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Raffe had been watching the man that night, the first he had been allowed down from the rooms upstairs to mingle amongst the patrons. His cheeks were clean-shaven, his shock of dark hair neat. The press of his crisp clothes hung odd, like his body did not know how to relax beneath them, or they felt uncomfortable against his skin. The burnished eyes drew attention as much as they created an arc of silence around him. As far as Raffe could tell he spoke to no one, just wandered like a lost puppy, bright eyes drinking in the pomp and splendour of Kallisiti until he finally found a quieter corner to absorb it all from.

It wasn't exactly the first time Oriena had welcomed the city's waifs and strays into the heart of her kingdom, but he was certainly the oddest in the collection.

The evening rolled along fine, until one of the patrons put his hands where they weren't wanted. Lilya was professional; her grip efficiently pinched his hand off, eyes narrowed. Presently she would inform Carmen, who would take care of the rest, but Kasun clearly sensed something beneath the current. And he snapped like she'd screamed against a predator.

The rush of his bare feet padded against the floor as he launched himself at the man, and chaos erupted.

Raffe had always been something of a mediator in the orphanage, so he didn't even think before he vaulted forward, leaving the gape-mouthed customer he had been serving with a half finished drink. Ice and mixer spilled against the bar.

The man's muscles were like corded wire as Raffe tried to wrench him off amidst a shower of blood.

"Get everyone out." The snap of Carmen's orders knifed the pandemonium. Raffe managed to grapple the man back into the changing room before his grip slipped. Kasun's lips bared over bloody teeth, a growl low in his throat as he spun, gold eyes utterly mad. And he was fast. Nails raked Raffe's chest before the flash of those teeth dived low.

Something burst in his chest, like a storm suddenly raged uncontrolled. 

And Kasun flung back, the twin orbs of his golden eyes winking abruptly out.

Raffe's hand shook at his throat, hot blood gushing through his fingers as he staggered back into the rails of costumes lining the wall. The pain didn't even touch him yet, eyes wide as Carmen's face swam into view above. Feathers and silk brushed his skin as he collapsed, the wire of hangers digging awkwardly as he crashed through.

"Shit shit shit." Carmen's hands slipped frantically, her face frozen with panic. Stoical Carmen. He'd never seen her so unravelled, and it pressed a stupid grin to his lips. But when he tried to speak, bubbles of iron burst against tongue instead of sound. She pushed his hands down hard. "For fuck's sake hold the pressure, Raffe!"

Carmen's voice became watery. The whole world blurred like he'd chucked a fist full of pills down his throat, and now he floated merrily away from everything. Even the pain drifted away, the panic, the realisation that time seeped out from the wound on his neck, that anything at all had existed before this loose collections of seconds.

She was arguing, a fierce flash of red in his peripheral as she paced. Then the pressure tightened, her grip pressing down where his had relaxed. "Don't you even fucking think of dying, do you hear me Rafael?"

He grinned up, but made no promises.

And when she spoke again it was not to him. Which was just as well because he did not hear her. As her red silhouette retreated another took her place in the swarming shadows of his vision.

It looked like a child.

Gaunt-cheeked, eyes like night. Her hair was a short curly crown, a constellation of freckles spotted across her nose. She did not smile, and though Raffe floated, something in her expression tugged at his compassion. Like a little sparrow in a cage. Trapped.

God, she couldn't be more than twelve.

Sudden cool shivered Raffe's skin beneath that solemn gaze, before she looked up at a looming shadow by her side. Dread filled his chest, a burst violent enough his limbs abruptly strained to scoot away from it. If he'd had the strength for that. As it was, he only gurgled a note of horror as the shadow nodded and she obediently knelt at his side, her dirty palms pressed over his hands. 

Her touch plunged icy shards straight into his heart, and he screamed.

[[Note: This thread is closed. It's set in the past and runs concurrently with "Not Terrible"]]
"He was supposed to protect the girls. He just wasn't supposed to rip anyone's fucking throat out. You didn't even think to fucking call me."

"Would that have been before or after Rafael bled out in your club, Ori?"

Voices washed the silence. Disorientated, Raffe watched the shadows of the ceiling. Pain needled his throat when he swallowed. He felt hollowed out. And famished, though the thought of food made him feel sick. He shifted, limbs like blocks of concrete, the ache deep as if every bone had broken and reset while he slept. Groggy memory resurfaced as his senses returned. When he looked at his hands they were clean, though blood still rusted his nail beds.

"I called in one of your favours," Carmen continued. "A big one. You have some shitty contacts, Ori; that man is absolutely disgusting. But I think he saved Raffe's life. Though--" Her voice tailed off, perhaps because she suddenly noticed Raffe's struggle to sit up. Actually, that was going pretty badly. He sank back down.

