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More Bones Than a Graveyard

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Damen had been at work five minutes and he was already regretting it. He’d spent the weekend sleeping on Nik’s couch that his legs dangled off of, and his neck was pinched and sore. He only had a few bags of clothes with him, and most of them were dirty so he’d had to settle for a wrinkled shirt and pants with a stain on them. Then, as he’d swiped his badge and walked to the staff break room to clock in, another staff member had barrelled into him causing him to spill coffee all over himself. The staff member, Pallas, quickly apologized but then continued to run towards the sound of yelling coming from one of the classrooms. Damen sighed and hoped he had a spare shirt in his office, and wondered again why he hadn’t called in.

He was lucky enough to find a spare polo shoved in his desk. It was wrinkled, but it didn’t smell horrible and he couldn’t see any stains so it would have to do. He was in the middle of switching shirts when there was a knock on his office door and Pallas walked in and threw himself into a chair.

“You’re not gonna believe this new little shit we have in the residential unit.”

Damen finished pulling on his shirt, and grabbed a stress ball from his desk and threw it to Pallas who tossed it between his hands while he vented.

“He’s not as aggressive as some of these kids, but the attitude is horrible, and I’ve never met someone with such a foul mouth. We had twice the normal amount of fights this weekend, and I’m pretty sure he’s provoking them, but I haven’t been able to prove it.”

“Sounds like a challenge.” Damen offered levelly, sipping at what remained of his coffee, “What’s his name?”

“Nicaise. Came in from his foster home over the weekend after running away for the third time this month. Bit the cop that brought him here.”

“Oh hell. If he’s that bad why’s he here and not at Secure?”

Pallas shrugged, still tossing the ball in the air, “Not sure. He keeps this shit up and he’ll end up there for sure though. I was hoping you could have a go at him this afternoon.”

Damen quickly ran through his schedule for the day, before nodding, “Send him in here for lunch, and I’ll have a talk with him then.”

Pallas shot him grateful smile, and tossed the stress ball back to Damen before he hollered his thanks as he jogged out of the office. He was supposed to be helping Aktis supervise the middle school class area, and he needed to hurry back there. Those kids were a handful on the best of days, and clearly it was not the best of days already. Damen sat at his desk and started up his computer. If he was going to sit with Nicaise for lunch, he had a few other things to accomplish first.

==

It was just after noon when the knock on his door interrupted Damen from his work. He quickly saved the supply request forms he’d been working on and yelled that the door was open. The door opened, and Damen saw the kid that had been causing so much trouble for his coworkers over the weekend. Nicaise was smaller than he’d imagined, almost delicate looking with his fine boned features, but the scowl on his face said otherwise. Pallas was behind Nicaise, and Damen noticed that he kept carefully just out of striking range. Damen sighed internally, but kept a smile on his face otherwise as the two approached and Nicaise flopped in a chair and promptly put his feet on Damen’s desk.

Damen quirked an eyebrow at Nicaise’s insolence, and waved Pallas off when he would have corrected him. Nicaise was like many of the others Damen had worked with, testing his boundaries. Damen liked to build more of a rapport with any of the juveniles he worked with before taking any action. He had put his feet up on the desk not an hour ago. It would be fine.

Damen waited for Pallas to leave the room, and made sure he had his wallet. The way his day had gone it wouldn’t be a surprise for it to have gone missing. Then he settled in and gave a considering look to Nicaise.

“Did Pallas tell you who I am?” he asked, and Nicaise sneered at him. Damen continued on undeterred, “My name is Damen and I’m the Rec Director and an Outbound Transfer Coordinator here. Basically I’m in charge of all the sport, leisure, and community activities here, as well as one of the panel who makes decisions on when and how to transfer our students out of the residential unit that you’re in now.”

Nicaise looked unimpressed, and ground his heel into the desk a little but Damen was determined not to react. He’d seen all sorts of kids come through his doors, and he’d always found that a little patience and kindness did more to help their relationship along than anything else.

“Nicaise, Pallas brought you to me because you’ve been causing some difficulties for them already on the unit. I want to help you set up a goal and plan to meet it so that we don’t have these kinds of problems. Can you tell me about yourself?”

“Don’t see why I fucking should,” the boy in front of him grumped, “you’ve got all my paperwork.”

Foster kid, remembered Damen, probably one with a long background with social services. Used to having people look at that paperwork and make their decisions about him ahead of time.

