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Summer

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Seven days die in bloody sunsets before he leaves the school.

It’s been a week since the riots. The bell tower. The skylight. The truce between cliques, united in their mutual respect for their king. Being crowned, an invisible mark on his thickset brow that demanded the loyalty of everyone he met.

Now it’s time to check on the one rebel against his rule.

The wheels of his skateboard drag against the concrete. They make a scraping sound that cuts through the warm night air. The stars are low and hazy in the summer heat, all but the strongest eclipsed by the urban lights of the town behind him. Traffic reverberates deep and far in the distance, fainter with each turn of the long and winding street.

The asylum – a hell of name to it too, Happy Volts – is a white fortress against the dusk sky. He’s been there before; he knows the routines like he knows where to slice open frog guts. It’s information hammered into his skull by observation, and he operates on it with complete faith in his instincts. He crosses the short green grass and is against the wall of the building in another moment; a heartbeat later, and his big hands are locked into the cracks amongst the brickwork, hauling his heavy body up to the closest windowsill.

It’s a few minutes of tense work, stalking through the deep shadows twining in the narrow halls. And it hits him again, with dull surprise, how fucking awful the entire place is. The interns have dark circles ringing their eyes and twitching smiles on their faces; the doctors have their mouths hidden behind blue masks, their fingers ringed around thick needles and thicker handcuffs. There is no screaming, not tonight – Jimmy’s come after the second medicine round of the day, and the wavering background noises of soft sobbing and gentle, wretched moans are almost worse.

Gary Smith is in the room at the furthest end of the building. Jimmy slips from the darkened hall to the cell, still lit with the faintest dusk and urban glow from the sky. He closes the door, shoulders tensed, expecting that in that split second to have his head shoved against the wall until his nose broke.

But no. There was nothing.

He turns.

“Gary?”

Silence, except for the gentle sobbing a few rooms over.

Jimmy steps forward into the shaft of light from the barred window, just as his eyes adjust to the darkness. Now he can make out all the details he was missing before.

He looks dead.

Even the scar, pulled white over one eye, is lifeless. Without the manic energy to stretch it in Gary’s furious, energetic expressions, it just lies there limp. Looking like, for the first time, an actual injury, something that has permanently hurt him, instead of a … a fucking accessory for his particular brand of batshit insanity.

There’s a thick IV in his arm, taped several times for good measure. There are stitches in the bloody scrapes around it, where Gary’s nails have scratched deep to try and claw it out. Now his hands are limp by his side. He’s gazing sightlessly at the far wall. One of his eyes is twitching, and that’s all. His entire face is gaunt, malnutrition already sharpening the harsh lines of his cheeks. There is a fresh split on his lower lip.

He makes no response as Jimmy slowly sinks down opposite him. He doesn’t even blink. After a minute of this, he finally allows himself to believe that Gary isn’t just faking it. That he isn't being led into another fucking ambush. And for whatever sick reason, that makes him feel more uneasy than the alternative does. Because if this is real, if he is so heavily drugged that he doesn't even see him... 

He’s still wearing his school uniform, and it takes a few long moments before Jimmy realises why that’s so disturbing. The emerald vest and unremarkable trousers belong at school. Instead they’re here, on an unresponsive mannequin wearing the face of his – oh God, he’d almost been about to call him his “friend”.

Instead they’re here. Not against the backdrop of Bullworth, with its old trees and brickwork buildings. Here, in the obsessive right-angles, the medicinal smell of chloroform, the underlying stink of human sweat. And Gary is still in his god-damn uniform.

But there’s more to it than that. Because if he’s still wearing his uniform, an entire week after being expelled, then he has no other clothes. And that means his family haven’t even bothered to collect the items from his dormitory room… or even bother with him at all, short of redirecting him from one location to another, without ever showing their anonymous faces. Why should they care where he was, so long as it wasn’t around them? And with that, they’d managed to abandon him at the one place worse than the school.

He’d fought. The scratches, the split lip, that showed a whole story right there. But he hadn’t been able to stop the doctors from fucking him out of his mind with their drugs. And now here he was. Just breathing and blinking a blank gaze.  

Jimmy’s vision swam with red anger. Not against Gary: that was between them. This was against the adults, the fucking adults who fucked them over time and time again. Throwing them away like used condoms. Treating them like they were less-than-human. For all the battles that the students of Bullworth fought, there had always – would always – be that unspoken alliance against the adults. The wardens. The bullies.

