Beauty and the Deceased: Chapter 1)


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Will woke up.

And considering how the rest of his day was destined to turn out, that was a damn good start.

It was freezing. He was naked, and the cold, crystalline and pitiless, chilled him. He couldn't feel his extremities. Slowly, Will opened his achingly dry eyes.

To nothing. For a moment, he panicked. Was he blind? Was this what it was like? One day you opened your eyes and there was just nothing? How did you know you were blind and not just stuck in a dark room? While Will's mind raced, his body remained eerily calm. Not so much as a spike in heart rate. No breaking out in a cold sweat.

It was very quiet.

He splayed out his hands and felt around him. He was enclosed in something. A large trunk, perhaps. The sides were cold and smooth. A metal trunk, then. Talk about a bad prank. The least the guys could do was come up with something a little more original. It wasn't even very funny. Just cold.

Will wondered how long he had been there. His head had cleared, the alcohol's effects having worn off, and luckily there was no hangover. He wasn't hungry or tired. It couldn't have been more than half a day. More likely he'd been sleeping it off in the dark for only a handful of hours.

There wasn't a lot of room. Bit by bit Will wiggled around to move his hands in front of him and pushed against the ceiling. It didn't budge. At all.

A stronger twinge of panic. The metal ceiling above him was so solid he could have been buried under concrete and it wouldn't have moved for him any more than it did. Will tried to wet his lips but to no avail; his mouth was dry as his eyes.

He pushed harder against the surface above him in the dark. Although they felt a little numb, he began kicking out with his feet as well, hitting another flat metal surface near his toes.

Suddenly Will stopped pounding, aware that the guys could be just outside the trunk watching his struggle. The whole ordeal had Levi written all over it. If he was going to get out, it had to be with poise. It would be a cold day in hell when he begged them to let him out. Even if he was locked in, he refused to beg.

Pushing out again with his toes, Will moved away from the surface at his feet. Maybe it wasn't a trunk, after all. Whatever he was resting on seemed to be on rollers. He stopped pressing with his feet and the bottom surface he was on rolled back into place.

Bracing his hands on the ceiling, he set his feet and pushed as hard as he could, gripping the ceiling with his hands when it began to slow. A sliver of light appeared above him and he smiled, cracking his bottom lip. Sucking the lip into his mouth, Will pushed again and walked with his hands until there was a large enough opening for him to snake his arm out. It was hard work and his muscles protested, but it wasn't a very enthusiastic protest and he ignored it. He wasn't even close to being out of breath, and there would be time to rest later.

He sat up a little at a time, in case someone was waiting for him with a Polaroid camera. He was naked, after all. Perfect op for embarrassing photos. But there was no one in the room.

But the room…

There were scientific equipment all around, and metal tables and overhead lights, and biohazard signs everywhere. Will was about three feet off the ground, having forced open and come out of what looked like a drawer belonging to a wall-to-wall set of metal filing cabinets. The smell in the room was faint, almost nonexistent... a mix between the scent of the school bio lab on the day they dissected frogs, new plastic, and a disinfectant. The realization hit him and he glanced worriedly at the other cadaver-sized cabinets.

Okay. Maybe they'd put a little more thought into the prank than he'd given them credit for.

He sat up more. Sneaking someone into a hospital morgue and dumping them into one of the filing… things, that was actually pretty good. But how had they gotten him in? Wouldn't the hospital have noticed a gang of rather drunk teenage boys dragging a passed-out one into the elevator? Wouldn't they have started wondering when the passed-out one didn't come back up with them?

However they had done it, they weren't there now. It occurred to Will how much trouble he would be in if the hospital staff caught him in there. His eyes scanned the corners of the room, looking for cameras. None were visible, but he still felt thoroughly embarrassed as he pushed himself the rest of the way out and rolled out of the body cabinet.

Legs numb, Will stumbled but caught himself with his hands before he fell all the way to the floor. There was a tag hanging off his toe and he pulled it off. According to the tag he was one Doe, John. Right. Very funny, guys.

His eyes caught sight of his bare body and he frowned. His entire backside including the backs of his arms and legs looked like they had been badly sunburned, solid red all over. What was that about?

Oh well. First, clothes.

