Lance's Lament – Path of Redemption

Lance stared at the hand thrust so enthusiastically under his nose. Its owner, the unusually cheery man that had just identified himself as Lance's new cell mate, waited patiently for acknowledgement.

"Get comfortable and don't cause a ruckus," the guard standing in the door said tiredly. "Cause I'll be busting things up if I have to come back down here."

Lance peered around the man blocking his view.

"Wait, why's he even in here? There's plenty of empty cells."

"Well, that's a polite way to make someone feel welcome," his roommate frowned, withdrawing his hand.

"Same principal as a hotel," the guard sighed. "Two separate tenants means two separate crappers to clean. We like to keep things simple around here. You're bunking so our good old house cleaner doesn't have to strain her frail heart."

"Bitch probably dead already by the looks of this place," Lance mumbled. The cell door slammed shut, and Lance listened to the guard's footsteps fading away up the hall. He was alone with his strange new friend.

"My, they really pull out all the stops when it comes to sanitary items," the man grimaced, looking into the toilet. Lance squinted with annoyance and watched him pace the cell.

There was nothing particular about him. Average guy: brown hair, brown eyes and a face showing the first signs of age. Older then Lance anyway. Perhaps early thirties? Not well built, but not skinny either. He was wearing all black, which made Lance suspect he was a clubber who'd lost his way. Probably got into a fight or got caught handling E's. But something about the shirt... it seemed unusually formal for going-out wear. Lance felt he should recognise it, he could feel it tickling the back of his mind. Something was missing though...

"So, what you in for, pardner?" The man said in a John Wayne cowboy drawl. He had his hands clasped behind his back and was now walking slowly in circles around the cell.

"Nothing," Lance said sourly. "I didn't do it. Damn cops are nothing but screw ups."

"Aw, c'mon man, they ain't all that bad!"

"Oh yeah? What you in for then?"

His cell mate grinned and walked over to where Lance was sitting. Not quite as close as when he'd first arrived.

"Dealing," he said cheerfully. "Knew I'd get caught eventually. And bugger it all, if tonight wasn't the night. The name's Sirus, by the way. With an S, not a C."

"How nice," Lance faux smiled.

"... And you?"

"Lance. With a C, not an S."

"Hah! Funny guy!" Sirus laughed. He moved towards the bunks, but at the sight of larger black man's face he altered his course and sat down on the toilet instead. It took a second for him to get his balance on the slippery, seat-less steel.

Lance shook his head and gazed about the room. Even if this was just a crappy cell in a rundown police station, he still felt that this new guy had intruded on his space somehow. He really wished he was alone again. When his view came back to Sirus, the man was still staring at him.

That grin. That damned, cheerful grin. And all his teeth were so perfect and white. It made Lance uneasy, as well as irritated. Why did the guy seem so infatuated with him?

"So talk, bro. What's up?" Sirus asked.

"What the hell's it to you?"

Sirus put his hands up in a non-offensive manner.

"Whoa, now. Nothing really. It's just that we're here, together, locked up in a cold concrete cell. It's dark outside and past the midnight hour. Romantic, don't you think?"

Lance's eyes widened slightly, and Sirus laughed at the reaction.

"Hah! No, not in that way. I'm not going to ask you to pick up the soap. I simply mean that we should talk. Take our minds off the current predicament and whatever the cops have in mind for us tomorrow."

"I'll be fine," Lance said. "They know it was all a mistake."

"Well, ain't that lucky for you then? I'm probably screwed. Not that they actually found any of the stuff on me... but there's little other reason for three guys to be in a park at this time of night."

"Three?" Lance asked quizzingly.

"Yeah. Was er... accommodating some customers at the time. Couple of regulars."

"Yeah I bet you know all the junkies," Lance scowled.

"Well, one guy is. Real messed up dude. Actually got nicked this afternoon and then released because they lacked evidence. Dumb bastard came straight back to me, not even thinking that they might be following him. Ah well, I'm not one for grudges."

Lance, tiring of what sounded like mindless banter, swung his legs back onto the bed and stretched out. He hoped if Sirus saw his disinterest the annoying prick might shut up. No such luck.

"So that's my sob story anyway. See, I'm willing to share. I believe it's your turn now. C'mon; tell Uncle Sirus what's wrong."

Lance bared his teeth and focused firmly on the bunk above his head.

