"He's looking at you again," Marcus said underneath his breath so he would not be overheard.
John Wick did not need to ask who his friend was referring to or to even raise his head and look around; he had felt the younger man's eyes on him for minutes now but had not wanted to indicate that he knew that they were in fear of embarrassing the boy.
Marcus, on the other hand, had been teasing him about their underling's affection for days now. He had realized it sometime shortly after the young man had been given to them to help with his training. Marcus' teasing was never cruel and seldom crude. He respected life too much to mock it in any way but he seemed to enjoy the thought of his longtime friend having so obvious an admirer and could not help the occasional remark or amused smile.
Truth be told, he wasn't a bad looking kid either. He had nice green eyes that were framed by long lashes. His lips were sensuous and his whole overall face could look very innocent or erotically impish depending on his mood.
It was the body which seemed to bring the boy and his two handlers grief.
The training was not going well. Even only this far in, Wick had been able to tell this. This new assassin, this Casey, was too soft, too feminine, for the work. The Baba Yaga had witnessed many fine female assassins but they had managed to not confuse their gender for weakness and excelled at their chosen profession. Casey was too prissy for the harsh brutal reality of life as an assassin. He was constantly tripping over his own two feet or fumbling with his gun on top of it. His nerves were on edge and he was too far removed from agility.
"Poor kid," Marcus had commented the night of their first mission with Casey. "He's clearly not cut out for this. His father has someone who sits on the table. Wanted to toughen the sprout up or get him killed, I suppose. Bypassed the proper schools and real training. Damn idiot! I'd kill his dad, myself, if I had the chance."
It was shortly after this that the older man had noted the shy way their ward was looking at John, the way he tried to touch the handsome dark-haired man any time he saw a chance but then would pull his hand away the moment skin met skin.
Wick, of course, had noticed much earlier than this. Reading and knowing a person's body language and proximity to his self had been deeply ingrained into him. The first moment Casey's eyes had rested on him and the boy's cheeks had turned from pink to crimson he had been able to discern that the young man had developed an attraction to him. By the time Marcus whispered that Casey was staring at him, he was well aware that the attraction had bloomed into a full blown crush.
It flattered John Wick even though it was not the first time it had happened. The assassin had had his fair share of admirers; both male and female.
It was, however, the first time the person with the case of puppy love had been so damn awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin. Wick couldn't tell if he was annoyed or touched by the man who had to have been no more than eighteen years old. Instead, he chose to retain his usual air of indifference. He was just a boy who had easily entered his life and would just as easily exit it.
The Baba Yaga only hoped that it was not in a body bag.
Trying to locate their targets, some defects from the Camorra organization, who had travelled to New York, Marcus turned and caught Casey behind them several paces and staring up at the blue sky visible past the skyscrapers.
"Hey kid!" he called out. "Keep your head out of the clouds and your feet firmly on the ground! You'll only make yourself too dizzy to be of any use. We've got work to do."
Casey seemed to heed his mentor's warning but Wick found him halted and looking skyward again a few blocks forward. Half suspecting that this would happen, the Baba Yaga had situated himself behind the teenager. He placed his hands on the smaller man's shoulders to steady him.
"Thanks," Casey said and then offered an apology. "Sorry. Your friend is right: if you look up for too long you feel as if the buildings are about to fall down on you. It feels like this is some fucking jungle, they are the predators and we're only prey."
The older man cast a look to the sky and could see what the boy must have felt: a sudden inverted vertigo. He only offered him a nod though and a gentle push as a reminder to keep moving.
At the building where the Camorra henchmen were hiding, their ward almost got them all killed. As they were hiding on the balcony ready to enter the room where the three men sat watching what appeared to be a snuff film, Casey knocked over a potted plant alerting the senior target of the three strangers presence. Only thanks to John Wick and Marcus' skills were they able to kill two of the targets and capture the youngest as requested. This last one was not much younger than their own ward; the three Camorra clan assassins a mirror image of the three men sent to take them down and bring one back.
