warning: this chapter includes mild sexual references, coarse language + strong themes of violence, crime, and drugs. please do not continue reading if these topics may trigger or offend you. i recommend reading this on my blog, not reader. this chapter is set two years after the previous flashback.
8 YEARS AGO
“El almuerzo está listo.” Lilith tiredly slid a plate onto the makeshift table, with the leftover sourdough bread she had baked this morning in the embers of the fireplace. The bread was charred and tough, but the brothers ate the cold, plain slices gratefully. “I still do not understand how you boys have grown on such little food.” Lilith eyed her siblings, taking a sip of her bitter tea. “Genes,” Luc smiled faintly, but then all three fell silent. The gaping void left by their parent’s deaths had persisted even after two years, and as Lilith angrily supposed, it would never diminish until Avarice had been served his justice. But as much as she would have loved to see him burn, they were kids. Young, forgotten kids that could do nothing but watch him bribe and silence his way out of killing over a hundred people.
For the past year, they had stayed in a sad, broken apartment block, hidden within the slums of South Bridgeport. It was a town of invisible people; the buildings were left to rot by the rich, overseas owners, and squatters lost by the authorities in the smoke of the city. The empty apartment the Torres had found was cold and bare, but it was far better than the merciless city streets. Here, while there were only two tiny rooms, there was also running water in the bathroom, and the precious fire kept the family warm on winter nights, when they could scrounge any wood. They had gradually collected old pots and tin cups and slivers of soap, and stole food from different greengrocers. Shoplifting was something Luc especially didn’t like, but the harsh streets had taught them quickly — you had to do anything to survive.
Lilith and Luc had still tried to make life normal for Gabriel. For a couple of months, Lilith had taught him what she knew from school, but he learned far quicker than she had, and resorted to steadily going through the library in a nicer part of town. Most of the time, however, hunger controlled their lives with forceful strings. Gabriel was particularly nimble at pickpocketing, and until just a few months ago, the family had barely survived on stolen coins and Lilith’s resourcefulness. As they had grown up in the violence and desperation of the streets, the two older siblings’ youth had been stripped away, replaced by tired eyes and aching bellies. But it was enough to protect their little brother from losing the same innocence and life, and as long as Gabriel stayed safe, it was worth everything.
That evening, after the sun had sank in a wash of blood, Gabriel darted out along the dark rooflines and fire escapes of the slum, still in the careful sight of his siblings. At the top of one staircase, he settled down to watch through the windows of a tiny and hidden fighting gym. For many cool, smoky evenings past, he had come here to quietly observe the classes. While he couldn’t hear the teacher’s voice from his vantage point, he could still catch the movements, and that was sufficient for his mind to figure out how they all connected and worked.
It fascinated him, the movements: strikes of breathtaking speed and aggressiveness, kicks that were almost graceful in that they used the whole body. There was one woman Gabriel had picked out to be the teacher. Every class, the controlled power in her movements captured his attention. Over the course of the last months, he had watched closely for the details and slowly began piecing the techniques together in his head. He wanted to learn how to defend himself like that. The time where his siblings had been hurt in protecting him from starvation or people was a memory that scarred him with guilt and anger. So Gabriel watched, thinking, learning.
After perhaps an hour, the students settled and packed up for the class, filtering out into the cold night. Gabriel sat back and closed his eyes, noting the new moves he had seen today: a knee strike and some sort of punch. For a while, he let the brittle wind cool his bones, as he tried to figure out exactly where the strikes had been positioned. He didn’t quite notice that the instructor had come out of the gym until he heard a loud voice call out, “You can come down here, you know.” Gabriel’s eyes snapped open to see the teacher glaring up at him. When he didn’t say anything, silent with fear, she jutted her chin out. “Come on, I just want to talk.”
