He didn’t know how it started. He never knew how it started. One minute he’d been in his room minding his own business, and the next he was having a shouting match with his stepfather. Maybe it started when Richard had his first drink of the evening. Maybe it started when Loki went to the kitchen to grab a soda. Honestly, he didn’t know. He’d wanted a quiet evening where he could focus on his homework and crawl into bed early. But all of that had been swiped right off of the table.
“Come here,” Richard hissed, actually snapping his fingers at Loki and demanding him to come closer.
Like hell was Loki going to obey like he was some sort of dog. Though in Richard’s eyes, he probably was exactly that. They had never gotten along, not even when his mother had still been alive. They hadn’t even pretended for her sake, but since her death a few years ago, it had all gone downhill.
“I won’t repeat myself.” His words were surprisingly well articulated considering the drunken state he was in. His cheeks were flushed red, his eyes wide and livid for some unknown reason. His short brown hair was a mess. “Loki, goddammit, you will listen to me!”
Loki glanced around. He was trapped in the corner of the kitchen, Richard having snuck up on him when he’d been studying the contents of the fridge – beer, beer, and more beer. And now he stood pressed against the edge of the sink, his hands gripping the edge so tightly that his hands hurt.
“You’re drunk.” He was stating the obvious, he knew that, but maybe Richard didn’t know that. He probably had another hellish day at the factory. He always took out his frustrations on Loki then. “I’m going to go back to my room and finish my homework, so leave me alone.”
He didn’t know what it was that set him off. Richard’s nostrils flared and he closed the distance between them in the blink of an eye. Before Loki was aware of it, he felt the back of Richard’s hand slap him across his cheek, the skin instantly smarting, like a thousand needles were pricking him. Loki fell sideways, onto his knees, but he didn’t stay like that. He refused to be smaller than Richard. Scrambling back up, he darted past the man – whose reflexes weren’t as fast as he thought they were, what with all the alcohol in his system – only to hesitate when he got to the hallway.
He could dash for his bedroom, lock the door, and hope Richard wouldn’t bash it in. It wouldn’t even be the first time. Or he could make his way to the front door, jump on his bike and wait a few hours. It was only a matter of time before the asshole would fall asleep on the couch before a playing TV.
He really needed to make up him mind.
“You little shit!” Richard was coming for him. “I am your father and you will–”
Loki almost, almost, turned around at that. The man, that asshole, was not his father. His father had been a good man, smart and honorable and everything Richard wasn’t. But Loki had more self-control than that. Making up his mind, he hurried for the front door and threw it open. He could hear Richard’s thundering footsteps behind him and he could hear him scream and curse. Loki ran down the small, weed–overgrown path and jumped on his bicycle.
It was a cold spring evening and he was only wearing a thin green shirt, but Loki couldn’t be bothered about it. It wasn’t like he could go back and fetch a sweater. No, he didn’t even look back. Richard was still screaming at him, calling him awful names, but Loki didn’t listen to him anymore. He rode his bike down the street and across the intersection. It was already after nine o’clock so there was little traffic. This part of the city was mostly abandoned anyway.
Loki slowed his speed, lazily riding through the streets now, and focused on his breathing. He hadn’t realized it when he’d fled from the house, but his heart was pounding wildly within his chest, his hands shaking with adrenaline coursing through his veins. Fuck, what was he supposed to do now? He should have thought more about this plan, but then again, it wasn’t like Richard had given him the option of coming up with a plan in the first place.
He contemplated on going to the park. At this hour, it would most likely be empty, except for a few teenagers still hanging out around the skate-park and a few drug dealers doing business in the south part of the park. If he avoided those sections … It was a bad idea. At the corner of Jackson and Madison Street, he halted, setting one foot on the ground to keep himself upright. He already felt the cold wind cooling him down.
There was a night shop just a few blocks away from where he was. Not a lot of people went there since the owner had a bad reputation – what kind of reputation, Loki didn’t know – but he had a few bucks in the pocket of his black jeans so he could buy something to help calm his nerves and warm him up a little. Loki started riding again, swerving down the streets, wondering just what he must have done to set off Richard like that. Honestly, he couldn’t think of anything besides ‘existing’. That always seemed enough to set the bastard off in a fit of rage.
When he arrived at the little shop, it was abandoned, just like he’d expected. He set his bike against the side of the small building since he wasn’t stupid enough to leave it at the street side. The last thing he could use today was someone stealing it. It was his only method of transportation. When he walked to the entrance of the shop, he found the door old, the glass dirty and stained.
The sound of an engine drew his attention, and Loki quickly looked over his shoulder, half expecting Richard to show up with his old pick-up truck. He didn’t know the car, however, so he dismissed the thought. Chances were small Richard would leave the house anyway.
