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A garrote is a weapon made from any type of various materials, from scarves to piano wires and everything in between. It is a tool used for choking, strangling or cutting through a victim, though victim isn't always the word one would use in these specific scenarios.

Whomever chooses to use a garrote as their weapon of choice would, of course, need to be someone strong, capable and precise. Wrapping the cord around the wrong place on the neck could cause choking rather than strangulation, and it would take far longer to attain the desired results when someone is being choked.

Another factor to think about when considering a garrote is the force one would need to be able to not only apply the correct amount of pressure with the tool, but also keep the target from escaping or gaining the upper hand while the strangulation takes place.

The entire body-weight of a grown woman should be enough for that.

The last thing to factor in is the stealth that is required for its use. It is most certainly not an offensive weapon to wield, nor can it normally be used to defend. It is a silent assailant, a creature of the night that stalks its prey and strikes when you've just settled into bed, warm and cozy and ignorant of its presence.

It is also Casey Cooke's favorite weapon.

Hers is a delicate-looking thing, made from a strong, co-polymer nylon fishing line, each end tied in a tight palomar knot attached to a small leather wrist-bracers. The outer portion of those bracers are decorated with black lace, and after she cleans the mess off of her line, she unsnaps the right bracer from her wrist and coils up the line around the left one, eventually snapping the right bracer on top of the wrapped line and the left bracer.

It looks like a pretty little watch without a face on her wrist, a lacey little bracelet to gush over and write to the girls at home about.

Casey Cooke surveys her work. He was a man in his mid-to-late forties. His frame is thin and the skin on his face is marked with various pockmarks of agitated picking over the years. He has blond hair and his green eyes, glassy and dead, stare up at the ceiling into a future he will never have.

Good.

She examines his neck--it is thick and corded, the purple veins there forming a hematoma on one side, the other side seeping blood into the frayed carpet of the apartment. She had cut through muscle this time.

Brushing off the still-lingering feel of his writhing body against hers, a small, satisfied sigh escapes her slightly parted lips.

She's getting better.

Her first targets had been large brawny men, necks massive and impossible to cut through. She'd had to first strangle them with the garrote, then finish the job by some other means. While this man was by no means a body-builder (she's seen and conversed with those, she knows by nature right before a show that they are weak with lack of food and water to dehydrate their bodies in preparation for it), he is much taller than she is, and was a surprisingly challenging task to deal with.

Eventually she began to get the hang of these tasks of hers, with just one close call marring her perfect record. That close call had been a dancer, and she had been very flexible. She'd swiveled her body around to wrap one arm around Casey's waist as Casey hung to her back, and they tousled around in the living room of the dancer's house a bit before Casey was finally able to gain the upper hand and beat her to death with a marble bookend. That was an extremely messy cleanup.

This is obviously not where Casey thought her life would be after high school.

She kicks the dead man's body gently in a lazy attempt to verify that he is, in fact, dead, then walks over to see if she can feel a pulse in his wrist (the neck is too damaged to get a good read with her small leather gloves on). Nothing. That has failed her before though, so she decides she should just finish the job and get it over with.

She tugs her gloves down to make sure they are firmly in place and carefully steps over the man's body, careful to avoid the blood. The duct tape on the underside of her shoes makes a soft padding noise as she walks purposefully into the tiny kitchen, slowly opening and closing drawers as she looks for a good utensil that will do the job.

Her eyes flicker to the clock on kitchen counter--it is 2:16pm, and she has just enough time to finish this before the kid and the mom start to wonder where he is. It's a miracle she was able to get this man alone; he rarely ever let his wife or the kid out of the house without him, and when he did, he made sure it was always with him.

Detailed planning and improvisation both, though, are her forte.

When she caught him coming home from the grocery store because he had forgotten his wallet, she was relieved she was prepared enough to go straight-up BAMF on him. She had also made sure beforehand that the wife was a beneficiary of his life insurance, and that she was a good woman, with straight morals even under an unfavorable situation.

All of this under consideration, no one would be laying a finger on that child again so long as Casey was alive to deal with it.

Shortly after her encounter with The Beast, she'd bared it all to the officers that had taken her in for questioning. Her uncle, his abuse, her ragged childhood. She rode the emotional roller coaster of reliving those events again in her head, which were more fresh and potent at the time of telling than what she'd just experienced underneath that zoo.

They brushed her allegations off. All they wanted was information on The Beast. All they wanted were answers to what The Horde was like, and how she was able to survive it all. They wanted his weakness, his kryptonite, his name. They wanted to know where she was at the time of Marcia and Claire's deaths, and why she hadn't done anything to help them. Did she think her relationship with her uncle had anything to do with her getting kidnapped? Did she help The Beast kidnap then kill those girls as revenge for some sort of clique in-fighting?

Are you fucking serious?

Classic victim-blaming bullshit.

In that police station, in that interrogation room, a switch flipped, and she withdrew again. But this time, it wasn't to be the victim--this time, it was due to a resolute vindication. People didn't care about the bad things. They just cared about the dramatic things. A girl being abused and molested by her uncle was apparently way less of an issue than some psychopath running in the streets eating people up. No, that sort of thing sat on the backburner of a tired cop's long list of Things to Look Into, and cannibalism ran the gamut of the rest of the police force (and then some).

A few months later, she was finally hitting the gym.

At first it was just some cardio--she figured running would be a good way to train herself in case something were to chase her. Then she began to use dumbbells and started resistance training, thinking she would need to be able to throw a good punch if it came down to it. Some sort of small droplet of empowerment began to grow.

Her uncle started to notice her frequent outings, though, and that put a stop to working out for a while. The abuse continued, and she was too conditioned to do anything about it at the time, even after The Beast. Her uncle's presence, the mere smell of him, made her cringe and close in on herself. The whole apartment was a jarring reflection of him--empty beer bottles and stained carpets and the constant murmur of the television.

She needed out, as soon as she could. That road had been an agonizing trek, from struggling through to get her GED to getting a job her uncle would allow her to have. Thankfully one of his buddies worked at the gym she had worked out at as a trainer, and when he gave her the ok to interview, she feigned indifference through her elation. She worked the front desk, but her job there meant she could use the gym equipment any time she was off the clock. "Working late" held a completely different meaning to her. She would spend days on end "working late" and it never dawned on her uncle that she was preparing for any given apocalypse.

One of those late sessions is when she saw a woman hoisting something almost three times her bodyweight over her head using a barbell and her sheer force of will.

She needed that. And so, when her uncle was at the bar, she was too, in her own right.

Jackpot.

Casey opens the last drawer to find several knives scattered about in it, no rhyme or reason for their organization. She snatches one and closes the drawer, walks the distance between the kitchen and the body, crouches down almost as though to caress his face with it, and quickly stabs the knife into the side of his neck just under the jawline. It severs his carotid artery. The blood glubs out gently, a small waterfall forming into a stream of red along his neck.

Tossing the knife aside, she takes a long, lasting look at the man on the ground and thinks about her uncle. His fists, his many knives, his cigarettes and the way they feel on her skin. The way her skin sounds as it sizzles underneath the ember. The way he says Casey-Bear while he's telling her to go get him a beer, while he calls her to watch a stupid show with him, while he's on top of her and breathing rapidly.

It brings bile up into her mouth and she retches.

No vomiting. At least, not here. Can't leave DNA.

She finishes up at the scene—wiping down surfaces, cleaning up the struggle area and the like. There wasn’t a lot that they touched in his attempt to buck her off, which is a rare occurrence, and one that she welcomes with some relief. She hated the cleanup. The adrenaline goes away and she’s left with a hollow hole that nothing seems to be able to fill.

The wife and the kid will come home and see the body. It will be jarring, but she covered it with a sheet before she leaves. She knows that doing something like that indicates remorse, but she can’t seem to find any for him—for them, though, her heart weeps. She reminds herself that they are better off, and that the life insurance will cover them at least until they can get on their feet again—and this time, it will be without him.

This time, they will be free.

 

Chapter Text

Post-job cleanup and after disposing of the duct tape on the soles of her shoes, Casey walks towards the bus stop. On her way there, she stops at a gas station to buy an energy drink for the night—she’ll have to cram for her test tomorrow for one of the online college courses she’s taking. The convenience store is glaringly lit on the inside, TV in the corner blaring some sort of game show she’s never heard of before. There is one other person in the store besides her and the clerk, and he is an older gentleman browsing through their exorbitantly expensive aisle of desperate last-minute TV dinners.

Her poison of choice is one of the refrigerated cans, and she goes for a big one as she swings the small frosted door open. Her ears prick instinctively as the energy of the TV show changes, the clapping and shrieking of the contestants replaced by a news anchor’s urgent, solemn report.

“…when the authorities came upon the scene. Eye-witnesses state they’ve sighted activity that matches the modus operandi of—”

“Hogwash, eh?”

Casey nearly jumps out of her skin. The older gentleman had slipped beside her, reaching for a bottle of soda in the frosted compartment beside hers. Her left hand is still on the door handle, right arm outstretched, hand touching the can of energy drink and in the process of lifting it out of its slider.

“I’m sorry?” she asks, trying to pay attention to the man while simultaneously attempting to comprehend the newscast.

The man is tall and wearing a raincoat, the lines on his face indicating some years of wear and tear. He isn’t old, per se—just wizened, it seems to Casey, but that doesn’t stop her from tensing. How had she not heard him? Is she that exhausted, that she is suddenly unable to pick up on strange older men closing in on her space? That was kind of her thing.

“It’s hogwash, this Beast thing.”

Her peripheral vision slowly darkens as he says this to her, as though blinders have been placed on her head. His own eyes are on the television, an incredulous smile bleeding across his face.

When she doesn’t answer, he nudges her as though they are old friends, gesturing to the television in mock frustration as though the game show were still on.

“Crazy stuff out there, thinking someone would want to open people up and eat their insides. I don’t know what’s going on with the kids these days. Maybe it’s the bath salts.”

Her vision snaps back acutely, her head whipping around to glare at the TV over her left shoulder. On the screen, a familiar scene plays out—the cameras pan somewhere dark and dusty, and the reporter is just at the edge of the police tape, her brow furrowed and her mouth cut into a grim line. Casey recognizes her as Susie Jax, which in her opinion always sounded more like a porn star than a field reporter.

“As you can see,” Susie somberly states into the mic she is holding, “there’s evidence that these teens have been here for days prior to discovery. We have the warehouse owner here now with some additional information. Mr. McCormick, how have you just today found the bodies of these innocent teens, and what's the situation inside?”

McCormick looks to be in his late sixties, with black hair and a blacker beard.

"Howard, please." It's an automatic response. He has his hands on his hips and gestures with his paunch as he speaks. “I don’t visit these warehouses often; occasionally I’ll find runaways and transients squatting in the ones I padlock but the rest’re usually locked up tighter’n a sardine in a tin can. I can only assume someone very strong or very determined, or both, would have been able to break into and use this particular building, and I do my rounds for these ones maybe once a month. The place looked lived-in, but only for a while, like they weren't stoppin' for nothin'.” There’s a pause here as he seems to be gathering his bearings. “God those kids. Those poor, poor kids. What a waste.”

The camera sweeps over as much of the inside of the building as they are able to until a cop comes at them with his hand held up in an attempt to shield the crime scene from the general public. Casey is able to catch glimpses of chains and ravaged clothing before the wind is sucked out of her and she begins to feel the panic attack come on.

She lets it happen without resistance as this is the best way to handle it according to her therapist, and her body slowly turns towards the television, vision blurring and all sound fading. Her right hand comes away clutching the energy drink and that’s all she can feel besides her heart thundering rhythmically, pounding into her forehead like the wind of a tornado. She’s only vaguely aware of someone putting a hand on her shoulder, taking it and shaking it a bit in an attempt to call her attention, but all she can do is stare at the television, seeing without seeing. Her hearing begins to return, murky and muddy, as though she is drowning and someone is screaming a lifeline to her that she can’t seem to grasp.

“…the Horde, I tell you, it’s…” is the only thing she can decipher before everything fades back into muffled white noise.

She feels the fight or flight response clawing at her insides. The can is cold and wet and heavy, and she slowly looks down to focus on it as the rush of fear courses through her, forcing her body to shake, sweat forming on her brows. The can comes into focus, and all she can see is the massive green “M” on it. Below, in white lettering—slowly sharpening in her vision—is the energy drink’s brand. She can’t seem to think of anything else but that word over and over; it smashes and writhes through her brain like the bells of Notre Dame, swims in her vision like a shark towards its bloodmeal, takes her and shakes her and never wants to let her go.

Monster.

Monster.

 


David Dunn didn't mean to touch her. Okay, so he wanted to, to confirm his suspicions, and this is the perfect time to do it under the guise of trying to make sure she's okay, but right before he touches her he realizes he actually does want to know if she'll be okay more than he wants confirmation of who she is.

He sees her, in a cage, with a shotgun in her hands. He sees her fire it twice, into impenetrable marble--no, flesh. Impenetrable flesh.

She's sucking in air like she's drowning in a sea of pain, and David knows a panic attack when he sees one. Audrey has them sometimes in the car when Joseph peels out of the driveway with her. Hers are always short and less dramatic than what he's witnessing now, though.

Casey is sweating--because hey, let's face it, no need to beat around the bush anymore, he knows it's Casey Cooke--and she's staring down at her energy drink like it's a snake she's just accidentally picked up.

David very slowly reaches his hand, palm splayed in case she is watching to show her the hand is harmless, toward the energy drink. One of his fingers touches it, then a moment later another one does, before he finally has his hand wrapped around the top of the can. He tugs very, very gently, easing it out of her hand, treating it like a live incendiary he's attempting to diffuse.

"Hey look at me. Are you ok?" His words are soft and barely above a whisper--she's a doe in the woods, and the treading must be light.

After a moment or two, Casey blinks rapidly, her chest stops hitching and her arms stop trembling. She's self-aware enough after panic attacks to be alert as she calms, and as she winds down, her body feels like it's run an ultra-marathon. All she wants to do is go home and hide under the covers, willing everything to go away.

"You ok, kid?"

Her eyes flit back to David, and she nods.

"Yeah, I think," she gasps.

"Oh, well ok then," he replies. Just like that. Like they're talking about the weather.

Casey is not only exhausted, she is also absolutely furious with herself. It's times like these that make her wonder how she's never had a panic attack while on a job. Times like these that make her rethink her vigilante choices, make them feel overwhelming to her and as though she's in way over her head.

How has she survived until now? How is she not in jail? How have they not caught up to her? How did this happen? Why did she start doing this? She's not well! How could she think doing things like this would somehow make life better for her? Wasn't this just a selfish endeavor, something that made her feel better? Wasn't she just kidding herself thinking that others would actually benefit from what she's been doing?

"That's a pretty bracelet," David says, trying to get her to think of something other than whatever she's thinking of right now. He can see the cogs in her brain turning, turning, turning, and whatever thought it is, it can't be good.

Her eyes are a storm, turbulent and dark, and they dart towards him. She blinks once, twice, then straightens herself, pushing her doubts away--for now, at least, until she gets back home. Taking a deep breath through her nose and releasing it slowly through her parted lips, she nods once at him as silent acknowledgement and makes her way towards the door.

"It has a matching necklace," she quips without turning back.

Not one to skip a beat, David calls her back. "Hey."

She glances over her shoulder, pausing only when she opens the door.

He pays the curious cashier for the energy drink and then tosses it under hand to her. She turns her body completely to catch it without thinking and he winks at her. Regarding him and the can for a moment, Casey raises it to him in silent gratitude, then all but flees out the door. He'll have to start tailing her here shortly, see where she lives, where she works, what her situation is. From what he saw in the brief moment he touched her, she's been through a hell of a lot in her life, and not only lived it but was reliving it in her dreams. Dreams of real occurrences occasionally cloud his touch, and from the nature of the vision, they were recent.

Which, of course, only makes complete sense. She is, after all, Casey Cooke. And maybe, just maybe, she can bring him to The Horde.

In fact, he's counting on it.

"What the hell was that about, dude?" the clerk asks, looking at the door she ran through as though it had sprouted three arms.

"I don't know, man," David says. "Kids these days. Must be the bath salts."

Chapter Text

Her bed is simultaneously a pocket of warmth and comfort, and a cave of deep despair. There’s something wrong with her, she knows it, and she can’t help but feel like it’s The Horde’s fault she is the way she is now. Trauma changes people—hell, all you have to do is look at The Horde to know that.

Seven. That’s her kill count. She’s killed seven different people in the last year, and a part of her argues that those were not people, they were aberrations, they were dangerous fiends in the night that stole away the sun from all those they should have loved.

Is that what The Beast was doing? Is that what he saw in Claire and in Marcia?

If that’s the case…they really are the same.

Tears are still streaming down her cheeks. She has been crying for hours, her face swollen and bloated as a testament. She changed into her pajamas and fell upon her bed as soon as she arrived at the apartment, covering herself completely with her blanket, curling up tightly in on herself, and she has not moved since.

The wind howls outside of her window, and she is grateful for it—it drowns out the murmur of the TV he keeps on, possibly for the company, possibly to drive her insane. She’s unsure which. Maybe both. The storm outside appeared suddenly, like the one currently in her insides, churning and whirling and dancing with a devilish glee. The one outside is an early autumn storm, bringing with it the sorrowful song of a summer mourning.

In that same vein, Casey mourns for herself. Not only has she been able to dispatch of seven abusers, the abused of which may or may not be better off for it, but she has been unable to rid herself of her own demons, one of which currently sits on the living room recliner.

There is a familiarity in chronic pain. One begins to think that that’s all there is. One gets used to it, and cannot imagine life without it. Imagining her life without John is like willing someone near-sighted to make out words from across the room—it’s a vague shape, but nothing comes into focus, so their attention falls elsewhere.

Casey-Bear!

Her body stiffens and her ears strain—did he just call her? Should she get up and check? Or is that the wind?

She lies very still for a moment to assess. She stops breathing to listen more intently, and even the tears stop falling from her eyes.

After a while, she relaxes just the slightest bit. No, that's the wind—he’s likely fallen asleep eating the dinner she prepared for him this morning. He wasn’t expecting her home until much later today, and quite frankly, Casey hadn’t meant to come home until much later. Her evening at the gym had been kicked in the nuts by the panic attack that assailed her earlier.

Her thoughts flit back to the news report, and she takes her phone from the back pocket of her pajama bottoms without unearthing herself from her blanket burrito. She hasn’t searched his name in ages, but when she begins to type it into Google, there it is in her keywords. Clicking on it brings her to several pages of drivel; The Beast had spurred the start of some sort of cult that somehow worshiped him and The Horde, though from what Casey could gather they were just a bunch of lonely teenagers and middle-aged radical nutcases posting vlogs about something they knew nothing about.

She clicks on the most recent news article and skims just enough to confirm that yes, they did find what was left of the bodies of five teens in that warehouse and yes, they had been eviscerated and chewed on by “(an) enormous animal(s)” to the point that there were barely enough remains to run dental records. Which they have not yet done. The article mentions The Horde just once as an off-handed reference but doesn’t suggest either way if they believe the incidents in Philly, though years apart, are connected or not.

Casey chews on her bottom lip, thinking. For a moment she thinks wild thoughts of the sleep-deprived and chronically stressed. The thought of her standing in front of a mirror and reciting his name in lieu of Bloody Mary—Kevin Wendell Crumb. Kevin Wendell Crumb. Kevin Wendell Crumb. It’s a humorous idea, but rather than make her smile, it sends chills down the back of her neck to the point where she thinks she’ll be sick.

Shoving The Horde to the side of her mind for a bit—and it’s an incredibly difficult thing to do—she texts Heather Morales, her therapist.

It’s Casey. I feel stupid, sorry if it’s a bother, but those teens found in that warehouse are giving me flashbacks maybe? Had a panic attack.

Heather knew about most of Casey’s life, save for the tiny part about her uncle. There were moments where Casey would decide to go over it with her but then deviate from the subject. This happened several times, and without fail, she’d change the subject each time. She’s had enough therapy at this point to understand that it’s likely because the cops refused to focus on her problem with John when they interrogated her about her kidnapping, and that’s got her hung up and unable to talk about it again with anyone.

Can I call?

The vibration of the text coming in from Heather startles her and she drops the phone on her face.

“Fuck.”

Rubbing her forehead, she picks it back up and sends Heather a thumbs-down emoji. She would rather not talk with anyone right now, not with her uncle just one room away and in potential listening-distance.

The indication on the bottom left of their chat that someone is typing pops up. Casey waits.

It’s totally natural for you to feel this way.

The indicator pops up then disappears several times—Casey knows it’s Heather hating her phone, and that she’d rather talk to people than write to them. Casey writes her own message.

It’s cool Heather, I’ll just see you in a few days.

She sends it at the same time Heather’s message comes in.

Wanna have coffee tomorrow, 10a? We can do an early sesh at Cuppa, make it casual, grab some lunch after.

Casey’s fingers fly.

Yes. All the yes. Thanks.

Heather sends back a thumbs-up.

 


It's raining, and it's cold, and it's making Hedwig whine. Those are not the only things on the very long list of Things Dennis Needs to Talk to Barry About. Barry is hiding, somewhere, and Dennis can't seem to find him right at this moment--but that's honestly not as important as the fact that They are kneeling, naked, in a muddy ditch as rain torrents down on Them.

Dennis coughs, sputters, turns and falls on his face. The mud surrounds him, and for a fleeting moment he panics at the overwhelming unsanitary conditions and retreats. Then Jade is thrust into the Light, and she is screaming and grunting and oh-so pissed off.

"Barry! Dennis!" She is screeching. "Dennis come back here you piece of shit!"

She pushes back and it's like giving birth backwards. Everyone is trying to keep her in the Light so that They don't have to be the ones to deal with the mess that's happening.

Oh for goodness' sake! Patricia yells. She snatches Jade out of the Light and the younger woman is only too eager to give up the spot.

Patricia sits up in Kevin's body, noting that there is mud in all the nooks and crannies that Everyone knows and does not know about. She flicks mud off of her arms, instinctively covering her bare chest as she glances around Them. They are in a mud pit in the middle of what appears to be a construction site, the wind carrying with it the scent of metal and rust. Their body is absolutely covered in mud, but the rain seems to be washing a bit of it off as it pours from above.

Well, this is quite a mess indeed.

"Hedwig," Patricia calls out loud. "Hedwig dear, I need you to tell me what's happened."

Miss Patricia, Miss Patricia, The Beast ate some Sacred Food and then he went to sleep for a little, and then when he woke up he went to go huntin' but then the rain started, and he said we were back home, but is that true because nothing looks the same to me, and I have a very good memory Miss Patricia, I can remember what we ate like a year ago, et cetera--

Patricia stops listening and keeps her thoughts to herself. When The Beast wants to be alone, he always gets what he wants...except when he doesn't. Because Hedwig is always there, unless Hedwig chooses not to be. That little boy is a wonder. She closes her eyes at that. She searches inwardly for Barry and does not immediately see him, so she begins to search for Dennis. There he is, that ingrate, sitting in his chair composed and orderly. Clean.

"Mister Dennis, please take the Light," Patricia says out loud. It is not a request. "I need to speak with Hedwig and We need to find shelter and some clothes."

Et cetera, Hedwig adds.

She feels Dennis resist, then feels that resistance deflate almost as soon as it comes. Finding somewhere warm and dry to protect Them from the elements is his job. He sighs very deeply and stands up from his chair, and Patricia surrenders the Light to him. No one seems to want to share it, of course, not when things get too hard or too complicated. That's what Dennis is for.

He takes a moment to steady himself as he feels the rain on his upturned face, his arms falling from his chest. Opening his eyes, he assesses Their surroundings, finds a good foothold for Them to stand up on, and does his best not to cringe as he shoves the mud off of his thighs and nether regions. Standing up has helped the mud situation some, and he stands there for a moment, letting nature cleanse him as best it can. He can feel the saliva coating his tongue as the body prepares itself to vomit, but he swallows it back and clenches his fists against the urge. They are clenched so hard that his arms begin to shake and his breathing begins to grow ragged.

He shakes his head. No, he needs to protect Everyone. He needs to get Them someplace other than here, where They are vulnerable and bare-ass naked. He needs to fight. He works through the agony rippling through his body that's caused by keeping himself from just tearing his skin off with his own teeth. The image of him doing it to himself plays over and over in his head until it spins itself raw and finally dies down into a low hum of nothing. His fists continue to clench and unclench as he steadies his breathing and tries to match its rhythm with the beating of Their heart.

His first thought when he calms down is that They shouldn't be here.

Hedwig was right, They are back home, back where everyone knows and recognizes The Horde's face. He'll have to lay very low if They want to move around the city in any noticeable capacity. Even an Uber could be a dangerous way to get Them all shot and killed. So bus it is.

His second thought...

"Casey," he breathes. It's an absent-minded whisper, but it gets the attention of Jade, who jeers and mocks her name at him before he is able to block Them all from the Light.

Now he is alone, and wet, and cold, and muddy, and thinking about her.

He snaps himself out of the reverie and plans a route through the mud towards the beginning of the woods fifty feet away. He can navigate where to get clothing and find shelter once there.

Chapter Text

Barry wakes up and it’s dark. Not that it’s changed from when he was last awake; The Beast had been prowling at that time, and any time that’s the case it’s all he can do to keep from being completely suppressed and plunged into a semi-catatonic hibernation.

At this rate, he doesn’t know if it’s night or day anymore. His circadian rhythm is fucked, and he is more than just a bit irked by the fact.

Barry didn’t suddenly exist just so he could not exist anymore. And frankly, the longer The Beast is out there alone, the more likely it is that he’s feasting on some poor unfortunate schlub. This is the longest amount of time The Beast has spent “alone”, and it worries Barry to no end.

Not that he’s able to take the Light even if he was able to see it. His ability to take it has waned quite a bit since Dr. Fletcher’s death and Dennis’ impersonation of him, which had felt like some sort of blatant violation of his soul.

He tries to reach out to the Light, projecting himself forward, but is blocked by an all-too-familiar barricade—Dennis. It must be. Barry’s eyes dart to the clean freak’s chair. Empty. He thought so. The Beast must be back in the Train Yard, slumbering off his flesh-induced hangover.

Barry’s stomach, if he had one at the moment, would be twisting in knots at the thought of how many They may have gotten to this time.

Then suddenly he’s pushed forward, bathing in the Light, blinking bewilderedly at some college girl that’s batting her eyelashes at him. She was cute, but definitely not Dennis’ type—he rode the wagon a little younger than Barry thought was morally right—and that explains why he is where he is now.

“So what are the digits, girl?” he asks without skipping a beat, and she hides her smile behind her hand as she absently chews on her pen cap. Going for it, she reaches out and writes her number on the palm of his hand and she breathes a little laugh as she walks off, hugging her textbooks tightly to her ample chest.

Barry immediately loses interest as soon as she is out of sight because why the fuck is he here and where the fuck is he and how the fuck did he get here and my god is this fucking plaid he’s wearing? Fucking outrageous.

“This is some bullshit, Dennis,” he says under his breath, takes his coffee—or, he assumes it’s his coffee?—and leaves the café. The streets are wet and the sky is a bit weepy but not enough that he can’t walk in it.

Other way, degenerate, Dennis growls, sharing the Light with him.

Barry stops in his tracks and rolls his eyes. As though he knew where They should be going. He continues to walk without turning around. He had the Light now, and fuck Dennis if he was going to tell him what to do. He hasn’t stretched his proverbial legs in such a long time, and it’s a fresh feeling.

What country prick did you steal this off of, Dennis? Barry thinks at him, looking down at the open plaid button-up and A-shirt underneath it. He wears khakis on his bottom half that are made for a man with a much larger waist than They have, and while it doesn’t look necessarily out of place with the belt They have, Barry feigns a vomiting action and takes a sip of his—is this chai? Chai tea, apparently.

It’s all I could find at the time, Dennis says defensively. You want to play fashionista, find your own clothes to steal.

Passing a trash can, Barry casually drops the tea into it and strolls on by. That was most definitely not Theirs. Dennis takes coffee, black. Someone is missing their chai tea back there at the Cuppa.

He is, at least, wearing a fine-looking beanie. Fine-looking, not good-looking.

Lose the beanie, we need a real hat with a rim. Dennis’ voice has a serious note in it that makes Barry think twice about exchanging venom with him.

Barry has been Away so long, and it’s given him a bit of a bitter taste in his mouth. Taking a breath, he lets the bitterness dissolve into an unwavering resolve. They need to somehow either make it out of the city unscathed, or change Their outward identity almost completely if They are going to stay.

Maybe he should grow hair.

He can feel Dennis twitching a little and Barry nods.

Yeah, They’ll grow some hair. First though, he’s going to have to earn some money. They’ve been homeless before, and Barry would rather not have to resort to unsavory means to earn it. Last time They did that They—

It’s a slow sort of realization that dawns on him as she passes by on the other side of the street heading towards Cuppa. She is…stunning. He almost doesn’t recognize her—she holds her body differently and her gait has changed. Her hair is the same, though—she’s kept it long, and Dennis shudders, stepping away from the Light as far away as he can while still being able to share it.

She glows like heated glass does while it’s in the kiln being molded into something beautiful.

Barry stops walking, letting her pass on the other side without interruption. Dennis is oddly quiet. Well, Barry supposes there’s nothing necessarily odd about it.

My word. And it’s Patricia, whispering in his ear. What an utter transformation.

WHAT?! WAS THAT CASEY WHY DIDN’T ANYONE GET ME GO GET HER BARRY PLEASE ‘N THANK YOU! Now Hedwig is putting his two cents in.

Hedwig, she’s not going to want to see us, we were not very nice to her last time she saw us, Barry thinks at him.

Oh yeah The Beast tried to eat her I remember now, but we can be nice to her and be her friend and then maybe we can play some video games with her, Barry do you think she has video games at her house, like Mario Kart and Zelda and Pokemon? Hedwig is working himself up far too much.

It’s better if he just keeps walking.

Just keep walking, Barry, he tells himself. Just keep walking and don’t stalk her like some creeper.

So, with a strangely heavy heart, he does.

 


Casey is late to her appointment with Heather but realizes when she gets there that Heather isn’t even looking for her yet. In fact, she’s standing at the little nook she’s chosen to occupy, her hands out, palms facing the sky in confusion.

“Hey.” Casey slides into the little nook and tosses her purse—which is more of a messenger bag—onto one of the cushions.

Heather frowns and sits back down. “Hey,” she says, her face scrunching in confusion. “I can’t find my tea.”

Heather is a larger woman, but very able-bodied, and Casey has seen her out-maneuver much thinner people up and down stairs and barely break a sweat after ten flights. She has very dark brown, pixie-cut style hair, olive-colored skin and starkly powder-blue, large doll eyes. While being a bigger woman, she’s quite short, topping out at about five-foot-one.

“What happened?” Casey asks, raising her eyebrows in question.

“My tea. I went to the bathroom and it’s just gone.” Pondering this for a second, Heather shrugs and focuses on Casey, flashing her a smile filled with warmth and love. “Anyway, whatever. Tell me what’s going on, Casey, what’s been eating at you?”

Casey takes a breath and places her hands on the table in front of her, palms flat against the wood to avoid their trembling. “Have you…you’ve seen the news, right? About those teenagers that were found in that warehouse?”

Heather nods, her face open and inviting. “Yes. It’s incredibly tragic. Tell me what’s going on in your brain about it, Casey. Do you want any coffee?”

Casey shakes her head no. Her stomach is tight and burning, and she doesn’t think caffeine will help her right now. She’s probably giving herself a stomach ulcer as she sits here with all the anxiety.

“Well I was at a gas station and it was on the news, and there I am in the middle of the store having a panic attack, feeling like I’m choking on my own lungs. I didn’t think I’d ever have one in a public place, but here we are.”

They talk at length about what happened, and Heather gives some input on how to better manage a public panic attack between pieces of conversation between the two. Casey always feels comfortable talking to Heather as though she is a sounding board rather than Casey being some clinical case Heather must solve.

“Are you afraid that he might be back?” Heather asks.

Casey pauses at this question, because she has honestly been mulling over it almost every moment she has been conscious since her panic attack. Is she afraid? Not really. Is she worried? That may be a better word for it. The panic attack is associated with the incident, but she doesn’t think it is directly linked to Kevin himself. She explains this to Heather. The Horde, on the other hand…

“The Horde is a title that is ambiguous and impersonal,” Heather reminds her. “The Beast, that’s a title too, remember. Deep within him, he’s just Kevin Crumb.”

Heather doesn’t really buy into the whole DID phenomenon, but she understands those that do. It can be a desperate reach for a person that has no other options but to try and be someone else, even if just for a little while.

“You know how I view Dissociative personalities.”

“I know.” Casey breathes deeply, seeking comfort in the smell of the coffee around them. “You think he’s just fading away and allowing himself to be someone he’s not because he doesn’t want to deal with reality.”

Casey can’t agree with that theory. She knows what she saw, she looked into different eyes, different pains, different abilities, different beliefs, different souls. The Beast climbed a wall right in front of her. She shot him, and the fragments did not pierce his skin. He bent iron bars to try to get to her before retreating from her purity.

She stared into Kevin’s eyes as he pleaded with her to kill him.

“You don’t believe that trauma has actually fractured his mind enough to create fully functional personalities to deal with various situations. You think he sees all and remembers all and just pretends.” Casey’s eyes sting as she remembers Kevin’s face, a portrait of torture and agony.

“No, I don’t think he remembers all. I just think that he chooses not to, and his belief is strong enough that it works.” Heather tilts her head in empathy.

Casey’s nostrils flare. This is where she and Heather disagree on a vast level. She’s had this conversation with Heather before, though, so she backs down and slings her bag strap over her head, her black windbreaker crinkling at the movement.

“Do you still want to do lunch?” Heather asks.

“I’m not hungry,” Casey lies. Heather looks concerned but decides to allow her the choice.

“Usual appointment time still scheduled later this week?”

“Yeah.” Casey smiles tightly and leaves Cuppa, a troubled Heather watching her through the window as she goes.

That girl is going to get herself in trouble, she thinks. God, please allow her some peace.

Chapter Text

From what Barry gathers since being pushed back into the Light, The Beast feasts once a month on anywhere between two to as many as six victims at once. He seems to have The Horde stake victims out the weeks prior, and the week of, the ritual begins.

Dennis knows that Barry knows this, of course, and that’s just fine with him, because he also knows the things that Barry does not know. He does not know where, when or how these things happen and to whom they happen to. It gives Patricia some peace of mind, at least, to know that Barry—while being allowed to direct the Light for now—is working completely in the dark with regards to The Horde’s plans.

Barry knows, too, that The Beast slumbers in the Train Yard when he is not in the Light, and Barry can only guess that this Train Yard is somewhere deep in Kevin’s subconscious, where all things go when they are dark and tired, worn and frayed, violent and feral.

What Dennis does not know, though, is that Barry has been seeking this place out whenever he is able to slip away. He was somewhere close the day They found Themselves in the mud, his presence in The Room of Chairs lacking as They all scrambled atop each other to avoid the chaos of the real world. He is able to search for the Train Yard while he sleeps in his chair, and he slips into the darkness leaving the chair empty as he seeks it out.

He hopes he has not been missed too often.

What he will do if or when he reaches the Train Yard, however, he does not know. Face off with The Beast? Reason with him? Try to have him give Barry an explanation for his behavior? It is a stupid endeavor, he knows, but he must do something. Anything. He can’t just sit idly by and passively watch the horrors he’s been privy to without an attempt at ending it. He feels so helpless, and feeling helpless makes him want to retreat, and if he retreats then The Horde will wreak pain and suffering wherever They go.

That is something he can not allow.

Most of the Collective are asleep this time of night, and Those that aren't asleep have no interest in why Barry is still awake at--god, what time is it?. He glances at the cheap pre-paid phone he bought earlier that day and realizes it's so late that it's transitioned into early. He can't sleep, and he can't let go of the Light to rest, as he's worried that Dennis may decide to take it back and push him out. That leaves him wide awake at 4:30 in the morning, immediate surroundings scattered with a variety of heavily-drawn designs on sketch paper that he's been poring through, adjusting and altering for the last six hours.

He sits cross-legged on a wooden floor, occupying the space of a cozy loft in the family room of an empty two-story house in the suburbs of Eastern Abington, devoid of furniture and lacking water and electricity. This would have been very risky if the house was not nestled at the very rear of the property lot, lacking a backyard but sporting an ample front yard complete with unkempt garden foliage and wrought-iron fence with gate encasing it. The property and lot are shaded with large autumn trees, orange and yellow leaves still holding on to what green they have left like a sailor clinging to his boat during the last storm of the season. These trees partially obscure the house, giving it a privacy that Barry appreciates as he rubs his fingers together in an attempt to rid them of the smeared graphite that is ever-present when he draws.

Then Patricia is sharing the Light with him, and he is startled by her sudden appearance.

"Oh my god Miss Trisha," Barry breathes. "Give a boy some warning before popping up places, would you?"

Barry, I'd like to speak with you before anyone else wakes, if you are otherwise unoccupied. That, of course, is not a considerate statement; rather, it's a firm request that he put his drawings away and focus his attention towards her.

"Sure," he says, the word lilting up at the end indicating his wariness.

Oh my dear boy, it's nothing you don't already know, she coos. He puts the loose sheets his drawings are scribbled on away in a sturdy manila folder and waits for her to continue.

"Do you remember, ages ago, when we first met Miss Cooke?" She asks this question out loud, and They share the Light equally, the two of Them entwining together in a paint bucket, two different colors not yet quite mixed to make a new one. "When The Beast declared her pure? That she is of the more evolved?"

This is a conversation riddled with landmines. Of course he remembers, how could he have forgotten the feeling of The Beast for the first time, the raw energy that seeped from Their body, the endless roar of the vastness of it filling Their ears?

"Sure." The word is guarded and Patricia knows he is on the defensive already. She will have to maneuver carefully. While she knows Barry isn't necessarily a real threat to Their work, she would rather he not be a hindrance to it.

"Kevin has been gone for so, so long, and we are unable to summon him," she continues. There is a pause here as she mulls over her next few sentences, knowing they must be well-received and believable in order to achieve her desired results. "Casey...can. She has been able to from the beginning. Kevin's full name in the media has dulled the effect of his conditioning to it, but she may be able to bring him back to us for good."

Barry has a theory that Kevin, too, is in the Train Yard. He worries that this means, rather than being safe and protected by the Collective, he suffers in silence, plagued by The Beast and the heat of The Beast's rage and pain and the augury of his inevitable rule. He worries that, given enough time, The Beast will assimilate him, integrate with him, and Kevin will no longer be, The Beast left as Their Primary and the reason for Their being ceasing to exist.

This is possibly a dramatic interpretation of Barry's thoughts, but they slip this way when he seeks the Train Yard in the darkness, desperate and lost, alone on this potentially endless quest to find it. With The Beast as Their Primary, he fears that the rituals for his feasting will no longer be required, and that he will no longer have need for slumber, reigning havoc upon the Sacred Food as he pleases.

That cannot happen. The question is now, does he believe Patricia? Or is this some ploy for ulterior motives that she is so prone to have? Barry decides that it doesn't matter. He has no options until he is able to find the Train Yard, and that option is flimsy at best. Or maybe he is the one with the ulterior motive, and what he ultimately, selfishly, wants is to see Casey again, to breathe in the smell of her, to bask in her presence until he is unable to know anything but her.

"So what you mean to say is that we need to somehow make Casey realize she can trust us," Barry offers.

"Exactly."

The problem now, is how.

 


Barry leaves through the back door, the nothing of the backyard spilling deeply into the woods. He knows these woods vaguely--Lorimer Park, 200+ acres of beauty and solitude. He knows he could run into a hiker or biker, especially closer to the Fox Chase Line, but he tries to avoid being anywhere near the line altogether. It's been out of service since 1983, and some parts of it resemble exactly what he pictures the Train Yard to look like--all angles and metal, coldness and rust and darkness. There are trails in the Park as well, but he knows where they are and avoids those also unless going into town.

He found an adorable blue button-up cardigan draped on a clothesline yesterday, and he is wearing that now. The jeans he also swiped are a little tight on him, especially in the thighs, but he makes them work, and they don't look bad at all. The shirt underneath it is something Dennis had picked out from a donations bin--it is a collared, button-up thing that he insisted They wear, but Barry also makes that work by spreading the collar over the cardigan and undoing the top few buttons of the shirt. He still has the beanie, but he wears it low over his eyebrows and it does not look out of place that way due to the quickly encroaching autumn weather.

All in all, Barry doesn't think They look absolutely disgraceful, so that's a plus. In fact, he ventures to say They look damned fucking cute.

The beanie over his eyebrows make his features difficult to discern from the average white male in Philly, so he figures it's safe to go into town and grab a bite to eat. They have limited funds, and he'd already had to deny Hedwig a CD player and Jade a pack of smokes.

We can just go steal more, Jade says. I don't get why you're being such a Debbie Downer, Bear-Bear. It's not like you didn't get yourself a sketchbook.

Smoking is bad, Jade, Hedwig pipes in. Don't smoke, don't do dope, be like the pope. Et cetera.

I doubt the pope had our problems, little dude, Jade replies.

Stealing these riches of $71 from a woman at the grocery store had been a difficult ordeal begin with; They followed her for over an hour while she puttered around looking at wine for 45 minutes without walking away from her cart, Their stomach growling all the while. Barry doesn't think They should resort to other unsavory options quite yet, either. They have $33 and some change left of that $71, and will have to make that last as long as They can.

After half an hour or so he is able to reach a trail, then takes that trail down to a main road, where he catches a bus to ride into the city. Where They are currently squatting is inconvenient for sure, but it feels safe and removed from the world, and that's definitely something They need right now.

The bus is empty save for one guy sitting at the rear of it, and Barry takes a seat near the front.

"Nice sweater," the guy at the back says, and Barry doesn't think it's a compliment. Rather than act offended, he winks at the guy passive-aggressively and allows himself to relax comfortably in his seat.

"It's a cardigan," comes out of his mouth before he is able to stop himself.

There is a collective groan from various People in his brain. There is literally no difference, comes from Dennis.

Barry ignores how wrong he is and takes out his pre-paid phone, deciding to use a bit of the data to make sure he's not walking into a shitstorm in the city. There's an article about some teenagers that were found in a warehouse across town, but Barry skips that purposefully, scrolling through the rest of the news and deciding that other than the teens (the article was written a few days ago and nothing about it seems to be trending), everything looks peachy-keen.

He settles in his seat and is in the middle of reading some tabloids when he feels a thump in the seat next to him, his eyes coming up from the phone and staring at the empty seats in front of him. His stomach drops and he takes a steadying breath through his nose.

The man in the back has come to sit right next to him in the otherwise completely vacant bus, and Barry can't help but feel that this is not going to end well for himself.

Looking to his right, Barry flashes him a quick smile. "Hi there. Uhh. How are you?"

As Barry is slouching in his own seat, the man next to him seems to tower over him. Becoming very aware of this fact, he begins to slowly straighten up, the action uncomfortable in such a close vicinity to another person. Barry seems to be about two inches shorter than him sitting down, and this seems to encourage the man, as he slings an arm over the back of Barry's seat and leans in close.

There is a very tight smile on Barry's face as he leans uncomfortably away from him, but he is still trying to diffuse the situation. "Er, can I help you?"

"How much money someone like ya got on ya?" the man asks. He wears a simple white T-shirt and pants that have pockets on the thighs and loops running across them every which way, which indicates to Barry that he's either some sort of hiker or some sort of moron. Really? Cargo pants? Gross. The man has shaggy blond hair and light brown eyes that could be considered amber if he really tried--with some work and clothes that coordinate with them.

Oh dear, Patricia sighs.

"I have literally no money," Barry laughs softly. He's still leaning away from Cargo Pants, and swallows audibly. Barry's eyes flit over to the bus driver, and when their eyes meet in the rearview mirror, the driver adjusts it away to indicate he is not interested in getting in the way of this encounter.

"I don't think that's true," Cargo Pants states. "I think ya have money that's mine, and I think that ya should give it back as soon as ya can because if ya don't I'll take it from ya."

This little charade irritates Barry, and Everyone has gone quiet in the background.

"No?" he asks out loud to Them. "No help? Okay fine." He feels around for a second and feels that Dennis is the only one that is even remotely sharing the Light with him, which comforts him a bit.

Barry's request for help confuses Cargo Pants for a second and he leans back in his seat away from Barry, mulling something over. This guy is probably crazy, Cargo Pants thinks. I hate crazy people. And the gays. And this dude is definitely a gay. "Ya gonna hand over my cash or what, homo?"

Barry scoffs, feeling a rising heat in his chest. "Excuse me? It's called pansexual, you ignorant caveman, please learn your sexualities."

Thankfully, finally, the bus slows and stops at one of the transit lines and without skipping a beat Barry quickly gets up and away from Cargo Pants, taking the stairs off the bus in twos when the door releases. His cheeks are red and his brow is furrowed, tsking his tongue as he walks away from the bus down the sidewalk.

What an asshole! Jade rages. Give me the Light, I'm gonna fuck him up!

"Forget it Jade, it's not--"

Barry is interrupted by a, "Hey faggot! Give me my money or get fucked!"

Barry picks up his pace, eyes darting back and forth to see if anyone is entering or exiting the boutiques around Them. No one. Most of them are still closed, it's not even 8am yet and already Barry and Co. are being harassed by some hateful homophobe.

He makes a call and stops, retrieving his wallet and fumbling with the money inside, throwing the bills and coins down onto the concrete in frustration. "Take it, take all of it, I don't give a shit, just go to hell in a handbasket, asshole."

What the hell are you doing? Dennis is suddenly very close to Barry in the Light. That's our only cash, how the hell are we going to eat?

"We can get more later," Barry spits.

Cargo Pants catches up to Them, sees him talking out loud seemingly to himself and cringes a little. "Fucking freak." He bends down to start picking the bills and coins off of the ground and shakes his head as he does so. "This can't be all ya have, gimme the rest."

Above him, Kevin's body straightens and his head tilts, eyes hooded as they regard the man and shoulders squaring. Cargo Pants doesn't notice this and continues his money retrieval.

Dennis takes a hand and presses it against his chest, trailing it down to fix a small button that's halfway undone. He takes a step forward and suddenly his knee is smashing into Cargo Pants' face, knocking him back, a fine trail of blood flying from the man's nose as he falls backward onto the concrete. Dennis quickly takes a step back, narrowly missing the blood splatter. That was a close one.

"Don't get up," Dennis warns him.

Cargo Pants, of course, writhing and clutching his face and exclaiming more hateful obscenities, does not comply. He attempts to scramble to his feet but Dennis makes quick work of him and places his left hand on Cargo's back, pushing him back down to the concrete, right hand slowly curling into a fist. When Cargo Pants is sitting back on his ass, Dennis takes two steps forward, bends at the waist, and punches him square in the face. His fist gets blood on it and he growls out loud because of it--fucking disgusting, he needs to get that cleaned immediately.

Cargo Pants is out cold. His face is a bloody mess and his nose looks broken. Dennis can already feel his right hand swelling from the punch, and distantly hopes he didn't break any bones, but for right now he crouches low and wipes the blood off with Cargo's shirt. There is a breeze and the bills Barry threw on the ground plaster themselves to his shoes. Dennis picks them up, disregarding the coins, folds the bills neatly and gets up to retrieve his wallet off of the ground. Looking back at Cargo Pants--Mister Dennis that was soooo cooool!--he goes back to him, rifles through his pockets and finds $350 in his wallet.

Fuck yes, Jade hisses as They find the money.

Looks like this guy likes to go around nabbing peoples' wallet contents, not just Theirs.

Was that really necessary? Patricia asks, but she seems to say it out of habit. She's quite glad that They are able to overtake Their assailant.

Barry, on the other hand, would rather not have resorted to violence in that situation. This guy, once he wakes up, may start looking for Them, and this bus route is the only one They are able to take into the city. Hopefully They won't run into him again, but he can't guarantee that.

Dennis lets Barry have the Light again, which surprises Barry, but it's probably due to the smears of drying blood on his hand, so he doesn't question it.

"Well, back to hunter-gathering," Barry says, stuffing the $350 into Their wallet and continuing down the street.

Chapter Text

Casey's position at her gym is to work the front desk. Her duties include confirming gym member identities, giving tours to potential members when she draws the short straw, and occasional bathroom cleanup. Her mind, without fail, thinks of Dennis any time she scrubs the toilet clean, and due to this she has been told by several coworkers that she does an impeccable job with it. She's sure, though, that it would never be up to his standards.

This is just one mundane example of how deeply The Horde has touched Casey's life.

On her way home from an eight hour shift, she picks up some gaudy makeup and a tube top at a boutique, complete with a short, tight mini skirt. She grabs some stilettos at a different shop and a tiny purse at another.

Her next target tends to pick up girls on the corner on Thursday nights. Casey knows he has a preference towards small brunettes with large, doe-like eyes, which is perfect; though while Casey looks petite, she weighs a lot more than she looks, and it's likely due to the unnoticeable muscle she's built since lifting weights.

She knows that this will be a dangerous mark, as she's changing up her silent-unseen routine, but this guy is as bad as it gets and she's hungry to put him down. Her guilt-ridden pity party from earlier in the week and anxiety over getting caught possibly has something to do with the change as well. It's definitely not smart to change things up when something works, but she needs to throw the authorities off somehow; there is heat following her serial killings from victim to victim and she needs to shake it off.

At least that's what she tells herself.

Maybe, though, she wants to get caught. Maybe that's why she's deliberately acting stupid. Maybe, through her guilt from the other night, she thinks she deserves to spend her life behind bars. Maybe if she's behind bars, Kevin doesn't have to be.

A childish, illogical notion, yet here she is, slipping on her heels and walking the corners her target likes to frequent. The shoes are a pain, and she has to take them off at one point, but back on they go once she's taken a break from them. It is so incredibly cold out here that her breath comes out in small puffs of white, but not cold enough that she could justify buying even more clothes than necessary for this hit.

It takes a couple of hours of rejecting embarrassed men and convincing them she isn't an actual hooker before he rides up next to her and raises an eyebrow in question. He is driving some sort of dark grey Oldsmobile; Casey's knowledge on cars is limited so that's all she can gather. Her skirt is riding up a little, exposing her unmarred thighs, but the scars on her arms and stomach glint in the lamplight. He regards them curiously; Casey wonders if he'll be the one to reject her as she's rejected the earlier men, and she suddenly feels incredibly self-conscious. She wraps her arms around her stomach and almost closes off defensively, but then forces her arms down and leans over, hands holding her upper body up while they settle on her thighs.

"Hey there," she says. "You looking for someone?"

"Maybe you," he states, his voice rumbling and hoarse, and with a loud heart thundering in her ears and beating into her throat, she gets in on the passenger side and places her small purse in her lap. There is a stick of mace in there along with a whistle, and she is wearing her garrote bracelet around her left wrist. She knows the mace and the whistle will do almost nothing against a man his size--she has never been close enough to him to notice his size compared to hers. A large part of her wants to open the door again and run off, but she makes herself stay, gripping her purse towards her

This is such a bad idea, she thinks. But... She glances at his neck and it looks so soft despite his size, so malleable, so cuttable. She has to remind herself that she has taken down men as large as this before, and that once he drops his guard, she will be on him in seconds, pulling the garrote across that flesh and wrapping her legs around his chest.

"How much?" he asks her now that the window is closed.

"Pretty reasonable, I think," she says, trying her best to act flirty and desirable. "Drive me somewhere with a bed and you can have it all if you want."

She makes it seem like she's homeless and just needs a place to stay for the night, and he picks up on that, nodding and chewing on his tongue. She's sort of a young, pretty little waif of a girl; her ass is quite aesthetically pleasing and he's into all of it. He's going to have a lot of fun tonight, especially with that ass.

He drives her to a run-down motel--Rooms for as low as $29/night!--and her chest is tight with anticipation. Once inside one of the rooms, she brushes her hair aside and looks over her shoulder at him coyly. "Just going to freshen up."

"No," he says firmly. "You freshen up here on the bed. I need to use the john first."

Perfect.

She shrugs and sits daintily on the bed, purse at her right thigh. As she hears the faucet run, she takes her heels off and pads silently towards the bathroom door. There is a piece of furniture there beside the door and she lifts herself atop it without a noise, unbuttoning the top bracer of her garrote and unwinding the fishing line. As she goes to clip the top bracer to her right wrist, the faucet stops and the door opens much sooner than she anticipated.

Shit.

Immediately, without even looking at her, he grabs her by the waist and tosses her on the bed with little effort. "I knew it!" he yells. "I knew you were going to try and rob me!"

He doesn't even look at the garrote, growling and then suddenly rushing at her while she is on her back on the bed. Her left leg comes up instinctively to kick him in the chest, and despite her perceived size, he is astonished as he is knocked back a few steps, chest spasming as he struggles to suck in air. This bitch is strong.

Taking advantage of the pause, Casey leaps forward off of the bed, aiming for his knees. The back of her right forearm connects with his right knee, the kneecap popping up and then out as he grunts what tries to be a scream were it not for the wind knocked out of his lungs. The knee is already purpling and he stumbles forward, tangling himself on her crouched body and falling forward, which would have been great had he not caught himself on the desk that she had climbed on earlier. His hand grabs at her behind him and connects with her tube top, dragging it down to her stomach and exposing her breasts.

Not one to be caught up on modesty while her life is in danger, she kicks him in the back of his injured knee and he finally falls forward to the ground. She rises to her feet and clutches the wood embedded inside of her bracers, that connects the fish line to each bracer, and does not pause to pull her tube top up, wrapping the line twice around his soft, fleshy neck and diving forward to smash both of her knees into his back while pulling the line taught. He struggles and tries to reach back at her but she evades his arms. Eventually he pushes himself up off the ground with her atop him and stands up, attempting to straighten himself without very much success; her position becomes precarious. She switches from being on her knees against his back, allowing the garrote to be the only thing that holds her up, to her left foot smashing into the area between his shoulder blades, and rides him for a good solid ten seconds.

She has the garrote in the exact place she wants it to be able to strangle him, so he should be going down at any moment.

In a desperate attempt at life, he leaps upon the bed, landing on his stomach and bouncing up, causing Casey to lose her balance. There is a still moment where she is on top of his back, then suddenly is no longer there, and as she falls toward the other side of the mattress beside him, he claws at her arms and the bracer on her right hand. He straddles her and goes deadweight on her, causing all of the air to rush out of her lungs. She gasps and tilts her head back away from his face, propelling her head forward again to smash at his nose, and the action is sloppy, which causes her to lose her grip on the wood embedded in the bracer that he claws at. It goes flying up and the fish line around his neck loosens.

"Fucking bitch!" he rasps at her. "I'm going to make you wish you hadn't done that."

As soon as he begins to gain the upper hand, his pants get tighter and he fumbles with his belt. She is going to get what's coming to her, they all get what's coming to them when he can supply it. His right hand shoots up to wrap itself around her small neck while his left hand goes for the button of his jeans, freeing his very prominent erection from his pants. He doesn't need to do anything about her skirt, it's short enough and she didn't wear pantyhose, so she's just within thrusting reach despite her--pink lace? If possible, he gets even harder at this realization, and adjusts his body, ready to pull the pink panties aside with his left hand.

Casey is choking, her windpipe closing off because of his hand. He is so strong, so heavy, so determined.

Kevin, she thinks suddenly. I have to save Kevin. This thought shocks her as it bursts from her mind like a growing stain bleeding through delicate paper. I can't die here, I can't get raped, this can't happen because I need to save Kevin.

A scream is ripping from her throat as her vision darkens, though it's not from lack of oxygen. Her left hand spools the fishing line as quickly as she can around her palm, and she tosses the loose bracer over and across the man's back, unbelievably catching it with her right hand. The line is quickly wrapped around his neck twice and she yanks both ends of it as hard as she possibly can. He goes slack against her, trying in desperation to breathe, his hands coming up to try and loosen the line without success. She is able to breathe again and she sucks in a shuddering breath. She can feel his bare cock against her thigh twitching and weeping, and she thinks she's going to be sick.

This makes her pull even harder. She is panting now, her breathing quick and ragged, eyes wild with survival instinct. Blood vessels in his own eyes begin to pop and the whites of them are suddenly filled with several little rivers of blood making their way towards his pupils. They stare into each others' eyes like lovers tangled in the sheets as he claws at his neck, face going purple.

They're blue, his eyes. This is a stray thought that enters her mind as their dance continues, and time seems to slow for them, lasting an eternity in the hell that they've made for themselves.

He's choking, she realizes with horror. In her haste, she had not placed the line correctly on his neck--there was no option, honestly, but she does not know when he will go down now. She can't keep this up, her arms are already trembling, sweat popping up on her brow, eyes leaking tears that have nothing to do with his attempted rape.

Eventually, after what seems to last eons, he begins to go slack, but Casey can not risk him getting up again to do the nefarious deeds he has planned for her. He is sputtering saliva and it drips onto her face while she screams into his, her eyes ablaze with fire and heat and rage. There is a ripping sound in the background somewhere but her mind registers nothing as she continues to pull the garrote handles towards her and hold him up off of her with her knees. The screaming turns into someone else's screaming, she thinks, she doesn't recognize the animalistic screech that fills her ears, but no one else is there with them.

And then her mouth is filled with a copper taste, and her face is wet, and his head falls forward onto her and he rolls to the side.

Wait.

He doesn't roll to the side. He is still on top of her, and her neck, chest and breasts are hot with liquid, and her arms are scalded with what seem to be red paint.

Where his face once was is now the ceiling, and her garrote's line has gone slack, and his body slumps forward on her as his arms fall from his neck. She takes in a shuddering breath, noting that the screaming has stopped and she is still alive.

Her arms flop down to her sides in exhaustion and she stares at the ceiling in shock, feeling everything and nothing all at once. Her head turns very slowly to her right, and she sees his blue, blue eyes staring back at her, though his body is still atop hers. They literally blink at her, and she gazes at them in fascination. Post-mortem twitching, but she likes to think he's staring back at her in disbelief.

His body relaxes and to add insult to injury her legs suddenly feel wet as well. Great, now she's got pee on her too. She pushes his body off before anything else can relax its way out and it falls off the bed with a deadened thud.

There is a knocking on the door. "Hey is everything ok in there? What the hell was that screaming?"

"Go away, we're fucking!" Casey hears herself yell distantly, but her eyes are trained on the ceiling and they are glassy with shock. The knocking goes away. She still has his blood in her mouth and she slowly licks her bottom lip, tasting it. Her head feels light and her left wrist is probably throbbing with the exertion of the bracer pulling against it, but that, too, is nothing but a murmur to her senses. Her vision is growing dark and she tries so very hard to cling to consciousness. Back and forth the darkness ebbs, coming and going like a malevolent tide.

Eventually, when her vision is steady, and her body starts to get cold, she sits up and looks around her at the damage.

His head rolled to her right, and is lying in a small pool of blood that has soaked into the sheets. The eyes are half-closed now like someone who is very sleepy. His body she rolled to her left, and it lies chest-down on the floor, his pants wet with unknown fluids. There is a massive amount of blood leaking from the stump that was his neck but it slows very quickly.

There's only about two gallons worth of blood in a human body. An aimless fact that idles its way across the forefront of her thoughts.

She needs to shower. She can still taste the copper in her mouth, and she spits, then spits again, as she rises to her feet, stripping herself sluggishly of her clothes.

Stupid. That was so incredibly stupid.

No matter how many times she says it to herself while she sits there in the shower, face deadpan and hands clutching her knees, she knows this was an inevitability for her. She knows that when she first started doing this, she would eventually self-sabotage, and when they finally arrested her, she would have no choice but to leave the familiar, toxic space of John Cooke. That decision would have been made for her instead, she would not have to make it, and that comforted her.

But her going to jail, however comforting the notion of not having to make that choice is, directly conflicts with her thought from earlier.

Save Kevin? What had that been about? She supposes she can chalk it up to her painfully dying brain cells as she was gasping for life.

She is a mess. She doesn't know what she wants. She doesn't know what to do. She barely knows who she is anymore.

At these conclusions, tears begin to well up in her eyes, and the shower water becomes salty in her mouth. She wants so desperately to turn back time, back to when The Beast bends the bars to her cage and calls her pure. Back to when he ran off to leave her standing there. She should have screamed for him to come back for her rather than slide down that wall and wait for the early rays of morning, the light clouding everything and muddling her conviction.

Wait! Take me with you! Please!

She is as broken as he, and they belong to each other.

Take me with you.

She is so tired. Her eyes droop, and she lays on her side in the tub, the water spraying on her legs and her head near the drain. So very tired. So very lost.

At the very last second she realizes that she really is passing out this time, but she can't hold on, she's swirling into the abyss, she's reaching and grabbing hold with all of her might for something, anything to keep her conscious, but not even the thought of Kevin can keep her eyes open.

She is very vaguely aware of her body rising from the tub, strong arms lifting her and clutching her to a solid chest, but that must be her imagination.

She is a little girl again in her hallucination, and Daddy is lifting her from the truck after an incredibly exhausting hunting trip. He'll put her in bed and tuck her in and kiss her on the forehead goodnight, because that's what good daddies do, and he is such a good daddy, no one can best him in that category.

He'll leave and turn off the light, looking back at her with loving eyes, and she'll want him to stay, but he won't. He'll walk away, and she'll be left in the dark with the monsters that want to defile her soul, waiting in the shadows for her to finally be alone.

Take me with you.