Gabriel paused, his mind spinning fretfully, before hesitantly deciding to slide down the railings and meet the instructor. Up close, she looked even more fearsome, all muscle under weathered brown skin. “I’ve noticed you watching for the past weeks,” The teacher said curtly. Gabriel lowered his head, ready to dart away at any movement. “What’s your name?” Surprise flitted through him at the somewhat friendly question, and it was a moment before he worked up the courage to reply. “Gabriel,” He mumbled. “Okay, Gabriel. Now, I think I know what’s going on here. It seems I’ve been distance-teaching you for a while. My name’s Evangeline.” At this extension of courtesy, Gabriel blinked, both confused and unsettled. Evangeline appeared to guess his surprise and shook her head impatiently. “I’m not mad at you, just curious. Come inside, it’s freezing.”
Warily, Gabriel followed Evangeline inside the gym, taking a good look at the room. The space was small with worn concrete walls, but it was clean and well-lit, with several punching bags and weights at the far end. “Right.” Evangeline turned, and the cage lights threw her face into relief; it was scarred and lined, but with a fierce, determined life that gleamed in her dark eyes. “Do you know what this form of combat is called?” When Gabriel shook his head, she placed a hand on hip. “Muay Thai, one of the most efficient styles for self defense. The Art of Eight Limbs. Can you tell me why it’s called that?” At her question, Gabriel thought carefully for a moment, picking over the observations in his head. “Um… it uses eight points of the body. Elbows, shins… knees and fists.” After a brief silence, Evangeline nodded with grudging approval. “Very good. Show me what you’ve learnt, then. Go on.” Gabriel hesitated, taken aback by the blunt request, before falling into the elbow strikes he had seen used many times by the instructor, and had practised at the squat himself, much to the disgruntled pride of his siblings.
Evangeline did not comment, simply directing him to the punching bags next. He delivered several kicks before she stopped him, her brows furrowed with curiosity. “I’m impressed,” She finally spoke. “You’ve picked up the techniques well, son. There’s issues with your form, but we can work on that.” Gabriel fiddled with his hoodie, the glow of happiness from the approval dampened by a realisation. “I can’t afford to pay for classes,” He said in a quiet voice, and Evangeline crossed her arms. “I thought so. Why don’t we make a deal, huh? One free class per week if you clean up the gym afterwards. Sounds good?” For the first time a long while, a smile flickered onto Gabriel’s lips. “Yes. Thank you.”
“One more thing,” Evangeline said gruffly. “Why do you want to learn?” This time, there is no hesitation in Gabriel’s answer. “My siblings always get hurt protecting me. I want to be able to defend myself, and them.” The instructor nodded slowly at this. “Alright. Well, you need to start off by getting into good physical shape. There’s no point in learning if you could snap from a strong gust of wind.” The hard lines of her face softened with mischief, and Gabriel laughed quietly. Evangeline, he had already decided, he liked. There was something about her warm toughness that reminded him of his mother, and now because of her kindness, among countless freezing nights and the everlasting ache of hunger, he finally had something to look forward to.
There was a railway line had once run along the fringes of Bridgeport many years ago. As wide, smooth roads had carved out through the city, and trucks had begun puffing smoke along them, the railway had fell into disuse. Now, the abandoned stations and trainmaster’s houses were taken over by young people to drink booze and get high in peace.
One forgotten station had become a particularly seedy place, owned by a seedy man named Tom. The rooms were dark and damp, and more often than not, hazy with cigarette smoke. It was from this ramshackle, boarded-up building he ran his heroin business, and it was where Luc often sneaked away to pick up the drugs and deliver them. It wasn’t something he was proud of, but there were only a few jobs he could take in his situation, and running drugs was the best of them. The job gave him enough cash to avoid shoplifting much of the time, and Tom, while a hard-faced criminal, at least paid Luc fairly and generally made him travel to the less dangerous areas of Bridgeport.
“The client lives at the Rose Station, a mile or so down the rails.” Tom pointed, after giving Luc several packets of the drug, which he gingerly hid in his pocket. He drew his jacket tighter around himself, anxious and on edge. Tom wasn’t intimidating if you were on his good side, but there was a tattooed woman in the room — Marilyn was her name, probably — and the way she surveyed him, through hooded red eyes, unsettled Luc in a manner he couldn’t pinpoint. “And here’s your pay for the week.” Tom handed over a couple notes, which Luc gratefully tucked in his other pocket. Where he got the money, he kept secret from his siblings, instead lying that he had somehow found a little work at a gas station. While there was always a quiet air of desperation about Lilith, he doubted she would approve of such a dangerous job, especially of him being around people like this.
