Siarl shifted his hold on his bag, hurrying down the icy sidewalk. His breath puffed in small clouds, dark eyes flicking frequently to the sides to make sure he was still alone. The strip club wasn't in the most reputable of areas, making the switchblade in his pocket a comforting weight.
He sniffed, shoving his hands deep in his pockets. The thin gloves didn't offer much warmth, although the old wool jacket did help considerably.
The entrance to the subway loomed in front of him, offering him warmth. He hurried up, his footsteps echoing as he trotted down the stairs. No one was at the toll booth this late at night, so he slipped his token into the slot of one of the turnstiles, its clunking loud in the empty station.
As he waited for the subway, his eyes reluctantly drifted to the time flashing on one of the news screens. He grimaced.
Fuck. He was so late.
Each minute seemed to drag on before the train finally roared into the station, breeze brushing Siarl's hair into his pale face. It wasn't difficult to find a seat, the only other occupant an unconscious drunk. One of the only perks riding the rails this time of the night.
His heel bounced continuously as he tracked the stations on the map, each stop before his making the movement just a bit quicker.
Late late late raced through his head, echoing and nagging. By the time the train finally reached his station, he was nearly in a state of panic, and he bolted through the doors, taking the stairs two at a time. He didn't stop running until he was at his building, dragging his key out of his bag and shoving it into the lock. He didn't bother with the elevator, instead opting to bound up the stairs to the fifth floor. By the time he was knocking on the apartment door, he was only slightly winded—stripping kept him in very good shape.
Siarl imagined he looked pretty rough by the look Mrs. Murphy gave him when she pulled open the door. Still, she smiled and stepped back to let him in.
"I'm so sorry I'm late," he instantly began, rubbing his hands together, part out of nervousness, part for warmth. "I had to take over someone else's shift downstairs. I wanted to say no, but I really need the money…"
Mrs. Murphy patted his arm, squeezing gently. "It's okay, love. Brynn's been asleep for awhile. He's such a sweetheart, I really don't mind watching him."
Siarl smiled gratefully, leaning forward to kiss the old woman's cheek. "You're way too nice to me. Most people would increase the number of locks on their door if they found out they were living next to a stripper."
The woman laughed at that, leading him down the short hallway. "Only asses would do such a thing. You are a lovely boy with an equally lovely son."
She pushed open her bedroom door, walking quietly to the bed where Siarl could see the small lump comprising of his son. Trying to be as quiet as possible, Siarl padded forward and kneeled next to the bed, fingers brushing the black hair out of the four-year-old's face. Brynn's brow scrunched up briefly before his eyes slowly opened, focussing blearily on his father. He grinned sleepily, yawning.
Siarl smiled gently, petting Brynn's hair. "Hey, munchkin. Time to go home."
Brynn frowned, snuggling deeper into the bed. "I wanna stay here."
His father shook his head, leaning forward and pulling back the covers. "Mrs. Murphy needs her bed back. Don't worry, you can go back to sleep." He carefully scooped up the small boy, letting him snuggle against his chest.
Mrs. Murphy watched from the doorway with an indulgent smile. "They're lovely at that age," she remarked, wistfully. "Makes me miss mine when they were that young."
Siarl knew that the woman didn't have the best relationship with her three children, who rarely visited her and never called. He wasn't entirely clear on why, however, since he loved Mrs. Murphy like his own…well, maybe not quite mother, but definitely an aunt. Maybe one day he'd find out, but he wasn't going to ask.
"Did you need anything else?" Mrs. Murphy asked, touching the younger man's arm.
Siarl quickly shook his head, offering her a crooked smile. "You already do way too much for me."
She easily waved him off. "I really don't mind. The life of a retired woman who lives on her own isn't very exciting." She reached up, cupping his cheek. "I just worry about you, doing such a dangerous job."
Siarl laughed, the sound forced and fake. "It's not that bad. I'm just dancing."
"While taking off your clothes for strange men." She sighed, reaching up to stroke his knuckles. "I'm worried about you, love. I don't want to see you get hurt."
The young man studied her for a minute before smiling softly and leaning in to kiss her cheek.
"I'll be okay. Long as I got you and Brynn, I'm fine."
Mrs. Murphy watched him with guarded eyes, obviously not believing him, but nodded anyway and squeezed his hand.
"Okay. You sleep well and I'll see you tomorrow."
