Title: Stronger (3/?)

Author: Yukichouji

Beta: The wonderful and amazing khaleesian (Lj).

Pairing: Luke/Moose, Others/Moose

Rating: NC-17

Warnings: Swearing, Violence, Non-con (Hinted at in this chapter, more explicit later), Dancing and Hip-Hop Music

Disclaimer: They are clearly not mine. Probably better that way.

Notes: So here we have the next chapter, finally. There's probably a little something I should mention for comperhensions sake. For anyone who owns the DVD and has spent some time exploring the extras the 'Sneaker-Montage' should ring a bell. It is one of the 'deleted scenes'. Originally there was going to be a sequence of Moose and Natalie getting to try on all fo the different sneakers, before they went on with the tour to the Graffiti-room. In the end-version of the movie it was cut out and parts of it were integrated into the sequence that shows Moose and Natalie in training with the rest of the Pirates. Since I liked the original version of the 'Sneaker-Montage' I took it into my fic and placed it where it was originally ment to be. Now that you know that, confusion should not ensue :)

Notes2: I will take the time to reply to those of the reviews that have quiestions in them in a bit, I promise. With one acceptance. Since I have no other way to contact you, I am answerign your comment here, Lia: First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to write such a detailed comment! I took great pleasure in reading it :) The issue you have pointed out may seem tiny, but it is kind of vital and to my shame I have to admit that that little detail had completely slipped my mind O.o I have no idea how that happened since, in hindsight, it is so obvious. Thanks a lot for pointing it out. You really saved me there. And you gave me some nice ideas for the future flow of the stories. I will be able to integrate that nicely :) I hope you'll keep enjoying the fic, dear! :)

To all others: Thank you again for your prais and your support and of course your constructive criticism, which is always much appreciated! :)

Note3: (last one, promise) Since I am such an awfully slow writer, I have decided to give a continuing update to my writing-progress in my user-profile, so that anyone whoe may me interested can check the status of the next chapter and waiting might be made a bit easier. That being said, lots of love to my fallow slashers out there and I hope you all enjoy this chapter :) You have waited long enough for it after all.

The girl's name is Natalie.

With her open and funny demeanor, she reminds Moose of Andie a little. Memories of his time at the MSA coalesce in his mind while they climb their way to the Vault looking over the rooftops of New York City, the air around them cool and wide.

The memories are bitter-sweet, they leave him feeling heavy and nostalgic.

He misses his friends from before The Streets. He doesn't miss the pain that came after or how the way they looked at him changed.

Luke and Natalie lead the way. They joke and laugh, but Luke keeps turning around to smile at Moose, warm and open. Moose can't help but return that smile.

When they make it to the old warehouse and Luke pushes open the rusted steel door, Moose can hear the voices and music from down below. The music never seems to be off in this place.

He thinks he likes that.

Moose values constants he can hold onto when the world keeps on shifting and churning around him. This one feels right and alive somehow.

On their way across the landing to the other side of the Vault, they pass the room Moose woke up in this morning and he pushes the memory aside hastily, before he can start blushing like a girl and embarrass himself even more. Luke seems to have forgotten all about it; he acts as he did yesterday when they first met – only yesterday – easy and forthright.

They walk down a shorter flight of stairs and Moose spots the Santiago twins, in the middle of some kind of discussion – he can't really make out what they're saying -, but the two detect them pretty quickly. Natalie especially.

If they were all over Moose last night, they are practically falling over each other to get her attention now. It's kind of funny, even though Natalie seems torn between confusion and amusement rather than being flattered. Moose thinks he might be able to like her.

"Come on guys." Luke says good-naturedly and breaks up the commotion. "Why don't we show these newbies why we call this a vault?"

The twins go from aimless excitement to gleeful anticipation so fast, it makes Moose feel dizzy.

The two make a big show of leading them to another room, one that Moose hasn't seen yet, and one of the twins conjures up a remote out of nowhere.

