3C, that’s his new apartment.
He doesn’t have much in it; he’s suspicious of most things in here as is, all of them came with the place and he’d rather not think much of the life they led before him, not that he’s overly concerned over it, but the place makes him oddly uncomfortable, gives him a crawly feeling. It isn’t the ever present smell of mold and humidity presumably sponsored by the toilet pipes leaking all over the place, nor the black stain on the kitchen ceiling where his third rate landlord offhandedly explained some idiot had overdosed in the apartment above and then leaked through.
“Took us two months to realize the smell was more pungent that usual” the landlord laughed “Don’t go running your mouth with the hag that’s in 4C now. I changed the carpet, like new”
Gavin only scoffed at this, as if he would be talking with her or anyone at all.
But it isn’t her what makes him uneasy, It isn’t that she’s always stumping around, screaming at her children, slamming doors, throwing things; it isn’t the elderly man that spends his days speaking incoherently to his tv, or the music the sex worker down the hall plays all day and all the fucking night, but he guesses it’s better background noise than the alternative. She tried to speak to him once, he gave her no reason to try again. It isn’t the dealers that always swarm around the stairs like parasites just waiting for someone suitable to leech onto.
It isn’t the mouse droppings, or the size of the cockroaches that probably feasted on that mouse and his entire family either; he shouts at those motherfucking bastards as he tries to crush as many as he can, it makes no difference, the roaches slip indifferently through the cracks as they escape him but it makes him feel slightly better. The confident, loud sound of his own voice distracts him from that alien uncomfortable feeling.
It takes him a few days to realize the source of his discomfort is how much this reminds him of his late teens right after his parents kicked him out (and good riddance) but he only has to be here a few months at most, and then he’ll reap the reward, ideally in the form of a promotion. Fowler had hesitated on choosing him, his temper and not playing well with others has been keeping him from making sergeant, but if he showed Fowler he could actually behave undercover, that he wasn’t as much of a hothead as to blow that up, that promotion may be that much closer.
He looks down at his fake ID and repeats the information to himself again “Neil Newman, born November 17, 2002” at least he hadn’t been stuck with “Richard ‘Dick’ McCann“ like the tincan had, the corner of his mouth quirked at the memory, that was something, Gavin couldn’t have picked a better name himself.
“Who even makes these fucking things?” Gavin said when he showed it to Tina sitting at his kitchen table, just before he left for his new address
“I guess they pick something that’s easy to remember” She snatched the fake ID from his hand and laughed “At least you look the part!”
“Are you suggesting I look like a fucking hitman, Chen?” He replied acidly
“Oh! look!” she continued ignoring his question “Neil is a Scorpio! Now that does suit you so much better than Libra”
“Whatever the fuck that means” he replied snatching the ID back, placing it inside Neil’s wallet “Don’t spoil the inmates rotten while I’m gone. If you bring bread you have to put it in the kitchen drawer with the lock, the bastards learned how to open the cupboards, if you forget you’ll come back to all of them in a carb coma. There’s a few vet visits scheduled in the time I’m going to be away, I left a calendar on the fridge,”
“Don’t you worry about your absolute gremlins, they are in my expert hands, I’ll even show them your picture every day so they don’t forget you” Tina replied in her usual chirpy tone, but then she frowned and grew serious “Don’t do anything crazy,”
He gave her a look, but she continued before he could interrupt her
“I mean it Gav, remember undercover means under the radar” his conscience said obviously worried at how he’d do without her around, always pulling him back right before he crossed certain lines he shouldn’t, many of which he couldn’t even see.
Gavin remembered Tina’s words with as much guilt as he was capable of as he stood in the dirty apartment looking at his fake ID
Staying under the radar was going… arguably well. He showed up to the shady parking lots he had to, in the battered truck the department had gotten for Neil; old, rusty, inconspicuously runny shit brown. Whatever Neil was doing with the money he was making dispatching people under request it wasn’t cars or luxury living, but Gavin guessed if he were a real hitman living cheap and on the move would be the smart thing to do, it added credibility to the part he was playing.
So, that was going well, he wasn’t supposed to interact with people outside the shitbags the DPD was targeting more than absolutely necessary, and out of all that going undercover involved, that one point was the one he thought he’d have no problem with, after all he avoided most social interactions on the regular, It had taken at least 2 years for his real neighbors to know his name, in office parties he could get away with speaking a maximum of 10 words (7 out of 10, insults), this building was full of people that didn’t want outsiders nosing around their bullshit anyway, and yet, and yet… he didn’t seem to be able to shake that one junkie off.
The junkie wasn’t one of the dealers that lived in the building, he seemed to be homeless and living rough, when Gavin returned from his parking lot meetings with the scum of the earth, the junkie would be there sometimes, huddled near the fire escape stairs, or the dumpster, Gavin suspected he used the boiler room to sleep sometimes, but Gavin wasn’t a damn snitch.
At first Gavin registered him as he did everyone, trying to determine if he was in any way a threat, that’s how he categorized people, those who were threats and those who weren’t, other than that Gavin didn’t pay attention to anyone, except if he had to take them down a notch, and this junkie didn’t look like he had any lower to be taken down to.
If your name was Gavin Reed, or sometimes, (and Gavin had to remember this) Neil Newman, Ignoring people was easy, cats however were a different thing altogether.
After his parents kicked him out, and he’d had nothing and no one, he had found a cat or the cat found him, whichever. He was scrawny, vermin infested and bad tempered; but the cat didn’t seem to care, loyal little shit. They had kept each other company. Back then Gavin had used all his money on cat food, even when it meant he’d go without, he promised himself that if things got too bad he’d take the cat to a shelter. He looked around, trying to find a good one that would give the rascal a fair chance.
The one he found was ran by a middle aged lady, a 80’s goth that had stubbornly and gracefully hold on to it, societal expectations for a woman over 40 be damned, she wore stoles of faux fur even in summer, she reminded Gavin of a fruit bat, funny looking, alert.
When he ruefully explained to her why he had to leave his cat, she was thoughtful for a moment and then offered him the room at the back in exchange for doing the heavy lifting, luckily for him Maud didn’t believe in lost causes. Gavin scrubbed the cages, bathed dogs and cats so overrun with fleas and ticks you couldn’t even see their skin at first, he hauled bags of food and water bottles, and when the volunteers arrived in the summer –happy, stupid, naive kids his age with whom he had absolutely nothing in common – he growled and barked at them until all of them learnt to avoid him, with one exception.
The girl seemed to have an amount of energy that couldn’t be contained in her tiny body, bouncy, chirpy, all of that in Gavin’s experience equated fucking annoying. She talked to him without any of the hesitation or second guesses of the others, almost as if they already knew each other. One day she stood on tiptoe, and put a sticker on his chest.
“There! You have earned it!” She said “So, anyway, have you seen this one ticktock?”
Later when he looked in the mirror, he noticed the sticker still on his shirt. It was one of those red warning stickers Maud used to mark the cages of strays that had behavioral issues, the ones who could and would rip your face off if given the chance. For someone so fucking tiny, Chen had a lot of nerve, he could respect that.
After a few years Maud started to introduce him as her nephew, it made everything easier, she said, and he hadn’t fought her on it. He and Chen had gone on to the police academy, he still did the heavy lifting for Maud around the shelter on his days off, and his cat had gone with him all the way from the streets to their nice apartment 3 blocks away from the station. The little shit had passed away, as a comfortably fat, awfully self-satisfied elderly cat when Gavin was 30. Living without a cat had proven impossible, and since he fostered the ones that were too aggressive and antisocial and needed to be acclimated to society before they could be placed somewhere else.
One rainy evening a few weeks after Gavin, or rather “Neil, the hitman” had settled in his scummy apartment a cat had showed up too. It pawed at his window politely, and patiently waited for him to open it so she could get out of the rain. Gavin ignored her for all of 5 minutes, before he gave in and opened the window. The little cat only walked in as far as the windowsill, a small calico, her fur was matted and dirty, what should be white and gold was only a dusty, dirty grey. Despite her unkempt appearance, she sat on the windowsill and meowed daintily at him.
“What the hell do you want, I have nothing for you” Gavin told the cat irritably, “whoever was feeding you is not here anymore, though luck bud!”
The cat didn’t reply, she only looked at Gavin come and go around the apartment, as if saying ‘that’s okay, if you are busy now, I can wait, don’t mind me’ and if she could actually say it, she would do so in a squeaky, soft voice.
Naturally Gavin had had no other alternative but to walk down the street to the store to get cat food.
They had settled on their routine, the little cat seemed to be reluctant to go back outside and politely tolerated the musty environment; Gavin bathed her in the sink and worked through the tangles in her fur, cutting whatever he couldn’t deal with, the little cat wasn’t bothered by the water or the soap, or anything much really.
“What the hell is this” Gavin said taking one of the long pieces of what he’d thought was matted fur on the cat’s back, he squeezed it softly feeling the skin under the fur, the cat purred her little surprised purr, the kind cats did when they are asleep and you as much as brushed past them. He’d read about cats that were born with a mutation that gave them weird wing like appendages, he’d always wanted to see one.
“You are a funny little bastard,” Gavin told her as she dried her in the kitchen counter “You are too polite to be lumped in with the inmates but I won’t leave you in this dump” Gavin promised, he couldn’t wait to be out of Neil’s skin so he could go and give her to Maud. This cat looked like she’d make a good witch’s familiar for the old fruit bat.
It was soon after this that he arrived one night, tired and annoyed because some fucking piece of crap had hired him to kill his wife, it took all his self control not to lunge at the fucker, why couldn’t the asswipe just divorce her like a fucking normal person? He’d had the nerve of giving him a picture of her with her little kids so Gavin would recognize her, and her schedule so the hitman could pick a convenient time to do the deed, maybe somewhere between “pick up Luke from kindergarten” and “take Caroline to ballet class”. Gavin couldn’t wait to have that fucker at the station, couldn’t wait to see him shit his pants when he saw the “hitman” enter the interrogation room with a fucking shit ton of evidence.
He went up the stairs still fuming about it, he only vaguely registered how the dealers smirked tauntingly at him, he put it down to their general, well known stupidity until he saw the door to his apartment wide open.
When he walked inside, it was more than obvious the motherfuckers had ransacked the place, hadn’t even bothered to be fucking subtle about it. They had wasted their time, there wasn’t anything to find, he kept his gun with him at all times, and everything related to his “work” was hidden under the seats of his car. The few clothes he had with him and what little food there had been in the fridge was all strewn about, he was irritated but this was not near unexpected from that kind of lowlifes. He looked over the mess and his eyes found the cat’s little bowls broken, her food and water a mushy mess on the floor.
He searched for her everywhere, smelly bathroom, dank bedroom, roach cupboards. Nothing, if they had done anything to her he was going to skin them alive, and he didn’t need to hire someone else to do it like some fucking brainless coward, the windows were closed but maybe she’d ran out through the door, she was such a meek dummy–
“Jeez, they really made a number on this place”
Gavin turned around sharply at the sound of the unwelcome voice, only to see the homeless junkie looking around distractedly
“I’m going to fucking kill you, dipshit!” Gavin said in a low, dangerous growl “And then I’ll go break the rest of those shitheads necks, you fucking pricks should have stayed the fuck away” He strode towards the junkie, trying to remind himself he was supposed to keep his interactions with civilians to a minimum, he was supposed to be lowkey, and breaking the bones of random drug addicts because they had messed with his shit must be point A in the list of things he shouldn’t do.
“Hey! Just wait a fucking minute” the junkie said, holding on to his jacket weirdly and taking a step back, somehow tripping on himself and falling on his ass, “I wasn’t–” the junkie tried to scoot back, only finding the wall, this was going to be pitifully easy, but just then the little cat’s fluffy face peeked out from under the junkie’s jacket, unharmed and unruffled, looking at him amiably wondering what all the shouting could possibly be about.
“She’s okay, see?” the junkie said “I scooped her up, some of them are really like literal psychopaths, who knows what they’d do to her.” He continued taking the cat carefully out of his jacket “You shouldn’t leave her alone, maybe she’d do better in a shelter or something, she’s really cute and pretty interesting looking, someone would pick her up, right chick?” the junkie held her up to his face “Someone nice would pick you up“ the little cat headbutted him
“Chick?” Gavin asked, because he had no idea of what else to say
“You know,” The junkie shrugged, still sitting on the floor “like chicken”
“Chicken… wings” the junkie said with a wide, dorky grin flapping one of the cat’s small, useless wings softly
“Of course” Gavin scoffed, he considered his options “Want to make a quick buck?” he asked
“It depends” the junkie said, standing up unsteadily, sounding suddenly wary. He held the cat close to his chest, and gave a quick glance to the open door, as if calculating an escape route
Gavin walked away from him, looking around the mess in the room. He found a coffee stained piece of paper and awkwardly scribbled a few words on it leaning on the wall because there wasn’t anywhere else to do so, he folded the note and wrote an address.
“Take her here and give this to the older lady that looks like she’s ready to go to a Halloween party”
“That’s oddly specific,”
“Is that a yes or a no?”
“Yeah, sure, okay,” The junkie said perking up “you sure you want me to do it?”
Gavin looked at him for a moment, the junkie looked jittery and he avoided eye contact, pretending to look around or focusing on the cat. He was obviously using something, red-ice most likely, but he didn’t look bad enough not to be able to do a simple errand, the way he had stressed the word ‘me’ seemed like enough self awareness, the cat looked perfectly at ease being held by him, but again she was the meekest fool. Gavin decided to risk it, he would have flayed someone alive if anything had happened to the cat, and that would have helped no one, less of all the cat or his promotion.
“I’m sure I can’t do it myself” Gavin said, the kind of vague answer he despised, but the kind he’d been instructed to give when faced with civilians.
“Okay, sure,” The junkie agreed taking the folded piece of paper from him.
Two hours later, which Gavin spent talking himself out of going down the stairs and breaking some bones, there was a hesitant knock on his door. When he opened it there was the junkie, they both stood there for a minute
“Well?” Gavin spat, as if the junkie hadn’t been literally doing him a favor, he wasn’t used to talk to people any other way
“Uhm, yeah, It’s done” the junkie said shifting nervously, as if the task had been more sinister than cat delivery “Oh, I brought you this” he said handing Gavin a pamphlet for rabies prevention
“Uhm, I just wanted like proof that I had made it” The junkie said wringing his hands self consciously a few times before settling on hugging himself, “Not for the money or anything, just so you knew she was safe. They seemed really nice there. The really cool grandma asked me if the cat had a name, and I said it was chick, and she read your note, and I asked if they would put her down if nobody adopter her, and the cool gran said they wouldn’t, she said she was pretty sure she already had a home for her, I think she’s going to keep her, they looked cute together, like a witch and her cat, in, you know, a good way”
Gavin wondered if the junkie always talked this much, and there was something else, his note had said “Very sweet, bit dumb, for keeps” no signature, but he never did sign notes, and Maud would recognize his handwriting, she had complained about it for years. The junkie hadn’t read his note.
Gavin opened his wallet taking $30 bucks out of it, The junkie hesitated for a second and then snatched it from his hand in one quick, but nervous movement, like a raccoon.
“Thanks,” The junkie said self consciously, probably thinking they both knew what that money was going to dissolve into “oh and, uhm, I don’t think they’ll do it again, they are making fun of– I mean” the junkie wringed his hands again, obviously torn about he was about to say “Like if you need this money, for like food or– you know, you can have it back”
“We made a deal” Gavin said drily, before he could think better of it, it wasn’t his business what the junkie did with that money. He felt suddenly irritated “Now scat, I have had enough of your fucking lot for a life time”
“Oh, uhm, I’m not with them like,” The junkie tried to explain, as if it were relevant “I kinda know them but not really–“
“Your lot adjacent, whatever, like I give a fuck!” Gavin spat, firmly closing the door on him
“You are welcome” The junkie said through the door “… jerk!” he added with conviction after a pause.
That was the end of it, a bit of a slip brought by the little dumb cat, nothing that Fowler or anyone at the station would ever hear about, if only the junkie would stop… Gavin wasn’t sure what. That damn bastard was like quick sand, one slight interaction and now Gavin didn’t seem to be able to untangle from his messes.
It was funny how quick Gavin recognized the junkie’s voice, even when he was trying to trick himself into sleep, lying on his bed, his eyes closed, he focused on tuning out the dubstep coming from the floor below him, the whole building vibrated with it, and yet he heard him clearly.
“I just told you I don’t have the money yet!” the junkie’s voice drifted even through the closed window
Whatever, not his fucking problem, Gavin thought, turning on his bed and trying to ignore the annoying beat that seemed to come from inside his head instead of the apartments, trying to ignore the noise or lack thereof of drug addicts getting murdered because of petty drug debts, another drug deal gone wrong or whatever, nothing out of the ordinary, they saw 20 of those a day at the precinct…
“Fucking shit” Gavin groaned getting out of bed.
He’d messed up, really bad this time. He’d messed up and there was no going back. He couldn’t show his face at his dad’s again. He’d told those officers to shoot Markus, he’d put his dad literally on his death bed, that the old man had bounced back was like a legit miracle. Leo had promised he’d get his shit together, and he had tried, he thought he really had, but soon enough things had been too overwhelming again.
Things had been clearer before, his dad had picked the perfect machine over his very imperfect son, shocker, but picking a machine over a person was undoubtedly wrong.
Leo felt nothing when he told those officers to shoot Markus, his thoughts had been dulled by red-ice that was true enough, but also, you didn’t mourn a thing, an old car that had to be taken to the dump or a tablet that finally broke, you may be inconvenienced by their loss but material things were only that. Unlike the people or pets you loved, you could always buy another one exactly the same or even better; if you were Carl Manfred there wasn’t a thing you couldn’t immediately replace. Even under his red-ice tantrum, somewhere inside him Leo thought his dad could always get another, fuck he could get 10 or a 100 if he really wanted them.
Leo couldn’t look Markus in the eye now, his mismatched gaze always a reminder of what Leo had done to him, if the resentment he saw there was imaginary he wasn’t sure, he would deserve it in any case, and either way the guilt of pointing their guns at the android ate him up.
If Markus had been a person he’d be dead because of Leo, but Leo wouldn’t have done that if Markus had been a human, if Leo had known he was something living, at the moment he didn’t know, he didn’t think, but he couldn’t be completely sure, could he? He’d almost killed his dad too after all.
It was all so confusing, so they were alive like people, but they got to return from death as if nothing had happened. Humans didn’t get that type of second chances, his mum certainly hadn’t.
Leo was conflicted, not knowing if he was grateful or not for Markus surviving. He was selfishly glad because that made his sin seem smaller, forgivable, but that selfishness to it made his relief feel tainted and wrong.
His dad still doted on Markus, and Leo still felt jealous and displaced. Before the only thing Leo could claim to have over Markus was sentience, Leo was real, Markus wasn’t, it was pitiful but it was the one thing he had had.
Soon enough it was all too much for him, always so easily overwhelmed, seeing Markus with his dad literally changing the world made him feel small and so very stupid. Leo’s visits became shorter, the day he turned 29 he used red-ice again, he left his apartment that same day; his dad’s apartment, where his dad took care of all his bills and didn’t ask Leo to pay any sort of rent.
He went back to the people and places he had known before, nobody said anything, no one was surprised, everyone returned sooner or later. He didn’t want to go back to the Manfred apartment where everything only screamed at him about how much of a failure and waste of space he was, but he didn’t want to depend on others, that seemed dangerous, especially with people whose minds were just as hazy as his.
he searched for abandoned places where he could squat, some days other homeless people would arrive and then he’d quietly sneak away, he couldn’t fight them off, he wasn’t that delusional, and maybe they were friendly but maybe they weren’t and he wasn’t in the mood to take chances.
He ended sleeping under the bridge in the park, until it got colder and he had to move, he slept in alleyways, behind dumpsters or under fire escape stairs of shabby apartment buildings. He knew none of that would help him when the real Detroit winter arrived, but he couldn’t go back, he’d rather die than endure the air of disappointment and chagrin tolerance there was any time he saw his dad. Markus was loved, Leo was only tolerated, sort of, barely. It was better for everyone if he wasn’t around.
When he wasn’t high, he was hungry and frightened, and he was exhausted because he couldn’t let anyone notice how scared he was all the time. He got water refilling a plastic bottle from public toilet taps, he dug food out of the trash, anyway while he was high the quality of the food didn’t really matter. He’d gotten food poisoning like twice so far, he thought… and at least he’d been able to get red-ice for a while, not from dealers, whatever else they were, they were good businessmen that knew not to let go of the goods if their clientele didn’t have cash on hand, but he’d been able to convince another addict to give him some, he knew Leo always got money from his dad. But he was getting restless and all Leo had was a penny he’d found in the graveyard when he’d visited his mum, he thought if he held on to it, it may bring him luck.
