This was always fun. Fucking with Herman.
A top twelve pastime, here in the fog. There was training, and bumming around with the gang, stealing shit from the Clown, spying on whoever was new, collecting cool new stuff for the lodge, but going to Lerry’s was up there. Honestly, it would have been higher if it wasn’t for the fact that he’d been caught doing it before, and while you got in some real trouble if you killed a survivor or another killer outside of trials, it uh, it sure as hell wasn’t enough to deter everyone from doing it. And Joey had been on the receiving end of that with Herman once.
Still, that was a long time ago, thought Joey, ducking under a fallen chunk of what had once been wall, and slipping deeper into the institute. Herman didn’t scare him.
A noise somewhere down the hall he was creeping along startled Joey, and he jumped on impulse, and then cursed himself silently, placing the noise as he watched a crow that had gotten in take flight far up ahead, and tried to slow his heart back down. …He doesn’t! I’m being “wary”—that’s just smart. I’m not fucking scared of him. If I was, I wouldn’t be here.
Herman was fun to annoy. Because he got angry over the weirdest shit, and had big reactions, and also because if he did catch you, it wasn’t pretty, so it always felt good to win one. And the institute was so big, it really wasn’t hard to get in and out unscathed, so long as you were quiet. If you were quiet, Herman would sometimes even ignore you when he knew you were there—especially if he was distracted doing shit, and had no reason to suspect you were there to ruin his stuff. Joey was sure that wouldn’t have been the case if he was actually allowed to keep anyone he caught, but he wasn’t. If he grabbed a trespasser and strapped them to a chair to see how the inside of their brain worked with barbs sticking out of it, the Entity would make him pay big time.
“Probably has made him pay,” whispered Joey to himself, following the hall and looking for a good place to do what he’d come to do. Library would be choice, but he’d heard what sounded like warning signs of the Doctor himself in that direction when he got here, so he was going to have to settle for somewhere else.
He was willing to bet Herman had grabbed someone back in the day and gotten in a lot of trouble over it. Actually, Joey felt pretty sure that that’s what it would have taken to get The Doctor to not be grabbing someone to experiment on every time he saw a trespasser now. And he was kind of thankful, because the time he’d been killed had been really fucking shitty, even though it had been pretty quick. Honestly, that was part of why he liked coming here so much and fucking with the guy’s stuff. Mini-revenge. That, and boredom. Between trials, there wasn’t so much to do sometimes, and since with…everything really, being the way it was, Joey wasn’t super into sitting down and thinking about how life was going. He needed to constantly be distracted, and if someone else wasn’t there to help, it meant finding something like this to do. Especially after a trial where he’d barely gotten one last-minute sacrifice and been given a pretty harrowing warning about not fucking up again next time. …Shit.
Yeah. It wasn’t great. He was going to be seriously in trouble if he didn’t do a lot better next trial. It was so fucking annoying, too! Stuff always worked out like this for him! He’d gotten Claudette hooked right near the trial’s start, and then literally tripped over her like fifteen seconds after someone had gotten her down, when he hadn’t even been looking for her, and he’d felt kind of bad, even though he knew how stupid that was to do, and how dangerous. They had to hunt, and suck it up, and the survivors would try to live, and if they failed, they failed, and that wasn’t his fault—it wasn’t like he’d asked to be here doing this. It was just how shit was, and it was rough for him too, and it wasn’t his job to feel bad for them. It was him or them. If they couldn’t hack it, and they died, then too bad—that was rough for them, but it wasn’t gonna be his problem. But. He’d been doing well in the trial so far, and feeling confident, and-a-and she had looked so sad—like not even just scared, but sad, because her luck had been so shitty probably, and so he’d been fucking stupid, and felt bad, and left her on the ground instead of sacrificing her, and chased off the person he’d been going for originally instead, and in return for answering that stupid impulse to show a little mercy, he’d lost her completely after that, gotten run around by Zarina, and then only barely managed to down and sacrifice the newest girl who he’d never heard anyone say the name of yet right by the gates at the last second, and now the Entity was pissed at him, and everything sucked.
That’s why he’d come to do this. To blow off steam. Bad day, friends tired and asleep, need to feel a little better? Go sneak into Herman’s place and deface some of his shit. It always made him feel better to do it.
Oh! Here we go, thought Joey, spotting a nicer section of lab up ahead, hospital beds, one of the storage rooms beyond. He took the can of black spraypaint he’d brought with him off his shoulder strap and primed it as he slipped along the hall towards an open doorway. This would be perfect. Far enough away to be safe and give him time, super noticeable, and a big fuckin’ annoyable to the Doctor when he was gone. Joey carefully cased the area inside, planning what he wanted to do, picked a center point on the floor, marked it, thought for a few more seconds, and then started spraying. It took a couple minutes to do, because he’d picked something a little bit fancy, but when he stepped back finally from his last line, he was surrounded by what looked like chaotic nothing. That was, until you stepped about five feet back right down the middle of the rows in the room to the spot he’d marked on the floor, and the pieces would all line up from that perspective to become a grinning skull. Nice, thought Joey, proud of himself because that kind of tagging was a little tricky to do and he really enjoyed doing it, it looked sick as hell, and also largely because he knew it would make Herman furious. “Okay, what now?” whispered Joey to himself, shaking the can again. He glanced over his image, considering.
“You should be saying something,” he decided, liking the idea very much. He picked out an insult in his head and started to form what would be a speech bubble, when the world’s loudest clang sounded from so close on his left that he almost jumped out of his skin and died with alarm, fucking up the line he’d meant to lay down and jerking back, then ducking and sliding beside one of the cots nervously, heart thudding. He ripped his hunting knife out of its sheath and held it clutched tight in his right hand.
Fuck! What was that? He left the library?
There was no electricity pulsing along the wall though. The Doctor was kind of a walking AOE, so you could at least generally sense him coming, and there was none of that.
Fuck, then, thought Joey, slowly standing up again, cautious but calming back down just a little as seconds went from two to nine and nothing appeared to cause him trouble, What was that just now?
It had been on his left, hadn’t it?
Carefully, Joey slipped out of the partially-tagged room and glanced up and down the hall on the left side. Nothing weird in sight. Just empty hall, debris, doors into other rooms. No movement, no more clangs. Nothing. The sound had seemed like it could have come from the next room over though, he thought, looking back, but that one was just one of the big, open, trashed ones—Joey had passed twenty just like it on his way down. Not nice enough to be worth tagging, because the dude might not even notice. What would have made a noise like that in one of those spots?
I guess…maybe part of the roof just caved in? Or something?
That was a weird thought kinda. In reality, for sure it would be an option—buildings broke and shit fell apart eventually. But he kind of didn’t think deterioration worked the same way here. There was one really annoying broken massive window panel in Lerry’s that was always hanging by a thread and banging against the wall in the wind every trial, and every trip out here, and it had never snapped and fallen to the ground like he wished it would. Nothing in Ormond had ever rotted through or something either, even though the lodge was super old and kind of falling apart. So. So maybe that was what it was, but Joey was kind of unconvinced.
Still, I can’t spend forever doing this, thought Joey, mildly frustrated, but hesitating. Whatever it had been, Herman might have heard it too, and uh, he did not want to be here when Herman showed up to find the fantastic work of tagging art he’d just done all over his hospital beds. He had a cool ‘fuck you’ to add to the skull before bouncing, and whatever it had been—
Okay, what the fuck, thought Joey, freezing again on instinct, and then turning his head very, very slowly to the right. It hadn’t been the big open room—it was the one just past it. He was sure this time. Whatever the noise was, it hadn’t been as loud this time, but it was definitely something. Something alive. That wasn’t the sound of a building breaking—that had been the sound of somebody dropping a kind of heavy object—he was like—was really close to 100% sure.
If he’s playing mind games to lure me into a trap because he saw me sneak in, I’m gonna be so pissed, thought Joey, mildly distressed by that hypothetical but sneaking over slowly anyway, curiosity too strong to be beaten down by paranoia now.
When he reached the room in question, he saw through the open doorway ahead that it was some kind of supply room. Small, and as decrepit as everything else, and Joey took it with a lot of caution, ears straining for sound. There was something in there for sure, he could hear it clearly now, but he couldn’t tell what it was. Feet on linoleum, for sure, and shuffling around—he heard things being moved too, and- Wait, was that a voice?
What the fuck? But no, he hadn’t imagined it—whoever was in there was talking to themselves, and not in a God I better be careful to be quiet whisper either. And it wasn’t Herman. It had to be another killer then, breaking in like he was, because whoever it was clearly wasn’t afraid of pissing off the Doc and getting their ass handed to them, but which one? One of the more powerful ones, had to be—it—
Sliding far enough into the furthest entrance from the noise to get a visual of the far end of the little room, Joey froze. And then just stared. Because it wasn’t a killer at all. It was a survivor. He recognized him instantly, but took a second to remember his name. One of the younger ones, one of the guys—Quentin—that’s right. The one who always came back to try to help a teammate even when it was ridiculously stupid, and was an easy kill. Although kind of an exhausting one at the same time, because he fought hard as fuck. It was him, though, plain as day, stumbling around the edge of the room with an armful of junk.
Wh. Joey watched the guy take a couple wobbly steps and bump against a wall he just didn’t seem to see in time with extreme confusion. Did he—did something hit him on the head? Whatever was up, the guy kept going on the other end of the room about fifteen feet away, muttering to himself and trying to pick up various scattered items from the floor and replace them in an open drawer in one of the medical cabinets. He was moving around super unsteadily, but he didn’t look worried about it at all—he was actually smiling to himself.
This is so fucking weird, thought Joey, too distracted by the sight to go back and finish his own work or to actually go over and find out what was up, and not sure he’d have wanted to.
“Okay, that’s the last one, right?” the guy asked himself quietly at the end of the room, but nothing like quietly enough for someone sneaking through Lerry’s and hoping to avoid the Doctor’s wrath, evidenced by the fact that Joey could hear him 100% fine from 15 feet away.
The guy held up a little bottle and blinked at it, then looked at the drawer by him. “No…there’s an empty space. Missed…one…somewhere.” He grimaced at the drawer and then looked around himself, turning in a little circle in the hopes of finding the last bottle, and then sighed exaggeratedly when he didn’t see it. “Where the fuck—” he started to ask himself, raising his hands in exasperation, and then he looked down at his hand again and the bottle still in it and said, “Oh,” sheepishly and set it down in the drawer.
“Okay, okay,” said the survivor to himself, drumming his fingers absently on the cabinet, “What else?” He started humming—of all the wild fucking things to do, humming to himself, and Joey just stayed where he was, staring and lost. The guy kept going through stuff, moving on to the next cabinet and swaying unsteadily as he did, still humming.
Okay, that’s just not normal. Is he…Wait, is he high?? thought Joey, watching the uncoordinated movements and completely out of it disregard for his own safety in the person across from him with something approaching wonder, Oh my God, I think he is. He—
“I took the blame,” came the survivor’s voice from across the room, and Joey’s head snapped up and all he could do was gape at the guy as he kept going. “Directionless so plain to see, a loaded gun won't set you free. So you say.”
He was. He was fucking singing. Singing in Lerry’s Memorial Institute in the wreckage of torture chambers while rifling through drawers and making a huge fucking racket the owner of this little patch of hell might hear. Oh fuck. He’s gonna hear that for sure. This guy’s gonna die. The Doctor’s gonna come storming in, super pissed he’s being loud as hell while he’s trying to concentrate—I gotta go, or he’s gonna find us both—if he even sees me, he’ll know why I was here—I gotta—
He started to turn and book out the side door again, planning an escape route in his head, and then hesitated, and turned slowly, and looked back at Quentin again. Still humming to himself, between verses now, the teenager was opening a cabinet, and then, seeing nothing immediately promising inside, stooped to go throw open a drawer beneath it. It was so weird, watching that, and for a second he got lost just staring at the guy’s face, and forgot what he’d been going to do at all. He couldn’t look away. And for a moment he wasn’t sure why, and then Joey realized that it wasn’t just that this was such a stupidass place to be being loud that was making this whole moment surreal, it was also that he hadn’t actually ever seen a survivor look…happy, before. Like, okay, well, he’d seen them grin or be pleased or whatever if they won in a trial, or pulled off something smart in one, but like, carefree? Normal happy? Happy like this? Never. Not once. Not happy like they weren’t where they were. Like they weren’t going to die horribly in a couple minutes every day for the rest of their life. And the guy looked so…so happy for real, so chilled out and okay, but. He wasn’t. Something was wrong with him, and he only felt that way because how he felt was out of his control and he just didn’t know that yet, or how bad that was gonna be in a minute here when the Doctor heard him. He had no idea. And he wasn’t gonna. He was just humming and absently keeping time with his fingers to the beat of the song between verses, looking so fucking chill and at peace, and he was going to stay that way until the Doctor showed up and. …
A few feet away, the survivor started to sing to himself again, nothing but happy in that little moment of being free from the reality of what was really going on in his life. “We’ll share a drink and—”
“Hey!” hissed Joey, listening to what he really wasn’t sure if was his better or worse judgement, and stepping back into the room.
The guy jolted and slammed his head into the cabinet door he’d left open, cursed in pain, stumbled backwards, tripped over his own medkit, which Joey hadn’t even seen on the floor, and slammed into the ground on his back with a muffled yelp.
“Whoa,” said Joey quietly, holding up a hand and stepping closer, “Are you—”
“-Shit!” said the guy, scrambling up to his elbows and looking for Joey, finding him almost instantly. “Legion?” He froze where he was, on one knee, staring at Joey with huge, unfocused eyes. “W. What are you…?” Something seemed to occur to him then, and his expression changed, and got frantic, and he snatched his medkit from the floor and stumbled to his feet and back two steps, clutching it in front of him like a blunt weapon, eyes fixed on Joey still, but wide with tension and mistrust now. “Look—just back off. I’ll fight you if I have to.”
“Relax,” said Joey, keeping his hand up and stepping cautiously a little closer, “Not here to fight.”
The guy looked surprised, and lowered the medkit a little, believing that way too fast for any remotely sober person.
Jesus, how much of whatever you took did you take? If he’d been close to sure before, he was certain as fuck now that the guy was high—and like, almost completely out of it kind of high too. He was already swaying a little, and his kept blinking and working to refocus his eyes like he was having a lot of trouble doing that. Movements just a little too slow, too off, too uncoordinated and loose to be anything but high.
“O-oh,” said the guy after a second, “Why then? You can’t…” He looked over his shoulder at the cabinet behind him, “Need. Medical supplies?”
“No,” agreed Joey, holding up his can of spraypaint, “I came here to tag. And then heard you sounding like a fucking elephant in here and came over to get you to quiet down.”
“What?” said Quentin, offended, “I’m not—”
“—Yes you are!” argued Joey, taking another step closer and lowering his hand, “You’re making a ton of noise. The Doctor’s gonna come and kill you if you keep it up, dumbass, and he’ll find both of us. Keep it down!”
Quentin stared at him for a second, and then looked to the side at nothing and blinked, thinking hard, then back at Joey. “I was making a lot of noise?”
Uh. Yes??? “You couldn’t tell?” asked Joey, exasperated on his behalf.
“I-“ started Quentin uncertainly.
“—You were singing, in here! Why were you singing?” hissed Joey. He’d gotten close enough that he was a quick lunge away from the survivor now. He wondered if it was weird that his mental units of distance now were all related to hunting people down for sport…
“I. ...It was stuck in my head,” defended Quentin a little uncertainly, looking confused, “Does it matter? Wait—were you watching me?” He took a half-step back, medkit gripped like a weapon again.
“No, you were just super fucking loud—I could hear you in the next room,” whispered Joey.
“…Really?” asked Quentin again, shoulders relaxing a little, thoroughly distracted and caught somewhere between being insulted and kind of worried or ashamed about being a nuisance.
“Oh,” said Quentin awkwardly, taking his word for it and pretty visibly out of it and having a pretty hard and disjointed time keeping up, but doing his best through whatever the fuck was in his system. “Uh. Sorry, I guess. I’ll stop. –And you’ll go, then?” He double-checked. “–We’re not gonna fight?”
“No,” assured Joey, relaxing a little.
