The key was inserted, turned. A soft click was heard, but just barely. He shifted his grip over to encompass the entire doorknob, and turned it. He pushed through and entered the apartment, and then turned back around in a spin far quicker than he had thought he was capable of. He pushed the door shut. Released the doorknob. Grasped the key once again. Turned it again. Pulled it back out. Tossed it somewhere. He wasn't sure where, but he could always find it again in the morning.

Up until that point, he had been going through the motions. The daily and then nightly routine. Leave home, go to work. Work. Maybe do something else afterwards; it always depended on the day, the time, the circumstances. Maybe not. Sometimes he wouldn't even come home from work, whenever things got particularly desperate. He never really minded. Was happy to be there. Happy to help. Happy to validate himself, his work, go through the motions and the efforts and do his best. It wasn't necessarily fun – more often than not, in the kind of situation that called for his staying overnight, it was terrifying – but he still was able to garner some sort of thrill from it.

Tonight wasn't either of those nights. It was work, and then it was home, repeating the same actions he had done in the morning in order to leave, only in reverse. Leave, and return. This was the return stage. He wouldn't need to leave for a few hours yet. Probably. So he tossed the key, because he felt like it, and he didn't need it right now.

Kutner spun around once more, almost slamming his back against the door. He let his knees give out underneath him and slowly slid down until his ass was on the floor and he was sitting, leaning against the apartment door. He took a deep breath. Sighed. Took another deep breath.

And then he finally opened his eyes again, and parted his lips just a little. The corners of his mouth turned up. He smiled, and took a third deep breath. He looked over the view he could get from where he was sitting, and just blinked a few times as it finally dawned on him that he was in complete darkness. But whatever.


That's how he felt. To the point where he couldn't quite collect himself. Not yet, at least. Soon. But at the moment he was high on something. Not from any sort of substance; maybe ten years ago but now that wasn't something he felt too inclined to leap back into. No particular reason. Just a part of growing up, he mused, slowly but surely.

But no. He definitely felt high, and that was what was important. Probably what was equally important was the fact that he couldn't exactly remember what it was that had gotten him giddy in the first place, but really, did that much matter? He was happy. Maybe it was just from a part of his routine, but something exceptional had happened, something that he couldn't quite place or name at this particular moment but he knew it had happened. Like everything had just… gone right today. Like. In the sense that there was absolutely nothing off. Not one moment of minor frustration. Like he had hit only green lights, he arrived a mere five minutes late, he was active and a worthy contributor and there had been a bounce in his step and people recognized this and would smile or nod at him as they passed, and he would return the favour, because it was great, wasn't it? For whatever reason.

What could have gone wrong simply didn't. And Kutner was still basking in this. He slumped down a little further, stretching his legs out a little bit more, and it felt nice. He closed his eyes and then realized what would probably happen if he stayed like that. And feeling awesome or not, it was still stupid to fall asleep in work clothes – or whatever you'd call them – propped up against an uncomfortable wooden door and lying down on an only sort of comfortable wooden floor. So he opened his eyes again, but still didn't feel any particular urge to stand up.

Then his stomach started bitching at him, and Kutner groaned and rolled over and pushed himself up and off of the floor. And upon standing again, he realized that he missed the glow of lights of any kind. At work they were sterile, and that could be nice. Get you into the proper frame of mind. But here, at home, they were warm, and that was the frame of mind he was much more interested in at that moment.

He was kind of tired but didn't really feel like going to bed. A night curled up in a blanket on a couch in front of the TV would be nice, he realized. It would be cozy, and it had been a while since he had really felt that way. Of course he wouldn't leave the main lights on all night, and the television wouldn't have as warm a glow, but that didn't matter. He could enjoy this glow now and get settled in a little later. He'd stay up all night just watching adult cartoons, and fall asleep in front of the TV whenever. And then he'd wake up in the morning to the sun's warm rays and the wackier sounds and brighter colours as the adult cartoons had switched over to ones geared more towards children, and take a bit of a perverse sense of delight at the fact that now that he was an adult – and despite being one for fifteen years, sometimes he still marveled at this fact – he could do this and nobody could yell at him for it. He'd get something simple for breakfast, probably just cereal, and continue watching the animated characters until finally turning the television off. And then as he got ready for work he would let his mind wander, thank god that when he was growing up his entertainment wasn't made up of the same crap kids today were getting, and then spend ten minutes in a heated internal debate, wondering if he only thought what he grew up with was gold because, well, he grew up with it. And then he would shrug it off, because it didn't really matter and he knew it was still awesome, and go through the motions of the key-doorknob-open-close-key, and work, and hoping for a day that had gone as flawlessly as yesterday – today, he was getting ahead of himself – and maybe he'd even sleep in his actual bed tomorrow night.

