them seriously, picking up his hand and studying it carefully.

Kobra’s not playing, his attention mostly on the vast desert outside of the diner. He’s keeping watch so that everyone else can take this time to relax, recharge. Even so, Kobra chuckles at Ghoul’s overconfidence and they know he’s paying at least some attention as Jet beats Ghoul yet again. They hear his chuckle after the game ends in three moves.

“Jesus!” Ghoul shouts, throwing his hands up in defeat. 

There’s a smirk on his face though and Jet knows this is just for show. He sets the cards back down but they make no move to reshuffle them, the game no longer as entertaining as it had been when they’d started.

Party’s been in the kitchen with the other rebel for a few hours now, just talking and gathering information about them it seems. But Jet’s growing restless. It’s not natural for them to sit still for so long. 

It might be because of the double patrol that’d been on their asses just yesterday but Jet doesn’t feel as safe here in the diner as they did at first. 

Kobra must pick up on their anxiety because he leans over to lay his head on their shoulder, planting a soft kiss to their cheek. 

They lean into his touch, ignoring Ghoul’s annoyed huff, and allow his contact, his closeness, to calm them back down. 

“You should eat somethin’,” he says quietly into their ear after a moment. 

“But your brother’s usin’ the kitchen.”

“He should be ‘bout done by now. Pony’s answered enough questions dontcha think?”

Oh. So that’s who’s in there with Party.

Jet feels that same rush of excitement at the thought of there being a real, live person just like them that maybe- hopefully- they can talk to. They wonder if Pony’s had the same experiences as they have, if they too have learned to ignore when people just outright refuse to use the right pronouns and all of the other little things that others don’t usually think twice about but Jet goes through regularly.

“Whaddya say?” Kobra presses, making Jet realize they never actually answered him.

There’s hints of concern lacing his words and Jet knows that he’s only trying to look out for them. 

“Sure. I could eat,” they answer with a shrug.

He releases his arms from their middle- which kinda sucks ‘cause that was super fucking comfy- and taps their thigh to get them to get up. Which they do, standing easily and sliding out of the seat. They take a moment to be thankful because they feel almost normal again, strong and clear headed. There’s no pain, no constant weakness that comes from seemingly every movement they make. The rest they’ve had today and the day before has done them well. Jet can almost- almost- forget about their heart. 

Kobra’s giving them that soft smile as he leads them into the kitchen, Ghoul trailing behind with his hands firmly shoved into his pockets. And they can't help but notice that Ghoul looks much stronger too, his exhaustion finally battled away and his injuries from the clap already healing nicely.

The bar doors swing open, creaking noisily as Jet follows Kobra into the kitchen. Party’s leaning on his elbows over the table in the center of the room, the person who must be Pony standing directly across from him. Jet takes a moment to give Pony a curious  a once over, the initial shock of them making their mind sorta slow.

Pony’s dressed flamboyantly to say the least, with polka dot leggings, black for some unseen reason in the crotch area, and a white crop top with what looks like a black, stretchy material underneath. Their helmet lays carefully placed on the table to their right and Jet notices they’ve got roller skates of all things strapped to their feet. 

Both sets of eyes lock onto them as they enter the room, Party stopping mid sentence and causing Pony to look over as well.

“Wha-”
“Food time assholes. The integration's over,” Kobra interrupts him, already by the far cabinet.

He places five cans down onto the counter below while he digs in his pocket for the pocket knife he carries there. Meanwhile, Party visibility becomes concerned as he realizes that Ghoul’s followed them in as well and starts eyeing him like he’s about to fall over. 

“Ghoul I thought I told ya to take it easy,” Party says in an exhausted tone, not hovering around Ghoul just yet but sure to do so if no one stops him soon.

“I can manage walkin’ into the kitchen, Poison.”

Ghoul edges his comment with a sarcastic tone but Jet knows he’s just trying to keep Party from full on going into worry mode. 

“Here, food,” Kobra says before his brother can find a way to make Ghoul go lay back down, handing Party an opened can of dog food.
“But I alread-”
“Eat. It.”

The words are clipped, similar to how Party spoke to Kobra on the radio when he’d called back to them, drunk and with Val hot on his tail. It leaves no room for argument and Party gingerly takes the utensil Kobra offers him, shoveling a bite into his mouth the next moment. Kobra then relaxes slightly, but enough for Jet to be able to tell the difference in him, and goes about passing out their dinner, lunch, whatever this is. Jet’s not quite sure what time it is anyway.

It feels like nighttime, the air cool and almost crisp, and yet the sun is well above the horizon. No one’s mentioned it but it feels wrong, like an omen of something worse than the storms they’ve already endured.

As Jet eats their share, they can’t help but wonder what could be worse than the freak acid storms they’ve encountered. Much more rain and the desert will begin to flood.

“Thanks sugar,” Pony drawls in response to Kobra passing them a can as well, the first time they’ve spoken since Jet has entered the kitchen.

Kobra just nods his head, grabbing a can for himself and leaning against the table next to Jet. They’re not touching but are close enough to where they don’t mind the distance as much. Kobra's got boundaries, Jet knows this, and they try to not push them. Its insanely difficult though when all they want to do is hold onto him and never let go.

“So, I’ve already met Kobra,” Pony starts, giving a wink to Kobra and earning an eye roll from him in return, “and Party pro’lly knows more about me than Doc does at this point. But, I don’t believe I’ve been introduced to you two,” they finish, waving their fork in Jet and Ghoul’s direction.
Ghoul, who’s trying to stomach the dog food without puking it up- which is entirly fair cause it’s fucking gross- just shrugs and introduces himself through a mouthful of food.
When it’s clear that Pony didn’t catch what he said, Ghoul just holds his hand up in a ‘wait a sec’ gesture and quickly swallows the food. He grimaces, even shutters, before turning his widest, yet genuine, grin towards Pony.
“ ‘m name’s Fun Ghoul.”
“Pleasure, I'm Show Pony,” Pony says genuinely as well, amusement dancing in their expression at Ghoul's distaste of the food.

Yeah Power Pup’s gross as hell but food is food. Especially when you’re running low.

“I wanted to apologize for causin’ all that trouble the other day. Being suspicious is a necessity but I can admit I shouldn’t have assumed the worst of ya ‘for I even met you.”
Ghoul doesn’t answer but he nods his head, accepting their apology and going back to trying to finish his food. He must be starving.

“And whatta ‘bout you, sugar?” Pony presses, watching Jet carefully.

They must think that Jet holds some sort of grudge or something against them- which they don’t in the slightest. Pony’s right, being paranoid saves your ass out here more often than not. They can understand their concern, especially since Jet’s known the brothers less than a month.

They trust Pony, enough to give their name at the least.

“Jet Star.”
They don’t mean for their voice to be so quiet, they’re definitely not shy or anything, but they just can’t shake the feeling that Pony is going to judge them. They don't feel as bad as they did the other day, no where near close to another breakdown, but Jet's still not sure if they can handle the assumptions that people make about them. Pony may be like them but Jet barely knows them, has no clue what they're really like. And so, they worry. 

That they’re gonna take one look at Jet and instantly assume things just like everyone else has. 

Well, everyone but Kobra. But that doesn’t count because he thought they were a guy at first too. They’re unfortunately used to it but that doesn’t make it pleasant or fun. It's exhausting.
“Ah,” Pony nods, no hint of judgment crossing their features. “You must be the dude Kobra told me about.”

Does dude count as gender neutral? Jet thinks so but they have no way of knowing which way Pony meant it.
“What’d he say?”
At Jet's question, if they’re not mistaken that is, Kobra’s face seems to go beet red in a matter of seconds. It gives Party’s hair a run for its money.

“Oh just that he was absolutely uselessly pining and how he was really fuckin’ worried about you. Said you were hurt real bad. I hope those supplies helped get you back on your feet, things sounded pretty dire from my side anyway,” they say, amused as Kobra’s face turns even redder right in front of Jet’s eyes.

They turn to face him, a teasing smile pulling at their lips.
“Useless pinning?”
“Look, I like was suffering from blood loss and I was really worried and you were- or well you are- really freaking adorable and I care about you a lot and-”
Jet shuts him up with a kiss, once again taking him by surprise. He makes a startled sound, kissing back after a few moments. They separate soon after, aware that they have an audience.
“What was that for?” he asks dreamily, blinking slowly.

“Making up for lost time.”
“Finally got your shit together Snake boy?” Pony cuts in, teasing.

“Fuck off.”

But Kobra lets Jet connect their hands, his instantly fitting into theirs like there’s nothing else he’d rather do right now. 

They all finish their food quietly, hunger out weighing the need to socialize right now. Ghoul does end up standing next to Party though, their shoulders touching as they scoop the last bites of mush out of the cans. The room is full of that odd, distinct scraping sound of a metal utensil against the inside of a can.

Jet pretends to not notice Kobra sneaking glances at his brother, very likely making sure he’s eating. 

Once they’re all done and the now empty cans are stacked haphazardly on the counter to be used for something else later on, Kobra unfortunately disconnects their hands and pulls out water from the cabinet where the food had been.

Except, he only pulls out two bottles.

His face is down, shoulders slouched as he explains that this is all they have.

Instantly, Pony gives up their share, insisting that they had a whole, large bottle before they’d left Doc’s base earlier that day. So Kobra hands Jet and Ghoul one bottle and takes the other to his brother. Before he hands it over though, Kobra measures some out into one of Grace's bottles and then he gives the rest, about a quarter left, to Party. 

This time, Party doesn’t protest, just takes a long, slow drink before giving the rest, now only just a swig, to Kobra. And Ghoul lets Jet go first. They do their best to take exactly half, knowing full well that he needs it just as much as they do. The water is warm, bitter and they watch Ghoul try to hide his grimace of distaste as he finishes the bottle. They all stand there solemn, quiet after the water is gone. They'll be thirsty by tomorrow; the small amount they've drank today won't last long. 

The last of their supply is gone now.

“We’ll talk trading in the morning okay?” Kobra speaks up before anyone can dive into the topic.

"What about for now?”

Party isn’t arguing, just curious. It’s interesting really, watching the two of them balance the power dynamic of this crew so easily. Not everyone is able to do this so smoothly.

“For now,” Kobra concludes, “we finish getting our strength back. I’ll take guard at sunset but until then I say we just hog s’more of Pony’s time.”

Kobra flashes Jet a brief smile, clearly more at ease now that everyone has gotten some food and water in them. Even if it’s not a lot and they won’t have near as much tomorrow, if at all.

The sharp wail of Grace fills the air, loud enough to travel through the walls and cause Pony to jump in surprise.

Ghoul expertly hides a groan, pressing the palm of his hand to his eyes like he’s got a headache. Which actually, probably isn’t that far from the truth.
“I’ve got her,” Jet says easily, though not before Kobra comes over and presses Grace's bottle into their hand.

It's already been mixed up, somehow warm as well. Jet hadn't heard the microwave go off. They must've been deep in thought.

“Ya mind if I come with you?”

Jet looks over to Pony and finds no mocking or judgment, and deems them tagging along not the worst thing in the world. Though, they’ll have to be careful to not say Grace’s name aloud. They trust Pony but they’re not about to go broadcasting her name out to just anyone.

“Sure,” they shrug, motioning for Pony to follow them up.

As the walk through the bar doors, Kobra calls from the other side of the room to tell them that she’s in their room. They pause, turning enough to flash him a grateful smile, but he just steps closer like he doesn't want them to leave. Jet gives him another kiss, still in disbelief that they can do so whenever they want, just because, and then continue to lead Pony upstairs.

They make it to the top of the stairs in silence, the only sound is Jet’s boots and the odd noise of roller skates on old wood. Jet doesn’t even begin to want to figure out the physics of Pony actually being able to walk up the stairs in those things. 

But the moment they step into the dimly lit hallway that contains the doors to each of the four mini rooms Pony gasps loudly.

“Holy hell. How’d ya’ll get this place so well preserved?”
“Didn’t mean to really. We just found it like this,” Jet explains, heading to the door that leads to their room.

They don't want to mention that they're probably not going to stay here much longer. It's a good nest, or it would be if there were more of them. Right now it's too big and too in the open to be properly defended. With only four of them and an infant, they need somewhere small and easily protected. Not to mention the effect staying here has had on Ghoul. He’s not freaking out anymore but Jet knows he’s itching to leave as soon as they can.

Grace’s cries are louder up here but she just sounds hungry and frustrated, not actually hurt or anything. Despite knowing this, it’s difficult to hear her cry. Jet’s not sure what it is exactly but hearing Grace cry so loudly to be taken care of makes this heavy feeling set in their chest. She is entirely dependent on them and even at the best of times they’re mostly winging this.
It’s a huge responsibility, they ponder as they quickly enter their room and scoop Grace up into their arms. But it’s a responsibility that they gladly take. 

They watch fondly as Grace instantly relaxes the moment they have her against their chest. Jet understands how calming that feeling is now, to be able to hear the heartbeat of someone you love. 

“So,” Pony says suddenly, ripping them from their thoughts rather violently. “You mind me askin’ if she’s yers?”
That makes Jet pause and turn to look at Pony. They’ve sat on the bed, legs crossed at the knee almost delicately, as they wait for them to answer. But there’s no judgement, no assumptions, not that they can tell anyway. 

So, they shake their head, pressing the bottle into Grace’s mouth and relaxing as she takes it greedily. Her face is covered in little crystal tears, if slightly red, but she’s calm now.

“Not like that. She’s my sister.”

“Ah. You’re very good with her,” Pony comments, just watching Jet feed her.

They decide to sit down, not tired necessarily but doing so more to prevent themself from getting exhausted. Taking it easy will hopefully ensure that they don’t have any close calls like the other day.

“Thank you,” Jet says as they sit down at the desk chair.

The back of it is hard, uncomfortable but they don’t move.

Jet watches Grace drink her fill, her wide brown eyes staring up at them. They feel that pull on their heart as they’re reminded of just how much they love her. 

“So. Spill,” Pony demands suddenly, which seems like something they do quite often. They just speak random nonsense or pop surprise questions on people without giving any sort of warning. 

“What?”

“You and Kobra. C’mon, how’d he confess? Were there roses? Did he have heart eyes?” Pony asks earnestly, leaning forward to put their elbows on their knees and their head in the palms of their hands.
"Um- why?”
“Reportin’ raids and patrols ‘n shit gets boring as hell Star baby. I want real gossip. And I knew from the moment he started talkin’ about you that he was fuckin’ gone for ya.”
Jet has to look down, an inescapable smile finding its way onto their lips. Had Kobra really liked them for that long?
“I um- I made the first move if that’s what you’re asking,” Jet says at last, face burning as they do so.

“No. Fucking. Way!” 

Pony lights up, beaming at them and shaking their head like they can't believe it.
“Hell fucking yeah,” they continue, though they seem to sober a bit right in front of Jet’s eyes. “It’s just so rare ‘t see people actually together for more than the physical aspect ya know?”

Ah. Jet’s beginning to understand why Pony’s so caught up in their relationship with Kobra. 

“Yeah, I know,” they reply truthfully. “But I really fuckin’ fell for him and I’m almost positive he’s fallen for me too…”
Trailing off, Jet remembers how it felt to press their lips to Kobra’s for the first time. He’d been so hesitant, so careful just like always. If that didn’t tell that he cared for them too, Jet wasn’t sure what did. 

“I can see it in the way he looks at you, he has. You’re a good match for him.”
“How do you know?” Jet asks, somewhat amused at how sure Pony is of all of this. Jet’s been ‘together' with Kobra for like 24 hours, tops. But they've been in love with him longer than they realized.

“I can sense these things,” they tell Jet seriously.

Well okay then.

Grace makes an odd sound, meaning she needs to be burped and Jet lets the conversation fall as they maneuver her to their shoulder. Patting her back gently but with enough force to get rid of the air in her system, they wonder how their life changed so fast.

One moment they’re riding with their crew to wherever the sand takes them that day and the next they’re kissing Kobra in the diner after he and the others fight off two patrols at once.

Life is fucked up. But maybe in a good way.

They’ve lost a lot, can still feel the burning, consuming ache in their chest that it's left. But what they’ve found, Kobra, Party, Ghoul, is beginning to take ground against that pain. It hurts like hell to just think about their Ma, about their crew, but Jet doesn’t fight it this time. They focus on the good, the feeling of home that followed their crew to every nook and cranny of the desert they traveled through. The love between them and their Ma. How much they care about Grace. 

They press a kiss to the back of Grace's head, whispering that they love her as they do so. Jet never wants to miss an opportunity to tell her that, to make sure she knows that they love her with their entire being.

“You’re a good sibling, Jet. She’s lucky to have you,” Pony remarks sincerely.

It’s quite similar to what Kobra said when he’d watched them take care of her the other morning. Soon after that he’d let them break down on his shoulder but that’s not what strikes Jet as Pony’s words sink in.
Pony used ‘sibling' when talking about them.

No one, not even Kobra, has gotten it on the first try. 

“I did get that right, right?” Pony asks a moment later, almost sounding unsure for the first time since Jet’s met them.

All they can do is nod, stunned into silence. 

“Thought so. I didn’t wanna assume but…”

“You’re the first one to guess right.”
Jet’s not sure why they’re telling Pony this but the words just slip out before they can stop them. They look away, back down to Grace as she finally burps and begins to coo quietly in their ear. But Pony’s just quiet for a long while.

The silence isn’t awkward, just slightly tense as Jet waits for whatever it is that Pony’s gonna say.

“I understand what you mean. People are quick to judge. They take one look at you and have already categorized you into a little box before you’ve spoken a single word to ‘em.”
Jet looks up, noticing the hidden hurt buried in their words. 

Pony understands, they get it. Some of that weight lifts from them at that, realizing that maybe they’re not as alone as they had thought.

It’s a shitty thing to have in common but just the knowledge that Pony’s been through similar things as they have is comforting. It doesn’t make it better, come close to making it go away, but it’s still a relief.

“Sometimes I think I need to do something drastic, shave my hair and like dress in drag or whatever to get people to not tick me in those stupid boxes they’ve got goin’ in their heads,” Jet says, mostly to themself but no longer as worried about Pony not being able to relate. 

They would never actually do those things, at least Jet doesn’t think so, but that sense of ‘how can I accurately display who I am to someone who won’t get it’ remains.

Dressing up with Party had been fun but also sort of educational in that way at the same time. Jet learned they don’t prefer dresses to jeans but that they do enjoy lipstick and things like women’s shirts. But leather pants and their personal jacket remain their favorite, familiar and unique to them. 

“Na. Trust me. I’m weird fashion fuckin’ royalty and that shit still happens to me. You can’t make people stop thinking the way that they’ve gotten comfortable with unless they actually wanna make a difference.”

Pony’s not lying. Jet’s never seen someone dress quite like they do and they know that they’d be able to recognize them in a crowd. Pony’s found who they are, what they like, and have broken just about every rule along the way. 

“How long have you like- known?” Jet asks quietly, not exactly how to word this particular question.

This is bordering on too personal of a question but Jet’s not sure when the next time they’ll be able to talk to someone else who also is non-binary so they want to make the most of this. If they’re lucky, maybe Pony will become a friend and they’ll be able to have conversations like this more regularly. But they can’t be sure.

“Mosta’ my life but I didn’t like- embrace it until I got out here.”

So Jet is different then. They don’t exactly remember telling their Ma but as long as they can remember, she’d respected their pronouns and they can’t recall a time where she’d slipped up. It was like Pony had said earlier, some people make the effort and others just don’t.

“I think I’ve always known. I don’t remember- like, ever, goin’ by anything else.”

Pony just smiles at them, almost a proud gleam in their eyes.

“That’s incredible, that you knew so young and that you were around people who allowed you to be you,” Pony says sincerely.

“Yeah. but she’s not- she’s not here any more.”
They share a moment of quiet, both lost in thought and memories. And Jet knows that that’s the end of this conversation.

But that’s okay. They’ve figured out that they’re not alone, that their struggles are not just something they have to deal with. Not alone anyway. 

Someone else gets it.

Jet knows that Pony’s been hinting at something, at a situation where they couldn’t be themself and that’s why they’re able to sympathize with Jet so easily. But it’s not their place to ask and if Pony doesn’t want to tell, Jet won’t ask. 

_______________________________

That night gets unusually cold. 

Kobra curls up against them this time, still oddly clingy today. But Jet’s not one to complain about that. Especially as they lay here with him, making out slowly, taking their time in mapping out the feel of one another. Jet’s learning the feel of Kobra’s warm skin under his shirt as their fingers glide up to his chest. They discover exactly what to do to make him gasp into their mouth, how to make him laugh breathlessly and give them that soft, ‘god I love you’ look. 

And Kobra’s learning too. Discovering things Jet didn’t even know they liked. How his hand gently twisting their curls sends shivers down their spine. How he molds so perfectly against them.

Nothing ever progresses but they’re both content in this, in just getting to know one another. There’s no space between them in Jet’s bed, the chill in the air forgotten as they focus entirely on each other.

“Jet,” Kobra says suddenly, ending their latest kiss.

He’s on his side next to them, their legs tangled together and one of his hands still playing with their long hair. Jet’s too relaxed to form much of a response but they do manage a light hum to let Kobra know they heard him as they lay their head on his chest.

