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Friends Eat Friends

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"Seriously, man?"

Chris looks up from his phone to Josh, his best friend, partner in crime, really really irritated best man. He shrugs helplessly, nearly knocking the controller to the floor. It had been his second time pausing their game in order to text Ashley.

They were in Josh's room, flat screen stilled as a character remains frozen in midair. The room vaguely smells like old cigarettes and mangoes courtesy of Beth.

Josh stares at him, lips pursed, leaning against the knees of his folded legs with an annoyed look. He glares at Chris' phone when it dings for the fifth time in the past 8 minutes.

"Fuck, Chris. I just want to beat this level and you're too busy trying to bone someone you can't even talk to in person without stuttering."

Chris opens his mouth to defend himself, because he can talk to Ashley without stuttering; he just has to get past all the blushing first and how she always smells so good. Coupled with the fact that Ashley wasn't attracted to him, it was actually a lot easier to talk to her. Josh waves a hand frantically in front of Chris' face, making noises of disapproval.

"Dude, just go talk to her. I'll put on a movie." Josh mumbles grumpily, sliding off his bed with a frown. He gestures to the bedroom door when Chris doesn't move, only gaping at Josh.

"Josh-"

"Go." Josh turns his back to him, eying the massive collection of movies situated underneath the mounted TV. He studies the movies until Chris gets off the bed with a sigh, following Josh's orders. Chris notices Josh's tense shoulders relax, staring at the movies with a worn expression, as he closes the door behind him.

Chris hurries down a short flight of steps, easing into the second story hallway of the Washington home. Music thumps loudly down the hall. He presses call over Ashley's picture. She answers after one ring.

"Hey! I thought you were at Josh's?" There's a smile in her voice.

"He kicked me out to call you. I was messing up his game mood." Chris tells her, sitting on the bottom step. "What's up, hot momma?"

"Disgusting." Ashley giggles. "I just wanted to make sure you were coming to my parent's bonfire this weekend. Because if you can't I have to make up this whole elaborate lie about how you died in a fire."

Chris smiles to himself. "I'll be there. You can count on me to be your fake boyfriend."

The music down the hall turns into an alarmingly loud bass as the door opens. Chris cranes his neck, ears assaulted by the music. Sam and Beth are leaving Beth's room, Sam smoothing out her shirt as Beth tucks her rumpled hair into a beanie. They both notice him, unanimous blushes spreading across their faces.

Beth closes the bedroom door, the loud music dulling to a shaky buzz. She opens her mouth to speak but Sam stops her, gesturing wildly with her eyes. They communicate with no words, Chris confused by the exchanged as Ashley continues to talk in his ear.

Beth takes Sam's hand, winking at Chris and they're disappearing down the main hallway to the stair case. Chris whistles.

"Chris? Are you there?"

"U-Um, yeah I'll be there. For sure. I'll come. To your party, yeah."

Ashley sighs, relieved. "Okay. I'll let you go. See you this weekend?"

"Yeah." Chris agrees easily, pulse racing when Ashley tells him 'bye'. He hangs up, processing over the current events. Beth and Sam were... something, which explained a lot. Chris scrunches his face up, painfully remembering his crush on Beth during middle school. Beth and Sam were something. He wonders if Josh knew.

Chris heads back up the stairs to Josh's room, wrinkling his nose up at the smell of a freshly lit cigarette. Josh is sitting in the frame of an open window, legs dangling over the side. The title screen for Fight Club is on the TV. Chris notices the disarray of the movies inside the large display case as if someone knocked them over. Discs were lying at the bottom, open cases wedged against the glass doors.

"You okay, man?"

Josh nods his head, back still to Chris. He shifts slightly, hooking a leg inside, cigarette dangling from center of his mouth. Josh looks at him, grinning widely as he inhales. Chris watches the end burn and sizzle red, thin lines of smoke swirling.

"Yeah. I'm great. How'd it go?"

"Pretty okay. I've been invited to a bonfire."

Josh nods. "Nice, nice. You're coming up in the world, my friend. Soon you'll be tripping your way into the bone zone."

Chris adjusts his glasses, pouting when Josh laughs at his face, gesturing to his red cheeks. Josh blows out a thick wad of smoke, curling it around his tongue until it vaguely looks like thick, perfectly formed bubble. Chris watches the entire thing, impressed and transfixed. Josh digs the bud into the frame of the window, waving his creation away with little thought.

"Have you thought about it?"

Chris forces himself to look up from Josh's mouth, ignoring the smirk that curls up afterwards. Chris shakes his head, shrugging with awkward hand motions.

"What?"

"The mountain. You said you'd come with this year because Sam is coming and so is Mike, believe it or not. My parents are letting us use the basement, the basement, Cochise! All for us. You said you'd come."

Chris suddenly remembers. The last three weeks of summer vacation hitting into the side of his brain with startling clarity. Chris' mouth drops open, fighting back a groan as it all comes back to him. Josh had invited Chris to Mt. Washington, to Blackwood, because Chris had never been since they've known each other despite being "bro number 1, Cochise" and they were leaving this weekend, the last weekend before summer was over, aka the weekend of Ashley's bonfire.

Chris almost punches himself if the face. Josh looks at him expectantly, eyes bright and there's a familiar level of contentment in his smile.

"Yeah, man. I'm definitely coming." Chris forces a smile, trying to figure out how to fix this mess he's thrusted upon himself. He did promise Josh first, but Ashley. Ashley needed his help so her parents would let up. Chris realizes he can't do both.

Josh claps him on the shoulder, smile only growing wider with each passing second as if he's forgiven Chris for all his annoying Ashley talk the past four months. But it was Josh's fault, he was so insistent in getting Chris laid that he latched on to any girl's first sign of interest. Ashley was more or less forced into talking to Chris by Josh. But it seemed that Josh figured it'd be quick and they'd never talk again.

That was four months ago. Chris was still a virgin and he was still talking to Ashley. Which wasn't either of their faults considering Ashley was playing the other field while Chris studiously sat in his world of self repulsed desires, desire one being Josh Washington. Plus he liked Ashley, a lot.

"Good talk, man. Let's watch this thing."

Josh hops on his bed, body bouncing slightly with the mattress. Chris joins him, nervous and panicky because he told Ashley he'd go, but he also told Josh he'd go. He folds his arms across his chest, leaning against Josh's bed frame as he tries to focus on the movie. But it's hard, especially when Josh keeps leaning close to him and talking low in his ear.

"Dude, are you paying attention?" There's a fucking grin on Josh's face as if he knows how much his actions are bothering Chris. Chris mumbles out an affirmative, glad that Josh turns his attention back to the movie so he can actually breathe. Chris thinks of his dog, Juniper, his missing leg, smothered in a thick black mane and the thump in his chest settles down. He hasn't paid attention to most of the movie, entirely absorbed in his thoughts of how to break the news to his best friend without Josh killing him.

Chris jumps when Josh's head presses into his shoulder. He tries to ease Josh down on the bed but it only makes it worse and Josh's head ends up in Chris' lap, lips parted and soft. Chris' face heats up, hyper aware of every point of contact. When he moves, Josh moves. Chris gives up, settling in his designated spot as cushion. He fights away the blush, thinking of his grandma in short shorts or Sam's mom and dad making out in the driveway while sitting in their car. It helps. It allows him to watch the remainder of the movie somewhat comfortably. He texts Ashley throughout, scratching the hair on Josh's neck when the other becomes restless in his sleep.

From: Lava Cakes
I'm excited you're coming!

From: Chrissy
Yeah! Me too.
Had to let Josh down easy.

Chris peeks down at Josh, whose still sleeping in his lap, body curled up against the pillows.

From: Lava Cakes
You had plans already?!
Oh my god. I'm sorry.
I can say you died!

Chris shakes his head. Josh would understand. He'd be proud even, considering this is probably something they'd have to do for prom later this year with Beth and Sam.

From: Chrissy
Nah girl
It's fine. I'm looking forward to it.

From: Lava Cakes
<3
You're the best.

Josh's head presses into the chub of Chris stomach, smiling sleepily. Chris' heart flutters at the sight, palms clammy. Chris sits through the entire roll of credits, enjoying the moment of quiet as he continues texting Ashley because she's a good distraction. Josh stirs against him, tensing up before he shoots up, knocking into Chris' phone with a groan. The phone flies, clattering to the floor.

Chris cringes. Josh rubbing his forehead with an apologetic whine. His other hand is pressing into Chris' upper thigh.

"Your phone flew, bro." Josh announces, voice slurred and drowsy. "'m sorry."

Chris is currently more concerned with the hand on his leg, staring at it intently. Josh notices before snapping his hand up, accidentally smacking Chris in the nose, both arms raised up high and he's frantically moving away. Chris groans, cupping his nose with both hands as Josh stumbles off the bed with the grace of a small dog, sprawling on the floor with a loud thud. Chris winces, climbing furiously to see if his friend is okay. Josh rubs the back of his head.

"No homo." He mutters weakly and Chris throws a pillow down at him.

"Fucking dick, man."

Josh laughs up at him, holding the pillow close to his chest as he rolls onto his stomach, swaying to his feet. The door to Josh's room swings open, Hannah standing with a green face mask on. Her hair is tied back, eyes wide, glasses crooked. She takes in their appearance and sighs heavily.

"I thought Josh fell out the window again."

Josh straightens, embarrassed. "That was one time, Han. Why- why are even up here?!"

"I just told you, stupid!" Hannah huffs, clearly annoyed. "Fine, next time fall out the window for all I care."

She moves to storm out before pausing. "And go take your meds, dumbass. It's past seven and I know you haven't yet. You're lucky Beth didn't find out."

Josh mimics her tone, throwing the pillow in his hands at her. It barely reaches the door. Beth's bellowing yell piercing the house shortly afterwards. Josh pales and Hannah smirks, sending a sympathetic look to Chris.

"Good luck, Joshy." Hannah leaves the door open, descending the stairs. Josh searches the room frantically for escape as footsteps pound towards the room. He eyes the window, moving to make a run to it before Chris grabs his hand.

"We ride together, we die together, bro."

Josh looks down at their locked hands, blushing furiously before shaking his head.

"It's not worth it, Chris."

"It's not gonna be that bad, man."

It was. Beth spent a good fifteen minutes chiding their asses raw, Chris sitting studiously chastised as Josh fidgeted under the weight of her disappointment. He punches Chris in the shoulder afterward when she's done dragging him to the bathroom and shoving his prescriptions into his hands. Chris had laughed through most of it, only tensing up when Beth fixes that angry look at him.

"You wanna stay the night? You could stay two days and then not have to worry about driving down here Friday morning." Josh is straightening up the movies in the display case while Chris sits on the edge of the bed.

Guilt bubbles in Chris' stomach. "I have to help my dad with lawn work tomorrow. But I can drive back after."

He's lying, lying through his ass but honestly he'd much rather disappoint Josh through the phone than in person. Because in person meant seeing that saddened, dull look in Josh's face. It meant Josh nodding and folding his arms across his chest with a level of resignation that pained Chris to the core. As a fragile upcoming junior in high school, he just didn't have the maturity to deal with that kind of look without begging Josh to still be his bro. It was just better to do it over the phone.

That's what Chris tells himself for two days of avoiding Josh like the plague, it's what he tells himself when the weekends start and he has fifteen really, really pissed texts from Josh and five missed calls. There are a couple of texts from Beth and Hannah and some awful, mean ones from Sam but he's with Ashley so he justifies any potential damage with the fact that he's helping a friend.

"I'm glad you came." Ashley whispers, pressed against him as kids from her class dance around the bonfire to shitty pop music. The parents are all inside, sipping wine and laughing at stock market values and housing. Her hair is wavy with flowers woven into it, wearing a light pink dress exposing her bare shoulders that Chris tries not to stare at too long because even though they're friends, Ashley was still hot.

"I was honestly thinking that I'd have to deal with my parents and their questions." Ashley sighs.

"You ever going to tell them?" Chris inquires, sliding a marshmallow on a wire hanger. He sets it into the fire.

Ashley shakes her head, the faint scent of her perfume surrounding them. "If I want to actually see my college fund, no."

"That sucks." Chris mumbles, watching the marshmallow blacken and burn. It slides wetly off the hanger to the ground.

"Sucks that you missed your cute weekend with your boyfriend."

Chris tenses. "We're bros."

"Considering you want to suck his dick I'd say not just bros."

"I'm not that obvious."

Ashley pushes at his arm. "Ah yes, all those stares in the hallway mean nothing. Walking him to class even though yours is on the other end of the school. Buying him snacks. Totally not obvious."

Chris blames the bonfire for the intense heat that creeps along his skin. Ashley giggles beside him, stretching widely as she looks over her shoulder to the house. She nudges him with her elbow, a soft smile on her face.

"When are you going to tell him?"

Josh was already pissed at him. "Never?"

"Coward." But there is no heat in her words. Ashley places a hand on his arm, face full of understanding and she leans her head against his shoulder sighing into the crackling flames that burn before them.

Chris actually checks his phone when he pulls into his driveway, wincing at the massive amount of messages sitting on the screen.

From: Washua (17)
You're a fucking dick.

From: Climbing Trash (2)
Do I even need to tell you how pissed Josh is?

From: Bethany
:(

From: Hantaro
Josh is really bummed, Chris.

Chris slouches down in the seat, phone pressed to his chin as he tries not to grind his teeth. He calls Josh without thinking. It rings and rings and rings.

"This is the voicemail box of Mr. Washington, pay your goddamn taxes, Hilary!" Josh's voice shouts into the receiver. "Leave a message, dicks."

"Um, hey. It's Chris. I should've told you. I'm sorry. Call me back?" Chris mumbles, deleting the message before it saves. He sits in his car a while longer, knocking his forehead against the steering wheel until his dad comes knocking on the window with a concerned look, thick hair tied into a ponytail.

Chris rolls down his window. "I bailed on Josh for a lesbian."

His dad's lips purse, cheeks inflating and Chris knows he's trying not to laugh. "I made macaroni."

"You can laugh, dad."

His dad shakes his head, adjusting his glasses as tears collect in the corners of his eyes. Chris doesn't understand why it's so funny except he does and it would be hilarious if Josh Washington wasn't pissed at him for being a nice guy. He should've just told him. But Chris if Chris is good at anything, it's disappointing people.

Chris forces out a laugh, his dad bursting at the seams with a roaring cackle immediately after. It makes him feel a little better so he actually gets out the car and drags his ass inside as his dad continues laughing loudly.

They eat macaroni over Mr. Robot, the empty space on the couch a prominent reminder that neither acknowledge.

"Go call him."

Chris pauses his spoon midway. "I did."

"Only once?" His dad asks, smirking.

"Stop." Chris blushes, kicking his legs out from under the cushions of the couch. He marches into the kitchen, regretting how perceptive his mom's death made his dad be.

"It's okay to have crushes, Chris." His dad is propped up in the doorway. He's a lot thinner than Chris remembers, a considerable amount of weight gone since he stopped drinking and moping. Chris guessed he realized he still had a son to take care of. Not that Chris needed it. He could take care of himself and his dad.

"It's not a crush, dad." Chris argues, scooping macaroni into the garbage disposal. "Just me being a bad friend."

"It's okay to be a bad friend too. Think about the time Josh left you in a park to mess around with.. who was it? Anyway. Boom. Example."

Chris squints, glancing over his shoulder to his father, who smiles. "Fine. I'll call him. Make him forgive me."

"Atta boy."

Except it wasn't that easy. It was close to two in the morning when Chris finally gave up calling, every ring met with a block of the voicemail, so he played video games until he fell asleep on the floor.

Chris wakes up in his bed, blankets tucked snugly around him. His room is quiet and dark aside from faint moonlight pressing into the blinds. He fumbles around on the night stand for his glasses, sliding them onto his face. There are no messages when he checks his phone. It's only 4:03. Chris slumps back against his pillow, phone pressed to his lips and he stares at the ceiling.

He hears it then. This slow dragging noise from the hallway. Chris startles, sitting up quickly. He switches on his lamp, light spreading along his bed. The dragging stops in front of his door. Chris stares at it, heart thumping wildly in his chest. A soft rapping comes to the door.

"Dad?" Chris calls out.

No answer. Chris slides out of bed, bare feet hitting the carpet. He searches his room for a weapon, only finding a gundam figurine made of metal. Chris grabs it, cradling it in his hand, as he slowly makes his way to the door. There's tired, heavy breathing coming from the other side.

"Dad?"

Another slow pull of a knuckle against his door instead of an answer; sick, wet coughing beating against the door. Chris grips the door knob, turning it slowly. He opens the door. The hallway is dark aside from the figure slumped against the frame. Chris tenses up immediately.

He sees Josh resting heavily against the doorway of his room, mouth ripped up into a row of hungry, sharp teeth, glistening and fresh with blood, dressed in dirtied, red overalls. Chris panics immediately, dropping the figurine to the floor with a crack. He grabs Josh's shoulders, pressing chubby fingers against the side of Josh's face, checking the wound. It looks as though someone took a pair of scissors and wondered how much damage they could do.

Milky white eyes roll up to him, narrowly focusing and Chris flinches back, lungs plummeting into his stomach as Josh straightens with a loud crack of bones. Low clicking comes from his throat, this awful, deep beginning of a growl gurgling inside of Josh's jaw.

Chris stumbles back, legs hitting the front of his bed as Josh moves over to him in slow, purposeful motions. He reaches a hand out to Chris, nails broken and sharp. Chris trips backwards with a yelp, scrambling up on his bed. Fear freezes his limbs when a sharp chattering noise comes from Josh, who cocks his head to the side at an inhuman angle.

Thunder pounds against Chris' ears, his heavy labored wheezing dying against the air as it turns sour. Josh climbs after him, movements jerky and fast and Chris can feel the sharpness of teeth dragging against his skin, can feel nails cutting into his arms and he can't move, can't breathe as Josh presses his face into Chris' throat, mouth open and sharp and-

Chris startles awake, head hitting the underside of his bed frame, controller stuck to his chin. He groans, shuffling out from under the bed. The controller drops with a muffled clack. His heart is still racing in his chest, limbs shaky as he takes in the warmth of room from the sun, filled with light and morning air. Chris grasps the front of his shirt, feeling his arms, his throat for wounds or scars or anything. He finds nothing.

A knock comes to the door and Chris nearly screams. "Breakfast, son. I actually made pancakes."

Chris steadies his breathing. "B-be.. I'll be right down."

Chris searches his room for his phone, finding it on the charger near his bed. He has no missed calls from Josh or texts but there are messages from Ashley. Chris calls Josh immediately, sitting on the floor, knees pressed to his chest.

There's no answer.

Chris forces out a breath, wedging himself into the small space between his nightstand and the bed. He tries to calm down, tries to forget the image burning into his mind. Chris calls again.

There's still no answer so Chris calls and calls, listening to Josh's voicemail; listens to the normal, human voice until his dad knocks on the door again.

Josh doesn't call back.

Chapter Text

The first day of school was nerve wracking, quietly eventful; it struck up arguments between parents and kids on how early was early and how much time do you truly need to stand in front of the mirror. The first day of school meant a new lunch period, new designated lunch seats and relatively new classmates if you're a freshman. Chris wasn't a freshman. He was a junior, which meant he shouldn't be nervous.

But he was. It's been three days and Josh Washington still insisted he didn't exist. Sam was nice enough to hang out with him because she felt sorry for his "nerdy ass" and Ashley was perfect so of course she stuck around out of sheer guilt.

Regardless. Chris found himself best friendless on the way to school, no rowdy passenger in the seat beside him, changing shirts and pants and smoking out his window. Chris, for the first time in three years, drove alone to school.

"You're so pouty. Jesus flapjacks, Chris."

Mike finds him first, standing alone on his phone in the quiet cafeteria an hour before the bell. He's grown since last year, muscles in his arms that weren't there before along with the beginnings of a beard. It doesn't look good. Chris doesn't tell him.

"Washington still snubbing you?"

"Can you tell?" Chris asks, trying and failing to hide his misery. He's dressed poorly in one of his dad's jackets, a sweater and at least two shirts, maybe three (Chris isn't sure he got dressed in a fucking hurry, ok). If Josh were here he'd say Chris looks like a belligerent art reject. But Josh wasn't here.

"Yeah. How was the mountain?" Chris asks, cutting Mike off on whatever he was about to say.

"Chill. I think Hannah has a crush on me."

It took four years and a trip to a mountain for Mike to almost hit the nail on the head. Chris pockets his phone, sitting up from the wall. Mike pats him on the shoulder.

"Josh's been lookin' real good, man." Mike leers, inching a little too close into Chris' space. Chris frowns. He wonders if Mike is trying to be supportive. Almost everyone knew about his blatant crush except for maybe Josh. But Josh had always looked good, really good even during that awful punk phase freshman year. Now he was a bit taller, bit thinner and his jawline finally fit his face in ways that shouldn't be legal. Still. Consistently all the Washington children looked really good. It was fact.

"That's my bro." Chris huffs, cheeks heating up and Mike's hand squeezes his shoulder.

"Better make up soon before someone steals him away."

It feels vaguely threatening, enough that Chris' heart flares up but Emily is walking towards them, polished in navy with hair way, way shorter than it used to be and the conversation ends.

"Figures you two would be early." Emily snorts, a large tote hooked around her elbow.

"Class president in the making, baby." Mike tugs at the collar of his leather jacket, smiling widely. Emily cuts her eyes to Chris, who shrugs. She pats Mike on the arm.

"Of course. How was the summer?"

"Boring." Chris answers the same time Mike forces out "Josh is pissed with Chris."

Emily raises an eyebrow. "I didn't know you guys fight. I thought it was the perfect marriage."

"We aren't married." Chris grumbles, tucking his hands into his jean pockets.

Mike looks at him. "Why did you not go?"

"Go where?" Emily interjects quickly.

"Josh invite us to Mt. Washington and Chris here bailed. Why?" Mike fixes his gaze on Chris, who fidgets under its intensity.

"You were invited to Mt. Washington and you didn't even go? What the hell, Chris?" Emily frowns.

Chris fights back a groan. Ashley hadn't come out yet. It wasn't his place to shout her business. But saying he bailed on Josh for Ashley out loud seemed just as bad. Chris sighs.

"I was with Ashley." Chris admits.

Emily slaps a hand over her mouth. "Oh my god. No wonder Josh looks so pissed."

Chris' brow furrows, mouth opening to respond but he's following Mike's surprised gaze and Emily's widened eyes. He sees Josh with Sam, both striding into the cafeteria with a quiet confidence. But Josh isn't perky like usual, isn't high fiving or bumping fists. No he's-

"Josh looks really tired." Emily takes the words out of Chris' head. Except Josh didn't just look tired; he looked exhausted, fine dark lines tracing under his eyes like a bruise. Bronzed skin a pale shade of brown, hair messy, arms tucked into the pockets of his pullover and it's so painfully not typical first day of school Josh Washington. Despite the fact that he looks awful, Josh still manages to pull off the disgruntled, teenage angst look so well that Chris tries not to wheeze.

Mike whistles from beside him and Emily smacks his arm with a sneer. Josh notices them, pausing when he sees Chris and he's averting his eyes to the ground. Sam stops beside him, turning to Josh. They speak quietly, Mike making 'oooh' noises. Chris wants to punch him.

"Oh man, you guys are here early. What are we staring at?" Ashley asks, bubbly and too damn energetic for 7:45 in the am. Josh sees her, immediately tensing up and he's turning around, walking back through the rows of tables. Sam's head snaps to them with a vague look of annoyance before she's marching after him.

"Ah so you guys are still fighting." Ashley acknowledges, solemnly.

Chris turns to her with a sigh. "Yep."

"So," Emily starts. "If you dumped Josh for flowerpot over here, did you guys at least finally bang?"

Ashley flushes red as Chris stammers for a response. She hastily beats him to it.

"We aren't going out. Ever."

Mike physically recoils. "Ouch."

Ashley holds up her hands, shaking her head fiercely. "U-Um, not like that I'm just... not attracted to... guys. At all?"

Chris commends her internally, relaxing a bit. Emily's eyes narrow and she's assessing Ashley with a certain level of acceptance. Mike's mouth hangs open in shock. He schools it into a look of nonchalance but they all saw it.

"This explains a lot." Emily shifts her tote onto her shoulder. "My opinion has changed of you Chris."

Chris raises an eyebrow. "From what to what?"

"From nerd to moderately attractive nerd. You should ditch the faux hawk though. It's kinda bad." And with that Emily saunters off, hips swaying with the click of heels. They watch after her, Ashley and Mike a bit too tuned in on the way her ass moves. Chris clears his throat.

"I'm gonna go try to fix shit." He says lamely, heading off in the direction Sam and Josh disappeared to without waiting for an answer.

It's ten minutes later. He's searched the parking lot, the gym, the trailers, the fucking janitor's closet and he doesn't find Josh or Sam. But he does stumble upon Hannah, who sends a glare so fierce in his direction it almost matches the one Beth gave him last week over Josh not taking his meds.

Chris holds up his hands in surrender. "Look, I'm trying to fix it."

Hannah tosses her hair over her shoulder. "You should've not been dumb to begin with. Jesus, Chris, I expected you to be better."

Chris slumps. "I know. I know. I was just helping out a friend."

"You should've told him." Hannah folds her arms over her chest, bracelets clinking together. "He would've understood. But instead you had us spend thirty minutes telling him his best friend was not coming and didn't even have the decency to call. Beth is going to kill you."

"I'm surprised my carcass isn't laid out in front of Josh's door like a sacrifice." Chris says, biting his lip nervously.

Hannah sighs, face softening and she places a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sure it was important. Whatever it was."

"I helped someone not get kicked out? Or lose their college fund?"

Hannah blinks. "Yeah, that's pretty important. Who was it?"

"Uh," Chris answers dumbly and Hannah seems to understand, placing a finger to his lips.

"It's okay. Just tell Josh."

"I've been trying to find him and Sam but it's like they evaporated into air." Chris thrusts his hands out dramatically. Hannah giggles, a dainty hand placed over her mouth. The bracelet on her wrists matches Beth and Josh's.

"I passed them not too long ago." Hannah points to the third connection hallway. "Beth's with them though. So if you want to actually get a word in, I'd wait."

Hannah leaves him with a wink, disappearing down the hall Chris just walked down. Chris groans softly, checking his schedule for any classes he might've have with Josh. He knew his best friend was taking theater again, along with AP Studio, IB English and anatomy. Or was it History? Chris mentally slaps himself. Faint laughter comes from the hallway Hannah pointed to, voices growing louder as they move towards him. Chris follows Hannah's advice and makes the shameful journey back to the cafeteria until the bell rings.

He doesn't see Josh his first three periods which only left lunch, AP Physics and Advanced Computer Sciences. In reality it only left lunch. Chris waits inside his classroom, checking through his new messages as the group is divided among lunch periods. Ashley and Matt had lunch A, Sam, Mike and Jess had lunch B, leaving Emily, Beth, Hannah and Josh for lunch C. Chris cringes, head hitting his desk with a thump.

He was going to die. Here. In this high school. Chris knows Emily doesn't care for Hannah, but her and Beth remained considerably close. Which meant that Chris was going to have to sit with them. Emily finds his class immediately once the bell rings, dragging him to face his fate with what could only be considered a witch's love.

The cafeteria is packed, full of familiar and plump, new faces. It's loud, trays hitting tables, feet pounding against the tile, reminding Chris of the animal channel. Emily spots Beth, her bright red beanie amongst a sea of brown and blonde and black. Beth waves them over, friendly demeanor melting into a nasty smirk when she sees Chris.

Emily forces him into a seat, gracefully sitting beside him. Josh is nowhere to be seen. Chris sweats, staring down at the crinkled brown bag in his lap with trepidation. Beth leans forward, hands folded under her chin.

"Better be good. You have five seconds."

"Ashley's gay, I helped." Chris squeaks out.

Beth frowns, sitting up. "What?"

Hannah rolls her eyes as Emily repeats what Chris had said in blunt, crisp words. Beth's eyes go round before she's frowning again, staring at Chris with a look of disgust.

"You fucked her?"

"No. No. I had to be her fake boyfriend!" Chris exclaims, alarmed.

Beth sighs, relieved. "Oh my god, Chris, you should've said that first. Jesus Christ, did you tell Josh?"

Emily wrinkles her nose. "Where is Josh?"

"Hasn't shown up." Hannah answers easily, flipping through a magazine.

Chris sighs. "I have not told him."

Beth clicks her teeth, digging around her knapsack. She sets a container down in front of herself, sliding another one to Hannah. Emily fishes out a neatly wrapped bento. Chris sets his brown bag on the table. The three of them exchange a look before Emily's snatching the bag as if it's a pile of shit. She checks the contents with an eyeroll, showing Chris' pb&j to the others, who only flinch.

"I'm glad I brought extra." Emily takes out a small plastic lunch box with a penguin in goggles on the front. She points at it and then to Chris before setting it down in front of him. Emily grabs a guy's sleeve who's walking by, setting the brown bag on his tray with disgust. She shoos the kid away, ignoring the stuttering blush on his face.

"Very nice." Beth commends. "Eat. She only cooks for dumbasses and me."

Hannah is popping the lid off her container, savory cuts of pork wedged into the middle, surrounded with vegetables and a small container filled with mangoes. Beth's is similar. Emily nudges Chris in the side and he opens what's given to him, mouth watering at the contents. There's a lot packed in the small space. Rows of marinated beef, rice with sesame seeds, rolled egg, broccoli, something brown and a slot of pineapple.

"Eat." Emily snorts. The twins giggle in response so Chris does so, a bit too fast perhaps but it's good, so good. Emily cocks a private smile, turning to her food with quiet concentration.

Josh still hasn't appeared by the time lunch is over, Beth already standing to go find him.

"He's been pissy since Saturday. It only seems to have gotten worse." Beth sighs.

"We figured it was because of your fight and the new antidepressants his psychiatrist put him on." Hannah adds, taking their two empty containers and placing them in her bag.

"Go make up so we don't have to bitch." Emily says, chopstick holding the leg of a squid. "As in go. Find him. He was quiet in Studio, really quiet. It was scary."

Chris nods his head, exchanging a look with Beth and they're both getting ready to leave. He thanks Emily for the food, who only responds with a modest shrug, before trailing behind Beth out of the cafeteria.

They find Josh in the school parking lot, legs folded out his car window, smoke curling into the air in easy movements. Beth knocks on the windshield, Josh's tired eyes rolling to look her. He notices Chris, lips pursing around his cigarette, and he's sitting up slowly.

"I took my meds." Josh tells Beth as if that's the only reason she'd hunt him down. Beth rolls her eyes, flicking the tip of his nose with a fond look. Josh rubs his face, embarrassed.

"Talk. I'm leaving." Beth hurries out quickly, prying the car door open before Josh can lock himself away and roll up the window. Chris grabs the door, Josh burning glare moving from his sister's retreating form to him.

"What?" Josh bites out.

Chris swallows. "Look, man-"

"You could've fucking called. We waited for an hour and I kept calling and you didn't answer. Your dad didn't even know you said you were coming. He said you were going to Ashley's. Ashley, Chris, really? You promised." The heat in Josh's voice dies down towards the end, tapering off into a soft, childlike disappointment. Chris' chest feels tight, hand squeezing into a fist.

"I'm sorry. Ashley needed my help."

"I needed your help." Josh mumbles quietly, so quiet Chris almost doesn't catch it. Chris tenses, remembering his dream.

"I'm really bummed, Chris." Josh takes his cigarette in between his fingers. "You let me down. I needed you."

Josh's voice is strained, teeth gritting and it feels like he's angry at more than just Chris not calling. The lunch bell rings from the high school building. Chris opens his mouth to ask what happened but Josh shakes his head, digging his tiny bud into the dashboard. He lights up another with an unfamiliar flinch when the flame produces.

"I don't want to talk to you, Cochise." Josh tells him tiredly. "Just go. You're gonna miss class."

Chris sighs heavily, moving over to the passenger seat and he's sliding inside before Josh can lock the doors. Josh groans, slamming the open car door shut. They don't talk, just sit in festering silence, Josh leaned up against the door.

"I had a dream you got fucked up. Your face was all," Chris makes a snipping motion. "It was all cut up and bloody and you came to my room."

"Definitely a dream." Josh responds, grumpy.

"I'm sorry I didn't come."

"Okay." But Josh doesn't look at him, picking at the loose threads in the hole of his jeans. Chris eventually leaves, phone buzzing frantically with threatening texts from Jess. Josh is quiet when he goes, eyes fixed on the steering wheel. It doesn't feel like progress.

Chris knew it wasn't going to be easy, knew that Josh doesn't forgive and forget but he didn't think he'd go two more days before Josh actually decided to reach out.

It's barely 8 in the evening, Chris elbow deep in Economics homework when Josh calls.

"Hey man."

There's no response, no breathing. Just quiet. Chris eases back in his seat, eraser in between his teeth and he checks his phone. The call was still connected.

"Josh?"

Still no reply aside from a low buzzing sound. Like flies. Chris frowns, rubbing his eyes in frustration. He adjusts his glasses.

"Look, Josh-"

"Cochise," comes Josh's voice, deep and rusty and every hair on Chris' arm stands up at the unfamiliar tone. "Can you come get me?"

"Y-yeah. Where are you?"

"Lexington." Josh answers simply. Why was Josh at a bar? There's static in the receiver, thick, wet coughing coming from the other line. Chris tugs on a jacket from the closet, phone wedged in between his shoulder and ear.

"You still there?"

"Yeah, bro."

"I'm leaving now." Chris tells him, swiping his keys from his desk. He waves bye to his dad in the living room, stumbling out the door. Josh doesn't hang up, doesn't speak just remains present on the phone until Chris sees him standing outside the aging bar. A few drunks linger outside. Josh stands alone, skin glistening, dressed plainly in a damp flannel and jeans.

Chris pulls up in front of him, clicking his phone to end the call. Josh climbs inside without a word. He smells faintly of bleach and old coins.

"What are you doing here? Why are you wet?"

Josh shrugs, paler than usual. "Drinking."

He doesn't smell like alcohol.

"Josh, you're not even-"

"Dude. Shh." Josh grinds out, clenching his jaw. He folds his arms across his chest, pressing himself into the door as if he could bleed through it. Chris bites his bottom lip, annoyed, but begins the drive to the Washington house anyway.

"Why the fuck did you call me then?" Chris clenches the steering wheel. "You could have called Beth or Hannah or Sam."

"Sam would've bitched. Like you. You're bitching. Stop."

"Yeah, because my best friends at a bar at-"

"We aren't friends, Chris. I'm still pissed, really really pissed at you for leaving me." Josh snaps, nostrils flaring.

"Seriously? I didn't leave you okay? I didn't even show up so try again."

"You're such a fucking dick." Josh snarls, a vicious gurgle working its way up his throat and Chris slams on the breaks, head snapping in Josh's direction with wide eyes. Josh's hands hit the dashboard, the loud crunch of plastic echoing the car. Chris stares at him, mouth falling open, adrenaline pumping through his veins as Josh stares back, hands curled into fists, stares back seething with rage and fucking growling at him.

"Fuck you, Chris." Josh kicks the passenger door open, ripping the seatbelt from his chest with such ferocity it tears. Chris grabs Josh's arm, feeling the clench of muscle underneath the fabric. Josh yanks his arm away.

"I'll walk home." Josh hisses, slipping out the car and slamming the door shut. Chris calls for him, halfway out the door and Josh is gone. Only the expanse of dark forest lays before him, the steady ding from his car saying he's left the lights on. Chris stands there, a hand on the top of his car, staring, staring deep into the darkness as if Josh will reappear. He replays the scene over and over. From the snarl to the growl to the dent in his dashboard.

Chris covers his mouth to fight the tremble that works its way through his body.

Chapter Text

Chris couldn't sleep.

It wouldn't be the first time that he's lost sleep over Josh Washington. But it was the first time that he's lost sleep because he's scared that Josh is going to rip his throat out in his dreams. Chris doesn't remember the last time he had a nightmare and the events last night seemed so unreal, Chris is sure he imagined half of it. Regardless.

Chris couldn't sleep.

So he plays video games until the sun beams through his window, eyes adjusting the new glare on his screen.

He can hear his dad rummaging around in the hallway. A knock comes to his door, the click of the knob turning fills the air. His dad appears, looking a little rough around the edges but smiling.

"I'm heading out. Left money on the counter, okay?"

Chris nods, squirming under the other's scrutinizing gaze. His dad gestures to the tired lines in Chris' face. "Not sleeping?"

"Josh is pissed at me." And possibly going to kill him in his sleep but Chris keeps that to himself. His dad chuckles softly.

"I think this is the longest you guys have fought since middle school." His dad muses. "What was it then? You sat with... what's her name?"

"Maddison Mitchell." Chris answers, a small smile slowly forming on his face.

Maddison Mitchell had been the new, it girl in Devil's Kettle, basking in the spotlight as the town finally stopped stalking critically acclaimed director, Bob Washington and his unnecessarily attractive family. Regardless Maddison Mitchell had moved here in middle school and Chris committed a heinous act against Josh Washington by sitting with his middle school crush at lunch and receiving his first kiss from her.

"Maddison Mitchell!" His dad exclaims, grinning widely. "Ah, Maddison, she moved didn't she?"

"Yeah." Chris sighs, digging the handle of his controller into his chin. Moving was the polite way of saying your father is a pedophile. Chris' dad beats his knuckle against the wall, giving Chris a small salute.

"I'll see you tonight."

"Right. Have a good day at work."

"Makin' money. Dollar dollar bills, y'all." His dad wiggles his fingers as he disappears down the hall, leaving a smiling son behind. They had gotten better. More specifically his dad had gotten better, once he set down the bottle and closed up the cabinets, and in turn Chris stopped locking himself in his room. Chris appreciated his dad's efforts despite feeling guilty that he wasn't as good at hiding his dejection as he thought.

Chris levels up a few more times on Fallout before readying to school. He doesn't check his phone, avoiding the creep of disappointment he knows he'll feel. Chris steals a cardigan from his dad's closet, layering it over a dark button up, before leaving with a swipe of his keys from his desk. He pockets the money left on the counter before leaving. The dent remains in his dashboard, this hand-shaped slope right in the middle, the only evidence any of what happened last night was real.

Chris passes by a news station van on the way to school, curiously eying two idle police cars parked near by. He hurries inside the school building once he's parked, eyes narrowing at the sobbing faces he passes on the way in. The cafeteria is full of students, some in mourning, some laughing and throwing paper balls across the tables. Chris checks his phone, searching his unread texts for answers.

"Chris!"

Chris spins around on his heel, nearly toppling over when Jess slams into him. He clutches his phone tightly, knees locking to accommodate the new weight. Jess is crying, hard, mascara streaking down her face, shoulders trembling and Chris is confused as to why everyone is crying, confused as to why he has a sobbing Jessica Sunderland in his arms.

"Marion Kinley is dead." She sobs into his chest. It takes a beat before he remembers who exactly that was. Marion Kinley was their school's baseball ace, Homeking two years in a row, overall decent human being and Jess' previous boyfriend.

Chris hugs Jess close, smoothing a hand over the curls in her hair. He thinks of Josh standing in front of Lexington smelling like disinfectant, thinks of Josh alone in the woods. It could've been Josh not here at school.

"Fuck, Jess, I'm so sorry." Chris holds her tighter.

Jess shakes her head, hiccuping loudly. She twists the front of Chris' shirt with small hands, crying even harder. He sees Matt in the distance, whose eyes are also red with feeling. Matt heads in their direction, wiping at his face furiously with the sleeves of his letterman jacket.

"Hey." He greets, sniffing.

"Hey. I heard. I'm sorry, bro." Chris tells him. Matt and Marion had been on the baseball team together, so close to best pals Chris isn't sure why they never fully initiated him in their band of misfits.

"Bear attack." Matt whispers incredulously. "A bear. We don't even get bears around here often."

"What? A bear?" Chris frowns. They were in Minnesota, Minnesota had bears, but no bears that troubled their sleepy hideaway town.

A group of kids Chris vaguely recognizes walk by, staring at Jess with pity and soft whisper of condolences. He hears bits of their voices as they leave, how the police found Marion picked apart in pieces, how his mom had to be the one to identify her only son.

Jess releases a heartbreaking wail, squeezing Chris' middle. Matt winces, reaching a hand out to touch her shoulder before he curls back in on himself. He glances back at Chris, regret lingering in his eyes, before walking away.

Sam finds them later, once Chris has managed to settle Jess down ("I'm such a mess, I'm so sorry, Chris." "No, stop it.") and gets the dried makeup off her face. She lets Jess manhandle her into more hugging, more crying and Sam sits through it all in uncomfortable, somber silence. Chris assumes she didn't know Marion very well, like him.

"Have you talked to Josh?" Sam asks softly, dabbing Jess' face with tissue. Sam turns to Chris. He shakes his head.

"Someone really, really... great.died. Life is short, Chris." Jess blows her nose noisily. "Go make up with your boyfriend before he dies of a fucking b-b-bear attack."

Chris doesn't correct her, watching helplessly as Jess collapses in tears again. Jess was right though. Sam gestures to the watch on her wrist.

"He's in his car. Class starts soon."

Chris thanks her, heading down the side hall to the front office. He passes by more distraught teenagers on his way out, a couple of teachers talking quietly against a pillar. Josh's car is nestled in the back of the parking lot, engine purring under the hood as the car remains idle.

Josh isn't smoking, which surprises Chris. Instead he's in his seat, knees pressed to his chest, texting on his phone. He appears better, a lot fucking better than earlier this week, color coming back into his skin. The dark circles receding into something that could be excused with not enough sleep. He also wasn't snarling so Chris takes this as an improvement.

"Hey."

Josh's fingers still over the screen, shoulders hunched. He folds his arms over his abdomen, kicking his legs out over the center console. Josh doesn't look at him.

"Hey." Josh replies curtly.

Chris props himself against the car, leaning down to peer inside the open window. He notices thin red lines along Josh's arm.

"Did you hear about Marion?"

Josh tenses up, closing up impossibly tight and he nods slowly. His jaw locks, fingers curling around his arms. Josh exhales shakily, tears filling his eyes.

"Josh-"

"I don't want to talk about it." Josh snaps, slumping down in his seat. Chris opens his mouth to speak, words dying as he watches Josh bite hard into his knuckles.

"Josh," Chris licks his lips. "We're bros. We're best friends. I'm your best man."

"Chris, I really-"

"Just listen, Josh." Chris stresses, hands coming to rest on the window frame. Josh looks at him, head rolling to the side, eyes rimmed red and Chris doesn't want to watch Josh cry. Not today. Preferably never.

But this was better. Better than the car ride from Lexington, better than Josh storming out into the dark, leaving Chris alone with his thoughts, with his fear.

"Ashley needed me. I didn't... just ditch you, Josh. I wouldn't have done it without a reason. You know that. She-"

Josh scoffs. "I don't care. I don't want to know, okay? I don't. I fucking don't, Chris. I have enough shit."

Chris grunts angrily, frowning. He sighs heavily, forcing himself still when he wants to march away. Josh is wiping at his eyes.

"Yeah, well. I'm your best friend. Deal with it."

Josh forces out a laugh. "We aren't friends."

"Someone fucking died, Josh!" Chris shouts, startling both of them. He takes a shaky breath. "We're bros, dumbass. Are you skipping class or what? It's a school of crying kids. I don't want to see that."

To be honest Chris feels sick, really sick because Josh could've been the one in a billion in regards to a bear attack. A fucking bear. Josh gives him a lopsided smile, all evidence of anger slowly evaporating. "I hate crying."

"Then let's go."

Chris claps the side of the door, rounding the hood to fall into Josh's passenger seat. Josh straightens in his seat, rolling his eyes with a snort when Chris hits his head on the door. Chris falls back with a groan, struggling to pull on his seatbelt.

"Fuck." He snatches Josh's aux cable before the other can, grinning widely when Josh pinches his arm.

"Any shit music and I'm leaving your ass."

"Just hurry up and leave before Bateman catches us."

Josh shifts gears, easing out of his parking spot as Chris selects a song. He watches the school fade away, watches the cop cars out front, the news van all fade into soft shades of blue and green and orange.

"Did you know you growled at me?"

Josh's hand stills on the gear. "I did?"

"Yeah. Yesterday before you went all batman and disappeared into the forest." Chris leaves out the part out where Josh had left a dent in his car.

"Freaky." Josh mumbles, tapping his fingers nervously on the steering wheel as he drives. He's quiet, moving in between cars with practiced ease. The sun hits him in the side just right, skin glistening brown and the shadows under his eyes seem so far away. Chris finds himself staring. Josh squints, hooking his visor to the side.

He notices Chris. "Dude. You're staring. I'm still pissed so you can't just stare at me like you used to."

"I-I don't stare!" Chris gapes, blushing furiously. He catches the beginning of a smirk crawling across his best friend's face. Chris presses his fist against his lips, intently staring out the window.

"You stare, Cochise."

"Shut up, Josh." Chris mumbles.

They stop at McDonald's, Josh ordering too much food and handing the cashier Chris' money when they get to the window.

"Dude. I'm saving for.." Chris resigns, taking the bag of food shoved into his chest along with his change. He drops the coins into the cup holder.

"Still pissed." Josh snorts, changing gears and they're driving again, along the emptying roads. The same roads Chris has driven on all his life, smothered in trees and wood and rock. The same roads that didn't hold any value until the Washington's moved here.

"Are you driving to make out point?"

"God, Chris, you're such a lame. It's called the Point."

"So you are?"

"Just shut up, bro. I don't want to deal with crying kids. It's depressing." Josh changes gears. "There's no place else to go in this bumblefuck town anyway. Why, Cochise? Finally gonna lemme suck you off?"

"You wish." Chris smirks despite the pounding in his chest. He rolls down the window, trying to ease the heat that swells inside him. Josh snickers beside him. Chris punches him in the arm without looking.

The Point wasn't a dramatic hill overlaying the city, wasn't some carefully placed slot of land next to a lake. It wasn't even a point. It was a parking lot, a parking lot with a broken down brick building beside it that sat on the edge of town. No one knew what it was, what it used to be but the roof held together with its bare windows and degradation.

Josh parks in the bushes, his small car easily fitting among overgrown vines and plants. He follows Chris inside, lighting up a cigarette as they walk, shoulder to shoulder, arms brushing one another.

"You bring Ashley here yet?" Josh inquires, tossing his lighter in between hands.

Chris bumps him. "No, dick. This place isn't nice enough."

"You're such a girl, Cochise."

The Point was gross. It smelt of piss and sour wet tang. Graffiti lined the walls, spiders webbed along the corners. Chris wouldn't bring anyone here. Ever. Josh pushes open the door leading to the fire escape, elbows bent back as he leans, cigarette in hand, watching Chris hurry inside. They take the stairs two at a time, until the empty windows stop, leaving a dark trip to the entrance of the roof.

Chris hadn't been up here since the end of freshman year and it had been with Josh and Emily, who bitched the whole time but her mom was leaving so Chris figured she had things to bitch about. Nothing had changed since then, still a flat, rustic looking surface with police tape wrapped around a dejected generator. Josh sits on the edge, swinging his legs over the brick side. Chris eyes the edge warily, slowly sitting down on the shifting ledge. He peeks over, tiny rocks stumbling off. The parking lot spreads out before them. Josh laughs at him.

"I won't push you. Promise." Josh flicks the bud to the parking lot beneath them.

Chris fishes out a McChicken, shoving it into Josh's hands without a word. He nervously unwraps his own burger. They eat in silent for a moment, a bird chirping as it soars over him.

"You kiss her yet?" Josh looks at Chris, mouth open around another bite.

"Nah. She's not that into me." Chris replies, earning a frown.

"You ditched me to not kiss Ashley? I'm confused. She likes you."

"Josh, Ashley is a lesbian. An actual lesbian. Real life lesbian." Chris stresses, searching Josh's face for any sign of understanding.

Josh continues frowning. "Ok. So you bailed... on me, your bro, for Ashley, who is not into you and a lesbian?"

"Her parents."

"Oooh." Josh says in acknowledgement. He sets his elbow on Chris' shoulder, crinkling the burger wrapper in his hands. "Bummer."

"Nah." Chris shrugs, handing Josh another burger. His friend takes it gratefully. "Hannah says you got a new medication."

Josh nods. "Yeah. 's making me fucking hungry all the time. It sucks. It's affecting my stomach and my dick. Can't get hard for shit. I don't even want to."

"This the part where you say to take it to my grave?"

"You bet, Cochise. Can't have the ladies thinking I'm off the market. Even though currently I am. I have the sex drive of a snail. Slow and just not going anywhere. 's making me salty."

Chris chuckles. "That the real reason you've been so pissy?"

Josh's arm on his shoulder folds down, fingers pinching Chris' right nipple through his shirt. Chris yelps, burger tumbling from his hands to the hard cement beneath them as Josh whistles beside him.

"No homo."

"Fuck, dude. That hurt." Chris whines, rubbing the sore spot on his chest.

"I'm sorry. I was just... bummed. It was kind of a big deal. Inviting you." Josh smiles, tucking his head on Chris' shoulder, arm draped uncomfortably between them.

"I'm sorry, man."

"'s cool, Cochise." Josh says smoothly, taking out a clear prescription container. The name is scratched out. He thumbs two small white pills out, slipping them into his mouth wordlessly. Chris watches Josh's throat work, Adams apple dipping before it rolls back up. He thinks about kissing Josh, about sliding his fingers through that thick, messy dark hair and kissing him.

Josh tilts his head, eyes boring into Chris' face, lips parting slowly. Chris doesn't realize he's leaning in until they're almost too close. He can smell Josh's cologne, the minty shampoo he used this morning. They're so close, necks elongated, chins angled and it'd be so, so easy to just kiss Josh Washington.

"I feel bad about Marion." Josh averts his gaze. He forces a smile, arm sliding from Chris shoulder and he's moving away. "I didn't know him very well. Only through Jess, ya know? But he was a nice guy."

Chris pulls himself straight, taking off his glasses to rub his eyes. His cheeks feel warm.

"You haven't been sleeping. Cause of me?"

"Nah, dude. Been having some weird dreams." Technically it wasn't a lie.

Josh smirks. "Oh yeah like what?"

Chris wants to tell Josh that all of his nightmares this week have been about Josh coming into his room, sharp toothed and hungry and sometimes he'd press his broken nails into Chris' stomach until the insides bleed out. He wants to tell him, but Josh is staring at him expectantly, those crisp eyes narrowing with every beat of silence.

"My mom." Chris lies, sliding his glasses up his nose. "She comes back and bakes one single apple pie. Then she leaves with it."

"That is weird." Josh pats Chris on the thigh. "You gonna see her soon?"

Chris hadn't been to his mom's grave since she died four years ago. He knows his dad frequents it often but Chris, Chris had yet to make that journey.

"I guess I should." Chris admits, fiddling with the ends of his cardigan.

"Want me to go with you?"

Chris didn't want to talk about it. "Is there going to be a thing for Marion?"

Josh frowns at the subject change but doesn't try to bring it up again.

"No idea. Probably. He was popular." Josh says quietly, scratching his shoulder. Chris wants to say he's glad it wasn't Josh but it seemed like a shitty thing to admit when the town has to have a funeral. Josh gives a half hearted shrug, reaching down inside the McDonalds bag.

