.. | pariah society | chapter 2
Their warehouse was just that, a large metal building at the end of a deserted street, with a concrete slab of a floor and not much in the ways of anything else inside. Electric lights hung from a beamed ceiling, casting a harsh white light on the dusty floor. But for those fixtures and the dust on the floor, the place was for the most part, empty. They were dragged in one by one with Shooter putting up the most fight and Toby the least. The leader at least gave Riff the respect to walk in on his own. Once they were inside the band circled in around them once again, trapping them.
"That's a famous visitor you had," the rook leader said, in casual continuation of their conversation. "Haven't heard much about him in a while either." He was circling them as he spoke, maddeningly slow and calm about it. He stopped in front of Riff. "But then again, if you knew who he was, it was probably smart of you to run-"
"I didn't say I knew him."
"But you said offered you a deal," the kid reasoned. "What kind of deal?"
Riff watched him as he moved around them again. "He didn't say," he answered.
Their leader shook his head, unsatisfied. "If he's out and about again it's no good for anyone here," he said. "Come on, I need to know what he wanted from you."
"I told you I don't know!" Riff snapped, frustrated with this line of questioning.
"Let me fight him, Ender!" someone piped up from the back, just as dangerous impatience crossed his leader's face at Riff's answer. There were echoes from others who agreed in lesser words that talking wasn't going to bring answers.
Riff's heart began beating in his throat as he realized how bad the situation was becoming. They wanted to beat the information out of them when they had none to give; something about this Milo had them scared enough to get desperately violent so quickly.
Ender held a hand up to silence them. He walked up to Riff and peered into his face, his expression that of someone who was tired of playing around.
"Did he tell you to keep it quiet? You should know that that's of no use to anyone. I'll give you one more chance," he said. "What would it take to convince you? A little pain to one of your friends? You've got to give me something."
Riff felt like he had been in worse situations but he really couldn't remember when. For a few brief moments he couldn't see how the problem could get worse. Then it did.
Ender walked over to Toby and looked him over with obvious interest, as if noticing him for the first time. The thief held his eyes with the same distance he always had in his gaze, neither challenging nor submissive. The rook kid looked intrigued.
"You're a pretty one," he commented. He looked back at Riff. "This one yours?"
At Riff's silence he smiled. "Come on now, I'll have a bang myself every now and then. Who doesn't nowadays?" He moved back in front of Riff and leaned intimately close. "Come on, you can tell me. He your brum?" He leaned closer still, his breath in Riff's ear. "Does he suck your cock?" Pause. A smile. "Would you mind if he sucked mine?"
With a throaty grunt Riff suddenly lunged at him but there were hands on him instantly, roughly pulling him back. For his efforts all he got was a swift punch to the gut. Released for a moment, he slid gasping to the ground. They pulled him back up again and he sagged in their arms, struggling to regain his breath. Behind him he could hear the others struggling as they too were taken captive.
He resisted as best he could when they pulled him up, though he knew it was pointless and he was probably making it worse for himself. An arm wound around his throat and nearly choked him in an effort to subdue his thrashing, and he was suddenly pulled backwards until he couldn't see Toby or Shooter anymore. Fetch and Bella were knelt on the ground and held there in front of him, Bella crying and Fetch straining to see him with imploring eyes. Riff kept his eyes on Ender's, bold and unafraid. Angry.
"He is yours then," Ender said with a rude smile. "My but you get angry quickly." He moved back to where Toby was held, kneeling on the ground like the rest.
"Brummy, huh?" Ender mumbled softly, looking back at Toby, who strained up only to see that he was surrounded. The first hit at him came from behind and it knocked him to the floor again. He didn't have time to get up before the next pummeling came.
Riff watched in horror, his heart beating within his chest like it would break through and his mind dizzied with his rapid breathing. In a few endless moments they let off and Toby lay there where they dropped him, bloodied and bruised, gasping as he struggled to get up, at least to his knees. Riff stared in horror- it had happened so suddenly. And it was his fault.
