Orphan Ch. 01byVjax©
Authors Note: While the main characters last name is Dane it does not take place in the same universe as Dragon Clans, I just like the last name.
"God damn it Dane, get back to work!"
Alexander Dane looked over his shoulder giving his boss a weary look. Taking a deep breath he gazed north over the open plain one last time before turning and walking back to the job site.
'Job site.' Alexander scoffed in his head as he made his way toward the construction site. It was little more than ditch digging, clearing out drainage canals so they would be ready for the spring rains that were only a few short weeks away.
Texas had not been the best of choices, but Alexander had no where to go after the medical discharge from the army had cut his intended future off at the knees. Well, knee to be exact.
Alexander rubbed the ever present ache in his left knee before grabbing a shovel and jumping down into the hole. Although it was only the end of March the temperature was in the mid nineties under the noon sun and once again Alexander pondered just how he had gotten here.
Growing up an orphan wasn't easy.
Those who grow up with a family, hell even a single parent don't really realize the gift they are given. A sense of camaraderie, of history, of belonging to something that preceded you and will remain after you pass from the world.
Being dropped off as an infant in front of the Sisters of Mercy in the dead of night during a Boston winter is not an auspicious beginning.
Alexander planted the shovel in the muck at his feet as the heat got to be too much. Stripping off his sweat soaked shirt he wiped his face with it before throwing it out of the hole. His wide back and shoulders stretched, the muscles pulling taut as he turned back to his labor and his musing of the past.
The sisters had been kind for the most part. Growing up in the orphanage was not bad, it just wasn't that good. Three square meals a day, a roof over your head and other kids always around to play with had its advantages. However, as with any social group there were always cliques that formed. Some were merely social, others drew those who liked to prey on others, who enjoyed the petty taunts and jibes that carry the deep cruelness that only children can conjure.
"Are you sure your not a girl Alexander, or should I call you Alexandra?"
Alexander sighed, the choice to let his hair grow long may not have been the best for a fourteen year old boy who, after spending his life lining up to find a family, had finally given up hope of ever being chosen. He was resigned to the understanding that no one wanted him. It was a hard conclusion to come to but life had made it perfectly clear that he was alone. It was best to simply allow that to be the case and endure another four years here before trying to find his own way in the world.
"I don't really give a shit what you call me Steven." Alexander stood from the bench where he had been reading, his well worn copy of The Odyssey falling to the ground. At 5'8' Alexander was one of the tallest kids at the orphanage. Few got in his way as his height was proportional to his size. He was always quiet and didn't get in any trouble, after looking at him most everyone decided it was best to leave him be.
Steven was new, in a few days after his mother was arrested on drug charges. Smaller than Alexander by almost three inches the other kids were surprised that he had called Alexander out.
Steven took a step closer to Alexander, figuring that while he was big the long hair and book he always had his nose buried in made him easy pickings.
"Whats a matter Alexandra, your panties all in a bunch now." Steven said with a smirk as he pushed Alexander back toward the bench.
Had he been watching, he might have seen his error in judgment. However, as he was looking around at the gathered kids preparing to gloat over how Alexandra fell over like a felled tree Steven didn't know what hit him.
Alexander had seen the other boys movement as if in slow motion, knew that he intended to push him. It was a simple thing to adjust his stance and weight, letting the other boy connect but feeling no ill effects and definitely not falling down.
Steven went from smirking at the kids surrounding them to looking up at Alexander standing over him, a calm look on his face as the throbbing ache began in Steven's jaw where Alexanders fist had left its impression
"I suggest, that you leave me alone Steven."
The words were spoken with icy detachment, Steven couldn't decide whether he really wanted him to leave him alone or not. There was a wild gleam in Alexanders eyes that seemed to be urging Steven to get up and try pushing him around again. Either way Steven decided in that moment that there were most definitely easier and smaller prey to be had.
Alexander shook his head, clearing the fog of memory as the boss came up.
