Harley stared into the darkened room.
'My goggles must be broken....' she thought. 'The night vision is screwed because that can't be what I think it is!"
Suddenly the small figure rolled over and switched on a light.
The Gambler shrieked, throwing her hands over her light-sensitive goggles, tearing them off her head and messing up her unwashed hair in the process. She waved her arms in front of her, ray gun still in hand, watery eyes streaming, trying to focus on the little girl sitting on a bed in the middle of the room.
"Don't scream! I'm not going to hurt you, I promise!" Harley hissed, wiping tears from her blurry eyes.
The child's hedgehog-like hair wobbled as she cocked her head to the side. "Why should I scream? I already know the lasers don't hurt me, so I don't see why you're pointing it at me."
Harley's aggravated eyes cleared and she narrowed them at the naive little girl. She pouted, feeling slightly offended on behalf of her Sniper Jag. "I think you're mistaken kid, these babies can do some serious damage!" she said, then realized that she sounded like some crazy murder. "Not that I'd shoot you!"
The tiny girl's eyes blinked rapidly, a confused expression crossing her face. "Is this another test? Because if it is I really don't wanna play. Mr. Sparkles and I are tired and we wanna go to sleep."
The Gambler's mouth hung wide, trying to process that information. "Mr..... Sparkles?"
She dug around under the white blanket and pulled out a stuffed unicorn toy, worn from years of hugging. She grinned widely, showing off her inanimate friend. "This is Mr. Sparkles. He's my best friend. We do everything together, I even take him in to the operation room when I need an upgrade."
Harley stared at the girl, thoughts spinning around her head. On a plaque above the child's bed there was something inscribed. "Weapon S/C/9.GR8C, aka Gracie." she whispered, eyes moving back to focus on the innocent looking girl, hugging her stuffed unicorn toy. "I'm not crazy, you are BL/ind's eight year project..."
The child didn't really understand why the woman in the funny outfit was pacing back and forwards. She petted Mr. Sparkles, wishing that the intruder would go away so that she could get some sleep. She was so tired, the people in the white coats had keep her up late for testing and she was exhausted. She hated it when they sprung surprise examinations on her like this.... Although they didn't bother with the guns anymore, which were useless... Though this lady was very strange looking for an examiner.
"Ummm is the test over yet? Because I wanna go to sleep." she yawned, rubbing her eyes.
Harley paused in her mission to wear a path in the floor and turned to the child. "Do you have any idea who or what you are?"
Large, hazel-grey eyes blinked. "My name is Gracie, I live here. The people in the white coats are my family, sorta. There's new ones all the time and sometimes one of them leaves, so it's not really a family. They call me the ninth Scarecrow.... But I don't really know what that means. I'm eight years old, and on my ninth birthday which is only a few weeks away I'm going away. I'm not sure where, but I am looking forwards to it. I rarely leave this room so it's kinda like an adventure..." she trailed off, thinking about her future.
Harley wanted to be sick. This was a kid, an innocent child that BL/ind had turned into their latest weapon of mass destruction. From what she could gather, Gracie was a cyborg like Korse... However she must be far more advanced after nearly nine years of development. Who knows what they had planned for her... And she wouldn't even understand what she was doing. Harley walked over to the little girl and crouch down beside her bed.
"What if I told you that you didn't have to wait until your ninth birthday? What if I told you that you can come with me now on one of the biggest adventures of your life?"
Gracie's lips parted in a little gasp of excitement. "Really!? But Newsagogo says that I wont be ready for a few more weeks..."
Harley flinched at the mentioning of the BL/ind agent, but continued to sway the girl. "That doesn't matter. If you come with me you wont have to have any more tests. You can do whatever you want and you wont have to stay in a room like this. You and Mr. Sparkles can make more friends and you can be a part of a family, the kind of family where people don't leave."
The girl clutched at her soft toy, amazed at what the woman was saying. "Can we... Can we go outside?" she breathed. "I've always wanted to see the sky. They say it changes colour, it's black at night and then goes all pretty and pink when this thing called the sun rises." Her eyes shone as she spoke. "Then it goes blue... Bright blue. I've only ever seen bright blue once, it's so pretty! Oh and sometimes water falls from they sky... Which is kinda strange, but I'd love to see it!"
Harley reached over and squeezed one of her small hands. "Yes Gracie, we can go outside. Every day if you like. But if you want to come with me, we have to leave now, okay?"
The girl looked around her white room, which suddenly seemed too small for her life. She nodded at the woman with the dark blonde hair and gave a shy smile. "What's your name?"
The Gambler smiled back. "My name is Harlequin Diamond, but you can call me Harley."
Gracie grinned and slipped from her bed, unicorn clutched tightly to her chest. "Okay Harley, I want to go with you.... But you promise Mr. Sparkles and I will have fun?"
