Since Aaron had been sent to solitary, there hadn't been a single moment in which Rick hadn't thought about his boyfriend. He'd written two stories and a poem for him, and he came up with some other things with which he wanted to cheer up his friend—or to at least distract him.
Something he hadn't counted on was that Aaron would avoid him.
Mateo said he needed time for himself, but Rick simply couldn't bear the sad look in his eyes. It cut through his soul, aching with every breath, with each beat of his heart. He just wanted to hold Aaron, tell him they would go through this together; that they couldn't give up. But every time he got near the boy, Aaron walked away.
Aaron didn't even come to the mess hall. Couldn't he eat a thing, afraid of the moment that Moloch would return?
Tommy looked at him, sighing. "We should, the poor thing. I just don't know what we can do."
"There's only one way to really help him." Ace gave him a stern look. "By killing Moloch."
"Well—we won't get a better chance. Right now he's lying helplessly in the infirmary. If we make sure one of us ends up in a hospital bed too... I'm sure there are blades lying around."
"And then what?" Tommy heaved another sigh. He supported his chin with his fist. "Then you're going down for murder and you'll never leave this place."
"Depends on where you stab. If it's the wound in his stomach, it will look like another bleeding."
Rick thought about it. Actually, it sounded very promising.
Tommy was more skeptical. "You can do shit when there's a doctor around."
"Then we need someone to distract them."
"So you want two of us to end up in the infirmary? You really think no one will find that suspicious?"
Ace shrugged. "Friends fight too." He looked Rick in the eye. "I can lash out at you, claiming that you made out with Emeril? Then we start a fight and we'll both end up in the infirmary."
Rick chewed his lip. "But I will have to punch you! I can't."
"Of course you can. It's to protect your boyfriend."
Yet, Rick didn't believe he could really throw a punch at someone. "I'm sure I don't hit hard."
"OK. Then I'll lash out at you and Mateo will stick up for you and gimme a good beat up."
There was a determined look in his grey eyes. It caused a warm feeling in his chest. When bringing up the topic, he never thought that they would come up with a real plan. He'd just wanted to vent. But Ace genuinely wanted to help—it was a strange thought that he had not only found a boyfriend in this horrible place, but also some really good friends.
. . .
Wronged, Rick crossed his arms in front of his chest. "What do you mean, no? You haven't even heard the second part of the plan."
"The answer stays no."
"But you barely have to do something!" With a heated face, Rick looked up to the man. "You just have to punch Ace!"
"It's a stupid plan."
"But you don't even know the plan!"
Mateo's hand shot forward. Roughly, he grabbed Rick's chin. "I said no and you do as I say. You're my property, remember?"
Rick huffed, yanking his face away. "Only in name."
There was a dark look in Mateo's eyes—one that made his organs freeze. Quietly, he felt the fighting spirit leave his body, but he it called back immediately.
"Aaron is my boyfriend. I have to help him."
"And you won't be of any use when you end up next to Moloch in the infirmary. There's a good chance Moloch will ram a blade in your throat—or he cuts out your eye and gives it to your boyfriend as a fucking present."
Rick's protest died on his lips. He dropped his gaze.
. . .
The day Rick used to look forward to. Today, however, it felt like his insides had turned to stone. Would Aaron be there? Or had he even changed his shift so he wouldn't be around him? Nervously, he was waiting next to the laundry cart, fumbling with his fingers.
He barely felt relieved when the boy joined him quietly, without even looking at him.
Rick waited, but after three cells he could no longer bear the distance. Tears stung in his eyes and he took his wrist. "Why don't you even look at me anymore?" A sob escaped his lips. "What did I do wrong?"
For a while, Aaron stared at Rick's fingers around his arm, then, he looked up. Tears glistened in his eyes.
"I can't do this anymore," he whispered. "I'm sorry, Rick."
"You can't do what anymore?"
The boy averted his eyes. A tear dripped down his cheek. "I don't want to hurt you anymore."
"Then stop shutting me out!" Rick rubbed his cheeks. "Why... why are you doing that?"
Aaron bit his lip, shrugged a shoulder and looked away.
Rick hated the distance between them. He wrapped his arms around the boy and pulled him close. Instead of starting to talk like he usually would, he just held his boyfriend. For a moment Aaron froze; then he almost desperately clung to Rick.
"When I'm with you I feel alive," Aaron muttered against his shoulder. "And because of that, it feels like I'm dying, again and again, every time I... when he... I'm just trying to feel nothing and at the same time, this depression is so stifling that I can't even remember what I'm fighting for. But I... I'm just so tired of fighting. The hope, that rises and gets crushed and rises... I just don't know how to deal with all this anymore, Rick."
Rick kissed his temple. "You will get out and I won't leave this place before you do."
Aaron pulled back his face to look at him. "You shouldn't say things like that."
"But I mean it." He took Aaron's hand, his eyes not leaving his'. "I won't leave before Moloch is dead. Worst case scenario, I'll convince Mateo to pretend that I stabbed him. We'll get you out. I already made a plan with Ace to get us in the infirmary to kill Moloch, but Mateo doesn't let me."
"Good." Aaron caressed his face. "Don't do anything rash, my love. I uhm... Mateo is trying to get me something. Poison." He bent his head. "But I dread the feeling of hope. I'm just scared it will be crushed again."
"And even it's crushed... we'll find another way." He laid his hands on Aaron's hips. "You're no longer alone, baby, even when it feels that way. But Tommy, Ace, Mateo, I... We will make sure you'll get rid of him so that you can finally go home."
Aaron bent his head, resting his forehead against Rick's.
"I wouldn't know what to do without you," he whispered.
"You don't have to." Rick laced their fingers. "I will be there for you. In good and bad times, now and forever."
A paper-thin smile crossed Aaron's lips.
And then they kissed—tender and loving, full of silent promises.