Body and Soul by InSilva
Summary: Early Rusty. A chance encounter leads to a different path in life.
Disclaimer: own nothing and no one.
A/N: I'm declaring up front that I have absolutely no idea how long this story is going to be. More than one chapter, that's for sure. I also have no idea how often I'm going to update it especially with the other multi-chapter fics I have on the go. So there you are, that's two good reasons for you to stop reading right now.
But if you are continuing…this story started off in the chapter of "Justice" which is called "Absolution" and I'm beginning with the same scene but from Rusty's pov. So, if you've read "Justice", this may all seem a little familiar and sorry: and if not, then it won't. :-)
Oh, and this is for the usual suspect. And for anyone else who said they'd like to read more on this.
Chapter One: Carpe Diem
Leaning against the wall, he wondered yet again why, no matter what the weather, he always felt cold. He was trying his best to remain unseen. It was a skill he'd become adept at: hiding his hair under a cap, hiding his body in ordinary clothes, hiding his face…yeah, that was the hardest. Unless you counted how hard it was to hide his soul.
MacAvoy wanted to see him which could only mean one thing and if he could have afforded not to be so obliging, he would have done. He hadn't eaten since yesterday lunchtime though and that had been light pickings. MacAvoy always seemed to coincide with his hungriest times.
It was how he'd fallen into this in the first instance - "You look like you could do with a warm place to stay for the night, my lad. Come along with me. I know somewhere that will do". Somewhere that was indeed warm and dry and relatively clean and no strings attached to begin with but by and by the gateway to hell.
Hunger and desperation and a fight for survival that had found him at his most vulnerable and MacAvoy had been there to take full advantage. Not personally, of course. MacAvoy wasn't interested in that way. MacAvoy was all about MacAvoy and that meant transaction and money and profit.
And he was late. Not that that was unusual. Both he and MacAvoy knew who pulled the strings. Rusty looked up as the clouds started to squall and then light rain started to fall. He pulled his cap from his head and stood, face turned upwards, eyes closed, letting the water wash over him. It felt warm and cleansing and oddly comforting.
As it died away, he ran his hands through his hair to knock the drops away. The water was running down his cheeks and he fished into his jeans pocket for an almost clean handkerchief to wipe his face before pulling his cap back on. As he did so, he saw MacAvoy bustling along the street, looking as cheerfully insincere as ever. He left the wall behind and crossed over, timing his walk to match MacAvoy's arrival at the diner entrance.
"Good to see you again," MacAvoy beamed and Rusty really wished he could say the same.
MacAvoy never expected much of a response which was lucky because Rusty rarely felt like offering one. He seemed to get by with monosyllables and nods and MacAvoy didn't appear to mind in the least.
"After you." MacAvoy held the door open and Rusty walked in front of him.
The diner was mostly empty. Rusty saw a couple at the counter and an old man who must be forty if he was a day and that was it. He heard MacAvoy shout over an order for espressos and toast and he resigned himself to forcing down yet another strong coffee. MacAvoy ordered what he liked, expecting everyone else to fall in with him and Rusty was never going to argue. He headed towards a table at random and took a seat, back to the door, always ready for a sharp exit. MacAvoy sat down opposite.
"So, how are you keeping?" MacAvoy said in the annoyingly breezy manner he displayed with equally annoying regularity. It was accompanied by the smile that Rusty longed to hit.
"Fine. Just fine." It was what MacAvoy wanted to hear.
Their order arrived and he watched as MacAvoy snatched a piece of toast from the plate and ate it with obscene haste. Rusty knew better than to imagine the other piece was for him. His eyes were still drawn to it though as he spooned sugar into the coffee in an effort to make it palatable.
"Got a possible for you tonight," MacAvoy began, getting down to business and Rusty found himself wishing he'd spent longer on pointless small talk. Talking about it brought it that much closer.
"If you're interested, come by about eight, OK?"
"Eight." Rusty sipped the vile-tasting coffee and saw MacAvoy inevitably claim the last piece of toast.
"He's asking for a type. Figure I'll show him a few, let him choose."
