Happy Valentine's Day, my readers! As a thank-you to everybody who's waited so patiently while I shopped the Dust & Ash series to publishers, I'm posting up a special prequel story.
As a disclaimer, because I try to be scrupulous about that kind of thing, this story contains sexual activity between minors.
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DUST BEFORE ASH
By Tucker McCallahan © 2016
This is a copyrighted work of fiction. All rights reserved.
The lights in the hallway to the laundry room were broken.
Micah took in the gloom, the whiff of sulfur in the air, and the bits of broken glass still on the floor. He gazed down the hallway to where the heavy doors to the camp laundry room stood closed.
They were only supposed to be closed in emergencies.
Micah shook his head in disgust. It fucking figured. He quickly arranged his things into a bundle he could hold with one arm, eyes watchful. It was Monday, too, dammit.
He stalked down the hall taking slow, deep breaths to center himself. Sure enough, when he got within two yards of the doors, they opened. Micah recognized a member of Malos, one of the Hispanic gangs from So Cal. Despite his sneer and amateur ink, dude only hit Micah at mid-chest and was probably forty or fifty pounds lighter. Micah dropped his small bundle of laundry to the floor and loosened his stance.
It wasn't even a scuffle. Couple love taps and dude hit the floor.
Micah scooped up his laundry and rushed through the doors.
He heard them before he saw them. The steady hum of the machines backed a chorus of hoots and catcalls, punctuated by regular swearing, thudding, and thumping as three Malos wailed on somebody.
It was the new kid. Little white-haired ghost of a skate punk had arrived at El Paso de Robles School for Boys and Los Robles Camp right after New Year's. In just over a month he'd managed to almost off himself twice. Word around the camp was that he was a meth-head, bent, and totally fucking insane. At the present moment, three Malos fucktards were tearing his uniform off as they forced his legs open.
The gravity of that situation clearly outweighed any other concerns Micah might've had about the kid. He dropped his shit and launched his considerable bulk at the attackers.
Gangbangers were such pussies.
Micah's mitt of a hand closed around number-one's throat. Fingers sinking into damp skin, Micah yanked the closest guy off the kid and tossed him face-first into the wall. Number-two was too busy pulling his dick out to notice his friend slide to the floor, nose bloody and his eyes unfocused. Micah got a glance of the kid's face all pounded to hell, and then Micah's knee slammed into number-two's balls. He crumpled against a washing machine and heaved, vomiting everywhere. Number-three whipped around and rushed at Micah, the scraps of the kid's uniform pants falling from his hands. Micah dodged a sloppy combination that didn't even come close to connecting. With a lunge, Micah rotated from the hips up through his torso into his shoulders and threw all two hundred pounds behind his wrist. The power jab took number-three squarely in the face.
One by one Micah dragged the homeboys to the double doors and bodily tossed them out of the laundry room into the dark hallway. He had no way of knowing how much more time they had before somebody investigated why the lights were smashed. His left hand throbbed to the rhythm of his accelerated heartbeat. He shook it out and it hurt worse, but not even the possibility of a broken hand could dampen Micah's spirits. The whole world looked brighter and smelled sharper. It had been a nice little scuffle.
Micah jogged back over to where the kid huddled mostly-naked on the laundry room floor. One arm hugged his torso as he carefully wiped his swollen face. He peered up at Micah. His eyes were like creamy, golden toffee. Combined with his white-blond hair, the kid had an exotic look no amount of snot, sweat, or blood could ruin. A wave of protectiveness welled up inside Micah. Something clicked, and suddenly everything Gregos had been trying to tell him for the last three years made perfect sense. Micah stared at the kid with equal parts of wonder and gratitude.
The kid spit a mouthful of blood on the floor and winced. "Thanks," he whispered. His voice was surprisingly deep.
"Micah. Been watching you, blondie. You got a death wish?"
"No." At Micah's disbelieving smirk, the kid sighed. "Just…" He shifted on the floor and grimaced, an involuntary moan slipping free. "Well…" Tears cut tracks through the mess on his face. "Yeah."