"Want to split these nuggets?" Josh asks, setting two small containers in between them. He fishes out barbecue sauce from the bottom of the bag.

Chris nods. "You still pissed?"

Josh's eyes flicker up to him, lingering on Chris' mouth before turning away. Chris wonders if he thinks about it, thinks about kissing the way Chris thinks about it all the time.

"Kinda pissed. I've been having bad dreams." Josh stares down at a nugget in his palm. It's shaped like a whale. "My parents think I'm just freaking out over the new medication so I stopped talking about it. But they're bad, Chris. Really bad. I've had them since last weekend."

"Guess me not coming really took a shit on your life." Chris jokes but Josh doesn't smile like he normally would, doesn't slur out a curse or nudge Chris in the arm. Josh just stares, stares into the whale nugget as if it holds answers to whatever's warring in Josh's mind.

Josh cocks his shoulder back, hurling it without warning. Chris follows the nugget until it disappears into the trees. Josh places his hands on his knees, legs rocking slightly over the edge, back and forth and back and forth.

"Guess so." Josh sighs, fixing Chris with a dopey grin. He punches Chris, hard. Really, really hard.

"Ow!" Chris yelps, rubbing the affected spot roughly. It pulses under his hand.

"Not pissed anymore. Let's go play games at your place. Wanna kick your ass at least twice on Tekken before lunch." Josh smirks, bringing his legs back over the edge. He crushes the McDonalds bag under his boot.

"What about the nuggets?" Chris hurries to follow after him, snapping the containers closed.

"Leave them. The birds will eat it." Josh says over his shoulder, thin legs crossing the long distance with ease. Chris blinks and Josh is already at the door, propped open by his foot. He takes out a crushed pack of cigs.

"Dude, come on."

Chris groans, hauling himself up and leaving the half eaten food behind. He jogs lightly the rest of the way, smacking the Marlboro's in Josh's hand to the ground.

"Dude!" Josh exclaims, bending down to swipe the cartridge up. "Why are you such a dickweed?"

"It makes your sisters sad. You should stop." Chris tells him.

Josh jabs a finger in Chris' chest, teeth barred.

"Don't." Josh hisses. "Fucking don't, okay?"

Chris sighs, holding a hand up in surrender. He knew it was a sore subject, family in general was despite how close Josh was to his sister's. It was for Chris too. But he'd rather laugh about the fact that his dad's a sobering alcoholic and his mom is dead than cry.

Josh sighs, regret twisting his mouth into a frown, and he places a hand on Chris' shoulder, thumb pressed into his collarbone. Josh squeezes gently, turning to begin the dark descent down the stairs. Chris trails after him, waving a hand in front of his face as Josh's lighter clicks to life, the thick swell of smoke following.

"I'm sorry about Ashley."

Chris stares at the back of Josh's head, taking in the slight bend in his spine, the way he sags into his left side as he walks. Chris wasn't sorry about Ashley but he was sorry that her coming out story wouldn't be a smooth one.

"It's whatever. More girls right?"

Josh's shoulder tenses as he walks but he's nodding, holding up his hand in agreement. The cigarette in his fingers burns quietly into ash.

"More girls, Cochise."

Chapter Text

Chris wakes up at 10:48 AM, blinking drowsily at the slow turning ceiling fan. His mind is clouded, dropped in a gooey batch of nectar, easing back into another dreamless sleep. Time of The Seasons plays quietly in his ear, pillow vibrating under the soft insistence of a phone call.

"M'ello." Chris doesn't remember answering but the cell is pressed to his ear, throat thick with sleep.

"Ah, did I wake you? Sorry!" Ashley's voice is a quiet ting against his consciousness.

"'s okay. What's up?" Chris latches onto her words, wiping drool from the corner of his mouth as he rolls onto his side. He smacks his lips, wincing at how sour his mouth tastes.

"Feel like driving an hour?

Chris squints, fumbling around on the nightstand for his glasses. "To where?"

"You, me and a cherry cola in Binksy."

Binksy was a ditzy, run down mall near the border. Chris definitely didn't want to drive to Binksy when they could just go to a shit mall here.

"Today's Marion's funeral. Rather not be here." Ashley explains quietly.

The town pretty much shut down for the weekend, shops closing up early, school cancelled; the main hallway became a candle lit memorial surrounded by flowers and stuffed animals. Chris didn't really want to spend a Sunday surrounded by sad people when he would have to spend Monday the same way.

"Fine." Chris sighs tiredly. "Now?"

"Now. Pick me up in 30?"

"Yeah ok. I'll be there." Chris mumbles, hanging up with a yawn. He forces himself up, shedding his ratty t-shirt with little thoughts. Chris takes a shower in the hallway bathroom, sitting under the hot spray a lot longer than necessary. He scrubs himself clean, a bit too hard, a bit too rough but it's one of the things his mom taught him so he does it every time, even if it hurts, even if it leaves his skin red and throbbing.

Chris feels just fine today.

He feels like he can breathe, like he can smell and eat and maybe Josh being upset with him affected him a lot more than he let on. He was just glad they were okay again. They hanged out most of last week and things felt normal, felt right.

Chris brushes his teeth as his hair dries, working the bristles until he doesn't feel as tired. He still doesn't fully know how to make pomade work so he fixes his hair into his usual faux hawk as the voice in his mind screams for him to commit and shave that shit. It sounds vaguely like Josh.

His dad isn't home so he leaves a note on his bed, stealing another cardigan from his parent's closet to go over his sweater. Chris locks up the house, shrugging on a tan windbreaker from the backseat of his car. He calls Ashley when he's close, leaving his ETA on her voicemail. Her subdivision is quaint, pretty, much like Ashley herself. All white picket fences, dogs in the yard, parents alive and together; the real American Dream.

Ashley's sitting on the stairs of her front porch when he pulls up. She beams when she sees him, hopping up in a wave of frills and white. Ashley's dressed the exact opposite of someone in mourning, with her pale pink dress and white frills and red, red hair. Chris notices someone peering out through a crack in the blinds. She slides into his car with a princess-like grace, smelling of pineapples and daisies.

"That your mom?" Chris inquires, watching the blinds snap shut. He had met her parents very, very briefly. More of a hi and bye type situation. They seemed very conservative and very interested in the fact that Chris was a male.

Ashley shrugs. "Maybe. I'm glad you came. How have you been?"

"I've been okay." Chris answers, a bit relieved at how honest it feels. He backs up into her driveway, turning the wheel as he steers back towards the subdivision entrance. Ashley folds her hand over the crease in his arm.

"I heard Josh forgave you."

"Yeah. Kinda. The night before Marion died, we had gotten into a fight. He went into the woods." Chris tells her. "It feels shitty, but I'm glad it wasn't him."

"Nothing like death to bring people together. My parents won't leave me alone. I could barely get out the house today."

Chris' dad had been the exact opposite, shutting himself in his room when someone even mentioned death. Chris, in turn, kept his distance and did homework or played video games until he had to feed himself.

"Why Binksy?" Chris asks, following the road to the interstate.

"Didn't know where else to go." Ashley responds softly. She touches the dent in his dashboard, tracing the faint knuckle shaped crease. Chris had almost forgot about it, forgot about how weird Josh acted that night. Ashley doesn't ask so Chris doesn't tell.

"I told him about why I didn't go. I told Josh." Chris tells her, wetting his lips. "I told him not to worry and that there were more girls to choose from."

Ashley turns to him. "Why didn't you tell him?"

"I don't know."

"Chris, you can't say there are more fish in the sea when you want the sun in the sky. It's misleading. He won't know unless you tell him."

But sometimes it feels like Josh knows. It's in his eyes, in the way he'll sometimes press in too close or insist that they share a bed when Chris stays over; sometimes he'll smirk a bit too wide or stare at Chris as he talks, tracing every word like an invitation. Sometimes Chris thinks Josh knows so he backs off, he puts enough distance so Josh will ease up, so Josh won't get weirded out.

"I can't. We're bros. He's not even..." Chris sighs, glancing over his shoulder as he merges onto the highway. Josh and Chris didn't talk about sexuality or identities, they just talked girls and video games and who Josh let blow him behind the bleachers. "I don't want to fuck up this thing we have going."

"Ah, the complicated relationship and internalized homophobia?"

"I'm past that." Chris was. He settled it within himself that he was a 'raging bisexual' and that that was okay. What was not okay was liking Josh Washington.

Ashley giggles. "The musings of a bonafide bisexual."

Chris snorts, sneaking a glance at her from the corner of his eye. Her face is solemn, the brightness in her cheeks from makeup. He notices the faint shadows under her eyes, blotted away with concealer. Chris doesn't comment on it and he's sure that's why their group has lasted so long. They all had secrets, had these awful harbored feelings that no one tried to fake through. They would look at each other and understand and wait until the dam burst, expecting a river instead of a barren wasteland.

Josh calls halfway on their drive, Lemme Freak filling the quiet compartment. Josh had dubbed the song "white boy trash rap" so Chris set it as his ringtone just to irritate him.

"Sup, bro." Chris answers, phone pressed to his ear by Ashley. He takes it in his hand, mouthing thanks to her. Ashley sticks up a thumbs up in response.

"Hey, man. I need to get the fuck out of this house." Josh groans loudly. "Hannah keeps crying. Beth and Sam are with her but I'm not down with any of this. I'm coming over."

Chris purses his lips. "Um, I'm not home. Not anywhere near home actually."

"The fuck? Where are you?" Josh asks, irritation evident in his voice. He clicks his tongue in annoyance.

"Ash wanted to go to Binksy."

The line goes quiet and Chris almost thinks Josh hung up if it weren't for the sound of a car door slamming shut. Chris swallows nervously at the silence. He didn't even think to invite anyone else. Ashley shoots him a questioning look.

"Seriously?" comes Josh's small voice. "Fine."

"Josh-"

The line clicks off, phone pressed to his ear and all Chris can hear is how soft and disappointed Josh sounded. Chris fights back a curse, setting his phone down into a cup holder.

"He's pissed." Chris sighs. "Again."

"He'll be okay. He has friends who aren't you, Chris." Ashley reminds him. "Josh can't expect you to always be there."

Except Josh does expect that. Chris had been there longer than anyone else had, even longer than Sam. He's had to sit with Josh through panic attacks, had to watch as paramedics drag Josh away on a stretcher because Beth called him crying, saying Josh wasn't moving on the floor. Josh expected Chris when he needed him. Chris let him down again.

Ashley traces a finger over his whitening knuckles, whispering soothing noise into his ear.

"We can turn around." She says but Chris knows Josh won't be receptive until he's done being pissy. Chris shakes his head, chewing his bottom lip, and Ashley leans her head against his shoulder, idly stroking his forearm until it relaxes.

Binksy doesn't look how it did earlier this year, a fresh paint of cost rolled over crumbling walls. Lavish bushes planted along the entrance. There was even a new set of benches near the door.

"Business must be a boomin'." Ashley jokes as they park.

"Gettin' them dollar, dollar bills, y'all." Chris responds thinking of his dad.

Ashley laughs, high and whispy and it makes Chris' heart flutter in his chest. He grins at her, feeling the weight inside him shift. Chris imagines his life would be simpler if he moved, if he changed schools and left Devil's Kettle behind. Josh would never forgive him.

But Chris considers it, considers how free his chest feels as he follows Ashley from store to store, noting all the bright red 'SALE' signs with various percentages marked below. He texts Josh while he watches Ashley sift through a rack of dresses.

From: Dickweed
I'm sorry :(

Josh doesn't text back.

"Go try this on. Stop moping." Ashley hands him a knee-length, deep navy dress. Chris stares it, then stares at her with a raised eyebrow. He snatches it from her hands with a grunt. Ashley looks at him expectantly so he grabs the ugliest, most ridiculous polka dot lime green dress from the same rack and hands it to her. Ashley takes it with a grimace.

"God, this is ghastly." Ashley cringes.

Chris gestures to the dress he's holding. "Yes because this one goes so well with my eyes."

They both shudder, wandering towards the dressing rooms. A lady at the counter hurries after them, smiling bright and wide until she looks at Ashley's dress. She unlocks the door, eyes crinkling in the corners as her smile turns pained.

"Why do we do this again?" Ashley asks once they're alone.

"To cheer each other up?" Chris reminds her, remembering the first time they went to a mall together. Ashley had been crying because of her mom and Chris tried on different dresses and blouses and bows until she cracked a smile and helped him pick out something decent. In turn, she let him dress her horribly so he could laugh.

Ashley nods furiously before disappearing into her dressing room, Chris mimicking the action, meeting his reflection upon walking in. Chris undresses with his back to the mirror, staring a bit too hard at the soft rolls that crease when he bends over. His phone buzzes loudly from his jeans on the floor.

Chris tugs the dress over his head, wiggling it past his awkward shoulders with an exasperated sigh. He smooths out the creased folds, swishing it from side to side. It'd be a nice dress on Jess because she has hips where he doesn't, plus his legs are too long. Ashley knocks on the wall between them. Chris knocks back, counting back from three before he steps out.

They meet each other on the other side, Ashley frowning miserably as they face one another. Chris inhales, eyes watering when he realizes he picked the shittiest thing for her to wear. It has a cut out back, hugging every curve nicely but the color, the polka dots, the everything is so, so bad.

"You look like a bimbo." Chris snorts and Ashley folds her arms over her chest, gesturing for Chris to turn around. He does, switching from side to side and she giggles.

"Jess would look good in it."

Chris agrees. "I was thinking that too. I didn't mean to make such a bad choice."

Ashley poses dramatically, bending at the waist, a hand behind her head, the other on her hip. She blows a kiss at him and Chris loses it, laughter bubbling out his throat into a dying wheeze. Ashley punches him, face red but smiling.

"I'll take a picture so you can look at it whenever you're sad." Ashley snorts, shoving Chris back into his dressing room. Chris manages to thank her as he slumps to the floor, tears springing to his eyes. It wasn't that funny, not nearly funny as other times but it felt so good to laugh.

Chris checks his phone while he's on the floor, wide smile slowly sliding off his face. His heart is in his throat, pounding loudly against his ears.

From: Mr. President
I kissed Josh

From: Mr. President
Sorry, dude.
He was upset.
It just kind of happened.

There are no texts from Josh, no missed calls, nothing but the desolate hollowness Chris feels inside him and Mike Munroe's fucking text messages. Chris isn't sure how to respond or what to say but he feels angry, so so angry. A knock comes to the dressing room door.

"Chris? You okay?"

He's not. He's not okay. But Chris keeps it to himself, taking the dress off and slipping back into his layers of clothes until he feels safe and warm and not suffocating from his emotional turmoil.

Ashley appears worried when he resurfaces, biting at her cuticle. Chris takes her hand, sighing heavily. Mike Munroe kissed Josh Washington. Mike Munroe, not Chris. Chris stares at Ashley, zoning into the back of his mind and he feels himself tense up.

"I need to go home." Chris tells her and she nods in understanding, taking his hand quietly. Ashley drives back, letting Chris slouch in the passenger seat like a grumpy child.

"Wanna talk about it?"

"Mike kissed Josh."

Ashley makes an 'ooh' noise, fingers curling around the steering wheel. She gives him a sympathetic look.

"But that doesn't mean Josh kissed him back and you even said that Josh might not even like guys."

"We never talked about it." Chris says miserably, sinking down in his seat. "I don't... Fuck."

"Josh will probably turn him down anyway because of Hannah."

Chris shrugs. If Josh felt petty enough it wouldn't matter. But he had no reason to be upset with Hannah, no reason to steal her crush right from under her. Chris stares out the window, unsure what the pang in his chest means when he knows it's just a crush. Just a crush on Josh Washington.

"Well they're closer than my house so we'll just stop by."

Chris doesn't even know if Josh would be home. He hopes that maybe he would be, that maybe Mike came over instead and Josh made him leave. But there are no cars in the Washington drive way, no open windows or sign of life inside the luxurious walls. Chris stares at the house until it fades into trees, Ashley mumbling how sorry she is and adding hope after hope in every word that escapes her lips.

Chris is just fine today.

Chapter Text

Chris has had bad days.

He's had bad days where he can't make himself do anything beyond brushing his teeth and even then it takes coaxing, takes a '1..2..3 brush 3..2..1 brush' that his mom taught him. Most of his bad days look the same, same as every bad day he's ever had; bright skies, overcast sunny with no chance of rain at a modest 67 degrees.

Today was a bad day.

He hadn't talked to Josh since last week, since the funeral and he tries not to think about how most of his nightmares have now become Josh instead of his mom lying in a bath tub. He thinks maybe it's supposed to be his subconscious way of saying he's moving on, he's healing, he's learning to live life without that familiar, nasally laugh greeting him when he comes home.

Chris is sure that isn't it though. That the molten hot coal wedged in his spine isn't a seed of growth.

"Hey bucko, made breakfast."

Chris cranes his head to look back at his dad, who stands in the open door way in a robe, managing a stiff nod before fixing his gaze back on the TV. His fingers smash buttons with practiced precision, character nailing every ultimate combo he can between enemies. Chris figures he should probably find a healthier way to digest his feelings but his dad didn't believe in therapy ("Didn't help your mom, won't help me.") so Chris guess he doesn't either.

Chris pauses the screen, battle cry cut short as the menu dings in place. He climbs to his feet, legs stiff, knees knocking and he's leaving the bedroom with as much grace as he can muster. Two plates of pancakes and bacon sits on their modest dining table, silverware lazily tossed on the surface as if an afterthought.

Chris slumps down in his usual seat, his father taking the place across from him. There's a painful silence stretched in the empty spot between them and Chris wonders why his father picked today to play dad.

"So," Chris glances up to the sound of a throat clearing. "How's school?"

Chris shrugs, reaching for his fork. He tries to conjure up a reply that doesn't feel like bullshit because his dad is trying, his dad is playing dad so he should play son.

"School's fine. I might have a pop quiz today."

"Oh? In what?" Chris can hear him trying, can practically feel the forced interest. Chris wants to tell him that he doesn't have to try today, that they don't have to try today but his dad's looking at him in earnest and smiling.

"English."

"I didn't know they had pop quizzes in English." His dad chuckles, cutting into the pancakes on his plate.

"Mini book reviews kinda." Chris says, poking at his own food with a lazy drag across the ceramic. He didn't like pancakes, hasn't liked them since middle school because his dad never made them right, too thin, too crispy, sometimes burnt.

"Chris-"

"We don't have to do this." Chris interrupts, fighting down a sigh. "We don't.."

His dad's brow furrow, disappointment curling along his form like a shadow and Chris instantly regrets speaking at all. He considers leaving, getting dressed and going to school but he just sits. He sits and eats and forces himself to talk about bullshit because it's what his dad wants and maybe it's what he wants, just not now, not today.

Ashley calls as he gets dressed, his dad knocking his knuckles on the door with a goodbye and a reminder that money's on the counter, and Chris sits on the edge of his bed, listening to Time of The Season ring over and over. He doesn't answer, just turns the ringer off and tugs on shirt after shirt, fumbling with the buttons, sliding on his jacket and he doesn't want to go to school but Chris imagines somewhere someone else is having it worse. He's just being stupid.

Sam finds him at his locker before the bell rings, dressed plainly in a flannel that's probably Beth's and leggings that are probably Hannah's. Her hair is down and wavy, crinkled in some areas where the gel didn't blend well.

"Hey."

Chris balances his English textbook in one hand, shuffling it from his bag to the locker. He tugs out his economics book. "Hey."

"How're you doin'?" Sam asks, searching his face and Chris wonders what she knows. "Josh said you weren't answering your phone."

Chris hadn't checked his phone since last night, the only thing actually reminding him he even had a phone was his alarm and the call from Ashley. Chris wants to think he's still mad about Mike and Josh but he feels tired like there's a whirlpool tumbling around inside him that looks a lot like sharp teeth and blood than razor blades and soapy, red water. Chris didn't think about the dent on his dashboard or Josh snarling at him. He didn't think about anything all weekend aside from DOA 3 and Far Cry.

"I'm okay." Chris says, tasting the words. They seem to fit well in his mouth so Chris figures he's not lying. Sam cracks a small smile, reaching out to touch his shoulder.

"Want me to walk you to class?"

The bell sounds ahead. Sam's hand is still on his shoulder. Chris manages a nod. She links their arms together, helping him filter out what he needs and doesn't need for the next three periods before slamming the locker closed.

"You wanna talk about it?"

Chris glances at her from the corner of his eye, pushing his glasses up. "What?"

"Mike and Josh."

"Nah." Chris answers easily because he didn't. He's still trying to convince himself that it never happened even though he still has Mike's text in his phone, clear and bold and Chris wishes he couldn't understand it. But that wasn't the reason he feels so sick and drained. He was just having a bad day.

"You sure?" Sam asks, lightly squeezing his forearm.

Chris has never felt so grateful to see Mr. Honeycutt's English class, a decorated floral sign dangling above that reads 'Entrance Permitted'. Chris nods and Sam sighs softly but doesn't press. Instead she slides an arm around his waist and squeezes before giving a small salute.

Matt waves at him when he enters. He makes his way to him, pointedly gesturing for the girl two seats over to move her bag. She does so with an annoyed look. Chris slumps down in the desk beside Matt, who still looks like he's in mourning but he cracks a joke or two that makes him laugh so he guesses they're okay.

He sits through class, jittery, left knee bouncing with every small jerk of his leg and takes notes on how much he hates the Scarlet Letter. Chris draws in the margins, listening to Mr. Honeycutt's smooth drawl that vaguely reminds him of Josh. He checks his phone, eyebrows lifting at how much Josh had actually texted him.

From: Washua (4)
I said I was sorry
I've been feelin' weird
Text me back asshole

Chris angles his phone under his desk, fingers moving rapidly over the screen.

From: Mr. Pilgrim
Man you're needy

Josh's response is immediate.

From: Washua
Fuck you dickweed
I've been playing COD all weekend
I hate COD
See what you make me do?

Chris snorts, sliding the phone into his pocket as he looks back up at the board. Matt hits him lightly in the arm, leaning over to look at his notes. He frowns at the contents before snatching them away to jot down. His phone is angled behind the kid in front of his, one hand tapping rapidly over the screen as he writes. Chris is impressed.

"You're so gloomy, Chris." Matt comments once the bell rings. He gathers all his papers into a folder, handing Chris his notes back. He takes them with a shrug.

"Josh kissed Mike. I feel bummed." Except Chris has felt bummed for most of the summer, most of the past four years but Josh coaxes him out of all his negative feelings with the distraction of his own. The only distraction he had now was the kiss.

"Josh kissed Mike?!" Matt exclaims. A few heads turn to him and he clears his throat.

"Don't wanna talk about it." Chris sighs, moving to his feet. He slides his notebooks and Econ book into one hand, easing his way down the aisle of packing kids as Matt hurries after him. He grabs his elbow once Chris hits the hallway, students passing in a flurry. The school still seemed to be in mourning but the funeral had come and gone and Chris thinks aside from the few, the rest were mostly over it. That's the beauty of high school deaths. Everyone knows you once you're dead and only a couple still pray that you've made it to heaven once your body hits the coffin.

"Chris. Are you okay?"

"Just having a bad day." Chris tells him, forcing a smile and he bumps his knuckles against Matt's before departing. His next two periods pass in a blur, Econ looking like Algebra, Algebra looking like the back of a bad French essay. It's only halfway to lunch the Chris thinks he really, really should've stayed home.

Chris doesn't sit with the Washington's and Emily at lunch. Instead he sits three tables down with Jess, who keeps skipping class, and her friends, who were very receptive to Chris' presence. Chris doesn't ask why she's not sitting with Emily, her best friend since freshman year, and she doesn't ask why he's not sitting with Josh, his best friend since the training bra era. It was a perfect trade.

Jess still seemed fairly torn up Marion's death but she laughs at a joke or two with the two giggling teens in front of them, Amber and Felx. Chris barely pays attention, every so often checking on the others who sit ahead of them. He can make out Beth talking, smile strained and force as she sits between Hannah, who keeps roughly turning pages in a magazine, and Josh, who seems vaguely sick and pale and exhausted.

Beth had texted Chris a couple of days ago asking how he was and that she didn't see him at the funeral and if he heard what happened between Hannah and Josh. He didn't hear what happened between them because besides Sam, Jess and Matt, Chris hadn't run into anyone unless it was by accident.

"How's your studious silence going?" Felx asks, plucking a carrot from Chris' tray. He drags his eyes away from Josh to look at them. Chris shrugs, leaning against the table. Felx shoots him a pitying look.

"Tough isn't it?" They ask and Chris nods.

Jess places a hand on his shoulder, pressing in too close. Chris groans.

"So I can finally ask about it now?"

"You going to tell me why you're avoiding Emily?"

Jess pouts. "Fine. I will. You first."

Amber picks at the ends of her hair, dragging knots out of the tight curls. She lifts her eyes to them, flicking a tangle to the floor. Felx leans in, face lit with interest and Chris squirms under the three intense gazes.

"I'm having a shitty day. And Mike kissed Josh."

Jess frowns. "Mike kissed Josh? That explains a lot."

"Explains what?" Chris asks, dragging a carrot through ranch. He doesn't look at her. Felx shrugs their shoulders, grinning widely as if they also know. Amber rolls her eyes, reaching across the table to touch Chris' hand. She gives him a small smile.

"Honey, they're dating."

"No, they're fucking. Big difference. Josh Washington doesn't date." Felx corrects, snorting. They take in Chris' crumpled expression and straighten, hands held up to stammer an apology. Jess cuts them off.

"Hannah's pretty pissed. And I'm not speaking to Emily because she thinks I'm emotionally immature due to the fact that I cried because my ex boyfriend was ripped to pieces. Def did not know that the future class president is boning your guy."

The words sting. Chris sets down the carrots he's holding, suddenly not as hungry and he feels like he might be sick. Chris thinks he might be upset, deep down, underneath all his old pain and repressed thoughts. He wonders why reality is such a shit to him.

Jess rubs his back soothingly, nudging his shoulder with her head. The sound of a tray hitting the table echoes the cafeteria. Everyone looks up, gazes fixed on the oldest Washington twin standing with a hardened frown fixed on Beth before she storms off, Josh already on his feet after her. The cafeteria falls silent, all watching the two leave as Beth struggles to shove stuff into her bag before running behind them.

"Nothing to see here!" Emily shouts, snapping her fingers loudly and the noise returns to the room. Jess hurries out of her seat, weaving through students with trays and tables until she's plopping down in front of Emily, who tenses up.

"Jess has a crush on Emily." Amber supplies voluntarily. "The real reason she's not talking to her. Also Emily thinks she's emotionally unavailable."

Felx takes Chris' lunch tray from him. "You going to confront your lover boy?"

Chris figures if everyone was already pissy and irritated it might be better to get it over with then at least Chris would have people to sit with after it all goes to complete shit. He nods and Felx smiles wordlessly.

"Go with God, Chris." Amber tells him, palms pressed together.

Chris coughs uncomfortably. "Um, thanks?"

"You'll need it. I'm sure you know how bad the last Washington rejection went."

Everyone did. It was at the Homecoming dance. Amelia Hernandez was the target and Josh Washington was her executioner. It was devastating.

"Pray." Chris tells Amber fiercely and she nods, signing a cross on her chest. Felx's laugh follows him as he trails off in the direction of the Washington children, nearly stumbling into Hannah as he makes his way to the parking lot. Her eyes are teary, porcelain cheeks rosy and dry. She breaks out a weak smile, touching Chris on the arm before moving past him towards the gym.

"Han!" Beth is hurrying after her, waving at Chris when she passes. "Try the car!"

Chris nods his thanks, her words confirming his course of action. He's actually surprised to find Josh propped up on his car, honestly doubting that it'd be this easy. Half of him thought Josh would've driven off before he even arrived. Josh is sitting on the hood, crushing cigarettes in his hands. Tobacco falls to the cement in blackened clumps, along with torn pieces of paper. There are burn marks on the inside of his wrists, coloring over healed white scars.

Josh looks up when Chris' shadow casts over him, slouching tiredly as if he expected it. He sighs heavily, sitting back on his elbows, stretched out with raised eyebrows and pouty lips.

"Hey, Cochise."

Chris tucks his hands into the pockets of his jacket, nodding a response because he doesn't feel like talking, doesn't feel like standing here in front of his best friend when he wants to be home. Josh gestures to the bags under Chris' eyes.

"Bad day?"

"Can you tell?" Chris snorts, moving to sit beside Josh on the hood of his car. They stare at the parking lot, at the different levels of wealth that varied from beat down Volvo to hummer to landrover. "Heard about you and Mike."

"Yeah."

"Hannah pissed at you?"

"Hannah's always upset with me." Josh answers, running a hand down his face. His skin is a soft greying brown, veins visible in the side of his neck and arms. Chris has never seen him look so ill, so painfully stressed out.

"I didn't know you went both ways." Chris comments, even though his hands shake as he says it.

"Yeah. Go all ways really." Josh answers, leaning against Chris. He rests his forehead on Chris' shoulder, sighing heavily. Silence passes over them. Chris can hear his heartbeat in the base of his skull, a steady thrum of adrenaline pulsing through him.

"I liked you." Chris admits, staring down at his lap. Josh chuckles softly. He forces himself up straight, staring at Chris with a knowing look that kind of pisses him off.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

Josh shifts to lean on his knees, one hand propped up under his chin. There's a storm on his face, smoldering against the deep shadows under his eyes and Chris watches it be fought, watches the way Josh's hand trembles as it curls into a fist.

"Guess you missed out."

Chris expects it, expects the words before they even fully process in his mind but it still boils under his skin and he feels angry.

"You're a fucking asshole." Chris whispers, hurt clawing its way through his windpipe. He fights the urge to leave when Josh turns back to him, back straightening, eyes level and he's fucking smirking.

"Don't be mad someone grew balls and it wasn't you, Cochise." Josh drawls, voice heavy and slow and Chris exhales, staring everywhere but at his best friend. Josh snickers darkly, wrapping a hand around Chris' wrists, smoothing his thumb over the rapid pulse.

"Felt real good too, Chris. I can see what Em and Jess see in Munroe. Really knows how to take someone to the bone zone. Gets all that excess aggression and just," Josh is close, too close, breath a whisper against Chris' ear. "fucks the shit out of ya."

Chris jerks his arm out of Josh's grip, staggering to the ground as the other laughs, leaning back on the hood of his car. Chris' eyes line with tears that sting and sizzle and his skin burns where Josh touched it. He tucks shaking hands into his jacket pockets, counting down in his mind to three and he keeps backing away. Chris can feel Josh watching him.

"Okay." Chris forces out, taking one last look at Josh, who doesn't seem as cocky now; the Josh who looks drained and broken and pale, the Josh he knows. And maybe Chris has been around too long, has known Josh too long to understand that the words spewed at him are out of anger, almost like a defense mechanism. He wonders if this is supposed to soften the blow. Chris lost his chance, Josh knew about the crush and he's angry that Chris didn't speak up. Chris wonders if Josh is second guessing himself.

Josh's gaze softens, large eyes so expressive and filled with too many emotions. He rubs his arm, curling in on himself and he's so small, so tiny right now that the burning anger inside Chris starts to dimmer. He wants to get past this because regardless of his crush, regardless of the shitty days he's had since his mom died, Josh still needed someone who wasn't Mike Munroe to stick around.

"I liked you too, Chris." Josh tells him.

"Okay." Chris says again, feeling more calm and numb as his stomach clenches painfully. And he wishes those words wouldn't shake something deep down inside him. The bell sounds from behind him and he touches Josh's shoulder with a surprising tenderness. His best friend gazes up at him, the whites in his eyes stinging red.

"Want me to walk you to class?" Chris asks softly and Josh nods shakily, grasping Chris hand before he can pull away. His fingers are trembling as they slide along Chris palm, tracing the thin lines that intercept.

"'M sorry, Cochise."

"It's cool, man. We're bros regardless." Chris tells him and it comes out so easy, so smooth that it makes Chris want to cry because maybe it was easier when he just thought that Josh didn't know.

Josh laughs at that, this forced, blunt noise but a slow smile crooks in the corner of his mouth and he's sliding off the car, sliding right into Chris' space. Chris can smell cinnamon, cinnamon and cigarettes and he wants to ask if Hannah bought Josh what she seemed as an "acceptable seasonal bath wash". Chris can't help but stare at Josh's mouth, at the soft dip in his lips, the slight paleness to them.

"Don't do that." Josh whispers softly, eyes hooded and his smile droops into something lazy and tired. "You can't do that."

"Sorry." Chris says, not feeling sorry at all. "Wanna go?"

"Yeah, bro."

Chris forces his gaze elsewhere, cheeks burning and Josh laughs from somewhere behind him as he walks back towards the school. He'll probably get detention for being late but he can't find it within himself to care when Josh is walking shoulder to shoulder beside him, hands in the back pockets of his jeans, appearing far more pleased than earlier.

Mike is waiting next to Josh's classroom and Chris' walk stutters but Josh nudges him with his head as they slow to a stop a few steps before reaching him. Josh gives him a lopsided smile, looking a bit ridiculous in his open flannel and tank top with his hands in his back pockets.

"You keep dressing like a hipster."

"Yeah, yeah okay, trashy art student." Josh smirks and Chris feels himself smiling and he wants to kiss him so bad. "Hang out with me tomorrow? After school?"

"Yeah okay." Chris says.

Josh pats Chris' arm, fingers lingering as his hand drags away and he strides towards Mike, whose fighting a frown. Chris gives the future class president a two fingered salute before heading back to class.

His day still feels shitty, still feels awful and bad and he still wants to go home but Josh texts him during his last period and Chris feels okay. He wasn't going to compete with Mike, even though it feels like that's how Mike will see it, because he has his own dark feelings to settle that don't involve Josh Washington, feelings he'll probably never acknowledge, feelings that make everyday feel like a bad day.

He missed out.

Chris missed out on Josh but he still had his best friend, still had his best man to look after. It's not until later in the evening that Chris actually texts back because even though he's accepted his fate, it still burns.

Josh doesn't text back, instead he calls when Chris is on the blissful edge of sleep.

"It's like 10:38, why are you asleep?"

Chris blinks groggily. "Had a shitty day."

The line falls quiet. "Your mom?"

"Maybe." Chris yawns, wrapping his blanket tight around him. "I don't know. I'm dealing."

"Wanna talk about it?"

"My mom killed herself there's nothing to talk about." Chris remarks with a snort. "Why'd you call, bro?"

"You said you had a dream. About me." Josh's voice sounds heavy, sounds slow and deep and Chris' mind rushes to translate every word into a coherent noise.

"Yeah. Like a couple of weeks ago."

"You think dreams come true?"

Chris snickers. "What? You growing super sharp teeth and ripping my throat out? Nah. You're too soft."

Josh makes a strange noise. "I've been having dreams too. Of people dying. Marion dying. Weird, real things."

"You psychic?" Chris jokes and Josh makes a frustrated sound.

"I'm serious, Chris."

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. Just tired." Chris amends. He listens to Josh's soft breathing, an occasional whistle slipping through the receiver. Chris makes out syllables, thoughts slipping away the heavier his eyelids feel and he knows Josh is talking, knows because there's this buzz in his ear.

"Cochise? Are you asleep?"

"Yeah." Chris sighs, licking his lips. He curls onto his side, phone slipping to his chin as Josh murmurs soft reply after reply.

"Can I come over?"

"Windows open." Chris murmurs drowsily. His eyes are closed, limbs heavy and he's so comfortable and warm when the bed dips. Chris forces his eyes open, feeling as if a second had passed and Josh is sliding into bed with him, skin damp, smelling like cinnamon and toothpaste.

"That was fast." Chris slurs, shifting to create space but Josh just nuzzles into him, a clothed leg wedging between Chris' pliant ones. Cold arms circle his waist and Chris is too tired to jump away so he just whines restlessly. Josh doesn't say anything, just presses quietly into Chris, nose wedged into his collarbone.

"I think I did something bad." Josh whispers into the silence. "Something really, really bad, Chris."

Chris huffs. "Just stay. We can talk about it tomorrow."

Josh nods against him, arms tightening to the point where it's almost painful. Chris forces an eye open, feeling the small beginnings of Josh's tremble and he sighs, carding his fingers through Josh's hair until the other breathes evenly against him. Chris wonders why he didn't go to Mike, why he's here with Chris late at night.

Chris falls asleep, partially draped over Josh with a hand fisted in his shirt.

Chapter Text

Chris wakes up alone, blearily blinking into the darkness of his room. The spot beside him is warm, a soft whistling coming from window. Chris fumbles around for his phone, wincing when it connects with the back of his hand and falls to the floor. He moves to retrieve it, grumbling tired and sluggish. His torso bends along the side of the bed, arm extending as he begins to fiddle around for the device. The carpet is sticky beneath his palm, sticky and wet, this nasty squishing noise filling the quiet.

Chris tenses up, hoisting himself back on the bed. He rubs his fingers together, slick in the darkness, something descending down the skin in a slow trickle. Chris switches on the lamp beside his bed, the ting ting of cord sounding like a siren. His hand shines red, fingers slippery and stained and Chris' brain finally catches up with a scream to move.

He stumbles off the bed, feet instantly losing purchase in his haste and he falls, hard, to the ground, arm twisting underneath him with a sickening snap. Tears spring from his eyes, sharp rustic smell floating from the puddle beneath him. His shirt clings to his skin and he grits his teeth, forcing himself up on a shaky hand. There's blood everywhere. It spreads along the reaches of his bed, across his closet.

A hand wraps around his ankle, grip icy and tight and Chris screams, heart pounding in his chest. He tries to break free, tries and fails to keep himself up, pain coursing through him. The hand yanks hard in response, Chris' chin smashing into the ground as he's dragged underneath his bed. He claws at the carpet, nails sinking into the wet surface with no avail.

Chris forces himself to breathe, shaky puffs of air stilling in his throat. He can see the light from the lamp close by. The distance seems so small, so slight but something heavy is settling on top of him. Something heavy and solid and all bones. Chris struggles uselessly, the thick heady smell of rotting flesh filling his nose. The hand on his ankle is gone, coming to wrap around his mouth with a soft hush.

"Shh now, my cheery boy. He'll hear you."

His throat burns, pain bleeding into every nerve. Chris wheezes, counting down in his head but all he can focus on is the smell, the foul awful stench. Chris stills, watching as a pair of feet drop in front of where he lays. Blood seeps up from the carpet, staining dirtied, bare soles as the person pads around his room. He can hear the door opening and closing, can hear the shuffling of drawers and things being knocked over. A low pitched snarl follows and Chris squeezes his eyes shut as a chill crawls through him. Soggy footsteps move across the floor.

"Best part, sweetheart."

His eyes are forced open, burning wide and he's forced to watch as someone crouches down before him. Sharp, glinting fangs, the deep rumble of a growl and-

Chris hits the floor with a crash, lamp smashed beside him, breathing erratically as he stares up at the ceiling. He clutches his face, feeling dry skin and the slow beginning of tears. A shaky croak escapes his lips, trembling as he curls up on the floor.

Chris hadn't cried in a long time, hadn't cried since Josh brought him to the lake near the Washington's with a flask in one hand, curly fries in the other. That was two years ago and now, Chris was alone, in a ball on the floor, sobbing quietly into his fists as filth burns in the back of his throat.

Chris manages to claw at his trash can, spine lurching painfully as he forces himself over it. His fingers grip the top tightly. Chris vomits, acid burning his tongue and throat and it keeps coming until he feels hollow and weak.

"Buddy? You okay?"

The door cracks open before he registers, a startled gasp startling Chris out of the tired daze that falls over him. He feels hands on him, cold and normal and they smell of Axe instead of death. Chris sighs relieves but he's being moved, being shuffled away from his trash can and into the bathroom. Chris sits on the toilet seat, vaguely aware of the cloth being pressed to his mouth. There are muffled words but he doesn't try to think about it.

"Chris? Chris? Hey bud, look at me."

Chris does, rolling his head to peer into the distressful look his father's wearing. He looks back to his knees, swallowing thickly. His mouth tastes sour.

"I have to go to school." Chris mumbles, shakily rising to his feet. There's a hand on his shoulder that firmly presses him back down.

"You're staying home."

Chris shakes his head, eyes widening. "Josh might need me."

"Josh isn't my concern, Chris." His father sighs. "The last time this happened, your mom-"

"Dad, stop. Please." Chris begs, feeling sick again and he doesn't want to think about her, about that, about anything. The cloth is back, dabbing along his forehead. Chris leans into it.

"I'll call the school. Want me to stay home?"

Chris didn't even think that was an option. Staying at home because your kid was being a baby. Chris shakes his head drowsily, colors swirling around in front of him. His dad helps him back to his room, changes out the trash, picks up broken pieces of glass and opens the window. He tucks Chris in with a soft expression and hands Chris the PS4 controller before picking some bullshit movie on Netflix.

"Call if you need me. I'm taking your keys because I know you'll try to leave." His dad says and Chris tries not frown when he nods. In return, his dad gives him a shaky smile, the usual three knocks against the door before it closes and he's alone. Chris focuses on the movie, eyelids drooping heavily. His pillows smell like Josh. He idly wonders what time the other woke up and left. They still needed to talk. Josh wanted to talk.

Chris blinks slowly until his eyes close and he feels afraid, afraid to fall asleep but his body is exhausted and everything is comfy and warm and Good Will Hunting can only do so much.

Chris comes to with his face pressed into the scratchy fabric of an old flannel. He can smell cigarettes and coffee, a warm hand resting on his shoulder. Chris forces himself up, back aching and his mouth tastes like how imagines Jabba the Hutt does. The TV quietly plays Hostel. Chris blinks, roughly wiping the sleep from his eyes with his palms. The hand on his shoulder drops to his lower back, fingers slowly tracing along the spine.

Chris doesn't think about that. "Time is it?"

"11:16." Comes Josh's voice.

Chris nods slowly and climbs out of bed wordlessly. He journeys to the hall bathroom on wobbly legs, shouldering the door open. Chris' jaw clenched upon glancing at his reflection. He looks like shit. Chris brushes his teeth, counting down to 3 and back to 1. He washes his face after, scrubbing until he's red and feeling a bit more like himself. Although Chris wasn't sure what that really felt like.

Josh is still in his bed when he returns. He looks worse, eyes sunken, deep blue and black bruises collecting along the skin. Chris has seen Josh bad, has seen him screaming and awful but this was worse, way worse. Josh grins at him. It looks painful.

"Bad night?" Josh asks softly.

Chris nods. "Yeah."

But Chris could handle bad dreams, could handle anything because Josh needed him. "Bad day? Scale of one to ten?"

"Fifteen." Josh admits and Chris swears under his breath, settling down at the foot of his bed. Josh pauses the movie in mid scream.

"Shit. Are you okay?"

"Don't wanna talk about that." Josh stares down at his lap before looking back up. "You weren't at school so I came by. You were knocked out."

Chris crawls to sit beside Josh. He leans back, resting on his pillow with a deep sigh. Josh pats his bare knee, resuming the movie. They watch in silence and Chris flinches at a couple of scenes when the blood is too much.

"Wanna talk about it?"

"Just a dumb dream, Josh." Chris replies.

Josh shrugs. "Didn't know dumb dreams made people skip school."

"You skipped school over a tele-tubby nightmare."

Josh swats his arm, blushing furiously, and it's the closest thing to normal on Josh's face. The color just looks misplaced, looks foreign and unusual.

"You okay, man?"

Chris wonders if he zoned out, eyes focused on Josh's mouth. He nods slowly.

"Your boyfriend know you're here?"

Josh snorts. "Mike's definitely not my boyfriend."

"Your fuck buddy know you're here?" Chris amends.

"Ouch Cochise, you sound mad." Josh remarks, lips stretching into a shit eating grin. Chris almost punches him but the banter is a welcome. His insides still hurt when he thinks about it but he wasn't mad, didn't feel mad at least. Besides. Josh liked him too. Chris hits the 'x' on the controller.

The movie resumes and Chris ignores the pleased expression on Josh's face. He does nudge him hard for real though. Josh chuckles in response, bumping his forehead against Chris' shoulder. They burn through two more movies before Josh has to leave cause Chris' dad will be home soon.

"You comin' to my party later?"

Chris raises an eyebrow. "It's September."

"There was a funeral. Kids need a party."

Chris wants to remark that Josh doesn't look well enough to have a party but he doesn't. Instead he shrugs his shoulders with a lazy roll. Josh has one leg out the window, cigarette in between his lips. He flips out a metal lighter, flinching when the fire comes out. Josh lights it with shaking fingers.

"I'm probably gonna quit. Guess I'm scared of fire now." Josh smirks, bracing his hands on the windowsill. "It's at 9. Check the Point. Nothin' like piss and beer to get a good orgy going."

"Yeah, yeah. Better find me someone cute to get with."

Josh narrows his eyes at Chris, gaze dark and glaring.

"Just kidding. Go away. I need my beauty rest." Chris amends quickly, forcing a smile as his face heats up. Josh inhales, white becoming freckled grey specks around an orange spark. He's frowning. Josh resembles a kicked puppy, the deep circles under his eyes smoldering.

"You're the only one for me, bro. Even with your fake ass fuck boy."

"Be there, dumbass."

Josh disappears with a smirk, leaving behind the smell of menthol and cologne and a confused Chris. He doesn't move from the bed, fully aware of how hard his heart is beating. Chris settles down in his bed, eyes slipping closed to the sound of an ignition starting. Josh's car roars outside before the sound fades. His head falls into the spot where Josh sat. It's warm, sheets wrinkled and Chris dozes off.

His dad wakes him up with soup that might be chicken noodle, might be ramen Chris isn't sure but he eats it sleepily, checking his phone as he spoons lukewarm broth into his mouth.

From: Trashley (3)
You going to the Point later?
I'll be there!

From: Climbing Trash (2)
Josh said you died.
Sorry for not chilling with you longer
::praying hands emoticon::

From: Mighty Empress
Bitch where were you today?!

From: Mattchu (2)
We have a new book we're reading
I'll send notes

Chris thanks God, Gods, Aliens, whoever for Matt Samuels. He punches out a thank you message, hurrying to reply to the others as he checks the time. It was almost 9 which meant Chris slept pretty much all day but he feels more human than he did this morning and he gets to see Josh later.

Deep down he figures he's getting himself excited over nothing, getting his hopes up for nothing. But regardless. Chris gets to see Josh Washington tonight, despite how vampire like his best friends been looking lately.

"Where you heading to?" His dad asks as Chris heads down the stairs. He's not dressed well, more put together haphazard clothes than an actual outfit. Fargo plays on the TV.

"Getting notes from Matt. We have a test and I broke my computer."

"You should fix it soon. Feel better?"

Chris nods stiffly. "Yeah, um. Sorry for worrying you."

"Just don't want a repeat of last time. You're my son, bud." Chris wonders if it's easy for him to say that, if the words taste foreign and weird. But Chris forces a smile that feels real and his dad is nodding his head, tossing Chris' keys to him. "Drive safe."

"See you."

Chris leaves without much else to say, ignoring the dejected look that crosses his dad's face. He could ask Chris to stay, tell him he can't leave. He was still an adult, a dad. But he doesn't stop Chris, he gives Chris his keys and let's him leave. Maybe this is what loving at a distance means.

Chris hops into his car, starting it up with a quick flick of his wrist and he's backing out of the driveway. Chris fixes himself at the red light, tugging his button up on properly, straightening out a sweater. He ruffles his hair in the mirror, tying to form some sort of order. It kinda works, kinda doesn't and Chris gives up halfway because the light it green.

The Points never been so full, so packed full of cars and teens and it's loud, music blaring. Chris isn't sure how the cops haven't been called yet but he parks near the back, where the idea of leaving is an actual possibility. Chris finds Ash halfway to the building, propped up on the trunk of her Mercedes. There's a girl in between her legs, hands on her hips and they're kissing slowly. Chris whistles loudly.

Ashley's eyes shift to him and she's pulling away with a bashful smile. The girl with her looks at Chris, vaguely familiar but he can't place it.

"Don't mind me." Chris smirks and Ashley hits him with her beanie as he walks by. He runs into Beth the closer he gets, dressed comfortably in high waisted jeans and a sweater. She's not with Sam which seems surprising but she is with Hannah, who is looking all shades of pretty and perfect.

Beth notices him first, smiling widely.

"Chris! You lookin' for Josh?"

Chris nods. "He with Mike?"

"Mike wasn't invited." Hannah answers instead. She doesn't sound mad, doesn't look mad. Hannah looks radiant and lovely and Chris thinks this is what a woman scorned must look like. Beth points to the top of the building, shadows moving to a bumping heat of the music.

"Guess we know who he's waiting for." Beth smiles widely. Chris blinks at her, lungs in his throat and he feels hope, hope and some other strange hum deep inside him. Hannah hands him the plastic red cup she's holding with a wink.

"Liquid courage?"

"You might need it." Beth tacks on.

"Not that he will." Hannah responds.

Beth shoots her a look. "You're right. Chris has had dibs since the sandbox."

"Ooh. Very true, Bethany."

"Only truth, Hannah."

They share a mirrored smile. It creeps Chris out but he downs the drink quickly. The burn feels nice as it works its way down.

"No more twin stuff."

"Yes sir." They say in unison. Chris cringes, side stepping away from them. The twins stare creepily after him, disappearing behind a wall of gyrating teenagers. He eases through them, towards the fire escape, up, up the dark staircase until he's on the roof. It's lit up with thin lanterns, the music is louder up here but there are kids slow dancing in the center of wild dancers.

Chris finds Josh on the older generator, dressed expensively in black and leather. He kind of looks like a greaser, more James Dean with the cigarette dangling from his lips than Johnny Depp. Fact of the matter is, Josh is sitting on the generator, looking ten shades more attractive than anyone should ever be.

Josh notices him, cigarette flicking up as he inhales. He exhales through his nose, pinching the bud between his fingers. Josh leans back on his elbows, eyes narrow and predatory and it sends a shiver down Chris' spine.

Chris swallows and forces his legs to move forward. Josh gestures to the empty spot beside him. He shrugs off his leather jacket, folding it over his lap, posture confident and lazy as a slow smirk forms. Chris can't hear anything over the music and his own heartbeat.

Chris clamors on top of the generator, wincing at how cold the metal is under his hands but it's a welcome comfort when the rest of him feels warm. He watches Josh take another drag, lips curling around the cigarette. The jacket in his lap is moved to the side.

Josh tilts his head to the side, peering over at Chris and he whistles out a thin trail of smoke. It curls and folds and twirls slowly evaporating into the evening sky. Josh stares at him, eyes heavy and tired, and Chris stares back, lingering too long on the dark bags.

"Wanna kiss me?" Josh asks, Chris reading the words on his lips like a lifeline. He nods dumbly and Josh's eyes drop to his mouth. Chris can see the hesitation, the slow trudge of doubt and fear. He leans in, hand sliding along the expanse of Josh's lower back and he plucks the cigarette from his best friend's fingers. Chris flicks it over the edge but Josh seems unbothered, distracted.

Their lips brush, barely touching bits of static between them. Josh's eyes slip close and he fills the distance, mouth open and wet and wanting and Chris can feel the vibrate of need pooling inside him. The music sounds loudly overhead, sparking in volume like fireworks.