“I know that it’s soon but I-” 

At his pause, Jet opens their eyes and are met with an almost scared expression from Kobra. They wait, uncertain as to what’s bothering him. His hand moves in slow twits in their hair, curling and uncurling one little curl by their ear over and over.

“I just- you- you mean so much to me Jet,” he finishes at last, eyes downcast.

“You mean a lot to me too. But why are you afraid to tell me about it?”

They don’t want to sound demanding but they don’t want anything to be wrong either. He should feel free to tell them anything. Jet knows him well enough now to know that he bottles things up too much. He’s too afraid of admitting things sometimes, the very reason this position they’re in right now took so long to happen. 

“Because, because Party told me to not wait. He said that I should- that I shouldn’t like psych myself out of saying what I need to say because I might not be able to say it later and-”
“Hey,” Jet says soothingly, shifting to press a steadying hand to his shoulder. 

Kobra takes a purposeful breath, calming himself down a little.

“Sorry.”
His voice is quiet, anxious.

“What do you need to say?” Jet tries, keeping their voice gentle and open. 

They have a feeling they’ll both feel better after he says whatever is on his mind. He takes another deep breath, squeezing his eyes shut tightly for a moment. When he looks back at them there’s fierce determination and sheer emotion in his eyes.

“I love you. And I know that we’re both so new at there being an ‘us’ but I don’t want to pretend that I don’t feel like this. Because I do. I love you so fucking much that it’s all I can think about when I look at you,” Kobra pauses, searching them for any signs that they don’t feel the same. But he continues before they can get a word out. “And I think I have for a while now. I really love you Jet.”
And that’s it. The warm tears that’ve been prickling at their eyes begin to fall, though they’re far from unwelcome. Jet makes an odd sound, something between a relieved sob and a laugh.
He feels the same. 

Kobra loves them too.

“Jet?” 

“Sorry, sorry. I just,” Jet says through their tears, laughing a little for real now at how ridiculous they’re being. They need to spit this out.  “I love you too. I dunno why I’m reacting like this but I-”

They cut themself off, leaning over to kiss him again. This time, Kobra kisses back instantly, just as eagerly as they do from the beginning. There’s no hesitation in his actions this time, just words that are hard to say out loud. When they finally break apart, Jet rests their head on his chest, listening to his quiet heart beat as they catch their breath.
“I’m sorry it took me so long,” he says at one point, his hand back in their hair.

“S’okay. I wasn’t sure if you felt the same either at first.”

Jet feels him take another deep breath, an action they’re beginning to notice he does before he says or does something that he’s particularly afraid or anxious about.

“Maybe this is too soon but- but I-,” Kobra hesitates and Jet presses their cheek into his chest to comfort him, to let him know that they’re here for him. 

They don’t know what he’s trying to tell them but they can feel that it’s important, big. 

“I trust you with my life, Jet. You’ve saved me, looked after me and the others when you barely knew us. You’re so important to me and I just- I feel that I’m ready to tell you that my- my name’s Mikey.”
He sounds so scared, so completely and entirely open before them that Jet can’t think for a few moments. 

They know his colors, they know something that maybe two other people in the entire desert know. 

Kobra no- Mikey trusts them that fucking much and it's taking their breath away.

“Thank you,” Jet says first because they’re not quite sure what to say. But they decide on the truth. “That means the world to me that you’re willing to share your colors with me. I’ll protect them with my life. I swear on my own colors that I'll keep yours safe,” they finish honestly, every word exactly how they feel.

He sighs, content, his chest rising and falling deeply as the tension fades from him. It’s only fair that they return this gesture, this display of their feelings. Because they trust him too. Kobra's saved Jet’s life multiple times and has looked out for them on even more occasions. Kobra shows them how much they mean to him so often, from the way he makes sure they’re okay to how proud he was when they punched Val. He shows it, they just weren’t looking at first.

“I haven't spoken my name out loud since I chose my rebel one. The only person who knows it was my Ma and a couple of the people in my crew that we were closest to.”
Kobra doesn’t move an inch under them, patiently waiting for them to continue when they're ready.

“I’m Ray,” they mumble into the silent room at last.

If they strain they can hear Grace’s even breaths as she sleeps in her little makeshift bed across the room. She knows their name too. But now Kobra does and they don’t regret it, don’t ever wish to take it back.

And Kobra doesn’t say anything, neither of them move to continue the conversation. There’s a finality in this confession that goes beyond words. 

He kisses their forehead though, with such gentleness that they hardly feel it. But they can feel the affection pouring out of every move he makes as he moves them both enough to connect their lips once again. Jet melts into Kobra, allowing him to lead for once and themself to just feel. 

They’re not sure if the ‘I love you’s’ they hear are their brain translating his movements, the purpose behind them, or if they’re whispered by both of them as they make out long and slow. Everything fades around them, leaving just Jet and Kobra. 

____________________________________________________

Jet’s shivering, despite the three blankets they’re currently bundled underneath and the sleeping form of Kobra beside them. He’s under the covers this time, his head tucked securely in the crook of their neck and his arms draped over their middle. They should wake him, should make him take the guard he was planning on doing right now.

But they don’t.

Call them selfish.

He’s worked himself just as hard as everyone else, maybe even more, and he’s exhausted himself taking care of them all today. Kobra had made sure Party had napped at least once, made his brother eat earlier as well. And while Party hadn’t exactly fought against him, Jet’s sure that being so on edge about his brother taking care of himself had taken it’s toll on Kobra.

Jet knows that Kobra’s not a clingy, touchy sort of person. Affection is still given, quite often if you know how to look for it. Soft smiles, quick glances, offers of food or sleep. Kobra does these things constantly, for everyone, but today he’s been the touchy kind of affection.

He stayed close to Jet all evening, from the moment they’d come back down stairs, Grace fed and their conversation with Pony over. Kobra had instantly connected their hands again, kissing them breathless right in front of everyone. 

Then, then they’d made this offical. Jet knew Kobra’s name and he knew theirs. They confessed their love and Jet knows exactly where they they’re supposed to be. It’s here, with him. 

Things may be shitty right now but this love they’ve found in the ashes of their old life is something that Jet knows was written by fate. They were supposed to meet Kobra, maybe not by the means by which they did find  but they would have wound up together somehow or another.
Jet is certain that the Witch had this planned, that she guided their souls together when they needed it the most.

Even if you don’t believe in love, fate, luck it’d take a blind person to not be able to see how the two of them were meant for each other. 

Each time Jet’s kissed Kobra, it feels like home. It feels like the world turned on mute for as long as they stay together.They can pretend that everything is okay because Kobra’s here with them. 

But the kiss from earlier there was a desperation in it as well, one that made Jet’s stomach twist in concern. Just because a few things had worked out doesn’t erase Kobra’s anxiety, doesn’t mask his guilt from his mistakes the other day. 

What’s worse though, is that Jet’s fairly certain this wasn’t the first time that Kobra had used alcohol as a coping mechanism. Party had been actually angry, as mad as Jet had ever seen him, but also absolutely terrified. 

Jet’s made a note to themself to talk to Kobra about it, to make sure he’s not bottling things up again, but right now doesn’t feel like the right time to do so. Especially when he’s asleep, especially when he’s safe. Especially after earlier.

Things may be far from perfect but they’re not bad either.

So they let him rest, just spend the rest of the- very unusually frigid- night listening to him breathe deeply in his sleep. Kobra’s body heat warms them eventually, chasing the chill from their bones. 

They could get used to this.

_______________________________

Pony ends up taking guard, insisting that they don’t mind doing so to give them all a break. Party gladly takes them up on the offer, pleased to be able to know that his crew is going to sleep well tonight.

Besides, it’s not like he meant to interrogate them for so long, not like he had any real malice against them. Pony had received news of Kobra and Party falling under Better Living’s radar and had warned his brother of possible risks. And honestly, if Party looked at it from their perspective, two new people who just fit in so well to their crew was more than a little suspicious. But the harm that was done has been mended or at the least is well on the way to being mended.

They’ve ended the day with Pony as a friend, someone slowly becoming trusted. But that doesn’t mean Party’s not still being weighed on by everything else.
Party doubts that Kobra is completely over the fight they’d had, the way they’d both acted, and the pain of the doubts, the lies. And really, he’s not either. It hurts, even now, that his brother would run back to the drinking before talking things out with him first. They’d put those days behind him, of drinking away the problems, but maybe they weren’t as far behind as Party had liked to think.

But he couldn’t hold any real anger at his brother. He knows that Kobra struggles, that a break- any break- from his constant anxiety is welcome and sometimes needed. Party just wishes that he’d come to him before he goes to a bottle. It’s times like these where Party’s unfortunately reminded of that night, however many years ago it’s been now, where he’d burst into some shitty motel room in One to find his brother dying of overdose on the stained mattress. It’d shaken him down to his very core, the image forever burned into his mind.

Kobra’s better now, much better, but still Party can’t shake the worry. If Kobra’s slipped up once, what’s the chances of him slipping up again? How far will those one offs go? 

Party shakes his head, dispelling those thoughts and tucking them away for after he’s slept for a good eight hours. He shouldn’t be thinking so hard when he’s as tired as he is; it never ends well. 

Things are always brighter in the morning light. That’s what people say right?

And besides, Kobra and Jet have finally acknowledged that -hey they’re head over fucking boots for each other and they should probably do something about it. The relief that is brother is allowing himself to fall for someone else is something that Party isn’t sure he could describe if he tried.

Party may have had a shitty ex but Kobra’s had his fair share of pain brought on by people who claim a connection only to shatter his heart the next second. He’s picked Kobra up off the floor, literally and metaphorically, way too many times. Party knows that he’ll do it again, gladly, but he hopes that this thing Kobra’s found with jet,that it will last. That he may have to help Kobra back onto his feet sometime in the future but not for a broken heart, not again. 

He’s thinking too much, letting his exhaustion mind go into whatever tangent of thought that’s nearest. Party needs to sleep, needs to get Ghoul to sleep, so that they can be ready for whatever tomorrow brings.

So, he bids Pony good night, telling them to come get him should anything go wrong. They promise to do so and he trudges up to bed, Ghoul in tow. He only stops to duck his head into Jet’s room, to make sure that they’re okay. And they are, Kobra asleep in the bed with them and they look almost asleep themself. 

Tomorrow real life will kick back in, at least the parts they’ve been ignoring, and Party just hopes he sleeps well enough to be able to tackle their biggest problems.
Moving and food.

_____________________________

Jet’s properly shivering now, their whole body shaking with it.

The night is never this cold, not unless you’re out alone and unprotected. Which they’re not. They know that for a fact, can feel the softness of the sheets they’re under. Kobra’s definitely here too, his long limbs tangled with their own, his warmth seeping into their clothes.

But it’s not enough.
They're cold, annoyingly so.

Groaning, Jet pries their eyes open, searching for an opened window or a kicked off blanket. They just want to go back to sleep, to curl back up in the warmth and never leave.

But wait-

The sun’s up, mid-morning light shining in through the window. That can’t be right. It’s never this cold once the sun rises above the horizon, it’s radiation heats the air in minutes.

“Kobra,” they say urgently, twisting to shake his shoulder in an attempt to wake him.

Something’s wrong. They can feel it in their gut.
He groans as they continue to shake him but finally opens an eye to tiredly glare at them. It’s insanely adorable the way his face scrunches up with sleep, the way his eyes slowly gain that consciousness as he wakes up fully.

“Waz wrong?” he mumbles, joining them in sitting up.

The last of the warmth from under the covers escapes but Jet’s too focused on watching outside. It’s not subzero, not nearly as cold as it can be at night, but that’s just the thing.
It’s close to noon and the air isn’t any warmer. 

“Are you cold too?” they ask Kobra, turning to watch him try and comb his fingers through his hair to make it stay down. 

He takes a moment to answer, clearly groggy from sleep, but when the connection happens, Jet watches him perk up in surprise.
“What time is it?”

“Like lunch but it’s still cold,” they say, straining to try and hear the sound of air conditioning.

Maybe Ghoul found an old AC unit and fucked with it enough to make it work again? But that’s highly unlikely because Jet’d be able to hear the hum of the system as it cooled a building of this size.

And there’s no hum. 

“What the fuck,” Kobra exclaims, pulling the blankets back up over his shoulders.

He leaves one spot open, motioning for Jet to snuggle up there. They do so gladly, curling into his side and soaking up the warmth that he radiates.

They recall how much they’d opened up to each other last night. They shared their colors and their feelings, and yet the world is still turning, the sun still shining . If Jet was more awake right now they might be able to go on a long, philosophical inner monologue about that. How the universe already knew how the two of them felt and it was only them who were enlightened last night. But they’re still in the process of waking up and besides, why overly analyze something like this? 

So they return back to the conversation they’d begun with Kobra.

“You think it’s the City’s weather thing messin’ with the temps out here?” 

“Maybe. But why the cold?” Kobra ponders aloud after a moment, though he does kiss the top of their head gently.

Jet just hums, not entirely sure what the City is planning. They’d really rather not know.

“C’mon. I’m sure Party ‘n the others are up already. We got a lot to do today and cold weather ain’t gonna put a hold on it.”
Reluctantly, Jet allows Kobra to stand and shrug off the blanket. They follow suit, heading downstairs after they receive a good morning kiss of course.

Still smiling slightly from the fact that they get to kiss Kobra good morning now, Jet finds Party and Ghoul already awake and in the diner. They’re both bent over a table, papers scattered all over it while they talk in hushed, but hurried tones. 

The two of them only notice Kobra and Jet once they get right beside the table.

Party offers them both a genuine greeting but Ghoul barely looks up, his mind completely focused on what Jet now recognizes as maps that fill all the available space on the table.

They’re mostly of the Zones, each one clearly marked and divided with a bold number added to some so that the Zones can be told apart. Other maps are more detailed, depicting gas stations, markets, and even sections of particular Zones. 

“What’re we lookin’ at?” Kobra prompts, gesturing to the wide assortment of maps.
They’re all hand drawn, probably worth some good money if they’re as accurate as they seem to be. 

“We’re leaving today. We need supplies, this place ain’t safe anymore, and I wanna stop by the shed to try ‘n scrounge up whatever’s left.”
Party points to one map in particular as he talks, an old and faded piece of paper that looks ready to fall apart. He’s bundled up with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders and Jet might just be able to see his breath in the air.
Where he points shows a small section of Three, only one gas station within probably 30 miles of the place. That’s where the shed is.

“How’re we gonna get there? The car’s kinda gone,” Jet points out.

Ghoul doesn’t say anything, though he’s grinning to himself so he must not have too many hard feelings about blowing up their only car. He’s still got the look plastered on his face as he answers Jet’s question.

“I’m gonna siphon the gas outta the Drac’s cars that we got piled up outside. Should be enough ‘t get us where we need to go.”
“Exactly,” Party adds, “we need to leave as soon as possible though. This weather is fucked up and I’m certain it means Better Living is gonna through somethin’ at us again soon. I’d rather be holed up somewhere safe and with food when that happens.”

They all agree and Kobra begins pointing at which gas stations and markets they can hit on their way to the shed to collect whatever is left of their things. But Jet’s just focusing on the little stretch of Guano that’s a few miles off to the side of the hand drawn marker for the shed.

That’s where Korse’s men killed Jet’s crew. That’s where their bike is, where their Ma is. 

Ghoul’s currently going on some long winded rant/plan about the gas they need from the car. Jet’s not really following the numbers bit but they get the main idea. Even so, Ghoul’s talking fast, gesturing wildly as he does the calculations seemingly in his head. 

“So with each of the cars probably holding about three gallons of gas, feasibly we would be able to recover somewhere around 20 to 30 gallons to use if we’re lucky. Given that the Drac’s cars normally average around 15 miles per gallon for fuel range, we’d easily be able to make it to the shed if we take one of those cars and therefore be able to use spare fuel for the rest of the trip home. However if-”

“Can we stop here on the way?” Jet interrupts Ghoul, pointing to the spot on the map where the clap happened.

Ghoul stutters to a stop, blinking as if coming out of a trance. He raises his eyebrows in a silent question. ‘Why?’

But Jet’s not sure how to answer him, if they can form into words that this was the spot their entire crew died. They wonder if they’ll find their mother there.

“I promised I’d take you back didn’t I?” Kobra speaks up for them, softly smiling their way to let them know he understands.
“Back? Oh.”
Ghoul’s face falls as he catches on, wrapping the blanket more tightly around his own shoulders. 

“I don’t see why not,” Party says easily. “It’s on our way and it’s important to you.”

“Thank you.”

This is it. They’re gonna go back, Jet’s going to see the spot where they lost almost everything. 

Are they ready?
Can they actually be ready for something like that?

Without a word Kobra connects their hands and gives theirs a squeeze of reassurance. Yes they’re scared, downright terrified if they’re honest, but Jet needs to do this. 

They need to go back.

Chapter Text

Kobra’s used to the cold. 

If only in the sense that it gets pretty fucking chilly at night in the desert and he’s had like four or five years by now to get used to that. Sometimes, if you’re unlucky, it’ll be below zero and there will be an actual struggle to stay warm. But for the most part, if you have the right amount of layers and know what you're doing, nights aren’t so bad.

But this, this is not normal.

As Kobra sits here on the bed, watching Jet flit about the room to gather their things that’ve been strewn about, he’s pretty much fucking freezing. The sun's up, he can see the little bastard not doing its damn job from the little window to his right. It’s up, it’s there, but the air remains stupidly, frustratingly cold. 

It’s bulshit really. 

Kobra is thankful he raided the closet in his room earlier because he’s not completely freezing now, just annoyed and grouchy due to the below average temperature. There was a very comfortable yellow and black t-shirt he found that’s working nicely as an additional layer under his red jacket. 

Jet’s bundled up too, their dark leather jacket zipped up tight to hold in whatever heat the thin black shirt they're wearing underneath doesn’t. It’s a shame that they have to cover up, to bundle up like this. But Jet remains as stunning as ever, their hair carefully pulled back in a borrowed hair tie from his brother and Grace snug in their arms. 

“Have you seen Grace’s other blanket?” Jet questions, handing their sister over to him while they search around the desk for some reason.

Would the blanket really be there of all places? 

But with how busy they’ve all been, Jet’s room clearly shows that they haven't had time for organization. There’s clothes and baby things and Witch knows what else scattered around in varying levels of cleanliness. So, really, if Kobra thinks about it, the possibility of the blanket being under the desk just might not be so bad.

“Which one, thought she only had the one?”

Kobra knows Grace has at least one blanket, the thin one that she was wrapped in when he’d found them, but he hasn’t really been paying attention enough to notice if she has a new one.

Grace wiggles in his arms, giggling because she knows she’s cute and can get away with annoying him. He has a soft spot for her and she knows it. 

“She’s got the old one but I sorta made another outta an old bed sheet the other day. I wanna bring both in case it gets any colder,” they explain, straightening up and beginning their search again by the bed.

Kobra watches Grace try and wiggle enough to get her foot out of the blanket she’s currently in, odd frustrated noises making him laugh a little.

“‘Avn’t seen it,” he replies with a shrug, moving the blanket away enough for Grace to get one tiny leg out of the blanket.
He gets no response because Jet has crawled under the bed a little to check the area down there. Now, Kobra’s a good person, or at least he likes to think so, and therefore he does not stare at Jet’s ass as they wiggle their lower half to move further under the bed.

Except he totally does because they have a nice butt. Their leather pants are once again the right mix of tight looking and comfortable. He's not staring, just appreciating his… partner's -? He's going to have to ask what they prefer him to call them - unfairly attractive butt.

“Ah ha!” Jet calls triumphantly, crawling clumsily out from under the bed.

They flop over so they’re on their back, still on the floor and wave the off white blanket for him to see. Jet grins, letting their arm come back down to rest on their chest a moment and allowing Kobra to notice that they’re breathing rather heavily.

Before he can ask if they’re okay Jet’s already jumping up and folding the blanket neatly before stuffing it on top of the other stuff in their bag. The old duffel bag has mostly Grace’s things but Jet’s trying to fit the clothes they claimed in there as well. 

So far everything's fit though.

It’s far more than what’s in Kobra’s bag anyway. His mostly had held food but with their breakfast late this morning that’s finally run out. Jet, Party, and Ghoul had shared the last can of Power Pup, on Kobra’s insistence. He wasn’t hungry yet anyway and besides, they should be able to find at least something at the shed. Be that carbons or actual food. 

The sound of Jet zipping up their bag pulls Kobra back into the present and he watches them fight with the metal zipper for a moment. They have a determined scowl on their face and he might just hear some muttered curses as they finally get the zipper that final few inches.

But they don’t look up at him. Instead Jet sort of stares at the duffel bag a long moment, face twisted into something that Kobra can’t read. 

He worries instantly. 

Today is going to be rough, on all of them, but most specifically Jet.

They’re gonna go back to the place where they nearly died, where their crew did die. Jet lost almost everything that day and Kobra knows that while the blaster wound in their stomach may be healed, the wound that losing their family caused isn’t. 

That’s why they’re doing this today, to give Jet some form of closure. Closure that they need.
“Ready?” he asks gently, waiting until they meet his eye to connect their hands. 

“No.”

It comes out as a breath, something that they both know means that they have to do this even more so because of it. 

“If you want, I’ll stay right there with you the whole time.”

At Kobra’s offer, Jet seems to deflate a bit. He’s not sure if it’s from relief or exhaustion or some weird combination of both.

