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To Sleep, To Dream

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Jerry Thorne, the Detention Officer of Cook Country Jail, hurried out from behind his desk the moment Vail came through the doors.

“Mister Vail.”

“Where is he?” Vail didn’t pause, striding straight past the desk and on towards a set of double doors.

“Uh. If you just come with me--” Thorne fell into step beside him. “He went nuts, second he saw the guy, we had to restrain him.”

“I thought I made it clear that nobody was to have access to Mister Stampler except for me and Doctor Arrington.”

“It was the kid’s father.”

“His father?” Vail couldn't disguise his shock.

The guard nodded. “Robert Stampler.”

They were approaching the end of the passage. A buzzer sounded and the iron bars rushed aside. They stepped through into the morose, grey interior of the prison. Thorne led the way to the holding block.

“He made an appointment to come see Aaron today -”

“An appointment?” Vail laughed coldly, incredulously. “Are you running a dental practice here, Officer?”

“Look, Mister Vail, your doctor okay’d it. She was there the whole time. I thought you knew.”

“This is unbelievable,” Vail muttered. They rounded a corner. Molly Arrington was sitting on a chair outside one of the holding rooms, staring into a styrophoam cup of coffee. A man was standing guard at the door.

“Let me know if he’s ready to go back to his cell,” Thorne said. He moved to stand in front of Vail, blocking his path and forcing him to meet his eye. “Kid’s been giving us hell. You’d better just tell him, Mister Vail, if he doesn’t stop throwin himself around in there, I’m gonna have him sedated.”

“Alright. Thank you,” Vail said curtly, stepping around him.

Molly had risen from her seat and was visibly bracing herself as he drew near.

“Marty…”

“You want to explain to me what the hell’s going on here?”

“I couldn’t get hold of you. Mister Stampler contacted me -”

“When?”

“Last night. He said he wanted to see Aaron.”

“This is...” Vail rubbed his forehead. “You had no business arranging this without speaking to me first.”

“I’m sorry. But as it is we know next to nothing about Aaron. All we have to go on is what he’s telling us. Whole parts of his life are just blacked out. I thought that if we could encourage his father to get involved, his testimony about Aaron’s childhood, his disorder -”

Vail raised a hand to silence her. “In your sessions, did you talk about his father?”

Molly’s slender face hardened. “We haven’t examined his childhood in detail yet.”

“But you’ve got some idea of what kind of a man Robert Stampler is.”

Molly broke her gaze off. When Vail spoke again, his voice was low: “What did you think would happen, sitting them down together? For Christ’s sake, Molly.”

The doctor looked at him squarely. “I made a mistake.”

“Where is he now? The father.”

“I - I don’t know. He took off.”

Vail sighed. He would have liked nothing better than to go home and sleep. He passed a hand across his face, rubbing his eyes tiredly, then straightening, forced himself to ask the question he’d been putting off.

“It’s still Roy in there?”

Molly glanced over her shoulder. The guard stationed at the door was still and impassive, the corridor ominously quiet.

“I don’t think he’s in any state to talk right now,” Molly murmured. “He’s very volatile.”

Vail shook his head. “Yeah, well, he’s still my client.” He started past her.

“Marty.” She caught his arm and he paused. “Be careful.” She pursed her lips. “You know what he’s capable of.”

***

The table was overturned. Both chairs had been hurled across the room and now lay upended, legs pointing in the air. Vail took in the wreckage as he stepped inside. The door had barely clicked shut behind him before he found himself roughly pinned against it.

"Here he is! Mister Big Shot!" Roy was on him. Blunt, sinuous strength, Roy equalled him in height, and even with his hands bound by cuffs, he was able to hold Vail firmly in place, gripping the lapels of his jacket. His knuckles pressed hard into Vail's breastbone. "I got a mind to ring your fuckin neck!"

Vail held still. "Roy, calm down."

"Calm down? If you were anyone else - if I didn't have these fucking things on -"

Vail interrupted him sternly. “Look, they’re ready to come in here and sedate you, is that what you want?”

Roy sneered. “Let ’em fuckin try!”

“Roy, I want to talk about what happened. Are you gonna let me talk?”

“Talk, talk - sure, go ahead, you fuckin snake.” Roy shook him. “You can talk your way outta anything, can’t you?” His grip was savage, but Vail knew he was taking it easy. He could have slammed his skull back against the pine if he’d wanted.

“I’m here to help you,” Vail said quietly.

“That right? You got a funny way of showin it.” Roy released him suddenly and wheeled away. “Jesus H Christ! It ain’t enough that Aaron’s got a noose round his neck, you want to torture him too. Bringing that - that sick fuck round here.”

