For the few days after he had been spurned by Kimiko, Frenchie vanished into a cycle of ecstasy and other uppers for the days (and sometimes late into the nights) and Xanax and barbiturates when he couldn’t take being conscious anymore. Not that he hadn’t been using at all the other points, he had long relied on the barbs to let him rest, at first on noisy streets or in shelters where he couldn’t be certain that nobody would mess with him while he slept— he would rather just not wake up for that— and now just to get him to sleep at all. He had seen a lot of shit, or so a social service worker had once told him as a teen. He had hated that because, as he had made clear with a bit of bilingual cursing, it wasn’t the seeing that had fucked him up. His body had carried him halfway across the world, and he had a damn good brain, even if it was hell to live inside it sometimes. He had cut back on dosing during the daytime recently though, he wanted to remember every moment Kimiko was around. He went from only taking as much as he needed to get by to steeply ramping it up over the past week or so.
He hadn’t taken anything the morning they headed off to Sage Grove Psychiatric Hospital. There hadn’t been time after he’d woken up, the last nights downers long worn off. Starlight was down in their basement and then Billy was strutting about and scheming and he had to pay attention and M.M. kept giving him dirty looks whenever he moved towards his stash. He ended up getting so caught up in packing the van and getting into hospital scrubs that he didn’t notice he was starting to fee nauseous until they were already driving. Not that the boys would have turned around for his fix anyways, they didn’t know him like that and they wouldn’t understand. He leaned back and tried not to feel his stomach slosh around emptily, also trying not to look at Kimiko in the van near, but not beside, him.
By the time they were inside the facility, Frenchie felt a cold sweat running down the back of his neck and he struggled against his hands and knees trembling. M.M. and Kimiko looked at him with concern, and in the case of the latter, Frenchie tore away from eye contact quickly. Laying on the gurney was a short-lived relief. At some point the fluorescent hospital lighting began to make his head pulsate. Everything around him felt like a bright blur and every cough or grumble from M.M. made him grind his teeth in irritation. He could feel his temper simmering like alcohol on cast iron. It was not wholly unexpected when he launched himself at the man who had ruined the best two best things his life had going, years ago.
By the time they were locked safely in the nurse’s station, Frenchie could tell he was losing it. He felt himself vibrating with nerves and rage, the pills lining the walls sounded so fucking good, but he didn’t have the time to look through them or take any, not with M.M. watching him closely as he constructed a bomb with shaking hands. On top of it all, Lamplighter was there, and he kept remembering that night years ago.
He lost it once, swinging punches and spitting at Lamplighter like an animal while M.M. held him back. The wave of rage left him exhausted and trembling. His stomach hurt so much it felt hard to breathe normally, like he had to manually suck the air in steadily, the same way each time, or the pain would catch up with him.
He finished the knockout bomb and had to lean back against a steel table. Something he couldn’t place felt very wrong inside his own body, like his limbs were filled with a bubbling syrup. His thoughts raced but his body wasn’t responding, then shocks of electricity jolted his spine several times. He stiffened but was unconscious before he could process what was happening.
Frenchie twitching in the corner of his eye grabbed M.M.’s attention. Kimiko looked over in concern to see Frenchie standing stiffly, his face completely blank. Before they could ask if he was okay, Frenchie toppled like a tree.
“Woah! Okay, okay!” M.M and Kimiko bounded over. Frenchie was on his back, his whole body jolting between rigid and slack, eyes rolled upward. “Shit, he’s having a seizure.”
“The fuck? Is he epileptic or something?” Lamplighter hurried to join them.
“No, kid’s a junkie though. I need a shirt or something, now.” M.M. positioned himself behind Frenchie, gently cupping a hand under his head to keep it from beating against the ground.
M.M. began to roll Frenchie on his side. His limbs were jerking more now. Kimiko knelt beside them, biting her lip, her hands were frozen with fear and inaction. She watched the muscles under Frenchie’s face twitch and contort. M.M. kept talking, saying he was going to be alright and asking Kimiko to push away nearby furniture. Eventually the convulsing stopped, Frenchie began to shudder and moan a bit, spitting out excess saliva.