“I don’t think I can do it alone,” Jet murmurs desperately, squeezing his hand tightly and scrunching their eyes up.

“You aren’t alone.”

_______________________________

“So, Pony.”

“Yes?” they ask incredulously, setting down the last of the containers of fuel into the trunk. 

Ghoul’s certain that they must be freezing. Their outfit may be pretty fuckin’ badass but it’s not made for cold temperatures. Not like these anyway.
He’s got at least three layers on, by Poison’s insistence, and he’s still got goosebumps rising up on his arms. The weather is extremely fucked and he knows it.

But that’s not what he wanted to talk to Pony about. 

See, Poison got to talk to them for freaking hours. Which was a necessity because they needed to know they could trust them but then, right after, Pony had gone upstairs with Jet.

Now, Ghoul knew enough to figure out that Jet was eager to talk to them because they had a lot in common. And he understands that, really he does. 

Jet mentioned the other day that they’d never spoken to someone who identifies the same as they do and truthfully, Ghoul has a pretty good idea of how that feels.

 

He was a gay, punk, damn near feral kid living in the City. What do you think happened?
So, yeah, he gets the need for the others to hang out with Pony. But also, Ghoul is selfish and he wants to spend time with the crew’s new friend too.
That’s why he sorta insisted that Pony help him load the car with fuel. Not only do they look pretty strong, their outfit allows him to see the toned muscles of their arms and legs, but they also have been running around helping the four of them get ready to leave. They could have probably packed up on their own but having someone who’s like perfectly healthy to help them has really sped the process up. But he knows the others are strong enough to help too. 

Well, maybe not Jet. They looked to be doing better at the table this morning but he’s not about to risk it. 

But, he’s getting off tract. 

“Thank you, for everything,” he says at last, waving his arm in a vague gesture. “You saved Kobra’s life, saved all our asses with the supplies and now you’re helpin’ us again.” Ghoul shakes his head, genuinely not understanding how someone could be so helpful to people they don’t even know.

“You don’t gotta thank me Ghoulie. I do what I can to help people out here and ‘sides,” they flash him a smirk, “ya’ll really needed the help.”
He laughs, the feeling bubbling in his chest and escaping before he can stop it. 

“Yeah we’re a fuckin’ mess ain’t we?”

“Functional disasters the lot of you,” Pony teases back, their own laughter filling the air too.

“Do I even wanna know what’s so fuckin’ funny?”
Ghoul turns as Poison comes out, his bag flung over his shoulder and his free hand resting on his hip. Which naturally draws Ghoul’s attention to his boyfriend’s very nice hips and the way Poison’s got them stuck out a bit as he regards them with fond amusement. 

The crisp wind blows, making Ghoul’s hair end up in his mouth and he sputters,  trying and failing several times to get all the stupid little hairs out.

He hears Poison laugh, high and easy, before there’s another hand helping him get the hair out of his mouth. 

“Fuckin’ dipshit,” Poison tells him lovingly, tucking the stray strands back behind his ear.

He doesn’t blush. Nope. 

But Poison’s super close now, barely a step between them and Ghoul’s already moving forward to kiss him. It’s brief and innocent but the glimmer in Poison's eyes as he pulls away makes Ghoul’s stomach do flips. 

“I’ll leave you two alone, I’m gonna go grab Star and Kid before they make us late,” Pony calls over their shoulder, already making their way back inside.

“I really don’t wanna know what they’re gonna walk in on,” Ghoul remarks seriously, shaking his head a little.
At that, Poison just laughs and pulls him into a hug.

But his grip is just a bit too tight, his breaths in Ghoul's ear a smidge too fast.

“Can I tell you somethin’?” Poison asks hesitantly, resting his chin on Ghoul’s shoulder.

He wraps his arms around Poison, trying to push away whatever is bothering his boyfriend as best he can. Poison shouldn't stress as much as he does. It can't be healthy.

“Always.”

“I’m scared,” he breathes out, a whimper more than actually speaking it, like saying it out loud is some sort of sin. Something to be ashamed of.

Like he's not allowed to ge afraid.

“Me too,” Ghoul finds himself confessing.
Because Ghoul is. He’s terrified.

Jet’s not getting better, patrols just keep fucking finding them, and the weather is literally going to shit. There’s so much that can go wrong and yet, Ghoul knows that leaving today, no matter how much the fear claws at him, is the right thing for them to do.

“But we got each other,” Ghoul finishes sincerely, squeezing Poison in hopes that this feeling in his chest will transfer over to him. That it will be strong enough go let him know that Ghoul would do anything for him.

_______________________________

 

With all of their things stuffed in the stolen patrol car, Kobra ends up squished between Jet and the pile of their bags that's digging into his other side. It’s cramped to say the least and he's not particularly claustrophobic but he's probably gonna be after this.

Thankfully though, with all of the body heat packed into the small space of the car, the air begins to warm up fairly quickly. 

Jet hasn't spoken since they've all come outside and Kobra's beginning to worry slightly. This is gonna be hard on Jet, he knows this but he also doesn't know how to be there for them if they won't let him.

But Jet just keeps a blanket around their shoulders, carefully folded to cover Grace and keep her warm as well, and their gaze firmly out the window. Nothing Kobra does gains their attention, not pressing his shoulder against them, not even whispering their name. Jet stays lost in their own head and Kobra truly wishes he knew how to help.

"Let's head out," Ghoul insists in a soft tone from the passenger seat, able to sense everyone's hesitation most likely.

Party simply gives a sharp nod and starts the car, throwing one hand out the window to signal Pony, who’s on their motorbike behind them. He eases the car onto Guano and Kobra watches Pony follow suit behind them through the side view mirror. 

Their bike is painted as colorful as it gets with pastel colors like light blue, pink, and white adorning the body while the wheels have been spray painted dark green and purple respectively. Oddly enough, it sorta matches Pony's outfit. 

Even with the distraction that is Show Pony, Kobra has to make a physical effort to not look at the burned and blackened crater in the pavement to their left. As they drive in the opposite direction it falls out of sight but Kobra has to repress the shiver that tries to run through him anyway. Just from the thought of how extremely lucky they'd gotten in that clap.

That spot is where Ghoul set off the explosion, where he nearly died. And despite trying to distract himself, Kobra can't help but stare at Ghoul’s arm as he momentarily pulls it out from under the blanket he's bundled in to trace an invisible line on the map. The bandages are visible on his hands and Kobra knows that they’re under the sleeve of his jacket as well. There's a small shake to Ghoul's hands too, there for any number of reasons but all it serves to do is make Kobra think.

He got lucky, so fucking lucky. 

That's all that's reminder Kobra really needs.

He knows Ghoul’s not in pain anymore, at least not too badly, but it’s a reminder. A reminder of the charred remains of who knows how many Dracs that lay just behind them. 

They drive on, the bodies and the diner fading into the horizon. 

---

Ghoul’s wearing a 'borrowed blanket, on Party’s insistence, and is currently curled up in the passenger seat with a map spread out in front of him. They've been on the road for a while, an odd silence filling the car. No one's spoken for at least an hour and they soon found that this car doesn't pick up Doc's station.

Of course it doesn't. 

Kobra's nearly going nuts, not even being able to talk to Jet because they are still very much lost in their head, by the time Ghoul finally breaks the silence. 

“Kay,” Ghoul begins determinedly, pointing out the windshield to the stretch of Guano that lies ahead of them and then back to the map resting on his knees. “we go this’away for about twenty more miles. Then we're there.”

_______________________________

Jet’s well aware that Kobra is getting worried.

They know they’ve been a little… off today. But at this point they honestly can’t bring themself to care.

That numb feeling, the horrible way they know they’re freaking out but it’s like they’re not in their own body anymore. It’s back. It feels worse, stronger but there’s nothing Jet can do. They can't seem to shake it.
They were okay in the diner, were able to focus on packing and holding their boyfriend’s hand, both things that helped greatly, but now everything is too quiet. Too still. 

And they can’t stop thinking.

What are they even going to find?

Are they going to be able to stare down at the dead and decaying body of their mother?

The twisting, burning pain hits them now, cutting through the numbness like a hot knife through their chest. Jet has to force themself to take a deep breath, to count the cactus that zoom past outside their window.

But they manage, squinting past the bright sun that's doing nothing to keep them warm. There's only one cactus, far away and brown. Dying.

Jet looks down at their baby sister. She's sleeping peacefully in their arms. Proof that they haven't lost everything. They try to remember all the things they've found, the people they've found.

Kobra is right beside them, close enough to touch but he's not. He's giving them space, not overwhelming them and truly, Jet is eternally grateful for how much he cares for them. He never pushes them beyond what they're comfortable with but that doesn't matter right now because maybe what they need is his touch. His strength.

They lean over, connecting their left hand in his right and watch as he turns suddenly. His eyes are wide, like he's afraid of hurting them. 

Jet doesn't say anything, not sure if they're capable of saying anything right now, and just turn back to look out the window. The weight of Kobra's hand in theirs is steadying, something to grasp onto so that they don't sink into the murky waters of their mind. He adjusts his grip, holding their hand too. That silent strength he’s so good at offering.

In their head, Jet repeats what he told them last night. Over and over.

He loves them. 

He loves them. 

He loves them.

Kobra gave his colors to Jet last night, literal proof of how much he loves them, trusts them, just as they do him. 

No one in the car makes a sound.

Kobra lays his head on their shoulder a little while later and Jet gets the feeling that it's not just for them. 

He's scared too. 

They hadn't had time to think about what they were doing when they left the shed, the situation too sudden and dire for them to dwell on what they were doing. But now, Jet knows they've just upended their lives yet again. The diner's gone, forgotten, in the past. 

Jet focuses outside again before that train of thought can pick up any ground in their mind. They watch the seemingly endless shades of yellow and tan that make up the desert they're driving through. A cactus passes a few minutes later, small and deep green with a bright flower blooming on it. This one's alive.

Each one they pass is a different color, a slightly unique shade of green or brown. Some have flowers, others don’t.

Fifteen. They make it fifteen cactus before the car is coming gently to a stop.

Jet looks around, confused as no one makes a move to get out. In the driver's seat, Party takes a shallow breath, his head resting in his hands. Ghoul reaches over to connect his hand in Party's, both of them looking like they've seen ghosts.
There’s no way they’re there yet. 

Right?

They look down at Kobra, still resting his head on their shoulder, down at their connected hands. He shifts, sitting upright and rubbing his eyes.

He'd really been asleep?

Shit, Kobra’s looking at them now. Watching them like they’re about to fall apart.
Which actually might not be too far from the truth. If they don't look outside maybe they'll be fine?

But no- no they need to do this. They can't spend the rest of their life just wondering and agonizing over this.

Jet forces themself to take a glance out of the window, to actually look at the rolling sand outside. It looks the same as every other part of the desert, barren, forgotten.

But if they look forward, out of the windshield and down the stretch of Guano they can see before the horizon bends it, then they can see more.

There’s a patrol's worth of cars, all singed black by the laser beams that hit them almost two weeks ago now. Motorbikes are scattered about on their sides in an off centered circle, the sun gleaming off of the once polished paint.
Jet’s chest constricts, their vision getting small and narrow as they spot one bike in particular.

They can see the hand painted red that coats the bike, a deep crimson that their Ma loved so much.

“Jet?” Kobra’s voice is fragile, scared.

He squeezes their hand, trying to get them to look at him. But they can't pull their eyes away. Not when their Ma's bike is less than 20 yards away, lying forgotten half on the pavement half in the sand.

“I’m going out.”

They’ve said it before their mind’s even finished the thought and suddenly they’re passing a sleeping Grace up to Ghoul in the front seat. The car door seems to open all it’s own and Jet’s boots hit the sand. Didn't they have a blanket?

They're dizzy, the world swaying as they fight to just make it to the bikes. They don't know anything other than the ringing in their ears and the way the sand shifts in their vision as they stumble forward. 

They have to do this Jet reminds themself. 

They have to.

There’s a sharp bite to the air that they pay no attention to. They don’t even hear the car door closing on the other side, don’t even notice Kobra has gotten out too until he’s standing beside them.

Jet blinks and they’re staring down at a bike laying in the sand. They don’t know how long they’ve been standing here, don’t know how they even got here. But they can’t look away.

They know this bike. They’ve rode on it since they were born, since- since the beginning. 

The red paint is already chipped and scratched by the sand, something Jet knows their Ma would have a fit about if she were here. Attached to the right side is a little sidecar, the hand sewn baby blankets still immaculately tucked there. There’s an indentation where Grace would lay and- and

They look away, vision spinning as the tears well up in their eyes and their chest aches.

Jet can’t do this- this was a bad idea- this was-

They try to find something else to focus on, anything else-just for a moment-

But wait-

They do another sweep of the area, turning in a circle and breathing heavily as they do so. 

Kobra's beside them with his hands firmly shoved in his pockets, close but not touching. There’s patrol cars and the bikes, the sand and pavement stained red in certain spots but- but-

There’s no bodies.

There’s nothing.

Better Living took them- they took them and they- they- took their Ma- they- the Witch- 

The Witch can’t guide your soul if- if you don’t stay in the sand or aren’t burned and- 

The burning, aching, consuming feeling in their chest explodes out, the emptiness snapping away entirely and leaving only raw pain in its wake. Jet collapses, screaming fills their ears but they don’t know if it’s their own or- or -

Kobra.

Kobra.
He’s holding them. He’s rocking them. Whispers of something in their ears.

Why the hell does it matter?

Their Ma is dead and she’s gone and- and the Witch doesn’t have her because the fucking City does and-

They can’t breathe, their chest seizing up and making it impossible as the blood rushes from their head all at once. They can't see, can't hear, can't think. But Jet doesn’t care. Can’t bring themself to care.

It doesn’t matter. It never fucking mattered. 

They shouldn’t be here. They shouldn’t be alive to see this they- this- it’s too-

The screaming returns but they don't make an effort to try and figure out where it's coming from.

Why does it matter anyway? 

_______________________________

Kobra doesn’t know what to fucking do.

Jet’s shaking in his arms, sobbing and wailing and-

And they’re completely unresponsive. He’s tried rocking them, tried talking to them, hell he even tried to get them back to the car.

It’s no use though. 

This is so horribly, eerily similar to how they were the other morning and the night of their nightmare. But worse, so much fucking worse.

And he knows why. Fuck he wishes he didn't  but he does.
Jet’s crew is gone. Just gone.
There’s no bodies, no masks or guns or anything left over. Better Living took them all and Kobra knows exactly what that means. 

Their souls are gone, forgotten and faded away now. It’s literally a fate worse than death and Kobra knows now that they shouldn’t have stopped here.

This isn’t healing. This isn't closure. Its ripping a larger, much more painful wound through the barely closed one that was already there. 

The wind picks up, piercing through Kobra’s jacket and freezing him to the bone. But it doesn’t matter. He just holds Jet as tightly as he can while they sob and scream at nothing.
He’s going numb, whether that be from cold or what’s going on around him he's not sure.

But something touches his nose, ice cold and strange. When he rubs his nose with his thumb, he comes away with nothing but water. It’s tears, either his or Jet's or both and-

And it happens again, except this time on the bridge of his nose. 

Jet’s quietening down, reduced to nothing more than shallow breathing against him. Instantly Kobra’s pressing his hand to their back, feeling their breath and heartbeat. It’s fast, uneven and- and it’s stuttering.

“C’mon. Come back to me,” he whispers like a prayer as he pulls their head close to his chest and speaks into their hair. “I’ve got you. I’ve got you.”

Jet doesn’t make a sound, doesn’t move other than the shaking. They're heavy and limp against him. 

It’s way colder now and Kobra feels something like ice hit the bare skin of his hand where it’s wrapped around Jet. He watches, completely in awe, as the tiny piece of frozen water melts against his skin. 

More falls and then all at once the sky opens up and there’s billions of tiny snowflakes falling down around them. Jet’s not moving in his arms, their breathing far too shallow and their heart beat far too weak under his fingertips.

Snow. 

It sticks to Jet’s hair, getting caught in the curly, wild strands. It melts slowly as he gradually feels the chill set in his bones. Jet’s shaking against him again and Kobra remembers where they are.

He continues to talk to them, even though he’s certain that Jet can’t hear him. And they don’t answer, don’t make a sound as the silent tears continue to soak into Kobra’s jacket. 

The snow begins to stick, slowly coating the sand around them as he presses his face in their hair.
They’re alive.

He has to tell himself that. Jet’s alive, they’re breathing. 

They need him. 

He needs to pull them out of this. 

But the snow just continues to fall and Jet just clings to Kobra like their life depends on it. They don’t move and Kobra forgets about the snow. He forgets about everything else other than the steadily weakening heartbeat under his fingertips and the soulless battle ground in front of him. 

