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01.

Coming back to life hurts like a bitch. 

Carlos may not know a lot of things (this is a lie. He knows many things, most of them obscure and irrelevant to everyday life on the Isle of the Lost), but he knows that one for sure. It always hurts. The magic keeping the Isle running isn’t meant to be kind to them. It’s meant to keep them inside and alive, and any other side effects are more accidental than anything. 

So. Yeah. Coming back to life hurts like a bitch. 

“Ugh,” Carlos says, mostly to himself, but partly to make sure his vocal chords are still working. “Ow.” 

The words come out fine, just painful. There’s lines of fire tracing their way through his body right now, following what he’s pretty sure are the major nerve channels. There’s a burning feeling in the back of his throat, dry and sticky-hot like when he hasn’t had fresh water in days, but it could be worse. He’s got all limbs attached, which is a good thing. There’s kind of a lot of blood in the car, which is gonna be a bad thing later, but right now it’s fine because blood in the car is blood that’s not outside, signaling to anyone around that he’s vulnerable. Just gotta hope that it’s not in the floorboards yet. Cleaning them is awful, especially on recently re-animated hands and knees. 

There’s an uncomfortable breeze blowing over his neck. The skin there feels raw and sensitive, which probably means he got his throat slit again. It’s not the worst way to go. Usually heals clean and doesn’t take too long for the magic to kick in because it’s a quick death. One of the better ways to go out, all things considered. 

The breeze is actually the bigger concern. The car isn’t supposed to have a breeze, so Carlos sits up, levering his body by shoving his forearms between the seats of his mother’s car and pulling with every burning muscle in his arms and core. Fine motor control comes back last, and his hands don’t quite work yet.  Sitting up is making him so much more horribly aware of the way that his muscles are burning, but that’s not out of the ordinary, so the pain can get filed away for later. Something about the process of dying sends his body into shock, and the muscle aches are part and parcel of the whole thing. They’ll fade with time, and maybe when he’s home again he can sneak into the bathroom and try to get a little of the hot water to soak them away in. It’s a nice dream, so he’s going to cling to it for now. 

Okay. Body hurts. Neck feels weird and fragile and recently healed, so his method of death is probably covered. The car’s seats are stained pretty badly, but knowing his mother, she might take the whole thing in stride as a new sort of murder-chic decor, so it could be worse. If not, they were about due for a reupholster anyway. The bigger problem is who fucked up the car, and what else they did to it. If somebody other than him pulled it apart there’s going to be more trouble, and only the gods will be able to help him if the keys have been stolen. Hot-wiring the car wouldn’t be too much trouble, but a fanatically paranoid mother plus a stolen set of keys equals a quick route to another death if he can’t find them and figure out a way to prove her precious baby won’t be stolen overnight, and quickly. 

The keys had been in the engine. 

The keys…are on the floor. 

Carlos sits up fully, so quickly that his neck throbs. The keys are still in the car. He might not die again today. 

And just as quickly, he realizes that nope, he’s definitely screwed. The keys might be in the car, but that troublesome breeze is coming in through the front window. What’s left of it, that is. 

The glass is completely shattered. The chunks are scattered over the front seats, the little cubes of safety glass sparkling from the dusty spaces between the seats, on the seats themselves, spread over the dashboard, stuck between the different knobs and instruments that are constantly flashing whenever the car is on because they never get enough new-ish pieces over from Auradon to actually fix the damn thing completely. 

Carlos brushes his hand over a few of the chunks, scattering them off the seat and down to the floor. Yeah, he’s not surviving this one. It’s bad. There’s some larger shards mixed in the mess too, sharp chunks that are stuck to the seats and aren’t going to come out with just a quick sweep. Pieces that he’ll have to pick out by hand, and are probably going to leave glass splinters behind to cause trouble later. It’s going to be a nightmare to fix, and that’s not even counting the cost of replacing the front window. Carlos was supposed to be watching the car. He’s going to be held responsible for the damages. 

It’s painful, but not too difficult to scrabble out of the car. He’s only bleeding a little bit right now. If he can find a broom, he can start cleaning right away. Cruella is going to be furious, but maybe, if he can clean all of the broken pieces of glass before she comes out of the spa, the universe will finally take pity on him. Maybe she’ll be too drunk to realize what’s happened, or she’ll be so impressed by the brilliantly red bloodstains in her backseat that she’ll forget to punish him for staining the car in the first place. Or maybe she’ll be inside the spa for so long that the mud bath will swallow her up like the gates of hell and she’ll never be seen again. 

Or maybe the universe will finally take some pity on him and it’ll be another quick death this time. That would be nice too. 



02.

“I don’t think stealing a car is the best idea, man,” Carlos says doubtfully, trotting along behind Jay, arms full of the junk they’ve been collecting. “There’s not like, a lot to choose from out here. Are we stealing from the Commander?” 

Jay’s moving fast. “What Rourke? Nah. I’ve got a better idea. You scared to find out who it is?” 

“No,” Carlos says immediately. He’s not scared. .It’s just that he has some sort of self-preservation instinct, and his gang doesn’t seem to have any at all. Not that it makes a difference, because they don’t have many other choices. He needs the parts, and there’s nowhere else to get them, and even if he is scared, or if Jay were a little bit less careless about getting hurt,  they don’t have another option. “Just. Not really looking to get my head kicked in today, which is what will happen if I get caught with my hands in anyone else’s vehicle.” 

Jay glances back at him. “Sounds like you’re scared,” he says, grinning. He looks cool. Like, Auradon-shiny magazine ad levels of cool and confident and shit.  Like he’s having a great time, and not dragging Carlos after him through the market while he talks out loud about the stupidest fucking idea that they’ve ever had. “You wanna play it safe, furball? Let your mother find out you were in her engine again, tearing shit out for your projects?” 

“That’s none of your business what I was doing with her engine,” Carlos shoots back, aiming for haughty indifference to the opinions of people like Jay, and missing. Badly. “And also, I don’t tear shit out, I remove it. Carefully. With the correct tools.” 

“You’ve got them with you, yeah?” 

This is going nowhere that Carlos wants to be. 

“Yes, I have the car shit.”  he agrees, hefting the bag. It’s somewhere in the pile of junk he’s carrying. Under the other greasy car parts that he definitely didn’t rip out of other machines he’s been working on. It’s not like he needs the other machines or anything. They’re only his life’s work. Totally fine to rip apart because apparently his mother needs a functioning car as of yesterday, and right now her precious baby automobile is in about seven different pieces in various other machines spread across his bolt-holes on other sides of the Isle. 

“Sooo,” Jay says, drawing out the word so that it’s basically three words, with a great deal more significance than a single syllable is supposed to have. Carlos almost hates when he does this, except for how the stupid face Jay makes along with the words makes him want to do something forbidden. With his mouth. On Jay’s mouth. Gently. With tongue. “We’re gonna steal a new engine. I’ll distract the owners, who you’ve already worked for, by the way, and you carefully remove your shit with the proper tools, and then we’re golden.” 

