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The Less I Know the Better

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It’s been raining for several days, but so far today has been the worst. It’s coming up on 9 at night, and the rain pelting the window is loud enough that Rhys has the volume turned up exceptionally loud on his TV set. He’s enjoying a rerun of some knockoff horror movie and snacking on a bowl of ice cream fresh from the freezer. Despite being a little cold from the sweet treat, Rhys pulls a blanket around his shoulders and leaves his window cracked open to circulate the air and enjoy the smell of the rain.

 

Dinner had been awkward. Rhys and his father argued about his post-graduation plans while his mother attempted to placate with small-talk. The tension had been so thick you couldn’t cut through it with a corrosive skag. So seventeen-year-old Rhys was glad when he could escape and seclude himself in the safety of his room. He’d quickly dressed down in a loose t-shirt and sweats, and settled in for some alone time. 

 

Rhys’ mind jumps back to tonight’s argument… His parents run the main detective agency of Atlas. So naturally Rhys enjoys a good mystery now and then. What he doesn’t enjoy is the constant pressure from his parents, especially his father. He’s constantly pushing Rhys to examine every small detail, constantly telling him watch his back, trust no one , the cliche kind of stuff you’d see in any dramatic detective holovid. And it’s only getting worse as Rhys gets older.

 

Rhys has known from a young age that when he takes the head seat in the Atlas Detective Agency, he won’t run the company the way his father does. His father is too mistrusting, focusing so hard on the physical details he can never pick up the mental and emotional ones. But Rhys is different. He can easily spot the change in one’s tone of voice and a subtle twitch of their eyebrow. It took Rhys no time at all to realize that one could read someone (and subsequently damage them) so much easier psychologically than physically.

 

While the responsibility of running a whole agency by himself brings trepidation, Rhys is looking forward to one thing at least. Replacing his father means creating an emotionally stronger and closer task force. His team will be loyal out of respect and emotional attachment. It’ll be nothing like his father’s, where everyone was on edge and checking their morning coffee for spit or laxatives.

 

Lost in his thoughts and mindlessly sucking on his spoon, the very weak jump scare on the holovid causes Rhys to startle and the bowl topples from his free hand. Distracted by his blanket falling off his shoulders, he tries to scramble but fails to catch the bowl as it clatters to the ground (thankfully) empty.

 

With a heavy sigh and a very dramatic eye roll, Rhys switches on his desk lamp and slumps off his bed to pick up the bowl and move it so he won’t step on it in the morning. He’s not planning on leaving his room for the rest of the night save for a bathroom break.

 

And then everything seems to happen all at once: his cracked-open second story window is  suddenly shoved fully open by a slick and bloodied hand. This is quickly followed by a tanned and bloody arm, which is then followed with the thud of a bloodied and burly man collapsing onto his floor.

 

Already unbalanced, Rhys tumbles headfirst onto the floor, shrieking as he falls. He scrambles to stand up, quickly observing the man, who clutches his side. Blood seeps through his fingers and onto the floorboards. Rhys immediately catches the other man’s stare, taken aback by his bright and blue and green heterochromatic eyes. 

 

The gaze is guarded, mistrustful, and Rhys feels an ice-cold fear prickling his skin and settling into his core as the man props himself on his elbow and begins zombie-crawling toward him. Adrenaline kicks in as Rhys’ mind races for a means of escape. The sound of the rain and television seem to disappear and all Rhys can focus on is this moment.

 

“Rhys?? Are you okay??” his mother calls.

 

Rhys and the unexpected visitor both freeze and turn their attention to Rhys’ closed bedroom door.

 

He turns back to the man who flicks his gaze from the door to Rhys. Something in his expression strikes Rhys as being less murderous and more secretly afraid and helpless.. almost like a wounded rabbit. But, no,  with that feral grimace and very threatening bloodied sneer staining the man’s teeth red, Rhys decides he more resembles a wounded wolf . Rhys doesn’t want to think about who's the rabbit in this scenario.

 

Realizing he’s been suspiciously quiet for too long, Rhys quickly turns his attention back to the closed door

 

“Y-yes, I’m fine mom! Just... I uh, just fell off my bed..! But I’m totally okay!!” He tags onto his excuse frantically, hoping it’s enough to stop her on the stairs.

 

Rhys flicks his eyes back to the other man, whose expression falls into puzzlement and disbelief. He seems genuinely caught off guard.

 

There’s a few more moments of tense silence, with the movie and the rain creating a blanket of background noise that covers their labored breathing.

