Kane slathered antibiotic ointment on the worst of Devin’s injuries before putting his spare T-shirt on the smaller boy. Over that he put the dress shirt, because it looked right, then helped Devin finish getting dressed. His own clothes slid on. Devin waited for him without speaking, still looking cowed and confused. They went downstairs together for breakfast.
Pancakes waited on the table. Devin took one, and made no protest when Kane cut it to pieces for him. He shot Kane confused, frightened looks Kane ignored. Devin would get over the fear in time. Kane fixed himself three pancakes and kept an eye out for Shyla.
At some point his sleeping mind had worked out how to handle things. He wasn’t proud of it. The things in his behavior folder would be reinforced, and Devin would be scared. But it would be easy and effective. The important thing was making sure Shyla understood she was not the one in charge. Kane was calling the shots. Once he’d handled her…well, he’d figure all that out later.
She showed up as Devin was putting the plates into the dishwasher. Kane wasn’t sure if Devin was used to having to clean up after other people or if it was the little boy’s way of thanking him for helping. Either way he wasn’t going to argue. It was something Devin did without being told or asked, some small form of personality and will he had left. It wasn’t much and probably didn’t mean a lot, but it was something.
Devin saw Shyla first and froze for a long moment before continuing his task. Shyla ignored Kane, glaring at Devin as he closed the dishwasher.
“Devin, come with me. I want to talk to you.”
She was starched and rigid again. Today it was a green shirt and black pants, with black high heels. At least she looks decent, Kane thought idly. Dressed like the money they apparently had.
Kane snorted to himself. He got to his feet. Not the best place for a showdown, but it would do. For a second he considered sending Devin out. He discarded it. Devin would only be more scared, not know who to obey. That was going to change. Now.
He kept his voice quiet, knowing a shout would make him seem weak. He was not weak. He was right. He had the upper hand. She didn’t know it. Yet. She would soon enough. No matter how mental she was.
“He’s not going.”
Shyla glanced at him before turning her body more toward Devin.
“Devin, I told you to come with me.”
Devin was looking between them with horror and confusion. Kane wasn’t surprised. He did, however, need to reinforce who Devin was supposed to obey. Devin had to know right from the beginning who was in charge. It sure as hell wasn’t their mental of a mother.
“Devin,” he said, never looking from Shyla, “remember what I told you. You are not going with her. Is that clear?”
“Y…yes, Kane.” His voice was tiny, thin, and shaking.
“Good boy.” Kane flicked a small, hard grin at Shyla. “I think we should talk, Shyla. You and me. I saw what you did to him; did you think I wouldn’t?” The grin didn’t waver as his voice hardened. “It stops now. I’m not going let you or anybody else hurt him. Not anymore.”
Shyla glared at Kane. A tic in the corner of both her eyes by her nose made it look like she was trying to imitate a rabbit. Would have been funny if the situation wasn’t so serious. The crack in her voice and attempted sneer were pathetic. “You saying you want him for yourself? Is that it?”
Damn. He hadn’t wanted Devin to hear anything like this. Well, he couldn’t help that. It wasn’t like he was going hurt Devin. He figured the best way to help him now was to claim him as his own. Funny how abusers always considered the kids they beat on as things and not people, more like property or animals. Kane wondered what his father would say about this situation and how he was handling it. He decided he’d think about it later. He had to focus.
His face and voice were calm, devoid of any of the thoughts swirling through his mind. The kitchen wasn’t large. Any fighting was going to be very close up and personal. That was fine by him. He liked to make sure anybody he got physical with was aware it was him they were dealing with.
“Willing to fight me for him?” Shyla mocked, finally turning to face Kane. “You must want him pretty bad.”
“You wanna fight? We’ll fight. You’ve read my file. You know what I can do. I don’t know what you can.”
A lie. He’d read her file, stolen it off the desk of his case worker and skimmed it when the man was out of the office for some stupid reason. She was a bully. According to her file she was the kind who liked to watch others beat on the smaller and weaker, a voyeur rather than a participant. When confronted without her muscle she backed down.
His grin got harder. He was often called a bully, but it was also known that he never backed down. Ever. Another lesson from his father. Follow through on everything you start and never, ever let someone see you weak.
She probably had somebody waiting to beat Devin in another room. Or maybe she felt safe attacking Devin on her own. It wasn’t like he was going to fight back. Not as beat-down as he was. Kane settled into a loose fighting stance, smirked at Shyla before speaking.
“Let’s do it. Winner gets Devin.”
He watched her face fall into uneasiness. She’d read his file, then. Good.
So far Kane hadn’t killed anyone. There were a few suspicious deaths, but no one could tie any of them to him. He always had an alibi. Always.
“You want him that bad, he’s yours. I can find other ways to entertain myself.”
“See that you do. You make sure that everybody knows Devin is off limits. Anybody tries anything, I take them first, then you.” Kane’s eyes and voice showed deadly sincerity. “You keep that in mind; make sure everybody knows. Devin is off limits.”
He turned away, keeping her in his peripheral vision. He didn’t think she’d be dumb enough to try something, but…she did, coming at him fast and silent. He whirled, caught her in the breastbone, hard enough to knock the wind out of her and bring tears to her eyes. She dropped. He looked down at her for a second before kneeling.
“Now that was stupid. I could’ve hurt you, and we’re supposed to go shopping today. You’ll be up to shopping, won’t you?”
Shyla wheezed something about a driver and a debit card. Kane nodded, agreed it would probably be best if she stayed home and rested. She could put him on the authorized list and hand him the card when they were leaving. He’d be very careful with it. He stood up again.
Devin looked terrified, crouched against the dishwasher. It was exactly what Kane hadn’t wanted, although he’d known from experience it was inevitable. But he did not back away from Kane. That was good. It was a starting place.
“C’mon,” Kane said. “Let’s get washed up before we go.”
Devin nodded, staring at the still-doubled Shyla on the floor. “Yes, Kane.”
Kane stepped over Shyla on his way out. Devin stayed on his heels.
“Well, that should take care of everybody who comes to the house,” Kane said once they were in the hall. “Not how I wanted to do it, but…” He shrugged. Devin stayed silent as they washed up and followed Kane into the study.
Once there, doors shut to ensure privacy, Kane started pacing. He had no clue how to convince Devin he could be trusted. Finally Kane stopped in front of him, hazel eyes sincere and almost pleading.
“I’m not gonna hurt you, Devin. I’m gonna take care of you, protect you. Never hurt you. I’ll get mad–I always do, can’t stop it–and I’ll yell and throw things, but not at you and I’ll never, never do something to hurt you.”
Devin listened without speaking. His body language screamed he had no idea what Kane was expecting.
“I knew I was going to have to fight Shyla,” Kane went on. “I didn’t want to–not with you there–but it was the only way to make her stop. I expect I’ll have to fight others too. I don’t mind the fighting; it’s fun when they fight back, when I have to try to win. Beating up somebody who can’t or won’t fight back is mean, not fun.”
He shook his head. It had been the one “weakness” he’d allowed himself, to never beat up someone smaller and weaker. The one time he had, his father had torn into him badly enough he’d sworn never to do it again.
“I’m going take care of you, Devin. Real good care. I’ll help you dress and undress, and cut up your food, and anything else you need help with until you’re all healed up.” He touched the other boy’s cheek, one of the few places not showing injury. “I’m gonna protect you. From everybody.”
Devin smiled a hesitant smile. Kane would protect him from everybody. But who would protect him from Kane?