Chapter Sixteen

If You Look In The Mirror And Don't Like What You See...

Ashton gestured towards the door of the abandoned store, and the Killjoys began standing, making their way to him. Once they were huddled together and ready, Ashton opened the door, stepping out first and peering into the street before waving for the rest to follow.

"Be quick," he quietly told them, crossing and then waiting for them to catch up, wincing in sympathy as he saw the two with crutches, glancing behind them and then continuing on, ushering them into the shadows whenever possible.

It was a miracle they didn't get lost, to be honest. It was obvious the city had been built how it was due to the large amount of people, but in any case, the way all the buildings, none of which were any smaller than a three-story parking garage, sort of connected with each other, leaving mere corridors winding between them and streets with very narrow sidewalks the only way to get from place to place—they hadn't any idea how anyone managed not to lose their bearings.

It was a terrifying thought by itself—getting lost some place they didn't know nor could find their way around alone—but what made it infinitely worse was that they had to remember they were no longer free like they had been in the Zones. Out there, at least at first, they hadn't had much of a fear of being caught. They could kiss whoever they wanted, say and do whatever they wanted—there were no longer laws preventing them from doing so. Now, though, they were again liable to be captured and turned in to BLI to be killed (or worse, as the four had already come to realize they were capable of) at any moment, and with all Ashton and Bell had said, about how much they had increased their guard...they were rightfully afraid.

Ashton did seem confident, however, and assured them several times he knew exactly where they were going, probably having spotted the apprehensive expressions on a few of them. He led them for around five minutes, their pace as fast as they could manage without seeming suspicious (though they only saw two people on the street, thankfully noticed by neither) before he finally stopped them, pointing at the apartment complex they'd arrived in front of. "Fifth floor—pretty damn lucky no one lives below me."

He held his hand out for them to enter, murmuring, "They've got an elevator," as the Doc and the limping two gave him a quizzical look when they passed.

He reached up to adjust his hat, recalled why it wasn't there, and then realized the one he'd given it to wasn't with the rest of them. He frowned and turned, seeing the red head had stopped further back, looking at the window of the store across from the complex. He had a hand on his cheek, and Ashton realized after a moment that he was looking at his reflection. Thank God the shop's closed, he thought flatly, and then suddenly looked around, fully acknowledging how dangerous this entire thing was, and while he knew the Killjoy must've realized that, too, he still didn't move. God, if someone came by now—Ashton couldn't have thought of a more absurd reason for them all to get caught. "Hey," he called quietly, his tone slightly acerbic without him being aware of it, "You know, people do live here, and they are eventually going to come out!"

Gerard slowly turned away from the glass, appearing dazed, and then blinked hard, rejoining the group.

"All right," Ashton began, closing the door behind them, nervously scanning the small, empty lobby and then turning to the others. "The stairs are there; door five." He gestured towards the three that couldn't use them and then stepped towards the elevator as the rest headed to the stairwell.

Ashton glanced back to subtly nod at Bell. "Make sure they don't get caught. Please?"

Bell looked at him with a slight smile and then went off as they climbed into the elevator. "Door five," she called up softly, her voice echoing a bit, and someone bitterly snapped, "We heard."

She rolled her eyes, immediately believing it had been the red head until she realized he was right in front of her, silent, his head lowered. "…You okay?" she asked hesitantly, and he shrugged without much enthusiasm. "Fine."

She said nothing else, watching as Frank glanced back and stopped, waiting for Gerard to catch up and then gently taking his hand, stopping him for a moment, quickly standing on the tips of his toes to whisper something into his ear and then giving it a kiss before he pulled back. Bell couldn't see, but Gerard must have smiled because Frank immediately did as well, turning and gently tugging on the older's arm as they continued.

Once they'd reached the door, Bell sped up her pace to get in front of them all, edging it open and assuring the hall was empty before stepping out and whispering, "Ash!"

Ashton leaned out from behind the opposite wall next to his door a little ways down, smiling at her like sneaking them all in was entirely normal. "Comin'?"

Bell let out a sigh and rolled her eyes, stepping forward to allow the Killjoys to go, moving her gaze from one side of the hall to the other and back again. Then at last she was able to get inside and close the door behind her, leaning against the wood and letting out a breath of relief. She blinked at the group, noticing how intrigued they were as they looked around.

Right, they've been living in the desert this whole time.