Leo wouldn’t put a bet on him surviving the year, he’d die either by his own hand because he was at a dead end and he was too tired to search for a way out, or he’d be battered to death because he didn’t have the $700 bucks he owed, or he’d freeze to death. At least he wouldn’t overdose he didn’t even have enough red-ice left for that. He heard someone laughing as if they had heard what he was thinking and thought it was really funny, and after a moment he realized it was the sound of his own laugh.
He’d taken to huddle under the fire escape stairs of a block of apartments, sometimes he felt guilty; everyone living here had it so much harder than him, his dad had always given him all the money he wanted, why wasn’t that enough? He’d sent him to college, even though Leo hadn’t know what he wanted to do, he wasn’t the studious type – the Markus type – . He got a degree in english, just barely, hoping his dad would be pleased, but Leo had never found his place and the only moment he didn’t feel trapped or hopeless or anxious or alone or unhappy or angry was when he was high.
Most of the people in the apartments pretended he wasn’t there, he was lonely but for now he made do with just looking at people. The old man living in 3D wasn’t all there, he’d spoken to Leo exactly once to say “Arthur? Imagine finding you here, they told me you were dead… a pity you aren’t”
The sex worker in 3B was really kind, she’d offer him her leftovers when she had them, the dealers that seemed to own all the first and second floor looked only slightly older than him, Leo was street smart enough to know danger when he saw it; he kept his distance and they didn’t bother with him once they realized that although hooked he didn’t have any money to spend on their merchandise.
The ill tempered lady in 4C poured buckets of water on him if she caught him sleeping under the stairs, just as if he were a stray she wanted to chase away, Leo guessed he was just that in a way. The last time the water had been boiling hot, his arm still hurt from that, but his arm was always sore anyway from the blunt needle he kept using because he couldn’t replace it, red-ice lasted longer and the high was that much better if you injected it instead of letting it all go up in smoke.
The new guy in 3C had all the markings of someone it was better to leave alone. Leo had every single intention to do just that, no need to get in trouble, no need to put more people against him, he liked this particular alley, when it rained he could keep dry, half the days the door to the boiler room would be left open and he’d be able to catch a nap and warm up there, and the sandwich place just one block away threw food away without a single gram of conscience. His plan was to stay put until the winter (or other) finally killed him.
He tried to be invisible, not to get on the wrong side of the dealers or that new guy, they would be much more persuasive if they wanted him gone than the lady and her buckets of water.
“Still looking alive, lovely?” The question was accompanied by the tap tap of really high heels, and the rustle of a plastic bag
“Hey, Amber!” Leo said with a smile to the kind girl from 3B “You going out?”
“Think I better, I wanted to have some clients in the evening” She said stretching lazily, her pretty chestnut hair spilled out of the oversized hoodie she was wearing “but I better let that new guy in 3C have a breather, he looks like he’s about to snap”
“What’s up with him?” Leo asked curiously
“Who knows” she replied, sitting next to him deftly despite her short skirt, she always smelled like bubblegum, Leo preferred not to think what he smelled like to her, but she never betrayed any discomfort “I tried to introduce myself to him, only trying to be neighborly and he growled at me!”
“He actually growled?” Leo laughed
“It was a growl alright, right from his throat” she shivered “he spooks me”
“Maybe he’s like a werewolf or something” Leo joked
“Oh! I wish that was it” she stood up “Interested in some left over pizza?” she said outstretching the plastic bag towards him
Leo thanked her, but his thanks were drowned by loud shouts coming from 3C
“MOTHERFUCKING BASTARD I’M GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU! YOU AND YOUR FUCKING ENTIRE FAMILY, YOUR PARENTS, YOUR GRANDPARENTS, YOUR CHILDREN, YOUR CHILDREN’S CHILDREN EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU LIKE THE FUCKING VERMIN YOU ARE!”
“Yeah… okay…” Leo said softly
The girl made a little pensive sound “I’m going away for a while, rather not be right next door when that one loses it. Keep your wits about you, alright, lovely? He’s this close”
“No worries” Leo said waving goodbye to her as the sound of her high heels faded away.
He’d since kept an eye on the new guy, nobody knew his name, or what he did or where he’d come from, trying to start small talk with him was a waste of time, not that Leo even tried. All about him seemed to say keep away or I’ll make you fucking sorry. Leo kept away.
One rainy evening Leo looked up, his eyes drawn by unusual movement. He saw a little, puffy gray orb come down by the fire escape stairs, like a small piece of the rain clouds, Leo watched it jump down little by little.
But the little cat didn’t make it all the way down, it inexplicably stopped at the window of 3C, pawing at it. Leo considered if he should shout to it to scare it away, but maybe the new guy would just ignore it. Just as Leo thought that the window opened and the cat walked in. The new guy said something, but Leo couldn’t hear what it was, everything after that Leo saw like in a dream, he was high, true, and that was probably why mundane things seemed unbelievable, but to Leo it was incredible nonetheless.
The new guy went out, the little cat sat peacefully at his window watching the rain fall, as if patiently waiting for him to come back, his apartment looked quite homey all of the sudden with the cat sitting there. He returned only a few minutes later, with a bag of what looked to Leo like cat food.
A few days later, Leo saw the cat again, sitting at the window, not grey anymore but white and gold with bits of black, like ink splotched on gold flecked paper. Whenever Leo saw it he felt oddly giddy, like he had been trusted with a very nice secret, although he knew it was only by chance that he was privy to it.
But he wasn’t the only one keeping his eyes on the new guy, the dealers on the second floor had noticed him too because they couldn’t push him around, he wasn’t afraid of them, Leo had seen him scoff and smirk right at their faces, as if they were nothing more than a bunch of stupid kids.
There were advantages to people dismissing you, Leo was so inconsequential to them they forgot he was around, usually curled up in small places. That’s how Leo heard they were going to get into the guy’s place next time he was out, and his thoughts immediately went to the little cat.
The next day, as soon as he saw the guy drive away in his ugly truck, Leo climbed the fire escape stairs, the cat was sunbathing by the window as usual. Leo picked the crappy lock of the window as fast as he could, it wasn’t hard. The little cat didn’t seem alarmed, she watched him with quiet interest, even when he outstretched his arms to her she didn’t move away at all, she let him hold her just as if she were a plush toy. He placed her carefully in the inside pocket of his jacket and the little cat did nothing but chirrup.
Leo closed the window softly and rushed back down to his place below the stairs, the little cat warm against his chest
“You are pretty sweet, aren’t you?” Leo said to the cat “You’ll be spending the day with me until that guy arrives, alright? And look you have kinda like wings, are you a chicken in disguise?”
The little cat chirped a soft ‘maybe, she didn’t know for sure, but it could as well be so’ before she settled in for a nap, she didn’t look confused or alarmed – everything was so terribly interesting, one second you were in the sun and the next you were in a soft jacket, the wonders never ceased – soon enough Leo heard the sound of jarring laughter and loud painful crashes, he wondered if that was going to be what would make the new guy snap.
In the evening everything settled back to normal, the dealers were laughing and joking about how little that guy had, how it hadn’t been worth the effort, wondering if he did have a pet or he was just crazy and put water and food out for nothing, they talked about what they would have done to his pet if they had found it. Leo hugged the little cat protectively to himself while they laughed.
When the new guy arrived he looked even more dangerous than usual, wherever he’d gone it had made him angry, maybe the dealers caught on that as well, because for all their bravado, as soon as the light came on in the trashed apartment, all of them came out of the building like a pack of wolves. They walked down the street, laughing and joking loudly trying to trick themselves and each other into thinking they weren’t running away. It was five to one and yet they were afraid of the guy in 3C, and now Leo had to go there and explain he had stolen his cat.
Leo entered the building, walked up the creaky stairs and realized his legs were shaking, he wasn’t that afraid, he’d seen much worse, no matter how scary he looked he couldn’t be that bad, he focused on the warmth of the little cat still sleeping inside his jacket. There was no need to feel this anxious, maybe it was only withdrawal poking at him, he hadn’t taken anything since the day before, he didn’t want to be hazy, he needed to look after the cat properly.
Leo pushed the door to 3C expecting that to be enough noise for the new guy to realize he was there. The man didn’t react, he was too focused on searching for something. Leo thought he knew what it was, he stood by the doorway looking at the new guy opening one cupboard after another, looking genuinely worried.
“Jeez, they really did a number on this place” Leo said and mentally cursed himself immediately afterwards. Couldn’t he have said something better, something that didn’t make him sound like a total douchebag? Drugs bad.
Next thing he knew the guy was shouting something at him, and Leo was so panicked he couldn’t even really make it out, he fell but made sure his arms protected the little cat, he was worried the guy would kick him, but right in that moment everything froze, because the little cat’s head peeked out of his jacket.
“She’s okay, see?” Leo heard himself say, he ranted about the little cat, probably because he was nervous and red-ice always made his thoughts disorganized, and he called the cat chick for some reason and when the new guy acted puzzled, as well he should, Leo had spewed some nonsense about chicken wings like a goddamn moron, and suddenly, somehow he’d ended up in an errand, with a note and the cat and he found himself in front of a shelter that looked actually, awfully nice.
He walked in and immediately saw the lady he had been sent to find, working on her tablet at her desk in old timey clothes, her wool grey-black hair was put up in an intricate pompadour, from which some curly, fizzy strands escaped, it gave Leo the impression that she’d been just running in the Edwardian country side tending to her chickens, and the towns people would think her a witch, and she probably was, but one of the nicer ones. She looked up and smiled.
“Hello there, what can we do for you two?” She asked, smiling at both Leo and the little cat. “Oh my godness!” She said excitedly, noticing the wings “But aren’t you something! May I?” she asked politely
“Sure, of course” Leo said handing chick over, the grandmother cooed to the cat and chick chirped back. He looked around while the grandmother and chick talked. The place was well looked after, cozy and welcoming, chick would be safe here, for a moment Leo wished he were a cat so he could stay too.
“My nephew has always wanted to see one of these, he’s on a work trip or I would call him. You need to let me take a ton of pictures for him, he’s going to be so envious I got to hold her, “ The grandmother said giggling delightedly, “Sorry, I’m being rude. We can talk about pictures later” she let chick sit on her desk “First, how can I help you?”
“I-“ Leo hesitated, feeling very self conscious, wondering how he looked to this warm if eccentric grandmother “I was told to give this to you?” his voice went up involuntarily making his sentence a question as he put the note in her desk “and her too” Leo said giving a quick pet to the cat.
The grandmother put on her reading glasses and opened the stained piece of paper, still wet from the spilled coffee, Leo could see the ink starting to smudge, and he wanted to tell her the state of the note was not his fault. Leo could see there were only a few words in there, but she stared at it for longer than it took to read it, as if she where deciphering some sort of code in it.
“Well, isn’t this interesting” she said, looking from Leo to the note again, holding the paper to the light as if she still were trying to find a secret message, after which she folded it again and turned her attention back to him.
“So, she’s staying here” The grandma said, and she looked at him a bit differently, like he was part of the code she was trying to work out. “Please sit for a minute, dear. Honestly, my manners!” she opened the drawer of her desk and got a tin of cookies out of it, “Here, please” she said opening the tin in front of Leo.
“Uhm, thanks.” Leo said, sitting down feeling flustered. He looked at chick sitting on the desk, completely mesmerized by the virtual fish tank being projected on the wall –the wonders truly never ceased- “You won’t put her down, right?” Leo asked “like if nobody wants her”
The grandma grimaced “We don’t do that here, unless it’s for health reasons, everyone finds a forever home, and those who are too antisocial end up” she tripped on her words slightly “with my nephew” there was a thoughtful pause Leo didn’t understand
“Your nephew isn’t like, I mean, he doesn’t make like gloves and stuff with unwanted cats, right?”
The grandma laughed, the sound clear and sincere, it made Leo feel like she was genuinely enjoying their conversation.
“He only looks like it, but I assure you that is not the case” she started filling one of the forms, she put an X on the box next to ‘Adopted’ “I’m sure I already have a place for her, so don’t you worry, does she have a name?”
“Oh, uhm, I call her chick, but it’s not like her name, I just called her that, like by accident”
“Oh, accidental names are the best ones” she said, writing down CHICK in bold, clear letters, on the line next to ‘Name’
“Does he have a name?” Leo blurted out, because he was a fucking moron, obviously.
The grandma looked up from the form looking puzzled “Who do you mean, dear?”
“Uhm, the guy, the guy that wrote the note, like I mean, if he wrote a note I guessed you would know… him” Leo shrugged defeated
“He’s got you doing errands for him, and he didn’t even introduce himself?” the grandma said curiously, crossing her arms over the desk.
Leo shrugged again, making himself smaller in the chair, feeling like he did when he was called to the principal’s office in elementary school, caught. He wasn’t sure who was in trouble himself or the guy. The grandma smiled and tapped on the folded note distractedly.
“It’s my fault really, like, I pretty much should have asked him, I– I better go now” Leo said standing up hurriedly, almost twirling in place because he’d forgotten to say goodbye to chick, and once again after that “Oh, Can– Can I take one of these?” he said pointing to the pamphlets, he had no idea what they were about, he just wanted something from the shelter to show the guy he’d actually managed.
“Of course!” The grandmother said, looking amused, but she wasn’t laughing at him, it was something else, a nice private joke “You are welcome back whenever you want to visit her” she said sincerely
“Thanks so much, like, really” Leo said waving awkwardly before he went out.
When he returned to the new guy’s apartment, he said some nonsense about the cool grandma being a witch, and then he got the door shut right in his face well before he could ask the new guy for his name,
“… jerk!” Leo shouted uselessly at the door feeling weirdly put off and annoyed at himself for being so, what was he expecting? gratitude, a pat on the back, praise for doing a stupid errand? friendship? He’d gotten money, and wasn’t that familiar, like some cosmic joke.
Time passed him by, the new guy didn’t seem to notice him, or the dealers, or anyone else, just as usual. Leo tried to ignore him too, he had other things to worry about, the nights were really getting colder. He curled up trying to ignore the bite of the cold, he wondered if freezing to death would hurt, he’d read it didn’t, that at the very end you only felt comfortable and warm, and if so he could be sure he wasn’t dying yet.
If the cold hadn’t been distracting him he may have noticed the steps, or the alcohol and sweat smell (or maybe he wouldn’t, too similar to what to he must smell like now) his first warning was a firm, painful grasp on his shoulder as he was brusquely pulled off the ground.
“Finally found you, little shit!” Todd spat at his face “Where’s my fucking money?”
“I just told you I don’t have the money yet!” Leo hissed as harshly as he could, trying to wriggle out of his grasp
“Just?” Flecks of spit rained on Leo freely as Todd spoke “That was a month ago, time’s up, dumb fuck!”
Todd pinned him against the wall by his neck. Leo gasped for air feeling his throat being crushed, he could hear the wall grinding against his skull, dully thinking it really hurt. Todd was someone who liked to see others broken and in pain, he enjoyed seeing fear, Leo wasn’t going to give him that.
“fuck… off” Leo said, but it came out in a strangled squeak and it only made Todd squeeze harder. Leo tried to stare at him, to look fearless, but he felt tears start prickling his eyes and the edges of his vision started fading to black.
For one panicked moment Leo felt Todd’s free hand slither inside his pants pocket, he knew he looked afraid then. Todd laughed at his face.
“Don’t get hard, dumb fuck” Todd said dismissively “You are nothing to look at” Todd went from one pocket to another finding the $5 that were left from what the new guy had given him, throwing his graveyard penny to the ground. He took longer checking his pockets than he needed to only because it caused Leo obvious distress.
“Take your hands off him right this second or I fucking swear I’ll blow your balls off” said a calm voice Leo thought he recognized but couldn’t quite place, it sounded very far away
Under the red-ice haze Todd didn’t have a good grasp of his chances against a fire arm, and a man that was younger and much fitter than himself.
“This is not your fucking problem,” Todd slurred far too confidently
Leo heard a pop, like a firecracker, it took him a moment to realize it was a gunshot.
“You deaf, lardass?” The man growled “I said hands off!”
Todd let go then, Leo fell to the ground gasping for air, instinctively skidding between the dumpster and the wall, he didn’t trust his legs to actually support his weight, it was the best he could manage but he hoped it would be enough, that Todd would think getting him out of there too much trouble now that he knew he had nothing more than the fiver, and that the man with the gun wasn’t after him,
“What do you care?” Todd argued with the man because red-ice made you stupid “this lowlife owes me”
“Your fucking noise doesn’t let me fucking sleep” the man said drily
“Well then I’ll take this somewhere else,” Todd sounded relieved and also weirdly conversational, like they were neighbors working out a noise complaint “no need to make a fuss”
“How much?” The man said,
“How much does he owe you?” the man added not letting Todd reply
“Sev– that is, nine hundred” He lied,
Leo tried to talk, to say it was only seven hundred, but no words came out
The man scoffed opening his wallet, throwing a few bills at the ground like they were dirty toilet paper, Todd hurried to retrieve them
“Here, have a fucking tip, If I see you around here again I’ll blow your head off”
Todd started to count them
“No time for that, lardass!” The man shouted nastily, his voice harsh and commanding almost like a cop’s “you better scurry away before I change my mind”
Todd spat towards the dumpster but didn’t turn his back on the man until he was a few feet away. When Todd was gone, Leo could see the man’s boots approach his hiding place, he held his breath and prepared to fight, although his legs weren’t cooperating at all yet.
“Yo dipshit, you coming out?” the man said
Leo looked up, finally recognizing the man with the gun as the new guy, the nameless jerk who was kind to cats.
“May–“ ‘Maybe later’ he wanted to say but his throat complained at the effort and he coughed until his lungs and his throat burned, the man didn’t say anything
“It was only seven” Leo finally croaked
“Seven hundred” Leo said feeling worried about this new debt “I don’t have money to pay you back”
“Wouldn’t have fucking guessed”
“So, what do you want?” Leo asked anxiously “ like in return, you must want something, right?”
The man sighed, he sounded exasperated “I want the police far away not a full squad sniffing around because there was a murder in the back alley, the pigs come, they find our friends on the second floor with their chemistry sets, everything becomes more and more of a fucking mess” Gavin would be relocated, or even taken off the assignment, because police activity near your hitman of choice made asswipes nervous and suspicious.
“Oh.” Leo’s eyes opened wide in sudden understanding, of course someone as shady as him wouldn’t want the police around especially when he had just moved in, he was probably already trying to hide away from something “Yeah, pretty much everyone here would be upset about that”
“And yet, nobody has thrown you a flea infested blanket”
“There aren’t many forward thinking people in this place,” Leo agreed,
The man stood up “Don’t freeze to death, dumbass, it won’t do if they have to come thaw your corpse off the fucking dumpster”
“Jeez, I’ll try to die where it won’t inconvenience you” Leo replied “Jerk!” he added, sounding much more like himself, even though he was starting to shake.
“You fucking better, dumbass” The new guy replied walking back into the building.
Leo curled up, still shaking, and had to hold himself back from calling after him to ask if he could stay for another minute.
Leo walked up to the porch of what could have been a nice, white picket fence house if whoever lived in it cared to make it so. He knocked on the door, immediately taking a few steps back to what seemed like a safe distance, what he was doing was completely idiotic but having brains was something he had never been accused of.
“What do we have here,” Todd said when he opened the door “didn’t think I’d smell your stench for a while, or maybe you liked it and came to get more” he said gesturing towards the bruises still fresh and painful on Leo’s neck.
Leo forced himself not to raise his hand to cover them “You owe me, scumbag!” He hissed as harshly as he could instead
“I don’t think so moron”
“You lied,” Leo continued, ignoring him, he’d rehearsed this “that’s as well as stealing from him–”
“Aww, are you going to tell on me” Todd mocked “are you going to go crying to your new daddy, I’m not afraid of that mangy dog”
“It didn’t look like it” Leo mocked back “Sorry, sir. I’ll take this somewhere else, sir. So sorry for the fuss, sir”
“You are really asking for it!” Todd lunged at him unsteadily, and Leo stepped back into the yard, it was noon, the sun high in the sky oppressing the moody people waiting for the bus at the stop, Leo had made sure to wait until there were enough witnesses
“What’s the matter, aren’t you coming to get me!” Leo pushed his luck, if he failed he’d be brutally murdered, if he succeeded he’d get red-ice. The benefits obviously outweighed the risks.
Todd scoffed dismissively, but he threw a red-ice baggy near Leo’s feet. Leo stepped on it but didn’t retrieve it, he wasn’t stupid enough to take his eyes off of Todd
“Show your skanky ass around here again and I’m going to take my sweet time with you,” Todd threatened, and Leo knew it wasn’t all empty threats with him “I’m going to cut you in tiny little pieces and nobody is ever going to find you” Todd scoffed again “Not that anyone would ever care to look, fucking retard” Todd said walking back into his house. Leo tried not to jump when Todd slammed the door shut, and only then he picked up the red-ice, getting away from that house as fast as he could.
