God! What he’d done to make them pay. It had been the kind of rage he hadn’t felt in a very long time. He didn’t regret it either. He’d savored the look on those biker’s faces as he’d plunged his knife deep into Tiny, and his blood sprayed Caleb, the walls, everything.
Revenge! That was his purpose.
It felt good to have a purpose. He was certain he’d feel the rush again. He’d feel it the second Vladek’s eyes dawned with realization and it would carry through until Vladek took his last, gasping breath. Caleb shivered. He wanted to feel the satisfaction of that moment. He wanted to feel it more than anything. He wanted it more than he wanted the girl.
She’ll hate you. Forever. She’ll want vengeance.
“I know,” Caleb whispered into the darkness of the room. Unable to resist the numbness sleep offered, he let himself be carried into the dark.
The boy refused to bathe.
“Caleb, I will not tell you again! You stink! You stink, horribly. It’s been days and you’re still covered in blood. Someone will see you and then you will have real trouble on your hands, boy.”
“I am Kéleb. Dog! I’ve ripped my master to pieces. I’ve tasted blood and I like it! I will not wash it off. I want to wear it forever, as a badge of honor.”
Rafiq’s dark face became drawn, eyes narrowed. “Bathe. Now.”
The boy squared his young shoulders and glowered at his new master. Rafiq was handsome, much, much, more so than Narweh, the trained whore in him was stirred by this. Rafiq was also much stronger than Narweh, capable of more damage, but the boy would not allow himself to be afraid, to cower before a man set on being his new master. He was a man now, a man! He could make his own damn decisions about when he’d wash the blood from his face.
Rafiq stood. His eyes were hard and menacing. The boy swallowed deep and hard, and despite his best efforts, he could not deny the fear he felt. As Rafiq approached, the boy quelled his desire to shrink away. Rafiq’s calloused hand landed firmly on the back of the boy’s neck and squeezed with enough force to make him wince, but not enough to trigger his fight or flight instinct.
Rafiq leaned and growled into the boy’s ear, “Wash yourself now, or I will strip you down and scour your skin until you would never dream of defying me again.”
Tears stung the boy’s eyes. Not because he was in pain, but because he was suddenly very afraid and wished Rafiq was not angry with him. He had no one else. He was still young, unable to truly fend for himself. His race and appearance put him at a sharp disadvantage with the locals. Unless he wanted to be a whore again, Rafiq was all he had.
“I don’t want to.” He pleaded with a whisper. The hand at the back of his neck loosened a little and the boy screwed his eyes shut to stave off the threat of tears. He refused to cry.
“I want to know he’s dead. It was over so fast, Rafiq. It was over so fast and he…he deserved to suffer! I wanted him to suffer, Rafiq. All the pain he put me through, all those things…I wanted him to feel all those things. If I wash away the blood…” The boy’s eyes pleaded with Rafiq.
“It will be like it never happened?” Rafiq said, softly.
“Yes.” It was a choked sound.
Rafiq sighed. “No one knows how you feel more than I do, Caleb. But you cannot continue to defy me; you cannot continue to act like a petulant boy! You are not Kéleb any longer. Wash. I promise you, Narweh will still be dead when you are finished.”
The boy pushed away from the grip on the back of his neck. “No! No! No! I won’t do it.”
Rafiq’s face went from cautiously warm to stone cold. “Have it your way, Kéleb.” His grip on the boy’s neck intensified and as he winced with pain and tried to struggle away from Rafiq, his other hand came down with a meaty thud across the boy’s face.
Caleb was not new to pain, he could easily take a harsh slap to his face, but he was stunned nonetheless. He tried to stagger away from Rafiq, but he was held firmly in the older man’s grip.
“Bathe!” Rafiq growled with enough force to vibrate Caleb’s head.
“No!” Caleb cried, tears falling down his face.
Rafiq bent his body and threw his shoulder into Caleb’s stomach and hoisted him over his shoulder. Ignoring the pounding fists on his back, he strode purposefully into the bathroom and all but tossed the boy inside. He ignored the angry screaming and invective curses coming from Caleb’s twisted mouth and turned the knob to release cold water into the tub.
Caleb’s body jolted at the feeling of cold water soaking his clothes and touching his skin. Unable to resist and full of anger, he managed to punch Rafiq in the face and scramble halfway out of the tub. He had only ignited more of Rafiq’s rage. He felt Rafiq’s hand fisting in his hair, then the pain on his scalp and in his neck as he was wrenched backward. The bathtub filled around him as Rafiq pressed him to the bottom of the tub.
Fear and dread gripped him.
“You will obey me, boy! You will! Or I will drown you, here and now. You belong to me. Understand?”
Caleb’s mouth and nose filled with water. He could not make out words clearly and he heard only the angry shouting of the man holding him prisoner in the water. The feeling of impending death held him paralyzed with fear. Anything. He would give anything to never feel this brand of fear again.
Caleb gasped and heaved as he was pulled up, his arms scrambling for purchase and finding Rafiq’s shoulders. He pulled himself toward the warmth and safety of Rafiq’s body. He fought the arms trying to shrug him off. Caleb thought nothing of his panicked cries, he only wanted out of the tub. He wanted only to breathe and to be warm.
Strong arms gripped his shoulders and shook.