It lasts a second, a second of hot tongue swiping along his, a second of fumbling to match the movement and it's gone. Josh pulls away. His gaze is distant, hands fisted on his thighs. Chris wonders if anyone saw it.

Josh looks up at him, eyes dark and glinting and he's sliding down from the generator with his hand wrapped Chris' wrist. Chris follows after him, trying to ignore the small space between the edge of the roof and them. Josh backs him up until his back meets cool metal, arms coming up to cage him in and that mouth is back on his. Chris sighs, eyes slipping closed, lips parting on contact, butterflies banging along the lining in his stomach.

Josh tastes like Big Red and cigarettes; lips chapped and dry as they slide against his, moving in needy perfection, tongue sliding along the deepest corners of Chris' mouth and its perfect. Chris moans softly, focusing on following the rhythm Josh creates. Josh's hips press down into his, this slow, slow grind of friction and Chris thinks he might've died because Josh Washington's hand is sliding under his shirt and kissing him.

His head feels light, soft pants whispering between every brief separation of lips. Josh smirks, drifting down and dragging his teeth along the side of Chris' neck and bites. Chris jumps, a bit startled, a bit turned on when Josh takes the skin in his mouth and sucks. Chris doesn't know what to do with his hands so he touches and feels and smooths them along his best friend's thin frame, feeling muscles that weren't there a year ago.

Josh moves back up, capturing Chris' lips in a rough kiss, hands grasping at Chris' shirts with impatience. A leg wedges between his, long fingers coming down to grasp at the inside of his thighs. Josh's pelvis presses into him, rolling just so. Chris exhales sharply, glasses foggy, sitting askew on his face and Josh pushes them up to his forehead before slipping his tongue back into Chris' mouth. Chris moves to meet the slow motion, hips stuttering and Josh curses against him, the grip on his hips tightening.

Chris is glad there's music overhead, glad the sky is dark so it can hide the redness in his skin. He knows Josh had a few years on him in experience, has had a few more people to practice on who might be more accustomed but Josh doesn't seem to mind leading, doesn't mind breaking his best friend down into tiny, whimpering pieces.

Josh kisses grow rough, more teeth than lip, and his nails digs along Chris' ribs like a razor. Chris grits his teeth, heart pounding in his chest. Josh makes a noise against him, this long trembling vibration in his throat that has Chris shuddering. Josh bites down on his lower lip, worrying it until it bleeds. He sucks at it hungrily, shoving a bit too hard. Chris sneaks a glance at Josh, feeling like he's melting and everything is perfect until he sees Josh's face.

His pupils are thin slits of color, wide and milky and there are veins along his skin that weren't there before. Josh's eyes snap to his, glassing over briefly with recognition and he forces himself away, stumbling to the side. Josh clenches his jaw, running a shaky fingers through his hair, cheeks puffed out with each hard exhale. He looks at Chris, takes in the disheveled appearance, the hickeys, the cut on his lip and he looks like he's starving.

Josh reaches out to him, finger tips crushing along the side of Chris' face and he takes a shaky step back. Then another, then another until Chris is watching Josh disappear behind the generator, away from him, away from what they've done. Chris slumps down to the ground, painfully hard, legs trembling as they kick out. He rubs his face furiously, yanking his glasses off. Chris considers hurling them but cleans them instead and tonguing the wound on his lip.

The image of Josh burns into his mind, the heaving rise and fall of his chest, the unnatural gleam in his eyes. Chris wipes his eyes with the corner of his knuckle. The music drowns on a slur of curses that come to mind.

Chapter Text

"Something's wrong with Josh."

Sam looks up at him, one eyebrow raised as she watches Chris stumble through her window. She's sitting cross legged on the floor, dressed only in a large black and green jersey. There are magazines spread out in front of her, along with scissors and colorful construction paper. Her hair looks soft and clean, the blonde strands a fine shade of yellow. Sam turns to her closed bedroom door then back to Chris in the open window with a click of her tongue.

"I actually have a front door. Believe it or not."

Chris clamors to the floor, missing his footing and he's on the ground, staring up at the ceiling. Chris adjusts his glasses.

"Josh climbs through mine all the time."

Sam smirks. "So does Beth. Maybe not for the same reasons though. Although," she pauses, grinning widely. "That might not be true anymore."

Chris snaps up, cheeks red. "What did you hear?"

"Oh just little details from the twins. But nothing concrete."

"Fuck." Chris groans, slumping back against her wall. Sam chuckles softly.

"What's so top secret? They won't tell me or anyone else." Sam leers. "You stealin' the president's man?"

"They aren't even dating."

Sam makes a noise of acknowledgement. "True. True. But imagine his disappointment when the 'kiss n tell' playboy of our tiny town actually does commit. Just not to him."

Chris raspberries. "What are you even talking about?"

Sam shrugs, still grinning. She flips through pages of her magazine, snipping tiny letters out as she goes. Sam continues what she was doing, head nodding for him to continue as she cuts out letters in the page of a magazine ad. Chris sits up, straightening out his glasses, and he turns to her, legs folded under him. He knows what he saw that day, at the party. But he also knows that his nightmares sometimes make the rest of his day disoriented.

But it's been a week and Chris' mind has yet to supply any other image than Josh's chest heaving, eyes this unnatural shade of white. He still has the cut on his lip, healed and deep red.

"Something's wrong with him." He repeats.

"Josh seems pretty normal to me. General assface, bad lesbian jokes, calling too early in the morning. Eternally tired." Sam responds, smoothing glue on the back of the letter 'A'. Chris watches her place it on the construction paper. He frowns.

"Are you making a ransom note?"

Sam giggles. "No. I'm asking Beth to prom."

"Isn't it kinda early? As in ten months too early?"

"Not when it comes to Beth Washington. She's unsurprisingly popular." Sam says, amused. "If I want a chance I have to ask now."

"But I saw you and-"

"What you saw that day is not something I want to discuss." Sam interrupts quickly, the usual confidence replaced by a deep shade of red. "But no, we aren't. Unfortunately. I think Hannah's the only nice Washington child when it comes to feelings."

Sam looks at him, cutting 'the' out of an article. "What makes you think something's wrong with Josh?"

"Um," Chris rubs the back of his neck, embarrassed. "He's been avoiding me."

Chris has also been avoiding him, which made the act of not ever seeing one another surprisingly easy. He doesn't look at her, avoiding the penetrating gaze with a dramatic intake of her room. It was surprisingly girly, pastel pink walls and a plush couch that sat near a tall bookcase. There's a bulletin board over a metal desk, covered in pictures of Sam and Hannah along with others of the rest of the group. A message blinks on her computer screen.

"What happened?" Sam inquires. "You guys haven't avoided each other unanimously since freshman year."

"This was dumb. It's nothing."

"Nothing doesn't make you a cherry pie, Pilgrim. Spill." Sam snorts. "Also I can see your hickeys, dumbass."

Chris slaps a hand over the side of his neck. He completely forgot about those.

"Josh kissed me. Well, um, more specifically dry humped me with his tongue in my mouth. At.. The party. Now he's avoiding me? I'm avoiding him?"

Chris also wants to add that Josh looked like a raging sociopath afterwards or a hungry dog but he keeps that to himself because it sounds crazy, no matter how much is mind says it happened. Sam's eyes widen in surprise before a familiar smirk curves into the side of her mouth. Chris avoids it.

"Um."

"Congratulations." Sam snorts and Chris groans, face in his hands. "Just talk to him. You're his best friend. Sandbox lovers. I'm sure you could find him. You just don't want to. Don't be a chump, Chris. I raised you better than this."

"Okay, mom."

Chris spends the rest of his evening with Sam, helping her piece together something decent looking and awe inspiring enough to make Beth 'cream herself'. It was adorable, the way Sam feels about Beth, adorable and brave because at least she was taking some sort of initiative.

Beth climbs through Sam's window when they're adding finishing touches, yawning widely and generally oozing this attractive disheveled bed head demeanor that kinda reminds him of Josh, kinda reminds him of Melinda Washington. Her eyes brighten when she sees both of them bent over a large sheet of construction paper.

"Whatcha guys doing?" Beth inquires, Sam nudging Chris roughly in the side.

"Making spaghetti." Chris' mind spasms and the other two look at him. Sam's annoyed lip twitch, Beth's amused smile. "Um, Sam's helping me with Josh?"

"Yeah, fix that soon, ok? Momma's tired of all this teenage tension."

"Kinda goes both ways." Sam informs her and Beth makes an 'o' shape with her mouth.

"Joshua told me bits and pieces but from what I gather, maybe feelings should've been discussed before tonsil hockey."

Chris sputters. "Have you met your brother?"

"Hey I didn't say it was realistic. I'm just stating facts." Beth smiles cheekily. "Now leave. I'm here for take out."

Sam blushes furiously as Beth winks at her and Chris almost hollers because why. Instead he pats Sam's shoulder awkwardly, shuffling past Beth, whose tugging off her pullover. Sam shoots Chris an apologetic look that he waves off with a thumbs up.

"Oh Sam has something to give you." Chris tells Beth. Sam waves frantically when Beth's attention turns from her to Chris. He has one leg out the window, a hand on the windowsill.

"Be brave and be well." Chris says, moving his hands to shape a cross. Sam groans loudly, Beth's increasing confusion enough to make Chris hurry onto the rose vine before Sam actually hurls something at his head. He hears a excited squeal as he climbs down, followed by a flurry of 'yes, yes, yes' that he's glad hold some normal level of tone in them. Chris doesn't think he's ready for anything beyond that. He heads to his car, keys in hand.

Sam didn't live far from him, but she lives in a subdivision on the outskirts of town that's surrounded in trees and you can only get there from a shitty, rocky backroad. The headlights cut through the darkness, Chris easing up on the gas because deer do happen and he doesn't want his car to end up like Jess'. He cranks up the radio, rolling down the windows to let the cool night air in like his dad taught him. Apparently if you're loud enough the deer might realize you're a moving hunk of death. A screech sounds in the distance. Chris turns down the music, ears straining to head. Silence follows, the harsh flap of wind beating against his open windows.

Something stumbles out in front of his car and Chris slams on the breaks, tires screeching along the pavement. Burning rubber fills his nose, the hard thump of his hand hitting the dashboard flooding every nerve in his body. The car stills, just barely, right before it collides with whatever's in the road. It's a person, a kid in a familiar flannel that's soaked red. Chris struggles to breathe, unbuckling his seatbelt.

"Josh?"

Chris watches Josh stagger back, away from the car, legs wobbly and he's touching his arm with bloodied hands. Chris freezes, fear wallowing in the pit of his stomach as his lungs tie into a hard knot. There's blood, a lot of blood, staining along the side of Josh's neck, smeared around his lips in a thick, glistening coat. It's on his clothes, his jeans, bits of gore flicking around his fingers. Chris can make out the sharpness of teeth, thin and narrow, the slow way Josh's tongue darts, eyes milky and white. Josh's eyes dart around, unfocused, a soft clicking sound coming from his throat.

Chris hesitates, staring at the driver's door, fingers trembling around the door handle and he's scared, he's really, really scared. But Josh could be hurt, Josh could be- A sharp screech pierces his ears and he looks back and Josh is gone. Chris stumbles out the car, hurrying out to where Josh stood. There are dark specks on the ground. Chris stands there, wheezing, hand clutched over his heart. He sinks to the ground, tugging his phone out with shaky fingers. Chris calls Josh. Calls him over and over until his battery dies.

Chris counts down to 3, shakily counting back to 1 as the terrible screech from before plays over and over in his head.

That was real. This is real.

But Chris doesn't trust himself. This has happened before after his mom died. He'd see things, these awful, vivid terrible things.

It wasn't real.

This is what Chris tells himself when he opens his eyes and it's morning, the drive back a blur and he doesn't know how he ended up in his room but he's here now and it was a dream, it had to be a dream.

It wasn't real.

Chris forces himself up. He takes in his room slowly. The sheets are white, his blanket is blue. He has one closet with a poster of Steve Jobs hanging behind a row of old jackets. There is a tv. There is a PS4. His desk is a mess, his computer is present. Everything is normal. Except.

The window to his room is open. It's only open if Josh came over because he forgets to close it back, every damn time. The window is open. But nothing smells like Josh, nothing is moved. Everything is the same. Except for Chris.

Chris checks the call log on his phone to see there's only one call made to Josh that night, instead of the repeated dials he thought he made, then another from Josh calling him back. The call duration is three hours but Chris can't remember a conversation, can't remember anything beyond seeing Josh standing in front of his car.

Josh texts him while he's getting dressed for school. Chris is halfway in his jeans when he reads the message. He's wearing a dumb turtleneck because his anxiety just can't take everyone asking why he has hickeys, deep dark hickeys.

From: Washua
Thanks for staying up with me
Didn't mean to call so late

Chris frowns, confused. He feels irritated, really irritated because what happened? His dad knocks on his door three times before yelling 'bye' as he heads down the hallway. Chris sits on the edge of his bed, staring down at his phone. He bites his lip too hard and he can taste blood. Chris counts down to 3, then back up to 1. He releases a shaky breath before leaving for school.

Josh is still being a illusive shit so Chris can't actually find him. When Josh didn't want to be found, he wouldn't be. It was some sort of magic he's had since grade school, which is what made him King of the Wildtower for a while. Chris can't find Josh but Mike does find him.

Mike corners him during the transition from 2nd to 3rd period, nostrils flared and he's pissed and crowding into Chris' space until they're tucked away in a connecting hallway.

"What did you say to Josh?" Mike snaps, angrily crossing his arms over his chest.

Chris frowns, considers what to say but Mike isn't mentioning the party so Chris figures this is a different conversation. "I haven't talked to Josh in a week. "

It's technically not a lie but in actuality Chris hadn't had a coherent, completely present conversation since before the party.

"You must've said something because he broke it off." Mike hisses and Chris' frown only deepens.

"Look, bro," Chris huffs, irritated, shoving a finger into Mike's toned chest. "I haven't talked to Josh so whatever bullshit beef you have isn't with me. You aren't even together so lay off okay?"

"So you mean to tell me that-"

"I didn't have shit to do with this is what I'm telling you, man. I've had a rough couple of days and you getting in my face over being Josh Washington's booty call irritates the shit out of me." Chris snaps, taking a step back. "He's my best friend and he's going through shit. He's not on medication for shits and giggles but because he actually needs them. If Josh wants to break it off, take it and move on. He doesn't need anymore baggage following him around."

More like Chris didn't have time to be dealing with any more bullshit beyond what he's going through. He was worried, really worried and paranoid. Mike's arms are dropped to his side, looking a bit out of place as he processes the words over and over. Chris kinda feels bad, kinda doesn't because this is his best friend they're talking about, also Mike fucked him over.

"You're right." Mike sighs, scratching the back of his neck with an embarrassed smile. "Guess I'm caught up in my feelings."

"Guess so." Chris responds easily, patting Mike on the shoulder. He moves to walk around the other, paused by a hand on his arm. Chris looks back to Mike's worried expression.

"He's been weird. I just... thought that maybe you had something about your crush."

Chris shakes his head. "I did tell him about it and he said I missed out."

Chris leaves out the part where Josh had admitted to liking him as well, leaves out the part where Josh kissed him first and based on Mike's sullen expression it's probably for the best.

"Focus on running for class president. I hear it's something you actually have to plan." Chris tells him. "I'll handle Josh."

Mike nods, appearing dejected and disappointed, but he bumps Chris' fists with his own before he leaves so it feels like they're okay. Except they weren't. Chris can't concentrate in any of his classes, only scribbling down nonsense and drawing monsters in the borders of his paper. He doesn't run into Josh, even though he seems to be running into everyone else. Emily isn't at lunch and neither is Jess but the Washington's are except for Josh.

Chris' frustration must show on his face because Hannah keeps sending him sympathetic looks as Beth blabs on about Sam and how cute she is.

"Josh said to check your phone." Beth tells him, tucking her lunchbox into Hannah's bag. She waves the phone in her hand. Chris nods dumbly.

From: Washua
Art room. After school.
Be there dweeb

"Gonna seal the deal, Christopher?" Beth inquires, batting her eyelashes. Hannah giggles behind her hand. Chris glares at them weakly, tucking his chin into his turtleneck. Hannah tosses her hair back with a slow smile that seems too knowing and too powerful and Chris wonders what she knows.

"Did Josh go anywhere last night?" Chris asks suddenly.

"Nope. He must've taken his meds on time." Beth informs him. "I had to carry his fat ass up the stairs when I got home last night."

"I wasn't home. But mom and dad would've noticed." Hannah says, frowning. "Why?"

"No reason." Chris lies. He doesn't think their parents would notice if Josh left the house. It's not like he took his car. That was if what happened last night was real. Chris thinks he might be losing it. He sighs heavily, rising from his seat as the lunch bell rings. Hannah takes his hand in hers and squeezes.

"Are you okay?" She asks softly.

Chris nods, thinking of a lie that sounded real. "Yeah. Just my mom."

Beth clicks her teeth. "You should really talk to someone, Chris."

Chris didn't believe in therapy. His dad didn't believe in therapy. Therapy didn't help his mom, therapy didn't help. Chris forces a nod, repeating his dad's words over and over in his head. Therapy didn't help. He just needed to sort out his feelings. The feelings he didn't want to think about. Chris wonders if that explains all the other shitty things he's thought about, wonders if he's just really bad at handling his stress.

Chris skips his last period, huddled in the quiet of his car. He dozes off in the back seat, wrapped up in an old quilt that was on the floor. Chris doesn't think but his mind quietly drifts into old memories that hold no pictures or sounds, just smells, impressions in the darkness of his mind. Chris missed his mom, missed her counting through his panic attacks, missed her smelling like summer and rain. He missed feeling like things were okay.

His alarm wakes him up around 4:45, startling him out of a dreamless sleep. Chris sits up slowly, glasses falling off his face and he rubs his eyes tiredly. There are a couple of messages from Ashley and Jess on his phone. He checks them, smoothing the wrinkles in his shirt before he exits his car.

From: Goldilocs
We had a sub today
I'm so pissed
I have soooo much homework

From: Lava Cakes
The teachers have been talking all day
I think Peterson finally ran off with her Russian bf

It wasn't a long shot. Miss Peterson was absolutely smitten with hotel manager, Sasha, downtown. Chris thinks he could make a decision like that. Run away with someone who feels like the world. Chris thinks about the drive home yesterday, memories a warm fog he can't see through. He needed to ask Josh about the phone call they apparently had. He needed to talk to him in general because Josh was his best friend.

Chris finds Josh where he said he'd be, in front of a large canvas, the sleeves of his button up rolled up to his elbows. He's sitting on a stool, one leg propped up against his chest as he blends colors with his index finger. There's a small tray of oil pastels beside him. It's of a mine shaft, an empty mine shaft with darkened walls and faces in the dirt.

"Hey." Chris greets, voice raspy, all thoughts disappearing from his mind. Josh turns to him, the ends of a paintbrush in his mouth. The color is back in his face, eyes bright and green, and Chris fights to breathe because Josh is practically glowing.

"'Sup Cochise." Josh holds up a hand, gesturing Chris over with a flick of his wrist. Chris obeys, hands in his pockets. He wanders up to the large painting, noting small intricate details the closer he gets. There's specks of red on abandoned mining gear, claw marks left behind on rotting wood. If it didn't unsettle something deep inside him, Chris would be impressed.

"This is cool." Chris forces out.

"Thanks, man. Hernley nearly had a heart attack when I actually started on something." Josh chuckles, setting a broken piece of pastel into the tray beside him.

"I'm surprised he even let you back after you failed for not doing anything."

"My genius is not something to be ignored." Josh remarks, smirking up at him. "Plus I won a film award which is more important to me than an art teacher who wants to channel my inner angst for masturbation."

Chris stares at the painting longer, purposely avoiding the heated gaze Josh has focused on him. He clears his throat, jaw working to ask about last night but Josh cuts him off before he can say anything.

"Sit with me. There's another stool in the closet." Josh tells him and Chris nods, moving backwards a few steps before turning. He heads to the supply closet in the far corner, pushing the cracked door open with his foot. It's massive, rows stacked high with various art supplies. Chris spots the stools in the far back. He wanders towards them, vaguely registering the click of the door closing behind him.

A hand encircles his forearm, turning him around. His eyes focus in. Josh stands before him with a tiny smile. He still looks tired, fine lines creasing under his eyes but they aren't as dark or as prominent as before. Josh seems taller, not even an inch just a few centimeters but Chris only notices when he has to tilt his head up to look at him. That was new. They had been relatively the same height since middle school.

"Hey." Josh says simply.

Chris exhales. "Hey."

"You covered em." Josh tugs at the collar of the turtleneck before he moves to drag it over Chris' head.

"Did you want Mike to kill me?" Chris asks, allowing Josh to pull it off. His glasses disappear into the garment. Chris huffs, annoyed, disentangling them from a loose thread. He folds the shirt over his lap. Josh is staring intently at him, licking his lips in a way that has Chris' heart speeding up as he watches the glasses slide up Chris nose. Josh leans in, taking Chris' hand in his and they're kissing.

Josh eases him back onto a stool, slipping between Chris' spread legs as he sits down. His arms are leaning, knuckles dragging along the wood as he shifts forward. He licks his way into the other's mouth, smiling at how compliant his best friend is. Chris sighs, tugging Josh closer by the hem of his shirt. Josh doesn't taste like cigarettes this time, more like mangoes and French fries, still smelling like cinnamon and mint.

"This why you texted me?" Chris inquires softly when they break apart. Josh smiles as if he can hear the sound of Chris' heart beating.

"Mmhm." Josh purrs, mouthing his way along Chris' jaw. He nips at the skin, teeth vaguely sharp and Chris winces. Josh gives him a apologetic smile briefly before their lips slot back together. Chris fights a frown, feeling Josh's teeth with his tongue. They're blunt, normal and Josh groans against him, grasping at the base of Chris' throat. His mind is distracted. He can't think.

It feels nice, brain fizzling into a dulled nothingness. Josh's mouth is slow and dragging against his as if tasting every possible inch with a quiet slur. Chris wonders if Josh brings people back here often, if he presses them down and breaks them apart. Or if it's just him. Just for him.

"I've been having bad dreams." Chris puts a hand on Josh's chest, easing him away. His mouth feels puffy and sore and tingly and it takes a him a moment to remember how to speak. Josh's hands are on Chris' knees. He glances at Chris curiously.

"Scale of 1 to 10."

Chris doesn't answer. He should talk about it, should talk to someone about these repressed feelings and his nightmares where Josh isn't Josh and how it reminds him of her. He should talk about the delusions he's having. They feel like delusions. But Josh looks wonderful, looks painfully good and he hasn't in weeks, not since Marion died. Chris doesn't want to ruin that with his internal bullshit. Josh tilts his head to the side.

"I don't want this to be a fling." Chris says instead because he doesn't.

"Word is I'm only good in small doses." Josh smirks, eyes glittering. His lips brush against Chris', cold fingers coming to push Chris' glasses up to his forehead. Josh kisses him slowly. Chris responds eagerly, grasping the front of Josh's shirt.

"Pick a better excuse." Chris mumbles.

"I'm an asshole."

"Unfortunately I'm keenly aware of that." Chris tells him. "Try again."

Josh's hand slides along his face, eyes soft and round. "I can't promise 100%."

"That's okay."

"Okay, Cochise." Josh says.

"Josh Washington doesn't date." Chris remarks but he feels warm, warm and buzzed. They're so close, so very very close. Josh's nose brushes over his, lips barely a whisper apart.

"I can make an exception."

"You just wanna pop my cherry."

Josh busts out laughing, smiling widely and he presses another lovely kiss to Chris' mouth. "I kinda wanna do that too. Gotta wait till prom. Properly steal your v-card. Take you right to the bone zone, Cochise."

"Don't have to wait that long."

Josh angles Chris' chin to the side, biting the juncture between his jaw and neck. A tremble courses through Chris' body with an embarrassing whimper. Josh chuckles against him.

"Guess we'll see. In the mean time," Josh muses, sucking another hickey along Chris' Adam's apple. "Jess said you were pretty good with your mouth."

"Jess needs to keep our sophomore year experiments between us." Chris retorts, moving Josh's mouth back up to his. "Guess my mouth must've been pretty decent if she told you about it."

"Better than decent. Gonna put it to good use soon." Josh promises. They kiss a few more times, Chris' hand curled along Josh's hip, Josh in between his legs with lazily leaning forward.

"Come get smashed with me. We have Star Wars on the projector."

"Mm. I have homework to do."

"I'm your homework, Cochise." Josh whispers and Chris feels his face heat up despite his faux confidence, despite the fact that they've been making out in art supply closet. He feels nervous but Josh is nudging him insistently.

"Fine, you ass baby." Chris chuckles. His reward is another kiss that sizzles in his brain. Josh takes him by the hand, tugging him off the stool and out of the supply closet. Chris helps him clean up, helps him roll the massive canvas to the back amongst other works. Josh is quiet through it all, but he touches Chris a lot, running his hands along his spine or touching his elbow.

"What makes me different than Mike? Than anyone?" Chris asks when they're on the way to the parking lot. The hallways are empty, absent of voices and familiar noise. Josh is walking beside him, two textbooks tucked under his arm. He peers over at Chris, shrugging.

"I'm going through something." Josh starts, slowing to a stop. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other, staring down at the folded sides of his boots. "I... I don't know how to explain it. But I'm going through something and... you're who I want there."

Chris looks at Josh, turtleneck balled up in his hand. He opens his mouth to say something but Josh's mouth curves to the side, brows wrinkled in concentration as he works out a thought. Chris waits.

"I've been having dreams. They're not good ones. They're..." Josh sighs. "We can talk about it later. Okay? Just having a good day. Kinda want enjoy it."

Chris has been having dreams too. He nods slowly. "Yeah sure. Whatever you want, man."

Josh gives him a lopsided smile. "I'd say that to Munroe and you know what he'd say? He'd say 'Why talk about it later when you can now?' Irritating. Crazily enough, I don't just talk to anyone. People think I'm this socialite but fuck, bro. You know how it is."

Chris did.

"You're my best man, Cochise." Josh tells him. "Just be here. Like you always are."

"Coulda done that without you sticking your tongue down my throat." Chris jokes.

"I'm still figuring that out. But seemed right." Josh strides up to him, bumping his shoulder a bit roughly. "We can take your car. You can stay the night. I'll even let you leave with your virginity in tact. For today."

Chris smacks his arm with the turtleneck, face and ears burning. "Dude."

Josh winks at him. "I'm a good fuck."

"Can we not talk about this?" Chris says, embarrassed. He takes a nervous look at their surroundings, Josh's throaty laughter filling his ears.

"Don't be nervous, sweetheart." Josh slurs, easily taking Chris' hand in his. He laces their fingers together. Chris huffs, embarrassed and blushing and Josh only smiles as if he's won something.

Chapter Text

Chris thinks that dating Josh would be different than being friends with Josh. He thinks it'd be make out sessions behind the bleachers, hand jobs on the way to school, some more condensed version of how Josh was with the rest of the student body. It's not.

It's quiet, more like they were as friends just more touchiness. It's chaste kisses between classes, it's waking up to 'good morning :)' text and holding hands underneath the lunch table. It's not what Chris is expecting because despite Josh Washington's expansive reputation, when it comes to actually dating he's painfully shy and considerate and it's weirding Chris out a bit. It's almost like Josh is-

"Nervous? That's so cute." Ashley coos, sitting on Chris' bed. She's in a white halter top and a pair of sweats that may or may not be his. Her hands are in his hair, idly braiding the longer strands together as he plays Bioshock 2. Cherry Glazerr plays softly from the phone in her lap. Chris sighs, a small smile on his face. It was cute, extremely.

"Is this the reason you've been so grumpy? Aren't getting laid enough?" Ashley giggles from above him.

"I've never even gotten laid." Chris reminds her, shooting a Houdini Splicer that appears from a crowd of flowers. His health is low, so is his ammo but Chris hasn't died in an hour and he doesn't plan on changing that.

"Surprised our lovely deflowering King hasn't swept you off to pound town yet."

"Bone Zone." Chris corrects, reloading.

Ashley clicks her teeth. "The good ole Bone Zone. At least you get to make out. Is he as good as they say?"

Chris squeezes the controller, huffing in embarrassment as he thinks about the total five times he's made out with Josh Washington. Considering the small number, Chris has been increasingly amazed at how much mush he can fully become when he's kissing Josh.

"Yeah." Chris confirms, definitely not blushing.

"Awe. How long have you two been together? Two weeks? Young love." Ashley sighs, smiling cheekily. Chris ignores her for his game, buying Adam from a slot machine. It's been weeks, weeks of vanilla, slow churning PG rated Josh Washington. They had even manage to keep it a secret as the entire school buzzed with Miss Peterson's scandalous disappearance. Her Russian boytoy was still here, in this shit town, while she was nowhere to be found. It was kind of sad.

Ashley tugs lightly on the ends of his hair, making a swoosh noise as she untangles a knot of pomade.

"You should YouTube this." She muses.

"I'm a junior in high school who does not have time for these child style games, Ashley." Chris snorts, earning a smack across the forehead. It startles Chris, accidentally reloading instead of shooting and he's staring up at the screen with wide eyes as he dies. He falls back against his bed with a groan.

"Oops." Ashley tilts over to look down at him, smiling softly. Chris glares up at her, cheeks puffed, and he's pouting. She boops his nose with her index finger. The sound of the window sliding open startles him, knocking his head into Ashley's hand and the noise he makes in response is enough to make him turn eight shades of red.

Josh is climbing through his window, a large navy beanie on his head, the dying end of a cigarette in his mouth. He grins widely at them, slipping inside with an unnatural grace and Chris can only stare in awe. He also may or may not be staring at Josh's ass when the other bends back out the window to drag a jacket through.

Ashley whistles. "Where did you get those jeans?"

Josh straightens, dropping his jacket to the floor. He rotates his waist, eying the tight denim wrapped around his legs with a frown.

"No idea. Han dragged me to the mall." Josh says with a shrug. He plops down beside Chris on the floor, flicking the cigarette into a nearby trash can.

"So Hantaro has forgiven you?"

"I had to do her chores for a week and write a letter. An actual formal apology and get that shit stamped and sealed by Bethany." Josh sighs in exasperation, taking Chris' controller from his hands. Chris frowns.

"Dude."

"I haven't played Bioshock in years. Chill, bro. What were you gays doing anyway?" Josh hits play.

Ashley pokes her head between them. "Discussing the sweet vanilla love you two have."

Chris almost punches her in retaliation but Josh sputters, face growing red. He gapes at Chris, appearing a bit betrayed.

"Dude."

"I didn't say anything." Chris holds up his hands. "She just knows things."

"Yes," Ashley agrees. "Like how I know you two are dating when everyone else, besides Sam and your sisters, think that you two have just gotten over your dumb teenage boy angst."

"I don't have angst." Chris mumbles.

Josh nods. "You do, bro. I've seen it."

"Oh and what about you? You're the angstiest out of all of us. We used to call you Smol Angst but here you are, sprouting limbs and shit."

"You sound kinda pissed, man." Josh says with a smirk. Chris folds his arms across his chest. He was. Probably. He's always been the taller one since middle school. No one gets fucking growth spurts in high school. Josh pats Chris' thigh, fingers lightly scratching at the top of his kneecap, making small 'aw' noises.

Chris is suddenly aware that he's not wearing pants of any kind, his boxers bunched up towards his torso and Josh's hand is still on his thigh, warm and smooth. He hears Ashley speaking in his ear, a fuzzy sort of noise against his subconscious, as he continues to stare at the hand on his thigh. Chris clears his throat, snatching the controller from Josh. He needs a distraction.

Josh gapes. "Bro!"

"Hey I'm poor let me have my poor people game." Chris bitches, resuming his paused game. Josh pouts from his side. Chris pointedly ignores it, face heating up.

"You guys are so adorable." Ashley giggles. She slides down from Chris' bed, collecting her bag and a couple of his shirts before heading towards the bedroom door. Chris barely manages to catch her ankle, eyes darting from the Big Daddy charging him on the screen to her. He hears the mechanical roar of his imminent death.

"Stop stealing my clothes. I need them."

Ashley raises an eyebrow at him. "Not today you don't. I'll bring 'em back tomorrow. They'll even smell like honey and not Pine Sol."

"You're still bitching about the Pine Sol." Chris groans.

"You use too much." Ashley informs him.

"My mom's dead, no one taught me how." Chris whines, straightening back up. His dad didn't know how to do laundry either. Google had saved them from an untimely death of buying clothes every time they needed clean ones. Ashley purses her lips at him in distaste. She bends down, lightly flicks his nose, blows a kiss at Josh and promptly leaves. Chris groans, slumping down on the floor as Josh laughs. He thinks Ashley's the only one to actually use his front door besides Sam. Even Emily has climbed through sometimes.

"She's so mean." Chris yawns, pushing up his glasses to wipe his eyes. He grunts when the hand on his thigh shifts, weight pressing into his skin and settling over him.

"You should get dressed." Josh tells him with a smile.

"Why? It's a Sunday. Who needs clothes?"

"Come on, man." Josh says insistently, placing his free hand on Chris' side. He starts shaking him insistently. Chris shoos him away, groaning as a headache settles against his left temple.

"We're having a movie night and I want you to come." Josh rises to his feet, dragging Chris up with him. "Please?"

"It must not be your turn." Chris snorts, slumping down on his bed. Based on Josh's frown, he'd say he hit the nail right one the head. Chris idly wonders which twin has full reign of the Washington Theater. He takes the clothes Josh hands him, slipping each article on with a yawn until he has to stand to tug on a pair of jeans. Chris adds two extra shirts because he can and Josh's look of annoyance is enough to keep him smug.

"What's wrong, baby doll?" Chris jokes.

Josh punches him, hard. "Let's go, assface."

Unsurprisingly Chris' dad isn't home, the descent downstairs and out the front door a quiet one. Josh rocks on his heel, watching Chris lock up.

"Why was Ashley here?"

Chris shrugs. "Something about her mom. You guys don't even ask to come over, you just show up. Out of the clouds come my asshole friends who wake me up early on Sunday and steal my clothes."

"It's kinda like a date." Josh informs him.

"You don't need to justify this. You're allowed to not call and show up." Chris says, moving Josh in the direction Chris' car. Josh goes along easily, hands in his pockets, and slouches against the passenger side of the car. Chris looks at him, one hand on the door handle.

"You okay?"

Josh shrugs, prying the door open. He plops down in the seat, Chris following suit.

"I didn't sleep very well."

Chris sticks the key in the ignition, cranking the car up. He turns to Josh, taking in the way the other stares down at his lap, arms folded over his stomach. It looks like Josh hasn't been sleeping at all if Chris stares long enough.

"Are you still having nightmares?"

Josh forces a smile. "I kinda don't want to talk about it."

Chris wonders how long Josh was going to evade the question. He'd say they'd talk about it later but would clam up at any instant Chris would casually bring it up. Chris nods, biting back a sigh. He eases out of the driveway, noting Josh's car parked in front of his house. Chris glances at Josh from the corner of his eye, watching the other squirm in the seat.

"Why didn't you call? I would've come over."

Josh shrugs. "Wanted to see you."

Chris tosses the AUX cable to Josh.

"Play your shit music."

"Thanks babe." Josh sings, plugging his phone in. He plays a song by Operation Ivy that Chris can't remember the name of but he does remember the first time Josh had ever played it. It was behind the bleachers at school, after Chris' second meltdown over his mom.

The drive is silent aside from the music playing on shuffle. Josh slips his hand into Chris' free one and leans against him with the softest sigh. There are dark veins beating along his temples, similar ones on the base of his throat. Chris wonders what's been going on but Josh will eventually tell him everything.

"It's fading." Josh says as if he notices Chris' constant glance.

"What is?"

"I don't know." Josh admits, burying his face into the sleeve of Chris' parka. "You think we're moving too slow?"

"Nah."

Josh shifts to look at him. "Are you sure? I.. I've never done this before but Yahoo said that I should just let things happen slowly."

Chris snickers quietly. "You consulted Yahoo on how to date someone? Yahoo? Really, Josh?"

"Well it's not like Hannah and Beth were any help. Beth's all 'just blow his mind and go from there, Jesus, Josh I raised you better than this' while Hannah is all 'wine and dine him, communicate boundaries'."

It's interesting, hearing Josh's impersonations of his sisters. His raspy voice can't go as high and his words run together but it's still surprisingly accurate. Josh looks at him expectantly. Chris realizes he should say something. He can make out the Washington house up the long road.

"Josh, it's not that big of a deal. None of this is. It's like we're friends but-"

"I can stick my hand in your pants."

Chris reddens. "Um, yeah. Or make out. Whatever. No big deal."

"So too slow?"

Chris shrugs. "Probably. Don't hold back on my account."

"You seem nervous, Cochise."

"I'm not the one who needed to consult Yahoo on this shit."

Josh lands a solid punch in the center of his arm, chuckling deeply. Chris parks where he usually does, closer to the hedges. He realizes no other cars are in the driveway.

"Where's your fam?"

Josh shrugs. "They were here when I left. Guess Beth went to get Sam. Han's bringing someone too. She wants to 'impress.'" He does air quotes. "So it's probably going to be a shitty movie."

Josh unbuckles his seatbelt, kicking the door open lazily. He climbs out, bouncing over to Chris' side before the other even fully closes the door.

"How would you impress someone?" Chris inquires, amused.

"I impress everyone without trying."

Chris rolls his eyes, following the oldest Washington up to the front door. He trails behind Josh, skin sticking to his clothes because it's fucking hot in here. Chris sheds two layers by the time they reach Josh's room, which is surprisingly clean. Sparkle clean.

"What the fuck happened?"

"Shut up, asshole. I clean sometimes." Josh says, toeing off his boots. He sweeps them to the side, climbing on top of his bed. "Did I tell you I bought a pipe? It's glass and looks like Clarissa Mickey's nipples."

"Who is that again?" Chris asks, folding his excess layers. He sets them on Josh's dresser.

"Prom queen. Last year. Has-" Josh gestures to his head with expressive hands. "Big ass blue hair."

It clicks. "I don't want to know why you have something like that. Or how you know. I don't care to know."

Josh laughs, a wide grin plastered on his face as he fishes inside his nightstand. He pulls out a small mason jar and the pipe. It's long and pointy, clear with a round base. Chris tries to compare it to any nipple he's ever seen.

He can't. But Josh is handing it to him with a seedy smile after, smoke expelling from his nostrils. Chris takes it, unsure when Josh actually packed and lit it.

It's hard to think around Josh. Harder than ever before because at least before Chris had to keep himself in check, had to make sure he'd never slip up. He's always had this constant bubble of awareness. What to say, how to word a sentence, stringing along lines and lines of bullshit in his mind until he makes Josh laugh.

But now it's out in the open, they're kinda dating and Josh knows and still laughs just as hard when he's high. Chris doesn't know if it's a good thing. Most of his ideas are bad. But Chris doesn't want to think about that.

He feels like actual sludge, all floaty feelings and light. His lips are sore, dry; body a bundle hole of nothingness.

Mostly because he's high and hungry and Josh is beside him, head lazing against his shoulder as the other drifts in and out of consciousness. There were voices in the hall but no ones told them to come down so they stay in Josh's room, Creep playing on Josh's tv. Josh is holding his wrist. He had told Chris that his new meds kept him weird, kept him pliant and quiet and turned the volume down in his brain to a light simmer. He doesn't like them. Chris could tell by how long it took Josh to swallow them around water.

"I need food." Chris says, moving to sit up.

Josh sighs from his side, placing a hand on his chest to keep him still. Chris doesn't move, staring intently at the hand on his chest, the hand that's moving to his side replaced shortly after by Josh's head.

"Josh."

Josh hums in response, face pressed into the curve of Chris' stomach. He slides cold hands underneath the last layer Chris is wearing, settling in his lap like a deformed blanket.

"Joooosh." Chris whines. He's not doing anything to change the state of events. If this was a normal situation he'd be nervous, he'd be whining a lot more because Josh is touching his touching his bare stomach with freezing fucking fingers. If he wasn't high, he'd be freaking out. Josh works his way up Chris torso, grinning impishly when he notices how red Chris is turning.

"I got something you can eat." Josh slurs, sounding sluggish as he straddles Chris' waist. He licks his lips obscenely, taking the ends of Chris' shirts in his hands and drags. Chris doesn't fight it, moderately impressed because he's wearing six shirts and a sweater, but he doesn't resist, just lets Josh pull and tug until his torso is bare.

"Lemme mark you up real fast."

"You should make me food."

"That's what Beth's for." Josh supplies, holding onto his boyfriend's hips. His face disappears into Chris' neck, smooth edges of teeth scraping along the skin. Chris shivers involuntarily. He feels warm and tingly and his thoughts aren't staying very coherent. Josh bites down, hard, smoothing his thumb along the skin as if in apology.

"But you're my boyfriend." Chris reminds him, earning a sharper nip under his chin. He paws at Josh's shoulder weakly, shuddering when the aching skin is sucked on. Chris worries his lower lip, awkwardly sliding his hands through Josh's soft hair as the other shifts around, marking him up. He takes a handful and gives it a light tug that's met with a sharp inhale.

"Oops." Chris giggles, repeating the action with a harder pull and Josh gasps against him, the hands on his hips tightening. Josh backs up, eyes heavy and clouded, tongue darting out to wet his lips. His pupils are narrow, thin slits that Chris can't fully pay attention to because Josh is staring down at him with such intensity it burns. Chris' hand slides down to Josh's shoulder, cupping the side of his neck gently. He leans forward, sitting up on his elbows. Josh closes the remaining distance.

A knock comes to Josh's closed bedroom door. Chris startles, shooting up and knocking into Josh's head. The other groans, falling back on his bed with a hand on his forehead. Chris scrambles to pull on one of his shirts as the doorknob twists open, haphazardly buttoning it up.

Beth opens the door, her cellphone in one hand. She's staring down at the message she's typing.

"I'm ordering pizza. You losers want anything?" Beth inquires, looking up. She takes in Chris' rumpled appearance, eyes locking on the fresh batch of hickeys on his neck. Her eyes narrow, pointedly shifting to Josh who blinks innocently. Her smirks reminds him of Sam.

Chris clears his throat. "Chicken wings."

"I'll have what he's having." Josh winks and Chris flushes. Beth nods slowly, a slimy smile climbing onto her face. She closes the door, the hard thud thud of her marching down the stairs fading into white noise.

"You've got a hard head, Cochise." Josh smirks, reaching for Chris again. He climbs over him, pushing at Chris' shoulder until he's lying back on the pillows. Chris glares up at him weakly, unable to stop the smile forming on his lips. He grasps at Josh's arms, bursting into a fit of giggles. Josh dips down, wedging a knee in between Chris' legs.

"I'm fucking hungry." Chris huffs and Josh snickers, kissing him more and more and Chris knows it's on purpose because Josh is smiling like a jackass and has him pinned to the bed.

"Hate you." Chris chuckles.

"Good thing your dick loves me." Josh muses, sliding a hand between them and pressing down on Chris' crotch. Chris blushes furiously, ignoring the pleased expression Josh wears.

"Josh."

"Hmmm?" Josh kitten licks his way back into Chris' mouth, bodies pressed together. His hand makes its way back under Chris' shirt.

"'M hungry, you dick."

"Gonna get my hand around yours, Cochise." Josh smirks, nimble fingers working on his jeans. Chris tries not to think of how easy it is for Josh to get him worked up. He moans softly, arching up into Josh's hot touch. His breath hitches when Josh slips a hand inside his jeans.

"Fuck me. You make the hottest sounds." Josh murmurs softly, palm pressing up into Chris' crotch. Chris blushes furiously, unaware he was making any sort of noise but he is, these needy, small pangs. It's not his fault. There is very little fabric between his dick and Josh's hand. Chris covers his face with shaky hands, embarrassed. Josh kisses the back of his hands with a smile, still stroking and fondling and moving.

"No hiding."

"This is embarras- ha! Duuuude." Chris whimpers weakly, heart rate spiking as Josh shifts his jeans down further. He sneaks a glance through the cracks of his fingers to see Josh staring at him intently, tongue poking out.

"C'mon, Cochise." Josh sucks one of Chris' fingers into his mouth, moist and hot. "Show me."

A fury of knocking comes to the bedroom door and Chris almost has a heart attack, hands smacking at Josh's shoulder to push him up. Josh's eyes narrow, lips pursed in annoyance. His gaze shifts from Chris, who is trying not to laugh at Josh's expression, to the closed door.

"What?!" Josh snaps, frowning.

"Pizza, asshole. Come down. We're watching a movie." Comes Hannah's voice and Chris assumes that's the only reason the door didn't burst open. Where Hannah was considerate, her twin was not. Chris thinks about Dad in a speedo, thinks about old people kissing. He sighs thankfully, feeling more level headed.

Josh is still looking at the door, nostrils flared and he seems genuinely pissed. Chris bumps Josh's chin with his head, earning a small exhale.

"I'm bummed, man. Almost got to see what your dick looked like." Josh mutters grumpily.

"It looks like a dick. I'm sure yahoo has the answer." Chris pushes at the other's shoulder until Josh is moving off him with a pout. He moves to the side, helping Chris fix himself with a raspy laugh. Chris punches him twice in the arm, sighing heavily when Josh kisses him in response.

"Jesus Christ, Josh, aren't you tired of kissing me?" His words hold no heat, no merit when he wants nothing more than to kiss Josh back.

"Noooope." Josh says, hopping off the bed with an amused look. He cracks open one of the windows, reaching for a worn pack of Marlboros that sit on the small ledge. Chris folds his arms across his chest, trying to settle down his rapidly moving mind. He feels more alert now, more himself but he wishes he didn't because he just catches himself staring at Josh as he hobbles onto the window ledge.

Josh catches his eye, lighting a cigarette with a slight recoil. His hand trembles but he continues, inhaling around a shaky flame.

"Starin' cause I'm hot?" Josh jokes.

"Yes." Chris says bluntly. Josh sputters, cigarette bobbing, and he's blushing. In reality he's staring because it's the second time he's seen Josh physically recoil while using a lighter and also Josh is ridiculously attractive. Chris slides off the bed, crossing the room in two easy steps. He takes Josh's cigarette from him. Chris ignores the tiny whine, grasping Josh's chin as he steals a hard kiss from the other. Josh sighs against him, eyes sliding closed.

Chris flicks the cigarette out the window, inching back.

"I'm not going down there alone."

Josh nods, grinning crookedly. "Yeah okay, Cochise. Two more?"

Chris obliges. Two kisses turns in five and soon Chris has Josh pressed against the hard crease in the window, hand gripping his thigh as Josh holds him close by the collar.

"You guys are sick."

Chris' head hits the window, groaning loudly as pain spread through him. He staggers back. Josh rolls his eyes.

"I can't hear you over your raging lesbian, Bethany." Josh responds, rising to his feet. He reaches for Chris, placing a soft kiss to the crown of his hair that leaves Chris' blushing. Beth scoffs from somewhere behind him.

"Come on, assholes."

They obey under her persistent gaze and soon they're joining a group of three downstairs. Sam isn't in a dress but she's in a long skirt in sandals that reminds Chris a lot of a witch that lives in the woods. Sam notices Chris' stare.

"It's Hannah's. Beth ripped my jeans."

Chris looks at Beth who seems more interested a portrait on the wall. Josh laughs loudly from beside him. Hannah's 'date' is not someone he recognizes but the guy seems polite enough ("Jake." "Chris." "Jesus, could you guys have a drier conversation?") even if he doesn't reach the level of attraction the Washington's had. Then again Chris didn't either.

Beth has to order another pizza because the first one is pretty much gone by the time Chris' hunger really catches up with him. Josh doesn't eat, or at least doesn't try to, turning his nose up at each slice Chris tries feed him. It's weird because Josh loved pizza, loved food in general but here he was, eyes red and unfocused, refusing food.

"Tryna watch your figure, Josh?" Beth jokes from across the counter and Josh gives a weak, bullshit excuse until Hannah's getting on him about not eating and how he needs to because of his meds. Only then, when Josh sees his sisters' growing concern does Josh eat a slice of pizza. It looks like a painful process.

"You pick a movie yet?" Sam asks Hannah, situated beside Jake, who adjusts his glasses.

"The Gift." Hannah responds easily. Josh perks up from beside Chris, the sickening color in his face fading slightly.

"That's not a bad movie." He comments, clearly impressed.

"It's not scary either." Hannah says and based on the relieved sigh Jake lets out, Chris assumes it's more for his benefit than theirs. They were all seasoned Bob Washington trial runs.

Josh rests an arm on Chris' shoulder, whispering softly. "Wanna sit in the back and make out?"

Chris nods, keeping his expression schooled so the others won't notice. Josh chuckles deep in his ear and Chris tries not to let it effect him.

"We claim middle row." Beth announces, hooking her arm in Sam's.

"Back." Josh adds, earning a few suspicious looks but no one mentions anything and the decision has been made with a relieved looking Hannah and a moderately nervous Jake who keeps stealing glances at her.

Josh handles the projector, Chris designated drink holder as Sam balances three bags of popcorn and an unnecessary bundle of cookie dough bites. Hannah seems concerned with something to do until Beth tells her to go sit with her 'sweetie pie honey bunch' which promptly makes her twin very red and very panicky.

"Jake seems nice." Josh says slumping down beside Chris. He doesn't look to good or maybe it's the lighting. Josh pushes the armrest up with his elbow, shrugging his way into Chris' space. Chris lifts his arm, warmth immediately pressing into his side. The movie begins with a slow orchestra, Chris' attention averted as Josh keeps fidgeting.

It continues on for a few more minutes until Josh is pushing himself up shakily, a hand braced on Chris' knee. He stumbles out the row and out the side door. Chris can faintly hear gagging. He sneaks a glance at the others, Beth and Sam pressed close, Hannah and Jake talking quietly. He rises up from his seat, slipping out into the main hall.

Josh is nowhere to be seen but the sounds of someone vomiting comes from the distance. Chris makes his way to the downstairs bathroom, passing the wide arch that leads to the kitchen. The retching gets louder the closer he gets. Chris hesitates, noticing a crack in the door. He peaks through.

Josh is bent over the toilet, hands braced on his knees. He's shaking, wet pants escaping his throat, eyes squeezed shut. Josh winces, lips pursing as a violent tremble works through him. Chris watches Josh clutch at his stomach, whimpering and he's vomiting again. This thick blackened sludge. It clatters into the toilet bowl like pine needles. Chris takes a step back, eyes widening.

"What the fuck?" He mutters under his breath, peaking back through. Josh is flushing the toilet, wiping his mouth furiously with the palm of his hand. He fumbles around in the cabinets, tugging out a toothbrush along with various cleaning supplies. Josh is trembling as he moves, gripping a Lysol bottle so tight it pops open.

Chris worries his bottom lip, frowning and he raises his hand to knock but stops short, heart pounding. He was seeing things. It was the only plausible explanation. Black vomit wasn't a thing. Black vomit that sounds like marbles in a bowl wasn't a thing either. Not to mention the unnatural way it flowed, like individual pieces of ripped paper.

