Chapter 32--The Aiden Factor--
Dominic seemed morose as he regarded his friend's statement. There was more to this wolf than he was revealing just yet. Lucian was sure of it. But he knew pressing Dominic too much would result in a complete lock-down. He would risk losing all the new trust that Dominic had granted him within the past half an hour. It was safer to let the other do this at his own pace.
"Yes, a wolf like me. It looked just like me...." his companion elaborated, patting his topaz amulet lovingly.
"Only it had green eyes. Ones that swirled around in an endless whirlpool of compassion and hidden knowledge. Knowledge of one's ultimate fate," breathed the redhead, forgetting for a moment that he was still talking to Dominic.
The mention of the eyes was too strong on his memory. He gazed past the dark-haired boy for a moment, trying to recapture the appearance of their owner in his mind. It had been so very long since he had tried to remember them. He had told himself that it would only hinder his promise to moon about the past. His future was the important thing now. He had been given the chance to experience it and he was going to cherish every moment.
"How do you know that?" Dominic barked, gripping his hand a little too tight. The pain brought Lucian around.
"Huh? Oh, just a wild guess. Was I right?"
"Very. I thought that there was no way to escape from Loren's world. I believed that I would be with him forever. From time to time, I tried to play nice and made attempts to please him. But they never worked and Loren would just treat me as savage as ever. So I quit my efforts and set out instead to do everything in my power to defy that bastard every chance I got. I brought home straight A's even as I brought home notes from angry parents, complaining how I had broken one kid's arm or given another one a mild concussion or knocked out some teeth. Loren had to pay damages and he was not happy. I enjoyed the thought that he was miserable because of something I did. It was my way of showing him how I felt. He never seemed to care otherwise.
"But I was not happy. No, I was never happy. Not until I met him...the man who delivered me from my suffering and possibly saved my very soul. If you read my notebook, then you should already know how I felt about him. He was my world. My life. My god. I would do anything for him. He gave me a reason to fight. I would have gladly died for him. Of course, I didn't know that at age nine."
Terror sank into him. Where was she? She had just been on the swings a few minutes ago. Where could she have gone in such a small amount of time? Nadia was not a very fast runner like him. He raced through the park, screaming out her name and hoping to catch a glimpse of blue-black hair or that navy blue bow she loved to wear in her hair. It was getting late. Nadia couldn't be out here all by herself. She was too young. There was also the fact that Loren would probably blame this on him and use it as a reason to beat him in front of Atina. But Loren's opinion was nothing compared to the simple fear he felt at thinking that his dear Nadia was lost.
"Nadia! Nadia! Answer me, Nadia! Please! Nadia, where are you? NADIA!" he begged, nearly tripping over his feet as he ran along the ground. "Nadia!"
"Hey kid!" a light-hearted voice called out from behind him.
Startled, he twisted his body to turn around, turning too quick for the other leg to catch up. He swayed on his legs and then crashed to the ground in a sloppy motion. One of the bruises on his left arm smacked into a misshapen rock on the ground, causing it to throb with the agony that he had felt upon receiving it. Dominic shrieked and rolled onto his back, pressing his palm down on the bruise. He felt the tears pearling at the sides of his eyes and sucked in a hissing breath.
"Whoa! Are you okay?" inquired the previous voice as a dark-haired man held him by the other arm and lifted him to his feet. He examined him with a pair of illustrious jade eyes as he offered a smile to solace him. "Geez kid, I'm so sorry if I scared you. I just thought that maybe you could tell me if you knew...." The man's voice stuck in his throat as he traced Dominic's features with his eyes. Suddenly, the green orbs became large and bright. "Dominic!!! I never thought I would see you again, Dominic Solanis. I can't believe I found you," he whispered in awe as he reached out and adjusted the boy's hair with a caress of his fingers.
Dominic responded to the touch as if it were on fire, breaking away from the older man and scurrying backward. "Who...who are you?"
The man looked hurt by his flight and hung his hands at his sides. "What's wrong, Dominic? Did I hurt you somehow?"
"How do you know my name? I don't know you," snapped the boy, not sure if he should run from the stranger or not. He did feel an odd sort of connection to him and the man didn't seem to be trying to hurt him. It would have been better if he had not touched him though. Dominic only knew one kind of touch from an adult and it did not carry a soothing message.
"Selene never told you about me? I mean I told her not to say too much. But after I saw you the first time, I did feel bad about leaving. I wanted to stay with you. I just...couldn't. Not then. But I think thing's are better now. I would like to be part of her circle again. I miss her and you, Dominic," the man replied, fishing in his pocket for something as he spoke.
"Selene? The only Selene I know was my mother. She died a long time ago."
"Dead? Selene? She can't be!" sobbed the other figure, his face going white as a tear wandered down his jawbone. "I thought she had a little more time."
His younger companion was baffled by the conversation. How did this guy know his mother? If he were her friend, wouldn't he have known of her passing? He was tired of being kept in the dark. Wracked with bewildered thoughts, he slammed his foot down on the ground and fixed the man with a half-angry, half-frantic stare.
"Who are you? I'm not supposed to talk to strangers and I'm going to walk away unless you tell me right now," he warned in a thick tone.
"I guess you wouldn't know. My name is Aiden Fenric. I was a very good friend of your mother's. She made me promise to take care of you if something happened to her," Aiden told him as he pulled a tiny circlet from his pocket. He showed it to the boy in front of him. Dominic took the ring and passed it before his eyes, marveling at the impressive gemstones and the sleek white-gold band. Aiden made an attempt to catch his wrist, but the child leapt back again.
Eyes clouding with defeat, Aiden pulled away his hand and ran his hand through the medium-length ponytail at the back of his head. It fell a little past his neck and trembled with his movements. Dominic recalled what Loren told him about men who wore their hair long. He had said that they were twisted individuals who would rather look like girls than men. Dominic had always thought that the style was bold. If Loren hadn't dragged him off to the barber every six months, he would have liked to have his hair longer. Instead, he was left with this stupid mess that barely reached the middle of his neck. How lucky Aiden must be to be allowed to do whatever he wanted with his life? He wished he were an adult so he could finally be free of his family.
Not waiting for the boy to say what he thought of the ring, Aiden pointed to the jewelry and a look passed over his face as if brought by some fond memory. "That has been my good-luck charm for eight years, Dominic. It was your mother's. She gave it to me when she started to feel really sick again. I think she knew that she wasn't going to be around for much longer. So she made me promise to find you again and make sure you were safe. I have been looking for you for such a long time. You moved only a year after I last saw Selene. You see, I had to find you because a promise is something that should bind one completely. It must never be broken. You were our promise, Dominic. I'm glad I've been given the chance to see you again. You're more important than you realize."
Him important? That was a lark. Aiden obviously didn't know much about him at all. He wasn't important. He was just here to keep Nadia company. Nobody beside her even cared about what happened to him. Well, Aiden was new to his life. He would learn soon enough.
"You don't need to look after me. I already have people who are supposed to do that. Loren and Atina," he informed while Aiden nodded his head.
"I see. Your father found himself another wife."
"He's not my father! He's just Loren. He doesn't deserve any other title but that."
Aiden looked shocked at his words and then shrugged as if it was nothing important. "Sometimes parents and kids don't get along. Loren is a bit of a jerk from time to time. But I'm sure you'll get along when you get older."
"Hah! I doubt that!" scoffed Dominic, hugging himself tightly as memories of yesterday's fight came back to his mind.
He had thought that his ankle was broken after Loren had pushed him over the chair. Later, he had found to his relief that it was just sprained badly. He could fake a normal walk for a while. What was the fight about again? It had been something about Loren hearing how he had managed to talk Atina into letting him and Nadia get their ears pierced. He didn't even know what Loren had done with his earring after he had forced him to take it out of his ear. Part of him wished he had it back. The amethyst stud had been expensive and it had looked nice.
"It's getting late. Do you know where your parents are? They should give you a ride home," Aiden suggested.
"I don't know. I'm just looking for my sister, Nadia."
"Really?" exclaimed the man as an excited grin spread across his face. I found this girl around the snow cone stand. I think she was scared to talk to me, but she agreed to wait on that bench over there for her brother to show up. Black hair, blue-violet eyes. She yours?"
Hearing the location of his sibling, Dominic dashed over to the bench that Aiden had pointed out and stopped short of throwing himself on his sister when he saw her curled up on the bench. Nadia saw him and embraced him at once. "Dominic, I want to go home. Where's Mommy?" Then, she seemed to notice the man that had walked up behind Dominic. "Who's he?"
"Does Loren know who you are?" Dominic mouthed to the older figure and Aiden shook his head in a negative gesture. The boy turned back to his sister and pointed to Aiden with a subtle smile. "That's Selene's older brother. He's my uncle."
The older child couldn't believe the lie he was telling Nadia. But Nadia was too young to understand just why he trusted a strange older man who claimed to be an old friend of his mother's. It seemed weird to him as well. Yet, he felt as though Aiden was telling the truth. Upon inspection of the ring, he noticed the inscription inside. It had born the name of his mother, Selene. Maybe, Aiden's story did check out. But it wasn't just that, it was also the tender green waves inside Aiden's eyes that told him that the man was not out to get him. Something inside him just seemed to promise him that it would be okay to trust this one. He wanted to be his friend. Perhaps, he wouldn't betray him. Aiden was safe.
"Does that make him my uncle too?" chirped Nadia, crawling away from her brother and holding out a hand to Aiden.
Aiden looked unsure for a moment. Dominic wasn't sure if he was going to go with his ruse. Then, Aiden perceived the older child's reasoning and took Nadia's tiny hand in his. "Sure, sweetheart. You can call me Uncle Aiden if you'd like," Aiden laughed as he shook the girl's hand in a friendly motion. "Your big brother shouldn't be allowed to keep me all to himself."
"Wow! Won't Mommy be happy that it was Uncle who found me?"
"By the way, Nadia, what's your mother's name?"
"Atina Auriel," Dominic answered for his sister.
His older companion seemed to freeze for a moment and his mouth twitched nervously. "Auriel, huh? Does she have a sister named Lorelei?"
"Yeah, we see her every once in a while. She's okay, I guess."
"Maybe I should talk with her first. The Auriels and I go way back," explained the man as he scratched his neck.
The movement caused a large gem to swing across the front of his shirt. It was a blinding orange circle surrounded by golden points. Dominic guessed that it was supposed to resemble a sun. The jewel entranced him. He had never seen anything more amazing before. It was astounding. Where did Aiden get such a treasure? And boy, did it look good on him. It even seemed to have a sort of power flowing around it, giving it an unearthly glow. It was then that he first began to suspect that Aiden was much more than he seemed. Who was this Aiden Fenric?
"It may look impressive, but it's very dangerous," warned Aiden, catching Dominic's sudden interest in his jewelry.
"It takes a lot to frighten me. Fear only has an effect if you care about what happens," the boy retorted as Aiden stared at him with confused eyes. But they were more than confused; they were traumatized. What he had said had reached something inside Aiden. Aiden cared about him.
He jerked his head away and buried it in Nadia's neck to avoid looking into Aiden eyes. Aiden was naive. He cared about him only because he didn't understand that he didn't matter. It would never last. Why get his hopes up?
"Did they really believe he was your uncle?"
