Each time he gets ghosted, it gets harder to remember what he’s fighting for.
Coming back to life always hurts. Poison screams until his voice is shredded, back arched, nerves burning, his body convulsing as neurons fire randomly. His hands scrabble against the hard surface of the floor, seeking purchase, something to hold onto. He wishes he could escape back into the dark, but the light pushes him ruthlessly into his body, shoving him until he fills all the nooks and crannies of his past lives.
He remembers, when all he wants to do is forget.
When he wakes, he aches everywhere, a side-effect of the reani process. He’s wearing white cotton pants and a matching tunic, soft to the touch. Standard issue for the House of Life. Poison pets his leg, feeling the rustle of fabric under his fingers. There’s very little that feels so nice against his skin in the Zones. In spite of the soreness in his muscles, he wraps his arms around his knees and huddles on the bed, shutting his eyes against the cool blue light of the fluoros.
It won’t be long before Korse shows up.
Improbably, he’s fallen asleep and Korse’s quiet voice jerks him awake. A pained sound escapes him as he tries to unfold his limbs, struggling against his own body like a new-born. When he opens his eyes, there's Korse, tall and pale and concerned. His heart flutters in his chest and he doesn't have the strength yet to run.
“Sssh.” Korse tries to help him straighten his cramped legs out, hands strong and competent. It’s been awhile since Korse has touched him, and it serves as a reminder of how fucking much Poison's missed him.
“Don’t,” he says weakly, trying to move away. He’s at his lowest point right now and Korse always breaks him with kindness. Poison loathes himself for not being able to say no, hates how shameless Korse makes him feel. "Don't touch me."
"Ah, no, Gerard," Korse breathes, and he pulls Poison close, hands sliding under his tunic and resting hot against the small of his back. "It's okay, baby." The words are meant to be soothing, but it makes Poison think of all their past lives, past deaths. It's not okay.
He struggles against Korse's gentle touch, but the effort exhausts him, as new as this body is. He closes his eyes and wishes he could be free.
"Gerard." Korse presses a kiss against his head and Poison lets go, sliding back into a healing sleep.
When he wakes again, he's alone and shaking. "Fuck." It's already starting, he can feel the ragged claws of withdrawal scraping across his nerves. It won't be long before he's jittering and jonesing, ready to sell his soul for a handful of pretty BL/ind pills. "Fuck," he says, and his voice is resigned.
One of his greatest fears is that some day he won't be able to beat the drugs, that he'll just swallow them down and let it all go. He paces around his cell, from the bathroom to the door and back, over and over and over. It helps a little with the itch that's just under his skin, but Poison knows it's only going to get worse.
A wave of nausea rolls over him and he bolts for the toilet, dry heaving until his midsection cramps. He hasn't eaten yet; Korse left a tray for him, but he knows better to even try. Between reani and the fucking withdrawal, Poison won't keep anything down for days.
He's thirsty, though, and the water from the tap is clear and cold. It doesn't have the same mineral aftertaste like water does out in the Zones and as much as Poison hates to admit it, it tastes better in the city. Splashing water on his face feels good; the withdrawal makes him feel feverish and hot. He looks in the mirror, unable, unwilling to avoid his own face any longer.
It's the same face that he's always had, pointy-chinned, sharp-nosed, paler than usual. His new body isn't dark from time spent in the desert. Hazel eyes, dark lashes, and hair as bright as an atomic sunset. He catalogs everything he is: Party Poison. A Fabulous Killjoy. Brother, friend, leader, revolutionary, terrorist. Fighter, killer, dreamer, planner. Artist. He reaches out and touches his reflection, traces the line of his mouth, jaw, cheek. His hand trembles.
Sometimes, he has dreams—nightmares, really—of waking up with someone else's face; trying and failing to reclaim his life, everything that he is. He usually wakes screaming from those dreams, sweat and tears mingling in the dark.
He jerks awake, disoriented. Korse is sitting on the edge of his bed, hand resting on Poison's hip. He remembers lying down and closing his eyes, needing to silence the voices in his head, just for a little while. He's amazed that he fell asleep at all.
