Kane joined Devin outside after putting away the photo album – glancing through it once more to fix it again in his memory. As he approached the basketball court he looked again at his brother, the boy he’d been paired with, surveying him as dispassionately as possible.
Kane realized Devin had been shooting glances towards the house. Was Devin looking for him? Probably not.
“Not bad,” he called out. Devin whirled, relief obvious as Kane skirted the pool to join him.
“Not good, either,” Devin demurred as the ball got away from him.
“Well, hell, kid. You learned yesterday! You’re not gonna be great when you first start! Unless you’re me, of course. Then you’d be an expert as soon as you looked at it.”
Devin looked at him with open awe. Kane laughed and ruffled his hair. “That’s not true, you know. I work hard and do a lot of practicing to be good at what I do.”
Experiment or no, he liked Devin. He thought he might even enjoy having Devin as a brother, once the issue of trust was settled. Who knew? Maybe the experiment would work, and they’d find a way to cut down on abuse and violent crime. It was a weird way to go about it, but if it worked…
Kane blinked, realized he’d zoned for a minute. He’d been thinking about his father, wondering if he was making the man proud. His hand was still in Devin’s hair.
“What was it like? Before you…came here?” Kane sighed. He should’ve known Devin would ask.
“Let’s go over to the playground,” he suggested, nodding toward it. “We can sit in the fort at the top of the slide and talk.”
In the fort Kane talked and Devin listened, asking no questions. Kane was surprised by how much there was to tell, once he got started. Stuff about his father, mostly. He skimmed over the stuff he didn’t want to think about too hard. Like the man disappearing the first day of school.
When he finished talking they went back to the kitchen. Albert sliced a fresh apple for them, definitely from the solarium, like he’d thought, with a bowl of peanut butter to spread on it. While they ate, Kane talked sports, keeping up a steady monologue between bites. Devin ate and listened, and ate more than he would have otherwise. Albert noticed as well, shooting Kane an approving look as he refilled their glasses of milk.
They went back outside and played until lunch. Then it was time for quiet reading. Kane hoped Devin would doze off; the kid needed sleep as well as the food and care. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance.
Mary came into the study. “Shyla wants to see you.” They were to report to the den as soon as possible.
Kane led the way, wondering what Shyla wanted. If they were to report to the den it could be anything. He hadn’t really hurt her yesterday; maybe she wanted a rematch? Or maybe she had her muscle with her. He almost hoped she did. He’d enjoy a good fight.
She was alone in the overstuffed and starched white den. It matched her completely: the starched red hair-maybe a wig-, the straight lines of the white and black dress that appeared almost painted on her, the rigid way she held herself. Only her brown eyes showed any spark of life, and Kane wasn’t sure if it was hate or madness he saw there.
“Your music instructors will be here shortly,” they were informed in the same indifferent voice of the first day. Kane watched Shyla with no little suspicion. Music instructors, really? She’d mentioned music lessons before, but he hadn’t really expected them. Why waste the money? Money which even a month ago would have been more than he could imagine having.
There would be a trick to this; Shyla wouldn’t have given up the fight so easily. Bullies never did. Not when they’d been upstaged. Especially one who liked to use others to do their dirty work. More than likely the instructors were muscle for her, would try to hurt both of them, put Kane into a lesser position. Wasn’t going to happen, but it was an interesting angle for her to take.
“Kane, you will be studying drums. Devin,” she snarled the name, her mouth twisting, “will be studying vocals. In six months Kane will also study guitar and Devin the piano. While the teachers are here you will refer to me as ‘mother’ and I will call you both ‘son.’”
She sounded disgusted, exactly how Kane felt. This had been pushed on her, then. So the instructors weren’t hers after all. They were an unknown force all the way around. That put him and her on even ground, at least until he took control again. Which he would. Shyla, however, continued speaking.
“As you neglected to purchase school supplies while you were out, that task will be completed tomorrow morning. You will begin attending the local middle school on Monday.”
She sent them back upstairs. They returned to the playroom where they raced cars again. Kane needed to think. He would go running, but he didn’t want to leave Devin alone. The race track was something he could do while thinking.
School Monday, huh? That gave him four days to get ready, get Devin comfortable. It wasn’t going to be easy. Sure, Devin had come a long way when they were alone, but they wouldn’t be alone at school. There wasn’t enough time to do it right. Well, he’d find a way to make do.