She had to admit, it was an impressive place. It had four bedrooms—unnecessarily of course, as he was the only who really lived there—and a large living room connected to a nicely sized kitchen, leaving it obvious the man was very well off on terms of money, or at least better than many.

"Sorry," Ashton mumbled, kicking something under the couch and rubbing the back of his neck. "It's sorta…shitty. I wasn't planning on anyone but the friend I mentioned coming over."

"God, no, it's—fine!" Rejection managed, eyes as wide as the others. She honestly could not remember the last time she—or any of them, for that matter—had thought or talked about being in an actual house. Or else, if they had, the only images that came to mind were of the places they'd stayed at in the Zones—warehouses, old stores and such—never anything like this. The longer they'd been out of Battery City, the more distant the memories of their original homes were.

"Whoa," Moon breathed, smiling, and then her expression returned to serious as she faced Ashton, almost like she thought that showing she was amazed wasn't something she should do. "You're really nice for doing this. Thank you."

The others either nodded or also thanked him, and the man chuckled softly, holding a hand up. "No worries," he insisted, glancing at the Doc. "Really. It must've been at least a little hard getting in here, I mean...I feel like I owe you just for managing it without getting caught. We might just have a chance now." He looked at Gerard for a moment, and then Frank beside him, and the other two on the couch. "And for you guys getting away...with everyone thinking you're dead...when you end up planning something, you've already got something against 'em."

Gerard nodded weakly, holding Frank's hand tighter. What, did the man think they were somehow heroes for running away? People to be looked up to because they'd survived the shit they'd been forced through? "Yeah..." he mumbled, the mere thought of going back up against them frightening. He couldn't do that again. No matter what they did, no matter how hard they fought, one or more of them was inevitably going to die. And he just couldn't be responsible for causing that. He couldn't handle anymore guilt than he already had about Missile Kid, about Rejection's brother, about everyone they'd lost. It didn't seem to matter if he hadn't even been there to help them anymore—he felt it was his fault and despite trying to convince himself otherwise, that feeling remained, and he truly had begun to wonder if that was something he was simply going to have to live with for the rest of his life.

The door suddenly opened, causing half of them to yelp and jump back, expecting everything to be over in that very instant. But it wasn't a BLI agent standing in the doorway; instead, it was another guy somewhere around thirty, just as surprised to see them as they were of him, reaching up to push his thick, dark, shoulder-length hair out of his face, raising an eyebrow. "Ah, hey?"

"Bert…" Ashton sounded like he was attempting to explain to him it was the worst possible time for him to come by with only the one word.

"Didn't know you were this popular," Bert joked, glancing around at the group of Killjoys.

"Um…" Ashton cleared his throat and then shook his head, grabbing his arm and pulling him further into the apartment so he could shut the door, this time locking it. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Bert laughed, unaffected by his tone. "Good to see you, too."

"I'm not kidding. You said you'd be over later. I'd be at work, now, anyway."

"I know where you hide your key." Bert smirked, and then held up the suitcase he'd been holding. It was a long, rectangular shape, and his grunt of effort indicated it was as heavy as it looked. "I brought the b—"

"Great!" Ashton hissed through clenched teeth, and yet Bert only continued through his interruption. "—the bass; where d'ya want it?"

Ashton put a hand to his forehead and heaved a sigh.

"A bass?" Candy asked, interested immediately. "Like…a real one?"

"One of the last ones in the whole city, if I'm not mistaken," Bert stated proudly, moving to lift the case higher and failing, allowing the side to touch the ground again.

"I thought music wasn't allowed?" Rejection said, frowning, and Bert smiled at her. "I still managed to hide it. My dad used to own a music shop. I even played in a band before the fires." He chuckled at the memory. "It was fuckin' awesome. Anyway, Ash's been collecting 'em or something, I—"

"I'm not collecting them!" Ashton insisted, irritated. "I…I just like having them."

Bert made eye contact with Gerard and smiled, nonchalantly looking him over as he spoke to Ashton. "Whatever you call it. I think it's kinda cute."

Gerard shifted his weight and glanced away almost nervously, while Frank's eyes narrowed and he put an arm around the older's waist, having caught the gaze, shooting the newcomer a warning glare to back the fuck off if he'd meant anything by it.

Unfazed, Bert turned to Ashton again as he approached, handing over the case. "All yours."

"And I don't have a bass yet," Ashton said. "I wouldn't have asked if I did."