“…Okay,” said Quentin after considering that for a second, and seeming to find it reasonable. Trusting that for the second time way too quickly for anyone with normal judgement, all things considered. If Joey had caught him stealing supplies from Ormond, he probably would have fucked with him a little before trying to scare him off. He didn’t look scared of him at all right now though, just kind of confused and unsteady. Waiting for Joey to say or do whatever he’d do next, or to leave maybe. When he didn’t make a move, the guy blinked a few times, and then just went back to trying to dig through supplies in the cabinet by him, movements shaky and uncoordinated. Like he had no depth perception or balance or focus at all, even though he was clearly trying really hard to focus. And getting back to his scavenging the guy just—just turned his back on him—on a killer, in a killer realm, in easy melee distance, like that wasn’t a stupid and dangerous thing to do, even if Joey genuinely did have no plans to bury a knife in his back. He couldn’t know that.
Shakily, the guy reached over and pulled open a drawer and started to sort through it, almost collapsing when he took a step to move to get a better view of the contents, and looking confused by the failure of his legs to do their job more than anything else as he righted himself, Joey all but forgotten the second he was out of sight.
God. It. It was super weird to watch this--to see Quentin this way. Why? It shouldn’t have felt so unsettling to him, right? Joey just—he’d never—well, okay, Joey had been around people high before, but this wasn’t even high, this was like, bordering on blitzed completely out of his mind, and usually even seeing someone at a party who had done way too much of whatever was just chill and kind of funny to be around, but here? It wasn’t that at all. It was like…
Joey stopped moving, lost in a memory he hadn’t seen in ages, and forgot everything else. Thinking about a bird in a little wooden pen.
Of all the stupid things to… He tried to stop, tried to re-focus on the present, but he couldn’t shake it. Couldn’t look away. And once he’d remembered that trip a lifetime ago at all, he couldn’t turn off the flood of old images in his head. They just came, and came, and he got lost in them. Once, a-a long, long time ago, there had been a trip he’d gone on, where he’d been driven on a long car ride to go see extended family off in the country away from Ormond, off in a different part of Alberta altogether. Very different. The cousins there were ones he hadn’t seen much before or after, but he’d been excited, he thought. To be doing something new. He’d been a kid at the time—really little, like five or something, and all the cousins out there were all older than him—teenagers, closer to his brother’s age, but he had followed them around everywhere out there just the same, wanting to be included, and they hadn’t forced him to go away so long as he could manage to keep up. It had been new, and exciting, and fun. And the second day he’d been there, they’d gone and met up with some friends, him trailing after, and headed off into someone’s house to play alone out in the backyard with a bunch of other kids they knew, and there had been a chicken. Just a dumb little bird, and Joey had never liked the things, because he was little back then, and chickens were mean, and they’d chase you, and try to peck you, so they’d kind of scared him.
One of the boys had gotten a chicken from somewhere though, and brought it over, and he’d given it something. A sedative maybe, Joey had never found out. But whatever it had been given, it had been disoriented, and confused, and moved slow, and loopy, and he’d watched it as a little boy, hugging the bottom rail of the wooden pen they’d set it in and in a way closer to the action to anyone else there, and seen it suffer. The older kids had gone into the pen and kicked it. They would chase it, and scream at it, and laugh, and sometimes drop stuff like bunches of tangled fishing line or stuff in its way so it would panic, and run from whatever had just scared it, and tangle itself up so bad it couldn’t get free. They had thought it was really funny, watching that stupid little animal try to escape and hurt itself and then forget it was even scared because of how fucked up it was on whatever it’d been given. It would bump into stuff on its own after a little bit—they didn’t even have to help it to get it hurt. Trip around and squak and pull itself up, then run into the same box again head-first. And it hadn’t been funny. He had laughed, before he’d known what was going on, and just thought the older kids were playing some game and gonna run around after one of the mean chickens to spook it, but when he’d figured out it was hurt, and thinking wrong, and never even had a chance, it hadn’t been funny at all.
Things had escalated, bit by bit, while he watched. Gotten worse.
Joey hadn’t done anything to try to save it. Just stood there at five, watching it with huge eyes in silence as it stumbled around in a loopy fashion, trying to avoid old nails the older kids had embedded all over the path ahead of it tip-up in the hope it would eventually step on one, or something else, or simply be betrayed by its own balance while running from them, and fall, and had rooted for it in silence to make it through. It hadn’t. It had made it about two feet.
He didn’t think the boys had been planning to kill it, but they had. And he hadn’t stopped them. Probably it hadn’t been too hurt to save after taking a couple nails through its side. Joey didn’t know—he’d never known—he didn’t know really anything at all about birds. But it had still been very alive when they’d been cursing in a panic and talking about what animal to pin the death on, and a boy had stepped on its head. He hadn’t thought about that day in years, after he’d finally been able to stop thinking about it at all, maybe a year later when the nightmares had finally gone away. He was fucking terrified of chickens. He would never tell anybody that, not ever, but he had been ever since. Which had to be like, the stupidest possible fear a person could have, and made no sense to him at all as a response to that even—he’d seen how dumb and easy to fuck with and little they were! Which should have made him anything but afraid! But. …But any time he saw one, he was always struck by this intense feeling that if he kept looking at it, it would be able to look up into his face with those tiny dead empty black eyes, and see in his own what he’d watched and that he’d just stood there, and that those awful little bead eyes with nothing past them seeing that truth inside him would mark him like a curse forever, and it would only be a matter of time before he met whatever awful punishment the universe laid out in wait for him to make him pay for the judgement it had passed, and as fucking stupid and irrational as that thought was he had never been able to shake it.
Joey hadn’t ever associated doing drugs with that sight from a lifetime ago, not once, but he was seeing it now, and he lost about seven seconds of time doing it, feeling that very specific, long-forgotten fear again, and then he heard a clang and was snapped back just in time to see a drawer the survivor had been using as a foothold to reach a high shelf in the same cabinet must have been pulled out too far to be stable anymore, because it had splintered under the guy’s weight, and as he watched, it ripped out of the cabinet and the survivor went pitching backwards on a collision course with the edge of the heavy desk four feet back with a surprised cry.
Snapped into action, Joey shouted something not very intelligible or useful like “Whoa!” and shot out on impulse to catch the guy and just made it. Knocked to his knees on impact, Joey wrapped his arms around the guy, ducked his head down to minimize damage, braced, and then slid to a stop just shy of the desk he’d expected to ram into breathing hard.
For a second, he held perfectly still like that, listening to things from the drawer go rolling around the floor, waiting for the sound of the Doctor coming to kill them, but the Institute slowly returned to silence. Nothing but the sound of two people breathing.
In his lap, the survivor kind of shakily held out his arms like he was testing his balance, and then tried to turn, and Joey let go so that he could. He moved back and onto his knees to face Joey and blinked, then squinted at him in confusion, like he’d forgotten who he was or that he was there.
“Uhm… Thanks,” offered Quentin. “…Are…?”
Joey didn’t have any idea what to say so he didn’t.
“Uhm…” said the guy, looking to the side and then back at him, kind of at a loss, “W. Where did you?”
‘Where’? Where what? Come from? Learn to do that? He couldn’t even tell if the guy was really recognizing him right now, from the look on his face. God your eyes look glazed over. That can’t be a good sign. How much of whatever had he taken?
Quentin raised a hand like he was going to gesture at something specific, and opened his mouth to speak, and then seemed to forget what he’d been going to say, looked a little troubled by that, and then blinked again and looked to the side, thinking hard, and then back at Joey. “I-I don’t. Uh.” He paused and looked up over his shoulder at the cabinet he’d just fallen from and took in the damage, then back at Joey. “I’m not…sure…why that happened,” he offered unsteadily, “I think—I think it. Broke. Are you okay?”
“Uh. Yeah,” said Joey, not sure how to respond to that at all. It was surreal, because for a moment, the guy looked so genuinely concerned about him, like he hadn’t been the one to almost get brained on a desk. And also because. It. Well. That just wasn’t a way survivors looked at you. Or…anyone did, really. Not in a…long time at least… “Are you?” he asked, trying to tell. The guy didn’t look hurt.
Quentin looked down at himself, and turned his palms over, checking them, and then nodded like that was sufficient to account for any injuries possible. “Yeah. I’m okay.”
He stood up shakily and almost fell again, and Joey half-shot to his feet before Quentin caught himself on the wall. The guy looked surprised his legs weren’t behaving normally, and glanced down at them in confusion, then back at Joey after a second when he remembered he was there, and offered him a hand. Not sure that was a good idea, but acting kind of on impulse, Joey took it and let the guy help him to his feet—which uh, was actually more like Joey standing up with way more leg-muscle-effort than usual so the guy could feel like he was helping him to his feet.
“Look, uhm,” said Joey as he straightened up, watching the guy with something close to concern at this point, “Did you maybe take something in here on accident?”
Quentin looked incredibly confused. “…Uh. No. Not on…accident. I-I told you I’m collecting supplies, right? Medicine stuff?”
“No—I mean, not take like ‘pack up’—take like, did you do any drugs,” corrected Joey, “Like, while you’ve been here in Lerry’s—did you use anything on yourself, or accidentally jab your hand on something—or maybe up, I don’t—inhale some fumes, or?”
“Uhm. Yeah. I. I guess,” he said, very confused.
Okay. Well. That sure track. “Do you know what it was?” asked Joey hopefully.
“Uh. I mean—there’s only two options. The bottle’s here somewhere though,” said Quentin.
“Okay,” said Joey, “what are the two—” WAIT. Oh my GOD. Th—You took it on purpose?! Why! How stupid are you! “-Hang on, are you saying you—you took something, like, you on purpose took a drug? Here, in Lerry’s?” asked Joey, and the guy stared back at him and the incredulity in his voice with such an open look of surprise that he knew for fucking certain without him even answering that he must have. “Oh my GOD you did! You dumbass! What the hell were you thinking! That’s crazy!” snapped Joey in disbelief, gesturing broadly, “Who would do that! Did you even read the bottle first?! No wonder you’re in here stumbling around like a blind rhinoceros. What’s wrong with you!”
“I—what? No—I—I’m not blind,” defended Quentin, confused and looking a little attacked, “—or a—Why are you angry? You said you didn’t need supplies. We do. It’s not like I use them all. I bring most of it back, just, I usually take one or something when I find them, especially if I’m—”
“—WHAT! You go get high in killer realms and do drugs all the time?” exploded Joey in a very angry hissed whisper, some of the sympathy or concern or whatever it had been he’d felt before turning into a surge of blind disbelief and irritation. What kind of fucking dumbass? “Why would you do that! You’re gonna get yourself killed!” he snapped, waving a finger and stepping forward. “You unbelievable dumbass! Do you just not care if that happens?!”
Quentin took a step back as he advanced, looking a little threatened by the sudden burst of anger along with confused now, and he glanced around for where he’d left his medkit, then back at Joey as he defended himself. “No! Of course I do—I do that because I don’t want to get killed out here!” He finally spotted the case back inside the cabinet he’d fallen from and started backing nervously towards it. “The only injectables ever in Lerry’s are adrenaline and hemorrhagics. And I always need both of those! I don’t take too much of them—I use one and take everything else back to the campfire. Or, maybe on a really bad day if I’m out a long time and need it, I use two. Usually if I’m—I’m out scavenging, I’ve been out for a while—and—”
“—And? Why the fuck would need to jam a hemmor—” started Joey, and then he stopped mid-sentence, only just then actually looking at Quentin for real. He’d noticed the blood on his jacket and shirt as soon as he came in, but. …Is…? Joey stopped and looked down at his own arms and hands, and his gloves and black sleeves were wet. He stared at them for a second, then back up at Quentin in confusion as the guy stared back at him with the same completely lost expression he must have had on.
“Are you bleeding?” asked Joey in a totally different tone of voice, stunned.
Quentin stared at him for a second, eyes big and sort of glazed over, but trying to stay trained on him and focus through that fog, and then he looked to the side for a moment, thinking and confused and a little nervous still, and then finally he looked back at Joey, and his expression was completely different when he did, like he was…wary suddenly, for some reason. “…Yeah,” he said really quietly, eyes on Joey’s.
“Why?” asked Joey, totally lost, “Did the Doctor see you on the way in?”
For a second, Quentin was silent again, just watching him, expression unchanging. Then the line of his mouth set a little and he glanced down and away. “I’m always bleeding,” said Quentin very quietly.
“W—you’re always wounded?” asked Joey. Had he been? He’d seen him in trials, and he did kinda always look like this, but he’d thought those were blood stains. Not still-bleeding wounds! Why the fuck would—? Didn’t they heal? He—he could have sworn that— “I thought you guys healed when you got killed and brought back?” said Joey.
“Yeah, but,” started Quentin, and then he stopped. He glanced down, and then up at Joey again and swallowed. “Uhm. Why?”
“Why?” echoed Joey, arms lowering at his sides now that the anger and irritation was gone, and feeling about as confused as Quentin looked, “Because you’re fucked up outside a trial apparently all the time, and that’s not really supposed to happen. Are you okay? Are you dying?”
“…Uh,” said Quentin, looking harried, “No. I just.” He thought for a second and looked out the nearby window at nothing past a far hallway wall, then back at Joey. “You know how…we—all of us, uhm, we go into a trial looking like we look, right? L-like we do naturally?”
“Yeah,” said Joey, nodding.
“Well, if we get hurt outside of a trial, we have to have time to heal right. And. If you die, you get reset to how you were before the trial began. And if you…” He stopped for a second and looked down, kind of sad, and quiet. “…Die. In almost all of your trials. Or all of them. Then…you lose a lot of. Of time. And things don’t. They don’t really have much chance to heal. Not at a normal rate, at least. Because you keep being…set back. So it might take—might take a whole month, to heal like a week should have done, back home. And…the Entity. It. The way it sees us, and ‘puts us back’ when we die. That can-can change, over time. You. You get a little older, in here. Eventually. If you start running between trials, you get better leg muscles—lift weights, better arm strength, that kind of stuff,” offered Quentin, glancing back up, “But other things change too. My uhm. I uh. I die a lot, in trials. And I…get hurt sometimes, out doing this. One time really bad. And. Somewhere along the line the Entity just decided I was, uhm, a little bit older than when I got here, and that I…” His shoulders lowered, and he looked away. “…Just. Spend all of my time. Kind of injured. Because I just kept being injured. All the time. From out here, and for way too long from that one time, and in trials, over and over in a lot of the same ways. More than is uhm.” He risked a glance at Joey’s face. “Is normal. In too many trials. So this uh.” He gestured vaguely at himself. “This is what it th…what it sees as my Default State, now. Hurt become more how it remembers me than…how I…was when I was okay. So. Now it’s how I heal back.”
What the fuck?
Joey gaped at him in a kind of slow building horror. “So…You’re just injured all the time now?”
Quentin considered for a second, and then nodded.
“Is—are all of you like this?” asked Joey.
“Nnnno,” said Quentin slowly, thinking about it, “Uh. Some of us are a little bit. Jake’s leg is always hurt. I think so is Laurie’s arm. Minor stuff. But uh. This whole,” he gestured at himself and gave Joey a kind of smile, like he was making a self-deprecating joke about this situation that Joey wasn’t really finding funny at all, “uh. Mess thing. With like—fifteen injuries and always about to pass out—that’s just me.” He grinned, and then when Joey didn’t smile back, the expression faded and went neutral, and then suddenly looked almost panicked.
“Uh,” said Quentin nervously, suddenly seeming agitated and for the first time since Joey had walked in like he might have some small awareness suddenly that he wasn’t totally thinking straight and was concerned about that, “You’re not gonna use that, are you?”
“Use it?” echoed Joey, lost.
“I-I –I already die so much,” said Quentin, almost like he was appealing to Joey’s humanity or his honor or sense of decency or something. He brought his hand up to his left eye, which Joey had noticed for a long time had slash mark scars across it like he’d been raked by a claw, but was only just now realizing didn’t open all the way anymore too. “I’ve only got like 50% vision on my left side already—please don’t like, start fucking up my other one every trial to try to get it to stick too. I don’t know what I’m gonna do if I see even worse. It took me so long to get used to fucked up depth perception. And I just—I’m so tried, all the time, always, I-I—I know that you—”
“—No!” said Joey, kind of horrified and holding up a hand to stop him there, “I-I’m not gonna—fucking rip out one of your eyes every trial to try to get the Entity to make you go blind—why would you think that?”
Quentin looked at him for a long couple of seconds just a little sad, his deep blue eyes holding Joey’s brown ones, and not saying anything, and Joey felt a kind of sinking feeling in his stomach as he actually thought about the question he’d just asked the other person and the way their relationship—if you could even call butchering someone every time you crossed paths a relationship at all—had only ever been.
“I wouldn’t,” said Joey, lowering his arm when Quentin still didn’t answer, feeling shitty in ways he really wasn’t used to. “I’m not gonna do that. I’m…not that kind of person.”
