Leon’s mood could not possibly get any gloomier. He was muttering bitter obscenities under his breath the entire time he walked back to the hotel, ignoring puzzled and sometimes wary looks of whoever happened to be near enough to hear him mumble to himself.
“I don’t have your damn scores,” he muttered yet again and stopped for a few seconds after seeing a flow of cars start moving not too far from him when he was about to cross the street. “I know I took them to the car, but then...”
Here he stopped talking and frowned, thoughtfully staring at the hotel sign across the street. He took the scores to the car, and then what? He couldn’t remember, he realized with irritated amusement. He couldn’t bloody remember! No wonder why though, he snorted to himself and looked sideways. The road was clear and he started walking again. That morning, when he took that damn case to the car, he was distraught, to say mildly. The whole ‘He is not your maid’ thing, the mess in the living room (how hard did he come to knock over two very heavy things like that?), and the entire Unlocking-him-is-utterly-insane argument made him very angry. Hell, it pissed him off! Walking into the kitchen and seeing Stratos sucking his kelari’s mouth was the last straw.
He sighed and walked into the hotel, heading towards the stairs. He didn’t care much for the elevators. Okay, he thought. Then he went outside, unlocked the car, and then... Then he threw that damn case onto the back seat, he suddenly remembered, and almost burst into a triumphant ‘Ah-ha!’ but then remembered going for his own bag and noticing the case sliding behind the seat, and his triumph diminished rather quickly.
So, wait, he frowned and pulled his room key out of his pocket when he finally made it to the third floor. Is the case behind the seat then? That would explain why Stratos didn’t notice it last night.
“I don’t have your damn scores,” he grumbled while he was unlocking the door. “Told you so! Goddammit!”
He kept bitching about the scores on purpose, because as long as he bitched about that, he didn’t have to think about what Stratos almost said in this foyer a few hours ago. “Last night, right before Ifellasleep, I realized something... I realized that I lo...” that was when Leon shut him up, unable to bear even thinking of hearing the end of that sentence. “I realized that I love him” – that’s how the sentence would’ve ended. Unless, of course, Stratos was about to say, “I realized that I loathe him,” but Leon had very serious doubts about that. He shut the musician up, trying to make himself to believe that as long as he didn’t hear the hateful word, it wasn’t true.
“You are so deeply in denial that you can’t tell your head from your ass,” he muttered when he walked into his room. Even though now he knew where the case was, he would look in his bag anyway, just so he could finally say, ‘Told you so!’ Plus, he was here already. “Might as well...” he sighed and unzipped his bag that was sitting on the chair.
He looked in this bag a few times already – he had to get his toothbrush out and some other things. He didn’t dig through it, but he looked inside it, and for crying out loud, the goddamn case would be hard to miss. In fact, it would be utterly impossible to miss that big-ass case in a medium-sized bag. The very idea was a ridiculously time-wasting deal that was driving him...
He froze in his spot, blindly staring inside the bag after he pulled most of his clothes out of it. A hallucination? Hardly. There was no reason for that.
“Son of a bitch...” he muttered a stunned minute later and pulled out the infamous black case from the bottom of his bag. “Bloody hell... I will never hear the end of this...!”
He stared at the case in his hands with helpless, weak hatred, knowing that Stratos would be gloating the minute he found out about this, and subtle he wasn’t.
“Son of a bitch,” Leon growled softly once again, and then sighed and straightened up.
Fine, he thought melancholically. Let him gloat, doesn’t matter... He let out another sigh – this one was more defeated – and turned around, ready to leave the room, when suddenly, there was a great, incredibly loud sound that came from behind the wall, making him jump and almost drop the case. It wasn’t just the sound, he realized almost instantly. There was some serious impact involved – he could literally feel the floor shake for a second or two.
“What the shit...” he muttered and quickly walked out of the room, clicking the door shut. Whatever it was, it came from Stratos’ room.
He stopped in front of the closed door of the room next to his and gritted his teeth at the idea of knocking on it. He reluctantly raised his hand, and then hissed some frustrated obscenity when he simply couldn’t bring himself to do that. He growled something softly and tried the doorknob instead. Then he frowned. The door was unlocked, he realized the second the doorknob turned smoothly to the right. Weird, he thought. He could’ve sworn Stratos locked it this morning. Gemini unlocked it? Why the hell would that goddamn kelari leave the door unlocked though? Leon was pretty positive that he would do completely the opposite. He frowned deeper and pushed the door open, coming into the room. He was about to call out loudly to see what was going on and why there was a miniature earthquake a minute ago, when he took one step forward and froze in his spot, finally dropping the case.