Rubbing at his eyes, he looks at Korse. His features haven't changed, his face is the same, but he looks tired, worn, cheeks gaunt and sallow. He looks older, which is wrong. They don't age; they're not built to.
Poison can't help himself, he reaches out and touches Korse, tracing his eyebrow with his thumb and ruffling the hair in the wrong direction. Korse's lips curve up slightly, but his smile doesn't last for long. He takes Poison's hand in his, watching his fingers twitch and tremble. "You could take a few, just enough to take the edge off." Korse closes his hand around Poison's fingers. "It's only going to get worse."
He shrugs. "It always does." He voice is rough, and he clears his throat. "I can take it."
Korse sighs. "You shouldn't have to." He starts to lean in, like he's going to kiss Poison, but he gets up instead, moving to the table where he left the tray of food. "You didn't eat?"
The idea of food makes Poison's stomach turn over. He shakes his head, pressing his hand over his belly.
"Did you at least drink some water?"
Poison wants to pretend not to hear the concern in Korse's voice, wishes he could lie about that to himself. But he can't, after all of these years, because it's too obvious. The tone of his voice, the way his eyes soften when he looks at Poison—it's almost too much. "Yeah."
Korse just nods his head. "Why don't you try to get some more sleep? Reani takes a lot out of you."
In past lives, they'd argue about Poison taking the fucking pills, eliminating the whole issue of withdrawal. Now, it's not even a subject for discussion. Korse doesn't understand; he's tried, but he's long since given up on changing Poison's mind.
It costs Poison a lot to ask, but he doesn't think he can handle being alone right now. "Will you stay?" He stares at his clenched fists resting on his thighs.
His shoulders relax and something tight in his chest eases.
Poison wakes, and the first thing he sees is Korse. The fluoros are dimmed, but he can still make out Korse's features. He wonders if he can ever forget.
Leaning forward, he briefly presses his lips to Korse's, a soft, chaste kiss and Korse exhales, like he'd been holding his breath. It feels brand new, even though Poison knows they've done this before. He leans back and searches Korse's eyes, and he feels something click into place. "Yeah," he breathes, and moves in for another kiss.
He hands cradle Korse's shaved head, fingers rasping against the faint stubble, and Poison feels Korse shiver against him. Korse's hands push into Poison's hair and he takes control of the kiss, angling his lips just so. Poison opens his mouth on a gasp, a low, needy sound vibrating in this throat.
He misses this too fucking much.
Out in the Zones, he can't have this, can't let himself be open and vulnerable with anyone, let alone with his nemesis. They can only have this here, now, within the confines of this reani chamber in the House of Life and Poison wishes for more.
It's not meant to be. Since the first time they met, they've done this dance, love and hate wound tight around their hearts. Poison with the fire of rebellion in his eyes, Korse with order and control. Polar opposites, yinyang. An impossible combination.
They can't change the way they're made. From the inside out, blood, bone and skin, they were designed to be the way they are.
Korse leaves a trail of stinging kisses along Poison's jaw, up to his ear and down his throat. Poison's sure that he's leaving little bruises behind; Korse always likes to mark him and Poison's never minded.
"Missed you," Korse murmurs, licking at the pulse in Poison's neck. "So much."
Love you, Poison thinks, and bites his lip to keep the words locked away. They're too dangerous to set free.
They've been doing this a long time, but that doesn't make them any less frantic; if anything, knowing that they won't have a chance do this until Poison gets ghosted again just heightens Poison's desperation. And layered under Poison's passion, the secret, fragile hope that maybe this will be the time that Korse finally understands what Poison's doing out in the Zones with his Killjoys.
He doesn't think about it, especially now, with Korse's rough hands on him, stripping away his clothes and exploring every inch of his skin, making Poison twist and squirm under Korse's body. Poison wants to feel him, not just his touch, but Korse's weight, pressing him into the softness of the bed. No one else touches him like this.
"Fuck," he pants. "Do it, just fucking do it—" He tries to roll over, but Korse distracts him with another kiss, wet and hot. "C'mon—"
"So greedy," Korse whispers against his lips. "I want to make this last. I don't know when I'll be able to taste your skin again." He kisses a spot on Poison's shoulder. "Don't know the next time I'll be able to hold you, touch you, pin you to the bed—" Korse wraps his fingers around Poison's wrists and holds them down above Poison's head. "Stop trying to rush me, Gerard."
