Sol turns over on his mattress to press his forehead to the cool wall. He pulls his knees to his chest, trying to ignore the hunger pangs that rip through his stomach. It’s been a couple of days since he’s last eaten. He doesn’t know what he’s being punished for but he’s sorry, he’ll do his best to show it to Master when he finally deems him fit to be out again. He only hopes Master isn’t taking it out on Ness.
Sol sighs, his eyes fluttering closed as he settles in for another energy-conserving nap.
Ray pulls up to the estate, with Athena in the seat next to him checking their comms one last time, and Cyrill in the back checking over the map on his tablet.
They wait for a second, not expecting any movement but also not discounting the possibility. They’re here to check over the place for any left over paraphernalia or ins onto the market. The owner, Grey Nickelson, was known underground as an untouchable dealer. Untouchable at least until his body was found floating offshore by Pier 9.
Cyrill slides out of the back and Athena covers him, Ray pulling up the rear. It doesn’t take long for Cyrill to unlock the front door and in they go. The place is obviously well taken care of, Grey never had a problem flaunting his money. The three look at each other, holding a conversation without saying anything, and then split, Ray going up the stairs, Cyrill to the left, and Athena to the right.
Athena goes to check the servants’ quarters first, making sure there are no friendlies around but it seems nobody’s around there at least. It works out well for them, less explaining to do. The next three rooms don’t turn up anything either but the fourth room isn’t a room at all, it’s a door that leads down a flight of stairs to another locked door. There’s a mail-slot and a deadbolt on it. She comms the others, “think we might have something, boys,” before unlocking the deadbolt and pushing the door open, flashlight and gun raised.
She quickly lowers her gun though when a small voice questions, “Mom?” And her eyes alight upon a small, filthy head of hair. Ears poke out of the top, brown but she can’t tell what kind just yet. She searches for a light, pulling a chain in the middle of the ceiling. A dull lightbulb flickers to life and she frowns as the smell of body odor finally hits her and she can take in the rest of the room.
Sitting on a mattress on the floor without sheets the child looks impossibly small; they’re shrouded in a shirt much too big for them. Next to their mattress is a water bowl, an empty water bowl, and who the fuck forces hybrids to sleep on the floor and drink out of water bowls nowadays? Anger flares up but she quickly pushes it back down. Across from the bed in the small room is a measly shelf with a few books on the top and a blanket on the bottom. Between her and the child are a few wooden crates.
Athena finally returns her attention the the child, squatting in place to be on the same level and tucking her gun into its holster.
“Hi, I’m Athena, can you tell me your name?”
The child looks up with wide eyes, a deep brown that holds fear and apprehension. Those eyes quickly flit away though and the child speaks up, “Momma said I can only speak to Momma and the lady that gives me food.”
Athena smiles. “Your Momma sounds like a smart lady, good thing I’m a lady with food, right?”
She digs in her bag and holds out a granola bar to the child. They look at it with hungry eyes and Athena notices their cheeks aren't the chubby kind of a toddler well fed. They bite their lip before quickly crawling over, reaching out and taking hold of it. Their eyes flit up to Athena’s before they move to take it though and Athena lets go of it.
“Go on,” she says gently. The child quickly grapples with it, ripping the package open before scarfing it down with barely any time for breath. Athena wishes she’d brought a water bottle but there was nothing about Grey that indicated child trafficking. He had no shame about his racist views against hybrids, perhaps an illegitimate child but Athena doesn’t see any resemblance between them right now.
She tilts her head, “would you tell me your name now, little one?”
The child cutely purses their lips and she can practically see the gears turning in their head. They seem to make up their mind and they look up through their hair before saying shyly, “Momma calls me Ness.”
Athena can see a tail twitch behind them, fluffy but she still can’t tell what type of hybrid they are. Athena smiles softly at them, “that’s a very nice name Ness. Do you want to go upstair-”
She cuts herself as Ness shuffles back into the corner they came out of, quickly shaking their head and pulling their knees to his chest.
“Momma says- Momma says I can’t go upstairs! Not for anything!” Tears spring to their eyes and Athena quickly roots around for another granola bar. She holds it out to them, putting on another smile though she’s worried at the vehemence of the child’s protests.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry I asked, do you want another granola bar?” The child looks at her with wide eyes, they flick down to the granola bar and back up again.