"I think they believed what they wanted to believe. Nadia did anyway. Aiden probably talked to Atina and convinced her to pretend that he was related to me. I doubt Loren would have let me see him otherwise.
"Aiden told me some things about him and Selene. Before Loren married her, they used to spend a lot of time together. Loren saw them a few times, but never thought much of it. I always knew Loren was a dumbass. Aiden said that Loren really did love my mother and she loved him in her own way. I think Aiden wanted to think that she loved him too. I guess he'll never know for sure. But I liked when he talked about my mother. Loren only talked about her when he wanted to criticize me. When Aiden told me about her, she seemed like a real person. He made me want to miss her."
"You know, you and Aiden don't sound like you really hit it off," noted Lucian, throwing him a winning smirk.
He wasn't really trying to be a smart-ass. The redhead was just hoping to encourage Dominic to tell him more about the older man. If Dominic had truly be in love with Aiden, then anything about him would provide the final key to unlocking the never-ending quandary that was Dominic.
"I have never been a great people person, Lucian. When you take a chance on someone, you risk the chance of getting hurt. At that age, I had been hurt enough. I wanted to be careful. But Aiden was relentless. He came to see Nadia and me all the time. He took us shopping for things. He watched us every once in a while and he talked to me. It was the first time in my life that anyone had ever really talked to me. It showed that he respected me. I wasn't just some kid to him. Best of all, Aiden would take me away from Loren. I could usually avoid him by hanging with Aiden. After a while, I realized that Aiden was different. He wanted to prove to me that I was special. He always told me that I was smart. He never even asked for anything in return. He treated me like his own son. Like a father.
"Loren hated him. That made me like him even more. I could tell Aiden stuff that I wouldn't tell anyone else. I wasn't afraid of him. I even let him use this silly little name he fancied calling me. It was close to the pansy one you use now. Nicks. I wasn't mad when he used it. We were...best friends. I know it sounds twisted for a preteen to be best friends with a thirty-something man, but that was the case for us. And it wasn't wrong like most would think it would be. When we were together, Aiden would pretend that we really were related. He treated me the way I think Loren was supposed to and he trusted me.
"However, there was one thing I wouldn't tell Aiden."
Lucian looked up at him and nodded his head knowingly. "About the abuse, right?"
His friend closed his eyes and swallowed inside his throat. "Yeah. I think I didn't want him to know because I was afraid he wouldn't help. I didn't want to take the risk of believing in him and then watching him ignore my problem like all the others I had given my trust to. I wanted to see Aiden as someone good. Not like other people. Just good."
"But he found out," guessed the younger boy, sensing the regret in Dominic's tone. Aiden didn't seem like the sort of person who would just forget about a beaten child. He had to have interfered. So why was Dominic so distressed?
"I think Loren was pissed by how I spent so much time with Aiden. He got angrier at little things that usually only earned me a verbal attack. But he also became more barbaric with major things such as school fights. It reached a boiling point during my first year of middle school. I started to run away from him to see Aiden. I used buses, taxies, or just plain walked. Eventually, I couldn't hide my secret from my friend anymore.
"When Aiden was comforting me one night after another beating, he noticed the lines that the belt had left on my lower back. Loren had started using the metal buckle and the mark left was more obvious. I tried to lie about where my injuries came from, but Aiden figured out the truth. He wasn't angry with me for lying to him, just very insistent that we tell someone else.
"Of course, I freaked out and tried to stop him. So he told me that he would have a talk with Loren the next day and then work out the outside issues. I didn't want to go home, but Aiden said I had to, otherwise Loren would start trouble. As much as he disliked Loren, Aiden never seemed to enjoy fighting. I hated to make Aiden uncomfortable so I agreed."
"I heard you went to see your damned uncle again last night. As much time as you spend with that loser, you would think that he was your father," grumbled Loren as his son concentrated on the book he was reading.
"He's not a loser. He makes more money than you. Aiden is a wonderful lawyer," the boy replied flippantly, turning the page as if the man's presence wasn't even important enough to acknowledge.
"Didn't you learn a thing from last night?" snarled the adult's voice, sounding as though he was fighting back the urge to curse.
Dominic was tickled pink by the idea that Loren was having trouble keeping his cool. It was nice to see the man under pressure for once. He would be in even more once Aiden showed up. The younger man had promised to talk to Loren as soon as he got back from his client preparations. All he had to do was keep Loren off his back until then.
Still, it seemed like Loren was looking for a reason to fight. He seemed to believe that Dominic had acquired the preteen disobedience syndrome. Well, the joke was on him. Dominic had never obeyed him. It didn't matter what age he was. Maybe, if he thought that it would make Loren treat him decently, he would try, but he had yet to see any concrete proof of that.
"Yeah, I learned something. If you want to break my wrist, you're going to have to slam it harder. Oh and cuts made from metal edges bleed through clothing. Looking forward to buying me a new night shirt, Loren?"
"You think you're a genuine smart-ass, don't you?"
"What would you know about that? You never even look at my grades. You're too busy telling me how I'm not worth shit!" Dominic informed him, allowing himself to sound a little pretentious.
"Well, your grades certainly show through your vocabulary," jeered Loren as his eyes narrowed in seething rage.
His son bristled. What right did Loren have to insult his intelligence when he didn't pay the slightest bit of attention to his education? The only help he got came from Aiden and occasionally Atina. Loren was just talking out of his ass to irritate him. He didn't understand him at all.
Without even considering the repercussions, Dominic let his anger rule him as he reared back the book in his hand and flung it at the wall just next to the man. "You want to know why I like Aiden more than you? It's because he's not a self-centered asshole who gets his kicks out of breaking the spirit of his own son! He treats me like a person and I love it. I wish he were my father and I wish you would just get out of my life!"
Whoops. There went the idea of staying on Loren's good side until Aiden arrived. He was terrified by what he had done, but he was also glad. It was the first time, he had ever told the man exactly why he hated him. Although Loren didn't even deserve the truth, it was about time he heard it.
"You crazy son of a bitch! Aiden would never want a vicious brat like you. He only spends time with you because he's a soulless lawyer and feels that if he pretends to be a saint to some disillusioned punk, he can forget about all the immoral shit he pulls on the job. He doesn't care about you. He just likes to be idolized. Or maybe..." Loren paused for a moment, catching his son's full attention as a contemptuous sneer crossed his face. "Maybe he just likes to mess with little kids."
"Take that back!" raged Dominic, jumping out of his bed, his face darkening to a livid vermilion.
Loren turned his back on the boy and shut the door as he started to walk down the hall. "Should I even try to guess just how you and 'Uncle Aiden' spend your time?"
Infuriated beyond all rational thought, Dominic tore open the door and threatened the man from the entrance. "Shut up!" Then, forgetting how much stronger Loren was than him; he made a careless mistake and rushed at the adult, forcing him against a wall.
The older figure didn't even bother to yell at him as he pushed him back with enough strength to smash the boy against the stairway railing. Scared of toppling over the edge, Dominic struggled away from it, feeling Loren kick him in the leg as he fell to the floor. It hindered his attempts to get up as the man clamped his fingers around his upper arm and dragged him back to his room. He threw the youth into his dresser, knocking off the box that rested on the top. Various trinkets, pebbles, and jewelry showered Dominic and he tried to pull away. Loren's slap came as no surprise to him, except when it caused his jaw to collide with one of the handles on the furniture. Blood drizzled down the side of the drawer. Loren paid it no heed as he banged his son's head into the wood once more.
"Tell me, was attacking your father worth this, Dominic?" he demanded while Dominic punched him as hard as he could. Loren swore and then gripped the boy's wrist and yanked his arm with all his might. Dominic heard the snap and went limp as his wretched scream filled the room. His older companion mimicked his action as a horrified gasp left him. "Shit!"
Those words barely registered in Dominic's pain-stricken mind. He knew something was broken. That was bad. As mean as Loren usually was, he had never actually broken anything. He was afraid. He didn't want to fight with the man anymore. He couldn't even move. By the time, Loren's surprised curse sank into his head, he knew that it was because Loren was dumbfounded by his actions as well. Loren was amazed at what he had done.
"Nicks! Are you there, Nicks?"
A voice was ascending from outside the door downstairs. The door wasn't even locked. That meant whoever was out there could just walk right in. It was rude, yes. But with all the noise that he and Loren were making, he wasn't shocked that someone would want to see what was going on. The tone of the voice or the name it was using never even occurred to him. His mind just wouldn't recognize anything besides the fact that his arm felt numb.
Both him and the man holding his wrist were frozen in disbelief as they listened to the door open and a figure lope up the stairs. Loren turned his head just as the unknown person stuck its head in the doorway. The man beside him tightened the grip on his hand for a moment before releasing him completely.
Wait, he knew that voice! Dominic craned back his head a tiny ways to see Aiden standing in his room with a disgusted look upon his face. Seconds later, that disgust changed to cool anger and he stalked over to Loren and yanked him up with his shirt. Dominic had never guessed that the younger man was so strong.
"What sort of monster are you? Beating a defenseless child?" Aiden hissed, his eyes glassy as if they had become smooth pieces of verdant rock. When Loren refused to reply, he shook him as if he were holding a large mongrel.
"Stay out of my business! I will discipline my son however I see fit," barked the other man, scrambling to dislodge Aiden's fingers from his clothing.
Aiden threw Loren against the wall in fury and stood above him, cracking his knuckles. "Discipline! You call that discipline? Your child is afraid of you, for pity's sake! Nicks is scared to even breathe! How can you call yourself a father? Much less a man?"
"I will not take advice from a man whose hair is longer than my wife's! Get out of my house!" Loren yelled as he lunged at the other adult.
Effortlessly, Aiden caught him by the throat and pinned him against the wall. A strange noise sounded in his throat that sounded almost like the predatorial snarl of a wild animal. Dominic could just see a low shine from the front of his shirt. That had definitely come from the elegant amulet he always wore. Aiden leaned closer and pressed against Loren so that Dominic couldn't even see the older man anymore.
"You don't deserve to live. Selene would be outraged by your display. She would have killed you. I wish I could do it for her," growled the green-eyed man in a foreign tone.
"Try it," Loren taunted, obviously pretending that he wasn't afraid of the man intent on ending his life.
"I am taking Nicks with me right now and then, I'm going to call the police and have you locked up for child abuse. You're very lucky I'm being this generous to you. It's only because I don't think that your son should be subjected to any more violence than he already has been. But I promise you this. If you even try to come near him again, I will kill you." He stopped and gave Loren a soul-searing glare as he stabbed his fingers against his throat. "And...I won't get caught."
Dominic waited for the man known as his father to protest but all Loren did was stare at something in Aiden's hard-set eyes. His breath seemed to stop as his eyes widened with a horrible apprehension. Without a word, he nodded dazedly.
"Good," whispered the other man, lifting his hand from Loren and waiting for the man to exit the room quietly. After he was gone, he turned to Dominic and held out a hand for him. "Nicks, come over here please. I'm going to get you to a doctor and have him take a look at you." Dominic hesitated, biting his bloody lip and shaking hysterically. A sure sign of shock. Aiden put down his hand and crept over to him, kneeling down by his side and wrapping an arm around his trembling shoulders. "It's just me, Nicks. I won't hurt you. Come here."
