~Chasing the Wind~
Part Six: Free
Corwin, open the door, Michael instructed.
Cory ignored him as he cupped cold water in his hands and then splashed it on his face. He was done crying, or so he kept firmly telling himself. He wouldn't pout or whine anymore. Michael had caught him, fine. He'd marry the bastard and make his life miserable. Lor had abandoned him for Michael's side, fine. He'd somehow get over losing the only person who had ever been on his side and he'd maybe, someday, find someone to replace him. If he was lucky.
Don't make me break the door down, Michael threatened.
For a moment, Cory considered ignoring the threat, but Michael had never been one to make idle threats. If Cory didn't open the door, he was vaguely certain Michael would break it. The idea was almost amusing, and Cory let his spirits rise as he imagined Michael throwing himself against the door only to find it open. Cory actually laughed as he opened the door, the image completing itself with a picture of Michael on the floor with Cory standing over him, door open.
His mirth was short-lived, as he opened the door and found Michael standing on the other side. For a moment, they gazed at each other, and Cory could see the strain in Michael's expression. It was gone almost before he'd managed to recognize the lines of stress that made his fiancé look far older than he had any right to look. Miss me already, darling? he asked, forcing more scorn into his voice than he really felt. He was too tired for it.
Michael smiled, the lines of his face creasing into what looked to be genuine amusement. I always miss you, love.
Cory made a face and pushed past him. What are the chances of you letting me go downstairs to get something to eat? By myself?
I would have said pretty good, until you tacked on that last bit. Michael followed him as Cory moved to sit on the edge of the bed. The only bed. Cory refused to think about the size of the bed. There was a perfectly good bathtub he could sleep in. However I wouldn't mind going with you to get something to eat.
Please. If I have to suffer with your presence, we might as well just call up room service. He wasn't looking at Michael when he spoke, but when there was no immediate reply to his comment, he looked up. The brunet was standing between the bathroom and the bed, his back to Cory. There was a window in the general direction he was looking, but the curtain was drawn. There was a tension in Michael's body Cory couldn't remember seeing.
*So, what? He's not as calm as he normally is. So what?* Cory just wasn't used to seeing Michael as anything but the bastard he was used to. Michael was all smiles and pleasantness, until he had Cory pinned against the wall, and then he was dark and tempting and
If it makes you feel better, we can sit at separate tables, Michael finally offered. He turned around and smiled at Cory, as if there had never been a huge lapse in the conversation, a silent gap Cory didn't know how to deal with. I'm sure Loris wouldn't mind keeping you comp-
Cory bit out, interrupting Michael as he stood abruptly. Lor can burn in hell for the moment. He narrowed his eyes at Michael. And you can burn with him for all I care.
The smile on Michael's face dimmed and then disappeared into nothingness. Cory swallowed hard around his sudden unease. He had never seen such an empty look on Michael's face, and it hurt and scared him at once. The silence that time was longer and made all the worse by Michael's gaze. Cory wished he'd turn back to the wall already. Then Michael shook his head and strode to the door which lead to the rest of the suite, where a small sitting room and kitchenette were located. Let's go, Corwin.
Cory hesitated for a moment, then followed Michael out of the suite and towards the elevator.
Lor sighed as he ran a hand through his hair. Michael had given him a key and told him to order anything he wanted from room service. As long as he kept his door key and his identification card on him at all times, he could move about the hotel and get waited on without charge. It was Lindell's tab, after all.
The freedom from expense was nice, but his thoughts weren't on the menu in front of him, or the people around him. In all the years he and Cory had been friends they had never fought. He'd seen Cory angry, but it had never been with him. The look Cory had given him, the way he'd spoken had hurt. Still hurt, even hours after it had happened. He didn't like the situation at all and he liked it less that Lindell had spirited Cory away before Lor could speak with him. Not that Cory had seemed interested in talking, but Lor knew that once he'd gotten the ball rolling, Cory would spill everything.
It had been too long since they'd had an actual discussion, though. He wondered if he could still manage to get Cory to open up like he always had. That thought carried its own pain.
A glass was set in front of up, and he looked up to smile at the bartender. He had been told he could sit at the bar as long as he ordered something to drink and didn't try to order liquor. He could handle that. Being of legal age to drink wasn't exactly the biggest thrill he was looking forward to in life, and he could definitely live if he didn't get to experience it before he was of age.
Woman trouble? a friendly asked to his right. Lor turned his head at the male voice. His first impression, before he actually looked, was of a slight build and a fall of dark hair.
Best friend trouble, Lor corrected. He took a moment to take a drink from his glass before turning in his chair and giving the person beside him a better look. I didn't even see you sit down.