“I can have another?” They ask and Athena’s heart aches for this little one. She nods, holding it out further. The child looks at her for a bit longer and she keeps their gaze before they slowly unfold themself and take hold of the other end. She lets go of it just like before and they scuttle back to the corner this time to eat it.
“Would you like some water?” The child nods and she unfolds herself to head back to the kitchen and grab a glass. She leaves the door downstairs open but closes the one leading to the stairs. As she heads to the kitchen she turns on the comms again, “definitely got something. Little hybrid kid in a room downstairs in the East Wing, name’s Ness. Going to get them some water, they look malnourished and they’re not clean. Won’t come upstairs with me just yet but they’re able to communicate well enough. Their mother might be around, keep a lookout.” She thinks of their cracked lips and dirty fingernails, unclipped and jagged. “Fucker made them sleep on a mattress on the floor and drink out of a dog bowl.”
Ray sighs. “Gonna check the main bedroom for anything and then I’ll head down to meet you, Cyrill keep looking through the West Wing.” Cyrill chimes in with a quick “Noted.”
The main bedroom is a mess, expensive clothes and alcohol bottles littering the floor. Ray pushes some aside with the toe of his shoe, checking the closet and bathroom before anything else. Neither turn up anything but there’s another door in the bathroom, with a lock on the outside and two keys dangling from the wall next to it. He speaks into his comm, “might’ve found something too, off the bathroom in the main bedroom.”
When he unlocks the door he’s expecting crates of guns or a safe or pallets of money, none of which he gets. Instead it’s a naked hybrid with a pink head of hair and brown ears on a mattress on the floor and he inwardly sighs. There’s a bathtub, a sink with cabinet, a clean toilet, and a clock proudly displaying 2:14 PM. It’s 11 at night. The hybrid’s older than an actual kid but he’s young enough that Ray can’t help but refer to them as a kid in his head. They turn over and their eyes are glassy. While they’re not malnourished looking they could stand to gain some weight. He holsters his gun because the hybrid is covered in bruises. All in different stages of healing but even if they weren’t, he’s small, probably about Athena’s size. Tall for a beta woman but still only reaching Ray’s chest. Besides, there’s a collar around its neck chaining him to the floor.
The hybrid just stares at Ray’s feet. He frowns.
“How long have you been in here?”
The hybrid doesn’t answer, instead rolling to the edge of the mattress and standing with the help of the cabinet.
“Master should’ve told you we can’t do anything in here but there’s plenty of bedrooms down the hall.”
Ray recoils at the implications of that and how quick he is to offer himself, taking a step back, his mind making the involuntary connection to his first meeting with Cyrill and he shuts that down real quick.
“Listen, I don’t want anything from you, Grey is dead and we’re here to clear his house.”
Sol’s heart stutters and skips a beat. Master, dead? He doesn’t let himself believe it for a second except he can’t help it, the back of his brain is spinning out a world where he doesn’t have to live in this cramped bathroom without windows and he can see Ness everyday and he doesn’t get fucked by strangers and- he chokes on his inhale and risks a glance at the man standing in the doorway. Tall, tan skin, short black hair and a scar across his face. He looks scary but even so his heart can’t help but hope he’ll be a better Master than his old one. Sol squashes that down relentlessly, anything but perfect loyalty to Master is liable for punishment and this is probably a test.
In the time Sol has spent having his world flip over his head the man has turned to the other key beside the door, the one for the chain that attaches his collar to a rung in the floor.
“This is for your collar?” He asks, holding it up.
Sol nods and the man tries to hand it to him. Sol looks up in amazement before his eyes automatically skitter away. The man’s over a head taller than him.
“I can’t take it off myself,” he says and he hopes it doesn’t sound as disbelieving as he feels, that the man would just give him the key.
The man only holds it closer to him though. “You can, your Master is dead now you don’t have to follow his rules anymore.” He hears the derision in his tone when he says the word “Master.”
Sol can’t help the nervous laugh that bubbles its way out of him and he brings his arms across his chest. His tail twitches in agitation, it wants to move more than that but his Master hates these animal parts of him and hates when he uses them so it twitches and that’s all there is to it. He digs his nails into his arms and tilts his head, offering his neck and the collar up to the newcomer he simply repeats, “I can’t take it off myself.”
The man sighs and Sol can’t help but tense, waiting for a blow or biting words but the man just unlocks the collar. It drops with a heavy thump on the mattress and Sol reflexively swallows, one hand reaching up to rub at his neck.
