warning: this chapter includes coarse language, mild sexual references, themes of violence, drugs, and crime. please do not continue reading if these topics may trigger or offend you. it is recommended you read this in my blog, not reader, for the correct layout. this chapter is set four years after the previous flashback.
4 YEARS AGO
A storm was brewing over Bridgeport, the weather forecast had said. It was predicted to arrive with the night; in the late hours of the afternoon, however, cold rain simply fell from the grey winter sky, drumming a steady beat against the windows of Evangeline’s new self defence gym. She had moved to a slightly nicer part of the city, to a bigger warehouse with two stories, flanked by evergreen trees. It was where Gabriel worked, no longer just exchanging free classes for cleaning, but being paid to help Evangeline with classes and maintenance, and recently, run his own class in the evenings.
Lilith and Luc — and sometimes Raphael — often came along to the classes, or when Gabriel was free to teach them privately. Over the years, they had all built up their strength and reflexes, and Lilith particularly enjoyed learning the sharp, powerful moves of Muay Thai. “Loosen your stance, Luc,” Evangeline called out from beside Gabriel. Although she was usually quite busy, she liked to pop in during her breaks to watch the siblings train and offer her advice. The four all got on very well, with Lilith latching onto the tough older woman at once, and Evangeline was really the only adult they trusted — she was that sort of warm, honest person everyone could not help but like. Evangeline’s own children had flown the nest many years ago, and she was always happy for the enthusiastic youngsters to come in.
“Damnit.” Luc suddenly groaned and stopped throwing punches, making his siblings look over with concern. “What’s wrong?” Gabriel raised an eyebrow, and Luc rubbed the back of his head, embarrassed at his outburst. “I can’t get this move right. I just… I feel like I won’t ever be as good as you two,” He confessed quietly. This was something he had been silently worrying about for a long time. Fighting came naturally to Lilith and Gabriel, but he found himself struggling to pick up the moves as quickly, and the more he thought about it, in terms of everything. What bothered him wasn’t so much that his siblings were smarter, tougher and far more talented than him; it was that Lilith and Gabriel were like that together, both intelligence and fierceness controlled under those silver eyes and fine features. Sometimes Luc felt like he wasn’t even related to them at all. He kept this worry hidden, however, and when Lilith spoke, it was in her usual sharp fashion. “Luc, you can defend yourself really well now. That is all that matters, right?” She pressed, and he nodded slowly. “Um, I guess.” His tone was still quietly unconvinced.
Evangeline rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “I have an idea.” She gave him a scrutinising sort of look. “Why don’t I have you learning a simpler form of kickboxing? One that focuses more on strength and defence, rather than speed and offence. Your build is more suited for that, anyway. What do you think?” At this proposal, Lilith perked up. “Ooh, that’s a great idea!” She looked towards Luc with an encouraging face, and he smiled, his tense shoulders relaxing a little. “Yes please.”
Later that day, after the older siblings had returned home and the rain had begun falling harder from the stormy sky, Gabriel was alone in the gym. As he always did after the last evening class, he set about carefully cleaning the floor and wiping down the equipment, the steely wind that whistled through the ajar windows sweeping away the smell of sweat and hard work. Tonight, the wind was bitter, electric; a warning that was echoed in the black clouds mushrooming up over the city, smothering the early stars that had just begun to awake. Gabriel sighed as he glanced out of the windows, where the lights of the city shone as mere flickers in the heavy rain. It was at these sort of times he regretted working far from the squat — but he enjoyed learning and teaching alongside Evangeline, and the quiet moments after a good day of work were certainly welcome.
The gym slept on its heavy silence until eight o’ clock, when the rain was almost drowning the rumble of the thunder over Bridgeport. So it was a moment until Gabriel realised that someone was knocking frantically on the door; when he did, he opened it suspiciously. There was a girl on the front step, shivering and drenched in rain. Thunder boomed and she jumped, coltish. “Sorry, the gym is closed, you can come back tomorrow,” Gabriel said warily. “Please! I want to learn today… I can pay extra!” Her voice was hysterical and fragile as cracked glass, and her hand shook as she pulled out a fat pile of notes. “It’s okay, just come in.” Gabriel softened and held the door open. The girl jumped in, and once in the warm glow of the lights, he took a good look at her. The first thing he noticed was her hair, dark and wet with rain, but unmistakably ginger. She was pale and pretty, with freckles scattered like tiny stars over her skin. Gabriel fetched her a clean towel and as she gratefully took it, his curious gaze caught on the ornate earrings shimmering under her hair, the neat blouse and skirt, and the velvet high heels. This girl was in the wrong side of town.
