Title: No One Wants To Die [Wanna Try, Wanna Try]
Rating: PG-13 (language, violence)
Pairing: general Korse/Gerard creepiness
Summary: Gerard’s head aches with a vengeance: dying doesn’t get any easier. Set directly after SING.
Afterwards, Gerard wakes up. The room is white and bright and sterile. Silent. Still. He shuts his eyes and the electric purple-green of muzzle flash is still scorched into the backs of his eyelids. In his chest, his heart is loaded with adrenaline, primed for a fight long-lost. He remembers the press of Korse’s gun beneath his chin, Korse’s stretched-wide grin on his pale, pale face. Gerard’s head aches with a vengeance: dying doesn’t get any easier.
He opens his eyes and stares up at the smooth tile above his head. He’s been here before, once. Had awoken, stretched out and aching, on an identically hard cot, unable to remember anything but being caught out alone in Zone 1 (stupid, so stupid) and the hole a Drac had blasted clean through his chest. Back then, he’d been naïve enough to wonder whether this still whiteness meant heaven really did exist; but the door had been locked and the recycled air was too dry and, however hard he tried, he couldn’t quite place the stainless steel toilet and basin in any of his dusty imaginings of paradise.
Korse had arrived shortly after that. Back in those days, you could still go a quarter-zone without seeing his face on some ’ganda poster or BL/ind rag. A tall man, ague-pale, he had yet to carve a real name for himself out of the flesh of motorbabies and the dreams of zonerunners. It had been the first time Gerard had ever seen him and Korse hadn’t cared to introduce himself as his black eyes had crawled up and down Gerard’s body, a curious hunger in his smile.
“You are a question,” he had said, as scientists wearing BL/ind facemasks came through the cell door. “And I will find out the answer.” He had said nothing more, merely stepping back to watch as Dracs filed past him, moving to restrain Gerard, their gloved hands holding him down at wrist and ankle, at shoulder and hip, pressing over his mouth to stifle his screams.
Gerard shuts his eyes against the memories, allowing himself to taste a moment’s worth of rancid, debilitating terror, and then swings his legs around and off the cot, all business. He stares at his bare toes, pink and scrubbed clean, strange-looking, and misses the grit and grime of the dust so much he can taste it. He wonders if any of the others got back there, back to the safety of dry sand, scrub brush and low-hanging methane clouds. Jet Star, maybe, with the kid.
He can hope.
Korse smiles when he sees him, a slow crawl of an expression across his face, his eyes cold. Before the door slides shut behind him, Gerard catches sight of at least two Dracs standing guard in the corridor beyond. It’s a development since last he was here - an added measure. They’ll be more careful this time, he knows, but they still won’t be careful enough. If they’d been truly smart, he’d have woken up in thick chains and stayed that way.
“Party Poison,” Korse drawls. “Still with us, I see.”
Gerard doesn’t scare easily. He loves the giddy thrill of heights; the way his heart beats too fast when he guns down Route Guano; the darkness of vast, empty desert after the sun’s gone down. Once, when he was just a kid, he took Mikey’s hand in his own, slipped one of his mom’s paring knifes into his waistband, and set out across the dunes to find the bogeyman.
But Korse - Korse terrifies him in a way which creeps under his skin and lingers.
He smirks, insolent; his mouth is dry. “I think you guys have yourself a comm problem. You want me dead so bad, maybe you stop your underlings from bringing me back each time, yeah? Save us both a lot of trouble.”
A muscle twitches high in Korse’s cheek. “Ghosted, Party Poison,” he says. “Not dead.”
“Of course.” Gerard laughs, sharp as broken glass. “My mistake. Better Life and its conservation effort, huh? Saving humanity one zonerunner at a time.”
“Some do not understand that their lives are not their own to spend.” Korse’s fingers move to the butt of his gun, stroking over the stark white plastic, a caress. “But they learn. Even you, Party Poison, will learn in the end. I promise you that.”
“It won’t happen.”
“No?” Korse asks. “You surprise me. I thought you Killjoys always stuck together.”
Gerard stares at him.