“Now, come join us for a bit, hmm?” Marilyn purred, clicking her nails on the beer bottles. “Why don’t you get to know your trade?” “No… I’m fine.” Luc shook his head, trying to avoid looking at the half-open bags strewn across the table. Tom snorted. “Doing this job isn’t fine, boy.” “Just as well, don’t want to ruin that handsome face of yours.” The woman laughed, the sound drunken and slurred, and Luc took a step back. She didn’t seem to notice and simply puckered her lips, smoke rings drifting out. “You know how you could make more money?” Marilyn smiled, dark and intoxicating as wine. “Go work at one of the brothels in the south. I bet people would pay shitloads for you.”
“He’s still a minor, Marilyn,” Tom grunted, and his partner rolled her eyes. “You get him to run dope and you care about that?” She scoffed, and when he just drew on his cigarette, she lazily cast her scarlet eyes towards Luc. “Sorry. Thought you were older.” Luc didn’t reply, discomfort burning painfully on his cheeks. He suddenly wanted nothing more but to break out of the stifling, smoky cage of the house.
He got his wish as Tom bid him goodbye, and he left the dealer for the deep and silent depths of the city. The blue night was steadily frosting, the cold draining the mortified flush from his skin. It was a long walk down the empty train tracks, and Luc kept light on his feet, keeping a nervous eye on the derelict houses hemming the railway. Rose Station, with a name that belied the somber, broken facade of the house, was almost easy to miss — the lamps around it had been smashed out, and no light shone from the dirty windows.
Despite the dead exterior, the door opened almost immediately when Luc knocked on it, and he flinched. The disheveled man in front of him smelled strongly of beer and weed, all flushed cheeks and watery, black eyes. “You’re here with the brown, aren’t you. Good, I’ve run out,” He said, jagged and sharp. Luc nodded, carefully retrieving the packets from his pocket, passing them over. “That’s eighty dollars.”
The man didn’t answer for a while, and Luc felt unease begin to creep up on him. “Can I pay later?” The client pinched the blunt hard. “The dealer only allows straight up payments,” Luc said slowly, the unease swirling darker, and he backed away slightly. “Well, I need it now,” The man spat out, his eyes suddenly burning with violent desperation. “Sorry, you can’t-” “I’m fucking paying when I want!” He snarled, and Luc only realised the man was holding a knife when the blade slashed across his face, several times.
Luc reeled back, and through the searing pain on his cheek, he heard the door slam shut and lock. Gasping and blood burning down his face, he fled, tripping blindly on the rusty tracks and tangled weeds, all the way back to Tom’s house. Nothing much had to be said for Tom to discern the situation and pick up his pistol, with terrifying calmness. “Get back home, boy. I’ll get the money myself.” Luc didn’t have to be told twice, and he ran through the dark, clumsily pressing a shaking hand to the deep cuts, hot blood dripping between his fingers.
When he managed to find his way back to the squat, Lilith and Gabriel both rushed over in shock and anger. “I’m fine,” Luc managed to splutter through the piercing pain arcing through his cheek. “How are you fine?” Your whole face is bleeding!” It was a moment before Luc realised that in his blind panic, he had smeared blood all over his face and hands. Lilith only relaxed a little when he explained this, her dark brows hard with anger and worry. “We should get you to a doctor.” “You know we can’t do that without IDs.” Luc coughed on the bitter, coppery taste of blood in his mouth. Lilith gave a frustrated sigh and pushed him towards the sink. “Wash your face with cold water, now.” She then began searching for clean cloths, while Gabriel hovered by his brother anxiously. “¡Maldita sea! If only I had a needle and thread!” Lilith fretted as she dug in the fresh laundry. “Then I could stitch up the wounds.”
