It was still early morning when Luci was getting dressed. He’d rather go to Vanilla in the afternoon, when the girls he knew were around, not at 8:00 a.m. when the place was deserted, but Rick said that was the only time his sister could come over.
“You want some coffee before we go?” he asked Tooth and gave him a quick kiss before walking off to feed Manson.
Tooth cleared his throat. “I think it would be best if you stayed here. We’ll be back in no time anyway.”
Luci paused over the bowl of cat food. “What? But I told Rick I’ll come see him.” Was this some crazy jealousy speaking through Tooth?
Tooth put on his jacket and looked at Luci, shrugging. “If this woman has something to do with the organ snatchers I’d rather you stay here.
“Come on, Tooth, Rick’s gonna be there, it’s fine. I did as I promised, I didn’t contact him since you asked me not to.” Luci stoked Manson’s back and got up.
A rapid knocking rattled the door. “Ready? I got the van off Priest,” yelled Bell.
“I’ll be right there,” yelled Tooth before walking over to Luci. He sighed, leaning down. “Luci, I have a bad feeling about this, okay? You’ll be all right where you are.”
Luci grumbled at him but nodded. He knew he wouldn’t win this argument. He needed to do things his way. He did give Tooth a glare though and squinted.
Tooth snorted and kissed Luci’s forehead. “You wanna go watch a movie after I’m back?”
“Only if you buy me popcorn and a slushie, sugar daddy.”
“Deal.” Tooth patted Luci’s back and headed for the door. “Shouldn’t take more than two hours.”
“Maybe I’ll do the laundry in the meantime,” Luci said and followed Tooth into the corridor. He greeted Bell and quickly excused himself to make use of the tiny time advantage he had. Knowing Tooth, he would go through the bar and grab a fresh coffee. If Luci went through the back quick enough, he could get into the van before it drove off.
He ran outside, only to hide behind one of the dumpsters when he spotted Asty walking over to Beast’s. He scooted down with his heart beating all too fast. He couldn’t afford a stop like that. He knew Tooth well enough to realize he wouldn’t agree to take him to Vanilla Lounge in overblown protectiveness. As soon as Asty entered the pen, too busy with Beast to notice him, Luci rushed forward, happy to see the courtyard empty.
He ran to the garages and spotted Priest’s dirty black van. “Bingo,” he whispered to himself and jogged over to the empty car. The back was unlocked, so he didn’t even have to struggle with it. In case Tooth and Bell looked inside, he hid under a blanket and froze even though he was still alone. Trying to breathe slowly, he closed his eyes, tuning in with the sounds around him. Male voices from inside the building, then Tooth talking to someone in a low, serious tone. The other voice was Beelzebub.
Luci imagined being a part of the van. Still, unmoving. If Tooth wanted to hurt Rick, Luci needed to be there and prevent it. He wouldn’t be able to do that if he stayed. It seemed there were only two men in the van as it started forward, but he couldn’t hear much through the sound of the engine. He put a hand under his head to protect it from the unpleasant rocking, but other than that he tried to learn as much as he could. It made him shudder to think Tooth would hurt Rick out of spite. That wasn’t the man he knew. What were Tooth’s intentions then? Sadly, all he was getting were scraps of conversation. What hit him though was the eerie lack of an easygoing tone. Tooth spoke coolly, with purpose, while Bell was clearly getting increasingly agitated.
All Luci knew was that he needed to take care of the situation. Make some peace between these guys. When the van finally stopped, he listened to the steps of Bell and Tooth leaving. He exhaled, unsure what he was supposed to do. What if Tooth and Bell did something to Rick? The one encounter he’d witnessed had made it clear Tooth could easily overpower Rick, much more so with Bell to help him.
It felt like forever before the van stopped. Luci had his gun, to have some leverage in case it was needed, and slipped out of the van after a few minutes. They’d parked in the back, a place employees used when they wanted to keep the front parking lot for the guests. But when he was about to take a step toward the Vanilla, shots erupted inside, and as much as he wanted to run over there and help whomever might need it, he completely stilled with fear. With his breath hitching, he ran behind the van and hid there.