“You didn’t think they had escaped, did you?” At that, Korse wheezes laughter, loud and grating and terrible, like something’s scratching up his lungs, deep inside. Just as suddenly, the noise stops and Korse holds up three fingers. “Kobra Kid,” he says. “Fun Ghoul. Jet Star.” He counts them off, one by one, slow and merciless. Tilting his head to one side, he studies Gerard as if he’s some newly discovered variant of sand flea. “They’re all ghosts now,” he says, and Gerard can’t help but flinch back from his words, scalded. “All but you, Party Poison. What do you even have left to go back to now?”
And Korse leaves then, the cell door sliding shut behind him with a hiss of compressed air, leaving Gerard alone in the bright white silence, struggling to find an answer, desperate for anything which isn’t nothing, nothing at all.
The first time had been worse, he tells himself. Back when they were testing every hypothesis, tracking every result to its furthest possible conclusion. He remembers what it feels like to be shot at point blank range, the surge of white hot energy burning through his nerve endings; remembers what it feels like to have his throat slit, life’s blood pumping down his chest, hot and thick and red and unstoppable; remembers the dry press of Korse’s hand over his mouth, over his nose, blocking his airways, and the way the man had stared down at him, cold and merciless, as Gerard’s chest had heaved, his lungs spasming in his ribcage, no air, no fucking air, choking on nothing.
They’d always asked the same question when they’d brought him back; they’d never been happy with his answer.
This time around, their methods are tempered by experience. Now, whenever they come up with a new idea, they just tie him down, a needle pressed deep into the soft, white skin at the crook of his arm, and he watches as liquid death trickles down from the bag they hook up, down through the tubes and into his bloodstream. Attached to their machines, he loses all track of time, drifting, caught somewhere between death and waking, and thinks of the others.
He misses Mikey. Mikey and his turboglove and his moves lifted straight from an old VHS of The Karate Kid. He’s a fucking crack shot too. Back in the day, back when there were still enough runners eking an existence out of gasoline and sand for the zones to be considered a community, there would be games of skill held. The stereo would be cranked high and the moonshine broken out, and zonerunners would come from miles around to try their luck against other shooters, other drivers, other jockeys. Mikey had been nothing but a kid back then, and it was years ago but Gerard can see him clear as day, feels like he could reach out and touch him, standing under the hot sun, watching Mikey put respect into the eyes of shooters twice his age. Gerard’s never been so fucking proud.
He wonders where they are now. Likes to imagine them back at the diner, Frank pulling apart an old refrigeration unit or some shit, scrap metal and wiring and screws everywhere, cigarette precariously balanced between his lips as his fingers work. He looks over at Gerard and flashes his pearly whites, scrubs his hair back out of his face and gestures him over, pulling him in, so close that Gerard can feel the warmth of his breath on his skin, shows him how he’s just pieced together a mine or a new radio or a motherfucking bazooka - like whatever, no biggie, anyone could do it. Mikey’s in the corner, reading one of those shitty magazines he likes, and Ray - Gerard can’t see Ray - but maybe Ray’s out back with the kid, making her laugh like no one else can, so careful, so gentle, pulling her up into his arms and swinging her around and around till she’s screaming with delight. Ray’s the one that taught her how to hold a gun, the one who makes sure she eats her protein, the one who tells her what she needs to hear, even if it makes them both cry. Ray was always so fucking good with her and maybe, just maybe, Gerard thinks, Ray was the real reason Dr D chose them all along.
The machine monitoring his heart beat is beeping, slow, slower, slower. Gerard’s eyes are wet and his chest hurts, the bag hung above his head nearly empty. He wants, so fucking badly.
“What’s your name?”
“Party Poison, asshole.”
He wakes up to find Korse in the room with him, watching him, unblinking. It makes Gerard’s skin feel hot and itchy, like week-old sunburn.
“Where is Dr Death Defying?” Korse asks.
Slowly, carefully, Gerard levers himself up into a sitting position. For a long moment, he looks at Korse, his sleep-slow mind piecing the possibilities together, trying to make the puzzle fit. Then, he laughs, loud and brutal and so fucking good.
