Chapter Three: The Father

His father came in to take him to dinner. He was horrified. He scurried up from Anakin's embrace as quickly as he could. "Sorry," he murmured. "I didn't mean to fall asleep."

"I had no problems," Anakin murmured. He seemed to be watching Caius again. He tried to ignore that piercing stare as he left the room. Anakin stood and followed behind him.

Dinner was a simple affair, since his father had been the one to 'cook' – a delivery service had done the work for him. It was pizza tonight.

Caius hesitated before entering the kitchen. His father glared at him. "Well? Sit."

Caius shot a glance behind him to Anakin. During the day, there had been no problem with Anakin eating with him. He hadn't thought of how it would look if a person just randomly appeared in the room, fork in hand – which Anakin had dutifully explained earlier in the day.

"What I touch can be seen, and at that time, so will I."

"What if you held a button?" Caius asked after a short while.

"Then yes, I would be seen."

So Anakin couldn't eat? But then his father would most likely finish it off... and he wasn't allowed to take his food to his room with him...

"I said sit!" his father snapped.

He quickly sat, but immediately looked over to Anakin, who stood beside him.

"Do not worry. I will be fine," Anakin assured.

He felt guilt take a chunk out of his gut.

"What the hell are you lookin' at, boy?"

"Oh, sorry, father. I was just thinking."

His father harrumphed. "A real man doesn't worry so much about anything. He can handle his problems on his own. You got problems, boy?"

For once, his father was on to something, even though his aim was most likely far off. At least it was in the right ball park this time. "No, father."

"I bet you do. I bet you get a swirlie a day. Am I right?"

"No, father." He took a slice of pizza and began to eat.

"The hell I'm not. You get pounded every day, don't you?"

"No, father." His gaze flicked to Anakin, but instead of seeing the man stare at the food, he found Anakin glaring at his father. It made him feel better. He smiled as he ate.

"What the hell are you smiling at, boy? You thinking about taking it up the ass? Is that it?"

Caius froze. He hadn't... it wasn't like that...

Anakin moved like a pit viper, striking hard. One moment his father was jeering at him and the next he was on the floor.

Even as Caius stood up, he sneaked a piece of pizza from the box and put it on his chair. Just in case. "Father!"

"What the fuck did you do?!" His father roared.

Caius scooted his chair away from him and quickly moved around the table. He knew what was coming. "I didn't-"

His father rose, furious. "You fucking hit me! I saw you!"

He stepped in-between Anakin and his father, even knowing that his father couldn't see the man. "No! I was on the other side of the table-"

He flinched, but it hardly saved him. His father's fist was too fast. He found himself flying backwards.

"Caius!" Anakin shouted.

Pain blossomed on his cheek, an agonizing throb that matched his heartbeat. He saw stars. With an effort, he struggled up, barely managing to lift his head. He saw his father moving toward him, livid. Worse, he saw Anakin moving forward to stop his father. "No!" He shouted quickly, panicked. "Stay back!"

Anakin stopped suddenly. His face contorted into helpless fury. "Caius-"

"Don't you tell me what to do, boy!" his father yelled. Caius barely had time to cover his face before his father kicked him. "The hell's the matter with you, you lousy upstart! You think you can get away with this shit? Huh?"

Caius didn't answer, only huddled into a ball and gritted his teeth.

"Caius! Let me help you!" Anakin shouted. His voice sounded desperate. Caius didn't answer him, either.

"You pathetic little shit! Momma's boy tryin' to become a man? It's too late for that, you little cocksucker. It's about time you learned who was in charge here!" His father placed another cruel kick into Caius' stomach. He curled into himself with a wheeze.

It was a while before his father finally calmed and left the room. Caius could only lay there on the floor, shivering. His body felt like a dozen shards carelessly taped together. He felt an overwhelming need to cry.

"Caius! Please, let me move!" A desperate plea.

He recognized Anakin's voice, but it took his a while to recognize the words he used. When he did, he moved his lips. It felt like he was lifting bricks. "You can move," he whispered.

In an instant Anakin was by his side, lifting him up, careful of his bruises and scrapes. "Caius, Caius, are you all right?"

Caius took inventory. Everything hurt. His ribs were pounding with every heartbeat. His legs were leaden, his arms bruised and bleeding. His face and head hadn't taken much damage thanks to his arms, but he had a headache from his father's yelling. And he was tired. "I'm okay," he managed, but he could still only whisper. Distantly he heard a door slam and knew that his father had left the house. Moments later that engine roared to life.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Caius."