“Thank you, sir,” because he’s been trained to give thanks for anything and everything, lest it be taken away. There’s a pause before the man responds:
“The name’s Ray, don’t call me sir.”
Sol can’t help the stutter of his heart at the reprimand, the nails of one hand twisting and pinching and pulling at the index finger of his other.
“Yes, s-okay, thank you Mister.”
He knows he’s cutting it close so he can’t help the minute flinch when the man raises his hand, only to pinch at the bridge of his nose and let out a sigh. But he hates the ones that make him call their names the most; it’s so much easier to say “thank you, sir.”
“You know anything about a hybrid kid downstairs?”
Part of Sol laughs at him, saying he should have expected an even worse Master but the rest of him is jumping into action.
“Anything you want from him I can do better, we can even do it here, okay? I’m sorry I said that before” the words come out too quickly, tripping into each other as Sol drops to the floor, knees hitting the tile with a painful thud. His breaths are coming out too short and he fumbles with the man’s belt for a second before the man goes to do it himself-except he doesn’t.
The man covers his hands with his own before removing them.
“I will tell you again. I do not want sex from you. I will not want sex from you and I won’t ever want sex from a kid. I’m asking because we think his mother is around, is he talking about you?”
Sol nods quickly, too quickly in fact. He already feels like puking from the lack of food and the adrenaline rush; his hands are shaking in the man’s own, now he feels dizzy on top of it. The man helps him to his feet again but Sol can’t help but stumble into him. He quickly jerks back, slamming the back of his thighs into the sink, his hands slipping out from the man’s. He can’t help the hiss of pain against the pressure of belt marks carved into his thighs from Master’s last punishment. He mumbles a quick “sorry, thank you” but his ears are ringing and the world is going black at the edges. He pinches the flesh of his thigh, urging the feeling away and trying to take deep breaths without being too obvious about it.
The man shrugs out of his jacket and maybe he changed his mind? But all he does is hold it out to Sol. Sol looks at it for a second before taking it and gently draping it over his arm. It feels heavy.
The man drags his hand down his face and says “use it to cover up.”
Sol flinches, he’s already exasperating his maybe new master. “Sorry,” he says. He slides into it but it’s much too big for him, coming down to his thighs and engulfing his hands. He wonders if the man is offended by his nakedness. He’s gotten used to being naked in front of others but he’s still grateful for the scrap of dignity he’s been given.
“Alright, let’s go get your kid.”
Sol silently says goodbye to the spider in the corner, Mary, and follows his new master, hoping this isn’t a trick and Master isn’t on the other side of the door.
“I should’ve asked earlier, you have a name?”
Ray looks at the kid out of the corner of his eye, noting how quickly his eyes skitter away when they accidentally make contact.
“Soleil, but you can call me whatever of course. Master usually just calls me ‘you’ or-” Soleil swallows to cut himself off and Ray has no trouble imagining the list of names Grey must’ve had for him.
“Soleil will be fine, thank you.” And Soleil winces. Ray wonders if he’s going to be able to say anything without the kid beating himself up over it.
Ray notes he’s walking with a limp, favoring his right leg, and he wonders if that’s from birth or from the beatings it looks like the kid receives. The longer he stares at him the higher his shoulders go so Ray switches his eyes back to his surroundings. It’s night out and while Ray would think Soleil would be looking at the windows after being in that room with none he keeps his eyes fixed firmly on the ground in front of him.
“I’m not exactly sure where I’m going so why don’t you take the lead.”
There's a pause for a split second before he hobbles in front, picking up the speed and Ray wonders if that’s because of him wanting to follow directions or because he wants to see his kid. It might be a bit of both.
He doesn’t want to overwhelm the kid but he figures at this point it’s moot so he comms the others: “Meet us at the entrance hall Cyrill, found the mom, name’s Soleil. Coming down to meet you now Athena.”
He notes the slight misstep when Ray first speaks into the comm and he inwardly sighs. The kid and the kid’s kid are going to have to come with them. Besides any information Soleil might have on Grey’s dealings, he’s not going to risk handing them off to whatever agency wants them and getting them separated. He hopes Athena and Cyrill are up for guests. Though with Athena’s propensity for mothering he doubts she'll have a problem with it.
Soleil limps down the stairs and and Ray can’t help but have one hand hovering out to catch him if need be, whether Soleil notices it or not he doesn’t say. He does glance back at Ray incredibly briefly when he spots Cyrill standing near the bottom of the stairs though. He wonders if another hybrid around will make him more or less comfortable and nearly curses when he figures the kid probably thinks he owns Cyrill or some shit like that.