But even for him, there was nothing that he could do.

God-damn it.

Their fight had been something real and something honest, fists and blood and sweat and crunching knuckles. It had been fucking honourable, in some twisted sense of the word, bricks and tricks and insults be damned. They’d both fought the way they knew how to. This? These wires, this cell, this IV pumping sedatives into him? This was adult shit. And it was so dishonourable, so completely against the rules that even Bullworth subscribed to…

Was this what happened when you grew up? Jimmy wondered. As a kid, you stopped believing you were safe, that your family loved you; as a teenager, you stopped believing that they’d ever come back, that anyone could ever like you; as a grown-up, you stopped believing in anything?

He didn’t have the answer. And Gary sure as hell didn’t look like he’d have one either. Given half a day to come down from the drugs, he might have been able to string together a semi-legible sentence. Probably filled with snarling insults, bitter barbs that drew blood. But they didn’t have half a day. Just minutes, bare minutes, before an orderly would come to check that yes, this patient was comatose too, good work everyone.

Rage burned his veins.

“I’ll come back for you,” he whispers. Damn it all that Gary had stabbed him in the back, twice, three times. Damn that he was a sociopath. A new war was on the horizon. With Bullworth Academy as his castle, it was time to start conquering new territory. Was he ever going to let the murderous asshole out of the asylum? No, probably not. But was he going to make sure that he wasn’t drugged out of his fucking skull to the point of being a zombie? You bet your fucking ass he was. 

He grips Gary’s shoulder in a tight, brief squeeze. A moment later he was gone, into the evening.

Lost amongst the shadows, Gary’s broken lips twisted into a thin sneer.

 

Chapter Text

Hot sunshine fell through barred windows.

A fist hit his jaw.

What does “Psycho” mean?

Panting, he rolled over on the floor. Blood was trickling from his lip. His limbs were a confused, heavy tangle. Dizziness swam around him. Everything was tilting to the left; stars floated in front of his eyes. He snatched at the thin grooves between the cracked floortiles, as if his grazed fingers could grip hard enough on the miniscule holds to keep from falling into the air.

It’s just someone who thinks differently.

A foot hit his ribs. Something inside him cracked in a red-hot flare. He sucked in air to scream, and his lungs expanded. Electric pain burst across his chest and his breath hissed out between clenched teeth. Everywhere there seemed to be blood: dripping from his hairline into his eyes; thick in his mouth from his burst lip; over his hands, their grazes, their raw knuckles.

“You’re a psycho, Smith! Why did you do it? Why did you do it?!”

I think differently.

It was not his own voice that told him this. It was a memory from long ago. He held it in his fractured mind, knowing that the answer would not save him from this. A boot came down on his knee, and he let out a silent howl; rolled over, onto his back, his limbs dragging uselessly on the floor as he went.

Bambillo stood over him. His brown knuckles were bleeding.

How many sessions had they had like this? They had met when Gary was eleven, newly diagnosed and newly expelled and newly introduced to the town of Bullworth. The medication had begun then, and when that had failed to solve the issue of a bright inquisitive mind and a body that couldn’t keep still – couldn’t keep from running, jumping, climbing trees; hands that always had to be moving, moving – when that had failed… their one-on-one therapy sessions had begun.

How many sessions?

Had anything ever changed? Or had it always been this way, with the two of them in this sunlit room and the smell of blood rising from the dirty tiles, any combination of drugs to keep Gary down, any combination of toxic schadenfreude and pathetic self-hate to keep Bambillo on his feet? 

Dust motes floated through the air, and Gary stared at them as they winked in the summer sunlight.

His back hurt.

The skylight.

Things had changed. He did not move. The long, lacerating red pain in his back was a reminder that the last year had not been a hallucination, that time had passed, that this hadn’t been his entire life, that there was something else outside the window, outside the locked door, something outside something else

Bambillo lifted his boot. Gary had a glimpse of grass blades against the grey sole. And then red pain faded everything into black.

 


 

 

They pried his jaw open with metal pliers.

He was already so drugged that he could not fight. Two orderlies held his heavy, useless arms; another one administered the pill. The metal pliers were retracted, a gloved hand was placed over his mouth, and fingers squeezed his nose shut. He swallowed, and the hand was released.

