Title: ...And Misery for All
Author: ScrewTheDaisies
E-mail: herself@screwthedaisies.com
Site: www.screwthedaisies.com
Fandom: Metallica (RPS)
Category: Agonizing Anguish, Shadows of Dread
Type: fanfiction
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Kirk Hammett/Original Character
Warnings: captivity, disfigurement
Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction. The events depicted in these stories never happened and the author is not claiming that they did. These stories were written purely for fun. Further disclaimer: This fiction may include characters with the same names, occupation, and physical characteristics as members (past and present) of the band Metallica. However, these characters exist entirely in my imagination and are in no way meant to reflect the real members of Metallica. Summary: Kirk's past comes back with a vengeance

===

Later Kirk would try to convince himself that he'd sensed something out of whack the instant he walked into the house, but he would never quite manage to pull that off. Fact was he'd let himself in in a complete state of oblivion: whistling, rifling through the envelopes he'd pulled from the mailbox, and not having a second's thought that the air didn't feel quite right or that the rooms didn't sound quite the same.

And that thought, whenever he had it later, frightening him the most because he had always assumed he'd know, somehow, that someone had invaded in his space.

For the first twelve hours or so--or it may have been eighteen, or only four--Kirk vacillated between trying to convince himself that if he'd paid attention he would have known someone was there, and trying to convince himself that even once he was taken by surprise he could have done more to fight his attacker.

In way of fighting, he hadn't actually done much. The man--he assumed it was a man--had come up behind him. Kirk didn't know it, though, until he was on the floor, his muscles suddenly too weak to hold him up or even to roll him over to see what was happening.

What he'd thought at first, since he'd neither seen nor heard his attacker sneaking up, was that he'd had a stroke. At forty years old. A stroke.

He found it hard to give up that belief even as rough hands grabbed his arms and yanked them behind him. His brain had been caught so off-guard that it clung stubbornly to the stroke explanation, even to the point of trying to convince him that it was a paramedic who was forcing his wrists up and together at the middle of his back.

He tried to speak, but the sound that came out was senseless; even he didn't know what it was he was trying to say.

The fog and weakness didn't last long, however--perhaps eight or nine seconds. Long enough for the attacker to begin binding his wrists. The sound of tape--duct tape, he imagined--tearing off its roll was the first thing to make sense to Kirk. And then the realization of what was happening poured in like cold concrete.

He started to struggle.

He yelled.

His attacker was unhurried by either of these things.

Kirk suddenly flashed on his housekeeper. His first thought was that maybe she'd hear his shouts and call the police. His second thought was that the attacker probably hadn't risked that possibility. He wondered if she was out doing the shopping, tied up in another room, or....

A cloth bag was yanked roughly over his head. He wasn't plunged into total darkness, merely into a dim light reminiscent of the dimness that had permeated his brain when he'd first hit the floor. Then he heard more tape pulling off its roll, the harsh sound of it somehow louder and sharper than his yelling.

And then he felt the tape being wound around his head, running across his mouth, holding the bag in place. His attacker's hand was less than gentle as it jerked his head up to complete the winding.

Nor was his attacker any more considerate when he heaved Kirk's body off the floor--this was another reason he assumed it was a man; otherwise it had to be some strong woman--and dropped it again half a minute later. And then Kirk was rolling. His world became tight, rigid, and confining.

He realized he was being rolled into one of this own carpets.

The next time he heard tape tearing off the roll, it was more muffled. Stiff layers of carpet isolated him from the world. His heart pounded as he wondered how long he'd be able to breathe in the bag and the carpet roll. He dragged air in through his nose, expanded his chest as far as his confines would allow. It didn't feel like enough.

After the roll had been taped around in three places--his head, waist, and neck--Kirk felt himself being lifted into the air again. Up onto a shoulder, he guessed. What if he was dropped? What if the guy slipped and fell? They were moving. Stopping. Moving. Turning. Stopping. Turning. Moving. From the bouncing, Kirk guessed they were headed down his front steps. He filled his lungs again and yelled.

Never had he realized how noisy San Francisco was. Or how stifling and private a cocoon could be.

Stopping. Backing up. Sinking.

Kirk fought to not throw up. Feeling himself being shoved onto a solid surface helped. Then he heard the distant sound of a door shutting. Another door. And then an engine.

Because of the way his wrists had been taped, his elbows stuck out more than any other part of his body. The tightly-rolled carpet then forced them in toward his body again. After a few minutes of riding in the back of the vehicle, the discomfort from it grew until every other thought Kirk had was punctuated by a silent scream for them to get wherever the fuck they were going so he could be let out.

If he had to guess, it took between twenty and thirty minutes to arrive at their destination. He didn't consider it an altogether reliable guess.

Arriving didn't make him feel better, either. What if the asshole dropped him in a corner and left him there, tightly bound, hyperventilating, and scared out of his mind?

The warmth on his thighs he knew had to be piss, even though he hadn't felt himself letting go of his bladder. Then he was dragged from the vehicle and hefted onto a shoulder again. Moving, stopping, moving, stopping, then lots of stair bouncing. Finally he was set down. And, to his relief, he felt his attacker pulling at the tape that held the carpet roll closed. In less than a minute he was being rolled out of the rug. Fresh air hit his sweaty clothes with welcomed coolness.

A hand grabbed his ankle and dragged. He heard a clinking of chain and then felt it pulled roughly around his ankle. With a whimper, he yanked at his leg. The hand held firm. And then the hand was gone, but the chain held in its place.

The hand moved to his arms, thank god, and Kirk felt something cold and metal slip over his skin--for a second he was sure his wrist had been sliced open; he could even feel the blood pulsing out--and hack away at the tape. Then the metal disappeared and the hands tore the tape off.

Kirk yelled at the pain of hair and skin being ripped from his arms. It was a quick pain, though, that receded to a mild throb after the first second.

And then he heard a door closing firmly followed by the scrape of metal against metal on the other side of the door. He imagined a hasp and padlock. The floor under him was hard and cold. A shiver ran through him. He felt he was alone, though he wondered how much he could rely on that sort of instinct anymore.

His hands were free, though, and he had a bag taped over his head. If someone was there and didn't want him to take it off, he'd quickly find out. Reaching behind his head with trembling hands, he was willing to risk the reproach. He heard nothing in the room, though, as his fingers slid over the smooth tape.

He couldn't find the end of it.

He knew it had to be there.

He curled his hands into fists and pressed them against his cheeks. Took a deep breath. Told himself that there had to be an end to the tape and that he could find it and that once he did, he could pry it up. He just needed to calm down to find it.

And then he tried again. After a long, frustrating moment, he found it and started to pick at it.

After another long, frustrating moment, he was able to tug the cloth bag off his head.

He blinked at the dim basement room. The floor was concrete, the walls cinderblock. Light came from above--a single bulb dim enough that Kirk was able to read its wattage while staring at it. The only things on the floor with him were his carpet--a particularly expensive antique Persian rug--a metal eyebolt embedded in the floor, to which four feet of his leg chain was attached, and a white porcelain-glazed pot.

The thought that at least he had a pot to piss in passed hysterically through his mind and then kept repeating itself.

He grabbed the chain in his hands and pulled with no success. He got to his feet--standing bent over and holding the chain--and put his weight behind the pull. Gritting his teeth, he grunted and pulled some more.

At least he had a pot to piss in.

He dropped to the floor and ran his fingers over the lock holding the chain around his ankle. He pushed, pulled, prodded, yelled.

Pot to piss in, at least.

"Shut the fuck up!" Then he said, "Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck." And then he yelled, "Do you hear me? Are you watching? Are you fucking listening? Who the fuck are you? What's your point? Why don't you come back and show your fucking face?"

Pot. Piss in.

"Fuck!"

He picked the pot up and threw it against the wall. It hit the floor on its side and rolled.

Fuck. He stood and headed for the door.

The chain, which was bolted near a far corner from the door, stopped him several feet shy of his goal. Leaving his foot planted on the floor at the very end of the chain's limit, he stepped forward with his other foot and leaned for the door. His fingertips just brushed the knob.

"God damn it."

He paced. He pushed against the cinderblock wall wherever he could reach. He swore and threatened and muttered. And finally he sat in the middle of the floor.

The floor was cold. He grabbed the carpet and pulled it closer. The room wasn't quite large enough to accommodate it fully spread-out, especially with the eyebolt in the floor, but he smoothed it out well enough and curled up on his side.

It smelled like piss.

So did he.

He pulled an end of the carpet over him and started to cry.

***

Hours later, he heard a scrape and bolted upright. The door pushed open. A hand snuck in and dropped a stainless steel bowl on the floor, and then disappeared. The door shut. Metal scraped metal and then Kirk was completely alone again.

He crawled toward the bowl, hooked a finger around its edge, and pulled it toward him.

Its contents looked like dog food. He stuck a finger into the middle of the moist, pinkish-gray lump. It was cold. It smelled like dog food. Maybe it was pâté; more likely it was dog food, and probably not the vegetarian kind. Probably not even chicken. He pushed it back toward the door. He'd had lunch out, a big enough one that he didn't feel especially hungry now, especially not faced with cold, canned dog food as his only meal option. He wished he'd been brought water, though. His mouth was dry.

The thought of water made him aware he had to pass some. He retrieved the pot, which he now saw showed black where the porcelain enamel had chipped off either when he'd thrown it or at some point before he'd arrived at this loony bin. He set it on the floor, undid his fly, and tried not to feel too self-conscious as he waited to relieve himself.