Vail straightened his shirt and tie. “I didn’t know about that. I want to apologise -”

“Don’t apologise to me, you son of a bitch.” Roy prowled close again, pointing a finger into his face. “You knew what you were doin.”

Vail held his gaze unflinchingly. “I had no knowledge of that man’s visit today until a few moments ago.”

“That right?”

“Yes. Doctor Arrington thought that your father -”

“He is not my father!” Roy roared. “He is not my fuckin father! You hear me?”

“Yes. Of course. I’m sorry,” Vail said. Roy stared at him wildly, his features stiff with naked rage.

“It shoulda been him that got it,” Roy muttered. “Rushman? Fuck Rushman. Anyone needed a knife in his gut, it was him -”

“Who?”

“Who the fuck you think?” Roy barked, throwing up his hands, gesturing awkwardly past Vail. “That fuckin monster out there!” His breath caught and he dropped his cuffed hands, turning his head away, swaying slightly, punch-drunk and pale. He seemed bowed, overwhelmed by his own anger. For just a moment, he had a look of Aaron about him, drawn and perplexed.

Vail took a slow step towards him. “Doctor Arrington had the best intentions when she allowed Mister Stampler in to see you.”

Roy snapped upright, his black gaze fixing on Vail. “Stupid cunt,” he said quietly. “The stupid...fuckin…” He shook his head. “Aaron’s a goddamn wreck.” He paced to the far end of the room, throwing his back against the wall. Seconds passed in silence. He raised his cuffed hands to Vail again. “You gonna let me outta these fuckin things, or what?”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Vail murmured. “Listen, Roy, I’d like to talk to Aaron. Is that alright with you? Could you…bring him back for me?”

Roy laughed viciously. “Fuck you. You think he wants to talk to you right now? I told you. I told you, if you’re gonna fuck around with him, you can deal with me.”

“Alright.” Vail started to back away. “That’s fine. I’ll leave you to cool off. I’ll be by in the morning -”

“Woah, woah, you ain’t goin nowhere, boy.” Roy was across the room in an instant, his face was inches from Vail’s. “What’s to stop that fucker from comin back?” His eyes darted to the door and back. “He’s still out there now, ain’t he?”

“No. He left long ago.”

“Yeah, like hell he did. You listen to me, if that fucking scum comes anywhere near Aaron, I’ll -”

“It won’t happen again. You don’t have to worry about that.”

“I ain’t worried! I ain’t fuckin scared of him.”

“Alright,” Vail said gently. Roy backed off, snorting in disgust.

“Anyone would hate him - things he done. You got no idea...”

Vail watched him stalk to the middle of the room.

“I won’t let him have any involvement in the case,” Vail said quietly. Roy straightened at his words. “If that’s what you want. You have my word.”

“A lawyer’s word.” Roy turned his head, the corner of his mouth lifting in a sour smile. The light above his head threw harsh lines of shadow around his eyes and mouth, even as it picked out the rich threads of auburn in the dark mop of hair that fell across his brow. He looked simultaneously juvenile and haggard.

“Yeah. For what it’s worth,” Vail sighed. “Now, really, I should go. Maybe I’ll see you in the morning, Roy. I’ve got a lot of work to do. With the recent developments -”

“You mean the tape?” Roy said sharply. “I’ve been thinkin about that myself. What if you just go ahead and showed ’em? Let ’em see what their preacher gets up to with his choirboys.”

“You know as well as I do that if they see that tape, it gives the prosecution their motive.”

“So what if it does?” Roy said. He narrowed his eyes, assessing Vail shrewdly now. “You watched the whole tape?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I did.”

“You seen the Christmas special then?” Roy said, some askew amusement in his voice. When Vail didn’t answer, he prompted: “The blowjob? Christmas Day. Right after mass. Man oh man. All them doe-eyed faces starin up at their shepherd, thinking: ‘that’s the good Lord workin through that man!’ And not five minutes after Rushman’s shook the last hand at the door, he’s got Aaron down on his knees.”

Roy was smirking faintly, perhaps satisfied by the look on Vail’s face.

“He’d go through phases,” Roy said. “Couldn’t get enough of Aaron some weeks. Then nothin, for months. He’d go with one of the others.” Roy opened his palms in a mocking gesture of piety. “Preacher had an appetite. And he’d laid his table with the likes-a Aaron. Little-boy-lost-types lookin for Daddy.”

Vail cleared his throat. “Well, that tape is dangerous.”

“So they got motive. So what? Aaron weren’t motivated to do shit.” Roy moved closer to Vail, his shoulders thrown back, wiry body erect and thrumming with purpose. “You tell ’em it was me.”

