Seventy-Two Hours Ch. 01byLoveBird1929©
Not like he had with Gage.
He absolutely refused to sit back and do nothing while history repeated itself by wrenching from his life the only other person of any true importance.
Flicking his gaze away from Saint's, he answered, "I can guess."
"So you think." Saint took a single step closer and Justice's eyes immediately flew back to the demon's with a silent warning for him to maintain his distance. "But I know you're not grasping the true magnitude of the iniquity you're allowing to happen so let me explain it to you in detail. I'm going to gleefully consume those virgins' souls, Justice. And by your complacency you're dooming them to spend an eternity in a personal hell, many of my own devising, where they'll be gruesomely tortured. Day in and day out they're going to pray over and over for the Lord, for me, for one of Hell's minions, for anyone, to kill them and to put them out of their misery, but no one will. Do you understand that, Justice? Do you understand the concept of eternity?"
"I get it."
"No, you don't get it," Saint spat. "You don't because you can't. Your puny, irrelevant mind won't let you." He shook his head in disgust. "Open your ears and truly hear what I'm saying to you. The punishments these boys and girls are going to suffer are far beyond your wildest imagination and will continue long after you've died peacefully in your bed an old man and long after your boy has either been beaten to death or died from an overdose—oh, come now, Justice, wipe that surprise from your puss. You're not stupid. You know deep in your heart Axl's destructive lifestyle is going to do him in long before Father Time gets an honest crack at him."
"Shut up." Justice's anger, his unwillingness to face the truth of Saint's statements, burst to the forefront. He growled, "Shut the fuck up."
"Ahhh, now you're starting to understand," Saint said, regarding Justice astutely. An unfeeling smile twisted the pierced corner of his lip upwards. "Now you get it. You and Axl are going to doom five virgins for an eternity so Axl's pitiful existence can be extended by, at best, a few years. What a fucking exchange. When this is all over, if Axl prevails, I know he will be able to live with his actions as he faithfully trots to the nearest crack house searching for that next high. But what about you, Justice? Will The Savior of Innocents, the leader of The Forgotten, be able to forgive himself for his part in all of this?"
Saint turned on his heel and strode to the door, calling over his shoulder, "Like I said, Justice, you're no savior. Quite the opposite, in fact, because Axl is far from pure. What he is, however, is a fool. And as his defender, I'm sure you can guess what that makes you."
The biggest fool of fools.
"One soul has already been delivered to me. One soul whose condemnation rests squarely at your feet. Only four more to go, Justice."
Tormented, Justice listened to the demon's departure which was as silent as his arrival had been. He only knew he was alone once more by the absence of the energy which had filled the air with Saint's presence.
The pleasure of dealing with this demon for seventy-two hours was the gift Axl had given to Justice for his birthday. But Justice had a strong suspicion the effects of his short stay would perpetually torture him for the remainder of his life.
Assuming, of course, he was allowed to leave with his life.
Happy-fucking-birthday to him.
January 21, 1999
Cold. He was so very cold.
Despite the fractured rays of sunlight streaming into the room, Axl was freezing. The weak light filtering through the few clean streaks of the filth covered window did nothing to dispel the frostiness which had seeped into his bones throughout the night while he slept on the hard, tiled floor of his furnitureless bedroom.
Shifting his form beneath the pile of foul smelling, threadbare blankets covering him, Axl turned fully away from the wall he huddled against and stared at the pale gray sky out the window located directly across from him. He wasn't one hundred percent certain, but he suspected the dreariness of the morning had more to do with the filmy glass than with the wintery morning itself. Only way to find out for sure would be for him to get up and walk over to the window and scrub a clean spot to peer out of.
But that wasn't going to happen.
Because, in addition to the cold he felt so strongly at the moment, Axl was physically weak. To the point he could hardly move. A result of living for days in an unheated house in the middle of a harsh, snowy Detroit winter. And with neither food nor water to sustain his already half-starved body.
Axl had felt a flicker of fear the day before when the acute pains filling his belly had gradually faded to nothingness. They'd been a part of him for so long that when they were at long last gone he hadn't been able to at first identify the difference he felt within himself. When he did finally figure it out, he'd known at once what it signified.