“And then they catch us,” Carlos agrees. “and I get my shit kicked in again.”

Jay sighs with his whole body, throwing his shoulders into it. “They’re not gonna catch us.” 

“Except for how they are.” 

“They’re not! Besides, what’s the worst that’ll happen? They steal the engine back, and we’re back where you started?” 

Plus or minus some new bruises. And a sense of pride and dignity that he’ll lose, because being caught by an Animal, (because there’s only so many people with cars on the isle, and even fewer that Carlos has worked with, and if they keep walking the way they’re currently going there’s nowhere left to go except the Air Pirate junkyard) is just humiliating. 

 “I just think it’s a stupid plan!” Carlos says one last time, like it’s going to change anything. “Stealing from Karnage is like asking to get caught, and then he’s going to literally eat your heart out of your chest and Mal’s going to laugh at us for being dumbasses who got murdered over a car engine.” 

Jay laughs, because he’s a reckless asshole sometimes who likes pulling off the impossible. The annoying thing is that he usually does pull it off, and his ego just gets worse every time he escapes with whatever thing he was trying to get. “Mal’s going to give us shit no matter what happens. You wanna tell her that you chickened out and left me to face Karnage all on my own? How d’you think that one’s gonna go down? Hey, fearless leader, I left your second in command behind when he was trying to do me a favor, and now he’s being eaten by wolves and needs you to go come to the rescue.” 

“Shut up, she’s not gonna be that bad.” 

“She’s gonna be too busy fooling around with Evie to come to my rescue, and you’re gonna have to come back and recover my body once the wolves are done with it.” 

Carlos shivers. Gods, but he hates the Animals. It’s bad enough that they’re basically d-o-g-s, but it’s somehow worse because they talk and drink like humans despite not having opposable thumbs to hold the bottles with. “Maybe that’s been my plan. You can be a distraction for them to eat while I’m running away with my new engine.” 

Jay laughs, and turns around to clap a hand down on Carlos’s shoulder. “Hey, that’s almost the same as my plan! Glad you’re on board, man. I’ll distract them, you pop the stuff out and make a run for it. It’ll take, what, ten minutes for you to get the stuff we need out of the car?” 

Carlos sighs. They’re doing this. “Five. It’s not attached that well. I’m the one who put it in there in the first place.” 

“I thought your work was the best around.” Jay teases, turning his head slightly to walk backwards for a second. Carlos takes the second to appreciate the way Jay’s hair is moving in the faintly smoke-scented breeze. 

He’s not taking advantage of the moment if Jay actively encourages the looks. Sure, they’ve never exactly said anything about any feelings that might be between them, but there’s a lot that they don’t talk about. It’s not safe to have feelings about other people, for one thing. For another,Jay already knows that he looks. He’s never said anything about it, and once, when they were both in the hideout later than they were supposed to be, Jay didn’t move away from him on their shitty old couch, and they slept just like they’d been sitting, with Carlos’s head on Jay’s shoulder. 

It’s almost as stupid and reckless as their current plan, but someday, Carlos is going to try kissing Jay. He’s pretty sure it’s going to go well. And if it doesn’t, it’s not he doesn’t have a million ways to die, and keep dying until he can hide his shame and run away to the pirate’s side of the island to form a new identity and never try to kiss anyone ever again. 

“I didn’t wanna spend a lot of time on this one, man. It was a quick-n-dirty job. The crew freaks me out.” 

“Oh, cause they're–” Jay makes a snapping motion with his teeth. Animals. “Yeah?” 

The moment of heartstopping terror is fine. It’s normal. It’s not going to actually hurt him, unlike the air pirates themselves, who are happily going to chew his legs off when they get caught. 

“Yeah,” Carlos agrees, suppressing the queasy shiver that his body wants to give at the mention of the air pirate pack. At least all of the villains on the Isle are sentient Animals, and not the same mindless killing machines as untrained dogs outside of the Isle. Sure, there’s plenty of books out there claiming that dogs are the best companions humans can have. Libraries of them even. Enough books to build a wall, which is exactly what Carlos would like to have between himself and any canines, regardless of their capital-A-Animal status. “They’re– yeah. I don’t like working around them.” 

“All the more reason to get in and out,” Jay points out, infuriatingly rational. “You should drop the rest of your stuff before we go in though. You wanna hide it at my dad’s place?” 

Carlos does not want to hide his stuff anywhere near an adult. He usually keeps his spare parts in the sort of hidey-holes that only children can fit into, the sort of places that are accessible through tiny storage windows and cracked ventilation shafts that are from the Before times. The adults haven’t managed to break into every abandoned warehouse on the isle, and there’s just enough places still that are only accessible through places small enough for a kid to fit through that they’re almost safe. 

At fourteen, Carlos is still small and skinny enough to fit into the childish bolt-holes that he’s been using for years. Jay isn’t, not anymore, which they’ve all been taking as a victory. Finally, one of them is large enough to take on an adult. Sixteen isn’t actually that far off from fourteen, but between the two of them, Jay’s already grown into what will probably be his adult body, and Carlos is still fighting his mother and her henchmen for every scrap of food he can get, and probably won’t ever be tall enough to reach the higher beams in the warehouse all the Dragon Hall kids like to use for parkour practice. 

It’s fine. 

The offer of a storage space is a kindness, and it’s one that Carlos doesn’t especially want to take, but also can’t exactly afford not to. 

“Yeah,” he says slowly. “Sure. We can drop it there. You’re sure we can pick it up later?” 

“Dad’s out of the place until sundown.” Jay says, slowing down. “He’s not back til things open up for the night. We can keep it under my stuff until then. I’ve got a box that’s mostly empty, and he probably won’t look at it twice so long as I bring some interesting shit back when we swing by to pick it up again.” 

“Fine,” Carlos agrees, sliding half of his pile into Jay’s waiting arms. They can stash it for a few hours without too much risk, especially if Jafar is out for most of that time. “Are you lifting anything good from the air pirate garage?” 

“Just some batteries they’ve had around for a while. Nothing they’ve been using.” Jay says, grinning. 

Batteries are more valuable than gold. There’s limited electricity on the Isle, so battery power is how most of the smaller gadgets have to run. Car batteries can give a smaller household power for weeks before they die, and they usually don’t explode before then, especially if they’re being sold to the market goers, who usually live further away from the docks and the saltwater that’ll corrupt them faster than that. 

It’s risky. The air pirates have one of the biggest (read: only) legit garages on the isle, but they’re also limited on what they can do in terms of opposable thumbs for some of the more fiddly installations. It’s why they call in other engineers (read: Carlos) to help with some of their more sensitive projects, but that limitation combined with their ample supply of teeth and overpowered biting jaws means that they can sometimes acquire a pileup of parts beyond what they can use at one time. So it’s probably true that they have’t been using all of their batters, but it’s also likely equally true that they can and will exact revenge against anyone who takes the hoard. 