Inside the shop, the only person present was the store owner. He was sitting behind the counter, a magazine in hand. For a second, he glanced up, his brown eyes sizing him up, and then he dismissed him, his attention focused on the magazine again. Loki didn’t say a word as he moved to the aisle where the cigarettes were, if he could even call it an aisle. He could barely move between the shelves without knocking something over.
He grabbed his usual brand of cigarettes and stared at the package for a few long seconds. It wouldn’t be enough to keep him warm. Glancing up, Loki found the store owner still absorbed in whatever it was that he was reading. Loki sucked his lower lip in between his teeth and bit down on it. For a brief second, he wondered what his mother would think of him if she were to see him right now, but that was a stupid thought. His mother was dead, had been dead for a long time now. She couldn’t care less what he was doing or what mess he had to deal with day in and day out.
Quietly, not wanting to draw the store owner’s attention, he moved to the back of the store where the bottles of alcohol were neatly stacked up, letting his fingers trail over the metal shelves. Bottles of whiskey were gathered by the floor and the gin was positioned right above that. There was absinthe and cognac, tequila and vodka. Loki had never tasted half of the stuff. He picked up a few bottles, wanting to get a closer look at them, only to settle for a small-sized bottle of rum. It was just the easiest one to steal, small enough to hide near the small of his back.
The door to the shop opened again, and Loki carefully glanced past the shelves, still expecting Richard to show up unexpectedly and drag him back to the house. But it wasn’t Richard. It was a tall and broad man, dressed in black boots, blue jeans and a black leather jacket that emphasized the widthof his shoulders. His shoulder-length blond hair had been pulled into a messy bun at the nape of his neck. The man vibrated danger, even more so when his dark blue eyes shifted across the store, searching.
Loki couldn’t help but pull himself back, hiding behind the shelf. For some reason, he didn’t want those blue eyes finding him.
“Is the store empty?” The man demanded to know after a short moment of silence.
Loki felt his heart thumping in his throat. He could actually feel a shift in the air. This was the worst part of city and, right now, Loki cursed himself for coming here so late in the evening. He hadn’t thought it through! Fuck. He turned to look at the back of the store, spotting a door with a giant sticker saying ‘NOT AN EXIT’. That would lead him outside and Loki prepared to make a run for it – until he heard the store owner’s voice again.
“Uhm, yeah,” The guy said, “What do you want? I don’t have money.”
This had to be some kind of robbery. And now he was stuck. Making a run for it was the worst of ideas.
Very carefully, Loki peeked around the edge of the shelf. His breath got caught inside his lungs. The blond man had a gun in his hand now and he was pointing it so very casually into the store owner’s direction. Loki bit down on his tongue, refusing to make a sound. If this was a robbery, he’d just have to wait it out. It was the wisest thing to do.
“Fuck, I told you that I don’t have money!” The store owner said, panic in his voice.
“I’m not here for your fucking money,” The blond man hissed. He removed the safety pin from the gun – and then Loki couldn’t stand to look at the scene anymore. He hid behind the shelf full of alcohol and closed his eyes, praying for the guy to just take what he wanted and leave. “Does the name Iris ring a bell?”
Loki could hear the store owner produce a smothered, distressed sound. Shit, what was going on? Loki kept his lips firmly pressed together and held his breath. He could not make a single sound. The store owner had said the store was empty after all, which meant that the guy was protecting him for whatever reason. Loki felt like a little shit when he looked down at the small bottle of rum that he was still holding. He’d planned to steal that.
“Listen, I did my time,” The store owner said, the panic in his voice transforming in pure hysteria, “I paid for what I did.”
“Not enough apparently,” The blond man replied ever so calmly and composed. “I saw her, the girl. Marie is her name, right?”
Loki had no idea what any of the conversation meant, but apparently, the store owner did because he began begging then, his voice trembling. He was crying, too, Loki could hear it. His curiosity got the better of him and Loki leaned sideways, wanting to catch a glimpse of what was happening by the counter. The store owner was still begging, tears running down his cheeks.
“You big fuck,” The blond man cursed and, without warning, he lifted the gun and fired it, the shot ringing through the store as it blew away half of the store owner’s skull, blood and brain mattersplattering across the counter and wall behind him.
Loki gasped, eyes widening before he slapped a hand over his mouth, not knowing what else he could do. But it was too late. Loki watched as the blond man spun around, his dark blue eyes easily finding him as Loki stood fixed in place. He made his way to the back of the store, steps confident and grotesque. Loki jumped away, eyes glued to the man heading his way. Those blue eyes narrowed and then he lifted his gun again, this time aiming it at Loki.
