Let the Rain Come Down
Summary: Rejected by the world around them, they lead lonely, isolated lives, focusing solely on basic survival. All it takes is one single act of kindness to open the door to their new tomorrow... together.
Written as part of a picture prompt competition for the Slash Writers' Workshop.
Rated M for physical abuse and slash content.
Thanks to mxpi1970 for the beta, and to Jasper1863Hale for prereading.
Disclaimer: All characters owned and created by Stephenie Meyer.
Standing on my regular spot, I waited for the anticipated afternoon rush.
Things were a little slow, and I paced back and forth to burn off excess nervous energy. Even after all this time, I still waited with trepidation for what might drive around the corner looking for me.
Gazing down the street, my eyes caught a tall boy in an oversized and shabby coat, rummaging in a trash can for a discarded carton that still held a few fries. Watching him, and the way he wolfed down the stale, cold fries, I could sense the desperation rolling off of him like a choking, oily cloud. Against my better judgement I tried to attract his attention, but the lad was easily spooked and ran off.
I didn't have too much time to think about the boy as a customer pulled up shortly afterward; for the next half hour I was too busy servicing the man in his car.
Back at my spot, my mind reflected on the dishevelled lad I had seen earlier. I wondered if he was okay, and if he had somewhere safe to sleep that night. I didn't kid myself – I knew the probability was low. Calling it a day, I made sure my money was safe in my pocket. I was fortunate that I had reasonably good looks and a lithe body that attracted regular, well paying customers. I kept myself clean in every way, using the clinic for check-ups and condoms. My place was a small room with the luxury of lights, a small heater and running cold water. I knew my life couldn't go on forever like this, but I was caught in a loop, unable to find the escape window. Every day I would go to my spot, display my body to the passersby who used this street for no other purpose, and I did whatever they asked of me for a set fee.
I was living hand to mouth and I knew it. The money I earned each day went towards the weekly rent. With what little I could scrape together after that, I would go to the market daily and buy the reduced food about to be discarded. I ate reasonably well, depending on my day's takings.
That night, as I lay in bed wrapped in blankets, I thought about the boy and hoped he was safe.
The next day I saw him again. He was closer this time and I saw the gaunt cheekbones, the haunted look in his eyes. It was the face of someone who had given up all hope of ever understanding why society had abandoned him.
I called out again, raising my hand tentatively in greeting. He looked at me and then all around to be sure. I beckoned him over and watched as he approached warily, apprehensive of the stranger calling to him. I understood that innate suspicion – life on the streets did nothing for a person's trust. When he was within earshot, I called out to him.
"Are you hungry? If you meet me here in an hour, it's when I go to the market. We can get some food."
He looked nervous, but the promise of food appeared to switch on a light in his eyes that he couldn't disguise. The boy's voice was rough, as if he hadn't used it in a while.
"You're not some weirdo, are you?" His eyes were constantly on the move, darting along the sidewalk to see if anyone else was around.
I held up my hands in a peace gesture.
"I'm no weirdo, just concerned. I've seen you around and wanted to help. It's no bother if you aren't interested. Just asking, that's all."
I watched him hesitate, seeing the internal war going on between his hunger and sense of self preservation.
"What would I have to do in exchange? I couldn't do what you do."
I shook my head.
"I do what I have to do to survive. I have a room near here, it pays for that. What about you? Where do you stay?"
He shrugged narrow shoulders swamped by a too-big coat.
"I was sleeping in an alley, not too far from here. Not many people use it so it's okay; I mostly got left alone."
His eyes widened at a memory he clearly didn't wish to relive.
"It was only once, and they didn't come back."
But he wouldn't be drawn any further. The jittery, flighty stance he had adopted worried me. It started to rain, the sky darkening ominously. I reached behind a low wall and retrieved my coat, shrugging it on gratefully. It was getting too cold to be out here in just a thin shirt, but I got better customers if my body was displayed. Customers didn't care if I was shivering, as long as I looked enthusiastic. I had learned early on that my comfort and warmth didn't attract trade.
"I won't get any more business in this rain. Come on, let's go get warm. Then we can go to the market. You have to time it right to get the max amount of food for your dollar."
I looked at him closely.
"When did you last eat? More than a few fries, I mean." He swallowed.
