Derek wasn’t expecting much from the pool of dropouts and deadbeats that would be available, but they couldn’t afford a care home or an actual nurse to take care of Peter and they needed the help. Derek would also gladly never have to insert a catheter into his uncle’s dick ever again. It was Laura who had come up with the idea of debtor but she had work and so it was Derek who had to come and find someone suitable. He’d probably have to settle for not horrifically unsuitable. He had visions of bringing home someone so shaky from drug withdrawal that they’d manage to stab Peter’s throat out trying to insert the feeding tube.
He filled out the first set of forms and handed them over to the receptionist before taking an uncomfortable seat in the rundown waiting area. He’d brought a history text book with him and made it through a chapter and a half before he was finally called through to the office. The woman who greeted him was serious and smartly suited. Derek wondered he she was judging him for showing up in jeans. She looked over his paperwork and then asked him to summarise the work that would be required, despite the fact that it was written on the form in front of her.
“Taking care of a comatose man,” Derek said. “There’s a set of exercises that need to be done daily, lifting his limbs, stretching his muscles, stuff like that. There’s some plumbing stuff,” Derek gestured vaguely towards his crotch, not wanting to spell that out, “and giving him a nutrient solution for meals. There’d be a few other things, like giving him sponge baths, cleaning his bedsheets, stuff like that.”
There was a full list that had come with Peter from the hospital when he’d been sent home.
“Is any medical training required?” the woman asked.
“Any special skills necessary?”
“A strong stomach,” Derek said. He thought about the first time he’d had to deal with Peter’s waste.
“And this would be for a home setup. You’d be keeping the debtor in your house.”
It hadn’t really been a question, but Derek said, “Yes,” anyway.
The woman frowned and looked at Derek for a moment, clearly thinking hard about something.
“I think I know just who to assign you,” she said. She went over to a filing cabinet and dug around, bringing out a small cardboard folder which she offered to Derek. He opened it up and skimmed over the first page, wincing at the garble of letters that formed the first name. As he’d expected, no qualifications listed, not even a high school diploma. Then Derek saw something and frowned.
“This has got to be a typo,” he said.
“The name? No, that’s his real name but he goes by a nickname that’s easier to pronounce.”
“No. The date of birth. This says he’s sixteen.”
What the hell had a teenager managed to do to get himself in the debtor program? Derek just found himself being led through to another room to meet this candidate with the unpronounceable first name and a date of birth that wasn’t a typo. The room looked a bit like the interview rooms shown in cop dramas on TV. There was a metal table and a couple of chairs facing across from each other. There was a metal bar on the table in front of one of the chairs. Derek was waved to sit in the other one.
He was left to wait for a few minutes and he was just considering opening up his text book again when a couple of burly guards brought a skinny kid in. He looked half the weight of either one of them, dressed in a grey jumpsuit that hung off him. He was pale and hollow cheeked, like he hadn’t eaten a good meal in a month, and he glared at Derek with bloodshot eyes. His eyes radiated anger and defiance, but his scent said something entirely different. He stank of despair, of pain so deep it exuded from every pore.
He was pushed into the chair and one of the guards yanked his arm to handcuff his wrist to the bar on the table. The kid rolled his eyes.
“Because I was planning on drop-kicking you both in the head and making a break for it,” he said, the sarcastic bite in his tone as defiant as his glare. The guards left and the kid turned his attention to Derek, looking him up and down.
“You don’t look like a corporate exec here to fill a sweatshop’s ranks,” the kid said, “so, let me guess, porn? You want some twink to get it up the ass in dirty videos? Because I’m a little body shy. I’m not sure I’d be able to perform up to your expectations.”
His tone was fierce, but Derek could hear the rapid stutter of his heart and smell the fear that mingled with his pain. The kid was terrified of what Derek might expect him to do. Derek wondered if the porn industry really did recruit from debtors. And did the debtors get any choice in the matter? Derek could walk out of here and tell that woman that he wanted to hire this kid, and she’d fill out the paperwork without the kid getting a chance to object, so long as Derek stuck to the terms of the legal contract. Could some porn director do the same? And would anyone cry rape if they did?
Derek thought of this frightened, miserable kid being forced into a situation like that and his blood boiled. If the kid was genuinely afraid that might be his fate, Derek knew he couldn’t just leave him to it. He knew, in that instant, that there was no way he could choose anyone else today.
