Chapter 18

What Happened In The End

By the time I got to the Asylum- or parked near it, anyway- it was getting dark. I hurried down the street, trying to ignore the unsavory figures in the shadows that called out to me. There had been sleazes and jerks every time I went to the Asylum- why did it bother me so much more now?

I was let in instantly, of course. A local band that I loved was setting up on the short stage, and the vocalist gave me a grin and a friendly wave. I waved and attempted the grin, but his look showed me that I had failed.

Then, "Anna! Anna, hold up!"

I stopped for Boston. I would always stop for Boston, no matter what, after hearing his story. I had too much respect for him to ignore him. I turned, and he was only a step behind me.

"Thanks, Anna, for that thing with Diablo." Diablo? I wrinkled my brow in confusion. "You know, with Taylor." Taylor? Oh, right, Taylor! That normal girl. Well, abnormal, since she was the only normal one at the Asylum. Whatever. I did my best to smile.

"She's your girl?" Pain flashed so quickly through Boston's eyes that I thought my eyes had been tricking me- at least, I thought so before he answered.

"No. Randy's girl." Randy. The kid he killed with his sled. He'd had a twin sister; I supposed I had met her. "I… Look out for her. I owe them too much. If Diablo had done-"

"No problem, Boston, really. Well, it is, actually, now Diablo's after my blood, but I couldn't have not done it. I got to go-"

"Wait, you haven't heard?" Boston sounded skeptical. "I mean, King knows, so I was sure you'd find out before you even got here- Diablo's dead. He OD'd last night. You're safe."

I never thought I'd breathe a sigh of relief at the death of another human. In fact, I felt sickened that I did. But then I realized: Diablo wasn't human. He was exactly what he had named himself: a devil.

"Oh." That was all I had to say. "Oh. Well, I have to get to Render. I'll see you-"

"Not a good idea, babe," he interrupted. "Ever since you left last time, he's been a real bitch."

"Whatever. I still have to talk to him." Boston's look showed that he understood- if he had spoken, he would have said, 'You do what you gotta do,' but I think he noticed that I didn't want to talk. He just nodded, and I hurried to the stairs. I didn't knock.

Render was staring with a faraway look at the chess pieces when I arrived. He didn't look up. I shut the door with a loud thump behind me; he looked.

"Don't go talking about what I think you're about to, Anna," he warned. "You don't understand-"

"Oh, shut up!" He looked surprised. Hell, I was surprised. "I've been told I don't understand already in the past hour- I don't need it from you! I understand perfectly!" I was shouting, and at Render, but I didn't care. He could go ahead and be pissed off at me; Bishop already was, and he was the only one that mattered at this point.

"I understand that you left your son to get beat by some asshole! When I found Bishop, he was crying in the snow. George didn't even give him time to put on a fucking shirt. Pawn comes to you; you know what goes on! Now what the fuck is the problem?"

I expected him to get to his feet, for his eyes to blaze with a dangerous fire, for his fists to clench until his knuckles were white. He didn't. He just stared up at me. That was worse.

"I'll tell you again, but this time you'll listen to me. Sit down." His voice was cold. That hurt; not as much as it had with Bishop, but it hurt. I had to repeat in my mind, over and over again, that I was sacrificing their friendship for their lives. I was saving them. Or attempting to. I crossed the room and sat across from him. "You understand nothing about the situation. Since Bishop told you a part of it, I'll tell you what he doesn't know.

"I was young. Stupid, yeah, thinking I was invincible like all other headstrong kids. I was already a god in the city, so nothing could go wrong with my life. Then I got her pregnant. She was a couple of years older than me, so she thought she could handle it better. But I knew what I had to do. I promised to do anything she asked. She told me to fuck off. She said I was immature and me being around would only hurt the kid. She moved in with her parents. Later, she married that asshole and had Pawn. Then she died. But that still isn't enough for you to understand- and you won't, not until you've been in love with someone.

"She told me to never come into contact with her son. Ever. I loved her, Anna." His voice almost cracked and his eyes were misty. Render never cried. I felt myself begin to shiver. Everything was going wrong. Bishop wasn't supposed to get hurt. He wasn't supposed to hate me. Render wasn't supposed to cry. "I loved her more than I'd ever loved anyone. It was the one way I could hold onto her- I had to obey her one last wish."