That hadn’t been too bad, and he’d gotten enough to last him at least another month, maybe a bit more if he paced himself.
He got back to the apartments, noticing the new guy’s ugly truck parked sloppily and it wasn’t in his usual spot either, that guy liked to park nearer the building, someone else had had that spot before but nobody dared to come out and say it, not so far at least.
Leo used some of the red-ice he’d just gotten, there was certain ritual to it and that never failed to make him calmer, even before the ice ran through him, but in his stoned haze it was so easy to read an ominous meaning into the most stupid things. It was too early for that guy to be in. He went out before the sun came up, every single day, even weekends, and he never got back before it got dark, as if he wanted to spend as little time inside as possible, or maybe he worked very long hours, impossible to tell, and it wasn’t like Leo was stalking him or anything, there was just not much else to pay attention to in here, it wasn’t like he didn’t know everyone else’s schedule just as well...
So, anyway, maybe he’d just gone for a walk, this wasn’t a very good neighborhood for that, but that guy didn’t look like someone who’d ever worry or even think about things like that, or maybe he was dying in his apartment, maybe someone had put a hit on him because of the stupid parking spot, people got so territorial over the most stupid crap, Leo would know, or the dealers in the second floor had gotten him while he slept, or he’d slipped in the shower, or he’d had a heart attack, was that guy even old enough to have a heart attack, Leo had heard of really young people dying of surprise aneurysms....
This was a fucking great time to get fucking sick, the fucking best, he couldn’t even remember the last time he’d been sick. When he’d been small and brainless enough to think he’d be comforted because he felt bad, he’d learned sickness only left you open to attack. He didn’t get sick, but if he ever did he’d power through it, not like some of those fucking pussies that asked for sick leave because they as much as sneezed. He didn’t get sick, Gavin repeated to himself, he was trying to go on with his routine as usual. He’d met with some scumbag who wanted his business partner out of the way, scumbag had shaken his hand and, oh so casually, told him he’d call later to confirm the deal, what. the. fuck. After that he could drive wherever, and he was going to (gas was on the department after all) sickness was for fucking… weak… puny...
He sneezed, his brain may be leaking out of his nose, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck” he said aloud as he drove back to that fucking dump.
He parked his truck, surprised nobody had pulled him over after he’d driven most of the way guessing the road, which only meant someone wasn’t doing their fucking job. He climbed out of the car, throwing up immediately afterwards, once everything stopped spinning he re-parked away from his puke, no one had to know. Gavin’s head throbbed with every step he took up the stairs, and once in his shithole apartment he crashed on the very thin, very questionable mattress, he could feel every single spring stabbing at him. Great, all he needed now was getting tetanus from the fucking–
He didn’t know when he fell asleep, but when he woke up he felt even worse, he finally managed to take off his boots, his everything hurt almost like that time he had crashed his bike, and the mattress was mustier than usual because the fucking sun was making the room uncomfortably warm and too bright, fucking smellier, he made sure never to be around for this.
His mouth was parched, and it tasted like snot, he couldn’t breathe, sipping water out of the glass next to his bed only made his throat feel worse, he thought he saw stuff floating in the surface of it and his sweaty hands left greasy fingerprints all over it, whatever. He only had half a roll of really thin yet incredibly coarse toilet paper left for his overabundance of buggers, the way his nose felt he might as well be sandpapering it.
Gavin vaguely wondered if he could have rabies. That pamphlet had been something else, Maud had gone all out with it, cold symptoms were the first thing that let you know you were doomed.
The next time he came to, he felt just as fucking bad, he opened his eyes with some effort because of the dried up mucus all around them, as if he were some fucking old, prune assed, geriatric–
“What in the fucking hell!” Gavin shouted sitting up, catching on the figure standing by the bed, thinking he was finally losing it, or someone with a grudge had finally gotten him right in his one moment of weakness, he tried to focus on the figure, the list of people who may want to murder him when he was choking on his own… nose… diarrhea was far too long to make an accurate guess.
“Uhm,” The junkie started awkwardly, Gavin recognized his voice before he could actually see him “You haven’t been out in two days,” The junkie said “You are always out. So, I thought maybe they had stabbed you or something, thought I’d check“
“I’m not rotting yet… fucking…circling… vultures!”
“Do you really think–“ Gavin continued not even knowing what route to pick “How is any of that your fucking– If anyone tried that shit with me they would be the ones with a knife stuck in their throats, I’m not a fucking wuss!” Really nothing sounded intimidating or that convincing with that annoying, nose full of snot voice “How the fuck did you even get in here?”
“The window…” the junkie replied “those locks are really super crappy”
“Fucks sake, steal whatever, go the fuck away” Gavin said leaning his head back into the wall, trying to breathe, catching the junkie’s wrist just before he touched his forehead, at least his reflexes weren’t gone yet “What the hell are you doing, don’t fucking touch me!”
“I just wanted to check if you have a fever,” The junkie explained taking his hand away “you look really si–“
“I’m. Not. Fucking. Sick!” Gavin spat, every word weaker and raspier than the one before it
“Okay, if you say so,” The junkie said, Gavin thought he saw him rolling his eyes but he wasn’t sure “You just look, kinda… yikes…”
Gavin tried to glare him down without any effect
“Do you need anything?” The junkie added awkwardly “Like… do you want me to change that water? That glass looks so gross”
“None of this is your fucking business” Gavin tried to growl, but it only made him nauseous. He lay back in his bed closing his eyes; the brightness in the room made everything worse “Water is too hard, fucks up my throat” he added, he knew it didn’t make sense but he’d thought it and then he was spitting it out because rabies made you lose your mind
“You don’t have like, rabies, right?” The junkie said, so helpful “I read that pamphlet thing, the one I brought you, it was actually pretty freaky and terrifying. I didn’t even know you could get rabies from pretty much just a scratch, I always thought it was transmitted by the spit so only by like bites, but I guess many animals do lick their paws right, is that it?. I keep thinking about it, like, just a scratch? I may not even realize I was scratched, or that the thing that scratched me had rabies, you know”
Gavin groaned, placing one of his ratty pillows, not really that different from the ones he had at home, over his head.
“Hey, seriously, do you need me to call an ambulance?” the junkie keep on with the noise torture, “Or I could drive you to the ER because ambulances? That shit’s expensive, but I would have to take you in your truck, because I don’t have a car, obviously. The thing is, if you are already in the hydrophobia stage, you are sort of going to die, but like, they’ll probably dope you up and shit so it’s not… too bad… so maybe I could call you the ambulance after all, since the hospital fees won’t be your problem, so that’s something, right?”
Gavin sat up, pointedly reaching for and finishing off the gross, stale, bugger flavored water with unidentified particles
“No fucking rabies, no fucking ambulance” Gavin spat
“Ew! fuck dude!” The junkie scrunched his nose “you didn’t have to drink that, gross!”
“Hey, If water is nasty, I can bring you something el–”
“Fucks sake!” Gavin said taking a bill out of his pocket “Take this and go! Jesus fuck!” Couldn’t a man die from perhaps not-rabies in fucking peace?
The junkie took the bill and left, presumably by the window, presumably to spend it on red-ice. Gavin would have to see to that later, both the window and the junkie, once he was on his feet and he could actually speak without sounding like a goddamn muppet, he’d have to tell the junkie in no uncertain terms to fuck off, he wouldn’t be getting any more money from him. It had been a bad idea to give him cash once, even a worse idea to pay off his debt, and it had been completely fucking brainless to give him that bill now, how much had he given him anyway.
Just as he was finally being dragged into another feverish sleep, Gavin heard it, faintly but he did hear it this time, the soft tump of the window opening and closing; then other, far more alarming sounds, cupboard doors, drawers, cutlery he didn’t think he had, the fridge opening and then beeping because it had been left open too long, with a sound that pierced right through his right eyeball into his mushed brain, the far more alarming click clack of the gas stove that you had to light up with that shabby gas lighter, fucking fire hazard. He didn’t have the energy to care about any of it. The door to the room opened again after a while and he forced himself to open his eyes.
“Here, umh…” the junkie faltered as if unsure of what to say, offering him a steaming mug
“What’s this shit?”
“Some tea with honey, lemon… stuff“
“What exactly is the ‘stuff’” Gavin asked suspiciously
“Just cinnamon and ginger” the junkie shrugged “I’m not trying to finish you off, it’s for your throat, it’ll make it feel kinda better, my mum used to make it for me– I’ll just put it here, you can drink it later, like, if you want” he placed the mug on the night stand “but it’d be better if you drank it while it’s hot. I also brought you some other stuff”
The junkie had bought the entire pharmacy, aspirin, weird effervescent vitamin c tablets, cold packs, a thermometer and Gavin was damned if he was going to put that in his mouth, disgusting sport drinks “to, like, keep you hydrated” the junkie said, ridiculous menthol tissues…
“…Extra strength tylenol, think that’ll be enough for your cold ” the junkie went on “and some sick food, you know, I got a bit of everything because I didn’t know what you like, some rice crackers, toast, and jello–”
“That shit is like eating fucking cold slugs”
“Alright, no jello then, how about pudding?”
“That crap is 90% sugar”
“That’s what makes it comfort food, dum-dum, you want it or not?”
“Whatever!” Gavin snatched it out from the junkie’s hands
“I also brought you some actual oranges, you do look like you’d be a bit of a health nut”
“Thanks for bringing me the messier fruit known to man, I feel bad enough without sticky shit all over my fucking–”
“You are such a pain in the ass,” the junkie interrupted him “I’ll cut them up for you and you’ll eat them with a fork, obviously, just give me a second, jeez!”
The junkie went out of the room and came back with another mug filled with orange slices, and a fork, just as advertised. Gavin wondered if all of this was a fever dream after all, if so, it was unlike any fever dream he’d expect to have
“See? Easy.” The junkie said “I couldn’t find any bowls, though”
“I don’t have any” Gavin only had mugs for coffee, the bastards had broken his coffee maker, but he still could make coffee on the stove, dump some instant oatmeal and milk there for breakfast, just like old times “So, what do you want?” Gavin said after taking a sip from the tea, which however suspicious, tasted fine and it did soothe his throat “You said, no favors without strings attached, yeah? So what is it going to be?”
“I don’t– You helped–“ The junkie stammered “well… actually”
“Out with it!” Gavin barked, he didn’t have the fucking patience
“Could I maybe, like, use your shower, I’ll be real quick”
“Are you fucking serious right now?” Gavin frowned “You just broke into my apartment, walked into my room, used the fucking fridge, and who knows what else out there without asking, the fucking stove! that mess is one gas leak away from sending us all up in a fucking ball of fire”
“I mean that was like– and I haven’t had a shower in–”
“I don’t need to hear the grisly details; I can smell you even with all this shit up my–” Gavin almost sighed, “Fine, whatever, don’t get too excited, I have seen prisons with better water pressure, and there’s no hot water–”
“You’ve been to prison?” The junkie perked up with obvious interest
“The shower is gone if you stay here hammering into my headache another fucking second”
“Right! I won’t be a minute” The junkie said going out of the room, just to peek in again immediately after
“What the fuck is it now?” Gavin tried to spat only half managing
“Could I borrow some clothes?” The junkie hesitated “So I can take mine to the coin laundry?”
“Whatever,” Gavin gestured towards his drawers “but be fucking quiet,”
The junkie went through his few clothes with what seemed like far too much judgment from someone in his position, and then, finally, went away.
Once alone, Gavin took a tylenol with the tea, he opened one of the cold packs and lay back on the stinky bed and its suspected bed bug colonies, but his headache did lift slightly as soon as he put the cold pack on his forehead, he would have never thought of buying that, or any of this crap, certainly not fucking menthol tissues, he didn’t even own a thermometer back home, but he guessed he did now.
When the junkie came back, very quietly, obviously thinking Gavin was asleep, Gavin watched him through half closed eyes, he was wearing the selected hoodie and jeans which were big on him, his hair was still dripping and the black circles under his eyes looked darker, but he had the air of a college kid on his gap year, superfluous, careless, even upbeat, as if something as stupid as a shower had really cheered him up, never more ill fitted to lead the life of a homeless addict, the bruises around his neck looked starker even when the hoodie hid more of his neck than the jumper and jacket he usually wore.
The junkie walked up to his bed, Gavin expected him to check his drawers for cash, some street rat shit, but he only took the gross glass away and brought back a clean one, with what looked like lemonade, the kind you made yourself squeezing real lemons, not that liquid diabetes soft drink shit, he even refilled his mug with tea before he went away, and later, once Gavin could walk around the apartment without the floor spinning, he found his hoodie and jeans, washed, placed on the windowsill.
Gavin survived for one or two days on toast and pudding and as soon as his brain stopped coming out of his nose, he went out, he took a deep breath of the cold, polluted air, much better than the alternative. He walked for a few minutes, just to stretch, he was about to go back to the parking lot, get his truck to drive around wherever, when he saw the junkie at the bus stop, not really waiting for a bus, but looking at the missing people flyers; Gavin vaguely wondered if he was searching for any particular face on those.
“Yo” He called out from a distance,
“Hey! You survived,” The junkie said, as if actually glad to see him alive “That was like a pretty nasty cold, shouldn’t you rest more”
“What the fuck are you talking about? I was never sick.” Gavin corrected “If I stay in that shithole another day I won’t get rid of that fucking smell” he said sniffing at his arms “Fuck, I stink like that shit”
The junkie actually laughed “Seriously, you’ll probably have to burn everything you own to get rid of it”
“I don’t want to fucking talk about it.” Gavin said, unsure of how to continue. He knew what he was about to do could be categorized as ‘nice’ and therefore it took quite an effort, it was awkward “Listen, use the shit pressure shower, whenever, just do it when I’m not there so you aren’t a fucking nuisance”
“For real?” the junkie replied, so sincerely excited over something so small
“Knock yourself out” Gavin said, “but don’t use all the fucking soap, you used more than half a bottle”
“Could you get a nicer one?” The junkie asked, uncontrite “The one you have smells like super cheap detergent,” he complained, “and maybe a bottle of shampoo? How can you use the same liquid soap for like, your body and your hair” the nerve.
“No fucking way!” Gavin replied walking away “Beggars can’t be choosers, dumbass!”
Leo saw the guy, - still nameless - walk away. That had been a good distraction, and the prospect of having access to a shower anytime he wanted cheered him up, out of all the things that he missed about his comfortable apartment, even when he was at the bottom of the red ice haze, showers were number one.
It was a few days before he actually took the offer, he didn’t want to look desperate.
It felt kinda different entering by the window when he was actually allowed. The hoodie and jeans were exactly where he had left them, that guy didn’t seem to care much about this place or the few things he had in it, he had the life style of people who where there one day and gone the next. Soon, he’d take his truck and wouldn’t come back, he’d leave all his clothes and his chipped mugs behind, probably a murder victim stashed somewhere… and Leo wouldn’t have a shower anymore…
He shouldn’t have wasted all those days he could have been using it, but he’d think about that later, when it happened, just like he’d think about what to do when he ran out of red-ice when that happened, today he had a place to be.
He showered, only noticing he had used way too much soap again once he was done, he was about to leave when he saw those clothes by the window, the jeans were too big and uncomfortable, but maybe he could borrow the hoodie a second time, it covered more of his neck, and as a bonus the front pocket could easily conceal the spray paint can he had taken from the boiler room. He took his jacket off and put on the hoodie over his jumper instead.
It took him a while to get where he wanted to go, he couldn’t stupidly spend the little money he had on things like public transport. He walked up to the gallery, actually going in, that hadn’t been his original plan, but it was possible with his current, actually borderline presentable appearance, crunchy hair from cheap soap and strong detergent smell notwithstanding, nobody paid attention to him, and not in the way they had done in the pharmacy or the supermarket where they only pretended not to notice him.
He looked at his Dad and Markus’ work, under the same surname, Leo’s surname, why couldn’t Markus just pick something else? Wasn’t he technically more of, like, a Kamski?. Leo didn’t really understand much about art, Markus pieces looked similar enough to his dad’s that you could tell they were inspired by him, but they were original enough not to be only copies of Carl Manfred’s style, it was really all the same to Leo anyway.
After 15 minutes he’d seen enough, he went out and waited, and waited, and waited, the gallery closed, the last buses went by, and eventually all the noise left was the buzz of the street lights, some were motion activated and only turned on when you walked by them, Leo felt he was in the middle of a creepy horror movie and wasn’t really sure what part he was playing in it.
He stood still for a long time, doing nothing, just looking at the pictures of Markus and his dad side by side “as always” Leo said aloud, only because the silence was starting to really spook him out, but he said it really quietly because the sound of his voice in the silence spooked him too.
Leo jumped, startled. Thinking to himself he hadn’t done anything (yet) or at least nothing they could prove… if they didn’t check his pockets full of illegal substances, that is, but otherwise he had the right to just stand in the street (however creepily). When he turned ready to start a hopeless and more likely incoherent argument, he saw it was only the new guy walking up the street, just like a hallucination, red-ice didn’t make you see things, at least in never had in all the time he had been using it.
“You scared me, Jerk!” Leo admitted, hoping he wasn’t talking to the empty street, “What the hell, are you like stalking me now?”
“Hard not to notice you when you are just standing there like a fucking scarecro– is that my fucking hoodie?”
“Oh, yeah, I borrowed it again” Leo said, rubbing his neck self-consciously, flinching because it still hurt “higher collar than my own stuff, you know”
“Keep it, whatever” The new guy said “So, the fuck are you doing?” he said, in the tone of someone who knew he’d regret asking
“You like this crap?” the guy said gesturing towards the gallery
They stood there in silence for a while, looking at the big hologram screens advertising the Manfred Human/Android exhibition before the new guy talked again
“Is this some fucked up stonner episode?”
“I’m not that high…” Leo replied “… right now…”, He held the spray paint can still hidden inside the front pocket of the hoodie, thinking he hadn’t even tried it to see if it worked, some of those cans were probably older than he was, just like him to come this far for nothing “Do you like this crap?” he asked back
“Hell, no” The guy scoffed “Would rather eat glass than come to one of these things, would rather pepper spray my own eyes, wait, I would rather cut my own eyeballs out and eat them than...”
“Ew! I get it!” Leo said “Isn’t it time for you to leave then?”
“For what?” theguy smirked “so you can pull of some art theft heist without witnesses? Who is going to buy this crap from you, have you thought that far, dumbass? Where the fuck are you going to store it, people in your circles are as big on art as we are, don’t think anyone who’d pay for that bullshit will take it with mildew and shit on it”
“You seem awfully interested in this”
theguy shrugged “Good entertainment is hard to come by and you are like a sinkhole in the middle of a main road, you just want to keep looking to see exactly how much of a fucking mess it’s gonna make”
“jeez! Like, get a tv or something”
theguy glanced at him “You are not really going to try to break in there, tell me you aren’t that stupid, those windows aren’t like my shitty ones”
Leo shrugged “That was the idea, but it wasn’t stealing what I had in mind” He said taking the spray paint can out of his pocket
The guy frowned “So this is some sort of anti-android demonstration”
“No!” Leo shook his head “I mean, I don’t mind them in general, it’s just this particular one”
“Isn’t this the one that started the whole fucking mess”
Leo shrugged “Yeah, but it’s not about that, I just –“ Leo hesitated, he knew it was pathetic and petty, but saying it aloud made it even more obvious “That’s my dad, you know”
“No shit!” the guy said, and then smirked “so silver spoons and all that crap, no wonder you have the fucking nerve to complain about my soap”
“Hey! My mum raised me by herself and we were a strictly stainless steel household, alright” Leo argued “my dad wasn’t really interested, you know, he sent money and he let mum put his name on my birth certificate but no matter how much I asked him to come to my birthday or whatever, stupid crap like that, he never showed up, not even when mum died, and I think I really needed him back then, but– it’s just stupid, I should have been happy just with the money, right? . And then he gets this android and he is all paternal and shit over a fucking thing, like, why? What was so wrong with me? Maybe he just knew I was worthless, maybe he could see it, just like he could see Markus was something else” Leo felt stupid tears pooling in his eyes,
“and I killed him, you know, not my dad, although I almost did that too, like I was actually trying to steal some paintings that time and they called the police on me, but they shoot him because I told them too, humans’ word over and androids’ and all that, it was before the revolution thing, and my dad had a heart attack, and then Markus came back like a resurrection, I guess, that’ll give fooder to the nutbags that want to make him Jesus or something.”
Leo stopped for a second, but if he had already come this far he could as well let it all out “and like I am happy he didn’t’ die, but I’m not at the same time and it makes me feel like shit and my dad wants us to be some sort of hybrid happy family and it was just weird and stupid, and it really doesn’t matter because I always screw it all up, and there they are having this stupid exhibition together, and I’m really pissed off about it, but it’s just because I’m an useless, worhtless–”
Leo, absorbed as he was by his monologue, noticed the guy taking the paint can from his hands, assuming he was taking a potential weapon from an emotionally unstable idiot, but then the guy put the hood of his jacket over his head, placed his scarf high on his face, and walked up to the gallery entrance shaking the spray paint can
“What the fuck are you doing?” Leo whispered harshly, looking right and left in the empty street feeling giddy and scared at the same time,
“Stay right where you are so the cameras can’t see you, dumbass!” the guy said “You really didn’t think this through” he looked around and then he started spray painting all over the concrete steps and the entrance to the gallery, even on the windows.
