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This Ain't Over (We Own The Night)

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Gerard came back to himself sobbing. His eyes burned, the steady drumbeat still ringing in his ears. He felt something leaking from his nose and ears and when he managed to touch his face, his fingers come away crimson as his hair.

“Fuck,” He rasped out just before retching violently, throwing up what little bit he’d been able to throw down in the mess that morning.

“Patrick,” He grunted, his whole body trembling. “Patrick, are you okay?”

No one answered, so he made himself sit up off his hands until he was resting on his bent knees. He looked to his side and found Patrick immediately, looking in worse shape than even him. His eyes were leaking blood, which Poison didn’t think could be very good for him, and Benzedrine hadn’t been kidding about being useless afterwards.

“Patrick,” He leaned over, one shaking arm supporting his aching body while he shook Patrick’s limp shoulder, “Patrick, wake up. Come on, you can’t be dead. Please, Patrick, I need you to wake up!”

Patrick, steadily leaking blood from the corner of his eyes and his nose, didn’t respond to even a rough shake.

Poison, alone and weak, tried not to notice that his vision was darkening, that Xibalba had started to laugh over the drums in his head.

“Patrick, please,” He begged, “I can’t do this alone, man.”

Patrick, so starkly still compared to how he was usually always moving, always filled with a nervous energy, seemed to only confirm the terror in Poison’s throat.

For all the loss they’d faced, for the fights they’d won and the battles they’d fought, they’d lost it all in the final moments.

--

Frank woke up panicking.

His gut clenched hard, his throat closed up, and he tasted blood on his tongue almost before he was awake enough to realize what was happening.

He wasn’t supposed to be alive, let alone awake, but it took him a few seconds to figure out why that was true.

It took him too long to remember, too long to drag up his last memories, too long to remember that he didn’t want to be alive.

They couldn’t be dead, if he was alive. They couldn’t be dead, because he was alive, and he couldn’t be alive if he’d lost the people he cared about again. Once was too impossible, twice was enough to break him, but a third time just couldn’t happen. The universe couldn’t hate him enough to take so much away from him without expecting him to just die. He wasn’t strong enough for that, he wasn’t strong enough to survive that again. He wasn’t strong enough to want to survive that again.

Fun Ghoul, he reached out, wondering if even Fun Ghoul had abandoned him, if he’d finally given up too, if the loss was too much for even him.

What the fuck are you doing? Fun Ghoul slapped at his hand, Get the fuck up and find them, you weak piece of shit!

Frank, at least knowing that he wasn’t alone, that Fun Ghoul didn’t think they were dead yet, either (or maybe Fun Ghoul was just punishing him again, maybe he was just waiting for Frank to find them so he could rub them in his face, beat him until he finally went out like a broken light) slowly forced his eyes open.

Ghoul, because Frank couldn’t bear the thought of finding them in any way that wasn’t alive and Fun Ghoul wasn’t ready to take over yet, stared at the ceiling above. It was stone, gray instead of white, and concrete like Eyeball’s tunnels. He breathed in, held the air in his lungs, and recognized the feel of it settling into his lungs. He was underground, the air danker than the clear breathe of the desert, but nowhere near polluted enough to be of the city. How he’d gone from dying in a blaze of zap fire and glass in Korse’s HQ, to what was beginning to look like an offshoot of Eyeball’s tunnel system he didn’t know and he didn’t much care.

He set up, feeling the pull of stitches along his side and back, and the clean - if shabby - blanket that had been draped over him fell to his waist. He glanced down his side and found one of the places where he could feel his skin pulling. It looked like a stab wound to him, and he vaguely remembered that he’d fallen into glass when he’d gone down. No doubt his back was riddled with gashes that had managed to get through his vest, explaining the stitches he felt there. Why he had the stitches at all, though, was another question that he hadn’t found his answer to, yet.

He wasn’t naked under the blanket, but he might as well have been for all that the thin boxers offered. There were parts of him that hadn’t felt open air outside of a broken down freezer since he was born, and he looked around to try to find some clothes. The best he could manage was a pair of familiar pants, blood stained and crumbled under a chair in the corner. Whoever had stripped him must have forgotten them when they took his other clothes and he tried not to feel too creeped on that someone had changed his underwear.

Get off the bed, you motherfucker! Fun Ghoul raged, echoing in his head loudly enough that Ghoul scrambled out of the bed he finally noticed he’d been perched on. He hadn’t accounted for his legs being too weak to hold him up.

He barely held back the gasp of pain as fire raced up his side, spine, and calves. His ankles gave out before he’d even completely settled his weight onto them and he went down silently, his tongue firmly between his teeth. He tasted blood - real, this time - and tried to focus on that instead of the pain that was steadily setting his legs aflame - like thousands of fire ants all biting him at once from the very tips of his toes to his groin.

He breathed through it, kept a lid on his mouth so he didn’t cry out, and began to vigorously rub himself down. His arms started to ache before he was through with the upper half of his first leg and he was panting by the time he made it down to his ankle but he didn’t stop until he’d worked his muscles over enough for the ants to dissipate. His arms hurt, but that was a little more bearable than the spasming muscles all over his bottom half.

Try again, Frank gentled in his head and Ghoul tried to block them both out so he could concentrate on what he was doing. He used the bed to haul himself back up and set down with a quiet gasp. His legs still hurt like fuck, but he was able to walk on them after a few seconds of slow going progress, and he used his new walking method of not bending his knees for anything to make his way to his crumpled up pants. He bent at the waist, because he didn’t trust his knees and then made his way back to the bed to get them on. It was slow going, but he got it done, eventually. It felt like hours, his limbs shaking, but he had to get it done.

With some pants on and his mobility back - at least, partially, anyway - Ghoul set off for the door. It was unlocked, according to the pad on the wall, so he slowly twisted the knob until he could peek out of it and figure out how dire his situation was.

A man, not too much older than Ghoul if he had to guess, stood a few feet from his door. He wasn’t holding a weapon, but he was obviously on guard and he was well trained based off of the way he held himself. Ghoul glanced down both sides of the tunnel he was in - confirmed by the concrete outside of his room, even if it was covered in colors - to make sure that the two of them were alone, and then he swung the door open and bashed his fist into the man’s head as hard as he could just as he was turning around in surprise. He went down without a sound, standing one minute and being slowly lowered onto the concrete the next.

He needed to find his Killjoys.

He frisked the man, found a radio at his pocket and stuck it into his pants along with the keycard around his neck without bothering to look at the name, and then started to walk down the tunnel, heading right on a gut instinct. As he walked, his eyes traveled the colored walls, took in the small drawings and the vivid colors that were usually found at about waist height or a little lower, and realized that he might not be in the clutches of Better Living after all. That thought just brought more questions, though, such as why he wasn’t with BL, where his friends were, how long he’d been asleep, and who exactly was he stuck with?

He pushed the questions out of his head and focused on his mission. He had to find Kobra, Jet Star and Poison. He didn’t want to think about anything except finding them.

He checked the first door he came across but it was empty, just a room with a messy bed and nothing else, but the second door was locked. He tried the man’s card and it worked so he pushed the door open as quietly as he could and glanced inside. It wasn’t empty, but the person sleeping wasn’t who he was looking for. The body in the bed was still in sleep, his head and face riddled with scars the likes of which Ghoul had never seen. There was another man sitting next to the bed, hunched over with his arms on the thin mattress and his head buried in them. The blond of his hair made Ghoul deeply uncomfortable so he quietly shut the door and locked it again. Something made him stop, made him stand at the door and stare at it. He couldn’t tear his mind off that blond, or the hunched figure in the room. It made his chest hurt, his eyes burn.

Something was going on here and he wasn’t sure what it was, but he didn’t like it.

“Hey! Fun Ghoul!”

Ghoul broke out of whatever zone he’d been in, turning around slowly to face the person that had just yelled his name. It wasn’t the guard he’d knocked unconscious, but she was dressed similarly so when she reached for something at her side, he took off.

“Fun Ghoul, stop!”

He heard her take up the chase behind him but he didn’t even think about turning around to fight her. He had to get out. He had to escape, back into the sands, get to the surface and get to Dr. D and tell him that he’d been kidnapped, that he didn’t know where his family was, that Poison and Kobra and Jet Star were either still with Better Living or they’d been taken underground by the fucking Mole People crew like he’d been.

Or, he could hide out.

He turned a corner, keycard at the ready to open the next door he came to and hide until the person chasing him passed, but he barreled into someone just behind the corner’s edge. The keycard went flying and he bounced back from the force of slamming into the body mass, cursing his small stature the whole fucking time. When he’d caught himself against the wall and could clear his vision from the jarring movement, he tried to get a clear picture of the person he’d hit - and immediately grunted out another curse. The man looked nearly twice his size, dark skinned and hair shoved under a beanie.

“Woah, man,” The guy lifted his hands up but stopped half way, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be awake.”

“Travie, stop him!” The woman behind him yelled, “He fucking knocked Suarez out!”

“Dude,’ Travie frowned, “That wasn’t cool.”

“Back the fuck off,” Ghoul snapped at him, or tried to. His throat was suddenly on fire, his voice a rasping, painful gasp torn from his lips. There was a sharp sting in his back and he realized that that bitch had just tranqed him.

He staggered forward, his arms pushing out like he could catch himself against air. He started to fall forward and Travie ducked down to catch him. They lowered to the floor slowly and Ghoul tried to struggle but his limbs were so sluggish, wouldn’t respond to him. They’d captured him all over again.

“Suarez okay?”

“He’s fine. Fucker punched him in the head. I thought desert fighting was supposed to be a little more honorable than that.”

“To be fair,” Travie laughed a little bit, “Guy’s probably stressed to hell. How’re Poison and the other two?”

“Couldn’t make it. They’re injuries were too bad.”

“Sucks,” Travie clicked his tongue, like she hadn’t just killed Fun Ghoul inside.