"Alright ladies that's it, stow your gear in the equipment shed and pick up your checks. Be back here at 6am on Monday."
Alexander, a little slower than the rest of the crew, crawled out of the hole stretching his back and squatting down to loosen his knee. A brilliant sunset off to the west pulled at Alexanders attention before his boss clouded the moment.
"You'll need to step it up Dane, you're slowing down the job and while I don't want to I may have to let you go, if you can't keep up."
The snide way in which Bill made the comment just rolled off Alexanders back, he had seen enough pompous, arrogant, self important assholes to know they weren't worth the trouble.
"No problem Bill, I'll be sure to step it up on Monday." Alexander said in a quiet tone as he walked to the tool shed, handing in his work belt and shovel in exchange for another measly pay check.
Straddling the seat of one of the few things that gave him pleasure he brought the 57 XL Sporster to life, pausing a moment to enjoy its gentle rumble at idle as he waited for Bill to round the corner of the tool shed. When he did Alexander put the spurs to her, the rumble building quickly into a howling menace as mud and gravel were thrown behind him as the bike fishtailed off the site for the last time. Bill would definitely need a new work shirt to cover his beer belly come Monday. Once again Alexander was moving on, to where or to what he did not know.
Alexander would not miss the ratty studio apartment on the wrong side of the tracks. Packing his few possessions into his duffel and saddle bags he once again pondered just how he got here.
While the orphanage was not all bad, and most people left him to his own devices, the one thing that always bothered him, that would always show up on his evaluations, was his desire to be anywhere but there. So many times the police would bring him back after he found another way to escape the walled confines of the downtown orphanage.
"Where did you find him this time?"
Sister Margaret was one of the kinder nuns, she had been at the orphanage when Alexander was found, he held a special place in her heart so the question was not asked with any ire.
Sgt. Thompson smiled at the old nun as Alexander stood at his side looking at the ground. Over the past years the boy had continued to grow, now at almost eighteen he stood taller than the man at his side. At 6'4' Alexander was large though he carried himself with an almost animal like grace, passing through the world as if he owned it.
"It was the waterfront this time, reading on one of the abandon piers."
This was not the first time Sgt. Thompson and Alexander had met under such circumstances.
"I'll take him, I guess. Thank you as always Sargent, see you next time I'm sure." She said with a laugh as she followed Alexander back into the orphanage.
Alexander was about to turn toward the dormitory when the good sister stopped him.
"Come to my office Alexander."
Her words were not harsh as she turned up the stairs. Alexander sighed and followed. "Time for another lecture." He said under his breath as he took the stairs two at a time.
"What was it this time Alexander, the full moon coming, problems at school?" She asked the question absently as she took off her wimple and sat behind her desk.
Leaning against the door frame Alexander looked at her, she had a kind face, was one of the few people he had known his whole life and had some affection for, although he never showed it.
"Nothing particular, just needed some space."
It was his standard answer when asked why he found it necessary to be seemingly anyplace other than where he was suppose to be.
The truth was simply too hard to explain.
He didn't really have a good answer so this had become his standard litany.
Alexander had always needed to roam. Wandering the many city parks, the waterfront, once a long bus ride out to Worcester to simply walk in the forest, all felt more comfortable to him than the gated confines of the orphanage. It just felt right to be moving, to be out in the world trying to be part of it, the bars on the dormitory windows were his bane, he felt like a caged animal staring out through them as life moved by outside.
Sister Margaret regarded him for a moment then changed the subject, knowing that she would get no more answers from him on this topic.
"Your birthday is coming up soon, have you thought of what you'll do when you're free of us?"
The closer it got to June 5th the more worried she had become for the quiet young man who, aside from his many safaris, had always been one of the better of her charges.
Aside from that one incident four years ago where he had put a boy in his place many of the nuns feared that Alexander was just too self-contained, too gentle for the real world.
Alexander walked into the office and sat down, understanding that this was an actual conversation not one of the required reprimands.
