Slavery, 40

Games Are Hardest to Play When Everyone Has Different Rules

Ao3 Link

He waited until about an hour after they’d left him alone, until he’d judged the sun had gone all the way down. It was hard to judge time in a small room with no windows, but time was fake anyway, so it wasn’t like Darwin was at any more of a disadvantage than anyone else.

The little show Theodore and Daniel had put on for him had been enough to convince him that he had to go now before they did decide to escalate their treatment of him. Darwin knew they were lying about torturing him—Daniel was a good liar but Theodore wasn’t, and though they played off each other well, he knew how to detect improvisation when faced with it—but just because they’d been lying right then didn’t mean that they wouldn’t resort to it eventually, and Darwin wasn’t in the mood to be tortured.

So once the sun was down, Darwin stood up, got off the bed, standing awkwardly with the short chain they’d used to keep him there. He could pick the lock on it if he had any tools, but he didn’t and without his magic, Darwin could only do so much.

Only so much was enough to get him out of here, though. It was obvious that these two hadn’t really thought through their little imprisonment plan. With a sigh, he lifted the lumpy mattress off the bed, folded it over and to the side so it was out of the way, revealing the slatted wood underneath. No wonder the damned bed was so uncomfortable.

“Okay,” Darwin said to himself, raising his foot to step back on the bed. And he leapt into the air as high as he could with the manacle on, and slammed his foot down onto one of the slats. It cracked under his sudden weight, snapping in two and slicing his foot open, splinters littering the floor underneath. “Fuck, fuck, fuck…”

Wincing in pain, Darwin pulled his bleeding foot back, and reached into the hole he’d made, coming out with a fairly large splinter of wood. Inspecting it. It was stained with his blood, one end sharp enough that he could cut himself again if he wanted to.

Fortunately, he didn’t want to. Darwin turned, looking up at the elaborate spell that Cassiopeia had painted on the walls of this room to block his magic. It was so thorough that any attempt to break would inevitably fail. Even from the outside, Darwin probably couldn’t pick it apart without several hours of labour.

But fortunately, she’d overlooked a little something, something that he’d noticed five minutes after waking up in the room.

Limping on his injured foot, Darwin approached the wall as closely as he could, and he reached up and used the splinter of wood to rub at the wall, doing his best to press it in, make a gouge. And the paint started to flake, coming off as he worried at it with the splinter.

Without his magic, Darwin could only do so much. But he needed to do a lot more than only so much. He wasn’t playing Theodore and Daniel’s game.

They were playing his, and he was going to win.

Theodore slid into Daniel as if it hadn’t been months since they’d last done this, and Daniel hated that he took it almost as easily. It was a bit tough, just bordering on painful, but Daniel evened his breathing, relaxed and let his body easy back into it, into this. He remembered this, he knew how to do this.

He was under Theodore, Theodore’s hands on his shoulders, legs spread wide as he made sure to keep his eyes open, to look up at Theodore. Theodore was looking down at him, but his expression wasn’t the one of open adoration that he’d used to wear when fucking Daniel, but rather one of some different emotion, one Daniel couldn’t parse yet.

Theodore had been waiting for him when he’d come back from talking with Roderick in his nightcoat. As soon as Daniel had removed his shirt he’d come over and been pulled into Theodore’s lap, where Theodore had started kissing and touching him all over, reacquainting himself with Daniel’s body. Then he’d had Daniel suck on him for a short time before taking Daniel over to the bed for the main event.

“Daniel…” Theodore panted, hands tight on Daniel’s shoulders as he thrust in and out.

Daniel made a half-moan, a little overwhelmed. “M…Theodore…”

And that was that. With a sharp intake of breath, Theodore started to cum inside Daniel, holding him firmly. One hand came down to Daniel’s hardon, stroking it firmly for a good minute to get Daniel to orgasm as well, and only then, once Daniel had recovered, did Theodore pull out, lay down beside Daniel, breathing.

They lay like that for a minute in the dark, looking at the ceiling. “I think…”

“Don’t,” Daniel whispered.

