Bleach rolled over, eyes watering as they were assaulted by the morning sun. It filtered relentlessly through the grimy window in her room, keeping her awake.
"Screw you sun!" she growled pulling a pillow over her head.
The gang had arrived back at the Diner in the early hours of the morning; bone weary, blood splattered and grumpy. The first thing Bleach had done was fall headfirst onto her lumpy mattress, kicking her shoes off as an afterthought, then succumbing to her exhaustion. However now she awoke covered head to toe in desert dust and dried blood; her clothes stiff with petrol residue.
Knocking reverberated through the room and the teenager felt the urge to plug her ears.
"Bleach? You up?"
She didn't answer, just pulled the pillow tighter over her head.
The door opened and a bright-faced Mikey popped his head inside. "Morning sleepy head!"
"Fuck. OFF!" she threatened, curling into a ball. She felt the mattress dip as Mikey sat down next to her.
"Come on, you should have some breakfast."
"No." she held fast to the pillow as he tried to tug it away from her. "Go away. I'm still sleeping."
Kobra sighed. "If you don't come with me now I'll get my brother to haul you out of bed, and we all know how well that will go."
Bleach peeked out from under the pillow, eyebrows knitted into a frown. "You wouldn't."
He smirked. "I would."
She weighed up her options. "I'll get up as long as I can have a shower first."
Mikey ruffled her dirty hair and left.
Bleach staggered to the bathroom, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and yawning profusely. She clutched her towel in one hand and picked at the blood caked on her arm with the other. It peeled off in flakes and she screwed up her nose. Along the way she passed Fun Ghoul who gave her a nervous smile.
"Morning Frank." she greeted him.
The shorter man nodded, but said nothing. His eyes where shadowed with distrust.
The diner bathroom, though musty with mold (no one had cleaning products to remove it), was a cool reprieve from the dry, baked air of the zones. Bleach slipped out of her clothes, pausing to examine the faint red mark on her torso. It had been a clean shot last night - straight through her. She could have died. She should have died, if it weren't for the Scarecrow implantations. Her eyes scanned her dirty fingers. Though it was darkened and made rough by the relentless sun, her skin was smooth and whole. There was nothing to suggest that a few short hours ago they had been charred and withered by petrol quickened flames.
A faint feeling of thankfulness crept into the girl's mind as she slipped under the stream of water. Taking a cold shower, though unpleasant, helped wake Bleach up.
She watched the murky water trailing down her legs, washing away last night. A sponge was lay on the ground which she picked up and began to clean her dirty body with. The rough texture scrubbed away layers and layers of dirt. Paranoid that it was still on her she pressed harder. Her skin began to flush an angry pink, but she kept going.
"Got to get rid of it." she hissed through gritted teeth.
Suddenly blood beaded on the surface. The small, red droplets bought images to her mind of things that she had done; things that made her feel sick.
A wave of guilt overcame her as she remembered the face of the drac she shot. His features were twisted in agony, eyes wide beneath the mask.
"Why did I do that?" her hoarse voice echoed in the tiled room.
She recalled the faces of her friends from last night; Mikey - confused and concerned, Frank - suspicious, Ray - horrified and then Gerard - impassive.
Bleach felt disgusted with herself, knowing that she mercilessly mutilated someone like that. Revulsion at what she had done twisted her stomach and suddenly the white walls seemed to be smeared with red. Red pooling around her feet. Red spraying from the shower head. Red lathered on her skin, dripping down her arms, coating her hands.
Heart racing, she pushed herself back out of the shower, tripping and skidding across the floor in an attempt to get away from the blood surrounding her. She screamed once, frantically scrubbing her body with her towel to get it off. Bile rose in her throat as images of his crushed skull flashed through her mind and she bent over, retching.
Suddenly there was loud knocking at the door. She jumped, frightened by the sound, ears imagining the loud crack of a gunshot.
"No no no no no no!" she cried, sinking to the floor, pushing the sopping wet towel across the floor with her foot. It squelched between her toes and she saw red trickling along the floor towards her.
Voices were shouting on the other side of the door; loud and angry.