“We can’t change plea in the middle of the trail. We’re just going to have to work with what we've got.”

“You can’t win this one on your own, counsellor! Use that goddamn tape!”

“I know you’re trying to look out for Aaron,” Vail said, his tones measured. “But you need to let me do my job, or else he doesn’t have a hope in hell.” He studied Roy’s face for any signs of acquiescence. “I won’t let anyone hurt him.”

Roy raised his brows. “Careful, counsellor. Don’t go tryin-a play Daddy now. We got a bad history with Daddy.” There was a hard glint in his black eyes. “You know, Aaron likes you. He likes you a whole lot. The way you listen to him. You’re good to him. You...” Roy lowered his head for a moment. When his gaze returned to Vail’s face, it was as if a shadow had fallen on him. His voice grew hesitant: “You d-d-don’t treat him like a -” His lips faltered, shaping the word. “A freak.” Something like bewilderment came into his face. He stared blankly at Vail. Then, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, Roy returned.

“Just watch your fuckin step, got it?”

“Sure. I got it.” Vail nodded. He turned and laid his hand on the doorknob. “Goodnight, Roy.”

“Hey, just wait, will you?” Roy snapped. “I’ll get him, you wanna talk to your golden boy so bad.” Perhaps it was Vail’s imagination, but Roy seemed deflated. He covered his eyes with his hand, rubbing his forehead slowly, as though pained. He lowered his hands and looked at Vail, his gaze unfocused.

“It’s, uh, it’s difficult,” he said. “Can you... He sorta likes it when –” Roy wet his lips. “He likes it when you touch him. On the shoulder, you know, friendly, whatever.”

“Oh.” Vail hesitated, then stepped nearer. He lifted his hand slowly, laid it on the youth’s arm. “Okay?” he said awkwardly. He was standing ramrod stiff. The crime scene snaps were then vivid in his mind, the mutilated body - that vacant heap of lacerated flesh, tormented to the last. The riot of blood thrown across the beige carpet, black and sumptuous, spattered and trampled.

But then the boy’s forehead was resting trustingly against Vail’s shoulder. He was close and warm. His narrow shoulders were lax. A clean smell of soap came off him.

They stood like that for what felt like a minute. Vail followed his instincts, lifting his hand and stroking the boy’s head, feeling the curve of his skull beneath his hair, the downy nape of his neck.

“Aaron?” he said softly.

“M-Mister Veil?” Aaron’s eyes were soft and dazed as he lifted his head. His thin mouth seemed red and rich, moving in slack silence. Vail studied him: the clear, pale oval of his face. He was riveted at the change. The tense lines had eased, leaving his features smooth. It was hard to reconcile this face with Roy’s - those black, sharp eyes; that smirk, so pitiless and knowing.

“I... I d-don’t know what...”

“It’s okay.” Vail patted his neck soothingly.

“I l-l-lost time again.”

“I know.” Vail watched him closely. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

Aaron’s face was uncomprehending for a long beat, then his eyes lowered and his expression darkened. His body grew tense under Vail’s hands.

“I-I-Is he - is he still here?”

“No. He’s gone. You never have to see him again. I wouldn’t have allowed it if I’d known. He’s not gonna come back. Do you understand, Aaron? He’ll have to get through me first.”

Aaron hesitated, then nodded, ducking his head low.

“I-I-I sure am glad you’re here, M-Mister Veil,” he said. He raised his hands, curling one on Vail’s forearm. “Wi...Will you stay with me for a while? Just that I...I d-don’t want to b-be...alone.”

***

“You need to be careful,” Molly said. “You don’t want to overdo it, Marty.”

Vail finished the last of his coffee, sighed. “I hate this.”

Molly's grey eyes were full of concern. “Are you sure you don’t want me in there?”

“I’ll be fine,” Vail said. “You got the camera out of there, right?”

Molly nodded. “Good luck.”

***

“Good morning, Aaron.”

Aaron glanced up, his slack features aligning in a look of shy pleasure when he saw Vail come through the door. “Oh, m-m-mornin, M-Mister Vail.”

Vail took off his jacket and sat down. “I know you’re meant to have a session with Doctor Arrington right now, but I wanted to talk to you alone.” He gave Aaron a reassuring smile. “You and the doctor have spoken a lot about your blackouts?”

Aaron blinked at him, then nodded, his fingers fidgeting.

“I want to ask you again about that day,” Vail said. At the slight thinning of Aaron’s lips, he added: “I know you’re probably sick of going over it. But it’s important that we have this straight. You’d gone to return the book to the library. You said you heard something. You went upstairs. What happened next? Try to remember every detail.”

