.. | pariah society | chapter 6
"Butro wants Light," Milo said, lighting a cigarette. He took his time inhaling and then slowly exhaling, savoring his first smoke of the day, as he always did. "Always does. He's small-time but I think nowadays he's looking into dealing."
They were at a street side café in the Village, sitting at a table out of the way where they weren't noticed much. Riff was watching the busy street beside them, watching people interact, watching couples stroll by leisurely and watching others rush by, presumably late for work somewhere. The cigarette forgotten in his hand where it rested on the table was a precarious twig of ash.
"He's looking into dealing," Riff repeated, dropping his smoke in the ashtray and propping his chin on his hand. It was early morning, a day after he'd left home and Toby, and as usual he was distracted by what he'd left behind. To this point Milo had born it with patience, as the melancholy usually wore off in a day or two without his having to intervene. However, today he wasn't feeling so sympathetic.
"Get your head out of whatever you've buried it in and look at me, would you?"
Riff dragged his eyes off the impersonal and unfeeling streetway and said, "We saw Cade again."
Milo's small flash of annoyance faded. He drew on his cigarette again and swallowed whatever he would have said. Riff watched him for a few more moments to see if Milo would reply, but his mind was soon withdrawn again after several moments of silence. Cade's sudden appearance... He had wanted to speak to Milo about it but he had never been sure how to broach the subject. A topic such as Cade had to be approached with care; Riff still knew very little about what the nature of his relationship with Milo. What really lay between them, now or in the past? How had they met? And most importantly, to whom would Milo's loyalty lie if something suddenly arose between Riff and Cade?
Milo finished his smoke and his coffee and they left the café behind, easily blending into the growing morning crowd. They walked side by side down the sidewalk in silence but Riff had hardly noticed. He was deluged in his own thoughts, more complicated now than before. Before it had been only Toby. Now he had a new scheme to set up, as opposed to maintaining an established order, and it was going to delay his going home. Why did he yearn for home? Nothing to do with the fact that Cade was around again, and that Toby was home alone, unguarded.
Unguarded? What was he thinking? Toby was his own person, capable of taking care of himself far better than any of them, as Riff had surmised long ago, and would staunchly object to the idea of himself being vulnerable or needing protection. And yet, sometimes he seemed to be the most vulnerable of anyone Riff had ever met. Like a chink in a wall of stone, all one had to do was hit the right spot, the weak spot, to make it crumble into dust. He just hadn't found that spot, not yet. But he would tap and tap for the rest of his life until he found it, only he was all too aware that Cade was quite capable of simply stepping over it.
"I told you a long time ago that you would have to sever yourself from this," Milo finally said, eyes now on the street as well. "You need to focus."
"It was always the thing I worried about when I chose you. But I ignored it back then because you seemed to have it under control."
Riff shoved his hands in the pockets of his coat. Now that Milo was giving him the opportunity, he suddenly didn't want to talk. But Milo would never be put off; if he couldn't get it from Riff, he would draw his own conclusions with uncanny accuracy.
"Cade you can't fight," Milo said suddenly, squinting up at the sky. "When it comes to things like this, he's a bit like a fever. You can watch someone suffer and fight it, but you're powerless in the end to do anything for them. Your thief will have to do this on his own."
"And if he doesn't?" Riff said quietly.
Beside him Milo shrugged, the gesture hardly discernable amidst his long strides. "He succumbs."
"And after he succumbs?" His voice now held rising emotion, now that he was realizing how real the situation was. "Cade doesn't want anything from him but one thing, and where will he be afterwards?"
"But isn't that the same thing you want from him?" Milo asked suddenly.
That almost made Riff stop in his tracks, but he collected himself and kept going, lifting his chin a little. "No," he said resolutely. "I've had to settle that."
"But you haven't settled at all. You have him, as much as you ever will, but that's not enough. Why won't you just admit it? You want to keep your feelings pure for him, I'm sure, wouldn't want to taint them with a filthy fuck. But face it, Riff. You want to fuck him, plain and simple. Love isn't celibacy."
"Love? I don't think-"
Milo stopped walking and turned to face him. "Don't try to tell me you don't love him, that's a fucking farce. Get past your pride and decide how badly you want him, all of him, and how far you'll go to get it."
Riff had cast his eyes away for a few seconds. "I can't do that. I can't make that decision. If it's something he doesn't want, what more can I do?"