Once the girl had dried herself, she stood there shivering, her blue eyes wide like a startled deer. “Thank you,” She hiccuped, and Gabriel smiled faintly, still cautious, wondering who this girl was and why she was alone in the stormy night. “What’s your name?” “Maria…” “Nice to meet you, I’m Gabriel.” His eyes focused on a large fresh bruise on her cheek, and although his suspicion heightened, he did not ask questions. Instead, he tipped his head at her outfit. “That’s not a particularly suitable-” “Is this better?” Maria kicked off her heels and straightened, her gaze suddenly fierce and determined. “It will do.” Gabriel laughed quietly and led her to the middle of the room. When he turned back to Maria, he could not quite meet her hopeful, expectant eyes.
He began by teaching her basic blocks, and she caught on quickly, her gaze tracking his movements with eager concentration. The more she learned and moved around, the more life came into her pale face. “Do you want to learn how to punch now?” Gabriel asked after twenty minutes, and she nodded, her eyes bright and sparkling, the fear he had seen before in the rain no longer there. Maria’s ferocity was surprising, and when he asked her to try hit him, she caught him completely off guard. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” Maria gasped, horror flashing across her face. Gabriel rubbed his forearm and smiled ruefully. “Don’t worry about it. Good work, actually, you can take a break.” He chided himself silently for being distracted, looking at the girl in a new light.
Gabriel directed her towards the water cooler, and watched her cautiously. That bruise bothered him, as well as the hysterics he had previously noted in her voice. Maria must have been in a panic, for her to run to a fighting gym in this storm, and this late at night. It was hard to imagine that panic when she came back to him, refreshed and smiling happily. “Thank you for doing this, really — I can’t say how grateful I am!” “I hope you don’t mind me asking this… but why did you come now?” Gabriel instantly regretted his question as the girl froze, her sweet smile torn away. “I…” To his shock, Maria covered her face, a ragged cry suddenly escaping from her lips. “I’m sorry.” Gabriel hesitantly reached out for her, and he almost staggered backwards when Maria threw herself into his arms, her broken cries stabbing into his chest.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Gabriel said in a soothing voice, rubbing her shoulder gingerly. He could feel her heartbeat fluttering madly against him, and once her jagged breathing slowed down, he carefully let her go. “Are you alright?” He asked gently, as Maria clumsily dried her tears with her sleeve. “No- yes- I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to- oh gosh, I need to get home.” Her words stumbled over each other and Gabriel touched her shoulder again, more firmly. “Do you need me to walk with you?” He willed her to calm down and luckily, she seemed to gather her composure. “No! Thank you again, next time I will come to a proper class.” “There’s a taxi stand just down the road.” Gabriel watched her concernedly as Maria ran down the pavement, only turning away when she had safely hailed a taxi. The gym was once again silent. Gabriel was unsettled. Partly because of that strange, erratic behaviour, but also partly because now as he thought about it, he somehow wanted to see Maria again.
The Torres had moved into a new squat one year ago. It was an abandoned lodge laid on the top of an apartment block; it overlooked the harbour, quiet except for the distant grumble of traffic, honking of trade ships, and squawking of seagulls. Lilith had been delighted to discover the many large rooms. Although the walls had long been stripped bare and dust was thick on the cold floors, there was much needed space and privacy, with more than enough bedrooms for the Torres and Raphael, who had joined the family soon after he had met Lilith. Months of scrubbing stone and dragging furniture up to the penthouse had paid off, for now most of the rooms were bright and clean, although spare. It was in the foyer that Lilith and Luc were facing each other that night suspiciously. “Where are you going?” “Where are you going?” Luc replied, and his cousin gave him a piercing stare, folding her arms tightly. “I am not saying until you do.”
