Wow. So I guess it's been a while. Basically I was planning on finishing the entire fic by October of 2012 aka this year, but I'm... sort of working on ch3 at the moment. But I did finish this one! Uh hopefully it's all good and people are still interested and willing to wait for somewhat slow updates, because this is basically my number one project right now and I'm hoping to actually finish this time around, so... yes.
Changes: I've changed the summary because I hated the old one. A lot. I'm also going to change the title of the story but not until I get a few other things sorted out, so for now it's cheesy rat maze title. Spooky! Gotta get into the Halloween spirit~
Logan stares at the void outside the room with dark, glassy eyes, as if he can't tear his gaze away for anything. Kendall is still clinging to him desperately, his panic at being very nearly overtaken by the figurines just beginning to wear off, along with a sort of fog along the pane of his mind, something that dissipates slowly and strangely almost tantalizingly. It doesn't stop him from noticing Logan, however, as he continues to stare with his vacant expression at the open doorway, so Kendall looks, too, to see what's gotten him so- well, vacant.
The place beyond is... different than anything Kendall's ever seen. He got a glimpse of it before, but then he had to look away because it just made him feel dizzy and weak, though that may have just been the effects of the chest-tightening fear he'd been feeling just moments before. Beyond the room is a sort of- well, it's like a hallway, which would be fine if the description could stop there, because before they entered the room, there was indeed a hallway outside the door. The problem is that this hallway is facing the wrong direction; the hallway of Griffin's building runs perpendicular to the door, but this hallway is straight forward, leading right to the door, ending at the door- or maybe it's beginning. Kendall can't really be bothered to figure out the difference, so he settles for both.
Another difference to this hallway is the color; whereas the first hallway was synthetic and white with a tiled floor and neatly painted walls, this hallway is mostly made up of what appears to be great stones, most of them averaging the size of his head, maybe; it reminds him of cobblestone walkways from the eighteen hundreds, maybe. The hallway goes down for quite a ways until it hits a wall, and at first it seems like a dead end, but then Kendall shifts his head and notices that really, it's a sort of fork in the road; it stops because it connects to a perpendicular pathway.
There's something funny about the hallway, though, something he can't quite put his finger on; it's like the image is almost unreal, like he's looking at a picture rather than the real thing. He can almost see ripples waving across the open doorway, shimmering, rolling waves moving along the corners and edges of the frame. It makes everything look distorted, warped, deformed, or just plain wrong. He doesn't know which, or if that's even the problem, but there is definitely something wrong with that place.
Kendall's evaluation of the hallway is cut short when his support suddenly disappears and he stumbles; it takes him a second to realize that it was Logan he was leaning on, and then another to realize that he's disappeared because he's fallen to his knees. The fear from before returns when Kendall looks down and sees that Logan is not okay. His fingers are twisted into the short strands of his hair; his expression has changed so that he looks distressed, but his eyes are still vacant and glossed over, locked on the outside, and he's murmuring to himself, so quietly that Kendall can't hear, even though he's standing right next to him.
"Logan," he gasps, dropping down next to him so that he balances on the balls of his feet, but he doesn't know what to do past that. His body is freezing up as the fear and panic quickly catch and spread everywhere like fire, numbing his brain to the possibility of any sort of helpful thought, and he doesn't know what to do. Logan doesn't respond to Kendall's touch when he places his shaking hand on his shoulder, continuing to stare and murmur; Kendall leans in to hear what he's saying, almost scared to know.
"-Sible, impossible, this- no, can't happen, not possible, why is this- doesn't make sense, can't-"
Before Kendall can even think of something to do, a set of fingers hooks into his shoulder and pulls, tearing him away from Logan. He falls back on his hands, letting his arms support himself as he looks up in confusion; a gasp is caught in his throat, delayed because of the frantic fright filling him up.
It was James who shoved him aside; Kendall knows this because James is kneeling in the same spot he just was, but he's facing Kendall rather than Logan. His expression conveys fear and aggression both at the same time and both with such heat that whatever Kendall was about to say dies in his throat.
"Wh-what did you do to him?" James demands shakily. "What did you do?"