At eight years of age, Axl Thomas had been forced to face a knowledge no eight year old should ever be forced to deal with. He was going to die. Soon. And it was at that very moment he'd determined he wasn't going to do it while scared.
He had enough companions as it was with his numbed out hunger, his fierce desire to stay alive and his frozen body all keeping him company.
All these companions...yet he was still so all alone.
He'd been abandoned. Less than a week ago, Axl had awoken to discover his mother had departed. No note had been left. No explanation given beforehand.
The night before, she'd been there. The morning after, she hadn't.
On first discovering her absence, Axl hadn't been alarmed. It wasn't the first time she'd disappeared in the middle of the night and in the past she'd always come home within a day or two. Sometimes she came home with strange men accompanying her who she would then lock herself in her room with for hours on end, sometimes she came home with a few days worth of groceries with which Axl would fill his hollow tummy and sometimes she just came home with nothing at all but a happier, gigglier her.
But she'd always returned home.
It was on the dawn of the third day Axl had recognized this absence was different from the others. His mother wasn't coming back this time.
Hurt and scared, Axl had relinquished the tradition he always kept to on those occasions his mother left unexpectedly. Craving the comfort of her, he always slept on the mattress located on the floor of her bedroom until she returned. But knowing there was no more comfort to be found in his mother, Axl had stripped the blankets from the mattress revealing a multitude of stains, of unknown origins, in varying shades of brown and yellow. He'd carted them all over to his own room and made a pallet for himself on which he'd slept for the next two nights.
And it was where he was going to die, that very day, before it was dark outside, if he didn't make himself get up.
Legs shaking, Axl forced himself to his feet. Dizziness assaulted him and his muscles cramped. He swayed unsteadily and leaned against the wall for support. Once the illness passed, he determinedly trudged to the front door where he retrieved his sole pair of rundown shoes from the entry closet which was empty other than his thin spring jacket.
After tying his laces and covering the top part of his too small pajamas under his inadequate outerwear, he'd squared his shoulders, ready to follow through with the decision he'd made. Since his mother was no longer going to provide for him, it was now up to Axl to take care of himself.
He was going to live.
Or die trying.
Ten minutes later, Axl sped out of the neighborhood market and down the street, dirty snow crunching under his feet, mindless of where he was going. He cradled his treasure tight to his chest: a king size package of Reese Cups. Since he didn't hear the yelling or pursuit of the store owner behind him, he didn't think he'd been spotted, but he still ran as fast as the excitement behind the force of his pumping legs would allow. He didn't break momentum until he was several streets away and, when he did, he immediately ripped into the orange package.
He'd swallowed two cups whole, and was reaching for the third, when a raspy voice called, "Damn, boy, slow down and chew before you choke yourself."
Wide eyed, Axl's attention swung to the top steps of the apartment building he'd stopped in front of and the two men standing there. One was totally hidden in the shadows cast by the building's overhang, but, as far as Axl could tell, he wasn't the one who'd spoken. No, it was the other man who'd issued the warning. The one dressed in faded blue jeans and a dark brown leather jacket with a tan wool cap covering his head. Smoky tendrils, part byproduct of the cigarette clamped between his lips, part frigid air, drifted upwards in loose curls to obscure a clear view of his face.
"With the way he's wolfing them down, J, bet he lifted the candy from old man Hardy's store," shadow man said. "You're lucky Hardy didn't catch your ass, kid. He prosecutes everyone over the age of eighteen for stealing. Younger than eighteen, yeah, you're real lucky you didn't get caught."
Axl knew stealing was wrong, he really did, but he wasn't giving up the only food he'd had for days. Not without a fight. Ripping off the paper lining of the third cup, he let it flutter to the ground where it landed next to the other two, presenting a design of crumpled circles of brown on top of a backdrop of dirt colored snow, and hurriedly stuffed the sweet into his mouth. He skittered backwards a step, keeping a close eye on his audience, as his molars tore through chocolate in search of the peanut butter center. His teeth ached from the sweetness and his stomach grumbled for more.