“I-I t-told you, M-Mister Vail. I s-s-saw somebody lean-leanin over him.”

“And you can’t remember anything about what this person looked like?” Vail said. Aaron shook his head. “What happened then?”

“Whoever it was, they – they c-came towards me. And I b-bla-blacked out.”

“Do you remember feeling angry with the Archbishop about anything?”

Aaron ducked slightly, avoiding Vail’s eyes. He gave his head a hurried, emphatic shake. “N-no.”

“He didn’t ever do anything to upset you?” Vail said. “He never asked you to do anything you didn’t want to?”

Aaron swallowed, sweeping a pleading look up at him.

Vail wouldn’t let him off. “We need to talk about the tape, Aaron.”

Aaron ducked his head, his hands clasped rigidly in front of him on the tabletop.

“Archbishop Rushman was making you do things, wasn’t he?” Vail murmured. “Sometimes he’d watch. Sometimes –”

“P-P-P-Please, d-don’t.”

“He was abusing you, Aaron. You and the others. You have to acknowledge that. Whatever kindness he showed you – it doesn’t make it right. What he did to you was a massive betrayal of trust.”

“N-n-n-no.” Aaron got quickly to his feet, backing away from the table. “He was a g-good man!”

“Stop defending him. He used you, Aaron.” Vail was standing as well, but he remained on his side of the table. Aaron was darting looks at the door, turning back and forth. “He used you to get what he wanted.”

“No, no, no.” Aaron hunched against the wall, cowering into the corner of the room. He kept shaking his head, pressing the heels of his hands into his closed eyes, his fingers clutching at his hair.

Vail felt estranged from himself, more of a piece of shit than he’d ever felt in any courtroom. “He picked you out for one reason, Aaron. He knew he could take advantage of you. Why else do you think he kept you around for so long –?”

“Shut up! Shut up!” Aaron shouted. A hostile edge came into his voice. “Shut your goddamn mouth!”

“Aaron…”

“Don’t you fuckin come near me!” He kept one hand clapped to his forehead. His hair stood up wildly off his brow. Turning his back to Vail, he hung against the wall in an attitude of collapse. After a painful silence, he released a shuddering breath.

Vail waited, watching in fascination.

Aaron’s spine straightening out. He shifted so that his back was to the wall, hooking his thumbs carelessly in the waistband of his trousers. He turned his head in a deliberate motion, a slow angling that was echoed in the sly tilt of his eyes.

He looked Vail up and down with barely-restrained irritation.

“Didn’t figure on seein you again for a while, counsellor.”

Vail nodded in acknowledgement. “Roy.”

“I’m startin to think you like my company.” He pursed his lips in derision. “Or maybe you just like fuckin with Aaron’s head.”

“I needed to talk to you. Will you take a seat?” Vail gestured to Aaron’s abandoned chair, trying to keep his voice light and non-confrontational. Roy, ever-supercilious, regarded Vail, the chairs, the table, the whole setup, with open scorn. After a long beat, he approached and sat down, folding his arms across his chest. Vail resumed his own seat and quickly wished that he had some papers to shuffle through, something to do with his hands. He couldn’t recall any situation in court in which he’d felt such an intense mixture of apprehension and excitement as this. He kept his features schooled in an expression of mild interest.

“There are things Aaron won’t discuss with me. Things he can’t face without –”

“Without he comes runnin to me.” Roy rubbed his chin, his throat, groaned quietly. “Shit. Don’t s’pose you got a cigarette?”

Vail drew a brand new pack of Morleys and a lighter out of his pocket and placed them on the table. Roy looked up at him from under his brows, flashing that crooked smile.

“You come here ’specially to talk to me, huh? I’m mighty flattered.” He tore into the box with quick, determined fingers, snapped the lighter just once, lit up like someone with a thirst to quench. He tossed the lighter down and slid comfortably back in his chair, angling a long breath of smoke up at the ceiling.

He licked his lips and shook his head. “Mm-mm. You know, I can just ’bout put up with this place – shitty food, sorry-ass excuse for a book collection, four blank walls I gotta look at all day, lights off at nine o’clock, solitary confinement. No pussy.” He quirked a brow at Vail. “But no smokes? That’s almost the worst.” He flicked some ash on the table. “So, you gonna leave me in suspense?”

“Saviour House,” Vail said. “You were there for two years. In that time, how frequently did Archbishop Rushman come to Aaron and ask him to do those things?”

“Every other week, there ’bouts. But like I told you, he had phases, along with the regular stuff, you know, the movies. He liked Aaron plenty.”

“I have to ask, why didn’t you – why didn’t Aaron run away?”

