Force Majeur

by Lena (based on Juxian Tang's fanfiction, with translation by Anna Rain)

Lena's note: Big part of this story was actually written by Juxian (and translated by Anna Rain), as I am following her plotline up to some point, using the scenes or their fragments from the original part 3.

Part 3


The screen was left on, flashing with multi-colored lights. From afar, through the pulsing in his ears, Raoul could hear bitter, desperate Julius' sobs.

"It's my fault... I couldn't stop him."

For a moment he wanted to answer, to say that if Katze had decided to do something, it was hardly possible to stop him. He kept silent; suddenly the room spun around him. He rested his fingers against the corner of the table – and straightened at once. No, he didn't have time for weakness.

"I allowed him to deceive me."

You're not the only one – echoed in his mind. He pushed his hair away from his face, trying not to hear Julius' choking words. The numbness subsided. Raoul knew what he needed to do. He needed to sit at the computer and try to understand what exactly Katze had done – try to estimate the damage. He couldn't allow himself to think of anything else.

He pulled the keyboard closer, his fingers didn't shiver. Good... just don't think about him, just don't ask questions.

Rows of digits showed up on the screen. Perfect work. Raoul had no idea that Katze was so good. Though, indeed, Iason had mentioned something – but then Raoul was more occupied by his own obsession with Katze. And now he saw the effects of Katze's work. His program cut down the system's protection, like a narrow blade, faultlessly, almost painlessly.

And now Jupiter was no more. Just like that. Raoul was able to understand that she in fact didn't cease to exist, she was just locked up in her virtual mind, unavailable for anyone – except perhaps Katze... and the ones who stood behind him.

He felt cold. It was the end of the world he knew. It was so abstract a thought that he simply couldn't grasp it. And the world was changing – it was enough to look out of the window. In the dim light of the predawn a glow of fire seemed particularly ghastly. Raoul had been woken up by the noise of explosions. The city, especially some parts of it, had turned into hell.

He betrayed you without a blink of an eye, Raoul thought. Yesterday he was answering your kisses, entwined your fingers with his own – and for all this time he was getting ready... Raoul abruptly broke the thought. Never mind. It didn't matter. What mattered now was finding some answers.

Like – who was behind this. And whether there was anything he could do – or at least try to do.

A small box of received message popped up at the bottom of the screen. Raoul's hand moved, his heart jumped – in spite of all his efforts to stay cool. Maybe... maybe Katze would explain everything to him now, maybe all this was just some monstrous misunderstanding.

He saw the name of a sender and the hope dispelled, leaving void and bitterness in its stead. Yeah, sure, he mocked himself – just a misunderstanding. How much you would like to believe it.

He nevertheless clicked the box, opening the mail.

"You already know, don't you? Come. Leon."

For a moment he just stared at the screen and the tiny letters were bouncing before his eyes, refusing to form coherent words.

Well – didn't you wish for clarification?

Raoul got up. Accidentally his gaze fell on the figure clad in pink uniform, crouched on his knees – and a suffocating fit of anger engulfed him. There once was another boy, with dark-red hair, who wore the same kind of uniform. But that boy was gone – and somehow Julius had to pay for it. Raoul felt the want to hit him, to feel how the slap in the face will toss the unresisting body on the floor. He raised his hand – and stopped himself.

Great. Go on – hit him. Punish him – he well deserved it, right? He's waiting for it – will accept your wrath without surprise, without a word of protest.

Sudden shame took over him. He knew he should not have felt it – should not have had any kind of emotion at all towards something as low as a furniture. And he well knew where such shame, such weakness, could lead. But it was too late. As if something changed in his perspective, as if a splinter of glass got in his eyes, making him see everything differently.

He could not hit Julius.

Instead he lifted by the chin the reddened, tear-streaked face of the boy.

"Tell Damian to bring out the car."

He had things to think over while on the road – and think he did. At first he consistently chased all the other matters, other memories away from his thoughts – and then, as pieces of the puzzle started to assemble in one, he didn't need to distract himself forcefully anymore.

He understood almost everything. Only it was practically impossible to believe in.

Even here, in the quiet parts of the city, he could distinguish a vague smell of smoke in the air. Miraculously it had started to rain, and while Raoul walked from the car to the entrance, his hair became covered with a thin layer of moisture. In the mirror-like wall of the elevator he saw his own reflection with those sparkling drops in his hair. He shook his head, feeling the strands become wet, lose the shine – and turned away. With a little luck the rain will help put down the fire. It should help.

He went through the empty rooms lit by the multicolored lights, reaching the dome with transparent walls.


The blondie turned around – white sheet of hair and light-blue ice of the eyes that flashed with such triumph, that Raoul could no longer deny what he suspected.

"You remember?"

He saw Leon's hand tremble a little when he put the glass of wine on the table – and then he stepped forward, his arms entwining around Raoul, drawing him closer, pressing him to himself – tightly, almost painfully. And to find himself caught in this embrace, facing those strands of hair – it was so familiar, so habitual. Like all those years did not exist, like Raoul was once again that naive, obedient boy.

Leon's hair smelled of lilac and almond, as always – and his quickened breathing resounded over Raoul's ear, his whisper was as warm and slightly hoarse as before.

"I remember... my little one."

Raoul tried to break free – but the hands clasped a bit stronger still, forcefully restraining him. He felt Leon's palm on his cheek, pressing his head to his shoulder. Being as he was, Raoul could hardly see Leon's tilted face, the slight smile on his lips.

It can't be... it is all not happening, he though in desperation.

"How... how come?"

"Oh," Leon's lips twitched, spreading into a smile. "You're not the one to take credit for this, angel. You carried out your task flawlessly, erased from my memory everything that bothered Jupiter... that bothered you."

"Do you hate me?" It was the wrong question – how could he hope for Leon's answer to be negative. "Oh, how you must hate me..."

The strong hand with long fingers pressed tighter over his head, stroking his hair – as if soothing him. And when Raoul shuddered, having heard the answer, that hand didn't let him go.

"I hate you, my little one. You can't even begin to imagine, how I hate you. And in case you didn't guess it yet – it is easy for us to prove that the break-in was done from your computer and we can use it – in any way we want."

So that's why – a short thought flashed through Raoul's mind. It wasn't just a simple display of spite, nor precautions in case the break-in didn't succeed – it was done very purposely. Leon had him in his hands now and could use him as a scapegoat.

"I suppose you are pleased." Even though he tried to suppress it, a hiss sounded audibly in his voice.

"Pleased, Raoul?" Leon laughed almost merrily. "The pleasure, I'm only beginning to derive it. But believe me, I didn't do it for the sake of avenging on you. It would've been a mindless waste of resources. Katze really is an excellent hacker – he accomplished the task we were preparing for years."


"Of course. I am not alone. You left me alone – that much is true; but I've been not alone for a long time now. Who do you think gave me back my memories – preserved what you so diligently tried to destroy? Oh, for a couple of years I really did live in the blissful obliviousness concerning... our common past. But then I was given back what was lost. Can you imagine how I felt? When looking at you, at Iason? It was hell, much worse than the one I went through having discovered that you testified against me."

Finally Leon let him go, retreated for half a step. Raoul inhaled the air hungrily, as if Leon's hands were really choking him. But the scent – lilac and almond – still lingered on him.

"I was given back my memory," Leon continued. "So that I could become a part of the organization. And I did. I didn't want to be alone anymore."

Blood was pulsing in his veins, hot and strong. Raoul felt his cheeks burning with agonizing shame, with realization. For several years already Leon did remember everything. For all those years, when he was receiving Raoul at his place, engaging in social conversations with him...

For a moment, even the thought about what kind of organization Leon was talking about seemed less important. However, Raoul recovered at once.

"What happened in the city? Why put it on fire?"

"Oh, that was the necessary part of the plan." And seeing Raoul's questioning gaze, he continued. "Remember the Force Majeur condition? If Jupiter's functions are threatened, she is programmed to apply extreme measures, up to the means of mass destruction. They teach it at some moment at school. We wanted to get rid of Jupiter, but we didn't need slums in our beautiful city either. So we hired a bunch of mongrel lunatics to plant explosives in a few non-too-important spots in Tanagura. They are always talking how they are going to rise, so it was easy to talk them into it – we told them that we would help them in the rebellion and those fools believed us. Of course, she could identify the culprits without a problem – she was connected to all cameras in the city. When she sensed a bug in her system, she associated it with our little induced rebellion, and voila," Leon threw out his hands, illustrating a flashy outcome, "She sent her troops to burn Ceres. Which of course didn't save her. And by the way, if she didn't act as we predicted, we could always do that part for her, proclaiming the mongrels' guilt. So, you see, my dear Raoul, that's the beautiful irony. We actually didn't do anything, they destroyed each other. A mongrel put an end to Jupiter and then she, seeing what was coming, destroyed the mongrels."

The sound that Leon produced having told Raoul those revelations was close to giggle. Raoul was feeling dizzy. The more he found out, the more crazy it looked. But also more and more complex, meticulously planned... and brilliant.

"What are you planning to do?"

"It's obvious, Raoul. We want to take over her power."

"It's madness."


"Because..." because she always existed – seemed unshakable, like the foundation of Amoi. But it was a poor argument.

Iason, he thought suddenly – Iason could've dealt with this. All at once Raoul felt so lone and helpless – like he hasn't felt ever since those first days after Iason's death.

But what if... what if Iason would've shared Leon's way of thinking? What if in his rebel against norms imposed by Jupiter he would've gone as far?

"What do you have to offer in substitution of Jupiter? What makes you think you could rule better than her?"

"Better – worse..." Leon's laughter was contemptuous, almost rude. "You think I care about this? We will rule. That is all that matters. She turned me into a mindless doll, a decorative blondie with brains of a pet..."

"That is not true..."

"Don't you dare interrupt me. You turned me into this. But now she is locked up in her own cell – like in a harem, and we are the owners. You know, in the end I should be grateful to you for that brainwash, Raoul. Before that I was a naive romanticist, an old gullible fool. You dispelled me of illusions."

So that means it is all my own doing, Raoul thought. But it was really so. It was his fault – and he was paying for it.

"Now I know the exact price for everything. And it is time for me to present the bill."

Leon's voice broke; Raoul flinched. If anything, that crack in Leon's voice startled him more than the meaning of his words. He changed, really changed – there was a time when no matter what he would have not allowed himself such a breakdown.

He... he is not completely sane. This thought stunned Raoul, made him shrink away with confusion and anguish. Leon was half delirious. And it was also his, Raoul's, fault.

All of a sudden Leon stretched out his hand – something shiny sparkled in it – and a moment after Raoul choked with pain, thrown to his knees in a violent spasm. Gleaming curve of a collar encircled his throat, piercing him with surges of racking agony.

He croaked, trying to tear off the collar, but ended up only hurting his fingers. Through the veil he could make out the outline of Leon, towering over him. Then the pain ceased. He continued to shudder for some time still, gasping for air, feeling a thin line of nonactivated collar around his neck.

He felt so weak, that he couldn't even try to get up. Everything seemed blurry before his eyes.

"Pain collar," Leon commented softly. "It was delivered for me from Kamaas. One excellent device."

Raoul couldn't answer. He was still panting, his breathing convulsive. He used the carpet for support, trying to stand up straight.

"Oh come on," Leon's fingers lifted his chin – and ashamed, Raoul realized that his face was wet with tears. "Very painful, isn't it? But still not as painful as what I felt, when I found out you were cheating on me with Iason Mink – when you betrayed me for the sake of Iason."

His tongue was bleeding – he bit it when the collar was activated. Raoul licked his dry lips.

"You are... insane."

"Oh really?" Leon's voice became so sharp, that Raoul expected another fit of pain, shrinking instinctively from fear. Instead Leon leaned to him, carefully helping him to get up. "You deem me insane because I feel pain? Well, if you don't understand this, I will show you what pain is. On Kamaas these collars are used to train wild animals called dkhahti. They also have distance sensors. You can set the perimeter in which you want to keep your animal, and when it is crossed, the pain is activated automatically. Classical conditioning. Long exposition to such pain can even kill you. Perhaps, you are such a stupid animal yourself as well, Raoul."

The words were insulting – but the lips that touched Raoul's face were soft and warm. A tongue slid over his cheek, collecting his tears.

"Let's go," Leon said.

His hand came around Raoul's waist. The thumb of the other hand was still resting on the activator's button.

"Where to?" Raoul whispered.

"With me."

On the way he realized where they were heading. Hysterical laughter escaped his lips.

"There were times when you didn't bother with getting to the bedroom."

He thought that it somehow hurt Leon.

"Well, it's not like I'm getting any younger. Now I am more concerned with comfort."

Due to all the absurdity of the situation – or maybe due to the phantom-pain strained nerves, Raoul could not stop giggling. Jupiter, they were going to have sex. To hell with Amoi, with a new riot attempt that – oh, my! – could actually be successful. Leon wanted to drag him to the bed.

"You could've told me, you need it so badly," he murmured. "Most likely I would not have said no."

"And I do not expect you to say no to me."

Leon's tone made him cringe in expectation of another outburst of pain. Raoul felt a trickle of sweat rolling down his back. He was afraid of that pain – it was too strong... a kind of pain, that one could not be prepared for. But Leon did not press the button. He opened the door and pushed Raoul into the room.

Everything was just like before – the shiny silk of light-violet sheets – and the scent of lilac was so intense here, that Raoul involuntarily brought his hand to the temple. Not a trace of the feverish joviality left. At once, what Leon wanted from him, didn't seem so insignificant anymore.

Leon turned him around, his palms cradling Raoul's face – on the one side there was the warmth of skin, on the other, the cool case of the collar remote control, pressing to his cheek. Raoul felt a sharp metallic edge, unwittingly trying to escape the contact – but in the next instant Leon's mouth covered his lips, imperatively crushing, parting them. His tongue effortlessly overcame the resistance, entering Raoul's mouth.

The kiss was hurtful – lips pressed to the teeth – and the hand on the back of his head was not letting him withdraw, pressing ever so tightly. Don't want this... Raoul realized with unexpected clarity – and this thought wiped out all the others, leaving him with the purely instinctive need to free himself. He wrenched himself out, pushed Leon away, panting. Almost without anger, Leon slapped him across the face.

It was not painful, only offensive.

"You're forgetting yourself, Leon..."

"I think, you're the one forgetting here, my little one. Shall I remind you who's in control now?"

The black box of the remote flashed in his white fingers.

"Shall I press it?"

Raoul could not stand to look at the damned thing. For something to tame a blondie in such a way, to turn him into an obedient animal – it was intolerably humiliating. There was something perverted in it.

But he knew he had lost. Leon would do it, should Raoul only give him a reason. Or maybe he would do it without a reason at all – just because he liked it.

"So do it," Raoul jerked up his head. Fool, don't anger him... his nails sank into his palms to the point of drawing blood. "It would most certainly help."

For several long seconds nothing was happening, then Leon gave a laugh and dropped his hand.

"I like it, when you show spirit. You became so... independent during those years. Ten years ago you were nothing more than a silly puppy – with these fluffy curls of yours. You grew up, my little one – and you grew up without me. F-14!"

Movement in the room behind him made Raoul look back. Only now did he notice that there was an android in the bedroom that was standing by the wall all this time and was now moving towards Leon's voice.

"I will not hurt you," Leon whispered. "Not yet at least."