Chris swallows hard, fiddling with the ends of his shirt. He crushes it in his hands, twisting nervously and it feels like his heart is going to burst out. Chris forces himself to breathe. 3, 2, 1. 1, 2, 3. Josh could be sick. He's on medication. Medications have side effects, this was a side effect. This was a side effect.

Chris squeezes his eyes shut, counting. He forces them open, taking in the detailed paintings on the wall, the long table sitting near the kitchen lined with small ornaments and vases filled with flowers. Chris stares at a barely noticeable spec on the wall. He can hear Josh's unsteady breathing.

The toilet flushes again. The sink cuts on followed by the hasty sound of a bristle on teeth. He waits until Josh is finished, waits until he sees Josh flossing with a dull, glassy expression that he lifts his hand and knocks. Josh glances at the door warily, a string of floss working between teeth. He must notice the crack, a fleeting look of panic on his face. Josh slowly pushes the door open.

Chris pretends to be yawning. "You okay, man?"

Josh turns away, staring down into the sink. He rubs his arm nervously. "Yeah, just didn't like the pizza. You... uh.. I'm sorry, bro. Were you waiting long?"

"No," Chris lies. "Just got here. Movies kinda dry."

He hasn't even gotten past the credits or the opening scene. He hasn't even seen a glimpse of what the movie is. Chris thinks Josh knows he's lying but the other just gives him a small, grateful smile. It warms his insides.

"Want me to wait?" Chris inquires softly.

Josh looks as if he wants to say no. He shifts from one foot to the other awkwardly. Chris reaches out, hesitating, before grasping Josh's forearm. He gives it a reassuring squeeze.

"That'd be nice." Josh answers quietly, moving away to continue his flossing. He rinses with a strong smelling mouth wash, swishing it around for what feels like hours as Chris stands there in the doorway, feeling afraid and nervous but Josh smiles at him when he's done, tugging him into the freshly cleaned, cherry smelling bathroom for a kiss that doesn't taste like vomit or anything sour and evil.

Just Josh.

Chapter Text

Josh often pretends the year so far has been a dream. One of the movies he's written, a movie his father has written. It makes the days feel glossier, gives them a polish and coat of shine, and when it's all over, when prom has come and gone and graduation is done and the summer is here, the ones who have been hurt will climb up from their graves, peeling latex and wiping fake blood from their bodies with a smile.

He's familiar with the term Hell. Intimately acquainted with the feelings that come along for the ride. Josh has seen Hell, in the form of his sister's being scared of him, in the form of broken CDs and red hand towels, in the form of Chris crying behind the bleachers with hand shape bruises around his neck. And now. He's seen it in the form of ghostly whispers, blackened wet walls and shrill shrieking as he had stumbled through the mines, dizzy and drunk.

Josh isn't sure which he would've preferred. The monsters that scaled the walls, blind and clever in their soft mimics. Or the thing that sat in wait in the dark with the voice of a father, wise and ancient like damp oak nestled deep in the forest. It didn't feel like anything good, didn't feel like anything soft and whole and pure and it's tendrils had burn when they slid along Josh's subconscious.

Josh was weak.

He didn't want to die. It told him he wouldn't if he eats, if he's quiets and listens and follows the lofty sound that sang through the mines. It kept telling him about how long it's waited, told him of famine and hunger and bitter cold. And now it's all he feels. The mountain had buried it's dead, dreary, misery deep inside him.

"You shouldn't be here." It's unfortunate that Marion is the second. Josh can't remember the first but he does remember the sounds of a baby crying and he prays and prays until the voice inside quiets him with a reassuring no. But Marion is here, relatively plastered and smiling and he's made friends with Buck, the bartender.

Josh doesn't remember coming to Lexington but he doesn't remember much of anything anymore. He doesn't feel anything beyond a constant hunger that can't be cured by normal means. The voice tells him what to eat. He doesn't want to eat anything.

"Buy me one?"

"You got it, Mr. President." Marion chuckles, grasping Josh's shoulder with a slow rub. He settles beside him, waving over Buck with two fingers. Josh doesn't know what he's ordering but Buck supplies with a rueful smile and tells them to keep it tight lipped. Josh guesses this is the benefits of small towns. He takes the glass set in front of him, downs it with a quick flick of his wrist.

The drink barely burns, sliding down his throat easily with a light buzz. His mind says its scotch but it tastes like air, everything tastes like air and Marion is pressing into his space with a dazed smile, rambling on and on about baseball and how much he misses Jess. It's still not satisfied, whatever awful dark thing resides inside him.

The rest is a blur. He's holding Marion's hand, holding it as the baseball ace leads him deep into the woods with childlike laughs and Marion keeps talking and talking about nonsense that Josh can't process because that old voice is back, slipping tiny impressions into his mind until he's aching and starving. Marion's blood sounds like plucked harp strings. It's a beautiful sound.

"Can I kiss ya?" Marion inquires, hand still in Josh's and he's leaning forward before Josh even answers. Josh wishes it was Chris. He lets Marion in, lets him press their bodies close and fill his mouth with kisses that feel like ash. Josh figures it's kindness that blesses Marion with being drunk.

He barely registers that Josh has ripped out his tongue until he's staggering back and choking, nails clawing at bloodied lips. Josh squeezes his eyes shut, body aching and preening and he's crying, crying as his limbs move without him, as his hands dig into the soft parts of Marion's body. Josh knows what insides look like, knows how they feel in his hands and how they taste like milk and honey and sing.

Josh can't remember the first one, but he remembers Marion, remembers trying to drown himself in the river afterwards because the voice is calling him good and perfect but it's not enough, it's not enough. Marion wasn't enough.

Josh lies atop of the water, staring up into the white moon until the voice settles deep inside him with a sigh. Josh doesn't pray, doesn't believe in God, but maybe he will now. He's seen Hell and it's shaped like him.

Josh can't die, won't die when blades barely cut into his skin and he feels so heavy and dense and the voice laughs when he panics, laughs, deep and dark and it churns his insides like scrapes of velvet. Marion wasn't enough and Josh knows what he looks like bloodied and hollow and empty, filled up with Josh's hungry sobs.

Josh wishes he died. But he's forced to live. Live and listen to the way the people around him sound. Beth and Hannah sound like two different versions of a clarinet, Sam is a xylophone. Mike's veins sing like a bassoon. It's hard to focus, hard to breathe and keep in control but it's like walking into a meat factory and you're starving.

Josh happens to run into Peterson when he barely has a shred of self control left. He's panting and wheezing and she has a light strapped to her forehead and exercise clothes on. She touches his face, speaks mangled tongue that he can't understand because all he hears, all he understands is the steel drum pounding under her skin.

Josh doesn't drag her as deep as Marion dragged him, but it's far enough that only the smell would tell people where she is. He panics halfway through, hands twisted in her abdomen and she's warm beneath him, eyes vacant as they stare up through the trees. The voice tells him to finish but Josh resists, he resists and cries as he shakily presses away from the body. He staggers back, running for the road and he's screaming.

It's unfortunate, the voice tells him, when he stumbles out into the road and it's Chris' car that slams to a halt before him. It's Chris who sits in the driver's seat, trembling and shaking and Josh can smell his fear (it's over ripe peaches in the sun). The voice wants it, wants the sweet taste between Josh's teeth.

"Josh?"

No. No. No. No. Josh's mind screams and he runs. Runs and runs and runs and the voice's laugh rumbles through him, deep and evil. But Chris has seen him, Chris has- Josh goes back to the road when he doesn't find Chris at home, when he's more himself. The other is curled up against the front of the car, face slack with sleep, phone gripped tightly in one hand. He takes him home, deletes the call log and listens to Chris sleep from a safe distance until he can drag himself home.

The teachers are worried when Peterson doesn't come to school. But he doesn't think about that when Chris actually comes to the art room when Josh asks. He can't pay attention to anything because he wants to kiss the boy who stares at him like he's something marvelous. Like he's not a monster.

But he was.

His guilt gnaws deeper than the hunger ever could and he fights it, fights and fights and it's so hard. His medication sometimes helps but it only makes the voice angry, only gives him awful nightmares where everything is red and blood and the faces of his friends. The voice tells him that he can resist but it will never be enough and that he will suffer through this as others before him had until he returns to the mountain and is consumed by it. The voice tells him that it's patient. It's waited a long time, waited through blizzards and settlers and the mountain is dead. It will wait him out.

"You okay?"

Josh forces himself to look up from his sketchbook, folding it closed out of habit. Shreds of paper fall into his lap, bits of broken lead following. Chris is staring at him from the floor, pencil in hand, two books laid out before him along with a notebook that has illegible writing in it.

Josh looks around taking in the easy colors of Chris' room. It smells like Pine Sol and a cucumber spritz, like loss and icky sadness. Josh almost laughs because Chris' feelings almost smell like his own but Josh's is darker, is more thickly coated and dry like old newspaper.

"Josh?"

Josh can smell worry, worry and something akin to adoration. He shifts on Chris' bed, setting the sketchbook down. Josh runs a hand through his hair.

"Just tired."

"You can take a nap, ya know." Chris smiles.

Josh snorts. "Take one with me."

"Dude, I have a book report. Not all of us are super smart, ok?"

Josh rolls his eyes, forcing a smile and stretches out on the bed. There are no smooth swirls in the ceiling like in his room. It's splattered lazy creases. The bed dips, the quiet movement of the sketchbook being set somewhere else, and Chris lays beside him, also staring up at the ceiling.

"I miss my mom." Chris says after a beat.

Josh turns to him. Chris doesn't look at him, glasses pressed close to his eyes. They glisten and shine under the light.

"How are things with your dad?"

"Fine." Chris answers quickly.

Josh grabs his hand. "Cochise."

"I don't want to talk about that. He comes home, talks to me, makes sure I eat and keeps his distance. That's all I want. That's all I need from him."

"Chris-"

"I miss my mom. I'm worried about you."

Josh almost frowns. "Why?"

"I don't want to lose anyone else." Chris whispers softly. "My mom killed herself, Josh. I almost lost you in middle school. You've been different. I don't know what to do or how to help."

"Just do what you're doing, Cochise."

Chris turns to him. "Is that enough?"

"Yeah." But it feels like a lie. It probably is.

Josh shrinks away from Chris' stare. He looks away, staring back up at the ceiling. Chris rolls onto his side. The voice inside his mind purrs in delight, awake and attentive, and Chris is so close, too close. He ignores the tune of the beating heart beside him, how delightful and full it sounds like it's meant for him.

"Josh?"

Josh forces himself to look, to mirror Chris' posture because Chris is already worried. He can feel his self control slipping. Josh tucks an arm under his head, touching Chris' face lightly. He watches the eyes slide close, the restless face Chris wears. Josh leans in, cradling his face gently as their mouths meet.

Chris grasps the hand on his face, shifting forward until he's bent over Josh. He's getting better, the awkward fumbling now a steady match to whatever rhythm Josh creates. It's nice, cute, lovely even considering the war inside him. The voice is awake, awake and vibrating and pulsing.

Josh's nails dig into Chris' shoulder, sitting up on his elbows as he pushes Chris back. He climbs over him, fumbling with the buttons of the shirt he's wearing. Chris sighs beneath him, practically preening under the slow, burning touches. He arches up, wanting and beautiful and every vein rings like a violin string.

Josh drowns in the sound, holding Chris down by the hips and he's lavishing longing bites into his skin until he aches. Josh takes off Chris' glasses, tossing them absently behind him. He latches onto Chris' Adam's apple, relishing in the way it bobs. There are hands in his hair, fingers woven tightly. It's perfect, Chris is perfect. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect enough to-

Josh shakes the thought, skin prickling with disgust and he backs off. His chest is heaving, unsteady breath after breath falling from his lips. Chris lies there, flushed, covered in darkened burgundy bruises. His lips are puffy, red and dry.

Josh watches a tongue dart out to wet them. He sits back on Chris' knees. His body feels empty. He feels empty. The voice whispers to him. Josh ignores it, ignores the push. He just wants to kiss Chris. Josh pulls off the shirt he's wearing, the fluttery tune ringing in his head. Chris sits up, grasping at Josh's thighs and he drags him closer. Josh feels his shoulders, the soft, fleshy skin.

"We can stop." Chris whispers.

"Do you want to?" Josh asks, kissing the corner of his mouth. Chris shakes his head.

"Say it."

"I don't want to stop." Chris says.

Josh smiles despite himself. He kisses Chris softly, easing him back down onto the bed. The voice whispers along his spine, crawling along in old tongues and voices. It feels like there's a hand on his shoulder, the thick woodsy smell of the mines flooding his senses.

"Josh, we don't have to do anything."

Josh shakes his head, trying to focus, trying to shift away from the gnawing feeling inside him. Chris is in his space, smoothing away tiny quivers with his thumb. Josh exhales shakily, shying away from the gentle touch but Chris only pulls him closer, warm and soft and filled with a sweet melody.

The voice quiets. Josh breathes.

"Can I kiss you?"

Chris nods so Josh does, tasting and pushing until they're back on the bed. He leans up, taking the waistband of Chris' sweats in his hands. Josh waits for the impatient exhale before he divulges Chris of them, followed shortly by a pair of Deadpool boxers. He feels a laugh in his throat, one that doesn't escape so he locks it away.

--

Josh dips back down, claiming Chris' mouth in a searing kiss. He shudders when the other's hand reaches for the front of his jeans, shaky and hesitant and it only takes Josh's hips grinding into his palm for Chris to take action. He fumbles with the zipper, the sound resting loudly in the room.

Josh licks his lips, pressing their foreheads together as he knees Chris' legs farther apart. Chris' grip on his arm is tight, focused and panting when Josh wraps a hand around his dick. Chris groans, biting back a tremble. Josh kisses him, steadily moving his hand.

"F-fuck." Chris whimpers. His eyes are closed, mouth slack and open. Josh can only stare, can only stare and watch as Chris holds back moans and breathes curses into his palms. Josh releases him, enjoying the shuddering 'shit' that falls from Chris' lips. Josh hoists his bag on the bed, feeling around in the front pocket for a small bottle.

"You just carry lube around?" Chris snorts out a laugh. Josh pours it into his hand with an eye roll, unable to stop the smile that spreads across his face. He settles between Chris' legs.

"Imagine if I didn't carry lube."

"I have some." Chris counters quickly, squinting as Josh pushes up his leg. "I-In my desk."

Josh raises an eyebrow. "You do?"

"Ye... Yes." Chris hisses, fisting the sheets underneath him as Josh slowly inserts a finger.

"Fuck your fingers?"

Chris nods, falling back onto the bed. Josh pulls him closer by the hip, squeezing at the skin, and he slides another one in, flexing and twisting and Josh has to settle down as he watches Chris. He has to quiet the voice underneath his skin.

"What do you think about?"

"Dude... Fucking seriously?"

Josh stills his movements. "Come on, Cochise. Tell me."

Chris' face darkens. "Joooosh."

"I can wait." He says patiently, fingers twitching. Chris rubs his face embarrassed. He raspberries.

"You. I think about you, okay? And sometimes Shia LaBeouf."

Josh braces himself over Chris, one hand propped above his shoulder as the other works him open. Chris reaches for him. Josh concedes, sighing softly when Chris kisses him hungrily. He has three fingers inside, deeply stroking the nestled bundle.

"Shia LaBeouf? Really?"

"Shut the fuck up, Josh." Chris laughs, punching him weakly.

"Can I give you a handjob?" Josh asks, sucking on Chris' bottom lip. His answer is a frantic nod.

"Say it."

"Fuckin' seriously, bro? You have a fist inside me." Chris whines.

"Come on, Cochise. Say it." Josh smirks, enjoying the way Chris' shakes beneath him, eyes blown wide and desperate.

"Put your hand on my dick, man."

"Anything for you, Cochise." Josh purrs. He's impressed with how level his head is, how focused and alert and present he is. The voice is quiet. It's just Chris. Just Chris.

"We can stop." Chris whispers hoarsely. He's aching and hard. Josh settles between his legs, hand wrapped around the base of Chris' dick, fingers still buried deep inside.

"'m gonna last like two seconds."

"That's the idea." Josh snorts, flicking his wrist as he pumps. The muffled garble he receives in return makes his pants feel tight, eyes flicking up to watch Chris' head fall back.

"Mmf.. F-fucking, God."

Josh hums at the thought. He slides his fingers out, pushing the suffocating denim down his thighs. Chris bucks up into him. Josh tilts forward, pressing his clothed erection into the crease of Chris' ass.

"Why don't you just fuck me, man?"

"Jesus Christ, Chris, shut up." Josh hisses, grinding into the heat. He wants to be in his right mind for that. Chris claws at his shoulder, back arching with a wheezing noise when Josh squeezes.

"You're this worked up over a hand job? You can't handle my dick right now."

Chris punches him weakly. "Shut up, asshole."

"It's cute. Makes waiting a real fucking treat, Cochise." Josh kisses him, grinding up against Chris while his hand moves and twists and pumps. He should've pulled his dick out, should've just fucked him until he was limping but Josh figures this is better, watching Chris shudder and twitch as he humps him.

Chris comes without much of a warning, stilling against Josh's hurried movements until he sighs softly, come pulsing through his dick onto his stomach and Josh's hand. He stares dreamily up at Josh, lips parted in a weird awe. It's a look he's never seen before. Josh has seen blissed out; he's seen glowing smiles and shifty eyes as the high settles down. But Chris is lying here, smiling dumbly with this lost expression. It completely distracts Josh from his own orgasm, hips stuttering and he's coming in his boxers with a dumbfounded look.

--

"Wanna go to prom with me?" Chris asks and Josh's eyes narrow at him, lips curled back to speak. He can't find words. Instead Josh laughs, feeling weird and unsure and a bit happy.

"Yeah, okay, man." Josh nods.

Chris grins stupidly and Josh wants to kiss him so he does. Josh realizes prom is months away, which in turn felt like light years. He wonders if he'll last until prom, if this budding woodsy voice will let him. But he'd like to go with Chris. He'd like to go anywhere with him.

They use sanitary wipes to clean themselves, Chris shaking his head furiously at the idea of leaving the room to take a shower ("It'll be seperate showers, Chris. Unless you wanna-" "I'm regaining feeling in my legs, can you not?" "Just sayin'. This is gross, bro.") because he was embarrassed and didn't know if his dad was home.

Josh wears one of Chris' hoodies, scratching at the faded letters written on the front. Chris blushes when he notices. It's cute. It sets butterflies loose in Josh's stomach and he feels normal, normal as he can be when there's a voice ringing in his ear, louder this time because there is no distraction, there is no constant fight to keep focused.

"Can I stay over?"

Chris' head pokes out from his closet, half dressed in a pair of low hanging dark sweatpants. He smooths out the shirt he wears.

"Why are you even asking?"

Josh shrugs. "Dunno. Nervous."

Chris nods, cheeks still warmed red. "Yeah, man. You can stay."

Josh won't stay beyond Chris falling asleep beside him. He doesn't trust himself, barely trusts himself now with the sleeping boy curled into his side. Chris' glasses are still on, crooked. Josh sets them on the table, sliding his arms around the pliant body beneath him and listens to the quiet beat of Chris' heart.

He leaves when the voice tells him that Chris will only taste sweeter when he's hollowed out.

Chapter Text

"You heading out?"

Chris' hand pauses on the doorknob, wrist twisted to the side. He can feel the outside air leaking through the small opening. Chris pushes it closed, body tense, a flurry of swears filling his mind. The older Pilgrim stands near the stairwell, a fluffy robe wrapped around him. He looks tired, a strained smile on his face. Chris bites his lip.

"Um yeah. Josh wanted to hang out."

"Your curfew starts in an hour."

His father felt it was necessary to establish a curfew after the hype of Peterson's disappearance died down. He suspected it was something else, which in turn made him highly suspicious of everything and everyone.

"I know, dad."

They stand in silence, staring at one another. Chris releases the doorknob, fully facing his father with a slight frown. He watches the conflicting emotions battle on his father's face as the other crosses his arms across his chest.

"You should stay home."

Chris frowns harder. His dad had been weird for the past month, going out of his way to initiate conversation, actually fixing dinner and expecting Chris to come down and eat with him. Chris checks his phone, Josh's texts winking up at him. He wanted to see his boyfriend. It was a lot easier to keep an eye on someone when they didn't mind being bothered at all hours of the day. Josh wasn't getting any better it seemed and they spent most of their time together playing games until Josh was too worn out to move. But he wasn't vomiting up anymore physical embodiments of evil so Chris took it as a good sign.

"I'll stay home tomorrow. Ok? Promise."

His dad clicks his tongue in annoyance. "Look, Chris, something is going on in this town and I'd just feel safer if you stayed at home."

Chris huffs impatiently. "I just want to hang out with Josh, dad."

"You can hang out with him tomorrow. You've been hanging out with him nearly everyday for the past month and a half." His dad says. He sounds angry.

"I'll be home before curfew even-"

"You're staying home. That's final." His dad cuts him off, gaze steely and hard and it's the closest thing to fatherly that Chris has seen in years. Chris doesn't want to fight. He doesn't have the energy. To be honest he didn't think his dad did either.

Chris shrugs off his jacket, hanging it up on the coat rack. He sets his car keys in the basket sitting on a small table in the hallway. Chris doesn't wait for his father's reply and ascends the stairs with hands tucked in his pockets. He closes his bedroom door behind him, leaning back against it and slides to the floor with irritation pressing into the side of his skull.

From: Washua
When ya gonna get here
Have twenty different werewolf movies
98% of them are godawful
Let's watch all of em

From: Mr. Pilgrim
Dads being weird
Can't go
:/

Chris tugs the pullover he's wearing over his head and tosses it to the floor in front of him. A sweater follows, then a long sleeve shirt until he's down to two, which he keeps on because one of them smells like Josh and the other one reminds him of his mom.

From: Washua
Wha? Noooo.
I have strawberry lube
Strawberry, Cochise.
I don't buy girly shit to stick into someone's asshole for just anyone

Chris almost laughs.

From: Mr. Pilgrim
More of a blackberry kind of guy.
Why would you be putting strawberry jam in my asshole anyway?

From: Mr. Pilgrim
*lube

From: Washua
Clearly you're special, Christopher
Oh I think you know ;)
Bummer though.
Maybe I'll come to you?

From: Mr. Pilgrim
There's a curfew for a reason

From: Washua
I'm Josh Fucking Washington
I'll come by later
Take me a nap before I eat your ass

From: Mr. Pilgrim
!!!!!!!!!!!

From: Washua
;)
Just kidding bby
Maybe ltr
Or tomorrow
After I wine and dine ya

Chris smiles into his hand, cheeks heating up but he feels better. Josh made him feel better as he always had. Chris just wanted to try and do the same. A knock comes to the door. Chris doesn't budge. He can hear his dad try the knob but Chris presses the lock before he can achieve entrance. A sigh comes from the other side and it settles against Chris' mind like a hammer.

"Look, buddy. I know you're upset. But I'm worried, son. I'm worried about you." His dad says. "You're barely home. You're not sleeping. What's going on?"

Chris isn't sure what to say. He's been keeping an eye on Josh, watching him progressively get worse and worse and being unable to do a thing. Chris still managed to do homework and pass quizzes in between so he's not fully understanding why his dad is bitching. He frowns, thoughts weighing heavy on his mind because his dad only cares when it's inconvenient to him.

"Please leave." Chris forces out, staring into his lap. "Just go, dad."

"Chris-"

"You're not helping. You're just stressing me out." Chris bites out. The other side falls quiet, floor creaking as the weight shifts and his dad's receding footsteps pound through every rib. He doesn't understand. He doesn't understand parents. Chris wraps his arms around himself, curling up tightly, forehead pressed to his knees. He feels bad, feels awful and he wishes he didn't because at least his dad is trying, his dad is trying to be a dad again.

But it feels like being too late. Two years too late because at the beginning Chris understood, he understood the sound of bottles clinking together in the trash, understood the sound of heavy sobs coming from his parent's bedroom. He understood loss and pain and seeing ghosts in the closets. He did.

Chris had to tuck those feelings away. Had to curb his loss into something forgettable because he couldn't waste away. His dad had taken that title, taken it and drank with it. Chris forgave him for that. But he hasn't forgiven him for anything else. He can't play pretend when his best friend is becoming a ghost.

"Whoah bro, you okay?"

Chris startles, head snapping up. His neck protests, body wound up too tight. Chris exhales, unsure how much time has passed but judging by how long it takes his fingers to uncurl, Chris wants to say a while. Josh is sitting on the windowsill, in one of Chris' jackets and a tie dye shirt.

He doesn't look good. Eyes dull and tired, cheeks hollow, pale with dark veins that run along the skin. Josh can't be worrying about both of them. Chris nods, slowly rising to his feet. He collects the discarded clothes from the floor and tosses them into the hamper.

Chris slumps down on his bed. "Hey."

"Hey." Josh responds, still sitting on the window. Silence envelopes them, Chris staring down at the floor, Josh staring at him.

"Wanna go somewhere?"

Chris looks up. "I'll get in trouble."

"Only if we get caught."

They take Chris' car because it's quieter, headlights off; It's surprisingly easy to sneak the keys from the basket downstairs. Josh's car is nowhere to be seen but Chris merely nods at the half assed reason Josh gives him ("I parked a block away. Avoid suspicion." "That is suspicious, man."). Josh drives, Chris curled up in the passenger seat. It's easy, too easy to leave town, to slip away quietly in the night because the cops were shit at keeping watch. Most holed up in a Dunkin Donuts, watching Lassie.

Josh lights a cigarette when they reach a stop light, lighter in hand. The flame flickers out. He tries again, hands shaking badly. Chris can see the frustration in his eyes. Chris' hand wraps around his, steadying. Josh takes a long drag, glancing over at Chris, who gives him a hesitant smile.

Chris doesn't know what he can offer Josh, what he can do to help but he can steady his hand.

"Thank you." Josh whispers quietly. Chris nods. They're driving again, past street signs he barely recognizes, roads that are narrow and dark. Chris notices a sign for Binksy, wonders just how close they are.

"Can we talk?" Josh asks softly.

"About what, Josh?"

"About you. Your dad. What's going on?"

Chris exhales, white fog pressing against the window. He studies the signs they pass intently. Josh eases onto an exit ramp.

"Chris."

"Are we going to talk about you?"

Josh cracks the window, tapping his cigarette along the glass. "Soon."

"What the fuck does that even mean?"

"It means soon, Chris, fuck. Trust me, please."

"I don't want to talk about my dad."

Josh clicks his tongue. "Well I don't want to talk about anything so here we are. At a fucking impasse. Talk. Communicate with me, your boyfriend, your best friend. If you expect me to do the same."

Chris sighs angrily. They pass by unlit restaurants and buildings before a gas station appears, blinking orange and yellow sign. Josh turns sharply into it, nostrils flared and he's chewing on the end of the cigarette. The tires squeal along the pavement, sliding up to a pump before stopping.

"You have until I'm done pumping gas to spill. Or conjure up some really lovely sounding bullshit." Josh grinds out, pushing open the driver's door. He slams it closed behind him. Chris watches Josh wander away from the car, shoulders hunched forward. He sighs again.

It was fair. What Josh was asking for was fair. But it didn't make the conversation any easier, didn't make putting his bad days into words any easier. Chris slumps down in his seat, checking his phone for the sake of distraction.

From: Lava Girl
Did I tell you I have a crush
Am I still a lesbian if someone I like is Nonbinary?
How does that work?

From: Climbing Trash
Beth wants to do a double date
You, me, the Washington assholes
Hannah's so nice and pretty
I picked the wrong one

From: Mr. President
So.
Word in the air
is you and Washington?

Fuck. Fuck. Chris swears quietly under his breath. The click of the gas cap startles him. Chris cranes his head to see Josh leaning against the car, watching the numbers on the dial add up. Chris settles back in his seat, frowning. He locks his phone.

Josh joins him shortly after, shoving a bag of sugary snacks into Chris' chest. He starts up the car.

"You didn't have to buy me gas."

"Shut up. It's what boyfriends do."

Chris flushes. The bag holds pretty much every snack Chris has enjoyed since childhood. He rips open a package of zebra cakes, munching on it wordlessly as Josh drives down the road. Chris doesn't know where they're going, he doesn't ask but Josh doesn't push another conversation on him, just drives until he's turning down some raggedy, old gravel road with a broken gate and up a hill.

"How many make out points do you know?"

Josh snorts out a laugh. "Only three. Mike brought me here."

"Oh my god, bro. Definitely could've kept that to yourself."

"I'm just tellin' you how I know, man." Josh smirks, curling a hand over Chris' knee. "I'm bringing you here now. The guy that matters."

"When did you get so sappy?"

Josh shrugs, easing the car to a stop. He parks along the edge of the hill, wide cityscape blinking in the distance. Darkness spreads from them to it, like a sea of emptiness. Josh settles back in his seat. He stares absently ahead.

"I haven't seen you like that since your dad tried to... The time you called me to come get you because you walked to school."

Chris shifts in his seat.

"You had these," Josh clears his throat. "These awful, dark bruises and you were crying a lot. I remember asking you what happened and you closed off. You're closing off from me now."

Chris doesn't respond. He stares at the tops of his knees. Josh's hand remains where he set it. Chris peers out the window, feeling heavy and tired and it's as though if anyone asked that's the only way he'd be able to describe himself, heavy and tired.

"I don't think I'm past it." Chris says. There's a slight tremor in his voice but neither of them comment.

"I'm used to being alone at home. Fixing food for myself and watching TV alone. He's trying but it's not like I can flip a switch and forget that for three years he was an absolute shit to me." Chris sighs. The hand on his knee gives a gentle squeeze. "I feel so bad, Josh. He's come a long way. It just feels weird. I feel weird. And I'm paranoid because of other stuff."

"Like what?" Josh asks softly.

"You." Chris looks at him. "I had nightmares about my mom leading up to her death and after. The same thing is happening again but it's not her. It's you."

"I'm not going anywhere, Cochise." Josh says and it sounds like a promise but Josh doesn't look at him when he says it, just continues to stare out the windshield.

"You've said that before."

Josh finally does turn to him, expression soft, face cast in shadows. There's the faint whisper of a smile. He unbuckles his seatbelt, shifting forward, hand sliding down Chris' thigh.

"Trust me." Josh whispers, noses brushing together. He cups the side of Chris' face, thumb tracing along his jaw. "Chris, trust me."

"Okay." Chris forces out, distracted and foggy and he's grasping Josh by the collar of his shirt. He nods, earning a crooked smile. It's forced, stretched too wide and uneasy but so very Josh.

"Josh-"

"Later." Josh promises, effectively cutting Chris off with a deep kiss. He smiles against him, feeling Chris melt into it easily with a sigh. Chris' lips part, Josh leaning backward, tongue moving inside and he's pulling Chris towards him. The movement is a bit awkward, mostly with Chris shuffling over the gear and Josh snorting out laughs as he watches him settle into his lap.

"What did you and Mike do up here?"

Josh's hand slips under his shirt, the other coming to grasp the back of his neck. He licks his lips.

"Thought you didn't want to know?"

"I don't."

Josh smirks. "Why ask then, Cochise?"

"Because."

"You're a child." Josh chuckles, kissing the underside of Chris' chin. "We fucked on his Mercedes. He bent me over the hood. I watched the lights in the city flicker on and off."

Chris expects the words to light a fire inside him, sending him burning with jealousy but it doesn't. Maybe because Josh is here now and it's not with Mike Munroe.

"I don't want to fuck you in a car, Chris." Josh whispers, face pressed into the curve of Chris' neck, teeth and tongue mapping the skin. "Not how I want your first time to go."

"That the lost virgin in you talking?" Chris jokes, squeezing Josh's shoulder when the other bites down. "Would you care if it was someone else?"

"No." Josh admits. "But you're not, Cochise. You're something special."

Chris blushes, biting the inside of his cheek at the words. He pushes Josh back against the seat, closing the small distance between them. Josh slides an arm around his waist, flushing their bodies close together, mouths moving in slow, unhurried synchronization. Chris combs a hand through Josh's hair, fingers curling around the strands and pulling.

Josh moans, straightening up and he's pressing hard against Chris, tongue hot and swirling. Chris' phone rings from his pocket, startling both of them. Josh rolls his eyes, annoyance etched into his face. Chris shoots him an apologetic glance, slipping the device from his pockets. He tenses up at the caller ID. It was his dad. Chris doesn't even know how much time has passed.

Josh pecks the corner of his mouth, eying the phone with obvious distaste. He takes it from Chris' hands easily, dropping it into the passenger seat. Chris is about to protest but Josh is hiking his hand up higher and kissing him again, the chilled air peppering Chris' skin with goosebumps.

"Josh-"

Josh hums in response, pinching one of Chris' nipples between his index finger and thumb. Chris reddens, stuttering wordlessly when Josh shushes him, coaxing his mouth to move. Chris obliges, whimpering softly when Josh lightly tugs on the nub.

"Knew you'd be a nipple guy." Chris mumbles.

"Fuck you." Josh smiles, pushing Chris' shirt up to his chin. He takes the other nipple in his mouth, sucking and rolling it around against his tongue as his hand continues to tweak and pull the other one. Chris whimpers again, high and quivering. The ring of his phone startles him again. Josh blows hot air, frowning as he looks over at it. It's Chris' dad again.

"Fuck I'm going to be grounded." Chris mumbles.

"Probably." Josh replies easily, grasping the hand that reaches for the phone. He presses a kiss to his sternum, closing his lips around Chris' other nipple. Chris nearly squeaks, glaring down at the top of his boyfriend's head. Josh bites down gently and Chris pinches his shoulder, face heating up. Josh snickers.

"Shhh." Josh responds easily, leaning forward to kiss him. Chris sighs, smoothing out his shirt and allowing himself to be distracted. They kiss a few times, Josh's hands grasping his ass tightly, holding Chris tight to him.

"I have to go home." Chris mumbles.

"Yeah." Josh says, tongue working its way around Chris' mouth. There's a quiet buzzing sound, all background noise and fuzzy. Chris doesn't pay attention to it, tilting his head to the side when Josh tires kissing him.

Chris wants to ask him what the fascination with biting him is. He's never fully understood hickeys beyond a ownership thing. Josh has a hand on Chris' belt, hurriedly yanking at it until Chris hears the metal scrape together. Chris whimpers when Josh bites down too hard. His mind doesn't fully process everything together, Josh's hand in his pants, teeth digging into his shoulder.

Warmth spreads along his skin, a dull ache settling over him; a dull ache that spreads into a sharp pain. Chris winces, pressing against Josh's shoulder with a shaky exhale. His breath hitches, trying to move away but Josh holds him tight, sharp teeth piercing the skin.

"Dude, stop." Chris tries, shoving at Josh with trembling hands and it hurts, hurts so damn bad. His sweater feels wet, sticky, a wave of nausea hitting him when all he can smell is metal. Josh sighs against him, eyes closed, grip crushing and he's holding so tight Chris can feel himself bruising.

"J-Josh." His shoulder is burning, pain winding through every nerve and his mind is screaming. Chris pushes harder, dread swelling deep inside him. His heart is hammering in his chest, filling his ears with thunder and he's trying to push Josh away but he can't, he can't.

A low clicking noise thrums from Josh's throat, this awful, pleased growl and his jaw shifts, body shifting forward and Chris hears his skin tearing before it registers. He's crying he realizes, nonsense bubbling from his lips that sounds a lot like begging.

"H-Hurts. Josh please." Chris whines helplessly, aching and throbbing and his voice is shaking. Josh stills against him, eyes snapping open and he forces himself away, hand scrambling to open the door. He shoves Chris away, falling out the car with a choking noise, legs kicking out as he scurried away. Chris scrambles into the other seat, one hand clutching his bleeding shoulder. He pants loudly, cheeks wet and red, tiny tremors working through his body. Chris chokes back a sob, clasping a hand around his mouth. He curls up against the door.

Josh is staring at him, sharp and pained, shakily stepping back. There's blood on his lips, smeared along his chin and nose. His mouth hangs open, salivating, teeth sharp and threatening and Chris sees that look again, that desolate, desperate expression. Josh staggers back, feeling his face and he stares at the blood on his fingers with disgust and yearning.

"J-Josh." Chris wishes he didn't feel so scared, wishes his limbs would cooperate and move but he's paralyzed against the door.

Josh's head snaps to him, flinching, the clicking noise growing louder. He's trembling, tears swelling in his wide eyes.

"I'm... I-I'm sorry." Josh whimpers brokenly. He staggers backwards, taking a lingering look at Chris before he's gone.

"Josh-" Chris forces his arm to move, stretching out to grasp the center console. He forces himself up, bloodied fingers grasping the passenger door. Chris pushes it open, stumbling to the ground. His knees hit first, the pain easy to forget about when his shoulder feels like the inside of a toaster oven. Chris rises to his feet shakily, searching for Josh but all he can see is darkness, darkness and the empty stretch of land between him and the city.

"Josh!"

No reply. Chris wipes his face furiously, sinking to his knees as a new set of sobs fight their way through him. He bites his knuckle when his cries grow to loud, the bitter chill of night wrapping around him.

Chris drags himself to the driver's seat, starting up the car and he searches the nearby town for Josh until the sun rises, searches until he's exhausted and his eyes dry red. Josh doesn't text him or call and Chris wishes he could say it was a dream but the bite in his shoulder is very real. He cleans it in when he gets home, his dad's car gone, sitting atop of the bathroom counter as he tries to assess it.

Most of the teeth marks are smooth and round, haphazardly ripped the closer it gets to his throat. He touches it shakily, wincing when it burns from barely a graze. Chris blinks back tears. He inhales deeply before exhaling, fixated on his hands folded in his lap. Chris whimpers softly, tilting forward and he tries to fight the panic, tries to think and breathe but all he can feel is terror resting inside him, all he can see is the way Josh looked at him.

"3...2...1. 1..t-two... " Chris cries softly, overwhelmed and he just wants to know what to do. His best friend bit him, legitimately, physically tried to rip his shoulder open. His mind backtracks to the beginning of the year, to Marion, Marion who died of a bear attack, Marion who had to have a closed casket.

"No. No. No." Chris hiccups, shaking his head furiously. He thinks of Josh walking in front of his car, covered in blood and gore with that awful vacant look. Peterson was missing. Peterson was missing.

"No." Chris argues. But his subconscious is saying yes, is whispering that Josh is a monster. What would his mom do? What would she want him to do?

Josh wasn't okay.

Chris forces himself to call Josh, to listen to the ringing over and over until the voicemail picks up. He calls again. And again. Each try ends the same. Eventually the ringing stops, leaving just a breath between Chris hitting call and Josh's voicemail. He shakily texts him.

From: Mr. Pilgrim
We need to talk.

Josh wasn't okay.

Neither was Chris.

Chapter Text

Josh isn't at school the next day. Or the day after that. Or after that. Chris stops searching for him when he sees the familiar parking space empty over and over again. The Twins look exhausted, dark circles mimicking their older brother's but they still laugh with Emily and Chris (occasionally Jess when she doesn't mind being scolded by Em because of skipping class). Chris doesn't ask about Josh and in turn neither of them ask why he hasn't been around as much. He was still waiting on a text back, on a call, on some sliver of hope that Josh hadn't actually bit him at all and its some misplaced dream.

He didn't tell his dad about it but the doctor he went to was suspicious enough to ask if he needed to talk to anyone. Chris had said no, taken his prescription and left. His dad hadn't mentioned him leaving when he wasn't supposed to, hadn't really talked to him at all but Chris figured his own expression must've stopped any conversation that might've happened.

He couldn't sleep, didn't want to eat when everything offered to him seemed to be shaped like him on a plate. He stayed in his room, only leaving for school or a random grocery run, as his mind tried to bring pieces together.

Josh's behavior wasn't anything he had experienced before since they've known one another. The clicking was new too. Chris wonders if anything happened on Mt. Washington, because the dreams didn't start until that night, the night he bailed on Josh for Ashley. Josh had been acting strange since the Washington's came back. It didn't seem plausible. Nothing made sense. He'd have to talk to Josh or Beth and Hannah or-

"What do you mean, man?" Mike lifts an eyebrow at him, bent over Trigonometry homework with a vein popping out of his forehead. Chris sits across from him, tired and jittery.

"You went up there with him. Did anything happen?" Chris repeats, slower this time.

Mike pushes his textbook away, slouching back in the seat. He fixes his gaze on the bandage peaking out from Chris' collar. Chris adjusts his shirt. Mike looks back at him. He sighs, brow furrowed as he thinks.

"He was pissed at you most of the time." Mike supplies with a shrug. "He drank a lot. I mean a lot okay. I was pretty drunk through most of it though. He wasn't there when I woke up but I guess he left sometime that night because Hannah and Beth were freaking out when the morning hit. The whole family was. I just waited at the lodge while they did a sweep of the area. Pretty sure I was still drunk that morning."

Chris raises an eyebrow. "Why do you say that?"

"'Cause, man. Josh came back covered in blood and smelling like death and said he slept in an elk. What kind of shit is that? Post-vodka shots shit right there. That's some soaked rum apple Danish gummy bears shit." Mike snorts, a small smile on his face. "He was cold and shaking. He told me not to tell his parents or sisters so I threw the clothes away while he showered. Didn't seem very real, ya know?"

Mike crosses his arms. "Why?"

"He's been weird." Chris answers.

"Yeah he has." Mike sighs. "Look, bro, about Josh and I. I'm sorry. I know it was a low blow. But I'm glad we can still talk like civilized dudes about stuff."

"Me too." Chris says and he means it. Chris explains a formula to a problem Mike's working on before he gets ready to leave. Mike grabs his wrist, looking unsure and Chris wants to say worried but he's not good at reading anyone besides Josh.

"If something did happen," Mike gazes down at his homework. "Will you tell me?"

"Yeah, bro." Chris says, patting Mike on the shoulder. The other releases his wrist with a smile before turning back to his homework. Chris heads out of the library, weaving through groups of kids standing along the entrance. He stops in front of Marion's memorial. The flowers in plastic cups are dying, candles unlit and Marion's smiling face stares up at Chris with lost knowing.

This day is starting to feel a lot like one of his bad days. He should've stayed home. Chris finds Sam standing outside his locker, Matt beside her. Matt notices him first, smiling widely in greeting. There's a Manila folder tucked under his arm. He waves it in the air.

"Homework."

"Josh's homework." Sam adds on. "We did most of it. Emily helped, of course. But you know he'd rather look it over himself."

Matt nods in agreement. "How has he been? Hannah said he's been sick."

"I haven't seen him." Chris admits honestly.

Sam shoots him a look but doesn't comment further. Instead she adjusts the tote strap on her shoulder. Matt shakes his head sullenly. He checks his phone for the time.

"We should go see him. I'll talk to Em about it. She's been worried. Even if she doesn't show it." Matt tells him.

Chris nods. "How is everything?"

"Yeah," Sam adds on. "How's practice and the team? Will there be a team in the spring?"

Matt shrugs. "We're just kinda busy with football. Coach Wilson said I'm pretty much guaranteed as Ace in the spring. Kinda sucks though."

He stares down at his shoes, clutching the ends of his varsity jacket with a shaky hand. Chris places a hand on his arm and gives it a reassuring squeeze.

"I have very big shoes to fill." Matt forces out a laugh.

"Let's just hope we make it that far." Sam snorts. "Bears running rampant, ok. Rampant!"

"Ain't got nothin' on me." Matt jokes. "Our main focus should be surviving prom."

Sam pales. "Fuck. I have to plan. Did you ask Em?"

Matt blushes. "Um, no. Jess kinda beat me to it. Girls work really fast ok? Really fast. I considered asking Ash because we're buds."

"You should." Chris supplies helpfully. "I'm sure she'd go with you. You're pretty enough."

"Or maybe Mr. President will sweep you away first." Sam winks and Matt's cheeks darken a deeper shade. He takes a wobbly step back, raising a hand and he's gone, scampering away like an embarrassed child. Chris is glad that all of their burdens, all of their problems are normal, normal teenage problems.

Sam turns to Chris, a hesitant smile on her face. "Something's wrong with Josh."

"I know." Chris admits.

"He tried to bite Beth." Sam tells him. "He tried to bite her when she went to check on him."

Chris tenses up, dragging his eyes to meet hers. He adjusts his glasses, painfully aware that she's staring at the blossoming bruise peaking out from his collar. Sam reaches out to touch it but stops halfway, hand curling back to her chest.

"Chris," Sam swallows. "What is going on?"

"I don't know." Chris says helplessly. "I don't know, Sam."

"Han said he hasn't been the same since the mountain."

Chris stares down at the folder underneath his arm. He tugs it out, smoothing a hand over the cream surface. "Somethings happening to him. It's not good."

"What do we do?"

"I need to talk to him." Chris looks back at her. "I need to talk to him."

Sam searches his face. "You're scared."

He is. He's scared that he'll be next, that one of them will be next because Josh won't be able to stop. Whatever it is. He has some control over. Josh was able to stop, was able to pull himself away but only after doing damage. Chris doesn't know if it's going to be enough and he's scared, so scared that he keeps his window locked, keeps his door locked and sits in his closet most nights when the video games do nothing to curb his frantic mind.

He doesn't go to see Josh. The days grow darker.

It's two teens that find Miss Peterson, two teens stumbling around deep in the woods to get a moment alone, a moment of blissful peace. Ashley is one of them, stumbling through his door too early in the morning with his dad tiredly standing behind her. She's crying, crying so loud and the noise rocks Chris to his core because he knows, knows without her even telling him.

Chris sits with Ashley, her hand folded in his. She stares absently ahead of her, gaze vacant and unseeing. There are tear streaks running along the soft skin of her cheeks, eyeliner smeared like a bruise. They sit in his closet until Chris' legs go numb and the world feels like it's on fire.

"Felx is moving." Ashley tells him. "Their parents are taking them away."

"I'm sorry, Ash."

Ashley squeezes his hand hard. "I... I.. I've been in those woods a thousand times. The most I've seen is a rabbit caught in the teeth of a fox. That's the most I've seen, Chris. A dead rabbit."

She wheezes. "They're taking Felx away and it's my fault. I've been in those woods before... how.. how was I supposed to know?"

Ashley hiccups, shoulders shaking as quiet tremors rack through her small frame. Chris pulls her to him, wrapping arms tight around her. Ashley sobs into his shirt, fists wrinkling the fabric. It's a broken, ugly sound. One Chris never wants to hear again.

But he's forced to. For the next couple of days until Ashley's parents come for her, so pitiful and distraught that Chris wonders where this love was before Ashley stumbled upon the mangled remains of their teacher. His dad stands on the stairs through it all, watching Chris stand between Ashley and her parents, who are so grateful it wasn't their daughter, so grateful that she's alive even if she was 'built wrong'.

But Felx was leaving, the town was concerned. They couldn't shut down the woods but the mayor figured it'd be best if a curfew was in place. Chris tries not to think about how quiet the school is that following Monday, how two of his teachers had to step out because their voices kept breaking. He had seen Sasha, the Russian hotel manager, leaving the school with a small box labeled 'Peterson'. Chris watched him cry in the front seat of his BMW.

The news marks it as another bear attack, a contractor speaking out about how recent building in the north has been pushing animals from their homes. Devil's Kettle rarely saw bears. But it wasn't a bear. Hushed whispers filled the halls of the school, quiet horrible stories about how they could only identify her remains from dental records.

Chris sees Josh in the hallway the next day at school. He sees him and his shoulder aches painfully because Josh sees him too. Josh sees him, eyes lingering on Chris' shoulder and he's taking shaky steps back until he's turning and walking away, posture slouched. Chris goes after him, pushing through students and an irritated teacher until he's following Josh in the direction of the art room. The distance between them speaks volumes, Josh's hurried steps ringing in Chris' ears like a warning sign.

Chris has to run to catch him, has to actually put more effort than he's used to and Chris is pretty sure the only reason he's able to actually catch Josh is because Josh nearly falls into another kid in his haste. The kid moves around them with a frown, Chris' hand on Josh's elbow.

"Josh." Chris turns the other to face him. His insides are screaming, screaming to run because all he can see is a drained, absent stare. Josh's hair is shortest he's ever seen it, sides buzzed close to the scalp, healing red scars carefully concealed behind hair. His left eye seems discolored, glossy and dazed. It focuses on Chris in way that makes his skin crawl. His eyes are sullen, purple bags staining underneath. Skin pale and gray, littered with dark blackened veins. Josh jerks his arm away, taking a step back.

"What, Chris?"

"You didn't text me back."

Josh looks up at him incredulously. "I'm pretty sure that's the least of our concerns right now. Look, Chris. I don't want to text you back. I don't want to talk to you. I'm just here for my assignments and then I'm going home. I can't be here."

"Why?"

"It's none of your business, man." Josh snaps, eyes narrowing. He moves to walk away but Chris grabs him again despite the raging terror wrapped along his stomach. He feels like vomiting but he sees Josh, sees how distraught and thin he looks and all Chris wants to do is fix it.

"You tried to bite a chunk out of my shoulder. Kinda think I deserve to know why."

"Must've been a dream, Cochise."

"Stop lying!" Chris shouts. Josh startles, eyes widening a fraction before they narrow dangerously into thin slits. Josh grips his wrists tightly, yanking Chris' hand from its hold with so much force Chris nearly cries out. Josh's hand shakes against him, nostrils flared and Josh squeezes his eyes shut, exhaling sharply. He slowly releases Chris' hand.

"Please, Chris. Just." Josh breathes, clutching the strap of his book bag tightly. "I have to go."

Chris watches him leave, frozen in place, sweat beading along his forehead as he tries to breathe. He peers down at his hand, pushing the sleeve of his sweater up. Blackened purple stares back up at him, breaking around reddened, throbbing skin.

Chris' back hits the wall, legs failing and he slumps to the floor, shaking. His lungs won't work, throat burning and all he can feel is intense heat spreading through him like a sore. He can't feel his arms, can't feel his legs, can't focus. Colors spot in front of his eyes so he closes them, trying to remember numbers, trying to count but all he can feel is heat and pin needles pressing against him.

He wants to run, to move but he can't, he can't, he can't. What would his mom do? What would she do? He has to count, he has to count. Where is he? He's at school. He can count. What's a number? Which number?

3. 2. 1.

1. 2. 3.

Those are numbers, his numbers. He has to say those numbers. His numbers. Those are his numbers. Chris tries to focus on breathing, tries to open his eyes but he can't open them. There's a hand on him, it's so cold, so cold and boney. It's touching him. Stop touching him. He tries to count. There's a voice somewhere. It's all muffled and low and it's counting. Those are his numbers. His numbers.

"1, 2, 3."

"3, 2, 1."

Chris breathes shakily and it feels like lava, feels like someone has poured a pot of coal inside of him and watched it simmer.

"T-t-three." Chris grits out.

"Two." Deep breath. Chris mimics it. His chest swells, he exhales. The voice sounds clearer, deeper and slow. It's counting his numbers, it's telling him to breathe. The hand on him is gone. He can breathe. Chris inhales when the voice tells him to. He counts when it says to. Chris realizes he's crying, nose stuffy, but he can breathe, he has numbers.

"3, 2, 1. 1, 2, 3." Chris sighs, eyes still closed and he's so tired. He's so tired and he wants his mom. He wants his friends to be okay, he wants Josh to be okay. They all had to go to prom.