Chapter Text

He saw Casey go into the motel room with the man, but stayed in his car a good deal away from them, out of earshot and eyesight. Now, as he holds her unconscious body against his, David Dunn is kicking himself for not parking a little closer.

"Goddamnit," he says under his breath as he lays her down in the back seat, her wet body wrapped up in his green security poncho. He found her little purse and--garrote?--as well as her bloody clothes and heels, and he has them in the front seat with him. He has to take her someplace safe, somewhere they can breathe a bit, just a place where they can talk and he can figure out what the holy hell happened here.

He starts driving, knowing he can't take her back home--Audrey would be so incredibly pissed off and get the wrong idea.

Punching the speed dial on his phone, Joseph's voice gives David a bit of calm.

"Hey butthead," Joseph greets him.

"Hey butthead," David says right back. "So I, ah, have a situation here that I need to talk to you about. You free?"

"Sure, what's it about?"

Glancing back at Casey, he clears his throat and tilts his head one way, then the other. "Ah, you know, same ol' same ol'."

Joseph pauses and immediately knows it's related to his dad's extracurricular proclivities. "Oh. Yeah, come on over." He sounds excited.

While it isn't necessarily a bad idea to go to Joseph with Casey Cooke in tow, it isn't really a good idea, either. Joseph liked to fancy himself a superhero every once in a while since discovering his dad's powers, and loved accompanying him on stakeouts. David also knows from his slew of particular ex-girlfriends that he likes to play White Knight and save damsels in distress.

He didn't have much of a choice, however, and he drives to Joseph's apartment.

 


He is staring at her laying on his couch in disbelief, standing with his arms crossed and his eyebrows raised. His dad is in the same exact position next to him--arms crossed, eyebrows raised, staring at a still-unconscious Casey Cooke.

"Sooo..." Joseph attempts to investigate.

"Uh-yup." David nods pensively.

"She just...cut it clean off?"

"Uh-yup."

"But...how."

Without looking at Joseph, David passes the garrote to him, and without looking at David, Joseph takes it. He looks down at it and it's actually quite an ingenious little contraption, if a little on the basic side. There is still blood on it, but it's dry now, and it crackles off as he wraps it up on itself.

"Sooo..." Joseph scratches the back of his head with his free hand.

"Mm-hm."

"Huh. I would never have thought."

"She's so small," David remarks.

"She's so small," Joseph agrees.

David supposes that she's not that small, and that the way she is curled up in his poncho just makes her seem it. They continue to stand there looking down at her in silence, until David clears his throat and turns to Joseph. "Do you, ah, still have some clothes from Tina?" he asks.

"Oh! Yeah." Joseph is spurred into action. He has a purpose now, and that purpose is not to stand there bewildered, looking at a woman wearing only his dad's poncho. He walks over to his room and rifles through some boxes in the closet, retrieving a pair of sweats that have PINK plastered on the butt and a matching spaghetti-strap tank. Tina liked her Victoria's Secret swag, which leaves Joseph to wonder why she hadn't come back for these.

Oh yeah, he thinks. Because she ran off to Kentucky with her new boyfriend.

Kentucky, of all places.

He comes back into the room with his dad sitting on the ottoman, his hand on Casey's shoulder, eyes closed in concentration. Joseph knows his dad is attempting to see what happened in that hotel room, but David just shakes his head and shrugs as his son comes up with Tina's old clothes.

"Nothing?" Joseph asks.

"It's all...muddy. I'll try again when she's awake." David gets to his feet. "Coffee. You want some coffee? I'll make some coffee." He heads toward the kitchen and starts opening cupboards in his search, but he's blind to the actual contents--he can't read any actual events from her, only dreams she's had recently. The most recent one is one of her in the woods, facing off a massive bear, pointing her rifle at it. It's impossibly large and looming above her, and it snatches the rifle from her trembling hands. Then she's at what seems to be a high school, being chased by an invisible wolf. David doesn't know how he knows it's a wolf, but it just seems right to him.

Joseph has changed her into the fresh clothes by the time he makes it back with two freshly-brewed cups, and they both sip their coffee in silence, eyes still on Casey Cooke. The green poncho hangs on a coat rack Joseph has by the door. The younger man hands his coffee mug to his dad, stands and rummages through a chest beside the couch, bringing out a fleece blanket and laying it on top of her.

"She looks so helpless," he says, taking his coffee back from David and taking a gulp.

At this, she begins to stir. Both men seem to jump, trying to find somewhere to place their coffee to try and help her sit up, but she does this on her own and blinks heavily at the both of them.

 


She tries to assess her situation. From what she can tell, she is dressed and her hair is a tangled mess. Her left wrist hurts, but it doesn't seem to be broken as she rolls it around. Her body is incredibly sore, as though she has been lifting weights for hours on end, and her hands feel the same. She surveys them, discovering a couple of rips on her palms that she knows she'll have to clean out when she gets the chance.

Other than that, she feels clean and warm.

Her gaze falls on the older gentleman in front of her, and is surprised when she realizes he's the man from the gas station.

"I--what am I doing here?" she asks, frowning and looking at one, then the other.

"You're Casey Cooke," the younger one says. She nods once, then starts shaking her head as though wondering what that has to do with anything.

"You're the girl who lived," he says, grinning to himself at the young adult book reference. The older one elbows him and Joseph ignores him, sitting down on the ottoman to get level with her. "But seriously, you're the one that escaped The Horde, aren't you."

It wasn't really a question, and Casey nods again. "Yeah?"

"I just want to ask a couple of questions," he says. "I'm Joseph. This is my dad." Joseph gestures to the older gentleman.

"I'm David. Pleasure again." David gives her a small smile, but his eyes seem to smile wider, and he offers her his mug.

Still a bit disoriented, she takes it and holds it with both hands, the open wounds on her palms stinging. She enjoys the sting, though, and keeps her palms where they are.

"What questions?" Casey asks. "Because I don't...I don't do interviews, I never have, and I'm not about to start." She assumes this has to do with the news report on the teens--it suddenly has Horde fanatics jumping down her throat again. She pauses for a second. "Wait. How did I get here? And why am I in clothes that aren't mine? Where's my--"

Her hand goes to her right wrist and her heart sinks when she realizes her weapon is gone.

"It's right here." Joseph offers it to her, drinking some of his coffee while she takes it from him. "I didn't get the chance to clean it, so it's...still a mess."

Casey puts the garrote, wrapped up and crusty with dried blood but otherwise no worse for wear, beside her on the couch. She can sense the empathy in Joseph's voice, and it makes her feel safer in his company. "What...what did you want to know?" she asks reluctantly, chest tight with anticipation.

Oh, just like that. Joseph is surprised and he raises an eyebrow. "Uh...well first off, we need to know what happened in that hotel room."

"He tried to rape me," she answers flatly.

"Right but...what were you doing with that?" Joseph gestures toward the garrote.

"It's for self-defense. Why would I carry it otherwise?"

Joseph thinks she makes a point, so he moves on. David, on the other hand, is not convinced, and he glances at his watch to avoid looking at her.

"Look I have to go," Casey says. "I'm going to get into such deep shit if I don't get back home soon." Neither of them say anything, but there's an air of resistance that fills the room as the silence grows. She looks from one to the other and tsks her tongue at them. "Am I being held captive? Have I been kidnapped?"

"No!" Joseph exclaims, a little louder than he intended. "It's just, we need some information, and you're the best person to go to for it."

She wasn't interested in finding out what they wanted to know--she knew instinctively what it was, and she was not going to talk to them about The Horde. "If I haven't been kidnapped and I am not being held captive, then you wouldn't mind if I just left, then," she reasons.

"Well, no, we wouldn't mind, Miss Cooke," David says soothingly. "There is the matter, however, of the dead man in your motel room."

"That wasn't my fault, I told you, he tried to rape me." Her words are firm and direct.

"We should report that," Joseph pipes in with his dad.

"I'll report it myself, thanks," Casey retorts.

"Look, my dad saved you, I think you owe it to him--"

"I owe what to him, exactly?" Her eyebrows raise, challenging him to finish the sentence.

There is an uncomfortable silence. It stretches on for days, it seems, the air around them thick with an awkward cloud of uncertainty. Finally, Joseph breaks the silence. "Look Casey, I think--"

"Ah-ah-ah," David tuts. "Let her go, Joseph."

He looks at his dad incredulously and David looks right back at him levelly. "What? We need--"

"--to make sure she's safe, and now that we know she is, she's free to do what she likes," David finished for him. "Right, Joseph." It wasn't a question. There is another silence, this time coated with resignation, as Joseph seems to concede with a sigh. "Now get this young lady a pair of Tina's flip-flops."

Feeling like they are making a mistake, but also knowing that his dad has a far greater sense of these things than he does, Joseph gets up a bit sullenly from the ottoman and procures exactly that from a back room, Tina's pink flip-flops. He hands them to Casey and she feels guilty for taking all of their kindness and generosity and then basically telling them to go fuck themselves.

"...thanks," she says softly, reaching out before he can take his hands back and squeezing one of them. The touch is more intimate than Casey intends, and they lock eyes for a second before he pulls back with a red face, embarrassed at the exchange. David notices this charge between them and mulls it over in his head for a bit.

"Well it was very nice meeting you, Miss Cooke," David says finally, reach out to shake her hand. He has to get a good read this time, he just has to, otherwise they'll have to resort to continue stalking her until she leads them to The Horde herself. She grasps his hand, and they shake for a moment before David pulls back suddenly, holding his hand as though he's been burned, eyes dark and disturbed.

She gets up, and Joseph gives her a spare jacket he has, which is much too big for her but will work to keep her warm outside. "You...want me to drive you anywhere?" he asks uncertainly.

"No, I need to...finish up some things," she says.

And just like that, she is gone.

Joseph whips his head back at his dad as soon as the door shuts. "What the fuck was that? What did you see?" His voice is earnest.

David stares at the door she's just left out of, rubbing the hand that touched hers. It had been like an electric current that ran from her body to his when he saw the vision, and he looks utterly spooked.

"Dad. What did you see?"

"Nothing," David says. "And then darkness. And then...from the darkness, something...spoke to me. Growled at me. Roared at me. It...leapt at me from the darkness with claws and gnashing teeth..."

Joseph is silent, as he doesn't want to ruin David's train of thought. His dad looks absolutely unsettled.

"...and told me to get out of her head."

Chapter Text

There is a fire escape that leads up to the living room window at Casey's apartment. It is old and creaky but feels sturdy under Hedwig's feet.

He is going to see Casey today.

Not unlike Tom Wingfield of The Glass Menagerie intertwined with similar structure, We ascend the clangorous companionway with Herculean resolve, upon the vessel of kismet, spurred by the yearning of broadened adulation for Our damsel paramour, Orwell booms, to unshackle her from the macabre existence of the barbarous vitriol she has all but ever been intimate with.

Hedwig feels like clapping. He has no idea what Orwell has just said, but it sounds good, like Hedwig is a superhero and Orwell is his narrator.

"Yas queeeeen!" he hoots, having no idea what that means either but knowing it is a positive exclamation.

Hedwig you must be quiet, Patricia warns him.

He slaps a hand to his mouth to cover it, eyes wide and brows wrinkled together. "Sorry Miss Patricia!" he whispers loudly.

Dennis had trailed her here the other day, and it didn't take long before They knew which apartment was hers. He was shocked and enraged to realize she still lived with her uncle, but Barry stopped him from going BAMF on his ass so that They'd still have a chance at laying low from the authorities. Cargo Pants had been enough, in fact had been too much, and They have to keep that low profile as it is one of Their biggest advantages in a city like Philly.

Her uncle is slovenly and repulsive; empty beer bottles lie stacked on their sides atop each other, trash is strewn about the floor around an old, brown recliner. The rest of the apartment looks...dirty, although that's going by Dennis' standards, so it may as well be acceptable by most. The kitchen looks as though there has been an attempt at cleaning it; cleaning supplies are on the counter and they look as though they have been placed there recently.

Hedwig walks over to the fridge and opens it, rummaging around until he finds a piece of cheesecake. He does not know how old this cheesecake is, but he is going to eat it, and everyone will just have to watch, because it's his turn in the Light and he won't give it up for no one or nothin' now that yummies are involved.

Hedwig can you please put the food down, we have to make sure no one is here, Barry reminds him gently.

"Oh yeah."

Taking a bite out of the side of the cheesecake without using utensils--it's ok enough, so not that old--the 9-year-old sets it down on the counter, tiny plate that it's on making little noise as he does so, and looks around to see no one. The TV is on, volume turned low so that the voices are indiscernible, and all the doors are closed in the apartment. He listens for a bit but then gets bored, and makes his way to one of the three closed doors.

Careful, Patricia warns.

It is a bathroom that has also been recently cleaned, still smelling of cleaning chemicals that Hedwig inhales, striking Dennis with a great satisfaction.

The next room Hedwig opens quietly, and that room seems to belong to Casey's uncle, as its area matches the surroundings around the recliner in the living room. There is a small door that leads to another bathroom in this room. Dennis refuses to enter for fear of seeing what may fester in there. The last room, then, must be Casey's. Hedwig is filled with excitement and glee--They are going to see Casey! This is the best day ever!

Bursting through the room, Hedwig's smile disappears when he finds it empty. He is disappointed; she should have been here, but she isn't, and now he has to wait. He closes the door behind him and stands there in her room, someone (or someones) breathing in her scent.

"She smells nice," Hedwig states, ever blunt. He feels an embarrassment within him that he suspects is not his own. "Whaaat? She smells nice, et cetera."

To his right, back to the door, there is a dresser with a mirror atop it. On top of the dresser are small figurines of deer and wolves, and a few small music boxes that have twirling ladies on them.  A small desk is beyond the dresser with a rolling chair that looks like it's seen better days. Her bed to the left is unmade, and that makes Dennis bristle, but the space is tidy and looks like it's been dusted, so there's that. Above the bed are old posters of hunting season dates in Philly that are from 2012. On the left flush with the door her closet sits, sliding doors closed to the world. In front of him is a window that faces another building, the street below between the two quiet, despite the fact that it should be Rush Hour by now.

The world is dimming outside, and Hedwig can feel himself getting sleepy. He pushes himself through it and touches the top of her figurines lightly, softly, barely. They are ceramic, some are heavy while others hollow and light, still more are shiny and now glinting because of the streetlamp that has just turned on outside of her window. The deer are majestic-looking things, most of them does, and the wolves are all crouched low and look as though they are all ready to pounce. Hedwig takes one of the music boxes--it is palm-sized and he loves how small and dainty it is in his hands--and slowly turns the key on it once.

It plays something Hedwig does not recognize, mainly because it's not by Drake. As he listens though he gets a little excited as he recognizes the tune.

"OH my GOD that's Sia," Hedwig says. "Cray cray she has a song by Sia on a music box, Casey is so cool."

It's not Sia you buffoon, Orwell suddenly pipes. It's Dance of the Knights by Prokofiev. That's a classic piece of Russian history that's been overlooked due to times of the world war.

"Don't call me names Orwell it's not nice to call people names," Hedwig pouts. He thumbs a ridge on the small piece of ceramic, the woman on top of it spinning and spinning to the small tinks of the tiny metal pieces inside of it. "What's it about, if you're so smart, et cetera."

It's composed for a ballet written by Sergey Prokofiev during the fated meeting of the warring Montague and Capulet clans prior to their arrival at the masquerade ball. That is where Romeo and Juliet meet in graceful amoury, the tides of their volatile families ebbing as they fall in love.

Hedwig is already bored.

This is blasphemy of the greatest degree, Orwell spits as he notices this. There is history and soul in these pieces and those that choose to forget them forget the tragedy and tortured pain that accompanied them!

That's enough, Dennis says.

Yeah chill, Orwell, Barry chimes in. He's just excited he recognizes it. This is a rare moment where the two men agree on something.

"Yeahhh," Hedwig says out loud, sticking his tongue out at nothing.

His thumb slips as he does this and the small ceramic piece goes flying. Several people are in the Light now as They all try to catch it before it falls to the ground. Dennis seems to catch it but then Jade is there and it pops up from Their hand. She tries to grab it with Their other hand but misses, and then Barry swoops in to grab it with the first hand but it bounces off of his palm and falls to the ground. While the ground is carpeted, it is a fragile piece, and the ballerina atop the box snaps off and rolls underneath the dresser.

"Oh-oh my god-oh no-it-oh no, it was-it was an accident!" Hedwig sputters.

There is a silence as Everyone stares at the dark space where the ballerina now rests.

As if on cue, They hear the front door open, and Hedwig panics, running around and jumping on the bed trying to hide under the covers. That doesn't work well as he is the size of a fully-grown man. He quietly opens her closet, which is filled to the brim with a few pieces of clothing and a greater number of storage items, but he is unable to fit well inside of it. Finally, he dives under her bed, which is a tight squeeze but able to conceal him, and he tucks his knees up to his chest so that his legs don't stick out.

Her door opens and Hedwig hears her sigh. The bottom of the broken music box lays at her feet and she picks it up, thankfully not looking under the bed as she does so. She is wearing pink flip-flops that don't make any sense for her to wear in this cold weather, and she reaches behind her to close the door, which--Dennis notices--does not have a lock.

She places the broken music box on top of her dresser, fingering the place where the ballerina broke off. She'll look for it later. Right now, she's too exhausted from her crazy night to give too much of a shit about anything.

Why are We being creepy, Jade snipes. This is creepy as fuck.

Shhhh! Hedwig hisses. I'm not ready to see her yet! She'll be so mad at me! Et cetera!

Well now We're gonna have to wait until she leaves or We'll look like serial killers, Dennis says.

They are silent at the irony of his remark.

Casey lays on the bed slowly, not bothering to remove Joseph's jacket. She holds it against herself and smells it--it smells like his apartment, which at the time was a mixture of coffee and aftershave. She doesn't' pull the covers up over her and instead just lays there, trying to keep her mind blank, trying to get her body to rest and stop being tense.

When the bed dips as she lays on it, Hedwig's hand moves up to touch the coils softly, but it's not Hedwig that moves it.

Casey fishes the garrote out of the jacket pocket and studies it for a moment, crusty blood and all, then flops her arms down in an act of frustration, the garrote uncurling and falling to the floor.

That's awesome, Hedwig says as he watches the garrote hit the floor and unwind itself. That's like spy stuff, right Mister Dennis, it's spy stuff?

Patricia notices the garrote, as does Dennis, and they each exchange a look for a moment that only the two of them can discern.

Dennis, using Hedwig's control of the Light to his advantage by nudging the boy aside gently, blocks the Light from Everyone. He inhales deeply; her smell is stronger now that she is in the room, and heady, and intoxicating. His head is filled with it, swirling around at the forefront of his mind, filling his chest with a deep yearning, his sharpness and edges accentuated by a hunger from deep within his belly. Groin becoming hot and tight, he trails the tip of his tongue across his bottom lip as his body hardens at the thought of her on the bed above Them.

Sick thoughts fill his head and he tries to push them away but they come flooding through, her smell spurring them on and encouraging their prevalence. He has forgotten about the garrote; all that fills him is her existence mere inches away from him.

But he shouldn't be in the Light. A moment of weakness like this again, and Everyone will know.

In the Room of Chairs, Barry takes this opportunity to sleep and then disappears from his chair.

Dennis takes a moment to calm down and lets out a longing sigh just low enough that she is unable to hear it. His body relaxes and he allows the Light to be shared again, stepping back away from it and sitting down firmly in his chair, back straight and arms crossed against his chest.

Mister Dennis. It's Hedwig, smiling coyly, body wriggling in the chair next to him. It's not his chair, but he's come to visit, and while it's considered a massive faux-pas to sit in someone else's chair, Hedwig is too young to know every single boundary within Kevin's mind, and neither does he comply (or need to comply) with all of them. He is quite a special little guy. You liiiike Casey don't you. It is a whisper, and Dennis tightens his crossed arms together, body tensing. You really really liiiike her, et cetera.

I'm just trying to protect us, Dennis counters. And her.

Hedwig grins mischievously, not really buying into it, and runs off.

There is a door slam and it startles Them, pushing Dennis back into the Light to investigate.

Casey's body goes rigid--her uncle is home, and he must have played a very poor poker game, because he sounds like an angry rhino tossing up all of their furniture in the living room. She closes her eyes--she just wanted one moment of peace, one iota of calm--and her lips tighten into a grim line. He'll want dinner, and as she hasn't made it for him yet, he'll be even angrier. Slowly rising to her feet, she takes Joseph's jacket off, hugs her stomach--a defensive move--and opens her door, leaving it slightly ajar as she makes her way into the kitchen.

"Casey," John huffs. "Where's dinner?"

He is a big bear of a man, much taller than the man from earlier in the day whose head she twisted off. He has a big barrel chest and a large, rotund paunch, and his arms are massive as he swings them around in his fury. His presence makes her feel small, both physically and psychologically.

"I'll make it," she says, trying to make her voice soft and non-threatening, gentle and placating. "Just give me half an hour and I'll be done."

She doesn't realize that she is cringing away from him and his dominating presence, and this makes him angry. "Why are you like that? Why can't you just do something right for once? Huh, Casey? Answer me, you dirty cunt!" She flinches at the words and hurries to the kitchen. "And what in god's name are you wearing? Did you know only sluts wear things like that? Words plastered across your ass like that, you're just inviting people to screw you!"

His voice drowns out and she is in a world of her own, her only purpose now to make his meal and be quiet, be still, be small, be nothing. She shakes as over a decade of abuse swims over her, and she feels helpless as he screams, desperate to make it stop however possible.

In her room, Dennis listens. The screaming puts him on edge, and his ears are pricked and become painful from the over-stimulation.

"I'm sorry Uncle John," Casey says in the kitchen. "Do you want anything special? I'll make you whatever you want."

He stops, breathing heavily from all the yelling he has been doing. "Omelettes, make me a few of those. Put some cheese on them." He rummages in the fridge and retrieves a six pack, cracking one open before he even exits the kitchen. "It better be made once my show is done, Casey, or I'll be real upset."

The threatening undertone makes her skin tingle with anxiety even though he is no longer in the room. She quickly takes the ingredients for omelettes out of the kitchen fridge and notices the cleaning supplies are still on the counter. She hurriedly puts those away and starts to make his dinner. She does all this as in what seems to be a semi-trance, and she cannot seem to pull out of it, the familiarity of this abuse coating her body like a glove and forcing it to move and walk and talk the way it likes.

She doesn't notice the cheesecake on the counter.

Everyone wants an empowerment story. Everyone wants a story of vengeance and restitution. Everyone wants justice in the end, for people to make a turning point in their lives, to stand up and speak out for themselves.

Sometimes, it just doesn't happen.

Chapter Text

Almost thirty minutes into his show and he's already buzzing. She can tell because his raucous laughter fills the living room, and he yells at Casey about the show's highlights as though they are pals, buddies, people that pretend they are animals in the woods.

His omelettes are done, and she gathers the plate along with another beer to deliver it to him.

Dennis very slowly comes out from under the bed. He stands there in the middle of her bedroom, listening. The TV is louder, and there is a sitcom on, but he strains his ears to listen harder, past the noise. Taking care not to make any noise himself, he walks cautiously towards her door, which is slightly ajar. Patricia is sharing the Light with him, which allows him to be able to peer into the living room with one eye. He sees John's right leg elevated on the recliner, the rest of him obscured by the wall. Casey is nowhere yet to be seen.

Oh, but there she is, coming from the kitchen with his dinner and a beer. He watches very quietly, studying her features, her body language--this is the Casey they first met. Her stance and gait have fallen back to their old ways, and she becomes small, and fragile, and weak, all signified by her facial expressions and her posture.

Dennis is all-too familiar with this kind of body language. He's done it himself, more than he cares to admit.

This is not the girl he saw walking down the street last week.

"You forgot my fork," John drawls at her as she nears him with the omelette. She freezes at this, and at first doesn't know want to do--does she give him the plate first or run for the fork with the plate in tow?--but John has other plans for the moment. "Casey-Bear. I guess I'm too hard on you. You do a lot for me and you're really a sweet girl." He pats one of his thighs. "Come sit on Uncle John's lap."

So he is hungry for something else, then. If Casey were strong enough, she would throw the hot plate of eggs into his face and pour all of the beer onto his lap.

But she's not. She's small and fragile and weak, right? He's reminded her of this many times in her life. Or, at least, she is all these things when she is with him. She is so conditioned to be this way in his presence that her feet take her to him sitting in his recliner as though on autopilot, and she hands him the omelettes and beer, both of which he sets down on the side table to his left. "Let's go, Casey-Bear. Come sit on my lap." He pats his thigh again.

Slowly, she turns and lowers herself onto his lap. The TV is playing a sitcom she isn't familiar with. Maybe she should start watching TV more often, or start up crocheting or something. Her mind is desperately wandering. She can feel his erection, sharp and painful against her, nuzzling her from underneath through his jeans. His right hand comes around and places itself on her right thigh, and she shudders. Taking this as an invitation rather than revulsion, his hand wanders to the elastic band of her sweats and eases past them, his hand slithering inside and placing itself on her lower belly.

Casey swallows and a single tear falls from her left eye as she watches the TV without seeing it.

Dennis sees all this with his limited view from Casey's room. His fists are clenched and his breathing is ragged, face dark with a wrath none can rival.

He was there. He was the one that took the physical and emotional abuse. He was the one that took the heat of the iron and the touch of her vile hands. He and Samuel both, but he's the only one that still protects Them out of the two despite (or maybe in spite). He won't allow someone to do that to Casey.

Dennis, wait. Patricia.

Wait? What are you talking about, wait? Dennis' eyes are on fire and his breath is hot in his chest. I can't just stand here and let that-that-that evil thing in there speak to her like that and touch her and defile her. YOU KNOW I CAN'T, PATRICIA.

He is yelling almost hysterically at her silently, and sweat pops up on his brow with the exertion of keeping himself from yelling it out loud.

She needs to do this herself, Patricia insists, voice firm and low. She will never be free of him if she does not do this on her own.

So you want me to just stand here, doing nothing.

No. I want you to give her the means to do it herself. Patricia shares the Light with him and glances over Their shoulder, eyes falling on the garrote.

Without pausing, Dennis picks it up and tosses it underhand into the living room, in front of Casey.

Casey hears the small thud and her eyes stray from the TV to find her weapon on the floor in front of her. For a moment she just stares at it as though it is some alien thing that has appeared before her eyes, some strange contraption from another world that has popped up from out of nowhere.

Everyone wants an empowerment story. Everyone wants a story of vengeance and restitution. Everyone wants justice in the end, for people to make a turning point in their lives, to stand up and speak out for themselves.

Sometimes, it just doesn't happen.

...but sometimes, it does.

She rises as though hypnotized by the garrote, her uncle's hand slipping from her pants. She doesn't listen to his raging objections as he struggles to sit up from his recliner, but she must do this quickly or she will lose her chance. In an instant, she has it clipped to her left wrist, wrapped around itself, and clipped over her left wrist again. She makes sure her back is to him so he does not see this.

Then she turns suddenly on her heels, pushing him back down onto his seat and straddling him. He can easily overtake her at this point, so she looks into his eyes and licks her lips and grins. "Let's pretend we're animals, Uncle John," she says sweetly. He is caught off guard--she's never been this receptive, and he is suspicious. Her breasts in his face in that little spaghetti-strap top, though, ease his suspicion a little bit, and when she leans down to cover his face with her hair and her breath caresses his earlobe he is sold, wrapping his grubby hands around her waist and grinding his crotch against her.

She trails her tongue on his neck and he groans, grabbing her hair and pulling her head back so he can stare at her. "What's with the sudden change of tune, Casey-Bear?" he asks, suspicion creeping back into his voice.

She rubs herself against the massive hardness in his pants and bites her bottom lip. "I'm so horny."

That excites the ever-living fuck out of him, and he lets her hair go, bringing her down on top of him to crush her lips with his.

Casey's insides shake. Her heart is hammering, her skin over-sensitive, bile rising in her throat as he deepens the kiss. It was all she could do to keep from screaming. Acting as though she wants him is profane enough, but now their lips are locked and she forgets for a moment what she is supposed to be doing.

The garrote.

She slides her arms behind his neck and muscle memory takes over. She unclasps, clasps, unwinds and wraps. Three times this time. There is very little for her to pull after the third quick wrap, but it is positioned correctly to suffocate him, and his eyes blink in confusion for a moment when she wraps her legs around his chest and begins falling back, pulling as she goes.

John has no idea she is killing him--all he knows is that suddenly he is unable to breathe, his neck is in agony, and the back of his head is tingling. Then his eyes fall on her, pulling taught whatever it is she's got around his neck. This bitch! This bitch is trying to fuck him over!

He stumbles to his feet and she continues to have her legs around him, riding him in a completely different way than how he was expecting. He pushes her, he tries to shake himself free, all the while his entire head is feeling cold and his vision is darkening very quickly. In a last ditch effort, he begins to punch her off, hitting her ribs and her stomach and trying to reach her head but his arms are unable to lift very high anymore. The punches seem to work because her legs are no longer around him, but his neck jerks as she hangs from it with her garrote, feet completely off of the ground, her entire body weight slung onto the line around his neck.

He is sputtering and purpling, and Casey is in pain, the ribs on her left side on fire and her shoulders and arms straining just to hold herself up off the floor. He falls to his knees like a tree crashing down, several things near them in the apartment jumping up at the force.

But she keeps going. Standing now, she kicks his chest in and keeps her foot there, pulling so hard on the garrote that her other foot lifts off of the ground. His arms flail weakly, trying to grab her, but she evades them very easily. Suddenly he is slumping on his side, and she is kicking him on his back, and straddling him on his chest as his eyes are popping out of his head looking at the ceiling above him. She still leans back as she has learned to never let up before they are well gone.

His arms are flopping uselessly at his sides in a last ditch effort to live. Her thoughts are racing, thinking back to her dad, back to his funeral, back to when John first took her in. The thoughts run through the woods with her, sleep in the tents there with her, look up at the stars with her. They race through all of John's touches and screaming and the scars, oh the scars, there are so many, and all of the tears she's shed, all of the nights she's felt lost and alone and scared, all of the days she's felt angry and hateful and mistrusting, and they all blend together in an incredible culmination of vindication and liberation.

"I don't have to pretend to be an animal, Uncle John," she spits at him, her voice sounding like a stranger's and very far away. "I am a fucking animal."

His body stops twitching. Even still, she continues to pull for a good ten minutes afterwards. After a while she comes back to the real world, and carefully lifts herself off of him, dropping both bracers to the floor on either side of his head. His face is a deep shade of purple, veins popping up prominently on his forehead. What had been the whites of his eyes are now completely red. There is deep bruising around his collarbone, and his entire body looks bloated and swollen.

The sight of his body and the knowledge that it's her uncle makes her legs give way and she falls to the floor, astonished with herself.

He's gone.

The words invade her brain and repeat themselves over and over.

He's gone. He's gone. He's gone.

She begins to laugh with relief, then cry with relief, then sob uncontrollably with relief.

He's gone.

Chapter Text

It begins to rain.

She can hear it outside, and it sounds so loud and real, as though she is hearing it for the first time after waking from a long slumber. The TV continues its tiresome buzz and she is compelled to smash the face of it in with a chair. Instead, she rises to her wobbly feet and staggers to it, finally, thankfully, turning it off. She had trouble breathing after her uncontrollable sobbing, but now she takes a deep, fulfilling breath, as though she has never breathed before in her life.

She doesn't want to clean it up. She doesn't want to ever look at it again. The body is visible from the higher apartments across the street, though, so she manages to make her way to the light switch and turns the lights off. Her left hand comes up to hold her burning ribs, but she doesn't think they are broken--possibly a little bruised. She can feel all of the damage John inflicted on her earlier: the ribs, a painful hip, and a massive bruise spanning her right collar bone and engulfing her shoulder, blossoming down atop her right breast. She knows she has fingerprint marks around her neck, and it's a wonder John hadn't mentioned them, but her neck throbs now as she raises her hand to touch it.

A passing car from below illuminates the walls of the room, hitting the dead television, and as she stares at the screen her body freezes.

There is someone in her room. She sees the reflection of her partially open door, wider than she'd left it but not quite halfway open. She whips around quickly, despite her injuries.

It takes all of Dennis' willpower not to burst into the living room and take her in his arms--now that he's seeing her face to face, she looks so worn, so exhausted, so broken. But her eyes spark, and he can still see the strength that it takes to survive something like their lives shining through them.

They stare at each other for a very long time.

Casey begins to tremble, certain that he's come back to announce he's changed his mind. She's not pure. She's sullied and dirty and tainted. Her fists clench, ready for him to rush her, resigned to the fate she should have been subjected to that night at the zoo.

But Dennis can't move. The probability of rejection is too much for him to take right now, and he searches out Barry but he is not in his chair. Hedwig fled when John was screaming out in the living room and has not returned. He turns to Jade--Pass--then looks to Patricia, who smiles at him and places a hand on his cheek as she passes, taking the Light. Dennis, with an ache in his chest, slowly walks to his chair and sits.

Patricia gives Casey a small smile and opens the bedroom door all the way.

"Oh, my poor girl."

Her arms open towards Casey, and Casey flinches, ready for Them to lunge. But They don't. Patricia stares at her lovingly, and a flurry of emotions Casey can't decipher overcomes her like a wave, capsizing any resolve she has to keep away. She slowly, hesitantly, takes a step forward. Patricia does not move, nor does she lower her outstretched arms.

Encouraged a bit, Casey begins to walk towards her, unsure if she can trust her eyes. Is Patricia really standing in her bedroom doorway? Or is this some dying hallucination?

In a daze, Casey settles herself between the open arms, gasping as they close in around her. Patricia pulls her into a long, deep embrace, cheek pressed against the girl's hair.

"It's alright, my dear," Patricia coos. "You're safe now. You don't have to run or fight any more. We're here now, and We will do that for you, if need be."

The words sound genuine, and for a moment Casey is lost in them; they swim around her head and she wants to snatch them from the air and clutch them to her chest.

Eventually, though, Casey pulls away at arm's length. She looks up into Patricia's incredibly blue eyes, searching for a hint of anyone else that may be present.

"Where's Kevin?" she asks.

"Asleep," Patricia answers. Which, technically, isn't necessarily a lie. It's not the whole truth either. "Which you should be doing. Come, come, you need to rest after the night you've had."

Patricia has no idea. Casey could sleep like the dead at this point, but this must be a dream anyway as she can't possibly still be awake and functioning. She nods dazedly and follows Patricia to the bed. The older woman lays Casey down and covers her with the blanket, tucking the sides in around her.

It is so comfortable and warm. Casey's eyes are already fluttering. Patricia sits at the edge of the bed and begins to run her fingers through Casey's hair, caressing her head in an effort to comfort her.

And she is comforted for this brief moment. She begins to slip into the foggy haze of sleep as Patricia continues to touch her hair.

"There we are, darling," Patricia murmurs. "Sleep. Rest. Let go." She leans down and softly kisses Casey's forehead. "For when you wake, there is much work to be done."

She stays with her until she is well asleep, then quietly rises, turning her body towards the living room. When she gets there, she glances at the body on the floor and the strewn beer bottles around it. The omelettes flew across the room and left a gooey trail down one of the walls during the tussle. Patricia stands there in the silence for a moment, savoring the sight of the dead man on the floor.

Then Kevin's body begins to heave and his arms begin to shake. They become vascular, and in the lamplight of the window resemble edged iron--rivers of steel working their way down his arms. His shoulders broaden and rise, his body seems to expand and twist into an enormous mass of muscle and sinew. The Beast emerges from the darkness and falls upon the offering in front of him--dead but Sacred. He will need live sacrifices soon, but this will do for now. Patricia looks on, reverence and adulation beaming from her face. Dennis also looks on, fascinated despite the flying gore and carnage plastering itself on the walls.

He'll have to clean that thoroughly later.

 


Casey wakes but keeps her eyes closed. It's still raining outside and the sound of it is soothing; her blanket is warm and her pillow is soft; her broken body is for once, in the last twenty-four hours, relaxed. She doesn't want this feeling to end. She wants to stretch it to forever and never face the world again.

Then she can feel her ribs hurting and her body begins to ache again.

Her eyes snap open to the sound of pots and pans clanging in the kitchen. She gets up slowly and walks to her door, carefully opening it and peering out into the apartment. She can't see the kitchen from where she stands, so she ventures out into the hallway and realizes that the living room is spotless. No beer bottles, no trash, no dust.

No dead bodies, she thinks.

In fact, it's so clean that the surfaces are gleaming, and she runs her hand over the side table where the omelettes had been last night to feel how smooth and gunk-less it is.

All of a sudden she remembers Patricia petting her hair and being comforted by her touch, and her head jerks to the direction of the kitchen where the faucet is running and the dishwasher is humming. She continues to cautiously trek towards the kitchen, chest tight with anxiety.

There Dennis is, his back towards her, wiping down the counter around the sink. She can tell it's him just by his posture. He is wearing a grey button-up that is tastefully tucked into a pair of slacks, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, a yellow washcloth folded neatly into the back pocket of his pants. She stares at him quietly, her eyes tracing the muscles on his back as they flex with the effort of how hard he scrubs, and her face gets hot as she realizes she's doing this.

"There's breakfast on the counter to your right for you," he says without turning around. His east coast accent sends a small chill up her spine and she finds herself enjoying the sound of it as it gently strokes her ears.

She looks over and it's a plate of omelettes. She doesn't remark on the irony of this, but takes the fork placed neatly by the plate and pokes at it a bit. She's not sure she should eat it; although if he was trying to kill her, poison would not be his go-to--she's sure he'd rather be the one eating than her.

She must be very wary and deliberate with her motions. She does not know what may set him off, and while her heart is thrumming quickly in her chest, she is more or less calm in his presence. She knows Kevin's full name, after all, and she hopes it has not lost its effectiveness in all the time she has been gone.

She slides over to the small kitchen table and looks at the profile of his face. It hasn't changed at all, and her throat is tight with what she thinks may be the beginnings of a panic attack. Swallowing the lump down, she finds that it's actually just a lump of emotion, though she is unsure what emotion it was. He doesn't wear his glasses, and she thinks he looks peculiar without them. How well can he see without them? How long has he been without?

"Where are your glasses?" she asks, voice hoarse from being unused. She clears her throat and repeats the question.

He still doesn't look at her, focused on the task of cleaning the counters properly. "I don't know," he says. By his left foot, a bucket of miscellaneous cleaning liquids and a bottle of bleach sullenly sit, waiting to be used.

What does he mean he doesn't know? How did he lose them? How long has he been in Philly? Did he kill those teens in that warehouse?

Typical catch-up questions.

Casey chooses not to push it and pokes at her omelette some more. She decides that this is all some sort of hallucination brought on by the avalanche of stress she's been under the past week, and especially the last twenty-four hours. Now that she's concluded this, she's able to muster up the courage to speak to him.

"What happened to your glasses, Dennis?"

He flinches at his name as though he's been burned, and turns his head to her for the first time. They lock eyes, but he squints just a bit to focus her--he can only really see the first few feet in front of him, and everything else after that is a blur. Had Patricia not been sharing the Light with him last night, he never would have been able to see Casey or the despicable things her uncle was doing to her in the living room. Cargo Pants had also been within his sight range, so he was able to swiftly end that guy's reign of terror.

"I lost them," is all he says.

They are plunged into silence again, the dishwasher the only sound in the room. He takes his yellow washcloth out of his back pocket and wipes his hands with it.

"Case--"

"Why--"

They both stop talking, waiting for the other to speak again. After a while of silence, Dennis gestures for her to continue.

"Why are you here?" she asks softly, dropping her eyes back down to her food.

"I don't know that either."

She drops her fork onto her plate and clasps her hands in her lap, still not meeting his eyes. The silence between them seems to stretch on for days, thickening the air the longer it continues.

He regards her austerely, his blue eyes falling onto the bruise on her collarbone. It's a very large one, beginning just atop her right collarbone and spreading towards her shoulder and down to the top of her breast. His eyes fall there and wander down her chest, noting she has no bra underneath the tank top and his eyes dart away, face growing hot and thoughts turning unsavory.

He tries to push the thoughts away but they keep cycling in his mind over and over, and his eyes fall on her bruise again, careful not to wander further down. He moves over to where she sits and stands in front of her, just close enough for him to reach out and gently trail his thumb on her collar bone starting from the inside and ending at her shoulder. The touch is electric for the both of them, and Casey gasps.

She stands suddenly, knocking her chair over.

"You're really here," she breathes.

He trains his intense gaze on her and nods, brow furrowed in thought. She backs up away from him, almost tripping on her chair in the process.

"Casey," he sighs, taking a step towards her.

"Stop," she says, putting her hands up to prevent him from coming any closer. "Stop, don't, I...I don't know if I can." She backs out of the kitchen until she reaches the living room, then walks quickly to her room, shutting the door behind her. She leans against it and slides down its length, feeling her chest hitching and the beginnings of a true panic attack coming on.

Dennis rubs his fingers together on the hand that touched her, and he places his other hand on his hip, allowing her her space.

You scared her, Jade says, and for once there is no sarcasm or derision in her voice.

Chapter Text

The panic attack subsides after what seems to be eons, and Casey finds herself on her side against the closed door in--embarrassingly--fetal position. She sits up with a stabbing migraine and her eyes fall upon the clock--she should be at work in an hour and she is nowhere near being ready. She would call in, but left her phone in her locker at work before trying her hand at prostitution the night before.

Her body feels heavy and clumsy as she gets to her feet. If she doesn't snag a hold of some form of normalcy, she fears she'll lose grip on reality, so she begins to change for work. The bruises are easy enough to hide under one of her long-sleeved turtle-neck uniform tops (red, her gym's color), and she slaps on some thick black yoga pants with pockets on the thighs. She doesn't usually have a purse, but she won't--

There's a knock on the front door.

Casey freezes at first, then throws her bedroom door open to run towards it, worried that Dennis will answer it.

Standing there in the hallway is Joseph Dunn, and he's holding a tote bag with the comic book Watchmen's smiley face logo on it.

"Hey," he says. Casey is beyond surprised and her face must show it because he stutters a bit with his words. "I, ah, well my dad, he followed you home last night--" at her raised eyebrows he puts a hand out, "--just to make sure you were safe, that's all! Nothing creepy, or anything like that." He hands her the tote bag. "You're...clothes, and shoes and stuff."

The way he says clothes feels sticky, like he doesn't want to say it but does anyway.

Casey takes the tote bag and she's listening for Dennis behind her, and though she can't hear him she can feel his eyes piercing through the back of her head.

Joseph looks inside a bit and she blocks him, closing the door slightly and getting on tip-toe to prevent him from seeing inside. "Uh, thanks," she says dismissively, and they stand there in expectant silence for a moment before she jumps a little, almost dropping the tote. "Oh your jacket!" She fumbles with the tote for a bit and awkwardly goes to close, pause, then fully close the door again, locking it behind her.

Turning, she locks eyes with Dennis in the kitchen. He is wiping his hands with his washcloth, squinting a bit. It may be her imagination, but the squint looks accusatory. After another small pause, she speedwalks to her room, retrieves Joseph's jacket, and speedwalks back, making a point not to look at him when she returns. Opening the door slightly, she sticks her hand out with Joseph's jacket in it and waits for him to take it. He does not.

"Uh, Casey?"

Joseph says her name and she is a bit startled; they barely know each other and it's like an intimate caress that forces its way through the door and gently takes her by the throat. She opens the door just a small bit and looks at him through the crack.

"Are you ok?" he asks, trying to look into her apartment again. She mimics the movement she did earlier.

"I'm fine, just...look, I'm late for work, I've already missed the last bus I can take to be able to get there on time, and I don't have my phone to call and let them know. So my day isn't exactly going...as planned." The last words come out of her mouth slowly, and she wants to glance over at Dennis in the kitchen but she maintains eye contact with Joseph in the hallway.

"I can drop you off?" There is an eagerness in his voice that he tries to squash but she notices it.

If she had her phone she would have declined, but as it is, being late and not notifying her coworkers would look pretty bad, and she'd rather not have people asking her where she's been. Oh, and she'd like to keep her job. That, too.

"Um. Yeah, ok." He finally takes the jacket when she concedes. She closes and locks the door, puts her runners on, grabs a thin jacket and again doesn't look at Dennis as she flies towards the door. The tote is thrown on the couch.

"Casey." Dennis' voice is low, a whisper. "You know this guy?"

"Yeah, he's a friend," she lies, also whispering. She goes to unlock the door but he reaches out and holds her by the elbow. They stare at each other for what seems like hours, seeking out each others' intentions, wondering what the other is feeling as they touch in this brief moment. Even through her sleeve, his hand is hot and inviting.

"I don't know if I'd be in more danger with him or with you," she states finally. There's a beat, and he lets go of her arm, frowning and taking a step back. He folds his arms over his chest and just stares at her without a word. She immediately feels guilty after saying it--why?--but she doesn't have time for this. She has to get to work.

Grabbing her apartment keys from the hook by the door, she stuffs them in her jacket pocket and leaves with Joseph.

Dennis is confused, and if he's being truthful, a bit hurt. He raises his head to look at the ceiling and shakes it, then turns back to the kitchen to continue cleaning.

 


 

They ride in relative silence, and Casey spends most of the time looking out the window. He's familiar with the gym and knows exactly where it is, so it saves her the trouble of trying to give him directions.

Eventually, Joseph speaks up. "Hey, so, are you really okay from yesterday? I mean, you're going to work today, but they found that body this morning, and...well, you did file a police report, right?"

"Yeah," Casey says, not looking back at him.

They both know she's lying, but Joseph chooses not to push it. "Oh. Good." He takes a deep breath and pats the steering wheel a bit to have something to do with his hands, nodding. "Good."

"Are you stalking me?" Casey just comes out and says it.

"What?" Joseph says, caught off guard. "I--no. Not at all. I just, it's--I wanted to make sure you were ok, and that the...the thing got handled."

"It got handled," she says. "So...thanks for asking. You don't have to worry now that you know."

Joseph chews on the corner of his lip thoughtfully, not sure where to go from here. Before he can think of anything else to say, they are at the gym and he is parking in the delivery zone in the front to let her out. She opens the door and he grabs her hand, the action startling both of them--they recoil from each other simultaneously and their eyes meet.

"Um. Here," he says. He takes a scrap piece of paper from the glove compartment and a pen, and writes his number down. "Give me a call, you know, if...if you need to."

Hesitating, she stares at the piece of paper; then her hand reaches out to gently snatch it from his, careful not to touch skin to skin. "Thanks."

With that, Casey rushes into the front doors of the gym.

 


Maralynn scoffs at a heavyset woman running on the treadmill. "Jesus, give it up woman, there is no hope for you."

"You don't have to be such a bitch, Maralynn," Casey says under her breath.

"What?" Maralynn is genuinely puzzled; she didn't hear Casey, and if she had, Casey wouldn't be surprised if Maralynn was too dumb to understand why she said it.

Casey's gym is located in a posh apartment building in downtown Philly. It is based in the entire bottom floor of the building, and the walls where the entrance is have nothing but floor to ceiling glass windows. The windows are tinted on the outside to prevent people from looking inside, but passers-by can be seen clearly from inside the gym. The girls she works with often like to hunt down delicious-looking men and leer at them from the front desk.

These windows, however, serve their purpose--this is how Casey sees the man in the yellow jumpsuit ambling towards the front doors to the gym.

"Oh god," she breathes. She doesn't even glance at Maralynn. "Cover me, I'm going for a smoke break."

"What? You don't smoke, do you?" But by the time Maralynn gets the sentence out, Casey is outside--"Casey heya!"--and dragging Hedwig into an alleyway beside the building.

"Hedwig, you cannot be here!" Casey hisses, looking at the boy in the lamplight. There is no more rain but it's getting dark out much earlier than usual, so she suspects it will begin raining again tonight.

The nine-year-old grins. "Hey hey!" he exclaims.

She puts a hand on his chest and takes his wrist in her other hand, leading him over to the wall for more cover. "Hedwig, you can't be here," she repeats.

"Mister Dennis got to see you, and Miss Patricia got to see you, but I didn't get to see you, so I'm here to see you," he says. "We can go and play at an arcade if you want, I saw one down the street 'n I wanted to go in but I don't have any coins 'n I was wondering if you had any change, et cetera?"

Casey looks over towards the street to make sure no one has seen them lurking creepily in the alleyway.

"I'm serious Hedwig, if someone sees you, then you and Kevin could get into a lot of trouble," Casey says in measured tones. She has to watch what she says; she doesn't want to scare him off or worry him. It surprises her how invested she seems to be in Hedwig, how easy and effortless it is to care about him--and to show it.

"Are you tellin' me you don't want to see me?" he asked quietly, face falling and suddenly somber. "Like forever? And ever, et cetera?"

"No Hedwig, it's just...ughhh." Casey takes a deep breath and exhales forcefully. "Just...just wait here. We'll go someplace special, ok? Just you and me, but you have to stay here for a minute, alright? It's my secret place, and I'm going to share it with you."

"You mean it?" His eyes spark with excitment.

"Yes. Just--just wait here." Casey runs back to the gym to grab her keys and phone, yanking it off the charger behind the counter.

"Maralynn, I feel sick, I can't finish the shift, just tell Justin for me, thanks," she is able to blurt out.

"What the fuck Casey?"

But before Maralynn can shoot her a stupid vacant glare, Casey is gone, dipping into the alleyway Hedwig is in.

Where he is in no longer.

"Oh my god," Casey breathes, panting with the exertion of trying to make it back here before he ran off. She'd have to find him. She'd have to spend the rest of her night looking for a nine-year-old that's actually in the body of a full-grown man wearing a yellow jumpsuit, which under normal circumstances wouldn't be too bad, but in this particular instance he was a wanted fugitive that--

"Boo!"

It takes all of Casey's willpower not to scream. She whips around and there Hedwig is, devious little smile on his lips, laughing as he sees the expression on her face.

"Did I scare you? Were you scared? I'm sneaky, sneaky like a ninja." He begins to mimic ninja moves and starts kicking the bricks on the side of the building.

Casey, whose heart is pumping a thousand miles a minute, slumps against one of those walls to regain her composure.

"So where is this secret place you got, huh?" Hedwig asks. "Is it a cave? Is it a dungeon? Are we gonna go spelunking? Barry told me one time that's a thing that people actually do sometimes, even as grown-ups they like to go into caves 'n check out the stalacmites 'n stalagtites 'n fit into small spaces--"

"No Hedwig," Casey says. She comes over to him and pulls his beanie down low on his forehead. It's much harder to discern him from other white males with it over his brows, especially in the dark. Her eyes trail down to his jumpsuit--it's a different kind of jumpsuit than the one he had when she first met him, but still yellow, and still very very loud to look at. "We're not going spelunking. But we're gonna go to a nice place, a special place, that I think you'll like. Just follow me, okay?"

"Okay."

Chapter Text

Casey has to get Hedwig in a mental place where he can settle down and be calm, so she takes him up to the roof.

The roof of her apartment is generally inaccessible--unless you pick the lock, and Casey has picked the lock on that door more times than she can count. When Hedwig sees her doing this he gasps and a huge smile breaks out across his face.

"Awww no way Casey you're so bad," he whispers as she opens the door. He looks over their shoulders at the stairwell as though some faceless authority figure will come running at them, telling them that they're going to be in So Much Trouble, but no one comes, and he follows her outside.

The stars are visible beyond patches of heavy rainclouds that are scattered overhead, slowly coming together to eventually threaten the impending rain. She brought a couple of blankets with her, not really wanting to do this tonight but knowing Hedwig needs structure and stability--something she doubts he's gotten in years.

She gives him one of the blankets, spreading hers out on the gravelly ground, and he seems to get excited and does the same.

"What are we doing Casey? Is this the secret place?" Hedwig rubs his eye and looks puzzled as she sits herself down on her blanket.

"Shhh," she whispers. She lies down, gesturing for him to do the same. She lays down one way, he lays down the other, their heads level with each other. She stares up at the sky, noting the wind has picked up--her blanket lifts up on a corner but then settles, and the wind dies down long enough for them to sit in stillness and silence.

This silence lasts about five minutes before Hedwig sits up, turning his head to look at her, face scrunched. "This is boring."

"Shhh," she whispers again. Taking out her phone, she searches for a song and plugs her headphones in, giving him one earpiece while she places the other in her ear. He lies back down and puts his piece in his own ear, and Casey presses play on her phone, starting a slow Drake song. His eyes grow wide and his mouth can't seem to smile any bigger than it does, and he settles into the blanket, looking up at the sky and listening to the song.

They lie this way for a bit, watching the clouds swirl and gift them sight of the stars for brief moments, feeling the entire world around them all at once. She doesn't know why it's so important to give this to him; perhaps it's the child in herself she needs to soothe, and he's just an available, acceptable outlet. Or maybe she's forcing herself to pause the world for someone she thinks she genuinely cares about.

In minutes, she feels his body still, and she looks over to find him asleep. After a while, she props herself up on one elbow, taking the ear piece gently out of his ear and watching his face. He's so harmless this way--Kevin. She wonders what dreams float around in his brain, if he has those. Or maybe all he has are nightmares, nightmares that swallow him up so wholly that everyone else in his brain rushes to fight them off for him before he can even realize they're just dreams.

She wonders where The Beast is, in that head.

His lashes form long shadows on his cheekbones in what little dwindling light there is around them, and they look like angel wings against his face. He looks so small compared to everyone and everything in his head, it's so hard to believe he holds as much as he does in there.

She wants to do it, and something makes her hesitate for a moment. But deciding that she has to try, her face dips down and very closely hovers over his, studying his features and trying to memorize them, locking them up in a vault in her mind so that she can remember forever what he looks like while he is asleep. Her lips slowly come down, parting very slightly, and pause for a moment before dipping down.

She feels the heat of his face against hers as she finally reaches his ear, and she whispers very softly into it.

"Kevin Wendell Crumb."

 


Barry is in the darkness, but eventually he sees a soft glowing of light. It glimmers in front of him and expands, and then suddenly he is engulfed by it, unable to move. He panics for a moment but then realizes it is just a barrier, and that if he wants to, he can push hard enough to come out on the other side. He does so, and what he steps into makes his heart dip.

The Train Yard.

It is dark here, and there is a storm brewing in the distance. Lightning arcs across the sky, cutting into the clouds, and Barry has a feeling that if it ever gets closer, They're gonna have a Bad Time.

There's a stale smell surrounding the area and the air is unusually still, as though any sudden movement will spur the wrath of the vile and foreboding. Passenger cars of varying sizes and types litter the landscape; it is giant trash heap of sharp edges and jutting metal. He spots a few cabooses, freight carts and driver's cabs, but most of the wreckage is made up of passenger cars.

He takes a step forward and immediately recoils.

The ground in front of him is slick with red, and when he leans forward, he realizes that it's blood. The entire ground is covered in it, small rivulets meandering through and between cars. The blood seems to be drawn to a central location; Barry can only assume that location is where The Beast resides.

He jumps over the small trail he stepped on and follows it. There is movement in the few cabs that he passes, but Barry knows that none of them are The Beast. Some of them slam against the sides of their confines, rattling their cages in an attempt to be free. Some have mournful wailing coming from them, and in others he hears fading screams.

He begins to wonder with a frightened chill that perhaps this is not the Train Yard, and instead he has stumbled upon the place where lost souls gather, where evil is punished and glorified, where desperation and hopelessness fester.

He wonders if he is in Hell.

This can't be Kevin's subconscious, he thinks. ...no wonder he needs us.

It is not Kevin's subconscious--but it is very, very close.

This place is a culmination of experiences, created for the sole purpose of locking Bad Things away that his mother and others have done to him. It is where Kevin goes when he is not in his chair, which is almost always nowadays. It is the Dark Place, the Hurting, the Malevolence that birthed The Beast--and Barry understands now how The Beast can exist, and how he came to be.

He can't be here anymore.

He returns to his starting point and discovers the barrier is gone. He reaches out with a hand to see if somehow it's become invisible--he can't accept that it's disappeared on him. He looks around, hoping he missed it somewhere along the path, but no such luck.

What does catch his eye, though, is a small caboose that is lit up from the inside. Unlike the environment and other cars around it, the light emanating from it is warm and soft. Barry is drawn to it. He places a hand on one of the dirty glass windows and wipes away the grime so he's able to peer inside.

There is a pallet on the floor. Around the pallet are worn books that look like they have been read through a dozen times, and the lights in there emit a strong, comforting ambiance. It looks like a warm, safe place, a place that someone can retreat to when the monsters come out. If Barry were to venture a guess, this is where Kevin must stay when he is not in The Room of Chairs or has the Light.

Peering deeper into the car, he almost jumps out of his skin when Kevin talks.

"What are you doing here?" Kevin asks.

He is leaning against the caboose doors, staring at Barry as though he is an interloper. Honestly, Barry might as well be.

"Kevin, oh my gosh," Barry breathes. "Have you been here the whole time? We've been looking for you forever."

Kevin's face is a mixture of confusion and irritation. "What are you talking about?"

Of course. Kevin obviously doesn't know how long he's been gone. When Barry sleeps--sleeps for real, as in, retreats from the world and the Light altogether--he can't tell either. Although he's never ended up in a place like this when that happens, he just...stops being, for a while, until he's desperately needed.

Barry assumes that's what happened to Samuel.

Concern blossoms on his face. "You ready to come back?" he asks, looking up at Kevin. The latter is a couple of feet taller than the former at the moment, as he's standing on the platform of the caboose itself, and Barry stands on the ashy ground.

"No," Kevin states. "No one out there cares. There's no point. All that's out there is fear and pain, and I'm safe here. I'm warm."

Barry struggles with what to say. He's not wrong.

Deciding not to saying anything, Barry sits on the platform, leaning against one of the railings. They both stare out at the landscape together, swallowing the view of the storm--and while it looks devastating, even just looking upon it on the horizon, there's still an allure and a beauty about it that Kevin wants to embrace. Maybe should embrace.

"I don't know how to leave this place," Barry admits.

Kevin points. There is a dark, wet-looking tunnel a few dozen feet to their right that, when viewed from the side, looks like a boxcar. He doesn't know who this intruder is, but he's not concerned. Nothing matters in this place but the warmth and the comfort. Tendrils of emotions and experiences and instances come and go here. Ghosts of various beings and things float in and out, always ebbing, always flowing.

Kevin doesn't pay them any mind, they don't usually come near his safe place.

"It's nice here," Barry says sleepily.

"Then stay."

Barry just might. He can curl up and be small and shrivel to nothing in this place, and the thought gives him a sort of peace. It's intoxicating and glamorous, and he very much likes glam. He'll always like glam, until the end.

KEVIN.

There's a quake in the ground that rattles the lights on the caboose. Kevin and Barry both grab the railing to steady themselves, and they look at each other, wondering what it was that caused it.

It happens again, and Kevin can't breathe for a moment; he shuts his eyes tightly and makes a fist, pounding it against his chest in an attempt to ease his lungs.

"What's happening?" Barry asks, a small fear rising in his throat.

WENDELL.

"I think I have to go," Kevin says simply, painfully.

Protect Kevin, Barry thinks with his entire existence, and he grabs Kevin's hand. The quakes are coming faster, and both men are thrown from the platform, ash and blood covering them as they are knocked into the ground. They both stare at each other from the ground and Barry tries to grab him but can't reach him, and then--

CRUMB.

He's gone.

Chapter Text

Kevin opens his eyes--he thinks he was dreaming about something important, but he can't remember. There are alarmed voices behind him--or maybe just one?--and he is standing, swaying in the wind, fairy lights dancing in front of his eyes. It feels cold and harsh out here, as though he is putting his skin on again after a long time.

He thinks he is wearing a track suit and looks down at his hands and arms, confirming. It's yellow. The fairy lights begin to come into focus--they are lights of apartment windows and streetlamps, of car headlights and brake lights, and all of a sudden he is swaying even more on his feet, staggering a little, eyes widening as he realizes he is on top of a ledge without a railing--he is very, very high up, looking down at the world below.

"--if you just step back, and then we can just talk," is the voice that's coming from behind him. "Please. I just want to see him, I didn't think it would happen like this."

He tries to turn very slowly and his foot slips a bit off the ledge but he shifts his weight at the very last second and rebalances himself. Over his shoulder he sees a girl, and he can recognize her--he thinks?--if he tries very hard to dig through the mess of his disjointed memories. It's Casey Cooke, the girl he pleaded with to kill him the other day. But she looks different, and with a sinking stomach that has nothing to do with the possibility that he may fall to his death at any moment, he realizes that he must have lost even more time.

He tries to turn again to face her, but the ledge is thin and he can only manage to turn a little less than halfway.

"Did I hurt you?" he asks in a shaking voice. Her arms are up in front of her, and they are trembling, although he doesn't know if she is trying to push or pull with them.

"Kevin?" she asks softly, expression turning from one of terror to one of concerned relief. "Kevin, step down very slowly. Please don't move too fast."

He ignores this and swallows, not sure if he wants to step forward or back. "Did I hurt you?" he asks again more emphatically, finding that he desperately needs to know.

Casey looks at him, wishing she could take the last five minutes back. Since saying his name, he has rapid-cycled through five different alters, none of which she was familiar with or were familiar with her.

"No," she says, her eyes stinging. She puts her arms down and shakes her head. "No, Kevin. You didn't hurt me. Come down. Please." She puts her hand out and begins to walk towards him, and this makes him jerk a bit, wobbling on the ledge precariously. She stops, then continues to approach him cautiously once he stops swaying. She's within arm's reach from him now, her large eyes willing him to come down, her hand pretty and soft and inviting. He stares at it, then into her eyes, then back at her hand. Trembling, he reaches slowly towards her, and then very suddenly she's grabbing his arm and pulling him against her forcefully. His body hits hers solidly and tosses both of them back onto the gravelly concrete floor of the rooftop. She has his arm in a vice grip, and she's not letting go.