“Run away?” Roy repeated. “Well ’cause Aaron felt safe there. He –” Roy paused, then released a hiss of laughter through his teeth, perhaps at his own sentimentality. “Ah, that dipship ain’t got the sense he was born with. But I think we established that. You should be askin me why didn’t I cut the ol bastard up sooner.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“You gotta push Aaron so far.” Roy snapped his fingers. “Preacher overstepped the line.”

“Why? What did he do?”

Roy leered at Vail in savage amusement. His mouth was black, marring his gaunt face like a twisted wound.

Vail raised his brows impatiently.

Roy snorted. “Rushman…usually with him you could get away with a hand job. He’d bring out his whisky when he wanted you to give him head. It wasn’t so bad when the others were there.”

“Alex and Linda?”

Roy’s lip curled. “Aaron’d do anything for that little bitch.”

Vail tried to steer him back. “You said the Archbishop overstepped the line.”

Roy returned Vail’s gaze inscrutably, saying nothing.

Uncomfortable, and annoyed with himself because of it, Vail reached back into the breast pocket of his jacket and retrieved his notebook and pen. He leafed unnecessarily through some pages, pretending to review his notes.

“You returned The Scarlett Letter –”

“Yeah, that’s what Aaron went there to do. But Rushman was in the library. He took Aaron up to his room. He wanted to fuck.” Roy spoke tonelessly, his face devoid of much expression. “He got Aaron to take his clothes off. He put that fuckin music on, that Beethoven, while he was dry-humpin him on the bed. He tried to get him to open his legs. Aaron weren’t havin any of it. He was strugglin. Rushman got mean about it. He weren’t usually rough. It turned him on, I bet. He shot his load real quick, before he could get his dick in.”

Vail scratched his eyebrow, rubbed his hand across his mouth. He looked at Roy, but for once the boy didn’t seem to be monitoring the effect of his words. He was staring off past Vail’s shoulder with unfocused eyes. He pulled on his cigarette before continuing:

“Aaron put his clothes on. Always with Rushman, after he’d finish, he’d say the same thing: ‘the spirit is willing, but the body is weak’. Always in that preacher voice of his.”

Vail swallowed dryly. “And then?”

“He went and showered. Aaron was all broke up and snivellin. Rushman hadn’t ever forced him before, not like that. I told him, I said: ‘Let me take care of this.’ I went downstairs. I had that – that line runnin through my head. Goddamn!” Roy smiled, perplexed. “Like a broken record.”

“The Hawthorn?”

“Yeah.” Roy sat forward, leaning in, as if confidingly. “And you know how it goes after that. Went into the kitchen. Got me the biggest knife I could find. Went back up to the bedroom. He came out. I crept up real soft. He was puttin on that ol ring of his. To think-a all the times Aaron kissed that ring.” Roy clicked his tongue reminiscently.

Vail listened, transfixed.

“His fingers came off in one go.” Roy mimed clutching the blade, bringing his arm down in a clean arc. He slapped the tabletop with his palm. “Jesus, did he squeal! I diced that pig up real good.” His eyes flickered to Vail, and the dark look of hunger that had been on his face faded. “And I’d do it again.”

Vail said nothing. He bent over his notepad and jotted something down, oblivious to what he was writing.

“You think I’m a monster,” Roy said quietly. Vail paused, staring down at the pen in his hand. Roy snorted: “You know, I been –” but he seemed to catch himself. He reached for the Moreys and got a second cigarette going with the end of the first. He crushed the butt out on the tabletop, his hands reciting the motions with a weariness of someone much older. “Fuck it. The hell does it matter anyway?”

“Roy,” Vail said carefully. The boy’s attention snapped to him. “I don’t think you’re a monster for what you did. If I’ve learned anything from being a defence attorney, it’s that anyone can convince themselves of the truth. We’re very good at…at making sense of things the way we want to. All it takes is circumstance. Nobody wants to be a bad person. We don’t make wrong choices, not in our own minds, not in that moment when it happens.”

“Oh.” Roy nodded slowly. He narrowed his eyes. “I see it now.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I see why he’s so smitten with you.” His gaze travelled over Vail’s face with interest.

Vail frowned, huffing a breath of laughter as he folded his notebook closed and twisted to unhooked his jacket from the back of the chair. “Thank you for answering my questions.” He got to his feet and Roy did the same.

“It don’t come for free.”

Vail paused. “Is there something I can do for you?”

Roy scratched his elbow. “I’ll let you know. You gonna bring out the tape tomorrow?”

“We’ll see.”

“If that jury ain’t shown Rushman’s real face pretty soon, Aaron ain’t gonna have a hope in hell.”

“Goodbye, Roy.”