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t say anything,” Daniel told him. “You’ll ruin it.” He wasn’t sure what Theodore would ruin, but he’d ruin it. This moment they were having. This messy, awful moment in the dark. Where they belonged. If Theodore made some comment about Daniel’s performance or his appearance or anything else, Daniel would just get mad and it would be over.

Thankfully, Theodore seemed to understand that, and he fell silent. They lay like that together for a good few minutes, before Daniel sighed. He wanted to go to sleep. “We should have a bath.”

“I agree.” Theodore sat up, and slowly the two of them moved to the bathroom, Theodore’s hand on the small of Daniel’s back. “Daniel…”


“I…” For a second, there was emotion in Theodore’s voice. What emotion Daniel wasn’t sure, because it had shifted when Theodore opened his mouth again. “I believe that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you say my name.”

Daniel sighed. And there he went, ruining it with his games. “I didn’t say your name,” he said, playing right back. “You must have misheard.” He willed himself not to blush, grateful that there was only one lamp lit.

“Yes,” Theodore said, nodding. “I suppose I must have. Let’s get cleaned off so we can sleep, shall we?”


They went in the bathroom, and Daniel filled the bath on shaky legs. And the two of them got in together, Theodore cleaning Daniel off as Daniel sat in his lap in the water.

They hadn’t been in five minutes before they heard the explosion.

Climbing Theodore’s back wall wasn’t hard. Greg had a rope and hook that he’d taken from the house and he just tossed the hook and hauled himself right up. It took three tries to throw it right, but after he figured it out, it wasn’t hard.

His arms were a bit sore by the time Greg got to the top of the wall, but he was fine. He gingerly felt around, but felt no shards of glass or sharp spikes on the wall—an oversight—and hauled himself up, hooking the rope the other way so he could climb down into the grounds. Easy.


Damn. Greg looked down from about halfway up, saw a guard looking at him. He judged he could make it, dropped to the ground, hand in his shirt. As he hit the ground he pulled out a knife and tossed it into the man’s throat. The guard died, gurgling.

Greg had hoped he’d at least get to the house before he had to kill someone. He retrieved his knife, wiping it on the dead man’s clothes, before collecting his rope and heading farther into the grounds.

Theodore’s house loomed beyond the copse of trees that he’d climbed down behind. Greg had forgotten about how big it was. Theodore could be in there, anywhere. Daniel could be in there, anywhere. Roderick could be in there, if he was alive. If he was alive.

Greg headed for the house, sticking to the shadows. There was a guarded back door, but he thought his best bet was a window instead. With the door, he’d have to kill more guards, and an alarm would go up before he was ready for that. It was bad enough that they were bound to notice the man he’d killed was missing sooner or later.

So he went around, looking for a window. None were open, but Greg saw a few balconies that looked like they might be easy to get to and break in through.

The biggest one was also the nearest to him, and he climbed a nearby tree, knowing he could leap over to the balcony from there. But as Greg crept along the branch, peering into the room, he paused. There were people in there, movement. A bed, a big bed. There was a man on the bed, moving rhythmically on top of someone and…

That was Theodore’s bedroom. And that had to be Daniel, and Greg had to sit there a second, afraid, unsure. He could…he could go in there, right now while they were distracted, and he’d probably be able to kill them both before they disentangled.

But if he couldn’t, if he couldn’t.

No. It wasn’t safe. Not when he didn’t know if Roderick and Darwin were alive or not. He had to find that out before anything. He knew where Theodore and Daniel were now. They’d likely stay there all night, go to sleep. Greg climbed down from the tree, went around to a different balcony on a different side of the house, used his hook to get up to that one.

The glass door on this balcony was locked with a bolt from the inside, and Greg had no choice but to break a pane of glass to reach through and unlock it. Glass was so loud when it broke, but there were no guards around. Greg went in the house, into a sitting room. He ignored it, opened the door into the hallway.

Theodore’s house was too big for Greg to reasonably search in one night. So instead of being too thorough, Greg did the obvious thing—he tried all the doors looking for ones that were locked.

That got him through a lot of rooms quickly. He had to pick two locks, the first one leading just to a room with a lot of pointless trinkets in it and the second to a room with a lot of boxes that turned out to have gold and jewels in them. Greg thought about taking those, but he didn’t want to waste time.