His companion looked him in the eyes for a few more silent moments while people brushed past them. Then he looked in the direction of home and sighed. "Then I suggest you start shagging everything in sight. It's the only way you're going to keep yourself from going insane."
Riff's first inclination was to scoff at the absurdity of the idea, but the bitter mirth died in his throat. Milo knew Cade and his cunning better than anyone, so who better to know how to deal with it? But the times Riff had let himself go astray had always left him with guilt sitting like a boulder in his gut. In his mind he'd never gone wrong by Toby; those affairs had always been involved with the job, and Toby had said he understood that. But sometimes, sometimes, it felt so good to let that go, to dive into some willing body, close his eyes and disconnect himself from everything but skin and hair and warmth. He could never pretend they were the object of his desire; that would only drive him even madder with guilt afterwards. No, these bodies had to remain what they were- warm, pliant substitutes. Women or men, it didn't matter to him. Sometimes he liked the women better because they were so wonderfully different, he couldn't possibly fool himself that they were anything else than what they were.
They were approaching the front of the hotel they'd taken rooms in. Riff gazed up at the impending edifice, idly wondering at how it seemed to be falling when one watched the clouds fly by.
"You'll go with me to arrange it with Butro. He's a suspicious son of a whore so for this one let me do the talking. He'll have to get used to your face first before anything else." He watched the blond a few more seconds, noting as he always did how Riff's eyes had a constantly world-weary look to them whenever he was thinking about home and that boy. Riff had turned into everything he could have imagined, he was more than perfect for this work they did, but for that one small flaw. He simply couldn't disconnect himself from the thief, and that was worrisome because it made him vulnerable.
The fact was that Milo was less concerned to hear that Cade was back; he and his old friend often went months without word from each other, but moreso that Cade had so openly marked his target, like a hunter standing in an open field in broad daylight. There was no doubt in Milo's mind that if Toby had not already submitted by now, he would before this job was done. Milo only wondered if the thief would be honest and admit what happened, or if he would hide it as long as possible from Riff. And if he did that- Milo allowed himself a wry smile- what a production it would be when the truth finally came out.
Riff remarked on the building before them and Milo was snapped out of those thoughts. He didn't want Riff to go through that when it came, but he knew it was inevitable. Perhaps it would be the push Riff needed to be done with the thief for good. Milo held nothing against Toby personally, but on principle, he was a direct hindrance to their work. And work came first.
"When do we meet?" Riff was asking.
"Tomorrow morning probably. In the meantime, I want to go down to Tisaud's and see what she's cooked up while we've been gone. Join me?" he asked with a wink.
Riff shook his head. It was too early for whoring, especially there, where tastes tended to run to the less than typical. Milo rarely had notions like this, in fact Riff hardly ever heard him mention interest in sex at all, starting with that one admission about Cade so long ago. But lately it was seeming to occupy his mind more and more. Riff wondered why the change had come about, or if it was merely Milo getting comfortable enough around him to express these needs. Not such a strange notion; Milo was quite secretive about a lot of things. Riff had always expected that in due time he would begin to open up, little by little.
Milo shrugged. "Suit yourself."
That left Riff plenty of time for rumination. He wandered the sidewalks for hours, looking up the tall buildings to see if he could glimpse their apex; gazing down alleys to guess how far they went; watching his reflection in the storefront windows as he passed. In the back of his mind there was a darkness lurking, an uneasy feeling that had begun to sicken his stomach. He hadn't eaten in hours and still, he had no appetite. Normally a good stroll could clear his head if he thought about home or the business too much. But now, hours later, as he climbed the front steps of the hotel again, he felt no better than he had when Milo had left him.
That night Riff laid down for sleep and stared upwards into the darkness. What was Toby doing now? Sleeping probably. Screw everything in sight, Milo had said. Even if he was right, it was something Riff didn't think he could ever bring himself to do. Maybe it was pride, laid into his personality like a curse. But he couldn't do that, he couldn't give in to temptation so easily. He was stronger than that, wasn't he?
The words whispered to his ceiling went unheard by any ears but his own. Toby lay awake, alone, infuriatingly unable to make himself sleep. He'd gotten no sleep last night either. He'd drifted through the daytime hours in a daze of self-reflection and denial. He had to get control of his hazy, scattered thoughts and compose himself before Riff returned. But then again, perhaps that was just what he needed. Toby could then crawl into those chaste arms and feel in control again.