"Come on." Micah grabbed a clean white towel and pitched it at the kid. "Let's get you cleaned up. I think we should talk."
"Options? Options for what?"
"For you. Your future. Death isn't an option, man. There are other things that are far more satisfying."
Micah offered the kid his hand, but the kid ignored it. He crawled to the closest rumbling machine and used it to climb to his feet. One of his eyes was swelling shut.
"No offense, Micah, but I don't think you're my type."
"Yeah, I am. And you're totally my type." They couldn't hang out and rap here; they had to get the fuck out of Dodge. "Come on."
"Uh, maybe I'm not being clear. I'm gay. Really gay, not the play gay shit that the idiots here are doing till they get out."
Somehow the kid managed to look fierce despite being pulped only minutes before. A dozen scenes where Micah had thrown that same look at Gregos flashed through Micah's head, and he laughed. He jerked a dryer door open and rummaged through the contents. Micah offered the kid a pair of pants.
"I got a boyfriend who would eat you for breakfast, blondie."
The kid stared at him like Micah was going to use the uniform pants to strangle him. Micah tossed them at his feet. The kid had reason to be suspicious. He'd been jumped, beaten, and nearly raped.
"Sorry. But, if you've got a boyfriend, then…uh…"
"Doesn't matter. I'm not talking about sex." Micah's gaze roamed over the kid. OK, he shouldn't outright lie to his new protégé. "Not really.”
“What are you talking about?”
"C'mon." Micah moved several steps toward the double doors. "I've got all kinds of things to teach you."
A door slammed somewhere nearby. The kid jumped, then limped after Micah. After checking the hallway, Micah led the kid to the stairwell.
"Huh uh." The kid shook his head. "I'm not going in there."
"Kid, if I wanted your ass I could've joined the line in the laundry room."
Grumbling, the kid stepped into the stairwell. Micah followed him in and held the heavy steel fire door so it didn't slam behind them. He strode forward, leading the way down the stairs. The kid followed, still mumbling under his breath.
"I said I'm not a fucking kid. My name's Dustin."
"OK Dustin. What'd you do to piss Malos off?"
Dustin stopped and Micah, several steps ahead, paused to glance back at him. Dustin still hugged his torso with one arm, but Micah recognized the set of his body. Dustin was ready to run.
"Fuck kid, I'm not gonna hurt you."
"Look I need to know what's up in case I get questioned." Micah's sky blue eyes hardened. "You into them for dope?"
"Whatever." Micah led Dustin down to a door marked Maintenance Only. He opened it as carefully as he'd closed the other door. "I'm ten for homicide and I've already done two. You can't surprise me. Now what the fuck did you do to get on Malos' bad side?"
They stood in a maintenance tunnel partially lit by red emergency lights. Micah moved ahead and led the way, hunching down so his head didn't hit the reinforced archways of the tunnel. Dustin's answer sounded ghostlike as it reached Micah.
Micah let that tidbit roll around in his head. Just because Los Robles was a secure facility for minors convicted as adults, that didn't mean it was any different from a regular prison. Dustin's suicide attempts might've saved his life. Malos was notorious for their hatred of sex offenders.
Hitting a junction, Micah made a hard left and led Dustin from the camp tunnels to the school tunnels. Hopefully he could get Dustin to the infirmary before Malos found out their boys had failed. Otherwise, the kid would get his wish. He'd be dead within a week.
Dustin stood in the doorway to Micah's room. Everything he owned was stacked in a pile on the lower bunk.
It was a damn small pile.
Micah was in the middle of the floor doing push-ups.
"Just a sec. Have to finish the set." If he was counting, he was doing it silently. After four more push-ups, Micah stood. He was exactly like Dustin remembered: massive. He stretched his arms out, muscle straining the seams of his uniform shirt, and tilted his head left and then right. He pointed to Dustin's things.
"Didn't know if you wanted top or bottom." Micah's blue eyes sparkled. "I like both."