His companion slowly slung his arms around his throat and dipped his head into the crook of his neck. He wasn't crying this time. Crying did no good. It just made him look scared and that just made people want to hurt him some more. Dominic had learned his lessons well. He just held onto Aiden and let out scattered breaths as he was lifted up in the man's arms.
"I'm sorry I hit Loren. He said bad things about you. I was mad," the boy whimpered, curling up as much as he could.
"I know. Don't worry about that now."
"Yeah?" responded the man, carrying the child down the stairs as if he didn't fear Loren showing up again.
"If I promise to be good from now on, will you be my friend?"
"I'll be your friend no matter what, Nicks. You mean everything to me."
"Can I stay with you?" Dominic asked in a broken whisper, half-fearing the answer.
"We'll see about after today. But for now, that would be fine."
"Can I go so far as to say that's why your parents split up?" questioned the redhead, having inched closer to Dominic during the narration.
Dominic didn't seem to notice as he was too wrapped up in his story. He just glanced down at the grass every few minutes and would sometimes, increase his hold on Lucian's hand to a painful grip. Lucian ignored it, knowing how tense Dominic probably was. He wanted to comfort the older youth as he had occasionally done with Tashira. But he knew Dominic would never let him get that close. He would have to content himself to squeezing on Dominic's hand whenever he saw the violet eyes misting.
He received a nod from Dominic and sighed grimly. "I knew it. Jeez, and I always thought I had it bad, not having any parental relations. So after that, you went and stayed with Aiden, I guess."
"It was a convoluted situation. Loren was given a restraining order and a year or so in jail. Atina was given official custody over Nadia and me. But I didn't want to stay with her so I ran away again. Usually, at least three times a week. Finally, the woman did the only good thing she had ever done for me and made a deal with Aiden. I could stay with him permanently as long as I saw her on a regular basis. I was okay with that since I still wanted to see Nadia anyway. Aiden was fine with it too. I think he agreed because he wanted me to be happy. That always seemed so important to him.
"So I spent the rest of my middle school years with him. It was great. We could really pretend we were father and son now. I thought that that was what I wanted. It was...in a way. But as I got older, my view of him changed. I think I was thirteen when I first realized that I wanted him to see me as more than just his charge or even his son. I wanted him to really...like me. Yeah, it was probably a crush or infatuation or puppy love or whatever other cheesy name they use for it, but it was real to me. Aiden was my idol. I dressed like him, grew out my hair like him, learned how to condition my strength like him, and tried to master his collected attitude. I never did manage the last one. I wanted to be him. Nobody else mattered. It didn't matter how many girls asked me out, or how many guys gave me those disapproving stares. I just wanted Aiden.
"He saved me from hell. He talked to me. He loved me. I wanted to stay with him forever. But as with all things in my cursed life, that was not to be. Aiden had a very big secret, which he always seemed on the verge of telling me, but in the end, chickened out. I knew the secret had to do with the necklace he had. The same one that I wear now. But back then, I knew nothing about the Guardians. By the time I found out, it was already too late. Like my mother, Aiden did not have all the time in the world. He had met me and therefore, had sealed his fate.
"One day, Aiden told me that he had a business venture to see to and sent me to spend the weekend with Atina. He even tried to ease the separation by promising to bring me back a surprise. Something about introducing me to some other kid he had met. He seemed to think we would get along. Who knows? Maybe, we would have if Aiden believed it. But even with the possibility of a treat in the future, I didn't like the idea of Aiden going away.
"From the very time, he brought it up, I felt odd, especially when he gave me the sun amulet to hold onto. He also gave me this sealed letter and told me not to open it unless he was not back by Sunday night. I knew the whole thing was suspicious, but I trusted Aiden more than I trusted myself.
"The only problem was that my devotion to Aiden couldn't outweigh the dread that something was going to happen to him. So I went to find him while Atina was asleep. I came here, to Lorelei's house. She was gone, out for some reason or other. I thought that I was alone. I was wrong. It was that mistake that cost me the only one I have ever truly loved. My ignorance and frailty killed him."
It was raining hard. Much harder than the forecast had predicted. Wandering around Lorelei's house had caused him to get soaked from head to toe. The absence of a jacket hadn't worked to his benefit either. He was a little worried. If he caught a cold looking for Aiden, the older man would be unhappy with him for sneaking after him. After all, he had promised to stay at Atina's and he had never broken a promise to Aiden before.
Lightning flashed across the sky but he could hardly see it due to the mass of hair hanging over his eyes. He wanted to scream at himself for forgetting to put it up before he left. Now, the shoulder length strands were snaking down his shirt and sending even more chilling bolts down his back. It made him feel like a spike of lightning encased in pure ice had struck him. It suited the murky feeling that was already stirring inside him. The feeling had been there all day. It was a warning. That much he knew.
Hearing his teeth chatter from the cold, he sank his hand into his back pocket and pulled out Aiden's bejeweled sun still attached to its lengthy chain. He had only seen it glow a few times, but had come to believe from the brief episodes, that the gem had to be producing some kind of heat whenever it burned like that. How else could it seem to gleam with living flames of orange? Perhaps, if he could make it glow again, it would help warm him up.
A sharp growl made him clench the relic in fright as he spun around to see what confronted him. Crouched partially behind a tree a few yards away was a monstrous white wolf. The streak of lightning that illuminated the sky moments later should have lit up its eyes, but instead only reflected an empty darkness. If there was any color to the orbs at all, it was black. A black dark enough to blend with the night itself had it not been for the perfect snowy pelt of the beast.
Dominic had never been afraid of wolves. They had always fascinated him, especially following his encounter with the docile black one. Yet the look in this one's eyes marked that of blood lust. It was out for a kill.
At that exact moment, he noticed that the object in his hand had become scorching hot. It seemed to burn his hand. Horrified, he yelped and dropped it to the ground.
As if sensing its quarry's fear, the animal parted its jaws and exhibited its sickly ivory teeth. In that instant, Dominic forgot about wondering where the wolf had come from or what it was doing here at night. All he knew was that for the only time in his life, he was afraid of the beast. Neglecting to retrieve Aiden's amulet, he whirled to the other side and sprinted away as fast as he could. Snarling, the wolf took chase.
The rain blinded the boy, making it impossible to watch where he was running. Only the steady pant of the creature behind him drove him on. He knew the house was at least five minutes away. Running like this was going to wear him out. But what other choice did he have? He couldn't possibly fight an animal that large without some sort of weapon and he had nothing on him. Aiden had put a stop to his penchant for carrying around pocketknives and razors soon after he had come to live with him. He had to come up with a better idea.
Unfortunately, at that time, the wolf seemed to bore of running after him. It applied a preternatural burst of speed and snapped at his ankles. Startled by the sultry breath of the beast on his flesh, Dominic kicked back on reflex. Had he time to think about what he was doing, he probably would have known that this action was not wise in his situation. Given the ideal target, the wolf raked its teeth across his leg and managed to grab some skin in the process. Jerking its head as if it was tearing a piece of meat, it yanked the boy of his feet.
Feeling like a series of broken razors were sliding through his leg, Dominic kicked the beast in the head and tried to force its teeth out of his skin. The wolf snapped at his fingers and used its body weight to hold the youth to the ground. Dominic screamed as the creature tore into his arm and then nipped at his chest, making its way up to his throat. He could hear himself screeching in pain and pounding at the monster with fists, even scratching it with his own nails. But nothing seemed to scare it off. He could hear his heart inside his chest, pumping the blood that the wolf would soon guzzle down. This was not right. Wolves didn't take this long to kill. What was this one doing?
Amongst his own wailing, his frantic heartbeat, and the hungry rumbles of the beast on top of him, he could hear something else. A faint laugh. Just then, he felt something in the back of his head. It was as if something that plunged a set of claws deep into his skull and used the wound to gain access to his mind. A voice was seeping through his brain waves, sounding neither male nor female but more like a bizarre combination of both. It had the low base of a man, but also possessed the lilting ring of a more feminine tone. It was almost as if it was two souls projecting a single sound.
I always enlighten my chosen prey before they die. You probably want to know why I've singled out you to be my victim. It's not your fault. In fact, it has nothing to do with you. It has to do with the one who loves you, the Sun Guardian. You are the thing most precious to him. I'm sure your death will destroy him. He will fall before me just like those long before him.
I must say, I had thought that I would have to search for you for a while. I never imagined that you would come to me. You mortal's love for one another is a crippling disease. You come to find him and instead you find me. But I will grant you this last request. The Sun Guardian will find you soon enough. I'll make sure he sees your mutilated corpse, child. I'll even tell him that you only came here because you cared for him so much. He'll be so glad to know that his only weakness is gone for good.
Dominic felt sick at having his mind violated by such a hideous creature. He didn't even know what it was. All he knew was that he was going to die and that this monster was going to use his demise to kill Aiden. But he couldn't fight back. He was too weak and his hold on reality was slipping. It had been a long time since he was last attacked by anything. His resistance to pain had begun to fade with the time and now, every cut flared with memories of the one who had always hurt him. He needed help. He needed his friend, his savior.
"Aiden!" he croaked in a weak moan, knowing his call would amount to nothing. Even if Aiden were here as the fiend had said, he would never be able to hear him in his fragile state.
His eyes fluttered with fatigue as he groggily followed the graceful leap of an unknown object from above his head. Squinting, he could just make out a pulse of light falling from the form as it rammed into the white wolf. Both creatures rolled to the ground in an orgy of fangs and blood. The light-headed boy dragged himself away from the belligerent beings, banging his torn fingers against something in the grass. The orange sheen told him it was Aiden's necklace. How did it get here? He could have sworn he dropped it way back there.
Breathless, he turned back to the fight and watched the white animal fly backward, a few spots of red dyed into its coat. Its opponent, revealed to be another wolf with a much darker pelt, had not fared so well. Its fur was drenched in blood. The cuts looked deep and grisly with the hewed slices into its muscles and throat. Even its muzzle was ripped open to his eye. Dominic looked harder at the eye. It was an unmistakable emerald. This was his wolf from six years ago in the forest. But the eyes seemed even more familiar now.
Confident that it had weakened the other sufficiently, the white wolf turned back to Dominic and prepared to lunge. The black one stood upon its hind legs and cut the white one off. The two remained on unsteady back paws as the bit at each other's throat and face, pushing against one another in attempt to bowl the other over. His champion was only able to fend off the other for a few minutes and eventually lost its footing and crashed onto its back. The second it was down, the white wolf went in for the kill.
On instinct, Dominic snatched up the amulet to hurl at the beast. As he did he noticed the terrible heat of the jewel once more. But he knew he couldn't drop it this time. It was his only means of possibly saving the black wolf. He held onto it tighter to strengthen his resolve. His fingers fastened around the thick gem seemed to have an uncanny effect on it as its shape began to change. Orange light sped from between his fingers, forming a line that was fading into radiant silver. At the same time, the amulet it his hand seemed to melt and rebuild itself as a golden hilt-like object in his palm. It took him a split second to realize that the item in his hand was now a long splendid sword. What the hell!
The white wolf's focus changed from eliminating the other animal to leering at the child whom currently possessed a fearsome weapon. It charged at Dominic before the black beast could flip itself over to block its attack. Trapped, Dominic brought down the sword in a fast arc. Searing heat poured from the sword and drove the wolf back. Elated to finally be making some progress, the boy reared back the sword to try and duplicate his action.