As if daytime wasn't hard enough to float through, the night... Every sound had him sitting up and staring into the dark shadows, wondering if a tall, lean figure in black would step from them. When he thought about that night, his body would rouse; it was like a conditioned response, the wantonness that had been conjured in him, like some instinct he hadn't been aware of before. He didn't like it. In fact, he hated it, but what to do? And what about Riff? That he was guilt-ridden was sure, but that didn't concern him half as much as what would happen if Cade decided to make good on his last promise.
Soon the ceiling began to dim and fade out and he dozed, for a few minutes at least. He hadn't heard the door but he felt the bed move, and opened his eyes to find Cade above him, holding himself over Toby with his arms. When he saw that the thief's eyes were open, he slowly let his body down. He was naked already.
"Thinking about me?" he cooed, lips already brushing Toby's with his words. But that was the end of the tenderness. The arms that swept him up, imprisoned his hands above his head, and the mouth that tore at his were ruthless but Toby's body still rose, arched. The sounds still came from him, these pitiful noises and desperate groans, hisses through clenched teeth. Cade wanted to be face to face; he was very insistent when Toby tried to turn away. This time he couldn't hide his face in the darkness or push it into the pillow. No, the streaming moon through the room's large windows was more than enough to illuminate his whole body, expose him more completely than he'd ever felt that night on the floor of that musty warehouse.
"This has healed nicely," Cade whispered in his ear. His slick fingers had found the slightly raised bump just above Toby's hip, a memory of that night, a cigarette extinguished on his flesh. The small scar had long faded to a creamy white and he'd forgotten it.
"Do you know I was the one to carry you out of there?" Cade continued, his lips pressed against Toby's ear. "Already I was thinking about what I was going to do to you, once you were better of course."
"Fuck you-" Toby hissed, his hand clenching the pillows above his head. Cade reached up, loosened his fingers and brought them to his lips. Thought melted and he willingly let it go, buried under the sensations of his body. Rational thought Cade never asked of him. He only asked, or told rather, the thief to surrender his will, and that, Toby had decided, he was more than able to give up, if someone strong enough came along to take it from him.
This time he left before dawn, just as Toby was drifting off to sleep, his head cradled on Cade's chest. He shifted only a little as Cade slid out from under him and smoothly, almost tenderly, let his head down on the pillow. Exhausted and half-asleep, the thief hardly noticed or moved. The time for thinking was over. The only thing left to do was accept. Had he energy for anything more?
The next night Cade would came again he knew, as insistent as before and as undeniable, and afterwards, quiet and gentle as he left. If Toby let himself, he would think about the duality of the kid's behavior; cold and cruel, warm and temperate, before and after. He didn't care what it meant, or at least he told himself so, and tried not to think about much of anything, for caring brought on the guilt. He could handle most anything this merciless city could throw at him; could block out the cold and the hunger when he felt them; he could block out Ender's minions, and even Cade sometimes, though that he could only banish from his mind, not his body.
But the guilt- the guilt came from within, and like any of the emotions that welled up inside him, he had no defense against it. Feelings, his own or some one else's, frightened him with their power, they clouded his judgment, made his perfectly steady, thieving hands tremble. So he had to suppress them, all of them.
Riff sat up at the sound of the door. He recognized Milo's lithe form silhouetted before the light from the hall behind him. He laid back down again and glanced at the clock.
"Have you been at Tisaud's all day?" he asked, his voice groggy, hoarse.
In the dim light Milo was shedding his clothing. There came the lightest smell of fresh cigars as he did so. "Long enough," Milo said, "to make a few changes." He'd stripped down to essentials for sleep, but instead of crawling onto his own bed, he crawled onto Riff's.
"What are you doing?" Riff said, only mildly confused. Milo had probably been drinking, or worse, smoking something that had obviously impaired his judgment. But everything about Milo's movement seemed quite clear-headed and keen. He lifted the covers, then threw them off, exposing Riff's warm body to the chilly room.
"Shh," the other hissed. He reached out and pulled Riff's sleeping trousers down so deftly that Riff was naked before he could even react, and then Milo was straddling his legs, pinning them down, and his wrists were restrained above his head on the pillows. The other leaned close, his black eyes glistening like a predator's. There were cigars, yes, but nothing else Riff could detect. His friend was cold sober.
"I've been thinking about your problem," he whispered. "And I think I can help you."
"Stop fooling around-" Riff tested the hands that held him down and found that Milo was quite serious. This was a side of his friend he had not seen before, not directed at himself anyway. It frightened him a bit, but not very. He knew he could probably throw Milo off if he wanted, but was still too stunned to think too deeply about it.