"I- I didn't- Nothing, he just- I just- H-he fell, and I didn't even-"
Kendall can hear Carlos behind James, can see his hunched form as he desperately says, "Logan, calm down, what's the matter? Is your head okay, are you hurting anywhere? Logan-"
"He says it's impossible," Kendall tries to help, but James gives him a look that silences him; it's almost like James thinks that if Kendall touches Logan or speaks or even moves, he'll hurt him. Guilt from an earlier time that now seems hours ago crashes back down on Kendall's shoulders, and there's still a dark smear of drying blood on his right hand's knuckle. He needs to apologize, to make it clear to James that he wasn't trying to hurt him, but the dancing figurines. "James, I didn't mean to hurt you. I didn't."
But all James does is give him a dark, wounded, scared look, and then he turns to Logan, leaving Kendall behind him.
Kendall feels lost.
Logan's fingers are still rigid claws in his hair, despite Carlos' efforts to pull them away from his head. Small tremors are rippling up and down his body, causing his breath to come in short, airless gasps so that it sounds like he's on the verge of hyperventilating. He's still murmuring to himself, Kendall can see his lips moving ceaselessly, and if he listens past Carlos' and James' words, he can just hear the tones of his voice; his eyes still stare vacantly ahead. Kendall wants to go forward and move James out of the way like he did him and try to help Logan, instead of just lying uselessly where James left him, but suddenly he hears quiet, leering laughter and sees them, twirling and dancing out the corner of his eye, and a terrifying thought hits him; what if they trick him again? What if he goes over and tries to help Logan, but they get behind his eyes and into his hands and make him hurt Logan instead? Or James, what if they make him suddenly turn on James and start attacking him again? They wouldn't believe that he wouldn't mean to, because James has already proved that he doesn't.
So instead of getting up and attempting to calm Logan down, Kendall stays sitting with his hands supporting behind him, helplessly watching the scene unfold. Logan seems to be getting increasingly agitated, his breaths coming more and more harshly- Kendall is sure that breath is not supposed to come that way.
"Logan, you gotta listen to me," Carlos is saying, his expression split wide open with the unbearable fear they're all feeling. "Calm down, Logan, look at me, just- Look at me!"
Don't yell in his face, Kendall wants to tell him. That'll just make it worse. Logan has never done well under pressure, and Kendall's sure that yelling at him will definitely put him under pressure. Then again, Logan isn't really responding to Carlos or James, so maybe yelling is what he needs.
"Logan, please!" Carlos cries. He, like a child, scares easily from things like this, and quite frankly Kendall is surprised he hadn't started freaking out before this point. "Look at me, calm down!"
Then Kendall realizes that Logan can't focus on Carlos or James, who is still trying to help get his hands away from his head, because he's still staring at the stone hallway. His eyes are wide and glassy and there's a definite haze to their expression; Kendall just knows that it's because of the hallway. He suddenly finds himself moving, crawling around James to sit in front of Logan, blocking his view of the outside, and the reaction is immediate. Logan's eyes shut for just a second before flickering and settling on Kendall's face, looking directly into him. Kendall can see tears in Logan's eyes, but they don't spill over. His gaze won't focus, but now, instead of being stuck on the outside, it's stuck on Kendall's face.
Everything seems to be blowing by Kendall in a daze, like everything's happening so fast around him that he can't keep up, or maybe he's the problem and he's processing everything too slow. Either way, it feels like he's stuck in slow motion while everything races past him like a wildfire, leaving him behind to fend for himself against the turmoil of it all, sucking all the oxygen out from under his feet. He feels breathless and dizzy and every time he moves, something else is moving his body for him, drawing his clipped breath in and out, shifting his muscles back and forth, controlling him, slowly winding the puppet strings around him so tightly that his lungs are locked and unmoving, his heart beating sluggishly in an attempt to keep up with the flashing prestissimo rhythm beating in the place of his heart. He's turning into a rhythm, set for others to swoon and sway to, something he can't stop, pause, play, rewind, end. He's obsolete.
Suddenly, just for a billionth of a second, Logan's face, his tear-filled eyes disappear and a wicked, twisted grin coils, strikes, flashes past his vision- then it's Logan's face again, and before he's even realized that it's come and gone, the sound comes slamming back into his ears, almost knocking him over with the sheer force and power of it.
Everything is tooloudtooloudtooloud and Kendall can't handle it; he almost wants to clamp his hands over his ears, shove his palms in and make it stop, please, because there's all the sounds of Logan's harsh, panting breathing and Carlos' desperate pleading and James' agreement with Carlos but beneath all that, or maybe over it, Kendall hears screeching and scraping and shrieking and stop.