It begins to rain.

Casey lies there with him beside her and she lets the tears fall. What the fuck is up with this week? Why has everything been so hard? She supposes serial killers don't really catch a break.

She turns her head to look at Kevin and he is staring up at the sky as it weeps on him, closing his eyes against the droplets of rain. He's breathing hard, almost gasping, still trembling--but she thinks it's still him, and her clawed hand relaxes, traveling down to his hand and clutching it. They stay this way for a few minutes, getting soaked by the rain, and she is just studying his features as he attempts to calm himself. This beautiful man, harbinger of The Beast, home to so many of his wounded and hurt, is so concerned about harming others. In fact, is so anguished over it that he'd rather die than do so.

His head slowly turns towards her, and he feels her hand in his. "What year is this?" he rasps.

Casey shakes her head. "It doesn't matter," she says. "You're here now. Just stay for a bit."

The words hit him like a truck, and he begins to cry.

 


 

Once they are out of the rain and drying off, Kevin sits on Casey's couch in some of her uncle's clothing. John was a much broader man in the stomach than Kevin, so as he sits there in a white T-shirt and a pair of boxer-briefs, it looks like he is a little boy playing dress-up in daddy's clothes. This doesn't seem to be too far off, though; he looks lost, confused, disoriented, alone. He looks like his dog has died and he doesn't know where to go from here or how to move on.

She takes some towels out of the dryer after having run it for ten minutes and drapes one of them over his shoulders to warm him. She hands him the mug of coffee she's made, and he holds it in both of his hands, if only to warm them up. She does the same on her end of the couch, and they sit there in silence, listening to the clock on the wall ticking and the heat in the apartment turning on and off. She is in a regular tank top and boy shorts. Her feet are bare and she tucks them underneath her as she takes a sip of the tea she's made herself. She's not a tea or coffee girl, but she needs something to warm her insides a bit.

"Your place is... very clean," he remarks.

"Dennis cleaned it," she says.

He nods like he's supposed to know who that is.

Silence.

Then she catches him looking at her out of the corner of her eye, and she turns to face him. He is staring at her scars, very visible in the light of the apartment, and her face gets hot as she begins to feel self-conscious--and a bit ashamed. The large, dark bruises from yesterday are still very prominent and that adds insult to injury. Turning away from him, she adjusts her tank top uncomfortably but it is of course too small to hide the extent of her scarring.

"No," he says, shaking his head. "Sorry, I didn't mean to stare. You're just...we're the same, aren't we?"

She stops trying to hide herself from him, turns back to regard him for a second, then nods.

They both digest this information slowly, turning it over in their minds like it's a specimen to be studied and dissected. They are two drowning souls in a sea of their pasts, and it's as though they are just seeing each other for the first time across the waves.

She sets her tea down on the side table and very slowly slides towards him, almost shyly. He is sitting by the arm of the couch, looking out at the world beyond the fire escape through one of her living room windows. A very dark, pensive look has overtaken his face, and she has to tilt her head a moment to confirm that it's still him. This is the man that begged her once to kill him. This is the man whose face of agony and pain etched itself into the very marrow of her bones. He already knew the breadth of her soul, and they barely even knew each other.

She wants to be touching him. Not in a sexual way, but to be able to share a physical intimacy between two people that have weathered the same storms together.

She moves to where their thighs touch, and he isn't expecting this, so he pulls away initially. When he sees that it's her that is sitting next to him, he relaxes a bit and very gingerly places an arm around her shoulders. His left elbow is propped up on the couch arm, left hand holding his mug of coffee. She wraps her arms around his waist and places her head on the small space between his shoulder and chest, pulling her legs onto the couch back underneath her.

Simultaneously, they settle into each other. They mold into each other like two weathered puzzle pieces that have found each other after years of damage and loss; like the last sigh of a wounded man finally succumbing to the peace that awaits. She feels the safest she's ever felt in her life, and he feels a calm he has never felt in his.

Casey closes her eyes against the sound of the waning rain on the windows, focusing all of her attention on the beating of his heart.

 


 

He looks just like Joseph did at that age--small, fragile, scared. But just like Joseph, he still believes in superheroes, and David is momentarily happy to entertain that thought (even if only for a little while).

The car's tires spin but they go nowhere. From what one can tell, it's a 2016 Camaro, gray, custom rims, with a very crunched-in hood that The Overseer is pushing against. His feet dip suddenly--the concrete around him is cracking with the opposing forces of the car and himself--and as he stares down the driver from underneath the hood of his green poncho, the car begins to fishtail.

This is a problem, as the kid is in the backseat, and The Overseer is not about to allow anything to hurt that little boy. He anchors himself to the ground by changing the position of his feet against the concrete and spreads his arms out, hands gripping either side of the front fender and body low against the crunched hood. The pressure he applies to the top of the car blows the front tires out--POP! POP!--and suddenly sparks are flying from those pretty custom rims.

There is a noticeable deceleration, until finally, thankfully, the wheels slow to a stop. The driver stares at him, astonished, taking his hands from the steering wheel and lifting them up in surrender.

If only it were that easy.

The only thing David hates about "fighting crime" are the chases. He played football, not track, and he generally hates running, especially when those he's chasing know they have no chance to get away--but try, anyway.

As soon as the driver darts out of the car, The Overseer runs to the passenger side and offers his hand to the little boy. The tiny guy can't be more than six years old, and his eyes are as wide as saucers as he stares up at The Overseer (who has just stopped his dad's car in its tracks, by the way), and when he puts his tiny hand in The Overseer's palm it's like his future is written in stone. He decides at six years old he's going to grow up and help people just like this man is helping him.

Whether it sticks or not isn't the point.

The point is that The Overseer touches lives, and that's what makes the man in the green poncho thrive.

Gathering the kid in his arms, The Overseer kicks the passenger door closed, and the station guard finally arrives to investigate the tire squealing and noise they are making in the garage. The guard is huffing and puffing as he gets there, but doesn't have time to catch his breath before The Overseer is giving him the kid and chasing the driver down.

His legs never fail him. Whether or not he likes running makes no difference in the fact that The Overseer can run very well. He cuts right, through trashed backyards, over four-foot fences, through junk yards and around guard dogs spooked by his urgency. He drops under, skids past, and leaps over obstacles in his way, and then cuts a sharp left, slowing his speed to an easy jog.

He waits at the corner of an intersection for a few seconds before he suddenly makes a fist, whipping around very quickly and allowing the driver to smash his own face into The Overseer's outstretched forearm.

People should really pay attention to what's in front of them as equally as what's not behind them when they run from someone. Without a pause, The Overseer lifts the driver up by the back of the collar and tosses his unconscious body gently against a stop sign post, taking a few zip ties out of his pocket and restraining him there.

The jog back to the parking garage to check on the kid isn't as far as the route he took to knock the kid's dad out. He doesn't bother entering the parking garage again; he can see the police lights flashing there, and in a corner of the guard station accompanied by a couple of officers, the station guard is reading the little boy comics out of the Sunday paper.

Amber Alerts aren't normally calls he's able to answer--they usually involve cars that are long gone from the city--so something warms his chest as he sees this scene in front of him.

The ground is wet; the rain stopped shortly before his encounter with the driver but the streets aren't too bad. The city burns bright, though, the lights and stars above reflecting off of what water there is on the ground. He walks the streets of downtown Philly, taking his usual walkabout after a job, losing anyone trailing him in and out of alleyways. He finally dips into one of these alleyways and unlocks his car, getting into the driver's seat and shutting the door. This alleyway is dark and he's never bothered here.

Turning the police scanner on, David pulls his hood back and sits back in his chair.

"There's a burglary on Ninth."

His heart probably legitimately skips a beat and he jumps in his chair so violently that his head hits the roof of the car. In the rearview mirror, Joseph grins at him from the back seat.

"Joseph are you tryin'a kill me?" David says exasperatedly.

"You try to do that well enough on your own," Joseph snarks, rolling his eyes. "Anyway, there's a burglary on Ninth, if you hurry you might be able to catch the Baddie."

David weighs his options. One the one hand, he will likely be able to stop a burglary. On the other hand, Audrey could cut his balls off if he's home late for dinner.

"Your mom is going to kill us," he says.

"Us? Hah! That's a laugh. You know I can do no wrong." It's true; Audrey thought Joseph an angel, and even David couldn't disagree. That didn't stop that little angel from being a huge pain in the ass, though.

"D'you get that Amber Alert?" Joseph asked, curious.

"Yeah, it was the dad and I caught him just before he was driving out."

Joseph's awed grin as he shakes his head is nothing new to David. Joseph tends to put The Overseer on a pedestal and forgets that he's a human being, just like everyone else. Well, with the addition of incredible super-human strength.

David wonders if now is the time to tell Joseph he saw him with Casey this morning. Joseph, being a White Knight, has his armored sights on a new damsel in distress, and that damsel is able to cut peoples' heads off with fishing line and somehow spit David's clairvoyant powers back in his face. It's an understatement to say that Casey Cooke is bad news. But the more Joseph wants something is directly equal to how much the universe doesn't want him to have it.

He decides that's a conversation for tomorrow. Tonight, lasagna.

"You gonna come eat lasagna and save me from your mom's deathglares?"

Joseph mulls it over a little bit and shrugs. "Sure. But you owe me."

David shakes his head and smirks. This kid.

Chapter Text

The feast is glorious, and it fills his mouth with nirvana. He can feel himself growing stronger with each ravenous ripping of meat, can feel it filling his insides with raw power and sustenance. There is no gluttony for him, for every mouthful is a delicious sampling of Sacred impurity that he rips through and gnaws and destroys. Every piece of flesh, every layer of sinew and shard of bone go unwasted. His mouth drips with red nectar; sweet, sweet bliss, a deluge of it pouring down his throat, coating his body with the blessed offering.

Then Casey is awake, and heaving, and her legs are springing her from the couch to rush to the kitchen sink where she promptly vomits more than once.

"Are you ok?" asks a worried voice from the couch. A sleepy Kevin lifts his head from the armrest and looks confused for a moment, as though he doesn't know where he is again.

"Yeah," she says hoarsely, rinsing her mouth and the sink. She walks back to the couch and stands in front of him. "Kevin?" she asks hesitantly.

He blinks groggily a couple of times at her. "Yeah?" His voice sounds far away, but it's still him, and she is relieved. Now that she's confirmed he's still here with her, she sits next to him, laying her body on his as her thoughts wander back to the dream. It's beginning to fade, but her stomach is still unsettled by it, and she thinks she should feel afraid but she can't remember why.

A knock on the door sends her nerves into overdrive, and she shoots a glance at Kevin, who is pulled out of his fog and sits up. Casey quickly links her fingers with his and pulls him to her room. While she's in there she throws a long-sleeved turtleneck on over her underclothes to cover her bruising, and jumps into jeans. The knock repeats itself and she rushes towards the front door.

Kevin's heart is in his throat and his vision blurs but he forces himself to hold the Light. He can see the front door from her room, and he tucks himself further into it, standing by her closet.

"Philadelphia police, anyone home?"

Shit. Casey skids to a stop and stares at the front door. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she continues towards it very quietly, peering through the peephole.

Two officers are standing in the hallway, fully-decked, hats and all. One is a shorter, plumper man who looks to be in his early forties and the other is a blonde whose bangs stick out from under her hat. She looks like she is in her thirties.

She keeps quiet as they stand there, her eyes shutting tightly when they knock again.

Just go away, she thinks. A third knock, the blonde announcing who they are again. After three minutes of agony at the door, they give up and walk off. She waits until they are well down the hall before breathing a sigh of relief.

From the bedroom, Kevin peers out at her. "You ok?" he asks for the second time today. She looks back at him from the door and leans against it, sliding down its length until she is sitting on the ground.

"Just...life," she says simply.

Those two words are so much more complicated than they sound coming from her pretty lips. Her dark hair hangs over her face and he walks over slowly, crouching down next to her and tucking it back behind her ear.

"Life," he echoes, tracing his fingertip against the curve of her brow very softly, barely touching.

Their faces are so very close, close enough to feel each other's breath against the other's lips. She reaches up unabashedly and trails her own fingertips along his jaw, allowing herself to feel the stubble there before her hand settles against the side of his neck. He rests his forehead against hers and closes his eyes. His chest hurts, but it's a good hurt, one he wants to keep feeling forever.

You're no good for anything, Kevin Wendell Crumb.

His eyes snap open and he withdraws from her, remembering the truth in those words. When he pulls back, Casey's hand is left suspended there as he falls into a sitting position on the ground.

"Kevin?"

He can't handle this. These emotions, they're too complex. He doesn't even know this person, what business does he have feeling like this? What even is this? Is this some strange trauma bonding, this odd platonic affection? This is all so confusing, there is no structure and he doesn't know what is expected of him or what will come next.

He can't deal with something like this right now. He needs someone else to do it, anyone else. Things like these are Things He's Not Allowed, Things He Shouldn't Struggle With, and most prominently, Things He Doesn't Deserve.

He retreats into himself and suddenly his body is spasming.

"Kevin, don't leave," Casey orders. "No. Don't. Stay here!" She gets on her knees and grips his face in her hands, pressing her forehead against his again. "Stay with me. Please? Stay."

She locks eyes with him when he opens his and the intensity in them rapidly fluctuates. The pupils shrink and grow with each transition, each different alter that takes the Light--

"--oh precious shugga, won't you calm down--" The southern, female accent segues into a southern male one, "--this ain't nothin' but a molehill sweetheart, now don't you go thinkin'--" which turns into a formal tone, "--like fire and powder, which as they kiss consume; the sweetest honey--" and give ways to, "--Michiko, who pays Kaji an unorthodox visit to express her love and solidarity, in which The Human Condition is--" which ends with his body slumping against her and finally coming to a rest.

It is so difficult to watch the chaos as it happens to him.

His head pops up and his lips curl into a wry little smile. "Hey girlie, boy you're a cutie pie up close." The words come out and Jade stands, putting her hands on her hips. "Wow he's a lot taller than I remember, haven't had the Light by myself in like forever." She pauses here, eyes looking up at the ceiling to think. "Actually one time like last week but that was real gross." Jade joins her hands together, raising them over her head and stretching her body out like a cat.

Casey shakes her head from her place on the floor, looking up at whomever has control now. Jade jumps. "Oh gosh, yeah I forgot. Don't think we've formally met. I mean, under calmer circumstances. I'm Jade." A loose hand comes down to help her up. Casey takes it and stands.

"Jade. Hi." Casey is disappointed that Kevin is gone, his retreat feeling a bit like a rejection.

Jade looks at her for a second before chewing on her lip.

"You, ah...you got some time to talk? Now? Casey?" The words are suddenly tense. Casey, attuned to small changes in mood thanks to her uncle, notices immediately. Jade's smile is forced and the look in her eyes is urgent. "You know, 'cause I don't have much time here? Alone?" The last word is emphasized so strongly that it adds to her apparent urgency.

"What is it Jade?" Casey breathes, focusing her full attention on the girl, concern flooding into her eyes.

"Okay look." Jade takes her arm and almost drags her to her bedroom, shutting the door behind them as though someone could follow them in and taking both of Casey's hands in hers. "You have to run. You have to run, Casey. Something bad is going to happen, and this Horde business might seem like old news but it's not--" Casey tries to take her hands away from Jade but Jade's grip tightens, "--it's not! It's not over Casey, and you're in terrible danger if you stick around. I'm not playing. This--" Her face spasms, "--seek--get--Overseer--" and her eyes shut tightly again only to open serene.

Kevin's hands are taken very delicately from Casey's and the posture straightens, chin slightly tilting up. The hands clasp and a small, tolerating smile leaks onto the lips.

"Hello, my dear."

Swallowing and unable to fully grasp the events that just occurred, Casey steps back and nods once in greeting.

"Patricia."

 


 

They are sitting in the living room, Casey on the couch and Patricia on a kitchen chair that they dragged over. The woman sits very properly, her hands in her lap, her posture impeccable. Though Kevin was wearing a white T-shirt and boxer briefs, Patricia seems to make this fact irrelevant, looking poised even in the clothes.

"Casey, I've been meaning to speak with you about something of great importance," she says, leaning forward, eyes alight with what seems to be delight. Casey is silent, slowly tucking her hands underneath her thighs in a motion that indicates mistrust. Patricia notices this. "Tut tut, we'll not start that now. I only have your best interests at heart."

What those could be, Casey couldn't fathom.

"You, my dear, are quite special. Did you know?"

There is silence between the two for a moment.

"The Beast has marked you, child, marked you as his. It has taken me a great deal of time to realize this, but as you are the only survivor of an encounter with him that has resulted in a remarkable ritual of broken flesh, you and he share a very special bond."

This makes no sense to Casey. She's still waiting for Patricia to make any sort of sense to her.

"Oh child, don't you see?" Patricia says, hands opening towards her. "You are Pure, Marked, and Mated."

Mated. What the actual fuck? "Excuse me, what?" Casey asks. She couldn't possibly have heard that right. Mated?

"Don't worry about that just yet," Patricia says, making a dismissive gesture with her hand. "It's not time. What you do need to understand is that this bond between you and The Beast is incredibly unique, and an astounding privilege. You must rejoice, Casey! You are his most esteemed treasure, a paladin of his legacy."

Casey swallows painfully. Her throat is dry with dread. "I don't know what that means, Patricia," she whispers.

"That's perfectly understandable. It is undoubtedly a shocking thing to learn about yourself. All you need to know right now, Casey, is that you are a special aspect of his cause. Dennis will be accompanying you along your journey, preening and perfecting you for The Beast's ultimate, glorious reign." Patricia pauses at this. "I am so proud of you, my dear."

The sweetness dripping from her words makes Casey sick, and she wraps her arms around herself. By "accompanying", Casey assumes she means Dennis will be making sure she doesn't run or pull anything that would impede their progress.

"I just want the best for Kevin," Casey says, looking down.

"We all want the best for Kevin," comes Dennis' voice. Her eyes meet his, and she notices the posture has changed; his legs are slightly apart, arms crossed at his chest, gaze hard and intimidating.

She looks...so young. So soft. So supple. Dennis shifts uncomfortably in his seat. "The Beast was and still is the answer to that."

The Beast is a sentient creature who represents the highest form of humans' evolution. He believes the time of ordinary humanity is over...you will be in the presence of something greater. His words from the zoo echo in her mind.

Conviction is a powerful thing. It can mean the destruction of civilizations, or the rise of a revolution.

Casey has a feeling it will be both.

Chapter Text

Casey is not a big fan of Hedwig's taste in fashion--hell, she's not a big fashion girl in general--but they needed to get him something that was a little less...extra, than his yellow jumpsuit. Studying the kinds of music and role models he'd been exposed to (which were exceptionally questionable ones), she surmised that he'd be into flat-brimmed caps and shiny pendants on rope chains. She wasn't one to judge. But really, she's judging hard.

Her route back to the apartment from the clothes boutique usually involves the bus, but the buses are all out of transit today, which means a long walk back home. The ground's dry for once in days, and it's cold out, but not cold enough that she can't trek it back.

She's surprised Dennis even allowed her out the door, let alone out into the world, alone. Wasn't he worried she'd run to whatever nothing she has out here in the wild? Wasn't he worried she'd tell the police about him, whereby calling attention to herself and spurring a potential investigation of her own misdeeds?

Yeah. Made about as much sense as Dennis usually makes.

Through a crowd of people crossing the street, she sees a massive man walking towards her. Once she gets to the other side, she realizes it's Morris Claymore, a friend of her uncle. In a lot of ways he and John are very similar; then one would see them side by side and realize Casey's very large uncle looks like a waif beside Morris.

He isn't someone Casey is necessarily happy to see out here--he knew almost Day One that her uncle was very seedy with her and he chose not to do anything about it. Not exactly a harbinger of the warm and fuzzies. In fact, he'd often leer at her once she began puberty, and she suspects if she had ever been left alone with him he would have loved to do more than leer.

Morris has a ring of carrot-colored hair slicked back in a really sad-looking comb-over. His legs are massive tree trunks attached to a big barrelly torso just like John's, and his arms are big swinging cranes that hang from his body. He's a whopping 6'8", and compared to Casey's 5'6" makes her an insignificant gnat comparatively.

She honestly thinks she would prefer to be mugged over being held up by him. In an attempt to avoid him, she slips into an empty alleyway, which of course is a mistake. Dead end. It isn't a surprise to see him at the entrance of the alleyway when she turns around. His eyes never smile, even as he flashes his pearly whites at her. It looks like the fear-grimace of a monkey about to go face-rip crazy.

"Casey-Bear, little Casey-Roo!" he exclaims. His arms spread wide, and they almost span the width of the alleyway. There's a moment where she wonders how such a man like this can exist; then she remembers steroids and inbreeding exist.

"Oh. Hi Morris."

She doesn't even bother to feign pleasantries. She's wearing a blue hoodie and jeans; if worse came to worse she can pull the paracord string that adjusts her hood and smack him with it a little to make him mad. With his mass, there is no way she'd be able to climb that mountain and wrap the cord around his thick neck in order to strangle him. Absolutely no way.

"Hey where's your uncle been, Roo?" She hates his stupid little nicknames; they are a forced form of intimacy that he does purposefully to attempt to put people at ease. It's clearly working so well with her, but he doesn't seem to notice. "Didn't see him at last night's poker game."

Oh, he's dead, Morris. I killed him with a fishing line. And then the body disappeared.

"He hasn't been home in a couple of days," she says. "I think he's up at the cabin getting things ready for buck season."

"Why, that's months away. What's gotten into the guy?" He maintains the creepy monkey-grin on his face but otherwise his expression is deadpan. When she doesn't bother to answer, he shrugs. "Say, Casey, you think I could drop by and get my hunting gear? Your uncle was keepin' it for me until closer to season. Since he's getting an early start, I may as well follow suit."

She shifts weight on her legs uncomfortably. "Um. I think you should just get it when he comes back," she says.

"Aw, now Casey-Wacey, I really need that gear." He takes a step closer and her stomach tightens.

"Maybe when my uncle's back, Morris," she says firmly.

"Tell you what, I'll just drop by later today and pick it up--"

"I said no," she says abruptly. Those dead eyes of his flash, and a dangerous sheen reflects in them. She takes a step back from him.

"I-I'll see you later." She tries to dash underneath his arms but he stops in front of her, effectively blocking her only way out of the alley.

He towers over her like a bear rearing up on its hind legs, and she backs up very slowly, heart hammering in her chest. "Morris, I don't want to do this. Just let me pass, ok? You can-you can get the gear later. I don't mind."

He's breathing deeply now, like some animal savoring the smell of its prey before it strikes. He unbuttons one of the top buttons of his shirt, loosening it, and rotates his head, cracking his neck. The cracks are audible where she stands, sharp and loud.

"Now now, don't hurt my feelings like that," he says in a low rumble. "I just wanna have a little fun."

Before she can react, he's grabbing her arm and pulling her towards him like a ragdoll. She gets some whiplash action, and a small scream escapes her throat before she can register what's happening. He is a fucking giant. She tries to pull away from him but all it does is hurt her arm.

He pushes her against the wall and the wind is knocked completely out of her. It's effortless for him. If he wanted, he could probably crush her entire skull in with his bare hands.

"Stop!" she yells, but he doesn't care. He's got one hand on her left wrist, dragging it up against the wall high over her head. It pulls at her injured ribs and she grits her teeth against the pain.

With her free arm, she's trying to hit his face with the plastic bag she's holding, but he snatches it from her and Hedwig's clothes fall to the concrete. His hand that isn't holding onto her is now slipping its fingers into the front of her jeans, fumbling with the button there and unzipping it. She's kicking him with her legs and connects with his shin, but it doesn't even phase him, and he closes the distance between them and pins her against the wall with his entire body.

"Hold still, you stupid cunt!" he spits, and she can't breathe with his weight on her.

His hand on her jeans crawls down the inside of them, and he is so close to touching her, so close, his rough hands digging down her pants, his mouth coming down to lick the side of her neck and clumsily suck on her earlobe. Tears are stinging her eyes but she's not about to cry, fuck him if she cries.

Then he's touching her, putting his fingers inside of her, hurting her, and she's screaming as best as she can without air but his shoulder moves forward and smashes her mouth, muffling then silencing her small scream. She starts to hyperventilate and she hasn't had a deep breath in a good two minutes, her vision growing dark around the edges. She's lightheaded but she manages to pry her lips open and bite into his shoulder with every ounce of energy that's left in her, and he cries out while the taste of copper fills her mouth.

"Fuck you, you shitbag cunt!" she hears somewhere in front of her, but she thinks she's passing out. He lets go of her left wrist and hits her across the face with his hand, and she's dazed, vision doubling.

Then suddenly she can breathe again, and he's off of her, and she's falling to the ground onto her hands and knees, coughing and gagging as she sucks in precious air. She's shaking and her hands immediately go to her jeans to zip and button them back up, a sick rolling blossoming in her stomach.

It takes her a solid ten seconds before she realizes Morris is to her left, sprawled on the concrete. He finally scrambles up and looks in front of him, to her right, in the alley entrance. She's still pulling in ragged breaths of air, but she has the faculties enough to look where he's looking, to see a man in a green poncho walking towards him. She's unable to see the man's face, the hood pulled very low on his features.

Morris is pissed the fuck off at this point, and he rushes the man, arms flailing and eyes wild. The man literally punches Morris in the gut once and he goes flying back again, landing on his back and struggling to get back up.

Casey isn't completely out of touch from the world; she's seen videos very similar to what she's witnessing in front of her right now.

The man in the green poncho is The Overseer.

Apparently it isn't just a meme. The Overseer stands over her, facing off with Morris, and she's trying not to stare up at him agape.

Seek--get--Overseer. Jade's halting words echo in her ears.

Morris is finally able to get back on his feet and the man in the green poncho just waits. He is within touching distance from her and she has the urge to reach out and touch his poncho, reminiscent of those that desired to touch Jesus' clothes as he walked on water or some shit.

Morris charges at him and it happens very quickly, but to Casey it feels slow, as The Overseer grabs Morris by the collar and belt strap when the giant man falls upon him. In one fluid motion Morris is flung over The Overseer's shoulder, body fully parallel to the ground as Casey stares at him flying, tossed to the side like his own little ragdoll. Casey is only able to stare at her fallen foe.

Morris doesn't get up.

She thinks for a hopeful second he might be dead, but no such luck; she can see him breathing from where she sits on the ground. Casey focuses her attention back to The Overseer and he's just standing there, staring right back at her.

If this were some sort of epic love story this is exactly how her soulmate would manifest into the plot.

Good thing it isn't.

She shakily gets to her feet, using the wall to help her up. This man is the one they've been talking about--a man with superhuman strength that can tackle trucks and punch through steel. Her hand is suddenly coming up to touch the front of his hood, fingers tracing the lining. He lets her. Her thumb tucks underneath the edge and she goes to slowly pull it up when his hand comes and takes hers to stop her.

Had he grabbed her, or taken her wrist, or any variation of the two, it would not have seemed as sensual is it does now. As it is, though, he is gently holding her hand close to his face and they stare at each other in silence.

He suddenly releases her and turns away, poncho flaring with the motion, and then he's gone.

Chapter Text

Hedwig's clothes are dirty, so she'll have to clean them when she gets inside. Her entire body hurts, even more so than the night she killed John; it feels like she's run a marathon and immediately after spent a three hour session at the gym hitting the barbell.

She can barely lift her key into the apartment lock, she's so sore. Frustrated, she physically shakes herself out in front of the door, enduring the momentary shock of pain in exchange for the looseness it grants after. She'll have to stretch or something tonight, if she can. God she's going to have to go to work for an early shift tomorrow and she's gonna look like she has an abusive boyfriend.

She enters the apartment and heads towards the laundry room, putting Hedwig's clothes in for a cycle.

She turns and walks toward the living room when she sees Dennis--not Dennis?--standing there, easy smile on his face and hands in his pockets. As soon as Not Dennis sees her, his face falls, and he rushes to her, putting a hand on her cheek. "Oh baby girl, what happened? Who did this to you?" He puts the other hand on her other cheek and Casey is so taken aback that she just stares at him, searching for something in his eyes to tell her who he is.

"Barry?" she whispers.

Barry's eyes smile and he nods, but he's still assessing the damage. A cut eyebrow. Busted lip. Swollen cheekbone. And then some older bruises on her neck. Who knows what else is going on underneath her hoodie.

Casey met Barry very briefly, once, when she was trying to escape The Beast in the zoo two years back. How she had remembered his demeanor and mannerisms is beyond her, but she is glad that he is here instead of Dennis. She doesn't want to have to hear him rage about how stupid she was today.

"Sit down, I'm getting you some ice and you're going to tell me what you've been through." He ushers her over to the couch and grabs a bag of frozen veggies, pressing it to her face before she can object. She takes the bag of veggies and positions it on her cheekbone. He joins her on the couch, turning his body towards hers, attention completely focused on her. He's quiet for a moment, tilting his head, searching for any indication of what happened to her on her face. "Are you ok?"

"I don't know," she admits. She falls into a silence that Barry senses he won't be able to prod her out of. She looks far away, but still present, and he can completely relate to that. Whatever happened to her is something that she's not ready to share yet, and he nods to himself, heart aching for her.

"Oh sweetie." His arms wrap around her carefully, and although he is by all rights a complete stranger to her, Casey's eyes well up and she settles into the embrace, and for some reason it feels like home.

 


She lays in the tub, the water hot and soothing. Her hand travels to her pubis, tenderly prodding at the bruising there. There was blood on her boyshorts but she otherwise doesn't feel swollen there, which is a positive. She sinks into the tub so that her mouth and chin are submerged, staring at the faucet as it slowly drips onto her bath water.

She's crying a little, feeling sorry for herself, and then the tears stop coming. She wonders if she is in shock, or if she's cried herself out, or simply that by living with her uncle for over a decade she has just gotten used to men taking advantage of her.

"Sweetie are you okay in there?" There's a knock on the bathroom door, and Casey can hear Barry's voice on the other side of it.

Her life is a shit show. She's a recovering serial killer that accidentally began living with a man that holds 23 other people in his brain, two of which want her to sex it up with a third that is the amalgamation of various wild beasts. She doesn't actually think they want her to mate with The Beast, of course. That would be ludicrous. These plans Patricia has for her themselves are ludicrous.

Unless...they weren't.

She remembers The Beast grabbing her and tearing her leg open at the zoo. How strange it felt as she ran, dragging it behind her. How quickly it healed. How she keeps having hazy dreams that make her feel sick but that disappear from her memory seconds upon waking.

"Sweetie?"

She blinks, completely forgetting Barry is asking after her. She lifts her mouth out of the water. "Yes, I'm fine. Just unwinding."

This seems to satisfy Barry and there are no more knocks on the door.

Her thoughts travel to The Overseer and his well-timed interference. Casey doesn't know how far it would have gone had he not shown up when he did. Their touch had been surprisingly intimate, and she finds herself throbbing in specific places as she thinks about the way his body moved to lift Morris off the ground. Casey has always been a sucker for physically strong men--it developed with the weightlifting, and the male company she keeps at the gym when she is there.

Then her mind wanders to Dennis, and the flex of the muscles in his back. His bare arms as he cleaned the counter. The line of his neck when he turns his head away. She imagines him looking at her, his intense gaze fixing on her body, drinking her in, hungry for her. She pictures his cock hard against the seam of his pants and she bites her bottom lip, face flushing.

She masturbates to Dennis, thinking about those eyes.

 


 

Once she is dressed, she goes into the laundry room to switch Hedwig's clothes over. Barry is curled up on the couch with a blanket and a cup of something hot and dark.

"How are you doing?" he asks, tilting his head to one side.

"Much better," she replies.

Barry raises an eyebrow at her and shifts forward on the couch, setting his cup down on the side table. "Okay look sweetheart. You just experienced something shitty and traumatic. I don't know what it was, but even a complete idiot could figure that out. Don't put on a brave face just for my sake."

She sits next to him, leaning back on the couch and turning her body to face him. She decides she likes Barry a lot. He seems like he doesn't bullshit around, and that's a difficult trait to find in people nowadays.

She sighs deep and tucks her legs under her. "My uncle's friend forced himself on me in an alleyway." The words themselves aren't significant, it's the look she and Barry share with each other that makes her want to cry in his arms again. She doesn't.

Barry doesn't say anything. He just rests his eyes on her, allowing her to process what she's just said. After a moment, he just takes her hand and squeezes it, and she squeezes back.

They don't have to say anything to each other. They both know the pain of abuse and the act of a violation of trust. He moves closer to her on the couch and places half of his blanket over her legs, and they stay that way for a long time.

 


 

 

He savors them, one by one.

There are three of them, and two of them have been made free to run from him--sport. He makes quick work of the first one, wrapping his maws around her soft stomach, ripping and gouging and tearing. Her stomach caves easily, and he's able to reach into her with his mouth, searching for the most delicious parts of her as his hands begin to tear her limbs apart. Those he will save for later.

The two that are running must now have some sort of hope to escape him. They are wrong. He tosses ripped flesh up into the air with his mouth and catches it again, letting it slide down his throat. He is satisfied for now with this one, and she still twitches where she lays as he pounces on all fours to chase the other two down. They are quick, but he is quicker. He finds one terrified, hiding in a tree. The other is still running when he catches up with him, and he takes him down at top speed, severing his vertebrae and killing him instantly. He prefers them alive, but this one is still fresh and warm, so he feasts quickly, greedily, blood covering his body and acting as a ritualistic garb.

Mid-feast, he turns and sees that she watches him. She watches him and he feels whole, he feels complete. He rises to his feet and prowls towards her, eyes as dark as a moonless, starless night.

"Rejoice!" he roars at her. "Rejoice, for you are Mine."

She wakes up screaming and sobbing, and as the dream fades she doesn't know why, but the feeling stays with her and she is afraid. She holds her head in her hands, terrified, the dark closing in around her, suffocating her with its thickness.

Her door opens and she barely registers as Barry takes her in his arms, wrapping her up tightly with himself, her head tucked underneath his chin. He is rocking her, soothing her, speaking to her in hushed tones that she can't seem to understand in her current state.

Eventually, painfully, she is calm. She is no longer afraid, but she retains a deep sorrow that makes her chest ache and her throat close up.

They were so young, she thinks, but she doesn't know where the thought comes from.

He lays down with her, taking her in his arms, letting her rest her head against his shoulder. She caves into him, her lifeline, her lighthouse, her wall. She feels small touching him, like he is larger than she could possibly deserve.

Time passes as they lay there with each other, and Barry is leaning his head against the top of hers. He's fallen asleep, and she allows herself to just feel him next to her, warm and safe. Her heart snags and she finds herself adjusting away, looking up at his face. He looks like Kevin, but he feels so different. She reaches up and places a finger on his bottom lip, feeling how soft it is. His eyes flutter, and then he's looking at her, and they stare at each other for a long time before she slowly closes the distance between them and presses her lips to his.

This surprises Barry, and he pulls back, looking at her again to be sure he is the one she means to kiss. She must have been dreaming again. But she closes the distance between them again, and this time pushes herself against him, the kiss deep and full and encompassing him in a warmth he's missed so dearly. He pulls back again, but her hand is under his shirt now, small hands tracing the ridges of his body. The touch feels so careful, so gentle, so loving, and he closes his eyes against it, sighing in pleasure.

His body is reacting to her touches and his eyes seek hers out again, then takes her chin in his hand and tilts her head up to lock lips yet again. Slowly she shifts, leaning away from him for a second to readjust her position. Then she is straddling him, pulling his shirt off, sliding it gently off of his body. He is unashamed of Kevin's scars, and she touches them now, each telling her a silent story of pain. She lowers herself to kiss one, lips wet and leaving his skin tingling after she sits back up. Her shirt slowly comes off and he gazes upon her, his heart breaking with how beautiful and alive she is.

She slides his pants off and places a hand gently on his throbbing hardness, the mere fabric of a pair of boxer-briefs separating them from complete abandon. She moves on top of him, slipping her boy shorts off and placing them to the side. All the while he is watching her, eyes betraying his need. He sits up slowly, taking her waist in his hands, pulling her tenderly towards him to close the gap on a deep, drowning kiss. His hands move away from her waist and travel to his briefs, sliding them off while she still straddles him.

She is wet with desire, and Barry allows his eyes to travel the length of all parts of her, from bruises to cuts to pure, flawless skin. She lifts herself slightly and eases him into herself, both of them emitting small gasps with the act. Her walls are so tight around him, so needy, so soft. She begins to move, swaying her hips forward and back as her hands travel to her breasts to caress them. They make their way up to her hair and she is so beautiful, so elegant, so graceful in her movements.

He holds on to her thighs, guiding her hips, pleasure wrapping them both up in small pockets of self-contained bliss. They are the only two beings in the world right now, moving to music only they can hear, swallowed up in their own personal rapture.

She tightens against him, the orgasm slow and hot and rich. She gasps, clenching her fingers against his chest, and he holds her close while it fills her body. She's so raw, so intricate and fragile in this moment that he swears he can feel her soul. When it passes, she continues to slowly ride him, and he is so wrapped up in ecstasy that he is coming up to meet her, torso upright, her breasts pressed against his chest as one tangle of flesh and euphoria.

He holds her to him, arms wrapped around her own torso, molding into her as he gasps for air and spills into her, heat swallowing him, engulfing him, his eyes closing against the pure pleasure that shoots stars through his body. Her forehead is against his and they are both breathing against one another. He's slightly trembling, and she has her hands on his face, caressing and easing him back down from the high of the orgasm.

They lay naked against each other on the bed, knowing that once daylight comes they will shake themselves of their intimate moments. But for now, they hold each other, breathing each other in to give each other life.

Chapter Text

Casey doesn't know if she and Barry are A Thing.

They watch movies together and discreetly go places together, and at night they coil around each other and hold one another in their own heady world of bliss. By all accounts, it definitely sounds like they are A Thing. They will eventually have to slow down for a moment to talk about it with each other before not knowing becomes an issue, but life is just so easy with him in this place of limbo, and she doesn't know if it's because he's her friend or he's her lover.

She doesn't know what They do when she's at work, or when she's got a session with Heather. Honestly she doesn't really want to know. Just like with her and Barry's relationship status, not knowing is just so much easier for her.

She hasn't seen Dennis since the night Patricia explained Their plans to her, and she thinks this is a little strange--isn't he supposed to be "preening" and "preparing" her for whatever it is that they need her to do? Barry tells her Dennis is quieter than usual these days, and that it's unusual for him to be out of the Light for this long (that he knows of).

He does also tell her that when she's at work or otherwise out of the house, he loses time, sent to sleep far away in the dark, and that concerns both of them, but no one will tell him why this happens or who is doing it.

Almost by accident, Barry becomes In Charge of everyone's schedules again. Patricia makes everyone breakfast and dinner almost every day, which can be a painstaking task that leaves Casey hungry as the older woman is quite particular about how things are made and cooked. Hedwig gets to go to a park in Eastern Abington while Casey sips hot coffee on a nearby bench on Tuesdays, and she and a very disguised Orwell go to the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Wednesday mornings registered as Casey and John Cooke when Casey's work schedule allows.

She's able to coax Dennis out very briefly to get an eye exam as John Cooke with an optometrist just outside of town (really good thing Casey knows all of her uncle's insurance information--she has been the keeper of all the records for the past year) but as soon as he is tested he jets. Barry even has to be the one to choose the frames for him, which actually turns out to be a good thing because they look damned good on Kevin's face. Casey even gets Jade in to the doctor (her uncle never went, even when he was sick as a dog) to get her blood tested so that she can get a prescription for insulin.

In just a little less than three weeks, Barry and Casey have managed to get Everyone's shit together. It of course deserved a high five and a good orgasm each later that night.

The insurance isn't going to cover Them forever though. John's work has called her a couple of times to ask her where he is, and each time she's had to explain to them that she has no idea and that he just took off, probably to their cabin. They've accepted this the first couple of times, because he is friends with his boss and they occasionally hunt together, but Casey will either have to get a second job, get a better one, or move to be able to keep a roof over their heads. As of now she gets paid some extra money through her dad's life insurance monthly payout, which John had been taking before, but not enough to live comfortably in Philly in the apartment they have.

While Casey is at work she's constantly worried that when They go out They will be recognized. So far, though, the news of The Beast returning has dwindled, and everyone is more concerned about the tabloids again than they are about missing fugitives, which definitely works in Their favor.

Until it gets closer to the month mark, of course.

Barry has been occupied with organizing everyone's schedules that he's completely forgotten about The Beast's scheduled rituals. It hits him now as he is curled up on the couch sipping his berry La Croix and watching Grey's Anatomy. He spills the drink on himself when he remembers and he grabs his pre-paid phone on the side table, swipes through to his calendar (which has filled up with Everyone's appointments and routines) and begins counting the weeks, then counting them again.

"Shit, fuck, fuck," he says. That has to be why he's been losing time. Being In Charge completely distracted him from the one thing he needed to be paying attention to, and that's preventing The Beast from striking again.

He leaps to his feet, sets his drink down and presses his speed dial. Casey's phone rings and rings, but she doesn't pick up. He looks at the calendar and sees that she's supposed to be at her therapist appointment, so he grabs the North Face jacket she bought him and runs out the door.

 


 

We need to talk. The Horde is planning something and it's going to happen soon. Meet at Cuppa.

Casey is shaking her head. She received the text from Barry while she was in her session with Heather and that had been over an hour ago. She sits in Cuppa waiting for what seems like ages before she realizes he's not coming, and that something must have happened. She presses her speed dial and his phone goes immediately to voice mail, which means the phone either died or he turned it off.

Her anxiety is sky-rocketing. She stands and heads towards the coffee counter, the barista there nodding his head up once to greet her.

"Hey, I have to go, but if you see a..." She pauses here, not knowing what to say or who to describe. "If you see a man coming in here looking for someone, just...tell him I went home."

The barista gives her a look. "Just...a guy looking for someone? That could literally be anyone."

"It's hard to describe him," she mutters. "Just tell him I went home, ok? Thanks." She heads out towards the bus stop, the hands in her coat pockets making fists in an attempt to keep herself calm. She tries to text him but it bounces back.

Where the fuck are you, Barry? she agonizes.

He isn't at the apartment either. The Grey's Anatomy DVD is playing it's selection menu animation in a loop and there's an open La Croix on the table, but no Barry. No Hedwig or Orwell or Patricia. No Dennis.

"Fuck," she says under her breath. She reads his text again and thinks, but she can't come up with anything. She just stands there in her apartment, feeling the emptiness of it creep into her bones.

 


 

Barry comes into the Light, eyes blurry, staring into a dark room illuminated by a single bulb screwed into the ceiling. Blinking, he realizes he's wearing Dennis' glasses, and he takes them off quickly, putting them into the front pocket of Dennis' button-up. The room he stands in looks to be an unfinished cellar, one wall still exposing dirt and roots. Behind him are stairs carved of what seem to be limestone, and a trapdoor at the top of them. There's a door to his left that leads into an equally poorly-lit hallway, and when he looks down that hallway, there's another door beyond that is closed.

Even through that closed door, he can hear the sobbing of multiple people.

"Dennis, what did you do," Barry says out loud, his stomach dropping.

"I did what's right," Dennis says, also out loud. He has been sharing the Light with Barry since he awoke in here, and Barry had no idea. This sends a chill down his spine, making him wonder if he had any control at all these past few weeks or if he's been The Horde's puppet the entire time.

"What is right to you?" Barry asks, almost desperately. "Because this isn't, and I thought you were smart enough to realize that." He prods the bear with those words. "You have to let those people go."

"You have no idea what our vision is here," Dennis says, his accent thick with condescension. "These people are to be celebrated! They have the honor of sustaining the one thing keeping Kevin safe from...from everything."

Kevin doesn't need protecting from everything, Barry thinks at him, finished with their back and forth vocal see-saw. He needs protecting from you.

There is a silence that lasts long enough that the sinking feeling in his stomach comes back. Dennis suddenly takes the Light from him, violently, and Barry is cast out--not to his chair, but into the dark, engulfed in a sea of nothing.

Dennis puts his glasses back on and checks his watch.

She'll be here, Patricia says in the Light with him. She won't be able to resist his call. Dennis flattens the creases of his shirt with one hand and runs his palm over his head with the other, nodding. Until then, my boy...we need to continue to prepare.

As if on cue, Dennis begins to unbutton his shirt. As he is shedding it, he falls to one knee, back becoming rigid and swelling with sinew. His breathing is ragged and guttural, low growls emitting from the back of his throat. He rolls his head, veins popping up underneath the pale flesh, dark blood vessel rivulets crawling down his back just under the skin like channels into the sea.

Dennis' glasses fall to the ground.

The Beast rakes his fingers into the ground and slowly stands--immense, powerful, remarkable.

 


 

Casey goes into the kitchen, pouring herself a glass of water to calm herself a bit. She's standing by the fridge when--

The room she is in is a cellar she knows all too well, memories and emotions flooding through her like the water of a breaking dam. She hears sobbing down the hall--there seems to be more than one person, perhaps a mix of men and women. Or boys and girls.

"But the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be uprooted from it."

The words blossom in her head like rose petals in bloom. They are guiding words, comforting words in their truth and clarity.

He stands slowly, dirt caked into his nails--a massive creature of astonishing proportion--and he is looking at her with his dark, dark eyes. The Beast is in front of her, standing tall and domineering. She feels like falling to her knees and bowing, but she resists, and his eyes gleam with indulgent allowance, the corners of his lips turning upward in amusement.

He reaches towards her and she flinches, but he only offers his hand, and waits.

--the glass falls to the floor, shattering into sharp, tiny pieces. The water that was inside it spreads the pieces everywhere; under the fridge, into the pantry, towards the carpet of the living room. She is breathing hard, and begins to practice her panic attack protocols.

Once she is a bit calmer, she thinks back on the...vision? It was as though he was calling her, urging her to be with him. More importantly, though...where The Beast is, They are, and she knows exactly where.

Rushing to the window, she searches for her uncle's car, and is not surprised that it is no longer parked there. The buses don't route to where she needs to go, so she'll have to find a different ride. A taxi, or an Uber. She takes her phone out and scrolls down her contacts list, looking for the number of the local taxi service, when she freezes on a name.

Joseph Dunn.

She only hesitates for a second before hitting the call button.

"Hello?"

"Hi."

It takes a moment for Joseph to realize that the small voice on the other end of the line is Casey Cooke. He tosses his Advanced Calculus college textbook onto the floor and gets up off of his bed. "Casey?"

"Yes. Hi. So. Are you...free?" She works through the words, feeling a bit silly calling him but knowing that she needs him.

Was she asking him out or something? Joseph's eyebrow raises and he glances out his window. His dad is out on the driveway, working on covering their autumn plants with a tarp because of the impending early snowfall that's reported to hit sometime over the weekend.

"Like...a date?" he asks, genuinely curious.

"Sorry, uh, I mean, can you take me somewhere?" Casey rephrases. "I need to be somewhere and I'd rather not ride with a stranger up there in an Uber or a taxi."

There's silence on both ends. Casey breaks it. "If you're busy, I'm really sorry. I just thought I'd ask."

"No, no, yeah, I'm free," he says, scratching his head. "Where do you need to go?"

There's a pause on her end that's so long Joseph has to look at his phone to see if she's hung up. Then, she finally speaks.

"My uncle's cabin."

Chapter Text

The cabin is an older, weathered structure that Casey's father bought shortly before her mother died. He left it to her uncle, who was a much more avid hunter than Casey ever was--she enjoyed hunting because her dad was the world. They often wouldn't use the cabin anyway when they were out on a hunt, instead camping out in the woods to be closer to the good hunting spots. The cabin is a two-story with a cellar. The ground floor is partially recessed into the side of a hill, and the second floor serves as the entrance, with a small porch and stairs that lead up to it. Inside, the cellar is reachable through a trap door in the kitchen pantry.

She stares at it from inside Joseph's car and just sits there for a moment. The sky is a light purple, giving way to the sunset and encroaching night.

 "Is everything ok, Casey?" Joseph asks in the driver's seat. At first she doesn't answer; then she turns to him very slowly and locks eyes with him.

"I need you to drive as far away from here as possible, Joseph," she says. "This is really important, and I need you to do that for me. Can you do that for me?"

He doesn't understand, so he doesn't say anything.

"Please, Joseph," she pleads with him, grabbing his arm. They both look down at the contact and she releases him immediately, face flushing but mind already elsewhere. He still says nothing.

Shaking her head, Casey reaches for the door handle. She can't do this right now. If he chooses to stay, then she'll have to find some way to keep him safe, but she hopes for his sake he drives off.

She leaves the car and wraps her arms around her stomach, trying to keep her hands from trembling, and walks towards the front door of the house. The windows are dark and caked with dirt making it impossible to see details inside the first floor, and the porch creaks as she ascends the stairs. She tries the door handle--it's unlocked, and she opens it, walking inside and closing it behind her.

Joseph grips the car's steering wheel and watches her disappear into the house. He still has no idea what's going on, but he has an itch deep down in his gut that he can't seem to scratch. He always trusts his gut. He waits fifteen minutes, and when she still hasn't come out, he gets out of his car and begins to search the bottom floor for a discreet entrance. He finds it in the form of an unlocked kitchen window.

"Welp," Joseph whispers as he climbs in. "Yolo."

And he disappears into the house.

 


The cabin is stale and smells like wet wood. The kitchen is downstairs, and she makes her way towards it, not bothering to turn the lights on. Her ears strain to listen for screaming or sobbing but she hears nothing except her footsteps on the wooden floor. Descending the stairs, she sees photos of her dad and her uncle on fishing trips and hunting trips. Their smiles are a slight against Casey's history with this place. The kitchen, where John frequently taught her how to "deal with pain", is bare and empty, and the pantry is just beyond the defunct fridge.

Suddenly she's feeling him and his presence overwhelms her. Down just below her feet, The Beast lies, waiting for her to come to him. Her body is shaking as she closes in on the trapdoor, though she doesn't know if it's from fear or anticipation.

And when they are face to face, then what? Will she be the sacrificial lamb, led down by the calls of the damned to be feasted upon so they may be set free? If that were an option, would she take it? She's not so sure as she takes the handle of the trapdoor and pulls it up to reveal the limestone steps leading into the darkness. There is a light that can be turned on down there, but it's in the middle of the room, only functional by pullstring.

She can hear him breathing. His inhales are slow and deep, and his exhales, a low, deep rumble like thunder in the distance.

Shit, please don't let me die, she thinks. Who she's praying to, she doesn't know. All she knows as she takes that first step down is the thought that's saved her once before.

I have to save Kevin.

The air in the cellar is cooler and smells earthy, which is a welcome change from the staleness above. His breathing is louder down here, and all-encompassing; it's as though he fills the entire room, is the entire room, and she can hear her heart pounding in her ears. She tries to adjust her eyes, and when she does, she sees his dark shape standing in the corner furthest away from the door into the hallway. She stops in the middle of the room.

It may just be a trick of the eyes in such a dark space, but he seems enormous. She assumes he notices her staring, because he huffs and shuffles a bit where he stands, then his shape begins to circle her very slowly. She simultaneously wishes and fears to see his face in this moment, the first out of morbid curiosity and the second because she's sane. The last time they were this close, there were iron bars between them.

He's behind her now, and though the trapdoor is still open, the dying light outside does nothing to illuminate the dark cellar. It's as though he absorbs all light, embodies the very darkness they stand in.

He is behind her now, and she does not move. The hair on the back of her neck stands on end, and beads of sweat are popping up on her forehead despite the coolness of the underground. She thinks that she may actually be visibly shaking, but can't tell.

He rushes forward towards her and she almost screams and runs, but she holds her ground and then his face is down by her arm, breathing her in, smelling his prey, head traveling very closely over her body as he inhales her scent as though assessing her worth. She can smell him as well, a mixture of sweat and something feral that she can't quite place.

"Casey Cooke," he rumbles into her ear. He is much closer than she thought and tears begin to fall from her eyes with how frightened she's suddenly become.

Her thoughts transition from her fear to the sobbing she saw in the vision, and remembers there are people down here according to what she saw. Letting the tears fall freely, she takes a deep breath and holds it for a few seconds, regaining her composure.

"Show them to me," she whispers, voice trembling in her throat.

He whips away from her, retreats towards the door to the hallway, and his breathing slows. She hears cracking and pained grunting. It sounds like agony, but after a moment all she can hear is the panting of a human man.

She lets whomever it is catch their breath, and then she feels around for the pullstring, discovering that it's no longer there. A deep breath and exhale later from behind her and the door is opening, hallway light turning on.

She turns, and Dennis is focusing on putting his glasses on. He wears nothing but sweats with pockets, and she assumes that's where his glasses were. Seeing him in sweats is strange; she is used to seeing him collected and clean-cut, and her eyes travel to his chest. Her skin tingles.

His body is so much different than Barry's, which is a ludicrous notion, but here he is standing in front of her partially lit by the light. The ridges of his body look sharp and solid--Barry's body is soft and comfortable, and Dennis' looks like marble. She can't see his eyes because the light reflects off of his glasses, but she can damn well feel them, and heat spreads from her core out towards her limbs.

He holds the door open for her and she passes him to travel down the hallway. He even smells differently somehow. Working her way towards the other door, she slows to a stop right before she reaches it.

Dennis doesn't pressure her, he simply stands behind her and waits.

This is not only the room the captives are held. This is also the room her uncle liked to visit with her when she was bad. When she Gave Him Trouble.

Memories of being a child standing naked facing the corner in the dark, his cigarette ember visible from the corner of her eye as it closes in on her skin.

She's panting, and she stares up at the low ceiling, and then she's rushing at the door and grabbing the knob, turning it, pushing the door open so hard that it slams against the wall it's hinged onto. Still panting, almost hyperventilating, she half expects to see a small child in the corner crying and shaking, burns lining the back of her shoulders.

But she doesn't.

Instead she is greeted by a harsh light that illuminates a room holding six teens--three boys and three girls. They are separated by gender, the three boys forced to crouch as the chains on their wrists are attached to chains at their ankles, which then trail over and are locked against vertical steel beams. The girls are in the same boat on the left. They are all blindfolded and gagged, and all cry out when Casey explodes through the door.

None of this matters to her right now, though, because in the middle of the room, chained multiple-fold to a bolted-down metal chair--also blindfolded and gagged--is Morris. His comb-over glistens under the light with sweat and his head tilts up when Casey comes in, struggling against his gag with no success.

Behind her, arms crossed against his bare chest, head dipping down so she may hear him, Dennis murmurs to her.

"The Beast provides."

Chapter Text

She looks up at Dennis, startled, and their eyes are locked for what seems to be an eon.

"An offering," he says.

Her gaze travels back to Morris--poor, pathetic, sweating, frightened giant of a man--and she can't help it; her feet slowly move forward and take her to the space immediately in front of him. She can hear the mewling and whimpering of the teens on either side of her, but all she can see is this pretty little package in front of her, chained and subdued and all but wrapped up in a little bow.

Her hand comes up and she snatches Morris' blindfold off of him, and he flinches back, small eyes filled with terror. They settle on Dennis, and that terror grows triple-fold, to the point where the man is making irritating sounds in the back of his throat that sound like feeble attempts at non-verbal low-key begging. Then his eyes fall on Casey, and he seems confused. She removes his gag, careful not to touch his vile mouth.

"What-what-what is this, Casey-Roo," he gasps.

She slaps him across the face, hard. Dennis simply watches.

"Don't call me that," she says calmly. She feels too calm suddenly, as though her body, feverish with the earlier fear, has been doused with the rain from a storm cloud of retribution. There's a flash of uncertain anger in his eyes--clearly he thinks he has the upper hand between them even as he is tied down.

"Listen you stupid cunt," Morris begins. "I'm not about to--"

She slaps him again and saliva flies from his mouth with the force of it. Her hand is beginning to hurt, and she balls it up into a fist in an attempt to soothe the heat spreading through her palm.

"How many small little girls have you been alone with that you haven't touched?" He turns back to her, ferocious glare staring her full in the face. He is silent, but his expression says it all--none of them escaped unscathed.

Her eyes fly to the ceiling as she tries to keep her calm. The tears sting and they fall but she lets them, face coated in barely-kept rage. She looks him in the eyes again, then her gaze falls to his thick neck. It's a tree-trunk of a neck, and had she not been given this opportunity, she never would have been able to take him down on her own, even by surprise.

But here he is, tied down and vulnerable.

Casey has no official garrote with her. Her bracers, she assumes, went wherever her uncle's neck went...and while she has an idea of where that disappeared to, she hasn't confirmed. She suspects that Morris' body, too, will disappear if dealt with. This room provides nothing but the chains wrapped upon The Beast's prisoners, but she is wearing the same hoodie she did in the alleyway, and her body begins to act on its own.

Slowly, her hand comes up to grasp the paracord string that adjusts her hood. She slides it out like she is unsheathing a weapon, and it slips out of her sweater. She wraps both ends around her hands and positions herself behind Morris.

She's never been able to take her time before.

She is wrapping the paracord around his neck--three times, and that's all it will go. She positions it low, underneath the adam's apple, even though she's trained herself against doing it this way. It's always been incorrect in her brain to do it this way, but with Morris...with Morris, it's perfect. She plants a foot at the back of the chair and slowly pulls.

"What is-are you--girl, stop--" he is sputtering. Soon he is unable to talk through the cord as it cuts off his air in a choke.

Dennis watches Casey as she does this and he can't help but be fascinated. This will be his second time watching her kill, but somehow, she's doing this one differently. Her hands shake as they draw the cord tighter and tighter around the man's throat, and the man is gagging, and her body is arching, and her eyes are half-closed. Her own neck is exposed as she pulls her head back to lean into the choke, the skin so flawless and pristine.

So deliciously sliceable.

Dennis begins to get very hard thinking of all the patterns he could carve into her skin. He gets even painfully harder as he watches her snuff the life from this man, and he can't help but let a small sigh escape from his lips. This catches Casey's attention and her eyes seek him out, meeting his gaze solidly as she continues her task. The man in the chair is turning purple and his head is shaking slightly back and forth in protest.

She and Dennis continue to stare at each other, and he is so painfully erect during this strangely, heavily erotic moment between them that he has to close his eyes. She is disappointed when he does.

Morris begins to cry, fat tears dripping from his beady little eyes.

It's at this time that one of the girls in chains begins to sob through the small, dying noises he is making. Casey pauses, staring at the back of his head, listening to the girl weep.

She's done this so many times before, and each time she has justified why it is that she can snuff them from the world. Each time she has told herself it's because she's trying to save Kevin, or she's doing their families a favor, or she's acting on behalf of all men and women harangued by a life led in fear.

She remembers herself in the shower at the motel and her revelation that she's done all of this to try to escape her uncle because she couldn't do it herself. It's not because she is some high priestess come to collect on the souls of the damned. Not because she has the power to judge whether or not they are fit for this life or fit to infect the lives of others.

Her judgment on John should have been her last.

So why is she doing this? Because Morris caused her pain? Because in the end, she really thinks she's better than those that have not suffered? That she is pure, that she is broken, that she is more evolved.

Her body relaxes and she unwraps the cord from his neck. He is gasping and swallowing as he sucks air in, coughing with the desperation of the quick need in his lungs.

She is not The Beast.

She drops the paracord passively on the ground and steps around the chair. She is drunk with the conflicting thoughts in her mind, the discord that occurs within her, the dissonance that's happened. She tries to walk towards Dennis but she falls to her knees and settles herself on the ground, sitting on her legs, hand coming up to place itself on her forehead. There is a finality in her decision that brings peace to her, like a cool cloth on a festering blister.

She has to somehow convince Them to let these teens go.

Dennis is then standing in front of her and picking her up, one arm underneath the backs of her knees and other arm cradling her close to his bare chest. At least, she thinks it's Dennis; her vision is hazy and her mind is fuzzy. He's still very hard as he carries her, her skin against his a brand that won't allow his desire to die down.

She's so soft, so pale, so delicate. He wants to suck on her scars and lick her pale flesh, biting ravenously on the parts of her that are flawless. He is lightheaded for a moment with the desire of it, but refocuses on the task at hand.

He's disappointed in her, but The Beast thought this might happen, and so did he. She's not ready. Above him, he hears the small thud of something falling in the kitchen. Dennis' mouth straightens into a grim line as his eyes dart up to the ceiling.

Casey suddenly grabs him by the arm and her eyes are pleading with him. She can't seem to get the words out of her mouth, so she tries to glance at the teens, and a word escapes her lips--"Please." There is something that ripples within him; The Beast lays low beneath the surface, just out of reach from the Light, by choice.

The Beast growls, and Dennis can feel it reverberate in the midst of his mind.

A gift.

Dennis sets an unconscious Casey down for a moment and his body begins to change.

 


 

As he crouches low on the kitchen floor, Joseph hears the trapdoor in the pantry thump closed, and he freezes. There is a broken fridge that is pulled away from the wall and he quickly makes his way towards it for cover. He hears footsteps, and climbing up the stairs of the pantry is a man that Kevin recognizes immediately even in the low light of the kitchen window.

The Horde.

He sees that their face is covered with what, in this lighting, appears to be mud, and is carrying in his arms a woman. Joseph's stomach turns as he realizes it's Casey. Thoughts of her being dead or dying while he sat outside on his ass in his car flood through his mind and make him stand abruptly without a thought.