Milo sat up a bit and looked down Riff's body. "It's not bad," he said, sliding a hand down Riff's belly to just let his fingers touch the private hair that grew there. "In fact, this-" Riff held in a gasp when his hand moved lower, "-is quite impressive."
"Let me fuck you," Milo said.
Now Riff did throw him off. He sat up and away, covering himself with the sheets and trying to grasp the very obvious meaning of what Milo had just said. "Are you off your head?" he demanded.
Milo appeared his calm self as he reclined back where Riff had just been laying. "No. I told you, I'm going to help you."
Riff rubbed his face. "Should I even ask how?"
Milo slinked closer to him, looking almost cat-like. "I'm going to teach you something very valuable," he said softly. "Whether you like it or not, one of us is going to get fucked tonight. And if you don't want it to be you, then you have to fight for it. Fight me."
Riff's blood went somewhat cold, but for a sharp spike of excitement that had shot down his groin. Milo slid closer, appearing in all aspects serene and seductive. But Riff knew it was a front. In the few times he had inadvertently seen Milo in his clandestine encounters, he knew the young man to be sharply dominant. The thought of bottoming had never really crossed his own mind; when he thought of sex it was usually in the form of wanting to posses Toby, not offer himself. It hit him that he was in great danger, and if he didn't fight back, no, if he didn't strike first- for one chance was all he feared he had- then he would find himself on the very wrong end of this, worse off than he'd started.
He reached out, grabbed Milo's arms and tried to flip him over. He only succeeded partially, and that only because he'd truly taken the other by surprise. Milo hadn't been expecting such aggression, but of course, it was what he'd wanted. He slid easily out of Riff's grasp and twisted, trying to pin the blond down again as he had before. He was laughing, Riff could see the white flash of his teeth. For a moment he was held fast, and in a panic he used a leg to wrench Milo's from under him and they fell in a tangle of limbs.
They wrestled for a few more minutes, during which Riff began to feel the first pangs of pleasure; they were both hard, which made their play dangerous in itself.
"I don't bottom for anyone," Milo growled, his breath coming in gasps from their exertions. "You'll have to force me. Think you can do it?"
Riff had flipped him onto his back, more easily than he'd expected. "I know what you're doing," he hissed, using his legs to hold Milo's down. "I know how to fuck," he said. "I don't need you to teach me that."
Milo smirked up at him, lifted his hips just a little, enough so that their cocks touched, and Riff lost his concentration for a split second. In that instant Milo slid out of his grasp, had twisted him face down on the bed and was on top of him, bearing his weight down.
"You know how to make love. I've seen you in action," he whispered with a small sneer. "I'm teaching you how to fuck." He rolled his hips against Riff and slid his cock along the cleft of his ass. "I will fuck you," he hissed. "Show you what it is your thief needs, and why you can't give it to him." His taunting was halted for a moment while he quieted Riff's struggles. "Maybe when we get back home, I'll try for myself what it is you're craving so badly-" The tip was pushing in, but it was the words that made Riff lose it.
He freed an arm, hooked it back around Milo's neck and wrenched him to the side, out of his position of power. His hands found the back of Milo's knees and he pushed them up against his chest, used his forearm to hold them there, just long enough to free a hand to guide him inside, where he slammed home with a roughness he'd seen, but never practiced himself. Once in, the fight was over. He spread Milo's knees wide, wanting to see it all, his domination over his friend. Milo hoarsely cried out, grasping handfuls of sheets above his head. Riff almost had red in his vision, such was his frenzy and this latent fury. They crashed together and apart, Milo's groans driving him ever closer to the edge.
"Does he fuck you like this?" Riff demanded. "You let him?"
"He does it faster. Harder," Milo gasped, his words coming in huffs with the rocking of his body. Riff doubled his efforts and was rewarded by the pleasure and the pain of it. Milo grabbed at him, pulled him down to lock their mouths together. Riff pulled away and flipped Milo over, denying the sweetness of kisses, those didn't belong here. He pinned the other's body against the wall and headboard and continued his thrusts, feeling as if he'd lost control, and even if Milo begged him to stop now, he could not have. With a great growl he came inside, and slid his slick hands along the underside of Milo's belly; he'd come too.
They collapsed in a pile sticky limbs and sweat. Milo rested for only a few moments before reaching over Riff for his cigarettes. He lit one, his glistening face briefly illuminated orange in the cool blue of the room.
"Now you fuck like he does," he said.
