Rating: T for language and violence.
Summary: AU, detention never happened. Years after dropping out of high school, John Bender is a small-time criminal looking to make a quick buck the easy way. But when he mugs the wrong man, things spiral dangerously out of control.
A/N: Man, I’ve really gotten into writing AU! So many possibilities, it’s endless. I actually got the idea for this story while I was working on my other AU fic, ‘Crisis’ (and from listening to ‘Killing Moon’ on repeat for about two hours straight). Lately, I’ve been really interested in exploring what John would be like if he ended up going down a darker path in life. That doesn’t mean that I have a narrow view of what I think he’s capable of, not at all. I just find it interesting. Hope you do, too. Big thanks to Lori for betaing this for me.
A/N, part II: There wasn’t a lunar eclipse on November 13, 1992, but I don’t really care because I don’t think you do either. Lunar eclipses are very different from solar eclipses. For one, they last a lot longer, usually over an hour. Also, the moon doesn’t disappear from view because of the refraction of light by the earth’s atmosphere (please don’t ask me to explain this any further because I’m terrible at science; if you want more info, go to wikipedia). In some cases, the moon turns reddish-orange. Interesting fact? The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 sent millions of particles into the air that affected lunar eclipses for the next six years. As a result, the moon turned a more vibrant red during eclipses. Yeah, I’m a total nerd.
A/N, part III (August 2007): Looking back, I don't really love this story. At the time, it was really more about the AU concept and exploring possibilities, but I don't really have an emotional attachment to this story the way I do some of my others. Just kind of an experiment, I suppose. I'll let you be the judge.
The Killing Moon
November 13, 1992
John Bender stood under the street lamp at the corner of Randolph and State Street, smoking a cigarette. It was a cold night in Chicago, too cold to be hanging out by himself on the corners, where the wind whipped up and down the street, turning his fingers to ice and threatening to put out his cigarette before he’d even finished smoking it. He thought of his bed back at his smelly, rat-infested apartment--he refused to call it home, much like he’d refused to call his parents’ house his home--and he wanted so badly to be back there, burrowed under the covers, in that pleasant place between asleep and awake.
But he couldn’t be, and that was the problem. His landlord had finally grown tired of waiting around for John to catch up on the rent, which was overdue by nearly two weeks. He’d told him that morning--right before John had left for work at the diner where he cleaned dishes for $3.35 an hour--that he shouldn’t bother coming back if he didn’t have the money he owed him. John knew that he was serious. He’d seen the sawed-off shotgun that he kept next to the door, and John knew that the old bastard was just crazy enough to use it if he was pushed too hard.
So, there he was, hanging out in the theater district, waiting for the richies to pour out of the Ford Center for the Arts, where they were putting on some musical about men in cat suits. Across the street from the theater were a couple of uncovered parking lots with wooden signs advertising inflated parking prices. Twenty bucks for three hours. Without even having to think about it, John knew of at least five ways he could spend twenty bucks, and not a damn one of them involved giving someone else control of his car. Not that he had a car anymore.
John flicked the ash off of his cigarette and looked up at the night sky. Tina, one of the waitresses that liked to think of herself as some sort of maternal figure to all of the busboys even though she was barely thirty, had told him that there was going to be an eclipse that night. He hadn’t really paid much attention when she told him how it worked, partially because he didn’t care much for science and partially because he knew that she was probably fucking up the facts somehow anyway. But as he gazed up at the sky, he thought that he maybe should have paid more attention. The moon was turning a deep orange-red, fiery like the tip of his cigarette that flared every time a stiff breeze came through. A thick disc of burning coal on a bed of ash.
Across the street, the door to the Ford Center burst open and the first group of theater-goers spilled out onto the sidewalk. John threw his cigarette onto the ground and moved back into the shadows. Another breeze picked up, and he pulled his black denim jacket closet to his body, too fucking cold to care if he looked like a pussy or not. He shoved his hands into his pockets and curled his fingers around the switchblade.
“I liked it, but it wasn’t nearly as good as A Chorus Line.”
Andrew Clark nodded stiffly and pushed open the door, letting a burst of cold winter air into the comfortably heated lobby of the Ford Center. “Yeah.”
Cheryl pulled her coat closer against her body as she brushed past him, stepping out onto the sidewalk. “I mean, it didn’t really seem to have a plot, you know?”
Andy resisted the urge to scoff. “Yeah, I was thinking the same thing,” he said mildly.
Cheryl shook her head, sending her blonde curls tumbling over one shoulder. “I didn’t really mind, though. The characters were so fascinating, don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” Andy lied. He hadn’t really been paying much attention to the show, if he was honest. Musicals had always been Cheryl’s thing, and he only went because she asked him to and that’s what you did when you cared about somebody. He usually found them to be incredibly boring, as well as mildly absurd. Who the hell breaks into song while they’re lying in their lover’s arms, dying of tuberculosis?