"Ladies and gentlemen. Our most prized possession." They solemnly proclaim and when the one holding the remote hits a button, lights flash up, one after another, illuminating rows and rows of sneakers in all colors of the fucking rainbow.

They are presented extravagantly, each pair on its own small platform affixed to black iron poles that stretch from the floor to the high ceiling. The lights are focused like lasers with what must have been hours and hours of work to make it look as if the shoes are glowing. It has to be one of the sickest things Moose has ever seen.

"Check it out." Luke says and Moose doesn't need to be told twice.

He steps forward, mouth agape in speechless wonder while he tries to take in all of the treasures laid out in front of him. On his first sweep he can spot more than one pair of limited editions.

"If dance is our weapon, then this is our armor." Moose distantly hears one of the Santiagos say while he devoutly walks along the rows of gleaming fabric and rubber, afraid to make a sound, to disturb the way in which these masterpieces are whispering to him.

"These are the most beautiful shoes in the world, man. The way they feel, the way they smell." The strong Spanish accent makes it sound kind of like a prayer and Moose feels himself agree wholeheartedly.

And then he sees them. The silver and black and green of the limited edition Gun Metal Nike Dunks is something close to a revelation and he reaches out a hand to hesitantly, carefully run his fingers across the rough, worn material. Under his touch it almost feels alive.

He slides his hands underneath the white rubber soles and picks them up slowly, tentatively like he's afraid they might break and stares at them in awe.

"Luke's lucky-shoes?" One of the twins says and Moose can hear the content in those words. "Smart boy."

Luke's. That's right. They're Luke's.

A light fluttering feeling starts in his stomach, like the thrumming vibration of a bass drum, and tingles up his throat to his face, where it widens his mouth into a soft, happy smile.

Moose sets the Nikes back into their place cautiously, loves how the silver reflects the light slightly.

"Alright, Moose. Don't get too attached." Luke says, relaxed and confident. "You gotta earn your kicks in this house."

Moose turns around, sees Luke sprawled comfortably on a low backless easy chair, sees him grinning and the feeling in his stomach grows stronger. It's as though Luke can see right through him to everything he is.

"Hey!" One of the twins calls out brightly and Luke's attention shifts away from Moose, breaking the moment and leaving Moose feeling dizzy and unsure. "Why don't we let them try out some of our babies?"

"Yes, yes!" The other answers just as excited and then he jumps up and runs off down the stairs and out of sight. A few minutes later Moose can hear music blast from all around and, lured by the beats, the rest of the Pirates emerge from all corners of the warehouse, drawn towards the rhythm like moths drawn to the light. All of them smiling and laughing.

Moose feels the tingling in his stomach grow until it spreads up into his head and leaves him feeling too light, like he's floating above ground somehow. It's amazing.

Then someone presses the first pair of sneakers into his unresisting hands and the shock leaves his body and all of a sudden all he wants to do is move. It's the music; he can feel it so clearly. So he lets himself be carried along by Luke's huge smile, by everyone moving around him dancing, dancing, dancing and joking and laughing and looking so loose and happy with what they are.

Moose moves with the crowd, goes with the motions his body begs him to follow. He lets himself be carried away. Not thinking as Luke does a somersault into a pool of huge foam-squares, grinning at Moose like a madman as Luke climbs out again and motions for Moose to try it.

Moose feels like showing off, so he runs up the padded wall instead and does a textbook backflip before he throws himself into the soft mass of quadratic gray foam.

The kids hand him one pair of sneakers after the other, keeping up a steady flow of little masterpieces made of magnificently colorful fabric and rubber and he tries them on, one by one, feeling the magic run through his body like electricity.

Sometimes, when one of the kids touches him unexpectedly, Moose flinches and feels a short string of panic bubble up inside of him, conjured up by the sudden unexpected contact, but the rest of him feels so at ease and safe that he manages to push it back down and let himself forget. At least for this series of moments. He can hardly remember the last time he's felt this happy and careless and at peace with himself and his mind.