“You’re going to die,” Carlos tells Jay seriously. “You’re crazy, man.” 

“Does that mean you’re not doing it with me?” 

“No,” Carlos sighs. He’s stupid, but not stupid enough to trade probable death for the absolute one that’s waiting if he doesn’t come up with the parts to fix his mother’s car by tomorrow morning. “I’m in.” 

 

03.

“This is the worst plan.” 

Jay lifts the bag of tools up so Carlos can reach them easier. “We’ve had worse. What about the time with the eels and the jelly?” 

“One of the worst.” 

“Maybe. Can you reach?” 

Carlos shifts his weight carefully onto his toes. The car they need is hanging on chains over his head, and the guts of the engine are exposed, which should make it easy to reach. If things were fair, they’d both be able to use the giant crank in the corner to move the car down to where he can actually reach it, but because they’re the unlucky bastards who’re stuck on the isle, nothing is fair and the crank is so rusted over that they can’t risk touching it without it squealing and exposing them to the pirates. 

His fingertips brush over the rusted belly of the car. Just a few more centimeters, and he could get his longest wrench up where he needs it. Just enough to get a little leverage, and then he could get what they need. 

“Almost–” Carlos risks a tiny bit further, and jams the tip of his middle finger into a crevice in the car. Rust flakes rain down into his face. “Ouch. No.” 

“Damn. Can you get down?” 

Getting down is easy. Two steps down off the stepstool, and then another off the roof of the junk car that’s standing on, and then a quick hop to the ground. 

Carlos hops down, engineless and somewhat greasier than when they started. “So.” 

Jay steps back, trying very hard not to look like he was spotting Carlos on the way down. “So,” he agrees. “Plan B?” 

“Which is?” 

Jay glances up at the car hanging over their heads. “I’m taller. I can probably reach the parts, if you can tell me exactly what I’m looking for and distract them when they notice we’re here.” 

Distract the Air Pirates. Right. A shiver of icy-hot nausea sweeps through Carlos at the thought of being in front of that many angry Animals. Teeth and fangs and claws….and him without a single seasoning. Maybe he should have put barbeque sauce under his eyes, just to spare the pirates the horror of eating him alive and unseasoned. Even if he can distract them long enough, there’s still no guarantee that Jay will be able to get the correct piece out of the car, and they’ll have done all this for nothing, and at the loss of the pirates as a customer. 

On the other hand,  if they don’t at least try to get the part tonight, he’s going home to Cruella empty handed and still without a hope of getting her a working vehicle by tomorrow. 

Okay. 

“You’re sure you can get it out?” Carlos asks, already pulling out the tools he’ll need to pass up. “It’s the plugs and the connector gaskets. And the piece at the back that looks like a little steam valve. You’ve helped with the plugs before, just don’t–” 

“I know, I know,” Jay interrupts, voice low and urgent. “Pull the plug out from the top, disconnect the wires first, and don’t drop anything or it’ll go straight through where we don’t want it to go.” 

Carlos blinks. “Wow, you do listen. I’m so proud.” 

“Yeah, yeah.” Jay says, but he’s smiling a little bit, and it’s worth the embarrassment of offering it to see his reaction to the praise. “Gimme the stuff and I’ll hop up in a sec.” 

It’s a set of pliers and two wrenches. Not a huge amount of tools. “If you lose these I might never forgive you.” Carlos whispers. 

Jay accepts the tools with the appropriate respect, and tucks them in the front pockets of his jacket. “I know.” 

“Come back alive.” 

That gets another grin, one of the brilliantly bright ones that looks so out of place on the Isle. “I will.” Jay promises, leaping up onto the hood of the car before Carlos can do anything else. It’s a quick step up onto the stepstool, and from there it’s easy for Jay, with his stupidly superior height, to grab the side of the car and hoist himself the rest of the way up so he can get the pieces they need. 

Carlos waits.

The darkened garage is not a great place to be waiting alone. There’s a lot of other places that Carlos would rather be, if he’s being honest. His closet isn’t usually his first choice, but it’s quiet, and doesn’t have faint scratching noises in every corner that could be rats, or the echoes of what Jay is doing above him, or the pirates finally coming in to discover them both. His mother’s kitchen isn’t much better, but it’s at least warm. The garage is cool and dark, and there’s sticky mystery rags left all over the place. And some sort of scrabbly noise that’s definitely coming from under a car over there. 

Carlos has a flashlight in his pocket. He could turn it on to check out the noise, but the flash of light, even if he just turns it on for a second, would probably alert the pirates. Better to wait. Also, it’s hard to be sure of what he’s hearing over the thumping of his own heartbeat. 

The scratching noise could be nothing. No reason for Carlos’s lungs to feel like they’re pulling air in through wet cement. It’s fine, and there’s no animals sneaking up on them with their superior senses and teeth and claws and hey, sweating like it’s the middle of summer probably isn’t the best thing to be happening, but it’s probably nothing. 

Breathe. 

Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium– 

The scrabbling turns into a clang, and Carlos whips his head around so fast something in his neck snaps. There’s fur. Brown, disgusting fur. Not Don Karnage. 

 There’s a fuckoff-huge rat in the corner. That’s what the noise is, just a rat. 

Carlos doesn’t hate rats the way that he hates certain other animals. He actually likes some of them, because they’re sort of cute, and it’s not the worst thing when one of the rats in Hell Hall runs through the closet before him in the morning and sets off a couple of the bear traps before he can get a chance to trip into them. They’re almost smart sometimes, especially here on the isle where their colonies have space to grow and fight with the smaller humans for whatever food scraps they can get without being poisoned like they’d be in Auradon.  Villains can appreciate the value in a free pet, and also prefer to use their poisons on more valuable targets than household pests. 

“Hey,” Carlos whispers, flicking a hand at the rat. As much as he appreciates the company, it’s a little unnerving to be stared at by a rodent as big as his foot. “Get out of here.” 

The rat lifts a paw, almost like it’s flicking a hand back. 

Aw, shit. 

“TRESPASSER!” the rat squeaks at the top of its tiny lungs. “CRIMINAL! CRIMINAL IN THE SHOP!” 

Fuck. Shit. Fuck. 

“I’m not–” Carlos stutters, lunging for the rat. “Hey, shut up, I’m not trespassing. I work here, same as you, right? I’ve got my tools and everything.” 

“TRESPASSER!” the rat squeaks, bolting for the door. “CRIMINAL!” 

Rats are smart. 

“I’ve got food.” Carlos says quickly, stepping back towards his bag. Hands up. Nobody likes being grabbed, not even a rat. His heart is beating so hard he’s pretty sure even the rat can hear it, but it’s fine. He’s got bribes, and nobody on the isle is going to turn down food, especially not an underpaid evening guard. It seems pretty reasonable to assume that not even guard rats get fair pay. Carlos has, in fact, been employed by the Air Pirates before, and he’s pretty sure it’s a safe assumption based on how well they compensated their human help. 