Harley nodded and walked to the door, leaning out into the control room and giving the signal to Cherry Bomber to start evacuating the building.
"Umm hold on a second, I've got to take out my charger." Gracie said, pulling three white wires from her wrist and four from the side of her legs.
Harley watched with a sick fascination at the proof that the little girl was not what she appeared to be. "Wait... you need to be charged every night?"
Gracie shook her head. "Not every night... Once a week usually."
The Gambler went over to the wall where the wires were attached with a fairly basic looking applicator. She mentally ran through all the outlets her and Roulette had back at HQ for their generator, and she knew that there was one of them which would fit. "Hold on a tick Gracie, we'll need to take these with us."
As soon as she tugged the charger from the wall an alarm went off. She jumped up, heart racing as the shrill sound penetrated the air. It was accompanied by an unfamiliar, high-pitched whine. "Shit, shit, shit, shit!" she muttered, running out into the control room and seeing that her crew had already slipped out into the hallway.
Gracie looked up at the older woman, not understanding what was going on. She rubbed at her temples which were suddenly aching. "Harley, what is that loud sound? It hurts my ears...." she trailed off as her eyes rolled back into her head. Harley leapt towards the girl and caught her limp body before she hit the ground.
"Disable alarm... BL/ind fuckers." she growled, holding the small body in her arms protectively. "Where should I go...?"
She looked around and panicked when footsteps echoed from the hallway outside. Looking up at the ventilation system, she grabbed a chair and dragged it over, underneath the hatch. Lifting Gracie was harder than she imagined, the tiny girl weighed a lot, but she was able to slip her up into the dark hole. Harley only just managed to heave herself inside and pull the grill shut behind her when the door was thrown open.
The Gambler shrank back from the hole and listened as the booted feet of a dozen dracs stomped around the room, tearing it apart in the search for Weapon S/C/9.GR8C. Her heart was beating so loudly she was sure they'd hear it and discover their hiding spot. However after five minutes of tense waiting one of the dracs alerted the others to the presence of zonerunners in the west faction. Harley clamped her hand over her mouth, trying not to imagine what her crew was facing. She looked down at the small girl in her arms, one of the most valuable cards BL/ind had to play in the war and knew that her responsibility lay with smuggling Gracie out of this lab. She wiped away the tears that dripped down her cheeks and pushed away guilty thoughts of leaving Cherry Bomber and the others to their fate as she pulled the limp body along, towards the east wing.
After two days of exploiting the air ducts, Harley knew where the trigger systems were. The tubes were filled with pressure pads and trip wires in the attempt to catch intruders. However the Gambler avoided every one and after fifteen minutes of struggling to half carry, half drag Gracie towards an exit, they made it.
The air duct ended at a giant fan, which sucked oxygen in from outside. It was dark outside, but the moonlight shone through the giant panels, moving almost too fast to see. She slid her ray gun from it's holster and upped the setting to a wide beam, high heat blast, then aimed half way along the fan's wings. She fired and watched happily as the metal was torn in half on each of the four propellors, leaving enough room for her and Gracie to slip through outside. She slipped beneath the deadly, spinning pieces of metal before tugging the small girl out after her. They may have still been inside the gates of the BL/ind facility, but Harley could practically taste the freedom on the desert wind that brushed across her skin. She savored the moment, basking in the starshine before picking up Gracie and placing her over her shoulder.
The Gambler jogged along the roof, relying on her memory of their break in to lead her back the way they came. She knew that once she was over the wall it was a simple matter of uncovering her motorbike, stashed under a saltbush. After that there was nothing that could stop her following the Colorado River all the way home.
Bleach slipped into the Diner, closing the door quietly behind her. She had been sitting outside for the past three hours, trying to find a reason to go inside rather than run back to Korse with her tail between her legs. If she stared out on foot now she knew that she could make it to where she was meant to meet Stuart the next day. However by admitting defeat she was putting Anton's life at stake. After weighing up the pros and cons she reconciled herself to sticking it out with the Killjoys for one more day.
As she padded quietly towards her room a voice echoed out from the dark living room.
"Nice night, huh?"
Bleach clamped her hand over her mouth to stop the shriek that nearly burst from her lips. Her eyes scanned the shadowed room before she picked out the figure of Kobra Kid lying on the couch. "You gave me such a scare!" she scolded quietly.
He chuckled and sat up, patting the seat next to him. She crept over to him and sank onto the soft, worn out leather. The moonlight glinted off his eyes and she could see the worry etching a wrinkle on his forehead. "What happened?"
She played dumb, raising an eyebrow innocently. "What happened what?"