He didn't even have time to retreat, the android's hands clenched on his wrists. The android was of the reinforced type, even a blondie wouldn't be able to overpower it. Still, Raoul gave it a try, furiously pulling at his hands caught in the grip.

"Do you even realize what you are doing, Leon? How dare you?"

"Easy, calm down, you'll only break your wrists," but Raoul couldn't calm down. A collar – it was humiliating; but the feel of android's grip on his hands – it was even worse! Only those condemned to punishment by Jupiter were subjected to such treatment.

Oh... realizing this Raoul even ceased to struggle. His mouth opened a crack, but he stayed silent. Of course... Leon wanted him to feel this way. It was a wise revenge.

Feeling Leon's gaze on him, he looked up, as if hypnotized. Fingers ran over his cheek once again

"Do you remember, when I was placed in that chair... do you know why I never said anything back then? I could've tried – get through to you by screaming. And I so wanted to scream. But I waited for you to say something yourself. But you didn't say a word. You didn't even look at me."

I couldn't, Raoul wanted to contradict – but excuses did not matter anymore. For now he had to look Leon in the eye, could not turn away. Leon pulled the neckband of Raoul's robe. He heard the fabric tearing. Leon's hand wriggled into the gap, sliding over his chest.

"On the bed, F-14."

Resistance would only mean twisting his hands. He was thrown onto the bed, on his back; the android was still holding his wrists tight, making him stretch his arms over his head. Leisurely, Leon sank down beside him.

"Don't look like that, Raoul, please. My heart aches, seeing you look so hurt. I won't do anything you don't like. You used to like it before, did you not?"

His hands slid under the robe, caressing his chest, squeezing his nipples. Raoul bit his lip, trying to concentrate on pain, to distract himself from the uncontrollable reaction of his body. Leon was just manipulating him – like a windup doll – press here, touch there – and it will work. But that was exactly it, everything worked out – so easily, as if Raoul was programmed to respond to these caresses.

"You still like it even now," Leon smiled, leaning to his chest.

His lips were warm and velvety, his teeth clasping with a bit more strength – and Raoul jerked, till his wrists hurt – but this time not in an attempt to escape, but arching up, striving to meet Leon's mouth. His ears caught a silky, swishing sound of a zipper being opened – and he knew what was to follow this – and he trembled with anticipation – and with repulsion at himself. Leon's hand encircled his hot, erect cock.


"No..." he heard himself say it out laud.

"Why?" Leon traced his temples with his hand – and it was so short-lived and innocent a caress, that it was almost believable that there never were those ten years – and nothing was wrong between them.

Why? Raoul could not find an answer – and what would it change if he did? Leon would let him go? Raoul closed his eyes – the hand resumed stroking his erection.

"You will tell me how Iason used to caress you, will you? Later, when we're finished. You will tell me everything."

Iason... why is he bringing up Iason? But it was for the better, he didn't need to protect this. If he didn't need to share other memories... For an instant another vision flashed through his mind, of a pale face, surrounded by disheveled dark-red hair, slowly rising crescents of dark eyelashes over the teasingly gentle, mystically pensive eyes of dark amber.

Don't think about it!

His body arched up, and moaning, he came into Leon's hand – then fell back on the bed, panting.

A strand of Leon's hair was touching his cheek, and having opened his eyes, Raoul met a smiling gaze.

"Release him, F-14," Leon uttered softly. "There will be no more resistance from him, right?"

The steel grip on his wrists unclenched, which made Raoul instinctively pull his arms to his chest, though it was too late for any defense.

"I'm not going to ask whether you felt good," Leon showed him the palm covered in white. Raoul felt nausea and turned away. "Now it's my turn to feel good, you agree? Come on, turn over – just the way I like it."

It'll be easier not to look... He turned over to stand on all fours, nestling his head in the pillow. This way he could see nothing, except for the web of his own hair.

He clasped the sheet with his hands when Leon entered him. His body grew out of habit of penetration, but he still remembered everything – this rhythm, these hand on his hips, these thrusts, making him press his forehead into the entwined arms.

It was all over in a couple of minutes. He felt Leon leaving the bed. Raoul started to dress himself.

"Don't you want to shower?"

"I... I need to go..."

"As you wish. Oh," it seemed as if Leon just only now noticed the torn neckband. "Sorry, I ruined your clothes."

"It's nothing."


Obeying the silent order, he stood facing Leon. The look in the pale blue eyes was almost tender.

"Whatever happened between us in the past, Raoul, I want you to know – I always treasured you. I still treasure you. That is why you will join us – and it will be your salvation. You will be the official leader of Amoi. After all, you are the First Blondie, who is better entitled to wield power than you... Today you will officially declare taking over the power, and from now on you will be working on my order. Then I'll be able to protect you. Do you understand, my little one?"

What was there to not understand? Leon was going to make him into a puppet.

"So you agree?"

"I don't think I have a choice," he smiled lopsidedly.

Upon arriving home, Raoul hurried to the bedroom. He cast his clothes to the floor, went to the bathroom and turned on the water. His reflection in the mirror caught his attention and he stopped on impulse to look at himself. The collar on his neck was a hateful disturbance of his usual looks. Oh, how he wanted to tear it off, but Leon had told him very clearly what would happen in such case.

At least it didn't stand out. As long as one didn't look to closely it could even come for an original necklace. He reached with his hand to touch his neck under the metal and felt a thin pinkish line of the burned skin there.

"I've set the perimeter to Tanagura radius," Leon had informed him. "You are free to move everywhere in the city, but can't leave it unless I change the settings."

That bastard. As long as Raoul was wearing this thing, he couldn't simply escape.

Only after leaving Leon's apartment, did he remember that one question remained unasked – what about Katze? He could also ask about another thing – how did they manage to convince Katze to do what he did? Or maybe it was all planned beforehand – ever since that call from the police station? Katze had called him then because he needed... to gain Raoul's trust?

No, no... he pressed his hands to the temples – the pain this thought elicited was almost as strong as from the collar. But it was Raoul himself who wanted to do it – he himself retrieved Katze from the police station, he himself wanted to see him. They could not manipulate him like this!

They could, probably. Leon knew him well enough when they were together – and who knows how well he could've studied Raoul during these last years, watching him from the sidelines.

Maybe that was exactly the reason Raoul did not ask anything – for he was afraid to hear that it was all planned, that Katze just played with him.

He shook his head, unwilling to think about it anymore. He forced himself to tear his gaze away from the mirror and got into the shower quickly.

At last... he didn't know what exactly he was so eagerly trying to wash away from his body – the traces of the intercourse with Leon or the memories of Katze's touches. He had time to notice that the sheets on the bed were clean – thank Jupiter. Now there'll be nothing left, not even the scent.

And he'll be able to forget what he let himself do, what he let to be done to him... if need be, he'll efface it with acid out of his system – the memory of Katze's soft mouth around his cock, of those uncertain, tentative caresses with which they started – of their intimacy.

Jupiter, and he thought that Iason's weakness was fatal. And where did his own weakness lead him when he let former furniture into his bed. He had let – and not only that. He'd enjoyed it – cried with tears of pleasure feeling Katze's hair tickle his thighs...

His body was burning – so fiercely was he scrubbing it with a sponge. He could barely see his own hands through all the steam around him – but it was even better this way, he didn't want to see anything.

Like back then, the night he preformed the correction on Leon. But that time it was Katze who came and dragged him out of the shower.

You still want him to come?

Raoul turned off the tap, stopping the water flow. Thin streaks were running down his hair and falling on the bath floor with melodious tinkling. He froze, leaning on the wall.

No, he didn't want for Katze to return. It was all over. Didn't he have some pride after all?

Yes, very funny – blondie's pride broken by... a furniture.

He got out, dried himself off. In the room on the bed a fresh change of clothes already awaited him. Feeling the cool touch of silk on his heated skin made him shiver a bit. But now, being properly dressed, it was easier to regain his composure.

Raoul brushed a comb through his hair. The strands were still damp but were drying quickly. He grabbed a bottle of perfume and sprayed a bit of it on himself. To feel only his own scent was a relief.

What now? The blondie looking back at him from the mirror was carefully dressed, neatly combed but had a haunted and tormented look in his eyes. And nothing could be done about that. At least for now.

He looked around his empty room. Empty again. The feeling of loneliness hit him with doubled strength. Just yesterday he was here with Katze, and today... suddenly it was so overwhelming that he simply couldn't stand it. He didn't want to be alone, never again. If he was going to work for those bastards, he needed somebody trustworthy. At least one soul that wouldn't hate him or want to use him. Somebody who would be near him all the time, and who would help – really help – if need would be.

He got up and went to the living room, where he seated himself elegantly in the armchair and called for Julius. The furniture appeared immediately, soundlessly, eyes cast downward as always. Raoul nodded at him to come closer, and when the boy stopped a few feet before him, he studied his slender, humbly hunched figure. Could he trust his furniture? As much as he tried, he could think of no way to locate Julius in the plot against Jupiter and himself... no, it was impossible. Julius was always faithful to him.

"I have been appointed to become a leader of the planet," he announced.

He slim chest rose a little bit abruptly, heaving a faster breath, but that was Julius' only reaction. Raoul continued:

"It is not what it seems to be. I have been forced to it by the rebels. I won't be the real leader, just a puppet. I will be working on their orders. I don't want to do it, but I don't have any other choice. I assess that my life is in danger, just as that of the ones who are near me. That is why I am giving you a chance to leave. If you don't want to work for me in such circumstances, you can go now." And after a second thought he added: "I will give you the best references."

For a fleeting moment the eyes rose, and to Raoul's utter surprise, there was a look of hurt and fear in them.

"I don't want to leave, Master. If only you will allow me to stay... Please, do allow me to stay. I don't care who you work for. I want to serve you."

Even though Raoul expected that, he felt something clenching around his throat. And inside his throat there was suddenly a big lump. Somebody close, somebody trustworthy. Right.

"Very well," he said. "In that case from now on you will not only be my furniture, but also secretary." Leon couldn't forbid him that, could he? No, probably he would see Julius just like everyone else saw him. As an inconspicuous addition. Completely harmless. And actually that's what he was. He was just a prevention, an insurance policy, for now. "You will accompany me most of the time – on the trips and business meetings."

The chest rose and fell again in another hastily heaved breath. And even though it was, again, the only visible reaction, something indefinable made the boy's general demeanor suddenly radiating with enthusiasm and joy. Or perhaps Raoul just imagined that?

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Julius mumbled, bowing.

Raoul dismissed him after that, feeling slightly better after all. And with that the clarity of thought returned. He had to do something. He had to think of some way to stop them – if it was possible at all; or at least to break free. So far nothing came to his mind. But now he had Julius next to him. The boy was just a furniture, he meant nothing, didn't bring relief or comfort with his presence, but he was absolutely loyal and devoted to no end. For now, that would have to be enough.

Two weeks later

Julius collected two sets of dessert plates to the tray, bowed and retreated into the kitchen, leaving the blondies alone. He started to load the dishes into the dishwasher, hearing quiet voices coming from the living room. He took a moment to lean back and cast a furtive glance through the door. It was possible to see a part of the living room from where he stood and now he caught a glimpse of Raoul, sitting on the sofa in a closed up position, with a habitual pout on his lips and a tired face.

He was silent. It was mainly Leon speaking, and apparently he spoke of some funny things, because now and again a haughty aristocratic laughter could be heard. Raoul only smiled a forced, feeble smile at those moments, and sometimes added a word or two. It didn't take a genius to see that this situation didn't make him happy.

That sun of a bitch! He was playing with Raoul and it was giving him pleasure.

Julius trembled when a sharp wave of rage overwhelmed him again. He clenched his hand on the plate not to drop it, or worse – not to throw it against the wall. Oh, how he would love to kill the bastard. Only if it was so easy.

It had all started on that dreadful day of Katze's betrayal. That in itself was such a disaster that Julius thought it couldn't get any worse. He would've gladly died if only it helped to prevent it. But when it did happen, deep inside his little soul he felt a quiet, secret joy. Now Raoul realized who Katze really was. Now there will be no more place for Katze in his life.

And then there was a good part as well – his master had appointed him for his secretary; Julius was beyond himself with joy. Not even the pained look in Raoul's eyes was a reason to worry. Not even the hell that broke out in Ceres could ruin it. Now he will be with Raoul at all times. Now no one will stand between Raoul and him.

What a fool he was...

The next evening he met Leon Tan. The blondie came to Raoul with two other elites and together they had a meeting in Raoul's living room. Later on the others left and Leon stayed. Raoul had said that from now on Leon will be his assistant – as opposed to Julius being a secretary. Said that Leon would often accompany them as well. And when he and Leon disappeared in the bedroom, Julius' heart shattered into thousand little pieces.

Later on Julius figured that it was the very man who forced his master into his current position, he was the cause of the tormented expression on Raoul's face. Raoul clearly hated him, and thus Julius felt completely justified with his own hatred. But it didn't erase Leon from their life, or from Raoul's bedroom. He didn't live here, but it was almost as bad. He came every evening, stayed for a night; oftentimes also for a day.

At first Leon treated Julius as if he didn't exist, then apparently he attracted the blondie's attention with something, because he felt Leon's gaze following him, studying him. And one time when Raoul was not around, the man called for him and ordered to be served wine. And when Julius was serving him, unexpectedly Leon spoke:

"You love him, don't you?"

Julius froze, shocked by the question. He could not answer it – couldn't even imagine himself saying a single word to that blondie, let alone talk about his heart affairs. How come Leon had guessed it? He'd always hid his feelings so carefully.

Leon chuckled.

"You are very readable, didn't you know?" he said as if he indeed read Julius' unspoken question. "Although I don't think he is aware of that, he'd always been blind to such things. Funny, isn't it? Raoul Am, a heart-throb for furniture. But good, good, love him if you want. No one is forbidden that, not even furniture."

Julius managed to serve the blondie without breaking or spilling anything, then hastily removed himself from the room, followed by Leon's condescending laughter. He was terrified. Now Leon will tell Raoul, and Raoul will be disgusted, and he will fire Julius or at least push him away.

Nothing like that happened, but Julius still felt Leon's watchful gaze on himself and the fact that the blondie knew his secret hang between them like a warning.

Standing in the kitchen now, he heard the blondies get up and head towards the bedroom. When the door behind them closed, he finally let off steam. He punched the dishwasher a few times with all his might, hearing the bones inside his hand crack. Then he rested his head against the top cupboard and whined.

The shuttle landed at 7:15 am. Inside the cabin there were only several people, mostly businessmen and dealers. The planet that appealed to politicians was now not so popular among tourists – so lately visitors to Amoi were few in number. Katze stepped out last, went through the long passage into the spaceport, joined the queue. Out of five identification ports only one was operating.



"Enter ID number."

Two letters and four digits – he would never be able to forget them. Once, having received citizenship with Iason's help, he feasted his eyes on this number – the digits seemed to present the best combination in the world.

"Checking iris code."

He heard a soft click indicating the code scan.

"Citizen K1418D, OK."

A two seconds pause and the port gates opened before him.

And another second for him to comprehend the fact. So, he wasn't on the wanted list – Leon didn't see him as a threat. Probably the blondie simply assumed Katze would never come back. Katze didn't mind getting arrested. He wanted to get to Raoul somehow, and it was definitely a way. Now he would have to think of something else.

"Move it, don't hold the line," someone's annoyed voice grumbled behind him.

"Sorry," Katze stepped forward.

The halls of the spaceport were dimly lit due to the lack of energy – the after-effects of the failure were not yet eliminated. It must be said though that the lights were lowered quite elegantly – and there were big screens gleaming on the walls.