The young man turned his head and regarded Lor with green eyes. You were rather...focused. His voice was smooth and lightly accented. The stranger tilted his head and smiled, red lips in a pale face surrounded by black hair. Accent and semi-exotic features. Lor found himself mesmerized as the stranger lifted a glass and sipped through a straw, lips pursing around the plastic. The glass was placed quietly back on the bar and the young man turned to face Lor fully. he said softly, holding his hand out. The smile on his face had curved a little while, and the look he was giving Lor stated quite plainly that he was looking to get to know Lor beyond introductions.
Lor accepted the handshake and grinned back. Most people call me Lor.
Hello, Lor, Raven said. Lor couldn't place the accent, but it gave a musical lilt to the simple greeting. Then Raven waved a hand at their drinks. Would you like to find a table? I have a wonderful ear for listening.
Surprised, Lor could only stare at the man. You want to listen to me talk about my idiot best friend and his crazy fiancé?
Raven's smile widened, and then he laughed softly. The sound was as beautiful as his voice. In particular, no. But I would like to listen to you speak, and it might help you to relax if you can get everything off your shoulders. So saying, he picked up his glass and slid from the chair with a feline grace that had Lor nearly licking his lips. There's an empty table over there, unless you'd rather take this to the privacy of a room?
There was something teasing in the way Raven made the suggestion, and despite the way his body twitched and flood with heat, Lor thought it might really like to take Raven up on the invitation to his room. Common sense never had a chance to suggest he wouldn't be safe alone with a man he didn't know. The room is good, he finally answered.
came Raven's agreement as he sidled towards the lobby and the elevators. Lor followed, unable to take his eyes of the way the man's hips swayed in tight black pants. The shirt over his shoulder and torso was also tight, but shimmery, inviting Lor to touch. At the elevator, Raven turned around and smiled invitingly, one hip cocked to the side. What number?
Lor managed an answer as he took his key card from his pocket. The elevator doors opened, and Raven stepped inside, beckoning Lor to follow. One foot forward, and then a hand was on his shoulder and the doors were closing between them.
Can you help me? a female voice asked, a sultry purr in his ear. Lor was too distracted by the disappearance of Raven, as the elevator hummed its ascent and left him behind. The touch and the question finally registered, and he turned his head.
Yeah, maybe. The woman who smiled at him was blonde and tall. She pulled her hand back and smiled. Her body was curvy and buxom. The smile she gave him was pasted on with red lipstick inside a model's face. He swallowed his disappointment and crossed his fingers that Raven would wait for him.
My name is Adette. I was wondering if you could help me. I can't seem to find anyone to help me. My room is on the second floor, but there's something in front of the door. I can't get it opened.
Lor frowned and tried not to look as exasperated as he felt. The woman was beautiful, that was for sure, but he'd been about to get lucky with that lovely, sexy creature with the dark hair. Why don't you tell the desk?
I would, but- she waved towards the desk, where there was currently a crowd gathered and talking excitedly. She put a hand on his shoulder and trailed it down his arm. Her gaze was hot, and for the first time, Lor realized she was checking him out. I was hoping you could give it a little brawn and get it open for me. I'd be more than happy to reward you for your assistance.
His brain stuttered and then stopped. He had not one, but two beautiful people wanting him. Raven? Or Adette? Would they be willing to go for a threesome? Lor could handle having them both at once. Uh, yeah. We can wait for the elevator-
She shook her head and smiled as she pulled him by the hand toward the stairs. It's only a flight, and then my room is a few doors down.
He tried to protest, really he did, but then she pulled him forward and set his hand on her breast, and he forgot what he was going to say.
Cory stepped behind Michael into the elevator. There was another young man standing in the corner. Cory looked at him once and turned his attention away. The guy looked moody, and Cory doubted he could convince a stranger to help him escape his fiancé.
They reached the ground floor and the stranger moved quickly, stepping into the lobby before either Cory or Michael could move forward. There was a soft, fluid curse, and then he stalked towards the stairs. Cory gazed after him, then looked at Michael. What do you know, there are people stranger than you in this world.
Amusing, Corwin. Michael's voice said he was anything but entertained. He led the way towards the in-house restaurant. A tuxedoed man at the door greeted them, and then waved them towards a nearby table. Cory sat down and looked around, feeling out of place in the rather elegant surroundings. Michael had chosen a fancy hotel, and the restaurant was a reflection of that. Most of the other patrons were dressed up, the least casual of which in a suit and tie. Cory was wearing blue jeans and the same T-shirt he'd been wearing for a couple of days, and which had barely survived his tussle with Michael earlier that day.