For a second, Quentin watched him in silence, too unguarded under the influence of whatever he’d taken to be thought of exactly as ‘studying’ him in the way Joey was used to thinking of people trying to read you and sense sincerity, but he thought trying to tell if he meant that, and then he smiled at him. “Okay.”
That would have felt good. It started to, and then Joey remembered it was just the…LSD, or Opium, or whatever the fuck was in him talking.
“You’re not as murderous as I thought you’d be,” offered Quentin like a genuine friendly compliment, giving him another smile before turning back to the cabinet, and then looking down at all the scattered supplies on the floor blankly, lost and distracted immediately in figuring out what to do about them.
Yeah, thought Joey kind of sadly, watching him, Only. I don’t think you’d even be looking at me long enough to know which one of us I was if you were yourself. We’re only having a conversation at all because you’re too fucked up to remember you should be scared of me.
“Uh—you said you did take something though, right?” said Joey, clearing his throat and circling back, needing to say something, and that was kind of important to pin down.
“Huh?” said Quentin, glancing back at him. People looked weird when they were high. Had they always? Or was it just whatever he was on? It was…uncomfortable. Joey hadn’t noticed it before on other people he’d been around, the couple times people had done drugs at parties, or out behind the school late at night, and he’d been lucky enough to be invited to the event. But Quentin’s eyes were glassy, and he was looking at him, and not looking at him at the same time. It made him almost sad for some reason. Why the fuck do I even care? Why am I talking to him at all? I should get out, and fuck off, and let whatever happens happen. I’m not supposed to buddy up to a survivor. If he wasn’t blazed out of his mind, he’d run away from me, and hate me, and there is no way this could possibly go but badly! I don’t need to help him. He can help himself. I’m just gonna get myself in trouble and get nothing out of it if I stick around. It’s not like he’d help me if he found me tripping balls in here. He’d probably kick the shit out of me and steal my knife and maybe kill me like the Doctor did.
“Oh!” said Quentin, remembering and turning back to face him for real, still acting really friendly like he had been a second ago. Whatever had flipped the buddy switch in him seemed to have taken root and stayed. “Yeah—yeah, uh. I didn’t even look to see if it was adrenaline or a hemorrhagic. My shoulder’s always fucked up now, and if I inject adrenaline into the muscle there, it’s as good as anywhere else, so if I find a syringe to use, I just plunge it in half the time, because it’ll work for me either way, and I’m usually in a rush.” He glanced around the room like he was casing it and passing on some little-known information to Joey. “You don’t want to stay around Lerry’s too long. Or any of the killer realms. Gotta be fast and careful.”
Yeah, I know, dumbass, but you’re not being either.
“Do you still have what you took?” asked Joey, choosing to be nice this time because he was pretty sure he wouldn’t sound too smart that fucked up on drugs either.
“Uhh, yeah, I guess—I mean, I don’t have the stuff—I took it, but I saved the syringe. Even when they’re empty, they can be pretty useful sometimes—might need ‘em later,” offered Quentin. He took his medkit out of the cabinet and opened it and took from it a small cardboard package with an empty plastic syringe hastily jammed most of the way back into it from on top of a kind of depressing and meager supply of gauze and little boxes and bottles. It had been such a big medkit case, Joey had expected it to be full of stuff. I guess he brought it to fill up.
“Here,” said Quentin, handing him the syringe, and then as he watched him take it curiously, “What do you want it for?”
“Oh—I’ll give it back,” said Joey, glancing up at him and then turning the syringe in his hand, looking for a label, “I just want to know what you took.” It took him a second, but he found the old faded print on the tiny label, topped, squinted at the decayed words for a moment, and then succeeded and felt his eyes bug out. Ah geeze no wonder you’re a fucking mess. You stupid dumbass! It’s a wonder you’re still standing! 50mg/mL concentration?? Holy FUCK that’s high. Dad was on 10 after surgery! He’s right—the Entity’s fucking with him—goddamn. FIFTY. Jeeze! Poor guy. Damn that’s a lot of opium to take. He’s lucky it wasn’t worse. I’m amazed he’s still standing! –wait, I wonder if that just means it hasn’t really taken effect yet…
“What?” asked Quentin, interested, trying to read the label too, upside-down and from a distance.
Joey held it up for him. “It was morphine.”
“What?” asked Quentin, blinking like that might help him process the news. He took the syringe and cocked his head, studying it.
“You took morphine,” said Joey, “A shit ton of morphine.”
“…Oh,” said Quentin with a note of worry now, face falling. He stared at the syringe without moving for a few seconds reading it, and then exploded and swung a hand angrily at nothing. “Fuck!”
“I don’t think it’s gonna kill you,” offered Joey, trying to dial him back.
“No—it’s not that,” said Quentin, turning to him distressed, “It’s morphine! That’s what fuck’s about! It’s a painkiller. A great one! Do you have—have any fucking idea how rare those are? Finding a bottle of Advil is like scoring a fucking gold mine out. A-and I had a whole syringe worth of morphine and I just used it all? On me? B-because I was too rushed to read the fucking label?” He’d started pacing and gesturing compulsively as he talked, and when he backed up far enough he bumped into the wall by the cabinet, he just slid down against it all the way to the floor and put his arms up over his head and folded in towards his knees miserably. “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I wasted that. I-I could have saved it. We should have been able to split it! Fuck! …fuck…”
Not sure what to do but feeling bad for him, Joey watched for a second, trying to think, and then walked over and slid down carefully beside him. When he got there, Quentin glanced over at him from beneath his arms.
“It’s not so bad,” tried Joey encouragingly, trying to think of what might be good to say.
“No, it is,” said Quentin, depressed, and with his voice muffled from his sleeve. He lowered his arms and folded them over his knees instead, then buried his chin and half his face in them. “Morphine’s such a … …. ….fuck!”
“What?” said Joey, confused.
“I can’t think of the word,” said Quentin, visibly distressed.
Yeah I’ll bet. I’m amazed you’re still kind of coherent at all, considered Joey, who thought better of saying that out loud and instead said, “…Important? Uh. Useful?”
“No,” said Quentin, hung up on this, “Not easy to find—like rare—OH! Fuck! Rare—that was the word.” He went right back to overwhelmingly depressed the second the word was found, like he’d flipped an internal light switch, and kept plowing straight ahead down the depression line, gesturing as he spoke and looking miserably over at Joey. “It’s such a rare find! I’ve never gotten morphine before. Or opium, or anything really good for pain. I could have saved it; we could have taken a little bit to make really bad days better when they hit—it should have been for all of us! Or saved for an emergency! I-I –fuck, a, a whole syringe full? A lot of us could have gotten enough to help at least once. But I fucked up. That’s all gone, and I’ll probably never find one again.” He stared forward for a second and then smiled sadly and leaned his head forward against the side of his arm and stared unfocusedly at nothing. “I wasted the whole thing on myself and, I don’t even feel good.”
Joey watched him and swallowed. He had no idea what to say. “…Maybe, since it left some once now, that means the Entity will put more morphine in the realm?” he suggested after a second.
Quentin looked over at him somewhere between a tiny bit hopeful and about ready to cry over how little he thought it was true.
“It might be,” said Joey encouragingly, hoping the one plus side to being absolutely wasted on morphine might be that he’d be easily swayed into avoiding a depression spiral. “You said you never found one before. The Entity adds stuff sometimes. I bet it’s just a sign you’ll find more now.”
For a second, Quentin watched him, expression unchanging, and then he smiled at him and looked a lot better. “You think?”
“Yeah, for sure,” lied Joey.
“…Yeah, maybe,” decided Quentin after a moment, cheering up. He glanced over at Joey and smiled at him again and then started to uncoordinatedly pull himself back up. “You’re right. I’m being stupid and just wasting time feeling bad for myself like an idiot—I should keep looking.”
“Uhhh---I don’t think that’s such a good idea!” said Joey quickly, hopping up after him.
Quentin gave him a confused look.
“You heard what I said, right? –Before the more morphine thing. You’re super fucked up,” said Joey, “You’re on like, a fuck ton of morphine and making a bunch of noise in the Doctor’s home base. If you don’t leave, he’s gonna come find you.”
Quentin waved the concern away with a hand and turned back to the mostly ransacked cabinet. “Nah—I’m fine. Just don’t feel pain right now.”
“Dude, you are not fine,” argued Joey, following after.
“I really am,” said Quentin in the voice of someone who was definitely not not 80% out of it on drugs. He turned around and put a hand on Joey’s chest, started at it for a second, and then moved it up to the shoulder he’d been trying to aim for and missed, and patted it reassuringly. “I’m good. Thanks though.”
Joey just stared at him as he turned back to the cabinet. Quentin looked down at the drawers and noticed the broken one and its scattered contents and blinked at it in surprise.
“Oh yeah,” he said to himself after a second, “I guess I should pick that up.”
He took a step forward, lost his footing, and rammed headlong into the cabinet. Joey winced as Quentin bounced off it and fell to his knee, and then looked at the big wooden thing in confusion. The guy held up his hands and watched them shake for a couple of seconds, and then, looking supremely lost by all of the things happening, made it to his feet again and tried to get his wobbly body to stay still, confused and clearly trying to remember or figure out something in silence as he did, and having a hard time doing it despite the absolutely complete focus he was giving to the task.
“See what I mean?” asked Joey.
At the sound of his voice, Quentin glanced over with a look on his face like he’d completely forgotten Joey was there.
“You’re not fine,” said Joey again.
“I’m good,” promised Quentin, not even really responding to what he’d said in a way that made complete sense. He looked even more fucked up now than he had when Joey had come in there. More than a couple seconds ago even. Shit, I was right about it having not totally set in before, I think.
Joey stared through the floor for a second, trying to guess how long he had before the Doctor had them both, and to figure out what to do. He felt something bump his chest and looked up.
“Hey, Joey, could you hold this?” asked Quentin, holding out the broken drawer.
How the…fuck? Where did-? I’ve never said my own name in a trial, so who did he hear it from?
“Uh. Why?” said Joey, taking it anyway because he didn’t think not to, still kind of stuck on the fact that apparently at some point Quentin had learned his name.
“I can’t get it to go back in, and I don’t know where else to put it,” said Quentin as if that made perfect sense.
“You want me to hold it forever?” asked Joey in disbelief.
“Can you?” asked Quentin, surprised, taking that for some reason as a 100% genuine and doable offer.
“No!” said Joey.
“Okay,” said Quentin, seeing the choked back urge to laugh on Joey’s face and grinning in return, even though he pretty clearly didn’t get what had been so funny to him, “Then just find somewhere good to put it, I guess.”
As soon as Quentin turned his back, Joey hocked it onto a nearby hospital bed to deafen the thump.
Over by the cabinet, Quentin opened the second-to-bottom drawer, and gave a tired sigh. Joey scooted a foot closer and saw it was completely empty. He watched as the survivor tried again with the last one, and got the same results.
“Is stuff usually empty?” asked Joey, genuinely curious. Other than stealing alcohol from the Deathslinger, he’d never like, actually really gone somewhere looking for supplies.
“Uh, kinda,” said Quentin, glancing up, “I mean. There’s always good stuff somewhere, but it can take a long time to find it.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?” asked Joey, watching and then following as Quentin made it shakily to his feet and took several swaying paces over to a little desk about six feet to the right and started to go through its drawers too. “I mean—don’t people usually find you and…” He made a slashing motion over his throat, but Quentin turned away just as he started to do it and didn’t see, so he added, “uh—kill you? Or. I know we’re not really supposed to kill you if we find you out here, but. I’m sure some of them do. Or at least fuck you up.”
“Hmm?” said Quentin, auditory-processing on a delay, and then before Joey actually had a chance to repeat himself, “Oh. Yeah—they do.” He picked up what looked like an empty can of something and gave it the world’s most displeased look, then kept digging. “Uh, I mean, it’s risky. But if we don’t come get good supplies where it’s dangerous between trials, we’ll only have shitty ones in the trials to use when we get hurt. And I’m kind of a medic, so it’s my—” He paused, holding up a little package and turning it over a few times trying to figure out what it was, seemed to recognize the object that was completely foreign to Joey, opened his medkit on top of the desk, dropped whatever it was inside with the other meager supplies he’d collected so far, and went back to searching. “—Uh, my responsibility kind of, to have stuff to help people,” he finished, “Sometimes you die out here and lose everything, or you get hurt, and slowed down in trials for a bit because of it, but.” He shrugged. “The alternative is…”
“…Not great?” offered Joey, seeing him struggle to recall a word again.
Quentin glanced up at him and nodded, then flashed him a little smile and kept going.
It still felt so weird to get smiled at by a survivor. It…made him feel guilty, like he was tricking someone into doing what he wanted while they were fucked up. Which he didn’t—he wouldn’t have…
“Hey, gauze. Not great, but I’ll take it,” said Quentin to himself, taking a big roll of gauze from the last drawer on the desk and putting it in his still mostly empty medkit. He stood up and swayed, then caught himself on the wall, looking almost too blitzed to even be confused or surprised by that this time, and glanced over at Joey. “You see anything good on your way through here?”
“Uh—” he actually tried to remember. Had there been? I didn’t look in anything. I have no idea. “Dunno.”
“Okay, well, good luck tagging,” said Quentin, words friendly and a little slurred, coming in at the wrong cadences as he started to walk past him. “You know—Nea really likes that. I bet you two would have fun doing that sometime,” he offered, pausing to glance at Joey again. “You should ask her.” He stepped on past then, heading for the hall, and almost immediately his foot hit a little jut at the place the floor of the hall and the floor of the room met and didn’t quite connect right, and that was enough to take him down again, but Joey shot forward and caught him this time, saving him from crashing headlong into an old cart out in the hall.
“Whoa—” said Quentin, trying to get his balance back a little. And then, flashing him a smile, “Thanks.”
“Dude, you have to stop,” said Joey urgently with his voice hushed, “You’re gonna—”
“It’s okay, really,” said Quentin with great assurance, thumping him on the shoulder again as he tried to straighten back up. “I feel fine.”
“You are not fine, dumbass!” hissed back Joey.
“Wow. Rude. Seriously, though—I’m pretty sure I’m good,” said Quentin, not worried at all. He started to walk again, thoroughly nonplussed, and began humming to himself, a melody Joey had never heard, swaying a little as he walked, and seeming about the most happily contented Joey had seen somebody in years. Joey stayed frozen, gaping at him as did a few really bad what Joey was pretty sure had been dance steps crossing to the next room, and started singing, “Oh my God we’re back again. Brothers, sisters, everybody sing—gonna bring the flavor, show you how. Got a question for you, better answer nooow.”
He made it into the far room and started getting louder. He’s lost his mind! thought Joey in a panic, breaking out of his initial shock and sprinting after him.
When he made it through the doorway, the dude was still kind of uncoordinatedly bobbing while he turned in a circle and scanned the room for potential storage areas, blissfully carefree as fuck. “Am I original? Yeeeah. Am I the only one? Yeaah. Am I s—”
“—What the fuck are you doing!” hissed Joey, bolting in and catching the surprised teenager by the arm.
“Uhm. I—wait. Didn’t we have this conversation before?” asked Quentin, like he was genuinely trying to parse some surreal deja-vu.
“Yeah! And you said you’d stop singing!” said Joey.
“…Oh yeah,” said Quentin in surprise, remembering. “Huh.” He immediately started to sing again, eyes focused on nothing at all like he’d gotten so lost in his head in the 0.4 seconds since agreeing that singing was off the table that he’d forgotten Joey was even there. “Am I sexual, ye—"
“—No you’re not!” shot back Joey, and Quentin stopped singing and looked at him kind of betrayed.
“It’s—that wasn’t a question—it’s a Backstreet Boys song,” said Quentin, a little hurt.
“A what?” said Joey. No idea what the fuck he was talking about.
“What?” asked Quentin with a huge amount of intense incredulity in his slightly slurred tone. “Y. You don’t know them?”
Joey just have him a disbelieving look.
“Everybody? I Want it That Way? As Long as You Love Me?” When Joey said nothing, he tried, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart?” like it was the last bastion on earth and Joey would just have to know that one. Quentin waited a second for an answer that didn’t come and took in the completely lost look on Joey’s face. “Holy shit, really?”
Joey made a hopeless gesture, not even sure which part of this to respond to.