"Why you out here stealing?" J asked around his cigarette. "It's not even ten yet and your bad ass is already up to no good. Shouldn't you be in school or something? And what's the deal with the chocolate? That's not breakfast. And, shit, you're young. What are you? Six? Seven?"
"I'll be nine in a few months," Axl answered defiantly. He made short work of disposing of the last remaining treat the same way he had with the first three.
"Nine in a few months," J scoffed. He passed his smoke to his friend then descended to the street. Stopping when he stood right in front of Axl, he contemplated him thoughtfully. "Eight is still a baby. And babies do not have any business out here stealing at nine something in the morning. Especially not chocolate and especially not from fucking pedophiles."
Axl didn't know if the shiver he desperately tried to suppress was in response to the biting cold. Or a response to seeing the vicious scar which started at the center of J's forehead, cut down sharply through his right eyebrow on its way safely around his right eye to the top of his cheek and its final destination behind the lower part of J's right ear.
"I ain't no fucking baby. And I don't care if Hardy is a pedophile," Axl proclaimed bravely although he didn't know what the word meant. He lifted his chin. "I take care of myself."
"Is that so?" Light brown eyes raked Axl's thin form from head to toe. A frown marred J's brow as his gaze traveled back upwards. "Ain't ain't a word. And you're not doing such a good job, little man. Who's your mom and where is she? She know you out here wildin'...fucking hell," J breathed as some type of realization hit home. "Yo, King," he said to his companion, not removing his eyes from Axl. "I think we got us a solution to that CPS situation. I bet this is Lauren's boy."
The response which came from the shadows was clear and concise. "Bout time he surfaced."
Hearing his missing mother's name, spoken right after the sentence where he'd been identified as a "solution to that CPS situation", was enough incentive for Axl to whirl in the direction he'd just come from, towards the only home he currently knew, and start running again. He managed two steps before a strong hand clamped onto his wrist which held the empty Reese cup package and spun him back around. The force of the grip forced his trash to the ground to keep company with the rest of the litter that was the sad remnant of Axl's breakfast.
"Uh-uh, not happening. You're coming with me. Child Protective Services been round here causing problems searching for your little ass ever since I discovered your mother's...fuck, uh, shit. Yeah, you're definitely coming with me."
Axl fought his captor like crazy. He clawed at the hand restraining his wrist and drug his feet along the pavement as he was jerked towards the stairs. "I d-d-don't want to go to no CPS. I j-just want..." he took a deep, shuddering breath, pinched J hard, then shrieked, "I just want my mom back!"
"Fucking hell," J said again, gruff voice harsher. He stopped moving and glared down at Axl. "Stop all that scratching and pinching, boy! You're not a pussy ass bitch! You mad, somebody does something you don't like, then hit them, damn it!"
Immediately, Axl stopped struggling. Then swung his free arm in a wild arc which connected with J's scarred cheek.
"Oh, shit," King called from the safety of his shadows, chuckling. "That hit looked solid, J."
"It was," J confirmed.
Frightened, Axl was two seconds from blurting an apology in hopes of wiping clean the shuttered expression which had cloaked J's face when J said to him, "I let go of you, you give your word not to run?"
"I won't run," Axl responded, willing to say anything to make the man turn him loose so he could make his escape.
"Your word is the only thing of true worth you'll ever have. It's what elevates the few great men of this world from the legion of the average. A great man knows his word is bound to his life for the rest of his life and he doesn't give it unless he means it." J tightened his hold on Axl. "So, for the second time, I ask, if I let go of you, do you give your word not to run? I advise you to answer truthfully this time."
After a long silence, Axl repeated, "I won't run."
But this time he did meant it. There was no point in running anyways. J was bigger than Axl, probably faster than Axl and would very easily catch and overpower Axl. And if he ran, all Axl would've done is wasted energy he didn't have to waste while making a bad situation worse.
Besides, J didn't really seem all that angry over Axl punching him. And he evidently had some type of knowledge about Axl's mother and Axl really wanted to know why she'd left him.
Wanted to know why she didn't want him anymore.
"Where's my mom?" he asked quietly. "Do you know where she is?"