Siarl grinned at her, stepping through the door as she opened it. "G'night, Mrs. Murphy."
His apartment wasn't as well-furnished as the old woman's, but it was liveable. The bare minimum of furniture—all left over from the previous inhabitants who'd skipped town one night—and the decoration consisting mostly of Brynn's projects in art class. It didn't much matter how the apartment looked, as long as it was clean, warm, and had working electricity and plumbing. Brynn's room was definitely the nicest in the small space, since it was into his son that Siarl put the majority of his effort. As long as Brynn was happy, Siarl was happy, no matter what jobs he had to do.
Locking the door behind him, Siarl slipped off his boots and carried Brynn down the hall to his room. The boy had already fallen back asleep, so it was easy to slide him in between the sheets and tuck the blankets around his small body. Dropping a kiss to his son's forehead, Siarl flicked on the nightlight and slipped back out into the hallway. First a shower, then food, then bed…and in the morning, his routine would begin again.
He slipped into the bathroom with a sigh, closing the door behind him.
Siarl rose at six every weekday morning. He showered, shaved, brushed his teeth, got dressed for his day job, and packed both his and Brynn's lunches. By the time he was done, seven had rolled around, and it was time to wake up Brynn. Brynn was not a morning person, and fought every step of the way as Siarl struggled to change his clothes and get him to the bathroom. Afterwards, Siarl led him out to the kitchen for breakfast, sometimes cereal, sometimes pancakes.
Today was a cereal day.
Brynn sat at the table, blinking blearily at his father and yawning repeatedly. Siarl set a plastic cup of orange juice in front of him before pouring a bowl of cereal. Despite looking like he was about to fall asleep any second, Brynn dug in while Siarl sipped at a mug of coffee. He rarely ate in the morning.
As soon as Brynn was done, Siarl ushered him to the bathroom. Brynn dragged him feet, pouting petulantly at his father the whole way. That just earned an amused eye roll from Siarl, who returned to the kitchen to do the dishes. After leaving them to dry on the rack, he collected Brynn's backpack and set it by the front door, before shuffling to the bathroom. Brynn peered up at him, water dripping on his shirt. Smiling, Siarl dried him off and ruffled his hair.
"C'mon, time to go."
Brynn pouted, but followed him to the front door anyway, sticking his feet into his boots and letting Siarl stuff him into a thick coat. A toque, scarf, and mittens completed the outfit, protecting the four-year-old from any danger of frostbite.
"Daddy, you need a new coat," remarked Brynn, frowning as he tugged at Siarl's old wool jacket. "This one's old."
Siarl smiled, tugging on his gloves. "I'm fine." He quickly dragged on his shoes, slinging Brynn's backpack over his shoulder and grabbing his keys, before pushing his son toward the door. Within seconds they were heading down the hall for the stairs, Siarl tightly clutching Brynn's hand. He lived in constant fear of someone coming along and kidnapping him, even when inside.
Although the apartment building was by no means new or particularly well-kept, it did have the benefit of being near the subway station. Because of this, the commute to Brynn's school was short, and Siarl didn't have to worry about rushing in the morning. It was a brief reprieve in his otherwise hectic life.
At this time, there were many families on the subway, and while he did get a few odd looks, he was mostly ignored. He was usually under scrutiny, partly from being a single father, and partly from being so young. Brynn had been born when he was nineteen, with Siarl's then girlfriend, Kelly. They hadn't been dating for long, when she got pregnant; the danger of forgetting the condom. Their relationship didn't last long; halfway through the pregnancy, she decided that she wasn't particularly keen on spending the rest of her life with Siarl, and Siarl realised he felt the same. They were both young, and Siarl promised to still be there to help raise their son.
No one was expecting the car accident merely months after Brynn's birth.
After the funeral, Kelly's parents wanted to put Brynn up for adoption; instead, Siarl insisted on taking full custody, dropping out of college to get a job to support his new family. Four years later, he considered it a miracle they were still getting by.
The tinny female voice, announcing their stop, broke Siarl out of his thoughts. Blinking rapidly, he stood up and led Brynn out the doors, heading for the stairs. Brynn's school was just a block away, and after his morning kindergarten class, a school bus would return him to the apartment building. Mrs. Murphy insisted on watching him every afternoon, something for which Siarl was eternally grateful, considering the cost of day care. And while she stoutly refused payment, every week an envelope containing money would be slipped under her door. She knew exactly who it was from, but neither she nor Siarl ever discussed it.