"Sure." Was it possible to hate MacAvoy more simply because of the way he ate?
"Although if you ask me? I think once he's seen you, he'll have to have you."
Oh, not just because of the way he ate. Rusty knew MacAvoy was simply trying to be encouraging. Supportive, even. His fingers tightened on the coffee cup and he contemplated ways he might inflict damage with ordinary crockery while MacAvoy finished the toast and drank his coffee down.
"See you later," he smiled and left the table, oozing smugness in his wake.
Later. Later and a line-up: those were hateful. Mercifully few and far between but hateful nonetheless. The humiliation of standing shoulder to shoulder with two or three others while the goods were inspected. Sometimes he knew the others, sometimes not. He always fixed his gaze somewhere on the wall, somewhere near the lampshade with the green tassels that knotted and intertwined and defied counting, pretending not to hear the comments, pretending not to feel the appraising fingers on his arms and shoulders, lifting his chin and turning his face from side to side. As long as he focused on the lampshade, as long as he traced the knots with his eyes and tried to work out how they unravelled, as long as he paid as little attention as he could, he wasn't there.
He was always chosen. MacAvoy said at one point it was because he didn't try too hard, because he looked as if he wasn't really bothered whether or not he was selected.
"Good ploy," MacAvoy had approved and he fought back the urge to shout out that it was nothing to do with tactics or indifference.
He gave himself a mental shake and looked down at the dark liquid in the cup. Maybe five spoons of sugar would make it taste better; he'd have to experiment. He threw it back and stood up, suddenly realising he was being watched. The old guy. A table down. His eyes all over him. Well, not the first time and probably not the last. Rusty knew the procedure.
Turning unblinking blue eyes in the old man's direction, he said, "If you're interested, you need to talk to MacAvoy."
The man's reaction was amusing. "I'll have you know I'm a happily married man!"
Right. He only heard that from one trick in three. Those who buried themselves in some sort of denial. Those who tried to make him feel like it was somehow his fault. Those who could not possibly make him feel more unclean than he already did.
"I assure you, I'm not interested in that way."
There was something in the old man's voice that rang true on that point. Rusty scanned his face, looking for reasons.
"Just curious, old man?" he said, his tone contemptuous.
"Yes and no. I mean, I heard…and I can see…"
Oh, no. That was straying straight into the unforgivable. The area that Rusty would not permit.
"No pity," he spat back fiercely, eyes alight.
The old man sat back and echoed his words. "No pity." There was a new tone in the way he spoke: Rusty might almost have called it respect.
"I know what I'm doing," he insisted. He did know. He knew exactly what he was doing and what it meant and what the cost was.
The old man studied him and Rusty was left with the impression that he could actually see inside him. It unsettled him in the extreme.
"Take a seat, son." A hand was waved at the seat opposite and Rusty could feel the tension inside him building. Something about the other man suggested that his levels of perception were greater than normal. The last thing he wanted to handle was someone who could reach into him and pluck out the things he was trying his best to bury.
"I told you, I know what I'm doing," he repeated, throwing up defences. "I don't want your pity and I don't deal direct. You want me, you talk to MacAvoy."
"I just want to talk. And buy you a meal. You look like you could do with it."
That level gaze was fixed on Rusty again; that look that intimated the old man saw well beyond the surface. Rusty stared back at him, looking for a hidden agenda. There was nothing and he was surprised to find himself thinking about complying with the request. He was even more surprised when he discovered that he had made his mind up to sit down and did so.
The waitress was summoned.
"What do you want to eat?" the old man asked.
That was a first. He remembered the couple with missionary zeal who'd insisted on buying him lunch. It had been liver and onions with cabbage and he'd forced it down knowing it would make a reappearance later.
Rusty's eyes moved between the waitress and the old man. "Slice of cherry pie?"
The nod of the head indicated that that would be fine.
"With cream, hon?" the waitress asked.
"Yeah." Cream sounded good.
"Anything to drink?"
He wasn't sure how much latitude he was being given. A quick glance showed him the old man was still being accommodating.