He didn't think he, they, or whoever was watching. Or, at least, he didn't see anything in the room that looked like a video camera, though in the shadows the dim bulb cast in the room's corners, it was difficult to be certain.

His urine made a metallic sound as it spattered into the bottom of the bowl.

When he was finished, he pushed the pot near the door and returned to the corner of the carpet that he'd made into his nest. Sitting cross-legged, he did his best to pull the carpet around his shoulders. And he waited.

There was a very real possibility that no one would show up again until morning--to bring him fresh dog food and maybe some water--or even, perhaps, not until the next evening. After all, lots of people only fed their dogs once a day.

Don't.

He picked at the carpet fibers.

He was not going to let them make him dehumanize himself.

He had to come up with a plan. No, a hundred plans. Plausible plans, not so plausible plans, and utterly ridiculous plans. The more plans he had, the better his chances of getting out of this.

So. A plan.

He stared at the back of the door.

Okay, he could jump the guy next time the door opened.

Except that the last time the door opened, the guy hadn't put more than his hand into the room.

Kirk pushed the carpet off him and crawled toward the door. He curled his fingers around the stainless steel bowl of dog food and drew it toward him. Then he slid it into the corner farthest from the door. If the asshole wanted his bowl back, he'd have to come get it.

Of course, his captor could just say screw the bowl and bring another one. Or start emptying dog food cans right onto the floor just inside the door way. Or, heck, he could just roll the opened cans in and let Kirk scoop the slop out. But maybe he was a picky asshole who had to do everything a set way and maybe, in that case, he'd step in the room to retrieve the bowl.

Kirk didn't know what he'd do, exactly, if that happened. He could throw himself on the guy, but maybe the guy was faster, stronger. And surely he'd be expecting an attack.

Right.

Kirk figured out his next move. For now.

He just wished he'd devoted some time in his life to mastering chess. He had a feeling some amount strategic ability would be a lot of help in this situation.

If he had to guess, he'd have said that it was about an hour after the dog bowl had been dropped off that he heard metal scraping metal on the other side of the door again. He hoped it was exactly an hour--routine and predictability could work in his favor. He watched the door swing open. He sat on the far side of it, which meant that the door itself obscured his view. He waited. Whoever was on the other side of the door was thinking, apparently. Finally a hand reached down and snatched up the porcelain-enameled pot, which Kirk had left near the door. Piss sloshed. The pot and hand disappeared. The door pulled shut. Metal scraped metal. And that was that.

***

Kirk had doubted he'd sleep much in the cold basement room with nothing but a carpet for comfort, but since the eventual opening of the door took him completely by surprise, he guessed he must have slept after all.

The piss pot clanked against the floor and the door swooped shut.

Kirk crawled over.

Fuck.

The pot was half filled with dry dog food. It smelled good, though, and made his stomach growl. He might have been tempted to eat it if it hadn't been delivered in the same pot he'd pissed in. He knocked it across the room with the side of his arm. Brown dog food pellets scattered everywhere.

He grabbed his carpet and rearranged it so that he could settle on the other end of the small room. He was awake now and sick to death of this game. The next time the door opened, he wanted to have a good look at who was on the other side of it.

He licked his lips. Water would have been nice. Even dogs got water.

He set both the pot--now empty--and the stainless steel dish two feet from the doorway and waited.

***

Metal scraped metal. Kirk's heart quickened. He sat forward, leaning his weight on his hands, and watched the door. It seemed to take forever to open.

When it did, he sat back. The man whose brown eyes met his and blinked was no one he'd seen before in his life. As the man--he was easily James's height, and built fairly like him, too, though maybe a little more solid--bent to pick up the bowl, Kirk sprung forward and snatched his wrist.

The man's arm was hard--solid muscle and bone. He could have easily yanked out of Kirk's grasp, but he didn't. He waited, his fingers holding the bowl by its lip.

"Who are you?" Kirk asked.

The man stared at him but did not answer.

"What the fuck is this all about?"

Still no answer.

"Is it about money? I can pay it. Is it a fan-stalker thing? We can work this out, you know."

The man was still.

"Fuck! Fucking answer me. Say something."

The man opened his mouth. Wide.

Kirk's grip slipped from his wrist.

"Holy shit."

He could tell immediately that something was not right, definitely not right, but it took an extra click of a second for him to realize that there was no tongue lying along the bottom of the man's mouth. A stump indicated where it had been cut off.

No longer looking at Kirk, the man closed his mouth, collected the pot with the bowl, rose, and backed across the doorway.

Kirk finally remembered his own tongue. "Wait! Hey--"

The door pulled shut.

"Fuck."

He the back of his teeth with his tongue. He didn't know what to think. Should he be afraid that the same thing--or worse--could happen to him? Or was the man's deformity completely unrelated to the insanity Kirk found himself in the midst of? Either way, he couldn't stop seeing it. His own tongue felt larger in his mouth by the moment.

And he was still thirsty.

And still chained to a concrete floor in a basement less than a thirty minute drive from his own home.

And still completely clueless as to what was going on.

***

The sound of metal scraping metal not fifteen minutes later took Kirk by surprise. He looked toward the door eagerly.

The man was back, still avoiding his eye. He set a stainless steel bowl just inside the door. The clear liquid that sloshed over its sides and onto the floor pulled all of Kirk's attention. He swallowed. Water. He wanted it more than almost anything. In fact, there were only two things in the world he wanted more: his freedom and, barring that, some answers.

But you caught more flies with honey, so....

"Thank you," he said.

The man nodded almost imperceptibly before pulling the door closed.

Fuck. But he'd be back.

Kirk lunged for the bowl and drank greedily, not pausing to wonder what might be in the water until two large swallows had already gone down his throat.

Shit.

He spat a mouthful back into the bowl and set the bowl on the floor. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he stared at the water. So beautiful. So perfect. So delicious. Two swallows hadn't been nearly enough. He leaned against the wall and stared at the bowl.

Minutes passed.

He couldn't tell if he'd been drugged or if the lightheadedness, unsettled stomach, and heavy eyelids were from a combination of suggestibility and lack of food.

And dehydration. Which was worse--maybe being sedated and waking up later in who knew what predicament (a shudder went through him as his mind flashed a series of horrible images) or dying from lack of water when water was sitting right in front of you?

He lifted the bowl to his lips and drank.

***

Surprisingly soon after finishing the bowl, he had to pee. The only pot he had to piss in now, though, was the bowl he'd just drank out of. Maybe the guy with the missing tongue would clean and sterilize it before putting water or food in it again. Maybe not.

Sure, a person's own urine was sterile to that person but he still wasn't into pissing into and drinking out of the same bowl.

That left him with two options: hold it or piss in the corner.

The carpet and his clothes already smelled like urine. On one hand, he could rationalize that, given that, it wouldn't matter if he added to the urine smell by relieving himself on the concrete in the farthest corner from where he was sitting. On the other hand, the carpet and his clothes already smelled like urine; why add to it?

He decided to hold it for as long as he could. If it became unbearable and the porcelain pot didn't return, he'd resort to the corner.

He soon discovered that when you're in a room alone with no distractions and no one to listen to but your bladder, it did a lot of talking.

He paced.

He stretched out on his back and made up songs about being chained to the floor in a psycho's basement.

He asked the walls questions that the walls refused to answer and then yelled at them for their silence.

He put his forehead against the carpet and said, "Please come back. Please. And bring that pot...."

Finally, he pushed up from the carpet and hobbled--his leg had fallen asleep--toward the far corner. Just as he started to draw down his fly, the door popped open.

"Thank fuck. It's about time. Did you bring--"

He'd been turning and zipping up as he spoke. He blinked.

"Hello Kirk."

A mirror image of himself--or almost mirror image; this image was wearing clean, urine-free clothes--grinned. In Kirk's own voice he said, "Recognize me?"

It was him. He himself. He didn't know what to say. His tongue may well have been a stub, too, for the use he was putting it to.

His twin, grinning, whirled like a woman showing off her new outfit. "What do you think?"

"Who the fuck are you?" Kirk got out.

His twin laughed. "Obviously you can see who I am." He cocked his head, lifted his brow. "I put a lot of money into this, I'll have you know. I'm a perfect imitation, right down to the intimate details." His gaze swept down to Kirk's crotch and then back to his eyes. "Perfect in every way...almost."

Kirk swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry again. "Almost?"

Tapping the side of his head, his doppelganger said, "The brain's still all mine."

"Who are you?"

"Oh, I didn't think you'd remember, especially not with me looking like this. Honestly, though, I doubt you'd remember if I hadn't made a single change. It was a long time ago and, well, you really didn't give a shit at the time, probably wouldn't give any more of a shit now, so...."

"Who."

The other man pulled a wallet out, flipped it open, and turned it toward Kirk. The bottom half of the wallet held a driver's license in Kirk's name and with Kirk's picture on it. The upper half held an old photo of a teenage boy with straight dark hair falling into his eyes and sharp cheekbones jutting from underneath. Kirk assumed it was this photo he was supposed to be looking at. He shook his head. The boy didn't tickle any memories.

The wallet snapped shut.

"Just as I expected," the man said. "I'll make it short and sweet. I was fourteen and you fucked me. You intimidated me and pushed yourself on me and fucked me. I don't like boys. Men. Dick. I'm not a faggot. I just liked music. Liked. Once. You piece of shit. I was in awe of you and you took advantage of it.

