13: Into The Void
by Wax Jism

Casey is smiling when he comes into the shower room, and that's scary enough, but then he doesn't even notice that Gabe is glaring at him, and that's when Stan gets that feeling of nothing-good-will-come-of-this.

Casey hangs up his towel and Stan looks away, following the general shower room rule: do not check your fellow men out unless you really like pain.

More people come in after Casey; guys on the team, mostly. Lucas Bronheim, Jon Raymond, Jarr Hatton. Stan puts his head under the tepid spray and longs for a bath. He still works out, of course, runs and swims and lifts, but it's like his body has decided to wuss out on him. Gabe caught him with a shoulder in the ribs when they were having it out over a ball, and now he aches, far more than he thinks he should.

Before PS, he went to the library and checked out The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and Mrs Brummel remembered his name and smiled her wavery little old lady smile at him. His parents have stopped looking at him like they don't know whether to call the cops for a drug check or a shrink for a psych evaluation.

Gabe calls him "Bookworm". Stan doesn't know if Gabe resents him for leaving or thanks him for the free spot at the top. He doesn't know if Gabe resents getting Stan's sloppy seconds. Stan has tried to get used to seeing Delilah with Gabe. It's stopped pissing him off, but he doesn't hang around when they're together.

"Yo, Stan," Gabe says now. He's under the shower next to him. The bandage on his nose is gone, everything is back to normal.

"Gabe," Stan says.

"Don't see you around the same anymore."

"Been busy," Stan says. Busy avoiding Gabe, of course. Busy making his Ds turn into Bs. It hasn't happened yet, but he has faith.

He's noticed that he has fewer friends now than before he quit the team. Having fewer friends gives him more time to study. Which is what he wanted, right? Right.

He blinks water out of his eyes and in front of him, Casey turns around and Stan can see bruises on his chest. Round little marks dappling his narrow ribcage, a few just above his collarbone, a few - Stan lets his eyes drop down below the comfort zone - all the way down along the jut of his hipbones.

Stan looks away again. The water feels almost hot for a while and he closes his eyes, soapsud heaven, until Gabe says, "What's wrong with him?"

Stan opens his eyes and says, "who?"

Casey's smiling again. There's a faint shadow of discoloration on his cheekbone, but the rest of his face is pale and smooth, his eyelashes clingy, wet feathers on his cheek. His smile is small and private and beatific.

Stan turns to Gabe and the feeling of nothing good is back.

"Casey," Gabe says. "Hey, Casey."

It takes a few seconds before Casey even opens his eyes, and when he does, they're heavy-lidded and unfocused. He's been a million miles away and isn't quite back from orbit yet.

"Hey, cocksucker," Gabe says. He still sounds calm, but Stan knows him; has known him since third grade and Gabe's about to blow.

"Gabe..." he says, and then Casey blinks a few times and focuses his eyes on Gabe.

"What?" he says, as if Gabe is a minor distraction from something far more important. Casey is really out surfing the great divide today, and there are cold shivers running over Stan's skin despite the blissfully hot water.

"Gabe," Stan says again, but Gabe has taken a step forward, towards Casey. He's tall and sleek and outweighs Casey by about sixty pounds, and Casey is still smiling.

"Where'd you get the lovebites?" Gabe asks and Stan notices that everyone else has fallen silent in the room. Lovebites, holy fuck; that's what they are. He forgets the shower room rule again and stares. There's one on Casey's inner thigh - unmistakable. Someone likes to bite. Delilah sometimes gave Stan lovebites, in the heat of the moment. Never like this, though, piebalding his skin with bruises. Some of them look like fingerprints, there, on the sides of his hips. Like. Like someone held him down and--

"Huh?" Casey says before his eyes drop, tell-tale, to look down on himself.

"We're shocked and appalled here," Gabe goes on. "You broke your vows."

Casey still doesn't look afraid, but he doesn't answer, either. "Like it rough, huh?" Gabe says. Stan takes a step and then he notices that everyone else has, too: Lucas and Jarr and Jon and Gordie and Duvall and there are more here, maybe a dozen guys in the room. "I guess you found someone who likes little chickenshit fags."

Casey's head comes up with a snap, as if that insult, among the rest, somehow means something. "We got something in common then," he hisses.

Silence. Stan counts his own heartbeats coming too fast; onetwothreefour-- and then Gabe says "What did you say?"

Casey doesn't answer, but now his shoulders are hunched defensively and he's gone back to the old Casey Stan knows and doesn't much love, but is damned happy to see again. Gabe will push him around and Casey will let himself be pushed and all will be well.