Just then, a shadow swept past his side and the sword was torn from his grasp. He caught the puffs of black hair and knew who had stolen his only means of protecting himself. Finding himself vulnerable once more, he backed away from the white wolf and into the black one who gazed down at him with longing eyes and threw back its head. His movements were followed by a flood of light, leaving behind a very familiar figure in its wake.
"Aiden!" Dominic hollered as he watched the wounded man try to hold the sword before him, bleeding profusely all over his body. The blood helped speed up the connection in Dominic's mind. The black wolf that had protected him and his loving guardian were the same. Aiden could somehow turn into the animal by using that crazy amulet.
"I will never let the likes of you harm this child. I am the Guardian. If you must have life, take mine. There are now others out there who know about you and your kind. One day, they will find you and remove you from this world. They are stronger than you can possibly imagine. I am not the only Guardian anymore," voiced Aiden, losing his ability to stand from all his blood loss. His eyes had the same feral glint in them as they had possessed when he had threatened Loren three years ago. He looked like a killer. But that couldn't be? How could Aiden kill anyone? Aiden was gentle and fun loving. He was not this ferocious man who stood here now.
That said, Aiden produced a larger blast of scalding energy from the blade and forced it into the wolf. The wound it left was ugly. There was no way, the creature could still fight with an injury like that. The bitter glare in the beast's eyes seemed to agree with him as it leapt back. Then, it fell upon its haunches as dark clouds spun around it, seeming to have materialized from nothing at all. Its eyes roamed to Aiden and the man jerked his head to the side as the creature vanished.
Aiden coughed thickly and bright red blood spilled from his mouth as he let the sword crash into the ground. "Aiden! Aiden!" his younger companion shrieked, trying to catch the adult's body as he pitched forward, holding a hold to his mauled chest. Lowering Aiden to the ground, Dominic felt his heart plummet deep inside him as he looked upon the multitude of injuries on the man. "No," he whined, knowing that Aiden's wounds were fatal. "I'll go get help. I'll call an ambulance. You'll be okay," the boy assured him, gathering himself to dash for the house.
Wincing, Aiden grabbed his hand and held him back. "No, Nicks. There's no use."
"Don't say that! People get hurt by animals all the time. Then they get stitches and operations and are okay. We just need to get someone right away and you'll...you'll...be okay again."
"These aren't normal wounds, Nicks. They have been infused with something else. Something far stronger than poison. I don't think anyone can heal them...or me," Aiden groaned, reaching out to straighten the boy's slick hair. "You're a mess. It's you who needs to see a doctor. You still have time."
"Stop that! I don't want you to talk like that, Aiden! You can't die! I wouldn't know what to do! I'd...I'd die too!" Dominic roared, moving Aiden's hand away. It felt weak and devoid of strength.
"No, you won't. You've always been such a strong boy, Nicks. You can handle anything and still come out on top. I've always admired that in you. In a way, you're stronger than I ever was. I was always afraid to take a stand unless I was forced. I hated to be hurt. But you, Nicks, you seem to thrive on pain. It enlivens you. You'll be fine. I know you will."
"But it's all a trick, Aiden. I'm not strong at all. I'm always scared. I just don't know how to show it anymore. I need you to teach me how to be," contested the child, tearing at his shirt and trying to stop the man's bleeding. He hadn't even noticed the tears that had started to run freely down his face, falling upon Aiden's mangled shirt.
"Don't cry, Nicks. You never cry," Aiden said gently, unable to summon enough strength to wipe away the boy's tears. "This is my fault. Because I never told you the truth...and now it's...too late. I'm sorry I wasn't honest with you, Nicks. I wanted to...protect you. I love you so much. You are the second person I have ever loved in my life. The first was your mother. She would have adored you. I know it. But she never knew about me either. I have never told...anyone except your Aunt Lorelei."
"Tell her what? What are you talking about, Aiden? Please make sense! I don't understand!"
"What I really am. What I have always been. Now, I have no choice. It must be...you. I never wanted it to be. You don't deserve this. But it's the only way. A promise must be kept. And this promise is...very old."
"Aiden?" moaned Dominic, clutching at Aiden's clothing and half-pulling himself onto the adult.
His friend coughed up more blood and shivered, brilliant green eyes glazing as more time passed. He reached by his side and caressed the sun amulet on the ground. It had changed back from the sword while Dominic had been preoccupied at the horror of the man's condition. "Take this, Nicks. It's very... important. Promise me...you'll finish what I have started."
Dominic picked up the relic and placed it next to his head on Aiden's chest. He didn't know nor care what he was promising. He just wanted to save Aiden. " I promise! Don't leave me, Aiden. Please! I'll never disobey you again. I'll even go back to Atina. I'll visit Loren. Just don't leave me! Please stay with me!"
"I wish...I...could. I...want to. But...fate has made...its choice. One...can't...argue. Even...if they...want to. I'm...sor...ry."
"No Aiden! Don't close your eyes! You have to stay awake! Aiden!" the boy cried, touching the other's cheek with nervous fingers. His tears were causing Aiden's face to drown before him. He drew in another choking breath and slid the digits down the man's skin.
"I...know...you'll...make me...proud, my...beautiful...Dominic. I'm...so...glad...I got...to meet...you..." Aiden sighed as he leaned slightly forward. He closed his eyes and kissed the top of Dominic's bangs. Then, he fell back and remained still.
"AIDEEEN!" howled the abandoned youth, hugging Aiden's body and shaking the shoulders with all his strength. Aiden didn't wake up. He shook him again and again. Harder and harder. Devastated, he amassed a clump of shirt in his first and pulled the man a couple inches off the ground and shook him once more.
"What's wrong with you? Didn't you listen to me? I said you can't die! You're not allowed to die! I need you, dammit! I'll kill myself without you! Wake up! You lying bastard, wake up! You said I could stay with you. You said you loved me! Prove it! Open your eyes! Please Aiden! Please listen to me! I need you still! I love you! Don't you even care? I love you!"
Crying so hard that he could barely make out words, he threw himself upon the man and tucked his head under his neck as he had done so many times before when he was upset. "Aiden...I'll be good. I swear I'll be good. Please...show me you're okay. Please...Please!"
Dominic's eyes were shuddering as if they wanted to release tears but the boy wouldn't let them. He rubbed his eye brutally, possibly visualizing that his palm was a piece of sandpaper that could erase any hint of tears. When he moved his hand away again, the skin left behind was puffy and enflamed as if it had turned into one burning bruise. The rest of Dominic looked worn down, robbed off all his cantankerous energy.
It was then that Lucian knew what was really wrong with his friend. Dominic felt broken. He had for a long time now and only used his temper as a way of keeping anyone from finding out. The boy had lost something with Aiden's death. His satisfaction with life. He saw nothing that made him appreciate what Aiden had given up for him. There was nothing that made those hard shards of coveted violet sparkle with light. Lucian wondered why it had never occurred to him that eyes that shared the same hue as the ocean at sunset should sparkle with the same awesome light.
But they wouldn't sparkle, only sizzle within their walls. A shift in Dominic's posture seemed to stoke them so that they rose up like confined infernos. Dominic let go of Lucian's hand and brought his hand to his amulet, playing with the triangular edges of its base as he struggled to start talking again. Each time, he would open his mouth, he would swivel his neck to the side, debating over delivering the rest of his story. His mouth would form the words but no sound would accompany its movements. After a bit of trying, the most he could produce was an unintelligible glottal moan.
Lucian was tired of prodding the older youth into all this. It was a very volatile subject with him. The redhead had never dreamed that bringing it up would reopen so many repressed wounds. He touched Dominic's shoulder and cleared his throat briskly. Dominic's eyes returned to him with a delayed snap.
"You don't really have to talk anymore...if you don't want to. I never wanted to make you remember such tortuous things. I didn't know. If it hurts, you should stop," the younger teenager offered.
He was answered with a morose headshake as Dominic's ever-recalcitrant hair obscured his eyes, locking the only indicator of his emotion away from Lucian. His voice was strained but not as weak as it had been earlier. It rang with a forced strength though it was still plagued with a couple cracks and drops.
"No. It doesn't matter if it hurts. It should hurt. I should welcome the tiny sting. I have pushed it from me for far too long. Aiden didn't deserve that from me."
"Nicky, you don't owe him anything," urged Lucian, receiving yet another negative response from his companion.
"There is one thing I still owe him. He wanted me to make him proud," Dominic corrected.
"You do already. You're a Guardian. That should make him proud. What more could you give him?"
"My life," answered the dark-haired youth, grasping his dangling bangs as if he wanted to tear them from his forehead. Lucian's raised eyebrows seemed to demand a better explanation. "I haven't proven to him that I can relish one minute of it since he left me. Everything he did for me, I perverted. I trashed it all! And don't argue with me this time, Lucian! You should know how I betrayed his faith by now."
Holding his tongue for fear of pushing Dominic over the edge of sanity he was precariously balanced on, Lucian let his eyes trace the bandaging on his wrist. Then, remembrance kicked in and his eyes swept up to the hand that Dominic was using to capture his bangs. On the opposite of that wrist laid a cry for help carved deep into scarred flesh.
"When Lorelei found Aiden's...when she found us, I was unconscious. Later Nadia told me that it was a case of shock. I woke up in a hospital. They patched up what the wolf had done to me within a few hours. Deluded, I let myself belief that they had healed Aiden as well. When Atina was given permission to take me home, I demanded to see him. I cursed and became violent and called them all liars when they kept trying to tell me that he was gone. I didn't want to believe them. I thought if I pretended it wasn't' real, Aiden would come back to me and make everything better. That was his job. But Aiden didn't show and I withdrew into myself.
"Lorelei sensed my worsening depression and tried to talk to Atina. The woman did her best to reach me, but I had never responded well to her from the beginning. Her words failed to erase my pain. And it was agony. It was like being cold all the time and not able to find any warmth that could chase that frigid feeling away. I felt trapped in this spiral inside my own mind. One that I just couldn't break free of. It dragged me into it like a mental quicksand, absorbing all my interest in anything or anyone. Before long, not even Nadia could get any response from me. I was alone and that abandonment just caused me to dive deeper. A sick repeating cycle. Post-traumatic stress disorder they would call it later. I have a much better term for it. Hell.
"During my episode, I refused to go to school or even eat. Atina phoned psychiatrists for advice. I think she even considered sending me to a psych ward for a little while. It might have prevented what happened. But she hesitated, probably fearing my rejection of her for forcing me to speak to strange people, and made the single mistake of allowing me too much time to myself.
"One day, I was staring at myself in the mirror, a habit I had grown fond of since my release from the hospital, I noticed my hair. Atina had put it up in the tight ponytail that I preferred and its end splayed across my upper spine. I don't think I'll ever understand what moved me to do what happened next. All I know is that the next thing I knew, I was looking back at my reflection, holding a set of scissors at my side. The lower half of my hair had been hacked off, leaving only mismatched ends that tickled the top of my neck. The rest of the mane that I had spent so long manipulating into looking like my idol's formed a crooked circle around my feet, appearing similar to shiny black confetti. Sickened by my portrait, I managed to force myself to close the scissors back in a drawer in the bathroom. I still might have been okay then had the phone not rung. I had left it in the bathroom.