He didn’t fight the drugs spreading through his system. Whatever it was, it was fast and hard, and he hoped that the dose was too high for his size, hoped that it would pull him down and never let him back up.

Couldn’t make it. They’re injuries were too bad.

“Did I hear someone scream?” A new voice echoed, slurred in Ghoul’s ears. It rung inside of him, like Ghoul was under water, tugged at his chest hard.

“Don’t worry about it,” The woman sighed, “Fun Ghoul woke up, flipped.”

“He’s injuries are pretty bad,” That new voice, commented, “He’s probably broken his stitches.”

“How’s Brian?” Travie lifted Ghoul and the sudden rush of blood through his body was too much. Ghoul was out with nothing but a glimpse of blond and familiar blue eyes.

-

Ghoul was in the dark place. He felt Frank next to him, barely there. He hadn’t seen him so faded in years, years and years, since Dewees told him he was leaving.

“Fun Ghoul?” He called, or tried to. His voice didn’t work anymore. He was scared.

Fun Ghoul set next to him, hips lips sewn shut tightly. He reached out with scarred hands and Ghoul flinched back, fearful of the touch. He hurt so much. He hurt so, so much.

“Let go, Ghoul,” He heard Fun Ghoul say, and his voice was softer than Ghoul had ever heard before. He gentled rough fingers against Ghoul’s cheek and Ghoul wondered if he was angry that Ghoul had let the scar on his cheek happen.

“I’m so scared,” He admitted, “It hurts so much, Fun Ghoul, but I don’t want to leave.”

“You won’t be going anywhere,” Fun Ghoul promised him, “You’ll just...sleep. Like Frank.”

Ghoul glanced at Frank and took in the way he was practically gone, just a see-through figure with a barely there outline. He could just make out his facial features, the way his eyes were closed, his mouth shut tight. Tear stains on his cheeks that had erased his skin where the tears had touched.

“He looks so sad,” Ghoul’s breath hitched when Fun Ghoul’s touch grew rougher, cupped his face firmly. It didn’t hurt, not yet, but Ghoul didn’t doubt that Fun Ghoul was losing patience with him.

“What did we agree on, Ghoul?” Fun Ghoul asked. His lips still weren’t moving, but he brushed his thumb gently down Ghoul’s cheek. A comforting touch. A goodbye.

“I don’t want to die,” Ghoul said slowly, “Even without them, I don’t want to die.”

“Neither do I,” Fun Ghoul’s lips twitched into a small smile, as big as the stitches would allow, “That’s why I’m taking over now. I’ll make sure we live as long as our body will let us, until we get our revenge. People...People slow us down, Ghoul. You’ll never be able to go on. You’re too much like him.”

“Frank.”

“You’re too much like Frank,” Fun Ghoul agreed. “So just sleep. They’re dead now, Ghoul. We’re all alone again. You’ve never been able to be on your own.”

“I’m not alone,” Ghoul closed his eyes, let himself drift, “You’ll never leave.”

“I won’t.” Fun Ghoul promised, another promise, so many fucking promises, “So just sleep. When you wake up, you’ll be with everyone again.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Fun Ghoul sounded sad, the first time Ghoul had ever really heard anything except rage or irritation in his voice, “Yeah, you’ll be with everyone again.”

Ghoul tried to imagine that. Drifting to sleep and waking up with Gee, again. With his family - both of them. Bob and Mikey would get along so well. They were both quiet but had that snark that made talking to them a riot, and he knew that his mom and Ray would get on, that his mom would love to talk to Ray about his technology, about his research and the experiments and projects he was working on. He’d get to play music with Bob again, introduce them all to Ten Rings. And all he had to do was go to sleep.

“Sorry, Fun Ghoul,” giving in, Ghoul patted his knee weakly, “Sorry we’re leaving you alone.”

“I’ve always been alone,” Fun Ghoul scoffed, but he stopped holding Ghoul’s face so tightly, laid Ghoul’s head on his knee and ran his fingers through his hair.

Ghoul was so sad, so hurt, so tired, but he wasn’t as scared, anymore. His time was over, like he knew it would be when he lost the Killjoys, and he didn’t fault Fun Ghoul for knowing when to do what was best for them.

-

Fun Ghoul woke up. He didn’t need to open his eyes to know someone was in the room with him. He could hear breathing, steady like they were sleeping. There was a warmth near his right arm so he carefully cracked his lids open and turned his neck so he was facing the source of heat. He wasn’t surprised that they’d posted a guard in the room, not since Ghoul had fucked it up so badly trying to escape the first time, but he’d expected better than someone sleeping on - even through the hazy vision the drugs in him caused, he knew that color.

Red. Neon, floozy red.

“Poison,” he said before he could stop himself. Poison didn’t wake up, just shifted a little bit and buried his face in his arms. Fun Ghoul reached out, slowly, painfully, and felt the tips of his fingers brush familiar strands of hair.

He must have gone insane. Really, truly insane. The kind of insane he wasn’t already, with three fucking people in his head, but the kind of insane that meant hallucinations. He had to be, to be imagining such a real Party Poison. He’d seen Poison die. No matter how important someone was to the Grand Scheme of Freedom or whatever Poison used to talk about in the dark of their freezer, no one could survive a ray shot straight through the head. It wasn’t possible.

Somewhere inside, where he had just laid the other two to rest, he felt a twitch. He ignored it.

“Poison,” He choked, wondering just how to get the lump out of his throat.

Poison jerked up, lifting off the bed and opening his eyes wide to meet Fun Ghoul’s. Everything sharpened, the red coming in, Poison’s tan skin, dried mossy eyes and a slow, crooked smile all coming into focus for Fun Ghoul.

Fun Ghoul, with little control over himself, started to cry.

“What,” He set up, touched his cheeks and tried to understand how he could be crying when he barely felt a thing.

Frank,” Poison said his name and Fun Ghoul felt something inside break.

“You’re dead,” Fun Ghoul demanded, barely getting the words out through sharp sobs, “You’re dead, I saw you die, they saw you die,

“Fun Ghoul,” Poison corrected himself. He still had that stupid fucking smile, that stupid fucking smile on his face, relieved and fond and a little bit scared.

It was cruel. Fun Ghoul had known cruelty in his life, far too well, but this was too much. It was too cruel to give Frank that hope, to give Ghoul that hope when Fun Ghoul had just convinced him to give in. This person wasn’t real. This was the happy pills, the drugs they’d pumped into his system to keep him slow and easy to handle.

Poison reached for him, slow and careful and Fun Ghoul flinched back.

“Fun Ghoul,” Poison said quietly, “I’m alive. We’re all alive.”

“No,” Fun Ghoul argued, “No, I’m going insane. Ghoul saw you die, Poison. He saw you. I saw you.”

“Relax,” Poison reached out again and Fun Ghoul couldn’t run from those familiar hands again. He let Poison take his hand, let a phantom’s warmth seep into his palm.

“You’re dead,” Fun Ghoul dug his nails into Poison’s hand, watched in amazement as a small drop of blood welled around his nail. Poison brought his hand to his lips and kissed his bruised, scabbed over knuckles.

“You’re dead,” Fun Ghoul reiterated for the thousandth time, “You’re dead,”

He grew sleepy suddenly and he looked to his other arm, realized that he had an IV drip, that there was a needle in his arm and a bag of something he was being dosed from.

“Trust me,” Poison squeezed his fingers, “Trust me, baby. We’re safe. All of us are safe.”

“You’re dead.”

“I’m not. I’m not dead.” He pressed Fun Ghoul’s hand to his chest, to the thin material of his shirt, where his heart was beating fast and strong. “I’m not dead. We’re safe. Do you trust me, Frankie?”

“Frank’s gone,” Fun Ghoul snapped, struggling to pull his arm back, “He’s gone, you can’t do this to him, he isn’t strong enough to lose you,”

“Hey,” Poison frowned, “He isn’t gone, Fun Ghoul. I know Frank, and I know you and Ghoul. None of you are weak. I know all of you are okay. Lay down and rest, okay? You hurt yourself yesterday.”

Fun Ghoul suddenly couldn’t find it in himself to fight back.

He went under again, but his last view was of Poison’s worried face, still fond and fucking beautiful, even under the dim, fake light above them.

-

Frank felt like he was dying. Whoever had drugged him, gave him the hallucination of Gerard, they knew what they were doing, knew just what to show him. He was still exhausted, and he still ached, but it was muted. It was the kind of death he’d never thought he’d get, the kind that let him slowly drift away.

But he just drifted and drifted, never ending and slow. There were no bright lights or hellfire, no angels, no demons, just a dark place in his head, locked away from Ghoul and Fun Ghoul.

Is this what death is? He found himself asking, Am I just stuck in my head for eternity?

And for a while, hours or days or years, that’s all he could think or feel - a slow sense of dread that dying had been a huge mistake.

But then, after an eternity of drifting, he felt cold. Just a sensation of coolness on heated skin that made him realize that he was awake. He could feel the bed he was on, significantly softer than the flat mattress he and Poison slept on in the freezer.

Unlike Ghoul or Fun Ghoul, he couldn’t just fight back the pain in his bones and muscles. He could just barely twitch his fingers and toes, tense up his knees if he concentrated and didn’t mind the sharp stabs of pain that shot through his thighs.

His head felt fuzzy but he didn’t want it to clear, anyway.

When he felt he was awake enough, he blinked his eyes open. He was in a different room than Ghoul had woken in, and there was another guard in the corner - much more observant than the Poison hallucination and his first guard had been.

He didn’t bother making eye contact with them. He wasn’t strong enough to fight anything, even if he could - slowly, carefully - curl his hand into a fist.