While his office job was full time, Monday to Friday, stripping was done in shifts, so he was able to spend a good deal of time with Brynn and instil the knowledge that, yes, he did have a loving father. Of course, the days when Siarl went straight from the office to the strip club, he felt that he was the worst father on the planet.
The sound of children laughing and screaming broke Brynn out of his usual morning moping, and soon he was tugging eagerly on Siarl's hand, blinking big blue eyes with a wide grin.
"Daddy, hurry up!"
Siarl allowed himself to be pulled along, smiling indulgently. "Don't worry, you still have time before school starts."
"I know, but I wanna play tag!"
Ah, Brynn's undying love of running around like a rabid monkey. He definitely took after Siarl in that respect.
Muffling a laugh, Siarl gave in and ran with Brynn to the playground, earning strange looks from the teachers on duty. Spotting his friends, Brynn started bouncing impatiently.
"Dad-dy," he whined, reaching for his backpack.
Rolling his eyes, Siarl pulled it off his shoulder and helped Brynn put it on. He managed to catch his arm before he went bolting off, pulling him into a tight hug.
"Be good, and I'll see you after work."
"Bye, Daddy." Brynn gave him a kiss and a bright smile, before wriggling free and sprinting to the group of kindergarteners racing around the field.
After watching him for a minute, Siarl finally turned away and headed back to the subway station. Time for work.
Siarl worked on the fourth floor in an office sprinkled with cubicles; he even had his own, although his job was rather low-rung and menial. Still, it was a job, and supplemented the income from his night work.
After Siarl had gotten custody of Brynn, he'd jumped on the first job ad he'd seen: a dancer wanted for a gay strip club. Having just dropped out and almost clueless of how to take care of a baby, he'd taken it, just desperate for the money. They government sent cheques every month, a mixture of income assistance and child care assistance, but it wasn't enough to pay the rent and utilities, for groceries, clothes, toys… Brynn was growing. Siarl didn't mind the work really; after four years, he'd gotten rather comfortable with it. Sometimes he could even say he found it fun. He enjoyed dancing on stage and having control over an audience. Not to mention it kept him in shape, and being healthy was always a plus.
The office job had come by chance; the owner of the club had a friend whose brother worked there, and mentioned in passing that they were looking for someone to assist around the office. That was two years ago, and that brother was now the closest thing Siarl had to a best friend. Or any friend, really, other than Mrs. Murphy.
And it was he that arrived moments after Siarl sat down at his cubicle, holding two cups of coffee and wearing a bright grin.
"Hey, kid. You look tired."
Mustering up a smile of his own, Siarl offered a small wave. "Long night." He accepted one of the mugs, sighing softly as he took a sip. Perfect. "Thanks, Marc."
Marcos winked, leaning against Siarl's desk. "No problem. So, why the long night?"
Sighing, Siarl slumped in his chair, eyes quickly flicking around. No one within earshot. Lowering his voice, he murmured, "Had to cover someone's shift."
Marcos eyebrows shot up. "More dancing?" His voice was equally soft.
Siarl shook his head. "Boxes. Too much dancing and I woulda passed out."
Snorting, Marcos reached out and pinched Siarl's arm, eyebrows raised. "Putting on some weight might help with that, y'know. You're a twig. I dunno how you strip at iall/i."
Siarl flexed his arm pointedly, eyebrow raised. "My weight is fine." It was true, he wasn't the biggest crowd-drawer, but he had his regulars and he was still employed after four years, so that had to count for something.
Marcos lifted a hand in defeat. "Fine, fine, you're great." He took a long swig of his coffee, licking his lips. "So how's Brynn?"
"Hasn't changed from yesterday. Still hates getting up in the morning, still can't wait to get to school." As he talked, he sorted through the papers in his inbox. "None of the teachers have complained about him, so I assume I'm doing an alright job."
"'Course y'are. He's still alive, isn't he?" Straightening, he clapped his hand against the desk twice. "Well, I gotta get to work. See you." Saluting lazily, he turned around and disappeared behind the walls of the cubicles.
That was the most excitement Siarl had all morning. Lunch saw him eating at his desk and answering calls in between emails, and the afternoon was spent running around and delivering invoices and messages to various coworkers. He really was the man for odd jobs. But he was often assured that without his presence, everything would go to Hell.
