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Original Fiction
ZERO TOLERANCE

Part 7

He felt a slight lick of draught on his face as the door opened and closed and when he looked up from the crystal, there was Jarvis in his room - already at the table - towering over him. The blue eyes like cold fire - and even before he started speaking Peter knew he was pissed off in a major way.

//"How dared you?"//

Peter wished he could say they would talk later. He didn't know what it was about yet - but he already didn't want it to go on. And even more than that Peter wished he had a lock on his door - not to be taken by surprise at these visits. Well, so far privacy was not a conception for him in the camp. He knew he was not trusted enough; maybe, would never be.

But come to think about it, whom did Jarvis trust? Terrence Jarvis, Iron Man, the leader of the extremist wing of the insurrectionists. The one who had given Peter a chance to get away from Simon - out of the City - to the complete darkness of the underground camp where the insurrectionists lived.

//"Look at me, you liar! Don't you dare to look away from me,"// Peter had learned to read Jarvis' lips almost as well as he had Simon's - small wonder - Jarvis was almost the only one who talked to him during last weeks. //"You didn't kill him!"//

He suddenly felt faint and dizzy - looked at the pale hand that gripped his clothes twisting the material until the knuckles went white. Peter knew he should say something - but for some reason nothing but 'I know' swirled in his mind. And even that was not quite true. He didn't know, really. Simon might've died - bled to death or overdosed.

//"You lied to me!"//

"Did I?" he looked at Jarvis almost blankly; he knew it might seem to be a cold stare, almost matching Jarvis'; but in fact it was just that he didn't know how he felt. "Did I say anything about him being dead?"

Simply made him believe in it. And that much blood - what else could Jarvis think?

That night, after they had reached the camp - through the tunnel that went right from the elevator well and being much more narrow and dangerous than the one he and Simon had used on the way from zero to the field level - Peter was locked in an empty tiny room. He had to fight panic of being imprisoned in the darkness - and felt how blood flaked off of his hands as he clenched them into fists. His smeared clothes were still wet - by the time he was let out they got dry, too.

He was taken to see the high command of the rats - and Jarvis among them - that was when he got to know his name.

"I'll be useful to you," he said - and the man wrote: "You'd better be."

It was weapons, naturally, that interested them. Constructions and how they could use the materials available on the Sphere to make them. The crystal could give that. At the first moment when Peter got his crystal back, pressed his fingers to the cool smooth surface, he felt almost choking at the thought how much happened since he had done it last time. The crystal was from his past life - maybe, the only thing of his past life that still was there for him.

//"I trusted you and you did this to me."//

Was it supposed to sound reproachful? It would work better if Jarvis' hand didn't keep clenching on his clothes.

"Trusted, comrade? Think of something better. You can't stand me."

He watched Jarvis suck in the air in annoyance and let him go, taking his hand away almost too abruptly.

//"It is not so. I don't hate you. I work with you and I don't expect you to like me - so, I don't have to like you, comrade. I just can't understand how you could spare him - after everything he did to you."//

"It was my choice."

//"Nobody but a whore would make the choice like this."//

"Well, then I am a whore. Didn't you know it when you accepted me here?"

He thought Jarvis was going to be sick, so much revulsion was in his face... or strike out - there were legends about the violent temper of his. But very clearly Peter realized that he didn't care what Jarvis was going to do. As he cared about nothing here, in the camp. Their fight, the future of the Sphere... his own future. The plans everyone around here was engaged in were not his, even though he was going to help to realize them.

He knew it was the only home that he had now - for the rest of his life-time - and it might be a lot, members of the family were a long-living breed. But he couldn't start living here any more than he had lived when he was with Simon.

There were dreams. About Seth and the café with glass arcs - and them sitting face to face at the small table - so small that it didn't hinder Seth to reach his hand and Peter to take it. Seth's fingernails were iridescent blue - and the palm soft and cool. It was so real - just like the waitress that brought them two tall glasses of syrupy brown liquid - and Peter felt its smell - and felt the mild blend of the smoke from Seth's cigarette dying slowly between his ring-finger and pinky. He never shook off the ash and it grew like a thin fluffy column of grey.

"I want you to forgive me."

And Seth answered - for the first time Peter heard his voice - soft and husky:

"There is nothing to forgive... but if you want - of course, I forgive you."

And he dreamed about Simon. There was no smell, no senses - just cold and darkness - and they didn't talk. What to talk about - Peter couldn't ask him to forgive. There could be no forgiveness.

For what Peter had been doing to him. For what Simon had been doing to Peter. For the last thing Peter had done. Was it Simon's turn to strike now?

"I don't care what you think about me," he rose from the chair, coming up to Jarvis so close that he could feel the warmth of the man's body, even the slight trembling of it - and noticed how Jarvis shunned away from him abruptly. "I can be a whore or whatever - but I am not a slave any more. As you said, we work together. So, stop yelling at me and get out of my room. I need to work."

For a moment the man looked at him as if going to say something, then spat on the floor demonstratively and walked out.

* * *

He switched off the crystal in the small hours, his face seemed to be unbearably tender when he touched it and rubbed his swollen eyelids. He couldn't hear whether the camp was quiet or not but he sensed it - ill-assorted crowd of people had gone to rest at least.

He should've been in bed, too - not to stare at the ghostly screen above the crystal - the more so he had no reason trying too hard for Jarvis and others. The weapons were already being made - in the factories, by the same workers who worked for the Commander's order - but in secret. It was just a matter of time when the insurrectionists could take the field. When Jarvis would take the control over all forces of the rats.

Peter was not sure he wanted to be here when it happened.

He opened the door and stood on the threshold for a few moments, getting used to the dull light of the passage. He had a separate room - but the facilities were common for everybody; a long chilly walk to the sinks.

Well, walking through the camp, alone, was one more thing why he stayed for so long with the crystal. A phantom of solitude - of peace? He entered the dimly lit washroom with a few ugly sinks along the wall - and in the mirror over one of them, for a moment, saw a shadow flit behind him. He started turning back, an immediate alert singing through his nerves - and the hands grabbed him, twisted his arms upwards brutally, pushing him on his knees.

He didn't have time to see who it was. He felt his knees hit the rough floor, struggled, trying to turn and look, and a hand clasped on his hair, pushing his head down, preventing him from seeing.

Oh shit... shit... It was not someone from outside - he knew it, not because they wouldn't possibly get into the camp unnoticed - but why would they attack him like that? It must've been... the insurrectionists, his "comrades", fuck them. He felt cold, blinding anger and struggled like mad as a black cloth was pulled over his eyes and tied firmly and the hands kept pushing him down.