Instead of fighting, he started cataloging. His teeth were all there, minus the back one Greaser had knocked out years ago. His lip was busted, but mostly healed. The stitches were still pulling tight, uncomfortable and a little itchy but nothing he couldn’t handle - meaning that they probably hadn’t even registered to Fun Ghoul. His toes were there, his fingers, his hands, his calves, his thighs, his forearms and upper arms were still there. He remembered a sharp pain in his hip from when Ghoul had been walking, but marked it off as a pain from lying prostrate in a bed for hours, days, or more, since he couldn’t feel it anymore. His chest was tight. He’d need his medicine soon, to account for the change in air. He shifted his head, neck aching, and took into account that his hair had been cut - the matted bottom that had brushed his shoulders gone. If he had to guess, he’d say it wasn’t long enough to get tangled anymore but he wouldn’t know for sure until he could touch it. There was a small place in his inner elbow where he knew a needle was, pumping something cold into the veins in his arm that warmed up as it circulated through his body.

There was a knock on the door and the guard opened it after checking the pad, letting someone into the room.

“Morning,” the guard said, voice gruff, and there was a soft hum in response. Frank cracked his eyes open again to glimpse the new person and then closed them again when he saw the red. He checked himself over again, looking for anywhere that hurt weirdly - any signs that he’d been experimented on, that they’d found some way to pull a figment of Gerard out of his head and into real life just to hurt him.

“How’s he been?” Poison asked, sounding tired. Frank cracked his eyes again to see if he could spot something that proved that it wasn’t his Poison - or to prove that it was. He looked tired, more so than Fun Ghoul remembered when he’d seen him the first time. His hair was greasy like it hadn’t been since before the rebellion, eyes dark and bruised looking, his skin so pale it was sickly under the lights. He looked washed out, like his tan had started to fade.

“A week’s not bad, man.” the guard said after a minute, “My friend had to be put down using the same shit they used on him, he was out a month before he woke up. They use it when a patient, uh, loses their marbles.”

“Thanks.” Poison tried to smile, “No movement, then?”

“No,” The man finally answered, “Not much movement. Sorry, Poison.”

Poison nodded, made his way to what must have been a chair next to the bed and settled down. He reached out, grabbed Frank’s limp hand and brought it to his face to rest his forehead against the knuckles between his fingers. He mumbled something, voice just loud enough for Frank to hear if he strained.

A prayer.

Gerard “Party Poison” Way was praying over him - the words familiar from the times he’d run through them in his own head in his mom’s voice. He remembered teaching it to Poison once, just as something to do when neither had been able to sleep in the dead of daylight, locked in their freezer and away from the world.

“Come on, Frankie,” Gerard pressed a kiss to his cool fingers, lips burning hot against Frank’s skin, “Wake up for me, sweetheart. Some weird shit is going down and we...we really need you.”

Frank didn’t say anything, didn’t squeeze his hand or twitch his fingers. Instead, he tried to breathe through the sudden, sickening surge of hope.

I don’t want to hope anymore, he thought to himself, screamed into the dark room where Fun Ghoul and Ghoul lurked.

I don’t want to be the one that hopes and hopes and hopes and gets beaten into the ground over and over again!

Then give up, Fun Ghoul snapped, You pushed your way out, we didn’t give it to you. If you don’t want it, give it back to me.

But…

But what? Ghoul frowned, You said it yourself. You don’t want to hope anymore. So just...stop.

I can’t.

Yes, you can. Fun Ghoul scoffed, What makes you think any of this is real? What makes you think that, even if it is, they won’t fail you – us – again?

I- Frank stopped, trying to catch his breath, I-

What’s it gonna be, Frank? Fun Ghoul sneered at him, eyes hard and narrow, Which side are you going to take, this time?

Frank tried to clear his head, tried to think. He didn’t want to hope anymore, didn’t want to be so devastated again, if he believed that the man holding his hand was really Poison. But, at the same time…

At the same time, it was Gerard. It was Gerard, and Frank hadn’t had faith in someone like he believed in Gerard since Bob and his mom. He believed in Gerard, Mikey, Ray, in the Killjoys, even though it was so fucking painful to remember that.

Do it, Ghoul suddenly burst in, surging forward and into Frank’s face.

What? Frank asked, in unison with Fun Ghoul. Ghoul hardly ever took sides, usually pulling between he and Fun Ghoul until one of them won out.

Do it. Grab his hand. Believe in him.

Ghoul, shut your fucking hole, Fun Ghoul reared back, Right now.

Come on, Frank, Ghoul grabbed his shoulders, desperation clear, It has to be him. Don’t give up hope, okay? If you give up, then we’re really fucked. You can’t give up on him.

But -

Shut up, Ghoul knocked their heads together hard enough to give Frank a sudden headache, Listen to me. He believes in us, so you believe in him. Believe in him until you’re holding his dead fucking body in your own two arms - and don’t you stop until that happens.

Ghoul, Frank gulped, Ghoul, I’m scared.

Me, too. Ghoul glanced over at Fun Ghoul, who was ready to bulldoze them both over and then beat them with each other, But I don’t want to go to sleep. I won’t leave either of you alone, no matter what Fun Ghoul says. You can’t survive without us.

Bullshit, I can’t! Fun Ghoul raged at him, advancing, I’ll fucking kill you both, just watch me do it with my bare fucking hands,

Frank, clenching his eyes closed, squeezed Gerard’s hand as tight as he could.

There had only ever been one thing Frank could fight Fun Ghoul on, and that was Gerard. Because, even if he was fucking terrified, Gerard had always been worth believing in. Gerard’s fierceness, his leadership, his confidence and boldness. His love for his family, and for Frank.

“Frank?” Gerard squeezed his hand, “Frankie, baby?”

“Hey,” Frank croaked, forcing his eyes open all the way, “Hey, Gee,”

“Frank,” Gerard gaped, his nose going slowly red the way it did when he was about to cry, “Frank,”

“Shh,” Frank squeezed his fingers, weaker since he’d used most of his strength the first time, “‘m sleeping. ‘ll wake up, soon.”

“Frank, wait,”

“Shh,” Frank repeated, “Just a few more minutes,”

He closed his eyes again and drifted - away from Ghoul and Fun Ghoul, in a place all his own. He felt Gerard drop his head into the bed next to him, felt the top of his head rub against his upper arm as he nodded, and went to sleep.

-

He dreamed of terrors. Fear racing through his veins, watching his mom being ripped apart, Gerard being eaten alive by Morris, Mikey screaming as Gerard was shot and then being murdered where he stood, Ray a blistering mess like his foot had been after he’d been rescued from the back, Ten Rings dying in his lap, Bob and his blue eyes pained, dragged away, blood staining his hair, his blond, blond -

-

The hand carding through his hair felt like Gee’s when he next woke up. He felt lips brush his forehead, tender with feeling and rough with sand, and knew.

He breathed in deep, let his lungs expand with the air and felt everything slowly coming into focus.

Gerard’s face was the first thing he saw.

“You aren’t dead.” He decided to say. He opened his mouth to do so, but can’t get the words out around his dry throat.

Gerard just smiled, like he knew what he was trying to say.

“We’re okay.”

He tried to clear his throat so he could speak, but it didn’t work. Instead, Gerard twisted from his chair, grabbed a bottle of water and held it to his lips so he couldn’t chug it like he wanted.

“Who am I talking to? I’ve heard all three of you have shown up in the last week.”

“I,” he licked his lips when the water was gone, “I don’t know.”

“What should I call you, then?” Gerard asked patiently, playing with his fingers lightly.

“Ghoul,” Ghoul finally decided on, “I don’t know, but I’m not...I’m not Fun Ghoul. I’m not Frank. So I must be Ghoul.”

“Ghoul, then.” Gerard smiled, just as loving and fond as he’d looked at Frank. It made Ghoul warm.

“How did you, I...did the others…”

“We’re all alive.” Gerard answered him, not needed the whole question, “Kobra and Star are still resting. You were probably the least fucked, physically, but, uh,”

“My head was fucked,”

“The doctor watching over us thinks that seeing us die, after losing Girl, might have been too much for your mind. You, uh, you snapped, Ghoul. For about a week and a half now, you’ve been in a bit of a medically induced coma while you recovered.”

“I see.” Ghoul cleared his throat, “Where are we?” He asked, to change the subject. He didn’t want to touch that with a pole. Not yet.

“Underground. They call themselves the Young Bloods. They’re a city faction, but they’re pretty big so they’ve got a few fingers in some sand pies, too. Dr. D talked about them a few times, and we have some, uh, personal experience with the leader from a few years back.”

“Why?” Ghoul set up slowly, with Gerard’s help, “Why did they save us? How?”

“I don’t know.” Gerard shrugged, “I haven’t been allowed to see Pete, or any of the other people in charge except Travie and Pete’s right hand, Andy Hurley. Pete wanted to wait until all four of us had recovered before he spoke to us. As for how...I don’t really know that, either. Just that they went through a lot of shit to get us.”

“They want something,” Ghoul hissed in pain, flinching a little at the sting of his side.

“Careful,” Gerard pressed a hot hand to the bandages over his stitching, fingertips brushing bared skin surrounding the white of the wrappings and Ghoul went still.

He suddenly felt like laughing. Hysterically, uncontrollably, until his stitches burst and his lungs explode. He stopped himself, because that probably wouldn’t be good for his sore throat and Gerard would think he was even more fucked in the head than he’d already proved himself to be.

But he was. He felt it in him, that he had snapped. He was absolutely insane. Mad, looney.

He felt something heavy in his chest, crushing his guts and lungs and heart. The hope in him literally crushing everything else inside of him until he was nothing but a pile of skin and bones and hope.

It should be good, should be something he loved - a feeling so new, so strong and bright that it gave him a reason to live longer, to continue the good fight.

Instead, it felt like a weight that would drag him to the bottom of the blue, blue ocean with the sharks - shining bright the whole time.

“They probably do,” Gerard nodded, bringing him back to their current conversation. Ghoul wondered if he’d been thinking to himself within a few seconds or if he’d paused the conversation to have a conversation with himself in his head. Gerard’s response gave no indication either way.