The orderlies left. The door was locked.

Gary sat on his bed and stared at the wall.

He was dimly aware that his window was broken. That outside, the sky was all the colours of flame. That the air was still warm, heavy with the smell of cut grass. But that was all he knew. His thoughts were sluggish, unformed.

I… will not… surrender.

His hand would not move, at first. And then slowly, slowly, he lifted it to his mouth.

Head against the bars of the window. No glass left. A finger between his lips, brushing the back of his throat. His stomach twisted, and he threw up. Vomit splattered down the outside wall, more bile than food. His pathetic dinner was gone, something which he would only care about in the small sleepless hours of the morning when hunger clawed his gut. No, what mattered now - what had mattered for the last three days that he had practised this precious routine, failing the first time and being smacked over the head for it, succeeding the second time and gaining some semblance of consciousness this morning, enough to repeat it again tonight - what mattered now was that the damnable white pill was gone. 

He wouldn't be hallucinating about Jimmy fucking Hopkins visiting his room tonight. The thought made him flinch in the twilight dimness. It had been so clear that he might have, if he could have moved, reached out and breathed on his face. Done whatever the fuck he wanted to that thin, glowering stare. The smell had lingered in his mind for almost the entire day; that had been his cue to stop taking his medication. 

It was one thing to be imprisoned by your worst enemy. It was another thing entirely to have him visit you in the land of hallucinations, as insubstantial as the silver moonbeams. No matter how real he had seemed - the sweat beading on his forehead and throat, the nervous twist of his thick lower lip, the spark of light in his determined eyes - he had not been there

Nausea twisted low in his stomach. It would be a long night, without food. But he was grimly determined to make it through. There was no other choice. 

As the twilight faded from the sky, Gary forced himself to think. And as the night wound away, every hour marked by lonely sobs or a terrified scream, a plan emerged. By the time that dawn began to glow warm silver edges to the cool horizon, a helpless smile had twisted his dark lips into a sick mockery of happiness. He was sick, oh how he knew he was sick, but it was only in a hospital like this that you could embrace it, watch the tumour of your twisted soul grow, made all the more powerful by the litany of treatments that had failed to stop it. 

He was looking forward to this. 

 

 


 

The orderly came at eight o'clock sharp. 

“Hello.”

Silence. The man only watched him, holding a new white pill in his hand. Morning medications, brilliant. He knew he wasn't through the withdrawal state of medication yet - God, how he knew that; even after - how long, twelve days? fourteen? - it would still be a full week before his brain had returned to its normal, overactive state. But over the last two days there had been marked improvements, and the first of those was that he was beginning to remember how good it felt to crack a joke. Bitter, sarcastic, weak, it didn't matter. It reminded him who he was. And that was good. 

“You’re Theo, right?”

It was a dim guess at a name, stolen from the banks of long-ago memory. But the man stiffened, like a dog called to attention, and Gary bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling more. The sun was shining outside, and he could feel a warm breeze through the window. The thin smell of rotting vomit was outside, but it made no difference – the entire room reeked of bleach and mould and month-old urine and human sweat. Theo hadn’t noticed it, and that was good.

“Look, friend, I know this isn’t my place to tell you this, but you and I, I mean, we’ve never had any fights, right? You know what you’re doing here, it’s just your job, people shouldn’t be talking about you behind your back. I just want to tell you something that I think you should know.”

Theo slowly tilted his head to the side. A glimmer of interest had come into his heavy, hooded eyes. Gary could have howled with laughter, but instead he beckoned the orderly close. So close that he could smell him now, all cheap cologne and bitter aftershave.

“Gregory was talking about you. Said that you liked to play with some of the patients. You know… give them a little something that’ll keep them quiet? Maybe late at night, when all the doors are locked, and nobody’s around to watch?”

“Watch your mouth, punk!”

“Hey, whoa, friend – it’s not me you need to be angry at. I’m just telling you what I heard. Last night, out in the hallway. You should talk to him, you know. Go and, ah, find out what’s really happening. Because I’d say that if he was your friend, he wouldn’t be telling the doctors something like that. Maybe you need to… set him straight.”

Their eyes met.

Gary did not blink.

What’s a psycho?

It’s just someone who thinks differently.

You’re a psycho, Smith! Why did you do it?!