"Strawberry milkshake?" he ventured. That was his definition of something to drink not the bitter-tasting stuff MacAvoy favoured.
"Sure. Anything else?" she glanced over at the old man who said "That'll do" and she disappeared.
Rusty sat in silence waiting, watching, waiting but the old man said nothing and the arrival of the order was very welcome in more ways than one.
The cherry pie tasted wonderful. Big, fat cherries, sweet syrup, thick pastry. And the cream had just been the right choice. As for the milkshake…Rusty thought it was simply heaven and he was sad when he came to the bottom of the glass. He pushed the plate and the glass to one side and looked across the table at his benefactor who surprised him yet again by holding his hand out.
"Saul Bloom," he said.
Rusty stared at Saul and then down at the hand. What was the man about? Guardedly, he reached over and shook it.
"Rusty Ryan," he said quickly. Saying his name aloud felt like giving a little bit of him away.
"Your parents called you Rusty?" There was doubt in Saul's voice.
"My parents called me Robert Charles. Rusty's just…" How to explain Rusty?
"A name MacAvoy gave you?"
"No," he said with the hint of a scowl at the very thought. He stared fiercely at Saul. "MacAvoy isn't about names. Rusty's…Rusty's just something I got stuck with when I was young." Impossible to explain, he decided.
He saw the old man nod and the mention of MacAvoy made something inside him rise up against the thought that perhaps he now knew exactly why he'd been bought a meal.
"You want my life story?" he snapped. It wouldn't be the first time someone had got off on it. "Is that the price for this meal? Shall I tell you the whats and the whens? 'Cos I'll be honest, I don't know the whos. And if you don't know the how and the why then…"
"No," came the firm answer. "Look, I understand that life can screw you over. I know that choices can be limited to very last resorts. And I can tell you that the last thing I planned to do when I sat down here for a coffee is what I'm about to do."
Yeah, life could screw you over. Big time. And that had been a very early lesson. And yes to last resorts and the feeling of overwhelming despair that brought you to the last resort and didn't lessen even when you took it. But what the hell did the old man mean by that last little line?
"I want to help," Saul continued and Rusty stared at him. "I want to show you that sometimes life can be surprising for the right reasons. I want to let you know that not everyone is like MacAvoy."
Frowning, he tried to digest what Saul had said and how he'd said it. He'd said it like he meant it.
"How can you help?" he asked slowly. "What do you want to do? Take me away from it all?"
And the old man nodded. Actually nodded.
"You're not serious." It was barely above a whisper. And somewhere inside he felt something stirring.
"I'm in town for the next three days. I'll come here at this time for the next three days. If you want to come back home with me, come and find me and let me know."
Do what…? Oh, yeah. He knew where this was going.
"Come home with you?" Rusty let the mistrust show. And he was kicking himself for that moment of hope.
"I told you. I'm happily married to a wonderful woman who-"
This was rich. He didn't bother to hide the sarcasm. "Who would understand and forgive and welcome-"
"Yes," the old man stopped him dead. "She's that sort of woman."
It was said with absolute honesty, he was certain. Rusty searched Saul's face, Saul's eyes, looking for truth and answers.
"Why?" he demanded.
"Many reasons. I hate to see beauty trapped and dying. I particularly abhor people like MacAvoy who prey on the innocent. But more than anything, when I look at you I can see the aptitude for so much more than you are currently engaged in. You have brains. You're blessed with good looks and grace. And those facts can get you a long way in life."
As Saul reeled off his explanation, Rusty felt his heart thumping loudly so that he was sure even the waitress at the counter could hear it. He couldn't say a thing. Numbly, he watched Saul pull his wallet out.
"What does MacAvoy charge and what do you get paid?"
Straightforward. No-nonsense. Well, Rusty could do that.
"Thirty dollars," he replied in similar vein. "I get twenty."
Sixty dollars appeared on his side of the table. His eyes were glued to the money.
"This is for tonight and the next two days. Take your time. Decide. If you want to, come back and find me."
