The shopping trip was…different. That was the only way Kane could describe it. The driver did not leave the car. He dropped them off in front of a mega-store and left to park, stating he would watch for them and pick them up where he’d left them. Kane preferred to shop without an adult anyway. It was easier to get what he wanted without having to fight and argue with an idiot who thought because they were older they knew what they were talking about.
Kane grabbed a cart. It was a large department store, not the mall or one of the other rich stores. He was comfortable here. With Devin shadowing him he went to where the medicines, shampoos, and such were kept. He got several cut and burn creams, bandages, bruise medications, vitamins, and other self-care essentials. They didn’t need any toys, but in sporting goods he bought progressive wrist and ankle weights and some small dumbbells. Living in this new, rich place didn’t mean he was going to let himself go soft. He couldn’t afford to do that.
Now it was time for clothes. Devin seemed to have no opinion, so Kane got what he thought would look the best. For himself he got jeans and pull-on shirts with pictures or sayings. For Devin he picked slacks and shirts that buttoned. Kane had him try one of the pull-on shirts. It looked wrong on the petit boy. He got him some plain, conservative clothing instead.
From outerwear he went to underwear and pajamas and finally shoes. Tennis shoes for himself. Loafers for Devin to go with his nice clothes. He got a pair for himself as well, then had to get a dress outfit to go with them. Since Devin wasn’t looking, he put a shirt in the pile, one he’d seen Devin looking at with longing. Then, with a grin, a second one for himself. He wouldn’t have thought Devin would like a black pull-on shirt with a sewed-up looking kid on it, but it was right up his alley. Maybe Devin still had a shred of personality left after all. He’d wait and see.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Kane’s head whipped around at the voice. Devin! He’d left him picking out robes, two rows over. He shoved the full, heavy cart around the corner. Sure enough, there was a surly-looking older teen with her hands on her hips, glaring at Devin. What was it that attracted people to attack Devin? Even strangers? It was ridiculous! He’d have to find out, somehow.
Kane shook off the thought. Right now he had to take care of his little brother. Devin had backed into a rack, clutching two robes and looking terrified. Kane stopped the cart between them. Deliberately he ignored the girl, turning toward Devin. Whatever was going on, he’d figure it out later.
“You get them?” He smiled, held out a hand. “We’ll add them to the buggy, get slippers, and I think we’re all done!”
Devin pulled himself out of the rack, eyes fixed on Kane, terror giving way to relief. Kane took the robes and placed them on top of the pile, ignoring the girl sputtering behind him. Much as he’d love to confront her, Devin had seen enough of his being violent for one day. If it happened again, though, she was fair game. Maybe he’d see her around somewhere, without Devin, and warn her first.
“Did you get me green like I asked?” It was a stupid question. He could see there was no green robe, but it would keep Devin distracted until they got away. “No? Why not?”
“None your size. An’…”
“And?” Out of the area now, in a main walkway. Devin walked close to him, shying away from the few other shoppers. Even this close it was hard to hear him. With any luck he’d talk louder as he got more comfortable.
“…Red will look better…”
“You think so? Really?” Devin nodded. “Well, you’d know better’n me on stuff like that, I bet. So long’s it’s easy to put on, I don’t worry how it looks.” He flashed a grin, pleased to see another glimpse of something not destroyed or lost in the smaller boy. “Bet you could tell.”
Once the slippers were chosen, it was time to go check out. Kane decided he was hungry. And there happened to be an in-store food court. One of the places that served all kinds of food, offered a lot of choices. This mega-store was nicer than the ones he was used to shopping in. Not a center for the ultra-rich, but not a store for the barely-getting-by, either. Nobody in his old neighborhood would have been in a place like this unless they were stealing or had somehow come across an unsecured debit card.