More unlocked doors, and then Greg came to the third door that was locked, picking at it. And he heard footsteps, quiet humming. He looked up, saw a man with a sword at his hip, turning the corner. “Hey…”

Greg darted forward, knife out, getting under the man’s arm before he could get his sword out. And he slashed at the back of his knee to bring him down, then held him from behind, knife against his throat. “Quiet,” he whispered. “I won’t kill you if you stay quiet.”

Shaking, the man nodded. He wasn’t much older than Greg. “Wh-what do you want? He keeps all the gold and jewels down the hall…”

“I don’t want that,” Greg said. “I want to know about the two people who attacked him a few weeks ago. What happened to them?”

“What…um…” the guard started to shake his head, then stopped. Greg’s hand was steady. “I don’t know, I swear I don’t!”

“You’re lying,” Greg said, pressing harder, a bead of blood forming at the knifepoint.

“I…” The guard’s breathing was coming fast. “There’s a locked wing on the east side of the house, where the main bedroom is! Nobody’s allowed in there but Theodore and Benedict! Maybe they’re in there!”

Greg thought about that, nodding. That made sense. They hadn’t told anyone they had Roderick and Darwin. Okay. “Thank you,” he said, easing the tension on his knife. The guard relaxed. Greg cut his throat.

Blood sprayed, but Greg trusted the darkness to hide it at least at superficial glance, and he dragged the body into one of the rooms with an unlocked door that he hadn’t bothered examining. And he headed for the east wing.

He was able to get there undetected, and was faced with two large doors, closed tight and locked. Silently, Greg picked them, letting himself in and shutting them back behind him again. There was nobody here, as promised, and several closed doors. He tried them all, found several unlocked and uninteresting. There had to be something here—why else was the wing locked? He worked away from where Theodore’s bedroom had to be, figuring that if he was keeping someone prisoner, he’d want to do it as far from where he slept as possible.

In the hall that was as far away from the bedroom as he could get, there were some locked doors.

Greg tried not to hope for anything as he worked his picks into the first one, hand shaking a little, making it harder. But he got it after a minute, and the door swung open, a dark room inside, a shifting form. “Who…”

Greg’s heart skipped. “Roderick!” he whispered, rushing inside.

“Greg?” The shape shifted, sat up. “You…you came.”

“Yes.” Greg felt out of breath but he raced to the bed, hands finding Roderick and hugging him. “I was…I thought you’d be dead, oh God. Are you hurt? Did they hurt you?” Of course they’d hurt him. Even if Greg’s last vision of Roderick hadn’t been him bleeding out on the floor, there was no way Daniel and Theodore hadn’t hurt him in here.

“I’m okay,” Roderick insisted, hugging Greg back with only one arm. “I’m fine. They just chained me here and talked a lot. I’m stuck to the bedpost.”

“Right,” Greg said, letting go, groping his way down Roderick’s other arm and finding the manacle on his wrist. There was probably a lamp somewhere but he didn’t need it. Sliding out his smallest picks, Greg found the keyhole and worked them inside, the sound of his breathing filling the room. He talked so he wouldn’t have to listen to it. “Is Darwin here too?”

“I don’t know,” Roderick told him. “I haven’t left this room since I woke up. They might have him in another room somewhere.”

“There are some locked doors in this same hallway,” Greg said, nodding in the dark. “He might be in one of them.”

“Are…you going to rescue him too?”

Greg looked up at the tone of Roderick’s voice, not stopping. “Should I not?”

Roderick was quiet for a second, breath and the tinking of Greg’s picks the only sounds. Then he said, “He doesn’t care about us. He only wants to use us like tools. If the guard had arrested us he had a way out. We didn’t.”

“How do you know that?”

Roderick was silent.

Greg sighed, as the manacle opened with a click. Roderick pulled his hand back, rubbing his wrist. “You can’t listen to anything Theodore or Daniel says to you. They’re monsters.”

“I…I know that, it’s just…”

Greg tugged Roderick off the bed, leading him to the doorway. “There is no just. We’ll ask him about it once we…”

As he said that they stepped out into the hallway, and a door down the hall opened at the same time, dim light creeping out.