A savage kick under his ribs made him cry out. Pain was hot and bitter but it took more than that to stop him from fighting - he was too angry to care how hurt he was.

Good - you probably won't feel when they fuck you, he thought sarcastically. Yep, that was probably what they aimed for. He was suddenly amazed how much it angered him - like, you know, it had never been done to him before. He knew he wouldn't get any worse if they did it - would be able to live with it.

Just one more chip, barely perceptible, off of his mind that probably was already chipped and crushed beyond repair.

He was thrown face down on the floor, his arms and legs held tightly - giving him barely enough slack to twitch. He felt someone lean over him, the hands slide under his belly and pull the belt - and butted back with his head, sensing that he hit something soft and hard, not hearing a sound of pain but knowing it was there. Someone kicked him in his side - with such ferocity that he was robbed of breath, feeling as something tore inside him.

They can kill you like that.

He pressed down, hindering a man to pull his pants off. He knew he was probably the only one of them who was still silent - and what did they say? That he was a whore and deserved it - or that he was more a nuisance than they expected? But he didn't think they would give up now.

Just let them take it, okay?

Yeah, and let them take it every time after that.

He winced at sharp pain as someone's fingernails scratched over his ribs, flaying the stripes of skin. He knew it was just inches from everything to happen - and he knew how everything would happen - so well that he could predict it blow-by-blow, the grip on his ass-cheeks, the wet bluntness against his anus, the broken resistance of the entrance.

It never came. He couldn't exactly point the moment when the things took a different turn - a pause lasted a bit too long, the hands keeping him down froze - and then let him go abruptly. He used it to twist up immediately, the pain in his side making him hiss but not stop. He almost couldn't believe he was let go - but nobody stopped him and he reached to pull the black cloth from his face.

It was when another blow came. Not particularly cruel - more unexpected - sending him off balance and back on the floor. Then nothing.

Peter was disoriented only for a couple seconds - and yanked the cloth off angrily, sat up - and saw Jarvis standing over him, haughty expression of his eyes as always - the small mouth pressed hard and disapproving as he looked at him in silence.

That explained things, didn't it?

Then Jarvis squatted and, with the light refracted in his eyes under another angle, his stare seemed almost sympathetic.

//"You okay?"//

He should've been feeling gratitude; he owed one to Jarvis, right? - would be fucked, literally not to mention figuratively, if Jarvis hadn't appeared.

"Yeah," wincing at the pain in his side. "Thank you."

//"Never mind,"// for a moment it seemed to Peter he was about to give him a hand up - and then changed his mind - got up and stepped back, giving Peter place to get on his feet.

"What a luck that you were near."

//"Stupid to walk around at night."//

"It's a bad neighborhood, I assume?"

He expected a shrug in reply - another exasperated compression of lips Jarvis usually finished their conversations with. But he continued to stay in front of Peter, turning slightly as if so that the light falling on his face make it possible for Peter to read his lips.

//"People *are* xenophobic; especially in the Sphere."//

"Oh come on," he was not going to say it - but he did. "Don't bother. I understood the lesson. 'Slave in mind' - was it about that? Showing me my place. A punishment for I didn't do the things about Simon as you wanted me to?"

//"What?"//

"You shouldn't have hit me."

//"I didn't hit you."//

He couldn't believe Jarvis said it; he smiled and reached too fast for Jarvis to step away - took his hand.

"Your touch is recognizable, Terrence. And that..." turning Jarvis' hand, showing the split knuckles - split against his teeth. "That is going to be inflamed."

//"I did it for you, slut. So that you didn't see them. So that you could continue to live here."//

He noticed that Jarvis' speech became somehow slurry - difficult to understand. And then he noticed that Jarvis' hand was still in his - no attempt made to take it away.

"So, that's all my fault? From the beginning to the end? Right, Terrence?"

Comrade Jarvis.

And then suddenly both Jarvis' hands locked on his wrists and pulled him closer - violently as always, his touch having something not human in it - but Peter didn't have time to wonder how much he was pissed off this time. Because Jarvis' mouth locked on his - and his tongue, wet and warm and insistent - entered his mouth possessively.

I won't do it... I am not a slut... But as this thought flashed in Peter's mind, he knew that he would. He thrust his tongue against Jarvis' - responding stroke-to-stroke - and his hands clasped around Jarvis' head, fingers digging into the short but stunningly silky hair, massaging the scull slightly. He didn't want to fight Jarvis. Was it enough a reason to give in?

He felt Jarvis' lips leave his mouth and roam along his throat, clamping almost painfully but never with teeth - and Peter's breath was caught, came out in short gasps - and he could sense Jarvis' broken breath on his skin, almost scalding.

Jarvis didn't quite topple him over on the ground; there was this measured grace in his movements - the precision that Peter had experienced before. He was neat enough with laying Peter down and covering him with his own body - not to hurt, not to make it look like onslaught. His lips were wild, kissing, almost torturing Peter's lips and his hands wandered around Peter's body, finding the way in to the bare skin between the pants and the sweater. But when Jarvis' fingers slid across the fresh scratches on his ribs, Peter felt him pull away quickly - and then his touch there was surprisingly gentle, almost feather-like.

Peter felt his head spin. He could feel the hardness of the floor under him as he arched towards Jarvis' hands that pulled down his pants, could feel the inescapable dampness of the air of the underground as his belly and groin were bared - the things registered in his mind with absolute clarity. And yet he was not entirely playing passion - or was the thought of getting some security with Jarvis by giving him what he wanted enough to make him hard?

Slut... indeed.

He expected almost everything - but not Jarvis' moist cool mouth envelop his cock, slide down on it ravenously. He would have understood if the man had doubled him up and fucked him - or presented his cock for Peter to suck. But he was doing it the other way. Soft and tight and with the exact rhythm that made Peter stick his fingernails into the floor and arch towards the sucking mouth.

Then Jarvis changed the mode - and his teeth scraped like very fine sandpaper, burning as going up and down Peter's shaft, making him stifle little cries, both of pain and pleasure. The same mixture as all his sensations were - cold and heat, calculation and excitement. Fuck, where did Jarvis learn to do it like this? Peter bucked his thighs, before he could resister it - and then Jarvis was over him, his mouth on Peter's lips.

He kissed, one of his hands around Peter's cock, rubbing it roughly enough to make him shiver and still driving him to the peak. And Peter felt Jarvis' other hand find his nipples under the sweater, roll them hard, press the scar tissues inside the buds. Peter wasn't wearing the rings any more - but the holes stayed, probably were going to stay forever - and deliberately cruel caressing of Jarvis reminded him about it. Maybe, it was meant to remind.

