Infected Flashback Fic – Love Like Blood

For my birthday, I thought I’d treat myself to a little Roan fiction. Namely, teen Roan sneaking out to a punk concert, where something monumental happens. This is a little longer than I intended, because it’s been fun being back in Roan’s mindset. Yes, he can be wrong, but you can never underestimate how ballsy he is, even as a kid. Some people are just born warriors, and Roan’s one of them. Enjoy. And sorry for the length.

**

Love Like Blood

Roan wondered how long he had before he was caught.

The thing was, when you were in a temporary crisis home, like he was, curfews were strict. You could work for some privileges, but there were none that were going to allow him to sneak out to a punk show in Seattle that he was too young to attend. He was sixteen, for fuck’s sake. Did they really think he was going to get blasted on warm beer and spend the rest of his night throwing up in a gutter? They didn’t know him at all. Besides, wasn’t he supposed to be dead? They’d been telling him he was about to die since he could form memories. They could at least let him have some fun while he was still alive.

He found out about the concert a couple weeks ago, namely from a cheap flyer stapled to a telephone pole. One of many layered like scales, but something about it caught his eye. Maybe it was the emphatic “Nazi punks fuck off!!!!” in the top corner. Roan knew none of the handful of listed bands, but he didn’t care either. The joy of going to concerts like this was to find new bands.

He hadn’t been in this crisis center home long, just a couple of days. Long enough for the resident councilors to stop treating him with kid gloves, and for the rest of the kids to realize trying to give him the widest berth possible was kind of impossible in their current setting. Roan was between homes yet again, and didn’t want to spend more time in the hospital, although he was pretty sure that was where the state wanted to put him. But why? He wasn’t sick, he wasn’t due to change for another twenty odd days, and his bruises had healed from his last unpleasant home experience. Of course, being sixteen, Roan knew he was already pretty much aged out of the system. They didn’t kick you out on your ass until you were eighteen, but how many couples wanted to foster sixteen year olds? And adding chronic illness into the mix made it worse. The fact that it was infection with the cat virus, or whatever the fuck they were calling it this week, made it that much worse. He was this century’s version of a leper, sans bell around his neck. He was still willing to chant “unclean”, just to be difficult.

The staff thought Roan was a “good kid”, because he did his assigned chores and spent most of the rest of the day in the “library”, quietly reading. They thought he was studious or something, overlooking the fact that reading was how he escaped being in a fucking crisis home, where troubled foster kids and other juveniles were filtered in and out, while he waited in the background, the diseased present no one wanted.

While the rest of the kids and the current adult wardens were watching TV, he was back in the boy’s bedroom, reading, and secretly preparing to sneak out after light’s out. The other boys wouldn’t rat on him, because prison rules were pretty much in place here – nobody liked a snitch – and the guys kind of wanted him out of here anyway, as he was infected, and on top of that offense, Roan refused to pretend he wasn’t gay. Why the fuck should he pretend to be straight? To get along with guys that hated him already? Fuck them. Fuck every single motherfucking one of them. If they were going to hate him for being infected and sharing their rarefied air, then they were going to hate him for who he was as well. Their discomfort and disgust emboldened him in a truly liberating way.

Roan had prepared for this. A bus stop was five blocks away, and if he timed it right, he’d be able to catch a late bus into Seattle. From there he’d have to hoof it, and he’d probably get into the show once it was underway, but there were six bands. This thing was going late.

Roan knew he would be caught. Most kids who snuck out of crisis homes were recovered by cops without much trouble, and were brought back If not that night, then the next day. Roan expected to be caught eventually, but a night out with some punk music and an atmosphere where no one knew him or cared about his disease sounded like heaven.

Although the window in the boy’s room was locked – all the windows were locked – but if you knew how to monkey with them, you could get the windows open. And Roan had been in these places enough to open all the locks.

He wished he had some good rock show clothes, but he really didn’t, save for this leather jacket he stole from the asshole kid who lived at the foster home before. It wasn’t much of a theft, as he didn’t want it after Roan’s tainted blood got on it. What did he think was going to happen when he punched him in the face? Still, it got Roan a pretty awesome jacket, so he wasn’t going to complain. Most of the time he got punched in the face and didn’t get anything for it, save a whole bunch of resentment.

He made the bus with maybe a minute to spare, and it was surprisingly busy, but he’d learned quickly that most buses in Seattle were crowded, no matter the time or route. As such, there were a lot of people who could testify to a redheaded kid getting on this bus, but fuck it. He was never going to cover up his most visible features without drawing more attention to himself, so he didn’t bother trying to hide. He figured the cops weren’t going to raid a punk show to find a runaway kid, even if they knew he’d gone there, which was a colossal if. He hadn’t even told the boys back at the house exactly where he was going. While snitching was discouraged in the room, when you were gone, you were fair game.