And out of the room stepped Darwin, holding a ball aloft, looking around carefully. Greg looked at him. Darwin’s eyes fell on them, and went wide. “Oh, my God.”

He raced over, joining them in the doorway of Roderick’s room. “You came back,” he said to Greg, hands out, hovering over the two of them.

Greg nodded, swallowing. “I couldn’t leave you here.”

“Fuck,” Darwin said, and he pulled both of them into a hug that Greg wasn’t expecting. He went a bit stiff and he knew Roderick did too, but Darwin hugged them anyway. “They told me you were both dead, fuck.”

“They’re liars,” Greg whispered, though loud enough for Roderick to hear him.

“Yeah.” Darwin pulled away, stood straight with a breath. “Okay. We have to get out of here. Do you have extra knives?”

Greg nodded, reaching for some. “Here.”

“I only need one. Give the rest to Roderick and the two of you get lost. I’ll meet you back at the house.”

“But…” Roderick sounded suspicious. “Theodore and Daniel…”

“I’ll handle them. It’s too dangerous for you two. Greg, have you killed anyone tonight?”

Greg nodded. “Two guards.”

“Okay. They’re going to find those bodies eventually. You two need to bug off before they do. I’ll distract them so they’re not looking for you.”

“What about the plan?” Greg asked. He was grateful that Darwin was taking charge, he was. But he was also worried. “Isn’t one of us supposed to…”

“Fuck the plan. I’m not putting you in any more danger. Get out of here, and I’ll handle the two of them. Go.”

Greg looked at Darwin for a second, then looked at Roderick, handing him his extra knives. “Okay,” he said, handing one to Darwin too. “We’ll wait for you at the house.”

Darwin nodded, taking the knife. “I’m glad you’re okay,” he said quietly, turning away. “And I’m glad you came.”

He turned and went in the opposite direction to Greg and Roderick, and they headed down the hall the way Greg had come. “Are you sure you’re not hurt?” Greg asked again as they walked. “We’re going to need to climb over the wall so if you can’t do it…”

“I can do it,” Roderick told him, squeezing Greg’s arm. “They never touched me. I never even saw Theodore. Only Daniel. I…I think he was protecting me.”

Greg scowled. “If he was protecting you he wouldn’t have stabbed you. And he’d have let you go.” They’d gotten to him, he realized. They’d gotten to him the same way Theodore had gotten to Daniel.

“I know, I know,” Roderick said, sounding confused. “I know that. But he thinks he’s doing the right thing. He’s not evil, he’s just wrong.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Greg said, because it didn’t. “Darwin will kill him.”

“Yeah…” Anything else Roderick might have said was cut off by an explosion that rocked the house, in the opposite direction to where they were headed. “I guess that was Darwin’s distraction.”

Greg nodded, recovering from the start of the loud sound. “I guess. It should draw all the guards. Let’s go.”

They walked for a few more minutes, heading down a flight of stairs that Greg had climbed earlier and going past the room where he’d stashed the guard’s body. Voices stopped them not far from there, and Greg flattened them against a wall.

“Come on, it’s okay. It was on the other side of the house, see? There’s nothing out here.”

“I kn-know, but…” It was two boys talking, one of them obviously scared.

“Like I said, it’s better if we head back to the room where they can find us if they need to. Let’s go.” Greg peered around the corner, saw a boy a little older than him putting his arm around a younger boy, leading him somewhere.

“Theodore’s other slaves,” Greg murmured, once they were far enough away that there was no chance of them hearing.

“Shit,” Roderick whispered. “I forgot about them.”

“Forgot about them?” Greg asked.

“I…Theodore’s threatening them,” Roderick said to Greg. “To make Daniel behave. It’s why he’s working with Theodore, he’s just protecting them.”

Greg really thought that Roderick was giving Daniel too much credit, but…that made sense. Greg…Greg would do as Theodore said too if Theodore were holding Roderick hostage. Or at least he hoped he would. Because that would make him a good person.

It would make him a person, at least.

“You want to go get them, don’t you?”