Ender stepped through the circle and knelt next to him, lifting Toby's blood stained face with the gentleness of a lover. Behind him he listened to the sound of Shooter struggling against his captors, spitting curses at him, trying to break free so he could fight.
"Take that dog to the back and give him a fight if he wants one so badly," Ender said, still holding Toby's face gently. "One at a time though, we have to make it fair." He winked at Riff.
They hustled Shooter out into another part of the warehouse with him struggling the whole way. Riff watched him go as best he could against their grip. He turned back to Ender, who was circling Toby again. The thief could do nothing now but look up at him like a beaten dog, hurt as he was, as a back-handed slap came too quickly for him to dodge.
Ender gave another gesture to his pack and Riff was shoved forward and Toby pulled to his feet. As they were brought face to face, Riff could smell the blood and sweat, feel Toby's exhaustion and pain through the short space between them.
"You have to give me something," Ender said again. He wanted his answers now.
"I told you, we don't know anything," Riff said slowly through clenched teeth. He was terrified of what this rook leader could be capable of next but he would be damned if he would let that show. From the back of the warehouse in some secluded room where Shooter had been dragged he could hear jeering and shouting, the echoing sounds of fighting. He knew Shooter's skill and trusted the kid to be able to hold his own, but his strength wouldn't last forever. If he didn't figure something out soon-
And while he'd been focusing on Toby's beating, he hadn't even noticed that Fetch and Bella were gone. He looked around frantically.
"Where are they?" he demanded, voice strained.
Ender ignored his question. Instead, he was studying Toby's face. "You're so quiet," he asked with a mocking smile. "Do you ever make any noise?" With those words, his crew moved into action again. They pulled Toby up between them, roughing him up more. Then, they started tearing at his clothes.
"No!" Riff yelled before he could stop himself, fighting the arms that held him like he'd never fought before. He kept on with his wild struggles, fighting to get to Toby as they stripped him of his outer shirts and trousers.
"Even if you don't know anything," Ender reasoned, watching them work, "you still should have known better than to venture in this far. You know there's a price for that."
In only a few moments Toby was left with nothing on, sagging limply in two kids' grasps, not fighting anymore as weakened and vulnerable as he was. His pale skin showed the newly forming bruises too well; Riff had to quell his nausea when he realized again that he might as well have inflicted them himself. With a desperate growl and the last of his strength he began to fight so hard that it took a fifth kid to subdue him to the point where he couldn't move any longer. He watched helplessly as the few who stood around began to loosen their clothing in preparation. He was desperately trying to formulate a plan in his head.
But nothing came and time had run out. The first few had already shoved Toby to the ground and restrained his struggles with their weight. God, of all those Ender had to choose for this... Riff would rather have endured it himself than to have it brought upon the one person who could not take it as any of the others could have. In the back of his head he was terrified that if Toby survived, it would be only his body that did so, and he'd be responsible for that too. He couldn't live with that. He wanted to close his eyes but he just couldn't pretend that it wasn't happening. They would ravish Toby and he would be powerless to even turn his face away. He'd had the boy safely in his arms only hours ago, how had it suddenly come to this?
Toby cried out in pain, finally giving Ender the break in silence he'd wanted. But the noise he made was short lived; after a few moments he settled down to whimpering, rhythmic with the rocking of his body. He stopped struggling too, since there were no less than four upon him at one time anyway. One by one they took turns at him. At one point they turned him on his back for the world to see, and Riff watched as tears picked up his blood and ran in reddish streams across his face into his damp hair.
Ender stood next to where they held Riff, watching intently. He'd lit up a cigarette as he stood there with a satisfied smile on his face.
"Can't expect to get much from the poor outerstreet kids than brummys and thieves I suppose," he said. "Crawling those dirty streets trying to survive way out there when don't you know there's no point?"
He took another drag. "Still, somebody's got to keep you in line, when you do decide to come into the real world. We can't have you running so freely about, can we?"
Riff quelled another wave of nausea as the positions switched again. Toby was laid flat on his back, his arms held out against the cold rough floor, his sweat picking up the dust. He had turned his face away from Riff.