It would be a rich, full night.

Kutner's stomach snarled at him and he shook himself out of his revere, and hastened to the cupboards to find something. Popcorn could be cool. Light and easy and lots of it. And it should stop the growling, which would be good, because having a body part of yours snarl at you was kind of creepy and not anything particularly desirable. By anyone. Ever.

Which is why he got a little flustered when it did it again, before he'd had the chance to actually start rummaging through the cupboards, and he sent his stomach a hasty mental note – however that worked – to Shut the hell up, please.

It did and he didn't feel hungry anymore.

He stopped. Paused. Blinked. Decided to change right then and push that out of his mind, because there was something at least a little unsettling about it, like it was the first thing that had gone wrong all day. It was still a few hours off from midnight.

At some point it crossed his mind that he had never really been hungry, but he snuffed that thought out as he pulled the t-shirt over his head. It wasn't important. There was no need to go there.

So he didn't.

Instead, Kutner simply stood there, unsure. He wasn't tired. He wasn't going to go to sleep yet. He could always ditch his evening plans and fulfill them some other night, it wasn't important. It never really was.

He stopped himself. He had just told himself he wasn't going to go there.

No, he had the freedom to do whatever he felt like doing… So he exercised this freedom by shifting his position. Instead of standing at the doorway of his bedroom, he stretched his arms out and grasped the wooden frames that bordered the entrance to where he slept with his hands, shifted his feet backwards a little, and leaned forward. Yeah. Because he could.

He raised his head up, shut his eyes, and tried as best as he could to bask in the lights emanating from his ceiling. Pretend that they were warm. That he was in Hawaii or Indonesia or some place awesome like that. He could feel the sand in between his toes, a foreign but soft and warm texture surrounding his feet. If he concentrated, he could hear the ocean lapping up against the coastline. Hear the birds as they just started to chirp to greet the new day, because he decided that the sun was just rising but it was still warm out anyway and had been warm all night. He kind of wanted to open his eyes to take in the beautiful sunrise, but knew that if he did it would all be lost, so if anything, he shut them tighter. He felt the wind ruffle his hair and his clothes ever so slightly.

The sudden dread, as if his stomach had fallen out from under him, was replaced with the exhilaration he had felt upon returning home. The poisonous drop was gone. It had only been there briefly. He kind of liked it when it was only there for a little bit, to shake things up a little, but right now he decided that there was no need for anything to be shaken up. Things were perfect right now. Let's keep it that way.

The happiness, the contentment, the everything else was back and rip-roaring and he didn't know just how long he stood there on some foreign fantasy beach but eventually Kutner decided that the sun had risen and it was stupid to just keep standing out there and watching the not-changing sky as other people had started to come out from their hotels and flock to the warm beaches and he was just standing there like an idiot, not doing anything.

His eyes snapped open and he spent the next half hour trying to connect pancakes to John Adams on Wikipedia and whatever else the random article button produced for him that wasn't entirely implausible to do until tiring of that. Okay, so he was bored. And sick of getting the obscurest and stubbiest of articles, because really, you can't do much with those, and at a certain point it kills the mindless fun.

He briefly thought about just going to bed, but no, he still wasn't tired. He wasn't really… anything. The sinking feeling returned and he placed it immediately and sighed, irritated, because it had no place here. It never had a place. Anywhere. But it would always persist with him, at the most improper times for him.

It wasn't anything new. He'd known the feeling for a long while now. Too long. Tried to make friends with it. Tried to get it to stop. Cease. Desist. Sometimes it worked. Most of the time it didn't. But he'd been having a good day, so… that must be why it picked itself up.

Kutner shook his head. Something sugary. Maybe that would help. Or warm milk, to sleep, or something. Really, sleep was probably the best answer.

He wasn't tired. He made no move to get up.

Something inside him lurched and for a moment; he felt like he was going to throw up. He didn't understand. He felt confused but completely unmotivated to do anything about this confusion at the same time. He just felt his body go limp, and then told himself to stop it, because he was just bored, and falling asleep at the door's entrance didn't seem as retarded anymore. It could have spared him this.

He probably wouldn't have fallen asleep anyway.

Suddenly frustrated with himself, he got up. Stalked over to his bed. Briefly fumbled with the bottom drawer of his nightstand – there was a reason it was difficult to open – and finally, with a jerk, was able to get it open. He also succeeded in pulling out the entire drawer and smashing it into his left shin. Out of nowhere Kutner felt life jerked back into him, and he smiled and felt his extremities warm up again. He laughed a little, swore at the nightstand drawer as he tried to put it back in its place, and ignored everything else but the light, stinging pain warming up his shin.