"I never.... There's.... No way. No fucking way. Fourteen? Forced? No fucking way. I don't know what happened, but you've got it all fucking--"

The fist that flew at him knocked him against the back wall. His fingers touched his lip and came away with blood on them.

The other man pushed the wallet into his back pocket. "One of us wasn't out of his head on illegal substances at the time so one of us probably remembers the incident a little more fucking clearly than the other. You're sober right now, though, aren't you? I doubt you'll be forgetting this incident quite so easily."

Kirk realized that arguing with this nut case over what or what didn't happen who knew how many years ago was unlikely to get him anywhere. Touching his fingers to his throbbing lip again, he said, "So what's the plan?"

The man skated his gaze off to the side as though giving some invisible audience a "Can you believe this guy?" look. Then he focused on Kirk again, cocked hi head. "What do you think?"

"What, are you going to be me?"

A smug smile. "That's the plan. Except...well, there will be a few adjustments. Like I said, they didn't overhaul the ol' brain. I still don't like men so I won't be having guitar techs suck my dick in the studio. But I've found a way to explain that sudden change in behavior--"

"I don't--"

"Shut up. This is my show. Got it?"

Kirk nodded.

"'Straight to Heaven.' Heard of it?"

Kirk shook his head.

"It's a Christian group dedicated to rehabilitating homosexuals. Kirk Hammett is about to become their newest success story. In fact, I might even become their poster boy. How's that?"

Insane, Kirk thought. His life was about to become a sideshow at the hands of this deranged lunatic.

"So that's one problem solved. Then there's the guitar. I never learned to play it. If I pick it up, your friends will know before I strum the first string that there's something's amiss in the world, so I won't be touching guitars from now on. I'll simply decline. Refuse. Walk away. Retire. It'll be quite the news sensation since I'll give absolutely no reason for the decision. In fact, if the press asks if my choice to walk away from music has anything to do with my involvement with the Straight to Heaven group, I'll say not at all. What do you think? Don't answer that."

"What happens to me?" Kirk asked.

"I'll bring you news clippings, maybe show you news footage. I'll laugh. You'll watch your life being ruined. And then Kirk Hammett will tragically commit suicide. That's you, not me, in case you were confused."

"Great." His voice was flat. Given the fact that this lunatic could have simply killed him and stepped into his life, he was lucky to be alive right now. And it looked like he'd be kept that way for as long as it amused his captor. He wondered what kind of attention span the freak had. The fact that he'd gone through who knew how much surgery and preparation--had his vocal chords been altered or had he put himself through rigorous voice training in order to get his voice right?--gave Kirk hope that he'd carry on with the charade longer than a mere day or two.

Good. That gave him time to come up with his million crazy plans. And maybe, just maybe, one of them would work before his time ran out.

Just as his captor was leaving, Kirk remembered his urgency. "Hey, can I have my piss pot back?"

His double looked at him.

"Otherwise...." Kirk gestured toward the corner.

The other's gaze followed. And then he left, pulling the door shut. Kirk danced from one foot to the other wondering how long he should wait to see if the pot showed up.

***

Time was impossible to track in his windowless room. He used his meals--dry food in the morning and wet food in the evening--to track the days, but that was assuming that the dry food really did come every morning and the wet food every evening. For all he knew, they could be coming six hours apart. Or sixteen. But he had to pick some sort of measure, and that was the one he settled on.

Two days of meals passed with the tongueless man delivering them and refusing to meet Kirk's eye or to nod in answer to any of his questions. Whenever Kirk caught hold of his strong wrist, the man stood waiting, his eyes cast down, until Kirk gave up and released him.

There was no sign of his doppelganger until the third day. When he finally came through the basement door, his expression was smug.

"It's started. It's definitely started. Your housekeeper loves me, by the way. She wants to know why I'm not so much of a prima donna all of the sudden. I gave her a raise."

"A raise?" The woman was already making better than average wages. The last thing he needed was his own help turned against him on top of everything else.

"Anyway, today, if you'll recall, we started shooting the first video for St. Anger. I'd been looking forward to it. I've never been on film before. Video. Whatever. Anyway, they wanted to get the performance shoot done today. You should have seen the look on everyone's face when I crossed my arms and refused to pick up a guitar. I didn't tell them I wasn't ever playing again, I simply said I was against the performance part of video. It was lame, I told them. Everyone does it. I didn't want to do it and they couldn't make me. I sat in a chair and refused to budge. We lost an entire day's shoot to it. In the end, they relented. No performance shots for this video. So the good news is Metallica will still have a new video coming out."

"Fucking yay."

His captor rubbed his hands together. "So. It's happening. I can't believe it worked! Not once did anyone question who I was, not even your butt buddies. They were pissed, though. Man, a few more days like this and I bet Hetfield will be tipping the bottles up again." He giggled.

"How long until dinner shows up?" Kirk asked.

"Huh?"

"I asked how long until dinner shows up."

"Who cares?"

"I do. I'm fucking hungry."

"Jesus Christ. Your Alpo'll be here in I don't know, two, three hours. Tib keeps the schedule. That's not my job." Then he lifted his chin and narrowed his eyes. "You know, you'd better think about mustering a little more enthusiasm for my project. You wouldn't want to take the fun out of it for me, would you?"

"Nope. Guess not. What happened to that Tib guy, anyway?"

"The same thing that's gonna happen to you if you don't start using your brain."

Kirk chewed his lip. He couldn't tell if the man was serious and had had Tib's tongue cut out or it was just a threat. "So, you're going to the video shoot tomorrow, then?"

"Yep."

"And you're actually going to participate?"

"Yep. Acting I can do. It's guitar playing and cocksucking I have no interest in."

"Well, good luck." Lonely as the days and nights were, he couldn't wait for his impersonator to leave. It gave him the creeps. The guy gave him the creeps. And most of his million plans pinned their success on Tib anyway.

"I'm not sure you quite understand what the fuck is going on here," his captor said. He took two steps, grabbed Kirk around the throat with one hand, and pushed him against the wall. Kirk circled the man's wrist with one hand and tried to force the fingers of his other between the man's thumb and his own throat. Before he could pry his captor off his throat, his muscles gave out again, just as they had when he'd been surprised at his house.

As he sank toward the floor, his captor's grip loosening to allow that, he saw the stun gun in the man's other hand. And then the man kneed him in the head.

"You need to start giving some serious thought to how supportive of this you're going to be. I'm going to give you a little more time to get the hang of it, but--" He stepped on Kirk's hand.

Kirk's muscles had not yet recovered from the stun. He blinked at the foot sitting on his hand. So far no pain.

"--if you don't fucking get a fucking clue--"

Kirk yelled as his captor shifted all his weight onto his foot and ground the delicate bones in Kirk's fingers and palm against the hard floor.

"--it's going to end very badly and very quickly for you."

He twisted his heel once more, pulling another shout from Kirk's throat, and then stepped off.

Kirk had his muscles back, somewhat, and he rolled onto his side, cupping his throbbing hand against his stomach.

"Just think on that," his captor said before slamming the door.

Kirk rocked a little from side to side, almost afraid to look at his hand. Finally, though, he brought it in front of his face and started trying to move each of his fingers. The hand was an angry red where it had been stepped on and swelling a little, but nothing appeared broken. He cupped it against his stomach again, closed his eyes, and swore.

His dinner didn't show up at all that night.

With all his plans relying on Tib, he realized he'd have to be more careful in what he said to the lunatic. He couldn't afford to have his contact with Tib limited even further.

***

"Tib."

The man's eyes flickered to Kirk's face when his name was spoken. He obviously hadn't been expecting it. He'd just set a stainless steel bowl of wet food on the floor inside the door. His fingers retreated slowly from it.

"Wait. Just--please don't run off. I won't attack you with questions. Promise."

Though the man had straightened, he hadn't pulled the door shut. Yet. Kirk took it as an encouraging sign.

"I'm going out of my mind here, stuck in this room alone."

He'd never mastered chess, but during that period after the endless black album tour he had gone to college. One of the books he had to read then was Machiavelli's THE PRINCE.

"Is there anything--anything! Even a twenty-year-old issue of TV Guide--you can get me to keep me from going completely insane? Anything?"

Machiavelli maintained that if you got someone to do something for you--to help you--then they were actually more indebted to you for having done it. It was counter-intuitive, but during the hours he spent staring at the gray cinder block walls he'd been able to come up with countless examples from his own life that supported Machiavelli's theory.

Tib's gaze dropped to the bowl on the floor.

"Tib. Come on. Please. Please?"

The door drew slowly closed.

"Fuck." All he could hope was that Tib did have some sympathy for him and would rationalize that his request was a harmless one.

He drew the bowl of Alpo near and poked his finger into it. He hadn't shit since he'd arrived and he blamed this stuff. There wasn't a lick of fiber in it, he bet.

***

Tib showed up to collect the bowl an hour later. When he did, he dropped a pile of catalogs on the floor.

"Oh shit. Thanks, Tib." The man met his gaze briefly. Kirk was anxious to show his enthusiasm over the gift. "This is fucking great. I owe you."

Tib lifted his hand and waved it as though to say, "Don't worry about it."

Communication! Finally!

He pulled the slippery catalogs toward him. Lillian Vernon. Radio Shack. Computer Discount Warehouse. Junk, junk, junk. But was he ever happy to see it.

And then Tib stepped into the room. Not fully in--he kept one foot in the doorway, but his other foot stepped in. He crouched, lifted an edge of the carpet. Then he took the Lillian Vernon catalog from Kirk and slipped it under the carpet. After letting the carpet fall back down over it, he patted the carpet where the catalog lay. Then he looked up at Kirk.