"It would be safer. Being out here by ourselves, it's dangerous."
"I don't want to have to follow anybody else's rules."
Dane sat up with a gasp, his brow moist and breathing hard. He looked around the familiar room, at the afternoon sunlight streaming through the windows. A dream. Again. He put his face in his hands. It'd been weeks but the memory was as vivid in his mind as the day it happened. His throat was tight, his body ached.
"Christ, you look terrible," a voice said. Dane raised is head as Cade entered the room, carrying a bag of something that was probably food for him. "You all right?"
Dane nodded, rubbing his eyes. "Just a dream, that's all."
"The same one," the blond deduced, sitting on the edge of the bed and tossing the bag into Dane's lap. "Eat, you look pale. Stop doing this to yourself," he said.
"You think I like thinking about it? About how they came through the door and pulled him away from me?" He sighed. "About how I couldn't do a damn thing to stop it?"
"You went out a window for him. Almost got yourself killed."
Dane remained quiet for a moment. "He's still alive, I'm sure of it," he whispered.
"Yes. Alive and holed up in some forsaken city house like the rest of the kids they take." Cade's voice was resigned; they'd had this conversation before. He nudged the bag of food. "Eat."
Dane obeyed but couldn't manage to taste much of anything. The thought of such a place was enough to make him sick to his stomach. There were houses like that all over the city, in each corner of it; small ones, huge ones, all run by the lower rungs of the law. The bolls put the kids they caught there to forget about them, like the dungeons of fairy tales. Parents left unwanted children there, like a voluntary orphanage. Dane had never been in one himself, but had heard stories enough to know that it was nearly impossible to escape, and those imprisoned lived a life of monotony and hardship and darkness.
Remy was just a tyro, used to the sweet freedom of the air, of warmth and comfort. He hadn't really noticed or thought about it, but in the year he'd been on the streets with Dane he had never had to go hungry or shiver from the cold. If he'd been with an ordinary street kid, that would have all come with time, since famine and freezes came like the seasons. Remy had been lucky in his patronage but perhaps Dane had spoiled him a little too much; a city house, if that was where he'd been taken, was nothing he would be prepared for.
When Dane drew himself up to speak Cade's intelligent eyes rested on him for a moment, detecting his words before they came as usual.
"Have you been looking for him? Using your connections?" he asked. The same questions almost every day.
The blond's eyes were dull. "I have."
"Nothing yet, you know that." Cade cocked his head a little. "Is he really worth it? All this fuss and worry?" Dane stared at him, but Cade was unaffected by it. "Because you don't eat, you hardly get any sleep. I warned you about getting involved with some doe-eyed houseboy, that he would drag you down. I don't understand this obsession of yours."
"It's not an obsession," Dane snapped. "It's-"
"What?" The blond's eyes were mockingly cruel. "Love? Surely I taught you better than that."
"It's different now," Dane answered softly. "Things change. You spend time with someone like that... you get used to them being around. Then you want to be with them, then you want to protect them."
Cade's eyes narrowed; there were wheels turning in his mind. "And how would you protect him now if he were here? Would you join the mob for him?"
A pause. Then, "Yes."
The blond actually tossed his head back and laughed. The sound was strange. "You'd change your ways, the very core of your dogma, all for one houseboy?"
For the first time since knowing him, Dane felt he truly hated Cade, and only for saying out loud the shame that blanketed his thoughts. He had changed, almost too much to recognize himself. A year ago he'd be tossing his head back and laughing at the idea too. Cade quickly sobered and leaned close.
"Lucky for you I'm still around to knock your head back on straight. You won't join a mob. You'll create your own."
"That Northside reach gets longer and longer. Soon they'll set up connections on this side of the city as well, unless you can sever them with your own."
"Run a rook? I wouldn't know how to do that-"
"Not a rook like you're thinking. The Northside has that covered too well. I just want you to take your circle of gamblers and capitalize. I'll put you in the big leagues."
Weeks had gone by. Then all of a sudden, months. After that Remy found it hard to keep track of the passing days. His wounds had healed at last, and the only thing left bothering him was his left wrist, which had been broken in a struggle on the street, when the officer clutching his throat had slammed him up against a lorry before they'd carted him off. They had at least set it for him, but that joint would probably give him problems the rest of his life.
The bolls house was a ramshackle old building that smelled of dust and grime and rotting wood, located who-knew-where within the scope of the city. The occasional lonely bellow of a steamer made him think they were somewhere near the channels, but that noise could echo for miles.