“Dicks?! Are you for fucking real!” Leo shouted at him
“It’s the only shit I can draw” he replied “Nothing says aimless vandalism like some random dick pics… Wait, I will try to draw a middle finger”
“That still looks like a dick” Leo laughed, thoroughly amused, the guy was obviously aiming for realism and variety, the dicks multiplied and the street lights made the electric blue paint look like–
“Shit, shit, shit!” Leo said “It’s blue!”
“So? It’s bright enough,” the guy said unconcerned “people will see it from planes and shit”
“Their, like, liquid blood thing is blue!” Leo said alarmed
The guy glanced at his work “hmm,” a noncommittal sound, a nod “yeah, I see it”
“Is there a way to get rid of it?”
“Sure! We can just hose this shit down right away” the guy said
“This is a very uncool time for your sarcasm, asshole!”
“Why did you fucking pick blue then, genius?!”
“I didn’t know it was blue, I just picked it at random, now it’s sort of like a legit hate crime! Can’t you write something to, I don’t know, clarify”
“Fucks sake!, what do you want me to write? ‘Not a hate crime only daddy issues’”
Leo nodded “Yeah, sure,”
“You aren’t fucking serious”
“I’ll do it myself then!” Leo said taking a step forward
“Don’t move!” The guy shouted “Remember the cameras, dumbass!, fucking–“ he hesitated for a minute, then he made an exasperated sound as he started to write
“That h looks kinda like a c” Leo said
“Are you seriously criticizing– Sorry my calligraphy is not up to par, your highness! The fucking can you so carefully selected is running out of blood juice”
Leo was about to ask if he was always this crabby when he saw the front of a car show up at the corner of the street “car!.... patrol!...” Leo warned, he hadn’t actually seen it was a patrol but maybe he had a six sense for it because it actually was.
“Shit!” the guy said running towards him, but instead of escaping along the street the way Leo would have done it, where surely the pigs would have seen them, the guy pulled him into one of the small alleyways as the patrol car went slowly down the street, dutifully stopping at the front of the gallery.
“Could you write it?” Leo asked
“Is that really what you are worried about right now?” The guy spat
“But did you?”
The guy glared at him
“Did you?” Leo insisted
“Fucks sake, I got to the T in hate”
“Not a hat? Shit!”
“More like ‘Not a cat’ that h did look like a fucking c” the guy admitted in a tone that said that although it was true it was not fault of his own.
“Can you be fucking quiet for a minute?” the guy said in a low growl
Leo was quiet for about 2 seconds
“We are too close” Leo whispered
“It’s a reduced space, princess!” the guy whispered back
“I mean to the pigs, jackass!” There were many things that should be worrying Leo at this point but the first thought that ran through his head was that he was really, really, really glad he smelled like a mixture of moth balls and very strong chlorine instead of just smelling “We have to run for it or they’ll bust our asses” Leo said trying to focus on the immediate problem
“Nobody is going to find us if you stop moving, you are going to give us away, dumbass!” the guy held him by the shoulders firmly but gently enough that Leo felt reassured instead of threatened “Listen,” the guy said in a harsh whisper “that old fat walrus isn’t going to make the extra effort to follow up on a random, non violent act of vandalism, his shift is over in five minutes”
“How do you figure?” Leo asked curiously, but he was too nervous to wait for an answer “Okay, but what about his partner, the younger one?” the guy took a peek at the younger officer and shook his head at Leo seemly deciding they were safe.
Leo complied with being silent and still but the grouchy raccoon living in the near trashed car seat was not informed of the plan, wouldn’t have been supportive of the plan at all even if he had been included. This was a raccoon that saw human kind as the parasites they were, without a grain of consideration or pity, and it was a raccoon that was not shy about voicing his opinions, It bared his teeth, spat and growled, as loudly as a 70 pound raccoon could.
“Fucking hush it piece of shit!” the guy growled back at it, which only made it angrier
“Ehm, is that sound it’s making, like, normal–” Leo started with a mind to tell the guy not to let the raccoon scratch him
“Detroit Police Department!” Boomed the young officer’s voice “Come out of there, hands above your head!”
“Phck! I’ll come back for you third rate rabies carrier!” the guy threatened the crabby raccoon, then he turned to Leo and grabbed his wrist “I hope you can fucking run, dumbass”
“Stop!” The older officer shouted while the younger one ran after them
“Just keep running” the guy said, “that idiot is a human and a pathetic runner, we are fucking lucky it’s not one of the tincans”
When they found a dead end, the guy did a complete stunt of holding on to a fire escape rail to get himself over the dumpster, like fucking Captain America holding on to that helicopter or some shit
“Dude! What the heck, I can’t do that!” Leo said not even being able to raise himself on the dumpster
“You are fucking kidding me”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t raised in a circus!” Leo shouted back
Leo knew this was it, this guy would run away and Leo would be arrested, whatever, it had happened a few times before, it would happen again, they’d find the red-ice he had in his jean’s pocket, bigger trouble, they’d call his dad and fucking Markus would be there looking all perfect and stuff while Leo was sent to the pound, if he were like, a cat or something, he’d probably be the kind they put down like on arrival–
“What the fuck are you waiting for, dumbass, a written invitation?!” the guy shouted outstretching his hand from the top of the dumpster “Get a fuckin’ move’on!”
Leo couldn’t find words to answer but he reached for the guy’s hand, and in an instant he pulled him up.
The guy jumped to the other side of the chain link fence, “hurry the fuck up!” he said harshly, but he put up his hands as if to help Leo get down. Leo jumped thinking he was going to break a leg, but the guy caught him easily placing him down softly on his feet. Leo didn’t have time to enjoy it, although he wasn’t sure if enjoy was the word he should be using, before they were running again.
“You think… we can... stop for a second” Leo said out of breath after they ran for a few blocks “I can’t run anymore” he complained and held on to his side
“Yeah” the guy looked around “I think that’s enough” he said, he wasn’t short of breath; he hadn’t even broken a sweat, excellent, Leo thought as he displayed all the symptoms of a very uncool side cramp.
“Oh fuck!” the guy said suddenly
“What is it?”
“That fucking, useless truck is back there”
“At the stupid gallery?”
“Like a street away, I didn’t want to get a fucking ticket”
“Oh! No probl….” Leo said still trying to catch his breath “we just… walk back….”
the guy smirked “I’m leaving you wherever you pass out”
“I’m… not… gon– ” but Leo didn’t think it was at all wise to try to continue
“Hey!” Leo tried again as soon as he could talk without blacking out “We could take a detour if you feel like going for a swim” he realized it was an absolutely ridiculous offer but he was actually having fun (regardless of the accidental hate crime) and he hadn’t had fun in a very, very long time “I know this apartment building with a pool that really should hire better security”
“A swim? Hard pass, it’s like fucking 5°C out here, you really are set on freezing to death” the guy scoffed “How have you survived this long, that’s some freakish luck?”
“Yeah, more like a curse” Leo looked around for an easy change of subject, and his luck apologized to him for keeping him alive by offering him one “Oh! Thank fuck, Im starving!” Leo said rushing into the 24 hour convenience store
Leo glanced at the exhausted cashier, shoplifting from here wouldn’t be hard, but just as he was about to complete the job a hand clasped his wrist. The guy looked at him, gesturing with his hand. Leo surrendered the sandwich and soda he’d already pocketed. The guy sighed before he walked up to the cashier (who he had to wake up) to pay.
“Great” Leo said once they were out of the store “Now I owe you like what $914 bucks and 50 cents”
“Your shit was 9.30, so $909.30” theguy thought for a second “and if you keep using my soap as liberally I’ll add it to your tab”
“Sure, no problem, that must be like, what? A penny a bottle, right? I can deal with that” Leo said “but it is $914.50, this one is one me, I mean, like, someday”
The guy’s look of disbelief told him all Leo had to know
“Well it would have been” Leo argued “if someone hadn’t stopped me”
“You really want to be busted for two crappy sandwiches? They get you for shoplifting then find your crap, you don’t want to go to the can for possession, non-violent offenders come back worse than they went in, that place would fuck you up”
“Damn!” Leo wondered if the guy hadn’t noticed he was already fucked up yet and how long would it take him to do so, he chose to change the subject again “You should really have been like, I don’t know, a cop or something”
“Thanks a lot!”
“What?!” Leo exclaimed “It’s pretty much a compliment”
“Coming from you?”
“Take it or leave it, but it would really suit you, you are enough of an asshole for it, the way you go about like you own the place and no one can possibly touch you” Leo said, feeling he’d said too much, “So what do you actually do?”
“None of your business”
“Is it something really sketchy, then?” Leo considered him for a while “You don’t look like a dealer”
“I wouldn’t touch any of that shit with a ten foot pole”
“Hmm” Leo hummed, not taking any offence “Something legit then, like construction maybe? I’d also guess a mechanic, but if so your truck isn’t doing anything for your business”
“Keep your guesses to yourself”
“Afraid I’ll get it right?”
“Curiosity killed the cat, kittypet”
“What’s that?” Leo asked “It isn’t like some kink or some weird shit–”
“Don’t fucking flatter yourself”
“What, you are the one who is saying weird stuff” Leo thought for a second, and jumped again “It’s Leo, by the way” he said inadequately “You can use that instead of your weirdo names”
Leo waited, but they only kept walking in silence, the guy drank his convenience store coffee, a few patrol cars drove by, destination pretty much known, they made Leo jump.
“You are supposed to tell me your name now” Leo said after a very long time, only because he could already see the guy’s truck, and when they reached it, it would be definitely too late to bring it up
“Why?” guy smirked
“Why? Because I just told you mine!”
“So? I didn’t ask you for it, kittypet”
“You really are an impossible jerk!”
“Oh, shit!” the impossible jerk said, handing him his coffee “You, stay here”
There was a man standing next to the jerk’s truck, in black jeans and a black turtleneck, tall and imposing, and Leo wondered if it was a cop. The stranger and the jerk argued for a bit, but Leo was too far to hear anything they said, except for “Give me a fucking break… Dick!” because the jerk used his loud voice then, the same he’d used with Todd, but it wasn’t at all effective on the soldier looking dude, he stared at the jerk all cold and serious, glanced past him to Leo for a second and then walked away.
“Who was that?” Leo asked, walking up to the truck as quietly as he could, just like when the jerk had been sick
“Only an uptight prick!” the guy scoffed “Let’s go”
“Do you think the pigs are going to come after us now” Leo half joked,
“They have bigger problems, but we shouldn’t be this close to the fucking crime scene, my hands are fucking blue” the guy said opening the passenger door of the truck for him???
The guy looked at the door and back to Leo
“For fucks sake, dumbass!” the guy said “The door is tricky you need to pull it up a bit before opening it, I don’t want you messing it up even more than it already is”
“It’s not like I was thinking you were opening it for me!” Leo argued getting into the truck.
Calling the junkie quick sand or a sinkhole was lowballing it, Leo (Leo Manfred at that, and wasn’t that some pedigree) was closer to a natural disaster, and yet instead of doing the smart thing, get as far from the affected zone as possible, where you could see the damage from afar and be accordingly horrified yet comfortably untouched by it, Gavin found himself being one of those fucking idiots that hear the tsunami warning and go down to the beach to check out the receding tide. “What the fuck is going on there?” famous last words.
It was with that same blind albeit inquisitive stupidity that Gavin, after catching a glimpse of that idiot standing there as if zoning out in the middle of the street, had only driven for a few blocks before doing a U turn opting to go investigate, cop habit, if he didn’t find out what was up it was going to bother him.
The next thing he knew he was shaking that goddamn paint can, it seemed like a good idea at the time, it wasn’t breaking in which that idiot would never pull off without being caught, and it seemed fair enough.
Was the junkie an over sensitive fool? Yes,
But did his old man sound like, (as Tina would put it) an absolute fucking prick that could do with a minor aggravation? Fuck yeah.
Unlike the paint can, the junkie’s luck seemed to be working just fine, Collins was far past the time he’d try to chase anyone down, and Wilson was a lousy runner with a newborn at home, working on 3 hours of sleep, and the urge to go back to his nest as soon as possible and completely unscathed.
The incompetence of his colleagues had been the only thing preventing their capture. The junkie could not run to save his life or even catch a bus, Gavin had had to help him get over the link fence, help him jump down, let’s his highness broke an ankle, none of which Gavin would have done if it weren’t because papa Wilson was chasing them, however leisurely, old ladies on their fucking morning power walk moved faster.
Not happy with having just evaded capture, the junkie… Leo… immediately tried to get himself in trouble again, shoplifting, the pettiest of crimes. Gavin wasn’t surprised; being a junkie was like a neon sign advertising a self destructive streak, a sign that should tell anyone with one ounce of brains to power walk in the opposite direction before they got caught in it, instead Gavin had bought the tsunami a crappy turkey sandwich, like a moron. All of it was bad enough, he didn’t need fucking witnesses to it, so naturally once they reached the stupid truck, there was the last entity Gavin wanted to deal with at the present moment.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Gavin snarled walking up to the android “Did you have me chipped?” he said passing his hand behind his neck trying to detect any suspicious bumps
“Newman” The judgmental tincan greeted coolly, ignoring his questions
Gavin grimaced “We are alone, dipshit, you don’t need to use that stupid name”
“On the contrary, it’s in the mission protocol” Nines replied “From which you seem to have diverged extraordinarily, yet with predictable poor taste”
Gavin scoffed “Excuse me, I’m mingling with the locals,” he gestured with his hands, noticing by the android’s stare that they were bright blue, he crossed his arms.
“Defacing public and private property with crudely drawn human genitalia is nowhere in the parameters of behavior established for this mission” Nines recited “I’m supposed to inform Captain Fowler if you display any erratic –“
“Give me a fucking break… Dick!” Gavin shouted, feeling his burner phone, Neil’s phone, vibrate in his pocket.
“I have sent you a location for us to meet tomorrow before I send my weekly report” The android said mechanically, giving him what Gavin guessed was a disapproving look and sparing another one for Leo before marching away, fucking pr –
“Who was that?” Leo asked, walking up to him
“Only an uptight prick” Gavin replied, an uptight prick that could get him sent home “Let’s go,”
Gavin opened the passenger’s door, thinking he hoped the damn blue paint would wash away before he had to stand in front of Fowler to defend his case, as it was now he looked like he had killed one of those things and then drawn dicks in their blood with his bare hands. When confronted with that image most of his coworkers would think they saw that coming alright, and that probably included the Captain.
Then he looked at Leo wondering why he wasn’t getting a move on, the idiot had a surprised, dreamy look on his face, more often seen in doe-eyed main characters of romcoms when they see their damn romantic interest running towards them in the rain or some shit.
“For fuck’s sake, dumbass!” Gavin boomed, going over all the reasons why he had to open the goddamn door. All of them were true, it was a fucking hassle,
“It’s not like I was thinking you were opening it for me” Leo huffed as he got into the truck
But once Gavin had thought it that did nothing to make him feel any less like he was opening and closing the door for his date, even when he’d never done that before, they could handle their own fucking door, he wasn’t their damn maid.
He hadn’t been in a real date since his late twenties, hooking up with random fuckers in one bar or other was easier, fuck whomever and not see their fucking mug ever again, no tears, no disappointments, no “all you do is work, all you talk about is work, why can’t you make time for me” fucking hell. Now, most of the time he didn’t even have to bother with names. He remembered dates as awkward, pointless, uncomfortable, unbearable things; that was how he knew for certain this was not a fucking date.
Leo sat in the passenger seat, looking out of the window, quiet for once. The silence between them didn’t ask anything from Gavin. He was used to tense, awkward silences that kept telling him to say something just to put an end to the misery. This silence was closer to the ones that descended in his apartment once his cats, tired of trying to destroy everything he owned, settled down for a nap.
“Are you like, in the mafia?” Leo finally spoke after a while “That guy seemed sort of mafia-like”
“Weren’t you done with those questions?” Gavin rebuked “If you ask again I swear I’m leaving you in the middle of wherever. Mafia,” Gavin scoffed dismissively “who even uses that word anymore”
“Ugh, Fine!” Leo complained, but he leant back on the seat, fiddling lazily with the radio for the entire hour that it took them to reach the dump nobody should have to call home.
“I’m not opening that damn door again, and I don’t want you messing with it” Gavin said as he climbed out of the truck “so… scoot”
“Jeez, you really should get another car” Leo said, awkwardly climbing over the seat to finally jump out by the driver’s side.
They were already going their separate ways, Gavin to the roach condo, Leo somewhere possibly worse
“Hey!” Leo shouted, Gavin stopped and turned to look back at him
“Tonight was fun,” Leo continued “I wasn’t expecting it to be, like at all, but it really was!”
“You think running away from the cops is fun?” Gavin asked drily
“It is if you get away” Leo said with a smile and a carefree shrug “See you around!” he added with a little wave of his hand.
Very early the next morning Gavin drove to the location the tincan had sent him, he parked and walked up to the ridiculous black car the tincan had been given, a fancy autonomous one that had nothing in common with his shitty, rackety truck.
The backseat door opened as soon as Gavin was at arm’s length of it, he glanced inside to see the tincan, sitting there completely undistinguishable from a creepy wax statue, Gavin climbed in. The seats were fucking comfortable, it smelled nice, that combined with the air conditioner that was at a perfectly comfortable cool temperature reminded him of that stupid spa Tina had convinced him to take her to for one of her birthdays, he felt like someone was about to offer him cucumber water, what the hell.
“Both victims have been informed of the hit on them” Nines started as soon as the door closed behind Gavin, business as per usual “We will take pictures of their fake demise for you to show to the targets, then the DPD will contact them, letting them know about their wife and business associate, -as it corresponds- deaths, from there we’ll take them to the station for what we’ll refer to as routine questioning–”
“I know all this shit” Gavin said irritably “I get the pictures, the asswipes get busted” Gavin was silent for a second “how did the wife take it?” it was a stupid question
“She got really pale, Officer Chen helped her to the couch,” Nines described in a monotone “kept telling us we had to be mistaken.”
“Yeah, it didn’t look like she’d be on the loop,”
“Humans are too impractical,” Nines said coldly “Why anguish so over someone who wishes you shut down, and goes as far as to search for ways to make it so.”
Gavin shrugged “Wrong human to ask, tincan”
The android nodded “My bad, you do seem to function at a much lower level of what they call emotional intelligence”
“Yeah, whatever,” Gavin spat “So, how much longer are you going to keep me here before you tell me I have to return to the station”
“You are not scheduled to return for a few weeks yet” The android said “there are still a few more targets that are expected to contact you”
“So, you were fucking bluffing with what you said about Fowler and my erratic whatever?”
“What I tried, unsuccessfully, to communicate to you was that I was supposed to inform Captain Fowler of any erratic behavior that unduly compromised either your safety, that of civilians or the mission–“
“Well, I’m on the clear then” Gavin interrupted yet again “That had nothing to do with the” he air quoted “fucking mission, if you are butthurt because of robojesus little art thing–”
“I would advise you not to slander me” Nines interrupted back icily “the activities of the RK200 are no concern of mine”
“They aren’t?” Gavin huffed, slightly taken aback “But even tincan the first follows him all around the place like a goddamn puppy”
The android gave him a menacing look Gavin ignored with a smirk, because he couldn’t play it nice even for his own convenience, he was many things, many not so good things, but he sure as hell wasn’t a fucking boot-licking hypocrite.
“Connor is far too trusting,” Nines said, his expression waxy “particularly when it comes to our kind, the RK200 is an overrated custom unit, that he’s held in such a high regard is a most unfortunate fluke”
Gavin thought he saw Nines hesitate for a millisecond before continuing, that was a first
“That’s why I took care of a paint can that was covered with your, and your companion’s fingerprints,” Nines added
“You are as bad at being a criminal as you are at drawing human genitalia” Nines said seriously “I didn’t see why your irresponsible night escapades should affect the mission we both have been entrusted with”
“And you thought it was funny?” Gavin smirked
“I did not, but I saw how it may cause the RK200 some vexation and that’s just as satisfactory as what humans consider to be humorous”
“And did it?” Gavin smirked even wider “cause some vexation or whatever”
“There’s a tablet in the drinks compartment” Nines replied indifferently
Drinks compartment, Gavin was not going to get into an argument about that, he found a tablet propped between two vodka bottles, the expensive shit.