"The voice on the end was the only one that could ever make me shirk. Loren had called to tell me that Aiden had gotten what he deserved and that it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't met me. He said it was my friendship that killed him. He wouldn't stop talking and I couldn't hang up the phone in my grief-stricken rage. I know he knew that he was hurting me, but I will give him the benefit of a doubt as to if he knew what effect his ill-timed words were having on my unstable mind.
"Finally, I couldn't listen to him anymore. I hurled the phone at the mirror above the sink and it shattered instantly, spraying me in thousands of jagged pieces of glass. Picking up one of the larger shards was almost a reflexive action on my part. I liked the red that spread through my fingers as they split upon the glass's side. But it was the almost sensual feeling of the glass sinking into the skin at the top of my wrist that truly aroused me. Such clean washes of blood draining from the cut and swirling down the bathroom sink without the aid of any water. It even formed an artistic contrast of red down the white marble, striping it like candy. To tell you the truth, I barely even noticed the pain as I turned the blade to slice straight down my arm. It was a perfect feeling."
Lucian could hear his stomach turn as he watched Dominic lift a finger and wipe it down his scarred wrist, illustrating to the boy just how deep he had dug into it. The other boy could almost envision the flesh tearing open under the assault and feel Dominic's life draining from him. He could sense the blade slicing through his wrist as if it had been a slab of raw meat. The edge disappearing beneath the yielding flesh as it submerged itself in the fountain of blood provided by ruptured veins. It was terrible but also beautiful in its own demented way.
Unable to take the vision anymore, Lucian forced himself to look away. He could feel a frightened tremor tiptoeing down his back and making his mouth go dry. The boy waited in anguish for Dominic to stop pressing against the white scars. When he finally did, he pushed back his fringe and allowed Lucian to get a good look at his eyes. They were calm and unmoved, not even repulsed by the details that flowed from their owner's mouth. Dominic hadn't any shame for what he had done. He simply didn't care.
"I was never able to finish it though. When I moved to start on my other arm, Nadia had burst in and seen me with blood all over me. See most professional suicide attempters would have at least locked the door. It never even crossed my mind. But I guess most would say it was a good thing that Nadia found me. I couldn't cut in front of her. I had to drop the glass and sink to my knees on the glass-littered floor. I couldn't say a word to her as she ran across the area without shoes and pulled my semi-conscious form from my iridescent death trap. I heard later that she had to get stitches on her feet while I was in the hospital. I regret that.
"But that was the only thing I regretted. I still don't regret what I did. I doubt I ever will. I'm sure Aiden knows. That's why I know he's not proud of me. I let him down in the worst way.
"Even when I was transferred from the hospital to a psychiatrist for a few days, I refused to show any concern at all toward my actions. Nadia came to see me. She told me how angry she was with me for trying to kill myself. She called me selfish and asked what she was supposed to do if I died. I hated to make her cry so I acted like I was sorry about it. I think she knew it was a trick. So she made me promise her that I would never do it again. A promise is unbreakable so I had to give her my word.
"Eventually, I managed to prove to the officials that I was competent and they let me go back to my family. It was then that I read Aiden's letter and learned about the Cruce, the Guardians, and the Keys. He also told me about the secret of the sun amulet. I used the secret to run away unnoticed.
"I didn't want to stay there anymore. I was afraid of my curse so I ran, hoping to someday run into the people that Aiden had selected me to protect. Along the way, I picked up my notebook and used it as a medium for talking to Aiden. I hid it many places when I was a wolf so it somehow managed to make it this long. I've been running since I was fourteen and I plan to keep on running. As soon as I'm finished with the Chimera and the Keys, I think I'll start again. There really is no place that I have ever felt I could call my home. Maybe there won't ever be."
"You've never regretted your suicide attempt?" inquired Lucian, finding it hard to accept such a truth from Dominic. Up until now, he had merely seen the older boy as someone who was not very happy. He had never imagined him to be so emotionally shattered. Dominic had to regret the action deep inside him. He couldn't hate his life that much. His efforts to stay alive had proved that much. Dominic had an inbred drive for survival much like him. It couldn't be diluted that much yet.
"No. I haven't."
"Even now?" the redhead pressed.
"I wanted to die. I wanted to see Aiden again. I still do. Only now, I have something else to worry about first. I have to fulfill my promise to him. It's all I have left to offer him," murmured Dominic, holding his scarred arm.
"That's not right."
"What?" the other boy fumed, setting an insulted glance on his companion.
"I can tell you another thing that you can still offer Aiden. Like you said, you can offer him your life, but in a different way. From now on, show him that you can make the most of it. Prove to him that his sacrifice wasn't for naught. He would want you to be happy. I'm sure of it. Aiden always wanted us to be happy. It made him feel that despite the inevitable fighting, he would still have something pure to fight for. He wanted his children to have as normal a life as possible. That's why he tried so hard to make everything perfect. Aiden only lived for those he loved," explained Lucian, smiling at the memory of the man.
Something clicked in Dominic as he saw the sentimental expression curve Lucian's lips. The things Lucian was saying and the way he was saying them pointed to only one conclusion. Could it be possible? Aiden had never mentioned this. Why hadn't he told him?
"You knew Aiden!" he shouted, nearly knocking Lucian over in his excited jump. "How? How did you know him? He never said anything about you. I always thought he lived alone. What were you to him?"
For a moment, he worried about whether Lucian would pick up on the jealous insinuation in his voice. But Lucian was too busy cruising down memory lane to notice any such subtlety.
Then, the smile melted from Lucian's face and he grew quiet. Both youths sat silent as the howling wind made enough noise for the both of them. After the tense pause, Lucian patted down his hair and looked up at the darkening clouds. "I never knew what happened to him," he said in a tragic voice, "I guess I always thought that he had left us for some reason. That we had done something wrong. It never felt right to me. But I didn't know that he had gone back to you."
"Did Aiden tell you about me?"
"Never. If he did, I probably would have been angry. I was young and I kind of enjoyed having Aiden all to myself. I liked being his. Something in me has always liked being owned," admitted Lucian, laughing at the absurdity of his statement.
"Since when has anything ever owned you?" Dominic snapped with a snide glare.
"Oh, I've always been owned by someone or something. Until I was twelve, the government owned me. Then, Aiden owned me. Since then, every person I have ever been involved with has owned me in his or her own way. Even Tashira possesses some part of me. It's not like I don't willingly agree to being owned. It has always been this way. And now, you have taken the role whether you have realized it or not."
Dominic snorted theatrically and gave Lucian a disagreeable look. "That's crazy. I don't own anything and especially NOT YOU!"
The other boy sniggered softly and waved his finger at Dominic. "Don't be so sure."
"Whatever! How can you possibly like being owned anyway? Isn't it against your nature or something?" grumbled the dark-haired youth, refusing to believe that Lucian was being serious.
"Too true. It is and that's the basic irony in it. My nature as a rebel detests the idea of giving a piece of my free will to anyone," the younger boy replied in a cheery voice.
"So why do you claim to enjoy it?"
"That's the other side of the coin. Being owned is the only way I can truly feel like I mean something to someone. I spent a large chunk of my life thinking that I was worthless and not fit to be with anyone. Like you, I hated other people. I hated them because they wouldn't love me. I'm not talking marriage and eternal commitment love. I'm just talking about the simple act of caring. I wanted someone who would show me that I was important. That I was special. But most people looked the other way. Most people, but not our Aiden. He changed everything about me. I owe him everything."
So Lucian had befriended his Aiden. He must have been the person who had given the twins a second chance when their lives appeared so dismal. Something inside of him derided him for not noticing sooner. It was remarkable how much the two acted like each other. Lucian had taken Aiden's entire sunny disposition onto himself and perfected it into a personality that was both alluring and anarchistic. Where Aiden had found happiness, Lucian found delectation. Where the man had shown friendship, the boy showed fraternity. And where Aiden had displayed tenderness, his protégé oozed seduction . It made him an irresistible individual. One whose defiant style and amiable nature demanded the attention...and companionship of the world. Aiden had made him into a celebrity without the annoying nuisance of fickle fame.
It made him a little invidious, knowing how he had never been able to completely give into the childlike joy he felt around Aiden. Even surrounded by affection and bliss, he had still found the need to keep his standoffish attitude. Aiden hadn't been able to drive that out of him no matter how much compassion he had shown him. But Lucian had managed to draw a new strength from his companionship with the man and emerged from it unconditionally affable. Why him? What made him so resilient to the hand that fate had given him? What allowed the youth to spring back from what would seem an austere slump?
Shoving his jealousy deep inside of him, Dominic pointed to the ruby on Lucian's sternum and scrunched his eyes. "Did Aiden give you that? Like he gave me mine?"
"Not quite. I think each Guardian is only dished out one amulet a piece. It wouldn't be fair if one owned them all," quipped Lucian, giving his jewel a quick flick.
"So where did you get it?" the other youth prodded. He hated it when Lucian acting so mysterious with him.
"I don't really know. It's been too long and I can't recall when me and Shira received our nifty chunks of rock," faltered the redhead in a less than honest voice. "But I do know that it was Aiden who had a major hand in their appearance. It was him who told us that we were meant to be Guardians."
"Tell me more," Dominic encouraged, waving his hand in an avid circle.
"Oh, so it's my turn for a little story time, is it?"
"I don't care what you call it. Just tell me about you and Aiden."
Lucian leaned against his palms and gave the dark-haired teenager an enticed look. "Jealous, are we?"
"Lucian!" Dominic threatened with a grating of his teeth.
"All right! All right! Enough with the wolf glares already," yelped the younger boy, arching back some at Dominic's grimace. "You want my life story, you're going to get it, Nicky."
"Just get on with it."
"Maybe I should start by saying that I wasn't the most stable of children. Hell, I would even take a risk and say that I was quite insane. After the untimely death of mother, Shira and I found ourselves orphans. Sure, people tried to track down some family of ours and get them to take us in. Only our mother's family was not as sweet as some. Apparently, they had no desire to have anything to do with their grandchildren or relatives. You see, Mom's pregnancy was never seen as a blessing. From what I learned about them, most of the family probably voted for an abortion. Maybe that's what scared our mom away. Who cares?
"To make a long story short, the Ambrose kids became wards of the government permanently. Luke and Tara. Awful names, aren't they? I couldn't stand them. So I refused to respond to anyone who used them. Shira was always the more complacent one. They liked her. Figures. Who would like the nut that saw things in his nightmares and woke up screaming as if someone was killing him? Answer: Nobody.
"You can probably guess what this resulted in. I was the freak and the favorite target of all the kids. Luke the psychopath. After a while, I learned to take pride in the title. At least, it gave me some character. It also proved to be the reason no one wanted to adopt me. This, of course, had a lasting affect on Shira. She couldn't make herself leave me, no matter how nice the people. In her opinion, she could never love anyone who couldn't love me. I guess it was too bad nobody would.
"So I grew up with all the secretive leers, gossiping rumors, and vicious teasing. In time, I learned of a sure-fire way of distancing myself from it. Kick the ass of anyone who would dare to utter a degrading syllable. I have to hand it to them, for ignorant bullies, most of the other kids were very fast learners. I managed to earn myself both an occasional moment of peace and a lasting reputation as the meanest son of a bitch that the foster homes had ever laid eyes on. Now, that's something.