"Chris? You with me?" It sounds like Emily but it's not the voice, not the voice that knows his numbers. Chris forces himself to nod, eyes still closed.

"Is he okay?" That's Jess.

"Where did Josh go? He was just here." Hannah.

"Should we get him to the nurse?" Jess again.

"Chris, what do we do?" Beth.

"Just let him breathe." Emily.

Chris breathes and his eyes open, staring intently at the tops of his knees. He can see every line through denim, every tiny form of fabric. He's useless. How is supposed to help Josh? What does he do when he's so weak?

"Hey. You with me?"

Chris nods slowly, looking up at Emily whose crouched beside him, eyebrows perfect and riddled with worry. The rest of her face remains stoic. She reaches a hand out to him but stops short of touching him. Chris nods again and she does touch him.

"Josh was here. He left. You okay?"

Josh. Josh. Josh was the voice.

"Something's wrong with Josh." Chris whispers. Emily turns to Beth, who in turn looks at Hannah. Hannah is biting her cuticle, eyes teary and afraid and she shrugs helplessly. Chris wants to help, wants to help them, wants to help their brother. Reality feels bitter and cruel and it all looks the same.

Chris leaves early with a pointed look from the school nurse when he declines calling his dad. He didn't want to be bothersome and also just didn't want to talk to his dad about it. Chris drives home, mind distracted and jumbled and he sits in the driveway until he finally managed to make his limbs work.

Chris ices his wrist, sitting on the kitchen counter. He doesn't think about anything. His dad arrives shortly after he does, taking one glance at Chris on the counter before he's frowning with pursed lips. Chris watches him hang up his coat, sliding a scarf from around his neck. He considers running.

"What happened?" His dad gestures to the ice.

"Slipped." Chris lies smoothly.

"And that?" His dad points to the bandage on his shoulder. Chris tugs his shirt over to cover it.

"Ran into the door."

His dad slams the scarf down on the table, jaw locked, teeth grinding together. Chris tenses up, watching him warily.

"Damn it, Chris." His dad sighs tiredly. "What is going on with you?"

"Nothing." Chris answers.

"Stop lying! You're lying. Actually lying to my face. Is Josh... Is someone hurting you?" His dad inquires, sounding desperate and concerned.

"No." Chris huffs impatiently. "Can we not talk about this?"

"I'm your father, Christopher. Not your friend. I want to talk about this now."

Chris grits his teeth, fighting a frown. He looks away from the older Pilgrim, eyes locking on a random tile in the floor. A pair of loafers step into his line of vision, a hand on his shoulder easing him back and Chris sighs heavily.

"Chris. Talk to me."

There was nothing to talk about. Nothing his dad would understand because he never understands anything. His dad doesn't believe in therapy because Chris' mom died, because she killed herself in the hall bathroom after sending Chris to the store. But therapy didn't fail her. Chris did. He should've been home, should've stayed but she was getting better, she was picking up her hobbies again, she was taking the medication, she was fine, she was fine.

Chris shakes his head, tears stinging his eyes. She was fine. Josh was fine. But this is different, this entire fucked up situation was different and it feels like it's all going to end the same way. Chris standing at another funeral, feeling hollow and empty and he won't be able to cry because the lifeless body in the coffin will turn to him and say 'you can't because you failed'.

"Chris?"

Chris shakes his head again. "I just need to go to sleep, dad."

His dad nods, wrapping his thin arms around Chris. He smooths a hand over his son's hair, making soft hushing noises. Chris realizes he's crying, glasses pressed painfully against his face but he buries his face into the other's shoulder anyway, broken sobs escaping his lips. He's exhausted and tired and he must fall asleep against his dad because he wakes up in his bed, wrapped up in a blanket and quilt, glasses absent from his face.

The crack in the window whistles as wind breaks through. It's easy to close his eyes back, so easy to slip back to the sweet feeling of sleep but his bed shifts and his eyes snap open. Arms wrap around his torso, squeezing softly as a head presses into his spine. Chris stills, painfully aware of how hard his heart beats against his chest. His room feels cold, snow falling from the ceiling.

Chris shivers, teeth chattering loudly, white fog collecting in front of him. It's cold. The moon shines through his window, bathing it in a soft light. The walls have shifted into branches, empty silence flooding the room and the snow packs along the floor.

Chris tries to move but he's paralyzed. The arms around him are tight, tight and chilled bone and the body moves behind him. He's rolled onto his back, staring up into darkness but he can see long arms, stark white and dead. A gleam of sharp teeth flashes before him.

"Josh." It's his voice but his mouth doesn't move, pinched tight in fear. The body leans forward, a milky grey iris peering out from the darkness. It rolls around lazily before locking on him. A deep rumble fills the room, rustic and throaty and he can smell wood and the forest and cold.

"Josh."

Chris snaps awake, body lurching forward, head colliding with someone else's and he groans, falling back. He feels dizzy, rubbing the sore spot on his forehead. There's a hand on his face, cold and smooth as it shoos his hand away. Chris sighs. It feels nice considering how warm he feels.

"Josh." Chris breathes and the hand stills before resuming its slow movements. He opens his eyes. Josh is sitting on the edge of the bed, in a dark hoodie, eyes downcast. He moves his hand away but Chris grabs it, holding it tightly. Josh cracks a smile.

"I wanted to check on you." He says softly. "You woke up pretty fast."

"I had a dream."

"'bout me?" Chris nods.

Josh gives a small shrug, staring down at their locked hands. He looks back at Chris.

"Maybe this is a dream too."

"What happened on the mountain?"

Josh turns away from him. "Pretend it's a dream and I'll tell you."

"Okay."

"There are mines that run underneath my mountain," Josh starts, not looking at him. "Mines filled with a lot of fucked up things. Did you know? No... Why would you? You never came. Guess I still feel kinda bitter about that."

"I'm not doing to well, Chris. It's hard to fight something in your mind. Especially when it makes everything feel pointless and dull. But I guess," Josh chuckles softly. "I'm still holding on. It's very insistent. It's hard and I'm tired, Cochise. So, so tired."

"Josh-"

"Shhh just a dream. Remember?" Josh turns to him. "Just a dream. It's not even a nightmare and here I am... Can I kiss you?"

"Yeah." Chris sighs and it must be because he's half asleep, and maybe this is a dream, that he doesn't feel as afraid as he had before. Josh keeps holding his hand, the other coming up to cup Chris' chin and he hovers over him.

"I like you a lot, bro. It's hard," Josh admits. "To like you so much because it makes my self control really, really bad."

"Josh, let me help you."

"You can't." Josh whispers. "But you can let me kiss you. Please. Please just lemme kiss you."

Chris sits up, grasping Josh's arm, and he touches his face, feeling how cold and stiff the skin is. Josh leans into the touch, eyes slipping closed. His best friend is sitting beside him, fading away, fading into something awful and evil and yet Chris' heart swells with some warm feeling that makes him uneasy.

"Do you think I'm a monster?"

Chris isn't sure what to say, what he can say when it's all here, all laid out and nasty and awful and they found Peterson's body is pieces. Chris shakes his head. Josh's mouth twitches in the corners.

"Chris, I'm not going to make it to prom."

"You promised, asshole." Chris bites out. "I picked out colors and everything."

Josh giggles. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah."

"At least I didn't kill myself this time."

Chris squeezes his hand. "Shut up, dick."

"Close your eyes. Don't open them until tomorrow."

"Josh-"

"Promise me, bro."

"Okay. Okay."

Josh leans forward, so he does as well, eyes closed, warming Josh's cold skin with his hands and Chris wants to cry when he kisses Josh because it doesn't feel like him, doesn't taste like him. There are no cigarettes or mangoes or big red or mint, there's only melted ice and cold.

Josh pushes him down, grasping the front of his shirt tightly.

"Don't forget your promise, Cochise." He whispers pulling away. Chris tries to reach for his hand but all he finds is air, air and the sound of the window being pushed open. He made a promise. He made a promise. It's the only comfort Chris is able to find, tears slipping through his eyelids and he bites back a sob because it's a dream, this all has to be a long, awful dream. He'll wake up.

He'll wake up and Josh won't know about his crush, will remain the same lovable asshole he's known for so long. Marion will still be alive, Peterson will move away with Sasha. Ashley won't be caught by her parents. Sam won't ask Beth to prom yet. Hannah will remain smiling and youthful and beautiful.

Chris will wake up. Things will be back to normal. He'll go with Josh to the mountain, he'll tell him he likes him. Their problems won't be filled with death and despair and Josh will be okay.

Chris wakes up. His room is the same. It's warm and toasty and some of his blankets are on the floor. There is no snow, no absence of light, only sun, only warmth. A knock comes to his window and Chris forces himself out of bed, feeling a lot like molasses. He's disappointed when it's not Josh. Sam is peering inside, hair up in a messy ponytail and she looks dressed for the winter. Chris opens the window.

"Road trip. You and me."

Chris frowns. "Where?"

"Mt. Washington."

Chris wishes it had been a dream, had been something other than what he's being forced to deal with but Sam is staring at him with determination and fire and as if she knows what's wrong with Josh Washington. Sam dangles a pair of keys in her left hand.

"Good thing my parents are stoned hippies who believe in hell and demons cause I got their blessing and a credit card and a tank full of gas."

"What do you know?" Chris swallows.

"That you need to get dressed and get ready for a long ass trip because Alberta is far. Good thing we went on that middle school trip to Mexico because definitely would not have thought I needed a passport before then."

Chris stares at her like she's grown three heads and maybe she has because this is all very sudden and so painfully unlike Sam it's ridiculous. Sam's face softens.

"He's my best friend too."

"Okay."

Chris hurries to brush his teeth.

Chapter Text

August was a social child. He was taller than most of his friends, built bigger than most of them. He was loud and talkative and a bundle of energy. He'd always thought his child would be the same, be the same bright pain in the ass that he was.

Margot laughed when he had told her that. She said their son would be a simmering star, would be something different than both of them. He wouldn't be too loud, wouldn't be too sad, he'd be right. Their happy medium.

He remembers when Chris was first born, small and wrinkled with a weak grip but it was his son, his boy, his one and only. Margot had cried a lot when the doctors finally let her hold him, cried and held onto Chris as if he were the most precious thing in the world. August remembers that day perfectly clear, remembers how he cried in the hospital bathroom because he was a dad.

Margot was right. Chris was their happy medium. He was different. Quiet and shy but he spoke confidently and carefully about things that interested him. It changed once he met Josh Washington. Chris had literally collided into Josh at the grocery store, which resulted in trembling bottom lips and a shaky hand helping another equally shaky one up. August would almost say it was love at first sight, Margot certainly had and she loved Josh, loved him hard like she loved Chris.

It was probably because Margot knew sickness, she knew depression and the voices in her head seemed to stop once they finally got a therapist who actually listened. She saw it in someone so small, so tiny and she coddled Josh as if he was her own. Chris didn't understand Josh's illness but Margot would explain the mood swings, the 'bad days' to where Chris would understand and he'd nod and say he'd be more considerate and helpful because he loved Josh. Josh was his friend.

August remembers Saturday's spent with the four of them, huddled on the couch, wrapped up in quilts and crumbs from popcorn. There would be so much laughter, laughter and giggles and tickle fights and Margot would turn to him and smile and whisper 'thank you' as if he made it all possible.

But August never did anything. It was always her. He'd sat on the sidelines as he always had, sat and waited while his wife crushed his hand and pushed their crying boy out of her frail body. He'd sat and waited while they lowered her lifeless body below the earth, Chris beside him stone faced and small, so very, very small.

August made mistakes. He spent too much time sitting on the couch in the living room, staring at static and his reflection with a bottle pressed to his lips. He'd hear the front door open and close but he'd never look, stopped looking after each time it wouldn't be Margot walking through with her brilliant smile and dark hair, it would be Chris, his son, his boy, his one and only and he reminded him of her so much. Their happy medium.

The happy medium he wished was his wife and one day he drinks a bit too much, thinks a bit too hard and all he can feel is pain and anger and the cold feeling of how his wife seemed to be getting better when she decided to die. He drinks too much and Chris is in the kitchen fixing a peanut butter sandwich. August remembers because it's all they had, all Chris managed to scrape up to get.

August can still see the hesitance on Chris' face, the hesitance that slowly morphs into a dark fear and how he tried to fight August, tried to talk but he can't. He can't. Chris can't because August has his hands wrapped around his son's throat, his boy, their happy medium. August doesn't remember much after that but he had woken up on the floor in the kitchen beside a pan and Chris didn't come home for a while.

He's made mistakes. Ones he'll never be forgiven for because it's what he deserves and he accepts that. August is grateful to Josh. He's grateful to the Washington's for giving his son a place to turn to when their home had become a sour pit that smelt of earth and limestone. He'll never forget Josh refusing to let him see Chris, never forget the fire that burned and stung in his young eyes. August made mistakes.

When Chris closes off, when he locks himself in his room, August will press his ear against the door and hear his nightmares, his broken crying and sometimes he'll hear Josh whispering softly as Chris babbles and hiccups and sobs before the steady silence. He'll hear the window open and the wind rushing in and he knows Chris is asleep. August is aware he's the reason his son treads carefully, the reason his quiet, confident son is now just quiet. Margot would be disappointed. She would hate him. Chris was no longer their happy medium.

But August still loved his son.

Chris hadn't been home, his car was still sitting in the driveway but his room was empty and the school doesn't seem to know where he might've gone. Instead they inform him that his son's attendance hasn't been very good this year, all with a judging stern glaze that reminds him of Melinda Washington. August leaves and considers putting out a missing persons on him because this was new. Chris wasn't one to leave notes, but he'd make sure August always knew where he'd be.

August ends up outside the Washington house, recognizing Josh's E30 parked out front.

Chris didn't talk about Josh to him anymore, not since he didn't take that end of summer trip, and things had been much simpler then because Chris still talked to him, still joked and sat on the couch with him. Now he could barely get a word without Chris shutting down. Something was happening with his son. He knows it's related to Josh.

August parks behind Josh's car, noticing the lack of other vehicles in the driveway. He wonders if skipping school is a new past time. It takes a while for the door to be answered, August only needs to ring the doorbell once and knock twice before Josh is answering with tired, narrowed eyes.

He fixes a harsh gaze on August, resting heavily against the door. It was interesting, seeing how far they had come. From Josh bouncing into their house without invitation to him climbing through windows and they hadn't been the same since Margot died, hadn't been the same since August put hands on Chris.

Josh was standing before him now, looking ragged and raw and deathly pale with that same fire in him.

August clears his throat. "Is Chris with you? He hasn't been home."

"No." Josh says curtly.

"Look, Josh-"

"He's not here. I haven't seen him."

August frowns. He didn't know much about their relationship recently because Chris didn't really talk to him about anything these days but he knows Chris snuck out the house the other day and came back scared with bruises. August hadn't seen Chris cry in a while, at least not to him, yet his son had sat on the kitchen counter and sobbed into his shoulder until he exhausted himself. August sighs heavily. He wets his lips.

"Josh, did something happen? D-Did you do something to him?"

It's not the right thing to say, not the type of conversation he wants to have considering their history, considering his own history with Chris. Josh straightens immediately, eyes narrow, teeth clenched and the only color that comes to his face is a darkened shade of purple.

"Are you fucking kidding me?"

"Josh-"

"He's not here, okay?! And if he was I wouldn't let you see him." Josh hisses viciously. "I wouldn't let you anywhere near him even if you are his dad."

Josh is angry, furious even, but August can see guilt in his expression, guilt and pain. August holds himself firm, suddenly feeling panicked and alarmed. But Josh wouldn't do anything, would he? He wouldn't. He wouldn't because he knows what August did to Chris, saw what August did to Chris. He would never, he would never-

"Where is he? I need to know if he's okay."

"No, he's not okay. None of us are."

Josh moves to close the door but August wedges a foot in before he can. He can hear Josh's annoyed curse and the door is swinging open with such force it cracks against the wall.

"He's not here."

"I just want to see him, Josh."

"Yeah? Well take a number because he's not here."

It sounds like he's telling the truth but it also feels like he knows something. August steps back anyway. Josh sighs tiredly, smoothing a hand over his face.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Pilgrim. But I haven't talked to him."

An unsteady silence passes through them, Josh looking increasingly uncomfortable with each passing second, rubbing his arm as if distracted.

"Okay. Thanks, Josh."

August watches the younger man close the door with a worn expression. He walks back to his car, biting his nails nervously as he slips back inside. August tries Chris' cell but the call immediately goes to voicemail. He tries Ashley and the only answer is a dainty, polite voicemail.

"Hi, Ashley. This is Chris' dad. I was wondering if you've talked to him recently. Just let me know or have him call. Thanks." August sits in his car, staring at the Washington house. He starts up his car, noticing the curtain drawn back in one of the side rooms. It snaps closed. August drives off, easing onto an abandoned side road. He sits in idle, staring blankly at the empty road.

If Chris was with Josh and Josh left, they'd go together.

August doesn't know how long he waits but he calls in sick to work, feigning coughs and sneezes and vaguely feeling childish but this was important. Chris was important.

It's not until around noon that he notices someone walking. It's Josh. Josh in only a tank top and jeans, barefoot and he's scratching at his arms. He doesn't seem to notice August waiting, hidden behind trees, and continues down the main road. Chris wasn't with him.

August follows him, at a safe distance. It's almost 38 degrees outside yet Josh Washington is walking along the side of the road barefoot, staggering and weaving and it's as if he's drunk. He's still scratching at his arms and August can see blood, sliding along the skin.

He hurries to speed up, stopping right behind Josh who either doesn't notice or doesn't care. August can see him shaking, hears these tiny pathetic noises when he exits the car. It sounds like weak whistles, like weak clicks like a pen.

"Josh!"

The boy before him stills, fingers stiffly closing around fresh scars littering his arms. Josh doesn't turn to face him. August takes a step forward, then another and another. His boots crunch against fallen leaves and branches. Sharp chattering noises fills the air followed shortly by a sputtered choking noise.

August stops short of reaching Josh, slowly reaching a hand out. The noise stops. The air stills. Something shifts, shifts and curdles. August notices the scars on Josh's arm are gone, just thin trickles of blood remain.

"Josh, you'll catch a cold. Let me take you home. I'll call-"

"Please, p-p-please leave me alone." Josh whimpers and it sounds like he's dying, like he's afraid and crying. August touches his shoulder. The skin is hard and cold and it feels like bone. He shrinks back, heart pounding in his chest. Josh staggers forward, shoulders hunched forward, arms wrapped around his torso.

"H-Hurts. Please." It's Chris' voice. It's Chris' voice but he's not here. He's not here. It's just Josh. August backs up, clutching the front of his jacket with trembling hands. His legs lock up, the echo of bones snapping like a siren in his ear.

"I have to go home." Chris' voice again.

August doesn't understand. He doesn't understand how Josh sounds like Chris, how- oh. His mind clicks, clicks and everything feels foggy. August forces himself to swallow, to move because he needs to get home. Chris will eventually come home.

Josh rolls his shoulders back, neck twisting as his head cranes to look over his shoulder. The left corner of his mouth is bleeding, skin slowly tearing open and all August can see is teeth, teeth so sharp and there are so many. Josh whines, tears running down his unfocused eyes. It's a inhumane, piercing noise. One that forces August to move, to move and run but not before Josh's body snaps to face him, skin rippling as if someone slid another skeleton inside.

August is running, running back to the car and his hand barely manages to open the door. He squeezes inside, grasping the gear and he has to get home, he has to protect Chris. A hand curls over his and every hair on his body rises, dread pooling, terror settling against his mind and Josh is beside him, shaking and sobbing loudly. August tries to talk to him, tries to form words but all he can think about is how Chris will never know how sorry he is and how much he loves him. He'll never see him graduate or get married.

August sees it all. Sees Chris in his arms, tiny and blue eyed and giggling with a pacifier in his mouth. Sees Chris chasing after Margot and Juniper in the backyard. Sees Chris crying over a makeshift grave, Margot whispering softly to him. Sees Chris opening gifts on Christmas with a wide smile. Sees Chris on his fourteenth birthday in a waiting room, staring absently ahead as Beth and Hannah Washington sit beside him. Sees Chris hugging him. Sees Chris at Margot's funeral, unable to cry or move. Sees Chris at Josh's hospital bed, asleep with Josh staring down at him with tired eyes.

August sees Chris, hiding behind Josh with bruises around his neck, hands fisted in the back of Josh's shirt as Josh stands between them like a crater, like a gaping hole filled with fire and stakes.

They've come so far.

And the Josh beside him looks broken. Looks desolate and empty and hungry and August knows he won't survive this, but he hopes, he prays that Josh will and that Chris' hatred for him will help him to forgive Josh, that Josh will forgive himself. Because August can see.

Chris will be alone. Alone on that couch in that sour house. He will be alone. And August doesn't want that. He will never want that for his boy.

"I-I-I'm s-so.. I'm s-s-sorry." Josh sobs brokenly.

Chris will never know August is too.

Chapter Text

Chris snaps awake, knees hitting the underside of the dashboard, spine stiff as he curls up on the passenger seat, breathing unsteady. He's in a car, in a car with Sam, who is driving and she's waving a hand in front of his face. Chris exhales shakily, feeling fuzzy and disoriented and he doesn't remember the dream but his head hurts and he can hear the blood rushing through his veins.

"You okay?"

Chris forces himself to sit up, planting his feet on the floor. A wave of nausea hits him. Chris cups a hand over his mouth and he's gesturing to the door and Sam barely manages to swerve off to the side of the road before Chris is throwing the door open and vomiting. She rubs his back as he does, bent halfway out the car, throat burning, tears stinging his eyes and all he can feel is dread, dread and this tiny swell of fear.

Sam hands him a water bottle from the backseat when he's done and Chris rinses the sour taste out until his jaw hurts. Cars zoom by on the highway, rocking Sam's Honda with every fierce wind. Chris slumps down in his seat, thoughts trying to piece together.

"You're safe. You're in my car. I'm Sam, your friend. We're going to fix whatever's wrong with Josh and go to prom and graduate next year, ok?"

"Okay." Chris breathes. "Thank you."

"'s what I'm here for." Sam grins widely. She eases back onto the highway, the gravel from the shoulder crunching underneath the wheels and Chris always thought Canada would be maple trees and deer but it's populated with cities and structures and paved roads and maybe he should've paid more attention in history because he feels very ignorant that not everywhere looks like Devil's Kettle.

"Ready to talk?"

"Better now than later right?"

Sam nods. "So I went to the lodge this summer with The Washington's and Mike. We were all pretty wasted, especially Josh because he was pretty pissed at you. We ended up playing truth or dare but Josh said he wasn't drunk enough for that shit so he left to take a smoke break."

"Just... Josh didn't come back. He didn't come back for a while and none of us noticed until way later because I was pretty trashed and so was everyone else. Well we went looking for him that morning and we couldn't find him anywhere so eventually Melinda and Bob decided to head back to the lodge where there's a landline and Josh was there, asleep. Knocked out on the couch. Mike wouldn't really tell us anything. He only said Josh came back."

Chris bites his bottom lip. "Mike said Josh came back covered in blood. But Josh told him that he had slept in an elk."

Sam's eyes narrow, focused on the road and she sighs heavily. "He hasn't been the same since we got back. At first we thought it was his medication because the doctors have him on this new thing to see how he does but, Chris, this isn't that. I know it's not. This is different."

"I know." Chris considers telling her about how Josh stumbled out in front of his car, covered in blood and red chunks, how he dreams of Josh slicing his stomach open and swallowing down his intestines.

"There's an abandoned sanitarium on the mountain along with these old mines." Sam continues, "I did some digging and there was a collapse and some miners got trapped and the mines were closed down but there was a scandal about it because the owner knew the mines were shit but he still kept having them work."

"So the mines are real.."

Sam raises a questioning eyebrow, eyes locked on the road. Chris clears his throat. Sam frowns. "There are a lot of rumors about the mountain, bad rumors. According to articles, the miners ate one another. 30 of them were trapped but only 12 made it out. No one knows what happened to them."

"What? So Josh is becoming some cannibalizing miner?"

Sam rolls her eyes. "No, jackass."

"Josh said he saw things in the mines."

"It obviously wasn't anything good."

Chris huffs. "How do you know this anyway?"

"Google, bitch!"

Chris can see the mountain in the distance, clouded by thick grey clouds and the sun is gone, bleeding behind a large mass of darkness. Chris has never seen something so intimidating before, something so huge and dark.

They pass through a town on the way to the mountain, shops boarded up, out of business signs posted up high. Trash litters the empty roads, cracks in the pavement that sprout weeds and grass and Chris tries to look for signs of life.

"That's weird. The town wasn't nearly as empty last time." Sam comments. She sounds worried. A gas station remains lit up along the outskirts, parking lot empty aside from a beat up Volkswagen. Sam eases inside, clicking the gear into park beside one of the pumps.

"I need to pee." Sam mumbles staring at the shop. Chris stares at it too.

"I'll come with you."

Sam sends him a grateful smile. They exit the car, sticking close together as they wander up to the entrance. A lone man sits at the counter, old with deep brown skin and fine, dark wrinkles in his face. His eyes flicker up to them before shifting back down to whatever magazine he's reading.

Chris follows Sam to the bathroom and waits outside for her. He stares down at his shoes, hands in pockets, and tries to think. They drove far away from home to try and fix whatever's wrong with Josh Washington. Josh Washington, his best friend, his cannibalizing boyfriend. Nice.

Chris wipes at the corner of his eye with his knuckle, musing over what they'd possibly find up there. He doesn't know if he wants to but he does want Josh to be okay, to be safe and human. Chris slumps against the wall, sighing. He didn't care about prom and he wished he would've said something more meaningful to Josh when his best friend said he wasn't going to make it. Something besides a stupid joke about colors.

The door clicks open and Sam reappears with a grimace. She's rubbing sanitizer on her hands and wrists and Chris doesn't realize she's speaking until she places a hand on his shoulder. Chris focuses.

"You okay?"

"What if we find something bad?"

Sam forces a smile. "What if we do? I didn't come here fearless, Chris. I came to help my friend. You came here to. We can't think about that. I love Josh. You love Josh. We're scared, sure, but imagine how he feels. He's alone in this, Chris."

Chris sighs. "You're right. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. You're still here so it gives me courage to go through with this. For Josh." She holds out her pinky.

Chris curls his own around hers, feeling a bit more determined, a bit more steady and he wants to graduate with Josh a year and a half from now, wants to go to prom with him.

"For Josh."

Sam buys more water bottles while Chris fumbles with lighters, lighter fluid, matches, any fire related thing he can manage to afford. Sam sends him a questioning look when he comes to the counter.

"He's afraid of fire now. Maybe whatever's up there is too."

"Nice." Sam grins.

The older man behind the counter sets the magazine down and rises from his plastic chair in two fluid motions. He takes a glance at their items and turns a knowing gaze to them.

"Kinda young to be hunting monsters." The man smiles, beginning to scan a water bottle. "A bit inexperienced, I might add."

Sam looks at Chris. "Is that what's up there?"

The man raises an eyebrow at her, wrinkles smoothing into a crooked smile. He's missing a few teeth, a gleaming sliver of gold tucked in the corner of his mouth.

"That's what they say. A lotta people moved this fall after a family was found dead." He scans another water bottle.

"A family?" Chris speaks up.

The man nods. "Man, wife, their four year old. Found in pieces. People were saying a monster came down from the mountain."

Sam grabs Chris hand, squeezing painfully. "When exactly did this happen?"

"Late July." The man supplies helpfully. "That'll be $8.98, miss."

Sam fumbles with her purse, cheeks burning and she looks sick as she shakily hands him her parent's credit card. The man swipes it easily as if the conversation is just weather topics.

"Has that happened a lot?" Chris asks. He knows Sam won't.

The man shrugs, starting on the lighters. "The people around here have always been weary about the mountain. Said something evil lives up there. Something old and dead. No one goes up there. After the bodies were found, everyone left."

"You don't believe them?" Sam inquires.

"I do. But I'm not going to give up my shop, my home. I was raised in the shadow of Blackwood. I plan to die in it." The man smiles. "Take the lighters. Id recommend hair spray but I don't sell those."

Chris pockets the lighters and matches with a shaky nod. The man sits back in his chair, smiling softly. Sam collects the water bottles quietly. She stares at the plastic tops with a determined expression.

"What is it?" She asks.

"My people call it a wendigo." The man says, opening his magazine. "Something foul and evil."

"Why aren't you stopping us?" Chris asks.

"I've seen that look before." The man gestures to their faces. "It's been a while, but a man came through here looking for his grandfather and he had the same look. I don't know what happened to the man, but I hope he found what he was looking for. I hope you do too."

The walk back to the car is a slow one, snow crunching under their boots and Chris turns to look at the mountain hovering in the short distance. It gleams, shadowy and darkened and a fog sits atop of it.

"We'll have to park at the bottom. You can only get to the lodge with the cable car."

"Don't you need a key for that?"

"Beth gave it to me." Sam says, opening the driver's door. "She wanted to come, so did Hannah, but I need someone to keep an eye on Josh. And I was afraid.. I don't want anything to happen to them. That's why I asked if you'd come. We both have reasons to go up there."

"You knew I'd come?"

"I know you love him. Which is the same thing." Sam smiles, disappearing inside. Chris sputters, staring intently at the spot she stood in. His face feels warm. He climbs inside with a embarrassed expression. Chris had never thought about it before. He had a crush on Josh forever and love seemed a bit too broad a word to place.

"It's okay. You'll have plenty of time to consider what I said on the way home." Sam chuckles, cranking the car up and they're driving again. The road is long, long and winding and Chris' ears pop as the trees start to spread out sporadically until they're driving through forest and snow. He can make out the blurred outline of a gate in the distance, large stone walls creating a border around the land. The trees grow thick, densely packed and dark.

Sam parks in front of the gate, grasping different articles of clothes in the backseat. She wraps a scarf around her neck and slides into a warm looking jacket. Sam offers him a jacket but Chris merely shows her the four he's wearing and she laughs.

The gate is broken so Sam helps him climb over the crumbling stone walls with an amused expression because he can't properly grasp the edges of rock and he should've paid attention in climbing class because this shit is ridiculous. Sam, however, climbs the wall with smooth ease and precision and Chris considers punching her.

The air is still, no sounds of life or nature, just a somber silence that shakes Chris to the core. Sam grabs his hand. He squeezes back and they begin the ascent to the cable station. Chris expects to see squirrels or a bird or something but all he sees is snow, snow and trees. His fingers tighten around Sam's, skin stretched stiffly against the bones and it only seems to get colder the longer they walk.

The cable car station is a small structure, built like a tiny train station with snow capped benches and a wooden rail that sat adjacent to it. Sam tugs off a necklace hidden underneath her shirt. A bright gold key dangles at the end. Chris follows her inside the security room, taking in the various electronics and newspaper articles stapled to a dart board. Sam slots the key into a tiny hole and turns. A clicking noise fills the room, followed by the slow churn of gears shifting.

"Ready?"

"Yeah."

They wait for the cable car, huddled close together and Chris wraps one of his jackets around Sam because her teeth are chattering and she laughs again at how many jackets he's wearing. The cable car stops in front of them and they clamor inside, bumping shoulders and Chris focuses on Sam's weak smile because he doesn't want to look outside when they're up so high.

"Josh said you were afraid of heights."

"Perfectly reasonable fear."

"Suuuure." Sam giggles. "Let's talk about something. We probably won't have time to do anything else once we get up there."

"How are you and Beth?" Chris inquires. Sam blushes, lips twitching into a wide smile and he feels envious.

"We're great. Absolutely marvelous. She's great, Chris." Sam sighs happily. "I thought she might've been humoring me at first. With the dating thing but she brings me lunch at school and actually uses the front door sometimes so she can see my parents. It's nice. Having someone like you so much."

"Yeah."

Sam turns her warm smile to him. "Let's talk about Josh."

"What about him?"

"You finally get your childhood boytoy and this happens but you're still here, Chris. He won't be the same after this."

"I know." Chris says.

"Are you ready for the aftermath?"

Chris shrugs. "I have to be."

Josh would need him, would need someone to stick by him. Chris was afraid, afraid of Josh, afraid of this mountain and what dark secrets it holds but he also knows Josh is afraid, afraid and fading into nothing and Chris doesn't want to watch Josh disappear.

"I'm afraid we'll be too late." Chris admits. Josh had said he was getting tired, tired of whatever war was going on in his mind. Sam reaches over and touches his knee, giving it a small squeeze.

"We won't and you can tell him all your sappy feelings when we fix this."

"I don't even know what my feelings are. I just... want to not be scared." Of Josh, for Josh. Chris was tired of being scared to fall asleep, scared of falling asleep next to Josh.

"Me too." Sam says. "I'm scared for our friends."

Chris nods, sneaking a glance out the window. It's just trees and white and his breath fogs a bit of the window. He thinks of Josh and it's unfair how when they almost get it right, when the reality where Chris confesses and Josh accepts, Josh becomes a monster. It wasn't fair that when Josh finally starts looking at Chris the same way Chris looks at him, Josh is dying. What kind of bullshit is that.

"I don't know if I love him." Chris says suddenly and he looks at Sam, who stares back at him intently. "I don't know but I know this shit sucks and I want to hold his hand and tell him about how much of a jackass he is."

Sam smiles. The cable car rocks to a stop and they're here. Near the lodge, on the mountain, to find out how to fix Josh Washington. Josh Washington, his boyfriend, his best friend. Chris curls his hand into a fist, lightly touching the bite on his shoulder. His mind burns with images of Josh staring at him from outside his car, the Josh he doesn't recognize with blood on his face and furious guilt in his eyes. He thinks of Josh climbing through his window when Chris can't sleep, thinks of Josh wrapping arms around him and kissing him and whispering how everything will be okay and they'll be okay.

But Josh didn't say that last night. He said he was growing tired. Josh was giving up. Which meant Chris was going to lose him. He was going to lose Josh again and he just got him.

"I want to save him."

Sam pulls the cable door open. The bitter wind rushes inside and she looks back at him.

"Then let's go."

Chapter Text

Sometimes Chris forgets that the Washington's are rich and maybe calling Blackwood, Mt. Washington, would've reminded him of the fact but it doesn't. Chris would argue he has more pressing issues at him to remember such a small detail but standing in the magnificent, expansive inside of the Washington lodge, Chris is not so eloquently tripping balls and remembering how painfully middle class he is.

"This is ridiculous." Chris bitches.

"Shut up. People call us gold diggers." Sam tells him, setting her bag down on one of the couches. Chris gapes at her, hands in his pockets because he's sure most of this shit cost more than he's worth.

"Us?!"

"You and Josh Washington. Me and Beth Washington. We are gold diggers. The Robin to their Bruce Wayne."

"But.. I don't care about the money." Chris whines and he feels childish and a bit panicky because he is in fact dating Josh Washington, resident murderer. What was he supposed to get him for Christmas? For his birthday? Josh had always been polite about his gifts and even cherished most of them but shit.

"Shit."

"He still likes you even though you're poor and I'm glad that you're thinking of the future." Sam smiles. "Because that means you think he'll have one."

"He will." Chris agrees. They had travelled this far without much of plan. But Chris felt hope somewhere underneath this anxiety he holds.

"I have a map. Crudely drawn courtesy of Hantaro." Sam gestures to the sheet of paper she's unfolding. "The mines pretty much run all under this place but there's an old entrance nearby."

"Let's find some hair spray first."

"Good call, sir." Sam smirks.

They raid Hannah's bathroom, stumbling through piles of shampoo and conditioner until finding the tiniest bottle of hairspray Chris has ever seen in his life. Chris holds it up for Sam to see, earning an amused expression before she disappears out the room. Chris trails behind her until they reach another bathroom that's essential the embodiment of organized chaos. She finds a long tin of hairspray labeled 'Macho Hold'. It takes a moment for it to click. Sam's muffled laughter overtakes Chris' own.

"Gonna hold this against him for the rest of his life."

Sam hands him the hair spray. "Let's go make sure he'll have one."

Chris keeps two water bottles deep in his pockets just in case and organized the lighters to where he can whip one out easily. Chris gives Sam a couple just in case. She's wearing a helmet LED light. Sam hands him a flashlight.

"We stick together. Two sets of eyes understand?"

Chris nods. They stand in the lodge living room, staring at one another. Chris watches the nervous smile appear on Sam's face.

"You okay?"

Sam nods. "Just scared, Chris."

Chris is too, even if he doesn't say it. He realizes he might not make it back to Devil's Kettle if whatever's waiting for them is more than they can handle. It probably is. But Sam is staring back at him with this expression that suggests she might bolt if he does. Chris has to stay firm in his own conviction, otherwise they'll crumble. They'll crumble before they even try.

Josh needs help.

This is the closest they'll get to help. Chris pockets the flashlight, holds his hand out to Sam and she grabs it with a relieved sigh. Maybe she thought he'd change his mind despite how far they had come. But Chris has already let Josh down and look what happened with that, he's not going to leave Sam to the same thing or worse.

They follow the path, using Hannah's handwritten map to figure out which direction to go. The trees are tall here, tall and menacing enclosed in thick shadows and snow and Chris can't see through them. It feels like something is watching them. Chris figures he's just panicky and nervous but Sam's head has turned a total of five times in the past two minutes.

"You feel it to?" Chris asks softly.

"Yes."

"We haven't even walked that far."

Sam swears softly and grips his hand tighter. A flash of fire breaks through the trees not to far from where they are, following a piercing screech. Chris freezes, knees locking and he recognizes that noise, that sound.

"What was that?"

Chris hardly hears her because all he's seeing is Josh standing in front of his car covered in blood. Chris lets out an involuntary whimper. Sam tenses up beside him, releasing his hand and she's moving to stand in front of him, eyes fierce and bright.

"Hey. Hey. Chris, I know you're scared but we can't back out. We can't, okay? We have to figure this out and then we get to go home, we get to see Beth and Josh. Chris?"

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Chris sighs, rubbing his hands together. Sam places a hand on his shaking arm.

"It's okay."

Sam waits patiently until Chris is ready to move again and it seems like whatever's in the forest has shifted its gaze elsewhere. Chris wonders who is out here with them and the monsters. There was a fire in the distance before it cut short. Someone was here.

Sam leads, crinkling the map in her hands as she searches the surrounding area. Chris notices a boarded up mine entrance with a large hole in the center. He nudges her and she looks up, smiling widely in excitement.

A branch snaps from somewhere behind them. Chris looks over his shoulder. The blood in his veins runs cold, fear flooding every nerve and he sees it. It's a thin creature, thin with grey, rotting skin. The bones in its faced are crushed back, white eyes bulging from the sockets as its lips curl back, sharpened, broken teeth ripping against the skin.

Sam is still beside him, facing forward and Chris can feel her trembling beside him. Chris doesn't move, neither does she but she squeezes his hand tightly.

It doesn't move. Neither do they.

It places one long arm forward, thin and boney, snuffling at the air with a high clicking noise. Milky white eyes dart back and forth unseeing and it's jaw locks up, the clicking growing louder and louder. Chris shifts a foot and it's eyes lock on him, widening impossibly large and it screams, skittering towards them.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" Chris urges Sam forward and she runs. They run towards the hole, snow caking against the soles of their shoes and it feels so far away. Chris chances a glance back and it's in the trees, diving for them, diving for Sam. Chris shoves her hard to the side, arm outstretched. Sam hits the ground hard, eyes wide and frightened and she stares at Chris in horror. Chris is half turned, half aware that he's right in the line of its projection and he doesn't see his life flash before his eyes but he does see his mother's warm smile before he sees fire.

Chris ends up on his back, arm sliced up in pain and he bites down a yell. His skin feels warm, the sleeve of his coat clings to him. Chris rolls over onto his side, pain flaring up in his right arm and he does groan this time. A hand is on him, large and clothed and it's pulling at him so he goes, staggering, unsteady.

Chris blindly reaches for Sam and her hand finds him, giving a reassuring squeeze. There's a voice talking over his head to Sam as they walk. It's deep, older and kinda sounds like his dad minus the drawl.

"Keep quiet. Follow me."

Chris forces himself to nod and they creep silently through the night, eyes fixed on every slight shift in the shadows. The man leading them is hefty, built like a train and he's stocked with various weapons and a flamethrower. Chris wonders why he's even bothering to help them. Chris holds his arm close to him, unable to see the full extent of damage through the dark pools of blood.

The man leads through the woods until a small stretch of land appears. In the distance an abandoned structure sits, decrepit with age and weather. A wolf stands in wait. It sniffs the air twice before turning and hurrying back to the building.

Sam holds him close to her. Colors are starting to do this vision and he might be losing more blood than he's supposed to. Chris stumbles forward, nearly dragging Sam with him and he hits the snow silently. She's calling his name. The snow feels nice, feels warm and soft and it smells like how Josh tasted.

Chris wonders what Josh is doing, if he's killed anyone else, if he's still Josh. Chris hopes he is, hopes this isn't for nothing and he's scared he'll die on this mountain without anything to show for it.

"Think about something nicer, sweetheart."

Chris opens his eyes. He's on his back, surrounded by flowers. The sun warms his skin, the breeze cool and nice. Chris sighs, eyes slipping closed. This is a dream. Hair brushes against his face, the familiar waft of nectar and honey suckles filling his nose. Chris smiles.

"You don't sleep enough, my cheery boy."

"No bedtime." Chris tells her.

His mother clicks her tongue. "I'll have to talk with your father about this."

There's a smile in her voice and it fills Chris up with warmth and longing and he tries to open his eyes. She shushes him quietly. Gentle fingers dance along his face, drops of wetness dripping down onto him.

"I'm sorry for the harm I've caused you."

"Mom-"

"Shh listen, sweetheart. I'm sorry and I love you but you can't stay here."

"Why not?" It was so nice here. So nice to be with her again. The sound of a branch snapping echoes around them. His mother's hands tighten against his face. She sighs sadly. Her skin turns cold, crumbling as she touches him. Chris feels her fading away. He forces his eyes open.

Chris is alone, the flowers are dead. Grey clouds the sky, rain beginning to fall. He can't feel it. Chris sits up slowly. His right arm lays limp beside him. A shadow stands before him, staring down curiously. It twitches, fading in and out of existence. A face forms in the center. It's nothing human.

It peers at Chris through hooded, silver eyes. Dark lines crease along its face like stone, absent of any distinguishing features aside from old carvings and a crooked, easy smile. Chris stares back. He does not feel afraid but something inside him says he should.

"Have you come to stop me?" It's an old voice. The sound reminds Chris of birds deep in the woods, pecking away at dying bark and trees snapping under the weight of snow. The shadow shifts, face still smiling and it sits across from him.

"What are you?" Chris finds himself asking.

It chuckles deeply, amused and it's a pleasant sound that reminds Chris of his grandfather. A slender black finger comes up to tap it's chin thoughtfully.

"Something old." It states simply.

The rain falls harder but it never touches them, just fades through their bodies. Chris realizes they're still on the mountain but there is no cable car here, no mines, only dying nature.

"You live in the mountain." Chris says.

The top of the shadow nods, face impassive but still smiling. The finger on its chin disappears into its body.

"You're what's talking to Josh."

It chitters happily. "Ah, such a smart boy. Your friend figured it out as well but.. it was too late. He is mine."

Chris bristles, frowning. It holds a hand up, shadowy and fluid and it smiles wider. Chris can see the shine of teeth.

"You cannot stop me, child. I've been playing this game for decades. He will return and he will succumb and I will devour his soul."

"Josh would-"

It clicks it's teeth, sharp and it's face disappears under the wide smile. Just teeth and fang, gnarled and vicious and an eternal blackness hidden underneath. Chris tries to move but he's frozen. The shadow hand caresses the side of his face gently.

"Did he tell you what you humans sound like?" It asks, mouth unmoving. "He's the first to have such a beautiful reaction, such beautiful sounds. But my, he is feisty. With my last body I had taken down thousands before it was destroyed but this one, oooh he fights. He has will. It excites me."

It tilts it's head. "I wonder if it's for you. If he thought of you. He even managed to spare the filth who followed us even though he's so, so very hungry. But there will be others. Your boy will die, child. He will die and there is nothing you can do about it."

Chris' heart plummets into his stomach and the hand on his face wraps around his neck tightly. The teeth disappear and the face returns to its usual impassive smiling.

"I'd kill you but my power is elsewhere. Imagine how sweet it'd be, the boy you love ripping you apart and feasting on your heart. It's what you humans call, romantic. He'd carry a piece of you into hell."

"I will stop you."

"Oh?" It chuckles darkly. "My boy. You're too far from home to stop me and I am infinite."

The shadow pulls away, growing longer as it stands. Lightning cracks against the sky, pouring rain surrounding them. The face disappears back into the shadow and it turns and dissolves into air. Chris stares numbly ahead.

A pair of arms wrap around his shoulders and all he can smell is Big Red and cinnamon and Chris feels like crying. A hand slides into his, the familiar friendship bracelet brushing against his skin.

"What do I do?" Chris asks.

"Move on." Josh quips and it sounds like he's smiling, the slow rasp of his voice fading and he gives Chris' hand a squeeze. Chris wants to say he can't, that he can't give up but he doesn't know what he's dealing with and everything is confusing and awful.

"I can't."

Chris can feel Josh's smile.

"Lead the way, Cochise."

Chris snaps awake, body bolting upright and he knocks into Sam, who's sitting beside him. They both groan in unison. Chris falls back down. He's on a cot, a warm blanket wrapped around him. A wolf sits curled up on the edge of his bed, giving Chris an annoyed expression before it settles back to sleep. Chris glances down at his arm. It's bandaged up tight and still together.

The man sits at a desk, polishing a gun with a dark cloth. He turns to them, cigar tucked into the corner of his mouth.

"Ah glad you could join us."

"Where are we?" Chris asks.

"The sanitarium." Sam answers. "Jack brought us here."

Chris wants to ask who, but his amazing observation skills put two and two together. Jack sets the gun down, slowly rising to his feet. He walks over to them, folding arms across his wide chest.

"You kids going to tell my why you're up here."

Sam looks at Chris. Chris looks at her.

"Our friend needs help."

Jack raises an eyebrow at them. "And where is the friend?"

"Minnesota." Chris supplies and Jack looks a bit cross eyed in his attempt to not laugh. Chris isn't amused. Sam clicks her teeth in annoyance, rising to her feet.

"Look, it's not-"

Jack cuts her off. "Why are you here then? On this mountain? It's dangerous."

"Something from the mountain came back with him." Chris tells him. Jack stills, slowly unfolding his arms. He frowns deeply, eyes searching Chris' face.

"Tell me."

Sam begins with Josh disappearing and how their friend said he came back with blood on him. Chris continues from there, telling Jack about the dreams he's had and how people have been going missing and found being ripped apart. He also brings up Josh appearing in front of his car and Josh biting him in the shoulder. Chris leaves out the part where Josh said he wasn't going to make it because he needs to hold onto the hope that they can help Josh.

"I had a dream I saw it."

Sam turns to him. "Saw what?"

"Whatever lives on the mountain. Whatever is holding Josh. He had said that he was going to kill me but his power was elsewhere. He said Josh was fighting him. But.. It's only a matter of time."

Jack stares at him thoughtfully. "How convenient that you have these dreams. I was beginning to wonder why the wendigo remained so restless. They've been hunting more, roaming more. It's hard to get a moments peace but now I know. Nixkamich is busy. He is no longer a threat here."

"Who?" Sam asks in exasperation.

"The one who is slowly but surely possessing your friend. You are right." Jack points at Chris. "It is only a matter of time."

"What do we do?"

"There's nothing you can do except to kill him."

Sam physically recoils, hand immediately grabbing Chris'. Chris squeezes back hard. No. No. No. That's bullshit.

"There has to be another way."

Jack shrugs, moving back to his desk. "Your friend is dangerous. He will kill again and again until he returns to the mountain. The Nixkamich is cruel in that way. He allows his prey to leave, to hope and let's it destroy everything around it until the will is broken. Your friend will come here but he will no longer be your friend."

"Fuck." Chris punches the cot. "Fuck, fuck, fuck. There has to be-"

Jack shakes his head sadly.

"What does that mean, Nixkamich?" Sam asks softly.

Jack gives her a humorless smile. "Grandfather."

Jack guides them back to the cable car, flamethrower ready but the walk is silent and Chris could feel them being watched, could feel the amused smile following after him. It filled him with rage.

"I'm sorry you came here for nothing." Jack says and he sounds genuine. "I'm sorry."

"How do we kill it?"

"With fire." Jack says and he closes the cable car door. He watches them begin the descent until he's only a speck standing in the distance. Chris cries on the way down, Sam does to but her sobs are silent, puffs of air. Chris checks his phone, cursing at the lack of cell service and this was a waste of fucking time.

Chris climbs the gate himself this time, Sam waiting on the other side with her phone pressed to her face. It's a satellite phone, Chris realizes.

"Yeah we're on the way back." Sam tells the person on the other line. "No. No, we don't have anything, Beth. I'm.. I'm so.." Sam's voice cracks and she blinks away more tears.

"I have to go." Sam says before quickly hanging up. She stares down at her shoes, wet from snow and she's not shaking this time. Chris wraps an arm around her. She hugs him tightly.

"What do we do? What do we do, Chris?"

"I don't know."

Sam releases a dry sob, trembling against him. Chris buries his face into the top of her head, fighting back his own tears. He tries to think, to organize his thoughts beyond this overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness. The Nixkamich came to him in a dream but why. How? Could spirits-

Chris gasps. Sam looks up at him tearily, confused.

"Does anyone else know?"

"What?"

"About Josh? Like Emily? Or Mike?"

Sam shakes her head. "No, why?"

"Josh is being possessed, Sam. By a spirit. A spirit, Sam!" Chris says. Sam stares at him for a moment before it clicks. Her mouth drops open in awe and she's fumbling with the satellite phone.

"Beth, is Josh at home?" Sam inquires quickly. "He is? Good, watch him. We will be home in like a day or two. Probably a day because Chris will be driving. I have to go. I'll tell you later."

Sam quickly hangs up. She scrolls through her cellphone before punching in a few numbers. Chris watches the smile split across her face and she beams at him.

"Em! It's Sam." Sam says shakily. "Yeah, my phones dead. No, wait. Em! Listen to me... I need a favor. This is going to sound crazy but can you look up how to exorcize a wendigo?"

Chapter Text

"You're cheating." Josh pouts.

Chris startles beside him, blinking furiously as he stumbles to remember getting here. He's in Josh's room, the familiar fan of the sun pouring through open windows. Chris looks around, edges of his vision blurring as his head rapidly takes in his surroundings. There's an old pack of Marlboro's sitting on the windowsill, movies stacked neatly inside the entertainment center. Organized clutter strewn about the metal desk in the corner.

He was in Josh's room. Where was he before that? Chris peers down at the controller in his lap, Josh's blanket bunched around his waist, fingers hovering over buttons. Josh sits beside him, expression worried but smiling, hair slightly mused. He looks fine. Fine. Why wouldn't he look fine? Chris stares at him.

"You okay, man?" Josh queries softly.

Chris leans forward, placing a kiss to Josh's lips. Soft, tasting like cinnamon. Josh stills before sighing softly, a hand coming to rest on Chris' shoulder. Chris watches the other's eyes slip closed, his own following shortly after. He grasps the front of Josh's shirt, feeling skin underneath, so warm, so human. He feels the steady beat of Josh's heart, the soft twitch in his pulse.