“You can’t even drink this crap” Gavin spat as he took the tablet “What the fuck are you supposed to be? Wait, holy shit! Are you supposed to be a human?” Gavin laughed, only now noticing that the android had taken out his temple light thing, which Nines and Connor didn’t seem to want to part with anytime soon, at least not permanently.
“Richard McCann is a human and the leader of an international crime syndicate, some anti-android groups are contacting underground criminal societies to advance their agenda” Nines stopped “You’d know that if you had bothered to read the–”
“You got to be the fucking Godfather and I got the inbreed backwater hitman?!” Gavin huffed
“You go out at night to draw unsavory graffiti and not even think of wiping your fingerprints“ Nines remarked “If the shoe fits, as the idiom says”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever, I fucking get it” Gavin said unlocking the tablet, snickering as he skimmed the articles and “memes?” he scoffed “That idiot is going to love this shit”
“I’m glad you are so pleased with your contribution and impact in the world” Nines said, as the printer?? In the car?? Started to spew out some of the articles and memes Gavin was seeing in the tablet “you can take those, I will need the device”
“Right” Gavin said, “Do we have anything on him… Leo Manfred?” he asked, eyes on the tablet, it was just a question out of curiosity, the android’s super computer brain could at least be useful for once
“Like an arrest warrant?” the android asked
“I’m thinking more by the lines of a missing person’s report, but… yeah, also arrest warrants, anything…”
Gavin realized he actually missed the android light thing that told him something was going on in there, lightless, there was only a short yet unsettling pause before the tincan spoke again, and unlike Connor, Nines didn’t seem to care to blink anywhere near enough to keep things at a safe distance from uncanny valley.
“There’s nothing current on Leo Manfred,” Nines said evenly “old misdemeanors, and a handful of trespassing and shoplifting warnings. Nothing major, nothing current. Should I request an arrest warrant?”
“Shit no, what the fuck”
“He was in possession of an important quantity of red-ice which –”
“Yeah, like almost every single homeless person in Detroit,” Gavin argued “choose your battles, tincan, you have a make believe mafia to run”
The android checked the very real, very expensive watch around his wrist as if he actually needed to, “We are late for a meeting”
“Who the fuck is we?” Gavin said with a frown
“Not you. You can leave now.” Nines said, as the car door opened “I’ll be in contact” the tincan added darkly as the door closed, the engine started, and then the window opened “Your printouts” the android said, unceremoniously throwing them out of the car
“Yea–” Gavin only managed to grab at a few, the rest of them scattered in the goddamn parking lot “Don’t forget to blink, dipshit!” he shouted to his reflection in the car window that had just closed. Gavin stood there seeing the wind throwing the damn paper all over the place, but he refused move to chase them down until that damn car was out of sight.
Gavin placed the printouts (some more battered and dirty than others) by the windowsill where he expected Leo would see them, and only knew he had because when Gavin came back that night one of the crusty post-its (included free with the apartment) had been used to point out Leo’s favorite among the – Tag yourself Manfred Dixhibit edition – the article pointing out how “the sign inviting the guests to come into the exhibit has won a new meaning over night” – or the one that asked “Narrow political statement or simply a self-portrait?” By some new android journalist or other, the headline NOT A CAT BUT MANY A COCK, with a clear drone shoot of Gavin’s work was the one Leo had graced with a note reading “Sick lighting! I’d frame this one if I were you! Can you get me a copy?” the question mark was a small drawing of a cat and next to it was a brave, not half bad attempt at a rooster.
Gavin expected to notice Leo’s comings and goings by things like a wet shower floor, something annoyingly left out of place, a dirt track going from the window to the bathroom, he hadn’t been expecting to notice by how the place was slightly cleaner, particularly the bathroom where he didn’t feel he needed to bleach himself after stepping in it anymore; when he got a new coffee maker (the cheaper he could find not to risk something better in this postal code) if he left it gross in the morning, some days he’d arrive to find it clean with fresh coffee in it at night, these were the same days the liquid soap in the bathroom would go down at a ridiculous rate.
If it weren’t for these things Gavin wouldn’t know Leo had been there, maybe he had really taken to heart not to be a nuisance; that was a surprise. Leo came and went like some weird folklore creature, Maud had a ton of books with all kinds of weird stories like that, of things that came and took milk in exchange for braiding your horse’s mane or some nonsense. This idiot was just like that, left coffee and doodles in exchange for half a bottle of shitty soap, not letting himself be seen.
Gavin was the one who had told him not to be a pest and yet, something about it was starting to annoy him, but what the fuck was he supposed to do? If he weren’t in this hellhole he may (or may not) ask Tina which of the following made him sound the less like a serial killer; all his options seemed ridiculous, Invite the fool to stay for a take-out leftovers dinner they would have to actively fight the roaches for? Ask him if he wanted to “hang out”? Tell him, “Forget about not being a nuisance, maybe you can stay sometime after your every third day shower” that sounded like it would end with a creepy wink emoji if it was a text.
“forget about not being a nuisance, maybe you can stay sometime after your every third day shower ;)”
Yep, he wasn’t doing any of that, instead Gavin left things by the windowsill, deodorant, a toothbrush, he’d come back to find them gone and in exchange there would appear some post-it doodle stuck in some weird place, or his dishes would be magically done.
One morning Gavin came out of the building slightly later than usual, which meant witnessing more of the local sketchiness, and there in the corner of the street was the idiot, oh so discretely doing one of those fucking shady, long-fingered, transaction handshakes, red-ice went one way, money the other, except Leo was in the selling end.
“Hey!” Leo called out with a smile as soon as he saw him “I was just going to drop by your apartment, but this is really better in person,” he took a few bills out of his pocket “here! $150 of what I owe you”
Gavin automatically took the money, but his mind was somewhere else entirely “I didn’t fucking see you do that just now”
To his credit Leo didn’t try to lie, which was for the best, he’d be a lousy liar
“What do you care,” Leo said “this isn’t your turf or anything”
“It’s theirs alright” Gavin said gesturing to the building
“I’m not that stupid,” Leo replied tilting his head slightly “I’m working for them”
“Since when?” Gavin huffed
“Only a few days” Leo pulled at the sleeves of his jumper self-consciously
“You are an addict, goddamn dumbass, you can’t sell this shit,”
“I already sold the first batch they gave me, so I obviously can,”
“Fucking fantastic!” Gavin snarled “Go and tell them you are done”
“Why would I? This is something I’m actually good at!” Leo argued “it’s no big deal, ok?”
“You aren’t fucking serious”
“What if I am?” Leo’s tone sounded dangerous now, his defensiveness, which Gavin had not yet seen but could easily guess at, was starting to bubble up
“You want to be a fucking dealer?!” Gavin barked “Fuck other idiots with this shit just like it fucks you up,” Gavin passed his hand through his hair, trying not to raise his voice “you are running on this crap, your brain isn’t working right!”
“Look, this is the first break I have had in a fucking long time, like I can actually make something work for me, alright?” Leo said, “Just leave it be, I know what I’m doing!”
“It doesn’t fucking look like it,” Gavin snarled, already out of patience “look around you, dumbass! You need to get fucking clean or this garbage will keep taking from you until there’s nothing left”
“You say it like I still got something to lose, but I got nothing!“
“That’s fucking– there’s still you in there, you idiot! and you still got your fucking freedom, you aren’t up to your eyes in shit yet, how have you managed that, I can’t fucking figure it out, but you have” Gavin shouted, trying to bring his voice down again “I won’t even tell you what would happen if you are caught selling it, you won’t make it that far, how long do you think you’ll last without taking some for yourself, and how do you think you’ll pay for that. A junkie can’t sell without everything going to shit, those psychos know that better than anyone, they are fucking playing with you”
“Just – just piss off already!” Leo hissed back “I’m not a kid, I don’t need a fucking lecture! I know what the fuck I’m doing! Why can’t you just be happy you are actually getting some of your money back!” Leo’s hiss cracked
“Keep it,” Gavin growled, pushing the bills into Leo’s chest dismissively with two of his fingers “I don’t want your fucking drug money”
“Fine!” Leo snarled taking the bills and a step back “fuck you then!” Leo flipped him off
“Right back at ya!” Gavin said giving him the flip off right back as well “Fucking drug dealer” he scoffed as he walked pass him.
Gavin stalked to his truck, whathefuckever, that fool was not his problem anymore, what had the tincan said, only a few more weeks in this hellhole, after that he could blow the whistle on the red-ice mess in the neighborhood, then he wouldn’t only have a successful undercover task under his belt , but also a red-ice bust, double points for Detective (soon to be Sergeant) Gavin Reed.
If a fucking junkie got tangled in the middle of it while trying to downgrade to dealer, if he even survived long enough to make it to prison, none of it was his fucking problem
“Phck!” Gavin hit the wheel so hard it would bruise his hands, and may make his truck more of a hazard for some unsuspecting random idiot cyclist on the road or whatever, not his problem either, the random cyclist’s blood would be on the department for giving him this thing.
He drove himself to another shady parking lot just as he was supposed to; he almost fucked himself over doing some damn teenage level bullshit, hopefully that was out of his fucking system now.
He parked, he opened the passenger door, he waited. A pretty woman got in the car, looking ready for a tennis match at the country club, extra bouncy pony tail and all. Then she went on for what seemed fucking forever about how and why she wanted her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend out of the picture.
“Is that enough information?” She asked in her debutante voice, the truck would stink like her all fucking day
“Yeah, whatever lady,” Gavin snarled “you want this girl out it’s $2000 up front, another $2000 when I’m done”
She dug in her purse for an envelope,
“Thank you for your business” He said drily shoving the envelope in the glove compartment; that was exhibit B, the video the camera embedded on the radio was taking was exhibit A.
There always was that moment of slight panic the asswipes that came to meet him showed when they tried to open the door and it wouldn’t budge, Gavin made sure to grin in his nastiest way, the one that bared his slightly pointier than usual canines, before he said
“You have to lift it and then push”
Like it was the last thing these motherfuckers would ever hear, it always took them a few tries to actually open it, struggling with it the more as they panicked and saw their pathetic lives flash past them, and Gavin didn’t even have to do anything but sit there.
Once the door budged the soon to be a convicted criminal fell in her hurry to get out of the car, Gavin had to stretch and try to fix the door back to its closed position the best he could, he wasn’t getting down.
He had to get down.
Once he closed it he gave the door one extra kick that was not necessary, would most likely be detrimental, and then drove where he wasn’t supposed to.
The damn house was fucking huge and that made him angrier for some reason, just as well, he almost wished he had another paint can at hand as he strode to the front door, he proceeded to stick to the bell button, losing his patience exactly one second later, almost unhinging the door as he knocked on it, the glass panes complained with a clinking sound. The door opened before he broke through it.
“I’m going to rip you apart, motherfucking– “ A girl with red hair shouted as she jumped out, she sounded like she meant it, but he wasn’t one to be cowered
“North, wait!” The guy in the gallery posters grabbed her by the back of her belt “If you attack them you’ll make everything worse”
“Like hell I will! They deserve it,” She said struggling to get free “Let go of me, Markus!”
“We have called the authorities” a blonde added, and Gavin thought he’d seen that same pasty, sickly face many times before “They will be here in no time”
“Fucking call whomever, I don’t give a fuck” Gavin shouted, fucking androids “Where’s the fucking old man?”
“Carl?” The blonde asked
“Yeah, Carl fucking Manfred, the art geezer” Gavin said “or have you dolls already gone all Norman Bates on him”
“How can I help you?” The old man said coming through the double doors with what Gavin guessed was yet another tincan (the entire fucking place was crawling with them), talking affably like he was so wise or whatever, like he could defuse the situation because he was so much more civilized than Gavin was “I was only showing Josh some of our first editions when–“
“Do you know where the fuck Leo is?” Gavin cut him off
The old man opened his mouth if as to speak but said nothing, Gavin’s question seemed to freeze the room, this wasn’t the scene they had rehearsed for.
“Do you know where the fuck Leo is?” Gavin repeated accentuating his words, his voice sounding louder than it was in the sudden silence of the room.
The canaries kept unfittingly chirping in their cage, the posterboy quietly let go of the redheaded girl, who rolled her eyes and huffed before sitting in the stairs, watchful but for the moment disengaged, this battle was beneath her. The pasty one mumbled his apologies to himself, “So sorry Connor, it was a false alarm” how he hated when the fucking tincans did that.
“Well… he’s not here” Was the old man’s underwhelming answer to what had been a rhetorical question “Markus, maybe we could try calling the apartment again” the geezer said, he didn’t sound worried, only tired, disappointed?
“He’s not been answering” poster boy said to the geezer
“He’s not been answering” Gavin huffed with his nasty grin “Unbelievable”
“Do you have any problem with him we could help with?” poster boy said, sounding eager to smooth things over
“Does he owe you money?” the geezer added, in that same long suffering tone
Gavin looked from the poster boy to the geezer. What the fuck was he doing here, no missing person’s report, call the apartment again? They didn’t know he wasn’t there? Leo could have OD’d in that fucking place for all these two seemed to think to go and check. Gavin tried to go over his options as fast as he could, what had he expected? A worried family that would be wondering where their fucking, vulnerable idiot had gotten to? Relatives that would have the weighted blanket ready to go and extract him from wherever? Gavin should have known better. What was he to do now, forcefully send this geezer after Leo? Together with the savior tincan? That would only make that idiot spiral, he’d push the self-destruct button all at once instead of millimeter by millimeter.
“Yep” Gavin said “That’s it, $909 bucks, 30 cents”
“Markus would you please…” The geezer said, poster boy disappeared and when he returned he handed Gavin the cash $910. Gavin made a show of getting them their change, he must look completely batshit
“If you return we will call the police” poster boy said seriously as Gavin handed him his change “Leo doesn’t visit a lot”
“No shit, tincan” Gavin said walking towards the door, “by the way, tell him Gavin said hi when you see him next” he smirked, that secret was safe with them, holy shit.
He threw the stupid money with exhibit B. They could give him, a stranger, almost one grand, but they couldn’t go check the fool wasn’t choking on his own puke inside “the apartment” whatever, not his problem, that was his cash back, now he could go on with his job and pretend he’d never been stupid enough to go check on the clearly receding tide.
“Phck!” he hit the wheel again, now that was definitely going to bruise.
“Should we go to New York for the weekend?” Carl Manfred asked his date with practiced ease, her birthday had just passed unremembered by him, but the mistake had come to him just in time for a trip to sound like a well kept surprise and not him making it up to her.
He was 47, but he still dated around what he thought of as a fair amount, most of his friends considered far too much, while the media called him a player, in good boys-will-be-boys humor, even when he was nearing 50.
In his position it was easy to find interesting people. Talent was a given, Sometimes they’d be exquisitely beautiful, it was a treat just to look at them; terrifyingly clever, it was invigorating to keep up with them; or delightfully witty, they always kept him guessing what they were going to say next.
His current date didn’t quite enter into any of those three categories; her nose was a bit too big for her face, or maybe that was an illusion created by her far too hooded eyes, Carl was sure she only pretended to listen when he went on lengthy lectures on art theory although she did listen when he discussed art history, and the silliest the pun the more it would make her laugh, this last point was the one that made him ask her out, she was easy to entertain.
And maybe he was getting old after all, the problem with incredibly beautiful, clever, and witty people was that you had to be of equal interest to them, had to keep the ball in the court. Lorelei Martinet enjoyed his company but she could very well amuse herself, which was a welcome change of pace.
At 25 she was a pianist of medium success, he couldn’t ask her to play pieces like Stravinsky’s Trois mouvements de Petrouchka, but she was good enough to be booked for any number of events, for other people’s concerts, she had a talent for transcribing songs into piano covers. When she stayed over Carl would wake up to her playing some contemporary punk song on his piano
“That would be Green Day, if I’m not mistaken” he’d say,
“I thought your Steinway could do with broadening its horizons a little” she’d smile
She was his first choice when he wanted to relax, and now she sat before him in a pretty summer dress, her dark hair, a frizzy mane all around her, she looked distractedly out of the window into the city lights, twirling one strand of her hair absently with her finger, like she hadn’t heard his question. Carl wondered if she was ignoring him, if she was upset about him forgetting her birthday and felt annoyed at the childishness of it. The waiter walked up to their table and offered to fill in her wine glass,
“Oh! No, thank you” She said with a polite smile, coming out of her reverie
“Don’t be silly now” Carl said once the waiter had gone, trying the keep his annoyance out of his voice “Montrachet is your favourite, I’m not moving from this table until you have at least a glass”
“Carl,” She said looking at him in the eye with the air of someone who’s decided to take the band-aid off all at once “I’m pregnant”
Well, he wasn’t expecting that
“Are you absolutely sure?”
“Yes, I am” she replied evenly “Signed doctor’s note in my purse”
“And you are sure it is –“
“Yes, Carl, it’s yours” she cut him off,
“How can you tell this early?”
“Uhm, I’m not you, I haven’t slept with anyone else since we started going out” She said airily “You know, if I get a STD I’d like to know exactly where I got it from” she tapped on the table, precise and fast just as if she were doing a short run on the piano “or you know, it’s also convenient to know who the father of my unborn child is without having to do a freaking survey”
“I thought you were being careful”
“We,” she pointed out “were being careful,” she shrugged “these things happen sometimes”
“Well, no need to panic,” he said good humouredly patting her hand, “No wonder you’ve been off color. I know an excellent clinic; they’ll take good care of you. It’ll be like nothing happened, you don’t have to worry about it”
“But I do worry about it” she replied “I rather think, I’d like to keep it”
“Nonsense!” Carl said immediately “You are only 25, all your life is before you. You can achieve so much with your music, it will be so much harder if not impossible with a child in tow”
“That’s fine” She said proudly “I already have a budget all figured out” then she looked at him and laughed, one of her amused, light laughs “Carl, is not like I’m chaining you down or anything, it isn’t the 50’s, I’m not expecting you to marry me, jesus christ! You’d be the worst husband to have!” she said back to her usual, playful manner, the difficult part had passed
“Well, I’m not a complete truant,” Carl was relieved, he’d known she was the sensible type, that’s why he liked her “I hope you’ll take a monthly allowance for the child effective now, and consider jotting me down as the father, if that’s your wish once–“ he gestured uncertainly with his hand “it comes”
“That’s very thoughtful, Carl”
“And maybe a DNA test,” He added, “For legal purposes, of course”
“I’ll contact you as soon as doing such a thing is possible” she said with a nod
“About New York,” he added after a pause “I’m afraid I just remembered –“
“Don’t worry about it,” she replied easily, both of them aware it was the end of it, but both comfortable with it.
They finished their last dinner and said their goodbyes in an excellent mood, Carl thinking he’d have to remember to set the monthly payments as soon as he got home, before he forgot, he also had a few pieces to finish for his next exhibition. Lorelei thinking that Carl’s allowance even if he only remembered for a few months took a lot of worry off her mind and that it wasn’t too early to go check out cradles.
All her life Lorelei had been accused of letting her whims dictate what she did far too much, but she didn’t regret any one of them.
At 8 when she jumped off the slide and broke her arm, she had wanted to see if she could land that high a jump (of course she couldn’t, but now she knew for sure) she’d only won a big scar in her arm from it, “you’ll be sorry when you are a teenager” someone or other had told her unkindly, but as a teenager, and even as an adult, she only thought the scar looked rather sick. She had no regrets.
At 14 she chopped all her hair off, by herself with paper scissors, because every hairdresser she went to told her she absolutely shouldn’t with her hair-type, it would only puff up. Yeah, they were right, but now she knew for sure, and she found out she did like long hair the best, she liked to play with it while she thought or daydreamed, even if it was frizzy and big and inconvenient and somehow made her face look uglier.
At 16 she’d decided to make music her career, although she was advised not to, she wasn’t good enough to live off it, but sure as hell she was going to try (if her broken arm had anything to do with this she didn’t know, but even if it had, she still regretted nothing).
In her early 20’s she knew she wouldn’t be a concert pianist nor did she really want to, she was pleased enough with being booked for parties and evening galas, (she lived off it pretty well, thank you very much) In these she was welcome to mingle with the guests between her sets, it was a world full of people she’d never have come across otherwise, among them the one Carl Manfred.
She liked his art well enough, but the best thing about him was how down to earth he was, he didn’t put on airs, even when he was famous and wealthy enough to do so without any consequence. That’s why she said yes when he asked her out even when he was almost twice her age. Plus, to be honest, what were the chances of another millionaire asking her out ever again.
She was genuinely surprised when after about six months of it Carl still texted her to ask her out, be it to lavish outings, weekend trips or just quiet evenings in his home, which to her seemed equally as extravagant.
She was having fun with it, when she started to suffer with what at the time she didn’t know was morning sickness. She’d gone to her doctor appointment hoping for a simple solution to a pesky stomach bug, she came out of there with the alarming knowledge that something living was growing inside her, like an alien in the hit movie Alien, she could shit herself.