"What have you done to her?" he demands of Dennis, voice low and challenging.

Dennis is surprised for a moment but quickly recovers, instinctively holding Casey closer to his body.

"You're The Horde," Joseph continues. "You've cannibalized people before. What have you done with her, monster?"

Being called a monster doesn't affect Dennis. Assuming he's hurt Casey somehow, however, does; he finds it touches him deep in his chest and he takes the assumption as a personal affront.

"She's safe now," he says, eyes assessing Joseph in the dark. He wonders briefly what a good meal he'd make for The Beast, when Joseph steps forward suddenly, eyes alight with determination. "Give her to me," he orders.

Dennis is baffled at how he can act the way he does and wonders what relationship Casey and him have that would warrant such a response.

"There is Sacred Food downstairs," Dennis begins. Joseph notes that he says food as though it is a delicacy. "They are chained and unable to move. There is a key on a small table in the hallway. I've started a fire down there with firewood, and it's spreading quickly. If the fire doesn't kill them, the smoke will." He pauses here for effect. "You can choose to take her from me, in which case I will make that very difficult for you, or you can choose to unshackle the Food below and see how many you can save."

Joseph is horrified. This choice isn't supposed to be something he makes. This choice should burden other people, like the cops, or some vigilante, or...his dad. His dad would try to save them all. But where would he start? How does he even know there are really people down there? Caught in this dilemma, Joseph figuratively chokes. He has no idea what he should do.

It's at this time he begins to smell smoke wafting from the cellar trapdoor. Then, there is distant screaming. This seems to knock him out of his indecision, and he takes a lasting look at Casey before he rushes down the cellar stairs.

 


The fire department takes their time getting here, as the location is relatively remote, but Joseph is able to save six teenagers.

Deep under the house, as he unlocked their chains, he noticed a chair bolted to the ground in the middle of the room, and what he saw upon it made him vomit. A man in his late forties lay back in the chair, a massive chunk of flesh gouged out of his throat. His eyes stared blankly at the ceiling, stomach open for all the world to see, intestines spilling out of him like purple and red overcooked sausage links. His chest was splayed open as well, revealing a cavity where his organs should be, his broken ribcage protruding from his body like fingers climbing out of the dirt from a grave.

Joseph will never be able to erase that image from his mind.

He's sitting in an open ambulance getting his vitals taken when his dad comes rushing over. They hug, then David looks at him from arms-length.

"What the hell were you thinking, going in there like that?" he asks, voice pained with the thought of losing Joseph. "You could have been killed! What were you doing here?"

Joseph looks around and as soon as they've taken his vitals he takes his dad aside, away from hearing range of the people milling about trying to make sure the teens are taken care of and their families are made aware of their locations.

"I saw The Horde," he states in a low voice.

David's face is a mixture of apprehension and excitement. "What? Are you sure? Where did you see him? Here? How close were you? No, don't tell me, I'll just get angry." He places the palm of his hand on the back of his head, looking dumbfounded. "So it's confirmed, he's here. He's in the city, or based closeby, at least." Joseph chooses not to tell his dad that he and The Horde spoke to each other. That would basically get him banished from being anywhere near Philly. "This is big, Joseph. This is huge. Do you know what this means?"

Joseph nods. "We can finally catch that son of a bitch." Or rather, his dad can. Joseph has always known how squishy he is compared to his dad, and that a punch that David takes is a punch that could spew blood and entrails from anyone else.

His mind goes back to the chair in the cellar, and he shivers.

Chapter Text

In the shower, Dennis is shaking. His body is so filthy--there is dirt caked underneath his nails and the entirety of his face and chest are plastered with blood and gore; he can taste the latter in his mouth and he vomits in the tub as the water showers down on him.

How did he get back to the apartment like this? How did no one notice how disgusting he is?

He sees his vomit circling the drain and it makes him vomit again. This makes him reach out of the shower to haphazardly grab his toothbrush--he needs to get this taste out of his mouth and clean it immediately. The vomit mixes with the gore and blood that the water washes off his body, and Dennis heaves again but is successful at holding his own against the forces of his nausea.

Face turning up to the ceiling and toothbrush sticking out of the corner of his mouth, he is panting from the effort it took not to vomit the third time. Once he cleans himself, he will need to clean the bathroom and living room, then shower again. He is scrubbing his skin raw, keeping note of literally every inch the soap cleans and running it over again just to make sure.

And then it just continues to go downhill.

Once he is done showering, brushing, cleaning, showering, then brushing his teeth again, it's almost dawn. He is exhausted and wants to give the Light to someone else, but he hangs on to it, sitting on the couch and waiting for Patricia to share it with him. But it's Casey's body in his thoughts writhing and sighing and pale flesh dripping red with--

Patricia had been waiting for him to finish his silent cleaning hysteria before asking him to focus on the conversation they must have.

That was not ideal, she states as she leaves her chair. Dennis is silent. That Sacred Food should have been sacrificed. There is no reason that could explain why he would rebuff our offerings. We need to think, we need to plan our next ritual very carefully and you must choose more carefully this time. Perhaps he sensed they were not worthy. But how would they not have been worthy? That is the question.

He wants to tell her to shut the fuck up, but instead he stands, walking over to the TV, placing it exactly in the center of the entertainment unit. That makes the ottoman next to it askew, so he straightens that, but it looks so wrong there, so he takes it and moves it to the other side of the TV. And her body and the way she breathes her small little exhales and then a sharp intake of breath as he's taking the knife and--

Once he's done this he takes the bucket that's still in the kitchen and washes down the baseboards that had been hiding dust behind the ottoman. As he's washing the baseboards, he peers behind the entertainment unit and is disgusted with the cobwebs and dust on the cables. He moves the entertainment unit away from the wall slightly and begins to work behind it.

Dennis. Focus.

"You can talk to me while I do this, Patricia," he says out loud.

She sighs and shakes her head. Dennis, none of this cleaning will solve our problems. This is silly.

He drowns her out. And then it's her body again her undoubtedly fully-shaved pussy beautiful and pink as he holds the skewers and her insides are so beautiful and he revels in the red that's covering his arms as he digs into her and--

Everything--everything--needs taking care of. The unit itself needs dusting. The curtains are dirty and need to be taken down, the rest of the baseboards (especially near the bathroom) need cleaning, the glass coffee table needs wiping down, there are smudges on it from Barry's shoes, his fucking shoes, why does he never take his fucking shoes off, what kind of fucking heathen doesn't--

He laces his fingers together and places his linked hands on top of his head to keep them still, letting out an agonized sigh as he attempts to compose himself. She's crying and he's touching himself and it's so incredibly hot the most rapture he's ever felt in his entire fucking life looking down at her ruined body legs spreadeagled and he's biting her and tasting her blood in his mouth and his dick is so hard as the blood drips down the length of him--

Taking his glasses off, he swallows painfully and cleans them with his yellow washcloth, puts the cloth back in his rear pocket and shakily puts his glasses back on.

It hasn't been This Bad in a long, long time.

Everything is assaulting his senses, and everything needs to be attended to, but there are too many things and he feels overwhelmed so he just picks something at random and goes from there. He takes the couch cushions off of the couch in a flurry, tossing them to the side to reveal the mess that's festered beneath them. He grabs the vacuum and begins to suck it all up. After that he takes all the trash out, and after that he cleans the insides of the trash bins before putting fresh bags in. Eyes so filled with terror and ecstasy pain and pleasure as he's licking the red off of her nipples and on her stomach the beautiful gashes so gaping so open like her slit looking at him smiling at him death glaze starting to cloud her eyes beautiful preserved body a bloody gorey mess as he picks up her legs to position himself between them--

He pauses in the kitchen and wipes his hands with his yellow washcloth, replaces it, then presses the heels of his hands against his eyes in an attempt to block everything out.

It all finally, blessedly, comes to a halt as Patricia gently takes him by the hand and leads him out of the Light. He is at once offended and relieved.

Patricia sets his cleaning supplies to the side and, as he was kneeling to scrub the grout, stands up. She pats invisible dirt off of Dennis' pants and sends him to sleep, and he goes willingly.

She makes Casey a breakfast of eggs, bacon and french toast--though the french toast isn't quite to her standards so she is still working on the third batch of it as Casey wakes up. Kevin's body will need to rest soon, but for now, Patricia needs to gauge what mindset Casey is in before she allows that to happen.

 


 

Suddenly they are coming together and he is holding her in his arms, his hands scrambling at her back and pulling her top off of her. Her hands are making quick work of his button-up but she is unable to go down the line fast enough so her hands are pulling and yearning and buttons are popping off as she claws to try and touch his chest, his skin. He is only vaguely aware of his buttons flying off but he doesn’t care because her touch is electric and burns a hole through his soul as she wraps her arms around him and scrapes her nails down his back in ardor. They sting, and every sting is like water to a thirsty man, so he eagerly endures it, his body leaning into her grasp.

Their lips find each other and it is like enduring the heat of a thousand suns as they inhale each others’ presence. He is walking her forward and she is allowing him to push her back, and the wall halts their movement but not their progress.

A fire blazes across her skin as his lips travel from hers to her jaw, her neck, her chest, her bare breasts, and her hands are desperately undoing the belt at his waist, but he has different plans as he gets on his knees and pulls her pants and panties down as he goes. She quickly steps out of them and he is slinging her legs onto his shoulders, using the wall to leverage her off the ground, his mouth on her and tongue probing and tasting. She shuts her eyes and white-hot flashes of light appear against her eyelids; she is so wet and slick and he is sucking her juices hungrily, finding her clit and greedily working her as she begins to buck uncontrollably against his shoulders to lean into his mouth.

Oh god, his mouth is like nothing she’s ever felt before, and her lower lips begin to throb and suddenly she’s wrapped in unspeakable pleasure as an orgasm hits her one-two-three-four-five and it doesn’t seem to be ebbing because he’s still working her. She rakes her hands across his head and moans against her will--“Yes, oh god, yes,”--and suddenly her feet are back on the ground for a moment, her shaking legs barely able to keep her upright.

That isn’t a problem because as she comes down from the high of her orgasm he’s got his cock out and links his arms underneath the bends of her knees and she’s off the ground again. There is an agonizing moment where their eyes lock and mirror each others’ wanton desire for each other before he closes the small distance between them and she can feel the head of his cock waiting against the entrance of her, teasing her, rubbing it against her throbbing clit until she groans in agony.

She pushes her hips forward vigorously and he is forced into her, which emits a gasp and a deep guttural moan from the back of his throat. Her arms are wrapped under his arms and her hands are hooked to the back of his shoulders to avoid slipping down the wall, his own hands at her waist in an effort to hold her up, and then he begins to thrust into her.

Each thrust is like a burst of beautiful suffering. Their mouths are tangled against each other again and he places his forehead against hers as he continues his work, eyes piercing into hers and holding her gaze, daring her to look away. But she can’t, she is mesmerized by them and the way he’s making her body feel; the base of him is grinding against her clit and she tries to hold back but she’s coming again with his dick inside of her, throbbing around the length of it, and now his hips are working her faster and her nails are clawing down his back. She brings her arms forward and up, clasping her hands behind his neck.

“Oh god,” she breathes, “oh god, oh god.” Here comes another one but she’s able to hold this one back, allowing it to pass and tease her as his thrusts get more and more wild. This isn’t good enough for him, and he grinds very deeply into her, making her throw her head back and gasp.

“Come for me,” he growls, his eyes dark and clouded with desire for her.

This itself sends her over the edge and she does, twisting and writhing against him in unbridled ecstasy, head falling forward onto his chest and biting it to keep from screaming. At her orgasm a hot fire burns at the very base of his stomach and he spills into her, moaning into the top of her head.

She is exhausted and her muscles ache, her head lolling back to weakly kiss him on the lips as he continues to come into her.

Then there is stillness just as suddenly as there wasn’t. They are both breathing heavily against each other, clinging to each other like lifelines after an incredible storm.

She breathes against his lips, "Dennis."

 


 

She opens her eyes, loins throbbing with the heat of the dream until she realizes it's about Dennis. Then she lays in her bed and contemplates ways to jump out of her apartment window because what the actual fuck.

 

Chapter Text

Barry floats in and out of the darkness before he realizes he's back in his chair. His eyes dart towards Dennis' chair, and there the bastard is, sleeping like a fucking baby. He doesn't plan to do it but suddenly he's on his feet and walking towards him, the distance between them somehow greater than Barry was expecting.

In the Room of Chairs, there are many factors on how close or far things are. The closer someone is sitting to the Light, the more "awake" they are; if someone is not in their chair they are either in the darkness and asleep far away, or up by the Light, and if they are in or by the Light it can be difficult to discern depending on where they stand. Kevin's mind is a complexly strange place that follows no particular set of rules, so this can actually vary from day to day.

The size of people varies as well--Hedwig is small but feels large, and he's able to wander the Room of Chairs freely whereas some people can't even see much less talk to each other even if they know the others exist. Barry has been able to establish a sense of cohesion between all of them because of his ability to see and speak with everyone; Hedwig, Patricia, and Dennis all have this ability as well.

Orwell is an example of someone that cannot "see everyone". He was quite confused when he saw B.T. and the twins' names on the video journal entries they used to do, and was appalled when he learned that he was unable to see them in the Room of Chairs or even while they were in the Light. B.T. and the twins were the same way in regards to Orwell, but they all discovered that if they specifically allowed the others to view them in the Light that it was possible, though direct interaction was not. Without the journals or testing Orwell's theories, however, none of them would know of each other. Jade is also someone that isn't able to see or interact with everyone; she and Jelin have never met face to face, and to be honest Barry is glad of that because if she and the teenage boy were to meet he has a feeling all they would do all day if able to share the Light with each other is masturbate in Kevin's body and never get anything done.

Which is another strange thing altogether.

Dennis feels large and is large; he stands over six feet and his presence is very strong when near him, as though anywhere he goes he is pushing people out of his vicinity with his willpower without realizing it. It's not hard to understand why Hedwig puts Dennis on a figurative pedestal; traits like that are appealing to those that are young and idealistic or don't know better.

Now, though, Dennis feels very small, even if he looks the same as he always does, and as Barry finally approaches and reaches his chair, Dennis opens his eyes and stands, arms crossed against his chest, intimidating as usual. Barry notices there is a shadow over Dennis' head and shoulders; it's barely discernible but if someone knew where and what to look for, it would be quite apparent regardless of how light or dark the shadow is.

Barry feels a pang of guilt about coming over here in a huff; Dennis is struggling with his own inner demons right now, and it's a good thing he isn't in the Light, or he'd likely be having a bad episode of OCD.

Even still, that doesn't excuse Dennis from basic conversation, and Barry clears his throat though he doesn't need to in here.

Dennis just stares at him.

"Are we gonna talk?" Barry asks flatly. "About what happened."

"You and I have differing opinions on how to keep Kevin safe," Dennis says.

"Mine don't involve getting other people hurt, or killed. Dennis you have to know this is wrong." Barry pauses here, beginning to feel himself get worked up. "You weren't always like this. You actually did protect Everyone. You were there when everything was happening, you took it all for Us and kept Us all safe--"

"You don't have to remind me what I've done for Us," Dennis interrupts in a growl. He is well aware of what he's done for Everyone, and even now continues to do it.

Barry is rendered silent for a moment. He doesn't think being a good person in the past can justify all the pain and hurt Dennis has inflicted in the name of The Beast. He wants to say so but Dennis is so wrapped in his own cloud of self-righteousness that Barry doesn't think it would do any good.

So he goes to Patricia. Her seat is very close to Dennis' and their proximity makes him wonder if there is just something in that area of Kevin's brain that makes those in it take on sycophantic qualities. Not that the Room of Chairs is an accurate physical or even conceptual manifestation of Kevin's brain.

"Hello dear," she says, words coated in sugar and icing with an undertone of cyanide. "Are you well today?"

"Miss Patricia," Barry greets, using the formality with her as he refrained from doing so with Dennis. Barry is also technically Mister Barry now since his recent emergence of frequency into the Light, but Patricia and Dennis have been the ring masters for a while now and the transition, if it sticks, might be harder on them than it is for him.

"I've been meaning to talk to you about The Beast, and the past two years I've been in and out of the dark," he says bluntly. "I need to know how many, and for how long, and how this is going to affect Kevin."

"Barry darling, don't worry your pretty head about this," Patricia coos. While she doesn't show it, she is a bit shocked that he would ask all of this so brazenly. It's always been an unspoken subject that Everyone averted Their eyes from. The Beast is a force that Patricia and Dennis have always handled, and They prefer not to have to deal with that part of Kevin, though They can all see him. They are all culpable in Patricia's eyes; Orwell has voiced his opinions but does nothing to stop it, and Jade...well Jade is very vocal, and most of the things she says involve obscenities leaving her mouth that Patricia chooses to ignore.

"I need to know so that I can clean this up," he says. Besides his other ulterior motives of stopping The Beast, in the meantime he does have some damage control to do, and he needs to plan what to do next in order to keep them all out of trouble.

"There's nothing to clean," Patricia replies. "The Beast provides, and The Beast protects. That is all We've ever wanted for Kevin."

"There's got to be more to it than that," Barry counters. "This can't be the way, Patricia. This is so inherently wrong, and it makes us no better than those that have hurt Us."

Her eyes flash and she stands from her chair; Patricia is a smaller woman with a very large presence. She seems to tower over Barry as she looks up at him. She advances on him, and Barry takes such hurried steps back that he almost falls. "But the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be uprooted from it," she quotes.

It's from the Bible, and Barry is speechless; she doesn't actually think her work serves a higher purpose, does she? A purpose beyond Kevin? That she is some sort of acolyte of the Heavens, here to pass judgment on those that may wrong innocents such as he? Barry shakes his head and gives Patricia an incredulous stare before he turns on his heel and leaves.

He is about to go sit down in his own chair when he gets an idea and veers, heading towards B.T. The man is known for being an avid theologian, and it's a shame he and Orwell are unable to directly converse as Barry thinks they would get on well talking about the smart things and such.

It's quite a trek to him, as he is more or less partially in the dark, but Barry sees that he's awake, and currently reading what he assumes to be the Quran. Barry stands in front of him, and B.T. is aware of his presence but doesn't bother to look up.

"I have a verse for you," Barry states. He is about ten feet away from B.T., giving the quiet man space while he studies the literature in his hands. B.T. says nothing and still has not looked up, sighing and turning the page of the book.

Barry continues. "The wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be uprooted from it."

"New American Standard Bible, Proverbs 2:22," B.T. provides, still not looking up from his hands.

Barry doesn't know if he should say thank you or if he should just leave, and decides that B.T. would much rather continue studying what he's studying, so he turns and goes back to his seat. He looks over at Patricia, who laid Kevin's body down for a short nap on the couch, and Patricia gracefully gestures towards the Light, indicating he has the option to take it now if he wants it.

He does so.

 


 

Casey has been glancing over at him nervously as he lays on the couch asleep, and she eats her cold breakfast with reluctance. There was a mop bucket in the kitchen when she woke up and she can only assume Dennis was up to his usual cleaning frenzy at the crack of dawn but then gave way to someone else, as it would have been put away had he finished his work. The scrambled eggs taste like they have milk in them, so she figures it's safe to assume it was Patricia.

His eyes open as she's staring at him and she abruptly looks away, although she doesn't know why.

"Babygirl," Barry sighs.

Her eyes grow wide and she drops her fork immediately, rushing over to him as he stands and throwing her arms around his neck in a deep embrace. She buries her face into Barry's chest, breathing him in and realizing he still smells like Dennis. It makes her loins ache suddenly and she feels guilty about the erotic dream she had of him last night, even though she and Barry have yet to discuss them being A Thing.

Casey calls in sick, and they spend the afternoon recounting their versions of yesterday, with Casey's a little more eventful than Barry's had been. They are both shocked and abhorred at the deeds The Beast has been allowed to do, though Casey suspects Dennis and Patricia have just chosen the easier route--he would take over regardless of their fanaticism and then there would be no one to temper him to monthly feedings. Barry has never thought of this and it leaves his stomach sick--that's exactly what he fears will happen if Kevin is integrated with The Beast, but he doesn't tell her this.

He wants to, but he can't risk the Others knowing what he knows about the Train Yard and Kevin's theorized fate.

Besides, Dennis and Patricia could be watching at any moment, as he's come to realize.

It's still early but Barry's body is growing heavy, and he knows it's because the body has had only a few hours of sleep. Once they've exhausted their talking, he lays his head on Casey's lap as she puts on Grey's Anatomy for them, sleepily watching the episodes. He fades in and out of sleep, opening his eyes every once in a while to Mark Sloan's steamy biceps--yeah, Barry would fuck him, probably. He's a good looking guy.

Partway through one of the episodes, Casey dips her head down to his and kisses him on the cheek. His eyes flutter open and he turns his head towards her, giving her a sleepy little smile. She kisses his nose and his other cheek and then finally rests on his lips, where she lingers for a moment before Barry deepens the kiss, reaching up to place his hand on the back of her neck. The kiss sends sparks running through both of their bodies, and Casey's hand searches down his shirt for buttons to rip off--that are not there.

She pulls away suddenly. Barry's eyes are hooded with desire as she does so, and he frowns a bit, looking up at her. "What's wrong, sweetie?" he asks.

Casey sighs and sits back on the couch, looking down at him. "Barry, can we talk?" she asks.

"About what?"

"Us. You know, you and me." She bites the corner of her lip and tries to drown out the McDreamy and McSteamy mess that's happening on the TV.

"Yeah?" He still looks sleepy, but he smiles at her, reaching up to tuck a lock of hair back behind her ear.

"I love our relationship," she begins. "It's easy, it's fun, it's hot. There's literally no one in the world I would rather spend the day with than you."

"Ditto, hun." His finger traces her bottom lip and his hand comes down to affectionately brush her chin with his thumb.

His hand on her feels like home, and she leans into his palm on her cheek. "But I need to know, exactly, what we are." His hand stops its caresses and he looks at her blankly, seeming not to know what she's talking about.

"What we...are?" He's puzzled a bit, one eyebrow raising, corner of his lips turning up just the slightest into somewhat of an amused smile. "Why does it matter what we are? Aren't we just, you know...me, and you, together?"

She thinks he might actually be playing stupid, and this is a dismaying discovery, as she's quite serious about her question. "Are you--wait, don't pretend like you don't know what I'm asking, Bear. This is really important to me and I just need to know where we stand with each other, if we're A Thing or not, if I'm just being stupid and worrying about nothing or feeling guilty about thinking things that I shouldn't be feeling guilty about. Please, can you take this seriously?"

Barry's smile disappears and in place of it is a slightly sad expression. He gets up off of her lap and sits next to her, crossing his legs, his right knee touching her left thigh. Grabbing the remote, he turns the TV off.

"Casey," he says, "I don't understand why we have to put labels on things. Can't we just be who we are and not care about the rest of it?"

She looks at him and her face is pleading with him for an answer. He knows it's going to be an answer she won't like; he's still struggling with the internal conflict within himself on whether or not he should tell her his reasoning, let alone whether or not he should tell her the truth.

"We, as a group, don't do serious relationships very well, babygirl."

"...and?" she asks. "I know who you are. I love everything about you--everything, and just because--"

"See, and that's where the problem is," Barry says quickly, noting her use of the word "love". Something is happening to his heart--it is thrumming like mad in his ears and he is breaking out into a cold sweat suddenly. "That's the problem, I'm not just one person, there's more to me, and I can't make decisions like that because it's not something I can do." It's such a lame excuse. He's had serious relationships before and they've turned out ok; he usually breaks up with them for stupid reasons, like he can't pick out a good pair of pants or her humming drives him insane.

"What are you talking about?" Casey asks, turning to face him, her face a picture of concern. "You're still your own person, you can still make your own choices, and live your own life."

Barry is frantically searching in his mind for any excuse to make her happy, keep her calm, make the situation better without having to lie to her. "Babygirl, I thi-it's not that easy, and wh-it's just that--" He is reaching and finding nothing to grasp.

He takes a breath, calms down, and is turning towards her, hands on her shoulders. "I'm not a one-person kind of guy," he finally says. It sounds genuine, and maybe it is genuine; Barry doesn't know. All he knows is that a he just wants life to be easy, especially with all the Kevin bullshit happening right now--but she doesn't know that, how could she, and he can't tell her. He lets her go and just sits there. "I just don't want to be tied down to anyone, you know? Like, can you picture me all dolled up ready to go out on a date with some pathetic rando?"

Their conversation screeches to a halt, and he regrets even opening his mouth. "No, I mean, I don't mean that you're the pathetic rando, you're--"

Before he can get his sentence out she's shrugging and feigning indifference, except that her insides actually feel like they are deteriorating in acid. "Yeah I get it," she says lightly. Her chest hurts but she smiles at him tightly, getting up and grabbing her keys from the coffee table. "I definitely get it. It's just easy being fun and not caring about how you feel, or how other people feel." It's not meant to be a bite, just the truth, but it punches him real hard in the stomach.

"I'm going to go to the corner store," she says over her shoulder as she snatches her jacket off the hook. "Want anything?"

Yeah, he thinks, I want this conversation to have never happened. "Oh, no, hun," he says, eyes falling to the floor. "Thanks though."

"No prob," she quips. She pauses here, then opens the door, "What are friends for, right?"

And then she's gone.

Chapter Text

The majority of the cultists that David follows are harmless enough--some are sad and lonely, desperate to fit into any group that will take them; some are angry and just want to Make A Difference in the world; the rest are just misguided young folk that follow these made-up teachings of The Beast because it's some novelty to them that will likely wear off in a few months.

Some of them, though, are actual fanatics--the ones that genuinely believe in The Coming of The Beast, and they seek to ritualize victims in the hopes that in doing so they will summon their false god.

This is definitely the second kind, and as David follows them from above--shimmying down gutters and jumping up fire escapes--he sees them slip into an open manhole and disappear underground, a pair of bound children tucked under their arms.

Fanatics like these--sycophants--usually had a base of operations they praised out of, and he thinks they may have led him right to it. He drops through the manhole silently, the only noise the final slapping of his feet onto the wet concrete within. He looks around from underneath the hood of his poncho--it's dark and they must have had flashlights to traverse down here without losing their way. David listens and picks a direction to go, tracking the rippling of the water in front of him to find his way to them.

Before long, he can hear some sort of chanting, reverberating through the small confines of the sewers. He's at one of the sewer mouths now, peering into a large, cavernous space decorated--poorly--with posters and depictions of many-headed beasts. David could only assume they were portraying The Beast as Hydra, as many of the fanatics he's encountered liken him to the very creature due to the many heads it has. Nine heads: one is severed, two regrow.

In the middle of the room, the two goons he's been tailing have the kids standing in front of them, and the goons are pulling white robes over their heads and pushing them forward to what seems like a cement altar. There's a girl there who looks like she can't be more than eighteen, wearing a dirty robe with the symbol of a golden sun, it's many rays extending from its center.

Their logos are pretty terribly matched, to be honest. David is thinking that if you're going to go all out, at least make your logos match, but he isn't a cultist leader, so he doesn't know if they have some sort of secret interior decorating conformations they have to follow.

He smirks. Ha! He cracks himself up.

There are about fifteen people total in the room, including the kids and the teen standing at the makeshift altar. They are all humming some sort of chant; he can't tell exactly what the words are, but they sound pretty ominous in the general sense. Maybe end of the world stuff, maybe swearing fealty or willingness to die for their god stuff, yada yada. Run of the mill cultist crap.

The girl in the middle of the altar starts speaking in what seems to be Latin; David can only catch parts of the words because she stumbles through them like she's taken a preliminary Latin course at the community college and graduated with a D minus.

The other folks in the large space form a real rough-looking semi-circle facing the altar and the teen, with the kids and goons in the middle of it all. The kids are crying, and that makes David mad, but he doesn't reveal himself quite yet. He wants to know a little more about this little sect he's stumbled upon.

This isn't the only group in the city that's been meeting this way every month, and he suspects that they're all tied together to make one large overseeing cult. Unlike these amateurs, the ones he's actually looking for are precise and professional--there have already been cases of kids turning up around the university, major organs carved out of them. This is obviously an upsetting detail that David would rather not think about, but it's a necessary one to remember.

They begin to push the kids forward, and everyone's attention is focused on them as they climb the steps towards the altar, shaking and sobbing. Looks like there isn't time to investigate. The Overseer silently jumps down from the mouth of one of the many tunnels leading into the cavernous area and takes this opportunity to take advantage of their messy semi-circle, very quietly coming up behind a couple of the more obscured people and dispatching of them quietly by utilizing pressure points. Movie-style. He very quietly drags them behind storage boxes that litter the area.

The others are plainly visible by someone else from the other side of the semi-circle, so he won't be able to take them out the same way. He's going to have to try using the scare tactic; worst case scenario, they all jump him and he'll be right back where he would have been anyway.

He climbs atop one of the containers, standing straight and tall--it's five feet high and made of steel, and one of the fanatics sees him and points.

There is panic. There is chaos. The Overseer lunges off of the container and runs full-speed towards the children. One of the goons gets in his way but he pushes him back with one hand and sends him flying across the room. The other one just runs. A fanatic gets in his way and he dodges around him, not eager to potentially kill anyone tonight by running full speed into their squishie bodies with his not-so-squishie one. The kids scream as he hoists them up, one under each arm, and they cling to him as he turns on his heel and starts to run back.

"Overseer!" screams a voice behind him. He sets the kids up on one of the large, nearby storage boxes and looks behind him. Most of the crazies are gone by now, scattered into the bends and many orifices of the sewers. Those that haven't run are cowering behind the storage boxes. The teen that has the sun robe on still stands at the altar, her arms out, almost daring him to come to her.

He's not interested in picking a fight with someone barely out of high school. He turns away from her, hoisting himself up onto the box with the children. "Go home, kid," he calls over his shoulder.

"Overseer!" she screeches again. "If you walk away now, I will hunt their families down and you will never find me."

There's a part of him that thinks she's full of shit, but another part of him that wants to soothe the terror that suddenly appears in the little girl and boy's eyes as they stare back at her. There's a second where he gets up and picks them up to run off with them, their protests filling his ears, but he stops when they start pleading with him not to walk away. For the sake of their families. Staring at their red, miserable faces, he sets them down at the mouth of one of the tunnels and turns slowly back towards the teen.

He begins to walk towards her, making sure to give a somewhat shallow hole of water a wide berth, and she very abruptly whips her robe over her head, throwing it down in the water. She's naked underneath and The Overseer stops in his tracks, wondering the the fuck is going on.

She begins to advance on him, and he can't move, because what the actual fuck, but as she takes a few more steps, she suddenly bursts into flames, her eyes burning a bright, hot blue within the orange and red of the fire that's erupted from her skin.

What the even more actual fuck?

Stunned, he takes a step back--into the shallow hole. His ankle twists, gives way, and there's a very brief second where time stops and he's suspended there in the air spilling backwards into the water--and then time is running again, and he's falling backwards, and hitting his head against the concrete. That itself isn't anything to be concerned about; what does concern him is the water that comes up to swallow his face on either side of his head as he stares up at the ceiling of the space.

Well shit.

He flails for a moment, arms reaching out, trying to find anything to hang onto as his body seizes in a panic. His limbs are stiff and he can't move because he's terrified, but he has the faculties enough to remember to flip himself over and push himself up out of the water with his arms. He sucks in precious air and hacks water out of his mouth, feeling his body begin to tremble as his mind takes him back to the school poolside as a little boy.

Then he's choking again, because she's pulling back on his hood, revealing his face and using the hood to pull him back onto his feet. He gets up, turning towards her, trying to push her off of him when he realizes she's still on fire.

"What the fuck?" he sputters, his hands burning as they touch her. He recoils, arms shaking, still recovering from the fall in the water. She walks forward, placing her hands on his upper arms, looking like she's regarding him with affection in her eyes. The heat is so strong, emanating off of her like solar flares off of the sun, reaching for him, licking at his skin, and it hurts, and it's almost burning him and...and drying him off.

Very quickly, The Overseer feels himself regaining his composure as her heat evaporates what water is left hanging onto his flame-retardant poncho and off of his face. He can breathe deeply again, and he stares at her through narrowed eyes, the light of her own eyes almost blinding to look into. The water around her feet is evaporating so fast it looks like she's wearing invisible shoes. There's a brief confusion as he doesn't begin to melt, and she seems to project herself out towards him, flames roaring and trying to engulf him--to no effect.

"What the fuck?" she now says. It was working before, and now it's not. She tries again with what seems to be maximum effort, the roaring of the fire in his ears, the pain coming even through his high pain tolerance, but he endures and she sags and the fire dies down to nothing but a small glow around her naked body. It must have taken quite a bit of energy to do that.

"You ready to go home, kid?" he asks her, holding her up slightly.

Then she's slapping his hands away, and her body bursts into flames again, and she's running towards a metal ladder to the right of the altar that's bolted to the brick. "Hey, wait!" he yells, watching as one of the bolts flies off the wall. The ladder itself isn't of great make, but as she climbs up and up, the metal begins to glow in her wake, and the bolts are suddenly melting off of the walls, and the ladder is tipping dangerously off of the wall.

"Hey stop!" he tries again, cupping his hands around his mouth in desperation for her to hear. But that fire she's projecting is loud and all she hears is the roar of it in her ears. "Stop doing the-the-the, the thing!" He can't find a word for it. Stop being on fire? Stop flaming out? No, that wasn't it.

She continues climbing, and the ladder shakes, and now she's screaming and hanging off of the ladder, feet trying to get a foothold again but failing as her grip gives way and she begins to fall towards the ground.

She's maybe fifty feet up at this point and he runs, knowing before he even gets there that he won't make it. But he has to try. There's a sick sound as her body hits the altar, and he stops in his tracks, turning his head immediately as his stomach drops and his chest hurts for her. He turns back, and starts to slowly walk to where she lays on the concrete--she's alive, but barely, and still on fire.

He kneels down by her, putting a hand on her scalding forehead in an attempt to reassure her that he's there for her. Bleary eyes travel down her broken body and then up into his eyes, and her flames begin to dim down, eventually softening into a glow around her skin, a dying ember nearing the end of its time.

"How are you burning this way?" he whispers, astonished, not expecting an answer.

Her eyes focus on him, wavering, and her lips part. "How...are you...not?"

And then all that's left is smoke, and stillness. The only other person besides The Beast that may have been like him, and now just gone, as easily as blowing a candle out.

When he resurfaces with the children in his arms--"Beth and Ryan," they proudly tell him, and that they are "six and a half and almost eight years old this November"--he puts his hood back on and puts a finger to his lips while they look up at him in adoration. They mimic the gesture. Around the corner is a cop car, and he tells them that they'll need to knock on the window and tell the nice police persons where they live (which they "know by heart" because they "learned it from momma").

He makes sure they do this as he watches from a nearby rooftop, and he thinks of flames and heat and how bright her blue eyes were.

Chapter Text

Can you picture me all dolled up ready to go out on a date with some pathetic rando?

Pathetic keeps popping in Casey's head every few seconds and she does her best to keep it at bay by staring into the windows of the boutiques on her side of the sidewalk, looking at but not seeing the mannequins and their fancy little winter outfits that do nothing to help a girl get warm.

So it's a pity fuck sort of thing? Is that what she gets for being vulnerable after a nightmare and hooking up with him, then hooking up with him almost daily (basically) after that? And rando? Pathetic is one thing, but is she actually just some random person he decided to have some fun with? That couldn't be true, but it's not like he had a ton of options when choosing the Fuck Buddy life, what with being a wanted fugitive and all.

But it's not like she had many options, either. Barry is the first actual person she's been intimate with outside of...well, disgusting as it is, her uncle. And she wouldn't exactly call that "intimate".

Her heart's pretty heavy, but it's like she's used to it. Not rejection, that she's gotta work though, but her emotional capacity to feel heartbreak at this point is clouded by all of the more powerful emotions she's felt in the past month. Heartbreak is definitely painful to her, but being unable to rid herself of her uncle was definitely something that hurt a lot more. There was vindication in that scenario, and she can't help but wonder if there will be vindication with this pain, too.

David sees Casey from the roof as his eyes stray away from Beth and Ryan, and he pauses, squinting to make sure it's really her. Taking his poncho off, he folds it up and sets it down on the ground, rushing to the fire escape to try and intercept her. Sneaky-like, he puts his hands in his pockets and walks in her direction, other pedestrians making good cover. Just as he's right upon her, he looks right to make it seem like he's not paying attention, and gently bumps into her shoulder, startled look blossoming on his face as he looks back to see who his victim is.

"Oof, sorry about that, totally my fault--" He pauses here as recognition dawns in his eyes. "Casey?"

She's holding her shoulder; it feels like she was clipped by a speeding vehicle, and briefly hopes she doesn't bruise too badly there. Turning, she sees David Dunn, and her eyebrows raise immediately. "Oh. David?"

"Yeah, hey!" He greets her with that small little upturned smile, smiling a thousand times more in his eyes than on his mouth. "Sorry about that, my fault, I wasn't watching where I was going."

"No, that's fine," she says, smiling back at him. Seeing him makes her feel somewhat relieved to lay eyes on someone that is friendly and normal. "I was just standing here in everyone's way looking at the winter stuff in, uh--" She looks up at the store's name-- "Exquisite Fashions. They have nice clothes."

David raises an eyebrow at her and scratches his head. "You okay? You seem kind of distracted." He puts his hands up. "Not that it's any of my business, you just look...a little unhappy."

"It's that apparent, huh?" she asks, eyes stinging and a tear falling down her cheek.

"Oh, woah, sweetheart," David utters softly. "You're definitely not okay then. Uhh..." Rubbing the back of his neck, his eyes light up. "Want a hotdog? Let me get you a hotdog. Come on."

Casey would follow anyone at this point, be it to a hotdog stand or off of a cliff, she didn't really care at the moment. David buys and starts to eat his hotdog right there near the stand, with Casey just standing there holding hers and staring at it. "Not a ground-meat-surprise kind of girl?" David asks through a somewhat full mouth.

"I love hotdogs," she murmurs, eyes stinging again. Hedwig likes hotdogs too.

There is silence and David can't function off of silence, so he gently nudges her and tilts his head to the left. "You wanna sit down somewhere to eat it? I'll sit with you if you want."

Casey thinks for a moment then looks around her, finally nodding. She crosses the street and begins to climb up the side of a building's fire escape, with David hesitantly following after her. "Is this...legal?" he asks haltingly. This is the building he left his poncho at, and as they climb to the rooftop, David sees its green sheen out of the corner of his eye. She doesn't answer him, not really sure herself.

"This is...pretty high up," David says, trying to distract her. "I'm a big wuss when it comes to...roofs and stuff." It sounded like a pretty weak excuse, but he went with it, and it only really half worked (which is better than he was expecting).

"It'll be ok, don't worry, I'll save you if you fall," Casey laughs wryly.

She goes over to the ledge--which is quite a bigger chunk of concrete than the one Kevin had been standing on--and sits down, legs hanging over the edge but quite safe with the support underneath her. David follows suit, blocking her view of the folded poncho on the ground to her right. Satisfied, David continues to eat his hotdog, and she begins to eat hers.

"You usually come up to places like this?" he asks her, gesturing to the view of downtown they have the pleasure of taking in. "Some beautiful scenery up here."

Is he hitting on her? Casey just takes another bite of her hotdog, choosing to ignore the comment and assume it's nothing. "Yeah. It's nice to be up here. It makes me feel like I'm part but apart."

He doesn't understand. "What do you mean?"

"Like...a part of everything, but apart from everything."

David is struck with empathy for her, and his face shows it. He reaches out and gently squeezes her shoulder, and it's all Casey can do to not flinch. He has an extremely strong grip, but the slight pain is welcome to her--it seems to be able to ground her, to keep her here, in the present with David, outside of her own mind filled with self-loathing and self-doubt. "I think I know how you feel, kid," he tells her, nodding. "I think I get it."

She looks up at him to her right, and studies him for a bit while he's eating the last of his hotdog. His body next to hers is warm even through their jackets, and there's a breeze that causes the scent of him to waft around her. It's a nice smell; sort of the smell of sun and a small hint of aftershave, and some sort of base note of musk that is actually intensely appealing. His grey and white beard is short and neatly shaved around his lips and chin, and his green eyes genuinely light up or darken with his emotions.

"You'll be okay, Casey," he says as he stares out at the city. He needs to discreetly bring The Beast up without sounding like he's interrogating her for information, but the moment hasn't come yet, and he has to make sure she feels like she can trust him before that can happen. "I know you're smart, resourceful and don't take shit from anyone. From personal experience." He winks at her, smiling again, and her stomach does a thing.

Her eyes look past him in deep thought, and she notices a frock of dark green resting against one of the AC units. She frowns as she focuses on it, and the hood is shaped exactly like one she's touched before. David doesn't notice this; he's too concentrated on making himself look like a friend to her so that she'll open up to him, and he continues to stare out at the city in front of them.

She's holding her shoulder; it feels like she was clipped by a speeding vehicle, and briefly hopes she doesn't bruise too badly there.

She thinks back to when she first saw him in the convenience store.

The man is tall and wearing a raincoat, the lines on his face indicating some years of wear and tear. He isn’t old, per se—just wizened, it seems to Casey, but that doesn’t stop her from tensing. How had she not heard him?

Because he is The Overseer, that's how. He has to be. Her head snaps back to him--his beard, the shape of his nose, his lips, his chin.

Her thumb tucks underneath the edge and she goes to slowly pull it up when his hand comes and takes hers to stop her...he is gently holding her hand close to his face and they stare at each other in silence.

The Overseer is sitting right next to her, and she can't breathe.

Her legs stand her up and she doesn't even bother to brush the dust off of the back of her pants. She moves past him--"Casey?"--and walks over to the poncho on the ground--"Casey."--and he is calling her, and kicking himself, and placing his fingers on his forehead for being so stupid.

"Casey."

She looks at him as she holds it up, and he looks at her, and his eyes grow dark. "David," she says.

His face looks a little pained by the way she says his name; he didn't want her to find out this way, it's such a lame way to find out someone's a superhero--and honestly, he never meant to let her find out at all. She closes the distance between them, him sitting on the ledge and her standing right next to him, looking down at him.

Casey's head is filled with fog; she doesn't know what or how to feel, and her earlier interaction with Barry makes that three times as bad. She's exposed, she's helpless, she's a raw, open wound ready for something to patch her up and tell her life is okay, and that she'll be okay. She wants someone to make it all okay again.

You'll be okay, Casey.

She's kissing him, her heart shooting up to her throat, her hands dropping the poncho and placing themselves against the sides of his face.

David, suffice to say, is entirely stupefied by the bombshell that's just been dropped on him. Her kiss is forceful and yet so soft; the smell of her fills his nostrils and her hair falls against her hands and his cheeks. There's a need to the kiss, a somewhat wanton desire, but it's different from something he's ever shared with Audrey--this kiss is desperate in her desire for comfort.

He doesn't kiss back.

David pulls away from her, eyes wide and brow slightly furrowed. "Woah woah woah," he says, putting a hand up to her and shaking his head. "I-Casey, I think you've got--"

She kisses him again, this time with much more fervor, begging him to kiss back, needing him to kiss back.

He doesn't.

He takes her by the arms and pulls her back from him, her eyes a mess of despair and recklessness. "You're him," she says, tears welling up in her eyes. "You saved me."

He saves a lot of people, but he suspects saving her meant more to her than just grateful relief for her life.

Her heart is a shredded piece of butchery as the tears fall, and it's not about him, or about her wanting him, or even him not wanting her--it was never about him or them at all. It's about Barry, and it's about Kevin, and it's about The Beast and Morris and her anguished yearning to cling to her own sanity. This is how she was taught that people should cope. This is years worth of missing her dad, of needing that father figure in her life, of confusing the kinds of love or affection people should have for one another because she's never been taught otherwise.

She grabs his poncho and throws it at him, walking backwards away from him and then turning to place her face in her hands. She's sobbing and she's lost and she doesn't want to be in this place anymore, she doesn't want to be any place anymore, she understands how Kevin just disappears and goes away and is envious of his ability to do so.

David, wondering if maybe this is about more than him, stands up and stands where he is for a moment. She's so wracked with sobs that her shoulders are heaving, and as he watches her back, his heart breaks for her.

He's about to put his poncho on but then stops; she may actually have idealized The Overseer and he can't have her looking at him like that, so he just drapes it over his arm. He doesn't know what to say to her, or how to make it better, but honestly this is not how he pictured this going. A few laughs, some deep talk, exposing The Beast and telling him his weaknesses...that sort of thing. Totally left field, this incident.

"You're a really nice girl, Casey," David says. "I--I'm married to my wife, and madly in love with her, and I'm old enough that I could be your father, and I...I just don't feel that way about you. You're a really nice girl, but I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression."

Casey tries to compose herself, and for the most part she succeeds, wiping her tears away but not turning around to look at him. "Yeah I get it. I'm just stupid. I'm sorry that I did that, hahah." She laughs a bit at the end there, trying to make light of a clearly awkward situation. He watches as she calms down a bit and is relieved when it begins to happen, folding his poncho up and holding the square it makes in his right hand.

He needs to know about The Beast, so he can't just leave her. "Want me to walk you home?" he asks.

"No, I'll be ok," she says, seeming to shake it all off and heading towards the fire escape. She's not able to meet his eyes.

"You've said that before, but I don't think the same applies to this situation," he counters. She turns back to him and still, her gaze doesn't meet his. "I'll walk you home." Saying nothing, she nods sullenly, and climbs down the fire escape. She's too distraught to think about anything right now other than the warmth of her bed.

He follows after her, mentally preparing himself for the potential of a big fight that may break out when they reach her apartment.

Chapter Text

Had Casey known how this would have gone down, she would have taken her head out of her ass and looked outside of herself before bringing David Dunn to her apartment.

She tries to get in and lock the door behind her quickly (not a hard thing to do when you're embarrassed as fuck about what just happened) but his hand comes out and stops the door from closing. She's a bit startled, and looks up at him.

"Uhh. Thanks. For walking me home." A seed of anxiety bubbles up in the pit of her stomach and begins to grow, bleeding into her insides as she sees there isn't a hint of smile in his eyes. "...David?"

"Casey, I'm really sorry," he says, face twisting in regret. "Now please move aside. I don't want to hurt you."

She's incredibly confused but doesn't move.

Inside, Barry can hear the conversation, and sets his glass of water down on the kitchen counter very quietly. He doesn't know what's happening, but it sounds very bad, and his body prickles with the static of danger in the air. He listens intently, not moving from his place in front of the sink. Is he a cop? Is he some perv that followed her home? Whatever the case, he looks inwards and smacks at Dennis to wake up.

He doesn't.

Barry's heart thrums quickly in his chest, and his breathing picks up. He's always there when it's inconvenient and never there when it's convenient.

He reaches out to Hedwig--Hedwig, wake Dennis up--and slowly turns his body towards the door. It opens into the apartment, and he's on the other side of it, sweat popping up on his forehead as he tries to peer through the crack where the hinges are.

I can't wake him up Mister Barry, Hedwig whines. Do you-do you want me to wake up the Bad Man?

Do not wake him up, Barry says sharply. The last thing they need right now is The Beast ripping through some unsuspecting civilian to add to their kill count.

"David, let go," Casey says, trying to make light of the situation by putting an incredulous smile on her face. Ha-ha, they're joking. Ha-ha, this is silly. Ha-ha, he's not really trying to push his way into her apartment right now, is he? Her expression falters. It really seems so.

"I'm sorry," David repeats. His eyes dart into the apartment, and although he can't see anyone, he heard someone earlier before Casey opened the door. "Please move."

"I'm not going to move, David," she said. "First you reject me, then you're wanting to invade my place? What the fuck?" She's saying anything at all that pops into her mind. Anything that will give Barry time to run across the living room and down the fire escape. She doesn't look at him behind the door, but she wills him to do it--she's going to close the door very quickly, surprising David, and then Barry will run across and be out the window before David opens the door again. They've discussed this before, their Oh Shit Plan if the police came by.

That's the plan. It's a good plan.

She takes the door and tries to slam it--but it doesn't move. In fact, the wood creaks painfully against David's hand, and Casey is reminded just how strong The Overseer was in the alleyway.

Shit.

David gently, slowly pushes the door open and Casey is trying to shut it, but all it's doing is dragging her along with it, her shoes sliding across the linoleum as she goes. "David, stop!" she yells.

He steps into the apartment around Casey and Barry is halfway across the living room before the sight of David stops him in his tracks. They stare at each other for the briefest of seconds, both immovable, before Barry darts for the window, opening it and jumping out into the fire escape. David recovers quickly and runs after him, jumping feet first through the window by sliding atop a side table.

"Fuck!" Casey exclaims, running to the window and grabbing the sill, sticking her head out to see where they ran off to. Barry is ahead, running down the fire escape, but bless the boy, he isn't very athletic. David, despite his perceived age, is way fitter and more limber than Barry is. In fact, David is way fitter and more limber than anyone she's ever seen.

He needs to give the reigns to someone else, Casey thinks. "Dennis!" she screams at Barry. "Get Dennis!"

Casey fumbles with her phone and dials Joseph's number in desperation.

Barry runs into the street and bursts through a crowd of people trying to cross. This slows David down; if he bursts through these people, there would undoubtedly be broken bones and smashed faces, so he has to slow to a jog and maneuver through them carefully. This gives Barry some room between them, but he can feel himself slipping, and then suddenly Jade is running and she's screaming and she doesn't know what's going on.

"Oh my god!" she screeches, panting, slowing to a stop. "What is happening?!"

KEEP RUNNING JADE WHAT THE FUCK! Barry's trying to cycle through everyone, checking to see if there's a moderately okay runner that can take the Light. Jade starts running again; she doesn't know where to, but by god she's not going to stop because for all she knows there could be some serial murderer running after Them.

Ian!

Aye, both twins pipe up.

No no no, I need Ian, I don't need you right now Mary, Barry rushes.

Well you either take bot o' oehs ahr nahne o' oehs! Mary chimes.

What the fuck is that even supposed to mean? Barry usually has time to decipher the twins' accents but he can't do that right now. Barry whips around, looking at everyone.

You know what you need to do, Barry, Patricia says in her chair.

No, I'm not going to do that! Barry contests.

You may not have a choice very soon.

She's right. The longer they're in danger, the more of a chance there is that The Beast will emerge.

Give me back the Light Jade, he says. She hands it over and Barry cuts into an alleyway, looking over his shoulder. He's going to stave The Beast off as long as he possibly can, but he can feel him waking, like a volcano rumbling deep within its belly.

It's coming.

Barry stumbles, catches himself against a dumpster and pushes off of it, staggering a couple of steps forward. He feels like his bones are breaking, so suddenly that he is unable to breathe enough to even utter a protest. He stands there on one side of the long alleyway and David skids to a stop at the mouth of it on the other side, seeing that Barry has stopped running. Barry's back is turned to him, and he is suddenly hyperventilating, eyes widening, hands clawing at his throat, fighting it.

Be still.

The words reverberate in his head like some wrathful god's command, but he rebukes him, and it makes the process so much more painful.

When Dennis takes the Light and The Beast changes the body, Barry never realized how much it feels like it's ripping his soul apart. It's a sensation that starts from deep within his belly and pulls out, like bad blood being sucked out of his body. His brain gets tingly, then it feels like claws are raking through it, tearing through his face and ripping down his back. His shoulders, especially, feel like they are being crushed by an invisible boulder. He is Atlas, bearing the weight of the world as it cracks his bones and condenses his flesh.

Barry is vocalizing his pain--not quite screaming but not quite speaking.

David is watching from behind him, transfixed. Slowly, he takes his poncho out of his back pocket and shakes it out, pulling it over his head.

Barry fights it, and the pain is triplefold because of this, because The Beast is bursting forth and Barry is pushing him back and there is no middle ground for such a battle of wills. The pain intensifies, and Barry feels like he is drowning in a river of blood and darkness--he feels like he's in the Train Yard, in the center of it all, the blood trails pouring onto him like a deluge of suffering.

"Please," he is suddenly sobbing, but it's far away now, and he tries to turn his body to look at his pursuer--they lock eyes and Barry reaches a hand out to him before the hand curls into a fist and smashes itself into the ground. The concrete folds, bits of it raining against Barry's face, and then the other hand is grabbing the dumpster by the bottom and hurling it behind him towards The Overseer.

The Overseer stops the dumpster mid-air but he's pushed back a couple of steps, and he sets it down. Now the dumpster is between the two of them, which honestly could work in his favor.

Barry is gone, far away, hopefully slumbering a silent sleep of nothingness. The alternative would be horrific.

The Beast's irises turn black and he focuses them on The Overseer--deep and eternal, and The Overseer feels like he could fall into them and disappear forever. Black veins snake their way against The Beast's pale body; he's grown at least a foot taller, muscles rippling and flexing against the shirt he still has on. He takes an impossibly sharp hand and scrapes the shirt off of him, revealing more dark veins slithering down his chest.

He hardly looks like a man.

The Beast roars at The Overseer, asserting his displeasure, panting like an animal.

Welp, the man in the green poncho thinks. This is gonna be a little harder than it would have been three minutes ago.

The Beast lunges, and The Overseer kicks the dumpster towards him, which The Beast backhands away. It crashes against the wall, crunched in where they each smashed it.

They stare at each other, assessing each other's strength, both clenching their fists. The Overseer widens his stance, and The Beast rolls his shoulders back.

A panting Casey makes her way onto the scene.

The Overseer can't help but glance at her, and when he does, The Beast lunges at him, smashing him against a wall, shattering the bricks around their colliding bodies. Casey screams and covers her head against the shower of dust and shards of brick. The Beast has a forearm against The Overseer's throat, and, with great difficulty, The Overseer attempts to pry it off with one hand and with the other hand wraps his fingers around The Beast's neck. There's a flaw in The Beast's footing and suddenly they switch places, The Beast flipped against the wall instead.

This has all gotten so out of control. Casey is literally a potential meatbag casualty in a battle between gods. She takes several steps back, giving them ample room.

The Beast is able to twist his knee up between him and The Overseer, and that's all it takes to nudge the poncho'd man up to kick him off square in the chest, tossing his body against the dumpster on the other side of where they are struggling. The Overseer is on the ground getting back to his feet when The Beast lunges again, maw gnashing at his opponent's neck. He wraps his teeth around the flesh there and chomps hard, shaking his head back and forth like a pitbull tearing its prey apart.

The Overseer feels the effects of the bite and the shake but it doesn't break skin. He reaches up and smashes the side of The Beast's jaw with the heel of his palm, which causes The Beast to release his jaws. The Beast jerks back and is momentarily stunned. The Overseer takes this opportunity to roll forward, away from him, and scramble atop the disheveled dumpster. He leaps upwards, coming down on his adversary with a clenched fist to punch The Beast across the face, landing in a crouched position in front of him.

The Beast staggers back and falls against the wall on the other side, but regains his composure almost immediately, using the wall to leverage himself and powerfully kicking away from it to fly at The Overseer, snagging the man's midsection with his arms and smashing him against the side of the dumpster. It's The Overseer's turn to see stars, and his body slumps forward, dazed.

The Beast gets to his feet, arms still around the man, and hurls him down the alleyway. He goes flying past Casey and into the street, where a car narrowly avoids him, honking its horn.

Oh no. This is going to get a lot more public than Casey would like.

Still in the alleyway, she gets between The Overseer and The Beast, looking The Beast directly in the eyes. "Don't, we can't do this here," she pleads. "You'll put Kevin back into the public's attention and then he'll really be in danger." Her hands are slowly coming up in a defenseless gesture, shaking. Now that she's seeing what was so close to her in the dark underneath her uncle's cabin, and how much he's transformed from when she first saw him underneath the zoo, she's even more terrified of him.

"You...mistake me," The Beast says, speech slow and deliberate, guttural and impossibly deep. He breathes deeply with each word, as though saying each one is a translation of his abstract thoughts. "Kevin...is already...safe. It's My Horde...I protect."

This exchange gives The Overseer enough time to stand and make his way back into the alleyway. Not a lot of people saw him fly out of it, and those that did fled the scene.

He walks past Casey and Casey grabs his arm. "Please, don't. He's sick, Kevin's sick."

There's a moment where she and The Overseer stare at each other. "That doesn't excuse murder, Casey," he finally says.

"Then--then take me," she breathes. She positions herself between the two again, holding his arms and looking up at his obscured face. "I've killed people. Let him go and I'll come with you. Fight him some other day, and I'll follow you wherever you want me to." The Beast is pounding his chest in an act of dominance, pacing back and forth, waiting for The Overseer to finish his trifling little palaver.

"Being present at his killings doesn't make you culpable," he says. It's evident he doesn't understand what she's trying to say.

He takes his arms away from her and moves past her, then begins to run full speed at The Beast. The Beast begins to do the same, and when they explosively meet, there is an audible blow from their impact that blows Casey's hair back and makes the strewn trash in the alleyway take flight. They're grappling with each other and neither seems to be letting up; they stumble against one of the lamp posts and dent it in, and The Overseer recovers more quickly than The Beast does, taking his knee and smashing it into The Beast's solar plexus one-two-three times. He doubles over and The Overseer smashes his knee into his face, knocking The Beast back into the lamp post again, nearly cutting through the metal. It tilts and then slowly falls, cables snapping and bending metal shrieking.

The Beast lets out a bone-chilling bellow and rolls quite a bit away, leaping back to his feet, eyes drilling holes into The Overseer's soul. He's pacing again with the broken lamp post between them, and The Overseer waits, readying himself for whatever may come next. In an act of rage, The Beast, with great effort, wraps his arms around the lamp post and it lifts slowly off of the ground. He rips it away from the rest of the wiring on the ground and he very slowly adjusts his hold on it, hoisting the middle of it on his shoulder and turning to towards The Overseer. The Overseer takes several steps back, avoiding any potential of the lamp coming down on him.

Suddenly the post is hurled towards The Overseer like a javelin through the air. It hits him square in the head and he flies back, his world a sea of light and darkness swirling together as he lays on the ground. It continues flying through the air, hurtling down the length of the alleyway, and there's a moment where all Casey can see is the gray metal circle of it coming towards her. Her eyes widen, her lips part, her hair is blowing back from the force of the air rushing around the post--

--and then she feels arms pushing her and she's flying through the air. The post narrowly misses her, and she sprawls on the concrete, hitting her right shoulder on the ground with a sickening thud. The post does connect with something, but she's unable to see what it is, and she hears it smash against a wall on the other side of the street. Cars are screeching to a stop as it blocks the passage in their lanes. Someone's screaming--some pedestrian, and Casey gets to her feet, clutching her right arm. Something doesn't feel right with it.

David shakes himself out of his stupor, looking around, his vision swimming. Blinking rapidly, he staggers to his feet, searching for his adversary only to realize he's run off. He turns to look behind him, the alleyway tilting dangerously, and he falls against a wall, using it to steady himself. Using the wall as a guide, he walks back, seeing Casey standing at the mouth of the alleyway, a look of horror on her face before she runs across the street. There's screaming--a lot of people have left their cars, forming a crowd around the fallen lamp post.

David is confused. He has the faculties enough to take his poncho off, shedding it in the alleyway without caring if he loses it or not. He can get another one. Limping towards the lamp post, he sidles up to Casey to see what she's looking at.

Joseph lays broken, alive but unconscious, various parts of his body in very bad shape.

She falls to her knees beside him, tears stinging her eyes, and David's body stiffens when he sees his son on the ground before he's right there beside Casey.

"Shit," Casey says, the pain of her shoulder a distant twinge as she watches blood pool around Joseph. "Fuck, call an ambulance!"

The blood slowly seeps into the knees of her jeans and she begins to shiver, but it's not due to the cold Philly air. David is in shock and he's staring at the blood surrounding Joseph in disbelief, watching as Casey puts her forehead to Joseph's in a desperate attempt to let some part of his subconscious know someone is here for him.

Chapter Text

Barry floats in and out of the Light but is unable to take it. He sees the cellar, and Their shadow against the wall.

"The Beast has let them go," Dennis says out loud. Barry can only listen now, he's lost the ability to see through Kevin's eyes at the moment. "There's no need for this, no need for any more lives lost than necessary."

There is a pause here, and Dennis continues. "I disagree. This is wrong, I don't want to be responsible for these kinds of deaths." Barry can now only feel the body; it's absolutely covered in what feels like mud, especially the grittiness in Their mouth. Barry can hear what was the Sacred Food sobbing again; he can hear Dennis exhale deeply in resignation, and then a pause, and a shift in the body; then he feels Kevin's body crouch, and something very warm starting to blossom by Their feet.

At the house in Abington, Kevin's body jerks awake.

 


 

It's been months since Joseph was injured, and months since Casey's been able to wake up without guilt. So many months, in fact, that the snow is melting and the birds have started coming out to look for bugs to eat. Her mind travels back to the day The Overseer and The Beast fought each other, and she shouldn't have called Joseph. She shouldn't have. But she did, and he paid for it, and there's no one to blame but herself.

"Hey, it could be worse," Joseph likes to joke with her. She has no idea how it could be worse, but Casey has always had a flair for the dramatic, and a T5 vertebra spinal cord injury might as well be death for her. She honestly can't see herself ever being as strong-willed as Joseph has been these past few months. Not gonna lie, she's locked lips with him a couple of times while she's helped him through physical therapy, but Casey doesn't know if it's because she actually likes him or if she just feels guilty and wants him to be happy.

