"Hi, I’m RJ. I’m supposed to pretend to be your kid until you decide you don’t want me anymore and pawn me off to the next foster family."
"You don’t just ‘pawn’ off family,boy.You’re here to stay."The older women said to the kid.
"I ain’t family. I ain’t your kid and you ain’t my mom…"
Thank God the guy is standing; he was serious about having no intention for carrying him. He’ll eye him as he stands, a good looking lad, or at least he would be if he didn’t look like he’d been hit by a four by four.\
Conall’s used to suspicious looks; he receives them all the time. One look at the kid and his appearance practically screams addict. So he’s hardly offended by the one this guy throws at him, just waiting patiently until he takes the cigarette before moving again.
“Yeah, sure thing.” Rusting around in his pocket he’ll pull the just used one out, offering out to the other once more.
“What were all that ‘bout then? Those men I mean, what did they want?” Maybe the male is rich; maybe there will be a reward for saving his ass. Another look at him erases such a thought; he’s hardly dressed like royalty. So what were the others after?
Maybe it’s a gang war, maybe he’s carrying weapons, maybe it’s something he can nick. But then again he’s probably got good karma for helping this guy, he should probably avoid stealing anything from him and then that’s good karma doubled.
“Did you rob ‘em or somethin’? They seemed pretty angry.” He’s a curious kid by nature, doesn’t know when to drop a subject. “Do one of ‘em got a wife you fucked?”
Pauly took the offered lighter as if it were a gift of food after being starved to near-death. With a metallic click he flicked the lighter aflame, the sight of the tiny yellow blaze warming him all over. He stared at it as he brought it absently to the white paper, his gaze trailing to watch the casing come alive with red embers and sizzle away, ebbing away from the flame while being consumed by it simultaneously.
It was only after the other male had finished asking his questions had Pauly snapped out of his daze, realizing perhaps too late that he was not only destroying more than what was necessary of the cigarette but also wasting lighter fluid.
"What? Oh, no, no…" He shook his hand, ashes flicking off the cigarette as he tried to wave the accusations, particularly the one of him fucking the man’s wife, away like smoke.
"I’m…" He coughed, though not from smoking. "I’m just a stripper…"
"Hi, I’m RJ. I’m supposed to pretend to be your kid until you decide you don’t want me anymore and pawn me off to the next foster family."
"The guys aren’t that bad when you get to know them." He explained. "Just that… We lost one of our own recently and some of them felt like you were trying to replace him." He mimicked Stiles’ aloofness on the subject. "They’re good people." He promised, taking a drink of his wine again, the crimson drink lingering on his lips as he paused to add "Most of them."
He felt bad. It was one thing to pack up and disappear, to try to forget about the people who used to be your friends, even best friends, but it was another to struggle through those relationships from a thousand miles away, trying to hold on. Sometimes it was best to let go, but he’d never let Stiles know that. If he had good friends, he should try to keep them, rather than trying to find some diamonds in the coal mine that was New York City.
"Sorry…" He offered. "But hey, you’re doing the right thing with this whole college thing. You’ll be better off than any of us, be a doctor or a lawyer or some shit." He huffed a laugh. "Forget about all of us…"
He smiled, but pain rattled him. Failure. He’d never be anything but a stripper, he’d probably never even get his GED, his parents would be ashamed if they were still alive. Not only that, but the reminder that Stiles would forget all about him once he could make enough money to pay himself through school settled into his skin.
He set down his glass and clapped, as if the worries were chalk on his hands, disappearing into the air when he slapped his palms together.
He couldn’t tell from the way Pauly tacked on the ‘most of them’ at the end if he was speaking from personal experience or just in a broad sense, but either way it still sounded like a warning to Stiles, regardless of the context of the rest of the statement. He had assumed they were all good people. None of them had said anything particularly off-colour—at least nothing that shocked him or offended him—and actually, most of them left him alone entirely. Maybe in time that would change, maybe when he wasn’t ‘the new kid’ anymore, or when they realized he wasn’t total jailbait, at least he didn’t consider himself to be. Sure, he was inexperienced, but he’d learn. Not like he had a choice, now.
“My dad’s the county sheriff back where I’m from,” he told the older boy. “And I mean, his job’s cool and all, but doctors and lawyers and sheriffs aren’t really my thing. I was thinking, like, social work. Except I always give too much of a shit about people or not enough of a shit about people. Friends aren’t really my area. So… private investigation’s my backup option.”