"I'm sorry!" she sobbed, wrapping her arms around herself, knees tucked tightly to her chest. She rocked against the cold, hard wall. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I swear I'll never do it again!" Her eyes screwed shut, blocking out the brightly splattered room
There was a loud crash and the door caved inwards. She flinched, pushing herself into the corner, trying to become as small as she could. Words echoed in the room and hands touched her. She trembled beneath them, hiding her head in her arms.
Something wet and cold was draped across her shoulders. She cracked her eyes open to see the blood soaked towel wrapped around her body.
"No!" she screamed, clawing at the fabric, ripping it, desperate to get it off. "No more blood! I can't take it any more!"
Hands trapped her wrists, firm but gentle. A voice murmured something softly. Another set of hands were stroking her hair. Her rapid heartbeat slowed and she took a deep breath.
"That's right, take a few deep breaths for us. Everything is going to be fine."
Bleach relaxed slightly. She knew that voice. Slowly she opened her eyes and lifted her head. The room swam in her vision for a moment before settling. The blood was gone. In it's place were four concerned faces watching her.
Her eyes flickered to the closest one; Mikey. He was holding her wrists, stroking his thumb across the expanse of her palm. "You okay now?" he asked softly.
She nodded, not trusting her voice enough to speak.
"Here." Party held out a fresh towel to his brother, who draped it around her shoulders.
Bleach fumbled with the corners of the dry material, wrapping it tightly around her naked body. The four men looked away politely and she blushed.
There was a long, strained pause before she spoked, coughing once to clear her throat. "Th-thankyou. I uh... I thought...." she trailed off, eyes filling with tears.
Frank, who had been stroking her hair smiled slightly. "It's okay, you don't need to say anything just yet."
Bleach nodded, thankful.
"I think we should get you out of this room." Ray announced, seeing her shiver.
Mikey put his arm under her elbow and helped her stand.
"Thanks Mikes." she mumbled, clutching the towel to her chest.
Fun Ghoul and Jet Star moved out into the hallway. She went to follow them, but her shaky legs buckled. Bleach was surprised though to find that it was Gerard who caught her and set her on her feet again.
"Careful," he chided, "there's a lot of water on the ground. It's slippery."
"Here," Mikey slipped an arm around her waist, "I'll walk you to your room."
As they made their way down the hallway Bleach pondered Party Poison's actions. Until now he hadn't shown much, if any concern for her well-being so his sudden change of heart puzzled her.
"There we go." Kobra said, sitting her down on her bed.
He went to leave but she called out to him, suddenly scared. "Kobra, wait!" he turned in the doorway, "Please, don't leave me alone."
The Killjoy raised an eyebrow. "What's wrong?"
Bleach fumbled with the corner of her towel, feeling stupid. "I just... I'm afraid."
"Of what?" he asked, coming back inside and placing a hand on her shoulder.
She bit her lip, "Of myself."
His eyes filled with concern. "It's okay. I'll stay with you. You do need to get dressed though, so I'll turn around. But I promise hun, I wont leave."
"What do you suppose that was all about?" Ray asked, setting a pot of sim-coffe down on the table.
Frank reached for a mug, taking a sip before replying. "I dunno man. All I know is that she sure as hell scared the shit out of me. Did you hear that scream? I thought she was being murdered in there."
Jet Star nodded, leaning back in his chair. "Same here. I really thought she was in danger but when we got the door open.... I wonder what the hell freaked her out like that."
"Yeah it was like her mind just just switched off. Took ten minutes till Kobra could get her to calm down." Frank flicked his tongue ring thoughtfully. "What do you think Party?"
Gerard lifted his head. He had been staring into his coffee mug, replaying the scene over and over in his mind. He opened his mouth, but couldn't find anything to say.
"You okay man? You look a bit pale." Ray asked.
The red head nodded, looking back into his drink. When he spoke, his voice was unusually soft. "If I'm honest, seeing the girl like that really got to me."
Frank looked doubtful. "Why? I mean it's not like you and Bleach are best buddies or anything."
Party shrugged. "She looked.... She looked like Lyn-z that day.... When I got home to find that Bandit...." he choked on his words, eyes stinging with unshed tears.
"Oh, I'm sorry Gee." Fun Ghoul lay an arm across his friend's shoulder, hugging him against his side. "That's rough."