“Ah, that sucks!” said Quentin with incredibly genuine sympathy, “I wish I had an album. I guess it’s kinda fun though,” he added with a grin, like something amazing had just occurred to him, “because that means you get to hear them for the first time now.” He looked up at nothing, thinking. “They’re not really the kind of music I listen to, but Everybody and I Want it That Way are catchy, and I’ll give them that, and I wouldn’t usually tell people this, but I actually really like Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”
“Dude, you have to stop singing,” pleaded Joey.
“Well, I will now,” promised Quentin, “Sorry—didn’t know I was spoiling the song. I thought everybody’d heard it.”
“That’s not really the problem!” whispered Joey.
“It’s—that’s cool,” decided Quentin, not listening at all. He looked off at nothing and then back at Joey, smiled, and slung an arm over his shoulder. “I like people who want to hear songs for real the first time they hear it—man, music’s so fucking cool. I have a record player back home—there’s just nothing like hearing a vinyl for the first time. Really! It’s like, magical what a difference it makes! I wish I could show you—”
Joey pulled Quentin’s arm back from over his shoulder and moved back a half-step. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“W…” Quentin looked at his arm, and then Joey in confusion. “It’s a friendly gesture,” he offered. “You were nicer than I thought, and we were talking about music, so—”
“—Yeah, we’re not friends,” said Joey, crossing his arms and feeling a way intenser reaction to this than he’d expected. His heart was thudding. Why the hell did you just blow up at him? He doesn’t even know what he’s doing.
“… I know,” said Quentin, drawing back his arm slowly and smile fading, looking kind of genuinely hurt for a second, “I said ‘friendly’ gesture, not a friend one. Like. When you meet a nice classmate and you’re hanging out the first time. So people can tell you don’t want to stab them in the back.”
“What?” said Joey.
“Yeah well, maybe not at school,” said Quentin, following his own logic path, “But you know. Here people are…harder to be sure—because half of them are always trying to kill you. Well. If you’re one of us.”
I guess, thought Joey, saying nothing.
“You know,” said Quentin, glancing up at him and smiling again, earlier hurt forgotten, “I’m really relieved, actually. I thought when you showed up, I was gonna have to fight you off with my medkit and probably get killed again.”
“Does every killer you’ve ever met out here try to kill you, even though we’re not supposed to outside trials?” asked Joey, genuinely surprised, and un-crossing his arms.
“No,” said Quentin, thinking about that, “But I figured you would. You hate me.”
“What?” said Joey, taken aback, “No I don’t. Why would you think that?”
“W…because you always kill me,” said Quentin, confused, working hard to find the right answers through the fog in his head.
“Don’t all of us?” said Joey, almost insulted. I’m not worse than anyone else! I’m probably one of the nicer killers! I’m not super cruel, or—
“Yeah, I mean, none of you are really merciful or anything, you’re all kind of monsters,” answered Quentin very serious and sincerely, “But most of you let the last one go at least sometimes. All of Legion does. But you’ve never let me take the hatch. Julie lets me take hatch sometimes if I did well in the trial and she’s in a good mood. Susie lets me take it. Even Frank’s let me go before if I’m the last one. But you never have. Not even one time out of so many trials, so you must really hate me. I’ve never known why you do. …Did I do something? That I just don’t…remember? If I did something really bad to you to make you hate me, I’m sorry.”
“I—” Joey stared at him, kind of bowled over by a feeling it took him a second to realize was a mixture of distress and horror. “No. No, you—I don’t hate you—I. I do that because you’re so easy to catch,” he tried to explain, stepping a little closer. Quentin watched him take the step and didn’t back up, but he wasn’t looking at him like he had been before anymore either. Not at all. “That’s all. You come back in at the end in trials if anybody else is still in there—always, no matter how stupid it is, or how obviously it’s a trap. Even if you know you’ve got no chance of saving them, you’ll try. So when you’re there, even if I have a really bad trial, and no sacrifices at all by the time the gates are up, I always know I can get at least two kills if I can just manage to down even one person before you’re all out, because you’ll always come back for anybody I get, no matter how suicidal it is, and then I’ll be okay. Free kill. It’s like a safety net. I can always count on you to try to come sacrifice yourself to save someone, and I pretty much always get both of you, too. I don’t kill you all the time because I hate you, I just do it because it’s…easy.”
He lost steam on the last word, thinking for the first moment for real about what he was saying.
Even with the haze of drugs in his system, Quentin was working hard to listen, glassy eyes fixed on his, and Joey could tell that he’d heard it all and understood what he’d said, but the guy didn’t say anything at all. Just looked at him in silence. Looking kind of sad, or wounded, or some other emotion Joey didn’t even know the name of that was hurt and sad and lonely and a lot of other quiet, painful stuff all at the same time, and he just held Joey’s gaze with that emotion in his eyes and said nothing. Just looked at him.
Fuck. Fuck! I—
After a few long seconds, Quentin looked slowly away and nodded.
What did I say? I—shit. I. Joey had thought it would make him feel better—why the fuck did you think that? Fuck! Idiot! He wanted to say he was sorry, but there was no way he could. He didn’t even know if it was true. It—it was just practical, killing him. Joey was alright, but he wasn’t the best at hunts, and sometimes shit went south in trials. He liked getting Quentin in his trials, because that always made them easier. Even a worst-case scenario was pretty much always gonna be a 2-kill for him. But he-
“I’m gonna go back to searching,” said Quentin very quietly, finally glancing his way again for a moment, but he was barely looking at him anymore, “You can go back to tagging now. I’ll be quiet. …Thanks for…giving me a warning, instead of murdering me this time.”
“Quentin-“ started Joey as the survivor turned and began working towards the other end of the room unsteadily, using the back of a long bench for support, but he stopped, and let him go. What would he have said anyway? Joey looked at the ground for a second, not seeing the dirty carpet at all. Shit. Shit! Why-? I didn’t. It’s just—I-I don’t have a choice—I. Fuck! Why did I even follow him in here? Why did I talk to him at all! I should just go back, and finish up if I have time, and then get lost, or book if I hear him making noise again. If he wants to get found by the Doctor and tortured for a couple—
He stopped, mind flashing him images of a death he had been working hard to repress since the day it happened. That had been the first time Joey had ever died, and it had been awful. Usually he could just not think about it so much, and just be angry it had happened, but he was feeling electricity run up his backbone like a shiver, remembering the way that smelled, and burned. He had thought he knew what the sound of his own voice screaming sounded like before that, but he hadn’t. Not a real scream. He just hadn’t known how different the sound could be. Joey felt sick with the memory, seeing the Doctor’s grinning face in his head and shuddering involuntarily at the sight of it so close to his face in his mind’s eye, and then hating himself for doing that like a fucking coward—like the guy was better than him, or stronger, or anything. He’d just gotten lucky that last time—they were all strongest on their own turf. But, fuck. It—
Joey turned his head and looked for Quentin, and saw him easily, walking unsteadily towards the far end of the room. Something more off about the walk than before. He was moving…it was almost like he was nodding off on his feet or something. Quentin made it to the end of the bench, though, and behind a big secretarial area against the wall near it, and started to try and look through shelves, and Joey heard him start singing again, very quietly this time, words barely decipherable from where he was about fifteen feet off.
“…step outside. An angry voice and one who cried, ‘We'll give you…everything and more. The strain’s too much, can't take much…more.”
Oh come on, thought Joey desperately, You’re gonna go sing a sad song now? You’re doing this on purpose!
“…Oh I’ve…” Quentin stopped singing and took a couple deep breaths like he was short on it before he kept going again. “Oh, I've walked on water…run through fire. Can’t seem to…feel it. Anymore…”
Wait. Something was wrong.
“Can’t seem to feel it anymore,” whispered Quentin again, staring blankly at nothing, struggling to keep his eyes open. He looked down at his hands and held one of them up in confusion and tried to focus on it.
“Quentin?” asked Joey. He didn’t even glance up, just stayed staring at his hands. Joey didn’t think he was even aware he was still in the room with him anymore. Wait, were you sweating before? What the fuck? What was he looking at?
Quentin didn’t move at all. He just stayed standing there, breathing shakily, eyes fixed on his fingertips. Joey took two steps closer carefully and tried again.
He turned this time, surprised—no. Afraid. And found Joey, and his eyes—what the fuck? “Oh no,” whispered Joey. Gaping. Quentin’s pupils were so small he could barely see them at all, like they’d drowned in his huge blue eyes. He didn’t think he’d ever seen someone’s pupils that vanished. That was wrong—that was really, really wrong, especially from someone who was scared. Okay-okay—he was staring at his hands—why. Joey looked frantically and saw why immediately. His fingertips were blue.
Joey started to bolt forwards, and Quentin reacted with alarm, stumbling back from him and losing his balance immediately, falling against the back wall.
“S-Stay away from me!” managed Quentin frantically through desperate breathing Joey didn’t think had anything to do with fear. Joey didn’t stop. He vaulted the low wall sectioning off the secretarial area and landed inside it only a few feet back. Quentin tried to struggle up and get away from him, and collapsed halfway though the effort, arms giving out, and rolled onto his back and crawled back on his elbows instead, looking up at him with such intense panic and terror it was kind of sickening. It was like he wasn’t the same person he had been a minute ago at all.
Fuck—fuck—he’s really fucked up—this is really bad.
“Calm down,” tried Joey, starting to go towards him while holding up his hands, palm-out, “I’m just trying to help you.”
There wasn’t even a fraction of belief this time in the person opposite him. He just kept trying weakly and horribly to get away. “No you won’t!” he shot back desperately, pupils tiny pinpricks of black in vacant eyes as he tried to keep away from Joey without the ability to really do it anymore at all.
“I am—I am,” promised Joey, keeping his hands up, “Remember? We were just talking a minute ago—I’m not trying to hurt you.”
“You always do!” argued Quentin, hitting the side wall of the little secretarial area and, with nowhere else to go, desperately reaching blindly for a weapon and comping back with a pen leveled at him like a knife, “Don’t come near me!”
Fuck, he’s getting too loud! The Doctor’s gonna hear that! His impulse was to jump him and get a hand over his mouth to shut him the fuck up before it was too late—that pen wasn’t gonna do shit. But. But he could tell that was exactly what Quentin thought he was gonna do, and he had no fucking idea what morphine did to you if you overdosed, but what if he had a heart attack, and—
…and he’d just come back, wouldn’t he? Like he did any other time he died. So it wouldn’t really matter. Right? What was one more. What were any of the deaths. No, thought Joey, feeling overwhelmed and sick in a way he’d never felt before, remembering the one and only death he had experienced so far, No. What were all of them.
“Okay,” said Joey quietly, stopping about three feet from Quentin, crouched, hands still up. “Okay. I’m just trying to help. I know I’m a killer, but we met a few minutes ago, remember? We’re both in the Doctor’s realm, so we’ve got a kind of temporary alliance thing going. Both have to be quiet, or we’ll both get caught, and we’re both gonna die.”
The shaking teenager opposite him watched him in confusion, breathing raggedly, pen still leveled like he really thought that could protect him.
“W-what?” he asked, searching Joey’s face desperately, “I-I don’t—”
Right. Okay—okay maybe… He held up his right hand, and with his left, slowly pulled his mask off. Quentin stayed still, constricted pupils locked on his face, trying to find some sign of familiarity he wasn’t going to find, because he never had seen Joey’s face before, but at least it was a face.
“See?” said Joey calmingly, hand still up. “Remember me? Joey?”
“…Y-yeah,” said Quentin after a second, lowering the pen a little. He swallowed hard. God, he looked so bad. He couldn’t have been sweating for very long, but he’d sweated so much since it had started that he was soaked in it now, and disgusting. This is really, really bad.
“You need help,” said Joey, gesturing towards him, “Look at your fingers.”
Quentin did, and then looked confused and worried to find them blue again and shaking. “Sh-shit,” he managed. He looked up back up at Joey worriedly. “A-am I dying?”
“I-I don’t know,” said Joey, “You took morphine. I think you must have overdosed. Do you know if there’s a way to fix it? Do you—do you need to throw up or something?”
“Oh. Oh, that’s right,” said Quentin shakily, blinking, “I-I. No, I. I took it in a syringe. I can’t throw that up. It’s in my blood.”
“C-can I help you?” offered Joey, a horrible feeling in the pit of his gut. Fuck. Fuck—I’m gonna watch him die from an overdose. I don’t want to know what that looks like.
“I-I don’t. I don’t. I don’t….I don’t know,” said Quentin, voice deteriorating as he went, like he might cry.
Joey looked around, as if he might spot something that would miraculously help, but there was nothing—he wouldn’t have even known a cure if he’d seen one. He didn’t know what that was! He had no idea what to do.
Quentin was breathing more desperately now, and his arms went lax at his side, not fighting anymore at all. He looked up at Joey and he was scared. Really, really scared. “I,” he tried, struggling to talk through shallow, frantic breathing, “I can’t breathe right. I’m-I’m choking. I can’t. I can’t breathe. And. And I can barely see you at all.” He teared up, and Joey felt sick. “With either eye. Not just my left one. I’m-I’m…”
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” promised Joey, moving close to him and putting his hands on his shoulders. He didn’t shudder or try to pull away, just kept trying desperately to breathe, and when he looked back at Joey, he was looking at him like a friend, and that just made everything so much more awful, and somehow he was glad for it at the same time as if felt like a knife in his gut. “You’re gonna be fine.”
Quentin shook his head.
“You don’t know anything about what to do?” asked Joey, desperate for the answer to change.
“I…” Quentin swallowed hard, thinking. “I’ve. W-we don’t ever get painkillers. It’s. It’s supposed to come with an antidote, m-morphine, in case you do what I did, b-but I don’t remember any when I got it.”
“Okay! Okay—Where did you get it?” asked Joey.
Quentin tried to point to something, and when he saw that his arm was shaking too badly to obey him, he said, “There’s a—another. Nother room. I…”
“The one I found you in first?” asked Joey.
Quentin shook his head.
Fuck! “Which one? What did it look like?” pressed Joey.
“…A hospital room,” said Quentin in a whisper, eyes filling up. Which had to mean he was too out of it to think right and remember, but still there enough to know that wouldn’t be enough for Joey to ever find it, and failing to remember meant there was no way he could be saved. Which was so fucking cruel.
“Maybe it’s not so bad,” tried Joey, taking his hand and closing his fingers around it, “Maybe it’s not a fatal dose.”
Quentin looked up at him for a few seconds, struggling and sick and shaking, and then looked slowly away at nothing past the floor. “…What does it matter,” he whispered, expression changing. Despairing. He grimaced then and choked back a sound of pain, wincing and pressing an arm to his stomach, and then looked up at Joey again with something between hope and desperation in his eyes. “Y-you have a knife?”
“Yeah,” said Joey, reaching for it, ready to try anything.
Quentin watched him for a second, breathing shakily, eyes becoming increasingly glossy and wincing at pain that hadn’t got bad enough yet that he had to vocalize it, then choked out, “Kill me?”
“What?” asked Joey, horrified, drawing the knife back like he thought Quentin would reach out and snatch it from him to do it himself.
“It. Please,” Quentin managed. So fucked up and out of it and lost. “It hurts so much. It’s getting worse. I. I can’t…I can’t see anything. It’s all blurry. I can’t breathe. I-“ He looked up and took a second to find Joey’s eyes, then held them, fingers digging into the hand Joey had given him to hold. “I’ve died before, but I. I don’t even feel like me. It’s all…It’s all wrong. I don’t—I don’t like feeling like this. I don’t wanna die like this. Please.”
“I-I. I can’t,” whispered Joey, sickened.
“Why not?” asked Quentin brokenly, “You have. But you—?” He looked so hurt and betrayed and hopeless, and Joey felt his grip on his hand slacken. “You won’t? The one time I. I want to…” He started breathing horribly then, like he couldn’t get his body to do it at all, and looked panicked, and started gasping, and then as fast as that had started, he was suddenly barely breathing at all, chest refusing to rise and fall like his brain was only getting the signal to breathe on a delay, picking up one-tenth of the signals he was trying to give it. It would be nothing for several seconds, and then a ragged shallow gasp, and he could see him trying to breathe through all of it, trying so fucking hard, and failing.
“Fuck! Fuck—I want to help!—Isn’t there something I can do?” Joey pleaded, grabbing his hand and trying to think, but Quentin couldn’t answer him anymore. His skin was changing color, and he was shuddering, struggling to keep his eyes open. FUCK! Fuck! Isn’t there something I can do? Anything? He was fine a minute ago! What the fuck!
Joey felt the fingers on the hand he was grabbing close around his, and looked down to see Quentin clutching it weakly. He looked at Quentin’s face and for a second they met eyes and the other guy looked so out of it he was barely there at all, but he was there enough—enough to be aware how wrong it was, and to be terrified.