The looks he and Devin were getting were no surprise; they were dressed too poor for this place. Security and other shoppers would see a couple of punks probably there to steal. Maybe that was why the clerk went after Devin? The card he used, however, got him a look of respect from the cashier. Especially since his name was on the authorized list for it. He paid, got cash back and went for food, letting Devin hold a table and watch the buggy while he ordered.
“Here we go!” Devin jumped when the tray clacked onto the table. “I haven’t seen you eat a whole bunch,” Kane explained with a shrug, “so I got you a kid’s meal. If you want more, say so.”
Devin gawked at the food for several seconds before nearly attacking it. Kane wondered what Devin was used to eating. How much he was used to eating.
“Easy, kid,” Kane said. “You don’t wanna get sick eating too fast. We got all day.” He looked down at the table, frowning, and his hand fisting. “You didn’t get fed too good before, did you?” It was soft, angry, and sad.
“It’s wrong,” Kane spit out, his fury obvious. “What they done to you is wrong.”
“I…was born…to be hurt.”
Kane’s fists tightened again but he said nothing.
“You gonna be okay here a minute? I forgot something.” Devin nodded.
What he wanted was close by, the cameras near the front of the store. He purchased two of the newest ones, a photo printer, a dozen sets of photo paper, and seven small photo albums. The lady at the counter told him he’d need batteries, so he got those as well, and camera cases. The cameras were nice. It wouldn’t do to mess them up right away.
All of this took less than five minutes. Devin was done with the taco and had collected all the trash and put it on the tray. Kane grinned at this; the kid was a neatnik. He sat down at the table and went to work finishing his own meal. Devin was watching him and trying not to be noticed. Expecting to be punished, most likely.
“Ready to go? All right, then.”
He let Devin take care of the tray, wrestling the buggy outside. Half a minute later the car pulled up. The driver popped the trunk and helped them load. When all of the bags were put away, Kane started cursing. The driver raised an eyebrow at him.
“We bought all the clothes and no hangers.” The driver smirked but said nothing. “Yeah, yeah,” Kane snapped, “twelve-year-old boy thinking about clothes hangers, real funny.” He sighed. “Come on, Devin. Just circle, it should only take a minute.”
“Then why not let Devin wait in the car?”
“Because I want him with me.” Kane spoke with cold precision, glaring at the man. Yeah, right. Leave Devin alone? As if! Not after what he’d seen inside the store.
“Come on, Devin.”
He got the fancy, expensive hangers, certain that Shyla could afford them. The whole setup reeked, but at least it reeked with money. He wasn’t going to go throwing money around, but when he went shopping he wasn’t going to buy cheap, either. There had to be some perks to all this.
Back at the house they were greeted at the door by a man in uniform, a butler. The things in the trunk were pulled out and carried to their room by a couple of men in a different uniform. The butler, Albert, informed them their things would be put away by the upstairs maids, Nancy and Mary.
Kane frowned at that. They had servants? Why would they have servants? Why was it this Foster thing kept getting weirder and weirder? This sounded more and more like something his father would have talked about soon before disappearing, about how the Governments were finding new ways to control the people without their knowledge. Performing experiments on them without their knowledge or consent. It had been paranoia talking, a hold-over from things the older man had seen and done while on duty. Hadn’t it?
“We want to do it,” Kane stated. He didn’t want strangers going through his things. Besides, Devin looked worn out again, and needed a bath. He didn’t need strange women hovering around, not as scared as he was. More people meant more danger and more people for him to keep an eye on.
“C’mon, Devin.” They went upstairs to their room.
“Out! Out! We can do it ourselves! Go!”
He chased the two young women out of the room, shrieking the whole way. Devin came in after they were gone and started for a bag.
“Nope. You’re getting a bath. You can do that with the cast, right? Good. Hang on…”
He rummaged until he found the Epsom salts, producing them with a flourish. “All right, here’s the deal. These are supposed to help with the bruises, so you’re gonna soak in the tub with them. I’ll put away this stuff, wash your hair for you, put on the medicines, help you dress. And then you’re gonna take a nap, cause you look wore out.”