"Kendall." The voice is firm, but not sharp. It doesn't want to slice into him and open him up for everyone to see, because it's not trying to scare him away; rather, it is trying to bring him back. He blinks, long and slow, trying to concentrate, because the voice's efforts are making him realize that he's drifting and that he does need it to get him back. He's floundering, drowning, attempting to tread water filled with long, flowing strands of seaweed that tangles in his legs and pulls him down, back underneath the water, away from the shimmering, pastel bubbles of light; his only salvation is the voice, but the voice isn't-
It's not like he can't hear it, because he does hear and he understands perfectly; the problem is that he can't even move. The world is still zooming past at a thousand miles an hour, much too rapidly-paced for him to grasp, but the voice is the brakes- every time it speaks, everything seems to slow down just a little bit. Kendall wants to tell it to keep talking to him, to bring the world to a stop so that his entire mind will stop buzzing, but he can't talk, because every time he tries his voice is ripped from his throat and lost in the chaos of it all.
"Kendall, can you hear me?"
Completely cool, collected, calm. It shouldn't be this way. They should care. They should care that he's impaired, that he can't see or move or speak- they shouldn't sound so nonchalant about this, like doctors chattering over a half-dead body that depends solely on their precision and concentration for its survival. Kendall panics at the lack of emotion, and the voice grows fuzzy.
"Kendall, wake up. Open your eyes. Can you open your eyes? Kendall, can you hear me? Kendall. Please."
Please. Clarity restores and he begins to resurface. The closer he gets, the higher the voice gets, tunneling through clouds and dirt and debris, and a ringing starts in his ears.
"Kendall? Come on, Kendall, you have to listen to me, please, you can do it; I know you can."
The ringing folds over the cool calmness of the tone and begins to grow, starting out as a mere whisper covering the first voice, an echo of the clammy, grasping fingers.
"Don't let it, I know you can stop it- you can do it. Concentrate, Kendall."
The whisper evolves into a murmur, then a mirror, and then louder and louder until it's a shout, a monotonous shout that makes Kendall want to bury his head and hide away the rest of his days.
Something like an explosion blows his ears and suddenly, the shout has turned scared, desperate, dynamic. No longer flat, but full of emotion. He hadn't even realized he was panting, but he is, and he must have been for a while because his chest feels tight and restricting like no matter how hard he tries to breathe it will never be enough.
"Kendall, Kendall- can you hear me? Please, please listen to me," the voice begs; Logan's voice. It was never shouting at him at all, but it's filled with such desperation and fright that it might as well have been. Kendall recognizes the warmth of arms around him, though not in the form of an embrace, but rather support. Holding him up, because he can't sit up on his own anymore.
"What happened?" he tries to ask, but his voice breaks on the first syllable and goes silent, a whisper of breath.
"What?" The word is filled with hope, undivided attention.
"What- happened," he repeats, eyes fluttering open to meet Logan's concerned ones. He's really close, Kendall notes.
"Collapsed- sort of," Logan answers. "I was- I was holding you because you couldn't get up and then I was on the ground and you were sitting in front of me and you sort of fell and James-" he stops, turns to look at James, Kendall following his gaze. James appears to be attempting to calm a very distraught-looking Carlos, though James himself still looks shaken. As a matter of fact, Logan's face is extremely pale, a frantic fear just dissipating from his eyes. None of them are okay, Kendall realizes. Someone needs to take charge and pull everyone back together.
"Yeah," he says distractedly in answer to whatever Logan just told him. He gently removes himself from Logan's arms but takes his hand and pulls him up with him when he shakily stands. Logan tries to protest with an "Are you sure you're okay?", but Kendall brushes him off. "I'm fine." Even though he feels the furthest thing from fine. He finds his voice.
"James. Carlos." The two stop what they're doing and look up, something Kendall allows himself to take the smallest amount of pride in. Maybe he still has a slight bit of their respect- even though Carlos looks scared and James just looks apathetic as to whatever Kendall has to say. He takes a deep breath through his nose and speaks before any doubt can change his mind or tear down his confidence.
"Guys." He pauses, slightly intimidated by James' intense stare. He takes another breath to prepare himself, hoping that he still has the ability to deliver effective speeches. "So far things haven't been off to such a great start." He tries to ignore James' exaggerated eye-roll in favor of continuing, "I know that this seems impossible. Maybe it is. But-" and he falters. What if he's wrong? What if he says something to make them believe, make them hope, and then it turns out that he's so, completely wrong? What if he lets them down? The thought is so staggering that he almost chokes on the next words, but he would never forgive himself if he didn't even try to hold them together, so he rises above his uncertainty and tries to sound sure of himself.