"I'll rip you apart," Riff growled under his breath. "When this is over you'd better kill me, you son of a-"
He saw the anger flare in the rook kid's face. "That can be arranged," Ender hissed through his teeth. Suddenly he whirled and cracked something solid against the back of Riff's head. He staved off unconsciousness long enough to vaguely feel his body hit the unforgiving floor. Then, nothing.
Ender nudged the blond's shoulder with his foot but got no reaction. After a few calming breaths he decided they'd dump him somewhere later on when they were done with the rest of his pitiful crew. He looked at the thief who lay on the floor where they'd finally left him, curled into a trembling ball. All in all he'd endured nine of them, a feat Ender found he had a strange respect for. He was still undecided on what to do with that one, even though his endurance proved adequate enough for a few options.
But still, the sight of him was disturbing. "Trash, all of them," he muttered.
"I agree," came an echoing voice. Startled along with the rest of his group, they looked in unison towards the front of the warehouse, only yards away, to see a group dressed in black, standing with weapons drawn on every one of his crew.
And at the front of them stood Milo, easily recognizable by his customary black long coat.
"Though I think in terms of principle, you are by far the most worthless of all," Milo continued, stepping forward and surveying the ruins. "Am I really so much of a threat that you would go to these lengths? Or do you just enjoy this sickness?" By the tone of his voice, it was no question.
"You're a threat to all of us," Ender growled.
He was distracted by a hooded stranger that emerged from Milo's group, coming to the forefront to stand next to his leader. He looked at the outland leader's body on the floor for a moment, then at the broken thief.
Without a word, he pulled out his gun from a hidden place within his coat. For the rest of them, there was no time to react. The sounds of gunfire echoed off the aluminum walls but each bullet hit its mark with frightening accuracy. The rook kids each began to fall, one by one. There had been no hesitation from this stranger, no time to even aim. Disbelieving even as he fell, Ender watched blood spill from his own chest before he hit his knees, numb before he hit the floor.
Alerted by the shooting, the rest of the crew emerged from a back room. Turning in one smooth movement, the stranger pulled a second weapon from the folds of his cloak and counted them off as well, one by one in the same calm manner. In a matter of a few moments, the entire pack had been obliterated.
He lowered his guns without further ceremony and tucked them away into his cloak.
"God damn it, Cade," Milo growled. "Couldn't you have a little more tact about it?"
Cade pushed back the hood of his cloak, revealing his face for the first time to unseeing eyes. Riff lay unconscious on the floor and Toby lay only a feet few away, but had shut out the world.
"You've wasted too much time on him already," Cade said shortly, walking among the fallen bodies and nudging Ender's leg with his foot. "Should have done that a long time ago," he murmured.
Milo knelt next to Riff's body and turned him over gently. "I thought you didn't want to involve yourself in my dealings," he murmured, brushing back Riff's shaggy blond bangs from his eyes. He was still alive, though he'd have one hell of a headache when he woke up, not to mention the nasty wound on the back of his head. It had seeped blood into his beautiful, tousled hair.
Cade ignored the jibe, as usual. "I wanted to get rid of Ender's group long ago," he reasoned with an indifferent tone. "But you always insist on talking first."
"How's the thief?" Milo asked, beckoning two of his men to come lift Riff's body to take with them.
Cade went to kneel next to Toby, who remained curled into an unresponsive ball, facing away from all of them. After a moment, Cade removed his cloak, wrapped Toby within it and easily lifted him up. The thief gave no response, but his head lolled back unheeded- he was unconscious.
"He'll survive," Cade answered, moving towards the outside without waiting for the rest of them.
When Riff woke up, his body ached like someone had taken a hacksaw to his muscles and a bludgeon to his head. He just laid there for a moment, staring up at the ceiling in disorientation, trying to clear his throbbing head and frantically struggling to figure out where he was. When he could turn his neck, he made a half-hearted attempt to look around the room, though it offered no answers at all. The room was nicely decorated though, in a manner he'd never been rich enough to know. The bed he lay in was soft and warm. Clean. Was he dreaming? The grime between his fingers and toes was gone, his skin breathed easily in the cool air- he'd been bathed, and scrubbed well at that. His wounds had also been patched but their aching remained, like the throbbing in his head.
