You've made it this far. You made it through Chris stealing the card to your room and sneaking in, because you're a light sleeper. You heard the shuffling in the next room, the quiet, steadying breath, and you were under the bed, quiet as a mouse, before your connecting door opened. You closed your eyes against the room's impermeable blackness, put your fist in your mouth and listened to Chris sneaking up to your bed and pouncing, his hissed frustration when the bed was empty. You didn't move a muscle as he prowled the room, checking the bathroom, peering out onto the balcony, and then finally sighed in disappointment and retreated.
You stayed there the rest of the night, in your claustrophic dusty space, in case he came back. You didn't have a pillow, and you didn't have a blanket, but that was okay, because you didn't want to go back to sleep. You made it because you've learned to get by without resting your body.
You made it through Joey's best trick, a girl he found in a club who was sweet and mild and irresistibly gorgeous, and probably a virgin. He softened her up with kisses and dances, and made eyes at her roommate and then expertly switched, taking the friend and handing the cute one over to you. He did it so smoothly that they both thought they were getting exactly what they wanted. You wanted the girl, but you didn't go back to their place with Joey going there too. Joey pulled a face at you and put his arms around both. You made it, because you have learned to have no desires, if your desires come at too high a cost.
You might not make it through Lance, though. Lance gets you when your guard is down. You're learning, from him, when that is, and how not to do it, and what your vulnerabilities are. But Lance is coming for you, and he slides through the fractures in your defenses with his lies and his tricks, and you have no choice now, you have no other option, and you have to kill JC to have a chance at saving yourself.
You're crouched in JC's wardrobe, still as a skeleton, quiet as a corpse. Light filters through the crack between the doors, glancing off dust and particles to form a tenuous line of glowing yellow.
You've been here for hours. You haven't moved. You're sliding, falling, drifting slowly into the nowhere-land that exists in these small, dark, spaces, enclosed on all sides by invisibility. Your whereabouts are unknown, and nobody is looking for you. Your voice is not heard, your face is not seen. You don't exist. Your leg itches, but it doesn't exist either, so you don't need to scratch it.
You're waiting for JC. It hurts when you kill him. You can see, when you touch his face with the tip of his fingers, the pain of his betrayal. Justin, he seems to be saying, --in the instant he realises, in the instant before he smiles--, you, too?
It's okay, you want to say to him. It's okay to die. When you die, they put you in a box, and slide the lid on, and you'll be embraced on all sides by silence and peace and darkness. No lightbulbs flash in your face, no girls scream your name, no music pounds out of speakers, waiting for you to move, no reporters ask you questions, expecting you to answer. When you die, the world stops, and you can get off the blinding, deafening carousel, bright and shiny and colourful, which clamours for every last spark of your energy and demands every firing neuron of your attention.
When you're dead, JC, you can close your eyes, and stop smiling.
JC doesn't want to die, you realise this, but curled up in his dark, silent wardrobe, waiting for him, you imagine it. Lonnie has let you hold his gun, and you know the power of that cold, heavy metal in your hands. Lonnie has let you fire it, once, and you cradle the memory of the shocking noise, the violent kickback, as death flies forth from it. You picture the betrayal on JC's face before it explodes into blood and anguish, and he won't be able to recover and laugh, this time. You picture red splattering backwards on the lush hotel carpet, surrounding his body like a halo as it falls.
JC is dead, the papers will cry, and you will cry too. So will Joey and Chris and Lance; you will all cry until your eyes are bloodshot and your faces are permanently distorted and your voices are raw. You will cry endlessly, in front of the cameras, in front of the executives, in front of the girls. We can't continue, you will all cry, and it will be the truth. JC will die, and the carousel will stop, and you will get off, and find a quiet place in the dark and curl up there, still crying.
Your leg cramps, but you don't move it. You can't move it. The pain is bad, but you don't let yourself breathe any faster. You don't know how much time has passed, but you know by now that JC isn't coming. You stay where you are, anyway. You close your eyes, and try not to think at all.