Roderick nodded. “If…if we free them. If we take them with us. Daniel won’t have to…”

He might still want to, though. But Roderick wasn’t entirely wrong. They could help those boys—boys not that different from them. Boys who would be given away to Theodore’s friends when Darwin killed Theodore. “Okay, let’s go.”

Roderick smiled gratefully and followed Greg down the hallway where the two slaves had vanished. It looked to Greg like the younger boy had been hiding in the privy and the older one had coaxed him out. Probably would have been safer to stay hiding, in Greg’s opinion.

After several minutes of wandering they ended up in front of a door that Greg could hear voices behind. “This must be it.”

Roderick nodded, and reached out to open the door. Inside were five slaves in white shirts, illuminated by a dim lamp, who all backed against the wall when Roderick opened the door. No, not all of them. The two oldest stood in front of the others. “Who are you?” one of them demanded.

“We’re not here to hurt you,” Roderick insisted, while Greg looked around. It was such a small room for five people to sleep in. Of course, no people were being kept in it. Just slaves. “We’re here to rescue you.”

“Rescue us?”

Roderick nodded. “Come with us. We’ll get you out of here, away from Theodore.”

The youngest boy in the room was the only one who tried to move, but he was held down by one of the others, a boy with a blue stone on his neck. “We don’t know who you are,” he said. “Why would we trust you?”

“Because…” Roderick looked at a loss. “We want to help you.”

“We don’t need your help,” another boy said. “We’re fine.”

“You’re not fine as long as you’re in this house,” Greg said quietly.

But the two older boys shook their heads. “Theodore never even touches us anymore. We just sit here and wait until he’s ready to release us. There’s no point in becoming a fugitive.”

The younger boy in the back looked nervous, but Greg focused on the ones who were speaking.

“Theodore’s going to die,” Greg told them. “Our friend is finding him right now. If you don’t all escape, you’ll be kept with his estate. This is the only chance you have to escape.”

The slaves all looked at each other. “They’re lying,” one of them said.

“They have knives,” another said, voice low. “We don’t have much of a choice.”

“We’re not lying, and we’re not going to hurt you. We just want to help,” Roderick told them, tone pleading. “Greg’s right. Theodore’s going to die. Daniel too. You need to come with…”

“Daniel’s already dead,” the red-collared boy interrupted, voice breaking. “He’s been dead for…”

“He’s not,” Greg told him. Theodore hadn’t told them. They were Daniel’s friends and Theodore hadn’t even told them he was alive. “Daniel’s alive.”

“Daniel being alive is the whole reason we’re here,” Roderick added. “He’s trying to protect all of you but he can’t because he’s afraid of what Theodore will do to you.”

“You just said he was going to die,” the youngest boy said, sounding near tears.

Roderick nodded. “He will if we can’t get you all out of here. If we do that, he’ll have no reason to side with Theodore and he can escape with us.”

Greg wasn’t nearly as optimistic as Roderick. But he nodded.

The slaves all looked at each other, heads shaking. But the youngest boy spoke up. “Let’s go with them.”

“Simon, no. It’s not…”

“Guys…you don’t know that Theodore’s done with me. It’s easy for you to say that he’s not going to touch any of you so it’s fine, but what if he asks me to come back to his room? What if…” Simon’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m running away. I can’t stay here. Please come with me.”

The room was filled with invisible lightning, flying between all the boys as they seemed to communicate in looks, gestures and light touches. “Okay,” one of them whispered, and the others slowly started to nod.

Roderick smiled, nodding as well and stepping back. “Come on, we know the way out and the guards are all distracted…”

A knife buried itself in the doorframe just in front of Roderick’s face, and both he and Greg turned, a cold stone in Greg’s stomach.

Daniel was standing there, more knives in his hands and yet more on his belt, a look of icy death on his face. “Get the hell away from them,” he said, in a tone that made the consequences of noncompliance clear.

The explosion was a distraction. Daniel hadn’t even bothered to look for its source after getting dressed and taking his set of knives out of the bedside table. He’d gone right to the rooms where Darwin and Roderick were being held. Both of them empty, the spell blocking Darwin’s magic broken with a gouge in the wall.