Will spotted a few lab coats by the door. He pushed the cabinet back into the wall and stumbled over to pull a coat off the rack, wrapping it greedily around himself. At least that salvaged a bit of decency, but he'd need shoes and pants to even have a hope of getting out of the building. And that was only if no one stopped him and wanted to know why he was trying to make off with one of the lab coats.

He checked around, opening cabinets searching for scrubs, but apparently they expected you to have those before you came in. With an extra-careful check outside, Will left the room, scampering down the hallway, hypersensitive to every sound. Twice he had to duck into an empty room when a nurse and then a janitor walked by, but they never caught him.

According to an elevator he passed, he was on the bottom floor. That seemed like the most logical place to put the laundry room, but it was only by a stroke of insane luck that he happened to find it. The luck ran out suddenly when he found the door to be locked, and then the luck ran into the negative range when he had to sprint to another hiding place when he heard the footsteps coming closer. It was a woman in pink scrubs this time. Will smiled as he observed the woman was pushing a cart of dirty laundry. She unlocked the door with a key card and rolled the laundry in. When she came back out she had hardly had her back turned a second when Will ran across the hall, quiet on his bare feet, and slipped his hand inside the door before it shut.

Will hurriedly grabbed some jeans, a clean-looking scrub shirt and a hat. He discarded the lab coat and took the elevator up to the main floor, snatching a tired old pair of sneakers from the lost-and-found before getting the hell out of the building.

Take that, world. They'd probably been expecting him to get busted from the very moment when he had—unwisely, he would admit that—become drunk at Drew's party, to celebrate the last month of high school before they graduated.

That would be the last time drank in front of them, that was for sure.

Although it did make a rockin story. This one time, when I got wasted…

Outside, it was daylight and sunny, with an almost tropical spring breeze. The people around him on the street wore tank tops and shorts but Will almost shivered and shielded his eyes from the sun. The cold from the hospital had followed him outside, and he rubbed his arms to warm them. He noticed the redness on the back of his arms was fading. Maybe that's what happened when you got drunk and passed out for long periods of time. Last he could remember it was Friday night, so that was at least six hours since.

At least that's what he thought. So it jarred him when he saw the daily paper at a magazine stand and saw the date.

It wasn't Saturday morning. It was Friday afternoon.

He swayed dumbly in front of the stand, trying to figure out the logistics of that. The dates on the papers weren't from yesterday, but a week later. It was next week. Will took too long letting the information soak in, and the seller finally yelled at him for loitering and he moved on.

Something wasn't right. How could that much time have passed and he not know it? He didn't even have to piss, for crying out loud! After a week!

Lost in his head and not watching where he was going, Will stumbled and fell onto the sidewalk when someone walked almost right into him. They grunted an impatient "Goddamn, punk" at him and kept going, and Will didn't even have the presence of mind to shout something obscene back at him. He was looking at his hand. He'd scraped it on the concrete when he fell, and it had opened a messy wound.

But it wasn't bleeding.

As if in a dream, he touched where the skin had been scraped away with his other hand, opening the cuts even more and trying to figure out why. It was deep enough that it should have been bleeding. But it wasn't. The deeper layers of muscle and skin weren't even the color of blood, like it could possibly be hiding under the surface somewhere. No. The abrasion on his hand was a light pink, even though his palm had just been shredded.

He blinked a few times, which hurt. His eyes were still sandy and dry, as was his mouth. He was scared, suddenly, but nothing happened to him. His pulse didn't skyrocket, his palms didn't sweat, his breathing wasn't heavy.

It was only then, maybe half an hour since he'd woken up in the morgue, that his brain was unable to keep the fact a secret from him any longer. If in fact his brain was doing anything at all.

He wasn't breathing heavy because he wasn't breathing at all. His blood wasn't pumping in his ears because he didn't have a pulse. His hand wasn't pouring blood all over him because it had all settled in his feet.

Childishly, he thought, he pressed the palms of his hands against his ears, unsuccessfully trying to hear the thump of his heart. But he shook his head. That meant nothing. Of course he couldn't hear it here, on the street. Too much extra noise.

This was more of the guys' tricks. To think they would go so far as to drug him as well as get him drunk. Sick. Now it really wasn't funny.

Will tried to take a deep breath, to settle his nerves.