The recollection of the careless times that came before The Streets are so pale and hollow in the shadow cast by everything that came after.

Somehow it's like he's forgotten what it feels like to live and is just now beginning to remember.

Moose thinks he'd be perfectly happy if it just went on like this for ever.

He's sitting on the edge of the foam-cube-pool trying on a new pair of sneakers – simple black and white and kind of smelly, he thinks they might be Carlos' – when suddenly Luke jumps up out of the mass of squares and Moose's heart stops for a split second before Luke just grabs him by the hips and lets himself fall back into the foam squares, pulling Moose along with him.

They sink below the surface of pillowy gray, the warm sunlight fading away and they're all tangled up in each other, arms and legs and their faces are so close Moose can taste Luke's breath. It's a mixture of different things, there's a whiff of mint toothpaste, something sugary entwined with the scent of milk, maybe cereal from his breakfast, and Coke and a hint of something that is just Luke.

Moose closes his eyes and breathes in deeply feeling lightheaded. Luke's hands on his hips are broad and so warm they almost scorch his skin through four layers of fabric.

His body fills up with a new desire. Wanting more contact, it urges him to move forwards just that last bit until he can touch, until he can feel, but then Luke pulls up and away and Moose is alone, buried under a pool of soft foam cubes feeling lost.

Just a moment later though, a hand breaches the gray, grabs his upper arm and pulls him back to the surface. The first thing Moose sees is Luke's grinning face. Then someone else jumps out of the corner of Moose's vision, grabs Luke and throws him right back in. All Moose can do is pull himself up out of the pool and onto mostly solid floor and laugh along as Luke throws himself onto the other kid and starts to tickle him for revenge.

They go on like that for the rest of the day. Just dancing and joking, fooling around and reveling in the carelessness of it all as long as they possibly can.

The Santiago twins even try to teach Moose how to tap-dance, but he completely fails at it and everyone ends up laughing.

Later, when the commotion has died down and everyone is scattered around the first floor in little groups, leaning back and relaxing, Luke gets up and winks at Moose and Natalie, beckoning them to come with him.

"Time to get on with the tour." He says easily, looking happy and at ease.

Moose lifts himself up and follows Natalie following Luke to a corner of the warehouse Moose hasn't seen yet. There's a big, heavy-looking steel sliding door, marking a heavy contrast to the white painted wall with its rusty red color. It looks old.

Luke pushes it open with little effort.

"And behind door number two: The Graffiti-room." He announces leading the way inside.

"What?" Natalie exclaims and Moose definitely gets what she means.

The room looks like his dad's basement, just about a million times cooler. First of all the light is actually green and the room has no windows so it feels a bit like walking into another world. There are workbenches scattered along the walls and across the room, lined or littered with all kinds of tools. Some of them look familiar to Moose, others not so much. There is other stuff, way too much to take it all in. Moose is pretty sure there's some kind of system behind all of it, but he'd probably need a month to figure it out.

Behind a veil of metal cords hanging from the ceiling Moose spots someone. A boy who looks to be a bit older than Luke, African-American, tall, broad and engrossed in his work, a strange pair of goggles obscuring his face. Some rolled up piles of cable block his view, so Moose can't see what it is exactly that he's working on.

"Who's that guy?" He asks Luke, because he can't remember seeing him before.

"That's Jason." Luke explains. "He's our graffiti-guru. I'm talking electronic billboard hacks, LED lights, pretty much anything."

Then Jason spots them. He jumps up, pulls the goggles down from his face and greets Luke with a brotherly cool handshake-thing.

"Excellent timing!" He cheers, making a strange picture with his stained white dungarees and the colorfully patterned cap. "I've been working on a portable light tagging system and I can't figure out how to get it to stick to a 12V battery."

While Jason speaks, Moose walks around the metal framework Jason has been using as his work station and takes in what he's been doing. Doesn't look bad at all, it's just lacking the final touches.