Her face swam into view, hair loose of its usual victory rolls. He'd never seen her look that dishevelled, if it could even be called that. She sank down on the bed beside him, brows drawn low. The lack of makeup made her eyes all the bluer. Raffe shut his own, tried to claw himself together; breathe through the pain. A bed meant he was probably in one of the rooms the girls sometimes used to crash after a shift. If he was still in the club, Kasun was probably here somewhere as well.

Unless I killed him.

But he was too afraid to ask.

Is it bad? he tried instead, but nothing came out; it burned to even try, so much so that he winced and scrunched his head back into the pillow. Carmen didn't answer, but he'd seen her expression; it told him enough.

Oriena wandered nearer, until he could see her porcelain face marred by a nasty split lip. Inky dark hair spilled lazily over a shoulder, a far cry from the siren she usually presented on those elusive evenings she chose to haunt the club. Truthfully he was surprised she'd even come. She might be Carmen's boss, and this might be her domain, but nothing in her demeanour suggested she particularly cared what happened here. The storm of her eyes raked over him, a smirk pulling her swollen lips. "Well fuck, Raffe. Still, at least you're not dead."
Well. It was bad. Jagged scar tissue slit his neck where Kasun's teeth had torn, raised and twisted angry red and puckered purple. Carmen's face hovered concerned in the mirror as he ran his fingers over the warped skin, almost numb to the touch. Outside at least. It still stung to swallow, and sometimes nerves fired random shots of pain. But even if it was botched, it was healed.

How is this even possible? There wasn't even a squeak to his voice, and it hurt to try. Carmen read his lips and shrugged. A line pinched between her eyes; a permanent weight of guilt. He doubted she would ever forgive Oriena for this, but it was her own shoulders heaped under the blame. Seeing his gaze fallen to hers, she frowned. Raffe grinned, snaked an arm about her, and pressed a kiss to her forehead.

She pushed away, swatted him playfully in the stomach.

I'm okay,, he insisted. Stop blaming yourself.

Raffe adored beautiful things, but vanity wasn't particularly high on his list.

His voice, though.

That might take getting used to.

Oriena blithely produced cash to bribe the client Kasun had attacked, and the red devils rarely poked their head in this close to the red light district unless someone kicked the hornet's nest. Kallisti was clandestine and discreet; it was part of the deal. If a little blood spilled in its pursuit of pleasure nobody cried about it. Though what it might do to the club's reputation remained to be seen; its doors stayed closed, its windows dark.

Raffe couldn't work any of his other jobs, and he didn't want to go home. Such as home was, or had ever been. He helped Carmen scrub the blood. The bar was the cleanest it had ever been, and he'd always taken pride in his work. Some of the girls still hung around, especially those Oriena had welcomed into the fold, but the evenings were generally quiet. Though it was a few days at least before he gathered the courage to approach one particular door, against Carmen's advice.

Oriena had hauled the body upstairs after the Butcher had been, and she had been there when Kasun had slowly stirred back to consciousness. Whatever happened next only provoked a smile when questioned, but Oriena wouldn't say what had transpired before she blithely skipped down the stairs some time later. But he was alive, and it seemed he was to stay. Carmen questioned the stupidity of that, but Oriena only shrugged the concern away. "He won't do it again," she vowed.

Neither of them were quite sure what Oriena's promises were worth, though.

It was the last time they'd seen her, and Kasun had not crept out of his room since.

The room was lit by dusk, the curtains flung wide. Lambent eyes glared out of the shadows. The air was thick with human musk, and other less pleasant smells; Raffe almost choked at the strength of it despite the open windows. His heart thudded in his chest and he wondered at the wisdom of his choice to be here. Carmen said Oriena had purloined him from fighting pits. That he wasn't a man at all, really, and shouldn't be trusted to act like one.

Kasun crept forward low on his haunches, his dark-haired head hung so that the arcs of his shoulders framed above. Muscles rippled beneath bronze skin, thick with old scars, but he moved carefully; like a dog seeking reassurance from a master. It was what the girls called him, dog-boy, but seeing him in this environment rather than the decadence of the club still shocked him. Because it really was literal.


Raffe blinked.

The man wouldn't meet Raffe's eye in a way that made it feel suddenly like he was the monster. The realisation tightened in Raffe's chest like ice, stirring up old memories he'd rather forget. Pity rippled in its wake. He ought to be angry but, touching the scars at his neck, he discovered he wasn't. Not at Kasun.

It occurred to him belatedly he had no way to communicate if the man couldn't read his lips. Not that he knew exactly what he wanted to say now that he was here. But in the end he didn't need to. Kasun had stopped some way away, still crouched, his head low. He'd never heard him speak, nor even attempt it. Until now.

"Pack," he rasped. "Protect." Then, after a long painful minute. "Sorry."

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