Relief flooded through him when Shilo dropped the baton and assented to his offer. As she went to throw it in a nearby dumpster he rubbed his aching shoulder. “ Yeah I’ll be fine, it just aches a little, is all. You did good Sh.. Angel.. damn… it’s gonna be hard gettin’ used to that.. but it kinda suits you I guess.” He gave her a grin, but his eyes were serious. Graves looked at this girl he had swept up into his world briefly and saw her beauty still, much more grown up, and some steel had been added there, no surprise if she was living on the street, but still she was vunerable, as what just happened showed. That got to him, aroused something in him other than carnal interest, which he noted was still undeniably there. He had felt briefly like her protector, her champion and he kind of liked it.
When she told him she hadn’t eaten in two days, he was chagrined to think he’d denied her the means of food. The least he could do now was to put that right.
GraveRobber set off in the direction of a diner he frequented when he had the time and money. Shilo pulled up the hood of her cloak, and fell into step beside him. He realised then, that he’d seen that garment before.. surely.. it was Blind Mag’s.. or one just like it. He’d seen her wearing it one night when she’d come to the graveyard to place flowers on her friend’s tomb. Shilo’s mother. That just reminded him of what happened under the Opera house. He hadn’t wanted to hurt her, but he’d really had no choice but to play it out or he’d have been dead meat. Rotti was clever, Machiavellian even, he had to give him that. Some of his reasons he hoped to explain to Shilo, if she’d just give him the chance.
They took his usual booth near the back. A waitress brought menus but neither of them really paid much attention. Shilo removed her hood and GraveRobber just looked at her, his brow slightly furrowed not sure how to begin this. Shilo also looked into his eyes as if trying to divine where the man she once knew was. In truth, he wasn’t sure… he had changed, hardened since that time, because he’d had to, and also when he had thought that she was dead, somehow all the joy slowly leached out of his world. He had been ebullient and pretty cocksure in those days, but more and more he’d had to show a grittier side to keep his place as top dog in the dealers world. All this no doubt Shilo saw, but what she made of it he couldn’t tell, except maybe she was a little scared of him still.
The waitress interrupted the silence to take their orders and Graves decided on a Burrito and a beer. Once she was gone Shilo broke the ice by thankng him for helping her. His eyes followed her fingers as she twisted a curl of dark hair around them, then he realised and returned their gaze to her face. She was a little bashful about this.. Oh yeah, he’d said he was her boyfriend hadn’t he? He’d just been playing along to make her story credible, but for a brief moment there. it’d felt almost real. If she was his girl, he’d have been no less determined to protect her. But he was the GraveRobber.. he didn’t have time or need for a ‘girlfriend’..did he ? Sure, he screwed around sometimes with rich scalpel sluts, and occasionally let a poor junkie pay for her hit with sex, but nothing in the least permanent. That satisfied his needs, or so he told himself, but behind that, was a kind of loneliness. When he went to his bed at night, he felt an ache he couldn’t ease, not with sex or anything else.
GraveRobber was very alone, and nothing and no-one was ever allowed to get close.. no-one had ever really interested him that much… no-one except the girl now sitting before him.
“ I had’ta do somethin’ and figured if they thought I was your ‘boyfriend’, it might deter those assholes from comin’ back if they thought you had a protector. I… was glad to do it, this place is goddamn dangerous for a girl on her own… and I’m well known.. all the wanted posters and shit, I reckon I’m a pretty good deterrent.”
A part of him wanted to offer more.. but… she didn’t trust him… why would she choose to come to him if she needed help? It was just fortunate that he’d happened to be there tonight. He shuddered to think what might have happened otherwise.
"I’m sorry too…I guess I’m just still not over what happened that night."
The waitress returned with their beers at that moment, but he scarcely noticed her, just giving her a nod. He was too caught by Shilo’s words. It hadn’t really occured to him until now, that she’d maybe expected something more of him, that it had hurt her…. he’d felt bad leaving her there under the Opera House, but he also knew that she needed to face this moment alone, to make her own choice. And he knew Rotti didn’t intend to hurt her.. but she didn’t know that did she ?
He lowered his eyes and took a draught of his beer, not really sure if she’d believe him if he told her now, but he was going to have to try. But she’d asked him what he wanted to know, so he looked up at her and asked his first question.
“What I wanna know is… how did you do it ? How did you disappear and survive all this time on your own?”
GraveRobber listened to her answer, nodding as he slowly got the picture. His heart clenched as he thought of her going through withdrawals alone. He’d done that himself once and knew how awful it was. If only he’d been there…
But she’d managed and better than that had been smart enough to use some of the things he’d shown her and managed to carve herself a career as a dealer.