A flash of heat makes him buck up, anxious for friction against his cock. "It's Poison," he snarls, attempting to tug his hands free. "Party Poison."
"Not in here, it's not."
The bitterness in Korse's voice knocks the breath out of him. And the struggle. He turns his face away, suddenly sure this is a bad fucking idea. He should just go, now, before things get worse. Poison focuses on a point on the ceiling past Korse's shoulder. "Let me go."
"Oh, no, baby, I'm not going to make it easy for you." Korse settles down into the space between Poison's legs, trapping him. Korse lets go of Poison's hands. "It's always your choice. Say no, and I stop."
Poison hates him. He reaches up to grab Korse's shoulders and push him away and instead ends up holding tight as Korse rocks his hips forward, sliding their bodies together.
"Say no," Korse mocks, nipping at Poison's ear. "If you can."
Poison digs in with his fingers and wraps his leg around Korse's hip, pulling him closer.
He waits until Korse is asleep before leaving. Easing out of Korse's slack grip, Poison stands next to the bed, trying to imprint the image of Korse onto his memory.
The cotton pants and tunic won't do him a damn bit of good out in the Zones, so he steals Korse's clothes. They're too big, too loose, but he makes it work. Korse'll give him hell for it the next time they meet, but it beats wandering around the Zones in clothes taken from the House of Life. He pockets the food still untouched on the table and slides out the door as quiet as a ghost. He doesn't look back.
The House of Life has a simple, almost austere design, nothing but straight corridors that lead to the entrance. And like every building in Battery City, the House has surveillance cameras in the hallways. No one tries to stop him from leaving and it makes him wonder if Korse has something to do with that.
In the end, it doesn't matter. Once he's outside, it's a matter of slipping down into the sewer system and making his way back to the Zones.
Where he belongs.
He lands in a bar in Zone 1 that's run by a friend of a friend; she lets him crash there until word gets back to his Killjoys and they come get him. It feels strangely good to be back in the Zones; the air feels different with its raucous sounds and pungent smells, nothing at all like the filtered and purified atmosphere in the city.
The Zones are alive with people and that's one of the reasons Poison loves being out here. The Dust has a vibe and a beat of its own; it might be a hard life, a tough one, but there's freedom and a rough sort of justice. It beats the fuck out of living in Bat City and it's more than most people could ask for.
Korse can't feel the buzz of the Zones; he just sees the chaos and disorder and he itches to set it right. The Zones don't work like that and Poison thinks that maybe Korse will never get it.
Out in the Zones, though, he tries not to think of Korse at all.
He and Kobra are a rarity in the Zones; true blood brothers. No one is sure what BL/ind's motivation was for creating siblings, but whatever it was, it didn't yield the results they were looking for, because they stopped after a while. The why of it does't matter to Poison.
All that matters is that Kobra always has his back. And he has Kobra's.
It takes three days for the Killjoys to come to his rescue and it's Kobra that gets to Poison first, pulling him in for a hard hug. "Was worried," he mutters against Poison's neck.
Poison gets that and wishes he could make things easier for Kobra. "I will always come back to you," he whispers. "No matter what."
"Pinky promise," he says, like always, and Kobra hands him over to Ghoul and Jet, who both scold him for fucking up and getting himself ghosted.
He fucks up again, rather spectacularly.
Ghoul is perfectly clear and perfectly detailed and Poison still gets something mixed up. The bomb goes off before he's ready and he watches the blast roll toward him in slow motion. It's beautiful. He knows it's gonna hurt and he braces for it as best he can.
There's a moment of searing pain and his feet leave the ground. He laughs as he falls into the blackness.
He just wants to forget, but he can't. He feels each life, and each death like it just happened.
The House of Life, again. Pain, and he screams and screams, unable to draw in enough air to beg for the agony to stop.
He wakes alone, curled on the bed, every bone and muscle hurting. He can't breathe without a spike of pain lancing through him. He's so fucking tired of this.
Poison has never been so tempted by the pills before.