"Do you have any electrical tape?" Moose asks and when Jason hands him a strip Moose takes it and gathers up one of the small LED lights, a battery and a tiny magnet.

"OK, check this out." He says and presses the battery to the bottom of the light until it starts to glow, then adds the magnet and uses the tape to fix everything together. "Tape it right there, wrap it around and then create a snug fit."

"You know lights?" Jason asks, sounding pretty impressed.

Moose shrugs it off casually. "Yeah, I dabble."

He throws the tiny light and it catches nicely on one of the metal cords, glowing a bright neon-pink.

Jason jumps up excitedly while Moose picks up what he needs for a second one.

"Ye-Yes! I love this kid!" Jason shouts out and claps Moose's shoulder hard enough to shake his whole body and Moose can't help but notice that Jason is fucking strong. Then more calmly, like he's running it through his mind and memorizing the mechanics. "The LED to the magnet to the battery."

Moose hands a new one to Natalie and she throws hers as well, watching as it catches on the metal cord next to the first one Moose made.

"They're beautiful." She says. "Like neon-fireflies."

"Or neo-flies." Jason nods to himself looking pleased.

"Neo-flies." Natalie repeats, trying out the word and she seems to like it because she smiles contently.

"Yeah, neo-flies." Jason says, arms crossed over his chest confidently, his muscles flexing nicely. "That's great."

Luke smiles at Moose and Moose quietly smiles back.

Moose has to remind himself that he hardly even knows Luke, for all that he's already seen, and that he should be a lot more careful, more cautious, that he should know better than to trust someone so completely after so little time, but the strange gravity Luke emits has already drawn him in.

Somewhere in the back of his mind Moose knows that it's far too late to run.

Later that day, when the light has begun to fade and darkness comes creeping into the alleys around the warehouse the Pirates, every one of them, start to gather around the huge dining table in the kitchen area. Moose has no idea how they manage to make some extra room for him and Natalie, but they do somehow. He finds out that they all eat together every night, coming together like a giant family.

They even divide the chores up between them. Someone has been cooking, there's pasta and tomato sauce and Moose thinks he's never seen a pot so big in his entire life.

It tastes surprisingly good.

Everything looks so 'in place', even though there aren't two plates or cups that match, it's a huge colorful conglomeration of things gathered over time. Each piece battered and marked, telling a story of its own.

Everyone is cheerful and chattering, talking across each other. It never seems to be truly quiet in this place Moose thinks and smiles. He feels a bit awkward, being embraced into this makeshift family so easily.

He's not used to the feeling anymore. The feeling of things being easy.

Jason – he's wearing a set of bright blue glasses now - has brought an old spray can that has been peeled of its labels, littered with the neo-flies they made earlier. It's being passed around the table, earning smiles and appreciative looks. Seems like the rest of the Pirates like them as well.

Luke sits just across from Moose and Moose tries to eat and not let the way Luke keeps watching him make him nervous, because when Moose is nervous he does stupid shit like talk too much or choke on his food or spill his drink. He tries and fails. Although by some miracle he manages to keep his water in his cup and his food where it's supposed to be and to not make a complete fool of himself.

Moose is very grateful for that.

When most of them are finished eating and some kids have gotten up to linger nearby – the Santiago twins have taken a post at the piano somewhere behind Moose and the melody they've set threads itself through the conversation like it belongs nowhere else. Carlos steps to the head of the table right next to where Moose is sitting. Carlos props his foot onto his chair easily and whistles to get everyone's attention.

"Listen up." He says as soon as conversation has died down and the twins have ceased their piano-playing. "The World Jam is right around the corner. But to get there, we've got to get through the two qualifying rounds, which means-"

"Which means." Luke takes over and looks around the table to make sure everybody's listening. "We've got our work cut out for us." Then he shifts his gaze across the table. "Moose, Natalie, are you guys in?"