"Sadly my bad-ass temper couldn't do anything for the nightmares that have always plagued me. I still saw myself as the same lunatic that the rest of the world viewed me as. That sort of thing can really screw up a person. It made me hate myself just as much as I hated everyone around me, save Shira. And that attitude showed. Even my ever-fetching looks couldn't convince any prospective parents to stick with me. I usually only stayed in a home for a week before they decided I just wasn't worth the effort. Not worth the effort. Nice thing for adults to say about an indigent child. Sure made me want to adopt the goody-goody act."
"If your name is really Luke. Then where did you come up with Lucian? That's rather... imaginative," interrupted the older boy, scratching his neck.
His friend swung his arms around and sat his hands on his knees, pulling himself forward a little. "Here's the thing. Luke is just the name the orphanage came up with since our only parent died before she could name us. But unknown to the rest of the world, our mother had already picked our names out a while ago."
"How do you know?" Dominic asked, thrown by Lucian's confidence.
"I found this letter in a file while I was spending some time with my social worker. Being a nutcase, I was given one all to myself. So one day, while she was out pleading my sanity with one of my 'parents.' I was perusing through the stuff she had on my sister and I. Call it boredom. Perhaps, it was just my troublesome nature. What I found surprised me though. I even remember most of what it said," Lucian added, his eyes closing for a moment as he tried to visualize the note that his mother had written to her lover, revealing the twins' true names as well as the young teenager's longing to escape with her boyfriend.
"I think she had it on her when she died or something. I don't know why she never sent it. Maybe she learned that her boytoy was cheating on her or some crap like that. It doesn't really matter. The thing was that when I read the note, I fell in love with the names. I told Shira about it and from then on, we always secretly referred to each other as Lucian and Tashira. We never told anyone else about it. They didn't need to know."
"When does Aiden come into this?" Dominic questioned in his blunt tone, not minding that he was completely ignoring this piece of Lucian's past. It didn't matter that much where he had gotten his name. It suited him and that was enough. Although the parts about Lucian's aversion to other people certainly intrigued him, he wanted to see how Aiden managed to change all that. What had happened different with Lucian?
"Did anyone ever tell you that you're impatient?" the redhead growled, making it clear that he did not approve of Dominic's apathy to the most agonizing stages of his life.
The malice in his tone made Dominic feel somewhat guilty for ignoring how Lucian must have felt going through what he did at his young age. It wasn't being beaten on a weekly basis, but it was still warping. While he had earned the title of antisocial by himself, it had been basically forced onto Lucian due to his circumstances. It must have been difficult to stay positive and amicable when one's entire life seemed to confuse him. Being dubbed a basket case by intellectual adults as well as every child he knew was clearly disheartening. It would have damaged anyone's spirit. As old as eleven and still not accepted by the rest of society. That was pretty bad.
"I'll try not to be so pushy," he conceded as the distaste left Lucian's eyes and he reassumed his carefree pose.
"I can see why you're a bit unaffected by my plight. You had it worse. I'm not going to argue that. As bad as my life was, the only people who I had to fight were under eighteen years. Still, I did feel like I meant nothing. I guess I only ran away to escape that feeling. When Shira and I were on the streets, we didn't have people telling us that we would never have a real home because I was too dysfunctional.
"I think I ran a total of twenty-two times. They always dragged us back in the end. My social worker had the cops on my case. They tracked us down in days. But once, we did get a whole two weeks before we ran into one and had to go back. I had some fun that time. I was twelve and it was the middle of summer. Needless to say, I had quite a few...experiences. To tell you the truth, I used to believe that Shira had told someone where we were just to get me back to herself. I wasn't too angry with her. I was being a bit on the selfish side.
"By the way, it was my habit of running away that led me to Aiden. It was about six months about my summer fling and I had just gotten into another one of my nasty scuffles. I can't remember why but I had knocked some moron in the chest with a wooden bat. I was lucky. He was only unconscious for a couple of hours. But the orphanage had had enough. They warned me that if I got in another fight, they would send me away from Shira. I didn't want to lose her so one night, I coaxed her out of bed and we ran again."
Lucian had long decided that sleeping in the city park sucked royally. It was cold and the crows couldn't stop cawing for even two friggin' minutes. Tashira kept complaining about how the bench hurt her back with its splinters and she fidgeted every ten seconds, kicking him in the shin or chest. It was impossible to get any sleep.
He had hoped that once they had managed to afford the bus ride out of their old city that they would have no further problems. But this new place wasn't as easy to work with as the other had been. Sneaking in stores was tricky and too many abandoned buildings were already taken. That left the cars in the impound lot or the park. Lucian was beginning to wish he had chosen the cars. They might have been more comfortable and a lot warmer.
As it was, he could tell that he was already getting sick. He hadn't been feeling well when they had left the orphanage about a month ago and life on the street was taking its toll on him. As much as he wanted to be, Lucian knew that he could never pull off being a street kid. Living in the crowded orphanage had spoiled him too much. Still, he was determined to try this until something better showed up. Anything was better than going back to that spiteful place filled with people out to make his life miserable.
Tired of pretending to rest, he left the sleeping Tashira and snatched the bag he had packed for the trip. Unzipping it, he pulled out his sister's hand mirror and examined his face in the reflection to see if his eyes looked bloodshot or if he looked a little wan. It was good to discover any illness quickly so that he would have ample time to come up with a way to do something about it. He felt like he might have the flu. Gazing into the smudged glass, he saw that he did look a little lighter than usual. His cropped hair seemed to glow like fire against the paleness of his face. Just what he needed right now. Another thing to stress about.
Bothered by the fact that fate was obviously conspiring against him, he reached into the bag and withdrew a small white box. He had filched it from one of the older boys upon leaving. The simpleton had tried to conceal the item under his bed. Cigarettes weren't allowed on the premises. Which of course meant almost all the kids over ten smoked them. Tashira had been one of the few that had declined from the action. She said they tasted bad. Maybe, but they were damn relaxing at times.
Eagerly, the boy seized one and lit it with a lighter from his coat. It didn't warm him up like he had expected it too, but it had managed to lessen the tension that had risen in him about five minutes earlier. He sucked on the cigarette again and then threw himself on his back.
The following day saw him leading his twin down the street in search of a place to eat. He still had some money from the other night and had offered to buy Tashira a big lunch since he had slept through breakfast. She had been thrilled to hear such good news and failed to notice how weak he had become as he rushed her through the plaza. Tashira had even bought the excuse that his frequent bouts of coughing were from his smoking. That had only earned him an intense scolding from the girl. Nothing he couldn't live with.
"Luce, let's eat something special for once. Like Chinese or Italian," chattered Tashira, bouncing behind her brother.
"We'll see. I don't see any of that sort of place around here anyway. Can't we just eat burgers or something? We don't need to blow all our money on one exotic last meal," her brother chided in a stern voice. He adjusted his tinted sunglasses and gave the perimeter another inspection.
"But you promised me that I would get to choose!" the other whined as loud as she could, putting on a fake pout.
Her sibling's throat was hurting him and he didn't really feel like arguing the point any further. He threw up his hands and let her jump in front of him. "Show me where you want to eat."
Tashira merrily hauled her twin all around the plaza, searching for any place that didn't serve burgers or pizza. After she had gone over the whole area twice over, Lucian pulled away from her and slumped down on one of the curbs. "There isn't any place like that here. Face it, Shira. Let's go with the burgers. If you really want, you can buy a salad or something," he griped, retrieving his package of cigarettes and knocking one out. This was seriously stressing him out. That and the fuzzy feeling in his head.
Seeing his action, Tashira slapped his shoulder and glared at him. "You can't smoke here!"
"Why not? I can't smoke in a restaurant and we're obviously not going to be finding one any time soon," replied Lucian in a semblance of a huff.
"You're already sick. Put those away."
Lucian moved away from here and waved her off as he pressed the switch on his lighter and held it to the white stick. "Go find us your fancy-smancy restaurant. I'm hungry," he mumbled around the cigarette in his mouth.
Fussing, his sister turned to renew her search when a curious light passed over her eyes. "What do you think he's doing?"
The girl pointed to a dark-haired man with a ponytail walking across the street as if in a trance. He didn't seem to be watching out for cars at all as his green eyes rested on the two youths apart from him. His look was intense and somewhat puzzled as he scrutinized the preteens with meticulous strokes of his eyes.
When Lucian saw the car round the bend, the cigarette fell from his mouth and he hollered at the man on the road. "Hey doofus, watch out!"
Breaking from his daze, the man seemed to spy the vehicle, but it was too late. His eyes widened and the car squealed on its brakes, cutting a dangerous line toward the man.
Next thing Lucian knew, he was lying on top of the strange man, unable to straighten himself because of the dizzy sensation that surrounded his body. He wasn't entirely sure what had happened between his yell at the adult and their current position. All he could assume what that something had compelled him to jump in between the car and its victim. He couldn't remember moving from the curb, but here he was, pressed against the chest of a complete stranger. Then again, this sort of thing wasn't alien to him so his anxiety quickly passed.
"Shit! Did I hit the kid?" exclaimed a voice from the side and the boy raised his eyes to take in a figure by the car flailing wildly and bending down to check on the two prone forms.
"I don't think so. He just seems a little surprised from the fall," answered another voice, this one much friendlier. A hand ruffled his hair. "You didn't hit your head, did you?"
Lucian blinked his eyes and shook his head. The man underneath him smiled with relief. "That's good. I was afraid that you accidentally smacked your head on the pavement when you pushed me down. That was sure some jump. I guess I should thank you for saving my life."
"You're stupid!" spat Lucian, trying to back off the other figure. "Why the hell weren't you paying attention to what you were doing? You could have been killed."
"Guess it's a good thing you were around then, huh?"
"What were you doing?" the boy inquired as the man helped him get to his feet.
"Daydreaming. Haven't you ever daydreamed before?" chuckled the man, brushing himself off and then looking down at the youth.
"No, I hate dreams. And adults shouldn't daydream."
"Kids shouldn't ingest nicotine every nine seconds either," the other countered, moving his eyes over to the cigarette that had rolled right next to the curb. "Some people are just rebels."
The youth felt slighted by the comment and bunched up his shoulders as he stormed away from the man and returned to Tashira, calling back, "Who are you? My father?"
"Don't leave yet, kid. I want to ask you something."
Locking his arm with Tashira's, Lucian began to rush away, fed up with talking to this unusual adult. It wasn't that he was that afraid of the stranger, more like he knew that messing with adults usually led to him being taken back to the orphanage. He didn't want to ruin his streak of luck just yet.
Determined to catch the youths, the man dashed in front of them and held out his hands in an unthreatening gesture. "I just wanted to know how you managed to get to me before the car. That was some jump," he panted from exertion.
"My brother has natural agility," praised Tashira as Lucian glared as the man and moved her behind him.
"Go away!" the boy commanded, glowering at the figure from behind his dark shades.
"Can you at least tell me your name? I just want to know the person who saved my life," insisted the older person, turning his head to try and see the eyes behind the sunglasses.
Tashira picked up on his intention and shoved her way past him, nudging her sibling in front of her as she peered at the man with icy gray eyes. "He doesn't have to tell you anything if he doesn't want to. Now do as he says and go away."
