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you've become my kingdom come

Chapter Text

+

 

Three years later.

 

+

 

I'm burning bridges shore to shore, I break away from something more
I'm not turned off to love until it's cheap.

 

On nights like these, Kellin always wears his black skinny jeans, a leather jacket and a thick line of dark grey kohl smudged beneath both eyes.

He exhales a cloud of smoke into the dark night air, then reluctantly turns to stub his cigarette butt out on the alley wall; his headphones continue to play as he yanks the door open and heads back inside the dingy club.

 

Been there, done that, messed around
I'm having fun, don't put me down
I'll never let you sweep me off my feet.

 

It takes Kellin a few minutes in order to make his way towards the door, slowly pressing his way through the crowd of warm bodies until he's abruptly ejected onto the sidewalk in front of the dilapidated brick facade of the building. He nods to the bouncer and wanders off down the street, not bothering to call a cab - it's only a few blocks to his and Jack's apartment, anyways.

 

I won't let you turn around and tell me now I'm much too proud
To walk away from something when it's dead.

 

By the time Kellin finally makes it home, the microwave clock reads 2:37AM. Jack's room door is shut, but there's a bottle of Advil and a glass of water waiting for him on the bathroom counter; Kellin splashes his face and brushes his teeth on autopilot, then shucks his jeans and shirt before collapsing onto the couch in his boxers. He's already dreading the hangover he's going to have tomorrow.

 

+ + +

 

"Kellin? Yo, Kellin."

"Hmm?" Kellin hums and looks up. "Sorry, wasn't paying attention."

His coworker sighs. "Yeah, I noticed," she rolls her eyes. "You haven't complained about a customer all day today. And if you hadn't noticed you're working the register, so that's saying something."

Kellin sighs and rests his forearms on the counter, looking around the small record shop. "It's just been a long day," he mumbles in explanation.

"Well, I'm going to go sort through the CDs. I suggest you find something productive to do, too."

"Yeah, yeah," Kellin agrees with a dismissive wave. "I'll restock the t-shirts after I ring this guy through." He motions to the waiting customer to approach the till, accepting the record he hands over and scanning it. "That'll be $12.99," he announces. "Can I get a name and email from you?"

"Uh, yeah," the guy agrees, "Vic. V-I-C."

Vic.

Kellin mechanically types in the email address, attempting to focus while half of his brain goes wild.

Vic, it chants, Vic! Vic! Vic! Vic! Vic!

For the rest of the day, it's a miracle he gets anything done. His thoughts are busy racing with old memories that he thought he had almost forgotten.

 

+

 

Jaime startles when he hears the generic, chirping ring. He stands up, moving across the apartment in search of the source of the sound; two move annoying rings later, he finally spies the silver flip phone perched on the shelf. It's dusty, and he can't remember the last time he picked it up.

He runs it off on his shirt and flips it open, hesitantly answering the call. "Hello?"

"Jaime!" a somewhat familiar voice greys him, "Long time, no see, buddy."

Jaime feels his eyebrows pull down into a frown. "Holy shit, Kellin?"

"Yeah, man, it's me. What's up?"

"Cut the small talk," Jaime demands, "Why are you calling? I told you to use this number in an emergency. Are you in trouble?"

"No," Kellin slowly replies. "Well, kinda. I'm at the San Diego airport and I need someone to come pick me up."

 

+

Chapter Text

+

 

"God, it's good to see you again," Kellin mumbles, dropping his duffel bag to pulling Jaime into a tight embrace.

"Holy shit, dude. I didn't think you'd ever come back," Jaime responds, pulling back with a slightly nervous expression. "Why are you here?"

Kellin shrugs. "I missed you guys."

"I missed you too," Jaime narrows his eyes, "but I still don't think that's a very good reason. I didn't tell Vic you were coming because I knew he'd be angry at me."

"Semantics," Kellin smirks, waving a hand.

"Do you even have a place to stay?"

"Sure," Kellin nods. "Oli said I could crash at his last time I was here, so I'm assuming the offer still stands."

Jaime's frown deepens. "Ooookay," he slowly agrees. "I'll drive you over. But after that, you're on your own," he warns. "Vic's under a lot of stress lately, and it would really be better if he didn't find out you're here."

"Sure, sure," Kellin rolls his eyes, "Whatever you say."

 

+ + +

 

"Holy shit, Kellin?"

Kellin barely had time to brace himself before a muscular, tattooed form launches itself at him and he's engulfed in a bone-crushing hug.

"Hi, Oli," he wheezes. "Holy fuck, dude, you've gotten buff."

Behind him, Jaime chuckles. "Josh home?" he inquires, pushing past them into the apartment.

"In the shower," Oli replies, finally releasing Kellin. "Holy shit, mate. I can't believe you're actually here."

"Me neither," Kellin laughs. "Anyways, I was, uh, kind of hoping I could stay with you guys for a couple of days?"

"Sure," Oli immediately agrees. "However long you need, mate."

"Oli?" calls a voice from inside the apartment, "Oli, who--? Oh. Hello."

Kellin waves at the towel-clad man standing in the doorway. "I'm Kellin," he introduces himself.

"I'm, er, Josh," the man blinks, idly scratching his stubble, "Oli's flatmate."

"Oh, it's fine," Oli waves a hand, "He already knows. He was that kid from three years ago, remember? The kidnapped one?"

Realization dawns on Josh's face. "Oh, oh yeah! I remember you! Nice to finally meet you."

"Likewise," Kellin grins. "Now, can I come in?"

 

+ + +

 

"So what's new?" Kellin asks, taking a bite of Kraft dinner.

Oli and Josh exchange a look.

"Well," Oli sighs, "A lot, actually. The Brides and the Alexandria Family merged a few months after you left, so it's been causing a lot of stress for us all."

"And Tony and Mike got married last year," Josh chimes in.

Oli nods. "Oh, and Jack and Alex are still around, thanks to you. I see them around sometimes." He pauses. "What have you been up to lately?"

"Been busy growing my hair back, since some sadistic asshole decided to shave it off three years ago," Kellin snarkily responds. "Other than that, not much. Working at a record shop."

"That's cool," Josh nods.

"I knew you wouldn't forgive me," Oli mutters darkly.

Kellin sets his empty bowl down on the table. By now, it's already growing dark outside the window, and Jaime has long since left to get back to headquarters. "So, how are Austin and Alan doing?"

"They moved in together a few weeks ago," Josh replies, "Or so I hear from the latest gossip."

"Huh," Kellin whistles. "Good for them."

"They broke up two years ago and Austin dated some annoying blonde chick for a while, but they got back together pretty quick after that," Oli explains. "What about you, yeah? Dating anyone?"

"God no," Kellin rolls his eyes. "The pickings in North Dakota are few and far between."

"Never settle for less than the best," Josh cheekily replies, leaning over to land a smacking kiss on Oli's temple.

It's Oli's turn to roll his eyes and sigh in mock-exasperation. "Anyways, the Brides and Alexandria Family are calling themselves the Black Family now. Ben is still partially in charge, but there's also some new guy called the Prophet in the picture."

"The Prophet?" Kellin repeats. "Huh. That's actually kind of a badass name."

"Yeah. They've pretty much got their tongue up our ass, as far as territory is concerned," Josh continues, "So Vic's been super on-edge these past few years. They're stealing a few of our good clients, too."

"Shit," Kellin remarks. "And what about Harlot? Are they still completely out of the picture?"

Oli hums. "Far as we can tell. We think there might have been one or two left alive that crawled back to Ben after shit went down, but there pretty much nothing we can do about that."

"I see," Kellin nods. "Anyways, I pretty much came here because I want to talk to Vic."

His declaration is met with silence.

"Oh," Josh eventually says, "Well. He doesn't even know you're here yet."

"Maybe you should wait a few days," Oli starts, "You know, to get used to being here and all."

Kellin frowns. "I was going to ask one of you to call him tonight," he trails off.

Josh and Oli exchange another look.

"I guess so," Oli eventually shrugs. "How about tomorrow, though, mate? You look pretty fucking tired right now."

Kellin drops the subject.

 

+ + +

 

'Tomorrow' turns into another tomorrow, which turns into two days, and then three days, and then eventually four days.

On the fifth day of lounging around Oli and Josh's apartment and avoiding the heat of outdoors, Kellin decides he's had enough - "I want you to call Vic," he practically demands. "I want you to tell him that I need to talk to him."

Oli simply looks over at him from his sprawled position on the couch, then drops his book. It lands on the floor with a weak thump. "Fine," he agrees. "But it's your fault if I end up in trouble." And with that, he swings his legs off the couch, stands up and heads for the phone.

"Thank you!" Kellin belatedly calls after him.

A minute or two later, the faint sounds of a conversation can be overheard from the kitchen area.

"Yeah, I know," Oli's saying, "I know, I know! Christ." and then, "Yeah, I told him that. Fuck." There's a pause. "No-- no, I know that. Whatever. Just give me a time and place, someone'll drive him over. He's-- Yes. Fine, okay. Bye."

Oli appears in the living room doorway. "He'll be at the motel tomorrow at seven o'clock PM, in the same room you stayed in before. I'll get Jaime to drive you over."

"Finally," Kellin groans. "Did he seem surprised at all?"

"No," comes Oli's blunt reply, "He didn't. Didn't sound terribly pleased, either."

Kellin waves a hand. "Whatever. I don't care. I just need to talk to him for, like, five minutes."

"Still - I'd be careful about this if I were you," Oli warns. "Vic's been completely stressed out of his mind this past year, and he's hardly ever in a good mood anymore."

"Believe me, I'm pretty sure he's going to want to hear what I have to say."

 

+ + +

 

The ride over to the motel is a tense one, spent for the most part by cataloging old memories.

Once the two of them reach the deserted parking lot, Jaime tells Kellin "I'll wait here." His tone uneasy. "Just a warning, though - Vic doesn't seem too happy that you're back."

"Well, he can suck my dick," Kellin deadpans. "I came here for a reason, and I'm not leaving until I get what I want." Without further ado, he pries open the door and steps out of the car.

"Good luck!" Jaime calls as he slams the door shut.

The walk up the stairs to the motel is a tense one. Kellin clenches and unclenches his fists as he takes each step.

Once he reaches the room door, he takes a deep breath as he turns the handle, mentally preparing himself to see the man who he's been trying to forget for the past three years.

 

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Chapter Text

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The door creaks as it swings open, revealing a bare room with a white-sheeted bed, a familiar figure standing in the middle. Nostalgia washes over Kellin in waves as he steps inside, eyes glued to the man in front of him.

"Vic," he breathes.

The silence weighs like an anchor between the two of them.

"You've changed," Vic finally observes.

"You haven't," Kellin replies, pulling himself together enough to cock one eyebrow.

It's true; Vic's hair is maybe a little longer, his dark eyes a little more tired and a silver ring in the right side of his nose, but he still looks the same as he did three years ago.

"I knew you would come back," Vic says, just loud enough to hear. "I knew it."

Kellin shifts his weight, holding out his arms in a ta-da gesture. "Well, here I am."

Vic shakes his head, rubbing his eyes, "Fuck, man. What are you now, twenty?"

"Twenty-one, actually. Three months ago."

"Fuck," Vic remarks. He shakes his head again. "Just get it over with, then, okay?" he sighs, "Don't waste my time. Why are you back? What do you want?"

Kellin looks down at the floor and then back up. "I want in."

"In?"

"I want into Pierce the Veil," Kellin confirms. "Look, it--"

"Stop," Vic immediately commands, "Stop it. Just-- don't. Please."

Kellin freezes. "What? What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means no," Vic shakes his head. "I'm not letting you join."

"What?" Kellin asks, feeling his tone waver, "Why the fuck not?"

"Because I said so."

"That's stupid. I want to join."

"And I can't let you do that," Vic obstinately responds.

"But--"

"I can't-- Fuck. I can't do this," Vic finally mutters, scrubbing a hand over his face, "I can't fucking do this. I don't have time for this shit."

Kellin barks out a humourless laugh. "You don't have time for this shit?" he demands. "What about me, then, huh? I got held back a year in school, lost all my friends and was practically disowned by my family because of you! I quit my fucking job to come here, and now you're, what, saying you don't have time for me?"

"You don't know anything," Vic snaps.

"Why are you being such a bitch about this?" Kellin yells back. "I thought you'd be glad to see me!"

"You can't just come back with a sleeve of tattoos and think you're hot shit, okay?" Vic practically roars. "By all means, go find another gang to join, but the is no way in hell I'm going to be the one responsible for you getting a bullet in your skull one day!"

"Fine," Kellin retorts after a tense pause, clenching his teeth in anger. "Fucking cunt."

"Get out," Vick growls. "I don't ever want to see you here again."

"Believe me, I'll keep that in mind."

"And you can go ahead and tell Jaime he's getting docked a week's pay because of this."

"That's not--"

"And if I find out you're staying with Oli, or Mike, or anyone else, they won't get paid for three months," Vic finishes. "Hurry up and get the fuck out."

 

+ + +

 

"Shit," Jaime mutters as Kellin climbs into the passenger seat. "That bad, huh?"

"Just drive," Kellin directs. "Take me back to Oli's. I need to pick up my shit."

"Okay," Jaime agrees. "You want to talk about it?"

"No." He pauses. "Fuck. I don't know, maybe. I asked to join and Vic won't let me."

There's a thoughtful pause. "Well... You know, maybe it's for the best," Jaime cautiously suggests. "Things haven't exactly been sunshine and rainbows with us, lately."

"I don't care," Kellin finally shakes his head. "I just wanted him to say yes, I guess."

"I'm sorry," Jaime offers.

"You don't get it," Kellin sighs. "Getting back here... It's been my entire life for the past three years," he says, staring out the window. "I tried to forget you guys, but I just couldn't. And I know Vic's probably too stubborn to change his mind now," he dejectedly adds.

"It's okay," Jaime tries to console him, "Things have been really bad these past two years, alright? You're not missing much."

"I guess," Kellin replies, clearly unconvinced. "I don't know where I'm going to sleep tonight," he sighs. "Vic said I can't stay with any of you guys."

"Well, at least motels here are cheap," Jaime helpfully adds. "There's one right down the street from Oli and Josh's apartment."

"I used up all of my money on that fucking plane ticket," Kellin mopes, slinking down in his seat. "Even if I had my credit card with me, it'd get declined."

The rest of the ride over to Oli and Josh's apartment is spent in silence. When they finally get there, Kellin's footsteps are heavy as they star to climb up the fire escape stairs.

"How'd it go, mate?" Josh hollers down from where he's swinging his legs back and forth as he smokes on the windowsill.

"Not great," Kellin calls back. "Vic says I can't stay with you guys anymore."

"Oh, shit," Josh curses, taking a drag and making a face. "'M sorry."

"It's fine," Kellin huffs as they reach the platform. "I'll just have to find somewhere to go for now."

Josh exhales a cloud of smoke with a thoughtful expression. "Hey, Oli," he calls into the apartment, "Who's that guy you know?"

"Who, Lee?" comes a faint voice.

"No, the other one."

"Nicholls?"

"No, the one with the jawline."

"Oh, Fish. What about him?"

"Kellin can't stay with us, so he needs a place to go."

"What?" Oli asks, leaning into view, "Why the fuck not? What happened?"

Kellin shrugs. "Vic said."

"Oh," Oli frowns. "Well, Fish is in England right now, but he'll be back next week."

"Shit," Josh remarks, nudging Kellin's knee with the toe of his sock. He cocks his head. "Sorry, mate. That pretty much sucks."

Kellin shrugs again. "It's whatever."

"Can you stay at a hotel?" Oli asks, approaching the window and leaning on it with his forearms.

"Nah, I don't have any money."

Josh scrunches his nose. "Well, I'd offer to lend you some, but we're flat broke at the moment."

"Don't worry about it," Kellin dismisses him, "I'll find somewhere to go. I haven't entirely given up yet."

 

+ + +

 

Kellin sighs and flings his duffel bag to the ground before taking a seat on the cold cement beside it. The brick wall of the alley hurts his back.

Reluctantly, he shivers and keels over sideways, pulling the bag under his head like a pillow and tucking his sweater around himself. He tries his best to ignore the smell from the nearby dumpster as his eyes slowly slide closed.

 

+ + +

 

"Kellin?"

A disembodied voice floats towards him, gently pulling him out from his half-lucid state.

"Wha--?" he manages as he sits upright, muttering a soft ow at the crook in his neck.

"Dude, what the hell?"

Kellin looks towards the sound of the voice, blinking and rubbing his eyes in the bright morning light. He makes out a figure leaning towards him--

"Mike?!"

"Yeah, man, it's me. Get off the ground, that's disgusting."

"Jesus," Kellin harrumphs as he attempts to stand, "Good to see you too. You're such a judgemental fucker. Ow, shit."

Mike looks vaguely amused as he takes a drag of his cigarette. "Jaime told me you were headed around this part of town, but I didn't think you'd be sleeping in the gutter."

"It's not a gutter, it's an alley," Kellin replies in indignation as he brushes himself off. "I don't have any money and Vic won't let me stay with Oli and Josh, so I had nowhere else to go."

Mike nods. "Yeah, Himes told me that, too. Anyways, want to go for breakfast? I'll pay."

 

+ + +

 

"So, what's the plan?" Mike asks, taking a bite of his pancakes. "You going home, or what?"

"I don't know." Kellin twirls his fork. "I don't really have money for a plane ticket home, but I guess I could hitchhike."

"That's a terrible idea," Mike bluntly replies. "You'll get... raped, or something."

"Well, it's not like I have a better plan," Kellin rolls his eyes. "How are you and Tony?"

"Oh, we're good. Got hitched last year."

"I heard," Kellin grins, "Good for you guys!"

The corner of Mike's mouth twitches up into a pleased smile. "Yeah, I kinda love that dork," he sighs. "Anyways, what's up with you lately? Girlfriends? Boyfriends?"

"Nah," Kellin shakes his head, "I've been flying solo."

Mike's expression takes a turn for the serious - "Vic called yesterday and told me you tried to join up," he remarks.

"Yup," Kellin replies, popping the 'P'. "He said he wouldn't let me, though."

Mike saws off another bit of pancake. "I can see why," he carefully responds.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

He shrugs. "I don't know. Personally, if I was in charge, I'd let you in in a heartbeat, but I'm not. So."

"Thanks, buddy."

"I guess what I'm trying to say is that Vic spent a lot of time trying to protect you back then, so now it'd be hard for him to put you in any risky situation."

Kellin chews and swallows. "I see your point," he admits. "But I still think it's stupid."

"Well, either way, it's good to see you again, dude. You should totally come over for dinner with me and Tony tonight - you can sleep with us, and maybe we can scrounge up enough change to get you a ticket home."

Kellin shakes his head. "No. I don't want handouts, dude, and there's nothing left for me in North Dakota. Besides, Vic said he'll dock anyone's pay if I stay with them."

"Shit," Mike mutters. "He didn't mention that."

Kellin shrugs. "I'll get a job out here somewhere, maybe see if I can couch surf my way through until I have enough money to buy myself a place."

"Just promise me you won't sleep in an alley again, okay?" Mike frowns. "It's not safe anywhere around here, and especially not at night."

The rest of the breakfast passes in a more casual way, and when Mike finally excuses himself to the bathroom an hour and a half later, Kellin is feeling marginally better about his situation.

He gets about halfway out of the diner before he realizes he's stranded in a completely foreign place with nowhere to stay.

Shit.

Kellin pulls his pack of cigarettes from his back pocket and extracts one, sticking it between his lips and flicking his lighter open before lighting the end and inhaling deeply.

"That's a bad habit, you know," Mike remarks as he pushes through the restaurant doors. "You'll get lung cancer, or something."

"Whatever," Kellin mumbles. He exhales a cloud of smoke. "Hey, does that dinner offer still stand?"

 

+ + +

 

"I just don't see any possible situation where this could end up well," Tony sighs, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "You two are insane."

Mike rolls his eyes. "C'mon, at least give the guy a chance."

"Vic sure isn't," Tony says.

"Well, my brother doesn't always have the soundest judgement, either," Mike replies.

Kellin looks between the two. "I don't see why Vic has such a massive issue with me," he grumbles. "Believe it or not, I've actually grown up a bit since I was seventeen."

"I'm sure you have," Tony honestly placates him, "I just don't think joining a gang is a great way to prove that."

"You're one to talk," Mike mutters.

Tony smacks him on the shoulder. "Dude, shut up. Stop encouraging him."

Kellin suddenly feels like a child caught between two quarrelling parents. "I can make my own decisions, you know," he interjects.

"You're such a mother hen," Mike tells Tony.

"What, because I don't want to see him end up getting stabbed?"

"Stop projecting your feelings into other people! You were exactly like him when you were his age."

"No, I wasn't! I didn't have any other choice and you know it."

Kellin awkwardly waves a hand. "I'm still in the room, you know."

"Sorry," Tony apologizes. He pauses. "I guess I just don't want to see you end up like the rest of us, you know? This isn't exactly the model of a healthy lifestyle."

"I don't care," Kellin shakes his head. "I don't have a job, I don't have any friends and I'm pretty sure my family hates me. It's not exactly like I'm living the dream right now."

Tony sighs. "I'm sorry. I just... I can't tell you it's a good idea. I'm going to have to side with Vic on this one."

"And I say do what you want because you're an adult," Mike shrugs.

"Thanks loads, guys," Kellin says. "Anyways, can I help with dishes?"

"Nah, I'll deal with them," Tony volunteers. "You and Mike should try to find you a place to stay tonight," he says with a pointed look at them both. "I seriously can't deal with the guilt of knowing you're sleeping in an alley again."

Kellin rolls his eyes. "Yes, mum." As Tony gathers the plates and cutlery, he leans back and turns to Mike - "So, what do you think?"

Mike shrugs. "I dunno. Couldn't you just stay with us, like, under the radar?"

"Vic would find out. I don't know how, but he definitely would."

"You have a point," Mike concedes. "But then... Hey!" His eyes light up - "What if you stayed with Jack and Alex?"

"You mean those guys from the house?"

"Yeah! They got mostly clean a while back, and now they live downtown together. Me and Tone visit sometimes. Vic would never know if you stayed with them."

Tony leans into the room. "That's actually a really good idea, babe."

"See?" Kellin smirks, "So he's not just a pretty face, after all."

 

+

Chapter Text

+

 

"Hey, man," the dark-haired man grins. His dark eyes are happy as he pulls Kellin into a bone-crushing hug as if they've been best friends forever. "Good to see you again, buddy. I just want you to know that you can stay here as long as you need."

"Oh... Thanks," Kellin replies, lost for words as the man pulls back. A second man with brown hair and a red shirt smiles and waves from behind him. "I'm guessing Mike told you the whole story already, but I really appreciate you guys letting me crash here."

"No problem," the lighter-haired one replies with a shrug. He tugs on the front of his beanie. "I'm sure you'd do the same for us, if our situations were reversed."

"Plus, Vic pulled a really dick move there, in my opinion."

Kellin laughs. "I guess so, yeah."

There's a pause. "Alright, so I'm Jack," the first man announces with an eye roll, "and this dork is Alex. Come on in and drop your stuff anywhere. Everything's a bit messy, but you'll get used to that."

Kellin hesitantly plops his duffel bag down on the ratty couch next to a coffee table covered in books and two empty Chinese takeout boxes.

"That's where you'll be sleeping, unless you want to come sleep in our bed," Alex jokes.

"I'll pass," Kellin replies with a slightly forced grin.

Alex scratches his head. "So, uh... You wanna come smoke with us, man? I mean, I'm going to crawl out of my skin if I don't get a roach in me ASAP, but you can just chill in here if you want. No pressure."

"Oh. Um, sure," Kellin replies, awkwardly following the other two outside onto the fire escape where Alex proceeds to pull out a joint, light it, take a drag and then pass it to Jack. Kellin reaches for the pack of cigarettes in back pocket. "So, um... Have either of you guys seen Vic lately? Or, uh, Ben?"

"Well, not really, no. I mean." Jack looks thoughtful. "We're not actually a part of either gang," he patiently explains, blowing a plume of smoke. He offers Kellin the joint, to which Kellin replies with a brief shake of his head. "I mean, we still owe Vic - and you - for saving our lives and all that, but we mostly hang out with our buddies in the Brides Family."

"Oh." Kellin flicks his lighter on, cupping his hand around the end of his cigarette as he lights it.

"I like to think of us as middlemen," Alex adds. "Our best friends, Rian and Zack, are pretty much Ben's personal lackeys."

"Really?" Kellin replies, taking a drag, "What about this Prophet guy I keep hearing about?"

Jack nods. "He's got his own little crew, too."

"I see," Kellin says, exhaling. "What's he like? The Prophet, I mean."

Alex and Jack exchange a look.

"His real name's Andy Black," Alex muses. "But most people started calling him the Prophet a couple years ago. He's really young." He sighs and plucks the joint from Jack's fingers. "He's a little bit more powerful than Ben, but not by a lot. Other than that, I don't know much."

"Well... We've never really met him in person," Jack chuckles. "I mean, what would he want with us? We're just outsiders."

Alex takes a hit, looking up at the vibrant blue sky. "Yeah. We're nothing, not compared to him."

"Don't shit on yourself," Kellin rolls his eyes. "I'm sure you guys are great."

"Thanks, man," Jack laughs, extending one arm to clap him on the back. "But we're just ex-junkies who hang out with shady people."

"Hey. Must've been quite the habit to quit, from what I saw back then," Kellin remarks. "Don't take that achievement lightly."

"Well. We still smoke pot, like, twenty-four-seven," Alex admits. "But yeah. We have jobs now, and Zack and Rian don't have to babysit us anymore. It was... It was a bad time."

"That's awesome," Kellin grins. "'M happy for you guys, dude."

Jack reaches over and pulls Alex's beanie down over his face, causing them to both erupt into giggles, and the subject is dropped.

"So, what's been going on in your life lately?" Alex asks. His tone is genuinely curious.

Kellin shrugs. "Nothing exciting."

"There has to be something cool that happened," Jack insists.

"Not really," Kellin says, shrugging again and taking a drag of his cigarette, the cherry glowing red. "Nothing seems exciting after you've been kidnapped, you know?" The two of them nod sagely. "It was weird to go back home, and then everyone wanted interviews and shit. And like... All the kids at school treated me as if I had a third head. Like if they were mean to me I'd sic a drug dealer on them. My friend Jack was pretty much the only one who was pretty normal about it."

There's a pause. "Sucks, man," Alex comments, handing the joint back to Jack.

"No kidding. My family didn't even know what to do with me."

"Do your parents know where you are right now?" Jack asks.

"I left a note telling Jack to tell them I'm okay."

Jack makes a face, busy pulling smoke into his lungs. "My mom wouldn't like that," he croaks on the inhale.

Alex rolls his eyes. "Your mom's dead, Jack."

"But if she was alive," Jack protests. "You should, like... call her, or something."

Kellin shakes his head. "Nah. It's a long story, but they pretty much kicked me out after I started going out partying every night, so I moved into Jack's apartment with him."

"You?" Alex asks in disbelief. "You went out partying?"

"Yep," Kellin bites his lip, "That's me. The serial partygoer." He laughs a bit. "I mostly just drank a lot, made out with strangers and wasted all my money getting into stupid clubs."

"We know how that goes," Jack says in sympathy. He hands the joint over to Alex. "We used to be partying and doing drugs and shit every single fucking night when we hung out with Danny. It got tiring pretty quickly."

Kellin nods and looks down, scuffing his shoe on the fire escape railing and inhaling one last drag of nicotine before stubbing his cigarette out. "Well, as of today, I have no money, no friends, no job, and nowhere to go," he declares. "I'm officially a drifter."

"We'll be your friends," Alex eagerly offers. "And like Jack said, you can stay here as long as you need to."

"Thanks, guys. You're awesome."

Jack looks contemplative. "You could find work somewhere around here," he suggests. "We'll be at our jobs during the weekdays, so it'll be really boring around the apartment."

"I tried to get Vic to give me a job," Kellin mutters, feeling his cheeks flame in humiliation. "God, that was dumb."

There's a moment of silence. "Well, at least you tried," Alex offers, his breath tinged with smoke. "Things around Pierce the Veil have been... tense lately, anyways."

"That's pretty much exactly what Jaime said," Kellin sighs. "I don't get it - I thought... I dunno, I just thought that it wasn't such a big deal. Last time I checked, wasn't the Alexandria Family was on good terms with Pierce the Veil?"

Jack nods wisely. "That was before they merged with the Brides. They have a lot more territory now, with means more people to sell their shit to, which means more money--"

"--which means more power," Alex finishes. "They've really risen to the top of the food chain around here."

"So Pierce the Veil is being threatened?" Kellin narrows his eyes.

Alex looks at Jack. "Not directly, but it's implied that if Vic steps out of line, he'll get what's coming for him."

"Oh."

There's a moment of silence in which Alex finishes off the joint and Jack idly scratches at his stubble, leaning back against the stucco wall of the building.

Kellin clears his throat, taking the peaceful silence as time to think. His heart is busy sinking into his stomach as he realizes the full depth of his situation.

"I'm in such deep shit here," he finally voices a minute or two later. "Like... Now that Vic won't let me in, I have no plans. I don't have anything."

He isn't crying, but it hurts like fuck to swallow.

 

+ + +

 

The next morning, Kellin wakes up to a slight crick in his neck and Jack's grinning face two inches in front of his nose.

"What?" he mumbles in confusion.

"I have an idea," Jack whispers. His breath smells like peppermint toothpaste.

"O-Okay?" Kellin isn't quite sure where to direct his eyes, so he settles on staring at Jack's left eye.

Jack finally leans back, a self-satisfied look on his face. "You should join the Brides Family," he announces.

Kellin sits up on the couch. "...What?"

"I said," Jack rolls his eyes, "You should totally join the Brides Family."

Kellin waves a hand. "Yeah, I got that. But... what?"

"C'mon, man. It would solve, like, all your problems!"

Alex floats into the living room, a bowl of cereal in hand. "He's right, you know."

Kellin takes a moment to rub at his eyes before responding. "That's over-correcting, guys. Joining the Brides would be the exact polar opposite of my plan."

"Well, you were the one who wanted to join a gang," Alex reminds him.

"But... the Brides? They're against Pierce the Veil, guys."

"So?" Jack says, "It's not like Vic is going to let you into PTV in this lifetime."

"Face it - you need to cut your ties with them, dude," Alex adds.

"I--I can't. Jaime and Tony and Mike... They're my friends." Kellin frowns. "Even if Vic hates my guts, I'm not going to give up that easily."

Alex rolls his eyes.

"You could just... Not tell them," Jack suggests.

"I can't," Kellin shakes his head. "I just-- I can't."

"Fine," Alex says. "Consider it forgotten."

And it is, for two days. While Jack and Alex are at work, Kellin keeps himself busy by cleaning the apartment and dashing down the street to the laundromat to switch loads (who knew two guys could have so many piles of dirty clothes?).

His mind still wanders over the thought a few times in the meantime, though, drawn to it like a tongue to a canker sore. He finds himself imagining a strange and uncertain future at the hands of men he barely knows.

He decides the strangest part in his life would be giving up a life involving Vic and Jaime and Tony and Mike. Even though he's been without them for the part three years, it was still a comforting thought to know they were only a few states away at all times.

Now that he thinks about it, Kellin realizes he never really stopped to imagine a future without Pierce the Veil. It always seemed like an inevitable path for him to take.

Kellin tries to concentrate on folding shirts and plopping them in the laundry hamper, but his mind continues to stray.

Would it really be that bad to join the Family instead of Pierce the Veil? he wonders. He recalls Vic speaking of Ben as a cocky and egotistical, and that the Family was mostly based on arms dealing, ransom and extortion, but other than that he's in the dark.

Kellin's mind is still running rampant with thoughts when Jack and Alex get home later that night.

"Hey, Kells," Alex greets him. "Good day?"

Kellin steels his will and takes a deep breath before speaking.

 

"I want to meet the Prophet."

 

+

Chapter Text

+

"You're sure about this?" Jack asks, reaching out to gently touch Kellin's knee.

Jack is driving, Kellin in the passenger seat and Alex in the back of the beat-up little red Mazda.

"Yeah, I'm sure," Kellin nods. His voice is slightly unsteady, betraying his anxiousness.

Alex claps him on the shoulder - "You've got this, man. This is your shot."

"My shot at what?" Kellin asks, peering out the window. The neighbourhood they're driving through looks decidedly sketchy.

"A job, a life, a family," Jack offers.

"No pressure, but the Prophet doesn't agree to meet with just anyone," Alex interjects. "Clearly he thinks you're in some way worth his time."

"Great. Just great," Kellin grumbles. "In that case, I'll try not to disappoint him too much."

"Relax, you'll do fine," Alex reassures him. "All you have to do is say you want a job and let him know that you'll do whatever it takes."

"I don't want to give him a blowjob, Alex," Kellin frowns.

Jack laughs. "Okay, maybe not 'whatever it takes'," he rolls his eyes, "Just make sure it's clear you're willing to start out as a dealer and work your way up, that kind of stuff. Don't be afraid to grovel."

"But not excessive sucking up," Alex warns, narrowing his eyes. "Don't be a teacher's pet."

"You guys are no help at all," Kellin chuckles. His laugh is a little too high-pitched to be normal.

"You really need to sell yourself," Jack continues. "Think of it as the most intimidating job interview of your entire life."

"That's really reassuring, man."

"We're here," Jack announces a minute later as they pull into a parking lot.

Kellin turns to look between the two of them. "What?" he asks, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"Nope. This is where he said to come," Jack grins.

Kellin looks up at the orange and pink Dunkin' Donuts sign and feels the hope drain out of him. "How will I know where to find him?"

"Trust me, you'll know," Jack mysteriously replies.

"Go get him, tiger!" Alex cheers. "Break a leg!"

Kellin's legs are shaky as he exits the car and enters the building, knowing that the next few minutes will determine the rest of his entire life. He figures he should at least buy something, so he orders a medium black coffee.

"That'll be two dollars and five cents," the perky cashier informs him. Kellin barely registers handing over the money and accepting his coffee.

He turns away from the counter and looks around, and then he sees the tall, svelte man typing on his phone in the corner. Everything else seems to fade away.

Jack was right - there's no doubt in Kellin's mind that this is the Prophet. He's dressed in a black jeans and a grey wifebeater, his bare arms covered in ink. The sides of his head are shaved. He looks about Kellin's age, but it's hard to tell.

Kellin feels himself float over towards the man, clutching his coffee tightly even though it's almost scalding in his hand.

Finally, he reaches the table and the Prophet looks up at him.

"H-hi," he blurts out. "I'm Kellin."

Immediately, he wants to slap himself in the face. He stands still as the man's piercing blue eyes give him a once over, feeling like he's going to implode at any second. His cheeks are embarrassingly hot.

"Sit down," the Prophet instructs in a deep, gravelly smoker's voice. It's clearly more of a command than an invitation.

Kellin somewhat clumsily sits and places his coffee on the table in front of him, nervously turning the cup in his hands.

"I know you," the Prophet announces, setting his phone aside and steepling his hands. "I recognize you from the news a few years ago."

"Oh, um. Yeah. That's me."

"You interested me, Kellin. I wanted to meet you face-to-face."

Kellin feels very out of his depth. "Thanks, I guess," he manages.

"Let's get down to the point, then. What brings you back to San Diego?"

Kellin lets out a little sigh and looks up. "I wanted to join Pierce the Veil," he quietly admits.

"And... they didn't want you." It's not a question.

"Yeah. Vic said he didn't want to be responsible for me."

The Prophet leans back, his expression calculating. "So what makes you think I should take you in?"

"I, um," Kellin mumbles, frantically thinking back to Alex's advice, "Well, I'll do whatever you need me to do?" He attempts to establish eye contact, but his eyes flick sideways despite himself.

The Prophet's eyebrows raise slightly. He seems unimpressed. "Sure, you and, let's see... everyone else."

Oh god, Kellin thinks. I fucked up.

"I want to know what makes you special. I want to know what you have to offer me."

"I," Kellin starts, his mind racing, "I know Pierce the Veil," he blurts, "I'm friends with a few of the higher ups. I-I could give you information about them."

"Do they know you're meeting with me?"

"No, only Jack and Alex know."

The Prophet drums his fingers on the table. "Huh." Then, after a moment, "Well, I suppose I should introduce myself. I'm assuming you've heard of me?" The way he says it isn't cocky, simply observational, and Kellin finds himself nodding. "Lots of people call the the Prophet. You can call me Andy."

"Oh... Okay," Kellin says.

"I could use someone like you," the Prophet - Andy - muses. "An informant."

Kellin remains silent for fear of saying something embarrassing.

Andy shoots him a feral grin that doesn't quite reach his eyes. "You know, what the hell. Welcome to the team, brother."

 

+ + +

 

"So? What happened?"

Kellin shuts the car door behind him. "I'm in," he sighs. Alex and Jack cheer. "But I'm not actually a member."

"Oh." There's a pause. "Well, that's cool anyways," Alex tells him.

"Are you gonna get initiated, then?" Jack eagerly pipes up.

"What? Oh. No, definitely not," Kellin shakes his head. "My job is going to be just to meet up with one of Andy's guys every month or so and let him know what's going on with Pierce the Veil."

"First name basis?" Alex marvels, reach forward for a high five, "Well done, man."

Kellin reciprocates the high five. "Now all I have to do is stay friends with Tony, Mike and Jaime."

 

+ + +

 

The first meeting falls on the third of September at a nearby pizzeria. In the mean time, Kellin gets a job at the laundromat. He goes over to Mike and Tony's for dinner about once a week, and Jaime usually comes. He still hasn't seen Vic since that fateful day in the motel room, though. Tony always claims he's just busy with business.

Upon entering the pizzeria, Kellin immediately makes his way over to the only occupied table in the building. There's a single bored cashier on his phone standing behind the counter.

"Hey," he says to the man sitting there. He has long, stringy black hair and a lean face, completed with an easy, gap-toothed grin.

"Hey," the guy says, "Kellin, right?"

Kellin pulls out a chair and sits down. "Yeah."

"Nice. I'm CC," the guy introduces himself. Then, "Do you want a slice of pizza?"

"I'm good," Kellin politely refuses. Truth is, he's too nervous to want to eat.

"Well, I'm going to go get some three-cheese for me. Be right back."

Kellin takes a moment to focus on his breathing. CC seems like a nice, approachable guy, he tells himself. Nothing to be worried about.

A minute later, CC comes back with a slice of pizza. "So, tell me about yourself," he says, taking a bite.

"Um, okay," Kellin agrees, floundering. "I'm from North Dakota. I, uh, I was kidnapped by Pierce the Veil when I was seventeen? And now I work at a laundromat."

"Fucking sweet," CC remarks. "So, can you tell me what's up with Pierce the Veil?" He pulls a yellow legal pad and a pen out of his bag, pizza in one hand and the other poised to write.

Kellin suddenly feels intimidated. "Oh. Yeah. Um, Jaime said there's going to be a slight increase in product to Tony's sector, and there was talk of Lynn getting promoted to co-distributor with Dan."

CC jots down a few notes. "That's all? There wasn't anything else you picked up on?"

"I think that's it," Kellin says, frowning slightly.

"Alright, awesome," CC grins, "That was quick. Thanks!" He pulls out a nondescript envelope and slides it over to Kellin. "The cash is all there," he says, quieter, then, more cheerful, "Let's meet up on October seventh, same time, same place."

"Alright," Kellin nods. He gets up to leave, tucking the envelope into his back pocket.

"Nice to meet you!" CC calls after him as he exits the pizzeria.

 

+ + +

 

"How'd it go?" Alex asks later that night.

He's sitting on the floor in front of the couch with a thick volume in hand, watching Kellin hang up his jacket and slip off his shoes.

"Pretty well," Kellin responds, walking over and leaning on the sofa. "What are you reading?"

"'Guns, Germs and Steel'," Alex says. "It's pretty good. So who did you end up meeting with?"

Kellin sighs. "Some guy called CC. He seemed nice."

"Huh," Alex nods is consideration, "Yeah, I know him. He's a pretty good dude. Gets real crazy when he's drunk, though." He resumes reading.

Kellin goes into the tiny kitchenette and pours himself a bowl of Lucky Charms, letting out a soft oh, come on when he realizes Jack has eaten all the marshmallows. He pours some milk over the plain cereal and eats it anyways.

