It rained for the next several days. Kane took his morning run the first day, but by that afternoon it was raining too hard for him to go outside. He tried running the top floor, but it wasn’t the same. This was bad. He had to get out, had to keep busy. If he didn’t, he’d get frustrated and angry and do something stupid.
By the third day Kane was miserable and in a horrible mood. Devin tried to make Kane happy, but was unable to do so, withdrawing into a pensive, wary silence. Kane started a puzzle, but when it was taking too long he tore it apart again, flinging pieces everywhere and cussing.
“Kane?” Devin approached and asked timidly.
“What, Devi?” Kane grumped. Now he’d made a huge mess he’d have to clean up.
“Would…would you feel better…if….if you hit me?”
Devin didn’t want Kane to hit him. Really he didn’t. But it was the only thing he knew. In the past, everyone had always hit him when they were upset. It would hurt a whole lot, but if it made Kane feel better…
Kane felt himself grow cold at Devin’s suggestion. Very, very slowly he turned to face Devin, who was looking at the table, his hands clenched in front of him. as slowly Kane got to his feet and walked two steps closer to put a hand on Devin’s still too-thin shoulder. Devin did not flinch at the contact, although his head lowered a fraction.
“Hitting you,” Kane said more harshly than he intended, “will not make me feel better, Devi. If anything, it will make me feel worse.” The thought of hitting Devin made him sick.
“Oh.” Devin’s voice was small and sad. “I …you told me you like to fight, so…” He looked up at Kane, face and voice dejected, eyes sad. “I wanted to make you happy, an…an I…”
“Fighting? Hey, the VR thing! That’s fighting! Devi,” He yanked his tiny boyfriend into a tight, brief hug, “You’re a genius!”
He dashed over to the corner with the game, not seeing Devin’s still sad expression, or hearing the just audible “I wanted to make you happy.” He watched Kane put on the equipment before searching out all of the scattered puzzle pieces and putting them back into the box.
It wasn’t the same. He was glad Kane was going to be happy, but it wasn’t the same. Not as good, the game doing what he couldn’t do. Kane didn’t want to hit him, and he was glad of that, but Kane would have been doing something with him to be happy again. It would be worth the pain, having Kane do something with him.
The puzzle put away, Devin wandered to the racetrack. It wasn’t much fun by himself, but he turned it on and practiced anyway, biting his tongue and frowning in fierce concentration. He was learning how not to make the car fly off the track at the corner. Kane teased him about that, but encouraged him to practice.
Larger hands covered his own. Devin jumped, glancing up in fear. He hadn’t heard anybody come in. Seeing Kane smiling down at him, he relaxed. If it was Kane, it was all right.
“That’s it,” Kane approved, “relax. You turn too hard when you’re tense.” He rubbed a cheek against Devin’s head. “Thanks.”
“For what?” He was practicing with the cars…
“Lots of things. Reminding me about the game, giving me time and space to blow off steam and calm down, not getting all pissy cuz I was…offering to be a punching bag to make me feel better…”
“I wanted to hug you, but thought you’d get madder if I asked.” Besides, he hadn’t been sure how to ask -- and was hugging the same as grabbing on? Because Kane didn’t like people grabbing on to him. It was very confusing.
“You don’t hafta ask to hug me,” Kane protested. “When we’re in our part of the house, or it’s us, you can hug, cuddle, touch me – any of that stuff – all you want. Well,” he temporized, remembering he had to be specific, “unless I’m on the toilet or playing the VR game or something like that.”
Devin tilted his head back as far as he could, trying to get a better look at Kane’s face. “Really?”
“Really. I don’t ask you, do I?”
“How’s that?” It was always interesting to see how Devin’s mind worked.
“Cuz you’re Kane.”
This was getting weird. Kane let Devin go, walked towards the loveseat along the wall. Devin followed and settled on the extra cushion. Biting his lip, he slid over until he was next to Kane, relaxing when an arm went around his shoulder.
“Why’s it different because I’m me?” He wasn’t sure he was ready to hear it, but he had to find out. He needed to understand how Devin thought. Things were a lot easier on him if he knew how to explain things to Devin.
“I’m your boy,” Devin said. That just sounded wrong out loud. Kane would have to think of something else to call him. “That means you can do what you want to me. An’ I’m your boyfriend, so that means hugs and stuff, too.”
