Ancient History - Part 3
James spit a mouthful of blood onto the floor, his hands barely supporting him as he crawled to his knees. With his belly raised above the floor, the other man's foot sailed easily into it, knocking the wind out of him with a quick burst of pain and a worrisome cracking sound. James fell back down, curling up to protect himself though it shamed him to show such weakness. Another kick bounced off his hands clutched around his head, his face pushed forward by the blow into his own knees. Blood from a gash on his forehead made it hard to see.
"Pick him up."
Two sets of hands ripped James' arms away from his face and pulled him to his feet. Legs shaking too hard from exertion to hold him upright alone, the two thugs held him steady with iron hard grips. It felt to James as though his arms were going to snap with the weight of his body pulling down at his shoulders. He held his head up with what remained of his strength, careful not to hold it too high least he desire another round.
Heins spat into his eye. It stung with alcohol. "The next time I tell you to do something, you fucking do it. I don't care what the fuck you think is so important it can't wait. You belong to me and you do what I say."
"Or else what? You'll kill me?" James glared into the tinted frames of Heins' glasses, willing himself to see through them. Only once had he ever seen them fall low enough on his nose to see the color or his iris and he dared the man to show them again. "Everything I'm doing can be beneficial to this business if you'd listen to me for one god damned minute!"
Heins crumpled up the collegiate election flier and threw it at his feet. "The only person you're worried about benefiting is yourself. If you value your life and are half as smart as you think you are, you'll quit that preppy ass school and get back to work full time. Am I understood?"
James clenched his jaw; too pissed to speak and too weak to make much more of a fight. He let his head drop in a nod, sagging painfully in the grip of the attending thugs.
"Get his sorry ass home."
They dragged him like a broken doll, shoving him through doorways and laughing at his stumbling falls towards the ground when momentum failed to serve as compensation for strength. He made sure he remembered their faces, was familiar with their bulk and height. This wasn't over. It was just the beginning.
Ashe was annoyed, that much James could tell even with only his one eye left uncovered, a patch keeping the other one safe. An interesting thing he's noted about Ashe was how his hair seemed to a give away as much about his temperament as his face ever did. When he was annoyed, it always appeared to be tangled just below the surface curls and his fingers tended to catch in it with every motion to drive a flyaway back into the collective. Ashe grimaced as this happened yet again and let his hands drop away from his own face, the unruly curl bumping back onto his cheek undaunted.
"You're certain it was a couple of homeless bums who attacked you? Not a street gang or, say, a bus?"
James gave him a look, his split brow reminding him to save his own annoyance for Heins as it caused a short spark of pain. "Ha ha ha. You're a comedian and an asshole? I'd have never guessed."
"As I'm the asshole who's been up half the night making sure these don't get infected, I think at the very least I'm entitled to a better lie than that if not the truth."
"It's not a li-OW!" James stiffened but could not pull away as Ashe secured more gauze around his ribs, pulling tight to give support but nearly causing James to leap ten feet every time he pressed against the dark bruises. He took a deep breath to keep himself from punching Ashe, who he imagined was enjoying it a little bit. "What makes you so sure I'm lying? There's plenty of homeless creeps hanging around near campus trying to get freebies from the yuppie kids who think they're making a difference."
"Even if I thought for a second you were telling the truth, Mr. Maxwell, we can't very well go public with that sort of excuse for your injuries. It makes you come across as inferior and dull. I'm sure we can come up with something more heroic than just you having been in the wrong place at the wrong time."
James shook his head. "The public doesn't matter. I quit. I'm not in this race."
"Don't be foolish." Ashe tightened the gauze again, his hand cool against James' warm chest as he smoothed down his work. "The speech went over extremely well. You're the front runner and the election is only two weeks away."
"It's not just the election. I'm quitting school too."
Ashe paused and looked at him expectantly.
James wished he wasn't connected to the other man by another two feet of lose gauze extending from his chest to Ashe's hand. "You don't know me so don't look at me like I'm being an idiot. I know what I'm doing and I don't care if you approve or not."
"Considering all I've done, I still think I have a right to know what's going on, Mr. Maxwell."
He did. James hated it. "I never asked for your help."
"But you did accept it." Ashe finished with the last of the gauze, securing it tightly before turning and brandishing the rubbing alcohol again, taking James' hand in his. He dabbed the cotton ball over the cut skin of his knuckles from his first attempts to fight back the night before. It stung but James remained silent. "I'm not asking for your life's story, Mr. Maxwell. Just an explanation as to why my efforts have been for nothing."
"Because I'm part of a crime syndicate." It came out before James had the better judgment to not say it. Ashe's hand didn't so much as flinch under his, though. It simply held his grip so he wouldn't pull away as Ashe dabbed the fizzy liquid over his cuts. Somehow the lack of reaction fueled James' desire to continue. "I work for Thomas Heins. He deals in drugs, weapons and flesh. My mom was a prostitute who worked under him. She wasn't very smart and he never gave a damn about anything but the money so she got knocked up with me and my twin brother and years later she got one of those nice STDs you don't get better from. Not much work for a dying whore. So I went to work for Thomas when my mom couldn't get a john anymore. No one else was going to hire a twelve year old. He taught me the industry, found things for me to do, just, y'know, whatever."
Ashe's cultured chuckle was an interesting addition to the noise of the room. "I said I wasn't asking for your life's story."
"Yeah...well...one thing sort of lends itself to the other."
Ashe nodded, the cotton ball making little circles against the broken flesh. "What of your brother? Does he work for Heins too?"
"Nah. I, uh... sort of killed him about that time." He smirked to himself at the memory, pride still clinging to it like packing peanuts. "It's not really that important."
"I would consider killing your own twin brother to be a rather important detail."
"Not in this part of the story. What I'm trying to get at is that I can't just walk away from Heins. He's been a part of my life from the time I was born and he'll be a part of it until one of us dies. He wants me to quit and I can't fight him on it anymore unless I want it to be me who keels over first. So it's death or politics and honestly, if that's a choice you think I should muddle over a little longer, you're completely insane."
Ashe nodded, putting the alcohol aside and grabbing another loose batch of gauze. "I accept."
James blinked. "You accept? Wait, what the hell are you accepting? My reason to quit?"
"I accept the challenge you have presented me." He explained, making much quicker work of the wrap around his knuckles than he'd done his ribs. "I told you from the beginning that it is my responsibility to ensure your success. This should prove quite interesting."
"...You're an idiot." James sat in awe of his companionís single mindedness. "Since when does that stupid fucking school fellowship mean you need to fight a crime syndicate for my right to play school politics?"
"I could care less what the school wants. I want to see you succeed, Mr. Maxwell. If this is what it takes to give you a future worth working towards, then I am more than willing to assist."
James stared at him. "So you didn't believe the bit about being beat up by hobos but you totally buy everything else I just said to the point where you... want to help me?"
"I wouldn't say we've been through a lot together, Mr. Maxwell, but I enjoy your company and the excitement you bring into my life. I see no reason why I shouldn't assist you in prolonging your budding career."
"At the endangerment of your own life." James clarified, quite certain Ashe had missed that important detail.
Ashe nodded his head though, smoothing out the last bandage. "So, what do you have planned, Mr. Maxwell, and where do I fit in?"
James stared at him, unblinking, for several moments before a thin, knowing smirk stretched across his face.