"Gerard." Korse's voice is grave. "Didn't expect to see you back here so soon."
Poison can only laugh until he's on the verge of crying. He presses his hands against his face, pushing back the tears. "Me, neither. Fucked that up but good." He can't ask for what he needs, too proud and stubborn, but Korse knows him.
Korse lies down and pulls Poison into his arms, careful, like Poison's something fragile and breakable. Maybe he is. He lets Korse hold him, comfort him, because he's exhausted, not just from the reani, but from this constant war that he fights, against himself, against Korse. He just wants it to stop.
Korse senses something is different, but doesn't question it. He just cradles Poison close and rubs his back, murmuring nonsense in his rough voice until Poison drifts off to sleep again.
The shakes set in and Poison spends the morning braced against the toilet, feeling miserable and wretched under the coldness of the flouros. He can't do this anymore. He can't. He doesn't have the strength, the energy to keep running. He's done.
Pinky promise, Kobra says in his head and Poison breaks down, wrapping his arms around himself and hunching over. Korse finds him there on the cold floor hours later, face tear-streaked, and carries him back to the bed like a child.
Poison feels like he's fading away.
"You're worrying me," Korse says softly, tracing the curve of Poison's cheek with a finger.
"I know." And he does. He's never been like this before, in all the years they've been together. Poison's never felt this lost and hopeless. "Kiss me," he says. "Make me forget."
"Gerard—" Korse's voice is still gentle, his face full of concern. "We need to talk."
Poison shakes his head. "Kiss me."
Korse sighs, gives in and kisses him.
When he leaves, he can sense that Korse isn't really asleep. He appreciates the pretense.
He meets up with Ghoul at a motorbaby garage in Zone 3 and there's no fooling him, either. He sees right through Poison, to the heart of him.
"I know I'm not him, I know I'm not who you really want, but let me help. Please," he whispers to Poison that night and Poison can't. He knows how Ghoul feels about him; he won't take advantage of their friendship just because he's too fucking weak to deal with the mess that is his life. He refuses to do that to Ghoul. He won't.
"It's not fair to you," Poison whispers back. He reaches out and Ghoul grabs his hand, tight enough to hurt. "You deserve so much more."
"I don't want more," Ghoul says. "I just want you." He presses their lips together, a quick kiss in the dark, and tucks Poison's face against his neck. "Let me be strong for you."
Poison is tempted, because he's so tired. And Ghoul is so fucking strong, stronger than Poison could ever hope to be. "Frank, Frankie," he mumbles against the soft skin of Ghoul's throat. "Don't let me hurt you."
"I won't," Ghoul promises and holds him.
Poison wishes he could believe it.
Poison manages to stay out of trouble for a while, but he can't say the same for the others. Jet and Kobra get ghosted out on Route Guano and they have to go into Bat City to rescue them from the House of Life.
Ghoul is nervous and jumpy about the whole idea; he's been ghosted the least out of all of them and he doesn't like being in Bat City unless he has a damn good reason to be. Too many bad memories. Poison can't say he blames Ghoul—Bat City holds nothing for any of them.
If he could, he'd leave Ghoul safe back at the diner and go by himself, but it's Jet and Kobra, both of them likely to be disoriented and drugged. It's a two person job, and he tries not to feel too guilty when Ghoul insists on coming along.
They find a hidden spot in Zone 1 to park the Trans Am, as close to the walls of the city as they can get, near the sewer entrance.
"It stinks down there," Ghoul complains, tying his bandanna around his face. It's nothing but brash bravado, and Poison gets it.
"We'll be okay. Intel says they're in rooms 10-04 and 10-06. It's a simple in-and-out operation."
Ghoul squints at him and Poison can see the disbelief. "Uh-huh. Nothing is ever that simple."
Poison sighs. "True." He tucks a bit of hair behind his ear and pulls on his gloves, checking the slide of his raygun in his holster. "Let's do this thing."
There's no one in the corridors of the House of Life. Poison's never seen another soul, living or not, in the building other than Korse. It does nothing to calm Ghoul's nerves.
"The place is empty," he hisses, peering around the corner. "Maybe it's a trap."