"A few days ago; someone threw away nearly a whole burger in the trash. I fished it out."
I felt for him. I'd been there and I knew his stomach was gnawing at him; he was most likely dizzy and dehydrated too. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a battered apple and some water in a plastic bottle. Holding them out to him with a nod, he approached me like a skittish horse, fearful of trickery. When he saw I wasn't going anywhere, he took them and ate the apple in five bites, chasing it down with the water.
"Come on. We can get you a drink then we can eat."
I fastened my coat against the fat raindrops and headed back to the small room I called home.
When I looked back, he was following me.
He took in the room, my bed, chair and tiny bath where I washed my clothes as well as myself. It was clean and tidy, not a difficult feat as I had no real belongings as such other than a few clothes and a couple of pans and plates. The room had a single hotplate that served both as cooker and somewhere to boil water for washing and bathing.
"Sit yourself down." I indicated the bed and the small chair in the corner. "It's not much, but its home." I noticed his hands were clenching, probably from the cold. "There is a small electric fire, but it's expensive to use; I mostly just wrap up in layers and blankets when it's cold. I need all my spare money to eat. Heating is a luxury."
He nodded mutely. I fetched him some water and he drank it straight down. I wondered if he'd been drinking river water as it would have most likely made him sick. I'd drunk out of hosepipes and supped rainwater out of trash can lids in my time – whatever it took. Sitting down across from him, I could see he was a major flight risk and kept my distance.
"I'm Jasper, by the way. Although to my customers I'm just Blondie. What's your name?"
I saw his jaw tighten and his hand clench on the mug he still held, his nails whitening.
"You don't have to tell me, it's okay. I could give you a new name if you'd like. Hmmm, you look like a Red to me, especially with that hair."
His voice was nervous, but firm in his conviction.
"Edward. My name is Edward."
"Pleased to meet you, Edward; are you warm enough? I have blankets and fresh clothes if you need them. We're about the same size, I think."
He shook his head firmly, and I didn't press the issue. I would have to hope that he would ask if he needed anything. Now that my business was over for the day, I shrugged off my coat and added a thick sweater before replacing the jacket. Now I could be warm, my body hidden away from greedy eyes. Not sure what else to do with the fidgety boy in front of me, I made a decision. I reached under the mattress and retrieved the few dollars I had stashed there, adding them to the day's takings.
"We should go and get some food. I've borrowed a little extra from the rent money, but I've got a couple more days before it's due so that's okay. You hungry?"
Knowing the answer, I headed for the door, a twitchy Edward following me. I took the familiar route to the market on my daily pilgrimage to find cheap food to fill my aching belly. I mostly ate just once a day as takings weren't enough for me to be frivolous with money. The apple I had given Edward had been a snack I'd planned to eat on the way to help curb my appetite when choosing my meal. The hungrier I was, the more I wanted to buy, not ideal when the few dollars in my pocket had to last. If the bad weather set in, I might not eat for a couple of days or more, surviving only on tap water.
I had a system. A couple of the sellers saved me bruised fruit to buy for a few cents and so I always went there first – that way I at least had something fresh. My cooking facilities weren't great and so I could only make soups and stews in a pan, heat up tinned food, or fry stuff. No way could I make a balanced meal easily on my hot plate. I checked in with Tony first and collected some more damaged apples along with some wilted leafy vegetables and carrots, all on their last legs. I was hopeful that I might find some cheap meat, maybe a little chicken, but no luck. Then I spotted a small bag of off-cuts on the butcher counter, barely enough for a cat much less two grown guys, but I grabbed it as if it were gold. It would do for tonight. Edward watched me curiously, keeping his distance, but not too far away. The last item on my shopping list for tonight was bread, and I found a bashed up loaf that looked like it had been stepped on. Most might refuse it, but it was in a sealed bag and so I wasn't about to complain. Holding my haul, I turned to Edward.
"Looks like we'll eat well tonight. Come on – let's go back and get cooking."
The smallest smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. I realised in that moment that, given the chance, he'd have probably eaten most of it raw where he stood. He barely spoke on the way back, but his step was a little lighter as if the promise of food was all that propelled him forward.
