At a standing height of 6 foot 3 and weighing in at almost one hundred and twenty kilograms of pure muscle, Damen knew it would be an easy feat for him to overcome anyone in the room, handcuffs and all. However, he also knew that he was just a touch too far north and his skin just a shade too dark, that if he did try anything he would quickly end up as another statistic. He would also be stamped as the guilty party for whatever reason he had been arrested for in the first place.
Instead of thinking about how easily he could break the arm of the man watching him, he thought about his best friend, Nikandros, and how there was no way in hell he was going to tell him what was happening. It was a matter of pride. Nikandros had told him multiple times not to return to Aquitart. He told Damen about the increase in discrimination surrounding those of Akeilon heritage since he had last been in the city. He had told Damen, that it was too soon, and he didn’t care if he had been forgiven. In fact, Nikandros had gotten so angry he had left the room to attack his punching bag bare knuckled.
Of course, he would not tell Nikandros, because he had been right, within a day of being back in Aquitart he had been arrested, man handled and beaten by police officers. He had been given no reason, simply slapped into a pair of handcuffs and driven away. Now he was sitting in some cliché of a room, with nothing but a table and chair and a blacked-out window. There was even a guard at the door that was obviously suffering from little man’s syndrome and looking ready to pounce on him for anything.
A few minutes earlier he had yawned just a little bit too loudly and had been yelled at to keep it down. So, he didn’t yawn, as bored as he was, and instead tried to figure out how long he had been held, at least two hours by the feeling of the swelling around his eye. It wasn’t too bad, and would probably be mostly gone within a day, yet his eye would probably be some interesting colours within the coming days.
He sighed loudly and was immediately yelled at by the man at the door.
‘Barely a man at all,’ Damen thought to himself while taking in the youthful appearance of the officer watching him, ‘How did he even get accepted into the academy?’
He started to wonder where his day had gone so wrong. It had started off perfectly, waking from a deep and satisfying sleep, after a long night of sex. He had expected his partner to be gone by morning, so he wasn’t too surprised to wake to an empty bed. Crawling out of bed he had taken a moment to admire himself in the bathroom mirror, flexing and stretching for his own delight, still pleased by the sight of his body.
He had lost a large amount of muscle in the past few years. His neck no longer blended seamlessly with his shoulders, and his arms could rest peacefully at his side without jutting out from his body. He was not as strong as he once was, but he was still in fine shape, with a muscular body worthy of the cover of any fitness magazine.
At first, he had been disappointed with himself. It had taken him years to build the body mass required, long hours of routine, workouts and diets. However, in the end, his current physique was the result of real honest work. He still had defined pecs, strong biceps and solid stomach muscles that made the jut of his hips so much more noticeable.
He was no longer the gym junky he once was, although the sight of his toned and naked body in the mirror still filled him with a charge of pleasure. Especially after the night he had had with a once familiar partner. It had been years, but she still reacted with the same delight and enthusiasm he once knew so well. It was easy to fall back into the old habit, pleasuring her for hours on end. She was just as demanding as he remembered, and he felt a sense of pride in being able to deliver her needs all over again.
It was because of the way that he spent his night that he felt so energetic. He should have been worn out after a long day on the road and being up all hours. Instead of resting up, he had gone out for a run, checking to see if Aquitart was just how he had remembered it.
The morning sun was gentle as he stepped out of his hotel room, the temperature mild with not a hint of becoming harsh and no humidity in the air. Having spent the last few years in the city of Ios, it was easy for him to replace one set of familiarity with another. Taking another deep breath, he set out to rediscover the place that he had called home years ago.
It had not occurred to him that he would miss the smell of a certain native flower until he smelt it again after years of its absence. Ios was damp, a thick layer of humidity covering it year-round, and while he missed the ocean and the fleshy, tropical fruits, he found there was enough enjoyment in the subtler lands to the north. Heading towards his old jogging route, Damen laughed to himself wondering if he would feel the same once winter arrived and snow started to settle in the region.
The city was changed but at its heart, remained the same. It was still a university town, even though a city had grown around it. He avoided the city centre, much busier than he remembered, and instead trekked along the thin body of water that cut through the dwelling. Not quite a river, but too large to be called anything else.