“You don’t have her,” he crows. “You don’t have her and -” he wheezes in breath, unable to stop laughing, a little crazy with it “- they’re desperate enough to send you in here to beg for scraps.”
Korse moves then - fast, so fast - his hand wrapping tight and vicious around Gerard’s throat, inhuman strength in those dry, brittle fingers, crushing Gerard back against the wall. Gerard struggles, hands coming up to claw at Korse’s wrists, kicking out at him, desperate and angry and stupid with hope because the kid is still free, still free, and that means something. Korse growls and pushes closer, using the whole of his body to stifle Gerard’s movements, riding out his struggles until Gerard has nothing left to give. Defeated, he slumps in the man’s grip.
“Where is Dr Death Defying?” Korse repeats, relentless. He’s not even out of breath.
“Fuck off,” Gerard says. “You know I don’t know. He’ll have moved ten times since you’ve had me here.”
Korse meets his eyes. Then, deliberately, he presses closer, putting his face in the juncture between Gerard’s neck and shoulder, and breathes in, deep. Gerard’s whole body goes rigid, his hands balling into useless fists at his sides, because Korse is fucking smelling him and Gerard doesn’t have a clue what that’s supposed to mean. Hysteria bubbles up his throat, thick as nausea.
“One of these days,” Korse murmurs, hot and far too intimate against his skin, “you won’t fight me.”
“Get off me,” Gerard spits, struggling and snarling and suddenly desperate.
He can feel it against his neck as Korse smiles. When the man finally drops him, Gerard scrambles away, along the wall, till he’s got his back in the corner and nowhere else to run. He watches Korse, wary of any sudden movements, and has to force down the ridiculous urge to bring his fists up.
Korse doesn’t move.
“One day, Party Poison, you will be the perfect little soldier.” Korse hums, an eerie, discordant noise - pleased. “So loyal. So ruthless. There is a certain appeal, I admit, to the notion of having you under my control, ready and willing.”
Gerard swallows back bile. “Go bust a nut over someone this shit actually works with.”
Korse gifts him with a crooked smile. “Even you won’t be able to hold out forever. We will find a way to get into that stubborn skull of yours eventually, and then -” He pauses, running the tip of his tongue over his grey lips, as if relishing the thought. “The infamous Party Poison working with Scarecrow to find the rest of your zonerats - that is an object worth a little effort, after all.”
Gerard shuts his eyes. He’s trembling with anger, or fear, or maybe both. He doesn’t let himself think about what life under Korse would be like. Can’t let himself think about it. Instead, he concentrates on the kid. He thinks about her grey eyes, her curly hair. Somewhere, she’s safe. Maybe with Dr D - maybe with another motorbaby. But she’s safe. BL/ind doesn’t know where she is.
He thinks it might mean they’re still winning.
There’s no technical term for what he is. Deviant - most definitely. Unghostable - perhaps.
Dr D had called it a gift when Gerard had told him. A weapon to help fight the good fight. A blessing from whatever mad god still watched over this poisoned planet. Dr D is good with words like that.
Doesn’t mean he’s not spouting complete horseshit.
Gerard can still remember exactly what he was doing when he’d heard the report. It had been several years back, after Korse but before the kid (and he’s beginning to think of time like that more and more now; after his mom died, before Bryar was ghosted, around the time he first met Dr D: milestones more meaningful than any number). That morning, the rain had come down so hard that the sand had been left scarred and pitted, the sky above a dark yellow-grey, the clouds hanging low and heavy. Gerard had been sat in the diner, radio on, watching the rain run down the windows in cloudy, mint-pale streams, the acid stripping what was left of the paint from the walls outside.
bad news from the zones, tumbleweeds, it looks like Jet Star and the Kobra Kid
He remembers hitching a ride out to the far zones and almost jittering out of his skin the whole way there, sitting squashed in next to Frank, his hand on his gun and his knee jerking up, down, up, down, up, down. He remembers arriving at the rendezvous to find the Trans Am standing empty, doors gaping wide, the signs of a struggle in the dirt all around.
