He couldn't breathe - the smoke choked him as he tried to swallow the fresh air that just wasn't there. Flames licked at his skin and burnt it, dead cells melting off like candle wax from his body. The entire room was consumed by thick smoke, and it took him a while to remember to drop close to the floor where all the clean air would have fallen. He army-crawled towards the next open door way, trying to escape the trail of fire that had started to twist at his legs. Going as fast as he could, he reached the door only to find his way blocked by a charred corpse. He dragged himself beside the body, only to find the face of a young man staring blankly at him.
Recoiling, he hit his back against the doorframe with a loud thud, and pain sparked dully down his spine. Gasping only brought the smoke faster into his lungs, but he couldn't help himself. He wondered, in the back of his mind, if this is what Jamie felt like, staring into the dead face of her comrade - even worse, her friend.
There was a loud, constant pounding that he heard from the back of his mind, and he blinked his eyes, confused for a moment as the burning building changed to the dull walls of his room.
He rolled over to see if Luke was up, before tensing at the sight of the empty bed. Luke wouldn't be there, he thought, and the knocking at the door picked up again, faster this time. Sighing, he rolled out of bed, landing on the floor on his hands and knees.
"All right, all right, enough already!" he said, shifting to stand on his bare feet.
Nathan pulled open the door quickly to find a young man, no older than seventeen, outside in the hall. The angry words died on his tongue and he just stared; vaguely he registered how uneasy he was making the kid, but still he looked at him blankly.
"Can I... help you?" he said, tilting his head to the side. Who was this guy, he thought, and why on earth is he in front of my door?
"Oh, uh, hi. I'm Maxwell Todd - you can, um, call me Max." The kid shuffled his feet, fingers tightening 'till the knuckles were white around the handle of what Nathan thought was an impressively large bag
"Hi, Max. Um..." he was still quite confused.
"Uh, I'm supposed to, um, be your new roommate? Do I, um, have the wrong room? Are you Nathan?"
Oh shit, that was right, thought Nathan. Marcus told him he would be getting a new occupant in his room. A bit too soon he thought bitterly. Luke had only died yesterday.
But he pushed that thought to the back of his mind and gave Max another look over.
"Sorry, Max. I am Nathan - I wasn't expecting you so early, that's all." Lie. It was a lie but the kid relaxed at the small fib and so he thought nothing of it. He stepped back to let the other boy come into what would be their shared dorm. The kid smiled graciously, eyes lighting up with thanks. Nathan had to turn away - the look reminded him too much of Luke. Max paid no mind to him as he dragged his suitcase onto what was now his bed, opening up the zipper and pulling out the items inside.
"It's no, well, no problem really. Only it's like, um, twelve already, so I thought you'd be up by now."
Nathan's eyes widened as he darted to the night table, grabbing the wristwatch that was on top of it. The little hands told him that it was ten past twelve - Luke's funeral would be starting fifty minutes from now, and he was still in his pajamas, smelling and probably looking like death warmed over. No wonder he startled the kid when he opened the door.
"You can set up, I'm going to take a shower. Okay Max?" He opened the first dresser drawer and grabbed the first full set of clean clothes he could get his hands on. By the time Max had thought to open his mouth to reply he was already out the door and running down the hallway.
The showers were just about on the other side of the residence, and he had to sprint through all the short cuts just to get there in less than ten minutes. Sure, eight wasn't exactly optimal, but it was still two less minutes wasted on getting there. The showers themselves were communal, with little barriers separating the individual showerheads. Thankfully there was not a soul in sight so he didn't need to worry about propriety. He grabbed a bottle of shampoo from the cupboard before heading into the closest stall. When he started the water it came out freezing cold, but minus the initial shock he moved as quickly as he could, hands scrubbing his hair with a ferocity unlike him.
He skimmed over some things that he usually did when he showered – time was of the essence, so he had no time for leisure at the moment. In what he hoped were just a few minutes Nathan shut off the water and reached for his towel, drying off as best he could before throwing on the clothes he had brought with him. Quickly putting on a bit of deodorant he checked the time. 12:30. At that he relaxed minutely – he wouldn't miss Luke's funeral. There was no reason for him to panic – he had plenty of time. He looked at himself in the mirror, though, and decided he might want to wear something nicer than a faded shirt and jeans.
Heading back to his room, he thought about what he should put on instead, before smiling bitterly. Luke always liked his emerald-green t-shirt, something of a higher quality than Nathan was used to – which was why he never really wore it for anything but special occasions. He was going to wear it for Luke's birthday; he might as well wear it to his funeral.