Chapter Text

He’s seen snow before, ‘course he has, but it's never been out here, and has never been so drastic. Besides, it’s been literal ages since the last time he saw this. The City had snow, a long time ago, before the weather machines. Another lifetime ago.
Now, the logical part of Party’s brain is telling him to scoop up his brother and Jet and haul ass back into the car. Because seriously- the air is absolutely frigid, the exposed parts of his skin already feeling the sting and he's only been out of the car for a few minutes at most.
If either Jet or Kobra gets sick they’re screwed. And he knows it. They have neither the money nor the supplies to combat the whole truck load of illnesses that could stem from the two of them huddling it out in a goddamn snow storm like this.
Party wasn’t lying earlier when he told Ghoul that he was scared. There’s so much that could go wrong, so many things that he could fuck up. Two more lives now rest in his protection, two more people who need him. It makes the desire to shelter Jet and his brother all the more strong. If they do get sick, it’ll be on him.
But there’s another part of Party, a part that understands why his brother and Jet can’t leave just yet.
The two are deathly quiet now, not moving an inch even when he and Ghoul finally did wonder over. Party knows the pain Jet’s feeling, maybe in a twisted sort of way but he knows it.
He was the same after Bert had died. Even through everything, every second of abuse, Party still grieved for the kid he fell in love with. It nearly tore him apart.
So yeah, Party gets it.
That’s why he’s carried this blanket out with him. Because he doesn't plan on making them move unless he has to. Party drapes it over the curled together forms of his brother and Jet. He wishes there was more he could do, more he could offer other than a shitty blanket.
Kobra stirs, looking up at him through the hair fallen down into his eyes, his face red and swollen. But he’s dropping his head back down before Party can say anything.
Party sighs but doesn't try and get Kobra to talk. It's pointless anyway.
But at least with a blanket they won’t freeze to death.
Looking away to try and give them a little more privacy, Party surveys the scene around him.
There’s a little over a dozen motorbikes all laying on their sides, some are on the cracked, faded pavement while others sit in the sand, already being reclaimed by the desert. The one that Jet’s in front of now is red, powerful looking with a good sized sidecar attached to it. He can see where Grace would have lain and a familiar pull of sadness aches in Party’s chest.
Grace’s still in the car, wrapped up tight with Show Pony keeping her company. He’d be wary of leaving her alone or with someone they barely know but this is an extraneous situation. Besides, he trusts Pony.
Around the four of them, the snow continues to fall. It’s heavy, sticky and already coating the ground. The pavement remains clear, residual heat clinging on desperately to the old road.
Party shivers, rubbing his bare arms to try and warm them up. He really needs to find a fucking jacket but seriously, who would’ve thought it’d snow out here?
Without a word Ghoul comes over, his own blanket wrapped snugly around his shoulders. He opens his arms, inviting Party into the warmth he has trapped there.
Accepting the offer gladly, Party quickly gets under the blanket and allows Ghoul to wrap his arms around him.
They must look ridiculous, grown people wearing blankets like capes or some shit. If they didn't have Dracs on their ass he'd already have built a fire. But Party can’t care; he’s cold and it’s fucking snowing. In the goddamn desert.
Sue him.
Besides, this is his boyfriend and if he wants a blanket-clad hug when it’s offered he’s going to do damn well as he pleases. Thank you very much.
“You good?” Ghoul asks quietly, his mouth close enough to Party’s ear to where they don’t have to speak loudly. He just nods, not wanting to disrupt Jet and Kobra.
And yeah, Jet looks awful, pale and shaking still as they fight through the last of it. For now anyway.
Party can hear their screams still, ringing in his ears.
“You went all grouchy face,” Ghoul continues to press, though he plants a gentle kiss on Party’s forehead when he pulls away enough to answer. " 's on your mind?"
“Hate the fuckin’ cold.”
Ghoul laughs but it’s without humor. They both know it's more than that.
Looking back down to Jet, Party notices now how heavily they’re breathing and the way Kobra’s hand is pressed firmly against their back. He remembers the other night, how bad their heart got after their nightmare. This one was worse, so much worse and he’s an idiot for forgetting to check their heart for so long.
Some fucking doctor he is.
Pulling reluctantly out of Ghoul’s hold, Party goes over and crouches down beside the two of them. Kobra looks up, questioning tiredly and without words as to what’s going on.
“Lemme’ look,” Party whispers as loudly as he dares.
His brother gets the message, moving his hand away from Jet’s back while still holding them up. They seem to be either unconscious or deaf to the world and Party’s not sure which one he prefers it to be.
Pushing aside his worry for his friend, he presses two fingers to Jet’s pulse, closing his eyes to count.
It’s not good.
He curses under his breath but tries to stay calm as he places his hand where Kobra’s had been on Jet’s back. Their back moves slowly as they breathe, deep and strong.
At least that’s something.
It could be worse, way worse.
‘We need to go,’ he mouths to Kobra, who’d been watching anxiously the whole time, jerking his head in the direction of the car behind them.
He doesn't want to pull Jet away from this but given how weak they are right now, they could get sick very easily.
Kobra nods with quiet determination, hopefully understanding Party's reasoning, and shuffles a little before standing, dragging Jet up with him. He stumbles as their entire weight is leaned against him and Party reaches over to help, wrapping Jet’s arm around his own shoulder. With both of them working, they manage to get them back to the car without incident.
Jet’s truly out of it, it seems. They don’t make a sound, don’t protest in the slightest as they’re carried away from the last physical thing their crew ever had.
______________________
The car is deathly silent, no one speaking a word as they resume the track to the shed. Jet is barely conscious, too zoned out to really acknowledge anyone’s presence as they lean their head on Kobra’s shoulder. Party had checked them over before they'd left, even though it didn’t do much to dispel the mess that’s currently in Koba’s head. But his brother had said that they were fine, just wiped, and yet the feel, the weight of them leaning so tiredly on him does nothing to stem his worrying.
He can't help it.
Jet has gone through so fucking much so naturally, of-fucking- course, the universe or the Witch or who ever is in charge of this shit, decided to lay on another layer. He can see it in the blank expression in Jet’s eyes, the way they’re open but not really seeing anything. For all purposes, they are unconscious right now because Kobra knows for a fact that they can’t hear him, can’t feel his hand attempting to rub soothing patterns on their shoulder. Jet’s checked out, for now anyway, and has left Kobra hear to deal with this shit on his own.
He hates himself for what that anxiety brings up from his mind, knows that his own pain is nothing compared to Jet's, but the itch is there. It’s there, a little tickle at the back of Kobra's mind, begging for him to find something to take the edge off of all of this.
Just a few drinks and he’d feel better, would be able to calm his thoughts for just a second. Long enough to have a break.
But he doesn't deserve a break. That's the thing. Jet can’t have one because they will have to live the rest of their life with this pain. They won’t ever get rid of this, maybe in time they’ll heal, he hopes to whoever is listening that they will, but it will always be there.
So much for the Witch listening and protecting Jet like he’d asked.
Kobra’s selfish though, his resolve only so strong, and despite his better judgement, he tries to form a mental list of the local bars near the shed they used to stay in. There’s not many, a purposeful positioning by his brother, but there are some. It’s the fucking Zones, there’s always alcohol.
You just gotta know how to find it.
All too soon they pull up to the shed, Kobra wholly unprepared for the mental effort that he’s realizing this will take.
They only spent a year here but it just feels so much longer, a lifetime. This is where they saved Ghoul, where his brother found love again, where Kobra helped save Jet.
The shed is, somehow, mostly intact, except for the window shards lying scattered about around the outside and the various debris inhabiting seemingly every nook and cranny. He'd been expecting complete destruction so this is better than nothing he supposes.
Kobra watches, sorta dazed by the speed of his own thoughts, as Pony climbs off their bike and begins stretching. They’ve been riding for a while and he should probably stretch as well. Can he leave Jet alone long enough for that though?
He’s not sure if they need him, isn’t so egotistical to just assume that they do, but he needs them. They’re like a buffer, something to remind him that things can be good and that, hey, maybe he doesn’t really need to drown himself in the closest thing to alcohol he can get.
Kobra’s exaggerating that last bit, mostly.
But it’s only a few more minuets of defining silence before Kobra realizes that he can’t stand to sit in this car any longer, can’t stand to look over at Jet and hate himself for being weak in this situation. They’re dozing, head proped up on the window while one hand holds loosely onto his. Jet hadn’t spoken the whole trip but gradually, they’d come back to him. It was a surprise really because Kobra knew that if this were him, if he lost what Jet’s lost, then he wouldn’t be getting better like they are. He wouldn’t be dealing.
It’s scary to admit but yeah, he wouldn’t survive a day if he lost everything that Jet has.
Just like that the itch returns, the craving for the burning numbness that will grant him five fucking minuets of peace.
And that makes this so much worse. Because Jet’s strong, stronger than Kobra’s ever been. They’re in a low right now, yeah, but he’s certain they’re not thinking about fueling their own addiction while their partner grieves for their entire fucking family.
Yeah no, that’s him.
So, Kobra decides to follow Ghoul inside, Party staying back to take care of Grace and Jet while the two of them quickly scout for anything valuable. He doesn't even have the energy to wave at Show Pony when they raise their hand, a friendly smile flashed across their face. Kobra doesn't watch long enough to see if it falls after he ignores them.
The wind bites into the skin of his face, harsh enough to really start to sting as they get up to the front door. The door slightly ajar and the darkness of the interior is a shadowy contrast to the brightness of the snow as it reflects the sun’s rays.

Shaking his head, Kobra takes a step inside, following Ghoul’s lead, and looks around. He can see the water damage and the corrosion brought on by the acidity of the rain. It has weathered the wood around the inside of the door frame and windows, making it appear far older than it really is. Kobra steps further in, letting the familiarity of the room wash over him even as the sharp tang to the air hits his senses like a punch.
It's been like two weeks and the smell is still this strong?
They're lucky they got out when they did it seems. And Kobra is more than relieved that his brother is staying back in the car, residual worry about his lungs one less thing on his mind.
The inside of the shed is just as cluttered as they left it, pieces of clothing and random junk littering the floor. Kobra would be pissed about the mess making it difficult to walk through the small space but he's not. This was their home, this place was safe enough for them to get comfortable like this.
Kobra spots some of Ghoul’s things, stray wires, random pairs of gloves, and the like, all in a pile in the corner. The little hidden closet-thing has its door open, Kobra easily able to glance inside and see what remains of their supplies. There’s nothing useful; Ghoul had grabbed all the medical supplies that’d been there, leaving only random, useless junk.
While Kobra quickly goes into the side room in search of a certain loose floorboard, he registers from the corner of his eye as Ghoul goes towards his own pile of things.
Without saying, they both know that they need to only grab essentials, money or things able to be traded. But that doesn’t mean that Kobra can’t grab the paints as well.
His brother had been seriously devastated when he’d remembered the precious spray paint the three of them had hoarded away. Sure, the car was gone but the one they’re driving now is too white, too bland. It stands out, a lot. So it stands to reason that a new paint job might just save their asses sooner rather than later.
Focused on his task as he crosses the even smaller space that is the side room, Kobra merely glances at the mattress that sits by the wall. The sheets are in the same position as Jet left them, pushed aside when they had gotten up.
This part of the shed is the same as they left it too. In the corner sits their music collection, literal years worth of stashing anything they could get their hands on cramped in the tiny box. Kobra gets distracted by it as he takes a moment to pick up one of the old CD’s on top, running a finger over the smooth plastic of the case. The shitty light of the half-blown bulb reflects badly on the colors on the front but he can still see the faded blue of the water, the weirdly naked baby floating in it.
This is way older than him, older than his brother too, but he can remember sliding this CD into the ancient player that used to sit in their living room back in the City.
It physically hurts him to set the CD back where he’d picked it up but Kobra knows that they can’t save this. They not only don’t have the space for it but it’s also no use to trade it either. It’s worthless, merely holds sentimental value.
He’s not a kid anymore but even so, Kobra has to blink away the stinging tears threatening his eyes as he turns away and gets back to the task at hand. He hates feeling like this, all wound up and waiting for something to snap. It’s getting to be too much, the ocean of his mind too turbulent for him to try and fight through it. Maybe he’s going nuts, comparing his anxiety to an ocean but he can see it, can see the rising tide that he’s only heard about in old stories.
Kobra shakes his head again, roughly rubbing the back of his hand over his eyes to erase any trace of the tears that’d escaped.
He has shit he has to do and feeling sorry for himself will have to wait.
The first thing Kobra does, once he’s able to make his shaky legs actually move, is lifting up the mattress. He gets lucky in finding that stash of emergency cash he was only kinda sure that he hid there. When they’d left, he hadn’t exactly had time to check it but Kobra’s thankful for it now.
He’s found a good bit, enough for them all to eat tonight at the least. Two hundred carbons is better than nothing by all means.
Kobra stuffs the money in the pocket of his jeans and quickly goes over to the far wall. There, between a pile of his own junk, just stupid sketches on faded paper, and the water damaged wall is the loose floorboard. It only takes a little wiggling and the decaying wood comes right up in his hands. Dust and sand flies instantly into the air, making Kobra have to cover his nose with his jacket sleeve to avoid choking on it.
Setting the piece of wood aside once most of the dust settles, Kobra wishes offhandedly that he had a flashlight or something. Because, for real, sticking his hand down in the crack between the floor and the shitty foundation underneath the building is bound to be a bad idea. Snakes and other scale-ly, crawly creatures are at the front of his mind as he reaches his hand blindly into the dark hole.
Instantly his hand gets wrapped up in the cobwebs, the silky, sticky feeling making him shutter. But finally, his fingers brush the unmistakable cool metal of the paint cans. He pulls all three of them up, ignoring the freakishly large cobwebs that cling to his fingers.
Kobra stands quickly, not bothering to brush the dust off of his knees before going in search of Ghoul. If he stays in here a moment longer he’ll end up trying to carry their old music collection out to the car with them. He doesn’t even glance at the wall that displays the old Polaroid pictures of them. If Kobra so much as acknowledges that they’re there, he’s going to take them with him.
He finds Ghoul stuffing something that would be intensely suspicious if it were anyone else in the pockets of his jeans. Ghoul’s back is to him when he enters the room so Kobra calls his name as he gets closer. The last thing he needs is to startle Ghoul into shooting him.
“Hey,” Ghoul answers distractedly, too busy shoving what looks to be a half- finished bomb into the front of his pants.
“Watcha got there?”
“Huh?” he stops trying to get the bits of metal and wire into his jeans for a moment, gesturing with the battery in his other hand as he catches on. “Oh! Was just thinkin’ we can sell this shit ya know? I can prob’lly finish it on the ride there and I thought, might as well bring it.”
Ghoul’s got a point, the more they can trade the better.
Kobra pulls out the decent sized stack of carbons he found, fumbling a bit trying to keep the paint cans in his arms. He waves what he’s found to Ghoul, whose face lights up.
“Hell fucking yeah!,” he exclaims excitedly as he hurries to stuff the supplies in his pants before picking up some other random things that have been laying on the floor beside Ghoul’s feet..
Kobra tries to copy it, his smile. He tries to be as enthusiastic about the money, but he can’t. The ache in his chest remains, tipping past the annoying stage into dangerous waters. The CD feels like the catalyst, the last little cog needed to truly set Kobra off.
He no longer just wants a drink, no he needs it. Kobra needs to stave this off before it reaches the boiling point. He can excuse away a little bender but he has a feeling that if this goes on for much longer it’s going to be a full on one. Besides, he’s only fucking human after all.
___________________________
As his brother shuffles back in the car, Party’s face lights up as Kobra wordlessly passes him the cans of paint. He can put these paints to good use, ideas already flowing for what they can put on this new car. It looks too much like a City car at the moment and if it weren't for Pony following them, their bike too unique and colorful to be associated in any way with Better Living, Party's certain they'd have run into trouble already.
But the paints will have to wait until the snow stops, unless they can find someplace with a covered carport. Which is incredibly unlikely.
There’s a good three inches of snow on the ground now and the temperature has gotten low enough by now to make the road begin to pile up as well. Driving’s gonna be dangerous but Party’s certain that he’ll make due. He never drove in the City but he did, ironically enough considering where he lives now, take a mandatory safe driving class that covered driving in "adverse conditions". Snow included.
“Find any cash?” he asks Kobra, genuinely delighted when Kobra passes up a small stack of carbons in reply.
There’s not much by normal standards, about one fifty if Party’s quick counting is correct. But it is enough though for a small meal for each of them if they can find someplace to stop tonight.
He turns to the back seat, watching carefully as Kobra huddles up in the blanket shared by him, Jet, and Grace. The baby is awake and playful in his brother’s arms, energetic despite the cold. But Kobra’s only half paying attention, his face more blank than normal and his eyes downcast.
Something’s wrong, Party’s not dumb. He can see the signs.
But then again, the thing that’s wrong is quite obvious.
Kobra cares a hell of a lot about Jet, they all do really, and seeing them go through this is difficult. Of course his brother's gonna be a bit off after what happened earlier, he's only human.
So, Party gives him space, doesn’t pester him or ask if he’d found anything else. He doesn’t even question Ghoul’s pants bursting with what looks like a bomb as he climbs into the passenger seat.
He wants to ask, wants to grill Kobra and make sure he's okay. But Party knows that this is one of the times that doing so will only lead to Kobra burrowing even further in on himself.
So, Party just puts the car in drive and guides it back onto the snow slick pavement of Guano.
It's gonna be a long drive, the sun already setting. Who knows how cold it's gonna get tonight. Party just hopes that they'll be able to stay warm.
_______________________________
Kobra holds tightly to the money hidden in his pocket.
He wasn’t sure if he was going to use it, still isn’t sure honestly.
Party’s currently several aisles away in this rundown convenient store, browsing their options for dinner while Ghoul fills the car up outside with one of the spare gas cans. There was an older looking man with dark hair waiting patiently at the counter when they walked in. Now the old man is pretending not to keep an eye on the two of them as they shop.
They must look pretty sketchy, or maybe the clerk is just super paranoid, because Kobra can feel his eyes on him constantly. The, now finished yet unarmed, bomb-thing sits on the counter. It’s worth enough to get them at least two days worth of food while leaving a little left over. Party’s best at budgeting and figuring out what’s the best deal for the most food sort of thing so Kobra’s only here to get out of the car for a bit. His other reason is made rather difficult by the unwavering attention of the clerk.
But he is being sorta sketchy, walking around slowly with his head down and sunglasses on inside. He’s not spoken a word since they entered, choosing instead to let Party do all the talking. He’s the leader for a reason.
The clerk has no way of knowing however, that Kobra’s only acting so shady because he’s about to go behind his brother's back.
Again. For the second time this fucking week.
But he’s not even in the alcohol section, no right now he’s looking at the small selection of reading material that’s cluttered onto a falling apart metal display rack that’s seen much better days. Party’s talking quietly to himself a couple of isles over, something about how many calories are in a can of Power Pup, and Kobra doesn’t dare go over to the alcohol now. He's putting off the inevitable, he knows this, but something’s called him over to this spot.
“That all for ya?” a gruff voice asks towards the front of the store, must be the cashier.
Kobra hears his brother make idle small talk with the man, going on for a bit about the freak snow and yeah, they’re tryin’ to find shelter before night falls. But he’s only half paying attention.
There, on the top shelf, sits a Better Living magazine. It’s clearly there to be made fun of, as a sick sort of joke, but Kobra can’t take his eyes off of it.
Staring back at him on the cover page is himself.
It’s a mugshot, one he doesn’t remember being taken, with the words ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ written in bold font above it and a fairly large reward printed just below that. He feels stuck, the world spinning around violently even as Party calls over to tell him he’s going back out to the car and to not be long.
Kobra feels sick, his stomach twisting in the realization that the search for them is that much bigger.
“Yo, kid,” the cashier calls across the room, startling Kobra into turning around.
“You gonna buy somethin’?” he finishes impatiently, eyeing Kobra up like he’s about to pull a blaster or somethin’ on him.
He just blinks, his body pausing even though his mind’s made up.
“I uh- where’s your liquor?”
“Next row down.”
Kobra nods his thanks and walks on autopilot to the next isle, quickly grabbing the strongest, but smallest, bottle he can.
It wasn’t just his face on that wanted list, his brother’s eyes had stared back at him as well. When had those fucking pictures even been taken?
They’re in Zone 5, far as fuck from One which were where the last posters had been seen.
If word’s traveling this fast…
He wishes he had more money, wishes he didn’t have to hide the small bottle under his shirt and jacket as he briskly walks back to the car. It’s still fucking cold and Jet is once again dozing off when he settles back down into the seat. The bottle pokes painfully at his ribs when he sits but Kobra purposefully ignores it, choosing instead to watch Jet rest for a moment.
He gets why Party does this now.
Kobra misses them. He misses Jet even though they’re right here beside him. But any thought of waking them is dispelled when he notices how peaceful their features are, if a little pale, in the fading light. They deserve this rest, after everything today this is the least he can give them.
Kobra can ensure that they get some quiet, some time to recoup.
He ignores the little voice in his head saying that things aren't getting better, that sleeping for a few hours isn’t going to change a thing. Or at least, Kobra tries to tune it out.
The bottle is a heavy weight under his shirt, calling to him even as Ghoul starts the car. He’s driving this time it seems, Kobra never even hearing the conversation take place, giving Party a break for a little while.
No one speaks, not even Grace makes a sound in Party’s arms as he lets her nibble on his finger.
The liquor grows heavier, the need louder in his head.
But Kobra just has to wait until they stop for the night, then he can sneak away.
It’s true, he’ll hate himself for this later but that’s the thing.
He’s well aware that he should be more guilty about this but really, Kobra’s going to hate himself tomorrow either way.

Chapter Text

They find an abandoned motel shortly after dark. It’s mostly falling apart, some of the doors to the rooms are slanted and lying awkwardly on their broken hinges. While a good number of the windows are busted too, the building seems mostly intact from what Jet can tell. There’s sand piled up as well, just about taking over any interior space that has an open door or hole where a window once was. Or well, it might be sand, it might be snow.

Jet’s only barely paying attention as they’re led out of the car, quiet voices around them mixing with the dull roar of wind in their ears. Their eyes settle on the decaying building for only a moment before they find themself looking upwards.

The sky is oddly clear tonight, not a cloud in sight. Soon though, Jet has to look down at their feet to make sure they don’t fall when a wave of dizziness hits them. 

The snow at their feet tells a different story than the calm night sky above them.

It’s at least a few inches deep at this point and is making it pretty challenging for Jet to keep their balance. The way it crunches under their feet is not the same as the way the sand shifts and gives when walked on, so Jet finds themself having to concentrate hard just to be able to keep their footing.

However, the snow, for all of its inconvenience and the looming sense of doom that it’s bringing, is really freaking beautiful. Since the sun is down, the white coating the sand and motel in front of Jet is almost glowing with the moonlight. They’ve never seen snow before, never seen this much frozen anything aside from the rare hailstorm that sometimes passes through.

And just the glimpse they've gotten when they were able to look up is enough for them to long to see this again. Jet wonders, not for the first time, what the world was like Before. Before the wars and before Better Living. When it snowed every year and the rain wasn't acidic enough to burn your skin.

It must've been beautiful.

Jet wonders if their Ma remembered, if she knew what fresh snow looked like. Did she celebrate things like Halloween like Ghoul told them about?

“C’mon. Almost inside,” encourages a voice to their right but when Jet turns their head to look at the owner their vision shifts, nearly causing them to fall.

From then on they have to focus completely on putting one foot in front of the other and not actually seeing if snow is softer than sand when it comes to collapsing on it. 

But they make it, through a blur of color and hushed voices. Their mind is slow, groggy and it’s difficult to remember exactly why they’re here. 

And they do remember, the image of their Ma’s bike is forever burned into their mind, but it’s like it’s underwater. Maybe it’s the exhaustion clinging to their bones yet again or maybe it’s their own mind offering some form of rest from that knowledge by burying it in layers of fuzz to keep them out. 

Whatever it is, they can’t dwell on it as the others around Jet help them down onto some sort of bed, pulling their boots off but leaving their jacket on. The bed is stiff but mostly comfortable and they allow themself to sink into it a bit. 

It’s only slightly warmer inside but after taking a quick look around, Jet finds that this room seems to be intact. No windows are broken and the door sits perfectly in it’s frame. The rest of the room is too clouded in shadows for them to get a good look at it but it doesn’t feel ominous.

“Jet,” someone whispers beside them and the urgency in the voice has them turning as quickly as they can towards it. 

Jet’s met with Party standing on the left side of them, his face concealed in shadows that the moonlight trickling from the window doesn’t chase away. His eyes are kind, patient as he waits on Jet to catch up.

“Hmm?” 

Trying to get their thoughts in order, to get them to a point where they make sense to themself, is difficult. Jet’s not sure why, maybe it’s that fuzz keeping everything buffered. But right now it sucks because Party doesn’t look relieved at their attempt of an answer.

“I’ll be back later,” Kobra’s voice exclaims coldly and suddenly from somewhere else in the room.
Jet hadn’t noticed him before but the all familiar shadow of Kobra as he crosses the room stiffly sends sparks of worry through them. He sounded desperate yet resigned and Jet fears for a moment at the thought of him going outside right now. 

Party must pick up on it, or have his own worries about his brother, because he shoots a look down at Jet. His eyes betray his desire to run after Kobra, to pull him back inside. Especially after what happened the last time he went out for some time to himself.

But the decision passes over Party’s features before Jet can even begin to tell him to go after his brother. Instead of getting up, Party just sighs as one hand comes up to push his hair out of his eyes. When he looks back to Jet, they only find determination in his eyes.