Opening the door, he followed me in and I elbowed the door shut behind us, dumping the bags on the floor. Taking my only sharp knife, I prepared the vegetables while the water boiled. I had planned to make a stew, but Edward looked close to fainting if he didn't eat soon. I opted instead to boil the vegetables and pan fry the meat; it would be a little tough, but would be ready much quicker. I wondered what he would do once he had eaten... it was a little like inviting in a stray cat. If you did, it tended to bolt straight after eating, but turn up again at mealtimes every day after that. He looked like he needed a good bath, and I decided to ask if he wanted to stay the night so I could wash his clothes for him. They would dry over the heater.
The food smelled good and I swore I could see Edward salivating at the aroma. I wondered why I felt so protective over him. He would probably eat my food and go, leaving nothing but an empty plate and a warm spot on the chair. I smiled. That cat analogy was starting to look very true.
Serving the food haphazardly onto my chipped plates, I knew I'd never be a cordon bleu chef but it was good and nutritious. I thought for a moment that he might eat with his hands, but I handed him the fork and he took it, poised to dig in before looking at me with wide eyes.
"Thank you, Jasper. No one's been this kind to me in forever."
I felt small. It was just a plate of past its best vegetables and meat scraps, but he was eating it like it came from a five star restaurant. He actually moaned as he ate, and when our eyes met he looked embarrassed.
"I'm sorry; it's just that hot food tastes so good after dumpster fare."
I took that as a compliment. It wasn't my finest work but it was okay, and my stomach felt far better filled. Taking his empty plate, I offered him an apple and the rinsed knife to cut away any bruised parts. He shook his head, and I raised my eyebrows.
"I won't eat all your food. You've been generous enough."
He was so polite; I was amazed that street life hadn't pounded that out of him. Putting some more water on to boil, I asked him the bigger question.
"Edward, if I boil some more water, would you like a bath? I can put the heater on for a bit so it's not too cold to get undressed."
He looked nervous, embarrassed and mortified all at once. I backtracked hastily.
"It's okay if not. I just thought it would be nicer than the river, if that's where you've been washing."
He reddened, and I realised I'd guessed right.
"There's nowhere to go, and I can't wash properly as people would see. I go for a swim and that has to do."
The memory of doing the exact same thing made me remember how cold that water was. He must have been chilled to the bone.
"So, if I boil the water, do you want one? It takes a while to boil enough and it won't be that deep, but it'll do the job and won't give you hypothermia."
He nodded once and I set to washing out the large pan from supper to reuse.
I had rigged up a makeshift curtain for bathing, and when there was enough warm water in the bath I slid the curtain around and motioned to Edward to go behind it, pointing to the razor, toothpaste, bar of soap and cheap, unbranded shampoo. He looked at me then, his eyes so pathetically grateful that I felt unaccustomed tears prickle, quickly moving away to give him some privacy. I heard clothes being unfastened, the thump of his coat and boots, the jangle of a belt buckle followed by the soft splash as he sat down and started to wash.
When he spoke, he surprised me.
"How did you end up here, Jasper? Working the streets I mean? I'm sorry if I'm being rude, you don't have to explain."
He seemed braver when out of sight, obviously used to hiding from the world. I felt my heart go out to him.
"When my family threw me out at 17, I had nothing. I slept rough like you, eating trash and bathing in the river. Then one day as I was wandering aimlessly, just looking for something worth eating, this guy pulled up next to me and basically straight out offered me ten bucks if I blew him. I don't know how he knew because I still looked reasonably tidy, wore decent shoes, and had some semblance of a hairstyle."
I ran my hands through my hair ruefully. It was getting long again – I'd have to cut it. I carried on.
"Maybe he could spot desperation, maybe he just liked young guys and thought he'd chance his arm. Either way, I was starving and did as he asked. I was terrified he'd kill me, or at least drive off without paying, but as he handed me the cash he asked if he could use me again. I remember those words: 'use me'. I said yeah, I'm always around here, and he nodded and drove off. It was then I decided I would use them instead, and make what I could out of the situation. It's been two and a half years now."
Edward was quiet for a while; just when I was worried he'd fallen asleep, he finally spoke, the words uttered so quietly, yet powerful enough to shatter my heart.