Chris pulls away briefly. "Is this a dream?"

"Sure hope not, Cochise." Josh smiles and they're kissing again, Chris tugging his best friend into his lap. His mind buzzes, confusion settling as if he's forgotten something. Josh sets the controller to the side, easing Chris backwards on the bed. Josh straddles the other's waist, mouth never leaving his; the solid press of his thin body melding into Chris'.

"Open up." Josh murmurs softly.

Chris obeys, lips parting almost on instinct, hands tugging Josh's shirt up. He can feel Josh's smile. Josh sits up, taking the collar of his shirt and yanking it off in one swift movement. Chris immediately reaches out, mapping the newly exposed skin.

Josh chuckles deeply. "Didn't think you liked me this much."

Chris might love him. The buzzing in his head grows louder. Josh tilts forward, fingers dancing along the skin of Chris' arms. He captures Chris' mouth in an open kiss, moaning deep in his throat. He leads, Chris fumbling to meet the long strokes of tongue. Josh's fingers wrap around his wrist, guiding them up past his head, mouth insistent and sharp, teeth nipping and biting. Chris whimpers softly, tasting copper on Josh's tongue. His body tenses up, the buzzing drowning out any thoughts he had.

Something's wrong.

"You like me a lot, Chris?" Josh asks, voice strange and deep.

Chris swallows. "Yes."

The skin pressed against his grows cold, cold and stiff. Josh smiles. Chris watches the ceiling bleed into darkness, thick branches of trees expanding over them. A droplet of water hits Chris' glasses. Josh releases one of his wrists, cupping Chris' chin in a freezing cold hand. Chris flinches but the grip holds him firm.

"Would you die for me, Cochise?"

"Yes." Chris says without thinking. Snowflakes begin to fall, dotting Chris' skin until he's shivering against Josh, who seems unfazed. The color in Josh's face recedes, shadowy tendrils floating down from the darkness to curl around his neck. Numbing horror thrums through Chris' veins, voice caught in his throat. He can't move. He can't move.

Josh smiles slow and wide, the left side of his face splitting open with a sickening noise. Blood drips down on Chris' face, sliding along his lips, his cheeks. Green eyes dimmer, whitened gloss filming over. Josh's mouth falls open, broken fang and teeth breaking through the tear in his mouth.

"Imagine. You being his last kill."

Chris knows that voice, knows that old, gentle deceiving sound. He's heard it before. Something's wrong. Something is wrong with-

"Josh."

Glassed over eyes roll absently, locking on him with a thin glimmer of recognition. This is a dream, Chris tells himself but it doesn't stop the fear that lingers inside him, doesn't stop his heart from screaming in his chest.

Josh pushes up, thin arms quaking, and he's staring down at Chris with this horrible, longing gaze. Chipped, cold fingernails press into Chris' skin. Chris can feel the warmth of his blood when they cut into him.

"This is a dream."

"Is it?" The voice smiles. "The night is still young."

Josh brings a hand up to his face, grasping something in the darkness and he pulls. It's the mask, simple and white with carvings of an old language. Empty, beady eyes peer down at Chris, the slow crack of wood as it smiles, all teeth and blood and Chris forces himself up, reaching for the mask because Josh is still under there. He's still there, underneath. He's still-

Chris' head hits the visor, hand grasping the dashboard tightly. It's warm under his palm. Chris breathes out shakily.

"We're almost home." Sam's voice rings in his ear. "Bad dream?"

Chris forces himself back in the seat, trembling slightly. His arm aches when he shifts back. Chris pulls up the sleeve of his jacket, checking the bandage. He can see dots of red spotting along it. His wound wasn't important now.

"How long was I out?"

"Bout an hour." Sam tells him, shifting gears. The sign for Binksy appears in the distance. Chris sighs.

"How's your arm?"

"Fine." Chris tells her.

"At least you'll have a cool story to tell your kids when they're old enough." Sam jokes.

Chris smiles. "Tell them how much of a badass I am."

He wasn't very concerned with how the scarring would look, that gauze around it held tight together and it didn't hurt anymore so Chris wasn't going to worry about it. Not until they finished this thing.

This thing. An exorcism.

Emily had called before Chris fell asleep, bitching up a storm about how she didn't have an adequate amount of time to research but she had something and it might work. Might. Chris didn't want to think about possibilities, he just wanted this done with.

Chris checks his phone, pressing the power button until the apple logo appears. He's never been so grateful to see the bars grow as the service comes back. His battery is dying, a blaring red beacon. The messages tumble in one after another. An unknown number appears followed by a voicemail. Chris doesn't see any messages from Josh. He tries not to let it worry him.

Chris listens to the voicemail.

"Hello, Christopher, this is Dr. Guy Fontaine from Kindle Hospital. Your father, August Pilgrim, asked me to contact you in regards to his accident. He underwent surgery but his condition is stable and-"

Chris zones out halfway through, eyes darting back and forth as he tries to formulate what kind of accident his father could've been in. Chris gasps softly. He didn't leave a note, he didn't tell his dad where he was going. He didn't say anything.

His dad went looking for him.

Chris stares shakily down at his phone. They said he was okay, he was okay. He was okay. But.

"You okay?"

"My dad." Chris starts, wetting his lips. "I don't know. My dad got hurt."

Sam stills beside him. "Was... Was it-"

"I don't know. He's okay though."

Sam sighs in relief. "Oh my god, Chris."

Chris fumbles with his phone, scrolling through his contacts until he finds Josh's number. He presses call. It rings, rings and rings, falling in tune with the nervous twitch of Chris' heart. Josh doesn't answer.

The exit for their town nears.

Chris tries Beth. It rings and rings. No answer.

"No one's answering." Chris says, feeing panicked. He clutched his phone tightly to his chest. Sam tenses beside him.

"We should go by."

Chris swallows. He didn't know if that was a good idea. Or maybe he was just afraid, afraid of seeing something he'd never forget. Chris calls Emily.

"If you're calling to ask if I brought salt I did okay? I have sea salt and kosher so this should work." Emily answers immediately, rambling on about salt and circles and things Chris doesn't fully understand.

"Have you talked to Beth?" Chris interrupts her. The line quiets.

"Like thirty minutes ago. She said Josh is pretty much dead and she went to check on him."

"Em," Chris stresses. "How long has he been asleep?"

"Jesus, Chris I don't know. I've been busy playing Monster Hunter or did you forget?" Emily snaps, sounding flustered. "What is going on anyway? Why am I researching-"

"Josh is eating people, Emily!" Chris says hurriedly.

"What...? Chris? What are you.." Emily quiets. "Oh my god! Oh. My. God!"

"I gotta go, Em." Chris says, swearing softly. They needed to figure out where Josh was, if the twins were okay. Chris hadn't tried Hannah yet.

"What do I do? I'm not qualified for this shit!" Emily shouts, her voice almost shrill.

"I'll call you back." Chris hangs up immediately, breathing heavily as Sam eases off the highway. Her hand grabs his, squeezing tightly and Chris can see tears lining her eyes. Chris tries Hannah.

"Chris? Are you guys almost back?"

"Where's Josh? Beth isn't answering her phone. Are you okay?"

"Um, yeah." Hannah whispers shakily. "Josh is asleep. He's been asleep for almost twelve hours now. Beth is with me. We're okay. Where are you?"

Her voice is tense, syllables stressed and forced and Chris knows she's trying to keep it together. Chris couldn't think of an explanation for Josh sleeping so long though or what would happen when he wakes up.

"We're almost to your house." Chris tells her.

Hannah sighs in relief. "Thank God. Chris, he's been asleep so long. We don't know what to do. He came home with blood on him, mumbling to himself and he went to his room and hasn't been out since. Chris, I don't know whose blood that was! He didn't even acknowledge us."

Her voice breaks, a trembling sob escaping. Beth whispers softly to her in the background.

"What's happening?" Sam asks softly.

"Josh's been asleep for a while. They're freaking out." Chris informs her. "We're almost there, Hannah. I'll stay on the phone."

Chris could almost laugh at the authority in his voice considering he doesn't know shit about what they're up against besides that it's evil and dangerous and could kill all of them.

The road to the Washington's has never seem so long or menacing, trees blocking the sun. Chris notices tire streaks in the concrete of the road, the familiar red of his dad's Mustang sitting abandoned along the side of the road. Chris forces himself to breathe.

But his dad is alive and stable.

Josh let him go.

"Is that your- oh, Chris. I'm sorry."

"That doesn't matter right now." Chris tells her. "Han, is he still asleep?"

"Yes." Hannah says.

They follow the side road that connects to the Washington driveway, a dull shadow settled over the majestic house. Sam parks close to the door, leaving the car in idle as she stumbles out. Chris follows in tow, hitting end on the call. He reaches for Sam.

"We need a plan."

"We have one." Sam frowns.

"We have a maybe." Chris reminds her. "We can't do it here."

Sam turns to him fully, one foot on the stairs leading to the patio. She folds her arms over her chest. "We could do the Point. It's empty."

Chris nods. "Okay. Do we wake him?"

Sam tenses. "I don't know. We've seen... We've seen what those things can do but.. Josh isn't one of them yet."

They stare at one another in silence. A moment passes, wind blowing by restlessly. Chris touches his bandaged arm.

"I'll do it. Call Emily. Let her know."

"Okay."

Sam enters first, phone pressed to her ear as she makes a beeline for the kitchen. Chris can hear the twins worried chatter. He stands before the stairway, trying to calm his frantic heart. He takes a step.

This wasn't something they could back away from. It wasn't something they could sweep under the rug and hope that it'd fix itself. Chris climbs the stairs slowly, eyes trained on his feet. He feels cowardly. Scared and nervous and all he can think about is what if this doesn't work. What if they're too late?

What if he's too late?

Chris reaches the top, following the familiar turn of the hallway until he reaches a smaller flight of steps that lead to Josh's bedroom. The door is closed at the top. Chris inhales.

He ascends.

His limbs feel heavy, hands fisted at his sides. Chris wishes the journey was longer when he reaches the door. He turns the knob slowly, easing it open. His eyes widen at the state of Josh's room. It's blown to shit. TV smashed into the ground, desk broken in half, torn shreds of clothing and paper litter the floor.

Josh is curled up on his bed, painfully still aside from the slow rise and fall of each breath. Chris closes the door behind him. He takes a shaky step forward, then another until he's to the bed. Josh shifts. Chris freezes up, teeth clenched, jaw locked. The hair on his neck rises.

Josh's nose twitches, sniffing softly, before an eye cracks open. It darts around unfocused, iris white and clouded. Josh sighs, eye slipping closed.

"Hey Cochise." Josh whispers softly.

Chris tenses up. "Hey."

"Room's a mess. Sorry." Josh mumbles, rolling onto his side, back to Chris.

"So is mine." Chris says, carefully approaching the boy on the bed. He places a hand on Josh's shoulder, smoothing his fingers along the chilled skin. Josh turns his head, eyes opening slowly. Chris sighs in relief when they're the usual color.

"Wasn't a dream, was it?" Josh smiles slowly.

"No." Chris mumbles.

Josh nods, forcing himself up. His arms shake slightly. He runs a hand through his hair, ignoring the clumps that fall out with it. Josh's bottom lip trembles.

"Why are you here, Chris?"

"To help."

Josh frowns. "You can't, Cochise."

"You have to trust me, preach." Chris says, voice strong and firm despite how terrified he is. Josh looks up at him, eyes dark and tired. He reaches a hand out, softly caressing the side of Chris' face. His eyes flicker to Chris' injured arm.

"You're bleeding."

Chris looks down at his sleeve. "You can tell?"

"Yeah. Makes my stomach hurt." Josh admits. "You should leave. I'm not in a good place. He's asleep. Go, please, Chris. Go."

"Josh-"

"I almost ripped apart your dad." Josh says. "I almost ripped him into tiny shreds and ate him and I would've, would've destroyed him. I don't know why I didn't. This... Feeling. It won't stop, Chris. I'm so hungry. Sooo hungry and you're here." Josh cracks a dark smile. "You're here and you smell so, so fucking good."

Josh's hand darts out, grasping Chris' wrist tightly. He licks his lips, taking in the way Chris tenses up. Josh gives him an apologetic smile. He slowly releases his grip but still holds Chris' wrist.

"You're so scared, Chris."

"You are too."

Josh scoffs but his lips twitch downward. He straightens, leaning forward heavily. It looks like a chore, like Josh is dragging himself through a sink hole. Josh slides off the bed, draping an arm around Chris' shoulder. He sighs sadly when the other tenses up. Chris hesitates. He slowly encircles his arms around Josh's waist, settling against him.

"I'm sorry." Josh whispers softly.

Chris holds him tighter. "Josh, we have a plan. We have-"

"Stop." Josh says sharply, taking a step back. His expression is hard. Green eyes narrowed dangerously. Chris can see the shift, can see the slow beginnings of white. Josh's face softens, slumping back on the bed.

"Just... I don't... Chris." Josh sighs. "What is your plan?"

"Do you trust me?"

Josh stares up at him. "Yes."

Chris absently hopes the rest of this is as easy.

Chapter Text

Chris drives Josh's car, Josh buckled up in the passenger seat, gaze empty as it stares out the window. Sam is in front of them, Beth and Hannah staring through the back window. They wanted to ride but Josh objected furiously with a startling level of conviction. Chris can't grasp how the other must be feeling, can't imagine Beth or Hannah staring at him with such fear and love. It must feel like sinking through earth.

"You think this will work?"

Chris sneaks a glance at him. Josh's legs are pressed to his chest, arms bound behind him in plastic ties. The skin on his wrist is red and raw, beads of blood caked on. Josh had resisted at first, had fought back to the point where Chris almost couldn't take him but Beth stepped up and held Josh back all while whispering words no one could hear except Josh. Chris has seen Josh upset, has seen him at his absolute worst but he's never seen him so... helpless. Even through all this bullshit. It wasn't how he imagined in the slightest.

Josh had stared at Beth the entire time, lips parted into a muted pang of horror, eyes tired and soft and he looked as if he would break. Josh hadn't really talked since then, since Chris walked him to his car and buckled him in. Chris doesn't know what Beth said but he never wants to see that expression again.

"It might."

Chris had explained the premise of the exorcism or more so the bits Emily had told him, the older Washington's were a bit skeptic as Hannah seemed all for the idea ("I watched a lot of documentaries." "Jesus, Han, this is not the same.").

Josh shifts in his seat, turning heavy eyes to Chris. He levels him with a soft look.

"What if it doesn't?"

Chris' hands tighten on the steering wheel. "It will. It will, Josh."

"C'mon, Cochise." Josh sighs. "I'm your bro, your best man. Level with me. What happens if it doesn't? Will... you kill me? Can you? Are you guys prepared for that?"

They weren't. At all. Sam still had her hairspray and Chris had his lighters but after seeing the real, physical body of what they're up against, they were ill prepared. Besides Chris honestly didn't know if he'd be capable of taking Josh down. He turns to Josh, taking in all the sharp angles, the slow smile that stretches across pale lips. If they failed, that thing- Nixkamich, would wear this face, the face Chris has looked at for almost his entire life. It would wear Josh's skin and kill them.

Chris couldn't fail.

"It will work." Chris says, determination burning inside him. Josh slumps back against the car door. He falls quiet, focusing on his lap as Chris drives. Chris sighs.

Devil's Kettle has never felt so desolate, so empty and clouded. There were hardly cars on the roads, most shops closed up for the day despite it barely being 6. It's almost like a ghost town, some dot on the map that only thrives on death. Only two people have died but it's like the town died with them.

Was that the beauty of small towns?

"I'm sorry about your dad." Josh whispers.

"It's okay." It wasn't. But Chris can't hold anything against Josh especially when none of it was his fault.

"It's not." Josh grumbles, kicking his legs out. He eased himself towards Chris, pressing his face into Chris' arm with a soft sigh. Chris tries not to tense up. Josh settles against him.

"If it does work, what then?"

"We go back to normal."

Josh chuckles. "That's not possible, Chris." He sighs again. A beat of silence. "What colors did you want for prom?"

Chris could do that. He could talk about maybes and what ifs. Chris could talk about a future together, prom, graduation next year. All these bundles of possibilities.

"Was thinking red but that doesn't seem like a good idea anymore." Chris replies.

Josh laughs, raspy and low.

"How about white?"

Josh snorts. "Fuckin' cheesy, bro."

"It's not that cheesy, dude. What color do you want then, huh?"

"Red." Josh smiles.

Chris almost laughs, instead it bubbles and soothes the ache he feels in his chest. He shifts the gear, leaning over to press a soft kiss to Josh's head. Sam slows down for a red light, Chris following behind to a stop. Josh shuffles up, still smiling, hollow and sad and it feels like he doesn't expect the 'maybe' of their situation.

"Can I kiss you?" Josh asks softly.

Chris inches forward, sliding his hand along Josh's jaw. Josh meets him the rest of the way with a quiet exhale. His mouth trembles against Chris', eyes squeezing closed as they kiss.

"You better take someone hot in my place." Josh forces out.

Chris shakes his head. He doesn't realize he's shaking until Josh is nuzzling into his palm with a quiet 'shhh'. The light turns green.

"Promise me." Josh urges.

"Josh-"

"Promise."

Chris stares at him, Sam's car growing smaller in the distance. Josh falls back in his seat, eyes ablaze, mouth pursed. "Promise me."

Chris forces himself to look away, hand trembling as it moves against the gear. He catches up to Sam fairly quickly, mind fizzling thoughts together. Chris still hadn't promised, Josh was still staring at him. But he couldn't. He couldn't promise something like that. That would mean Josh wasn't going to make it. That would mean-

"I can't promise that, Josh."

Josh clicks his tongue. "Your mom would be pissed if you went to prom alone."

"I'm not going to prom alone. I'm going with you, dumbass. And I'll take an unnecessary amount of selfies with you and dance badly to whatever dumb fucking pop song they play. Then we'll go home, play games, whatever you want."

It comes out harsher than Chris was expecting. His syllables bite out the way out, exasperation and fear and anger laced around every word. Chris catches the small smile on Josh's face before it fades away, tears slipping down the older boy's face.

"We can do white." Josh laughs, voice thick and wet. "White's fine."

Chris wants to reach out and wipe the tears away but the Point is near, there is no time. They were out of time. This was it. Sam parks in front of the building, filing out at lightning speed. Emily stands outside, hands tucked into the pockets of an expensive leather jacket, nose turned up and there's a fire in her eyes.

Chris parks, turning to Josh, who is staring at his sisters as they exit Sam's car. Chris grabs Josh's shoulder. He gives it a light squeeze. Josh looks at him, cheeks stained with tears.

"I'm sorry."

Chris shakes his head. "No. I'm sorry. This is my fault. If.. If I would've come. You would've been safe."

"'s not your fault, Cochise."

They stare at each other in silence. Josh leaned up against the door, Chris resting on the center console. It feels like their final moment together. Maybe it was. Chris wasn't an expert in supernatural beings or how to rid demons off. But he feels like this could work, like the words he's been telling himself, telling Josh, have merit and they're real.

"Confession time." Josh licks his lips. "I've liked you since middle school. Since you kissed Maddison Mitchell. And I definitely said your name during sex with Mike. Sorry."

Chris sputters. "Dude."

"Lemme finish, bro." Josh smirks. "I... I might be in love with you. With all the death and me being a bottomless pit craving human bits. I-I.. It's not even might, Chris. I love you. I'm sorry I'm such an asshole. We need to work on our communication because I could've popped your cherry freshman year."

"Dude, you were a virgin freshman year." Chris reminds him, unable to stop the wide smile from crossing his face.

"Could've lost it together, Cochise. Awkward limbs and giggling. It could've been perfect." Josh sighs. "If.. If this doesn't work. I love you, okay? Underneath all my general bullshit. I love you."

Chris opens his mouth to speak but Sam is prying the driver's door open with a shaking hand. Josh shifts away, words dying in the air and Beth is opening the passenger door. Chris reaches for Josh, grasping his wrist. Josh glances back at him.

Chris' words die in his throat.

"Let's get a move on!" Emily shouts impatiently. Chris releases Josh's wrist, feeling like a coward, like some urchin at the bottom of the sea. Josh turns away from him, Beth's hand on his shoulder.

"Ready?" Sam's voice brings Chris back. He slouches in his seat.

"Yeah."

Chris could've said it back, could've said something, anything. He's an idiot. Emily stands confidently, even managing a twitch of a smile as they approach her. Josh doesn't look at her. Hannah wraps an arm around her brother's waist, Beth on his other side. Sam stands beside Chris. She reaches for his hand, he takes it.

Emily leads them inside, towards the fire escape tucked in the back. Chris never imagined he'd be walking through the smell of piss and mildew to try and save his best friend from some pissed off spirit. Chris doesn't think he'll ever come back here after that.

They climb the steps to the barely lit second floor, windows boarded up with tiny holes drilled in them for light. Broken, crumbling walls sit where rooms used to be. A circle sits in the center of the room, large in size with intricate, foreign words written in chalk. Three candles sit on different places of the circle, one longer than the other two. There's a portable stereo sitting beside the circle.

"I'm not a shaman. But," Emily sheds her jacket, folding it up before setting it on the dirtied ground. "I got in touch with one. She lives in California, pretty old actually, and she explained stuff. Also apologized a lot. Guess this thing kind of sucks."

"Well you have my vote of confidence." Josh says.

Emily manages a smile. "I wish I didn't have to do this at all. I don't know what it will do."

Hannah takes a step towards the circle. "What's the worst that can happen?"

"It could speed up the process." Emily states.

Chris tenses up. "What? That's not-"

"Just let her try, Cochise." Josh says tiredly. He slips away from Beth, staggering over to the circle. Josh stares at it a bit before taking a shaky step forward. He turns to them.

"We don't have any better ideas."

Emily glances at Hannah, who steps away. Hannah looks to her twin, who in turn looks at Sam. Sam squeezes Chris' hand. Josh gives him an expectant look.

"Fine." Chris grinds out. "What do you need us to do?"

Emily sets them in different spots around the circle with firm hands despite how her mouth quivers. She sets Beth in front of one candle, Chris in front of the other and herself in front of the longest burning candle. Sam stands between Beth and Emily, Hannah in between Chris and Emily.

Josh plops down on the floor, easing back on his elbows with a wince. The plastic ties were still in place. Chris stares at him. Josh doesn't look back.

"Okay, so." Emily clears her throat. "Let's do this. Probably should've brought more people."

"More collateral damage if this goes to shit." Josh snorts. Hannah looks ready to beat the shit out of him. He shrugs lazily.

"Any last words, asshole?" Beth asks, folding her arms across her chest. Despite the bite lingering around her words, there's a softness, a softness Chris recognizes as someone about to lose everything. He wonders if he looks the same.

"Sammy, you better take care of my sisters. They might seem cool but they're both sappy babies." Josh winks at Sam. "Em, Jess likes you a lot, a whoooole lot so if that's not a thing, it should be. I mean, who blushes that much to ask someone to prom if they're not tryna bone, ya know?"

Emily rolls her eyes. "Duly noted."

"Beth," Josh raspberries. "I love you. Take care of Hannah."

"Yeah okay." Beth responds. Her voice shakes and Chris can see tears in her eyes.

Josh rolls his head to look at Hannah. "Take care of mom and dad. They're hopeless. You're the only one who keeps us organized and together. Mike's an asshole, so am I. I'm... I'm sorry, Han."

Hannah cups a hand over her mouth. She nods her head, folding her arms across her abdomen. Hannah releases a shaky sigh and forces a smile but she's crying. Beth is too, Chris realizes.

"I'm sorry about your mom, Chris. I'm sorry I didn't go to her funeral." Josh is speaking to him, eyes downcast. "I meant every word I said though to you in the car."

Josh finally looks at him, green eyes glistening.

"You'd look good in white, Cochise." He turns to Emily. "We should speed this up. I'm getting restless and that's usually not a good thing."

"Wait." Chris says as Emily kneels down to start the stereo. Josh clicks his tongue, frowning deeply.

"Dude, we don't have time."

"Josh-"

"Chris, it can wait."

But it couldn't. It couldn't. What if it doesn't work, what if none of this works and Chris will have never said it back. Josh said he loved him.

"He's right, Chris." Emily says softly. "We don't have time."

Chris sighs heavily, feeling angry and upset and he squeezes his hands into tight fists. Warmth slides along Chris' skin, pain flaring up. Chris glances down at his arm, a red stain beginning to form along his sleeve. He'd forgotten about his wound. After Josh mentioned it, he'd forgotten, more focused on the task at hand. This task. Josh shifts almost immediately, nostrils flared, irises narrowing.

"We need to hurry." Sam says quickly.

Josh moves to his knees, mouth parted into a low pant, eyes slowly moving to fix on Chris' arm. Sam is staring at Chris with something akin to acknowledgment and panic. Emily clicks play on the stereo but not before Chris hears a sharp inhale.

Soft chanting comes from the radio, eerie sounds floating through the speakers. Josh shakily rises to his feet, left eye beginning to cloud white, teeth clenched. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Chris' mom would laugh if she was here right now. Anything that can happen, will.

Josh lurches forward, feet roughly sliding against the concrete. Hannah recoils, Beth tensing up as their brother coughs violently, chest heaving. Dark red foam collects around his mouth, spewing like ripples in water as it drips to the floor.

Emily swallows visibly, fishing her phone out. She raises one arm in the air, reading whatever is written. A familiar deep chuckle fills the room, swelling along the darkness. Chris fights the urge to run, his senses urging every bone in his body toward the door. The candles dim, flickering shadows against the walls. They dance and patter along the light, slowly forming into one form.

Emily continues, seemingly distracted, as Beth cowers, eyes wide and terrified. Sam stands shakily, following the way the shadow moves from the floor to the ceiling.

"Fuck." Hannah mutters softly.

Josh convulses, clothes soaked black with filth, and he struggles against the plastic ties. Chris watches the frantic expression fade away, horror changing to indifference. Josh's head snaps to him, mouth stained red, teeth sharp and threatening. He's breathing raggedly, drool dripping from his bottom lip. The sound of plastic snapping sets Chris' skin ablaze, terror biting into his shaking limbs with an insistence.

The shadow drops from the ceiling, pooling around Josh's feet before it stretches tall, blackened fading tendrils spreading along the room. Emily, Hannah, Beth and Sam disappear from Chris' line of sight. The candle before him flickers but doesn't die. It's just him, just him and Josh and the shadow, Nixkamich.

"You came here wounded. Did you not expect this to happen? This was just the push he needed. If only you could smell yourself."

Chris hadn't thought about it. He knew Josh hadn't eaten, had enough control over himself to not devour Chris' dad. Why was this different? Why was? Chris' eyes widened.

"I'm very old, child. I know this game."

It knew. The voice purrs in his ear, whisper of ghostly touches caressing Chris' face.

"Did you say it back?"

"No." Chris finds himself saying. His heart feels like it's lodged in his throat. It might be based on the ringing in his ears..

It tsks with faux sympathy. "Pity."

This feels like a dream. Chris swallows thickly. Josh crouches down with a snarl. One eye still remains green, green and human and there's so much acknowledgement and pain that Chris knows what's going to happen.

A deep chuckle settles along his ear like a siren. "Ah yes, he will watch."

Josh springs forward.

Chapter Text

Chris finds himself on the ground, vision blurred, obscured in shadow and low fuzz. His head throbs, flashes of orange and red and yellow processing through each slow blink. He can't feel his arm, can't feel his own body. But there is pain, pain and fire and the high shuddering screech of monsters in the forest.

"Chris, Chris! Get up!" That's Hannah.

Chris groans loudly, forcing himself up. Something solid slams into him, solid and cold. Chris hisses through clenched teeth, back on the ground. His clothes are heavy, wet with sweat and something else, something warm. Chris tries to move but the weight settles atop of him. He blinks away colors, shallow breathes rapidly pouring from his mouth. Chris thinks he might see Josh. Josh hovering over him with a mouth full of razors, gums bloodied, lips ripped up like some sick man's version of a puppet.

Chris hurts. A scream is lodged in his throat, teeth clenched so tight he's afraid they'll break. Chris thinks he might see Josh. It is Josh. With an arm. Chris' arm. His arm in between Josh's teeth.

Chris doesn't scream.

"Fuck!" Sam.

There's fire. Josh disappears from Chris' sight. Fire then shadow. Chris winces, shrinking away from flat, blackened hands that reach for him. He tries to lean onto his elbow, but the wet squelch of torn skin hits the hard floor with startling clarity. Sharp, agonizing pain cuts through his body. Chris cries out, fumbling around weakly for his glasses. He swears softly.

The room is so loud. Everything is loud. Chants fill the room, sounds of fire and spray cans shooting along walls, that horrible awful screech of death and cold. Chris breathes. He hears someone screaming.

"Jesus fuck!" Emily.

Chris finds his glasses, forcing them onto his face with a trembling hand. Pain shoots through him, heart pounding every rib until Chris is crying out again, finally gazing upon the damage. His forearm is gone, shreds of sleeve left behind, bloodied and dark. Skin torn away leaving barely concealed pieces of bone.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Chris forces himself up onto his left elbow, shifting his entire weight forward. He stumbles up straight, eyesight blurring drowsily. Chris squeezes his eyes shut. Something darts past him. He nearly falls over.

"Chris!" Beth.

The room falls silent, muted words pressing along his subconscious as Chris turns slowly. It's like a scene in a movie, all spread out and stretched wide. Beth is running towards Emily, whose holding some makeshift version of a flamethrower. It spews fire out slowly. Chris thanks the universe for Emily because of course she wouldn't come unprepared. Sam has Hannah, both ducking as it flies over their heads at Josh.

Well. It looks like Josh.

Josh moves slowly through the air, mouth torn up with teeth, body mostly surrounded in translucent black mist that wraps around his limbs like string. Shadows trail after him, pouring from his body like something out of a nightmare. Blackened sand and endless dark.

Chris can make out the white of Nixkamich's mask. It stares at him from inside the large mass, unblinking, unsmiling. Just stark nothingness of white wood. They stare at one another, everything still slow and dragging. Silver eyes blink.

"Would you like to know what you taste like?"

No. Chris doesn't. He wonders if it can smell how terrified he is.

It smiles slowly. "Heaven."

The world begins to spin again, pace picking up before Chris' sluggish mind. Fire curls against Josh's torso, connecting midway before he can reach Hannah and Sam. The bloodcurdling scream that follows rocks Chris to his core.

"Don't move." Emily hisses.

They all freeze, Chris cupping the bloodied stump of his hand with unsteady fingers. He can feel bone, bone and the soft, moist insides of his skin. It makes him nauseous. Hannah holds Sam tight, Beth fighting back tears as Emily stares ahead, eyes unblinking and strong despite the fear in her face.

Josh hits the ground soundly, knuckles scraping along the surface with an annoyed huff. He sniffs the air, white eye darting back and forth. The Nixkamich sighs irritably through Josh's mouth. His Adam's apple dips as a high clicking noise sounds through the air.

"What do we do?" Beth whispers.

Josh screeches, walls shaking under the sound. Chris tries to calm himself as Hannah begins to cry. Her face twitches, eyes narrowing as thick tears fall down her face. Emily made the right call. For some reason Josh couldn't see them. A flaw in the design.

"We need to finish." Emily says, lips barely moving. Josh shuffles around them, sniffing the ground, the air. He grunts in annoyance. Emily was right. They just needed to get Josh back in the circle, get him to stay still so it can be done. Chris moves his foot.

Josh immediately focuses on him. Chris swallows, fighting back a wave of dizziness creeping through him. It wasn't the time. It's not the time. Chris nearly falls forward. Sharp teeth grin in his direction. Josh's head tilts.

Emily shoots Chris a look, finger twitching over the nozzle to her homemade flamethrower. Chris forces his legs to move. Josh lunges forward, but not without difficulty as Emily immediately triggered the canister during mid movement.

Josh collides into the nearest wall. It cracks underneath him, the vibrating sound of bones breaking resonating in the room. Chris hides behind a crumbling wall, breathing heavily as Josh skitters after him. The mask hovers in the shadows, eyes a notch bigger than before. It looks angry despite any distinguishing features to suggest other wise.

"Chris?" Beth calls out softly.

Josh pauses in front of him. He perks up, body painfully still. The distance between them is small, barely an arms length. Chris holds his breath. Josh whines, it almost sounds human, almost sounds like Josh.

"We have to get him back in the circle." Emily whispers. "She said this might happen. We just need to keep him in it."

"Someone's going to die, Em." Sam bites out.

"We're all going to die at this rate." Emily counters. Chris hates to agree but she's right. Someone wasn't making it out of here. If Chris kept track of all the shitty, dumb decisions he's done over the years this would be number one. Chris blinks away colors. His arm burns with every flex of his fingers against it.

A rock flies past him. Josh's attention averts immediately, the mask shifting in turn and Chris hurries to the other side of the wall. The girls are where he left them. Beth stares back at him, hand fisted around more rocks, eyes tracking for any movement. There's a cut on her forehead, cheeks dirty. Hannah's face is buried in Sam's shoulder. Emily standing ready, lip bleeding from where she's bitten to hard.

"Plan?" Chris asks.

"No." Sam snorts. "Not a good one."

Beth's eyes lock just above him. Crumbles of brick tumble down Chris shirt follows by the slow drip of saliva. Chris tenses up, staring widely ahead at Beth, who stares above him, bottom lip tugged between teeth. Chris looks at Emily. He eyes the circle before focusing back on her.

Emily gives a short nod. Josh hisses from somewhere above him. A thick wet cough fills the room, darkened red slime trickling down Chris' shoulder. It smells like rotten meat. The shadows still, mask floating around the room with impossibly wider eyes. Its mouth shrinks into a thin line.

The Nixkamich whispers old words, some dark mumbles of ancient tongue.

"I will rip the skin from your bones." It snaps angrily. "I will make him watch as I tear apart those he loves and I will devour his soul."

Chris and Emily exchange a glance. Underneath all that anger, that vicious display of what their outcome could be, Chris heard the waver in the spirit's old voice. If their situation was different, Chris might say it sounded impressed, impressed and irritated.

The stereo continues to play the same chant over and over, candle flames flickering from soft wind. Chris glances at the circle, sweat sliding down his face, and he shoots Sam a soft smile. Her body tenses up, mouthing 'no' frantically over and over. Beth seems to understand what's happening, eyes blowing wide and she starts to move. Emily grasps her hand before she can.

It's almost perfect.

Josh flings himself forward, arms outstretched, shadows clinging to his body like second skin and Chris does the same, grasping Josh's ankle with a bloodied hand. He nearly misses, fingers barely wrapping around the slim bone, skin slippery and wet and he almost thinks he doesn't grab him. Chris doesn't want to think about if he did miss. Hannah stares at him, eyes wide with horror, rimmed red and she's screaming.

Chris might be to.

Sam forces Hannah away, grasping Beth's wrist as she drags them from the circle. Emily holds out her phone, finger still ready. Chris yanks with what strength he has left. Pulling hard, he trips forward into the circle colliding with Josh who lands with a sickening crunch.

Chris thinks the only reason this works is because Josh wasn't fully possessed. Slamming him into the ground was easy enough, seeing as Chris had a bit more weight than Josh in general. Chris can't imagine if Josh had been completely like the things they saw on the mountain. Chris doesn't think it'd matter at that point. They'd be dead. That man, Jack, would read about it in the paper and laugh as he remembered the dumb kids who climbed the mountain looking for answers.

Josh snarls viciously, jaw snapping in response to being held down. He bucks up, nails breaking against the floor until they're raw and peeled. Chris struggles against him, grasping what little flesh he can manage with one arm. Josh thrashes violently, elbows popping back. Chris tries not to get hit, tries to avoid having his nose broken when Josh growls. Chris almost cries when he hears Emily's voice ringing above.

Josh twists around underneath him, nearly forcing Chris off but he only manages to end up on his back. Blood drips onto his face from where Chris' arm no longer remains. Josh falls limp, breathing erratic and heavy. His green eye focuses on Chris as the white one flickers around the room.

"Chris," Josh croaks weakly. Chris forces himself to breathe. He realizes he's crying, a shaky smile crawling across his face.

"Hey."

"Chris, it hurts. It hurts." Josh whimpers, tears sliding down his face. "Please.. Please make it stop."

"We're trying. We're trying." Chris tells him, reaching out to touch Josh's face. He hesitates, hand retreating back after it barely touches the horrifying tear in Josh's face. Emily's voice becomes a soft lull in Chris' ear as he stares down at Josh, stares down at the shadows that are wrapped around his boyfriend's neck, his wrist, slowly seeping into skin.

"Josh? J-Josh?"

Josh whimpers. It's such a painfully human sound. He reaches for Chris' hand, his missing hand, his missing arm. A dry sob escapes torn lips, Josh's green eye closing.

"I'm sorry. I-I'm sorry, Chris."

Chris cries softly, resting his hand against Josh's face, teeth and all. They're slick, stained red, sharp and inhumane. They prick his palm, his fingers. Chris wishes he didn't feel as scared as he did, staring down at the fucked up face of the boy he loves. Chris loves Josh. He loves him.

The mask sinks before him, smiling expectantly as it slides over Josh's face. It's eyes are normal again, empty and small.

"You cannot win."

Chris shakes his head furiously. "Goddamn it, Josh. Just hold on."

It hums in amusement, a wide, sharp smile spreading across its white surface. Chris grasps the front of Josh's stained shirt, tugging insistently, trying to get Josh away from that mask, that awful fucking thing. But where he moves, it moves. Chris tries not to cry but a broken sound escapes his lips.

"Josh, c'mon, preach." Chris begs. "You're just going to let some mountain spirit win. That's.. Thats f-fucking lame, bro."

Josh arches up, throat hoarse as black bile forces it's way out of him. It slides underneath the mask he wears, pooling under his body like a spiked sponge. Chris turns to Emily, who is still speaking frantically, brow furrowed. He's never seen Emily cry but he's seeing it now. It feels a lot like failure.

Have they...? Failed?

Chris hits the ground with a painful crunch, wind knocked out of him. His chest feels painfully tight. Chris wheezes. He squeezes his eyes shut, chest heaving as he coughs out a thick wad of blood. Chris stares up at the ceiling, resignation settling in every bone in his body. He's tired.

His mom would be disappointed. Josh's mom would be disappointed. Chris said he'd take care of Josh. That's what he said after Josh woke up in the hospital after his stomach was pumped, after Beth found him unmoving on the floor. Josh was his best friend. He had to take care of him. That's what best friends do.

"Regrets?" The Nixkamich inquires. The smugness of victory. It sounds like Josh, distorted and wrong but still so very Josh. It shouldn't, it shouldn't, it shouldn't. Chris should've told Josh he loved him. He should've hung out with his dad more. Chris has regrets. He's wasted so much time.

Josh crawls up his body, face barely visible through the static distortion of the mask. Chris could almost laugh. It wasn't even a physical being, yet here it was, consuming the person Chris cared for the most.

"End of the line?" Chris asks. His head feels like fog. He can make out the crooked smile on Josh's face, just beyond the empty whiteness of the mask. A hand wipes at the blood on Chris' mouth, tender, almost lovingly. Beth is screaming from somewhere beyond his vision.

"Guess so." Says Josh's voice.

Black spots dot Chris' sight, body protesting the desire to move, to escape. Chris shushes his brain, shushes the scream to 'run, run, run' because Josh is wiping blood from his face, his cheeks, his lips as if he's still there, still hanging on and they've won. The mask smiles this time. Sharp, broken teeth hardly seem as threatening now when it feels like he's dying already.

A clap sounds the air, like thunder snapping across a stormy sky. Josh stills over him, horrifying teeth hovering inches away from Chris' face. He shudders, arms quaking on both sides of Chris' body.

"Chris?"

Chris cranes his head to see Sam on her knees just beyond the circle. Her face is sweaty, tension lines creasing her forehead. Josh heaves, bracing a hand on Chris' shoulder. He growls at Sam, gurgled noises of saliva deep in his throat.

"What's happening?" Beth asks quietly.

"Quiet." Emily snaps.

The stereo has stopped, nothing but static filling the air. Chris' candle dies silently, the faint waft of burnt wax circling him. The hand on his shoulder grips tightly, forcing its way into the joint. It snaps. Chris bellows, fighting against how heavy his body feels. He tries to sit up. Josh forces him down.

A low cackle fills the air. Shadows pour from the every corner, spreading a thick coat of darkness. Chris can faintly hear Emily screaming, Beth's frantic shouts of Hannah's name. His body tenses up, burning and throbbing with every painful breath.

"J-Josh. Josh, please." Chris whines. He doesn't know what he's asking for. It could be anything. To live. For his arm. For Josh to fight it. The Nixkamich's mask peers down at him, furious, silver eyes alive with hatred and hunger. Josh grasps Chris' neck, fingers digging into the soft skin. He squeezes tightly earning a choked gasp.

"Would you like to know his thoughts?"

No. No. Chris doesn't. He doesn't. No.

The Nixkamich leans in, sour smelling breath fanning Chris' face. He struggles to breathe, blood loss coupled with his lack of oxygen making his brain hazy. His vision spots, blurred images of Josh's distorted face, the mask of the Nixkamich's grinning fanged smile.

"He's screaming. It's beautiful. You should hear it." It purrs. "He's so sweet, so.. delicious. I should've targeted young ones from the beginning. So ripe."

It whispers softly in its native tongue, words rolling around in Chris' head. The clack of the stereo buzzes, chanting resuming. Josh's head turns slowly, staring at something Chris can't see. Probably Emily. Probably Beth. Hannah. No. No.

"Josh." Chris tries again. The hand tightens.

"You children are most persistent. I think I'll kill the youngest first. Save you for last, pretty boy."

No! Chris snatches Josh's hand as it eases up. He forces himself up, using his legs for balance. Chris slams into Josh, sending him sprawling backwards, uncoordinated and biting and Chris just needs to keep him distracted, keep him from the girls. He just-

Chris screams, pain ripping through him as those teeth sink into his shoulder. He chokes on a sob, trembling violently as Josh bites deeper and pulls.

"Josh! Josh, no!" Hannah shouts, voice wrecked with terror. "Josh, please!"

Chris hears Emily's voice, hears Beth's shouting as Sam slurs words along his subconscious. The Nixkamich chuckles, rich and thriving.

"My, my. Heaven indeed."

"Josh, you have to fight. You have to fight this!" Sam shouts. "You're killing him! You're going to kill us."

This was a bad idea. It was stupid. They're out of their league. So... Out. Chris numbly searches for his words, falling forward, teeth still deep in his shoulder. Hurts. Hurts. Hurts. His chin hits the ground, blood seeping through his teeth. Chris can taste it, can taste death; it chills his insides, quiet soft hush of his brain drowning out every noise, every feeling.

"'m sorry." Chris forces out. He can't see. Can't see Josh's face, only the edges of darkness spreading across his eyes. The ground shakes with a roar, drops of debris falling from the sky.

"Sweetheart, it's not time."

It's a whisper. Chris opens his eyes. He hadn't realized he'd closed them. He's on his back, sticky with blood and vomit. Josh is over him, mask gone, face deathly pale. Chris wants to touch him. Josh is vomiting, vomiting thick swells of blackened sludge, hands tangled in the folds of Chris' jacket. The ground is shaking, voices loud in the air. Chris can see the shadow, the Nixkamich standing tall, fading in and out of existence. It's horrifying, angry eyes once again widened, mouth barely a line.

Chris barely registers the screaming. His eyes slip closed again.

"Chris."

He's tired. Let him sleep.

"Chris, open your eyes."

Chris can't. He doesn't want to. Everything hurts. They've failed. He's failed Josh. He's failed everyone. Chris doesn't want to watch, doesn't want to see. A shaky hand grabs his. It tugs insistently, soft, broken sobs pounding in Chris' ear.

Just. "Tired." Chris wheezes.

"Josh? Josh, let me see." Sam whispers.

Why is she close to them? Sam needs to get away. Chris tries to open his eyes, to warn Sam but he coughs until it hurts. There are hands on him, hands firm and calming unlike the trembling one folded in his.

"S-S-Sa.." Chris grits out.

"Shh. Help is coming."

Who is coming? Why? Josh was still dangerous, that thing was still here, still taunting and ugly and it's going to kill them, it's going to kill them and make Josh watch.

"Josh, you need to lay down." Emily says. Josh. Josh? Chris tries his eyes again. They barely open beyond slits. It's a tiring gesture but he can see, barely, and oh. Josh is staring down at him with this bleeding, broken expression. The tear in his mouth is still there, fresh, ripped open around tiny, sharpened teeth.

Josh is here. He's here. Chris could almost smile, could almost laugh but he's exhausted. He can barely feel anything beyond the numbing pain. A tired sigh works past his lips, expelling with a sharp wince. His heart swells with joy.

It worked. Josh is here.

His eyes are closed again, white specks of light fluttering in front of them. They dance and twirl, beckoning and giggling. Silence. Silence and dark.

Chris realizes he's standing, standing in a black room with these dancing white slips of light. He trails after them. There is no pain in his shoulder, no tender wetness where his forearm should be. Chris glances down. The arm is clean, bandaged tightly around a stub. He could make a joke about how it's a good thing he's left handed but no one would hear it.

Chris is alone. Alone and following dancing white lights. He wonders if he's dead. Dead or dying at least. Chris takes in the emptiness surrounding him. It seems endless, no solid foundation or walls. Just. Black.

"It's a bit underwhelming isn't it?"

Chris looks to his left. A familiar smile peers back at him, faceless, bodiless aside from the white of teeth and bright red lips.

"Am I dead?"

"No, sweetheart." His mother's laugh is beautiful. "Just sleeping. I'm proud of you. Taking such dramatic steps to ensure Joshua's safety."

"Is he okay?"

She hums quietly. "He won't be for a while."

Chris nods slowly. "Why am I here? If I'm not.. dead."

"Because you're dying, my cheery boy."

"You said-"

"Dying isn't the same as being dead." His mother smirks. "I should know. I am your mother."

"Emily did it?" Chris asks.

"She's very brilliant, that girl. But I'd say it helped that you became an honorary chew toy in order to keep it distracted."

Chris lightly touches his shoulder. "Is it gone?"

"It's where it belongs."

Chris slows to a stop, turning to the smile. The dancing lights pause, peering curiously at them. He gestures to the lights.

"What's that?"

"I have no idea." She says easily. "I just know, if you follow them, you will die."

Chris raises an eyebrow. "What happens if I don't?"

"You follow me."

"That sounds easy." Chris says with a smile.

"You've had a hard semester, hon. Very hard."

Chris contemplates. Having one arm wasn't that big of a deal. It wasn't a devastating handicap. But he'd have nightmares for the rest of his life. That seems small compared to the alternatives. Chris glances at the lights, then to his mother's smile.

"Will I be afraid of Josh?"

"Yes."

Chris shifts his weight. "Will I get over it?"

"Yes."

"How long?"

She clicks her tongue. "It can take a while. If it helps, it's not his fault."

It wasn't. Chris tilts his head to the side. He didn't have to go back, he could follow after the lights and never deal with looking at Josh as if he's something evil. He could stay and die knowing Josh was safe, Sam was safe, the twins were safe. But.

"He's not going to forgive himself, is he?"

Her smile turns sad. "No. Things may go badly."

"Then this," Chris gestures to himself. "Would have been all for nothing. Josh can't die, mom. He can't. We fucking did it! He... He can't just give up."

"I know, darling. But imagine, for him, it will be like waking from a horrible dream only to realize it wasn't and you've killed your best friend. Imagine having the weight of three deaths weighing on your conscious, the leftover emptiness of an awful evil." She explains. "Josh is alone in this. He will be alone with those memories and his guilt will consume him. It will be hard but you have good friends. However, it might not be enough. It may never be enough. But.. You can try, Chris."

Chris swallows thickly. Josh would need friends, support. He'd need his best friend.

"I have to go." Chris tells her.

"You do." She smiles.

Chapter Text

Death is a polite thing.

It holds intricate details of your life that suggest it might be worth living, soft familiar voices ringing through black air that beckon and coo and sigh. A lot of the voices sound like Sam and Josh to Chris, sound like his dad. The white lights follow him to the end, where his mother's red lipped smile cracks open so impossibly wide, all teeth and tongue.

She tells him to crawl inside if he wants to live.

Chris does.

It's 10:47 AM.

That's what the clock says, what his mind says. 10:47 AM. He's in a hospital room, the quiet beeping of the monitor steady with his heartbeat. It's beige, impersonal aside from the tray of unopened cards and balloons. A present sits in one of the seats, dressed up beautifully in olive and blue. Soft voices come from the other side of a closed door.

There's a ringing in his ear, a high pitch whine whenever he tries to focus.

Chris breathes.

His throat is dry, lips chapped, tasting of sandpaper and metal. Chris struggles to move. He feels like sand, this constant beading texture moving under his skin. Chris sighs heavily. It hurts to do so. The colors blend together. Chris closes his eyes. There are no thoughts, no random songs, just blank.

The door to his hospital room opens. Chris forces his eyes open. A doctor slips inside with dark, wavy hair and glasses. He seems surprised to see Chris awake.

"Good Morning, I'm Dr. Cheski." The doctor, Cheski, introduces himself, fishing out a small pen light from his breast pocket. He clicks it on, ordering Chris to follow the point, follow the light, squeeze his hand until the doctor smiles in approval.

"You've been asleep for a while. How do you feel?"

"Like shit."

Dr. Cheski laughs. It's a nice sound. "Well, that's what happens sometimes. Your dads been at your bedside since you came in. Want me to go get him?"

Chris nods drowsily. He watches Dr. Cheski disappear through the same door. The silence lasts a minute before his dad comes into view.

"Oh. Hey, kiddo." He speaks softly, hand curled around a portable IV stand. He's in an old, navy sweater and plain sweats. Chris tries to smile. He can feel it twitch on his lips, dying away before it fully forms. His dad quietly closes the door behind him, shuffling over to his son with a quiet smile.

"You made it." Chris finds himself trying to smile again. It stays this time. His dad returns it, tiny, hollowed stretch of lips. Chris wonders if it's the drugs they're pumping in causing the happiness that filters through his brain. He never thought he'd be happy to his dad standing beside his bed. Chris contemplates telling him that his mom guided him away from the compelling idea of death.

But his dad was still alive. He was here at Chris' bedside.

"Yeah. We both did." His dad responds. He grabs a chair nestled in the corner and drags it over. It takes a minute for his dad to sit down, a muted wince etching across his face. Chris reaches his hand out. It trembles slightly. His dad takes it with a surprised look.

"I-I'm sorry, dad." Chris mutters softly. "I'm... I'm sorry. I'm-"

"Hey, kiddo. Hey." His dad hushes him, squeezing his hand. Chris swallows, mimicking the gesture until he tires. It's barely a few seconds. A few seconds of firm grasping, grasping that slowly becomes a tremble, a tremble that shifts into a terrible shake.

His dad eases Chris' hand down to the bed, folding his own over it. He leans forward, IV cord dangling.

"I'm sorry too." His dad says.

Chris shakes his head tiredly. "Dad-"

"No, Chris."