The rat stops. “I’m listening.” it says, in a normal, squeaky little voice. 

“Hey, yeah, you want my food? I’ve got a sandwich, only a few days old. Peanut butter.” 

“Not to be a sell-out,” the rat says. “Because I’m not, in case you were wondering. Us rats are actually very loyal creatures. Very good to our masters. But yes. I do want your food.” 

“You’re fair to them when they’re fair to you?” Carlos asks absently, rummaging through his bag for the sandwich. It was going to be his dinner tonight, but he’s not going to have time to eat while he’s working on the car anyway.  “I bet the Air Pirates aren’t very generous bosses, right? They probably never share the best stuff with you, not when you’re so small and they’re so big.” 

“As a matter of fact, they don’t.” the rat agrees. “Awful bosses, and they smell terrible too.” 

Carlos swallows hard at the thought. He’s worked down here a few times when it’s been raining, and the smell of that many wet canines in one place meant that he was fighting back nausea all day. The memory makes giving up his dinner hurt a little less. “So if I give you the sandwich, you’ll keep quiet about the fact that I’m in here?” 

The rat laughs. “Sure. And if you give me your name, I’ll even tell them it wasn’t you.” 

“An hour. Please.”  

The rat creeps forward. “An hour I can do. It’ll take me that long to finish this thing. Peanut butter, you said?” 

Carlos looks down at the sandwich in his hand, a little bit desperately. Goodbye, dinner. Hello, a new level of despicable bribery. “And jelly. Grape. Didn’t even have mold in the jar when I got it.” 

“Mold adds flavor. It’s important for your immune system. Kids these days should eat more dirt if they really wanna know what’s good for them.” 

“Well,” Carlos says, praying that he’s not being too obvious about the fact that he’s stalling for time. “I would, but I have this sandwich here, and unless you want it, I’m really going to choose this over the dirt, Mister rat, sir.” 

The rat sniffs. “That’s Ratticus to you. And I’ll take that.” 

“An hour of silence,” Carlos insists, holding on to the food. “And you promise not to tell them I was here?” 

“I said an hour. Don’t push your luck, kid.” 

An hour is fine. Jay should have the pieces out in a few more minutes, and they can be halfway across the isle in an hour. Even if they have to stop back at the Junk Shop, they can still be back at Hell Hall and the far reaches of the market area within an hour’s time.  “Deal.” 

The rat scurries forward and takes the sandwich into his mouth. “‘Uf ‘ont ‘egress ‘if,” he says. “Pwomif.” 

Carlos already regrets giving away the food. Stupid talking Animals, posting guards. Stupid misplaced loyalty, giving up his dinner to protect Jay. Stupid car, being just too high for him to reach. The only one of them in here tonight who’s not stupid is the rat, who’s already gone, taking the sandwich with him. 

“Stupid,” Carlos whispers, kicking a downed tire. “Stupid fucking rats.” 

“Hey,” Jay whisper-hisses from above. “Cee.” 

“What?” 

“Would you grab my batteries while I’m up here? My source said they’re allegedly  in a box by the main office.” 

“Allegedly.” Carlos mutters, heading off in the direction of the office. “Allegedly, there’s no guards here, dont’cha know.” 

“Grab three if you can carry them!” Jay whispers back. 

Argh. Batteries for Jay. Engine pieces for his mother. The sandwich for the rats. Carlos would fucking love to get something for himself, but that’s never going to happen, and he prides himself on being the rational one. Jay’s the charming one, Mal’s the planner, Evie’s the beautiful one, and Carlos is the rational one, the one who gives up his time and his engine pieces and his fucking food for everyone else so that they don’t beat him up and make his life even more miserable than it already is. 

The batteries are in a cardboard box by the door of the office. They’re heavy, but a stack of three (out of the twelve the pirates have, what the fuck ) isn’t too much to handle. 

Carlos staggers back with the batteries in his arms. Two of them fit in the tool bag, which is perfect, because there’s no way he’s running all the way back to the junk shop carrying all three of them in his arms. The third one he wraps in a rag from the floor and tucks inside his jacket. It’s not much, but it’s enough to keep it hidden from the most obvious of prying eyes on the trip back out. 

“Catch.” Jay calls. 

The spark plugs hit Carlos’s hands, two greasy, perfect little pieces that might buy him enough time to fix his mother’s engine before she ends him. “Received.” 

Jay hits the car roof a moment later. The tools are sticking out of his pocket, and there’s a faint outline of more pieces shoved down the front of his jacket.  “Got them all. Ready to run?” 

“So ready. This place still gives me the creeps.” 

“Tell me about it,” Jay says, without any real heat. “Wicked work with the guard though. Smart thinking to buy him off with food like that.” 

“Next time we do something like this I’m giving the guard your dinner,” Carlos mumbles, zipping his jacket securely over the battery and plugs. “You can tell Evie what happened to it. She doesn’t still get on your case about missing meals, right?” 

“Nah. She likes you more.” 

“Bold words from the guy who tried to charm her pants off last week.” 

Jay breathes out something like a laugh. He’s got the bag with the tools and the remaining batteries slung over his shoulder. “Ouch, man.  She turned me down, I’ll have you know. I think she’s saving herself for a special someone else, if y’know what I mean.” 

Carlos almost smiles at that. It’s an open secret that Mal and Evie are spending every free moment together, doing what teenagers do. “What, a woman?” 

“Ooh, double ouch.” Jay snarks, vaulting up to the top of the rusty chain link fence surrounding the junkyard. They came in through the front gate, but there’s a light on in the doghouse next to it now, so they can’t take the risk again. The fence is closer to where they need to run anyway. “You ever think about going into a career in villainy with that mouth?” 

“You ever think about–” Carlos shoots back. And then stops. There’s motion by the front gate, and it’s something moving on two legs. “Shit. Hide.” 

To Jay’s credit, he does. Immediately. The fence rattles a bit, but Jay’s already fading into the shadows faster than Carlos can track him, so he should be able to run before the guards find him. Jay’s fast. He should be able to make it home. 

Carlos drops to the ground. There’s no time for him to jump the fence too, not unless he wants the figure to hear him for sure, and probably get a good solid look and smell of him too. If he can play dead, there’s a chance that they won’t notice him. 

If Carlos is lucky, the pirate will be like the rest of them. Drunk and stupid. Both categories of people make mistakes, and Carlos is betting hard that this one is going to be one or the other, or if he’s very, very lucky, both. 

The figure is moving. Clawed feet coming this way. Moving erratically. Maybe drunk, maybe something else. Maybe playing a game. Carlos can’t keep running the chances in his head anymore, because he’s stuck now. Nowhere to run without being seen. He’s got a corner of Jay’s battery jammed into his chest. His heart is pounding double-time around it. Maybe triple-time. His breath is caught in his chest too, but he can’t afford the sounds that gasping for enough air would make, so he’s stuck slightly dizzy, shoving his own face into the dirt and playing dead as best he can. 