"S'okay." He tried to sit up.

"No, don't. I've got you." Anakin gently lifted him up into his arms. He winced as pressure was put on his ribs. "I'm sorry," Anakin said again. Then he carried him into the living room.

"S'okay," he repeated.

Anakin placed him on the sofa. "I don't want to take you up the stairs with those injuries just yet."

"'Kay." Caius again tried to sit up.

"Stop." And Anakin gently pushed him back down. "Where is the salve?"

"Salve?" It took a moment for the word to click into Caius' brain. "Uh, there should be hydrogen peroxide for the cuts, I guess..."

"Hydrogen peroxide? Wouldn't that cause a burning sensation?" Anakin asked.

"It burns because it's killing the germs," Caius explained. "That way I don't get infection."

"And for the bruises?" Anakin pressed.

"There's nothing."

"Nothing," Anakin repeated faintly. "Then how will you get well?"

"Time," Caius said dryly. "That usually does it. Listen, Anakin, it's not that bad. I can get it myself–'

"Sit down. If nothing else, I must atone for what I have caused." Anakin looked so grievously upset...

Caius smiled. "It was nice... I often want to do it, but..." He winced. "It's not really a good idea. I should have warned you."

Anakin looked stricken, even as he attempted to stay calm. "Where... is the peroxide?"

"It's behind the mirror in the cabinet above the sink in the bathroom. There should be cotton balls there, too."

"All right. I'll return immediately." Anakin rushed out.

Caius looked around. The living room was filled with the color of sunset, deep in purples and reds. The room itself contrasted sharply, with a green sofa and love-seat and the entertainment center a light tan. An end-table sat at the top of the sofa, the same light tan as the entertainment center. Caius lay on the sofa, on the left side of the room as one entered from outside.

It wasn't the first time he'd sat alone, futilely trying to fix himself up. He remembered the pain of those times, dulled slightly with age. Way back when he'd been young, his mother had protected him and kept his father from hurting him too much. But after her death...

Anakin came back in brandishing the peroxide and cotton balls.

That was right – this time was different.

Anakin knelt beside him and gently lifted an arm. "This is bad," Anakin said grimly.

"No, it's all right. I'll just where long sleeves. It's October, thought the weather's still good. It'll be fine."

Anakin unscrewed the lid to the peroxide with unnecessary force. "That is not what I meant." He seemed to have bared his teeth.

"Oh. It's fine." Anakin dabbed a swab with peroxide and then again picked up Caius' arm. Caius winced when the peroxide touched his open wound.

Anakin bent over and lightly blew on it.

Caius jumped a bit in surprise, but relaxed after. They stayed in that same companionable silence while Anakin tenderly cared for each cut.

Finally Anakin sat back and surveyed his body. "Are there other cuts?" He was eying Caius' shirt.

Caius blushed. "No. Just bruises." At Anakin's skeptical look, he added, "really!"

Anakin nodded. "All right. I'll be back after I return this." He stood and left with the peroxide and swabs.

Caius watched him go. The man was trapped with him in whatever room he decided to stay in. He couldn't leave for over a few minutes. Caius was usually content to just stay in his room. He would have to go out more, for Anakin's sake.

When Anakin returned, Caius graced him with a small smile. "Anakin."

"Yes? Are you hurting?" Anakin quickly came to his side.

"Well, yeah, but it's no big deal." Caius' smile died away. "I'm sorry I ordered you back, Anakin. I just... I didn't want my father to see you... it would make our lives hell for the year..."

Anakin's deep gaze steadied on him. Wordlessly Anakin gently lifted up his back and sat. Just as gently, he lowered Caius' head onto his lap. He began stroking Caius' hair. "I understand."

Caius' smile returned. He closed his eyes and let himself relax against Anakin's warmth, just as he had in his room. "Anakin, I don't mind if I've made you up," he said suddenly. Anakin's hand momentarily stilled before returning to its soothing motion. "I don't mind if I've lost my mind and am really sitting alone. I don't mind at all. I'm just glad you're here."

Anakin said nothing, but the motion of his hand stopped again. The hand retreated, but immediately returned, like a butterfly's touch, to brush his lips.

Dazedly he opened his eyes. Anakin was gazing at him with rapt attention, his purple eyes full of strange emotions. Too content to care, Caius closed his eyes again.

