Rick had bought a bag of meringue with the money he had earned at the launderette, which he put in the pocket of his overall so that he could share it with his friends over dinner.
And with his boyfriend.
At least that's what Rick would like to call him, although he hadn't dared to ask. The day after tomorrow it was Friday again, then they could finally talk again.
His stomach fluttered, he got feverishly hot.
With a little hop he walked to the dining room. This morning Aaron had been late for breakfast. Rick had secretly brought him a sandwich which the boy had eaten in the restroom, but apart from that they hadn't spoken to each other. During their work the boy had been on the other side of the room. Rick had tried very hard not to look at his friend too much, but he found it hard to hide how happy Aaron made him by just being in the same room. He yearned for a quick smile, for a meaningful look.
The meals were always the highlight of his day, especially because he could then secretly push his knee against his friend's leg, and the day before yesterday they'd even hooked their pinkies under the table. The memory made his whole body tingle.
"Hi!" He flopped down next to Tommy.
The boy moved his eyebrows up and down. "Someone's happy to see someone special again."
Rick felt his cheeks glow. He had told Tommy that he kissed Aaron right after dinner that same day. And also to Ace.
He obviously had told Mateo too, who had snapped at him for yelling it way too loud. He had regretted his action immediately, but it had been too hard to keep his happiness to himself.
It was the only thing he could think about — and talk about. How amazing it had been to kiss Aaron, how every touch had made him glow, how he fantasized every night that there were no bars separating them.
The spot next to him however stayed empty. Would his friend be late again? Rick got up and decided to get some food. Once he returned, the chair was still unoccupied. It made him nervous. Where could Aaron be? His appetite was suddenly hard to find. Did something happen? Nervously, he drummed his fingers on the table.
"Rick..." Ace said in a soft tone. "He's over there." With his eyes he subtly signaled to the side.
Much less subtle, Rick cocked his head aside. He was indeed sitting at a table in the corner, Moloch being his only company. Something snapped inside Rick when he saw the man's hand on the boy's thigh, where it slowly moved up and down.
Aaron had bent his head, like always, but he wasn't touching his food.
"Why is he sitting there?" Rick asked confused. "Why doesn't he join us?"
"Apparently he's done something wrong and now Moloch wants him to sit with him again."
Rick swallowed. It felt like a meatball got stuck in his throat. He knew Aaron had always looked forward to sitting with them, even though he couldn't participate in the conversations. He didn't want him to be alone with Moloch.
"Do you think Moloch would mind if I join them?" he asked. His voice was trembling with nervousness. Actually he didn't dare at all, but the thought that Aaron had no choice but to be alone with that monster was even harder to bear.
"Are you crazy?" Ace hissed. "Everybody knows that Moloch decides who's gonna sit at the table with him."
Rick wondered if that was really true, or if the other inmates were just telling each other so because they didn't want to get close to the man themselves. Maybe he would like it when he got company. Mateo didn't like him at first either, but he had become his friend. Moloch was mean and he did terrible things, but maybe he just felt lonely.
Rick got up, his plate firmly clasped in his hands. Despite his brave intention, his fingers were trembling.
"What are you doin'?" Tommy looked up too. "Rick you can't..."
"I won't leave him alone. I promised to be his friend."
Rick squared his shoulders. Slowly he started to walk towards Moloch and Aaron. Both snapped up their heads as he neared their table.
"Hi." Rick gave Aaron a genuine smile, but the boy stared back as if he watched water burn. "I'm Rick," he told Moloch.
Moloch seemed to turn into a statue, staring at Rick with dead eyes. Rick waved his hand a little awkwardly, like one does when he's not sure if someone is a statue or not. He put down his plate next to Aaron's, shoved back the chair and sat down.
"It's so quiet at your table," Rick said bravely. "I thought — I love to talk, so if I join you guys you got something to listen to." He glanced at Moloch. "You want me to tell you a story? About — about giants, maybe?"
There was something flickering in the deep-set dark eyes of the man. A shiver crept down his spine. He probably preferred stories about vampires and demons, but those caused Rick nightmares. He rather not thought about them.
"You want me to tell you a story?" Moloch asked.
He was speaking in a drawling voice, reminding him of thick syrup.
"It's about a god — a dark god, more sinister than one can imagine. One that is chained, that can only be controlled as long as he can feast on the blood of young boys." His hand slid across the table, covering Aaron's hand. His long fingers caressed the scarred skin of Aaron's arm. "Pretty boys, with dark hair and dark eyes. With soft pink lips that look beautiful when they're wrapped around my cock. Boys who scream out in pleasure when I lay my hands around their narrow hips and push myself into their tight holes." Moloch stared him in the eye, his eyes twinkling darkly. "Are these the stories you like, Rick? You whisper these things in my boy's ear when he's eating his lunch in silence?"