Dustin tried to scowl, but his swollen face refused. One day and one night in the infirmary hadn't done shit for a broken nose and a bunch of broken ribs. They hadn't even given him anything for pain, just doped him up on even more psych meds and kicked him out. He fully expected to land in protective custody, which was what Los Robles called solitary confinement. The director had been pissed that Dustin wouldn't say a word about the beating. Instead of a nice empty room to call his own, though, Dustin was escorted to a new room.
Dustin stomped over to the bunk beds, throwing the best glare he could manage in Micah's direction.
"I've got broken ribs, dumbass. If you want to sleep on the lower bunk, I'll crash on the floor." Dustin deliberately refused to look at Micah. The psych meds might've kept the dragon asleep, but they did little to improve Dustin's mood.
Micah shrugged and dropped back down onto the floor. He resumed his push-ups.
Dustin sat on the bed, but his ribs hurt like a motherfucker. He tried to lay down and couldn't get comfortable that way, either. Even just lying flat on his back was excruciating. He shifted, moving gingerly, and a huge body pillow landed beside him. Micah sat down on the floor beside the bed.
"You need it way more than I do."
"You look miserable."
Dustin closed his eyes. He might've been willing to believe a guy that looked like Micah would pull the savior routine. But ending up in Micah's room? The bad pun about tops and bottoms? Now Micah offered exactly what Dustin needed to sleep? Dustin sighed and managed to roll enough that he could see Micah.
"Look. Thanks for helping me out Monday. But I'm not gonna be anybody's bitch in here, especially yours."
"I figure since I'm here, you've got some pull with the director. Just tell him to dump me in solitary. Or back in the psych ward."
Dustin's mouth snapped shut at the tone of Micah's voice.
"You know what Fate is?" At Dustin's confused look, Micah continued. "Fate. Predestination. The idea that our choices aren't really choices. Any of this ringing a bell?"
"I don't believe in Fate. I'm here because of my choices. I know how real they are."
"You mean you think you know. You being here? It's Fate."
"No. It's fault. Mine."
"Ever heard the story of Oedipus?"
Dustin's head was ready to spin off. The anti-psychotics and anti-depressants made him feel heavy and dull. The last thing he wanted to talk about was Greek tragedy.
"Yeah. Guy killed his dad and fucked his mom. Could we talk about this next week?"
"No. How about Aristotle? Ever read his On Interpretation?"
"No. I'm tired."
"You're not tired; you're drugged. Pay attention."
"Did you miss where I said I wasn't gonna be your bitch?"
"I ignored it. And I'm not gonna leave you alone until you listen."
"Oh my god. You're like a toddler!"
"Aristotle said a chair is a chair, no matter what language we use to describe it. The thing, the chair itself, is a chair no matter what. With me?"
"A chair is a chair." Dustin's deep voice came out in a flat monotone.
"Right. He then tells us every statement is, out of necessity, either true or false."
"Well that's not right."
""Except it is. You just admitted it." Micah pointed at the pillow. "That is a pillow. Now my statement is either true or false. If that's a pillow, then it's true. If that's not a pillow, then it's false."
"Sure. A chair is a chair. A pillow is a pillow. True is true, false is false, and I'm tired."
"And I'm about to prove to you that we're gonna have sex and it's Fate. Even if you say no now, it'll still happen."
"Not in this fucking lifetime."
"Sex between us will occur. Sex between us will not occur. Based on Aristotle's method, if one of those statements is true, then the other is false."
"Right. We're not ever gonna fuck, so that's the truth."
"Let's say though, that I'm right. Sex between us will occur. If that's true, then it's always been true. It's even true now, before it's happened."
"You talk in riddles. You're like a damn sphinx."
Dustin really was tired. He'd slept like shit in the infirmary. Micah's body pillow was the perfect firmness and it smelled really good, like some kind of musky cologne. He relaxed into it and wanted to weep at finally being comfortable. He was fully willing to listen to Micah babble for use of the pillow.
"Think about it. If my statement was always true, then sex was always going to happen. But if sex was always going to happen, then it's impossible for sex not to happen. That means that sex can't not happen."