He goes back downstairs for outside for a smoke later, and finds himself wandering the block as he puffs on a cigarette, down past the gas station and convenience store. It feels good to stretch his legs, walking to nowhere in particular as the sky grows dim above him.

Kellin sleeps fitfully that night. He dreams of chasing after a figure with long brown hair, but every time he catches the person, they dissolve into smoke, burning his eyes and stinging his throat.

 

+ + +

 

October seventh seems to come both achingly slowly and in the blink of an eye. Before Kellin knows it, he's comfortably settled down with Jack and Alex in San Diego. They assure him they don't mind him staying, and they even offer to buy him a bed, but he insists he doesn't mind sleeping on the couch.

"I'm going to move out eventually," Kellin rolls his eyes. "I just need to save the money CC is giving me until I have enough to get my own apartment."

The one across the hall is for sale, and he's been thinking about approaching the landlady to see how much she wants for it. Jack and Alex hardly let him contribute to rent at all, and it's been giving him a serious guilt complex. He attempts to do groceries whenever he can in order to even the score.

When Kellin walks over to the pizzeria it's late afternoon, he's just finished a four-hour shift at the laundromat. CC is already waiting for him at the same table as last time.

"Hey," Kellin greets him, "'Sup?"

"Not much," CC grins, "Take a seat, my man. Let's get down to it. I've got some news for you."

"Me?" Kellin asks, sitting down. "What is it?"

CC does a little drum roll on the table with his fingers, then stops. "Ben wants to meet you!"

"Um." Kellin blinks in confusion. "Wait, what? He- He wants to meet me?"

"Hell yeah, brother."

"But... Why?"

CC shrugs. "Who can say?"

"Do you know when?" Kellin asks, frowning.

"Sometime within the month, I think. He didn't say what day. He knows where to find you."

Kellin finds that fact incredibly disconcerting, but he remains silent. "It's a pretty big honour, man," CC continues, "I thought you'd be stoked."

"I'm... Yeah, I'm excited," Kellin relents with a grimace, "I just don't know him is all." And I really, really don't want to make a fool of myself in front of him.

"You'll be fine," CC assures him, as if reading his mind. "All he wants is to meet you. Find out who his little mole is, you know?"

Mole?

The word echoes in Kellin's head. It makes him sound like a spy, like as if he's doing something wrong.

"I get it," he finally tells CC. "I just don't like it."

The two of them talk about Pierce the Veil's affairs for another half an hour, with CC taking notes in chicken-scratch on his legal pad as they go.

CC hands over the envelope of cash and they decide the next meeting will be on November fourth. As they're about to finish up, CC looks Kellin dead in the eye and says, "You should really get back on good terms with Vic."

"He hates me," Kellin automatically replies.

"Andy wants intel, man. We need the juicy stuff. The inside scoop," CC insists, leaning back. "Just see what you can do, alright? Please? For me?"

"Fine," Kellin reluctantly agrees. "It won't work, though."

 

+ + +

 

When Kellin goes over to Mike and Tony's for dinner the following week, he insists Vic is invited.

"I just really want to clear the air between us," he lies. "And don't tell him I'm here, otherwise he won't come."

He makes sure to get to their apartment a bit early that night, and he brings a mediocre bottle of wine with him as a welcome gift.

Jaime greets him with a smile and a handshake, pulling him in for a one-armed hug. "How's life treating you, buddy?"

"Not bad, not bad," Kellin grins.

The four of them open the wine and sit around the kitchen counter while Mike cooks, talking about general things for a while until there's a knock on the door around 6:00. Everyone freezes.

Mike goes to answer the door, and Kellin timidly following suite.

Vic sees Mike first when he opens the door. "Hey, my man," he greets Mike. His eyes harden when he catches sight of Kellin.

"You," Vic stonily greets him.

"Vic," Kellin says in return, doing a curtsy. He doesn't miss the meaningful glare Vic shoots at Mike, or the shrug he receives in return.

Vic hangs his leather jacket up and pours himself a glass of wine before sitting down on the couch in the living room, effectively ignoring Kellin entirely. The three of them adjourn to the living room, and he makes small talk with Jaime and Tony while Mike finishes making a salad in the kitchen.

Kellin plops himself down on the couch opposite Vic, forcing himself to put on a cheery façade. "So, how's business, Vic?" he asks once conversation has fallen flat.

"It's fine," Vic frostily responds.

"I've heard there's some tension between you and the Brides Family," Kellin pushes.

"Me and Kellin have to have a word," Vic says with a fake half-smile, getting to his feet and motioning for Kellin to follow him into the bedroom. Kellin can practically hear the second his cordial manner snaps.

"What. The fuck. Are you doing here?" Vic hisses, his dark eyes angry.

"I'm just in the area for dinner," Kellin evenly responds, "Chill the fuck out."

"Mike said you weren't staying with him and Tony."

"I'm not, man. I'm independent. Getting my own apartment and everything."

Vic makes a frustrated sound at the back of his throat. "I wanted you gone."

"Too fucking bad," Kellin smiles. "What are you going to do, kill me?"

"Fuck," Vic says, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Just... Go home. Please. And leave me the fuck alone."

"I could say the same to you," Kellin fires back. "Stop telling me to leave. Jaime and Mike and Tony are my friends, too. And you know what? This is my home now." He steps back into the dining room, where everyone is pretty blatantly pretending to not be listening.

"Sorry about that," Kellin replies, grabbing his glass of wine and taking a sip. He sits down next to Jaime.

"So, how are Jack and Alex?" Mike asks from the kitchen.

"They're good," Kellin nods. "What about Josh and Oli, huh? Have you heard from them?"

"Josh is great," Tony pipes up. "He's really been stepping up to the plate lately, as far as his job requires--" He cuts himself off when Vic gives him a withering look. "Um, yeah. He's good."

There's silence, and then Jaime chimes in with, "Oli's doing well, too."

"That's good," Kellin nods. "Tell them I say hi."

Just then, Mike calls out that dinner is ready and everyone takes their places at the table. Vic makes sure to sit as far away from Kellin as possible.

The rest of the night passes by in a similarly awkward fashion, and he's secretly relieved when Vic finally excuses himself to go 'home'. Wherever that is.

"See you tomorrow," Vic addresses Tony, Mike and Jaime. He doesn't even look at Kellin.

Once he's gone, Tony turns to look at him - "Dude, what the hell did you do to piss him off that bad?"

Kellin shrugs, spearing a piece of lettuce on his fork. "Other than being here? No idea." The three exchange a look.

Jaime sighs and breaks the silence. "Vic... He kinda. Well. He told us not to talk to you about gang stuff anymore."

Kellin's heart skips a beat. "Wait, what?"

"Yeah, man," Tony says, "He doesn't want you to know anything that's going on."

"But... But why not? It's not like I'm going to tell someone." His heart starts to race.

"I don't know, man," Jaime responds. "But he's the boss, and we're not going to disobey him."

Fuck.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Kellin says goodbye shortly after, giving a smile that feels oddly perfunctory. "Thanks for dinner, guys, it was great."

"No problem, man. Let's do it again soon."

 

+ + +

 

Days pass, and Kellin busies himself by pulling shifts at the laundromat. He's just sweeping the floors before locking up for the night when the door jingles as it opens.

"We're closed," he automatically calls, not looking up, "We open at ten tomorrow morning."

"I'm not here to do my laundry," a voice replies.

Kellin's head snaps up. His accent is exactly like Danny's, and Kellin feels his hands start to shake as old memories wash over him.

Calm the fuck down, he tells himself. The man is fairly tall and slim, with colourful tattoos adorning his arms and creeping up onto his neck. He's wearing a black t-shirt and black jeans, a smug smirk perched on his face.

"You must be Kellin," the man says. "I'm Ben."

 

+

Chapter Text

+

Kellin leans the broom up against the closest washing machine, but stays where he is.

"Nice to meet you," he - somewhat suspiciously - offers. "I'm Kellin."

"Likewise," Ben says. He walks forward until he's only about a foot away, and crosses his arms. "So you're the one selling us information," he muses. "I thought you'd be... bigger."

It's Kellin's turn to cross his arms. "We can't all be beanpoles," he snaps, then immediately regrets it.

Ben just laughs. Kellin has the distinct feeling he's being made fun of. "Oh, you're a sassy one, aren't you?"

Kellin tries to suppress his scowl, but gets the feeling he's doing a poor job. "What do you want?"

"I just wanted to meet you," Ben raises his eyebrows, "See what all the fuss was about. You're pretty cute, I'll give you that."

"Couldn't you just talk with Andy?" Kellin asks.

"Ah, but that's no fun," Ben grins. "CC seems to be quite fond of you," he remarks.

"Well, tell CC I like him back."

"Hm." There's a pause. "I feel like we've just gotten off on the wrong foot," Ben finally says. He offers a hand, and Kellin somewhat reluctantly shakes it. "Want to go outside for a smoke?"

Kellin quickly finishes his closing duties and locks up for the night, then meets Ben around the back of the laundromat.

Ben pulls out a pack of cigarettes and offers them to Kellin, who takes one. The two of them light up in silence.

"So, what do you want to know?" Kellin asks, exhaling smoke.

Ben shrugs. "How old are you?"

"Thirteen," Kellin replies. "Okay, I'm twenty one."

Ben laughs a little, but it's not mean this time. "Andy tells me you're not back on good terms with Vic yet," he says.

"Vic hates me." Kellin takes a drag. Against his better judgment, he confesses, "The guys told me they're not going to stop talking to me about gang stuff. So. You might not even have a use for me anymore."

Ben looks at him consideringly for a long moment. "We'll be the judge of that."

The sentence seems oddly ominous, and Kellin internalizes his frown. "Thanks, I guess."

"So what have you been doing with the money we gave you?"

"Saving up for my own apartment," Kellin says truthfully. He inspects his cigarette. "I'm pretty close."

"Tell you what," Ben says after a moment, "Just keep doing what you're doing for now. When you meet with CC next time, he'll give you one more payment. After that, Andy and I will decide what to do with you."

Kellin blinks. "Really?"

"Yeah," Ben nods, "You seem like a good guy. We can always use another loyal member or two."

"Holy shit," Kellin responds. He exhales, processing the information. "Wow. Um... thanks. Like, a lot. Wow."

"No problem," Ben smiles around his cigarette, "Just let me know if there's anything I can do to help you out in the meantime."

Who's the cocky and egotistical one now, Vic?

Ben eventually stubs out his cigarette and excuses himself with a curt goodbye, walking away into the dark night and leaving hardly any trace he was ever there.

 

+ + +

 

The next morning, Kellin phones the landlady while eating breakfast and asks about the price for the apartment across the hall; just as he expected, he's only a short amount away from what she wants in the lease and the first rent payment.

This is it, Kellin, he tells himself as he finishes off his toast, Only two more weeks and you're in the clear.

He has yet to share the good news with Alex and Jack, seeing as they're gone before he wakes up and he comes home after they've fallen asleep almost every weekday.

He resolves to wake up early on Friday morning, and so at six thirty, when he hears the two other men moving around in the kitchen.

"Hey, guys," he yawns, shuffling over to the coffee pot and pouring himself a cup. Jack nods good morning.

"You're up early," Alex remarks.

"Yeah. I, uh, wanted to tell you something." He takes a breath. "I'm going to move out soon. Well, in two weeks."

Jack's bushy eyebrows raise. "Oh."

"You're welcome to stay," Alex instantly offers, "You know. We'll miss you."

"I'm just going across the hall," Kellin explains. "My position as informant for the Brides Family is up, too, 'cause the guy's have stopped talking about gang stuff around me." He sighs.

"Shit," Alex says. "That sucks, man."

"Yeah," Kellin replies. He coughs. "Well, anyways. I just wanted to let you guys know."

"Thanks for that," Jack nods. "You can totally come hang with us anytime you want, even when you move out," he offers. "We like you."

Kellin grins and takes a sip of hot coffee. "Awesome. Oh, and I met up with Ben a couple days ago. He seemed nice." Alex and Jack exchange a brief look.

"Really?" Jack questions, "'Nice'?"

"Yeah, he was nice. He said he'll find a use for me, and he's going to pay me once more even though my gig is up."

"Damn," Jack whistles.

Alex sighs. "I'd just say... Be careful around the Brides Family, y'know? Ben's a dangerous guy. He might seem friendly enough, but he's got a serious temper. And once you get into the Family, you don't really leave. Blood in, blood out."

"I'm not seventeen anymore," Kellin rolls his eyes, "I can take care of myself."

"Yeah, of course," Jack says, "Just a warning."

 

+ + +

 

The next two weeks crawl by at an agonizingly slow pace, the days filled with repetitive, banal chores that make Kellin want to rip his hair out.

His only salvation is the weekends: he's scheduled to take possession of the apartment on Tuesday, so Jack and Alex take him out on Sunday night for a "moving out" celebration, which entails getting hammered at some fancy new club, dancing, flirting and receiving a blowjob in the bathroom from some guy he barely even got to know beforehand.

All in all, it's a pretty good celebration.

Kellin wakes up at ten AM the next day - Monday, which is the day he's scheduled to meet CC - with a killer hangover.

He groans and flops off the couch, his stomach lurching. He runs to the bathroom to empty the contents of his stomach, then gets up on shaky legs, wipes his mouth, and grabs Jack's sunglasses on his way to the kitchen. Head pounding and spinning at the same time, he rummages around in the cupboard for some Advil; upon finding that it's expired, he pops two anyways.

Kellin downs two glasses of water and goes back to the couch. He tries not to move for fear of throwing up, internally praising the gods above that he doesn't have to go to work.

By early afternoon, his symptoms have faded and he's busy getting dressed to go meet up with CC. He only has a few changes of clothes, and he pics out a maroon t-shirt and his blue capri jeans.

It only takes a few minutes to walk over to the pizzeria. He waves to CC as he enters the building, and CC grins back. "Hey, brother! Long time, no see!"

"Hi," Kellin greets him, pulling out a chair and sitting down.

"Ben told me all about your guys' little talk," CC says right off the bag, "So I got you covered, man. Sucks that Vic caught on, or whatever the hell happened there."

Kellin nods. "Yeah." He pauses. "So what's up with you?" he asks.

"Not much," CC shrugs. He leans forward a bit and continues more quietly - "The Family got into a little skirmish with the Romans a few days ago," he says, lifting his eyebrows.

"Oh shit," Kellin says. "Is everyone okay?"

CC laughs. "Yeah. One of our guys - Sam - got stabbed, but it was three knee deep. He'll be fine."

"Damn," Kellin remarks. "What happened?"

"Someone got a little too close to someone else's territory, I'm guessing."

"Do you guys have a medic like Pierce the Veil does?"

"Not really. We have a guy named Havok who knows first aid, but that's about it." At Kellin's mildly appalled expression, he adds, "Usually no one messes with us. Sam only got stabbed 'cause he's an idiot who picks fights."

Kellin doesn't feel reassured. If he's going to be joining this gang for real, that's not what he wants to hear.

"Oh, shush. You'll be fine," CC waves a hand. He seems to have a knack for saying exactly what's on Kellin's mind. "I'm sure Ben won't make you a dealer. That'd be like making a-- a chimpanzee carry a gun."

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" Kellin frowns confusedly.

"You're just," CC makes a vague gesture to Kellin, "You're just... You're not cut out for it. You wouldn't last a week on the streets. No offence."

"None taken," Kellin says, maybe a little surprised at CC's bluntness, but not resentful.

"Oh, and before I forget!" CC exclaims, slapping his thigh, "Here's a phone." He hands over a little black flip-phone, not too terribly unlike the one Jaime gave him three years ago. "It's a burner. You should probably carry it with you at all times - Ben says he'll use it to contact you when the time is right."

"That's... cryptic," Kellin observes.

CC just laughs. "Oh, man. You have no idea what you're getting into."

"I guess I don't." Kellin turns the phone over in his hand. "So, do many people get stabbed in your line of work?"

CC shrugs. "Now and then. We mainly focus on dealing in arms and stuff, so we don't go out and stand on street corners a lot. So there's less risk involved, if that makes sense."

Kellin nods. He draws on the table with his index finger. "Do you have any idea what job Ben is going to give me?"

"Hmm," CC ponders. "Well, Ben's already got Rian and Zack and Andy's got Ashley and Jinxx, so you probably won't end up as a bodyguard," he says after a while. "Plus, you're small. You're not very intimidating." He shrugs. "You never know with Ben, though. He could even make you a go-between, like me!" CC says, flashing a gap-toothed grin.

"Nice," Kellin smiles back. "So what exactly is it that you do?"

"Deliver messages to and from Andy and Ben," CC replies, "That's basically it. It's a lot more fun than it sounds, though!" he insists. "I'm in charge of finding out what our buyers want and how much they're willing to pay, and then Ben tells me - and I tell them - whether we're going through with the deal or not. And then if it's a go, James, Sam and I are delivery boys."

"Huh," Kellin remarks. "That's neat."

CC nods enthusiastically. "Oh, and I meant to tell you," he says conspiratorially, "I have a meeting with Mike and Tino on Thursday."

"You... What?" Kellin blinks, "So they want to buy weapons?"

CC smirks. "Yeah."

"Oh," Kellin muses. "Well, that's cool." He exhales. "Do you guys do business often?"

"All the time," CC confirms. "They're one of our biggest clients, actually. We usually meet maybe once every few months or so. They're big on pistols."

Kellin leans back in his chair. "I had no idea."

There's a lull in the conversation, and CC appears thoughtful. "So what position do you want Ben to put make you? 'Cause I could put in a good word, you know."

"I don't know," Kellin shrugs. "What positions are there that are open?"

"Well, you could come with me," CC says, starting a count on his fingers, "You could be, like, a delivery guy, you could ask to be a medic--"

"Definitely not, I don't know a think about any of that shit."

"--you could be a prison informant--"

"What the hell is that?"

"Oh, it's someone who goes to visit the prison and the juvie to trade messages with our guys who are locked up."

"That sounds awful," Kellin frowns, "Not to mention illegal."

CC laughs, his eyes crinkling up at the sides. "You're funny. Oh yeah, or you could be on the ransom team."

"I don't even want to know," Kellin shakes his head. "Just... Hmm. I guess I'll do whatever Ben tells me to do. Don't bother suggesting anything."

"Okay," CC shrugs with a wry smile. "We could've been a great team together, though, you know."

Kellin chews on his bottom lip. "Pierce the Veil don't know I'm working with you guys, so if I showed up trying to sell them guns, it would kind of be a dead giveaway."

"They're going to find out eventually," CC says, his tone oddly somber, "It's best you do it on your own terms."

"Yeah," Kellin reluctantly agrees. "Well, I'd better get going," he says, standing up. See you around, I guess."

"Bye!"

CC's parting words stick with Kellin for the rest of the day. He isn't sure what he expected - that he could work with a rival gang and still stay friends with Tony and Jaime and Mike? Not likely.

Still, he doesn't want to think about betraying people he has come to think of as some of his closest friends.

Later that night, he finds himself moping around at home. Jack and Alex are due back in about an hour or two, but he can't stand trial thought of being alone for that long.

So Kellin follows his feet.

It isn't long until finds himself standing in front of a nondescript apartment building, his finger on the buzzer. "Hey," he says into the speaker. He sniffles. "It's, um. It's Kellin."

There's a pause, and then a voice crackles through. "Come on up, mate. Oli's not home yet, but he shouldn't be too long."

The door unlocks and Kellin pulls it open, stepping into the warm building and heading to the elevator. He presses the floor, rides up and gets off on autopilot, and suddenly he's standing in front of the door with his hand poised to knock. He raps three times, and the door opens almost immediately after.

"Hey," Josh says, "Come on in." He hesitates. "Are you... okay?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine," Kellin says. He rubs his nose and steps inside. "So, um, Oli's going to be home soon?"

"Yeah, he should just be another hour. Can I get you anything to drink? Alcoholic or otherwise?"

Kellin exhales. "Do you guys have vodka?"

 

+ + +

 

By the time Oli finally gets in, Kellin and Josh are sprawled on the couch, alternating turns taking slugs of vodka straight from the bottle. Josh has just finished telling a story and Kellin is throwing his head back with laughter, clutching the neck of the clear glass bottle.

"Oh, god, that's funny," he giggles. He takes a swig and makes a face - it tastes like bug spray and burns on the way down, but it leaves a warm feeling in his chest. "Hey, Oli."

"Jesus Christ," Oli rolls his eyes. "What the fuck are you two doing?"

"Come join us," Josh says with an exaggerated wave. Oli approaches and Josh clumsily sits up, slinging an arm around Oli's waist and pulling him down onto the couch. "How was work, babe?"

"The usual. And I'm not allowed to talk about it with him around," Oli says, pointing to Kellin.

"Not you, too," Kellin groans. "M'not gonna tell anybody."

"Yeah, but Vic said so. Sorry." He leans over and grabs the bottle of vodka from Kellin, then raises it to his lips and takes a long gulp. He grimaces. "God, that's awful," he says, drinking more. Kellin giggles again. "So why are you here?"

Kellin shrugs with an innocent expression. "I got lonely." He shrugs. "An' guess I just want to hang out an' be friends with you guys while I still can."

"The fuck does that mean?" Oli frowns. Josh looks confused. "You're not going to go do the Dutch on us, are you?"

"The... Dutch? Oh, no. No. I'm not suicidal." Kellin waves a hand. "I jus'... Things are going to change around here, an'. An' I like you guys."

"We like you too," Josh chimes in. He grabs the vodka from Oli and takes a long swallow. By now, there's only about an eighth of the bottle left.

"You guys want to order in pizza?" Oli suggests.

The answer is unanimous agreement. Oli orders over the phone and the pizzas show up twenty minutes later. By then, they've opened a new bottle of tequila, resulting in Oli getting buzzed and Josh and Kellin being completely trashed.

"Keep the change," Oli says, thrusting a handful of bills at the pizza delivery girl and taking the boxes. He shuts the door in the poor girl's face, turning to Kellin and whooping. "Thank fuck for cheese pizza!"

Kellin ends up staying the night at Josh and Oli's place. He wakes up on the couch the next day with a splitting hangover (which is one hangover too many, considering he just recovered from one yesterday morning).

"Oh, god," he moans into the apartment. There comes a grunt of agreement and a muffled "for the love of God, please bring me a glass of water" from the next room over.

Kellin takes a deep breath and gets off the couch, stumbling and almost falling when he tries to walk to the kitchen. "Fuck," he curses softly. His head feels like a bag of rocks put through a tumbler.

He rifles around in the cupboards for a glass and promptly downs two full cups of water, then grabs two more glasses and fills them up. He shuffles over to the bedroom.

Inside, Oli is laying shirtless on top of Josh on the bed, his face tucked into the latter's neck. Kellin's eyes flick over the words 'Pierce the Veil' tattooed across his shoulder blades and the fox below it.

"I brought you guys water," Kellin softly announces.

"Oh, thank fuck," Josh groans. His voice is harsh and raspy. "Oli, get off, you fat fuck."

Oli huffs a breath and rolls off. "Thanks, love," he says, accepting the proffered glass of water. "Cheers."

Josh drinks his water like a drowning man, clutching his head with one hand. "Jesus Christ, I am not as young as I used to be." Oli laughs, and he winces. "Too loud. That is way too loud."

Kellin yawns and chuckles in the silence. "I'm gonna go walk home now, guys. I gotta take a nap before I go to work. Thanks for getting lit with me last night, by the way."

"No problem, mate," Josh tells him. "See you soon."

Kellin's heart sinks as he leaves, head pounding as he quietly shutting the door behind him and the phone CC gave him burning a hole in his pocket.

Maybe not as soon as you think.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin walks back to Alex and Jack's apartment. He uses his key to get in and grab his already-packed duffel bag of stuff, then walks out, locks the door and slides the key under the crack below the door.

He holds his breath as he unlocks the apartment across the hallway. The door creaks a little as it swings open, and Kellin hesitantly steps inside.

The main room is empty except for a couch and a lamp. Kellin's heart beats a bit faster - in his twenty one years of life, he's never been completely self-reliant until this moment, standing in an empty apartment with the key in his hand, all of his worldly possessions in one small bag and his future shifting before his very eyes.

It's not much, but it's home.

 

+

Chapter Text

+

Thursday

Kellin is eating knockoff-brand cereal for breakfast when the phone finally rings. He watches it vibrate on the counter for a second before scrambling to answer it, nearly knocking his bowl off the counter in the process.

"Hello?"

The line crackles, and then an accented voices comes though. "Hey, Kellin. It's Ben. I want to meet up with you."

Kellin blinks. "Oh. When? Where?"

"That's the ticket," Ben laughs on the other end. "You learn quick. I was thinking the park four blocks south of your apartment at two o'clock."

"Today?"

"Yes, today," Ben sighs amusedly. "It'll be quick. Unless you have other plans. You're not working until five, I checked."

Kellin is slightly unsettled, but manages a surprised, "Yeah, today works fine."

"See you then."

The line goes dead, and Kellin snaps the phone shut. It's one twenty two right now, which gives him about a half hour to get ready.

He quickly finishes his bowl of cereal and rinses it out in the sink. (He only had the money to buy two bowls and three plates, so he has to wash everything immediately after he uses it.)

Kellin sighs and heads over to the bedroom. It's empty inside, with only a rickety bed covered with a bare mattress and a mussed blanket from the previous night.

He picks through his duffel bag of clothing and finds a relatively clean black tank top that shows off his sleeve of tattoos, matching it with black jeans. He runs into the bathroom to check his hair, which, of course, is a complete mess. He hastily runs his fingers trough it in a combing motion, trying to tame it the best he can. It'll have to do.

He leaves the apartment shortly after, walking quickly. Kellin wonders about what Ben wants to meet up about.

What if he's going to tell me he has no use for me? he thinks, What the fuck do I do then? The laundromat won't be enough to cover rent. I'll have to get a second job.

He scuffs his ratty shoes on the converse as he walks. It's not long before he spots Ben, casually sitting on a bench to the side of the paved path, looking out of place but still completely comfortable.

"Hey," he greets Kellin, standing up.

"Hi."

"Come take a walk with me," Ben says, reaching out to sling an arm around Kellin's shoulders. Kellin finds it odd and a bit uncomfortable, but he takes Ben's lead and starts to walk. "I've been thinking," Ben tells him, "and I've decided I want you."

"You... You want me?" Kellin echoes.

"Yeah, of course. The Family could really use your help."

"O-oh," Kellin stutters, "Okay, um. Well. Yes please?"

Ben laughs mildly. "I want to hire you as an odd-jobs guy. Y'know, just someone who can help out with a bunch of different things."

Kellin feels like passing out. "Yes!" he exclaims, then quieter, "Yes. I mean, I'd like that very much."

"Straight," Ben smiles at him, "You start tomorrow. And you can quit your job at the laundromat, by the way."

"Wow," Kellin blinks, "Okay. That's, yeah. I'll, um. I'll go put in my two weeks notice today."

Ben withdraws his arm from around Kellin's shoulders and offers a hand to shake. Kellin takes it.

"Good, good. I'm looking forward to having you work for me," Ben smirks. "Go to the pizza place tomorrow at nine PM. One of my guys will pick you up and bring you to our warehouse, and you'll get initiated. The next day, we'll get you tatted."

Kellin's heart stops, and his feet falter. "Okay," he shakily agrees.

"Don't worry," Ben says with a pointed look, his smirk growing, "It's nothing you can't handle. So, I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Yep," Kellin replies. "See you."

Ben walks off, and Kellin starts wandering the opposite direction. His brain is a mess of jumbled thoughts.

Initiation? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?

He freaks out on the walk home and wants to call Alex, but he and Jack are both at work and Kellin doesn't want to seem overly desperate.

It's just an initiation, right? They don't want to actually kill me. Everyone else had to do it, now it's my turn.

He takes deep breaths to calm himself down. He doesn't know much about gang initiations, and Kellin is starting to panic as he realizes that he's completely unsure of what's going to happen.

Kellin hangs around the park for another half hour before walking back home.

Oh, Jesus. What the fuck have I gotten myself into?

 

+ + +

 

Kellin works at the laundromat from five until nine, and he's distracted for the entire shift. One time, he almost pours stain remover into a machine instead of laundry detergent.

He ends up staying late to call his boss and turn in his resignation, and when he finally gets home, the first thing he does is knock on Jack and Alex's door.

"Hello?" someone calls from inside.

"It's Kellin," he shouts back. He lets himself in.

"Oh, hey, Kells," Jack says from where he's lying face down on the couch, Alex sitting cross-legged on his back, reading a book. "What's up?"

Kellin laughs. "What are you guys doing?"

"Meditation," Alex says with a straight face.

"Yoga," Jack says at the same time.

Kellin exhales. "So, um. I've got news. Big news," he says. "I'm, um. I'm getting initiated into the Family tomorrow night."

Jack bolts into a sitting position, knocking an indignant Alex onto the floor. "You're what?"

"Yeah," Kellin says sheepishly. "I'm almost in."

"Holy shit," Alex exclaims, his book lying forgotten beneath the cluttered coffee table. "Are you... How are you feeling?"

Kellin admits, "Nervous as fuck. Do you have any idea what they're going to do to me?" Jack and Alex exchange a glance.

"I've heard, um. Well," Alex starts. "I mean, I don't know, it could just be a rumour--"

"Tell me," Kellin says.

"--it's probably not even a real thing, y'know, it's just an urban legend or whatever--"

"Dude, tell me. I can take it."

Jack sighs. "He means that we once heard someone had to, um. Kill someone."

"Wait, what?" Kellin is left reeling. "Kill someone? Like, murder?"

Jack reluctantly nods. "Yeah."

"It was probably just a story," Alex tries to comfort Kellin.

"Wow," Kellin lets out an anxious chuckle, "Wow. Um, okay. Holy shit."

Jack frowns. "I knew we shouldn't have told him, now he's freaking out!"

"He wanted to know," Alex shrugs. "Plus, you know how the Family is. They all try to exaggerate how tough they are." He turns to Kellin. "Don't worry, okay? It'll probably just be, like, something small. Like robbery."

"I have a cousin who got a toe cut off when he joined some gang," Jack unhelpfully offers. Upon Alex's glare, he adds, "But I'm sure that won't happen to you."

Kellin runs a hand through his hair. "Oh, my god. What the fuck am I doing?" he says with a desperate laugh. He's met with silence. "These people, they-- they kill people, and they sell guns, and--"

"Calm down," Alex soothes him. "It's not that bad. What else did Ben say?"

"He said he wants me to do odd jobs and stuff. Like a mixture of everything."

"Hey, that's not so bad!" Jack says cheerfully. "I wonder if they'll let you carry a gun."

"Doubt it," Kellin dazedly shakes his head, "I've never held a gun in my life." He chuckles - "I don't even know if I want this anymore. But... But I think it's too late to back out now."

"It's normal to be having second thoughts," Alex reassures him, "and it's healthy to be nervous."

"It's probably going to be something lame, like... I dunno. Something lame," says Jack.

Kellin snorts sarcastically. "That's a real comfort."

"C'on, it probably won't even be anything bad," Jack insists. "Just relax. Come take a seat and watch TV with us."

"I'm about to get initiated tomorrow," Kellin stresses. "I'm clearly freaking the fuck out here, guys."

"Think of it this way," Alex says. "Yeah, you're going to go through something unpleasant. But you have so much to gain, right? A whole new life."

Kellin sits down. "Yeah, I guess so. But... I don't know. I'm going to miss Mike and Tony and Jaime, and Oli and Josh and them."

Alex gets up off the floor and sits beside him. "You're just carving your own path in the world, man. Don't let them hold you back."

"I guess so," Kellin sighs. "I just... I don't know. Everything is moving so suddenly and I feel like I'm hanging on by my fingertips. I'm starting to doubt the reason I even came back to San Diego in the first place."

Alex nudges him with one shoulder. "Hey, chin up. You've got us," he says. "Even if you can't stay friends with the Pierce the Veil guys, you'll always have us."

Kellin shoots him a smile. "Thanks, guys."

Jack grins back. "You guys wanna go for a smoke on the fire escape?"

The three of them climb out the window and light up in the cold night air. Kellin shivers and hunches into himself as he sucks on his cigarette, giving himself permission to laugh with Jack and Alex. For a few minutes, he manages to forget about the next day.

 

+ + +

 

The next morning, Kellin is jittery from the moment he wakes up. He'd like to stay in bed all day, but his stomach twists with hunger and he eventually crawls out from beneath the shelter of his warm blankets.

Kellin spends the day cleaning the apartment. Time seems to go by faster and faster, and he is painfully aware of the fact that every hour that passes is bringing him closer to his inevitable fate.

The anticipation is definitely worse than if it had been a complete surprise.

He changes out of his sleep clothes that he's been wearing all day, getting into a plain blue t-shirt and jeans. He leaves the apartment at around 8:40, and although it's dark, it's not cold, so he doesn't wear a jacket. It's not long before he's at the designated meeting point.

Kellin looks around and catches sight of a large figure standing leaned up against the side of the pizzeria, dressed in a black hoodie. His hair buzzed and he's wearing sunglasses even though it's dark out, giving him an impression of cool collectedness.

"Kellin?" The guy asks when he warily approaches. Kellin nods. "I'm Rian. It's nice to meet you. Are you ready to go?"

"Y-yeah," Kellin manages.

The guy points to a black SUV and the two of them move over to it. Kellin's palms feel clammy with nerves as he gets into the passenger side.

Rian pulls out of the parking lot and into traffic, and Kellin starts breathing faster.

"So... What are you guys going to do to me?" he asks feebly.

"You'll see."

"Are you going t--"

"You'll see."

There's a moment of silence, and Kellin jiggles his knee. He says unsurely, "I-I don't know if I want--"

"Yes, you do," Rian calmly replies, "Otherwise you wouldn't have come in the first place."

"But what if--"

"You'll live," Rian shrugs. "I had to do it when I joined. So did CC and everyone else."

"Oh."

The rest of the ride is spent in tense silence. Kellin's heart is in his throat, fluttering at an impossibly fast pace as he curls and uncurls his hands.

"We're here," Rian announces as they pull into an empty parking lot. "It's just over there," he says, pointing off into the night.

The two of them get out of the SUV and Rian leads the way over to the graffitied warehouse across the dark, deserted street, where he raps twice on the garage door and it starts to slide up.

"Rian!" Ben immediately greets him, "My man! Thanks for picking him up. Hey, Kellin."

"Hey," Kellin nods. "So, um."

"Oh, yeah, come in," Ben says with a wicked grin. He motions for the two of them to follow him into the warehouse, where there are about ten men milling about. He recognizes CC, who waves at him, but that's it. "Guys, this is Kellin," Ben announces. "Let's get started."

Kellin shuffles forward. The inside of the warehouse is big, and the white lights far above glare down like spotlights. There's a dusty smell in the air. He watches Rian walk past him and join in with the group of men, greeting one with a hug.

"So," Ben smirks, bringing Kellin's attention back to him as everyone goes deathly silent, "Before we introduce everyone, let's get this over with. You have some options."

"Number one: you can stab someone. Doesn't matter who. Could be yourself, or a stranger on the street if you want."

The members break into raucous shouts. "Number two: we can beat you up for a predetermined amount of time. No holds barred. And number three: since you're a pansy, we've decided to give you the additional option of getting fucked by three of these guys." The cheers grow louder. "Take your pick. You've got ten seconds to decide."

Kellin's stomach writhes. His forehead is sweaty, and when everyone turns to look at him, he feels like he's going to be sick.

"Tick tock," Ben announces.

"Oh, god," Kellin mumbles to himself.

"What's it gonna be?" someone shouts.

"Oh, god," Kellin repeats. He holds his head in his hands. "Oh, god, um."

"Hurry up!"

"J-just give me a fucking second," he snaps.

Fuck. Fuck.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Ben turn and say something to Rian. The two of them share a laugh.

Kellin clenches his fists by his sides and looks up. Ben waves a hand, making the gang shut up. "I..." he starts, voice unsteady, his mind racing, "I want number two."

Someone wolf-whistles and someone else shouts, "I was hoping for number three!"

Ben claps his hands together. "You're jumping in," he says, "I like it. You've got nerve." The crowd cheers a little more. "Alright, alright, everyone settle down. Kellin, c'mere."

Kellin does as he's told. Ben reaches out and grabs him by the back of the neck, steering him into the centre of the mob, which breaks into a little circle.

"Seeing as you're pretty weak, we've decided it'll be no-weapons. Just fists and feet."

If Kellin is supposed to feel reassured, he's definitely not. His heartbeat is hammering in his ears.

"We'll set the timer for one minute, and these guys will give you all they've got. You're not allowed to fight back. You're not allowed to run. After, you're not allowed to seek medical help other than from one of the guys. Sound fair?"

Kellin realizes everyone is looking at him for a response. "Y-yeah," he stammers out.

Ben shoots him another grin and steps back. "If you pass out, we keep going until the time's up. If you still want in after we're done, you're in."

"Okay."

"Are you ready?"

"Yeah."

Kellin feels numb and lightheaded with terror, almost as if he's detached from his body.

"Three."

Holy shit, this is really happening.

"Two."

Kellin tenses up, his body trapped in a vicious battle of fight or flight--

"One."

His knees shake, adrenaline coursing through his veins as he's snapped back to reality.

"Go for it, boys!"

The first punch to the stomach comes from directly in front of him, and he catches sight of a muscled man in a backwards baseball cap as he keels over. A kick to the back of his knees sends him falling to the floor, and he curls in a ball to protect himself as a merciless onslaught of feet attack his back and legs. Someone grabs his shirt, and he feels the material rip as he's dragged back up onto his feet, a fist instantly clipping his eye and making his vision go black. He faintly realizes his nose is bleeding.

Kellin falls backwards and someone roughly shoves him from behind, earning him a punch to the ribs that leaves him gasping. Another fist collides with his face, smashing into his mouth, and Kellin spits out blood. He can't breathe.

A swift kick to his ankle causes it to buckle beneath him and he's back on the ground, figures towering above him as he tries to shield his face from the worst of the blows. Someone strikes his lower back and pain blossoms up his spine, making him unfurl for a second. It's enough time for a kick to the genitals, and Kellin chokes on his breath. He groans out something intelligible and then blows keep coming, relentless in their force.

It could be seconds or hours before he hears a voice shout, "Time!" and everything stops. His ears are ringing, vision blurred, and he can barely make out the light far above him. Someone comes to stand above Kellin and he whimpers in pain.

"Zack, hold him up," Ben instructs. A large figure bends down and scoops him up under the armpits, holding him up on unsteady legs like a rag doll. He blinks, blearily trying to clear his line of vision but failing.

"Kellin," Ben addresses him, and Kellin can barely make out his shape as he paces in front of the crowd. His next words are precise and final: "Do you want to be in the Family?"

Everything goes quiet.

"Yes," Kellin chokes out. The other members break out into loud cheers.

Ben steps closer, and Kellin can somewhat make out the look on his face. "Good job."

Kellin smiles through the blood in his mouth.

"Someone get him a towel or something," Ben dismissively orders.

Someone else comes up and rips what remains of of Kellin's shirt off, then uses it to roughly wipe off his face. Normally he'd be self-conscious, but right now he's too out of it to even really notice.

"You made it," the guy says, "You're in."

"CC?" Kellin mumbles.

"Yeah, man, it's me. Here, let me get that blood out of your eye."

"Thanks," Kellin grunts, his tongue feeling thick in his mouth. Blood continues to stream from his nose, and the front of his chest is sticky, but he can finally see out of one eye. The other appears to be swollen shut.

"C'mon, let's introduce you to everyone," CC enthuses. "Can you walk?"

The person behind him - Zack - lets go and he takes a few trial steps on quivering knees, leaning heavily against CC. "'M good," he insists, chest heaving, "I'm good."

"Let's start with Zack," CC says, pointing to the man who just released him. It's the same guy who pulled the first punch.

"Hey, man," Zack says, "Sorry about the whole beating-you-up thing."

Kellin waves a hand. "'S fine."

"Guys, this is Kellin, and he took that like a champ!" CC calls

The crowd gathered around them gives a resounding whoop. "Alright, so that's Ashley," CC says, pointing to a slight man with dark hair and chestnut eyes, "and that one is Jinxx," he motions to a guy with clown-eye tattoos. "He looks scary, but he plays the violin," CC expounds.

"Hey," Jinxx frowns good-naturedly. Kellin's head is spinning.

"Anyways, moving on," CC laughs, gently turning Kellin by the shoulders. "There's Denis," he points to a waif of a kid who looks younger than Kellin, "and Jake - we call him JP even though he hates it - and Cameron, Sam, and James, who's our resident Christian."