A lone car sped down the street, leaving Luci in the horrendous silence, broken only by yet another round that sent shivers all the way down his spine and left him in paralyzing fear. Tooth was in there, and so was Bell, who’d just recently started accepting him as a part of the family. He had to find the courage in himself and go. Even if it was Rick who got shot, he needed to know now. He couldn’t just stand there like a scarecrow in the middle of a field.
He took one step and then another, even though his shoes felt like made out of lead. A few steps later it was only iron, so he forced himself into a jog until he reached the backdoor. He had locked himself out here so many times the owner had actually told him where he had the spare key. Luci retrieved it from underneath an ugly concrete vase that doubled as an ashtray, and with the gun trembling in his sweaty palm, he opened the door as quietly as humanly possible.
It was quiet inside, deserted. The premises would have been cleaned by now, and neither the girls nor the other staff would show up until the early afternoon. But then there was a voice he knew, higher pitched than usual, screaming.
“The kid’s not here! We’ve been set up,” growled Rick, and his barking voice was accompanied by the loud sound of smashing glass. “No, the cameras are switched off. I need to get out of here.”
Luci ducked and slid underneath a table used by the employees during their breaks, in case Rick wanted to leave through the backdoor. He stilled by the wall, breathing the stuffy scent of chemicals used for the floor. His heart beat like crazy. What the fuck was happening?
“I don’t know if he’s aware! For fuck’s sake, I need to go. At least the overgrown pitbull’s dead.” Rick emphasized the last word with a spit.
Dead? Who was dead? Luci bit his cheek so hard he drew blood. He couldn’t say a word, but his senses became hyperaware as he tasted copper on his tongue.
“I’m going. I’ll see you in half an hour. The usual place,” growled Rick. It was followed by a staccato of gunshots, which made Luci curl into a ball by the dirty wall.
His mind was sent into havoc. Who was fucking dead? What was happening? They were supposed to talk to Rick’s sister, and he didn’t hear any female out there. He needed answers, needed to find Tooth and Bell, but what was he supposed to do with his gun against Rick and maybe some other people who were just keeping quiet? His whole body trembled with a pathetic sense of uselessness. He flinched at the sound of a door slamming shut, and then, there was complete, utter, deathly silence. Where were Tooth and Bell? Why weren’t they talking? And just as his heartbeat reached the point when it almost hurt him, there was a gasp.
Fuck. Rick or no Rick, Luci slid out of his hiding spot. Maybe the guys… he was sick to his stomach from speculating. There was no time for this. He put the safety off his gun and approached the main room of the lounge in cautious steps. It felt like going through the maze with the awareness of the Minotaur being after him. But the need to know what happened was stronger than fear.
He wasn’t ready for what he saw as he entered the club. It was a scene of destruction. The mirror and glass shelves behind the bar had been completely smashed with bullets, and the smell of alcohol mixed with that of gunpowder. In the rays of light seeping through the blinds he saw fallen furniture, and in the middle of it, on top of a broken table, lay a person. Even in the shadows he would recognize Bell’s massive body. Luci came up closer to see the familiar stupid belt buckle with a horned devil.
“Bell,” he whimpered, and his feet carried him to his brother against the panic settling in his whole body. The well known stench of blood reached out for his throat and wouldn’t let go. Rick was gone and wouldn’t come back. Luci had to believe it. But when he reached the outstretched body and got to see the head hanging back, he dropped his gun and fought back the tears forming in his eyes. Bell’s face had relaxed into an image of disbelief, but the left eye was rolled back under a gash in the forehead. Bell made no sound. He didn’t breathe.
He was dead.
A sob choked Luci, and he cupped Bell’s cooling cheeks, unsure what he could possibly do. “Bell…” he whined, not even embarrassed by the sound of his own voice. How could this happen?
It was all his fault. It was he who suggested they should go and talk to Rick. From what he understood, it was him Rick was looking for. But what about Tooth? Did he escape? Was he somewhere else? Luci rubbed his eyes with his sleeve and looked around the wrecked lounge with his heart beating all the way in his throat. Even the blood couldn’t affect him anymore. He was dizzy, walking through the club like in a hazy nightmare, but he couldn’t allow himself to faint.