"I'll graduate three days before my birthday sister, I've thought a lot about leaving here over the years, no offense." He said the last with a slight smile. "An Army recruiter came to the high school a few months ago, I took the ASVAB tests, it seems there are several places I may fit there. They offer college benefits, travel, something different." Alexanders words trailed off.
"The military is a noble pursuit Alexander, but are you sure such a...constricting lifestyle is for you. We both know well being told where to be does not sit well with you." She was honestly concerned over this choice. Loitering in the park is one thing when your at the orphanage, going AWOL from the military however would carry grave consequences.
Alexander had the same concerns. He had been open with the recruiter about them. After basic training it would be very similar to a normal job. Normal hours, come and go from the base as you like, but with the knowledge that there were meals and a bed waiting for him that he didn't need to worry about.
"I've thought it over Sister. With no family, no money for college and no idea what I would study if I went, it seems like the best option out there."
Alexander didn't tell her that it was the chance to travel that really sealed the deal. Staying in Boston, finding some job, being trapped in the city was the last thing he could deal with. The military, though not a perfect choice, did offer him the opportunity to get away, to see some of the world and hopefully find his place in it.
Alexander looked at his packed duffel bag on the raggedy bed, the conversation with Sister Margaret seemed like a lifetime ago not the five years that had past. With a sigh he picked up a dog eared copy of The Odyssey hoping once again that Homer would help him find peace enough so his sleep would be blessedly dreamless, it was a slim hope but hope none-the-less.
The dreams had come as they most often did. It is hard to run from yourself, too often the past has a way of creeping in when you least expect it, finding the cracks in your armor and replaying the moments most painful with vivid clarity.
The images flashed by fast but each held the full weight of the moment, each re-experienced as if it were happening whole and complete, only to slip away and be replaced by another.
Watching the army barber in the mirror, clippers hot from a days long service, the heat of it almost unbearable on his scalp as his long golden blond hair fell away like late summer wheat to the scythe. It was cathartic, his hair had become something that defined him, as the army was want to point out they did not want defined individuals; they wanted blanks to train as they saw fit. Alexander wanted that too, wanted to reinvent himself into someone...whole.
Graduation day, the families of his comrades surrounding them, the congratulations, the tears, the well wishes. The overwhelming emptiness of standing on the parade field watching as he always had the lives and interactions of others.
A full bird colonel, his aid standing rigidly at attention behind him, telling Alexander that wasting his god given physical prowess on intelligence analysis was never going to happen, that he was by birth a killer and the Army would see that destiny fulfilled.
Chaotic flashes of blood and pain, fear and exhaustion as the army made good on the colonels promise. His body taking on the shape they wanted, becoming the tool they wanted, as his soul shrunk smaller within him to escape the seeming truth that their training made apparent.
A hundred battles fought, in arid deserts, in primordial jungles, in quiet forests and sweltering city streets. Lives taken, souls given up to whatever god they prayed to, or to no god at all.
The shattering leaden truth as searing metal met flesh and bone. His knee crumpling from the white hot pain of its passing. Tasting the blood soaked mud forced past his lips as his body was no longer able to win the battle with gravity. The helpless feeling of the blessed abyss beyond the pain as he was loaded onto the evac chopper.
"Your career is over son, your country will be forever grateful for your sacrifice."
Alexander woke with a start, a thin sheen of sweat covering his body, sheets sticking to him like a shroud. His blond hair, streaked with auburn highlights like a sunset, lay matted to his head.
Six cities in six months since his discharge and still the memories came in his dreams.
No labor was hard enough, no day long enough to keep the ghosts of his past at bay. The moonlight lit his silhouette as his shoulders slumped, unbidden tears falling like a summer rain down his cheeks as he held his head in his hands.
'Is this all there is, is this all there will ever be?'
His unspoken lament sent out to the universe, a desperate plea from a wounded soul.
