"I think the boy said no," a deep voice said. I saw the black leather clad hand that came to rest on my attacker's shoulder, followed it up the black leather clad arm to the scowling serious face. My jaw dropped at the sight. He was the type of guy I always had that immediate crush on. Long, jet black hair, pulled back in a low ponytail revealing the darkly tanned face that needed a shave. A strong square jawline and high cheekbones gave his scowl a threatening look to it. I could only imagine what colour his eyes were as they were hidden behind dark sunglasses, even in the darkness of subway platform.
"Fuck off, jackass," the man holding my shirt said, shrugging his shoulder to get the gloved hand off of him. "This is just a matter between me and li'l whore here." I rolled my eyes as he called me a whore. I wasn't a whore. I was street urchin. I only sold my body when I needed money and I didn't have some pimp that I needed to share my profits with. Thus, I made more money and I kept it all, so I didn't have to sell myself that often.
"I'm not a damned whore!" I cried, smacking at the arm that held me.
"You were yesterday," he sneered and then I finally remembered this guy. He was first customer yesterday. After the way he treated me, even if I was selling myself today, he wasn't going to get any. The cigarette burns on my back still hurt from where he'd crushed his cancer sticks out on my skin.
"That was yesterday, this is today! And yer kinks have put you on the never again in a million years list!" A deep sigh reminded me that the tall dark and mysterious man was still standing there and my eyes went wide, thinking he would just abandon me now that he knew I had sold my body yesterday. To my relief, he looked a bit more aggravated than he had a moment ago, and I watched his hand tighten on the shoulder he held.
"Let go of the boy, now," he growled, his deep voice sending chills racing down my spine. The man let me go, well technically he threw me away, and I stumbled backwards, falling onto a bench. I watched as my chocolate haired attacker attempted to pry the man's hand off his shoulder, only to find that the larger man was much stronger than he was. His entire demeanor changed as his eyes did the same follow I had earlier from the hand to the face. Instead of finding the man attractive like I had, he shrank in fear, his entire body beginning to shiver.
"I got it. I'll leave the boy alone," he whimpered, staring in wide-eyed fear up at the dark haired man. When the gloved hand slackened its grip, the chocolate haired man fled, glancing back over his shoulder to be sure he wasn't being pursued.
"Thanks," I said, turning my attention back up to my rescuer. His scowl hadn't gotten any better though and now it was focused on me. I sighed, running my hand through my dirty hair and looked away from his penetrating gaze, having the distinct impression that he was criticizing me. "You ain't gotta lecture me, man," I muttered miserably. "I wouldn't do it at all if I didn't have to. But a person's gotta eat to survive." He crossed his arms, his penetrating gaze now moving from me even though I couldn't see his eyes. I could feel it. I could feel his distaste for my choices. I lowered my eyes, grabbing my backpack and stood.
"Anyways, thanks," I muttered again. My eyes focused passed him for a moment, seeing someone that made my blood run cold. I watched as the arm raised, a gun in hand and pointed not at me but the dark hand mystery man in front of me. My eyes widened and I let my bag drop from my shoulder. In my ears I could hear the sound of the subway train coming, and my better instincts told me that what my body was about to attempt was suicidal. But I felt like I owed this guy something and it wasn't something that I couldn't do. "No!" I yelled, bolting past the leather clad giant towards the person with the gun.
Everything around me was a blur as I focused in on my target. The man with the gun, started firing, his eyes opened wide in surprise at me as I charged towards him. He was standing too close to the edge of the platform. I barreled in to him and we both fell off the platform onto the tracks, his back hitting the rails with a sickening crunch. I pushed up and off, leaping to the more dangerous side of the tracks and flattened my back as hard as I could against the wall as the train came rushing through. I held my breath and closed my eyes, just waiting for the train to catch me and drag me to my death. When it finally passed, I let out a heavy sigh of relief and opened my eyes. The man in black was standing on the other side, holding my backpack in one hand as he stared at me.
"Thanks for grabbing my bag," I said as I pulled myself back up on the platform and reached for the strap he held in his hand. He pulled it away and I snapped my eyes up to his face. "Hey, man, can I have my bag back?" He shook his head, and I had the impression his eyes narrowed at me behind those dark glasses. "Look, he had a gun pointed at you. I was just paying you back for your help earlier. I really don't want any trouble."
"What are you?" he asked and I flinched. Crap. He knew that wasn't a normal thing for a person to be able to do.