"We need to forget that this is impossible. We have to just accept the fact that it's happening, no matter the reason why, and deal with it to the best of our ability. We- we have to..." He trails off, not knowing what to say; his mind is drawing a total blank. He starts to panic in the back of his head, the place he reserves for things like that, but now it's starting to creep forward into the thinking portion of his brain, the one that he needs to be using right now. He's getting a foreign sensation of stage fright as he feels three pairs of eyes scrutinizing him, picking him apart, pricking his skin in a thousand places at once, and he feels his knees begin to buckle, hopelessness crowding at the edges of his vision. Then, before he knows what's happening, he's talking again.
"It's going to be hard," he says in a low voice. He doesn't know where the words are coming from, but he says them with commitment and meaning. "This is not going to be easy. It's going to try so hard to stop us, to tear us down. I don't know what it is, but it's going to stop at nothing to try to break us apart, and we can't let that happen. We have to decide now that we're going to make it through this. We have to decide now that no matter what happens, we're going to stick together. We can't give up on each other, or ourselves, especially." As more and more words flood through his lips, he finds himself speaking with more and more conviction, undertones of desperation. "No matter how hard it gets, don't get dragged under. Stand up to it. Prove that you can beat it. You're stronger than it thinks." His eyes glaze over. "You have to. You can't lose." Chest tightens. Heartbeat quickens. "You can't." Flashes of water-stained yellow, of razor grins, cymbals, spinning, spiraling- "C-can't-"
The room goes dark for a split second, enough to glimpse the sound of a ghastly giggle, and then Kendall hears himself gasp, "Can't."
Logan's fingers brush his elbow but Kendall shrugs him away, standing straight and tall again, trying to rid the buzzing from his head. It fades slowly, leaving a dull thudding in its wake, which Kendall tries to ignore. "We need to find our way out of here, and we need to stick together." Forget the fact that he's sweating. Forget the fact that he feels like his legs are going to give out at any second and that he probably needs to sit down for a while before they go anywhere. Deep down, in a place he's not willing to admit exists, Kendall Knight is scared, and all he wants is to get everyone out safely as quickly as possible, and if he wastes time lying around, it might be too late by the time he actually takes action. So he brushes off the tremor vibrating throughout his body and holds his head high, or as high as he can. James still doesn't look like he trusts Kendall and Logan is still shaken from his earlier episode, but they along with Carlos move to gather with Kendall at the doorway standing between them and this nightmare world of the unknown. They haven't even set foot into it and already it's taken its toll on Logan: Kendall doesn't even want to imagine what could happen once they're actually in it.
He glances around himself, at his friends, and it suddenly hits him that this could be the last time he sees any of them. Immediately he thinks, I won't let that happen, but in the private, deep part of his mind, he's still scared. He doesn't want anything to happen to them, regardless of whether it's actually his fault. So far it has been his fault.
James won't look at him; Carlos watches the ground in interest; Logan stares ahead at the void. Kendall fears for a second that he's been hypnotized again, but as if sensing the thought Logan turns to look at him with wide, nervous eyes. Kendall tries his best to look confident, courageous.
He can feel the stare of the painting boring into the back of his head, that twisted grin laughing at him, at his failure, his wrong. Kendall exhales shakily, tenses his muscles, and takes his first step into the nightmare world.
Indecipherable. Frustration, irritation, and they all just continue like he's not even there. But they know he's there. Of course they know, because if they didn't they wouldn't be whispering to him. It's endless, like a fly buzzing in his ear, and no matter how hard he swats at it it always comes right back like nothing. Endless, endless, endless, forever and ever and ever, it's never, ever going to stop, it's hopeless, they're never going to go away, they'll always be here for him, they'll never leave him alone.
He'll never be lonely again.
Kendall laughs a sort of upbeat, happy laugh, or at least it sounds that way at first. When it reaches his ears from the outside, it almost sounds like more of a ridiculous laugh of irony. But that's not what it was supposed to sound like. He's supposed to sound happy, because he is. He-
He slaps himself in the face, gasping at the icy cold shock of coming back into himself. He's walking again.