Poison shrugs. Maybe, but what if it is? They still have to get Kobra and Jet. He's not leaving them here, to the tender mercies of BL/ind. He squeezes Ghoul's shoulder, pretending to a confidence he doesn't really feel. "Let's go."
They take the elevator up to Level 10 and he watches Ghoul fiddle with his raygun. He remembers the first time they took paint to the standard issue white BL/ind guns, transforming them into something bright and bold. It was a lifetime ago.
They find the rooms quickly enough; Ghoul takes 04 on the left, Poison, 06 on the right. He opens the door quietly and enters. Kobra's sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at nothing. "Kobra."
Kobra looks up at him, and for a long, heart-stopping moment, there's no recognition in his eyes—Poison is a stranger to him. Poison makes a sound, pained and lost, and he reaches out. Kobra's forehead wrinkles; Poison can tell he's trying to figure things out, and he can see the exact moment the memories rush back.
"Pinky promise," he murmurs, and Poison has to smile.
"Always. I'll always come back to you."
"No matter what," Kobra says, and gets unsteadily to his feet. He's pale in his white clothes, washed out, and he looks too much like a BL/ind drone for Poison's comfort.
"No matter what," Poison echoes. "Let's get outta here."
Poison helps steady Kobra as they head out into the hall where Ghoul and Jet are waiting. Jet looks more aware than Kobra, just barely. They won't make it on their own.
"Something's up," Ghoul says, pointing to the red flashing light above the surveillance camera. "They're onto us, I think."
"Fuck." Poison closes his eyes and thinks. "There's a service entrance on Level 2; I've never needed to use it, but it's there." He pulls his raygun and takes out the camera with a single blast. "You take Jet and Kobra down the stairs, out the service entrance and back into the sewers. I'll hit the lobby and provide a distraction."
Ghoul looks at him, wide-eyed. "You're tweaked. There's sure to be Dracs—you'll get ghosted for sure—"
Poison laughs, but there's no humor to it. "It's a good thing that we're already in the House of Life, then. I won't have far to go."
Kobra makes a faint sound of protest, swaying a little on his feet. "Gerard—"
"Yeah, no. Fuck that. You're coming with us," Ghoul says. "We're not leaving you here."
Poison huffs. Kobra wraps his arm around Poison's waist, anchoring him.
No one gets left behind.
They don't leave the House unscathed. There are Dracs waiting for them on Level 2 and it's still a firefight. Behind the phalanx of Dracs he sees Korse, raygun up and aimed. Poison flinches just as Korse fires and the shot misses Poison's head, burning through his shoulder instead. He grits his teeth at the searing agony and switches his gun to his other hand, taking out a Drac or two while hustling his Killjoys out the door.
Ghoul tosses a boomer down the hall just as the door shuts and they can hear the Dracs shouting as they scatter. The building vibrates when the boomer explodes and the fluoros go dark with a loud pop. Ghoul giggles and they make their escape out of the House and into the sewers.
Once they're back at the Trans Am, Ghoul insists on examining Poison's shoulder. "Fuck."
Poison doesn't look, just breathes through his mouth, trying not to notice the stench of charred flesh. It makes his stomach roll. "Bad, yeah?"
"Yeah," Ghoul says quietly.
Poison twitches his good shoulder up.
"It was...Korse, wasn't it? Taking potshots at you?"
He doesn't want to talk about this, doesn't know how to. What is there to say? How does he even try to explain this unspoken thing he has with Korse? It's so fucked up that he can't find the words to describe it, Korse killing him or waiting patiently for each death—
"Yeah." He shakes his head. "Let's get out of here."
Poison dreams of the House of Life and its endless corridors, of bluish white light and peace. When he wakes, he gasps at the sense of loss he feels echoing inside of his soul. He can't go on like this, half-dead, half-alive.
The next time Poison gets ghosted, after Korse is asleep, he explores the House, poking into places he shouldn't. None of the doors are locked.
He finds an entire floor filled with arcane machinery; the thrum of it vibrates like a heartbeat. Poison dares to touch the gleaming metal and it speaks to him in hushed susurrations. This is the heart of the House; this is where all of their souls are gathered and washed clean of their sins, and stored until the next time.