The wardrobe doors open, amid tinny radio music and shouted insults and distant laughter. Daylight spills into it. You haven't been asleep, you're sure, but your mind is bathed in torrents of red, and images of Chris shouting, crumpling with his hands clutching his chest, and Lance lying still and serene, with glassy eyes staring blankly upwards, and Joey hurled back onto a sofa by the force of a gunshot blast, resting not in piece but in sprawled indignity.
Clothes above you move, and denim legs twitch impatiently. Bare feet tap to the sound of De La Soul, and you smile. You love this song.
"JC?" you whisper, and the feet jump back. They step forward again, and the legs crumple into a crouch, and there is JC, reaching in for you, holding out his hands.
"Oh, baby," he says, gathering you up, and you put your arms around his neck and let him carry you to the bed. "Baby, my baby."
It's bright out here, and noisy, but JC smells so good. He's not wearing a shirt yet, and his chest is soft and smooth under your cheek. He leans back, taking you with him, tipping you gently onto a pile of pillows. Your legs spasm but he rubs them, gently, until the kicking stops. He covers you with a blanket, and strokes your hair, and leans in to kiss your cheek.
"You want to do it now?" he asks, and you shake your head no. "No, hey," he tells you, patiently, "it's okay. And then you can sleep for a bit."
You extract one hand from the tangle of arms and pillows and blankets. He bends down and bows his head, and you touch his brow with the tip of your finger. "You're dead," you say, but the words barely come out.
JC doesn't flinch, just lets you pull him down so you can press your lips to the wound. "You feel better now?" he asks.
You've killed JC, for the chance to save yourself. You don't know if you feel better or worse. "Stay with me," you beg him, and he lies down beside you, and you know he'll protect you while you're sleeping.
Last one, last one. Last day, last chance. Kill or be killed, and it's a been a bad day, so you know what you want. The crowd roars in the background, and the PA is counting down, and the hackey sack has been kicked, and the microphones are on. The music swells, and the screaming rises with it.
"GO," Derek shouts, and out goes JC, with Joey leaping after him, and Chris conga-ing behind with his hands on Joey's waist. Lance hesitates, and looks at you. You wait.
"Go, guys, GO!" Derek shouts again.
You look at Lance. You wait.
"Justin!" Derek screams, but the screaming of your name means nothing to you. "Lance," he hisses finally.
"Get out of here," Lance tells him, yanking off his headset. Derek glares and retreats, swearing under his breath. Lance comes up and strokes your cheek. "Close your eyes," he whispers, throaty and sinister, and callously hard. You let them fall shut, and stare at the blackness.
You feel the pressure on your forehead, brutal and firm. There's warm breath on your ear. You wait. You wait.
"BANG!" Lance shouts, and the sound deafens you to everything else. It's over, you're dead, you don't exist, and you never have to do anything, ever again. You can crawl into your coffin and be still, and silent, and hidden hidden hidden, deep in the cold dark earth.
You take a deep breath, and savour it. Peace. Anonymity. Solitude. Rest. It's a beautiful feeling. It has been weeks since you last felt this way.
Slowly, though, your hearing returns, and with it the throbbing of the ground under you, the stamping of thousands of feet, and thousands of voices, crying out for you to come to them. The music is building as the musicians delay, and the tension grows as JC and Chris and Joey storm the stage, exhorting the crowd into more noise, more motion, more hunger.
The trembling starts in your feet, a growing sizzle which throbs to the beat, swelling up through your legs and twining around your hips. It tingles deep in your belly and warms it, embraces your heart, breaks out into the smile on your face, and spreads, crackling and spiralling madly, to the very ends of your hair.
You open your eyes and see Lance's welcoming smile. "You ready now?" he asks.
You're breathing again, hard. Your body is shaking. You're reborn, born again, into a world which sings your name, into a universe which waits, trembling, for you to set it in motion.
"Thanks, man," you say to Lance, and slap his back as you run past him into the deafening sound and the blinding light, opening your arms to the crushing love which envelops you.