James lifts a hand. "Oi." He looks surprisingly... normal.

"Hey," Kellin sluggishly utters.

"Oh, yeah! This is Jade," CC continues, gesturing to an older man with a swoop of brown hair covering one eye, "and you know Rian. And here's Havok!"

Havok has tall, dark hair that's shaved on the sides and plugs, a little bit of stubble around his jaw that lends him the classic ruggedly-handsome look. "Hello," he says with an easy smile, "I'm Davey. You can call me Havok. I'm basically our medic, so let me know if you want me to take a look at that," he says, gesturing to Kellin's face.

Kellin clears his throat and wipes his mouth on his bare arm, leaving a streak of bright red. "Thanks."

He shivers. The adrenaline is still numbing his senses, but he feels cold and exposed.

"Oh, shit! I didn't even think to offer you my jacket," CC says apologetically, shrugging off the leather garment and draping it around Kellin's shoulders. "Is that better?"

"Yeah. Thanks." Kellin slurs.

"Welcome," CC grins. He pats Kellin's shoulder. "So I don't think you broke any bones, but you might want Havok to take a look at your face. You nose looks fine," he's quick to assure Kellin, "But you might need an ice pack for your eye."

Kellin nods dimly.

"You wanna go home?" CC asks with concern. Kellin nods again. "Okay. I'll just tell Ben, and then--"

He disappears, and someone - Denis? - comes and claps Kellin on the back, making him wince in pain.

"Oh, sorry, man," the boy says. To Kellin's surprise, his voice has a strange accent. "Good job out there, by the way."

"Thanks," Kellin mumbles.

"I joined when I was sixteen, and I was so skinny they only made me last thirty seconds," Denis laughs. "I still broke my wrist, though. It sucked. Never quite did heal right." Kellin shoots him a faint smile. "So you're one of the Family now, aren't you?"

Just then, CC returns. "Sorry to steal him away, but we need to get this guy into bed," he tells Denis. He turns to Kellin. "Oh, man. Your face is going to hurt like a fucking bitch tomorrow." Kellin reaches up to touch his eye, then immediately regrets it. He flinches at the pain. "Okay, let's get Ashley to drive you home," CC says, his tone cheerful. "Hey, Ash!" he yells, making Kellin wince, "Come take Kellin home!"

A figure steps out of the crowd a second later, and Kellin sees one of the men from before. "Hey," Ashley says with a smile, "Let's go."

Kellin tries to give the leather jacket back, but CC refuses. "Return it next time you see me," he insists.

Ben politely says goodbye as they're on the way out, and Kellin smiles at him with bloodstained teeth. "Thanks, man. For letting me in."

"Just don't make me regret it," Ben shrugs. His expression is amused.

Kellin stumbles and almost falls over on the short walk to the car, and Ashley ends up supporting him. "There you go," he says, opening the passenger door of the SUV and helping Kellin get in before moving around to the driver's side.

He starts the engine and pulls away from the curb. "You did well out there tonight, man," he says.

"Thanks," Kellin says slowly. His tongue doesn't seem to be capable of forming words very well at the moment.

"I wish I had the guts to do what you did," Ashley continues. He sighs and there's a pause. "I picked number one, though. Went and stabbed some guy I had beef with."

"Is he... What happened to him?"

"Oh, nothing, really. It went past all his vital organs. He never messed with me again, though."

"Oh. Do you-- Do you think I made the right choice?"

"Yeah," Ashley eventually responds, "I do. Like Ben said, it shows you have guts." He shrugs. "Honestly, if you had picked number three, no one would respected you after." There's silence. "Um. I know where your laundromat is, so I'll drop you off there and we can walk the rest of the way, okay?"

When they get to the laundromat, Ashley parks and gently helps Kellin out of the car. The two of them hobble towards Kellin's apartment building and Kellin lets them in.

"Oh, god," he moans, looking at the stairs.

"Hop on," Ashley grins, bending down and motioning for Kellin to climb onto his back.

"You're serious?" Kellin says, only lisping a little. His back throbs sharply.

Ashley shrugs. "Yeah, why not? You'd take an hour to get up three flights on your own."

Kellin rubs his face, feeling dried blood flake off under his fingertips. "Fine, okay."

He awkwardly clambers on Ashley's back and they slowly make their way up the stairs, only pausing once for a breather.

Kellin slides off at the top. "Thanks."

"Yeah, no problem," Ashley winks. "Now, you need to wash up and go to bed."

Kellin lets himself into the apartment and Ashley follows. By now, his nose has mostly stopped gushing blood.

"Let's get you cleaned up," Ashley suggests. Kellin shrugs off CC's jacket and staggers to the bathroom.

He almost shrieks when he sees the face looking back at him in the mirror. "Holy fuck."

His right eye is blackened and ballooning shut, his forehead bleeding from a cut high on the left side, and his lips are cut and swollen. There's dried blood covering most of his face.

"Fuck," he manages, examining his bruised torso, "Fuck." His ribs and stomach are a complete mess of black and blue, blood bubbling up to the surface at the edges of some of the bruises, and he doesn't have to check to know the back of his torso is the same or worse.

Ashley appears behind him in the mirror. "Holy shit," he says. "Man, your back is pretty bad."

Kellin twists to look, but ends up crying out in pain and falling into a sitting position on the toilet lid. "Fuck," he says, holding back tears.

"Here, I'll just... I'll clean your face up a little," Ashley offers, grabbing a wad of toilet paper and soaking it under the tap. He turns and gently starts dabbing at Kellin's forehead, grimacing when Kellin winces. "Sorry. Man, we really did a number on you, didn't we?"

It's a rhetorical question and Kellin remains silent as Ashley starts wiping down his nose and chin. The irritated cuts burn, but the cool water feels good on his skin.

"That's it," Ashley smiles, finishing gently wiping around his eye, "Much better."

Kellin glances as himself in the mirror and has to agree. Without the blood, his face looks much less destroyed, even with the presence of a swollen eye and puffy lip.

"Thanks," Kellin mumbles.

"You should go to bed," Ashley advises. "You can take a shower and get the rest of the blood off in the morning. I'll get someone to come around tomorrow and check on you..." he trails off. "And you should probably get Havok to see if you have a concussion."

"Yeah."

Ashley helps support him on the way to the bedroom.

"I'm good from here," Kellin gets out as he sits down on the mattress, "Can you just, um, lock the door on your way out?"

"Yeah, yeah, of course. See you soon." And with that, he's gone, leaving Kellin to slowly and painfully peel off his jeans to reveal his garishly bruised legs, biting his sore lip to prevent a whimper from escaping. He tenderly lies on his back on the bare mattress, exhaling deeply.

I'm in, he thinks. I did it. I'm part of the Family.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin doesn't recall falling asleep, but he rises into consciousness the next morning to a silent apartment and his entire body throbbing in pain. It hurts so bad he nearly cries out.

He lies there, gasping, his shaking fingers tentatively raising to chart the unfamiliar territory that is his swollen eye.

Holy fuck.

Kellin doesn't even attempt to get out of bed for another full hour. When he does, it's only to piss, put on sweatpants and a t-shirt and get a glass of water; his sore stomach is still churning from last night, and he thinks it would be imprudent to try to eat.

He sits on the couch in the living room and tries not to move. His entire body aches more than anything he's ever experienced in his life, and all he can do is try to keep from crying.

He ends up falling back into a slumber on the couch, and is rudely awakened at around eleven by his speaker ringing.

Kellin swings his legs off the couch and buzzes whoever is on the other end up, then slowly makes his way over to the door and unlocks it, pulling it open just in time to see Andy and Havok standing on the other side.

"Oh," he says dumbly. "Hey."

"You're a sight for sore eyes," Andy remarks, and Kellin half-smiles. "They told me they did a good job, but you look like you picked a fight with a kangaroo."

"I, um? I guess so, yeah," Kellin says, confused.

"So are you going to let us in?"

"Oh, yeah," Kellin says, stepping back and opening the door. The two men step inside and Havok pushes it closed behind him, and there's silence. Kellin sees that he's carrying a little black case of some kind. "So, um. Hi."

"Go sit on the couch," Havok instructs, "I'll be there in a second." He sets the case on the counter and flicks it open, pulling out a pen light. Kellin goes to sit on the couch as he was told. "So Kellin, let's get right into it. Have you experienced any memory loss?" he asks casually, "Vomiting?"

"Uh. No. I don't think so," Kellin replies. Andy walks over and sits next to him.

"What about a headache?"

"Well, yeah. Obviously."

Havok moves in front of him and places a hand on Kellin's forehead to hold his head steady, then shines the light in his left eye. He then shines it in what can be seen of his right eye, then the left again. He goes back and forth a few times. Seemingly satisfied, he steps back. "Well, it doesn't seem like you have a concussion," he says, "or if you do, it's very minor. You're lucky."

"You still look like shit, though," Andy says. "Seriously, who had to go and punch him in the eye?"

Kellin shrugs. "It's whatever. At least now I don't have to go to work," he chuckles.

"Good," Havok nods. "You should really avoid straining yourself until the swelling goes down. Until then, let's get you in a shower."

"Are you saying I smell, Doc?" Kellin asks dryly, amused.

Andy chuckles. "We'll wait out here while you go do that. After, I need to talk with you."

Kellin hobbles from the room as fast as his damaged body will allow him, grabbing a clean change of clothes before getting into the bathroom. He slowly disrobes and turns on the shower, waiting for it to get warm before climbing in.

It feels good to wash off all the sweat and blood from the previous night, even though the water stings in his cuts and reopens the one on his forehead.

By the end, he feels much more humanoid than before. He towels himself off, and as he's putting on fresh clothes he hears Andy and Havok talking quietly outside the door.

"--wasn't even deterred, that little monkey."

"I thought he'd-- gone for sure."

"--resilient, I'll give him that."

"He's lucky he didn't--"

"--with all the--"

Kellin opens the door and the two of them turn to look at him.

"That's quite an improvement, actually," Andy says wryly, "Now that all the blood is gone. Havok, give him a bandaid or something for that one on his forehead."

Havok flips his little case open and pulls out a small tube of some kind of cream, which he proceeds to apply to the wound. He then grabs a wide bandaid and smooths it on.

"Thanks," Kellin says, feeling the rough cloth with one hand.

"I brought an ice pack for your eye, too," Havok says, brandishing a small blue rectangle. "I'll put it in your freezer and it should be good to go in an hour or so. It'll help with the pain."

"Sweet, thanks." Kellin watches Havok open his empty freezer and stick the pack inside. He turns to Andy. "So, um. What was it you wanted to... talk to me about?"

"Oh, yeah. Right." Andy says, tapping he side of his head. He sighs. "I'll put it bluntly: we have reason to believe there's a double agent somewhere in the Family. A mole, if you will. I simply want you to... investigate."

"Wait, what?"

"I'm pretty sure it's someone from the original Alexandria Family, and not someone from the Brides, but. I don't know. It could be anyone."

"It's not me," Havok volunteers. Andy laughs and smacks him.

"So... What do you want me to do?"

Andy shrugs. "Just keep eye on things. Get to knows the guys, and let me know if anything or anyone seems suspicious."

"Oh, okay," Kellin says, lifting his eyebrows. He pauses to think for a moment, and then adds on a "Yeah, I can do that."

"Straight. Oh, yeah, and we want to take you to get tatted today," Andy finishes, almost as an afterthought.

There's a pause between the three of them. "Seriously?" Kellin asks, "What time? Where?"

"Now," Havok shrugs casually. "Jinxx says he'll do it, he has connections in a parlour nearby."

Kellin's eyes widen marginally, and he tries to compose himself the best he can. "Well, I don't have any other plans today," he laughs weakly.

"Sweet," Andy says, "Let's roll."

"I'll just, um. Can I meet you guys downstairs? I need to. Wash my breakfast dishes quickly."

"Sure," Havok nods. He and Andy exit the apartment and Kellin stands in the kitchen, slipping his pants down to his knees. He pulls up the hem of his boxers and examines the tattoo on his right thigh from three years ago.

Kellin traces the edge of the rose with his index finger. He sends out a silent apology to Oli for moving on.

 

+ + +

 

Less than an hour later, Kellin finds himself sitting on a padded table in the back of a tattoo parlour.

"So, where do you want it?" Jinxx asks, pulling on a pair of rubber gloves. His clown-eye tattoos are unsettling, but he seems like a charming enough guy.

"I, um. I don't know," Kellin says. He looks to Andy and Havok for guidance.

"Maybe go for an area that's not too bruised up," Havok suggests. "Mine's on my ribs."

"Mine's on my chest," Andy adds in.

"Thigh is a popular one," Jinxx helpfully expounds, "Bicep, too."

Kellin thinks about it for a second. Does he really want to be flashing around his gang affiliation every time he wears a tank top?

"Let's go with the thigh," he finally nods. "The left one, not the right. I already have one there."

"Sweet. Pull down your pants," Jinxx directs him, grabbing an electric razor and a pail of water. Kellin gets up and tugs down his pants before sitting back down and Jinxx grabs a cloth and soaks it, then wipes it over Kellin's thigh. He goes over the skin with the razor until it's smooth and hairless.

After, Jinxx grabs a bottle of rubbing alcohol and he soaks a cotton pad, swiping it over the area. Next, he picks up a sharpie. "You might want to lie down," he suggests, "We're going to be here for a while."

Kellin does as he's told, exhaling as he feels the marker touches his upper leg. He feels unnerved that he doesn't really know what the tattoo is going to look like, but now that he's a part of the Family, he has to start trusting Andy and Ben. He decides not to look until it's complete.

It takes a while for Jinxx to finish up with the sharpie. Once he's done, Kellin watches him prepare the inks and his gun, feeling the steady thump of his heartbeat in his ears. No matter how many tattoos he already has, they're always nerve wracking at first. His arms tense up as Jinxx finishes his preparations and the gun starts buzzing.

"Relax," Jinxx says in a soothing tone. Then, "Are you ready?"

"Ready," Kellin nods.

The needle bears down on his skin with a sense of finality.

 

+

Chapter Text

+

On Sunday night, Kellin is just preparing dinner - scrambled eggs - when his intercom loudly alerts him that there's someone waiting downstairs. He drops the spatula and heads over, pressing the speaker button. "Hello?"

"Hey, mate, just thought I'd pop by and say hi."

Oh, fuck.

Kellin's mind races - his eye is still slightly bruised, he can't have Oli coming up and asking questions, and...

"You better not come up. Because. I'm, um, sick," he says over the intercom. He fakes a cough. "Really sick. Like. Really sick. It's contagious. And anyways, everything's a mess up here."

"What?" Kellin can feel Oli's frown. "I don't care ab--"

"I, uh, I have diarrhea," Kellin blurts. He takes his finger off the speaker button and backs away from it, ignoring the way Oli continues to buzz a few times before eventually leaving him be.

Crisis averted?

 

+ + +

 

Another two days pass. Kellin's eye has mostly healed by now, and there's only a trace of faint-greenish yellow where it was once deep purple and red. He hasn't had much contact with the Family since he got his tattoo, and so it comes as a surprise when CC comes knocking at his place on Tuesday night.

"Hey," Kellin greets him. CC leans in and opens his arms for a hug, which Kellin permits. "What brings you to these parts?"

"Pool night!" CC happily informs him. "Now that you're one of the Family, you need to come hang out with us!"

"Oh," Kellin says. "Well. Yeah, um. Alrigh--"

"Great, I've got a car waiting," CC grins, "Grab your coat."

Kellin bemusedly snatches his jacket off the floor and follows CC out into the hallway, locking the door behind him. "So where are we going?"

"A bar," CC says vaguely. "We go there every Tuesday to play pool. C'mon."

"What is with you guys and never making plans in advance?" Kellin mutters to himself as they start down the stairs.

"Plans are overrated. Plus, I knew you'd just be sulking around, reading in the dark." Kellin laughs. "Hey, it's true!"

"I have a lamp," Kellin replies false-indignantly. They reach the bottom of the stairs and turn to go down the next set. "You know I can't play pool, right?"

"Ha! Me neither. I just use it as an excuse to get drunk and bet on who I like best at the moment."

They reach the ground floor and push through the main doors. A nondescript silver car is waiting out front; Kellin can make out James sitting in the driver's seat.

"Hey, man!" he says as Kellin gets in the back. CC slides into the passenger seat. "Ready for some fun?"

"Sure," Kellin says, "I'm just along for the ride."

"I'm the designated driver tonight," James explains as he shoulder checks and they pull away from the curb. "I think Denis and Cam are playing Ashley and Jake, so it should be... interesting."

"Denis and Ashley are both pros at pool," CC says, twisting to grin at Kellin. "They have kind of a rivalry going on."

"Who are you guys cheering for?"

"Denis," James says, at the same time CC says "Ashley." They share a look. Kellin laughs.

It only takes about ten minutes to get to the bar - a fairly run-down joint on a dimly lit street - and Kellin follows James and CC in.

The inside of the bar is wood and sparsely decorated with dart boards and tables. At the centre of everything, there are three pool tables, one of which is occupied by a crowd of men Kellin half-recognizes. Andy and Ben are among them. He sees Rian and Zack standing together, too.

"Hey, Kellin!" someone shouts. Kellin looks up to see Denis grinning at him - "Come get a drink and join us!"

Kellin passes on the drink. He moves around the group to stand by Denis, nodding to everyone as he goes. "Hi."

"Your first pool night!" Denis exclaims, "This is so exciting. You have to be on my team next tournament."

"I'm really bad at pool," Kellin meekly confesses.

Denis waves a hand. "No big, no big." He points at Ashley - "If that guy asks you to join his team, you say no, okay?"

"Um, okay," Kellin agrees.

Denis nods with a satisfied smile. "Hey, Purdy!" he exclaims, holding his pool cue in the air, "Let's do this!"

Ashley raises an eyebrow. "You're going down."

 

+ + +

 

An hour later, they're onto the second game out of three and Kellin still has no idea about the rules of pool. It's eight thirty and the joint is empty except the Family - there's no bartender, and everyone seems to be helping themselves to whatever's behind the counter.

He watches from his bar stool as Ashley lines up his cue and takes a shot; one of the balls bounces off the side of the table and rolls into a pocket, making half the men cheer and the other half boo.

Kellin turns back to the beer someone gave him. There's classic rock music playing faintly, and the chatter creates a relaxed atmosphere. He helps himself to a peanut from a dish on the counter.

"Hey," someone says to his left.

He turns and sees Jinxx - "Oh, hey."

"How's your tattoo healing?"

"Really well," Kellin grins, "You did a great job."

"Thanks," Jinxx shrugs modestly. He points at the pool table. "So, who are you betting on?"

"Oh, I don't know. Denis is already planning on recruiting me onto his team, so I guess I should be cheering for him."

"I'm betting on Ashley." Jinxx leans against the bar. There's a pause. "Y'know, I've known him since he was this high," he says, holding a hand out a foot above the ground.

"Huh," Kellin raises his eyebrows, "Wow. How old was he when he joined the Brides, then?"

Jinxx scrunches his face in thought. "Uh, eighteen? Nineteen? He's been around for a decade or so."

"Really?" Kellin asks, looking over at Ashley, "Jesus. He still looks like he's twenty two."

Jinxx laughs. "Yeah, I guess so. I'm the oldest one around right now."

"So... If you don't mind me asking," Kellin starts, "I've been wondering. How did Andy get to be leader? Cause he's so young, and all."

"Oh yeah, it's simple, really. The old guy ordered a hit on Pierce the Veil's old boss, and it was a success, so PTV retaliated and he ended up dead. Then Andy inherited the position right after Vic rose to power in PTV."

"Holy shit," Kellin blinks. The puzzle pieces of the two gangs seem to be falling into place.

"It was a messy ordeal for everyone involved," Jinxx continues. "Andy immediately kicked a lot of people out and started focusing on convincing Ben to merge gangs with us."

"Oh, wow. I had no idea."

"Yeah." Jinxx sighs. "Anyways, that's enough sober talk! Drink up and enjoy yourself. I'm gonna go get myself some whiskey." He slaps the counter and slips away.

Kellin finishes his beer and slides off his chair, going to stand over at the side of the pool table. James shifts over to make room. "Who's winning?"

"Denis and Cam," James says approvingly. The two of them watch Cameron shoot, landing the red ball into the pocket. "That's my boy!" James shouts, high-fiving Cam with a loud smack.

He turns to Kellin. "Your eye healed up nicely," he comments. Kellin reaches up to touch it self-consciously. "Hey, where'd you end up getting your tattoo? Can I see?"

"Oh, yeah," Kellin says, awkwardly sliding his pants down to expose the bold black ink covering his left thigh. It's a crest with a lion inside, and the words THE FAMILY on a banner underneath. It's actually not a bad tattoo, all things considered.

"That's sick, mate," James grins. He turns to show Kellin his bicep, where he has the same tattoo but with a capital A and an F on either side. "It's from back when we were just the Alexandria Family," he explains, looking at it. "I like yours better. Sam did a shit job of mine." He laughs. "See, look at that line right there, it's all wiggly. Sam!" he calls, "Sam, you did a half-assed job of my tattoo!"

"Fuck off," Sam drunkenly shouts back, "That was forever ago."

James chuckles. "Fuck you!" He redirects his attention back to Kellin - "Personally, I'm glad we have Jinxx now. I might have to ask him to do something about mine," he says, poking it. "Anyways, you want something to drink?"

"Nah, I just had a beer," Kellin shakes his head. He watches Ashley line up his pool cue, resting it on the back of his hand as he peers down the end. He hits, but the ball ricochets off the side and doesn't go in. "So you guys do this every Tuesday?"

"Hell yeah, and you're always invited. You're one of us now!"

Kellin grins. "Yeah, I guess I am."

The rest of the night passes in a blur of new people, conversations and alcohol; Ashley and Jake end up winning the pool tournament, which ends in more drunken celebration. James drives Kellin home around one AM.

Kellin lets himself into the apartment building and makes his way up the two flights of stairs - it takes him a good two minutes to properly unlock his door and stumble inside, smiling to himself the whole time. He's buzzed, but not so drunk that he'll have a hangover tomorrow.

He makes sure to drink water before bed anyways, and he falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin is woken up at ten on Thursday by his disposable phone ringing from its position on his nightstand.

"Hello?" he says sleepily, flipping it open.

"Hey, Kellin, it's Andy. Cameron is on his way to pick you up. We're having a quick meeting."

"Oh, okay," Kellin replies, rubbing his eyes. Andy hangs up and he sets the phone down, sliding out of bed. He yawns and starts sifting through the little piles of clothing on the floor to find a pair of clean jeans; he's in desperate need of clean laundry, but didn't have the time last night.

He settles for some black jeans and a blue sweater, changing quickly and then rushing to brush his teeth, splash his face and fix his sleep-mussed hair.

He locks his door and runs down the stairs, seeing Cameron waiting outside in a black SUV and James in the passenger side.

"Hey," he says breathlessly, sliding into the backseat with Sam.

"Hey yourself," Sam says back. "You ready for your first meeting?"

"I think so," Kellin says, "I mean, I don't know. What's it about?"

"Could be anything," James replies vaguely. "Andy's very fond of meetings. We never used to have them with Danny."

Kellin nods, tensing up a little bit at the memory of the man who briefly held him captive. "Great."

"It'll be fine," Sam tells him, "It's probably not about anything even remotely big."

It doesn't take long to drive to the same warehouse where Kellin was initiated. The four of them walk across the street and Cameron pulls up the sliding door, politely ushering them inside.

"Thanks," Kellin says as he passes.

They're the last ones to arrive - everyone else is already sitting in a circle of plastic folding chairs, and there are four empty ones waiting for them. Kellin takes a seat next to Havok - "Hey," he says quietly as the others sit down on his other side. He thinks he spies a little bit of dried blood on the ground by his feet.

As soon as they're all settled, Andy stands up - "Hey, guys," he addresses the circle, "So, now that everyone's here, me and Ben decided to have a meeting to get some opinions on stuff. We'll kick this whole thing off by informing everyone of everything that's happening. Swap news, and all that." He points to Ben, who is slumped in his chair with his arms crossed and his legs spread.

"Yeah, what he said. Let's just start by... getting it all out there. We can take turns saying what's going on and shit."

Andy smiles. "Wonderful. CC, why don't you start us off?"

"Okay!" CC cheerfully agrees. "So, I had a meeting with Mike and Tino about two weeks ago, right? And now we're gonna get them a few more pistols," he says. He looks around. "Um. That's it."

"Lovely," Ben says, his tone bored. "Sam?"

Sam shifts. He looks uncomfortable. "Right, uh. As all of you know, I got stabbed three weeks ago because I started a fight. And... I went to apologize to the Romans about it. So things are all good between us again." There's silence.

"Any other volunteers?" Andy asks.

Havok clears his throat. "Um, I just wanted to say welcome to Kellin," he says. "You know, cause he's still the new guy."

"Thanks, man," Kellin says with a smile.

"Jade?" Ben says, "You got anything to share?"

Jade sighs. "I've got a little shipment of meth coming in from Arizona on Saturday. That's all."

"Great," Andy says. "Jake, your turn."

"Right. Uh." Jake licks his lips. "I've been doing lots of spray painting lately, y'know, marking our territory and all that. As usual."

Andy nods. "Okay, anyone else?" He's met with a wall of silence. "Alright, well. That was pathetic, but we're moving on. Water under the bridge. Ben, take it away." He sits down.

"Right," Ben says, "The thing is, we want more territory. We're big, and we're powerful, and there's nothing stopping us. Now is basically our chance." There's a small cheer that goes up. "So," Ben says, silencing everyone with a wave of one hand, "We have options. We can either go upwards, into Roman territory, or we can go East or down, into the neutral territory and then into Pierce the Veil's kingdom."

"Oh, shit," Kellin faintly hears CC say.

"Oh, shit is right," Andy says. "It's a tough call, guys. Pierce the Veil is more powerful, but that doesn't mean the Romans are just going to lie down without a fight." There's faint grumbling from the circle. "Now, this won't be happening for a while, but does anyone have any thoughts?"

"We should take on Pierce the Veil," Cameron says. "Their territory is way more desirable than the Romans'."

"But the Romans would be way easier to take on in a fight," Jake counters.

"We might have the slight upper hand over Pierce the Veil, but those dudes are fierce," CC says. "They aren't going to budge, and then even if we do get the land, they're definitely going to keep trying to get it back."

"No, they wouldn't," Sam scoffs. "They know we can beat them if it comes down to it."

"They hate us," CC shakes his head, "Vic would never roll over like that. Kellin, back me up."

Kellin startles. "Um... Yeah, actually. I think CC might be right," he manages. "Vic is a pretty determined guy."

"So say we take the Romans on instead," Havok says, "We'll have a little skirmish or two, graffiti the place up so everyone knows it's ours, and then what? We have a lot of new land that's basically useless for dealing, and then the Romans might boycott buying from us and turn to someone else to get their firearms, which puts us out a perfectly good client."

"Same goes for Pierce the Veil," Jade says, "We'd lose their business for sure."

"Is there any way you can negotiate with the leaders?" Kellin says. "Like, so you can avoid having a fight and still keep doing business?"

"No one would ever willingly give up their territory to us," Jinxx shakes his head. "They're all too scared of sliding back down the ranks."

Andy nods. "Good points, guys. Like I said, this won't be happening for a while - I just want everyone to start thinking about it."

"Alright, thanks for coming out. Meeting adjourned," Ben says with a lazy wave of his hand. "Put your chairs in the corner when you're done."

Kellin rises along with everyone else. He makes eye contact with Havok while putting his chair away. "So that was... well."

"Weird?" Havok supplies, "Very weird?"

Kellin laughs. "Yeah, it kinda was. Do you guys do this sort of thing often?"

"Andy likes meetings," Havok says, "but Ben completely hates them. So we have them once in a while. Usually it's only some of us, not everyone." Kellin nods. "Hey, me and Jade are having a get together at our apartment tonight, you wanna come?"

"Oh. Sure," Kellin agrees. "I have nothing else going on, so."

"It's not far from your apartment - you could probably walk over."

"How the fuck does everyone know where I live?" Kellin asks rhetorically. Havok simply laughs.

 

+ + +

 

When Kellin arrives at Havok and Jade's apartment later that night, he gets buzzed up immediately. He takes the elevator up to the fourth floor.

From there, it's not hard to find the right door - there's loud, electronic rap music playing, as well as the sound of people talking. Kellin doesn't bother knocking as he heads inside.

"Hey!" Havok greets him with a slightly inebriated grin, "The gang's all here! Grab a drink, man!"

"Sweet," Kellin says. He makes his way over to the counter and picks up a red solo cup, pouring himself about two shots' worth of straight tequila. He turns and surveys the apartment; Ben is sitting on the couch with one arm around a dark-skinned girl in a skimpy tank top, Rian and Zack standing together in the corner and everyone else milling around. There are lots of people he doesn't know, and so he decides to approach Ashley and Jake. "Hey," he nods.

"Hey," Ashley says back. "What's up, man?

"Oh, not much."

The two men return to talking about something involving Sam and Cameron, and Kellin eventually wanders off.

"Hey! Kellin!" someone exclaims, a hand coming down on his shoulder.

"Oh, hey," Kellin says, turning to see Denis grinning at him.

"You wanna go do something fun?" Denis asks mischievously, raising his eyebrows.

Kellin laughs. "Like what?"

"Y'know... Fun."

Kellin looks down at his cup. He finishes off his drink and sets the cup aside. He has a familiar, warm feeling in his chest. "You know what, why the fuck not? Lead the way." He has no idea what Denis has in mind, but follows him through the crowd to an empty bathroom, where Denis pushes the door shut behind them. He then reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a little baggie of white powder. "Fun, hey? You ever done coke before?"

"No," Kellin admits. "I've seen a lot of people do it, but I've never really had the money."

"This one's on me," Denis grins. "Here, you just..." he shakes a little out onto the counter, "Like that. You got a card or something handy?"

Kellin wordlessly pulls out his wallet and hands over his debit card, watching as Denis sets about crushing the powder and organizing it into two neat lines.

"One for you, one for me," he laughs. "Okay, you know the drill, pull out a bill and roll it up. Then you snort it."

Kellin does as he's told. He feels stupid as he rolls up the bill into a small tube, and he looks at Denis in question. "Does it hurt?" he asks meekly. "It looks like it hurts."

"Oh, that's only if you get shit that's really stepped on," Denis dismisses his fears, "This stuff's the real deal. Won't hurt at all. Go for it, man!"

Kellin hesitantly leans over the counter and brings the tube up to his nose. He can sense the way Denis is looking at him as he lines up the bump and finally inhales the whole thing.

"Fuck," he coughs once it's all gone, sraightening up, "Woah."

"Good, yeah?" Denis grins, snatching the rolled-up bill from his hand and efficiently doing the other line.

Kellin feels numbness set into his nose, spreading down his throat. "Woah," he repeats, "Holy fuck."

Denis hands him back the bill and card, which he accepts on autopilot and puts back into his wallet.

"This shit works fast," he marvels, blinking. He touches his face, which feels strangely unfeeling.

"C'mon man, let's go do some mingling," Denis tells him, taking him by the wrist and popping the bubble of muffled silence by opening the bathroom door. "You're going to love this, I promise."

Kellin swallows thickly and follows Denis' lead. He's grinning like a madman.

He bumps into Jinxx, who gives him a weird look - he says nothing, but shoots Denis a disapproving glare.

Kellin simply shrugs it off and moves on, still smiling. By this point, Denis has slipped away to the counter for another drink, but Kellin is unperturbed by his lack of social crutch.

He wanders over to Jade. "Hey, man!"

"Hey," Jade says coolly, his expression blank.

"I love your apartment," Kellin compliments him. "It's so... nice. I like your paintings on the wall. And the bathroom is painted a nice colour." Jade raises one eyebrow, but says nothing. "So you and Havok live together, huh? That must be cool. I want a roomie."

"It's fine. I'm going to go get a drink."

With that, Jade leaves him, standing alone in the living room.

Kellin makes his way over to the corner of the room. "Hey, guys," he says to Zack and Rian as he approaches.

"Hey," Rian says. Zack nods. "What's up?"

"Not much, just hanging out, talking, y'know. The usual. I came 'cause I want to fit in, right?" Kellin babbles, "You guys are all so cool, and--"

"Did you go into the bathroom with Denis?" Rian says with a frown.

"Yeah," Kellin replies, "It was awesome."

Zack makes a noise of amusement. "Oh, man. Let's get you away from Ben before you make a fool of yourself," he says, reaching out to steer Kellin through a door and into the attached bedroom. His hands feel warm and solid on Kellin's back.

"You would give great massages," Kellin grins as he sits down on the bed.

Zack is busy talking to Rian: "He should come down in forty-five or so," Zack is saying. "He'll be fine."

"It's his second week, I don't think Ben should see him like this," Rian says. "Should we take him home?"

"He's not our responsibility," Zack grumbles.

"Yes, he is. He's Family."

The two of them glance at Kellin, who grins back.

"Look, he can walk home. He'll be fine. Let's just smuggle him out the door and leave him be."

"But I just got here," Kellin protests.

"Yeah, and now you're just about to leave," Rian says. "C'mon, let's go."

Kellin is ushered out the door a minute later. He walks to the elevator and rides it down, reluctantly exiting the building and starting home.

Strangely, he doesn't really feel all that glum - he takes his time on the walk back to his apartment, humming to himself. He's almost there when he catches sight of a figure standing at the floor of his building.

"Hello," he says cheerfully.

"Hey," the man says back, turning around. "Wait, Kellin?"

Kellin squints to make out his face in the dark. "...Jaime?"

"Hey, dude!" Jaime exclaims, "I was just coming to visit! Oli told me you were sick."

"Oh, yeah. I feel a lot better now." The two of them stand there in silence for a moment.

"So, are you going to invite me in?" Jaime jokes, "I'd love to see Jack and Alex."

"Yeah, of course," Kellin shakes his head with a grin, "Come on up." He unlocks the door and the two of them enter the dimly-lit building, starting up the stairs.

When they reach Kellin's apartment, he opens the door and flicks on the lights. "Home sweet home," he announces with a smile.

"Nice," Jaime comments. "Minimalistic," he jokes. "You, um, you didn't tell me you got a new apartment. Can you... afford it?" His grin fades and he turns serious as he studies Kellin intently for a long minute. "Wait a minute. Dude, is that... Is that a black eye?" he asks, motioning to Kellin's face.

"What? Oh. No," Kellin laughs. "No, must be the light."

"It is," Jaime insists, "Wow. Um, okay. I've had enough black eyes to know what one looks like." He pauses and narrows his eyes, his eyebrows knitted in concern. "Oli told me there was something up with you."

"I was sick," Kellin repeats, still smiling.

"Fuck, are you on something?" Jaime asks.

"No," Kellin says, "I'm just happy. I missed you, man," he says, going in for a hug. Jaime is tense, but the simple human contact feels amazing. He finally pulls back reluctantly.

"What did you take?" Jaime asks.

"Nothing," Kellin shrugs.

"Don't lie to me," Jaime says, "I'm worried about you, man. What did you take and who gave it to you?"

"It's just a little bit of blow," Kellin insists, "Don't even worry."

"You got beat up, and now you're on crack," Jaime says dryly, "I think I'm allowed to worry."

"You're blowing it out of proportion," Kellin rolls his eyes. "I can take care of myself."

"How long ago did you take it? How much?" Jaime asks, taking hold of Kellin's shoulders and pushing him over to the couch.

"Half hour," Kellin absently responds, "It was only one bump, Himes. I'm fine. Calm down."

"Where did you get it?" Jaime asks, steely-eyed.

"Just some guy at a club," Kellin lies, "He was pretty cute."

Jaime sighs. "Dude, you gotta start taking better care of yourself. This shit can be fucking addictive. Do you work tomorrow?"

"No," Kellin replies confusedly, momentarily forgetting that Jaime still doesn't know he quit his job at the laundromat.

"Good. I've just decided you're going to come hang with me and Mike," Jaime says sternly. He leads Kellin to bed not long after, and proclaims he'll be sleeping on the couch. "Don't try to sneak off in the morning, or I will personally beat your ass."

"Fine," Kellin rolls his eyes. "God. Goodnight."

He rolls over, grumpily pulling the covers up to his chin.

 

+ + +

 

"Rise and shine, sleepyhead!"

Kellin groans and covers his eyes as the window blinds are jerked open and the room fills with light.

"What. The fuck," he rasps.

"Time to eat breakfast and go," Jaime tells him, leaning over the bed. "It's already eleven in the morning," he says exasperatedly. "Mike'll be here any minute."

He reaches down and rips Kellin's blanket off, leaving him curled in the fetal position, still dressed in his clothes from the previous night.

"I hate you," Kellin says, his tone disgruntled. He stretches and rubs his eyes before sitting up. "You're such a dick. Where are we going, anyways?"

"You'll see," Jaime ominously intones. "Get up and eat."

"Fine, fuck." Kellin is still bothered by last night, but he gets out of bed and gets dressed anyways. He pours himself a bowl of cereal, ignoring Jaime as he eats.

Jaime buzzes Mike up as he's finishing eating, and Kellin is just rinsing out his bowl when Mike knocks on the door.

"Ready to go?" he asks when Jaime opens it.

"Where are we going?" Kellin asks, his tone fairly cranky.

"We're going to our territory," Jaime says. "Grab your jacket and let's go."

Kellin feels like a small child being taken on an outing. Nonetheless, he snags a coat from the closet and follows Mike and Jaime, turning the lights off and locking the door behind them.

He trails after them down the stairs and out of the building to a black car, where Mike gets in behind thee wheel and Jaime takes the passenger seat.

"I really wish you would just tell me what we're doing," Kellin grumbles from the back seat, doing up his seatbelt. He doesn't get a reply.

Twenty minutes later, the car is weaving its way through a seedy neighbourhood and Kellin has crossed his arms like a moody teenager. Finally, Mike parks and they all get out.

"Where are we?" Kellin asks, squinting up at the sky. For a moment, he forgets to be angry.

"Doesn't matter," Mike grins as he pops the trunk to reveal a black plastic case sitting on its side. Mike flips it open, and Kellin leans forward to get a better view; inside, there are more than a dozen little plastic baggies containing clear crystals.

"Um, woah," Kellin manages. "What the hell?"

Mike closes the container and picks it up by the handle. "It's all there, Jaime. C'mon."

Kellin follows after Jaime and Mike, feeling lost. The three of them walk about a block down the street and then turn right for another two blocks, where Mike opens the back door of a run-down building. "Après vous," he says.

Jaime steps inside and Kellin enters after him. The inside is dim and cluttered, the scent of vomit and urine in the air, and Kellin is immediately transported back to three years ago when he first stepped into a drug den. The scent alone makes him want to run as far away as possible. "Oh, no," he says, shaking his head, "No fucking way. Let me out."

He tries to go back the way they came, but Mike is physically blocking his way. "Nope. You're not backing out of this one."

"What the fuck?" Kellin shout-whispers, "Mike, let me out!"

Jaime grabs Kellin by the wrist. "This, kid, is why drugs are bad," he says, gesturing to the room in front of them.

There's broken glass and garbage strewn all across the floor, and what look to be sleeping bags lying here and there. A cockroach scuttles over Kellin's foot and he gags. "Oh my god."

Jaime forges a path farther into the building and Mike prods Kellin from behind. The smell only worsens as they continue in. "Oh my god," Kellin repeats, "Seriously? This is your version of an anti-drug message?" From a corner, someone moans, sounding like a wounded animal. "Holy fuck," Kellin hisses.

The three of them walk into a hallway and then through another door to the right, this one smelling even more rank than the first.

"Alright," Jaime announces loudly, clapping his hands, "Everyone come on up."

There's scuffling and Kellin watches as a few people emerge from the shadows of the room. He's repulsed by what he sees; scabbed faces, jaundiced skin and undernourished bodies, all flocking to Jaime.

One woman with thin, straggly hair and a blister on her lip approaches Jaime with a wad of cash held tightly in her hand. She looks up at him with wide eyes like she's seeing a messiah.

Kellin watches as Jaime takes her money and counts the bills, stuffs them in a pocket inside of his jacket, then points to Mike with his thumb and holds up two fingers. The woman stumbles over to him, her eyes locked over Kellin's shoulder as she passes. The way she moves is eerie, and Kellin feels like she isn't even fully seeing him.

He watches Mike hand two little baggies over two her, and she clutches them to her bosom and rushes away. Mike meets his gaze and raises an eyebrow.