Jarvis let his mouth go - and looking down at Peter's face, said very clearly:

//"I hate you, whore. You were right. I hate you."//

The hand on his cock squeezed - and Peter couldn't do anything about it - his sperm spilled over Jarvis' fingers and over his own belly.

He watched Jarvis get up - and sat up, pulled his pants up, feeling the cool stickiness of his cum but deciding to take care of it later. Jarvis watched him from above, his face closed as always, his eyes disdainful - and sober.

//"Don't walk alone at night any more. Because I won't be always around to protect you."//

* * *

He had seen the looks in the streets. Mostly furtive, scuttling away as soon as he turned to meet them. People knew. The City was too small a place for some secrets to stay secret. Some - his acquaintances - greeted him - polite, cordial nods, a few words that could be exemplary in their awkwardness. And this expectant, curious pause... as if he was going to show some trick to them - to talk to them. Slightly disappointed as he wrote something in the notebook fixed on his wrist.

They would get used, he thought; people could get used to everything.

It was not the first time Simon was out - but the first time when he took the band on such a long distance. He felt pretty fit. He mostly lost weight because he couldn't eat for a while - but now the stump didn't hurt any more and the doc had taken off the stitches - so, he was going to gain his form quickly.

The worst was behind; he had survived - again - as always.

Thank you, Peter, you could do worse - you could kill me.

Or you could do better - you could kill me.

"Still no news?" falsely concerned mumbling of a casual acquaintance. "But the Commander's security makes wonders. The bastard will be found... we'll see him on the Block..."

"Thank you."

He had been improving his handwriting; so many hours of doing nothing as he stayed in his apartment. Just reading the absurd City newspaper - or exploring every change in the state of illumination of the cupola.

Or sucking on the blue jellies that tingled at the healing root of his tongue at first but then made him feel nothing at all.

He had never been so close to becoming addict as on those days (an appropriate revenge, would you enjoy it, Peter?) The loneliness in the evenings pushed him towards it most of all - and this yellow light - and once it came to his mind that it was the first time since before the Academy when he had been really alone. Some experience, wasn't it?

He had even brought Jordan, a prostitute from downstairs, a few times - just to have someone near - and pressed her emaciated, slack body to the bed with his weight, stabbing his cock into her unresponsive vagina. He chose her because she was so pale and so boyish - but even when he grew violent and crushed her small malleable tits in his hands, she didn't cry out or thrash.

And the truth was that eventually it was not something about her that made him cum - but Peter's sweater he made her wear and the sight of her soft pink nipples sticking out through the gashes.

Sex, though, was a much less efficient means to distract him than a dose... but eventually he managed to relinquish both of them. Simon owed it to himself - to be in his sane mind. Control... He had to have control.

And he thought he did have it - until the Commander called for him and what he offered - *this* Simon couldn't relinquish.

He hadn't seen Commander Duvall's house for weeks and now, approaching it, he noticed the changes - French windows on the first floor. It had to be unbreakable plastic - but Simon appreciated the overall impression: the leader trusts his citizens enough not to hide anything from them.

That's what he always loved in the Commander - the man made all the right moves.

The interior of the house hadn't changed, though; nor had the man - an upright frame in the ideally fitting old-model uniform - and a face with an easy lit smile.

"I didn't think I would ever see you here again, child."

"And were getting out of your mind worrying about the next lot of the stuff?" he wrote in the notebook, turning it to the Commander to read.

"You hurt my feelings," how laughter always made his eyes sparkle. "But my customers started asking questions. Who knew you would be blessed to overcome the wound and get well again?"

"Yeah, and that's why your people searched every inch of my place."

"My people took care of you, you silly boy."

This bantering could go on for hours - well, a lot of times before 'the accident' Simon had enjoyed doing that - a part of fun that the conversations with Duvall brought. But with writing down every phrase it was a bit too... cumbersome. And, anyway, he was here for another reason. He nodded - and the next moment the Commander spread his arms, inviting Simon in.

"Glad to have you again at my side."

Simon hugged the shoulders that felt elderly frail but were hardly so.

"Speaking about your offer - I appreciate it," he let the Commander go, started writing, making a pause after every phrase to let Duvall read it. "Of course, I am eager to accept it."

"I didn't expect anything else from you," Duvall had a talent to play with his voice. Like now - sounding business-like and warm at the same time. "I thought you would want to settle up the things with him - with your slave - I don't call him your former slave, mind you - a slave once is a slave for all times."

A thin pale hand lay on the crook of Simon's elbow, leading him somewhere - out of the lounge, to the stairs, narrow but convenient, and Simon thought about the rumors of the City about the cells and cellars under the Commander's house, being built for generations... and the things that were said to happen there.

"I don't mean that you might be angry with him - what is his name? - or want to revenge yourself upon him - he just doesn't deserve these feelings. But in a way... leaving everything like this also leaves a kind of unresolved issue behind, right?"

Unresolved issues... do you call it like this now?

The stairs turned around the corner - and in a small niche at the wall Simon saw a heavy wooden lid wielded right into the stone floor. The smell ambushed him suddenly; piss and sweat and feces and unmistakable odor that blood, even dry, makes. He saw the Commander go to one knee on the damp floor, reach for the lid without a shadow of squeamishness - his muscles tensing along his thin arms as he pulled the lid up.

Cold jumped in his face from the opening - and the smell got so bad that Simon raised his hand involuntarily, trying to cover his nose and mouth. The Commander's face didn't even twitch.

"One makes strange choice from time to time. I wonder what your slave could have found in... him," he said thoughtfully, looking down. It was pitch dark in the opening - and even Simon couldn't make out much - but then he saw, or thought that he saw... The Commander hit the switcher - and light lit up somewhere below.

That might be a good idea for hell, Simon thought, meeting the eyes that looked up at him from the pit.

In fact, the man was not on the bottom of the pit - the light didn't allow to see its bottom; it might be one of the Sphere tunnels - but apparently without any rails and wider than usual. The man was on the projection of the wall - just enough place for him to sit crouched.

His eyes that looked at Simon from below seemed black at the first moment; but even now, when the light had to reduce the pupils, they stayed huge, leaving just a thin lines of irises. And he was not blinking. Simon wondered if he saw them at all.

"Shall I send for the guards to get you out, Seth?" the Commander asked thoughtfully - and the man - the kid - reacted: it was a strange sound - of a mouse digging through the wall - but then Simon saw Seth's small hands with broken, bloodied fingernails scratch and scratch the stone as if he hoped he could make a hole there.