"The guys in the alley used me too. All of them, one at a time to begin with, but two together at the end." I heard him breathe in sharply as if the words cut his lungs. "It hurt so bad, and I was in pain for days. I-I had to stuff my underwear with paper to stop the blood soaking into my jeans."
My throat ached as I tried to imagine this sweet, innocent boy dealing with such trauma all alone.
"They gang raped you? Oh my god, Edward, did anyone see? Did anyone come to help?"
His laugh was sharp as broken glass and tore at my soul.
"No-one cares when you're down and out, do they? Probably thought I deserved it. I went to the free clinic, nearly ran away too, but the doc there fixed me up and I stayed there for a couple of days. They didn't say anything, but I know they thought I was a hustler who just went with the wrong john. No one called the police, and I had no proof. Who was going to believe me? That's when I stopped sleeping in the alley."
"When was this?" My voice came from far away.
"Few weeks ago; I lost track. I'm all healed up now at least." He went quiet again. "So would I be any good? Doing what you do, I mean? I could learn, and it would get me some money so I could repay you for your kindness."
I dry heaved involuntarily. Edward on the streets as a hustler? I'd die before I let that happen to him too. We didn't both need to live this life.
"No, Edward, no; I don't need to be repaid and certainly not in a way that could cause you serious emotional damage. Just... don't even think of it. Promise me."
He went silent, and so I carried on.
"What happened to bring you here? Why aren't you at home studying to be something important?"
I heard him stand up and step out of the tub, scrubbing himself down with the rough towel. He reappeared, holding his clothes against him for protection, the towel around his waist, his hair damp and crazy looking. His eyes were downcast, his posture hunched and awkward.
"Long story. Short version: years of foster care. At 18, I left my last home and the system. I just dropped out of the world around me. "He shrugged self-consciously. "And here I am."
I gathered some fresh clothes for him and handed him a warm blanket.
"Put these on. Will you stay here tonight? I'd be happy to rinse those through for you if you'll let me. They'll be dry for the morning."
"Uhmm..." I heard his hesitation, the click of his throat, not wanting any kind of charity but being in no position to refuse. Laundromats cost money he didn't have, plus he had no change of clothes to wear. My voice bordered on cajoling.
"It's okay, Edward. I've been where you are. I want to do this for you."
He nodded in silence and retreated behind the curtain to dress. I put more water on to boil. When he reappeared he looked completely different wearing my blue sweater, faded jeans and thick socks. He also looked much warmer. His hands raked through his hair repeatedly to tame it before wrapping the multi coloured blanket around his shoulders, enveloping his thin frame in the thick wool. I nodded to the bed.
"If you lie down for a while you'll conserve the heat from the bath. Plus you'll be comfortable; the bed's not too bad." I smiled.
"What about you?"
"It's early and I've got laundry to do. But, if it's okay with you, I'll share the bed. There's enough room and, to be honest, there's nowhere else to sleep except the floor, and it's too cold for that."
I watched his reaction. He seemed a little worried. Sitting down on the mattress, he raised his eyes to me.
"Jasper, I have nightmares. I might kick or punch you in my sleep. I-I... don't want to do that." His voice was a scratchy whisper.
I sat down on the mattress next to him, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder; for a second he cowered away from me. I removed my hand.
"Wrap yourself up in your blanket, and get under the covers to keep warm. I'll take my chances. Relax, try to sleep, okay? You're safe here. I swear to you."
He nodded and did as I asked, scooting over to the far side of the bed, assuming a tight, foetal position.
Edward, I won't hurt you.
Leaving him to rest, I started the laundry, the scent of detergent rinsing away the smell of the streets from his clothing. I had to boil more water to get his jeans anywhere near clean and, once done, I hung everything up over the heater to dry. It was still early but the sun had set, and the rain looked like it was here to stay. I sighed. Takings were going to be down tomorrow if this continued and, with the possibility of having two mouths to feed for a while, I could use the cash. Laundry finished, I stayed close to the heater for an hour or more, a blanket around my shoulders, listening to Edward's breathing.
What alerted me first were the whimpers; quiet snuffles and noises came from his sleeping form that made me move closer to check he was alright. I knew better than to wake someone from a nightmare as the shock could make them react as if the event were real. My chances of making money would be low to zero if I had a black eye, but at the same time I didn't want him to feel so alone and scared. Then the noises turned to words, pleading sobs for mercy, and my mind was made up.