Pulling another long sip from his beer, Stiles tried to blink back the shock from his face. Instead, it only soured and turned into a frown. He didn’t know much about Pauly to begin with, but he was a decent guy with a seemingly level head on his shoulders, and here he was encouraging Stiles to get out of the life he’d put himself in for work, to forget about his coworkers, Pauly included. Was it really so bad? And why did Pauly keep going with it if he hated it so much? “Forget you? Nah. Hell, it’s a shitty job, but it’s better than reading textbooks and studying. Some days, work is the highlight of my week.”
He was a little startled by the bluntness of Pauly’s question, choking and coughing as he tried to swallow another mouthful of beer. “Sorry,” he croaked between coughs. “I’ve just never—I mean, I wouldn’t even know how.”
Pauly’s eyebrow twitched upwards when it was mentioned that Stiles’ father was a cop. His mind quickly entertained several ideas, taking inspiration for a kinky scene or dance, then suspecting if Stiles was somehow undercover, and then wondering if The Sheriff knew anything about Stiles’ arrangement, if he knew anything about Pauly. The thought of Stiles’ dad knowing about him made Pauly sheepish in a way that made him embarrassed to be in his own head. When Stiles admitted that he wouldn’t forget about him, he was reminded that his boyish heart was not yet completely entombed in stone.
"I like hearing that." He murmured softly, turning to his closet. "And don’t worry, it’s not hard." He paused, his fingers having pulled out a small black safe box with sliding number lock. "I mean… Unless you don’t want to." He’d never been presented with the idea that someone didn’t want to do drugs with him. “I have other stuff, but we don’t have to do anything.”
Jay gave her an inquisitive look, glancing at her beckoning finger before meeting her eyes again. He rose (secretly standing on his toes) and bent slowly across the bar to reach her.
"Yes?" He whispered softly when he reached her, smooth brown eyes watching her easily, the charged energy between them not affecting him in the slightest.
Ella gave a slightly begrudging smile and the lightest shake of her head, a few strands of red hair falling into her face. ”You are ridiculous,” she murmured, her finger finding his chin before leaning in to press a slow, surprisingly chaste kiss to his lips.
She backed away a few seconds later, a half smirk on her lips. ”Was that reward enough for you, sweetheart?”
He had expected her to go for his cheek, and had been fully prepared to turn swiftly and steal a kiss, but to his surprise she did not play around, didn’t flirtatiously avoid contact just to make him whine.
He followed her lips as she pulled away, as if a string attached the two of them, the magnetic pull dragging him across the counter top until he could follow no more. He then slowly pulled to his side again, giving a slow smirk.
"You tip better than most girls."
"Oh-…" He smiled sheepishly at his mistake. "Alright. I’m Andrew." He caught the man’s eyes and smiled, watching the other’s reaction change. He wasn’t sure what it was, the reaction that seemed almost startled in a way, so he let their gazes linger together before he turned his eyes downwards, the cat being the scapegoat for his distraction from Priest’s deep brown eyes.
"Friends call me Snatch, though." He confessed. He normally didn’t tell people outside the business his nickname, but he wanted to take part in the strange name conversation. He hoped Priest wouldn’t ask why, and if he did, he hoped he could come up with a convincing lie in seconds.
While they were speaking, the cat writhed out of Andrew’s fingers and ran under a chair, hiding. He let it be, waving his hand at it.
"Fine, suit yourself." He sneered at it, patting his lap and making kissing sounds at Ginger so she’d jump into his lap. She howled at the pain but trusted herself in her owner’s care, whimpering as the pain dulled away.
"Oh, I’m fine." He put his hands up and Ginger jumped off his lap. Sure, his cuts were filled with all sorts of bacteria from the mouths and claws of the animals, but he couldn’t be bothered if it meant someone pouring that god-awful stuff in them. "I don’t need that."
Without even realizing it was adding to his anxiety levels, Priest felt slightly calmed upon learning the man’s name. No longer did he have to refer to him as ‘that stranger who brought in wounded animals.’
With the telling of that nickname, a smile flitted across Priest’s lips.
He wondered where it came from—who coined it, and for what reasons.
Before he could question these things, the cat broke loose from Andrew’s grasp and ran off to hide.
