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Braeden sat up, and yawned. He still felt tired and wondered what had woken him. Puzzled he put his head back down and closed his eyes. Before he could roll back over and get comfortable, however, a small whimper came from under the blankets of the cot on the far side of the room. He let out a breath and glanced over at his new charging cell phone. He groaned softly as he read the display. "Oh, come on." He complained to himself. "It's just after seven; I need more than four hours of sleep."
Once again he heard what sounded like a cry come from somewhere beneath the adult sized sleeping bag. There was a moment, just a moment when he thought about dismissing it and going back to sleep, but he couldn't. First off, the kid sounded scared, and Braeden knew he would never be able to fall asleep as long as the sound persisted. Secondly, over the last day and a half his whole life had changed for the better and he was not about screw it up.
Wiping the crusty junk from his eyes, Braeden stood and looked around. Other than the soft panicked sounds coming from somewhere within the mound on the cot, the house was silent. Cinder had not come back yet. "Well, this is what he moved me in here for." He spoke aloud. He made his way up to the cot and knelt. "Drake?"
The voice that responded didn't really sound like the younger boy Braeden had just started to get to know. Instead it was more of a defeated, almost hopeless whiny tone. "Please mom, I want out."
"Nightmare." Braeden mouthed and he reached over to shake the cot, knowing from past experience, touching someone who was having bad dreams was not the greatest idea.
As the cot jostled him, Drake started to softly cry, "Please mom, me can't breathe. It's too small in here!"
Braeden's eyes narrowed as he wondered what horrible thing the boy's mother had stuffed him into. He shook the cot harder, "Drake, wake up. You're just buried in a sleeping bag."
"Mom it hurts, please let me out." The little guy started kicking and flailing becoming more and more wrapped up in the bag.
"Shit." Braeden stated with a large exhale. He reached over and pulled at the edge of the sleeping bag hopping to find the zipper. He figured if he could just untangle the kid, the feeling of being trapped would end.
"MOM!" Drake suddenly screamed at the top of his lungs, "There is a rat chewing on me! It hurts!"
Braeden felt his stomach heave at the words, "You have got to be kidding me. She locked you in with a rat? Ah, come on..." He reached out to grab the boy and shake him out of slumber, not wanting Drake to have to relive something so awful, but as his hands moved forward, they hit a barrier. "What the hell?"
Inside the bag, Drake rolled and shouted, "Stop biting me!" Suddenly the sleeping bag inflated like someone had put an air hose hooked to a jet engine into it. In a space of time less than a single tick of a second hand, it expanded till the seams started to rip then literally blew up, sending bits and pieces of the military grade mummy bag all over the living room.
Braeden, for his efforts, was flung backwards with enough force to flip him over the coffee table. He landed with a jarring thud between the heavy table and the couch while pieces of the bag rained down on him. He shook off the stars he was seeing and jumped back to his feet. He looked over, noticing the eight year old was on the ground, surrounded by bits and pieces of the cot, sleeping bag and even his own clothing. Panic set in as he leapt over the table, "Drake!"
Drake looked up with eyes the size of dinner plates and then covered his head with his hands and arms, clearly expecting a hand to crash into him. Tears poured out. "Please Bray, I'm sorry!"
Braeden yanked off his shirt and knelt, wrapping the sobbing kid in the cloth the best he could. "Little dude, I'm not gunna hit you or nothin'. But, I, like, really need to know if you are hurt. Cinder 'll kill me if you are..."
Drake shook his head and pressed on his temples, "It hurts right here when... when this stuff happens." More tears streamed down his cheeks as he looked around and let out a loud gasp, "But this one is real bad!"
Braeden was far more worried about what Cinder was going to do to him, than what Drake was saying so he pulled the boy's head into his chest and stroked his hair for a few seconds, letting the boy cry some. Finally the words bounced around in his brain again and finally hit a switch. "Hey, wait, you mean this kind of thing has happened before?"
This caused a new round of sobs as Drake shook in fear. "Uh huh." Was all Drake was able to get out as he continued to suck in air and cry.
The images from the museum video flashed through Braeden's mind, "Oh, wow..." He rubbed Drakes back for a few seconds before breaking the uneasy silence. "So how do you make it happen?"