It was not an extensive complex but there was an enclosed courtyard where they were intermittently allowed to go, once a week perhaps, and always in small, easily managed groups. Otherwise, they were locked within the building day and night, sentenced to doing odd duties to keep busy. Sweeping and scrubbing, mostly, though it never seemed to brighten the place. The rooms they slept in were too small for their number, and many crowded together on the musty, flattened beds and in piles on the floor for warmth.
The one thing that seemed a bit out of place was the washroom. It had a large, grubby-tiled area with several crude spigots protruding from the walls to shower under. Though he was grateful for them, in such a place a luxury such as a shower seemed incongruous. On the other hand, even the daftest of bolls guards knew that disease came with uncleanliness, and having to spend money medicating the very thorns in their sides was more than they were willing to risk. So the street kids and orphans were allowed to bathe, a couple times a week at the most. Remy, always feeling his outsider status- here even more than when he had actually been on the outside- was not one to take something like that for granted. He learned that on his appointed day, early mornings before everyone else was awake afforded the warmest water, and he could bathe alone.
That was only a small pleasure, like a drop of rain in the ocean. Days were unbearably long and monotonous, the nights bitter and bleak. Cursed with a sweet face, he was ripe for taunting and worse from kids that had been there so long that they found torturous sport the only way to assuage their boredom. It seemed that any life he had lived before this was merely a dream his mind was trying to fool him into thinking had been reality. He tried not to think of Dane, or where he was if he was even still alive. With his own eyes he'd seen his lover crash through those window panes, but there was a chance he'd escaped somehow. Remy knew it, just as surely as he knew the boy himself. Something had saved Dane and he was out there. Nursing wounds and a bleeding heart just like him.
As time wore on, however, his hope had begun to fade. The lonely baying of the barge whistle was sometimes the only thing that still gave him a sense of being somewhere, attached to the earth, not just floating around in space. Dane had not come for him. Could he be that hard to find? Every insecurity he'd ever had now began to surface in his heart. Was he even worth the trouble of finding? Or would Dane just revert back to his solitary days? Sure, he might hurt for a while, but he would bounce back, wouldn't he? Remy had to harshly silence his fears. He wouldn't leave me here to rot, he would think to himself.
Doubt lingered. It made him distrustful of others, even those in the same lot as him. While some enjoyed cruel sport, others tried to be friendly. They asked where had he come from, and what his name was. His name? That was a laugh. Packed in with so many others it was difficult to have any identity at all. Alarmingly fast he'd lost all desire for contact. He didn't want new friends. He didn't want anything anymore. His name was the only thing left to him now, an identity they couldn't tease, bully or rape out of him. He shied away and kept his silence, and eventually became known as such; that pretty auburn-haired boy who never spoke to anyone. No one here would know his name.
He always kept an ear for the gossip, however, should it ever bring mention of something important to him. Mostly it was about the rising Northside rookery that was swelling its ranks and reaching out tentacles far across the city. By the end of the year it seemed official; if you were lucky enough to have something to offer and joined a rook, you only had one choice. The days of the independents, like Dane, were over. The broken skeletons of the ruined side of the city now teemed with life, fed from both ends, taking over like locusts what the citizens had abandoned.
Remy didn't care much for mob talk; it brought back unwelcome memories of their last conversation. He would rather listen to the stories of escape attempts, how some were successful, though most were not. Those who were caught were usually sent off to a different house, probably in worse shape with worse punishments. Because of this boys came and went through the house's population, and Remy had no interest in keeping up with familiar faces. As usual, he kept to himself, conceded to the occasional assault in a dark hallway or late at night when the lights were out, and resigned himself that if Dane had not found him by now, he never would. Boys would come and go, bringing news and rumors and gossip of the outside world, but he would remain.
One early morning, he was joined in the washroom by someone new. Because of the turnover rate, he hardly paid any attention at all anymore, besides being a little annoyed at having his private time encroached upon. He showed his disinterest by turning his back to the new kid.
"You seem to have figured it out," the new one said in a deep voice. "Warm water, privacy."
Not enough privacy evidently. Remy didn't bother to turn around. But as it wasn't in his nature to completely ignore someone, he made some non-committal sound.
"Didn't have water like this at the last place; maybe I'm moving up in the world. I don't suppose they have room service?"
Was he bent on conversation? Remy began to scrub himself quickly.