The area was deserted. No Mikey. No Ray. No bodies.
got themselves ghosted, dusted out on Route Guano
It hadn’t made any sense. Everyone knew BL/ind didn’t patrol that far out in the zones. The weather was too unpredictable, the radiation too strong, and not even the hardiest of zonerunners would risk a living out in those wilds. It was just a supply run, quick and easy enough. Just a raid on an abandoned garage, the sort of thing the infamous Kobra Kid and Jet Star could have done in their sleep. Scarecrow had no reason to be out there. It didn’t make any fucking sense.
A little crazy and a lot reckless - suicidal maybe - Frank and Gerard had gone looking for answers. Three days later, they had found Korse. With Frank’s gun levelled at his head and the still-smoking bodies of dead Dracs littering the desert floor, Korse had smiled at Gerard, thin-lipped, and said, “It would seem your abnormality isn’t genetic, Party Poison. But it would have been remiss of us not to check.”
That day was the third time Gerard killed the man.
keep your gun close and die with your mask on if you've got to
So Dr D can call this thing of his what he wants, Gerard thinks. A gift, a blessing, a fucking honest-to-god miracle - whatever lets him sleep better at night. Tied down once more and with the needle back in his arm, poison slowly swelling his veins, Gerard knows better.
No gift ever got his brother shot.
“What’s your name?”
“The fucking Queen of England, asshole.”
Hours roll into days roll into weeks. Gerard has no idea how long he’s been prisoner. There are too many blank spaces between his heartbeat stopping and being re-started again. Everyday, twice a day, they bring him a plate of nutrients; everyday, twice a day, he watches the Dracs guarding him become more relaxed, noting their weaknesses, their strengths, and tucking the information carefully away in his mind.
There are longer periods of time between their attempts to ghost him now. Gerard wonders if the scientists have found something else to occupy themselves with. More likely, he thinks, they’re running out of ideas.
He counts all the tiles in the ceiling. Then he counts them backwards. Then he counts them again - just to make sure. When he catches himself on the third re-count, he stops himself. Restless energy crawls just beneath his skin and he wraps his fingers around the cot’s frame, squeezing so hard his knuckles bleed white, the metal edges cutting into his palm. The sharp ache grounds him.
It’s almost a welcome distraction when Korse arrives, smelling of smoke and open air and road dust. Gerard shuts his eyes and tries not to inhale. He misses the zones so bad that his gut aches hollow with it.
Korse’s expression is black.
“Bad day?” Gerard asks, hopefully.
“Tell me about the girl.”
Gerard settles back against the wall and smiles a pleasant fuck you. “No,” he says.
Korse bares his teeth, and reaches down, fisting a hand in the collar of Gerard’s shirt and jerking him forward. “Normally,” he grits out, his voice tight with fury, “I am forced to be careful with those I torture. Human life is so fragile and you can’t extract anything useful from Ghosts.” He’s holding Gerard so close, his words hot on Gerard’s face; Gerard can’t remember ever seeing him so angry. “You, on the other hand, I can do anything to. You will take all I have to give until your body gives out and then I will bring you back and force you to take more.” He shakes Gerard, like a dog with a rat, vicious. “Now, tell me about the girl.”
He drops him.
Gerard steadies himself against the cot. His hands are trembling, he notices, but it’s an abstract, distant thing, as if it’s someone else’s hands and not his own. Above him, Korse is dangerously still, staring down at him, waiting. Steeling himself, Gerard eases himself upwards to meet his gaze. He curls his traitorous hands into fists at his sides, carefully hiding them from view: Korse already knows enough of his weaknesses.
“What do you want to know?” he asks.
It’s a surprise: Gerard can see it in Korse’s face. Korse narrows his eyes, suspicious, as if he had never truly thought Gerard could be swayed without bloodshed. Whatever else the man may be, he’s no fool.
“The names of her parents.”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know.”
“Where she was born.”
“In the zones.”
“Where in the zones?”
“I don’t know.”
Korse backhands him across the mouth, hard. It’s not entirely unexpected. Silently, Gerard probes for loose teeth with his tongue, gingerly prodding at his split gums. He spits a mouthful of blood on the floor and it splatters, shockingly red against the whitewashed concrete.