"If something can't not happen, that means it has to happen. If it has to happen, then it's necessity, and whatever choices you make don't really matter." Micah jumped up and went to one of several large stacks of books against the wall. He pulled one free and flipped through it. "I'm probably not saying it the best way. Aristotle is a lot easier to understand."
Micah found the section he wanted.
"OK, this is it. '…If it was always true to say that it was or would be, it could not not be, or not be going to be. But if something cannot not happen it is impossible for it not to happen; and what cannot not happen necessarily happens. Everything, then, that will be will be necessarily.'" Micah slapped the book closed with a triumphant smile. "Which means you being here? Fate. Us meeting? Fate. Sex? Fate."
All Micah got for his philosophical proof was a soft snore. Dustin was out cold, carefully wrapped around Micah's body pillow.
Micah returned Aristotle to his place, dropped back down to the floor, and resumed doing push-ups, a smile on his face.
Despite their rocky start as roommates, Micah and Dustin got along pretty well. If Micah wasn't eating, sleeping, or attending classes, he was either reading or exercising. Sometimes he read while he exercised. They got free time in the evenings, but Dustin had no desire to be in any of the common areas.
Surprisingly, Micah didn't socialize either. He occasionally went to the weight room, but he didn't play basketball, cards, or watch TV.
Unlike the crazy "sex can't not happen" debate, most of what Micah said was logical, practical, and made sense. He was starting his third year at Los Robles; he had their system and rules memorized. After a few weeks, Dustin stopped getting angry at Micah's sexual puns and double entendres. That was just Micah's personality, and as he'd proven over time, he wasn't going to hurt Dustin or force him into sex.
What Micah did push Dustin into was school. Back in Flordeperla, all Dustin had really cared about was getting high, skateboarding, and playing the drums. School was the place he went to see his friends and score meth. When Micah found out how far behind Dustin was, he insisted Dustin attend classes and do homework, often tutoring him. Dustin discovered a love for reading that rivaled Micah's, and in no time stacks of books cycled through their room from the county library's loan system.
The cuts, scratches, and bruises from the Malos attack faded. Dustin's ribs healed. Instead of watching Micah exercise, Dustin joined him, usually doing about a quarter of whatever Micah was doing.
They talked for hours. Dustin had been born and raised in San Diego, while Micah was a San Francisco native. One of their favorite topics of conversation was Southern California versus Northern California. Micah had no intention of ever leaving the state; Dustin couldn't wait to move as far away as humanly possible.
That duality permeated their relationship. Though they were both born in July and Cancer signs, they were as different as night and day. A lot of their conversations became debates, usually with Micah whipping out whatever philosopher he was currently reading to back up his argument. Several times their arguments got loud and passionate enough to bring staff to their door. That inevitably meant the nurse who made rounds first thing every morning stuffed extra drugs down Dustin's throat. His regular meds were so heavy Dustin napped every afternoon, so Micah did his best to keep his enthusiasm under control. He didn't like Dustin all drugged out any more than Dustin liked being that way.
The two settled into a routine together, a nice, comfortable friendship.
Dustin sat at his desk. He had an English essay to write and had spent the last hour procrastinating. A number-two pencil in each hand, he drummed on his book and paper, head bobbing to the rhythm. He looked over at Micah who was buried in some new book by Jean Genet.
For the last week, Dustin couldn't look at Micah without getting an erection. It wasn't just how massive and muscular he was, Dustin had never had a friend like Micah. He knew all about Micah's boyfriend, the very amazing, very rich, very old Dr. Kalogeros, which meant Dustin knew the relationship was open. He didn't understand it, but he knew Micah wasn't lying. Dustin's relationships had all been so awful, but his friendship with Micah was perfect.
Dustin missed being touched. He was alone in the world at fifteen. He didn't just miss being touched, he needed it so badly. Gathering his courage, he cleared his throat.
"Hey…remember that talk we had about Aristotle?"
"What talk?" Micah didn't glance up. "That paper is due Monday."
"I know. I'll get it done. You tried to explain Aristotle to me and I fell asleep. Remember?"
This time Micah turned in his chair. His blue eyes sparkled.
"You mean when I proved we'd end up having sex. I remember."