No one has ever spoken of this—machinery; it must be one of BL/ind's most closely held secrets. Poison's heard nothing, not even rumors on the wind. He wonders who created and built it, who keeps it gleaming and polished and in good repair.
Poison lies on the cold tile floor and lets the white noise of the machinery lull him into sleep. He dreams of nothing.
Poison opens his eyes. He's back in the reani chamber, back in his bed.
Korse is sitting next to him, cross-legged, hands perched gracefully on his knees. "Gerard, what are you doing?"
Poison shrugs. "Something specific, or with my life in general?"
There's a wealth of disappointment in Korse's voice, but really, it doesn't matter anymore. "Fuck. What do you want from me?" He's angry, because he's never been able to read Korse. Doesn't know what Korse expects from him. Other than to take the fucking pills, and he just can't go back to who he is when he swallows them down.
"I want—" Korse sighs.
"Fuck it." Poison starts to get out of the bed, because he's done with this, but Korse is fast, rolling them over and pressing Poison against the pillows.
For once, Korse doesn't take his time, doesn't savor. It's rough and fast and brutal, and Poison lets himself enjoy it, panting under Korse. He gives back as good as he gets, leaving his own marks on Korse's body, digging with with teeth and nails. Korse's hands are hard and Poison can feel the bruising on his hips and thighs, his wrists as Korse holds him still and fucks him.
Something shifts, and Korse kisses him, over and over. Poison's breath catches on a sob, because it feels too much like goodbye. He closes his eyes and gives himself over to the pleasure, letting it pull him under and drown him.
Ghoul comes up with a plan, after Poison tells him about the machinery. "We'll blow it up."
Poison barks out a laugh, because it's absurd. "And then what happens when we get ghosted?"
He just looks at Poison.
"Oh, fuck." A sense of rightness settles over Poison. "Oh, fuck." He can't believe how simple it is. Destroy the House of Life and set all of them free. Everyone, Zonerunners and motorbabies, tweakheads and Killjoys, and the good citizens of Battery City, living and dying outside of BL/ind's control. Out of their reach, forever.
"The fear of death," says Kobra, "makes life more precious."
"Is it fair to make that decision for everyone, though?" Jet asks "To take away their choices? Isn't that what BL/ind did?"
"It's not the same." Poison shakes his head.
"Isn't it?" Jet says evenly. "Sounds the same, from where I'm standing."
"Jet." Kobra gestures helplessly. "We're just trying to make the world a better place—"
"I know." He looks at Poison. "I'm just asking you to take some time to think about the consequences of our actions. What we're talking about doing is huge and has the potential for a lot of damage."
"Leave it to you to be all logical," Ghoul mutters.
"No, Jet has a point." Poison smiles crookedly. "He always does."
"If we do this, people are going to get hurt. People are going to die. And they won't have a choice in the matter. They'll be beyond BL/ind's influence, but some people might choose life under BL/ind over a permanent sort of death." Jet takes a hard breath. "I know I would."
"Yeah, I get it." Poison throws his arm around Jet's shoulder and pulls him in for a rough hug.
Poison goes outside that night, a ragged blanket draped across his shoulders for warmth. It's cold as fuck out in the desert, but the stars shine so brightly. It's beautiful. He lies on the hood of the Trans Am, leaning against the windshield, and stares up at the pinpoints of light. He smokes cigarettes and tries not to think of anything at all.
Ghoul joins him, tucking his head under Poison's jaw and huddling close for warmth. Poison soothes his hand down Ghoul's back, taking a measure of comfort in the touch.
"I don't want to die," Ghoul whispers.
They could talk all night about what it means to be alive. And what it means to die. Instead, Poison just holds Ghoul tight and presses a kiss to his temple. They watch the stars glitter in the sky until dawn.
They look on, solemn, as the House of Life tumbles down with a subsonic rumble that they can feel in their bones.
There's a weird, nervous feeling in Poison's chest and it takes him awhile to identify it. Uncertainty. It's a new future and he has no idea if they made the right decision. The next time he gets ghosted, it might be for good or he might wake back up in a reani chamber. He doesn't know; none of them do.
One door opens, another slams shut.