Once the initial shock subsided, she knew she wouldn’t keep it, I mean, she couldn’t keep it obviously, could she? Obviously not, this was not a kitten you found and kept on a whim, this was like a full human being she’d have to gestate, herself, in her own body, for 9 full months, like literally inside her doing who knows what in there, kicking at her bladder, making her swollen and perpetually uncomfortable, and then it would cry and poop and puke and she’d have to clean it with her very own hands, and all of that was the easy part. This was a full human being that would pay taxes someday, maybe it would be a musician or a writer or a bank robber or even (God forbid) an engineer, but, okay, could she keep it? Could she keep this hypothetical, gender-undetermined, puking (In the worse of cases) engineer? The question didn’t let her sleep that night.
She didn’t leave her apartment for the next few days, sitting on her bed with her laptop open, she started researching abortion clinics, she jumped from one tab of clinic research to an excel document where she was budgeting. Baby stuff was so fucking expensive, the freaking nappies alone were insane, and it would only get worse as the kid grew older, schools, clothes, toys, dentist, swimming classes, whatever was going to be the must have gadget in the 2020’s, all that stuff, but the ‘total’ in the excel document told her that if she really, really wanted, she could do it.
She didn’t have to buy new clothes as often as she did, she didn’t have to eat out ever, she didn’t have to buy high end skin care and make-up, she could start uploading her piano covers to youtube, she could start giving piano lessons for extra money, and she wouldn’t even have to leave her apartment for that so she could watch baby once it was here. That thought made her unexpectedly happy and excited, that’s when she closed the tab with the list of clinics near her.
She’d have to tell Carl, she guessed, this was not the type of thing you didn’t tell the other party involved. Maybe he’d think she was trying to trap him, the millionaire, but what he thought really didn’t matter and she really liked Carl, the thought of his genes passing on to baby didn’t give her any pause.
The day after that last dinner with him she went to see cribs, strollers, changing tables, the price tags made her feel nauseous (or maybe it was the baby), but that very same night she’d gotten Carl’s first transfer, which allowed her to get the pretty crib she really wanted instead of the budget friendly one. Her upright piano went out into her small living room, and the music room became the nursery, which she decorated mint green, not really wanting to know the gender of the baby beforehand as it really didn’t matter, and after making many lists for many months ‘Leo’ she’d decided was the loveliest name, and it would do just as well for either a boy or a girl.
Carl Manfred went down as Leo’s father. She had thought about it, deciding it wouldn’t harm Carl and it would probably be easier for Leo, having a dad, however nebulous, besides either with Carl’s Manfred or her own Martinet Leo’s initials would be the same, L. M., that was a comforting thought for some reason.
When the time came she tried to explain the best she could who Leo’s dad was and why he wasn’t with them, but he always sent money for Leo, so Leo could be sure his dad was thinking of him. But kids can be cruel, and she knew all her explanations could be easily trumped by kids at school asking her son why he didn’t have a dad, one time Leo had tried to explain just as she did, and a kid had replied “oh! So your daddy doesn’t want you” that had haunted her son even months afterwards, no matter how much she tried to assure him it was not about him, or anything he did or didn’t do.
When a little kid with two moms started school in Leo’s grade the teacher had the idea of giving the children a picture book talking about the different types of families with little cute animal drawings. The single mother one had been a cat protecting her kittens from the rain all by herself in a cardboard box, fucking great way to sell it. She’d caught Leo staring at the Penguin page often; the poor penguins had been chosen to represent the nuclear family, proud dad penguin, sweet mom penguin, and cute fluffy little penguin. What sort of propaganda. She had written a strongly worded letter to the publishing house which never got a reply.
As a young adult she had seen a movie about a mother hiring a man to pretend to be her son’s father for a day, she had to admit she was tempted, but Carl’s fucking face was too well known, fucking excellent way to choose the absentee father of your child.
Just when she thought Leo was forgetting about it she’d find him staring at the pages of one of her artbooks only to look at her and ask her if his dad didn’t want him because he wasn’t good at drawing. More recently when he’d done really badly on a test he’d asked her if his dad didn’t want him because he wasn’t that smart. It made her want to punch Carl in the face, she knew she was being unfair, but she would have punched him if she had had the chance anyway.
As Leo grew older the questions grew less frequent but they never failed on his birthday or Christmas. She tried to contact Carl, ask him to call Leo, a short video call would do, or even a simple birthday card. Maybe he was too busy, maybe her messages got misplaced but neither of those things happened and it made her furious that her son’s birthdays and his Christmases always had that sourness to them no matter how much she tried to distract him, and now that Leo was a teenager, it worried her that those drops of bitterness had accumulated inside of him and were becoming something darker.
She saw him trying to fight it, she’d promised him they’d work on it together; find a way to make him feel calmer. That reminded her, she’d have to call his doctor in the morning, his new medication didn’t seem to be a good fit for him, it made him too sleepy, she’d gotten a call from school telling her he had fallen asleep in several of his classes, and wouldn’t it be better if she picked him up a bit early today.
She made that mental note as they parked in front of their house, it was a small house with a big garden, she had chosen it especially for it, so Leo would have room to run and play. He hadn’t know what to do with himself when they lived in her tiny studio apartment, and there were just so many times she could tell him not to kick his football near the piano and just so many times she could run after him before he managed to get his hand in that motherfucking fan, or the stove, or anything else she’d told him at least a hundred times not to touch. Even at 15 he still did that, reach for things without thinking, it didn’t seem like he’d be growing out of it, but that was alright, she hoped, she’d have to tell any future girlfriend or boyfriend to keep an eye out for fans and beached jellyfish.
“Take out the trash and put your dirty clothes in the wash before you do anything else, alright.” She instructed as they entered the house, Leo went and did both of those things immediately which, of course, worried her.
“Leo?” she called him when he was about to go into his room “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah” her son said, but he shook his head no as he did so and hugged himself
“Hey, what is it?” she asked softly
“I’m just so fucking sorry for ruining your life” he said wiping tears off his eyes with his sleeves before they could fall
“What the hell gave you that idea?”
Leo shrugged “I don’t know”
He shrugged again “Some kids at school, they said I was like an albatross around your neck”
“What does that even mean?” she huffed
“I didn’t get it either, so I googled it” Leo said passing his phone to her. The phrase was synonym with an annoying burden. Just the cultured bullying on par with being able to afford private school
“Now, listen to me” she said in her no-nonsense voice, and Leo looked up at her “You didn’t ruin anything”
Leo hesitated “Even when I shoplifted those headphones? Or when I keyed the principal’s car? Or when they found those pills in my locker? Or when I got drunk at that party last month –”
“Hey,” She said brushing his hair off his forehead “You aren’t your worse moments”
“But you could be like in Paris playing the piano, having fun, and instead you are here picking me up from like police stations and shit”
“Listen, having the police call me to pick up my son, not ideal, and it better doesn’t happen again.” She said firmly “But I rather be here being your annoying, embarrassing mother, than anywhere else, I can play the piano just as well here as anywhere else too, understood? mon chou. Except for those hours of fucking labor, and the damn pregnancy urinary incontinence –“
“I know,” she agreed “other than that, it has been a blast”
Leo smiled then, a shy, small, teenage boy smile “You aren’t embarrassing, even when you are annoying”
“There’s my smartass!” she smiled “Can your ancient mama have a cuddle?”
“Yeah” he said hugging her,
“Yeah!” she replied hugging him back and rocking him slightly. Leo was the type of kid who still at 15 would hug his mum or give her a kiss. He was a sweet kid, and Lorelei hoped that would be the side of him that would overcome the darker stuff he was struggling with, the stuff that made him susceptible to want to prove himself to whomever with the shoplifting and the pills…
She didn’t expect to die anytime soon, definitely not before her son was an adult, he had struggles she had to help him through. It wasn’t anywhere in her plans to leave him not even a year after that conversation.
Leo stood at his mother’s funeral next to the social worker that was to take him to Carl Manfred’s house. He was 16, he felt empty, angry and scared; he wanted nothing but to have his mum back, his normal life back.
The social worker dropped him at Carl Manfred’s house unceremoniously. Leo’s first thought when he saw him was that his dad looked really old, he looked much older and worn than in the careful photoshoped pictures of him on the internet, and he seemed serious, not the type of person you could joke around with, not without a reason, not just to be silly, not without some clever punchline to justify it. He couldn’t imagine what his mum had ever seen in him.
Leo lay in the plush bed in the big guest bedroom of his dad’s house that night, without sleeping at all and crying more than he’d ever admit to. The very next day he was packed up to a really fancy apartment he wished his mum could see, the tiles in the bathroom heated up and everything, she would have loved that.
“I thought you’d be more comfortable on your own” his dad said,
Leo, who was a gregarious person, couldn’t think of anything worse than to be all by himself right now, and wondered if his dad was the one who’d be more comfortable on his own. Out of sight, out of mind; at least for one of them.
When his dad was gone, Leo took out the red-ice he had in his bag. One of his friends at school had given it to him many months before, he’d forgotten all about it until he found it as he packed his stuff up. Leo’s first, immediate thought had been that he had to flush it before his mum found it, or he’d be grounded for the rest of his life, after that one second where he’d forgotten he’d just packed it with the rest of his things, and there it was now; like a friend offering him a hand.
He snorted some, only a bit, trying to be cautious since he hadn’t tried anything stronger than a xanax or an oxy at a few parties, and technically he’d been prescribed the xanax, so what harm could it do if at times he took one or two more pills than he was supposed to, but he really needed something stronger now; the next thing he knew he was just… there… lying on the floor of that empty apartment, but he wasn’t sad, or lonely, or scared, or worried anymore, he felt light and happy like he could float away. Nothing really mattered anyway, so what was there to be upset about?
Now, so many years later at 29 Leo sat in front of his mum’s grave, as he did often, he’d only been dealing for a few days but seeing the losers that came to see him was like seeing the ghost of drug deals past and present over and over again, when he was only used to see the ghost of deals future in the ‘Unidentified Corpse Found’ headlines.
That guy, (and really couldn’t he tell him his name already, it was stupid to keep calling him that, and couldn’t he be less of an asshole like for one freaking minute) but he wasn’t wrong in any of the things he’d said, agreeing to sell for the dealer pack in the building had been truly idiotic, but Leo had a knack for getting himself in trouble.
His first ever memory was his mum extracting him from the pond in the park, he didn’t remember being scared, he only remembered being like “oh! Mum is here!” he didn’t remember what landed him there but if his mum was to be believed, he, a toddler drunk with the sheer, raw power of walking, had been harassing some ducks and once he tried the same on the swans and geese it wasn’t as successful. As he tried to outrun the devil’s birds with his stubby toddler legs, he’d fallen from the (short) pond bridge into the water.
At 12 he’d seen a wasp’s nest, he KNEW the dangers of such a nest, and still, he had the urge to kick it. This he could have ignored, but not some other stupid kid going, “Leo, bet you wouldn’t kick it” it was like turning on a switch, now he HAD to kick it, even if he knew he shouldn’t, even if he knew it was dangerous, now it was impossible NOT to kick it. It was the start of a very cold winter, only a few wasps came out to sting them and thus they hadn’t died, his mum had grounded him for what seemed like centuries that time.
And here he was, almost 30 and doing it again, being perfectly aware of all the dangers of getting involved in something like this, and YET instead of saying
“Nah, man, not interested” he was like “Sure, yeah, why not”.
The leader of the pack had patted him on the back as he showed him into their rooms, dank just as everything in this building. He sat him at the table where other of the wolves weighed red ice on a digital scale and bagged it; such a mundane action seemed out of place, like an aunty weighing sugar for a cake or something.
“500 grams for our friend here” the leader said casually “Our new sells associate”
The guy bagging the red-ice arched an eyebrow, but he started to weigh and pack the quantity he was indicated
“Thought we were keeping away from that bastard in the third” another wolf said, sitting lazily on the couch cleaning a gun, he pointed it casually at Leo. “Pretty sure I saw the street rat getting out of his truck the other night”
“No kidding!” the leader of the pack said amused “did you just blow him or was it full service?” he added taking a seat next to him “No judgment here, you have to do what you have to do, right?”
Leo nodded vaguely and tried to keep his cool, they could think whatever, that gun probably wasn’t loaded, not right now at least
“How big’s his dick?” the fourth wolf said sitting at the kitchen bar eating something as incongruous as harmless cereal, while the fifth smoking by the window added “Bet its fucking tiny? Tell me when“ he said to Leo putting his index finger and thumb close together, they laughed
“Did he do that?” the one by the scale asked quietly, gesturing at his own neck.
“No!” of course not, he wouldn’t do that, Leo’s tone said, he was so bad at this. He tried to cover the fading bruises. The wolf at the scale frowned slightly, but their quiet exchange was lost among the laughter from the others, and the gun guy loudly asking
“Why won’t you let me cap him, Brad?”
“The grapevine says he’s a hitman or some shit,” the leader replied, with the tone of a father telling his 3 year old not to eat earthworms, the tone of someone who had had this very same conversation too many times before, but was aware that he had to be as clear the hundredth time as he had been the first “working for some weird ass freak as well,”
“They say that freak is an android” cereal guy said
“He can’t be, I ran his face through the database, there aren’t androids with that face” scale guy huffed tiredly “there are just so many androids with so many faces” he added sensibly
“Maybe he’s an android made by androids” cereal guy insisted “Tyler said he was sure the freak didn’t breath or blink or swallow”
“Swallow…” gun guy said with a small laugh
“Tyler goes hunting for bigfoot every other weekend” the guy by the scale said
“So what?” window guy asked
“So maybe he’s not someone you want to go to for facts, he thinks celebrities are lizards that control the world”
“You can’t prove they aren’t” window guy argued
“I bet the bastard in the third is an android too” cereal guy continued
“Androids or not, it doesn’t fucking matter” Brad cut in “we don’t want to fuck around with anything fucking Tyler thinks it’s weird, we have it good here. That motherfucker in the third will move on soon enough, that’s what that type does” Brad turned to Leo “Did he tell you his name or anything?”
Leo shrugged “No” and for once he was glad he really hadn’t because Leo knew he was really bad at lying.
“Did he breathe?” scale guy asked, it may have been a joke but the dead pan delivery made it hard to tell
“I’m pretty sure he did” Leo replied,
“Did you swallow?” gun guy asked, almost chocking with laughter before he could finish the question
“You don’t have to answer that” scale guy said
Leo hoped nothing was showing on his face, he’d digest all this information later, he was positive he’d seen that guy breath and eat and stuff, so he wasn’t an android, androids didn’t get colds, and although he did look like he could murder somebody, Leo didn’t think he could be a criminal, I mean he cared so much about, like, not shoplifting a stupid soda – anyway he couldn’t think about that right now, he had to focus
“what’s yours?” Brad was saying and Leo hadn’t heard him, shit..
“My…” Leo hesitated
“Name, your name”
“That’s a nice name” The guy weighing the red-ice said casually
“Thanks?” Leo didn’t know what else to reply
“500 grams” The scale guy added sliding a bunch of red-ice baggies towards Leo, “20 bags, 25 grams each”
“There you go, Leo” Brad said “Try to have it by the end of the week, yeah? You get 5% of it when you are done. You give the money only to me, or to Jay there” he said gesturing towards the guy at the scale “he’s always here, he’s an agro… fuck, what was it again?”
“Agoraphobic” Jay replied simply, as he kept on weighing and bagging red-ice
“That” Brad said reclining on his chair “He doesn’t go out, he’s always here”
“I’m running down on my zoloft, by the way” Jay said conversationally
Brad took a pen from the table and wrote a Z on the palm of his hand as he said “You give the money only to either of us, understood?” he looked up at Leo then “The other fucking idiots will go and spend it all on fucking booze”
“It was only once!” window guy complained
“Yeah, sure, no problem” Leo said trying to sound light and confident, he hid the baggies in his jacket and went out, the guy with the gun blew him a kiss. Leo heard them laugh as soon as he shut the door behind him, but he wasn’t one to think they were laughing at him.
He’d sold all of it unexpectedly fast, maybe because he looked comparatively harmless in comparison to the common red-ice dealer, especially now that he could shower, many college kids came to him, and he endeavored to push the guilt of it down, successfully enough, when he knocked on the pack’s door after finishing with the first batch he felt actually proud of himself. He got another 40 baggies this time, and his cut. His only thought was that he could actually pay that guy some of his money back.
Leo had been so happy when he’d seen him, so proud of being able to pay him back even if just a small part, he’d planed to maybe ask that guy if he wanted to go somewhere, Leo had money for once, maybe he could invite him to lunch, even if it was only convenience store food, or a coffee, an expensive one, it seemed like that guy would hardly reject that considering how much coffee he went through in only a few days, but nothing had gone as Leo imagined.
“Fucking drug dealer” That guy said, and the disgust in his voice almost made Leo cry. He’d been called worse things, but he’d never felt as bad about it.
The thing was, he wasn’t sure he could go and tell them he was done after only like a week and a half without any sort of repercussions, no matter how relatively harmless they looked when they were in an okay mood and they had you doing what they wanted.
After their fight, Leo walked around aimlessly for the rest of the day, he only had 15 baggies left out of the 40, but he didn’t feel like selling them. So he’d gone to the place he always went to when he felt lost, to see his mum, really wishing she could give him some advice.
She’d told him he wasn’t his worse moments but what if worse moments was everything there was to him. He couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to look at her in the eye and be like “Hey, mum! Guess who’s a drug dealer!” she’d be so fucking disappointed, the thought alone made him feel sick.
It was starting to get dark when Leo finally stood up. He said goodbye to his mum, and walked through the graveyard wishing he knew that guy’s name, so he could leave a thank you note or whatever for him, he glanced at the different headstones as he walked, that guy didn’t look like an Andrew, or a Sean, or a Harvey, or a George and anyway if he was going to borrow someone else’s name to give to him, at least in his head, Leo didn’t feel like taking it from a headstone.
He walked without direction, he didn’t feel like going back to the apartments that night, he recognized a street and followed that road, hoping he’d remember enough directions to arrive, but naturally he’d gotten there too late, there were lights inside but the door was closed. He peeked in just because it seemed like the thing to do, feeling sorry he’d startled the person inside, but after a second she recognized him and came up to the entrance with a smile, Leo could hear her keys rattling as she placed them in the lock
“Hello!” The cool grandma said with a warm smile as she opened the door
“Hi, uhm, I wondered, I mean, sorry to bother you, I know it’s super late” Leo said feeling uncharacteristically shy “but could I maybe see chick for just a little bit?”
“Of course! Come in, come in!” the grandma said animatedly “I’ll go get her, she lives upstairs with me”
She led him to the desk where he sat feeling awkward. She disappeared behind a door which opened to a stairway, kinda like a secret passage, very in tune with the grandma’s aesthetic choices. She came back with chick in her arms, the little cat started chattering happily as soon as she saw him, as if telling him what she had been up to since he’d left her there.
“I think she remembers you quite well” The grandma said as she let chick jump down into Leo’s lap.
“Do you, chick? Have you had fun?” Leo asked, feeling the warmth of the little cat burying into the crook of his arm, curling up there still chattering up to him, telling him about all the birds she’d seen from the window, all the new toys she had, the pretty teacup she had broken, all about her favourite warm spots to take a nap
“I’ll leave you to it” The grandma smiled, “I’ll finish closing up, you tell me when you are ready so I open the door for you”
“Thank you so much, and I’m sorry it’s so late” Leo said
“Take your time, dear” she said, and went elsewhere to busy herself closing doors, and turning off lights.
Once the little cat settled, Leo was just happy to sit there in the silence with her, he had gone through his options over the day and he had just wanted to say goodbye to his mum and chick before he did anything.
He knew he was completely useless and couldn’t make anything work right, except drug dealing for which he apparently had an innate talent for, but he didn’t want to be a drug dealer, and it was true that sooner or later he’d take something for himself and that wouldn’t go well, debts weren’t forgiven. He didn’t want to end up having to sell himself just like the pack had implied, that sort of thing had come back now that androids were people too and you couldn’t just go rent one and do whatever to them without consequences, but Leo suspected way too many people who would be interested in that would now be used to fuck and break, they had been doing so for years after all.
He’d considered dropping the red-ice he still had and their money at their door and run away, wash his hands of the whole thing, but run away where? He had hoped to stay near the apartments for the winter, it’d been such a nice couple of weeks since he could use that guy’s apartment, he’d even hoped they could be friends or something, everything was going fine, it was just like him to go and fucking ruin it.
So, he couldn’t run away, he was too tired of everything, too tired to go and find food or where to sleep, too tired of feeling gross, greasy and stinky, too tired of avoiding dangerous people, and having to consider the weather at all times. He couldn’t go back and face the pack, if he was going to die he didn’t want to be fucking murdered, go back to his dad’s was unthinkable.