Drake looked up with a mixture of bewilderment and astonishment which in turn cut down on the tears a great deal. Still, as upset as he was, a few sobs continued to wrack his whole body. "Dun-no, it just happens." He gulped and used his arm to wipe some snot from his face, "Why are ya not mad?"
Braeden almost said, 'because I am fucking scared, man...' but managed to hold his tongue in check just long enough to suck the words back down into his chest with a coughing sound to replace them. Truth was he was scared, scared of what Cinder would do to him if he didn't handle this right, scared of losing everything Cinder seemed to be offering him, and there was even a little bit of fear of what Drake's mental abilities might do to him if he said the wrong thing. He had, after all, seen the video and knew there were people... kids... who could do some serious shit with their minds.
Pretending to get over the 'coughing fit' he took and deep breath and pulled Drake into his chest. "Hey, I'm a bit freaked out, OK, but not mad. I don't think you'd do this on purpose."
Drake did his wild shake of the head thing, "uh uh." He snuggled into Braeden a bit deeper as he realized the teen was not angry with him. At the same time his mind picked up a hint of other feelings, both fear and caring. The caring part was not a familiar thing and it made him want to make the teen happy. To this end his mind sought out a way and found something else, something deeper, something Bray wanted to keep hidden but it was still there. "Do you want me to do stuff with you?"
Braeden was caught off guard by the remark, and was not able to piece together what Drake meant. "Like what?"
Drake cocked his head to the side and looked up and touched Braeden's tit, "You can, just don't hurt me, please?"
Braeden felt his heart speed up, but this time something else kicked in. It wasn't just a fear of Cinder, although Cinder alone would have prevented him from following through even if he wanted to. However, for the first time in Braeden's life he actually saw someone looking up to him and it was a bit of a rush, and to be honest, he liked it. He grabbed hold of Drake's hand and pulled it up to his lips and kissed it. "No, Drake, I don't want you to think you have to do this. I want you to like me."
Drake's looked totally confused, "Isn't doing that liking you?"
Braeden couldn't believe how badly he felt for the boy in is arms as he heard those words. "No, me holding you to calm you down and you letting me, is liking each other. Playing games and throwing a ball back and forth is liking each other. Me getting you fed so we can play the Play Station is liking each other. Knowing you can come to me and talk, without me wanting to do anything but listen, is liking each other. What you are trying to do is what people with money try to do, you are trying to buy my friendship. You don't need to Drake."
It was clear just by the look in Drake's eyes he was totally befuddled. Even the way the next question was asked showed it as it come out sounding more like a plea than a question. "Then how?"
'Good question,' Braeden thought to himself. The more he thought about it the more he realized he didn't really know. Friendship was not something given on the streets, not without strings attached. Sure he trusted a bunch of dudes and a few gals. He knew he could go to them if the shit hit the fan, but there was the expectation of a favor owed. Hell, every kid he let crash at his place for a night or two knew the score. They owed him, even if he never collected, they still owed him and that marker was floating out there, hanging over their heads.
This was totally different; he didn't want Drake to owe him and he didn't want to owe Drake. How this was supposed to work, he wasn't sure. Much to Braeden's credit he decided to speak what he was thinking. "I'm not sure Drake. I'm not sure I've had a real friend either. We'll just have to um, like, learn from each other er something. But one thing is for sure. No matter what I want, I can't let you offer yourself to me because it isn't fair to you. Besides, I want you to like me because you don't have to do those things.
"To be honest, I don't want you to have to do it at all unless you decide you really want to, not because you want to make someone else happy, but because it makes you happy. Understand?"
Drake's jaw moved back and forth for a few seconds before he finally shook his head slowly, "um, no... not really."
Braeden snickered, "Good answer, cause I'm not so sure I do either. I guess we'll just have to, like um... well we'll have to work on it."
"Will Uncle Cinder help?"
Braeden glanced down with a bit of a smirk, "I doubt it. If anything, well have to learn then teach him." Come on, let's get you up and dressed and fed then see what we can do to clean this place up. I'm going to call Cinder and let him know we are going to need to get you a new bed and sleeping bag or something."
Drakes eyes went wide, "Will he get mad?"
Braeden shrugged, "I don't know for sure, but I don't think so. If he does, let me take the blame."
"Uh uh, that's not bein' a friend."