Someone takes a heavy, crunching footstep closer. 

It’s a dry night. No stench of wet canine in the air tonight, but the idea of it still hangs heavy across the entire garage and junkyard. 

Another crunching footstep closer. 

Carlos breathes as shallowly as he can. Less movement is better. He’s fully hidden behind the stack of tires. Hidden and silent, that’s him. Like a statue. One of the marble ones that people are always selling and arguing about selling on TV. Here lies the Statue of An Idiot, prone on the ground. By the old master Fear, produced in the mid 21st century. 

The footsteps stop. 

Fuck. 

The beast pounds on something metallic. A shrieking clang, rusted metal scraping over more rusted metal. Carlos can taste it in the back of his throat. 

The beast howls out a yell into the night. “Your shitbucket’s not here, Lassy! You owe me a day’s work!” 

Glass breaking. Not close. Inside the house, maybe. 

“I tol– told yah!” the creature shouts back in the direction of the glass. “You moved it last week when we got those new vulture scraps in! You owe me, bet’s a bet!” 

More howls from the house. The Air Pirates must be in there, Carlos realizes. The footsteps turn and crunch away. It’s still not safe to move. Not when his legs are numb with fear. He can’t move, not until he’s regained some level of control. 

It takes a long moment of awful, blessed silence after the pirate goes back in the house for  Jay to melt out of the shadows again. He’s still got the bag, which means he was probably waiting there the whole time. Watching Carlos panic and crush his own face into the filthy ground over nothing. 

Wonderful. 

Vaulting the fence is easy. It’s the part where he has to keep going that’s hard, where he has to run all the way home, and fix the car within a single night so he can drive his mother up to the mountain spa before she completely loses her shit at him, and try and find something else to eat later so he doesn’t pass out at some point during the night, and also yeah, let Jay know that he’s okay and just an idiot for panicking and freezing up at the slightest chance of being caught by a single drunken Animal. .

“Run?” Jay whispers. “There’s a way back that’ll run us past the docks. Fish guts so heavy they’ll lose any trail they had.” 

Jay’s holding out a hand. Just halfway. Not reaching out to touch, but offering a place to reach to, if Carlos needs it. It’s too kind, too much to dare take him up on. Carlos doesn’t trust his voice just yet, and definitely doesn’t trust himself to reach back, but the docks are a clever idea. He nods. 

“You sure you can keep up?” 

It’s a little easier to breathe when he’s trying not to laugh. “Yeah. Like you could outrun me.” 

Jay grins. He’s practically bouncing in place. Adrenaline from their escape probably keeping him hyped up.  “That sounds like a challenge, furball. You sure you wanna race me tonight? I’ve got your bag and everything. I bet I can outrun you even with your tools on my back.” 

“Fuckin’ bet. Back to your place?” 

“You know it.” 



  1.  

Carlos blinks the sleep out of his eyes. There’s a light on in the house. Why is there a light on in the house? 

“Puppy?” 

Shit. 

“Darling?” Cruella calls. “Are you still out here, after so long?” 

She sounds lucid, at least. It’s not much to work with, but it’s something. Usually when she’s lucid she’s at least aware that Carlos is a human being and not a dog. She never does the same thing with Horace or Jasper. They’re always human in her mind, even when she hates them and kicks them out of the house because they might be traitors who are after her riches. It would hurt more that he’s the only one she does this with, but it’s something they’re all used to at this point. The barges come and go, the seasons change in turn, and every so often Cruella slips into one of her more insane periods and kicks all the adults out of the house again.  It usually only lasts until she gets some sort of upswing again and decides that she’s lonely and misses the company of other grown-ups and sends Carlos out to collect them from the pub again. 

Sometimes Carlos wishes that he’d get the same treatment. Being kicked out might not be as bad as what he does get, which is the absolute conviction that he’s a pet, a creature that belongs wholly and absolutely to Cruella, and that she’s somehow both responsible for him and the master of a house with a single, rather incompetent servant who is somhow both a pet and a person at once. 

When she’s lucid, it’s not like that. She’s still unhinged, because normal people don’t get sent to the Isle in the first place, but it’s better. She knows that they’re all humans, for one thing. She sometimes even remembers that Carlos is her child, and not a servant she’s summoned up from hell to do her every insane bidding. 

No matter how she’s feeling, there’s no stopping her once she’s got an idea in her head about something. 

“I’m in the garage, mom!” Carlos shouts, “The door’s unlocked!” 

Cruella opens it smoothly, which is better than she can do half the time. So she’s probably not drunk. “Darling? Whatever are you still out here for?” 

“I’m fixing the car.. You wanted me to make sure it’s running smoothly for tomorrow?” It’s an effort not to grit his teeth at the way his voice pitches up at the end. Carlos hates that he’s still afraid of his mother. “I’m just putting the final pieces in so it’ll run cleanly for you.” 

Cruella tips her head back so she can stare down her nose at him. She’s got a silk nightgown on, and one of the sleeves is slipping down her arm. Her hair is in fluffy disarray. It’s possible that she was asleep, and decided to get up just for this. “Oh. What a sweet boy, thinking of your poor old mother. Is my baby alright out here?” 

Carlos is hungry. He’s still upright, because fixing the car is a mission to focus on and he’s not going to stop until the stupid thing is working again, but he’s been fighting back the urge to give up and eat literally anything he can get his hands on for a few hours now. It’s not so bad that he’s lightheaded yet, but it’s far from comfortable. He wants food, and sleep, and the comparative warmth of his closet. He’s not going to get any of them tonight. 

“The car is fine,” Carlos says, biting back his sigh. “ It’s out of the rain, and it’s not even rusted, look. I even cleaned the wheels. No more mud splatters.” 

Cruella peers at the wheels. “Mhm.” she hums. Hours of work with a brush and bleach, all for this.  A hum of approval.  At least she’s not shouting yet. 

“I put the new parts I got from the junk shop into the engine too,” Carlos says brightly. It’s worth pushing his luck tonight. She seems like she’s in a good mood, and it would make the late night a little less onerous if he has some praise to cling to while he’s finishing up. “It should run a lot smoother now. Do you want me to show you what I did?” 

“Mm,” Cruella hums again. She’s peering at Carlos now, not the car. “Not now darling. Why’s there grease on your face?” 

Oh no. 

“Because I was putting in the new engine parts?” Carlos says slowly, trying to think of anything else he might have done wrong today. Sometimes Cruella can’t track the passage of time properly, and things he did last week are fresh in her mind again. She’s been in a pretty good mood all week though, so unless she’s a lot worse than she seems right now, he should be okay. “Is there something else you’d like me to work on?” 

She leans closer. Carlos freezes on instinct, but there’s no cigarette in her hand, no collar or switch or anything. Not even many rings. 