"Kendall, are you sure you're okay?"
"Never better," he mutters. His arm itches. He scratches, but he doesn't look at it. For all he knows, it could be bleeding like mad. Why would he want to see something like that?
The place they're in is a maze. It looks like a maze, at least to Kendall. It's dark, dim, and he thought it was purple at first, but it's not because stones are gray, and not purple at all. Still, though, out of the corner of his eye, he sees the whole place tinted with purple. He can't tell how high or low the ceiling is. It looks low, low enough to touch, but when he reached up to touch it, he couldn't reach, which he found strange because he's a bit taller than average. He wonders if James could reach it and is about to ask, but when he turns and sees James, he remembers what he did and feels disgusting. James' lip has stopped bleeding and is now scabbing over, but bruises are blossoming across his jaw and forehead and his expression just looks so- lost. He was staring right at Kendall, but when Kendall turned around at him he averted his gaze and began instead watching his feet move over the uneven purple-gray floor of the maze.
Kendall looks back ahead, away from James, and keeps walking. He's really fairly surprised at how well they're all taking this- well, apart from what happened earlier. Kendall cringes at the memory. He can still feel his fists aching with the impact of hitting James' face, over and over, and even though he'd been tricked and it really shouldn't be his fault, he feels like dirt. If there's one thing he knows he's responsible for, it's his friends' safety. And okay, maybe no one specifically gave him that responsibility, but ever since they met in pre-Kindergarten, he's just felt this overwhelming sense of protection over his friends, like if he doesn't look after them, he'll- die, or something. He doesn't know what it is, but he knows it's undoubtedly true because now, knowing that he hurt James, that now James is avoiding him because of it, that it's all because of him- it's killing him. He can barely think straight, for all the guilt buzzing and buzzing around inside his head. He can't concentrate on where they're going, because the not-purple walls are everywhere and they all look the same, cobblestone-esque and dark and pressing, so for all Kendall knows, they could be just standing here going absolutely nowhere.
Another thing about the maze is that it seems- damp. Like moisture is seeping from the walls, the ceiling, dripping down and collecting on the floor so that whenever one of them takes a step it splashes everywhere. It feels like Kendall is jumping in puddles, but when he looks down, there's no water, just the rugged floor of the maze. Nothing is seeping through cracks in the walls or ceiling, it just feels damp, musty. Kendall feels like there should be moss growing everywhere, covering the walls, giving the place more of a hedge maze sort of look. The thick, humid atmosphere is almost choking Kendall, so much that he can barely concentrate on where he's going, and every time he hears that question, his only answer is "I don't know," because he doesn't know, because he can't even see the walls anymore, and there is incessant buzzing and humming and thrumming in his ears that he can't stand for much longer, he can't breathe, he can't breathe-
The floor is crawling with little green-yellow termites, or ants, or just plain insects of every kind; swarming with insects that crawl all over their feet and up inside their pant legs and over their skin and in their skin all the way up until they're humming in his head- that's where the humming buzzing thrumming is coming from, because there are bugs suffocating him, eating away at every bit of oxygen in his lungs and that's why he can't breathe-
-and now they're filling up the insides of his eyes and that's why everything is so hard to see-
With a quick, sharp gasp, Kendall comes back to himself and stops walking, turning around to find Logan's face, his familiar, non-infested face. He can't help but breathe a small sigh of relief; he doesn't want to even think of bugs crawling all over Logan's face, let alone see it. Right now Logan looks concerned, or confused. His eyebrows are furrowed, so it's one of the two, but in this light it's hard to tell.
"Hm- Yeah?" Kendall answers, a little late, his throat almost catching on the word.
Logan is still looking at him funny, but all he says is, "Uh... Carlos... asked you something."
"Oh." Kendall looks back at Carlos, who is standing behind James, who still won't meet Kendall's eyes. "What?"
"Where are we going?"
"Circles," Kendall answers simply, because he is so tired of saying 'I don't know.' "We are going around in circles." That rock there, in the wall, he knows he's seen it before, he's positive.
Carlos doesn't answer. Logan's expression remains the same as he steps forward and examines Kendall's face in close scrutiny.
"Are you... absolutely positive you're okay? You keep stumbling, and just now you didn't hear me or Carlos calling you." So he's concerned. Or maybe it's both. Yeah, Kendall's gonna settle for both: a compromise. Logan's hand is suddenly on his forehead, and he jolts back, swatting it away.