Marcus did not scold or chastise Casey. He offered no word spoken in anger or disappointment yet the look in his eyes had said everything and the young man sat on the hotel room's bed in supreme frustration with himself.
"I hate this stupid body!" Casey screamed. "It's not me! It's not what I want."
John Wick went over to the television and shot it, ending the replay of the woman's torment on the screen.
"You're still young," the skilled assassin muttered, putting away his gun. "You'll grow into it."
"This isn't who I am," Casey said sadly as he looked down at his hands, legs and feet.
Remembering the young man's miserable performance as an assassin, John Wick nodded as he stood before his ward. "No, it isn't. Forget your father. Be what you want to be."
The boy started laughing and looked into the older man's deep brown eyes. "I think you misunderstood and understood perfectly all once, John Wick."
Silence grew around them as Casey tried to stop the flow of his tears and John Wick tried to explain away to himself the urge to dry those same tears away.
"So if I can't be an assassin what can I be?" the young man asked. "Know of any nice desk jobs where I don't have to move around too much?"
"There are Administrative positions but they are usually given to women," John Wick commented. He saw the thoughtful look flash across Casey's face and the little accepting nod that he gave but did not truly comprehend it.
Marcus peeked into the room and John and Casey could hear their prey thrashing around and trying to cry out past the tape around his mouth from where he was tied up in the bathtub.
"They said to bring him to the airport," Marcus informed. "They'll deal with him from there."
"Who?" Casey asked looking up at Wick although it was his other guardian who answered.
"Wednesday and Pugsley Addams," Marcus stated with little enthusiasm.
* * *
Gianna and Santino D'Antonio were waiting for the two assassins, their ward and their quarry at the private airport reserved for High Table business. Marcus cursed when he saw them but then put away the break in his reserve and was all civility.
"Here," Marcus said as he pushed the young captive at them.
Gianna snapped her fingers and one of her trained guards appeared and lead him away to the black jet that was waiting. John looked at Casey briefly to try to garner the young man's opinion of the two D'Antonios. His mouth hung open as if he was seeing two exotic creatures in some alien habitat.
The Baba Yaga then turned to study the creatures also to see what the boy may have been thinking. Gianna was only a few years younger than himself. A gorgeous woman with soul piercing eyes, she was a serpent of dangerous beauty, her hair was dark silk trailing down a back exposed and of ivory.
Her brother was separated by a mere five years and had to have matched Casey's age almost exactly. He was possessed of both a striking delf-confidence and remarkable immaturity. He shadowed his sister if only for the chance to view her wonderful back and where he may plunge the knife some day.
Of course, Santino would probably never be so bold as to do it himself, Wick realized. He would let somebody else do the work for him if ever a day found it necessary.
Whereas, John found Casey's crush on him cute, he felt distinctly uncomfortable from the attention he felt the youngest D'Antonio bestowing upon him. He could suddenly empathize with the lobsters kept in tanks in fancy restaurants, having to suffer the hungry gazes of those who desired to devour them. Even worse, however, was the occasional glance Santino threw at Casey; the guileful young man was centering on what he deemed as the weaker target and John stepped in front of his ward protectively.
"It is always good to see you, Marcus," Gianna purred seductively at the older man.
"Sorry. Told you before: not interested," Marcus smiled politely and walked back to the Chevy Aurelio had provided them with to make it safely to the airport with no unwanted attention.
"How about you, John Wick?" she quickly turned her attention to the next possibility without so much as batting an over-mascaraed eyelash. "Would you be interested in joining me on my flight back to Rome? I can make it very interesting for the both of us."
"The three of us," Santino added as he stepped forward, obviously annoyed by his sister's intentional ignorance of his existence. His eyes were greedily on Wick and the assassin felt disturbed by the young man's sexual avarice.
"No, thank you," he declined.
Santino turned his attention to Casey as quickly as his older sister had gone from Marcus to Wick. "How about you?" D'Antonio asked. "You look amusing. Would you care to join us?"