"Today senator Raoul Am holds a meeting with Terra Republic delegation. It is the first meeting on such a high level for decades..."

A dark-blue silk coat, a golden lock of hair carelessly falling on the face. Katze froze; the need to stare at this face was just as strong as the need to turn away, to rid himself of the pain.

He left the building and stopped in front of the taxi parking lot. A sharp gust of wind hit him in the face – a familiar wind of Amoi. He'd thought he would never feel it again.

The taxi door cracked open.

"Where are you heading?"

He got in the car. He did have a place to go – he hadn't sold his apartment, and instead prepaid it for half a year. Just in case. But it was not the place where he wanted to go first.

"Take ma to Ceres."

The driver didn't show any surprise. Probably, he never could imagine that Katze could have had anything to do with mongrels – other than that a passenger was free to do as he pleases.

"Wanna have a look at what's left there? An interesting sight I must tell you... Some thrill-seeking tourists are ecstatic about it. I wouldn't advise you to go alone though..."

"It's ok."

The road, wet from rain, was glistering in the gray morning light like black silk. The driver turned up the music – some classic tune, overly familiar. Empty landscapes of suburban road changed into streets.

The car took a turn, and he could already see it. Ahead of them, looming in the distance, the burnt houses of Ceres were sticking out akin bad teeth.

Though he had seen it all before – Ceres and the rest what happened on Amoi – in the news during his stay on Linea. That was the reason why he came back.

It first got to him just after his arrival and filled him with horror. It was not how it was going to be. There weren't supposed to be any fires and explosions. He was just supposed to put an end to Jupiter. If he knew it would turn out like this nothing, neither his brother, nor anything would make him succumb to the blondie's demands.

Right, but he could excuse himself now. The harm had been done and nothing would change it.

At first moment after watching the news he wanted to come back right away. Then he remembered his brother... no, since he already was there, he needed to see him, needed to find out how he was, and whether anything could be done for him.

When he entered the clinic the first time, he was almost ready to discover that Leon had played a trick on him, that Killie was not there, and that Katze himself will probably be killed. Instead he was led to the ward as if his visit was no surprise for them – and the man sleeping on the bad was Killie – Katze recognized him without a shadow of a doubt, even though Killie's eye were closed.

Damn... he didn't want to see that boy! Katze felt nothing for him. Long time ago there was annoyance and contempt – and he completely agreed with Iason's decision to clear the arrogant bastard out of the way.

Even though the staff in the clinic was superb, Killie was in a critical condition. Most of the time he was unconscious, he barely opened his eyes nowadays, he didn't recognize people, and surely he hadn't recognized Katze. There was no doubt that his days were coming to an end. Katze never got to take him to that house he'd bought for the two of them – it would kill the boy if he did so. So he just made sure that his brother was taken the best care of and that there would be means for any treatment he needed. What else could he do?

Then, with the frustrating awareness that he would never see his brother again, with the overpowering feeling of guilt, he left. He didn't love his brother, true, he didn't even like him, but that didn't change the fact that he disappointed somebody again. Still, on Amoi perhaps he could do something, repair the harm he had caused. For Killie there was no hope. It was better to try to save the ones who still could be saved.

And here he was. Looking out the car window at the appalling stumps of buildings, he wondered for the nth time what would have happened if he refused. Probably the blondies would've found someone else to carry out the task. Probably the effect would be the same. Probably. But it didn't make Katze's responsibility any lesser.

The car stopped on the outskirts of Ceres. Katze paid and got out. Under his feet he felt black sloppy mud, he figured it was soot soaked with rain.

Everything looked different here. There was a time when he believed Ceres won't ever change. And now he could hardly make out his way among half-ruined buildings.

He knew he was being followed – felt an observant, weighting gaze, calculating how good of a prey he could be. He shoved his hand into the pocket, letting the movement to be seen – now, most likely, no one will dare attack him – if only the most desperate ones.

Completely ruined blocks gave way to less destructed ones, and he felt some flicker of hope. Then he came round an almost intact building and... there were only ruins ahead. The house he was born in did not exist anymore.

And what did he expect? That fate will be good to him – after all he'd done? What was he thinking on his way here? How he will tell his mother about seeing his brother... about his condition, about how he was going to die soon? She probably wouldn't have cared anyway.

He heard a rustle behind him. He turned around – his heart fell at the sight of a figure wrapped in rags, with gray strands of hair streaming in the wind. He got the impression it could be his mother.

"Hey, sir..." the woman halted, staring intently at him. "Won't you have ten credits – for the burnt down?"

He took out several notes automatically. Dirty clingy fingers grabbed the money – but she kept staring at him.

"That is... I think I saw you before... are you, by any chance, Theresa's son?"

Startled, he turned to her.

"She's alive?"

"No, no, of course not – burned away like a log – in our house everybody died – I'm the only one left. And I saw you, when you came to visit her – she used to always brag about what a good boy she raised..."

He thrust a couple of more notes into her hand, not waiting for her to start begging – if only she would stop talking.

"Thank you, thank you," she was clutching the money, bowing and calling after him. "It's a pity about Theresa, it's a pity – a fine woman she was... and what's left of her – no more than a burnt log..."

The wind drifted her voice away – Katze could no longer hear her.

The house where Sliver lived was a pile of burnt breaks and crumbled beams as well. And nobody came out to him – though Katze stood for a long while, as if hoping that the boy was alive and having noticed him would rush to greet him. He recalled his anger having discovered Sliver hovering around his house. And here he was, standing in front of Sliver's house – but no one came out.

Probably, Katze knew it would be so. He well deserved it.

He reached the road and flagged a taxi, this time heading home. His apartment was just as he left it, if not for the layer of dust covering the computer screen, the rotating calendar, the bone curved figure.

Mechanically he flipped on the TV – otherwise the silence was overbearing. On the screen a smiling speaker was telling the latest news. Katze sank to the floor, fishing for a pack of cigarettes in his pocket, took one out and shoved it in his mouth.

He felt heavy, barely able to move. What he saw in Ceres literally crushed him to the ground. His mother was dead. Sliver was dead, and Raoul... would he want to talk to Katze at all? Inhaling the thick smoke, Katze realized with a terrifying clarity that his purpose of coming here, his great rescue mission, was just a laughable chimera, as there wasn't much left to safe.

He had no desire to wake up – he shut his eyes tighter in an attempt to lure the vanishing dream back. But he knew it was pointless. Slowly he raised his eyelids. The ceiling above him was covered in soot marks – the sight he was supposed to be getting used to after all these days, but it still evoked nausea in him.

The smell... don't think about the smell... Sliver clenched his fists so tight that the nails dug into his palms. It helped. What was before his eyes was just a soot covered ceiling. The fire has gone out long ago.

The window had no glass in it – the gap was shielded with a piece of plywood and the flickering morning light was pouring inside through the holes in it. The wind coming from those holes was cold enough to make Sliver pull the blanket up till his nose.

Oh why, why did he have to wake up so early? Nothing could be done about it though – as soon as he tried to close his eyes, they snapped back open, like they had springs in them.

The only sound filling the room was Hinley's regular, soft snoring. He was lying in his usual position – on his back, spread-eagled; for some reason he was never cold. His braid was undone, hair scattering all over the pillow. His throat shuddered and rumbled with every breath.

Quietly Sliver moved up to him, laid his head on the outstretched arm. Hinley reeked of cheap cigarettes and musk – and Sliver could still feel this scent on his own body. This smell seemed to muffle that other smell, the one Sliver was so very afraid of sensing.

And it was warm beside Hinley.

Sliver sighed, rubbed his cheek against Hinley's hand. Hinley was strong and kind – why did Sliver never notice it before? Hinley didn't abandon Sliver, didn't chase him away – he stayed with him when all the others...

Hinley's breathing faltered, and the snoring hitched. Sliver saw his eyelids tremble, but they didn't open. Hinley's hand found Sliver's head by touch.

Sliver didn't need to be told what to do. He slid under the blanket, liking his lips hastily. Hinley's cock was not yet fully erect, but when Sliver took it into his mouth and tongued the slit in its head, it hardened completely at once. Sliver traced the entire length of it with his tongue, along the slightly budging vein underneath, and smiled contentedly at Hinley's hoarse moan.

The taste was bitter – no wonder, Hinley hasn't washed after yesterday's – but Sliver did not mind. After all it was his own taste. And in a few seconds, when Sliver started to work with his mouth in earnest, the bitterness disappeared at all.

Here, under the blanket, it was even hot – and the musk smell emitting form Hinley's groin was stunningly intense. Sliver felt Hinley's hand cover his head, pressing – and leaned closer, letting Hinley's cock slip into his throat. Hinley didn't need to guide him – he took it as deep, and worked as fast as he could of his own accord.

At last the fingers in his hair clenched and bitterly salty spurts flooded his mouth.

He wasn't used to this taste – he always did it with a condom on. But surely he couldn't catch anything bad from Hinley, so there was no need for a condom. His throat contracted involuntarily with a wave of nausea, but Sliver suppressed the urge forcefully and swallowed everything that was offered.

When he emerged from under the blanket Hinley was grinning.

"That's the way to wake me up, little one – no doubts there are many who dream of this."

He ruffled Sliver's hair and Sliver gratefully nuzzled his palm.

There were times when listening to Hinley's compliments to his mother he thought it were just words that didn't mean anything. Back then he had no idea how pleasant it can be – to hear those words directed at you – even if you know you did not deserve it.

He got out of bed and signed to the man that he's now going to make breakfast. Hinley nodded, lying back on the pillows.

The house they currently lived in was harmed by the fire only partially – but for some reason its owners never returned here. Maybe they were dead. At any rate no one minded when they moved into this flat – and no one bothered them ever since.

The kitchen had suffered from fire most of all, but Hinley brought a gas stove from somewhere, and now Sliver was putting a kettle and a pot with two eggs in it on the said stove. The food was also found in the abandoned flat, which came very handy since both supermarkets in Ceres were still closed.

The stove had only two burners, so he had to wait for the kettle to boil before he could replace it with a frying pan to make toasts. For an instant, when the oil started sizzling and smelling, he froze as if switched off.

No, of course this smell is different – not in the least alike... Nothing was burning... Put in the bread quickly, if you want everything to be ready in time.

Over the past weeks something like this was happening to him more and more seldom. Perhaps, he was starting to calm down a bit, or so he wished to think at least. Maybe one day he will be able to forget it at all.

If he lives long enough.

He was not supposed to stay alive in the first place. If not for that envelope filled with money, which they received that day – a thick envelope without a single note attached.

Sliver recalled how his mother poured out the credits onto the bed – and recounted them, her fingers were trembling slightly, and her face was that of a young girl – something he hadn't seen for a very long time.

"Are you sure it's for us?" She was saying. "No one will take it away?"

"It is definitely for us."

Sliver knew who the money came from. Well, it wasn't hard to guess – even if no note was attached to it – even if there was no explanation for it.

His mother, eyes shining, was going on about how now Sliver wouldn't need to work, that this money would be enough for a long time if they economize. And they will economize – and then Sliver will grow up and be admitted into some gang...

And maybe... she stumbled there, crossing her fingers and whispering that, of course, she didn't mean to say anything... but all these beautiful things from expensive shops that a man from Tanagura bought for her Romi – and now there were this money... so maybe...

But Sliver realized right away what this money meant – that there will be no continuation. He didn't know why – but he knew that he'll never see Katze again. This money meant it was over.

To keep a smile on while listening to his mother's rapid speech was hardly bearable – but he managed to suffer through it for the whole day. And in the evening he rushed out of the house under a false pretence, saying he needed to drop by his former work place to give back a trinket.

The windows of the apartment were dark – but it didn't surprise Sliver. He suspected that much – yet he had to make sure. He went up and continued to press the buzzer for a long time, even though he felt that there was no one behind that door.

Maybe Katze will return later? Sliver kept stubbornly telling himself that Katze could've gone out somewhere, to a club or a restaurant – he didn't need to sit at home all the time. Sliding to the floor, Sliver leaned his back on the door and waited.

He didn't notice how he fell asleep, but when he opened his eyes it seemed like it was late in the night already. And Katze was not back – he couldn't have gone past Sliver unnoticed. And this thought seemed to make Sliver finally realize how foolish his behavior really was. He got up and went out into the street.

He realized at once that he missed something very important – he saw the lights gone out and heard the wail of sirens. But only half-way through did he realize that the glow he saw at the horizon was not some natural phenomena, but a fire.

He ran most of the way – but even then he didn't believe that what was happening could affect him in some way. The fact that the houses were burning was horrible – but it was certainly not happening in any vicinity of his house – in some other part of the town.

And then he saw his own house – the beams were crumbling down into the roaring flame. He still thought that his mother and Tommy must've managed to escape – they had made it for sure. He was bumping into the crowd like a blind kitten, trying to find them. And then a hand was put on his shoulder, turning him around – and he saw a mournful face of Hinley, covered in sweat and soot.

"Yes," Hinley said sadly. "That's how we lost them."

He pulled Sliver close to him, despite the resistance – and at that moment Sliver realized for the first time what kind of smell it was he was feeling constantly ever since entering Ceres. Coals and burning plastic, of course – and even stronger was another smell, a sweet and heavy one.

He fought Hinley's arms, trying to free himself, to say that it can't be, it was a lie. But when he lifted his head to look Hinley in the face and opened his mouth he found himself unable to utter a single sound.

His voice didn't return to him ever since that moment – but Sliver wasn't too much upset with the fact. He had no reason to talk.

Breakfast was ready. He laid eggs and toasts out on the plates, put them on the tray and carried it to the room.

"Thanks, little one," Hinley graced him with a smile, then sat up, rubbing his palms together with anticipation. Sliver perched himself on the edge of the bed, watching him eat. "You're amazing," Hinley mumbled with his mouth full. "Oh, you could go shower in the mean time, ok?"

There was no hot water, so Sliver stood under cold jets with his teeth clattering. He could bear it for a few minutes only, so he tried to wash himself with maximum speed. When he got back to the room Hinley had already finished breakfast, put on his clothes and was getting ready to go out somewhere.

Sliver grabbed him by the arm desperately, looking him in the eye – and his gaze must've been expressive enough for Hinley to understand.

"Yes, I need to go," he smiled placatingly. "No, you can't come with me. But I'll be back soon. Don't worry, I won't leave you. Do you trust me?"

Sliver nodded. He had to trust Hinley – he had no one else to trust.

"That's a good boy," Hinley's wide palm covered his hands, lingering a bit. "And while I'm away you go practice with this."

A heavy gun of dark shiny metal was thrown into Sliver's lap. He clasped it in his hands, feeling the cool steel warming up. Hinley left.

As if hypnotized, following the instruction even when Hinley was not around, he lifted the gun. By now he was almost used to the weight of it, to the feel of it. On the opposite wall there was a silhouette drawn with soot – and the breaks were covered in holes from multiple shots.

Feel the gun as a continuation of your own hands. Don't aim – just direct it. Gently release the trigger.

A light swish and a click of impact – and one more hole graced the left side on the silhouette's chest. He didn't miss lately.

Aim at the head, Hinley told him, then it'll be for certain. But Sliver wanted to hit exactly in the heart.

You'll have time only for one shot. Even if you miss, just run away.

Sliver wasn't going to run. He will shoot until he succeeds. Or until they kill him. And it's most likely that he'll be killed – and then it will all be over.