He stared at the scene in front of him, unable to move, make a single sound, or even blink. Maybe he is hallucinating after all, he thought numbly. Gemini was lying on the floor, half-unconscious it seemed, with some guy mounting him, and judging by the way Gemini looked, the guy was beating the ever-loving shit out of him for quite a while now. Neither one of them noticed Leon, nor did they hear the sound of the case falling on the floor.
“Now,” the guy suddenly said in a voice that sounded strangely cheerful. “For the recap... First, the eye goes...”
Leon finally blinked at that.
“Second, I’ll fuck your skull...”
Leon blinked much more rapidly.
“Third, we’ll get rid of your teeth one by one...”
Who the hell is this guy?
“And fourth...” There was a slight pause. “I’ll demonstrate to you what it feels like when someone fucks you with a good, old-fashioned hunting knife,” the guy finished in a satisfied manner, and Leon suddenly recognized him.
It was Robert Knox, he realized. Back when Stratos was still with Katherine, she would throw lavish parties (which he had to admit were awesome) quite often, and Robert would come to almost every single one of them. Leon remembered him well. He was one of the sponsors for several of Stratos’ concerts, and he was rather well-known. The man clearly had a drinking problem – that much was obvious even three years ago. He would do his best to stop pouring booze down his throat (that was also obvious), but it would be a battle that he would usually lose.
Leon immediately remembered Stratos telling him some story that involved Robert and Gemini a few weeks ago that happened at the after-party of the last performance. He didn’t really care hearing anything about Stratos’ kelari, so he wasn’t paying much attention to whatever Stratos was saying. All he remembered was that apparently, Robert was wasted again, and he managed to make an idiot out of himself by trying to get Gemini to blow him or something like that, thus pissing Stratos off. Was this what it was all about? He is trying to tear Gemini apart right now because of what happened two weeks ago? He is losing his shit because of something that most people would forget about two days later? Something that, to be honest, was his fault entirely?
“Don’t...” Gemini muttered in a breaking whisper. “...touch me... Don’t...”
“Holy shit!” Knox laughed loudly, and that laughter sent a cold shiver down Leon’s spine when he recognized very clear bells of insanity ringing in it. “Holy shit! What does it take to knock... you... the fuck... out already?”
Every slight pause that he just made was accompanied with him slamming Gemini’s head into the wooden floor with so much force that Leon could feel the planks underneath his feet resonate at every single ‘Thud!’
“Are all kelari this resilient?” Robert continued meanwhile. “Or is it just you...? Actually...” he laughed again, as loudly as a few seconds ago. “It’s a good thing. Don’t want you to black out completely, that would ruin it... Now...” He finally stopped slamming the bleeding head into the floor. “This part I will actually let you choose... Which eye goes first? Left...?” He touched the left eyelid in front of him, and Gemini’s head tried to jerk away. “Or the right one...?” Robert’s finger slowly moved to the other eye, and Leon blinked again.
Holy hell, he thought numbly. He is really planning on ripping his eye out! Now, Leon really did not like Gemini... Oh, to hell with it! Did not like him? He hated him! Okay, fine, he hated him, and would fantasize quite often about doing some serious bodily harm to him, but this was different. This was the territory where Leon’s imagination had never led him before, and it never would. Not anywhere near.
He is insane, Leon realized when he heard another loud laughter. Holy fuck, he is completely and utterly insane...! A shithouse-rat level of crazy...!
“Not going to choose?” Knox was saying meanwhile. “All right, that’s fine... I guess I will do it for you then...” He slightly straightened up and raised his hand, pointing his finger at the broken face. “A... B... C... D...” he started saying slowly, moving his finger from one eye to the other every time he would say a new letter. “E... F... G... H... I...” His finger stopped moving, and even though Leon couldn’t see his face, he knew that the man was smiling right now. “Left,” Knox said with satisfaction. “See how easy that was?”