“No-no, come on,” said Joey frantically, “You said there’s medicine to fix it—right? Just tell me what it’s called! I can—”
Wait! Wait—when he walked in the room—the first time he saw him today—Quentin had been looking for a bottle he was already holding, right? Maybe. No—but that was a pill bottle. No way it’s what he needs. Fuck! No—no wait, but—but he is remembering badly. And maybe if he’s remembering badly. He’s scavenging, right? H-he could have taken it—he would, right? He doesn’t think so, but he f-forgot the bottle, and he forgot me! It has to be there, right? He said he didn’t even check to see what he was taking was, because there’s only ever two kinds of drugs in syringes he finds here, and he keeps both, so it has to be there it has to be, right? He would keep it! Right? thought Joey desperately.
Moving urgently fast, he tore his hand away from Quentin and shot the two-feet over to where he’d left the medkit on one of the shelves in the secretarial area beside them. He felt him try to hang on to his hand when he ripped it away, and thought he tried to say something, but there was no time—he—
“Hang on, hang on,” called Joey without looking, ripping the case open, “I think—” Fuck—fuck. Syringes, pill bottle, gauze, band-aids, thread, thread, fuck! –there—package—no—bandaids again—shit! It would be near the top, it!
Desperate, he snatched the same container Quentin had taken the used syringe he’d given him earlier from, hoping for a miracle, and it had weight to it. Weight he thought might be beyond just the empty syringe Quentin had put back in there, and— Fuck! Yes! There! The top was ripped open, where he’d gotten the syringe out, but there was a partition about 2/3rds of the way though the case, and the last third was still sealed, and Joey ripped it open with a vengeance and snatched up the little syringe waiting inside—there—on the label. ‘Naloxone. 2mg.’ Fuck! Is that the right drug? He had no idea, but it had to be, right? What else would have been in there? There were no instructions on the stupid fucking box or the label or in the container at all, but it had to be, it had to. It is—I know it is.
“Okay,” said Joey, hurrying above Quentin again, ripping the cover off the needle tip and trying to figure out where the fuck to inject him. F-fuck, a vein, right? That’s where doctors do it—in your arm, right? Kinda by your elbow, or up by your wrist? He couldn’t see a fucking visible vein that wasn’t tiny in his wrist, so he grabbed Quentin’s left arm and tugged it straight and readied the needle, eyes on the thick blue vein there on the inside of his elbow, praying to God that he’d do this right. Not too deep not too shallow fuck fuck fuck come on, you can do it.
Below him, Quentin’s skin had gotten tinged with purple and blue, and he was choking but too weak not to be doing it frantically anymore, just weakly, and it was like watching someone drown, except it was so much fucking worse, because he couldn’t just pull him out of the water—there was no water—there was air, and he just couldn’t make his body take it. He was soaked in sweat and looking at Joey with pinpoint pupils and glossy eyes, and he tried to say something, but Joey couldn’t tell what it had been, only how distressed it was making him that he couldn’t.
“It’s okay,” promised Joey, sliding the needle slowly into his arm and trying to force his own hands to quit shaking, “I got the drug—you’re gonna be fine.” He pressed down on the plunger, and watched the liquid go in, desperately hoping for a miracle.
Beside him, Quentin stopped breathing.
Joey didn’t register it at first, because he’d been struggling so hard, and he was focused on getting in all of the drug, but when the tenth breath that should have finally gone through and given the teenager a gasp of air didn’t come, and then didn’t come on an eleventh, a twelfth, a thirteenth beat, Joey felt it. He turned his head and stared at Quentin in frozen shock, almost as still as the body beneath him had suddenly gone.
“No,” said Joey quietly, not ready to believe it, watching, waiting for him to breathe again. Fuck. What if it was. What if that’s another pain killer? What if he could have made it through that if I’d just helped him and done nothing. Fuck! I thought—I.
Slowly, he pulled the needle back out of his arm, feeling sick, eyes still on Quentin’s face, and then there was a motion—a—he hadn’t been looking, but he thought his hand had twitched. Wait—
“Are you not dead?” asked Joey desperately, feeling a tiny spark of hope. The body didn’t respond. But he— “No! No way! Fuck it! I did everything right! I saved you!” argued Joey to the form beneath him he refused to believe was anything but unconscious, “You’re not dead!”
He’s just not breathing! If the drug works, it probably takes it a minute—I can keep him breathing for a minute. Fuck you! You’re not dying now—not after all of that! Come on!
Joey shoved Quentin’s jacket and necklace aside, wincing at the fresh claw marks still there, placed his palms over each other in the center of his chest like he’d learned in highschool, and started compressions.
“Come on come on come on,” he whispered, keeping time to a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, all the way up to 30. He hit thirty, moved an inch to the right, tipped back Quentin’s head and held his nose, then breathed into his mouth twice. Come on come on. Again. Back—1 through thirty. Mouth open, breathe for him, again. Again. He hit 120 and kept going. Again. 27, 28, 29, 30—breathe. Head back, mouth open, nose closed. Breathe. Take a deep breath, blow in. Breathe for him. Th—
He was halfway to ramming the full force of his palms against the guy’s ribcage, already mentally ticking off 1 in his head again, when he saw it was moving shakily up to meet him, and he stopped, staring. The chest lowered weakly, and rose again, and he looked over at Quentin’s face and saw the tiniest mist in the cold air of Lerry’s Memorial Institute as he exhaled.
Joey fell back onto the floor and sat still, watching, a huge smile spreading slowly across his face, and then he laughed, overcome with relief. He looked at Quentin’s still features and smiled at him. “You scared the shit out of me.”
For a few seconds, Quentin just kept breathing, and then he coughed weakly and groaned, and slowly opened his eyes to little cracks and blinked weakly, trying to make out the ceiling above.
“…Ow,” whispered Quentin to no one and nothing, still out of it.
Quentin heard him this time, blinked again, and slowly turned his head and looked over at Joey. For a few seconds he just squinted, no recognition or emotion attached at all, no familiarity, or fear, or gladness, or hate, just trying to figure out who he was. Then he said, “…Lee.g…J..Joey…?”
“Yeah,” said Joey, smiling at him.
“Did you kick me?” asked Quentin hoarsely.
“What?” asked Joey, trying not to laugh because of the absurdity of that question to him.
“My ribs feel like shit,” groaned Quentin, turning his head and looking back up at the ceiling again.
“Yeah, well, you quit breathing,” said Joey, proud of himself, “Before the antidote kicked in. I had to give you CPR. It’s better to push too hard than too soft if you’re trying to get someone to breathe. Sorry it hurts—I don’t think I broke anything though.”
“…What?” asked Quentin, turning his head to look at him again.
Joey grinned and opened his mouth to echo himself, and then stopped, a sinking feeling stabbing him in the chest all of a sudden. Oh, Joey, you fucked up here. You should not have done this. This was bad.
What the fuck was he doing? And why? Why—I mean—okay, sure, they were supposed to not kill a survivor outside of a trial. Leaving him alone was fine, shutting him up so the Doctor wouldn’t come—totally normal. M-maybe even trying to warn him off—after all—they weren’t supposed to be friends, but like, that didn’t mean he had to like watching them die. Didn’t have to…to not let a guy so fucked up he didn’t even realize he was high know he was going to get electrocuted to death really slowly for making so much noise, right? Yeah. Yeah—that—that was fine. Anybody might have done that. But. But this? He’d been about to die, hadn’t he? Probably? He’d been unconscious, so if he’d just done nothing, Quentin would have just ended up dead on the floor here and gone back to his campfire again without his meager supply of medical shit he’d collected so far, and start over. No harm done. He hadn’t even been—been like, saving him from pain. The painful part had been over. He’d been out. Why did you do this? Why not let him die this time? What did it matter?
Right. …Right, Quentin had. He’d said that too, hadn’t he. Asked what it would matter if he died one more time.
Shit. … Shit! Was it—was it always like that, for—for all of them? He couldn’t…couldn’t imagine watching Frank get ripped up by a chainsaw, day after day—his best friend? While he—he couldn’t do anything, or knew he was about to be next? Trial after trial after trial? Could something like that happen so many times it didn’t even matter anymore? Could you get used to that? And if so, then why? Why do you always come back for the people I catch in trials, if it doesn’t matter if I get them one more time anyway? If death is just—just fucking nothing anymore. God, it couldn’t be nothing anymore, could it? He was scared of it, and he’d died—only once, but. But.
But you were too, thought Joey desperately, remembering the terror in the other teen’s face when he’d been choking to death. You were scared. You were so scared you wanted me to mercy kill you, because it would be quicker, even though you were scared of me killing you at all a few minutes ago. So it has to matter to you, doesn’t it?
But maybe it didn’t. Maybe it couldn’t. And he was suddenly, immensely, deeply afraid of that. Not all the deaths themselves. Joey felt like…like those could only matter. He’d only been killed one time so far, but he didn’t think he’d ever have be able to get used to the way that had felt—there were just some things in life you couldn’t—like getting punched. It didn’t matter if people fought you a lot, or you got picked on and beat up every day at school—maybe you got used to the idea of bullying, but you never got used to the way a fist stung against cheekbone or felt rammed into your gut. You just didn’t. Other things too… But. But maybe this didn’t—hadn’t—not at all. Maybe it couldn’t anymore. Maybe if you died so much, got cut down and carved up and electrocuted and drugged and burned and eaten and ripped to shreds one too many times, it stopped mattering at all if there was ever a time that you didn’t. Because why would it? Death would just be back for you the next hour. So it. It probably hadn’t even done anything at all. Except fucking made him all confused and angry and—fuck! He didn’t even know how he felt except bad. How could it not matter, he thought desperately, still saying nothing, and watching a semi-conscious guy his age who might have been a classmate or a friend or anything at all in another life blink back at him in confusion, still waiting for an answer he no longer knew how to give. How could it not matter that I saved you! It should! It should…
But fuck. It didn’t. And he got that now.
I never should have done this, thought Joey, feeling a little nauseous suddenly and like the room was swaying around him, I didn’t do anything at all for you, and I fucked up my head doing it. I should have just kept walking and let what happened happen. I should never have talked to you at all.
“Are you okay?” asked Quentin. He looked concerned now. Of all the possible stupid things. Concerned. Voice all cracked and dry and weak and scratchy from choking to death, and he was asking Joey if he was okay.
When you think I hate you, thought Joey hopelessly, I didn’t even think I was one of the mean ones, but I’ve been making you miserable for months, and didn’t even see it, because I didn’t have to care or to even know. I could just do anything I wanted, no repercussions, unless I fucked up killing people too much. What the fuck. And.
“What happened?” asked Quentin. Slightly more awake now. Still out of it, but pupils slightly larger than the tiny specks they’d been before, and struggling to focus on his expression. He tried to push himself up onto his elbows and grimaced and stopped only partway there and looked over at Joey again.
“You almost died,” said Joey barely audibly, because he couldn’t keep not answering him at all, and there was nothing else he knew to say.
Quentin looked confused by that, and thought for a second, looking at nothing, brow ridiculously furrowed. “…morphine?” he asked after a moment, glancing up at Joey very unsure.
“Yeah,” answered Joey, no energy in the word.
The survivor thought for another moment, trying to pick up pieces in his head, Joey thought, then met his gaze again. “…You found the antidote?”
“Nah,” said Joey quietly, not looking at his face, “It just wore off.”
For a second, Quentin was quiet. “But…you said you did,” he said after a moment, “You said you…gave me CPR.”
Joey stared at him, feeling cornered. Fuck—I thought you didn’t hear that all the way. Quentin was watching him in unfocused confusion. What am I supposed to say?
He didn’t know, so he didn’t say anything, and Quentin glanced at the ground around him after a few seconds with no response, and saw the syringe and the package where Joey had left it, and picked up the empty needle and shakily brought it towards his face to read the label. “Nal…Naloxone—you did,” said Quentin, glancing back at him.
Joey shrugged. For a moment, they just stared at each other in complete silence, Quentin still only half propped up, Joey maybe a half foot back, sitting above him on the ground. Joey didn’t really know what either of them was waiting for, but he was afraid to be the first one to speak, or move, so he didn’t.
“…Thank you,” said Quentin finally, and he smiled at him. Like he meant it. And Joey knew it was really the drugs that were still in there that meant it, and not the teenager at all, but the guy thought he meant it so much that it was hard not to smile back, and so he did for just a second before he could stop himself.
Quentin looked at the ground for a second then, blinking slowly, breathing more regularly now, but eyes still glassy and movements irregular and off, and Joey tried to guess from a distance how high he still was. Not dying at least. His skin isn’t blue anymore, so. That’s the big one. That and uh, breathing.
“Why did you do that?” asked Quentin, looking back up. Just curious. No accusation or suspicion, or anything in the tone but the desire to know. “-Save me?”
“…I don’t know,” said Joey quietly, because he didn’t, and he knew that another fifteen seconds of thinking before he answered later, he still wasn’t going to. And he didn’t want to lie. Not here, not to that question.
Quentin tilted his head and watched him for a few seconds curiously, and then laid back down on the dirty floor and smiled at the ceiling thoughtfully. “Well, thanks. I don’t remember all of it, but that seems really good of you,” he offered.
Joey didn’t say anything.
After a second, Quentin shut his eyes and took a few deep breaths, then started mumbling something to himself, hummed a few bars of one of the songs he’d been singing earlier under his breath, and then sat up. He made it this time too, still a little unsteady, and he turned and glanced over at Joey and offered him a friendly smile and said, “Thanks again. I think I can get up now if I go slow, so I’m gonna go ahead and try to get back to searching,” then grabbed the side of the desk by him and started to attempt to pull himself up.
“WHAT?” exploded Joey in barely hissed indignation, shooting halfway to his feet because he expected the other guy to collapse in about 2.4 seconds at most.
“Supplies,” said Quentin, who had made it up to one foot and one knee with the help of the desk, wobbled a little with an arm out, and then glanced back at him once he got his balance, “I should look for some more before I go back to the campfire.”
“Are you out of your fucking mind?” hissed Joey, losing it, “You—you fucking unbelievably stupid dumbass! No! You’re still high, you just almost died, you’re already making too much noise again, and you’re gonna get caught if you stay! –And you want to keep going? You’re fucking insane!”
“I am not,” replied Quentin kind of indignantly, “I’m okay—you gave me an antidote, so my head will clear up—is clearing, and I’ll be good to keep going.” He started trying to make it all the way to his feet with a lot of arm strength and effort because his legs weren’t super dependable right then.
“Why!” asked Joey, “What’s wrong with you! Why are you so set on killing yourself to get stupid medical supplies! They won’t even help you much anyway!”
Quentin stopped. He turned his head and looked at Joey and he had a look on his face like a friend of his had just smacked him and he didn’t even know why. Shit—I shouldn’t have—
“They do help,” said Quentin quietly, like he was trying to make it more true just by the way he was saying it.
Joey thought about saying nothing, because he was pretty sure he’d sort of hurt his feelings before, but the stupid fucking dumbass survivor was going to stick around and get himself killed, and then come out again the next day and the next, and for what? It just—It wasn’t worth it! He was wrong!
“They don’t,” said Joey, shaking his head, “Not enough. You’re risking your life out here all the time for no reason.” He picked up the medkit from the floor, and Quentin watched him in what was almost alarm, and tried to reach out and grab it back, and just about lost his balance without both arms propping him against the desk, and had to stop to keep himself standing. Joey held up the case, watching the kind of frantic look on the other teenager’s face as he watched him, obviously afraid he was going to chuck it across the room or something, or break it. Like people looked at you if you had their paper and were holding it up above a running sink at school. Like he was going to take this one stupid flimsy fucking piece of nothing the other guy had and break it for no reason. And you would care. That would hurt you—it’d be so easy. Why the fuck do you care? You shouldn’t! God it’s—it’s nothing!
“Joey, please, I—” asked Quentin, eyes still on the case.
“—It’s not worth it,” cut in Joey, shaking his head again, “It’s not gonna help you. Coming out here all the time? It’s a waste. None of this is gonna be enough to really matter.”
Quentin stared at him.
“Come on, Quentin, think!” said Joey, “What’s one more roll of thread gonna let you do? Stitch up your leg a little bit better so it’s fresh for the next beartrap? Extend how long it takes you to bleed to death? That’s nothing! It’s fucking nothing! You could have gotten caught by the Doctor out here and tortured to death—it’s not worth the risk!”