Instead of dwelling on it, or on what the Young Bloods wanted from them, he asked what he’d wanted to ask since he’d heard they were safe, “Can I see them?”

Gerard hesitated just long enough to make sure Ghoul could move, “Yeah, of course. Let me go get them.”

He stood up and the sheer terror, the horror that washed over Ghoul was so overwhelming that he nearly blacked out. He didn’t realize he’d shouted until he’d already reached out and grabbed Gerard’s arm. Gerard didn’t even hesitate to meet him halfway, wrapping his arms around Ghoul and pressed them together in a hug.

“Ghoul, what,”

“Don’t leave,” Ghoul choked. He didn’t know why, didn’t know what made him think that the second Gerard stepped outside the door, outside Ghoul’s sight, Korse would appear and shoot him again, but he was absolutely certain that it would happen. He was positive, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when it happened, Gerard wouldn’t be getting up again.

“But I thought you…” Gerard started, only for Ghoul to shake his head, hard enough to make himself dizzy.

“Don’t leave. Send someone. Call them. I don’t know. I don’t know, just don’t leave. Please.”

And Gerard had never said no to him when he’d said please, and he still hadn’t. Gerard nodded, carefully, and settled back in the bed with Ghoul clinging to him tight like rope.

He pulled something out of his pocket, a radio the likes of which Ghoul vaguely remembered pulling from that guard, and pressed the button.

“This is Desert One, over.”

“Report, over,” Another voice followed almost the moment Gerard moved his finger off the button.

“Desert Four is awake. Send Doc One, Desert Two, and Desert Three to location. Over.”

“He’s awake?” The voice picked up, dropping the protocol.

“He’s awake,” Gerard confirmed, not quite able to keep the grin out of his voice, “Over and out.”

He dropped the radio back into his pocket and patted it.

“The perks of being a leader,” He smiled, teasing.

Ghoul pressed his face into his neck instead of teasing back, and breathed through the fear.

It was finally dissipating when he heard a knock on the door. He set up, carefully, and Gerard slowly got off the bed to answer it. It wasn’t even fully open when Mikey was barreling through with a loud, “Where the fuck is he!?”

“Mikey,” Ghoul gulped, his mouth dry again, “Mikey, I -”

Mikey stalked over to the bed, leaned down and hugged him tight enough to stop his breathing for a few seconds. It hurt, but it was comforting and exactly what he needed. He gripped him back, wrapped his achy arms around him and squeezed hard.

“You’re okay,” Ray stepped through next, stopping at Mikey’s side and reaching out to settle a hand on his arm, “We were really worried, Frankie.”

Ghoul bit his lip and breathed Mikey’s scent in. Ray had an eyepatch over his left eye now, he’d almost forgotten that. The rough skin of his own scars reminded him that they hadn’t come away unharmed, even if they were alive.  

“They said you were dead,” he grunted, voice choked, when he could speak, “I woke up and I tried to run, but they caught me and they - they said you hadn’t made it, that you -”

“We’re fine.” Mikey squeezed him harder, “We’re fine. All of us.”

“Fuck,” Ghoul breathed sharply, “Fuck, guys,”

“Back the fuck off my patient before I kick you in the ribs,” A new voice hummed, sounding too chilled out to have threatened anyone.

Ghoul blinked away from Mikey and Ray to look at him and took him in. He was tall and willowy, a bandana tied over the top of his head and a box in his hands.

“Ghoul,” Mikey reluctantly took a step back, breaking free of the hug, “This is Snoop, the medic. Snoop, this is Fun Ghoul, our crewmember.”

“I’ve been briefed,” Snoop smiled, and it was comfortable and friendly in a disinterested way. It put Ghoul at ease immediately. “I need to do a checkup.”

“I’ll fail a psych eval,” Ghoul went ahead and admitted, “I doubt I’d of passed one before this, and I know I won’t, now.”

“Physical,” Snoop held up his tool box, “No one in these tunnels would pass a psych eval, kid, present company included.”

Ghoul cracked a smile and let Snoop do what he wanted, taking his temperature and his blood pressure, listening to his heart and then checking his stitches. Usually, he’d of fought the fuck out of the checkup - but he had his friends back, in the room and watching carefully, and Snoop seemed nice enough that Ghoul didn’t mind it too much.

“Well,” Snoop said, packing his shit away when he was done, “For being drugged up and sleeping for twelve days and a good two weeks of natural coma before that, you’re remarkably fine. You’ve been tube fed for a while, so I’m going to give you a strict diet until we can get you back on the regular. The rest of you should be on the last phases of yours and then you can eat normal.”

“And when do we meet Pete?”

“Soon.” Snoop smiled, cryptic but in a way that Ghoul really couldn’t fault him for. “For now, rest. I’m going to watch you for the rest of the night, Ghoul, and if you’re able to stay awake for a few more hours, I’ll give Travie the go-ahead to move you guys to permanent rooms. You lot have been clogging up my medical rooms for nearly a month, now.”

“And your tube.” Gerard smiled, the carefree smile of Party Poison that Ghoul found reassuring and amusing in equal measure.

“And my fucking healing pod,” Snoop flicked a long, bony finger at him, “Stay the fuck out of trouble like that so I can go back to using it for lost toes and mild injuries instead of life-threatening stun-gun wounds to the brain.”

“I’ll do my best, but the stuns just follow me,”

“Use some Stun-B-Gone,” Snoop scoffed, “And don’t lay on the bed with him - it’ll only take so much weight. I’ll be back in two hours to check you up again, Ghoul. Get some rest, the rest of you. Greta will bring you some broth tonight to test your stomach.”

“Thanks, Snoop,” Ray waved and Snoop shut the door as he left.

“Well,” Gerard set on the chair next to the bed, leaving Mikey and Ray to stand, “Looks like we’ll be meeting our gracious saviors soon.”

“Pete fucking Wentz,” Ray leaned against the wall, crossing his arms, “Huh.”

“You said you knew him,” Ghoul frowned, “How?”

“It was a while ago,” Mikey ignored Snoop’s orders and settled onto the bed next to Frank, shoulder to shoulder with their backs against the wall, “Maybe a fortnight after the BPR.”

“The caravan needed some extra security so Dr. D called us in. We were new, but it he wanted us so we went. Pete was on the team, too.”

“He’s a zone rat?”

“Nah, Pete’s city as they come, through and through.” Ray shook his head, “Not actually sure why they were there, the three of ‘em.”

“The Young Bloods were led by Yeezus, then.” Mikey picked back up, “They weren’t involved in the BPR, but one of their allies had a kid in it and they volunteered to keep the peace. Pete was in training, he was the heir then. I guess Yeezus croaked.”

“Guess so. Who knew he’d remember us.” Gerard smiled, like he was thinking back.

“Or one of us, at least,” Ray teased, much to Ghoul’s confusion.

“Shut up,” Mikey frowned, crossing his arms, “We were friends.”

“You were best friends,” Gerard corrected, looking between Mikey and Frank, “Pete and Mikey got real close before we had to part ways.”

“He was a cool guy,” Mikey defended himself, “You’re just mad he liked me more.”

Gerard made a ‘psh’ sound but didn’t argue.

“So he rescued us? After ten years of radio silence?”

“Well, not completely,” Gerard reached out and Ghoul grabbed his hand without hesitation, twining their fingers together just to feel the weight of Gerard’s hand, “Remember that experiment with the Dracs and music? The Sandman Dr. D mentioned was Pete. He’s the one that opened the hole for city motorbabies to get through and he’s a station when the caravan needs to stop. They’ve probably got a group of kids now, actually. He and Dr. D have semi-regular communication. He calls Pete and his friends his alley cats.”

“Huh,” Ghoul thought about that, “It’s weird that we’ve been running in the same circle but you haven’t caught up with him until just now.”

“He hasn’t been to the desert in a while,” Mikey shrugged, “I heard a rumor that he and a few of his were the ones who pixelated the Dancefloor crew and they stuck around the bazaar for a while before they redlined it home for some emergency or another. But that was a few years ago.”

“Whatever the reason,” Ray shrugged, “Looks like we’ll be seeing him again, now.”

“Let’s still hope he’s cool, then.” Mikey frowned, looking at his lap.

“Come on, Kobra,” Gerard reached over with his free hand to pat his knee, “Keep the faith.”

“I dunno, Gee,” Mikey dropped his voice, “Power changes people. I just hope he’s still the same guy I remember.”

That brought the mood back down and, with his thirst for knowledge quenched and their reunion had, Ghoul didn’t have much left to bring it back up with.

Snoop did return a few hours later to check him again and then Greta brought some clear, warm broth in for Ghoul to gulp down hungrily - and then carefully sip under her dangerously deceiving gentle eye.

Gerard slept in the chair next to his bed and they had to bring two more in from other rooms for Mikey and Ray since all of them refused to leave. Ghoul tried to give his bed up to one of them, possibly Ray since he had trouble standing up straight for long periods of time, but it turned out that he’d overlooked the sting in his knee for something other than a still-healing sprain and he was very much wrong about thinking he could stand up, let alone sleep in a chair.

The next morning, he was checked over again, given another bowl of broth while his friends got to eat like bread and shit - even if the bread was shit compared to desert bread - and then a familiarly large figure was in their doorstep to take them to permanent rooms.

“You,” Ghoul snapped the moment he noticed that there was a new man in the room.

“Me,” Travie nodded, pointing at himself, “I’m here to show you guys to your rooms.”

“You told me they were dead!” Ghoul started to get up, “I’m gonna kick your ass, fuckface,”

“Wait, wait,” Gerard put a hand on his knee, standing up from the chair he hadn’t moved much from in the past few hours, “You told him we were dead?”

“No, I didn’t,” Travie crossed his arms, “Maybe he imagined that or something. We didn’t tell anyone that anyone was fucking dead. We do remember him knocking the fuck out of our friend, though.”