“Please don’t.” Luc winced at the thought, and she gave him a cloth to stem the blood. “Hmph. What happened?” Lilith stared at his face; now that it was clean and washed of surface blood, three long wounds crossed ugly and bleeding over his right eye. It did not take long for her to guess what had happened. “Who attacked you?” She pressed, and Luc sat down on the edge of the mattress, holding the cloth against his cheek. “Gas station robbery,” He said quietly, the words falling flat through gritted teeth. “Don’t worry. It’s just a few cuts.” At his feeble reassurance, Lilith shook her head impatiently. “Deep cuts that could get infected, you’re lucky that it missed your eye! I’m going down to the pharmacy tomorrow.” Her silver eyes were suddenly old with exhaustion. Sixteen year olds weren’t supposed to be performing first aid on their siblings, or living illegally in damp apartments, or stealing food instead of being in school. The city of Bridgeport, however, did not care about such things.
The following day dawned with pale blue skies and cold, salty winds that swept in from the sea. Lilith, despite Luc’s protests, decided to brace the biting weather and head to the tiny local pharmacy. The money that her cousin had passed over felt heavy in her pocket. Lilith didn’t believe his word, of course, and while she couldn’t figure where he had got the cash from, she knew that Luc had been hurt doing so. At the pharmacy, she bought fresh gauze and cheap ointment, silently cursing their situation for the millionth time.
The street in which the pharmacy sat on was almost empty, so Lilith wandered, half lost in thought, half keenly aware of her surroundings. Her senses sharpened when someone else walked by her, like she always did, long having become distrustful of everyone. His arm brushed against hers with casual clumsiness, and she almost didn’t feel it — the briefest touch against her pocket, fleetingly light as a dandelion clock. It was a familiar touch, one she had practised many times before, and she whipped around, grabbing the boy’s wrist.
“Give it back to me. Now.” Lilith stared the boy down, and his startled eyes widened before he reluctantly pressed the note back into her palm. “Sorry,” He mumbled, sticking his hands in his pockets. Lilith looked at him carefully and felt her anger fade. The boy could not have been much older than her; with his threadbare hoodie, messy hair, and sallow, pale cheeks, it was obvious that he was a street kid. “That’s okay,” Lilith said, and the boy’s amber eyes flickered in surprise. “I can’t really blame you,” She continued. “I used to pickpocket quite a bit. You are far better than me, though, I almost didn’t catch you.” Her calm, conversational tone seemed to throw the boy off his feet, and he narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Why are you talking to me? I literally just tried to steal from you.”
Lilith smiled ruefully, and the expression felt strange, when her face was usually set in a frown. “I am not sure.” She tipped her head. “I just have not talked to someone my age in a long time.” Lilith felt oddly light after saying this; it was true, that she hadn’t held a conversation with another teenager, apart from her family, in years. The boy’s shoulders loosened up. “Me neither.” He turned his head and Lilith glimpsed burn tissue on his face. Something that was common in street kids, from acid or fire. “Well, nice to meet you. My name is Lilith.” Like the boy had pointed out, she didn’t understand why she kept on rambling on to a stranger. She had missed being friendly, she supposed. The boy gave her a guarded look, and Lilith thought he would just walk away, but he didn’t, and he opened his mouth hesitantly. “Raphael.”
There was a ton of research involved for this chapter, and let me tell you, this taught me more about drugs than my school health classes ever did. I hope no one sees my browsing history, because ‘how much is one bag of heroin’ searches and drug recovery websites totally don’t make me look suspicious at all 😂
Guess what, today is the Kingston’s third anniversary! I haven’t done much the past year, so I’m not going to do a separate post, but I brought the Gen 3 characters together for a group photo! Mainly for a height difference reference, since I’m always confused at what height they should really be in the pictures. I tried to use the OMSPs to match their heights with their written ones, and Raphael (at 190 cm heh) makes Luc & Gabriel look short lmao.
After taking this picture, I realised that I had taken a similar one almost two years ago in real life, and one year story-wise! I only have the header version but boy oh boy, look at these glow ups. I think it’s funny that Cherry has changed who she is leaning towards, while Luc is still leaning away and Gabriel is now sorta neutral. I didn’t do that on purpose, what is this subconscious pose arranging?!
I hope you enjoyed reading this chapter, and I wish my lovely readers a good day ❤