The money disappeared into Rusty's pocket fast and part of his brain was already working out the distance to the door and whether anyone was likely to stop him. But sixty dollars… The old man must believe something of what he was saying, surely. Something about the qualities within him…
He glared at Saul and had to say, "I'm going to get out of it. It's only short-term." It was. He was going to get away soon; as soon as opportunity came knocking; and soon as it did, he would seize it. You made your own luck but you were foolish if you didn't make the most of what life threw your way. "It's not forever."
The one word from Saul and again, Rusty had the sense that Saul was reading him, deep within him, seeing the self-loathing and the passion and every factor that made him. He returned the favour and searched for self-interest and manipulation and even religion. He found nothing but what the man had said.
"You're crazy," he whispered, suddenly frightened.
"Probably," came the answer.
He had to get out of there. He had to breathe even if it was stale city air. Even without running, he found the distance to the door to be as short as he had imagined.
With the money in his pocket, he stood MacAvoy up. It would cost him, he knew it. Probably MacAvoy would take his time about approaching him again though if there was money to be made, MacAvoy wouldn't bear a grudge. More likely the next in line would be this side of vicious. Probably not quite the man with the tattoo of the swordfish on his arm, though. That had been a one-off. Normally MacAvoy's vetting techniques weeded out the violent and the absolutely perverted. MacAvoy didn't want any trouble; certainly not bodies or trips to the hospital or questions from the authorities.
MacAvoy had patched him up that time and made soothing noises and given him some money and tempted him back with a couple of easy clients who only wanted to watch. But Rusty had seen MacAvoy's eyes. He'd seen him store up the knowledge and he didn't doubt that MacAvoy would use it to his advantage. Why wouldn't he? So yes, denying MacAvoy had its risks but they were short-term, just until it stopped rankling. All he had to do was to keep out of his way until it blew over.
The next day, he avoided his usual haunts and hung about down at the shopping mall instead; eating fast food and watching people with happier lives walk by.
Something in him made him check out the diner at the appointed time. Not directly, of course. He waited till there was a group of people heading down the street and tagged along, glancing in through the window. Saul was sat there. He was there again the second day as well and Rusty came away more perplexed than ever. No one would just help. Would they?
He was sat by the indoor fountain near the food court on the lunchtime of the third day when a familiar voice spoke in his ear.
"Found you, my lad. You have led me a merry chase."
MacAvoy. Bright-eyed, smile gleaming.
"You didn't turn up the other night. I was worried."
"Sorry. Didn't feel well."
"Nothing serious, I hope." MacAvoy's eyes were still bright but they were hard like little diamond knives.
"I'm better now," he said carefully. MacAvoy knew something, he could tell.
Sure enough, MacAvoy's next words were: "I hear you've come in to a bit of money. You've been seen spending."
If he knew he had money, he would think-
"Been branching out, my lad?" The question was soft but the threat was real. "Been doing a little direct sales?"
"No," he said and for once he didn't have to lie. "I know what the score is. I never deal direct."
"So where's the windfall come from? Something you want to share?"
"An old man's wallet. It fell open."
Let him think he was a thief or a liar or both.
MacAvoy's eyes bored into his and he held up under the scrutiny and liked to think he'd have done the same if there had been a lie to defend. Whatever he read, MacAvoy appeared to believe him and his attitude softened.
"Well, I'm glad you had a little luck, my lad. If you'd like to call round about six tonight, perhaps I can provide you with a little more."
"See you later. Don't be sick." And that was a second chance.
After he'd left, Rusty sat still and thought about another chance offered and trust and seizing the moment. It felt like absolute madness. It felt like everything that should be wrong and it felt like everything that could be right.
Back at his room, he'd picked up a bag with his toothbrush and a change of clothes and he'd walked in a daze to the diner. To Saul. To a possible salvation.
Walking up to Saul, seeing the relief break in his eyes and the warmth of the smile on his face, Rusty found himself locking down on any instinctive attempt to reciprocate. Not yet. Not by a long way.
"Alright, old man," he said, putting the bag on the diner table. "I'll give you the benefit."
Saul stood up and beamed and it was as far away from MacAvoy as Rusty could have imagined. Something inside Rusty said this just might be a smart decision.