"I don't feel like talking bout it, and least of all to a deadbeat drug peddler. Just get into your bed, go to sleep, and leave me to figure things out for myself."

"Whatever you say, bud," Sirus shrugged. He got off the toilet and walked to the end of the bunk. After giving the small ladder an experimental tug, he climbed up and disappeared from view. Lance gave a soft sigh and began to relax. Seconds later, a loud 'clang' shocked his eyes open again. Darkness greeted him.

"Lights out, ladies," the tired voice of the night guard announced over a nearby speaker. The entire cell block had gone pitch black.

"Night, Mum!" Sirus called. "But next time, can I have a bed time story?"

"Shut up, man," Lance mumbled, rolling onto his side and trying to get comfortable.

"Alright, ease up with the tough guy routine already. Just 'cause you're having a crisis of faith, doesn't give you right to take it out on others."

Lance blinked in the darkness. He turned to gaze upwards, towards the bunk bed he couldn't see.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he growled. In reply, Sirus gave a soft chuckle.

"I know that troubled face. I know that defensive manner. The only people that use them are those who believe they can't talk to anyone, even God. And if that's the case, it's most likely because the problem is with him."

"How the hell would you know that?"

"Because I'm in the business," Sirus said casually. Lance felt the bunk move and heard the springs above his head squeak. Sirus must have rolled over.

"You said you were a dealer," Lance spat.

"Man cannot live on cocaine alone," Sirus replied. "He needs the money to fund it too. I have a day job, just like everyone else."

"You a shrink?"

Sirus burst into laughter so raucous the entire bunk shook and bounced. Lance wasn't nearly as amused.

"Hell no, man! Those guys are bigger head cases then their patients. Wouldn't go near them. They do have the right idea though. They listen to people. In this world where everyone's busy trying to talk over the top of one another, sometimes having someone who listens can make all the difference."

"That's what you do?"

"That's my thing. I listen. And, if needed, I dispense advice. Without even charging two hundred bucks an hour!"

Lance lay on his bunk, silent. What was Sirus doing? Just making idol chit chat? Or still taking abnormally persistent measures to ensure Lance thought him trustworthy enough to confide in. Why was he so interested? But then again, why was Lance so hesitant?

He wanted to talk about it. More then anything. Only a few hours ago he'd been dismal about that fact that he had no one to do so with. Now suddenly there was a strange, possibly chemically unbalanced man, almost begging Lance to tell him all his secrets. Even claiming that listening was his profession! How was he supposed to take this?

"Alright, say I talk," Lance began slowly. "And you listen. What then? You gonna spew the usual self-help sermons and reassurance crap?"

"Hey, I can't guarantee I'll be helpful in any way," Sirus mused. "More then likely I'll agree that you're screwed! But at least you'll have gotten it off your chest."

Lance allowed himself a small smile. Ok, so maybe the guy wasn't all that bad. For a drug dealer, he actually seemed pretty down to earth and honest. And it's not like Lance would ever see him again; not in a city this big. What the hell. There was little chance it'd make things any worse. He was already in a cell, after all.

"Fine."

"Good show, by Jove!" Sirus whooped in a pompous English accent. "Knew you'd come around, old sport."

"Maybe you should shut up, before I change my mind," Lance growled. He closed his eyes and let out a slow breath. Now or never. "You were right."

"Eh?" Sirus questioned.

"You were right. Me and God... we got issues at the moment. Seems to me he's been doing a bit more taketh-ing then giveth-ing these days."

"Let me guess: family?"

"Yeah..." Lance sighed. "Pa got minced and Ma's had a heart attack."

"Doesn't seem fair, ay?"

Lance raised an eyebrow, then shook his head. Was this guy going to be agreeable all through the story?

"No, it doesn't," he said flatly, hoping his bunkmate would detect the note of annoyance in his voice. "And to put it bluntly: I'm pissed off. I dunno what I believe anymore. I dunno what I want to believe. Everything's all... messed up in my head."

"Has it always been like that?"

"No... it was clear once... back when things were simple."

"And that was...?"

"Back when I first believed, I guess," Lance shrugged. "Back when I was twelve."

---

It's not like I was always careless on roads. Kids are kids, you know? They get distracted.

It was Sunday, a few hours after church. Ma and Pa had just brought us back home, all full of love and singing God's praise. I was still annoyed at being one of the only kids in school who didn't get to sleep in on the weekend. Their parents let them go to afternoon masses.