Flipping off the heater, I walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge, wanting to alert him to my presence. When I saw the tears running down his face, I reached over and stroked his hair, trying to calm him in a non-threatening way. His legs started to thrash and I carried on stroking, feeling the fight gradually leave him as he succumbed to the rhythmic soothing movements. When he stopped fighting the assailants in his head, I lifted the covers and slid under, fully clothed. My fingers continued to play with his hair as his body stilled and relaxed in slumber. I shushed him like a child, running my fingers up and down the back of his neck until his breathing deepened and evened out.
I didn't sleep for the longest time.
I woke early, the sky barely lightened through the heavy rain drumming on the windows. I pulled the blankets tighter around me, glancing over at Edward who had turned over in his sleep. He was hunched into a ball under the covers like a child trying to hide from the monsters under the bed. His features were partially covered by the blanket, but I could see the crease in his forehead and guessed he wasn't sleeping easy, even without the nightmares.
As he rose from deep sleep, he started to mumble again, the words quickly becoming frantic:
"No, no, no... Please stop... please don't... No... No!"
His hand lashed out to defend himself and caught my chest, knocking the wind out of me. The impact woke Edward with a cry, and he bolted upright in terror, thinking his attackers were in the room.
"Edward! Edward! It's okay! You're safe! You're with Jasper – remember?"
His eyes were wild, and I was willing to bet his heart was hammering fit to burst as the fight or flight impulse burned through his system. His eyes finally focused on me and he visibly relaxed a little, trying to speak.
"Jasper? I-I'm so sorry, I tried to warn you. I can't help it, the dreams just keep coming ba-"
His words were cut off by an ugly sob as tears escaped and spilled down his cheeks. Against my better judgement, I reached for him. He didn't fight me, and I folded him into my arms, rocking him gently as I would a small child. After a few moments his arms found their way around my waist and held me close. As his cries gradually subsided he stayed wrapped around me, and together we fell asleep, each finding comfort and protection in the unfamiliar intimacy.
When we woke a couple of hours later, my head was on the pillow with Edward's face pressed into my chest, my fingers in his hair. I felt him stir, breathe in sharply, and lift his head to look at me. My voice was sleep roughened.
"Morning. Did you sleep? I hope I don't snore; no one's been around in years to tell me if I do."
I was surprised to see a slight twitch at the corners of his mouth.
"Not that I noticed, no. I'm so sorry about last night."
I was afraid he would shut down again, just when we were getting somewhere.
"Edward, have you had those nightmares ever since the attack?"
His face crumpled, and I knew I had poked at an open wound. Sitting up, I saw him withdraw into himself again for self-preservation. My hand stroked his back and just for a second he flinched. Undeterred, I sat up and pulled him gently to me, rubbing his back in circular motions. After a few moments he leant against me and I whispered into his hair.
"Have you been back to the alley where it happened? Faced it again? I don't know if it'll help, but it might give you some closure to what happened." He stiffened in my arms. "Edward, I'll go with you if you want to do that. It's not healthy to relive it every night."
He looked toward the small, dingy window.
"It's still raining. How will you work today? You'll be soaked through in seconds."
"I can't work in this weather, and believe me, I've tried. I was afraid it wouldn't pass overnight. It's a good thing we have some bread and fruit left to eat today; we won't be able to go to the market til I can get some more money together."
His voice was small and guilty.
"I'm sorry I ate so much. It would have lasted you another day if I weren't here."
I squeezed my arms around him.
"I invited you, remember? Don't be saying stuff like that - we have food for today. If I can work later maybe, then we can get something extra for supper tonight. Sometimes I get lucky and find some dented tins of soup or beans; otherwise it's just vegetables and a bit of meat like last night. I'm not a great cook, I just make do."
"What do you do when you can't work?" He twisted his head around to look at me.
"I have a couple of books I like to read; I just stay in bed in the warm and wait for the weather to change. My life is on hold if I can't work; plus there's always the worry of not making rent. I'd try elsewhere, but I have regulars now; I'm safe with them and they're respectful in their own way, and they always pay of course. Any extra money I make comes from passing trade."