"This is fucked up," Kellin hears himself say, "These people need help."

"If they don't get it from us, they get it from someone else," Mike causally addresses him. "Oh, look over there," he points.

Kellin turns around just in time to see a young, gaunt man plunge a needle into his arm.

"Jesus fuck-- think I'm going to be sick," Kellin says.

"Pussy," Mike scoffs.

"No, seriously, I'm-- Oh, god--" Kellin says, his mouth watering, "I think I'm going to--"

He bends over and retches, the contents of his stomach coming rushing up his esophagus to splatter on the floor. He spits and wipes his mouth. "Oh, god. Mike, get me out of here."

"Not 'till we're done," Jaime instructs. "Tough it out, cupcake."

Kellin feels like crying as he watches Jaime accept money and Mike hand out drugs. These are the people he chooses to surround himself with?

Oh, god.

His knees are weak from vomiting, and his forehead feels clammy. Jaime keeps accepting cash Mike keeps handing out bag after bag of crystals, and Kellin wants to run out of the room.

Finally, Mike shuts the case and Jaime zips up his jacket. "Good to go," he says.

Kellin internally breathes a sigh of relief. He clears his throat and practically runs from the room, moving down the hallway and out the back door as fast as his legs will carry him.

The fresh air feels magnificent, and he breathes it in in big gulps, the taste of bile still fresh in his mouth.

"That's why you don't do drugs," Jaime says from behind him. "You wanna end up like that?" He points to the building.

"Fuck, no," Kellin spits, turning around. "God, and I didn't need your fucking 'scared straight' program, either. It was one bump of coke, for fuck's sakes."

Mike grins. "That's how it all starts."

"'How it all starts' my ass. Coffee is a gateway drug." Kellin stalks off in the direction of the car, ignoring the way their laughter trails behind him.

He feels sick, and humiliated and childish. Suddenly, the loss of Pierce the Veil from his life doesn't feel like such a big one.

His sole satisfaction is the secret that hides on the skin of this thigh; he has a new family. He doesn't need them anymore.

 

+

Chapter Text

+

After the absolute disaster that was Friday morning, Kellin refuses to talk to any of the Pierce the Veil guys. Jaime, Oli and Tony all come by at some point within the following week, but Kellin doesn't buzz any of them up.

He spends most of his days hanging out with the Family instead. There always seems to be a party or pool night or bar-hopping going on at any given moment, and Kellin is more than glad to partake - he gets drunk some of the time, but he learns to keep his distance from cocaine, preferring to go for pot instead.

He still spends a lot of time with Jack and Alex. The three of them hang out an average of twice or three times a week.

Kellin also finally gets a real phone and a crappy phone plan, which really helps him out; he texts with CC constantly, and they talk about almost everything.

I'm going to meet up with M + T today for the delivery, you wanna come? CC texts him on Thursday afternoon.

Um... no? Kellin texts back.

You can wait in the car and we can go out for dinner after... CC offers. It should be a quick meeting, i just need to drop off their shit

Kellin sighs. Alright, fine. As long as they can't see me.

I'll pick u up in 15!! :)

Kellin sets his phone down and sits up on the couch, bookmarking the book he borrowed from Alex and pulling on his black-and-white striped sweater.

CC texts him to come downstairs about ten minutes later. When Kellin arrives at the main floor, he's waiting outside in a silver car. "Hey, dude!"

"Hey," Kellin can't help but to smile as he gets into the passenger seat; CC's cheerful personality has that effect on him. "So, where are we going?"

"PTV's territory," CC says. "Like I said, this should be pretty quick - I'm just dropping off the merchandise. Usually I would make James or Sam come with me, but since Mike already paid for the guns, we don't really have to deal with all of that security and stuff."

"Huh," Kellin remarks. "So, what kind of guns are they?" he asks, mostly just for the sake of keeping the conversation alive. He has no idea about anything when it comes to firearms and weaponry.

"Two Beretta 92FS Brigadiers," CC replies. "Forty cal. Good gun. Reliable, easy to clean."

"Oh," Kellin says dumbly. "Cool."

CC laughs and turns on the radio, some generic pop song coming through the speakers. "So what's up, dude? Bang anyone lately?"

"No," Kellin immediately shuts him down, "Definitely not. I've been hanging out with you guys nonstop the past few weeks."

CC wiggles his eyebrows. "Don't think I don't see the way Denis looks at you," he says teasingly.

"...What?" Kellin asks, alarmed. "Denis? Our Denis?"

"Oh yeah," CC nods. "For sure. I mean, that kid will fuck anything with a hearbeat, but."

"Wow." Kellin leans back in his seat and looks at the road ahead. "Huh," he says after a moment. "Wow. I thought he was just being nice to me."

"Denis doesn't give free coke to just anyone," CC grins.

"That was once! And I definitely paid the price for that, by the way."

"Yeah, I heard that Pierce the Veil tried to teach you a lesson after that," CC says, his honking laughter filling the car.

"It's not funny!" Kellin protests, "and who told you that, anyways?"

"I just heard it," CC waves a hand. "And besides, it's for the best. You don't want to become a cokehead like Denis. That kid is not going places anytime soon."

Kellin rolls his eyes. "Okay, mom."

"Hey, I've got your best interests at heart," CC says with a grin. He turns up the music, and the rest of the ride passes in companionable silence.

Eventually, they pull into the back parking lot of an empty gas station, where CC turns the car off and turns to Kellin - "You wait here, okay? I'm meeting Mike and Tino across the road, so they shouldn't be able to see you. Sound good?"

"Sounds great," Kellin responds. He watches CC get out of the car and open the trunk, pull out a drawstring backpack and wave to Kellin before commencing to walk away. Kellin's eyes follow him as he crosses the deserted street, the bag slung casually over one shoulder; a moment later, he disappears around the corner of a building.

Kellin fiddles with his seatbelt. He only has to wait another five minutes or so before CC reappears and starts walking back to the gas station.

"That was quick," Kellin remarks once CC has opened the door. Then, "Oh, fuck."

"What?" CC says, looking around, "Oh! Shit! Hide!"

Mike is jogging across the street towards the car. Kellin's eyes widen and he cracks his car door, CC practically pushing him out - he swings it closed and crouches down, flattening himself against the passenger side. He hears Mike's footsteps approach, and the sound of CC getting out of the car.

"This one's missing the magazine," Mike is saying, and then CC says something in reply. The trunk of the car opens and Kellin's heart is in his throat.

"Oh, there it is," CC says. "Don't know how that happened, sorry."

"'S fine," Mike replies. "Hey, what's Sam been up to? You don't usually come alone."

CC laughs nervously. "Oh, Sam's fine. He's back on good terms with the Romans again."

"Good, good."

"So... I guess I'll see you around?"

"Pleasure doing business."

Kellin breathes a sigh of relief as the sound of Mike's retreating footsteps reaches his ears.

"You can get back in now," CC says after a minute, leaning over the car to look at him. "Woah. That was a close one, dude."

"You're telling me," Kellin says. He stands up and slides into the passenger seat, and CC rounds the car to get in on the other side. He looks pensive for a moment.

"You know they're going to find out eventually, right? This isn't a secret you can keep forever."

Kellin looks down at his hands. "Yeah, I know."

 

+ + +

 

True to his word, CC takes Kellin out to dinner at an Italian place before dropping him off back at his apartment.

"You sure you don't want to come hang out with me and Jake?" CC asks again.

"Nah, I'm good," Kellin replies. "I promised Jack and Alex that I'd pop by tonight." He grabs his box of leftover pasta and exits the car. "Thanks a lot, man. I'll see you soon."

CC waves and drives away, and Kellin lets himself into the apartment building. He climbs the stairs and drops off the food in his fridge, then crosses the hall and knocks on the door.

"Yo," he grins when Alex opens it.

"Kells! Hey! We had a bet to see if you were actually coming," Jack says brightly from the kitchen.

Alex looks over at him. "You owe me five bucks, by the way."

"CC and I went out to dinner," Kellin offers as explanation. He steps inside. "So, what's up?"

"Just put a frozen pizza in the oven," Jack says. "We have twenty minutes until it comes out. Wanna smoke a joint?"

Kellin laughs and accepts the offer, following them out into the fire escape. It's dark and a little bit cold outside, and he hunches in on himself a little bit. Alex fumbles with the lighter for a minute before lighting the joint.

He takes a deep drag, letting it out slowly and passing it to Jack, who does the same. The three of them smoke until it's nothing but a nub.

Kellin leaves a few hours later, feeling happy and light. "I'll see you guys soon," he says, waving and pulling the door shut.

He steps across the hallway and unlocks his own door, a faint smile still on his lips. Inside, the apartment is still mostly barren except for the couch, a few haphazard piles of second-hand books and the odd t-shirt here and there.

Kellin strips down to his boxers as he walks to the bedroom. He texts CC a quick goodnight and tumbles into bed, the rickety frame squeaking in protest. For once, he sleeps soundly, not worrying about what's to come.

 

+ + +

 

His peace is utterly destroyed the next morning, when a foreign object is launched at him while he sleeps.

"Wake up!" someone says cheerfully.

"The fuck--!" Kellin groans out, partially unable to breathe as his eyes fly wide open, "What the f--"

The large object on top of him squirms and shifts onto his bare stomach. "Surprise!"

Kellin's eyes adjust to the light and suddenly he's looking up at Denis, who is straddling his midsection and grinning down at him.

"Denis, the fuck?" he finally manages, "What-- How did you get up here?"

"Oh, an old lady let me in," Denis says matter-of-factly. "And I jimmied the door lock."

"What the f--? Why?"

"I wanted to hang out."

Kellin groans. "Get off, I'm naked."

"You're not naked," Denis says, "Not fully." He twists around to snap the waistband of Kellin's boxers.

Kellin yelps. "Dude!"

"What?" Denis asks innocently. He grins. Kellin is in serious danger of developing a boner.

"Get off, man. You're heavier than you look."

Denis laughs, but scrambles off all the same. "Are you calling me fat, Quinn?"

"Yes." Kellin rolls over and reaches around for a shirt, selecting one that looks relatively clean and slipping it on. Denis tosses him a pair of pants. "Thanks."

He zips up the fly and buttons them, grabbing his phone from beside the bed and walking past Denis into the living room. "God, can't you just call? Or text, like a normal person? You have my number."

"Where's the fun in that?" Denis laughs. "We're friends. Friends surprise each other."

"Preferably not while I'm naked," Kellin grumbles.

Denis playfully sidles up to him - "That's the best part. Besides, you weren't naked. If you were, we could have had some fun," he winks.

Kellin shakes his head. "Hey, how old are you, anyways?"

"Nineteen. Turning twenty next month."

"Oh. You're younger than me," Kellin points out.

"Yeah? And?"

Kellin shrugs. "Nothing. You want to go out for breakfast?"

Denis enthusiastically agrees, and the two of them trudge downstairs and pile into Denis' slightly-rusted black car.

"Where d'you wanna go? Denny's?"

"Sure," Kellin shrugs, "I'll pay."

The drive to the diner isn't long. Once seated across from each other, Kellin orders a glass of water and an Oreo milkshake. He isn't particularly hungry.

As Denis is ordering, his phone buzzes - it's CC.

Where are you? the text reads.

out to breakfast w denis, Kellin replies, why?

Andy wants to know if you've made any.... u know..... progress

Kellin takes a sip of his milkshake and types out a response. im still trying to make friends with everyone before i start probing for info

On second thought, he adds let him know im working on it.

He looks up to find Denis looking at him questioningly. "Who're you talking to?"

"Oh, just CC," Kellin waves a hand, setting his phone aside. He traces the side of his glass. "So, what's up?"

"Not much. I've got a few deals to make later today, but that's all."

"Like... drugs?" Kellin lowers his voice.

Denis immediately bursts into laughter - "You're cute," he giggles, "but I can see why Ben didn't make you a dealer." Kellin rolls his eyes. There's a pause. "So, you're good friends with Jack and Alex, huh?"

"Oh, yeah. I used to crash with them until I got my own place, they were really kind."

"We used to go partying together sometimes," Denis says, reminiscing, "Back when Danny was in the Family. They were wild, let me tell you."

He launches into a story that involves Jack, Alex, Danny, an eight-ball of cocaine and a male escort. Kellin is attempting to pay attention, but he ends up mostly just staring at Denis, his strange accent a soothing background lull.

Shit. He's cute. And... he might like me.

Denis starts motioning with his hands, his eyes alight, and Kellin feels something inside him flutter.

Now is not the time to start developing a crush, he chastises himself.

The story eventually starts winding down. "--and so Danny kicked the poor guy out onto the sidewalk, and they drove away," he's chuckling. "Man, that was a crazy night."

The waiter arrives with Denis' plate, and Kellin excuses himself to the washroom. "I'll be right back."

He rushes in the direction of the men's room, pulling out his phone and dialling CC - "Hey," he says when the other end picks up, "Are you still with Andy? What did he say?"

"You're fine, man. I told him you were doing your best and explained how it is, being in a new gang and all that. He understands."

Kellin breathes a sigh of relief. "Good, good. Thanks for that, by the way."

"No problem. So you're out with Denis, huh? How's that going?" CC's tone is teasing.

"It's fine." There's a pause, and Kellin's mind wanders - "Hey, so.." he starts, licking his lips, "What do you think about, like, me and Denis?"

"As in... getting it on?"

"Maybe."

"But... You?" CC laughs, "And Denis?"

Kellin frowns. "What? It's not that weird. You said he was into me. And I mean, he said he's turning twenty next month, right?"

"Yeah, and he's been saying that for the past four months," CC hoots.

"Forget it, it was stupid."

"Wait, Kellin, it's not stupid, I just mean. Well. I don't think you could keep up with him, y'know? He's pretty crazy. That kid parties like nobody's business. He's on a new drug every night."

"Dude, I know. I don't want to date him," Kellin lies, "I just wanted to know if he'd be a good fuck."

"Well in that case, I'm going to go with yes, but that doesn't mean I think it's a good idea."

Kellin rolls his eyes. "Thank you."

"Let me know what happens, okay? Keep me posted."

"Okay, CC. Talk later."

"Bye!"

He hangs up and puts his phone in his pocket, taking a piss and washing his hands before rejoining the rest of the restaurant.

"Hey," he grins as he slides into the booth across from Denis, "Sorry. Where were we?"

"Mmm," Denis hums, chewing, "I think we're just at the part where you start telling me about yourself." He looks at Kellin expectantly. "C'mon, you're a fucking enigma. You were kidnapped when you were seventeen and you never even talk about yourself."

Kellin shrugs self-consciously, a smile playing at the corners of his lips. "There's not much to tell," he says honestly. He sighs reluctantly when he sees Denis isn't about to budge. "I mean, Pierce the Veil caught me snooping around in a drug den four years back, right? And so they brought me to Cali with them and kept me in a house for, like, two months. Then they sent me back. That's it."

Denis is staring at him. "How can you be so blasé about it? Wasn't it at least a little bit traumatic?"

"Nah," Kellin shrugs, "They were nice to me. I cooked for them."

"You're crazy," Denis shakes his head. "Absolutely bonkers. You were all over the news, you know."

"Yeah, I heard," Kellin says. "Listen, I'm not hanging around with Pierce the Veil anymore. We don't have to talk about them."

"I sometimes hang out with them," Denis says.

"What?" Kellin says, taken aback. "Is-- Are Ben and Andy okay with that?"

Denis lifts one shoulder. "They don't know."

"They... don't know," Kellin repeats.

"Yeah. And don't go tattling on me, Quinn."

"Oh, I won't," Kellin automatically responds, even though he's filing the information away for later. "You can trust me."

They talk and eat for a while longer, until Denis sets his cutlery down and pushes his plate aside, leaning forward on his elbows. "Let's get out of here," he suggests.

Kellin fishes around in his wallet and pulls out a couple bills as he stands up, making sure to leave a reasonable tip. The two of them exit the restaurant, Denis' hand brushing against Kellin's waist as they head back to the car.

"That was fun," Denis says sunnily as he unlocks the car and gets behind the wheel. "We should hang out more often. Just us."

Sirens go off in Kellin's head. He's interested!

"It's gonna be Christmas soon, y'know."

With mild shock, Kellin realizes he's right. "Oh, shit. I didn't even realize," he remarks.

"Not much of a reason to remember anymore," Denis says. "I haven't got a family, so it's not like I'm buying gifts and trimming the tree for anyone."

Kellin studies him for a long moment. His expression is oddly vulnerable. "Tell you what," Kellin says, "Come spend Christmas with me, okay? I haven't got a family here either. I'll probably just be getting drunk by myself, otherwise."

"Really?" Denis asks, "You would be okay with having me over?"

Kellin soothes his worries with an "Of course. We can get high and sing Christmas carols and shit. Sound okay?"

"Sounds great," Denis grins.

 

+

 

Kellin doesn't wake up until 12:30PM on Christmas Eve Day, and when he does, it's to the sound of someone pounding on the front door.

"Coming," he hollers, getting out of bed and clambering into a pair of jeans. He answers the door shirtless. "H'llo?"

"Merry Christmas!" Jack and Alex yell in unison.

"Oh, hey, guys," Kellin grins sleepily. "C'mon in."

"Okay, plans," Alex says as he steps inside. "You, me, Zack, Rian and Jack. Tonight. Getting lit up in our apartment."

"Oh, um. I already have someone coming over," Kellin says, yawning. "I don't know if--"

"Bring them!" Jack says cheerfully. "Who is it?" he asks, wiggling his eyebrows, "A gentleman caller?"

"It's just Denis," Kellin says exasperatedly. "You know, from the Family."

"Even better!" Jack exclaims. "Oh, Alex," he says dramatically, clutching the other's shoulder, "He's just growing up so fast!"

Alex pretends to shed a tear. Kellin rolls his eyes. "It's not a big deal, guys. We're just friends."

"Really? Just friends?" Alex wheedles.

"That boy is a hot tamale," Jack adds.

"He's two years younger than me," Kellin says, "He can't even legally drink yet. I don't want to feel like I'm some old pedo."

"Denis has been drinking since he was thirteen, man," Alex says. "He's been on every drug you can think of and probably some you can't."

"He's not exactly a pure, blushing virgin," Jack adds. "He joined the Brides when he was sixteen."

"I'm still not going to date him," Kellin shakes his head.

"Who said anything about dating? You just need to fuck that boy. Hard. And multiple times."

Kellin blushes. "Jesus Christ, Jack."

"It's the truth," Jack says, holding up his hands with a grin.

"Anyways, you two are welcome to pop over to our apartment later," Alex says. "Just make sure if Denis is doing anything other than pot, he does it before or after but not in our presence. Rian would lose his shit."

"Yeah, for sure," Kellin agrees, stretching, "We might stop by. No promises."

Jack leans in for a hug. "Great!" He beams as he steps back, "See you then!"

"Bye."

Kellin closes the door behind them and scratches his chest. He grabs his phone from his bedroom and fires off a quick text to Denis - we still on for tonight or what??

Denis replies almost immediately. hell yes we are!!!!!! ill be over at like nine idk does that wrk for u

yeah nine is fine

Kellin sets his phone down and starts rooting around in his cupboard for something to eat. His stomach is growling with hunger. He finally decides on instant noodles and sets some water on the stove to boil before adding the dried noodles and broth packet.

As he's sitting down to eat, the intercom buzzes to let him know someone is waiting downstairs.

"Hello?"

"Hey, Kellin, it's Tony."

Kellin stares at the machine for a long moment before replying. "What do you want." It's not a question.

"Just wanted to say merry Christmas. We haven't seen you in a while, but you're always welcome at our place if you want to come by tonight."

"Thanks, but I have other plans."

Kellin feels a little bit bad about being so frosty towards Tony, but not bad enough to apologize. Mike had to have told him what went down last month.

"Okay," comes Tony's reply. "Well. I guess you're not going to let me up, so I'll be on my way. Talk later."

"Bye," Kellin says. Fuck.

With a start, he realizes he misses the Pierce the Veil guys more than ever before. He misses going over to Mike and Tony's place for dinner, and Jaime's lame jokes and the way they gave him advice and listened. It's just not the same with Alex and Jack and the rest of the Family.

He sighs into the empty apartment and heads back to his bowl of noodles. Suddenly, he doesn't really feel hungry anymore.

 

+

 

As promised, Denis shows up around nine with a backpack, a bottle of whiskey under his arm and tequila in hand. "Merry Christmas!" he shouts, stepping inside.

"Merry Christmas," Kellin laughs. "You certainly came prepared."

"Fuck yeah!" Denis replies with a grin. "Consider it a housewarming gift."

Kellin heads over to the cupboard and grabs two glasses. "I know it's not really late yet, but I'm ready to get absolutely smashed as soon as possible."

He nudges one glass towards Denis, who hands over the whiskey. "Let's drink the good shit first," he says. Kellin pours them both a reasonable amount. "Cheers," says Denis, holding up his glass.

"Merry Christmas," Kellin grins, clinking their glasses together and taking a long sip. "Oh, and Jack and Alex invited us over, if you want to hang with them at some point tonight."

"Sounds fun," Denis says, his eyes lighting up. "I haven't seen them in forever. Are they sober now?"

Kellin shrugs. "They're stoners. They only smoke pot. And they don't drink very much."

"I see," Denis laughs. "That's a massive change. Good for them, though."

"Yeah." There's a moment of silence.

"So, I brought some fun stuff, if you're interested?" Denis says, a hopeful note to his voice. "I've got MDMA, peyote, shrooms, pot, coke..." he trails off.

Kellin arches an eyebrow. "I'll stick to pot," he chuckles. "You're welcome to go nuts, though."

"It's no fun to do drugs on your own," Denis mock-complains, "But I will. For you. Because I don't believe in peer pressure." He sets down his pack and pulls out a small baggie of circular, pink pills. "Pop one of these, and you'll feel great for the next six hours," he says, opening the bag and shaking one into his hand. He swallows it with a mouthful of whiskey.

Kellin takes the bag and peers at its contents - upon closer inspection, the contents are each stamped with a small heart in the centre.

"Go ahead, if you want," Denis offers.

Kellin debates it, but ultimately shakes his head. "Nah, I'm good. Thanks."

"Your choice. It should kick in in about a half hour, so if I start being too lovey-dovey, push me off."

The two of them chat about nothing in particular for a while longer, until Kellin notices Denis' pupils have completely dilated. "Woah, dude. You feeling okay?"

"I feel great," Denis grins sharply. He downs the last of his whiskey and walks over to the couch, where he flops down. Kellin trails after him.

Denis reaches out for Kellin's arm and pulls him down, the two of them collapsing onto a pile of arms and legs. Denis giggles. Kellin can feel his heartbeat racing.

Kellin buries his head into Denis' shoulder - "Mmfff."

"I'm gonna get a boner," Denis laughs, but neither of them move. They lay like that for what could be fifteen minutes or an hour before Denis says, "Kellin..."

"What," Kellin mumbles.

"Do you... Um. Do you want me to--"

"To do what, man?"

"I could--... We could. Y'know."

There's a moment of silence.

"Bang?" Kellin offers.

Denis nods. "If you want, I could give you head. I wouldn't mind. It doesn't have to be weird."

"Like... Fuck buddies?"

"Yeah."

"Okay."

 

+

Chapter Text

The aftermath of sleeping with Denis is simple. They don't talk about it.

On Christmas Day, Kellin wakes up with a hangover headache and Denis spooning him from behind. He rushes to the bathroom to puke. Denis follows him - he holds his hair away from his face and rubs his back as he shakes. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas," Kellin coughs out, eyes shut and mouth slack. "God, I hate hangovers."

"But God, do I love being drunk," Denis mutters.

Kellin clambers to his feet, his legs unsteady. "You wanna go out for breakfast?"

And so they don't even discuss what happened last night; they don't mention the way Kellin's hands tangled in Denis' hair, his head leaned back or the way they got drunk and smoked and laughed together after--

No. Stop it, Kellin mentally shakes himself. It happened, it's over, your curiosity is sated. Get on with your life.

 

+ + +

 

Christmas Day passes. Before Kellin knows it, it's New Years Eve and he's out at James' apartment, celebrating the old-fashioned way: by getting drunk. It seems like Kellin has done nothing but get shitfaced this holiday season.

The party is in full swing, and absolutely everyone is there, including some people he doesn’t know. Even Andy showed up, which is on the rare side (Kellin assumes he usually has better things to do.)

As everyone mills around the apartment, Kellin is off in the spare bedroom, being pressed up against the wall as Denis makes out with him, drink still in hand.

“Shit,” he breathes between kisses. “Denis, we… We shouldn’--”

“Shouldn’t what?” Denis asks, blinking innocently.

“We shouldn’,” Kellin repeats. He downs the rest of his drink. “Dude, I won’t… I won’t even remember this in the morning.”

“Yeah, and?”

“And there are people outside--”

“They don’t care.”

“Not tonight, okay? Let’s jus’. Enjoy the party.”

“Fine,” Denis says, sounding disappointed as he draws back. “You better kiss me at midnight, though.”

With one last, lingering gaze, he slips from the room and rejoins the rest of the gang. Kellin’s fist thumps down against the wall and he groans, scrubbing a hand across his face. “Jesus Christ.” He somewhat stumbles from the room, making a beeline for the drinks table and pouring himself a finger of Absolut.

“Woah, what happened to you?” Havok asks, “Or should I say who?” He motions to Kellin’s slightly swollen lips and smirks.

“Oh, that. Um.”

“It was Christina, wasn’t it? Or was it Genevieve? Blonde chick? Massive tits?”

Kellin nods. “Yeah, um, that’s… that was her.”

“Well, I heard that she has chlamydia now,” Havok says conspiratorially. “I’d keep your distance, If I were you.”

“Oh. Thanks for the warning,” Kellin says. He downs the whole drink in one swallow and sets his cup aside.

“Anything for a brother,” Havok grins, clapping him on the shoulder and then steadying him when he sways and almost falls over. “Damn, you’re drunk, aren’t you? It’s still an hour left until midnight.”

Kellin shrugs loosely, his arms feeling limp. “Hey, I think I’m gonna. Jus’. Head home.”

“What? No! C’mon, you have to stay at least until the ball drops.”

“No,” Kellin shakes his head, “I don’t wanna. I’ll jus’ call a cab, okay? ‘S not that far.”

“Okay," Havok eventually nods, giving him a considering look, "If you’re sure. We’ll miss you, though.”

“Yeah, alright.”

Kellin makes his way to the door, where he fishes his jacket out from under countless others. He clumsily slips it on an exits the apartment, feeling his mood come falling down like a black cloud over his shoulders.

He reaches the end of the hallway and is about to go down the first flight of stairs when there are rushed footsteps and someone catches him by the wrist.

“Don’t go,” Denis says. “Did I fuck up? I didn’t mean to make you leave.”

Kellin shrugs. “I’m jus’ tired. Don’t feel like staying.”

“Let me drive you home, okay? I’m sober enough, I swear.”

“No, don’t bother,” Kellin shakes his head. “I’ll walk. Or call a cab.”

Denis frowns and says, “You don’t even know how to get home. I’ll drive you. It’ll take, like, fifteen minutes tops.”

“I said no, okay? I don’t want to wreck your night jus’ ‘cause I’m drunk.” Suddenly, he feels like crying. He’s supposed to be happy - it’s fucking New Years’ Eve, for fuck's sakes.

Denis looks hurt. “Kellin, I didn’t mean--”

“Save it,” Kellin waves a hand. He starts down the stairs and almost trips, catching himself at the last second. Denis stubbornly follows him.

“I’m walking you home, alright? I’m not just going to leave you like this. You’re not being yourself right now.”

“‘M fine,” Kellin frowns. His stomach lurches unpleasantly as they hit the next flight.

Denis continues to follow him. "You're an idiot," he finally says.

"Don't care. Jus' go back upstairs."

"No. I'm walking you home." They reach the end of the stairs. Kellin shoulders his way through the doors and into the cool night air. "You're going the wrong way," Denis points out when he turns to go left. He grabs Kellin by the shoulder and turns him around.

"Shut up," Kellin mutters, "Leave me alone."

Denis doesn't say anything in response, just keeps guiding him along with a hand between his shoulders. Kellin feels exhausted. In retrospect, he should have called a cab, but it's too late now.

They walk in silence for a while longer, the only sound coming from their footsteps and the occasional passing car.

"Look, Kellin," Denis eventually starts, "Did I fuck things up? I swear, I didn't mean to pressure you or anything."

"'S'not your fault," Kellin replies. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry? For what?"

"I dunno. For... For being me. I know m'not always easy to be around."

Denis sighs. "Kellin, I love being around you. You're great, okay?"

"Thanks," Kellin sniffs. He promptly bends over and empties the contents of his stomach all over the sidewalk. Denis makes a small, mildly disgusted sound.

"Sorry," Kellin mumbles, throat burning as he starts to cry.

"Hey, shhh, it's okay," Denis soothes him, moving his palm in circles between his shoulders. Kellin is pretty sure he has vomit in his hair.

"T-take me home. Please, jus' take me home," Kellin cries. His voice echoes off the building.

"Let's sit down for a minute, okay?" Denis says, leading him over to the side of a stucco building and gently pushing him down.

Kellin hugs his knees to his chest and sobs. "I'm such a fuckup, Denis."

"Don't say that," Denis murmurs, sitting down. "Why do you think that?"

"I don't know, I just am. Nobody wants me. I don't belong in a gang."

"I like you, Kellin. I like you a lot. And you do belong in the Family, alright? You're one of us. You passed the initiation, and that's enough for me."

"Vic didn't want me."

"That was years ago, Kellin. And he made a huge fucking mistake by letting you go."

"But... Why didn't he want me?"

"I don't know. You should try to forget about that asshole."

''He's not an asshole," Kellin says dejectedly. "I know he isn't. He was nice to me, and..." he trails off into another sob.

Denis sighs. "Shit. Okay. Can you wait here while I go get my car?"

There's a pause, before Kellin sniffles, "Y-yeah."

"I'll be back in, like, five minutes," Denis says. getting to his feet. "Just stay here." He runs off, avoiding the puddle of puke in the middle of the sidewalk.

Kellin watches him go. His eyes blink tiredly; he feels empty from crying. Before he realizes it, he's drifting off into sleep, only to be woken a few minutes later by a hand on his shoulder.

"Let's get you home," Denis murmurs, gently shaking him. Kellin makes a noise of protest. "C'mon, let's go."

He pushes Kellin forward and steps in behind him, hooking his arms under Kellin's armpits and hoisting him up to his feet. For such a skinny guy, he's surprisingly strong.

They manage to get into the car, Kellin slumped over in the passenger seat while Denis drives the short ride to Kellin's apartment.

Denis parks, gets out and shakes him awake once more. "Let's get you inside."

Kellin groans lethargically, but stumbles out of the car nonetheless, Denis helping to support him on one side. He gropes around for his keys in his pocket and attempts to let himself into the building; he fails miserably and eventually hands them over to Denis, who smoothly unlocks the door.

It takes the two of them a good half hour to make it up the stairs and into Kellin's apartment. Denis helps him take off his shoes and jacket, then guides him into the bedroom.

Kellin shuffles over to the bed and lies down on it, already half-asleep as Denis pulls his clothes off, tucks him in and rolls him onto his side. He barely registers the kiss that lands on his temple before drifting into unconsciousness.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin wakes up the next morning with the hangover to end all hangovers, a mouth that tastes like death and a big, blurry gap in his memory where last night should have been. He remembers something about Denis kissing him and a girl named Genevieve, but other than that, it's as if someone wiped his hippocampus with a squeegee.

When he finally musters the strength to get out of bed and walk into the main room, he's greeted by an empty apartment and a note on the counter.

hey Kells, hope your hangover isn't too bad. I put you to bed and watched you until 3am so you wouldn't choke on your vomit and die. also I think i finished off your cheerios (sorry).
call me when you wake up!!
-denis the menace

Kellin gets a sinking feeling. He has got to be the shittiest friend in the whole world.

He drinks a couple glasses of water and then phones Denis, opening with "Oh my god, I am so sorry about last night," and following with "Please, never let me get that drunk ever again."

On the other end, Denis laughs. "It's fine, dude. I've been there myself quite a few times."

"You missed New Years' because of me," Kellin realizes. "Holy shitfuck. I owe you something really expensive."

"Don't worry about it," Denis says, his smile audible. "I livestreamed the ball drop on my phone while you were sleeping. It was kinda fun. Just the two of us, I mean. Although you were dead to the world and I never did get my New Years' kiss."

Kellin slaps his palm on his forehead. "I am so, so sorry. God. Tell me how I can make it up to you."

"Hmmm," Denis muses.

"I'm serious, I feel really bad."

"How about you let me tie you up?" Denis says conversationally.

"What?" Kellin's mind draws a complete blank. Why would he--? ...Oh.

"Let me tie you up and have sex with you," Denis repeats. "It'll be fun."

"You're... You're serious?"

"Dead serious. I've done it a couple times before, it was really hot."

"Wow," Kellin remarks. '"That's... Kinky." His mind is alight with the mental image of Denis tying a faceless person down, his thin, dextrous fingers tying knots--

"Are you into it?"

"...I guess," Kellin confesses. "When?"

"Tonight?"

"O-oh. That's... Soon. Um, okay. Sure. Do we need, like, rope?"

"I've got some," Denis says. "I'll come over to your place at, let's see, eight?"

"Yeah. Okay."

"See you then," he says, then hangs up.

Kellin is left staring at his phone in mild alarm. What the hell did I just agree to?

It's already eleven o'clock, which leaves him nine hours of nothing to do, so he slowly get dressed, brushes his teeth and heads over to Jack and Alex's apartment.

He barely has to knock before the door opens in his face, Jack beaming at him. "Kellin!" he exclaims, going in for a hug that Kellin reciprocates.

"Happy New Year!" Kellin grins.

'Happy New Year, indeed," Alex says with a yawn, emerging from behind Jack with a massive case of bedhead.

"So," Kellin says, stepping inside and toeing off his shoes, closing the door behind him, "What do you guys know about bondage?"

Jack and Alex exchange a long look. "Let me guess... Denis asked you."

"Maybe."

"Knew it," Jack smirks, 'That kinky bastard."

Kellin leaves their apartment at two-thirty, high as a kite and significantly more knowledgeable about bondage and sex in general. Don't get him wrong, he's been to plenty of kinky porn sites, but doing it in reality is completely new to him; once the weed wears off, he's tense with nerves up until eight, when Denis shows up with a bag of rope. He briefly wonders if it's too late to change his mind.

"You look nervous," Denis says with a grin upon seeing him. He steps forward for a kiss.

"I've never done this before," Kellin says.

"Relax. I'll take care of you, baby," Denis murmurs, kissing him again. "Do you trust me?"

"Yes."

"So trust me."

Kellin gives him a small, shy smile. "Okay."

Denis leads the way to the bedroom, bag in hand, and Kellin follows. His nerves have all but disappeared.

 

 

+

Chapter Text

"Get Ben on the phone," Vic snaps.

"But--"

"Now," Vic orders. "Get your head out of your ass and call him!"

Jesse scurries from the room, grabbing his disposable phone on his way out and dialing the rarely-used number from memory. It rings twice before someone picks up.

"Hello?"

"Vic wants to speak to Ben," Jesse says, his tone solemn.

"One minute." There's shuffling. "What does he want this time?"

"He just said to get Ben on the phone."

"Alright."

There's more shuffling and then silence. Eventually, a new, accented voice picks up: "Who is this? What do you want?"

"It's Jesse, I work for Vic. He said to get you on the phone. I'm handing you over now." He reenters the room and hands the phone to Vic, who still looks angry.

"Get out," Vic tells him, bringing the phone to his ear. Jesse immediately hurries out, only catching the words, "So, tell me what you know about Kellin Quinn." as he closes the door.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin awakes on the morning of January sixteenth in a peaceful state of mind. Denis is curled up beside him, his bare skin emanating warmth under the sheets. He yawns in tranquil contentment; it's become a routine of sorts for the two of them to hook up a couple nights a week and for Denis to stay over at Kellin's place afterwards. His phone chimes softly from it's position on his nightstand, and he rolls over to answer it, being careful not to wake Denis. On the display screen is a text from an unknown number.

vic knows you're in the family.

Kellin's stomach jumps, and he stares blankly at the message for a long moment, blinking in confusion. What? Is this some kind of sick joke?

who is this? he quickly writes back. how did you get this number?

it doesn't matter. i got it from denis' phone. all i know is that someone tipped vic off, vic talked to ben last night, and ben told him everything. figured i'd give you a heads up.

Kellin's heart skips a beat. How could Vic possibly have found out? Who would have told him?

A feeling of suspicion roils low in his gut as he rolls over and shakes Denis awake. "What do you know about this?" he asks, voice rough from sleep. He shoves the phone at Denis, who eyes him blearily.

"I… what?"

"Did you tell someone in Pierce the Veil that I'm in the Family?"

"What? No," Denis immediately insists, but the guilty look that crosses his face as he scans over the messages is proof enough.

Kellin's expression darkens - "You fucking liar! You told them?! Why the fuck would you do that?!" he explodes.

"Look, Kellin, I didn't think--"

"No, you clearly didn't think at all! What the fuck, Denis?! You went behind my back and meddled around in my life?!"

"I was tripping! I just told Justin by accident a few days ago, he must have told Tony and… and Tony probably told Vic," Denis says, not making eye contact.

"It's still your fault!" Kellin splutters, "You knew I wanted to keep this a secret!"

"I was doing you a favour! Someone would have found out eventually anyways, and--"

"And? It wasn't your place to rat me out!"

"I didn't think he would--"

"Get out of my apartment," Kellin growls. He turns and picks Denis' clothes up off the floor and shoves them at his chest. "I said get out," he spits when Denis hesitates.

"Kellin, I--"

"Get. Out."

Denis gets out and exits the room, clutching his clothes. Kellin faintly hears the front door open and close. Silence washes over him. He collapses back onto the bed and buries his face in his hands with a groan.

New policy: don't sleep with liars.

 

+ + +

 

It's no surprise when he gets a call from Ben a half hour later on his disposable phone.

"Kellin," Ben greets him, "Hope I didn't wake you up."

"No, I'm awake. I already heard about what happened."

"Ah," Ben says. "We're on the same page, then. Is Denis with you?"

"No. I got mad and kicked him out. Is he in trouble?"

Ben gives a curt laugh - "If you call 'consorting with a rival gang and giving them information' trouble, then yes. He's in a lot of fucking trouble."

Kellin feels an acrimonious kind of satisfaction settle over him at Ben's words. "So… What did you tell Vic about me?"

"That you'd joined us a while ago, and that I paid you to tell me what was going on in his gang. The truth, basically. I couldn't lie to him. He already knew about your relationship with Denis."

"I'm so unbelievably fucked," Kellin groans, rubbing his forehead. "I thought I could keep this secret, that maybe I wouldn't have to lose my good standing with the PTV guys. What the fuck was I thinking?"

"Yeah, you're kind of hooped," Ben replies. "By the way, I don't want you sleeping with Denis anymore."

Kellin sighs. "You don't have to worry about me on that end," he says. "That complete asshole. I can't believe he would…" He sighs again. "Jesus. This is a mess."

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know, I haven't decided yet. I'll keep you posted."

"Alright. Bye."

"Bye."

Kellin hangs up and stares at his phone for a minute. What the fuck is he supposed to do now? His first thought is to call someone for advice, but who? He obviously can't go talk to Denis. Jack, Alex or CC would all be unhelpful with something serious like this.

Kellin sighs and gets out of bed. He pulls on clothes and brushes his teeth on autopilot, grabbing his keys and leaving the apartment shortly after.

It's a long walk to Oli and Josh's apartment. Kellin does a lot of thinking on the way over, his hands shoved in his sweater pockets and his head bowed low. He feels guilty for keeping a massive secret from the Pierce the Veil guys, and now it's come back to bite him in the ass. It's not like he's been hanging out with them a lot lately anyways, but simply knowing that half of his friends have probably just been cut off forever plunges him into a dark mood.

When he gets to the building, he waits outside for a long time before pressing the intercom button. The other end picks up almost immediately.

"Hello?" Oli asks.

He takes a deep breath. "It's Kellin."

There's silence. "Give me one good reason why I should let you up," Oli finally says, his voice cold.

"Just let me explain, okay?"

"I don't know. I don't really have time to talk to people who join rival gangs without telling me."

Kellin sighs. "I didn't want to lose our friendship, okay? I didn't think it was that big of a deal."