His heart leaped when he heard a gasp from the side of the bar, and then the voice he would recognize anywhere. “Luci?” Tooth uttered hoarsely. The sound of something shifting pulled Luci closer to the bar, over the broken glass and spilled alcohol.
Tooth lay on the floor covered by a shining layer of the debris from the shattered counter, his chest moving up and down.
Luci’s limbs got lighter as adrenaline pumped through his veins. “Tooth! You’re alive! What happened?” He asked in panic and kneeled in the glass without a second thought. There was blood, but he couldn’t exactly pinpoint what was wrong. As he ran his fingers over Tooth’s body, the frustration was so immense he screamed.
He couldn’t see well, but every touch made Tooth flinch, his powerful body fighting for breath. He forced his eyes open and gripped Luci’s arm, trying to pull himself up. “Bell?”
“He’s d-dead,” Luci uttered. “It’s me, Luci, I’ll get you out of here, yeah?” When he pulled away Tooth’s vest, he saw a dark stain of blood on his side. This couldn’t be happening. “You’ll be fine, sweetie, I’ll get you to the hospital,” he uttered.
Tooth took a shaky breath. “Fuck... told you to stay home, you little brat,” he uttered, trying to move using one arm as leverage.
“I thought… I thought… fuck, it doesn’t matter. Come on, I don’t just go to the gym to spy on you. I can help. Let’s just get you to the car.” Luci tried to speak cohesively despite tears dripping down his cheeks. He scooted down by Tooth and grabbed him under the arms. The instant hiss told him he hit a sore spot, but there was no way around it.
“Maybe just… let me lean on you. My head’s spinnin’,” muttered Tooth, massaging the back of his skull. Before Luci could flinch away, Tooth put his large hand over Luci’s face, filling his nostrils with the smell of copper. Luci could feel his own weakness, eyes rolling back, but he managed to fight through with the thought of Tooth’s life in danger more sobering than any smelling salts.
“Oh, God…” Luci whimpered. He felt so useless, like such a waste of space. He’d brought the only people who cared for him into a trap. He shifted to let Tooth put an arm over his shoulders. His brother was dead, and Tooth could be barely hanging on to life for all Luci knew. His medical knowledge ended at using paracetamol. Tooth flinched when Luci put the heavy arm over his shoulders and pushed them both up, with Tooth helping him out by supporting himself with the good hand. His body reeked of liquor and blood, and now that he was weak and shocked, Luci had to drag all that muscle he had always admired. It was tough, but he would make it. He would save Tooth. This was the man he was supposed to share his future with. They’d only found each other. This couldn’t be happening.
Luci was rasping already as they reached the back door, his muscles turning into a mass of burning pain. He would make sure Tooth got to the hospital even if his knees were to give up and his tendons break. He bit down on his bottom lip and pushed the door open with his boot.
“Not far now,” he uttered through clenched teeth.
Walking through the dark corridor had been a struggle, but he knew the place by heart and pushed on, helping Tooth walk. He tried not to get distracted, not waste any breath on talking, but when they finally came into the sun, the scale of what happened to Tooth was revealed. There were glittery shards of glass sticking out of his flesh, and the flap of the leather vest shone with blood.
“Tooth? Talk to me. How are you feeling? Where does it hurt the most?” Luci had no fucking clue what he was doing. This had to be what hell was like. He’d bring Harlow back to life if it could help Tooth right now. His lover’s weight was just like the guilt on his shoulders. Crushing.
Tooth’s head hung low, hair and beard obscuring almost all of it from view. It seemed he was focusing on walking on and not succumbing to pain, though his body was hard with the tension. “Side... I have blood running down my thigh...”
