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I'm Laughing. I'm Crying. It Feels Like I'm Dying.
"No, not really. I saw Nadia wake up, heard her talk, and that's all I could take."

Her words, probably the last time he'd ever hear her voice, were burnt into his mind so completely he could repeat them verbatim. Was that selfish? As soon as she'd finished her speech Roderick had turned off the stream and spent the day shut up in his room. For the first time in his life he'd actually missed a workout. Pretty much the opposite of what she'd said to do but what the hell. How could anyone feel like training at a time like this?

The air was so heavy it pinned him into his seat and Rochelle's work at the cutting boards, a few seconds long so far, turned into an hours-long ordeal in his mind. His breath came like training camps at Flagstaff, where he used the elevation to increase his endurance and lung capacity.

"I'll... I'll be okay. Probably. More worried about you guys."

It wasn't his own flesh and blood out on that island, after all. Boyfriend or not, who was he to put his woes on her shoulders, when she was probably suffering so much?


He continued to stare, idly wishing his gaze could burn right through Danny. But that wasn't right. On principle he wasn't saying anything Crisanto necessarily disagreed with. What was Tina now? Worm food. An idea, at best. Drawings never to be completed, barren deserts on the walls of Cochise. A memory carried on the wind and in all the spaces she wasn't. Hadn't he and Danny smoked and talked about death in general in those exact terms? Bonded in the past about worthless it all was and thus they had no reason not to just enjoy whatever pleasures - drugs, sex, the rush of endorphins from exercise on Crisanto's part - they could get?

It was so much harder to say that when death was looking you right in the face with its hollow eyes, standing in the space somebody you knew was supposed to be. Half the people Crisanto actually gave a shit about in this city were on that bus. His hands kept opening and closing.

This was Tina's chair, but she probably would've been okay with him sitting in it. She just wasn't here to ask. Never would be.

"I get where you're coming from, but don't talk about her like it doesn't matter."

Sometimes when we reach for the stars...
What a strange look to give him in response to a bit of encouragement. Roderick met Latanna's gaze with calm, slightly befuddled dignity, no real steel in his expression but presenting a mountain unwilling to bend before the wind. Whatever, a corner of his mind whispered. Latanna was an odd one even during the times she managed to be all right.

She'd moved on in the space of a thought and Roderick internally shrugged. One day he'd have her figured out but maybe it wasn't today. Olivia remained silent, whatever her own private reasons, which meant it was his job to fill the gap left by Latanna's question.

The essay. Right. The other day he'd had to go to a different classmate hat in hand and confess that, in all the excitement caused by the upcoming tournament, he'd forgotten what the essay was actually supposed to be about. Or when it was due. He'd recovered decently at least, and the evidence was in a little yellow folder he fished from his backpack and delicately placed before him.

"I've a few. Already wrote up an outline for mine and everything."

"We both know better than that. Don't talk bullshit."

A little flicker of fire danced across his heart and then faded. Cris became ever so briefly aware of the blood rushing through his veins and how much the thicket of dark stubble along his jaw itched before the numbness set back in. Embers remained, little sparks shooting out from the blackness in the pit of his stomach and along his nerves. He'd heard Tina's words, he'd seen her drawings, the two men in this room were among the only people on Earth she ever really opened up to, and now Danny was joking? Who was he?

That little fleck of apathy and possibly contempt sailed through the air and into Crisanto's ear and one instant Cris was leaning against the wall the next he'd crossed the room and before he was consciously aware of it he dropped down onto the closest seat to Danny. It shifted a little under his weight and he stared right at his distant cousin the whole time. He could hear his own heartbeat, distantly.

"You're talking about our own family. How about you try to remember that?"

I'm Laughing. I'm Crying. It Feels Like I'm Dying.
"I'm good, but thanks for offering."

Roderick hadn't eaten in two days. He knew that because his stomach was in open revolt, used to disciplined portion control year-round because off-season competition was a thing but not to nothing. It just didn't feel right to impose, even when Rochelle had offered, even when he had in fact eaten in this kitchen before. Hell, he'd cooked food in here too, occasionally; he could probably pinpoint where all the spices and ingredients he liked were with his eyes closed. He gave himself a moment to contemplate, the wood of the chair-back against his spine centring him a little. Water flowed over his lips and down his throat and tasted like acid but it went down all the same.