"Aren't you a little young to be addressing your elders this way?" reprimanded the man in a slightly playful tone.
"How old do you think I am?" Lucian said with a haughty air as he turned casually to the other figure.
"You're a dumbass."
"Higher?" the man attempted another guess as the boy rolled his eyes at him in disgust.
"You're also boring. Find some other kids to nag," suggested the redhead, stalking away from the man once more.
"Do you always use this sort of language?"
"Only with people I really like. Consider yourself special," Lucian laughed in a dry, sarcastic note.
Suddenly, the weird feeling in his head began to get worse. All this jerking around and activity had not been the best of things to be doing, considering how he might be getting sick. He touched his forehead gingerly. It felt like he was caressing heated glass. That wasn't too good. He decided to tell his sister something was wrong with him before anything bad happened. But as he turned to her, he felt his legs give out underneath him and his vision turn black in an instant as he collapsed upon her legs.
"I didn't mean to get you in trouble. I didn't know that you were an orphan, Luke. I thought that you were just another punk kid. I didn't know that taking you to the hospital would toss you back in here," a repentant voice mumbled above him as Lucian cracked open his eyes.
He didn't know how long he had been sleeping, but the lumpiness of the bed told him he was back in the room he shared with two older boys. That meant that while he was passed out, whoever had found him had returned him to the orphanage. Damn, if he had known that getting sick was going to result in this mess, he would have just stayed in that freezing park.
As light and imagery reentered his cornea, his lips curled into an angry sneer. "Don't call me that!"
"Hey! You're up! Sorry about the slur, but do you honestly deny that you act like a punk?" chirped the black-haired man from the plaza. He was sitting with his chest against the back of a chair a few feet away from the bed. Strangely, he didn't seem half as odd as he had earlier and instead had adopted a more childish demeanor.
"Hell no! But don't call me Luke! That's not my name."
"Really? That's what they told me when they came to get you at the hospital. I think it was your social worker that said it. But I guess you would know best. If Luke's not your real name, can you tell me what is?" his older guest replied in a lively tone.
"Why are you doing this?" sighed Lucian, pushing down the covers and sitting upon the side of the bed. "Why are you here?"
The man crossed his arms across the back of the chair and cocked his head a tiny bit. "I want to help you, Lu...kid. You're special. I can sense it inside you. Plus, you saved my life. That's worth something."
"You're wasting your time. I only saved you because an accident would attract the cops and I didn't want them to throw me back in here. Looks like my foolproof plan backfired," the boy hissed, lowering his face into one of his hands. "God, why did I have to help you? I could still be free."
"That's not the whole truth, is it?"
"Who cares?" groaned Lucian from under his palm, angry at the frustration that was sweeping over him. If he was wasn't feeling so awful, he knew he would have liked to try and slug the man for wrecking everything. But he was still too weak from his illness and all he could do was brood in fury.
"My name is Aiden Fenric," the man offered in his still pleasant voice, not offended by the harsh attitude Lucian was displaying before him. "I figured if I'm going to demand your name, the least I can do is offer you mine."
"If you say so."
Aiden climbed off the chair and began to pace around the room. After some time, he stopped and lowered his eyes to Lucian in a startling show of somberness. "Cynicism isn't in your nature."
"And how would you know? Can you read my mind now?" snarled the youth, turning his head from the man and staring at the ugly blue wallpaper by his bed.
"No. I can see it in your eyes," Aiden quipped, walking over to his side and tapping the edge of his own eye.
Hearing the words, Lucian became agitated. Why had they stolen his shades again? Didn't anyone understand that he didn't like people looking at him? This Aiden might have actually believed he was a normal child before now. He might have been able to speak to him as if he was one of the other adoptees. Now, that was impossible. He hated when anyone saw his eyes. The look of repulsion or horror in their expressions still ripped through him even with the defiant temperament he had developed.
"Don't look at them!" he ordered, squeezing his eyes shut and dropping his face from view.
"Red. I know. Red like blood."
"No, I was actually going to say astounding. Even with all the darkness you've shielded them with, they still manage to glitter like garnets," corrected the man with a partial smile. He didn't look frightened or sickened or anything. Aiden looked like he was simply admiring an article of jewelry. Lucian had never seen anyone gaze at him like that before. It was...nice.
"You're not disgusted by them?" the boy questioned, checking to see if he had misread something.
"Of course not. Why would you ask a silly question like that?"
"Everyone else hates them. They say I'm not normal. They say I'm insane. Some of them even say that I'm a demon. It's because of these and also because I see things...in my dreams," explained Lucian, lifting his eyes to the man again. He was still nervous about it, but the figure's attitude seemed to be accepting. Perhaps, it would be okay just this once.
The man sat on the end of the mattress and gave the youth a questioning glance. "What sort of things?"
"Strange things. Bad...things. I don't know why. They frighten me."
"What do you see?" Aiden pressed, his voice devoid of fear and only showing a mild curiosity.
"Death and blood and pain. Always pain. Someone is suffering. Suffering from a loss too powerful to bear. He cries sometimes. He even looks like me. But I know he's not me. We don't feel the same. His world is far darker," whispered Lucian, revealing more to this stranger than he had ever told anyone besides his twin. He just felt safer around Aiden. Something about the man seemed to promise that he could help him escape from his misery.
"How long have you had these dreams?"
Lucian drew one leg closer to him and clasped it between his slender arms as his eyes kept returning to the floor. "I've always had them. The others...they think I'm making them up. They think I'm just a sicko. They used to laugh at me when I would cry upon waking up or throw a fit about going to sleep. But I taught them. They don't dare laugh anymore. They stay away from me. I like that."
"You like being alone?" asked the older figure, brushing a stray black tendril from his temple.
"No, but I like being safe."
Nodding his head, Aiden looked away from the boy, probably unsure about saying something around the preteen. "They say that you're violent around others."
His companion giggled and made an evil face as he tossed his arms behind his head. "You bet. And vicious and manipulative and cruel. A lot of other stuff too. I'm just a bad kid."
"No. I don't think you are. I think you're confused. They just don't understand you."
"Maybe. It doesn't matter. They still treat me like a freak because of my eyes. Nobody else has red eyes."
"That doesn't make you a freak," Aiden stated firmly.
"Sounds like a good reason to me," the child confessed, tipping over to him back.
Smiling at his energy, the man tossed an inviting glance at the boy and added, "I want to help you. Tell me your name, the one that you would like to be called."
"You still want to help me? But what about all the things I told you? They think I'm dangerous. I'm crazy. Didn't they explain that to you?" gasped Lucian, unable to comprehend how this person could be so adamant about his well being.
"Yes, but you're not. I don't care what they say. If you were crazy, you wouldn't have pushed me out of the way. You are better than they are. That's why they hate you. They're jealous."
"Heard this one before. Talks don't work on me, Mr...uh...Fenric?" the boy retorted, hesitant about using Aiden's first name for fear of insulting him. Kids were supposed to address adults by their surnames. He had never really tried it before since most of the adults he knew weren't worth the effort. But Aiden was different. He deserved some respect. It forced him to scour his thoughts for a way to please the friendly man.
"Aiden," informed the man, hiding the laughter between his teeth.
"Okay, Mr. Aiden."
Aiden moved closer to Lucian and shook his head gently. "No. Just call me Aiden. I've never liked formalities." He cautiously curled an arm around the boy's side, waiting to see how Lucian would react to the intrusion of his personal space. When all Lucian did was give him an impartial stare, he squeezed him softly. "And I didn't mean to sound all high and mighty with you. I was being serious. Those around you subconsciously sense your gifts and wish to covet them themselves. They know they can't so they snub you to ease their pain and bring you back to their level."
"I'm...real...really that special?" stuttered Lucian, adjusting to the casual embrace. Most of his foster parents had always tried to hug him, but they were so sloppy and mushy about it. It made him want to get away as fast as possible. This action was not like any of them. It was just comforting like a hug should be. He fought with himself not to blush.
"Yes, maybe even moreso."
Filled with a strange giddiness, the boy turned his head to the man and murmured, "Lucian."
"Excuse me?" Aiden requested, lifting his arm from around Lucian.
"If you want to call me something, call me Lucian. I would like that, I think. It's my real name after all. My mother gave it to me before she died. Oh and my sister is Tashira."
The man patted his shoulder and stood up from the bed. "Thank you, Lucian. I should get going now. I have a lot of work piled up at home. And somebody will be very cross with me if I'm late," he chuckled, heading over to the door.
"Goodbye," Lucian said phlegmatically, shutting his eyes again.
"Lucian, do you think it would be all right if I come back again some time? You know, to visit you and Tashira and see how you're getting along."
"I don't care. If it makes you happy, go ahead," grumbled the youth, tired of talking already. Aiden was leaving and that meant he would have to return to his troublesome existence of frequent fights and flighty parents. He had lost his enthusiasm once more.
"How about you? Would it make you happy?" Aiden questioned, facing Lucian with an expression of pleasant interest.
"That's what I said."
Lucian was dumbstruck. Nobody had ever asked him what he wanted. They always tried to decide it for them. Being given a choice was a bizarre switch of roles. He wasn't entirely sure what he should say. Rolling onto his side, he rested his head on his upper arm and gave Aiden a perplexed look.
"I don't know...I guess so...maybe...uh...Yes! Yes, Aiden, I would like to see you again if you have time. You owe me a cigarette," Lucian bounced between his decisions as he fished for the ideal answer. He settled on the one that made the most sense to him.
"We'll talk about that some other time, perhaps," laughed Aiden as he fixed him with a reprimanding stare. "I'll keep in touch."
"See you...soon," the youth mouthed as his eyes followed Aiden out the door and until he was lost behind the corner of a wall.
"Did he come back to see you like he had said?" interrogated Dominic with the attitude of an ardent investigator. He knew he should be grateful to Lucian. Because of him, Aiden had been allowed to spend a little more time with him than he normally would have been. But it did strike him as odd that Lucian couldn't remember why he had decided to save the man. It hadn't seemed like it was in Lucian's character at the time.
"Yeah. But it was just a tad more complicated than he had bet on. Remember that fight I told you about when you asked me if I had ever killed anyone?" drawled the other boy in a sheepish tone.
"It happened right after I met Aiden. As you can safely assume, the orphanage kept its word and sent me to another foster home so that my hateful habits wouldn't rub off an innocent Shira. I cracked and refused to leave my bed after a few days. I wouldn't eat either and just kept calling for my sister. The adults thought that I was going to starve so they sent me to some facility to see if they could get some response from me. I think it was some center for disturbed children. All the other inhabitants were pyromaniacs, schizophrenics, pathological liars, abusive, or suicidal. I fit right in with the bunch."
"Did it help your depression?" the older youth delved, remembering his own experience with psychiatric wards.
They were scary places. How could Lucian have enjoyed his stay at one? He must have really hated the foster homes to choose a building full of wackos over a place with people who tried to help him. Perhaps, Lucian really was as insane at the time as he claimed to be. Aiden had changed that. But how?
"Not really. I still wouldn't talk to anyone or eat. Some of the inmates thought I was quite the showpiece. They would often visit me and gawk at my eyes or speculate the reason for my being there. They were incredibly nosy for crazy children," noted Lucian with a hearty grin. "I thought I would be there for a while. Then, one day, Aiden showed up out of the blue. And guess what surprise he had for me? Adoption papers for both me and Shira!"