Braeden kissed Drake on the top of the head before standing while putting Drake on his feet. "We'll I'm not letting you take all the blame. I did try to shake you awake, and it didn't explode until I did. I guess if we both take the blame we are being good friends, right?" Even as he finished the question he realized he was asking a kid half his age for confirmation because he was not sure. It was kind of creepy.
Drake nodded and smiled. "Yeah!"
Still looking at the scene of utter destruction, noting even some of the drywall had been busted closest to where the cat had been, Braeden cringed. He picked up the phone and speed dialed Cinder.
Cinder answered on the second ring, "What 'er you doing up?"
"Um, well, um trying to figure out how to clean up a huge mess."
"What the hell did you do?"
"Um, well... I um..."
"Boy spit it out!"
Breaden took a deep breath, "Um, I think... no I'm like real sure Drake is one of them mental kids..."
"What did you do to him?"
"Come on, Cinder. I didn't do nothing. Well, I mean he was having a nightmare and I tried to wake him up, but wasn't like you're implying. I didn't even get close enough to touch him. I shook the cot and pulled at the bag, then he blew up."
"He what?" Cinder screamed as he slammed on the brakes. Fortunately, the car behind him had left just enough room and managed to zip around him. The lady driving it, however, leaned on the horn and flipped him off as she went by. "Fuck you to bitch."
"Cinder? You OK?"
"I'm fine! What do you mean Drake blew up? How bad is he hurt?"
"He's shook up and said his head hurts, but he's fine."
Cinder let out a long sigh, "So he's not hurt?"
"Doesn't seem to be, and other than a bruised back where the explosion knocked me into and over the table in front of the couch, I'm fine too, thanks for askin'."
"I might have eventually gotten to asking about you, Braeden, so chill out."
Braeden couldn't help but laugh, "Sure you would have... "
"Whatever." Cinder cut him off with a bit of a humor filled snort. "So, is there damage?"
Braeden looked around. "Fuck..."
"Oh, OK, then..." Cinder gave a resigned sigh, "How bad?"
Braeden cringed as he spoke. "The front room is a mess, the sleeping bag is everywhere, the cot is..." Braeden looked down, "Shit, man, there are some parts of the cot embedded into your wooden floor and the wall between the living room and your bedroom is cracked. Are you sure Drake wasn't there the day those movies were shot?"
"He didn't show up on them, but it's an interesting thought." Cinder responded in a totally serious voice. "Are you to safe? I mean there are no sparking wires or burst water pipes are there?"
"None I can see, but I'll check it out.... Um, you are taking this way better than either me or Drake thought you would."
"Hey, it's nothing to two of us can't fix. I kind of figured we'd have to remodel the whole attic for him anyway, so what's a bit more flooring and drywall? So, Drake knows he did it?"
"Yeah, and sounds like he's done it before, but his words were something like 'not this bad', and he doesn't' know how he does it. He said his head hurt a little after too. He's worried about what you are going to do, too."
"Tell him I'm good, but we are going to have to find out how to get him to control it. I can't waste all my time fixing the place up whenever he has a bad dream."
Braeden frowned as he felt the need to defend Drake. "It wasn't a bad dream Cinder, it was a nightmare. His mom locked him in with a rat that kept biting him."
"Bad dream, nightmare, whatever." Cinder responded with little in the way of concern for Drake's past. "I still can't have him taking out walls, beds and floors. Try to remind him neither of us are going to lock him up like his old lady used to and tell him my house is rat free or something. Just make sure he gets properly fed. You know it wouldn't hurt for you both to add an apple or something in for breakfast."
Braeden let out a silent sigh, "Sure, sounds good. When are you going to be back?"
"Actually, I want you to make sure there is no water or electrical problems, eat, and come meet me. I've got a new situation and need to ditch this truck."
"Truck? You mean your new jeep?"
"No, the jeep is in the garage. I meant exactly what I said. I need to ditch this truck, the one I am currently in."
"OK... So you... You know what, I'm not going to ask. Something tells me it'll be, like, safer. Where do you want me to meet you?"
"As in Oklahoma?" Braeden half yelled and half spit.