Even though Leon could blink by now, he still couldn’t speak or move. He stood there frozen, unable to even open his mouth, watching Robert pop his knuckles and stretch his fingers as if preparing for some weird massage session, and he stood like that until Gemini suddenly breathed:
Hearing that name, immediately returned Leon back to life, and he realized that he could move again. Stratos, he thought. Leon could drown himself in denial all he wanted, but it would not change the truth; and the truth was that Stratos was head-over-heels in love with this goddamn kelari. He had never felt this way about anyone, Leon knew that. Not about Katherine, not about his previous partners/lovers, not about Leon himself. They knew each other since they were kids, they grew up together, and Leon knew Stratos pretty much as well as he knew himself.
Right now he also knew that if Stratos lost Gemini, it would mean that Leon would lose Stratos, because the musician would be gone; he would be lost in the dark, and he would never come back – nobody comes back from that. Leon would never let that happen; he would never let him to get lost in the dark. As much as he hated Gemini, he loved Stratos more, and if the only way to keep him from disappearing forever was to make sure his damn kelari was with him, then so be it.
“Stratos isn’t here,” Robert said in the same shiver-inducing cheerful voice. “I hope you said really nice goodbye to him this morning because that was the last time you’ve ever seen him!”
Leon had no idea what was funny about that, but Knox burst into a fit of nearly uncontrollable laughter. He laughed until he started coughing. Finally, he moaned and brought one of his hands towards his face. Leon immediately knew that he was wiping tears from his eyes.
“I already told you...!” Suddenly, cheerfulness disappeared without a trace, replaced by dark, heavy annoyance. “Stratos isn’t here...!” His voice rose to an unexpected loudness, and this time, there was not even a shadow of a smile in his intonation.
“No,” Leon said quietly, and Robert’s head snapped towards him. “He is not, but I am...” he nodded when he met an incredulous look of the slightly slanted eyes.
“Leon...” Knox said slowly, and his lips stretched in another strange smile, as if he just realized that he’s got sudden reinforcements. “Leon...”
That smile had suddenly kicked Leon’s level of fury all the way up to Red, and he quickly stepped forward. “I am nothing like you!” he thought and grabbed the man’s collar, yanking it towards himself and forcing Robert to get up.
“Get off him, you goddamn lunatic!” he hissed and shoved the man into the opposite wall, hard, making him lose his balance and plop on the floor with a very surprised exclamation. “Stay down!” Leon barked when Robert tried getting up. “Stay the fuck down!”
Robert narrowed his eyes but stopped moving. Leon shifted his gaze towards Gemini, whose eyes were closed now. Holy shit, he thought when he saw his face clearly. He was almost literally beaten into bloody pulp – Leon could not understand how he was still conscious.
“Hey!” he called sharply and bent down, reaching for one of his shoulders. “Hey!”
The minute Leon’s hand touched him, Gemini’s entire body jerked so hard as if there was a strong electrical current suddenly shooting through it.
“No...!” he screamed in a breaking whisper, and his eyes flew open.
“It’s me...” Leon said quickly and raised his hands in a ‘don’t-freak-out’ gesture. “It’s me...!”
When Gemini saw Leon’s face, he made a sound that was a mix of a scream, a whimper, and something else that Leon couldn’t identify. He pressed his hands into the floor and tried scooting backwards, his expression terrified. His eyes reflected nothing but pure animal fear, utter despair, and pain. Dark, absolute pain. Leon had no idea so much pain could even exist. He frowned, confused by Gemini’s reaction, and then it hit him and he closed his eyes for a few seconds.
“What did you expect?” his inner voice snorted at him gloomily. “The last time it was just you and him, so to speak, you were about to rape the hell out of him while delivering as much pain and humiliation as you could possibly manage along the way. Did you really expect him to start screaming, ‘Oh, God, yes!’ the minute he saw you?”
“Right...” he muttered and opened his eyes. He looked into the bloody, swollen, absolutely terrified golden eyes for a second or two without saying anything. Finally, he took a deep breath.
“Nobody is going to hurt you anymore,” he said quietly. “Gemini, nobody is going to hurt you anymore,” he repeated slower when the golden eyes wouldn’t even blink. He briefly wondered if Gemini even understood words right now. He stretched out his hand. “Come on...” he said in the same quiet manner. “Get up...”
Instead of doing that, Gemini let out a loud exhale and jerked backwards again, horror spilling through his eyelashes along with blood that kept running down his face. Leon sighed and slightly lowered his hand.