He noted to himself, that there were at least three times as many coffee shops as there use to be. It was a good thing, he thought, as he had grown fond of the coffee culture in Ios. The old and wizened owners, sitting out the front of their shops, describing the difference in textures and the flavours a single roast and the difference altitude can make.
He had finished his run by stopping at one of the new coffee shops and had found an old acquaintance making his coffee. At the time he had called her a fuck buddy, a term he no longer used, but for six months they had been casual with each other until the workload became too much. Now Lykios was chasing her PHD and he left the shop with a free latte, a phone number scribbled on his cup and a wink telling her he is looking forward to seeing her around the campus.
It was a perfect day. An easy morning after a satisfying night that was filled with nostalgia and the phone number of a soft and intellectual woman.
He still did not know how he had ended up in handcuffs with a swollen eye.
The snippy young guard was changed out. In his place was a bored looking officer that Damen, figured as being a few years older than himself. He simply nodded in his direction before pulling out his phone and becoming absorbed with the screen.
Assuming that the shift changes were the same as they were in Ios, Damen figured that it must be around six o’clock in the evening. That meant that he had been in custody around four hours. He had been waiting outside O block, the health department, at one thirty when he had been arrested by surprise.
He was calling it his surprise arrest in his mind because other than smoking a joint two years back and a few parking tickets, he had been sure to keep himself on the straight and narrow for over six years. Ever since the incident that had led to him leaving Aquitart in the first place.
Nik had schooled him on the official procedures in Aquitart before he left. At the time he had rolled his eyes and told Nik he had been over reacting. Now he was glad he knew he could only be in custody for a total of eight hours without being officially charged. He could however be questioned for a total of four hours in that time.
After spending four years as a paramedic, seeing all kinds of shit, along with watching Nik rise through the ranks, he knew the procedure. The next four hours were going to be spent trying to get him to admit to committing a crime. A crime that he could not have possibly committed in his brief 24 hours in Aquitart.
He sighed again and then immediately tensed up, expecting a retort or a fist as he had for the last four hours after having sighed. When nothing happened, he took a chance to glance at the officer standing by the door.
He was still staring at his phone, not showing any signs of acknowledging Damen in the room, that was until he spoke.
“Calm down, dude,” he said, not looking away from his phone, “I honestly don’t give a flying fuck. I’m just earning a few extra hours of overtime, as soon as the big boy gets in I’m out of here.”
“Right,” Damen said, immediately tensing and hating himself for how quickly he had become accustomed to his abuse.
‘You can’t always trust the boys in blue,’ Nik had told him, ‘Not even when they look like you.’
The sound of Nik’s voice in his head sapped the strength from his body and left him slumping in his chair. He almost felt the need to laugh because the exact longing he had felt for Aquitart was the exact need he felt for Nik and Ios. The need for something familiar but, now he was missing the work he was accustomed to.
He should have just taken leave.
He should have waited.
He should have thought for a moment before uprooting his life and moving back to the place that held both his best and worst memories.
It could have been 15 minutes, or it could have been an hour. His face was beginning to throb in a way he could no longer ignore, and all he wanted was to take a shower and go to bed. By the time someone else entered the room, he was beginning to understand why so many people admitted to crimes they had not committed.
The man that entered the room was a few inches shorter than Damen but carried himself like he was taller. He strolled into the room casually, his head held high and with no indication that he noticed the strain of his stomach against his uniform. The buttons looked ready to burst and between the gaps of fabric, Damen could see pale hair covered skin.
If this was the man in charge, Damen felt his day was going to get a whole lot longer.
At a glance Damen knew his rank by the marking worn on his shoulder. One pip and above it, a starburst surrounded by golden laurels, a superintendent. Aquitart was the first place to recognise the union between Akielos and Vere, the first to incorporate a joined symbol.
Once the sight of the joined symbols had filled Damen with pride. Now it was something to be feared. Now it was the symbol of power. Now it didn’t matter that he was a six-foot three wall of muscle, he was just a man, too far north in a room where anything could happen.
“Damianos,” the man said, sitting down across from him. “I am Superintendent Govart,” he said, tapping the name badge on his chest.
It read C. Govart and Damen couldn’t help himself.
“Does the ‘C’ stand for Cockhead?”
Govart scoffed and lifted his hand to run a finger into the depths of his chest pocket. A second later Govart’s thick hand withdrew and with surprising speed backhanded him across his already aching face.