Theo slowly nodded. His hand closed around the pill, and returned it to its pocket. He retreated from the room, without looking away from Gary, as if expecting him to suddenly attack. But Gary remained still and serene, with a calm and friendly smile.

The door closed and locked.

When Gregory came to take him to his morning therapy session, there was a bruise blooming purple around his eye. As he took Gary’s arm in a vicelike grip, with hands that had swollen and turned bloody from what only could have been a fist fight, Gary looked up at him.

“What happened, friend? I thought you would have stopped any of us patients from attacking you.”

“It wasn’t a patient,” Gregory grunted. “Don’t get any ideas, smartass.”

“Not a patient? No… one of your friends attacked you?”

By the time they’d reached Bambillo’s office, Gregory was shaking with rage. Gary let himself into the room, trying and failing desperately to hide his manic smile. And even as the interrogation started up again, the furious, burning hope in his chest did not give way beneath the pathetic punches of an incompetent man.

Forget the school. Forget the fucking school and the fucking skylight. This is my home now. And I will take it over. This asylum will be mine. And then, Jimmy Hopkins, I’ll have YOU committed here. You can’t rule the school, friend, if you’re all locked up with no place to go! Not with Doctor Gary Smith to take care of your pathetic life!

“You’re a psycho, Smith! Why did you do it?!”

Gary could only laugh.

Chapter Text

The summer days are dwindling away. Sunlit days are fading into cold evenings. The breeze from the sea in the morning smells of cold salt; the wind from the forest at night smells like pine and ice. When the dawn comes, his window is fogged with the warmth of his breath and the deep, twisted heat of his dreams.

Jimmy is altogether too aware of the secret buried somewhere deep in his gut.

He carries a lot of secrets. Surprising, how much he doesn’t talk about. It isn’t really a conscious act, or at least, it never has been; there are some things that teenage boys just don’t talk about. Girls and sex are free market speech, and rumours are hungrily accepted – but fears in the night, and memories of childhood pain: no. Those things are kept hidden away.

He’s a creature of instinct. Primal, in a lot of ways; violence and blood and hot tempers and hot sex have always drawn the pathways of his life. He’s capable of learning, his marks at school show that when he actually bothers to listen. His skills are always more practical than academic, but even then he can mix letters and equations around and still come out just about right.

Instinct tells him that this is royally fucked up.

Instinct tells him to keep this hidden away.

Instinct tells him to ignore his secret, retreat from the battle lines he’s so desperate to draw, accept the asylum as territory that can never be his, accept that some people are too ill to be helped by someone as desperately unqualified as he is, silently surrender a battle that nobody knows he’s fighting.

It also tells him that dressing in an orderly’s uniform and stalking the green, grim hallways of the asylum is a very bad idea.

Jimmy lets out a long exhale. The air is still warm, though he can taste autumn (it reminds him of decaying leaves and dead rats and the bitter, withering cold of red-gold mountain forests) in the wind. Before he steps into the asylum, he turns and looks back over the garden.

Again, he has come in the afternoon. The sun is still high in the orange sky, and the garden is washed in a warm haze of damp golden light. It was raining earlier, and the smell of fresh grass fills his nose. The clouds have already blown themselves out to sea, and clustered on the horizon hidden by the chain-link fence.

Inside the compound, the white guards patrol.

He turns his face away and walks inside. His rubber-soled footsteps squeak against the grimy tiles. It takes his eyes a few minutes to adjust to the green darkness, to sharpen enough to see the tails of the rats as they scurry through the long, mould-wet hallways. Once he can, though, he walks forwards with the same entitled confidence that’s carried him all his fifteen (sixteen, almost; he decides sixteen sounds better) years.

There’s something he wants to know.

It’s tempting, dearly tempting, to visit Gary again. But if there’s one thing that Jimmy’s learned from Petey and Gary themselves, it’s that he needs information before he can carry out anything else. He wonders, briefly, which one of them realised that first. Both of them are schemers, Gary with an evil intelligence that thrives off paranoia and manic energy; Petey with something quieter and calmer, but all the more clever for it.

He? He’s just hyped on adrenaline, and that secret still burning a hole in the lining of his stomach.

He looks up at the hallway. There’s a door to one side, with the name Dr Bambillo inscribed on it. It’s the only door like it; the asylum itself is a woeful advertisement for just how much the Bullworth City Council cares about mental health. If it was any more poverty-stricken, it’d be handed food stamps.