"And let her son- your son- get abused? That's what she would've wanted? You're smarter than that, Render!" I got to my feet, ready to storm out. But I had to have the last word. "And don't even try to tell me that it's impossible to disobey someone you loved and lost- I just did! Coming to you was disobedience, but I did it because I love him! I did it because you're tearing him up! And I lost him by coming over here, and I'm not going to tell you I don't care because as soon as I get home I'm going to cry, but I can't stand to see him like this! I love Bishop, and I just disobeyed him when I confronted you about this, so if you're as good of a man that I thought you were, you'll do what's right instead of saving yourself from pain!"

Render seemed to be frozen. But he wasn't looking at me. He was looking at the open doorway, where Bishop stood, his eyes shinning wetly and his breath coming raggedly. He was shaking, so slightly that it was almost impossible to notice from this distance. His eyes were fixed on Render's; neither his eyes nor Render's showed love. I swallowed; what had I done?

Render opened his mouth, but that seemed to be what Bishop was waiting for.

"Don't say a word," he said as if he were tasting poison. "If I get the privilege, it'll be earned."

I was sure that Render, too, understood what he spoke of: chess. It was as if an unwritten agreement was just signed between the two of them, with me as the witness: there would be one game. Only one.

I stood so Bishop could take my seat. I didn't belong in the room anymore. I slowly, discreetly, slid to the door as the first piece was moved.

"Don't," two voices pleaded. I turned around, and both intense, pleading sets of eyes were on me. I nodded, biting my lower lip as I closed the door behind me, much softer than I had before. By the time it clicked shut, they were both intent on the game.

At first, there was no clear advantage. Bishop was amazingly good, maybe even as good as Render. I hoped so.

He played with skill and speed, but that wasn't enough. Bishop slowly, slowly started to lose. His hands shook with every player he lost. I couldn't let Render beat Bishop; it would destroy both of them even more. But what could I do? This was something that couldn't be intruded upon. I watched from the wall, wanting to bite my nails even though I had never done so before.

Then Bishop's strategy changed without warning. He didn't go for the king; he went for the bishop. It was amazing how fast Render's defenses and skill crumbled. He seemed unable to think, and soon both of their hands were trembling with every move made. I found my knees shaking too. The room was almost too tense to bear as Bishop knocked Render's bishops, one by one, off the table and onto the floor.

And then, in a move that even I could have prevented, he took the king and whispered, almost inaudibly, "Checkmate."

Render had finally lost.

"Why?" Bishop asked hoarsely the moment that the king hit the floor.

"Because I was stupid. Because I made a mistake. You heard what I said to Anna?" Bishop nodded. "That was why. Maybe I even knew I was making a mistake- I certainly regretted it enough. But Anna was the one who gave a name to it. And I am sorry."

For some reason, I knew at that moment that nobody had ever been telling such a pure truth as Render was at that moment. Nobody, not ever. Bishop seemed to know it too; a tear silently slipped down his cheek. There was a long silence.

"I missed you," Bishop said in the manner of broken men trying to be husky. I smiled slightly, blissfully. Render looked over at me, so I averted my eyes. When I looked up again, they were both standing in a tight, painful embrace. I looked away again.

"Anna," Bishop said not very long later. I looked at him again, and this time they were apart. "Thanks."

I grinned. He smiled, and this time he didn't have to push pain away to do it. My grin broadened as he held his arms out. I crossed the floor to him in three very ungraceful bounds and hugged him.

I don't know which one of us started laughing first. But in a minute all three of us were on the verge of hysteria, rolling around on the couches. It took a long time before we got a hold of ourselves. It was Render who started to be serious first.

"You know what beating me means," he said. Bishop considered for a moment, but then shook his head.

"I don't want the Asylum, Render," he said. Not Dad. Not yet. Maybe never. "I'm leaving." My breath caught at that, and all traces of mirth left my body, and he glanced at me. "To Oregon. I can't stand it here anymore. After graduation, I'm taking Pawn to Portland. And… I was hoping Anna would come with us." My heart pounded so hard in my chest and it was all I could do to keep from going back into hysterics. Oregon. I nodded. Bishop grinned. Did this mean he loved me, or were we just really good friends? Maybe normal kids wouldn't move across a country for their friends, but Bishop would. I would. I didn't know what to think. "The Asylum should go to Boston. But you aren't planning on dying any time soon?"

Render smiled a half-smile and shook his head, saying, "No. But I don't plan on being here much longer. Those trips I've sent King and Spade on? I'm setting up more Asylums. Not all of them will work like this, and none can replace it, but I want to make more places that these kids can stay. That they can live in, away from everything else. I think I'll spend the rest of my life traveling between them."