“Keep it up, and this night is going to get a whole lot longer.”
He reached into his pocket and withdrew a handkerchief. It creaked as he unfolded it and Damen could see the dried yellow stains of the already well used cloth. Govart wiped his hands with it, not seeming to care that he was rubbing his hands across his own filth.
“I suppose you’re wondering why you’re here?” Govart said, stuffing the filth back into his pocket.
“Hadn’t crossed my mind at all in the last few hours.”
With a quick jerk, Govart raised his hand to hit him again and Damen couldn’t help that he flinched at the sight. Just because he could take it did not mean he wanted to be hit again. Seemingly pleased with his reaction, Govart let his hand fall and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest.
“You’re here because a respected member of our community has gone missing. A highly respected man as it is.”
Damen let a moment pass before he responded with a simple, “And?”
“And…” Govart said, rolling his eyes. “You appear to be the only person in town with a reason to want to be rid of him.”
“What?!” Damen said, “I’ve only been here since this morning. I was literally arrested while waiting for a friend.”
“Well that’s a lie isn’t it?”
“What? That I have friends? I know, it’s hard to believe for someone like you, but it does happen. Maybe one day you’ll find friends of your own.”
There was a sharp ringing pain in his head. The world blurred for a second before focusing again and Damen realised he was on the floor with Govart standing over him.
“It’s a lie because I know you arrived last night. You spent the night in town, at the Comfort Inn to be exact. Just so happens that you arrived in town not long before our man went missing.”
Wincing in pain, Damen tried to roll away before realising he was tangled with his chair. For his efforts he received a kick to the back with a heavy boot. A boot that must have been steel capped going by the pain it caused.
“You’ve already lied so it’s not looking good for you,” Govart said, pacing around showing his teeth like a wild dog. “But let me fill you in for my own morbid curiosity, good term that, morbid curiosity,” he said it was a laugh before continuing on. “You were the last person to contact him. You are the only person in town that has a documented bad history with him, and you just so happen to come back to town the day he disappears. So, this is up to you. What did you do to Auguste d’Vere?”
After hours of Superintendent Cockhead, as Damen was calling the walking mass that was Govart in his head, questioning him in a fairly poor manner Damen was spat out onto the streets of Aquitart a little before nine o’clock in the evening, and told that they would be in touch. He was allowed to collect his phone, wallet, and keys, the only items on him at the time of his arrest, and a release form which Damen read very carefully before signing his name.
Thanks to Superintendent Cockhead, Damen’s swollen eye had progressed to the point that it was completely closed. He had taken a few hard hits, but overall, he was alright. Other than the first initial shove that had made him hit the floor, Govart had mostly just come across as bored and had asked him the same questions over and over, which had obviously been all the effort he needed to exert in the past. Damen figured it was because doing anything else would require far too much effort for the obviously unfit Govart.
Damen took a moment to walk away from the police department before stopping to assess himself. There was no blood, no open cuts, but his head throbbed and most of his pain radiated from around his swollen eye. He leant back against a random building and with careful hands, he went through the assessment he had performed on others countless times.
There was no tingling in his finger tips or his toes, no strain to his neck or difficulty of movement. Running his hand over the back of his head there was a small bump but no broken skin or severe swelling. Then he used the pads of his fingers to press lightly under his eyes and run along the bone of his eye socket, checking for any bumps or ridges to indicate any breaks. When done he did the same to the bone over his brows, finding nothing but some standard swelling. There was a slight click to his jaw but overall there was nothing that wouldn’t sort itself out in a few days. Nevertheless, his head was still swimming with the hits he had taken and the knowledge that his friend, Auguste, was missing and that somehow, he had ended up the prime suspect.
He knew it was a bad idea when he pulled out his phone and scrolled through the messages he had exchanged with Auguste. However, he put it down to the blows to his head and the need to be close to his friend. Scrolling through the messages, Damen found the time Auguste had sent him his address. He knew it was a bad idea to plug the address into his map’s app, and an even worse idea to start walking towards it once he realised that it was only a 20-minute walk away.
He started walking, telling himself that he was not necessarily heading to Auguste’s house. He was merely walking away from the city centre he had been thrown out into, if it just so happened to be in the direction of his friend’s house, then he could blame his throbbing head.