Not knowing what else he was supposed to do, Loki threw the bottle of rum at the man, aiming for his face, and ran to the back door. It wasn’t locked. The cold evening air cut through him as he made a run for it. He jumped on his bike and took off as fast as he could.
This was a part of the city he hardly ever came to and now he remembered why. He rode on and kept riding on as fast as he could, not looking back and ignoring the way his muscles burned. A heavy engine roared behind him, but Loki still refused to look back. Only a few seconds later, a motorcycle circled around him and halted in front of him. Loki pushed on his brakes, skidding to a halt, and almost crashed right into it.
Somehow, he managed to make a sharp left turn, making his way across a patch of moist grass by a gas station, only for his front wheel to slip. He tumbled down, landing with his shoulder on the grass, shouting out when he felt pain shoot through his arm.
He couldn’t stay down, however. No, he had to keep moving, so Loki scrambled upright as quickly as he could, but it was too late. A strong hand grabbed onto his shoulder and forced him around. Loki sucked in a sharp breath as the blond man dragged him along a few meters and shoved him up against a brick wall, hidden in shadows. His head snapped back hard enough for black spots to swim before his vision. Loki couldn’t do or say anything, because another strong hand curled around his throat, making it impossible for him to breathe.
Instinctively, he latched onto the hand, trying to remove it, trying to get air again, but the man was too strong. He tried kicking out, but the man’s body was pressed against his as if to remind him that he was much taller and stronger than him. But Loki refused to give up. He dragged his nails down the man’s hand, scratching him, until the cool and sharp blade of a knife press against his lower stomach.
He froze, not daring to move a muscle anymore. He didn’t even dare to blink, but perhaps that was a good thing. Tears stung his eyes and the last thing he wanted was to start crying, no matter how fucking scared he was. His bottom lip trembled.
The man stared him right in the eyes, that blue gaze of his piercing him, and Loki wanted nothing more than to become invisible. All that he could do was wait for the inevitable blow, for that knife to cut him and kill him, but nothing happened. Seconds ticked by. Loki couldn’t take it anymore. He turned his head sideways as much as he could, what with the man still half choking him, and closed his eyes, well aware of the tears that escaped him now.
Rough fingers trailed down his cheek.
Loki shuddered and hissed in pain. Richard had hit him there not even an hour ago so the skin was still sensitive. Those fingers continued to touch the forming bruise until the hand around his throat disappeared altogether. Loki dropped to the ground and he reached up, touching the sore skin of his throat, knowing he’d have another bruise there tomorrow – if he lived until tomorrow.
But the man stepped back, creating space between them. His dark blue eyes narrowed as they took in Loki’s form. He twisted the knife in between his long, rough fingers. “What did you see?” He asked, pointing the knife in Loki’s direction.
He shook his head. “Nothing,” He gasped out after a moment when he trusted his voice again, only he sounded like a mess, his voice hoarse and barely audible, “I saw nothing!”
“If you breathe a word to the cops or to anyone else,” The man said with a low and deep voice that seemed to ripple through the air, reaching Loki to the bones, “I will make you regret it. Don’t get mixed up with business you know nothing about, kid. Is that understood?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Loki said, frantically nodding now. His head was spinning.
The man threw him one last hard look before turning away. He walked back to his motorcycle, some type of Harley Davidson as far as Loki could tell, and put hishelmet on. He looked even bigger then, especially when he got onto his bike and revved the engine a few times. Loki couldn’t bring himself to move, not even when the man tore off down the street.
He hardly slept that night for obvious reasons. Each time he closed his eyes, he saw the store owner’s brains being blown out. He didn’t even know the man’s name, which unsettled him. Turning to lay on his back, staring up at the dark ceiling, Loki couldn’t help but visualize that dark blue gaze again. He’d stared a killer in the eye. He’d had a knife pressed to his stomach. It had been so fucked up.
Hardly aware of what he was doing, Loki reached up and gingerly felt the skin of his throat again. It wasn’t so sore anymore.
Early in the morning, he heard Richard moving around in the house, taking a shower and grabbing a quick breakfast before he went to work. Strangely enough, when he heard the front door close, Loki felt a weight drop off of his chest. He could breathe a little bit better and a few minutes later, his eyes fluttered shut. He dreamed of the store, dreamed of the man getting shot in the face, and he awoke with a jolt when his alarm went off. A thin layer of sweat covered his back and face.
The entire morning passed in a blur. Loki hardly knew what he was doing. He should go to the police, or he could at least call them anonymously or something. He should tell them about what had happened last night, about what he’d seen, but each time he glanced at the phone, he felt that blond man’s hand around his throat again and he couldn’t breathe anymore. It was only when he was leaning against the kitchen counter, his hands grabbing the edge so tightly his knuckles had turned white, that he realized that he was having a panic attack. He was trembling and his chest hurt. He was breathing so fast and shallow that he felt dizzy.