“Oh, I never read anyone’s paperwork before I meet them. Actually I avoid it as long as possible. I like to make up my own mind about people.” Damen waited, but Nicaise wasn’t going to volunteer anything. That was okay. Damen had his ways. Damen pulled open a drawer in his desk, noting Nicaise’s slight flinch at the sudden movement, and slid a stack of takeout menus across the desk.

“Well, I brought you here for lunch. I’m afraid I don’t know you well enough to take you out yet, but we can order something in and talk while we wait for it. Why don’t you look through those and decide what you want, and just let me know when you’re ready to order.”

Damen woke his computer up and went back to work on his supply requests, watching Nicaise out of the corner of his eyes. It took Nicaise a moment, but finally his fingers twitched towards the menus. Keeping an eye on Damen all the while, he reached for the menus. When Damen continued to (mostly) ignore him, and didn’t snatch the menus back, he began to dig through them. Some were discarded immediately, tossed unceremoniously onto the floor, while others were stacked on the table for a second look. Nicaise kept an eye on Damen, but Damen was determined not to rush the process and to let Nicaise decide.

When it seemed Nicaise was down to one or two menus, Damen slid a small notepad and a pen over. Nicaise pulled his feet back so Damen didn’t touch him, but didn’t otherwise react and Damen knew he’d been watching him too.

Observant, Damen concluded.

A few minutes later, Nicaise shoved the notepad back across the desk, and Damen let him knock the keyboard a little out of place. His instincts and years of this work were telling him that Nicaise wasn’t actually interested in breaking any rules, he was more interested in seeing what Damen would do. A kid like Nicaise would be expecting anger, maybe violence. Damen’s first step would be to break those expectations.

Nicaise had written down an order from a nearby Thai place, one that even let him order online, so Damen set about putting the order in. When that was done, he printed off a sheet, and slid it over to Nicaise who still had his feet on the desk and was fiddling with the pen he’d used to write his order. Nicaise glared at him, and didn’t move forward to take it.

“This is a sheet I have everyone do when I first start working with them. The food will be here in about a half hour. I’d like you to start filling it out in the meantime, and then we’ll discuss it after we eat.”

Nicaise didn’t look like he was going to do it at first, and Damen watched him patiently. Eventually Nicaise cracked, dropping his feet to the ground with the loudest noise he could and yanked the sheet over, swearing under his breath.

They worked in silence, Nicaise mostly grumbling and doodling on his sheet. He jumped when the knock on the open door came, and Lykaios smiled gently at them both while holding a bag of food aloft.

“I met the delivery man in the parking lot. I figured I’d save you the trouble of walking out to meet him.”

“Thank you Lulu.” Damen smiled at her as she handed him the bag.

“You won’t be so grateful when you realize I ate your spring rolls.” she responded, smiling and giggling as she sauntered out the door. Damen chuckled as he sorted out the food. Nicaise took his greedily, and Damen didn’t even have time to hand him a disposable plate before he was digging into it. The spring rolls were still there, although it did appear that one was missing. Damen moved his most important paperwork out of the desk and let Nicaise eat.

Fifteen minutes later the boy had scarfed down all of his food, and was eyeing Damen’s. Damen shoved the rest of the appetizers over to him, but pulled his bowl of curry closer and decided he better distract Nicaise.

“How did you do on your sheet Nicaise?”

Nicaise flipped him off and yanked the sheet closer.

“Doesn’t seem right.” he muttered around a bite of chicken satay.

“What’s that Nicaise?”

“You getting to know everything about me, but I don’t know nothing about you.” Nicaise swallowed noisily and took a large gulp of his bottled tea, “Why should I trust you with anything?”

Smart, thought Damen. Maybe a little paranoid.

“I can see your point Nicaise. So how about we make a deal?” Nicaise shoved more food into his mouth, but his eyes were interested, “I’ll fill out the same sheet for myself, and we can go over them together during lunch tomorrow.”

Nicaise glared at him, but finally he reluctantly nodded. Damen allowed himself a small smile and stood up, stretching his arms over his head.

“Well if that’s settled, I’m going to take you back to your classes so I can get some work done. Follow me.”

That’s when Damen made his first and only mistake of the meeting. Not thinking, he reached out to grab the garbage from their lunch and brushed over Nicaise’s shoulder. Nicaise jerked away, and before Damen could apologize he felt the sting of a plastic fork in his leg. He stilled, looking down very slowly to see where Nicaise had stabbed him with a disposable dining utensil. Nicaise has frozen as well, pale but refusing to back down.

It all comes together then, the way Nicaise hadn’t ever really taken his eyes off Damen, the slights twitches at sudden movements, the lack of trust and his placement here.

Someone hurt him.