"Yeah, it's only a couple of hours from you. Meet me at the airport. You can turn on the GPS to find it, but make sure you turn it back off again. Call me when you get there and I'll direct you to me. Besides, the trip will do your new ride some good, and since you are taking Drake, keep it to the speed limit. Just make sure to slow down and speed up a few times when traffic allows it. You both better be in seatbelts the whole way too. I've seen what happens to a kid who isn't buckled in when a car hits a tree and it ain't pretty. No kid I am protecting is ever going to break his neck again if I can prevent it."
"Drop it, Braeden." Cinder&ssquo;s voice took on a truly nasty and dark tone. "Just drop it and do what I tell you."
"OK..." Braeden stopped, "um, do you realize you basically just called me your kid?"
"Yeah, what you don't want to be under my protection?"
"Well, yeah, but..."
"But what? You either do or you don't right?"
"Good then call your boss and tell him you had an emergency come up...a um family thing..." The word family definitely caught in Cinder's throat as if he really wanted to find a different word, but couldn't come up with one, "Anyway, you need to take few weeks off. If he fires you, so be it. Your new pack needs you around for a while. I'll make sure you have more than enough cash to make up for not having a job. But as soon as things settle down, you are going back to school or back to work. No kid under my protection is going to..."
"Cinder, I got it. To be honest, I'd, like, love to finish high school and maybe even learn computers like you have. I don't want to work for minimum wage the rest of my life."
Cinder's tone seemed to brighten, "I knew I liked you. Now there would be a way for some of this money I have in the back to be spent for a useful cause. Oh, and Bray?"
"Make sure you lock up since you two are going to be with me for the next couple of days, probably three. I can't have you two staying in the house till I check it out. We will need to be In Kansas City for those kids you saw in my war room on Tuesday before we head back. There is still a few grand in cash in the ammo lock up, go ahead and take it all so you have cash with you in case you need it, and make damned sure to have the .38 handy. I've got something better for you now, by the way."
"Do I really want to even know what you are talking about?"
"Probably not, but you'll find out when you meet me in Tulsa. We'll Head up to K.C. tonight and I'll book us in the same hotel the kids who are going to the field trip are scheduled to stay at on Monday night. This way we'll already be there and can watch 'em from the time they get there till they leave for the museum on Tuesday. Maybe you can take Drake out to the pool and try to meet some of them, see if you get a better read on those we were looking at. It'll give you a good cover to take some pictures, using Drake as an excuse to snap to your heart's content. Just keep your hands off."
"Man, come on, I already told you I won't hurt Drake!"
"For some reason I believe you about Drake, maybe it is the tone of your voice; this time you actually sounded insulted. I like to hear such feeling in your voice. However, I wasn't referring to him. I was alluding to three full cases of third graders running around in the same hotel as us."
"Oh, no, I won't try anything with them. Like I told you, I haven't really done anything like that..."
"Good, remember we are there to identify and see if we can protect whoever was doing it, even if it turns out to be Kione Brone."
"The one you left drool on my keyboard over. He was the pale one in the back."
Cinder could almost hear the kid blush and grunted in some disapproval. "Yeah, his name is Kione Brone. I managed to get all the names of the ones you pointed out and did a quick search and pulled up some information on each of them, but then someone started a back trace so I pulled the plug and I'm not going back in until I know which one we need to focus in on. I also bet they are keeping an eye on the same ones we are, so when we are in the hotel, I need you to look for surveillance. I will be doing the same.
Since we are on the subject of keeping hands off, however, no touching Avery either. He won't be staying with us long, but I am still going to make sure he is taken care of so he is hands off. Besides, I saw what you like and you will like Avery."
Cinder hung up before Braeden could respond. Still, the teen looked at the phone totally perplexed, "Who the hell is Avery?"
Drake came back in and looked up, "Are you OK?"
"Yeah... it's just... well Uncle Cinder wants to us to meet him a long ways from here so we need to do what we can to get this cleaned up and get going."
Drake's head dropped, "Is he giving me away for doing this?"
Braeden quickly moved around and wrapped his hands around the trembling boy. "No, no, nothin' like that! He ain't even mad at you." Braeden reached down and pulled up on Drake's chin so he could look into the teary blue eyes, "As a matter of fact he can't come home today and he doesn't want either of us to be in a place he is not sure is safe, so until he is here to fix it we are going on a trip with him."