Roan had never been to this club, called The Armory, which was probably new. It was in a sketchy part of town several blocks down from the bookstore, but Roan wasn’t worried about his safety. He never really was. He was supposed to be dead already, and his body was a toxic waste dump – if anyone tried to go after him, they were welcome to give it a shot. Everyone else had. Why not them too?

Roan walked six blocks, constantly checking street signs, and starting to worry he was lost, when the scent of human piss just slammed him between the eyes. He had to stop for a moment and breathe out the nausea before continuing. That was one of the weird effects of his born infected status. Apparently he could smell, like, a ton of things other people didn’t smell. He could tell from their baffled looks that they couldn’t tell what everyone had for breakfast, what type of deodorant and conditioner they were using, what detergent and softener they used, whether they washed their hands or not after going to the bathroom. The doctors always seemed astounded, and liked Roan to start reciting these things as a kind of parlor trick. Because they treated it as such a novelty, he hadn’t bothered to tell them he could usually smell when people were lying to him, or when they were quietly aiming aggression at him, because even if they believed him, they’d probably treat it as a joke. The amazing freaky cat boy who could smell everything about you. Luckily, this type of freakishness wasn’t showy enough for a sideshow, although that would have been a pretty cushy job.

Eventually he found the club, which was at the end of the block of run down bars and storefronts. There was no bouncer or anyone out front. All you could hear was the aggressive thud of distant music, and once inside, you traveled down a narrow, purple painted corridor, the music getting louder, and the scent of many people crushed together filling his nostrils, until he came out into a sort of anteroom. There was a large folding card table, and a burly guy with a nose ring and a cash box sitting behind it..

Roan handed over the seven dollar cover, whim suspiciously. “You eighteen?” he shouted. It was barely audible over the din.

Roan nodded, hoping his poker face sangfroid was enough to fool this guy, or at least make him not care. Ultimately, he must have not been paid enough to give a shit, because he threw the money in the cash box with a shrug, and stamped the back of his hand with the neon purple X they were using tonight. From there, Roan wandered down an unfinished hallway, with a lot of safety code defying loose lumber and empty paint cans haphazardly stored behind a fallen old door, until he came out into the main room, where a cacophony of noise and smells alike hit him like a punch in the chest. But he’d been expecting it, and this time, it was welcome.

There were maybe eighty or ninety people, and they filled up most of the space that wasn’t taken up by the tiny riser of the stage, or the back wall of fold out tables with coolers and hand made signs, telling you the prices for beer, pop, and bits of band merchandise. This was all much more DIY than he expected, and he loved it.

Yeah, it didn’t smell great, and the the band playing currently sounded more like a wall of industrial noise than anything musical, but who cared? It was great.

There was space in front of the tiny stage if you wanted to thrash or slam, and old wooden benches towards the back if you just wanted to sit. There was a small group slamming, but he didn’t feel it, and was tired from walking, so he took a seat on one of the first benches.

He’d been there for maybe ten minutes, trying to catch his breath and figure out what the lead singer was screaming, when a guy sat on the bench an arm’s length away. Roan quickly clocked him out of the corner of his eye, just to make sure he wasn’t some asshole looking for trouble, but he seemed to be simply another person looking to catch his breath.

When the band took a break, he slid down closer, and said quietly, “You’re not eighteen, are you?”

Roan wondered if he was disguised security. He looked like a slightly chunky young guy in torn jeans and a Millions of Dead Cops t-shirt. He looked young, but Roan knew looks could be deceiving. “Sure I am. You?”

He grinned, and it was surprisingly sweet. “Fuck no. My sister and her boyfriend helped me sneak in here. Name’s Jesus.”

“Roan.” He still didn’t confirm his age, but he didn’t smell that Jesus was lying. “Cool shirt.”

He looked down, as if he’d forgotten what he was wearing. “Oh yeah. Saw them in San Franciso, when we living down in California. They were fucking awesome.”

They chatted a bit, as they had time as the other band seemed to need time to set up – they were their own roadies, apparently, which, again, was awesome DIY – and Jesus complimented him on his hair color, obviously thinking – like most people – that he had dyed his hair this color. He let people think that now, because when he told them he was born with it this shade, no one ever seemed to believe him. He was often attempted to pull down his pants and prove it, but that seemed counter-productive.

Roan had never heard of the band that was next up, but they were pretty good, and had a female singer who would sometimes sing as well as scream. He decided to go up and thrash, and Jesus followed. They ended up slamming into each other a couple of times, laughing and shoving each other half-heartedly, as this wasn’t the real violent stuff. It was just an outlet, a way to burn off energy. Also, for Roan – and holy fuck, was this sad – but it was a way to have some kind of physical contact with someone, because other than the occasional punch, people had a tendency to avoid him like the plague.