Darwin was too smart to just blow something up for no reason. He was trying to get their attention, so Daniel had gone in the opposite direction, wanting only to make sure that Marcus and Hugh and the others were safe.

And there had been Roderick and Greg, armed, luring them all out.

Before Daniel could do anything, ask anything, demand to know anything, Greg glanced at Roderick and rushed at Daniel, knives out.

“Shit.” Daniel intercepted Greg’s first blow, knocking it aside and twisting out of the way of the second one. Both aimed to kill, he noted quickly before dancing back to avoid another strike. “Greg. Stop.”

Greg didn’t stop, chasing Daniel with determination in his eyes. He wasn’t as a good a fighter as Daniel, but just as Daniel managed to push him back, Roderick showed up as well. He was even worse, but the two of them together were a handful. Daniel kicked Roderick’s hand out of the way, lunging at Greg as he did to make him move to the side, then knocked Roderick’s foot out from under him, staggering him, and leapt at him, kicking off from Roderick’s chest to get over Greg’s head and behind him, a downward strike that took Greg in the shoulder, and Greg staggered forward, turning, just a flicker of emotion on his face. “S-stop,” Simon pleaded from the doorway. “Stop fighting.”

“I’m not going to let them hurt you, Simon,” Daniel said, watching Greg and Roderick.

“They weren’t!” That was Hugh. “Daniel, they weren’t. Stop.”

Daniel couldn’t, not when they were fanning out, getting on either side of Daniel, Greg staying closer to the door of the room. Daniel focused on him, approaching quickly, only to be jumped at from behind and have to turn around to face Roderick, which earned him a cut on the back of his leg from Greg. “Fuck…”

“Daniel!” That was Marcus. “Don’t hurt him!”

Daniel span, aiming his knife at Greg’s face, and Greg fell back to get out of the way, letting Daniel trip him. Daniel turned, knocked Roderick aside, moving to disarm him. “Stop,” he said, panting. “I don’t want to hurt you…no!”

He saw it out of the corner of his eye, Greg moving, lunging for the doorway. He grabbed Simon’s wrist, pulling Simon in front of him. Daniel wouldn’t be able to get there in time so instead he grabbed Roderick, span behind him, fluidly put his knife against Roderick’s throat as Greg stared him down, doing the same to Simon. Simon was crying. “Let him go,” Daniel warned.

Greg was unsteady, eyes sparking with something unreasonable. He would kill Simon, Daniel was sure. Roderick was still in Daniel’s arms. “Let him go, Greg.”

“You…you let Roderick go first,” Greg whispered, eyes on Daniel, only on Daniel. “I’ll kill him. I’ll kill him if you don’t let Roderick go.”

The rest of Greg was shaking, but the hand he had on his knife wasn’t. Marcus and Hugh and Trevor and Al looked terrified. Daniel didn’t blame them. Mercifully, they stayed quiet.

“Please…” Simon whimpered. “Please, oh, God. Daniel, please do as he says, don’t let him…I don’t want to die…”

Daniel’s heart was pounding, but only Roderick could feel it, could feel how scared he was. “You’re not going to die, Simon,” Daniel said, though he had no way of knowing that. “Just hold still. Let him go, Greg. You can still go, I won’t go after you. If you kill him you won’t escape. None of you will.”

“But he’ll be dead,” Greg said, breathing hard. “He’ll be dead and it’ll be your fault, Daniel. It’s all your fault, everything. Let Roderick go, now. If you hurt him I’ll kill Simon, I swear I will.”

“I believe you,” Daniel said. “But I don’t believe you’ll let him go if I let go of Roderick. I think you’ll kill him anyway.”

“Oh, God…” Simon cried, eyes squeezed shut, knees quaking. Marcus and Hugh were being held back by Trevor and Al. God, if they tried to help everyone was going to die.

“Let him go, Greg,” Roderick said, still in Daniel’s arms. “Let him go. Daniel won’t hurt me. You know that. He doesn’t want to hurt me.”

“Yes, he does,” Greg said, pressing the blade against Simon’s throat.

