when nicolas starts crying, worrick climbs over the pile of ratty blankets and dented cans to come visit his friend in the bed.
since they escaped it's been tough on both of them, and sometimes worrick will catch nic in the small span of moonlight filtering through the window, gently weeping, hiding his hiccups and shakes as best as he can with the tattered blanket they share between them.
sometimes they sleep in abandoned houses, other times behind dumpsters. sometimes INSIDE dumpsters , if theyre desperate enough. wherever the both of them can fit and not be rained on, screamed at, or chased off like a pair feral dogs free of their owners. the neighbourhood welcomes them with open arms, quickly gets used to the presence of these two filthy boys running through the alleyways.
with time they get used to the coziness of living on the streets. worrick gets used to the lack of comfort, missing his four-poster bed, the three meals a day, the daily baths. instead its replaced with casual anxiety, a constant hypervigilance, and the looming terror of something unknowably bad about to happen, all the time. but it's still better than the gut-deep fear of living with his family. he gets used to it just like they get used to eating one meal a day and bathing once a week in the grubby river.
nic doesn't even realise he's awake and watching his friend when he watches worrick sleep; some habits are hard to break. he feels like those watch dogs back at the mansion. he remembers the long, severe pointed faces of the dobermans that patrolled the arcangelo's estate and scoffs to himself over his ridiculous behaviour. but some instincts arent worth reprogramming. he watches worrick breathe in and out, clueless to the world, and he smiles to himself knowing his friend is dreaming peacefully. he can always sleep later.
nic wakes up the next day to find himself hunched on the floor the with a blanket on him, worrick gone for the day.
they're both fourteen now, puberty giving them a harsh welcome side by side the daily struggle to survive. their voices start cracking and hair starts sprouting on their chins, and they don't know what to do. it means business for worrick. but for nic its a game changer. it means his breasts are starting to come in, and creates a crisis where before there wasn't one. worrick works an extra gig just to afford a flimsy roll of stiff cotton that nic can use to bind his chest, flatten out the breasts growing too-quickly for their own good.
when it comes to stealing, nic has an easier time from places than worrick does- he's plainer, shorter, "duller", large cargo pants he brought on his back the best fit for small bottles of shampoo or soap or toothpaste. now razors and condoms too, since worrick's customers are getting more aggressive with their requests and nic can't stand the look in his friends eyes when he comes home from another shift. they take turns stealing, going in cycles. a few weeks for worrick, another for nic. he just takes his job as thief seriously, going to new neighbourhoods where they aren't recognized to grab one more granola bar, or anything he can use to make their days a little easier.
almost everything is stealable for them, food, clothes, sanitary products, whatever they need- except the stuff that ever seemed to matter. like feeling safe. or being warm. or being happy.
"one day we'll get out of here", worrick signs with one hand, over the lip of a can of no-name alphagetti's, grinning at him. nic can't tell if his friend is winking or if he's just closing his eyes- his eyepatch screwing up the message, but he gets the point anyway, and he kisses him anyway.
nic can't bathe in public like worrick can, so they wait until after he's done a job that they walk him down to the river, covered in blood, covered by the cloak of night-time, nic risks undressing and taking off his makeshift binder to scrape congealed blood off his forearms, face, and chest.
worrick is always supposed to keep watch but he always ends up joining the other in the water, signing to each other with the moonlight as their guide. worrick blows him big kisses filled with bubbles under the water, and they end up crashing down underneath it together with worrick's hands on nicolas's face, wrestling like boys do. they reluctantly have to drag themselves out of the muddy, sloppy moonlit water when it gets too dark to see what the other is saying.
the first time they found the river, Nicolas was so attached to his sword at the time he tried to bring it into it with him, which made worrick laugh so hard he thought the other boy was going to piss himself. He couldn't hear how loud he was laughing but it looked to be pretty damn hard, the blonde bent at the waist, clutching his stomach, his one eye squeezed shut, a handsome smile dimpling his face.
on days like that, they go to bed clean and happy. the bite of the wind and the distant moan and thrum of the empty city streets at night dont seem to bother them as much as before.
the few times they have good days, they try and make the most of themselves, and their life, and they both can see the future a little clearer than before. an idea of what they want, framed in light, a vision of what they could have when they get out of here.
on the bad days, worrick's ptsd comes back with a vengeance. He has nightmares when he sleeps, imagines his bastard of a father hovering over the bed, a demonic silhouette surrounded by darkness; and he'll wake up with nic straddling him like an oversized cat, trying to soothe him and pet his face in the dim light of their dusty, dirty home.
they both share sleep on a single couch, with nothing else in the room of their abandoned shack but a scratched up coffee table. they're lucky enough to have found a place to hold the both of them in the outskirts of town- they can barely hear the din of percussive screaming, argueing and muttering that happens in the busier parts of town.
worrick has to leave in the morning before the adults wake up and can see him- he washes in the fountain before his day of tricking, steps out with wet feet around the time vendors have left their houses and started to set up shop outside with their brightly coloured merchandise they could only dream of affording.
when he's left alone, nic takes his turn guarding the house seriously with his sword clutched tightly against his collarbone, like a liferaft for boy who doesn't know how to swim, only wade neck deep and hope he doesn't slip under the wet darkness.
worrick comes home smelling like other women and nicotine and nic tries to swallow without retching, tries to grin and bear it for his friend doing his best the only way he knows how. they wrestle and playfight until they both get too worn out to do anything else,and smell like eachother again. they both fall asleep on the floor, sleeping forms highlighted by the hazy summer moonlight.
sometimes worrick gets caught up in what it'd be like if he went back. that maybe he was just an ungrateful kid. the servants, the house, the maids, everything. he'd never have that back now. he was so well off. he misses having a full stomach. and feeling actually clean. and having a night not interrupted by alley cats yowling, screaming, fighting, cans being knocked over, other homeless addicts talking to themselves in the alleyways outside their run-down crevice/hole/abandoned house they've found for the week. it was always something.
sometimes worrick will be woken up by someone screaming outside, or police sirens, and he'd have to watch dimly as nic signed in the yellow street light to the blonde that "everything is okay, go back to sleep". nic can tell that worrick doesn't believe him right away, he doesn't go back to sleep as fast as his eyes close. He just lays there, trusting his friend, with the sword-wielding boy letting his body stay awake for the both of them.
but sometimes, he'll roll over on whatever gritty floor they fell asleep on and see nic asleep next to him, hands splayed out towards him, face soft, and he can feel a strength welling up in him. He can do this.
he hasn't been yelled at in weeks, almost months now, the memory of his father's eyes burning holes in him, holes in his heart and bones and blood, nailing him to the floor like a frozen deer is slowly disappearing under all the new memories.
sometimes he'll imagine being in the house again, a servant outside his door, telling him it's breakfast. his father dimly shouting at the maids in the morning air, footsteps scattering down the hallway.
but sometimes, instead, when it's morning and he wakes up, he doesn't see his fathers face. sometimes he doesn't think about him at all.