Priest’s gaze followed the cat, but soon he was turning back to Andrew in order to apply the hydrogen peroxide—
and with that response, his brows rose.
"I think it’d be wise to take some." Priest countered. "It’s really not that bad.” With his free hand he waggled his fingers, encouraging Andrew to extend his arm.
Ginger bounded from Snatch’s lap and onto the couch, and the owner knocked her down with a swift shove from a large yet gentle hand. He felt bad that she was jumping all over the furniture, knowing some people hated that. Hell, for all he knew, Priest here was allergic.
When his hand was beckoned, he frowned deeply, and moped, deflated like a helium balloon three days after a birthday. “No…” He protested like a young child, his voice a quiet, high-pitched whine, his lips refusing form the “o” but instead pursing into a pout.
Like a stubborn boy he took Priest’s hand, closing his eyes and turning his face away. He was not prepared for pain, did not like it, not at the hands of such a gentle man. He’d take a fist-fight or animal fight any day, but there was no adrenaline to keep him from feeling this.
"Well if I had backup I’d bring some but I don’t." He pointed out. It wasn’t like he chose to go out on his own, trying to be the hero or whatever, but when his only "backup" options were a child and a pregnant girl, it was better that he’d go alone. RJ never wanted to be the hero, through all of this, he wished there were easier ways, more people to be with, but there weren’t, and there might never be, so he made due.
"Good for you, baby." He praised softly, lifting his head to meet her eyes with a shadow of a smile on his lips. He was too weak to present to her a grin, but he was truly happy for her. As long as she was strong, as long as she was able, he had hope that he wouldn’t lose her.
"Alright." He groaned and accepted her invitation, the couch bouncing her as he sat down beside her, sweat making the skin on his back glisten. He let his head fall back onto the back of the sofa and closed his eyes.
How he wished the pain would just stop.
"If I were in better condition, I’d go with you." she said softly, a twinge of regret in her voice.
When she caught the smallest smile and heard his gentle praise, she returned it with a smile of her own before chuckling as he plopped on the couch beside her and bounced a little. She could tell he was still in a lot of pain from working so much and she worried for him, “Do you want me to give you a backrub?” she offered, “Or I could lay a cloth in front of the fireplace to heat up like a heat pad.” she suggested, wanting to help however she could.
After a moment, she quietly suggested, “Maybe you can put off the trip for a couple days and just rest. Like you said, we have enough supplies to last us a couple days before they’ll need replenishing and Llyan and I can handle some of the work.”
"Both sound amazing…" He moaned weakly, sounding as if he were succumbing finally, as though he’d been resisting but was now giving in. He rolled his body, which strained and ached as he adjusted himself from sitting to laying, his stomach on the scratchy couch, his head in her lap, cheek pressed to her thigh, eyes watching the flames again.
"I can’t, I want to get it over with." He told her, "I don’t want to wait until we’re desperate."
He kissed her knee, even though the muscles in his shoulders felt like an already tight rubber band, straining just a little more with the turn of his head, threatening to snap.
"I don’t know if Llyan can do more… You’re going to need to start resting more but I don’t want her to overwork herself or get hurt."
The confession stopped both men in their tracks, both stopping to turn to the tiny blonde as she affirmed her statement. Daniel remained stoic, watching her with his serious eyes, while Jay, perhaps lacking the ability to be stoic for anything, just blinked at her with dark eyes.
Jay simply had no words, no means of speaking. It was as if someone had stuffed his mouth with cotton, his tongue flattened into place. it wasn’t as if he didn’t know what to say back, he just didn’t know how to pluck the words from the air and present them to her.
When she turned back to Daniel, Jay could only nod and follow. It was too much to take in at once, a marriage, a coronation, and now a love proposal. How much could one man take in a simple evening?
"I need another drink." He huffed to Daniel.
"After you’re crowned, Your Majesty." He assured Jay in return.
He left them to be dressed in the ceremonial clothes, the same his father and grandfather and their grandfathers had worn when they were crowned. Daniel stayed with Francine as she was taken behind a private shade to be dressed by her lady servants.
"Are you ready to be Queen?" Daniel asked her.