Devin looked confused and opened his mouth. “The only thing you’re gonna say is ‘Yes, Kane’ and then you’re gonna do what you’re told.”
Kane grinned, ruffled his hair, and called him a good boy.
“But before all that…” Kane reached into another bag and pulled out a camera. “I want to take pictures of you. So we both remember. You ain’t ever gonna look like this again if I can help it.” He fumbled with the camera, putting in the batteries and memory stick with several muttered curses. “I’ll put yours together while you’re taking your nap.”
“Of course! How’re you gonna take pictures without a camera?” Kane held up the camera. “Pictures here or the bathroom? Bathroom,’cuz you gotta strip for some and you don’t wanna walk around naked. Specially not if them maids are around.” He snorted. “Maids. Like we’re helpless or something! C’mon.”
He carried the salts in one hand, the camera in the other. Once in the bathroom he started the water and added the salts as directed.
“I hope they won’t hurt your cuts,” he worried. “I hadn’t thought about that.”
“All right. Here we go.” Kane snapped a shot of Devin’s head. Then, making sure the doors were locked began removing Devin’s clothes and taking pictures of the damage. Finally Devin got into the tub (barely flinching, Kane noted, even though the hot water had to hurt) and Kane left him to bathe in peace.
Hanging up and putting away the clothes was boring, though he made quick work of it. The camera printed the pictures he’d taken while he worked; he scowled at them before placing them into one of the photo albums. They’d be a good reminder of what was never going to happen again. He hoped they wouldn’t give him nightmares.
That done, he gathered up loose clothes and the medicines and bandages and returned to the bathroom. Devin jumped when he came in, looking like he expected to be struck. Born to be hurt. Shit. Somebody had taught him that, made him believe it. It was going to be hard to overcome that kind of brainwashing. He was planning to use Devin, yeah, but not hurt him.
“Come over to this side.”
Taking a washcloth he went over the areas Devin hadn’t managed to get, then found and used a cup to do his hair. Devin sat through it all, trembling. Kane spoke to him the entire time. How he was only washing him until the cast came off, so he’d better not get used to it, how boring putting their clothes away was, how good Devin was being sitting for all this when Kane knew he was tired and scared.
“That’s my good boy,” he praised over and over again, not realizing the message he was sending. He was acting on instinct. If Devin wasn’t used to praise, he needed to praise him. A lot. Maybe that would help the little kid trust him sooner.
“All right, out you get.”
He let the water out, took the towel and as carefully as he could pat Devin dry, continuing to praise him. Once the smaller boy was dried off Kane applied creams and bandages, dressed him, and led him back to the bedroom.
“I know it’s not time for bed,” he explained while turning down Devin’s sheet, “but you look like you need sleep as bad as you need food. So close your eyes and try to rest for a bit. I’ll be over on my side of the room doing some stuff, so nobody’s gonna come in and bother you.”
He patted the bed. Devin, clean, in new clothes and bandages, climbed in with some effort. Kane tucked him in, ruffled his hair with a smile, and told him to close his eyes and rest. His light blue eyes closed.
“That’s my good boy,” Kane said one more time, letting his hand trail from Devin’s hair down to his cheek before going to the desk on his side of the room.
In the desk he found paper, pen, and scissors-exactly what he wanted. He measured the paper and cut it to fit in the photo album. He was going to make this as accurate as possible. A reminder of what had been done, what he knew he could be capable of if he didn’t work hard at becoming a better person. A knock on the door made him jump. With a quick glance at the figure on the bed he went to answer.
It was one of the maids. She held up Devin’s old clothes and asked what was to be done with them. Kane told her they were to be destroyed, shoes and all. She curtseyed and started away. Kane hesitated and then stepped out of the bedroom after her. He would to need to know who was who; he hadn’t counted on servants. It would be harder to keep track of servants later if he didn’t get them straight in his head right away.