“—It is!” said Quentin.
“Why?” shot back Joey, desperate for him to reassess the situation and just fucking go home. “How is this possibly worth it?”
“…Because… I don’t have anything else I can do,” said Quentin. He didn’t look great. His expression was hurt, and his voice was kind of…broken, when he spoke. “Y-you don’t understand,” he tried, still looking from Joey to the case like the worst possible thing in the world would be for him to take that shitty little piece of metal and crush it under his foot, or hock it out a window into somewhere he would never be able to get it back. “We. We go into trials every day, and you—you can’t get used to that. To being hurt. To-to dying. And it’s not fair—it’s stacked so we can never win against you, even when we try—even if all of us try—not in a fight. We can only live if we run away, and make it out in time, and even on a day all of us have a great trial and all four make it out alive, there is never gonna be a day where there’s a trial where you don’t end up hurt. You can’t save anybody. You can’t. Can’t kill, or hurt, or punish any of the things hurting them. You can’t really escape, or go home, or even have time to recuperate and heal enough for that to actually mean something—it’s hell.” He looked up into Joey’s face and held his eyes kind of desperately. “It’s. It’s not much but suffering, not ever. So I—I always go back in, because I might be able to save somebody, even if it’s a trap, and I go out here to get meds, even though y-you’re right, they won’t ever do much—It’s cause I have to. I have to. I have to try. If I’ve got tape and gauze and a needle and thread, I can find somebody hurt in a trial, and tell them we’re gonna make it out together, and I can help them—I know it’s nothing—I know it is, but I. I can try. I can say that, and I can sew up a wound, and let them know they’re not alone, and if I’ve got good supplies, I can make that a little less painful—I can stitch it up faster, I can—I can go more even, so it hurts less. I can stop the bleeding a little faster. I can give somebody hope, maybe—maybe that at least. I have to.” He was struggling to talk, and the look in his eyes and the way he sounded choked up made Joey feel sick in a way he hadn’t known before. “I have to do that, at least, because it’s all I can. I go back, because it might work this time—I might save them, I c-I can’t do anything else. I’ll attack any killer I see, and I’ll try to make them pay, and try to stop them, try to be the one who dies instead, but it’s never enough. I have to—have to try though. Because the second I stop. … The second I stop, none of it’s gonna matter anymore. And I c—” He couldn’t for a second, and he looked away, and swallowed, and tried again. Tried to look at Joey again. Pleading with him for the little box of rusted nothing in his hand. “I can’t…keep going, once it doesn’t. I need it to. We all need it too. Fuck, it—it’s the only thing we even have left. We can’t run, we can’t hide, we can’t fight, or win, or rest, or go home—if we can’t even matter anymore, we’re just.” That was too much, and some of the tears he’d been choking back spilled over and he stopped, broken down and angry and hopeless and ashamed at not having stopped himself from that in front of Joey, and he looked away again, breathing shakily, trying to pull the emotion back inside where it was livable again.
Joey didn’t look at him, because he could see Quentin didn’t want him to, and he would have felt the same way if he’d been the one crying, so he slowly lowered his arm and looked at the medkit instead. These things always looked the same, pretty much. Basic objects. A few different sizes, and shapes, but with little variance between them. But this one was different. He’d painted over the little Medic + that was always on the outside of these, and put a red heart there instead. Like that might somehow fucking matter too.
“Here,” said Joey quietly, holding the case out.
Quentin looked over at him in surprise, and then took it shakily. Once he had it securely, he glanced back over at Joey and took an unsteady breath and then smiled at him again. Like all of that shit that had just been said and the side of it he was on had just been forgotten. “Thank you.”
“Are you sure you can… Are you sure that the morphine wore off enough you can get it done, though?” asked Joey.
“—Look, I understand you need it to matter, and why you think you have to do this,” said Joey kind of desperately, and he actually did, probably not the same way, probably not really at all, not like Quentin, not like any of the survivors—probably he couldn’t, but he’d at least understood it barely enough that just minutes ago he’d thought almost some of the exact same things he’d just heard Quentin say, and God, the alternative was too fucked to really even understand, but… “—but it really doesn’t have to be today. You’re kind of hurt, you should go home. Try again tomorrow instead.”
“I’m doing much better,” promised Quentin, appreciating the sentiment and trying to reassure him, “I’m thinking fine now; I’m sure.”
“How sure?” asked Joey nervously, watching him test his footing and prepare to take a step on his own again, “You know it-it won’t help you to find more supplies if you get killed on the way back.”
“I know, but I think I’m okay,” said Quentin sincerely, glancing back at him. “The antidote must be working really well, because I don’t think I’m high anymore at all.”
“Really?” asked Joey.
“Yeah,” assured Quentin, “I feel fine now.” He took a step and immediately slammed face-first into the floor on top of his medkit with a surprised cry, and Joey winced at the impact.
“Yeah, uh, you sure about that?” asked Joey, trying not to find that funny just a little bit, and failing somehow in spite of everything. His legs hadn’t even held his weight long enough to buckle.
“Uh,” came Quentin’s muffled voice from the floor.
He stayed there for a second. Joey cocked his head and watched him.
“…If you’re high, while you’re high,” asked Quentin, voice still muffled. “how can one tell?”
Joey rolled his eyes and smiled, then walked over beside him and crouched down. “Hey Quentin?”
Quentin turned his head to the side so he could see him and blew some of his curly brown hair out of his face, then sighed. “Yeah?”
“You’re still really fuckin’ blitzed,” said Joey.
“…Fun,” said Quentin miserably. He pressed his face against the floor again. Joey tried not to smile.
For a moment, he let him just deal there on the gross Institute floor, then tried again. “So uh, how about this,” offered Joey, “We go ahead and get you out of here before the Doctor comes and kills us. Huh?”
“But I barely got anything. All I did was waste a bunch of fucking morphine,” came annoyed Quentin’s muffled floor reply.
“Well, some is better than nothing,” offered Joey.
Quentin made an incredibly unhappy sound.
Joey considered that, thinking hard. “…Okay. What about this. We go back now, and on the way, anything good you see in a cabinet we pass or something, I’ll run and snag for you. Does that seem fair enough?”
“…Really?” asked Quentin, turning his head to see him again.
Quentin squinted at him for a second. “Why are you being so nice to me today? It’s weird. I mean. I. I appreciate it, and I don’t know if it’s normal me thinking normally doing it, or the morphine making me paranoid, but I’m also kind of…I don’t know. Expecting you to be pulling some big trick to make me think we were friends before you stab me in the back.”
“What?” said Joey, too many points in that sentence to hit at once and mostly just stuck on the last one. Smiling at the ridiculousness of doing that to him right now. “No.”
“We are then?” said Quentin, propping himself up a little on an arm and giving him a hopeful look when he saw Joey had smiled.
“Are?” echoed Joey.
“Friends,” said Quentin.
It felt like being punched in the stomach. Joey felt himself starting to lose the smile, and was suddenly afraid for some reason of how this fucked up on morphine stranger his age would act if he saw the smile go, and tried to keep it instead. Feeling sick. You are lying now if you say yes. You’re a monster. Don’t do that—I know it’s complicated. I know we can’t stop. But you can’t tell him we’re friends it’s too fucked up—you can’t.
“Yeah,” said Joey, managing to keep his smile.
And Quentin believed it. He smiled back, in a way that, fucked up on morphine or not, was so much more real than Joey’s was, and said, “…Wow. Good. I-I hoped so. Huh. I never thought I’d say that to a…well, a killer. Are you coming over to our side?”
“It’s a little more complicated than that,” managed Joey, struggle to freeze his smile and keep it there. He offered Quentin an arm, desperate to change the subject to anything else. “Come on—let’s get going before we’re in trouble.
Quentin took the arm and Joey pulled him up. “You should,” continued Quentin, unfortunately not having been distracted into missing a single beat, “I mean—you’re…weirdly cool, and, good, and it’s not like you can keep killing people and, uh,” he gestured to himself and the arm Joey was supporting him with, “This kind of stuff too.”
“…Yeah,” said Joey. He put one of Quentin’s arms over his shoulder to more easily help support his weight.
“I’d—” Quentin started to offer.
“—And uh, maybe actually keep it down a little this time, dumbass?” Joey cut him off, trying to sound jokey, but desperate to stop whatever he’d been about to say, because none of this was fun. It was fucking unbearable. “You do remember there’s a sadistic serial killer somewhere in here, right?”
“You mean another one, right?” grinned Quentin.
“Thanks,” said Joey sarcastically, giving him a look and pretending to be miffed. Losing that and smiling at the rib in spite of himself too then, because it had been kinda funny. He’d really walked into that. “Okay, let’s get you back to the campfire,” said Joey, in position to be ready to help him walk and ready to bear pretty much all of Quentin’s weight now if he had to. They took a first step and started off together then, and it was pretty easy. Quentin was bearing some of his weight fine this time, it felt like—just couldn’t steer on his own. He flashed Quentin a teasing look, “And do you think maybe you could stop ripping me apart at least while I’m being your volunteer taxi service?”
“Wow,” joked Quentin, grinning at him, “I didn’t know you had such thin skin.”
“At least I have the common sense not to jab myself in it with every single drug I trip over,” shot back Joey with a half-suppressed smile, “Unlike a certain local maximum dumbass I know.”
“Owww,” said Quentin, not really hurt at all, “In my defense, every time until now that I’ve done that, it’s worked out really well for me.”
“You’re such a fucking dumbass, you know that, right?” said Joey, shaking his head and grinning, “You’re really not gonna take the two seconds out of your life you would need to read a label, and just play God with your ability to be alive like that, then defend it?”
“Okay, okay,” said Quentin, smiling back at him and starting to get a little bit goofy-high, “I should not have done that. I will be more careful now that I have to, apparently. And I’m sorry for hurting your feelings—it’s not totally true anyway; you’re not sadistic.”
“That partial redaction’s not as nice as you think it is,” said Joey, amused and trying not to grin as he glanced over at him.
“I mean, I feel like all things considered I should get to tell a couple kind of mean jokes at your expense,” said Quentin, “You have killed me before.”
Joey snorted. They made it back into the hall and Joey began retracing his own steps, because Lerry’s was kind of a fucking maze, and going out the way he’d come in like an hour ago was the surest way to not get lost. “Okay, fine—but put a hard limit on the number.”
“…Thirty?” offered Quentin after a second.
Wow, kind of a low-ball if you think about it. “Yeah, okay, thirty,” agreed Joey.
“Thirty,” echoed Quentin quietly as they went through the far end of the room he’d first found the guy in, “…I better think of some really good ones to use that on, then. …Thirty starting now, or am I at twenty-nine?”
“Thirty starting now,” said Joey, not caring either way, “Be easier to remember.”
Back in the room he’d not quite finished tagging, Joey found the center isle between the hospital beds and started down it. At his side, Quentin hummed quietly and turned his head slowly to watch their surroundings go by.
“This is where you were spraypainting?” asked Quentin.
“Yeah,” said Joey, kind of surprised he was lucid enough to notice, the way his voice sounded all out of it and he was still blinking at everything and smiling contentedly the whole time like he was hanging out pretty close to blissfully high.
“What where you making?” asked Quentin, studying one of the squiggly lines on a bed with great fascination as they passed, “A bunch of chaos?”
Joey snorted again, insulted. “No. It’s a picture.”
“Of what?” asked Quentin, looking around them at the completely unintelligible back smudges and lines on things, “It just looks likes you came in here and were mad.”
RUDE. Well. I guess he’s not wrong, but he’s just not looking at it right. “That’s because it’s an anamorphosis,” said Joey.
“A what?” asked Quentin, gaping at him. “An animorph?”
“No!” said Joey, “Dumbass! I said ‘anamorphosis’—it’s an anamorphic picture—only viewable as what it is from like, one specific angle.”
“Oh—a perspective art thing,” said Quentin, excited at getting that, “Can I see it?”
“W—see the picture?” asked Joey, stopping.
“Yeah! I want to see,” said Quentin with incredible interest.
Really? Nobody was ever excited to see shit like that. It was fun to make, and Joey was good at it, and the things never lost their charm for him, but most people, they saw one once, they’d seen them all, or something—he didn’t get it, admittedly, but it was true. For whatever reason, for most people, anamorphic art seemed to be something they lost interest for pretty fast. At least, any of the times he’d made it. But then, I guess he hasn’t seen his one. Joey glanced over his shoulder, trying to tell how far back he’d have to go to be in the right spot again to see it right, and Quentin started to too, and Joey saw him going for it and reached over and covered his eyes with a hand. “Stop!—Don’t do that! It’s cooler if you walk into view from the side than the back,” said Joey.
“Uh. Okay,” said Quentin, “I can shut my eyes on my own, though.”
Joey moved his hand, and Quentin obliged and kept his eyes closed. Joey squinted at him suspiciously. “Yeah, but are you gonna peek, though?”
“Pff—what am I, four?” asked Quentin indignantly, “I don’t want to spoil the art for me either.”
Satisfied, Joey turned them around and walked back, found the perspective point easily since he’d marked it on the floor earlier, and then took a step to the right. “Okay, open.”
Quentin did, and blinked, then squinted at the almost comprehensible shape he was just out of line with. “Oh—you weren’t kidding,” he said, kind of excited, “They—is it a face? It’s almost like one.”
“You’re close,” said Joey, moving to the left again and stopping them so that Quentin was dead center.
“…Whoa,” said Quentin. He stared at the skull with his still morphine-influenced over-glossy eyes and too-constricted pupils, trying through that fog to take it in. He watched it for several seconds, absorbing the lines and detail, and then leaned as far as he could to the right, and then back to the center again, snapping the image in and out of perfect alignment. He turned and gazed at Joey in excited wonder. “Holy crap—I knew it would be cool, but that’s amazing.”
Joey felt his face get hot and looked at the skull picture too, to be looking away from Quentin. It wasn’t bad, for sure—he liked it. A nice skull. He’d never gotten to do the speech bubble though. It wasn’t even finished.
“No, really,” insisted Quentin with conviction, taking that reaction to mean he didn’t believe him, “How do you do that?”
“Uh, the—perspective?” asked Joey. The other teen was looking back at him with huge eyes and so much interest he didn’t know what to do but answer. “Uhm. Well, you pick an area first, and visualize what you want, and you’ve gotta be able to remember that image, and then move the image in your head kind of 3D so you know how to paint it when you look at it from another angle—or—if you can’t do that, you can draw pictures, starting with how you want the end result to go, and work from there. It’s kind of mental math stuff, I guess, but once you’ve done it a bunch, you can mostly sight-read what you need for stuff unless it’s super complicated.”
“That’s…incredible,” said Quentin really sincerely, kind of gaping in wonder at the skull, and looking from it to him with big eyes, and even though the guy was high enough his speech was still a bit slurred, and probably he wouldn’t have been so impressed sober, it felt pretty nice, and Joey smiled. Quentin gazed at the skull for a couple long seconds. “Wow,” he whispered finally. He turned his head back to Joey. “Could you teach me?”
“T—what, to do that?” asked Joey, stunned.
“Yeah! I mean—I’d probably be really bad at it,” said Quentin quickly, probably morphine-induced oversharing a little bit while trying to get to his point, “I did art before, like drawing—drawing type art—uh—took some classes, in high school—I was never super good at it, but I haven’t done nothing—like with art. I could try. I could—I bet I could at least do a shape! Like a triangle. Or a cross, or a circle—or—or like your little smiley face on your pin,” he suggested, tapping the pin on the belt Joey had thrown over his shoulder, “I mean—if—if I could learn,” added Quentin, still talking at break-neck speed, “I don’t know how hard it is, and I haven’t even really used spraypaint before, but I’d like to. It’d be cool to-“ He glanced back at the skull again and smiled at it. “-make something. You know. Something good. If you think you could teach me.”
“Yeah,” said Joey, excited and happy at the prospect, “I could—” He stopped. Fuck. Stupid—you-
Quentin glanced over at him, curious about the sudden pause.
“Sorry. Thought I heard something,” lied Joey, trying to make his voice sound urgent, “Doctor. We better go quick. Stay quiet, okay?”
“Oh,” said Quentin, lowering his voice drastically, super out of it and probably not actually feeling the fear through all that morphine, but doing his best to look and act urgent too and giving Joey a fervent nod. “Okay.”