That was impressive. He was about to tell her that, when she referred to Amber very bitterly as his ‘fuck buddy”. Well it was true, though lately.. not so much. He shut up and waited out the rest of her story, trying to imagine what it must have been like for her.
She told him about calling herself Angel, and for the first time he got a good look at the wing tattoo on her wrist. “It’s beautiful.. it suits you. ” He commented.
She wound up her story and said she didn’t know what else to tell him. And then…
"I’ve been alone for too long to care anymore."
Alone ? So she didn’t have anyone ?
That was kind of unexpected. She was beautiful.. how could that be possible? But then she didn’t trust anyone did she, she didn’t want to care…and that was partly his fault.
What he wanted to straighten out was his side of things.
“ I gotta say.. that’s pretty impressive, for a sheltered teenager to manage to survive like you have. I did it myself once.. so I know how damn hard it is. If I’d been there… if I could have helped you, maybe it’d have been easier. “ He sighed and looked her in the eye. He was calm now, and he’d do his best to try and repair the damage between them, if he could. Even if she walked away after this, at least he’d have said it.
“That night… what I did.. that’s somethin’ I gotta set straight. Look..I’m sorry, real sorry for how it turned out. I want to explain..why I did what I did.” His brows furrowed as he remembered his less than heroic actions, which at the time seemed to make the best sense.
“ I left you there for two reasons.. maybe not the best ones, but at the time it seemed like the right thing. First is.. Rotti used me.. and as far as he was concerned I was expendable. When you found me, I was hung up as a little extra bait for Re.. for your dad, and a way to force you to see the first part of the truth…your mom’s body.. it was damn cruel, but Rotti played us all. When you cut me down, I had to get out of there, if I gotten killed by your dad or GeneCo goons, what use‘d that be to anyone.. especially you. The second part of my reasoning was.. and I know that you couldn’t understand this at the time.. that I knew Rotti wanted to make you his heir. I knew he didn’t want to harm you.. and he wasn’t gonna let you get hurt. I wasn’t privy to the whole plan, but I figured.. this was a decision you needed to make on your own.. and you needed to know the truth, abut your dad, about everything. I’d just get in the way of that and maybe end up dead into the bargain. You had to see it for yourself. I was watchin’ the whole thing from outside, to see what you decided. I figured I could help you if you needed it, afterwards. But I never expected it to go down quite like it did.. that fuckin’ bloodbath.”
Graves shook his head. “When I realised you had no-one left, I.. tried.. I looked for you, back at your old mansion, everywhere I could think of.. but found not a trace. I’m real sorry that you think I failed you.. but I didn’t just walk away. That’s the first thing I want you to know.”
He searched her dark eyes as she took that in, hoping it might make some sense to her at least, even if it didn’t excuse him in her eyes. The next part was more difficult.
“ The other is.. about Amber.” he took a deep breath and again lowered his eyes. This was going to be uncomfortable, but he had to put her straight or she’d never trust him, that was clear.
“ Yeah.. I won’t deny it. Before the Opera we had an arrangement.. okay.. fuck-buddies kinda covers it I guess. But that’s it.. it was never more than that. It was always a transaction.. and okay…maybe somethin’ we both needed from each other at the time. I’m not askin’ you to feel sorry for her. Amber’s a hard bitch and she’d tell you that herself. But that comes with a price. She’s got no real friends, no-one that’s ever even honest with her ‘cept me… and I wouldn’t call myself her friend, I’m just her dealer.. or I was. But I never pretended like it was anything else to her. As for me..”
He shifted in his seat, uncomfortable with talking about personal stuff.
“Well..I’ve kinda… avoided gettin’ involved with anyone, ’cause I’m a wanted criminal and it’s potentially dangerous, both for me and for them. And the sorta girls that like me, ain’t the kind I’d want. I’m not after some kind of dealer’s moll. That don’t interest me.”
Graves didn’t add his own deep seated fears about trust and commitment.. that if you loved something.. it might get taken away from you, or that it might be used to hurt you. No he couldn’t look at that, and certainly couldn’t tell Shilo that, though it lurked on the edge of his consciousness.
“Sometimes it’s a relief not to have to think about all that, and with her it didn’t come into it and it was clear what it was. It was never goin’ anywhere. And of course, bein’ associated with her, kind of gave me some protection from the law. She could be mean, but also she saved my ass a few times, when I thought my number was up. But I don’t kid myself that it was out of love, she was just protecting an asset.. her drug supply, that’s all.”
His brow creased. “ I’m not proud of it.. but that’s all it ever was to me, and maybe you don’t know, but since she took over GeneCo, I haven’t seen much of her. She’s tried to clean up her act for real this time, and I guess she can’t afford to be seen down in the backstreets with me any more. Hell, now she doesn’t have to answer to daddy, she can help herself to company supplies if she wants Z, or maybe she gets the uncut stuff sent up to her from the labs. I don’t know, but I haven’t seen her in months.”