Kane ran this through a few times in his head. It made sense in its own way. It wasn’t the way he thought, but he’d been brought up a lot more normal than the boy next to him. He wished there was something he could do about Devin’s perception of himself. Dr. Porter was working on it in therapy sessions, but Devin was still barely responding to her unless Kane was with him, so there hadn’t been much progress made. On that or any other front.
“I’m your boyfriend, too, you know,” he reminded Devin, “so that means you can hug me and stuff, doesn’t it?”
“My boyfriend? You?”
“Yeah, Devi, that’s the way it works. You’re my boyfriend, and I’m yours.” Simple enough.
“Mine? No, no, doesn’t work like that. I don’t…no, no, not me, can’t, I…I’m …no, I’m yours, not-not…”
“All right, all right, hush now. Never mind, Devi, it’s all right.”
“I can’t,” Devin jumped to his feet. He bolted from the room before Kane could react.
It was tempting not to go after Devin right away. Kane thought it might be better to let him calm down before they talked. But would that make it worse somehow, leaving him alone with the…whatever the hell had sent him running? Kane decided to chase after him. He didn’t know what he was going to say or do, but he knew he couldn’t leave Devin alone. Devin needed him, right now.
Kane caught Devin in the hallway outside the solarium and all but carried him inside. Devin did not resist. In fact, he seemed almost in a state of shock when deposited on a bench. A shudder wracked him when Kane drew him close, but he did not cry, move, or make a sound.
“I want you to understand something, Devi,” Kane said. “So I want you to listen really hard. Are you listening?”
Trembling, Devin nodded. Kane rocked him. After a few moments Devin made a whimpering/sobbing sound – a sound of fear, Kane was shocked to realize. Devin was afraid. Of him. Oh god, today was getting worse and worse.
“Don’t be scared, Devi. There’s nothing to be scared of.”
“I argued and yelled, an’ I know better. I’m a bad, bad boy…”
“No you’re not,” Kane interrupted. “Today is a rotten day, that’s all.” He stroked black hair, trying his damnedest to soothe the one in his lap and still having no idea what he was going to say. “I’ve been awful all day. I’m sorry for being such an ass. I’m not mad, Devi, really I’m not. As far as I’m concerned, you did nothing wrong.”
Except not understand what Kane was trying to say, and have a strong reaction to something he considered wrong. Neither of which Kane could fault him for or get upset about. Kane wished school was still in session so he could talk to Randolph. Or maybe William. Damn, he should have called William and invited him over. They could have trained or something, prevented this whole mess.
He couldn’t do this. Not alone. He’d thought he could, but he was fast learning he was going to need help. Especially when he was stuck, or people were being extra stupid. Or Shyla was around. Or any number of other things. He didn’t get as pissed as quickly, but now it was harder to calm down when he did get that way.
The three days down time had even gotten him to where he wanted to snap at Devin. Not hit him or otherwise endanger him, but yell and scream at him. Even knowing Devin had trouble with decisions didn’t help. If he didn’t get help, and soon, he was going to lose control. He couldn’t do that. He couldn’t.
Devin shivered and snuggled closer. Kane let him, adjusting his arms. At least Devin would still let him hold him. That meant something, right? It at least meant things hadn’t deteriorated, didn’t it? No matter how close he’d come to screwing it all up?
“You are my boyfriend, Devi,” he said in a soft, careful voice when the other had again settled. “I say that means you can hug and cuddle and all that when you want – in our part of the house or when we’re alone. That’s because you are my boyfriend and I want you to hug and cuddle and stuff with me. Not when I want to, but when you want to. And I say I’m your boyfriend because there’s nobody else I ever want to be with. That’s what I meant, that it’s gonna be me and you forever.”
“Now, I was thinking,” Kane continued, not wanting to let Devin go but aware that if they stayed like this much longer he might give into the temptation to kiss his boyfriend. Kane adored cuddling him, but each time it got harder to not try to kiss him – or something even more adult. Something he knew they weren’t ready for. Stupid sex education class. Putting nasty thoughts into his head. It should be banned from school.
“How about we call Randolph and the gang over? We could watch flicks and hang out; you and Maggie could talk music, or we could all play some games.”
“I like them.”