If they were at all logical, they’d know they couldn’t get infected by contact, by sweat or saliva, and even him bleeding was a limited vector. You had to have a cut or an open wound of some sort, or you had to be openly sucking his blood like a vampire. It was fucking ridiculous.

By the time he and Jesus collapsed back on the bench, they were good friends. But by getting in the pit, Roan had worked up a good sweat, and slipped his cool jacket off, tying the arms around his waist so he wouldn’t lose it. While he was doing that, Jesus slipped off to the refreshment table, and slipped back with a bottle of beer.

He popped off the lid and had a healthy swallow, and then held the bottle out to Roan. Roan almost took it, he was thirsty enough to tolerate beer, but he felt he had to come clean. Jesus noticed him looking around, and asked, “You straight edge?”

“No. Umm … I’m infected. I don’t know if you wanna share a drink with me.”

Jesus had to think about that a moment. “That cat thing? Can you get that by sharing a bottle?”

“No.”

“Then fuck, man, have a drink. I don’t care.”

Roan did a quick inventory, to make sure he hadn’t gotten a cut lip in the pit – he hadn’t – before he took the beer and had a swallow. Beer always tasted terrible to him – did it taste bad to others too, or was this some random result of being infected, like his super smelling – but it was cold and had water in it, so he was grateful for it.

After recovering a bit, they got in the pit for the third band, but didn’t stay long, as it was later, and people were drunker. That usually led some people to getting a lot more serious about slamming, to the point of definite injury.

In the break between band three and four, Jesus finally asked, “How’d you get infected? You seem young for it.”

“I was born that way.”

The black slashes of his eyebrows rose in surprise. “I thought every kid born with the disease was …”

“Deformed? Doomed to an early death? Yeah, usually they are. I’m “lucky”.” Roan made the air quotes, even though it made him want to punch himself.

Jesus gave him a small smile. It was warm, and while he wasn’t exactly a knock out, he was a good guy. It seemed to radiate out of him, like a faint scent of Right Guard deodorant just beginning to fail. “C’mon, man, you are lucky. Even though I bet you get a lotta shit.”

Roan snorted. “I’m a bully all you can beat buffet.”

Jesus chuckled. The small tooth by his bottom left eyetooth was slightly crooked. It was kind of endearing. “You’re funny. Did that ever help?”

“What, my comedy keeping them from beating them up? Sometimes.” The rest of the time, the fact that his blood was toxic and seemingly scared the shit out of them did it. The fact that they were scared of his blood and yet still tried to hit him showed that, no matter the grades you were making, you could be rock stupid.

Roan realized, when he got up to find the bathroom and take a piss, that he was a little lightheaded. He’d only had a couple drinks of Jesus’s beer, but he remembered he’d eaten very light at dinner, as he expected to get in the pit, and you never knew how violent it was going to get. So by the time he got back from the bathroom – which was down another narrow hallway of unfinished wood, suggesting that was the dominant design motif at the club – he used some of his last cash to buy a soda, which he split with Jesus as well. The sugar and caffeine seemed to level Roan out, and he was also happy for the extra fluid. The fourth band was interesting, as they were three guys and a girl, but they all dressed like female punk rock sexpots, with the lead singer sporting a glamorous wig that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a drag queen, and he’d smeared lipstick on his face in a way that made his mouth look like a bloody wound. The singer had also torn his skirt up until you could basically see he was wearing black satin underwear every time he moved. So they were like the New York Dolls, but trashier, and their music had more of a Black Flag vibe. Not bad. he and Jesus had a bit of a thrash to them too.

Jesus went to talk to his sister between bands four and five, and Roan saw she was the petite olive skinned woman who’d molded her hair into a set of impressive spikes Her boyfriend was the one wearing plaid who looked out of place, or like a narc, depending on how you looked at it. He didn’t understand hetero relationships exactly, but he found it easy to guess the boyfriend was humoring her and her little brother.

The fifth band was the headliner. Roan had never heard of them, but they weren’t bad. Not as good as the female led band or the Flag Dolls – or whatever the cross dressing band were called – but serviceable. Good for a last go round in the pit. Afterward, he and Jesus leaned against each other like tired soldiers.

It was a good thing the concert was wrapping up, as it was late, and the amount of body heat being shed was proving how poor the ventilation was in here. It was warm, and it smelled kind of bad, at least to Roan’s nose. That might not have been enough for everyone else. He still wasn’t sure where he and “normal” humans departed on the olfactory scale.

Some of the bands hung around after the show, to meet fans and try and move some merch, which was probably the only way they were going to get any actual money out of this gig. The gate probably couldn’t have brought in much.

Roan would have liked to have bought something, but he really didn’t have enough money left. He never had much. Being a foster kid, especially one without a home, pretty much meant making do with nothing most of the time.