"What a fucking weirdo," Lucas says. "Fucking stalker, too, man. Gabe, you should watch out, he's after your girl--"

Stan doesn't think anyone but Gabe and he are watching close enough to see the quick little grin spark brightly over Casey's face, but Gabe sees it and it's all she wrote.

"Gabe, for fuck's sake!" Stan says, a little louder this time, and Gabe spins around at him, his face twisting in fury and Stan almost slips on the tiles.

"Back off, Rosado."

Gabe's hand is rough and too intimate on his chest, pushing him aside. Stan looks around and there's no help in the faces there. They're all waiting, because Gabe is the biggest swinging dick in this room now and there's a status quo to be reinforced.

It's creepier than usual, because they're all butt naked; there's some kind of primeval vibe running through the room. The way everyone starts moving closer, silently. The way Gabe slits his eyes and says, his voice dipping low, "What's so funny, asshole?"

"You're pretty fucking funny," Casey mutters, like he can't feel the vibe at all, or maybe, maybe, Stan realises, like he doesn't fucking care about the vibe.

Gabe moves with the speed that earned him his place on the team. It's almost completely silent now, and Stan wonders how that can be, since the showers are still running. But all he can hear are the soft slaps of Gabe's feet on the tiles and his own breaths tearing painfully through his throat. Then Gabe grabs Casey's skinny, bruised arms and almost lifts him from the floor. "Fuck you, Gabe," Casey says clearly, and there's a gleam in his eyes, a dangerous gleam. "Delilah sends her love," and he spits, a well-aimed goober right in Gabe's wet face.

Stan loses sight of things then, because he's too stunned to move and the rest of the guys are quicker on their feet, closing in like a pack of wolves while Stan snaps for air. Never in a million years, never fucking ever has he witnessed anyone sign his own death warrant in spit like that. He looks away when he hears the first punch, the slap of wet skin and a choked grunt from Casey. Looks around helplessly because they're all there now and you don't step in, you don't get into personal business, and for fuck's sake, Casey didn't just ask for it, he got down on his bony knees and begged to be fucked up.

Someone, probably Jarr, yells, "Give it to him good!" and it's the signal, they all start cheering, and it reminds Stan of something, something other than a bunch of naked teenagers beating up someone smaller in a shower room, but he's backed up almost all the way to the door before he remembers. The Accused, gang bang scene. Jodie Foster getting it good, only here it's Casey Connor and half the football team, and what are they doing to him? The cheering crashes between the naked walls and it sounds like a game, just a bunch of guys supporting the team, but Stan can hear the painful squeak of skin sliding over tile, and that breathless, reedy cry wasn't a cheer.

"What are you doing?" he yells, stupidly and grabs the nearest arm, but his fingers slide lewdly over wet, slick skin and he doesn't even know who he's touching. He tries to push them aside, pale bodies, dark bodies, but they seem to many, suddenly. They're all naked and soap-slippery, and when he gets stuck between Lucas and Gabe, it's like a fucking orgy must be, heaving bodies and skin everywhere; he swears he feels a dick slap against his thigh, even, and it might have been hard. Then an elbow knocks his head to the side and he sees Casey there, pushed against the wall, pinned there and the look in his eyes is surprised, like he really didn't know. How could he not? Stan wonders when Gabe gets up close and bangs Casey against the wall.

Casey's head bounces off the tile wall and his eyes go out of focus for a while. Stan's fingers slide numbly over Gabe's flank, and someone, Duvall maybe, shoves him aside, and he's closed out of the circle.

He hears Gabe say, "So you don't forget," in a voice that's thick with rage, and Stan sees him aim a kick, and then everyone's backing off a little because Casey hit the floor with a wet, sickening thud. Stan can see his white skin shine in glimpses between a row of hairy ankles.

Then there's blood in the swirls of water on the floor and Stan turns and runs out of the shower room.

There's no one in the locker room; how the fuck can there be no one in there? This school is amazing that way. You want to beat someone up, there's always a quiet spot to go; people are helpful, they'll turn away without a word and leave.

He yanks his jeans on viciously, no underwear and damp skin and he probably scrapes a good gash on his thigh with the zipper. He can't find his shirt, so he pulls on his jacket and runs barefoot up the stairs with the cheering still ringing in his ears. The denim chafes at the wet, soft skin between his legs - real fucking lucky he didn't get his dick caught in the zipper.

He skids to a halt at the top of the stairs and realises he has no idea where he was going.

He opens his mouth to yell, "HELP!" Mad, but he can't fucking think. Now that he's up in the cool air, he realises how way out of the league of normally fucked up that was, that they were out for serious blood--

"Stan?" someone says next to him and he jumps backward and somehow stubs his toe on the gritty floor. Bright burst of pain and he hisses and skips and it's Delilah next to him, wide-eyed with worry, leaning closer. Right behind her, inexplicably, Zeke Tyler of all people.