Upon successfully repairing the nightstand, he flopped back on his bed, and realized that maybe he actually did feel a little tired. Too tired to move or turn off the lights or anything, body suddenly weary with exhaustion and refusing to really move or do anything. It was kind of stiff but kind of numb at the same time. He accepted the feeling, shivered a little, and then closed his eyes.

Nothing happened.

Kutner opened his eyes again to find himself completely frustrated. He was just being impatient, he told himself. Stupid. He'd only been lying like that for a few minutes, and he was lying the wrong way, anyway: sideways. On the bed. His legs were hanging off the side and nothing was supporting his head and it wasn't comfortable and he would not want to sleep like that. He dredged up the strength to sit back up again.

He looked at the drawer again and wordlessly slid it open.

There was only one object in there, with more than enough room for it. He'd had it for quite some time now, but he still wasn't sure why. It was more impulsive than anything, he concluded, whether that was the truth or just to try to make himself feel better. Deep down he probably knew that it wasn't, but he tended to ignore himself deep down, because, well, that wasn't a part of him that he was particularly fond of. And it only reared itself up on occasion, anyway. So it wasn't important. On the surface, it was exciting. That's why he never told anybody about it.

Gently, as if afraid it would grow razor sharp teeth and bite him, Kutner picked up the gun. Checked that it was loaded. He knew he shouldn't have one, but as soon as he was able to, he'd gotten one. He'd felt the need for one years before that. He didn't know why, and he didn't like it, but something deep down had driven him to it.

It made him uncomfortable.

He felt its weight in his hands. Moved it around a little. Kept it pointing away from himself. This wasn't that bad.

He gingerly replaced it but left the drawer open and just stared. And felt nothing. And he knew the moment would pass, but he was so sick of the times when he still experienced emptiness. It was on and off. At first it had been nothing but on, but as the years had progressed, it slowly started to become more off than on, until the only times it was on were in the middle of the night, if he so happened to still be awake, and alone, at his own place. And he figured that he could live with that.

He probably could have, too, except one morning the feeling had struck him as soon as he'd woken up. He had just lain there, incomprehensive, confused and scared and with no desire to move or do anything, until it had passed, and he realized he'd been like that for an hour.

But then, that was right on waking up, so whatever, right? When it returned a few days later in the middle of a slow day at work, he had completely froze up for only a few seconds as the urge to throw up passed straight through him. And then he'd relaxed in his spot and made a casual, trivial remark, hoping to get some kind of conversation going.

It never happened when he was with other people. He never felt empty in the friendly company of others. It was only when he was alone, and that was okay, as long as it stuck within a specific time frame and only came up every once in a while. So the feeling looming itself up and making Kutner feel like his entire body could no longer respond to his thoughts in the middle of his workplace was not something particularly welcome. Shit, it was hard enough otherwise.

So he would force it back down and out and not consider it again, but in the back of his mind, he was scared of when the time would come that it would be all that he felt, just like it had been when he was much, much younger. And he knew he couldn't deal with that. And he didn't want that to be the last thing he ever experienced.

And yet.

He felt an irrational wave of anger rise up in him that wasn't much better than the emptiness, and on an impulsive whim, he grabbed the gun again and in the same fluid and fast motion he pressed the barrel up to his right temple. Then he stopped and breathed heavily for a moment, making no move to put his finger on the trigger. He sat like that for a little while, taking deep breaths, trying to steady himself, and wondering what in the fuck he was doing, because this was stupid.

He threw it to the side, lightly, and it landed next to him on his bed. He possessed a vain hope that somehow by throwing it it would go off, have a bullet whiz through his skull, but of course that didn't happen. It never did. And he was never really serious about it, anyway.

Well, most of the time he wasn't. That's what he told himself and that's what he made himself believe, and for the most part, his subconscious cooperated. That was starting to stop, too, though. He felt like his mind and body would conspire together against himself, which made no sense, and he told himself that it made no sense, and he always believed that it made no sense, and he said, "Fuck it," and stalked out of the bedroom and away from the gun and out into the warm lights.

It was still dark out, though.

He stayed in the warm lights and started to massage his temples.

Kutner knew he'd have to get rid of the goddamn thing and he wanted to but he wasn't sure how, just yet, or what to do with it, and then there was that small part of him that clung to it as if it was his parents. He snorted at this thought; it probably was. He feared it and embraced it at the same time and right now he just had to be in a different room than it, away from it. He couldn't go back in there. Not until he had slept for a few hours, at least. He'd probably feel better then. A few hours ago he had been feeling awesome. What the hell had happened to that? He couldn't regain it.