"Here now," a voice said in his ear, startling him. "What's the rush? Not a talker are you? They told me that about you." Another's proximity had become second nature, but that was only by the push and shove of a crowded room. This place was empty, and he could feel the open air so acutely everywhere but where a warm body suddenly pressed against his back.
"Don't touch me," he said softly, moving away. That old fight; he didn't really expect to be obeyed, but the words needed to be said.
"What, you didn't come here to meet someone? All alone like this?"
"I came here to get clean. Leave me alone." Remy knew his voice wasn't strong; he could never sound threatening or angry, no matter how much of both he was or wanted to be. The stranger chuckled in his ear.
"That's a beautiful blush you have, is it because your skin is so fair? Or are you just that wholesome?" He'd begun to lean on Remy so that he pressed forward against the tile under the rushing water.
"There are others-" Remy gasped, "others who would do this for you. Please, leave me alone-"
A strong hand took his weak wrist and spun him around, his back now against the tile where he got a good look at the strange boy for the first time. His hair, though wet, was a light color, and his eyes looked a sleety green in the halogen. The white, tinny light also made it easy to almost miss the small silver loop that pierced his left eyebrow. He was sharp-featured and handsome, but it was the look in his lazy, self-assured eyes that was unnerving. Primal, greedy. He pressed his lips to Remy's for an uninvited kiss that matched his hungry look; aggressive, impatient. By the time their lips separated Remy felt like his knees would collapse underneath him. He clutched the taller boy's arms, and tried to gather his wits. Why did his head feel so cloudy? Was it the humid air? Or that boy's eyes and his deep voice, entwining his senses like a spider's web?
Remy tilted his head back as the stranger bent to suck on his throat with force enough to leave a lasting mark. He was no longer afraid. His body was suddenly aching with a need he'd suppressed since coming here. Dane had always teased him about his insatiable libido, how could such a thing have been made dormant? And now to be so awakened that he quite appallingly felt he could give himself over right here and now, willingly, to a total stranger. It was like that first meeting with Dane so long ago, but at the same time so very different. He had gone to Dane of his own accord, and had been offered a way out always. This boy gave him no choice. Made him want no choice.
"What's your name?" the boy asked against his throat. "I'll be gentle if you tell me..."
"R-Remy," he whispered, his hands coming up to grasp strong, glistening shoulders. It was a good thing he did, else he would have dropped to the floor when the boy suddenly released him. Remy blinked in confusion, coming out of his cloudy passion.
"Remy?" The stranger asked. "That's your name?"
"Yes? Why?" Visions of Dane popped into his head. Maybe this boy knew him-
But the corner of his mouth just turned up into a sly smirk. "Just a little surprised you told me. From what I hear, you keep to yourself."
Remy felt a little cold and shamed for some reason; his body was quickly losing the heat that had been conjured in him, replaced by the bitter chill of humiliation. It looked now from the space between them that the stranger had no intention of carrying this on any further. He self-consciously rubbed the backs of his arms and became starkly conscious of his nakedness.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"Just a visitor."
At that Remy laughed nervously and teased, anxious to gain back his composure. He made his way off the grimy tile to get dressed, and the boy followed. "A visitor? Are you going somewhere?"
The blond rubbed his feathery hair down with a towel. "I'm only here on business. Recruiting, if you will."
"Mmm." He watched Remy dry off without offering anything else on the subject. His eyes were disturbingly amused, as if he had a secret joke all to himself. It was unnerving. Why did he stare so?
Remy was quick to dress and get out from under those scrutinizing eyes. "Well once your ‘business' is done, how is it you plan on leaving?"
"The way I came in. Through the front door."
He would have laughed at that too but for the way it was said. He was serious. This mysterious new kid was serious.
The strange young man, whose name was Cade, he learned from the others, was not seen around the place for another day or two. The blond actually had quite a reputation among those that had heard of him. No one knew who he really was however, what he did or where he'd come from, or even if that was his real name. They only knew that the kid was serious business. He had the power of connections and information, and would use them to get almost anything done. Influenced by hearsay and rumors, many kids steered well clear of him, while others were anxious to meet him in hopes of getting out of there. To Remy, the only thing that really mattered was the fact that since Cade's sudden appearance, his tormenters had mysteriously found others to amuse themselves with, and he was left utterly in peace.
On an evening a few days later, Cade sauntered in again, dressed in dark clothes. With the expression on his face he silenced those who would approach him and beg his favor. Remy seemed to be the only one willing to look him in the eye from across the room. He just looked so out of place there when, offset from his dark clothes, the bright halo of his hair seemed to gather all the light from the gas lamps of the crowded mess hall. Every morning and evening they were let off from their chores long enough to eat. There were perhaps thirty boys in the room right now, but Cade's eyes instantly met Remy's where he sat in the farthest corner.