"Gotcha," Kirk said. This was even better than Tib's having brought him stuff in the first place. They were sharing a secret. There was hope. "Thanks, Tib," Kirk said again, laying his hand for half a second on top of Tib's, which was still on the carpet.

Tib nodded and withdrew, taking the stainless steel bowl with him and pulling the door closed behind him.

Kirk opened the Radio Shack ad and ran his fingers down a bright, busy page. It was at once wonderful and frustrating to be able to look at something as commonplace and useless as a four-page, full-color advertisement.

But mostly his pulse raced at the breakthrough with Tib.

And the thought of Tib.

Kirk found he had a tendency to think of the man--just because he didn't speak, and maybe also because he worked for a lunatic--as being slow in the head. He didn't look slow in the head, what with his angular features, strong jaw, and alert though shy golden-brown eyes. No, he didn't look slow. It frustrated him that he couldn't converse with the man. He could just imagine the things Tib knew about the house, the grounds, the crazy person who was holding him hostage.

Right. He knew what he had to ask for next.

***

Unfortunately, the next few times Tib came by, he was standoffish again, as though he regretted helping Kirk out. Kirk tried to pull him out of his shell again, but Tib moved quickly. He rarely let Kirk get more than a word and a half out before pulling the door shut.

Kirk's evil twin returned after two days of absence.

"Look!" he said, waving a computer print-out. "It's starting to fall apart!"

"What?" Kirk took the page and found himself scanning a Blabbermouth article about troubles at the Metallica video shoot. An anonymous member of the film crew had leaked the gory details of Kirk's flat-out refusal to participate in the performance portion of the shoot.

"Everyone knows eighty percent of what's posted on Blabbermouth is bullshit," he said finally. There was sweat on his brow, though. It really was happening, if this guy wasn't upstairs recreating the Blabbermouth site just to fuck with him. But anyone who'd have his entire body rebuilt to look like him was unlikely to settle for merely pretending to screw up his life.

His captor plucked the pages from Kirk's fingers. "As the shit piles up, more and more people will believe this article, Kirky-pooh. Actually, now that I think about it.... As the shit piles up, this article will get buried under it." He grinned. "But, it's a good start, isn't it?"

"Wonderful. You know, I had a thought...."

"Mmm?" His captor was busy rereading the article.

"Yeah. I was thinking that once you completely ruin my love-life, my career, my friendships, my reputation, and what else? What else can you ruin? Whatever it is, I'm sure you'll find it...."

His captor's grin widened.

"Well, after all that, wouldn't it be more torturous for me to have to live with that fucked-up life?"

Still grinning, his look-alike looked up. "Nope."

***

Kirk started awake and panicked. The room was dark. His bulb must have gone out while he slept. It had been running constantly since he'd arrived and who knew how long it had been use before then. At least...he hoped it had merely burned out.

He had no idea what it time it was, never did. With the light out, though, it felt like the middle of the night.

Metal scraped and he sat up.

"Tib?" he whispered.

A triangle of light spread across the carpet.

"Tib."

He crawled over until he could see around the door.

"Tib, my bulb went out."

From the doorway, Tib stared up at the dark bulb in the ceiling.

"Can you get me a new one?"

Still looking at the bulb, Tib nodded.

"Oh my god, thanks. You have no idea...."

Tib set the bowl of dry dog food on the floor, looked up at the bulb once more, and then retreated, leaving Kirk to wonder if he suspected Kirk had tampered with the bulb. If he'd thought of it, he might have, though he would also have had to have thought of a good reason for plunging himself into darkness. He huddled as close to the light coming under the bottom of the door as he could and hugged himself.

It seemed an eternity before Tib returned. And it seemed even colder than usual in the room, too, as though the 40 watt bulb had been giving off heat.

Finally, he heard the familiar metal sound. He backed up as the door opened. He even went so far as to move toward the wall so that Tib could come in and install the new bulb.

Watching him in the light that spilled in from the hallway, he realized it was the longest look he'd ever had at the man. It occurred to him that it was the first time he'd had any sort of look at his backside, either--Tib tended to back out of the room. Such a shame someone that good looking....

"Tib," Kirk said.

Tib shook the bulb he'd just unscrewed from the fixture near his ear, listening to the broken filament rattle against the glass.

"Tib?"

He glanced over.

"I hid those catalogs you brought me."

Tib's expression--which wasn't much of one at all--didn't change.

"I knew you don't want to get in trouble, so I was careful."

Tib pushed the broken bulb into a pocket in his shirt and pulled out a fresh one. He turned his attention back to the light fixture overhead.

"Tib? I'm going crazy in here. You can take the catalogs back. Please? And.... Can you bring me something else?"

Busy screwing in the new light bulb, Tib didn't acknowledge him.

"There's no one to talk to. I'm going fucking nuts. Can you bring me some paper? Something to write with? Tib, I need to feel like I'm doing something before I lose it completely."

The bulb was in. Tib stepped back, still looking at it. Then he brushed his hands together, turned, and left the room.

Returned to darkness and without having had any success in getting through to Tib, Kirk screamed at the closed door.

A few seconds later, the light came on.

***

"I keep calling him Ron," his captor said. "Roy. Raul. Roland. Romeo. Renny. Rick. Randy. Roscoe. You get the picture."

Kirk bit his tongue to keep from blurting out how idiotic that was since he'd known Rob Trujillo for ten or more years and had never fucked up his name before. The guys were going to have this freak carted off to an asylum or a rehab center and then it would be just him and Tib for God knows how long.

How long would it take for him to convince Tib the freak wasn't coming back?

"You know what else?"

"What?"

"Every now and then when whatshisname really puts himself into a bit of that noise you guys play, I say, 'You know, I've heard Bob do that bit better.'"

Kirk shook his head. So far, it turned out, his doppelganger hadn't told the guys that he refused to play guitar after all. Instead, he'd made himself a removable cast that he slipped on when he wasn't here in the basement with the real Kirk and pretended that he was unable to play guitar.

Kirk wanted him to bring the removable cast with him one day so he could beat him over the head with it.

"So how long are you going to keep this broken hand thing up?"

"Wrist. The cast comes off in six weeks."

Six weeks. Six weeks of living in this crap, but six weeks of living at least, thank fucking God. Six weeks of trying to wear away at Tib. Six weeks of breathing fresh--or semi-fresh--air.

His evil twin looked down at his own hand--presumably the one with the broken wrist--and pumped it into a fist a few times. "Maybe I'll be a quick healer. Or maybe I'll get bored with the whole thing before it even gets that far."

He grinned at Kirk. "You never can tell."

***

He stank. His hair was knotted and greasy. He was forced to use the side of his finger to clean his teeth--a method that he found to be far from satisfactory. His tongue had a permanent film to it. And since no one had given him fresh clothes, he still wore the same pants he'd pissed in.

When Tib arrived with fresh water--and no paper or pen--Kirk drank most of it down. It never seemed like enough, but then he had nothing better to do all day but sit around and think about how thirsty he was. Even so, he saved a little bit at the bottom of the bowl to waste on frivolous things. Every drop was precious so he dipped only two fingers in the bowl to moisten them before dragging them across his cheek. Little by little, he washed his face, neck, and ears this way. The back of his neck itched--a lot of parts of him itched, but today it was the back of his neck screaming for attention--so he wetted that down as well. And then he scrubbed his hands in the remaining--and now dingy--puddle of water.

At times he felt like kicking himself. He could have asked for clean clothes instead of catalogs. Or, he thought as he waved his wet hands in the air, a towel. A blanket. A toothbrush. A carrot. He'd kill for a carrot. Or baked, marinated tofu with a side of acorn squash and....

He wiped the back of his hand across his chin and was surprised to find he hadn't drooled all over himself. He was losing his mind. Definitely.

He pushed the bowl aside and stretched out on his back on the carpet, hands behind his head. He wondered what the guys were up to. He imagined them at HQ...but would they be there now? Today? He had no idea what day it was, or what time. It could be 2 A.M. It was too disorienting to think that, though. He felt like it was two in the afternoon so he went with it. Then he decided it was two in the afternoon on a Friday.

A-lo-haaaa Friday. James would be wearing one of his funky shirts. Would the freak comply or would he decide this was another way he could be an asshole?

Kirk rolled onto his side. They probably weren't at HQ, even if it was two on a Friday. They had the tour coming up, all kinds of press to do, all kinds of prep to do.

Suddenly curious about the timing of the freak's "cast removal," Kirk tried to count the weeks to the start of the tour. It was close...would he really hold out until the night of the first European show to refuse to pick up a guitar?

No, he couldn't get away with it. They'd expect him to play at least once before getting on stage--he would have had his arm in a cast for six or so weeks! No one would expect him to just pick up the guitar and start playing as though nothing had happened.

What if he convinced him that he had played, on his own, and that he was fine?

What'd it matter anyway? It was weeks away yet and.... And the sooner the guys figured out there was something very, very wrong with their lead guitarist, the better chance he had of getting the fuck out of here. The only promising thought about the freak going off on the tour, even if just to fuck up the first date, was that he'd have Tib to himself, presumably. All he had to figure out now was when the freak was leaving for it...and how to get Tib on his side before then.

He shoved his hand down the back of his pants and scratched frantically at an itch at the base of his back. He could kill himself for not asking for something more useful from Tib, like clean underwear. And a way to get them on. The fucking chain around his ankle made getting naked difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. The damp chill in the basement room was what made it impossible.