“Hey.” She turned. “You Nancy or Mary?”
Kane nodded, fixing her face in his mind. Lucky for him he had a memory for faces and names. He’d recognize her now, even if he wasn’t paying full attention. She wouldn’t be able to sneak past him.
“You and Nancy steer clear of Devin, got me? He spooks easy right now.” She looked curious, but he wasn’t going into explanations. “You tell Nancy, and everybody else, to stay away from him. I take care of Devin.” With a sharp nod he re-entered the bedroom, shutting the door.
Devin’s eyes were still closed. Like Kane was going to buy that.
“I know you’re awake.” Devin jerked. “It’s all right. I told them to leave you alone. I take care of you.” He crossed back to his desk. “Try to sleep. Everything’s okay.”
He meant to be reassuring. Having never been abused, he had no way of knowing how he sounded to Devin. To the boy on the bed, those words were both promise and threat. Promise that only Kane could do anything to him, and threat that Kane could do anything to him. Devin was not reassured; he was frightened. He didn’t understand what Kane was doing. Kane had been nice so far, but how long would it last?
Kane filled several pages, placing them with great care into the photo album. It was almost full by the time he was done. He put the album in his desk, cleared up the mess he’d made, and finished putting things away. It was easier to prepare Devin’s camera, now that he knew what he was doing. He placed it and two of the albums on Devin’s desk, then went over and frowned at the sleeping boy.
Devin was tiny. He wore the clothes of an eight-year-old, but Kane thought he was nine. Ten at the most, and that was pushing it. His face was troubled and fearful even in sleep, a time Kane had assumed made everyone look peaceful. He sighed. He was too young to try to take care of another kid. What did he know besides what he was going through himself? But somebody had to do it, and there wasn’t anybody else. So it was up to him to be brother, parent, and protector of a scrawny, terrified wisp of a boy convinced his sole purpose in life was to be hurt.
“I’ll do my best, kid,” he whispered. “I hope it’s good enough.”
He woke Devin a little later. After a quick trip to the bathroom they went downstairs for a snack and then outside. Kane taught Devin how to dribble and throw a basketball using his good hand, then flung himself onto the playground while the boy practiced. Furiously he crossed the monkey bars, climbed the rope ladder, slid down the slide. Anything to get rid of his anger without hurting Devin.
It’s not Devin’s fault. That became his mantra. It was true–it wasn’t Devin’s fault. None of it.
Finally it was time for dinner. They were served by Alfred and the cook. Sherry, she said her name was, but they were to call her Cook. The extra people drove Devin deep into himself; he barely touched his meal and made himself as small as he could. Kane didn’t try to break the silence. It was too soon. Devin was beginning to get comfortable when it was just them.
He hadn’t been in the music room. He decided he’d wait. The instructors were coming tomorrow. At least they didn’t have to worry about school for a few more days; that was something. Hopefully Devin would be a little less freaked out around him by then; maybe trust him a bit. School would be way hard if Devin didn’t trust him at least a little.
Kane liked school, despite making a big show of hating it. All they taught in school was practical; they had long ago quit teaching things like art and music. Not even literature. Only non-fiction books were taught. It was possible, for a fee, to “borrow” a fiction story on a Reader, for three weeks. Kane had never paid for one himself, but a lot of others had paid him in reading time. Why demand money people couldn’t afford when you could get something they were planning on getting for themselves? He always returned the Readers when he was finished with them, sometimes even before the story was due back.
They went back to the study. Kane turned on the television to a crime show he’d seen before and the next hour was quiet. When the show was over, Kane sent Devin to brush his teeth, retrieving his pajamas while the bedroom was empty. He wasn’t tired, but it was dark out and he didn’t feel like doing much. He’d get a bath, grab a book, and relax until he could sleep. He’d have to make sure he did more tomorrow. He couldn’t get soft now. Not with the mental Shyla, and the servants everywhere. He was still going to be the one in charge. Whatever it took.