“We’re going off to steal from that brownstone downtown,” Raphael said casually, leaning on the elevator shaft. Lilith threw him a venomous glare which, unsurprisingly, had no effect on him. “Thanks a lot,” She huffed. “You’re welcome. Now fess up, Luc.” He cast his amber gaze to the other boy, who looked away. “I have a meeting,” Luc said quietly. “With the drug dealer? Prima, you know how I feel about this,” Lilith snapped, and the tension increased palpably between the two. She had found out what the ‘gas station job’ really was a couple of months ago, and had been trying to convince Luc to stop, her protests falling upon deaf ears. “And you get why I’m doing it. If we want to live in this place legally, this is the fastest way.” “It is dangerous! How many times have you come back home bleeding, huh?” “Wounds heal,” Luc said softly. And before Lilith could bite back, he sidestepped both her and Raphael, the elevator doors shutting behind him with a final chime.
Luc sighed as he ran into the stormy night, his usual path lit up here and there by forks of lightning. He knew Lilith only meant well, but he wasn’t lying; running drugs was truly the quickest way if his family wanted to buy a home and break out of poverty. Each cut or bruise he received from drunken clients or would-be muggers was simply another step towards this. And while Tom, his boss, grew richer and more powerful, there were less and less people wanting to incite the dealer’s wrath. When Luc arrived at the house, shaking raindrops from his hair, Tom greeted him with his usual brutal grin, reclining lazily in a sleek blazer and polished shoes. “Come in, boy. I’ve got some good champagne, help yourself.”
There were three more people in the lounge, two of which he didn’t recognise. Marilyn was there, of course, her gaze never failing to send discomfort prickling across Luc’s skin. “My two favourite boys in one place!” She purred in delight, and Luc quickly focused on the other young man, who was sitting with her on the low-slung sofa. He was handsome, with white hair and strikingly pale eyes that Luc couldn’t quite describe the colour of. “Luc, dear, this is Caden.” From the way Marilyn was leaning into him, it appeared the other boy had not shied away from her suggestive touches like Luc had. “Ahh, so this is the famous Luc? Mar has told me all about you,” Caden said in a smooth Russian cadence, the corner of his mouth gliding up into a smirk. Before Luc could work up a confused reply, Marilyn cocked her head. “Come have a drink with us.” “No, thank you.” “Hmph, I knew you’d say that. Don’t be such a fucking bore.” “I’d rather not die on my way home,” Luc pointed out quietly. “Oh, you could always stay the night,” Marilyn smiled coyly, playing with her crimson hair. “I’m sure Caden wouldn’t mind sharing the bed.”
Luc looked down at his feet awkwardly. “Um… I’m alright.” “Well, at least come sit down.” Marilyn patted the sofa, disappointed but not surprised, and Luc reluctantly obeyed. He shifted restlessly when she moved closer to him, propping her elbow on his shoulder. Tom never seemed to care how touchy his partner was with the boys, but it still felt… wrong, to Luc. “Caden is a drug runner, like you,” Marilyn explained drowsily, the bitter smell of alcohol on her breath making him wince. “Tom is great at picking the attractive ones, isn’t he?” “People are more willing to cooperate with good looks.” The boss shrugged. Caden grinned at this remark, cocking an eyebrow at Luc, but he just fiddled with the sleeve of his hoodie, fighting the urge to jump up and leave.
“Oh, and that’s Caden’s stepsister.” Marilyn jerked her head to the other armchair. Until that moment, Luc had not really acknowledged the last person in the room, her presence simply itching at his back. When he turned his head, he quietly sucked in a breath. The girl was gorgeous, and her vixen smile told him she knew it. “My name is Ebony.” Her voice was satiny and rich, just as intoxicating as her golden eyes. It was then Luc realised he had been staring, and he tore his gaze away, embarrassment begin to burn in his cheeks. He heard Ebony laugh softly and felt her drinking him in as he turned to Tom, who began discussing the current status of the ring, and his plans to expand in the city.
It was perhaps an hour before the meeting dissolved into drunken laughter and empty beer bottles. When Marilyn began handing out joints, Luc quietly excused himself and made for the door, relieved. Just as he rested his hand on the cold metal handle, he felt someone grab his elbow in a vice-like grip. “What are you doing?” Ebony said silkily. “I’m… heading back home.” “Why? The fun is just starting.” Her lips twisted into a sinuous pout, but her eyes were clear and sharp — she was not drunk. Luc scanned the room: the red light gleamed on the torn packets of powder now scattered on the table, Tom was sprawled half asleep and half drugged on the armchair, Marilyn and Caden were tangled up with each other and spilling glasses of that expensive wine. Too loud, too dangerous. “I guess this isn’t my kind of scene.”