The actual affair was short and quick – more of a formality for those close to Luke than an actual ceremony. Nathan, try as he might, couldn't help but feel a bit bitter towards how mechanical the proceedings were. Before, when it was for one of the elderly citizens who had keeled over due to old age or a medical condition, he was annoyed that it wasn't fast enough. But now that the tables were turned, he now knew how the family and friends of the recently dead felt like.
The body had been burnt in the industrial furnace before being put in a glossy wooden box, twice the size of a jewelry box but with more precious contents. The box was given to Luke's parents, the father with a face more serious than Nathan had ever seen before, and the mother wiping at her too-red eyes.
Elijah, at the request of the parents, read out a paragraph of words that held no meaning to Nathan, something about ascending to a better place and how he would be with all his loved ones.
He watched solemnly as they placed the box into a hole dug in the garden at the back of the residence – the patch of earth had become the graveyard of the Helsings', as none had felt it right to trespass on the citizens of the city's hallowed ground.
After the hole was filled there was a moment of silence before everyone began moving away, leaving the mother and father to grieve by themselves at their son's graveside.
Nathan wanted to stay – he wanted it so badly. He couldn't help but feel bitter towards how the ceremonies were run. Why couldn't he, who was so much like a brother, stay and mourn as well?
But he left the garden with the others, and when directly to his room. He collapsed onto his bed and checked the wristwatch he had placed there, one he had found while cleaning out the room. The watch was his, a birthday gift from Luke the in the second year since he came to Quarry.
The tiny arms on the face of the gadget told him that it was nearing five PM. It was likely too early to go to bed, he knew that, but there was nothing else for him to do. Other than spend the next few hours at Luke's gravesite, there was nothing he wanted to do. And seeing as how he wouldn't be able to visit until tomorrow at the very least, sleeping seemed to be the next best thing.
He didn't exactly want any human contact at the moment.
However, let it be said that Nathan does not always get what he wants in life, for a few minutes after he had just relaxed into his bed did someone knock on the door – and by someone, he meant Max. The guy who he had just met this morning and learned would become his new roommate. In the back of his mind he knew that it was the logical choice. There was limited space in the residence, and as soon as there was a vacancy – and he stumbled over thinking this word – they would pick another recruit to shack up with him.
"You know that this is technically your room too, right?" said Nathan, rubbing his eyes. Sighing, he sat up on the bed, groaning as his spine stretched after relaxing after the long day he had.
"I understand that, but... it's just, you just lost somebody and here I am just living with you know and I feel like an annoyance." Max said, the last few words so quiet that he had to strain to hear them. He offered the younger man as soft a smile as he could muster up from the reserves of energy.
"I know how this sort of thing works - when there's space for someone new, it's taken up right away. There's no reason you should feel like a bother; it's just standard operating procedure. Don't worry." Already, though, he was casting comparisons between Luke and Max. They were both organized in an almost obsessive way - Max had already packed away his clothes and possessions in such neat little piles that it had surprised them.
But Max was too short, his hair not dark enough, eye's too blue. And there was also the rapid way that he spoke, as if he couldn't get enough words out into the world. Luke always spoke clearly - with Max he has to actively listen to understand a single thing he says. It wasn't healthy to do such a thing, Nathan knew, with the person that you'd be spending the rest of your stay in Quarry with, but he couldn't help it.
Max scuffed his feet against the floor, eyes turned down. He had his hands classed behind his back, and he knew from the movement of his arms that he was twisting his fingers together. A nervous habit, thought Nathan, and he mentally sighed. This guy wasn't going to be comfortable around him for a long, long while.
The other boy opened his mouth to speak, closed it, and then opened it again. Nathan suddenly pictured a fish, with its mouth moving as it gasped for the water that would keep it alive.
However, by sheer luck, someone knocked on the door, effectively breaking the tension in the room - or at least, for now.
"Come in," he said, getting off the bed and standing. He would be able to relax later, he thought, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
It was a bit of a surprise to see Rachel pop her head in, the mess of red hair bright in the room.
"I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" she said, opening the door fully. She herself looked as though she had no desire to be over here - someone likely ordered her over, mused Nathan.
"No, um, no. Not at all, nope!" said Max, who had spun around to face Rachel the second the door had opened.
She gave the younger man an odd look, as though she was entertaining the thought that Max had less mental stability than given credit for. However, nowadays nobody was required to take a psych test when joining unless requested by another member - Max, thought Nathan, might be getting a call down to Kraler in the next few days.
"Good, then. Nathan." Here Rachel turned to face him, disregarding the other boy completely. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Max relax minutely.
"Yeah?" he said.
"Jamie has asked to see you in room 110. Right now." The tone of her voice meant that no dillydallying on his part would be allowed, or she would find him and make his life a living hell.
Or it could mean that she was annoyed having to be a personal messenger but really, who could tell. Either way could mean bodily harm for him anyway.