"Isn't it wonderful, babies? Being in that church with all them loving people. Don't it just make you feel good to be alive?" Ma would go on about stuff like that from her spot at the stove. She always liked to make a nice greasy after-sermon lunch.

And my brothers and sisters would always agree. I reckon they were just worried about missing out on bacon. I wasn't so easily bribed.

I respected our religion, sure. I understood that it was an important part of my parent's life, and shoulda been for me too. But I was getting older. Twelve is a crazy age for a kid. Starting puberty, noticing girls, and finally getting to wear clothes you wanna wear. It's also when you start questioning things. Why should I do this? Why should I believe that? What's the reason? What's the purpose? Are any of my current opinions really my opinions, or just other peoples that I've adopted?
And that's the way it had been for me with church. I listened to all the stuff the priest guy read out to us. Stories about miracles, and angels, and life changing events. God would actually talk to people, according to the Bible. He was like a real person, only... well, magic really.

But if all that was true, how come I'd never seen anything like that? A kid's imagination can only go so far. One day, we need real evidence of the things we're brought up to believe in. We want to see it, or hear it, or feel it. I'd never seen angels. Never heard a big voice coming from the clouds or had a bush burst into flames before me. Not without my help, anyway...

"I'm goin' for a walk. Save me a sandwich."

"What?? No you ain't! You've got chores to do! Get your ass -"

I closed the door before Ma had a chance to finish. That day, I wasn't really in the mood for anything. Just wanted to get out and walk. Mainly I was worried about how to go about things; if I told Ma or Pa I was having doubts with our religion, how would they react? Ma I wasn't too worried about, but Pa... when he got worked up, he tended to get a bit on the physical side. I liked to avoid that if I could. We all did.

So I walked. Into the city, down the main streets. Aimlessly wandering while thinking on things way to heavy for the average twelve year old. Why hadn't I seen things like the people in the Bible did? How much of that stuff was actually true? What was the point in me believing in a religion anyway? My head was buzzing with thoughts like this when I started to cross the road.

I didn't hear the truck blast its horn. I didn't hear the people shout out for me to stop. I was lost in my own little world. Only the high pitched squeal of the compression brakes snapped me back to reality. And by that time, it was too late. Or so I reckoned.

I remember it all real clearly. It was like... everything slowed down. As corny as that sounds. The giant, metal grill, bearing down on me. Blue smoke churning up from the tires as the driver desperately tried to make his rig come to a stop. I could see his face, turned to one side, eyes squeezed shut. He'd already given up hope. My gaze was fixed on the headlights; those lightless bulbs, glaring at me like the dead eyes of a hungry beast. And even though it must have been only a matter of seconds, so many thoughts went through my mind.

The two women - the ones that had yelled out to me - on the other side of the street. Their mouths were open and they were pointing at me. I remember thinking 'Yeah, pointing. That's gonna save me'. I could see all the cars parked on the side of the road. Just out of reach. I knew I'd have no time to dive towards them. And thoughts on the truck itself. What was it doing on this road anyway? Rigs of that size never travelled this way to get into the city. But the most frightening thing to cross my mind was to do with my original dilemma.

'Oh, Christ. What's going to happen to me? I'm about to die... and I don't even know if I should pray! I'm gonna die... and I have no God! I'm gonna die... where the hell am I going to go?'

And then it hit me. Not the truck. Something else. Something pushed me so damned hard it lifted me clear off my feet. One minute I was standing, staring at my fate, the next I was flying across the road and smashing into the side of a parked car. The truck missed my legs by inches.

I couldn't work out what happened. I just kinda... lay there, against the car, covered in shattered glass from the window and aching from the impact. The entire drivers side door was bent inwards. It'd knocked the wind outta me.

The truck pulled up a couple of metres down the street, and the driver jumped out from his cab. He was panting heavily, and looked like he was about to faint. Even when he saw me he didn't seem to believe it. He kept looking under his wheels, then back at me, then to the truck again.

"Bloody hell... are you alright, kid?" he gaped. "Thought you were a goner!"

The two women came over too, peeking around the car as if they were scared to come near me.

"You... you ok, love?" the older one asked.

I rubbed my head and looked groggily up at them. I felt like I was awakening from a dream; dizzy and confused.

"Yeah, I think I'm ok," I said slowly. "What... what the hell hit me?"

The women looked at each other, confused, then looked back at me.

"Nothing, love. You did the most spectacular leap I've ever seen. There was no one else near you."