“Your friend?” Ghoul gaped at him, “He was guarding me!”

“That’s what you do when you’ve got a wanted man in intensive care, you idiot,” Travie gave him a once over, “You fucking guard their sorry asses.”

“Son of a bitch,” Ghoul started to get up again but was again stopped.

“Ghoul,” Gerard gave him a look, “Calm down.”

Ghoul glared at him, then at Travie, but crossed his arms instead of trying to get up again.

“Whatever.”

“Let’s not start fights, right now.” Ray said, voice appeasing, “Ghoul isn’t in the condition to fight, and I doubt you’d be in anyone’s good graces for beating someone up when Snoop worked so hard to get him back together.”

Travie grumbled something, but didn’t try to say anything back.

“Good,” Gerard nodded, “Can you stand, Ghoul?”

“Fuck yes,” Ghoul snapped, pushing his hand off so he could get off the bed. The floor was cold under his foot, freezing the rough padding of his toes in a way that the sand never had. Had Travie not been in the doorway, watching him and waiting for a reason to laugh, he probably would have immediately lifted his feet of the ground. Instead, he pressed them firmly down and dealt with the feeling until it wasn’t so bad. When he stood up, his knee gave a strange twang but didn’t give out, and his ankles were steady, if weak. He was fine.

“Shirt, please,” He held out his hand and Mikey gave him his shirt. It had been cleaned, mended and the blood stains mostly removed. He could still see where the glass had butchered the fabric, but it wasn’t something he couldn’t overlook so he pulled it on. They gave him his vest next, marked with black burn marks and holes, and then some socks and boots. He still had pants on, different from the ones he’d pulled on when he’d tried to escape but at least he wasn’t in his boxers.

“Are you guys ready to go? I have a report I need to make after this.” Travie frowned from the doorway, shifting impatiently.

“Sorry, is my not walking for a month throwing your schedule off?” Ghoul snapped back sharply. Travie didn’t say anything back, but his fur was obviously ruffled. Ghoul took pleasure in it, despite Gerard’s warning stare.

When he felt he was ready, he nodded, and Travie took off down the hallway. It stung something in Ghoul, that he knew Travie was going slower than he usually would have walked so that Ghoul could keep up. By the time they’d walked through a number of twisting, turning, and confusing tunnels, he was sweating and breathing a little hard. His leg was hurting, his knee burning a little, but he didn’t want to say anything. He knew that the others were watching him, just barely holding back from asking if he was okay. His body hurt, but at least what was left of his pride wasn’t smarting too badly.

Gerard was just opening his mouth to call a break to Travie when they stopped in front of two doors.

“Sorry we couldn’t give you all your own place,” Travie pulled a few cards from his pocket, “But space is a little tight, right now. We’ve got an influx of soldiers from Australia, so…”

“Wait, that came in?” Gerard stopped, “Shit, already?”

Ghoul frowned, trying to understand what they were talking about. It clicked a few seconds later - and maybe he should have had Snoop check his fucking reflexes, this was ridiculous - that they were talking about the tri-annual ship that Australia sent back with those who had chosen to fight BL even after reaching the safety of Australia.

“We were supposed to do shit for that,” Gerard frowned, “Dr. D is gonna be pissed when we call.”

“Yeah,” Travie hesitated, “About that.”

“About what,” Ghoul frowned, immediately suspicious of that tone.

“Well, see,” Travie passed them their cards distractedly, “No one knows you’re alive.”

None of them said anything.

“See, Pete kind of needed it to be a secret, so he didn’t tell Dr. D that he was planning to pick you guys up. He needed it on the down low and he didn’t have the manpower to spare to go out and tell Dr. D and he couldn’t just say it over the radio, so…”

“So the desert thinks we’re glitched.” Mikey finished for him, his voice filled with not much of anything.

“Yeah.” Travie nodded. “Pete will explain. Pick your roommates, it doesn’t matter. They all work for both doors, unless you don’t want that to be a thing. Just tell me or Andy and we’ll fix it. Andy’s been meaning to speak with you, so he’s going to bring you guys’ dinner tonight. You’ll probably meet Pete, and maybe Patrick, tomorrow. If not, you’ll definitely meet Gabe.”

“Gabe?”

“He’s a top dog, like me, I guess.” Travie shrugged, “He’ll set up your meeting with Pete if Andy doesn’t do it, tonight. Questions?”

“Are we allowed to leave the room?” Gerard asked, not betraying anything. If Travie said no, the four of them would be gone within the hour. If he said yes, Ghoul hoped they didn’t want to stick around too much longer than that, anyway. If their friends thought they were dead, he had no clue what kind of chaos Dr. D was dealing with, let alone Girl. Plus, that blond he’d seen in his dreams was still haunting him and he was ready to run, get the hell out of this place before the call of the city woke up in him. He already felt something itching at the back of his head, a loving voice, a soothing touch, begging him to go topside, to feel the concrete under his fingers, taste the blood of scraped skin again.

He just wanted to go home.

“You aren’t prisoners,” Travie shrugged, “Leave if you want, but these tunnels are dangerous if you don’t know your way around. You also run the risk of being mistaken for enemies and attacked by our guys. Pete’s kept you on lockdown from everyone - including our own, unless they needed to know.”

“So we aren’t prisoners, but we might as well be.” Mikey spoke up, clearly annoyed. Travie just held up his hands, washing himself from blame.

“We’ll stay,” Gerard finally broke in, a touch too slow to be normal, frowning. Maybe he only meant that they’d stay in the room, but Ghoul could already see that Pete Wentz had managed to intrigue Poison enough that he was curious about whatever he wanted to speak about. He doubted they’d be leaving any time soon, and he tried not to let the nerves overtake him.

Travie’s radio came to life, a soft buzz of noise coming from his hip and he reached down to pick it up and bring it to his ear. They watched him, the four of them, as he listened in.

“I gotta go,” he announced when the radio had gone quiet, not having said a word into it, “Andy will be by. See you,”

“Yeah,” Ghoul grumbled, looking down at his feet to avoid Gerard’s glare, “Whatever.”

Travie didn’t bother replying, just turned and walked down the way they’d come. Ray, who had taken the key cards, held them up, “How are we doing this?”

“We could move the two beds from one room into the other room and crash together,” Ghoul offered, not wanting to be split apart so soon after joining back together.

“The beds are kind of carved into the wall, buddy,” Ray sighed, “No can do.”

Gerard cursed and reached out for a random key, “Kobra, you and Jet Star can stay in one. Ghoul and I can share the other. We’re only a wall apart, right?”

“Seems cool to me,” Mikey nodded, taking the card Ray offered. He and Gerard exchanged odd looks that Ghoul had the distinct feeling were about him, but he couldn't bring himself to mind.

“We’ll rest, for now. You look ready to take the z-train, Star.”

Ray laughed, and Ghoul didn’t have to peer too hard to see how tired he really was. Even his hair was drooping, the corners of his eyes tense.

“You got me, Poison,” He nodded, rubbing at his hair to poof it up. Ghoul was suddenly hit with an image of the Girl doing the same thing, learned from Ray, and a deep, stabbing grief came over him. He’d never see her again. There was a space between the four of them where she should have been - the only Killjoy to have escaped Better Living, in the end.

“Rest,” Gerard said again, clasping Ray’s wrist in a grip broken almost before it had finished forming, “We’ll wait for Hurley, and go from there. Let’s get some answers before we blow this place.”

Mikey reached out and caught the tips of Ghoul’s fingers with his own, bringing Ghoul’s attention to his face. As close as they were, Mikey didn’t usually go to touching immediately when he wanted Ghoul’s attention - something on his face must have made Mikey realize that the usual method of just staring at him until he noticed wasn’t going to work.

“Okay, man?”

Ghoul and Mikey both knew that the answer was ‘no’, that never in Ghoul’s existence had he been able to honestly answer ‘yes.’ Still, it was a familiar question, one Mikey asked nearly every time they separated after something...off had happened.

“I,” Ghoul frowned, licking his lips. “No.”

Mikey nodded, squeezed the tips of Ghoul’s fingers between his own. It was nice, sometimes, knowing that Mikey just understood. He wasn’t going to try to comfort Ghoul, wasn’t going to try to make him feel better. Mikey just offered understanding, a place to go if it got to be too much.

It had gotten to be too much for Ghoul a few seconds after waking up for the first time, but Ghoul didn’t want to think about that.

Gerard passed his card over the right door and it slid open with ease, Ghoul followed him into the room with little hesitation, looking around curiously as the door closed behind them - cutting Ray and Mikey off in the hallway to find their own door.

It was made of concrete and rock, the beds Ray had mentioned quite obvious due to being carved into the wall itself. They both had thin, hard mattresses but Ghoul wasn’t going to complain. Both holes were easily big enough for one person, but the one on the right could fit both of them if they squeezed and one of them didn’t mind being completely surrounded by rock on three sides and a person on the last escape route. Between the two beds were shelves carved into the rock of the wall as well, a place for any personal items or baubles.

Ghoul reached up to his neck to find his necklace, squeeze it and press it to his lips like he usually did when he was nervous in a new place.

His fingers met bare flesh.

He felt his throat lock up.

Carefully, frozen a few feet from the door while Gerard looked around, he felt for the chain that was supposed to be knotted around his neck. He couldn’t find it, but he checked again just to make sure, and then he carefully, methodically patted himself down.

“Gee,” He managed to choke out, his hands falling limp at his side, empty like his voice, “Gee,”

Gerard turned around, frowning at the use of his real name in a place that hadn’t been cleared for spyware yet, but he lost the expression when he caught Ghoul’s face.

“Frankie?”

“My..." He swallowed, slow and careful so he wouldn’t choke on the knot in his throat, “My necklace is gone.”