Shaking off his dreams Alexander stood, running his fingers through his hair before rubbing the ache in his knee. While beaten down he was not beaten, he would once again get up and try, keep the small flame of hope that burned in his soul to belong, to find his place in the world, alive, fueling his burning need to belong.
Turning on the light he grabbed the map, it had been the same since he was discharged, a glance at a map, a name that jumped out at him and he was off. There was no rhyme or reason behind the choices, simply chance. It felt right for some inexcplicable reason as Alexanders eyes wandered over the map, drawn north to finally land on Red Lodge.
'Sooner or later it will be the right choice.' Alexander thought to himself as he stepped away from the table to shower and hit the road, hope flaming high within him that this place would be the one to at least stand a chance of becoming home.
Alexander enjoyed being on the road. His hair, now grown out held tight under a black bandana, the wind buffeting against his body, the unknown around every corner.
He had seen the world as he wanted to. Not everyplace lived up to the expectation, but more often than not they were more than he imagined, more than he could have ever dreamed.
In the moments between doing his duty and putting his training to the test he would simply be in the world, be present for it, take in the inherent magic that most people were too busy, too blind or too reticent to see.
He had hoped a place would capture his soul, send an unheralded message that this was home, where he belonged. None ever had and just as the lines waiting for a family to choose him had jaded that hope, so too did the ever increasing line of places and people behind him held no hold on his heart.
Leaving Borger, TX was not something to lament. As was his habit it was a random choice, big enough to have jobs available, small enough that he could keep to himself.
As he passed over the Texas/Oklahoma border he realized that as he had jumped around the country since his discharge he had stayed shorter and shorter amounts of time in his chosen towns.
The restlessness in his soul seemed to be getting worse, harder to contain.
His simple question, thought as the open plains of Oklahoma gave way to the growing hills of Colorado had been plaguing him more and more. Why the wander lust, what was he searching for? He had all but given up on his hope for a family many years before, with his career cut short he was at loose ends, drifting, hoping to find something to grab onto, but having no clear idea as to what it was.
By the second day the slow rolling hills had become the dominant feature, breaking the passing scenery into glimpses at the crest and trough of each earthen wave he traversed.
Colorado had passed in a blur as he let the hum of the tires and the beautiful scenery soothe his questing mind.
He had made good time through Wyoming, stopping here and there to sketch a vista that was unique and caught his passions. The further north he traveled the more settled he became. It was the first time he had ventured into the Rockies, was unprepared for their allure, the gentle pull of their ancient countenance.
Day four dawned cool and clear. The sun rising over mountains in the distance, the Rockies whispered their siren song from the horizon. He had found a small overlook to camp at the night before just outside of Cody, WY. It had been his habit to simply pull over at some out of the way spot and sleep under the stars. It had been so for as long as he could remember.
Even back at the orphanage many a morning the sisters found him sound asleep on the roof. No matter how many times or types of locks they used, he always seemed to find his way to sleep under the open sky, the stars and moon his only companions.
Alexander stood in his jeans looking out over the sunrise. It had been a cool night camped out at the small park along the winding back road through the mountains. He figured he would make it to Red Lodge, Montana today if traffic and the universe were amenable. A small blaze of hope that this place would hold what he was searching for.
The sound of the mans voice from near by caught Alexander completely off guard. He couldn't remember the last time anyone had been able to approach him so closely without his knowledge.
He turned warily.
"It is that." Alexander said quietly as he looked the man over.
The older man was tall, nearly 6'2", just under Alexanders own height. Hints of gray at his temples and close cropped hair gave him an air of authority. The badge pinned to his shirt and the Beretta at his hip completed the picture.
"You just passing through son?"
The question was asked lightly, with a neutral tone meant not to convey any hint as to what the right answer would be. It was not the question that made Alexander stiffen, it was the easy familiar tone he used the affectation "son" with.
Alexander knew it was common, but each time he was confronted with it, always the lasting echo of...son... was accompanied by pain.