“Frenchie? Can you hear me buddy? You just had a seizure, a pretty long one. I need you to tell me exactly what you took and how much.” Frenchie continued to splutter and heave for a moment before regaining his voice.
“I didn’t take anything today. I swear! I haven’t had anything since yesterday. I’ve been feeling like shit all day.” He was trying weakly to throw M.M.’s arm off his shoulder and force himself up.
“Okay, okay, I believe you. Stay down for a minute! Seizures aren’t unheard of in drug withdrawal. Jesus man, I always wanted you to quit that shit, but you should know that you can’t just cold turkey some of those.”
Kimiko silently cupped the side of Frenchie’s sweaty face. He looked up at her, trying to communicate an apology without communicating how completely drained of life and energy he felt. He looked away and relaxed his temple on the cold floor for a moment.
“Get him some water,” M.M. called to Lamplighter. “We really can’t stay here. You really need rest, but we need to get the fuck out of here first. Can you stand?”
Kimiko hauled Frenchie onto his weary, trembling legs. Lamplighter handed him a plastic cup.
“Slow sips,” M.M. said, looking Frenchie hard in the eye. “You know the shitty thing about withdrawals is that it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.”
“Yeah, well I finished the bomb.”
They made it out into the hallway, Kimiko helping to guide Frenchie, who would stumble over his own dragging feet. They knew they were fucked when Cindy reappeared, but realized they were double fucked when she was struck by purple lightning a second later. M.M. pulled Frenchie behind a nearby wall so quickly he felt his back slam against it. It rattled his aching head and his tired, sick body. At this point their imminent death sounded like a relief to him.
“Lamplighter!” Stormfront roared from down the hall. They held their breath for a moment before Lamplighter scrambled out to her.
Frenchie could hear them talking in the distance. He found himself struggling to breathe through the dizzying nausea. He looked at Kimiko in desperation, his face drawn and pale. A second later he was crumpled over, projectile vomiting uncontrollably.
It would be wishful thinking to believe for a second that Stormfront hadn’t heard that. Frenchie was finally able to stop retching bile onto the floor for just a second before a leathery boot kicked across the face, sending him onto his back a few feet away. He looked up blearily to see Stormfront’s outline, and then Kimiko sailing overhead, launching herself at their attacker. There was a crackle of purple lightning and Kimiko was thrown, crumbling a concrete wall. Frenchie began to scramble to his feet in a desperate bid to run.
A gloved hand slammed into his throat. Within a second, he felt a burning heat all along his neck, the muscles underneath spasming and depriving him of oxygen. He could feel the tingling of electricity not at the spot of contact but in his chest and along his shoulders, down his limbs. Frantically he kicked with the animalistic need to fill his lungs driving his flailing movements. Somehow, he jerked to the side enough to free himself for an instant, tumbling backwards. Immediately he was rewarded with a brutal kick to the face, knocking him flat with hot blood rushing from his nose. He hoped for an instant that M.M. had been able to run before the same boot smashed down on his right hand. He felt the bones of his hand and fingers pop and grind sickeningly, but before there could be another blow he saw Kimiko grapple Stormfront again, clawing at her face.
His forearm feeling swollen and aching, Frenchie tried to drag himself backwards until he felt M.M. grabbing his from behind and hoisting him up. His feet found purchase on the ground, but his balance was shit, sending his stumbling with his knees crossing all about as M.M. tried to urge him to move. He saw a plume of flame hit Stormfront from behind and saw Kimiko hurl herself to the side, uniform aflame until she rolled onto the floor. Stormfront turned to face Lamplighter, now poised behind her with his lighter cocked.
“Go! I go it,” Lamplighter hollered. Before Frenchie could even try to move Kimiko ran at him with such momentum that she scooped him up over her shoulder and took off down the fall with M.M. at her heels. Frenchie couldn’t register much besides the jostling up and down that shot sharp pain up his arm. Within minutes they were scrambling into an abandoned ambulance, M.M. behind the wheel. Frenchie was set down gently on the floor with Kimiko crouching beside him as the engine revved.
As the car started to accelerate, his head began to throb, and he tried to close his eyes. Kimiko’s gentle hand along the side of his face made him try to open them again.