The first couple attempts failed. It was no longer an action his body would do on its own. On the third try, he managed to inhale only a little air before his diaphragm caught on and spasmed its objection, sending him into a weird mix of a cough and hiccoughing fit.

He would have to try that again later when he had some privacy. He'd get it after a few practice runs, but just at that moment the people around him on the street were disturbed enough to cast him a passing glance before getting on with their lives.

Their lives.

God. He needed to talk to Levi. He needed to talk to someone he knew. Someone. He didn't care if he came across like a babbling freshman. He had to know if… something. What kind of drugs they used. Needed someone to talk him down off this trip. And he needed a mirror. And a coat. Shit it was cold.

Will straightened up and looked around. He actually didn't have any idea where he was. If it was the same city, he was in a part of it that he had never been to. Eventually he found a few signs and figured out where he was, but it was only because of his predicament that it didn't come as much of a shock. To put it mildly, he was a long way from home—maybe this explained why he hadn't been found and dragged back to complete his last month of school in its entirety. With a sigh, he started off toward the direction of the familiar, wishing he had money for the subway.

Will attempted to rationalize as he walked across town— towards the school, for whatever reason. It was after classes on Friday, maybe he would see someone he knew as they got out of class.

The rationalization went like this:

I am thinking. Shit is arranging itself into sentences in my head. To do that, I need a brain. For a brain to function, I need oxygen. For oxygen to get there, I need to breathe. To get the oxygen to my brain, I need blood. And a pulse. So logically, to think, I need a pulse. And I'm thinking, thus I have a fucking pulse.

That helped him relax, somewhat.

He caught sight of his reflection in the window of a television store. The pedestrians around him must have thought he was fanatically interested in the bathroom cleaner product for how fast he went to the glass, trying to get a better look at himself.

What a mess. It was hard to tell about colors, but he looked… pale. Even his lips were rather… whitish. Will's mind-that-required-oxygen-and-a-pulse skipped around terms like 'bloodless' and 'ghostly pallor' with an imaginary kind of success. The hat he wore helped disguise the fact that his dirty blond hair was truly filthy. Apparently he hadn't bathed in a week, either. And his eyes were… well, not dead, but they lacked their usual luster, maybe because his eyes were so dry.

As he brought his fingers to his face, trying to wipe off the smudges on his cheek, he noticed his nails. There was dirt under them, as well as a darker substance that might have been dried blood, and several of the nails had been broken or cracked.

Will stared at his hands for a moment before wiping them on his stolen jeans and stuffing them in his pockets. That guy had walked into him, so he wasn't a ghost. And he had a reflection, and he was out in sunlight and wasn't particularly craving human blood (at least not at the moment), but just to check Will stopped the first person to pass him.

Of course he'd never really thought about it before, but he learned in a split-second that oh yeah, you need air to talk. He'd thought it was just vocal cords, but duh. Air needs to be flowing.

Which it was already. He just couldn't tell. Because he was on a bad trip. Some kind of hallucinogens.

Yeah. LCD. Sure.

Instead of saying something coherent Will kind of just coughed at the man, who picked up his pace and ran away, looking like he was trying to remember if his TB shot record was up to date. And Will looked like some kind of AIDS-ridden heroine addict. Christ.

He took a few minutes to get his diaphragm back into the swing of things before having another go with a severe-looking woman in a brown dress.

"Hey, um… can you see me?" His voice was uneven and croaky. "I'm with the psychology department of the university," he lied. "It's for a study."

He thought for a moment she wouldn't answer. He wouldn't have, but maybe it was the scrub shirt that convinced her to take him halfway seriously.

"Sure," she said in a why not? tone.

Will tried to smile. His lip was about to split again but it wasn't like it was going to start bleeding, he thought wryly. "Thanks a bunch, lady. You wouldn't happen to have a stethoscope on you by chance?"

Then she rolled her eyes and walked past him.

He bounced a few times on his feet, then bent over and pulled up the leg of the jeans. His legs were that same sunburn red as his back had been when he'd woken up.

It was a couple hours later before he found himself back near the neighborhood where he lived, and he started getting nervous. He couldn't put his finger on it, but there was a definite feeling of foreboding over him, like a bad taste in his mouth. On chance, he glanced into the window of the used records store. What he saw gave him pause.