“Well?” the kid asked. “Do you speak? Or is glower your first language?”
“Anyone ever tell you that you should be more polite?” Derek asked.
The kid snorted, “My teachers. My lacrosse coach. My dad.” There was something that happened in the heartbeat after he said the word dad. It was a subtle shift in his expression, combined with a resurgence of the despair scent. The angry defiance faltered just for a moment, but just for a moment. Immediately afterwards, the kid was glaring again.
“I don’t know how to pronounce your first name,” Derek said. “I gather you use a nickname?”
“Stiles. Just call me Stiles.”
“Well, Stiles, I’m Derek.”
“We’re on first name terms already? So you really do want to stick it up my ass, don’t you?”
“I’m not going to rape you,” Derek snarled. “There’s nothing sexual.” He considered and then felt he had to add, “But you will have to touch my uncle’s dick.”
“Oh, nothing sexual about that at all.” The sarcasm was back.
“He’s in a coma. There’d better be nothing sexual. We need someone to nurse him.” He summarised the main jobs as he had done in the office. “Do you want the job?”
The kid, Stiles, looked at Derek with genuine surprise, “You’re actually giving me a choice?”
“Well, given that it seems like a choice between me and the porn, it doesn’t strike me as much of one.”
“You’ve got that right. Very well, Derek, I will manhandle your uncle’s dick.” Stiles held out his uncuffed hand for Derek to shake. Derek wondered if he was going to regret this choice.
The paperwork took forever. Derek had to sign forms and arrange for bank transfers to take the kid’s wages and pay it into debt account, minus the standard sum for food, accommodation, and miscellaneous living expenses. He was also given the procedure for claiming back the cost of any additional expenses.
There were also medical needs. Apparently this kid had some medication he was supposed to take daily. The program could arrange for a monthly supply to be shipped to them. There would be a small fee, deducted from Stiles’ debtor account, but Derek figured it was worth the hassle and it was only two dollars a month extra.
There were procedures if Stiles should not perform his job satisfactorily or if he was caught misbehaving, damaging property, or any of a list of about three dozen possible offenses. Any of these actions would be logged against Stiles’ file and a fine would be applied to his debtor account. If Stiles broke something that belonged to them, they would be reimbursed for the value of whatever it was, the cost of which would be taken out of the debtor account along with a two hundred dollar fine. A report of any breaches in these rules would result in money being taken out of Stiles’ debtor account.
“How much money does he owe already?” Derek asked, looking at these fines.
“Legally, we can’t share that information. All we can do is give you notice when he might be able to repay his debt within three months, should you wish to make other arrangements. Suffice it to say, he isn’t within three months of paying back his debt.”
Derek nodded and continued through the paperwork. When everything was signed and legal, he went back to the reception. Stiles was brought out, still wearing the grey jumpsuit but now he had a large tracking cuff around his right ankle. Derek had been expecting that. The paperwork had included details and apparently the fine for tampering with or damaging the cuff was five thousand dollars, plus the cost of a new cuff.
Stiles didn’t have anything else with him, not even a change of underwear. Of course, Derek could fill out a form and send in receipts to be reimbursed for the cost of new clothing. Presumably it was up to him to buy stuff for Stiles. They’d have to make a stop on the way home.
“This way,” Derek said. Stiles didn’t say a word as he followed Derek out of the building, but his pace slowed as they went down the steps. Derek looked back, wondering if maybe Stiles was hurt and going slowly because of some injury, but he’d just turned his face towards the sun and was lingering to soak up the warmth.
Stiles caught Derek looking at him and hurried his pace, mumbling a brief apology. Derek didn’t know how to respond to that. He looked back at the building they’d just left and wondered how long Stiles had been in there. How long it had been since Stiles had stood in sunlight.
Derek led him to the Camaro and Stiles let out an appreciative breath. Laura kept saying that they should trade this car in for a more practical model, but Derek couldn’t bring himself to do anything of the sort.
Derek drove them to the big Walmart on the outskirts of town and Stiles’ breathing rose until he was almost gasping. The scent of panic laced the air. Derek parked and turned to look at his passenger, whose eyes were on the massive shop, fear clearly showing in them.
“We need to get you some clothes and stuff,” Derek explained. “Unless you want to keep wearing the same jumpsuit forever.”