He looked genuinely worried, his voice holding an edge of panic.
"But isn't that dangerous? They could do anything to you..."
I could see where his thoughts were going, and I tried to calm him.
"I can take care of myself, Edward. I've learned how to deal with the bad ones. I'd rather get away with no money but my face intact. I'd be worthless if I got bashed up."
"You could never be worthless, Jasper. You have a wonderful soul, so caring and compassionate." I smiled humourlessly.
"Customers don't pay for my soul, Edward; they just want my body for a short time to fulfil their urges. I do what they want and hopefully leave with my money."
He fell silent for a minute or two, just staring at the blanket over our legs as if in a trance.
"Edward... hey, where'd you go?" I stroked his back to bring him back into the room.
He squeezed his eyes tight shut before looking at me again.
"Could I stay here til it stops raining? I'm so tired of always wearing damp jeans and a wet coat. I so rarely get a chance to get dry and warm." He looked at me, but before I could answer, he continued as if I had.
"Of course, if my clothes are dry then I should really get going anyway. I need to find a dry place to sleep tonight, and if I wait then all the best places will be taken."
He made to get out of bed but I refused to let him go. He looked confused, and I shook my head.
"I don't know what you heard there, but I didn't actually answer. You'll stay here today; no way am I letting you go out there to get soaked again. In fact, unless the rain stops, I don't see any point in moving from this bed, do you? It's warm here, and we have some food to eat. In fact, I'll make us both a drink and bring it back to bed."
I tilted my head, daring him to defy me. When he saw I was serious, he asked where the bathroom was and disappeared to answer the call of nature. In less than two minutes he was back, shivering from the cold hallway outside my room. Climbing back into bed, he huddled under the covers and watched me make two cups of weak, black coffee that I carried back to bed.
Edward dozed without incident for the next couple of hours, staying snuggled up to me the whole time as I were his lifeline. I felt incredibly protective of this boy who had appeared in my life so suddenly. I knew that, if I allowed myself, I could easily develop real feelings for him. I also knew that that wasn't an option. I'd known I was gay from an early age; it made the things I did for my customers that little bit easier, although not remotely enjoyable. I had no idea about Edward and his orientation, but I did know that, after his horrifying ordeal, he might never be able to be physically intimate with anyone.
I had had one relationship before I fell into this life; one brief summer romance with my friend Emmett. But his family had moved away and I was alone after that. I told myself that love was for idiots, it made you vulnerable and weak and I couldn't afford to be either if I wanted to survive. Meeting Edward made me see that I wanted to wrap my arms around him and push the world away so it couldn't hurt him anymore. It was an unfamiliar, but not entirely unwelcome, feeling. I allowed myself to nuzzle his hair as I held him, one brief moment of 'what if' before pulling away and resuming my stroking of his hair.
Weak sunshine shone through my window, heralding the end of the rain. It would be cold and damp out, but I might be able to make enough to cover the few bucks I had borrowed for the rent and buy us something for supper. My stomach was starting to complain, and I suspected Edward would be hungry too when he woke. I debated on whether to eat the fruit or the bread; the bread would be dry without some kind of filling. My mind mentally wandered down the corridor marked 'dairy' before once again rejecting the idea. I had no facilities here for fresh produce; of course, it was so damn cold at the moment that milk or cheese would probably be okay for a couple of days. I remembered trying to store some outside the window once, but someone stole it. I didn't make that mistake again.
Looking up at my clock, I saw that I still had a couple of working hours if I went out to my spot. I wished I didn't have to wake him; he looked so peaceful after his rough night, his face smooth and relaxed at last, the weight on his thin shoulders lifted for a brief while.
"Edward?" I spoke quietly into his hair, the backs of my fingers stroking his cheek. "I have to go. The rain stopped."
He stirred and rubbed his eyes.
"Should I go?"
"No, you can stay here. I'll be a couple of hours, tops. I'm hoping there's time for me to make enough to cover the borrowed rent. I'll be back soon, okay? If you get hungry, help yourself to an apple. There's a little coffee left too."
He nodded apprehensively. It hit me that he didn't want to be left alone.
"If I make some cash, we'll go to the market and get you some food to put a little flesh on these bones. Don't worry; I'll be back before you know it."