“I would have thought,” Korse says, delicately, watching him, “that this would be a common purpose. That even Better Living and zonerunners could work together to ensure the survival of the human race.” His voice is calm and steady, all too reasonable, but his hands claw and un-claw into fists at his sides, like he wants to reach out and put them tight around Gerard’s throat once more.
Gerard smiles around the copper-slick of his mouth. “Survival of the human race and control of it are two different things.”
Under the harsh light of the cell, Korse’s eyes are shadowed, nothing but two black holes in the deathly-white pallor of his face. “Dr Death Defying and his little rebel group don’t have a hope without our labs. You need us.”
Gerard barks out laughter. “Seems to me like you’ve been trying twenty-two years to create the next generation. But out in the zones, we’ve gone and managed it the old fashioned way.” He spits more blood on the floor and looks up at Korse. Twisting his mouth into a smirk, he shrugs, and says, “So go take a flying fucking leap.”
The pain, when it comes, is worth it.
It happens quickly.
He breaks one Drac’s neck and bounces the other’s head off the steel of the basin. He’s grown better at not thinking about the people under the masks, not wondering whether they were once zonerunners themselves, stolen from the dust to swell the ranks of BL/ind’s personal army. He still braces himself, though, each and every time he pulls off a mask, ready for the cold, jarring shock of recognising dead features. He hates BL/ind the most for that.
Logically, Gerard knows Korse would never risk putting Mikey or Frank or Ray at his door. Logically, he knows that he’s watched the same guards for days and weeks and he doesn’t recognise their voices, their mannerisms, them. But with the Dracs crumpled and motionless on the floor, Gerard’s hands still hesitate for a traitorous moment (Mikey, Frank, Ray) before he grits his teeth and reaches for their masks.
After that, it really is too easy to slip out of the cell and down the hall, invisible in the badly-cut suit and thick rubber of the stolen mask. The ventilation shaft cover is exactly where he remembers it being, and it’s the work of a moment to prise the metal off. Then it’s a long, hot crawl towards what passes as fresh air in Battery City, counting the seconds in his head and not daring to slow down, his heart in his mouth, sweat dripping down his face, his knees scraped raw and burning.
He doesn’t let himself think that he might not make it. He has to find the others, has to remind them who they are. He’s no good to anyone in a cage.
“He could just kill me,” Gerard had said once, to Dr D. “Nothing to stop me staying dead.”
Dr Death Defying had shrugged, a wry quirk to his lips and sadness in his eyes.
“Korse’s obsessed with life. They’re all fucking obsessed. And you’re different, kid, somehow. You don’t die like all the rest of us do. They’ll keep hunting you till they understand why and then they’ll try to exploit it. Like with Eve.”
Gerard had been able to see the girl through the stained window, sitting out on the hood of the car, chatting animatedly with Frank. The sky had been a perfect blue and miles away, across the sand, Battery City’s aging population continued to pop their pills and drag themselves out of bed every morning with no other aim but to punch in at their mindless nine-to-fives.
“Sometimes,” Gerard had said, still watching the girl, and Frank, and the blue, blue sky, “I think about driving out to the edge of the zones and just finishing it. They’d never find a body that far out. I’d just be dead. Dead dead.”
Dr D was silent for a moment. “But you haven’t,” he pointed out.
“No.” Moving his gaze down from the window’s almost-painful brightness, Gerard had looked at his hands, the skin there hard and dry from the desert air, the fine tracery of silver scars over his knuckles just visible in the poor light inside the trailer. “I can’t decide if that makes me brave or a fucking coward.” He had clenched his fingers into fists, then opened them, studying his palms for a long moment. Finally, he had looked up into Dr D’s eyes. “Have you ever thought about it?”
Dr D had laughed, humourless but not unkind. “If BL ever find me, I’ll be staying dead. I’ve got no worries about that one.”
“So, what?” Gerard had raised an eyebrow. “You’re telling me I’m just not a big enough pain in BL and Korse’s collective ass yet?” He scrubbed a hand through his hair and nodded, considering. “That’s something I can work on, I guess.”
Dr D had snorted with real amusement. “That’s the killjoy spirit, kid. Now get the fuck out of here and go play with your friends. I’ve got tables to turn.”