"Just a street urchin," I mumbled and reached for my bag again. He jerked it out of my reach and I sighed once more. "Okay, so I'm not an average street urchin! But I'm not a threat to anyone! Just gimme my bag so I can go back to my crappy life!" He just stared at me, holding my bag up and out of my reach completely now. Out of my reach, unless I jumped for it, which would be easy to do, but would once again show I wasn't all that normal. "If I tell you, will you give it back?" I asked, resigning myself to whatever might happen when I gave up my secret. He nodded and with a sigh, I began to remove the leather cuff on my wrist. It wasn't an ordinary cuff, having threads of pure silver woven in intricate patterns through it.
As it fell away, my form shimmered in the dim light of subway platform. My human ears disappeared and cat like ears popped up on my head and a long thin tail appeared, wrapped tightly around my waist. Black whisker like marks moved over my cheeks and four black triangles formed over and under my eyes. My eyes shifted from dark green to a yellow green with my pupils going from round to cat like slits. Even my teeth looked like they should belong to cat, which several having sharp little points. I sighed as my cream coloured tail unwrapped itself from around my waist, only to recurl around my leg.
"Happy now?" I asked, turning my eyes towards the floor. My instincts were telling me that I was in deep shit and that I should abandon my bag and run for it, but I remained glued to the spot. If he was going to kill me, then he could kill me. I was honestly tired of living the life I did anyhow. Always having to hide the fact that I was different was a tiresome and living day to day was bothersome with the things I would do to get by.
"Cat demon?" he asked softly, his deep voice tickling my sensitive cat ears.
"Half," I replied. "My mother was a gypsy and made the cuff I wear that hides the demon side. It was her way of protecting me." I twisted the cuff nervously between my hands, not daring to look up at the man.
"Put it back on," he said and I quickly complied, shuddering slightly as my appearance went back to completely human. "Come with me," he commanded as he slipped my bag over his shoulder and started walking towards the steps to lead up out of the subway. I quickly followed, watching the tails of his black leather trenchcoat as the fanned out behind him. I briefly wondered if he was leading me somewhere else to kill me, as demons were feared and hunted to the point where very few of us actually still existed. I could tell by the scent that came off of him that he'd killed before, mainly demons as our blood has a particular scent that human blood lacks. It was something reminiscent of brimstone if I had to put a name to it.
Outside, the dark sky of night was just beginning to lighten, the sun only an hour or two from rising. I followed him to a motorcycle that was parked along the street where he finally handed me my bag back. He climbed on to the machine and I started to turn to walk away. He grabbed my wrist quickly, preventing me from leaving and pulled me to him. When he let go, he patted the small space behind him on the seat.
"Get on." I stared at him for a moment and then did as he instructed, climbing on the bike behind him. "Hold on, kid," he said, his deep voice having a lighter tone to it than before. I wrapped my arms around his waist, clasping my hands onto my wrists so that I wouldn't touch him more than I had to. My grip tightened as it roared to life, my sensitive hearing screaming at the loud noise it made. His hands grabbed at the back of my thighs, setting my feet in a place where they wouldn't get burned on the exhaust or get in his way, before he took off down the street.
The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon when he finally pulled into a parking garage and stopped the infernal noise of the motorcycle. I quickly slipped off the bike once he cut the engine, running my hands through my windblown hair. My eyes were narrowed as a headache thumped behind them. I glared at the infernal contraption for causing me such pain. A gentle hand on my head, however, redirected my attention to the man who had made me get on it and was currently standing in front of me.
"Hard on your ears, wasn't it?" he asked, concerned. I nodded a little bit, suddenly finding that I'd lost my will to talk. "Come on," he said and began walking towards an elevator a few yards from where he had parked. Again, I followed behind him, ignoring my instincts that screamed at me to run as far and as fast as I could away from him. Inside the elevator, I kept my distance, pressed against the far wall as he pushed the button for a floor. When the elevator stopped and the doors opened, I followed him out onto a landing. A quick glance around told me that the door in front of us was the only door on this floor and as he unlocked it, I followed him inside, trembling.
"The bathroom is through the door on your right," he said, gesturing towards a white door across the living room as he shrugged off the leather trenchcoat. I turned my eyes to him, slightly confused. A smile finally cracked his serious face as he noticed my confusion. "I'm a bounty hunter, not a demon hunter. I'm not going to hurt you." However, this didn't alleviate my confusion, only my fear of immediate death.