Because these are the traitors who killed your mother and burned whole Ceres. He is their leader.

The silhouette on the wall was very sketchy – but, closing his eyes, Sliver thought he could make out a sheet of golden hair streaming down a blue silken coat – an arrogantly beautiful face with pursed delicately pink lips.

Another swish and a click. A new hole – almost at the same place as the previous one.

If you feel the game is up, do try not to surrender alive, alright? Hinley's fingers were combing through his hair. On the second thought, you won't be able to tell them anything anyway...

Sliver knew they won't be able to get anything out of him – he knew it as surely as his own name.

He hugged the gun, pressing it to his chest, and curled up on the bed over the blanket. With a gun he didn't feel cold as well. He will be able to revenge. For his mother, for Tommy, for all the others.

The surroundings blurred – this was happening to him lately – and when he came round Hinley was already back, he was standing there looking at him and smiling. He had some long case in his hands.

"I'm glad you like this gun so much – but be careful, don't send a bullet through your own leg. Today is a special day, little one. The waiting has ended. You'll be able to do it."

Once again there were news on the screen – Katze saw it through the thick veil of smoke that lingered in the room; he'd smoked at least ten cigarettes in a row. The meeting with Terra delegation was successful, and a dinner was to be held in one of the elite clubs in Eos... Several men with reserved expressions appeared on the screen – representatives of Terra. The camera rested just briefly on them, as if something was drawing its attention away...

A beautiful face framed with waves of golden hair, pink lips pressed together in a slightly sulky pout that could be considered sweet if Katze didn't know what it really hid. But... did he know it? How could he be sure that Raoul was unhappy in his current position? Back on Linea, when he'd heard the name Leon Tan on TV, he'd performed a Net search on the man. He'd found out that he was Raoul's former mentor and that he'd undergone a personality correction a few years back. He'd found out a few other details. He'd connected it with what he heard and saw in the past and just recently – and the pieces of the puzzle just jumped on place, the most possible version of what happened made itself up in his mind. But perhaps he was wrong, perhaps Raoul had joined the rebels on his own free will. Perhaps he was with Leon Tan again. Surely another blondie was a better choice for him than some former furniture.

First thing to do – Katze thought – try to contact Raoul. Find out what's going on and whether any help is needed at all.

Caught by a sudden inspiration, he got up, surprised with his own readiness to act. He grabbed his coat, threw it over his shoulders and went out. Maybe going there wasn't the most reasonable thing to do, certainly he didn't hope to contact Raoul by calling him from the crowd of onlookers, but he simply needed to see the blondie in person. He needed to... be close to him, even if in such an illusory way.

He well knew which of the elite clubs Iason usually chose to dine in with his high standing associates, it was the same club he'd met with Raoul once. It was more than likely that the blondie would chose this very place for the dinner with the delegates, even if just not to break the old habit.

Taxi took him to Eos. He dismissed it a couple of blocks away from his destination and went on foot. Of course... his assumption turned out to be right. Outside the club there already were androids lined up, blocking the way.

Needless to say, Katze wasn't the only curious onlooker there. Hands shoved in the pockets, Katze stood amidst the people, waiting. The crowd was decent, quite presentable – not that other kind of people showed up in this district. From the quiet buzz of the conversations he was able to catch one thing:

"Is that true that Ceres will be completely leveled to the ground soon and the land for construction there will be sold for nine credits per square meter?"

"Oh, better be soon..."

Then someone screamed that they were coming and the murmurs stopped at once. Almost soundlessly, three long vehicles drove up to the club building.

Unconsciously Katze took a step forward, craning his neck, willing to see as much as possible. He was pushed – and stepped aside, letting the person through – a skinny boy in a short jacket, with his hands in pockets. Blue-black hair was falling over a thin neck. Immediately Katze recognized him.

It can't be. Sliver?

The joy overwhelmed him combined with fear – what if he's mistaken, taken the desired for reality? How many boys like this, in tight fitting pants and with fiercely independent air about them were roaming the streets of Tanagura? Katze wanted to call after him, to make sure – and at this very moment the doors of the cars opened.

A few people scattered outside, but it was not likely that somebody noticed anyone except for one person – beside a blondie common people always seemed unnoticeable, gray. Katze had forgotten how it felt to see Raoul from so close, how unbearably beautiful he was. Something clenched in his chest almost painfully. The blondie's eyes – bright blue even under the lights of street lamps – slid through the crowd. Feeling this gaze lick him just for a fleeting moment gave Katze shivers all over his body. But the eyes didn't stop on him, there were too many people around, he was just one face in the sea of faces, and at one moment Katze felt relieved and disappointed.

What happened next... probably it happened in a flash – and Katze wondered afterwards how he could've managed to remember so many details. As if the time stopped for him.

He saw the boy – Sliver – take out something from under his jacket – and before he even raised that object in his outstretched arms, Katze knew it was a gun.

Fool, what the hell are you doing?! Katze knew what was about to happen – a moment before the shot would be heard, the white protective shield would flash – repelling the bullet, sending it back at the shooter. The boy would be killed – in a blink.

Katze put out a hand in an attempt to hinder Sliver – but his moves were also slow – he knew he wouldn't make it.

The shield did not flash. Instead a fragile figure in a gray uniform suddenly appeared in front of Raoul. There was a hiss – the person jerked like a marionette and a hole of flash burnt through appeared on his chest.

It was not Sliver who did that, a thought flashed through Katze's mind – it wasn't a gun shot, it was plasma rifle... Meanwhile the androids had already lined up, shielding Raoul and the others, pointing their weapons at the crowd.

Katze finally managed to reach Sliver's shoulder, pulled him towards himself. The gun fell out of boy's hands. Katze tore off his own jacket, wrapped it around Sliver and started dragging him out of the crowd.

He knew he wouldn't make it, that in a second the androids will shoot down everyone who was there – they will sort out who's guilty and who's not later.

"Don't shoot!" Somebody cried out nearby – and then – another voice, a voice he recognized:

"Don't shoot."

A few moments of commotion were enough for Katze to get out of the crowd, and dive in the dimly lit side street. Wrapped up in a jacket, the boy in his arms was blindly fighting to break free.

He didn't have time to talk. He uncovered Sliver's head and slapped him across the face twice – so strongly that the boy's head swung sideways. Sliver ceased resisting, became obedient and supple.

"Be quiet," Katze instructed.

Out of the side alley the way led into a busy street – Katze knew it – like he knew such ways in most of Tanagura, explored them due to his work. In several minutes the area will be surrounded. But they could still make it.

He flagged a taxi, dragged Sliver into the back seat. The driver cast them a curious glance.

"Got yourself a boy?"

"Yeah, well," Katze shoved Sliver flat onto the seat, bent over him and covered his mouth with his own.

Even if he'll have to imitate lust throughout all the way to the house – as long as the driver didn't see Sliver's face – he was fine with it. Because in half an hour Sliver's pictures would be all over the city.

Sliver's mouth opened softly and submissively, letting his tongue through. But Katze was not going to really kiss him. Their faces were brought together so closely that Sliver's open eyes seemed wide and unbearably black. Katze stroked his hair gently.

To their advantage the radio inside the car was turned off – they arrived safely. Katze stopped the car well before his house, paid the driver. From here on they will go on foot.

He was still holding Sliver's hand in his own – squeezing it so hard that it must've been hurting the boy – but Sliver did not make a sound. He was walking beside Katze, quiet and all like... like he still could not comprehend what has happened.

They were lucky – did not encounter anyone on the way. Katze pushed Sliver inside the apartment and locked the door behind them.

On the way here he thought that once they reach home, he will give Sliver a piece of his mind about his actions. But now, looking at the petrified boy staring at the floor, he could not make himself utter a single word. And what was there to say anyway? Give him an earful and make him promise to not do this ever again? It was not some insignificant offence that could be redeemed by a reprimand. He tried to shoot the planet's leader – and thus signed his own death-warrant. They will not stop until they catch him. Katze himself should be mad as well – Raoul was a man he happened to fall for – but he couldn't find it in himself.

Feeling something in him break, he embraced those slender shoulders and pressed the boy close to himself.

For several moments Sliver's hands were still hanging limp along his body – and then suddenly they flew up, hugged Katze convulsively tight – and Katze felt the boy start to shake violently.

Sliver was not just hugging him – he was clutching onto him, with jerky fingers, as if wanting to make sure that Katze was real. He was shivering so hard that his teeth were chattering, he was trying to press his face even deeper into Katze's jacket.

Continuing to stroke his shoulders, Katze squatted before him, trying to look him in the face. Sliver's eyes were dry and unbearably fervent – and Katze nearly staggered back, so much was he shocked by what he saw in that gaze: as if seeing Katze was at the same time giving him agony and joy.

"Oh, what have you done..." Katze whispered, touching his hair. Sliver winced and shook his head as if in pain. God, but that boy didn't even shoot! Someone just used him as a cover, to distract attention – someone with a plasma rifle...

Sliver continued to stare intensely at him – and then his lips parted and he whispered something – but Katze did not hear a sound.


Sliver looked guilty – his lips tried to utter something again.

"You can't speak? Wait, open your mouth!" Katze panicked, he was afraid that the ones who gave Sliver the gun, could have cut off his tongue, so that he wouldn't give them out. But the tongue was there. "It happened just now? Or some time ago?"

Sliver shook his head, then nodded. Katze couldn't hold back, he once again drew the boy close against himself. He never would've though that he will be so glad to hold this fragile body in his arms, will want to never let Sliver go from himself. Sliver's hot cheek pressed into his shoulder.

"And just what are we gonna do now?" Katze murmured.

He felt Sliver wince again, the boy broke free from his embrace. He tried to say something, then gave up, found a piece of paper on Katze's table and started to write something. The letters came out askew, crumbled together.

I didn't mean to – I wanted to kill the blondie – not that other person...

Katze lifted his gaze from the paper. Sliver looked bitterly at him, shook his head.

"Why did you want to kill the blondie?" Katze asked, although he thought he could guess the answer.

They cheated us. The blondies that overthrew Jupiter. They were going to help us, but they used us and burnt Ceres.

Katze shook his head. Sliver had it all wrong. Still, it was more or less what he suspected. People from Ceres blamed the current leaders of Amoi for their misery – and wanted revenge. Only they didn't know that the actual leaders hid behind somebody else's back. Only Sliver didn't know that he, Katze, was also deeply involved and well to be blamed.

"Who gave you the gun? You weren't working by yourself?" It was more a statement than a question.

Sliver shook his head no. And on the paper he wrote: Hinley.

"Who's Hinley?"

Sliver's brows furrowed as the boy thought how to answer. Suddenly his face twisted and he shivered, as if he remembered something unpleasant. Then his slender hand scratched.

He was mom's boyfriend. Now he is with me. He is the Committee's leader.

What Committee, Katze wanted to ask, but he realized that he knew the answer. Here, he'd found the rebels from Ceres. The ones who planted explosives in Tanagura. He'd heard it all in TV – it was the official reason for destroying Ceres, the attempted attack on Tanagura. So it was Leon and his associates who talked the mongrel fools into it – why wasn't he surprised? Why did he actually feel like one of them?

What a cruel irony that Sliver was connected to their leader.

"Listen to me very carefully." Katze shook Sliver's shoulders a little to emphasize his words. "The man you tried to shoot is not one of those who deceived you. He is their victim, just like the Committee, just like all the people from Ceres." Or at least he supposed so. "He is innocent. Do you understand?"

For a moment Sliver was staring at him with wide, flabbergasted eyes, then slowly nodded.

"And you didn't even have time to shoot." The boy flinched at those words, his eyes becoming even wider and more amazed, as if he didn't even think about it before. "You didn't shoot."

Sliver gasped surprised – looked at his hands – then nodded again. There was a question in his eyes.

"You didn't kill him," Katze stated. Suddenly, as if seeing it on a photograph, he remembered the swirl of light-brown strands of hair of the man who threw himself in front Raoul – and realized that he recognized him. "Do you have any idea who fired? Did you know that there will be anyone apart from you?"

Another shake of head. So, Sliver wasn't even initiated in the plot. Katze felt white fury when the realization sank in. If it was the Committee's doing, it meant that they used the kid as a shooting target – he would attract attention and most likely be shot when the actual killer would run away. Bastards! They were no better than the blondies who used them.

If it was the Committee's doing it was exactly where Katze shouldn't go to ask for help.

"They will be looking for you," he said. "You tried to kill the Senator – for them it's enough."

Sliver shivered at those words, but it was his only reaction. It seemed he'd been more or less aware of the consequences. Finally Katze was able to collect himself. He got up, took the jacket off himself and off Sliver, led the boy to the couch and pressed him down by the shoulders.

"Sit here."

He didn't turn on the TV – it would've been the easiest way to get updates on the situation, but he suspected that if Sliver saw what was going on there, it could ruin this shaky balance. So he turned on his computer instead – the Net had the same information.

It wasn't good. Sliver's picture was already there. A snapshot was very clear. So clear that it was impossible not to recognize him – there was even a gun in his outstretched arms... Five hundred thousands credits for information that would lead to the capture of the suspect. The sum was enough to tempt anybody. Katze didn't even hope that he'd be able to bribe someone to smuggle Sliver secretly out of here. Dammit.

But... what if he offers Raoul a chance for revenge – in exchange for Sliver's freedom? The boy really was free of any wrongdoing, what's the reason to punish him? Raoul must understand this.

So, he was coming to the same conclusion again: he needed to get in touch with Raoul. The faster the better. Preferably right now. Without thinking, he opened his e-mail box and tapped quickly:

"Sorry for what I did. I didn't want it. If you don't hate me too much to stand talking with me, please, let's meet. I want to explain. Perhaps I can help."

He hit the send button without signing the mail. Raoul would know who wrote it. If someone else read his e-mails, they would probably know as well. Katze had taken it into account and decided that he had no choice but to try. Even if it leads him straight into a trap, he will at least find some answers. And he will still be able to make his offer.

He turned his attention from the computer to Sliver again. The boy was sitting where Katze had left him, hugging himself, with his head hung down, looking helpless. Looking so vulnerable and fragile. Suddenly Katze realized that he might be hungry, that his own stomach was rumbling pretty intensively – the last time he had eaten was in the morning, after he'd left Ceres, before he even came back home. For the whole day he hadn't put anything into his mouth and now the evening had fallen again. He didn't have anything in the fridge. Nor did he have any other everyday life supplies – it was the last thing he thought of when he arrived. Now there was time, he had to wait anyway. He might as well go shopping.

"Are you hungry?" he asked Sliver for good measure.

The boy raised his gaze at him as if surprised by the question, thought for a moment then nodded his head eagerly.

"Good," Katze got up, "then I'll go do some shopping." And seeing Sliver leap up as well, he stretched his arm to stop him. "Oh no, you are staying here. Nobody can see you, remember?"

Sliver slumped his shoulders and nodded sulkily.

"I'll be back soon," Katze assured him, throwing his jacked over his shoulders. "In an hour or so. You just sit here and wait for me, alright?"

Sliver sighed and nodded again. Katze cast him the last glance.

"Don't open to anyone," he added, then left, locking the door behind himself. It was good he had something to do to kill the time, otherwise he could go nuts. And perhaps when he comes back the answer from Raoul will already be there...

"You knew that the shield wasn't on!"

"Of course I knew," Leon answered with a smile. "The energy supply on Amoi is still limited. The amount needed for the shield would've been too much."

"What if they killed me?"