“Okay,” Daniel said, easing up. “Okay. I’ll let Roderick go. But Greg, if you hurt Simon…”

“You’ll kill me, I know.”

“No,” Daniel said. He saw it, he saw what Greg was afraid of. What he wanted. “I won’t. I’ll kill Roderick, and I’ll make you watch. And then I’ll let you go, and you’ll run away again, knowing that it was your fault, and that you could have stopped it.”

God, when had he gotten so cold? When had his voice started sounding like that?

They stared at each other for a long while, knives ready, Greg looking like he might cry. But he nodded. “Just let us leave,” he pleaded. “We just want to leave. We just want to go.”

“Then go,” Daniel said, lowering his knife and letting Roderick go.

For a long, long moment, Greg didn’t move, Simon quivering in his arms. But, with the look of someone forcing himself to move, he finally moved his knife away, stepped aside. Simon collapsed with a sob, and Daniel raced forward to catch him. “You’re okay, you’re okay.” Greg and Roderick were hugging.

Simon pulled back, looking at Daniel, afraid. “D-don’t…”

Hugh was there, arms around Simon. “It’s alright.” He glanced at Daniel. “It’s okay, you’re safe, Simon.” They were all looking at him, all of them, not knowing what to say.

So Daniel looked up at Greg and Roderick. “Go.” He stood up, putting his knives away. “Get out of the city, go south. Go east. Go somewhere where there’s no slavery.”

“Come with us,” Roderick said, holding Greg. “Come with us, you can all come with us.”

“I can’t.” Daniel shook his head, heart aching. He looked down at Simon and Hugh, up at Marcus and the others. “I can’t. Take them, they can go. But I can’t.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Marcus said, arms crossed. He looked pale, the only indication that he was scared.


“That psycho just tried to kill you and Simon,” Marcus said. “I’m not…he told us you were dead. Theodore did.”

That hit Daniel like a hammer. Theodore had… “I’m fine,” he choked.

“Theodore’s dead,” Greg muttered. “Darwin’s going to kill him, he said so.”

Daniel felt a cold chill sweep over him. He’d left Theodore in the bedroom. Fuck. “I have to go. Get lost.” He turned.


Daniel looked over his shoulder at Marcus. “I’ll be back in a bit. Promise.”

And he ran off, towards the bedroom. There was still time. Darwin would want to talk. There had to still be time. Daniel ran, willing there to still be time. Otherwise everything was for nothing.

The door was open, which had hadn’t been when Daniel had left. “Fuck,” he hissed, racing inside, looking around. Theodore was on the bed, bleeding, but breathing. Darwin was standing over him, knife out.

Daniel whipped at knife at Darwin’s back, not aiming to miss this time. But it didn’t matter, the knife stopped in midair, fell to the ground. Darwin turned around, eyes tired. “You’re not so good when you don’t have all the cards,” he said.

“Please, don’t,” Daniel asked, shaking his head. “Don’t.”

Darwin smiled, and lashed out with a knife, making Daniel jump to the side and retaliate with his own blade. They danced for a moment, Daniel ducking under Darwin’s longer arms, and then Darwin kicked him in the knee and slashed his cheek, leaving a trail of blood. “Not so good.” He stepped back, walking around the bed, glancing at Theodore. “Don’t worry,” he said to Daniel as Daniel recovered. “I won’t. Because you deserve him. And he deserves you. You’ll destroy each other and it’s what you both deserve.” He went to the balcony, unlocked the doors and stepped outside.

“Daniel,” Theodore said, voice pained. He wasn’t cut that deeply.

Darwin climbed onto the ledge of the balcony, and jumped down. “Shit,” Daniel hissed, chasing after him.


“I’m not letting him get away,” Daniel called, running out onto the balcony. He vaulted over the railing, grabbed a tree branch on his way down and curling his legs so he could land in a ball, rolling, rolling, managing to stand up. Darwin was jogging across the grounds, after Greg and Roderick. Daniel was grateful that they’d run too. But now he had to chase them. “Wait!” he shouted after them.

He chased them all the way to the wall, and only then did Darwin stop, nodding at the other two to keep going. Greg tossed a rope up to the top for them to climb. Darwin stood with is knives out, but then put them away, holding out a bare hand. “What are you doing, Daniel?”