"He's even got a little—oh!"

Ashton smiled as he released the case back into the other's hands, almost bringing him to his knees, and turned to the others himself. "I made one of my rooms soundproof, okay? Hell."

"I didn't know you played anything," Dr. D said, amused by the fact he seemed uncomfortable speaking about it.

"There really isn't a point telling anyone you have talent in the Zones."

"Zones?" Bert echoed, and then gasped, eyes wide in interest. "You're Killjoys?"

"Say it louder," Bullet snapped, "I think BLI had trouble hearing you!"

Bert clenched his teeth and murmured, "Sorry. It's just…no one's seen Killjoys in…shit, I can't even think of how long." He frowned. "Why the hell would you want to stay here? And how'd you even get in?"

"Please," Ashton murmured, taking the case from him again, "never talk about any of this other than here."

"Why would I—"

"Don't act like you don't know what I mean," Ashton snapped. The kid had a big mouth he never seemed to understand how to keep closed. "Shut it when you're not here. Got it?"

"Yeah," he said, and Ashton nodded. "Good. Now, if you wanna stay, that's cool, but I've gotta go." He moved towards the back for a moment, setting the case inside a room before closing the door and facing them all again. "Please…don't leave." He winced, clearly worried about agreeing to what he had. "I'll be back this afternoon. There's food 'n stuff in the kitchen, help yourselves."

He looked at Bell, who he stepped past and subtly mumbled a few words to without leaning towards her at all, then went to the door, this time glaring at Bert. "Keep. The door. Locked." he ordered, separating the words for emphasis, and Bert held his hands up like he was surrendering.

Ashton eyed him a moment more and then jerked it open, shutting it and then awaiting the click of the lock before he left.

Bert turned to the Killjoys again, pursing his lips. "So…"

Bullet rolled his eyes, briefly looked at Rejection, shrugged, and then walked into the kitchen, and after a slight hesitation, Justice, Cat, Wire, and the rest besides Mikey, Ray, and Dr. D followed.

"W-we can trust him," Mikey slowly began, "right?"

Dr. D looked at him seriously. "I have before. And I still do."

Like that was all the blonde needed to hear, he stood and limped off, Ray and the Doc closely behind.

Bert sauntered casually over to where Gerard was leaning against the wall, staring at the floor in thought, keeping his head lowered as Bert approached. "I've heard of you," he murmured, eyeing his vividly colored hair. "You were on the news a while ago…Poison, right? Party Poison?"

Gerard swallowed hard and nodded.

"You're pretty famous," Bert continued, his voice even lower. "Their leader, right?"

Was. Gerard frowned and then cleared his throat, seeming to gain a bit of confidence. "Yeah, I am," he said, lifting his gaze and jerking back as he realized how close the older was to him, letting out a sharp breath when he only hit the wall instead of getting any further away from him.

"I heard you were dead," Bert said softly, frowning, ignoring the Killjoy's discomfort if he noticed. "Glad that's not true."

"Yeah," Gerard mumbled, wincing, looking towards the kitchen.

"You got a plan 'r somethin'?"

"Stay hidden and alive," Gerard whispered absentmindedly, stepping past him to join the others.

Bert smirked and shrugged. "Cool," he said carelessly, moving off to sit in the living room.

Once the Killjoys had successfully rid themselves of the hunger pangs they'd been feeling, they settled down, relieved they didn't have to solely focus on assuring they weren't caught—it was quite comforting, really. With the thick, dark curtains to all the windows pulled shut, no one below them to hear the innumerable amount of footsteps, and the door locked, it felt...safe, something they weren't used to in the least.

"So," Bert began after a long while of silence, "why did you guys come here?"

No one answered for a moment, and then Bullet spoke up with his perpetually sarcastic voice. "'Cause we just really love having to hide from a company who wants us dead in their own damn city."

Show Pony gave him a look, and he rolled his eyes, crossing his arms and leaning back against the wall he was standing beside.

Skye sweetly corrected the younger Killjoy. "We didn't have a choice."

"What about that one city? The one I've heard about…" Bert trailed off, trying to remember, not seeing how practically all of them solemnly looked away. "…Battery City, right?"

"Battery's gone." Ray murmured when no one else did.

"What do you mean, like—"

"Like gone gone," Bullet said austerely. "As in, BLI destroyed it."