He’d wandered back to the small bathroom for a final piss, and some attempt to appreciate the club’s unfinished architecture aesthetic. But was it really an artistic choice, or did they have no choice but to open the club in this condition because their contractor bailed on them? He’d probably never know.

Most of the crowd had thinned out, and Roan wasn’t sure why he was loitering at the hot, smelly club, except he was in no hurry to return to the crisis center. It wasn’t that it was bad; it was much nicer than his past two houses. But he hated always feeling like an inmate, convicted of the crime of existing when most people would rather he didn’t. Most of the time he wished he didn’t too, but he was here, and they were all going to have to deal with it as best they could.

“Hey, I was hoping you weren’t gone,” Jesus said, approaching him in the narrow, unfinished corridor.

Roan shrugged. “I’m not in any hurry to go.”

“You need a lift home? Jack brought his Jeep, so we have room.”

“No, it’s okay, I’m just going up the street to the all night diner, to wait for the cops to pick me up.”

His eyebrows rose again. “You’re wanted?”

“Not for a crime. I ran away from a crisis home to come here.”

“A crisis home?”

“Yeah, it’s … I’m a foster kid between families at the moment.”

Jesus looked genuinely. “Oh. Oh dude, that sucks. I’m sorry.”

Roan shrugged. “Everybody’s gotta eat a shit sandwich sometime. I’m just getting mine out of the way early.”

He chuckled again. “Man, you should be a comedian.”

“I’m considering it.”

Jesus had a black t-shirt over his shoulder, and he quickly draped it on Roan’s shoulder. “Here. Have a souvenir.”

“Didn’t you just buy it? I can’t take it.”

“Yes you can. My sister and I will share her shirt.” Roan stared at him in disbelief. “I know how it sounds, but her boobs are generally too big for women’s shirts, so she always buys in men’s sixes. It’ll work.”

“I mean, it’s kind of -“

“Fuck kind,” Jesus interrupted. “I met you, I like you, and I think someone should give you a shirt for eating all those shit sandwiches. So accept it and don’t be an asshole about it.”

Roan grimaced, trying not to smile, and show how much this touched him. Because it did. When was the last time someone gave him a gift out of something other than grudging responsibility? “Thanks.”

Jesus nodded. “Better. I’ll probably be in town for a couple other punk shows. Maybe I’ll see you there?”

Jesus and his sister had come up from Kent, which Jesus had described as a “boring hellhole”, and fell in line with everything Roan had heard about Kent. “Maybe. Nice meeting you, Jesus.”

“Nice meeting you too, Roan.” Jesus nodded and turned away, but only got a few steps away before he stopped and sighed. “Oh, fuck it.”

Roan was about to ask him what as he turned around and came back, but he never got a chance to, as Jesus grabbed him by the face and kissed him.

Roan was shocked on one level, but on another, he was glad his suspicion that there was some chemistry between them was on point. Also, it occurred to him with a shock that this was his first kiss. He’d never kissed a boy before. This was it.

Roan was kind of self-conscious, as he really didn’t know what to do, but also he kind of didn’t care about that. It was awkward and weird and terrible and wonderful all at the same time. He dug his hands into Jesus’s sweaty hair, and kissed him back as Jesus pressed him against the wall, and Roan discovered he liked the pressure. It was like being in the pit again, but a million times better.

“Hey Seuss, move your ass!” A woman called, and they broke the kiss. She wasn’t in the hallway, so it must have been his sister simply shouting from another room. Her cadence suggested she did that a lot.

Jesus stepped back and wiped his hand over his mouth, panting to catch his breath. Roan had really messed up his hair, which stuck out at all angles, like an obsidian sea anemone. “I hope that wasn’t too forward. I just -“

“No, I was into it,” Roan said, adjusting his jeans.

Jesus checked his pockets, and finally came out with a pen. He grabbed Roan’s hand, and wrote on his palm. “You ever get a chance, call me. Maybe we can go to a concert together sometime.”

“Sure, great,” Roan said, not sure if he’d even be in King County next week. But he always managed to come back.

As soon as Jesus had finished writing his phone number on his palm, he flashed him that warm, crooked smile again, and said, “Til next time, Roan.”

“Til next time,” Roan repeated, trying not to smile, but feeling himself smiling so hard his cheeks hurt.

As soon as Jesus was gone, Roan sagged against the wall, still smiling, his stomach doing belated nervous flips. Did he kiss okay? He wished he could have asked him. But that’s what the phone number was for, right? Roan felt a bit light headed again, but this time, he was sure it wasn’t the beer.

Roan left the club, and walked down to the diner, feeling like the night was somehow prettier than it had ever been. When the cops finally showed up to get him, Roan was still staring at his palm. But he never told anyone why.

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