Lovely place. I feel so at home, Cory snarled. He was feeling defensive and out of place, and Michael was easy to lash out at. Of course, Michael was also part of the reason Cory was feeling so mixed up inside, so he kind of liked to think of it as turn-about.
Michael didn't comment, as a waiter approached and gave them each a menu. Michael opened his hand held it low. He was obviously concentrating on his order, but he could see Cory and any move Cory made over the top. When the waiter reappeared, Cory hadn't even bothered to look at the menu. He watched as two crystal goblets were placed on the table, clear liquid inside.
What would sirs like to drink?
Cory repeated. He knew restaurants like this, with the upper-class clientele and snooty waiters and expensive food. His father and mother loved places like this, where they could flout their money and tell their friends later they'd eaten. It was another notch on the social climber´s belt. Cory felt sick.
Michael ordered his own drink, and when Cory refused to answer, to even look up, he heard Michael order a glass of juice for him. The waiter left again and Cory stared at the table. Cory ignored him. There was a sigh, and then Michael was sitting beside him instead of across the table. I'm sorry.
The apology finally caught Cory's attention, and he looked up into brown eyes. For what? It wasn´t that he didn´t want Michael to apologize, but his brain had never actually managed to conjure the image and he wasn´t entirely sure what Michael was saying sorry for.
For doing whatever it is which makes you hate me. It was said so simply, so... Cory frowned, looking at Michael's face, seeing the same blank look as earlier. Where were the humor and the laughter and the smug smile of the man who had everything he wanted?
Confused, and feeling cold and lost and so much more confused than he was before, if that was possible, Cory contradicted him. I don't hate you. The explanation Michael had been working up to seemed to disappear as he gave Cory a hard, challenging look. Hating you would require a lot more energy that what I'm interested in investing in you.
There was a flash of something, and then Michael was sitting back with a small smile on his face. Fair enough. We shall eat, then return to the room to sleep, I think. In the morning, I'll charter a plan back to Sheol and return you to the comfort of your parents home.
Oh, geez, thank you. So, the wedding is postponed until the weekend again? Cory asked snidely. He didn't want to go home. He didn't want to go back and have to face his parents and be forced to listen to their displeasure over his failed escape.
I believe the wedding is postponed until the week after never, Michael answered, laughing softly, almost bitterly, under his breath. That is what you have wanted, yes? Your liberation from my evil clutches.
For a moment, Cory could only stare at him, but then the words sank in and he stood up abruptly. What the fuck ever. He stalked out. He wasn't running. There wasn't anything to run from any longer.
By the time they'd walked to Adette's door, Lor's brain had returned to the elusive image of Raven and the tempting smile he'd been offered. Look, I'll get your door open, but I can't hang around. I have company waiting for me.
Adette smiled at him. What, you don't want to stay and keep me company?
It's not really that, just that... I don't want to keep him waiting, you know. It's kind of rude to invite a guest up and then ditch him.
She laughed as she unlocked the door. Trust me, Raven won't mind. She pushed the door open easily, but Lor was distracted by the way she was smiling.
You know Raven? he asked. He didn't pull away when she tugged on his arm and started to lead him into the room.
Of course. He's such a sexy man. She tugged again, this time harder, and he stumbled into the wall. The door slammed shut, and then she was pressed a gun to his temple as she leaned against his chest. Of course, he's a deadly assassin and since I'm stealing his target, it's a good idea for me to know who he is.
Lor squeaked as she pushed the gun harder into his skin, turning his head slightly.
I'm actually the bounty hunter hired to take you home. However, the sum I could get for killing you is a good deal higher and very tempting. She winked and leered, the look more mocking than seductive. And while you're cute, you're not worth losing all that pretty cash. Sorry.
My father- he started, only to be interrupted by her laugh again.
Your father offered me a nice little pocketbook of change, but it's nothing like what Raven was offered for you. And once I got in contact with the buyer — that'd be the one who's buying your death, by the way — and let him know I'd be willing to take the job for the same fee and could do it spectacularly...
She took a step back from him before shoved him deeper into the room. Lor stumbled at first, much like he had when she'd first pulled him in, then he turned and walked backwards away from her. Oh, I think Raven would have done a good job of making it a show.
Oh, I'm sure. The smile wasn't quite so charming anymore. It was edging on angry, actually. But, see, the man was more than willing to offer me the same price, once I told him I had you in my grip.
Excuse me? Lor said, returning the look with a glare of his own. I was in Raven's grip before yours, Adette.