Fucking catalogs. What had he been thinking?

***

He didn't bother to roll over when he heard the door. It was the same routine: crap food in, empty bowls out. He'd sunk into a depression after berating himself for his poor choice of an item request from Tib and he wasn't ready to rise from it.

Something nudged him in his side. He lifted onto his elbow and looked back.

Holy fuck.

He was almost afraid to take it. He looked into Tib's eyes. Tib pushed the small notebook at him again. His thumb held a pen on top of it.

Kirk turned over and touched the cardboard cover. Tib pushed the book into his hand. He was too astonished to speak.

But then Tib was straightening and turning to leave again.

"Wait! Wait. Tib. Can you...." He flipped open the notebook, held it out with the pen. "What's your name? I mean, besides 'Tib.' That's not a name."

Tib stared down at the white page for several long seconds. Kirk lifted the notebook and pen higher, silently pleading. And it worked. Tib crouched down, took the pen, and scribbled something quickly on the page. Kirk turned it toward himself. Danny Thibodeaux. "Danny," he said. He looked up at Tib. Danny.

Danny.

Shit, why'd he give me his name?

He'd asked just to ask something that was personal but not too personal. Something normal. Something you'd ask anyone you saw from time to time. But looking at the name there, stark blue against the white page, he realized that if you're holding someone hostage you don't generally go around giving them information that they could use to later identify you.

Unless they knew you weren't going to be around to make any sort of identification.

Danny was leaving again.

"Danny! Wait. What's his name?" Kirk lifted his chin to indicate upstairs.

Crouching once again, Danny took the notebook and pen from Kirk.

Kirk's heart pounded. Maybe Danny had realized what he'd done. Maybe he was taking it away. But no, he scribbled again, this time more quickly than before. Then he stood, capped the pen, closed the notebook, and slid the clip on the pen's cap into the spiral wire binding. He dropped the book and pen on the carpet and left.

Kirk lurched forward and snagged it. Opening it eagerly, he stared down at the page.

"Kirk."

Damn it.

***

"Whaddaya think?" the freak asked, unrolling a small poster.

Kirk tilted his head to take a look. "Uh..." Fuck. He was officially the poster child for Straight to Heaven.

"I paid to have them made up, as my donation to the Straight to Heaven cause. They were happy to have it. This is really going to put them on the map."

"Great."

His attention was drawn back to the poster. No one could possibly think it wasn't him there, grinning like an idiot. It was a perfect likeness, right down to the mole on his right cheek. Staring at the picture, he lifted a hand to his own cheek and rubbed at his mole.

"Good, huh?" the freak asked.

Kirk glanced at him. Same fucking mole. Sure he'd noticed how much the guy looked like him, standing there, but seeing it in a photo....

"You used a picture of me, didn't you?" he asked.

His likeness wrinkled his brow. "Why would I need to?"

Kirk couldn't wrap his brain around the fact that it wasn't a picture of him. Of himself, that is.

"So what do you think?" the freak asked again.

"It's fucking scary," Kirk said finally. Then, in a voice barely louder than a breath, he said, "Fucking scary."

"I didn't know you were fucking Jason."

Kirk whipped his head up. "Huh?"

"Do the other guys know? 'Cause it seems to me that it'd be pretty awkward, sleeping with the ex-bass player."

"I'm.... How.... What happened? Tell me what the fuck happened."

The freak shrugged. His eyes danced, though. Kirk started forward with the idea of beating the smug glee off the other man's face, but when the other man pushed his hand into his jacket pocket, Kirk came to a quick stop. The freak probably had the stun gun in there. Knowing it was there--actually expecting it for a change--Kirk thought he could probably avoid being brought down by it again.

Probably.

Maybe.

Maybe next time. Desperate as he felt at moments, he afraid of that gun.

In fact, being laid out helpless on the floor had become his biggest nightmare. Often now he woke from fitful sleep to find he couldn't move. Only with great effort--it felt like he was trying to move through setting concrete--could he break the spell and sit up, panting, sweating, and scared to death. These nightmares weren't new; in years past, he'd woken on occasion with "sleep paralysis" and it hadn't worried him half so much. In fact, he'd understood it was a common phenomenon.

It just wasn't one he could handle after having the same feeling forced on him while he was wide awake.

"What happened with Jason?" he asked, pushing his fingers into the pockets of this pants.

"Eh. It wasn't much. He's been calling and I've been avoiding him--I hadn't figured out where I stood with him yet. Then flowers showed up with a mushy card. He doesn't understand why I'm avoiding him. He wishes I'd talk to him, break it off officially if that's what I have to do, blah blah blah. I won't talk to him, though. He'll have to find out we're through when these posters hit the media." He grinned. "It's funner that way. Hey. Maybe I should mention him during my press conference."

In a dull voice, Kirk said, "You're holding a press conference."

"Yep! Me and the founder of Straight to Heaven. Day after tomorrow. I tried to get it for tomorrow, but Sunday's a crap day for press conferences apparently. Unless you're the President. Hey, I'll tape it for you."

"Great."

As the door closed behind his look-alike, Kirk let out a relieved breath. Thank fuck he was leaving Jason alone. It sounded likely, though, that the others would find out about them. That was bad, but not as bad as the thought of this freak getting anywhere near Jay. He felt heartsick that Jay thought he was dissing him. He could imagine his face all too well as he got the answering machine yet again, or as he knocked on his front door and received no answer. Or worse, had the housekeeper tell him that Mr. Hammett wasn't in. Again. And flowers. Typical Jay. Though, admittedly, it had been a while since Jay had seen fit to send him some. It was nice to know he really did still care.

He spent the next who knew how many hours thinking about Jason and their relationship of late. He remembered when Jay had first left Metallica. That had been rough. But then he'd gotten the Echobrain thing really going and released the old IR8 and Sexturotica stuff, and then Voivod.... Of course, the whole time he'd had moments of doubt. And had never fucking voiced them to Kirk, not even in the early morning hours when the sex had been slow and good and the wine had loosened their tongues. Kirk only knew how he felt from the shit he read on the internet or heard on MTV. But aside from those moments, Jason had been happier than he'd been in years, and that had been a charge for their relationship. He'd been less attentive to Kirk, sure, but at the same time he'd been an excited puppy. It had rocked to see him start to come into his own.

Jason's self-doubt and second thoughts had gotten worse, however, as Metallica had gotten closer to finishing the latest album. Still he hadn't said anything to Kirk directly, but it had definitely strained their relationship. Suddenly Kirk was busy as fuck while, at the same time, the shine seemed to be wearing off the Voivod project. And then there was Rob. The nail in Jason's coffin. There was no way he was coming back to Metallica and Rob was the proof.

There'd been no way anyway. It was good for Jason to realize it.

Not so good for Jason to think that he'd left him in the dust, though. Fuck.

But at least Kirk now knew one thing; he knew it was a Saturday. He had his bearings again. Now the job was to keep them.

***

"Danny, don't go."

Danny stopped in the doorway. He'd just picked up the stainless steel food bowl and the piss pot--one empty, the other full. He lifted his eyebrows.

"Just give me a minute."

Danny looked like he was about to shake his head.

Quickly, Kirk said, "Half a minute!"

He rearranged the pot and bowl in his hands, which Kirk took as acquiescence and so plunged on:

"The only person I have to talk to is--" "That freak" was on the tip of his tongue. He pushed it back. "--well, you know. And it's pretty one-sided...all him. Sort of like when you and I talk, it's all me. Talk back to me, Danny." The notebook and pen lay on the carpet. He nudged them toward Danny's foot.

Danny shook his head.

"Please! I'm not asking for your life story or the blueprint to the house or anything. Just a little conversation."

Again Danny shook his head.

"I wouldn't tell. You know I wouldn't fucking tell."

Danny glanced over his shoulder.

"Please, Danny."

After pushing the empty bowl onto the pot, Danny hunkered down. He held his head as though he were still listening to the hallway, but he also took the pen and scribbled quickly on a clean page. Kirk, leaning forward, read the words as they were formed: "I can't stay."

Kirk sat back. It was okay. He had a back-up plan.

"Fine. Fine. Write me something while you're up there then. Write me a note. About fucking anything. I just need to hear somebody talk, you know?"

Danny was already standing, re-readjusting the pot and bowl.

"I'd owe you so much, Dan."

Nodding, Danny backed out and pulled the door closed.

Fuck.

When would he learn to ask for something useful?

No, this was useful, he reminded himself. Fresh clothes might be comfortable, but if was going to have any hope of getting out, comfort had to take a back seat to Danny Thibodeaux.

He just hoped Danny's nod had meant "Okay, I'll do it," and not just "See you later."

He found himself wondering just what he might write if he wrote anything at all--"How I Lost My Tongue by Daniel Thibodeaux"? Well, he had to admit he was more than idly curious about it.

He was more than idly curious about quite a few things when it came to Danny. He got up and paced the room, hoping to distract himself from a thought that kept trying to insinuate itself in his brain lately.

***

Danny noiselessly lifted the empty food bowl from where Kirk had set it beside the door and straightened. He'd been to Kirk's basement cell five times since Kirk had made his request that he write something. Five times and nothing but the usual food in, dirty dishes out, water in, piss out....

Kirk didn't even bother trying to engage him. Futility and frustration had settled on him like two massive weights. He could hardly be bothered to lift his eyes to watch Danny take his dirty dish away.

As the door closed, something dropped to the floor.