Jimmy slowly pushes the door open, and edges inside.

The good doctor is nowhere to be found.

His office is neat. There’s a dark stain on the floor, something that might have been blood. Everything reeks of bleach. The furniture is old and tacky, and the rickety filing cabinet shakes from one side to the other when he lays a hand on it. It’s locked, of course, but one good hard punch to the S-Z section brings the lock undone and the entire drawer sliding out.

Slater. Smalls. Smith.

Jimmy drew out the file, and his hands tremble.

The Confidential Medical Profile of Gary Smith.

A small, hungry smile curls across his face.

 


 

The door is locked behind himself, and he’s settled into Bambillo’s chair. He has not opened the file yet. It’s almost an inch thick, with at least a hundred pages crammed in there. His stomach is tight and fluttering, and sweat has broken out on his skin. There is a low, hot tingling sensation in the palms of his hands, in his dry mouth. He’s aware, dimly, that his gut has clenched too-hot; that perspiration is trickling down the back of his neck in slow, sticky drops.

Yes, he’s angry that someone had the fucking audacity to drug the shit out of Gary. But since that night… he’s had… dreams.

His own hand, sweating inside a latex glove, rubs at a sticky itch on his thigh. Jimmy, all nerves on fire, almost shudders at the sensation. He’d been wearing gloves like this in the dream, holding a fistful of pills. Forcing each one past struggling dark lips, snarling teeth, into a tight throat that clenched around his fingers as he shoved the pill down… drew his hand back, covered his mouth until, suffocating and furious, eyes burning with hate and fury, there was no choice but to swallow.  

Jimmy looks out the window.

That was the secret. And maybe that was why he was here tonight; maybe it wasn’t. But one way or the other, he knew that he needed to understand the boy who had almost killed him. Who poisoned dogs and betrayed friends and incited riots like it was nothing. Who laughed at the darkest jokes, and smirked at filthy rumours. Who would, undoubtedly, be both delighted and disgusted to know what he’d become to Jimmy.

That was the other thing, too.

Things at the school were… not going well. At all. And he had the bitter, sneaking suspicion that Gary – more so even than Petey – would know how to make it right again. He’d tempted everyone into betraying Jimmy for a dream of power, and the shock of the riots was still visceral enough that it gave him sharp pulses of anxiety in the middle of the day. But surely, surely he would know how to keep them in line. Because violence wasn’t as effective as it could be, and… well, Jimmy wasn’t good at the subtleties of ruling. Not even a little bit.

He runs a hand along his bare scalp, buzzed with short hair, and sticky with sweat.

That was for the future, though. If there even was a future for either of them. And he was hoping, now, that this book would be able to tell him.

He breathes deep, and opens it up.

 

 

 

Report Filed 08/08/—

Patient is currently involuntarily incarcerated at Happy Volts Asylum. The family representative is unable to be contacted at this time.

 

 

Family representative? A crease lines Jimmy’s forehead. He thought that the elderly man in the bright shirt he saw around town was named Smith; somehow he had assumed that the two were related. This must have been why he had been in his uniform, but… what had happened to his family to bring this about?

The date had been two days ago. Frowning, Jimmy flipped to the back of the book. A sharp gasp tore out of him, and he almost dropped the file.

 

 

Concerning the case of Gary Daniel Lamb, hereafter referred to as Gary Smith.

 

 

“No,” he whispered. “No fucking way.”

The words remained there, in flat black lettering.

He knew that name; the second half of it, at least. Daniel Lamb had been arrested for slaughtering his wife, and sentenced to a mental asylum for the criminally insane. Wife-killing wasn’t exactly rare in Cottonmouth, but the death itself had been so gruesome that it had managed to remain on-air for several days before it had finally faded away.

How long ago had that been?

He closed his eyes and tried to remember.

A hotel room, where the sheets hadn’t been changed for a month. Cockroaches scattered across the windowsill. Curtains hanging thin across a window, where a broken light flickered on and off. His mother, restlessly pacing, not looking at him. Pain in his head. Stitches thick across his scalp. The TV, always on, barking news.

Ten years.

Jimmy stared out the window. The sunset sky had turned blood red.

That night had been just over ten years ago. It was the night that she had finally left his father, after he had shoved a five-year-old Jimmy’s head through a window. They’d gone to a hotel that night, and neither of them had slept; her, pacing through the room, whispering into her hands; him, sometimes staring blankly at her, sometimes staring blankly at the television screen.