Cruella swipes a spot of grease off her son’s face with the pad of one smoothly manicured thumb. She leans back to inspect the smear, and clicks her tongue disapprovingly at whatever she sees there.  “Tch. Clean yourself up. I will not have a member of my household looking like a common grease monkey. I expect all of the help, little monsters like yourself included, to look and act as befits my name.” 

Breathe. “Yes, mom.” 

“I expect you to be up and presentable bright and early tomorrow, Carlos. I need a proper escort to the spa, and that awful Jasper isn’t fit to drive me anymore. He’s the one who got mud on all of my tires last time, do you understand? I cannot have him drive and make a fool of me anymore. The ladies at the spa were quite clear on this. I must arrive looking presentable, and that includes the car and the driver.” 

“I don’t have anything to wear without grease on it.” Carlos says, trying not to let his voice wobble. Gods below, he’s so tired. “If you give me another day, I can wash my stuff–” 

Cruella shrieks. It’s a bloodcurdling, deeply unnerving sound. “You’ll wear what I tell you to, you wretched creature! The black uniform in the icebox is to be worn tomorrow. It’s the driver’s uniform, and it wouldn’t do to have somebody else wear it while you’re the one driving.” She sighs. “I swear, my babies. This house is a nightmare without you.” 

She’s back to stroking her fur stole again and muttering under her breath.  It’s the double headed mink one, with the moth holes in the back that she patched with crimson silk so that it looks like they’re bleeding. There’s no use in trying to reason with her once she starts talking to the ‘babies’, so Carlos shuts his mouth and tries to focus on anything other than the way his head is throbbing from lack of sleep. 

“Puppy?” 

Snap. 

“Puppy?” Cruella demands, snapping her fingers in front of his face again. “Did you hear me?” 

Carlos runs back through the last few moments. Frantic muttering shapes itself into words, albeit whispered ones that he’d assumed were directed towards the mink. “Yes.” 

Cruella frowns. “What did I say? Repeat it back to me.” 

“I’ll wear the black uniform tomorrow,” Carlos repeats obediently “Be ready by 8am, no sooner or later or you’ll get the switches out. Bring your red ermine along to wear if it gets nippy. Don’t bother bringing food, or you’ll make me lick the crumbs out of the car.” 

“Very good!” Cruella claps delightedly.  Or possibly sarcastically. Carlos is pretty shit at reading emotions under the best of circumstances, and running on two hours of sleep in the last day, without food, and with just enough water in his canteen to maybe brush his teeth when he’s done is not the best of circumstances. At least it could be worse. He’s not bleeding yet, but if the look on his mother’s face is anything to go by–

Crack. 

The slap echoes through the garage. 

“You don’t dare get clever with me tomorrow. I saw that look on your face, puppy. Just because you think you’re cleverer than me–” 

“I don’t. Please, mom. I don’t think I’m cleverer than you. I’m not.” 

“Hm. Damn right you’re not.” Cruella sniffs dramatically, laying a hand on the hood of her car. It’s her bare hand, the one she just hit him with, which is a weird choice. Usually she prefers to thread that hand in Carlos’s hair whenever she’s talking to him.“You’ll be sleeping in the car tomorrow evening. My baby needs some protection out there, especially with the rumors that I’ve heard from that charming Commander Rourke. There’s disgusting vandals about, pulling off his tires and absolutely terrorizing his henchmen.” 

Disgusting vandals who would never steal car parts from every other major villain on the isle in order to get this old beast running again. Carlos thinks to himself. Out loud, he agrees. “Sure, mom.” 

“That’s right, my disgusting little boy,” Crulla coos affectionately, patting Carlos’s cheek with a single gloved hand. “Wash your face before I have to be seen with you tomorrow, and don’t be late!” 

She sweeps out of the garage in a trail of mildew and sour breath. Her minks trail out over her shoulders. One of them has a glass eye slightly out of place, and it watches Carlos all the way out the door, until the heavy connecting door finally slams shut behind her. 

Carlos slides down the side of the car and onto the floor. If he’s driving tomorrow it’s not even worth going to bed tonight. Better a cold floor in here and a better chance of waking up on time than risking the trek back to his closet and the permanent darkness that makes it impossible to tell when the sun is up or down. Maybe the floor in here will be uncomfortable enough to distract from the headache he’s got pounding at his temples, and the hollow feeling that's been building in his gut from not eating since the morning. 

There’s a blanket in the trunk of the car, but it’s honestly easier to just shut his eyes for a few seconds, and hope that when he wakes up, there’ll be enough time to finish putting the final touches on the engine. He’s survived this long on scraps, so sleep’s got to be one more thing that he can just keep pushing on with the bare minimum. No need to worry about him. Just so long as he can make it through tomorrow, his mother should forget all about any lingering ire once she’s had her spa day, and anything that’s going to come out of stealing the car parts back will probably happen tomorrow, if it happens at all. 

Just one more day, and then Carlos is going to sleep for real. At the hideout even, once his mother is appeased for the day. Mal usually keeps a few cans of food around for them there, and they’ve got a couch now, and a little janky heater that works most of the time so long as they kick it just right, and Carlos is going to be so comfortable, just as long as he makes it through tomorrow. 

He’s got to make it through tomorrow. 

Maybe tomorrow will be better. 



  1.  

The road up to the spa is rocky. It’s more of a trail than a road. Most of the Isle doesn’t have cars, so very few people can drive it even under the best of circumstances. 

Unfortunately, this is not the best of circumstances. 

Carlos gasps for breath through the slit in his throat. He can feel the heat pouring out of his body, and the air bubbling through the blood that’s spurting out of his neck. 

The rocky trail up to the spa is full of scrubby brush and dying trees. There’s just enough wildlife on the trail, birds and mice and the occasional squirrel who hasn’t been caught and eaten yet, to hide the noise of anyone coming up on foot. Or several someones, as the case may be. Usually, animal noises aren’t usually something to worry about. 

Carlos laughs to himself. It’s almost funny. Wild animal noises might not be a problem, but the noise of several Animals sure is. Also the noise that their knives made, right before they found the car and yanked him out and got to where they are now. 

It’s sort of neat to watch the spreading blood pool out across the packed gravel, Carlos thinks dreamily to himself. There’s something sort of pretty about the colors, the bright red on the dusty gray, and then the darker color that comes with more and more blood. Sure, it’s blood that’s supposed to be inside his body, but that’s a technicality. He’s doing great. Sort of warm and floaty all over. 

Oh right. The blood loss. It’ll do that. 

From very, very far away, someone is talking. 

Carlos tenses on instinct. Adult voices mean be on your guard. While this is generally a solid move for him, tonight it’s a bad choice. The slight tension means that his muscles contract, forcing more blood out of the gaping slash wound on his neck. 

“...leave the kid here?” someone murmurs, from very far away. 

“...find… stash somewhere…” 

Something moves closer. Everything is pretty much just blobby dark shapes at the moment, and it’s an unpleasant surprise when the shape hovering over him turns into a mountain of soft fur and sharp claws. 