"Oh well. We would have mourned you."

Figures. Leon hated him. Leon in fact wouldn't mind to see him dead. Sure, he enjoyed tormenting him, but if Raoul was killed, he would have accepted it with a shrug.

They had this exchange half an hour ago, just after the assassination attempt. The dinner had been cancelled, the ambulance had taken Julius to a hospital. He was still alive back then, although his condition was very hard.

Right now, Raoul was still in Parthea, with Leon on his side and a group of several androids, bodyguards and servants bustling around them, doing who-knows-what. He was growing more and more annoyed with that. Whatever they were doing, it didn't seem particularly crucial, nor did it seem to require his presence.

"I want to see him," he demanded.

"Whom? Your furniture?"

"He is not just a furniture. He's the only faithful spirit I have left."

"Oh my dear, you hurt my feelings," Leon snorted.

Leon's hand lasciviously massaged Raoul's thigh, but he was too fed up with the mess around him to accept it. He grabbed the hand and pushed it away, giving Leon a stern look.

"I want to see him. Take me to him."

Perhaps it was something in his voice, or perhaps something in his gaze, but eventually Leon sighed theatrically.

"Oh well, since you have such a weak spot for him... I suppose it will pose no threat to anyone."

They got into the limousine and surrounded by a few cars of their entourage drove to the hospital. Leon declared he would stay in the car, explaining he didn't want to witness the teary show. When Raoul was concerned, it was only to the better. He didn't want anyone to witness it either.

Androids were swarming around him when he entered the clinic. Medics and nurses froze in shock for a moment upon seeing him, but then continued their running about with double energy.

"How is my secretary?"

The doctor's long face became even more sorrowful.

"Unfortunately... you do understand, such injury... we do all we can..."

"Is he dead?"

"Not yet, but there is a big chance that..."

"Take me to him."

The doctor nodded nervously and led him down the corridor.

There were several people hunched over Julius, but motioned to by the doctor they left without protest. Raoul looked around – under his gaze the man stepped away and left as well, closing the door behind him.

Julius was lying on the high table, covered till mid-chest with a sheet. There was a tube inserted into his mouth – and in the silence of the room the sound of the machine attached to his body seemed unbearably loud. There was another sound – and in an instant Raoul realized that is was the air leaving Julius' half-burnt lungs through the wounds on his chest.

There were other machines as well – apparently they were really doing their best. But of course, he was the Senator's secretary.

With his hair stroked back, his face appeared almost childlike – and was so pale that it seemed made of wax. As if he was already dead...

Raoul couldn't imagine... couldn't imagine that it will turn out this way.

He reached out and touched Julius' brow. The skin was warm and slightly damp. His hair was a bit damp as well. Raoul stroked it with his fingers.

"What have you done?" he asked in a whisper. "Why did you do it?"

He never could've imagined he would feel such gratitude towards Julius, the mousy gray boy, whom he had once chosen exactly because he was so inconspicuous – so ordinary. He never could've imagined he would feel such anguish – such loneliness...

Julius was the last one left who believed in him – the last one left who stayed with him.

He simply couldn't allow for him to leave as well.

Julius' fair eyelashes trembled suddenly, lifted up – and his gaze opened up to Raoul. He had dark-green eyes – green like water; Raoul never noticed it before.

He drew back his hand, not wanting to scare the boy – but in those eyes there was no fear, just great, incredible joy.

The tube moved as Julius tried to shift it with his tongue. Raoul was about to stop him, but was too late. The words came out muffled but Raoul understood nonetheless.

"You are okay. I'm so glad nothing happened to you."

Dear God, even in such a moment...

"Why?" Raoul asked again. "Why have you done it?"

"Because..." Instead of answering, Julius lifted his hand and reached out for him. His gaze grew concentrated – inquiring – as if he expected Raoul to reject him, to withdraw from him. Perhaps it would've been so in the past. There was time when Julius just wouldn't have dared to touch him.

But now, Raoul realized, he had nothing to be afraid of.

Julius' cold fingers encircled his hand – and his eyes became surprised and happy, as if he still could not believe it. Hesitantly, he brought Raoul's hand to his cheek, pressed into it.

He was looking at Raoul hungrily, unwaveringly – trying to catch up for all those times he had to cast down his eyes when being around Raoul, trying to absorb as much as possible.

And at that moment Raoul knew the answer. He probably should feel repelled and uncomfortable, instead there was only gratitude. Gratitude that there was still someone who sincerely, selflessly loved him. His stomach twisted unpleasantly and his throat clenched.

"I will do all my best to save you," he whispered hastily. "Don't you dare to die, do you understand? I will save you."

He left the room soon after that. He couldn't stay with Julius too long – his throat was too tight and his eyes were stinging. Plus, Julius needed medical attention; if he wanted the boy to live, he mustn't keep doctors away from him. The medic who had brought him here was waiting in the corridor.

"You mentioned chances," Raoul offered.

The doctor cleared his throat with unease.

"Yes, well. Unfortunately, there is not much chance for him, Senator. We are doing all we can, but most likely your secretary will die."

"I need this boy to live," Raoul said to him sternly. "I refuse to even consider the other option. I will cover all expenses. If you need to transport him to a more specialized clinic, if you need any special equipment, costs won't be a problem."

The man lowered his head and bowed, but he looked helpless.

"We will do our best, sir," he murmured in such a tone that Raoul lost all hope.

The door closed after Katze with a dull click – and for a while Sliver just stood there with his hand still raised and mouth slightly open. Then he dragged himself to the sofa again and slumped down on it.

He dreamed so much – for all this time he dreamed to be here again. Even through his darkest moments not confessing to himself that he still thought that if Katze returned, if he would accept Sliver once again – everything could be alright.

And now Katze has returned; but nothing could be alright anymore. Sliver clenched his fists so hard that his nails whitened. He screwed it all up. He tried to kill a man, and now he was a criminal. Katze helped him, and soon they will be looking for him as well. Oh, why did Sliver let him? He should've pushed him away, ran away – for the sake of Katze. Instead he clung to him, as if to let Katze go would mean that he'd disappear again.

Back there in the taxi Katze was kissing him... At that moment Sliver didn't realize it, but now he carefully touched his lips, as if he could still feel Katze's warm mouth on them. If only everything was different... if only he didn't do all he did – he could cherish this kiss in his memory, return to it and relive it, revel in it. Same way he relived the memories of that day when Katze took him to the city and they had breakfast in a real restaurant, and no one even dared to tell Katze that they didn't cater for mongrels.

And then Katze brought him to the shop and bought Sliver a jacket made of real fur – so light and warm – and long gloves, and new shoes – and all this looked not less, but rather a lot prettier than Sliver's short scarlet jacket.

"At least you won't have to freeze," Katze said, shrugging his shoulders.

Then he drove Sliver back home – and didn't forbid Sliver to come back again. Well, at least he didn't say anything back then – so it could be interpreted in any way you like. Sliver believed in it – until he was given that envelope with money...

Those delicious memories made Sliver remember that he was hungry. He didn't expect to find anything in the fridge, but nevertheless he made himself get up and padded to the kitchen, hoping he would at least get some rusk. He rummaged through the shelves but all he found was some tea and coffee. For a moment he thought about making himself a cup of tea, but decided that it would be too long to wait. He took a glass, filled it with water from the sink and drank quickly. That should fill his stomach for a while, until Katze is back.

He left the kitchen, wiping his face with a sleeve – and felt somebody else's present in the room. And this somebody was not Katze. Sliver didn't have a chance to get scared. Rough hands grabbed him and pressed him into this person.

"What I like about you, poopsie, is that you're not chirping," Hinley whispered into his ear.

The grip of his hands on Sliver's shoulders was so tight, as if he expected for Sliver to start resisting. But he didn't even as much as move; everything inside him froze – and the feeling of disappointment and grief that suddenly came over him was so unexpectedly strong.

He didn't want Hinley to be here – here, in Katze's home. Here everything was supposed to be different. Here Sliver sometimes could even believe that everything that happened to him before didn't matter.

He stood there, feeling Hinley's hot breath on the back of his head. Then the hand that was holding his arm turned him around.

"Are you not glad to see me or what?"

Sliver jerked: Hinley guessed that it was exactly the case. Hinley's face plowed with little scars was very close, but Sliver couldn't even raise his gaze in order to look at him.

"You were afraid that I'd leave you, right? Don't think so, I don't leave my comrades."

Somehow he didn't want to hear Hinley's cocky voice. And how... how did he get here? As if Sliver mused it out loud, Hinley answered:

"Locks here serve no purpose, one can open 'em with a finger. And I followed you – you and that guy. Where did you hook up with him? Though Marcia did say something about you charming someone from Tanagura. Is this him?"

For an instant Sliver felt angered that his mother thought it necessary to tell Hinley about everything – and immediately felt ashamed of his thought... she was dead, how could he be angry at her? He looked up at Hinley but didn't nod.

"Lucky for us," Hinley laughed, "I mean the fact that he turned up there, by the restaurant. He must be really hung up on you – so he can be of use."

Sliver didn't know why these words evoked such rage in him, such a strong desire to negate them. For several months already he didn't feel anything but gratitude towards Hinley – but now that dislike he felt for him in that other life, before the fire, came back.

"He went for the police," he said, carefully articulating the words. Hinley was the only one who could read Sliver's lips – he understood what he said this time too.

"For the police?" Worry crossed his face for an instant, and then he smirked. "Trying to scare me? Why would he go for the police – like he couldn't call them from here? No, he has something up his sleeve – and he's trying to help you out. Let him make an effort on my behalf too."

But what did Hinley need this for... Suddenly Sliver realized – remembered the long case that Hinley brought with him today – Sliver saw on TV that it was used to carry weapons.

"You were the one who shot him, weren't you? It was you who killed him?"

"Smart boy," Hinley's wide palm stroked his head. "Only we both failed – shot the wrong guy."

Sliver couldn't decide what pissed him off more – this light tone of Hinley's or the fact that he had it all planned beforehand. He writhed himself free from under the hand on his head, his eyes were flashing.

"You used me," never before did he try to speak clearer. He knew that Hinley understood – but he didn't answer, instead he caught Sliver by the shoulder again, dragged him closer. This time Sliver jerked, tried to escape, but the fingers dug painfully into him.

"Can't decide how I like you best, dolly," Hinley whispered right into his face; Sliver tried to get away from the reek of alcohol. "Whether it's when you're all soft and willing or when you're all flared up."

His lips covered Sliver's mouth, tongue slipped inside. There was nothing extraordinary about it, Hinley's done this many times before – but now Sliver felt nausea for some reason. He set his hands against Hinley's chest, pushing him away.

Hinley finished the kiss and straightened up.

"What, trying to play the kitten? Go on, I like that."

These words made Sliver feel unbelievably stupid. Really, what was with him – as if it was his first time? These few seconds were enough for Hinley to grab him again and throw him on the couch.

The truth was, Sliver let him do this – almost didn't resist. He could've tried to kick Hinley between the legs, to slip away – but he didn't do it. Hinley turned him over on the stomach, pulled off his pants.

"Why so dry here? I though he'd do you first thing after bringing you here."

Sliver twitched when Hinley's finger found its way inside him. A light sound of unzipping pants – and Sliver felt the blunt pressure of Hinley's cock. Searing pain appeared only for a few seconds and then there was only the feeling of invading cock. Sliver lowered his head on his hands and waited for Hinley to come.

He didn't want it to happen like this. He thought that some day he'd manage to talk Katze into it – and then they'd do it – maybe here, on this couch. And it turned out that Hinley was fucking him like that... He bit his lip to stop another wave of nausea from rising. Hinley was panting behind him, his fingers digging into Sliver's hips. However he always came pretty fast. This time too...

Warm trickles began to run down Sliver's inner thighs; Hinley pulled out of him and smacked Sliver's butt. Springs of the couch creaked softly and Sliver realized that Hinley got up.

He quickly pulled his pants back on, still feeling the wetness between his legs, feeling Hinley's smell on himself, on his skin, on his hair. Hinley's voice made him turn around.

"So, about that thing – who used whom, dolly. I think it was the other way round. When you had no one, you deemed old Hinley good enough for you. And now you're turning your nose up at me."

Sliver jerked as if hit. It was true... Hinley was right. He was ashamed, so ashamed...

"However, your hole is as sweet as ever," Hinley added. "Who'd think that you've been fucked by practically everybody."

These words didn't matter much to him – he already hated himself too much. He felt the chills again, wrapped his arms around himself trying to get warm. For some reason he couldn't take the blanket – he thought that he'd taint anything belonging to Katze if he touched it.

Hinley walked around the room, picked something up from the floor and put it in his pocket, then pushed the computer's power button.

"It has a password... damn. Ah, well..."

The fact that Hinley was touching Katze's things – it was bad, it was unfair – and Sliver wanted him to stop doing it. Hinley pulled out the drawer of the table, turned around when he heard Sliver moving.

"What is it?"

"Don't paw over his table."

"Sorry, I don't understand what is it you're whispering. Speak aloud, sunshine."

It made it even worse – Hinley pulled the drawer out completely and emptied its contents on the floor – then he did it with another one. Pocketed some other things. Sliver couldn't stand watching it.

"Oh, and what is it we got here?"

He couldn't see what Hinley was holding in his hands and examining intently – and then Hinley suddenly was near him again, pushed him into the cushions, pressing hard. His face showed satisfaction and mockery.

"So, baby face, tell me again how your sweet man was fucking you," Hinley's hand was pressing him into the back of the couch, not letting him writhe out of its grip. "He screwed you hard, didn't he? Up the ass and in the mouth? You liked sucking him, didn't you?"

Oh God... some kind of stubbornness made him nod.

"He's better than you," he whispered.

"I though so," Hinley smirked contentedly. "Only one thing, it's interesting... why would your oh-so-wonderful beau keep this in his apartment?"

Some kind of bracelet? Sliver didn't know what it was – he narrowed his eyes trying to see better. There were some letters on it, so many of them that he couldn't read it.

"And haven't you by any chance noticed that there was something missing when you serviced him? Like between his legs, for example? It's interesting how did you manage to fuck with a furniture?"

At first Hinley's words made no sense – and then Sliver decided that he was not going to believe it. Hinley was lying – was trying to hurt him, get back at him. It couldn't be, it simply couldn't be... Katze wasn't a...

"What a surprise, ha? Your sugar daddy from Tanagura turned out to be a castrate. Well, you're always in luck, little prince."

Hinley burst out laughing. And this insolent, undoubting laughter was exactly what made Sliver believe.

"Got hooked up with a castrated mongrel..."

Sliver launched at him. One punch – in the groin – reached its destination – Hinley wailed. But already the next moment a slap in the face threw Sliver on the couch. It rang in his ears. Hinley hit him again, breaking his lips, then again and again until Sliver was squirming from pain, panting. And still this weakness was caused not only by this. The weakness was inside him.

So that's why... He recalled Katze's calm, thoughtful voice, reaching him in the darkness:

"I'm just not the kind of man who can make you happy – who can make anyone happy."

That's why... that's why he didn't want to get mixed up with Sliver... he... he couldn't at all whatsoever...

"What's wrong with you?" Hinley's hand entwined into his hair, turned him face up. "Crying? It's the first time I see you cry. Because of the castrate, is it? Don't you worry, you'll get from me everything that you're missing."

Once again he felt Hinley dragging his pants off – but those sensations were blurry, as if it was happening not to him. He didn't even twitch when Hinley entered him. On the couch in front of him the tiny silvery bracelet was lying – and now Sliver could read what was written on it: 'Furniture F103M, property of Iason Mink.'