 

“....Okay...” his mother calls back with uncertainty. “Let me know if you need anything.” Clearly used to her son’s clumsy antics, both men listen to her descend the stairs until there’s silence once more.

 

Rhys begins to berate himself for quite literally increasing his chance of a quick death by at least 99%. But... now at least his mom is safe from… The stranger grunts and rolls onto his back to stare at the ceiling. His heavy breathing makes his chest rise and fall, as Rhys watches the rain drip out of his damp hair and onto the floor mixing with the splatters and smears of blood. The man is wearing a black leather jacket, faded blue jeans, and some very tacky sneakers. The shirt was probably white once,but now it’s pink and stained with blood.

 

When Rhys tries to speak, his voice cracks and he awkwardly clears his throat,

 

“You’re... hurt....”

 

“No shit,” the man returns in a rasp.

 

Rhys tries not to focus on how deep his voice is or how well it fits how unrealistically attractive this guy is. No! Bad Rhys! Focus!!

 

“Uh... Wait here, I’m going to... grab some bandages...” 

 

With a graceful stumble over a pile of dirty clothes, Rhys quickly rights himself. Standing in the doorway, he glances back to see if the man has also moved, but he hasn’t. Figuring the stranger must be too exhausted to move and resigned to his fate, Rhys leaves his door cracked open and dashes to the hallway bathroom.

 

There he recovers the first aid kit under the bathroom sink, a damp washcloth, and a towel from the floor, before flicking off the lights and dashing into his parents' room. He grabs a needle and some thread in case the man needs stitches. On his way back, he pauses to peer down the lit staircase leading into his kitchen. He knows this is his last chance to call for help, to run down the stairs and tell his parents to call the police, but something convinces him to push back into his room instead.

 

The man still hasn’t moved, doesn’t even flinch as Rhys shuts his door. Rhys hesitates for a moment before walking to where the man lies.

 

He comes to the wounded stranger’s side and stares down at him. The man has an oddly relaxed expression and his eyes are shut, causing Rhys to panic for a second that there’s now a corpse on his floor. He’s relieved when the eyes snap open, even if they’re watching her warily.

 

“What are you staring at, kid?” the man asks accusingly, yanking Rhys from his momentary daze.

 

“S-sorry... I was worried you might have died...” 

 

Rhys quickly crouches down to the man’s side and sets the items he gathered onto the floor. He involuntarily flinches when the man laughs and turns his head back to the ceiling, “Kinda feels like I should be dead.”

 

Not wanting to ask for elaboration, Rhys grabs the damp cloth and reaches for the stranger’s side. The man’s hand shoots and he tightly grasps Rhys’ wrist, causing him to let out an embarrassing squeak.

 

Rhys meets his eyes once again, surprised at how much strength this bloodied stranger has despite his wounds. He winces as the bruising grip tightens in further warning, the man’s expression guarded and cold as he examines Rhys’ face before turning to look at the items, probably searching for a hidden weapon or syringe.

 

After a pained grimace, Rhys forces himself to return the eye contact as confidently as possible, matching the stranger with a determined glare. “I’m just trying to help you! Let go before you bleed all over my floor!” His voice comes out a lot more steady than he actually feels. “You ever have a nose bleed on a wooden floor? Not easy to scrub out.”

 

The man doesn’t react for a few more moments, still staring cautiously right back into Rhys’ eyes as if he would soon be able to read the other’s intentions. Finally, after what feels like a few minutes, his grip relaxes and then his hand slides to the floor. Rhys instinctively rubs his already bruising wrist before returning his attention to the man and trying to soften his scowl into more of a look of concern.

 

“Take your shirt off.”

 

A small dirty smirk plays at the man’s lips, and Rhys immediate;y knows the way the man has twisted his words, even before he voices his thoughts.

 

“Damn cupcake. I usually like to go on a date first, but since you asked so nicely...”

 

Rhys rolls his eyes as the man carefully sits up, immediately returning to clutch his side with a pained hiss. Rhys puts his hands out. hovering to help steady the stranger. “Woah, woah, careful! Don’t move too fast, you’ll make your injuries worse.”

 

The visitor ignores him, shrugging off his leather jacket with Rhys’ help.

 

He growls and with a sudden last burst of energy, manages to lift his shirt off and over his head before collapsing back to the floor, breathing heavily despite the small exertion. His eyes clench tightly closed.

 

Rhys quickly surveys the man’s (very fit, goddammit ) torso, spotting what seems like a deep stab wound in his side. He dabs at it with the washcloth, the first cold touch making the stranger flinch. As he cleans, however, he’s relieved to find the wound isn’t as severe as it seemed at first, more of a graze then a pierce.