"'That big of a deal'?" Oli scoffs, "You went and joined the one group of people that are threatening to try to overtake my family! I don't exactly feel inclined to pity you right now."

Kellin looks down at his shoes. "I'm sorry, alright? I'm sorry."

"Sorry doesn't fix anything. You're in the Family for life, you know that? You can't undo this." There's a long, pregnant pause. "Don't come back here. I can't be your friend anymore." He hangs up, leaving Kellin standing in front of the building in shock.

For the first time, the gravity of his situation comes to fully rest on his shoulders.

He walks home in a state of disbelief, feeling cut off from everyone; once he gets back to his apartment, he grabs his headphones, plugs in the angriest song he can find and curls up into a ball underneath the covers of his bed.

Kellin stays like that for a good three hours. He drifts in and out of sleep, bizarre, half-dreams about Denis and Oli running around in his head. When he finally gets up to go eat something, joints creaking, he feels dazed and unsure. In one day, he's managed to lose both his almost-boyfriend and half of all his friends; What the fuck am I supposed to do now? he asks himself, rubbing his eyes.

He checks his phone. On the lock screen is a message from CC dated thirteen minutes ago.

just heard about what happened. sorry. you wanna talk abt it??

nah, Kellin texts back, I just want to get drunk. or high. or both. i need to jst forget for awhile

CC replies almost immediately: come over to my place, the message reads.

k. I'll be over in half an hr.

Kellin slides the phone back into his pocket and grabs his keys, heading for the door. He doesn't feel like walking, so he calls a cab that arrives a few short minutes later, giving the driver CC's address. The ride over is short, and Kellin quickly pays the driver and gets out.

The minute CC's door opens, he is enveloped in a hug. "'M sorry, man."

"It's fine," Kellin says gruffly. "It's just like you said, right? I couldn't keep it a secret forever."

"Don't even get me started on Denis," CC practically growls as he steps back. "That fucking crackhead bitch can get whatever's coming to him."

"What an asshole," Kellin agrees, shaking his head. He inhales deeply. "Let's just get drunk, okay? I haven't had anything to drink for ages."

"You said it, not me," CC grins. "Come on in, man, take your coat off and stay awhile." Kellin does as he's told, stripping out of his jacket and leaving it in a heap on top of his shoes. CC is already pulling out bottles of god knows what and placing two waiting glasses on the counter. "You'll stay the night?"

"Yeah, if that's okay."

"You know it is man," CC replies, filling both glasses with a tiny amount of some kind of clear liquid. "Cocoroco," he explains. "From Bolivia. 96% alcohol content. Don't question, just drink."

 

+ + +

 

For a split second as he wakes up, Kellin feels like nothing is wrong in the world.

Until, that is, he opens his eyes, his throbbing headache makes itself known and he remembers that Denis completely screwed him over to Pierce the Veil. He looks around confusedly for a moment before realizing that he's on CC's couch, and some memories of the previous night come back.

His dark mood feels even darker than usual as he gets up to piss, his head spinning and gut threatening to upset itself. He almost vomits, but recovers at the last second. Once he's done, he quietly pokes around the apartment, finding CC stretched out facedown like a starfish on the bedroom floor in only his boxers.

Kellin gently prods him with one toe. "CC? You alive?"

"Mmmrff," comes a garbled reply. "Who--? Wha--?"

"It's Kellin. Are you awake?"

"Oh. Mm. Yeah, I'm here," CC says, rolling over onto his back.

Kellin sits down cross-legged beside him. "What the fuck am I supposed to do now?" he sighs. "The Pierce the Veil guys hate my guts."

"It's not the end of the world," CC sleepily tells him, "You still have us, remember? We're not going anywhere."

"Yeah," Kellin says. He picks at a loose thread on his jeans. "It's stupid of me to be so hung up on this, I know. It's just… I've known them since I was seventeen. I guess I thought I would always have them."

"Hey, it's not stupid," CC frowns, "It's perfectly reasonable to be sad."

Kellin says, "Yeah, I guess. Hey, I think I'm going to go home now, okay?"

"Okay," CC mumbles, closing his eyes. "It's pool night tonight, I better see you there," he calls as Kellin exits the room.

"We'll see," Kellin says back. He puts on his coat and shoes and quietly leaves the apartment. He doesn't feel like going home, so he walks a few blocks south until he finds a bus stop. He only has to wait a few minutes before a bus pulls up; he embarks, handing over pocket change in exchange for a ticket.

Kellin zones out and rides the bus North for a while, to an unfamiliar part of town. He gets off and briefly thanks the bus driver as he steps out onto the sidewalk. He looks around for a landmark to judge where he is, but can't seem to find one, so he walks down the street.

God. Why the fuck did Denis have to go and spill the beans? Kellin curses. The betryal stings sharply in his gut. And to think I trusted him. He dejectedly scuffs his feet along the pavement as he walks.

He gets about five blocks South before he runs into a group of men walking the opposite direction. All four of them are peering at him in apparent disapproval, and he crosses the street to avoid scrutiny. When he looks back over his shoulder, they're following him. Kellin increases his walking speed, his heart beginning to pound.

"Hey!" one of the men calls from behind him, "Hey!" Kellin feigns ignorance and keeps going, his pace approaching a jog. "Slow down, asshole, we need to talk!"

When he realizes they aren't going to stop pursuing him, he slows down and turns around. The speaker is a thin man with short brown hair, close-set brown eyes and faint stubble. "What the fuck are you doing here?" he demands.

"I-I was just… I don't know. I took the bus?" Kellin replies, holding his hands up as if in surrender.

"Yeah. A Likely story," an Asian man chimes in from behind him.

"I'm… what?" Kellin says, his tone confused. There's a tense pause. Kellin feels like he's being stared down. "Am I not supposed to be here?"

"No, you're not," the first man says, crossing his arms. "I'll give you ten minutes to get the fuck out of our territory, or you're getting shot. I'm not selling wolf tickets."

"What?" Kellin asks, alarmed, "I didn't mean to--"

"Get out. You won't be as lucky next time we find you snooping around our kingdom," a man with lighter-brown hair snarls.

The first man steps forward and spits at Kellin's feet. "Tell the Prophet to keep his underlings away from us, or there'll be consequences."

"I-I…," Kellin mumbles, slowly backing away.

"Scram!" the Asian man yells.

He starts to run. He keeps running away until the men are a speck in the distance, then turns a corner and stops to catch his breath, slumped along the side of a brick building.

What the fuck was that?

He pulls out his phone and opens Google Maps, quickly finding his location, which is a dismaying distance from home. He sends a quick text to CC.

i think i almost just died
i wandered into someone's territory and they threatened to shoot me

CC replies two minutes later, once Kellin's breathing has calmed down a bit.

DUDE WTF??????????????? did u run away???????

yeah um they let me go with a warning?

who was it? CC texts, where are you???

uh…..somewhere up north, idfk

omg
that's the romans' territory
holy shit youre lucky 2 be in one piece man!!! they hate the family's guts

Kellin writes back, jesus fuck. i gotta get home now
bye

He shakes his head and straightens up, leaning up against the hard brick wall as he dials a taxi for the second time in twenty four hours. His hands are trembing. He needs to get out of here. Now.

 

+ + +

 

Unsurprisingly, Kellin's run-in with the Romans doesn't come without a cost. Andy himself comes knocking later that day around seven.

He starts with "Why were you in their territory?"

"I didn't know, I swear," Kellin defends himself, ushering Andy inside. "I didn't mean to, I just spaced out on the bus and when I got off, well."

There's a pause. "It's partially our fault," Andy says with a sigh, "I guess we should have warned you. You know, not to cross into rival gangs' boundaries. I thought it was common sense."

"Sorry," Kellin wilts, glancing down at his shoes. God. How stupid can I get? On second thought, he asks, "How did they know who I was? How did they recognize me?"

"Ben told them when you joined - they must have known what you looked like from the news. It's a part of our truce. We don't bother them, they don't bother us, everybody wins."

"Oh."

"Yeah. We've worked long and hard to get on good terms with them, but all it takes is one step out of line and we'll be back to war."

Kellin exhales. "Shit. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do anything wrong."

"We know that," Andy says with a polite smile. He arches one eyebrow. "So, about that special request I gave you a while ago - we don't need to worry about that anymore, seeing as we know Denis is the mole. So. Thanks for your help."

"Y-you're welcome, I guess."

"Are you coming to pool night?" Andy asks, pointing over at the door with one thumb. "I can give you a ride."

"Oh. I don't know. I.. I don't think I'm going to come this time. Y'know, 'cause me and Denis were on a team and all that."

Andy waves a hand and says, "Nonsense. Jinxx got eliminated last time, didn't he? Get him to be on your team instead." At Kellin's hesitant expression, he adds, "C'mon, grab your coat. I'll drive you over."

A few minutes later, Kellin finds himself sitting in the passenger seat of a sleek, expensive-looking black car, cruising down the streets of San Diego as some rap album plays softly.

"So how are you doing?" Andy eventually asks.

"Oh, I'm good." There's a pause. "Well, I'm okay."

"I'm sorry about what happened, if it means anything."

Kellin tries to hide his surprise. "Thanks. It's just…" he sighs, "I don't know. It's kinda like, um. It's hard." When Andy doesn't say anything, he keeps talking to fill the silence between them. "It's like having a painting that you take off the wall and pack away, right? And you never see it again after that. And then one day, someone takes it away and now all you want is to have that fucking painting back on your wall again." He shuts up, embarrassed of his word vomit. As he stops to consider what he just said, he realizes it's true.

There's a pause in which Andy laughs a little, repositioning his hand on the steering wheel. "I see where you're coming from. It must be hard for you, huh? To have known them for so long, and now they're gone?"

"Yeah." Kellin looks straight ahead at the car in front of them. "I really hate Denis at the moment."

"That makes two of us. I never had high expectations for him, but I was hoping he'd clean up his act."

"What's going to happen to him?"

Andy shrugs slightly. "It's mostly up to Ben, seeing as Denis was an original member of the Alexandria Family and not the Brides. I have some input, though. He might be put on a probation of some sort."

"So you're not going to kick him out?"

"No, probably not. We'll probably rough him up, dock his pay and hope that teaches him a lesson. Killing him would be a last resort."

Kellin lets out a nervous laugh as he tries to figure out whether Andy is joking or not. "You're… You're serious?"

"Yeah. It hardly ever happens."

"Hardly as in…?"

"It hasn't happened since our gangs merged," Andy extrapolates. "He'll be fine. If he really doesn't get the message, we'll kick him out and see how long he lasts on his own. As it is, everyone knows what went down, so his reputation will never be the same. I doubt the guys will be very friendly towards him after this."

By now, Kellin feels significantly less victorious. "I never meant for him to… to have to go through that."

"I know," Andy says, looking over at him. "I know. You seem like a good guy, Kellin. But Denis made his own choices, and those choices have their own consequences. You should bear in mind that you're not really to blame for any of this."

"It feels like I am," Kellin admits.

Andy shrugs and says, "He would've gotten caught sooner or later. He just… took you down with him."

The two of them pull up around the back of the usual bar shortly after. Kellin gets out of the car and smooths down the front of his shirt somewhat nervously, fiddling with the hem.

"Coming?" Andy asks, locking the car and heading toward the building. Kellin follows.

They push through the doors together. Kellin is immediately assaulted with shouts of welcome, the other members crowding around him and Andy as they enter.

"Sorry about what happened," Zack is the first to address him, Rian clapping him on the shoulder.

"I don't want to say I knew it, but man, I started to get a bad vibe from Denis about a year ago," Sam chimes in. "I was hoping it was just the drugs." This elicits some laughter.

Ashley says something to Andy, then grins over at him - "You don't need Pierce the Veil anymore, man. You got us!"

A cheer goes up, and Kellin grins widely back. "Thanks, guys. Thanks."

"So, Jinxx, will you fill in on Kellin's team?" he hears Andy ask, to which the reply is "I'd be honoured."

Someone organizes the balls into a triangle and the game starts shortly after. Kellin is terrible at pool, so it's no surprise when he and Jinxx lose and get eliminated from the tournament.

"Good game," Havok congratulates him with a smile, pool cue in hand. Behind him, Jade gives a slight nod. "Hey, I really am sorry about what Denis did," Havok says, lowering his voice and giving Kellin a meaningful look. "If you ever want to talk, my door's always open."

"Oh… Thanks," Kellin responds. "Thanks, man. That's really kind of you."

Havok chuckles. "Let me buy you a drink. To show my good sportsmanship."

"I didn't think anyone actually bought anything around here," Kellin says, looking over at the empty bar.

"Oh yeah, it's part of our agreement with the owner. We get one night a week with no staff or customers, and in exchange, Claire gets to keep all her limbs intact. Andy and Ben pay her off for our drinks and all the shit we break, of course. Think of it as us renting the place out."

Kellin raises his eyebrows in a show of interest. "Sounds illegal."

"Very," Havok replies with a grin.

Kellin gets buzzed that night, but not trashed. He politely declines Cameron's offer for a nightcap in favour of getting a ride back to his apartment - he feels completely drained, both emotionally and physically.

As he falls asleep around two AM, a sense of foreboding comes over him. He knows this isn't the end of his ties to Pierce the Veil.

 

+

Chapter Text

When Andy starts the phone call off with "we need to talk", Kellin knows it's going to be a bad day.

"What's up?" he asks with a sinking feeling. "Am I in trouble?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that. I just need to discuss some things with you. Preferably as soon as possible. I'm actually on my way over to your place right now."

"Oh," Kellin says in mild surprise. "Well, okay. I'll, um, I'll meet you out in front."

"Bye."

The line disconnects with a click, leaving Kellin to hurriedly throw on a coat and hat before exiting his apartment. He takes the stairs two at a time. What does he want to talk about? he wonders, Did I do something wrong?

He only has to stand outside the building for five or so minutes before Andy's car pulls up in front, Andy himself motioning for Kellin to get in.

"Hey. What's up? How are you?" Kellin asks as soon as he's situated in the passenger seat.

"I'm good, I'm good," Andy nods.

"So, what did you want to talk to me about?"

Andy hums, thoughtfully crossing his arms in front of the steering wheel. "Alright, don't freak out, okay?"

"Uh, okay," Kellin warily agrees. There's a brief pause filled with uncomfortable eye contact. Kellin stares back into Andy's blue eyes and feels vaguely disconcerted.

"So… Here's the deal," Andy finally sighs. "We're meeting up with Pierce the Veil to discuss boundaries tonight, and Ben wants you to be there."

Kellin sits in stunned silence for a long moment. "But… What? Me? Why?"

"Well. It's mostly a show of strength, or at least I assume," Andy shrugs. "He insisted that you come. It's not really a choice, but I figured I would at least give you some time to prepare."

"Holy shit," Kellin says, leaning back. "Um. What? I haven't seen Vic in… a long time." He thinks for a second, about how things just went down between him and Pierce the Veil. "Who's all going?"

"From the Family, it's me, Ben, CC, Havok, James and you - Ashley would normally come, but he's got a big deal going down, so CC is coming instead. Oh yeah, and from PTV, it's Vic, Mike, Jaime, Austin, Josh and Justin."

Kellin feels taken aback. He looks down at his hands, which have started tensely tapping his thigh of their own accord. "That's… a lot of people. What exactly is this all about?"

"The Family wants PTV's territory, and they don't want to give it to us. This is our last attempt at peaceful negotiation before we resort to desperate measures. So. Are you in?"

"I thought you said it wasn't a choice."

"It isn't," Andy smirks. "This is kind of a big deal for a peewee like you to come to such a serious meeting, so I trust you not to fuck things up."

"O-okay," Kellin nods, "Where is this? What am I supposed to do?"

"We're heading to Pierce the Veil's territory, to Austin's house. You just have to sit back and let us do the talking. Don't speak unless spoken to. Don't hunch in on yourself, don't play with your hands, don't look nervous, don't look scared, don't avoid eye contact. Own it."

Kellin bites his lip. "I don’t… I don't know if this is such a good idea."

"Of course it is. Believe it or not, Ben has been at this for a while. He knows what he's doing." Andy's expression softens marginally. "You'll be fine, okay? I know it's short notice, but Ben wouldn't have insisted on bringing you if he didn't think you could handle it."

"I guess," Kellin shrugs.

"You'll be fine," Andy repeats. "Trust me. This is nothing but a peaceful negotiation between two parties with a mutual best interest. Nothing is going to get out of hand. It'll be less than twenty minutes at most."

"Okay." Silence fills the air. "So, I'm gonna back upstairs and process this. Is someone going to come pick me up tonight, or what?"

"Yeah, we're all taking an SUV over. It's at eleven, so we'll pick you up around ten forty five or so."

"Okay." Kellin cracks the door. "Uh, thanks for the warning, man."

"Yeah, no problem," Andy calls as Kellin gets out. "See you tonight, brother!"

Kellin shuts the door and watches as Andy pulls out and drives away, sticking his hands in his coat pockets. He's mostly wondering why Ben wants him to come - a power move? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? This all feels very sudden.

It's two in the afternoon, so he has a long time to mentally prepare. His mind immediately goes to who he can ask for advice, but since Jack and Alex are both at work, CC is on a deal until four, and he hasn't seen - much less spoken to - Denis since the incident last week. Kellin turns to head inside, pulling out his phone as he goes; he absently scrolls through his contacts, but finds no one he wants to confide in at the moment.

As much as his first instinctive reaction is to either get high or take a nap, he steels his will and decides to be productive. Which means baking.

Not like I have anything else to do until ten-thirty, he justifies his actions as he lets himself back into his apartment and takes off his coat, trying his best to ignore the hard knot that has begun to develop in the pit of his stomach at the prospect of meeting with the exact few people he never wants to see him again. Let's see…

He pulls up a recipe for chocolate muffins on his phone, double-checking that he has all the ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa and butter are almost the first things he buys when he gets paid, other than rent). Before he starts, he fires off a quick text to CC:

hey I know youre busy rn but text me when you get this ok?? thx

He sighs aloud into the empty apartment, feeling incredibly alone.

And to think that only last week he had been thinking of asking Denis to move in with him.

 

+ + +

 

CC texts back once he's taking the last tray of muffins out of the oven.

this is about the meeting isnt it?

yeah, Kellin types in reply. andy told me this aftnoon. Im like terrified for it… :-/

His phone pings again two minutes later. hey dont sweat it buddy youll be fine!!! Its gonna be a really short meeting this time anyways lol, ben knows what hes doing

I guess, Kellin reluctantly agrees. I just. I havent seen vic in a reeeally long time and I know he hates me now (even more than before haha). He adds a laughing emoji to downplay his anxiety.

dont beat urself up. youll be a-ok.

Kellin wishes he could believe him.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin hates job interviews. Or, more accurately, the feeling right before one.

This is what that feels like; the tight bundle of nerves caught in his throat, the clammy palms and the feeling that he's about to fuck up his entire future.

"Relax," CC says from beside him, poking his bicep.

"I can practically hear your heart beating from here," Havok says from the row of seats in front of them, "You're gonna do great. Just don't say anything and you're golden, okay? It'll be fine."

Kellin lets out a nervous laugh. He wants to calm down, but his brain doesn't seem to be getting the message.

"Seriously," James twists to look him in the eye, "Just stand behind us and be quiet, and there's absolutely nothing that can go wrong."

Some evil, evil part of Kellin's brain starts picturing everything that could possibly go wrong. The list is… extensive. "Thanks, guys," he says in spite of himself, already picturing the distasteful look that's going to be on Vic's face in about five minutes.

Jesus Christ. Who in the history of fuck decided this was a good idea?

He settles for nervously twisting his hands together in his lap and bouncing his knee, unable to stop fidgeting in the face of such a nerve-wracking event. The SUV enters a fairly run-down residential-looking neighbourhood, and his anxiety levels skyrocket as he realizes they're getting close. "Guys, I'm freaking out," he vocalizes.

"There's nothing to worry about," Andy says from the passenger seat. "We're just a dozen guys having a chat. It's completely normal."

Ben looks at him in the rearview mirror and says, "You'll be fine, Quinn."

Despite the reassurance, Kellin's heart continues to pound. He's starting to feel lightheaded at the prospect of having to see the Pierce the Veil guys - especially Vic, Mike and Jaime.

When Ben announces, "We're here," and the car rolls to a stop, Kellin almost pukes from nerves. Everyone starts to get out. He follows on slightly unsteady legs, keeping close to CC and staying in the middle of the pack as the six of them walk up the front path to the little, unkempt brown house with a white picket fence.

"CC, I don't think I can--" he starts urgently.

Havok turn and lightly grips his shoulder. "You're fine, okay? You're in the most powerful gang in the room. Nothing's going to happen to you. Everything is fine."

"Take a few deep breaths," CC advises as Andy opens the door and enters the house. The group follows him in, single-file, with Kellin near the back trying to avoid a panic attack. He should have told Andy he was sick.

Once inside, Kellin obediently wipes his feet on the welcome mat. The inside of the house is plain, with olive-green walls, but he's is too tense to really pay attention to the décor.

"Hello," says a curt voice. It's one that Kellin hasn't heard in four years.

"Hey, Austin," Ben greets the tall man. Kellin can just make out the shape of the two men cordially shaking hands over the heads of the guys in front of him. His heart drops into his stomach as the reality of his current predicament sets in. His fight-or-flight instinct seems to rear its head, and he debates running away.

"Let's get this show on the road," Austin finally says, "C'mon in. Everyone's waiting at the table."

He leads them farther into the house, where there's an open floor plan with a large table and five men seated around it. He swallows his fear as he catches a glimpse of Vic at the head of the table, Mike and Jaime standing on either side of him, Josh seated to his left and an unfamiliar man on his right. Austin rounds the gathering to stand behind Josh.

The Family fans out around the table, and Kellin somewhat hides behind James and Havok until Andy grabs his arm and drags him to his side. Vic's face hardens when he sees Kellin, a flash of anger seeming to flicker across his otherwise composed features. Behind him, Mike's jaw clenches. Jaime's expression remains carefully neutral.

Kellin looks over to Andy, who has the trace of a smirk on his mouth. "Gentlemen," he greets the table.

Vic nods. "Let's get this over with, shall we?" He looks smaller and more tired than usual, with dark circles under his dark, emotionless eyes.

"What, no introductions?" Kellin hears CC mutter jokingly.

"Why the fuck did you bring that traitor?" Mike spits, his eyes locked on Kellin like a snake hunting its prey. Vic's hand shoots up to stop him from saying anything more.

"Why does anyone do anything?" Ben counters. "He's one of us, he has every right to be here."

Mike practically growls, but Vic lowers his hand. "That's enough," he says simply. "So, in the interest of saving time, just tell me again what it is that you want."

"As mentioned earlier, we want a part of your territory," Andy steps in. "Specifically, what's now the neutral strip and a few miles East. We're willing to debate on specifics once you agree."

Kellin watches Vic's metaphorical hackles rise, his gaze growing tough as he crosses his arms. "How many miles?"

"Between ten and fifteen to start," Ben says.

"And if I say no?"

"Well," Ben shrugs faux-casually, letting silence fall. "Then I guess we'll have to come take what's rightfully ours."

The Pierce the Veil side of the table immediately erupts into loud disagreement, yelling insults, and the Family bristles but doesn't fight back. Ben and Andy both look unperturbed. Vic is the only one silent.

"Bullshit, it's rightfully yours!" Mike shouts. "We fought hard for that land!"

"Vic, you're on the out," Ben calmly says over the din, "You're not the biggest and baddest around here anymore. You're running on borrowed time and you know it - you just can't compete with the Family like you used to, not since Andy and I joined together."

"Quiet!" Vic finally shouts, his tone angry, "Everyone, shut the fuck up. And you," he says frostily, pointing to Ben, '"Don't tell me what I can and can't do. I've thought about this for a few months, and my answer hasn't changed."

Andy raises an eyebrow. "And that would be…?"

"No." He says it with certainty, looking confidently ahead.

Andy nods and sighs. "I assumed as much. We didn't want to have to do this the hard way, but--"

"But what?" Jaime chimes in, "Then don't do it. You already have more territory than us to start with."

"We need to expand our kingdom," Havok replies, shaking his head. "Our clientele is growing everyday and--"

"Get out," Vic says, waving a hand. When no one moves, he says, "Get them out, guys. I've had enough."

The Pierce the Veil portion rises and starts towards them, effectively escorting them from the premises. Mike grips Kellin's arm and hisses in his ear, "You fucking traitor."

He practically shoves Kellin out the door, his face angry. Behind him, Jaime just looks hurt.

"Well, that went well," James says cheerfully once they're in the van and on the road. Kellin bows his head. "What's the plan now?"

"We'll see," Andy says ominously.

 

+ + +

 

Another week passes, and nothing out of the ordinary happens, except for that on Tuesday, Andy tells everyone that pool that night is cancelled. That's in itself is unusual; since Kellin has started going to the bar every Tuesday night, they have never once missed a day, no matter who shows up.

Kellin frowns at the message, but it's not like he's heartbroken or anything.

hey, do you know why pool is cancelled tonight?? he texts Havok out of curiosity.

I can't say, comes the cryptic response a few minutes later.

lol ok, Kellin types back.

He should have known that wouldn't be the end.

The ball drops at two forty-eight AM the next morning, in a text message from the same unknown number as before:

gabe is dead. i hope you're happy.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin dials with shaking fingers, almost dropping his phone as he hits the green call button. The other end picks up on the second ring.

"Prophet here, what's up?"

"Andy, what happened?" Kellin asks, trying to keep the panic out of his voice. "Did… Is someone dead?" There's silence and a crackling sound on the other end. "Andy, tell me what happened," he says, voice shaking despite himself.

"How did you know?" Andy says, "Who told you?"

Kellin's hand flies up to cover his mouth. There's silence. "Oh my god, who did you kill?"

"No one. Just a dealer."

"Someone is dead?" Kellin repeats in disbelief. "Oh my god, Andy, what the fuck did you do?"

"Who's that?" someone asks in the background. It sounds like Ashley.

Andy sighs and says, "Relax, it was just a drive-by. Happens all the time."

Kellin clutches the phone in an iron grin. "Andy, someone died!" he chokes out, "That's kind of a big deal!"

"You know what, I don't have time for this. Call me back when you've calmed down."

Andy hangs up, leaving him with silence as he sits in bed in the dark. He feels like crying from the bombshell. Someone died, he thinks to himself, someone is dead and I'm involved and-- No. Stop it. Calm the fuck down.

Kellin hardly registers getting out of bed and walking to Jack and Alex's apartment fifteen minutes later, knocking on the door until his knuckles hurt and there's shuffling from inside.

"Would you kindly shut the fuck up!?" a woman yells faintly from the apartment next door. "It's three in the fucking morning!"

The door finally opens, revealing a boxer-clad Alex blinking drowsily at him through the silhouette of light that is the doorway. "Kellin? The f--What? Are you… okay?"

"They killed someone," Kellin blurts out. "Alex, they killed someone--"

"Shhh," Alex chastises him, pulling him into the apartment and shutting the door. "What happened?"

"They killed someone," Kellin repeats. "Alex, they-- they murdered someone."

"Who's dead?" Alex tentatively asks.

"Some guys named Gabe, I got a text-- The Family did a drive-by and now he's dead, and I phoned Andy and he-- and he--"

"Alex? Babe, who is it?" Jack calls from the direction of the bedroom, his voice croaky.

Alex folds Kellin into a hug. "Hey, it's okay," he says, rubbing his back, "Deep breaths. It's fine."

Kellin takes a shuddering inhale. "It's not fine, Alex, someone is dead, and I--" He's about three seconds away from bursting into tears. "Alex, I don't want to-- These people, they aren't… I don't--"

"You don't what?"

"I-I don't belong in a place where people kill each other," Kellin finally manages, furiously blinking back tears. "Selling drugs and guns is different, I didn't think they would actually--" He sniffles, burying his head in his hands and breathing deeply in order to try and calm down. "Alex, I'm freaking out, I can't fucking--"

Jack drowsily shuffles into the room. "Kellin? What's up? What happened?"

"S-some guy named Gabe from Pierce the Veil, he's dead and I don't know him but now he's gone. He might've had a family, or a girlfriend, or…" Alex pulls his hands away from his face and leads him over to the couch, gently pushes him into a sitting position. He and Jack take a seat on either side of him. "I can't believe they would. I just. He's gone forever and it's all their fault--"

Alex rubs his shoulders. "I know it's hard the first time, but you'll get used to it. People die when gangs are involved."

"I don't-- I don't want to get used to it," Kellin shakes his head, "I don't want to be like them. I knew they weren't really good people, but I thought they were… I-I don't know. Right now I don't even know why I thought joining the Family was a good idea." He leans forward, letting his hair fall in a curtain that covers his face.

"Kellin…" Jack starts, "You have to toughen up a little." Alex shoots him a strong look. "What? It's true! He needs to have a harder shell if he's going to survive out there." He looks down at Kellin. "You're on the winning side right now, and that's what matters the most. You don't belong to Pierce the Veil anymore - you have to stop worrying about them and look out for your own best interests."

Alex sighs. "He kind of has a point, Kells."

"I'm sorry I woke you guys up," Kellin says after a long, considering pause, straightening up. "I… I didn't know who else to talk to."

"It's fine," Jack assures him, yawning. "You wanna spend the rest of the night?"

Kellin shakes his head no. "I'm fine. Really," he insists at their worried gazes, "I-I'll be okay. I just have to… I have to wrap my head around this, y'know?"

"Yeah, we know," Alex says. "People dying is hard on the best of us. I remember the first time someone died in front of me; it damn near tore me apart. It took me years to get over it." He claps Kellin on the shoulder. "Now that you've calmed down a bit, you should go get some sleep, okay? Things will seem better in the morning."

"Okay," Kellin numbly agrees.

"You're gonna be just fine," Jack says, patting him on the head.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin barely manages to make it out of bed the next morning - he probably wouldn't have gotten up at all if it wasn't for someone knocking at his door.

He used to be a pretty deep sleeper, before he came back to San Diego and started talking with the Family. He used to fall asleep quickly, with the family cat snugly curled up at the end of the bed; now, it feels like the only time he has a really good sleep is when he's drunk or high.

He misses that damn cat.

Kellin opens the door cautiously to see who it is, not undoing the latch just yet. It's CC.

"Hey, man. Andy told me you found out and freaked out. He told me to come make sure you're okay."

"I'm fine," Kellin says neutrally.

CC awkwardly rocks back and forth on his toes. "Can I… come in? Just for a visit?"

Kellin looks at him for a long moment, then relents. "Yeah." He closes the door and unlocks it before opening it again, letting CC in. He eyes his friend with a new suspicion. Can he trust him? Can he trust anybody? He thought Andy was an okay person, but apparently that's not even the case. Murder tends to have a way of revealing one's true character. "CC, be real with me, okay? Tell me who's responsible for Gabe."

CC looks hesitant, and he avoids eye contact. "I know Ben and Andy ordered the hit," he finally admits. "I don't know who actually carried it out, I just know there were a few guys in a car, and they went past a street corner where he was selling, and… Well, you know."

"Yeah, I know." Kellin feels sick to his stomach. "Were you there?"

"No. Havok told me after," CC says, shrugging in a helpless gesture. "I didn't know they were going to do that, okay? I didn't. Fuck." He rubs his forehead. "We haven't had beef with Pierce the Veil like this since the Brides murdered their leader that time, and now the police are involved and shit. We got a tip-off that some douchebag Detective Escamilla is going to come poking around soon. This is such a mess."

"It'll be okay," Kellin tries to comfort him, his words sounding hollow, "I just… God. I'm so angry and upset and I don't even know what to do with myself, CC, I can’t believe they actually killed someone…" he trails off.

CC's tone is soft when he speaks. "I know what you're feeling. I know it hurts and you're probably feeling guilty, and sad, and-- and scared. I've been there. But you gotta have faith in Andy and Ben, alright? They know what they're doing. They wouldn't just kill someone and start a war for fun."

"A war?" Kellin echoes. "CC, are you for real? How serious is this?"

CC sighs and says, "It's not looking good. Pierce the Veil can't just let us kill one of their guys and let is slide, even if it was just a dealer. They're going to come after us with a vengeance."

"Fucking shit. We have to do something, we have to--"

"We have to wait and see what Ben and Andy tell us to do," CC interrupts him with a somber look. "I guess it wasn't explained to you when you joined, but whatever you do, your first priority is to follow their orders."

"Even if that means killing someone?"

"Yeah," CC responds. The two of them stand there in heavy silence for a long minute. "I've got a deal going on in half an hour, you wanna come with?" CC eventually offers. "It's just a little crack."

"Yeah, okay," Kellin accepts. He turns and opens the closet, pushing coats aside until he finds what he's looking for. "Hey, here's your leather jacket, by the way," he says, holding out the garment. "I borrowed it when I got initiated, remember?"

CC looks at it for a long time. "Keep it," he grins. "I didn't even miss it. Plus, leather is a good look on you."

 

+

Chapter Text

A few more days pass, and Kellin doesn't get into contact with anyone from the Family except CC. After what happened with Gabe, he feels like he can't trust anyone anymore.

What the fuck would his parents think if they knew he was hanging out with murderers for a living? They kicked him out for partying too much, for God's sakes. It's been almost a year since he last got into contact with them, but he doesn't even feel that bad about it. If they wanted him in their lives, they could have called him once. Communication is a two-way street.

It's not like Kellin prides himself on being a respectable young gentleman or anything, it's just that he doesn't really want to get involved with cold-blooded killers. A part of him wonders if it's already too late - Oli's parting words hang in his head. "You're in the Family for life, you know that? You can't undo this."

Kellin mostly fills his days by taking long walks around the city, always increasing in radius each day but staying far away from the edges of anyone else's territory; he doesn't intimately know the Romans, and he doesn't really want to. (Things might seem bad, but he's still not suicidal. The last thing he needs right now is a bullet in his skull.) He also does laundry, cleans his apartment, naps, and goes shopping for various furnishings. He's now the proud owner of a tall lamp and an Ikea bookshelf.

He feels a little bit guilty for ditching out of Family get-togethers, but CC assures him he's not missing much. "We just drank and talked, man. It was average. Everyone misses you, though. They were all asking if you were okay and stuff."

Kellin sighs. "I'm sorry, dude. I just can't be around them, you know? Not right after…" he trails off.

The two of them are sitting in a bustling mom-and-pop café, a steaming cup of coffee in front of each of them.

CC nods in a gesture of I get you. "I'm just worried," he confesses, his voice low. "It's been, what, five days? And PTV still haven't retaliated against us. I'm starting to think they might be plotting something." He takes a sip of coffee.

"Like what?"

"I don't know, that's the thing. Vic isn't the kind of guy to forgive and forget, not with something like this."

"Maybe he's too afraid to seek vengeance, like, maybe he already knows he's beat."

CC shakes his head. "Nah. No way, not when one of his boys is dead."

There's a comfortable silence between them. Kellin plays with a sugar packet for a full minute, glancing around the café, at all the people going innocently about their days. "I'm still trying to fully comprehend the fact that my friends killed someone," he finally vocalizes. He sighs and says, "Maybe it's not weird for you, or, like, it's normal, or whatever. You said you understood what I was feeling, does that mean…?"

"Yeah, I've been there." There's a pause, and CC leans in, lowering his voice. "Do you…? Okay, I don't really tell people this, but. My, um. I had this girlfriend who used to be an addict, right? Real bad. Heroin, fentanyl, anything she could get her hands on. I used to do a lot more drugs back then," he waves a hand. Kellin nods for him to continue. "Anyways, we were getting pretty serious at that point and I was going to ask her to, uh, cut down on her using a bit." He clears his throat before carrying on. "So one night, I come home from this party and she's in the bathroom. Like, the light's on and the door's locked. I call out to her a few times and there's no answer, so I start knocking, right? But she still doesn't say anything. Man, I started freaking out. I started wailing on that door. I eventually knocked it right off the hinges and I rush in and the shower curtain's pulled closed so I just stand there, crying, 'cause I know what's gonna be on the other side." CC sniffs and wipes his nose. "I finally pull it back and she's there, lying in the bathtub in her clothes, her face under water and the needle still in her neck." He offers Kellin a weak smile. "So… Yeah. That's the short and sweet of it. I'm-- I know what you're feeling. Death is weird, man."

Kellin sits there in silence, his brain trying to catch up. "Woah."

CC looks down at his coffee cup. "Yeah. The worst part is, I didn't even phone the paramedics right away. I just… grabbed my shit from the apartment and found a payphone down the street. I never looked back."

Kellin stares at him for a long moment. "And you're… you're okay?"

"Yeah," CC shrugs, "You get used to it. I've made my peace. We all die, just some of us sooner than others."

Kellin shakes his head in bewilderment. "Holy fuck, man. That's some heavy shit." He takes another sip of coffee.

"That's pretty much why I don't really do drugs anymore. It really fucked with my head. I don't want to end up like her - in some cold, dark morgue with no family to come claim my body."

"I'm so, so sorry."

"Nah, don't be," CC says, back to grinning. The somber mood seems to have passed like a raincloud. "Everyone's got a different sob story - that one just happens to be mine. I've still got plenty of time to find someone to settle down with."

Kellin smiles back. "Yeah? That's awesome, man. They'd be a lucky person."

"Thanks," CC ducks his head. "You too, dude. Anyone would be lucky to have you."

"I don't know if I'm the 'settling own' type," Kellin says, shrugging one shoulder. "Like, it seems nice, but every time I actually think about it, I can't imagine myself being with someone for the rest of my life. I don't know how to meet people, and even if I did find someone, I don't know if I would want to get them involved with the Family and all that."

CC hums thoughtfully. "Yeah, I know what you mean. I get some crazy fuckin' ideas sometimes, man."

The two of them sit and finish their coffees, discussing nothing much.

"You should come back to pool night this week," CC finally says, arching an eyebrow in Kellin's direction. "Everyone really wants you to come back." At Kellin's apparent hesitation, he sighs - "You have to get back into the swing of things, man. You're going to fall out of the loop."

Kellin shrugs. "Maybe. I just… I need to re-evaluate my life. I know it's not like I accidentally befriended an entire gathering of serial killers, but I'm still so uncomfortable with the fact that people I know took someone's life."

"Yeah, I see," CC nods. "Not everyone was involved, though. I know Andy and Ashley both were for sure, but. You can't hold it above their heads forever. Shit happens."

"That doesn't mean I have to like it," Kellin grumbles. He looks down at his empty coffee cup. "You wanna get out of here?"

CC stands up and they exit the building together.

 

+ + +

 

More time passes, and before Kellin knows it, it's Tuesday night and he's getting ready to go out. He puts on his favourite jeans and red plaid shirt, taking the time to smudge a little bit of silver kohl under his eyes before exiting the bathroom.

Shortly after, he gets a text from Sam that simply says Here - he grabs a coat and walks downstairs, getting into the car and shooting Sam a smile. "Hey, man."

"Hey!" Sam grins back, "Long time, no see, buddy!"

"Yeah, sorry about that. I'm back now." Sam doesn't ask more, and Kellin doesn't offer to share.

The ride over to the bar is short and quiet. The two of them are greeted with enthusiastic cries and a few hugs upon entering the establishment. Kellin sees Andy standing over by the bar with Ashley, a calculating look on his face. He makes eye contact with Kellin and gives a slight nod.

It's Havok and Jade against Cameron and Jake tonight, and Kellin bets ten bucks on the former. He's never been much of a gambler, but he likes to keep up with everyone else.

Between the drinking and talking, Kellin loses track of time. It's already one in the morning by the time he looks up at the clock. He's not drunk, but he has a pleasant buzz going on as he chuckles at something CC is saying, the two of them seated at the bar drinking whiskey. It feels like everything is almost back to normal.

"I'm glad you're back, man," CC says, "This week sucked without you getting drunk off your ass and making a scene."

Kellin laughs sheepishly and takes a swig of his drink, listening to the sound of chatter and the pool cue knocking against the balls. "That's me in a nutshell, man."

"Hey, I'm gonna get out of here," CC says, slapping the counter with his palm. "You should go talk to Andy before he leaves. Just to say hi and stuff," he suggests.

Kellin sighs, looking over at where Andy is talking to James in the opposite corner. "Yeah, I guess I should," he reluctantly agrees. CC gets up to leave and Kellin gets to his feet as well, the two of them coming together in a brief hug.

CC shoots him a warning look. "Go talk to him."

"Yes, yes, I'll go," Kellin good-naturedly rolls his eyes.