"I let them do whatever they want to him, you know," the Commander said. "Since I don't have much interest in him any more... why to spare him? I just visit him now and then... especially when I need to..."

Somehow thoughtfully the Commander opened the buttons of his fly and with a flash of white skin of his non-erect cock directed it at Seth's face.

The kid didn't move, didn't even try to turn away when the jet hit him - didn't close his eyes - in fact, he cupped his hands for the stream, bringing it to his lips greedily. And with a sick feeling of understanding Simon thought that the guards might play with him but they didn't always remember to let him drink.

Recognizable things... recognizable in too many ways.

"Aren't you going to thank me, Seth?" the Commander shook off his cock for the last time and tucked it in again. "Yes, honey," addressing to Simon, "that's him. For all I know, the one your slave had this sweet little affair with."

When Simon got the message from Duvall, for a while he thought how illogical it was. Come on, he knew Peter. It was not that Peter lacked sex in his everyday life - and really, was there anything Simon failed to do to make him hate it? Why would Peter look for another fuck behind his back... with a man, for God's sake!

But he knew at once it was true. Small things - the ones that registered in his brain but he preferred to ignore them - resurfaced now. Smell, slight excitement Peter couldn't hide, his wistful, absent look afterwards. Peter had been cheating on him.

A minor offence, taking into account all the rest, right?

"I can get him out and clean him so that you could let yourself go about him a little," the Commander offered - smiling again. "We can do him together."

"Nah."

"Why?"

He didn't quite know why. Maybe, because he had thought he would hate the one whom Peter had chosen over him. But he didn't feel hatred towards or for the kid, Seth or what his name was. It was not between Simon and him. It was between Simon and Peter.

"Then we are leaving you, Seth," the Commander said, reaching for the light switcher again - and for this brief moment Simon saw the black insane eyes change - from plea to relief to horror of being left alone in the dark hole again - and to terrible resignation. And no sound, even when the lid went down.

Only when they moved away, he heard something from under the lid. A thin whimpering, totally animal-like. A little dog whining in the darkness.

He thought about the kid crouched around his skinny knees there, above the pit - hiding his face from something that he couldn't even see - and wondered if it was not a bigger mercy to get him out of there, have him cleaned and, maybe, fed, even if he'd have to pay for that with hours of the Commander's twisted games.

But no, it wouldn't be a bigger mercy.

"Thank you for sacrificing him for me," he wrote.

"For you? No, dear," back upstairs the Commander washed his hands, appeared wiping his fingers on a soft towel. "It is not so much about you... even not about him being disloyal. The truth is that most possibly he would be finished like that anyway. I was getting bored with him - a little whore, no backbone to break. I'd better get another one for myself."

Oh right, Simon thought, a good example how one should take the situation.

And the Commander was right - he had broken the kid. Not temporarily - forever; even if one day the master would let him get out of the hellhole. His mind was in a hellhole for good.

Too bad for you, Peter, if you cared.

"Why do you think he'll come for him?"

The Peter he had known wouldn't come. The Peter he had known wouldn't recall his lover by then.

"I think he might," the Commander said joyfully. "And not only because of Seth. I think he might want to get back, you know."

"Unresolved issues?"

"In a way."

Wasn't it crazy? The Commander thought he knew Peter better than Simon knew him.

And suddenly, as if reading his thoughts, Duvall said:

"I know a lot of things. About you, about Peter... You can't even imagine what things," and, raising his hand before Simon could interrupt. "No, not that you came from outside. This is an old news, you always knew that I knew. I know about Raymond Glint, though... it alone could bring you to the Block - murder of our great artist, think about it. I know how much stuff you have left and where you hide it. I have better spies than those assholes you had killed."

His thin-skinned bony hand lay on Simon's comfortingly, not letting him go.

"You can ask why I pay you for something that I can get for free... Look at me, child. Do you know how old I am? Seventy-five. And thirty years of having power. There is not much that still fascinates me. Watching you struggle for your place under the sun is one of them."

And torturing your slave into madness is another, Simon thought. Oh he knew thinking it was a triumph of hypocrisy. Were the Commander's doings any worse than the things he had done to Peter? And yet at that moment another thought came to Simon's mind and scared him beyond explanation.

He thought about the years in front of him - going as he wanted them to go - with him having everything he ever dreamed about. When would he become the same as the Commander was now? Uninterested in anything but destruction...

Maybe, he already was like this.

"Let me tell you a story," Duvall said lowering in the armchair. "Once upon a time I had a slave. He was an exceptional young man and I loved him as my own son. But he chose a wrong way in life. No matter how I tried to correct him, he became worse and worse - until it couldn't be tolerated any more. So, I had to send him to the Block. But I loved him so much - I couldn't stand the idea of him dying in suffering there. I let him go... I let him escape. And since then I don't know any rest. God help you, child, to get your slave back. Because, maybe, then I would be able to get mine."

* * *

You had been cheating on me, bitch... How was it that I noticed nothing? Too wrapped up in my plans, my own future, my all-too-unwelcome addiction to the stuff. The porcelain smoothness of your face, eyes half-shadowed with your butterfly-wing eyelashes - it shouldn't have been enough to deceive me. I thought I had known you - and yes, I had - I know you: every frown, every twist of your childish mouth - every way to hurt your body, every way to fuck up your mind.

Don't you dare to slide away from me. Not now. Not ever. You belong to me.

You had been trying to kill me, bitch... The last thing I remember before the blade in my mouth is the warmth of your body as you sat in the bed with me. Damned little liar...

You paid me back for what I had done to you.

Now it's my turn to get even.

The Commander will sent this kid - your lover - to the Block on the day after tomorrow. He thinks you'll come to try to help him. Because it's your fault and you know it - and because once in your life you probably will want to do something right.

The kid is a goner, in any case - and I don't think you'll be trying to save him. You'll be trying to kill him, right? Before he gets to the Block. The mercy I wish someone would show me if... (or when...) Will you know that it's a trap? Well, I always respected your ability to feel danger. It's just that sometimes you do things against your best feeling.

Please come back! Whether for Seth - or... for me.

Come back - and die - if it is what you want to do. I don't think the Commander will give us a lot of time together; most possibly something like fifteen minutes... of quality time. Enough to fuck you, anyway. Just one more time. To enter you - soft, tight, resilient - warm... to see your eyes fly open in pain... to let me recall your smell, the softness of your mouth, the fluttering of your eyelids. Your colors are - white of your skin, dark of your hair, grey of your eyes, pink of your lips and nipples.