Kirk stared at it for several long seconds. He blinked. It must be nothing--a grocery list, a store receipt. Trash that slipped out of Danny's pocket, that was all. He was trying to brace himself against his hopes, which were rising out of control.

With his heart pounding, Kirk stretched himself across the floor and pulled the small wad of paper close. As soon as he had it in his fingers, he knew that it wasn't just some bit of paper Danny had stuck haphazardly into his pocket. It was a small triangle of folded paper, its end tucked inside one of the folds to hold it shut. Kirk remembered making these in junior high. They played table football with these in the lunch room.

The triangle felt heavy. As he pulled it open, he saw why. Four sheets of paper had been compressed into that puffy little triangle. He smoothed them out on his lap.

~~~

One night....

I'd gone looking for Jeremy when I shouldn't have been looking for him at all--I should have been WITH him, but I was seventeen and two days old that night and my friends, who I liked a lot more than I liked Jeremy that year, had gotten hold of a bottle of Southern Comfort. We were in Bridgeport--two hours from home--and feeling like men. I'd let Jeremy--and all thoughts of Jeremy--slip to the wayside as I drank and caused trouble and generally had a good ol' time.

Jeremy could take care of himself. He'd seen me take care of him all those years. He could fucking take care of himself for one night.

I remember it was raining. Dark. Taillights and streetlamps reflected off the black pavement like it was a big black mirror stretching through the city. A high-pitched keening that I thought might be a cat distracted me from my search. Curious, I followed the noise into an alley. That's where I found him.

In the dim light cast from a bulb at the back door of the club, he looked smaller than ever. Lost in his clothes, he was nothing but eyes and bones. I could see he had the makings of a shiner starting on his face and he couldn't tell me what the fuck had happened to him. He just kept making that cat sound and pulling himself deeper into his t-shirt. I tried to get him to walk, but he screamed when I made him try to stand.

But he wouldn't--or couldn't--tell me what was wrong, where it hurt, or who had done it to him.

People talk about sobering up when they're hit in the face by a crisis, but that didn't happen to me. Everything was confused. It started confused and it stayed confused. I kept forgetting things, losing track, stopping to get my head together. I may have had more than alcohol that night. Someone at the show had passed me a cigarette, even though I'd had some of my own...who knew what was in it.

To tell you the truth, I don't remember Metallica taking the stage that night. But then I wasn't there to see your band. I was there to get fucked up and feel like a big man with my friends.

I managed to gather Jeremy into my arms and carry him out to the street, where I had to figure out where the fuck I'd left the car. At least it had been my car we'd driven over in and not Roy's or Paulie's because I didn't know where Roy or Paulie had gotten off to.

Not one person I stumbled by as I carried Jeremy down the sidewalk came up to ask what was wrong. It angers me now, but at the time I had my head ducked and hoped they'd just go on ignoring us because I'd fucked up and fucking up was bad enough; I didn't need the world to know it, too.

I hadn't been looking after my half-brother like I was supposed to and look what'd happened.

I'd had no business even taking him out to that club that night. Sneaking him in. Finding him a corner and yelling over the music for him to stay put. I was supposed to have known better.

After walking the surrounding blocks for ten, fifteen minutes and not seeing my piece of shit gray Chevelle anywhere...or even anything that jogged my memory about where I'd parked it...I was ready to start crying myself. Instead, I stopped, hugged Jeremy closer, and told him everything was going to be all right. I'd walk to the hospital if I had to.

That's when I walked right into the car. I don't know how I got the back door open and got him inside--I remember him screaming again as I tried to get him to lie across the back seat--and I took off my jacket and laid it over his shoulders before running around to get behind the wheel.

I drove.

The windshield burst.

The world rushed in.

I woke up in the hospital.

Jeremy didn't have a scratch on him, not from the accident at least. Being stretched out across the back seat, nothing had hit him. He was thrown against the back of the front seats and dropped to the floor between the front and back seats, but nothing had hit him.

I didn't come out of it so lightly, but that was only fair. I'd let him down, hadn't I?

It's strange, isn't it, how one night when the three of us were each only thinking of ourselves we fucked so much up?

Do you really not remember what you did? Is that what saved you all these years?

~~~

***

Kirk had been in the basement room so long that his ears could pick up the noises of someone approaching well before the sound of metal scraping on the other side of the door came.

His gaze went to the back of the door now.

He sniffled and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. The skin there was raw from being rubbed. At first he'd found himself crying over Danny's story, but as that wave of feeling passed, he'd started pushing himself back to years he never thought about anymore. No one had linked him with Jeremy. No one had given any sort of proof at all. And yet.... Something flickered, finally. Just the smallest shadow of a memory. In an alley. In the rain. Behind a club. A cat crying.

What if he'd started all this?

The scrape of metal against metal came. His stomach told him it dinner time was near and that's what he expected to see come through the door: Danny with dinner. He had Danny's story in his lap still. The pages were damp and smudged. He'd smoothed them a hundred times, read them almost as many. He had things to say to Danny.

"It was brilliant!" Jeremy said as he bumped the door open with his hip. He backed in, pulling something with him.

Kirk sniffed and started to sit on the pages of Danny's story but stopped. What was the point of hiding it? Jeremy knew what had happened. Every knew better than he himself what exactly had happened.

He saw that what Jeremy was pulling was a rolling metal cart with a television on it. Kirk watched him get it through the door, up onto the carpet, and turned against against a wall. Its cord, and an extension cord attached at the end of that, ran out the door into the hall.

"Wait'll you--" Jeremy stopped, looking at Kirk for the first time. He had a remote control in his hand and Kirk now saw that the television had a built-in VCR.

The press conference. He'd forgotten all about it.

He couldn't manage to make himself give a shit.

Ignoring what Jeremy was obviously here for, he said, "I'm sorry."

"What?"

"I really don't remember it. I don't remember a lot of shit from...fuck. From anything from my twenties." He pushed the back of his head against the wall and closed his eyes. "God, I was fucked up. I never realized I wasn't just doing it to myself, though. I mean, I thought 'so I fucked myself up,' that was all right. That was my prerogative. And maybe from time to time I pissed someone off. Who gave a shit? Fuck." His voice cracked and he brought his hands to his face. The pages slid off his lap. "I'm so fucking sorry."

"What's that?" Jeremy asked.

"It's--" Kirk sniffed again, pushed his hair back. His face was wet again. He picked up the pages, pushed them together. "Danny told me what happened. I mean, he wrote it here. And it's all my fault, isn't it? If I'd hadn't been so fucked up, I wouldn't have touched you--believe me I wouldn't have--and then Jeremy wouldn't have had to drive you to the hospital and wouldn't have gotten in that accident and wouldn't have lost...." He realized he'd never said it out loud. He didn't think he could. It didn't feel right in his mouth. He wiped his eyes again. "I'm sorry."

"Did he say he lost his tongue in that accident?"

Kirk sniffled. "Didn't he?"

Jeremy shook his head.

Shuffling the papers with agitation, Kirk said, "I guess I just assumed.... I mean, it doesn't come right out and say.... I just.... It implied it, you know?"

Jeremy dropped to a crouch, the television remote still in his hand. He sought Kirk's eyes. And then he said, "His face got all fucked up in that accident, and the doctors put it back together. They did a great job--you can't tell, can you?"

Sniffling again, Kirk shook his head.

"No, you can't, unless you know what to look for." Jeremy came to his feet suddenly. "And he couldn't deal with that because he felt like he shouldn't have gotten off so easy. So after it all healed and no one could tell anything was wrong with him, he cut his tongue out with trauma shears. You ever seen those? They'll cut through a penny. Or, if you've got the determination for it, a muscle. And you can buy them all over the place. Five, seven bucks tops. There was blood everywhere. Everywhere everywhere." He whipped the remote at Kirk, who covered his head as he saw it coming. It bounced off his forearm, but still smarted. "It is your fault, but you should know the whole fucking story."

"You people are really fucked up," Kirk said through his arms.

Jeremy laughed. "Ready to watch the press conference?"

***

"Why didn't you tell me what really happened to your tongue?" Kirk asked when Danny showed with dinner.

Danny dropped the bowl on the floor and grabbed up Kirk's notebook. He slid the pen from the spiral binding and uncapped it. Before he began writing, though, he lifted his eyebrows at Kirk. A "you want to know?" gesture.

Then, after a hasty scrawl, he tossed the notebook at Kirk.

The page said, "My tongue isn't your business."

"Yeah, but you let me assume it happened in the accident."

Danny grabbed the notebook back. "Maybe you shouldn't go through life making assumptions."

"I hate you."

Kirk hadn't expected those words to slip out of his mouth, but it at least put how he felt into some sort of words. He'd grown attached to Danny. He'd thought--yes, he'd assumed--that he was something other than what he really was, simply because he hadn't acted like his lunatic half-brother, though now...now it was clear. Jeremy hadn't lifted Kirk rolled up into a carpet onto his slight shoulder. No, it would have taken someone bigger to manage that. And there he was. Right in front of him the whole time. Feeding him, keeping him locked up down here. Kirk felt his eyes were open now, finally. Danny was no different than Jeremy; just easier to stomach.

Danny stared him for a moment before turning back to the notebook. When he finished writing this time, he closed the cover, capped the pen, and set them both on the floor. And then he left the room, pulling the door firmly closed behind him.

Hugging himself, Kirk looked intently at the book. The cover had started out plain and the tan color of cardboard. Now it was covered with blue doodles of guitars and surfboards, suns, flocks of birds made out of scrawled double-u's, even carrot tops growing out of the ground.