“Shit,” he whispered.

The enormity of the situation seemed to fall onto his shoulders, like a ton of bricks. The sick voyeurism had gone. Cold dread filled his very bones.

Gary’s father had killed his mother, almost an exact decade ago. Hell, Jimmy knew already – without having to look up the dates – that it would have been an exact decade on the day the school riot had broken out. He knew that instinctively, because that’s how Gary would have planned it. Anniversaries were to be celebrated, in the most insane ways imaginable.

He touched a hand to his shaved head, traced it along the thickest scar that marked his scalp. Then, shaking away the memories, he opened the file again, flicking through the dog-eared pages. Scrap by scrap, his story came together.

 

 

Patient relocated from Cottonmouth to Bullworth, assisted by Dr. Whyte.

Patient began attending therapy sessions (aged 11 years old).

Patient formally diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder.   Medication prescribed to treat the worst of the former. Continuing psychosocial sessions have been prescribed to treat the latter.

Patient has displayed propensity for violence at Bullworth Academy.

Patient ceased taking medication.

Patient expelled from Bullworth Academy, and formally involuntarily committed.

 

 

On a florescent post-it note, the only piece of colour in the entire book, was a sentence written in thick handwriting: always knew he’d turn out like his psycho father.

Jimmy just stared at the paper.

So that was it, then. That was Gary’s story, written down in clinical terms in a file he’d likely never be allowed to read. Already doomed by the expectations of the doctors, who thought he’d turn out as a murderer. No fucking wonder he was paranoid about being betrayed. No fucking wonder he had betrayed everyone, either. Knowing Gary, he probably idolised the murderer, tried to be like him, fought against the system that had let him down time and time again. Because when would he ever have had the chance to learn to be something else? When would someone ever have even thought he could be someone else?

God fucking damn.

Jimmy leaned back in the chair and stared at the wall. Not for the first time, the impossibility of what he was up against began to sink down onto his shoulders. Gary was one thing: Gary, cast in the mould of a murderer, already displaying all the signs of someone who would follow in those footsteps… that was something he just had no idea how to deal with.

Someone like Dr Crabblesnitch would have offered him a false promise of a new start. Someone like Russell would have beaten the shit out of him, for peace. Someone like Petey would try talking to him. But Jimmy? He’d used violence to solve all of his problems before, and… well, everyone in the school had betrayed him the first chance they had. Including, first and foremost, Gary himself. So clearly that wouldn’t be an option here.

For the first time in his life, he had a problem that couldn’t be solved by either ignoring it or hitting it.

Jimmy stared at the sky, his own secrets forgotten, the book open and slack on his lap.

What the fuck was he meant to do now? 

 

Chapter Text

 

It’s funny, really, when you think about it. A whole asylum full of madmen – doctors and interns are of course included, it just wouldn’t be kind to ignore them – all locked in together. All the filth and rubbish of society, all chained up in fucking Happy Volts asylum.

It’s all so fucking hysterical.

How long has it been since he’s taken his medication? He’s not sure, honestly, but he’s withdrawing off it so much faster than he’d ever expected. Guess not taking it after Halloween reset his brain, made it easier to come down.

(Something small within him whispers: you don’t want to do this. But here’s the thing – and this has always been the thing – is that Gary does want to do it, has always wanted to, will always want to, because he’s a fucking psycho and the entire god-damn world knows it and he’s taken over his own world once and he can damn well do it again and Jimmy fucking Hopkins is not going to stop him this time.)

He stared out at the afternoon sky.

Autumn. The first shades of it. It smelled like rain and rot.

(It isn’t too late. Jimmy’s not the problem.)

“Oh of course James isn’t the issue,” Gary croons, sing-song, voice lathered with mockery and hatred. Manic energy is spiking through his veins, and the puddle of water that has collected on his windowsill beneath the broken glass is a dripping reflection of his face. And then, violent, he slams both fists into the brick wall. “I’m the fucking problem, is that what you’re saying?! IS IT?!”

(It’s always been what they’ve said, and he’s never listened, but he never expected that voice of rationality in him to start sounding like the fucking bitches who took his father away to the asylum, who took him to the asylum, because let’s face it no amount of happy smiling and niceties are going to make the monster that he is or the monster that killed his mother any fucking better because they all made it damn clear from the day he left Cottonmouth that there was no hope for him and never would be thank you very much goodbye).