Let me look at you - feel you - one more time - to remember you. Because after that the Commander will take you away - and you'll die. Whether you know the things he needs or not, whether you tell them or... you'll tell, of course; he has the means to make you spill every single thing that you know. And then he'll kill you. Because he likes to do it. And, maybe, he'll let me watch it and I'll pretend liking it, too.

I must if I want to survive.

Oh do I want to? You answer me. You - my detached, casually ruthless master - my passionate, pathetic slave - I gave you more than nine years of my life. More than a part of me - my rotting tongue they had found on the stairs. You know what I gave you - because you gave me as much.

* * *

//"You know we can start. People *are* ready. It is more important than having enough guns."//

He didn't know how Jarvis' voice sounded - probably absolutely calm. But Peter could see what he would hardly be able to hear. The man was on the brink; hiding his hands and, maybe, clutching them against the edge of the table.

//"And you don't care how many lives it can cost, comrade?"// Romana, a slim dark woman - Jarvis' favorite opponent. Peter saw him press his mouth tighter as if he struggled against the urge to yell at her - and then say - unhurriedly as always:

//"Was there ever a revolution without victims? I know people are ready to die to win their freedom."//

//"But we can't lead them to death."//

There were seven people in the room, besides Peter - five men and two women - all the high command of the insurrectionists. A few faces he had known very well even before he got to the camp - had seen them enough times on the portraits slapped everywhere in the City with the promises of awards. They all looked older, though, and rather grim.

//"We can start from the fields - if we manage to raise the farmers and they inundate the City... the order will not survive,"// Jarvis again.

//"Or we can blow up the fern lands. We have explosives now."//

Okay, it was a joke. Thanks God. Peter was not sure it would always stay a joke. He was the one who had brought the explosives - and the guns - to the Sphere. Maybe, one day he would have to pay for it. But he couldn't say he was exactly remorseful about what he was doing. He should've been. He just couldn't make himself care. Almost as if somewhere in his mind he still thought he was only a sojourner here, in the Sphere. As if one day a ship would come for him and take him away.

He walked to his room once the meeting was over and sat at the table. Switch on the crystal again? He could've made some calculations... not that he wanted to. He didn't feel the door open - or, maybe, he never closed it - and there was Jarvis in his room - very close, his hands touching, making Peter flinch and start back abruptly.

//"What's wrong with you? Nervous?"//

"Nope."

//"Oh you are."//

Peter shrugged, not willing to continue, looking away from Jarvis - who was still too close, still holding him slightly. Too much contact for a business conversation. And when suddenly he was on his knees at Peter's side, it almost didn't surprise him. He tried to shake away Jarvis' hand that pulled his sweater up - and felt Jarvis' warm round head pressed to his lap when thin white fingers slid over his ribs - stunningly hot. Jarvis' questioning eyes turned to him.

The arms went around Peter's neck, pulling him into the embrace - warm and hard yet strangely flexible. He was not sure he could escape from these arms, though, as much slack as they gave - and again the thought about a big snake - an affectionate, loving snake - came to his mind.

//"Peter..."// a meaningless whisper, just like one would make in the heat of passion. Only he knew Jarvis was not. Once Peter could be deceived - but not again. Jarvis' face was buried in his neck, lips warm and nipping, seeking insistently over his throat, sucking under his jaw.

Doing it again? In the mood to prove one more time what a slut their science advisor was... and he himself, helping it eagerly. Despite himself, despite his attempt of staying sober - slipping down into the lulling presence of the arms around him, the warm possessive touches that seemed to meld into his skin. All woozy and lost.

"Nah, Terrence, thanks."

He pulled away - not completely, with Jarvis' arms staying around him in a ring.

//"Why? Don't you want to..."//

Sure, whatever. Why to mind, anyway? With the mess his life had come to he could just easily take what was given and not care about anything else. Let Jarvis play his games, whatever they were about.

//"You are..."// he saw Jarvis say something - pause, then start again. //"You are a whore, a pretty whore... And you use it against me..."//

The word could be abusive but not how he said it.

"*I* use it?" Peter felt tired. "What do *you* want from me? To bring me off one more time?"

It was rude, he knew - but he didn't expect the shadow of pain flitting over Jarvis' face. He felt his arms unlock suddenly, the man get up - and thought that it must've been over. A pointless scene that wasn't going to bring anything good - or bad. He looked up at Jarvis, waiting for him to go.

But the man didn't. With a kind of amazement Peter watched him stand, still close enough - and then he took Peter's hand and guided it to his crotch.

Oh how trusting! He was allowed to touch the cock of the Comrade Jarvis...

The sarcastic thought trailed away. Cock... what cock? He didn't feel it where it had to be - neither the hardness of erection nor the resilience of the soft one. Just... kind of smoothness... like a girl's pussy... with a little stump.

He looked up at the man's face - not in disbelief because he knew what it was what he felt - and it surely explained a lot - but not knowing what reaction was expected from him. Jarvis' face was cold as always - the same detachment that was possibly just a mask for other emotions he was not so willing to show.

//"Not many people know about it. Just as not many people know that I was a slave. It was the last thing my master did to me before I escaped. The Block, you know. I was twenty-four."//

Peter nodded. Jarvis' hand still held his wrist, still made him press his palm to the flat place. But he was sure there was nothing sexual in this touch. And not only because Jarvis didn't have devices to have sex.

//"It's interesting how many people watched it - and how quickly they forgot about it, you know,"// he proceeded suddenly, the small mouth twisted in a smile that could be almost amused. //"Forgot that it was me. They looked at me - and they even didn't remember my face. Just a hapless, faceless slave."//

Wasn't it always like that? Peter wondered how many men who had paid to fuck him on the nights when Simon appointed it would recognize him with his clothes on. And how many faces of the family slaves he could remember - and he had fucked a lot of them, not just Simon - that slim strong Abenian woman who never said a word to him, not before, not after that; the kid that was said to be incomparable in blow-jobs - and he was very good, indeed... others whom he had seen and fancied and taken...

//"All these years I lived for the day when I would be able to pay him for what he did,"// Jarvis was talking, not looking at Peter, not caring if he understood. //"Oh it was not so egoistic - I thought about everyone whom he made suffer - still making - the whole world he built - and I knew one day I would bring it down. When you appeared I knew you were my lucky chance to speed up the things... I had to have you. But when I saw you I couldn't believe that you - as you are - so baby-soft... so self-centered, so manipulative - you could be the one who would change everything and would make my dream of thirteen years to come true, bring freedom to the Sphere."//

As for freedom... Peter couldn't believe in it, too.