He watches CC say goodbye to everyone as he leaves, then steels his nerve and heads over to Andy. "Hi," he says.

"Give us a second?" Andy says to James, who takes the signal and leaves. "What's up, Quinn?"

"Oh, nothing, really. Just thought I'd say hello."

Andy gives him a long, piercing look of consideration. "It's good to have you back," he finally says. "For a second there, I thought you might have gone squirrely on us."

"Uh, no. I'm good now. I just… I had to do some thinking and stuff, y'know?" Kellin responds, feeling supremely dumb.

"I'm catching your drift. I know all this gang stuff doesn't always come easy for you, especially after your time with Pierce the Veil," Andy says in a confiding tone, "Just make sure next time, you know whose side you're on."

Andy moves away, over to Jinxx, leaving Kellin standing alone to ponder over his words.

Jake gives him a ride home that night. Kellin has trouble falling asleep, and when he does slip into slumber, it's restless at best. He wakes up multiple times in the night, sweating and confused, his mind wandering to dangerous thoughts about Pierce the Veil. He eventually gives up sleeping; when he checks the clock, it's three-twenty two in the morning.

He goes straight for the vodka. It doesn't take long to get drunk enough that he forgets about Gabe and Vic and Andy, everything falling away but the therapeutic burn of alcohol on his throat. He finds himself sitting on the floor in front of the couch, hand twisted around the neck of the bottle. The TV's on, something about the weather, but the noise is grating to his ears, so he quickly switches it off.

The room spins around him when he gets to his feet. He almost falls over, and finds himself bent over, clutching at the arm of the couch. What's left of the vodka sloshes in the bottle and he raises it to his lips, taking a long swig. It's no fun being drunk alone.

This realization propels him out of his apartment and down the hall, swaying, bottle still in hand. It takes a long time to get down the stairs. He can't remember if he locked his door before he left, but he finds he doesn't really care. He's halfway to Oli and Josh's apartment before he realizes what he's doing, and by then, he doesn't have it in him to turn back.

When he finally reaches the right building, he shuffles over to the intercom machine and peers at the names, squinting at it until he finds the button labelled Sykes/Franceschi and firmly pushes on it. He has to press it five times before someone answers.

"I swear to god if you don't take your hand off that buzzer I will cut off your fucking--"

"It's me, Oli," Kellin interrupts him in a slight slur. "It's Kellin."

There's a long silence and then a sigh on the other end. "I thought I told you to leave me alone."

"You're my… you're my friend. I think. An' I don't wanna lose you, man. We were so good together and I love you, Oli, I really fucking love you--"

"Are you drunk?"

"No," Kellin says defensively. "Yeah. Maybe."

Oli hangs up. Kellin pushes the buzzer again, twice this time.

Above him and to the right, someone opens their screen door and steps out onto their balcony. "Go away," Oli shouts down at him.

Kellin furrows his brow and looks up. "No!" He takes another gulp of vodka from the almost-empty bottle in hand. The two of them stand there in silence for another minute, Kellin swaying minutely as Oli glares down at him. "What… What happened to us being friends?"

"You joined a rival gang, that's what," Oli calls down. "You're a massive dipshit, you know that?"

"Hey," Kellin objects, "Don't call me names."

"You fucked up your whole life for the sake of petty vengeance against some random guy who kidnapped you four years ago," Oli snaps, "I'd call that a dipshit move. Also, your 'friends' fucking murdered one of our guys."

Kellin tries to think of a comeback, but his brain is foggy and the words don't come as easy as they should. "I miss you," is what he finally says.

"Kellin, I can't hang out with you anymore. It just doesn't work like that." Oli's tone is frustrated.

"I want to be your friend again," Kellin says, starting to get choked up. "I want to be seventeen again, I-- I want things to go back to how they were before, I didn't mean for Gabe to die--… I didn’t mean for any of this." There's a long pause. Kellin swallows another mouthful of vodka.

"I'm coming down," Oli announces. "You're fucking drunk as shit and I don't want my neighbours getting pissed at me." He disappears from view. Two minutes later, he's standing in the door of the apartment in bare feet, grabbing Kellin by the shirt and dragging him inside. "You owe me big time," he says, but there's not a hint of good humour in his voice. Kellin stumbles along after him, still pathetically clutching the neck of the bottle. He takes another long gulp. "It's fucking four thirty in the morning, you complete asshole. You're lucky Josh isn't home."

"I like Josh," Kellin says dumbly.

Oli makes a frustrated sound in the back of his throat as he pushes the elevator button. "Fuck you, okay? Fuck you. You don't get to walk into my life with all your self-pity and make me take you back. You made your choice." The doors open and he roughly shoves Kellin inside.

"I don'--"

"Fuck. You."

Kellin stays silent the rest of the trip to Oli's apartment, where he is pushed inside and manhandled onto the couch, the bottle wrenched from his hand. "You're going to stay here," Oli says sharply. "You're going to sleep on the couch, and when you wake up in the morning, I'm going to be gone. You won't touch anything. You'll lock the door and leave, and then you'll never come back. Got it?" Kellin blinks up at him. "Got it?"

"'Kay," he finally agrees. There's a pause. "Can I have a blanket?"

"No."

Oli stalks off into the other room and turns off the lights, not looking back once.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin's memory is warped the next morning. He wakes up with a raging headache and a sour taste at the back of his throat, regret practically seeping out of his pores as he looks around and finds himself on Oli and Josh's couch.

"Fuck," he curses to himself. He gets up and hits something with his foot, looking down to see the empty vodka bottle lying on the ground.

Fuck. If Ben or Andy found out…

Kellin practically books it out of the apartment, not even bothering to drink a glass of water before he locks the door and steps out, running down the stairs two at a time. His stupid drunk-brain didn't bother to put on a coat last night, so he shivers the whole way home, his head aching miserably.

He calls CC as soon as he gets back to his apartment. "Dude, you will not believe what I just did," he says as soon as the other end picks up.

"Ooh, gossip!" CC exclaims. "I'm grabbing the popcorn."

"Promise you won't tell anyone?"

"Promise."

"Alright, well. I couldn't sleep last night," Kellin starts. "Like, it was terrible. So I got drunk. Really drunk. Not blackout, but almost." He grabs a cup and fills it with lukewarm tap water, drinking it like he's been stuck in the desert for three days.

"Continue," CC prods him.

Kellin sighs and sets the empty cup down. "Okay, so. I might have, um. Walked over to Oli's apartment and yelled up at him about how much I miss our friendship." At CC's noise of disbelief, he rubs his forehead. "It's stupid, I know. Everything about it is pretty foggy."

"Holy shit," CC says. "Man, what the fuck?"

"That's not even the worst part," Kellin grudgingly admits. "I… slept over."

There's shocked silence on the other end. "You what?"

"Um… yeah." At CC's cackling laughter, he rolls his eyes. "It's not that funny. Dude, he was so pissed! He had to come drag me inside 'cause I was shouting at him. Fuck."

CC continues to laugh at him. "That's so bad, Kellin. He's in a rival gang, for fuck's sakes."

"You promised you wouldn't tell anyone," Kellin reminds him.

"I ain't no snitch!" CC snorts.

"Jesus Christ. I'm such a fucking idiot. This is such a mess, man, like what if Andy or Ben found out? I'd be supremely fucked. More than I am now. I bet Oli is going to tell Vic about this, and god knows he's going to be furious."

"Oh, no way," CC scoffs. "Telling him you slept over would have negative repercussions for him, too. This is your guys' dirty little secret."

Kellin moans aloud. "What the fuck was I thinking?" he laments rhetorically.

"Hey, if it makes you feel better, one time I got so drunk I pissed myself as I was standing in front of Andy," CC offers. "Huh. I had almost completely repressed that memory."

Kellin has to laugh. "Dude, that's fucked."

"Moral of the story, we all do whack shit when we're drunk. Just… try not to do it again."

"Yeah, alright. That's fair." Kellin sighs. "I have a wicked hangover. You wanna come over and bring me breakfast in an hour?"

"You know it, baby. I'll see you then."

"Thanks. I love you, man."

The two of them say goodbye, and Kellin drinks two more cups of water before flopping down on the couch, his head aching and his stomach twisting. For probably the fourth time in two months, he swears to never get drunk again, knowing full well it's an oath he won't keep.

God, I'm an idiot.

He stays like that for a full forty-five minutes, at which point he starts to feel better and gets up, moping around the apartment until CC arrives with McDonald's pancakes for two.

"So there's a meeting going on tonight," CC says as he tears open the syrup container. "It's at the warehouse, like last time. Everyone's going."

"Oh," Kellin says, "Hmm. Can you give me a ride?"

"For sure," CC agrees. "It's technically supposed to be at nine, so I'll pick you up at eight thirty. Andy and Havok are always there early anyways."

Kellin saws off a bite with his crappy plastic knife. "Do you know what it's about?"

"Uh, negative. I imagine it'll be our battle plan or something, y'know? Like, what we're going to do when Pierce the Veil finally gets back at us. It's only a matter of time."

"Yeah?" Kellin quirks an eyebrow. "Huh."

There's a moment of silence until CC clears his throat and says, "So… Denis is going to be there."

"Okay," Kellin responds, trying to act unfazed.

"Everyone hates him, anyways," CC continues darkly, "I don't know why he's even coming. That fucking traitor."

"I have terrible taste in men," Kellin mutters, to which CC laughs. "No, man, I'm serious. I always pick the bad ones. It's like a talent."

"In your defense, none of us knew he was going to turn out to be such a massive dick."

Kellin giggles. "Yeah, I guess. I just… I really liked him for a minute there. And not just because of the sex," he quickly denies at CC's pointed look. "The sex was good, don't get me wrong. But… I just thought--… I don't know. I thought he might have really cared about me. And then it all went and blew up in my face."

"Hey, don't get all mopey," CC chides him, spearing another bite of pancakes. "Everything will work itself out. Denis will definitely get what's coming to him."

Kellin shrugs. "Maybe… I mean, I'm not sure if I have that level of trust with karma and the universe, but."

CC laughs. "Don't knock it 'till you've tried it. You gotta learn to be at peace with how the world works, man," he says in a weird voice, closing his eyes and humming.

"What the fuck?" Kellin laughs.

CC cracks one eye open and chuckles. "I'm kidding, bro. But in all seriousness, Ben and Andy will make sure Denis is punished. You can take my word for that." He looks Kellin firmly in the eye and adds more syrup to his pancakes. "Hey, we should do something today!" he says, instantly bouncing back to cheerfulness. "You wanna catch a movie? Go shopping for some jeans that aren't meant for girls?"

"Hey," Kellin frowns, swallowing, "Fuck you. I like my jeans."

CC rolls his eyes. "I'm just chirping, man. I love you, stupid pants and all."

The two of them finish breakfast fairly quickly after that, and they end up walking to a park and sitting on a picnic table for a few hours, talking about nothing much while passing dog-walkers give them suspicious looks. Time seems to pass both slowly and all at once, and eventually, CC finally has to excuse himself to go talk to James and get ready for the meeting. They walk back to Kellin's apartment and say their goodbyes.

"I'll be back at eight-thirty," he tells Kellin as he walks away.

"See you," Kellin waves.

He cooks himself an omelet for dinner that night, and eats while watching Grey's Anatomy reruns on TV, the sound from the screen the only noise in the apartment. He feels lonelier than usual, but he can't pinpoint why.

He makes an effort to tidy up his hair and wash his face around eight fifteen, and soon enough it's time to go. CC is waiting when he gets downstairs. "Ready?"

"Yep," Kellin nods. "I wonder what's going to happen. Last meeting was, like, weird, y'know? Will it be like that?"

"Honestly, who knows?" CC replies, turning on his turn signal and merging out into traffic. "Like I said, Andy really likes meetings and Ben doesn't give a shit. So Andy will probably run the show, we'll get told what's going to happen with Pierce the Veil and it'll be over."

"What d'you think is going to happen with Pierce the Veil?"

CC sighs, dropping one hand from the steering wheel and running it through his hair. "My best guess would be that Ben and Andy are going to want us to attack their source of product, in order to metaphorically bring them to their knees." He shrugs. "That's just my onion. I'm mostly happy to do whatever I get told to do."

When Kellin is lost in thought and doesn’t reply, he turns on the radio and twists the volume dial up, idly singing along. They arrive at the warehouse in less than twenty minutes.

"Let's do this," CC says, flashing Kellin a gap-toothed grin.

Kellin doesn't even know why he's so nervous. He feels like he's floating as they walk across the empty street to the warehouse building, CC a comforting presence by his side.

CC knocks on the door and it slides up, Jade on the other side. He nods and silently ushers them inside, his expression completely blank.

It looks like mostly everyone is here, sitting in a circle - Kellin scans the room and does a quick inventory of faces as he goes to grab a chair from the back corner of the room, returning to set it up between Havok and Sam. "Hey, guys." Ben and Andy are talking together a little ways away, two empty chairs waiting for them at the head of the circle.

"Hey, man," Havok greets him. "What's up?"

"Oh, not much. You?"

"Jade and I went to a party last night, so we were both incredibly hungover this morning," Havok chuckles. "Man, I'm too old for that shit." Kellin is about to agree with him when Andy and Ben sit down.

"Let's get this started!" Andy says.

That's when the first shot rings out.

 

 

+

Chapter Text

The second he registers the first gunshot, Kellin hits the ground behind his chair instinct. Around him, he watches Sam and Havok instantly pull out a pistols from their waistbands, kicking their chairs out of the way and firing back, aiming towards the windows, presumably where the gunfire originated.

Each shot is like a cannon blast, multiplied by the echo of the warehouse. Kellin's ears are screaming in agony. He feels vulnerable and terrified for his life, and he musters the strength to crawl a few feet away to hide behind a stack of crates. From his vantage point, he can see everything that's happening. His breath comes fast and unsteady.

Cameron, Jake and Jade have all adopted wide stances and are fearlessly firing back. Ben and Andy have been ushered behind some stacks of chairs in the opposite corner, Ashley standing in front with his gun out. Denis is nowhere to be found.

The shooting only continues for another two or three minutes, and then everything goes deathly silent. Out of the corner of his eye, Kellin sees CC crumple to the floor.

Time stops.

"CC?" Kellin hears himself call, his ears ringing. He moves to CC's side in an instant and drops to his knees. "CC?!"

"I'm-- Fuck--" CC gasps in pain. With shaking hands, he slowly reaches up to his chest, where a bright red patch is quickly blossoming on his shirt. His hands come away crimson. "They-- They got me."

"What do I do?" Kellin says. "Oh god, okay." He rips his t-shirt off, balling it up and pressing down on the wound, trying to remember every first aid course he's ever taken. "Don't move," he says desperately. "CC, you're fine." Everything happening in the background seems to fade away. He no longer hears everyone shouting and running, trying to catch the shooters before they get away.

CC makes a strange gurgling noise. "They got me," he repeats.

"You're going to be okay, you hear me? You're fine," Kellin says. "Someone call an ambulance!" he yells in panic.

CC moans. "It hurts."

"It's okay. Everything is going to be fine."

"Kellin," CC manages. "Kellin."

"What?" Kellin asks.

"Kellin, don't-- You have to... get out of here." Every word is a struggle. No matter how hard Kellin pushes, the blood keeps coming, soaking through the shirt and coating his hands.

"You're fine, CC, you're fine," Kellin says, hunching over him. "Help me! Somebody help!"

CC groans. "The police will be coming-- You have to get--" he dissolves into wet, hacking coughs, his face contorting in pain. "Fuck, Kellin--" He grabs Kellin's wrist. "Go!"

"No, I'm not leaving you," Kellin shakes his head, "You're gonna be fine. I've got you."

CC is shivering beneath him, his skin already turning ashen. "J-just go--"

"I'm not leaving you," Kellin repeats, half-sobbing as he presses down on the wound with renewed strength.

"CC!" someone shouts, and there are footsteps. It's Ashley. "CC, what--" He stops short when he sees Kellin crying and the blood-drenched shirt, his face draining of colour.

"Go," CC chokes out, "Go!"

"I'm not going," Kellin cries, a tear falling off his chin and onto the bloody mess of CC's chest. "I'm not leaving. I love you. We all love you." CC's breath is laboured. The blood keeps on coming, wave after hot wave, Kellin hunched over his sprawled form on the cold concrete. "We love you, CC. You're going to be fine." He turns to Ashley and yells, "Do something!"

"Kellin, the police are on their way," Ashley murmurs. "I can't..."

"Call an ambulance," Kellin tells him. "Please, call an ambulance." His arms are shaking where they're pushing down on the t-shirt.

"I can't." Ashley looks like he's about to puke. "Kellin, I can't. I'm not allowed to."

CC is gulping for air, his eyelashes fluttering. "Kellin-- K-Kellin--" he manages weakly.

"CC, you're going to be fine," Kellin whimpers. "You're going to be just fine. Please, you have to-- you have to be okay, please, I need you--" He breaks down into ugly sobs.

"K-- K--" CC barely coughs out, his features seizing.

The next thing Kellin knows, he's being ripped away by strong hands on his bare arms and dragged away. "NO!" he screams, the sound ripped from his throat, "Let go of me! Let go!" He struggles, kicking and clawing at the air, but it's useless. He watches as CC's body starts to convulse as he's dragged away, the sound of him choking on his own breath reverberating around the warehouse.

Kellin bawls, scratching at the hands on his arms that are holding him back. "NO! NO!"

CC's body finally falls still.

Kellin goes limp, tears and snot running down his face as he's pulled out of the warehouse, his eyes locked on what's left of CC through his blurred, watery eyes.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin barely registers what happens after that. He knows he screams and cries, remembers the salt on his tongue and the way he tears his throat apart, but none of it matters.

CC's gone.

In the span of less than ten minutes, his best friend disappeared forever.

Someone must have taken him home and put him to bed, because that's where he wakes up the next morning, his throat sore and his pants still on. He feels numb and detached from his body, even as he feels his eyes start to tear up and he sobs into the empty apartment. It’s not fair, he wants to yell, wants to punch something, wants revenge on whoever is at fault for this. He grips at the blankets, his knuckles turning as white as the fabric in his hands. He hurts everywhere.

It doesn't quite feel real yet. Although the sight of CC lying still and bloody on the concrete is burned into his mind, he can't quite comprehend the fact that CC is just… gone. That he's never coming back. One moment he was there, and now he's not. Kellin sniffs and rubs at his eyes. He can't be gone. He can't. It feels like as though any second, CC will text him something weird and ask to hang out. Like as though this will all have been a bad dream.

He grabs his phone and dials CC's number, listening to it ring before going to voicemail.

"What's up, this is CC, leave a message at the beep and I'll get back to you later!"

He dials again.

"What's up, this is CC, leave a message at the beep and I'll get back to you later!"

And again.

"What's up, this is CC, leave a message at the beep and I'll get back to you later!"

And again.

"What's up, this is CC, leave a message at the beep and I'll get back to you later!"

Kellin dissolves into tears. He doesn't even know if anyone went back for his body, but he doubts it - what's left of CC is probably imperceptibly starting to decompose in the morgue as it lies on a cold metal tray, being cut open and poked and prodded. The thought alone makes him want to hurl.

He wipes his cheeks and sits there in a daze. What could be half an hour passes before his disposable phone rings and he jerks into alertness, staring at it on the bedside table. The caller display says it's Ben.

His voice is rough when he answers it. "Hello?"

"Denis is out," Ben says by way of greeting, no joviality whatsoever in his tone. "He confessed to tipping Pierce the Veil off about the meeting. He's banished. We roughed him up and sent him away forever. If you want him dead, just say the word."

Kellin is silent for a long time, and when he speaks, his reply is cold and calculated. "I want him to know what he did."

"Oh, he knows," Ben says mirthlessly. "If that fucking son of a bitch shows his face ten miles within our territory, I will personally break his skinny neck and impale his head on a stick. You have my word. No one is getting away with this," he says with emphasis. "No one."

Kellin takes a few deep breaths to calm himself. "What's going to happen now?" he eventually asks.

"Andy and I are rounding up the troops. We're going to shoot up PTV's main warehouse and hijack their load tonight. I would ask if you want to come, but… you should take some time off. I'll call you when it's over."

"Thanks," Kellin says, feeling hollow and angry. He says goodbye, snaps the phone shut and throws it aside. He feels a kind of bitter peace drape over him like a blanket at the thought of getting revenge.

Fuck Denis. Fuck him and Vic and Oli and Mike and everyone else for taking away his best friend. Fuck them all.

He has no doubts about the fact that they'll get what they deserve, but it hurts. It stings, the gellid fist of betrayal closing in on his windpipe and making it hard to breathe, the loss crushing him from the outside in.

 

+ + +

 

He wakes up on Friday with a missed call from two AM. When he plays the message, for a split second he thinks it'a going to be CC, but then it's Ben's voice that comes crackling through the speaker.

"It's done. We pretty much just opened fire on the joint - I don't think anyone's dead, but at least two of their guys got shot, judging from the blood. We took the drugs and the money. I thought you should know."

"Press one to hear the message again. Press two to--

Kellin flips the phone shut and holds it to his chest.

He should be happy; he should be glad that people got hurt. He should be glad that someone is facing the consequences of his best friend's murder.

Instead, he just feels lonely and worn-out.

 

+ + +

Kellin doesn't leave his apartment for three days after that. He only changes his clothes once the whole time, relying on various members of the Family to bring him food and keep him company. The rest of the time, he either watches TV or lies in bed for hours at a time.

"Come on, Kellin," Jinxx finally says on the fourth day, "Time to get up. You need to get out."

Kellin heaves a heavy sigh. "I'm fine."

"You're not. You're really…" he motions in Kellin's general direction, "gross. You're in a funk." He bustles about the room, pulling up the blinds and kicking clothes into a pile in order to clear the floor.

Kellin curls tighter in his sheets. "Don't you miss him?" he asks in a small voice.

Jinxx stands there for a second, his creepy clown-eye tattoos doing nothing to mask the softness in his eyes. "Of course I do, man. Of course I do. I just know that CC… he wouldn't want this, man. He'd want you to keep going. He'd want all of us to soldier on."

"I should have gotten shot instead of him. All I do is fuck things up around here."

"Hey, no, don't say that," Jinxx says, sitting on the edge of the bed near his feet. "You're one of us, man. All for one and one for all."

Kellin rubs at his eye. "He was scared, Jinxx. He was so scared and I--… I just left him there." He starts to choke up, swallowing hard and fighting back tears.

Jinxx rubs his knee. "He knew what had to be done, Kellin. It's a risk we all take."

"I needed him," Kellin says, shaking his head into the pillow. "I needed him, and he needed me, and I didn't even get to say goodbye." A tear falls, curling into the bridge of his nose.

"It's okay," Jinxx says soothingly, "It's okay. CC knows, man. Wherever he is, he knows how much he meant to you."

Kellin buries his face in his hands and hugs his knees to his chest, a sob escaping his mouth. "I wish I had died instead."

"I know it hurts right now. I know you're sad. But things will get better from here, okay? We're going to avenge him. Just hang in there."

"I don't want any more innocent people to die. I just want… I just want Denis to-- to know what he did. That he's the one responsible for killing CC."

"He knows," Jinxx says seriously, "We beat him within an inch of his life. Wherever that rat bastard is hiding, he's in a lot of pain."

Kellin huffs and says, "Good." He sniffs and wipes his tears away. "Jinxx, I miss him."

"I do too, man. I do too."

 

+ + +

 

Jinxx only leaves after Kellin promises to clean up, take a shower and eat something.

"I'll be back soon," he says, "Jade and Havok will drop off supper tonight. You promise to take care of yourself until then?"

"Yeah," Kellin says softly.

"Okay. I'll lock the door on my way out." Jinxx pats him on the shoulder before exiting the room, and Kellin faintly hears the door click shut a moment later. He sighs into his pillow, his eyes flickering shut.

He's rudely awoken an hour later by someone buzzing at the door. It's no one from the Family - by now, they all either have a key or pick the lock and march right in. Kellin reluctantly drags himself upright and peels off the blankets. He gets to his feet and shuffles into the kitchen area, rounding the counter to get to the intercom. "Hello? Who is it?"

"Kellin Quinn?"

"Yeah, that's me."

"My name is Detective Escamilla and I'm here with my partner, Detective Velasquez. We want to ask you a few questions concerning the murder of Christian Mora, known to you as Coma." Kellin freezes. There's a long pause. "Mr. Quinn?"

"Yeah," Kellin says belatedly, "Uh, yeah. I'll-- I'll buzz you up." He does so with shaking fingers. The police?

When the knock comes on the door a minute later, Kellin hesitantly opens the door to see two men in SDPD jackets, both flashing their badges. The first one has tall, swept-back brown hair and a handsome face, and the other is of slighter build with flat, darker hair, Latino features and a mole on his upper lip.

"May we come in?" the first man asks.

"Um. Yes," Kellin replies, opening the door and ushering them inside. "I'm sorry, you are…?"

"I'm Detective Escamilla," the more muscular one says, "and this is Detective Velasquez."

"N-Nice to meet you," Kellin stammers. He's really regretting not taking Jinxx's advice to shower and change clothes.

"We got your address from your old boss down at the laundromat. Anyways, we'll get to the point," Velasquez says, pulling out a small notepad and pen, "Your boy CC is dead. But we're guessing you already knew that."

Kellin bites his lip and says, "I, um. I… I heard that, yeah." His mind flashes back to seeing CC fall to the floor, the blood just starting to stain his chest. ("They-- They got me.")

Escamilla shoots him a scrutinizing look. "You were the first one in his contacts on his phone, so we figured we'd come ask you a few quick questions." Kellin laughs nervously. "You and Coma, you were friends, correct?"

"Yeah," he admits, "We were close."

"And were you aware of his ties to the Brides Family?"

"Um, no. No," Kellin denies, "I didn't… No."

Velasquez shifts his weight. "We're not dumb. Whether you're involved with the murder or not, we know you know about the Family. We know if we searched your apartment, we'd probably find all kinds of incriminating evidence. However, we're only investigating a killing, and we're sure that Coma was killed in relations to gang business, so any information you might have could be of use. We just want to catch whoever did this."

"Do you know if Coma had any enemies? Anyone who might have wanted to hurt him?" Escamilla steps in.

"Um," Kellin stalls, "I don't-- I don't know. He, um." Thinking fast, he says, "There was one guy. His name was Denis."

"Denis Shaforostov? Also known as Stoff?" Velasquez asks intently, jotting something down. "He was also in Coma's phone," he says to Escamilla, "He's in the system as a member of the Family."

"Yeah… That's him. He and CC, they got into a disagreement a while back, and I think Denis was, um, I think he was mad. He might have shot CC or something. I don't know for sure," Kellin lies, ducking his head.

"Do you know what they were arguing about?" Escamilla asks.

"No. It was something about drugs, or territory or something. I don't know for sure. CC told me Denis was pretty bent out of shape about it." Velasquez and Escamilla share a significant look. "Am I, like, a suspect?"

"Not at this time," Velasquez says, "But you'd be wise to keep off the streets anyways."

"Are you aware of the tensions between Pierce the Veil and the Family?" Escamilla asks.

"Yeah. I mean, everyone is," Kellin shrugs, playing dumb. "They've kind of always had it out for each other for a while now, from what I gather."

The two detectives nod. Detective Escamilla says, "Alright, Mr. Quinn, that's all we had to ask. If you think of anything else that might be pertinent to the case, here's my number."

He hands over a card, which Kellin accepts, briefly scanning over the information. "Thanks."

"We're very sorry for your loss."

The two detectives exit the apartment, closing the door behind them. Kellin leans against the door, his heart rate starting to slow down. It's not like he's unfamiliar with cops, given what happened last time he was in San Diego and his subsequent miraculous appearance back in North Dakota, but he's jittery from nerves. He walks back into the bedroom and dials Andy's number from his flip phone.

"Hi, um, Andy? I just got a visit from two detectives about-- about CC. They said I wasn't a suspect and I told them that I wasn't in the Family. I don't think they believed me, but..." He realizes he's rambling. "Anyways, uh. Yeah. Is that normal?"

There's a pause as Andy processes the information. "Yeah, I'd say it's normal. The SDPD usually stays out of our hair as long as no one gets killed, so after CC, it was only a matter of time. I'm sorry we didn't prepare you," he sighs, "I didn't think they would come knocking for you, of all people. What else did you tell them?"

"Um… I told them that Denis and CC had an argument, and… they seemed to think Denis could be a suspect."

"Well," Andy says, "As long as Denis keeps his trap shut about the whole thing, that should be fine. He probably won't risk pissing Vic off by telling the truth… If it came to a trial, any self-respecting judge would put that fucker in jail. I'll tell the others what happened and they can corroborate with your story. I'm in a hurry, I'm on the way to a meeting with the Romans right now - was there anything else you needed to tell me?"

"No, that's it. Um, good luck with your meeting. Bye."

"Bye."

Kellin hangs up and groans into his hands, collapsing onto the bed. He wants CC back more than ever.

He reluctantly gets up a few minutes later and grabs a pair of relatively-fresh clothes from the pile on his floor, then walks into the bathroom. He strips out of his sweatpants and briefs, leaving them crumpled on the floor as he peels off his shirt, feeling supremely stinky. He scratches at his chest and turns on the shower to wait for it to warm up.

It feels good to step in under the warm spray and let it carry away the feeling of stale body odour. He sighs, rubbing the skin of his shoulder and tilting his head back, enjoying the pleasant heat as the water soaks through his hair. He stands motionless like that for a good minute or two before reaching for the shampoo. His mind wanders as he meditatively works his hair into a lather, letting his hands massage his scalp.

He zones out, staring at the shower wall and thinking about nothing and everything all at once. He thinks about Denis - wherever the fuck he is right now - and feels anger stir low in his gut. The satisfaction of knowing he's been banished isn't quite enough. Kellin wants to punch him in the face, wants to hear bones crack beneath his knuckles. It's what Denis deserves.

He misses CC like a kick in the ribs.

 

+ + +

 

As Jinxx said, Havok and Jade stop by with Chinese takeout for dinner that night, and the three of them eat on the couch, watching an old M*A*S*H* episode. Havok chatters away with Kellin and Jade remains mostly silent as he carefully pokes through his noodles.

"So we were thinking of hosting a little celebration for CC tomorrow evening instead of pool," Havok finally says, "You know, like everyone getting together to talk about how great he was." He and Jade look to Kellin for approval. "I know how close you guys were, and we just thought…"

Kellin smiles a little. "Yeah, man. That's a great idea."

"Great!" Havok beams, and Jade goes back to eating his noodles. "It'll be at our place, around five or six. Show up whenever."

"Thanks, guys. It means a lot to me. I-- I know I didn't know him for as long as you guys did, but I really miss him."

Havok pats his back. "We miss him too, man. And we want you to know that we're here for you. Right, Jade?"

"Yep," Jade says.

"Thanks," Kellin repeats.

And so the matter is settled.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin shows up at six the next day, holding a bottle of nice rum he picked up on the walk over. "Hey," he greets Jade when the door opens.

Jade simply nods. "Hello."

As Kellin steps inside and hands off the bottle, he sees that almost the whole Family is there. Most of everyone is dressed in casual but black clothing, so he doesn't feel out of place. He nods to Zack and Rian as he passes, going to stand over by Ashley, Jinxx and Cameron. "Hi."

"Hey, man," Ashley says, pulling him into a one-armed hug. "I'm so sorry about what happened. I wish… I wish things had happened differently."

Kellin nods. "Thank you. I wish they had too." A flash of memory flickers through his mind; it's CC again, coughing, his hands shaking and covered in gore. When he looks back up, everyone is looking at him with concern in their eyes. "I'm fine," he says somewhat hollowly. "I just miss him, is all."

"Hey, guys!" Havok calls from beside the kitchen counter, "Everybody grab drinks and have a seat." There's some shuffling around until everyone is in place. "Now that we're all here, we're gonna talk about CC," Havok continues. "I'll start, and then after that we'll take turns to just say a few words." He clears his throat. "Um, here goes. CC was a really good friend to me. He was always cheerful, and. I remember when the Brides and the Family first merged, I was hesitant. I didn't know if I could learn to trust people who I had once been competing with." A small cheer goes up. "Anyways, back when we first merged, I think CC was the first one to try and bridge the gap between us. He- was always smiling and telling jokes, and I-- I think we owe him for bringing us all together." He pauses, then says, "So, that's all. Someone else jump in." He throws a peace sign and retreats to the couch beside Andy amidst polite clapping.

"I'll go next," Jinxx says, raising a hand to quiet the room. "I didn't prepare a speech, but… CC was one of my best friends, man. He was family. He was my family, and I loved him like hell, and I'm gonna miss the shit out of him. Um." He shifts his weight awkwardly. "I remember that time last year, when we all went bar-hopping and it was my turn to be the sober driver? You guys remember that?" He grins at the response from the crowd. "Anyways, I remember him knocking back shot after shot, just getting absolutely smashed, and for some reason he lost his pants around the third bar. So of course, he decides he needs new pants and forces me to drive him to Wal-Mart to buy a new pair." He pauses to laugh a little. "I didn't want to leave my car with a bunch of drunk kids, so I gave him money and made Jake go in with him while I waited outside." Here, he points to Jake, who chuckles. "Man, I waited outside for all of ten minutes when Jake comes running out of the store, just absolutely booking it towards the car and he's shouting drive! drive! and I shout back, 'Where's CC?'" Jinxx bites his lip to keep from dissolving into laughter. "Oh, god, the look on his face. His eyes go wide and he freezes, and there's a moment where nothing happens and then I see CC stumble out of the store, no pants, this giant stuffed bear under his arm and this employee is chasing him." Kellin is grinning and laughing at this point just imagining it. "So he's running full tilt and I yell 'Drop the fucking bear!' but he just keeps running with it. He reaches the car and Andy fuckin' flings open the back door and drags him in just as the employee catches up, and we get the fuck out of there, but CC has no pants and he dropped the bear somewhere along the way, so he starts crying. Like, sobbing. It took hours to calm him down. Oh, god. What a fucking night."

Kellin giggles, wiping under his eye where, unbeknownst to him, a tear had escaped during the story. He sniffles a little bit and Cameron pats him on the shoulder.

"I'll go next!" someone - Sam? - calls, launching into another escapade involving someone named Pavone.

"I just… I need to go for a second," Kellin says to no one in particular, making his way over to the bathroom. Inside, he turns on the lights and locks the door, sliding down to sit against the wall with his head in his hands in order to compose himself.

He feels strange and light-headed, so he closes his eyes, letting his breath come in slow, calming waves. He sniffs and wipes his cheeks once more, looking up at the ceiling.

He can still see CC's corpse in the warehouse, but now, even stronger, he can see CC's gap-toothed grin and the bandana he liked to wear, can remember the rips in his jeans and the sound of his voice rising when he got excited about something.

In the middle of all of the chaos and the days of grievance, he finally feels at peace.

 

 

+

Chapter Text

Kellin stays in contact with the Family over the next couple days, but everyone gives him plenty of space; probably out of pity, or so he assumes. After all, it's not every day your best friend gets shot and bleeds out in front of you.

He's still shaken up, if he's being honest with himself - it's only been a week, and he still has nightmares almost every time he goes to sleep. He'll often wake up in a cold sweat with CC's name on his tongue and a burning sensation in the back of his mouth, his throat dry from panting.

That being said, he's managed to pull himself out of the veritable hole of depression he was trapped in. At least now, he can manage to maintain basic personal hygiene and feed himself; he also find himself going to Jack and Alex for support and to talk things through; the two of them are kind and understanding to his plight, and they mourn CC along with him, acting like a crutch to support his wounded mental state. With CC gone, it's like a crude, gaping hole has been ripped in the very fabric of his life.

On Saturday afternoon, he gets a call on his flip phone from that goes something like this:

"Hello?"

"Hey. It's Jade. We have a meeting tonight at ten. Don't be late."

"Can I ask why?"

"It's about Pierce the Veil. Someone will come pick you up. Bye."

"Uh… bye," Kellin says, at loss for words. Jade isn't exactly a talkative guy, but this seems curt even for him.

It's about three by this point, so he has lots of time to kill before the meeting. He ends up taking a nap until five-thirty, then walking down to the pizzeria for dinner.

He orders a slice of cheese pizza and a soda and proceeds to eat alone in the corner of the restaurant, thinking about the first time he met CC here and how he was too nervous to eat. The pizza itself is okay. It's nothing to write home about, but it's comforting, in a way.

He walks around town for a while longer - he discovers a new rock and mineral shop, and he spends an hour there just looking at all the different gems.

Dinner is instant noodles again - a sad affair - and before he knows it, it's nine thirty and he's getting dressed to go out. It's cold, so he dons a jacket, slips on his dirty Keds and pulls on a grey beanie before heading downstairs. He waits in the lobby and plays on his phone for five minutes before a car pulls up outside. He recognizes Rian in the passenger seat, so he walks out and gets in the back.

"Hey," Zack greets him, putting the car into drive, "We were just about to text you. How's shit?"

"Nervous for this meeting," Kellin admits. "You know, what with how last time went," he tries to joke. His morbid laugh is met with uncertain silence.

"Don't worry," Rian eventually assures him, "It'll be fine. You'll be fine," he reiterates.

Kellin hums in polite understanding, looking out the window at the passing cars and buildings, uneasiness settling low in his chest. Zack and Rian continue to talk softly, but he tunes it out.

Ten minutes pass, and Kellin tries to ignore the twist in his gut as he realizes they're not driving to the usual warehouse; that they'll probably never go back to it, in fact. After all, it's a crime scene now.

The three of them continue into a more unknown part of town for another five or ten minutes, until they reach a large, relatively empty parking lot with weeds sprouting through its cracked surface. Just off the side, there's a beige stucco building with a single, rusted orange door.

Zack kills the engine and disembarks, Rian and Kellin following suit. Kellin warily scans his surroundings, but it's dark; as far as he can tell, there's no one else in sight. He feels profoundly uneasy for a reason he can't pinpoint.

Rian knocks on the door, and a moment later it swings open to reveal everyone inside, sitting in the customary circle. Someone must have bought new chairs specifically for this purpose. Cameron holds the door open and waves them in.

"Hey!" Jinxx says, "Kellin, come sit by me." He points to the empty seat.

Kellin shuffles over. "Hey," he says as he sits down, "What's up?"

"Oh, not much. The usual. Hey, those fucking cops stopped by my place this morning! I told 'em the same shit you did." He laughs. "They know I'm in the Family - we've had run-ins before and shit, but they mostly leave me alone."

James leans in to join the conversation. "You guys think Denis is going to take the fall for what went down?" he asks.

"Dunno. It's hard to say," Jinxx muses. "From what I gather, he's in a tight spot. He's not one of us anymore, but I doubt Vic is going to want him, either." He shrugs. "We'll see."

"He's got a rap sheet a mile long," James contributes. "He's mugged people, done a couple B&E's, you name it. I doubt the law is going to go easy on him."

Kellin tries not to feel too satisfied, but it's hard. He wants to be kind and forgiving, but right now it's just not in his emotional dictionary; the more Denis gets punished, the better. That's what you get for selling out your friends and getting one killed.

The three of them chat for a little longer, speculating as to the severity of Denis' possible punishment.

"Alright, everyone, let's just jump right into it." Andy's deep voice rings out over the conversations, the man himself sitting beside Ben with his legs crossed and his hands on his knee. "We brought you all here to talk about the plan going forward. Ben? You want to take this?"

Ben clears his throat. "Yeah, sure. So. After Friday, Pierce the Veil should be launching a counter-attack against us at any time. We have to be prepared." There are mutterings of agreement within the circle. "They're on the defense right now, so we have to make our move quickly. That means going for the jugular." He looks over to Andy, who simply nods. "We're going to go by Perry and the little Fuentes' place the night after tomorrow to pay them a visit."

It feels like the breath has been forced from Kellin's lungs. Mike and Tony?

His stomach twists at the mere mention of their names, followed by a bolt of sheer terror. The thought of the Family going to their home - the same home he frequented mere months ago - in order to hurt them makes him feel horrified.

A memory flickers through his head, of Mike, calling him a fucking traitor, quickly replaced by the recollection of Mike telling Tony, "You look cute in your glasses. You should wear them more often," and then Mike telling him and Jaime about how he wants to marry Tony.

When Kellin looks up, Andy is saying something about who's going and Ben is looking straight at him, his eyebrow arched in a challenge.

Kellin meets his eyes and nods uncertainly. Ben's gaze flicks away.