“Gone,” Gerard turned to face him fully, already wide-eyed with worry, “What do you-”

“I mean,” Ghoul cut him off, yanking his collar down to show off the tanned, bared skin, “Bob’s fucking necklace is fucking gone!”

Fury made him lightheaded, anxiety and hopelessness rearing suddenly from their cages to claw at his throat, where the rabbit had always been to protect him - his eyes went a little hazy. The next thing he knew, he was breathing too hard, too fast and laying on the floor. His chest ached like it hadn't in years, not since he’s left the city. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't get his chest to work - he was choking on the air in his lungs - he couldn't breathe - he couldn’t -

A dry, sour spray settled on his tongue and he inhaled on immediate instinct, taking the next two doses with a little less trouble.

A few minutes passed with him trying to get himself together, his throat opening back up slowly as the medicine took effect.

He heard Gerard like he was far away, saying his name wetly, panic stricken. Closer though, like they were holding him between them again, warm and aching on a cool night years and years ago now, he could almost hear his mom and Bob.

That was a really bad one, motorbaby. She'd said thickly, her rough hand around his.

You sickly piece of shit, Bob had nearly sobbed, holding him so close that Frank could hear his rabbit-fast heartbeat.

“-kie, please, sweetheart, just fucking answer me,”

“‘m sorry,” Ghoul heard himself, closing his eyes to keep the fantasy, the words coming back to him naturally, “I’ll be better.”

And he wanted so badly for those voices to say something again, snap at him to shut up, anything.

“The bone dust worked?” Gerard said instead, and it wasn't disappointment in Ghoul’s chest because he loved Gerard more than anything he had left and Ghoul could never be disappointed to have him. He wasn’t disappointed to hear Gerard, he wasn’t.

But there was still a part in his chest that ached and not because of the attack.

“Yeah,” he coughed, “Yeah, I...I’m okay. Why did you have that ready?”

“Bones gave it to me after your checkup…’said you might need it, since the air would irritate your lungs. I’ve never...I knew you had shit lungs, Frankie, but I’ve never seen someone like that before - You, you just started choking,”

“I usually,” He had to stop, his throat burning and his lungs aching. “Medicine. Desert shit, it clears it up,”

He shook his head and leaned gratefully into Gerard’s arms when they wrapped around him. He felt fingers in his hair and turned his face into Gerard’s shoulder to avoid letting him see the burning in his eyes.

He needed his necklace.

“My necklace,”

“Shh,” Gerard nodded, brushed his chin against the top of Ghoul’s head, “I’ll find it for you. Just rest, okay? That didn’t look like an easy attack. You look like you’ve aged ten years,”

If only Gerard knew.

“Hardy har har,” Ghoul grumbled, digging a knuckle into Gerard’s side until he laughed - his breathy hyena giggle short but enough to ruffle Ghoul’s hair. It didn’t make it better, the lack around his neck, but it settled his nerves just a little, to hear Gerard’s laughter.

“Seriously,” Gerard pressed a feather-light kiss against his forehead and helped him off the floor, “We’ll find it. They must have taken it off when they were healing you.”

Ghoul, keeping his breathing slow and shallow so he didn’t irritate his chest, nodded and fought back the panic. He would get the charm back, like Gerard had say. They were both tired, though, and he knew - rationally - that calling someone back just to demand the charm would do no good. They needed rest and, when Hurley showed up, Ghoul would get his chance to rip into the people who had taken it.

Gerard led him to the bigger bed and they curled up together, Ghoul pressed into the wall. There was a pad on the wall next to the bed and, when Gerard glanced his fingers across it, the dim light went out, bathing them in darkness. If Ghoul closed his eyes, pressed his face to Gerard’s neck, and breathed in, he could pretend that they were in their freezer, that none of this had happened and the Girl was just in the next room with Mikey and Ray, that they were in the desert, that his charm was where it was supposed to be after so fucking long around his neck, and that they didn’t have to do anything in the next few hours except sleep.

-

Hurley was short, muscular, and not someone Ghoul would have gone out of his way to cause trouble with had his charm not been missing and his crew kidnapped.

His bottom lip was pierced, a thick silver stud bisecting his lip and making his hard face all the more severe. He had a clipboard under his arm and a tray consisting of spoons, bowls, and a small pot balanced on one hand, and he knocked politely before the door opened for him. He must have had a skeleton key.

The four of them had long woken and had gathered in Poison and Ghoul’s room, Kobra setting onto the bed that they hadn’t occupied and Jet Star studying the innards of the door mechanisms - which Hurley didn’t seem to appreciate, once he’d noticed.

“Killjoys,” He inclined his head in a nod, “I’m Andy.”

“You’re the one who’s gonna tell us what’s going on.” Poison frowned, standing up.

“First,” Hurley dropped into a crisscrossed position on the floor without wobbling the tray and daftly settled it in front of him, “Dinner.”

“We’re not hungry,” Poison frowned, “Now, about -”

“If you don’t eat this, you’re going to fuck up your eating schedule. Sit the fuck down and eat this, all of you.” Hurley interrupted, sounding annoyed and ready to do something about it, “Do I need to call Greta in here to explain that fucking with that isn’t going to be pretty?”

Poison crossed his arms, looking stubborn. He opened his mouth, probably to argue again, but stopped himself to instead slide his eyes over Kobra, Jet Star, and then Ghoul.

“Yeah, okay.” He finally nodded, not looking particularly happy about it. He dropped across from Hurley, far enough that the others could fall in next to him and finish the circle. Ghoul and Jet Star ended up bracketing Hurley and were the first to receive bowls of steaming broth. Everyone but Ghoul got a piece of bread to go along with it, but Hurley very deliberately set aside a second serving for Ghoul to make up for it.

Ghoul watched Hurley carefully as he ate - slow and careful so he didn’t irritate his lungs again so soon after that last attack, and tried to get a handle on him. He wasn’t as good at reading people as the others, a lifetime of automatically placing people into ‘enemy’ category leaving his interpersonal observation skills a little lacking outside of business and Fun Ghoul was ignoring him instead of helping, but he didn’t get a bad feeling off Hurley. The meal was silent, though, the five of them slurping down their bowls and chewing through the bred, or Ghoul’s extra serving of broth, until it was all gone and Hurley was setting everything back on the tray.

“You’ve probably got a lot of questions,” He cleared his throat once the bowls had been stacked, the pot covered, and his clipboard had found its way to his lap, “And I’m probably the most prepared to answer them, so ask away.”

“Ghoul had a necklace,” Poison leaned forward, “Where did it go?”

Hurley blinked, obviously not having expected that question of all the questions, but he answered, nonetheless.

“Ghoul had a metal necklace that interfered with his healing. The metal reacted to the equipment being used so we removed it. We understand that sentiment is important, so it has been given to Patrick for safekeeping due to the habit of the medical staff of losing things. He won’t lose it, unlike if we’d given it to Pete,” he sighed, put-upon and long-suffering, “As it stands, you’ll be seeing them early tomorrow, so I would assume you’d get it back then.”

“I want it now,” Ghoul clenched his fists, the broth in his stomach rolling, “Right now.”

“Patrick,” Hurley hesitated, “Patrick isn’t allowed in this wing. And, as of now, it is unsafe for you to walk through the compound, inefficient for one of us to hunt him down to return it to you when you will be seeing him in a matter of hours.”

Poison gripped Ghoul’s knee in response and he forced his fingers to unlock.

He wanted his necklace back. But he understood that Hurley was unsympathetic to his plight, that he would have to wait. It was a lead ball in his throat, being without his last piece of Bob. Even though Bob had died a decade ago, Frank hadn’t truly been without him until this moment, when he’d lost his final piece of him. It was like mourning all over again, a sick, hard feeling in his guts and bones.

“Why are we here? How did you save us? What happened to the Girl and Dr. D? Why haven’t you told anyone you have us, if we aren’t your prisoners?” Poison demanded, his good-nature having worn off with Hurley’s refusal to refund Ghoul’s necklace.

These questions, though, Hurley was expecting. He didn’t quite relax, because he hadn’t been tense in the first place, but it was obvious that he was more comfortable talking about this, rather than sentiment.

“Pete Wentz, the leader of the Young Bloods faction, has devised a plan against Better Living. He hopes that your crew will agree to help him execute it. Our people inside the BL desert base heard of the attack on your crew and that they’d kidnapped one of your own - a young girl with connections to Dr. D. We’d been planning on approaching you with our proposal for quite some time, but we realized that this would be our last chance to catch you, so we infiltrated the ranks of Draculoids and used their technology against them. We also set up a distraction, and in the midst of the chaos, we took you away underground and brought you here, to our compound. The Girl escaped with Dr. D’s cohorts.” Hurley flipped a page on his clipboard and paused in his speech to make a note, “And, finally, we have told no one about you, because the longer Better Living is unawares of your impending return, the more time we have to work under their noses.”

“What, exactly, is this plan, then?” Poison frowned, “Tell us what we’re in for.”

Ghoul tried to watch for something, anything that gave Hurley away, told him just what exactly this game was but he just couldn’t find anything. Fun Ghoul was the reader, the one who knew what every nose twitch, every eye movement, meant and how it was going to come back to bite them in the ass. But Fun Ghoul was angry, and he wasn’t talking no matter how much Ghoul tried to get him to say something about what was happening. Hurley didn’t look like a secretary, but he held himself - and that fucking clipboard - like someone who was long used to cleaning up messes. Ghoul didn’t like thinking of himself and his crew as a mess, but it was obvious that whatever was going on wasn’t something Hurley particularly approved of.

“That, I’m afraid, I can’t go into details about at this moment. Pete has made it explicitly clear that I don’t have the…” he closed his eyes, and Ghoul could suddenly relate to the expression on his face of working with an idealist, “oomph to properly explain.”

“The oomph.” Poison repeated back, sounding dubious.