“I am sorry,” he tried to curl his hand to his heart but winced from the intense pain of moving his arm. Kimiko stroked the side of his face and gave a small smile that silenced his apology. Everything hurt and for the first time today he was going to be okay. Maybe he only thought this because his head hurt, and he felt himself being gently disconnected from reality. The forest floor was rough, and Frenchie could feel each bump through his broken hand and aching head.
“No, no. I am sorry. I kept trying to save you, and you never needed that. I will leave you alone”
Kimiko shook her head and looked up nervously towards the front of the van for a second. The pads of her fingers kept rubbing Frenchie’s close shorn hair back and forth. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on that one sensation. They drove for another 20 minutes or so.
The moment they stopped M.M. called out, asking Frenchie if he was alright. He muttered a half-hearted affirmative response. M.M. made his way to the back of the ambulance and threw open the doors before pulling out his phone.
Frenchie struggled to roll himself upright, seeing the woods now outside the open doors. He finally looked down at his hand, which was bruised and swollen. He found that he could only move some of his fingers and the others hurt terribly. His stomach was twisting with cramps again and he felt sweaty and chilled all at once. He soon found himself stumbling out of the ambulance and crawling with his one good hand to throw up at the base of a nearby tree.
“Ok, I need to go,” M.M. said quickly, seeing his friends stagger on the damp leaves of the forest floor. He hung up and approached Frenchie from behind, speaking loudly over the sounds of vomiting. “Hey, easy there, Mallory is on her way to get us. Not sure if Firedick is going to make it out or not but we’ll see. Man, you really did a number on yourself.”
Kimiko crept out of the vehicle after the boys just as M.M. knelt behind the hunched over Frenchie, placing a hand on his back. Frenchie’s whole body was shaking as he heaved ceaselessly. From the perspective of M.M. or Kimiko, it seemed that he violently puked himself into another seizure.
“Fuck! Ok, hang on man, let’s get you back on your side. Kimiko! I need you to time it.”
Kimiko rushed over, cradling a cheap digital watch. It was a dull teal color, she had bought it with Frenchie and it helped her keep track of time when they were living in a dark basement.
“Damn it, we’re going to need to wrap up his hand,” M.M. exclaimed as Frenchie’s shaking slowed its pace. The seizure stopped after around two minutes and Kimiko showed M.M. the stopwatch on her wrist. “Frenchie? You with us?”
“Oui,” He slurred in response, opening his eyes to gaze dully at the shapes of decaying leaves on the forest floor.
“Ok, hang tight, slow movements. I swear there was bottle of water in the passenger seat.”
Kimiko took M.M.’s place as he stood, settling a concerned hand on Frenchie’s shoulder until he tried to roll himself over to look up at her. She paused a minute, raising her eyebrows and gesturing with her eyes and chin. Frenchie gave a small nod in response and she wrapped her arms about him to pull him up to stand. With an arm around his middle, she led him to the back of the ambulance. If she had wanted, she could have carried him back with ease. She set him down on the floor of the van, one leg hanging out, exhausted spine slumped up against the inside wall of the ambulance. Kimiko leapt with ease into the car and dug out an orange emergency blanket, which she wrapped tenderly around Frenchie’s shoulders without stopping to ask if he was cold. She rubbed some of the dirt and decay from the side of his head and he let his head lean into her hand.
She transitioned out of her ready crouch to sit beside him. M.M. came around and gave them water before receiving a phone call from Butcher as he paced around the vehicle. For a while, Frenchie and Kimiko studied each other in the sudden stillness. Eventually he spoke hesitantly.
“I am sorry for all of this, letting this happen. Its… no good, really shit. I should have stopped long ago. Especially once I met you.” He thought back to Jay and the memory was yellowed and sour, aching in his mind. “I lived for a long time doing everything to avoid this and hope it could let me face… everything behind me. I want to keep going with all this, it will get worse but hopefully not as…” he gestured to the tree he had just laid beneath. He had to steady himself and look Kimiko in the eye before he continued. “I may need your help in this. You will help me, no?”
He looked up at her with such pale apology, as though he was laying in supplication at her feet. It was all she could do to pick up his hand and raise it to her chest as an equal. An equal in suffering and in strength, an equal with a fraying hold on the future. She nodded slightly, parting her lips to release a puff of air, to add something to the forest and the space and the stillness between them.