Kobra snorted and nudged her gently. "You know what I mean. Party comes back inside, all in a huff and refuses to even look at us. He's gone and locked himself in his room since you got back. Then you don't come inside, but decide to kick rocks for hours on end outside in the dark. Jeez we leave you two alone for some bonding time and it backfires double fold, some plan huh?"
Bleach giggled, but it was shot through with sadness. "Yeah... Not the best idea. No offense Kid, but your brother doesn't want to get to know me at all." 'No, he's too busy abusing my lips to get to know me.' she thought afterwards.
"So... What happened?" he pressed.
She shook her head firmly. "Nu-uh, I don't wanna talk about it."
"Please Bleach? Come on it can't be that bad." he pleaded, puppy dog eyes wide.
She didn't budge. "I'm sorry, but if Party Poison wants to tell you what happened, he can. It's not... It's not right for me to tell you."
"Please." she begged him, placing a hand on his cheek suddenly. "I can't bring myself to explain."
Kobra Kid's expression was one of hurt and concern. "You know that you can trust me, Bleach. It's obvious to all of us that you've got some secrets, but no matter what they are we wont judge you for it."
She sighed and looked away from him. "You have no idea what you saying."
"Then help me to understand. I want you to trust me, because you cant go through your life holding everything inside." Kobra grabbed hold of her limp hand and squeezed it.
Bleach looked down at his long fingers, roughed and brown from years as a zonerunner, wrapped around her soft city skin. His colour against her BL/ind whiteness was the perfect metaphor for why she couldn't confide in Kobra.
"I need to leave tomorrow." she mumbled, changing the topic.
"Huh?" he raised an eyebrow, still thinking about their other conversation.
Bleach looked up at him. "I'm meeting someone out in the zones... Could you give me a lift?"
Kobra pouted. "Yeah, but do you have to go? Jet Star and Fun Ghoul really enjoy having you here, and we want to help you become a proper zonerunner. You're not exactly guerilla material at the moment."
She smiled slightly. "I'll come back... If I'm still welcome. It's just important that I see someone first."
Kobra Kid grinned happily. "Great! When we're done with you, you'll be one of the most notorious rebel fighters in the zones."
Bleach nodded, chewing on her lip thoughtfully. "Why are you being so nice to me Kobra?"
He put an arm around her shoulder. "You're a lot like someone I used to know, and I want to make sure that you're not gonna get ghosted out there. You may throw up all these walls to protect yourself, but I want to prove to you that being so closed off isn't the solution. I want to teach you to trust me so that you wont make the mistakes that others have." He smoothed her wind-swept fringe and placed a brotherly kiss on her head. "You're so similar to this person that I feel like I can already trust you."
She shook her head. "You shouldn't trust me, Kobra."
"But I do, and to prove it I'm going to reintroduce myself to you." he announced with a grin in his voice.
"What do you mean?" she laughed, unsure of where this was going.
Kobra smiled wide and extended his hand for her to shake. "Hello Bleach, my name is Mikey."
"Mikey?" she repeated, playing along and accepting his hand.
"Yes," he continued, "Mikey Way."
Bleach tensed up and pulled her hand away from his sharply. In the dim moonlight her eyes suddenly saw what she had not noticed sooner, the striking features of the My Chemical Romance bassist jumping out at her. She leapt up and began to back away from him, one hand covering her mouth in shock. Suddenly the Killjoys seemed so familiar, she didn't know how she didn't see it before. It was so glaringly obvious! Jet Star was really Ray Toro, his wild hair should have given that away. Fun Ghoul was so small and energetic, he could only be Frank Iero. She cursed herself for not noticing the tell-tale tattoos inked across his knuckles. Kobra Kid: his angular features and lean frame were no longer masked by his washed out fringe and disguising jacket. Then there was Party Poison. His red hair was deceiving, but how did she not recognize those hazel eyes and his seductive singing voice?
And that could only mean that Spider Bait, the man from the train who had complemented her headphones, the one who she murdered in cold blood in the subway tunnel, was really Bob Bryar.
"No!" she gasped, hands pressed to the sides of her shaking head. "No! I didnt - I can't have!"
Mikey cautiously stood and reached out to the distressed girl, confused by her sudden outburst. "Bleach, hey what's wrong hun?"
"No! Don't touch me, I'm a sick human being! You should hate me!" she snarled, slapping away his sympathetic hand. "It was me! It was me who..." 'Who killed one of the few people in the world I looked up to.' She slumped to the floor, overcome by self hatred. She couldn't cry, she didn't pity herself enough for that. Instead Abbey just stared at her hands, wondering how they could possibly be capable of such horror.
Mikey sat down on the ground next to her and placed a hand hesitantly on her trembling shoulder. Bleach ignored him, wrapped in her own mind.