“Gonna look you over. You’ve had ‘nother real strain today and I wanna make sure you’re Shakes, okay,” Party says by explanation as he gets to work.
The routine is growing increasingly familiar as Party checks Jet’s heart and their breathing before asking them simple things like if their head hurts or if they’re hungry. Which yeah, their head is a little sore now that they think about it but no, they’re not too hungry right now. 

Having something concrete to focus on helps drive the last of the fuzz from their thoughts, allowing Jet to actually hold onto the thoughts as they come, rather than having to sift through them. 

It’s a good thing because now they can tell that Ghoul’s in the room with them as well, camping out in a sketchy chair with Grace in his arms. Their sister is asleep it seems, completely at ease as Ghoul rocks her as best he can.

Ghoul does wince occasionally if he twists the wrong way, probably aggravating the healing road burns, but he’s got a gentle smile on his face as well. He's singing again, Jet realizes belatedly.
His voice is a whisper, barely audible over the wind outside but after Party’s questions pause for a moment, they’re able to hear his words.
It’s an old song, recognizable but nameless to Jet. The beat is slow, calming and the words flow evenly. Either Ghoul doesn’t realize he’s doing it or he doesn’t care that they hear him sing. But regardless, Jet’s unable to tear their attention away.

Ghoul is so good with Grace, so quick to care about and protect her. It’s crazy to think that these people Jet’s found love their sister as much as they do. 

“Here, know you’re not hungry but you need ‘t eat somethin’,” Party says, passing them an opened can of food.

They take it without argument, nibbling on it as they watch Ghoul once again. He looks up at one point, the song never faltering, and makes eye contact with them. For a moment they’re afraid he’s going to stop but that’s not the case, Ghoul just smiles shyly and sings a little bit louder.

Soon, Jet’s feeling the weight of sleep on them again, lulled under by the soft voice wafting through the room. 

They want to stay up, want to wait on Kobra to get back. They should also probably confront the elephant in their mind and actually try and process what they’ve found today. But they can’t, the pull of rest is too strong and they’re out in record time.

.

.

.

.

The morning brings a sort of calm that Jet hadn’t been expecting. Truthfully, they’d half expected to be woken by a nightmare or another patrol or-

Or well, just anything other than a long, deep rest. 

But as they stretch their arms over head and yawn widely, Jet feels more well rested than they have in days.

Rubbing the sleep from their eyes, they look around at the sleeping faces of their friends. Everyone is sprawled out on anything vaguely flat, snoring loudly and filling the room with the sound of their sleep.

Ghoul’s all curled and twisted up in a folding chair somehow, his knees under his chin and his arms snaked around his legs. It looks completely uncomfortable but he doesn't seem to be bothered by the position in the slightest. Judging by the loud snores anyway.

Meanwhile, Pony is laying face first on what looks to be a pull out couch that rests against the far wall. They too are out cold, their snoring the loudest even though their face is buried in the material of the couch. 

Okay, so maybe it’s not everyone that's asleep. 

Jet can’t spot either of the brothers as they do another look around. Which isn't odd exactly, considering Kobra went off by himself and Party always ends up taking watch while everyone sleeps. Even so, Jet wants to find Kobra at the least. He’s their boyfriend after all and after everything yesterday they should probably talk to him. Honestly, they should probably apologize as well because they basically ignored him yesterday. 

And Jet can remember how he held them, helped keep them anchored as their grief threatened to overpower them. Kobra saved them, yet again. And they need to talk to him, need to thank him and make sure that he’s alright. Because when he stepped out last night his tone was way too similar to how it was the other day when he left. And they all saw how well that went. 

Pushing the blankets off of themself because it’s already getting uncomfortably hot, it hits Jet a moment later that they don’t see Grace either.
Yesterday is mostly a blur but they can remember her being in the car with them the whole time, so surely either Party or Kobra have her. Right?

As they stand to go search for her, the front door swings open. Party walks in, Grace on his hip and his free hand holding a jug of water. He spots Jet quickly and breaks out in a wide grin before nodding his head in greeting as he adjusts the baby on his hips. Party bends over to set the jug down on the metal table by the door before turning back to Jet. They wait for him to look them over, already knowing that he’s gonna be concerned about them.

They can still feel the pain deep in their chest, the ache left over by what they learned. Jet knows that Party can probably see it in them, knows the grief they're experiencing.

It’s weird, they’re not like… okay  but just watching Party with Grace makes everything a little more bearable. Being around these people, people who Jet knows would do anything for them or their sister, it helps.  

And Kobra, well he’s in his own category. What they have with him, the love that they share, it’s so new to Jet. It’s strange but so good at the same time. They never thought that they’d find what they have here and they know how lucky they are that they have.

Jet’s not sure what they’d do without him really. He keeps them from getting lost in their own head, getting washed away by the shit life’s thrown at them this week. 

Yesterday, in the car and before that, outside by the bikes, Kobra saved them. His presence is what kept Jet from slipping under with the weight of everything. They're sure of it.

“How’re you feelin’?” Party asks for what is probably the hundredth time since they’ve met him.

“Good. Slept like a rock.”
“That’s- that’s fuckin' great to hear but not- not what I meant,” he adds softly.

“Oh. I’m-” Jet sighs, trying to find the right words. “I’ve been better but I’m not like…” 

They let it trail off, frustrated that they can’t find the right words. Even though they are better, their mind is still tangled in an annoying mess.

“I understand.”

 Party hikes Grace up a little higher on his hip and turns around, messing with the baby bottles and formula that are placed on the table there. Jet just watches as he fixes Grace’s formula, not really knowing what else to do.

They want to go find Kobra. With what happened last time he left, Jet’s not too eager to let him stay gone long. But they stay, not really knowing if Kobra wants to be found right now. As much as he keeps them out of their head, Kobra always seems to be a bit too caught up in his own.

When Party turns back around he’s already feeding Grace but he’s also inspecting Jet again, searching for any sign that they’re not as okay as they say they are.

Finally, Party sighs and looks away.

“Just,” he starts uncertainly, clearly grasping for the right words.  “Just please, talk to someone if you need to. It doesn’t have to be me, or Ghoul, or even Kobra. But… but please don’t hold all of this in.”

Jet understands what he means even though there's not much left to talk about by now. But Kobra knows it all, every name and every memory that they were able to pull. Talking to him is what helped Jet so much the first time through this shit so, yeah, the second they get him alone they're probably going to have a hard time keeping all of this in.
“I’m okay- no really I- I dunno I just…”

Jet sighs, running a hand through their tangled curls while they try and think.
Because Party’s right, they shouldn’t be okay. They most definitely weren’t yesterday but now it’s just... there. And yet, there’s no numbness, no empty feeling that they’ve come to expect. 

Yeah, their Ma and crew are gone, gone for good, but they knew that from the moment Kobra found them. He’d told Jet right there that they were the only ones alive. Maybe they should be worried about that, how quickly this has settled. 

It just, it doesn't feel like the end. Their crew is more gone now than before and yet, Jet can't help but feel like they're here with them too.

In the way that they can see flashes of their Ma in Grace’s eyes and how some of the playful bickering they’ve heard the brothers do over the past few weeks is so similar to the way someone in their old crew would speak. 

Maybe they’re not gone, not completely.
Jet still remembers them, each face and each name. They live on in the little impacts they made on Jet’s life.

“Actually I was- I actually was thinkin’,” Party begins slowly. “That um- well, even though we don’t have masks or guns or anythin’, we have their bikes. I mean it’s a little different, not normally somethin’ the Witch would take but I just- it wouldn’t hurt to try ya know?”
Jet’s mind slows to a crawl, turning Party’s words over again and again…

That. That could work- it could-

“Oh my god. I’m an idiot,” they breathe, taking two clumsy steps backwards to sit down heavily on the bed behind them. 

In the back of their mind, Jet's certain that they'd thought of this. 

Actually, wait- yeah they had. In the car, yesterday. They'd been in a sort of daze and the concept had been blurred by it at the time. But yeah, they had been thinking the same thing. The Witch just might make an exception, might just be able to take their souls anyway.

“Will you help me?” Jet asks suddenly, lifting their head up to look at him.

Party smiles kindly, his face soft save for the slight tension in his brow.

“'Course," he says earnestly. "Whaddya need me to do?”

Oh. 

Right. Party wasn’t born out here,  he doesn’t know about this kinda thing.

“It’s a sorta… like- ceremony I guess. We basically call on the Witch and ask her to consider taking something different, the bikes, as an anchor for their souls,” Jet explains carefully, gauging Party's reaction as they do so.

He nods, looking off to the side as he considers what they said. The concept is probably a bit strange to someone who hasn’t grown up with this, so Jet gives him the time to process it.

Besides, in the City they don't believe in souls at all. It's drilled into the citizen's heads that there is nothing after death. That's an absolutely terrifying concept so really, Jet can understand why so many Killjoys flock to this religion once they get out. And plus, Jet would always be happy to explain their beliefs to anyone curious.

But, they're letting their mind wonder.

The ceremony.

They’ve only seen it done a couple of times and they’ve never actually done it themself. But this might just be their only chance to make sure that their crew’s souls aren’t forgotten, aren’t just erased from existence.

“We’re gonna be here for a couple’a days so would we be able to do it here?” Party speaks up at last, apparently already through processing things.

Maybe Jet didn't give him enough credit on this whole Phoenix Witch thing.

“Yeah. Doesn’t matter where, just so long as we know the people personally,” Jet answers with a shrug.

“Do we like, need anything? The store we hit last night ain’t too far from here so we could prob’lly make good time.”

“We just have to have something to give the Witch, like as a gift for her showing up I guess. But that can be anything,” they explain, shifting their sight from Party to over his shoulder and the window that looks out towards the horizon.

The sky is clear, bright blue and the air feels oddly humid in this tiny room. With the sunlight reflecting off of the darkened sand, it makes the rolling desert look more wide open that it already is. 

Wait a second…

Wasn’t there snow?

Are they losing their mind?
“Whoa. You shiny?” Party asks, suddenly by their side.

Jet blinks, hoping that the snow will appear again and that it isn’t just them going nuts. 

Nothing. Outside doesn’t change.

“Snow,” they finally manage, unable to look at Party.

They’re certain it was snowing, certain that they’d had to walk through it last night. 

Or are they?
“Oh,” Party begins, understanding flashing across his features as his expression relaxes a bit. “Oh. You scared me there for a sec but yeah it snowed like all day yesterday, but I dunno, last night it got hot as balls again. By the time the sun was up this mornin’ it was all gone,” he finishes by waving his free arm towards the window.

He looks exasperated, more than a little confused, but at least they’re not nuts. Thank the Witch for that one.
“Was worried I’d made it up.”
“Na. Only the City could fuck up the weather this bad,” Party exclaims with a short laugh, pulling the empty bottle from Grace’s mouth and setting it down on the table with the other things.

“Did Kobra come back?” 

Asking for him like this makes Jet feel small, like a kid asking for their mom or something. But they can’t help it, especially with talk of the City and their crew, they need him here. 

“No,” comes Party’s answer, his tone forced. 

He’s just as worried as they are.

“I’m gonna go find ‘im, bring him back.”
Jet doesn’t wait for Party to answer or to tell them no, they’re already pulling their boots on and out the door before the words even settle.

____________________________

It’s hot as fuck.

Which is total bulshit because Kobra knows for a fact that it was fuckin’ snowing like three hours ago.

The sun is too damn bright, shining like an asshole directly into his eyes and offering no help to his splitting head. With a shrug Kobra pulls the bottle back up to his lips. He nearly misses, the sloppy movement making some spill down his front.
Fuck. 

It’s not like he has enough to go fuckin’ spillin’ it. 

With that logic, which is perfectly sound thank you very much, Kobra finishes the bottle in one long drink. It no longer burns going down, courtesy of the pleasant buzz that’s encompassing his body and mind. He’s completely wasted, of that he’s certain, but really he can’t care. Kobra's not been this fuckin' plastered in ages and he wonders why it took him so long to do this again.

The sand is only sorta uncomfortable as he sits here on some sort of old sidewalk, picking at the label on the bottle. There’s words printed on the faded paper but they’re too blurry, too small for him to read them. Not that he wants to.

It’s just that he’s bored now. 

He could, and this is just hypothetical, walk the short distance to the convenience store and buy another bottle. That’d at least give him something to do.

Kobra’s not ready to go find the others, not yet.
They’d just yell and try and get him sober. Which would definitely suck.

Grunting as his mind’s made up, Kobra hauls himself up into a standing position. He loses his balance quickly, earning himself a mouthful of wet sand and a low throbbing in his wrist from trying to catch himself. 

His headache reaches a new level of painful, the world spinning even though his eyes are squeezed shut. Kobra stomach makes an angry noise and he doesn’t have the time to move before he’s throwing up violently. He only just manages to turn his head enough to keep it from going right under him. 

When he’s done his throat burns and his head feels like it’s splitting in two. Why was this a good idea again?

Oh right, he and his brother are probably two fucking weeks away from getting ghosted by a pissed off Exterminator and his partner is grieving for their old crew.

So excuse him while he gets fucking wasted. 

Party and him have a high chance of endin' up like Jet's crew, dusted in the sand and taken back to the City for Witch knows what to happen to them. In fact, that's almost a goddamn guarantee.

So if he's gonna lose his brother and his best friend, and god fucking forbid Jet, Kobra not about to be fuckin' sober while it happens.

He wonders absently if Jet cares enough to look for him. Probably not, seeing as he’s made this whole fucking situation about him. 

A horrible thought trickles down into his head. 

He’d gotten so upset when his brother claimed to be like Bert but laying here now, with his own vomit entirely too close to his face but too weak to actually move away from it, he’s the one who’s the spitting image of him. 

Kobra’s hurting Party, he knows this. His brother hates it when he drinks, it brings back all the memories of the shit his ex put him through and yet here Kobra is.
He’s the one who’s no better than Bert and-

And maybe… maybe he deserves the same fate. 

Twisting a little, Kobra only just manages to roll over so he’s looking up at the sky. He hasn’t thought of this in a long time, hasn’t been this bad in years. But his gun is a heavy weight against his side, much like the bottle was last night. 

Tempting.

He’s always had a hard time staying away from things that are bad for him, that's what his brother always said. 

Running his hand clumsily along the outline of his blaster through it’s holster, Kobra lets his eyes slip shut.

The dizziness still twists in his mind and he’s once again unable to fight it off. He’s only able to turn his head a little before he’s throwing up again. It burns, his stomach constricting painfully with every heave. 

Was this even fucking worth it?

He’s only going to be dehydrated at this rate and waste even more of their few supplies. Such a fuckin' waste.

When he finally stops throwing up Kobra’s still unable to move. His stomach twists, making him wish he had another bottle to make this pain fade a little too.

His hand finds his blaster again. He pops the little leather clasp so that he can rub the smooth material of the gun, remembering how Party guided him in painting it after he’d first gotten it. Kobra’s hands had shaken too much to make any real designs but the color was easy enough to do.

He wonders what his brother would say now. 

Would he be pissed that Kobra’s doing this to himself again, be angry that he’s considering the blaster at all? 

Or would this just be another thing that Kobra does to hurt him? Another time where he’s the one who causes Party all this pain? 

Chapter Text

With the sand irritating the skin on his face to the point that even trying to wipe it away stings like he's taking sandpaper to his skin and the sun burning strong above him, maybe it says something, that he can’t bring himself to pull the trigger. 

It’d be so simple, easy, to just squeeze his finger and it’ll be over.

He's nearly done it twice now and Kobra still has the barrel pressed into his skin, right over his heart, but something in him has stopped him. 

Kobra curses to himself even as he forces his arm to relax and the gun to fall into the sand beside him.

There’s a lot bouncing around in his head right now as he cradles his left wrist to his chest, the one that he’s fairly certain he landed on earlier. Its definitely sore but Kobra's more than a little drunk, even though it feels like ages since he'd finished off the bottle. But he can’t stop thinking, thinking about the uncomfortable sand underneath him and the absolutely fucking blistering sun that feels like it's currently baking him alive right now. 

Kobra tries not to think about the bitter taste of alcohol lingering in his mouth, as if it is punishing him for acting so carelessly.

And he deserves it. 

He knows know that he shouldn’t have bought the bottle, even as the remaining alcohol in his system makes the edges of his mind fuzzy and slow. 

But he can still think. 

Think about his brother, how much Party’s done for him. How he knows, without a doubt, that Party would do literally anything for him. 

If he’d pulled that trigger… 

Kobra doesn’t want to think about how that’d be for his brother. He's currently in this mess because he can't imagine life without his brother, hadn't even paused to think of of Party would feel should the roles be reversed.

But even realizing those things doesn’t drive away the fear and dread that feels like it’s festering in his chest. 

The people he cares about, they’re in danger and really, there’s not a whole lot that he can do about it. 

Party could be killed any day but that’s not a new fact. It’s not a new thing for him to wake up terrified that his brother’s been ghosted because he took watch while Kobra slept. 

But it’s worse now. 

There’s more people for him to worry about, more people that he could lose. 

The baby, she’s not even a fucking year old and they’re dragging her halfway across the desert because they’ve got patrol after patrol finding them. She starved her first few days with Kobra and them because of how ill prepared they were. Still are. 

And Jet. 

He worries every second that he’s gonna turn around and their heart will have given out or something and he’ll just… lose them. Lose this incredible person that he found, that he is still amazed likes him back. Jet’s been through a lot. Fuck, they have been through hell and back and still, STILL, they were able to quite literally steal Kobra’s heart. He’s feeling things that he’s never experienced, this completely unconditional love and acceptance that he’s never gotten before aside from his brother. 

And Jet gives it willingly. They’ve been here for him even through what is very possibly the worst few weeks of their life.

Giving up now, putting that gun back against his chest and pulling the trigger would only hurt them. It would hurt Party, Ghoul. Kobra can’t do that to them, he doesn’t want to do that to them.

What he needs is to sober up, get his head straight, and actual try and come up with some way to ensure the patrols stay off their ass. 

Maybe he should talk to Jet, or someone. 

It can’t be healthy to keep all this in, that’s what his old therapist said in the City. But then again, she just handed him a new bottle of pills every week and told him to tell her if he started feeling the anxiety again.
So, maybe she’s not the best person to take advice from. 

But it wouldn’t hurt to get this shit out of his head and into words that someone else might be able to help him make sense of. Right?

Boots stepping and sliding in the sand catch Kobra’s ears and he turns as much as he can to see who’s approaching.
He’d hoped to be able to clean up and get a little more sober before confronting his friends, but as he sees Jet round the corner, spotting Kobra instantly, he knows that he has no such luck.

Jet makes it to him in record time and yet just slow enough to where he’s able to slide his gun back in it’s holster before they can see.

“Kobra…”

They draw it out, exasperation and worry and a billion other emotions compacting into the name. Instantly Kobra can tell he scared them, can see it in the tension in their forehead as they crouch down beside him.

He watches as they take in the mess that he’s in, vomit and Witch knows what else covering himself and the ground around him. Kobra knows he’s disgusting but he’s too exhausted to care at this point. Setting that gun down, realizing that he really doesn't want to pull that trigger, it drained him. All he wants to do is curl up and sleep this shit off.

But Jet says nothing, makes no comment on the state he’s in. They don’t even get angry and yell like he was half expecting them to do. 

He'd deserve it if they did.
Instead, they just scoop him up off of the sand and maneuver him so that he’s halfway in their lap. 

With the rather sudden movement, Kobra’s head reaches a new level of pounding, just out of spite it seems. He squeezes his eyes shut, willing the throbbing behind his eyes to fade just a little.

The hair that was plastered to his face is swept away gently and callased, warm hands draw invisible patterns on his, now clear, skin. With some effort, Kobra’s able to pry his eyes open.

Jet’s leaning over him, his head on their shoulder while they watch him carefully. The light of the desert sun behind them makes them nearly glow. Kobra’s unable to look away, not that he wants to, as he lets his eyes roam. 

They're something to focus on, something to guide him back.

Jet has their hair up in what looks like a messy bun with more than a few stray hairs falling down in soft curls around their face. There’s sweat and sand covering their face but Kobra knows for a fact that he’s never seen anything as stunning as they are in this moment. 

He feels something warm burst in his chest, realizing that Jet, despite literally everything yesterday and finding him like this today, still holds him like this. 

It’s a crazy feeling, something he’s not entirely sure what to call it or how to describe it but… but it’s amazing and he’s so incredibly thankful for them. 

“Kobra?” they ask quietly, for which his pounding head is grateful. 

He manages a hoarse reply, their name on his lips coming out broken and slurred, even to his own ears.

“C’mon. Let’s get you inside.”

_______________________________

Jet’s not sure what they were expecting to find when they found Kobra.

Maybe he would be asleep in the car, needing just some quiet in order to sort everything out after everything the past few days. 

Or maybe he’d be hiding out in one of the abandoned rooms, scrounging whatever scraps of junk he could find there.

Whatever it was that they were expecting, Kobra laying on his back in the sand with a very suspicious, empty bottle of alcohol a few feet away was not something that crossed Jet’s mind. 

Sure, they figured he’d need to be alone but after last time, they’d hoped that Kobra would be strong enough to work through whatever was wrong without alcohol involved.

And they were pissed, ready to leave him there in the sun for another hour to get sunburned just for good measure, but then they smelt the sour tang of sick in the air. Then they saw how he had clearly fallen face first at some point, sand coating his face in a thick layer of grime. What really made the anger fade though was when, as they took a step closer, Kobra seemed to catch on. 