But what struck him as the most strange was the actual unabashed sunlight that streamed though the sheer window curtains, enough to make him squint when he looked into it. Where the hell was he?
Nevermind that. He had to get up, find out where they were. Find his family.
"You should stay in bed," a voice said as he strained to sit up. Milo leaned against the doorframe, dressed in casual dark clothing with sunglasses pushed up into his dark, short-cropped hair.
"You..? How did I get here?" Riff croaked.
Milo roused himself and moved to pull open the curtains to let more of the afternoon light in. "There's not a lot that goes on that I don't know about," he said, as if that were answer enough.
Riff didn't bother with his reply for now. He was holding his head against the throbbing brought on by the bright light against his tired eyes. "Where's Toby?" he demanded.
Milo put his hands on his hips as he gazed out of the window, which was almost as tall as he was. "Sleeping," he said idly.
Riff threw back the bedcovers and tried to get up, not even bothering about his nakedness but he didn't get far. Milo gently but firmly shoved him to lie back again and resolutely pulled the covers up.
"In a little while you can see him," he said sternly. "You and I will talk first."
With an apprehensive look, Riff settled back, unwilling just yet to push this man. Milo came to sit on the side of the bed to speak face to face. From so intimate a distance Riff noticed that he was admittedly quite captivating to look at, but there was an even more sort of intriguingly mysterious quality to him, the same he'd detected upon their first meeting. It was in his dark hair and infinite black eyes.
"Your fighter didn't last the night," Milo said, right to the point. "He fought bravely, but there were too many, as you saw, and they weren't fighting fair."
Riff's heart sank. Shooter would have fought to the last for him, but he wished their last words had not been in anger. He wished... a lot of things.
"Your babies are here, however," Milo said, "Sleeping on full bellies."
"Thank you," he said softly. "You didn't have to care for them."
"Not at all. Though it did take some convincing them that they were safe here. You taught them well."
"I taught them what I know," Riff answered shortly. "It's nothing. What I don't know is who you are or what it is you want from us." The news about Shooter had tightened his nerves and patience. If Milo's visit hadn't flushed them out of that old building, Shooter would still be alive, and Toby... But then again, he was the one who had made the decision to leave that place. There was no one to blame but himself.
"It's what I want from you that's important," Milo said with a slight smile, looking amused that Riff should assert himself. The darker young man stood up and gazed through the window again. "Shall I begin then? I'm sure you know better than most how this city is littered with so many groups. Nothing is organized, everyone is fighting, it's simply not safe. The result are groups like Ender's, who would go to such... lengths to assert authority." He looked back at Riff. "They were coming for you anyway that night, in case you didn't know. At least you weren't caught in your sleep by them."
"You could have warned us," Riff growled.
Milo just shook his head. "You weren't ready to listen to me. And I wanted to see what you would do about it."
"Precisely. You led them out, made a decision and faced the consequences. You took responsibility for what happened to your thief, as you take responsibility for your fighter's death now. That is where you fit in these plans of mine."
"I want to create a rookery that could squash these trash groups. Take over this territory, make real money, not just steal enough to get by-" Milo came and sat next to Riff again. "Stop this living hand to mouth senselessness and make a life of something."
Riff looked skeptical. "You don't look like you're just scraping by," he said, gesturing to the room. They had to be in the downtown Highs somewhere to have such a view of the sun.
Milo smirked. "Don't you like it here? Wouldn't you want a life like this?" he asked. "For your babies at least?" He cocked his head. "For your thief?"
Riff turned his gaze away with a furrowed brow and an impatient sigh through his nose. "You don't know anything about me," he said. "What do I have to do with this rook you're going to build? Why me?"