He’d go jogging, with the weights. Do some swimming, play some basketball. Check out the playroom closer. Scope out the neighborhood. Maybe there’d be a park nearby, somewhere he could play baseball, find some other kids to hang with. He wasn’t used to sitting around. Back home it was dangerous. It meant you were a target.
Of course, leaving Devin alone was dangerous too. Shyla was a mental and had been shown up. By a kid. While she wasn’t very likely to take it out on him, she would have little compunction about taking it out on Devin. He let out a deep, frustrated breath. He’d have to put off going far for a while. A couple of weeks at least. Until he had an idea of what he could expect from Shyla as retaliation.
He was drying off when he heard the timid knock. Rolling his eyes he said, “Yeah?” Nothing. He sighed, opened the door.
Devin was looking at the floor, but held out Kane’s robe. Kane was surprised the skittish boy had taken the initiative to bring it to him, but thanked him with sincere appreciation. Devin offered a hesitant smile to the floor, jumping when someone slammed a door.
“Why don’t you go to bed?” Kane suggested. “I’ll be there in a bit.”
Devin swallowed. “There’s…one of the new men in our room,” he explained in a low voice. “I didn’t think you’d want me to stay. In there. With him.”
“Come in here.” Once Devin was inside Kane got into his pajamas and robe. “You did right, coming here,” he said, not bothering to hide he was impressed and pleased. “I don’t want you to be alone with anybody until I know they’re gonna behave. What was he doing?”
“Uhm…he…kept looking at me…”
“Don’t worry,” Kane assured him. “He can look all he wants; he isn’t going to hurt you. Like I said, nobody’s going to hurt you. Not anymore. I’m gonna protect you. Swear it.”
Kane put a hand on Devin’s shoulder and pulled him into a loose embrace. He waited several heartbeats. He wasn’t sure how Devin would react to affection.
Kane felt Devin’s good arm go around his waist, resting so lightly he could barely feel it. He looked up at the ceiling, willing back tears of relief. Devin trusted him. Maybe not a lot, but it was a start. Faster than he’d expected, which meant he had to be extra careful not to screw it up. If what he’d seen in the mega-store was typical, he had to worry about anybody they came across.
“That’s my boy,” he choked out, letting his hand stroke through thin black hair, praising him for thinking to bring the robe and get away from the man, telling him he was a good boy, a smart boy.
“You okay now?”
Devin nodded. Kane’s hand dropped and Devin took a step backwards. “Come on then, let’s take back our room.” He grinned and left, Devin shadowing.
Before they went to their room, they stopped in the library long enough to each get a book, though it was weird to have a book and not a Reader. The man was gone. In a tiny voice Devin said he wasn’t ready to sleep, so they each sank into the lounge chairs provided for them. The room was quiet, except for the rustle of turning pages.
Finally Kane found himself getting sleepy. He’d purposely picked something boring. Shutting the book, he glanced over at the other chair and felt himself smiling. Devin had fallen asleep, his head to one side, the book still in his hand cradled to his chest. This sleep seemed to be kinder to him than his earlier nap. He didn’t have the hunted look from before, at any rate.
Kane put his book on his bedside table before approaching his little brother. For a second he considered leaving Devin as he was, then decided against it. The chairs were comfortable, but they weren’t meant to be slept in. Devin had enough injuries, he didn’t need to be sore from sleeping in the chair.
“Devin.” The little boy jerked to full alertness, eyes wide and darting before settling on him. “Time for bed.”
Devin nodded, the fear seeping out of his eyes. He put his book on the bedside table before climbing up onto the mattress. The bed was too high. Kane would have to find something Devin could use as a step.
Once more he tucked Devin into bed, ruffling his hair as he did. The sleepy, contented smile he got in return made him feel ten feet tall. Smiling to himself he turned off the light and got into his own bed. Having a little brother was going to be all right after all. He’d make it, but he wished his father were there to help.