He was still debating whether to believe that, or assume everyone was just trying to make him feel better. Not that it mattered, either way. At the end of the day, he had a paycheque and could continue supporting his son. How he came by it wasn't all that important.
In comparison, his day job was not nearly as interesting as the one at night. By the time five o'clock came around, he was more than happy to go home, ready to pass out from the monotony. He imagined that if his day consisted of something more than running errands for his coworkers, he might find it a bit more exciting.
Another reason he stuck with the stripping gig.
The temperature had dropped outside, and Siarl quickly hunched his shoulders against the stiff breeze. He would need a hot shower when he got home. Outside, he paused, the sound of Marcos' laughter catching his attention. He turned, intending to go say hi after not seeing him since the morning, but stopped when he realised Marcos was chatting with a man Siarl didn't know. Not keen on meeting anyone new at the moment, Siarl continued his hurried walk to the subway station.
By the time he reached the station, his ears and nose were freezing. He hurried down the stairs, relieved by the warm, albeit stale, air that met him.
By the time Siarl finally reached his apartment building, he was ready to collapse on his bed for a nap. He hated the cold, and was starting to wish he listened to Brynn's advice about getting a new coat. But really, he couldn't afford it at the moment; he would just have to wait until his Christmas bonus or something.
Unfortunately, he couldn't curl up in bed; he still had to retrieve Brynn, then feed him, then bathe him, then put him to bed, then read him a story… or three. Siarl would just have to hold out until then.
Sighing, he trudged up the sidewalk to his apartment building, unlocking the front door and heading for the elevator. It clunked along, doors creaking as it opened. One of the lights was burnt out. Used to its sketchy appearance, Siarl stepped in and waited impatiently to get to the fifth floor. Once there, he stifled a yawn as he shuffled down the dim hallway, stopping in front of Mrs. Murphy's door. She answered almost immediately, beaming as brightly as ever.
"Hello, dear. Come in."
Siarl smiled tiredly and stepped inside, closing the door behind him. "How are you, Mrs. Murphy?"
The older woman shrugged and waved dismissively, heading for the kitchen. "Oh, I'm fine, love. This weather wears on these old bones, however." Putting on the kettle, she smiled over her shoulder. "I just took Brynn out of the bath; I thought I could do you a favour and give you a clean son." From the other room, they heard giggling. "He's watching TV in my bedroom, right now," she added, amusement warming her face.
Siarl's smile widened, body sagging. That was one thing off of the list tonight.
There was a reason he loved Mrs. Murphy.
"You're too nice to us," he said, wondering how he'd managed into such a lovely woman.
"Oh, pish." She pulled mugs out of the cupboard, along with the teapot. "Now, tell me about your day."
Taking a seat at the table, Siarl did just that, his eyes following Mrs. Murphy as she bustled around the kitchen, putting cookies on a plate and pouring tea. She made remarks here and there, asking the occasional question, but she was clearly more interested in hearing about Marcos… as usual.
"Now, when are you going to ask out that young man?" she demanded, carrying everything to the table and sitting across from him. "He sounds lovely."
Siarl rolled his eyes, hands wrapping around his mug. "I've told you, I'm not interested in Marcos. We're just friends."
"Just friends can easily become more."
Dark eyes slanted to Mrs. Murphy. "I'm fine being single. I like it, even." Well, that was partly true. Sometimes, he did wish he had someone to go to bed with at night…
But not Marcos. Not that he wasn't attractive, but…
Mrs. Murphy pursed her lips disapprovingly. "Back in my day, we understood the importance of having a lover. Young people nowadays… too independent."
Siarl raised an eyebrow, mouth twisting into a lopsided smile. "You're single."
Sipping her tea, Mrs. Murphy closed her eyes and tranquilly replied, "My one true love has passed on and none shall ever replace him. I am perfectly happy remembering our life together and knowing I'll see him again once I'm dead."
That made Siarl blink and hide a smile. A moment later, the plate of cookies was shoved toward him.
"Now eat; you're a twig." Sniffing, she went back to her tea. "You'll never get a man at this rate. Men like to have something to grab onto in the bedroom without having to worry about any bones snapping." She peered at him over her glasses. "I'm sure Marcos would agree."
Ducking his head, he smothered a laugh and a red face. Mrs. Murphy was surely one of a kind.