"Yeah... The door opened and I could have sworn... Never mind, it doesn't matter." His tone hardened once more into the Party Poison they knew and they dropped the subject.
Bleach dressed quickly, tugging on her fraying red jeans and a white tank top which was yellowing with age. Her hands fumbled as she pulled on a pair of navy ankle boots. Mikey noticed her shaking hands.
"You want anything... Painkillers, alcohol... You're pretty jumpy." he offered, placing a hand on her tense shoulder.
Bleach looked at her wavering hands, stomach twisting with worry. 'Korse said I wouldn't need to recharge for a while. But getting shot last night might have put a dent in my power supply.....' her thoughts wound through her mind and she quickly came to a decision. 'I need to get back to HQ.'
Faking strength, Bleach began to act.
"Nope." she straightened her back and looked him in the eye. "I don't need any painkillers; I know your supply is limited."
Kobra frowned. "Yeah, it's limited but if you need some...."
Bleach gave him a small smile. "I don't need medication. But... I don't know if this is too much to ask... Nevermind." she turned away, feeling stupid.
"No, what is it?" he pressed. "We're happy to give you anything you need. I mean, you're practically one of us."
She shook her head firmly. "No. I'm not one of you. Mikey I know that you and I are close but your brother wouldn't trust me as far as he could throw me. And Frank isn't that comfortable around me anymore either. I definitely wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm one of you." she paused and thought, but didn't add 'especially since I'm only here to kill you all.'
Kobra nodded. "Okay, but what is it that you need?"
She chewed on her lip, suddenly embarrassed for asking. "A car. I know that the Trans Am is the Killjoys ride, and I'm not asking to borrow that. But the garage... Well it's full of old parts. Do you think we could get something running? I'd return it of course!"
Mikey looked slightly baffled. "What do you need a car for?"
This was where Bleach hit a wall. She tossed up possible lies in her head, but guilt tugged at her for playing her close friend. "Look Kobra, I trust you. I'd trust you with my life-"
"And I'd do the same." he replied.
She nodded. "So please, just trust me when I say that I can't tell you. I need to get out of here for a while, and I need to drive myself."
The Killjoy hesitated. His instincts told him that letting Bleach leave the safety of the Diner - alone - was wrong. However he couldn't bring himself to deny her. "Okay, if this is what you need, then I'd be happy to sort something out for you."
Bleach flung her arms around his bony shoulders, squeezing him tight. "Thankyou Kobra, you're a great friend. I promise I'll bring it back in one piece."
He smiled, returning the hug. "Oh no, you're not taking one of ours. You wont get far in any of them."
She pulled away and looked at him questioningly.
Mikey smirked. "Party wants me to head into Sanctum today and check up on the Gamblers. I'm sure Roulette has a car or two she doesn't need anymore."
Kobra stepped into the kitchen, a bag in his hand.
"What are you doing?" Party asked. His younger brother had that guilty look on his face, like when he was a boy and was up to no good.
"Ummmm, nothin." Mikey replied, grabbing a few cans of food and stuffing them into the rucksack. "Just putting some supplies in my car incase I get stranded. Never can be too careful."
Gerard gave him a disbelieving look. "Bro, you don't have a car now. Or has last night completely slipped your mind?"
Kobra Kid looked like a deer caught in headlights. "Urrr.... Well.... Ummm."
The older man clapped his hand on the younger Killjoy's shoulder. "You sure that laser blast didn't hit you too hard?"
Mikey shook his head. "Nope, I'm fine. Hey can I borrow the Trans Am? I'm going to head into Sanctum today to see if Roulette's okay."
"You're totally avoiding the question, but sure. Just make sure you don't go running into any trees." Party took a swing of sim coffee. "That's my baby you're driving out there."
Kobra rolled his eyes. "I'm not dumb enough to crash your car. If I don't die from the impact then you'll kill me." he paused and looked around. "Where's Gracie?"
Gerard sighed. "She's got a fright this morning hearing Bleach freak out. Anyway we put her back to bed for the while. She needs some more sleep after panicking about us last night."
"Poor kid, thought she was going to faint when she saw us come in. We may have come out on top, but we sure as hell didn't look like it." he rubbed his bandaged arm thoughtfully. "Ummm oh, and Bleach is coming with me. You know, for the ride." Kobra added.