"This isn't a trick?"
"No, and even if he wanted to I would not let it happen, Drake. We are friends, remember?"
Drake wrapped his arms around Braeden and squeezed as his brain found the truth behind the words.
Braeden couldn't help but smile and let the boy stay wrapped around him for quite a while. Finally he spoke up, "Uncle Cinder needs us to get moving. Let's eat."
Cinder pulled off to the side and checked on his bike and the kid, making sure neither had been harmed by the sudden stop of the truck. Finding Avery still out and his bike firmly tied in place he jumped back in and drove for an hour before finding a small gas station with no cars.
He pulled in, filled the tank to half, and bought a few of the healthier snacks along with some soap, shampoo, and a toothbrush. As he paid for the stuff he purposefully slumped his shoulders and did his best to put on a tired expression. "Hey, you mind if the boy and me clean up in your bathroom, I'll throw in an extra few bucks."
The woman looked Cinder over with a bit of a scowl. But the twenty he was holding was getting a great deal of interest as well. "Toss in another of those...."
Cinder sighed, "Fine. He pulled out another twenty, but I get enough time to get us both cleaned up. It's been a long night."
She slid the key under the protective screen. "For forty bucks you can have a party in there with a kid for all I care. But don't be leaving me with a huge mess or I may just have to remember you. I'm the one who has to clean it and the one thing the owner wants is a clean bathroom."
Cinder seriously thought about changing, ripping though the screen, and backhanding her just for the principle of it, but figured it wasn't worth it. Even trying to defend himself was pointless, and would only increase her suspicions. To be honest, he really didn't care what the woman thought of him. Instead he put on his best 'sure lady' look. "I'll leave it cleaner then we find it."
He pulled around the side, made sure there were no cameras or mirrors allowing the woman to see before he pulled the bundle he now knew as Avery out of the back and unlocked the door. He was pleasantly surprised to find the bathroom was actually in decent shape and clean. He turned on the water for the sink and pushed the boy's head under the cold stream, "Time to wake up Avery."
The boy jerked and thrashed. After a few seconds he shook his head, "Stop! Please stop!"
Cinder yanked his head back from the sink, "Welcome back to the world of the living."
Avery's eyes darted around, "What? Wait, where am I?"
Cinder looked into Avery's eyes, "Chill the fuck out. You're safer right now than you have been in a long time. We are in a gas station shitter so you can get cleaned up. I have a backpack with some of your clothing."
Cinder watched as the boy become more coherent. The look on the boy's face slowly changed from fear to horror.
"I..." Avery looked down realizing the wet spot could still be seen. Plus, it only took a couple of whiffs to know the rest wasn't really hidden either. His head hung in total shame.
Cinder patted the boy's shoulder. "No big deal. You passed out after your dad tried to attack you and you lost control. The only ones who know you pissed and shit yourself is me and you and I ain't talking. So, if you don't say something, it'll never go any further."
Cinder kept the boy standing and made sure he had his full attention, "Look, I am going to pull out a knife, a rather large one, but it is only to cut you loose so you can get cleaned up. You have been wallowing in your body waste for over an hour now so you really need to wash thoroughly. Your backpack has some clothing. If it isn't what you want we'll get you some that is later. Just don't freak when I pull the knife, OK?"
Avery nodded slowly but his eyes still got real big as the large hunting knife came out. "What happened to my dad?"
"He tried to stab you with a pen after you gave me the account info. We got into a fight. He lost." Cinder stated calmly while slicing the cords keeping Avery wrapped in the soiled blanket.
Avery breathed a sigh of relief as he finally pulled the blanket form around him, but having nothing on, he kept it up and between Cinder and himself. "Did you.... Um... is he dead?"
Cinder eyed the boy carefully. "Are you sure you want to know?"
Avery glanced down, "I think you just answered it. So what now?"
"Well, for starters, let me cut off a couple of cleaner areas of the blanket so you can use them as washcloths to get yourself clean. Hiding behind a shit and piss stained cloth is kind of stupid, especially since I already saw you nude back at the drug house. I'm not going to do anything to you ever, but if you don't believe me, think about this: If I would have wanted to, I would have already done it.