“Hey, Marty?” Roy called.

Vail glanced over his shoulder. Roy gave him a faint smile.

“Don’t you disappoint me now.”

***

The cell door swung shut. Vail waited until the guard had turned the lock and his footsteps were fading down the passage before speaking.

“That wasn’t bad today.” He pushed back the sides of his jacket, slid his hands into his trouser pockets. “We need to work out how you’re going to play the next few days. Home stretch now.”

Aaron was hanging his expensive suit jacket on a peg. Vail studied the back of his head, the white skin that show above his starched, white collar. He started pacing. Aaron took a seat on the bench.

“Venable’s good. She’s bound to play ball, even if she suspects something’s up.” Vail rubbed his jaw. “Do you think you’d be able to take the stand tomorrow? Think you could handle it?”

“Well now, I can only speak for myself.”

“What?” Vail looked up. Aaron was bent, at work unlacing the smart black shoes that Vail had bought him for the trial. He pulled one shoe off and then the other. Got unhurriedly to his feet.

“Hell, if you’re askin, of course I’d be happy to stand up and take a turn round the room with you, Marty.”

Fuck.

Roy pursed his lips, hung his jaw slack and smirking. “I been watchin you. I think I got some of your steps down.” The unfaltering punch of his voice seized and shaped the easy Appalachian cadence, undermining Aaron’s innocent drawl contemptuously.

Unbidden, ridiculous, the image came into Vail’s mind of a little-travelled, dirt-track road, made hard by a relentless sun, oppressed and flattened under an unchanging blue sky.

That wasn’t Roy’s world. Looking at Roy – the ready stance, the veiled threat in his hard, squinting gaze – Vail felt sure that wherever Roy came from, there was cement instead of earth, blazing currents of car headlights instead of a circling Sun.

Roy smirked.

“Truth is, I’d be delighted. Somebody’s gotta set the fuckin record straight. You sure as hell ain’t about to.”

Vail massaged his forehead. “Oh, Jesus.”

“Hey, I behaved myself in there. I gave you a chance.” Roy’s expression soured. “And that cooz, struttin around. The shit she was sayin. Little fuckin bitch, I’d like to –”

“Stop, just stop. How long have you been –?” Vail pulled up short. “Was I sitting next to you the whole goddamn day?”

Roy laughed. “And I’m s’posed be the crazy one.”

“Roy.”

Roy threw out an arm. “What fuckin difference does it make?”

“I don’t need you in that courtroom. That is the last thing I need right now. Aaron is innocent, Aaron belongs at my table.”

“Oh, you’re breakin my heart! You’re a real fuckin tease, counsellor, you know that? Come courtin me one day, then the next you don’t want me to exist.” Roy turned aside and started loosing the knot of his tie. “I’m only here because you can’t do your fuckin job.” He pulled the tie off over his head and shot Vail a pointed look. “The tape? Why haven’t you shown ’em the tape like you said you was gonna?”

“We’ve been over this. I can’t introduce that as evidence.”

“You seen what Rushman did, for fuck’s sake. They’re all still thinkin he’s a saint and Aaron’s a psycho.”

“I am your lawyer. You need to trust me.”

“No, no. You are fuckin this up, Marty. I’m stickin around ’til I get some assurances.” Roy got to work unbuttoning his shirt. “You promise to show that tape, or I swear to God, I will tell them people the truth myself.”

“That’s not the way this works!”

“I don’t give a fuck how it works. Aaron ain’t comin back unless you do what I say.” Roy pulled his shirt off and threw it down on the bench. Vail glanced at his torso, the soft dusting of dark hair at his navel. He looked away at once, realizing that the exhibition had been calculated.

“So you’re holding Aaron to ransom, is that it?” He turned away. “I did not sign up for this bullshit.”

“Oh-ho! Like the publicity ain’t gonna do you good one way or another? This ain’t your neck on the fuckin line. S’cuse me for wonderin if you really wanna win this thing as bad as you say.”

“This case is my life right now! You –” Vail bit off the sentence. “No, you know what? Forget it then, forget it.” He went to the door, taking hold of the bars and calling for the guard.

“Yeah, go on then, fuck off,” Roy said heatedly. “I ain’t gonna sit back and let some slick dick in a suit screw Aaron over.”

Vail had stepped outside the cell. “No,” he said, taking a final look at the boy through the bars before turning away. “You seem to manage that fine all on your own.”

***

Half ten. The city was black, the roads frozen, snow grating down interminably. Vail was back at the prison. The guard at the desk bitched at him from behind a sports magazine while he signed in. For Martin Vail, allowances were always made. He got an escort to Aaron’s block. The lights had been shut off in the cells, but the screened bulbs in the windowless corridor flickered and hummed twenty-four hours.