But he still had the red-ice he was supposed to sell in his jacket pocket, he still had A LOT of it, he could as well use it to get out of everything; no one would miss him or even notice he was gone, except maybe for the dealers, but it wasn’t that much money, even they would forget about him in like an hour. He wouldn’t have a headstone, he’d make sure not to die with his ID on him, he didn’t want his dad and Markus involved in it.
“Are you alright, dear?” Leo felt a soft squeeze on his shoulder,
“Yeah” Leo said, but shook his head no, and was startled to notice a few silent tears were falling from his eyes. Chick bumped her little head against his arm
“Okay, now” the cool grandma said, “Do you have somewhere to go from here?”
Leo didn’t say anything, only shook his head ‘no’ again because he was too tired to even try to lie
“Alright, you are staying here tonight”
“I don’t really –”
“Not negotiable” She said firmly “You can take my nephew’s old room, it’s more of a storage room now, but the bed is still there, the bathroom works just fine”
“I remember you said he was traveling or something” Leo said, hurriedly wiping the tears off his face with his sleeve, trying to pretend nothing had happened; the nephew seemed like a safe subject
“That’s the one” she said happily, as if sensing asking Leo what was bothering him would be counterproductive
Leo felt like one of those protagonist in the gothic novels he’d read in school, like he was following Mrs Danvers down the halls of Manderley, although that was quite unfair to the cool grandma, who although dressed accordingly was too nice for that part.
She led him through all the kennels and cages where different dogs and cats looked at him with sleepy curiosity, to a medium sized, annex room at the back of the shelter. There was a bed with a plastic cover, a desk pushed up to one corner, even a bike leaning against the wall. All through the room there were cardboard boxes piled on top of each other, chick rushed to jump off his arms to chase a foam peanut through the cardboard labyrinth. But despite its current use, the room felt lived in, it hadn’t been forgotten, there wasn’t even any dust in it. The cool grandma took the plastic cover off the bed efficiently, going out of the room with it and coming back with fresh linens and a soft blanket in no time.
“Here you go” She said giving them to him, and then considered him for a bit. “If you’d like to shower the bathroom is right through that door”
“That’d be nice, thank you so much” Leo said
“Let’s see,” She said sounding pleased “you can wear some of these, I think” She dug inside one of the boxes deceptively labeled ‘porcelain figurines’ “They are in terrible condition but they are clean, not too bad for impromptu pajamas,” She took a hoodie and a pair of sweatpants that were falling to pieces out of the box, they had holes in several places, the sleeves were frayed, just looking at them made you tired, thinking of everything they must have gone through.
“My nephew left them here when he moved out,” She explained “old clothes he said he’d throw out, but I squirreled some away,” she said with a mischievous twinkle in her eye “I reserved the right to be a bit of a sentimental fool, he’d grown up so much, worked so hard” She said as she placed the hoodie and sweatpants on the bed “he still has some more growing up to do, though” she said fondly
“He’s a cop?” Leo asked looking at the faded police academy logo in the worn hoodie
“He’s a detective now” She said with a proud nod
“Are you sure you want me here” Leo said “I don’t think your cop nephew would like that, I could be like a thief or a murderer –”
“I believe those don’t advertise themselves”
“I may be a super lousy thief or murderer” Leo hesitated “I am a junkie though” he shrugged
“Don’t you worry, you come with excellent credentials” she patted his shoulder “isn’t that right, my darling?” she asked the little cat who meowed saying she didn’t know what those credentials could be but she certainly liked him quite a lot.
“I’ll leave you to it,” the grandma said “chick will look after you, and if you need anything, you just knock on my door, alright?”
Leo nodded “Thank you, really, so much”
“Things will look up in the morning,” she said with a nod before leaving him alone in the room, well not alone, chick was with him after all.
He showered with actual hot water and good water pressure, it did make him feel better, showers always did. He put on the grey ‘police academy’ hoodie and sweatpants, and when he came out of the bathroom, there was a mug of hot tea and a piece of cake on the desk. He sat at it, taking little pieces of the cake, watching chick chasing after the empty air, moth and spider ghosts probably.
He made the bed, pretty badly, but he didn’t have energy for anything else, when he lay back on it he was surprised he hadn’t noticed there was a skylight right above it, that would be nice to see in the morning, and with all the boxes piled up around him he felt hidden, oddly safe, he hadn’t felt safe while he tried to sleep in months. Chick soon climbed up with him, curling up on his pillow right next to his head, head bumping and chewing on his hair a little, until she settled and all he could hear were her sleepy purrs.
Leo turned over, sleepily noticing there was a word carved in the wood of the headboard ‘Gavin’ he read and smiled, so that was what the G in the G. R. inside the collar of the hoodie stood for, maybe he would borrow it for that guy, after all, it was a much better option than to take a name from someone’s gravestone, Leo thought, right before he fell asleep.
It had been an excellent morning for Leo; he’d woken up past noon, which was quite like him, cool Grandma Maud had given him breakfast, he’d played with chick and helped a bit around the shelter as a thank you before he left. He walked back to the apartments feeling lighter, trying not to think, because that would lead to over thinking, he’d figure out what the next step was when he was in front of it.
He was just one block away from his destination when he saw… Jay, (that was it! The one who was always in,) hunched in a corner, all curled up into himself, Leo could relate. After hesitating for a second he walked towards him. The dealer was a wolf alright, but maybe a wolf with some irish setter somewhere in his ancestry, his reddish hair was cropped very short and he was wearing glasses which he hadn’t been wearing the times Leo had met him inside. It all gave him a jock that actually rather enjoys scrapbooking vibes.
“Hey” Leo said tentatively “are you, like, okay?”
“I –“ Jay’s voice shook “I’m really freaking out, man. I’m fucking going to die”
“Did something happen?” Leo squatted down next to him
Jay shook his head “I got a call, they want their money today” he said “We thought we had two weeks more but no, they want it today, and there’s no one else around but me, and Brad forgot his stupid phone. If they don’t get it, it will be bad news, but, I’m just here freaking the fuck out, I can’t even get myself to the fucking bus stop, man”
“I could take it for you if you want” Leo offered
Jay gave him a look, “Yes, I’ll give you all our drug money to run away with” he whispered harshly
“Fair enough, I guess” Leo said “Would it help if I go with you?”
Jay nodded “It may, yeah somewhat, if you don’t let me run back, I really need to get there”
“I can do that” Leo said “Let’s go, we’ll be back before you know it” he tried to sound comforting and sympathetic; he’d been on the other side more than enough times to know exactly what it was like .
They walked down the road, it was rush hour and the streets were full of busy, moody people going back home from their jobs, which wasn’t doing Jay any favours. Every time there was a loud noise he jumped like he was about to run back. He walked with very tiny steps, as he hugged himself; Leo tried to be supportive, it was like seeing himself, at least how he felt inside. When they made it to the stop, it still took them a few tries before Jay could steel himself enough to actually get on a bus.
“Can I ask you something?” Leo asked once they were on their seats
“No.” Jay replied, not comforted by the bus in the least “I’m fucking sweating” he was crying a bit too and other passengers were starting to stare at them, Leo glared back to the ones that stared more than it was polite, he considered shouting some abuse at them too but decided against it, that may make Jay even more uncomfortable an self-conscious than he already was.
They got off the bus and resumed their walk, which went exactly as before until they got to the bridge, it took Leo a bit of a pep talk which included unlikely phrases like “Who is going to meet the drug lords if you don’t?” Leo did all the talking while Jay panicked, but after 30 minutes of it they finally made it to the other side of a bridge that didn’t take anyone else more than 5 minutes to cross.
“Fucking shit, man” Jay said “I fucking hate bridges”
“But you did it! Are we close?”
“Yeah, you should stay here”
“Yeah, can’t take you” Jay hesitated, smelled his own t-shirt “Do I stink of anxiety sweat?”
Leo sniffed at him slightly “Yup, but, I mean, they probably are used to that smell”
Jay sighed “Could you wait for me here?” he asked anxiously
“Sure, man. No problem” Leo shrugged “Nothing else to do really”
“If I’m not back in 2 hours” Jay said sounding as breathless as if he had been running a marathon, and he was sweating just as much too “You should go back to the apartment and tell Brad what happened, okay?”
“Sure.” Leo said much less confidently than before “but… come back…”
Jay walked away, hugging himself and with faltering steps, giving Leo a very unsure nod goodbye, he looked like Leo felt all the time, completely overwhelmed by literally every single thing around him.
Leo didn’t want to move away from the bridge, in case Jay came back and didn’t see him. He could use this time to think he guessed, but for Leo time to think usually turned counterproductive, he ended up going in circles and not really finding a way out.
The night at the shelter had helped him a lot; he’d slept more than he had in months. He’d said goodbye to cool grandma Maud and chick thinking he’d go back to the apartments and tell them he was done with the drug dealing, even call on the guy as backup if he felt like it, but he was becoming unsure, and over that he was really, really craving red-ice now, he went back and forth, between I will take some and I won’t, (I will, I won’t, I will, I won’t) while he looked at the evening sunlight sparkle in the surface of the water down the bridge (I will, I won’t, I will, I won’t, I will)
“Yo,” Jay’s voice said suddenly, snapping Leo out of his circling thoughts
“Hey!” Leo said, very relieved at not having to be any type of messenger that got shot “That wasn’t too long”
“Once there it was just a moment, it took me a while to get there though… and fucking back” Jay explained “Fucking bridges, man” he said hesitating before the bridge again, he seemed if anything more wary and afraid now that the urgent task had been completed
“We can take a break if you want” Leo offered
“No, I really need to get back home,” Jay said “I’ll only get worse –, fuck, I must look like an idiot”
“Hey, I’m the biggest idiot on the block, I’m not letting you take that away from me, is my only achievement” Leo said and Jay actually huffed a small laugh.
“What did you want to ask earlier?” Jay asked as they painstakingly walked back across the bridge,
“Oh!” Leo said “It was something stupid, I saw the five of you go out one night so I just thought I’d ask how you did it that time, thought it may help”
“We only went one block away and I cried” Jay replied “But Brad wouldn’t let me stay when they had trashed that guy’s place”
“Do you think he really is like…” Leo didn’t finish the sentence, catching himself before talking about a hitman in public, and Jay was too focused on not being completely freaked out by whatever freaked him out about being outside, that it didn’t seem like he had even heard him. Leo let him focus, when they finally got on the bus the atmosphere felt less oppressive, since there wasn’t near as much people now that the rush hour was long past, and most of the commuters opted to close their eyes for a rest after a long day, instead of peering curiously at the hunched man crying in one of the seats.
“Do you mind if I put on my headphones for the rest of the way?” Jay asked, once they were seated “I’m gonna close my eyes too, so could you tell me when we are there?”
“No problem, dude” Leo smiled, sitting back watching the late evening streets. Leo did love this time of day, when it was just getting dark, and the wind got cold and the light got that bluish-grey tint before the street lights started to come on one by one.
If Leo’s night had been one of the most serene, restful nights he’d had in a long time, Gavin’s had been exactly the opposite.
He’d come back from Carl Manfred’s home (a crusty prick if he’d ever seen one) gotten to the apartment building and searched for Leo, he didn’t have a plan, they’d probably end up fighting again, but maybe if he made enough noise some of it would go through that idiot’s thick skull. Gavin didn’t think much of it when he didn’t find him, he was probably selling the fucking red-ice, whatever, Gavin could do with some cooling off time anyway. When night fell and Leo hadn’t come back yet, Gavin paced his apartment, stomping up and down, trying to use his logical mind.
It wasn’t unlikely that the idiot had any number of dumps to sleep in besides this, and he was obviously the type to mope around and shit, not that Gavin thought that idiot would mope over them having a fight, or more like a loud disagreement, what? He had those with Hank or Chris or even Tina all the fucking time, besides, Gavin had been completely fucking right! It wasn’t anything to go under a bridge to cry and overdose about, was it? was it?!
“Phck!” Gavin said for what he felt to be the hundredth time that day, stomping down the stairs, getting on his truck and driving around in the night, trying to think of places where an idiot like that could go cry himself to sleep, he didn’t realize he’d spent the whole night at it until the sky started to turn a chalky grey and gross salmon-pink or whatever.
He still kept at it until the evening, finding nothing; Gavin didn’t know him enough to make accurate guesses. He’d come back to the apartments, glanced under the fire escape stairs only to find the space just as empty as it had been in the night.
He was thinking he’d just take a damn nap and try a few more places as he got to the second floor, when someone grabbed his shoulder; Gavin pushed them back instinctively and soon he was scuffling with a man only slightly taller than himself, bulky in an olympic swimmer kind of way, strong arms and shoulders, nothing Gavin couldn’t deal with.
“What the fuck did you do to him, fucking bastard!” his would be attacker said
Gavin vaguely recognized the dick who was shouting at him now as the leader of the wolf pack
“What the fuck are you on!” Gavin pushed him back “Get the fuck away from me, motherfucker!”
“Not until you tell me what you did to Jay!” the dealer yelled savagely
“I don’t know who the fuck that is!” Gavin snarled back, he was far too sleep deprived to deal with this shit
“You know him, red hair, always around” the dealer said “He can’t go out”
Gavin turned to him with a dry, tired look “Are you admitting to kidnapping, false imprisonment?”
“Of course you psycho would go right there” the dealer replied “He freaks if he’s outside, he’s sick, got brain problems”
“Yeah, I know someone like that” Gavin turned to him sharply “Have you seen Leo?”
Something flashed in the dealers eyes
“You want Leo?” he spat “You’ll have to tell me where Jay is first!”
Gavin launched at him grabbing him by the collar of his t-shirt,
“Listen, motherfucker!” Gavin snarled “You don’t know who the fuck you are dealing with!”
“I think I do, fucking killer,” the dealer pushed him back “if you touched Jay I swear I’m going to fucking kill you!” he said “I’ll call the fucking feds on you!” he added a bit incoherently
Gavin scoffed “Yeah, you do that, you think they won’t come and take a look at everything you have in there?”
“I will, right the fuck now” the dealer said searching for his phone in his pocket “Where the fuck is that piece of crap!”
The dealer went back into his apartment turning his back on Gavin, not the brightest crayon, Gavin didn’t pounce but followed close behind, right into the wolves den, but the place was empty, idiotless.
“Who the fuck said you could come in?” The dealer said finally getting his gun out, apparently deciding he could get away with self defense if necessary
“You better tell me where the fuck Leo is” Gavin snarled taking his own gun out
“You better tell me where the fuck Jay is” the dealer replied
Both were stubborn enough to stay there for days pointing their guns at each other and perhaps shoot at each other uselessly; they probably would have done so, if the door hadn’t flung open in that moment. Jay rushed in, not even paying attention to the gun duel going on in his living room, he ran directly into his bedroom
“Jay? What the-?!” Brad said going after him “You okay? Where were you?!”
Gavin was about to follow; remind that fucker they weren’t done when Leo peeked into the apartment.
“Oh, uhm, hey… there…” Leo said when he saw him
‘Where the fuck were you?’ was what Gavin thought, he bit his tongue not to echo the dealer. Leo looked better than usual, the bags under his eyes weren’t as bad, not that Gavin noticed things like that about him, what did he care if–
“What are you doing here?” Leo asked over the silence of his non-reply
“Being dragged into shit that’s not my fucking problem”
“You look like shit” Leo said “Are you sick again?” he sounded concerned, not that Gavin paid attention to Leo’s tones “Dude, holy shit, what happened to your hands?” Leo gave one step forward and then halted awkwardly as if he were going to attempt to grab his hands but had thought better of it
Gavin ignored that, he knew his hands were purple and yellow from the way he had hit them against the wheel of the truck “Can’t I have one fucking minute without the local baboons jumping on me, fucking hell” Gavin spat his annoyance to disguise his relief as he strode out of the apartment
Leo was about to follow him, but what could he say to him? As long as Leo was an active drug dealer he couldn’t go to him, could he? They’d only argue again, he only stood there in the wolves apartment feeling a bit stupid for a few minutes
“Yo, need anything?” Brad asked not unkindly when he came out of the bedroom “Did you finish your batch?”
“Not.. not yet” Leo said, maybe this was not the best time to ask if he could quit, maybe he could talk to Jay later, ask for advice, “Is he alright?” he nodded towards the doorway where Jay had disappeared.
“He’s fine, taking a shower now”
“Okay, so, I’ll see you guys later” Leo said with a shrug
“Try to have the money in a couple of weeks, yeah?”
“Sure,” Leo said, maybe he could finish that, and having all the money would work on his favor when he asked if he could quit dealing.
And then… he did something really stupid, really, really stupid. He didn’t understand why he did things like that, the type of things he didn’t even actually Want to do but somehow he did anyway. It was kicking that damn wasps nest again and again… and again
That night back in the apartments he used red-ice, maybe a bit too much, because in a couple of days the cravings were even worse, they were so bad he was tempted to take some of the red-ice he was supposed to sell, and so he did. After the harm was done he’d decided he had to get rid of the rest of Brad’s batch as soon as possible before he dented it even more, he went to a club, and then he found an ex-boyfriend.
It was perfect really, his ex bought all the red-ice Leo had left (slightly overpriced to make up for what Leo had taken, not that his ex was in any condition to notice) and then… he offered him some. Leo couldn’t say no, he even had some new mixes of it Leo hadn’t tried before. Soon, Leo was feeling amazing, this was why he couldn’t keep away when he tried, why all those rehab programs his dad paid so much for were a waste of time and money.
Maybe if there was a way to make him forget this feeling it would work, but he always remembered it and that was what he craved, the way everything bad and unpleasant just melted away, and for a few minutes he felt on top of the world, so happy, nothing could touch him at all. It didn’t matter if nobody loved him, or if he was a failure or a complete loser, everything was good for those precious few minutes, everything was great.
Then his ex-boyfriend was kissing his neck, just the way Leo liked, everything felt so fucking good when you were high, right in the middle of that dreamy, floaty, euphoric feeling. Leo didn’t have much of an idea of where he was anymore, or what he was doing, his ex-boyfriend started to fumble with his belt and he let him. He wanted to tell his ex they should relocate, but honestly he wouldn’t make it.
Leo hadn’t had sex sober in years, if he was honest he’d hardly had sex sober at all in his life, and he suspected it would be disappointing. This probably wouldn’t get that far, his ex-boyfriend was just as messed up as he was, and Leo only hoped neither of them would throw up and ruin what they had going on. He vaguely thought he’d really regret all of this in the morning but it felt so good… he’d worry about that later, that was his one talent;
Achievements: being an idiot, Talents: worry later.
Luckily for Leo and his bad choices, there were more eyes than usual on him that night.
Amber, the sex worker that lived in the building was there. She knew Leo, at least well enough to be worried when she saw him get hansy with some guy as far gone as he was. She and her friends looked out for each other, no sex when you were drunk or high was a rule, and she liked Leo, he reminded her of her little brother. She considered if she should go get the bouncer and ask for help, she looked around, and oh! she could do better, there was Brad from the second floor.
“Bradley!” Amber said, the sound of her high heels clicking on the floor loud and clear even over the music
“Neighbor” Bradley said simply, he knew Amber wouldn’t buy anything “If this is about the goddamn recyclables again, this is not the time or the place –”
“I need you to get that guy, like out…” Amber said in her valley girl accent, pointing at where Leo was partying away “Of whatever and whoever he’s getting into”
“Seems to me that’s his business” Brad replied, as long as Leo gave him his money, he could do whatever and whomever he wanted as far as Brad was concerned
“He’s too far out to like know what is and what’s not his business” Amber insisted
Brad didn’t have time for this, it wasn’t his problem,
“give me a sec…” he said, it wasn’t Leo’s problem either when Jay had been in the street, battling his bad brain while he tried to save all their necks.
Jay’s phone lit up with the notification. He peered at it curiously when he saw Brad’s name, he wasn’t one to text while he was in the middle of business.
‘Leo is here, getting off with some rando and whatever, but he’s really fucked up, like he doesn’t know where or what or who he’s doing fucked up’ Brad texted ‘hope your theory about the bastard on the third is true bc I don’t want to go get Leo myself, I’m working here.’
Jay went up the stairs to the third floor, as long as it was inside the building he could move without problem.
Gavin was sitting at his rackety kitchen table when he heard the knock on his door; he ignored it at first, thinking it may only be one of his drunk neighbors bumping around, wouldn’t be a first, but the knocking persisted only getting more insistent, door in a haunted house with vengeful ghosts insistent
“What?” He spat when he opened it, only to find one of the dealers, the redheaded one, he could barely fucking tell them apart, they were like roaches
“I think Leo is in trouble” Jay went right to the point
“Not my problem” Gavin said drily slamming the door on the dealer’s face
“I’m not playing here,” Jay shouted through the door “I think he really needs someone who’d look out for him to go and get him”
How did any of that fucking apply to Gavin? Why exactly would it fall on him to go extract that idiot from his daily mess, as if there wasn’t anyone else who could do it…
Phck– Phck– Phck– Phck– Phck–
Gavin drove to the address he’d been given; he may be a sitting duck, driving himself right into an ambush, although a night club was a weird place for it, but if so he deserved whatever happened to him for being a fucking moron.