"Well, you didn't prove it."
""If something can't not happen, then it has to happen."
"But wasn't your whole argument based on your statement being true? What if it wasn't?"
Other than the visits he got from Gregos every two weeks, debating philosophy was what made Micah happiest in the world. His eyes gleamed and he turned his chair around so he could face Dustin.
"OK. Let's say your statement was true. What was it again?"
"That sex wouldn't happen."
"If that's true, then it's always been true. That's Aristotle's theory, right?"
"Yeah, see, I actually had a question about that."
"Well if what I said was true, there'd have to be a reason for it to be true."
"Forget Aristotle." Dustin had long since stopped drumming with his pencils. He stood up and tried to ignore his shaking hands. He took the five steps to where Micah sat, and with every step, the vibe in the room got heavier. Dustin's voice was breathy when he finally spoke. "Is what I said true because sex between us would be bad?"
Micah's pupils expanded. Anything that came out of his mouth might ruin this, and he'd waited more than patiently. He stared up at Dustin and shook his head.
"Is it true because you're with Dr. Kalogeros?"
"No," Micah whispered. "You know that."
Dustin melted onto Micah's lap, one hand clutching at Micah's shirt for balance.
"Maybe we should conduct an experiment."
Dustin's head dipped, and his lips trembled as they met Micah's. Dustin moaned and sank into the kiss with everything he had. Micah took that for consent. His big arms wrapped around Dustin, one hand cupping the back of Dustin's head to hold him steady as they devoured each other.
Micah stood taking Dustin with him. He carried Dustin with one arm, mouths still locked, as he dragged his chair over to their door and wedged the back under the handle. In three steps they were at the bunk beds, and the body pillow went flying as Micah swept the lower bunk clear. He deposited Dustin on the mattress and rose up long enough to yank his uniform off.
Dustin had been fully solid since his ass met Micah's lap. Micah naked and looming over him was almost too good. Dustin scrambled to get his clothes off. He wanted skin, heat, pressure, and he wanted it all right fucking now.
Micah knew he was more experienced than Dustin. Their talks over the last seven weeks had strayed to sex and boyfriends more than once. He also knew what Dustin had done to end up in Los Robles. Micah gazed down and couldn't help blinking a few times. Dustin fully erect was…daunting.
"I'll bottom." Dustin reached out a hand to Micah with a smile. "This time."
Micah laughed, and suddenly everything was all right. He kissed Dustin's hand and then spun around, heading for his books. Micah grabbed his beat-up dictionary, opened it, and removed condoms. He dropped the paperback on the floor and stalked back over to Dustin grinning like a lunatic.
It was so good. Hands, warm lips, Micah's weight pressing Dustin down into the mattress. As Micah slid home, the burn and fullness almost eradicated how empty Dustin felt inside.
Though it felt like they moved and slid against each other for hours, in reality only minutes elapsed before Dustin buried his face in Micah's shoulder and came with a soft cry. Micah followed him over the edge a few seconds later, his dark hair sweat-dampened.
They laid on the thin bed, sated and breathless. Micah held Dustin, and kissed him gently.
"I need a shower."
"I think we both need a shower."
"I didn't even look at the clock. How long do we have before checks?"
"Not long." Dustin looked guilty. "I couldn't help it. I've been trying to figure out how to ask for this for a week."
Micah kissed him again and chuckled.
"What're you laughing at, sphinx?"
"You. I told you sex would happen."
"And you're always right."
"Not always, but often enough to room with a dragon."
They rose and dressed. Micah reclaimed his chair. Just as they returned to their studies, the door opened. A staffer stood there. He frowned and sniffed.
"How long have you two been hitting the books? It stinks in here."
"We skipped showers to study." Micah lifted his book. "Test Monday."
"Don't skip showers anymore."
The staffer closed their door. Dustin and Micah looked at each other. They burst out laughing.
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Hope you enjoyed a little taste of life at Los Robles Camp. This was mostly written for character development, so if you're interested in reading more, please comment and let me know. Once again, I wish you all a Happy Valentine's Day!