It was Alec. The gothy kid who had gotten over that phase by the time they were freshmen but hadn't managed to shake the image off, thus was still That Goth up through senior year. He had the misfortune of being one of those very feminine males both in looks and mind, who liked Advanced Art more than Welding Fabrication, but walked fearlessly through the halls of high school—but also like he had a "Beat Me Up" sign hanging from his shoulders.

And he was gay. Not flamboyantly so, but he wouldn't deny it if asked. Brave of him, but it still made him one of their favorite people to shove around in school, along with the nerdy guys and the fat chicks.

Alec, of the perpetually uninterested facial expression. Alec, who sat in the bleachers and wrote poetry during gym, which they plucked out of his hand and chanted out loud in screeching voices when he refused to play doge ball, knowing he wouldn't be able to catch them to take it back and tearing it up when they'd had enough, while the teacher looked on.

Good times. Will almost laughed at the memory. Okay, yeah, that Alec. Who worked at the used record store after school, apparently.

He didn't wear makeup anymore, hadn't for years, and looked more like the college art student he was probably going to be in the fall, one who loved shadows and girls' pants more than the average Joe, but not as much as the genuine queer goth-emo thing he used to be, but the few studded bracelets clinking to him, the slightly shaggy dark brown hair styled like it wanted to be black—he had to know enough about drugs, at least to be of service.

And, in the worse case scenario, who better to have on hand than an ex-goth for knowing shit about the undead?

With slyly hooded eyes, Will pushed open the door to the store and stalked a straight line over to where Alec was filing new CD cases.

"Can I help you?" he said, before he'd seen who it was.

"You could say that," said Will, hands crossed over his chest. He was nearly comfortable for the first time that day, with the projection of what was about to happen unfolding before him. He knew where he was with harassing Alec, just like pretty much everyone else in school was.

Alec glanced up then did a violent double-take. "Oh my god. Jesus." His eyes gave Will a slow one-over, but there was something in his gaze, his silence, that bothered Will. In school, Alec wouldn't have even acknowledged him. What was the shocked look for?

"Shit," said Will with distaste, wishing he could recall Alec's last name. Oh, well. Faggot would do. "Hey, queerboy—" He jabbed Alec in the chest. "I'd tell you to take a picture if I wasn't so creeped with what you'd do with it."

Even the usual names didn't seem to work. Not even an eye roll. "Will Morten?" Alec said, in a near whisper. The fear had been replaced with disbelief, and he frowned. His dark lips fishgaped as he struggled to find something to say. "What are you… doing here?" he settled on.

"Right now, thinking about harassing your minority ass. Or buying a CD, I haven't really decided yet. Hold on, what's the hurry?" He reached out his arm to keep the boy in black from inching away. That was also unusual. The fag had been on the beat-up list since third grade and knew better than to run. Since they'd gotten into high school, the most Alec had done to protest had been to very quietly do everything in his power to stay out of the guys' way. Probably thought he'd gone unnoticed in his efforts, too, but they always caught up with him, if they wanted to.

This had to be the first time in the history of the universe that Alec had ever managed to scare Will.

Alec was looking around for an exit. "I just remembered, I have to go home early today. My shift is actually almost over—"

"How about I walk you home?" Will said, making his voice sound perky. He got the gratification of seeing Alec's face tighten with unease. "You can invite me up and we can play Scrabble or something."

Alec winced. "What?"

"Faggot. Get your head out of the gutter. Or is Scrabble some kind of homo slang I don't know?"

Alec rolled his eyes and made a weary face, the first characteristically Alec thing he'd done since seeing Will standing there. "No, it's not homo slang," he said patiently. "Not that I'm aware of, anyway." The scared and confused ex-pansygoth was gone, replaced with the usual one. Will relaxed again. He could deal with this Alec. No sooner had he thought that then Alec held up one black-fingernail-polished hand.

"Wait. Hold on one sec," he said to Will, almost conversationally, and called out to the owner of the store. "Hey boss, can you see a person here? Ugly as sin, dumb as shit, wearing a green scrub shirt? Looks like he's been whitewashed?"

Alec's boss gave a cut nod and went back to reading a magazine.