They kept going, winding quickly back through the room the way Joey had come originally, passing hospital beds and cracked floors, blinking fluorescent lights, on their last leg. Quentin stayed quiet through that room and the next, but Joey also started to have a harder and harder time keeping him upright. Mostly he would do fine walking, but every so often he would just kind of forget to use his legs, or trip over nothing, or something, and they’d both almost go down, and they actually were getting a little closer to the last place he’d heard the Doctor on his way in, so he didn’t want to end up crashing into something. Well, it’s not far, anyway. Joey glanced over, trying to tell how coherent the other guy was. He looked like he was having trouble not falling asleep now—kept kind of slow blinking, and nodding off, then jerking his head back up and looking around.
“Not doing so hot?” asked Joey quietly.
“Mmm? Oh,” said Quentin, “Uh. I don’t know. I’m just tired.”
“You look…more high than a few minutes ago. Uhm. Does the stuff I gave you wear off?” asked Joey.
“For morphine? Yeah,” said Quentin with a thoroughly unworried look on his face, smiling sleepily over at Joey as they went, “It uh—it blocks your head receptors from absorbing the opium, but once it stops, if the opium is still there,” he made what Joey could only guess had been meant to be some kind of gun firing motion with his free arm and a matching Pshooo sound with it. “It comes back.”
“…” Joey stared straight ahead, low-key panicking. Fuck. So. In fifteen minutes or something he’s just gonna start to die again? “Uh. Okay. How long does the antidote last—and the morphine?”
“I dunno,” said Quentin, thoroughly unworried, watching the room they were going through with interest. “Oh—hey—cabinet! Bottles on the top shelf.”
“Bottles of what?” asked Joey, “—Something that’ll help?”
“No—what?—‘help’? I mean, I guess they’ll help somebody. You said you’d get stuff,” said Quentin. He waited a second, but Joey still didn’t get it. “On the way back? If I—”
“—Right, right, right, right,” said Joey, “Yeah—okay.” This might help anyway. He got Quentin against a wall with a windowsill for him to lean on and let go. “Uhm—about the morphine. Is there anything other than naa…naaa-whatever-it-was that I gave you that would help a morphine overdose—something that’d last longer?”
“Uhhh, I guess,” said Quentin, thinking hard, “There’s activated charcoal.”
“There’s charcoal?” asked Joey in disbelief, turning his head to gape back at him.
“No—activated charcoal,” said Quentin, giving him a look, “It’s not the same thing.”
“Then why the fuck do they call it that?” said Joey, going over towards the cabinet to fulfil his promise and check for useful shit, apparently hoping to find whatever the fuck ‘activated charcoal’ was too now. “That’s just confusing. Because charcoal is already a word. What is it, then?”
“Uh. It’s a powder. It’s super porous, and it stops toxins by like, sucking them up in it like a sponge if you swallow some,” said Quentin, struggling to remember, “You make it by burning stuff at a really high temperature—”
“-Wait,” said Joey, whirling on him and incensed at the scientific community at large, “So it is charcoal?”
“Uh. No, it’s—it’s burned way hotter and—” started Quentin.
“—It’s just fucking superheated charcoal?” said Joey, “Superheated fucking barbeque, campfire, burned wood shit?”
“…I. …I guess it is,” said Quentin after a second as if the most mind-boggling realization was dawning. He stared at nothing, and then grinned and looked at Joey like his discovery was the funniest thing in the world.
“Then why’d you look at me like I was a dumbass when I asked if it was charcoal?” said Joey, as he opened the cabinet and took things out to check.
“Because I didn’t think about it,” said Quentin, “I just. But you’re right. It’s just fucking superheated charcoal. I can’t believe it.”
Joey watched him for a second and then smiled too at the mind-blown look on the other dude’s face.
“Medical science in the modern era sure has advanced into wondrous new territory, huh?” said Quentin, grinning at him.
“Anything good in there?” asked Quentin, indicating the supplies.
“Uh. Package of medical tape, some old scissors, a bandage that’s super gross and I’m not bringing over to you, and three bottles. We got Aspirin,” said Joey, holding up a fairly large bottle, and he saw Quentin’s face light up and instantly felt guilty as shit because he hadn’t been trying to lead him on in the way he’d phrased the sentence he was saying but he super had, “—which is empty,” he added quickly, trying to indicate he was sorry about that in his tone.
The happy look on Quentin’s face instantly became a disappointed, tired one instead. “Bastard. I swear to God, the Entity does that shit all the time just for fun. Fucking hate finding empty bottles of good stuff.”
“Well—the other two have stuff in them,” said Joey hopefully.
“What are they?” asked Quentin.
“C… Cipro…floxacin?” tried Joey, “It’s a little bottle, and it’s only got two pills left in there, but it’s not empty.”
“Huh. I don’t know what that is,” said Quentin.
“You don’t know?” asked Joey, genuinely taken aback.
“Hey,” said Quentin, “I’m trying my best—I’m not a real doctor or anything. I’m figuring this out as I go. But yeah, I’ll take that—maybe Adam will know what it is.”
“Alright,” said Joey, filing that information away, “The last one says on the bottle that it’s burn ointment. It’s pretty full.”
“Oh—hey—that one’s actually a pretty good score,” said Quentin, cheered up a little, “Burns aren’t the most common wound, but it’s good to have just in case. I’ve only found one of those a few times. Usually if we need something like that, we just have to hope Claudette can make some with whatever plants she has on hand.”
“Cool,” said Joey, walking back over. “Give me the medkit.”
Quentin immediately looked concerned, and did not. “Why?”
“Look I’m—not gonna take it again,” promised Joey, “I’m just gonna put this stuff inside. You try to do it, and you’re gonna drop shit and make noise.”
Finding that believable, Quentin relaxed and handed him the medkit. Joey took it and set it open on the back of a bench and put stuff inside haphazardly, looking for the little box from before again. He found it immediately and picked it up, checking for anything he might have missed, like the package of activated charcoal he was hoping to miraculously find. Shit. Nothing this time.
He became suddenly aware of another presence very much in his personal space and looked to the left to see Quentin had leaned waaay over the kit from the other side and brought his head right night to Joey’s to try to see in too.
“What are you looking for?” asked Quentin turning his head to look over at him, and suddenly like half an inch from his face.
“Nothing!” said Joey on absolutely nothing but panic impulse, almost smacking his head on the windowsill behind him with the speed he jerked backwards away from Quentin and back into his own personal space again. His heartbeat was running a mile a minute. Oh—geeze, fuck—what? He—the. What had just-? He tried to swallow. Still over the medkit Quentin was watching him with surprise. “Uh—activated charcoal, I guess,” corrected Joey, regaining his ability to think and feeling his heartbeat calming down again.
Quentin blinked at him, trying to process that through the fog in his brain. How the fuck were his eyes so big?
“Oh. Right—you were asking about it,” said Quentin, “I don’t have any.”
There was just nothing, then. He would die anyway, and he’d have to do it twice now, because Joey had tried to help. Fuck. …I…
“Do you need some?” asked Quentin, seeing the distress on his face and looking confused and kind of worried about him.
You are so fucking stupid on morphine bro—like I appreciate it but you’re like the dumbest piece of shit when you’re high—you’re gonna get killed if I look in the other direction for six fucking seconds. How the fuck did this happen to me? Why was he so upset? “Yeah. I kinda do,” answered Joey, subdued.
“Well, I can get you some if you really need it,” said Quentin with concern.
“Wait, really?” asked Joey, hope blossoming again.
“Yeah—Adam has some,” said Quentin, nodding.
Ad—oh—the—okay. “You mean back at your campfire?” checked Joey.
Quentin nodded. “I’m sure he’d let you have some, though. If you need it.” He looked like he really thought that, too. Joey wondered if Adam would, if he’d needed it. If having done them one good turn would be enough for that kind of small favor. If Quentin would have even offered if he’d really been aware enough in there to know what was going on.
Didn’t matter though. If he got fucked up on morphine again when stuff wore off because the antidote hadn’t been enough, or the overdose had just been too high for it, then his friends would be smart enough to give him the medicine he needed. So long as he got him back to the campfire, he’d be fine.
“Nah—I don’t need it,” said Joey, “I was just curious what it looked like.” That was the beset fucking lie you could come up with??
“Oh,” said Quentin, buying it completely. He smiled at him. “I can show you sometime.”
Joey closed the medkit and got his arm around Quentin again so they could keep moving.
“I could teach you how to patch up wounds too,” offered Quentin as they started off again, “Trade you, for lessons doing spraypaint.”
“Yeah,” said Joey, looking straight ahead, “That sounds nice.”
They were getting close to the edge of Lerry’s now—almost out of the danger zone at least—fucking blessing. Though then he’d have to navigate the fog all the way to the campfire. Or. However close to the campfire he could get. He hadn’t actually tried before. He had no idea how close he would be able to go. I wonder if I actually could go all the way up there? Nah, that was stupid, though. It had been a fun idea, but no way the Entity would make it so killers could get withing range to take a shot at survivors outside trials in their home base at all. And. Well. I am a killer. And I still will be in an hour, after I’ve dropped him off. ...
And then forever after that.
Joey had been walking on auto pilot, but he came back out of his head at the sound of Quentin’s voice and glanced where he was pointing. “What?”
“Supplies,” said Quentin, pointing at the desk by the entry way they were coming up on.
Joey looked at the desk. “…Where?”
“There!” said Quentin. “By the—phone thing.”
There was nothing on the desk except the old phone and a Styrofoam cup and some old pens. “…The coffee cup??” asked Joey.
“No. What?” said Quentin, “The—needle….and the—the bottle…it’s…”
Uh. “There’s nothing on that desk but a coffee cup and some pens, man,” said Joey.
“Really?” asked Quentin, staring intently at the desk.
“Yeah. I’m pretty sure,” said Joey.
“No. But…I saw them. They were just there,” said Quentin, huge eyes fixed on the desk. “I know they were. I just saw them. They.” He looked up at Joey. “I saw it—I did. I’m so sure!”
“I mean…?” said Joey, relenting a little and walking them closer. Yup. Definitely nothing there. Beside him, Quentin turned his head from left to right, scanning the whole desk with intense, almost frantic scrutiny.
“...Where did they go?” he asked Joey with 100% sincerity, like the most insane thing in the world had just happened and some medical supplies had walked off.
“Okay,” said Joey, turning them back around and making a B-line for the exit, “That’s enough hanging out at Lerry’s for you. Hallucinating’s never a good sign. Its’s time to go.”
“No!” said Quentin quickly, “But I barely got anything on the way back! I-I forgot and I kept almost falling asleep, and talking to you, and not looking.”
“We’re not going back in,” said Joey, pausing in the doorway because Quentin had started trying to go back the other was and was pulling against him and suddenly making it really hard to walk.
“But I can’t go back with nothing,” pleaded Quentin, “I wanted to do a good job.”
“You got some stuff and you didn’t die—that’s a pretty good job,” contended Joey. That argument did not seem to do it for Quentin, who kept weakly struggling to tug Joey back into the terrifying old institute with its long hallways and flickering lights and horrifying owner somewhere deep in the bowels, but he was making about as much headway in that as he would have trying to drag a cement support column. God damn it, you have the tenacity of a bulldog, you know that! You’re really not gonna stop trying, are you? He was certainly showing no signs, despite the impossibility and complete lack of success he was having. Joey sighed. Okay, if he won’t stop, then it’s either find a way to get him what he wants so he’ll leave, or just pick him up and drag him off fighting, I guess. And Joey was pretty sure which of those two options he definitely did and did not want to do.
“—Okay, look. What would be a good enough find to leave?”
Quentin paused in his efforts to get Joey to move and looked at him hopefully. “Uh. I don’t know. Pain medication, a couple hemorrhagics, or some gel dressings? Something we don’t get much.”
Joey considered that, giving the institute past Quentin a dubious look, and then shook his head. “That would take forever.”
“Please?” said Quentin, looking at him with his huge fucking eyes. God, and he was giving him the world’s saddest, most sympathy inducing face too. How the hell was he doing that so well! That look was miserable! It made Joey want to die—he felt like he’d just accidentally kicked a dog—t-the only thing that had ever been able to give him a look as critically effective at pleading as this before had been a dog! This was pressure levels on par with his pet lab putting his head in his lap while he munched on a burger and somehow conveying in its big sad eyes the message that it hadn’t eaten in four years and if he would please just pass some of that burger on down here, even just a crumb, it might live and be eternally grateful, and would cry and sadly starve miserably to death in his lap if he didn’t.
Beside him Quentin was still just standing there, waiting for a response and looking at him like his heart was gonna be crushed to dust if Joey didn’t say yes. Fuck—come on! That’s not fair! How the fuck are your eyes so big? We can’t go back into Lerry’s—I’m not trying to be an asshole!
“You don’t understand,” said Quentin when Joey stayed quiet, fighting an intense internal battle to not be swayed by the most pitiful puppydog eyes he’d ever seen, “I need this stuff to be able to help people. It’s important.”
“—No, I get it,” managed Joey, clearing his throat and looking away because he finally couldn’t take the face any longer, “You explained it before.” He risked a glance back over again after a second, and Quentin still had the exact same expression and it was like getting suckerpunched in the ribcage by a bowling ball. FUCK! “Okay, okay—uh,” said Joey desperately, turning back to him, “Look. Uh.” Fuck fuck fuck—think. “We can’t go back in there—we’ll both die—but you just want supplies that make your people die less, right? And even if you don’t find much stuff, if you get even one or two super rare things that help your people really well, you did good, and you can go home.”
Quentin considered that, a little confused, huge eyes still on Joey’s face, and then nodded.
“Okay. Then how about this,” said Joey. He reached up with his free hand and unfastened the little smiley face pin on his shoulder strap that Quentin had tapped earlier and got it free after a bit of a struggle, then held it out.
At his side, Quentin blinked down at the object, then looked back up at him in confusion.
“It’s a token,” said Joey, “You take that, and then, any trial you choose to give it to me in, I’ll quit chasing whoever I’m on for two whole minutes. Seem fair?”
Quentin stared at him.
“—I-it’s a really good deal!” argued Joey, because it was, “Think about it! Two whole minutes? That’s a lot of immunity in a trial. What’s the best you’d get out of a hemorrhagic? Stop some bleeding faster? If you think about this as a health item, it’s better than a whole pile. You could prevent somebody the pain of a whole bunch of wounds entirely, instead of just fixing them faster.”
“O…okay,” said Quentin, following that slowly. He reached out and took it, cocked his head and looked at the button, and then tried and failed several times to clip it to his jacket, before finally getting it to stick, and Joey tried not to grin watching. Once he had it in place, he looked back at Joey and gave him a reassured smile.
“We can go?” asked Joey.
“Yeah. Let’s go home,” agreed Quentin.
Immensely relieved, Joey lead him out of Lerry’s and to the edge of the surrounding border, where the fog waited. Hmm. I haven’t gone to the campfire before, so it might take me a little while to navigate in the fog. The fog was tricky. It was how they navigated between mini-areas in the realm. Killer home bases, unused trial areas, the campfire. It was this murky patch of foggy woods that was at the border of everything, and it would just kind of, creep up and render in when you got closer to it, leaving somewhere else—like a video game. Once you went into the forest and started walking, you’d get wherever you meant to go eventually, but it was kinda complicated, and it was easier to go home than anywhere else. It was…sort of like swimming in an ocean, to get from realm to realm--if like, walking was swimming, and the fog was the ocean, and the realms were islands, except that ocean was a whirlpool that changed directions all the time and was confusing as fuck, so it took a little bit of work. The actual direction you went in the woods didn’t matter. Maybe if walking was swimming in that analogy, it would be accurate to say there were tethers in the whirlpool too, swirling around and past you, attaching to all the realms and each a little bit different in shape and size and feel, so you could learn to recognize which was which to help you where you wanted to go. Because if you focused on where you wanted to go, you would get there eventually, walking through the fog. Like you were pulling yourself hand over fist along a rope towards where you wanted to go, intent and experience making you get there faster. But it was always easier if you knew the place than if you just like, kinda knew of it. And how long it took you to travel tended to correlate pretty directly to how well you knew the place you were heading. Joey had never been to the campfire before, so he could definitely find it—he’d had to find everything but Ormond for the first time once—but it might take him like ten—fifteen minutes to navigate like that route on his own. I guess I could ask him to lead us. He looked over at his travel buddy. Quentin had his head bent over ridiculously far, trying to look at the pin again and not considering that moving his jacket collar to a different angle would have been the easier option as far as giving him a close up view, and he was humming that Backstreet Boys song from earlier again while he was at it. Yeah, no, that could only go terribly. Me it is.