Yes, it had been sleeping with the enemy, and true there were times when he’d first met Amber, when she was just a teen, that he’d had some sympathy for her, but she was a Largo and soon proved true to form. Though he had to play politic to survive, he still hated them and what they’d done to him and this city.. and Shilo. Even the way he was with Amber.. often hard and rough.. he knew a part of him enjoyed taking his ire out on her, making her kneel in the dirt and beg for her fix. He enjoyed the fact that she wanted him, as dirty and corrupt as he was. It was a kind of revenge.
He looked up then, blue eyes steady on hers, wanting Shilo to see he wasn’t lying.
“ What I’m tryin‘ to say is, that I’m not with her, or in the Largo’s pocket.. and goddamn it I’m not on her ‘side’. If you knew me.. if you knew my past, you’d never even question that. So don’t you worry about me sellin‘ you out.. Angel, cause that’s never gonna happen. Cross my heart and swear to die. What you heard that night, was me tryin’ to get information on you. I was tryin’ to get her to tell me if they’d caught you or if you were still missing. I had to make it sound like I didn’t give a shit about you, like I was taking her side, or she’d never have told me anything. Amber hates havin’ rivals so I had to be mean. That’s not what I think of you. Never was. I just wanted to know what happened to you. I.. uh.. I guess it doesn’t matter.. you probably won’t believe me anyhow. Why should you? ”
The trouble was, if he was a liar.. he’d say the exact same thing wouldn’t he? He couldn’t prove it. He sat looking at her waiting for a response, waiting to be told that this was all very well, but she didn’t much care any more and then she’d go.. and then… he didn’t think he could bear it. Somehow it was like she opened him up, made him feel, when all these years he’d managed not to.
It was then that he remembered the piece of paper in his pocket, the one Shilo had thrown on the ground. The wanted poster of him. Why did she have that if she didn’t care.. why was she running around with his picture in her bag ? It hit him then, that the reason for this, and her bitter reaction, was that she did give a damn.. that maybe she had thought of him, kept something as a reminder of that brief time.. even if she’d been afraid to come to him.. in case he was the enemy.
What.. the hell?
What could he make of that.. it was baffling and he didn’t dare think about the most obvious answer, that maybe.. she had actually liked him, because after all she’d said, he couldn’t imagine that she would see him that way.
“ So.. you never came to me, because of hearing me speak to Amber ?” he nodded. “ I don’t know what more to say either, but you given me a lot to think about.”
The awkward silence that might have ensued was curtailed by the waitress bringing their food. He was glad of that because it gave him time to think.
What did he feel about her now? Well fuck.. she was gorgeous, even if a bit tired and miserable, she shone.. her pale real skin seemed to hold the light in it and she put any of those surgically enhanced mavens to shame. He felt the tug of his libido, he couldn’t deny it, but he’d heard what she though of him and it was hardly promising even if he had rescued her just now. But it was more than sexual. She was still true to herself, she didn’t simper and flirt and play up to him. She was honest, she was not going to compromise who she was for anyone, even him, and he found that somehow thrilling, it was so different to what he was used to. When he’d first met her, he’d thought there was no-one in this entire god-forsaken city like her, and that was still the case. She challenged him, because she wouldn’t take his usual bullshit, but he kind of liked that. She made him feel hopeful too, like maybe there could be something worth caring about. But had he screwed it up too badly by what had happened earlier? Only one way to find out.
Finishing a mouthful of burrito, he said, with a small smile.
“ Look, lets eat and then.. maybe we think about how I can put somethin’ of this right. I can’t just let you walk away with nothin’ to support you. You worked for that Zydrate you took tonight after all. I’m willin’ to give it back to you.. or if you’d rather, I can pay you for what it’s worth. That’ll save me the work and save you the sellin’. What do you think about that.. is it a deal ?”
He genuinely wanted to help her but in truth, he was also stalling for time, trying to find a way to extend this meeting.. for he couldn’t bear the thought of her just getting up and walking back into the darkness and never seeing her again.
No one really knew anything about GraveRobber, hell neither did she. His comment about kicking Z made her wonder what exactly his teenage life had been like and how it changed him to be the kind of man he was today. There were questions that Shilo wanted answered, but at the same time she wasn’t really wanting to get close to him, or anyone…they would only leave in the end.