Will frowned, first at the man and then at Alec. He still wasn't exactly like his old self, who never talked back and acted more like a punching bag than a human being most of the time. Hmm.

"Damn," said Alec before Will could say anything. "Just my luck. Okay, I have to ask—did Levi put you up to this? Out of all those bastards, I thought you were the one with the most sense, but Jesus. You must have been drunk out of your head when they talked you into this one. It isn't funny, Will. In fact, it's probably the worst pre-graduation prank in the history of the country. Didn't you even think about your parents? This is really serious shit you've got yourself into."

Will reclined against the CDs. He had decided for the moment that he would rather have information than the satisfaction of seeing Alec with his underwear pulled over his head. Besides, that was so elementary school and he really didn't want to have to reach down there. "Sorry, what the hell are you going on about again?"

Alec shot him a glare. "Don't, Will. That's low, even for you." He turned away again, sighing. "They're called feelings. Some people have them. And You. Are. So. Fucked. Did you really think you could get away with it and there wouldn't be repercussions?"

"Well, I don't know what repercussions means, but…" Will looked around him. "Are you laughing?"

It seemed like he was about to shake his head no, but then Alec slammed down the few CDs he'd been holding. He perched his hand on his slim hip. "Actually, yeah. I am. You know why? Because I'm happy. You might not be gone forever but finally, for once in your pathetic life, you're going to pay for something you've done. You and the rest of those assholes, if you have a shred of honesty and tell the police everything, which I doubt. You can mess with people who can't defend themselves and you can bully and make everyone's lives miserable while thinking you're being cool, but you can't mess with the cops and not expect there to be consequences."

"I still don't know what you're talking about," said Will mildly.

"Bet you could if you could understand words over three syllables long."

Will checked the guy behind the counter. Yeah, he was watching. He couldn't do anything if Alec's boss was right there. "Whatever. What did Levi do, again?"

But Alec had walked away, carrying the box of CDs with him. Perfect. Will followed him into the back room, waited until he had set down the box before grabbing a handful of his shirt and flinging him against the wall. "That was brave," he said, arm over Alec's throat, but not hard enough to actually hurt him. "You know, in some countries you get shot for doing that."

"Doing what you paranoid shit?" said Alec, voice tense in a controlled rage.

"Showing your back to someone who doesn't have qualms about shoving you up against the wall like this." It was a lot harder to do without adrenaline, that was for sure. "Tell you what's going to happen. You're off your shift, right?"

It took Alec a few seconds. "Yes."

"After this we're going to where you live and then we'll talk."

"What do we have to talk about?" He sounded confused, and rightly so.

"If I told you now I'd have to kill you."

Alec frowned. It was almost humorous how seriously he took it. "What if I don't want to go?"

"You'll regret it," said Will. "Really. I can't stress the kind of regret you'll feel if you don't."

There was a long moment of silence. The only sound was of Alec's breathing. He looked into Will's eyes as though searching for something. Then he turned and looked down Will's arm and frowned. "Jesus, what happened to your hand?"

"Never mind the hand."

"It got shredded. Why isn't it bleeding? What have you been doing, planting a garden? There's dirt everywhere..."

Will let go of him with a complementary shove. He felt the ache in his arm but didn't stretch the muscle until Alec faced away. "I said never mind. Use your imagination. Now hurry up and let's go."

Alec put up all the boxes, checked out with his boss, and then they left. Even in the summer heat, Alec wore a jacket over his turtleneck. Will rubbed his arms for the friction and glanced longingly at the layers.

"Walk faster," he growled. "You live near around here, right?"

Alec nodded, eyes to the sidewalk. "Yeah, it's…"

"Don't care, let's just get there fast. Like now, peachy-keen?"

They arrived at the building. It was actually really nice, with an equally nice but pernickety doorman who nodded in a friendly way to Alec as they went in, and gave Will a less savory glance. The apartment, large and well-furnished, was easily five times nicer than any he had ever stepped foot in. Will walked into it a little as Alec locked the door behind them.

"I didn't know your parents were rich, Vartanian," said Will. He'd double-checked the name on the apartment before entering. "Honestly, from the way you dress I would never have guessed."

