BUT FIRST, THE WARNINGS:

This is a NaNoWriMo book. As such, it is full of typos, transpositions, inconsistencies, plot holes and other ridiculous mistakes.

This story will have slash.

Lastly, this is book two of a triology. Book One, Traitors, is about Hanna and …, and can be found here: .com/kream_#cutid1. Book Three is as yet unpublished. You, dear reader, may never have all the answers you seek.

Now. Continue at your own risk.

THE PAST

/LAMONT/

Lamont Toucey leaned against the open window of his 1970 Chevrolet pickup truck, letting the night wind play through his thick black hair. The spring was warmer lately, downright balmy sometimes, and he sang along loudly to Offspring's "Self Esteem" for no other reason than he was twenty-three and he could. The road was moonless and empty, a seldom-used stretch of cracked highway that ran past the rear of the university and across the levee, down toward the suburbs. He had an appointment there, and if he was lucky, it was something big. After all that time pandering to the woman who'd let him into the business in the first place, he was getting that one chance he needed to really show what he could do. He gunned it, listening with satisfaction to the answering rumble of the engine as the truck leapt forward, tires humming on the asphalt.

He didn't see the man stumbling into the road until it was almost too late.

The brakes screeched, tires laying down an inch of rubber as Lamont swerved into the other lane and off the road, fishtailing to a stop in the scrubby brush that lined the shoulder. Heart pounding, he held onto the steering wheel with both hands.

"Did I hit him?" He checked the rear-view mirror, but there was nothing there. "Oh God fucking shit, did I hit him?"

He shut the engine off and grabbed his Maglite before throwing the door open. He ran around the truck, and suddenly stopped. The drunk-ass homeless guy that had decided being fifteen miles from anything on an unlit stretch of backwater pavement was a brilliant idea was staggering up from the other side of the road, apparently unhurt enough that he could move his legs.

"HEY! FUCKFACE!" Relieved and scared, adrenaline still singing in his blood, Lamont marched toward the man, who was doing his best to resume his stumble along the weedy shoulder. "HEY! I'm talking to you, asshole!"

There was no answer. He ran the last few steps, grabbed the man's shoulder and spun him around – and his jaw dropped.

"Luce?"

The other man blinked at the name, and Lamont gaped at his best friend, surprise and anger warring over which would speak first. "What – what the fuck are you doing out here?"

Luce just stared. His blue eyes were too wide, and there was a smear of something dark on his cheek that had caked in his blond hair. His short-sleeved button-up was untucked and partly open, and it, too, was dirty.

"Luce," Lamont tried again, and something flickered across his friend's face. The first thread of genuine worry slid into Lamont's guts. He took hold of Luce's skinny arm, frowning at the tremor that ran through it. "Hey. Can you hear me? Luce, you're missing a shoe, man. What happened?"

At that, Luce looked down, his expression mystified as though his feet were a million miles away, and not at all connected to his body. "… guess I am," he murmured, his Australian accent – or was it something else? – slurring the words. "Sorry."

"Don't apologize, Jesus Christ." Lamont giggled. This was insane, but maybe it wasn't so bad. Luce could talk, which was good, if "good" meant Luce wasn't catatonic, that someone was home even if all the rooms in the house weren't lit. He was alive, and, despite being dirty, he looked mostly in all right. "Okay, fine. Just tell me what happened."

Luce didn't answer.

Lamont tried to meet his friend's eyes, squeezing his arm to get his attention. "Luce. Tell me what happened, man."

Still his friend said nothing, and Lamont dropped Luce's arm. Anger began to pull ahead in his derby of emotions, and he suddenly thumped Luce on the chest with the Maglite. "Hey, I'm talking to you! What the fuck are you out here for? This some kind of dare? I almost killed you, you shithead!"

"I –"

"You said no drugs while you were at school. You promised! Fuck you if you – "

"I'm not on drugs!" Luce snapped suddenly, shoving at the flashlight. "I was…"

Lamont waited, but when Luce stayed silent, he shook his head, making a rude noise. Laughter trickled out again, though he didn't want it to. He always laughed when he was uncomfortable, it was stupid. "You're saying you're not high? You expect me to believe that?"

"B'lieve whatcha want. I gotta go."

"Go where?" It had to be drugs. Luce didn't act like this most of the time, all vacant and shaking. But then, Luce had promised, and Luce didn't lie, not to him. They were rough on each other, but they didn't lie. If Luce said no drugs, Lamont had to believe him. But this was fucking crazy, and he couldn't just leave the guy on the road all alone and – and whatever he was. "Hahaha, y'know what, I don't care. I have a job, and you don't have a fucking shoe. Let's just get you back to school –" He took hold of Luce's arm, but the man yanked it back, startling them both.

"No! Fuck no! I'm not goin' back!"

"What? Hey, haha, it's me, Lamont, okay? Don't freak out on me."

Luce's eyes were suddenly wild again, the whites showing. "Fuck you!"

It was dark, and he was late. He had a customer waiting. He had to get back to his job, and he had no idea what was going on. Exasperated, unsure what to think, he said, "Luce, you can't just leave med school, they don't like that –"

"I don' care what they like! They can shove their school up their collective arses!" His friend took a step back, then another, middle finger in the air. "If ya come one inch closer, I'm gonna fuckin' kick yer pussy ass –"

Luce went down after one hit to the jaw, collapsing like a sack of bricks. Lamont picked him up, draping him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry, and dumped him in the cab of the truck. This was familiar ground, too, except for one thing: the hit.

Luce never went down after one hit.

It was that, more than anything, really, that told Lamont something was seriously wrong.