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15. Lullaby

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Define sickness and I’ll draw you a picture. Define sickness and I’ll paint you a portrait. You tell me the words and I’ll make up prettier ones. You explain to me exactly what comprises disease or disorder – you tell me. Tell me, in precise terms. Make sure that there’s no room for misinterpretation.

And then tell me – what am I?

Am I sick? Am I mad? Insane or…otherwise? Is there otherwise? Is there space between real and surreal? Is there a gray space where the imagined and the actual meet, where the lines blur and you can stand between the two great precipices? Is there such a place? Or a time or anything related to the aspect?

Or am I just mad?

Bizarre. Eccentric. Weird. Strange. Unusual.

I could keep going, but what’s the point?

The same point that there always is – None.

So again, you tell me. Who and what am I? What am I here to do and why? Do you know?  Do you have the vaguest misconception? Or do you merely think you do?

You don’t have a clue, do you? You’re out of luck, and out of league. You won’t win this one, there’s no way in hell. I’ve stepped up to the plate and there’s no way you’re taking this from me. You won’t deprive me of this, this is Me – this is myself, this is who and what I am. And if you have anything different to say about it, I’ll turn your own words against you. Why?

Because this is my life – no one else’s. And I’ll have it as such.

No dictation from you.

These are the thoughts that sing me to sleep. These are the promises that keep me moving. Now and forever. Always and never. This is who and what I am. Take it or leave it. This is what I am and what I’ll become. Where I was and where I’m going.

Do you like what you see? Come get it.

The dust settles and either you get up and keep moving, or you die. My role was held by someone else in my stead. I was given a good deal of time to unwind. And I was given pieces of truth and story to live on. I was given just enough to get by.

I woke up at home, in my own bed. I remember being groggy and out of it, but I was here. I was alive and breathing and this was very real. I sat up and looked around. Requiem was sitting in a chair next to the bed, sleeping soundly.

I was home. How the hell did I get home? I remember pain, but little else. I slipped out of bed and moved to find a mirror. My face was covered with colors and tints that faded into one another, a map of black and blue. My eyes were dark and circled – they looked like they’d been open for ages. I hung my head down, avoiding my beaten self in the mirror. I knew what happened, I remembered. They’d merely drugged me to the point of sleeping. So I could rest without it. A tap on the shoulder shook me. I spun around and grabbed…realizing I had Requiem.

“It’s okay…I just came over to check in.”

“Right…what’s gone on?”

She pulled away from me. “Don’t worry about it.”

“It’s my job.”

She tilted her head. “Since when? Says who? You’re the child – you’re not supposed to worry. Ever. Daddy Doyle and Uncle Gothik are having a talk. It’ll be fine.”

“Layne?”

“His contract’s extended.”

“Grey?”

“They treated him. Beat a little more common sense into him. He’ll be functional again in a few days, a week at the most.”

“Why are you here?”

She rolled her eyes, leading me back to bed. “To check in. Serkis is…busy.”

“Busy?”

She nodded and stepped away, leaving me sitting on the edge of the bed. I looked at her closely, trying to see through the act. She learned from the best. I watched her turn and go knowing that this was the beginning of something. I was learning, piece by piece, the true inner workings of the system. I was finding the fine print of my contract, signed in blood so long ago.

I am 18. This is my life.

I curled up and went back to sleep, or tried to. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t do it. After half a dozen failed attempts, I got up, changed, and left. I grabbed my coat on my way out the door from where it was hanging. The only sound I could hear was the even thunk of my boots hitting the floor, steps filled with determination. And I was gone. I moved out into the continuous rain and I searched for Serkis. I went to the bar. I went to the show. And I’d find my query if it killed me. She would be in her place, which was hidden in the depths of the sewer, her little piece of solitude. I got there and waited for her, as she’d waited for me times past.

I was there for an hour or so before I heard movement. I got up to catch her, but found myself frozen in place instead. The lights came on and I found my arms behind me, an arm wound around my throat. Serkis was in front of me, a gun leveled at my head. I saw her sigh, eyes rolling up. She clicked the gun on safety and dropped her arm to her side.

“Let her go.”

And I was released. I spun around and found Layne standing there. He looked tired and unkempt. I wheeled back around to Serkis herself covered with blood, a river of it running down her arm. They took whatever route pleased them and united, Layne leading her over to sit down. I stood there, motionless.

“What’s going on?”

“It’s hard times now kid. You should keep your head down. Go home. Sleep. Forget this.” Layne’s words were thought out, careful. His voice was even and unwavering, but there was an edge to it. It took my mind awhile to place it.

He was scared.

I stood my ground. I wouldn’t go. And he knew it was useless fighting, but he was going to try anyway. He wouldn’t fold.

“Whose blood is it?”

Layne tried to push me out. “Don’t worry about it.”

I wheeled around and shoved him away. “I will. I’m involved in this. This’ a family, remember? What the hell happened?”

Serkis got up from where she was and came over to me. She held onto my two hands to calm me down, her eyes pinned to the ground. Blood ran from her one arm to my hand. She looked up at me for a moment.

“Max is dead.”

And she let go and walked away. Layne moved to block me going after her. I got the drift. I turned and walked out. I walked for ages. I walked through the pouring rain. I walked until there was nothing left in me. No tears, no emotion – nothing.

I didn’t need note cards or a commentary to know the truth. She’d killed him. Layne was supposed to, being the guy. Being her protector. But he couldn’t kill his own father. They were clearing their tracks, since Grey screwed up. But without Max, we had no cops to keep us connected. To keep us clean. They’d have to work harder, keep their heads down. The adults were gone. The more I thought about it, the more I came to question my uncle’s bizarre death. It was something worth considering.