"Why am I here?" I asked softly. As the sunglasses were removed, I almost gasped at the stunning pale blue eyes that looked back down on me.
"You saved my life," he replied simply. "When you disappeared over the edge of the platform with the subway train coming, I thought you were as good as dead. And then you came up, laying so flat against the other side. It was an incredible feat and you had the intelligence to prevent yourself from being killed by the train on the other side." I waved my hand slightly, stopping him.
"I did that because you helped me," I replied. "We're technically already even." He sighed and crossed his arms over his chest again.
"Look, I need a partner," he said. "Tonight was just a good reminder of exactly why I need someone who can watch my back. You obviously need someplace to stay and a steady job. So what do you say to being that partner?" I stared at him, my jaw falling slack.
"Are you serious?" I asked incredulously. He nodded. "But you don't know me. For all you know I could be a murderous demon and for all I know you could be waiting to kill me once I let my guard down."
"You aren't a murderer," he replied softly. "Your aura isn't black or even red. You seem to despise the life you live, but you live it to survive. I'm offering you a chance to live a life you can live with, before you end up on one of the wanted posters and I have to come and capture or kill you. Your instincts, intelligence and skills would be of great use to me as a partner. As far as I can tell, it's a win/win situation for both of us." I crossed my arms, thinking over what he'd said. It wasn't such a bad deal.
"I won't be a bother to you?" I asked, my voice growing quiet. He shook his head. "Well, when you put it that way, I'd be an idiot to refuse." His smile grew wider then and his put his hand out to me.
"Great! The name's Malek Vault," he said as I tentatively shook his hand.
"Cricket Haimon," I replied. A small shiver slipped down my spine at the spark the simple touch sent up my arm. Mentally, I groaned, realizing that I was going to have to keep myself in check around this guy. I seriously doubted he'd have any interests in me having a crush on him, but he was totally my type.
"Cricket, eh?" he murmured with a soft chuckle. "Well, Cricket, go get cleaned up and I'll see if I can't find something you can wear. I don't imagine whatever you have in that bag is any cleaner than what you have on." I blushed deeply and looked away, knowing full well he was right. It'd been a couple of weeks since I'd had a chance to clean myself or my clothes. He laughed again and I turned away with a bit of a huff, marching off in the direction of the bathroom he had indicated.
I stayed in the shower until the water was too cold to tolerate, washing and rewashing every inch of my skin and hair. It felt so good to be clean again that I couldn't help but smile. When I got out, I found a clean shirt and pair of athetic shorts sitting on the closed toilet lid, a towel on the rack and a toothbrush sitting on the counter. I smiled, wider, my tongue brushing over my slimy teeth at the thought of finally being able to brush them properly. Just like I had with my body, I brushed my teeth several times, trying to get every spec of grime off of them. Satisfied, I slipped the clothes on, laughing silently at how big they were.
"I was wondering if you would ever come out," a deep voice said as I finally emerged from the bathroom.
"I'm sorry," I mumbled, blushing deeply as I turned the hem of the shirt over in my hands nervously. "It's just been awhile and I got a little OCD with the cleaning." Malek's soft chuckle only made my blush deepen.
"Just as I feared, even my older clothes are too big for you," he said. I glanced up to find him leaning against the wall beside the bathroom door, his eyes moving over me. "You hungry? I'm not the best cook, but I'm decent enough." I nodded quickly as my stomach growled loudly at the mention of food. "Alright, but as soon as you eat, let me see your back. Burns have a nasty habit of getting infected." My eyes widened to the size of saucers as I stared at him while he crossed the room to the kitchen.
"How did you know?" I asked, not daring to move to follow him yet. He didn't stop as he opened the refridgerator, pulling out things he would need to make breakfast.
"Your aura," he replied as he set the ingredients on the counter. "It shows spots of pain on your back and you said something earlier about that guy and his kinks. He was a smoker, so I assumed that he burnt you with his cigarettes." Cautiously, I made my way across the living room to take a seat at the counter, watching Malek carefully as he began frying up some bacon.
"You can see auras that well?" I asked timidly. He nodded.
"It's how I can tell the difference between people to trust and those not to," he replied without turning around. "Your aura holds quite a bit of sadness and regret in it, but nothing malicious. Most street urchins have killed someone at some point, but from what I can tell, you haven't."
"I haven't," I said quietly. "Doesn't mean there isn't someone I want to kill though." He stopped now and turned, eyeing me questioningly. I sighed, folding my hands over the countertop. His eyes said he wanted to know, but he remained silent for a long moment before turning back to the sizzling bacon.