Moose looks over at Natalie, who has been sitting next to him throughout the meal and she returns his gaze. The Santiagos play a horror-movie-tune on the piano, the kind you hear before you turn the crucial corner and get your head chopped off by the local psycho.

Everyone laughs and it gives Moose a moment to catch his breath, but not for long because Luke's expectant gaze is plastered right onto him.

"I-I don't know." He stutters out feeling stupid. "I mean, I have to go to school. I can't just-"

Luke doesn't even let him finish his sentence. "We'll figure something out." Luke says, like it's already decided, like Moose's answer is only pro-forma.

Moose hesitates. This is not what he'd planned at all. Actually he didn't have a plan, but god, if his parents found out he'd started dancing again… He could clearly envision the disappointment on their faces. He'd promised.

But hasn't he already broken that promise, isn't he doing so right now, just by being here?

Then one of the other kids starts to chant "Pirates, Pirates" and the next thing Moose knows everyone has joined in, clapping onto the table to create a demanding rhythm, faster and faster until Moose can feel it vibrating through his bones.

Finally, he caves and gives in.

"I can do one battle, guys." Moose admits and lifts his hands in surrender.

They stop their chanting to clap and cheer and Moose does his best to convince himself that he doesn't want this or that the approving look on Luke's face, that smile, doesn't make his throat tighten up with some emotion he cannot name.

He is in way over his head in this one, Moose cringes and sinks further against the back of his chair, fighting the urge to wash his face in his hands, while Luke quiets his Pirates down.

"Alright." He says, like it's all been a piece of cake. "Natalie?"

Luke shifts his attention to her and apparently she's not the type to waste any time. She picks up her mug and jumps up out of her chair, lifting her drink in a salute to the others. She calls out "House of Pirates" and everyone breaks out cheering again, some lifting their glasses as well to match her gesture.

Luke's grin spreads across his entire face and his eyes light up while he watches the rest of his friends, family as he has told Moose, jump up determined to get a proper celebration going as fast as possible.

This is his cue, Moose thinks, his chance to slip away unnoticed while the others are engrossed in their joyful bustle. He's been in New York for two days and hasn't seen his dorm room at NYU once after he got his stuff up there with his parents. His luggage is probably still left in his room untouched with his roommate wondering what's going on. He hasn't showered either or changed his clothes for that matter. It really is about time to go.

He also desperately needs some time to think. Sort this thing here, whatever it is, out in his head. Maybe lose a little bit of the confusion that has so deliberately taken over his life since yesterday. Maybe think of a better way to react the next time he gets blindsided like he did just now.

Sighing, he quietly slips from his chair, trying not to draw any attention.

Moose is grateful he memorized the way they took over the roof tops earlier so he won't have to ask anyone – Luke – to take him back. Now all Moose has to do is remember where he left his backpack…

He thinks he might have taken it off when they started to try on the sneakers so he steals up the stairs back to the sneaker room. It reminds him of a museum at night now with all of the lights out and the shoes on their little platforms cast in shadows like expensive exhibits waiting for a new day of being admired.

It does seem a bit eerie too though, and he feels weird, sneaking around like this. So he searches faster.

But he comes up empty. Moose curses quietly and scratches his head, trying to remember where else he could have left his bag. He doesn't really remember, he was pretty sure he'd left it here actually, his eyes pass over the place as he considers and light on Luke's room.

Moose is certain that his pack can't be in there, he hasn't set foot in that room since he woke up there, but a quiet part of him is curious. He didn't really get the chance to take a closer look at anything this morning; he was in such a hurry to get out of there. Now though…

He looks around, but there's no-one up here, everybody is downstairs busy with their little celebration and it doesn't seem like they've noticed that he's gone yet. Eventually curiosity wins and he quietly treads over to the three open doorways that look like they used to be gates when this was still a warehouse. He passes through to Luke's room, nervously worrying his bottom lip between his teeth.

This is such a bad idea, all of it, he just knows it, but the urge, the need to find out more about Luke, about the person he is, is stronger than his guilty conscience.