Jarvis' face distorted as he turned to Peter, almost hissing in rage, his eyes fierce:

//"I swear by God, Peter, you will do that. Even if I have to make you. It can't go on like this! Because he is doing it again, what he did to me. Another man he owns - another slave he puts on the Block - guilty in nothing but becoming an old toy... But this one will be the last who'll die on this Block, I promise that. I swear on my brand that I'll bring him down."//

Jarvis pulled up the long loose sleeve of his sweater and for the first time Peter saw the square of burnt skin on his forearm, covered in small letter, black on white.

It almost didn't surprise him when he read it. Somehow he knew it all the way.

"Terrence Jarvis, property of Alexander Duvall."

* * *

The darkness of the tunnel was as impenetrable as the silence that cloaked him permanently. It looked like he was moving in nothingness but the thin steel rails under his hands were unmistakably material, the signs of his advance.

It was not the tunnel normal people used. And it didn't lead from a level to a level. Rather slanted than vertical - a burrow in the stone. But he had seen the map - and hoped he would come out where he needed to.

Last time Peter used the flashlight and checked the way had been at the bifurcation. The rest of it had to be straight - and it was good he didn't need to stop any more. Crawling, setting his hands and feet from a rail to a rail was a kind of hypnotizing routine that made him feel almost stoned out. Not quite present for tiredness - or doubts.

"Terrence, these are the rest of the calculations I had to make. I know it was supposed to take more time but I was not sure I would have another chance to continue, so, I tried to do my best. I know it was not what you wanted from me. And I know you don't have any reason to trust these numbers - as I obviously pulled this trick on you - but I hope you'll see that everything is workable.

If I come back, everything is going to be all right... my, I hope you'll take me back if I come back... Be mad with me but don't turn me away, okay? Think about it while there is time.

I had to do it. Look, I can't even start explaining it - that's why I prefer not to, that's why I leave like this. I also know that you wouldn't let me go - would better kill me, maybe - not because my plan is too risky but because you would see the threat to your plans in it. Please don't think so. I can swear by God - I won't harm you. I owe you too much.

I'm really sorry for doing this to you - and I hope I would come back and we would be able to discuss it, you would be able to show me how angry you are. But if not... juts please know that I wish you could succeed with everything you do. As I, Peter Solana, never could."

By this time Jarvis must've already found it. Pressed to the table in Peter's room by the crystal that was useless now. He could imagine Jarvis crumple the letter in his fist furiously, almost could see his face distort in anger and disgust:

//"Whore."//

Whatever.

The rail was cold and slightly moist and for a moment Peter stilled, pressing his forehead to the slick metal and it felt good - felt as if it was bringing him back to his senses. He moved again almost immediately. He had to hurry.

He knew he was near when the thick velvety darkness in front of him became soft seeping light. He knew where he would get out - close enough to the square; he already could feel the presence of the crowd over there.

He suddenly thought if it was the same tunnel Jarvis had escaped through fourteen years ago. Since him no one escaped the Block.

Seth... no, don't think about it. I am sorry, little brother.

He put on the black glasses before getting closer to the exit. He knew he would need them - at least for the first time outside, after weeks in the darkness of the underground. The night illumination he would be able to tolerate but not the brighter light of the Sphere's "day". He pushed away the bar that closed the tunnel and pulled up on his arms to get out.

The shapeless crowd in front of him rippled and laughed and shouted - soundlessly - and as he wormed his way into it, from somewhere afar the agitation vibrated through people. He knew it was Seth there.

He put his hand in the pocket and found the smooth handle of a gun, warm with the heat of his body. A gun from the first lot made on the Sphere factories.

* * *

This morning he had left his bed unmade. He waved the girl-service away, not willing her to change anything. There was not much sense in it because he knew for sure - he was never promised it - that in the evening he wouldn't come back here with Peter - and wouldn't topple him over to the ready bed. But as he walked around the apartment, dressing in a crispy white shirt, putting the golden necklace around his neck, buttoning the jacket, he looked at the crumpled sheets - and for a moment he could believe that everything might be as before. Peter would return - and Simon would forgive him. Everything would be all right because Peter would want this forgiveness.

Stupid... much more stupid that just one unmade bed could be.

There already were people in the streets, despite the early hour. No wonder, the Block thing was one of a few free kinds of entertainment in the City and they would miss it for nothing. Well, one can say it was not difficult at all for the Commander to win the hearts of people - a very old method - but it kept working.

The people who were going to watch tried to occupy the places closer to the Block but Simon's way was to the Commander's house first - where they both went through the details of the operation for the last time. Perfect. The truth was the Commander didn't need Simon for anything... except for this - to prove how well he could handle the situation.

"Well, sometimes it's good to come out to hunt myself. It makes me feel so young," and, patting Simon's sleeve slightly. "Don't worry, dear, we'll get him. First your slave - and then mine."

As if the kid - Seth - was not *his* any more.

Written off. Downstairs Simon watched how he was chained to the small cart that had to bring him to the Block. Clean for once - and stark naked, with this unbearable paleness of skin that only redheads have. His hair was red, now Simon could see it, the roots of his dyed hair had grown.

Silent and not fighting - just staring with the defenselessness of a ditched pet, looking into the faces but not recognizing probably even the guards that had visited him often enough. The uncomprehending eyes slid over Simon, too. Maybe, he would recognize the Commander. But the Commander was not here.

Suddenly Simon felt a fit of anger, directed at no one in particular at first; he focused trying to believe that it was anger with Seth, the wish to hit his blank face and wipe off this thoughtful, distant look.

Stupid, stupid kid! Used so many times. Used by Peter who wanted to play at love, who needed Seth to prove that in a way he still was free, that he could do something Simon hadn't known about. Used by his master who had never cared for him... but wasn't it an abomination, to suggest that owning someone and caring could be together? Did Simon care for Peter? He hated Peter... but somehow it was the same here.

Used by Simon who didn't know him at all. Poor mindless kid. Even now, when he was just minutes from starting to die - hours from actually dying, the death on the Block being a long one - he was still just the means for others to get what they wanted.

He made a step to the cart and cupped his palms around Seth's face. Smooth - shaven very recently. The smell was gone completely, just soap and disinfectant. No squeamishness could stop Simon from touching him - from fucking him if he wanted... Duvall would allow, for sure. He could do it without even having the kid unchained - just come up from behind and enter him.

And then he would know what it was Peter found in him.

The distant eyes met his without change of expression. He would probably feel nothing when dying, Simon thought. But to be sure...