Party rolled his eyes. "Whatever, just don't go letting her wander off or anything."
Mikey gulped "Of course not..." then slipped out the door.
Russian Roulette met them at the Sanctum border. Her dark hair floating above her head in a tangle of curled strands. She had a pair of shaded sunglasses covering her eyes, and her smile as they pulled up was bitter.
"If it were Party driving you would have been here 20 minutes ago." she remarked in a flat tone.
Mikey rolled his eyes and slung a thin arm over her shoulder. "Nice to see you too Rabid." He gestured at the eye cover. "What's with the shades? They're not part of your usual ensemble."
She shrugged. "Headache."
Bleach hung back near the car, smiling hesitantly at the Gambler.
Roulette raised an eyebrow at the blonde zonerunner. She recognized her from the concert at Misfits and remembered the strange way Party had acted around her. It surprised the Gambler to see that she was still hanging with the Killjoys. "Interesting." she mused.
"Huh?" Mikey asked, eyes flicking between the two women.
Roulette rolled her shoulders then opened the door of her car. "Nothing. Let's get going."
"Where'd you get all these cars?"
Roulette patted one fondly. "I used to know the guy who ran the Los Angeles car impound. During the takeover he snuck 'em all out, one by one, and hid them in the zones."
Mikey pondered over one word. "Used to know him?"
She flashed her trademark smirk. "We dated. It didn't work out." Her eyes flicked to the blonde. "Pick what you want, but keep your paws off any mercs or lambos - they're mine."
Mikey turned to her, incredulous at the wealth in the bunker. "Why don't you sell these? Zonerunners would pay almost anything to get their hands on vehicles with this much muscle. You'd be filthy rich!"
Roulette fixed her hard eyes on him. "I already am rich, Kobra. I have a legion of men and woman at my fingertips, more firepower than Hitler and a best friend who will always be there for me." she turned her head away from him, hand going to her stomach. "What more could I want?"
The Killjoy persisted his argument. "But all of these cars, they could be used in the resistance effort! And they're just rotting away here underground!"
Rabid whirled back to him, anger flushing her cheeks. "Don't you think I know that!? Don't you think I've thought about what these cars mean!?" her arms wrapped around her torso. "I don't see the point in wasting these fine pieces of machinery on zonerunners who wont appreciate them for what they are. I give some away to those who deserve them. And when the day comes, when BL/ind decides that they've had enough fucking around with the resistance force and they come for us, that day these will be of use to us. Not afterwards, not beforehand. Understand?"
Mikey cringed beneath her fury, but in a brave gesture of apology he placed a calm hand on her shaking shoulder. At once Roulette seemed to crumple back on herself, eyes loosing that trademark fiery spark of determination and ruthlessness.
"Rabid?" he asked gently, "What's wrong with you? You're not... Yourself."
The Gambler shook her head, eyes welling up at the corners. He saw her hands pressing against her stomach protectively and something clicked in his mind.
"You're pregnant." he breathed.
Roulette glanced at his happy face, then away. "Yes. Well done Sherlock." her tone was heavily layered with sarcasm.
Kobra, oblivious, wrapped his arms around her enthusiastically. "Rabid that's fabulous! Maverick must be so proud!"
She winced visibly. "No. It's not fabulous. In fact it's a fucking disaster."
Mikey shook his head. "I know bringing a baby into a world like this isn't ideal, but you and Maverick are the best parents a child could have. I remember when Gerard found out that Bandit was coming, he was so thrilled! Maverick will no doubt-"
"It's not his." she interrupted him.
Kobra trailed off, frowning. "What?"
Roulette leant against the side of one of the cars, face closed off. "Maverick isn't the father."
Mikey's jaw dropped as he tried to swallow this thought. "But I thought you loved Maverick. Don't you?"
A tear streaked down Roulette's cheek. "Of course I love him. That's not even a question."
Her dark eyes flashed with something sinister. "BL/ind don't treat their guests well Kobra. It's not like I planned for this to happen." Mikey gasped, hands reaching forward to comfort her, but Rabid pushed him away. "Don't touch me!" she hissed, anger and pain and loathing twisting her features. "Maverick hates it. It's disgusting. I'm disgusting."