Devin wanted to stay like this, all wrapped up in Kane’s lap, where he was safe. Kane wasn’t angry with him, said he hadn’t been bad. But he felt like he’d been bad; he had yelled at Kane, argued with him. It was confusing, but since Kane was snuggling him, he wasn’t going to try to think about it. It would make his head hurt, anyway.
If the others came over, he wouldn’t get to sit on Kane’s lap or hug him. The others would be there, and Kane said when they were alone. Kane would run and yell and play with the others, leaving him alone. Kane would be happy, but it wouldn’t be him doing it. He couldn’t make Kane happy. He wanted to, but he couldn’t.
“What’s wrong, Devi?”
“I can’t make you happy,” Devin explained. It never crossed his mind not to answer a question from Kane. He was Kane’s and did what Kane said.
Kane was shocked. Devin thought he didn’t make him happy? Ridiculous! He shook his head. He was never going to understand how Devin thought. Never.
“You make me happy, Devi. All the time. You’re my boy, you’re a good boy, and you make me happy being here. Even when I act like a total ass because I can’t get out and do crap. Don’t ever think you don’t make me happy, Devi. It’s not true.
“If it’s because I want to invite the others over, that has nothing to do with you or being happy. I need to finish blowing off all this extra energy and I know if they come over I’ll be able to without doing something to scare or maybe hurt you.”
Besides which, he needed to have someone else around to keep his mind off how much he loved cuddling Devin, and how he was starting to want more. They weren’t old enough, and it was wrong. Normally he had enough self-control for it not to be a problem, but with all the rain and the extra closeness…combined with what had happened a few days ago...no, it was safer to bring others over.
The group showed up an hour later, laden for the sleepover Kane had decided on inviting them for. It worked as he had hoped – the extra people kept him busy, meaning that he didn’t have to worry about doing the wrong thing. Devin would let him do whatever he wanted. He could take advantage of that fact, but he didn’t want to.
The following morning was a therapy appointment for Devin with Dr. Porter. Kane had no clue what the appointments were supposed to do. Devin was left alone to draw or whatever he wanted while Dr. Porter looked on from behind a one-way mirror. In the beginning she had tried to interact with him, but Devin wouldn’t respond to her unless Kane was there, so she had quit.
Kane had asked about the therapy sessions, but hadn’t gotten a satisfactory answer. Not at the beginning, and not when she’d quit trying to make the therapy work with Devin. He asked her again, needing to better understand where Devin was; age 12, size of a 9-year-old (still, despite everything), but mentally and emotionally…
“Right now,” she told him without taking her eyes off the window/mirror, “he’s in many ways on the level of a toddler. In others…he’s far beyond his age. It has been known to happen before, but usually in people born with certain mental disorders. It’s never been induced by injury; he’s a fascinating case study.”
Case study. That’s all Devin was to the woman. Not a person, a phenomenon. Kane’s dislike for the female doctor intensified with every visit. She wasn’t Agency, she was Government of Mental Health. She knew about the experiment because it was a joint project of the Governments of Mental Health and Social Order as well as Child Welfare and some other one, but it didn’t mean anything to her. Devin didn’t mean anything to her.
Kane wanted answers. Needed answers. He wanted to know more about the experiment. More about the things his father had been afraid of. More about the Agency. Were he and Devin guinea pigs or was there more to it? Why was he going to be required to work for the Agency when he grew up? In what capacity? What was going to happen to Devin? Was he also going to have to work for the Agency? And what did Dr. Porter mean when she said in some ways Devin was more advanced than he should be?
Most important were the answers about Devin. They were growing up. In a couple of years they would be out of school, able to live on their own. Was Devin was going to be ready for that? What were the limits of what he could do or learn? Now and in the future?
He couldn’t get answers from Albert. He’d tried. Albert had told him everything he knew; they were part of a social experiment. Steve only knew a little bit more – he and Devin were doing well, there were other pairs of kids, and some of them weren’t doing nearly as well. That the Agency had taken over. That he was trying to get Shyla out of the way. Nancy he avoided. Sshe worked for a Government, and there was something about her he didn’t trust. Not that he thought she’d do anything to hurt them, but…
He’d tried emailing the Agency. All he got was that they were part of an experiment to reduce child abuse and juvenile delinquintism. They were doing very well – the best in their area. If the experiment worked things were going to get better for everyone. The enhancements were an added incentive for him to stay in the program. He’d been given some he hadn’t asked for because of what Shyla had done to Devin. Nothing. He’d learned nothing. Except that he couldn’t hack into the Agency for any information.