"Stop it," he mutters defiantly. "I'm fine."
"But..." Logan lowers his hand to his side again, Kendall watching to make sure it stays before looking back at Logan's confused-concerned-bug-free face. "You're showing particularly unnerving symptoms. Do you feel any sort of dizziness or nausea at all? No pain anywhere in your body?"
Maybe just a headache. But since it really isn't a headache, he answers, "No."
"Well," Logan looks extremely unconvinced, "Maybe we should stop and rest awhile. It feels like a good while since we've started walking."
"I'm fine," he repeats stubbornly. "We don't need rest, we need to find a way out of here."
"Is that where we're going?" Carlos breaks in, and Kendall closes his eyes, suddenly out of patience for Carlos' pestering, but he can't let it show.
"Or something," is what he responds with, trying to keep his tone even. His eyes flash open again and he steps back so he can face all three of the others at once. "Look. I am as clueless as you guys are about this whole thing, so what makes you think I have all the answers? I don't. Maybe I'm usually the guy who calls all the shots in a hockey game, or the one who stops us all from branching out into Hollywood things that'll ruin us, but this? I have no idea what the hell this even is, so stop acting like I'm supposed to know everything, okay? I don't. We're all gonna figure it out together, and we're all gonna tell each other everything, and we're gonna work this out. Together. Got it?"
The only immediate response he gets are two stunned looks and a dark, wounded one. He tries to push the implications of that one from his mind. His teeth pull at his lip and his shoulders sag the slightest bit. He huffs, "Alright," under his breath, re-squares his shoulders, and turns to move on.
The next portion of the journey is spent in near silence, the only sound being the scuffing of shoes on the floor of the passageway. Kendall was right about the maze piece of his evaluation; it isn't soon after his little lecture that they come to a sort of fork. After no one offers any opinion regarding which way they think would be best, Kendall takes the initiative and turns left, the others following wordlessly behind.
There's the same incessant buzzing in Kendall's head that he doesn't really notice until it's turned into a near-inaudible murmur, like people are talking behind him, but there's no real source to it. Gradually it gets louder, and he can hear the voices, the tones and the consonants, but there is no real definition to the words, and Kendall continually turns to look behind him, wondering what they're all talking about, whether they're talking about him, but their mouths are unmoving, and the muttering has stopped by the time he's turned enough to see. He constantly shakes his head, trying to get rid of the noise, and he swears it's coming from behind him, but then it really isn't because it isn't coming from anywhere- it's just there and he can hear it and he's sure no one else can because nobody's asking any questions, and wouldn't they be if they could?
It must be from ahead, then. There's a tunnel that broadcasts the sound directly to his ears and only to his ears, but if he turns away, the signal is broken and it cuts off. Why him, though? Why can't anyone else hear it? Or- can they? Are they just not saying anything? Or are they the ones saying it? Diffident, Kendall turns back once more to search the faces of his companions, and this time James speaks up tensely, "Why do you keep doing that?"
It's the first time he's actually addressed Kendall since accusing him of hurting Logan back in the room with the painting, and it catches him off guard.
"You keep looking back at us. Why?" They've stopped walking and Kendall has turned fully around; James' arms are crossed, his expression dark as he regards Kendall from under a wary brow.
"I- I just-" Kendall stumbles, searching for a way to explain his predicament. "Uh- d'you guys- hear that..?" He gestures vaguely and is met with vacant stares.
"Hear what?" Logan asks unsurely, taking a step towards Kendall, to which Kendall reacts with a half-step back. He gestures again, trying to match the essence of the words coming out of his mouth.
"It's this- buzzing, sort of. Or like, people talking. It was buzzing, but now it sounds like people are talking. From out of nowhere. I-..." he trails off when he sees no recognition in any of their expressions. "It's just really weird," he sort of mumbles, half to himself. "I thought maybe it was you guys, but it's not."
"Something's wrong with him," James speaks out decidedly, and immediately Kendall bristles.
"No there isn't, I'm fine."
"Yeah," James drawls sarcastically; "you're just hearing some weird noise that nobody else can hear, but that's normal, right?"
"Shut- okay, just shut up," Kendall snaps, furrowing his eyebrows and shutting his eyes, trying to calm himself away from the sudden irritation. "I'm okay, I just... don't know where it's coming from."