Settling back against the booth, Shilo didn’t take her eyes off of his Zydrate blue eyes as he began to explain the reasons why he had left her on her own that night, after she had cut him loose and gotten him free. When he spoke of not leaving her behind, her stomach felt like it was in a knot and her face visibly winced; it felt almost a little too late for him to be saying that, but being the kind of person she was, hearing it come from him rather then speculating that he had abandoned her made Shilo feel a little bit better about it, though she was far from forgiving him just yet. It would be impossible for her to just forget the past year and a half and think that he was forgiven.
The next topic made Shilo feel like she was swallowing acid; Amber. Her dark eyes looked away from his for a moment and she chewed her bottom lip before taking in a deep breath and turned her attention back to him. What was more surprising was how GraveRobber even looked like this was going to be an uncomfortable topic; but why should he care? Everyone knew that he slept around with his junkies if they couldn’t pay for a hit, and Amber was his highest and most demanding junkie of them all. Still, the idea that he had touched her and kissed her made Shilo feel like she didn’t want him anywhere near her…but then…damn at the same time, there was only one guy who had ever treated her with respect. It was a fucking hard topic all around.
And what the hell was she thinking? She was nineteen going on twenty, there was no way in hell GraveRobber would find a young woman like herself attractive. Fuck, she wasn’t perfectly molded like the other women in Sanitarium and everything she had was natural. How could one compete in this modern world where it was everything bought and purchased that made someone beautiful or worth while?
Shaking her thoughts and listening to GraveRobber talk about his arrangements with Amber, her hand on her beer was a little tighter, but only because she hated that woman like no one else. It was strange how he couldn’t look her in the eye and he even spoke of not being proud of what he had done. That…was surprising. This was GraveRobber; he didn’t apologize or give a fuck of what other people thought about him and what he did for a living. He answered to no one and didn’t care about anyone other then getting his Z on the streets and into the junkies. It wasn’t like she was expecting more from him…was she?
As GraveRobber suddenly looked up at her, there was a fierce glow in those Zydrate eyes of his that made Shilo sit back a little in the booth further, never seeing him speak with such a conviction that he was not with the Largo’s and nor was he on Amber’s side for that matter. His words rang with some truth however because Shilo didn’t know if she could trust him either…she wanted to, in her own way to have someone to be there to help if she needed him, but at the end of the day he was not the same GraveRobber she knew and his claws were longer…his teeth sharper. How did she know he wasn’t going to snap at her and use those tools on her?
Swallowing and taking a deep breath Shilo didn’t know if she was going to be able to handle anymore of this when the waitress came back with their food. She had been so hungry that even smelling it made her stomach turn and like a hungry animal, Shilo dug into her food quickly enjoying the taste of fresh meat, cheese and lettuce. It was the best thing that had the young woman had tasted in a very long time. Within a matter of seconds it was gone and she was full, for her stomach was not as big as GraveRobber’s, and not as strong; eating trash had been the lowest of the low, other then sleeping in it.
At GraveRobber’s sudden offer, Shilo perked up and her eyes narrowed a little at him, “Are you serious?” He was going to give her the profits of the Z she had ‘stolen’ from him? What happened to the hunter who had roughly gotten her trapped and threatened to get payment from her? Who was the man and who was the beast? Shilo normally would have let him keep it, but some of the money from the nearly eight full vials of Zydrate was enough to not only feed her, but she would be able to afford to finally put her head down on a real pillow and the prospects of a real shower. It was too good to pass up.
Did he have enough credits for that? Shilo nodded her head, “I’ll let your keep the vials, I’m kinda beat up from our little dance.” She told him since her body was indeed a little sore from the throwing down from the gate and then being slammed into the wall. “But I will take that money.” She said and knew that they couldn’t exchange it in the pub; he liked chasing death, Shilo didn’t. After GraveRobber had payed for their meal, which he insisted upon, Shilo walked with him down one of the alleyways as she stopped him, “Here is good.” And as she waited for him to get her the promised credits, Shilo could hear someone…no the feet were too heavy…GeneCops coming down the alley.
Shit! But they were not selling, not really…fuck, they were not going to jail or worse.
Pulling him in close Shilo whispered, “Play along or we get shot.” Her face was wanted a little more then GraveRobber’s so burying her face in his shoulder, Shilo decided it would be better to pretend they were a couple caught up in the moment, rather then peddlers. Moving her lips to his collar bone, Shilo kissed the slightly exposed skin, before latching onto the skin, biting and sucking it as GraveRobber’s hands went to the wall behind her. It wasn’t fair…not really, but it was a desperate moment…and to her surprise, his skin was…real. Was he not like everyone else?
After what seemed a while to Shilo, she pulled back and looked over both their shoulders for the GeneCops, but they were no where to be seen and there were no cracks for them to hide in. Looking at him and clearing her throat, Shilo licked her lips and said, “Uh…good, good job.” She told him awkwardly as she held out her hand, “Credits? I’m looking forward to a bed tonight.”