"No, no you're not." he soothed, "Why not just abort it?"
At once her eyes grew large and fearful. "Oh Kobra, I just couldn't!" her hands covered her stomach. "It's wrong, bringing such a kid into the world but what other choice do I have? There aren't any doctors in the zones and I... I..." she stuttered trying to gulp back tears, "I just couldn't kill it. It goes against everything we stand for; protecting the weak and saving the lives of those in need. I couldn't kill this baby like it is something evil, because it isn't. There's a person in there," she rubbed the currently flat skin across her abdomen, "and I have no right to end their life before it's already begun."
Mikey was divided. He knew that what Roulette argued was morally right, but the thought of bringing some drac's baby into the danger of the zones, especially a child which would tear her and Maverick away from each other seemed like too heavy a burden. He patted her shoulder gently. "You do what you think is best."
Mikey and Roulette started at the sound of Bleach's voice. They scanned the long room and saw her standing by a dusty tarpaulin covered car. As they made their way over a slight smirk began to form on the Gamblers lips.
"You have good taste, kid." the older woman nodded, approving of the choice. Bleach blushed at the praise.
Mikey raised an eyebrow at the covering. "Well, I personally have no idea what is under that inconspicuously shaped sheet of plastic, so can we please lift the lid so to speak?"
Bleach looked at Roulette for permission.
"Go ahead kid. Like I said - the Mercedes and Lamborghinis are out of bounds, but I don't mind parting with a Mustang."
The blonde couldn't help the infectious bubbles of happiness that rose up inside her and she threw her arms around Russian Roulette. "Thankyou! Thankyou so much!"
A bit surprised by the sudden display of affection, Rabid smirked and gently pulled away from the girl. "Yeah yeah, tell it to someone who cares." however she spoke with a slight smile. "Just don't ever tell anyone you hugged me or I'll never be able to save my rep."
Bleach nodded, then tugged at a corner of the tarpaulin and peeled it away from the car.
Kobra gasped slightly at the shiny body that lay beneath. It's glossy red coat gleamed in the dim light, complete with black racing stripes.
Bleach trailed her fingers admiringly along the almost flawless chassis.
"Is that....?" Mikey breathed.
Roulette nodded. "Yep, a 'Right Stuff' Detroit Muscle Mustang 5.0 Supercharged Convertible. 2.8 liter liquid cooled, twin-screw supercharger with a Kenne Bell Mammoth Intake Manifold and a 4.5 inch chrome Ram Air Inlet Tube. This baby also has a ‘Boost-A-Pump and larger fuel injectors that the other models. Beneath the hood is a 5.0 liter Ford Coyote Indy V8 engine which generates a lovely 700+ horsepower."
Bleach could barely contain her excitement. "Is this the one with the Tremec TR6060 factory installed six-speed manual transmission?"
Roulette felt a sudden connection with the blonde girl. "That's the one. You know your stuff, kid."
"Well, cars were one of the few hobbies my parents didn't mind me having. Could never get over the Ferrari 599 GTO - it had such a lovely shape!"
Kobra looked back and forth between the two women, feeling slightly put out. "Hey, I thought the men were supposed to be the engine-heads!"
Russian Roulette rolled her eyes. "Pft, yeah right! Only a woman can truly appreciate the subtle nuances that make a muscle car a masterpiece."
Bleach couldn't take her eyes of it. "Oh are you sure you're happy to give it up? I mean it's so beautiful!"
The Gambler frowned. "Don't be silly. I'm not letting you have it just like that!" she smirked at the disappointment on the younger girl's face before adding "You have to take it for a test drive first. I'm not letting this car go to anyone unless they fit behind it's wheel."
Roulette and Kobra Kid stood atop a small rise and watched the Mustang zip back and forth across a deserted plain. The cars wheels spun on the dirt, kicking buckets of dust up into the air, but the driver never faltered in executing the turns.
"She's not a bad driver, huh?" Mikey noted.
Roulette nodded. "If I'm honest, that's a mans car. But she's handling it real well. Perhaps Harlequin would take her on in her crew."
Kobra frowned. "In the Cardz? No... I don't think so."
The Gambler gave him a long look. "Well then, what crew would you suggest she join?"
He shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe one day she'll join the Fabulous Killjoys."