Carlos tries to whine, but it’s somewhat difficult to make noise without like, an unbroken throat to make them with. 

“Shut up,” the voice above him says. “Boss, you wan’me to dump him inna car?” 

“...as any…gift.” the other voice says. 

Motion. It’s hard to focus on anything. Carlos is spinning higher and higher out of his own body. The sheer flood of adrenaline from being jumped is fading a little bit now under the pain and the blood loss. It’s like a weird floaty nightmare level in a video game. Everything is sort of grayed out and fuzzy. 

His back hits something soft and slick. 

“Leave the brat for his mother.” the second voice growls. “That’ll teach her not to mess with our things.” 

Carlos wants to laugh. Cruella doesn’t care what happens to him. Damaging the car is going to bother her more than any damage to him, and that’s what’s going to happen if he keeps bleeding out here. The soft slick thing he’s resting on is almost definitely the backseat of her car, and the shattering noise is probably the windows being busted out. Glass is expensive. Breaking thousands of dollars worth of car windows is quieter than he thought it would be, but that’s probably just the blood loss making things hazy again. There’s a chill creeping in around his feet and fingertips that doesn’t usually mean anything good. 

Blood loss isn’t the worst way to die. It’s going to be better than what happens when  his mother finds him like this, and makes him drive home on shaky, half-dead arms. He’s already small enough that driving the enormous car is a struggle, so adding the clumsiness of the recently-dead into that is going to be a delight. 

She doesn't care. Carlos tells them, from the quiet place in his own head where there’s nothing left to hurt.  It doesn’t matter what you do to me. She’s never going to care. 

“Ratticus sends his regards.” the first voice says, breath misting out hot and putrid over Carlos’s face. Rotting meat, wet fur, used engine oil. If Carlos wasn’t already sure that he fucked up stealing from the Air Pirates, he’s damn sure now. “He was very generous with your description. Said you were a fellow engineer working late, and there’s only one grimy little human we’ve worked with.” 

Fucking hell, Ratticus. 

Like it’s not enough that the stupid rat already took Carlos’s dinner yesterday. Of course he snitched too. Of course there’s only one human who’s stupid and desperate enough to work with the Animals. Of course this is how it’s going to end, with Carlos bleeding out in the backseat of his mother’s stupid, precious car, with pirate stench stinking up every one of his last breaths, and with his luck, probably no way to get home after the barrier brings him back, because any intelligent villain is going to yoink the parts he took from their car right back again so he won’t even be able to get home and take his next beating in peace. 

“Fuck you–” Carlos whispers. “Fuck–” 

The pirate laughs. “Fuck me? That’s what you use your last breath on?” 

“–off.”  

The darkness is bleeding up into his vision fast. It’s not enough time to get free, or even to take a few clean gasps of air as the blood loss kicks in and his body shuts down. Carlos is fading fast, and even the pirate seems to know if, because he drops his body the last inch onto the seat. 

“Don’t steal from us again, little engineer.” someone growls. “Don Karnage will not be so generous with your death next time.” 

Next time. Wonderful. Perfect. At least by the time the barrier brings him back, the pirates should have everything they want stripped out of the car, and his mother can kill him again for allowing her precious baby to come to harm under his watch. 

What a fucking wonderful day. 



  1.  

“–Los? Carlos?” 

Carlos groans an affirmative. He’s alive.. Awake. Anything else is sort of a mystery, but he’s at least 85% sure he’s conscious.

“Hey, dumbass.”  

That’s Mal. He’s definitely not in the same place he was when he passed out. 

Another groan is genuinely all that Carlos can manage. The barrier keeps bringing them back no matter what, but at least one death in a day, and possibly another one, based on the inconvenient gap in his memory between waking up in the backseat of his mother’s car and getting to wherever he is now, is a lot to ask of a body. Words are too much. 

“Work with me,” Mal demands. There’s someone tugging on his shoulder. Up? “We’re getting you out of here. Come on, once you’re up it’ll hurt less.” 

Carlos genuinely can’t get his feet under him. It takes a moment of tugging, but Mal seems to realize this, and stops pulling his shoulder after a moment. “Stay here then. Don’t move. We’re coming back for you, so just hold on.” 

It’s a lot of effort to do anything, but Carlos can do this. Staying still and not moving is the one thing he’s got down. He’s not actually sure that he has a choice. 

Time might be passing. 

Or maybe not. 

There’s a new burning sensation across his back and hands. It’s not the same as the one from chemical burns, so it’s probably some sort of usual bloody injury. Surprising that there was still blood in him to lose, but sort of cool. The barrier must be getting better at bringing them back if he can die twice in a row so quickly. Usually the magic takes longer to kick in with consecutive deaths. 

“...need help, so come on and use your superior upper body strength for something useful.” 

A clatter. 

“Oh shit.” Jay says, and then Carlos is being lifted up, and there’s warm arms holding him, and someone is putting a jacket over his body, and it’s all a bit confusing. 

The world breaks apart into a jumble of sensations. Cold air. Loud voices. The smell of outside, which is nicer than the smell of inside his mother’s house. Stairs, or something like them. Mildew, and then acrid spray paint, and then his head gets caught on a door frame, and it hurts so much that it’s easier just to give up trying to hold onto consciousness and let things slide out of his memory again. 



There’s the smell of food. 

Carlos is awake. He’s probably alive too, if the agonizing fire running through his palms is anything to go by. His dreams might be awful, but they usually don’t come with actual, physical pain. 

Cracking his eyes open is possible now. He’s pretty sure that was beyond him the last time he woke up, so things are already getting better. The food smell is a positive sign too, because in Hell Hall he’s the only one who ever bothers to cook, so if there’s hot food and nobody is already shouting at him, he’s probably not at home. The day is looking up already. 

Carlos cracks his eyes open a little more, and is greeted with the sight of a vibrantly purple table directly in his field of vision. 

Thank the gods. 

He must make some kind of motion, because a second later there’s a weight on his legs, and something warm being pressed against his shin. 

“You’re awake!” Mal crows “Hey, Jay! He’s alive again!” 

“He won’t be for much longer if you keep sitting on him.” Jay grumbles, and the weight moves, and Carlos opens his eyes fully so that the weight resolves itself into Mal, who’s kneeling on the floor and holding out a bowl of something that smells incredibly like food, and Jay, hovering over her shoulder and looking worried. 

“Welcome back to the land of the living!” Mal cheers. Her hair is up in a ponytail and there’s a smear of blood on her cheek. “How’re you feeling?” 

Like the recently dead. Like someone reanimated a corpse and then dragged it halfway across the island in the dead of night. 

Out loud, Carlos groans. 

Mal laughs, because she’s the worst sometimes. Some heroic rescuer she is. 

“S’that for me?” Carlos croaks, pointing at the bowl in a feat of coordination and dexterity that would amaze the average toddler. 

Mal hands it over. “It is, yeah! It’s soup. I got it from the stall with the veggies on the sign, so it’s probably got those in it. And apparently barley and shit. Do you eat barley?” 

