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I’ll kill him, thinks DeStorm as he narrows his eyes in Alex’s direction. Gabbie’s tucked into his side— “I killed both of you, huh?” says the Novelist-turned-Aviator, and DeStorm feels a thrill of anger that his only ally had fallen to the same person—and it feels right, it feels like the only thing stopping him from launching himself fists first at that smug face, possible resurrection be damned.

No, though, because once he’s calmed down he realizes what a gift this is. A way to come back. A way to go home to his kid and his life. He can’t squander that.

He keeps an eye on Alex though. The kid’s squirrely. He won’t be caught off guard again.

-

“I’m not dying tonight,” he insists, over and over again. “I’m not evil. I’m just trying to get home. I won’t die again. I won’t do it.”

No one listens, not even Gabbie really—that’s fine, he doesn’t need her, he don’t need nobody —but he does notice how Alex has turned a calculating eye in his direction. He scowls right back, challenging it.

This fool won’t get the best of him, not this time around. He’s ready for him.

-

He’s not ready to be handed a free coin by a man he’d seen as his biggest threat. Alex doesn’t look at him when he places it in his hands, and there’s a soft smile on his face and some nonsense words spilling out of his mouth. He’s making an alliance, DeStorm realizes. This is a business only transaction.

Okay. He can get behind that. Alex is resourceful, quick, and a little reckless. He can be a great ally. And if DeStorm’s being honest, he’s getting a little tired of the “mortal enemies” bullshit. Besides. Alex, though dangerous, isn’t capable of being hard and cold and mean like he is. He has nothing to worry about from him.

But that don’t mean he lets his guard down.

-

"Give two coins to anyone."

DeStorm watches as Alex makes a slow circle. He clenches his jaw to keep from hoping. Just 'cause the man had given him a coin don't mean they're buds now. Just 'cause Alex is stupid don't mean he's suicidal.

He stops at DeStorm and there's that same smile on his face, and DeStorm realizes with a jolt that the smile isn't like the others. It's off. Scared.

He gives him two coins. DeStorm can't stop the amazed grin that spreads across his face, but he tempers it, makes it smug instead as the group gasps at this sudden, bizarre twist.

"You don't even like DeStorm," Bretman complains.

"Oh yes he does," says DeStorm, baring his teeth in something that could pass as a smile.

Okay, Alex, he thinks, watching the Aviator return to his symbol around the circle. I see you.

-

"Name your best frenemy out loud, and then open."

Alex smirks at him when he looks over—they all know, neither of them hid their history, but honestly DeStorm feels kinda good about leaning more towards the friend side of "frenemy" these days. Especially if this alliance keeps him out of the bottom two.

He ignores the others chattering and opens the scroll, reading its contents aloud.

"You can give the person you named half of your coins—"

The circle erupts into jeers and cheers.

"—or," he continues, cutting them off, "you can steal half of theirs."

Alex's smile freezes on his face. He knows him. He's starting to doubt. Still he says, around that uncertain grin, "Decisions, decisions..."

"Ain't no decision," DeStorm says, striding towards him, hand out. "Gimme half them coins, boy."

"What?" The smile crashes, and for a split second the other man looks hurt. "But, I thought—"

"Did you really think he was gonna give you half of his coins?" It comes from Tana, as DeStorm reaches him, and the knowing sympathy in her voice almost makes him pivot. There's a curl of—something, something bad in his gut as Alex counts half his coins and places them in his bag, dejected, hurt, and stupid. DeStorm ain't never been nothing but brutally honest about his intentions, and he should know damn well by now that he doesn't do anything that could put him at risk.

DeStorm tries to meet his eyes, so he can explain it. "What would you do?"

"I mean, I gave you coins…"

DeStorm looks at his heavier coin bag, and then back up at Alex. "That half?" he tries to tease. Don't look like I kicked your damn dog, he thinks. Don't make me think you actually believed I was gonna take care of you.

"It's half." 

It's just business, kid. "You had it all figured out, huh?"

Alex doesn't look up at him, just nods. Doesn't even look like he believes it. They stand there for a tense, brief, silent second, as the people around them—the people who have always hated him, and never showed him any sort of kindness regardless of his intentions—all rub it in Alex's face. He's a snake, he's a villain, he's evil.