"Fuck, fuck," Stan mutters, "man, that hurt." They look like they've been waiting for someone. Delilah must be waiting for Gabe to be done. Who the hell ever knows why Zeke does anything? Stan doesn't, can't care, either, because his toe hurts something fierce and his brain is stuck in a rut on the horror downstairs. "--it's Gabe. Gabe and Casey, and I think--" and that was all he has time for before they push him aside and race down the stairs. Like it means something.

He runs after them.


He gets there as they do, he's already panic-fast and they're just getting started. He doesn't get it, though, Delilah worried about Gabe. She should know better, know that Casey can't get the drop on him twice.

He crashes against the wall just next to the shower room door and gets a good look just as Gabe takes a step backward and drops his hands to his dick. For a second, Stan's brain flashes to Jodie Foster again, but then Gabe arches his back and lets fly, and it's not like a gangbang, it's like a wolverine pissing on its kill. The rest of them, too, like some crazy fucking pact, and he hears Casey crying in there, thick, choking sobs.

"What the FUCK?" Delilah screams just beside him, and her voice - shrill, loud, female - cuts through the jeering and the rush of the showers like a blade.

And just like that, it's over.

They lose interest in Casey one by one, dominoes falling over. They back off and clap their hands over their dicks, detour around Delilah without looking at her. Except Gabe, who walks by unashamed. He's seen her naked too, Stan thinks, more bitter than he thought he'd be - and asks Delilah, "What are you doing here, baby?"

"Get the fuck out, Gabe," she says. Her voice is strange and soft, and Stan almost thinks he misheard. Almost, but then Gabe backs away from her as if she's suddenly grown radioactive, and Delilah--

Delilah has never cared about people getting beaten up. Ever. Stan knows her, and she is a perfect ten on the Don't-Give-A-Fuck-Unless-It's-Gucci scale, but she's kneeling in the bloody water nonetheless. It's gone quiet again.

Then he hears Zeke's voice, a throaty growl now: "Get the fuck out." He almost obeys before he realises Zeke's talking to Gabe. Zeke stands three or four good inches taller than Gabe, more with his shoes on, and Gabe's naked. No contest. Gabe seems to have come down to Earth now; Stan sees him throw a glance back into the shower room, a worried glance. A did-I-go-too-far? glance.

Fucking right, you did, Stan thinks, Psycho, and then Gabe is gone and it's just the four of them. Stan stands barefoot in his uncomfortably damp jeans and stares. The smell of piss has reached his nostrils, sudden and sharp. Delilah is wearing pants today, grey pinstriped ones, but he's not appreciating her ass like he might some other day if she crouched down like that in front of him. Instead, he watches her knees and the dark stain of blood and water creeping upwards as the fabric absorbs it.

He's weaving like he's drunk - shock? What? what the fuck? - when he walks the six feet or so of wet floor between them.

Casey is curled up in a fetal position, his hands thrown over his face, and there's blood, and the smell, and he's not sobbing, Stan realises, he's choking, snapping for breath. Delilah is touching him. Stan stares dumbly at them. She's running her fingers over his side, all over his side. Not gingerly, not like someone touching a stranger. At all. Not at all; she's touching him with knowing hands. "Casey," she whispers, and she might be crying, but Stan refuses to believe it. "Casey, Casey, baby--"

Casey makes a sound like his lungs have stopped working entirely, a sort of deep, rattling groan, and Stan comes to a little - fuck, it's bad, it's really bad - and crouches down beside them, feeling helpless, but he has to do something. "Is he--" he starts and Delilah turns on him, snarls "Don't fucking touch him," and pushes him, hard and fast, hard enough to knock him over.

He just barely manages not to slam the back of his head on the floor, and when he gets up again, she's already turned back to Casey. "Casey, talk to me," she whispers, softly like a lover. Soft as a mother.

Then Zeke's crouching next to her, his hand gentle on her shoulder. His voice is hard though, with a sharp edge that makes chills twist their roots into Stan's gut. "We'll get them, Case," he says and Delilah glances at him and Stan tries to forget he saw the look that passed between them. "We'll fucking kill them. Baby, it's gonna be the day."

His voice has an edge, but it's low and sing-song and seductive. Stan's head is spinning. Delilah's stroking Casey's filthy skin and Zeke chants softly, and Stan wants to get the fuck out of here now, because this is somehow worse: Zeke's voice over Casey's rasping breaths, "Think about that; I can do it for you, you can do it yourself, you want to get them back, and they're gonna pay. You can piss on their fucking corpses, Casey," and he's tugging at Casey, gently tugging him towards them and Delilah's hands help, carefully.