"You don't have to tell me, Cricket," he said finally. "Everyone has their sad pasts, the things they regret, the grudges they hold. I have no right to ask, although, if you ever want to talk about it, I'm more than willing to listen." I stared at him. It was weird for anyone to be this kind. Most people had to force themselves to even be halfway polite to a street urchin and he didn't seem to be straining at all. It was mildly unsettling that he was acting as if he cared about something as unwanted as I was.
"You confuse me," I said after awhile of watching his back through the t-shirt he had changed into. "The person I met in the subway was cold and closed off, but you just keep getting warmer, being nicer than you have to be, than most people are."
"Ah, well, outside this apartment I'm a bounty hunter," he replied as he scrambled some eggs in the pan. "I can't afford to be soft or even appear to be soft. Most people just shy away from me or try to pick fights, but you seemed to not be bothered with the hard exterior. In fact, you surprised me."
"How did I do that? Other than my little spectacle that is," I asked, my eyebrows raised questioningly. He chuckled again, plating the eggs and tossing some of the bacon onto the plate. With a smile he turned around, setting the plate in front of me with a fork.
"There's juice, milk and soda in the fridge. Stay away from the beer though. No underage drinking," he said before answering my question. I sighed and slipped from the stool, going to the refridgerator and getting a can of soda. "You read my expressions and attitude," he said, causing me to jump slightly as he finally answered my question. "You've got a good eye for what people are thinking, even when they don't generally show it."
"It's a gypsy skill," I said dismissively, as I got back on the stool. "Most gypsies don't have or won't use any magic on normal people, so we learn from an early age how to read what they are thinking from subtle movements of their faces, eyes and bodies. It's great for doing fortune telling."
"Do you normally make money with fortune telling?" he asked as he began making himself some eggs.
"No," I said softly, setting my fork down as my throat became thick. "I'm not a female gypsy so no one takes me seriously. Besides, people in the city only see gypsies as tramps and thieves, not the originators of most modern magic." His head turned slightly, his eyes regarding me at the strain of saying those last few sentences was easy to hear.
"Is the only way you've made money up til now been by selling yourself?" he asked, his voice quiet. There wasn't any accusation or disgust in his tone, but it seemed a bit like it hurt for him to ask that.
"Yeah," I murmured, suddenly hating myself for ever having done it.
"Never again," Malek said, turning so that he was facing me. His face was hard and his expression serious, but his eyes seemed slightly misted. I stared at him for a long moment before I nodded, honestly happy to be told that. I'd do anything Malek asked of me if I never had to degrade myself for money ever again.
We ate in silence, even though I often found his eyes watching me, a contemplative look hidden behind them. I wondered what he was thinking, but I figured in time I would find out. He had questions for me, but he kept them to himself for now. We both knew there would be plenty of time to find out more about the other. I just had to keep reminding myself that I needed to keep myself in check. I didn't need to bring in a strained uncomfortableness that usually came with me liking someone. Those that I liked were always straight and those that paid me for sex were closet cases.
"I only have one bedroom, but the bed is big enough to share," he said as the dishes were put away. I shook my head, knowing that sharing a bed was likely to get me in trouble.
"I'll just sleep on the couch," I replied. He looked me over for a long moment and then nodded, going to a closet to get out some extra blankets and a pillow. I smiled when he handed them to me. "Thanks, Malek. I don't know if I can express how much I appreciate you giving me a chance to work with you and to turn my life around."
"It's nothing really," he replied, ruffling my hair. "I'll be putting my life in your hands from tonight onwards." I nodded, wondering just how many times he's almost lost his life because he didn't have someone to watch his back for him. "Get some sleep, Cricket. I'll show you the office tonight and you can meet my secretary. She's a wonderful woman." I felt my heart sink even though I hadn't gotten my hopes up. I nodded, keeping my smile on my face even though I could feel the frown behind it. I made my way over to the couch, unfolding the blankets. "Goodnight, Cricket," he said, his voice soft and slightly reserved.
"Goodnight," I murmured, watching him disappear into what I assumed was his bedroom. After the door closed quietly, I laid down, pulling the blankets over my head. I let myself drift into a deep sleep, for once not worrying about whether or not someone was going to do something to me. I may be constantly tormented by having the object my desire around me, but at least I no longer had to worry about where my next meal would come from. Things were definitely looking up and I was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.