"Besides, if you don't get cleaned up, I'm going to leave you here to fend for yourself. I don't want you in the cab with me smelling like you do and you riding in the back is not at all safe. Hell, I had to tie you to the sides of the truck so you wouldn't slide all over the bed as it was, and even then I didn't feel right about it."
Avery sighed and held it out for Cinder to cut. "Everything I know is gone." He used a shoulder to wipe away a couple of tears, but it was pretty clear he was extremely intelligent and wasn't going to break down, at least not yet. "I mean, what happens to me now?"
Cinder made short work of the top part of the blanket, his finely honed knife cutting through it like a razor knife taken to a single sheet of paper. Somewhat surprised the kid was not incoherently bawling his eyes out, he reevaluated the kid. He could see a few tears, but the kid was looking at him, making eye contact, so he decided to get as much out of the way as possible before the kid lost it. "Are we talking short term or long term?"
Avery gabbed the offered bar of soap and began the work of cleaning himself. "Both, I guess. I mean isn't the drug guys going to come after us?"
Once again Cinder was caught off guard. The question was not a childish one. Once again he figured he would put it all out there. Sooner or later it would all catch up and he would end up putting a whimpering hunk of flesh in the back seat of the Ford and he would cry himself to sleep or something. "They'll look, especially for you if they think you are alive, but there won't be anything to find if we do this right. Your dad had alternate government certified ID's for him, you and your mom, so they have been around a while. He probably has money stashed in his alternate name, which, once I find it, we will transfer to you. You also will have access to the other three accounts I combined and moved. Most of it should still be available after you graduate whatever boarding school we find for you."
"Yeah, we could find one close to one of those models you had in your room. Greece, Italy, England, hell, with the money in your dad's accounts we could probably find you one in China. I bet if we do enough digging and sifting we might even find one that has some specialized stuff on Archeology."
"So I would live there?"
"Yes. However, if you ever need anything, I will get you a safe point of contact and if you ever run into real trouble the contact will let me know. Like it or not, you are kind of stuck with me kind of protecting you. If you don't want to go this route, then the other option is for me to drop you off at an orphanage somewhere and you do this on your own. If you do go down the do it on your own road, it is your decision, but I will not be a backstop and I won't be able to offer any protection."
Avery thought it over for only a few seconds as he continued to scrub down, virtually taking a sink bath. "And you will let me pick the school?"
"Over all pick yes, but I will do checks and make sure it is a good school. Like I said, you are kind of stuck with me as a protector, so I am not going to let you go to a bad or dangerous place. However, it is technically your money since it was your father's and it is clean. Since I am not paying, it is only right you get to chose. Hell, I'll even help you move to a new one if you don't like the one you end up picking out."
"I can't just stay here?"
"No way. First off, I just got two kids and that is three too many. Second, and a bit more important, the chances of you being spotted in this area are just too high and the chances go way down if we get you overseas." Cinder pulled out the fake birth certificate and passport. "As of right now you are Avery Lynn Grey."
Avery lowered his head into the sink to get the soap out of his hair and groaned. "Oh, come on, now I have a girl sounding first and middle name? My dad really did hate me."
Cinder snickered. "If you are worried about getting your ass kicked because your old man gave you girly names, you could stay with me long enough for me to teach you some martial arts and blade work. But if you do, you will have to stay out of sight, meaning go nowhere or do nothing outside of my back fence."
Avery shook his head, "No thanks. I don't want to feel like I am in a jail."
"Good choice, still, until we get everything arranged and if need be strong arm the school we pick for you..."
"I get it." Avery let out a resigned sigh. "I'm stuck with you."
"Unless you want to go it alone..."
"No way!" Avery held up both hands and shook his head, "I've never even been in a fist fight. I wouldn't last a minute in an orphanage and probably even less on the street."
"You are correct."
The words hit kind of hard and sounded cold. It was not something the kid was used to and it made him more than a little angry. Avery glanced at Cinder, somewhat surprised the man was only an inch or two taller than him but was infinitely more dangerous. "You know I don't even care if you beat on me for this, but I have to say it: You are kind of an asshole."
Cinder raised an eyebrow as he noticed the kid had braced for him to hit him but wasn't backing down. In that instant he found something more in the lad than he expected. There was part of Avery to actually like instead of just protect. He let out a loud burst of laughter. "What was your first clue, Avery?" Still chuckling he continued, "Was it the gutting of the guy with the tattoos, the removal of the taller guy's hand or the shoving of the shotgun under the head of the old fart and pulling the trigger?"