They've talked about it openly, and either way, he's cool with it. She wants to scream and shake him sometimes and tell him it's ok to be angry, it's ok to want to throw things and rage at the world, but she knows all he'll do is smirk at her and roll his eyes.

David was cold towards her at first, but after a few weeks of seeing her with his son, and his son's eyes lighting up any time she enters the room, he decides he can't be mad at someone that makes him that happy. Besides, she's not the only one that had a hand in his situation.

He's been searching for The Horde since their fight, and thinks he might be getting closer; monthly ritualized "feedings" continue to take place but he hasn't been able to catch up to him yet. Soon, though. Soon.

Slowly, the Dunns and Casey start becoming this cute, close-knit little family unit, and it's sweet enough to make anyone either extremely envious or extremely nauseous. It's become routine for Casey to go to work, visit Joseph at the hospital, and run over to the Dunn's house to eat an Audrey-made dinner while Skyping with Joseph. Sometimes they take the dinner to the hospital, depending on visiting hours and how Joseph is feeling that night.

Yep. Fucking adorable.

It's too bad that it falls apart as soon as her face is plastered all over the news.

She is visiting with Joseph when it happens, a breaking news headline popping up on the TV playing in the background. They're having a pretty interesting theological discussion when Joseph looks past her shoulder and frowns.

"Uhh, Casey?" he says, eyes not leaving the TV screen.

She turns around and there's her face, listed as a wanted possible suspect in a string of strangulations and decapitations that have happened around the city. Her vision grows dark around the edges and she thinks she's going to have a panic attack; instead she gets up, looks at Joseph, and quickly starts collecting her things. She doesn't have much time until they realize she's at the hospital.

"I'm sorry," she says to him, rushing out the door. He's calling her name but she's already gone, and she doesn't look back.

Down the hall and the elevator, out to the visitor's parking lot. She has no idea where to go. Her bag is slung over her shoulder as she cuts through the park--what, is she going to take the bus? That's ludicrous. She takes the long way to her apartment, being careful to avoid the main roads, and it takes her an hour to get to her apartment building. Outside on the streets, a couple of cop cars are circling her building slowly.

She's breathing hard and almost hyperventilating when she's grabbed by her hood and dragged into a very narrow alleyway.

She honestly almost doesn't recognize him. He's grown out his hair and has some sort of beard thing going on. "Barry?!"

"Hey babygirl," he says, eyes darting out towards the street and bringing her in closer to him as a cop car cruises by.

This is like one of those bad movies, she thinks, before she grabs him by the back of the neck and locks lips with him. His smell fills her--it's so familiar, so delicious, so present. To her relief he kisses back, deep and full, and she can taste his desire. Once they part, he grabs her hand and begins to lead her down the alleyway.

"We have to get you out of the city," he says, peering out the other side into the streets.

"I can't just leave Joseph," she says, taking her hand from his.

Barry tosses her somewhat of a pitying look. "Look honey, I know you want to stick by your boyfriend and all, but you're kind of a wanted killer now."

He's right. There is honestly nothing she can do at this point except say goodbye to the life she had three hours ago. There's a part of her that is kicking and screaming, refusing to let that life go down without a hell of a fight--the dinners, the laughs, the family she had. But there's also another part of her that knows she was never meant for a life like that, and that living it would be a farce that would eventually just unravel.

"I'm not going to let you walk back there and into a jail cell," Barry tells her, and he makes it sound as though she has no choice--that if she chooses to turn back now, he'll hoist her over his shoulder and kidnap her to safety.

There is a considerable pause; then she takes his hand again and looks into his incredibly blue eyes. "Okay. What do you want me to do?" she asks, ready.

 


 

They make it to the Abington house surprisingly unscathed; Barry looped her hair up onto her head and put a baseball cap on her, and that's honestly all it takes. Casey has this tiny little doubt that forms in the back of her head--how the fuck was that so easy? There has to be more to being on the run than that--but she pushes it back, just relieved that they're in a place that Barry thinks is safe. And, of course, she trusts him with her life.

The house is a four-bedroom, but Casey notices Barry has chosen to use a loft above the living area to stay in rather than any of the bedrooms. She doesn't ask why this is. By the look of it, they've been here for a while--possibly the entire time since she last saw them. There are Barry's sketches lining the walls, with Hedwig's drawings littering throughout them; she sees herself depicted a lot in the latter. There a single table lamp on the floor next to a very comfy-looking pallet where she assumes he sleeps. Around the pallet she sees several books piled atop each other, a large bottle of bourbon that's still mostly full next to an empty glass, several notebooks that she assumes are different journals for some of Them with a pen tossed to the side, a couple of Hot Wheels cars, and some cleaning supplies stashed in the corner.

It's all very neat and tidy up here, noting Dennis' influence.

"Is Everyone ok?" she asks Barry, studying the books piled atop each other. She knows that it sounds silly in a sense--they are All literally right here with Barry, of course they are ok--but she doesn't feel silly saying it at all.

"Oh yeah, babydoll," Barry says, shrugging the question off. There's something a little strange about how he says it--like he wants to tell her something but doesn't know how to bring it up. She lets it go. He changes the subject and sits down on the smooth wooden floor. "So, that Joseph kid, huh?" There's a curious smirk that follows the question, and she can sense it's a dangerous one with some hidden connotations.

She ignores the question. "How long are we staying here?" she asks.

"As long as we can," Barry answers, raising an eyebrow and placing his hands behind him on the floor, leaning back into them. "Now back to that Joseph kid."

He is a lot better at getting the answers he wants than she is, and she sighs. "Yes, Barry. What about him."

"Looked like you guys were going to have a beach wedding and spawn thirty, adorably fat little babies," he says, meaning it to come out light and humorous but it just comes across dry.

It stings a little, and she continues to look around the room, walking over to the Hot Wheels and not meeting his gaze. "These are Hedwig's?" Stupid question.

"No, they're Orwell's," Barry says sarcastically. His expression grows serious. "How long did you think that was going to last, babygirl?"

This conversation isn't exactly making her feel like a stellar human being. "Really? You're going to ask me that now, after you abandoned me?" The question comes out of her mouth sharper than she intends, and Barry is quiet. She immediately regrets it. She turns back to look at him, brow furrowed with guilt and mouth drawn in a small, pretty little frown. Barry's eyes flit away from that mouth. "I'm sorry. It's just--"

"You felt guilty," Barry says, shrugging. "Right? Pity." He doesn't believe it himself, but he is done asking about it, and it's the easiest way to give her an out of the conversation.

She doesn't pick up on it.

"It wasn't just pity," she says slowly, feeling her chest hurt and her stomach harden. The past few months have had her either playing House with the Dunns or crying herself to sleep because she hated herself for it. "I don't know. It felt...nice. To have a family."

"We're your family!" Hedwig suddenly blurts. Barry covers his mouth, face reddening in embarrassment.

She smiles. "Yeah Hedwig, yeah you are." She pauses. "It was just nice to have dinner and pretend like I was...vanilla. You know?" Barry shrugs. She suddenly feels vulnerable around him and puts her arms around her stomach in an act of self-consciousness. Is this how she's going to feel for a while? She swallows a lump in her throat and grabs the glass and bottle of bourbon, choosing to settle down in front of him, crossing her legs and opening it. He raises an eyebrow.

"Whose is this anyway?" she asks, trying again to change the subject.

"Dennis," Barry answers. That isn't exactly a lie; Dennis is the only one so far that has had some of it, but it was Barry that traded some of Their nice shirts for it. They've barely touched it, though Barry has been meaning to. He notices her hands are shaking as she tries to pour a glass and decides to save her the effort by taking it from her and pouring it himself. He hands her the glass and she takes it, putting her hands around it like it's a mug of hot chocolate or something.

Oh god, there's a pressure in his chest and as he looks at her sipping her bourbon and making faces at the taste, he wishes fiercely that he could be vanilla for her. His body is wracked with the desire to give her everything she's ever wanted, and his mind is haunted by the fact that he can't. He reaches over, tops her glass off with fresh bourbon and gestures for her to hand it over to him. She does. He takes a couple of deep gulps and hands it back to her.

There is nothing left to say that will make either of them feel any better, or, honestly, any worse than they are already feeling. The bourbon is hot and it sloshes around in her empty stomach; she missed lunched earlier today and it's now well past dinner time. If things were still normal, she'd be late to the Dunn's for Meatloaf Mayhem and their ongoing game of Monopoly.

She drinks the rest of the glass, gagging as it goes down. It makes the back of her head tingle, and she tops it off.

"Hungry?" Barry asks, seeming to read her mind. He drags his backpack over and digs through it. "I have, for madam, a selection of delicacies from around the world," he jokes. "Canned vegetables straight from the exotic alps of South America, and delicious tuna fished from the perilous deserts of Canada. There are beans beaned directly from the beaniest beantrees of the Antarctic, and even canned fruit picked from the Tree of Life itself."

Casey can't help but smile a bit, and she reaches in to take a can of tuna from the bag.

Chapter Text

They're laughing about something but Casey's already forgotten what it is. She sits on the floor of the loft in only one of her small spaghetti-strap pajama tops and light pink underwear; the air conditioning in the house doesn't work and it's gotten quite warm where they are, especially with the alcohol warming them up.

"So like your mom?" Barry asks, face flushed and eyes hooded. He takes a swig of the bourbon straight from the bottle and chokes it down.

"Yeah, she'd come over and like, start cleaning my face or something, like some sort of mother hen," Casey slurs, and it's funny, and doesn't make her miss Audrey even a little because of it.

"Like with her saliva."

"Yeah, like, she'd take her thumb and then like lick it and straighten my eyebrow out or something."

There's a pause here, and then they're both laughing again, Barry falling back on the pallet and clutching his pained stomach. He sits up, leaning against the wall, still chuckling. After the giggling fits, Casey lies there on the floor, staring up at the ceiling which is spinning very slightly for her.

"Welcome to the fucking party," she giggles.

She suddenly pops up and crawls her way to her backpack, retrieving her phone. It's turned into a glorified music player after Barry took the SIM card out and did some weird thing with it that Casey can't be bothered to ask about. She flips through the songs on it and puts one on repeat, turning it up as loud as it will go, giving it to Barry and taking center stage. Barry is laughing again as she very dramatically whips her hair over her shoulder, taking her hands and dragging them down her body, back towards him, looking over her shoulder.

"Oh, we're doing this, ok," he says humorously, sitting up against the wall and crossing his ankles while he holds her phone. "Work it, girl."

She's actually not a bad dancer. Her hips match the beats and she raises her arms in the air, really getting into the song, biting her lip and sensuously turning in circles, tossing her hair as she moves.

"You missed your calling for stripperhood," Barry jokes, and they both giggle as she continues dancing.

He admires her for a quiet moment, just watching. She's like liquid, hips flowing left and right, ass following suit, the arch of her back swaying like a moving snake. God, she's so gorgeous, and he's drunk enough to say so, but he doesn't. Dennis is sharing the Light with him, and Barry lets him without protest; he knows he likes to watch girls dance, and having Casey in particular dance in front of him must be some pipedream he never thought would happen.

Soon enough, Barry recedes, and then it's just Dennis watching her, and he puts her phone to the side. He's painfully erect as he watches her but it's a background concern; the alcohol is affecting him as well and for once he's not ashamed of having a boner. This is a safe thing to have a boner over. This isn't strange or scary or violent, and being sexually aroused by it is normal.

She turns to face him and notices it's Dennis, and her face grows hot; how long has it been Dennis? But she keeps dancing, and the way he's looking at her arouses her, the lips between her legs throbbing as his incredibly intense stare drills holes through her. She wants him, and she doesn't care how. Usually this is something she can ignore, or at least push away by thinking of something else, but it's all that she can think about now, and she slowly gets on her knees to the music and begins to crawl towards him. He crosses his arms in front of him in a defensive gesture but she doesn't catch on.

He's suddenly breathing hard, uncomfortably, as she comes closer. She doesn't have a bra on, and her breasts hang against the front of her top, barely contained. She reaches him and straddles his legs, still crossed at the ankles as Barry had them, placing her hands on his thighs and slithering them up slowly. She can see his erection straining painfully against his pants, and his desire for her makes her incredibly wet for his cock inside of her.

She puts her mouth next to his ear and asks, "Do you like what you see, Dennis?"

He closes his eyes and tilts his head away from her, groaning softly.

Gingerly, she unbuttons his pants, and his hands come down to stop her, but she bats them away. "Fuck your prudishness," she says, laughing. His arms are back to being crossed, and his eyes just watch her--is there anxiety in them? She can't tell, but it encourages her. For once, he's her prey, not the other way around.

Undoing the top of his pants, she looks up at him briefly, coyly, before taking his dick out. It's so hard and yet looks so soft, and she wants to taste it, to feel it rolling around in her mouth, throbbing against her tongue. She takes it past her lips, lightly placing her teeth against the head, and he shivers almost violently. Licking at it, she tastes him, and he tastes so fucking good. She plunges him deep in her mouth, and he utters some sort of strangled sigh above her. She's just sucking him at this point, not moving much, just running her tongue up and down his length--so fucking soft--drinking his pre-juices in and swallowing them eagerly.

He doesn't allow himself to touch her yet. If he does, he's afraid how far he'll take it.

Then she begins to move, bobbing her head up and down slowly, taking a hand and wrapping it around his cock at the base to steady him for her. Regardless of how she learned, Casey is incredibly good at blowjobs. She moves her hand with her lips, and she's getting wet herself, moistening her panties as she grinds herself against his legs.

Dennis throws his head back, eyes closed, and he feels his arms uncrossing, hands itching to take a hold of her head; they hover on either side of her as her head pumps slowly up and down. They're shaking, and he clenches and unclenches them, desire erasing resolve very slowly as she continues her movements.

"Casey," he chokes softly.

This encourages her even more, and her mouth gets tighter, hotter, wetter around his shaft. The suction pulls at something deep within his belly, and he can feel the fire of it raging outwards. He's trying to say something but his mouth just moves uselessly, and his hands are still where they are, shaking even more violently. He needs her so badly, needs her to be his, needs her to know she's no one else's; he needs to dominate her very will and make sure she understands she's powerless against him.

He moans loudly as his resolve crumbles, and his left hand comes down to wrap itself against the back of her neck; his right hand snakes through her hair and violently, painfully grabs a handful of it. This surprises her, but she's drunk, and let's him take the lead--she stops movement herself, takes her hand off and plants both of them on either side of his hips. She knows what he's going to do, and she wants him to do it, readies herself for it.

He's taking her head and moving it up and down his cock, plunging it deep into her mouth again and again. Each time the head of it hits the back of her throat, a shock of pleasure runs up his spine, and he wants more of it. He gets rougher in his movements, and she's gagging, and he fucking loves that she is, so much so that there are involuntary tears forming in her eyes and they are leaking down her beautiful porcelain cheeks. The only thing that would make this better is if she had been wearing eyeliner--he fucking loves the look of tear-stained eyeliner streaked down a woman's face.

She's suddenly moaning, her pussy still grinding itself against his legs. Oh god, he wants more of her; her mouth isn't enough for him, he wants her cunt pressed around his cock, pulsing and contracting and so slick that her juices are leaking down his shaft. He tosses her off and she sprawls back, eyes hooded in their intense desire for him as she watches him take his shirt off and stand, dropping and stepping out of his pants. She's too drunk, she thinks, to react, but he does it for her; he crawls over, pushing her back to the floor by the chest, hand raking down and ripping her shirt off. Her breasts bounce out and he's on them, mouth biting, painful, sucking on her right nipple, hand wrapped around her left breast and squeezing. Shocks of agony snake their way up from her breasts but she endures it, hips lifting up to feel his erection right outside her panties.

He flips her roughly onto her stomach, grabbing her hips and drawing them up towards him. She lifts herself on her hands but his hand is between her shoulder blades, forcing her down to where her hips are up but her face is pressed painfully against the hard wood floor. She's uncomfortable but she can feel herself literally leaking against the inside of her thighs for him. He takes a thumb and hooks it against the bottom of her panties, not bothering to remove them--just getting them out of the way. His cock is right there, rubbing against the entrance of her, and she lets out a half moan half cry as her hips sway, silently begging him to enter her.

He does, and it's stars for the both of them, ecstasy running through their electric bodies; his balls are slapping against her clit and it's driving her crazy; she sticks her tongue out imagining his dick in her mouth again and her saliva begins to make a mess of her lips and mouth. He's holding onto her hips to guide them but he wants her body tenser around him, clutching at him with just her pussy, and he reaches over to grab her hair, wrapping it twice around his hand and pulling her off of the ground. Her arms hold her up now, and she's making some sort of noise at the back of her throat, unable to control her reactions to his thrusting. He wants her even more vulnerable, even more without control, so he reaches over with the hand that doesn't have her hair and grabs one of her arms, twisting it behind her so that it's trapped against the small of her back.

"Other one," he growls, voice guttural and commanding.

She complies and he's got both of her arms pinned to her back, nothing holding her up save for his hand gripping her hair.

His thrusts are far from wild, but they are deep and forceful, and she can feel him fill her so completely that it satisfies some deep primal urge in her. Her face is still streaked with tears but she loves the feel of them against her face as he pounds against her, eyes rolling to the back of her head in drunken bliss.

Suddenly he's throwing her off and she catches herself before she hits the ground, her cunt so empty and left wanting. She mewls softly, swaying her ass at him, begging him without words to fill her up again.

He flips her over onto her back, spreading her, getting between her legs and leaning forward onto her, left hand wrapping itself around her throat. He squeezes and it's remotely alarming but she allows it to happen, then he's letting her go again. Her underwear is finally ripped off and he tosses the rag across the room. His right hand slaps her cunt twice and it's such a wild, erotic act that she has a small orgasm with each slap. He grabs each of her ankles with his hands and spreads her wide, her pussy gaping for him, sloppy and wet and throbbing. He plunges deep inside of her, legs still spread wide, each of his thrusts making them shake. She comes hard once, legs tensing against his grip, wanting to close around his cock to prolong the orgasm, but he doesn't let her.

"No," he says deeply, hoarsely. "Not again unless I say."

She nods, biting her bottom lip.

He again tosses her off and stands, taking her hair and dragging her on her knees to his dick, forcing her lips around him, and she tastes both of their juices in her mouth, making her eyes roll into the back of her head again with the thought of it.

"Touch yourself, worthless slut," he hisses.

She does so eagerly, both ashamed and excited because of the shame. She's so wrapped up in this ecstasy, so sensitive, that it only takes a minute for her to need to come.

"Please," she says around his cock as he thrusts her head back and forth, "please please please." The words are incredibly muffled but she can't help but say them as her fingers, so so wet and dripping, are circling and flicking her clit. She slaps herself there, testing it out, seeing what it does to her and if she'll feel like she did when he did it, and the pleasure is there but she wishes it's his hand slapping her instead.

Please Dennis, fuck, please, she thinks in desperation. God, please, please. He pulls her head back by her hair and forces her to look up at him, his stare enough to give her an orgasm if she let it.

"Please," she says, almost sobbing.

"No," he says simply, voice thick with pleasure.

Then he's forcing her mouth on him again, and she's choking on him, and she almost can't breathe, but her fingers are working herself faster and faster at the thought of his glare on the top of her head. Her breath is hitching, and she's got tears again, and she's gagging but she laps at him so hungrily, and she can feel his legs stiffening. She knows he's close so she doubles her efforts, mouth gripping him so hard that she really does stop breathing.

But it's Casey's body in his thoughts writhing and sighing and pale flesh dripping red with--

"Come for me," he gasps as the Intrusive Thought bombards his senses, and then he's coming into her mouth, and she's allowing herself to come, her hips bucking with each pulse of pleasure that rips through her. She's moaning hard with his cock in her mouth, and he's spilling into the back of her throat, and she's swallowing him, thirsty for his cum. There's so much of it, and she wonders distantly how long it's been since Dennis had an orgasm, but her body is filled with electric heat and the pleasure won't let up, she continues to work herself and comes again, hips continuing their thrusting in the air, and once that one is done she keeps working herself, and comes a third time. She wants to come forever and ever, and she quite nearly fucking does, but finally stops after the fourth orgasm, exhausted and hollow.

She sits back on the floor and he's looking down at his slick cock, face a mask of discomfort, looking around for something to wipe it. He walks over to his pants, digs out his washcloth and wipes himself off with it, hands shaking. She's crying and he's touching himself and it's so incredibly hot--he shakes his head against the thought and puts his pants on, then his shirt, tucking it in neatly. He retrieves his glasses from his backpack and puts them on, heading straight for his cleaning supplies.

Casey sits there naked, still drunk, and she slowly crawls over to where he stands, wrapping her arms around his leg.

"Please don't touch me," he states, very uncomfortable.

"Dennis, nothing bad is going to happen if you don't clean this mess," she says, licking her lips, some of him still on her.

He sees this and almost gags. He shakes her off and rifles through her backpack, relieved to find some clothes in there for her. He tosses them over to her. "Please," he says, "can you clean yourself off, and, and then, take a bucket and help me with this. The floor is-is-it's sticky and you're a mess and there's no water to-to clean any of this up so, would you please, get yourself decent."

Not exactly the romantic aftercare she was expecting, but she doesn't really know what she was expecting out of Dennis. She cleans herself up, sighing, and then promptly vomits all over the floor.

Dennis drops his cleaning supplies and throws his arms up in the air, placing his hands on his hips and shaking his head.

Chapter Text

Barry swims in and out of the Light again, hearing Dennis and Joseph talking about the fire in the cellar. He's alarmed for a moment; what fire? Where is he?

"I'm not going to stop him," Dennis says out loud, and there's a pause before he says, "We need to take her somewhere safe."

There's a sensation as though they are running, and Barry peers out to the Light a bit but recoils; The Beast is there, sharing it with Dennis--he could feel the raw power emanating from the Light as he neared it.

"Stop talking," Dennis pants as they run. "I'm not doing any of this if it's going to put her in any danger."

Stop talking? Who? Barry certainly isn't saying anything, and he doubts The Beast is much of a conversationalist, but before he can investigate he is pulled back into the darkness to slumber.

 


 

There's a big bang, like some kind of explosion; then the sound of windows breaking downstairs. Casey jerks awake, senses in overdrive, and beside her Dennis is already on his feet, tossing her backpack to her. She has no idea what's happening but she does know that they need to get out, and quickly. She shimmies into her pants and slips her feet into her shoes while looking at Dennis, who is grabbing his backpack and stuffing his own shoes into it.

There's smoke wafting up from the living area, and the thunder of many feet running through the house; Dennis has been panting this entire time, dark veins popping up against his flesh, body trembling in agony as he continues to grab the things he needs while simultaneously readying his body for The Beast. The sight is fascinating, and if Casey had a moment, she would watch, but as it is she's coughing through what she assumes are smoke grenades.

Dennis runs and grabs a chair in the corner of the loft, throwing it against the delicate floor to ceiling stained glass window to his left. It smashes through without effort, and the entire window crumbles. Without pausing, he grabs Casey, about to hoist her through the opening when she scrambles to first snatch the Hotwheels and stuff them into her pockets. In a heartbeat she is flying through the air with both of their backpacks hugged to her chest, and then falling onto a painful gathering of bushes that scrape her arms up and poke through her clothing.

No permanent damage, though one of her arms is bleeding. She hops out of the bushes, putting her backpack on, slinging his onto one shoulder. Then she begins to run for the line of trees that mark the beginning of the woods.

Then the trees are surrounding her, and she sees flashlights bobbing up and down but doesn't see Dennis at all. Something in her gut is pulling her to the left, and she follows it, dipping under branches and scrambling past above-ground roots. She hears dogs barking, and then dogs squealing, and people screaming. The sound of flesh pounding against flesh rings through the night; It feels as though she's in some sort of horror movie set.

The only thing she can assume at this point is that they were spotted and traced back to the Abington house. It was foolish of her to think there may be some sort of respite from the real world there, but the atmosphere in that house was certainly an appealing one; it felt like they were in their own little world there, free, separate from all other things.

There is another scream, and then some gunshots, and Casey keeps running, letting her instincts lead the way. There are more gunshots, then she hears The Beast roaring--it's somewhere behind her, to the left. The night is lit up with gunfire.

Oh god, she thinks. Please let Them be okay.

He seems to be distracting all of their attention away from her, and while one part of her is relieved, the other part of her fears he'll get seriously hurt--surely The Beast can only take or dodge so many bullets all at once? Surely if he were to get badly injured, this--this connection, between them, it would let her know?

She takes a deep breath through her nostrils and it's almost as though she can see a line of the correct smells, wafting through the woods. Her gut tells her to veer left again, and she does. She doesn't have time right now to wonder what's happening with her, or to logic it away. After a while of following this strange compass, the noises grow quieter and more distant.

There's a lone dog barking in the distance but that, too, is gruesomely cut short. Casey slows, looking over her shoulder. She can't see anyone following her, or even any lights bobbing her way, so she stops, grabbing the straps on her backpack. It becomes eerily quiet, and she can no longer hear the rustling of people running through the woods, or people calling to others for backup. She stays where she is for a moment, afraid of what she'll find if she goes back.

It's her, and the eerie quiet of the woods.

What if...something happened to him? What if he needs her, what if he's suffering and he needs someone to pull him to safety somewhere? What if, instead of The Beast...what if it's Barry, or Dennis, or...

Her hand goes to her pocket and she squeezes the Hotwheels there.

Her heart is aching with not knowing. She has to go back. She has to be sure that they are okay.

Before she's even able to take a step, she hears a noise in the branches above her. The Beast hangs from a tree limb and drops down in a crouch, and as he slowly stands in front of her she is again blown away by how massive he is compared to the Others. The flexing of the muscles underneath his skin is like magma underneath a fire of flesh.

A splash of what seem to be bullet wounds spray from beneath the right side of his chest up to his left shoulder, and her hand comes out to touch one of them--it is bleeding, but otherwise superficial. She keeps her fingers there and looks up at him; he is breathing deeply, and she is suddenly very aware that he may be collecting her scent as they stand here.

"Is Everyone...okay?" she asks haltingly.

He takes a couple more deep breaths before speaking. "We are...safe. We are...unwounded. They are...not."

A chill goes down her back and she begins to take her hand away from him, but he catches her arm before she does. The movement is quick and catches her off guard, so she gasps involuntarily. His hand on her arm is firm, and as she looks at it, she can see that the same dark veins line the backs of his hands, and that they end in thick, pointed nails. She sees blood on those nails. She is about to pull away in fear but suddenly she realizes that the blood on his nails is her blood, and that there are streaks of it going down her arm.

She forgot for a moment that she'd been injured on the fall down.

"It's fine," she whispers. "They're just...scratches."

For a second she thinks he's going to lick the blood off of her arm, but instead he drops it and leans forward very suddenly, his mouth by her right ear, breathing her in deeply again to retain her scent. When he exhales against her, she shivers and begins to tremble.

He takes a step back and closes his eyes, then his body heaves, and he stumbles against a tree, forearm coming up against it to support him. She just stands and watches the detransformation, and is mystified by it. The veins slowly recede, disappearing into his flesh; his muscles slacken and reduce in size. His hands are trembling, and they begin to reform into normal, claw-less fingers. He slumps against the tree as his mass dwindles a bit, and has his back towards her--his once marble-like back now beautifully soft against the stark lines of the woods. He's panting, but it grows shallower, more man-like than beast-like.

He leans against that tree for a moment as though that's all that's holding him to this life, and Casey notices he's only wearing his sweats. His feet are a dirty mess and she needs to see what state they are in later, but for now, she opens up his backpack and retrieves his shoes. She low-key wishes it's Kevin that's emerged, even has his name on the tip of her tongue, but she decides that saying it again would be wrong and it should be reserved for when she really needs it.

She takes a blanket out of her own backpack and approaches him slowly, and once he's sliding down the length of the tree she drapes it over his shoulders in an attempt to keep him warm until he's ready to put a shirt on.

Suddenly he's chuckling, a low and humorless sound, and as he takes the blanket and closes it around himself, he glances up at her with a sly smirk. "Well look at you, playing keen and domestic." The words come out of his mouth with light Scottish undertones, and Casey is taken aback. She hasn't met anyone with that type of accent in Kevin's head. "It's a right shame you've got such a bonnie face."

"Who are you?" she asks quietly.

He's looking up at her, and he gives her a wink, putting his finger to his mouth in secrecy. A chill runs through her body, but as easily as he came, he goes, and then it's Barry she's looking at, and he looks exhausted.

"Hey baby girl," he says, smiling at her. "You got a shirt for me?" She stares at him for a second and then realizes he asked her a question, and she digs in his backpack for one for him.

Once he's settled with clothes, she checks his feet and is relieved to see they're dirty but otherwise uninjured. He puts his shoes on, they clean off her arm with a bottle of water, and then they're walking through the forest towards a neighborhood where Barry knows there's a car that's always left with its keys in the glove compartment. They're going to have to skip town and then find somewhere to spend some time figuring out a game plan for themselves.

Barry reaches out and links his fingers with Casey's as they walk, and honestly despite everything that's been happening lately, it feels like he's coming home.

Chapter Text

The motel is a cliche right out of a horror movie, complete with rusty awnings and six-pane windows. Pool! Cable TV! Free AC! They pay for two nights through a window with a slot opposite a woman that looks like she may be Norman Bates' mother, who promptly shuts them out by violently drawing the blinds after payment has been received. A key is slipped to them through the slot at the bottom of the window with the number 19 etched on a piece of plastic attached to it.

"Hedwig doesn't like this place," Barry mentions as they unlock the door to their room. They are the last room on the ground floor, and when she opens the door, several cockroaches run across her shoe. She jumps, restraining the scream that wants to wail past her throat.

"That's because Hedwig is right," she chokes. "Whatever he doesn't like about this place, he's right."

The beds look okay, but looks can be very deceiving, especially at a discount motel. There is no TV, though the sign above the motel advertises such. She's surprised they even have a room that has two beds in it. The bathroom is a travesty, but that can be worked around by taking very few bathroom visits. Urinary tract infection, here she comes.

"Dennis," Barry says, "is also not going to like this place once he sees it."

"It's only for two nights," she reminds him. "We'll find more money by then, and we can stay someplace better."

It's late, and once they've brushed their teeth, settled into bed and turned the lights out, Casey can't help but lie in bed awake, thinking about the mystery of the Scotsman. The accent wasn't thick by any means; in fact, it was barely there, though quite discernible. He'd placed his finger to his mouth as though their encounter should remain a secret, but the more Casey thinks about it, the more she realizes that may actually do Them all more harm than good.

She shifts in her bed, laying on her side to face the other bed. She can see the faint outline of Kevin's body underneath the sheets, and she suddenly fiercely wishes he was here. She learned her lesson, though; springing his name on him confuses and alarms the system, and should be something she avoids as much as she can.

She lifts a hand up in front of her face and begins to trace in the air his shape on the other bed. It's such a simple shape, as a stained glass window has a shape; the glass itself is complex and beautiful, light and dark, soft and sharp, bright and dull--and so very, very easily shattered. Her mind goes back to the Abington house and the window Dennis threw her from. She wants to just as easily be thrown into him as she was from that window, to fall deeply into him and drown in everything he was, is, and will be.

She doesn't even know who she's thinking of. Just...him. All of him. Every part of him. Of Them.

"What are you doing with your hand?"

Startled, her hand drops to the bed. She thought he was asleep, and her face flushes with embarrassment. "Nothing," she says. "Barry?"

He sits up, scratches his head vigorously and shrugs. "Nah, Jalin." His voice takes on a light nature that reminds her of Hedwig's voice, but it doesn't sound as young as Hedwig's.

"Oh. Hey. I'm Casey." She tries not to sound too disappointed. Jalin stands up, turns the light on, and goes to the bathroom. Performing the action without asking her first is either rude or self-absorbed, and Casey is still unsure which he is. Maybe both.

"Oh man, I been working out," comes from the bathroom. "I'm ripped as fuhhhhk."

Casey, simultaneously curious about Jalin and anxious that he'll run off, gets up and leans against the bathroom's doorjamb, crossing her arms. Jalin is flexing hard in the bathroom mirror, admiring his biceps and pectorals--even going as far as to start kneading them with one hand. Casey can't help but find it distantly humorous. She also notices that Jalin does not have a Scottish accent.

"Jalin, do you know who Barry is? Dennis?"

He doesn't even look over at her, continuing to flex his upperbody in ways that visually appeal to him. "Uhh yeah. Sorta. I mean, I know Barry. He's ma home boy. That Dennis joke, though, he can take a long walk off a short pier, nawmsayin?" He says it like he thought of the phrase, wrapped it up, and then patented it. "Aw, hey, I saw some girl packin' some smokes earlier, wonder if she'd sell me some."

"Smoking's bad," comes the obligatory reply.

"Tsk, girl I know smokin's bad, I just wanna try it," he says, the flexing finally stopping. He gets right in her face, uncomfortably close, and winks. Then he's walking towards his backpack.

She frowns. "Jalin, how old are you?"

He stops like he's been caught doing something he shouldn't be doing, then turns to look at her slowly. "Uhhhh thirty-eight?" He says it like they both know it's the first option he'll be throwing out at her.

"Try again," she says, pursing her lips.

"Twenty-eight."

"Closer but still not buying."

He sighs, shoulders slumping a little. "Seventeen."

"Oh, so you can't even legally smoke yet?" she asks, eyebrow raising.

"Yahbut, yahbut, I'm like, real mature for seventeen," he whines. "An' like, don't be oppressin' me with your ridic age constructs, I identify as a thirty-eight-year-old Wallstreet stockbroker, tee-wy-vee-em."

She can't help but smile at this and shake her head. "Okay, hot stuff, sit your ass down and I'll get you something you will one-hundred percent regret more than I will."

She rifles through her own backpack and in one of the little pockets takes out one very rough-looking cigarette that she keeps for Jade emergencies. She holds it out to him, his eyes lighting up and hand coming up to grab it. She snatches it back. "No. Two things first."

"Okay," he says slowly. "What?"

"First thing, if you hate it, you never smoke or even think about smoking, ever again. Yeah?"

He narrows his eyes as though she's trying to trick him. "Yeah, okay. Second?"

"You go to sleep. And for real, sleep. Because we have a long day of trying to figure out what to do money-wise tomorrow."

He thinks about it for a second then shrugs one shoulder at her. "Yeah a'ight I could get on board with that."

She hands him the smoke and he rummages through a drawer, finding a book of matches to light it with. One drag and he's hacking up a lung as Casey just stands there, still leaning on the bathroom doorjamb with her arms crossed as he suffers through the nicotine.

"Holy fuhhhhhk that's--" there's another violent coughing fit, "--what the shet mang, why is this so nasty? Why's anyone do this? Why society think they cool if they suck in daggerfumes?" He hands it back to her like it's a dead roach he found on the ground. "Buhhh, ya'boy done with that."

"Shame," she says sarcastically, putting it out on the ashtray on the table. "Sleep?"

He rolls his eyes. "Yeah for sure, ya'boy true to his word." He jumps back on the bed and bounces a bit before snagging the sheets and sullenly covering himself with them. Casey walks over to the door, makes sure it's locked, peeks out the closed blinds once, and turns the light off.

 


 

Jalin, surprisingly, is the answer to their problems for money. Shockingly, the teen is incredibly versed with all things IT and IT related. She discovers this when, in the very early hours of the next morning, she finds him using his phone, shopping, using the numbers to several Visa gift cards he's randomly procured.

It turns out he ran out to a Walmart in the middle of the night, bought Visa gift cards with the last of their money, converted those gift cards into bitcoin, bought a virus on the dark web ("Too lazy and impatient to make my own, yafeel?"), spent very little time copying it for distribution, and has begun selling those copies to people on the dark web for bitcoin, which he'll be converting into numbers to Visa gift cards. All in the span of five hours. All with the use of his crappy pre-paid phone.

She stares at him, still in her pajamas, as he shops around for new shoes on the dark web. It's 7am.

He tosses her his phone. "So hey, I needa go, Barry's wakin' up and is gonna flip that I'm out here and he'll want the Light, but like, make him buy those kicks a'ight, cos they fuhhhhkn boss," he tells her.

There's a moment where his eyelids flutter and his eyes go blank, and then his face relaxes into Barry's face.

"Morning," she says.

"Morning, babycakes," he says sleepily. He yawns. "Geeze, I'm tired." She's still staring at him in awe; residual Jalin admiration. "What?" he laughs.

"We have money," she says, handing him the phone.

"Oh, fuck, Tor?" his face falls. "Has Jalin been selling our body again?"

"What? No, he's selling viruses." She frowns. "Wait, your body?"

Barry shrugs, acting like it's a passing comment, but looks very suspect. He changes the subject very quickly. "Oh, yeah yeah, no, that's good! What a guy." There's another pause. "Wait, you met Jalin last night? He hasn't wanted the Light in...a very, very long time."

"Well I'm glad he took it, we have like $1,500 now."

Barry's jaw drops and he looks at the phone again. "Son of a bitch. That's great hun, because I'm starving."

"Well," Casey says, "while you're enjoying your delicious bacon and eggs from that fancy breakfast place down the road that accepts Tap and Pay, we need to get that kid these shoes. Oh, and while we're at it, let's get him a better pre-paid phone."

"You're the boss," Barry says, winking at her and jumping out of bed.

Chapter Text

Jalin gets better than just some shoes and a new phone; Casey talks Barry into buying them a laptop to better their quality of life while on the run, and Barry concedes. The shoes are an affront to all things good and pure, but Barry lives with them because they wouldn't be where they are without Jalin.

She adjusts to using Tor for her internet needs, which is a web browser that supports anonymity and has access to the dark web. She's not a fan of the dark or deep web itself; there are no warnings for the things that one could stumble upon, and the anonymity enables a lot of illegal activity (mostly illegal arms dealings and drugs, but also other unsavory, despicable things that she thankfully hasn't run into yet).

Jalin has given her a piece of paper with instructions on how to create new email accounts and forward all of their emails to the new ones without traceability. It's as she's doing this that she finds a message from a Harvard student that's interning at the McLean Psychiatric Hospital. These kinds of messages are things she has been given permission to go through for Everyone, as Barry would rather not have to deal with any potential upset to the system with regards to the recent happenings and life on the run. Curious, she clicks on the message and reads.

Dear Mr. Crumb:

My name is Lydia Salazar and I am an intern with the McLean Hospital based in Harvard University. It is my honor to reach out to you. My internship with McLean has been a thrilling opportunity for me that has left me hungry for further research material, and lacking in my personal advancement due to my limited resources as an intern. I hope to remedy this by seeking your aid in the matter.

As I understand it, you are the host of a system of 24 personalities described under the diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder. I am very familiar with your case, as I have pored through the many pages of your case study and have memorized the details of each of your personalities to the best of my ability.

I also understand that a few of your personalities have been diagnosed with various comorbidities as well, including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder type 1, Bipolar Disorder type 2, Borderline Personality Disorder, and a host of other diagnoses that I would be fascinated to discuss with you in a much more extensive dialogue.

Please take this as a dual opportunity to explore your specific type of disorder as well as the disorders of those in your system. As I am in the last year of my term here at Harvard, I am well-versed in clinical psychology and would love to offer you the chance for both of us to benefit from an exchange.

I would of course, due to my lack of licensure, offer my services uncompensated, and in light of your situation with the law would be open to perform these visits completely on your terms. I am purely interested in the psychological aspects of a potential symbiotic relationship between us as colleagues in science.

Please reach out to me at your earliest convenience.

At your disposal,
Lydia Salazar, Student Intern, Harvard University McLean Hospital

 

This looks like an email Barry should see, and Casey calls to him over her shoulder.

They are staying in a nicer motel; the higher-end hotels are too high-profile and they would be outed within moments of their arrival, but the higher-end motels serve their purpose in not caring too much about who-what-where-when. Barry walks over from the tiny kitchenette and begins to read the email over her shoulder. They look at each other in contemplation, the silence almost a conversation itself between them.

"What do you think?" she asks.

"Honey, I don't know," he answers.

They're both silent again, mulling it over in their brains like it's a difficult math problem that needs solving.

"You guys do need a psychiatrist, though," she mentions. "I think it would honestly help, you know...with cohesion." And figuring out who everyone is, she thinks, especially those with Scottish accents.

Barry looks at her suddenly with a smile in his eyes, and just stares.

"What?" she asks, smiling.

"Nothing. Just...you, babygirl." He breathes deep. "Just you, caring. Knowing Us. You're like a long yard of vicuna wool to be honest." She has no idea what that means, but she rolls her eyes at him, chest feeling warm and full, and she nudges him shoulder to shoulder as he sits next to her. "I don't know. I'll ask Everyone, see what They think," he finishes.

It sounds like a good next step, so she drops it and browses the scary world of the dark web, sipping her coffee and hoping she doesn't click on anything untoward.

 


 

Kevin himself is MIA, and Barry won't go to the Train Yard again to try and retrieve him until he absolutely has to. But otherwise, Barry is surprised to find that every single person he asks is for the idea of trying out another psychiatrist. The majority of Them loved Dr. Fletcher, and with her gone from Their lives there has been a deep hole nothing has been able to fill. They are hopeful, even excited, to start video journaling again. It would definitely provide Them with a rod of stability in this otherwise unstable time, as well as promote cohesion, as Casey stated.

They decide They'll be video calling the sessions. They would have to be careful, though, and utilize Jalin's expertise to its fullest extent, which, Casey realizes, is going to be more and more limited. The teenager has been blanking out more and more recently, letting go of the Light and not letting anyone on the inside know, which is worrisome to her as Kevin's body stares into nothing with hooded eyes. Barry says he feels him getting sluggish and "sleepy", which indicates to him that he may end up being dormant again soon.

Casey doesn't really know how to feel about this, so she does her best not to think about it at all until she absolutely has to. Which hasn't happened yet.

The first session is full of nerves and a bit of fear, but Casey knows she has to give Them space, so she goes out to get some snacks from the gas station. They've also concluded that no one really knows they are traveling together, so it's best to keep up appearances.

Everyone that will be speaking today has agreed to let Barry co-front with Them, at least for this initial interview, so that there is no need to relay information to him. He is set up with the webcam pointed at him sitting in front of a plain white wall as Lydia calls in. He almost doesn't answer, his finger shaking on the mouse and cursor hovering over the green button as the call rings.

Someone twitches his finger, he's not sure who, and the call is answered.

Lydia Salazar is a gorgeous African-American woman that looks very similar to how Marcia looked. Before The Beast ate her insides, of course. The smile she beams out at Barry is so bright that he immediately feels comfortable, and he smiles a small one back at her. She's wearing a printed T-Shirt and is holding a mug of what looks like hot coacoa with marshmallows in it, looking honestly like she just got out of bed and then brushed her hair to prepare for this call. The look puts Barry at ease.

"Hello! My name is Lydia Salazar. Who do I have the honor of meeting today?" She asks this as a courtesy; she knows through an email Barry sent her that he would be the first to greet her.

"Barry," he says. "Pleasure to meet you." He relaxes in his chair.

"The pleasure is mine, Barry!" she says. "How are you today?" She takes her time going through the pleasantries before beginning their session, which also puts Barry at ease. "So Barry, I understand that while you are not the primary--Kevin Crumb is--you serve as the social protector for your system?"

He's never heard of the term before but he nods a bit. "I guess you could say that," he says. "You make it sound like that's one type. Are there other kinds?"

"Oh yes, absolutely. I really hate to use labels but it's the simplest way to convey what I mean--I, of course, don't want you or any of the Others to pin yourselves to a label or think that you only fit inside of a neat, tiny little box, because that's far from the truth."

Barry nods, following so far.

"As for the different types of protectors, I'll just touch on them briefly--and please stop me if you feel uncomfortable or potentially triggered by any of the things I'm mentioning. Never be afraid to stop or redirect the conversation at any time with me."

"Oh, you'll know if something triggers Us," Barry laughs.

"No doubt! I'm impressed that you're self-aware enough to understand your system, it's quite an amazing ability. But let me continue: there's such a broad meaning to being a protector that I'll just touch on the most common ones.

"There are physical protectors, who protect the body from any form of physical abuse or danger by fighting back or by taking the abuse themselves;

"There are emotional protectors, that protect the host and system from emotional abuse; their primary goal is to help their systems manage painful or uncomfortable emotions, or take the abuse upon themselves;

"Social protectors, such as yourself, that handle social engagement between the outside world and the system (of course, I'm assuming that's what you're doing, please correct me if I'm wrong!); I would also consider you somewhat of a Gatekeeper, but we'll discuss that another time;

"There are sexual protectors, those that may take on memories of sexual abuse, or take on unwanted encounters or emotions relating to sexuality by either taking it upon themselves or doling it out.

"Caretakers, who take care of the younger and more prone alters--may I call you that? Alters?" Barry nods.

"And then there are even nonhuman protectors that react to danger or abuse to the system in an animalistic manner...which, I wonder, is perhaps your 24th alter? The Beast? Although this is more common in younger systems."

Barry says nothing. Understanding that he is not ready to talk about The Beast, she continues. "There are even persecutor protectors that mean well but instead do harm because of what they believe is best for the host and the system. These protectors have misguided methods of protecting, often through causing harm to the body or the people in their system, but there are always reasons why they do what they do, despite the harm it causes. Any harmful method of protection is still, in their mind, protection, and should still be considered such regardless.

"Also keep in mind that protection is neither good or bad in some cases. It just is.

"Everything I say is so simplified that it's a bit frustrating, because systems are so complex and different, and words--explanations--have their limitations."

Barry takes a moment to process this, suddenly seeing many aspects of himself and Dennis, Patricia, and previously Samuel, in the protector descriptions.

"But tell me more about you, Barry. Tell me what you like to do, what your passions are, where you are with your thoughts and your emotions, if you're comfortable letting me know."

"Well I love to create new and differing styles of wardrobe pieces," he begins. "You've got to see some of my sketches, they're my babies and basically my dream to birth them to fruition. They deserve that, honestly."

"I would honestly geek to see these drawings of yours," she says.

"They're in the other room; I'll probably show you some other time." Her use of the colloquialism, though, catches him off guard a bit and he begins to like her more and more. He finds that he does want to have other sessions with her, and that this may actually have been a positive thing for Them.

"Tell me more about you."

Barry goes into a lot of his interests with gusto, as well as preps her for each alter that she will be meeting today. She requests to record their session, and though he declines he tells her she's welcome to ask Everyone she talks to today, and it's likely a few of Them will allow it.

Lydia continues to smile. "I still just can't express how honored I am to meet you, Barry. I'm so excited to start this new journey with you, and I'd love to meet Everyone that would like to meet me as well."

"Oh yeah, sure doll." Barry has written down a list of people in line to co-host with him, and Hedwig is first.

And they begin.

Chapter Text

Session 1: Barry
Lydia Salazar [LS], Barry [B]
Productive
Declined to record.


Session 1: Hedwig
Lydia Salazar [LS], Hedwig [H], Barry [B]
Productive

LS: Hello Hedwig! I'm so pleased to meet you.
H: Hi my name is Hedwig. Do you like Eminem?
LS: I love Eminem! I especially love Eminem and Rihanna collaborating together. Hedwig, can you tell the recorder that I do have permission to record you, and that you have given permission to Barry, another alter in the Crumb system, to co-host with you during our session?
H: Uh, yeah, duh. [laughter]
LS: Can you also confirm that this is our first session together?
H: Yeah I've never met you before in my life.
LS: Alright, let's start. Hedwig can you tell me a little more about yourself?
H: [silence] I dunno what to say. I have a new phone and it has lots of Eminem songs on it but Mister Barry said I can't download too many because piracy is a real problem in the music industry.
LS: Mister Barry is against pirating music?
H: Yeahhh, I guess, kinda. [laughter] You're so weird.
LS: Is there a reason you call him Mister Barry instead of just Barry?
H: Well Mister Barry has the Light a lot and that makes him More than a lot of the rest of Them.
LS: More what, Hedwig?
H: You know, like More. I dunno. More. More! More than the rest of Them.
LS: Who are They, Hedwig? Can you tell me a little about Them?
H: Oh yeah I can tell you lots 'bout them on account of I know everyone in here. I'm like a ly-barian of all Them.
LS: Let's start with those that are More.
H: There's Mister Barry and Mister Dennis and Miss Patricia. Miss Patricia doesn't take the Light by herself a lot but she shares it almost all the time with Mister Dennis. Unless he's doing grown-up things and then she doesn't and then I'm 'upposed to not be there too.
LS: Ahh I see. Can you tell me more about what you do for Everyone?
H: Oh yeah well mostly I just hang around and They think I'm stupid. [long silence] Probably. [silence, sniffling] But Mister Barry thinks I'm awesome, and Jade thinks I'm awesome, and Miss Patricia thinks I'm important, and Mister Dennis does too and Orwell likes to teach me things even though he gets frustrated with me sometimes. I don't talk to a lot of the Others because sometimes They're sleeping or just doin' Their own thing you know.
LS: Well it does sound like you know your way around.
H: Yeah I'm a big deal around here mostly. I can hold the Light whenever I want, and give it to who I want even if they don't wanna have it.
LS: Do you do that often? Give it to someone that doesn't want it?
H: Not really, Mister Barry says it's rude and that it could make a lot of people upset and not just the person I'm making hold the Light.
LS: Mister Barry sounds very smart.
H: He is! When I'm bigger I'm going to be taller than him even. Even taller than Mister Dennis, and Mister Dennis is the biggest of us all. And smarter, and cooler.
LS: That sounds great, Hedwig.
H: Okay well I'm 'upposed to go now because Mister Barry says it's time for other people to have the Light so I'll see ya lady. Bye!
LS: It was very nice meeting you Hedwig! Thank you for letting me record you!

END TRANSCRIPT


Session 1: Rakel
Lydia Salazar [LS], Rakel [R], Barry [B]
Non-Productive
Declined to record.


Session 1: Jalen
Lydia Salazar [LS], Jalen [JL], Barry [B]
Productive
Declined to record.


Session 1: Patricia
Lydia Salazar [LS], Patricia [P], Barry [B]
Productive

LS: Hello, I believe you're referred to as Miss Patricia?
P: Patricia is fine, dear. And yes, I consent to recording, and to Barry being present.
LS: It's quite a pleasure to meet you! I've heard so much about you from Rakel, it feels like I know you already.
P: I'm sure you'll agree that knowing and knowing of are two quite different things.
LS: Yes of course, Patricia. Can you tell me a little about yourself?
P: Before I go into that, I'd actually like to know a little about yourself, my dear. What has you so keen on interviewing Us, I wonder.
LS: It's purely scientific, I assure you. I'm a large proponent of DID and its validity in psychology, amidst other branches of science and neurology.
P: Hmm. [silence] Even science can have selfish motivations.
[long silence]
B: Let's, uh, let's move on.
LS: [clears throat] Tell me about the system, Patricia, if you're comfortable.
P: There is honestly not a lot to tell. We are who We are, all borne through Kevin's will. And some borne regardless of.
LS: Tell me of those borne regardless of. Do you speak of The Beast?
P: Take care not to speak his name in such a blase manner.
LS: Of course, my apologies.
P: Those borne regardless of Kevin's will are borne from necessity, as you've taken such care in explaining to Barry.
LS: Ah, yes. I take it you were present during my conversation regarding protectors?
P: Yes, and I appreciate you understanding that labels do nothing but explain through words and not situation. Though I am quite perplexed as to why a student intern would be allowed to come anywhere near our family without any credentials whatsoever.
LS: If you remember from the emails Barry and I have been exchanging, Patricia--as you've exhaustively displayed you've been privy to--this is a bridge towards treatment rather than treatment itself. In exchange for my discretion and sessions, the system gives me an advanced, first-hand insight into what is becoming one of the more prevalent case studies in educational history.
P: Ah, so you're to exploit us then, to further advance your career?
LS: I--no, it's, you're mistaken, that's not--that's not a correct--
B: Let's get back to the session, yeah?
LS: Thank you Barry. [silence, rustling] Can you explain to me a bit about The Horde, Patricia?
P: [scoffs] The Horde. Such a crass name for Us. I prefer the term acolytes. Followers. Disciples. The philosophy of ridding those that have not suffered is not a new development; it has been dotted in the manifestos of those that have lived and died for their causes.
B: I think that's probably enough for today, Lydia.
[silence]
LS: That's fine. It was a pleasure meeting you, Patricia.
P: I'm sure it was.

END TRANSCRIPT


Session 1: Kat
Lydia Salazar [LS], Kat [K], Barry [B]
Non-Productive

LS: Hello Kat, my name is Lydia. It's a pleasure to meet you. And for the record, I have your permission to record this, and Barry has your permission to co-front with you, yes?
K: Yes, okay, alright, let me just, please just a moment. [silence, rustling]
LS: What is it you're doing, Kat?
K: Just, just closing the curtains, there's a lot of eyes out there, and it's too big, and, ah, and I'd rather not have them looking upon me while I'm, ah, I'm speaking with you.
LS: Kat, I understand you've been diagnosed with--
K: Excuse me, please, hold on a moment, it's, it's too much here, hold on please.
[silence]
B: Kat, you can take that blanket if you want, if that'll make you feel better.
K: Yes, yes it will, yes thank you Barry. [rustling]
[silence]
B: Go ahead, Lydia.
LS: Kat, I understand you have a range of mild to severe agoraphobia, is that right?
K: If, if that's what they like to call it, agoraphobia, hahah, if it's that I hate being, being so--excuse me, hold on--
[silence]
B: She'd like me to control the body for the rest of the session, if that's alright, she's shaking too much.
LS: Of course, however she can feel comfortable.
K: I'm not crazy, you know. I'm not. It's just--everything is too much, I don't like to come out, often, because it's too big. It's all too big?
LS: Can you tell me on a scale of one to ten how hard fronting, or, "holding the Light", is for you today?
K: I, I would say maybe an eight today, or, or a nine, it's quite hard and I'd like to--excuse me, please, I'm sorry, I have to--
[silence]
B: She's gone.
LS: Thank you for helping her, Barry. Holding the Light seems very difficult for her.
B: When Kevin was smaller, she would hide under the bed for him until his mother came by to fish him out. Smaller spaces are better for her.
LS: We'll be sure to try to accommodate that if she'll allow me another session, then.

END TRANSCRIPT


Session 1: Orwell
Lydia Salazar [LS], Orwell [O], Barry [B]
Productive

LS: Good evening, I'm Lydia. You must be Orwell. May I have your permission to record our session today? And does Barry have permission to be present at this session?
O: Yes and yes.
LS: Orwell, can you tell me a little about yourself?
O: As with the Grecian dialogos, with dia through and logos speech, I am willing to open a dialogue with you. I am a man of literature and anthropological study, whose ideals align with those of Socrates in regards to the practiced theorum. You act as my veritable Aristophanes, to record our tryst of verbiage to and fro.
LS: Why, yes, quite a bit like that actually.
O: I must tell you how pleased I am to converse with one on a path of greater educational realization.
LS: Likewise, Orwell, I'm very pleased to meet you.
O: I suppose you venture to seek the purport of The Horde and their heinous ideologies.
LS: No, Orwell, I actually just want to talk with you and get to know you a bit more.
O: That comes as a surprise.
LS: Why is that?
O: Well unlike the more spoken of philosophers of Western history and the monotheistic religions it grew along with I'm rather akin to Eihei Dogen in my naturalized pattern of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline. Some call me verbose in my expression of practical application.
LS: Does that bother you?
O: Not in the sense that conventional society has displayed through social norms.
LS: But it does bother you?
O: Perhaps in the sense that my verbosity is an extension of the ideological policy I uphold and desire to supply to those that are endeared to me.
LS: Well if you ever would like to open a discourse, I plan on being available to you at your convenience.
O: What a most suitable opportunity to ingress upon your expertise.
LS: It was very nice to meet you, Orwell. I look forward to more sessions with you.
O: Adieu.

END TRANSCRIPT


Session 1: Jade
Lydia Salazar [LS], Jade [JD], Barry [B]
Non-Productive

LS: Hello Jade, may I have your permission to record?
JD: Sure. And yeah yeah, Barry's cool to be here.
LS: Thank you. I understand you're diabetic, is that right?
JD: [scoff] Sure, that would be the first thing you open with.
LS: Am I mistaken? I'm sorry if I've overstepped.
JD: Yeah I'm diabetic. I hate my insulin shots. That's part of the reason I don't take the Light very often, it sucks. So I'm pushed to the back a lot, just left to watch. 'Sides, we don't have a current prescription, because of...you know. Being wanted criminals and such?
LS: How old are you, if you don't mind me asking?
JD: I'm seventeen.
LS: So the same age then as--
B: Ah, yeah. She's seventeen.
LS: Ahh, I see.
JD: What? What's going on? Same age as who?
B: Don't worry about it babe. I'll tell you later.
JD: Psh, you won't tell me later Bear-Bear. Stop lying. But whatever. I still love your stupid ass.
LS: Are you and Barry close then?
JD: Yeah sure, you could say that. He's like a big brother. That's really dumb sometimes, especially when it comes to people he cares about.
LS: What do you mean?
JD: Well this is my session right? So I can talk about whatever I want to talk about?
LS: Yes, of course.
JD: Well then I want to talk to you about Casy, Bare.
B: Jade, this isn't campfire story time.
JD: No, now that you have to be around me, there's no way you can run. So we're going to talk about Casey, and you're going to stop being such a jerk.
B: Jade, that's really not a good idea.
[very long silence]
LS: Barry? Jade? Are you still with me? Does anyone have the Light right now?
[silence]
B: Sorry about that.
JD: Ugh. We're still talking about before with her, though. When you basically dumped her by being like, "I'm not a one-person guy." Like what does that even mean? Are you into, like, orgies or something? Or do you like to just sleep around? Or does it have som--
B: Aha. No. We're not talking about this.
LS: Alright, let's refocus--Jade, is there anything about you that you'd like to talk about?
JD: Nope. Just wanna talk about Barry and his emotional constipation. You're like, Dennis-ing this. Super disappointed.
LS: I think we can end this session for now, don't you think? We can pick up when--
JD: OH MY GOD BARRY just TELL HER YOU LOVE HER.
B: What the fuck Jade? You don't even know what you're talk--
LS: Okay, that's, alright--we--

END TRANSCRIPT


Session 1: Ansel
Lydia Salazar [LS], Ansel [A], Barry [B]
Productive
Declined to record.

Chapter Text

David is on the rooftops again, quickly and quietly tailing a group of people he knows are cultist members that are wearing plainclothes. They have with them one kid, looks to be about five years old, clinging to one of them like a lifeline. He suspects the kid doesn't know who he's clinging to, but that he's terrified and needs the close contact to calm himself.

The group dip into the warehouse district, and David has to continue ground-level. The snow's mostly melted but the slush its left in its wake is still present, and David hates this in-between for seasons; it's so much harder for him to remain unseen and unheard. That's made painfully apparent when one of the cultists stops and looks behind her, tapping a couple of the big guys on the shoulders for their attention.

"Hey, who's over there?" she calls. The rest of the cultists except for her and the two beefy guys keep walking with the kid in tow. "We have guns, so you better fuck right off."

Guns, eh? David's never been shot before; the last time he was almost shot it was by his own son over a decade or so ago.

As if to prove their point, there's the sound of a few guns cocking.

Well shit, this isn't in the playbook. None of the others he trailed had guns on them. But this may actually play out in his favor and turn out to mean he's getting closer to the root of all of these cultist groups. This lot seem serious, and David thinks it might be fun to find out just how serious.

There's a momentary debate that happens in his mind--he thinks back to when he fought The Beast (damn that was an incredible fight) and The Beast snagging his throat in its jaws. It clenched and shook him but the teeth didn't break skin at all, and he had no mark to show for the abuse afterwards. He thinks back to all of the cars he's stopped with just his body and how none of them seemed to inflict even a scratch on him.

But he also thinks to this morning, when he cut himself shaving.

Maybe it's the water.

Maybe so, but is he ballsy enough now to test out that theory? With a multitude of slushy snow piles around him?

Hell yeah, he is.

As he puts his hands up and reveals himself from behind a low wall, he thinks of the risks he's made over the course of the last few years that have saved lives and reunited broken families. He thinks about Beth, and Ryan, and the things that could have happened to them had he not taken the risk he did with the girl on fire.

This isn't the time for caution. There's a little boy they've run off with that has a tear-stained face and is clinging to a stranger in a desperate plea for comfort. No, caution needs to go fuck itself. Now is the time for risks.

"Holy shit, it's the Overseer," one of the beefy guys crows at him. His teeth, even from where David stands, look jank as fuck. "I thought legit you were an urban legend, hahah!"

"Do urban legends bleed though?" the other beefy guy asks. He has somewhat of a pornstache going on.

"Who the fuck cares, just shoot the motherfucker?" the girl suggests. None of them raise their guns. They look like CZ75 semi-automatics from where he is, but he can't be sure.

He gestures with his finger between them haltingly. "Are we--are we gonna do this? Or?"

"Shut the fuck up," Pornstache says. He finally raises his gun and aims it right at David. He looks over at his friends and his friends shrug.

"Dude, what if it's just some random civ?" Jankmouth asks.

"Ugh this is bullshit, you guys don't have any balls," the girl says, and she takes to steps in front of them, pulling up her gun swiftly and pulling the trigger right at David's chest. He's about ten feet away from her, and the bullet slams him back, the left side of his body vibrating with sensation. It hurts like a son of a bitch, and he takes a couple of steps back, then falls to one of his knees.

"Jesus fucking Christ Jane, what the hell, are you shitting me?!" comes from Jankmouth. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, we're so fucked!"

"What do you think we're going to do to that kid, throw him a fucking party? Grow some balls Chester!" Jane screeches at him.