Finally, Kirk reached for he cover. He flipped it open, then paged past Danny's names, more doodles, notes to himself, a letter to Jason, Danny's statement on assumptions...and finally he reached Danny's last words: "No, mostly you hate yourself."

***

Danny didn't come back to pick up the bowl that evening. Kirk hadn't eaten the food in it anyway. At some point during the night, he discovered a little appetite and picked at the dried edges of the can-shaped dog food. Two fingers worth were all he could manage, though, before he shoved the bowl back toward the door. Some days he was ravenous and the wet dog food palatable; the rest of the time, the taste--or the thought of the taste--made him sick to his stomach.

He rested his chin on his knees and wondered how he could have thought that a man who brought him dog food to eat every fucking day would ever be on his side.

As soon as the door opened in the morning, Kirk kicked the notebook toward it. It was open to a page on which he'd written a single sentence. He didn't feel like speaking to Danny anymore, not with his own voice. This, in fact, was the last thing he had to say, as far as he was concerned. He pulled himself into a corner and hugged himself while Danny crouched to pick up the notebook.

Danny stared at the page for a long stretch of seconds, his expression both unreadable and unchanging.

Finally, he tore the page from the notebook and crumpled it in his hand. Then he dropped the book, picked up the dirty bowl and left.

"Fuck you!" Kirk yelled at the closing door, his promise never to talk to the man broken that soon. He amended it to be "never to talk with him." Yelling at was acceptable.

After a few hours passed, he retrieved the notebook. It was the only thing he had. He brushed his fingers over the indents in the fresh page that had laid under the one he'd written on. He could still make out his words: "You're going to kill me."

He'd chewed on the end of his pen for a long time before finally committing those words to ink. He'd gone back and forth over whether he should make it a question instead. Or a plea to get it over with already. But the simple statement was what finally came out when he pressed pen to paper.

***

Danny came back an hour later, just as though everything were normal, except his schedule was off--he hadn't brought food the last time, merely retrieved the dirty bowl from the night before. This time, he still didn't bring food. He brought handcuffs.

"What's going on?" Kirk asked, backing toward the wall.

Danny held the back of his hand up and waved his fingers toward himself. Come here.

Kirk shook his head, pressed himself against the cinderblocks. He had his hands behind him, flat against the cool concrete.

Danny's shoulders dropped. He tilted his head. The signal was that he had a certain amount of patience, but don't push it.

"Just tell me what's going on," Kirk said. "That's the worst part, not knowing."

Holding up the handcuffs, Danny pointed to them. Then he pointed at Kirk. Then he shook the handcuffs a little.

"No shit. I figured that much out."

Danny pointed to the chain around Kirk's ankle. Then he reached in his back pocket and brought out a padlock key. He pointed the key at the chain and turned it.

"And then?"

He watched Danny point to the ceiling. Upstairs.

He cleared his throat. "Then what?"

Danny smiled.

Kirk didn't know what to read into it. He felt his armpits growing hot and damp despite the chilly room. He swallowed thickly. "What. What's gonna happen?"

Impatiently, Danny waved Kirk toward him again. When Kirk didn't move, he crossed the room in two strides and grabbed one of Kirk's arms just above the elbow.

"Please don't."

Danny pushed him around so that his chest was against the wall and held him there with his hip and knee as he closed one of the cuffs around Kirk's wrist.

"Danny.... Please. Tell me what's going to happen."

Danny caught his other wrist and pulled it behind him, secured it with the other cuff. Kirk laid his forehead against the wall and started to cry softly as Danny unlocked the padlock at his ankle.

As he shuffled, sniffling, toward the door, Danny's hand holding firmly but not uncomfortably onto his upper arm, it still felt like the chain had a hold of his leg. Even as he passed through the doorway, past where the chain would have reached, it still felt like it had him.

Everything beyond the doorway was new to him. And beyond the doorway was just a basement. Boxes and shelves and tools and a water heater. A furnace. A basement.

Danny nudged him up the wooden steps and into a kitchen where Kirk blinked in the sunlight for the first time in he wasn't sure how long. Then through the kitchen, into a living room and more sunlight, up another flight of wooden stairs, these ones completely different from the basement steps. Where the basement steps had been unfinished with no risers, this staircase was built solidly out of polished oak with a sweeping handrail supported by finely turned balusters.

Up the stairs and down a hall and into a bathroom.

Kirk stood in the middle of the small room and blinked. Everyone had a bathroom. He'd forgotten about bathrooms. The normalcy of it shocked him.

Danny yanked down his pants, then nudged him against a wall so that Kirk could lean for balance as he lifted his feet out of the pantlegs.

He averted his eyes from his underwear, embarrassed.

Danny merely shoved them behind him then stood. He took Kirk by the chin and led him to the toilet. The cover was down. A nudge told Kirk he was expected to sit there so he did.

He watched Danny open the medicine cabinet over the sink, watched the room swing by in the cabinet door's mirror.

Danny turned with a pair of shears in his hand.

Kirk pressed his lips together and rubbed his tongue against the roof of his mouth. He started to shake his head, almost without being aware of it. Don't...

His eyes closed with relief when Danny lifted a knotted clump of hair and began cutting away at it. He would rather not have had a hair cut, but consoled himself with the fact that hair, unlike tongues, grew back. His hair was beyond detangling anyhow. He peeked through his eyelashes and saw black puffs like birds' nests drop to the floor.

When Danny finished, he stood Kirk up and brushed at the hairs clinging to his neck and shoulders.

The image in the medicine cabinet mirror startled him. It was the face of a concentration camp survivor. One who hadn't shaved. He blinked and the mirror blinked. Neither of them could do more than blink.

Danny opened the cabinet below the sink. Kirk didn't bother to glance down at the now-familiar sound of metal chain links rattling against themselves. He felt the chain curl around his ankle--same ankle--and hardly noticed because it never felt like it had been gone. Then he felt Danny's fingers on the handcuffs. And then his hands were free.

The scissors were on the back of the toilet and Danny had his back to him, rummaging in the medicine cabinet again. He could.... He could.

Danny turned, holding out a toothbrush and toothpaste. When Kirk didn't move, he lifted Kirk's hand and placed the items in his palm. He then led him to the sink. Kirk blinked at the scruffy-chinned work camp prisoner in the mirror. Vaguely he felt the toothbrush and tube of toothpaste coming out of his hand. Water ran. A few seconds later, his fingers were pushed closed around the handle of the toothbrush.

His eyes broke away from the mirror. An aqua blob of toothpaste lay along the top of the toothbrush's bristles.

Danny put his hand on the back of Kirk's neck and rubbed a little there with his thumb. Then he pressed, just a bit. Saying it was okay. Saying go ahead.

Kirk opened his mouth and pushed the head of the toothbrush inside. He closed his eyes. And then he started brushing. As his arm moved, it felt like not a single day had passed since the last time he'd done this. The time in the basement slipped away, unreal.

He leaned over the sink and spat, then brushed some more.

Behind him, he heard the shower come on. He spat in the sink again and then, not seeing a glass nearby, stuck his head under the faucet to rinse. And drink. When he lifted his head and wiped his chin with the back of his hand, he saw in the mirror that behind him the shower had started to steam. Danny had his hand in the stream of water. He leaned down to adjust the temperature. Checked the water with his hand again.

"What's going on?" Kirk asked.

Danny stepped back, drawing the shower curtain back with him, gesturing toward the cascading water. The sound of it spattering on the bottom of the tub lulled Kirk.

He drew his shirt over his head and dropped it with his other clothes. The chain scraped against the bathroom's tiles as he moved toward the shower.

And then he was in. The water was warm...hot. But not too hot. His skin acclimated quickly. He reached down and adjusted the hot water knob. And then he straightened and stood under the stream, letting the water run over his head, down his face, the back of his neck.

After a few minutes, he felt something cold nudge him. A shampoo bottle. He took it and lathered what was left of his hair. Danny pushed conditioner at him next. Pointed to the bar of soap. Kirk washed his body three times, thoroughly. Every inch. And then he stood under the spray again, eyes closed, unmoving. He never wanted to leave.

Danny brushed his arm to get his attention. Slowly, he turned his head.

Danny made the "come on" sign with his hand, stepping back, brandishing a folded towel.

Kirk shook his head.

Like before, Danny's shoulders dropped and his head tipped to the side.

Kirk shook his head, huddled closer to the wall.

"Come on," Danny motioned with his hand again.

"No," Kirk said with his head.

Danny took a step forward.

Kirk backed toward the far end of the tub.

Catching the shower curtain in one hand, Danny peered around it at Kirk.

Now that he was no longer directly under the spray of hot water, Kirk started to feel a chill. He pressed closer to the back wall, though, and sucked in a sharp breath when his skin touched the cool ceramic tile.

Danny dropped the towel on the toilet lid before sweeping the curtain all the way back and stepping into the tub.

Kirk considered darting over the side, but then where? To the scissors? That thought came to his mind too late. Danny's hands were on him, on his face, his ears, and then his mouth was on him, too and the tile wall against his back was warming from the heat it had stolen from his skin and didn't feel so bad now, especially with Danny's body pressing against him.

He'd wondered--he had wondered--what it would be like to kiss Danny. Not since Jeremy told him what Danny had done, but before that. Yes, he'd wondered. Wondered and wondered. What else had there been to do down there?

Danny opened his mouth and Kirk, wanting to know, pushed his tongue inside.