Cyrill raises a brow at him as they come down the stairs. Ray just shakes his head, inclining his head towards Soleil whose own head has lowered the closer they get to the bottom of the stairs. Cyrill takes a step back as they reach the landing but Ray’s sure Cyrill feels the tension in the air. Soleil continues forward, gaining speed the closer they get to his pup, or kit, Ray can’t tell just yet what kind of hybrid Soleil is. He’s got pointy brown ears and the same goes for his tail, which he can get a better look at now that he’s behind him. Cyrill slides into step beside him, silent footfalls as usual, and looks up at Ray, head tilted.
Ray reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose and Cyrill snorts. They each note how Soleil’s shoulders have come up around his ears with the two of them behind him but he doesn’t turn around at the noise.
Soliel reaches a wooden door, ajar, “it’s, um, this one,” Soleil says before quickly heading down the stairs, a hand on the wall because there’s no light or handrail.
Athena hears a voice from upstairs, soft, before there’s an inelegant veritable pounding down the stairs.
A harried looking hybrid bursts through the door, eyes wild before they land on Ness. With a cry she launches herself forward, landing on already bruised knees to pull her child in for a hug. She notes that they’re wearing Ray’s jacket and she smiles softly, sure Cyrill’s thinking the same thing as her, “always the gentleman.”
Her smile quickly turns into a frown as she takes in the bruises littering the hybrid’s legs, some in the shape of boot prints. She almost wishes Grey wasn’t dead so she could kill him again. She leans forward from her spot on a crate to make contact with her partners and notes that Ray decided the space was too small for all of them. Cyrill has his head peeked through the open landing but hasn’t come down.
The hybrid, Soleil, she remembers, looks up quickly when she moves that slight bit, pushing Ness behind her.
“Ness was just telling me about his mother, you sound like a very smart lady, he loves you very much.”
But the hybrid doesn’t move. “I’m not a woman.” He says, before flinching back, lowering his head.
A male omega then. “My apologies, your name was Soleil, right? Would you like a granola bar?” She asks, holding one out that she’d saved for the mother.
Soleil’s eyes widen in disbelief before catching the empty wrappers Athena took from Ness before turning to said child, “did you eat those? I said only speak to me or Rose.” He whispers, his voice a hiss.
Ness looks up at Athena then back at Soleil. He pouts, “but she’s a lady that gave me food.”
Athena tilts her head, aware that she tricked the child. “My apologies, we mean you both no harm but it looks like you could both use a few good meals. It’s my fault of course.”
Again Soleil looks at the floor with wide eyes and she wonders if he’s ever been apologized to. He tilts his head down after a second.
“Thank you Miss, for feeding him.”
“Of course,” she says, smiling, “would you like a granola bar?” She asks again, holding it forward. The hybrid doesn’t look her in the eye for longer than a second, eyes flitting to her face then away again. He takes it but looks up the stairs before doing anything with it. To take it he has to shake back the sleeve of Ray's jacket, displaying bruised hands and she makes sure her face doesn't display the displeasure she feels at that.
“Shall we go upstairs then?” She asks, hoping this won’t become a fight. But Soleil simply nods, standing, but she doesn’t miss the way he pushes Ness half behind him. Ness acquiesces but peeks his head out from behind Ray’s jacket. Since he’s making no move, probably anxious to have unknown parties in front and behind his only exit, Athena makes to move towards the stairs before stopping in her tracks.
“Ah, I don’t think we’ll be returning here so if there’s anything Ness might like from his bookshelf, now might be a good time to get it.”
Ness looks up at his mother, tugging him over to the bookshelf, hand-in-hand and points at the books.
“Can I take those Momma?” He whisper-asks, but with the useless whisper of a child.
“Of course hun,” he says but looks to Athena for approval before scooping them up with his other arm, clad in Ray’s jacket. Athena would offer to hold them, worried they might slip through the silky fabric but she’s sure that he'll decline. Or rather want to decline but agree anyway.
She heads up the stairs, not looking back and notes that Ray and Cyrill stop a whispered conversation over by the window as she exits the door.
“Is there anything you need to get?” She asks to Soleil as he emerges, Ness still half behind him.
"Uhm, I have things upstairs Master has me use." He stumbles on the word Master and his tail twitches in nervousness.