He briefly toyed with the idea of a game or a DVD or something, but soon tossed that idea away, knowing that it wouldn't help him get to sleep, and really, that's what he needed right now. Besides, he'd have to get up to go get whatever, and he didn't trust his legs. The remote was within reach though. So instead he curled up into a fetal position and flipped mindlessly through channels before letting the remote slip through his grasp, satisfied enough with the random result. CNN could put him to sleep, right?

Kutner curled up tighter for warmth and stared at the television screen with blank eyes. He supposed that the increasing empty feelings were just a part of growing up, of the world weighing down on his shoulders, and he was just starting to really feel the effects of it all, which is why he was having a harder time blocking it out. He convinced himself that everyone felt this, that the world wore everyone down, but everyone kept pushing because it was worth it. And he knew it was.

The one time that gun had actually gone off, it had been in a dream from a few years ago. Sometime around the third or fourth time he had woken up feeling blank and unable to do so much as roll out of bed. In the dream, he'd nearly placed the damn thing in his mouth, but had chucked it aside in the end. That time, it had gone off, but he'd been hit in the stomach rather than the brains. There had been an explosion of pain and he'd helplessly watched as blood had leaked out through his abdomen. It'd hurt like a bitch but he didn't cry out. He still lived, though; someone had heard the shot, called for 9-1-1, and he'd been saved. He was in a lot of physical agony and that was it. That was all he really remembered from it. The dream had ended with him lying in a hospital bed, stable and resting but still with a red explosion all over his torso. He'd woken up feeling horrified, cold, clammy, and sweaty, and had immediately sat up and pushed the covers off of himself to make sure that his blood was nowhere but inside of him. It was. And then he'd gotten out of bed, taken his pants off, grabbed a razor blade, and without hesitation swiped it into and across his upper left thigh, just to remember the blood and the pain and to experience it in the waking world. He did that and then immediately sucked in a sharp hiss of pain and tossed the blade somewhere else, then grabbed the wound and tried to cover the long, narrow opening in his skin with his hands, and stop the steady bleeding, swearing at himself all the while. Well, that was fucking brilliant, Kutner, he'd told himself. He reminded himself never to fucking do that again. Pain fucking sucked. And that had really fucking hurt.

It had left a thin scar, too, but nobody had ever noticed it. Few people were given the chance and even those who were never saw it because they weren't looking for it and it was so small and thin that sometimes even he had trouble finding it, not that he ever really wanted to.

The news played on and he rubbed that one bit of rough skin with his thumb. And then he stopped and pulled away from it as if it was on fire – which also made no sense – and he was getting burned by it and it was just unpleasant as a whole. Slowly, gingerly, he sat up. His stomach rumbled again. He ignored it. He tried to look at what the time was, but the numbers were all a blur, and it didn't even matter, anyway.

He looked outside and saw it was still dark out, but city lights were still up and brightening everything up and creating a, well, pretty atmosphere. Like Christmas lights. Christmas in April, just with no snow. And while snow was definitely an integral part of Christmas, and he couldn't imagine it without it, and felt that the darkness with the blinking coloured lights needed something white and bright to offset it, like the cold was needed to contrast the warmth from a fireplace, or otherwise it just wouldn't be right, he felt like some day, he'd like to try a Christmas in a more tropical setting. Just to see what it would be like. Definitely different. Definitely interesting. Still probably just as awesome.

He recalled his first Christmas. Decked out in an oversized Santa hat – the one he still had, and cherished – and sitting in a warm, heated household, eyes wide and excited and grinning broadly as he turned the box wrapped up in green and red over and over in his hands, trying to guess what could possibly be in it. Delighted. Happy.

Kutner looked up and felt his own lights still on him, so he got up and turned them off. Nothing changed. Well, sure, it was darker now, and there was less glare on the windows, but he didn't actually feel any different, himself. He felt the same. He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing and just stood by the light switch for a few moments, flicking it on and off, on and off, on and off. Part of him hoped something would explode and he'd end up with a small fire. Who didn't have a bit of a pyromaniac in them? Half of the fun of playing with a chemistry set was seeing what you could make blow up. Baking soda and vinegar was always a favourite.

Blowing things up. Hm.

He let that thought pass over him, through him, let it twist around in his insides just a little before moving back to his bed. He wasn't sure what he was going to do on it, exactly.