“I am not doing this for you,” he said without looking away. “I am doing this for him. If he loses you, then I will lose him, and I will never let that happen... I...” he hesitated for a second. “I don’t like you,” he continued slowly. “But no matter how much I dislike you, I love him more... Therefore, come on...!” he stretched out his hand once again. “Get off the floor...”
To his very small relief, the golden eyes had finally blinked. He understands what words mean, Leon thought. That was good. He looked at the battered face for a few silent seconds, noting that the horrified expression was slowly trading places with hopeless hesitation. He nodded.
“I know you can,” he said quietly and the golden eyes darted towards his face. “I know you can,” he repeated. “You are one tough son of a bitch...” he muttered.
He meant it – you had to be a tough son of a bitch to be able to endure something like this without screaming and managing to keep resisting throughout the entire thing, never mind somehow being able to stay conscious. Weak submission on the outside, pure steel and diamonds on the inside, he thought.
Gemini looked at the stretched hand for a few seconds, and then finally, very slowly, he reached for it, almost jerking away again when his fingers touched Leon’s palm.
“Nobody is going to hurt you anymore,” Leon said without moving or grabbing the trembling hand that was far from sure whether it wanted to stay or to fly away.
Finally, Gemini let out another exhale, and his hand made up its mind, wrapping its fingers around Leon’s with weak desperation. Leon nodded once again and held that hand tighter, pulling Gemini upwards and wondering whether he would be able to stand, let alone walk. He pulled the blond kelari up on his feet, and Gemini slightly swayed and involuntarily grabbed onto Leon’s shoulder, to keep himself from falling down again.
“Can you walk?” Leon asked even though he knew the answer to that question.
“Nngh...” Gemini said and let go of his shoulder.
He tried taking one step, but as soon as his right foot pressed firmly into the floor, a sudden explosion of pain in his shattered knee made him scream out, and he almost collapsed again, but Leon caught him right before it happened.
“Okay,” he muttered. “Okay, the answer is no... That’s okay...”
Suddenly, there was a bright laughter behind his back.
“Scared me for a minute there, Leon,” Knox said, and Leon turned his head to look at him. “I actually bought it for a bit... Well done!” he laughed again. He was standing up by now. “Nice strategy... Make him to come to you... Nice strategy...!” he said again and took a step forward.
The minute Gemini heard that, he tried yanking his hand away, the same terrified expression making its way back onto his face, and Leon held his fingers tighter, making him to stay put.
“No,” he said quietly when he looked at him. He shifted his eyes towards a beaming Robert, waiting for him to come closer. “I thought I told you to stay the fuck down...” he said in the same quiet voice when Robert was almost next to him, and suddenly, his free arm made a graceful, almost elegant half-circle in the air, and a second later, Robert flew back into the same wall, letting out a short, furious scream when Leon’s fist collided with his nose, causing a strangely loud crunching sound.
“Fuck...!” he screamed and slid to the floor, pressing his hands against his nose. “Fuck...!” he screamed again when that apparently caused even more pain. Now he sounded muffled.
“Robert,” Leon said in the same quiet, almost monotonous voice. “Robert, look at me...” he said a few seconds later when the man on the floor wouldn’t react.
The slightly slanted eyes had finally shifted towards Leon’s face, and right now, there was nothing but red-hot fury and bottomless madness reflecting in them. Leon nodded.
“Stay down,” he said, noting that Gemini stopped trying to jerk away. “See...” he let out a small sigh. “Right now, I really want to hurt you... Really,” he nodded and the slightly slanted eyes narrowed into two furious, dark slits. “Please, don’t give me an excuse to do that,” Leon continued, ignoring all the silent hatred that was pouring out of the man by the wall. “I am not going to say this yet again; I’ve already repeated myself at least three times, and I hate repeating myself, so pay attention! Stay down; otherwise, I am going to put you in a wheelchair... Permanently,” he added a second later. “Oh, and by the way...” He sounded as if he suddenly thought of something. “Don’t even think of trying to jump me from behind, because if you do, then that wheelchair will sound like an amazing, unattainable dream...” He paused for a few seconds. “Are we clear?” he asked finally, and the amount of hatred spilling from the narrowed eyes had suddenly doubled itself.
“We are clear...” Knox said in a low, very strained voice, and Leon nodded again.
“Good,” was all he said before turning away from him and facing Gemini. “Come on,” he muttered and easily picked up the shaking body off the floor.