'Korse wants me to kill them. I have to kill these four men who have saved the lives of thousands of people. They were heroes as the band and now their the saviors of the zonerunners. The amount of good they've done is immeasurable, and I'm actually considering exterminating them! This is so wrong, but if I don't... Korse will... I'll never be with Anton again...'
"Bleach, Kobra? What's wrong?" Fun Ghoul yawned, stumbling into the living room.
Mikey looked up at his friend and shook his head. "I was trying to get her to open up about today... But she wouldn't tell me. Then I tried to explain why we like her... And I told her my name, hoping that by trusting her she'd trust me." he gestured at the girl on the floor. "Then she freaked out and started stuttering out something before completely loosing it. I don't understand what I did!"
Ghoul mouthed an "oh" and then padded across the floor to kneel in front of the girl. "Hey Bleach, you gotta help out out here. Tell us what's up?"
Her reddened eyes looked into the small man's blankly. Without thinking she reached up and tugged down the collar of his shirt, breaking a little more inside when she uncovered the infamous scorpion tattoo. "Frank. Frank fucking Iero." she muttered, then rubbed her eyes unhappily.
"Oh god dammit." Mikey cursed running his fingers through his long fringe nervously. "If I'd known she was a fan I'd never told her. Party's gonna kill me."
Frank sighed and chewed on his already nonexistent nails. "Nah... He wont kill you. He's more likely to take it out out on Bleach."
"Not helping, Frank." Mikey growled.
Fun Ghoul giggled, and then straightened his face, realizing the severity of the situation. "Bleach, you okay? Come on say something."
She sniffed and looked up at the two men, coming to a decision. "Yeah... I'm okay. Well I'm not okay, but I'll live... Should."
The killjoys exchanged a look of confusion. Mikey held onto her hand tightly. "I don't get it, what's wrong. I know it may be a bit of a shock finding out that we are... Were My Chem, but you're pretty cut up about something."
"Yeah," Frankie joined in, a slight grin playing across his lips, "spill!"
She shook her head, hating that she couldn't tell them. "Nope, it's for your own good that you don't know. But just so you're not worrying about me, I need you to know that I've got it under control. It's gonna be fine, really."
The two men pouted, but accepted her words. "You still gonna come back?" Mikey asked.
"Wait what? You're leaving!?" Frank cried, latching onto Bleach. "But I didn't get to teach you how to play football with drac heads!"
Bleach shuddered at the thought. "Ummm..."
Mikey cuffed his friend over the head. "Don't worry, he's kidding. Or at least I'm pretty sure he is."
Frank poked out his tongue cheekily. "Every word I say is the truth."
"Now that just proves that you're lying!" Kobra giggled, shoving the small man playfully.
Bleach laughed at their antics, feeling slightly lighter at heart. Yes this had made things more complicated, but it also had shown to her what she needed to do. There was no way that she was going to let Korse ghost the Killjoys. BL/ind were the one's who needed to be exterminated. However with Anton held captive she'd have to be careful. She would have to fool Korse into believing that she was his agent, find a way to bust Anton out and learn desert survival skills fast, all while holding off the Killjoy's questions. There was no way she was going to help BL/ind destroy these people, instead she'd have to doublecross the Scarecrow.
Harlequin Diamond hauled her Harley Davidson out from under the saltbush. The beautiful, black vehicle was a sight for sore eyes and she petted it happily.
"Hey baby, let's blow this place." she whispered, standing it upright. She flicked the latch on the back compartment and placed Gracie's charger inside as well as Mr. Sparkles, making sure the boot was locked nice and tight afterwards. She then turned to the still-unconscious body of the little girl, slumped on the ground next to her. They had left the facility far behind, and that high pitched whine was out of hearing range, but she was still out cold. "Fucking BL/ind." she grumbled, tugging the dead weight up onto the front of the bike.
Harley slung her leg over the motorbike and twisted the key in the ignition gently. She dimmed the light quickly as the engine came to life and popped it into first gear. The quiet desert lay before her and she cast a guilty glance at the rebel vehicles scattered amongst the sparse vegetation.
When she had made it back to their meeting point Harley scrawled a quick note to Cherry Bomber, sticking it on the window of her four-wheel drive. She prayed that somehow they would escape and meet up with her outside, but the empty space devoid of life crushed her hopes. There was little chance that her crew members had survived. It was a hard blow, some of the finest rebels she knew had been amongst that group.
Harley sniffed and wiped away a stray tear, forcing herself not to look at the riderless bikes and empty cars, waiting for their owners to return. She concentrated on the girl in her arms as she drove away, kicking up a cloud of dust behind her.