Ebony laughed, sweet and dark. “Are you telling me you run drugs and you still haven’t tried it?” “I’m not doing this job because I enjoy it,” Luc murmured, nervously trying to ignore her hand, which was still gripping his elbow. “I have siblings to look out for. I’m leaving as soon as we get enough money.” “That’s honourable.” Ebony smiled, then her beautiful honey-coloured eyes caught Luc and wouldn’t let go. “But also terribly boring. I never would have thought a guy like you…” She mused, letting the words roll on her tongue, and Luc tipped his head, frowning. “What?” “Just lighten up, Luc. What harm can a little fun do?” Her fingers ran down his arm, smooth and inviting, and caressed his wrist, causing him to flinch. “I-” “Stay,” Ebony whispered. Her deep, tantalising voice curled around him, and he could feel it take hold. Luc tried to step back, to listen the hum of nerves and discomfort, but this time, he couldn’t tear his gaze away. “Stay.”
The victim tonight was an old brownstone mansion in the depths of the city. The security system of this one had been quite easy to disable, or as Raphael said, to fuck up enough in their favour. They crept softly through the empty and rather ugly house, senses open for any noise apart from the rain drumming on the windows. Each time they carefully slipped something in their pockets, Lilith felt a thrill of bitter pleasure. Each robbery felt like a tiny serve of revenge for what Avarice had done all these years ago, or at least for the cruel, corrupted upper class. Anger still ran deep in Lilith’s veins; while her cousins seemed to have moved on, she was not one to forgive and forget.
“Can we take this?” Lilith whispered to her best friend, who was examining the shadowed room. “The laptop? You’re such a novice,” Raphael snickered quietly, and she stepped on his foot. “Ow, what the fuck? I was just stating facts.” This earned him another kick of Lilith’s boot. “Idiot. What about this?” She pointed to a crystalline watch on the desk, which Raphael carefully analysed. “Yeah, that’s genuine.” He pocketed it and gave the room another onceover. “I think that’s enough for today-” There was a loud bang of a door and they froze, exchanging a quick glance. “Okay, that’s definitely enough,” Raphael hissed. “Go!”
After running back to the penthouse, breathless and laughing, the two flopped onto the living room sofa. Lilith happily called this abandoned lodge their home. She especially loved the walls of glass in this room; at night, billions of stars glimmered to life over the deep, still ocean, and she often liked to sit by the windows, with Raphael, finding constellations and galaxies and planets. Tonight, however, she sat on the squishy sofa with her hands clasped, eyes downcast. “What are you worrying about?” Her best friend yawned, already knowing the answer, his long frame draped across the sofa. Lilith exhaled softly. “I know Luc is sensible,” She began. “But I feel like something horrible is going to happen to him, sooner or later, working in that drug ring. My cousin is not like Gabriel and I. He is not a fighter.” At this, Raphael snorted a little. “I think he would be dead by now if he wasn’t.” “No… that is not what I mean. Luc does not care for his own safety if it means ensuring ours. He is too soft. He will let people hurt him and he will not say a damn thing.”
Lilith wrung her hands fretfully. “I just wish he would let me take the responsibility!” There was a long silence, except for the soothing ebb of the waves below. “Am I being a control freak?” Lilith finally sighed. “No, of course not.” “That was sarcasm, right?” She smacked Raphael’s arm, and he rolled his eyes. “Duh, you’re the most controlling person around.” “Oh.” “Hey, that’s not a bad thing. I- we need a control freak to keep us all together. You know, we would all be in the streets right now if it wasn’t for you.” Raphael gently nudged her with his head. The corner of Lilith’s mouth twitched. “Thanks, Raphie.” “I told you to stop calling me that,” He grumbled, but then he smiled wanly. “All you can do is just be there. And because it’s you, that’s enough.” Lilith rubbed at her eyes tiredly. “I hope so.”
Hey, a flashback chapter that finally wasn’t boring to write!
Not much to ramble about this time — I seem to have run out of steam — but let me just clear up the ages of the characters in this flashback: Raphael is 21, Lilith is 20, Luc 19 and Gabriel 17. Also, I have shown a portrait shot of Caden before, but since I updated him, here’s a close up! He’s not even a major character but I want to take a moment to appreciate those beautiful eyes 😀
I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and I wish everyone a nice day! ❤