 

He dumps alcohol on the small washcloth, warning, “Careful, this will sting a bit,” before pressing the rag to the gash. The man’s breath hitches in pain as he slams his free hand to the floor, trying to control his breathing against the harsh sting. The pain soon subsides with the man unclenching his fists. Rhys quickly grabs the torn gauze to dress the wound as the blood begins to well up again.

 

“You don’t have any Anshin or anything less goddamn slow and lame, do ya?” the man growls.

 

“No, we don’t. Fresh out actually.” Rhys replies, annoyed as he checks over the rest of the man’s chest. Look around Rhys’ bedroom, does this look like the home of a wealthy family? Only people with quadruple his father’s paycheck could afford stuff like that.

 

“You’re going to need a few stitches,” Rhys says uncertainly. “Um…”

 

“Well, get to it,” the man says impatiently.

 

“Uhh…” Rhys trails off awkwardly.

 

The man flicks his eyes over to the needle and thread. “I’m assuming you didn’t bring those to work on your cross-stitch. Make it quick, pumpkin.”

 

Rhys is proud that his hands only shake a little as he threads the needle. His mother gave him a crash course on this once, and now’s the perfect time to remember it. He takes a deep breath as he stabs the needle into the man’s skin, surprised when he only hisses slightly before going silent. The rest of the stitching goes well with only minor flinching, and after examining his finished work, Rhys feels pretty damn proud of himself. The other wounds are minor in comparison, mostly scratches and bruising.

 

“Kinda young to have your medical license,” the man says

 

“Well… thanks to my amazing skills, even without a medical license, I think you’re good to go, free of charge.” He wipes his hands on the nearby towel.

 

“If you’d like a shower, I can sneak you into the bathroom. And I’ve got some extra clothes you can borrow. We also just ate dinner so I can grab you some leftover food from the kitch

 

“Why are you helping me?” The man interrupts.

 

Rhys looks back into the man’s eyes, realizing he doesn’t know why he’s helping this man. Does he really need a reason? Well... considering this is probably a fugitive that climbed onto his roof and then through his window, okay, yeah, maybe he does.

 

“You don’t know anything about me, kiddo,” the man says, expressionless, “I could kill you with my bare hands right now, then go downstairs and kill your parents before just taking off into the night. The police would never have a clue, and a scrawny kid like you wouldn’t even be able to stop me.” 

 

While anxiety and fear pool in Rhys’ gut, he stares at the bandaged wound on the man’s side.

 

“I... I don’t know...” he answers honestly. “You... you’re hurt, and you really needed help.” He swallows audibly, nervous that maybe this stranger will live up to his threats. He’s really taking a dangerous risk here.

 

The other man sghs, exasperated, his eyes trained on the ceiling.

 

“Caring about others will get you killed. Everybody’s out for number one, trust me, kiddo. Don’t waste your energy on people when they’re just going to stab you in the back,” he growls, voice filled with malice. After a moment of tense silence, he mumbles, “Or your kidney, for that matter.”

 

“Not everyone,” Rhys answers simply, placing a small cotton patch onto the man’s cheekbone. The man scoffed but didn’t reply further.

 

Glancing over the man’s chest for any other visible wounds and finding none too severe, Rhys stands back up and gives the man a friendly smile.

 

“I’m going to go get some of that food for you, just wait here.” 

 

Instead of waiting for a reply, Rhys turns and goes out the door, heading down the stairs and into the kitchen where his parents are cleaning up. 

 

They both turn their attention towards him, his father going back to the dishes while his mother meets his eyes. He knows the brown in her eyes is reflected in his own. She gives him a raised eyebrow and a playful smile. “You sure you’re okay? Sounded like quite the fall. Did you hit your head again?”

 

Making sure his mother won’t see right through his lie, he turns to the cupboard and takes a bowl out with a nervous laugh. “Haha... no...? Just... overestimated how far I could lean, you know... from my bed to pick up my bowl off the floor.”

 

“I hope you cleaned up the mess, and where’s— you’re grabbing more dinner? You’re still hungry?”

 

Rhys pauses while peeling back the plastic from the pot roast that was about to be stored in their fridge. He tries to come up with an excuse without making his mom concerned.

 

“Y-yeah course I am, Mom! You know I don’t have any self control when it comes to your pot roast!” He quickly scoops some into the bowl while his mom giggles, flattered. Still on edge about the possible gang member currently in his bedroom, Rhys almost jumps right out of his skin as his mom suddenly grabs him into a tight hug. 