David's hand instinctively flies up to the radiating pain of the left side of his chest, and as soon as he touches it his finger goes through the holes the bullet made through both his poncho and shirt. There's only solid flesh underneath. No blood, no tearing, not even an indentation. He rubs the area with his finger slowly, and it takes him back to Joseph pointing the gun at him over the breakfast table so many years ago. So he actually is bulletproof.

Well, that's good to know.

"Are, are you okay sir? I mean, shit, I apologize profusely for my friends," Chester babbles.

Jane has a huge screaming fit and turns very abruptly to face Chester, gun pointed right at his face. Without hesitation, David takes this opportunity and lunges at her mid-section--there's a couple of shots fired as he's in the air that come from Pornstache but both of them miss him as he takes Jane down. While he's on top of Jane on the ground, he grabs her gun and fires ahead of him into nothingness, very close to her right ear. He empties the clip as she's screaming and covering her ears with her hands.

Rolling off of her, he stays low, and without missing a beat, leaps at Pornstache's legs, wrapping his arms around them and bringing the big beefy man down as well. As Pornstache is falling, he's firing the gun into the air, unable to coordinate himself enough to turn it on David. David's counting--two shots, then seven into the air, and it should be empty, but he can't take any chances so as soon as Pornstache hits the ground he rolls off of him and snatches the gun from his right hand. He checks the chamber quickly--nothing, and he tosses the gun back onto Pornstache's head, which leaves him clutching it in pain.

He turns to Chester. "You too?"

Chester has his trigger finger off of the trigger and is raising his hands in the air above his head. "I just wanted some friends, man."

"You pick shitty friends." David puts his hand out expectantly and Chester immediately hands him his gun. David sees it's not even cocked. He cocks it and fires all of the rounds into the ground by Chester's feet, which makes the poor boy do some sort of dance as each bullet hits the ground. His hands are still up and once the clip is empty, Chester's pants suddenly blossom wet at the crotch.

"Aw," David says. "Really? This isn't your scene, kid. Go home, change your pants and ask your mom to make you some pizza rolls." Chester is running even before he finishes the sentence. Too bad.

He looks over at Jane, who is sobbing and clutching her ears on the ground. Pornstache is clutching his head, but seems much more coherent, so he crouches by him and snaps his fingers in his face to get his attention. "Hey. Hey, hey. Look at me. Yeah, there you go. Where'd they take the kid?"

"Warehouse Twenty-Four, man, warehouse Twenty-Four. There's a back entrance that has no lock and no one will be guarding it, they'll all be too wrapped up in the ritual to give a shit. Just go away, man."

"I can't leave yet," David says, "until you tell me what ritual they're performing and why."

"It's for The Horde, man," Pornstache whines. "We follow the hermetic ways of The Horde and Their theological belief that the innocent are the impure. We're gonna eat his fucking heart."

"That's fucked up," David says.

"Yeah well The fucking Crusades happened, so."

David doesn't have time to argue religious morality and genocide with Pornstache. He doesn't have time period. He picks the empty gun up from beside Pornstache and clips him across the face with it, knocking him out in case he chooses to make trouble for him later.

Not bothering with Jane, he breaks out into a sprint towards Warehouse Twenty-Four.

 


The rescue went pretty flawlessly

The rescue went pretty flawlessly. Run of the mill in-and-out job. See a cultist, punch a cultist, get shot by a cultist. That last one is new, and the more involved crimes he starts to get into, the more he's realizing the extent of the powers he has. He really only stuck to a lot of petty crimes and burglaries the last decade or so--that and tracking The Beast down on his off time. It's a shame he's only just now starting to get into this kind of pace.

But he couldn't earlier than this, not really. Joseph was small before, and he couldn't be away for too long, or he'd miss what was going on with him. He'd miss his son's life. Joseph had needed him.

Now that Joseph's grown, though, and has his own life, maybe David can start putting his powers to some real, life-changing use for people. He's really interested, too, in what he can do with them. He thinks of the fire girl, and the way she seemed just on the cusp of realizing her full potential. Confident, but arrogant. It's taken him this long just to see if he's bulletproof, let alone throwing his clothes off to expose his true prowess in front of an enemy.

Not that that's how it would go down. More low-key. Maybe just an ankle-show.

David is eating a taco with him. His name is Ethan, and he's six years old. He wants to be a teacher when he grows up. His favorite color is red, because it's the color of apples, and those are his favorite things in the world. David promises him an apple if he ever sees him again.

Ethan wants to know why only kids that are in trouble get to see The Overseer--he wants to see him all the time, it's not fair. David explains to him that only the people that really, really need him get to see him, and if he's gone a long, long time without seeing him then he'll be doing pretty good for himself.

That satisfies Ethan to some degree and he finishes his taco. It makes sense to him that when good people see The Overseer, they know only good can come next.

Ethan talks to him about starting school and the new friends he's made, and how he hates his teacher so far and that's why he wants to become one, so he can be a better one than she is to kids that need that sort of thing. Pretty forward thinking for a six-year-old. David tells him this and yes, Ethan knows, he's a very smart kid and his parents like to tell him that every day.

Once David drops Ethan off near the police station and makes sure he's securely inside, he retreats to a nearby three-ad billboard, each ad facing outward to form a triangle--and a comfy place for him to sit undisturbed while also being twenty feet off of the ground. Once he settles in to recover from the many beatings he's endured, he's alarmed to find thirty-three missed calls from Audrey. He punches in her speed dial immediately, and she answers, voice on the other end trembling with fear and rage.

"David, where have you been? You should have been here! Something awful has happened, where are you?"

"Calm down, Auds, what's wrong, what happened?" he says, attempting to bring her down from that keening, wailing screech she goes into when she's close to hysterical.

"David, Joseph, he-he--they said he threw a clot? He just passed out and started doing this--I don't know, he was unresponsive, I don't know. They rushed him into the operating room and they wanted you to sign some papers and give them decisions but you weren't here and-and I had to do it--I don't know, David, I had to sign all of these papers and you should have been here! Where were you?!"

Saving someone else's kid.

"Where is he now, is he okay?" David barks at her, trying to will her to calm down.

She sniffles. "I don't know, he's still in the operating room and no one's been by to tell me anything on what to do or how it's going. You should have been here."

He doesn't even bother hanging up. He can hear her continue her simultaneous raging and crying at him as he shoves his phone into his back pocket and starts to run, part-climbing part-sliding down the ladder that leads ground-level. He was busy. He was busy saving lives. He was busy being a hero. Being The Overseer.

Who is David kidding, he can't do this kind of shit. Finding out what more his body's capable of? While he still has people that depend on him? How stupid.

He has a son that's a grown adult, sure, but one that has been recovering from a spinal injury he wouldn't have gotten if David hadn't been playing hero to begin with. He should have just let The Beast go.

Joseph wouldn't have gotten close to Casey, who he only met because David, again, was looking for The Beast, playing hero. He should have just minded his own business.

David was playing hero when he kept looking for Casey after she ran off, and the longer the weeks stretched by without her, the more depressed Joseph got. He should have just given up and supported Joseph from home.

And now, while David plays hero again, Joseph is on the operating table (possibly too late) after throwing a clot whose symptoms may have been recognized if David was ever there for him to talk to.

You should have been here, her voice is buzzing in his head now. You should have been here.

Fuck.

 

Chapter Text

Life on the run involves a lot of discretion and the need to frequently go incognito. It requires great attention to detail and the knowledge of where cameras and prying eyes are at all times. A lot of times it also requires the scrambling of information, and the leaking of misinformation to just the right amount of sources. Appearances should be changed frequently to throw any trails off, and cash or prepaid cards should be used at all times.

Subtlety is prized above all else.

Which is why Dennis is furious with Barry as he races down the corridor, massive body pillow hooked under his arm, chasing Casey down. The motel they are staying in is a mid-level motel with very few outdoor cameras and none indoors, but the rooms all house entrances on the inside, so not that big of a problem for those that stay inside all day surfing the internet.

He turns the corner and she's nowhere in sight, which is confusing, because she was literally just right there.

"Ha, fucker!" Barry's head is smashed with a feather pillow and it's a hit and run, with her sliding past him having hidden in a vending machine alcove; she's running down the hall where he's just come from, taking huge leaps with her legs in a comical fashion.

Are you going to take that from her, really? Jade screeches. Get good, Barry! Jesus! You're making us lose! This is so embarrassing!

This is nonsense behavior and needs to stop immediately, Patricia states firmly.

Barry turns on his heels and begins to chase her again.

Damnit, Barry! Dennis exclaims.

HOLY MOLY GET HER MISTER BARRY! Hedwig crows.

There's an uproar of For and Against in his head as he slows to a stop in front of their room, already winded from the back and forth running as well as the mental fatigue of people fighting to share the Light with him, he hesitates.

Grab her when she runs past now, y'all know she's gonna leap out once we open that door, Luke reasons.

Oh shit, behind you dude! Jalen yelps.

Another smash on the head by a feathery weapon, but as Casey ducks underneath him he grabs her by the mid-section and lifts her in the air, twirling with her because of her momentum. She's squealing with the sudden snatch, her hair flying out behind them and her head rolling back against his chest, mouth uttering such a delighted little laugh. Barry is staring down at her and his chest burns with such a ferocity that he abruptly lets her go and she falls on her ass.

"Oof!" She's rubbing her butt (which, by the way, is clothed with nothing but boyshorts) and stares up at him in irritation. "Only soft weapons, what the hell?" Regardless, she's still smiling from ear to ear, and he takes his body pillow and smacks her right in the face with it. He does it so forcefully that it knocks her back onto the ground and Barry busts out into uncontrollable laughter as she's grabbing his ankle, trying to take him down with her.

He quickly opens their door and tries to shove it closed, but she's already pushing against it--Barry's stronger than her but damn she's a scrappy little thing and her arms are sticking through the gap in the door and flailing around manically. Barry's unable to hold in his bubbling laughter any longer, and he releases it, hold on the door loosening and allowing her to squeeze her entire body in through the gap.

"Are you made of ooze, because how the hell?"

"I'm double jointed," she explains, whacking him on the head again with her pillow.

"Okay, you know what, I'm going to end this right now," he says. "Dennis, I need your help ending this."

Her eyes grow stricken and her face is a mask of comical terror--Dennis steps into the Light and picks her up, hoisting her over his shoulder and very deftly dumping her onto the bed, where she proceeds to almost bounce off with the force of his throw. She screeches. Barry takes the Light back from Dennis and spreads his arms wide, towering over her on the bed, and as she rapidly vocalizes her objections to what he's about to do, he jumps high and hurtles towards her on the bed.

"EAGLE!" he yells.

She screams. He smooshes her beneath him and she's screaming and laughing and giggling and wriggling to try and free herself. Then Luke is sharing the Light with him and suddenly tickling her, and she's screeching like a mad woman.

Thud-thud-thud! "Shut up!" comes a muffled voice from the wall against the headboard.

They both freeze for a good solid twenty seconds, staring at the wall as though it's going to grow ten heads and start eating them alive, then they look at each other and start snickering very quietly. After a good long while the giggles die down, and he's still on top of her, looking down into her eyes, feeling calm and at peace. She feels the look he's giving her like a scorch mark against her skin, but she revels in it, and the length of his body against hers makes her heart thrum quickly in her throat.

Barry leans in, licking his lips, her breath caressing his face, and as he's dipping down to touch his lips to hers, he stops.

Luke is still sharing the Light with him. In fact, Luke is still sharing the body with him. He pulls back from her, and she takes this as a rejection. Her eyes flit away and she rolls out from under him, padding over to the laptop and sitting down at it to check her email.

"Thanks, babe," Barry whispers under his breath to Luke, sarcasm dripping like acid.

Hey, she's a pretty little thing, it's hard not to.

He doesn't blame Luke too much after that statement. He's not wrong. Barry sighs.

"Babygirl," he says, sitting up on the bed and crossing his legs. "We need to talk."

Oh my god oh my god oh my god it's happening, rambles Jade.

Shhh.

Casey glances over her shoulder at him while she's typing and then goes back to focusing on the laptop. "Mhm? What's up?"

"Come sit by me, sugar." Barry pats the space in front of him.

Casey herself sighs, and her shoulders slump as she clicks the laptop screen down. She turns to face him, still sitting in her chair, crossing her arms and tilting her head. "Barry, is this about us in more than a platonic sense? Because I'm tired of being reminded that you're right there, just out of my reach."

Wow, she doesn't use lube. Went straight for the jugular. It stings, but Barry figures he deserves it, and his own arms cross as they are facing each other but looking at everything else but.

"Yeah," he puffs out. "It sure does involve talking about us like that."

"So? What is it? How can I bleed for you today?" She has an attitude about it, which is understandable.

He's suddenly very anxious talking about this subject with her, and he can feel himself receding but claws his way back to the Light. His heart is beating fast and he can feel it pounding in his head--is this a panic attack he's having? Over a conversation? How strange. Isn't he supposed to be the one that takes on outside emotions to regulate it for the system? Why is he all of a sudden feeling trapped and closed in--why is he beginning to sweat like this?

Fuckin' calm yo'self bro, Jalen says.

He takes a deep breath and steadies himself. He's never felt this way before with other "serious" relationships. Probably because he knew, in the end, it wouldn't work out. So it was safe. It was safe to feel the way he did for them, because it wouldn't last. But this, this feels so real that it grips him by the soul and shakes him like a rag doll. And Casey loves all of him--all of Them, and accepts Them as a whole, and not just as parts. This is real, and she could be forever, and that simultaneously thrills and terrifies him.

"I like you a lot," he begins. He looks at her, but she's still looking away. His eyes fall to the bed. "I'm not usually...like this, babygirl. Where I don't know what to say. I'm always ready with a quip or a lash of the tongue, but with you it's like you hold me by the neck and close up my throat with all the things I want to say but can't seem to."

Puzzled, she finally looks at him, moving from her chair to the very edge of the bed, waiting.

"It's like I'm here, you know. Just here. And you, you're everywhere. And it's so big, I feel like Kat, and want to just force myself in a little box until it stops being so...beyond my control."

"What's beyond your control?" she asks curiously. She adjusts herself a little closer to him, crossing her legs, a good three or four feet between them.

"The way I feel about you," he answers.

This doesn't really sound like Barry, and for a moment she wonders if it's someone else that has the Light. She's looking straight into his eyes, and he looks like Barry, and sounds like Barry, and has Barry mannerisms, but this nervousness is so unlike him that she doesn't know what to think.

"Barry, you know that I'm not scary, right?" she asks. She closes the distance between them by a foot or so. "I'm just me, and I don't bite, and I'm not going anywhere."

"For now," Barry says suddenly. It comes out of his mouth so quickly that he thinks for a minute that someone else said it, but no. All him. "I mean...shit happens, you know. And you're just..." He struggles to find words again. "You're such a...rose petal. Floating in deep waters. I need to be careful when I touch you, because if I'm not, I'll lose grip and fall all the way into you...and drown."

She's right in front of him now, their knees touching, their arms still crossed at each other, both staring at the very interesting patterns on the bedspread.

"What's so wrong about drowning?" she asks. "There's a peace when you stop struggling against it."

They share a silence after that remark.

Barry doesn't know it but his chest has been aching since their knees touched, and he looks up to stare at her. She meets his gaze. They stay like that for a long time until a single tear falls from Barry's left eye.

He quickly wipes his face, cheeks red, and goes to move away from her--but she stops him, her hands coming up to grab his arm.

"Don't," she says. "Please. Stay."

He stops, looks at her again, and another tear slides down, falling against the front of his shirt.

"Oh, Bare." Her hand comes up to the side of his face and she keeps it there, looking up at him. Her thumb wipes the tear streak away. "I can't even imagine the kind of emotional pain you've had to endure for Everyone. It's okay now. You don't have to carry it all alone. I'm here. I'm never going to leave you." She pauses. "I would honestly die first than leave any of you."

Her lips, her eyes, her flawless face, her heart--he can't take the pressure building up in his throat and he grabs her, kissing her full on the mouth. She kisses back, getting onto her knees while he wraps his arms around her stomach and cranes his neck up towards her. She forces her way between his legs to mold closer into him.

The kiss is hungry and deep, but he breaks it, holding her flush against him and placing his forehead against her chest. He can her her heart as he looks to the side and presses his ear against her, and he's almost brought to tears again at how that one sound can make someone like Casey Cooke exist in his life.

She lifts his head up with a  hand to his chin, her eyes locking onto his solidly, the blue depth of them enough to hurt her soul.

"I love you, Barry," she whispers. "I won't ever stop."

And he breaks inside, all shattered glass and ripped velvet.

They have sex, slow and hot and beautiful in its blissful agony.

 

Chapter Text

He's shaking and cold, and his body feels almost like molasses has been poured over it and left to dry. Where is he? What's happened? Everything feels so hollow and empty--he is alone, but in more ways than he can attempt to fathom. It's such a startling feeling, that aloneness. He didn't know how ravaging--how violent--loneliness could feel until now. He could swear it's never felt like this.

He gets to his feet; the floor is slick and he nearly slips, but he catches himself on the edge of a nearby table. He looks down at his hands and they are visibly trembling--what's that? Blood? Is there blood on his hands? Velvety and red, and so fresh that when he puts his hands out, little droplets fall from his fingertips. He's in a kitchen, he thinks; there are pots and pans hanging above an island with a sink in the middle of the room.

The floor is dark, so he can't be sure what the slickness on it is--but he can venture a guess that it's what's on him as well. God, he just cannot stop shaking, however hard he tries. He's wearing sweats, and they are light grey, patches of dark red soaking through them and making the fabric stick to his legs. He is barefoot.

There's a window to his left, and he determines that it's night time, although whether it's late or so late it's early, he can't tell. There's a taste in his mouth that he can't rid himself of--he's spitting and running his tongue along the roof of his mouth to try. Of course it tastes like copper, but there's a deeper, richer taste mixed in as well, and he doesn't want to think about it too hard.

Where has it all come from? He decides to just face the music--it's blood, it's all blood, and he wants to know what could produce so much blood that there's literal puddles of it on the ground around him.

He's never woken up like this before. So nubile, so afraid, so alone. He begins to make his way to the open archway of the kitchen, taking care not to slip and fall as he goes. He holds the frame of the archway with his bloody hand as he peers into the darkness. It's a hallway, and to the left, a staircase. On the floor, there seem to be drag marks traveling through the blood, making their way to the stairs and ascending.

There's also a noise. Tuh-thud. Tuh-thud. His ears pick it up and it's directly above him. There's another noise that accompanies it--it's a sort of reeling, whistling noise that sounds like a soft, desperate whistle.

He walks to the stairs and takes the first step.

Tuh-thud. Tuh-thud. Screeee! Tuh-thud. Screeee!

He continues to climb, bloody hand on the railing, sliding it up the wood as he goes. At the top, he looks left and right; to his right is a dead end with an open curtained window, and to his left is a hallway with three doors. The farthest door is slightly cracked open, and that's where the bloody drag marks lead. There is a breeze that comes in through the window to his right, and it stirs the curtains just enough to throw odd shadows against the hallway walls.

He continues forward towards the door that's ajar.

Tuh-thud. Screeee!

His heart is beating out of his chest as he gets closer, the noises getting louder and more pronounced. The thudding sounds wet and squelchy, and the whistle has a rasp to it, as though the source is being blocked by something soft.

Tuh-thud. ScrEeEE. ScrEeEE.

He pushes the the door open very lightly, and it creaks open without much effort. The moonlight cascades through a large window in this room, and his eyes have a bit of time adjusting, but he can see the source of the noises immediately in the corner of the room and his stomach lurches, vomit spewing violently out of his mouth and against the doorjamb. He tries to hold it in by putting a hand to his mouth but it's too late and now it's dripping everywhere and on everything.

Tuh-thud. Tuh-thud! ScrEeEE.

In the corner of the room is a body.

Well, mostly half of a body. It has no legs; they've been severed near the pubic bone, and as it's rolling around trying to gain traction on the ground--as she is trying to gain traction on the ground--the open orifices that were once her legs ooze and dribble blood onto the floor. Her arms have for the most part been ripped apart from the shoulder save for her right arm, where it's been ripped apart from the elbow, and she's using this stump on her body to paw at the wall, trying to right her body into a sitting position.

Tuh-thud. Tuh-thud.

Her hair is stringy with blood, face indiscernible from it with how caked both are, and her jaw...her jaw is lopped clean off, exposing her lolling tongue and the roof of her mouth as she attempts to scream through a useless throat. She's not wearing clothes, and how he discovers she is a woman to begin with.

ScrEeEE!

He--he can't take this. He can't. He needs to go. He needs someone to be here, anyone to be here, anyone but him, because this is nightmare fuel and he just can't. His breaths are heaving and he's falling to his hands and knees in the blood path she created for herself and his hand is touching a part of sinew she left behind in her wake--it's all too much, all too raw, all too--Who's done this? Oh god, what's done this? Created this monstrosity and allowed it to suffer into continued existence? How could this be, how is she still alive, how--

Please! Someone! Anyone! His mind is scrambling for a foothold onto reality but thankfully, mercifully, he's gone; someone else is there, someone that knows how to deal with this shit and enjoys doing it.

He stands.

"Why look at ye," he coos, approaching her and squatting. "What a bonnie sight ye are. So red and open and alive. This is my pet's doing, aye? What a talented wee one he is, to keep ye so fresh and conscious for me as he plays with his food."

He reaches out and tucks a long lock of sticky hair behind one of her ears, and they are glassy with pain and suffering. Her tongue is twitching and her throat is wheezing as she tries to say something, but of course she is wordless. He sits down on the floor and crosses his legs, watching her agony. It fills some deep hole within him, and he feels complete as he does.

This. This is catharsis. He reaches out to caress her bloody cheekbone, as the cheek itself is a tattered mess, and she wheezes in a panic. He marvels at her; how could this pathetic thing still be alive? It must be through the graces of The Beast that she's still holding on to her light.

"Shh-shh-shh," he murmurs. "It's going to be alright. I'm here now. And we'll get through this, slowly, together." He smiles at her, a sinister glow in his eyes.


Barry knows that Ansel thinks he is singular. He's barely aware of Barry, and thinks that Barry is his conscience when they speak with each other or share the Light. Ansel is a gentle, intelligent soul, almost waif-like in the mindspace, a huge romantic and a hopeful daydreamer. He and Polly interact the most, and when they do, Ansel believes the interactions to be memories rather than current happenings. He is usually dormant, and when he takes the Light, it's only for brief moments to get errands done that he enjoys but would otherwise be mundane to Others.

Today, however, is an anomaly. Today, The Beast left the Light, and Ansel was thrown into it while The Beast's influence--likely unintentionally--kept the Light hidden from everyone else. The poor man barely had enough time to hold the Light before he came crawling back out of it like a demon pulling itself out of hell. Barry only knows this because Dennis described it as such, and while Barry dreads facing the fact that they have even more killings under his belt, his main priority right now is the stability of the system.

Ansel has been almost catatonic for who knows how long; Dennis is holding the Light now and no one knows yet how much time was lost. Barry is pacing slowly back and forth in front of Ansel's chair while Ansel stares straight ahead, deep within himself. Eventually, he begins to shake, almost uncontrollably, and Barry stops to stand directly in front of his line of sight.

Ansel? Babe? You ok? Barry waves a hand in front of his face and Ansel looks up at him as though he's woken up from a dream.

Hello, Ansel says. There's blood in the upper corridors. Barry says nothing. I went to go see, and the window is open. Someone ought to close that.

Just a dream, Barry says. Just a really bad dream.

Was it? There's a confused pause. But...it felt so real.

No, just a dream. You're safe, you've been safe the whole time.

What a terrible, terrible dream. Ansel seems to look through him instead of at him. There was so much blood. And the woman...she was still alive. Still breathing. But she had no legs, no arms. Her jaw was gone. I vomited. She was still alive. Who could live through that? Ansel's eyes refocus on Barry again, genuinely seeing him for possibly the first time since coming back from his mute state. She was still alive.

A deep pit of horror forms in his stomach from the empathy he feels for Ansel, but a growing twinge of thought occurs in the back of Barry's mind. That doesn't sound like The Beast at all, to torture then leave its victims alive after feasting. Something is off, but he can't put his finger on it, and it's bothering him like a tickle in the back of his throat.

He'll have to come back to that tickle later. For now, Ansel looks like he'll pull through without too much existential damage--which is a relief to Barry.


Her hand slides underneath soft sheets, seeking out the warmth of his skin. When it lands on nothing, Casey's eyes open slowly, blearily, to realize that Barry is no longer beside her on the bed. She turns her head towards the rest of the room and sees no one. The moon spills onto the floor, casting an ethereal glow into the room that makes Casey want to close her eyes again and slip back into sleep.

No.

Where could They be? She sits up, letting a small yawn escape her lips. It's well past midnight and she rises from the bed, taking the sheets with her and draping them upon her bare shoulders. She makes her way to the window; they are on the second floor, overlooking the pool on the ground-level. It gleams a ghostly green out in the otherwise night-coated scenery, but there is no one in sight as her eyes scour the moonlit darkness.

She reaches out for her phone and looks at it--no messages. She looks over at the laptop--no post-it note to let her know he's gone somewhere. It's unlike Them to disappear on her without notice like this. A tiny chill crawls up Casey's spine, and she wraps the sheets around her tightly.

Drawing the curtains to the windows closed, she sits in front of the laptop and powers it on. She checks her email to see if she's missed anything from anyone--more prominently, Barry--but nothing there, either.

There are several video files saved to the desktop with varying naming conventions, and she wonders briefly what these are before remembering that They started recording video diaries again. Irritated with the clutter and feeling like Dennis, she makes a folder on the desktop to put them all into, and watches the first three seconds of each video to see whose it is so that she may give them proper naming conventions. It's just computer document etiquette.

She tells herself it's not snooping if it takes longer than three seconds; Hedwig's makes her smile because he is literally just video taping his Hotwheels cars right in front of the laptop camera to make them look like very large, life-size version of cars. He has a dialogue going that suggests a James Bond-type scenario going on in the background.

She finishes up with Dennis' entry, which surprises her, as the video journals are not mandatory and she would not have marked him as someone who would participate unless asked to.

In the video, he's about as laid back in the chair as someone like Dennis can get; his arms are crossed against his chest, making the fabric of his button-up pull taught against both shoulders. She is mesmerized by those shoulders, and finds herself starting to throb in places she'd rather not while naked and sitting upon the same chair he had been sitting on, recording this only hours earlier (according to the date and time in the video).

There is silence as it records, and she's holding her breath, but when he just stares at the camera she goes to close the file. Of course he'd just stare at it in disdain, it's a classic Dennis move. Right before she clicks it closed, though, he begins to talk, and a part of her is willing her to close it anyway; this isn't her business, these are Their journals, and this is an invasion of Their privacy. But the first word out of Dennis' mouth is her name, and her mouse cursor hovers over the tiny "x", but her finger lifts from the mouse button.

"Casey," Dennis says on screen, his face showing the struggle he seems to be going through to make sense of his thoughts. "She's, she's a distraction. She..." He pauses, pulling his bottom lip into his mouth and running the tip of his tongue along it. "She spins me around." Another pause here as he looks away from the camera and begins to chew on his bottom lip. His eyes flit back to the screen. "I can't see straight, when I'm around her. I can't focus. I can't think. She--"

His hand comes up to gesture at his face, then taps his temple. "She muddles everything up. In here." He goes back to chewing on his lip, eyes averted again in contemplation. "She's so small, and, and light, and her skin looks..." He adjusts himself on the chair, rubbing his hand down his face below his glasses, then brushing it through his short hair and resting it at the back of his head. His eyes meet the camera again, and it feels like he's looking right at her.

"I have these--these thoughts, you know. Dr. Fletcher used to call 'em Intrusive Thoughts. I-I wish she was..." He sucks on his bottom teeth and looks away. "She was a good woman. I liked her a lot. She didn't have to go the way she did." Silence. Then, "See Casey is, she's always in my headspace. Always just right there, like some--like some sorta ghost, haunting me, mocking me, like she can see the thoughts in my mind." A much longer silence here, while he processes those exact thoughts. Then his eyes flicker over to the camera again, gaze intense and blue eyes rock hard.

"It's frustrating." And his hand quickly comes up to turn the webcam off.

Casey just stares at the black end screen of the video. She feels like she' stepped into a room where Dennis is vulnerable and naked, and while he can't see her, she can see him, and the violation of intimacy in that imagery drives her face flush with embarrassment. It also excites her in a deep, carnal part of her mind, to know that he's always thinking about her. That she affects him as much as she does. That he gets distracted and can't focus because of the thought of her. It makes her feel special, and for some reason with regards to Dennis, this arouses the fuck out of her.

She exits the video and puts it in the folder with the rest of them, then snaps the laptop closed as though it's some sort of snake that will leap out and strike if not dealt with immediately. Glancing down at her phone, she pulls their chat open, typing.

 

Where are you? I'm worried. Please text.

A reply comes back almost instantly, as though he's been sitting on the chat page thinking of what to say to her.

 

Just taking care of a few things. Be back soon.

She stares at the text for a moment, then closes the chat. Getting up, she takes the phone with her and lays back down on the bed, clutching it to her chest and thinking about Dennis' video.

 

Chapter Text

Patricia is sharing the Light with Dennis. She looks over her shoulder and sees Barry speaking with Ansel, and then looks at Dennis expectantly. I’m sure you’re aware that we need to have a bit of a talk, she says to him.

Yes, Dennis is aware. He’s not thrilled that she’s chosen now to do this, as he’s showering gore and blood off of himself, but Patricia has always had a knack for questionable timing. He shields the light from the rest except for her, waiting for her to continue.

Many of Us have been losing time, Dennis, including, alarmingly, myself. She tilts her head, raising her eyebrows in question—a snake ready to strike should the need arise. Is there some reason I must be kept from the feasting of The Beast?

He’s…different, Dennis tries to explain. The Beast is changed. He’s…beholden.

She frowns. That’s nonsense. What are you talking about? Beholden to whom?

I can’t say, Patricia. It-it’s really not my place to say.

Dennis. Her voice is sweet and endearing, but Dennis knows better. You know what he is capable of. You’ve seen the battle between him and The Overseer. You know now, above all else, that The Beast is real in his strength and ability. We were right! Now you tell me he’s changed?

He can still do the things we always knew he was capable of, he’s just…look, Trisha, it’s not something I know how to explain. I would try to if I could, but I don’t understand it myself. How can I tell you if I don’t know how to explain it?

Patricia is silent. Then, I suggest you learn how to explain it, and quickly. These gruesome acts of violence are not how we’ve upheld The Beast’s ideologies.

Dennis is shocked. You’ve—you seen them? The murders? They’re not sacrifices anymore Trisha, they’re just outright murders.

No, I’ve not seen them, Patricia admits. But I do know what poor Hedwig has been spouting about excitedly to Everyone, and from the sound of it, it’s not something someone like him should be privy to.

Dennis nods, feeling the heat of the shower on his back start turning cool. He adjusts the temperature further to endure the scalding hot again.

If it’s bad enough, dear, that it’s causing you to break down and begin experiencing these extreme episodes of yours that you’ve been having, then it’s not something anyone should be privy to. Patricia has taken hold of Their right hand and has placed it up to caress Dennis on the face. He’s shaking, trying not to rub his skin raw with the soap. The body is just in the other room and died long after it should have, and Dennis wants to clean it so badly but has been told it needs to stay as it is.

As for the girl. He keeps very still as Patricia talks. She’ll need to drastically change her appearance if we’re all to remain hidden. I think a haircut is in order and long-overdue, don’t you? 

Not her hair. Not her long, beautiful, easily grabbable hair atop her delicate, flawless, easily fuckable face.

What a shame.


 

It’s actually not long before They come back after she lays back in bed. She hears the keycard beep and then he’s inside the room, placing his wallet neatly down on the side table, and a bag of what seem to be hair supplies next to it. He removes his shoes and places them neatly by the door, and pauses at the mirrored closet by it to adjust his collar.

Dennis.

Suddenly very aware that she’s still naked, she wraps the sheets around her while she lies on the bed. It looks like he bought new clothes to wear while he was out, which isn’t unusual, but the fact that there was no note or notice about it is.

“Hi.” She sits up, arms at her chest holding up the clinging sheets. He doesn’t look over or answer, walking over to the laptop and taking the chair at the desk. He swings it around to precisely face the bed, gestures to it, and says, “It’s time to cut your hair.” He walks over to the bag by his wallet and begins to take things out of it.

Time to cut her hair? She doesn’t know how she feels about that. On one hand, it’s her fucking hair, and how dare he determine what she should or should not do with it. On the other hand, it would definitely disguise her a lot more than a hat and some shades would. Deciding that she sides with the latter argument more, she stands with the sheets covering her and begins to collect her clothes from the floor.

“Don’t bother,” Dennis says.

She freezes mid-bend, then looks up at him. What does he mean “don’t bother”? Does he expect her to sit at the chair naked so he can fuck her with his eyes like he usually does (not that she ever complains, and in fact desires it, craves it). This isn’t exactly the best time to have an eye-fucking, either, especially after she just told Barry she loves him. It doesn’t feel right to have anything to do with Dennis after those words. It was one thing for Dennis to fuck her while she was drunk and Barry watched, but another thing for him to stare at her naked body after she declared her love for another man.

“Are you finished being obstinate about this?” Dennis asks, seeing her train of thought reflected on her face. “You sit here, drape the sheets around you so part of them cover the floor. Should make cleanup easier for me.”

Oh.

She pads over to the chair and sits, spreading the sheets around her like some sort of makeshift evening gown. The sound of it fluttering around her drowns out the sound of her quickly beating heart. She slips her long hair out of the sheet and lays it flat against her back. He comes around her with a comb and a mini spray bottle, and Casey is secretly tickled at how prepared he came.

He runs the comb through her hair gently, working out any tangles with the finesse of someone that is naturally meticulous. His hands on her, even if not skin-to-skin, send small tingles down her spine. She vaguely remembers those very hands wrapping themselves around her hair, anchoring her to him, and her face grows hot.

He begins to spray her hair down. The first spritz surprises her, the mist surrounding her and creating small dots of water along her eyelashes. She blinks them away. Once he’s done combing her wet hair through, there’s a moment of inactivity, and then his finger is tracing the curvature of her neck before pulling back as though she has become too hot to touch. Her eyes close at the touch, breath catching in her throat.

The scissors begin to snip. Each cut is slow and agonizing, as though he is having a hard time parting with every lock. As they fall to the floor, they make a soft sound like the period at the end of a sentence, the rest of her hair passage upon passage of poetry he wants to savor in his hands.

The sheet falls off of her shoulder, exposing the soft, pale flesh of it, and Dennis waits for an intrusive thought to come racing into his mind as he holds the scissors in his right hand…but nothing comes. He is perplexed, but looks at what’s left of her hair. She has a long lock he still needs to attend to, but he’s been saving it, reluctant to let it go.

Reaching out for it, it naturally curls against his fingertips, and he brings it up to touch his lips. It’s soft, intricate, wet, perfect. While he holds it to his mouth, his hand comes up and clips it off, and it flutters down to touch the length of his bare arm. He wraps his hand full around it, and squeezes it hard, before releasing it and letting it fall to the ground with a soft pwsh.

The back of her neck is bare now. He touches the curve of her spine that marks the base of her neck and trails his fingers up, allowing them to slip in through her short tresses. She leans into him, maybe subconsciously, but it makes him hard, and he slowly closes his hand into a firm fist around her hair, tilting her head to the side to expose the line of her soft neck.

He brings the scissors up to the curve of it, and he can feel her trembling underneath it, which excites him further. He rests the flat of it against her neck, and he can see it move up and down with the force of her pulse.

Oh god.

He immediately lets her hair go, willing his erection down.

Be good.

As he takes the scissors from her neck, Casey finally begins to breathe again. She felt a familiar spike of fear that she’s always related with The Beast when he placed it against her jugular, but the feeling was accompanied by a sweet, delicious taste in her mouth, and the thought of it being desirable to her made her want to gag for a second.

“Casey,” he suddenly finds himself saying, her name like poison on his lips.

“Dennis,” she whispers, staring straight ahead at the bed, his name on her lips like wine.

There’s quite a long pause, and then Barry is talking. “Hey babygirl.” He stands over her shoulder and then curls into her, kissing her firmly on the lips, his bright blue eyes looking into her hazel ones. “So I guess we’re cutting your hair, huh? It’s cute. Not bad, but I bet I can make it cuter.”

Coward, Casey thinks at Dennis in her head. She smiles at Barry and pecks him on the lips. “I knew you’d save me,” she says.

“Oh hey, looks like Dennis bought some hair dye, too,” she hears from behind her. “Pfft, no. We’re not dying your hair this color. Oh good he bought a few colors.”

Barry comes around and shows her one of the boxes—it is a light brown with a highlight kit. “What do you think? I think it’d make your eye color pop and be even more gorgeous.”

“Perfect,” she says.


 

Her hair really is cute—a light brown color with bleached-blonde highlights that’s cut into a short, stacked sort of messy bob. When she puts a baseball cap on, two long locks of blond frame her face on either side, and she does think someone would have to be looking very hard at her if looking for her to know who she is.

She’s picking up some stuff to cook up in their tiny kitchenette when she sees the little girl. She’s close to the grocery store entrance, and there’s a very large man in a hoodie that’s talking with her, crouched low so that she won’t feel too intimidated by him. Casey knows the body language exchanged between them; being a victim herself and living with her aggressor for over a decade has caused her to be finely attuned to the postures.

She pays for her bag of groceries and doesn’t take her eyes off of the two of them, even bumping into a few people as she makes her way towards them.

Then he’s taking her hand and they’re leaving the grocery store.

“Hey!” Casey calls. Her eyes dart around, hoping to land on someone, anyone, that seems to be looking for the girl, but no one that looks alarmed is in sight and she stares at the spot they just were for three seconds before venturing out the door to go after them.

It takes her a moment to relocate them but there they are, rounding the corner of the store headed towards the loading area. Casey is half-jogging half-walking towards the corner they disappeared behind, and then there’s a van that’s stopping right in front of her before she makes the turn.

She skids to a stop, staring at the tinted windows, and she begins to back up while simultaneously looking for the little girl to her right. She can see her kicking and flailing in the large man’s arms—he honestly looks like he could be a linebacker—before she trips on her own feet and falls back, groceries sprawling everywhere.

As this happens, the van doors open up, and three men in suits exit. Two of them take the girl from the linebacker and one of them begins to walk towards her. It’s the middle of the day, but this doesn’t stop him from whipping a gun out at her and gesturing towards the open door of the van. She looks around, but there’s no one in the parking lot but them. Of course.

Casey looks down at the ground, pretending to struggle with getting to her feet, and slips her hand into her jacket to press the assigned button on her phone that connects to her Panic app. It should send a signal over to Barry to let him know something’s wrong. Before she can do much else, she is being hauled to her feet and walked to the van.

She willingly goes with him until he lets his guard down while she’s at the opening, and then she lashes a foot out at the crook of his leg, making him stumble and fall, gun clattering out of his hand. She dives for it, but she’s too slow; one of the others has already gotten to it first, and a backhand from him sends stars streaking through her vision. She’s on the ground, and her phone is being smashed by someone’s foot, and she’s struggling to breathe as someone is bringing her to her feet by her neck.

“Should have minded your own business,” she hears a hissing in her ear, “now you’re going to be food.”

She’s tossed into the van and once her back slams against the inside of it, she lunges forward but the door whips closed in her face. She tries the door handle but no luck, so she starts banging on the window.

“Let me out of here you fucks!” she screams. “Let me out! Hey!”

“They won’t listen to you.” Startled, the tiny voice calls her attention back to the inside of the van, where the little girl is sitting on the floor cross-legged beside an equally as little boy. There are no seats back here; it’s been hollowed out, and Casey tries the rear door but that won’t open either.

Pounding her fist a few more futile times at the window, she sits down beside the two kids and draws her knees up to her chest. She still has her pepper spray, but her pocket knife seems to have fallen out of her pocket along with her phone, and she rests her head against the wall of the van as it begins to move.

“What are they going to do?” the little girl asks.

The little boy looks at her and starts crying. “They’re going to eat us, I heard one of them say so.”

“Hey, shh, shh,” Casey says softly. “They’re not going to eat us. What are your names?”

“Angela,” the little girl says.

“Jace,” the boy says.

“Well I’m Casey, and I’m not going to let anyone eat anyone else, you hear me?” She sounds so convincing, and they both nod emphatically. Casey wishes she could actually convince herself of the same.

The front of the van has three seats in it, and is separated from the back by one of those police grates. One of the kidnappers squeezes three pieces of cloth through the grates and points a gun at Casey. “Put those on, yeah?” He sounds British.

Casey just stares at him defiantly. He then points the gun at the kids, and Casey blinks, crawls over and picks the three pieces up. They’re large, black, drawstring bags that she assumes will serve as their head covers. She sits back where the kids are and hands one to each of them. Her eyes flicker to the Brit and he waggles his gun at them, so she looks at the kids and carefully nods her head. They place it on theirs and Casey helps them tie the drawstring loosely around their necks.

“It’s okay,” she keeps whispering as she does this amid their sniffling. “It’s okay, it’s okay.”

She goes to put hers on but the Brit makes a noise at her, and she looks to see that he’s holding zip ties through the grate. “Go on, then.” She takes them from him and zipties the kids’ hands together loosely, then as she goes to ziptie herself, he says, “Two of them, yeah? One on each wrist, linked in the middle.”

She pauses, looking at him with her large, accusatory eyes, and does as she’s told, tightening both ties on herself by pulling on the ends with her teeth.

“Tighter, I want to see them dig into your fucking wrists,” he spits. He hits the barrel of the gun at the grate to emphasize his point. She complies, and when he nods to her drawstring bag, she places it over her head without much difficulty and pulls the drawstring around her neck. The inside is completely dark, but breathable, and it gives her a bit of peace of mind for the two children. At the very least they’re not suffocating.

In the darkness, though, her breathing does begin to catch in her throat. She waits for a bit, and her arms start breaking out into a sweat, confirming to her that she’s going to start having a panic attack soon if she doesn’t get herself together. How the fuck is she going to get out of this mess? She’s literally been on the run and she gets captured by two-bit thugs that want to eat little kids? How does that happen? This is like the first time, where she just lay down and—

Realizing she’s not helping herself, and that her breathing has picked up and the back of her neck feels like it’s on fire, she clenches and unclenches her bound hands, feeling them start to tremble and get clammy.

At least her vision is fine, though she has no doubt that if the head cover were to be removed her peripheral vision would be blacking out on either side of her head.

This is just like the first time, the first time where Dennis—

Dennis.

The Beast.

Somewhere deep in her mind she couldn’t deny the connection to The Beast. How she found them at the cabin, how she escaped from the Abington house unscathed. Maybe now it’s time to find out if it works the other way around.

This thought for some reason grounds her, and her breathing slows a bit.

Though there’s no need to, she closes her eyes, and links—

—put your hands together in contrition—

—her hands together tightly, trying to focus. She can hear Angela and Jace sniffling beside her, but she drowns them out, she drowns out the noise of the van engine and the wind that passes over and under the vehicle.

Find me, she thinks at him. Find me.

She focuses on the beating of her heart, and she doesn’t know what she should be thinking about but she thinks really hard about The Beast and the way The Beast smells—all dirt and sweat and danger. The way his hand felt on her that day in the forest, and the way she was able to use, in a very basic way, his senses as she ran through it. His presence underneath the cabin, dark and ominous and breathing in her scent.

Find me.

She does this for a good fifteen minutes, but there’s no indication it’s even reaching him. Or that it even works. There is no miraculous lightening bolt that thunders down from the sky. She doesn’t expect there to be one. It has, however, immensely helped her with the baby beginnings of her panic attack, and she—

BAM!

It feels like the van is hit by a massive stag. She tucks herself and rolls to the other side, slamming her right shoulder—the one she dislocated when Joseph pushed her out of the way of the lamp post so many months ago—against the door, and a shock of pain snakes down her arm. Despite this, she rips her head cover off and looks immediately for the kids. They’ve both slammed into each other and are crying but otherwise look unbroken.

“Jace, Jace, Angela, it’s ok I’m here, it’s ok,” she says, getting to her knees and scooting closer to the both of them. She slings her bound hands over them, encasing them in a protective hug, and they cling to her as though they are hanging off of a very high ledge. Her shoulder stings but it’s mobile.

Now that they’re more or less safe, what the fuck is happening out there?

“Holy fuck!” she hears from the front of the van. The Brit is rolling his window down and flailing his gun around and shooting it once, twice, before he gets back in and yells at his friends to drive. Casey can’t see anything from where she is on the floor so she just holds on to the kids and buries her head against the two of them.

A part of her, though…

Find me.

A part of her really wants these fuckheads to get what she hopes is coming.

 

Chapter Text

The second the Panic app trills, Barry grabs the phone and stares at it in shock.

Move!

He jerks at Dennis' voice and grabs his jacket, running out the door and down the hallway. The app's GPS states she was last at the grocery store—that's a five-minute walk from where they are staying, but he runs it in less than one. It’s a store they’ve frequented before without problem, but he’s kicking himself for letting her go alone.

He scours the store for her, and when he’s unable to find her, he asks someone at the front registers if they’ve seen a girl with her description. When he comes up empty he leaves the store and his eyes rake through the parking lot, searching for anything to point him in the right direction.

Nothing.

He throws his hands up in frustration, the feeling of helplessness seeping into him like cold water.

Hey look. It’s Jade’s voice.

He glances over to the right and over by the corner of the loading dock are downed groceries; shattered eggs and smeared bread lie forlornly on the concrete. He rushes over to the scene and notices Casey's pocket knife and phone scattered against the mess, the latter smashed to pieces. He has to fight against himself not to panic, placing his hands on his head and searching the parking lot again for any trace of a clue.

Give me the Light. Dennis doesn't have to ask or inform; he's able to push Barry aside whenever he wants, but Barry is glad for the courtesy. Dennis takes the Light and straightens his shirt cuffs, smooths down his hair, and wipes his hands down with his washcloth. He's calm and collected as he does this, but his mind is racing, Intrusive Thoughts bombarding him with thoughts of Casey being impaled or tortured or eaten by ravenous beasts.

The Beast.

Dennis looks around. He'll need to find cover. He turns the corner to walk against the side of the building and onto the loading dock platform; the gates are closed and it's secluded from prying eyes here. Taking his shirt off, he folds it neatly, places his washcloth on the ground and puts his shirt on top of it. He takes his shoes off and places them beside it. He's always welcomed The Change, and when it comes, he eagerly accepts the pain; it's no different from taking the abuse Kevin's mother would dole out to him and Samuel, but this pain is productive--this pain has purpose and drive.

When the transformation is done, The Beast is panting, and immediately he can reach out to Casey and feel her willing him to her.

He takes off running.

 


 

The van is black with tinted windows; he knows this even before he sees it. It's veered off of the main roads and taken a side road towards what looks to be a cluster of warehouses and storage sheds nestled together behind a gated complex. It’s slowed down a bit to prepare for a full stop at the gate to the complex, and The Beast comes around to run alongside it and rams it with his shoulder. It’s a nudge, really; he doesn’t want to tip the van over with his mate inside.

BAM!

The van screeches to a halt, and the driver searches his side mirror for the source of the impact. One of the passengers opens his window, takes one look at The Beast and shrieks “Holy fuck!” He brings his gun out and shoots at The Beast once, which he dodges, and then hits him with another shot, which knocks him back a bit—it hits him in the stomach and damages his skin, but the wound is superficial and the bullet ricochets away.

The van window closes shut and the van is reversing, or trying to at least. The Beast has wrapped his arms around one of the front wheels and is straining against the rear ones spinning; his footing on the concrete begins to slide, scraping along the bottoms of his feet. He is able to finally, thankfully, rip the front right tire completely off the van, the axle torn up and the van dipping down without the support. They’ve stopped reversing in shock.

He tosses the tire to the side and pounds his chest twice with both fists blackened from the van grease, heaving out a roar at the terrified driver and his two passengers. They exit the vehicle and quickly recover, guns out and opening fire at him. The force of the bullets is enough to keep him at bay, but they’ll run out at some point, and then they’re fucked.

Once they do, and begin to reload, he pounces on one of them, teeth clamping onto his neck and ravaging it back and forth in a deadlock. Blood spews from his victim and arcs like a bright red rainbow, covering The Beast’s maw with fleshy splatter. One of the guys is running, screaming, and this catches his attention.

He’s on all fours chasing the fleeing one down, tackling him from behind and going for the back of his neck. He connects but it’s not good enough for him—he rears back and goes in again, jaws wide, hungry for chaos. He sinks his teeth into the flesh and feels the vertebrae at the back of the man’s neck—it is too supple and unwieldy for him to rip out at this angle but his teeth are scraping against it, enamel to bone, and he’s grinding away at the man’s spine.

He feels gunshots at his back and he turns to look over his shoulder; the driver stands there, futilely burying his bullets into a body that they are unable to pierce.

The Beast stands, each bullet shaking his body, and he faces the driver, slowly walking towards him. The bullets keep coming, but the driver is in a panic, emptying his clip and putting another load in. Before he’s able to start firing that one, though, The Beast stands in front of him, locking his black eyes with him; they are depthless and void, consuming all within their gaze.

The driver is shaking his head, immediately fascinated—he knows him now, and he knows his fate.

“You’re him,” he says, suddenly calming. “You’re The Beast.”

The Beast just stares at him, body covered in blood from the mouth down, black veins prominently outlined on his back and forearms, face blank and foreboding all at once. The driver falls to his knees, hands in the air, head down in a sign of reverence, face drawn in fear but eyes low in surrender.

“We are The Horde,” he seems to whisper in prayer. “We are The Horde and we bend to our Lord’s will. We are The Horde and we crush the seeds of impurity with your venerable, gaping maw of judgment. We are—”

The Beast doesn’t allow him to finish. He grabs him by the neck and hoists him into the air with one hand, arm shaking with the effort of the tightening squeeze. The driver’s eyes are wide and bulbous, his face a startling shade of purple under The Beast’s vice. Eventually, the neck snaps, and The Beast tosses him aside like a rag doll.

He turns and focuses his attention on the van. Not bothering with the handle, he digs his fingers into the door cracks on either side and pries it open, throwing the hunk of metal over his shoulder.

There she is, sitting there with two small ones in her arms.

Take them and feast, He says to him. There is hesitation. His mate is in the way, and to take them would be to potentially harm her. Take the small ones, He commands, and feast!

He growls and snaps at the voice, the small ones burying themselves into his mate in fear. He can smell it on them; it’s a deliciously sweet sort of smell, and he can smell it on her as well, which makes him start pacing in front of the doorway, staring at the three of them.

“Stop,” his mate says. “Don’t. You’re scaring them.” He disregards what she’s saying and continues to pace back and forth. “Don’t make me say it,” she says in a shaky voice. “I don’t want to send you away. I just want them to not be afraid. Or to be in danger.”

Don’t let her say it, He warns him. He continues pacing.

“I said, stop!” she yells. “K-Kevin.” He stops his pacing and stares at her, nostrils flaring in challenge.

She takes in a deep breath and lets it out slowly, bringing the small ones closer to her as though bracing them for something horrible incoming. “Kevin Wendall Cr—” He lunges at them in defiance, desperation to cling to the Light and rage that she’s decided to go through with it evident in the rigidity of his pounce. “—umb! Kevin Wendell Crumb!”

He fades, each syllable punching him back into the mind, before he feels his body crumple to its knees inside of the van, falling forward and landing on the floor with a sickening thud.

“Kevin Wendell Crumb!”

And then he’s in the Train Yard, bellowing and beating his fists together at her against the stormy rage of the sky.

 


 

He collapses in a heap in front of her, and her stomach is so sick she thinks she may vomit. He was going to go after them. He was going to go after her. How could she ever think he was a safe thing to cling to, something she could be around with very little fear?

Kevin begins to shake against the floor of the van and she wants to go and press her body against his to start getting him warm, but she’s still afraid, and she stays where she is, both children still in her arms. His skin looks so soft and smooth, so malleable, freckles dotting the tops of his shoulders in a faint pattern. He’s slowly rising to his elbow, face confused and eyes glassy, wobbling a bit with disorientation. He sits up and puts a hand to his face, fingers still trembling, and begins to look around.

Seeing Casey, he’s a little surprised, but a warmth spreads in his chest as well, and he can’t put his finger on the emotion. “Hey,” he says, starting to smile.

She’s staring at him in terror.

Blinking several times, he looks around him, and upon seeing the devastation around him, his stomach clenches in a panic. “Oh god,” he whispers. He’s done it again. He’s hurt, killed, massacred people again, all while he’s been gone. “Oh god, oh god.” He feels himself slipping, not wanting to be here, wanting to be somewhere else so he doesn’t have to deal with this flood of emotions that roll over him like a suffocating wave.

“Kevin!” Casey yells.

His attention snaps over to her, and he’s got such fear and remorse in his eyes that it breaks her heart.

“Kevin, you have to stay here, please,” she says. “Please hold the Light. Stay, I need you.”

But his jaw is clenching and the expressions on his face are changing so rapidly that it looks like he’s seizing, and then it relaxes and there’s Barry with a concerned look on his face. Seeing him makes Casey’s eyes sting and she nearly begins to cry—both out of agony that Kevin is gone and relief that Barry is here—but she reminds herself that she needs to remain calm in front of the kids.

Babygirl,” Barry says, grabbing one of the black head covers on the floor and wiping his mouth and throat with it, “we need to talk, and it’s not going to be pretty.”

Chapter Text

They’re able to take the suit from the man with the broken neck and put it on Barry, washing his face off with a bottle of water they found in the van. The suit is a little small, but it’ll have to do until they can get back to their motel room.

As soon as they've walked their way to the main roads, they call an Uber, and know that when they arrive at the motel they’ll have to rush packing to skip town again. Before the motel, though, they drop the kids off at their respective houses—it took a bit of investigating to find out where Jace lived, but Angela sang her address out in a cute little rhyme that only good parenting can teach— and they watch them reunite with their parents from a concealed distance.

They’re already on a charter bus out of the city before Barry starts talking with her. He’s sitting back against his chair, and she’s leaning into him, his arm draped over her shoulders.

"I spoke with Patricia,” he begins. This is odd; Barry doesn’t often talk to Patricia that Casey knows about. She was under the impression that they didn’t get along; or, at least, that their views didn’t align.

“She…” He trails off, unsure of where to begin with this clusterfuck of a situation. He presses his lips against her hair for comfort—he can’t help it, it looks so soft and his lips beg to touch it.

"I have the ability to see everyone. Dennis, Patricia and Hedwig have it too. Patricia thinks though, for some reason, she and I can’t see Everyone after all. That…there may be something that’s a part of the system that is obscured to us, just like B.T. and the twins are with Orwell. Or Jalen and Jade.”

“Something new?” Casey asks, frowning.

“No,” Barry is surprised to hear himself say. “Or, I don’t know. If there had been a change in the system, you think I’d know about it, right? Or at least feel like something’s different.”

Except something is different. Dennis is different, and keeping things from Everyone. Barry remembers the trace memories he has of Dennis speaking with someone Barry himself is unable to see or hear—at the cellar in the cabin, while they’re running from the fire he, or someone, created. Dennis is having more and more regressive episodes of his OCD as well, which usually align with times of extreme stress for him. Childhood trauma-level stress.

“Patricia says she thinks there may be a reckoning,” Barry continues, “which I think is a bit dramatic. She thinks it has to do with unholy devices and unnatural balances and all that silly, gnostic heaven-hell mumbo jumbo.”

“Gnostic heaven-hell mumbo jumbo?”

“Like, Trisha used to read the bible a lot, used to use it to bring peace to many parts of the system. She doesn’t much anymore, not since The Beast’s emergence. I think she's beyond religion now, and that he’s sort of become her faith.”

Barry thinks this is pretty apt, but Casey is still a little confused. She can feel herself slipping into that in-between of consciousness and sleep, and very distantly she feels her wrists still throbbing due to the zipties from earlier. She can hear Barry as though he’s talking through a tunnel. He’s just so warm and cozy, and the charter bus has a monotonous thrum that makes it easy to zone out.

”But now with all that’s been happening, the lack of rituals and the increase in random, senseless deaths, it’s either like The Beast has lost his conviction, or he’s unable to control himself. And I think that scares Patricia, a lot, more than she’ll ever admit. It’s shaking her faith in him. He’s her version of heaven’s judgment, a more-than-human step in the evolutionary ladder that brings him closer to her new idea of a god.”

She’s idley thinking about this, and of what a judgment from hell would look like in Patricia’s eyes if her judgment from heaven involves sacrificing those that The Horde deem unworthy.

“Barry tell me more about the system,” she says sleepily, pulling her legs up on the chair and settling into him. She wants to hang on to what little consciousness she has left with him.

He’s quiet for a bit, no doubt contemplating where to start. “What do you want to know, sugar?”

She shrugs against him. “I don’t know. Tell me about all the people that are a part of it.” Mainly people with Scottish accents.

“Well, there’s twenty-three of us. Twenty-four including The Beast. Not everyone is aware of the system though, and not everyone wants to willingly take the Light even if they are.

“We came about as a way for Kevin to cope, but not all of us are still really present. Sometimes someone can be created, and after a while go into dormancy. Which is a bit like sleep, I guess. Sometimes dormant personalities can come back, but not without reason. Like, Ansel was around a lot while Kevin was in school but hasn't come out since.” He doesn’t mention the most recent incident with Ansel.

“But then there are those, like Samuel and Heinrich, that I don't even see anymore. They're just...gone." To the Train Yard, where The Beast eats them up. "Which doesn’t mean they've stopped existing; just that they've sorta been absorbed, I guess, from the system? Maybe they went through integration? No one really knows."

"How do you know who is dormant and who is not?" The information that they could disappear scares Casey. "Will...any of you go away?"

"Oh honey," Barry laughs. "Not a chance." He gives her a squeeze, and he desperately hopes he’s not lying to her.

Casey’s not entirely convinced, but she moves on. “What's integration?”

Barry is silent, and he's trying not to make a big deal out of something he is terrified The Beast will do to Kevin. "Just, you know. Coming together to form one. Lydia says that it’s what some systems do by choice, but that there are too many fractures in Kevin’s psyche to do it without years of work. Not that I’ve asked anyone how they feel about it yet.”

Regardless of whether it's a correct method of "treatment" or not, Casey doesn't ever want to know Them differently than how They are now.

“There’s also layering. It’s apparently like peeling back one alter to reveal another. It usually happens because of some big event, or incident, or trauma, or even just through therapy. It’s a sort of integration, I guess.”

Something occurs to her that she's never asked about. "Who came first, Barry? I mean, I know Kevin did. But then, who?"

"Dennis," Barry says without hesitation. "At least, that's what I assume. I guess it was him and Kevin for a really, really long time together, alone."

He pauses. "There's got to be a fierce loyalty to go with that sort of kinship. Of being alone together when it's just you and that person against the world. It's a shame that he and Kevin didn't and don't interact much. The bond between them would have been something."

"How do you know they don't?"

"I think you're the first person Kevin's said more than two words to in years, sugarpie, and Kevin’s not exactly on board with talking to the people he’s afraid of."

She’s nearly asleep, but she tilts her head up to him in an invitation for a kiss. He leans down and does so.

“What religions does Patricia talk about, anyway?” Casey yawns.

“I don’t know,” Barry admits. “I know she used to believe a lot of Old Testament stuff, especially Genesis. She's probably more into a general gnosis. But I don’t know much about religion or religious teachings, sweets. B.T. is all about that, but it all just blends together for me.”

He remembers a quote B.T. told him not too long ago. According to G. Quispel, “The world-spirit in exile must go through the Inferno of matter and the Purgatory of morals to arrive at the spiritual Paradise.” B.T. admitted he relates the quote to Casey and The Beast’s declaration that she is pure because she is broken, and through the teachings and ideologies of The Horde, Barry thinks it’s pretty succinct. He’ll have to talk to B.T. more about that later, if only to get more information on his take on The Horde and any potential ways to stop The Beast from merging with Kevin (which Barry is now convinced will happen at some point, and that he’s got to stop it by any means necessary).

“How do you know so much about this stuff?” Casey asks softly, sleepily.

“I’m apparently an Internal Self Helper, say all the textbooks Lydia suggested I read. It’s one of my jobs.”

There’s a little bit of a jealous pang as she realizes he talks to Lydia and about Lydia so much, but she brushes it off. Nothing can possibly be gained by her getting butthurt over other women (or men, or any others that identify differently for that matter) talking to him. Plus, she’s Their link to therapy and psychiatric “help”, so she should at least be grateful They’ve got that going on, and that Barry is learning so much about Themselves from her.

These are just exhausted thoughts that flit in and out of her head though, as she finally succumbs to a fitful sort of sleep.

Barry stares down at her and his heart is filled with a beautiful ache for her existence.

 

Chapter Text

As much as she wants to fuck Barry silly as soon as they get to their new motel, she figures Barry and her should continue their talk from on the bus. She fell asleep and can’t help but feel as though she cut their talk short. They are a couple of hours outside of Austin at this point; they’ve put a good twenty-four hours of car travel between them and Philly, which brings her a sense of loss, but not enough that she’s paused to think about it too much.

She's brushing her teeth when Barry comes in—but it's not Barry, it's Hedwig, and he's bouncing around the motel room, in and out of the bathroom and running over to jump on one of the two beds.