A glimpse of the shining blaster was all they got before Kobra hurriedly tucked it back in its holster.

They don’t know for sure what he was planning on doing with the weapon but given how they’ve found him, Jet can pretty much figure it out. 

That drives all of the anger aside, replaced with a burning concern that he’s already hurt himself followed by the absolute need to protect him.
Jet does what they can to help Kobra and they end up moving him enough so that he can sit up against them. To get him away from the multiple puddles of sick that are practically steaming in the sand around them.

And he doesn't seem hurt. 

Thank the Witch. They were here in time it seems.

And he’s awake… but obviously the effects of whatever he drank haven't worn off yet, laying in the sun also isn't doing him any favors.

But he’s calm and doesn’t fight them, if anything Kobra practically melts into the contact. 

This only serves to bring fresh worry down onto them, seeing him so open and vulnerable like this. Jet takes a few moments to try and get some of the hair out of his eyes, the matted and filthy bangs sticking firmly to his sweat soaked skin. 

With the hair finally gone from his eyes, Jet’s able to see the tension twisting in Kobra’s forehead. He does, however, seem to be slowly coming out of the alcohol's effects judging by the way his left arm seems to be tucked tightly against his side as if to protect it. They hope he hasn't hurt it.

Watching the tension written across Kobra's face, Jet wishes that they could relieve some of this pain, both brought on by the alcohol and the kind that was the cause of all of this. 

They find themself beginning to trace random things with the pad of their finger against the under part of his eyes, right on the bone there. Slowly the shapes take form into letters and in no time at all Jet is writing I love you over and over onto Kobra’s skin.
They wish that they could fix this, be there for him like he’s helped them. But they don’t even know what’s wrong in the first place because he just won’t talk to anyone and he keeps bottling this shit up.

After a long while though, Jet is rewarded for their efforts with bright blue, if a little hazy, eyes blinking slowly up at them. Kobra’s exhaustion radiates through the gaze but they can tell that he knows they’re there.

Good. He should never have to be alone, or think that he’s alone.

“Kobra?”

They wonder if he’s coming out of it more now, the recognition in his eyes making Jet believe that he’s beginning to sober up. And he does answer them, but Kobra clearly struggles to get their name out, his voice low and weak.

Decision made, Jet hauls him up and slings his uninjured arm over their shoulder. He’s heavy and they’re clearly not at full strength thanks to yesterday, but they manage to get him back inside in one piece.

_______________________________

Kobra is grateful for Jet’s support as they slowly make their way back into the room the others are staying in.
He’s still uncoordinated and oddly lightheaded. It’s a different feeling than being tipsy or drunk, more… concentrated. Kobra can think more clearly now, can feel the stiffness in Jet’s posture as they all but carry him inside, can hear the shakiness to their breaths. 

But his head spins if he so much as attempts to raise it and tell Jet he’s sorry, to say the explosion of apologizes that are just on the tip of his tongue.
Jet deserves that at the least, an apology. They didn’t have to come find him, or search for him at all, but he loves them even more so for it.

Stumbling in through the door, three heads jerk up at once to the clatter of the two of them entering the room. Jet guides Kobra down into what might be a chair if Kobra could get his eyes to focus enough to actually see what he’s sitting in.

The door slams shut, the first sound that Kobra’s heard since he sat down. It startles him, causing him to jump hard and then be reminded of that headache that’d only just begun to fade to the back of his mind.
Now with his brain literally feeling like it’s trying to implode inside his skull, Kobra doesn’t notice someone’s talking until the voice grows louder. Whoever it is, they’re shouting and he almost doesn’t want to pry his eyes open and find out who it is. 

But he does so anyway, curiosity and guilt fueling the effort it takes to lift his head and open his eyes.

Party is crouched in front of him, his face inches from Kobra’s as he studies him with knit brows. Normally, he’d instantly come up with something sarcastic to give his brother a hard time but Kobra’s too exhausted, still too sad or depressed or whatever the hell the name for this shit in his head is.
He wishes sometimes he knew the real names for the mess that is his mind, wishes that he knew more than anxiety. 

“Kobra?”

Party’s words are careful, slow but hold no anger. 

He manages a hum, though he does have to look down again, Party’s expression too full of understanding, of sympathy.

Kobra doesn’t need that right now. 

Even though twenty fucking minuets ago that love between him and Party is what saved his life. 

“Here.”
Water is pressed into his hand and he feels the eyes in the room on him as he takes a tentative sip. He’s still nauseous, though not as badly as before, and he’d really rather not throw up again. Not that there’s probably much left to come up.

“Good,” Party praises as he takes the still nearly full bottle after Kobra can’t stomach anymore.

It should be patronizing, being aplouded for drinking fucking water, but it’s not. Party’s genuine, his expression soft as Kobra looks back up.

What’s changed since the last time for Party to be so understanding of yet another one of Kobra's breakdowns? 

“Do you want anything to eat? Doesn’t ‘av to be anything big but you should prob’lly get somethin’ in ya.”
Shaking his head, Kobra shifts a little. The seat is growing uncomfortable the longer he sits here and the hard plastic is making the seam of his jeans dig into his ass and legs. 

He’s currently all slouched over, so Kobra decides that maybe sitting straight up will help and then he can get back to trying to deal with the aftermath, or lack thereof, of his little bender. 

But, not paying attention, Kobra tries to push himself up with his left arm, putting most of his weight on his injured wrist. There’s a snap, he hears it very loud in his ears, followed by blinding white pain shooting up his arm.
Kobra cries out and nearly falls out of the chair.
Instantly, Party’s moving him, guiding him back into a slouch and inspecting his wrist carefully. Kobra tries to breathe slowly, to focus on anything other than the pain. He really doesn’t want to look but he does anyway as his brother continues to try and assess the damage.

The sleeve of his jacket is rolled up agonizingly slowly, sparking even more pain even though his brother is trying to be careful. It was already bruising, the skin in slowly deepening shades of black and blue, but now, there’s a very distinct bump where the bone is broken and Kobra feels himself getting sick again.

“Jesus Kobes,” Party remarks under his breath as he gently prods places along his wrist. “These bruises are sorta old, when’d you hurt your wrist?”
Nevermind the fact that Kobra has yet to speak a whole goddamn sentence since Jet found him, he eventually manages, through gritted teeth, to tell Party that he tried to catch himself when he fell earlier.
A deep sort of sadness passes over Party’s features, gone the next second but Kobra noticies.

After his wrist is wrapped with some random fabric that he can’t be bothered to pay attention to its origin, he’s helped up by Jet once more.
Guiltily, Kobra realizes that he sort of forgot they were in the room. Actually, Ghoul and Pony are in here too he remembers.
But everything passes in a quick blur and he’s being rested down onto the single bed before he can work anything into a sentence.

“Jet?”

He prays that they've not gone yet, that they'll answer him even if they haven't.
“Yeah?” they turn, already having been turning away.

Their eyes are hopeful, though guarded as they wait on Kobra to say something.

His mouth feels dry, tongue too big in his mouth as he tries to say anything- something.

“I-”

Should he say he’s sorry?
Or promise to never do it again? 

But that one’s a promise he won’t be able to keep, just like how he promised Party that if he got this bad again he’d tell him. 

“I love you,” he says in a whisper at last.

The words lay heavy, strong in the air. 

For a moment Kobra is terrified that Jet won’t say it back, will brush him off and tell him to sleep off his hangover or even worse they may just leave and-

“We’re going to have a long talk tomorrow but-” Jet sighs, moving to sit at the edge of the bed as they gauge Kobra’s response. “But I don’t love you any less because you relapsed Kobes.”

Their hand is on his shoulder, a gentle pressure to let him know they’re there as he realizes that they’ve read him like a fucking book. Does he look that terrified that they’d say no?

“I love you,” they say for emphasis, a ghost of a smile on their lips. “but go to sleep.”
And he listens for once, unconcerned by the hushed voices in the corner of the room.

.

.

.

.

Kobra wakes alone.
Which is… strange.

Or it would be if the world wasn’t entirly too fucking loud and too godamn bright for whatever time it is right now. 

Even the silence is too loud.

His head is exploding and he’s certain gross brain juice is pouring out of his eyes right now because- holy shit the absolute throbbing in his head cannot be normal. But neither is the way his eyes seem glued shut, sticky and impossible to open. 

He feels disgusting, is pretty sure he smells, and to top it all off his left wrist hurts almost as badly as his head. It’s throbbing in time with his headache and he doesn’t dare try and move it.

Everything is thick, soupy in his head but Kobra’s fairly certain that there was something he should feel guilty about.

Honestly, this feels like a hangover but-

Oh shit.

Last night’s events fall into place in Kobra’s mind. 

How much he drank, how long he stayed outside, the blaster…

He is so fucking screwed. 

Suddenly, opening his eyes and finding out if he’s actually alone or if the silence is just everyone he knows giving him the silent treatment doesn’t sound too appealing. 

“You up?” 

A voice to his right startles him and the jerking movement makes his aching wrist hurt even worse. The pain goes up into his shoulder, white hot and strong enough to take his breath away.

“Mornin’ asshole,” the person grumbles, clearly not happy that Kobra’s awake.
Yeah, well the feeling’s fucking mutual. 

“Here.”

Something cool and soft passes over his face. The movements are slow and the temperature, of what he’s guessing is a wet rag, is refreshing. After the grossness around his eyes is gently wiped clean, Kobra does his best to open them.
He manages, honestly a little surprised at the effort, and blinks as the room tilts into focus.

It’s Ghoul beside him, his hand still holding the dark colored rag. And he’s watching Kobra, waiting for something maybe.

“Thanks,” Kobra tries, his voice surprising him with how weak it is.

“Why’d ya do it?”

He’s stunned for a moment by the bluntness of Ghoul’s question. But even though his words come out harsh, he’s got a softness in his eyes, an understanding. 

“I needed a break.”
The truth. 

“And the gun?” 

Suddenly Kobra can’t breathe because surely Jet hadn’t seen him with it and- and they wouldn’t tell the others would they? Only Party knows about this part of him and- and-

“Hey- hey- no no, c’mon Kobes you gotta breathe.”
Ghoul’s hands are on his shoulder, not pushing or pulling. Simply contact, a guide. 

He brings his rapid breaths back under control with some effort but he can't stop his mind racing.
“I ain’t mad Kobes. I- I get it, more than you think.”

Stupidly, Kobra reaches, with his good arm, down to his holster. It’s empty, the loss making him feel suddenly naked.

“Poison’s got it. Gonna hold on t’ it a little while,” Ghoul explains gently, nothing but a calm sort of understanding lacing his words.
What had Ghoul meant by saying that he gets it?

“You don’t gotta but- but please just tell me why. What’s wrong Kobes? What’s so bad that you can’t come to one of us before you try what you did the other night?”

Kobra’s not even sure if he can tell this to Ghoul, let alone if he should. 

Because how can you say that even though he’s happy that Ghoul and Party have each other and that, yeah Ghoul’s not trying to take his brother from him or anything, he still is left to the sidelines. 

And he’s so fucking happy for them, so glad that Party is getting this because his brother deserves this so goddamn much. 

But Kobra is alone. 

How can he tell Ghoul that until Jet showed up, Kobra had sat there many nights aching for a drink, for something to distract himself from the loneliness he was feeling. And it was dumb, it is dumb, because he’s surrounded by people. 

Party loves him, would do probably anything in the world for him, and that helps. It makes things a little easier, helps that lonely pit in the bottom of his gut lesson just a bit. Party does love him, Ghoul is practically fucking family too at this point and so Kobra could distract himself a little.
He’d been getting better, been learning that maybe he’s not as alone as his mind screams at him.

And now- now he has Jet. 

They saved him, made that loneliness fade so much that even he barely thought of it. Even if they don’t realize it, Kobra is unbelievably grateful to them. Just for being themself and loving him and caring about him even though he’s fucked up. They saved eachother really, and he loves them so fucking much that it physically hurts his chest to think about ever, ever losing them.

And yet, that risk is so fucking high that it’s not even funny.

If Better Living doesn't kill Jet, or Party, or Ghoul, or Kobra himself, then it’s gonna be someone getting sick or wrecking the car or Kobra finally putting the blaster to his head or-

It’s going to be something that ruins this, that ruins the first time in Kobra’s life that he’s not alone. 

And he is so goddamn terrified of it that he doesn’t even begin to know what to do. How is he supposed to protect all of these people, how is he supposed to do this when he can barely keep himself safe?

He has a bad track record for lacking in self care when something goes wrong, which he ironically gets onto Party for too, and yet it feels like the weight of his family’s lives are falling down onto his shoulders and he can’t breathe, can’t begin to think of a plan or a way to keep them safe.

“I love you guys,” Kobra says all at once, shocking Ghoul after the long pause between his question and Kobra’s sudden answer.

“I don’t- I mean Kobes, I love you too and you gotta know that Poison and Jet do to. But I don’t understand- I dont get how that could be the cause of what’s happened.”
His accent is slipping, Kobra can hear it in the odd shapes of the a’s as they roll off his tounge. Ghoul’s not as put together as he’s acting, not as okay with all of this as he seems. 

Kobra’s hurting him, making him worry and he feels horrid for it.

Horrid…

Maybe his own accent is slipping too.

“You guys saved me, more than once, more than just the other night and I- I don’t- I can't even bare the thought of losing you guys but everything feels like it's falling apart at my feet and I don’t know what to do!"

He takes a breath, closing his eyes against the returning headache that’s only serving as a reminder of his fuckup.

“But that’s the thing,” Ghoul begins, Kobra looking up at him so he will continue. “You don’t gotta do it alone Kobes. Yeah we’re all one wrong goddamn move away from getting ghosted but that’s why we’re still here. We got each other. So stop being a fucking wave head and realize that we got you bro. We look after eachother, dumb ass," Ghoul's smiling by the end of his speech. 

It's a little thin, a little forced but Kobra can tell that he's trying.

And Kobra laughs, unable to hold it in as Ghoul pretends to whip his hair behind his shoulder dramatically. 

“Look,” Ghoul says, serious again.” Please don’t think that this is all on you, that only you are responsible for keeping us safe. Because I hate to break it to ya but we’re a team. A family.”

Family…

“But even after,” Kobra waves his hand aimlessly and Ghoul gives him a weird look, not following. “Even after I fuck up again, because this isn’t the first time I’ve been weak and I’ve- and I just-”

He’s not making any sense. Kobra already knows that they’re taking care of him because like Ghoul said, they’re family, and they look out for each other but it just doesn’t seem to want to click in his head.

They’re not pissed this time, they understand and Ghoul’s trying to help him and-

Kobra’s not sure when the tears begin to fall but the next thing he knows Ghoul’s climbing in the bed with him. He pulls Kobra in, wrapping him in his arms and letting him cry on his shoulder. 

He’s not sure how this is working, not sure how he can even get his head on Ghoul’s shoulder because the fucker is goddamn tiny, but he can’t question it.
Kobra wonders, not for the first time, why he’s so against contact like this when everytime he gets it, it feels like he’s melting into the person. It’s like he can’t get enough, the warmth and love and strength of the other person as they hold him chases everything away, makes it better if only for a little while. 

And he tries not to think about the next time he’ll be in this position, the next time he’ll be found lying somewhere with an empty bottle and a deathwish. 

But for now, those feelings are fading, going back under the lock and key he normally puts them under. 

_______________________________

Chapter Text

-Three years ago-

So, Frank has fucked up. 

Which, honestly, isn’t a new concept for him. He’s used to it, really. 

One wrong word and the convenience store owner will kick him out, uncaring if he'll starve simply because he had the guts, or the stupidity, to say the word ‘rebel or 'fuck'’. And this most recent time, it was an accident. It wasn't like he tried to stub his toe and curse rather loudly about it.

Even so, he’s gone hungry for… a week now because of it. He could ask his friend, Bob, for the money but he already feels like he asks too much of him. After all, Bob was the one who spent his own money to get Frank medicine after he got deathly ill a couple of years back.

Right now, time is passing by more strangely than normal for him, the only markers he has for it is the growing pain in his stomach and the increasing lightness to his head. 

It wasn't like he hadn't attempted to earn money, he'd asked around in all of his usual places for any sort of work that needed to be done.

But his luck has finally run out it seems.

That’s how he found himself in this particular screw up, sitting with his back to a filthy toilet seat and staring up at the too bright artificial lights above him. His stomach hurts even worse now, twisting and aching enough to make it hard to breathe. Frank's used to trying to ignore hunger pains, used to focusing on anything and everything but the fact that his body is shutting down because he's starving to death.
Well, this particular pain that is consuming him in this moment may just be the family sized bottle of painkillers he poured down his throat five minutes ago. 

It was either this or starving to death but either way, he’s done.

Frank is sick of this, of not being sure when he's gonna eat next, if at all. He's tired of constantly trying to shift his thoughts into the stupid fucking outlines of what the City deems 'respectable' speech.

Of being terrified that some other person who's starving too will see him and assume he's worth mugging over. 

Further in the City, the people there live good lives. Three meals a day, sweets, television, self parking cars, you name it.

All while he lays here on this bathroom floor and tries to ignore the ache in his gut and the tears stinging in his eyes.

He doesn’t want to go back home, tries to ignore the guilt, the regret that's beginning to pool in his chest, for doing this. Both are trying to gain ground in his mind. And truthfully, Frank hates where he lives, would gladly never go back if he could.

It’s honestly just a rotting mattress stuffed into an old indent in a building's outer wall that might have once held a vending machine or ATM. Now it just holds him when he’s too exhausted to make rounds through the slums and poorest streets in the City to see if anyone is willing to pay for him to work. 

The saddest part, what makes this ache so much worse, is that Frank used to have a home, used to have parents and food and a life. He barely remembers them, can’t even really recall their faces.

They were taken by the government when he was six years old, wasn't exactly in any position to challenge Better Living's authority.

Coughs shake violently through Frank as he feels  his chest getting tighter and the world begins to fade a bit around the edges. Hopefully this won’t take much longer, he doesn’t want the chance of this not working. 

He purposefully ignores the part of him that's begging him to get up, find somebody and let them help him. Frank pushes down the thoughts of sticking his fingers down his throat to maybe stop this before it gets too late. He does neither of those, choosing instead to lay here and accept this. 

Because Frank can’t take it anymore, can’t take trying to sleep out in the open on a shitty piece of old fabric that barely even fucking counts as a mattress. He can’t take starving for weeks at a time and getting kicked out of places, if he’s lucky, or beaten to a pulp, the more common occurrence, after just mentioning the rebels or color or that he likes guys or just- anything that the City hates so damn much. 

He brings a trembling hand up to his head, fingers finding nothing but the fine, short cropped strands of brown hair. Frank allows himself to imagine it being longer. He wonders what it'd be like to have it down past his ears or- or maybe even to his shoulders. It’d be long, that he knows for sure, and messy and against the law and-

He coughs again, feeling the twisting in his stomach grow worse with each rough shake of his tortured lungs. They say smokes will kill you but Frank thinks that they haven't worked fast enough in his case. 

Focusing back on his hair to take his mind off of all this, Frank wonders if he could maybe even have it long enough to cover his eyes. 

He smiles to himself, imagining what that would look like. The City would be pissed, would probably drag him off to fuck knows where but then again, would it be worth it to try?
Probably not, seeing as he’s now leaning entirely against the toilet, the strength leaving his body in waves as reality seems to bend around him. 

He’s getting closer to the release, hopefully it won’t be much longer now. 

“Frank?!”

He jerks up right as the bathroom stall door is practically ripped off its hinges. The person responsible stalks in, fuming as he takes in Frank’s position.

“I know about the pills Frank,” Bob says, giving him a long look. 

He's not sure how Bob found him, or why he even knew to look for him in the first place but Frank can’t answer, can already feel his head lolling to the side. 

Too late. 

Seeing Bob, seeing him makes Frank remember, something he really would rather not do. Remembering means second guessing this and-

“Fuck, Frankie, please tell me you haven't-”
Bob’s by his side in an instant as Frank barely notices that he used the nickname that he's so against. Bob says that using nicknames is for rebels and is a good way to get someone suspicious of them. He never calls Frank anything other than his real name and for him to say the nickname like this, voice cracking with emotion…

It makes Frank second guess this decision even more.

Soon though, Bob is twisting him around and making him gag and then finally Frank begins to throw up into the toilet in front of him. It’s an eternity spent hunched over the toilet bowl, puking his guts up and seeing splatters of red fleck against the dirty white of the porcelain. It's a painful process, in more ways than one, but he doesn't fight against Bob. He doesn't have the strength left to fight this anymore.

Frank feels like he’s dying, still feels the rush of the chemicals left in his veins even as he empties his stomach into the toilet. 

After he’s finally done, minutes or maybe even hours later, Bob just holds him up and allows him rest on him for long enough that Frank loses track of time once again. It feels like forever, the ache in his stomach remaining, strong enough to keep him from falling asleep. But he’s exhausted, can feel himself shaking even though he’s not moving.

“Fucking hell Frank,” Bob says in exasperation at last.

At this point, Frank is too tired to even open his eyes to look at his friend, too shocked by the fact that he did this. Sure he’s thought about it before, heard the call of a kitchen knife or the urge to jump in front of a car as it passes him, but he’s never acted on it. Not until now.