Rick couldn't move. He was unable to tear his glance away from the monster. Or maybe it was because he didn't dare to look at Aaron, who suffered from these horrors every night. Tears sprung in his eyes. He wanted to save his friend. "I want to — to switch cells," he said.
Aaron snapped his head aside. Before he could say anything, Rick felt two large hands on his shoulders pulling him backwards.
"You're not going anywhere," a harsh voice sounded.
Moloch lifted the corner of his mouth. "It looks like you have to keep your pet a little more in control, my friend."
Mateo's fingers braided through his curls and he yanked back his head so violently Rick called out in pain. "You're going to disobey me now as much as he does? You want me to also forbid you to speak to others? To lunch with others?"
"You have to help him Mateo," he whispered in a begging tone. "You got..."
"Shut up." Mateo pulled him off his chair and shoved him aside.
It had become dead quiet in the hall. Rick didn't care, he wouldn't walk away. Something had to change, things couldn't go on like this. Taking a deep breath, he squared his shoulders and returned his gaze at Moloch.
"I — I don't want you to do that to him. What you just said." His voice sounded weak, but he tried to look intimidating anyway.
The man started to laugh. "No? And what if I tell you he likes it?" Shoving back his chair, he spread his legs. "Come on baby boy. Show this ignorant boy how much you love Daddy's lollipop." He started to unbutton his pants.
Aaron's shoulders tensed.
Moloch tilted his head a little. "You think this is the best moment to play the rebel?"
"No." Quickly, Aaron got up, keeping his face turned away from Rick.
Rick grabbed his wrist, he didn't intend to let go of him. "You don't have to do this," he said. "Let — let me do it."
This time Aaron did turn his head aside. Tears were shining in his eyes, his lips quivering as he said: "Leave me alone."
"Can't you see you're making everything worse?!"
The look in Aaron's eyes was so cold Rick let go of him in shock. It felt like his heart was breaking.
"But I... I just want to help," he said in a shaky voice. Sniffling, he wiped his eyes with his wrists.
"I don't want your help," Aaron said loud enough for everyone to hear.
His words sounded harsh, but the tears were dripping down Aaron's cheeks. His shoulders were shaking when he turned away from Rick and knelt between Moloch's legs.
"No!!" Rick yelled. Grabbing a plastic fork from the table, he wanted to storm at the man.
Mateo's fingers however clenched around his arm and pulled him back. Rick tried to tear himself away, his eyes fixed on Aaron's shaking shoulders.
"Why doesn't anybody do anything?!" he cried out.
Desperately he looked around. There were guards on the side, exchanging looks.
"You are all cowards!" he yelled. "He doesn't want this! He doesn't want this!!" His words were unintelligible because of his sobs.
Against his better judgement he hoped that Moloch would come to his senses, that he would realize that he was behaving like a monster and that he was humiliating Aaron in front of everyone. This was the ultimate display of power and nobody helped his friend, nobody...
Mateo laid a hand in his neck, turning him around and pulling him against his chest. Briefly, Mateo's lips touched his hair just above his ear.
"Calm down," he whispered. "They will stop him."
Somehow, Mateo's scent and voice calmed him down a little. He took a deep breath. Was it really true? Or was he lying? Nevertheless his breathing slowed down. In the background he could still hear Aaron's sobs, as if it was an echo of his own grief.
"Hurry up boy," Moloch's impatient voice sounded.
"Hey," another voice sounded — strong, like that of a guard. Mateo gave him some space to look over his shoulder; indeed, a broad-shouldered man walked over to them. "Pull up your pants."
Moloch gave the man a lazy smirk. "You can take his place if you like."
Some inmates started to laugh. The guard grabbed the man's collar and pulled him on his feet. "You can save your insults for your fellow prisoners. A couple of days in solitary seems good for you."
Moloch shrugged his shoulders and walked past the guard. In passing, he looked Rick straight in the eye. A shiver rolled down his spine. Yet, he tore his glance away and rushed to Aaron.
"Aaron," he said in a soft tone. "Are you — are you okay?"
With teary eyes, Aaron looked him in the eye. He was shaking. "Leave me alone."
"But you'll be safe for the next few nights," Rick said in a small voice. "That's — that's something, right?"
"Just leave me alone." Aaron walked past him and rushed out of the dinner hall.
Rick watched him go, feeling more lost than ever.