“What?” Luci hissed and looked back at the pavement they’d already crossed. They left a bloody trail and there was no way to scoop that up and put it back in Tooth’s body. The van was only meters away, but it seemed like an eternity of steps. And where would he put Tooth? In the seat? With the van shaking as they drove, it could only cause more damage. Not to mention the back of the van, where Tooth could roll around if he lost consciousness. Why? Why did this have to happen? Why did he have to be such a stupid crybaby and know nothing about what to do?
Tooth shuddered. “We need to stop it. But it’s not a limb... Can we use my shirt?”
“Let’s try. I’ll put you down on the ground, okay?” Luci’s mind was in complete chaos. He wanted to take Tooth to the hospital, so they could get there quicker, but now it looked like he’d have to call an ambulance anyway, which meant he’d lost a good few minutes! He wanted to howl and punch something. He slowly helped Tooth lie down by the car and fished out his cell phone. “I’ll just call 911.”
“Yeah,” nodded Tooth, scowling as he raised his hand and pulled up his shirt. Hair was sticking to his face, but when the fabric rose, Luci finally saw the main damage. There was a bullet hole in Tooth’s side, and when he moved his body, more blood seeped out.
“Oh fucking fuck, fucking fuck! I’m so stupid! I shouldn’t have picked you up!” Luci rubbed his face, smearing even more blood over it, but at this point, he must have gotten used to it. He got his hoodie and T-shirt off. It would be better to use his than to strain Tooth by making him take off his jacket.
Tooth clenched his teeth, pushing the flap of his vest aside, and looked at the wound. “Fuck,” he muttered, pushing the bloodied fabric against the bullet hole. He was moving with obvious discomfort, the handsome face tense, with bulging veins on his forehead.
Luci grabbed Tooth’s hand, squeezing it hard when he called 911 and informed them of what happened. They promised to send an ambulance right away and advised him to dress the wound as well as he could, but help couldn’t come quick enough. Each second felt like forever.
“Was it Rick? Did Rick shoot you?” Luci asked when he finished talking on the phone.
Tooth swallowed, blinking, and grabbed Luci’s hand. “Fuck... I left my gun in there. You need to clean it off my fingerprints...”
“I can’t leave you here,” he squealed, trying to make his T-shirt into a makeshift bandage.
Tooth closed his eyes and let out a long breath. “Luci... no one can know I used that gun. It’s not legal. Do it for me,” he muttered.
Luci sniffed and nodded. “But you can’t die when I’m away,” he ordered as he got up. If he did it quickly, he would still make it before the ambulance came.
Tooth’s lips crooked into a small smile. “Promise. Go, kiddo. I’ll be here,” he said, indicating the wounds with a low grunt of pain.
Only as he ran back to Vanilla across the parking lot did Luci realize he would have to face Bell’s dead body again. How much was he supposed to take today? How much could a person take before they completely collapsed?
There was no time for these thoughts though. He needed to be strong for Tooth. Find the fucking gun. Clean the fingerprints off it, clean the fingerprints off the one he’d dropped for that matter. Yet another stupid thing he’d done.
Bell lay on the table, just as before, like an eerie statue Luci tried not to look at because it wouldn’t be easy to find anything with eyes full of tears. His big brother. Who stood up for him and tried to be okay with Luci being gay despite his own prejudice. He couldn’t handle the fact that Bell was dead because of him. It should have been him lying in this shithole.
Swallowing sobs, Luci rushed behind the bar where he’d found Tooth. Now that Tooth wasn’t here, it was harder to stand the coppery smell, but he would push himself to do it. For Tooth. The room seemed to pulsate around him, and he pushed his hand into his pocket to pull out the cell phone, even though the knowledge of what he’d see was choking him with nausea.
One more trembling breath later, he used the flashlight app in his phone and searched in the sea of glass, blood, and alcohol. The smell was sickening. It made his head light and dizzy, but at least he found the gun in a far away corner. He got a towel from a shelf under the counter and rubbed the metal as vigorously as if there were a genie inside. But no one came to grant him three wishes. He only had two anyway. Save Tooth and bring Bell back.
He was only finishing with his own gun when he heard the roar of an ambulance outside. The cops would be there as well. He put the gun away and ran out.