As I went to climb out of bed, he looked up at me.
"Thank you, Jasper." Those words were so sincere that, without thinking, I leaned in and pressed a kiss to his forehead before heading off to the bathroom and then out to the street.
Time for Blondie to get to work.
Luck was on my side. A regular was looking for me, and I delivered his regular blowjob with more feigned enthusiasm than I usually managed. He was a decent guy and paid me my ten bucks with no hesitation. The next guy to appear was an unknown, and as always I exercised caution as I approached him, ready to run if I needed to. He argued over the price, and wanted to go without a condom which I staunchly refused. The clinic provided me with plenty and I always used them. Getting sick would hardly help my cause. In the end I had to accept less than my usual fee and get butt fucked none too gently in return. Keeping my face neutral as I pulled up my jeans, I took his measly payment, thinking of Edward and putting some food in our stomachs tonight. After the guy drove off, I allowed myself to wince in discomfort as I tried to sit down on the wall. I hoped the next guy was gentler or I wasn't going to be much use out here for a day or so.
This was no life. I was cold, sore, and hungry.
An hour later, after two more blowjobs and one quick hand job that procured me a whole 5 bucks, I had 60 bucks in my hand and called it a day. It was enough, and I was keen to get back to Edward to check he was okay.
Opening the door, I saw him jump to his feet, wearing his now dry clothes.
"Ready to go?" I showed him the money before I stashed the rent portion back under the mattress.
He nodded, his eyes lighting up until he saw my discomfort. His face fell immediately.
"You got hurt? Just to get more food for us? Jasper, you should have let me come with you – I might have been able to help somehow."
I shook my head vehemently.
"I do what I have to out of necessity. I don't want you ending up like me; it isn't living, it's surviving, nothing more."
At that moment, I felt the hopelessness of my existence more acutely than I had in a long time. Edward deserved more than ending up a two-bit hustler like me, giving it up to strangers for a few bucks. My mistakes didn't have to be his too. He stepped forward and hugged me awkwardly, his arms around my neck, and I leaned into him for a moment, relishing true affection that made no demands. Pulling back, he looked me in the eye.
"I thought about what you said, and I want to go back... to th-the alley... and see if it helps. It might make it worse, but I want to try."
His eyes displayed his naked fear as bright as day, and I wondered if he wanted some support. I didn't want to force myself on him if he wanted to be alone, but I worried about him having a panicked episode all alone in that place. Before I could say anything however, he answered my question.
"Come with me? Please? I don't know if I can do it alone." His voice was dry and cracked, and I ached for him.
"Let's go then." I held out my hand and he took it shyly.
Together we made our way across town to the scene of his own personal hell. I knew the alley he had spoken of; as we approached, I felt him slow as if his feet grew heavier with each step closer.
"We don't have to do this," I murmured.
He stopped as we turned a corner, the alley ahead. His breathing was coming in short gasps, a panic attack bubbling just beneath the surface. I squeezed his hand and we stepped forward into the gloom, the only light coming from a streetlight at the far end casting a sickly yellow glow into the darkness. Edward was shaking now, his hand clammy. I refused to let go, and he edged us towards the spot where it happened. He suddenly turned away, his jaw clenched, scrunching his eyes shut and shaking his head to try and dispel the voices, sounds and smells of that night; he was reliving it yet again, but this time he was wide awake.
"They can't hurt you anymore, Edward. I won't let them."
He was trembling, and on turning him to face me I saw he was crying, his eyes wide in terror as the memory washed over him. I hugged him tight, whispering in his ear.
"Tell me. Let the poison out once and for all and you'll be free."
Holding his shuddering form against me, I listened as he lost himself to fear, his voice like that of a child.
"They surrounded me. One punched me in the face to keep me quiet, he said. I was pulled to my feet and pinned to that wall..." His tears soaked my neck but I ignored them, stroking his hair soothingly as he spoke in hitching sobs.
"They pulled off my belt and jeans, and bent me over. I fought back but I couldn't stop them so I screamed for help, but no one came. They just laughed at me. And then... and then..."