“Alright, let’s get you home, dumbass” said Joey in the same friendly way he would have said it to Frank if he’d been helping him home sloshed after a wild night, and it felt nice, saying it and seeing Quentin glance over and smiled back in the same amicable way he’d been spoken to, and Joey stopped thinking this time before it could change, and feel rotten, and he stepped into the mist.
After only about three steps, Lerry’s was gone, de-loaded in like it had never been, and they were in deep woods. The massive, ancient kind of deep woods that was so big it was heavy with silence. So dark you couldn’t make out more than about three feet in any direction, and full of fog. It had kind of unsettled him the first time he walked it, but Joey was used to the Fog now, and really, he was just incredibly glad to be out of Lerry’s. This place was much more familiar, and less hostile.
Quentin went down hard with no warning, and Joey had been mid-step, so he lost his balance too and went with him, slamming forward into the hard ground with a cry, and not thinking to let go of the other guy in time to save himself. No idea what had just happened, but fairly unhurt at least, he dragged himself up to his arms as fast as he could.
“What the hell?” he asked the survivor laying on his chest next to him.
“Ow,” came Quentin’s muffled voice.
“What happened?” asked Joey, sitting up.
“Your pin is stabbing me,” came the reply.
“No, to your legs, dumbass—why’d you go dead-body on me?” said Joey, kind of relieved because the fall didn’t seem to have hurt him at all either.
“I don’t know,” said Quentin sadly with a sigh, turning his head and looking over at Joey.
“Like—you don’t know why you did that, or it wasn’t on purpose?” asked Joey.
“Not on purpose,” said Quentin, “They just stopped working. I have no idea why. –Sorry about that. Did I fall on you?”
“L—three seconds ago?” asked Joey, “You don’t remember? No—I—you haven’t moved yet–how could you have fallen on top of me when you’re on the ground?”
“I dunno,” came the muffled reply as Quentin put his face against the earth again, “Can we stop and take a nap maybe?”
“No!” said Joey. He reached over and got him by the shoulders and flipped him over, and Quentin squinted up at him and grimaced, then looked up at him for a couple of seconds with interest and got a goofy grin on his face. “What?” said Joey.
“I just like your face,” said Quentin happily, “It’s not scary at all. And it’s really funny, because nobody at the campfire’s gonna recognize you. They’re expecting a skull face.” He started shaking his head, still smiling contentedly up a Joey, “Not a guy.”
“Oh my God,” said Joey, feeling his face get hot and trying to power through, “Come on—we have to keep going!”
“But I’m super tired,” said Quentin, shutting his eyes, “I’m just gonna take a quick, like, three-hour nap.”
“No you’re not!” said Joey. He tried to pull him up by his arms, and Quentin didn’t stop him, but he was 110% dead weight now, and that was so much fucking harder to lift than anything else. “Come on!” said Joey, “Work with me a little.”
Quentin opened his eyes and looked back up at Joey and started to say something, then his brows furrowed. “…Wait.” Whatever he was thinking, it took some time to make the full circuit with it in his head, but he had sounded almost worried or something when he said ‘Wait,’ and still did when he spoke again—Joey thought even more than before. “Your button.”
“It’s still there,” assured Joey, “It didn’t come off.”
“No. You. Said you’ll leave somebody alone, if I give it to you,” said Quentin, his words spoken with even more difficulty and slurring on the ends than before, eyes still glazed over like and just as out of it as he’d been all day, but still working as hard as he could to connect dots.
“Yeah?” said Joey.
“…W…you’re still…doing trials?” Quentin asked. He looked up at Joey with those huge blue eyes, nothing but open confusion on his face, like he had just said something that just couldn’t make sense. Joey stopped moving.
“…No…” said Quentin after a second, looking away, thinking even harder. “…No, okay. Right. You said we were friends. For sure. We’re good friends now, and we’re gonna do painting stuff. And I’m supposed to show you how to stitch a cut up. So no.” He looked back up at Joey again then and smiled in a relieved way, like everything was fine. “Sorry. I guess I’m still kinda high.” Joey couldn’t say anything, so he hurried to add, “—not thinking right,” trying to explain his actions in case he’d hurt Joey’s feelings by saying the first thing, and looking up at him so clearly worried that he had.
“…It’s okay,” managed Joey after a few seconds, his voice barely audible.
And Quentin looked so relieved. And happy about that. And smiled up at him again. “Thanks.”
“Do you think you can walk?” said Joey, trying hard to keep his mind blank of any thoughts at all.
Quentin tried to sit up, and made it, then teetered, looked confused by that, and started to collapse sideways with 0 attempt to save himself, and Joey shot out his arms and caught him in the nick of time.
Quentin blinked down at his body in surprise, then looked up at Joey. “So that’s a maybe.”
“Okay,” said Joey, trying not to smile, “I’m carrying you.”
“Is that really—” started Quentin, and then Joey got the guy’s arm over his shoulder and hefted him up in a fireman carry, so that Quentin was held up across his back and shoulders, one arm keeping hold on Quentin’s right arm, his other around his legs, to keep him from slipping, and Quentin stopped talking as Joey stood up, using his leg strength to make it to his feet with the teenager slung over his back. “Oh. Okay,” said Quentin, and he gave up and just went ragdoll again on Joey’s shoulders. “Wow,” he observed in a slurred voice, “You’re really strong. Am I heavy?”
“Not compared to a lot of you,” said Joey, starting to walk again, and kind of proud of himself because of the compliment.
“Good. Don’t want to break your back,” said Quentin. He hummed to himself for a second and then said, “This isn’t super comfortable. Did you know that?” like he was sharing a genuine discovery.
“Uh—I’m not surprised,” offered Joey.
“Backsteet’s Back Alright!” sang Quentin loopily to no one, not even listening to the answer to the question he’d asked.
Joey grinned at what he could see of Quentin’s face. This was kinda familiar—like taking a buddy who’d got super plastered home after a party. The fun kind of fucked up—the kind he was used to seeing.
“—Hey—do the verse with me,” said Quentin.
“I don’t know the lyrics,” said Joey.
“It’s super easy,” insisted the thoroughly wasted teenager, “It’s uh—'brother sister everybody sing.’ Uh. ‘Something something, bring the flame’—no wait—‘oh my God we’re back again, brother sister everybody sing, gonna bring the flames and show you now, have a…have’—okay that’s most of a verse.”
“You go ahead,” said Joey.
“Come on,” pleaded Quentin, “It’s…ssuuper. Easy. ‘Brother sister’—no. ‘Oh my God, we’re back again.’” There was a very definitely Now You flavored pause.
Joey gave in. “Oh my God, we’re back again?”
“Yes!” said Quentin ecstatically with all the energy he had left, hanging limp over his shoulders, “Yes! Perfect! Okay, now it’s ‘brother-sister-everybody sing.’ But like sang so it—for rhyming reasons.”
“Yeah, I heard you doing it,” said Joey.
“K. You got it, or need to hear it again?” asked Quentin.
“I think I got it,” said Joey.
“Same time,” said Quentin.
“Brother-sister-everybody sing,” sang Joey with him at roughly the same time.
“Yes!” said Quentin excitedly halfway through the word ‘sing’, “Ah! You learned it so fast! Then just ‘Backstreet’s Back, Alright!’”
“That’s the whole song?” asked Joey.
Quentin thought about that for several seconds. “No. But we’re gonna go one verse at a time.
“Okay,” said Joey, trying not to laugh.
“Everybody sing,” repeated Quentin, setting them up, “Ready?”
“Yeah,” said Joey.
“Okay,” said Quentin, “Backstreet’s-“
“-Back, alright,” sang Joey with him, grinning.
“Yeah!” cheered Quentin happily over his shoulder, “Hell yeah! We’re awesome. Fucking nailed that! That was really good. You’re cool. Cool at…stuff. And singing.” He was losing coherence real fast now.
Joey would have started to feel worried about that, considering the OD had almost killed him earlier, but he had just spotted light up ahead in the distance, and that could only be the campfire. That meant they were close. Almost there. Maybe just a minute now. And with that worry gone, he just took in the compliment and grinned at it. “Thanks. You too,” said Joey.
“Thanks!” said Quentin, mumbling now, “Man. I never knew you were nice.”
“Yeah, well, don’t tell anyone,” joked Joey.
“I’m gonna tell everyone,” slurred Quentin happily in reply. After a second, he asked in the voice of someone who’d forgotten something they were supposed to know, “Why did you decide to walk me out of Lerry’s?”
“Because I thought you were gonna die,” said Joey, eyes on the light up ahead.
“Why?” said Quentin curiously.
“Because you’re super fucked up on morphine, dumbass,” said Joey, “Okay, we’re getting pretty close now. How close do you think I need to get for your friends to hear you if you call?”
“Uhm, I don’t know. Depends on how loud you yell,” said Quentin, smiling and shutting his eyes.
“Hey! Don’t fall asleep on my shoulder!” said Joey, trying not to smile, “Wake up and call your friends.”
“Right now?” asked Quentin, super confused and only half conscious, “Why?”
“To come get you,” said Joey.
“Why don’t you just walk up to the fire,” said Quentin, shutting his eyes again.
“Because I don’t think I—” Joey had been going to say can, but he smacked headfirst into an invisible barrier he hadn’t had any idea was there and pinged off so hard he went ass-over-tit backwards and slammed into the ground with the breath knocked out of him and the fear of God in his heart.
Holy SHIT—what the—oh my God. Ow. Fuck—oh!
“Quentin!” he called, sitting up, looking for where he’d dropped him. He didn’t see—Wait. Joey looked behind himself and saw Quentin laying in the dirt where he’d just landed and realized he’d slammed ass-over-tit hard into the cold unforgiving surface not of the ground but of Quentin. “Oh my God! I’m so sorry—are you okay?” He asked.
On the ground, Quentin let out a desperate wheezing sound, and Joey was horrified for a second thinking he was fighting to breathe again, and then he realized he was just trying to laugh with no air in his lungs. The dude barely had any air in there at all, after Joey slamming the shit out of his ribcage, but he just started wheeze-laughing uncontrollably anyway and didn’t stop for a good fifteen seconds, completely losing it down there in the dirt, and then he looked up at Joey with tears in his eyes from how hard he was laughing, and Joey started to laugh too.
“What!” said Joey with a grin.
Quentin tried, couldn’t get a word out, wheeze-laughed for another six seconds, and then tried, “How d—” He lost it again, and struggled to keep going, “—how did you do that?” He completely lost his ability to speak for another few seconds and couldn’t say anything, tears rolling down his face, then gasped out, “Did God just come out of nowhere and backhand you in the forehead? What the fuck! That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen!”
“No,” said Joey, grinning at the sight of absolute merriment on the other dude’s face, and relaxing a little and slumping to a more comfortable sitting position behind him. “I hit your stupid fucking campfire barrier—it’s just invisible. Apparently.”
“So you can’t go over there?” asked Quentin, finally choking back the laughs a bit.
“Yeah, you’re on your own,” said Joey, “Think you can walk it?”
“Uhm,” said Quentin, looking in the direction of the fire. He pushed himself up on to his arms and then started laughing again and collapsed. “I’m sorry—I’m sorry,” he managed after a second, “I can’t stop now. I’ll get up. Just give me a second.”
Joey waited, smiling. Quentin took a few deep breaths, then tried again, and again immediately started to laugh and collapsed. “Dude,” said Joey.
“I’m trying!” pleaded Quentin, managing to choke the laughter back again, laying on his side, “God—what did you say I took again?”
“Morphine,” said Joey.
“How do you know that?” asked Quentin with curiosity.
“I looked at the label,” said Joey, “You don’t remember?”
“No,” said Quentin thoughtfully, “I remember singing with you though.”
Joey stopped and looked over at him very carefully. Feeling a very, very intense emotion at painful levels that he had no idea how to describe. “…You. But you remember stuff before the singing too, right?”
Quentin took a deep breath and smiled and thought about that, staring up at the sky, and then back over at him. “You called me a ‘dumbass,’ a lot,” he offered in a friendly way. He watched Joey for a second and then smiled at him with those huge fucking blue eyes, all glossy, and not seeing anything, like Joey was realizing for the first time now they hadn’t been all night. “When did you take your mask off?”
“Don’t remember,” lied Joey, not sure he could say more the right way just that second.
“Oh. You too?” asked Quentin.
“No,” said Joey quietly, “Not like that. I remember the rest fine.”
“That’s good,” said Quentin, shutting his eyes. “Why did you help me?”
Joey didn’t answer.
After a few seconds, Quentin opened his eyes and looked up at him again.
Joey met his gaze and swallowed hard, then said very quietly, “I thought it mattered.”
Quentin just looked at him for a few seconds, then gave him a little smile, and said, “Thanks. It does to me.”
“You better get going,” said Joey, “Back to your campfire. Before you get yourself into even more trouble, dumbass.”
“Okay,” said Quentin in a friendly way, “You don’t have to be mean about it.”
Joey offered him a hand, and Quentin took it, and Joey pulled him to his feet. They went forward together again, Joey supporting Quentin with one arm and with his other hand out this time, very careful approaching the place he’d been taken the fuck out before, and when he found it, he stopped, and shoved Quentin gently across the barrier that was only there for him. The guy almost lost his balance when he did that, but managed to keep his footing this time, and glanced back at him in confusion.
“I can’t go any further,” explained Joey. He pointed to the light not far now, past Quentin. He could ear voices coming from there. People talking together. “Get going. It’s a straight shot.”
“You’re not coming?” asked Quentin, looking kind of surprised and hurt, and for a horrible second Joey was sure that he did remember, and he was painfully happy about it, even knowing how stupid that was, and how it didn’t matter, because remembered or not, the little fake friendship they had had tonight was over the second he was sober again. But then Quentin tilted his head and added, “I know you gotta go back to your place, but you could come chill out for a minute first, and I could give you a flashlight or something for walking me back,” and he knew that he didn’t.
“I told you,” said Joey, struggling to smile, and hoping to God Quentin was fucked up enough to see the look on his face and buy it for what it was pretending to be, “I can’t go past your invisible wall. It’s survivors only over there. Now get going, and don’t be a dumbass and get into trouble like that again! Or you’ll die of a morphine overdose or something. I don’t want to have to bail your stupid ass out of a bad trip again—I have my own stuff to get done. And I might not even be there next time! So don’t have one.”
“Okay—I’ll try,” said Quentin, still smiling a little. He gave him an unsteady wave. “Thanks again.” Goodbye said, the survivor turned to go and started staggering unsteadily towards the light waiting for him up ahead.
Joey watched him go for a second, then started to turn to head home himself and caught a flash of moonlight on something, and stopped. There in the dirt by his feet was the little smiley face pin he’d given Quentin as a bribe—it must have come off when they fell or something—must have rolled, and—
He opened his mouth to call out “Hey! You left your button” at the retreating figure ahead of him, and then stopped, and slowly closed it instead. It wouldn’t matter. He wouldn’t even know what it was. Besides. It was probably better this way. Maybe definitely better. This way, he doesn’t know I lied to him. I’m still a killer and a monster, but at least I’m not somebody who betrayed him when he thought they were his friend.
Yeah. That was better. It would be better. Maybe things would be normal again. And he could forget about this. It had all been stupid to do anyway. He still didn’t know why he had—why he’d made bad decision after bad decision over and over tonight. Why he’d thought any of it would matter, in the end. The guy didn’t even remember it now. It was hard to think of anything that could matter less than that. You should go home. It’s been a long day.
He took a breath and turned to go, then paused, reconsidering, and reached down to retrieve his pin, and his hand hit the invisible wall he’d already forgotten the location of hard enough to sting. Shit. He took a knee, hoping maybe close the ground he’d have just enough space to reach it, but it had rolled maybe just six inches past where the realm would allow a thing like him to go, and it was stuck there now, just past his fingertips, out of reach, and where nobody would ever find it or use it or want it again, even if it was there, and there was nothing he could do about it.
“Hey!” It had been Quentin’s voice, coming from ahead of him, towards the fire, and Joey looked up. The survivor had paused and glanced over his shoulder, still just in sight, and was looking at him. He sounded happy—almost excited. And even from a good twenty feet off in the darkness, Joey could see he was smiling at him like he would have a friend. “I’ll see you around, Joey.”
Joey watched as Quentin turned and headed for the campfire again, and then very slowly stood up, leaving the pin where he could never get it, and watched the survivor disappear until he was well and truly gone, lost to sight through the nearest line of trees, and then he turned back and headed towards his own home, off through the fog, back to the old rotting lodge in Ormond with three other killers where he belonged.
No, thought Joey, No, you won’t.