"Can I have this one Casey, this one is close to the window and I wanna stare out at all the people in the pool like James Bond looking for his fated villain," he says, doing poses in mid-air as he's jumping.

"Yes Hedwig," she says through a mouthful of toothpaste. She rinses and walks over to the opposite bed by the wall and sits on it cross-legged, watching Hedwig have his fun for a bit until he settles down and mimics her sitting cross-legged. They face each other in silence for a bit, Casey smiling softly and Hedwig adoringly looking back at her, eyes doting and cheeks red with his earlier physical activities.

“So hi Casey," Hedwig says. "We're alone, et cetera." He pauses. "Wanna kiss?"

"Maybe later, Hedwig," she says. "I was actually wondering...if I could talk to Barry?"

"Mister Barry is doing some stuff right now and he told me I needed to hold the Light for a while and I don't think it's a good idea for me to bother him, et cetera," Hedwig rushes, looking worried. Casey takes a moment to absorb this information; what could he possibly be doing that he needs Hedwig to hold the Light? Hedwig, though, with his ability to take the Light whenever he wants, could be someone even better to ask questions to. She just needs to be careful how she phrases them.

"Wanna play a game, Hedwig?" she asks, smile widening. She rummages through her backpack and tosses him a bag of chips they bought from a gas station, and he rips into them eagerly.

"What kind of game?" he asks, mouth almost impossibly full of chips.

Casey thinks. "Well, it's like a truth game, where I ask you a question and you tell me the truth—the complete truth, no ifs ands or buts—” He snickers here. “—and then you get to ask a question and I tell the truth, no ifs ands or buts." Another snicker from Hedwig because of the word.

He contemplates this for a minute and wiggles around in his seat. "I don't know if that sounds very fun."

"Oh it's really fun," Casey says enthusiastically. "Because whoever wins, and tells the truth the whole time, and doesn't tell the other person to stop asking questions, gets to be the winner. And the winner gets a soda from the vending machine down the hall."

His eyes widen. "Any kind of soda?!"

"Any kind."

"Okay okay, I'm ready, and you better not underestimate me Casey because I'm the truthiest truth teller there ever was."

Casey begins. "Who has a Scottish accent? Even a little bit of one, in Kevin's head?" She goes in without lube.

Hedwig looks confused. "I don't know what that sounds like, et cetera," he says. "Do you mean like, weird sounding? Because I know Norma and Luke, they sound funny, and Mary and Ian, they sound weird sometimes I can't even know what they're saying. Miss Patricia sounds real nice though, I like the way she sounds, she sounds like melty butter on hot toast."

Okay, so that wasn't a great question to ask. Casey has to reroute her efforts.

"Okay, ask me something," she says.

“Do you like Mister Dennis? Like, like like?” There’s a twinkle of mischief in his eyes.

She thinks about how to answer this one. "I like him to a point. And honestly, I only like him as much as he'll let me like him." It's the truth, really. "There's like, a guard moat with alligators around Dennis' feelings," she tries to explain to the nine-year-old. "Like, he won't let the bridge down because he's afraid someone is going to come and invade his castle, no matter how nice they look or how nice they want to be to him."

Hedwig nods emphatically, agreeing. "That’s why we gotta storm the castle sometimes,” he states sagely. “Okay your turn."

"Who else sounds different in Kevin's head?" she asks, making the inquiry broader.

"Oh that one's easy, there's Miss Patricia, and Ian and Mary, and Luke and Norma and then Mr. Pritchard, and Felida doesn't even speak the same language everyone else does."

That doesn’t clear anything up for her, but she continues with the game. "Okay, your turn."

"Have you and Kevin ever k-i-s-s-e-d?" he looks very serious, as though he's talking about world politics and the economy today.

"No," Casey answers.

"You're lying, awwwww," he crows.

"I'm not," she smiles.

"Well ok I'll believe you this time because I trust you, et cetera. Okay, your turn."

She thinks carefully. "Do you know Everyone in Kevin's head?"

This excites him. "Oh yeah! I know Everybody. I can see Everyone, and They can see me if I want Them to, and I can give any of Them the Light if I have a hold of it, and sometimes even if They don't want it I can send Them to the Light, except Kevin. But you can bring him to the Light whenever you want, I think he'll always come if you call him." He lowers his voice to a whisper. "I even know where The Bad Man sleeps."

This sends a small tingle down her spine. "Bad Man?" She can feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. "You mean, The Beast?”

“Nope, my turn!”

She doesn't know she's holding her breath until she lets it out in a sigh. "Yeah, you're right. Go ahead."

There's a moment where a darkness comes across his eyes, but then it passes, and he asks, "Are you an Eminem fan? Because I'm kinda sore at people for saying he’s not a hip-hop guy because I think he can be hip-hop when he wants to be but a lot of people don’t agree, et cetera."

"I like Eminem," she says simply. "Now tell me about The Bad Man."

Hedwig looks around like he's expecting someone to jump out at him from the bathroom. "Casey I don't think it's a good idea for me to talk about The Bad Man. Especially since The Bad Man doesn't want nobody knowing about him."

"Okay." She shrugs. "I guess I'll just go get my delicious soda then. Don't even bother to ask if we can share, because it's going to be mine fair and square." She gets up, and then suddenly Hedwig is grabbing her arm and dragging her back down onto her bed.

"Okay okay okay!" he says pouting. "I'll talk about The Bad Man. But you have to promise, promise promise, pinky promise, not to tell anyone about him, okay? Mister Dennis told me it's important The Bad Man is a secret."

Casey is very still, then nods, linking pinkies with him.

"The Bad Man isn’t The Beast," he says slowly, like he's telling some sort of frightening ghost story. "One time he tried to burn up all these people in a basement. And then another time, after The Beast ate all their bodies, he did things with the rest of 'em, like, for fun and stuff, and I had to stop watching because Mister Dennis said so."

Casey doesn't say anything. Hedwig, loving the attention, continues. "Mister Dennis says that he used to be someone else, but then when The Beast came The Beast turned him into The Bad Man and that he died and then was reborn, like them phoenixes outta the ashes swoopin' around whoop whoop—" he makes swooping motions with his hands.

Like the layering Barry was talking about in the charter bus.

"Mister Dennis says he can talk to The Bad Man and tell him to stop and that The Bad Man will listen to him, but not all the time, on account of the fact that I can see The Bad Man do things sometimes that Mister Dennis don't know about. And you know the most biggest secret ever?" Hedwig leans in close to Casey from across their beds and stares her right in the eyes. "Mister Dennis says The Bad Man made The Beast. Like he was born from The Bad Man's rage and pain and everything."

They share a moment of dread together, and the silence in the room is almost deafening as it stretches longer and longer.

"The End!" Hedwig yells.

Casey jumps. She is so startled that her hands grip the sheets on the bed. Hedwig is rolling around on the bed laughing hysterically and Casey slowly lets out a deep breath.

"Hedwig, is that story true?" she asks.

"Oh I dunno," he says, getting chips all over himself and the bed from rolling around. "Miss Patricia says I like to be dramatic and tell lots of stories, and tell little things like they're big things, et cetera."

"You're the only one that can see him? You and Dennis?"

Hedwig nods. "Mister Barry can't even."

"Why haven't you told anyone?"

“Because I’m not allowed,” Hedwig frets. “That’s why you can’t let nobody know about it, okay? You pinky-promised.”

She did at that, but this promise is going to be really hard to keep, especially if The Beast is potentially harming children like he almost did with Jace and Angela—regardless of why.

“I’ll keep the promise,” Casey confirms. “Don’t worry.”

“Do I win?” Hedwig is sitting on his hands to prevent them from fidgeting around.

“You sure do, Hedwig. Let’s go get you a soda.”

Chapter Text

Session 1: Norma
Lydia Salazar [LS], Norma [N]
Productive
Declined to record.


Session 1: Mr. Pritchard
Lydia Salazar [LS], Norma [N]
Productive

LS: Mr. Pritchard, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Please confirm that I have permission to record this session, and that Barry is permitted to be present.
MP: Of course, madam.
LS: Thank you. Mr. Pritchard, as I understand it, you are a professor, is that right? Of Japanese cinema?
MP: Correct, specializing in cinema from the 1950s through the 1980s more specifically.
LS: Do you like your work?
MP: The students make it quite difficult at times, and are a rowdy lot, but I’ve resigned myself to their cajoling and tomfoolery.
LS: When you say students, who do you mean?
MP: More prominently the children, the two small ones and the two young adults.
LS: Are you talking about Hedwig, Rakel, Jade and Jalen?
MP: Of course, who else would I be speaking about?
LS: Can you let me know your favorite film from your studies?
MP: Madam, that’s quite a difficult question to answer. There are so many artistic representations of Japanese Cinema, and to limit it to one would be an impossible task.
LS: I see. Well as I understand it, you are published—can you tell me a little more about your work?
MP: Ah, now that is a much easier topic to tackle. My most recent work outlines the morose nature of the epic film The Human Condition, directed by Masaki Kobayashi and based off of the six-volume novel written by Junpei Gomikawa. You see, many believe this trilogy to be an outcry and depiction of the ravages of post-war Japan, but if you look very closely in the first two films, it’s actually much of a love story between a man of war and the support of his beloved spouse.
LS: That sounds quite romantic.
MP: Oh not at all. It’s actually quite the opposite, and a travesty of the futile endeavors of love. In the end, there is no love that swoops from the darkest eve to rescue Kaji from his fate—Michiko is helpless to the devices of mortal limitation and therefore this love story dies a tragic death.
LS: You’re right, that is quite morose. Can you tell me more?
MP: Well you see, it reflects reality more than Everyone will care to admit. The tale of Kaji and Michiko is ultimately the tale of Kevin and Casey, and that, unfortunately, is a destiny none can veer from.
LS: Kevin and Casey?
B: Ah, let’s move on. What have you recently taught your students, Mr. Pritchard?
MP: I’m afraid that’s all I am willing to cover today, my boy. I’ve lesson plans to follow up on and a slew of work that I must pore over.
LS: It was very nice meeting you, Mr. Pritchard.
MP: Likewise, madam.

END TRANSCRIPT


Session 1: B.T.
Lydia Salazar [LS], B.T. [BT], Barry [B]
Productive
Declined to record.


Session 1: Goddard
Lydia Salazar [LS], Goddard [G], Barry [B]
Productive
Declined to record.


Session 1: Ian and Mary Reynolds
Lydia Salazar [LS], Ian [I], Mary [M], Barry [B]
Non-Productive

LS: Hello, what a pleasure to meet the both of you.
I: Likewise, I assure you.
M: 'eystahp flirtin’ wooehld you? 
I: Wooehld you stahp assumin’ I'm always flirtin’?
B: Let’s not be rude to Lydia, babes.
M: Barry's right. I'm sahrry mess.
LS: It's quite alright. Can you tell me how you two came to be brother and sister?
M: What a stupid question. Ded you 'ear dat Ian?
I: We're naht 'ere to belettle 'er Mary. Can you stahp bein’ rude like Barry asked?
M: Alright, alright, me apahlogies. We share a ma and a da, 'ow else are we brahther and sester?
LS: Can you tell me how that works?
M: Ian dis wahman is a piece o' art isn't she ? Well darlin’ when a man and a wahman want to 'ave babies, dey—
B: It’s probably not going to be very productive today, they seem to be pretty worked up.
I: Are you talkin’ abooehd me and Mary, den?
B: We can finish this another time babes. Is that okay?
M: Well dat's selly, you're de one dat called oehs ooeht 'ere!
B: Thanks for your time, guys.
I: Ahh befahre I go do you 'ave a noehmber I can text you at dear Lydia? 
M: What a cheeky boor! 
I: Fahr prahfessional reasahns, Mary!
B: Okay, I’ll talk with you guys later.
LS: That was…a ride.
B: Must have been really confusing for you.
LS: Not at all, I thought it was incredibly fascinating.
[silence]
B: I’ll have the next person come up, but I’m getting pretty exhausted with the switching, so we might have to cut this session short.

END TRANSCRIPT


Session 1: Polly
Lydia Salazar [LS], Polly [P], Barry [B]
Productive

LS: Hello Polly, I’m Lydia. Is it alright if I record our session?
P: I’m honestly not sure what I’m doing here, but yes, go ahead.
LS: This is a somewhat of a therapy session, but more of a meet and greet. How are you today?
P: I’m fine and dandy, dear, how about yourself?
LS: I’m wonderful, thank you. As—oh. As I see in my notes here, you’re…Ansel’s mother?
K: Yes, absolutely, that little boy is such a charm. His friend Kevin is also quite a peach, don’t you know.
[silence]
LS: Yes, well I’d like to start off with knowing a little more about you.
P: Well, I graduated from the University of Perdue in 1993 with a degree in veterinary medicine. I’m a housewife and adoring wife of my husband Clarence, poor man.
LS: Oh, you have a husband. Can you tell me a little more about Clarence?
P: Poor man is ill and had to seek medical help in another state for his illness. I miss him so completely.
LS: What sort of illness does he have, if I may ask?
P: Oh they’re calling it Multiple Personality Disorder, but Clarence is just Clarence to me. Sometimes he’s aloof, sometimes he’s quite mean, sometimes he forgets that he’s either of those. But I love him dearly, and I always will.
LS: I see. Polly, that illness is actually one of my main studies of interest. Although nowadays the more accurate diagnosis would be called Dissociative Identity Disorder.
P: Well my word, they actually have research and findings of such a thing?
LS: Oh yes. I’d love to get you sources, after our session, but the illness is actually more prevalent than Autism Spectrum Disorder.
P: You don’t say? How interesting. Now—Lydia, what more can you tell me of this illness of Clarence’s?
LS: Well, it’s quite stigmatized in modern society as something dangerous, but in all reality, the majority of those with the illness live fairly quietly amongst society, though the ease of which varies from case to case.
P: My poor Clarence. It was always difficult for him to hold down a job. Sometimes I became selfish and wondered if it was just because he wanted to run away from life. I so regret those times.
LS: Our session is actually almost over, Polly. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
P: Not ask, but remark upon. I would like to comment on how beautiful your hair is! It’s quite dazzling.
LS: Oh why thank you! I keep it conditioned. Until next time, Polly.
[silence]
LS: Welcome back, Barry.
B: I assume you have lots of questions, huh doll?
LS: Just something I’d like you to confirm, I’ve already sort of gathered she seems to be all the gentle and kind parts of Kevin’s mother. She’s unaware she’s a part of the system, correct? She and Ansel?
B: Right.
LS: Thank you, Barry.

END TRANSCRIPT


Session 1: Luke
Lydia Salazar [LS], Luke [LK], Barry [B]
Non-Productive

LS: Good evening Luke! How are you today? I’m Lydia.
LK: I know sweetheart, I’ve heard ‘lot about you.
LS: Is that right? Well then you know that I need your consent to record our session, as well as to Barry being present.
LK: Ain’t no thing but a chicken wing.
[silence]
LK: Means yes.
LS: Thank you for the clarification, Luke. Can you tell me a little about yourself?
LK: I’m a simple man of simple tastes. Why, you interested?
LS: Oh absolutely, I’d love to get to know more about you.
LK: Well y’know, I’m sure everyone’s toldja about my big damn mouth an’ all the things that come along with it. Like how I can’t keep a secret an’ how I spoil the end of movies an’ how I talk ‘bout Everybody to Everybody.
LS: And I take it none of that is true?
LK: Oh it’s all true, ma’am, no kiddin’ here. ‘Cept maybe the movies part, that’s gotten me inna some real trouble, that rumor’s goin’ round and now no one’ll watch movies with me.
LS: That sounds quite lonely.
LK: Well you know, I’ma lone ranger holed up in a crumbling stable if I’m honest.
LS: Tell me Luke, why would anyone think you couldn’t keep a secret?
LK: Oh I got lots of ‘em. Like some nights Jalen runs off an’ smokes pot. Yeah, you heard right, sullyin’ this body with the the maryjane, it’s shameful’s what it is.
LS: Oh? I take it you’re not a proponent of marijuana in any capacity then, even medically?
LK: I don’t know what kinda things people got goin’ on with them so I can’t judge ‘em, but when you’re sharin’ a body with other people ya think someone would ask first.
LS: That’s absolutely fair.
LK: Yeah, an’ I know some other things too, man it’s so nice to talk to someone for a change, y’know that Goddard is a chronic jerker? Yeah, believe it, if he’s ever got the Light, watch ouuut, our junk’s gonna be sore for days.
LS: That’s a little much Luke; don’t you think telling people’s secrets would ultimately do more harm than good?
LK: Nah, I ain’t about to spread them bad seeds. Everything I’m sayin’ most people know ‘bout already anyway, like Dennis and Casey doin’ the nasty that one night at the Abingto
B: Luke, I think we should talk about—wait, what?
[long, uncomfortable silence]
LK: Ooooh. I guess you didn’t know ‘bout that, didja partner. Whoo, what a time to find out.
B: When was this? Was it—was it before we started—did we—wait, I, I don’t get it, she doesn’t even like Dennis? And, and you're telling me—
LS: I see this is upsetting to you Barry, let’s end Luke’s session for now and regroup in a bit.

END TRANSCRIPT

Chapter Text

Hedwig, take the Light, Barry thinks tersely, and he recedes, searching Dennis out on the inside. Barry feels big, and as he approaches Dennis in his chair, Dennis uncrosses his arms and stands—usually when this happens, Barry feels smaller next to him, but now his height doesn’t mean a damned thing, and there’s a bit of hesitation that flickers across Dennis’ face.

“Tell me,” Barry demands. “Tell me what happened between you and Case at the Abington house.”

There’s silence on Dennis’ end, and then a flash of guilt in his eyes, but he crosses his arms again and regains his composure. “There’s nothing to tell,” Dennis states. “You got Us drunk, and she and I did some things that are none of your business.”

“They’re my business, Dennis!” Barry yells at him. “They’re my business because you couldn’t give a shit about her, and I fucking love her!”

There’s a silence at his confession that’s so thick someone could cut it with a knife.

“I do care about her,” is all Dennis says after a while.

Another silence as the two men face each other in the headspace, neither able to find words for the other.

“Not like I do,” Barry says finally. And maybe that’s true. As far as Barry is concerned, having to deal with the brunt of the emotional abuse in Kevin’s life has made him understand that there are different kinds and different levels of caring for another person, and if Dennis cared like he cared then it would be more apparent, wouldn’t it?

“Maybe not,” Dennis says, shifting his stance. “But you’re the one that told her you weren’t a one-person deal. And this was before you two made lovey-dovey again, so you don’t have a right to be angry with either of us.”

Maybe that’s true, too. Still, it doesn’t stop the flood of emotions Barry is drowning in, and his heart has an unbearable ache that makes his breath hitch (though there’s no air he needs to breathe here) because of how fresh this wound is. He figures this is silly, that they have other more important things to worry about, but that hurt, that twisting dagger in the back of his spine, it’s so palpable that he can almost physically feel it even in the headspace.

Dennis is right. He doesn’t have a right to be mad. But fuck, is he mad.

Dennis is clenching his jaw, and for some reason he feels tore up inside. It’s like something precious has been taken away from him, and he can’t live without it, but will have to learn how to now. He feels like there’s a small storm violently whirling in his stomach, destroying everything he holds close, wreaking havoc against his thoughts.

Barry isn’t the only one in turmoil.

“Hedwig, give me the Light please,” Barry asks without breaking away from Dennis’ glare.

But I just got my soda and Casey is taking me to go see a movie, Hedwig whines at him.

Barry almost yells at him but tempers himself. It’s not fair for him to just steal the Light away from Hedwig for his own personal agenda, regardless of how much urgency he feels. Turning abruptly, he walks over to his chair and sits down stiffly, fists clenched and resting on his legs.

Dennis relaxes his body and sits back down in his chair, glancing over at where Barry is. He looks so far away, miles away, and he wonders if this thing with himself and Casey is just unbridled lust, or something else—something much deeper. He feels a guilt he didn’t know he could feel towards Barry, and doesn’t blame him for his outburst, but he also feels selfish and, dare he think it—jealous—at what he and Casey seem to naturally share. It’s not fair that he doesn’t get to have that.

Dennis decides to just retreat into himself, and sleep.

 


 

The movie is an unremarkable children’s animated comedy, but Hedwig seems to enjoy it and guffaws the entirety of the film.

Barry takes this time, while he waits, to approach B.T. and hound him for information on his theological insights to The Horde’s ideologies. Barry thinks this is a reach, but he has nothing to go off of, and he’s not going back to the Train Yard any time soon—the last time he was there, he almost took a a permanent seat beside Kevin in his little caboose.

“B.T., babe,” Barry greets. B.T. doesn’t look up from his book but frowns at the term of endearment; Barry has an annoying tendency to call people things that either lift them up or diminshes them, though he seems to have the best of intentions when using the nicknames.

B.T. flips the page of his book. The pages, of course, are blank, the passages and liturgy swimming instead in his head, but the thought of a book in his hands is comforting and so he creates the illusion for his own benefit.

Barry sits cross-legged in front of the gentleman. B.T. is an older man in his late fifties with a bushel of silver-gray hair atop his head accompanied by another bushel of a mustache and beard cornering out his features like a steel frame. He’s sitting slouched back in his chair, legs out and ankles crossed in front of him.

“Right, can you tell me more about what you quoted to me the other day? You said it described Casey and her relationship with The Beast.” Barry trudges on.

“Not with The Beast,” B.T. murmurs, scratching his beard. “The world-spirit in exile must go through the Inferno of matter and the Purgatory of morals to arrive at the spiritual Paradise. It describes the struggle of the imperfection of all things material, and their journey into finding peace through suffering.” He still avoids Barry’s gaze, almost seeming bored with the conversation. “Which Casey has done.”

“B.T., this is really important. Can you please put your book down?” Barry ventures into unknown territory; he doesn’t even know if B.T. can put the book down, or if it’s a permanent fixture in the man’s identity.

The older gentleman finally lifts his gray-blue eyes to meet Barry’s, and tosses the book aside, shifting his entire body forward and placing his hands on his thighs. “What can I do for you, Barry?”

Barry is surprised at his openness and raises his eyebrows. He recovers with a bit of difficulty and continues. “I need some information on how The Beast exists, or what ideals The Beast functions off of, to explain why these murders are happening and to see…if I can stop them, or change their direction.”

It’s B.T.’s turn to be surprised; this is a new development. The most anyone has ever done about the killings by Their hand is complain or putter about in agonized woe. No one dares ever take action or even speak with The Beast about these massacres, yet here Barry is, stepping up with an attempt.

“Dear boy, you do know that theological zealotry is nigh impossible to reason with,” B.T. begins. “Religious principles are borne through the conviction of a personalized thought or belief. How could you possibly hope to compete against that?”

“I have to try,” Barry states.

B.T. regards him for a second, then nods his head. “What would you like to know?”

Barry swallows. “These killings, I have a feeling it has to do with someone I can’t see. Yet, at least. I keep having these…dreams? About Dennis, and he’s talking to…nothing. I can’t see or hear anyone there, but he must be able to see and hear them, because he carries on a conversation with them. Patricia is convinced it has to do with an inevitable reckoning. She says there must be a reason things have changed, and that she is convinced that the unseen person is The Demiurge. Naturally, I have no idea what that means.”

“Ah, a demiurge. Her train of thought makes no sense, but she does seem to have a sixth sense regarding her theological theories, The Beast included as he was on the move. I’ll humor you for a moment and tell you what I know.” B.T. clears his throat. “A demiurge in the simplest form of the word is someone or something that is responsible for creating the material universe. If you’d like a philosophical view on one, seek Orwell, as I’m not familiar with the Platonic teachings of the word.”

“I’d like your point of view, please,” Barry asks politely.

“In gnosticism and a few other theological institutions,” B.T. continues, “the theory is that the material world is fundamentally flawed, or else is formed with the malevolent intention of entrapping aspects of spiritual power. It is created by the Demiurge, who is a lower form of deity compared to the Aeons, who are the source of all spiritual existence. These Aeons are immaterial, hypostatic ideas. Together they form Pleroma, the ultimate spiritual plane.

“One such Aeon is Sophia, an aspect of Pleroma itself. She desired to create something apart from the divine, without divine assent. In this act of creation, she gave birth to the monstrous Demiurge and, being ashamed of her deed, wrapped him in a cloud and created a throne for him within it. The Demiurge, isolated, was blind to his mother and all else, assuming only he existed and ignorant of the superior levels of reality.

“The Demiurge, with a portion of power from his mother, creates an unconscious imitation of the superior Pleromatic realm. A farce of a copy. He creates the seven heavens, and all material and animal things, working blindly and ignorant of the existence of the mother who is the source of all his power. He is blind to all that is spiritual. The word demiourgos itself, you know, properly describes his relation to the material as 'the father of that which is animal', like himself.

“Sophia's power becomes enclosed within the material forms of the humanity that is trapped within the material universe, and the goal of Gnostic movements is the awakening of this spark of power, which permits a return to the superior, non-material realities which were its primal source.

“In many teachings, the Demiurge is a source of all evil and rage. In parallel to Christianity, he would be considered the equivalent of Satan himself.”

Barry feels a chill run down his spine. “And this demiurge that Patricia speaks of, do you think he could be the one we can’t see?”

“My boy, I have no idea.” B.T. scratches his beard again. “I do know, however, that Patricia was correct in her prophecy of The Beast, and all that she says regarding this topic should be taken into consideration.

“Now,” he continues, “I cannot tell you how to urge The Beast against his willful crusade. However, perhaps you need not look very far when seeking your answers, yes? Many times the things we seek are right under our noses.”

Barry mulls this over and nods. “Thanks, babe. I’ll…think about all that. It’s confusing, and I don’t quite understand it all, but I’ll think about it.”

Barry gets up, picks B.T.’s book up off of the floor, and hands it to him. The older man nods in thanks. As Barry is turning to leave, he calls out to him.

“I’m not a fan of the word babe.”

Barry pauses, then looks over his shoulder, smiling. “Sorry about that, Bee. I’ll watch my endearments more around you.”

B.T., again, nods in thanks.

Chapter Text

When Barry takes the Light, he is in the hallway of the motel holding a bag of chips and heading back to their room. He has to reorient himself with his surroundings; he doesn’t remember where their motel room actually is, and once he’s finally gathered the information from Hedwig, it’s already been half an hour since he took the Light.

He has every intention of going in there and approaching her about the Dennis situation in a calm, level-headed manner, maybe sitting her down and talking about what this might mean for their relationship, if anything. Maybe ask her a few questions about any feelings for Dennis she may have, maybe ask her if he’s doing enough for her to keep her happy.

He enters the room and immediately all that washes away when he sees her. She’s at the kitchenette washing her hands and turns when she hears the door open, and when it closes behind him he just stares at her with his damned potato chips in his hand, unable to do anything but feel the pain from the thought of someone else sharing that level of intimacy with her. The thought that it may be a petty sort of hurt crosses his mind; after all, he and Dennis share a body, so isn’t it basically the same thing?

No.

Before he fully understands what he’s doing, he tosses the chips aside; he's closing the distance between them and snaking his fingers through her hair, making a fist and tilting her head back to meet his lips in a bruising kiss. The kiss sends shocks of electricity down her spine, and she grabs the sides of his shirt, clenching her hands into fists and pulling him towards her to mold him into her body. She can feel his erection through his pants, and it excites her. She grinds against him a bit, a small moan escaping his lips, the agony of the sound shared between them; their kisses grow rougher and wilder, hands pawing each other and scraping against each other’s flesh.

He’s ramming her back against the kitchenette counter, and her arms are searching behind her for a place to anchor themselves; kitchenware and utensils go flying from the counter and the coffee pot tilts over, rolling on its side and falling to the floor. It shatters. This doesn’t waylay their ardor, though, and in fact seems to fuel it—he lifts her quickly up onto the counter and her hand reaches up to steady herself against one of the cupboards. He’s digging the bottom of her shirt out of her pants and ripping it off over her head, tossing it aside in desperate need. As his lips are flaming across the skin of her neck, his right hand is working her bra strap, and it springs free, her breasts bouncing out of it.

His tongue darts out to lick her earlobe and he takes it into his mouth to suck it hard, then he is migrating down to her breasts and taking her right nipple between his lips, tongue fervently flicking it from inside of his mouth. The moan that escapes her is a broken sigh; her hands are laced into his hair and burying him deeper against her chest. His left hand is clawing against her back, other hand grappling her other breast, pinching her nipple firmly between his fingers.

She cries out from the sensation of simultaneous pleasure and pain, panting hard with her mouth against his hair. He puts his arms around her and transfers her from the counter to himself, hoisted against him with her legs wrapped tightly around his waist as he's trying to make his way towards one of the beds. Their lips are locked again, and as they travel from the kitchenette to a bed, they bump against a standing lamp and tip it over. It's knocked into the desk, which causes several things on it to go flying.

He feels the bed against his legs, finally; he dumps her onto it, and instead of wasting time unbuttoning Dennis’ shirt he just pries it off, buttons flying every which way. She’s slipping out of her pants and underwear, the latter of which is soaked through with the wetness from between her legs. He takes slightly too long with his pants so she leaps forward and unbuttons it, pulling it down halfway with his underwear so that he can work the rest of it out on his own.

As he’s standing there attempting to do so, his erection is throbbing at the level of her face—she can’t help but wrap a hand around its base and force it into her mouth.

There is a strangled cry that escapes his lips, and he almost pulls her off—it’s not fair, he wants to be in between her legs and feeling her from the inside—but fuck it’s too good and his head is reeling from the feel of her mouth. She pulls back and flicks the head of his cock with her tongue back and forth, and he makes soft noises at the back of his throat at her touches.

“No,” he rasps, and he leans forward, forcing her back a bit. He finally slips free of his pants and places a hand against one of her breasts, leading her down roughly onto her back. Her breasts are so perfect—soft and firm, skin there flawless and nipples so hard he can’t help but slip one of them into his mouth again to suck on. His leg nudges one thigh out of his way and then he’s between her legs, pulsing cock dripping and waiting at her entrance.

He pauses here, hands planted on either side of her, lips so close together that their breaths seem to become one large sigh against each other. His incredibly blue eyes seek hers out, and while they lack the intensity of Dennis’ gaze they are so clouded with desire that it’s driving her crazy—she’s rubbing her cunt up and down the length of his cock, coating it with her wetness.

“I’m going to make you beg for it, babygirl,” Barry says, tongue darting out and forcing its way into her mouth. She moans a protest—this is agony; incredible, insatiable, infuriating agony—and returns the kiss, hips thrusting forward in a desperate bid to coax him into her. He pulls his cock back from her, and soft sounds are escaping her lips—small tortured little mewls.

“Please,” she whispers, “please.”

“Please what?”

“Please, I need you, please,”

“Please what, babygirl?”

She throws her head back, biting her lip, hand going down to start rubbing her clit. She can’t take it, she has to touch herself, it's too much built-up tension.

“Please, fuck me, I want you inside me,” she breathes heavily.

Without wasting another second, he plunges into her. She feels as blissfully hot and wet as he hoped she would. “Ohhh babygirl, you feel so good, so fucking good.

Her fingers on her clit and his dick inside of her are enough to drive her overboard. She works herself harder and faster, unable to stop herself—she comes hard and fast, squirming underneath him, bucking her hips into his and vocalizing uncontrollably. He’s still thrusting into her, feeling her pussy clench around him, stomach tied in knots while he tries not to finish too soon because of how good her throbbing cunt makes him feel.

“Tell me you’re mine?” he asks; there's a desperation in his voice that makes it crack.

For a moment through her heady cloud of bliss she doesn’t understand his words, but then she puts her hands on either side of his face, slipping the fingers of her right hand into his mouth for him to suck on. It satisfies some deep oral fixation he has buried underneath his subconscious, and he greedily circles his tongue around her fingers and bites at them softly as he’s pounding into her.

“I’m yours,” she chokes, left hand coming up and gripping the sheets by her head. “Your cock feels so good inside me, please don’t stop.”

They’re both panting, sweat mingling with sweat, his head dipping down to suck on her neck. Her hands are at her clit again, ready to have another go, circling the pulsing nub eagerly. Her body is so incredibly sensitive, tingling from the last orgasm, but she works through it; eventually her fingers are like heaven again, bright lights flashing against the darkness of her eyelids as she closes her eyes.

“Say it again,” he pants into her ear.

“I’m yours,” she gasps, pulling up to bite at his beautiful jawline and licking the tender spot just underneath it. He’s moaning and she can feel the rumble of it in his chest as her breasts press against it, and she pulls back a bit so that just her nipples are rubbing against him in a bid for extra pleasure.

“You’re so hot and wet,” he hisses through clenched teeth, his movements getting wilder with each push inside of her. “Oh god, baby, you’re going to make me cum soon.”

This drives her mad, the thought of him climaxing inside of her; it makes her come again, throb after throb, pulse after pulse, the walls of her cunt contracting again around him. This sets him over the edge—finally, at last, he chases the climax to a peak and begins to moan against her throat. His lips are crushed against the side of her neck, sighing deeply and breathing her into him as he comes so forcefully inside of her his vision blacks out for a moment and he sees stars.

“Oh god,” he rasps while he’s coming, “oh fuck babydoll, oh fuck, I love you.” He’s still emptying himself inside of her when she easily orgasms a third time, body stiffening and slightly convulsing underneath his exhausted frame. Her insides wrap themselves around him so powerfully that it makes his cock have several smaller, lighter aftershocks, and he shudders against her in absolute ecstasy.

He clings to her, and the only sound in the room is the sound of their ragged breaths against each other. They come down from the high of the orgasms slowly, deliciously, and Barry lays against her, his head on her bare chest. He can't fathom any fulfilling sort of life without her, and he listens to the beating of her heart with a sudden tenderness rising in his throat. Her hands are running through his hair idly, softly.

He's caught his breath now, suddenly wanting her again. Sliding down the length of her, he parts her legs gently and places his face in between them. She gasps and begins to writhe as he licks and sucks on her, tasting himself amid the taste of her, both melding together against his tongue. Her hands are in his hair again making fists, pushing him deeper against her with a hunger so raw it makes her legs shake.

He wraps his arms around them, steadying her and trapping her all at once, tongue dipping in and out of her heat—he's circling and flicking at her clit vigorously. It takes only minutes for her to come again, and she strains against his mouth, legs shaking violently against the sides of his head. She's moaning and vocalizing, and amidst the sexual ardor of the moment, all he can think of is how beautiful the sound is.

His tongue lazily, gently, softly continues to work her; before too long she's gyrating her hips again, whispering, "More, please, more." By this point he's so desperately hard again, and he climbs up to lock lips with her, forcing his tongue into her mouth to allow her the taste of themselves. Then he's pushing himself back into her, filling her up with himself; he fits so perfectly within her it's as though they were specifically made for each other. He moves with an unrestrained passion that makes her head spin, and she’s raking her nails down his back in the heat of their stormy tryst.

She suddenly places a hand on his chest and pushes him back, and his eyes are glazed with desire as he looks at her questioningly. She pulls him out, twists her hips and flips them both over, straddling him and slowly playing with her nipples. He enters her again and she begins to rock her hips, grinding into him in a way that makes the breath hitch in his chest—it feels so incredibly good that he’s unable to think coherently.

She works him like an instrument, swaying back and forth, her breasts bobbing up and down with the movements; it's fueling the fire within him and, incredibly, making him even harder than he already is. She can feel the difference in his cock and she throws her head back, a soft cry escaping her wet, pretty lips. His hands travel from her thighs to her hips, grasping them firmly by the bone and moving her against him, picking up the pace and willing her to go faster. He’s gripping her hard enough to bruise but she doesn’t care, she’s so close to coming again and she reaches back up to start rubbing her nipples. She pinches and squeezes them, then rubs them with both hands, and it sends her over the edge, making her involuntarily convulse with sheer pleasure atop him. Broken cries are exclaiming from her throat, her hands clutching her breasts so tightly to ride through the orgasm that they begin to turn red underneath her grasp.

He’s close himself and he begins to feel his cock twitching inside of her, demanding the release he so desperately needs.

“Come for me, Barry,” she says, exhausted but unwilling to stop. “Please, god, I want it. I want your cum inside of me.”

“Ah, god,” he murmurs, her request so heady and hot. White streaks snake through his vision as he begins to come, each word escaping his lips louder than the last, “Ah, fuck, god, Casey, fuck! Ah!”

Each pulse from his cock is rapture; each burst of cum into her is indulgent euphoria; each shot of himself is an unbearable, crippling explosion of ecstasy. He comes harder than he’s ever come in his life, and he understands how some can become addicted to the feeling. He’s still going when she collapses atop him; he's still inside of her, and she drapes her arms around him, lazily planting kisses across the broad of his chest.

He’s lightly groaning against the ebbing aftershocks of his orgasm, and she rubs her hands along his arms and thighs, attempting to bring him down from an insanely intense high. Finally, mercifully, it slows to a stop, his member pulsing from the utter fatigue of the ordeal. He slides out of her but it's her turn to lie against him, cheek to his chest, staring out the window and completely, satisfyingly drained.

After a while—and after the fever of their sexual symphony passes—they quietly gaze out the second-floor window together into the darkening sky. They’re getting clammy against each other from sweat that's turned cold, but neither of them care; they both have a need to feel each other’s flesh against the other’s right now.

He’s beginning to get hard again but decides it’s probably time to talk about Dennis; he’s delayed it long enough. “Hey sugar,” he says softly. She turns her head up sleepily to look at him from his chest and he almost bails. She's so gorgeous she seems to glow; staying with her like this and ignoring it would be so much easier. He leans his neck forward to kiss her on the forehead. “I know about Dennis.”

Her heart feels like it stops for a moment, and though her facial expression doesn’t change, she feels a wave of guilt pass over her, crawling slowly against her skin. He knows about Dennis and how she feels about him? He knows that she will occasionally touch herself to that fucking gaze, that intense fucking glare he gives her? He knows about all of the times the sexual tension between them was so incredibly thick they could swear they were drowning in it? She has no idea what to think, so she just stares at him.

“You know,” Barry continues, trying not to get angry with the fact that she seems to be playing dumb. “When you two were at the Abington house together?”

Oh.

“Oh,” she breathes. “Yeah, of course.” She'd be lying if she said she wasn't relieved. Why suddenly bring this subject up, though, when he had every chance in the world to talk to her about it before? “I’m not…normally that way,” she says, assuming he's talking about the way she and Dennis had sex. It was so incredibly rough and hot and explosive, but she’s usually more of a vanilla-sex type of girl. Not that she wouldn’t mind doing something like that again, restrained and controlled—she feels herself getting wet just thinking about it.

“That’s all you have to say about it?” he asks, more than a little irate.

Casey sits up and away, facing him and crossing her legs. “I don’t know where you’re trying to go with this, Barry. You were just fine afterwards. But now you’re not?”

“Who said I was fine about it?” he asks, sitting up himself. “I didn’t even know you liked Dennis, let alone wanted to fuck him.”

“Wait, wait, wait.” She puts a hand up. “You’ve been mad about it this whole time and just decided not to talk to me about it?”

“What do you mean this whole time? I found out only recently because Luke has a huge mouth.”

There’s a silence between them that dawns understanding on each side.

“You weren’t there,” she says softly. She covers her face with her hands and groans. “Oh my god, you weren’t there.”

“You didn’t know I wasn’t there?” It’s dumbfounding and a little embarrassing to him that she would think he’d be into that sort of thing. Not that it was something that anyone should be ashamed of, just that he and Dennis have always been at odds, and the situation is made worse by the fact that it is, indeed, Dennis; the thought of him having sex with her made him ill.

“Okay, look,” he begins. He feels a pang of guilt for approaching her about it like he did. “I know we weren’t really together at the time, but it still hurts. Not really because it happened, but that it happened with him. And I know, you couldn’t have known how…sensitive, I’d be to the situation, but it still hurt when I found out.

“But, hun,” he continues, really hoping he won’t regret the next words that come out of his mouth, “if—if you wanted to be with me, and wanted to be with him too, I could take it. Just, you know, talk to me openly about what you want, don't like to me, and don’t tell me any details about what you and him do together.”

She’s stunned. Is he really suggesting they be in an open relationship? And with Dennis, one of the people that he just expressed he can’t stand the thought of with her?

Even though there’s a part of her that’s opposed to the idea, Dennis’ fucking eyes come into her mind and she starts getting wet again, seriously considering the option to be with both of them without consequence.

“That’s…that’s stupid,” she starts. But he can hear the hesitation in her voice.

He nods. “Okay then. Let’s try it,” he decides.

“Wait, I literally said it’s stupid,” she argued.

“Yeah, love, and I could hear the lie all up and down those words.”

She doesn’t say anything.

“So I guess all that’s left is to talk to him then.” Barry chews on the corner of his bottom lip, feeling his stomach drop at the thought of her being with him again. But honestly, if it makes her happy, then that’s what matters, right? He is, after all, the emotional protector—taking the brunt of any potential emotional abuse or hurt so that others can be free of it.

She still doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t want to lie to him again, but she also doesn’t want to admit she can barely resist Dennis.

“Okay then,” he says.

“…okay then,” she says.

He takes her hand and pulls her towards him, firmly planting his lips on hers and effectively ending their conversation. Then his hand is sliding down her body, stopping at the opening between her legs and dipping his middle finger into her. She is about to protest but instead just makes a small whining noise, and his pointer finger follows the first, the slickness of her pussy against his fingers making incredible sloppy noises. They continue their kiss and she talks against his lips, “But I’m so sore.”

His fingers circle her clit and she shudders.

“Are you sure?” he asks her, pulling his head back a little to enjoy the look of need on her agonizingly beautiful face.

“No,” she chokes out.

Okay then.

Chapter Text

Patricia is standing with her hands clasped together below her waist, and Dennis stands in front of her. He knows that although the Others can’t hear them talking, They can still see them while they converse, and that this may spell bad news for Those that are anti-Horde.

“Are we finally going to talk about the peculiar behavior of those men that kidnapped Casey, then?” he asks, tired of her delaying the conversation.

“It’s astounding, isn’t it,” she says. “There seems to be an entire movement dedicated to worshiping The Beast. While I am incredibly fascinated at these worshippers that dwell outside of Kevin, they seem to be deeply misinformed of our ultimate goal of purging the impure.”

“Most children are impure,” he states. “It’s those that are like Kevin and Casey that are few and far between.”

“Of course, though the murdering of children and the eating of their hearts is a bit far-fetched. Most sects of worship do involve those that take gospel and twist it to their own interpretation.”

“Doesn’t it bother you though, Trisha?” Dennis asks. “Don’t you think The Beast would be infuriated at the thought of vulnerable children, like Kevin was, being murdered senselessly in his name?”

“Oh I don’t doubt he would disapprove,” she says. “But what will you have me do, Dennis? Who will travel to the—” She lowers her voice. “—the Train Yard to speak with him? Especially after he was sent there by Casey when she summoned Kevin. You? Certainly not me.”

She knows every visit to the Train Yard is a visit one may not return from. Even The Beast’s priestess is hesitant to enter The Beast’s domain.

Dennis, though, has no fear of The Train Yard.

“And if I do, what of our plans?” Dennis asks. He was a proponent for their plan for Casey and The Beast prior to meeting up with Casey again, but now that they’ve spent time with her, things have changed within him.

“Our plans will have to be pushed back,” Patricia answers. “As they have been while we are on the run with her. After all, she’s not ready yet. She doesn’t fully trust Us yet, and she doesn’t fully trust you.”

Dennis knows his part in the plan. The more time he spends with Casey, however, the more he begins to morally object to the idea of it. Patricia no doubt has her suspicions, but she hasn’t brought them up yet.

“I know my part,” Dennis says.

 


David would have quit the hero lifestyle immediately had Joseph not smacked some sense into him

David would have quit the hero lifestyle immediately had Joseph not smacked some sense into him. Even still, David was very close to doing it; being a hero did his family no favors, especially now that Joseph is unlikely to ever walk again.

The news of this is devastating when they all learn this is the case, but Joseph is alive, and David supposes that’s more than he could ever hope for. He’s sure the news affects Joseph much more than he lets on, but his son puts on a brave face, and when he mourns for himself, he does it alone, away from prying eyes.

David suspects a lot of his optimism is because he’s still having a hard time wrapping his mind around never being able to use his legs again. There’s likely still some hope there that he can pull through it with physical therapy; Audry herself keeps this fire lit in him, and David is partly thankful and partly resentful towards her for giving him this hope.

“In fact, since you want to be out there doing something,” Joseph says, a little salt ringed around the words, “you should be hunting down the thing that did this to me.”

Which is why David is standing just outside of a motel close to Jackson, along the highway, in the rain—hands in pockets, shoulders shrugged up to keep the wetness out. He’s on a quest to nail down where The Beast went. And then maybe, if she’s there, drag Casey home to face the consequences of her actions (those of which David is still having a hard time wrapping his mind around).

Joseph gave him specific instructions not to come home until he’s dealt with The Beast, and while Audry doesn’t say she approves, she doesn’t say she disapproves, either.

Meanwhile, though, his side-quest of foiling cultist plans is still in effect. He’s been traveling, kicking ass and questioning each cultist group he’s dealt with, and each one brings him closer to the heart of the operation. Traveling East brought him to a dead end in Maine where he waited for over two weeks before another lead took him West.

He walks into the motel, shaking the water off of his jacket and walking up to the check-in counter. There’s a very nice-looking woman behind it, late-forties, with salt and pepper hair that she’s braided on either side of her face.

“How can I help you, sir?” she asks, face lighting up in a genuinely friendly smile.

“Was wondering if I could get a room for the night, ma’am,” David says. “Also had a few questions for you regarding some friends of mine that may have passed through here.”

“Friends?”

He describes Casey and Kevin Crumb in detail, and her face lights up in recognition.

“Why, they were here not too long ago; overheard them in talks to head for central Texas, though I’m not sure exactly where.”

His lead pulled through with this motel; it’s the first he’s heard of them passing through since Atlanta.

“Thank you much, ma’am,” he says, grateful for the information.

“Now about that room—are you here by yourself, dear?” Being called dear by younger people seemed to be a common occurrence for David; he’s not sure if it’s his demeanor that puts them at ease with him or if it’s his smile, but that smile certainly has diffused many a situation with Audry before, so that may be it. “I’ll get you a nice warm one I’ve got the heater running in already.”

“Yes ma’am, I appreciate it.”


Casey can’t imagine how selfless Barry must be to allow their relationship to be an open one. She’s already resolved to herself that should he pursue something on the side himself, it’s only fair, and that she wouldn’t have a right to get jealous or offended.

But that’s not on her mind as she’s checking Everyone’s emails. What is on her mind is the news article she’s just read about the string of missing children that have been recovered with their hearts carved out of their chests, which makes Casey feel sick. She thinks about Jace and Angela, and turns towards Barry, who’s watching a sitcom while propped up on one of the beds.

“Barry,” she calls.

He glances over at her with his eyebrows raised, “Yeah babygirl? I didn’t do it, whatever it is.”

She smiles wryly at him. “I’m…worried. About these kids, that have been turning up like they have been on the news.”

“Me too, doll,” he says, and he stares at her expectantly, waiting for her to continue.

“It’s just, I want to do something about it, you know.”

Oh no. She’s going to glamorize The Beast as a hero, and urge Them to do something about it by using The Beast’s abilities to stop them. Barry clears his throat and pauses the show he’s watching. “Uhh, how are we going to do something about it?”

She shrugs. “The Beast is capable, right?”

“What makes you think I can make him doing anything about this?” he asks incredulously. He can barely go into he Train Yard, much less approach The Beast, much less attempt to speak with The Beast, much less convince The Beast to start playing hero.

Mister Dennis says he can talk to The Bad Man and tell him to stop and that The Bad Man will listen to him…Mister Dennis says The Bad Man made The Beast.

Maybe not Barry. But possibly Dennis, if she can convince him.

“Can I—can I ask Dennis?” she asks timidly. She doesn’t want Barry to feel as though she’s sending him away, but she needs to talk to Dennis about it and now may be the perfect time to talk to him about their…relationship, as well.

Barry’s surprised—she’s never specifically asked him to switch with anyone, and though there’s a tiny bit of a sting (especially since it’s Dennis), he knows they need to talk anyway, so he shrugs. “Let me get him.”

“Wait,” she calls, getting up from her seat and going over to him. She snakes her hand against the back of his neck and pulls him towards her in a full, lasting kiss that they both revel in, and then Barry is gently pushing her back, winking at her, before his jaw clenches and his face turns hard.

She steps back from Dennis automatically—touching him has always been a struggle for her—and instinctively reaches up to absently tug on the blond lock of hair on the right side of her face.

“No,” Dennis says simply, digs his glasses out of the nightstand to put them on, and gets up to begin his usual walk-through of the room. She’s tried before to keep things neat and while it’s incredibly clean in the room it’s never quite up to Dennis standards.

“Dennis,” she whines, “you must have some sort of sway with The Beast. You have to, I know you do.”

“And where have you gathered this information?” he asks, straightening the pots and pans in the kitchenette.

“It doesn’t matter. All I know is that you have at least some sway, and I need you to do this, because if you don’t, then more children are going to get hurt.” She pauses. “Just like Kevin was hurt. But this time, they’ll die.”

He falters a bit in his straightening of the room, but tries to cover it up by continuing his mission to clean. Watching Dennis in Barry’s clothes is a bit comical and makes him look very stylishly anal-retentive.

“There’s no reason for us to save these children,” he mutters.

“We have the power to do it and we’re not going to do anything about it?”

The Beast has the power to do it,” he corrects her, the words coming out coated with venom. “We have nothing.”

She wonders if she could sway him right now with a kiss. She wonders if he would change his tune towards her if he could feel her body underneath his. Of course, these aren’t things that are contingent upon him changing his mind; she suspects her brain is just giving her reasons to make these scenarios happen.

“I know someone in there can persuade The Beast to do things,” she confesses. He pauses at the desk, his back completely turned towards her, so she is unable make out his facial expressions. “I know that you can tell that someone to do things and they usually oblige you.”

“How do you know these things?” His voice is even and does not betray any feelings he may be having. He’s glad he blocked the Light from everyone as soon as he took charge of it.

“I just do. It doesn’t matter how. Now that you know that I know this stuff, will you help me help these kids? Or am I going to have to find a way to Beetlejuice that punk out here and talk to them myself?”

That’s the last thing Dennis wants, and as he’s wiping down the table with a clorox wipe, he stops and straightens himself.

“Casey, this is a bad idea,” he mutters.

“So is that a yes?”

“It’s a bad idea,” he repeats, turning towards her and locking eyes with her. She can’t seem to take the glare and her eyes flicker elsewhere. “But if you want this to happen, fine. We’ll need some ground rules.”

“Which are?”

"One, never ask about anyone that can persuade The Beast to do anything.”

“Okay. Two?”

“Two, never trust that The Beast won’t rip your spine from your body on a whim.”

She swallows nervously.”Okay. Three?”

“Three, I have a feeling The Beast won’t object much if We remind him about the parallels between these kids and Kevin. But remember, We have plans for you and The Beast. Don’t forget that. I do this for you, and you comply with the plans.”

She’s silent. Then, “I think it would help to know what those plans are, Dennis.”

“No. You either take this or leave it.”

Jace and Angela’s faces are plastered in her mind as she considers this deal with the devil, and she takes a deep breath. “Fine. But on the stipulation that it harms no one I care about.”

There’s a twinge in his heart as she says this—she doesn’t even ask that she not be harmed. She just doesn’t want the people she cares about to be harmed.

“It won’t,” he confirms.

She thrusts her hand out towards him, and he’s taken aback for a second, before he realizes she’s attempting to seal the deal with a handshake. The hand not holding the clorox wipe slowly inches forward and takes hers—god her skin is so fucking soft—and they shake on it.

Before he can retrieve his hand from hers, she pulls herself towards him to lightly kiss him on the lips. He stands there stunned, his lips a tingling mess of electricity from her touch. He gets hard, and pulls his hand away from her as though it stings him, turning away to hide himself and focusing on the desk again.

She’s satisfied, and excited, and scared.

But mostly she thinks about his lips, and imagines them flaring across her body, before she unpauses Barry’s show and sits on the bed to watch. She suddenly doesn't want to talk about their relationship yet, whatever it is, so it's going to have to wait for another time.

Chapter Text

Gnosticism is a very strange thing to Barry. Is it a religion? Is it not a religion? Is it a way of life? He has no idea. There seems to be a lot of information on it, and not a lot of it matches up. Some of it leaks into Jewish teachings, some of it doesn’t, some of it has Christian bearing and some of it doesn’t. He concludes that, to him, it’s a way of thought—simple Gnosis, the belief that all spiritual enlightenment through suffering can ascend one to a higher plane.

Which is not unlike The Beast’s philosophy.

The broken are the more evolved.

The more he reads about the Demiurge, the more he realizes that this guy is bad news. Some texts even refer to him as the Christian equivalent of Satan, which B.T. stated in their conversation. But surely an alter can’t be that bad? Surely there are limitations to—

He stops here, as he realizes how very much like Dr. Fletcher he sounds. And The Beast absolutely proved her wrong in the end. But who is this mysterious being? He thinks that if he could just find out, he’d be that much closer to solving the issue of why no one but Dennis seems to see him.

He yawns, feeling Casey’s steady breathing beside him. She has his arm underneath her, trapped, and he doesn’t mind as he thumbs his phone reading about the Demiurge from different sources. A lot of it talks about the heretical ways of Gnosticism, which he’s not interested in. The phone begins to blur as he zones out, knocking it against his forehead, before he decides he should probably go to sleep.

Sophia casts the shadow of matter that the Demiurge manipulates to create the earth, yada yada…he’s honestly getting tired of all the researching, but he knows it’s necessary to be able to figure this out. At least Casey has The Beast doing something productive, like saving the world. He needs to figure out how to eventually castrate The Beast, so it were, regardless of the do-gooding they’re about to be doing.

He reads up on Lilith, and how in some texts she is believed to be Adam’s first wife, created from the same clay he was created from as equals. When she refused to be subservient to Adam, she left him, and the Demiurge freed her spirit from Adam’s slavery, which is a weird concept for Barry, never having heard of any story except the one of Adam and Eve.

Something catches his eye, though, and he continues reading. In lore, it’s said that the Demiurge has three distinct names, and he slides his arm carefully out from under Casey to sit up. Shit just got real for him as he reads on.

His brow is drawn together, and a shaky thumb covers the second “a” in one of the names.

…he just...stops being, for a while, until he's desperately needed. Barry assumes that's what happened to Samuel.

The first name is Yaldabaoth.

Barry takes a moment to process this, suddenly seeing many aspects of himself and Dennis, Patricia, and previously Samuel, in the protector descriptions.

The second is Saklas. And the third…

But then there are those, like Samuel and Heinrich, that I don't even see anymore. They're just...gone…

Samael.

Samuel.

 


There was paint smeared on the wall

There was paint smeared on the wall.

Paint.

Smeared.

On the wall.

Kevin stared at it, unable to compute for a moment the magnitude of what this meant for him. She would be so angry. How did this happen? How could he have been so clumsy? What was he doing in the garage, anyway? He shouldn’t have been in here, it was a mistake, playing cave explorer was too much, he shouldn’t have been in here, he shouldn’t have been playing, no more playing for him, that’s enough, he shouldn’t have been in here.

“What do I do,” he asks out loud.

We clean it. We clean it really well.

“How?”

Wipe it down. Then get the paint thinner and wipe it down again. Hide the rags.Dennis was his friend, but he didn’t want to deal with this. He folded into himself unable to handle it, and Dennis stepped forward into the Light, immediately getting to work.

Faster, Samuel told him. She’s going to be home soon. Faster, Dennis!

There was no hiding it, Dennis concluded. She would smell the paint thinner. She would get angry and then the hounds of hell would hunt Them down. Despite that, Dennis cleaned. It was all he knew how to do in this situation. He scrubbed and scrubbed and endured the smell of the paint thinner, at one point getting so light-headed he almost passed out until Samuel switched with him for a bit.

Finally, finally, They were done. His clothes were ruined, and he needed to wash them immediately. He ran out of the garage, closing the door behind him, stripping himself in the process and running in nothing but his underwear towards the laundry room. He dumped his clothes in and ran a wash. It would never be done by the time she came home, never, but it’s not unusual for him to be running a wash for her.

“Kevin!” came from the door.

Dennis froze. Kevin froze. Samuel, though, took the Light, and called out, “Yes mother?”

“Get the groceries from the car, dear,” she said from the foyer, and they all three relaxed; she was in a good mood, and he ran upstairs to get dressed into shorts and a t-shirt before running downstairs and screeching to a walk as soon as he was in a place where she would be able to see him.

Getting the groceries out of the car’s never been a big deal for him as a ten-year-old, and he put them all on the kitchen counter before sorting everything out. Dennis took over, knowing exactly how she wanted things in the pantry, and understanding that the slightest thing askew would set her off. He was good at this. He knew what she liked. He knew how to be perfect for her.

She sat on her recliner, not bothering to turn the TV on—she was exhausted from working double shifts and was already snoozing when Dennis was done. He faded back and let Kevin take the Light, and Kevin came forward timidly, wondering for a moment if he should scurry back instead.

She was a dragon on the recliner, and he wanted to wake her for some reason, but that would undoubtedly rain fire and lava upon him. She looked so peaceful and not at all menacing, and Kevin very apprehensively walked towards her, small bare feet quietly shuffling against the carpet in the living room.

Slowly, he slid his arms around her, clinging to her in a hug, closing his body around her as tears stung at his eyes. He just wanted to please her. He just wanted her to be happy, to be calm, to be at peace.

Samuel wanted to wrap his hands around her throat and hug her a different way.

She opened her eyes and felt him on her, and she smiled. “My darling boy,” she murmured. “Such a good, obedient little boy.”

The words sparked encouragement inside of him, and he hugged her tighter. She tilted her head towards his and kept it pressed there, sharing this moment with him indulgently, allowing him this moment of love and approval he so desperately craved from her.

Don’t, Samuel warned in his slight accent. Not too long or she’ll get irate.

Kevin slowly let her go and kissed her on the cheek, and she reached up to run her fingers through his hair a bit before settling back into her recliner and resting her eyes.

It was like petting an alligator, and getting away unscathed. His heart was beating a million miles an hour and sweat popped up on his forehead, and he walked out of the living room to check on the wash. Without looking at it, he dumped it into the dryer and pressed start.

He ran quietly up to his room and Dennis took the Light, compulsively cleaning it though it was already incredibly clean. He rearranged things that he knew would be more palatable for her, and he spent hours cleaning all of the surfaces with his handkerchief, then ran to the bathroom to wash his hands twenty three times in a row. They were raw by the time he was done.

He heard her moving downstairs, getting the ironing board out of the laundry room. He knew the sounds. He could close his eyes and know exactly what she was doing downstairs. He’s had to learn.

She was very quiet downstairs, which was unusual. The skin on the back of his neck prickled; something was wrong. Kevin started breathing heavily, and he didn’t know what it was, but something was wrong.

Shit! The clothes in the dryer! Were they cleaned? Was the paint washed off? They should have checked.

“Kevin Wendell Crumb,” she said from downstairs, voice low and ominous. His full name sent pangs of panic into his body, and he began shaking, arms trembling almost violently as he sat at the edge of his bed.

“Kevin Wendell Crumb!” she screamed from downstairs, but he was unable to move. His body felt as though it was made of ice as cold shivers ran down his spine, making movement impossible. “Kevin! Wendell! Crumb!”

At the third time his name was called, he sprang up, scalp tingling with crippling anxiety. Be he just stood there, unable to do anything but stare at the open door of his bedroom. Samuel stole the Light from him and ran towards it, slamming it shut, which made both Kevin and Dennis panic because there’s no way she didn’t hear that.

He heard her feet stomping up the stairs, and each pound of the steps felt like a physical blow to his face. Kevin had the Light and he was hyperventilating, and something in his mind fractured as he blacked out.

Kat was suddenly here, and new, and fresh, and she began to scream in the headspace.

Woah, fuck, calm down! Samuel yelled at her, but she continued screaming, and she lunged for the Light, jerking the body forward and making it slam into his dresser, where several of the neat things Dennis arranged earlier fell to the ground.

Kat clawed at her skin, and lunged forward again, steadying herself against the desk, where she saw the space under the bed. She fell so hard onto her knees that Dennis worried she’d broken them somehow, but then she crawled under the bed and began sobbing, wrapping her arms around herself and trying to make herself smaller and smaller by the second. She was safe here. She felt safe here. No one could get her here, right? No one could see her if she was tiny tiny small.

“KEVIN WENDELL CRUMB!” his mother screamed as she continued to pound up the stairs. “WHAT IS ON YOUR CLOTHES, KEVEN WENDELL CRUMB?!”

She smashed the door open so hard that it hit the wall opposite it, and she paused in the entrance to his room, not seeing him at first. Then she screeches, “KEVIN WENDELL CRUMB YOU NEED TO BE PUNISHED!”

There was desperation in Kat, and she didn’t want to be there anymore, which was just fine because then Dennis could be there and take whatever consequence mother had in store for Them.

His mother falls to her knees and her eyes, wild with fury, sought him out underneath the bed. “There you are, you fuck.”

She was holding the iron. It sizzled with heat and he could see the smoke rising off of it like a warning signal, suddenly looking very far away in his fishbowl vision. She thrusted the iron forward, and it missed him, but he could feel the intensity of it blasting against his skin as it did so. She thrust it at him again and this time it connected with his left calf, and Dennis screamed, desperately wanting to hold his leg because of the pain but knowing if he moved she would have access to more body parts to reach with it. She pushed it at him again and it hit his left shoulder, and he cried out again, tears springing from his eyes as he did so.