The Harley Davidson struggled for a bit in the deep sand, but soon they came to a beaten out track, which she followed all the way down to the Colorado River. As they drew closer she checked that her ray gun was in an easy-to-reach spot, knowing that all sorts of people shadowed the edges of the tributary. However they didn't come across any trouble on that dark night. The water meandered with them, glinting in the luna rays. The sound of it rushing over rocks whispered over the hum of her engine and for the first time in days she began to feel a little safer. She looked down at her watch, noting the time and mentally calculated that she should reach Sanctum around about Midday. The fuel gauge was indicating that the tank was round about half full, enough to get her and Gracie home without stopping.
Harley sat back into the soft seat of her bike and let her wrist relax into a comfortable position on the accelerator. It had been a long trip and a stressful mission, with a somewhat tragic ending. However at least one good thing had come out of it. She hugged the small figure to her closely, happy in the knowledge that at least one life was going to be changed for the better.
Bleach opened her eyes slowly, taking in her surroundings. She was currently stretched across the couch. Fun Ghoul was curled up next to her and the long, skinny legs flopped over hers could only belong to Kobra Kid. She blinked a few times, head hurting from the bright sunlight streaming into the living room.
'Hmmm...' she thought. 'Looks like I didn't make it to my room last night after all.'
Booted feet coming down the hallway alerted her to Party Poison's approach and she shut her eyes quickly, pretending to be asleep. The click of his heels grew louder as he reached the living room and paused at the threshold. Bleach tried to keep her face relaxed and breathing shallow, but it was hard when she knew the man was staring at her.
There was a resigned sigh from his direction and the footsteps resumed. She heard him move into the kitchen and begin to boil water. Her nose twitched at the familiar smell of coffee, which she now knew he couldn't function without. After all, Gerard Way was rarely seen without a mug of it in his hand.
Party Poison walked back into the living room and she could hear him settle down in the couch opposite them. In the quiet early morning she could make out the sound of him sipping the beverage every now and then. Bleach suddenly became intensely uncomfortable. Her limbs ached and her back needed a serious crack. She cursed her body mentally for choosing such an inconvenient time to cramp. The pros and cons of 'waking up' with Party sitting across the room from her passed through her head. On one hand she was in desperate need to move and shake off these pins and needles, but on the other hand she wanted to avoid any interaction with the red haired scoundrel who had so rudely kissed her.
"I know that you're awake, Bleach." his liquid smooth voice uttered.
She frowned, refusing to open her eyes. "No you don't."
He chuckled without humor. "Yes, I do. You were concentrating so hard on appearing asleep you started biting your lip." he paused to take a sip of coffee. "And here I was thinking that you were such a good actor."
Bleach snapped her head to the side and glared at him. "What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" she hissed.
Party shrugged. "You tell me."
"Fuck this." she growled, slipping out from underneath Kobra Kid. Fun Ghoul mumbled when she moved away from him, but didn't wake. Without acknowledging the Killjoy leader she left the room, headed for the front door. She felt like slamming it shut just to spite the arrogant man, but decided against waking the others. Bleach walked out into the desert and found a rock to perch on, wishing that she could go back on her election to help the Killjoys, just so that she could ghost Party Poison. He really knew how to bring a person down.
Bleach was alone barely five minutes when the door to the Diner opened and shut. She grumbled under her breath about never being able to find any peace and quiet around here.
"You're a slippery one, I'll give you that." the unmistakable voice shouted as he drew nearer.
Bleach jumped up off the rock and turned to face him, refusing to let him get the best of her. "And you speak in riddles. I've got no idea what the fuck your problem is Party, but you should really work on being a little nicer to people. Throwing accusations left, right and centre isn't the best way to make friends."
He laughed, continuing to walk towards her. "Oh they've trained you well, haven't they? I guess Korse was the one who told you to play dumb, no matter what I say."
She threw her hands in the air. "You're unbelievable!"
"And you're a lair." he threw back, stopping in front of her.
Bleach shook her head, unable to find an answer to his incriminations. She held his gaze though, trying to ignore what an imposing figure he was. In a cut off shirt she could see the muscles bulging along his arms from years in the zones. His unkept, fiery red hair flickered threateningly and there was an intense, almost crazed glint in his eye.
Playing the only card she had she scoffed at him, aiming for the shock factor. "Wow, you really have come a long way from the man who 'saved the lives' of thousands of misunderstood teenagers. These days you're far more interested in taking advantage of girls and persecuting them for you're own personal gain." she shoved at his chest angrily. "Does it make you feel good Gerard, proving that you're stronger than me so that you wont fall sleep feeling weak?"
Party Poison recoiled from her, disturbed and distressed by what she had said. He knew that what she was saying wasn't true, but it hurt nonetheless. Victimizing someone vulnerable went against every fiber of his being, and being accused of that hit him hard. However, not as hard as her dropping his real name.
He straightened and stared down at her. "What did you just call me?"