Bert seemed startled, his tone for once anything but condescending. "I'm—I didn't know. Sorry."

Bullet shrugged, glancing at the ground and quietly clearing his throat, more caring of it than he would ever admit.

"Shit," Bert mumbled, reaching up to rub the back of his neck. "Are you guys planning on getting 'em back for it?" He sat up straight as he got no response, clasping his hands over his knee. "You are gonna do something about them, aren't you?"

Several of the Killjoys exchanged glances of uncertainty, and then DJ cleared her throat. "We haven't thought much about it, really…"

"Why not?"

"Because we almost died last week," Rainbow murmured softly. "It's not that we weren't…or aren't…but we haven't got anything planned right now."

Bert chuckled humorlessly. "That's exactly what my old…friends used to say. We always were gonna do something, but…" he sighed. "It's not even that I care about them, they can do whatever the hell they want. Fighting back is just so fucking out there that the people who aren't on meds joke about it. I don't know…just…I would love to see someone actually try to take them down."

It was silent for a long minute or so, and then Gerard shifted slightly, trying not to bother Frank, who was leaning against his arm, asleep. He'd been unsuccessful in his attempts to rest much the night before, plagued by the repetitive nightmares, and the red head felt terrible he was unable to do anything to stop them, comforting his boyfriend whenever possible, as it seemed to at least ease his stress when he was around.

"We, ah," he began cautiously, feeling the need to speak up and defend how pointless they sounded right now, "we never said we wouldn't."

Bert looked at him with a small smile. "Sorry, didn't mean to be an ass about it. I…never mind. Forget I mentioned anything, actually."

He stood and swiftly walked into the kitchen, disappearing for a short time as a few cabinets opened and then a glass clinked.

Gerard watched him intently as he returned, holding a glass of clear liquid, and then settled back down in the chair he'd been in, heaving a sigh. "Anyway," he mumbled, taking a drink and not continuing. He noticed the red head staring at him after a moment, trying to figure out if what he had was alcohol or not, and he gestured towards the kitchen with the glass. "Want some?"

Lowering his gaze as several of the Killjoys looked at him, Gerard slipped an arm around Frank's waist and quietly murmured, "No."

Bert shrugged and leaned back, bringing the glass back to his lips, smirking just a bit as he caught the red-haired Killjoy subtly looking at him again out of the corner of his eyes.


"I can't."

Ashton sighed and set the small box of black hair dye on the counter, looking at Gerard seriously. "You'd rather risk getting all of us caught?"

Gerard shook his head slowly; he knew the man was only trying to assure none of them were noticed. He'd not only managed to get enough hair dye for the ones who had brightly colored theirs, but had even found different pairs of clothes for them to rid the colors.

They had all decided that, for now, until they had all fully regained their health and figured out what to do, they were to blend in as much as possible. Ashton had already agreed to allow them to stay in his apartment, as long as they complied with whatever he told them to do. As in, they had to be as subtle as they could, not leave the house unless they were sure they had no colors or anything else that would bring attention to them on, and whatever else they had to do to guarantee neither them nor Ashton would be caught.

And that of course included them ridding their hair of all color.

"Not everyone in the city has black hair."

"No one has bright red hair." Ashton replied smoothly. "I could hardly find this, or else I would've gotten the color you wanted."

Gerard frowned at the bitter sarcasm. "I don't care about that, I just—" he cut off, blushing as he became aware of how childish he sounded, and Ashton held out the box again, clearly believing the Killjoy's hesitance meant he'd won.

The red head stared at it in irritation, and then Frank slowly came up to them, gently taking the dye and stepping in front of his love. "It's okay," he said, and Gerard shook his head again, whirling around and going into the bathroom.

Frank glanced at Ashton and shrugged before following him and quietly shutting the door behind him, placing the box on the counter and then frowning as he saw Gerard sitting on the edge of the bathtub, his hands in his hair, looking at the ground.

"What's wrong?" he asked, going over to stand beside him, not receiving an answer. "It's not…look, all the others are gonna do it, too. He's just trying to make sure we don't get caught! I mean…" he glanced at his vivid hair. "It is pretty fucking noticeable."

"…Don't understand…" Gerard mumbled.

Frank's frown deepened. "Gee, it's not that big of a—"

"It is, Frank!" Gerard exclaimed, raising his head to glare at him. "It's the last fucking thing I have against BLI!"

Confused, Frank tilted his head. "What?"