Oh, I know that, sugar. But I also knew I could extract you from his clutches. She slid a hand down her chest, pulling the shirt tight across her breasts. You like pretty things, Loris Stevens?
He snorted and looked her over, unimpressed. Takes a lot more than tits and flirting to get me. Sorry to be a disappointment, but I do have something resembling taste.
Oh, I'm sure. I wonder what you would have done when Raven showed his true colors. Lor opened his mouth to retort that he probably would have reacted the same, but she pointed the gun at him and raised an eyebrow. I'm going to call your parents. I wonder how much they'll offer me to keep you alive.
Cory ended up in the bar. After he gave his ID card to the bartender to verify he was indeed a guest of the hotel, he settled at an empty table. Michael hadn't followed him, as far as he could tell. He was alone in a grand hotel with nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no best friend to plot with.
You look glum. The voice preceded a young man sitting across from him. Cory looked up and recognized the guy from the elevator.
Didn't find who you were looking for? he asked, voice unfriendly.
the man answered, frowning. He's been led off by his dick, it seems. Shame, really.
Cory nodded. Sounds like something Lor would do. Don't suppose it was a redhead with a newfound addiction to sex?
The man shrugged. Could have been. Wasn't exactly picky about who he slept with, either, it seems.
That sounds like Lor. Cory tried not to be wistful, but the anger was draining too quickly and being replaced by melancholy. He took a drink of the soda he had ordered.
Lor, Lor. That would be the guy. Green eyes closed for a moment. You'd be Cory, then.
Cory frowned. Who are you?
Raven answered, opening his eyes. He had the greenest gaze Cory had ever seen, and he wondered how much those contacts had cost the man. I don't suppose you've ever heard of a blonde woman named Adette?
No, but if she has big breasts and no morals whatsoever, then Lor's probably with her, Cory answered bitterly. At least there had been a reason for Lor to sleep with Sheena. *Which doesn't really make it better, I guess. What does it matter who he sleeps with or why?
Raven nodded and looked rather saddened by that. Cory wondered why, before recalling Lor's words from only a couple days before, about being willing to steal Cory's tricks.' Raven was cute enough, if someone didn't mind the hair-dye that made the poor guy look sickly pale. He was also too short, too small.
Out of curiosity, where is your fiancé? Raven asked.
Cory shook his head. Probably still in the restaurant. He really wasn't interested in Michael's whereabouts. And he's not my fiancé. He swallowed hard, feeling sick. It would figure. He finally gained his freedom, only to lose his best friend and be dropped back off to his parents. The former was too busy getting shagged and the latter two had never wanted him to begin with.
You don't sound all that happy about it, commented Raven. There was idle curiosity in his voice.
He would have snorted, if he could have denied it. Yeah, let me celebrate. Someone else who doesn't want me. Bitterness was a sour taste in his mouth, and he took a drink to wash it away.
Raven raised an eyebrow and looked for all the world like he couldn't care less. That was self-pitying.
The blond turned his head and said in a disgusted tone, If you don't like it, get back up and leave. Silence for a moment, the Cory looked back at him. Those green eyes were gazing at him through long dark lashes and Raven's face was inscrutable.
I'm waiting for the explanation of why you sound like a twelve year old who's been grounded. They stared at each other for a moment, and then Raven smiled and winked. Why don't you talk to me, since it looks like Lor and I aren't going to have our chat?
Please. I'm not second-rate entertainment. Despite the words, Cory wasn't really offended. The more he thought about it, the more easily he could envision Lor taking an interest in Raven. The guy was kind of cute, even if he wasn't taller than Cory, and he lacked warm brown eyes, and— Fuck. I need something harder to drink.
his companion asked.
Cory shook his head; he was unable to vocalize the twisted path his brain had just taken. My brain is just fucked. And I'm not, so, hey. He drained the last of the cola from his glass and pushed the glass towards the edge of the table. You don't really want to sit and listen to me whine, and I'm not about to offer whatever it is Lor was going to give you, since I doubt it was just the joy of his intellect.
Another laugh from across the table, and it was Raven who signaled for their glasses to be refilled. No offense to you, but you can't replace your friend. He chuckled again, but the joke was lost on Cory as the waiter appeared and replaced their glasses with fresh, full ones. However, I have time and no inclination to be elsewhere. What can it hurt to give the story to an unbiased third party?
*What can it hurt?* Cory considered the question, then smiled slightly. It started with my parents about three years ago. They hadn't allowed Cory to get a job all the while he was in high school, and upon graduation, they had told him he could wait until after college. However, they put off letting him go to a University; Instead, they sent him to a junior college where the tuition was significantly cheaper and he all but wasted three years of his life studying nothing.