Shaking, knuckles bleeding, Gary offered the distorted reflection a surprisingly gentle smile.

“I’m going to own your world.”

The door behind him opened a few seconds later. Gary spun, and it was Theo who was there. Since their discussion, both of the interns had gained so many bruises that Gary was honestly struggling to tell which was which.

“What are you yelling at?”

“Oh, now you care about people screaming?”

Answer me, Smith!”

Gary offered him that smile again. So gentle. So endearingly crooked. His hands were twitching, twitching, twitching behind his back.

“It’s nothing. Hit my elbow.”

Theo gave him a long, appraising look. Somewhere outside, a wretched scream rang out. Gary held his gaze, until Theo eventually turned away and began to close the door. And Gary saw his opportunity, that thin window of light into the hallway that was closing.

He lunged forward, and snatched Theo by the shoulder. One hand took the keys and threw them out into the hallway. And then they were fighting.

How long had it been since Gary had fought? Since the bell tower, but he had no way of measuring how many days (weeks? months?) that had been. His body had been aching, burning for release, energy bunched in his muscles.

His sneakers were wedged into the damp tiles on the floor, one planted against the wall. One arm was looped around Theo’s neck, his face buried into his shoulder to avoid the flailing punches. His free hand was hitting his ribs, trying to drive the breath out of his lungs, trying to drag him – bit by bit – back into the cell.

Theo drove a sharp elbow backwards, and Gary gasped. His grip wavered – Theo jerked – and Gary latched onto him with the furious strength that was his-his-his. A maniacal laugh was cackling out of his throat and he could hear the sound ringing in the cell.

Theo was bigger than him, and when he doubled over, Gary was forced into the air on his back. He would have gone flying forward but he wrapped his legs around his chest – like some perverse fucking piggy-back – and both arms around his neck. He could feel the choked breaths catching in Theo’s throat now, the thick gulps for air that he tried to swallow down, that couldn’t get past the constricting ring of Gary’s scratched arms. He brought his arms up, fists up, hitting at his legs and sides.

Pain exploded in Gary’s knee and his right leg fell loose. He gasped, and Theo spun around. Now they were both facing the window, their backs to the wall of his cell. Gary saw what was coming and squeezed his arms as tight as he could, such a violent construction that he felt something give in his shoulder –

Slam!

The breath exploded from Gary’s body. Theo had thrown himself backwards against the wall, crushing Gary between brick and body. Dazed, he shook his head grimly –

Slam!

Give up, moron!

It was a breathless howl, indignation compressed into a whisper.

Theo’s arms had gone slack; his feet were stumbling on the ground.

Slam!

Whatever had gone wrong in Gary’s shoulder exploded into fresh pain. Infuriated, he lunged his head forward and sank sharp teeth into the soft flesh of Theo’s ear. The intern screamed – Gary felt his body convulse with the air, felt that last breath thinly whoosh out of his body – and shook his head. Gary held on, arms and legs and teeth –

Theo slumped to the floor.

Gary kept his arms tight for another ten seconds, and then relaxed them. He stood, and looked down at his leg. It hurt, and he could see the tear in his school trousers and in the skin underneath from where the dials on Theo’s chunky watch had cut. Blood was trickling down his leg, but he ignored it and instead stood up straight. His shoulder was aching in bitter pulses of hot pain, but that didn’t matter.

He limped out into the hallway, and picked up the keys.

And, with that gentle smile on his face, he pulled his cell door shut… locking Theo inside, with himself outside, and holding all the keys that unlocked all of the doors in the asylum.

“Still think it’s not too late?” he asked himself, out loud. And this time, that voice inside him had no answer.

 

 

Chapter Text

It was full dark, now, and Jimmy still hadn’t decided what to do.

The security spotlights had switched on outside the asylum windows. The guards roamed back and forth in their green uniforms, but more often than not stood together and smoked, talking quietly in the fresh night.

There was a memory at the back of his mind. Of Pete and Gary and the common room that smelled like sweaty socks and urine-soaked couch covers. Sunshine and dust motes and the glint of mocking humour in dark eyes.

But he’d apologised. He’d meant it.