Stiles looked even more scared. Derek wondered if he was about to have a panic attack. He didn’t know how to deal with a panic attack. Mentioning the jumpsuit had clearly been the worst thing to say. Stiles was obviously terrified of being out in public as he was now, so obviously a debtor.
“You can stay in the car if you like,” Derek said.
Stiles seemed to relax. Derek waited to make sure Stiles wasn’t going to faint or be sick or something, then he started to get out of the car. An instant later, Stiles’ heartrate sored with fear again.
“Wait,” Stiles said. “I will come with you.”
Derek decided to say nothing about Stiles’ fear, mostly because he hadn’t the faintest idea what to say that would make this alright. He just went inside and grabbed a basket, heading for the clothing section. Eyes did glance their way as Stiles walked right behind him. Derek ignored them and grabbed packets of socks and briefs. He told Stiles to grab a couple of pairs of jeans his size and then went to look at the t-shirts. Derek went for the plain t-shirts, grabbing six that were on a three for two offer. He was just looking around, wondering what else Stiles might need, when he saw Stiles looking at a hoodie with a spider web pattern on it. Derek wasn’t sure if it was a reference to Spiderman or just a piece of artistic design.
“You want it?” Derek asked.
Stiles shook his head, “It costs too much.”
“The program is reimbursing the costs for this stuff,” Derek said.
Stiles glared at him, “By the adding the cost to my debt. I don’t need it.” He glanced at Derek’s basket. “I don’t need that many t-shirts either.”
Six t-shirts was not exactly a splurge, but Stiles insisted he didn’t need them, and took three of them out of the basket. In the end, Derek bought a single pair of jeans, three t-shirts, the socks, and the briefs. He also brought toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant, choosing the cheapest option for each.
When they went to the checkout, the woman ringing up their purchases looked up and met Stiles’ eyes. There was the briefest moment of contact and then she nodded her head the tiniest fraction of an inch. Stiles nodded back, the movement just as miniscule. Something passed between them, some moment of connection, sympathy and recognition. Derek wondered if he would see a tracking cuff if he looked beneath her checkout.
Derek was absolutely famished by the time he pulled the car onto the narrow road that led the house. Stiles, who had begun to relax after leaving the store, instantly started to get tense again. He stared out the window at the dense woods.
“Please don’t tell me you’re planning on chaining me up in a creepy cabin in the middle of the woods where no one can hear me scream.”
“You’ve seen too many horror movies,” Derek said.
“I’m not hearing a no.”
“Our house is out here, but it’s not creepy.” He didn’t believe in ghosts so he didn’t believe that his family were hanging out haunting them.
Stiles didn’t relax until they reached the entirely non-creepy house and Derek parked next to Laura’s car. He grabbed the bag of clothes and followed Derek up the steps and inside. There was a clatter of noise from the kitchen and then Laura was there, looking Stiles up and down.
“My sister Laura,” Derek said. “Laura, this is Stiles.”
Laura nodded, glanced at Derek, then forced a smile, “I’m just finishing up dinner. Why don’t you take... Stiles through to Peter’s room and show him the basics.”
Peter’s room was on the first floor so they didn’t have to worry about lifting him up the stairs. Even with werewolf strength, that would have been annoying. The space was crowded, with Peter’s wheelchair taking up one corner, and the camp bed filling most of the space between Peter’s bed and the bookshelves. Peter looked as he always did, blank eyes staring up at the ceiling. It wasn’t really a coma, according to the doctors, but the term they had used was complicated and Derek could never remember it. They carried on using the word coma for the sake of simplicity.
Derek walked Stiles through the plumbing requirements and showed the tubes, carefully labelled although Derek couldn’t see how anyone could mistake the feeding tube for the catheter. He showed him the papers with the various exercises listed.
“I’ll show you how to do them tomorrow,” he said. He showed Stiles the soap and sponge for washing, Peter’s toothbrush, razor and everything else. There was a printed list of tasks and how often they needed to be completed. Derek showed this to Stiles as well.
“Only once a day for brushing his teeth?” he asked.
“He’s not exactly guzzling sodas and chewing sweets,” Derek explained.
It would be Stiles’ job to make sure that all of these tasks were done. When Derek had finished explaining his duties, Laura called through that dinner was ready.