He closed his eyes and counted to ten. Why, he didn’t know, but it helped. His breathing slowed and he got control over his limbs again. Perhaps he should just pretend nothing had happened last night. Whenever Richard got particularly violent, he did the same thing. It was easy. He’d gotten used to it. So he could try and do the same thing now.
With that thought echoing through his mind, Loki got dressed, grabbed his backpack, and jumped on his bike. He raced through the streets, the chilly morning air brushing through his jet-black hair and actually helping him disentangle the chaos that were his thoughts. He’d made the right decision. Forgetting about last night was the right course of action. The man got killed and his murderer would be caught. The cops didn’t need his help for that. No, there was no reason to risk getting killed himself.
Arriving at the high school, Loki locked his bicycle down and headed for the main entrance. It was still early and there weren’t a lot of students around yet, which was exactly why Loki preferred arriving at this hour. It wasn’t like he had friends and, really, he rather avoided everyone inside that building. His classmates all thought they were better than him anyway. They hadn’t yet come to the realization that in this city, no one was worth shit.
As usual, Mr. Barton stood by the entrance, making sure everything happened orderly. Swinging his backpack over his shoulder, Loki moved up the stairs that lead to the big double doors and he prayed that he’d get in unnoticed. But when was luck ever on his side? Certainly not these past twenty four hours. No, as Loki approached the doors, he could already feel Mr. Barton’s intense grey eyes on him. Truth be told, he couldn’t blame him. He was quite the colorful picture today.
“Loki?” Mr. Barton asked, stepping in front of him, a look of pure concern on his face. Mr. Barton was one of those guys that thought they could make a difference in this city. He obviously wasn’t from around here. Loki hated to admit it, but he liked him. He was a good teacher, actually enjoyed what he did, and he had a stubborn dedication to students that other teachers had long given up on.
“Good morning, Mr. Barton,” Loki said with a forced smile. His grip on the strap of his backpack tightened when Mr. Barton’s eyes took in the lovely shiner on his left cheek and the bruises around his throat, though he’d been able to hide a lot by wearing a black hoodie. “It’s a lovely morning, isn’t it?” Sarcasm dripped from his voice, but Mr. Barton didn’t even seem to notice.
Loki wanted to enter the building, only for Mr. Barton to put a hand on his shoulder, his injured one. He cringed away from the touch, cursing himself for it, and Mr. Barton quickly withdrew his hand. Fuck, the last thing he needed was a teacher on his case. He had enough to deal with as it was.
“Loki,” Mr. Barton said, his voice heavy with concern, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
It was nice to know that there were people in the world that still cared for other people, but Loki wished Mr. Barton would care about other people than him. He shook his head with a sad smile, because what was the point in denying how he felt when evidence of abuse was written – or in this case, colored – so blatantly on his face.
He didn’t know why his gaze was suddenly drawn to the street. Perhaps he caught a glimpse of him through the corner of his eye or perhaps his mind subconsciously registered it, but for whatever reason, Loki looked aside and spotted the motorcycle. His gaze travelled up, taking in the motorcycle, the black leather jacket and, eventually, those dark blue eyes. They were fixed on him, completely, and Loki felt a cold shiver run down his spine.
“I’m fine,” He said, his head snapped back to Mr. Barton who was frowning now, “Don’t worry about me,” The words were tumbling from his lips before he could stop himself, but Mr. Barton’s grey eyes had shifted towards the street, as well, seeing what Loki had seen, and fuck, this shouldn’t be happening. What was the guy even doing there? Though the answer to that question was obvious. He’d had told him explicitly. Loki swallowed heavily, his heart beating violently against his ribcage. “Thanks for the concern, sir, but I should get inside now,” And with that, he darted past Mr. Barton before he could utter a single word of protest.
Loki hurried into the closest bathroom, throwing his backpack aside, uncaring of where it landed, and leaned over the first dirty sink in the row. The cool ceramic helped him ground himself, helped him remember that he was at school and not at the night shop.
He felt nauseous and hot, sweat pooling at the nape of his neck. He threw up what little contents had been in his stomach.
Seconds ticked by and transformed into minutes. Outside of the room, Loki heard more and more voices, more and more students filling the public high school. Loki knew he had to pull himself together. He focused on his breathing, in and out, in and out, and grabbed his bag, swinging it over his uninjured shoulder again. He looked like a mess and he felt like a mess, but he still had to get through the day.
He had to try at least.