Alex's cheeks are shame-flushed, and DeStorm thinks, fuck it. "I'm just kidding," he says, taking Alex's empty bag and giving him his full one. "Here you go."

The kid's entire face lights up, the surprise pleasant and suspicious and so obnoxiously full of joy that it's almost better than the shocked gasps coming from the others and he turns their entire world upside down.

Almost. But not quite. It ain't about you, DeStorm thinks, trying to convincesomeone, anyone. I just can't stand it when people think I'm the bad guy.

Sounds convincing enough. In his head, anyway.

-

DeStorm ends up in the bottom two, with Tim, which sucks ‘cause Tim’s the homie and he wishes it didn’t have to be this way. Part of him regrets trading his whole ass bag of coins to Alex, but as he leaves with Tim he hears the Aviator telling the others he knows he’ll be back, agreeing with Gabbie— still on my side too, huh girl?— and despite himself, despite everything he knows, he can’t help but feel touched by the faith.

And when he comes back, Alex is beaming at him, that dumbass grin that seems guarded but isn't, can't be, because Alex is a moron who trusts way too damn easily and DeStorm is the fool who got sucked in just like everybody else did.

But damn if it don't feel right standing with him, facing the others, a unified front against their doubt and scorn.

So this is what having a friend is like.

-

Alex is an idiot, DeStorm thinks, very matter-of-fact, resisting the itch to take the bow from his young protégé and shooting the damn target himself.

Who’s gonna look out for this little fool? Certainly not him. 

He won’t do it.

He won’t.

-

"Tell me how to be evil," Alex implores, his tone serious, like he thinks that's what he wants, what he needs.

DeStorm stares at him. "I'm not evil," he says, again. "I just want to go home."

The kid gives him a long, searching look, and says nothing more.

-

He can't afford to care about anyone other than his own damn self and that's what he tells himself as he puts his gloved finger to Alex's face on the tarot card. It justifies it. The kid will have to learn eventually. He ain't built for this. It's better this way.

But of course it figures that he'd be starting opposite of his frenemy—emphasis on enemy— because as Tana put it, history loves to repeat itself. I won't let this lil punk get the best of me, DeStorm thinks fiercely as he stares him down from across the board. Alex's grin is as cheeky as it ever is, but the older man has started to learn that Alex smiles like if he stops he'll crumble. They're all different, his smiles, and they all have cracks in them, and this one is bitter but more than that it's sad.

Yeah, Alex can front all he wants, but he's seen that smile before. It's his go-to after Lauren died. The one that tried so hard to be okay it almost convinced itself it was.

I did that, DeStorm thinks, at the same time he scrutinizes the board and knows without a shadow of a doubt that he's going to win this.

DeStorm thinks of Tayvion. He thinks of the show he'd been in the middle of producing before all this mess happened. He wonders how long it's been since his death, whether people were missing him right now, if they knew he was fighting so hard to get back to them.

He thinks of the person he'd been before he'd been invited to a death game and the person he is now trying to survive it and knows with a sinking heart that they're not the same. Maybe they'll never be.

But Alex is the same. Alex is reckless, and stupid, and too kind to be hard. And he'll have to learn this lesson eventually. But it don't have to be from DeStorm.

Besides, DeStorm isn't a villain. He ain't. He refuses to let them think that any longer.

This night has been eye opening for him, really. He'd been quick to judge and not quick enough to back up his own confidence, but more than that, he'd made a frenemy out of someone who could've just been a friend.

He certainly don't need the kid's forgiveness, and he don't feel the need to atone for what he did.

But also…

"This is for Lauren," he says quietly, and for the first time in a long time the smile slips right off of Alex's face, giving him a stunned, shattered look as DeStorm does the stupidest thing he's ever done in his life, during and after. He breaks the goddamn rules. He takes a diagonal step. He takes a sword to the gut for his troubles.

Sorry, Tayvion, he thinks in a daze as Ro screams—bless that lil nugget, she'd always been kind to him. Looks like your pops ain't coming home after all.

He dies, again, eyes open, knowing that for once in his damn life, he did the right thing. And he can't seem to regret a single moment of it.