“The oomph,” Hurley nodded, sliding his clipboard back under his arm and standing smoothly, “If there are no further questions, I’ll be leaving. It would be best if you slept, especially…” his eyes slid over to Ghoul for barely a moment, “Well. We’ve put a large sum of resources into your health and I hope that you all take this opportunity to rest your bodies and allow them to heal naturally what we could not heal for you.”

“And this meeting tomorrow?”

“I will come personally to escort you to the war room. By then, we’ll have spread your arrival to our own soldiers so that they will be expecting you - if not by name. After you speak to Pete and Patrick, you will be given access to the communications room, where you can contact Dr. D, if you wish.”

“And Ghoul’s necklace,” Kobra broke in, speaking up for the first time. Ghoul glanced at him and smiled, just a little. When meeting with a rival crew, it was usually Poison who talked business unless one of them had something important to add, but Kobra had obviously picked up on the fact that Hurley didn’t much care one way or the other about Ghoul’s charm and wasn’t going to stand for it.

Ghoul felt warmth in his veins at the reminder that he wasn’t alone, that even though he was feeling bared and empty, like he’d been stripped of armor, he still had his crew.

“And Ghoul’s necklace,” Hurley nodded, not even bothering to look at Kobra. He picked the tray up and settled it on one hand again, “Greta will be by to check on you and then you’ll be left to your own devices. If you need anything, Travie’s told you how to contact us.”

None of them said anything, and he disappeared out of the door with an echoing click.

That silence continued, everyone but Ghoul standing after a few moments to almost putter around the room. There was nothing for them to do, so Jet Star went back to the door system and Kobra took the smaller bed again, resting his head on the mattress and closing his eyes. Neither of them relaxed tense muscles, and Ghoul couldn’t make himself go loose either.

“We need to get out of here,” He finally broke the silence, pulling his knees to his chest and wrapping his arms around them. He felt where his body had deteriorated in the weeks he’d been out, soft places that had once been hard and tender places that had once been rough. His arms didn’t feel as solid around himself as they once had, his neck exposed without both the familiar chain and his hair. He felt smaller, weaker. Not himself.

But everyone’s alive, Frank whispered in his ear, teasing at him, Everyone’s alive and you’re going to get your necklace back, you’ll get Bob back soon, if you just wait a little longer -

Bob’s dead, Fun Ghoul broke in, the deep thrum of his voice echoing in Ghoul’s head, You have no clue where the fuck you are, who the fuck these people are, who the hell Pete is - You need to cut your losses and run.

Ghoul closed his eyes and pressed his face to his knees. He wanted to tell them to shut up, say something back that would make them stop arguing - but he couldn’t, He had a habit of speaking out loud when they made him emotional and the others were all in the room. He’d never slipped in front of Kobra and Jet Star, very rarely in Poison - he knew he was crazy, and he knew that they knew, but it was one thing to have them know and a totally different thing to have them see.

“We can’t leave without your necklace,” Kobra answered him, “And we’re kind of lost down here. These tunnels run for miles and miles,”

“Not to mention we have no clue where, exactly, we are. Even if we manage to make our way up, there’s no guarantee that it’ll be the desert we find ourselves in.” Jet Star agreed, “It would be best if we stuck around, I think. At least until we can see Pete.”

Ghoul lifted his face and looked at Poison, who had remained quiet. Poison met his glance but didn’t say anything either way. He offered a hand but Ghoul didn’t think he could move just yet. After a few seconds, Poison dropped his hand, understanding. It just made Ghoul feel worse and he went back to breathing into his knees. He missed the sun, the sand, the open air. Being in the tunnels had never been pleasant, not even when Eyeball was hanging in them, and now it was all the worse because he didn’t want to be here.

He just wanted his charm back. He just wanted his charm back.

Eventually, he found the strength to get up, stagger over to Poison’s side and crawl into the bed, press his back against the cool wall and breathe.

Poison didn’t touch him, must have read that he really didn’t want the touch, but he did stay close for a while, just sitting. It wasn’t like him to not talk, to just let the room stay quiet. If Ghoul had to admit it, the lack of chatter was probably making his nerves even worse than if Poison hadn’t been able to stop the flow of words like he usually couldn’t.

Finally, Jet Star yawned - his jaw cracking, back arching and even his hair seeming to rise with the inhalation of oxygen.

“I think I’m gonna take Hurley’s advice and sleep.” he announced once he’d stopped yawning, “I guess I’m not up to full speed yet, either.”

“None of us are,” Poison finally said, “But we’ll get there. You going too, Kobra?”

“Yeah,” Kobra grunted, standing up and stretching his long limbs, “I’d better get some rest before I meet my childhood bestie again for the first time in ten years.”

“Shit, it’s been that long,” Jet Star scoffed, “It feels like a few months ago, sometimes.”

“Sometimes,” Poison echoed, but didn’t continue.

“Hey, Ghoul,” Kobra called out once he’d reached the door. Jet Star had returned the paneling with a few pieces missing but still working just fine. He’d pocketed the access wire he’d run across, “Chin up, yeah? We survived, dude. Just remember that, for a little bit longer. Until we get home, because we will get home.”

Ghoul managed to dredge up a weak smile, nodding. Sometimes Kobra knew what to say to him when even Poison struggled.

Jet Star offered a thin wave their way before the door closed and locked automatically behind the two of them.

Ghoul took the chance to curl up around his head and grunt out a hissed, “Please just shut the fuck up,” at Frank and Fun Ghoul, who hadn’t stopped arguing since they’d spoken up earlier.

It didn’t help a bit, but it felt so good to finally say something, finally voice his own opinion on the matter. Frank wanted to stay, wanted his charm back and to explore that uncomfortable blue they remembered from some time ago, while Fun Ghoul was ready to forgo the necklace all together and just leave, before they got themselves into something they couldn’t handle. Ghoul wanted both, he wanted his necklace and he wanted to leave, but most of all he just wanted them to shut the fuck up -

“Ghoul?” Poison called his name, sounding concerned. Ghoul flapped a hand at him and it was caught with little effort and pressed between Poison’s warm palms. He felt rough lips press against his knuckles, brush against skin sensitive with anxiety and pain. “You okay?”

“They won’t stop,” He got out, squeezing Poison’s fingers, like sharing the pain would make it hurt less.

Poison laid next to him and Ghoul moved away from the wall, pressed his face to Poison’s shoulder and breathed him in, took in the smell of sweat and underground, of Poison and just a little bit of sand that still clung to him. He felt the fine particles on his tongue and, even if he was just imagining them, they helped his chest settle like the medicine hadn’t.

Frank and Fun Ghoul quieted down - didn’t go away, but their argument drifted away until it was like Ghoul had closed a door on them.

He felt Poisons’ fingers, soft and rough and right, settle between strands of his hair and stroke the tips against his scalp. It was calming and he let the feeling reassure him into a half-asleep lull.

“I don’t want to be here,” He finally admitted, like it was a secret.

“Neither do I,” Poison admitted back, lips against his forehead, like he was sharing a secret of his own.

Knowing that Poison shared in his feelings made it a little better that they had to stay. Even putting his charm aside, they were both aware of when they were out of their depth - and tens of feet beneath the surface and hundreds of miles of deadly, confusing tunnels were the definition of our of their depth.

“I’m so glad you aren’t dead,” Poison whispered, after what might have been hours of the two of them lying together in the dark. Greta had been by a while ago and his breathing had been steady, even. Ghoul had thought he’d fallen asleep soon after they’d turned the lights off, but the words brought him back from the drift he’d had going.

“Poison,”

Poison squeezed him, cut him off with a careful, controlled sob that was quickly choked off. Now that Ghoul was paying attention, he could feel the fine trembling in Poison that he’d previously been blaming on himself and his own nerves.

“I thought...I thought they’d given you too much tranq. That, that, I dunno, that you’d been hurt too badly. I mean, they managed to save me and I was shot point blank in the head, but you...fuck, Frankie, fuck,”

He pulled in a shaky lungful and squeezed Ghoul tighter, clutching the back of his shirt hard enough that his fingers were digging into his skin, too.

“You just...you wouldn’t wake up, you know? And all I could think was,” he gulped in a heavy breath and Ghoul slung an arm over his waist and didn’t panic at bit at being surrounded by Poison, being engulfed in his arms. “All I could think of was that, if you didn’t wake up, it would be my fault. It would be my fault and I’d have to live without you for the rest of my life, and that would be my fault, too.”

“Gee,” Ghoul bit his lip, rubbing along Poison’s back in long, firm strokes to try to calm him. He could feel his racing heart against his cheek, hear how fast his blood was pumping. “I’m okay. We’re all okay.”

“I know,” Poison nodded, trying to laugh, “I know, I just, I’m just,” He sobbed hard, choked it off again and smiled, “I’m just so fucking - I’m so fucking glad, Frankie,”

Ghoul felt hot tears in his hair, warm and wet against his scalp, and reached up to cup Poison’s face in his hand and tilt his own head until they were looking at each other. He was long used to seeing Poison in pitch black, long used to finding his lips with his thumb and leaning up to press a kiss there with little effort.

Poison tasted like salt, like the sand and the sunshine. It was the first proper kiss they’d shared since they’d left the diner - when Poison had pulled him into the freezer for the last time and kissed him until they were both crying into each other’s lips.

It wasn’t as desperate, but it was just as intense, just as fucking scary.

“I’ll always wake up for you,” He finally decided to say, when the kiss had trailed off into unsteady presses of lips against his face. Poison lingered over the scars on his cheeks, still a little achy but nowhere near the absolute agony of when he’d first been carved into with a pocket knife. The stitches had been taken out at some point, but he hadn’t brought himself to touch them just yet.