 

“You’re so sweet. Remember to bring both of your bowls down, okay?” She gives him a loud and wet kiss on the cheek with an over dramatic *smack*!

 

Rhys makes a disgruntled noise and wipes his face with the back of his hand while pulling away from his mother. “Yeah yeah I will!” he answers and returns her mischievous smile. He grabs a couple of slices of bread before running up the stairs and into his room.

 

The stranger has put his blood-stained shirt back on and stands near Rhys’ dresser, holding a pair of socks in his hands.

 

“Hey!” Rhys protests quietly, shutting the door. “Don’t go through my drawers!!” 

 

He sets the bowl down and snatches the socks from the man’s large hands.

 

“Why the hell would you OWN a pair of socks like this? Why is it covered in flamingos and pizza? Those don’t even relate to each other!” the man asks, his tone and expression dripping  with disgust.

 

“I got them on a trip to Lazy River Land. They’re soft and they-- it’s none of your business! Don’t go through my stuff!” Rhys growls, tossing the socks back into his drawer and slamming it shut. When he turns back to meet the man’s judgemental gaze, he feels the blood drain from his face. They’re only inches apart and this man could probably snap his neck with one hand. Awkwardly stepping back, he quickly squeaks out a silent “please” before putting the bowl and spoon into the other’s hands.

 

Instead of meeting the man’s eyes, Rhys turns to survey his room. There’s blood and water puddled on the floor in front of the open window. He’ll need to clean that up before it warps the wood and so he uses the towel he brought in before, crouching down to mop up the mess. As he’s soaking up blood and water, he hears the tell tale sound of a spoon scooping food from a bowl, and Rhys gives a small smile. As tightly-wound as this guy is, it’s pretty amazing he’s so willing to accept food. Makes Rhys feel like he’s accomplished something.

 

After several minutes, the bowl is set down with a thunk and Rhys looks over his shoulder and flushes to see the man watching him, mindlessly chomping on the bread. Trying to hide his embarrassment (what if he was accidentally flashing him? Oh god. ) and tugging down the back of his shirt just to be safe he stands ang goes for his dresser. Searching in his pajama drawer for the largest clothes he owns, he finds a shirt and some loose-fitting sweatpants, holding the shirt up in the man’s direction. 

 

“Think this will fit?”

 

The man looks it over, meets Rhys’ eyes again, and snatches the clothing before going to Rhys’ doorway.

 

“Wait...!!” he yelps quietly, rushing to the door and blocking it with his side, seconds before the stranger, hand extended, reaches the knob.

 

 “What?” the man growls as Rhys looks at him incredulously. “You told me I could take a shower.”

 

“Yes I KNOW that, duh!” Rhys angrily whispers at him. “But did you forget the situation you… WE are in right now? My parents have no idea you’re here and they’ll FREAK OUT if they see you! Let me check the hallway first.” 

 

The man dramatically rolls his eyes before folding his arms and motioning with one hand for Rhys to continue.

 

Rhys opens his door slowly, quietly creaking on its hinges. Using the small space to peek out toward his parents room, he finds nothing and so he opens the door a bit further, poking his head out to look the opposite direction. Before he can turn and tell the stranger that the coast is clear, he stumbles forwards as the unwelcome visitor shoves the door the rest of the way and strolls out into the hall without caution.

 

Rhys almost shits his pants, frantically looking every which way as the man casually peeks in each door he passes as if he’s visiting a friend’s house for the first time. Finally reaching the bathroom door, he doesn’t spare Rhys a second glance, just flicks on the light and shuts and locks the door.

 

Trying to calm his racing heart, Rhys puts a hand over his face, feeling the cold sweat on his forehead. He hears the shower turn on and gives a sigh of relief. At least now he has a moment to try and sort out his thoughts about what in the HELL just happened. 

 

Before he can do some calming breathing exercises however, he registers his parents speaking to each other and ascending the stairs, his mother giggling softly. Rhys slides along the floor in his socks and then frantically dives back into his room, trying to make as little noise as possible. He crawls to hide behind his open door, waiting for a few seconds before his parents pass by. He listens to the footsteps on the hardwood floor continue down the hallway towards their room, and then he flinches as he hears the rapping of someone knocking on the bathroom door. He feels his skin prickle and almost immediately starts to cause a distraction before his mother simply calls out, “Goodnight Rhys! We’ll see you later tomorrow when we’re back from the office!” 

 

Thankfully, the stranger doesn’t offer a reply. When he hears his parents door shut, he lets out a loud sigh of relief. 

 

Holy shit this is going to be a long night.