The city was still alive, if not a little quiet, and he was sure there were plenty of business’s that preyed on student’s needs for late night caffeine and snacks.
As he walked, Damen scrolled through and reread every message that he and Auguste had sent back and forth over the past few months, trying to find some hint or reasoning. However, other than the fact that he was missing, and foul play was suspected, Damen did not have anything to go off of. There was nothing in the messages and Damen felt a thrum of guilt upon realising that all of their messages from the past few months were centred on himself, with little mention of Auguste’s own life. The guilt gnawed at him as he walked the streets towards Auguste’s house.
Despite how close it was to the village centre, Damen was surprised to find just how quiet the streets surrounding Auguste’s house were. There was still the shine of the centre glowing over the houses, but the rumbling noise was not present. Mostly it looked like any outer suburb Damen had visited in Ios. He still didn’t know what he was doing walking the streets of Auguste’s life, if anything he was making himself look more suspicious. All he wanted was to understand and feel closer to his friend, and a part of him held some hope that maybe, just maybe, his friend would be there.
He found the house easily enough as it was one of the only houses left on the street, and Damen recognised it in a way from social media posts. It was an older cottage style house, the kind that was either a family home or the kind that had hipster home renovators salivating. It was a one storey stone homestead with a modest veranda and Damen just knew the interior would have polished wood floors and a fireplace in every room. Probably one of those giant claw foot bath tubs as well. It stuck out like a sore thumb in the modern age.
Most of the street now comprised of town houses and small blocks of units, the older style houses on large blocks having been knocked down and crammed with as many dwellings as possible. Another change that seemed to have occurred rapidly since Damen had been gone.
Auguste had told him the house was inherited from his parents, and that he had moved in with his younger brother after recovering from his injury. Damen didn’t let himself dwell on Auguste’s life changing injury and instead focused on the house. It was dark, and it was clear that no one was home.
“Maybe he’s just asleep?” Damen said to himself, closing the app on his phone and putting it away.
Now that he had arrived he didn’t know what to do next. He was there, and there was still no Auguste, and, in all likelihood, he was not asleep inside.
“Shit,” Damen said, rubbing his hand down his face, wincing slightly as he pushed too hard on his swollen eye.
Knowing his trip was pointless, Damen turned to leave, fumbling in his pockets to find the key to his hotel room. However, just as he was about to leave, he catches movement coming from inside the house. Pausing, he concentrates back on the house waiting to see if there is more movement. Just when he thinks he was imagining it, he saw a flicker of movement again, briefly illuminated by a street lamp, Damen catches a distinctly human shape moving through the house.
Obviously, he should just walk away, he was in enough strife as it was yet, somehow, he couldn’t walk away and instead approached the house slowly. He avoided walking up the three steps to the veranda and instead went around the side, hoping to find a window to peer through.
As luck would have it, there was a window just to the side of the house before the property was fenced off. His height allowed him to see easily into the house and fate seemed to be on his side as the headlights of a passing car lit up the house, briefly exposing a tall figure who dropped low as what looked to be a living room was momentarily lit up.
Once the car passed, Damen strained his eyes to track the figure that stood up after the light was gone and continued to move around in a manner that couldn’t be called anything other than suspicious. Damen dropped to the ground himself, leaning his back against the house and wondering what he should do next.
The obvious decision was to call the police and tip them off. Of course, the problem with that was that Damen’s phone number would immediately raise red flags, and he shouldn’t be anywhere near Auguste’s house, let alone peering through windows. In fact, his phone was probably pinging off phone towers at that moment, not exactly helping his case. He quickly turned his phone off, even though it was too late, and then turned it back on because turning the phone off would raise more suspicion. Then he berated himself because the activity of his phone was the least of his worries at that moment.
Shoving the phone back in his pocket, he stood up slowly to peer back through the window. The person was still there, this time they were lifting up the cushions from the couch and feeling about underneath them. Dropping down again, Damen went over his options:
Option one: Call the police and immerse himself deeper into his possible guilt.
Option two: Do nothing, leave the area and continue with the status quo.
Option three: Confront the intruder and deal with the consequences later.