“Please,” he yelled brokenly, “please I’m sorry, I was trying to clean something and I should have known better than to ruin them, I’m sorry, please!”

“You’re damned right you’re sorry, you worthless piece of shit!” she screamed back at him. “Get out here and rub those stains out of those clothes immediately! Get out here or I’ll smash this iron into your face!”

He immediately scrambled out, trying to run past her, but she was too fast, and the hand not holding the iron grabbed him, whipping him around to face her. She stared at him with her eyes deathly sharp, so sharp they drilled holes into him and made him a blubbering mess, the snot and tears freely falling from his face as he felt his wounds burning into him.

“Lift your shorts,” she commanded.

He didn’t want to, but Dennis slowly lowered his hands and lifted up his shorts, revealing his thighs.

She shook the iron at his face and he closed his eyes, sobs hitching and fear racing through his veins.

“Do you see this, Kevin?” she said, lowering it to his thigh. “This hurts me more than it hurts you, do you hear me? Do you?”

“Yes, mama,” Dennis answered her. He knew what she wanted.

She pressed it against his thigh and it was so much pain that he couldn’t breathe, much less cry out in agony. She pulled it back and surveyed her work, seeming incredibly satisfied with herself. “Now you won’t mess your clothes, will you, Kevin Wendell Crumb?”

He couldn’t talk, so he just nodded fervently, and she whipped around to storm out of his room. “Fix your goddamn clothes, Kevin!” she screamed behind her. “Get downstairs right now and fix your goddamn clothes!”

His wounds were bubbling, and he felt the burn blisters already popping in the cool air. But Dennis began limping towards the stairs, because he had a job to do. He had to make sure she didn’t direct her anger towards him again. He had to protect Kevin. He had to fix his goddamn clothes.

He had to fix his goddamn, fucking clothes.

 


Dennis Video Diary 12

Dennis Video Diary 12

It’s Dennis in front of the camera, posture straight, arms crossed across his chest. His lips are drawn in a hard line, and his eyes are focused to the left of the camera in contemplation.

“It’s hard for me,” he begins, glancing back at the camera, “to talk about Samuel. Because I feel like the person he is now doesn’t match up to who he used to be. Something in him’s changed since…since he created The Beast.”

He puts a hand out with his thumb and finger very close together. “But there’s that small part of of him that I can still see inside of him. There’s a small part of Samuel that’s still there, that I think I’m clinging to, you know?”

He's silent again, mulling over the words in his head. When he continues, his east-coast accent is thick with anxiety.

“When he and I were protecting Kevin, it was just him and me. And more than once, Samuel took the hits, so I wouldn’t have to. I kept Kevin’s mother happy with a clean house, and we’d take the beatings if it wasn’t clean, and the beatings when things wouldn’t go her way, and the beatings just because.”

He puts a hand on the table in front of him and begins tapping it with one finger anxiously.

“And then the sexual abuse, we took that together too. But Samuel, he began to be filled with rage, I think. I was mad myself, but I knew what my purpose was. To protect Kevin. Samuel didn’t care about Kevin. He cared about me. So the more beatings I took, the more enraged Samuel became. I could see it in his eyes, they were on fire one night when it was real bad.”

He rubs the back of his neck with the other hand. “Somehow I think all the rage and the anger Kevin felt, I felt, Samuel took. In a way he became a, what’s the word, the word Lydia uses—an emotional protector, of that anger. So others wouldn’t have to feel it as bad.

“But that turned sour quick. That night, Kevin was maybe ten, he told me that he was going to do something about all the anger and hatred he was feeling. That one day, people like Kevin’s mom wouldn’t even get the chance to end up like her, he’d cut them down before it happened. That those that haven’t suffered like Kevin suffered, like we suffered, would pay for their ignorance.

“Years later, that’s why I jumped on The Beast bandwagon, you know. Because it was exactly what Samuel was wanting, and I needed to know that it would come to fruition. And then The Beast came, and Samuel was gone, and I wondered if making The Beast was just too much for him. That maybe he became The Beast, or that he sacrificed himself for The Beast to exist. I didn’t know anything.

“But no. He came back not too long ago, seemingly from the dead, angrier and more wrathful than before. Different, almost a different person. A different…alter, I think the word is.”

Dennis slightly lifts himself from the chair and adjusts his pants at the thighs, smoothing them out once he sits back down.

“I think he and I would die for each other.” Dennis traces his bottom lip with the tip of his tongue. “And—and I don’t know what to do, about these murders, these things he wants, these things that suddenly he craves. I don’t know what to do. On the one hand I agree with him; on the other hand, they’re so gruesome, and barely within the realm of the prerequisites needed for The Beast’s sacrifices.

“Everything is so out of control. I’m trying to clean up the damages that are happening, but little fires keep coming up and then I have to clean up those too. It’s exhausting, trying to keep Samuel from killing everything in his path. I’m trying to protect Kevin, ok? I’m trying real hard. Kevin’s already in so much shit because of me, because of Us, and Samuel’s just adding to it, making it worse, and I’m trying real hard to do damage control but it’s so hard.”

He rubs his face with both hands wearily. His leg starts bouncing and his hands look like they want something to do.

He very quickly turns the webcam off.

Chapter Text

“Why can’t I see him?” Barry demands as he closes in on Dennis sitting in his chair. Dennis quickly gets up, almost ready for a fight, and that’s good because Barry is jonesing for one.

“See who?” Dennis asks, expression blank.

“You know who, Dennis! Samuel, why can’t I see Samuel?”

Dennis’ eyes widen a bit, but he recovers, and his face is neutral again. “I don’t know.”

“Like hell you don’t know,” Barry spits.

Dennis is slowly cracking on the inside; he can’t keep this secret any more, now that Barry has found out—he can’t keep trying to protect everybody on his own like he’s been doing, he can’t hide Samuel and cover for him and keep prying questions away. It’s over, this purgatory of secrets, and while a part of him is angry because of Barry snooping around, another part of him is relieved that he doesn’t have to hide anything anymore.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” Dennis explains, expression finally changing into one of remorse. “I thought I could handle it on my own, and no one seemed to be able to see him, so I did. I tried. I thought, since he and I were, you know, close, before, that I could persuade him to stop.”

Barry sees the agony on his face and falters. He seems to have been holding this in for a really long time.

“How stupid is that?” Barry asks, but the words sound kind. “What happened to him? To Samuel?”

Dennis crosses his arms, but it occurs to Barry that this time it’s in insecurity rather than decisively standoffish that he’s used to seeing. “Samuel created The Beast. And when The Beast finally came, years later, Samuel was gone. Disappeared. I thought he’d died, but Lydia said alters don’t ever actually die, so…”

“What are you talking about?” Barry is bewildered. “What are you talking about, Samuel made The Beast? He’s been making The Beast the whole time? And then just sprung him on us three years ago?”

“The Beast has existed for years as he is, he’s been inside of Kevin since Kevin was a child. It just took the perfect circumstances to be able to realize he was on the move. I didn’t realize Samuel had made The Beast until he came back a year ago. There’s—” Dennis looks over his shoulder at Patricia, who is watching them intently but remaining in her seat. “There’s a lot going on, Barry, that you can’t know about.”

Barry pinches the bridge of his nose and closes his eyes. “This is—I don’t even have the words for this, Dennis. You’re supposed to be protecting the system, and this is what you’ve chosen to do instead?”

“I have been protecting Everyone,” Dennis rebukes. “You have no idea the things I’ve done, the things I’ve seen and cleaned up, just to protect everyone. The deals I’ve had to make with him, the constant vigil I’ve had to keep, not only in here with the system, but out there with the rituals, and out there with Casey!”

Dennis is breathing hard and shaking, and his face is begging Barry to understand.

Barry does. It’s not the best way to protect everyone, but it’s Dennis’ way, and Dennis did the best that Dennis could do.

"Tell me you’ve never let that psychopath out with Casey around,” Barry demands. “Tell me. You need to tell me this Dennis or I swear to god any respect I’ve ever had for you is gone.”

“No,” he answers. In all honestly, not that he’s known of. “At least, not when I’ve been awake.”

“Oh my god,” Barry places his hands on his head and links his fingers. “You mean that psycho could have just been watching her as she slept, as I slept, as We all slept? And We could have just woken up to massacred, dead Casey splattered on the walls.”

There’s a gravity that falls upon the both of them with this realization, and the silence that follows it is painful.

Barry takes a breath and puts his hands down. “Okay. Okay, how do we fix this? How do we fix this, Dennis?”

“I don’t know.”

"Well, have you tried talking to him to ask him why he’s doing all this?”

“I already know why,” Dennis answers. “He upholds The Beast’s agenda while simultaneously feeding his own thirst for blood.” There is no denying it now; Samuel is more of a serial killer than any of them will ever be. The Horde never enjoyed the kill. Casey never enjoyed it, either. Samuel, he did.

“Well what’s the plan, then?” Barry pushes.

“There is no plan. There was never a plan. You want a plan? You make one.”

“You talk to him and tell him to stop.”

“Brilliant,” Dennis says, voice unusually dripping with sarcasm. “Why didn’t I think of that. You’ve saved us all, Barry.”

“Okay then, little steps. We need to figure out how we can all see Samuel.”

“That’s not a great idea.”

“Why not?”

“That would cause mass panic, are you insane?”

Barry is not insane. What he is, though, is desperate. “Think, Dennis. Think. What brought Samuel back? What triggered his return? There has to be something that coincided with it.”

Dennis is shaking his head, attempting to think back. “Ah, we came back to Philly. We had a run-in with a homophobe. We met back up with Casey.”

I went to the Train Yard. Barry wonders if by some shift in the headspace him going into the Train Yard coupled with visiting old places they’ve created memories in triggered Samuel’s reemergence into the system, like unlocking a repressed memory that once was dormant.

“Dennis I need you to try something with me, and I need you to not freak out,” Barry begins. Dennis waits for him to continue. “We need to go back somewhere that ties in with old memories, and—”

“No, no no, no,” Dennis interrupts, lips thinning into a line as he shakes his head in protest. “No, we’re not doing that. I’m not going back there.”

“Where else then? I need to be able to see Samuel, and this could trigger that,” Barry pleads. “Do you have any other ideas? How do we keep Casey safe? Your way isn’t working, clearly, and you’ve made yourself a mess because of it.”

Barry is right, and Dennis hates to admit it. His manic regression into OCD and his violently Intrusive Thoughts, as well as his reactions to them, prove it.

“You can’t tell me you’re not a mess.” Barry looks at him expectantly.

“You don’t know what We went through there,” Dennis says softly. They just left Philly not too long ago and now Barry wants Them to go back? “You don’t know how chaotic that would make the system, how scared and panicked They would be.”

“It’s not that huge of—”

“It’s not that big of a deal to you because all that happened to you there was that you got your little pansy feelings hurt!” Dennis’ outburst can be heard by almost everyone, and They all turn to face the both of them. Dennis regains his composure with a deep breath and draws in his bottom lip, tracing it with the tip of his tongue. He puts a hand out in apology. “I didn’t mean that.”

“I was going to say that it’s not that huge of a hurdle if we All work together on it,” Barry says quietly. Dennis minimizing his trauma, even after taking it back, feels like a spear jabbing into his stomach.

They are all watching them now, wondering what could possibly be big enough—especially to calm, collected, emotionless Dennis—to elicit such a reaction from him. Jade is giving them both the stank eye, sitting on the back of her chair, arms crossed and resting on her knees. Her body is leaning forward and her feet are firmly planted on the seat.

Dennis lowers his voice, making sure only Barry can hear. “And if your plan fails? If we make this sacrifice for nothing?” He takes another deep breath. “Then what?”

"Then we’ll have gone back to an old house that’s nothing but a house, Dennis.”

Dennis tongues his canines and sucks on the inside of his teeth in contemplation. “Fine.”

“Okay. Then We keep doing what We’re doing with Casey and save some kids here and there. Tell her we need to get back to Philly.”

“And when she asks why?”

Barry shrugs. “We tell her the truth. That we’re trying to resolve some mommy issues.”

Chapter Text

The church is a waste of grandeur, all sweeping cracked arcs and grimy stained glass. The pews inside have seen better days; some are broken all the way through and forlornly reach their splintered parts towards each other in the dusty space. Moonlight trickles through the stained glass like liquid silver, illuminating the platform upon which the altar table sits, dressed with lit candles but otherwise empty.

There is a procession of hooded figures entering through the main doors, trickling in from the rest of the church to gather in the chancel towards the front of the apse. A few are entering through the priest’s door from the sides to gather around the altar table in reverence.

David is watching all this happen from a dark alcove obscured by a pushed-aside pew. He’s tired of cultists, to be honest, tired of all their chanting and kidnapping and child-eating. It’s been a while since he’s had a good challenge, something to get his blood pumping and the adrenaline coursing through his veins. He thinks maybe the last time it happened was when he fought The Beast, but he can’t be sure.

They come piling down the aisle and it takes a moment for David to realize that the numbers aren’t ebbing. There seem to be more coming in from every available door, and David stops counting after twenty. This isn’t an ideal situation. He sees the kid robed in white being brought up to the platform, and she looks older than their normal sacrifices—she’s at least ten, maybe twelve, and by the glaze of her eyes he guesses she’s somehow drugged as they walk her forward.

“Brothers and sisters,” someone near the front projects, “thank you for your attendance tonight. The turnout is much better than I expected for such a last-minute event. Please, proclaim with me.”

“We are The Horde,” the church echoes with dozens of voices. “We bend to our Lord’s will. We are The Horde. We crush the seeds of impurity with his venerable, gaping maw of judgment. We are The Horde.” 

It’s eerie, hearing so many people chant at the same time, as though a droning, buzzing collective. A hive mind.

There’s no way David can take all of these cultists all at once. While he may be able to outlast all of them, that would take time, and that’s time that the little girl in white doesn’t have. He’s at a loss, never having seen so many of them gathered like they are here, most of which likely have sidearms hidden underneath their black cloaks. Not that David cared about being shot anymore, but bullets have a nasty habit of making their way into unassuming flesh, and that’s definitely something he wants to avoid for anyone, cultist or not.

They lay the drugged girl atop the altar and begin to cut through the fabric of her robe with what looks like a ceremonial knife.

“Why do we do this, brothers and sisters?” the same person that spoke earlier asks.

“To appease The Beast with unbroken hearts,” they answer together.

“Why do we partake?”

“To consume of those that have not yet suffered,” they all answer.

This is sick, and David feels ill. He’s also never seen a ritual go this far before; usually by now he’s neck-deep in cultists attempting to dogpile him into the ground.

The head cultist begins to trace the kid’s chest with the knife, toying with the skin there, and David almost stands up from his place crouched in the alcove, ready to throw caution to the wind. He has to do something, and he has to do it fast, but he has no idea how to keep the kid from getting hurt in the inevitable chaos that would ensue.

The knife glints in the moonlight as it’s brought up high over the lead cultist’s head, and it flashes white as it begins to descend—

There’s a fierce, bellowing roar from above them.

The knife stops mid-plunge, hovering over the kid and twitching in hesitation. Everyone’s gaze lifts upward, but there’s nothing to be seen—the rafters are dark and ominous, and the moonlight only illuminates the ground. There is a tense silence for a moment as everyone continues to listen for it again, before a dark shape falls to the ground in front of the alter table, crouched low.

The silence turns from tense to stunned. The shape stands slowly, stretching up, towering over the lead cultist as the cultist begins to shrink down and away from it. The shape is humanoid, and its hands end in what seem to be gnarled claws. Its bare back, which is turned to David, is broad and muscular, muscles underneath the creeping black veins pulling the skin taught. On its lower body it sports grey sweats, leading down to bare feet. The hair atop its head is wild and looks almost black in the light of the moon.

It roars again, chilling and deafening, sound reverberating through the curve of the apse and vibrating down the aisle all the way to where David is crouched. Immediately, the lead cultist drops to his knees, and some of them follow suit, expressions on their face fearful and awed.

“Praise be The Beast,” the cultist says as he kneels, barely audible through chattering teeth and shaky voice. “The Beast stands among us, congregation, and blesses us with its presence!”

“We are The Horde!” they say, united, the rest finally falling to their knees as one. “We are The Horde! We are—”

In one swift movement, The Beast has ripped the lead cultist’s adam’s apple out with his mouth, blood spewing from the platform to splash against several people to his left. There is a moment of confused silence as the lead cultist continues to kneel there in front of him; then he is slumping forward to land face-down in front of The Beast.

People begin to scream. Several cultists rise to their feet and scatter, one of them running towards the door next to David’s alcove. David stands and puts an arm out, allowing the cultist to smash himself against it with his face. He falls down by David’s feet, out cold.

David crouches against the pew again. There is chaos in the room as many of them discover the doors are suddenly locked. This chaos is different from what would have happened had David stepped in before The Beast did; there are no guns, there is no fighting, only terror and screaming and panic. Out of the corner of his eye he sees The Beast lunging upon a few cultists and knocking them down, tearing into them with claws and fangs. Torn flesh flies against the walls and tapestries, and entrails rain down upon the rest that are freaking the fuck out.

David’s attention snaps to the kid, and he is shocked when he sees someone that vaguely resembles Casey Cooke helping the kid up from the altar and quietly leading her towards the door to the priest’s quarters. He can see the glint of a key in her hands. This moment seems surreal to him, as though it is some theatrical production he’s watching rather than experiencing.

Another couple of cultists head his way and he stands, making quick work of the both of them before turning towards where The Beast is massacring the rest. One of them gets some gumption and goes at The Beast’s back with a heavy candelabra, but David closes the distance between them and punches the cultist away. The Beast doesn’t even seem notice, and now that David has emerged, people are whipping their guns out of their cloaks.

Why do I always get the guns? David wonders, bemused. Couldn’t have been for the harmlessly wild animal ripping everyone’s throats out, no, has the be for the man in the scary green poncho.

Cultists are shooting at them both now, and they are being knocked back towards each other by the bullets until their backs are almost touching. There are about fifteen cultists left alive, and seven of them have guns. They form a circle around them, continue to shoot, desperate in their attempts to ward off their impending, inevitable deaths.

The Beast puts his arms up in front of his face—Casey and Dennis had a discussion earlier that suggested if he were to be hit in the eyes or the mouth it may pierce through, and he takes this into consideration as bullets ricochet off of his forearms. When there is a small lull to allow for reload, he whips his arms back behind him and emits another bone-chilling roar that persuades one of them to drop their gun and run off.

David is doing the same, hiding behind one of his arms, before he rushes forward to tackle the nearest one to him. Her gun goes clattering out of her grasp and he knocks her out with an elbow to the side of the head.

Meanwhile, The Beast continues his blood-soaked rampage, crushing a man’s head with his bare claws and tossing him aside like a rag doll. He lunges forward to pin another cultist to the ground, rears his head back, and buries his face into her abdomen. The tearing of flesh and sloshing of internal organs can be heard through the continued shrieking of the crowd.

David leaps to his feet and punches one with a gun, but not before he shoots him point blank in the stomach, which knocks David back a few steps only to eventually have him fall to his knees. Damn that one hurt, and he clutches his stomach in pain. As he’s on the ground, another comes at him, swinging a metal rod down towards his head, but a flash of red and gray flings itself towards the cultist. The Beast is knocking the cultist down and going for the man’s face, and David has to look away for this one; the face is such a personal feature on any human being, and he would rather not see it ripped off and in The Beast’s jaws.

Eventually, things begin to settle down. What’s left of the cultists are a couple cowering on the outskirts of the room, one in a corner and one behind some pews. The only ones alive are the ones that David attended to, and as The Beast closes in on those that are shaking on the outskirts of the room, David calls out.

“Stop!”

The Beast pauses, then turns partway to look at him over his shoulder. He is a bloody, caked mess of entrails and strips of flesh. He looks like he walked straight out of a horror movie, and David wonders again if this actually is one, and he’s just a spectator in the audience clinging to the fantasy.

“Let them be,” David continues, putting a hand out. “There doesn’t need to be any more death tonight. There’s been enough carnage.”

Foolish.” The Beast’s voice echoes through the chamber, deep and booming. “There will never be…an end to death. There will always be…carnage.

The one in the corner is shooting at them now, and The Beast turns towards him, walking slowly to close the distance between them. David looks away grimacing as the feasting commences and the jagged screams rack his brain.

The one behind the pews scrambles to one of the bodies to pick a gun up, but instead of turning it on The Beast, she turns it on herself and an array of brain matter splashes against the tapestry behind her as she puts the barrel into her mouth and pulls the trigger. David closes his eyes against the image, feeling her fear and pain and anguish in that single action.

They both stand in a sea of bodies, and David realizes he has blood on his face; he pulls his hood off, reaches up to touch the droplets, and they smear against his forehead. There are questionable chunks of something on the bottom of his poncho, and he shakes them off.

It’s a slaughterhouse. He feels his stomach lurching, but he fights it.

“This is wrong,” David tells The Beast.

The laws of nature…are never wrong,” The Beast answers. “Evolution finds its way…and that way is through me.”

Conviction. It’s a powerful thing.

The Beast gives him a lasting glare, and then turns to walk towards the priest’s quarters.

David stares at the mess around him solemnly, thinking about all the lives lost and those that could have been rehabilitated to lead positive, productive futures. Gone. His head turns up to look at The Beast’s back as he leaves, and his face is the epitome of regret as he says it.

“Kevin Wendell Crumb.”

The Beast seems to seize and clenches his fists, refusing to let go of the Light. The barrier he’s put up between the Light and the Others is ripped down, and as a few of Them see their surroundings in the church, They begin to whirl into a frenzy; all of Those that are now aware of The Beast's presence are attempting to snatch the Light from him to hold it Themselves. The Beast staggers a bit and holds himself against the edge of the altar table, gripping the Light and snapping at anyone that comes close to it.

“Kevin Wendell Crumb,” David tries again.

Then Kevin is being sucked out from the Train Yard, and he slams into The Beast in the headspace so hard that the Others are knocked back, far away from him; the body relaxes, then falls to the floor in a heap.

Chapter Text

David figures Kevin isn’t going anywhere, and takes his poncho off to wrap it around the trembling man’s shoulders. Then he walks over to one of the cultists that’s still alive and crouches by her, patting her on the face a couple of times to urge her into consciousness.

“Hey,” he says to her. “Hey, look at me.”

She stirs and looks up at him from her place on the ground, dazed and bruised. Her nose is bleeding and looks broken. David recognizes her as the one he hit in the face with his elbow.

“There you go.” David helps her up and she’s looking around the room. As her eyes hit her fellow cultists on the ground, they well up with tears and she begins to sob. David says nothing, allowing her this moment of shock and horror.

“I didn’t want to do this!” she bursts out. “I didn’t think we’d actually do it, I saw the guy up there and I was thinking, oh god this is really happening, but I couldn’t just run off, what if they caught me and ate my fucking heart too?”

“Who recruited you?” David asks.

“My friend Taye,” she sniffles. Her eyes continue to search the sea of bodies and land on one, and she screams, wailing into her hands. “Oh my god, that’s Taye, that’s his body, oh my god I can’t believe this is happening, I can’t believe it turned out this way, this isn’t how I wanted my life to go.”

“Who recruited him?” David nods over to the general direction of where she was looking.

“Her name is Lilly,” she continues to wail. “Her name is Lilly and she’s crazy rich and lives in Chicago somewhere, I don’t know where I just remember Taye talking about how he was invited to her house there and he was gloating about it and now, now he’s—” The words catch in her throat and the tears are dripping from her face.

In the corner of his eye, Kevin is standing up, and David glances over at him. The boy has his poncho wrapped around him and looks around, spotting David and the girl, and when he begins to walk over to them the girl screams and crawls backwards away from him.

Kevin stops in his tracks and finally takes a look around the room. The scene around him makes him dizzy, and he sways on his feet, catching himself on the altar table.

“Oh god, I did this didn’t I?” he asks in a shaky voice.

David chooses not to answer and turns back to the girl, who is cowering against the wall with her arms in front of her. Kevin begins to vomit and the sound of his gagging echoes throughout the church.

“I need a little more than just some girl in Chicago,” David states.

“That’s all I know, I swear, that’s all I know.” She covers her face and shakes her head.

“What’s your name?”

She looks up, blinking more tears out of her eyes. “Sharee.”

“Okay, Sharee. Here’s what you’re going to do.” He hands her his phone. “You’re going to call someone that knows Lilly and tell them you need to talk with her about your most recent…job.” The word sounds sour on his lips, as though it’s something mundane and tedious one did for an 8 to 5. “Tell them that guy—” he points to the pile of rags and blood by the podium that was the leader, “—was arrested, that you got away, but are worried he’ll snitch. You’ll refuse to tell them any details until you talk to Lilly.”

Sharee takes the phone and nods, wiping her face and dialing a number. David babysits her conversation while she talks to someone.

Casey peeks out of the priest’s quarters cautiously, and when sees that no one is left standing, she steps out, immediately laying eyes on Kevin when she does so.

“Kevin,” she breathes. She runs over to him and takes his face in her hands, and they press their foreheads against each other. Kevin closes his eyes. She’s the only pocket of peace amongst the chaos he’s woken up to, and drops the poncho to wrap his arms around her, breathing her in with a sigh.

David sees this exchange while he’s monitoring Sharee on the phone and doesn’t know what to think about it.

Sharee finally hangs up and hands the phone back to David. She rubs her eyes with the heels of her palms. “I have to meet them in Ohio,” she hiccups. “Toledo.”

“Toledo? Why Toledo?”

“That’s where he told me to meet him. He’s going to text us an address.”

“Who’s he?”

“He goes by Lion,” she answers. “I don’t know his actual name.”

What a dumb name. David’s phone vibrates and the address comes in like Sharee said it would.

“Are you okay?” Casey whispers to Kevin, and he squeezes his eyes shut, shaking his head against her. Casey closes her own eyes and links her fingers against the back of his neck. “It’s okay. I’m here now.” After a moment pressed against him, she lifts her head to David, having heard the conversation he’s been having with Sharee.

“We’re going with you,” she states.

David, surprised, looks over at her with an incredulous face. “No, you’re going to a police station and turning yourselves in,” he counters.

“No David. We’re coming with you, we’ll follow you if we have to, and if you turn us in to the cops, The Beast will just hurt them. And none of us want that.”

It’s true, Kevin needs something a little stronger than a police force to hold him. David hasn’t gotten around to figuring that one out yet, but he figures he’ll think of something eventually.

“That’s not a good idea, Casey,” he says to her.

"I’m not asking you, David. I’m telling you what’s going to happen.”

Her obstinate nature rears it’s horns, and David mulls it over in his head for a minute. If worse comes to worse, a little extra muscle wouldn’t hurt, especially if the numbers match what they witnessed today, but he’s worried about the massacre that would inevitably happen if The Beast was left in charge.

“Listen,” David begins to concede. “I won’t say anything about it, but you need to leash his dog. I’m not going to watch anyone else die the way they did today.” Sharee’s breath hitches in her chest beside him.

Casey can’t do that. But she doesn’t need David stopping them on their way to ending these child kidnappings for good. “Fine, I can control him,” she lies. Kevin looks at her with a furrowed brow, and it’s a good thing his back is towards David, because they both know—or think, in this case—that no one can control The Beast except The Beast.

Barry is near the Light and thinks it’s an incredibly bad idea, but doesn’t take the Light from Kevin—Kevin needs this, he needs to be out and holding it, he needs to feel safe and secure and the only thing that seems to be able to make him feel that way is Casey. Patricia is beside Barry, tilting her head in contemplation; she no doubt thinks this is an interesting turn of events.

David sighs and shakes his head, also thinking this is a bad idea.

And that’s how Casey Cooke, The Beast, and David Dunn begin traveling with each other to fulfill their common goal of saving the world.

 


David rents a car, and Casey is a little relieved to have someone with an ID that no one is tracing. David doesn’t trust either of them as far as he can—well, he can throw them pretty far, but the point is he doesn’t trust them in any capacity, so he’s even more vigilant than he normally is about watching his surroundings and the people around him.

Barry wants to get to their childhood home as soon as possible, but Kevin is out, and having him in the Light is heart-wrenching—in a good way; healthy, even. He knows exposing Samuel will have to wait until they get this kidnapping thing underway, which he definitely thinks is a Bad Idea, but he figures either he or Dennis can take the Light if absolutely necessary—but only if absolutely necessary.

David drives and Casey sits in the passenger seat while Kevin takes the back, and Casey leans back in the seat, reaching back with one hand to link hands with him. They stay this way the entire drive, and it’s clear to David that they have incredibly strong feelings towards each other; he thinks of Joseph, and the feelings he began to develop for her, which reminds him of Joseph’s newly developed circumstances of never being able to walk again.

His jaw clenches and his hands form fists against the steering wheel; he glances at the rearview mirror reflecting Kevin at regular intervals throughout the drive, anger ebbing in and out of his chest for hours.

When this is done…well, when all of this saving the world business is over, he and The Beast will have to meet again face to face to resolve the heat in David’s chest.

Sharee is actually in the back as well next to Kevin and pressed against the door as far away from him as possible; she won’t stop crying. She didn’t want to go, but they need her with them to be convincing bait when they get to Toledo.

They stopped at Kevin and Casey’s motel before they left town so that the two could gather their things, and David refused to let Sharee in with them while he waited out in the car. He thought about driving off several times and going it alone, but he needed Casey to uphold her end of the bargain and keep The Beast in check, which she may not do if they ended up following after him instead.

Sharee’s incredibly curly, long dark hair is knotted and plastered against the side of her ebony face with blood. She’s wearing Casey’s clothes, which are a little tight around the hips and chest, but she wasn’t able to get her face cleaned up before they left, and David knows they’ll have to get to a hotel soon to clean themselves off before arriving at their destination.

They clean Sharee’s face as well as they can in a bathroom at a gas station, then David finds a hotel for them all to stay in by checking in with Sharee at his side (as, of course, David doesn’t want her to leave his sight even for a moment).

The person behind the front desk judges David hard when she sees him with Sharee—a beautiful African-American woman that is young enough to be his daughter, possibly even granddaughter—but David shrugs it off and laughs when she gets nosy about it. That’s the thing with him. He’s usually able to put people at ease regardless of any situation.

Once they’re all settled into the two-bedroom, three-bed suite David paid a night for—it’s honestly a good thing he owns his own business, otherwise he’d be fired by now, and he’s even more grateful that Audry gets paid extremely well as a physical therapist—Sharee immediately jumps into the shower and they all three can hear her sobbing in there.

“I suck,” Kevin says morosely, staring at the wall from his place on their bed.

“Yeah you do,” David confirms, unpacking his toothbrush.

“Shut up, David,” Casey snaps. She climbs into the bed with Kevin and leans her head against him, again linking their hands. “It’s not your fault,” she continues to Kevin quietly. “This is The Beast. And we’re going to find some way to deal with all of this after we make sure these cultists are taken care of, I promise.”

There is a small comfort in her words, and he leans his head against the top of hers, squeezing her hand.

David’s going to find a way to deal with The Beast after this, too, but he doubts it’ll be the same solution Casey might come up with.

Sharee comes out of the shower and is wearing the same clothing of Casey’s as earlier, and as she’s combing her hair through, she looks at Kevin and Casey in the mirror.

“Are you going to kill me after Toledo?” she asks in a small, frightened voice, eyes getting wet and lips trembling. “Will they kill me if they find out I led you to them?”

“No,” Casey says firmly to her. “No one is going to hurt you. We’re going make sure of that, okay? So take a deep breath and just know that what you’re doing now is helping us stop these crazies.”

That seems to satisfy her and she nods, taking her place reservedly on the couch in the same room that Kevin and Casey’s king bed is in.

Casey wants to attempt to calm her further but she doesn’t think now is the best time—it’s better to just leave her be to wind down after everything she’s witnessed.

“Sharee,” David says, coming into the room again. “Come on. Bathroom.” Sharee gets up and follows David in there while he brushes his teeth, sitting on the closed toilet and getting weepy again. David hands her some toilet paper and she blows her nose with it. He feels sorry for her; he wishes he could let her go, and it sucks because he can’t yet.

They all spend the rest of the evening in relative silence.

Chapter Text

"So where you from?” Jalen asks Sharee, passing the blunt back to her. They both snuck out onto the balcony and are sitting on the concrete floor to enjoy it; she was carrying it around with her since before the church incident and planned on smoking it alone, but here Jalen is, adorable and friendly and grinning. It’s night, and the moon hangs lazily behind some clouds.

It’s incredible to Sharee and she isn’t a hundred percent convinced that Jalen is a completely different person than Kevin is, but she goes with it as the pot calms her down and she relaxes for the first time in days. She takes a drag and holds it in, passing it back to him.

“Shreveport, that’s the only reason I was even down with that church thing,” she says, exhaling the smoke out slowly. “If it was outside the city, I woulda passed, I’m not about to go hoppin’ all over like Taye did with that fucked up group.”

Jalen busts out laughing. “You were jammin’ with that fucked up group like, eight hours ago, girl.”

“I got caught up in their Hitleresque propaganda,” she answers as he takes a drag. “I’m not about their murdering kids and shit. Didn’t even believe it was going to go down until it was happening, know what I’m sayin’?”

“I feel you,” Jalen answers. Sharee isn’t a bad looking girl; the first one outside of Casey that he’s ever actually been around in years, and by damn is he crushing on her a little. But that may be because, well, she’s the first girl outside of Casey that he’s ever actually been around in years.

Or maybe it’s the high he’s got going on, but he can swear she’s got a glow going on.

“So what’s up with this messed condition you got goin’?” she asks.

Jalen shrugs. “Dunno—just life, senorita.”

“It’s def made up, stop playin’.”

Jalen makes a face at her and nudges her leg with his foot. “I’m straight-up.”

She shrugs and rolls her eyes. “Boy, I’m not buyin’ that you’re a diff dude.”

“For real for real, shorty.”

“You gettin’ so fresh,” Sharee giggles, and she comes forward onto her hands and knees, closing the space between them. He turns the joint around and places it between her lips as he holds it, and she sucks the smoke in. She blows it into his face and he closes his eyes against it, smirking, before he takes it back and takes a drag himself. He’s holding the smoke in and leans forward towards her, kissing her while she’s grinning and blowing it into her mouth. She blows it back slowly into his face again.

“Woah, what the fuck is going on here,” Casey asks as she slides the balcony door open.

Sharee plops back down onto her ass and slides away from Jalen, placing her back against the concrete wall.

“None ya,” Sharee answers defiantly. She doesn’t like Casey, and her barging in on them like that is just fuckin’ rude as it is.

Casey looks at Jalen as he takes a puff of the blunt. “Who are you?” she demands.

There’s a silence and Jalen doesn’t know what to say for a second before he starts coughing smoke out, “Dennis?” Another pause, then, “No, wait wait, Luke.” He begins to giggle after this one, and can’t seem to stop. Sharee starts giggling with him.

“Jalen,” Casey says, sighing. She looks at Sharee. “You know he’s seventeen, right? And last I checked, we were in Tennessee, where the legal age is eighteen.”

“Girl, chill,” Sharee whines. “We’re just windin’ down from that bullshit from earlier.”

“Ugh.” Casey walks over to Jalen and snatches the pot from him, dropping it onto the concrete and crushing it irreparably under her foot.

Aw what the hell?”—”What the shit?” they both chime.

“That stuff doesn’t just affect him, okay? He has other people in there that he’s utterly failed to think about.”

Wow, this girl is really buying into Jalen’s identity story. Sick.

“The hell is going on out here?” It’s David now peeking out of the sliding door, looking very tired and very irritated.

“Nothin’,” Sharee tosses out. “Just some killjoy messin’.” She gets up, dusts herself off, and passes around David as she walks back into the suite. David gives Casey and Jalen a lasting look, then follows her inside, sliding the door shut just a little too hard. Though it may have been a tiny nudge as far as he’s concerned, he’s incredibly strong.

Casey sits down next to Jalen and looks up at him. “I’m serious, Jalen. Don’t do this shit anymore.”

Yo, where’s Cool Casey?” Jalen asks, looking around. “Because all I see is Cockblockin’ Casey.”

“I can’t afford to be Cool Casey right now, Jay,” she says softly. “So much depends on this meeting in Toledo. Barry’s getting anxious because we can’t go back to Philly yet; he hasn’t told me he is but I can tell, I’ve been able to tell since he told me you guys needed to go back.”

“It’s a’ight mamacita,” Jalen soothes, slinging an arm around her and squeezing her. “It’ll be a’ight. We got The Big Dude on our side, and if shit goes down, we got it covered.”

That’s one of the things she’s afraid of, but she doesn’t say so. “Jalen,” she begins. “Do you know why we’re going back to Philly after this? Has Barry told anyone, or have you seen him talking to anyone, or?”

Naw,” he answers. Actually, that’s a lie, and he avoids eye contact with her.

“Jalen.” Casey isn’t stupid. “Tell me. Why do we need to go back to Philly?”

He clears his throat and draws his knee up, messing with something on his pants. Nothing.

Jalen.”

“Okay, okay,” he spits out. “He wants to go back to some house to shock the sys into bein’ able to see Sammy-boy.”

Sammy-boy? “Who’s that?”

“Some dude that was chill before all this Beast stuff was goin’ down, and now he ain’t so chill no more.”

She frowns. “Does he…have a Scottish accent?”

“I don’t know, girl,” he answers. “All’s I know is that no one can see him ‘cept Dennis or somethin’, like he’s invisible to the sys, ‘n Barry wants to change that.”

“Can I…” She hestitates. “Can I talk to Dennis about it?”

“Girl, you pushin’ me out?” He raises an eyebrow at her. “That’s cold. Especially after you cockblockin’ me. You gonna do me like that?”

“Jalen, you don’t get to have sex, okay?” The second the words are out of her mouth, she regrets them.

Whoaaahh,” he breathes. “You serious? You get to fuck Barry, and from what I hear you get to fuck Dennis, but I don’t get no love from a nice girl like Sharee?”

“You’re seventeen,” she sighs.

“The legal age of consent in some states is seventeen, mamas,” he quips back.

“Yeah well, not in Tennessee.”

Jalen whips his handy-dandy phone out and starts thumbing through Google. “Hah!” he exclaims. “Just wait ‘till we get to Ohio, Case, legal age of consent there’s sixteen, I’ma fuck so many babes you don’t even know.”

She rolls her eyes, knowing he’s just blowing smoke up her ass. “Mhm, okay, whatever.”

“Or at least one,” he says, glancing into the suite.

She doesn’t like it, but she doesn’t have to. Jalen has as much right to the body as Dennis or Barry does, but a part of her is salty about it. “Just use protection and be safe about it, Jay.”

“Yup, I’m pretty woke ‘bout it.”

“So…can I talk to Dennis?”

“Like I said, damn cold.” But his jaw is clenching and his eyes squeeze tight, and then the body is getting up quickly to get Dennis’ washcloth out of its back pocket.

 


Dennis fishes his glasses out of his pocket and puts them on. Then he wipes the back of his pants with his washcloth excessively, looking at her cautiously, and lays it on the ground to sit next to her cross-legged. She thinks Hedwig may be sharing the Light with him, but she can’t be sure.

“Hi Dennis.”

“Casey,” he acknowledges without looking at her. “How goes your vigilante quest for justice?”

She thinks he’s trying to be funny, but she can’t be sure of that either.

“Jalen says you can see someone the Others can’t.” She gets right to the point.

“Samuel,” Dennis says bluntly. He doesn’t plan on hiding things anymore.

“Who’s Samuel?”

“He’s—”

Samuel takes his hand and leads him out of the Light as the man slides his hand over Their thigh, traveling slowly upwards in a serpentine fashion.

It’s okay, Dennis, Samuel says to him. I’ll take the Light now. This time, for the first time, Dennis turns away from it and Samuel holds the Light alone.

“—he’s someone that protected Kevin when we were younger,” Dennis answers, the memory fresh in his mind. “For a time, Kevin’s mother used to…sell him sexually, to men and women. To pedophiles, to make ends meet.”

Casey’s lips part, and her eyes sting; no child should ever bear witness to anything like that, and she empathizes with him painfully. She says nothing, and waits for him to continue.

“He and I would take the brunt of those experiences, though Samuel could tell every time I was close to breaking, and he’d step in and make me give him the Light. He’s…so angry now. And I think that’s what’s made him so—”

So what? So homicidal? So twisted? Isn’t Dennis just as twisted, with his Intrusive Thoughts and how turned on they make him? Though Dennis has accidentally listened to a therapy session of Goddard’s, and Lydia has stated that the sexual fantasies that arouse Them can be attributed to the trauma that They experience in Their lives, and once that sexual tension is relieved, it’s natural to feel guilt and even shame after rubbing one off while thinking about them.

“—I think that’s what’s made him so angry. Just…everything.” Dennis is at a loss for words.

“He has…a Scottish accent?” Casey tentatively asks.

Dennis is surprised. He looks at her, trying to determine if she’s serious or just a really good guesser, and the curiosity in her face confirms that she’s heard Samuel speak at least once.

“A little bit of one,” Dennis says. His eyes drift to the contours of her face—her cheekbones, the curve of her jawline, the way a lock of blonde hair falls over one of her beautifully symmetrical eyebrows. She’s gorgeous in this light, and he takes a moment to revel in it without self-criticism. He takes a deep breath. “Casey, I…”

She waits.

“I’m, sorry. I’m sorry for the way I’ve acted towards you. It was just easier, to keep you at a distance. To keep everyone at a distance, when no one knew about Samuel and I was trying to deal with it on my own.”

“Deal with what?”

Oh. It occurs to Dennis that she has no idea The Beast is different from how she originally knew him. “Samuel has been…suggesting, victims to The Beast. And the way they die, there’s no dignity in it. The church is an example. Crass, messy, without regard to human life. Without regard to the Sacred Food.”

Honestly, she didn’t even glance around them in the church when she realized Kevin was there. They left through the priest’s quarters so that David could bring the little girl to a police station, and Casey doesn’t understand the difference between Claire and Marcia’s deaths versus what The Beast does now. Dennis can tell.

“The Sacred Food is supposed to be kept whole, preserved, as an example,” Dennis explains. “Rarely is a victim of The Beast’s left whole now.”

“Because of…Samuel?” she asks hesitantly, trying to figure out what he’s saying.

“Yes. Samuel, he created The Beast.”

What the fuck? Casey stares at him in shock, and she begins to shake her head. “I—what? What do you mean he created The Beast?”

“The Beast was created from all of Samuel’s rage and pain borne of his experiences,” Dennis explains. “It’s made Samuel hateful with wrath, and he’s recently within the past year or so been using The Beast to satiate the hunger he has for violence and death.”

“Then—then why aren’t you the same way, if you and him both took the same traumas?”

“I don’t know.” Dennis suspects it’s because Samuel has always been more of a doer than he was, and not as affected by the chaos that accompanies something like that and would inevitably make Dennis’ OCD consume him. He thinks that maybe all he is left with are perverted fantasies of killing women, whereas Samuel has made that an achievable reality with The Beast.

Or maybe it’s just the simple fact that Dennis and Samuel are not the same person.

This news renders Casey momentarily speechless. Then, “So—so The Beast hasn’t necessarily been in control of all of his actions?”

Dennis nods. “Most of them, but not all of them.”

Casey thinks back to The Beast’s hesitation as he paced in front of the van while she held on to the Angela and Jace. He didn’t pounce until he knew he would be sent away, and became desperate to hold on to the Light.

Something occurs to Casey. “Does Samuel control The Beast, or does The Beast just do as Samuel says?”

Dennis wonders for a moment what the difference is, then says, “The Beast will at times do as Samuel says. But Samuel doesn’t often command him to do anything. He suggests victims, and when The Beast rips into them, Samuel…merges into the Light with him.

“Usually people just share the Light, or take it along with each other to control the body simultaneously—to co-front, I think it’s called—but with Samuel, it’s different. It’s like, when he wants a quick fix, he—he does more than just hold it at the same time as The Beast, he blends with The Beast. I’ve never seen anyone do that without the body getting sick, or reacting physically ill to it.”

Dennis remembers that Barry and Hedwig did it at one point, which resulted in gross fatigue and nausea. Samuel seems to do it flawlessly with The Beast, perhaps because The Beast is a manifestation of Samuel’s violent emotions.

“But he’s—” Dennis swallows here, “—he’s not evil. He’s just trying to protect Kevin. It’s not the best way to protect Kevin, but he’s doing the best he can with how he can.”

Casey can feel strong emotion emanating from the words, and she wonders briefly what sort of relationship exactly Dennis and Samuel have or had. She feels a pang of jealousy, but it’s silly, and it’s gone as fast as it comes.

“I’m not saying massacring dozens beyond recognition is right,” Dennis says softly. “I’m just saying he’s not an evil person.”

Her lips look so soft, and Dennis finally looks away from her nervously. Then her hand is on his, and he flinches away from her as though he’s been burned. She pauses, but then recovers, and takes his hand in hers gently. There’s a mild panic inside of him that wonders if she’s washed her hands, but he tries very badly to push it away, as he knows she just has good intentions. It doesn’t quite work, but the effort is there, and he forces himself to continue holding her hand.

“You don’t have to deal with it alone anymore,” she whispers. “I’m here, and I won’t leave you.”

“Don’t you mean you won’t leave Barry and Kevin?” He can’t stop himself from saying it, but as soon as he does he wants to suck it back into his mouth and swallow it.

She’s silent, and from the corner of his eye he sees her moving towards him. Her lips are against his cheek suddenly, and he closes his eyes against them—so soft and wet and delicate. He wants to pull away, to stave off the Intrusive Thoughts before they begin to bombard him, but he can’t, and he turns his head towards her, their faces so close to each other that they seem to share the same breath.

His eyes get her, that fucking intense glare again, and she can feel her heart beating rapidly in her throat.

“Dennis—” But before she can continue, his lips are on hers and it’s sweet, sweet torture against her flesh. She wants him to touch her everywhere, to be so molded into his body that they don’t know where they begin and end, to tangle her sweaty limbs with his and have him be so deep inside her that she feels wholly, completely, entirely full with him.

He has the knife and as she squirms, he traces—

He pulls away immediately and abruptly gets to his feet, snatching his washcloth from the ground and folding it quickly. “I, I have to go.”

She’s screaming against the dirty rag in her mouth, her spit making a mess of it, and—

He turns on his heel and opens the sliding door with his washcloth around his hand, closing it behind him silently and heading towards the bedroom they share. He’s willing his hard-on away but it’s not helping, and he detours into their bathroom, turning on the cold water with the intent of taking a freezing shower in order for his perverted thoughts to ebb away.

She’s still facing where he was, the separation of them so sudden and unexpected that all she can do is lower her eyes and bite her lip. She doesn’t know why he would kiss her then pull away, but all she can surmise is that he’s confused with his emotions. If they were real grown-ups, well-adjusted and free of trauma, they’d just talk about their feelings—but emotions are a tricky thing for those that have suffered like they have.

Casey sighs and leans back against the wall, head tilted back touching it, and wishes she could see into his brain to decipher his thoughts.

Chapter Text

The Renaissance Hotel in downtown Toledo is the nicest hotel in the dying city; most of the buildings around it are either deserted or run down with no effort put into their storefronts

The Renaissance Hotel in downtown Toledo is the nicest hotel in the dying city; most of the buildings around it are either deserted or run down with no effort put into their storefronts.

The hotel is where Lion told Sharee to meet him, and as they approach the building, she points him out through the window. He's at the bar nursing a drink and genuinely looks like his name—a tall man with a broad chest and the body of a powerlifter, his face sporting a great big dark blond beard underneath a prominent nose and hazel eyes. His hair is shaggy and unkempt, and it tumbles down his back well below his shoulders.

David sits in the lounge with his back to the bar—he is within earshot and reading the paper while sipping a cup of coffee. He blends in pretty flawlessly amongst the other guests around him.

Casey and Barry wait in the car. The parking space they found is conveniently obscured by the valet, and she can just barely see them inside because Lion makes the bar look like a Bartender Barbie accessory. Sharee is shaking when she enters the hotel, and Casey doesn't blame the girl.

Inside, David seems engrossed with the paper. He sees Sharee approach from the corner of his eye and takes another sip of his coffee; the poor girl is scared out of her wits and he feels kind of sorry for her.

As she sidles up to Lion, he narrows his eyes at her. She sits down next to him at the bar and fidgets with her hair, avoiding his gaze and staring at the various bottles in front of her. "They took them—they killed Taye, and took Hugo, right in the middle of his sermon," she informs him with a shaky voice.

"Who." It's not a question. His voice is deep and booming, a low rumble of thunder that travels up his chest and rolls out of his mouth. His poison of choice is whiskey, and he's swishing the liquid around in the glass as he waits for an answer.

"The, the cops," Sharee answers. "They weren't regular cops, maybe FBI? I don't know, I didn't stick around to see. Me and a few others slipped out but I don't know who got caught and who didn't, except Hugo."

"I knew that amateur would fuck this up," Lion hisses through clenched teeth. He studies her in a sideways glance. "How'd you get here, huh?"

Sharee blanks and David turns the page of his paper, seemingly very interested in the sports section.

"Greyhound," she finally says. Lion doesn't seem satisfied with the answer but he doesn't push; it's better for her and her well-being for him to just cut to the chase and skip the games.

"I suppose you want me to take you to Lilly, huh," he asks, finishing his drink and setting the glass down firmly against the bar counter.

"I don't care, I just need to know what you need me to do," she answers.

That, at least, sounds convincing enough to him, and Lion shrugs. "What are you gonna do, bust 'em out, not knowing where they are? They're as good as dead to us and you might as well treat 'em like it.

"Listen," Lion continues. "It's just better if you went home. I'm giving you an out here. You're not Horde material anyway—the majority of these so-called recruits aren't up to par with the core group, basically just running around like blind rats looking for cheese. They're lucky they ship the rest of the goods to Lilly or they'd be useless, and if you didn't know, Lilly likes to do away with things that are useless to her."

"I want to be useful," she says with a light snap, turning to face Lion and glaring into his eyes. The tone of voice surprises David a bit, and he turns the page of his paper. "I want to be useful because I actually believe in this shit, in what you guys are doing, purging the untainted from the world, making a new race of humans that are broken but superior. I don't want to let it go just because you tell me I'm not good enough, asshole."

She's still trembling, but she holds her own and doesn't break eye contact with him. She's a pretty ballsy kid. Stupid, but ballsy. David almost shakes his head at the thought.

Lion seems to contemplate this and then shrugs. "You really want to take it to the next level, huh. You really want to know what it's like to be more evolved, to know you're better and stronger than those that aren't?"

"Will you actually teach me or you just playing?"

"I tell you what, little girl, I'm going to take you up to Lilly," Lion begins, "and then what she's going to do is she'll cut your fucking eyes right out if she thinks you're a boring piece of work."

There's suddenly a commotion at the front of the hotel and David turns his head towards it. Casey is speed-walking, trying to catch up to a very flustered-looking Kevin Crumb; or rather, someone inside Kevin Crumb's body. The whole DID thing is all very confusing to David, but he can't help but push that aside for now because having them walk in here as noticeably as they have is not in the plan. Why can't kids stick to plans?

The concierge points them in the direction of the restrooms, and they speed off, Kevin looking like he can barely hold his own against the pressure of his urgency. David shifts his focus back to listening in on Lion and Sharee. Lion's attention, however, is no longer on Sharee; he looks like he's seen a ghost, and he blinks several times before coming back to his faculties. "I, ah—" He stands, slightly pointing to Sharee, "I can't be bothered with this right now."

He gets up very abruptly and walks towards the restrooms.

 


 

Hedwig balks as she tries to follow him into the men's bathroom—"Ewww gross! Do you want to see boy parts, et cetera?" She's banished to the hallway in front of the elevators, waiting for him to finish. To her right, she sees Lion walking towards her, and she freezes; every man that's ever hurt her in her life has been large and burly, and Lion unfortunately fits the criteria. She can feel herself tensing just by being in his vicinity.

Then he's suddenly ducking into the men's room without even glancing her way. Casey just stands there feeling the wind of his movement past her against her skin, eyes wide and staring at nothing in an almost comical fashion.

Oh shit, Hedwig. She doesn't know if she should barge in after him and cause suspicion or just wait it out. She decides to very awkwardly stay where she is, leaning against the wall next to the men's room door as though it's a thing she does frequently.

Inside the bathroom, Hedwig is washing his hands when the large man enters and heads straight for the sink next to him. He turns it on and begins to wash his own hands, locking eyes with Hedwig in the mirror and holding his gaze. Creepy.

Lion nods at him. Hedwig is confused at first—is he trying to get him to say hi? He points to himself and looks around the bathroom with a confused look on his face. "I didn't know you would be nearby. Things all in order?"

It's obvious now that he's speaking with Hedwig, and the boy doesn't know what to say, so he just blinks rapidly and spits out, "I needed to pee."

Lion looks at him with a strange expression on his face more akin to discomfort than suspicion, and the larger man nods, seeming to agree that bodily functions are indeed a necessary aspect of life.

Dennis just now notices the scene unfolding and realizes that Barry has been gesturing to him for who knows how long. He leaps from his chair to his feet and immediately shares the Light with Hedwig.

Oh Mister Dennis, good, is this guy legit because he's being kind of a creeper with me, Hedwig says to him in the headspace.

Dennis just stares at him in the mirror unnervingly, not knowing what he should be playing along to, and the best reaction when it concerns Dennis being unsure of himself is no reaction at all.

Lion turns the sink off and wipes his hands with paper towels.

Dennis meticulously dries his hands with the washcloth in his back pocket, wiping down the stray droplets of water on the edge of the sink with it and very neatly folding it back up to put it away again. Lion is quite clearly mistaking Dennis for someone else, but that could work in their favor.

Maybe ask him about Lily? Barry suggests.

Dennis turns his focus to Lion, and while the much larger man is taller than he is, Dennis seems to tower over him—and Lion shows it. He diverts his eyes away like a wolf submitting to a more dominant creature after a long stare-off questioning each other's force of will.

"Lilly," Dennis states quite eloquently to Lion, who straightens at the mention of the name.

"Oh, yes, Lilly," Lion says nodding as though he understands what Dennis is implying, "of course, do you want to go in separate cars or one?"

Dennis has been able to bullshit pretty well so far, and from what he can gather of this rather one-sided conversation, Lion will either be transporting or leading them somewhere. While he stands there just staring at Lion, the huge man seems to get even smaller in the intensity of the gaze, and he absently rubs the back of his neck with his hand. This encourages Dennis and gives him a sense of their power dynamic—have they met before? Maybe it isn't a case of mistaken identity after all.

"Er, let's just do separate," Lion says under his breath. "I've got a girl up front, gonna bring her to Lilly for intake."

Dennis moves past him, opening the bathroom door with washcloth in hand and keeping it open expectantly for Lion to walk through. He takes the hint and exits the bathroom. They almost bump into Casey but Dennis uninterestedly gestures to her as Lion looks over, indicating some sort of introduction of her without words.

Dennis looks over at David as they pass through the lobby and older man finishes his coffee off, tossing it in the trash and walking over to them. David supposes the kid thought of something after all, because Lion seems to be following him around like a lost puppy.

Folding the paper, David looks over to Sharee and raises his eyebrows. "Ready?" he asks.

"Fuck no," she says under her breath. "I hear Lily's psycho." Regardless, she's up and meeting the group at the hotel doors.

Chapter Text

David rides with Lion and Sharee, which is awkward at first as Lion recognizes him from the hotel lobby and realizes he must have been listening in on his conversation with her

David rides with Lion and Sharee, which is awkward at first as Lion recognizes him from the hotel lobby and realizes he must have been listening in on his conversation with her. It's swept under the rug, though, and Lion doesn't mention it; David just assumes it's because he's in general company with Kevin and Casey, and for some reason Lion seems cowed by Kevin.

This doesn't stop him from having a sour face as he's driving, though, and David is on high alert during the drive, as he has no idea where this man is taking them. Casey and Sharee may as well be squishy meat bags next to him and The Beast, and he doesn't want a repeat incident of what happened with Joseph to happen to either of them.

There is no conversation in the car at all; Kevin and Casey are following in the rental car behind them and they stick relatively close. It's at least a four hour drive, and David's in the passenger seat, thinking.

Why would Lion just bring them to Lily? He sounded pretty opposed to a friendly visit when he was talking to Sharee earlier at the bar. It doesn't seem like he recognizes David or Casey from anywhere. Maybe, though, he recognizes Kevin, and understands that Kevin is The Beast, therefore the idol of their worship.

That must be it. Yeah, David's cracked the case.

They pass Chicago and arrive in Glencoe, which is an immensely affluent suburb of Illinois. Sharee is plastered against one of the windows in the back, gazing in awe at the properties sprawled on acres of land that David knows have no possibility of being productively utilized. The neighborhood is nestled inside forested land, and they enter it through a guarded gate, the guard of which nods a greeting to Lion as he pulls up.

"I've got another car behind, they're authorized to enter," Lion tells him, and drives into the neighborhood. The guard allows Kevin and Casey in with a sweep of his hand before shutting the large iron gates behind them.

They like to tell you these kinds of properties are safe, but David knows the truth. They're glorified prisons where the wealthy take unsuspecting common folk and expose them to the agony of their own futile existence—and as this place is a prison, it will be very difficult to escape from.

They drive deep into the neighborhood and pull in to what looks like the last house down the tree-lined street. The property itself is impressive; there is a circular driveway they settle the car into with a small topiary maze at the center, and Lion immediately gets out. Lion leaves the car running and a driver rushes to it from out of nowhere, cruising it out of the driveway to, David suspects, a garage they aren't able to view from this angle. It baffles him that the entire property itself is so massive that he can't see all of it at once. Kevin and Casey are behind them and Kevin follows suit, leaving the car running for the driver when he gets back.

"What a trash heap, am I right?" David asks jokingly, a smirk on his face; no one responds, as they are too enrapt in the sight before them. "Nothing?"

The house itself is nice and simple, shaped in an L, but the guest house to its left is a fancy building built with exquisite Victorian influences.

Lion begins to head into the main house when Kevin—or rather, Dennis, as it has been the entire time and perceived as Kevin to David due to his limited knowledge—stops in his tracks and places a hand against his head. He shuts his eyes tightly, and Casey looks at him intently, wondering if he's going to switch now, of all times.

He hears a sharp, high-pitched whine in his ears and sways a bit on his feet but seems to shake it off, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly through his nose. She raises her eyebrows at him in question, and he nods, letting her know that he's okay. The ringing in his ears dies down and he's a bit dissociated from the body, feeling himself a bit up, behind and to the left from it; otherwise he really is fine and has maintained control of the Light, keeping everyone else but Barry and Patricia blocked from it.

They enter the house, which is wrapped with just as much grandeur as the outside of it. David can't survive in an environment like this for long; he's a simple man with simple tastes and the high archways and vaulted ceilings are too rich for his blood.

The staircase inside is splayed at the bottom and thinner at the top, and when Casey's eyes lift to the landing there is a woman standing there who she can only assume is Lilly. She's the embodiment of perfection in a creature, of course; no one gets to the top like she is without some form of charisma, and a spattering of good looks definitely helps.

Lilly is a force of power, that's for sure. She looks tall from the top of the stairs, maybe five-foot-eight or nine, but she's wearing heels so Casey can't be sure. Louboutin round-toe stilettos, as a matter of fact, though Casey's not fashion-forward. She's sure Barry would know. The bottom half of her sports a black, mid-thigh pencil skirt and her top is a deep red blouse, the sleeves of which she's folded up to her elbows. She has long black hair done up in a very professional bun with red hairsticks stabbed through the base of it, and her skin is ivory—almost eerily so. It reminds Casey of the goth girls when she was in high school that clustered in the shade and hissed when the sun peeked out of the clouds.

Her face is heart-shaped with high cheekbones, and her lips are a full bright red to match the backs of her Louboutins.

The only reason Casey is noticing all of this about her is that her presence fills the room entirely, like an earthquake rumbling through a house. David and Dennis are staring; Sharee and Casey seem to seethe with envy for some reason. Casey likes to think that she's content with her own looks, so it's a strange feeling for her to try and overcome.

Out of the corner of her eye, Dennis seems to be twitching. She looks at him and his jaw is clenching, and there is a long moment where she thinks it may go on forever, but then his face relaxes and his mouth grows much softer—softer than Dennis keeps it, and maybe it's because Barry has switched with him? Casey's unsure.

She doesn't descend. She just looks at them with a hand on the railing. Casey suspects it's a power move, to force them to feel smaller than her. Already, besides the whole heart-eating thing, she doesn't like her. She doesn't like people that already have obvious power and flex that power just to show it off.

"I didn't know you'd be bringing guests," she says, and her voice matches her looks—sweet and sultry with a poisonous aftertaste.

"And I didn't think you'd be home," comes the voice from Kevin's mouth. Casey almost gasps, her head snapping over to him—it's her Scotsman, lilting out the words.

"You do love to surprise me, don't you Samuel," she says, and all of a sudden Casey is afraid. No one is here that she knows is safe except David. Her hand slowly reaches up and, like a child, takes his sleeve in her hand. David looks down at her in confusion but allows her the small comfort. Sharee is behind them, and without looking at her, Casey knows she's shaking again.

A smirk blossoms on Samuel's face—it's a wry look, a look that seems like it could be cruel, and it's so foreign on Kevin's face that it doesn't even look like Kevin anymore.

"When have I," he says playfully, "ever been predictable, my Lillith?"