Sliver reached out and touched the bracelet with his fingertips, and didn't let go of it until Hinley came.

"In any case, castrate or not, he can be useful," Hinley said finally, lighting up a cigarette. "And if he wants to get you out of this, then he'd have to do the same for me. You're my pass to the better future, kid."

He sat himself into the armchair, spreading his legs, and beckoned for Sliver to come closer – and he obediently kneeled down, lowering to Hinley's groin and began to lick his limp dick. Hinley ruffled his hair.

"Go on, work. At least it won't be boring to wait for your buddy to come back."

The bracelet was still clutched in Sliver's hand.

It was nine in the evening when they got to Raoul's home. Leon dragged him to bed as if nothing had happened. And afterwards he fell asleep as always. Lying under his heavy arm Raoul couldn't sleep. He wouldn't sleep even if he could. He always waited for Leon to give himself into that post-coital, self-contented nap, couldn't wait for it, because then he was finally left alone.

And now, like every day, he got up, freeing himself from under Leon's arm and went to the bathroom to clean himself. His hands scratched his body thoroughly, but tonight he wasn't giving it much thought. Instead his mind was replaying the events from today. He remembered the picture of his would be assassin – very clear, taken by one of the androids. It showed a kid, no more than thirteen years old, probably younger.

"Julius was shot from a plasma rifle," Raoul had noted, looking at the gun in the kid's hands. "He isn't the one who fired. You have the wrong guy."

"True. But he's probably connected with the actual shooter," one of the bodyguards said. "It's hard to believe that it's a coincidence. The kid was probably supposed to be a distraction. Through him we can get the others."

He had to admit that the man was right. That's why he hadn't protested when Leon ordered to publish the picture in the Net and in TV, and set a prize for the kid. Still, this whole thing filled him with distaste. The boy was so small, just a child. And he in fact was innocent. Raoul was determined not to let anything happen to him.

He turned off the water, wrapped himself in a bathrobe and sneaked out of the bedroom. In the living room his and Leon's coats lay in disarray on the sofa, which reminded him once again that now there was no furniture to take care of them. There was no furniture to prepare tomorrow's breakfast for that matter either. It needed to be fixed.

He went to the computer and ordered a replacement to arrive early in the morning, and stay for a month – for now. He felt strange at the thought that someone else would be serving him now. As if he were betraying Julius, as if he were turning his back on him. He hadn't realized how used he was to that boy's services, to his presence. Invisible as he was, Julius had become an integral part of Raoul's household. Raoul didn't want another furniture.

Pushing this thought away, he opened his mail box. He always used the moments when Leon was asleep to check his e-mail. He knew that Leon was checking it as well – Raoul could do nothing about it as long as the other blondie was pulling the strings. Not that there was anything on this account he would want to keep in secret.

And his other account – the one that Leon didn't know about – remained inactive nowadays. He had used it to communicate with Katze not so long ago in cases concerning the black market. Now there was nobody apart from Raoul himself who knew this address, still, Raoul kept it in case he needed to contact someone behind Leon's back.

Or perhaps out of his stupid sentiments.

And out of some just as stupid obstinacy he kept checking this account every evening. Logging in gave him a thrill of excitement, an illusion of freedom that he needed so much. Every time he found nothing except for some advertising spam, but it didn't stop him from logging in again and again.

Thus, he positively froze when, after the account opened, he found an e-mail that definitely wasn't spam and came from the address that was absolutely impossible. It couldn't be. Katze had betrayed him, Katze wasn't even on Amoi. Raoul could think of was absolutely no reason why the dealer would e-mail him now.

Without thinking, he opened the message, read it, and closed just as quickly, as if looking at it could burn his eyes. His hand flew up to cover his mouth. It was trembling. His whole body was trembling, and his heart was pounding like crazy. What was it? Perhaps Leon found out about this account and was playing with him, checking him. Or perhaps it really was Katze, but working for Leon. Perhaps, perhaps, but what if...?

And still, would it be such a revelation for Leon to find out that Raoul tried to conspire against him? And how could it harm Raoul anyway, he was already harmed beyond all reason.

What if it was real? What if Katze came back? What if he really wanted to help?

He felt pain in his finger and he realized that he was biting his clenched fist. For some reason he suddenly wanted to punch something, crush it with his bare hands. There was anger mixed with his abrupt excitement, and it quickly escalated into fury. That bastard! Just look at him. He wanted to help! Now he wanted to help, when everything was lost, when Julius was dying and Raoul lost all dignity. Now he came back and was sorry.

Hastily, he opened the e-mail again and tapped the answer:

"Tomorrow at noon, Parthea, same table as before."

He sent it immediately, fearing that if he starts to think about it, he would come to his senses and change his mind. And once the e-mail flew into the Net, he deleted the message from Katze as well as his own reply. Luckily Leon would have to leave tomorrow in the morning – he still had some business to settle concerning the Terra delegation. Raoul was free to act.

So, he had a meeting with a ghost from his past tomorrow. With a traitor. He was trembling at the very thought. If it was Leon's trick then so be it, Raoul didn't give a damn. He didn't have anything to lose, did he?

When Katze turned the key in the lock, he noticed that it made a strange sound, but he didn't have time to think it through.

"Stop right there. You hear me?"

He had never seen this man before. Battered face and thin braid thrown over his shoulder. On the floor, at the stranger's feet there was Sliver with his eyes wide open. The man's hand was pulling the boy's head back by the hair, and a tip of a knife's blade was pressed right to the dip between Sliver's collarbones.

"And no sudden movements if you don't want this chicklet's throat cut."

Sliver's lips had splits, he had a fresh bruise under his eye – Katze winced.

"You are Hinley," he risked a guess.

The man grinned.

"Well, it looks like we can skip the introductions. In this case, I'll call you furniture, how about it?"

Katze froze. How did the bastard know? Never mind. It was no time to ask that question. Nor was there a point to deny the statement. Slowly, he put the carrier bags on the floor.

"And you're the one who fired," he continued.

"Yes, it was me," Hinley bowed theatrically. "Didn't quite work out though."

Katze saw Sliver give a jerk – and a drop of blood appeared under the blade. The boy's gaze was almost insane – so desperate that Katze suddenly realized that just a bit more and he will launch forward and just impale himself on that knife.

"Sliver, don't move. Please."

"Yes, kiddo, careful, I don't want to hurt you," the man echoed. "If he won't make me do it, of course."

"What do you want?"

What else was there left to do? He had a paralyzer in his table drawer, but it was too far to reach – too big a risk.

"Now, that's the clever man," Hinley sneered. "Straight to the business. Good, I like it. What I want? That's pretty clear, isn't it? I want this little brat, of course. I'll give him to the cops, and get five hundred thousands in return. And why am I still here? Because you helped him. I can give you out as well. Or I can keep quiet. You look like a well-off bastard, I bet you can afford my silence. It will cost you three hundred thousands." Hinley was grinning even wider now, pleased with his own cunning. Katze felt his teeth grit, his hands curl into tight fists. Oh, how he wanted to throw himself at that slime bag and simply break his neck – that would be exactly what he deserved. He didn't do it only because of Sliver, very effectively blocking the way.

"I will take this money, and get the hell outta this fuckin' planet." Hinley sighed dreamily. "And with eight hundred thousands credits I'll live like a king for years."

"It won't work. If you go to the police, they will quickly discover your part in it."

"And how would they do that?" the man asked derisively. "That the kid will point at me? Of course he will – out of revenge. It will mean nothing. And they got no prove – I was invisible for their cameras. You weren't."

He was right, Katze realized reluctantly. Standing still in the entrance of his living room he thought frantically what to do. He had three hundred thousands alright, he could pay that much. But so what? – it wouldn't save Sliver. And eight hundred thousands he didn't have. He didn't even have as much as to try to talk Hinley out of going to the police, calling to his conscience – if the man had one at all – and good reason, and offering smaller, but attractive sum as a compensation.

"I don't have this money," he lied.

"Oh, I think you do," Hinley said with unwavering certainty, and playfully scratched the blade's tip against Sliver's neck. The kid squirmed. Another drop of blood leaked through his skin and trailed down his neck.

"But I can offer you something else," Katze hurried, taken by sudden inspiration. The germ of idea sprouted in his mind, very vague for now and risky, but perhaps it could be worked on. In any case, it bought him some time and it was already something. "I can offer you the guy you wanted to kill. The real leader, not the impostor. I can give you your revenge."

Hinley twitched and craned his neck. His eyes flashed with interest, but he kept his face skeptical.

"And how the hell would you do that?"

"I know this guy. If you contacted those blondies you should know that the man you tried to shoot today is not the one you talked to before, right?" Katze watched Hinley's reactions closely. The man fidgeted and licked his lips. He stared at Katze greedily. The bait was swallowed. "That other one's name is Leon Tan, he is older, lighter in color. Am I right? He is the mastermind of all this, not Raoul Am. I can give him to you. I can give you the whole group. You will have your revenge."

Hinley tilted his head suspiciously.

"What? You're gonna tell him: 'go to ol' Hinley, he wants to kill ya'?"

"Leave that part to me, will you? Just let the kid be. And afterwards I can offer you..." Katze thought, "two hundred thousands as a bonus."

Hinley stirred. The knife jerked dangerously in his hand.

"When can you do it?"

"Soon. In two, three days."

Consideration lasted for another two seconds. Then:

"Very well. You intrigued me. I will give you a chance. But mind me, if you don't fix it within three days, I'm taking the kid to the police." With that he got up, pulling Sliver to his feet as well. "Come, sweetie, we're going back to daddy."

"What are you..." Katze started, when he realized with dread what the man was intending.

"What? Did you think I'll leave that chick for you, furniture? Hoping that you'll be oh-so-kind and do what I ask on your own free will? Or perhaps you thought I'll sit here waiting till you manage to call the cops, huh? I'm no idiot, dude. I'm leaving with the kid."

Right. Expecting something else would be indeed assuming that the man was an idiot. Katze hadn't considered it making his offer. Sliver, held by Hinley by his collar, twisted in protest, realizing the same, but it was a weak and hopeless fight, the goon held him easily. Only now did Katze notice that the kid was clutching something in his hand. His furniture bracelet. Right – here he got his answer. His eyes met Sliver's and he understood that the boy knew as well. But there was no time to ponder on that. Sliver was staring at him pleadingly. Katze shook his head.

"I'm sorry," he murmured, feeling yet again like a traitor. Damn, will this feeling haunt him forever? "It won't last long. I'll come for you soon."

Hinley chuckled.

"Right, and in the meantime we'll have a lot of fun with the little prince here, won't we?" He grabbed the boy by his hair, bent down and leeched into his lips with a greedy kiss. Sliver's throat contracted convulsively when the man's tongue invaded his mouth too far. Katze felt sick and trembled with rage. Luckily it lasted just a moment. Hinley unglued himself from the boy's mouth with a loud slurp. "What? Aren't you happy? You never protested before."

Katze's fists clenched again when he realized what those words implied, what those three days in Hinley's company meant for Sliver. But he couldn't do anything, could he?

"At least leave me your number or something." He managed to control his voice so that it sounded neutral. "I'll need to call you when everything is ready."

"Right, guess you'll have to remember it." Quickly, Hinley recited a row of ten digits. It was easy, Katze remembered without problem. "And give me a call once we leave, I want to have your number as well. Now, move back. Away from the door. Hands up, on your neck. Don't even dare to move." He punctuated every sentence, dangerously gesticulating with the knife.

Katze did as he was told. Perhaps he should try to attack the bastard now. He hated the thought of letting him go with Sliver. What if he kills the boy. After all that happened lately, it would simply be too much, Katze wouldn't be able to live with himself anymore. And still, if he moved now, Sliver would be dead rather for sure.

Hinley pushed Sliver towards the door, through the little hall, and they were gone within a second. Katze let his arms fall and leaned heavily against the wall. After a second thought he turned and punched it with all his strength.

Half a minute later he heard an engine starting downstairs on the street. He jumped to the window and saw a hover bike riding away with two figures. They were both wearing crash helmets. Good, like that Hinley even had a chance to get Sliver home safely.

He stood at the window for a while, feeling dizzy with frustration and taking big breaths of fresh air. It let him calm down a little, get a grip.

Right. Don't stand like that. Do something. You can't disappoint that kid. You can't disappoint anyone anymore. Do something now!

Having taken another lungful of air, he moved to his computer. He almost didn't hope for an answer, and that was why he couldn't believe his eyes when the answer was there.

He stared at it until his eyes started to sting and he realized he forgot to blink. So, Raoul did get his message, even if Leon controlled him – only Raoul could know about that place and time. He supposed it was good. But even though it was exactly what he hoped for, suddenly he was overwhelmed by fear.

He couldn't imagine how he would look Raoul in the eye.

When Raoul entered the restaurant, Katze was already there – just like the last time. Raoul stopped, overwhelmed by mixed emotions. Anger boiled in his veins again, but there was also this completely absurd joy. He wanted to run to the table and hit the man and at the same moment – hug him. He snapped at himself silently to put himself together then slowly, gracefully walked towards the table.

Katze sat stiffly, hands clutched together, shoulders tense, looking self-conscious. He was even paler than usually. He stirred when he noticed the blondie approaching, and hesitantly looked up.

"Raoul. I'm... thank you for agreeing to meet me."

Raoul sat down in front him, trying to look haughty and unshakable.

"Yeah, well." He wanted to say something more, but found himself speechless.

"How are you doing?" Katze asked after a moment of awkward silence.

"I'm quite fine, thank you. And you?"

"I'm..." Katze averted his gaze, "I've not been so well."

It was as if there was a wall between them. They were distant to each other, careful. The forced politeness made Raoul feel as if he were suffocating. Katze's hands began to nibble the napkin in front of him.

"I wanted to explain you everything," the dealer said. "Why I did it. If you care to listen..."

Raoul shrugged. It was safe to speak; luckily Leon hadn't put any bugs into this hateful thing he was wearing on his neck – he had checked it thoroughly.

"Since I've already come here, go ahead, talk. Just make it brief, my time is valuable."

So Katze began talking, torturing the napkin restlessly. He talked about the orphanage in Ceres, about his long lost brother and how he had found him just lately. The waiter came, served drinks, and Katze continued. He said how then Leon contacted him and blackmailed him into compromising Jupiter.

Raoul had to admit – Katze's story did explain him. And it was believable, he did believe it. Although his anger wasn't gone. It was not like the dealer hadn't had other options. Why hadn't this fool talked to him then? Why hadn't he asked for help? Why hadn't he simply made another choice? But even so, Raoul felt as if a terrible burden was lifted from his heart. Katze didn't work with Leon. Didn't want to betray him. Raoul wasn't aware how it was weighing him down.

"I'm sorry about your brother," he said reservedly when Katze finished.

"It was too late. Nothing could be done for him anymore."

"Leon is a particularly sneaky bastard."

At that, the dealer looked up and bored his gaze into him.

"Raoul, I need to know. I assumed that you are with him because he forced you. But perhaps I'm mistaken. Perhaps it was your own free choice and I'll only offend you offering you my help. If it is so, just tell me and I'll be gone before you know."

