Aaron stared at the ceiling. He felt numb, filthy. During dinner he had felt different, just for a minute; he had experienced that warm feeling that was always there when Rick was around. He was a little light in his dark existence — and those lights scared him. They could die any moment. For a moment it had felt like he had been walking on clouds, and all he could see was Rick's sweet smile.
Until night fell.
Until Moloch claimed the spot next to him, invading his body until he could only sob, waiting until his tormentor fell asleep. His large hand was still holding Aaron's bruised member; the frail skin scratched open by the man's finger nails. His punishment for fighting his nature, Moloch told him, because he didn't want to show the man how much he loved what that sick son of a bitch was doing to him.
Aaron didn't think he would ever be able to respond normally to someone's touch again, that he would ever be able to feel excited. He had been a virgin when sent to prison, he had wanted to save himself for someone special.
Now, he didn't think he would ever be able to give himself to anyone ever again. He doubted he could ever lie next to another body without thinking it was his rapist who was lying next to him.
His back felt stiff, but he barely dared to move, afraid to wake up Moloch. And how else could he lie than on his back? If he would turn his bleeding behind to the man, he knew how he would wake up next morning, and turning his face towards that pig... The thought alone made him nauseous.
And so, he had no choice but to accept his pain. After all, the worst was over for tonight. Most days, Moloch slept until the sun came up. He tried to think of nicer things. Of Rick's stories. Of his smile when he gave him his dessert. Of the fact that he never gave up, no matter how hard life was.
Yet, he also felt restless when he thought about Rick. Not only because he was afraid of what Moloch would do when he found out that they were talking now and then, also because of what he had seen today. Although Mateo had a reputation of saving people from being raped, he had pulled Rick on his lap this afternoon, grabbing him between his legs. Was there more going on in that cell than Rick wanted him to believe? The thought that a sweet boy like Rick would also go through something so horrible, increased the cracks in his heart.
Aaron decided to ask him the next time he would be alone with his friend.
. . .
Just like every time they were sent to change the bedding, Aaron received a bundle of papers from Rick with a new story the boy had written. Even though Aaron wanted to help him with doing their task, Rick always rejected his attempts to help him, telling him he had to read the story.
And so, he did. In silence he read about a clumsy cowboy who kept falling off his horse while trying to impress a native who could talk to animals. Rick's tone was light and the story was funny, just as the ones he read before. It was impressive that someone's thoughts were so bright in a place like this, giving him the opportunity to write this. The romance in the stories seemed to become more important each story. Would it mean something? Did Rick have feelings for him too? He didn't dare to hope for it, he couldn't hope for it. It was nothing but dangerous.
"And? Did you like the story?" Rick sat down next to him on the unmade bed.
"It was beautiful. Like always." He gave him a shy smile.
Rick was beaming.
"I'm sorry I can never give you something in return," he said quietly.
Rick's cheeks started to flush. "Your smile is the most beautiful gift to give someone. It uhmm... it's really beautiful."
Aaron felt warm. He didn't dare to look at Rick, instead he looked down. Their hands were resting on the mattress, their pinkies only an inch away from each other. It felt like Aaron lost control over his own body; he shoved his hand aside until their pinkies were touching.
He felt a little jolt and breathed in sharply. His eyes flashed aside, and his cheeks heated up as their eyes met. Shyly, they both looked away. Nevertheless Rick's hand moved a little, so his fingertips were lightly brushing the back of Aaron's hand.
Aaron closed his eyes. For someone else it might be a small gesture, but not for him. It made his heart beat like crazy. Rick reminded him of the fact that not every touch led to pain, and that it could feel really nice too.
For a while they were sitting there, Rick's hand partly covering his.
They should continue their work, but Aaron didn't have the heart to break contact.
"May I ask you a question?" Aaron asked after a while. He just needed to know the truth.
"Ask me whatever you want," Rick answered, smiling.
He was such a sweetheart. Aaron was terrified that he would lose his innocence here, that he would change like he himself had changed.
"I uhm — I saw what your cellmate did. During the basketball game. And I — I wondered..." He didn't know how to put his fear into words. After all, nobody ever asked him the same question, of which he was glad. "Never mind," he whispered.
"Are you trying to ask if Mateo is my lover?" Rick asked hesitantly.
That hadn't been his intention — he hadn't even considered the possibility that they were lovers. What if Rick had wanted to be touched by him? Mateo was good looking, there had been many days on which Tommy couldn't stop talking about how handsome the looked.
"Is he?" he muttered.
From the corner of his eye, he saw that Rick was shaking his head. "No. But he wants other inmates to believe I'm his. So — so they don't bother me."