He had to blink when he rushed out into the sun, only to see two paramedics rushing to Tooth’s side. One of them helped Tooth lie down while the other ran back to the ambulance to get some supplies. It was something like out of a movie. It couldn’t be real.
He could only imagine how ridiculous he had to look with a hoodie over bare skin, with blood smeared all over and with shards of glass sticking to his jeans. “I called in the emergency! He’s my friend. How can I help?” he yelled as he ran over.
The paramedic looked up, blinking. “Jimmy, we have another one.”
The other paramedic jumped out of the car with a large bag and gave Luci a once-over. “Are you hurt anywhere?”
In the distance, Luci could hear another siren, but he ignored it for now. They would question him later, so this was his last opportunity. “Does he need blood? I’m 0 negative, I could donate,” he said, following them to the ambulance.
He watched Tooth being put in a stretcher and then transported into the ambulance. Jimmy the paramedic gave Luci a small smile as he put something around Tooth’s arm. “We’ll see if that’s necessary.”
The other paramedic jumped off the car and put a blanket over Luci’s shoulders.
“We need to go to the hospital. Get in.”
Luci hopped into the ambulance. It was a relief to finally see Tooth in the hands of people who knew what they were doing, so unlike his useless attempts. Tooth was already hooked up on something but his mouth spread into a smile when he saw Luci. He’d be okay.
But even so, Luci’s heart trembled when the sound of an approaching car made him think that maybe Rick was coming back to finish the job. With Bell’s face in the back of his mind, he sat down, directed by a paramedic.
This wasn’t over.
Luci sat in the waiting room of the hospital with a cup of coffee and stared at the wall. He was exhausted. Bleached out of thoughts and emotions after the roller coaster he’d been through. Tooth got out of surgery about an hour ago, and the doctor said he would be fine. The bullet missed all vital organs, and he should be okay very soon. Relief made Luci limp, as if all the strings tugging on his nerves suddenly let go. But that left room for Bell, who was now resting in the coroner’s fridge. Just imagining it had Luci tremble with grief. He had called Priest and all he could think of throughout the conversation was that it was all his fault. He had to tell his father that his favorite son was dead. A little part of him died during that call. It was short, but Luci told Priest about Rick. All Dad had said was that Luci should stay put at the hospital and wait. And then he hung up.
So Luci did as he was told. Cuddled up in a blanket as the only person in a small waiting room, unable to process what had happened. He couldn’t even go see Tooth yet. Alone with his thoughts, not knowing when Priest was gonna come for him. Somewhere in the back of his mind he believed his father wouldn’t want to see him at all. Luci was just a liability to this family. All he could hope for was that Tooth wouldn’t lose his affection for him because of it. Then again, how could Tooth possibly not resent him. It was because of Luci they had been attacked in the first place. Tooth and Bell, both Coffin Nails, they could as well be blood brothers. Tooth would never forgive Luci. How would Luci even talk to him about it?
The door creaked, and the last person Luci wanted to see slid into the waiting room with all her dark energy and black lace finery. Dolly looked at Luci with eyes so red they reminded Luci of Bell’s dead whites.
It was almost like seeing him come back to life. She rushed across the empty room, her dress pulling over the floor as if she were a ghost. A harsh slap to the face made him turn his head and look at a water dispenser in the corner. His cheek burned as if Dolly had rubbed it raw with a nail file.
“It’s all your fault!”
He slouched, unable to choke out a word. Then again, he didn’t even have the chance because Dolly spoke again.
“I knew it was a bad sign when you appeared, but this? My son? You led him to that filthy whorehouse. You should have stayed there and sucked cock until your lips fell off, you little shit.” She squinted and took a step closer, wheezing. “You know what I found out from the police? That my son was still dying when you chose to only take care of Tooth. No one will ever forgive you.”
Luci’s eyes went wide, and all blood drained from his face. No. This couldn’t be true. He had been sure Bell was dead. Shot in the head. Could he have still lived?
