Un-beta'ed; all mistakes are my own.

Please read the following warning before you read this chapter:

This chapter contains alcohol abuse and implied and non-graphic child-abuse. I apologize in advance for any trauma I may inadvertently cause readers of this chapter-but if you ignore this warning and keep reading, it will be your own fault.

CONSIDER YOURSELF FOREWARNED.

- o - o -

Insecurity

Scales: Reminiscence

Scales can barely remember returning to his warehouse in the wake of the fiasco on the Monte Carlo train. The smuggler is still caught up between two of the worst events of the week: making a fool of himself in front of Palm City's most influential citizens, and being locked in a cage.

Making a fool of himself in front of so many people is the lesser of two evils, however. He can easily recoup the loss of face in a fortnight if he plays his cards correctly. But the second disastrous occurrence of the evening, though, is something that he'd never forgive himself for.

If he'd been just a bit smarter, he might have seen the Cape's freaky friends on the train. It's obvious, to Scales, that the entire evening had been a set-up by the cape-wearing bastard from the start.

The smuggler methodically stripped his suit off, and throws it in the general direction of the hamper. That done, he yanks open the top drawer of his bureau with a little more force than is necessary and pulls an unopened bottle of vodka out.

He was going to get completely pissed up in an attempt to forget that the evening have happened at all.

The first shot goes down with a horrendous burn.

"Get in that cage boy!"

The whip crack isn't unexpected, and Dominic screams out of habit. The pain became bearable months ago. The eight-year-old still refuses to move, even when the whip slashes across his cheek.

The second shot burns as well, but Scales shakes it off. His hands are trembling as he lifts the glass to his lips, and it's all he can do not to spill any of the vodka.

"Your place is in that cage," the man snarls. His hand raises up and Dominic can see the glint of brass knuckles.

The twelve-year-old can't even bring himself to care when he flies backwards after being struck. He's refused to move again, trying to stay out of the cage for just a few minutes longer. Dominic wasn't quite the rebellious teen, but he was fairly sure he was as close to stereotype as he could get.

Scales abandons the glass and drinks straight from the bottle. Some of the vodka spills over his chin, mixing with some of the first tears the smuggler has shed in decades. He can't bring himself to care.

The people are laughing at him, jeering, calling him a freak. Dominic curls up tighter, willing the world to fade away again. It's the fifth such show he's endured this week, and each time it gets harder to block out the jeering and the thinly-veiled contempt.

The whip snakes through the bars again, jerking the fourteen-year-old out of his daze. The people outside the cage laugh again, moving on to see what else the show has to offer. Dominic watches them go, wishing that they'd realize it wasn't a game.

The pain is worse when they don't realize what's happening.

Scales lifts the bottles to his lips again, downing even more of the potent alcohol. His hands have stopped shaking, and he's not so sure that's a good thing but keeps drinking anyway.

"Where do you think you're going boy?"

Dominic ignores the question, and continues his trek towards the fairground entrance. There's an entire city to get lost in if he can keep his resolve up. He's nineteen now, and this is the first city he's been in, in years. MacClintock is behind him, and Dominic hears the tell-tale whistle of the whip before it wraps around his throat.

"I said, where do you think you're going, boy?" MacClintock hisses again, pulling the bullwhip tighter. Dominic sees the spots in front of his eyes, can hear the drunkard's heavy breathing in his ear, and he snaps.

The first blow is for his lost childhood. The second blow is for his suffering. Number three is for the pain of humiliation; four and five are for lost dreams and hopes. Six and seven are for his broken bones and being locked in a cage for imagined slights. Eight through ten are for years spent in misery, wishing for a reprieve that would never come from the man underneath him.

His hands are bloody now, and all Dominic can think of is victory. He leaves the man—the man who terrified and threatened him as a child—bleeding and whimpering on the ground.

Dominic doesn't look back.

Scales feels someone gently pulling the bottle of vodka out of his grasp and makes a weak attempt to get it back. His hands fall short, and he swears at the person. The hands are back, urging him to get up and moving him in the direction of his bed.

Scales can just barely make out what they're saying, but it sounds soothing and he's too drunk to care…or to want to. He falls heavily into bed and is unconscious before his head hits the pillow.

- o – o -

Kazzie returns to the main warehouse, muttering under his breath about idiotic employers. He catches the eye of Noodle, Trevor, Mikey (and when did he get in, Kazzie wonders), and the two drivers. He scowls when he sees money exchange hands.

"Keep this to yourselves," he snarls, stalking up to his cohorts. "Or the boss will have to find what's left of you with a microscope and a pair of tweezers."

And because Kazzie is their unofficial leader, they listen.

- - o - - o - -

Author's note: This isn't the sequel to The Holiday Season that I've been promising my two loyal minions. Don't worry, I'm still working on it. This just demanded more of my attention.