"Uh," Logan breaks in hesitantly, still eyeing Kendall cautiously, and Kendall turns on him. "Do you think maybe we should, y'know, stop for a while? Kind of take a break from walking around? We've been at it for a while, and maybe you're just getting tired."
"What?" Indignant, Kendall denies, "I'm not tired- I feel fine. Take my temperature, check my pulse, whatever. I'm not tired."
"Yeah, Kendall doesn't get tired," James snarks from behind Logan, gaining more confidence against Kendall as it gradually becomes apparent that he doesn't know what he's doing- which is technically true, but that doesn't mean they should all be attacking each other. "He's the leader; he's always perfect."
Kendall fumes but bites his tongue, because obviously he's far from perfect, especially today, and the insinuation is like a punch to the gut. Bloody fists fly through his memory and his shoulders tremble with the thought of what he could have done, of what he did do. He looks at James now, sees the dark, brooding purple blossomed over the arch of his cheekbone, and cringes back, heart replaced with bricks that land heavily in his chest. His mouth has gone dry and his swallow is a scrape of his Adam's apple against the inside of his throat.
"Stop it," he says icily. "We can't fight."
James only laughs lightly but bitingly, finding strength in Kendall's weakness. "Too late for that, don't you think?"
"James, that's enough," Logan reprimands in a firm tone while Kendall feels a mallet in his stomach; it strikes at his middle and forces his insides to swirl up until he tastes bile and spits it out, despite his knowing that it's exactly what he shouldn't be doing.
"You think I meant to do that?" he seethes. "You actually think that I'd hurt one of my best friends on purpose?"
"Kend-" Logan attempts apprehensively, but James interrupts him like he's not even there, his body language closed off but his eyes full of fire and betrayal and, worst of all, fear.
"Whether you meant to or not, you still did it, which means I can't trust you- none of us should. If Logan hadn't stopped you, you could've- killed me!"
"I wouldn't have killed you!" Kendall argues, horrified.
"Well you wouldn't have punched me in the face an hour ago, but just look how that turned out!"
"Guys!" Logan interjects loudly and firmly, glaring between the two with lines of uneasiness hardening his features. His tone goes desperate and scared with his next words. "We can't fight; not now, not here. I don't think any of us are completely in our right minds right now, and it's this place- it's getting to us, getting inside our heads, and it wants us to turn on each other. As of right now? It's winning. So both of you need to just shut up and leave each other be, because- wait. Where's Carlos?"
Kendall feels his face drain of color and instantly whirls, searching vainly for the dark head of hair, the bright, questioning eyes, as James panics, "Wasn't he just here with us?"
"Carlos?" Logan calls out, hands shaking at his sides, elbows bent just a little to raise his hands in preparation for a yell. "Carlos, are you here?"
Kendall's heart is pounding rapidly in his chest, his throat constricting and no, no, this isn't- he can't- his voice quavers as he cries, "Carlos?"
"'M over here," comes a light answer, thankfully from not too far away, and Kendall nearly faints with relief; when he looks down at his hands, they're clammy and trembling.
"Where?" Logan calls back after a second; he looks like he's recovered from the initial scare for the most part, and Kendall feels weak. Carlos' voice floats back over to them, and it sounds like it's just on the other side of the wall, but it's distorted, scattering so that Kendall second-guesses himself.
"Over here," is the response. "Guys, I think- I think I found something; c'mere."
Not trusting his own judgement, Kendall lets Logan lead the way to the source, knees weak, James following on Logan's right- the opposite side from where Kendall walks. Kendall ducks his head and bites his lip, crossing his arms tight against his chest and tripping to keep up with Logan, who now almost runs down the stretch of the corridor, as if failing to run fast enough will result in Carlos' disappearing altogether.
When they round the next corner, Carlos is indeed there, not too far down the aisle. He's facing the wall to their left, the stones breaking to reveal a doorway, empty of any barrier. As soon as they catch up, Logan breathes, "Jesus, Carlos, you scared the shit out of us. Why would you..." He stops when he notices the doorway. "What's this?"
"I dunno..." Carlos answers slowly, as if in a trance. "You guys were all yelling so loud, and then I got the feeling I should come here and maybe you would stop... so I came... and you... stopped." He licks his lips. "It was really... nice."