At first impulse Raoul wanted to indulge his pride and say that of course he didn't need help, of course he was with Leon because he chose so. But then what – Katze would get up and leave, and that prospect was simply unbearable. Damn it, it was all wrong! It was so hard to sit here, being the schooled, controlled blondie when there was a storm inside him. It was so hard to talk as if this whole thing didn't concern him, when what he really wanted was to scream his anger and grudge into Katze's face. With frustration, Raoul realized that he won't be able to continue this conversation here.

"If you want to go, go now," he said, "and never dare to approach me again. If you really want to talk, we'll move to a more private surrounding. But once we do, don't expect me to be nice."

The threat in his voice was very clear, Katze had to hear it. But he didn't seem disconcerted.

"I don't need you to be nice," he murmured. "And there's nothing I want more than to really talk."

Raoul felt his eyes narrow. Some strange excitement churned his stomach. If that was so...

"Very well," he hissed. "Let's go."

He rose, leaving the barely touched drink on the table and led Katze down the corridor. The similarity to the last time they had met here made him shiver. The memory of why they were walking down the same corridor just a few weeks ago just couldn't go unnoticed. The mongrel tagged along without a word, even though he must have noticed the analogy as well.

Deliberately, Raoul chose exactly the same room as before. Katze entered it behind him and stopped, tense in apprehension. The rooms in the west wing were designed in one specific purpose. If an elite during their visit to the club felt like playing with their pets, they were welcome to retreat here. For this reason those little enclaves of privacy had all kinds of equipment, as well as furniture and arrangement most suitable for this purpose.

"Do you want me to undress?" Katze asked not without a wry humor.

Raoul winced.

"Don't you worry about it. If I want you to undress, I'll surely let you know."

Right. Only why the muscles of his abdomen seemed to contradict his coolness?

They fell silent again, but they gazes remained locked. Giving himself to the urge, Raoul stepped forward, closing the space between them, and backhanded Katze in the face twice. The slaps weren't hard – didn't throw Katze off his feet, most likely wouldn't even leave a mark, and Raoul realized that he'd restrained himself in the last moment.

The dealer took it silently, straightened and just lowered his head.

"Do you know what hurt me most of all?" Raoul drawled. "The thought that you betrayed me. That for all this time you were pretending, playing with me. The fact that all Amoi's order was turned over wasn't as horrible as the thought that something that was so beautiful for a moment wasn't real."

"I wasn't... It was real. It was all very real for me."

"Shut up! Don't you dare interrupt me!"

Too aggravated to stand in one place, he turned on his heel and paced the room. He stopped a few steps later, having reached the armchair, and faced Katze again.

"Do you even realize... this whole plot, it was all created to set me up! Leon hates me more than anyone and anything on this planet, and he has his reasons. You were supposed to break in from my computer not because it happened to be around. I was paying for it every day and every night, since the moment you left."

Katze was listening to him with actual dread on his face. Raoul wondered if he understood the hidden meaning. It would be highly embarrassing if he did. But then, some part of him wanted him to understand.

"I'm sorry," Katze muttered. "Damn it, I'm such a fool." He closed his eyes and shook his head, looking actually frustrated. Raoul was watching him, his anger escalating. Yes, see what you did. Where your damned brotherly concern took me. How you ruined everything to save one stupid brat that wasn't even worth it.

Katze shivered, as if he heard those thoughts. And when he looked at Raoul again, there was determination in his eyes.

"The reason I wanted to meet you... I have an idea of sorts. How to get you out of this. And now that I know how things look, I really need to tell you about it."

There it was again, and again Raoul's first impulse was to protest. Let Katze go to hell with his mercy, he didn't need it! But he stooped himself. It would be stupid to turn down a helping hand only because of his hurt pride. What if Katze really had something interesting in mind?

He strolled to the armchair again, deciding that his pride would feel much better if he takes a seat, but instead of snuggling comfortably in the cushions, he sat on the armrest and wrapped his arms around himself.

"I am listening."

"That assassination attempt yesterday..." Katze said then, "I happen to know its leader, the one who shot. I don't mean the kid, but the real guy."

Even in spite of his irritation, Raoul tensed up at hearing this news.

"How come?"

"Coincidence. The guy is from Ceres, just like me. I... we could convince Leon to let you go offering this guy to him."

Raoul shook his head.

"It's not that easy. I'm much more valuable for him than some mongrel from Ceres. In any case, this mongrel was trying to kill me, not Leon. Why would Leon want to trade me for him?"

"He wasn't trying to kill you, but the one he considered a leader. And I told him who the real leader is. Next time he tries, he will aim at Leon. And there will be the next time."

Hm. That was clever. With a little luck it could even work... if only it was the only problem.

"Okay, so let's assume he will buy it. He'll get this guy, he'll get rid of him, and then what? What will stop him from turning to me again? I would have to leave Tanagura or even Amoi so that he didn't bother me. And I can't do it – Julius is in a hospital in a critical condition. He saved my life. I promised to do everything to save him. I won't leave him."

It took Katze two blinks to comprehend that.

"He's alive?"

"He is dying. The doctors say that the chance is really little."

Another two blinks. Then:

"I know an excellent clinic. One of the most advanced in the Federation. They are taking care of my brother. I guess it's only thanks to them that he is still alive. Perhaps if the doctors here don't give Julius a chance, it is the very reason to look for help elsewhere."

Raoul frowned, realizing that it actually might be a point. And if Julius survived... if Julius survived, if Raoul freed himself from Leon and managed to leave, one day he might actually come to a point when he would be okay again.

No, that was not possible, he wouldn't be okay, he would just be a lonely exile. But he could be better than now.

"Raoul," Katze whispered, "if it will make you feel better punish me. Damn it, I want you to punish me. I deserved every bit of your anger. Just please, afterwards don't turn down my help."

Raoul stirred, hearing this unexpected plea. How desperately it sounded, how fervently Katze was staring at him. But just the next moment his surprise was overshadowed by excitement. Just look at him, so humble. Switching into that self-degrading mode as if he'd never stopped being a furniture, so naturally. A wave of heat ran down his spine right to his loins. Indeed, hadn't he deserved some comfort? Shouldn't he be given a chance to vent his anger?

He pushed away from the armrest and walked to Katze again. He stopped in front of him and studied the pale face. Somewhere deep inside he'd known all the time it will come to this.

"Do you think I need your permission to punish you?"

"No, I just want you to know that I'm ready for it."

That made Raoul positively shake with anticipation. He didn't need any more invitations.

"And rightly so," he purred.

He allowed his hand to raise to Katze's face again, but this time instead of hitting it, he brushed back the veil of red hair and stroked the cheek in a mockery of caress. He was breathing hard. The tension in his groin became unbearable.

Perhaps that was exactly how Leon felt when he had him at his mercy. Perhaps he should understand his old mentor now... He had no doubt what the punishment will be. It was making him no better than Leon, true, but he didn't care.

His hand clenched on Katze's hair, jerking his head back. He closed his face to Katze's.

"There is one thing we never did in bed even though I really wanted it. I was afraid that it might hurt you after you were raped. And then, I promised you to never do anything you wouldn't want me to. But once you betrayed me, I don't see why I should stay true to my word. And I want to hurt you. I want you to feel exactly the way I felt."

He didn't bother to order Katze to strip. He grabbed the dealer by his wrist and pushed him towards the table – exactly as he had seen it in his mind those few weeks ago. Only this time he really was going to do it. With one sweep of his arm he moved aside the few knick-knacks that were standing there, and bent the mongrel over. Katze was pliant, totally unresisting, he lay on the table top limp like a rag doll.

Pulling down Katze's pants, opening his own, it was heaven and hell. So dirty that it was absolutely mind-blowing. It made his mind draw all those pics again, it made his cock burn.

The lubricant wasn't a problem, of course, the tube was sitting very conveniently on the shelf just over the table. For a brief moment Raoul considered going without it – it would hurt more, it could even tear Katze – but it would be unnecessary cruelty, wouldn't it? So he grabbed the tube and spread a generous amount around Katze's entry. He didn't hesitate when he pushed his cock inside the dealer. He did it in one move, all the way to the hilt. Katze twitched, giving out a loud hiss of pain, and that suddenly made Raoul's guts clench. He stifled a need to hush him, to stroke his hair and assure that the pain will be gone soon. Instead he pressed Katze down to the table with his hand.

"Easy." The word escaped him in spite of his will and sounded too gentle.

He started to move, trying to make his thrusts hard and unrelenting. Katze squirmed a few times in pain, but it passed quickly. Then he just lay there, eyes closed, and silently took what was given. Raoul was watching his handsome face turned to one side on the table. Katze wasn't afraid, he realized. He didn't even look particularly miserable. His face was calm, he completely accepted what Raoul was doing to him. In fact, he looked as if he liked it.

Impossible! Raoul grabbed his hips stronger, thrust harder, but it didn't bring the expected effect.

Why are you doing it to me? I want to punish you, I want revenge, and you are so open to me, so trusting, as if you... as if you...

He couldn't restrain himself anymore, he felt something in him break. His hands moved up Katze's sides, sliding under his shirt. He suddenly needed to caress Katze, to love him, not just to fuck him. His moves changed from hard to sensual – slower, deeper. He inhaled a loud lungful of air, relishing the feeling of Katze's skin under his palms.

"Oh, Katze," he breathed and then lost it, resigning himself to the sweet oblivion.

He fell on Katze's back afterwards. No, in fact he cuddled to it, wrapping his arms around the mongrel, tucking his face into the crook of his neck. He realized that his plan to hurt failed – and he didn't care. Still, he was surprised when Katze's hand found his and closed tightly around it. Some strange sound was escaping Raoul's throat. Oh no, he got all soppy again.

"It's so good to feel you again," he muttered.

"I needed to feel you too," Katze whispered. "Even if it was going to be like that."

They stayed entwined for a few more minutes, then Raoul carefully untangled himself from the dealer and pulled back. Katze swiftly made himself decent, then, instead of straightening, slid limply to the floor. At first moment Raoul got scared – had he harmed the mongrel after all? Was Katze going to faint? But no, Katze leaned his back against the table leg and apart from looking somewhat crumpled and shaken, seemed okay. Before he knew, Raoul sank down to the floor beside him.

Just like the last time.

Katze smiled faintly at him, fishing into his pocket.

"This time you don't need to give me my smokes."

"I'm sorry," Raoul said. "That was stupid of me."

"No it wasn't. I deserved it. And besides, what a revenge it was."

"I guess I'm simply unable to hurt you."

Katze chuckled quietly and lit the cigarette. Raoul felt a sudden need touch him again. He leaned to him, resting his forehead against Katze's shoulder, and put his hand on the mongrel's thigh. He was afraid that Katze would push him away, but it didn't happen, instead the dealer wrapped his arm around Raoul's waist and pulled him closer.

"That plan that I have," Katze said. "There's another part of it."

Raoul wasn't interested in this topic right now, at the moment he had something completely different on his mind, still, as long as it was Katze speaking, he could do as much as listen.

"Tell me," he allowed.

Katze fidgeted and it seemed that he got a little uneasy again.

"You see, I also know that boy who is now chased by the police. In fact, I took him from the scene of crime, but it was mere coincidence that I met him there. He is a nice kid. His house has been destroyed, I thought he was dead. Then I saw him there, saw a gun in his hand, and simply had to try to save him. His family is dead partly because of me."

"He wasn't the one who fired."

"No. Although he probably would have if he had a chance. You must understand him, he lost everything."

"I do understand him."

Katze took a drag on his cigarette.

"He is not with me anymore. He was kidnapped by that other guy, Hinley. Hinley threatened to hand Sliver to the police unless I do what he wants. I promised him Leon's head."

Raoul thought about it for a moment, trying to put together what Katze said now and what he had said before.

"So, you promised Leon's head to this guy and want to promise Leon this guy's head."

"Yes," Katze said after a momentary thought. "We can arrange their meeting – and we won't even lie to them as to its place and time."

Raoul had to pull back to look into Katze's face.

"That is totally devilish." He shook his head. "Damn it, Katze, I knew you were a clever bastard, but it looks I've underestimated you."

The dealer smiled lopsidedly.

"Thanks, I guess. So what do you say?"

"I say this plan is definitely worth consideration."

Three days later, 20:55

The nights were getting brighter at this time of the year. Sitting in the car on top of the cliff overlooking the spaceport warehouses, they could see the area clearly, especially the closest two buildings, where the 'meeting' would take place. The last days brought warming that melted the remains of snow and dried the ground after the recent rains. It was so warm that Katze opened the window to let in some early spring air.

"They are coming," Raoul said, eyes fixed on the small monitor in front of him. "Six bikes."

Katze observed the same scene through the windscreen. Only when the bikes disappeared inside the warehouse, did he move his gaze to the monitor. Raoul pressed a button under the screen, switching to another camera. It showed the inside of the building and the men getting off the bikes, taking off their helmets. Katze easily recognized Hinley among five other faces he didn't know. Good, the picture was clear, Leon should be satisfied.

"Hinley and his men have an appointment with some smugglers on Friday evening in one of the warehouses near the spaceport," Katze had said to Leon two days ago when he had called the blondie to make his offer.

"How will I know that you are not deceiving me?"

"I will install a few hidden cameras inside and outside the warehouse. You'll be able to watch them."

While on the screen the group of mongrels swarmed around the terminal on the far wall of the warehouse, the car's comm beeped, signaling the incoming call on line 1 – Leon. Katze pressed the answering button.


"We can see them. It is them, alright. Your information was correct."

"Of course it was, why would I be lying to you? Now, give me the code."

There was an exaggerated sigh coming from the speaker.

"I will be missing my Raoul. Oh well, I guess I've had enough fun with him. The code is L99534R. The chartered shuttle is waiting for him on platform 6, it has all the equipment needed to transport that little furniture of his. Bid him my farewell, but I guess he won't be missing me," Leon chuckled.

He disconnected without waiting for the reply. Raoul was already entering the code, using a rear view mirror to see the little control panel on his collar from Kamaas. The device clicked and opened. Raoul ripped it off his neck with an expression of disgust.

"That's really embarrassing," he murmured, opened the window on his side and threw the thing out, taking a wide swing. He slumped back on his seat and breathed with relief. Katze glanced at him but refrained from a comment.

Point one – check. Now time for the rest.

While Raoul took the phone and was dialing the hospital to confirm the transport for Julius, Katze noticed movement on the yard before the second of the warehouses – a long, expensive-looking vehicle rolled through the gate and came to a stop.

"Here they are," he murmured.

He glanced at another monitor – this one in front of him – to see the picture from the close-up. It wasn't the limousine one would suspect to carry a blondie, but it was natural that Leon would use a disguise. A few silhouettes got out of the vehicle. Katze recognized Leon. Raoul disconnected and pointed at another blondie.

"This one is Magnus Lin. But I can's see the third one."

"Two should be good enough. In any case, it's Leon that matters for Hinley. The rest are androids?"

"It seems so."

Katze nodded and pressed the button, calling line 2.

"Do you see them?" he asked, when Hinley answered.

"Yeah, I see two blondies, but there are also some fuckin' tin-heads."

"What did you think, that he will come completely unguarded? What are those few androids compared to his usual protection? You are smart boys, you can deal with them."

"Just watch us, furniture," Hinley's voice sounded boasting. Katze smiled – calling to one's pride always worked.

When he'd phoned Hinley two days ago, he had given him almost exactly the same story as to Leon:

"Leon Tan is having some shady business with Terra. He has an appointment on Friday evening in one of the warehouses near the spaceport. Probably there will be other blondies with him as well."

"How will I know that you're not fucking up with me?"