"I want you to lead it," Milo said. Before Riff could do much more than drop his jaw, he tapped his temple with a smirk. "Think about it," he said. "Money, respect, safety for those you care about."
"You must be joking." Riff had started shaking his head. "I'd never be able to do something like that-"
Milo pretended to examine his fingernails. "I'd help you of course," he said casually.
"Then why not just lead it yourself?"
Milo met his eyes again with a reserved softness as if acknowledging some old secret memory. "Because I've had my turn. I've found something that suits me more."
Riff waited for him to go on but Milo offered nothing more. He had detected the solemn tone of his voice, but still could not read his face.
"We've been watching you for a while," Milo reiterated, changing the subject. "I think you could control something like that. In fact, I'm sure of it. All you would need from me is a way to start."
Riff was still very much unconvinced and he let it show in his face. He was shaking his head at the whole idea, refusing to believe that Milo would hand him everything like this. There had to be a price somewhere.
Milo leaned close. "Your thief lived through this," he said softly. "You were lucky. Would you risk that again?"
"You keep calling him that," Riff growled. "He's not my thief, he's not anybody's anything."
Milo had looked away from him, as if he wasn't paying attention or was just meaning to get that impression across. "Times are changing. They have changed. The old rules need to change with them, and those with the power will make the new ones."
Milo's subtly hidden point was made well. Riff cast his eyes away, unwilling to acknowledge this stranger's success in finding his weakness. Old rules meant those beliefs and attitudes that kept him and Toby apart; if someone in a position of power, strong power, could cast those old prejudices down... There was no telling how many others would turn to such ideas, accept them as part of everyday life. Girls were few and far between, and those that existed were of the toughest sort, the ones strong enough to survive scarce here in a world of boys that liked to fight. Riff had never expected Bella to make it this far, and she wouldn't have, if she'd been left on her own.
After a silent moment, Milo leaned close, putting his hand on Riff's bowed head. "You have your reason now," he said softly. "As I said you would."
While he spoke, someone else had entered the room. The new young man was tall and of a lean build, with a particular haughty swing to his gait as he wandered in. His short hair was blond, a natural shade of it in a world where many liked to bleach, and his eyes, even from Riff's distance were very clearly green. Though like Milo's his ears were pierced repeatedly, the small silver loop piercing the outside of his left eyebrow was by far his most noticeable feature. He was striking to look at.
He had to be the hooded stranger. Even in the simple act of entering the room, everything about him seemed calculated, every movement, every look. His expression was intelligent, distant and cool when he looked at Riff, giving nothing away as to whether or not he approved of him.
"He's awake," Cade said to Milo, not even bothering to give Riff another glance. Milo got up and tossed Riff a pile of clothes that had been lying on the foot of the bed. They were simple and comfortable, a soft sleeping material.
"Come on," Milo said, gesturing as he moved towards the door.
Dressed, Riff followed them down the hallway outside his room to the opposite end, trying to ignore the soreness of his muscles. He was impressed by the size of the place despite himself and again Milo's promises of a good life came into his head. That they could have something like this– it was possible.
When they entered the last room, he saw something similar to the one he'd been in. Toby lay in the bed, his dark hair spread over the pillows, shiny and untousled; he had been bathed as well. He was on his side facing away from the door, seemingly asleep. Riff stood and looked at his bare back, hardly noticing Milo gently prodding Cade out of the room and closing the door behind them so that they were left alone.
Toby's smooth back was only marred now by a few pale red scrapes across his shoulder blades. Riff had actually never seen the thief completely naked; on the outside it usually just too cold to bare so much. But here, in this warm room, Toby's naked back and shoulders were beautiful and fair and so torturously out of reach. Riff swallowed the sensation of such a sight and told himself that now was not the time for that old struggle. For all he knew, Toby wouldn't even want to see his face, though for his own part Riff knew that the thief would never blame him- Toby knew better than most about the way things worked. Of course that didn't make it any easier.
"Riff?" Toby said, his soft voice muffled by the pillows.