"Uh..." Logan regards him closely, eyes darting between him and the doorway. Kendall cranes his neck to look around Logan and past the frame. Inside it looks just like a normal room in Griffin's building; brightly lit, both with florescent electricity and sunlight flooding in through the un-blinded window. After walking through the dark stone maze for so long, the sight is almost surreal to Kendall and he quickly steps back, breathing deeply through his nose.
"What do you think it is?" Carlos asks in wonder, eyes neglecting to leave the room before him; he stands directly in front of it. "Some kind of portal back to the real world?" When Kendall checks a second time, noting the thin blue shade of the sky, he concludes that in the room it's around the time of day it should be out there, the same weather, maybe even the same sweltry L.A. temperature. He breaks his gaze just as quickly, however, when he feels a strong sense of foreboding clutch firmly at the pit of his stomach. Uneasily he turns his gaze to Carlos, voicing his premonition.
"I think it's probably something we should leave alone." Carlos' eyebrows furrow.
"No, it... it called to me; it wanted me to find my way out; it was helping us."
"I don't think it's the way out," Logan agrees with Kendall, obviously sharing his apprehension. "I think we should leave." He reaches out to tug at Carlos' arm, but before he can make contact, Carlos jerks away, protesting.
"No, can't you see? It called me, Logan, why won't you believe me?" His voice pitches slightly in distress and Kendall tries to step in, but at that same moment, whether intentionally or not, James crosses his path, taking the place next to Carlos that Kendall was moving to occupy. He doesn't turn to acknowledge the offense; Kendall's arms lock more tightly into his chest.
"I believe you," Logan is trying to soothe, but he's got that telltale stunt in his tone that exposes the trepidation climbing across his mind. "I just think we should leave this alone; I've got a bad feeling about it."
"Why?" Carlos exclaims indignantly. "Because I found it? Because you don't trust me? You don't really believe me- you're just saying it." His lower lip sticks out, a sign that he's genuinely upset. Logan falters, mouth hanging open helplessly, a protest on his tongue; James rescues him.
"We trust you, buddy. We love you, we really do, but that room just doesn't feel... right."
"It doesn't," Logan furthers, shaking his head slowly. "Carlos, we need to go away from here." Again he reaches out for Carlos' arm, but again Carlos twitches out of reach.
"No!" He hits James, who stands on his other side. James catches him around the upper arm, Carlos struggling against him. Still he doesn't look away from the room, gaze locked on the eerie bright light that falls across his face, gleaming in his glazed eyes...
"Carlos," Kendall intervenes, taking a stumbling step forward, reaching out. He's hypnotized, he's like Logan, they need to break his gaze before everything goes haywire in the way he can almost taste happening right now. Carlos fights James' hold, cries out frantically when Logan adds his strength to the restraints.
"Guys, no, listen to me- we have to go in there, we have t-"
"His eyes," Kendall chokes out, hindered by uncertainty and anxiety. "Stop his eyes."
James throws a condemning look over Carlos' shoulder at him but Logan understands and a second later his hand falls over Carlos' eyes, covering them completely. Carlos thrashes against the hold, clenched fists and bent knees, but then he calms and slumps against Logan and James, who adjust themselves to support him. Logan hands him off to James, lifting his palm slightly to see beneath, then pulling it away altogether; Carlos' eyes are closed. Kendall breathes out shakily, prompting James and Logan to turn to look at him simultaneously.
"How did you know to do that?" Logan asks curiously. James watches his reaction with the same dark eyes that have been watching him since they entered the maze.
"It was the same in the room before, with you," Kendall answers, trying to avoid looking at James, eyes falling instead on Carlos. "He-" Suddenly Kendall's stomach drops. He exclaims urgently, referring to Carlos, but both Logan and James move too slowly. Carlos' eyes have shot open, glassy as before, and before any of them can react, he's broken from James' loosened, unsuspecting hold, and darted into the room beyond the doorway.
For a moment, everything is completely silent, Kendall tenses, dreading, faltering when nothing happens immediately. Carlos stands unharmed on the other side, staring back at them with wide, seemingly shocked eyes as they all stare back at him, mirroring his expression. Then his mouth turns up in a smug grin, eyes gloating and full.
"See? I told you there was nothing to worry about."
And in the moment it takes for Kendall to blink, he's gone, replaced by the solid, unbroken wall of damp, mortared stone.
. . .
He closes his eyes, screws them tightly shut in hopes of shutting out the monster, but all his efforts have done is invite it in as a struggling man invites quicksand to engulf him entirely.