And he nearly succeeded, and- and-

Frank’s not sure how he’s supposed to process this. 

“Please,” Bob’s voice cracks, Frank able to hear the raw hurt, the pain so clear in his voice. “Please don’t ever fucking try this shit again. Please.”
He’s not able to answer out loud, his throat raw to the point that he's sure it's bleeding, but he manages a nod. Bob relaxes a bit, helps him wipe the bile and blood off of his face and continues to support his entire weight against him.

Maybe the world is out to get him, maybe life does suck ass but he's got Bob, he's got someone who gives a shit if he lives or dies. 

-Two years ago-

“Do you ever wonder what it’s like out there?” Frank asks dreamily, his eyes firmly stuck on the hazy outline of the edge of the City. 

He and Bob have snuck out here a few times before, just for a glimpse, for proof that the world doesn’t end past the City’s walls. They know that it doesn’t, have seen the rebels who were drug back here by the collars of their brightly colored jackets only to never see their home again. 

Frank has seen more color on those days, the run of hair dye in the rain and the horrible stream of blood flowing down the streets, than he ever had in his life before then. 

But there was one person, one rebel in particular that caught his eye. 

They had a fucking gorgeous shade of yellow that adorned their jacket with hair so vibrant of green that it hurt his eyes to look at. He admired them, wondered what made them choose those two colors to wear as they were marched through the streets with guns to their head.

The rebel  was killed the next day, their brains blown out onto the paved street below them in a public execution that the entire City saw.

Frank decided immediately after that, that those were his favorite colors.

If he and Bob had the money, which they most definitely do not, he would have already bought pens or markers or something- anything that has those colors on it. He would paint the walls of their apartment in those shades of yellow and green, if only so he wouldn't forget. 

Frank's never been one to study, never even went to school, but he spent weeks afterwards pouring over anything and everything he could find to understand why those colors made such a big impact on him.

He came up short, no explanation as to why he was drawn to the boldness, the individuality of the rebel that day.

Frank longs for paints or even colored pencils to try and recreate those colors that he saw, to mask the dull greys of his world for just a short, precious while.

But color is for the rich or those who are good at stealing and Frank’s a shit thief, people instantly suspicious of him as soon as they see him.

 Bob’s good, very rarely caught, but he only takes what they need, food and medicine and shit when they can’t seem to make ends meet. 

They don’t ‘need’ colors but Frank feels like maybe he does.

He’s done a lot of thinking this past year, a lot of time spent sitting around trying to allow his body to recover from the shit he put it through that day in the bathroom. During that time, alone in their apartment with his thoughts and the colors dancing in his mind,  he’s realized that living like this, hiding and obeying laws and scrounging for food, it’s not living. Not really.
Sure there’s moments, moments when someone dares to take an old instrument out of hiding and plays it softly, filling the streets and alleyways near their one room apartment with glorious, illegal music. It’s always so quiet though, purposefully distant sounding in the hopes that whoever it is won’t get caught and drug away like so many before them. 

There’s times when it’s just him and Bob, like they are right now, watching the sun set over the furthest walls of the City. He can hear Bob humming something, tapping his fingers on a soda can that he’s trying to savor.

They're sitting on an old brick wall on the very outer edge of the City, any further and they'd be breaking the law.

Frank’s got his own sugary drink, ice cold against the skin of his hands. He takes a sip, enjoying the feeling of the carbonation on his tongue. This is a rare treat, something that’s cost them probably too much of their very hard earned money, but it’s worth it. 

Frank realizes that Bob’s not answered him, that he too is staring off at the horizon. The sunset is a dull orange color, muted as always but just enough color to make Frank wish for more. 

Finally, Bob looks over. He eyes Frank a long moment, like he does rather often these days, and sighs.

“Sometimes.”

“But- come on. You got to believe that there’s more out there than this! I mean, don't lie and say that you haven't seen the pictures in the old books. The sun used to be so bright, back before all the shit went down, and it would literally paint the sky in shades of fucking fire! With every color possible Bob! And- and there was real grass and-”
“Frank.”
The force of Bob’s words make Frank stop in his raving, his hands falling to his side in defeat as he deflates.

It's the same tone he uses when Frank gets excited and starts cursing or talking too quickly, drawing attention to them when they're in public.

Everyone else speaks calmly in the appropriate way people should according to the government, but Frank is too loud, too passionate about things and it causes trouble for the two of them more often than not. But they're alone right now, and so Frank doesn't see why he can't curse and rant about this.

“It might have been real once, grass and sunsets that looked like paintings, but it’s just not like that anymore. There is nothing beyond the City, just radioactive wastelands and rebels who’ve tragically gone insane due to the exposure. Leaving the City is a death sentence, Frank.”
“But what if it’s not as bad as they make it out to be? Bob, what if there actually is something out there? Fuck, what if there’s people out there like us?”
“Frank, life here is hard, yeah, but going out there,” Bob gestures to the darkening horizon, “it only ends in death. Either the government will exterminate you for breaking the law or the elements will kill you.”
“But-”
“No. You have a life here, Frank. Don’t go squandering it on childish dreams.”
“It’s not much of a life,” Frank mumbles, looking down at the can in his hands. 

Why can’t Bob see that he’s miserable here? 

Frank’s only gotten glimpses of color and music and actual fucking living but he’s already hooked, already needs more.

“Frankie…”

The hurt and instant concern in Bob’s voice makes him look up, realizing exactly how that sentence sounded. He doesn't want to die, not anymore, but still, living here like this feels like torture.

“I don’t- I didn’t mean it like that- I just- Bob I don’t wanna live here anymore. I don’t fit in, even down here in the slums. I’m not cut out for this place and I-”
“Frank,” Bob says suddenly. “ promise me you won’t try and escape.”

“I-”

Bob's not getting it, not understanding how deep Frank's hatred of this place is.

“Promise me Frank.”

“I promise,” Frank lies, not even looking up at his best friend.

 

About one year ago-

Frank is ready, he’s been ready for a while now.

Bob doesn’t understand but that’s okay. The City may be his home but it’s not Frank’s.

 It never was.

His best friend, his roommate, the idiot who’s saved his dumb ass on one more than one occasion, is sleeping on their couch. The shitty light filters in unevenly through the blinds of their living room, casting odd shadows on Bob’s face.

Slinging his bag further up on his shoulder, full of few things he’s been able to stash away without Bob noticing, Frank gives one last, long look at his best friend.

He wishes things were different, wishes that Bob could come with him but life doesn’t seem to want to work that way. If Frank has any hope of seeing colors like the ones that rebel had on them the day they were killed it’s going to be out of the City. 

He’s fairly certain that there’s a desert out there, not simply nothing like the government claims but not exactly a paradise either. Survivable is what he’s going for.  Hopefully.

Even with the doubts swirling in his mind, Frank would rather try his luck out there than stay here and suffocate.

He leaves without a note, without a goodbye, closing the door silently behind him and walking quickly through alleyways to stay out of sight. Frank makes it to the desert as the morning sun first begins to rise, every step and moment of planning it took to get here instantly worth it.

The sky does look like it’s burning, just like the old, illegal, books had said. Reds and orange and- and so many colors that he can’t even name them all burst out along the horizon as real sunbeams hit his skin for the first time in his life. 

He begins walking, each step feeling more and more like returning home rather than leaving it. 

Chapter Text

Ghoul stays with Kobra for a long time. 

Mostly, they just talk. Or- well, Ghoul does most of the talking.

Kobra’s said everything that he meant to say and he’s fine with letting Ghoul’s voice be the one to fill the air. 

And Ghoul talks a lot, mostly about random things at first. However, as time goes on, Ghoul seems to drift towards his life in the City. Kobra learns a lot about him, learns some things that he’d never have guessed had happened, but it’s not awkward or anything. Being trusted enough for Ghoul to tell him these stories is strangely comforting even though most of what he learns is heartbreaking enough to actually bring tears to his eyes.

It's so strange though because even though he's screwed up again, Ghoul trusts Kobra enough to tell him things  like this. He’s fairly certain that only Party knows about Ghoul’s life in the City. It’s not exactly a feel good story by any means and Kobra wonders why Ghoul chose now to tell Kobra about it. 

It’s exhausting, being hungover from hell and realizing that he almost made the biggest mistake of his life and so he’s not exactly at full mental capacity to think through why Ghoul would be so open all of a sudden. Kobra would like to chalk this weariness up to the alcohol and the fact that he literally laid in the sun for hours before Jet found him, but he can’t.

Besides Kobra's had similar reactions, similar thoughts like that, plenty of times before.

But Ghoul doesn’t freak out on him, doesn’t yell or do any of the shit Kobra expected every one of his friends to do. He just keeps talking and Kobra slowly begins to realize that Ghoul understands way more than he’d originally thought.

Eventually, his story told and unspoken point given, Ghoul’s voice tapers off. He stays with Kobra though, offering his company as he sits on that stupid folding chair, knees against his chest and the room bathed in silence.

It’s been hours since Kobra woke up and he’s slowly beginning to feel a little more human, his wrist wrapped tightly in old ace bandages and a couple of painkillers offered by Ghoul helping greatly in that feat. He's comfortable in the crappy motel bed, the mattress surprisingly soft, but the fear is still there. It's no longer screaming at him but it whispers to him that maybe this is the calm before the inevitable storm, that things could go wrong at any moment and he'd be powerless to stop it. 

Kobra does his best to ignore it, to focus on what Ghoul told him. 

They’re looking out for each other. He has his friends, his brother and partner, all watching over him as well as each other. He’s allowed to sit here in this bed all day while everyone else keeps watch and does useful things. 

Okay, so maybe the whisper is more like a loud voice right in his ear but it’s easier to ignore now. He can focus on whatever random ass story Ghoul’s currently telling him, the silence having grown to be too much. Ghoul had caught on to Kobra's discomfort sometime while he'd been lost in thought and proceed start going on about the time he saved a stray cat that he found in a dumpster. It’s odd but his low voice breaking the silence helps Kobra to focus on just the scratchy motel sheets that are tangled up over his bare legs and the gentle presence of his best friend.

The chill to the air as the day winds to a close reminds Kobra that he's currently half naked. The odd thing is that he’s not sure when the whole naked thing happened but hey- at least they were nice enough to leave his underwear on. It’s just him and Ghoul in the room anyway, so Kobra tries his best to get self conscious.

It’s hot as fuck and he probably puked all over the clothes he had on so it makes sense that they’d stripped him. Besides, Ghoul's seen him naked a couple of times on accident.

He’s honestly just thankful that Jet isn’t here because Kobra is certain that he would die of embarrassment if they were. Sure, he’s seen them mostly naked but that was because they were hurt and he’s not quite sure if their relationship is there yet.

And that just serves to remind how new at this he is, at taking it slow, at wanting to take everything slow and being able to because he loves the person and actually enjoys the small shit like holding hands and stealing morning kisses. 

“You’re not listening are you?”
Turning quickly, realizing that- no he was absolutely not listening to a word that was coming out of Ghoul’s mouth, Kobra looks for any sign that his best friend is mad at him. 

Ghoul’s just smiling gently, a knowing look on his face and a hand carding through his long, black hair. 

“Sorry,” Kobra says shyly, crossing his uninjured arm over his chest.

The headboard is hard against his head and back, pillows no longer a thing in this room apparently. He waits on Ghoul to finish his story or just do something. The silence is heavy and Kobra doesn’t want to be left alone in it. 

Ghoul doesn't continue what he was saying nor does he just leave Kobra to himself, instead he gets up and sits down beside him on the bed. After making sure that Kobra's okay with him being this close, Ghoul very gently picks up his broken wrist. 

Kobra tries to hide the wince as Ghoul gives him a once over, obviously having learned some tricks from watching his brother. 

“The meds help?” Ghoul questions under his breath as he sets Kobra’s arm back down beside him.

“Yeah, doesn’t hurt ‘less I move it.”
And that of course sets Kobra into thinking yet again.

Last time he fucked up, Party had withheld the painkillers out of spite or something. Kobra’s not sure why exactly his brother wouldn’t give them to him but he was shocked all the same when Ghoul offered him some a little while ago.

He’s not about to ask though, doesn’t want to chance not getting the next dose. With how badly his head and wrist hurt at the moment, Kobra does not want to see how it feels without the aid of painkillers.

Ghoul nods, flashing him another tiny smile and reaches over to hand him the bottle of water on the nightstand beside the bed.

“Poison said ‘t get you to drink lots. You were out in the sun too long.”

And with that, Kobra doesn’t complain and drains as much as he can of the bottle before handing it back.

It leaves a bitter aftertaste in his mouth, nearly making his stomach churn, but he manages to keep it down. His body probably is so grateful for the water that it’ll take the shitty kind over puking it up at this point anyway.
Party did say Kobra was pretty badly dehydrated so it makes sense.

Settling back against the headboard, Kobra glances around the empty room. He's not sure where the others are but it feels way too quiet without the constant chatter he's grown to expect.

They have the curtains that frame the two tiny motel windows open to try and let in some light since this place has no electricity. The brightness only barely hurts Kobra’s sore head but he bears it. 

Besides, the sun setting in the distance is actually really beautiful. From the angle he’s sitting, Kobra’s able to watch the sun sink below the horizon and the stunning colors fade into dark blues and blacks.

He thinks of the stars and wonders where Jet might be.

“So,” Ghoul starts, helping Kobra pull the blankets over him after it proves too difficult to do one handed. “It’s my shift at dark. If you want, I can get one of the oth’rs to sit with ya a while. And if I’ve talked yer ear off and you wanna sleep I get it too.”
Kobra has to think on it a moment.

Sleep does sound heavenly but at the same time, he really doesn’t want to be alone right now. Even just sitting in silence with Ghoul right beside him was difficult. 

---

It ends up being Jet who stays with him, they walked in not moments after Kobra awkwardly stuttered out that he’d rather have someone here with him. 

Jet has Grace in their arms, the baby asleep and peaceful, as they take Ghoul’s place the moment he gets up. Instantly, Kobra wants to press himself as close as he can, wants to burry his head in their shoulder and never fucking let go.
But he hesitates as the door closes quietly behind Ghoul.

Briefly Kobra wonders where everyone else is and why they’re not coming back here to sleep since it’s dark.

The silence is just as defining as Kobra expected it to be but the awkwardness is something he hadn’t accounted for.

He just doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know how to even begin to start this conversation. 

Jet's probably angry at him by this point and he really doesn't think getting yelled at again-

“How are you feeling?”
Jet’s voice breaks the silence, their tone soft and gentle and Kobra feels wholy unworthy of their kindness right now. But he's surprised too.

They're still talking to him?

“Better," he answers honestly before adding, "Ghoul let me have some painkillers but don’t tell Party, ‘case he doesn’t want me ‘t have ‘em like last time.”

That makes Jet laugh, even though Kobra was just bitching, not really trying to be funny. But the way that Jet laughs, so high and easy, reminds Kobra of the very first few times he heard the sound. It's as beautiful the 20th time as it was the first.

“Na you don’t gotta hide ‘em,” Jet says at last, adjusting Grace briefly before extending their other arm out towards Kobra.
He’s confused for just a moment before realizing that it’s an invitation to curl up against them. Kobra goes willingly, gladly melting against the warmth and softness that is Jet. His head goes right to their shoulder, fitting perfectly there while they wrap an arm around him. 

They smell of motor oil and dust but somehow it’s good, homey.

“Please don’t scare me like that again,” Jet whispers into the silence.

The room is pitch black, Kobra unable to see anything but the faint glow of moonlight weakly shining through the windows. Maybe it’s easier in the dark, where he knows that they can’t see him, because the words fall from his lips without any hindrance.

“I promise.”

Jet relaxes, Kobra feeling bad for not even realizing how tense they were. 

“You should take some more meds and get some sleep,” they add, handing Grace to him for a moment while they twist and grab the painkillers and water on the nightstand.

Kobra takes them gladly.

“Hey, Jet?”

He’s been laid down again, curled once again into Jet’s side as they play gently with his hair. They hum, waiting patiently for him to speak again.
“Are you okay? Its just- I-”
Kobra knows that he’s made this whole thing about himself when just yesterday… the day before?... shit, he has no idea what day it is. But the point it that Jet’s lost their family twice now, the first when they actually died and now with their bodies and everything being taken by Better Living. Kobra held Jet through that, he knows that they were not okay and he feels like shit for forcing them to take care of him instead of getting to have their own time to mourn. They don’t deserve to sit here and have to babysit him because everyone else, including himself, is afraid that he’s gonna off himself the moment he’s left alone.
“Kobra.”
Jet’s stern voice shocks Kobra out of wherever his mind had gone. He’s suddenly blinking into the darkness and listening to the sounds of his own ragged breathing.
“Kobra, that’s not true.”
Wait- had he said all that out loud?

“But-”

“I take care of you ‘cause I love you, idiot. And yeah- the other day was really fuckin’ hard on me, seeing my crew’s bikes ‘n shit like that, but you were the one who helped me Kobes. Not just anyone would’ve stayed to see that, very few people would’a put that much effort into saving me either.

“And you keeping this bottled up, not telling me or your brother or Ghoul when you started feeling this way is the reason this got so bad in the first place Kobes. You’re not making it ‘all about yourself’ when you tell someone that  you’re struggling. That’s what we’re here for.”
“But you were- you were goin’ through-”
Jet cuts him off, wrapping their arm a little more tightly around him and kissing the top of his head before they answer.

“No matter what I’m dealin’ with, you can always tell me when somethin’s bothering you.”

They let go, untangling themself from Kobra’s koala-like grip. Instantly, Kobra panics, sure that he’s upset them or something and they’re gonna leave now and-

“Whoa, Kobes it’s okay. I’m just setting the baby down. I’m not going anywhere.”
Jet’s voice comes from across the room, surprising Kobra at how far away they are suddenly. He needs to stop freaking out, needs to actually calm down and-

The spot where Jet had been on the bed holds their warmth but it’s dissipating quickly in the chilled room. Kobra feels like a child as tears begin to gather behind his eyes.

He sniffles, hating himself for being so weak.
Because Jet’s right there, he can hear them putting Grace down but it just feels so far in the dark room. He feels alone and-

“Hey, hey- Kobes I’m right here.”
He feels their arms wrap around his shoulders, pulling him against their chest as they sit down on the bed.

“Sorry- sorry I just-you were gone- and I- I-”
“Shh, I understand. I’m not goin’ anywhere,” Jet tells him, holding on tightly to him.

Their warmth spreads through him and the tears stop more quickly than normal. He still feels weak, like a little kid, but all that is quick to be forgotten as Jet presses gentle kisses to his forehead. 

“Can I show you somethin’?” Jet asks after a few long moments, when it's clear that he's not going to sleep anytime soon.
Kobra just nods, making no move to actually get up.

“Will you be alright while I go grab your clothes from outside? I don’t want you walkin’ around in your undies.”

A blush spreads down Kobra’s face at the realization that- yep he is still very nearly naked. He manages a nod, thankful that it’s dark so that Jet can’t see how his face burns with embarrassment. 

“Okay, I’ll be right back. I’ll even leave the door open so you can see me okay?”
Kobra still clings to them and Jet has to pry his hands off of them, but they don’t complain or anything. They just laugh a little and he can hear the soft smile in their voice even without being able to see it. 

Ultimately, Jet kisses him to get him to let them go. It’s unexpected but Kobra soon melts into it, kissing back with enthusiasm. With him distracted, Jet’s able to pull themself out of his arms.

He whines, just earning another laugh from Jet and a promise that they’ll be right back.

Twenty minutes later Jet and Kobra finally make it outside. Jet wraps the scratchy blanket around Kobra’s shoulders and snakes an arm around his waist to guide him. He’s a bit wobbly, head pounding slightly at the exertion, but it’s manageable.

The air is cool but not absolutely frigid like it was the other night, meaning the weather is probably back to normal. Or as close to normal as it can get out here.

With the moon high in the sky and nearly full, the desert isn’t as dark as it was inside. Kobra can see the soft, muted shades of blue and grey wash over the expanse of desert in front of them. The shadows of the Joshua trees and cacti are comforting, almost like a sense of home in a way, and Kobra can make out the outlines of old buildings far away on the horizon. 

They bump into Party as they go out past the car and he stops in front of them, even though Kobra keeps his eyes on the ground as Jet tells him they’re heading out for some air. He can tell that Party’s watching him but he lets them go and neither of them force Kobra to talk or even attempt to hold up a conversation. 

“C’mon. It’s worth it I promise,” Jet says after Party goes into their room and closes the door.

And Kobra follows, not really sure where they’re taking him but he doesn’t protest. 

After a short while, Jet stops at a seemingly random spot but they keep their arm around Kobra’s waist. He leans over and rests his head on their shoulder, too tired to do much else.

In the dark he can only just make out his boots in the sand, can see the way the mud cakes to them. His jeans are tucked halfway in the tops of his shoes, a result of fumbling one handed in the dark, and if he weren’t so tired, Kobra would probably bend down to fix them.

“Kobra,” Jet’s voice is quiet but it seems to carry, to pull Kobra up and out of his head so that he can look over at them. “Look up.”
And he does, craning his neck back and peering up at the night sky and-

Holy shit...

The entire sky is lit up with so many stars that Kobra can’t even begin to try and guess how many there are. There’s entire constellations up there, ones that Kobra doesn’t remember the names but wishes endlessly he did in this moment, and it’s absolutely dizzying. 