“Tell me who hired you.” If he found that out, he could at least…

Darwin shrugged. “Don’t know. You had one question and that’s all you wanted to ask?”

“Why’d you do this? Why do this to the two of them? It’s not…”

“The world’s not fair, Daniel.” But Darwin looked away. “And the good guys aren’t always nice.” He took a step forward, not caring that Daniel took a ready stance. Daniel suddenly realized he couldn’t move. “And usually when we try to do the right thing, we just…screw up, more and more and more. I think we have that in common.”


“I’m going now. Daniel…do your job.”

“Wh…” Darwin put a hand on his head, and darkness flooded in, and Daniel was swept away in it.

At the top of the wall, Greg stopped, looking down. He saw Daniel collapse, saw Darwin stand there for a minute before turning away and walking towards the wall. He tugged on the rope and started to climb up.

“Thanks again for the rescue,” Darwin said, once he was up top. He gathered up the rope for the climb down.

“Is…did you kill him?”

“No,” Darwin said, spooling the rope. “They’re both still alive.”


“We’re not dancing on someone else’s stage anymore. This job was a clusterfuck from start to finish and I don’t think any of us were meant to survive. Come on, let’s get down and back to the house. I have a few things to gather and then we’re leaving town.”

Roderick hadn’t said anything since Daniel had left them. He was shaken. He’d trusted Daniel, however briefly. “A-all of us?”

“If you guys want to come.” Darwin hooked the rope on the other side of the wall for them to climb down. “I’m going to free both of you, and then I’m going south. If you want to come, you can. I’m going to find out who hired us and why, and I’m going to ask a lot of questions about what was happening here. It was all a setup.”

Greg looked at Roderick, who looked just as afraid as Greg felt. “We’ll come,” Greg said, for both of them. “We don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Darwin nodded. “Yeah. That one’s on me too. Come on, you go first.” He ushered Roderick towards the rope, and they watched him climb down.

“You’re going to free us?” Greg asked Darwin quietly.

Darwin nodded. “I should have from the fucking start.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Greg started to climb down too, more slowly than Roderick. But at the bottom, he looked at Roderick, and took his hand. “Sorry.” He didn’t say all the rest, knowing Roderick would know.

Roderick nodded, looking…broken. “You were right. Thank you. For coming.”

“Of course I came,” Greg said, hugging Roderick.

Then Darwin was there, and their moment was over. “Let’s go,” he said, pulling them away from the house. “Let’s get the fuck out of this city.”

In their last actions as slaves, Greg and Roderick followed after him.

Later, after the boys were passed out on top of each other, Darwin sat in front of the fire. Leaving Merket hadn’t been hard. They’d gone to the house, gotten what he’d needed. Some papers of his, including the manumission slips for both of them. He’d burned the one he’d had prepared for Daniel. Darwin’s meagre belongings were in a small bag sitting at his side.

Darwin. He thought, maybe, that he was done with Darwin. Like the rest of them, Darwin had just messed everything up, made it all worse. Like always.

Tomorrow he’d be someone else, Darwin figured. His last night in this role. It had been a good closing show. Some of the best theatre he’d ever put on.

Darwin should have killed Theodore, probably should have killed both of them. But he hadn’t. That wasn’t his role, it wasn’t what he was here for.

Checking that the two boys—god, what he’d done to those boys—were asleep, Darwin reached into his bag, pulled out some of what he owned. His mother’s ring. A carnival mask, a random one, just to remind him. Papers with spells on them, spells that would never work because the world had rules that couldn’t be broken. Knives.

And last, last, his newest possessions.

“God, I hope you kill him soon, Daniel,” Darwin whispered, holding them in his hand, feeling the power that emanated from them, filling him. Well, one of them filled him. The other he resisted. “Someone has to. He’s too dangerous.”

The two stones, red and purple, one for a wizard and one for a necromancer, shone in the firelight.

Darwin wasn’t playing Theodore’s game, or Daniel’s, or that of the person who’d hired him, who’d put all this in motion. He wasn’t playing their games.

They were all playing his. And he was winning.

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