The blond went to sit next to him, racking his brain for something he could do to ease the thief's mind- and his own- over what had occurred. He would never be good at such things. Toby still hadn't looked at him. Riff waited a silent moment.
"Lie with me," the thief said. His tone was quiet. Tired.
At his bidding Riff gently moved to stretch out behind him, careful not to rustle Toby's position too much. After a moment's hesitation, he let his guilt and fear get the better of him and decided he could not deem Toby safe until he'd felt him whole in his arms, warm and alive still. Swallowing his nervousness he wrapped the thief in his arms and spooned up behind him, blankets and all. He pressed his face into thick, fresh-smelling hair.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
"Don't say anything," Toby said, "especially not that. There was nothing you could have done." He shifted slightly to be more comfortable in Riff's embrace and didn't move again. His proximity and silent need for his friend to be close softened his words, though Riff was far from comforted completely. Only when the expansion of the thief's ribs under his arms eased evenly into sleep did he realize that while he could do nothing to help, Toby would move on from this by himself with alarming ease.
When he realized that, Riff sighed deeply and closed his eyes, treasuring the warmth and solidity of the thief in his arms. He cherished the quiet minutes that passed; it was likely that he wouldn't get such an opportunity again. He hoped not, if this was the price for it.
"I'm sure he'll sleep in there now," Milo said idly, walking back down the hallway away from the room they'd just left. Cade trailed behind him, hands shoved in his pockets, brooding as usual.
"Until you kick them out, probably," the blond answered.
Milo stopped and turned, fixing him with a curious look. "I'm not going to kick them out," he clarified. "Why would you want me to do that?"
Cade looked back down the hallway towards the door. "I don't," he said. "But I thought he refused you."
With a smile, Milo began walking again. "He's thinking about it, I know he is. It will be the thief that makes up his mind. He's completely whipped, that one."
"Mmm," came the non-committal agreement from behind him.
"Speaking of which-" Milo said after the short jog down the stairs to the lower level of the loft. "I want you to promise me something."
Cade looked up at him, mild interest coming across his face but no more. He kept his emotions, even showing his attention, under stone.
"I want you to promise me you'll keep your hands off."
The blond smirked, a rare sight he saved for when they were alone. "Off of you? It's too late for that, isn't it?"
"Off of Toby," Milo corrected, in no mood for jokes. "This is important."
Cade looked away from him, a definite sign that he'd been considering the idea. Even after all that had happened, Milo had not missed the silent exchange between them. Riff hadn't either for that matter, but he'd given no hint as to how much it had bothered him.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Cade said finally, rubbing the back of his head. "He's not even my type."
Milo rolled his eyes. "You don't have a type, that's the problem," he said dryly. "Now promise me you'll leave them alone. They're dealing with something very delicate."
Cade was silent for a moment, considering his answer. Milo had known him long enough to know that when he made a promise, he kept it. To his credit, and despite his lack of morals over other things, Cade tended to take the promises he made very seriously.
"I'll only promise not to go after him, that's all," he said finally, honest to the core and atrociously unapologetic about it. "What comes after that is my own business. He looked at me first."
Milo sighed and let the matter drop. He wouldn't be able to get more than that. "Where are you off to then?"
Cade looked down the long hallway before them. "Home. For a while at least. Then, I don't know." He said it with such a nonchalant shrug, as if he truly didn't care where he'd be in an hour, a day, a year. A lifetime.
As Milo watched the blond walk away he sighed again softly, inwardly. There was no bullying Cade into anything. He himself had learned that years ago when he'd first met the kid, but what would their new acquaintances make of him? Doubtlessly out among the dregs of society they'd never met someone like Cade, someone who cared nothing about survival and the future they spent their existence striving for. In Riff's eyes he'd seen a refreshing difference- something of a higher wisdom; an acceptance that they all eventually had to learn.
Toby, on the other hand- well, who knew what issues lay there. When there was usually only one thing on Cade's mind, the only requirement he'd ever had the need to satisfy, that was when Milo feared for the thief's virtue. All Milo could do for him was hope that Toby was stronger than he looked.
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