I looked at the truck driver, questioning, almost pleading for an explanation. He just kept on gaping, mouth open and closing like a drowning fish, and shook his head.

"I didn't see no one, mate. It was just you, on the road... then you were gone. There was no one else there."

Not a damned soul.

---

"I guess that's when I made up my mind," Lance shrugged in the dark. "There'd been no one on that road besides me. But something had pushed me. It was as real as the bruise on my side afterwards. That was my proof. My sign. God existed, and he was watching me. Lookin' out for me. That's when I believed."

"Whoa, man," he heard Sirus breathe. "That's heavy shit. So stuff like that actually happens? Real live miracles? Awesome..."

"Yeah, well, that was a long time ago. There's been a lot happen since then that's made me question its plausibility. I mean, why save me, a punk kid who didn't even want to go to church, and let my Pa, a true believer, get minced? Why? What the hell kind of justice is that?"

Lance lashed out his arm and punched the wall, making a resounding thud in the cell. The bunk wobbled and squeaked in response.

"How is that a display of God's love...?"

Sirus was silent. Lance waited, lying in the suffocating blackness. He'd hoped that talking about it would make him feel better, but somehow it hadn't changed anything. Now he just felt like he'd given himself more reason to hate. He shook his head angrily and gave the above bed a poke with his finger.

"Well? You were the one that wanted me to 'open up'. Where's the know-all opinion?"

"I'm thinking it through," Sirus replied.

"Thinking what through?"

"My answer. Got to be careful with your type; don't want to say the wrong thing."

"What's that sposed to mean," Lance said menacingly.

"See? That's my point. No good me sharing my thoughts if all you're going to do is come up and strangle me for it."

Lance half-smiled, half-grimaced. Amazing the impression one can give in such a short time.

"Alright. No violence, I swear. Just tell me what you think."

Sirus rolled to the edge of the bunk, and suddenly Lance could make out the silhouette of his head in the gloom.

"You really want to hear it?"

"Yeah," Lance growled, "and within the next two minutes would be preferable."

"Alright. Well, let me start off by saying; I was right. You're fucked."

Lance raised an eyebrow.

"What?"

"You're fucked, man. You're faith is all but gone. You don't want to believe anymore. You can ponder and procrastinate till the milkman comes home, but you'll never going to get the answer you want. You've already made up your mind."

Was that true? Was Lance just denying what he already knew all this time?

"Short of another miracle, there's no chance you salvaging anything from this wreck. Might as well just pack up and leave. You're done. But hey, that's not a bad thing..."

Lance made a face.

"Not a bad thing. How the hell is that not a bad thing?! A person is brought up to believe something all his life, and you think just dumping the lot of it is 'not a bad thing'? What the hell is wrong with you??"

"I'm just saying: sometimes change is good. I know it was for me."

"Oh yeah? What changed for you? You stopped buying and decided to deal instead?"

"Ouch, man. Twist that syringe," Sirus said with faux hurt. "No, I'm talking about my crisis in faith. You and me: we're not so different, you know."

"Don't even think about putting me in the same league as you," Lance spat.

"I meant in personal issues. See, I had a similar experience. Granted at a younger age then you are... but it was no less troublesome considering the nature of my job. It's kind of a requirement for me to be unwavering in my beliefs."

"Ah huh. So what'd you do?"

Lance saw the silhouette of Sirus head tilt in a shrug.

"I got over it."

"... Got over it?"

"Yeah. I just quit trying so hard. I changed my views. Look, man, have you ever thought that perhaps it's ok to question things? I mean, the book was written two thousand years ago! Ideals have changed since then. The Bible's full of loop holes and contradictions; even the 'true' believers don't know what parts are for real. Their just sheep, going along with the crowd. Why not take advantage of it?"

Lance couldn't believe what he was hearing. It was possibly the single most offensive thing anyone had ever said to him. The words to express such feelings escaped him, so Sirus kept going.

"The Bible says all you have to do is pray for forgiveness and God will forgive. Well, if that's the case, why should we go through life worrying about all that good Christian crap when we can just save it all for the last minute? I don't know if there's a God, I don't know if there's a higher being of any kind. But I figure, if I beg for forgiveness at the last minute; hey, I'm covered! And I'm not alone in that thinking."

His cell mate's voice was low now, and had the hint of something sinister.