 

+ + +

 

After the meeting, Sam invites him over to their place to hang out and play videogames, but Kellin politely declines in favour of getting a ride home from Rian and Zack

"You okay?" Rian asks as they pull up at Kellin's place. "You're quiet. Is this about the meeting?"

"No," Kellin denies. He sighs. "Alright, maybe. I don't know. I don't want to talk about it."

Zack turns around in the passenger seat to look at him. "We know you're still sad about CC, dude... If you ever need to talk, we're here, man. So are Jack and Alex."

"Thanks, guys," Kellin responds as he cracks the door and steps out, jingling his keys. "I'll see you around." He shuts the door and watches them drive off before heading inside, trudging up the stairs and unlocking his apartment. He steps inside and turns on the lights, then opens the closet to hang up his coat.

He stops and stares at the worn leather jacket inside, looking forlorn and ownerless as it hangs in the closet.

Kellin reaches out to run his fingers down the length of the sleeve.

"Keep it - I didn't even miss it. Plus, leather is a good look on you."

He lets go and shuts the door.

Kellin sleeps fitfully that night - even more so than usual. He dreams that he's standing in a wide open field, nothing around as far as the eye can see but a burning house behind him. The ashes rain down like snowflakes and the smoke burns his throat until he chokes on it, keeling over onto the ground as he tries to cough out the poison.

He wakes at dawn, sweaty and confused. His blankets are twisted around him and he kicks himself free, sitting up and wiping the perspiration from his forehead.

Kellin sits like that for a few minutes, breathing deeply as memories race through his head.

He feels uncertain about everything, but he knows one thing for sure: he can't let Mike and Tony die.

 

+ + +

 

He calls Havok first, just as dawn begins to peek over the horizon.

"Hello?" Kellin can hear the sleep in his voice, and he feels vaguely bad about calling so early in the morning.

"Hi, Havok?" he says somewhat tentatively, "It's me, Kellin. I need to talk to Andy. Or Ben. Just… one of them. It's important."

"What's up?" Havok says, audibly yawning. "What's it about?"

"I-- I don't know if I should tell you. Can you just ask one of them to call me as soon as possible? I feel like they'll listen to you."

"Um, I guess, if it's really that important."

"It is, I promise."

"Okay. I'll put the word in and get back to you."

"Thank you so much, Havok, you're seriously a life saver," Kellin thanks him, voicing the rush of gratitude he feels.

"Yeah, alright. Bye."

"Bye."

He hangs up and flips the phone shut, setting it down gently on the coffee table. He sits back on the couch and looks out the window at the pink clouds. He misses CC more and more with each day that passes, like a phantom limb.

Kellin wonders what CC would do in his position. Would he have gone along with the plan? Would he have attempted to stop it - to save more people from dying?

He wouldn't do anything, because he's dead, he mentally chastises himself, feeling unbearably alone.

Kellin doesn't know what to do with himself. Normally, he would go seek out a friend, but Alex and Jack are probably both asleep and everyone in the Family seems to be busy prepping for what's going to happen that night. The mere thought makes him sick.

How can people be so casual about killing each other? he wonders, tucking his knees up to his chest. It seems like no one has any qualms about this but him.

He watches the sun rise for a full fifteen minutes before being interrupted by his phone ringing so exuberantly it almost vibrates itself right off the table.

"Hello?" he says, snatching it up and hitting the answer button. He finds himself in a standing position.

"It's Ben. What did you want to talk about that was so urgent?"

"I…" Kellin falters, "Is there any way we can do this in person?"

There's a slight pause. "I'm a busy man, Kellin. Can you just tell me now, please?" The polite request at the end sounds rather forced. Ben doesn't seem like the kind of guy who asks permission often.

"Uh, okay. So." Kellin takes a deep breath. "I don't want you guys to… to hurt Mike and Tony. Er, Perry and the younger Fuentes," he corrects himself, wincing. "Just-- Just let me talk to them," he continues before Ben can speak. "I can change their minds, I'm sure. If I could… If you would just let me talk to them--"

"Kellin," Ben firmly interrupts him. "That's not going to happen."

"What? Why--?"

"In case you hadn't noticed, we need the territory. They killed CC, remember? Or did you forget?"

"But-- But I know I can stop this, I don't want anyone else to die and--"

"No."

"Ben, I--"

"I don't have time for your pity or your misplaced alliances," Ben snaps. "You're soft, Quinn, and you need to shut up and stop trying to get under our feet."

Kellin is shocked into silence. "But--"

"No fucking buts," Ben impatiently cuts him off. "You need to remember that you're a member of the Family now. I'm tired of you wigging out anytime we do anything that isn't sunshine and roses."

"But Ben--"

"What did I just say? Drop it." He says, "Fucking Christ," from farther away, and then the line goes dead.

Kellin's heart sinks. He hits the end call button and slowly sets the phone back down on the table, then sits on the couch in abject terror. Holy shit. What just happened?

Mike and Tony are going to get hurt and there's nothing he can do to stop it.

Ben's words echo as a taunting cacophony his head: "You're a member of the Family now." What used to be a comforting statement now seems poisonous, like a cage of corroded metal. He's trapped, and now he has to watch the people he loves - loved? - get hurt.

He realizes he's tearing up and tries to blink away the wetness of his eyes. He takes a deep breath.

Kellin wants to throw up. In less than forty-eight hours, Mike and Tony could be seriously injured or even dead. He doesn't know how far the Family is going to take the whole operation, but he knows they won't show any mercy. He could be looking at the makings of a murder plot - a fact that makes him want to scream at Ben to stop, to think, that maybe this isn't the best way to deal with a fight over fucking territory--

He stops himself from following that train of thought. Instead, he puts his head in his hands and groans aloud. Why won't they just listen to him?

He gets up and paces around the living room in between the couch and the TV, distractedly running his hands through his hair. His mind flicks to the option of the half-empty bottle of vodka in his cupboard, but he pushes it aside; it's not even seven in the morning yet, and he needs to be sober if he's going to come up with a solution.

"You're soft, Quinn."

And god, does Kellin know that already. Sometimes he really hates that it's in his nature to care so deeply about everyone he loves. He feels sick and helpless in the face of threats against the very people who once ripped him away from what could have been a normal life.

 

+ + +

 

As with most times of crisis, Kellin finds himself knocking on Jack and Alex's door not long after his phone call with Ben. It's about eight in the morning by this point, but he still feels guilty when Jack answers the door, his hair epically mussed and his eyelids drooping from fatigue.

"Oh, hey, Kellin," he mumbles when he sees who's interrupting his sleep. "What's up, man? You okay?"

"I'm… no. No, I'm not really okay. There's been…" he trails off, "A conflict of interest."

Jack stares at him for a second. "You'd better come in," he says slowly, ushering Kellin in past the threshold. He closes the door behind Kellin and frowns slightly. "'Lex, Kellin's here," he calls. There's a faint grunt in reply. "You're the best at giving advice."

There's shuffling from the other room and then Alex appears in the doorway, his eyes half closed as he leans against the wall. He's wearing a faded shirt and grey boxers. "Hey, Kellin."

"Hey," Kellin says softly. "So, um. The Family is planning a direct hit on Mike and Tony tomorrow night, and. I…" he trails off, "I can't. I just can't let that happen." He averts his gaze and looks over at their coffee table, which is cluttered with Alex's books as always.

There's a moment of silence before Jack speaks again - "Tomorrow night? You're sure?"

"Yes. We had a meeting and everything." Kellin inhales, looking up. He feels his throat start to close up and he forces himself to take deep, shaky breaths, feeling his chest swell unevenly. "Guys, I can't let them--" his voice breaks slightly, "I can't let Mike and Tony get hurt. Not after everything."

Alex moves across the room and envelopes him in a sleepy hug. "It's gonna be okay," he says, his voice muffled in Kellin's shoulder.

"What are you going to do?" Jack asks.

Alex releases him, and Kellin turns to face Jack. "I tried to talk to Ben, but he wouldn't listen. And Ben would tell Andy that I called, so Andy's answer would be the same." He rubs his forehead. "They're going to go through with it and people are get going to hurt and I… I can't stop it."

"Can you talk to Havok? Or anyone else?"

"No, they would all go directly to Ben or Andy," Kellin says in frustration. "Why wouldn't he listen to me? Do they want to end up killing people?

"Maybe it's not as bad as you think," Alex tries to comfort him, "Are you sure they're going to hurt Mike and Tony? Did they specifically say what the plan was?"

Kellin swallows. "No, they just say they were going to 'pay them a visit'. They were bringing lots of people, though, almost everyone was going and I'm freaking out, guys--"

"Hey, it's going to be okay," Jack says, stepping forward to rest a hand on his shoulder. "We'll find a solution, alright?"

"What solution?" Kellin laughs miserably, "Come on, tell me there's an easy fix. Guys, I don't know what to do."

A grim look passes between Jack and Alex, and then Alex says, "I think you do know what you have to do, Kellin. But you're not going to like it."

"What?" Kellin bites his lip, looking between them. "What do I have to do?"

It's Jack who finally speaks. "You have to tip Pierce the Veil off, Kellin. It's the only way."

"What--? No," Kellin says immediately, shaking his head, "No, I can't. I-- I can't. I can't betray them, they're my family. They would know it was me, they would kick me out like Denis…" he trails off. He crosses his arms.

"We could tip them off for you?" Alex suggests. "Or could you send an anonymous message?"

"No, because then the Family would know I talked to you guys about it. They would know it was me - I would still get crucified either way." Kellin shifts his weight and hugs his torso. "Oh, god, this is really happening."

"Kellin, why do you care so much?" Jack asks after a pause.

Kellin inhales softly. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, if they're your family, why don't you want this to happen? Why are you questioning their judgement?"

"Because… Because people will die. Mike and Tony will die. I… I can't let more people get hurt, not after CC." He feels his eyes glaze over with a rush of hot tears. "They were my friends, okay? I love them. They took care of me."

"You were seventeen, Kellin," Alex says gently. "Maybe it's time to let go."

"What?" Kellin asks, "Let go? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

Jack says, "I think he means that you're not responsible for them anymore. You need to take care of yourself and put the Family first."

"I… I can't let go. They're-- They were my best friends, I can't--" Kellin chokes up. "No," he shakes his head, "No. I'm not going to stand by and watch this happen. I'm not going to be at fault for this." He wipes his cheeks and walks determinedly to the door, hesitating for only a second before letting himself out and closing it behind him.

 

+

Chapter Text

As Kellin is prone to do under stressful circumstances, he takes a good long nap, thinking that maybe things will start to clear up and make sense once he wakes up.

They don't.

It's noon when he wakes, and there's an uneasy feeling deep in his gut that he just can't shake. He replays the conversation with Jack and Alex over and over in his head, but no matter how long he thinks it through, he knows they're right - he has to tip Pierce the Veil off. It's the only way.

Kellin isn't hungry, but he's just debating what he should eat for lunch when his flip phone rings. He grabs it off his bedside table, catching it on the third ring. "Hello?"

"Kellin. It's Andy."

"Hi," Kellin says. A swell of panic rises in his chest. Does he know? Did he somehow find out that I'm going to sell out the Family?

Andy coughs. "I just called to tell you Denis has been taken in. We won't know for sure for a while, but it looks like he's going to do some time. It's probably on the news by now, but… I thought I should tell you. He's getting what he deserves."

"Thanks," Kellin says after a pause, "That's… That's good news. Thank you."

"I also wanted to check in and see how you're feeling about the thing happening tomorrow night," Andy carries on. "Ben told me you called, that you were having some mixed feelings."

"Oh, yeah," Kellin says faux-casually, "That. I, uh, I've kinda thought it out and I think it's for the best," he lies. "I get it, man."

"That's good," Andy replies, his voice calculating. "Well, I'll see you soon, then."

Kellin bites his lip. "Bye."

"Bye."

Kellin hangs up and realizes that his palms are sweating. He wipes them on his jeans and grabs his keys, quickly shrugging on a jacket and stepping out of his apartment. He locks the door behind him, glancing over at Jack and Alex's door, then starts down the stairs.

He wanders out of the apartment without a specific destination in mind; he turns right and just walks until he feels like turning, then walks some more. He finally ends up at a big expanse of field with paths and benches, a few people milling about. He sits down on a bench and watches kids playing soccer for a while.

An older woman walks up and takes a seat beside him with a sigh - "I just love this park, don't you?"

"Yeah," Kellin says, offering her a smile, "It's pretty nice."

There's a long pause. "I come here to think, sometimes," the lady continues. "I used to come here every morning after my husband died."

"I'm sorry about your husband," Kellin says reflexively.

The woman shakes her head. "Don't be. It was his time to go. You young kids still have your whole life to live, you know that? It's an exciting time to be alive."

"Yeah, I guess so." Kellin tries not to feel awkward. "I'm doing some thinking of my own," he says, before he can think better of it. She looks over at him patiently, and he keeps talking. "See, I've got these friends, right? And they're really nice guys - they're like brothers to me. But they're doing some things I don't like that might hurt someone else I know. So now… I don't know what to do."

The older woman gives him a knowing look. "Follow your heart, boy. Deep down, I'm sure you know what's the right thing to do."

Kellin sighs and looks down at his feet. "I guess so. It just seems like whatever I choose, someone will end up getting hurt as a result. I--… I've hurt a lot of people in my life so far." He thinks of his parents, of Jack back home, of CC. Of Gabe. Of the people he left abandoned in his wake.

"It's never too late to make a change," the woman says slowly, "And I think if your friends really do love you, they'll understand."

"Thanks," Kellin tells her. "Thank you."

He gets to his feet and shoots her a grateful smile before continuing on his way.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin thinks for a long time.

He thinks about what he's about to do and the repercussions it will have. The Family will disown him, he knows that - hopefully by that point, he'll be long gone, on his way back to North Dakota. Never to return.

Kellin keeps walking, eventually stopping into a café around late evening to sit down for a cup of coffee; he's too wrapped up in his own mind to make himself eat something, so instead, he relies on caffeine for sustenance. There are two police officers sitting at a table next to him. He covertly observes them eating their sandwiches and wonders what would happen if he walked over and started spilling his guts.

It's an irrational thought to have, but some part of his brain is considering it. He wonders how many people would go down with him, and what prison life would be like. He seriously doubts he would last more than a week.

Kellin shakes his head and looks back down at his half-empty coffee, tracing one finger around the rim as he thinks to himself, there's really no easy way out this time, is there?

Fuck. This whole thing is a total mess.ss.

The thought that pushes him over the edge is that of CC's face, and he finds himself standing up and shoving his chair back as he rushes out of the café without finishing his coffee, breathing unevenly. He stands at the curb outside the little shop for a moment to collect himself.

He didn't know CC for that long, all things considered, but CC was always there for him in times of need. He helped Kellin out and supported him, both physically and emotionally.

He thinks back to the night of his initiation. He remembers CC lending him a jacket, introducing him to everyone and helping him navigate his new life, and he misses CC more than ever before. It hits him again as he stands there, almost like a physical pain. He feels it in his chest as his breathing constricts, running through his palms, electrifying his skin.

He wants CC back.

And if there's anything he can do to prevent more people from getting hurt, he knows he has to do this.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin has to use Google Maps in order to get back to a location he recognizes, and from there, he takes his time wandering over to Oli and Josh's apartment building. He can admit to himself that he's scared right now - terrified of what Oli's reaction will be, that they won't listen to him, that someone else he knows will die. His heart is beating quickly but steadily as he walks.

It's late out by the time he finally arrives. He stands in front of the building for a good five minutes, just working up the courage to press the call button beside the names Sykes/Franceschi.

Finally, he musters the nerves to reach out and push it, his heart beating quickly in his chest. The intercom rings twice before someone on the other end picks up.

"Hullo?"

"It's Kellin, please listen, please, it's important," Kellin rushes to get out in one breath, "You're in danger from the Family and I--"

The intercom clicks off. He's been hung up on.

"Shit," Kellin hisses. "Oh, fuck." He should have known not to lead with his name. He presses the call button again and waits, but no one picks up; after a few more attempts, he pauses before starting up again. It's to no avail.

When no one picks up after about fifteen or twenty attempts, he pulls out his packs of cigarettes and lights up, smoking nervously as he pushes the button over and over.

Finally, the other end picks up: "Stop fucking calling us!" someone - Oli - shouts angrily, and then the line goes dead again.

"Shit, shit, shit," Kellin mumbles. He kicks the wall, then takes a last deep inhale of his cigarette. He drops it and kills it with the toe of his shoe. "Fucking shit." A middle-aged woman walking by shoots him an odd look.

Kellin looks up at the dark sky and lights another cigarette, fumbling with the lighter for a moment before the flame sparks into life, briefly illuminating his face. He turns to the wall and presses the intercom button again. He continues calling for another half an hour between drags of his cigarette, but there's no response. After a while, he stops calling, instead sinking down to sit against the wall with his knees drawn up to his chest.

He chainsmokes for another few hours, standing up to continue pressing the call button every fifteen minutes or so. He's about to give up and go to sleep outside their apartment building - they have to come out at some point - when the other end finally answers.

"If you don't stop calling, I am going to put a hit out on your ass so fast you won't know who killed you. We are trying to sleep."

Oli hangs up.

"No! Please, come on, come back!" Kellin yells, stabbing at the intercom button with his index finger. He exhales in frustration and sits back down against the building, shivering inside his jacket.

By now, it's long since completely dark out; it's about a bit before midnight. Kellin's stomach growls to remind him that in the chaos of everything happening with Pierce the Veil, he hasn't eaten since last night.

Fuck, he curses to himself. He feels his eyes start to sting as he sits on the cold pavement, hungry, his ass sore and no alternative in sight.

Unless…

Kellin whips his phone out from his pocket, rejoicing when he sees that it still has battery charge. He flicks through his text history until he finds the number he's looking for - the unknown person who tipped him off about Denis.

help, he types, please, I need your help. you have to tell vic something for me.

It only takes about five minutes for his phone to buzz with a reply. can't. i'm out of town & only a few people have his number. what's so urgent?

I can't say over text, Kellin quickly writes back. can you do something else for me?

depends, what is it?

i just need you to call oli or josh and tell them to let me in. it's important. i'm sitting outside their building.

okay.

Kellin gets to his feet. He waits five more minutes before pushing the button again, but no one picks up. He tries again.

It takes three more tries before the other end of the speaker crackles to life.

"What do you want?" Oli's voice comes through.

"Don't hang up," Kellin blurts, "It's important. I just need to talk. You're in danger-- The Family, they--"

"Go away."

"Please, just listen," Kellin says, trying to control the emotions roiling in his chest, "I'm serious, I'm not--… This is important. Just let me up."

"I said, go away. Fuck, don't you ever give up?"

"It's important," Kellin repeats, "Please, we haven't got much time left, you're in danger--"

"Danger, my asshole. Stop lurking around our apartment and go the fuck home."

"Oli, please--" Kellin begs, "Just let me in. I can explain, I swear."

"Why don't you take your explanation and shove it up your--" Oli starts, but is interrupted by a voice saying, "Kellin? Are you in trouble?"

Kellin's emotions spark into relief. "Josh! Josh, please, you have to listen," he rushes to get out. "Just let me up and I'll explain everything. Please."

"If we let you up and let you talk, will you go home?"

"Yes, I promise," Kellin says, "Please, just let me talk."

There's a long moment filled with hushed voices, and then a sigh on the other end. "Okay. We're letting you up."

"But only because Lynn vouched for you," Oli adds, making his displeasure known.

Lynn? Kellin wonders briefly, Who's--? Oh. The door buzzes unlocked and his arm shoots out to pull it open before they can change their minds. He steps into the warmth of the building, opting to avoid the elevator and run up the stairs two at a time. As he approaches Oli and Josh's apartment, he sees that the door is open and hears hushed voices

"Hear him out, babe. He's been sitting out there for hours - it's clearly important."

Oli's voice is laced with contempt when he says, "He's probably just drunk off his ass again and wants to come whine about our lost friendship. Fucking idiot."

There's a smacking sound and a faint hiss, and then Kellin finds himself approaching and saying, "Guys?"

"Kellin," Josh greets him, oddly stiff and formal. Oli doesn't say anything; he continues to frown as if Kellin is a hairball he's discovered on his carpet. "Please, come in." Josh gestures for him to enter the apartment, and reluctantly, Kellin does.

The three of them stand there in awkward silence for a moment, Oli glaring daggers and Josh maintaining a carefully neutral expression.

"So what's up?" Josh asks easily enough, apparently taking on the role as facilitator of the discussion.

"I…" Kellin takes a deep breath. "The Family," he says weakly. "They're going to." He swallows thickly, "They're going to--"

"Spit it out," Oli finally says, his voice gruff.

"Jesus fuck, babe, let him talk," Josh says in annoyance.

"Fuck this," Oli mutters angrily. "Fuck you, Kellin. You don't get to waltz back over to Pierce the Veil and declare your undying love whenever things start to go south with the Family. That's not how being in a gang works. Grow the fuck up."

Kellin's eyes flood with tears in a millisecond. "But they're going to-- to hurt Mike and Tony, and--" Oli rolls his eyes, and Kellin starts to cry in earnest. "Please, just promise me you'll tell Vic what I'm going to tell you."

Oli crosses his arms. "We aren't telling Vic shit unless you stop crying and tell us what the fuck is going on."

Kellin looks helplessly over at Josh, who is still wearing the same, blank expression. "You're in danger. All of you, and-- and I don't want anyone else to die, Oli, please," he sobs, "You have to believe me, I never meant for this to happen, you have to tell Vic--"

"Are you drunk? Or high? Or suicidal? Because I can't think of any other reason you would come here," Oli exhales, his brown eyes cold and angry.

"I'm sober," Kellin insists as firmly as he can manage in his distraught state, "I need to talk to Vic, or Mike, or Tony, or Jaime, or you could talk to one of them-- I just need to let them know that they're in danger and the Family, they-- they--" He breaks down into sobs.

"Yeah, right," Oli says, frustration bleeding clearly through his tone. "Did Ben send you?"

"No," Kellin shakes his head through his tears, "I came on my own, I'm so scared and I don't want any more people to get hurt and--" he hiccoughs, "Please, I never wanted anyone to die, not CC, not Gabe, I didn't-- I didn't--"

"Oli, I think he's telling the truth," Josh says softly.

Oli snorts. "Like hell he is."

"I am, I swear, I'm not lying," Kellin cries pathetically.

"Shit," Oli growls. "Fuck." He moves over to the sink and braces his hands on the counter, his face unreadable as he stares down at it. Josh stands silently by. "Stop fucking crying," Oli finally snaps, turning around, "Stop crying and get out. I've had enough of this."

Kellin sobs harder, twisting his hands together as he pleads, "I can't go. People are going to get hurt, Oli, I-I'm not lying. You have to tell Vic. You have to tell him. Please--"

"We don't want you here, and we sure as fuck don't need your help. Leave."

He takes a menacing step towards Kellin, who panics - "No!" he practically screams, "You have to listen to me! They-- They're going to hurt them and I have to stop it, I'm not lying, please just listen to me--"

"Oli, he's telling the truth," Josh repeats, louder this time. He steps towards Kellin and hesitates slightly before wrapping one arm around Kellin's shoulders, rubbing his back. "Kellin, we need you to calm down and tell us what's going on, okay?"

Oli looks positively murderous.

"I--… They. We had a meeting," Kellin says, swallowing thickly, "and Ben and Andy--" his sentence cuts off into a sob.

"Calm the fuck down," Oli says angrily.

Josh reaches out his other hand to touch Oli's arm. "Babe, be nice. He's upset."

Kellin takes a deep breath and tries to stop crying, wiping his cheeks and nose. His knees are trembling. Looking to Josh, he starts talking. "They're--… They're going to go after Mike and Tony. T-Tomorrow night. Almost everyone is going, and-- and I'm so scared, I don't want anyone else to die, not after CC, I can't--" He wipes his eyes again and looks up at the two of them.

Oli is staring at him with somber eyes. "You're serious," he says. It's not a question.

Kellin nods jerkily. "Yes. It's… It's happening tomorrow night and I have to stop it, I can't…" he trails off, sniffling. "I can't. I-- I can't just let them get hurt," he finishes. "Please, you have to tell Vic. Please."

Josh continues to rub his back, he and Oli silently communicating through facial expressions. Kellin tries to breathe deeply, starting to calm down. "Please," he repeats weakly. "I can't lose anyone else."

"Shit," Oli says. "He's telling the fucking truth, isn't he?" Kellin feels more than sees Josh nod. "Fuck. We have to tell Vic." He runs a hand over his mouth, staring blankly at a fixed point somewhere over Kellin's right shoulder. "Okay," he finally says, "Okay. I'll get Vic on the line. Josh - get him some water and sit him down until we figure out what to do."

 

+

Chapter Text

Josh sits Kellin down on the couch and soothes him until his crying has subsided to hiccups. It's around twelve forty five; Oli is in the other room, and his muffled voice can be heard as he talks on the phone.

"It's going to be alright," Josh is saying. "It's all okay, mate."

Kellin sniffles and wipes his nose. "Thanks," he nods. "I'm just… I'm so scared, Josh. I don't want anyone else to die. I don't want to lose Mike, or Tony, or-- or anyone."

"I know," Josh comforts him, rubbing his back. "We've got you, okay? Oli is going to figure everything out with Vic and we'll all be safe. None of us are going to die.

"But-- But the Family," Kellin says miserably, "They're stronger than you guys. You won't be able to stop them, and they're still mad about CC and they're not going to stop, Josh, they won't stop until--..."

"It's okay, Kellin. We've kind of got an advantage at the moment. They don't know that we know about their plans."

Kellin focuses on his lap. "Yeah, I just… They're going to kill me."

"We won't let that happen," Josh says firmly. "You did the right thing by telling us, alright? We're going to take care of you."

"Vic hates me."

"No, he doesn't. I know Vic, and he cares about you." Josh looks at him in consideration. "When he found out you joined the Family, he was more upset than I'd seen him in a long time. He cares about you," Josh repeats. "He pretends not to care, but I think he still feels guilty about kidnapping you and ruining your life like that."

Kellin sighs. "Maybe," he grumbles softly. I doubt it. "I need to book a plane ticket back to North Dakota."

"Hold off on that until Vic tells us what to do," Josh advises. He's about to say something more when Oli emerges from the next room over, phone in hand.

He locks eyes with Kellin and says, "First off, I'm sorry for yelling at you."

"It's okay," Kellin shrugs. "I usually deserve to be yelled at."

"Secondly, we're meeting Vic and Jaime at the Waffle House in forty five minutes, so get your coats and let's go."

The two of them stare at Oli in silence for a brief moment. Josh breaks the silence with, "Waffle House? At two in the morning?"

 

+ + +

 

Kellin's leg shakes all the way to the restaurant. Oli is silent in the driver's seat, and nothing Josh says to comfort him seems to work. His anxiety continues to rise with every store and streetlight they pass. By the time they pull up outside the big yellow sign, his entire body is trembling with nerves.

"Hey. Hey, Kellin," Josh catches his attention as Oli kills the ignition, "Look at me. You're going to be fine."

Kellin takes deep, slow breaths, trying not to work himself into a panic. "I'm scared," he admits. "Guys, I'm really, really fucking scared. I'm going to throw up."

"Not in my car, you aren't," Oli snorts. "You'll be fine, mate."

"You did the right thing by telling us," Josh repeats from earlier. "If anything, we're indebted to you. You just need to keep you cool and be confident when you talk to Vic. You have to pretend like you have leverage in this situation."

"We'll be with you the whole time," Oli says somewhat gruffly. "You'll be fine."

"I just-- He--… He was so angry with me last time," Kellin says, his voice breaking. "I betrayed him. I went behind his back and broke his trust, and I feel so fucking bad." He laughs desperately. "I sold information to a rival gang, for fuck's sakes. He's going to have me killed. And now I can't go back to the Family either, so I'm pretty much supremely fucked."

Oli and Josh exchange a look. "Vic is a pretty reasonable guy," Oli finally says, "He'll know what to do."

"Fuck." Kellin rests his head in his hands. "Fucking hell. I'm going to die, aren't I?"

"Don't be melodramatic," Josh says. "Vic will take care of everything, you'll see."

Oli sighs. "Come on. Let's go, yeah?" He opens the car door and gets out, Josh following suit.

Reluctantly, Kellin does too. He looks up at the big black lettering as they stand in the early morning darkness and feels his heart metaphorically crawling up his throat. "Guys, I don't know if I can--"

"You're going to be fine," Oli calls, already heading towards the doors.

Josh moves closer to wind an arm around Kellin's shoulders. "We'll be there every step of the way."

Kellin allows himself to be gently guided towards the doors, where Oli is holding one. "I'm scared," he repeats softly. "I'm--…" he takes a deep breath, "Okay. Fuck, okay. I can do this." For CC.

He follows Josh inside, Oli bringing up the rear. Stepping inside feels like arriving for an execution. The three of them move over to a booth, where Oli slides in first, then Kellin, then Josh; it's pretty cramped, but Kellin appreciates feeling as if there's someone on his team.

The waitress - Lizzy - walks over not soon after. She must be confused as to why all three of them are sitting on the same side of the table - "Waiting for someone?"

"Yeah, some friends of ours," Josh tells her. "They should be here soon."

"Can I get you anything to drink in the meantime?"

"We'll wait for them. Thanks, love."

The waitress walks off and he drums his fingers on the table. The sound seems to magnify in Kellin's ears, rattling around inside his skull.

"Babe," Oli says quietly, reaching out to silence his tapping hand. Josh freezes, seeming to relax into the touch. Kellin plays with a loose thread on his jeans. The three of them sit in silence for a few more minutes, until Kellin feels Oli tense at his side. Kellin looks up, heart stopping as he watches the door open and Vic walks in, followed by Jaime.

He looks about the same as last time; Vic's dark brown eyes look dull and sunken from fatigue, and he appears to have lost some weight. His mouth is set in a straight line. Kellin swallows uncomfortably and clenches his fists as Vic looks around, meets Kellin's gaze and stalks towards their table. He looks hastily dressed in jeans and a plain grey shirt, and it makes him look somewhat softer. Kellin wonders if he was sleeping when he got the call.

"Oliver," Vic greets them as he approaches. "Josh. Kellin." Kellin's pulse rings hot and heavy in his ears. He looks down at the table as they slide into the booth.

They sit there in silence for a brief moment, until Lizzy comes back with a wide smile. "Can I get you guys something to drink? Tea? Coffee?" she asks cheerfully.

"Just coffee for me," Oli speaks up.

"Me too," Kellin says softly. Josh orders a water, and Vic politely declines.

Jaime grins and says, "Can I get two waffles with chocolate chips?"

"For sure," the waitress smiles back, jotting something down. "I'll be back in just a moment."

Kellin takes a deep breath. When he looks up, Vic is staring at him with cold, indecipherable eyes. "Start talking, please."

"Fuck," Kellin says softly, "Okay. Um." He looks to Josh for guidance, who nods. "I don't know what Oli told you, but. The Family are coming for Mike and Tony," he continues, not beating around the bush. "They're going to go to their apartment tonight and-- and do something to them." He swallows.

The table descends into silence for a moment, and then Vic says, "Are you sure?"

Kellin nods vigorously. "Yes, I'm sure. We had a meeting on Friday. A lot of people are going, and I-- I don't want Mike and Tony to get hurt," he finishes pathetically, eyes prickling. "I can't just--" Josh rubs his shoulder in a gesture of comfort until Vic gives him a sharp look and he stops. Kellin takes a deep breath, meets Vic's gaze and says, "Please, you have to take me seriously. Get them out of there."

The waitress approaches the table with cups and he shuts up. "Here you go," she grins, clearly ignoring the atmosphere of the table. She slides Josh his water and pours the coffee. "Can I get anything else?" She's met with tense silence. "Okay, great. I'll be back with your waffles soon."

"Thanks," Josh says quietly as she leaves, then turns back to the conversation. "We think he's telling the truth, Vic."

"Why Mike and Tony?" Jaime asks, looking to Kellin. "Did they give a reason?"

"No."

"It's 'cause Mike is Vic's little brother," Oli contributes, fiddling with his mug. "They want to hit us where it hurts."

"Shit," Vic mutters. "Fuck. What time is this happening?"

Kellin shrugs helplessly. "I don't know, I just. They said tonight. Please, Vic, you have to get them out of there," he begs. "They're going to come after Mike and Tony and they're not gonna stop-- Vic, they won't stop until they get what they want," he says breathlessly. "Just tell them to get their things and get the fuck out of that apartment, please."

Vic stares at him. Jaime looks back and forth between them in a way that's almost comical, given the circumstances.

"Shit," Vic curses. "They already shot up our warehouse and stole our product, and now this?" He pinches the bridge of his nose in a familiar display of annoyance. "Fuck. Jaime, get Mike on the phone. Actually, get Tony. Give him a brief resume of what Kellin told us and that I'm coming over in an hour and a bit."

Jaime nods, stepping out of the booth and taking out his phone in a split second before walking out of the restaurant. The silence is tense between the four of them.

"Okay, so, I'm just gonna say it," Josh says. "What's going to happen to Kellin?"

Vic frowns. "What do you mean?"

"He can't go back to the Family," Oli replies, leaning back and crossing his arms. "They'd kill him. Once they find out he ruined their plans, he's as good as dead."

Vic looks Kellin head-on, making his heartbeat speed up. "You're right," he finally concedes, his gaze never straying. "I'll take care of it."

"With all respect, Vic, saying you'll 'take care of it' isn't exactly comforting to Kellin," Oli says sternly. "He's putting a lot on the line by telling us this, yeah? He deserves to know that he's not about to be killed in twenty-four hours' time."

"Fuck you," Vic fires back, but it lacks anger. "I said I'd take care of it, didn't I?" He turns to Kellin. "We'll pick you up and move you to a safe house today, and you can stay there until I decide what to do with you."

"I just want to go home," Kellin says quietly.

"Absolutely not," Josh shakes his head. "No. If they know where you're from, they might send someone after you in order to keep you quiet."

Kellin laughs. "What?" The waitress approaches, sets down Jaime's waffles and politely makes a hasty retreat. "Are you kidding me? They-- The guys like me, they wouldn't--"

"Don't be so sure," Oli says, his tone somber. "You're no friend to them. Not anymore, not after today."

Vic clears his throat and says, "Kellin, here's what you're going to do. You're going to go back to your apartment, and you're going to pretend like nothing's wrong. The Family cannot know we know about the plan. Got it?" Kellin nods, drinking his coffee to keep his hands busy. "Gather your stuff. Jaime will come pick you up at four to take you to a safe house. Don't take anything you don't need. And don't bring any of your phones, either."

"O-Okay," Kellin stutters. He bites his tongue and stares down at his white ceramic.

The door opens and Jaime steps back into the restaurant. He walks over to the table and sits down, promptly pulling the plate of waffles towards himself, grabbing the syrup and pouring it on.

Vic pulls his phone out from his pocket and fiddles around with it for a moment before putting it back. The four of them sit there in tense silence while Jaime devours his waffles.

"Seriously, mate?" Josh asks.

Jaime shrugs. "The world isn't going to end for another twelve hours. Let a man eat."

Kellin nervously sips his coffee, watching Oli yawn from the corner of his eye. "What are you going to do to them? To the Family?" he asks with a sinking feeling in his stomach.

Vic meets his gaze. "We'll do what we have to, and whatever we have to. Mike and Tony are our top priority right now."

"We have to get them to back off," Oli adds, quieter. "They need to get the message loud and clear." Kellin shakes his head to himself, and Oli says, "They're going to want to kill you, Kellin. You need to tell yourself to let go."

"Fuck," Kellin curses softly. "Fuck, I know. I just--" he cuts himself off in agitation. "Can we-- Can we go home? I need to pack." I need to get out of here before I suffocate.

"Yeah," Josh startles, standing up, "Yeah, we can, uh. Vic?"

Vic nods once, curtly, and Kellin stands up, Oli following after the two of them.

"Later," Kellin hears Oli say as they pass the table and head towards the door. The black night air hits Kellin like a tidal wave as they step out of the restaurant, and he takes deep breaths. He firmly stops himself from looking back at the restaurant as they get back in the car.

Kellin is quiet on the drive back to his apartment, listening to Oli and Josh as they chitchat about god knows what.

"Aren't you at least a bit worried?" he finally asks.

Josh turns to look at him from the passenger seat. "If Vic said he has it taken care of, I trust him," is his simple response. "The guy knows what he's doing. He'll have a plan."

The car falls into silence. Kellin sighs and sinks back into his seat, instantly wishing for something to dull the feeling of his stomach twisting itself into knots.

Oli pulls over a block or two away from his apartment building and says, "You should walk from here. Just in case."

Kellin undoes his seatbelt and gets out of the car, hesitating before shutting the door.

Josh's window rolls down. "Jaime will come by at four, okay?" Kellin nods. "Just… act normal. Don't talk to the Family unless you have to. You'll be fine."

"Okay." Kellin tries a smile, but it's unconvincing at best. "I guess I'll see you guys soon."

"You've got this, mate," Oli adds, peering out at him. Kellin steps back, waves, the window rolls up, and they drive off into the dark of the early morning.

He's left standing on the curb beneath the golden glow of the street light, hugging his jacket to his body. Eventually, he turns and heads home, keeping his head ducked as he mulls over the night's events.

'Once they find out he's ruined their plans, he's as good as dead.'

The Family… They wouldn't actually try to kill him, would they?

He thinks back to how they've accepted him over the past half year - the pool nights, the drinking, the parties, and the friendships he's made. Will they really turn on him like Oli said they would? Do they really care about him that little?

Kellin feels panicky and overwhelmed at the thought of ditching all the friends he’s worked so hard for to make. He chose to tell Vic the plan because he didn’t want anyone to get hurt, but now it feels like he’s hurting himself in the process.

It's hard to imagine a future without the Family constantly being there for him. He's come to rely on them support through difficult times. Will they come after him, beat him up and banish him like they did Denis? He doesn't know if he trusts Vic to hold up his promise if Ben and Andy go on the warpath. Vic could still hate his guts, for all Kellin knows - the man is mostly unreadable at the best of times.

Kellin approaches his building and lets himself in, trudging his way up the stairs. Thinking about his betrayal to his friends has made his low mood sink even lower, not to mention the thought of Denis.

It's about three thirty in the morning by this point. Kellin is tired to the bone - between his lack of rest last night and waiting outside Oli and Josh's apartment for hours, he hasn't gotten a wink of sleep. He unlocks his door and then pauses, glancing across at Jack and Alex's as it finally sinks in that he's going to be gone in twelve hours.

He's going to be back at Vic's mercy again, with no apartment, no job, no source of income, nothing but the barest of possessions and possibly a gang of armed men after his blood.

What have I done? he thinks as he steps into his apartment, flicking on the light and slipping out of his ratty shoes. He shrugs off his jacket and tosses it beside the door - there's hardly a point in hanging it up if he's just going to pack it up, anyways.

Kellin looks around his apartment; he surveys what has become his home for the past half year - the books, the couch, the cheap TV, the lamp. Something tightens in his chest when he thinks of leaving it all behind.

 

+

Chapter Text

"Ready to go?" Jaime asks, one hand on the door handle, the other holding a cardboard box securely on his hip. "Got everything?"

Kellin swallows the lump in his throat. He looks around his apartment one last time; the stupid little things like the plates, the tea towels, the lamp, and most of his books - all the stuff he can't bring with him on such short notice.

He slips on his backpack and hefts his own box of belonging up into his arms with a sigh, thinking about the memories he's made here. He's slept, passed out drunk, gotten high, had sex, been betrayed, cried, had the police show up at his door…

Kellin smiles to himself in his nostalgia before nodding once. He can't help but think that he's leaving a part of himself behind as he closes this important chapter in his life.

"Yeah, I'm ready."

 

+ + +

 

The drive over to the safe house is about forty five minutes, and Jaime seems to be making a lot of unnecessary turns. When Kellin inquires about it, he just shrugs and says, "You can't be too careful."

Kellin looks out the window of the SUV. He twists his hands together in his lap and tries to think about nothing.

In probably less than eight hours' time, his life is going to shatter into a million pieces like a mirror on concrete, and Kellin doesn't know what's going to happen. He doesn't know where he stands with Vic or even if he can trust him anymore, given what's gone down between them.

Kellin feels guilty for feeding information to the Family, but he doesn't really regret it. At that point in his life, he needed the money to survive; it was harmless enough, but it irreparably damaged any trust Vic once held in him.

He wonders now if it was worth it.