Now that her feelings for him were in the open, Francine fell completely silent, and kept her eyes averted from either of the men. She didn’t want to see Jay’s reaction to what she had said. She hadn’t expected him to feel the same way, she knew she was naive, but she wasn’t stupid, and she knew that men like him didn’t fall in love with girls like her. They just didn’t. But she was frightened she would see some horror or disgust in his face, and she wouldn’t be able to stand that.
But soon enough he left to dress for the coronation, and Francine absently drifted behind the screen to change. There were two Lady’s Maids assisting her, but she slid her wedding dress off herself. As they helped her to dress again, she heard Daniel’s voice, and sighed, lightly.
"I think I am." She replied, truthfully. "I have been educated for this all my life."
A gentle hand made her turn, and she did so, letting them pin some excess fabric discreetly. It had been no surprise to her to find that the traditional dress was too big, and she just had to concentrate on not tripping.
"But education and reality are different, but I think I will be able to cope." She said, before emerging, now fully dressed again. "Do you think I’m ready?" She asked, seriously, staring at him, anxiously.
"As ready as any Queen has ever been." He assured her, offering her his hand as she emerged, a rare smile of delight pulling at his heavy, thick lips. "You look radiant, your highness."
He was happy for his friend, and for Francine. She’d make a fine wife for him, and though Daniel could not say for sure if he would give her the same satisfaction, it was good to know how Francine felt, that the marriage would not crumple, wilt, and die as soon as it was in bloom.
"He loves you." His voice ushered an apology on Jay’s behalf. "I’ve never seen him look at a woman the way he looks at you." He smiled softly to himself, remembering when he’d once had the same light in his eyes.
"Funny thing about that." He told her, a soft huff of laughter in his voice. "We all got different upbringings, we all believed in different things… We got Jews and Catholics and Muslims and whatever else… Hell I never even had anything and I’m still here."
He shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t know what it meant, but he knew it meant something, that no one could have been right in the end, that all the wars started over religion and all the people killed in the name of it were in absolute vain. No religion could save any of them from where they were.
"There is a Big Man though, some higher power." He told her. "I talk to him."
She smiled, weakly, “I said I was raised Catholic.” She explained, “I guess I never really believed all that. But obviously I was at least a little wrong.” She sighed, and buried her face in the horse’s soft mane, trying to keep control of herself.
After a few moments she lifted her head to look at him again. “You talk to him?” Her brow furrowed for a moment, and she bit her lip, lightly. “Is he the one who told you to act like a dick?” She laughed, bitterly, and shook her head, staring at the horse’s back to avoid his eyes, “I’m sorry… I’ve… I’ve had a lot to take in tonight. I’m acting like a cow, I know.”
He gave her a look that juggled befuddlement, shock, and amusement equally. He hadn’t expected such a word to come from her, especially at the end of that sentence, and as he stared at her with dark and baffled eyes, she apologized.
He laughed when he recovered, turning his eyes away and towards the horse. “No, you’re acting like a bitch.” He responded playfully.
As his laughter subsided he nodded solemnly. “I speak to him, yes, but he doesn’t tell me that exactly…”
He stood slowly, covering his nude body with a hint of shame. He wasn’t sure which parts she found offensive, or if he should try to cover all of it, or what to do with the article of clothing he was given. He simply held it over the part of his body where she’d covered him and rushed to walk alongside her.
"Different…" He told her. "I don’t know how to describe it…"
He hadn’t seen anything comparable to his realm yet, he had no words of this world to describe his own.
Ari slowed so he could catch up to her easier, but once he had she continued walking at the rather quick pace she was originally walking at. She would have continued at the slower pace had she not wanted to get to her camp as quickly as possible. After all, she figured the sooner they got there the sooner she could fly to the closest town and get him some clothes.
"Huh." She was genuinely curious what another realm was like, but she knew she couldn’t force him to come up with words he didn’t have.
"…Did you like it there?"
Zero trotted dutifully beside her, though his body ached in protest to the movement. He had never felt such sensation before, pain, and he wondered if it would ever go away.
"I suppose." He nodded, a breeze brushing his skin in strange places. "I don’t know how I’ll ever get back…" He didn’t sound concerned about it, in fact, he wasn’t. Nothing bad had ever happened to him before and he didn’t know the concept of loss or fear quite yet.
"Is this your camp?" He asked as they approached some vague semblance of civilization in the middle of the woods. Zero’s eyes were wide with wonder and confusion.