“I know,” Poison nodded again, rubbing small circles into Ghoul’s spine, “I know. I’m just...fuck, fucking fuck,”

They didn’t say anything after that, back to the silence. Ghoul was almost relieved, though, to know that he wasn’t the only one freaking out, wasn’t the only one teetering over an emotional cliff and barely hanging on. He could only imagine what Kobra, what Jet Star, were going through. He imagined that they’d both go to Poison with their thoughts before either went to him, but he fiercely wished that they didn’t keep it to themselves if they felt nearly as scared out of their minds as he, and apparently Poison, did.

At some point, he fell asleep, still tucked warm and tight against Poison.

When he next woke up, he didn’t know how long he’d been out for, or if Poison had managed any rest at all, but there was a knocking on his door telling him that Hurley had come to collect.

Poison was already sitting up by the time Ghoul’s eyes had snapped open, stretching as he walked over to the door to open it for Kobra and Jet Star, and then Hurley.

“Wake up, Zone bats, it’s time to fly,” Jet Star clapped, going for forced enthusiasm in the face of meeting up with Pete.

“Shut the fuck up,” Ghoul grumbled, burying his face back in the mattress to avoid the lights coming on.

“Up and at ‘em, Ghoul,” Kobra poked at him, completely unsympathetic, “We’ve got alley cats to hiss at. Open them peepers.”

“I hate you,” Ghoul lied, finally pushing himself up and getting out of the bed.

“Feelings mutual,” Kobra patted his head but helped him balance himself on cramped legs.

Hurley had another tray, this time with a few thick slices of bread and a bowl. Ghoul got the bowl, much to his chagrin, while the other three were given the bread slices. Hurley had also managed to snag four water bottles, which he pulled from his jacket pockets with little flare.

“Sorry about not bringing any by last night. We didn't think city water would be good for Ghoul’s stomach, so we had to outsource and it just came in this morning. It isn't much, but we’re gonna use it to acclimate you into city water again.”

“Joy,” Ghoul sighed, already tasting the memories of city water on his tongue.

The others didn't look too pleased about it either, but all of them took the offered desert water with grateful nods. Ghoul wasn't going to lie, if only being allowed broth meant he got imported desert water, he’d keep up the hard work.

They all ate quickly, except for Ghoul - who once again had to sip slowly until his bowl was empty and he’s sucked down half a bottle of water. That was more than he usually drank in half a day, but his body was craving hydration and he couldn't stop himself.

“Are you prepared?” Hurley asked, once the plates and bowl had been replaced and he had the tray in hand. His other palm was full of his stupid fucking clipboard, reading something over like it was more important than what he was currently doing.

“Lead the way,” Poison dusted crumbs from his pants and stood. Ghoul took the chance to look his crew over with fresh eyes, eyes preparing them for meeting with a dangerous crew they’d never run with before.

Poison had been given a sleeveless, black shirt, his jacket and his tan pants, but his zap was gone and his hands looked fragile without the fingerless gloves he usually wore. All the same, he held himself up and proud - like he was Party Fucking Poison, and he knew it. Still, there was something a little off - a little wrong - with the way he was standing, the way he was presenting. Somehow, he looked smaller.

Kobra had managed to get away with keeping his jacket, too but his yellow shirt was gone, replaced with a back one similar to Poison’s and he looked like he had different jeans on. His boots were the same, though, ready and willing to stuff their steel toe up your ass. He wasn’t happy, annoyance making his arms tense, his feet firm and spread shoulder-width apart like he was going to be tackled at any moment.

Of all of them, Jet Star seemed the most relaxed, as usual. His jacket, like Kobra’s, hadn’t gotten away unscathed and the leather had been riddled with burn marks and holes from the firefight, but it was holding together. Jet Star had zipped his jacket, so the shirt underneath was invisible to Ghoul, but he had different pants from before, more green than purple, and new boots that looked like they could still hold up against the Sand and Sun. The biggest change, of course, was his left eye - covered by a big, black eyepatch. He didn’t look like being half-blind was bothering him, and it hadn’t when they’d been going into the HQ, either, but Ghoul couldn't’ help but wonder just how he was coping with that loss. It was different now. As far as they’d known then, they were going to die. Now, their lives weren’t in nearly as much apparent danger and coping with loss of vision probably wasn’t the first thing someone in their situation needed to do. Dying with one eye and living with one eye were different drag races.

Overall, they looked...okay. Not great, not to the point of a full recovery, but...getting there. Okay.

Hurley hummed something under his breath and opened the door. “Follow me, then. I’ll take you to the war room. Stick close, the soldiers know that we have desert guests, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”

“Of course,” Poison demurred, smiling stiffly. He still wasn’t pleased about Ghoul’s dismissal the night before, know the way Hurley had treated Kobra, so Ghoul pressed the back of his hand against Poison’s when Hurley turned around to leave.

Calm down, he tried to say without the words, hoping that Poison got the message. Poison glanced his eye, sighed, and curled his fingers around Ghoul’s loosely for just a moment before he started walking - an okay.

They followed Hurley down a number of hallways, this way and that in what appeared to be a never-ending cavern of tunnels. Eyeball had stuck to a few tunnels and then a few traps surrounding that, but the Young Bloods had managed to turn miles upon miles of tunnel into habitat for them and their ilk. Ghoul was reminded suddenly of what a shit idea it had been to try to leave the night before. They never would have made it out of this place. His legs were already starting to ache, his chest already beginning to tighten even after the medicine from last night.

They stopped at what could only have been a mess hall so Hurley could drop the tray off to be cleaned. It was filled to capacity it seemed, more people in one place than Ghoul had ever seen since leaving the city, all crowded around tables and rations. The room quieted upon their entering. It wasn’t silent, but the loud conversations noticeably dropped as Hurley walked towards the food line. A young girl met him at the doorway to the kitchens and took the tray with a flustered “Thank you!”

Jet Star, smiling serenely, wrapped his arms around both Kobra and Ghoul and squeezed their shoulders. Mostly, it was to stop either of them from turning around to confront whichever assholes were calling them fucking desert whelps and coyotes behind their backs.

Hurley must have heard it, because his mouth went tense, his lips disappearing into a white line. His eyes had hardened when he turned back to the crowd to walk back out. He must have heard the direction the insults were coming from because he tossed a dark look that promised retaliation later towards the table of hunched over soldiers.

They all dropped their eyes.

Ghoul, for the first time, wondered if maybe Hurley had other reasons for not wanting to work with them rather than because they were of the desert.

They left the mess hall to an eerie silence.

“So I take it Pete hasn’t shared his plans with his faction yet,” Poison said under his breathe once they were in the clear.

“He wanted to clear it with you before.” Hurley answered, even though he wasn’t exactly supposed to have heard Poison’s comment, “No point in dealing with the backlash if you decline the offer, is there?”

Poison didn’t say anything back, but his eyebrows rose high for a few seconds. Ghoul frowned, though. Whoever this Pete was, he had Hurley’s respect - and he must have been powerful, for his secretary to hold that much power over Pete’s soldiers.

Worse, he had Poison’s respect - because Poison actually looked a little more interested, now, than he had before, and Poison didn’t waste his time listening to people he didn’t respect.

Ghoul just really, really wanted to go home.

Just stay strong, Frank hummed at him, Just for a little longer, Ghoul. You can do it. Your crew is with you.

Fun Ghoul didn’t respond, but his disapproval was an obvious black hole in Ghoul’s stomach.

“This is it,” Hurley stopped in front of a metal door. “The war room.”

“He’s in there?” Kobra frowned, stepping forward. He reached out, but Hurley stopped him with a clearing of his throat.

“I’m going to make sure he’s ready for you guys. Just wait here.”

He slipped into the room without letting them see inside, leaving them alone in the hallway.

“What the fuck,” Kobra snapped, “Does it seem like he has it out for me? Or is it just me?”

“He does seem a little frosty in your direction,” Jet Star gave, “Maybe he doesn’t like blonds.”

“Hardy har har,” Kobra bitched, glaring at Hurley through the door.

“Don’t let him unsettle you,” Ghoul nudged him, “He’s probably just trying to throw us off.”

Kobra held his breathe for a few seconds and then nodded, forcing himself to look away from the door and cross his arms.

“What do you think, Poison?” Jet Star slid his eyes over to Poison, “Working with those soldiers sounds a little too stirred, not shaken to me.”

“We’ll hear him out,” Poison decided, after a moment’s pause. “Then see what he has to say about the bin rats he’s housing.”

Ghoul didn’t argue, and neither did Kobra or Jet Star. Instead, the four of them huddled together and waited for the door to open.

What felt like hours, but was probably only a few minutes, later, it did.

It wasn’t a huge room, but it had a large table and chairs in it. Ghoul recognized it as a holo-table, a bigger version than the one that Dr. D utilized. There were four chairs on the side closest to the door open for them, and a few buffer seats between them and the rest of the table’s two occupants.

Hurley and a bushy-haired man stood to the side, Travie and a long beanpole of a guy next to him. Across from them were two others, a small, heavily scarred man that pinged something in Ghoul’s memory and a stout, blond with eyes so uncomfortably blue that Ghoul had to look away before he could properly take in his face. Something inside of him cracked, because that blond was so familiar that it hurt, and he’d never run into anyone that had that same blond as Bob had, but seeing it again after so long made his throat close up.

He focused on the two at the table to take his mind off of it,

One was a redhead with a hat, glasses, and golden eyes. There was something about him that set Ghoul’s hackles up and he immediately wanted to turn around, take his crew and back the fuck out before those golden eyes took an interest. Whoever, and whatever, that guy was, he wasn’t someone Ghoul wanted a single fucking thing to do with.

The one next to him, though, had a smile bright enough to rival the sun - dark skin and bright teeth and warm, brown eyes.

He stood up from the table and he was barely taller than Ghoul, nowhere near as muscled as Jet Star.

“The Fabulous Fucking Killjoys,” Pete Wentz laughed, sounding excited and pleased to see them, “Long time, no see.”

Ghoul looked him over, flicked his eyes up and down his form and held back a sigh.

He wasn’t all that impressed.