After a short moment, Anakin's fingers returned to his hair.

When his father returned late that evening, they had already eaten the rest of the pizza, and he was in his room again, vainly trying to remember who was president at the turn of the century.

"I know the name," he muttered to Anakin. "The teacher wouldn't shut up about him."

Anakin looked up from Dr. Seuss' Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? and answered, "you are most likely thinking too hard."

"Yeah, that'll be the day," Caius muttered. Still, he settled his tired brain and thought. "Nineteen-hundred, nineteen-hundred... why am I thinking about nineteen-oh-one?" Suddenly Caius snapped his fingers. "McKinley! Son of a bitch. The guy who was killed."

Anakin looked up again, sharply this time. "This president – you said he is a ruler, like a king?"

"With less powers, but yeah, essentially. Why?"

Anakin's eyes were cold now. "How was this McKinley killed?"

"Umm..." Caius thought for a minute. "I think he was lax in his security and met with a lot of people... and he ended up being... stabbed, I think? Or, no, he was shot. The assassin had hidden himself in with the other civilians."

"Hm." Anakin seemed to consider it for a moment. "I see."

"Why?" Caius asked. Something about Anakin's reaction made him nervous.

"I am the finest warrior in my country. It is my job to prevent such an occurrence."

Be that as it may, Caius still got the feeling that Anakin was holding back something.

"What is a 'grum'?" Anakin asked suddenly.

"Huh?" Caius looked over. "Oh. Apparently it's the sound a hippo makes. I wouldn't know; I've never seen one."

"You've never seen one? Then how do you know it exists?"

Caius laughed. "No, I meant I haven't seen one live. I've seen one on TV."

"TV?" Anakin repeated.

"Yeah. Tomorrow, after school, we can watch something if you'd like. We can't now; father's back."

Anakin nodded. "All right."

Caius returned to his history and finished off the last question. It was wonderful to have someone with him. Anakin was smart and interesting and kind. He took the tedium and melancholy of the day away.

He prepared for bed, leaving to change in the bathroom as one might with a roommate. He returned and looked over to Anakin. "We'll have to get you clothes tomorrow, too. I didn't think of it today; sorry."

"I am fine." Anakin watched him as he sat on the edge of his bed. "You are sleeping now?"

"Huh?" Then he remembered the predicament he'd thought of before. Where would Anakin sleep? He blushed at the first thought that crept into his head. No! He wasn't gay! "Uh, yeah. Do you want the bed?"

Anakin's gaze deepened. "Only if you are sleeping there, as well."

Caius squeaked.

"You have very serious wounds, Caius. You must rest comfortably."

Oh. Was that what he'd meant? Now he felt weird for having thought Anakin had meant something else. "Uh..."

"I will not force you into anything, Caius. If it makes you feel better, I will sleep on the floor."

"But that's not comfortable at all!" Caius yelped.

"I have slept in more austere conditions." Anakin shrugged and placed down his book, sliding it underneath the bed with the rest.

"But..." Caius bit his lip in indecision. What should he do? Anakin was already someone he considered a close friend. He wouldn't put a friend through anything painful. "No. You can sleep up here."

"I don't want to disturb you," Anakin said solemnly. "You must be prepared to learn tomorrow."

Sometimes the man reminded him of a parent. "It's all right. I'll stay up worrying otherwise."

"You'll stay up worrying in either case," Anakin predicted.

Caius shrugged. "Then you might as well sleep comfortably."

Anakin quirked a smile. "I suppose." He stood and walked over to Caius. When he leaned over, their noses practically touched. "Would you like me to touch you, or would you rather we respect boundaries?"

Caius blushed and pulled his head back slightly. "What... touch me?" And he was already not respecting boundaries!

"Yes. Do you want me to hold you as before?"

Caius squeaked again. "I... uh-uh." He shook his head vehemently, even as he wondered what the hell he was saying. He very much did want Anakin to hold him.

Was that why he was saying no? After all, he reminded himself, he'd only known the man for a day. And he'd only be around for a year.

After knowing the man for only a day, it shouldn't hurt so much to know he was only a temporary fixture in his life.

With that depressing thought, Caius scooted away from the man. It would be best to not get too close. It would only hurt worse later if he did.

But when Anakin turned off the lights and slid in on the other side, he couldn't help but feel like it may already be too late.

Because what he'd said was true: He was so very glad to have Anakin around.