Dolly continued in the same bitter tone. “You probably don’t care about my approval, but Priest will rip you to pieces. He will come for you and take you to a place where no one will hear you scream. And your precious friend won’t help you either. You let Bell die. Tooth will never forgive you. If it were his choice, if Tooth knew, he would have stayed to help Bell, not fled like some faggy coward!” She poked Luci’s chest with her sharp nail to emphasize it.
The room fell silent, and Luci was positive if anyone opened their mouth, there would be an echo. Dolly’s dark eyes burned like two pieces of coal, ready to scorch his heart while she scratched his eyes out and sacrificed them in Bell’s memory. She frowned and slapped him again. “And? You’re not gonna say anything?”
Luci cowered, rubbing out the tears already forming in his eyes. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry, I was sure he was…” He couldn’t even finish without choking up. His chest was empty. “I did my best. Does Priest think it’s my fault?” Her presence was so intimidating, he could hardly speak, all the emotions tumbling inside of him and twisting his organs inside out. He was such a failure of a human being.
Dolly let out a hiss and pushed him in the chest. “What do you think? He only took you in because he’s a responsible man. Why else would he take you to his own home! And now he lost his beloved son because of you! You will never be able to replace our Beelzebub, you little freak!” She let out a strangled sob and walked off, facing away from Luci, but he could still see her shoulders shaking.
“What can I do?” Luci sobbed. “I’d take his place if I could, but I can’t… I can’t tell them not to go. I can’t un-do this.” With each word his voice became weaker. “This is my only family.”
Dolly turned around, a low rumble echoing in her chest. “You have no family here,” she said with dark streaks trailing down her face. “You were on probation, but the honeymoon’s now over. If you don’t want to die, you should go.”
“I didn’t mean for them to go there… I was supposed to just go with Tooth,” whispered Luci, curling in his chair. He wanted to disappear. He wished it was still yesterday, and he’d be in Tooth’s arms, with Bell throwing a silly fit of anger if he walked in on them. Wouldn’t that be just fucking lovely? Instead, he was here, in this fucking reality that he didn’t want to be a part of. With all the shock from being shot, did Tooth even know Bell was dead?
“Tooth must be getting tired of you undressing him with your eyes,” scowled Dolly, pacing around the room like a madwoman. “He loved Bell like a brother, and you just left him there... like a piece of trash!” She rushed to Luci again and slapped Luci’s head with a pained cry.
“I don’t have anywhere to go to…” Luci whispered, sliding his fingers into his hair and gripping the place where he still felt her hand.
“Is there anywhere you want to go?” Dolly scooted, to look into his eyes. “You need to go, boy, you know this, right? I thought about it. I’ll give you a ride to the bus station and a ticket. Just because despite all you did, you grew on me somehow. Up.”
“Huh?” Luci looked up at her and rubbed his nose with the sleeve of his hoodie. “But… I have to talk to Tooth first.”
Dolly took a shaky breath. “No, you need to disappear before Priest comes here. What do you want from Tooth anyway? The man will resent you for what happened. He doesn’t forget things like that.”
Luci swallowed. It was true, Tooth always remembered shit. And this wasn’t just ‘shit’, this was the end of the world. And they’d only had a relationship for what? Two weeks? Tooth had known Bell for twelve years. The Coffin Nails were Tooth’s family. Tooth would do what Priest asked. Maybe he’d give Luci a merciful death, but he would follow the order.
Luci got up, fighting the tremble in his knees.
Dolly got a tissue and cleaned the skin under her eyes. “Let’s go.” She took a deep breath, and they left the waiting room. It was like a dream, like being on the way out of his life. First out of the hospital, then to the parking lot outside. Luci had washed his arms and face, but his hoodie was still stained. It wouldn’t matter where he was going. They reached Dolly’s sleek black BMW, and she opened the back door for him.
“Get in,” Dolly said and when he sat down, she slammed the door behind him. Dolly got into the driver’s seat and started the motor. “I got your cat.”
Only when she said that Luci registered the carrier in the back seat, and the little eyes staring at him. As much as he didn’t want to cry, tears spilled down his cheeks again. At least he would get to take something into the new life that would most likely lead to an early grave. Maybe it was for the better.