Chris forces himself to look at his dad. He can see the beginnings of wrinkles, the worry lines, eyes tired and dull. His dad cracks a smile.

"Chris," he starts, wetting his lips. "I'm not a good guy or a good dad. I put you through so much these past couple of years. I don't expect forgiveness or anything. But. I want you to know I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything. For me. I'm sorry, Chris. I'm sorry. I should've protected you from what happened, from me."

His voice breaks towards the end, worn fingers trembling over Chris'. Chris isn't sure what to say, what he can say. He could say it's okay, that he's past it all because life suddenly seems so simple when you're up against something evil. Chris was alive. He could move past the tension between them, the unspoken trail of eggshells they've created. His dad wanted to be a dad. Chris could be a son.

He zones out a bit, searching for words until he can't find what to say so instead Chris nods his head a bit. That earns him a shaky smile, another squeeze against his skin. This could work, August and Chris. Chris is in a hospital room, lying on a bed, wrapped up too warm in quilts. He's survived the worse. He could survive through another try at being family.

"Guess we both got some battle scars out of this, yeah?"

Chris finds himself frowning, unsure what exactly his dad is referring to. Chris takes in his surrounding again, the blurred quality, the gifts, the plain walls, his arm. His arm. Chris pushes at the blanket tucked around him. The IV gets caught on a thread, nearly tearing out in his haste but he has to see.

"Chris.." His dad's voice rattles his insides.

Chris' right arm is bandaged tight, smooth white gauze nestled around an uneven slab of skin. Fingers graze along the edge. His thoughts collide into one another, racking through memories and facts and Chris stares into the space where the rest of his arm would be. It's a numbing acknowledgement.

Chris forces himself to look away, to look back at his dad, the familiar burn of tears stinging his eyes. It all tumbles around inside him with a startling clarity, the mountain, the Nixkamich, Josh. Josh. Josh.

"Where's Josh?"

"Chris-"

"Dad, where's Josh? Emily?"

His dad sputters, appearing nervous.

"Hannah? Sam?" Chris forces himself upright. "Beth? Are they okay? Where is Josh?"

"Chris-"

"Dad, please." Chris stresses, voice a bit high and shrill. His dad takes in Chris' distressed expression, sighing heavily in response. He slouches back in his seat.

"Everyone is fine. The girls are fine." His dad informs him. Chris stares at him expectantly.

"And... Josh?"

"He's okay." His dad sighs again. "He's at a different hospital. Somewhere outside of town."

Somewhere far from you, is what Chris' mind tells him. It flares up in his chest like something akin to panic. Chris didn't understand what it meant, Josh being far away, at another hospital. He didn't understand why. Chris fists at his blanket.

"C-Can... When will I be able to see him?

"I don't know, kiddo." His dad answers sadly. "His parents came by with that." He gestures to the large present sitting in the chair.

"Did they say anything?" Chris stares down into his lap.

"No, Chris. I'm sorry."

Chris blinks back tears. "D-Did you see him?"

"No."

"What will everyone think happened?"

"A bear attack."

Chris almost laughs.

"They found you in the woods near the abandoned building on 51. Sam was with you. Josh and the others were found a couple of blocks away. It was... a very convincing story."

Chris turns to him. "You went looking for me. Before your accident. You went looking and you found Josh instead."

"Yeah."

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you."

His dad smiles. "I don't think I would've believed you."

A knock comes to the door, the creak of the hinge filling the room. Sam's head pops in through the crack, immediately wincing when she notices both Pilgrims staring back at her. August beckons her inside, bracing himself on the arm of the chair as he stands.

"You don't have to leave, Mr. Pilgrim. I'm just here. I can wait. Outside." Sam says hurriedly.

August raises an eyebrow at her. "I'm going to see if I can get some lime jello before Mr. Pulanski in room 308 steals it all again."

He hands Chris his glasses from the nearby desk. Chris huffs out a laugh, sliding them onto his face. Everything becomes a bit clearer. "You don't even like limes."

His dad leans over, pressing a small kiss to Chris' forehead. "It's lime or tapioca and I'm not that old yet to consider tapioca."

August turns to Sam. "I'll let you guys catch up."

Sam nods nervously, slipping further inside the room. A large bag sits between her fingers. It's weird seeing her this way, in a sweater too big and leggings, hair disheveled and messy like she slept on one side too long.

"Will you come back?" Chris asks before August leaves.

"I'm your dad. Of course I will. I'll bring you a lime jello."

Sam continues to awkwardly stand there, eyes focused on the floor until August leaves, door closing behind him. Sam looks up, hazel eyes watering. Her hands twist along the handle of the bag she's holding. Chris slouches back in his bed. He smiles softly at her.

"I'm so glad you're okay."

A look of guilt flashes across Sam's face, lips parting as she grimaces.

"Sam-"

"I'm so sorry, Chris." Sam croaks, chest heaving and she's crying. The entire situation unsettles Chris because Sam was probably the most grounded out of everyone, besides Emily but even Chris has seen Emily cry. Chris exhales shakily.

"Sam. Sam, don't cry please."

"This is all my fault. If... If I just would've been fast enough on the mountain you wouldn't have been injured and this wouldn't have happened." Sam babbles, face red as she furiously wipes the tears. "I fucked up. I fucked up, Chris. I'm so sorry."

Sam hiccups loudly, fingers uncurling around the bag. It falls to the floor with a soft thump. Chris tries to figure out what to say, how to reassure her but Sam is standing in front of his bed, sobbing loudly. Chris never wants to see anything like this again.

"Sam. Sammy, listen to me." Chris reaches for her, shoulder protesting with a sharp ache. He exhales shakily. Sam hurries to him, taking his hand in hers. She doesn't mention the way his hold quivers, doesn't mention how quickly he's slouching back on the bed. Sam just sits beside him, holding his hand tightly and cries and cries and cries.

Chris isn't sure how long it lasts, but the hands on the clock have shifted considerably since he woke up. Sam's grip is nearly crushing but it's such an easy, simple pain when Chris considers what happened to him.

"How long has it been?" Chris asks when Sam quiets.

"Two weeks."

Chris' eyebrows raise. "Really? It felt like a second."

"Chris," Sam stresses. "You were in a coma. The doctors said it was unlikely if you woke up from it. Josh was.... It's been rough, Chris. Emily did all your make up work, even though the school was pretty understanding given the circumstances."

"How did you guys get me to the woods? I'm pretty sure I bled everywhere. Did they see anything? The circle?"

"It was salt so it was pretty easy to get rid of. The police didn't even search the area. We told them you and Josh were hanging out and then a bear attacked and dragged you away."

Chris snorts. "That's such a bullshit story."

"It's probably a lot easier to believe than a 17 year old boy ripping apart his best friend."

The words unsettle him. Chris glances back at his missing forearm.

"How's Josh?" Chris asks quietly.

Sam sits back in her seat, slowly releasing Chris' hand. She sighs. "He's not good, Chris. They've sewn up most of his face but... You need to focus on your recovery first."

Chris turns to her. "I want to see him."

"I know." Sam nods. "I know. I do too. He's getting discharged this week I think. Josh won't be back to school though. His mom is taking time off to watch him and he'll be homeschooled for the remainder of the year. The Twins will also be... there to help."

"Oh." Chris says dumbly. He slumps down further, staring at the ceiling with a dull emptiness. Josh wasn't coming back to school. He wasn't coming back. Chris doesn't even know if he'll be able to see him.

"This blows." Chris mumbles. It's not what he wants to say but it's the closest thing to the dejection he feels. Sam shifts in her seat beside him.

"Want to open all your wack ass gifts?"

Chris shrugs. "Yeah. Okay."

Sam seems grateful for his willingness, busy distracting herself with placing different bags on Chris' bed. Chris awkwardly fumbles with the first one, used to two hands instead of one. He nearly sends the contents spilling to the ground but Sam catches it easily. Most of them are 'Get Well' cards with bears covered in felt, some a bit more personal like Emily's detailed binder regarding EOCTs or Matt's Steve Jobs bobble head that has a football helmet on it. Ashley left behind a cute phone charm, Jess' a massive 6 disc Blu Ray copy of all Star Wars films with a 'sick ass, baby' written on the front.

Sam purposely leaves the large present in the chair untouched, handing Chris gift after gifts. Mike sent a wolf plush wearing a bow tie. Sam's gift was a bit endearing because it's just the jacket Chris was wearing that day, free of blood, beautifully stitched back together. He folds it against his chin, smoothing the plush fabric in his hands.

"Thank you." Chris says softly.

"It's the least I could do." Sam grins. It doesn't quite reach her eyes. She takes the large present from the seat, hands slightly creasing the olive wrapping.

"From the Washington's." Sam tells him, setting it in front of him. Chris slowly peels the paper, pushing the blue binding away easily. A black box sits underneath. Chris glances at Sam, who shrugs with a bit of a smile. He opens it. There's a clear container inside, the top covered in different blueprints. Chris realizes the prints are for a prosthetic, beautifully detailed.

"Who drew these?" Chris already knows the answer but it seems a bit surreal.

"Josh." Sam answers. "Your doctor knows about it but you know how Melinda and Bob are. Flashy. Surprises. They'll probably fit you for it within the week."

"It can't be that easy."

"Somethings are, Chris."

Chris further opens the gift. The clear container inside is glass with an intricate way to get in. A prosthetic sits inside, pale, matte peach, almost like porcelain, suspended on a simple black beam.The joints in the fingers don't look how he's expecting, no robotic knuckles or thumb. It looks almost real but also painfully a fake because Chris knows his arm is gone. Forever. Chris touches the glass, a lump forming in his throat.

"Chris.."

"I never told him I loved him." Chris admits, staring intently at the prosthetic. "I never said it."

Sam sits down beside him. "I'm sure he knows, Chris. It's kinda been obvious since middle school. You went through a lot for him this year. You lost your arm, Chris. Josh knows."

Chris shakes his head furiously. "I should've told him. I should've.. Sam, what if I never see him again?"

He turns to her, eyes swelling with tears. Sam reaches out and grabs his hand. She squeezes once, then twice. Her smile wavers.

"That won't happen, Chris. Just focus on getting better. They had to pop your shoulder back in place and you almost died on the operating table when your heart crashed. You need to focus on you. It's what Josh would want. And when you're better. Not 100% but like 80%, I'll make it happen."

"Sam-"

"No, Chris." Sam snaps angrily. Her mouth is twisted into a frown, eyebrows furrowed. She's staring at him, staring at him with a look that reminds Chris of his mom.

"Ok." Chris says. "I'll leave it to you."

Sam sits down in the chair beside his bed. She reaches for his hand. Chris takes it.

"I'm so happy you woke up, Chris."

Chris is too.

Chapter Text

Chris sees himself for the first time a few days later, deep dark scars on his shoulder, spider webbed looking bruises collecting on different parts of his torso. He doesn't look like himself, eyes puffy, rimmed red and dull. Chris guesses it's better than being too pale and blue, six feet under in a box.

He's lost most of his appetite, nibbling on carrot sticks for majority of the time when he can actually stomach anything. They keep him doped up most days, when the phantom pains keep him crying for hours as he struggles with seeing the prosthetic as a detachable part of himself. Chris doesn't dream, doesn't have the nightmares he thought he would but Chris figures watching Josh wander away from him in a white room is just as bad.

August visits a lot, even after he's discharged, bringing Chris comic books to read and sneaking in a DS when the doctors aren't paying attention. Chris spends a lot of time playing Pokemon, leveling up in between physical therapy sessions with Dr. Ven. He named his Eevee, Josh, and it involves into a Sylveon.

Emily visits him later that week, after an exhausting physical therapy session. She doesn't bring up any uncomfortable conversations, quietly going over events in the town and how Thanksgiving break is coming up.

"You slept through Halloween. Congratulations you didn't have to go to a boring ass party this year." Emily says dryly.

Chris chuckles softly. "Didn't know you considered your own parties boring?"

Emily cocks an eyebrow at him. "When half the people I care about aren't there I tend to not give as many fucks."

Her words melt his insides. "How's Jess?"

"Uh, she's, uhm, good." Emily tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. "We're kind of dating now."

"Oh wow. That's great, Em."

"Yeah." Emily smiles. "Things have been put in perspective."

Chris can understand that. He's been trying to figure out how to communicate with Josh beyond telepathy because clearly that wasn't working. Emily straightens, hands folded in her lap. She glances at the door, before turning to Chris, eyes glistening.

"You're the only reason I'm alive, Chris. The reason any of us in that room are alive."

"I dunno, Em. You were pretty brilliant." Chris says with a shrug.

Emily shakes her head. "A lot of luck."

"I couldn't of done it without you." Chris tells her. "You're the reason Josh came back. You're the reason that thing is gone, Em. I'm just the honorary chew toy."

"Yeah, well, that's a pretty important role too."

"That's my girl."

Emily curls her lips in disgust. "Ugh, Chris. Jesus, we were having a moment."

The next time Emily comes, she brings Jess and Mike, who drool over Chris' prosthetic with a borderline creepy level of interest. Sam comes the time after that, then Ashley, then Matt, until eventually they're all visiting together and crowding Chris' hospital room. Chris keeps looking at the door, expecting Beth or Hannah to walk in one day and join them but he only ever sees his dad or a doctor.

They discharge him once he's fully able to use the prosthetic, handing him a prescription for the nightmares he has sometimes and pain killers, August being overly enthusiastic the entire drive back home. Chris doesn't talk as much, but nods and listens to the chatter that prevents his mind from wandering. It's not until he's back in his room, standing in the doorway, staring at the bleak colors and usual arrangement of order that it kind of hits him.

Chris isn't sure how he's supposed to bounce back from what he's gone through, how any of them are supposed to come back from that. What was normal when you've seen hell and it looked like your best friend?

Chris tries and fails at developing a routine, a semblance of order but it ends up stressing him out so he plays video games, watches movies from a list Matt sent him a few days ago and tries not to think about how sometimes he wakes up on the floor, body drenched in cold sweat, panicky with a scream lodged in his throat.

Chris barely remembers his nightmares. He doesn't want to. But it's hard when the person you miss the most is involved with each fear, each conditioned horror that haunts your subconscious. Chris listens to Josh's voicemail afterwards sometimes, when his heart rate slows and he can actually close his eyes without tensing up. He'll listen quietly until falling asleep, secure with the fact that Josh will always sound the way he does in voicemails because he's human. He's Josh.

"So," Sam stumbles through his window. "I have the answer."

Chris is on the floor, legs folded underneath him. He's in the middle of an online 1v1 match on Tekken. Chris glances at her, then at his closed bedroom door. He tries not to laugh.

"I have a front door."

"Oh shut up." Sam snaps, swinging her leg inside. There's a book bag on her back, a tote full of flowers underneath her arm. Chris hears his character wipe out, distracted by all the shit she's pulling into his bedroom.

"What's that?" Chris gestures to the empty frames sitting on his bedroom floor.

"Uhm." Sam says. Chris stares at her.

"Remember the ransom note? My prom ask to Beth?"

Chris nods. "Have... Have you talked to her?"

"No." Sam answers simply. Her mouth twitches downward. "Do you know how to press flowers?"

"No."

"Well, bitch, you're gonna learn today." Sam smirks. She covers the ground in front of his closet with paper towels, fishing out a bright red flower with yellow trim. Chris doesn't know shit about flowers but he does know it's pretty.

"Come over here."

Chris shuffles over to her, video game forgotten. Sam presses the flower into the paper towel, folding another sheet over it. She pulls out a heavy looking magazine, opening to a random page before sliding the covered flower inside.

Sam lets Chris do the next one, a beautiful white flower with soft petals. He fumbles through her directions, glancing up at her with every slight movement. Sam smiles through most of it, passing flower after flower for Chris to cover and place inside a new magazine until her bag is empty and Chris' floor is covered in magazines.

"What now?" Chris asks.

"We should keep these in your attic. Check on them in two weeks."

Chris raspberries. "That's so far."

"Not like you're doing anything anyway." Sam counters, rolling her eyes. "Help me take these to your attic."

"My attic's scary, Sam."

Sam levels him with a look. "Are you kidding me?"

"Dude, seriously. It's scary."

"You faced a shadowy demon from literal hell and you're scared of your attic."

Chris raises an eyebrow at her. Sam clicks her tongue in annoyance before shoving his shoulder. Chris winces. Sam's eyebrows shoot up in alarm, mouth scrambling to apologize but Chris stops her with a laugh.

"I'm not made of glass, Sam." He's cried a lot the past three weeks but she doesn't have to know that. "Let's brave the attic. You and me, pal. You first though."

Sam bundles up most of the magazines in Chris' arm, hurrying him into the hallway as he struggles to look over the stack in his arms. Chris leads her down the hall, closer to his dad's room, staring up at the dangling string with a look of trepidation.

Sam reaches up to grasp it. She tugs once, twice until it pops open, ladder unfolding as it slides to the floor. A gust of wind whistles by them. Chris looks at her. Sam rolls her eyes. She climbs the ladder carefully, angling the magazines to where they balance on her arm. Chris hesitantly trails after her, unease settling in his stomach.

The attic is smaller than he remembers, smaller, more narrow and empty. Sam arranges the magazines on the floor, taking Chris' from his hands. He settles into the silence, the soft shuffle of paper fluttering against his ears. He doesn't know why he was scared of it before but it's been years since Chris has even considered coming up here, not since his mom died.

"You okay?" Sam asks quietly.

Chris swallows. "Um, yeah."

"I haven't talked to Beth or Hannah. They stopped answering my texts... I miss them. I miss Josh. I miss us. All of us, crowding into the kitchen on Saturday mornings and Melinda would complain that we were making too much noise but she'd always be smiling."

Sam stares down at the magazines. "I miss that, Chris. I lost my best friend and my girlfriend all in one day. You... You're all I have."

Chris missed that too. "Why did we make these?"

"If they won't answer texts, maybe they'll answer mail." Sam responds easily. "Do.. Do you think they will?"

"Yeah, Sam."

Chris doesn't go to school for the rest of the semester, mulling through thanksgiving with a constant stomach ache as August decorated for Christmas. He takes his exams on a Saturday morning under the lazy eye of one of the counsellors, wandering empty halls until he decides to go home.

Chris thinks occasionally the universe has some obstruct plan, some distant idea of how things should go because there's no other way to explain why he runs into Hannah on his journey back to the front office. Chris freezes, sleeves of his pullover rolled up to his elbows, prosthetic exposed in the harsh school lighting.

Hannah stares back at him, beautiful and radiant despite the soft bags under her eyes. She's in a pullover Chris recognizes as Josh's and a pair of sweats, hair pulled up into a loose ponytail. There's a folder tucked under her arm.

Chris finds his voice. "Hey."

"Hey." Hannah shifts her weight nervously. She glances at the entrance to the front office then back to Chris, gaze tracing over Chris' prosthetic. Her face softens, eyes flickering back up to Chris. Chris fumbles for something to say, the silence stretching between them. Questions like 'how are you' and 'how's Josh' burning the tip of his tongue. Hannah beats him to it, ducking her head almost shyly.

"I have a meeting.. So.. Um, I gotta.."

"Yeah," Chris nods slowly. "I get it."

That earns him a brilliant, grateful smile, Hannah giving Chris a lingering look before disappearing into the front office. Chris stares down at his shoes, suddenly feeling overwhelmed and conflicted and he fights the urge to chase after her because it's been so long, too long and Sam is making frames out of the flowers they pressed. Flowers to send to Beth and Hannah and Josh.

Chris forces himself to leave, to walk out to his car, dragging his feet the entire way. He doesn't cry when he starts up his car, but it feels like he should. His dad isn't home when Chris returns, hasn't been around as much in general because jobs are a thing and unfortunately the world doesn't stop turning for anyone so Chris sits on the kitchen counter feeling numb and tries to ignore the longing ache in his chest. He missed Josh.

Chris gathers the frames Sam has already made that sit in his closet, packing them into his car with little difficulty. He drives to the post office instead of the dumpster like he considered. Chris labels each box with sharpie, purposely leaving the return address blank. The attendant glances at the boxes, then at Chris, before looking down at Chris' arm. She clears her throat, pointedly turning away and rings him up.

"They should get there by tomorrow. Considering it's the same area code."

Chris nods. "Okay."

"Might I ask what it is?"

"Just pressed flowers." Chris answers simply.

Her face perks up with interest, a small smile forming on her face as she places them on a conveyor belt. The attendant clicks a button, the rolling pins coming to life. Chris watches the boxes disappear around the corner, 1, 2, 3.

"I'm sure they'll like them."

Chris hopes so. It's the only thing he holds onto for the next couple of days. Sam sends him overly friendly messages about how he should visit her at her new job in the square because she has dogs who are big and fluffy and some that are small with thin fur. Chris doesn't know how she got a job or why but he figures people have different ways of coping.

Chris doesn't go. But he does enjoy each picture of poodles and Saint Bernard's and Akitas she sends his way. Instead he stays home, tries his hand at pressing flowers despite the unhelpful advice of Google. Chris ends up with a sketch pad full of them, colored imprints left behind as they wilt and die. Chris begins to put leaves in as well, bits of grass or a feather he stumbles across as he walks his neighborhood.

His dad walks with him sometimes, quiet and attentive to whatever Chris decides to talk about. Chris tells him about how he saw Hannah at school a few weeks ago and the attic full of dead flowers that are meant for her and her siblings. How he misses Josh and dreams about him and how it all hurts. August just pats him lightly on the back and tells him it'll be okay. Chris wasn't sure if it would be. It's not how he expected his first, actual relationship to end through blood and missing limbs but they haven't really ended it.

He doesn't know how this shit works but he sends another batch of framed flowers after Sam finds out about the first shipment. She had called sappy but there was a certain fondness in her voice that encourages him.

"Did you send the rest?" Sam asks, a loud bark sounding from somewhere behind her. Chris nods despite the fact that she can't see him, phone wedged in between his face and shoulder as he fights Scarlet on the TV screen. She falls to the ground, twitching sporadically as Chris attacks her with a pole.

"Yeah." Chris grits out, watching as she leaps to her feet, screeching loudly with wide spread arms. "Look, Sam. I gotta go this boss is kicking my ass."

"What are you playing?"

"Homecoming." Chris hisses, dodging an attack. "Shit, fuck, shit."

"I'll come by later. That okay?"

"Uh huh." Chris mumbles, barely catching Sam's by before he drops his phone to the floor, mashing buttons as he runs across the rustic grated platform. Scarlet is in her second form now, skittering after him with sharp teeth. Chris tries not to imagine how this was essentially how his life was not to long go. Just Chris didn't run, he threw himself into a similar set of sharp teeth.

Chris eventually beats her, cursing loudly a few minutes afterwards in his victory. His heart beats loudly in his chest, a wide smile spread across his face as he falls back happily. Alex Shepherd was safely back in Scarlet's plain, grey bedroom, just as Chris was safely back in Devil's Kettle. The monster was gone. They were safe. Safe. Safe.

Chris opens his eyes, the slow moving ceiling fan circling above him. He swallows thickly, reaching over to touch where his skin met synthetic felt. Chris sighs, sitting up slowly. He leans against his bed, staring down at the artificial limb nestled against his skin. Chris curls the fingers, flexes them, rotates the wrist and does it all again until he feels more okay.

The window clicks, wind rushing inside as its pushed open. Chris doesn't bother to look back, figuring it's Sam crawling through. She had taken to climbing the side of his house after the first time, avoiding any uncomfortable conversations with August. Chris understood. He also found it hilarious.

"Did you know they have veggie pizza rolls? Crazy right?" Chris says, taking the controller in hand. "I bought a bunch for you so you should eat them all if... you.."

The words die in his throat, head partially turned to the window. Chris drops the controller, eyes widening a fraction as he stares at who is sitting on his window ledge.

"You're doing it again. The staring thing." Josh says softly, eyes downcast. There's a private smile on his face. He's dressed plainly in a white, grey spotted t-shirt, a dark flannel cuffed to the elbows, jeans fitted to his legs, rolled up around a pair of dirty converses. Chris takes it all in slowly, the way Josh's hand reaches up to comb through his wild dark hair, the hesitant way Josh glances around the room.

Josh stares back at him, eyes tired, the ghost of a smile on his face. He laces his fingers together, setting them in his lap. Considering their previous encounter, Josh looks good, looks painfully attractive despite the fading scar on his face. It's fairly discolored, a few shades darker than Josh's skin tone but healed, barely visible. The bags under his eyes aren't as prominent, body still too thin, a bit taller but it's not encased in shadows or hidden underneath a white mask. It's Josh.

Chris is on his feet before he realizes, crossing the distance between them. He catches a glimpse of Josh's startled expression before he's wrapping his arms around Josh's neck, throat clogged with every word he's wanted to say for the past couple of months. They wilt and die with every shaky breath he takes. A warm hand rest on his shoulder, the other curled around his side, pressing him impossibly close. Josh sighs against him, burying his face into the crook of Chris' neck.

"Is this real?" Chris asks quietly.

"Yeah, Cochise." Josh answers.

Chris exhales shakily, staring out at the street. Josh's car sits across the street as it usually would. Josh is in his arms. Josh is here.

"Fuck." Chris whimpers, eyes sliding closed as a few years escape. "Fuck, fuck."

Josh hushes him softly, fingers coming to rest in Chris' hair as a soft cry escapes his lips.

"It's okay, Chris. I'm here." Josh whispers softly when Chris' shoulders shake. The tears refuse to stop, pouring out as the reality of the situation hits him. Josh holds him close, shifting his weight to support both of them when Chris' knees buckle. They stand there for a moment, wrapped tight up in each other, neither speaking, no sounds aside from Chris' soft sobbing.

Josh eventually moves them to Chris' bed, chuckling softly when Chris doesn't want to dislodge himself from Josh's form because this might be some sick dream. Which wouldn't surprise Chris given his minds track record. But Josh is still there when Chris opens his eyes after he lets go, Josh is still there, lying on his side beside Chris, quietly wiping away tears.

"I love you." Chris tells him.

Josh's eyes water. He cracks a crooked smile, leaning forward to press a soft kiss to the other's mouth. Chris sighs into it, grasping the front of Josh's shirt with trembling hands. Josh doesn't taste like Big Red or Mt Dew, doesn't taste like winter. He tastes like wintergreen gum and pizza and home.

"I love you. I love you." Chris says again and again, lips brushing against Josh's and they're kissing again.

"I love you too, Cochise."

Chapter Text

Josh isn't there when Chris wakes up.

He doesn't remember falling asleep, doesn't remember pulling his blanket to his shoulder or removing his prosthetic but he's in his bed, bundled up tight. It's dark outside, the cold night air seeping through the cracks of his window. Chris forces himself up, feeling the empty spot beside him for any warmth, any telling that what happened actually happened. It's cold against his hand.

Chris tries not to cry, bottom lip trembling as he gathers his thoughts. Josh was here and now he's not. Was he ever here? The question upsets Chris more than he realizes, a hand coming up to cover his mouth as a dry sob tumbles from his lips. He forces himself out of bed, stumbling through the dark to find his phone.

Chris finds it on the floor in front of his TV, devoid of any messages from the Washington's, Sam's bright cancellation text blaring up at him. Josh wasn't here. Chris imagined it. His room feels a lot colder, a lot smaller. The light from his phone fades into darkness as Chris sits staring at it.

He tries to ignore the chill running along his spine, tries to ignore burning disappointment because only he could formulate such a fucked up, lifelike fantasy. Chris cries softly, grasping his right arm with a shaky hand. Anger bubbles inside him, anger and resignation.

His bedroom door cracks open, hinges squeaking loudly and it startles a panicked sob from his throat. The light cuts on. Josh stands in the doorway, fingers on the doorknob, pained green eyes boring down into Chris' face.

"You..." You're real, Chris wants to say. Instead he says "where did you go" and it comes out as pathetic as he thought it'd be. Chris watches Josh's jaw work, words flittering across his blank face.

"Bathroom." Josh answers.

It sounds like a lie but that doesn't matter to Chris. He staggers to his feet, wiping at the tears on his cheeks. Josh takes hesitant step towards him, closing the door with a soft click. He lets Chris grab his hand and drag him towards the bed, lets Chris press into his chest with restless sighs. Josh wraps an arm around Chris, tangling their legs together. A breath.

"Did you think I left?"

Chris shakes his head.

"Tell me."

"I thought it was a dream and you never came back at all. You weren't ever here." Chris explains quietly. He messes with the buttons on Josh's flannel.

"I'm sorry, Cochise."

"It's okay. You're here now."

Sam tumbles through Chris' window around 8, baring a large bag of spring rolls. Chris is reattaching his prosthetic, Josh asleep beside him. He had wondered at first if Josh had done some thinking when designing the arm for Chris because it was relatively functional, despite Chris not being able to fully close the hand. He could get past that but Josh had caught him struggling one to many times with the fitting until the Washington's dragged him back to the hospital and found something more suitable, with whirrs and a rechargeable battery because Josh called him a nerd. Sam talks animatedly as Chris fumbles with the light, unaware that it isn't just them.

"But I brought you spring rolls. And gold..." Sam trails off, mouth hanging open as she stares at Josh curled up in Chris' bed, jaw slack with sleep. Sam hesitantly walks over to him, hand over her mouth and Chris can see the sparkle of tears. He idly wonders when she expected to see Josh again.

"Did they get them? The flowers?"

Chris wasn't sure. "I don't know."

Sam nods shakily. "I'm.. Um. I have spring rolls."

Chris cuts on his TV, taking the controller from the dresser and plops down on the floor beside the bed. He pats an empty spot beside him, Sam sitting down with the large bag in her lap. They sit in silence before Chris turns on his PS3.

"Is this Homecoming?" Sam asks softly as she watches Chris run around Sheperd's Glen. Chris nods, picking him an abandoned bat outside of an old laundromat. It was one of the games he could still play without actually moving because Silent Hill was mostly running from monsters and opening doors. Sam touches the wrist of his prosthetic, noting the slight wince when Chris fights the urge to pull away. He tried to keep it covered with a long sleeve shirt but this was Sam and she's seen him armless and bloody and nearly dead. Sam leans against him, head resting on his shoulder. She hooks her arm in his. Sam jumps when a monster lunges at the screen. A soft giggle escapes her lips before it morphs into a laugh, loud, fluttery sound that encourages a chuckle out of Chris. Soon they're both laughing, too hard, too loud until the bed is shifting. They both turn to Josh, grinning madly, taking in his disheveled, tired appearance.

Josh blinks once, twice, glancing at their beaming faces. He grimaces.

"Oh god I hate when you're both together." Josh mumbles, falling back onto the bed. Chris and Sam exchange a look before clamoring after him. He groans in protest when he's squeezed between them but Chris can hear the pleased sigh that escapes when Sam wraps an arm around his waist, Chris' own secure over both of them.

Josh is there when Chris wakes. He's there the next day, then the next and Chris is starting to think that he's living in a brain loop because Josh is still there a week later, sitting in his window ledge with a tired smile. He never stays the night, only waits until Chris falls asleep before quietly slipping away and returning early in the morning. The only reason Chris knows that is because he's waken up a couple of times when Josh is halfway through his window.

Chris had asked about it, asked him to stay, but Josh would shift uncomfortably and mumble out an excuse every time. Chris stopped bringing it up and Josh seemed to appreciate it. Beth comes through one morning after Josh, baring breakfast food with Sam trailing behind her. Even Hannah climbs through and their voices ring throughout his room like a distant song of easier days.

It's nice.

Easy to slip back into old habits when everyone is desperately trying to move past what happened. Josh is quieter, a more compact version of his previous asshole self, less loud, crooked smiles in the place of wheezing laughter, more hand holding and hesitant stares. It's hard, watching your best friend go through every emotion he's felt in the past three months every time he looks at you. But Chris tries not to let it affect him.

Instead he lets other things affect him, like the days when he wakes up and tries to use his right arm to sit up, the right arm that isn't there anymore. Chris stumbles to the floor, balance immediately toppling over before he realizes his mistake. He lands with a sound thud, blinking back tears as he tries to figure out how he could forget something so important. Chris forces himself upright, staring down at the empty space.

His bedroom door swings open, August tiredly rubbing his eyes as he takes in his son sitting beside his bed on the floor.

"You okay?"

No. "Y-Yeah. Just kinda fell off the bed." Chris cracks a smile. It twitches and falls, the weight in his shoulders pressing down painfully. His dad steps inside, moving to sit beside him. He wraps an arm around Chris.

"You okay?" August repeats. Chris shakes his head, tears slipping down his face. He quickly wipes away, feeling inadequate and embarrassed. He was alive. He survived the worst thing that could happened to him. His right arm is missing but he's relatively in tact, together, stitched up pieces of glass held together by twine and straw. But it's hard to see yourself whole when a part of you is ripped away. August kisses the top of his head, murmuring quiet nothings when Chris begins to cry.

"I don't know what you're going through," August starts. "But I'm here for you, Chris."

Chris nods shakily. He wonders if his dad told his mom the same before she killed herself in the hallway bathroom, wonders if he tells himself that whenever he sees Chris struggling to open the fridge. Chris feels selfish because sure, he's missing an arm, missing the actual feeling of flesh and waking up with his right side intact but Josh is missing so much more.

"I-I'm sorry." Chris bites out, wiping his nose.

"Stop. You're my son. You don't ever have to say sorry to me. You did good this year, Chris. I'm.. So proud of you. Your mom would be too."

It's a nice thing to say, a nice confirmation that even if Chris feels broken and uncomfortable his mom would be pleased to know that what he sacrificed was for a good reason. For Josh. To be alive and live and be here with Chris and Sam and his sisters.

"How's, uh, therapy going?" Chris asks timidly, hand braced on the steering wheel. Josh is asleep in the passenger seat, body wound up tight against the door, one of Chris' blankets draped over him. Josh mostly slept during the day now, when the exhaustion would be too much and Chris was awake. He had wanted to go to Binksy so they piled into Chris' car and invited Ashley because she loves Binksy despite how trash and awful it is.

Ashley meets his gaze in the rear view mirror. "It's going okay. My therapist started inviting my parents into sessions, one on one, to help with the gay thing. Seems to be going okay."

"That's good." Chris smiles, looking back at the road.

"How's your arm?"

Chris glances down at it, taking in the fleshy white exterior that peaks out between his shirt sleeve and the glove he's wearing. He flexes it, the fingers spreading then closing with a small buzz. No one else seemed to notice the noise and Chris was starting to think it was his subconscious reminding him that's it not his arm.

"Fine." Chris answers simply, turning back to the road. It was easy to keep it covered with gloves and long shirts to avoid the lingering stares. That's what Chris tells himself, to keep himself from panicking. Josh shifts beside him, brow furrowed into a tight frown, lips thinning into a line. Chris places a hand on Josh's knee, awkwardly rubbing soothing circles along it. Josh sighs tiredly, expression melting into something softer. Ashley giggles from the back seat.

"I'm glad you guys came out ok. Bear attack and all." Ashley says, "Will you be back at school next year?"

"Probably. Can only milk my tragedy for so long." Chris jokes, earning an eye roll.

"You guys still going strong?"

Chris nods but deep down he wasn't sure. Josh was different, Chris was different. They had tried making out at least once, at Chris' insistence, before Chris tensed up when Josh's mouth drifted towards his neck. The guilt riddled on Josh's face afterwards was enough for Chris to immediately feel bad and he tried to explain but Josh closed off with quiet resignation and understanding.

"Vanilla looooove." Ashley sings happily. Chris smiles to himself. They explain their game to Josh when they reach Binksy, Chris halfway out the dressing room with a tight fitting black dress on, Ashley in a zebra print open back prom dress strutting down the hall with a hair flip. Josh didn't seem to understand but he laughed for the first time in what's felt like years when Ashley air humps him. He trails after Chris into his dressing room, snorting loudly when Chris fumbles with the dress.

"You've lost a lot of weight." Josh comments, helping Chris with the zipper.

Chris glances at his reflection. "Yeah, like 20 pounds. They were scared I was going to develop an eating disorder so Sam helped me 'rekindle my relationship with food'. Still hasn't come back though."

His ribs didn't protrude as much, stomach a lot flatter than what Chris was used to. He shrugs, Josh watching quietly as Chris pushes the dress past his hips. The bruises on his skin were mostly gone, some webby patterns forming a white scar matching the one in his shoulder. Chris has one leg out when a cold hand slides along his spine. He definitely doesn't squeak but a noise is made and its embarrassing.

"I did this." Josh whispers softly, fingers dancing along the puckered bite left behind. Chris whips around, already beginning to sense Josh's mood plummeting, and grasps Josh's hand with a shaky grip.

"Chris, I-"

"No." Chris says fiercely. "Not you."

Josh looks up at him, wide eyes filled with so much regret and pain it rocks Chris to the core. Chris squeezes his hand. "Josh."

"I hurt you, Chris. Y-You don't have an arm because of me. Chris, I-I-"

"No." Chris hisses. "None of this is your fault. None of it, okay?"

"Chris-"

"I'd do it again. I'd do it all again for you." Chris says and he means it, means it with every fiber of his being. "I'd die for you, Josh. If I woke up tomorrow and this entire mess started over, I'd still do everything the same. Er, maybe some better organizing on my part, but still. If me dying or losing an arm is what it would take to get you back. I'd do it, Josh."

Josh blinks furiously, tears falling as he searches Chris' face. His expression crumples, mouth twisting into a muted cry. Chris pulls him into a hug, squeezing back hard when Josh's shaking body presses into him. Josh sobs into Chris' shoulders, these tiny, broken noises that sound like birds beating against glass.

"I'm sorry." Josh sniffles.

"None of this was your fault."

They stand there, wrapped around one another, until Ashley knocks on the door with a cheery 'I took 7 pictures and they're all bad'. Josh pulls away first, eyes red. Chris eases him back against the door, closing the distance between them. He wipes Josh's tears away with his thumb.

"I love you." Josh says.

"Yeah, me too." Chris smiles, tilting his head slightly to the side. Josh grabs Chris' wrist, a soft smile on his lips.

"It'll get better."

It doesn't and soon Josh stops coming by as often so Chris goes to him, facing the agonizing aftermath that Josh is going through. He sees the new medication in Josh's cabinet, the four clear bottles staring back every time he reaches for the toothpaste. Josh doesn't eat, barely sleeps and when he does his nightmares wake the entire house, Beth nearly busting down the door as the second wave of garbled screams pierce the halls, Hannah and Melinda close behind her. Chris isn't able to help the first few times, too frozen and scared in his paralyzing fears as his mind processes each shriek as what he saw in the mountain, processes each sound as the Nixkamich coming back.

It's hard, to remind himself that it's all over, even on the good days, the days where Josh sleeps a solid two hours peacefully or curl up in Chris' lap as they watch Lord of the Rings for the fifth time because Josh can't watch some horror movies without growing anxious.

"I know what you taste like." Josh says one day. It's close to Christmas, Devil's Kettle mostly smothered in snow. They're sitting in Josh's windowsill, bare legs dangling over the edge. The house is quiet. Chris turns to him.

"I...I know," Josh swallows thickly. "I saw everything, Chris. Everything. A-and that thing, h-he would laugh at me. I could see myself hurting you and I couldn't stop. I-I-I c-couldn't... I.. I shouldn't know that. I shouldn't know."

Chris places a hand over Josh's, unable to formulate a response. The Nixkamich had said something about making Josh watch, about the way he screamed. It twists something uncomfortable in his stomach. Chris worries his bottom lip, staring out at snow covered tree tops.

"What did I taste like?" He doesn't know why he asks, why he pushes such a sore fucking subject between them. But. They needed to move past this. They needed to. Josh tenses up beside him, jaw locking to the side, eyes narrowing slightly as they stare into the wide expanse of trees surrounding the Washington house.

"We should talk about it."

Chris sneaks a glance at Josh, noticing the way the other seems to curl into himself.

"You were sweet." Josh answers slowly. "Sweet and warm, like honey or nectar, I don't know." Josh glances at him, a whimsy smile in place. "Like the way you kiss. Soft, slow and easy."

"Like heaven?" Chris asks, thinking of what the wendigo had whispered to him after his arm was taken, after he threw himself into a mouthful of pin needles to distract it.

Josh exhales, eyes dropping to Chris' mouth. He sighs out a 'yes', low and raspy, tugging his bottom lip between his teeth as he leans closer. Chris' lips part on impact, placing a hand on Josh's thigh as he eases Josh against frame. He can feel Josh smiling, focused on the timid tongue that brushes along the roof of his mouth.

Josh tilts his head to the side, coaxing Chris' mouth into a lazy rhythm, hand curled along the other's waist. Chris breaks away, a sliver of space between them as he shuffles a leg inside the window. Josh smirks, mimicking the movement before he's pressing Chris against the frame, licking his way back into the other's mouth. Chris whimpers when Josh bites down on his lower lip, an apologetic kiss soothing away the slight sting.

Chris tries to focus on not panicking, the familiar creep flaring up inside him. He slides a hand along Josh's thigh, squeezing every so often and he wishes he could just make out with his boyfriend without freaking out. Josh seems to notice Chris being distracted, pushing at Chris' sweater.

"We can stop." Josh whispers.

Chris shakes his head. "No, no. I want this."

"You're distracted, Cochise."

Chris sighs heavily. "We can do stuff, Josh. I'm just... I dunno, man. Let's just make out."

"Or we can watch a movie." Josh suggests, smirking obnoxiously. "Unless. You wanna do something dirty."

Chris' cheeks heat up, embarrassment fluttering in his chest as he stutters out a response. Josh silences him with a kiss, stumbling off of the window ledge. He staggers in the direction of his movie case, clicking the PS4 on. Chris blows into his fist, heart hammering in his chest.

"Bad Milo? Again?" Chris whines, recognizing the title screen that loads. Josh shoots him a withering glare.

"My room. My movies." Josh huffs, shrugging off the cardigan he's wearing. "I have sweatpants if you wanna change."

Chris doesn't respond, focused on the way Josh strips down to a pair of briefs in a few short seconds. Chris flushes a deep shade of red, staring intently at Josh's back as the other gets redressed. Josh tugs on a dark shirt, a size too big, that has 'I don't lift I'm a Sith Lord' written on it, which is probably Chris', probably Beth's.

"You're staring, Cochise." Josh smirks, wandering back over to Chris. He leans against the wall, smirk only growing wider and wider as Chris continues to pointedly not stare. "I'm your boyfriend. You can look. I was kidding."

"Uhm." Chris says smartly.

"Come watch this movie with me." Josh grabs Chris' hand, tugging lightly until Chris concedes. Josh ends up in Chris' lap, laughing loudly as Milo crawls out of the main character's ass for the first time. It's a lovely sound.

"Wanna make out?" Chris nudges Josh's shoulder. Josh shifts in his lap, easing Chris back against the pillows, mouths already connected so Chris guesses the answer is a yes.

Chris doesn't spend Christmas with Josh, doesn't see Josh for most of December or to bring in the New Year because Josh is in the hospital with deep slits in his wrist. Chris goes to see him when he's stable, hooked up to an IV with bandages wrapped around his wrist and a 24 hour nurse on watch. Josh isn't happy to see him.

Chris sits down in an uncomfortable seat, the phantom pain in his arm flaring up and he can't keep his leg from bouncing nervously. Josh studies him closely, deep purple bruises collecting under his eyes, lips chapped and dry. His gaze lingers on Chris' right arm, taking in the fuzzy gloves he's wearing.

Chris speaks up first. "Should I not have come?"

"I'd prefer if you hadn't." Josh mutters, flexing his wrist. Chris stares at the bandage, mind rummaging to images of his mom in a bathtub, Josh on the floor in middle school, unmoving, not breathing. Chris swallows thickly, tasting sour bitterness in every word he wants to say. Josh sighs heavily, earning Chris' attention.

"C'mere, Cochise."

Chris forces himself to his feet, ignoring the thudding pound in his veins. He moves to stand beside Josh's hospital bed. It's like a bad repeat, a bad sequel to the original attempt suicide of Josh Washington. It makes Chris' eyes sting. He tries not to cry.

Josh reaches for his hand, grip slight and weak. "You're wearing gloves."

"Yeah." Chris says, uncomfortable with the subject change. Josh peels the right glove off, rubbing his thumb along the faux skin. Chris can't feel the sensation. It makes his stomach tighten.

"Is it working okay?"

Chris nods. "Yeah."

"But it's not the same?" Josh says, glancing up at him. He squeezes the hand and Chris can't feel it, he can't feel the pressure or Josh's skin warming his hand. All he feels is the hollowness in his ribs.

"I thought it'd work this time. Me dying. That the screaming would stop, the voices. I feel it sometimes. It's hands, sliding under my skin. Like an itch."

Josh peers up at him through long lashes. "I didn't go deep enough. I couldn't. It started healing back.. As if I'm still possessed. I don't know, Chris. It sucks you have to see me like this again. Are.. Are you mad?"

Yes. "I don't know." Chris says, taking his hand from Josh's. He tucks it into the pockets of his jacket, focusing on the tick of the clock, the tap tap of the nurse's shoes, the agonizing feeling that Josh might have survived the Nixkamich but that doesn't mean he'll survive. The phantom pain riles underneath his skin, itching where Chris can never scratch again because he has no right arm. He's incomplete and Josh tried to kill himself again.

A humorless smile curls onto Josh's lips, eyes soft and tired and he tucks his hands into his lap as he watches the emotions on Chris' face.

"Sorry I'm not okay, bro."

"It's not your fault." Chris responds.

"Will you kiss me?"

Chris looks at him, worrying the inside of his cheek. "You promised, Josh. You promised you'd stick around and not go anywhere. You... You lied to me."

Josh peers up at him, expression clouded with a mixture of agony and guilt but also anger, deep underneath, festering behind clear green eyes. Josh looks away. "I'm here now."

Chris sighs. "Okay."

"Okay."

Melinda asks Chris to not visit after, her face pleading and broken, so he stays home with August, shaking through a panic attack when it all hits him at once as his father counts down with him. 1.2.3.3.2.1. His dad doesn't believe in therapy but when Chris' anxiety flares up to where he can't be left alone, August finds a therapist. It helps, but it also doesn't because Chris misses Josh, misses him to the point where his brain tricks him into thinking he's failed and Josh is dead.

Hannah keeps him updated, sends pictures of Josh's shaky recovery that's mostly Josh hooked up to IVs, looking washed out but alive until the pictures become of Josh sitting in the back seat curled up in one Chris' pullovers asleep and still alive.

Chris drives to school alone, radio cut off, car silent in the steady drive. There is no one in the passenger seat stealing the AUX cord, no one laughing loudly at a bad joke. It took Chris two hours to brace himself to facing the general student body again, two hours of debating if he should wear gloves again or if anyone would notice that his right hand isn't his.

August had offered to drive him to school but Chris has been driving left handed for three weeks now with the hand that's actually his. Chris sits in the parking lot, in his parking space, staring at the school building as it shadows before him. He swallows down the bile that forces it's way up his throat, swallows down every awful feeling bubbling in his mind and he feels okay, feels mostly solid until he opens the car door and steps out.

Chris vomits into the grass, sinking dread sliding along every nerve, tears burning his skin like acid. He drives home, calls his dad who's so understanding it physically hurts. Sam comes by before work, finding Chris curled up in his closet staring down at his stubbed arm. She calls out sick and sits with him and holds his hand while he cries.

Sam rides with him the next day he tries and it's exactly what Chris was afraid of. Sam steers him away from the stares, glaring daggers at anyone who so much as begins to speak in his general direction. He's grateful to her, to Matt and Jess and Emily who stand between him and the pestering questions filling every students mind.

Chris understood. He looked different, was different and being that Devils Kettle is a small fucking town, everyone knew about the 'bear attack', knew about Chris losing his arm and the Washington's pulling out from school. It's only a matter of time before someone gets him alone, gets him cornered near his locker right before the bell sounds.

Chris doesn't know her name but he does know that she had a crush on Josh in middle school.

"What was it like? The bear?"

Chris shifts nervously, a few students glancing at them in passing. The girl touches his arm, his right arm, his fake arm. He wonders if she does it on purpose. Regardless Chris moves away from her touch, pushing his glasses up as the girl retracts her hand.

"Sorry. It.. It just must be hard for you. Losing so much and Josh is gone. You guys were close." She says and Chris isn't fully paying attention because what did she know about loss. The town didn't know the full story but Sam and Emily did and Chris did and Josh did and for some random, nameless person to come up to him and remind him that he nearly lost everything, lost more than just his right arm. It irks him.

"Why are you talking to me?" Chris narrows his eyes at her. The girl rubs her arm uncomfortably.

"Well after Marion and Miss Peterson. It's just a relief that you made it out okay."

Chris doesn't want to think about that, the people who didn't make it because they were too late figuring out what it was killing people.

"I appreciate it but," Chris looks at her. "I don't want to talk about it."

The girl nods in understanding, taking a step back before she turns and walks away, glancing over her shoulder at him as the bell sounds ahead. The stares mostly stop after that and the polite avoidance begins but it doesn't bother Chris as much as he thought it would.

Chris studies to keep his mind distracted, takes the pills his therapist prescribed and goes to school, ignoring the stares and casual calls of his name. His teachers tread around him carefully, polite smiles shot his way whenever eye contact is made. Chris knows they want to ask about Josh. He doesn't have lunch with Emily anymore, instead it's Matt and Jess, who seem to have formed a pact to keep Chris busy and distracted, constantly reminding him that he's still their favorite.

It works. Sort of. Chris goes to practices everyday and watches Matt from the bleachers, bringing along his homework and zebra cakes when he can stomach things. Mike joins him sometimes, idly talking about his run for class president. He doesn't ask about Josh and Chris thinks maybe someone told him not to. Josh starts to text him again, random silly pictures of noodle people dancing and his score on COD but Chris doesn't respond, mostly because he's still upset that Josh tried to kill himself and because he's an asshole.

From: Assington
I miss you.

From: Assington
I'm sorry.

From: Assington
Chris..?

"You gonna text him back?" Jess snorts from beside Chris on the bleachers. Its her turn to play babysitter but Chris liked Jess a lot so it wasn't really a chore. He shrugs, feeling bitchy.

"Ok so he tried to kill himself," Jess says. "I mean, at least he didn't succeed. You have more time with him now."

"Jess-"

"Chris," Jess raises an eyebrow at him. "You guys have been through a lot this year. A freaking bear attack? Really? I told you guys to be careful." Jess pouts. "It was a traumatizing event, Chris. He watched your arm get ripped off, watched you almost get eaten. How do you come back from that?"

Chris instantly feels like a dick, pondering over the past few months, all the hesitant looks, the extra gentle touches because Josh was scared to touch him most days unless Chris initiated it. How do you come back from nearly ripping apart your best friend? Being the reason he can't sleep some nights and that his right arm is gone.

"I'm an asshole." Chris mumbles. Jess pats his shoulder.

"At least you're cute, Chrissy." She grins widely. "Text him back. Hang with his dork ass. It'll be hard to keep him level and on track but he's always been like this. Plus you have friends. You're not alone on the 'Protect Josh Washington' committee."

From: Bro

I miss you too.

Josh's response is immediate.

From: Assington
Oh thank god because it would make today awkward

Chris frowns at the message, glancing over at Jess who is hiding an obvious smile behind her hand. Practice ends shortly after Chris gives up trying to get words out of Jess and he mopes most of the way home. Beth is waiting for him in his room, in a large sweater and leggings, wearing a seedy smile.