"There're other people out there who feel the same. Disillusioned. Alone. And there are groups. Places you can go for support. Think of it as a small... community, I guess."

Lance's jaws were locked together so tight it felt like his teeth were going to crack. The veins in his neck bulged. Fists opened and closed.

"Look, from what I've heard, you're a smart man. A caring man. You're family isn't going to benefit from you're indecision. They need you to be strong. We can offer you that. We can answer those questions for you. Trust me: we can help you."

Lance snapped.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" he bellowed, slamming his fists hard on the bed and sitting up. Sirus' silhouette disappeared in an instant. "You said you're job was to listen. Not tell me to give it all up and join some... some cult! You're trying to recruit me!"

"It's not like that. Jesus, man, calm down." Sirus didn't sound afraid, but he certainly wasn't as confident.

"Shut the hell up!" Lance yelled. "I don't want to hear another goddam word come outta your mouth."

"Fine, whatever you say," Sirus muttered. "You were looking for help, and I told you a solution. It's what helped me. And it's helped countless others. If you want to remain ignorant and tortured; that's totally your choice. Though I don't know why any sane person would willingly do that to themselves -"

"No! Don't even try to back out of it now. How could you talk to me about somethin' like this? I may have issues with God at the moment, but I'd never betray him like that. You make me sick. I'm nothing like you."

The bunk squeaked as Sirus rolled over, but he didn't say anything more. At least he knew when to choose silence over pushing a point. Lance ground his teeth in the dark, seething, trying to hold back his emotions.

How could someone be like that? How could Sirus use Lance's obvious emotional vulnerability to his advantage? He never cared about Lance's problems; he just saw it as opportunity to snag another follower. There was no doubt now that he was part of another less accepted religion. Why had he been so quick to trust a total stranger in the first place? Stupid!

He'd confided in Sirus in hope of receiving some insight. Instead, he'd been confronted with something worse then lack of faith: abuse of it! To think there were other people out there like that. People who'd willingly chosen that path. He'd always known it, but to actually meet one... that was a whole new ball game. To have such sheer disrespect of a religion was unspeakable! If Lance hadn't been sworn against violence earlier, he would have come up from his bunk and shown that slimy zealot what he thought of him.

But even as the thought ran through his mind, he realised he didn't have the will for that. In fact, his initial anger was already starting to fade. Instead, now he was beginning to feel a strange wave of relief, and for some reason, his heart didn't feel as heavy. It was confusing. Lance lay on his back, thinking, staring in the dark. Why did he suddenly felt better? Only moments ago he'd been ready to kill his cell mate. Then it dawned on him.

He'd fought back. He'd defended his faith. Perhaps his belief wasn't as bad as he first thought? If he still reacted like this when someone bad mouthed it, maybe... there was still hope? Perhaps this had been the test he'd been looking for?

Lance let a small smile creep across his face. Yeah... it could be viewed that way. A real life "Devil's Temptation". He'd been caught in a moment of doubt, vulnerable and helpless. Crying out for a solution. And he'd been offered one... only it came from the 'dark side', so to speak. All he had to do was accept it, and all his problems would have been solved.

Yet, even with those tempting rewards - acceptance, understanding, answers, support - he'd still chosen the light. Even after all his doubt, now he knew for sure that that was a path he would never be willing to follow. Maybe he could get through this after all.

"Feels good, don't it?" he heard a soft chuckle above his head. Lance promptly let loose a fist and gave the mattress a hefty smack.

"I said shut up," he growled. Even if he had inadvertently helped Lance, there was no reason to love the Devil. He heard Sirus groan in the dark, and smiled to himself. Yes, there was hope yet. He put his hands behind his head and stretched, getting comfortable on his bunk.

He might actually sleep well tonight.

-----

Lance raised his arm, squinting in the bright morning sunlight. Free again and back on the streets! Cars buzzed by, early morning commuters pretended they were going somewhere important. It may have sounded melodramatic, but boy, was it good to be out!

"How was it, bro?" Michael's eager face gazed up at him. "Did they beat ya? Huh? Did you get jumped in the showers? Did they make you play hide the salami?"

"Jesus!" Lance replied, smacking his sibling up the side of the head. "Where do you learn these things? I swear I'm gonna cut back on your TV allowance!"

They walked down the street towards the train station; the cop shop far behind them now. Lance was more then happy to see it go.

"Aww, c'mon! It's my big bro's first night in prison. I wanted at least something interesting to happen to ya!"