Roy had been lying on his cot, hands folded on his stomach, legs crossed at the ankle. He sat up sharply when the door opened, relaxing when he saw that it was Vail.

“Lookie, lookie,” he sang softly. “I was startin to think you weren’t comin back.”

“No you weren’t.” Vail dumped his coat wearily on the end of the cot.

“So you made up your mind ’bout the tape?” Roy swung his legs over the edge of the cot and leaned forward eagerly.

Vail nodded. “I’ll sort it out.”

“Yeah?” Roy slapped his knees. “You were always gonna use it, weren’t you?” He chuckled. His gaze seemed to strip past the surface of Vail’s face and peer invasively deeper. “Yes you were.”

“I’m good at what I do, Roy. Smart guy like you should have worked that out by now.”

Roy leant back on his hands, the pose almost childish. He turned his head aside and after a pause, said: “I’m the one who has to take care of things.” He swallowed, looked back at Vail defensively. “I got scared, alright? Is that what you wanna hear?”

Taken aback, Vail paused before replying: “It’s natural to feel that way.”

“They wanna see him burn.” Roy got suddenly to his feet. “I gotta hold things together, you know? I been doin this alone for so long… I get it now, though. I think I can see what you’re about. You’re alright, counselor.”

Roy held out his hand. Vail took it. Looking down, he caught an impression of the pale underside of Roy’s arm, the strength of the tendons at his wrist.

“Is this goodbye?” Vail said slowly.

Roy nodded. He didn’t loosen his hold on Vail’s hand. “There is one last thing.”

Vail looked up suspiciously. “What?”

“There’s somethin I want you to do for me,” Roy said. His face was smooth like a mask in the dim light. “Kiss me.”

“What?” Vail laughed. The fine hairs on the back of his neck prickled. “I… No. Roy –”

Roy’s lips curled down at the corners. “I ain’t askin.”

Vail pulled his hand free. “You can’t seriously…” He laughed again.

“Come on. It can’t end like this.” Roy cocked his head, seeking Vail’s gaze. His smile was all charm, coaxing. “I know it ain’t just me. There’s somethin been goin on here between the three of us.”

“What?”

“And Aaron ain’t never gonna do nothin, is he?” Roy wet his lips. “Look, this ain’t some – some fuckin crush or somethin, alright? I mean…I ain’t no faggot or nothin.”

“I’m leaving, Roy. You should get some sleep. I expect Aaron to be here in the morning.”

“Come on, man, I could be dead before the week’s out.”

“Don’t use that shit,” Vail said sharply. “You know who you’re talking to here?”

“You do this, and I’ll be gone. Otherwise…I can make things difficult.”

“Beautiful. So we’re back to threats.” Vail shook his head in disbelief. “You’d only be hurting yourself.”

“Don’t I know it,” Roy said quietly. He studied Vail, his eyes glinting. “Come on, Marty. No complications. Just you and me. Aaron ain’t never gotta know.”

***

Vail walked quickly down the broad steps of the prison, blind to the sidewalk glittering with frost, blind to the sickly orange glare of the streetlamps. He shuddered and mechanically drew his coat closer about himself. His skin was warm, flushed, stinging in the bitter-cold air.

Stupid to feel shocked. Surely he should have known that even under all of it Roy was still a kid, still just like Aaron.

He’d stalked around the cell, he’d pointed his finger in Vail’s face, he’d tried to threaten, then to wheedle and lure. It was only as he’d seen that Vail really meant to leave that he’d given up the games. Just touched Vail’s arm lightly, withdrawn, uncertainty stripping his face of all the usual bravado.

And when he finally got what he wanted, just like a kid, he’d not known what to do.

He tensed at the touch of Vail’s hand on the side of his face. Stilling, solemn realisation wiped his features blank. He went unresisting, disbelieving, let Vail step him back against the wall. His eyelids fluttered. Not knowing where to look, he stared at Vail’s mouth in shock and –

Was it all bluff? Was he really so young? He’s a killer – the things he’s done –

Vail forcefully abandoned that train of thought.

Roy drew a sharp breath through his nose at the first press of Vail’s lips. Vail closed his lips firmly, warmly, plucking intimately at the boy’s soft mouth. His lips rolled back slightly, a moist caress. He kissed Roy again, cradling his head more securely, his other hand easing up the boy’s side. He drew back enough to turn his head, change angle. He did it slowly, their noses brushing. Roy blinked drowsily, mirroring him, parting his lips slightly in anticipation. Vail caught the unsteady shudder of breath against his skin before their mouths met again. The boy’s lips moved haltingly. He followed Vail’s press and retreat, over and over.