He feels so small all of a sudden, so tiny as he stares up into the dark blue of the sky above him. It’s insane, how breathtaking this is.

Each little dot is an entire star, burning billions of miles away just so that he can stand here, look up, and see it. Jet’s hand finds his and he looks over to find them staring as well. Entire galaxies swirl endlessly above them, bright against the darkness of the sky and unbelievably visible this far away from the City.

“Wanna sit?” they ask breathlessly, eyes never leaving the sky.

And so they do, plopping down in a tangle of limbs and jackets and a blanket that is somehow comfortable. Jet keeps their hand in Kobra’s and stares up at the sky with their other resting behind their head while he lays on his back, curled up against them as much as he can.
Kobra should look back up, should study the beautiful view above him a little longer. But he can’t, doesn’t want to because there’s something he would much rather watch.

Jet’s got their mouth open a little, a soft smile twitching on their lips as they stare upwards. They look so at peace, so calm that Kobra feels like it’s bleeding into his own mind. It washes over him gently, that feeling of being right where he’s supposed to, of being with the person he loves. 

“You’re not looking,” Jet says quietly, Kobra slowly realizing that they’ve caught him staring. 

“I love you.”

It’s dumb and romantic and something Kobra never thought he’d do but he just can’t help it. 

Jet smiles brightly, their eyes flickering shut as they sigh contently. The moonlight shapes the curves of their face, making their features stand out. Kobra’s breathless but not because of the stars or the dull ache of his wrist. 

“I love you too Kobes,” Jet says in a whisper, squeezing his hand a little.
_______________________________

The next day, Kobra is woken up entirely too early by Grace crying. She’s fine, just fussy because it’s time for her food and Jet had been asleep too. 

Kobra had been curled up against their side but he’s woken up completely as they slide out of the bed and go to take care of their sister. 

He pulls the blankets over his head in some attempt to block out the noise of everyone else being awake. Pony is talking, rather loudly, to his brother about something and Kobra’s pretty sure that it’s Ghoul fucking with the radio, making harsh static fill the cramped room.

The headache still persists though the hangover has faded away since yesterday. He can feel that worry though, hiding beneath the surface and quietly telling him that he should enjoy the noise for now because everyone in this room could be dead by tomorrow. 

“You up Kobes?” calls Party, his voice obnoxiously loud.

Kobra groans, letting go of any shred of hope that he might be able to go back to sleep. 

“Good. You’re helpin’ me fix up the car today.”

And yep, twenty minutes later Party is practically dragging Kobra outside. He’s thoroughly confused until his brother chucks a can of spray paint at his head. Kobra manages to catch it, thankful that it’s not his right wrist that’s broken and earning an approving chuckle from Party.

“I’ve got some designs I wanna do already planned out, so I call dibs on the hood, but you can grafiti the fuck outta whereever else you want. But the black paint is mine.”

Nodding quietly, Kobra looks down at the rusted can of red spray paint in his hand. It’s nearly the same color as his brother’s hair, bright enough to hurt his eyes. The pale white of the car in front of them is enticing, like a blank canvas for them to fill in. The only probelm is that Kobra one: can’t draw for shit, and two: has no fucking clue what to paint.
Party’s already getting to work, unfolding a piece of paper from his pocket and setting it down on the hood of the car for reference. He shakes the can in his hand as he studies the picture before tying his hair back and getting to work. The smell of spray paint fills Kobra’s lungs but it’s not bad, it feels… right.

Watching Party work, Kobra remembers how close he got to losing this part of his brother. Another year or two in the City and this would never have happened, Party wouldn’t have survived any longer in there. 

He’s completely focused on his painting and somehow little flecks are already on his face and arms. He'll be covered soon no doubt.

“You gonna watch me paint or are you actually gonna help?” Party asks without looking up from his work.
“Uh- I dunno.” 

“It helps, trust me,” Party still doesn’t look up at him but Kobra can hear it in his tone that his brother’s worried. 

Kobra tries not to look but he can’t help it. And yep- right there beside Party’s own holster sits Kobra’s, his brother’s shirt pulled down over it but it’s obvious that it’s there.
This isn’t just painting, it’s more than that. But Kobra doesn’t know what his brother wants from him. He’s not sure if he’d be able to explain what happened that night, explain his thought process and why he thought dying might be better than watching everyone he loves dying.
But Kobra says nothing, just shakes his can and goes over to the passenger side door.
He starts painting without really thinking it though, just letting whatever comes to his mind flow through him and slowly take shape on the door in front of him. The white paint is soon covered by red and after some pestering of his brother, black paint is added as well.
Kobra stands back after he’s done, wiping the sweat off of his forehead from the stifling heat and admires what he’s drawn. He’s shit at drawing but that somehow makes it work.

It’s a snake, or well the mouth of one. Kobra wanted it to look like the snake was moments away from biting, mouth open and fangs on display. You can’t really tell what it is just by looking at it but Kobra doesn’t care.
He’s seen some rebels use symbols, hand-drawn things that are their logo of sorts. People use it as a tag for graffiti, to claim what’s theirs, or just because and Kobra can already tell that this is his. The red outlines somehow makes the black pop and he’s stuck staring at his creation for a long while.
It reminds him of how he got his name, of how many times Party has taken care of him through the years. 

“Nice!” Party says right next to his ear, suddenly behind him and claping a hand down on his shoulder.
Kobra startles, like always, but he’s smiling too. 

“It’s my thing.”

“Kobra Kid. I like it!” Party tells him enthusiastically.

“Kinda shit…”

“Na, it’s shiny bro. It’s supposed to be messy I think.”

Kobra takes another look, trying to see what about it makes Party so enthusiastic. 

“Do you have one?”

He’s sure with how much his brother thinks ahead about things like this, that Party’s bound to have a symbol already thought out. Even though they don’t even have a crew name yet.
“Yep! One for all of us and one for me too.”

“All of us?” Kobra askes, eyes falling on the hood of the car.

He’s looking at it sideways but he recognizes the spider that Party was drawing the other day back in the diner. It’s on a much larger scale now, with a bit more detail, but is mostly the same. There’s a lightning bolt at its bottom and Kobra has to admit that it’s pretty freakin’ badass.

“That’s for all of us then?” he asks, pointing at the hood.

Party nods and grabs the black paint from Kobra’s hand. He goes over to the driver’s side, Kobra following, and crouches down.
It takes only a few minutes for the lines to take shape, the unmistakable pill and ‘x’ below it.
“We got any yellow?” Party asks, looking up at Kobra thoughtfully.

He goes over to the other side of the car, finds a can of yellow in the wooden crate the paints are being kept in, and hands it to his brother. Party thanks him absently and then makes an outline with the yellow around the black lines of the symbol. 

Kobra's probably looks like shit cause he did the outline first then the black but he's able to admire his brother's symbol all the same.

It feels like a logo, like something one of those old comic book characters he reads about have.

“How long did it take ya to figure that out?” Kobra asks as Party stands back up, brushing the sand off of his knees.

“Longer than you’d think. Ya know, we could all do our signs on here, claim it as our own.”
“Or assign seating arrangements.”

Party laughs, shaking his head even though the smile plastered on his face doesn’t meet his eyes. Kobra tries to ignore it, knowing he’s the cause. 

“I guess now’s a good a time than any,” Party starts, setting down the cans of paint and motioning for Kobra to sit down beside him in the sand.
Their backs are against the unpainted part of the driver side door, out of view of the motel. It should be comforting but it’s not, not when Kobra knows that his brother is going to ask questions that he’s not ready to answer. 

“You wanna talk about it?” Party says at last, looking over at Kobra patiently.

“Not really.”

Party huffs a little though there’s no annoyance in the action. It’s more tired than anything else.

“I don’t get a choice do I?” Kobra adds, staring down at his hands. 

“I mean, I can’t force ya. But I think you should talk to someone at least.”

When Kobra looks over Party’s giving him ‘the look’, his expression so soft and concerned that Kobra can feel it down into his very soul as his brother waits on him to answer. And Party’s eyes hold that sense of sadness, of pain and worry and everything that Kobra has tried so hard to keep from him. 

“I already talked to Ghoul and Jet,” Kobra protests weakly, knowing that he’s going to end up telling his brother everything anyway. 

He’s just stalling, buying time.

With a sigh, Kobra resolves himself to the fact that he could never keep this sorta thing from his brother.

“I wanna be able to help you but I can’t do that if you won’t tell me what's wrong. And I know you've talked to the others already but I- I just wanna know what's wrong, what could be so bad that… ”

 Party just trails off as he looks down at his jeans and begins playing with the rips there. 

Kobra might have already said this twice now but he knows Party deserves an explanation as well. For everything he's done for Kobra over the years, he can fight through trying to explain this one last time. 

He's felt better after saying it out loud the last two times so maybe this'll help too.

“I just- I can't- I don’t wanna lose you guys… we’re in so much shit right now with Better Living and I- and Jet’s heart keeps scaring the shit out of us and Ghoul almost died and you got sick and-”

Kobra can't continue, just thinking about it enough to make his chest ache with the beginnings of an anxiety attack. Thankfully, Party seems to understand. His brother nods, offering a weak smile before looking back down at the rips in his jeans. As Party speaks up again, he accidentally rips one of the tears, making an even bigger hole in the one at his knee.

“Did it help then, talking to the others earlier?” 

“Yeah,” Kobra breathes out, “yeah it did. Ghoul - he told me some stuff that kinda put things into perspective and Jet… they're amazing at just- just being there ya know?”

Party nods, fiddling absently with a torn piece of his shirt now. They really need to find him a new jacket, with the weather as fucked up as it is.

“I talked to Jet,” Party says, almost randomly.

But Kobra knows what that means. It’s the reason his gun is on his brother’s thigh rather than his own.

He says nothing, just waits for whatever it is that Party was going to say.

“I thought that-,” Party cuts himself off, taking a shaky breath before continuing. “I thought that you were better, that that sorta thing wasn’t- that you weren’t having those thoughts anymore.”

There’s a lump forming in Kobra’s throat, this conversation similar to a few others that he and Party have had before. He’d thought he was better too but it seems like he’d been wrong.
“Only recently," Kobra tells him truthfully. " I was okay, honestly I was, until this shit with the City and- and I just- I realized that I could lose you guys at any moment.”

The words settle heavily, seeming more real now that he’s said them aloud. Kobra forces himself to take a breath, to not let the anxiety have its way today.
“Why didn’t you come to me?” 

Party’s voice is fragile, quiet and it physically hurts Kobra’s heart to know he’s the cause. 

“Thought I could ignore it but after we found the bikes it just- it sunk in that it could be you guys next. I don’t- I don’t wanna be in a world without you in it,” he admits at last.

The words seem to burn as they come out. Saying this out loud is hard, worse somehow than when he told Ghoul. 

“Kobes,” Party says his name quietly, wrapping his arm around his shoulder and pulling him close.
Kobra goes willingly, laying his head on Party’s shoulder and savoring the comfort that it brings. 

“You’re not mad?” he finds himself asking in a whisper.

“Furious. But not at you.”
“What-”
“Kobra,” his brother starts, his voice deathly serious. “There’s a lot of shit that I regret in my life, plenty of things that I wish I’d have done differently, but letting you think that any of this is your fault, or your job to handle alone- that’s the worst. Because it's just not true.”

“Ghoul said kinda the same thing…” Kobra finds himself whispering, the realization of how similar both these conversations are hitting him all at once.

“And he’s right then. It’s not solely your responsibility to keep us safe, to keep me safe," Party puts a heavy emphasis on 'me' before sighing and continuing on quietly, "Because I know that you, Ghoul, and Jet, you all have my back. Just like you should know that the three of us have yours.”

“I’m sorry,” Kobra admits finally, the words somehow feeling more honest than any other time he's found himself in this position.
He’s said sorry for this kind of thing before, for the drinking and for thinking this way, but somehow now it feels like the truth. The thought of one of the people he cares about getting hurt still burns at the back of his thoughts but maybe everyone is right. Maybe he doesn’t have to protect them on his own. 

“I know,” Party agrees, hugging him tightly enough to where it’s difficult to breathe.

 He doesn’t fight him though, knows that his brother needs this. Kobra scared Party, he can tell by the way he doesn’t seem to want to let go and the shakiness in the way that he's moving . 

“ I- look just- just please Kobes, please tell me if it gets anywhere near that bad again. I’m not gonna be upset with you; I just wanna help. Please don’t push me away.”
Party’s voice is barely more than a whisper at this point, so scared and lost sounding. Kobra can’t even turn to look at him, can’t stand to think of how close he was to never having this conversation. Maybe Party’s right, maybe he shouldn’t try to ignore the shit in his head. Maybe he should actually talk to him. 

Kobra just nods though, knowing Party can feel it and understand that he doesn’t know what else to say.

“Thank you,” Party says at last, hugging onto Kobra a little tighter. “Do you- do you still feel like you wanna…”

And Party can’t even finish the sentence, but Kobra knows exactly what he’s asking.
“No. Not anymore.”

He can feel the tension as it leaves Party’s body, is suddenly reminded of how many times his brother has nearly lost him. 

But he doesn't want to die. Not anymore. It's still terrifying, how much he has to lose but he's beginning to see that his friends aren't as vulnerable as he'd assumed they were. They're stronger together and Better Living can try their best but they're not gonna go down without one hell of a fight.

Kobra should have known that already and it's insane that it took something like this to make him realize it.

“I’m an idiot aren’t I?” Kobra asks a little while later.

Party laughs genuinely, pulling away to just sit next to Kobra rather than cling to him like before. It’s nice, feeling the conversation grow lighter, to feel the way they’re able to fit right back into things. 

The gravity of this conversation is lessening as the two of them, or at least Kobra, realizes that maybe things aren’t perfect but they’re getting better.
“You’re not an idiot Mikes, you just worry too much,” he says, smiling a little at Kobra. 

“Wish I didn’t.”

“Me too. We just gotta find things that help take yer mind off of it, like last time.”
Yeah, the last time Kobra let his anxiety get anywhere near this bad Party had helped him to find little things that he could do to take his mind off of it. Things like listening to music or going on drives and sometimes, when he was able, just cuddling up to his brother and letting that sense of safety chace everything bad away.

Maybe it was time for some new methods.
“Talking helps,” Kobra tells him, thinking aloud and earning a soft smile from his brother as encouragement. “Being around you helps, like always.”
Letting his head lean back against the door, Kobra tries to think of other things that help keep the anxiety at bay.

“Fucking around with Ghoul helps, somehow.”

Party chuckles but lets him continue without interrupting.
“Jet. They- they help so fucking much,” he realizes out loud.

“I've noticed. I was waitin’ on you to notice too.”

And yeah, Jet is like a life line for Kobra. He’s not sure what he’d do without them honestly.

It's a good list, hopefully he'll remember it next time he starts getting so worked up.

Staying away from the alcohol is going to be hard, especially after two relapses so close together, but Kobra has an odd sense of determination. He's no longer waiting on the next breakdown, the next time he's gonna give in and go running back to the bottle.

Like Party said, he's got people to talk to now and he's admitted that talking does help. 

“By the way," Partys starts suddenly, the words leaving him quickly like he's said it all in one breath. "that reminds me, I wanted to ask before I actually- well basically, are you okay with Jet joining our crew?”
Kobra doesn't answer, his brain shutting down and simply leaving him speechless.

“I was just worried because I know that you had a bit of a hard time when we added Ghoul and I just- I don’t wanna invite them if it’s gonna bother you and I know that you two are like together and stuff but I-”
“Party,” Kobra interrupts, sensing that if he doesn’t stop him soon, his brother will go into a full anxiety fueled rant. “Party, of course I don’t mind Jet joinin’ us. I- I’d really like that actually.”

That stupid blush retuns and Party absolutly notices it, Kobra’s positive that it’s obvious, but his brother doesn’t say anything.
“Good. I was gonna ask ‘em this evening.”

“Wait, really?” 

“Yeah,” Party tells him, looking at him like he’s gonna protest it or something.

“Does Ghoul know?”
“That I’m gonna ask?” Kobra nods, “Yeah. Me n’ him talked about it. I just wanted to ask you before I asked Jet ya know?”
Kobra’s unable to contain the smile that finds its way onto his face, too caught up in the realization that he’s going to be in a crew… with Jet.

That is, if they say yes.

_______________________________

“Kay, talk to ya in a bit Doc,” Pony says before flipping the switch on the radio and passing it back to Party.

Jet and Kobra are currently sprawled out on the bed, hands connected as Pony contacted Doc. The conversation was brief but now they have plans once again to go and visit Doctor Death himself.
Which is an incredibly weird thing to think about to Jet. Like, The Doctor Death is someone that they can just call up on the radio and work out times for trading. It's nuts.

But they do need to trade, food and shit already getting low with so many of them sharing right now.

Not to mention the dent they’ve put in the few medical supplies that they had left after Kobra’s bender the other night.
His wrist is still wrapped up tight, constantly pressed securely against his chest and Jet knows that it's bothering him. Party’s been giving Kobra pain meds though, just one or two a day, and so hopefully it’s not too painful.
When they look over to Kobra, he’s got his eyes closed and a soft sorta smile ghosting across his face. He looks at peace and Jet’s fairly certain that it’s because of something he and his brother had talked about earlier. They’d seen the two of them crouched down behind the car for a long while but had gotten the feeling that it wasn’t the sort of thing that they should interrupt.

Afterwards though, Kobra’s been almost normal.
He’s still a fair bit more quiet than what's normal, much more clingy, but not in a bad way, more like he’s thinking and working through some stuff.

Jet knows that things aren’t going to be perfect, that they’re probably going to have to remind Kobra again and again that he’s not alone and that they do love him. But that’s fine by them. They will tell him every day if they have to. 

He deserves it, that feeling of safety that comes from knowing you’re surrounded by those who care about you.
Kobra helped give that feeling to Jet and they will do everything they can to extend the same to him. 

“Tomorrow we’ll go visit D,” Party addresses the room and Jet turns their head to look over at him.

Ghoul’s currently in Party's lap for some reason, just sitting as if there’s no other seats in the room. But he’s smiling all big, like there’s nowhere else he’d rather be, and so Jet tries not to judge too much.

Besides, they and Kobra have been super clingy as well so they have no room to talk.

“But today," Party continues, "I think we should decorate the fuck outta the car. Me ‘n Kobra already did a bit but I was thinkin’ we could all put our own touch to it ya now?”

Ghoul shouts an overly excited “fuck yeah!”, waking the baby and making the whole room groan because she’d only just been put down for her nap.

“Sorry,” Ghoul says sheepishly but he jumps up to take care of her with no protest. 

Jet relaxes back against the bed, squeezing Kobra’s hand once and he opens his eyes, looking over at them.

It’s just like before they were together, the two of them stuck staring into each other’s eyes. But Jet has no desire, no reason to look away anymore.
They know that Kobra cares about them, and he knows they feel the same, so really, if it weren’t for Party already guiding Pony and Ghoul outside to start on the car, Jet knows that they’d stay here forever.

Grace is asleep again in her little dresser drawer when Kobra and Jet pass by, hand in hand with Kobra holding on tightly.
The sun is hot but as Jet gets to work, grabbing the black can of spray paint handed over by Party, they realize that it’s not too bad.

Kobra hovers a bit as they draw but Jet doesn’t mind, the sound of the others laughing and talking keeps things calm.

“I love you,” Kobra says randomly, making Jet look over to him.

The sun’s bright and Kobra’s got his sunglasses on. If they didn’t know him so well they’d say he was bored but even with the stupid glasses on, Jet knows how sincere he is in this moment. They kiss him, slow and purposeful until the last of the tension leaves him. 

Jet turns back to the car and picks up the paint can they’d laid down, getting back to work. The five of them spend all evening painting the stolen car, mixing colors and shitty art until there’s hardly any white paint left.

It looks like a rebel car, something that no one will mistake as anything to do with the City.

“Fucking fabulous,” Pony remarks once they’re all done and standing a few feet away to observe their work in the failing evening light.

“Huh.”
Jet looks over to Party, instantly recognizing the look on his face that means he’s thinking. 

They’ve been thinking a lot too this evening, thinking about their Ma and their crew. Once the sun goes down completely they’re gonna start the little ceremony they’ve got planned to try and get the Witch to take the bikes as their souls’ anchors. 

Jet’s obviously more than a little stressed but they have a gut feeling that the Witch won’t mind, that she’ll listen to their prayers. They don’t know how they know that it’ll work. But they just do.

“Fabulous…” Party says slowly, like he’s thinking something through.

Everyone is quiet, waiting for whatever Party’s about to say.

“Fabulous Four!”

“What?” Kobra asks incredulously, shaking his head and looking at his brother sideways.

But he’s laughing too, a real smile pulling at his lips even though he's trying to hide it.

“That can be our name, The Fabulous Four!” 

Jet just watches as Ghoul ends up rolling on the ground laughing, saying he’s never heard something so dumb come from someone so smart. They’re laughing too but as Party says it again, emphasising it, something clicks.
“Four?” they ask, making every head turn to look at them.

Under the weight of all of their gazes, Kobra’s hand is in theirs again in moments. He squeezes tightly as they wait for Party to answer.

“Well, actually Jet. There’s somethin’ we wanted to talk to you about.”