The bouncer tried to turn him away, but before Gavin could threaten and insult or simply give up on the task, a girl came out of the club, all long brown hair, glittery make-up and an impossibly tight leopard print dress. Gavin vaguely recognized her as the girl that had tried to talk to him his first day in the building
“That’s cool, he’s with me!” she chirped
“You took hella ages!” She said tugging at his jacket, leading him into the club, pointing at one of the dark booths “He’s there!” she pushed him forward
Leo was there alright, making out with some unidentified lowlife, the lowlife was starting to try to get in his pants, literally, but if anything he seemed even more out of it than Leo was, and was having trouble making his fingers work with the buckle of Leo’s belt. Gavin rolled his eyes and stomped towards them,
“Party over, dumbass” Gavin said, ungracefully grabbing Leo’s under arms and sliding the fool back towards him, the other unidentified lowlife went face first on the questionable club couch and passed out instantly
“No, why!” Leo whined, but didn’t really put resistance, probably because he couldn’t tell up from down, he swayed when he tried to stand upright, as if the room were spinning and he couldn’t keep his balance “Hey!” Leo said, his eyes trying to focus on Gavin “I didn’t think you’d be the clubbing type!”
“I’m fucking not”
“This is a club, dumdum” Leo said, then his eyes tried to focus on Amber “I really like those earrings, Bambi”
“I know right, aren’t they like gorgeous?” she said brightening up “Oh my god, I was so stoked when I found them, I just knew they would look bomb with this dress…”
“Fuck’s sake–” Gavin muttered
The girl and Leo kept on blabbering nonsense about her dress, her hair and the ‘divine’ nail polish Leo ‘totally had’ to see, as Gavin tried to herd them outside of the club, not an easy task as Leo bumped into every other single patron, spilling a few drinks, if the owner of the drink was sober enough to complain, Gavin made sure to growl dangerously at them, he wasn’t paying for anything in this shithole. Once outside they steered Leo towards Gavin’s truck, which seemed slightly easier in the fresh air; while yet another of the building’s roaches walked a few steps behind them
“What the fuck do you want?” Gavin snarled at him when they reached the car
“Someone’s gotta walk Amber back” Brad said “There are fucking psychos like you out there”
Amber held Leo’s arm to herself and gave Brad a look, an accusative, raised eyebrow, you-said-he-was-safe look
“I moved out because he looked unstable,” she whispered loudly “like going to shoot the whole building type of unstable”
“You fucking called me here,” Gavin growled “so, what the fuck?”
“See what I’m saying” She said to Brad, still all long, lazy syllables
“Leo is all good with this particular psycho” Brad assured her “Isn’t he?” He asked turning to Gavin
“I’m not a fucking pervert if that’s what you are asking!” Gavin snarled
“Ugh, are you still really pissed off at me?” Leo said, maybe triggered by Gavin’s general loudness and annoyance “I already told them, told him” Leo pointed at Brad, “Didn’t I? Fuck, no… I didn’t yet… shit… oh, by the way, I’ve got all your money–”
“No!” The three of them said as they immediately rushed to prevent Leo from showing his stack of drug money in the full view of the club’s cctv
“Get in, dumbass” Gavin opened truck by the driver side and then turned to Amber “If that’s okay with you”
“That’s cool” She said patting Leo’s arm “but I still think you are like totally unstable and creepy”
“He’s just like super cranky” Leo said to her as she helped him get into the truck by the driver’s side “And his car is really gross”
“I’d say Ted Bundy-esque,” Amber said getting out of the car “Thank you!” she added as Gavin took his place behind the wheel “but I haven’t gotten your name yet”
“Neil” Gavin said trying to sound as convincing as he could, this was the first time he actually said it out loud when he wasn’t working on a target and he felt like a fucking imbecile
“Neil what?” She peeped
Leo chuckled and Brad smirked, Gavin knew it was a fucking stupid name, alright! He knew it.
“Is it okay if I take a picture of your license plate, Neil?” Amber said “You know, like, just to be safe”
“Knock yourself out” He hadn’t finished saying it when she was already taking pictures, of the plate, of the car, of him glaring at her from the driver’s seat. Smart girl, Gavin was glad someone like her was looking out for Leo tonight.
“Yah!” Amber said, browsing through the pictures on her phone as he started the car. She blew a kiss and waved goodbye to Leo as Gavin drove away.
He’d been driving for a few minutes when Leo stirred, waking up from the zoned out stupor he’d been in since the start of the drive
“Fuck’s sake, try not to barf in the car, dumbass!”
“I’m not going to barf” Leo replied, stretching on the seat in a way that lifted his jumper, baring just a sliver of his midriff, NOT that Gavin was particularly noticing that, because why the fuck would he
“I feel really good right now actually, no barfing in the immediate future” Leo continued “I feel so happy” he said with a big smile “You know, I was just making out with this guy –“
“I don’t need the fucking details” Gavin interrupted “Saw more than enough”
“I mean there aren’t any really, he is far from my first choice, you know, tasted kinda like an astray” Leo said, wrinkling his nose in distaste “Hey, wanna make out?” he added
“You hesitated!” Leo laughed sounding far too pleased with himself for someone in his condition, not just tonight but in life in general
“I’m driving, I can’t listen to your fucking nonsense”
“If you park we can make out…” Leo sing sang softly, the car came to a stop and Leo scooted closer to Gavin
“It’s a red light, fucking dumbass!” Gavin said pushing Leo back to his side of the car “You are too messed up to be making out or doing anything with anyone”
“But it feels so good to make out when you are high” Leo whined, “And it’s nice to have someone’s attention, you know, not having to beg or fight for it and never being good enough”
Gavin huffed “You need to find another fucking way to work out your daddy issues” he rebuked “You can’t go around so hungry for attention that you jump right on the first lowlife that offers you some”
Leo looked at him for a moment, “… I guess…” Leo said, sinking into a brooding silence
When they got to the apartments Leo was still unsteady on his feet, Gavin steered him all the way to the third floor only tripping on the stairs twice, managed to install him on the couch
“Are we going to make out after all?” Leo asked, but he already sounded half asleep
“Not a chance, dumbass”
When Gavin came back with the best blanket he had, which wasn’t saying much, Leo automatically curled up on the couch and Gavin covered him up
“You know…” Leo muttered “I hate it when you are right... fucking annoying…”
Gavin scoffed, the idiot would try to argue with him even in his sleep. He made sure the door and the window were closed and then retired to his room.
“So… “ Leo said suspiciously “this is, like, an intervention?”
Leo was sitting on Gavin’s couch where he’d been allowed to camp for the last few days. Gavin was standing, leaning against the wall, his arms folded, a frown on his face that meant he couldn’t figure out where he’d gone wrong, which exactly had been the crossroad where he’d failed miserably, and had led to him standing (because the cat that it’s the highest is the boss) while the junkie, two drug dealers, and the girl from the club, sat around on the crusty furniture of his murky undercover apartment.
“Only if you want it to be” Amber said “We aren’t going to make you do anything you don’t want to”
“He should go to rehab for that” Gavin said “Doctors, meds and shit”
“I have tried those” Leo said with some resentment in his voice “I hate those places, they are fucking expensive, and it’s not like getting them out is the problem, the step I always fail at is staying away”
“Would you try again?” Jay said
“Going cold turkey?” Leo asked
“Unless you want to go into rehab like Neil says” Amber suggested reasonably “We can take you, we could call your dad–”
Leo shook his head no
“Brad and I have done so with a few of the guys, helping them while they go cold turkey” Jay explained
“Guess that makes you fucking experts” Gavin rebuked
“It’s not rocket science” Brad spat back
“Leo is the one who’d be doing the real work,” Jay explained “We’d just be around to make sure nothing goes wrong”
“Would it be here?” Leo asked wringing his hands in an anxious gesture
“Would you be the most comfortable doing it here?” Jay asked
“I guess…” Leo said with a shrug, giving Gavin a quick, furtive glance
“Beats me why” Brad muttered looking around with distaste, Jay bumped his knee against his, in an universal, old marrieds, keep-quiet gesture
“Can we do it here?” Jay asked Gavin.
A frustrated growl was building in Gavin’s throat, again none of this mess was his problem, and yet he felt himself give a gruff nod. It was better for everyone if they did it where he could fucking see them, he guessed.
“Whatever,” Gavin said “what’s your mental plan then?”
They set on to do what seemed to Gavin like a perfectly disastrous bad idea in every sense, but apparently was the only help the idiot would take, figures.
They prepared Gavin’s bathroom, leaving nothing but ratty blankets and linens inside the bathtub for Leo to get some sleep in, everything else went out, particularly the mirror and anything Leo could possibly hurt himself with.
Then Jay warned Leo about things Leo knew perfectly well were going to happen to him.
He’d get angry, he’d get paranoid, he’d get desperate, he’d throw up, most alarmingly of all for Leo, he’d get the shits. He’d be hot and cold, he’d be nauseous, he’d sweat away and his body would ache. They left a few plastic glasses and a 10 litter water jug inside the bathroom cabinet; hopefully keeping it out of Leo’s immediate sight would mean he wouldn’t spill it in a rage, food, they would figure out later, they counted on sneaking something in when Leo was out.
Everything had gone fairly well at first, Leo’s dignity being the only thing that was damaged, as they could hear all of his toilet related suffering through the thin walls, and it was lucky Leo was really a weakling, way more hiss than scratch. He screamed and raged, insulted them and cried like some possessed kid in an 80’s movie, but all his efforts to break through the door ended with him whimpering in pain after a maximum of 3 tries, and the door wasn’t even that solid.
By the end of the week Gavin was used to it, to arrive to the apartment for Amber to give him a report of how the day had gone, as if he cared. They sneaked food in when Leo slept, although Leo had tried to use all the cunning he was capable of and attempted to escape once pretending to be asleep, he’d only gotten to the living room before Gavin caught him.
This evening Gavin arrived, waiting for Amber to start chirping about whatever had gone on with Leo that day, but instead as soon as he went through the door he heard a “He’s here!” he didn’t like the sound of
“What’s wrong?” The question left him almost before he could think it
“He’s been like out all evening,” Amber explained, “I wanted to call a doctor, and I know we promised Leo no doctors, but he looks… you better come see him” she led him to his own bathroom, where Jay was sitting on the edge of the bathtub with Brad just behind him, they were looking down at Leo curled up inside of it, his breathing uneven and raspy.
“We tried to wake him but he’s not coming to” Amber said
“Aren’t you the fucking experts” Gavin spat to the men
“This is not unusual” Brad said, “Especially with red-ice, that shit really trashes your lungs”
“So you have seen this fucking shit before?”
“We have” Brad said
“Not quite this bad, though” Jay added
“I think we totally should get a doctor” Amber peeked at Leo from behind Gavin
“I say we give Leo a bit more time” Brad said “If he wakes up in a hospital he’s gonna freak, we told him we weren’t doing that to him”
“I would really freak if it were me” Jay agreed “I would never trust you ever again, and Leo already has trust issues up to here” he said stretching the full length of his arm upward
They all looked at Gavin, they had been waiting for him to arrive as if he had dibs on deciding Leo’s fate
“Phck!” Gavin spat taking his crappy burner phone out
“Ambulance?” Amber asked hopefully
Gavin shook his head, heading out of the bathroom to write the text, he was already regretting it as he hit send, this went against everything he stood for and believed in but that idiot wasn’t dying on his watch.
A few minutes later there was a rap on his door.
“Alright, you three, out!” Gavin shouted, he’d really wanted to throw them out of the apartment, but the girl at the very least would make a fucking fuss over it, and he had had enough of everything for a day “Go sit over there” he said signaling vaguely towards his kitchen table “Don’t talk to him, don’t say anything”
To their credit they obeyed and went to sit meekly at the table, quietly watching him with interest, probably thinking this was some sort of shady contact of his
Gavin opened the door.
“What the fuck is he doing here?!” He spat as soon as he did, this wasn’t exactly what he’d ordered, he could feel the guests that had been thrust upon him craning their necks like ostriches to look who was outside.
“I wasn’t going to let him come alone!” Hank argued
“You thought I’d set a trap for the –?”
“We thought someone did” Hank said “we thought you were dead in a ditch”
“Your message was both alarmingly out of character and out of protocol” Connor explained, he was dressed in the casual clothes he had taken to wear when not on duty, including a beanie to hid his LED not to call attention to himself (currently androids were a magnet for curiosity, especially those that kept their LED and advertised to the world that they were different, better and were no apologizing for it) while Hank looked like he always did, your drunk uncle who dressed in the dark in the rejects section of a hawaiian gift shop from the 70’s
“We thought you had been compromised” Connor concluded
“I’m not that fucking useless” Gavin muttered “And keep it quiet, there’s people here”
“What the hell is this about, kid?” Hank asked, glancing into the apartment, raising a questioning eyebrow when he saw the sketchy people sitting at the table
Gavin huffed “I just need the – your – the fucking weird eye scanner thing for a minute”
“Why wouldn’t you call Mr. McCann instead? He should be your first contact” Connor said matter of factly
“I thought you would be – less alarming, alright!” Gavin said in annoyed frustration “more golden retriever, less flesh eating hellhound. Come the fuck in then”
“Hello!” Amber chirped with a little wave, Gavin glared at her, Amber remained unruffled
“Erm… Miss” Hank said “Gentlemen…” the raised eyebrow towards Gavin persisted
“Here tin –”
Hank glared at him
“Here” Gavin said entering the bathroom, Connor went in with him while Hank peeked inside from the door, watching their backs
“What the fuck, kid!” Hank boomed when he saw the state of the bathroom and the young man inside the tub “What the hell did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything” Gavin barked “You can scan him, yeah?” he asked the Android, probably the most polite thing he’d ever said to him “See if his organs are shriveling and shutting down or just working through that red-ice crap”
“So glad you called us before you got a corpse in your hands, son” Hank chided
“That’s what I’m trying to prevent” Gavin spat “Everything was going well but today he’s breathing like that, like when dumb birds huddle in the corner of their cages and drop dead”
Connor kneeled next to the tub, just like he did when Hank used to pass out drunk.
“So what’s the verdict?” Hank asked Connor after a moment
Before Connor could reply there was a bang at the door, someone busting in with what seemed like superhuman strength
“Hands where I can see them!” a loud voice boomed, with the sound of a pair of footsteps marching into the crappy apartment like it was D-day.
“What the fuck are you doing!” Gavin shouted, stomping out of the bathroom only to see Nines, looking like the angel of death, pointing his gun at his three guests who had backed away against the roachy kitchen cabinets just like deer in the headlights
“There’s no need for all of that!” Hank huffed calmly from his place by the bathroom door, but Gavin thought he saw an amused turn of his mouth under his unkempt whiskers
“You instructed me to come if I wasn’t given the all clear in five minutes” Nines rebuked
“I forgot” Connor said simply before he could be asked anything
“You forgot?” Gavin doubted that, most humans would have the decency to smirk or something when they messed with you, but Connor’s face was just as serene as ever, as he still ran his eyes over Leo.
“Do you need assistance?” Nines said, walking towards the bathroom door
“They got it, son” Hank intercepted the flesh eating hellhound and led him away from the bathroom “Let’s go sit for a minute”
“Do you… want some coffee?” Amber offered tentatively
“Coffee would be great, Miss” Hank said with a smile sitting at the table “So you are friends with the kid in the bathtub?” he asked casually as Amber busied herself with the coffee giving her two companions a look that said ‘Like, get a grip!’
Brad and Jay did not get a grip, their faces were completely drained of color and they stared at Nines quite openly but warily, their eyes open wide, trying to figure out if he was breathing, and watching out for blinks, they had seen no blinking so far.
“So, how it’s looking, tincan?” Gavin asked back in the bathroom, just like he asked his mechanic when he had to take his actual, real, comparatively nice car to service. He clutched the edge of the bathtub with his hand
“He’s dehydrated, and he’s running a low fever but other than that I don’t see anything for you to worry about”
“Even with that whistling, fucking dying bird sound?”
“His lungs are congested that’s what’s causing it” Connor said “but it’s not life threatening, it would be good to lower his fever, but cold presses would be enough”
“So why isn’t he waking the fuck up?”
“May he only be exhausted?” Connor asked
“Hmm,” Gavin hummed noncommittally, it was true that Leo had slept very little the last few days, too fucking busy screaming and crying
“There’s a 99% probability of that being the reason,” Connor said “there’s nothing alarmingly wrong that I can see, he’s only in a very deep sleep, as you said his body is working through the red-ice, it would be my conclusion that such deep sleep means he’s doing better and the worse of the withdrawal symptoms are receding” Connor stopped for a moment and even though Gavin couldn’t see it, he could just feel the tincan’s stupid thoughts going yellow
“Hank has similar problems, although they are not near as bad as when I first met him,” the tincan continued softly “sometimes touch can really decrease stress levels, humans seem to be really comforted and soothed by things like a soft caress on their forehead or their hand or a kiss from someone they trust, even when they aren’t conscious”
There was a soft pause after which Gavin reached out for Leo… holding his nose between his thumb and his index finger. Leo started to breathe by his mouth, the wheezing sound intensified. Gavin reached with his other hand to close his mouth
“Abusing someone in this condition is –” Connor was interrupted by Leo’s frantic wriggling.
Gavin let go and a very grumpy Leo half rose from the tub, coughing with the wet sound of the mucus in his lungs
“What the fucking hell? I feel bad enough without you torturing me–“ Leo’s eyes landed on Connor “Who is this?”
“A prick from work” Gavin replied
“Are you going to harvest my organs?”
“Yeah,” Gavin replied drily “may make a couple bucks out of your messed up insides”
“I’m Connor” the tincan introduced himself with his goofy chipper voice, and he might as well since Gavin wasn’t ever going to do it for him, the android outstretched his hand for a handshake
“Leo” Leo said, cautiously shaking Connor’s hand
“How are you feeling, Leo?” Connor asked “He was worried about you so he called me in”
Leo darted a quick, wondering glance at Gavin, who in turn was trying to glare a hole into the tincan’s skull
“So you are… like, a doctor?”
“No,” Connor said simply “But I can assess your vital signs, the basic status of your organs and the stress levels of your body”
“You are… an android?” Leo said turning to look at Gavin “I thought you didn’t… I mean…”
“His antagonism towards those like me is well known” Connor said “We try to work around it as much as possible”
“Gee, working with him must really suck” Leo said “I apologize, like… pretty much in behalf of the human race”
“I appreciate the sentiment” Connor said
“Isn’t time for you to fuck off?” Gavin growled
“He’s like that and you came anyway?” Leo said to Connor “You have fucking rights now, man!”
“He seemed particularly distressed,” Connor replied “We thought someone was usurping his identity”
“We?” Leo asked
“Hank and myself–“
“That’s enough” Gavin interjected “You go back to sleep” he said pointing at Leo
“You are the one who woke me up, Jackass!”
“And you, out!” Gavin said to Connor
“Nice to meet you, Leo” Connor said standing up “You’ll feel better soon, although you may still experience body aches and a slight fever. I’d advice to seek medical attention for your congested lungs”
“Thanks for coming” Leo said “even if he’s… like that…”
“It takes some getting used to, but eventually tuning him out is not difficult” Connor said completely ignoring Gavin’s if-looks-could-kill daggers
No sooner had Gavin ushered both tincans and Hank out of the building than he could feel the judgment waves coming off of Nines, almost tangible, and there was something coming off of Hank as well, an air of bemused fatherly fondness that was freaking Gavin the fuck out.
“This jeopardizes the current mission” Nines said coldly “You shouldn’t be fraternizing with civilians”
“Give me a fucking break!” Gavin said with a sense of deja vu
“Since when do you mix up with anyone, anyway” Hank added, with a not altogether serious tone “The hell of a good time to pick up your social skills”
“He needed a bit of help, alright, what was I to do?” Gavin almost snarled “Leave him alone with those other 3 idiots, with their DIY rehab?”
“Technically that still applies” Connor said helpfully
“You do always take to strays” Hank sighed
“That there is not a stray, he’s a misplaced purebred” Gavin argued “He’s got some issues… a fuckin’ lot of issues, but he’s a dumbass, harmless”
“That would only be more of a reason not to involve him when we are in a middle of an undercover job” Nines said accusatorily
“Listen, kid” Hank said “As your superior, I have to say you should know better, but as your… whatever else we are, son…” Hank sighed again “We weren’t here, Connor”
“Nines?” Hank said
“This is completely outside of the realm of the mission parameters–”
“Come on, son” Hank said, patting the android’s back “To hell with the parameters, you are a deviant now”
If he were human Nines would roll his eyes and sigh, but he was an android and more importantly he was himself and therefore he only agreed with a “Very Well…” that felt like dry ice.
Thank you for reading lads! _(´ཀ`」 ∠) _