"It's all I have left that shows I'm a Killjoy!" He realized Frank still didn't get it, and he lowered his head again. "Fuck it."

"You're still a Killjoy, Gee—"

"Am I?" the red head murmured, barely audible.

Frank bit his lip, sitting next to him and wrapping his arms around his waist. "Yes." he said. "Yes, you are, okay? You're our leader, Party. Don't ever think that we don't—that I don't—look up to you because of what happened." He paused for a moment. "Anything that happened."

Gerard winced and shook his head, and Frank reached up, using two fingers to lift his chin and cause their gazes to meet. "You're still a Killjoy. You're still our leader. It doesn't matter what you look like, okay? And this way it'll be even easier to plan something without being seen."

He smiled slightly. "Everyone thinks we're dead. When we find out what we're doing, that's really gonna be helpful."

Gerard's hazel-green eyes darted away for a moment and then returned. "Okay." He paused and took a breath, beginning to pull away, and then Frank kissed him, tightening his grip like he didn't want him to leave.

The red head tensed and then jerked him closer after a moment in longing. He couldn't quite feel anything again, but he knew what should have been there, and he ignored the numbness, wanting nothing more than to be embraced by his love for now. It made him feel safe and not as worthless as he knew he was.

At last having to stop for air, Gerard smiled and pressed his forehead against Frank's. "I love you."

"I love you, too." Frank breathed, gently placing his hands on his boyfriend's hips. "So much."

Gerard shivered vaguely and then leaned to kiss him again, his fingers ever-so-slightly trailing the sides of the younger's jeans. Frank gave a very short, quiet moan and hooked his leg around the red head's, wrapping his arms around him again as they broke away and nestling his head against his chest, taking a deep breath.

"I'm sorry."

Frank frowned without moving, too comfortable and engrossed with listening to the slow rhythm of his heart. "For what?"

Kissing the top of his head, Gerard sighed softly. "Everything. Just…fucking everything, Frankie, I'm so sorry."

"Nothing that happened was your fault." Frank replied, shifting enough to tilt his chin up and look at him as the older tenderly rubbed his back without replying, clearly thinking the opposite. "It isn't, Gee."

"Okay." Gerard said again, sounding like he was just agreeing to move on from the subject, and Frank abruptly pulled back, putting his arms on his shoulders and forcing him to look directly at him, noting how surprised he became at the sudden actions. "It wasn't your fault. You know that, right?"

Gerard gave a small, very weak smile. "Sure." he nodded, and then before the younger could say another word, he kissed him again, an action that was more so he wouldn't continue than anything else, relieved when he didn't protest.

Frank slowly released him until he was merely gripping his shirt, unsure why he was itching to remove it. Where was he expecting this to go, exactly? He wanted nothing to do with anything even close to what had been forced on them before—it was far too soon for the both of them. But he had a sudden desperate urge to further the actions occurring now, even if only somewhat. He felt too happy, too good right now for it to stop yet. And it wasn't anyone else—it was Gerard, whom he loved more than anyone else he'd ever met. And he'd have to take it off to dye his hair, anyway…

He risked it as they once again paused, their lips still nearly touching, starting to lift Gerard's shirt, and at once the older flinched away. "No!" he whispered urgently, and Frank stood, excitement vanished, horrified he'd done anything. "Gee, I'm so sorry…" he began.

Gerard bit his lip and shook his head. "It—it wasn't…I just…"

Frank's cheeks tinged red in discomfort. "Sorry," he repeated softly, and then turned and fumbled with the door, going out before Gerard could stop him and closing it behind him.

"Shit, Frankie…" Gerard mumbled dejectedly, inwardly cursing himself for reacting so suddenly. He knew what Frank thought the reason for that was, and felt terrible he couldn't explain to him what he'd really been afraid of.

He looked over at the box of dye and sighed, grabbing it and beginning to read over the directions, though had done it enough times to know how to do it by heart, trying to stall what he knew had to happen eventually. He then pulled his shirt over his head, wincing as he finally looked in the mirror on the back of the door. He'd almost believed the window he'd been staring at before had somehow been wrong, but now he only saw it clearer.

His face was littered with bruises, faded and not so faded, and cuts that were either healing still or gone with a noticeable mark. What he saw first was the gash just above his eyebrow from getting hit with the gun, followed by the discoloration of his cheeks due to being struck so often, and then the fact that he had visably lost a little bit of weight, something he'd noticed about the others, as well.