“Calm, Caleb. Calm. Breathe,” Rafiq said. His tone was soothing despite its intensity. “Be calm, Caleb. I will not put you in the water again if you’re prepared to listen. Still!”
Caleb worked hard to do as Rafiq asked. He held firm to Rafiq’s shoulders, telling himself over and again he could not be thrown into the water so long as he held on. Caleb stilled and shuddered, taking his first calm breath. He took another and another, until at last, only his anger remained. Slowly, he released Rafiq’s shoulders and slumped into the tub. He shivered at the cold, his lip trembling, but he wouldn’t ask Rafiq for hot water.
“I hate you,” Caleb spat, teeth chattering.
Rafiq’s eyes were calm and collected. With a smirk, he stood and left the room.
Caleb’s eyes stung with angry tears and because he was alone, he let them fall. Sure Rafiq would not return, he turned the tap for the hot water and huddled close to it, hoping it would warm him all the faster. He dragged his sopping wet clothes over his head and threw them in a heap on the bathroom floor with a sense of satisfaction over the mess he was making.
Pure, unfettered, anger rolled through his body like a physical thing. Pulling his knees to his chin he bit into the flesh of his knees, scraping them with his teeth. The tears would not abate! They continued to leak from his eyes. He felt weak and pitiful. He could not stop Rafiq from doing this to him. He bit harder, longing for the physical pain to release him from his suffering.
He wanted to scream.
He wanted to hit things.
He wanted to kill again.
He scraped his fingernails along the flesh of his arms, simultaneously feeling pain and relief as his skin broke and small drops of blood appeared on his flesh. He repeated the process – more pain – more release. In the water, Narweh’s blood swirled with his. He didn’t know what to feel at the sight of it. Numbness assailed him. He stared, transfixed as the blood of the man who tortured him for so long, dissipated into the water surrounding him.
Who was he now?
He was no longer Kéleb, no longer Narweh’s Dog. It was the only name he had ever known, the only thing he had ever been.
He’s dead. He’s truly dead.
His thoughts returned to Tehran, returned to the night he murdered his owner, his tormentor, and his caretaker. Kéleb had lifted the gun and Narweh’s face had registered shock, then fear, only for a moment. Then, he had given, Kéleb, the look – the one to remind him he was less than human in Narweh’s eyes – and then Kéleb squeezed the trigger. He was thrown by the force of the powerful weapon.
He missed it.
He missed the moment of Narweh’s death.
Bits of gore sprayed his hair, face and chest, but he did not register them. He scrambled toward the body. No gurgling, no gasping…only a corpse. And he felt…sorrow. Narweh had never begged. He had never knelt at Kéleb’s feet and begged his mercy and forgiveness.
No, Narweh had never begged, but he was dead. And under the sorrow, there was blessed relief.
But you have a new owner now, don’t you? Caleb.
He screwed his eyes shut for a moment and took a deep breath. Then, he did as Rafiq asked and washed his old life from his skin.
Caleb woke, startled and anxious. He reached for the dream as it raced to abandon his conscious mind. There was something…something important. It was gone.
Frustrated, it took him a moment to realize Kitten’s eyes were scanning him. She looked like shit. The bruises on her face were much more pronounced than they had been the night before. Her eyes were swollen and purple against her russet skin. Her nose, free of tape, also looked inflamed. Under the damage, he could still see Kitten, surviving despite it all.
His heart again – it seemed to pinch in his chest. He kept it from registering on his face. He struggled for words. After their encounter last night and still reeling from Rafiq’s text, what could he possibly say? All he had to offer was more bad news.
He settled for stating the obvious, “It’s morning.”
Kitten’s brows furrowed and she winced from the effort. “I know. I’ve been up for a while,” she said morosely.
Caleb glanced away, feigning interest in his surroundings. He’d nearly fucked up—nearly fucked her. That could never happen. A sense of urgency filled him. They had to leave this place, as soon as possible, but he couldn’t make himself say the words. The night had been intense.
“Are you…in pain? Can you sit up?” Caleb whispered.
“I don’t know. I’m in too much pain to try,” Kitten whispered just as softly.
They stared at each other, a second too long, gazes touching too closely before they both quickly, almost frantically, darted their eyes away, choosing to look anywhere but at one another.
“Or maybe I’m just too terrified to think about what’s going to happen today. Or tomorrow. Maybe I just want to go back to sleep and wake up from my life.” There was pain in her voice and he knew it wasn’t physical. Caleb glanced in her direction and noticed she wasn’t crying. She was simply staring off into space, too numb for tears, Caleb supposed. He knew the feeling well.
And now this. Limbo. A state of existence he’d never experienced. He felt immobilized by what had happened, about everything, because as fucked up as it had been before, he’d been in control and removed. Now, their situation was untenable. Their continued existence around each other would only cause more pain and agony. Caleb scratched his face, digging his fingers into his stubble, as if, by distraction, he would never have to look at Kitten again, never have to tell her they had to leave, and, despite last night…she was still his prisoner. He was still her master.
“Fuck it,” she huffed, her voice strong, as though awakening from the numb void and becoming vibrant and willful again, “let’s get this over with, Caleb. What the hell happens, now?”
Caleb. He just looked at her. There it was again, the use of his name. He knew he should correct her, force her to address him as Master, and restore the delineation, the barriers between them, but he just couldn’t, fucking, do it. He was exhausted! So, damn, exhausted.