"You'll come to Oregon?" I asked- okay, I pleaded. Render nodded, then paused. He thought for a moment.

"Who says Portland couldn't use an Asylum?"

In two hours, everyone related to the Asylum knew that there was something going down and, according to Buzz, "anyone who was anyone" showed up. Render had said that it would be at eleven- whatever "it" was. So we waited in the hotel room. All of King's crew. No, scratch that. All of our crew- mine and Bishop's.

King was there, along with Rook, Buzz, Check, Queen, Pawn, Lowball, and everyone else from the church except Conan, but so were Derek (who I had somewhat forgiven) and Mason and Boston. This definitely wasn't King's crew. The circle, which beds had been shoved around to allow, focused on Bishop, Pawn, and me. The two of us had spoken to Pawn privately before the gathering began; she had agreed to come after only a moment's consideration.

"So you're all going to Oregon?" Buzz asked forlornly. "That's like a million miles away."

"It's not until after graduation, Buzz," I said hurriedly. I hated seeing Buzz sad. "Besides, we'll come back and visit."

"I thought you were one of those college-types," Queen snorted. I shrugged.

"I won't need it. I've got a career once I get down there- I couldn't think of a better job."

"Not even Render's?" Check said. Bishop and I traded secretive smiles. When I looked around the circle, I saw a few pairs of eyes widening as understanding dawned upon them. King's were one of them.

"Anna and I are going to run the new Asylum down there," Bishop said, kicking his heels quietly into the floor. He, Pawn and I sat on the edge of one of the rearranged beds.

"God damn it!" Boston laughed. "You beat him, didn't you? At chess?" Bishop nodded silently. No, he didn't beat him at chess. He beat him in the mind game.

"Don't leave!" Buzz pleaded, attacking Pawn and I, the nearest to him, with a vicious group hug. "What about mud fights and eyebrow piercings and one-legged flamingoes and being early for tomorrow?"

"You can come up and stay with us as long as you want," Bishop said, then turned to include the whole group. "All of you can- except you." He looked at Derek. "You still have to explain to me why the hell you decided to try to use my best friend to get to my sister." Ace shifted uncomfortably. There was someone who was never getting a date with Pawn.

"What, so you're all just going to leave us like that?" King asked.

"No, not just like that," Pawn said over Buzz's shoulder. He still hadn't let us go. "We've got months before graduation."

"We'll probably stay here- in the Asylum- until then," Bishop added. We hadn't talked about that, but I sure as hell agreed. I wasn't going to stick around while George became my stepdad. And there was no way I'd let Bishop go back there.

We talked some more, but mostly about meaningless topics (until Buzz brought up another baffler about one-legged flamingoes- that was pretty important shit.) Boston had no idea about the inheritance in order for him until the door across the room opened and Render called him, adding as an afterthought that the rest of us should get downstairs to hear the announcement.

King grabbed my shirt to hold me back while the others passed, and I let him. We were cool now. Well, as cool as a pair of kids could be after one tried to rape the other and a promise for sex had been paid off with a five dollar bill. We left the hotel room too, but at a much slower pace than the others and out of their earshot. Bishop glanced back at me once. I smiled at him.

"So you're Bishop's girl now, huh?" he asked. I blushed at the alteration of the name Diablo had dubbed me and what most at the Asylum knew me as- Render's girl.

"Why would you say that?"

"Anna? You awake? You're moving across the country with him. Jesus, kid, I thought you were smart."

"Oh, you're calling me kid, now?" I grinned and shoved him. He put his arm around my shoulders.

"Babe, you're still a virgin. Unless you and Bishop…?" I elbowed him, hard, in the stomach. He coughed and half-bent over before smirking at me.

"You haven't changed a bit since I first met you." Oh, right. In virtually my first conversation ever with him, I had slugged him. Go me! "But seriously- did you?"

"Change your dose, King." He laughed, but then he did something very weird. Weird for him, anyway.

He bent over and kissed me on the cheek right before we got to the stairs. As if he was in a hurry to cut of any reaction I might have had, he spoke.

"Damn it, I think I might actually miss you, Mitchell."

"Hey, the offer still stands- even to you. You know I used to think you were a jerk?" Again, he laughed.

"Yeah, you made that pretty clear. Not like I didn't deserve it. Anyway, I'll be too busy to see you much- I talked to Render. Boston's getting the original Asylum, damn the kid, but I'm getting a new one in Philly. He said he was going to stay there a while to see if I handle it right, so I guess I'm not as trustworthy as you or sonny-boy."

"Are you kidding? I mean you're only insane," I reminded him with a smirk.