Cheryl kept on about the characters, saying something about how the costumes were so symbolic and how they reflected the characters’ personalities. Andy looked up at the night sky, realizing that he’d forgotten about the lunar eclipse. One of his co-workers had told him about it earlier, but in the rush of getting ready to go to the theater, he’d forgotten all about it. While he had been in the Ford Center watching men in cat suits prance across the stage like a zoo on acid, the moon had turned bright red. Red like the rose corsage pinned to Cheryl’s black sleeveless dress.
“But I would really like to go see West Side Story, Andy. Do you think your boss could get us tickets?”
Andy glanced back over at his girlfriend. “Yeah, sure,” he said distractedly. He pushed his hand into the pocket of his coat and started rummaging around for his ticket stub.
They were about ten feet away from Andy’s silver BMW before Andy realized that they weren’t alone. A man stepped out of the shadows, his hands in fists by his sides, his head bent low like he didn’t want to be seen. Andy stopped dead in his tracks, and Cheryl plowed into him from behind.
“Wha--” And then she stopped, grabbing onto Andy’s coat and pressing herself lightly against his back.
The man took another step forward, and Andy got a better look at him. Long, dark hair, heavy eyebrows, broad shoulders. He was wearing a dark denim jacket and a pair of ripped jeans, along with heavy work boots. His breath made clouds in the air in front of him.
Andy stared at him, long and hard. “You’re messing with the wrong guy,” he informed him.
The man’s hand shifted slightly, and Andy heard the sharp click of a switchblade opening.
“I think you’ve got that backwards,” the man told him.
“Andy,” Cheryl breathed into his back.
“It’s okay,” he said quietly, reaching into his coat pocket. He pulled out his wallet and held it up so that the man could see it. “This what you want?”
The man nodded briefly. “Throw it over.”
Andy did as he was told. The wallet landed a few feet away from the mugger, and he walked over to get it, his eyes never leaving Andy’s face. He stuffed the wallet into his pocket and straightened up. There was a long moment of silence as the two men stared at one another.
“Are those real diamonds?”
Andy’s heart skipped a beat, and Cheryl let out a tiny gasp.
Andy shook his head. “You got what you wanted.”
“And how the hell would you know what I want?” the man asked bitterly. “Give me the earrings.”
Andy felt a wave of anger roll over him, but he reached back around to put his hand on Cheryl’s hip. “Give them to me,” he whispered.
Cheryl let out a soft whimper, but did as she was told. He knew that she was probably crying. The earrings belonged to her mother, who had passed away two years previous, and they were Cheryl’s favorites. After a few seconds of moving around, Andy felt the posts pressing into the palm of his hand.
“Here,” he said, stepping forward and holding them out for the mugger to take.
The man paused, then reached out to take them. His hand brushed against Andy’s, and Andy let instinct take over. He grabbed onto the man’s hand and twisted as hard as he could, pulling the arm up and around. The man let out a howl of pain and kicked Andy in the shin. They tumbled onto the ground.
The scuffle couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, but somehow it felt like longer. Andy hadn’t wrestled in nearly five years, but it must have been like riding a bike because he didn’t even have to think about what he was doing. He managed to get the mugger down on the ground with his arms pinned to his back, but the man’s grip on the switchblade never loosened. Andy twisted harder, and the knife finally clattered onto the ground a few inches away. Andy let go with one hand to grab for it, but the man was just as quick. Both hands closed around the handle, and both bodies collided roughly against the concrete below. More fumbling and more twisting, and then the blade slid cleanly into soft flesh.
John was cold.
He hadn’t been warm for hours, but somehow this was worse. It felt like someone was sucking the warmth from his body with a vacuum cleaner, starting with his toes and fingers and working its way toward his heart, which was beating so loudly that it drowned out the sirens approaching in the distance. He tipped his head back slightly, just far enough to see the sphere of red against the dark night sky. It didn’t look like a cigarette butt, not anymore. It looked like a splash of blood, a hot, sanguine bloom bursting out over the cold, white surface of the moon. His mouth tasted like copper.
John moved his right hand over his abdomen, dipped his fingers into the pool that was forming. The blood was warm, and he wanted so desperately to be warm. He imagined himself back in his apartment, where it smelled like weed and burnt toast and it was so fucking warm, so warm he could burrow in under the covers and sleep until he couldn’t sleep anymore…
John closed his eyes.
Andy stood next to his car, hands jammed into the pockets of his navy sports jacket. Cheryl was sitting in a squad car about fifteen feet away, her black high heels resting on the gravel road below. Andy’s coat was hanging from her shoulders. Her earrings glittered in the darkness.
“Was there anyone else in the parking lot with you, Mr. Clark?”
Andy shook his head. “No, no one else.”
The officer nodded and wrote something down. “No other witnesses?”
Andy shook his head. A few feet away, one of the officers was holding a long, white sheet, unfolding it as he walked.
“Did you know the man?”
Andy watched the officer drape the sheet over the mugger’s body, leaving all but the head uncovered. The man’s eyes were closed, and his head was tilted back, pointing straight up at the night sky. Andy looked down at his hands, still covered in traces of blood, and he felt the vomit hit the back of his throat.
“Mr. Clark? Are you alright?”
Andy shook his head. “No.” He swallowed the vomit, wiped his hands on his trousers. “No, I didn’t know him.”