He looked around carefully, registering that the guards didn't watch him, and pulled a few jellies out of his pocket, stuffed them in Seth's mouth, watching him intently until he swallowed. Well, even though the kid seemed not to know what happened to him - maybe, his mind - his soul locked in some distant place from where it couldn't or didn't want to return - knew what Simon had done. And, maybe, when the things would be weighed for Simon, this one would be counted.

The cart moved and Seth sagged in the chains - and the crowd started roaring.

Simon knew he should've hurried - his place was on the pedestal, with the Commander, to watch the execution - Duvall was already there, Simon had heard shouting that greeted him. From there Simon would see everything. Peter's appearance and his consequent capture - and then how they would proceed with whatever was in the agenda of Seth's execution.

But Simon didn't go there. Instead he entered the crowd, following the cart, and watched the people who reached their hands to Seth, trying to touch someone who would be dead so soon. It's good that the kid doesn't feel it, he thought, it would scare him.

He looked up and saw the Commander smile and wave to the crowd - and yet recognized an intent, suspicious look he examined the people within. Seeking for Simon; Simon was supposed to be at his side. Well, with Simon's height - with his shaven head - it would be only minutes until he was spotted.

It was when he saw Peter. Having no reason to be or feel surprised - well, maybe, just with the Commander's sixth sense - Simon still felt it was like a savage kick to his chest - making him stop and stare.

How dare you to come?

Didn't you want him to come?

He looked at the dark glasses on Peter's face and his haircut that was different, no more long strands falling onto his face - he thought that, maybe, it would make it more difficult for the guards to recognize him. One had to know him like Simon did...

He watched Peter move towards the place where the cart was brought to the stairs of the Block - and trying not to attract attention with abrupt movements, moved there, too. He could see Peter very well now - how he tiptoed to see the cart. And Simon was already close enough to notice how his face blanched, his lips whitened when he saw Seth.

Look at what you had done. It is all your fault, you fuckin' damned League slut. You had put him there by caring for him - by caring for him enough to come to look at his death... or to try to spare him from it.

Simon had expected Peter to move closer - if not to touch the kid for the last time - then to kill - he needed to be close to stick the blade. But Peter didn't move. Others touched the kid's slack limbs and genitals. Simon saw Peter look at Seth as if he still hoped to catch his eyes - press his hand to his mouth - something between blowing a kiss and gesture of pain.

Then he stuck hand in his pocket and took it out - and in disbelief Simon noticed a gun in his hand. Oh God... He recalled his old thought how much difference one gun could make in the Sphere.

In any other place people would dash aside from Peter, seeing the gun - here they just didn't know what it was. Their attention was turned to Seth. Well, they would be surprised... Simon squeezed between people, almost without any caution now - and still knew he wouldn't get there in time. He saw Peter raise his hand - a tiny farewell gesture, practically imperceptible.

And then he turned around to the Commander's pedestal and shot.

The noise was deafening - even in the roar of the crowd - louder than any shots Simon had heard before - and although everything happened too quickly, it seemed to him that he saw fire blaze in Peter's hands. He looked up at the place where the Commander stood - and had time to see Duvall going limp in the hands of his helpless guards, the black uniform on his chest deformed with a huge hole welling with bright blood.

He had done it; he never missed.

Panic started amazingly quickly, people running in different directions, colliding, pushing each other. Simon fought them, too. Because he could see something else: not all guards of the Commander got confused. Some of them were trained better than that. He looked at them as they raised their crossbows - and at last he reached Peter from behind - grabbed him and pulled him away and down.

The arrow hit him in the upper arm - pain stunningly heavy and hot - and for a split second he looked in amazement at the long pole sticking out of his flesh. No, there was no time for that. He knew they kept shooting - and the crowd shunned away from him and Peter, a sensible thing because a woman screamed and choked when an arrow entered her chest. By this time he already was on the ground, pressing Peter down with his body - and despite the pain, despite the clear thought that they both were doomed - feeling a shameful pleasure of having Peter in his arms again.

There was something wet - and he didn't understand at once what it was. Blood? He was sure they didn't get Peter - and then he understood... the fuckin' gun. It must've blown up in his hands. But Peter was alive - breathing and shivering - and Simon turned him on his back abruptly, looking in his face.

Yes, there was blood - small trickling cuts Simon thought it must've been the glasses that had left them. His skin was blackened - but his eyes with burnt-off eyelashes looked at Simon with a weird expression of childish amazement.

"You..."

Whom did you expect? It's me... it'll always be me.

"I killed him, didn't I? The bastard is dead."

He could do nothing else but to nod fiercely. He wished he could ask what now - did Peter ever think what would be done to him for that? The moment of hysteria would pass - and they would come for him - and Simon would be able to do nothing about it.

He reached his hand and ran his fingers over Peter's split and burnt lips. That's how it was going to end, wasn't it? No even fifteen minutes together. He expected Peter to shun away from him - at least to say something - and when he didn't, just kept looking at Simon with his wide-open and dazed eyes, Simon got bolder and passed the tips of his fingers over his cheek. He didn't want to hurt him, felt with slight sickness the moisture of blood and clear liquid of burns on the tips of his fingers.

"Simon, you stupid," Peter whispered and raised his bleeding hand to Simon's face. "I'll be missing you."

The guards were getting near, pushing through the crowd - and the arrow in his arm started hurting with renewed force. He leant towards Peter and covered his lips with his mouth.

He had no tongue to thrust in - but had no time to feel sorry for it - for he felt Peter's tongue in his mouth, touching carefully that healed stump. For the first time Peter kissed him back.

Then the guards surrounded them - and under the pointed crossbows Simon got up and gave Peter a hand that he used with a strange amused stare. He looked up at Simon - and then looked somewhere beyond the guards. Simon turned back and saw men. Lots of them - with the same ugly guns in his hands - flooding the square.

And among them - a silver-haired slim man whose face seemed vaguely familiar to Simon - his voice covering the noise:

"The Commander is dead. The old order is destroyed. Surrender while you can - surrender to the new order."

* * *

The lights were going out. Blue and grey shadows thickened slowly above and descended on the City until the cupola became invisible and very distant in the darkness.

He had never liked to watch it; and yet how many times he caught himself on meeting the night like this, on the balcony, looking up at the vanishing lights. The City didn't light up bright yellow after the dark any more. For a few weeks it had been only orange flames of the fires that lit the streets. But little by little the electricity was returning, together with other small pleasures of life, like hot water, for example.

At least for those who took the right side.

He raised the plastic glass of vodka to his lips and took a swing. It was bad vodka - but for the ration cards you couldn't get even this. New order demanded victims, as Jarvis didn't feel tired to say. Yeah, new order was hungry... And Peter was not sure they would ever be able to feed it enough.