"Well," Lance said thoughtfully, "I did share my cell with one guy. Real weirdo."

"Awesome! Did he kill someone?"

"Nah... just another deadbeat drug dealer."

Even thinking about Sirus made Lance's skin crawl. But at least he was free of him now. The guard had come down early, looking tired and over used. He'd opened the door with a grunt, and gestured for them to get out.

"Oh, smell that sweet air!" Sirus had commented, leaping off his bunk and skipping through the door. Lance followed, watching him with a look of distaste.

Upstairs in the offices, Harver had been waiting for them. He shook Lance's hand, but only glared at Sirus.

"You're free to go, I'd say. We had a run through the mall security video; looks like your kid brother really did just find the card. We're letting you off with a slap on the wrist. No criminal record. Just stay out of trouble."

"I should damn well think so," Lance snorted half-heartedly.

"What about me?" Sirus chirped up. "Where's my slap? Can I have it in a place of my choosing?"

"You've got further questioning," Harver scowled. "Like where the hell you threw that stash of yours. We know you didn't get a chance to swallow it this time. Get him outta here."

The guard started dragging Sirus down the hallway, despite his struggling protests.

"Goodbye, Lance! Honey! I'll never forget our time together! In fact, I think I'll be seeing you again." He'd given a wicked smile, showing those white, white teeth. "Real soon."

Lance shuddered. What a goddamn freak.

"You right there, bro?" Michael asked, mild concern in his voice. "You sure they didn't do things to you in there?"

"Shut up. Damn kids."

Lance quickened the pace. It was already 8:25. These trains were well known for never running on time, and he didn't fancy hanging around this neighbourhood for another few hours. He'd had his fill of nutjobs for awhile.

"You know Ma's gonna kick your ass when you get home. She actually thinks you and some friends picked up hookers or something. I tried to tell her otherwise. Honest, bro!"

Lance smiled. For some reason even the thought of his Ma's deadly 'Frypan Fist' didn't worry him today. After his revelation last night, everything else just felt like it was going to fall into place. He'd avoided a criminal record, resisted temptation, and pulled through a series of family traumas. What more could life throw at him? Now, tasks like finding a job just seemed trivial. He knew that, given a little more time, he'd be able to handle whatever else came his way.

Things were on the mend.

"I'm just surprised Ma let you take the early train by yourself," Lance mused. It did seem rather unlike her. He looked down and saw Michael grinning cheekily. "Awww... don't tell me -"

"Yeah, I did," Michael beamed triumphantly. "I said I was going to the skate park. Long as we get back before lunch I don't think she'll worry."

"You shouldn't lie to her so much. If she finds out you caught the train by yourself... my ass whooping won't even come close to the one you'll get."

"Huh. You're one to talk, Mistah Jailbait."

Lance chuckled, but soon lost his good humour when his saw the entrance to the subway before them. Train stations were not his favourite places. Everyone always wanted to be first ones on the train, so they crammed against each other like sardines, right up to that yellow line. It wasn't enough that they were all trapped underground surrounded by concrete; they had to make Lance feel like there was no escape as well.

Well, there was nothing for it. Unless he wanted to pay forty bucks for a cab, or take three different buses, this was the only way. Michael started the descent first, leading his less then eager brother by the arm.

"C'mon, hurry up! We'll miss it."

It was getting crowded already, Lance saw, which was strange for a Sunday. He guessed everyone was hoping to get to the beach first before the midday rush. They stood at the edge of the crowd, trying to find an opening among the mass of bodies.

"Aw, man! We won't even get a seat if we're all the way back here! We'll be standing up the whole way," Michael said sulkily.

"Screw that," Lance snorted. "Bout time we got a break."

Lance was at least a foot taller then majority of the commuters there, and he planned to take advantage of that. He grabbed Michael by the shoulders and placed the smaller boy behind him. Michael obediently grabbed the back of his brother's shirt.

"Alright, people, make same damn room," Lance boomed. He began to push his way into the crowd. Beach goers and business types alike only resisted for a moment, once they'd glanced up and seen who was jostling them.

'That's right,' Lance thought grimly. 'Part like the red sea. Fear the black man.'

Sometimes it paid to play the minority card, though he knew he shouldn't. Ah well, this was important. What time was it? From the amount of people on the platform, they couldn't have missed their ride. At least, he hoped not. The crackling of a distant handheld radio caught his attention.