Danny pressed closer. One of his hands slipped between them and caught Kirk's cock briefly before moving to the fly on his own jeans, releasing his own hard cock.

When the bathroom door swung open, its edge knocked against the side of the bathtub.

Kirk pulled back so quickly that he banged his head on the tile. The jolt reverberated forward to his temples. He pushed a trembling hand against his forehead. Danny hadn't pulled away, though. His body, hot and moist from the steam, soaked in the back from the shower spray, still held him against the wall.

Jeremy shook his head. "I thought that's what it was all about. I knew something was behind your big play to readjust the plan and I had a feeling it had something to do with this."

Danny's hand came up and cupped the side of Kirk's face, protecting him it felt like, though Danny's muscles hadn't tensed and he in no other way seemed anxious or upset.

Jeremy, his head still shaking, stepped toward the front of the tub and turned off the faucets. He picked up the towel Danny had dropped, grabbed another off the shelf over the toilet.

"I'm surrounded by fags." He threw the towels at them. Danny caught them both, pressed one against Kirk's hand. Kirk took it, not planning on doing anything more than hold it, but then Danny stepped away and let the cold in. Shivering, Kirk rubbed the towel over his wet skin.

"Whatever. You just remember you owe him," he said, pointing his finger at Kirk. "You owe him for this."

Was he going free? It seemed too simple.... He was still at the end of a chain that ran up over the side of the tub, crawled along the floor, and curled itself around the plumbing under the sink. His eyes darted to the scissors on the toilet tank.

"I'm going along with his plan," Jeremy said, "for two reasons and two reasons only. One, Danny brought up a good point about what's my life gonna be like walking around wearing your face after you've committed suicide. Two, the alternate plan he came up with for you is even better than seeing you dead."

Kirk shuddered, chilled in a way that a towel, warm clothes, or a month in the sun couldn't begin to affect.

"He ready?" Jeremy asked.

Kirk's eyes darted from Danny--who was nodding--to the scissors on the back of the toilet, down to the chain around his ankle, and back to Jeremy.

Danny stepped over the side of the tub onto the floor.

"He's not here yet," Jeremy said.

Kirk's eyes followed Danny's hand as he picked up the scissors and returned them to the medicine cabinet. Then Danny turned, grabbing a fresh towel off the shelf and shaking it open, holding it open wide for Kirk to step into.

Shivering, Kirk shook his head.

"Don't fuck this up," Jeremy said to Danny, craning his head toward the open doorway as though listening for something in the distance--the sound of tires pulling up or a car door closing perhaps.

Danny shook his head in answer to Jeremy. To Kirk, he motioned with the towel. Come on.

"He's here," Jeremy said. "Get him into the back room."

***

Once, while Kirk was lying on the big bed in the back room during the months of long recovery after his first reluctant (strapped down, drugged, and yelling) meeting with The Doctor, Danny had asked him what he to be called. Kirk had had no answer.

Now he dreamed a dream he'd had before. In it, he walked down the driveway along the back of HQ and came upon James, who was crouching by the graffiti wall, working on something with his hands. James, sensing his presence, looked up. His eyes were inquisitive but there was no light in them. He wiped his cheek with the back of his hand, smearing dirt into sweat. "Help you with something?" Slowly Kirk shook his head. With a shrug, James turned back to his project.

With a deep breath, Kirk pulled himself awake in the blue chair by the window. The morning sun, like a lazy cat, warmed his lap. With one hand, he lifted his other--it had slipped while he'd slept--and resettled it on his thigh. He turned the hand palm down and smoothed the fingers. Then his thumb slipped underneath the wrist to feel the scar where they'd cut the tendon.

He heard Jeremy's bouncing steps coming down the hall. Pulling himself straighter in the chair, he waited, his face a mask.

"More papers to sign!" Jeremy sounded almost as though he was skipping through the doorway.

Kirk didn't turn. From the rustle of paper he knew Jeremy was brandishing the pages.

"Delivered by courier, though. Courier. It's all very arms-length with the Metallica machine these days. Fuckers."

There was a pause. Kirk imagined Jeremy behind him, head bowed, eyes scanning the most recent paperwork. It had taken two years to tie up the loose ends when Jason had left. He wondered if the lawyers had boilerplated most of that paperwork or if Jeremy's divorce from the band would take just as long regardless.

"They won't return my calls, James and Lars," Jeremy said.

Kirk started to clear his throat to ask why he'd want to call them in the first place, but the sun streaming through the window and the cloudless sky beyond lulled the question out of him.

"Jason did, though." There was a grin in Jeremy's voice. "So I won't make the mistake of calling him again. He thought I was coming to my senses. I thought he was going to run over to your--uh, my place, and have his way with me over the hood of the Land Rover."

A seagull rose and circled above the bay.

"You'd think the others would call, though. I mean, we've been friends for how fucking long? So I want to do something different with my life. That has to be the end of everything? Fuck 'em. They've had shit luck replacing me on the tour, you know, and it serves them right. Tech after tech while they scramble to get a big name guest to fill in. But you know what? It's summer and everyone's got a fucking gig already." A laugh. "Yeah, fuck 'em."

And then: "They cancelled plans for a fall tour."

Kirk rubbed the scar on the underside of his wrist. The doctor said he'd never play again. But if he could get a guitar.... People beat "never" all the time. If he could just get a guitar.

He'd never get a guitar.

What would he do with it if he did? Show up at Lars's doorstep? "Hey, it's me. I'm back. You wouldn't believe what happened...."

"Fuckers," Jeremy said, flipping through the pages of the latest contract. "Just like that, they turn cold as shit on me. You know, it's not over yet."

Kirk cleared his throat. And then, in the whisper that had become his voice after the doctor had opened up his voice box and scraped it clean, he said, "They never did anything to you."

More page flipping. And then, "Nope. But you can never just affect one person's life, can you? Ripples on a pond...."

Danny's footsteps entered the room. Kirk had been listening to these two for so long--listening without looking because if he didn't look, no one would look back--he could hear Danny nod to Jeremy on his way by.

It was only when Danny entered his peripheral vision, standing by the arm of his chair, that Kirk finally turned his head. The room was dark after all the sunlight. He blinked, the skin around his eyes tight like it had shrunk in the sun. His face was a mask. The Doctor had said full sensation would come back--maybe as much as a year later--and that his muscles wouldn't feel like high-tension cables forever, but for now his face was a mask.

Danny lifted his hand to show Kirk he had his blue cardigan. Then he raised his eyebrows: are you ready? With his good hand, Kirk pushed up from the chair. Standing, he could see the bay now, not just the seagulls circling the sky above it. He let Danny settle the sweater over his shoulders. It was nearly August, but the chill of the basement still clung to his bones so that he needed to bundle up when he wasn't sitting directly in the sunlight.

"You can't just leave Jeremy. You have to look after him, don't you?" Kirk had written on the yellow legal pad once, back when the surgery to his vocal chords was too fresh to allow him to speak at all. Back when Danny had told him of the dark, violent ocean and the rocks and the big house on the cliff that he was taking him to.

Sitting beside him on that big bed full of pillows that day, the same bed that stood in the room with them now, Danny had shaken his head. He'd had Kirk's fingers in one of his big hands and he covered them with his other hand, warming them like the sun.

A tap on his shoulder made him break his gaze from the bay. Danny's eyebrows went up again. Asking again if he was ready. Kirk turned back to the window.

You can see the ocean from any window at the back of the house. You can sit on the balcony in the sun and watch the ocean. And when a storm comes, the ocean rises angrily. There. In the big house in Massachusetts.

We're going home.

Jeremy's all right now.

Maybe it was the pain medication they'd put him on, or maybe he was crazy, or maybe Danny really had put those words right in his head during those endless days of sitting in bed, propped against the mound of pillows, weeping, wondering if death wouldn't have been better. Maybe he'd put them right inside his head instead of on the legal pad.

Another touch at his shoulder.

Someone has to look out for you now.

Kirk cleared his throat. He had to clear it every time he started to speak now. He didn't know if it was because of the scars on his voice box or just because he hardly bothered with speaking anymore. What was there to say? I hate you don't leave me?

He felt Danny's attention on him. He knew that if he looked over he would find Danny leaning slightly forward, brow wrinkled, waiting to hear him speak.

"Ang Patay," Kirk rasped finally.

The fingers on his shoulder gripped gently, asking a question.

A horn sounded. The taxi. The hearse that would take him to the metal coffin that would fly him to his living tomb on the cliff of the angry ocean far away.

"Don't fuck this up," Jeremy said to Danny. Kirk read the crackle of tension in Danny's silent response.

They'd traded, that's all, him and Jeremy. They'd just traded. That's why Danny didn't need to look after him anymore. He wasn't him, and Kirk wasn't Kirk, and Jeremy would go on being Kirk, poster child for Straight to Heaven, and Kirk would go on not being anyone anymore.

Another gentle pressure on his shoulder. Not "Are you ready?" now but "It's time."

Kirk cleared his throat one more time, his eyes trained on the bay, memorizing it. He'd decided, for what it was worth, and he'd leave the house with that decision. "What you can call me," he said. "It's Ang Patay." And then he pulled his gaze from the bay for the final time.

"Ang Patay," he said again, turning toward the door, Danny's warm hand guiding him, then stopping him suddenly as though he realized what Kirk was saying with his new name. He hugged him close in one big arm and pressed his lips against his head.

It'll be all right. You'll see. The two of us. We'll be all right.

Ang Patay, Kirk replied. The two of us.