That is a waste, Raven agreed.
Yeah, but it still cost less than sending me to school and it gave them a couple extra years to wrack up my debt. By the time I turned eighteen, not only was the business failing, but I was in debt to them. That damn Power to the Parent Act was still in effect, and my father decided I'd make a lovely bride to some creepy millionaire who couldn't get it up enough to actually court a lover on his own.
Raven laughed at the image, and Cory even had to snicker, remembering his own first impression. Then he shook it off as his thoughts caught up with the day, and he went on. Laugh all you want, but Michael isn't really a joke. He's a he's- he stopped, unable to finish the thought. I don't know what he is, but he's not a joke and it hasn't been funny.
I'm sure. It must have been a miserable year for you, then. Knowing you were going to be forced to marry him. Raven's voice was sympathetic. I can't imagine having that much freedom taken from me.
It sucked, Cory surmised. Then Lor and I managed to get out. My parents were in the chapel, already waiting. Michael was alone in escorting me to the damn alter, and all it took was a well-placed knee. He caught Raven's wince. Yeah, it was a low blow, but I was desperate. It was my wedding day and all I could think was that I'd really rather have been dead.
The humor vanished from Raven's face quickly. Death is never an answer. Not in a situation like that.
Cory flipped him off. I know that. Do I really look that stupid to you? He waved a hand, forestalling any answer from the dark-haired man. Anyway, we've been the run for almost a week, and Michael finally catches us only for Lor to make nice to him and him to call off the wedding.
Make nice? The rest of what Cory had said seemed to be ignored as Raven leaned towards him. What do you mean?
It's hard to explain, but all this time that I've been engaged to Michael, Lor has hated him and called him Lindell". He was on my side and there was no doubting that. He helped me escape, brought me this far. He's my best friend, right? But when we got here, Lor was he was friendly and joking, and his attitude for Michael wasn't as cold and mean and sarcastic. Like like something had happened to change the way he felt about him.
Raven took a moment to process that, which allowed Cory time to understand it, too. You think he's in love with Lindell?
Cory's answer was immediate, and he could feel the denial through the pain. No, not like that. It's not sexual. Not with Lor. If there had been an attraction before, I would have known about it. Lor isn't the type to keep that from anyone, let alone me. It's more like they reached an agreement.
And that's a bad thing? That your best friend was making nice to the guy who bought you as a groom and who, up until a bit ago, was going to be the man you lived with for the rest of your life?
It is a bad thing! It means something happened while I wasn't around and that something made Lor change his mind. Cory paused and tried to figure out why that was so bad, why it hurt. All this time, Michael has been Michael, and then suddenly he shows something different to Lor, but he's still just Michael with me.
That hurt, he realized. Some odd, twisted part of him thought of Michael as his and it was so unfair that Lor would see something Cory had continually missed, something which made Michael better than the perverted bastard Cory wanted to hold him to be.
You're jealous. It was a statement and Cory looked up into too-green eyes and gave the best glare he possibly could. Raven simply stared back, amusement gone. You're a very spoiled individual, Cory, if you're going to quibble over a man you don't want.
Shut up, Cory snapped. If you're going to be a jerk, you can go find yourself another table.
I'm quite happy where I am. You, however, probably wouldn't be happy, even if you somehow managed to gain everything you've ever wanted. Like now. You have the freedom from a man you supposedly detest, and you're wallowing in self-pity.
Cory started to stutter a protest. I-I do-
You don't want him and you don't want to be with him, but you'll be damned if Lor could see something good in him and you'll sit here and mope when the man gives you what you wanted, what you ran away for. Why? What is it about him letting you go that bothers you so much?
Shut up. Cory stood up to leave, but Raven moved quickly and shoved him back into his seat. Off-balance, Cory could only stare at him as the dark-haired man leaned across the table.
No. Listen up, little boy. You can't complain about getting what you want. He let you go. Take the chance to run back to your parents. If you don't want Lor as a friend, since he's too smart for you and sees more than you do, then find a new friend. Get on with your life. Go home.
Cory leaned forward, not trying to get up again but to add vehemence to his words. I don't have a home to go back to, I don't have parents who want me. I'm allowed to mope' and complain, and do anything else I want, because no one cares .
Raven gazed at him for a moment, then sat down and leaned back in his own seat. He's another person who doesn't want you, isn't he? Another person who doesn't want to keep you around.
A second of stunned silence on Cory's part, before anger overcame him. He shoved the table at Raven, tipping it over slightly and causing Raven's glass to fall into his lap.