There was no warm, cheery air in isolation, and yet he frequently did embrace isolation. Tried to stay off and alone and by himself a good deal of the time. He never was really there, though; rather, he was immersed in some sort of fantasy. Some other world that either he or someone else had created – and other people had truly come up with some amazing stuff – that he could escape to for however long. Not that he necessarily needed an escape whenever he entered those sorts of worlds, because a lot of it was just fun, and there were great people in the communities, and it just felt nice, and that in itself could provide its own sort of warmth.

He liked the warmth.

The warmth implied acceptance.

Kutner was kind of uncomfortable with acceptance.

He didn't get it.

He didn't expect himself to, but from about as far back as he could truly remember, he wasn't really accepted. The ethnicity was one thing, one defining trait he had latched on to at a young age – because it was the most obvious one – and kind of, well, built himself around that. He had a loving family. He had friends. He was accepted and while most of him leaned in to that, part of him just… squirmed at the idea. The part of him that squirmed had been growing over time, because teenage angst was fun, and the part of him that leaned into it decreased. He was feeling it start to increase as he started to really, really grow up, and this made him feel uncomfortable, because he wasn't sure if he could actually get it anywhere.

He never really fell into a set group. He was more the kind of person that was friends with everyone. He was a nerd. He was a jock. He was a geek. He was cool. He was charismatic enough, only stepping into the bounds of showy on occasion (and those times had only been when he'd felt himself start to slip). Lots of friendships, acquaintances, but none really all that close to him. And that was a good thing, because he wasn't sure if he could handle it if one came all that close to him.

He had a fantastic, prestigious job. And things were fantastic there. He loved it. He got along with the people there, and the work validated him. He was proud that he could keep up with it all and even excel in some areas and was proud of himself for making it. He actually was happy that it was a little bit more close-knit than previous opportunities had been, and that he was spending a large part of his day with only four other people. He got to know them. They got to know him. All to an extent without truly overstepping any boundaries, so, they sort of got to know him. But really, everybody only got to sort of know him.

Kutner didn't really want anyone to get to truly know him because he didn't like what he saw in himself and didn't think anyone else would, either. So it wouldn't be necessary. Shouldn't be. Half of the time he didn't truly know himself and he was happy with that.

It was probably why he couldn't explain himself.

It struck him that it probably wasn't going to get a whole lot better than this. He was proud of who he was, definitely. Absolutely. He didn't really have any regrets. He had lived, he had been productive to society, he had enjoyed himself. He didn't want to not enjoy himself.

But if recent feelings were any indication – and he knew that they were – then that wouldn't last for much longer. Couldn't. He was regressing back into it a bit and he didn't know why. He wouldn't know why, he knew that much. He wasn't sure if he would pull himself out of it, if his life and moods and the emptiness didn't act like a sinusoidal graph, or if it was a single parabolic arc and once hitting his maximum he was destined to go down forever. And besides, even if he was happier, he'd still be older. Capable of less. In a position where it wasn't entirely acceptable for him to continue liking the things that he did. He didn't know exactly what it was that he would like.

Life was pretty awesome at the moment. He could support himself. Steady relationships with other people, good job, good sense of worth, quality interests and hobbies. He hadn't really lived them all out yet.

But if he was just going to descend further, he didn't really want to live them all out.

He saw no reason to fall into misery and end his time in the world like that. Fucked up and pissed off and without the energy to do anything. Those moments were already here. They were just moments. Moments that were increasing far too frequently. And that scared him, and he didn't want that.

He couldn't explain where the moments were coming from. He couldn't really explain anything.

So he just sat there, on the edge of his bed, resting his chin in his hands, his elbows on his thighs, a little hunched over. This wasn't the first time he'd had insomnia, but this was the first time it had been due to a night of uneasiness – the longest, single period this feeling had lasted – and thinking.

And Kutner did not want to make a habit of it.

The gun was sitting to his right. It hadn't moved since he had thrown it, of course. He picked it up. Studied it. Appreciated its design, its texture, the fact that it was made up of so many little parts that all seemed to work together perfectly, harmoniously. Exactly what he didn't feel like.

And if this was as good as it was going to get, then so be it.

He sat there. Watched. Waited. And when the sun started to rise, he looked at it – acknowledged it – and raised the gun's barrel back up to his right temple, a spot that had been unoccupied for a few hours now.

He remained in that position, breathing steadily, feeling calmed, and still feeling nothing. He didn't want to go out like this.

So when the sun had risen, Kutner looked up at it, nodded at it, and.

There hadn't been any time for him to physically react, but mentally, he couldn't help but laugh. Just a little.