"Hm, anything of sentimental value?" She continues. It's not like they'll be requiring or wanting any prep-work Soleil did for Grey. But she notes that Soleil freezes so she rephrases it:
"Anything you'd be sad if you didn't bring with you?" But he's still frozen, and starts to minutely tremble and she grown unsure where she went wrong. Is it admitting to emotions?
Thankfully Ray decides for them, "we'll just buy you new toiletries, let's go." He says and starts to head for the door. Cyrill doesn't move so quick so he can keep an eye on the hybrids but Athena, remembering Ness's adamant refusal to even go upstairs sees the problem before either of them.
Soleil takes a half-step back towards where Ness was housed. He's visibly trembling now and his eyes are darting around as if he's expecting someone to pop out of one of the rooms. His ears are down and his tail wraps around one of his legs. Ness is looking up at his mother, as scared by his mom's fear as Soleil is by the prospect of going outside.
"I'm not allowed to go outside." He says, his voice an octave higher. Ray stops in his tracks, turning back and frowning once he sees the state Soleil is in. Soleil flinches back at the frown, taking another half step and pushing Ness behind him all the way rather than halfway.
He shakes his head quickly. "I can't I can't, I'm not allowed." He's breathing rapidly and Athena's worried he's going to have a panic attack. Cyrill sneezes, probably at the sudden influx of the smell of fear and Soleil jumps at even that, he shakes his head further repeating "I can't, I can't, I can't."
"Okay," Athena says, sitting cross-legged on the floor, "why don't we all take a seat and we can talk about what's wrong."
Soleil hears the gently phrased suggestion as a command and again on bruised knees hits the ground, pulling Ness down with him. He’s still shaking and has his head craned to try and look around the corner at the end of the hallway before it whips back around as Cyrill and Ray take their seats. He pulls his knees to chest under the jacket and wraps his arms around them.
“Sorry” he says, and then clams up, head lowered again, though his toes curl tensely upon the floor. Ness leans up against him, copying his mother, arms around his legs too.
“It’s no issue,” Athena says, “I’m guessing that’s one of Grey’s old rules?”
Soleil nods once, jerkily.
“Well, listen” she says, not unkindly, “Grey is dead so his rules don’t apply anymore, would you like some proof that he’s dead, is it that you think he’s hiding somewhere around here?”
Soleil’s eyes shift to the side and he bites his lip, “sorry,” he blurts out but doesn’t say anything else. Athena realizes she asked two questions at the same time.
“Cyrill would you mind getting the file from the car?” Cyrill gets up and goes without a word. Soleil’s eyes flicker over him before finding the floor again.
“Look, hun,” and though she doesn’t mean it literally Soleil’s eyes slide to some point next to her head. She notices his hands move in the jacket sleeves like he’s curling them to steel himself.
“Cyrill is going to bring a file and you’ll see that Grey can’t hurt you anymore. As for going outside, the three of us are going to take care of you, okay? And we say it’s okay for you to go outside. Nobody is going to hurt you and nothing is going to happen, we’re just going to bring you to our estate and then you can get cleaned up and get some food, okay?”
Soleil nods jerkily again, a “sorry” slipping out of his mouth. Athena wants to sigh because she can tell apologies are going to be a recurring theme but she knows he’ll think it’s because of him, though it is in a way.
Cyrill comes back with the file.
“You should make sure Ness doesn’t see this,” he says as he hands it to Soleil.
Soleil’s eyes rove over the folder then he nudges Ness off of him.
“Go sit by the wall, hands over your eyes,” and Ness slides over, turning to face the wall and putting his hands over his eyes.
Soleil opens the folder and his eyes immediately glaze over. It’s the full-body photo of a dead Grey Nickelson with a bullet through his head and Athena can tell his mind isn’t with them. They sit in silence for the couple of minutes it takes for Soleil to come back to himself. He shifts in place before shuffling through the rest of the photos. He then closes the folder and lays his hand on the floor with it still in his grasp.
“Okay,” he says softly.
“Okay,” Ray says, standing. The rest follow suit, Soleil using the wall to help himself up. Soleil takes Ness’s hand in his own and Athena takes the folder from him. Soleil keeps his head lowered even when they reach outside, the line of his shoulders tense. Then Ness asks a question that makes Athena want to break something or cry or both.
He points at the moon and asks “goodnight Moon?”
Soleil’s hand tightens around his son’s and Ness turns to look at his mother, eyes widening upon noticing the tears that streak down his face.