"Hey friend."

"Hey," Chris sets his bag down on his bed. "Everything okay?"

"Oh yeah. Just got some good news." Beth says, fishing a red envelope out of her shirt. She hands it to him, rolling her eyes when Chris turns his nose up at it.

"Where did you keep this?"

"Just open it, asshole."

Chris recognizes Josh's handwriting in the front, Chris' name written in scratchy black ink. He opens it, tugging a neatly folded letter tucked inside. Two laminated strips of paper fall to the floor.

'Beth's my right hand but your my best man. Look out your window.'

Chris is halfway through reading it, crouching down to pick up the pieces he dropped as music sounds through the opening in his window. He recognizes the song from some John Cusack movie. Chris straightens, moving slowly towards the window as the realization dawns on him. Beth shifts to the side, smiling softly.

Josh is standing on his E30, dressed smartly in tight leather pants and a loose, baggy gray shirt. He's holding a banner over his head, grinning widely, almost crazy if Chris squints, wrists colored with thin red lines. Chris focuses on the writing, heart swelling in his chest with a sick kind of warmth as he reads the words.

'Will you be my lead to prom, Cochise?"

Chris finds himself smiling, unable to stop the stretch of lips even if he wanted to.

"At least he's more attractive than John Cusack." Beth nudges his side. "Go before I puke."

It's all the encouragement Chris needs to move. He stumbles down the stairs to his house, grateful for once to be at home alone. August would snap pictures and Chris doesn't want to die of embarrassment. He throws the door open, catching Josh hobbling off his car, music still blasting, banner folded up in his hands.

Josh wanders over to him, Chris meeting him halfway in the yard.

"That a yes?" Josh asks, shifting nervously.

Chris kisses him. Josh blinks, eyebrows lifting in surprise before it melts into an easy smile, hand coming to rest on Chris' face.

"I missed you." Chris tells him.

"That's what happens when you date us crazies." Josh smirks. "I'm sorry, man. Go to prom with me?"

"We established this months ago." Chris laughs.

"Okay but that was before I thought I'd die." Josh jokes and Chris forces himself to laugh because it'll feel easier, easier than dreading the last few months.

"Gaaaaay!" Beth shouts from the window.

"Boo, you lesbian whore!" Josh shouts back, wrapping his arms around Chris' neck. He squeezes him tightly, thin body firm and cold. Josh trembles slightly. Chris hugs him back.

"I fucking missed you." Josh whispers.

"I missed you too."

"I'm sorry about your arm."

"I'm sorry I let you get possessed by a wendigo."

Josh chuckles directly into his ear. "Good thing you saved me."

"I'd do it again." Chris reminds him, feeling warm and tingly and Josh leans back just enough to kiss him again.

"I love you." Josh sighs.

"Me too."

Beth sings from the doorway. "Gaaaaaaaay!"

Chris shudders when he hears the click of a camera shutter.

Chapter Text

Chris is forced to sit through three hours of prom dress shopping. Three hours of giving opinions about what shade of blue matches Ashley's hair, three hours of Jess and Emily sneaking into the same dressing room, giggling and laughing, three hours of Sam freaking the fuck out while Hannah sits studiously beside Chris, all prim and beautiful and radiant because she decided her dress two years ago and it's beautiful.

"This is awful." Chris groans once Sam comes out for the third time. Hannah pats his knee.

"Did you pick a tux yet?"

"My dad wants to help. So no." Chris grumbles, dreading the inevitable pictures he'll have to suffer through. August was surprisingly sentimental and a fucking sap. Chris groans again.

"Shut up, nerd." Emily says, reappearing in a tight deep purple dress that flows beautifully down her legs before tapering off into a fluttery tail. She gestures to herself in one sweeping motion, earning an eye roll from Hannah.

"There will be people." Chris reminds her. "That," he points to the tail. "Will be yanked and destroyed."

"Agreed." Hannah says.

Emily glances at herself in the triple mirror stacked behind her. She clicks her tongue in annoyance before strutting back down to her dressing room. Sam emerges shortly after in something too pink and too frilly, Ashley bouncing after her with a wide grin. The dress Sam's wearing would be better on Ashley, the dress Ashley's wearing is white, hugging every soft curve of her body with a simple elegance.

Sam takes one look at Ashley and goes back to her dressing room, groaning loudly. Ashley giggles, spinning around once. Hannah smiles enthusiastically, already on her feet and bouncing towards Ashley. The neck line is deep, accentuating her cleavage with a lace trim. Chris clears his throat, shifting his gaze to the ceiling.

"Must be a good fit then." Hannah says, noticing, and Chris tries not to groan (for the 7th time that day).

"Think Felx will like it?" Ashley asks. Chris looks back at her, eyes widening.

"Felx is coming back? I thought you were going with Matt?"

Ashley shakes her head sadly. "Mike's going with Matt. But Felx isn't staying. Just coming for prom. I have something very special planned for them."

She winks at him and Chris blushes furiously, mind immediately latching onto potentially having sex with Josh. For the first time. With Josh Washington. Chris groans.

"It'll be okay, Chrissy." Hannah smirks. "I've heard Josh can be gentle."

"He's your brother and I don't want to talk about this." Chris says hurriedly.

"Talk about what?" Jess says, gracefully making her way towards them in an off the shoulder navy dress. It flares out halfway, petaling around her knees. She raises an eyebrow at them. Chris can hear Sam groaning from down the hall, the sound of a door closing following after.

"Chris' virginity." Ashley says. Chris gapes at her. Jess grins madly, eyes sparkling. Chris cowers under the three stares he's receiving, the gleam in Hannah's glasses nearly blinding him.

"Oh come on, Chris. It won't be bad." Jess says easily. "It's just Josh."

"Some might argue that's a reason to panic." Hannah tacks on.

"But they're bros." Ashley counters.

Jess shrugs. "If you can please me then you'll please Josh."

Hannah's eyebrows shoot up to her hairline, eyes wide and scandalized. Chris buries his face in his hands, screaming silently into the palms.

"That was last year. Let me live, Jessica. Please."

"You two?" Hannah sounds startled. "When? How?"

Chris is too embarrassed to feel insulted by Hannah's comment. "Can we not talk about this?"

Ashley folds her arms across her chest. "I'd also like to know."

Chris glares at her. Jess seems pleased with the sudden interest, making a show to move to sit beside Chris, wrapping an arm around his tense shoulders.

"Sophomore year, my house, after two very bad shots of vodka." Jess smirks. "Chris baby has the oral skills of Mike Munroe. Maybe better. Almost Emily level."

"No one's that good," comes Emily's snooty laugh. She stands beside Hannah, a humorous smile on her face. She's dressed in what she wore to the store, tight pants and expensive shades of black. Jess squeezes Chris' shoulder.

"Oh? He's pretty good, Em." Jess responds, her voice just a bit deeper, laced with something Chris absolutely doesn't want to think about. Emily's left eye twitches slightly, glancing at Chris, before a smirk spreads across her lips. Chris almost swoons.

"I'm gonna go change." Jess says, rising to her feet. She saunters past Emily, purposely swaying her hips in a suggestive manner. Emily trails after her. Hannah and Ashley watch the entire exchange in silence only looking back at Chris when a door down the hall closes.

Hannah's cheeks are bright red, Ashley's mouth hanging open. Chris breathes.

"Can we please go?"

Sam ends up not buying anything while Jess, Ashley and Emily all leave with at least 300$ worth of closing per person. Jess has a bright glow about her, Emily carrying herself with more grace than usual and it takes effort to not explain to Sam why they're all acting so weird.

Chris is parked outside Ashely's house when Josh calls.

"How was it?"

"Awful." Chris mumbles, waving at Ashley, who stands in her doorway, before pulling off. "Your sister is so wonderful. I didn't have to suffer alone."

Josh snorts. "Yeah, Han's pretty great. Come over?"

"Nah." Chris smiles, easing onto the main road. "I have plans."

"Oh? With who?" Josh says and Chris can hear the smile on his voice.

"Some guy. You might know him. He's pretty hot."

"What's his name?"

"Matt Samuels."

Josh clicks his tongue. "Matt is very pretty buuut you should reschedule."

"Any reason why?" Chris asks, checking the road before he shifts lanes. He eases to a stop, red light blaring at him.

"Well, see, there's this thing I kinda want to confirm."

"What's that?"

"Word on the street, Cochise, is that I'm missing out. It's not even word on the street. I know for a fact I'm missing out. Missing out on something marvelous. Jess studiously reminded me today that I definitely have not stuck my dick in your mouth."

Chris nearly runs off the roads, words tumbling around on his tongue as he tries to formulate sentences. Chris exhales shakily, feeling how warm his face is. Josh chuckles deep into the receiver, the sound sliding along Chris' spine like melted gold.

"Lemme feed you my dick, bro."

"Jesus Christ, Josh." Chris manages, following the familiar road to the Washington house.

"No homo?"

"Bullshit. I'll be there in 5." Chris mumbles.

"Atta boy." Josh says. The receiver clicks off, leaving Chris to drive alone and perpetually terrified. There were plenty of things to consider. 1. Chris hadn't given a blow job in at least a year, the last participant had been Henry Lendeik. 2. It was Josh Washington. 3. It seemed a little sudden considering Chris finally got over his anxiety when it came to making out, albeit with a lot of practice much to Josh's approval. 4. It was Josh Washington and despite being a toned down version of his former self, he was still overly flirtatious and handsy with expectations.

Chris was going to die.

Josh sits on the stairs leading up to the porch, a cigarette in his mouth, grinning widely when Chris pulls into the driveway. He rises to his feet, in a plain dark shirt and low hanging sweats bunched up to his knees. Chris braces himself, kills the engine and exits the car. Beth's car is absent from the driveway as is Melinda and Bob's, Hannah had gone to her boyfriend's after the shopping venture so it was just them. Just Chris and Josh.

"'Sup, Cochise." Josh greets easily as if they didn't just discuss him putting his dick in Chris' mouth. Chris raises a hand in greeting, nervously tucking his hands into his pockets as he walks over. Josh pinches the bud between his index finger and thumb, digging it into the stone steps before flicking it away.

"You look like you're about to combust."

Chris was. He nods stiffly and Josh smiles, slow and crooked. He touches Chris' forearm, just above where the prosthetic meets skin, fingers tracing the inside of his arm with gentle motions.

"We don't have to do anything you don't want. But I do wanna watch Cabin In The Woods on the projector."

Okay. Chris can do that. He can watch a movie with Josh Washington, while pointedly thinking about potentially blowing Josh Washington. Chris follows him into the house, hanging an immediate right. They journey down a short hallway, one of the double doors of the private theater already open. Josh ventures up the small flights of steps to the projector, gesturing for Chris to find a seat so he does somewhere in the middle.

The movie whirrs before flickering into a solid white film. Josh plops down beside him as the opening scene begins. He leans against Chris, hooking their arms together as his head rests against Chris' shoulder. Chris tries to focus on the movie, tries to focus on the characters on the screen but it's hard because now all he can think about is Josh's dick in his sweatpants.

Chris sneaks a glance at his boyfriend, feeling tiny pushes against his subconscious when he realizes Josh is staring back. Josh licks his lips, focused, a sly grin on his face. He glances down to Chris' mouth before looking back up.

Chris is the one to close the distance, grasping the front of Josh's shirt with a shaky hands as Josh melts into him, pushing Chris' jacket off with jerky movements. The kiss is sloppy, sloppy and uncoordinated but Josh is moaning against him so Chris doesn't really focus on anything else besides how hot he feels with Josh's hands roaming his body, thin body straddling his lap.

"I can hear you." Josh murmurs, mouthing bruises into Chris' neck. "Your heart is beating so loud, Chris."

"That a bad thing?" Chris asks hoarsely, sliding his hands under Josh's shirt. He eases Josh back into his seat, moving to the floor on his knees. The floor is cold, a bit too hard but it's not really a concern when Josh is staring down at him, eyes dark and hooded and he's licking his lips again.

--

"Nah." Josh whispers.

Chris barely catches under the sound of screams playing absently behind them. Chris leans forward, right hand braced on Josh's knee. He holds his boyfriend's gaze, lips brushing along the outline in Josh's sweats. Josh locks his jaw to the side, eyes dilating into thin slits. That was new. Chris tugs at the waistband, pulling roughly until they're pooling around Josh's ankles. Chris almost laughs at the fact that Josh isn't wearing anything underneath, the quiet swear above him echoing in his skull.

Chris has never seen Josh's dick before, whether it be on accident or not, but it's before him now, hard and dark, under the soft white light of the movie. Chris takes it in his hand, gaze flickering up just in time to see Josh's face twist up in a shuddery sigh. Chris settles between his legs, one hand splayed on Josh's thigh as the other slowly moves. Chris studies his boyfriend's face, tongue darting out to trace over the head.

Josh places a hand on Chris' head, fingers combing through the blond strands as he watches Chris' mouth wrap around the tip of his dick. Josh's head falls back, eyes slipping closed, hand tightening in Chris' hair as the others mouth sinks down around him. Josh bucks up involuntarily, pushing his dick further into Chris' mouth. Chris gags slightly, relaxing his jaw as he sinks down further. He places a hand on Josh's hip, pressing down firmly. Under the soundtrack Chris can hear Josh's soft 'fuck, fuck, fuck'.

Chris relaxes his jaw, sinking down further, eyes locked on Josh. The other stares down at him, biting down on his lower lip. Chris pulls back up, sucking on the head before dragging his tongue along the slit, saliva slipping down the corners of his mouth. Josh tugs on his hair and Chris moans softly, feeling his jeans grow tight when he glances back up to see Josh, eyes blown wide, the laziest smirk Chris has ever seen curled into his lips. Chris dips back down, swallows, tongue sliding along the vein and Josh's eyes slip closed, fingers pulling almost painfully. Chris bobs his head, mouth wet and full and he squeezes Josh's thigh when the other's hips jerk up again.

The movie sits forgotten, voices muted in the dull sound of nothing and Josh tenses underneath him when Chris sucks the head one last time and he's coming without much warning beyond a small pat on the shoulder. Chris swallows all of it, lapping the salty taste into his mouth without much thought, mouth working Josh through his orgasm.

Josh sinks down in his seat, boneless, hand dropping to his side as he watches through narrowed eyes as Chris releases his dick with an audible pop. Chris licks his lips, touching the corners of his mouth for any random flying come stains. Josh swats his hand away, running a thumb across Chris' bottom lip, smearing saliva and come along the skin. Josh forces himself up, grasping Chris' by the front of his shirt and pulling him into a bruising kiss. He eases Chris' mouth open with his tongue, stroking long swipes along the inside.

Josh pushes him to the floor, mouth still attached to Chris', bent over him while his hand works the other's jeans open. Josh kicks his sweatpants from around his ankles, wedging himself between Chris' legs. Chris moans when Josh wraps a hand around his dick. It's a bit embarrassing, that only two pumps later Chris is coming in Josh's hand but Chris will blame traumatic events for his lack of control around Josh Washington.

"You're so easy." Josh murmurs, pressing a soft kiss to Chris' mouth. "Jess was right. Your mouth is perfect, Cochise."

"Shut up, man." Chris whimpers, face flushed hot with shame. Josh smirks down at him, lifting his come covered fingers to his face. He licks his hand clean, winking dramatically at Chris when the other grimaces.

--

"You been eating pineapple?"

"Can we please not talk about this?" Chris asks, eyes wide. Josh shrugs, lifting himself off Chris. He holds out a hand, which Chris accepts, and helps the other to his feet. Josh reaches for his sweatpants, lazily pulling them back on. He plops down in his seat as Chris fixes himself.

"You came in like five seconds, Cochise." Josh comments when Chris sits down beside him, smiling cheekily. Chris punches him in the arm. Josh pats his knee with a fond smile.

"We'll work on your endurance."

It's how they continue to spend their time together, avoiding talk of anything serious (no school, no therapy, no panic attacks, no suicide attempts), Josh pressed up against him with a hand down his pants and a tongue in his mouth.

They should probably talk, about something, anything but the last time Josh tried to bring up Chris' arm, Chris had left, climbed into his car and didn't talk to Josh for about four days. Chris isn't sure why he evades the topic, maybe because he knows Josh feels terrible about it, maybe because he feels terrible about it but prom keeps drawing closer so it's easy to forget about what they've gone through when all their friends talk about after parties and who's fucking who in too expensive hotels after. Chris wants to forget it even if he's reminded everyday he wakes up.

"You guys pick out your tuxes yet?" Emily asks, legs swinging over the edge of the roof. Her hair is tucked behind her ear, face devoid of make up and emotion and Chris thinks it's because of where they were. It took more than a little coaxing to get Chris to go back, took three tries and one panic attack for him to be able to get out the car, but he goes on the fourth time because Sam and Josh both wanted to go and try to recreate The Point into what it was before. A place to run away to that wasn't Binksy or Lexington. Chris did it for Josh, maybe for himself, but he'd never come here alone again.

Sam cradles a beer bottle to her chest, gaze distant with Josh on her left, Chris beside Emily on her right. The Point still smelt like piss but the mildew smell was gone replaced by the metallic odor of rusting pipes. Chris didn't know if the second floor still had his blood on the floor, he didn't want to know. Emily grabs his hand.

"Nah." Josh answers, lighting up a cigarette. His hand still shakes sometimes. Chris takes a swig from his bottle, uneasiness settling along his stomach. He searches the tops of trees, sun winking in between leaves and the sky is setting in shades of purple.

"I hate prom." Sam sighs. "It just makes me anxious. I should be worried about passing the graduation test, not spending money on clothes I'll only wear once."

"Same," Emily agrees, smiling softly. "Jess wants to go though."

"Beth made a promise to Hannah so that means I have to go." Sam huffs.

"Girls." Josh snorts.

Chris peaks around Sam to glare at him. Josh shoots him a wide grin, inhaling deeply, ash and smoke swirling. Sam bursts out laughing suddenly, startling all of them. They take turns exchanging glances before focusing on her.

"We went through literal hell and we're concerned about prom." Sam laughs harder, slapping Josh on the knee as she nearly topples over. "And graduation."

"And what colleges we should go to." Chris mumbles and it only makes Sam fall back onto the roof with a thunk, beer spilling everywhere as her laughter dies down into a fit of giggles. Josh raises an eyebrow at her, smile fond and warm and his shoulders shake as he tries not to laugh. Emily beats him to it, her deep chortle filling the air alongside Sam's breathless chuckles. Her hand shakes in Chris', head thrown back.

It's a domino effect, Josh shortly joining them with a throaty laugh. Chris takes it all in, the sounds they create together, the exasperated way it feels out loud. Something like the end. The end of a bad chapter. Chris doesn't laugh, can't find it in himself to force a smile or join him. Instead he just feels the overwhelming sense of relief washing over him. Chris absently touches his right arm, exposed in the sun, pale white.

"We made it." Sam says softly once the noise dies down. "We fucking made it."

"One more year of high school to go." Josh adds, bringing a bottle of hard cider to his lips. Chris watches the way his throat works it down, watches how Josh turns to him, eyes bleak and tired. Josh gives him a small smile that feels like a maybe to a question Chris doesn't want to ask.

"Let's take it in stride." Emily says. Chris couldn't agree more.

Josh stays the night for the first time in months, probably since before Halloween, before everything literally went to hell. But he stays the night, sitting on the floor, dicking around on Fallout as they listen to Alvvays from Ashley's mixtape playing in the stereo. Chris is stretched out on the bed, fumbling with a code in his phone. He's rusty now, completely forgetting how apps work. Chris groans tiredly, tossing his phone onto the bed.

Josh glances up at him. "'sup, bro?"

"Nothing." Chris sighs, narrowing his eyes at the TV. "Are you playing my saved game?"

"Yeah." Josh answers, mashing buttons as he fights a Radroach. "Made some pretty big plot decisions too."

"Bro!"

"Shhh, Chris, daddy's tryna mine for jet."

"Don't get him addicted to drugs!"

"Shhhh." Josh smiles, pausing the game. He faces Chris from the floor, resting on his elbows as he leans against the bed. Josh stares for a moment, eyes darting from Chris to the empty spot beside him then back to Chris.

"You're allowed on the bed." Chris tells him.

Josh beams, crawling onto the bed like a spider. He climbs over Chris, arms braced on Chris' headboard, legs tucked around Chris', bent over slightly, tongue darting out to wet his lips. They stare at each other for a moment, breaths mingling and they're so close, so so close to one another. Josh kisses him, mouth wet and wanting against Chris', insisting and hot and Chris moans, hands grasping at Josh's shirt.

Josh pulls away, lips puffy, sitting back on Chris' knees as he drags his shirt over his head. "I ever tell you what you sound like?"

"What?" Chris asks dumbly, reaching out to touch the exposed torso. Josh shudders underneath his palm, skin chilled and soft. Chris wonders if it will ever go away, the tiny changes in Josh's body from his time being possessed. Occasionally Chris would hear Josh's throat click, sharp, puttering noises, whenever he was angry. Josh wasn't bothered by Devil Kettle's winters anymore, wasn't bothered by bruises or scars, skin healing back almost immediately. Emily had said it was nothing to worry about so Chris listened.

"People have different sounds." Josh explains, fingers working on the buttons of Chris' (Josh's) flannel. "It's like a mariachi band."

"Oh?" Chris says distractedly, wincing when the cold air hits his skin. Josh nods, head tilting to the side as he helps Chris' out of his shirt. "What I sound like?"

"A violin."

Chris frowns. "That's so boring."

Josh snickers, pressing Chris back against the pillows. He bends over him, grinding his hips down as he recaptures Chris' lips. Chris grasps Josh's shoulder tightly, sliding his prosthetic arm around the other' waist.

"I still sound like that?" Chris murmurs, angling his head when Josh nips at his chin. Josh makes a noise of confirmation, grasping at Chris' hips tightly. He doesn't bite as hard or leave as many hickies as he used to and Chris kinda misses it, the aftermath of colorful bruises dotting his collarbone but Josh has experienced Chris breaking into tears enough to not try to push it.

A knock comes to the bedroom door, Chris bolting upright as Josh sprawls backwards before tumbling off the bed. Chris grasps at his blanket, tugging it over his bare chest right before the door swings open. August takes one look at Chris, face casting a shade of crimson as he takes in his son's appearance.

"Uhm... Did.. I-I interrupt something?"

Chris shakes his head fiercely, sneaking a glance at the other side of his bed. Josh has a hand over his mouth, struggling not to laugh. August clears his throat.

"Okay. So. Tomorrow is the big day. Your tux looks really nice."

"I could've just worn my fancy faux tux shirt." Chris jokes, trying to ignore the way his dad keeps not looking at him. August seems particularly interested in the Han Solo bobble head on Chris' dresser.

"Uh, no. So see you in the morning."

His dad knocks three times on the doorframe before drifting back into the hallway, closing the door behind him. Josh springs up immediately, face red with laughter as he tries not to wheeze. Chris smacks his shoulder, burying his face in his knees, wrapping the blanket tighter around him.

"Aww don't be embarrassed, Cochise. Every dad walks in on their son wankin' it at least once."

"Did you just say wankin? Oh my god, Josh." Chris groans. Josh smirks darkly, sliding back onto the bed. He disappears under Chris' blanket, shuffling between his legs.

"Dude, what are you-"

Chris feels a hand on his hip, the hot swipe of tongue against his skin and Chris tenses up, peaking under the blanket to see Josh's dark smile, zipper locked in his teeth. Chris watches it get dragged down, heart in his throat, fingers twisted in the blanket. Josh licks along Chris' clothed erection, mouth hot and moist and Chris has to think about August walking back in to keep from being too loud.

Josh wakes Chris up before he leaves, Ashley waiting outside in the hallway for respectable reasons.

"Just stay, bro." Chris mumbles sleepily, stifling a yawn as he stretches widely. Josh is halfway out his window, shirt barely on, shoes in hand. Chris raises an eyebrow at him.

"You're not even dressed."

Josh smiles at him. "I'm late. Hannah is literally going to kill me if I don't get home. Like now."

"Okay, okay." Chris sighs, struggling to stand. He hobbles over to where Josh sits in the windowsill, bending down to press a soft kiss to Josh's mouth.

"See you later?"

Josh's smile wavers slightly. "Yeah, bro."

Chris watches him go, watches him drive away, debating if he should just go back to sleep but Ashley is already kicking down his door, tux in hand, stars in her eyes as she babbles about how nice it is. She manhandles Chris into the shower, makes him brush his teeth for five minutes instead of four while she sits on the toilet, excitedly chattering about Felx arriving soon.

Chris wonders if this is what having a sibling is like. He's sitting on the floor of his bedroom, back against his bed as Ashley fumbles with his hair into something "suitable". ("Just take it, Chris." "That's what she sa- ow!" "Don't try me, blondie!"). It ends up being a lot later than Chris was expecting, his phone covered in text messages and heart emoticons from Josh.

"You look good, Chris." Ashley says, sounding so surprised it's actually offensive. Chris glares at her through the mirror, adjusting his black bow tie. He turns slightly, taking in how thin his legs look in the white suit, the lack of tightness in the arms. Chris tugs on a pair of black leather gloves, watching the whiteness of his prosthetic disappear.

"You look like a bride." Ashley says from her seat on his bed. She grins up at him, snapping a picture before rising from her seat.

"Shut up, Ash." Chris blushes. "A red suit would've been tacky."

"I'm sure Josh would jump your bones anyway. Speaking of which, where is your lover boy?"

"Dealing with Hannah." Chris informs her, smoothing out a wrinkle in the side. "He's designated photographer since the parents are gone."

"How do you miss your kids' prom?" Ashley frowns.

"Senior prom is really the only one that matters." Chris reminds her.

Ashley rolls her eyes, snorting loudly as she fixes Chris' glasses. She pats his shoulder, feeling the soft fabric with a sigh.

"You look good." Ashley says again.

Chris cracks a smile. His dad joins them shortly, posing Ashley for faux sister/brother pictures whatever that means, Chris wasn't sure. August tears up as he sifts through the photos but doesn't say anything. Chris isn't sure what he's thinking but his dad hugs him tightly afterwards. Chris gets a text from Josh before leaving, telling him to go ahead to the school and he'll meet him there. It doesn't sit right with Chris, something feeling a bit off as he rereads the message. But he listens, heading to the school, popping way more breath mints that necessary.

The school parking lot is packed, limos and high rise SUVs dropping off students dressed elegantly in various colors. Chris finds Emily near the gym entrance, covered in a rich red dress that glides along her skin like bloodied petals. Chris whistles. Emily physically recoils.

"Gross. You look really good though." She comments, gesturing to Chris' attire. "Where's your boy toy?"

"He's coming later." Chris tells her. "You look good too. Where's Jess?"

Emily flips her hair. "I know. Jess is busy fraternizing with her cheerleader squad and I'm waiting for Matt so I can fix his stupid tie. Beth is inside with Sam."

Chris raises an eyebrow but makes no comment, heading inside. The lights are low, soft white and red shades cast over the polished floor. There are tables set up near the back, round, dressed beautifully with vases full of flowers. Chris almost could say it's lovely.

He finds Beth near the DJ station, wearing a tight fitting suit with a tapered tail. She's wearing top hat and a monocle.

"Chris! You look so good!!" She exclaims, clearly taken back. Chris' lips twitch.

"Do I usually look like trash?"

Beth waves a hand. "No, no, just nice to see you not looking like a distressed hipster who can't figure out if their pursuing art or band camp."

"What?"

"Nothing." Beth dismisses. "Where's Josh?"

"He said he'd be coming later."

Beth frowns. "Uh, he told me he was waiting on you."

Chris stares at her, taking in her words slowly. Sam finds them, two red drinks in hand and she's in a sleek white dress, hair done up elegantly in smooth waves. Her jaw drops when she sees Chris and honestly this is starting to be painful to experience.

"Wow, Chris!" Sam exclaims, handing Beth a cup. "You look-"

"Please say something besides good." Chris interrupts.

"Hot. You're fucking smoking. I'm surprised Josh isn't climbing you like a tree." Sam grins widely. "Where is he?"

"Apparently coming later." Beth responds uneasily.

"I thought he was waiting on you?" Sam turns to Chris, who is fishing out his phone. He shows them the message, Beth's eyes scanning it quickly before a realization strikes her.

It dawns on Chris, the purposefully wrong information, the distraction of prom. Chris is moving before he realizes, spinning on his heel and practically running back to the parking lot. Beth follows after him, leaving behind a confused Sam.

"He's not answering." Beth informs him, eyes wide with panic. "Chris-"

"I'll go. Find Hannah. Tell her what's up." Chris says hurriedly, stepping out onto the road. He rushes to his car, not even fully inside before he's twisting the key into the ignition. Chris drives fast, grateful for the town's distraction of prom because it meant most of the police presence was at the school, to avoid anymore "bear attacks".

Josh's E30 is parked out front the Washington home, lights off, driveway bathed in darkness aside from Chris' headlights. Josh's bedroom light is on, a shadow pacing back and forth. Chris stumbles out the car, up, up, up the porch, crashing into the front door with a soft groan. He takes the stairs two at a time, reaching the door leading to Josh's room quickly. Chris can hear music playing softly from upstairs, bedroom door closed.

Chris inhales deeply, climbing the short flight of steps quickly. The door swings open when he reaches it, Josh standing before him with red eyes, devoid of anything remotely resembling prom. In fact, Josh is dressed as if he was going somewhere. Josh's gaze traces over him, dragging along his form slowly.

"Wow." Josh says in awe.

"You're okay." Chris releases the breath he was holding. Josh shifts from one foot to another, folding his arms across his chest.

"Yeah. Bad day."

They stand in silence, Chris staring up into Josh's distant eyes, Josh gazing down at Chris. Josh takes a step backwards.

"Wanna come up?"

Chris nods, slowly making his way up the stairs. He takes in the room, the way everything seems rearranged and different, bed devoid of sheets, pictures torn down, TV playing the title menu for Ponyo over and over. The click of the door closing brings Chris back to reality, Josh moving past him to sit down on the messy bed. There's an open book bag full of clothes on the floor.

"Going somewhere?" Chris asks quietly.

Josh glances at the bag then shrugs. "Thought about it."

Silence stretches between them, Chris staring at Josh as the other avoids his gaze. Chris wants to ask if Josh was going to leave without saying anything. Leave Chris behind in this tiny town.

"I was gonna come. It's kind of a big deal. Prom." Josh runs a hand over his face. "I.. I didn't mean to worry you. Or Beth. Definitely going to get cursed out when I see her." He chuckles softly. Josh glances at Chris, a small smile playing on his lips. He gestures for Chris to come closer so he does, crossing the room in three easy steps before he's standing in between Josh's legs.

"You clean up nice, Cochise." Josh reaches for Chris' right hand, fingers dancing along the leather fabric. "Real nice. I realized today how much the idea of being in a room full of people bothered me. Maybe because I'm used to wanting to rip them apart."

"Wanna stay home?" Chris asks. In reality he wants to ask if Josh wants to stay here, with him. Josh looks up at him, shrugging heavily as he leans back on his arms.

"I dunno. You're all dressed up and perfect. I'm a bad date."

Chris snorts. "I've never been stood up before so you're certainly one to remember."

Chris has been left behind before though, watched people wilt away and fade until one day they aren't there anymore.

Josh laughs at that. "I've never stood anyone up before and they show up at my house."

"Match made in heaven." Chris supplies.

Josh only smiles, straightening as he grasps Chris' hips. He rises to his feet, absently playing a muted melody on Chris' side. It was still weird, their sudden height difference but Chris doesn't mind as much anymore. Chris touches Josh's shoulder, hand sliding up to caress the side of his face. Josh leans into it, eyes slipping closed.

"We can go." Josh whispers.

Chris shrugs. "We can stay."

"It's Prom." Josh argues, green eyes opening.

"Were you going to skip town without telling me?"

Josh's mouth opens before it snaps closed, gaze darting away from Chris to stare down at the floor. He shrugs, tucking his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

"I don't know." Josh admits. "I haven't decided. I just packed stuff. I don't know if I'm going to leave or where'd I go or why. I..I just packed a bag, Chris. That's it."

Chris doesn't say anything. Josh peers up at him. "Are you mad?"

Chris shrugs, stepping away from Josh. He doesn't know what he is, mind blank, but he wanders over to the Josh's computer, pausing the nameless Broken Bells song that was playing. Chris taps around on YouTube, face lighting up as he finds what he's looking for and clicks play. A trumpet sounds through the speakers, Ella Fitzgerald's voice ringing out beautiful and soft and Chris can hear Josh move behind him.

Chris flicks off the overhead light, leaving only the soft glow of the tv, clicking the lowest setting on Josh's nightstand lamp. Chris shrugs off his coat, taking off his gloves and setting them on Josh's bed as said owner stares at Chris. Louis Armstrong sings out, Ella's melding against his in smooth harmony. Chris holds out his right hand to Josh, Josh, whose eyes widen a fraction before melting into something Chris can't fully read, soft and sweet like a breeze in spring.

Josh takes his hand, stepping up to Chris, one hand secure on the other's waist. Chris places his other hand on Josh's shoulder, feeling his cheeks burn when he presses closer, Josh's deep chuckle breathing into his ear. Josh leads them in a slow circle, nose buried in the side of Chris' head as he hums along.

"You would know this song." Chris mumbles.

"Good song." Josh replies easily. "You have decent taste."

"I'm dating you so it has to be better than decent."

"Oooh stroking the ego will get you everywhere with me, Cochise." Josh smiles against him, the hand on Chris' waist sliding to the small of his back. Chris stiffens, mind immediately fleeing to whatever deep gutter he has reserved for Josh Washington.

"You sound so nice right now." Josh comments, mouth still very, very close to Chris' ear.

"Stop with your creepy vampire bullshit, bro."

"Can't help it." Josh releases Chris' hand, cupping his chin gently. He presses their mouths together, smiling when Chris' lips part for him. The hand on Chris' waist shifts to the front of his dress shirt, nimble fingers popping buttons open.

"Wanna do something dirty?" Josh mumbles against him, biting down on Chris' lower lip as he pinches a nipple with his other hand. Chris stutters out a 'mmhm', taking the hem of Josh's shirt and pushing it up. Josh pulls the rest off with ease, tossing the article somewhere behind him before grasping Chris' face, kissing him hard.

Chris groans in response, working on the front of Josh's tight jeans, fumbling with the zipper as his mind shorts, Josh's tongue in his mouth, hot and easy and perfect. Josh walks Chris towards the bed, kiss never ending, hand guiding Chris down slowly. Josh pulls away, standing in between Chris' clothed legs, chest rising and falling as his heated gaze traces over Chris.

Josh helps him out of his dress pants, laughing loudly when he sees Chris' Naruto boxers. Chris punches him weakly in the stomach, sliding the remainder of his dress shirt off, tugging his bowtie from his neck. Josh's room is painfully warm, nearly suffocating and Josh keeps kissing Chris until he's panting and whining. Josh is still in his jeans, zipper undone, when he pulls away, working them down past his hips along with his briefs.

Chris sits up on his elbows, watching the display with heavy eyes. Josh kicks his pants to the side, climbing his way back up to Chris, hands sliding along Chris' bare torso.

"'m gonna fuck you then we're going to prom. That okay?"

"Fuckin.. Dude. Why are you even asking?"

Josh shrugs, a shit eating grin plastered on his face. Chris blushes as he takes in Josh's body, naked and pale above him. Chris gapes mutely, eyes wide and round as he stares up at Josh.

"How are you so hot? I don't-" Josh cuts him off with a kiss, tongue sloppily sliding inside Chris' mouth as their dicks together brush against one another, slick and wet and Josh's room smells like salt.

Josh pushes at his shoulder until Chris lies back, glasses foggy and askew, staring up into Josh's flushed face. Chris glances down at his prosthetic, the slight contrast of color. Josh places a hand on his bare thigh.

"Wanna take it off?"

Chris looks at him. "Would it be weird?"

Josh frowns. "Why would it be weird?"

"I don't know, man. I'd only have one arm. That's not necessarily-"

Josh shushes him, index finger pressed to Chris' lips. "That's stupid. You're being stupid. It wouldn't be weird. None of this is weird."

"Josh-" Josh makes a zip noise so Chris quiets, pouting. He sits up slowly, touching where his skin meets felt. Chris is acutely aware that Josh is patiently staring at him. Chris nods, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. Josh helps him with it, distractedly kissing Chris as he loosens the straps, sliding the arm from its snug place, setting it off somewhere.

It's weird, having someone else touch and handle his prosthetic. Chris wouldn't even let his dad help some days because of how inadequate he felt sometimes. Chris shifts his weight to the left side, the gap between what's left of his arm and the bed a bit discomforting to look at.

"You okay?" Josh's voice brings Chris out of his thoughts. He nods shakily, staring down at the exposed mold of skin. Josh grasps his chin, tilting Chris' face away. Chris looks at him, full bodied and perfect. It stings.

"You don't look okay." Josh tells him.

"I am." Chris swallows thickly. "I-I'm fine, Josh."

"Cochise." Chris shakes his head.

"I'm fine. Please. I'm fine." Chris says quickly. "Kiss me."

Josh frowns but concedes anyway, hand curled around Chris' forearm as he kisses him. Chris sighs into it, grateful for the distraction. He follows Josh's movements, mimicking the slow drag of lips and tongue, body warm under Josh's exploring hand.

"You don't have to be, ah, gentle, man." Chris breathes out, combing a hand through Josh's hair as the other works his mouth lower and lower and oh. Chris opens his eyes, unaware he had closed them, and stares down at Josh, who's lying between his legs, peppering the soft skin of Chris' belly with bite marks.

--

"It's your first time. Gotta be gentle, Cochise." Josh explains, nosing the underside of Chris' dick. Chris struggles to formulate words, breathing heavily.

"Wha-" He clasps a hand over his mouth, unable to keep from moaning as he watches Josh's mouth sink around him, dick disappearing into moist, hot heat. Josh holds his hips down, swallowing around Chris and it takes everything inside Chris to not die from the feeling.

Josh hums around him, eyes locked on Chris' face with a burning intensity, lips stretched and red and full. Chris thinks he might be dying, body hot and tingly as Josh continues to take him into his mouth without so much as a blink until he's buried to the base, nose brushing against blonde curls.

Chris head falls back, left arm trembling underneath him, fingers twisted in Josh's blanket as Josh pulls up just so, tongue pressing along the underside of the head before he's sinking back down, jaw lax, mouth soft. Chris bites back a moan, sitting up, reaching his hand out to smooth Josh's hair back. Josh closes his eyes in response, throat vibrating around him and Chris grabs a handful, fingers twisting and pulling and Josh groans against him.

"Fucking God." Chris grinds out, Josh's head bobbing up and down, working Chris to near insanity. Josh snorts, nostrils flaring. He pulls off, saliva and precome sliding down his lips, a thin strand connected to the head of Chris' dick. Chris exhales shakily, desperately wanting to save the image in his head for the remainder of his life.

Josh wraps a hand around him, pumping lazily as he licks his lips. "You make a pretty picture, Cochise."

"Fuck you." Chris hisses, hips bucking when Josh squeezes just right. Josh chuckles deeply, pressing a slicked finger against Chris.

"W-When did-" Chris whimpers, Josh's mouth closing around his dick as his finger slides inside. His skin feels hot, sweaty, and staring down at Josh between his legs with a finger deep in him isn't helping.

Josh stares back, the corners of his eyes crinkling. Chris imagines he'd be smirking like an asshole if there wasn't a dick in his mouth. Chris collapses back on the bed, clasping a hand around his mouth as Josh licks along his skin, adding another finger. Chris realizes the tiny panting in the room is his own.

"You don't have to be quiet." Josh says, fingers steadily working Chris open. "Certainly not on my account."

Chris wants to call him an asshole, wants to be able to think long enough to actually call him an asshole but Josh's fingers keep moving around, stroking and nudging and Chris moans against his palm when Josh adds another, the hand wrapped around his dick gone. Chris bites his lip, feeling full and dizzy and like the tail end of a sigh. He flinches, a sharp nip placed along the inside of his thigh, an apologetic kiss placed over it. Josh pushes at Chris' thigh, bending his leg as leaves more and more bites.

Chris props himself up on his elbow, panting softly as he watches Josh fuck into him with his fingers. Their eyes lock, Josh's mouth sucking a dark bruise into his skin, and Chris' heart flutters into his throat. Josh crooks his fingers just so and a tremble works its way down Chris' spine, stars flickering before his eyes, the shuddering moan in the room is his.

"Josh, please." Chris whimpers, aching and so, so hard, release bubbling inside him.

"You're so cute, Cochise."

Chris opens his eyes (when did he close them?), Josh hovering over him, pushing at his knee as he settles in between Chris' legs. Josh removes his fingers, eyes locked on Chris' face, clouded, thin slits as he guides himself. Chris' eyes squeeze shut, impossible heat slowly inching inside. His back arches, hand fisted in the sheets. Josh places a hand on his shoulder, grip hard, low curses tumbling from his lips like a prayer.

"Fuckin' perfect, Chris." Josh sighs, pushing Chris onto his back. Chris cries out softly when the other bottoms out, skin to skin, molten, soft warmth flooding every nerve. He glances down at their connected bodies, Josh's tanned hand on his hip, before turning to his boyfriend, who isn't smiling, isn't smirking, isn't grinning like some maddened asshole.

Josh stares down at him, chest heaving, jaw tense. His eyes trace over Chris slowly, reaching out a hand to touch Chris' face. Chris isn't sure what he's thinking, but the stare almost makes him uncomfortable, too much feeling, too much of everything behind it.

"You're perfect." Josh whispers, so soft Chris almost doesn't catch it. Josh leans down, pressing their foreheads together, the hand on Chris' hip moving to grasp the edge of the bed. Chris wants to say something, anything but Josh moves, sliding out before he thrusts back in. Chris gasps, thoughts gone, grasping Josh's shoulder as the other moves.

The bed rocks with each movement, Josh's hips pushing every slow, deep thrust until Chris is trembling and moaning. Josh pants harshly in his ear, reaching down to grab Chris' hip. He pushes up, hand braced beside Chris' head, as he works into a faster pace, hips snapping.

"F..fuc..k.." Chris whimpers, disappointed that he's definitely not going to last long, the steady swell of release building and building. Josh chuckles above him, this strange breathless noise, as he fucks into him harder.

"Shouldn't of gotten you so worked up." Josh smirks. "Sorry."

"Ass." Chris manages to say, pulling Josh down to him. They kiss, slow and sweet, Chris digging scars into Josh's back when his release hits him, all slow warmth and butterflies. Chris whines, low and keening, tensing up and Josh groans against him, hands grasping Chris' hips as he works him through his orgasm. Josh stutters out a sharp 'fuck' before he gives on last thrust, dick pulsing inside Chris.

--

Josh doesn't collapse like Chris expects him to, doesn't roll over and pull out, instead he kisses Chris hard and needy, pressing close to him. Chris melts into it with a tired sigh, wrapping his arm around Josh's warm body. He winces when Josh slips out, blushing when his boyfriend comments on how red he is. Chris considers throwing a nearby pillow at him but he's tired and the idea of moving and going to prom is terrible.

"Kinda nice feeling when someone comes by just my dick being inside them."

"Fuck you." Chris says tiredly.

"Oops. Beth is-"

The door slams open, smacking against the wall with a crunch. Chris shoots up, startled, eyes wide as he peers over his shoulder to see Beth, in her beautiful tux, frowning and red and oh-

"Are you fucking kidding me?!" Beth hisses angrily. She surveys both of them. Josh looks like a deer caught in headlights, wide eyed with his phone shielding his sister's eyes from his dick. Chris isn't sure how he looks but it can't be much better.

Beth pinches the bridge of her nose, bringing her phone up to her face.

"He's fine. They're both fine, Han." Beth sighs. "No! No, don't come up here."

Beth fixes a glare on Chris. "I sent you on a mission, not to get laid."

"Well technically," Josh starts but his words die in his throat when Beth shifts to him, all heat and fire. Josh rubs the back of his neck sheepishly.

"Get dressed. You're coming to prom. It's your punishment." Beth points at Chris, then Josh. "Don't fuck with me."

The door slams closed, Beth's angry footsteps thundering down the stairs. Chris blinks, embarrassed, and turns back to Josh, who is laughing into his hands.

"Bro-"

"You're so red, Chris."

Chris does throw a pillow this time. It misses causing Josh only to laugh harder. A flurry of knocks come to the door.

"I said don't fuck with me, Joshua!"

Josh's mouth snaps closed, lips twitching with a smile. Chris just feels lucky to be alive. Josh lets him shower first, but not without reminding Chris to clean 'thoroughly'. Chris had slammed the door in his face.

Josh helps him with his arm after they're both clean and dry, peppering Chris' shoulder with tiny kisses. He buttons up Chris' shirt for him, redoes his bowtie and keeps talking about how good Chris looks, but Chris can't help but think about how amazing Josh looks in a tux when the other finally gets dressed. It's tailored perfectly for him in rich shades of black, bowtie pearly white.

"People are going to think we're getting married." Chris says for the sake of not staring like a lovesick idiot. Josh smirks at him, combing his hair back.

"Wanna marry me, Cochise?"

Chris reddens. "Need one more supernatural fuck up to happen and I'm all yours."

Josh laughs at that, taking Chris' hand as Beth comes charging into the room again, nostrils flared, expression bristling with annoyance. Her face softens considerably when she sees them but it doesn't stop her from shuffling down the stairs and into her Mercedes ("I can't trust you assholes to make it." "Glad you have us covered, Bethany, because I definitely want to jump his bones again." "Josh!")

Sam is waiting outside the school when they arrive, shivering but smiling as they approach her. Beth sheds off her jacket, draping it around her girlfriend's shoulder with the dramatic flare of royalty.

"They were fucking." Beth informs her, much to Chris' dismay. He figures he deserves it. Sam sighs heavily, sending a smirk Josh's way that mimics his own. Chris groans.

"Took him to the bone zone." Josh says smugly. Sam's left eye twitches.

"Can we please just go?" Chris huffs, embarrassed.

"He was limping, Josh." Sam points out and Chris' jaw drops open. Josh snickers, placing a hand on the small of Chris' back. Beth snorts loudly, eying Chris.

"Oh my god! I was so worried!" Hannah appears behind Sam, pristine and perfect as usual in a pink gown fit for a gala not a high school prom.

"We were fucking." Josh says, the same time Beth says, "They were fucking."

Hannah reddens, glancing at Chris, who looks anywhere else but her. "Oh, um. Congratulations?"

Chris slaps a hand over his face. "Oh my god, Han."

"Celebratory bang, Cochise?"

"Oh my god." Chris whines.

Sam giggles. "Let's go inside."

Chris should've stayed home, avoided prom altogether, because everyone in their tiny gang of misfits seems to know that Chris is no longer a virgin, Matt slapping a ten dollar bill in Mike's hand when Chris blushes over "you bottomed? Goddammit, Chris".

Or maybe he shouldn't of stayed home because Josh doesn't take his eyes off him and Ashley has never seemed happier pressed up against Felx in a corner of the room. Sam does the Cha Cha Slide with Emily, who is a little too good at it. Matt kisses Mike during a slow dance, Jess squeezed in between them milking a hidden flask, all giggles and smiles. Hannah is a princess, pink and glowing with two boys on her arm instead of one.

It's the first night since they've all been together, weightless and whole.

Beth sits beside Chris on the stage, tucked by one of the speakers, her handed folded over his. They're watching Sam and Josh slow dance, bodies pressed close together. Sam laughs at something Josh says, grinning widely. Beth squeezes his hand. Chris turns to her. She looks at him, a small smile on her face.

"Thank you." Beth mouths, eyes soft and kind.

Chris shrugs, smiling, and she nudges him, slipping down from her seat. Beth drags Chris down with her, tugging him towards the slow moving dancers. Chris sees Emily and Jess somewhere in the middle, both smiling and giggling. Felx winks at him from where they dance with Ashley. Chris doesn't know where Mike and Matt went too and he probably doesn't want to know.

Beth places her hands on his shoulder, he places his on her waist, mimicking the wide smile she has on her face.

"You really saved the year, Christopher. Mama's proud of you." Beth tells him.

"God, you sound like Josh." Chris remarks. "Emily actually did the saving. I'm just the honorary chew toy."

Beth squeezes his shoulder. "Nothing wrong with that. The title of Scream Queen has been stolen by Hannah. Occult Enthusiast by Emily. Innocent Bystander by Sammy."

"Oh? Then what are you?"

Beth ponders. "Professional Rock Thrower?"

Chris laughs at that, a bit louder than he intended given the looks sent his way. Beth grins widely before it melts away. She squeezes his shoulders again.

"Thank you."

Chris swallows. "Anytime. 's what I'm here for."

"Bethany, quit stealing my boyfriend." Josh snakes an arm around Chris' waist, pressing way too close than what's allowed. A teacher clears their throat from outside the crowd. Beth giggles, allowing Chris to be taken away from her, expression brightening when Sam takes his place. Josh spins Chris around, settling firm hands on Chris' waist.

Chris blinks, fumbling to figure out where his hands go so he places them awkwardly on Josh's shoulders, face heating up. He nervously peers up at Josh, blushing furiously when he sees the fondness in his boyfriend's eyes.

"Dude." Chris says.

Josh lifts an eyebrow. "'sup, bro?"

"Stop staring at me."

"Can't help it. You're hot." Josh smirks.

Chris weakly squeezes his shoulder. He places a hand on the side of Josh's neck, disappointment humming in his veins when he realizes he can't feel Josh's skin through his prosthetic. He forgot his gloves. Josh reaches up to grab his hand and Chris only sees the gesture instead of feeling it.

"Are you going to leave?" Chris asks quietly.

Josh shrugs. "I told you. It was just a thought."

"How long will it be a thought?"

"I don't know, Chris." Josh sighs softly.

"Would you tell me?"

Josh looks at him. "Yeah. Would you come with me?"

"In like a year, when I graduate, I can't just leave here, Josh. You know that." His dad was here, his mom was buried here, Chris still had unfinished business with this town, mainly school, but he could, if Josh asked, despite what he's said, he would leave if that's what Josh wanted. Josh smiles, timid and beautiful.

"You'd say yes."

"How.. Dude, is this like Teen Wolf? You can feel my intentions? My thoughts? Am I Stiles? You can't be Scott, you're not cool enough."

Josh giggles. "You're not cool enough to be Stiles."

Chris gasps, offended. "I am plenty cool."

"Yeah alright," Josh says, rolling his eyes. "Fine. I'll wait a year. Graduate. Buy a jeep and we can go ghost hunting afterwards, maybe find a werewolf."

"Fuck, Josh, that's terrifying. Werewolf? Really?"

"I've always wanted a dog." Josh adds.

"It's still a person, dumbass." Chris says.

Josh smiles, pressing his forehead to Chris, reaching up to touch his face. Chris leans into it, palm warm and soft.

"Come ghost hunting with me."

Chris sighs heavily. "Yeah, yeah okay."

"Werewolf?"

"No, Josh. Jesus Christ." Chris groans and Josh laughs, this raspy, wholesome noise that fills Chris up with the hum of butterfly wings beating along his ribs as he watches Josh's eyes light up.