For all the lies and bullshit, Jimmy believed that – for once in his twisted snake-life – that Gary had been fucking genuine. Had he been on his medication then? It was too long ago to remember with any degree of certainty, but he would have laid all of his considerable “pocket money” on the fact he had been.

Which meant one thing:

Diagnoses and traumatised history aside, the kid was capable of doing better. Had done better, before his own mental machinations had brought him undone, and there’d been nobody to help him. The adults who could have recognised the symptoms either didn’t care enough to notice them, or didn’t care enough to do something about them. And for all of Jimmy’s considerable instincts and street-honed experiences, he didn’t have the dimmest clue about any of this mental shit.

But.

If you considered that – at one point in time – friendship actually meant something to a snake like Gary, you had to kinda realise that his big dramatic speech on the tower was … a bunch of bullshit. Because he had apologised on that day, which meant he had cared, which meant that his whole spiel about puppets was… just him being an egomaniac.

Even Jimmy knew what that word meant.

He rested his shaved head in his hands, feeling the prickle of short red hairs against his calloused palms. It seemed like he was learning a lot from the people at Bullworth Academy, and more from the students than the teachers.

Gary didn’t want to have friends. He was trying to overthrow everything, unleash chaos, be the king of fires and anarchy and riots. But Gary had also come from a life where, apparently, he didn’t have any choice but to love chaos or be broken by it.

Jimmy could get that as well. Hadn’t he done the same thing? Wasn’t Gary just a twisted, smarter version of him a few years down the track, after his mother finally abandoned him to the jail system? Probably.

So it’d make sense that someone couldn’t trust stability, couldn’t trust the known, had to break it down and bring in the unknown so everyone was as out of control as he was.

And that meant that if Jimmy could do something to make Gary trust him again… trust medication again… he might actually get his friend back.

 


 

He’d reached that conclusion when the sun went down. But here was the actual problem:

Did he even want to?

He had the entire school under his control. Sure, there were… incidents… but most of the time Petey saw them coming before they went violent, and Jimmy shut them down. And sure, having a gang of guys who just ate shit out of his hands was… fine… but.

It wasn’t the same.

He knew he’d never be the smartest one in the room. Didn’t care about it, so long as he was the strongest. Gary had pushed him to be stronger, sure, but be smarter about it too. He didn’t exactly appreciate not being given a choice about it, but he wasn’t letting go of the power now that he had it – and not just because even he could see the damage that a power vacuum would cause.

What if he fucks me over again?

You beat him again. You get stronger.

What if I don’t want to do this? If I want a normal life?

Then fuck off and have your normal life, Jimmy-boy.

Jimmy grinned to himself at that and looked out the window. The moon was rising higher in the night sky, and he knew the lights of the carnival would be burning on the other side of the hills. He stood, and turned to face the door.

A siren rang out through the hospital.

A siren that Jimmy knew damn well, since he’d set it off before.

Gary.

He hesitated, and then he couldn’t help it: a broad grin spread across his face, and he curled his big hands into fists.

Along the hallway, each and every inmate’s door swung open. The emergency locks clicked wide. The guards were already running, but the inmates were faster. Jimmy stayed in the psychiatrist’s office and watched as they stumbled by him, the walking dead, their bare feet slapping along the greasy linoleum floor. He wondered briefly what their stories were, but his imagination had limits; all he could think about now was what was going to be the forced redemption of his fucked-up friend.

And, like clockwork, came the cackling laughter over the P.A. system.

I SEE YOU, JIMMY!

The black glass bulb of a security camera lived on the ceiling of the hallway. Jimmy hadn’t noticed it before – had never had reason to notice it, because who from the police department would ever care enough about these people to bother checking it? – but of course Gary had come up with another use for it.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I’D LIKE TO ANNOUNCE THAT JIMMY HOPKINS IS THE SON OF A TOTAL WHORE!”

Someone, clearly, hadn’t learned his fucking lesson. Jimmy smirked and planted his feet firmly on the floor, braced himself, and then yelled at the camera.

AND YOU’RE THE SON OF A MURDERER!

He didn’t know if Gary would be able to hear him or not. But he had his answer in the amplified, strangled gasp that rasped out through the P.A. system – a snatch of broken, hideous laughter – and the screaming whine of feedback as a microphone was dropped.

Oh yes. Now he was on his way to fight.

Jimmy smiled again.

This was going to be good.