Wick watched his ward look shyly at Santino and shook his head. Gianna now centered on the stranger also as if in competition with her little brother. "Yes," she cooed. "Let me teach you little agnello."
The Baba Yaga watched as the woman extended a hand and touched Casey's cheek sinuously with the back of her hand. He studied the look on the young man's face and was confused by it: it was not the lust that Santino boldly wore when he had studied him or the sweet affection Casey, himself, had betrayed without wanting to whenever he looked at him, John knew. This was something else entirely. Casey seemed half in awe of the beautiful Gianna but it bore no sexual or romantic attraction. This was respect and admiration and envy all rolled into one.
It was as if the boy was looking, not at something he wanted, but rather at something he wanted to be.
As if wanting to stop the desperate longing that seemed so close to pain, John took the woman's hand and brought it away from Casey's face.
"We need to return him back to Administration," John stated. "His mission is completed."
"Pity," the D'Antonios said in unplanned unison. They turned to each other and laughed. There was the vaguest trace of hatred at the corner of even this shared and usually innocent act.
Marcus, John and Casey watched the two siblings walk back to their plane. From the way their arms suddenly linked halfway there, the three men hoped that the brother and sister did not seek entertainment in each other.
"Well now that that ordeal is over, let's get something to eat and then send you back," Marcus stated. He placed a hand on each of the boy's shoulders. "Look, kid, I don't want to hurt your feelings but I would seriously look into another vocation."
"I'm going into Administration," Casey announced happily, a large smile on his sweet face.
Marcus and Wick laughed at a statement they both believed was only intended as a joke.
"Cute," the older man said and ruffled his ward's black hair.
* * *
They ate supper in the Continental restaurant. Marcus kept the conversation going; the man was knowledgeable about a great many subjects even if he embarrassed his dinner companions with his vocal criticism of the menu and its poor nutritional content.
John talked when he thought it necessary but kept otherwise quiet and lost in his thoughts which kept returning to the way Casey had looked at the eldest D'Antonio. He had suddenly connected it with the words of his ward as he had sat on the hotel bed, the dead bodies of two Camorra agents and a shot TV set nearby.
This boy was not comfortable in his body for he did not feel like it was his body at all. His awkwardness and insecurity were the signs of someone who felt trapped in the physical prison nature had given to them. Casey had looked at Gianna and had coveted what he had felt she had been blessed with: being born a woman.
This young man didn't believe that he was gay. This young man believed that he was truly a woman inside.
As he drank his whiskey, feeling Casey's eyes lingering on him, yearning and desperate, John tried to push away any thoughts of identity and sexuality. There was no time left to wonder if this beautiful man was really a man or not. He was going to miss the awkward little clutz. That was bad enough. Everything else didn't matter.
The meal finished, the three men drove to Administration to complete the required forms. John noticed as Casey looked at the female workers in the office with interest before they were called in to their respective rooms to fill out the paperwork. When their ward had been called in, Marcus leaned forward towards John, having also noted the attention the young man paid the workings of the office.
"You don't think he was being serious do you?" the older man asked.
John remained silent.
They were called in together and both of them recommended that Casey not be allowed to be an assassin. Wick feared the flack the boy's father may give his son. It was a thought plaguing him as he walked back to the Chevy.
"JOHN!" the Baba Yaga heard a familiar voice shouting in his direction. He turned around to find Casey running towards him. The younger man flung his arms around John Wick and kissed him passionately.
When his ward pulled away, John stared at him without words or feeling in his lips. Casey only smiled before running away again to return to the Administration building.
"Hey, how come I didn't get a kiss?" Marcus joked offended. After a long moment of John just standing there not speaking, the older man hit the top of the car to gain his attention. "Hot lips! We gotta return the car and head back to the Continental."
"I think I'll walk," Wick said without turning around, his voice thick and strange.
"Suit yourself," Marcus stated, got into the car and disappeared down the surprisingly empty street.
John Wick walked down the sidewalk, not needing to look up in order to feel dizzy or that the buildings were about to fall down on him.