Avery felt his jaw drop in a mixture of disgust and disbelief. But since the guy hadn't hit him, yet, he let go with his real feelings. "Actually, none of those things!"
"Really?" This time real surprise showed in Cinder's face. "Like what, then?"
Avery threw the makeshift washcloth on what was left the blanket, grabbed a pair of briefs and slipped them on before turning to glare at Cinder. "Do you really know how mean you are?"
"Mean... well duh... I just killed three men in a drug house and left more than a few others in various bad states up to and including death since I woke up this morning, so yeah, I do."
Avery let out a huge grunt of disgust while the whole tone of his body spoke a single word without him saying it. From the tilt of his head, to the slightly raised eyebrow, to the one shoulder lower than the other to the twist in his torso, to the one foot slightly in front of the other while leaning his body screamed the unspoken. In simple terms it said 'Seriously?' in the most sarcastic of ways.
Cinder looked over at the entire child with near shock at the fact the kid was no longer afraid; instead, he was really pissed at him. He held out his hand and wiggled his fingers as if to call him to bring it. "Oh OK fine, let's hear this."
Avery's eyes narrowed. "So you can toss me out on the street? I don't think so."
"No, I give my word, kid, This isn't going to endanger your future at all. Come on; hit me with your best shot, if it's verbal bring it. If it is physical I'll take it and show you how to do it better next time."
"You son of a bitch!" Avery snarled, "That is exactly what I am talking about . You are a full-fledged asshole. You can't resist taking every poke and you don't even get it. Even when you give me the go-ahead to hit you, you make fun of me! You want to know why I see you as a total dick-wad? Fine!"
Avery paused just long enough to make sure the guy wasn't going to turn him into a puddle then took a deep breath and launched into a full tirade of pent up anger and frustration. "How about making me get full of blood to stop the bleeding of the hand you removed? How about making me strip and stuff my boxers in someone else's mouth? How about making the other kid wrap me up and tie me in a huge heavy blanket so I had to sweat my ass off while I still had someone else's blood on me. How about making me stay in it even after I asked you as nicely as I could to go pee?"
By this time Avery's chest was rising and falling as his anger level continued to rise. "You want more, you bastard? Well, how about threatening me about hurting your bike when I was just trying to get stretched out a little bit because I was cramping up, or driving me into the river if I didn't give you the code for my house, or beating my dad in front of me till he really told me what he thought of me and my mom? You didn't give a shit about how that made me feel! The only thing you care about is it got me mad enough to give you the stupid account information.
"You killed my dad. I know it you know it, but you won't even come out and say it. I get the fact you did it to save me, but you created the whole thing. You know, I am glad I know the truth about how he felt about me, but you don't even care if I got the truth. It's like a big damned game to you! Even this, having to wake up in some bathroom with water being poured on my head. You knew I peed and dumped and left me in it! You could have let me clean up in my house!"
Cinder leaned against the door and scratched at his chin, "Damn, you got some real guts kid. Even as scared as you are you let me have it. I'm impressed."
"Fuck you! You're even doing it now! You talk about wanting to protect me, but besides keeping me alive you don't give a shit."
Cinder frowned for a second. "Huh, I never really thought about it before. You know you may actually have some valid points. But the fact is, keeping you safe, protected and alive is way more important to me than your feelings. Now, since I admit you are right about a few things, do you want me to point out a few spots you are wrong and listen?"
"Can I at least finish getting dressed so I can be a little less pissed?"
Avery gritted his teeth and spun so his back was to Cinder. The guy was such a jerk! Even the way he smugly said 'sure' totally got under Avery's skin. He took his time dressing then dug into his backpack. "Hey genius."
"What? Ready to listen?"
"No, not really. You forgot my shoes."
"Well shit." Cinder grunted in disgust. "Sorry, I wasn't thinking. I'll carry you out to the truck so you don't hurt your feet if you want. Don't sweat it though, I'll make it right. We'll have to get you to a store... I guess you are going to have to tell me your size. I'll have to walk in, buy you a pair of cheep shoes until we can get you somewhere better and so you can pick out something you like."