"Well aren't we all?" His voice was swallowed as we reached the crowd. Bishop, Buzz, Pawn, and Queen met up with us immediately and together we pushed our way to the front, near the stage- not that we had to push. Everyone respected King and me, and now word about Bishop was beginning to spread. The band had stopped playing, and in fact were off the stage. I hoped they would play some more before I left- they were pretty much the coolest band in the city.

Bishop started to say something to me, but I couldn't hear him. Though the crowd was quieting steadily, I had to yell.

"What? I can't hear you!"

He bent closer and I felt his hot breath on my ear as he repeated his question.

"What'd King want?"

"Nothing, just to talk." I laughed. "He thought we slept together."

And of course, my luck staying consistent, Render stepped up on stage and the crowd silenced just before I shouted the last part. There were scoffs and sniggers and King burst out into loud laughter as almost every head turned my way. Damn it, even Pawn was laughing, even though she tried to cover it. I groaned and King pulled me into a headlock to ruffle my hair; I would have kissed him if I wasn't madly in love with Bishop. That gesture made my mistake into my joke. When he let me up most heads were turned back to the stage. I glanced at Bishop. He was trying to fight a grin.

Nevertheless, his arm went across my shoulders and pulled me close. I wanted to close my eyes and just lean into him, but once my gaze landed on Render's I couldn't tear it away. He commanded attention with an almost-slouched stance and blue hair and jaded eyes that had finally found happiness. I swallowed. He didn't speak until he had everyone's full attention.

"I'm sure you all knew that there would be a time when we would have to part ways," he said. He didn't use the microphone; he didn't need to. "You knew it from the rivalries, from the understanding that the contenders would be in a nursing home by the time I died anyway. Well, tonight I found what I needed to here. I'm leaving."

There was silence, but I could still understand what everyone was feeling despite the lack of vocals to back it up: shock, fear, anger, and the worst sadness that had ever been felt. I knew because I had felt the same thing only a bit earlier at the thought that I wouldn't ever talk to Render again.

"What, so now that you and Bishop are talking again you're just leaving?" one of Spade's more obnoxious boys asked, sounding betrayed. "He wins you so we lose you? You care about him now, so you can't care about us?"

He wasn't the only one feeling this. Others were casting resentful glares our way, particularly at Bishop. He ignored them, and, sensing my discomfort, gave my shoulders a squeeze and briefly smiled at me before looking back up. At Render. At his dad.

"You know you're spewing a load of bullshit, Rex," Render said. He wasn't angry; in fact, he had a sort of sad smile on his face. "I care about all of you, and I'll miss you. In fact, I care about you so much that I'm going off to build more Asylums so your brothers and sisters in Philadelphia and Boston and-" He glanced our way. "Portland can have the same advantages you do. I'm not leaving forever, though. I'll come back for visits. And while I'm gone, I'm putting the most capable man in charge. Meet the new me: Boston."

At the cue, Boston jumped up onto the stage. He didn't look mirthful, or excited, or even at all happy. He looked… sturdy. Like he had braced himself for a flood that was inevitably coming. His gaze seemed to sweep the crowd but I could tell that he wasn't meeting anyone's eyes. He stood by Render.

"But I'm not leaving you with Boston as you know him. That wouldn't be right," Render continued. "I'm leaving you with Boston as he is. Because how you all know him isn't right. It's never been right. So I'm going to tell you the story of the death of a child named Randy."

I swallowed, suddenly realizing what the flood was. I leaned closer to Bishop and my arm found its way around his middle.

Render's rendition of the tale was darkly magical. He had the whole Asylum captured at the first word, many of us weeping by the end. Including me. I felt Boston's pain, his hatred for himself, and his overwhelming sense of guilt. I felt the terror when the sled slipped in front of the car and the numbness when told by paramedics that the little boy and his mother were dead.

Render stopped. He didn't mention the stepdad's death, and I had a feeling that he wasn't going to. I, along with the rest of the freed audience, shifted my gaze to Boston. He was on his knees, his head clutched between his hands. More of my tears fell for him. I supposed the retelling had been too real for him.

Then, slowly, agonizingly, he got to his feet. And by the time he was standing, he was changed, at least to the rest of the crowd. Boston wasn't a killer anymore.


Bishop, I love you.

No, that was too straightforward.

Bishop, I just wanted to tell you…

Ew, gross, no! That was even worse.