None of the crew goes down without a fight. Hence why Serkis was bleeding. She’d taken a hit to get the job done. But the job was done. I walked to no avail. I walked because I had nowhere to go. I had a home but I couldn’t go there. I needed to get away. I needed to clear my mind. This had to stop. I turned around and headed back to the bar.

By now it was dark. Pandora was there, as expected. She was sedate when alone, but she was sociable and smiling around customers. Cassidy was at an edge of the bar, nursing a beer. Doyle would be wherever he does all his work. Serkis and Layne would be cleaning up the mess. Requiem would be somewhere too. I didn’t care where. Who else was missing? Gothik. I didn’t care where he was.

I sat myself at the bar, trying to catch Pandora’s eye. I was off today. If I wasn’t, I gave myself the day off.

She came over to me eventually. I hung my head and pretended I couldn’t see her. I heard her palms slam down in front of me, I could see her hunch her shoulders down, lowering herself to my level. I glanced up at her.

“Long day, kid?”

“Don’t call me that.”

“What?”

“Kid.”

“Why not?” She reached out and roughed up my hair, but I pushed her away. She stepped back, shot a glance at Cassidy, and returned her eyes to me. He moved over a few stools until there was only one between him and me. He held out a pack of smokes, which I took gratefully, turning to blow the smoke away. I sat backwards with my elbows resting on the bar. He turned to face me. Pandora had shifted off to help someone.

“Shouldn’t you be working?” he questioned shyly.

“Shouldn’t you?” I replied. I didn’t care for the games anymore. I wanted answers. I wanted truth. I had Cassidy.

I had Cassidy. I edged over to the stool next to him. He didn’t move.

“Hey Cass, you work with all kinds of stuff. Right?”

He raised an eyebrow at me, took another sip and rested the glass on his knee. “I might. What kinds of stuff?”

I nudged closer to him. “Something to cure a headache.”

“Aspirin.”

“Something more…industrial,” I whispered. He smiled, finished off the beer in a few long droughts and put his arm around me. He helped me off the stool and out the door, waving to Pandora as we went. I could feel her eyes burning into my back. But I was gone.

I was led back to a place hidden in the depths of the city. This was Cassidy’s safe haven. This was the warehouse of the lost. This was home. This was like our sewer, but for the addicts. And I was soon to be one of them. There was a group of kids hanging around, half of them passed out, some of them curled into smaller groups. I can’t name all the activities going on, and I didn’t care. Cassidy led me to the room furthest back that he could find, devoid of people. There wasn’t much there, a mattress on the floor, music, some books. No windows. One door.

“So, how industrial are we talking?” He was standing toe to toe with me, a hand under my chin, forcing me to look up at him. Forcing me to be honest.

“I don’t want to feel anymore.”

“Feel what, Hun?”

“This. Anything.”

His voice got low. “Do you trust me?”

And I stopped. Did I? I mean, how well did I really know him? This was Requiem’s other half, Requiem who was probably off doing whoever it took to fix what Serkis had screwed up. There was a huge mess to clean – Doyle would be in on it too. I wanted to not care, to not feel. I didn’t know what it would take to do that. Did I trust him? It didn’t matter at this point. I was here and it was too late to run away. I was too far now.

“Do you trust me?” he repeated, his hand still held softly under my chin, another hand resting on my shoulder.

I wanted to run, I wanted to cry and kick and scream. I wanted to tell him that I was scared. I wanted to tell him that I was a child and I was too young for this, too sheltered. I wanted to go home. I wanted to make this stop. What should I tell him? What should I do? I’m stuck here, now. Do I trust him, he asks. Do I?

“Absolutely.”

And he smiled, this wide, wicked grin. “Good girl. Have yourself a seat, and good old Cass will fix you up real good and proper.”

And I did. I did as I was told. I sat down and got comfortable. And he went out, got what he had to; he returned and got comfortable behind me. I closed my eyes and let go and this wasn’t real. This was another time, another place – another girl. He rolled up a sleeve and did what he had to. He cut off circulation for me with his own belt. How sweet of him. And he shot me up, good and proper, just like he promised. And he held me when I got edgy. He held me there when I was second chancing this.

“I should go home,” I remember telling him before he could get the job done. He kissed me on the cheek, pushed the needle in softly, and whispered:

“You are home.”

And that was the end of debate. The end of feeling anything. What it was I was shot up on, I don’t know. But I was all right and passed out on the mattress, away from everything. Anything. Nothing could reach me or phase me here. Not a thing. And I stayed there for a while. How long Cassidy was with me, I’m not sure. I don’t know if I care. When I was back on this planet, I couldn’t tell whether I was where I left myself. And it didn’t matter. After Gothik, nothing mattered.

I got up, straightened myself out, grabbed my coat, and set out. Things were still uneasy, so I staggered my way out of the place. The same kids were thrown around all over the place, just in new positions, new locations. I made it to the main doorway, got out onto the street. And from there, I was lost. I had no idea where I was, how I got there. I curled up in the doorway. And cried. The family was in pieces. And I didn’t care. I just wanted to make it go away. And even when it had gone away, all I wanted was to keep it that way.

“Need help?”

I looked up stubbornly, the light hurting my eyes. Requiem was there; she gave me a hand up and braced me for the walk home. I couldn’t stop crying. She said she’d known where I was for hours. She said that Cassidy had gone and told her right away, when I’d slipped into a state where I wasn’t too dangerous. She said that she’d been by a bunch of times, back and forth, to check on me. She said I’d been out awhile. She said I looked like a wreck. She said I just needed some sleep, some pure rest, free of chemical strain. She said I’d be just fine. She said all this. And for half a second, I believed her.

You tell me what sickness is. I’ll paint you a picture.

I’ll paint you a portrait – of self.

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