Avery turned his head in near disbelief. "You really do want to protect me and you aren't mad after everything I just said and all the names I called you?"
"No." Cinder stated with total sincerity. "Like I said, you make some valid points. You want to tell me to my face what you think; I completely respect you for it. On the other hand, if you ever talk to me in public like this, you'll be trying to figure out how to sit down for at least a week."
"You'd spank me? I'm almost thirteen!"
"Hey, one on one you have my utmost respect. Hell, I'm actually proud to say I know anyone who displays the kind of guts you just did. You need to or even want to do it again, pull me aside so we are one on one and we stay good. You do it in public, I see it as disrespect. A kid, any kid disrespects me, I will beat his ass. You want to try me, say even half of what you did in here out where others might hear and yes, I will give you a spanking the likes of which will terrify a Hell Hound. I will use a belt, and it'll be the most painful and humiliating thing you have ever gone through. Simple enough?"
Avery gulped as he saw Cinder's eyes harden. "Got it... But what is a Hell Hound?"
"Forget it, it's just one of those things...."
"No. You said it like you know what a Hell Hound is."
"Shit..." Cinder grunted, "Avery, do yourself a favor and forget you heard me say those words."
"So you're not going to tell me?"
Cinder slapped his forehead at the stupidity of mentioning an unseen to an innocent, "There are things most people simply shouldn't know about, Avery, and a Hell Hound is one of them."
Avery leaned against the sink. "How about a deal?"
"A deal?" Cinder looked at the boy's stance finding himself even more surprised at the determination he saw. Part of him wanted to just wave the whole thing off, but the look in Avery's eyes told him to do so would be a mistake. "What do you have in mind?"
Avery took a deep breath, "You saw my room, right?"
"Yeah, very impressive."
"Well I love ancient stuff and I have run across a mention of a Hell Hound, actually it was a Beast of Hel, the Norse version of Hell. I let you tell me what I missed and I stop giving you a hard time and you tell me what a Hell Hound is."
Cinder shrugged, "OK, fine. But only if you agree to learn some basics of self-defense while we find you a boarding school."
"Deal. So what did I miss?"
Cinder once again found himself re-evaluating the boy and finding a great deal about him he liked. "You know I was planning on letting you and your old man go after he gave me the access to the drug money, right?"
"Just let us go? No strings?"
"Basically, yes. I didn't want to end up as your protector. Hell I still don't, OK?" Frustration entered Cinder's voice. "You had a protector, at least I thought you did until I found out he was going to hand you over for ten days on a golf course..."
Avery shook with the very thought of it. "And if you hadn't raided the place I would have tried to use the account and he would have killed me. I may still hate you but you saved me from both. I get it, and like it or not, I owe you for it."
"You owe me nothing." Cinder hardened. "You didn't put yourself into the position and it is the job of others to protect you until you can protect yourself. This kind of leads me to the second point. I didn't threaten to put you into the river. I promised to put your old man in the river if you didn't give me the code and I would have."
"Yes." Cinder move closer to Avery and looked right into his eyes, "If I had woken you up in the house, you would have had to go by a sight I didn't want you to have to see. I am an asshole: I know it and I like being one most of the time. I am probably the worst possible person to ever be around a kid too, but there are things even I know a kid should not have see and this was one of those times. I left you in your piss and shit because there was something worse."
Avery felt his eyes go wide as it dawned on him, "You didn't want me to see my dad..."
"No matter what he did to you, said about you, or tried to do to you, you didn't need to see him the way I left him. I also set your house to burn down so the Cartel very well might think you died in it. At the very least their tail goes cold right there, because I used your dad's computer to move the money so it links back there. It was the best way for me to do what I set out to do and still protect you. However, I was twelve years and three days old the last time I saw my old man. I know what it's like to not have the family you are used to at your age. The best I could do was let your last memory of him as being alive and your house still the way you were used to it."
Avery looked down at his socks. "OK fine, you are only kind of an asshole."
Cinder couldn't help but to chuckle and ruffle Avery's still wet hair. "No, you got most of it right. So what do you say we get on the road and then we can decide if you really want to talk about things you probably don't really want to know about?"
Avery nodded, "OK, but can you get me a comb, this long straight hair goes nuts if I don't comb it."
"You got yourself a deal."