He was surprised he wasn’t surprised to find out Devin would be in middle school with him. The worst-abused kids always looked smaller and younger than they were. It was a good thing; he couldn’t protect Devin if they were in different schools. It wasn’t going to be easy protecting him during the music lessons, even. It was still weird to know he’d been so wrong about Devin’s age. He’d have to work on his observation skills.
“Hey.” Devin looked at him, startled, but with very little fear. Good.
“How’re you gonna learn to sing when you don’t talk to people?” Now the fear came. “How about you pretend you’re doing it for me? Whatever the teacher says, you do loud enough for me to hear.”
Devin nodded, brow furrowed. Kane waited for the question to come.
“Wh…when the teacher gets…gets mad at me…?”
“I’ll protect you.” Shit. They really had done a number on the kid. An unexpected surge of protectiveness swept over him. Downstairs, the doorbell chimed. Devin looked sick. Kane clasped his good hand, reassuring him again. It was boring, repeating himself like this all the time, but it was working.
Devin followed Kane down the stairs, half-hiding behind him when they were introduced to their teachers. Kane’s was a young man with long hair and the start of a beard. His voice was too big for his body, and he moved in grand, near spastic movements. Devin edged in closer to Kane. Kane was glad the man wasn’t Devin’s teacher. Devin would probably have a heart attack dealing with that.
“As you can see,” Shyla was saying with false affection, “Devin is shy. I don’t know how you’re going to get him to sing.”
“Not to worry; I’ll find something that works.”
Kane eyed the woman warily. In his experience, women pretended to be nice more than men did.
“Come on, honey.” The woman knelt in front of Devin, fake smile plastered over her face, voice high with condescension. “Why don’t we go and get started?”
Kane shifted, hiding Devin from the woman’s view. “Go on. We’ll be right behind you.” His voice was commanding, uncompromising. “I need to talk to Mother a second.”
If they noticed the sarcastic note, nobody made any comment. Albert ushered the two instructors into the music room. Kane turned flat eyes on Shyla.
“Remember what I said. If they try to hurt Devin, I hurt first them and then you. Do you need to talk to them before our lessons start? No? All right. Come on, Devin.”
The music room was paneled. If it wasn’t soundproof, Kane mused, it was pretty close. There was a drum set, an electric guitar and amplifier, a piano, a couple of chairs, and a CD player–oh, and a karaoke set-up. He hoped that wasn’t how Devin was supposed to learn to sing. The two teachers, Mr. Strom and Ms. Granit, were standing in the center of the room talking and frowning.
“Will you close the door, Devin?” Kane said.
The heavy thud drew the attention of both adults. Kane spoke before they could. He had to let them know from the first he was the one in charge. Not Shyla, not them, but him. He didn’t know who they worked for normally, but in this place they answered to him.
“This is how it’s gonna work. You and Devin are gonna sit in the chairs there, or stand. You’re gonna stay at least a foot away from him, never touch him, and not so much as raise your voice at him. He’ll do what you tell him, so you won’t need to. Me and you,” his eyes flicking from the fury-white woman to the shocked man, “will be at the drums, sitting so I can keep an eye on you.
“I don’t know what Shyla told you, and I don’t much care. Devin’s beyond shy and you’re not taking advantage. He also has a broken arm, so if anything needs to be written, you’ll have to get me to do it.”
He undid Devin’s fingers from his arm and eased him into a chair. He turned, knelt in front of the terrified boy, and caressed both cheeks.
“It’s okay, Devi,” he said, forcing blue eyes to meet his. “I’ll be right over there keeping an eye on you. You’ll be safe. Remember to be loud enough for me to hear you.”
The stuttered whisper was not encouraging. Kane pulled Devin into a brief hug. He ruffled the black hair and went over to the drum set, positioning himself so Devin was in sight.
The lessons were fun, in a weird kind of way. Both adults looked at him like he was mental, but he didn’t mind. Ms. Granit seemed about to do something to Devin a couple of times. To be fair it was probably something she legitimately needed to do, like show him how to do the breathing exercises. Kane wasn’t taking any chances. He could see the toll it was taking on Devin, trying to do what he was told, afraid the woman was going to do something to him, and trying to keep an eye on Kane to judge how he was doing.
Shyla was waiting when the lessons were over, wanting to know how they had done. She was informed they had both done well for a first lesson and if they practiced as they should they would do very well indeed. The instructors had their reports ready, not surprised she was waiting. Was it normal for a parent to wait for a kid to finish a class? He’d never known anybody who’d been able to afford classes, so he had no idea.
