Aaron knew his way around the small library that was filled with discarded books. It wasn't because he was such a bookworm, but because this seemed to be the only place where he could escape Moloch's gaze.
Of course, that was only an illusion.
There were security cameras around, recording every move he made. It might not be his cellmate who was watching them, but he couldn't let go of the idea that there was a corrupt guard who told Moloch everything he wanted to know. There however were a few blind spots, and it was one of these spots where Aaron took the heavy book to. Flipping through the pages, he looked for the letter Rick had written to him. Three days had passed since Rick had told him about the present. Although he planned to ignore it at first, the boy kept looking at him with those pleading puppy eyes that he felt bad for ignoring something the boy had put so much effort in.
Of course — with good reason. If Moloch found out that someone was writing him letters, he didn't want to imagine what he would do to Rick. If everything went well, Aaron would leave this place within two months. The last thing he wanted, was Rick taking his place.
And yet, he was standing here now, the letter in his hands. The sight of the handwritten letters called up a deep fear inside him, as if they could tell Moloch about the sender. Not that he would need to compare anyone's handwriting; the man would probably know who had sent the letters anyway. After all, Rick was the only one who kept keeping him company on the sports ground.
No matter how many times Aaron told him to go away, he never listened.
Since Aaron was forbidden to speak, he was used to pay attention to his surroundings. He knew about the whispers going around; he knew what they said about Rick. That he was a retard.
Maybe Moloch shared this opinion, being the reason he never paid attention to the boy.
Aaron believed it were lies, although Rick seemed unable to see the reality of things. It felt like he was hiding himself in a cloak of love, as if kindness and helpfulness made him not realize where he really was.
Aaron couldn't blame him. After all, this was a place where they were only breathing poison. Even if they would be set free, something had died inside them for good.
At least, that went for him. He could only pray that Rick would follow another route.
He returned his attention to the paper, knowing he didn't have a lot of time. The handwriting of the boy was neat, with round letters. His glance slid to the first sentences.
I'm not sure you'll ever read this, but I wrote this for you because I hope it will distract you from the horrible things you're going through. I'm not a very skilled tale teller, I hope you don't mind. Maybe I can write more stories for you, so I will become better.
Aaron bit his lip. He could barely believe that someone was really taking the time to do this for him. Other inmates always turned their faces away when he walked past them, others lacked any sense of sympathy and showed him a dark grin.
Aaron looked at the pages; Rick had filled five pages with words. It was too much to read right now, so he folded the papers and shoved them deep in the pocket of his overall. Now and then he would go to the restroom to read a part; doing it in his cell was too risky.
. . .
It was a beautiful story — and not only because it was written for him. It was full of humor; the corners of his mouth had even curled up now and then. Rick had an obvious talent for depicting things vividly. In his imagination, Rick and he were playing the leading roles, and when the prince was ultimately saved from the monster and they were sharing a kiss, he couldn't ignore the tiny tingling feeling in his stomach.
It was bullshit — he knew it.
After all, it was just a story and Rick was the last person on earth who could rescue him from Moloch. His kindness was his only weapon and he didn't think it would bring any harm to the Nazi.
Nevertheless he enjoyed fantasizing that Rick was also picturing their faces when he was writing his story. It was impossible to become friends, but Rick's writing gave him the feeling it was possible in a world far away.
. . .
It was only during another round of distributing laundry where by they were going from cell to cell that Aaron dared to say something to him. Rick was chatting happily while they were making the beds; he was talking about some bird show where he had gone to as a child, and after that story he switched effortlessly to another subject, telling him about how he had flown a toy plane with which he had accidentally crashed against a fat willow.
"Did you ever fly a toy plane?"
Aaron shook his head. He still felt more comfortable when he didn't talk.
"Did you ever travel? With a real plane? When I was little I was allowed inside the cockpit for a couple of minutes. It was so cool! We were on our way to Spain."
A smile pressed against Aaron's lips. Rick already continued to talk, as if he accepted Aaron's silence but still wanted to give him the feeling that he was part of the conversation.
They entered one of the last cells when he suddenly blurted it out: "I read your story."
Aaron felt his cheeks flush because Rick had been in the middle of a story about baby elephants. He instantly stopped talking, his eyes were widening in surprise. They had a warm brown color, like hot chocolate.
"And? What did you think of it?" Rick laced his fingers and started to wobble on his toes as if he was nervous.
Did his opinion mean so much to him? The eyes that were staring expectantly at him, told him it did.
"You're a very talented writer," he said quietly. "I thought the story was beautiful and sometimes it made me smile." He took a deep breath, then he said honestly: "I haven't smiled since I'm inside. S-so... Thank you."
There was something about Rick's innocent face that made him stutter.
"I'm happy you liked it! So I can write more stories for you? I have inspiration for many! But you can also tell me what you like. Maybe a story about pirates or cowboys or aliens or about dwarfs and elves, or... or ninja's! Just tell me what you like!"
Aaron bit his lip as he looked the other in the eye. He was so sweet...
"How is it possible they sent you to prison, Rick?" he asked quietly. "You have such a big heart..."
Something changed in the boy's expression and he bent his head. "I don't know," he whispered. "The police found weapons in our house. I had never seen them before. But I'm afraid my boyfriend set me up. He hasn't visited me a single time since I'm here." He hugged himself. "Maybe he never really liked me, maybe I was just his back up plan."
It wasn't hard to imagine how someone could take advantage of Rick's kindness.
"I'm sorry," he said softly. "How long do you have to stay inside?"
Nine months. That was doable when you had a cellmate who kept his hands to himself.
"How much longer do you have to stay?"
It sounded short — as long as every day didn't feel like an eternity.
Rick seemed to understand, for he said: "I can write you a story each week. Then you'll have something to look forward to! And once you're home, I can still send you letters!"
The corner of Aaron's mouth quivered.
He should tell him no. He should walk away and forget about this conversation. His longing to feel better for just a moment, shouldn't put Rick in danger.
Sadly, he sighed and turned away from Rick to return to the laundry cart.
Rick's fingers snaked around his wrist and although his grasp didn't feel compelling, Aaron did turn around. He saw the confusion in Rick's eyes.
"It's too dangerous," he said.
"I can keep the stories," he answered. "Then you can read them in the cells while I'm making the beds. We can do that, right?" he asked, showing a happiness that was completely out of place in a place like this. "Nobody will ever know!"
Rick's fingers glided down and he took Aaron's hand. Aaron bent his head and stared at them.
He wasn't sure how, but being around Rick filled his chest with an unknown warmth. His breathing fell heavier. Exactly the sharp contrast with how he felt when he was alone, hurt. It was a different pain than the bruises covering his body, than the raw, bleeding skin making every visit to the restroom torture.
It was hope of something he would never get.
Rick pulled his hand away and wrapped his arms around Aaron, pulling him close. He didn't speak.
He didn't have to.
Aaron closed his eyes and inhaled Rick's scent. Something inside him crushed and he started to sob while the boy was holding him. He felt ashamed of his tears. Especially now someone was showing him kindness, he couldn't control his emotions.
"Sssh." Rick rubbed his back. After a while he pulled back a little, his thumbs wiping the tears from his cheeks. Ultimately, his soft lips touched Aaron's cheek. "It's okay to cry. Two more months and you're free. Then you will be freed from that devil for the rest of your life!"
Aaron squeezed his eyes shut.
Deep inside, he didn't believe his demon would ever give up on him. He would stand up to this angel that wrapped his arms around him again, and Aaron craved too much for his warmth to be able to push him away.