He collapsed to the cold concrete, hugging his knees and sobbing uncontrollably. I dropped to the ground and gathered him to me, letting him weep as he expurgated the whole horrific experience from his soul. It was getting cold; I remembered sleeping here and how bitterly cold it got when the north wind howled down the length of the alley. It was dry, that was all you could say about this place. Edward's face was in my neck as I rocked him, his cries lessening, emotionally spent.
"Let's go, hmm? Let's leave this place – it's in the past now. You never have to come back here."
He spoke into my neck.
"It's hard to find dry places though. If the weather's bad enough, I'll end up here again eventually." His voice was desolate. My mind was already decided.
"No, you won't. You're stuck with me now, if you want to be, that is."
He looked up at me then, his face swollen and reddened with tears, wide eyes reflected in the deathly pallid light from the street beyond.
"I can stay with you? But we won't have enough money and I won't keep eating your food. It isn't right - I need to work too."
He was right, we would struggle, but we'd get by somehow. We had to. No way was I leaving him alone again.
"Is that a yes?"
He nodded awkwardly, his voice muffled.
"I had a job once. But when I became homeless they wouldn't keep me on. Maybe I can find something at the market? I could ask. At least if they ask, I have an address now."
I kissed his hair and smiled.
"I think that's a great idea."
Then he took my breath away, touching his soft lips to mine in a sweet, innocent kiss; the scene of his greatest terror cleansed by a moment of pure joy.
The atmosphere was light as we made our way to the market to buy supper. Tony commented on how happy we looked as I paid for my limp vegetables and overripe peaches. Edward decided there was no time like the present, and went to ask the traders if they knew of any work. With his hair washed and his clothes cleaned, he looked like any other hopeful young man looking for work, and I prayed he wasn't about to be disillusioned. I carried on, buying some chicken and a small wedge of cheese to go with the bread.
When I was done, Edward was back at my side, a happy grin on his face.
"I got something! It's only an hour a night, sweeping up after closing, but it's a start! At least now I can give you a few dollars for food."
His face glowed, and my heart swelled. Throwing an arm around him, I pulled him in tight for a moment, whispering in his ear:
"So proud of you."
His face lit up, and I marvelled at how much my life had changed in a single day.
After supper I boiled water until the bath was half full. Shucking off my clothes, I climbed in, hissing softly as my sore backside came into contact with the warm water.
"Jasper? Are you okay?" He sounded worried and I called to him through the curtain.
"Rough day, that's all. I sure hope tomorrow's a little easier or I won't be able to sit comfortably for a few days."
"Can I come in?" I smiled at his tentative request.
"Sure." I had long ago stopped being self-conscious about my body. I had to share it often enough.
He shuffled around the curtain, and I looked up.
"Want to join me? It's warm in here."
He looked distressed, and I was hit with the abrupt realisation that no one had ever seen him naked, aside from his attackers.
"Forget I said that. I don't want you to ever feel uncomfortable with me."
Breathing in sharply, he met my gaze with a blush.
"I feel safe with you, Jasper. Could you...?"
I looked away as he peeled off his jeans, hearing both the denim and his sweater hit the floor. He hesitated before sliding off his underwear and stepping into the water with me. The bath was tiny, and in order to fit we had to be virtually wrapped around each other. It was heaven to me. I cupped my hands and ran warm water over his shoulders and back, before soaping my hands and washing him everywhere I could reach. He giggled as I washed under his arms and behind his ears like a mother would. Leaning forward, he kissed me again, making my heart pound, before wetting my hair and reaching for the shampoo. My eyes slipped closed when he began to massage my scalp, little moans of pleasure slipping from me as his fingers weaved a magic spell.
Reaching under the tub, I felt for the cup I used to rinse off the soap, handing it to him.
Warm water cascaded over my head and down my back, cup after cup until I was relaxed to the point of sleepiness, all soap residues gone. Gently squeezing out the water from my locks, his thumbs massaged my temples and I groaned helplessly, my body loose and languid under his loving attentions.
His voice was soft and sincere.
"We're going to be okay, Jasper, I can feel it. Together we can take on the world. I don't want you getting hurt anymore by assholes who think that, just because they pay you, they can treat you however they want. You deserve so much more. This is only the beginning for us."
My arms tightened around him in gratitude. And here I was thinking I had rescued him.
For the first time in my life I felt a real sense of hope.
Maybe, just maybe, we could carve out a better life.