The blond glided over to him, his hands casually in the pockets of his loose trousers and when he got close enough, the silver loop glinted beneath the errant, longer strands of his bangs. In this light his eyes were a warm olive color. Remy stared up at him, at his smirking mouth, his knowing eyes. It was like he was from some other world.
"You're not eating?" Cade said in his deep voice.
Remy dubiously pushed his food away. "It's disgusting. I never eat it."
"I'll have a word with the cook." He glanced up and around. "Come with me."
There was no time to hesitate. With long-legged strides Cade left the room and Remy had to trot to keep up with him, followed by mute stares of varying shades of indignation, astonishment, and jealousy. They came through the mess doors into the hallway past which they weren't allowed. Cade knocked on the opposing door, it was opened by two bolls guards, and they walked through, unquestioned.
"How did you-?" Remy's aborted question went unanswered as they traversed another dusty hall, devoid of guards now, then trotted up a flight or two of creaking stairs.
"This is an attic," Cade said mildly. "We can be alone."
They came up the last of the stairs whose top step was part of the attic floor itself, around a half-wall and into a small room lit by two little bedside lamps. There was the bed in the center, a wooden writing desk and a small window whose curtains blew in a soft chilly breeze.
"Is this your room? But how-?" He turned to face the blond, tired of his smirk and of his silence. "Tell me who you are," he said as sternly as he could.
Cade sat on the bed. "Don't you like it? I use it as a sort of halfway room. You can stay here from now on, at least until my business is done. Then, you can leave with me, if you like."
"But why me?"
The dodge was obvious, as it was perhaps meant to be. Remy decided to try a different track. "How can I leave with you if I don't know where you'll take me? What if your some kind of spy?"
That got a laugh. "A spy for what I wonder. No, I'm not a spy, I can assure you of that. I just have a few connections that let me in and out as I please."
"To do what exactly?"
Cade gave him a sidelong, rather appraising look. He patted the bed next to him. "Come sit with me and I'll tell you."
Remy obeyed, though he kept his distance. The boy's sudden snub in the washroom still stung his mind. He'd held out for so long only to surrender, and then be so cast off? And he couldn't understand that if he really had been rejected, why Cade would still want him along.
"I make it my business to do rounds of these houses for anyone who might be of use to me," Cade answered softly, as if ears could hear them all the way up here. "Gamblers, thieves, street-fighters." His fingers touched Remy's hair. "Anyone that catches my... attention. I take who I want and leave the rest."
"But for what?" Remy's voice was soft too.
"It's a rook of sorts," Cade whispered in his ear. "I won't stock it with useless bodies. Everyone has a job to do."
"But I don't do any of those things." And though he was about to ask what it was precisely Cade thought he had to offer, he decided against it. The answer was obvious enough, even to him. The blond had told quite enough, just through the expression in his eyes, which were, perhaps, the greenest eyes he'd ever seen; he never remembered noticing one feature so much before in anyone. What was it that made them stand out so? Was it the brow ring, or the ivory-white of his hair? In a moment Cade's lips were cool on his own, and his mouth tasted like clove cigarettes. Not unpleasant; it made Remy think of Dane. When their lips separated, Cade stood up.
"It'll only take me a few more days," he said, putting space between them. "You can stay here if you like until then. Eat some real food, have some privacy. There are books on the table, I assume you can read? I suppose you need something to stay occupied until I'm done here."
"Because I don't want you down there with the lot of them anymore." Cade's voice was stern, a new tone for him, but it was that of someone very used to being obeyed.
Remy could think of nothing to say to that sudden command besides a quiet, "...Okay."
The seriousness left after that, and his face almost... softened. He reached out again and touched Remy's hair, one of the locks that fell over his brow. "What I heard about you really is true," he mused. "So pretty. So naïve. You'd trust anyone the first time, wouldn't you?"
He leaned in and kissed Remy again, as if the draw of their gaze bade him do it. Remy leaned into his arms, a little moan in his throat and his hands came up to touch Cade's face for the first time, caress his cheek, feel the tickle of his hair. When the blond pulled away his breath was drawn out. He held Remy at arm's length, then stood up away from the bed and straightened his clothes.
"Get some rest," he said. "I'll come for you in a few days. Be ready."
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