"Aiden adopted you?"
"Sure did. I think he was half-expecting me to throw a fit about it or demand to leave. But I didn't. I was genuinely happy about it. He had ignored all the warnings my caretakers gave him and decided to adopt me on his own. Aiden took us both on a huge shopping trip the same day. A leather jacket caught my eye and I have been in love with the fabric ever since. He treated us like royalty. Even the house he took us to was magnificent. A mansion of that caliber is a big change for two children used to sharing rooms with at least two other people.
"Later that night, when Shira had fallen asleep, he called me outside to show me something. It proved to me that Aiden really did understand me. After that, all my doubts about being his son vanished completely."
Sitting in the center of the lawn was a lean gray cat with amber eyes. It looked somewhat old and had patches of fur missing from its hindquarters. Still, it moved with its stealthy grace and made its way over to the man who was calling it with coaxing clicks. Aiden called the feline onto his lap and rubbed its back slowly so that the aged animal purred and pushed its furry head against his palm.
"Is it yours?" asked the boy beside him, bending down to run a finger down the cat's cheek.
"Yes and no. I take care of her from time to time. But Ambrose prefers the wild. Don't you, girl?" Aiden responded, tickling Ambrose under her chin. He looked up from the cat and met Lucian's eyes. "In a way, she's kind of like you. She loves to be worshipped and touched, but she hates to be controlled. Ambrose likes to do things her way. She's a rebel."
"Cool name. Ambrose. Did you give it to her?" mused Lucian as Ambrose padded away from the older figure and hopped onto his leg.
"It suits her."
"Could I have it? The name I mean. It seems so mystical. It would be the perfect accompaniment to the strange names that me and Shira already have. Besides, Lucian Fenric sounds yuck!"
"Hey! I like my last name!" Aiden argued, mussing Lucian's hair. Then he sighed and pulled back. "But Lucian Ambrose does have a certain ring to it. It does suit you and you're not technically my son so I guess I can't force you to use my surname."
Lucian gathered up the cat in his arms and stood up, still fingering her spine while Ambrose kneaded his skin. "That's right. And I've heard of loads of kids who use their mother's maiden name after she remarries. They just like them better. Nobody ever told me my family's surname so I wouldn't mind using the kitty's. At least, I would have a last name for once."
"Very well, Luce. You win. I can't fight with your reasoning. But there is something else I'd like to ask you."
"Go for it," encouraged the boy, granting Aiden permission to address him about whatever he wanted to.
"I know you want to stay here. You want Tashira and yourself to be safe. But I can tell that you don't appreciate much authority," Aiden stated, catching the way Lucian shied his eyes away from him in a guilty motion.
"I'm not crazy about being told what to do," he admitted the youth, hugging the cat to his chest.
"I know. What if I told you that I would let you take care of yourself most of the time, but still come to check on you every few days. It would let you keep your independence, but you wouldn't be entirely alone. Would you like that?" suggested the man as Lucian gaped at his offer.
It was highly unusual for an adult to suggest leaving a pair of twelve-year-olds to their own devices. Well, Aiden was not like most adults. He saw things differently all the time. Maybe this was just his way of showing his trust of the twins. Lucian decided immediately that he liked this idea.
"What's the catch?"
"Smart boy! I should have known I couldn't pull one on you, Lucian. So I will admit that I want something out of this. Three things to be precise," Aiden declared, taking one of Lucian's hands.
"And these are?"
"First, you have to make me a promise that you will help me in the future. You and Tashira have something special about you, Luce. Something that few other people have. I need that power to help someone else. I want you to use your gifts when you are older to find others like you. I only know of one so far. But I know that you will need to work together to accomplish this task. That's two of the promises," informed the man, receiving an anxious glance from the youth.
"And the third?" Lucian asked quietly, confused as to how he was supposed to help Aiden later on.
"I want you to promise me that from now on, no matter what, you will be happy. A child of such zest and energy should not be so gloomy. You have a powerful spirit, Lucian. You just need to let it out. It will make everything better for you and people will forget about your eyes and focus on the actual person behind them. I know you want that."
Lucian set Ambrose back down on the ground and watched her rush over to a ceramic bowl of cat food. What did it matter to this man if he was happy? Why was that part of the requirements? It didn't seem fair to impose such a thing on him. Still, that was the only challenging aspect of the deal. It could be handled carefully enough with some effort. He kept his eyes on her eating motions as he answered Aiden dully, " I do."
The man dropped his hand and moved to the door, holding it open for him. "So what do you say, kid? Are my conditions reasonable? Promise to follow them?"
His younger companion thought it over for a while and then jumped up. He scurried over to Aiden and wrapped his pinkie finger around the other's. "I promise, Aiden," he uttered in a genial tone as he gave the man one of his rare true smiles. "I won't let you down."
Dominic found himself having to swallow his breath to keep from laughing . "A cat? Ambrose comes from a cat! And you said, it was a girl's name."
"I'll have you know, she was a really special cat! She just died a year ago and I will not have you sullying her good name by mocking mine!" fumed Lucian, swatting at the dark-haired boy who dodged the blow with a jerk to the side.
"So that's why I never heard about you. Aiden only visited you every so often. The rest of the time he spent with me," Dominic speculated, watching Lucian for any sign of future attacks.
"Yeah. I think he liked you just a bit more. He knew you needed someone to turn to. After the initial weeks with him, I learned how to channel my fury and direct it into something that had no affect on anyone else. Such was the birth of my danger lust. But in the meantime, I learned how easy it was to make friends with people by acting like Aiden. I just tuned it up a notch. In no time, befriending others was a breeze."
"You said that you knew something had happened to Aiden on the night that you last saw him. How did you know?"
Lucian tapped on the dirt and presented his friend with apologetic wet eyes as his voice lowered considerably. "I could just feel it. I told him not to leave. I begged him. I swore and we fought for a long time. He kept saying stuff like, 'This is my destiny. I have to finish this.' I already knew what he was then. He had told my sister and I a while ago about the Guardians. That's why I couldn't let him go. So I used everything in my power to try and force him to stay. Eventually he got the upper hand and managed to get out. He told me he was sorry and I said that I hated him for doing this to us. I never did get the chance to take those evil words back."
"He knew you didn't mean them," Dominic stated with profound conviction.
"Probably. Just as he knew you loved him, right?" His friend remained silent and he went on. "He did. I'm sure of it. Aiden knew everything. I knew he would know if I acted bitter after his disappearance, so I have kept my promise ever since. I smile and I take the utmost pleasure in living. It's my way of showing him that I am sorry about what happened. It's hard sometimes, but I always find a way to work around my problems and be happy about something. And it's not always a con. Just when I'm feeling bad. The rest of the time, I like acting like this."
The older teenager moved to his side and motioned to the bandages around his arms and under his tight shirt. "Aiden wouldn't want you to lie to yourself."
"I know," Lucian sighed, propping his head on Dominic's shoulder. "Shouldn't we be going inside now? Lorelei said she was making something to eat."
"Lucian, what would you have done if the cat's name had been Precious? What would you have gone with then? Lucian Precious?" gibed the dark-haired youth, planning on taking his mind off the dreary topic.
He didn't even attempt to push Lucian from him. It was soothing to have someone next to him when he was feeling so hopeless. The closeness of another person kept his turbulent emotions at bay. He decided it wasn't so bad to just let one person in on occasion. Aiden had been that person long ago. Now, it seemed like Lucian had opted for the role. Maybe, he could give this companionship thing another shot. He would just have to be more careful than he had been with Aiden.
Oblivious to his internal struggle, Lucian took his jeer with his usual mocking stride, trailing a finger down his friend's chest as he lifted his eyes to him in a flamboyantly sensual gesture. "How adorable. You called me precious," he purred as Dominic bristled and instantly seized his wrist, holding it to the side of his head.
"You know when you pull these stunts, I really don't like you!" Dominic roared in a trenchant tone, becoming further irked by Lucian's innocent expression.
"Oh no! How ever shall I survive with that knowledge?" the redhead whimpered playfully, holding his chest as if he had been shot.
"You could find another way of getting your ass nearly killed in hopes that I would rescue you again."
"Would you?" trilled Lucian, using Dominic's hold on his wrist to pull the other youth toward him.
Intent on nipping Lucian's flirtatious games in the bud, Dominic released the boy and watched him fall backward with a grunt. He stood up and then shoved a hand over at the other youth. "It could happen. Now come on, you wanted to go back to Lorelei, didn't you?"
Realizing the stupidity in refusing Dominic's offer, Lucian shot an affronted look at the boy and took his hand. "You know what I think, Nicky?"
"Do enlighten me," replied the other, lifting Lucian and positioning his arm behind his neck so that he could help support the boy during the walk.
"I think that Aiden wanted us to work together. I'm sure he's happy to know that his children are friends."
It startled Dominic to hear such a thing coming from his companion. He had been ready for Lucian to tell him what he thought of his dropping him in great detail with plenty of colorful words to illustrate his message. The last thing he had expected to hear was the redhead making such a philosophical assumption. He lowered his eyes to the teenager.
"You really think so?"
Dominic turned back and started to walk back out of the field, keeping a mindful watch on Lucian's progress. He was limping heavily on his left leg, but was managing to pretend like it didn't worry him. For a split second, Dominic tried to determine what would happen if he just picked the youth up and carried him the rest of the way. Then, he thought the better of it. Lucian was fiercely independent, evidenced by his nerve in walking all the way out to the field without any help. If he attempted to cart him around like an invalid, Lucian would be highly pissed-off to say the least. He settled on moving somewhat slower to make it easier on his companion.
Again with the marathon of mouth. "What's the problem?"
"No problem. I just wanted to know something," the younger boy responded in a sudden burst of ebullience. "Can I be Aiden from now on?"
"Concentrate more on walking and less on yapping." His warning explained in a crystal clear manner that the subject was closed.
For a moment, Lucian looked like he was going to pursue the topic for a while longer. Then he shrugged his shoulders lightly. Dominic knew that though Lucian would never verbally admit defeat, this was his way of showing him that he had agreed to give the dark-haired youth his way this one time.
Comments: Sorry about the insanely long chapter. I just wanted to put in so many scenes with Aiden. These were the bare essentials. I still had two more to use for Lucian. But I let them slide into conversational pieces. I did like the chance to show the darker side of Luce for once. And lovesick Nicky was kind of fun too. By the way, Luce's question at the end of the chapter does get answered...eventually. I'll show what the rest of the gang has been doing lately in the next chapter.
Next chapter: Another revealing dream from Tye, bonding time with the Guardians (yes, even Erik), Angie on the warpath, and some helpful insight from the long-gone Kathryn. And for added info, Chp.33 is going to be a bit more light-hearted than usual though there will still be a smidgen of angsty-goodness.
Sorry, it took me so long to add this chapter to ffnet after I promised that I would post up to 32.
This extra note is only for readers from ffnet or those who don't know about the mirror site with the latest chapters. Anyway, if you do read this, know that this is SERIOUSLY the last chapter I will post here. If you want the rest, email me and I will add you to the mailing list where you can get all the new chapters as soon as I write them. I only have one request, if you want to join, I would appreciate any suggestions/critiques that you have to offer. Remember my email is [email protected] Thank you for reading this far.