Bleach took a step forward, enjoying her advantage over him now that he was thrown off guard. "Gerard. Gerard fucking Way. That's your name, isn't it?"
He knew it was pointless to try and deny it. She must have made the connections between them and My Chemical Romance, so there was too much evidence to hide the truth now. Party could see how she was using his shock against him and he felt the anger bubble up inside him once more. He grabbed hold of her shoulders and dragged her forward so that she was inches from his face.
"You tell anyone about who we are, and I will fucking kill you." he hissed, staring deeply into her frightened eyes. "I will hunt you down and pull you apart piece by piece. At least then you wont be around to plot against us." he spat and shoved her back from him forcefully.
Bleach gasped and fell against the rock, holding onto it for strength. Once again her attempt to gain some control over this guy had backfired. He was completely unwavering. Instead of continuing the argument she admitted defeat to herself and sunk down onto the desert sand. "You wont have to worry about me being around anyway." she mumbled, looking away from the figure standing over her. "I'm leaving today."
Party was surprised. He looked down at the girl on the ground and questioned her motives. 'Wouldn't BL/ind be pushing that she stay here for as long as possible? Why is she leaving so soon? That doesn't make any sense.' he thought.
"Good riddance." he sneered, then walked back towards the Diner with mixed emotions.
Bleach watched him walk away and then slumped back onto the ground. The sand felt warm under her back and she sighed. 'He just wont quit.' she thought. 'Korse is gonna be so mad at me, but Party Poison is too hard to crack. He's never gonna let his guard down around me.' she paused in her musings, then mentally smacked herself. 'What am I thinking? It doesn't matter that he hates my guts, I'm not trying to exterminate him any more... Still this would be so much easier if he'd just back off. Not to mention from the sound of it he's starting to suspect me of working with BL/ind. If he finds any proof then it's gonna be a disaster. I need them to trust me so that I can keep fooling Korse, but if the Killjoys turn me away then I wont be able to help them.' Bleach groaned and thumped a fist angrily on the ground. 'This is gonna be harder than I thought.'
"There you go." Jet Star announced, tugging the last stitch away from her skin. "You're probably gonna wind up with a scar, but at least it's not infected."
Bleach smiled at the man and hugged him tightly. "Thanks so much Ray."
He chuckled and patted her back affectionately. "I'm finding it a little unnerving that you know who I am, but I know that I can trust you."
She beamed at him, ignoring the grunt from Party Poison who was slumped on the couch nearby, smoking.
"Don't worry." she said. "It's not like there's anyone I can tell even if I did want to." It was a direct jab at Gerard, but he didn't take the bait.
"You ready to go?" Mikey asked sadly.
Bleach hopped up and nodded.
Fun Ghoul pouted and latched onto her arm. "You don't hafta go! Why wont you stay with us?"
"If the kid wants to go, let her." Party growled, smoke slipping from his lips. "Don't see what good she's doing here."
The other three Killjoys glared at their leader, and Jet Star slipped and arm over Bleach's shoulders. "Don't worry about him, hun. He's always been a spoilsport. We tend to ignore him when he decides to act like a baby."
Party Poison ignored the insult, inhaling the nicotine laced smoke silently.
Frank turned his attention back to the girl, bouncing on the spot anxiously. "You're gonna come back, right? This is only for a few days, aint it?"
Bleach gave a small smile. "I'll be back, as long as I'm welcome."
"Don't worry, you'll always be welcome with us." Kobra Kid volunteered before his older brother could say anything.
"You sure?" she murmured shyly.
"Positive!" Frank cried happily, hugging her tightly.
"Well, I'm outta here before this turns into a soap opera." Gerard announced, screwing his cigarette into an ash tray. "I think I'll head out into the zones and look for Toxin." he smirked, looking at Bleach directly. "I've gotta hunch she'll be out today." That one sentence revealed more to Bleach than she wanted. He was closing in on her fast, too fast.
And with that he left, passing through into the garage without a second glance. Kobra, Jet and Ghoul stared after him, unsure what to think or say. The sound of an engine ripping to life echoed through the building and a few seconds later they saw the Trans Am shoot out of the garage onto the road.
Bleach sighed and looked at her feet. "He really does hate me... Maybe I shouldn't come back."
Kobra gripped her hand comfortingly and shook his head. "Don't be like that. I had a talk with him earlier and drilled it into him that just because he wasn't warming to you didn't mean that he could forbid us from liking you. He said he wont stop you from coming back, although he didn't promise to be nice... I'm sorry."
She smiled at him. "Don't be sorry Mikey, it's not your fault."
"So you will be back?" Fun Ghoul piped up,
"But how long?" he whined. Jet Star laughed, ruffling the shorter man's hair.