That left Randolph. He was going to have to talk to the other boy and find out everything he could. Assuming he could get Randolph to talk to him about it. Randolph was hard to talk to at times – he was more adult than a lot of adults. Still, he was the only option Kane had.
Randolph would only be able to tell him about the Agency, but it was a start. The stuff about Devin…well, he’d figure something out. Maybe he could talk to Dr. Nelson. He’d seemed to care about Devin as a person, and he’d been right in his predictions about Devin eating. Kane decided to ask about setting up an appointment with Dr. Nelson the next time they came to the clinic for therapy. Hell, maybe Devin would be more relaxed with the man and interact with him.
After Devin’s appointment and lunch, Kane called Randolph. He told the other boy that they needed to talk. Randolph didn’t seem surprised by the request, or the fact that Kane didn’t want to discuss the issue over the phone. They agreed to meet up in the park; Andrea and Edward would come along to keep an eye on Devin.
Steve dropped the pair off at the park, reminding them to come home before it got dark. He reminded Kane to call him if something came up. Kane nodded and said that he would, knowing that the request had a lot of complicated reasons behind it. Reasons he wanted – needed – to know. He wasn’t a little kid and he wasn’t stupid. Something more was behind this whole damned “social experiment”. Something more than the given reasons. He’d managed to not think about it while Devin was still recovering, but now that things had pretty much settled down, it was on his mind constantly.
The park was still muddy from the recent rain. There were a few teens out, some small children, a couple of adults. His father had said something about the number of people out in public places. Kane couldn’t quite remember what it was – towards the end his father had said a lot of things that didn’t tie together. He’d blamed it on the various Governments. Kane remembered that well. The Governments doing something the Agency wasn’t aware of. He’d been written off as paranoid. Kane was starting to wonder.
Randolph was sitting on the bench by the swings. Andrea and Edward were already running around and called for Devin to join them. With a quick glance to make sure Kane wouldn’t object, Devin did so. He was soon in the middle of the pair, swinging. Kane watched Devin with a smile as he got settled.
Smile fading, he joined Randolph on the bench. Randolph said nothing. They sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the others.
“Tell me,” Kane said at last. “Everything.”
Randolph didn’t pretend to not understand what Kane wanted. He was silent for a moment, collecting his thoughts, then started to speak. Kane listened intently. Some of what he heard was...disturbing, to put it mildly. His father had been right in a lot of ways, but the things he’d suspected had only been a small fraction of what was really going on.
By the time Randolph was done talking, Kane felt both sick and excited. He had more questions – a lot of them – but he had to deal with all he’d learned first. He looked over at where Andrea, Devin, and Edward were huddled around something on a picnic table. If he accepted what Randolph was telling him...he felt his stomach clench. He thought it was excitement. He hoped it was excitement.
Randolph was watching him. Kane didn’t try to smile, didn’t try to avoid the look. Randolph had been honest, trusted him with...some pretty wild shit. He shook his head.
“It’s gonna take a while to sink in,” Kane said after a few minutes. “Some of it...”
“I know,” Randolph agreed. “If I hadn’t experienced it, I wouldn’t believe it myself. I’ll understand if you choose to avoid us for a while.”
“Why would I do that? I mean, it’s weird, yeah, but nothing I can’t handle. Besides, it’s getting...rough...with Devin.” He hated admitting that, conceding he couldn’t handle something on his own. “What with Shyla being back, dealing with his parents, and the doctors...,” he trailed off. “I want to say I can do it alone, but...I don’t think I can. Not if I’m honest. And if I can’t handle it, Devin gets...”
“Understood,” Randolph cut in before Kane would say the last word. He put a hand on Kane’s shoulder. “Believe me, that is one fear we all understand.” He stood, offering a smile. “Let’s go see what our charges are up to, shall we?”
Kane returned the smile and got to his own feet. There was still too much he didn’t understand, too many questions that needed answers. But he had somewhere to start now. And the whole summer to work on it. He’d have things worked out before school started in the fall.