Vail’s fingers were in the boy’s heavy, soft hair when he slicked his lower lip with his tongue. Roy shuddered, pressed nearer. Vail slid his tongue into the willing heat of his mouth, easing deep, sliding out wet. The boy was panting softly. Vail kissed his mouth again, again, their lips kneading, inflamed, then the press of tongue again. Vail didn’t make a sound, he wouldn’t allow himself a low rumble of pleasure, not as the boy parted his lips wantonly, not as their tongues met, slick, rolling lazily.

He held him more forcefully against the wall then, rubbing bodies, allowing Roy what he wanted, sucking the wet twisting root of his tongue deep into his mouth. Roy made a soft noise, a low sigh as they parted for air before twining together again, straining against each other, rubbing clothed skin, warm fabric under their flexing hands.

Roy touched Vail’s back, the curve of his spine, encouraging him closer. Vail drew back only enough to see the boy’s upturned face. He needed to see. That mouth. Wet lips parted in offering. He took the boy with a savage plunge of his tongue, the action sparking a delicious pulse of arousal through his groin. The constriction of cloth, the hardening length of his penis –

He wanted the boy badly. The realisation struck him heavy and late. He rolled his hips unthinkingly, and felt the boy’s answering erection press bold and flush against his thigh. Roy broke away wetly from his mouth, muttering his appreciation in low, thick tones, widening his stance, opening his thighs to Vail.

“We can’t do this,” Vail breathed. He touched the boy’s face. Roy blinked at him dazedly. The open vulnerability of the look was so stunningly familiar, like he was looking into Aaron’s face. Scenes flashed through Vail’s mind – the first glimpse he’d caught of Aaron; a wiry, pale boy, sitting bowed and alone in his cell. Aaron’s hesitant, searching eyes. Roy’s arrogant parading, the taut line of his back saying he’d just walked in off the worst streets a city could offer. Aaron again: shy smile stealing across his face, hesitant trust in his dark eyes.

Vail’s cock twitched. A different scene: a naked tangle of limbs, the boy splayed and desperate beneath him, mewling as Vail hammered his rigid cock in and out of his tight ass. He’d spread the boy’s white, soft cheeks between his hands, take him again and again and again.

The video tape – the tape – Aaron’s lips riding wet, up and down a man’s swollen cock–

Vail’s jaw tightened, his body almost overtaken by lust even as he was pierced with horror.

“I ain’t ever…” Roy began quietly, breaking Vail out of his thoughts. Roy wet his lips, staring black and eerily blank into Vail’s eyes. He inclined his head slightly and Vail couldn’t resist him, even as guilt stabbed at him. They kissed again, languidly, Vail suckling him, squeezing his hip, wanting to slide his hand further, wanting to cup his ass and really press into him. Roy drew his tongue from Vail’s mouth and said roughly against his questing lips:

“I ain’t ever wanted it before.” He bucked his hips and gasped. “Jesus. I wanna do everything with you.”

Vail turned his head aside, closing his eyes for a moment. He inhaled deeply, hardening himself. He took his hands off of Roy and moved to step back, even as the boy held onto his arm.

“Marty –”

“That’s enough,” Vail said quietly, placing a hand firmly on Roy’s chest and pushing him gently away. “That’s enough.”

The boy stared at him for a long beat, then turned his head aside.

“I’m gonna go.” Vail crossed the cell, retrieving his jacket and pausing at the door. He turned back with some difficulty. “Goodnight.”

“Would you stay if it was him?” Roy said. “He wants it just as bad.” Roy took a couple of slow steps forward. “You don’t believe me?” His demeanor transformed, his shoulders dropping, his head held low a little to one side. His face grew soft and smooth, his round eyes lifting furtively.

“It’s the – the truth, M-M-Mister Vail. I ju-just” A stumbling release of air, a tremor that shook his jaw. Overcoming it, he met Vail’s gaze boldly. “Couldn’t tell you m-myself.”

Vail felt a stab of real anger at what he saw to be more of Roy’s usual mocking parody. “Stop it,” he said sharply.

Roy straightened, his arms dropping slack to his sides.

“Well goddamn,” he said softly, as if amazed. He stared hard at Vail with an expression that was remote and despairing. “You can’t see for lookin, can you?” He shook his head. “Guess you were right. People can believe whatever they want to.” He turned away. “Goodnight, counselor.”

***

[The End]

a/n: I've decided to orphan this fic as I wrote it several years ago and I don't really have a place for it with my more recent writing. I'm happy for it to live here on AO3 so people can still read it if they want to.