"It's 8:35 on this fine, fine morning. You're listening to the Breakfast Blues with me, Rokin' Rickie. We'll be back with more music after a word from our sponsors."

Well, they were late. But so was the train apparently. Thank god for small blessings. They reached the edge of the platform and stopped on the yellow line, aware of the grumbles and glares behind them. Lance let out a sigh of relief and looked down at Michael. His brother grinned back.

"Alright! We got the good seats for sure now!"

"Yeah." Lance agreed. "Looks like we made it. We'll be back home before Ma can warm up that frying pan."

"I don't have anything! Why are you asking me?"

A girl's shrill voice suddenly rose over the sound of crowd banter. People began to shuffle and look about, trying to see the source of the commotion. Lance didn't bother. He was used to girls trying to get attention. They'd have problems with a boyfriend or something and thought the whole world should know about it. Wasn't worth the time.

"Out of all these... anal retentive self-servers, I thought that you might actually help a guy out!"

Lance looked up with a start. That voice he recognised. He'd heard it very recently in fact; yesterday afternoon during his journey through the police station down to the cells. He glanced around, looking for the owner of the voice. It was impossible to find anything over that sea of faces.

-ORN-OOOORRRRRRRRNNKKK-

The blaring sound of the train announcing its approach made everyone flinch.

"I don't have any money. Please, leave me alone!" The girl's panicked voice continued from somewhere close by.

"Man, sounds like some chick's got issues," Michael said, standing on his toes and trying to see though the crowd.

"They always do," Lance said, still half distracted. People were becoming restless; he wasn't sure if it was from the drama on the platform or because the train was nearly there. "Just ignore 'em. Nothing but -"

Something very hard smacked into his elbow, right on the joint. White hot flashes of pain shot up his arm like nothing he'd ever felt. Funny bone. Why always the funny bone? He grabbed his arm and ground his teeth.

"Haha, she got you good!" Michael laughed.

Lance looked down and saw a blonde haired girl crouched on the ground, holding the sides of her head.

"Watch it, bitch!" he said through his pain.

He knew it was harsh even as he said it, but he couldn't help himself. There was nothing funny about getting hit on the funny bone. He flexed his fingers, trying to get feeling back again among all the pins and needles. Well, it was getting better. Maybe he should see if the girl was alright? He looked back and saw she was still crouched on the concrete, face buried in her hands. Lance opened his mouth to say something.

"Fuck you!" she screamed suddenly, lashing out with her arms. Then she pushed her way into the crowd before Lance had a chance to stop her.

"Man," he shook his head and turned back to Michael, "there's some real crazy -"

Michael was gone. Lance looked around, confused.

"M...Mike?"

Someone screamed and the crowd let out a shared gasp. Lance followed their gazes, and his eyes came to rest on the tracks... where the prone body of Michael lay. The girl must have pushed him when she lashed out, and he'd fallen off the platform. Now, Lance could only stare in horror at his younger brother's still form, sprawled face down on the metal railings; head resting on one track, legs bent over the other. He wasn't moving... he wasn't moving!

"Michael? MICHAEL!!" Lance yelled. He made to dive forward, but someone grabbed his arms. He turned his head and stared with a deadly fierceness at the man who was holding him. "Let me go! I gotta get down there!"

"You can't..." the man said, obviously distressed.

"It's too late," a teenage girl cried beside him. She was on her knees, seemingly torn between reaching past the line and staying put. "The train's coming!"

In answer to her statement, the insanely high pitched squeal of brakes being jammed on pierced everyone's ears. The train had seen them. It was trying to stop.

Lance struggled against his holders, now increased by two, heedless of their warnings. He had to save Michael! He had to save his brother! He dragged his body forward, over the yellow line, taking the three men with him. There was still time! There was still -

-ORN-OOOORRRRRRRRNNKKK-

The train screamed by so close that Lance felt the cold metal brush his fingertips. The crowd recoiled in horror, gasping in despair, and he was released. Lance fell to his knees, arms hanging limply at his side, breathing heavily. Staring at the carriages fly by. Staring at the place where only seconds ago his brother had lain; now crushed under a hundred tons of steel and iron. Dead! And he couldn't do anything to stop it!

"Gone..." Lance choked. "He's... he's gone!! Why? WHY?! Oh god, MICHAEL! NOOOOO!"

Not even the screeching brakes or grinding wheels could drown out the sound of Lance's lament.