"But if you two are alone... He never touches you? He doesn't... make you do things?"
"No. He's — he's just my friend, I think. I don't think he likes men."
Aaron took a relieved breath, even though the fact that Mateo had grabbed him in public still didn't sit right with him. It had been humiliating for Rick, it had to be. However, maybe it was the only way he could protect Rick. By making others believe that he owned Rick the way Moloch owned him.
Aaron didn't know what more to say. His glance returned to their hands, and he stared at them.
"We have to move on to the next cell," he said eventually.
He regretted his words immediately, but he knew it was for the best. If not, the guard might check up on them.
Rick pulled his hand away. Aaron felt cold instantly, only now, he realized how much he had craved for a loving touch. They stood up, made up the bed together and went to the next cell.
Rick chatted merrily while they were making the beds. His questions became more and more specific, and Aaron caught himself becoming more open. He told about the theater studies he'd wanted to do, about the many years he was playing the violin and carefully, he also started to share some things about his mother and little sister.
He kept silent about his father — and Rick didn't ask questions about him either.
"I don't have any siblings," Rick pouted. "It sounds so nice! But I guess I wasn't so sweet they wanted another baby."
"What? But you are sweet," Aaron objected. It took a few seconds before he realized that Rick had been joking, and he started to blush.
Rick looked at him, smiling shyly. Again there was this tickling in his stomach. He squeezed his fingers before quickly continuing to make up the bed.
There were only a few cells left, making Aaron wish there was a way to slow down the time. Waiting another week to be together again sounded terribly long. He wished there were other ways to escape from other people's sight, but he couldn't think of anything else, and he knew their current situation could only be a gift from above.
"I have another surprise for you," Rick said right before their work was done. "But you have to close your eyes."
Aaron looked nervously at the boy. It however was a nice nervousness, and he did as Rick told him.
"Open your mouth," Rick said, quietly laughing.
Aaron opened his mouth, and a second later something was shoved between his lips. His eyes shot open when something delicious began to melt on his tongue. It was a piece of chocolate! It had been over a year since he had tasted chocolate!
"Where did you get it?" he asked baffled.
Rick shrugged his shoulders. "I guess Mateo has ties to some smugglers around here. He gave me two pieces." He put the other one in his own mouth.
"That is really sweet.' Aaron intertwined his fingers. He wanted to give something in return so badly, but he didn't know what. Or maybe... He wasn't sure if he dared to do it, but at the same time it was something he really, really wanted.
Very quickly, he leaned forward and kissed Rick's cheek. His lips were tingling upon the warm skin. Rapidly he pulled back his face, looking at the other boy nervously. Rick's fingers caressed his cheek as if he couldn't believe the kiss had been real, his cheeks turning as red as Aaron's own cheeks had to be. His heart was leaping in his chest.
"Ummm, I uh — I think you're really sweet Rick," he said quietly. Nervousness was raging through his body, but he wanted to say it anyway. It was unwise, it was dangerous. But he wanted to show his gratitude, he could no longer hold back the words that filled his heart.
"I — I think you're really sweet too." Rick looked him in the eye, his cheeks reddening. "And you know uhm — I think about you all day long."
"I think about you all day long too," he whispered. "I want to be with you each moment of the day."
His nervousness became almost too much to bear when they looked deep into each other's eyes. Every nerve in his body was alert.
"And uhmm — uhmm I really would like to kiss you," Rick murmured.
Aaron had the feeling he was melting away. His whole body was shaking when he quietly admitted that he wanted to kiss him too.
They leaned into each other. His shoulders felt tense, he had no idea what to do with his arms. Their lips touched, and Aaron closed his eyes. Rick's lips were soft and sweet with chocolate. At first they pressed small kisses against each other's lips, while hesitantly raising their hands. Aaron laid his against Rick's chest; Rick's hand cupped the back of his neck. Parting his lips, he let the other inside. Their tongues were playing a tender game, and this time Aaron's hand shoved to Rick's neck as well, from which his fingers found a way into his curls.
Aaron had kissed only one time before, with a girl on a party where they had been playing truth or dare, four years ago. As far as he could remember, it had nothing to do with the heavy feelings that were raging through his body now. Rick's tenderness was like an anesthetic for all the pain he'd gone through in this prison; it felt like every caress of his tongue was brushing off a scar.
When they broke their kiss after a long time, they took each other's hands in silence and locked eyes.
"Maybe umm — maybe we can do something fun one day. When — when we're both out," Rick floundered. "I would really like that. I — I mean, like dating you."
Aaron bit his lip. "I would really like that too."
Rick showed him a relieved smile, squeezing his hands.
And then, their lips found each other again.