J relaxed his hold on Axl's wrist and Axl pulled free. "She's, ah, hell, we'll get to that. Eventually. But first you need a hot meal. I bet you haven't eaten real food in days, have you? And you also need a bath. And some clean, warm clothes that fit."
Tears burned Axl's eyes as J removed the tan cap covering his buzzed hair and placed it on Axl's head instead. It wasn't much, but it offered a shade more warmth than what Axl had previously had. He cherished the extra...and longed for more.
But not if it meant being turned in to CPS and trundled from foster home to foster home. He'd had friends before who lived in foster homes, always short lived friendships because either Axl and his mother moved away or because his friends were shipped to another home. Axl never heard from them again, but he knew they were never adopted. They were too old with too many issues. Issues which had been picked up, oftentimes, in the foster homes in which they had been placed.
Axl had heard their horror stories. He'd seen the bruises. He knew what went on when the lights went out. And while life as a squatter with his own mother had never been good, it was still better than that.
"I don't want to go to no CPS," Axl whispered, wiping his eyes, determined not to cry. "I don't want to live in no foster home."
"Yeah, can't say I blame you. Been there, done that. Didn't much enjoy it myself." J lifted a hand to his face and fingered his scar, a tormented expression flashing across his features. Quick as it had come, it was gone and he'd returned his hand to his side. "No CPS. No foster homes. Trust me?"
Axl stared at J. He knew he didn't have very many options to choose from. Back to a cold house and certain death by freezing or starvation? No. CPS? No.
Tentatively, Axl grabbed the hand he'd just tried his damndest to injure. "Trust you."
"Alright, then, now that we've got that settled, let's get some food in you." J grinned at him. "And, damn, boy, you got a wicked right hook. And mad heart to swing on me like that. I respect a man with heart since not everyone has it. And it's something I can work with. Cultivate."
As they started for the steps again, hand-in-hand, Axl found himself wondering why J cared when Axl's own mother didn't anymore. The question must've shown on his face.
"Because," J explained, looking down at him, "that's what I do. I provide a family to boys and girls when they no longer have one they can rely on. All I ask for in return is their loyalty. Can you give that to me, little man?"
Axl nodded his head.
Axl bobbed his head up and down again. "For life."
"Welcome to Los Olvidados. You're going to hold the honor of being our youngest member inducted to date, but, hell, I can't leave your ass hanging. Especially since..."
"What's Los Olvidados?" Axl questioned when it became clear J wasn't going to finish his thought. He had a strong suspicion it had something to do with his absent mother. And he had a stronger suspicion it was something J wasn't ready to talk about with Axl just yet.
"Your new family. First thing you need to know is that you can leave whenever you want, no strings attached, but you'll always be one of us. Second thing is that if you do decide to leave you must always remember our secrets are your secrets and they can never leave your lips. When you die, they die with you." J paused at the top step, opening the door to the apartment building. "King, hold things down out here."
"Got ya, Justice," King replied. As Axl shuffled into the warm, dark interior of the apartment building, King, still shrouded in shadows, said to him, "And no more stealing from Hardy, kid. He touches one of The Forgotten, he dies. So it's only fair not to tempt him."
January 15, 2011
The memory featuring a filthy, malnourished eight years old Axl's very first meeting with the then eighteen years old Justice was the one which had sealed Justice's fate in the predawn hours of a morning twelve years in the future from that day. Truthfully, any of the tons of other memories Saint had discovered while delving into Axl's mind which came after that initial meeting would've been reason enough for Saint to have chosen Justice.
For example, there was the memory of the authoritative teen confidently inviting the CPS case worker into his apartment's living room and quietly advising the man, at gunpoint and in front of Axl no less, to close his file on Axl Thomas, to leave and not to ever return. Or there was the memory of Justice furnishing his spare bedroom specifically for Axl, including the child's first bed, weather appropriate clothing and a shit load of the latest in high tech electronics.
There was the memory of a naked Axl riding an equally naked Justice on the carpeted floor of Gage's bedroom when Axl was eighteen and Justice twenty-eight.
There was the knowledge of the true depth of Axl's love for Justice. And the fact that the reason Axl kept spiraling wildly out of control was due to Justice's failure to see that love and accept it.