He looked fucking awful; that was his one and only conclusion.

He cringed as the memory of each and every strike he'd received in the chair came back to him in a flash, and placed a hand on the sink beside him for support, now eyeing the inch long cut on the left side of his stomach. It was far too obvious it hadn't happened a week ago like the others, at such an angle that it was also clear no one had done it to him. It wasn't deep—he'd only just drawn blood. And it wasn't too recent, as he'd done it just before they'd met Bell and Elise. He just simply wasn't willing to allow Frank or anyone else for that matter to see, understand, and realize how low he'd gone. Them believing the second time had been from tripping was perfectly all right with him.

He ran a hand through his red hair a final time; the last part of him that was rebelling against the shitty company—the last part of Party Poison he could see.

Biting his lip and heaving another sigh, he opened the package and dumped the contents onto the counter before he lost the will to do so.

Nearly two hours of uneasily coloring and washing his hair later, Gerard emerged slowly from the little room, his now jet-black hair dripping slightly darker than usual water onto his shirt.

Immediately the Killjoys ceased talking and turned to look at him, offering encouraging smiles, except for Frank, who only continued staring at the floor, uncomfortably chewing on his bottom lip like he was afraid he would upset someone by raising his gaze.

Gerard tugged on his collar, feeling as if it were choking him, and then walked into the kitchen, sitting at the table, grateful for the wall now separating their stares from him.

He flinched as a hand touched his hair from behind, jerking away and turning to see Bert frowning at him. "What? It looks nice," he said, reaching out again, and Gerard leaned back. "Don't," he said sternly, and Bert rolled his eyes, obeying with a chuckle. "Jesus. You ever chill out?"

"When…" Gerard trailed off his retort as he realized Bert's words had been a bit slurred, noticing the glass in his hand was full again. "You're drunk," he murmured.

"No." Bert smirked. "Not really." He turned to the counter and grabbed a different glass, tipping the tall, skinny bottle of alcohol on the counter over it and filling it nearly to the brim before setting it down in front of the younger. "Drink. You fucking need it."

Gerard stared at the liquid, uncertain. Maybe he did need to simply relax—it was only one glass, anyway; what was the harm in that?

No. He'd already stooped to a level he'd never thought he would by hurting himself; he didn't need anything else on his conscience, too.

Bert took the seat next to him. "Like you don't want to. You look like you're gonna cry."

Gerard lowered his head, ashamed he was allowing his emotions to be seen.

The older shrugged. "Whatever. You like being stressed, go for it. Have fun."

He stood and exited Gerard's line of vision, and the now black-haired Killjoy began staring at the glass again.

Don't need it…

Almost quicker than he knew what he was doing, he'd reached out and grabbed the cup, bringing it to his lips and downing the contents, wincing at the taste and covering his mouth when he'd finished, the burning in his throat nearly too much for him to handle.

He felt a hand on his shoulder, and he stood, almost dropping the glass, scowling at Bert, who only kept smirking.

"Don't touch me," Gerard clarified, his voice hoarse.

Bert held his hands up. "Sorry," he giggled, and then pointed at the glass. "You need a hell of a lot more, seriously…"

Gerard looked away and sighed, turning, hating the fact he'd drank it at all, unable to shake the feeling that Bert was still watching him with that smug grin on his face, like he was somehow proud of pressuring him into doing what he had.

'Excellent, Way.'

Gerard flinched, feeling his entire being tense up as the hated voice resonated in his mind, and he glanced at the bottle on the counter.

Bert was pointing at the empty glass in his hand a moment later, and Gerard frowned, hesitant, unsure. Then he turned and set it down, pouring more of the liquid into it and leaning back against the counter, lifting it and cautiously sipping as to not choke again.

Bert smirked and took another drink of his own, gesturing at the Killjoy. "Feel better?"

Gerard waited a moment, feeling no different. He'd of course never actually had any alcohol before, but he'd expected at least something to happen. Did it take longer? Or…was he simply numb to this, too?

The thought frightened him terribly, and he quickly consumed the rest of the glass, setting it on the table and waiting for it to ease his anxiety, so desperate for it to work that after a moment he truly believed it did, uncertain whether it was merely his mind playing tricks on him or not. He still looked up, not quite smiling and giving a small shrug.

"Yeah, sure…I guess it does."