Well, he didn't have any reasons to complain. He could have about everything - new order didn't forget those who had served it. And the name of the man who had killed the dictator would never be forgotten. At least it was what Jarvis said.

Well, he had not always been so delighted with what Peter had done. There was enough fury in his icy-blue eyes whose coldness would soon become legendary as he forced his way among the guards to Peter on the square - and somehow Peter could know what Jarvis would like to say but would never say: 'He was mine.'

But he forgave Peter - what could be more comforting than power - and even made Peter a member of the council - Council of Six; with everything that this position meant - work and benefits. Peter didn't think it was his place to be there - but who he was to refuse?

Especially while new people were sent to the fields and factories, replacing former workers... and the enemies of the new order ascended the Block. Once Jarvis said that Seth would be the last one to die on the Block... Not true.

Peter let the empty glass fall down and walked away from the balcony, closing the door carefully. Vodka made him dizzy but not warm - and he stood in the room, shivering and looking around absently. There were few things left from the former interior: the furniture had been broken, every expensive thing missing during those few hours right after the coup d'etat when farmers and workers were let loose on the City. But Peter hardly would want anything from there. It was the place he needed.

To fight his demons? Or, maybe, there was just some weird fascination in wandering these rooms while Simon was not there.

Never would be... and Peter wished he knew whether he was glad about it or not.

Then, on the square, when the guards stepped away, Jarvis grabbed Peter, shook him in fury, yelling something - only to start groping his hands and face a moment later, trying to check whether he was all right:

//"You stupid... stupid bitch..."//

Peter saw an odd expression in Simon's eyes at these words - what, was it his remark? The insurrectionists took him, his left sleeve wet and dark with blood - and Peter thought that they probably didn't even need to do anything - just let him bleed to death.

And with sudden intensity he urged Simon silently: tell something... save yourself... don't expect from me to do it for you because I can't.

He watched Simon get free, make a comforting gesture - and start writing quickly on the small stack of paper fixed on his wrist, wincing in pain that the arrow inflicted.

"It took time for me to understand whose side I was on - but now I know. Give me a chance to serve the new order. I can do a lot for it. I endow my stock of the medicine substance called the stuff for the needs of the new order."

For an unbearably long moment Jarvis kept silent - and then, making a sign to his people, said at last:

//"We'll talk about it later. Make sure he got medical help so far,"// and as they took Simon away, he turned to Peter. //"Don't worry, we'll kill him after he tells us where the stuff is hidden."//

"I don't want him dead," he said. "I think you know it."

He didn't think Jarvis understood. Or, maybe, he did. There were rumors about Jarvis spending some time at the dead body of the Commander - and it was not only hatred that sparkled in his eyes when he left.

But whether Peter's words changed something or not - Simon was still alive - still in prison - in one of the cells under the Commander's house.

Maybe, one day you can go and visit him. Maybe.

He walked into the bathroom, steamy with heat - and dipped his hand in the water, patting Seth's knee slightly:

"Time to get out, little brother."

//"No, not yet..."//

How many hours one could spend in the bath? And how many handfuls of bath foam?

He looked at Seth thinking how little he changed: just his pale face made gentler with light red hair - but thin wide mouth seemed to hide something almost ironic in its curve the same as before - and his hands with short bright-colored fingernails were still bony and lively like bird wings. Peter wished he could see only this, never had to look in the bright blue-green eyes of eternal quietness, never had to think of childish words coming from a man.

Seth would be his little brother forever.

He caught Seth's hands and pulled him up and out, accepting him all as he was - dripping wet and giggling - wrapping him in a towel. He felt Seth's lips on his mouth and cringed inwardly responding. He knew it was a wrong thing to do but he knew that if he refused Seth would get agitated - so, it was easier just to kiss back.

He felt Seth's wet, wrinkled with water fingers slide over his face, tracing the pattern of scars. At least he was not frightened with how Peter looked like. Well, the doc said it would look better with time - his eyelashes and eyebrows would grow back, the marks would fade. So far it didn't look good... but Seth didn't seem to care.

And Peter knew someone else who wouldn't care. Simon. He didn't know how he could know it - but it was true.

//"Love me,"// he read a little gesture Seth made and felt Seth's face burrow against his neck. He kissed wet hair and led Seth to the bedroom.

"Not today. I have to go."

//"Okay,"// the kid was sleepy, snuggling around the pillow while Peter tucked the blanket around him. //"Does Terrence wait for you?"//

"Yes, he does."

But it was not true. Nobody waited for him today.

//"Just leave the light switched on, okay?"//

* * *

Day thirty-four. He could see every one of them as the notches on the wall he was making, checked them with the tips of his fingers. A good test for the sensitivity of his injured hand - to make sure it was getting healed. Thanks or despite the efforts of the doctor who visited him.

It was not so easy to kill him, do you know? He had been through worse things. They fed him - and they didn't beat him - could he expect more? And loneliness - four stone walls around - he could stand it. He could stand it as long as necessary. He just hoped it wouldn't be too long.

He kept believing that one day the door would open. And it wouldn't be black-clad comrades coming for new information from him regarding the Commander's non-existing (or unknown to Simon) secrets; pissed off that they were forbidden to press on him as much as they would like. It wouldn't be the blue-eyed man with cold and still insane face that said nothing but watched Simon as if tried to figure out some mystery.

He knew whom he waited for. And he knew that one day Peter would be here. Not because of the unresolved issues - and not to celebrate his victory - even if Peter was going to tell himself it was so. Simon knew - got to know at that moment when he pressed Peter's warm - responsive - body to the pavement of the square - that Peter would return to him.

And so far he dreamed. About hundreds of things - hundreds of 'what if' - the possibilities that presented themselves for his mind to play with them in solitude.

What if it was Simon who had been injured during the crash. What if Raymond Glint had chosen Peter over him. What if the Commander hadn't trusted him as he had. What if Simon ever let himself do what he wanted - and touched Peter in another way but to hurt him.

But in the end, he knew, no 'what if' mattered.

Because Peter will come here for him all the same - and he'll be waiting. Just don't let it take too long, don't let the men with guns come first.

In the end Simon regretted nothing. He had been happy there, in the Sphere. All these last months... maybe, the only time of his life that he lived and didn't merely survive.

And he hoped nothing was over. Oh he didn't have the best cards on his hands now - yet he could play. He never gave up; that was him - Simon Kewlene, an orphan child from Aben slums, the League's broken slave... maybe, one day free citizen of the Sphere again.

The door opened and Simon turned to face it.

The End

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