"Thanks, Will," said Alec curtly. "Means a lot coming from you, it really does, but the second-hand clothes bug the hell out of them, and that's good enough for me."

"Fair enough," said Will. He was getting better at breathing. It was very mechanical. He didn't actually need the oxygen, just the air to make sounds with, but his speech didn't sound so forced now.

Alec floated a little ways away from him, not sure what the next step was. "I hate myself for asking, but do you want something to drink? Coffee?"

"Sure."

He sat at bar in the kitchen, watching Alec move around the counters searching for a cup. He was caught, after a minute, when Alec looked over and saw him watching. "So are you going to tell me why you're here sitting in my parents' kitchen, or am I going to have to, how did you put it, use my imagination?" he said, setting the mug in front of Will and returning the gaze with even more intensity.

"First I want to know what it was you thought Levi and the guys did."

"I…" Then Alec shook his head. "No. You answer me first."

Will blinked. "Excuse me?"

"What's going on?" said Alec. His arm was a pale streak as he lashed out and snatched Will's wrist, gripping it just below the hand. Tightly.

"Get your faggot hands off me," said Will. He pulled away.

Alec redoubled his grip, a look of concentration on his face. "Everyone thinks you're dead," he said and Will stopped struggling.

There was nothing but silence in the apartment for what seemed like a very long time. Alec's fingers dug into Will's wrist, but he hardly felt it.

Will said, "They do?"

"Well, your parents don't. They're still clinging to the faint hope that maybe you're just missing, but everyone knows it, even the cops. Especially the cops. That lady officer who did the unit on drugs with us came and talked and tried to get information. You could tell, they were pretty sure you were gone for good, even if they didn't have a body."

"Why do they think I'm dead, again?" he said, mustering up a calm voice.

"Besides that you've been missing for a week?" He shrugged. "Don't know, but the police seemed certain. They weren't exactly handing out information." Alec's gaze could have cut diamond. "They told everyone to expect the worst, in case it wasn't an accident and there was some killer on the loose, and they've started checking the hospitals for bodies. But it's a big city, they have more important things to worry about than one dead teenager amid all the dead teenagers. They probably only care so much because your parents can pay them to be." Their eyes met. "You didn't know, did you?"

Will shrugged. "It's news to me." Just because everyone thought he was didn't mean it was true. Hell, everyone used to think the earth was flat and look how that turned out. Plus, if they were checking hospitals, wouldn't they have checked the one he was in, even if it was a small barely-used one? Maybe they just hadn't gotten around to that one, yet or, like Alec said, they knew what the outcome was, they had better things to do than search for a body…

"Why do you care so much about what yours truly is up to?" Again, Will shrugged. He had been about to add something to that, but caught sight of Alec's face.

The other boy's eyes were distant. They had gone out of focus when he'd spoken last.

"Alec?"

"Your hand is cold."

Will pulled his arm away, and this time Alec let him. "It's kind of a cold day, in case you haven't noticed Mister Turtleneck-And-A-Jacket. Obviously you're not going to feel the bite as much when you're wearing friggin sixteen layers."

As though just for the sake of being annoying, Alec turned his eyes over to the window, which had sunlight streaming in through it and onto the hardwood floor.

Will followed his gaze. "It can be cold and sunny at the same time, smartass," he said tersely.

They sat across from each other for a while, not talking. Will brought the coffee to his lips and tried to drink some, but it didn't seem like it was going to happen. The taste did nothing for him, and he was actually a little worried about what would happen to the drink when his digestive system wasn't working. It would probably just sit there in his stomach forever.

Demurely looking away, Alec said, "That's quite a trick, Will."

Will hesitated. That tone was dangerous on anyone, but it was downright terrifying on Alec. "What trick?"

Alec looked up. "Not breathing," he said. "For, oh… five minutes."

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A/N: Hey, guys! Thanks for making it through the first chapter. This was to start making up for every year I didn't write a Halloween one-shot. I've been meaning to do something more sci-fi/fantasy-ish, and here it is--and sorry to all you charming people who just wish I'd get off my lazy butt and finish one of the other ones first.

Edit: The 3 removed from the title! Because it was seriously freaking some of you out! Haha, yes, it was a weird title. But I was in a weird mood when I decided to randomly start writing a gay zombie fic. So, who knows.