Holding his breath and feeling like a burglar, Moose slips through the doorway and into the semi-darkness of Luke's room. Some silly part of him is just waiting for alarms to go off and unmask his little scheme.

Moose takes a deep breath to steady himself and his foolishly racing heart and then takes the time to really look around.

There, just to his left, is the bed he woke up in this morning. It's a single bed, way too small for two people or at least it should be. It is part of a cupboard…like it used to fold up like a Murphy bed. Behind the head of the bed a huge hotel sign has been turned onto its side to cover the wall behind.

All of the shelves around the bed are filled with dozens and dozens of small cassettes that look to be from a video camera, the one Moose saw Luke with in the park when they met for the first time or later in the club comes to mind. There are more cassettes in the shelves over Luke's desk too and huge film rolls scattered on a small nightstand.

The walls are windowless bare concrete, gray and cold. There are a few easy chairs strewn across the room but all of the furniture, even the bedding is either brownish or a dark, dirty green and it gives the room an almost oppressive air.

All in all, aside from the bed and the TV, it reminds Moose a bit of the graffiti room. Maybe it looks friendlier when the lights are on, Moose thinks.

What catches his attention though, on the second sweep, is the gear spread across Luke's desk. Moose steps forwards to take a closer look. It's really cool. There are three different computer screens, all of them high-tech, and a laptop as well, plus some other stuff that's unfamiliar.

All of it looks like it's being used often and cared for. Kept in good shape. Moose carefully slides his fingers across the closed shell of the laptop. It's smooth and clean.

Someone quietly clearing their throat jerks Moose out of his thoughts and his heart seizes like it wants to stop. He spins around to find Jacob standing in the still-dark doorway, arms crossed inquisitively over his chest.

Moose swallows hard and scrambles for something to say. "H-hey." He stutters out. "I-I was… looking for my backpack! I thought I'd left it in the sneaker room, but it wasn't there so I thought I might have left it here, but I couldn't find it here either so I was just about to go look somewhere else. I need to find my cell, really, because my mom makes me call her once a day and I haven't called her today yet and she gets really worried so I kind of need to call her now so – have you seen my backpack?"

Yeah, Moose definitely has a habit of starting to babble when he's nervous or startled. On the good side, it tends to distract people before they get mad. At least sometimes. Jacob looks kind of unimpressed.

"Uhm, sorry?" Moose tries, but Jacob just raises one of his eyebrows and keeps staring at him.

When Moose is about ready to forget about his backpack entirely and just bolt, Luke's voice breaks the silence and Moose feels himself lurch again as Luke walks into his field of vision.

"Hey, Jacob. Have you seen –" Luke's sentence falls short when he follows Jacob's gaze and he notices Moose as well. "Moose." He says, a small smile on his lips. "Everyone's looking for you."

Jacob still doesn't say anything so Moose takes a chance. "Yeah, sorry. I was looking for my backpack. Can't remember where I left it."

"Oh." Luke looks like he just remembered something himself and walks into the room, not bothering to turn on the light. He heads to a corner on Moose's left where he pushes aside a jacket and lifts Moose's backpack into the air so Moose can clearly see it.

"I put it away earlier so it wouldn't get lost in the commotion. Stuff tends to disappear and turn up in the strangest places around here sometimes." Luke says and smiles apologetically. "You need to go?" He asks when Moose takes his backpack from him.

"Yeah, sorry. " Moose glances at Jacob out of the corer of his eyes quickly, but Moose can see that he's smiling too now and a bit of the tension drains out of him.

"Don't worry." Luke says and places a warm, broad hand on the small of Moose's back, just under his shoulder blades – he can feel it so clearly – and starts to guide Moose out of the room. "Come on, I'll take you."

"Uhm, thanks." Moose manages to say. He tries not to look too desperate, clinging to his backpack. He's not quite sure he succeeds.

Thank you for reading and see you all soon (hopefully)! :)