"Pft, with your brother in charge I can't see that happening anytime soon."
There was a strained silence, gradually broken by the sound of the approaching car. Bleach braked hard, skidding sideways on the loose earth in a swirl of dust. The Mustang ground to a halt and she leapt over the convertible's door.
"It's great!" she cried, "A simple dream to drive. I can't believe you had this thing wasting away underground for the better part of a decade!"
Roulette's lips twisted sourly. "I have my Mercedes McLaren SLR and a Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570-4 Super Trofeo Stradale. What could I possibly need a Mustang for?" there was a hint of humor in her words. "Cars are built for particular people, and this one is built for you."
Bleach blushed; grinning like a kid on christmas morning. "So.... You don't mind my driving?"
The Gambler shrugged. "You're no Party Poison, but give it a few years and you might turn out to be a decent driver. However until then let's call this baby your training wheels."
"Are you sure you want to go? I mean, I know things are tense between you and my brother, but you don't have to leave." Kobra pleaded, leaning on the side of Bleach's new car.
The driver shrugged, blonde hair tangling in the desert wind. Her lime eyes were almost yellow in the sunset light. "Mikes, it's not that. I can put up with Party. It's just... Well you saw what happened this morning. This whole desert thing is overwhelming. I just.... Need some space."
Kobra nodded, giving her a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Well, at least I know you'll be able to outrun almost anything in this baby. No doubt Roulette did some tinkering with the engine to get it going faster than the norm. You'll be alright." he declared, trying to convince himself more than her.
"Thanks Kobra. Tell the others I'm sorry I didn't say goodbye, okay? I'll be back in a few days." she felt bad that she hadn't told the rest of the Killjoys her plans, but if they demanded that she stay things could have gotten bad.
"Fun Ghoul and Ray will be sad that they didn't get to say goodbye. Gracie too, I'm sure. Party..." he trailed off, unsure as what to say.
Bleach shrugged. "Party will think I'm up to something - I can bet on that." 'And he's right.' she thought to herself.
Kobra sighed. "Can't argue with that. Here," he said, passing her a rucksack, "some supplies incase there's no food where you're going."
She accepted the bag, peering into it and seeing an assortment of tinned foods and a few canisters of water. "Thanks Kobra, you know I didn't expect you to-"
"Don't think on it. Just take the damn thing and go." he grinned, stepping back from the side of her new car. "Watch out for dracs on the road, and for heavens sake if you see a storm, pull over and find some shelter!"
Bleach rolled her eyes. "Yes dad." she teased. "See you in a few!"
She twisted the keys and revved the engine, loving the way it growled at her. The car leapt forward with gusto and shot off onto the main highway. She only spared one glance in the rear vision mirror to see the solitary figure of her friend behind her, blurred now by tears.
'Why are you leaving Abbey?' she asked herself. 'Is it really because I'm low on battery?'
In her heart she knew that wasn't the answer. This morning had dredged up an onslaught of unwelcome emotions - guilt, hatred, anger and love. Lover for the four boys, the four men who soldiered on in the unforgiving Californian zones. Love for them because even though they were fighting the hard fight, they just kept going. They wouldn't give up. Love for them because even though they didn't know a thing about her, even though some of them suspected her of the worst, they continued to shelter her. Her - the backstabber. Love for them because last night, in the wake of her violent and unprovoked action of murder, they didn't judge. They accepted her. And when she needed them, when the guilt finally broke her, they were there to pick up the pieces and put her back together.
"What am I doing!?" she cried out, slamming her hands against the steering wheel. "I'm supposed to be plotting against them, not working with them!" her throat felt raw, her eyes blurred against the tears and the wind. The highway was eaten up quickly, her foot pressing down harder and harder on the accelerator. The Mustang went from a growl to a whine; engine screaming at her to slow. "Why do I have to feel this way!? Why do they have to be so god damn good!?"
Her foot faltered on the accelerator and she let the car drop back to a more comfortable pace. The obscured landscape became clearer and the wind pressing against her eyes softened.
Her shoulders sagged in defeat and Abbey wiped her wet eyes with one hand.
"Anton, what am I supposed to do now?" she whispered, knowing that there would be no answer. "Where do I go from here?"