Bleach shrugged. "Two days... maybe? If one of you goes to the junction between Route Guano and Highway Beta the day after tomorrow I'll meet you there."
"Sound's like a plan!" Frankie grinned.
Harley crossed through the mountain pass into Sanctum and let out a whoop of happiness. The light on the other side beaconed her and she accelerated hard. As she left the shadows she was drenched in midday heat and her eyes scanned the valley she called home, grateful to see it again.
She drove down the road into the centre of town, not seeing anyone as it was night time for the inhabitants. After ten minutes of travelling the track began to climb and she switched the motorbike to a lower gear. It growled as it skimmed along the ascending path, finally coming to a familiar sight. Harley cut the ignition and hopped off the vehicle, placing it behind a large boulder next to Roulette's car. She noted that Maverick's was on the other side and smiled approvingly.
Gracie may have weighed a lot, but Harlequin was so happy to be home she barely noticed. She jogged up the trail leading to their cave and pulled herself over the ledge.
"Harley you're back!" a familiar voice cried.
The Gambler looked around to see her partner in crime and grinned. "You stayed up?"
Russian Roulette nodded. "Mav crashed an hour ago, too tired to keep his eyes open, but I wanted to be awake to see you when..." she trailed off, about to give her friend a hug when the body of the small girl caught her eye. "Harley, what the fuck is that?"
Diamond smirked and picked her up gently. The child flopped in her arms, but she held onto her protectively. "This is Gracie. And I think we should go inside, because this is a long story."
Mikey pulled off the road, looking around the empty desert space warily. Idling his car at the intersection between two major roads not in his survival guide, but leaving Bleach there alone was even worse.
"This doesn't seem like a good idea." he voiced nervously as she unbuckled her seatbelt. "I don't wanna drive away knowing you could be picked up by any random."
Bleach laughed and shook her head. "Don't worry, I won't be here long. And I'll stash myself behind that acacia until my ride gets here."
Kobra Kid pouted. "Who are they and how do you know them?"
She rolled her eyes. "You sound like my mother. Stop stressing, I'll be okay."
"Maybe I should stay here until they arrive, make sure you don't get ghosted while you're waiting." he said, eyes glued on the road for signs of trouble.
"No!" she cried, then corrected herself. "I mean, if someone bad does come along your car will give us away." Bleach nudged his arm cheekily. "You said you could trust me, so believe me when I say that I'll be fine."
He sighed, but nodded. "Okay, so I'll meet you here in two days?"
Bleach opened the door. "At midday, don't get here any earlier or later or you'll miss me." she warned, then slipped out the door.
Kobra watched as she skipped over to the acacia and camouflaged herself behind the foliage, waving at him from behind the vegetation. He sighed and drove away reluctantly, checking the rear vision mirror obsessively until a bend in the road hid the junction from sight.
Abbey breathed out heavily in relief. For a moment there she didn't think Mikey was going to leave, and that would not have gone down well. She fished around in her back pocket for a second before finding the small transmitter she needed. A red light winked at her as she hit the button, sending a message to Stuart.
Before too long a shape appeared on the horizon, traveling at a fair speed along Guano. She didn't move from her spot until he pulled up nearby, dust swirling around the BL/ind vehicle. She stepped out from her hiding spot cautiously and dashed to the car, slipping inside quickly.
"Hey Stuart!" Abbey grinned happily.
He raised an eyebrow at her enthusiastic greeting. "Hello Toxin." he replied cooly, accelerating back onto the road. "How'd the m-mission go?"
She bit her lip, forcing herself back into her BL/i agent character. "It went according to plan. The Killjoys assume that I am a lone zonerunner, just as Korse planned. I am slowly gaining their trust, however getting them in a stage of vulnerability may take time."
Stuart watched her from the corner of his eye, making sure that she sounded genuine in her account. He couldn't see any sign of dishonesty and nodded with approval. "The Scarecrow will be pleased." he gestured to the bag on the ground with one hand.
Toxin opened it and pulled out a bottle of water and an apple. She smiled and uncapped the lid, gulping in the hydrating liquid happily. The apple was crisp and juicy, filling her mouth with sweetness and she wondered where they had found such a good piece of fruit. It was, after all, difficult to find fresh produce in Battery City.
"Where'd you get this?" she mumbled around a mouth of white flesh.
Stuart sighed. "It's a gift from K-Korse... Although you may not be calling it a gift in a few minutes."
Toxin's eyes widened. "What do you mean?"
He didn't reply.
"Stuart!" she cried, apply core falling from her limp hand as the drugs began to take place.
The draculoid glanced at her sadly, then back at the road. "I'm sorry, I really am. I asked Korse not to put you under... But he said that you wouldn't go willingly."