Option one was obviously off the table, and option two didn’t sit too well with him, the guilt was already eating away at him. That left him with option three, which was obviously stupid but at that point, Damen didn’t care enough to think about a fourth option. Better to catch a possible suspect and be questioned later than do nothing and walk away.
He also blamed it on the throbbing in his head, any excuse really.
A quick assessment of the gate into the back yard found it unlocked and Damen entered easily. From there he moved down the side of what turned out to be a rather large house, looking through windows as he went and gently testing them to see if they were open. None of the windows had any form of security screen and they were all either the old vertical sliding kind or the open bay style. He didn’t know what to expect, quietly telling himself that it was probably for the best, when he came across a window left wide open.
Damen figured it was probably how the intruder got in themselves and, it was easy enough for him to pull himself up and shimmy through the window. He pulled himself through with little grace as his depth perception was completely off with only having one functioning eye at that point. He ended up tumbling through the window and fully expected to crash to the ground in a noisy mess.
Instead he landed on a soft, bouncy surface. Looking around he realised he was in a bedroom, and from the state it was in, it was a very lived in bedroom. The bed was unmade and from what Damen could make out in the dim light there appeared to be scattered clothing over the floor, the night stand was cluttered and there was a phone charger hanging off the edge. The irony of landing himself in what was obviously Auguste’s bedroom was not lost on him.
Shuffling off of the bed, Damen slowly lowered his feet to the floor and stood up as slowly as possible. Now that he was in the house he could hear the slight sounds of footsteps coming from the intruder. Most disturbingly, the steps seemed to be coming closer. Trying not to panic, Damen tiptoed as quietly as possible and positioned himself between the bedroom door and a set of draws seconds before it opened, and the intruder stepped in.
From the low light Damen could make out very little. He could tell the intruder was a man. His clothing was form fitting, obviously well made with the man wearing tight skinny jeans and a well-fitting corduroy jacket, with what looked like a wool lining going off the high collar. His hair was light and pulled back into a stubby pony tail that barely managed to hold his hair back. He looked to be a few inches shorter than Damen, maybe five foot ten or eleven. All over, Damen knew he could probably take him.
Having paused for a few moments after entering the room, the intruder moved to his left, seeming to be heading for the set of draws. Damen had moments to decide, he could sit still and hope he wasn’t noticed, or he could move before he was seen and take down the intruder. He went for action when the man turned his head and was microseconds away from noticing Damen.
Drawing on his wrestling skills from years earlier, Damen went low and grabbed the man around the waist, easily lifting him off the ground. It would have been easy for him to slam the man into the floor and knock the air out of him. However, the ground wasn’t padded like it was in a wrestling match, so he pulled back and pressed the man to the ground was as little force as he could manage with the momentum he had going.
A puff of air left the man as he hit the floor and Damen immediately moved to lock his arms as best as he could, pinning his back and shoulders to the ground even as the intruder’s legs started to kick and flail around, striking nothing as Damen had positioned his body out of the way. He tried to get is legs under himself and push himself up, and Damen was surprised by the strength behind the move but, ultimately it was too easy for him to mauver his own legs and lock the man down, slamming him into the floor once again.
“What are you looking for?” Damen said, trying to keep his voice low.
The body beneath him stopped struggling and went slack. Damen had a moment to inspect the man below him, and felt himself stunned for a second as he took in the sight of what was possibly the most handsome face he had every had the privilege of viewing.
“Damianos?” he said.
“What?” Damen said, loosening his hold somewhat.
“Damianos, get off of me you giant animal!”
It was the voice that made him connect the dots. It had changed, it was deeper than he remembered, but that tone, the hatred, the condescending string of words that he had heard more than once. The face had changed and matured, and the boy had grown and was no more, but he knew who he was.
“Laurent?” he breathed, letting go of his wrestlers hold and drawing back slightly.
The man’s response to being released was to draw up his leg and knee Damen in the crotch as hard as he could whilst shoving him away.
Rolling away with a groan and clutching his damaged goods, Damen took the knee to his nuts as the only confirmation he needed that yes, it was definitely Laurent.
Thank you for all those who read and commented on the first chapter. Saw some familiar faces and it was great to see you all!
So I said fortnightly, but let's just go with weekly at the moment. May as well post while I've got the momentum going.
Let me know what you think or if anything doesn't make sense. Or you know grammar and spelling issues.