“Little Devin here has quite the voice,” Ms. Granit was saying, and Kane thought she meant it. “With training, he could become a professional. He has an impressive range.”
“Can we go?” Kane interrupted. He knew he was being rude, but he didn’t care. He needed to get them both out of there.
“Of course.” Shyla smiled acidly at him. “Why don’t you two run along to the kitchen for a snack?”
He nudged Devin toward the kitchen without answering. Punching her in the face wouldn’t send a “family” message, now would it? No matter how bad she was begging for it. But maybe he’d get lucky and she’d say or do something when there were no witnesses. He hoped so. He needed to pound on someone.
“What?” Kane answered angrily.
“I…I’m not hungry.”
“Good. Neither am I. Let’s go back to the study.”
When they got there, Devin went to the middle of the room and waited.
“Hey. You okay?”
Devin nodded, closing his eyes tight, bracing himself for the first blow. Kane stared at him.
“Devin? Devin, what are you doing?”
“Just start,” Devin managed, eyes still screwed shut, body tense. “Don’t be nice first. I know you’re mad and it’s gonna hurt lots, cuz you’ve been nice an’…an’ do it!”
Kane felt Devin stiffen when he hugged him, felt the tremors of shock and fear. He said nothing, hurt and furious to the point of silence. He should have known Devin would pick up on his anger and expect to have it turned on him.
Several minutes passed. Feeling Devin start to relax at last, Kane allowed himself a tiny smile. Words alone weren’t enough. He was going to have to show Devin he wouldn’t hurt him. Show him that he was safe. But how?
He removed his arms and stepped back. Blue eyes opened, clouded by fear and confusion. Taking Devin’s good hand he went over to the sofa, sat, and pulled the smaller boy onto his lap. His dad had done this to him sometimes when he was scared.
He cuddled Devin close, not tight. The bruises would be hurting. He remained silent, as his father always had, knowing mere words could do nothing. Some things had to be done, not said. What was that saying? Actions meaning more than words?
“Ssshh.” Kane continued to comb through dry hair and hold the body that was so thin from malnutrition and neglect.
Kane held Devin a long time, making and refining plans, contingency plans, backup plans, plans that were impossible as well as possible. After a while, he could make no more plans and let his mind wander. He wished he’d thought to turn on the television. It would keep him occupied with thoughts of something other than the boy who was now dozing in his arms.
Kane knew he was same-gender-oriented, homosexual, gay, whatever you wanted to call it. Couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t known it. He didn’t think about it much, any more than he thought about having hazel eyes. It was a part of him. Generations ago it would’ve been a problem. Dangerous, frowned on, something to hide. People were hunted down and killed.
It had been proven to be a genetic trait, like eye and hair color. Religious leaders proclaimed new messages from their deity saying it was a divine form of population control or something. Now it was accepted. It was tough luck if you were, like being SGO was a long-term non-contagious illness, but it was no longer something you had to hide.
The problem was that it would be very easy to love Devin. Maybe even fall in love with him. And that would be bad. Devin was his little brother. Plus, he doubted Devin was also SGO. Considering how he’d been treated, though, he would allow Kane to take him as a lover. Hell, with a few soft words and gentle touches Devin would be easy prey for anybody.
He’d known Devin only a couple of days, and he’d already not only promised to protect the other boy but had meant it! Maybe some of it was knowing they were part of an experiment, but certainly not all of it. It was weird, now that he had time to think about it. He’d offered protection before, sure, but he’d usually been the one to set up the need for the person to be protected in the first place.
Well, somebody had set Devin up to need protection, hadn’t they? Made him an easy mark for anyone who wanted to take advantage. The question was whether it was the sad excuse for the parents he’d had or if there was one or more Governments behind it.
He wouldn’t think about that. Not now. He had to worry about practical matters first. Once Devin was capable of standing on his own feet he’d start worrying about the other stuff.
In the offices of the Government of Social Welfare, a phone meeting had been called to discuss the progress of the Abuse Prevention Program and specific groupings within the Program. Attention turned to the report from Albert regarding the progress of MM group #17.
The pair were advancing very quickly. The chosen “mother” had overstepped herself, offering harm to the abused child far sooner than had been mandated in her orders, but the thug had offered protection nonetheless. And had followed through during an expedition outside of the home. The abused child was showing trust already, the thug adhering to his word and being trustworthy. The lowering of age for the program was proving to be the change needed for the program to work.
“Include the offer in the files.”
“So soon? Are you sure? It has…”
The offer was included and the meeting continued.