Toxin slumped back into the seat, head lolling to the side. She tried to hold onto the last threads of consciousness, battling against whatever sedative they had slipped into the fruit. Her eyes struggled to stay open and she suddenly saw a sign approaching. The car slowed and turned to the left and her blurry eyes focused on one word.
"U... Ut-tah?" she mumbled. "Wh..."
Stuart bit his lip, the drug in his system finding it difficult to suppress the guilt he was feeling. "It's a BL/ind t-t-testing facility. K-K-Korse want-ts me to take you there."
She tried to scream, but her mouth wouldn't open. Suddenly everything Mikey had been telling her about the Scarecrows and how they were forced into servitude flooded her mind. Mental pictures of cut up bodies and artificial blood systems swirled through her dulling thoughts. The last thing to occur to her before unconsciousness took hold was that by becoming a Scarecrow she could never be free.
Korse paced up and down the sterile hallway, grinding his teeth in frustration. The Head had ordered this, but he didn't want it for the girl. She wasn't ready for the shock of the transition. Toxin would fight it every step of the way. Even though the kid had tried to appear completely devoted to the company, he knew that she really hated BL/ind. By being forced into it's system so drastically the procedure could go wrong.
"Sir?" a voice tittered next to him.
"What!?" he shouted at the small man in the lab coat. "What could you possibly need!?"
The man trembled under the Scarecrow's furious gaze and held out a form tentatively. "We need you to sign this, in order to prove that she is working for BL/ind and not the rebels."
Korse snatched the document from the scientist and glanced briefly over the small print, pausing over the sections that declared him responsible for the test subject. He scribbled his signature across the dotted line and shoved it back at the man. "Here, now leave me alone."
He sat down heavily on a chair and ran his hands over his shaven head. He believed fully in what BL/ind stood for. Humanity was feeble and it was their job to eliminate the weaknesses, using force if necessary. The rebel population were like the scum on the bottom of his boot that needed scraping off badly. Once the Fabulous Killjoys were exterminated the others would fall easily, and this Battery City kid was the best way to do that. However he was sure that by forcing her into being a Scarecrow, they were pushing his fledgling away. Right now he needed to coax her into understanding that BL/ind was building the better future, not frighten her more. He cursed the Head for not listening to him. One day he was going to show all those white-suited fools what it was really going to take to make this company invincible.
The sound of a car pulling up outside broke through his thoughts. Korse walked quickly outside and nodded to Stuart who slipped out of the drivers seat.
"Everything go as planned?" he asked, eyes flicking from the distressed face of his drac to the motionless body of Toxin still inside the car.
Stuart nodded hastily. "She told me that everything went well on her mission and I didn't detect anything wrong. When she ate the fruit she struggled against the sedative for quite a while, but slipped under about 6 hours ago."
Korse nodded. "We're operating in the east wing today, because the west wing is under lockdown. Something's happened, but the Head wont tell me until the procedure is over. They think that I'm aggravated enough about Toxin without pushing me further." he growled, obviously annoyed.
Stuart raised his eyebrows hopefully. "I'm sure it isn't that bad."
The Scarecrow shrugged and went to the passenger side. He opened the door and unbuckled the seatbelt strapped over his apprentice.
"Oh! Here I'll do that!" the drac offered.
Korse shook his head, lifting the limp girl in his arms. "No, she's my responsibility." he stated, echoing the words of the form.
Stuart pattered after him as the Scarecrow carried Toxin inside, following the scrubbed white hallway until they reached the operating room. The double doors swung back, opened by the nurses who saw him coming. He ignored their greeting and stood still for a moment. There were two slabs in the room, one clear and waiting for the girl in his arms, the other laid out with the intricate series of wires that would soon inhabit her body. The coils of tubes vaguely made out the shape of the human body, complete with a small, metal cube at the left breast. He knew that he was looking at the same scene which his body played a part of, over eight years ago.
"Korse? Is everything okay?" a doctor enquired, safety mask half muffling the voice.
The Scarecrow breathed deeply and tightened his arms over the body he held, unaware of what was going on around her. "Yes, everything is fine."
He brushed past the doctor and walked to the operating table, then reluctantly laid her out on the cold surface. She trembled for a moment against the icy slab, before going slack once more. This was then followed by a series of mumbles that emanated from her lips and the lids of her eyes twitched erratically. He knew that the drug was wearing off and gestured to a nearby medic quickly. He didn't want her waking now to see where she was.
A nurse handed Korse the gas mask and he lifted her head gently, slipping it over her face. Just as it fell into place Toxin's eyes flew open. The lime green orbs stared into his desperately, pleading with him to let her go. His generated heart leapt, but he slammed his hand down on the switch, watching as the gas dragged her back under. Her eyes slowly closed, flickering once or twice before sealing shut, but not before he had seen the tears slip down her cheeks.
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