His eyes followed Rochelle, noticed the ragged look, the rushing to and fro, the tripping over herself to play host. After a minute he reconsidered. Let her have this, Roderick.

"Actually, yeah, I think I'll have some cheese. If it's no trouble."

Crackers had too much salt. Chips? Forget it.

I'm Laughing. I'm Crying. It Feels Like I'm Dying.

The word weighed ten thousand pounds and the Arizona heat he used to find so comforting tore at his flesh and soul. How funny that he'd accepted Stanford's offer at last before that fateful trip and now just wanted to run away to somewhere very, very cold.

He glanced around as if checking for snipers, before looking to Rochelle. Poor Rochelle, it must be even worse for her. They had agreed on him coming over to talk but now words were too heavy in his throat and he choked on each one.

"Mind if I come in?"

William "Will" McKinley
I'm withdrawing my bid. A world ruled by Trump is not one where writing stories is worthwhile.

William "Will" McKinley

"She's holding up as well as you'd think."

Which was to say, not. The image still burnt in his retinas and churned his stomach and Tina was only his cousin, not his daughter. The pain was unimaginable and the sounds of grief carried in the Arizona air and kept him awake at night no matter where on the compound he was. Maggie's horror and anguish beat down on his shoulders like the fist of God and Crisanto could barely even go near her without feeling his soul knocked to the canvas. In the end she'd approached him to go see Danny, not the other way around. Crisanto had just nodded and gone without the ability to even muster a word.

Funny that she could be going through what no parent ever should and still be thinking about Danny's well being. Danny, of all people. The one who was always ragging on Tina when Crisanto was here, the one who seemed to not have a world beyond this basement room and his stash, the irony of that thought not at all lost on Crisanto himself. Would she have been how she was without Danny's influence? Who knew? She wasn't anything now. Maybe without this guy around, she would have gone down a different path and wouldn't have been on that bus. Crazy talk but crazy talk for crazy times.

The disinterest in Danny's voice raised one of Crisanto's eyebrows but he'd ignored it. Then the mumble, the snide little comment rolling off Danny's oil slick of a tongue.

The air in the room instantly changed from "summer in Arizona" to "winter in Alaska". He stared even knowing Danny probably wouldn't look back at him.

"Show some respect."

"I guess you want some of whatever's left of the supply. Help yourself man."

"No." It was a few seconds, some of them spent pondering if Danny's assumption counted as rude, before Cris remembered basic manners. "But thank you."

"It's, uh, been a while. Hasn't it."

"Yes. Maggie asked me to check on-"

The computer screen faced Danny's door and Crisanto was used to not looking directly at it out of respect for privacy but for just a second he got a full view of what was on it and that was enough. His feet launched him backwards as quickly as he'd stepped into the room but at an angle. 170-some pounds slammed into the doorframe with a thud as if Crisanto had swung his bat at it. There would be a slight bruise later.

Tina. Poor Tina, never given enough credit. Reduced to a number and a lump of decaying meat. He wasn't watching but Grandfather was and anything the Luz patriarch witnessed the whole clan soon knew about but Crisanto hadn't wanted to see. Acid kissed the lining of his throat, slowly creeping up the oesophagus like vines along an ancient wall. Even with his eyes shut he saw blood and sinew and the cold numeric designation. As if his cousin were some kind of lab animal.

He had never, ever wanted to see. Not her, not any of them. Some called it cold. He called it the only reaction that wasn't. He stood there breathing shallow breaths for a long moment before he could pretend at composure, squinting his eyes to see Danny without seeing the cousin that no longer existed.

"...Yeah. She wanted somebody to come check on you, so here I am."

The world continued to move without his permission. He'd not left his room in days. He'd not left the Luz estate in weeks. He'd broken one of his few rules and the only outfit he wore around the home stank of weed but he changed into something cleaner for this.

Check on Danny, they said. We haven't seen him in weeks, they said.

Yeah. Okay. He was dust just like all of the kids who'd disappeared anyway, he just happened to still be walking around. He knew the way, went without consciously going, wind slapping at his face and his hair and the summer sun caressing his skin and Kingman fading away into a white blur around him.

The world was nothing. Ben was nothing as they exchanged pleasantries and he said why he was there and went down the stairs to where he knew he'd find Danny.

Knock. Knock.

Crisanto almost made it sound like he cared if the door was answered or not.

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