Bishop, did you know that-

Ugh! This was so difficult! There I was, alone with Bishop, walking back to my car on the empty streets at three or four in the morning, with nobody in earshot, and no Render troubles to get in my way, and everything going perfectly, and I couldn't say it!

But he had heard already, right? When I was yelling at Render? Wouldn't he have said something by now, if he returned the feeling, or kissed me, or at least smiled at me? Okay, so he had smiled at me plenty of times. But it wasn't that kind of smile. Or was it? How would I know, anyway? The only three people who had ever supposedly loved me had been using me to get to Pawn (Derek), following through with a sacred deal that was worth only five bucks (King) or were now madly in love with my old best friend (Jason Rubie- yeah, I supposed I was just too absorbed in other things to mention that before).

Bishop, I love you, I thought again, my brow furrowed in concentration as we trudged up the slope, the dead city around us silent and the air biting at my nose.

Bishop, I need you.

I almost laughed at that one.

Bishop, I have to tell you something. You've already heard it so I don't know…

Yesh. This was much more difficult than it had seemed at first thought.

Bishop, I love you so much.

"Anna, I love you."

No, that was too much like the first one.

Bishop, I-

I stopped short, my ears only just registering what had reached them before. Bishop stopped too, looking at me in that way of his that didn't made me feel small but blissfully at ease.

"What?" I choked. Yup. That's me, Captain Smooth.

"I love you."

This was when I was supposed to jump into his arms and we were supposed to have an intense kiss that was so hot that it shamed the sun. But my legs didn't move. Neither did my arms. I was frozen. God damn it, why did my appendages always have to betray me like this? Once this whole thing was over, my limbs and I were so getting a divorce.

Move, damn you! I ordered. Stupid traitor limbs! When the court hears about this, you can forget fifty-fifty! I'm getting everything- the house, the money, you name it! And don't think you can sweet-talk me out of this divorce, Limbs. It's not gonna work!

And then Bishop was right in front of me. Inches separated us. My neck obeyed my will enough to get at the right angle to look into his eyes. I swallowed (I was doing a lot of that recently) and Bishop's arms wrapped gently around my waist as if I were a porcelain doll and he was afraid to break me. His eyes were anything but gentle; while a second before, they had been unreadable, they now burned with a longing intensity.

From that level of passion in his eyes, I expected a bruising, fervent kiss that left both of us breathless. Right on one count.

I felt like I was in a slow-motion world while his lips moved closer to mine. His eyes closed, but I didn't see anything after that because I had done the same. Then his lips touched mine, but softly, carefully. His lips were soft and gentle as they moved on mine, not bruising as I had anticipated but more passionate than any hard kiss from Derek or King. I finally remembered to breathe, but by that time we were much farther along. I didn't understand how I didn't pass out by then, but I really didn't care.

The kiss became deeper, more intense, and suddenly I wasn't cold anymore. It never reached the pleasantly painful level that I had become used to; it was a million times better. Instead, it was long, gentle but passionate, intense but reigned, and the best kiss I ever had.

I'll stop there because I'll never be able to really portray my ecstasy the following minutes, hours, days, even years up to this point.

But because I'm sure you're just itching to know, Bishop and I run the Asylum down in Portland, Oregon. It hasn't been entirely painless because even after the months up until graduation were spent glued to the friends I was leaving, I still miss them terribly. I got together with Jessie again, and we picked up where we left off. Her friends (and boyfriend) never mentioned my friends, but I guess that's just how the cool crowd is.

Once every other month we go back home, where Boston is as revered as Render, Buzz and Mason are best friends (maybe more than that), and life is wonderful for two weeks.

When we return to Portland, of course, it's still wonderful because of all the new ties we have there but it'll never be quite the same. I've only seen King twice since graduation, but the second time he had a loyal, loving girl on his arm (never mind that she was four years younger and a minor) and I knew things would be alright for him. Well, except for that one time we got a call from Pawn saying that he had called from Philly because he almost OD'd and was comatose for a week like Conan had been.

Pawn? She didn't come with us. She stayed at home. She stayed with Boston.

And Conan is doing better than he had ever done. He is completely sober, and the most he does now is smoke a joint now and then. He has a job, a steady girlfriend, and never misses his chance to thank me. My response is always that same, cliché saying: What are friends for?

But of course, you started reading because of Bishop and me, and I think it's suitable that I end with that. Bishop is amazing. He's perfect. There are times when he wakes up screaming with dreams of his past, but we both put our pasts far behind us aside from that. Even while I know life can't be perfect for anyone, especially with mixed-up, haunting, gothic memories we both have, I don't know how it could get any better.