"I'll install a few hidden cameras inside and outside the warehouse, and a terminal in the neighboring building. You will be able to watch him from there. What I want you to do is bring Sliver with you and leave him in some safe place in the area. Once you are sure that I'm not deceiving you, you'll give me his whereabouts."

"Now, your part of the deal," he said to Hinley. "Where's the kid?"

"Hey, man, what if those androids knock down some of ours? I'd rather give him to you after we are done."

"I gave you those blondies like I promised" Katze hissed sharply. "It's your problem if you don't manage to do away with them. Tell me where the kid is or I'm calling Leon right now."

"Alright, alright!" Hinley appeased him hastily. "I was just saying. He's in L4, the furthest warehouse on the west. Go and take him, he's no fun anymore."

Katze knew exactly where the mentioned warehouse was. He was starting the engine before he even disconnected. He wished the Committee good luck with the blondies, thinking they would need it, and pressed the gas pedal, full force. The car turned and moved down the slope with dangerous speed, leaving the two opposing parties to each other.

The warehouses were connected with each other with the system of corridors, which was exactly what Katze needed to carry out his plan. He needed the two groups to think that they were able to stalk the other party. The corridor was perfect to this purpose. Most likely they will both use it to get to the other depot. Most likely they'll get on moving at the same time. And most likely they'll meet somewhere halfway – inside the corridor, where they won't be able to hide like they would in the warehouse. They would in the open field of fire.

"If our plan succeeds, they will end up dead," Raoul remarked. "It will be our responsibility."

"More like mine, it was my idea. But I'd rather live with it than let Hinley continue to torment Sliver. Or Leon to torment you." Katze said, keeping his gaze on the road. He was surprised how hard his voice sounded. "They brought it upon themselves. They deserved it."

"They destroyed each other," Raoul murmured under his breath, sounding as if he were quoting someone.

They were already downhill and speeding down the road that ran beside the of both warehouses when they heard the sound of gunfire. Neither of them said a word.

Katze needed a minute to get to the spot pointed by Hinley. He jumped out of the car and ran inside, half expecting that Sliver would not be there, or would be – dead. But he found the boy alive, cuddled in one of the corners, his thin arms wrapped tightly around him. Hearing someone inside, the kid raised his head... and jumped on his feet.

"Katze!" he screamed.

Within a second he was in Katze's arms, clutching to him convulsively. And the dealer was on his knees, hugging him back.

"It's alright, it's okay," Katze mumbled to hush him. "It is over now."

"He won't be back?"

"No, he won't. Now you are with me, okay?"

Instead of answering, Sliver clenched to him even stronger, and only now did Katze realize that the boy was using his voice.

"Hey," he pulled back to look at him, "you are talking."

Sliver inhaled a loud breath and covered his mouth with a hand, and Katze guessed that it had happened just now. Looking at the kid, he found no fresh marks on his face and generally Sliver seemed to be in a good condition. Perhaps those three days with Hinley hadn't been so torturous after all. Or at least Katze wanted to believe it.

"Come with me," he said, "I want you to meet somebody. Don't be afraid of him, he's a friend."

The boy tensed a little at those words, but then made himself nod. Katze rose, took him by his hand and led outside.

When they entered the spaceport building, they were immediately approached by a group of ground stewards.

"Senator Am, the shuttle is awaiting you," said the one at the front. His gaze slid from Raoul to Katze, to finally stop at Sliver. His eyes widened with recognition and the man froze. Raoul noticed it faultlessly.

"They kid is with me," he explained. "Obviously there is no point of calling the police, since I have already found him."

The man tensed up, nodded and didn't comment it.

"Please, follow me."

He led them to platform 6, while two other stewards took Raoul's personal luggage and moved behind them. Katze tagged along with the blondie, holding the somewhat scared Sliver by his hand. They moved through VIP corridors, untroubled by anyone. Katze still couldn't believe that everything worked as they planned, he had expected thousand of difficulties, was aware that the plan was very imperfect and meanwhile it went smoothly like a clockwork. But he was far from feeling enthusiastic. His short reunion with Raoul came to an end, now the blondie would leave and Katze would never see him again. What an irony that helping him had in effect led to their separation, but he had to deal with it, his own feelings were of no importance. He could jump the next shuttle to Linea, of course, follow Raoul, but he wouldn't dare. He was lucky that the blondie didn't hate him anymore, hoping for more would be arrogant.

"What about my secretary?" Raoul asked the steward.

"The ambulance should arrive in a few minutes. There will be a physician flying with you to take care of your man at all times."

"Very well. Thank you."

They got to platform 6. A special train was waiting there to take Raoul directly to the shuttle. The blondie stepped straight into the train, Katze stopped on the platform, feeling the very unwanted lump in his throat. Sliver glanced at him as if he sensed something. Perhaps the grip of his hand changed, perhaps he made some sound he wasn't aware of...

Raoul turned around and looked at him.

"Well, what are you waiting for?"

Katze blinked, not understanding.


Raoul frowned, as if he, on his part, just understood something.

"You aren't coming?"

"Am I supposed to come?"

"Well, aren't you?"

They stared at each other over the edge of the train. Katze couldn't believe it. Raoul was expecting him join him. Raoul was in fact taking it for granted! He cast a sidelong glance at the stewards, hesitating. They could hear everything. But then, it didn't really matter, did it?

"Raoul... I've ruined your life. I have given you poor shreds of what you had before. I would never dare to think that you would want me to go."

A few seconds was what Raoul needed to comprehend this explanation. His face twitched minimally in consideration, until finally a delicate, slightly smug smile granted his lips.

"Katze, one of the most precious things I had in my life lately is standing right in front of me. So if you want to give it back to me, you have to go."

For a moment Katze was speechless, surprised with such a turn of argument, shocked with the words. Still, looking at it this way, Raoul had a point.

"But I..." he stuttered, "I have no ticket."

"Give me a break, you don't need a ticket. This is my private flight, if I say you can go, you can go. The boy can go as well."

"I don't have my things with me. I'm not prepared..."

"We can call Damian later on. Tell him to pack the things that you need and send them to Linea. That is..." Raoul hesitated, "unless you don't want to go."

Did he want to go? What an absurd question! And to think about it, he had just come back. He had some of his things there already. He didn't have any running business on Amoi either. He could go with only the clothes he stood up in. If Raoul wanted him to. He looked at Sliver.

"What do you say, Sliver?"

But actually he didn't need to ask, Sliver's face was speaking for itself. A beaming smile was stretching his lips, the boy was making an effort not to jump with enthusiasm. And he actually could go right away as well – he probably didn't have any things to take at all.

"Oh well, then I guess I don't have a choice," Katze smiled and stepped into the carriage.

The steward, dutifully, silently, giving no sign that he'd heard any of the dramatic exchange, pressed the button closing the door and the train moved from place. Looking at the escaping platform, feeling Sliver's hand in his and Raoul on his other side, Katze couldn't believe how lucky he was.

The windows on the left offered a perfect view on the receding planet. Sliver stayed with his nose glued to the pane, too fascinated to even blink. Having checked with Julius, Raoul had slid back into his seat and a moment later Katze felt the blondie's hand curling around his own.

"How is he?" he asked.

"Not good. But as long as he lives, I will hope."

Their hands remained entwined. The touch was positively burning Katze, spreading around his body as a nice warmth.

A steward approached them a few minutes later with a somewhat concerned expression on his face, and trying very hard not to notice their clasped hands.

"Excuse me, Senator, we have just received a message from Amoi that your assistant Leon Tan had been shot. They are broadcasting it in the News right now. Would you like me to turn on the TV?"

Raoul's fingers twitched minimally on Katze's hand. The blondie allowed the emotion to show up on his face – after all, he should be surprised.

"Yes, please."

"If you want us to turn back..."

"No, just the News for now."

The speaker in TV announced that two assistants of Senator Raoul Am were killed in a shooting with a group of unknown mongrels. Of the mongrels four were killed as well, the other two were in a critical condition. Listening to it Katze yet another time realized that he didn't have the slightest regrets about what happened. Damn, he was relieved that those bastards really were dead, that they wouldn't hurt anyone anymore. It felt wrong – to feel so good over six dead bodies. For a moment he wondered whether Hinley was among those four killed mongrels, then he realized that it didn't matter.

The Senator himself – the speaker informed – was unavailable, he had left Amoi in a very urgent matter. Some conspiracy theories had already arisen over this occurrence, but of course it was impossible to avoid it.

"We left Amoi in chaos," Katze mused. "We took Jupiter, now we took the current leaders. We've given nothing in return. What if they start blaming mongrels for what happened? It might get even worse than before."

"It won't get worse," Raoul assured him with a little smile. "I wasn't the Senator for nothing. I did take a good look around when I was holding this position and saw some people who would be good leaders. I left my resignation letter upon leaving – appointing them at their new functions and giving my suggestions about what should be done. With a little luck, it has already been found or will be soon. For once I really used the power Leon gave me. I say – if I was correct about those people, and if my word means anything to them, it can only be better."

Katze looked at him taken aback, and when those words sank, he suddenly felt ashamed. He had left Amoi in chaos. Raoul organized it. Now, that was the best surprise. He noticed that Sliver also turned from the window and was staring at Raoul with his huge eyes.

"Will those people build new houses in Ceres, Mr. Raoul?" the boy asked.

"I say they will build brand new houses in Ceres."

"Cool," Sliver grinned, then – satisfied with the answer and too excited with the flight – came back to staring out of the window.

An hour later, when Amoi became just a little spot in the sky, Raoul excused himself and went to check with Julius again. Sliver turned his head to Katze.

"You love him, don't you?"

Katze felt like laughing. After all that happened – it was really the most important question, was it not?

"Yes," he said. Not because Sliver was waiting for an answer, but because he himself wanted to say it.

"I think he loves you too."

"I think so, yes. Although he has all reasons to hate me."

Sliver shifted in his seat and drew a deep sigh.

"If I had known that he was the one you love... I wouldn't have fired. Honestly."

For some time Katze was looking at him – until the meaning of the words hit home. Sliver escaped with his gaze and nibbled at his pants nervously. On reflex, Katze reached for him and touched his cheek – and the boy clung to his hand hastily, longingly.

"Thank you," Katze said.

The shuttle took a turn and Amoi disappeared from the view outside the window.



"Who's gonna help me with homework?" Sliver asked settling himself at the table next to Raoul. With a heavy thump he put a pile of books in front of himself. Even bustling about the kitchen, with his back to the boy Katze could sense Sliver's expectant gaze on his shoulders. He decided not to answer and busied himself with chopping the onion.

"That stupid teacher always gives us loads of work. As if we had nothing better to do," Sliver tried again.

"Learning is a pretty good thing to do," Raoul observed wryly, sipping his coffee.

Sliver ignored him. Now his gaze was positively weighing Katze down.


"Sorry, buddy, not today. I have loads of my own work waiting for me after dinner. Try with Raoul."

"I don't want to try with Raoul. Besides, it's maths. You're better at maths than him."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you are," Raoul countered. "And I have a business meeting at six, remember? I'll just eat and will have to get ready."

Right, Raoul had mentioned something about the meeting in the morning, Katze remembered. He smiled under his breath. The blondie had managed to find a good job in the new place very quickly – one big biotechnological institute positively begged him to become a chief manager of one of the departments. As far as Katze knew he was doing pretty well, signing already the second important contract for the company in his short career.

Katze himself was working at home as a programmer and independent troubleshooter, which wasn't bad either. And since Raoul and Sliver were absent for most of the day, and Julius couldn't walk, he was also a housekeeper and a cook – professions in which he had a lot of experience after all.

The first two months of their exile they had spent on Linea, where the doctors were trying to save Julius' life. They succeeded, although the boy had lost his lung, and they hadn't managed to fix his spine. Killie had been still alive when they arrived, but died two weeks later. It wasn't a very painful experience, actually Katze was relieved that it was over. At least he managed to be with his brother when he passed out; he hadn't abandoned him in the end. When the doctors had decided that Julius was good enough to leave the hospital, they were free to go. They had all decided that they didn't want to go back to Amoi, although their names were cleared and the new leaders were doing a good job bringing the new order. Instead they had moved to Daphne, where the house Katze had bought for himself and Killie still waited for its dwellers. That's where they were living now.

"Looks like you'll have to try your luck with Julius. He's outside." Katze turned to wink at Sliver.

Sliver wrinkled his nose to show how displeased he was, but gathered the books and went out to the porch.

"Hey cripple," Katze heard him saying.

"Hey dumbass," Julius answered. "Still didn't learn now to count?"

They were both subtle like a brick. At first Katze wanted to talk to Sliver, tell him to stop calling Julius like that. It was wrong to mock somebody's disability. But the older boy was dealing with Sliver pretty well himself, giving as good as he got, so eventually Katze decided not to prick his nose into the youths' matters.

Quiet steps approached him from behind. Strong arms wrapped around him and a warm breath caressed his skin.

"You're sure you don't want me to help you?" Raoul offered.

"So that you cut off your fingers? You don't even know how to hold a knife."

"If you don't let me try, I'll never learn."

"I'll let you try. One day."

Delicate kisses traced his neck up to his jaw. Katze put the knife away and turned to face Raoul. It was so easy to fall into those arms, it was so impossible to ignore them. His own arms crept up the blondie's sides on their own volition.

"You're distracting me."

"I couldn't stop myself. I hate that I have to go. I already miss you."

"Will you be out long?"

"I hope not. With a little luck the meeting won't last more than an hour."

"Good. I'll be waiting."

Their lips met and Katze yet again thought that he was more lucky than he deserved. His new life with Raoul and the boys turned out surprisingly well. There of course were issues – one couldn't avoid it in such a twisted family they created. Some unhappy infatuations needed to be cured, there was still some ice to break (especially between him and Julius) and old habits to overcome (Sliver couldn't refrain from offering Katze his services a few times and Julius persistently kept calling Raoul 'sir' and if not for the wheelchair he would have rushed to serve and assist him). But all in all they were getting along and getting better, and Katze was determined not to let anything destroy this new happiness.

It was starting to get dark, the homework had long been done and forgotten, but Sliver stayed with Julius, sitting at a little table on the porch. In the big garden that surrounded the house it was quiet and smelled of green.

"One day, you'll see," Sliver offered wistfully. "I'll take Katze on a vacation. Just me and him. And there I'll seduce him. Then Raoul will be all yours and finally everyone will be happy."

Julius doubted it could ever come true, but he didn't say anything. He didn't want to spoil Sliver's fun – the snot loved those dreams so much.

"I'm good at that, you know," Sliver assured him. "I know how to do all kinds of things in bed. I would know how to please him. You would have a hard task with Raoul though. But I could give you some lessons."

"No, thanks," Julius grumbled. "Spare your experience for Katze. I'm not gonna stalk sir Raoul like that." Right, like he didn't think about it at nights. Let Sliver take Katze away, the further the better. "And besides, I'm good for nothing like this. Couldn't even spread my legs properly. They would have to fix me first."

"They will. You'll see. In a few months you'll be running with me."

It wasn't true. In a few months he had a chance to hobble on crutches at best, that's what the doctors told him. But he liked listening to Sliver's idyllic visions, they gave him a kick to go on. As much as he wanted to be grown up and mature, he loved Sliver's childish dreams just like Sliver himself loved them.

That's why he used to sit here with the younger boy, that's why he enjoyed those evenings so much. If only Raoul and Katze knew what they were plotting...

The End

Force Majeur – part 2 <<

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