Gemini let out a startled exhale at that, and Leon felt him become rigid almost instantly. He sighed and walked towards the bedroom without saying anything. Half-way there, he realized that the body in his arms was shaking even worse now, and before he could even think, he ran his fingers through the messed up, wet from blood golden hair, and whispered:
Then he blinked several times. “Shhh...!”? Seriously? Did he just say, “Shhh...!” and stroked his hair? Goddammit! He pulled his hand away, snapping his mouth shut, and walked faster. He walked into the bedroom and headed straight towards the bed. He lowered the trembling kelari onto the covers and straightened up.
“Stay put,” he muttered and sighed when he caught a silently screaming look of the dark golden eyes that was strangely demanding and begging at the same time. “I’ll call him,” Leon sighed again, correctly understanding the silent demanding (begging?) request.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and was about to start dialing Stratos’ number, when all of a sudden, the phone vibrated slightly in his hand, and then burst into a light, merry melody. Leon blinked several times.
“No shit...” he muttered with mild amusement and pushed the Talk button. “Hey,” he said a second later. “Uh... I...”
“You found them, didn’t you?” Stratos asked him in a low voice, and Leon frowned at that. Found what? Then he remembered about the scores.
“Yeah, I found them,” he said quickly. “Uh, listen...”
“Don’t worry,” Stratos sighed on the other end of the line. “I am not going to rub it in your face all the time... Well...” He hemmed. “Maybe once or twice...”
“Yeah,” Leon said in the same quick manner. “Uh, listen, I...”
“Are you still in the hotel?” Stratos interrupted him again, and Leon let out an impatient, irritated sigh.
“Yeah,” he said shortly. “I am still here, and I need...”
“Good...” It seemed like Stratos didn’t even hear him trying to say something. “Stay there.”
“Huh?” Leon frowned again. “Why?”
“I am on my way back,” Stratos let out another sigh. “Gonna be there in ten minutes tops.”
“Why?” Leon asked again, this time, dumbfoundedly and received another deep sigh.
“Well...” Stratos’ voice sounded unwilling now, as if he was debating with himself whether to say something or not. “Okay,” he said finally. “Here is the deal... I am not going to give you any shit about the scores, and you are not going to give me any shit about why I am going back right now, clear?”
“Why?” Leon asked again, unable to produce any other words, it seemed.
There was a brief pause that ended with another deep sigh.
“I was playing after you left...” Stratos started saying slowly. “But then I just couldn’t do it anymore... All of a sudden, I had this funny feeling...” He stopped talking again.
“What feeling?” Leon muttered, finally able to use his vocabulary.
“I don’t know,” Stratos said as slowly as before. “It was...” He paused again. “I don’t know... Felt like I had to go back...”
“Why?” It seemed that Leon’s vocabulary breakthrough was temporary.
“I don’t know,” Stratos repeated a little louder this time. “I tried ignoring it, but I couldn’t... I couldn’t play or concentrate on anything... I just felt like I had to go back. Not giving each other any shit, remember?” he asked warningly.
“Yeah...” Leon muttered, blindly staring at the wall. “Yeah...”
“Good,” now Stratos sounded energized. “So yeah, stay there. I’ll see you in ten minutes tops.”
“Yeah,” Leon muttered again, and then the phone clicked dead.
He lowered his hand and looked at Gemini, whose body was as rigid as it was five minutes ago.
“He is on his way,” he said slowly.
“You...” Gemini muttered in the same breaking whisper. “You didn’t say anything...”
“I didn’t have to,” Leon’s manner remained the same – slow and astonished. “Apparently, he had a...” He paused, and then his mouth twisted into something that resembled a bitter smile. “...funny feeling,” he continued. “He had a feeling like he had to come back here, so he took off, and now he’s on his way...”
He silently looked at Gemini for a few seconds longer, and then sighed and put his phone back into his pocket.
“It definitely wasn’t ‘loathe’...” he muttered, and shook his head when the golden eyes blinked with confusion. “Never mind...” he said quicker this time. “Stay put,” he nodded and turned away, determined to get out of this room rather sooner than later.
Right before he walked out of the room, he stopped and glanced back. Gemini was lying still, his body as rigid as before, his eyes closed. Leon’s jaw locked just a tad tighter when he saw silent tears running down his face, mixing with blood, leaving murky, dark-pink streaks on his skin.
He silently gritted his teeth and turned away again, finally leaving this goddamn room.