Stan takes a step backwards. He feels like he's been doing nothing today, all damn day, but backing away. He was begging for it, his treacherous brain tells him. Signed his death warrant in spit. The three of them have closed together; grown together into some fucked up organism and Zeke whispers and Casey sobs and Delilah is right there, her hands bloody now, her pants sopping wet and ruined.

Stan stares and takes another step backwards. He doesn't even know where to start. He has no idea. None at all.

"Stan," Delilah says without looking up. She doesn't raise her voice. "Call 911."

"Wha--" he starts, but then his brain catches up. "Oh. Yeah. Okay, sure," and he's still babbling as he turns and runs.


When the paramedics load Casey into the ambulance, everything already looks cleaner, clinical - the neck support, the gloved fingers taking his pulse, the white gurney and Casey's clean. Just a trickle of fresh blood still running down his face. Stan can't tell how bad it is. Bad. Broken bones bad. He doesn't think he's ever seen anyone quite this fucked up before, unless he counts roadkill, but at least Casey doesn't smell like piss anymore. There was no sign of that when the paramedics hit the shower room. Zeke and Delilah took care of that.

The index finger on Casey's right hand is jutting at a strange angle and Stan can hear the crack of thin bones breaking, the sound playing over and over somewhere in his head. Whoever did that had to really stomp to break a finger with a bare foot. Really mean it.

He feels suddenly, violently sick. Like he's been sick all along and only now has his stomach bothered to tell him. He falls to his hands and knees and barfs on the mangy school lawn, with the sound of breaking bones playing on a loop in his head; breaking bones and the slap of punches on wet skin and that breathless cry. Casey didn't scream for help once. Stan looks away from his recycled lunch and thinks he knows why.

He hawks up stringy strands of spit onto the lumpy grass, trying to stop his stomach from heaving again, waits it out. Damp is seeping through his jeans and he thinks about Delilah kneeling on the wet tiles. He still can't wrap his head around that. His brain stops dead: Delilah in-- Delilah-- Delilah in--

He tries another way, tries to go around it, through Zeke. Delilah and Zeke? That makes about as much sense. Now, Zeke and Casey... that's not as hard. Stan remembers a day months ago, being almost run down by a fleeing Casey and finding Zeke in the bathroom, smug as a cat full of canary. Smug and flushed. He'd looked well-laid, Stan realises now.

Still doesn't get him to Delilah and he just drops the thought and staggers to his feet.

"Stan?" someone says behind him and he almost falls on his ass in the puddle of vomit. Principal Drake stands stern-faced in a suit, on the wet grass. "I'd like a word with you."

"Not now," he mutters and spits again. "I feel sick." He looks around wildly for an escape. He doesn't feel nauseated right now, but sick, definitely. Sick deep down, and he can't think. Can't decide what to say yet. He's still only wearing jeans and his coat. He wonders if he cut his feet on the gravel walking out here. He's standing on something uncomfortable now, but it's faint; his feet are going beyond cold into numb. He doesn't know why he's in such a state. Casey's nobody special.

He's standing on a broken twig. He steps away from it too fast and almost falls over.

He can't tell if she's concerned or annoyed. "Shock, Stan?" she says, her voice perfectly dry. "You were there. Who did this?"

He stares at her. Her makeup is perfect, not one hair is out of place on her head. He can't think of what to say. He was there. Who did it? His friends did it?

"We really need to talk," she says.

"I'm gonna go, um." His head feels light, like gravity has lost its grip on him. He's not sure what's down and what's up. Then he takes a few steps and everything slots right back again and he walking briskly past her. "I need to drink," he mutters. It's true; he needs to wash away the taste of vomit. He needs to stop thinking about Casey's head bouncing against the tiles or he'll just start retching again.

He meets Zeke and Delilah on the stairs and forgets everything about blowing chunks in front of the principal.

"Delilah--" he starts and cuts off when she turns to him, her face white and her eyes utterly vicious.

"One more fucking word and you're on the list, too," she hisses and he sees that she has cried; her mascara's run just a little. He hasn't seen her cry since fourth grade.

"Hey, whoa," he says, lifts his hands, palms out. "I didn't--"

"Yeah, exactly," she says coldly and walks on, and now he realises that she was holding Zeke's hand the whole time, and he just wants to go find a dark corner somewhere and curl up and bang his head against the wall for a while.

Instead, he rinses out his mouth and goes down to get his clothes. He has mudstains on his knees and his feet are numb.

He's in his car on his way home before he remembers the principal. Tomorrow, he thinks and turns up the radio.