But how could he have known this would happen? How could he have had any idea things would turn out this way - that he would be inducted into a group of people who became his closest friends, only to have them turn on the people he loved?

Kellin supposes it's his own fault, in a way. Going in, he knew full well that the Family were pitted against Pierce the Veil. He should have had some idea that he would eventually be forced to choose a side. It was naïve of him to ever think otherwise.

He sighs and sinks further into the passenger seat as they take more winding turns through a residential neighbourhood.

"Almost there," Jaime reassures him.

Sure enough, they pull up to the curb and stop about five minutes later. Kellin looks outside and sees a tiny yellow house with white trim and a brown roof, neat grass and two bushes in front of the postage stamp windows on either side of the door.

"Is this… it?"

Jaime nods, kills the engine and pops the door. "Grab a box." He gets out and rounds the car to the trunk, opening it, then hauling out one of the two boxes. Kellin follows suit.

The two of them walk up the cement path leading up to the front door, Kellin looking around at the neighbouring houses with contained curiosity. It looks like a normal enough neighbourhood - the houses are small but nice-looking, in good repair and with well-kempt gardens.

Jaime walks up to the door and knocks. The two of them only have to wait a moment before the door swings open to reveal a familiar face.

"Tony?" Kellin can't stop himself from saying in mild surprise. "You're--? Where's Mike?"

Tony casts an eye around. "Come inside first, guys."

"Right," Kellin shakes his head, "Yeah." He follows Jaime inside, and the two of them take off their shoes before setting down the boxes. Kellin lets the backpack fall to the floor. When he straightens up, he sees a dining room to his right and a sparsely-furnished living room to his left.

"The kitchen's through there," Tony explains, pointing to the door on the left of the little hallway, "There's your room," he gestures to the one on the right, "and if you go straight, there's a bathroom. Come on, Kellin, bring your stuff into the bedroom."

Kellin picks up a box, shuffling past Tony and into the room. It's painted the palest of blues, with stylish white trim and a medium-sized bed in the center. Kellin sets the box down on the bed. "I won't bother unpacking yet," he announces.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Tony nod. "That might be wise. We don't know how long you'll be here for, anyways," he says quietly.

"Tone?" Jaime says from the hallway, peeking around the doorframe. "I'm going to head downtown, see what's going on and all that. I'm getting antsy being so far away from the action."

"Okay," Tony slowly agrees after a pause. "I'll stay here with Kellin. If you see Mike…" he trails off. He shakes his head. "Whatever. You know."

"So, where is Mike?" Kellin frowns.

Tony visibly tenses. "He's with Vic. They're… Well." There's an awkward pause. "They're going to take care of the situation."

Kellin looks over at Jaime, who seems uncomfortably quiet. "What's going to happen?" he asks after a moment. When no one answers, he says, "Guys? Can you please just tell me what the plan is? I'm kind of sick of all this secrecy."

"Vic told us not to tell you," Jaime sighs.

"Yeah, well, you know as well as I do that Vic can be a dick sometimes. Don't keep me in the dark, here." Kellin looks between them in exasperation. "Guys, c'mon. It's me."

"He didn't want you to get… upset," Tony hedges.

Kellin folds his arms. "I want to know."

Jaime looks over at Tony, the two of them silently communicating with their eyes. "Fine," he exhales. "They're, uh… They're going to wait for the Family to show up at Mike and Tony's place, then they'll surround them, capture Ben and force them to renegotiate."

"A hostage situation?" Kellin asks after a moment in disbelief. "Wow. Vic really thinks that's the best way to go?"

"Kellin, they killed one of our guys, shot some others and stole thousands of dollars worth of meth from under our noses," Tony says somewhat impatiently. "They won't stop until they have our land and us backed into a corner. This is the only way we can get them to listen."

Kellin stands there with his arms crossed, feeling stupid and worked up. "Yeah, I see your point. But I still don't like it. Too much room for error."

"You don’t have to like it," Jaime weighs in. "You just have to stay here and lay low for the next couple days until we figure out what else to do with you."

"Guess so," Kellin shrugs.

Jaime coughs. "Yeah." He looks to Tony - "You guys good?"

"Yeah, we're good."

"Alright. See you muchachos later. Everything is going to be fine." He grins and lifts a hand in farewell, and a second later, the door opens and shuts.

"So… You like the house?" Tony asks somewhat awkwardly.

"It's cute," Kellin concedes. "Seems like Vic likes to choose houses with character. It hasn't got a secret giant basement, though, does it?"

Tony laughs and shakes his head, looking down at the carpet. "No, no it doesn't. We still have MarioKart and grilled cheese, though. That hasn't changed."

Kellin's mouth quirks up into a rueful half-smile. "Four years goes by quickly," he says softly.

"So, uh, you want to play cards or something?" Tony inquires.

They spend a couple hours switching between rummy, speed and war, which segues into watching 'Zombieland, which turns into putting on 'Long Island Medium' and then 'Say Yes To The Dress' and making fun of TLC in general.

They eat dinner late; it's about ten at night before Kellin's stomach grumbles and he realizes he should probably feed it. He cooks Kraft dinner for the two of them while Tony takes a phone call in the other room, the cadence of his voice muffled through the wall. He's been texting and calling on and off all night - Kellin feels bad that Tony is missing out on the action to babysit him, but he doesn't see an alternative. He's glad for the company.

"Sorry about that," Tony says upon his return. "Work," he adds vaguely.

"Is everything okay?" Kellin inquires.

"Yeah, everything's going according to plan so far. The guys are just waiting for the Family to show up at this point."

Kellin nods in understanding as he pours the pasta into two bowls. He's nervous, but trying to act as casual as possible.

They're just watching M*A*S*H, empty bowls and spoons set on the coffee table when Tony's phone lights up with a text alert. Tony hastily picks it up and unlocks it. Kellin turns his attention back to the TV where Radar is saying something funny.

"Fuck," Tony says from beside him, looking down at his phone. "Oh, fuck. Kellin, I have to go," he says, standing up, moving to the front door and slipping his shoes on. "Shit, shit, shit," he hisses.

"What's wrong? What's going on?" Kellin asks, panicked.

"I can't-- I have to go," Tony shakes his head. "I'll be back later. Just stay put. Watch TV or sleep or something, please. Don't leave the house. I'll come back." He opens the door, runs out and slams it behind him, leaving Kellin sitting in stunned silence.

He doesn't know what's going on, but he knows it can't be good.

 

+ + +

 

Kellin tries to go to sleep a couple of times, but it's futile. He ends up watching the news, unsure of whether or not he wants to come across something to give an indication as to what's happening with the two gangs. He's sick and jittery with nerves as his mind wanders over all of the possible situations; Tony said he would be back later, but the time is rapidly approaching four AM and no one has contacted him yet.

The very second he hears the front door handle turning, Kellin is off the couch. His heart is beating steadily in his chest.

The door opens and suddenly Oli is there, looking tired and pale. "Kellin," he says. He steps in and closes the door behind him, leaving the two of them standing there in silence.

"Is-- Is it over?" Kellin asks in a small voice.

"Yeah, love. It's over."

Kellin feels relief wash over him, but then he registers that there's a muscle twitching in Oli's jaw, something tense in his expression. His eyes flick down and he sees that Oli is wearing his scrubs, dark brown staining the bottom of his top. "Oh my god, what happened?" Kellin immediately asks, a sinking feeling in his gut. There's a drawn-out pause in which Oli completely avoids eye contact. "What happened?" he repeats.

"We won," Oli finally says, still not meeting his gaze. "The Family is going to back off. For a long time, at least."

Kellin stands in silence for a moment, slowly processing the information. "Oli, what-- Who?" he finally says again. "Tell me. What happened?"

Oli exhales. "It's Vic," he finally says, his tone taut.

Kellin stiffens and draws in a sharp breath. He looks Oli in the eye, searching his face. "Oh my god," he faintly hears himself say. "What-- Is-- Is he okay?"

"I think he will be," Oli replies, scrubbing a hand across his face. "I think he's going to be okay. He lost a lot of blood, though. We… We're waiting for him to wake up."

Kellin stands in shocked silence. "What happened?" he asks.

Oli sighs and takes off his shoes. "They captured Ben and got out of there, like the plan said. They negotiated over the phone and came to an agreement, but… The drop off. There was a problem. I don't know the exact details." The horrifying quiet weighs in; Kellin feels like he can't breathe. "They shot Vic," Oli finally continues, straightening up. "They got him twice in the lower leg, once in the bicep and once in the abdomen. He barely made it back."

Kellin says, "Oh my god." He covers his mouth with one hand. "Is he…" he swallows thickly. "Will he be alright?"

"Kellin, I--…" Oli closes his eyes. "I don't know what to tell you. A bullet hit his liver and we had to do an open cholecystectomy, and I ligated several biliary ducts, but. I don't know how well he's going to bounce back from this. I just don't know."

Kellin is left reeling. Vic, shot? This can't be happening.

He's still trying to process the news when Oli says, "He has lots of muscle and tissue damage. The bullets mostly just nicked his bones, but I'm concerned about the muscle and tendon in his leg. I spent awhile in surgery and I'm trying to take care of him the best I can," he shakes his head. "He's going to be okay, but for now, he's in rough shape."

"Holy fuck," Kellin finds himself saying. "When… Can I talk to him? When will he be better?"

"I don't know," Oli replies honestly. "I don't know, Kellin. He needs to rest and recuperate for a while before we find out. Jaime and Mike and Tony are all down there already - you can talk to him later."

"What about everyone else? Are they okay?"

"Yeah, they're fine. I'm sorry, Kellin, but I need to sleep. I've just gotten out of surgery and I need to be up to take care of Vic tomorrow. We can talk about this more in the morning."

"Yeah," Kellin takes a deep breath, shaking his head, "Yeah, okay. I can--… The bedroom is the door on the right. I'll take the couch tonight."

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

Oli nods and shuffles past him down the little hall. He disappears into the bedroom and Kellin hears the subtle sound of clothes being shucked, a comforter drawing back, some rustling, and then silence.

Kellin's heart hurts. He has a black, empty feeling inside his chest. Vic has always seemed like a pillar of strength and invincibility; it's hard to think about him lying in a bed somewhere, unconscious and weak.

He walks over to the couch and sits down, breathing deeply, holding his head in his hands.

He and Pierce the Veil are free from the Family, but at what godawful price?

He stays awake for what must be another hour, thinking and overthinking until he can't bear the silence anymore. He gets up, joints creaking, to check the time on the stove - it's five seventeen in the morning. He doesn't really recall going back to the couch and falling into sleep, but the next thing he knows he's seventeen years old and back in the kitchen of the safe house, cooking pasta.

It's dark outside, but the house is peaceful and quiet as he stirs the sauce and keeps an eye on the boiling noodles. There doesn't seem to be anyone else inside.

He's just humming and dancing a little to himself when suddenly, the phone rings. It's an old fashioned red rotary phone, like in his grandparents' house, sitting in the middle of the dining room table - he walks over, picks it up and says, "Hello?"

"Kellin."

He frowns. "Yeah, that's me. Who is this?"

"Kellin, don't-- You have to... get out of here. The police will be coming-- You have to get--"

His blood turns to ice in his veins. "CC?" he asks, his voice hardly a whisper. There's coughing on the other end and Kellin's hands are instantly shaking, gripping the receiver with white knuckles.

The coughing stops. There's heavy breathing and then silence.

"...CC?" Kellin asks unsteadily. On the stove, the pot of water is noisily boiling over.

"You left him to die," a new voice says, sounding a lot like Andy.

"I didn't. I didn't," Kellin protests, fighting tears.

"He was terrified and alone. You weren't there for him. You--"

"Stop. Please, stop," Kellin cries.

"You could have saved him--"

Unable to take it anymore, Kellin drops the phone like it's white hot. It bounces on the spiralled cord a few times and then falls still, dangling off the edge of the table.

Kellin is trembling, trying to compose himself, when the lights go out and there comes the sound of wet coughing continues, this time from the guest room.

He freezes and turns around. "H-Hello?"

"Kell-- Kellin--," comes a response. "Help, please, god, help me--" Kellin softly starts to walk down the hall, keeping his footsteps quiet. "Kellin, please-- It hurts--"

The last door is ajar. He stops for a moment, heart pounding, before leaning forward to push it open with the palm of his hand. "Hello?"

Inside, there's a figure lying fallen on the bed, vaguely illuminated by pale blue moonlight coming through the open window. The curtains billow ominously as Kellin approaches the bed. "Hello?"

As he gets closer, the figure suddenly turns its head.

It's Vic.

There's a trickle of blood trailing down from the side of his mouth, and his hair lies tangled and wet on the pillow where his skull appears caved in. There's a cut across his forehead and another below his eye, and his chest is covered in blood. His irises look unnaturally big.

"O-Oh my god," Kellin says. "Vic? Are you--?"

"You left him to die and now you're going to leave me, too," Vic says. He sits up and smiles, baring tiny, sharp teeth.

Kellin backs away from the bed. "I--I don't-- I can't--" he gasps. "Please, don't--"

The thing - it's not Vic, it can't be - gets up from the bed and seems to glide towards him. Kellin stumbles out of the room, shutting the door, but the thing floats through it like water, still smiling at him.

"Please, I didn't want to leave him," Kellin begs, stopping as his back his a wall. "You have to know, I loved him, I love you, I didn't--"

The Vic-thing reaches out to touch his face with clawed hands. Its fingers are gelid where they come into contact with his skin, leaving pinches of cold.

"Please," Kellin whispers, but he's not sure what he's asking for.

The monster opens its mouth and leans in as if to kiss him, and then all of a sudden, he's awake.

He blinks and sits upright on the couch, his body covered in a cold sweat. He gasps for breath and wipes a hand across his forehead, looking at the window where morning sunlight is streaming in. "Fuck," he pants.

Kellin has always had bad dreams, but this is the worst one he's had in a long time. He shakes his head and stumbles over to the kitchen, drinks a glass of water from a cup he found in the cupboard, then checks the time. It's ten fifty two in the morning. Outside, the sun is shining and the grass is green. It looks like it's shaping up to be a beautiful day.

Kellin catches his breath for a moment longer before padding over to the bedroom door and knocking quietly. "Oli? Are you awake?"

There's no response, so he lowers his hand and goes back to the couch. Absently, he flicks on the television; he avoids the news, instead opting to watch some National Geographic program. He doesn't know what else to do - he's not really paying attention so much as using it as white noise.

A half hour later, the door to the bedroom opens and Oli steps into the living room in his briefs, squinting blearily. "Hey," he says, voice sleep-rough.

"Morning," Kellin greets him.

Oli scratches his bare stomach. "I guess you'll be wanting to go see Vic, then, yeah?" Kellin nods. "I'll take you after breakfast. I don't even know if he'll be awake yet, but we'll see."

"I don't mind if he's asleep," Kellin replies softly. "I just want to see him." He doesn't say, I need to convince myself that he's going to be okay.

Oli hesitates, looking him over for a moment, then saunters out of the room. "Alright, then," he says on his way out. There's some noise from the kitchen. Oli appears a moment later with two bowls of cereal and passes one to Kellin - "I haven't gotten any calls yet, so that's a good sign," he offers. "He'll be awake soon enough, and then we can get him walking to reduce the risk of blood clots." He shoots Kellin a smile and chews his cereal.

The two of them quietly finish breakfast. Kellin washes his face in the small bathroom and gets dressed in jeans and a T-shirt from his backpack; he methodically washes their dishes as he tries to mentally prepare himself, hardly focusing on the bubbles and the swirl of the water while trying to imagine what Vic's condition will be like.

"Ready to go?" Oli calls from the bedroom a couple minutes later.

"Yeah," Kellin replies, tone uncertain. He braces his arms on the sink for a quick moment to steady himself.

When he makes his way over to the front door, Oli is putting on his shoes, wearing his stained scrubs from last night. Kellin's eyes are glued to the maroon splotches staining the blue fabric. "Don't have a change of clothes," Oli says somewhat apologetically. Kellin swallows and nods, not saying anything.

They make their way out to the small blue car parked in the driveway and get inside. Few words are spoken on the drive into town, and Kellin is both grateful and tense. To his surprise, Oli tells him they're heading to the same motel Kellin woke up in the last time he was in San Diego.

"Why that motel? Do you guys know the owner?" Kellin inquires, thinking about the Family and the bar.

"Nah, Vic owns it. We run it the same as a regular motel, but we keep a couple rooms for our own purposes."

"Oh," Kellin remarks. "That's… Yeah. Okay." He shuts up.

They continue to drive for about five more minutes, and then Oli is flipping on the turn signal and Kellin is taking deep breaths as they pull into the parking lot.

Tony, Jaime and a woman Kellin doesn't know are standing around beside two black SUVs close to the building, and Jaime waves as Oli parks alongside them. "Hey, strangers!"

"Hey," Oli replies as he gets out, Kellin doing the same, "We're here to check up on Vic." He nods to Tony, who smiles warmly back. "Kellin, this is Lynn," Oli says, gesturing to the young woman.

Kellin starts a little as he realizes that this must be the mysterious person who tipped him off about Denis. She's pretty, with elfin features and shiny brown hair under her backwards snapback; if Kellin were straight, he would probably be blushing and stuttering.

"Hi," he says awkwardly, offering a smile. "I, um. I'm Kellin. Thanks for everything."

"It's good to finally meet you," she grins, nodding and tucking her hands into the pockets of her blue denim short shorts.

"You two know each other?" Tony asks, pointing between them.

"In a way," Lynn laughs. She has a beautiful smile.

Oli and Jaime are talking about something in low voices. Kellin turns around in time to hear, "--hasn't woken up yet. --normal?"

Oli says something back, then turns to Kellin. "Apparently, he's still out cold. D'you still want to see him?"

"Yeah," Kellin confirms with certainty.

Oli inhales deeply. "Let's get this show on the road, then. My bag still up there?" he asks to Jaime, who nods. "Great. Let's go, Kellin." He starts to move towards the building.

Kellin bites his lip and starts to follow. "Nice meeting you," he says to Lynn over his shoulder.

"Likewise," she replies with an easy grin.

He and Oli make their wake over to the stairs, Kellin lagging behind a few steps. His hands feel awkward at his sides and he twists them together as they start to climb.

"I'm going to go in and do a quick check up of everything first," Oli announces at the top. "That alright? It won't take long. Just got to verify that his vitals are okay and all that. Basic stuff."

"Yeah, that's fine," Kellin nods.

He leans back against the railing, watching as Oli walks away, disappearing into the last room on the floor.

He's nervous - way more so than usual. He so desperately wants Vic to be okay that it makes his chest hurt. Some rational part of him is saying 'Calm down, spaz, Oli said he'll be fine,' but an even bigger part is screaming 'What if he isn't?'

It turns out Kellin only has to wait five or ten agonizing minutes or so before Oli emerges with his black doctor's bag and a slight smile. He's now wearing a plain grey shirt and navy joggers, soiled blue scrubs tucked under his arm.

"How is he?" Kellin can't help but to ask.

"He seems to be okay. As well as can be," Oli tells him. "You can go in now, if you want." He passes Kellin a key card.

Kellin accepts it, taking a deep breath, and squares his shoulders. "Okay, yeah. Alright."

He starts to walk towards the door, but Oli stops him with a hand on his shoulder. "Listen, Kellin. I just want to prepare you. He's in rough shape right now, and he's hooked up to an IV and stuff. There's a monitor in there. It's not as bad as it looks, though, okay?" Kellin nods. "When he wakes up, he might be… disoriented. If he finally decides to rejoin the land of the conscious while you're in there, call me right away, got it?" Oli reaches out and affectionately ruffles his hair. "Go get 'em, kid. I'll be in the parking lot with the guys."

Kellin gives him a tense smile and brushes past him, coming to a stop in front of the door. He looks back at Oli, who waves at him to enter; hesitantly, he puts one hand on the door handle and slides the key card into the slot. It clicks, and he pushes the door open.

The room is fairly dim inside. The shades are halfway drawn and the only light radiates from a tall lamp beside the television. And Vic…

He looks about as well as Kellin expected him to look, but it's still a shock to his system to see Vic lying there, sleeping, white sheets up to his waist. His right bicep is bandaged, as is most of his midsection. He's hooked up to an IV pole and there's an old-looking monitor beside his bed, accompanied by a walker sitting in the corner. The left side of his face looks raw and scraped, the indigo hue of a bruise adorning one cheekbone.

"Vic?" Kellin asks softly, just in case. There's no response. Vic doesn't move.

He feels like hyperventilating. Vic shouldn't be here, not like this - he should be standing up and scolding people with fire in his eyes, not lying silently in a motel room bed. He shouldn't be this vulnerable.

Kellin walks over to the chair beside the bed and sits down. He watches Vic; the way his dark eyelashes lay against his cheeks, his hands, fingers half-curled against the bright white of the covers. Kellin has only really seen him asleep like this once or twice, and it's shocking how fragile he looks.

Kellin takes a deep breath. He reaches out a hand, then falters and lets it drop back into his lap.

He clears his throat. "So, um. I don't know if you can hear me," he starts, feeling supremely idiotic talking to an empty room. "I… Oli said-- he said you would be okay, but. I just need to be sure you were alright. That you aren't dead. I had this dream…" he trails off, "Well. You and CC, you were dead. It scared me. And I realized… I realized I can't lose you. I just can't." He's getting choked up, and on an impulse, he reaches out to hold Vic's hand. "I can't lose anyone else. I love all of you too much." He takes a deep breath. "So… I just came here to tell you that I've decided I'm going back to North Dakota."

Kellin sighs and sits there a moment longer before standing up. He bends over the bed and rests his hands lightly on Vic's shoulders, then slowly bends down to drop a kiss on his forehead. Out of the corner of his eye, he swears he sees Vic's hand twitch, but when he looks, it's still.

His soul feels heavy as he leaves the motel room.

"Ready?" Oli calls as he descends the stairs. "That was quick."

"Ready," Kellin says, forcing a smile.

Now that he's seen Vic, he feels at peace. He's ready to go.

 

+ + +

 

"Are you okay?" Oli asks on the drive back to the house. "I know seeing him like that can't be easy."

"I'm fine," Kellin replies. "It wasn't too bad." It's a lie, and he knows it - seeing Vic defenseless like that might be of the hardest things he's ever had to bear witness to.

Oli just nods. They spend the rest of the drive in silence, and when they get back to the little yellow house, Kellin heads to the bedroom. He stops at the foot of the bed and looks down at the two boxes of his belongings, innocently sitting there on the floor. He sighs and dejectedly knocks one with his toe.

He walks out of the bedroom and grabs his backpack from the front door.

"What're you doing?" Oli asks, his fluffy brown head poking over the top of the couch.

"Just going through my stuff," Kellin smiles, trying his best to be convincing. He retreats back to the room with the pack and starts emptying it onto the bed until there's nothing left inside.

He bites his lip, doing a quick inventory of his clothes spread out on the sheets. Kellin grabs a pair of pants and a long-sleeve shirt, folds them, and stuffs them in the bottom of his bag. On second thought, he adds a sweater. He'll need a change of clothing for when he gets back to his parents' house (he doubts Jack will want him back as a roommate).

Packing is harder than he thought it would be. Kellin goes through the contents of both boxes, trying his best to be sparing about what he chooses to pack and what he decides to leave behind. A half-hour later, he ends up with a backpack full of memories and a heavy head.

The house is quiet when Kellin sneaks out that afternoon. He makes sure to tell Oli he's heading to the bedroom for a nap, so that his absence won't seem suspicious.

"Want me to wake you up later?" Oli offers, looking up from his book.

"Nah, I'll get up on my own," Kellin politely declines from his position on the stairs. "See you soon."

"See you," Oli says absently. Kellin pauses, stopping to watch him for a second longer before slipping back upstairs.

He collects his backpack from off the bed, puts on his shoes, grabs CC's jacket and quietly opens the front door. The first few steps are the hardest to take, but once he walks down the path and onto the sidewalk, he keeps his head down and keeps moving, heart breaking with every footstep he takes.

 

+ + +

 

"Vic? Are you with me?"

Vic groans, shifting.

"I'll take that as a yes. Tony, can you call Oli? He wanted to know when he woke up."

"Jaime?" Vic croaks. "Jaime, what--?"

"You were shot, Vic. Oli fixed you up as well as possible, but you're in rough shape." Vic tries to sit himself up and Jaime gently pushes him back down. "Relax. Take it easy, dude."

"Where's Kellin?" Vic rasps. "I had a dream--…"

"He came to see you an hour or two ago," Jaime says reassuringly. "Everything is fine. Oli can tell you more about what's going on when he gets here."

Vic blinks, registering the scene around him; he's in a white motel bed, Jaime leaning over him while Tony talks on the phone in the background. He looks down at his right arm and sees it bandaged, an IV protruding from his lower arm. He remembers driving to the drop-off spot with Ben tied up, and then he thinks he vaguely recalls gunshots and yelling, but not much past that.

"I need to get out of here," he hears himself say. "Kellin-- I need to see him."

"What? Kellin?" Jaime frowns. "You just need to chill out here until Oli comes and he'll tell us what to do from here. Everyone is fine, okay? Kellin is fine. Do you want some water or something?"

"No, I just-- I need to talk to Kellin." Vic tries to raise himself up again and this time Jaime helps him, pushing pillows behind him so he can sit. He ignores the pain in his abdomen at the sudden movement.

"Oli's on his way," Tony says from the foot of the bed.

Vic's head is foggy. "I need to piss," he finally vocalizes.

"I'll help you," Jaime offers. "Slowly," he warns when Vic tries to swing his legs over the edge of the bed. Tony appears at his side with a walker.

"I'm not using that," Vic huffs in pain. "Just. I can do it on my own, fuck."

He indelicately rips the IV from his arm and unclips the monitor, stumbles upright, and promptly nearly keels over backwards at the pain in his left calf. Jaime grabs his uninjured arm to keep him steady. "Fuck," he hisses, "Shit."

"I don't know if we should…" Tony trails off, hovering uncertainly. "Maybe we should wait for Oli."

"I have to fucking piss," Vic grunts. "Jesus Christ, ow. Pass me the fucking walker."

Tony wheels it in front of him and he grabs onto it, holding the handles and feeling weak as he rolls to the bathroom at an agonizingly slow pace, trying to avoid putting weight on his left leg. He's naked except for his underwear.

"Do you need help?" Jaime asks as he finally makes it into the bathroom.

"No," Vic shakes his head, turning on the light. He catches sight of himself in the mirror and pauses to stare at his reflection. It's not the worst beating he's taken by far, but he doesn't like the battered look of himself. What did Kellin think upon seeing him like this?

"Oli will be here in five," Tony calls to him. "Are you sure you don't need help?"

"I'm fine," Vic practically snaps back. "It's just my stupid leg. I've had worse." He feels childish and rude.

Vic leaves the walker at the door, holding onto the wall to get over to the toilet and doing his business as quickly as possible. He does a passable job of washing his hands and then hobbles to take hold of the walker again. Getting back to the bed takes a minute, and almost as soon as he's sat back down on the bed, Oli comes into the room.

"Hey," he says cheerfully, closing the door. He's carrying his black doctor's bag and a cane, which he brusquely sets down on the bed. He wastes no time in getting right into the usual exam.

Oli is done in five minutes and he steps back. "Well? How do you feel?"

"Fine," Vic shrugs. "My leg hurts a bit. How's Kellin? I need to talk to him."

"He's good," Oli says, looking at him with narrowed eyes. "He came to see you earlier, but you were sleeping."

"Can you take me to him?"

"He's taking a nap."

"Then wake him up," Vic replies, sounding petulant. "I don't know if… I just need to talk to him."

"I don't think that's really what's of utmost importance right now," Oli frowns. "He's fine. You'll be fine. Everyone is fine."

"I need to see him," Vic repeats, his tone dark. "Don't make me pull rank, Oli."

"Fine," Oli sighs, rolling his eyes. "If I go back to the house, grab him and come back, will you stop being a fucking pain in the ass? We need to go over the details of your recovery and all that, you know." Vic agrees with a slight tilt of his head, and Oli continues with, "Have it your way. I'll be back in twenty minutes. Until then, don’t strain yourself. And drink a glass of water, for fuck's sakes. Idiot." He nods to Tony and Jaime before exiting the room, gone as quickly as he came.

Vic leans back in the bed, ignoring the way Jaime and Tony are looking at him. "Has Mike been by?" he finally asks.

"Yeah, he's been back and forth," Tony bites his lip. "He's figuring out some shit in his sector. He's been really worried about you, y'know. For a while there, we thought… Well, we thought we might lose you. I think--," he clears his throat. "I think sometimes maybe you forget that he's still your baby brother. If you hadn't made it, he would have been next to run the show."

Vic looks down at his hands for a long moment before speaking. "You're… You're right. I don't like to think about it, but you're right." He rubs his temple. "I'm sorry, guys. I thought we had the drop-off figured out. I didn't know they would pull that shit on us."

"None of us could have known," Jaime shakes his head, "But we still should have been more prepared. We shouldn't have brought you with us."

The room lapses into silence.

"Do you think this is going to be the end of it?" Tony asks quietly.

Vic shoots him a slight smile. "Yeah, man. I'm hardly breaking out the champagne, but I do. For a long while, at least. I think the Family will try to go after the Romans instead."

They make small talk for another ten minutes, until a familiar phone chime rings.

"Oh! That's yours," Jaime says, fishing into his pocket. "I brought it for you just in case." He hands it over to Vic, who answers it.

"Hello?"

"Hey, Vic," Oli greets him on the other end. "Um, we may have a small problem."

Vic frowns. "What's wrong?"

"Well… Kellin's gone."

"Gone?" Vic asks, furrowing his brow. "How can he just be gone?"

"Look, I don't know. He's not in the house and all of his important stuff is gone."

"Did he leave a note or something? Maybe he went for a walk."

"Yes, Vic, because I always take a backpack, clothes, photographs and my favourite books when I go out for a stroll," Oli replies, his tone dripping sarcasm.

"Fuck," Vic says, "Shit. Alright. I need to go." He hangs up, ignoring Oli's protests. "Give me my clothes," he instructs brusquely. Jaime hands them over and he pulls on his shirt and sweats as quickly and painlessly as he can, wincing at the pain in his abdomen when he reaches up. "Guys, Kellin took his shit and left."

"Vic, I don't think you should--" Tony starts.

Vic impatiently waves a hand. "I've had worse. We need to get Kellin back."

Jaime looks over at Tony with a concerned expression. "But-- What? We don't even know where he is, Vic. He could be long gone by now."

Vic stands up, only swaying slightly, and grabs the cane from the end of the bed. "Take me to the airport," he demands.

"This is a bad idea," Jaime tries to dissuade him. "Kellin doesn't--"

"Just take me to the airport," Vic interrupts. "He'll be there, I'm sure of it. Are you coming or not?"

"Vic, this is a terrible idea. You should be resting--"

"You know what? Save it." He limps over to the door and walks out of the room. Sure enough, Jaime and Tony both follow.

"You're not driving, not in your condition," Tony objects once they finally reach Tony's car in the parking lot. Vic narrows his eyes, but gets into the passenger seat anyways. Jaime gets in the back and Tony starts the car.

They barely talk on the drive over to the airport, and the air inside the car seems thick. Vic is in mild pain but trying not to display it, instead thinking about what the hell he's going to say to Kellin. He's praying it's not too late.

As they draw closer, he gets more and more tense. By the time they pull up outside, Vic's insides feel coiled tight like a spring.

"I'll come with you," Jaime says as Vic gets out, undoing his seatbelt.

"No," Vic shakes his head, "I have to do this on my own. I'll call you." He grabs the cane, shuts the door and walks over to the doors as quickly as he can. The car pulls away as he enters the building.

Vic looks in dismay at all the different check-in lines, scanning the crowds. Kellin could be gone already.

Horror sets in. Suddenly, Vic is dropping his cane and running, jogging through the airport. He faintly hears someone saying "Sir, you need to slow down!" as he dodges a stack of suitcases. He's looking at line after line of people, but no one looks familiar. There's a stabbing, searing pain in his abdomen and his left leg feels like giving out, but--

There.

His heart stops as he catches sight of long, dark hair, a leather jacket and a backpack at the front of the line before check-in.

"Kellin!" he yells as loud as he can, "Kellin!" Vic is out of breath and in pain, but he keeps running, ducking under the ropes in order to get to him. "Excuse me-- Sorry, I need to-- Excuse me--"

Kellin is just handing his ticket to the attendant when Vic reaches him.

"Kellin," Vic pants, unsteadily grabbing his shoulder.

Kellin flinches, turning to look at him with wide eyes. "Vic?" he says after a second of shocked silence. "Vic, what--"

"Do you know this man?" the woman asks Kellin, her tone annoyed.

"Don't go," Vic blurts, holding his side. "Please. Don't go."

"Yes, he's my friend," Kellin tells her offhandedly. "What are you--?" he asks Vic confusedly.

"Can you two please step out of the way?" the attendant asks, motioning for them to move so she can direct the next person in line. Vic limps out of the way, still holding onto Kellin, who follows. Other people are staring, but Vic doesn't care.

"How-- How did you find me?" Kellin asks, blinking.

"I... I don't know. I woke up and I remembered your voice. It doesn't matter," Vic waves a hand, wincing in pain. "You have to stay, Kellin. Don't go."

"Oh my god, Vic, you're bleeding," Kellin frowns, pity flashing across his features. "Why would you--"

"Stay," Vic pleads. "Please, you don't have to leave."

Kellin won't meet his eyes. "I can't. I just... I can't stay here. I don't want to watch anyone else get hurt, Vic," he says, voice breaking.

"I can buy you a house," Vic flounders. "I can pay you, I can-- I can help you. We can figure it all out."

"It's not about the money," Kellin shakes his head. "I can't stay here. I never should have come back," he mumbles. "There's nothing left for me here."

"What about me?"Vic asks. "What am I supposed to do once you're gone?"

Kellin looks at him, dumbstruck. "You told me to go home. You don't want me here."

"I was angry," Vic blinks, clutching at his stomach where there are splotches of blood seeping through his shirt. "I was angry, and it as stupid, and I didn't mean it. Now that things are under control… I care about you, goddamn it, don't you know that by now?"

"Vic, I--" Kellin starts, "My plane leaves in an hour. Just let me go."

"No," Vic shakes his head adamantly, "No. I let you go once and it was the biggest mistake I've ever made. I can't do that again."

Kellin is absolutely speechless. He shifts his weight, playing with his ticket. "Vic, I just… I can't do this anymore. Not after CC, and Gabe, and Denis and you, not--… I just can't." He looks broken, and Vic knows there's a hurricane going on inside his head.

"Stay," Vic says softly, ignoring the sting of his reopened incisions and the blood now staining his stomach. "For Jaime. For Oli. For Mike and Tony. For me, Kellin. We all need you here." Quietly, he adds, "I need you here."

"Don't fuck with me like that," Kellin frowns. "I know you don't like me, okay? Don't try to manipulate my feelings just to stop me from leaving."

"I'm not trying to-- Just listen. Please. We can figure everything out, okay? You don't have to go."

Kellin just looks at him with sad eyes. "Goodbye, Vic."

He steps backwards, turning on his heel, and hands the woman his ticket. Vic's heart is thumping between his ears and he follows, grabbing Kellin's arm when he goes to move past the check-in desk.

"Sir," the attendant says, annoyed, "Sir, if you don't have a ticket, I'm going to need you to--"

Vic tunes her out. He looks firmly into Kellin's eyes, reaches up to hold the sides of his face, and presses their lips together in a soft kiss.

The whole world goes silent. It feels like everything around them comes to a standstill.

"Vic," Kellin breathes as they finally move apart. "What--?"

"Don't go," Vic says. "Stay here with me, okay? We need you." He inhales shakily. "I want you here really fucking bad. I--I can buy you a house, and-- and you can get a cat, and everyone can visit and you'll never have to worry about the Family ever again. You'll never have to worry about anything." He realizes he's rambling, trying to fill up the empty space between them. "Taking you with us when you were seventeen… That was both the best and stupidest thing I've ever done. I've been wrong before, but I know I'm not wrong about this. Believe me. Please, just don't leave."

"Sir, you're holding up the line--"

"Would you give us a moment?" Kellin snaps. His tone softens and he says, "Vic, I don't know if--"

"You don't have to know," Vic says, stepping back. "You just have to trust me. We can-- We can try it out. And if you still want to go home, I'll buy you a first-class ticket."

"Okay, I'm calling security," the attendant drawls, pulling out her radio.

The two of them stand there in silence. Vic takes another step back, feeling like his heart is splitting in two as Kellin just keeps on looking at him, his expression indecipherable.

Vic finally turns to leave, and then a hand reaches out and grabs his arm.

He looks back to see Kellin looking at him with soft eyes.

"Okay."

Vic stares. "Okay?" he repeats.

"Yeah." Kellin's face breaks into a small smile. "Let's go home."

 

+

Chapter Text

It's hot in San Diego - it's the kind of day where air conditioning does little to protect a house's inhabitants from the stifling heat; the kind of day where everyone would much rather just stay inside and eat popsicles while time ticks by like molasses, every usable fan turned up as high as it will go.

Kellin is outside, sprawled out on his back in the shadiest corner of the tiny yard he can find when Vic comes home.

"Kellin?" he hears from inside the house.

"Out here," Kellin weakly calls back, one arm slung over his eyes. He hears the back door open and close, then footsteps down the steps and through the manicured grass. "How did the meeting go?"

"Good," Vic replies, sitting down beside him. "Andy agreed to keep us updated about things happening on their side of things. Ben refused to come, though."

Kellin snorts and lets his arm fall to his side. "Maybe it's cause you tied him up for ransom." He looks up at Vic, admiring the way the dappled shade falls on his warm brown hair. He's wearing a sleeveless shirt, and Kellin can see the circular bullet scar on his bicep. He's beautiful like this; his tan skin, the glint of his nose ring and the rich brown of his eyes. At times like these, the world seems to stop.

"What? Do I have something on my face?" Vic grins, looking down at him.

"Nah," Kellin smiles back. He closes his eyes again. "Is Tony almost done with this week's paperwork?"

"Yeah, he's making progress. Oh, and I asked Mike coming over for dinner tonight, like you suggested. Jaime might come, too, but we'll see." Kellin nods.

They sit in companionable silence, soaking up the heat until Vic sighs and says, "Babe, we need to hurry up and get that tattoo covered up." Kellin cracks one eye open to see Vic staring down at his thigh in distaste where his shorts have ridden up slightly and the thick black ink of the Family's crest is visible.

Kellin remembers the time Vic first saw it.

They had just woken up in bed together on an unbearably hot morning in early June. Vic was sitting up on top of the covers, reading, and Kellin was spread out on his back. Even wearing nothing but boxer shorts wasn't enough to keep cool. Kellin had pushed the sheets off in order to bare his legs, and Vic had looked over and stiffened - "What the hell is that?" he had asked, deadly calm.

"What?" Kellin said, confused and somewhat sleepy. He followed Vic's gaze to his thigh and felt an irrational spike of fear. "It's nothing," Kellin said, "I-It's just, well."

"You got a tattoo?" Vic asked in horrified disbelief.

Kellin shrugged helplessly. "I mean, yeah." There was a long, drawn-out pause.

"You know tattoos are forever, right?" Vic sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

"I didn't really think it through at the time," Kellin admitted. Quieter, he added, "The Family was supposed to be my whole future, anyways. I didn't think ahead that far."

"Jesus," Vic said, his book lying forgotten on his lap.

Kellin looked away. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault."

Kellin licked his lips. "I'm glad I didn't go home, you know," he spoke softly. He reached out and took Vic's hand. "I don't care about the Family anymore, and I don't miss them. I'm still glad I didn't go back to that shitty town with my shitty parents and my shitty job. I… I'm so glad I didn't miss this."

There's a pause before the corner of Vic's mouth reluctantly curled upwards. He didn't have to say anything for Kellin to know what he was thinking.

"Yeah," Kellin finally says. "Yeah, I'll make an appointment at a parlour today. It's time to get rid of it."

 

+ + +

 

Months pass, and before Kellin knows it, it's fall. It's raining out today; there's a chill in the air, and every half an hour drops start to fall from the sky, cleansing the air and soaking the ground.

"You want to go out today?" Vic asks from the other end of the couch, his knees tucked up to his chest.

Kellin sets his mug of tea down on the coffee table. "Not really, no." He looks over at Vic from over the top of his book.

I'd rather spend it here with you.

 

 

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