Carlos will eat anything that he can get his hands on. The soup is hot, and there’s no obvious bones floating in it, and if he’s being honest with himself, he’s already shoved the spoon in his mouth before Mal’s even finished talking. 

Jay is still hovering. “Mal–”

Mal rolls her eyes and pushes her way up onto her feet. .“Right, yeah. I’ll give you space to get your body back together. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone, kay?” 

“Don’t think I can. Taking all the stupid–” 

Mal rolls her eyes again, but she’s smiling. “With me, yes, you’re very clever. Jay’s here to make sure we don’t lose you again. Next time, you tell us when your mother’s in a mood and we’ll make sure you’re not alone for so long. Do you know how much blood we were trying to scrape out of the car?” 

There’s about one-point-five gallons of blood in the human body. Carlos has bled out twice today, presumably in the back of the car both times. The mental math doesn’t quite check out, and the timing and gaps in his recently-reanimated memory leave something to be desired, but he’s got a pretty good idea. “‘Bout a gallon.” 

“Clever,” Mal snorts. “But no, you didn’t lose all your blood. It was, however, far too close for comfort and if you ever do something like that again I’m going to find you and kill you again myself.” 

Reasonable. Carlos nods, and is pleased to find that he doesn’t immediately regret the motion. “Understood. Thanks for saving me, oh fearless leader.” 

Mal nods back. “Perfect. Have fun not dying, dumbasses.” 

She kicks the door open, leaving it swinging behind her. That’s Mal alright, always with the weird mix of care and indifference for her crew. Not that Carlos is complaining, because soup and a rescue mission might be the nicest thing that anyone’s ever done for him, and he’s glad to be here. Anywhere is better than home, but the hideout, specifically, is one of his favorite places to be. 

Jay is still hovering. 

Okay. 

This is fine. Jay is probably fine. They’re all here and in one piece, and Jay’s not even covered in too much blood. Everything that Carlos can see looks pretty whole, and the rust-colored smears on his jacket and faint enough that they’re probably from– 

From carrying his body back across town to the hideout. 

Right. 

“What happened?” Carlos asks, glancing up at Jay through the protective shield of his hair. If he doesn’t make direct eye contact, it’s not really happening. 

Jay makes a face. It’s not one that Carlos is familiar with, but again, he’s not great with emotions at the best of times, despite his vested interest in observing every part of Jay’s stupidly handsome face. 

Carlos waits.

 “You didn’t come back,” Jay says eventually. “We thought you’d be back at the hideout last night, so when you didn’t show we went over to your mother’s place. Saw that the car was still gone. We assumed you’d be up the mountain with it, so we waited some more.” His voice goes very small. “We thought you’d come out on your own, so we waited outside for a while.” 

“I was dead.” Carlos says bluntly. “At least twice.” 

“We saw, yeah. You’ve got–” Jay gestures to his own back. 

Carlos doesn’t know what he’s got on his back. Whip marks, claw marks, maybe bites or burns. Something from his mother for sure, but maybe something from the pirates too. “Yeah,” he agrees, instead of pressing for more details. “But I’m alive.” 

“You weren’t,” Jay whispers, and oh, his voice is cracking. “You were dead for a long time. We waited, and you weren’t getting back up again. We thought–” 

They’ve all had the thought. That maybe this time the magic won’t work, and the barrier won’t bring them back. That maybe this time it’s for real. 

“I’m not dead.” Carlos whispers, and moves so that Jay can crawl up on their shitty couch next to him. “I wouldn’t.” 

“I almost asked your mother what happened.” Jay whispers back. 

“How’d that go?” 

“I didn’t,” Jay admits. “I chickened out. You were in the house, and she just started yelling about useless teenagers and the damage to her baby, so I went out to clean the car while Mal found your body. I figured it’d make it easier when you came back if you didn’t have to clean your own blood out of the garage, so.” he shrugs. “I didn’t ask.” 

Carlos almost doesn’t want to tell him, but Jay’s begging, in that silent way he does when he really, really wants something he doesn’t think he’ll get. 

Ugh. Having feelings is the worst. 

“The Air Pirates weren’t exactly happy that we took their parts,” Carlos tells him, leaning in so that they're side to side, sharing body heat. “Apparently there’s only one human engineer they work with, and that stupid rat guard told them I was there to work.” 

Jay’s breathing goes funny. 

“But I’m alive!” Carlos says quickly. “And you wanna hear the funny part? They didn’t even take the parts back. The car’s still fine on the inside, and once I get the worst of the blood out it’ll run even better than before. They just wanted to teach me a lesson, and hey–” he spreads his arms out. He’s whole for the moment, and that’s something to be proud of. “I’m alive!” 

“You are.” Jay agrees. 

“I don’t think they could get the parts back out if they wanted to,” Carlos realizes. “I think the air pirates made the stupidest mistake.” 

Jay bonks their heads together, gently. “Yeah?” 

“Without a human engineer to manipulate the tools, they don’t have the thumbs to get their own engine parts installed!” Carlos says, delighted with the realization. “They shot themselves in the foot doing this! They’re going to have to find a new engineer, and if word gets out what they did to their last one–” 

“They’re never going to have a human working for them again.” Jay finishes, grinning. “So hey, maybe it’s not the worst thing that you’ve had like, the shittiest day in the history of ever.” 

“I mean,” Carlos laughs. “It’s still pretty bad. Two deaths in one day is sort of the worst I’ve ever had.” 

Jay’s eyes are dark and serious and his face is so, so close. “Yeah. Don’t do it again, okay?” 

“Kay.” Carlos agrees. He’s happy to never do today over again. “I’ll try not to. Staying alive, that’s my goal.”

“Cool. You’d better not die on my watch, because I’m pretty sure the girls would never forgive me.” 

“Yeah. Probably not.” 

“And–” Jay stops. 

Carlos slurps down another mouthful of his soup. “and...?” 

“I’m being stupid,” says Jay. He’s got a hand tangled up in his hair, and Carlos sort of wants to take it out and smooth down the tangles he’s creating. Gently. Because he cares. Which is hard to do with a bowl in his hands. It’s almost empty anyway, so Carlos sets it down on the table. “I care about you. A lot. And I sort of don’t want you to die yet, so just– don’t.” 

“Sure,” Carlos agrees. “Like–” 

Jay makes a frustrated noise, and crushes their mouths together. 

Oh. 

Like that, then. 

Carlos kisses him back. Jay’s mouth is warm and his teeth are digging into Carlos’s lower lip in a way that’s sort of uncomfortable, but they’re like that, and Jay’s body is warm and solid against Carlos’s own, and they’re kissing, and it’s quite possibly the best thing that has ever happened to Carlos, so he’s not going to stop anytime soon. 

“Don’t die again,” Jay whispers against his mouth. “Please.” 

“I’ll try not to,” Carlos whispers back. “Especially if this is the reward I get for staying alive.”