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It was hard to keep track sometimes, especially in states whe re the borders were vague, and when Copper tended to fall asleep. Long car rides made him sleepy, especially with his seat pushed all the way back and a fleece blanket draped over his legs. Gates liked to keep the air conditioning turned up all the way as he drove, and he had offered Copper the blanket as a way to keep him from shivering through the trip. At least, that was his excuse. Copper knew the real reason was to conceal the white zip ties that kept his hands bound in his lap on the off chance that someone was able to glance into their car window as they passed, and to discourage any desperate attempts to role out onto the hi ghway. Never mind that the passenger side door didn’t have handles, anyway. Copper leaned his temple against the passenger side window and closed hi s eyes, trying to stave off the threatening sense of carsickness that was starti ng to creep up on him. They had been driving for hours, and the swiftly passing landscape was beginning to make his head swim. Gates chose his route carefully, sticking to highways and skirted the edges of towns and making sure to keep the car moving at exactly one mile an hour above the posted speed limit. Fast enough not look suspicious, but slow enough not to catch the eye of the highway patrol . It made for a boring monotonous trip, and Copper found himself wishing for the chance to get out and stretch his legs, if nothing else. Beside him, Gate whistled softly along with a song on the radio, tapping his fingers against the steering wheel as he smoothly changed lanes and glanced over at his companion. “Sleepy still? Didn’t you sleep all the way to Pittsburg?” Copper shook his head, skin never losing contact with the cool glass. It helped a little, made him feel a bit less dizzy. “No, I just don’t feel good. Can’t w e stop for a little while?” He felt rather than saw Gates give him a sharp, suspicious look. His eye s cut into him like knives, just for a moment, before returning to the road. “Why? We aren’t there, yet.” Copper didn’t bother to mention that he didn’t even know where they were goi ng. Gates hadn’t seen fit to tell him, and Copper hadn’t asked. Even information was n’t free, and he hadn’t felt up to paying for it. “I just feel kind of sick. I need to get some fresh air and stretch my legs.” For a moment Gates was ominously quiet, and Copper worried he had asked for too much. It was hard to tell when and what would make Gates tick. Finally G ates smiled, and reached out to pat Copper’s thigh through the blanket. “Maybe. I do n’t want to put us too off of schedule.” Copper didn’t argue. It was as good an answer as he was going to get, so h e just settled further in his seat in silence and hoped the trip would be over s oon. “I think you’ll like our new home, Copper.” Gates continued, eerily pleasant. “T here’s plenty of space, and just think of all the wonderful people we’ll meet. It’s no t quite in the city, but it’s close enough.” A tiny chill ran down Copper’s spine. He didn’t know which would be worse; p utting Gates in the middle of a town of innocent strangers, or being trapped wit h him in the middle of nowhere. They had been stranded together at home once, wh en Gates’ car had broken down and made it impossible to get into town easily, and Copper remembered those few days has being some of the longest of his life. By t he time Gates had fixed the car, Copper had been too sore to walk, his wrists sc rapped so raw that he still bore scars. It wasn’t something he looked forward to g oing through ever again. Then again, he wasn’t sure that the alternative of letting Gates loose in public was much better. He tried to close his eyes and go back to sleep, not feeling particularl y hopeful for the possibility of a pit stop. “I bought the house a few years ago, and it’s just been sitting vacant ever since,” Gates continued, uncaring if Copper was listening or not. “It’s certainly a lo ng trip, but sometimes it’s nice to get a change of scenery, don’t you think?” Copper was silent. The swaying in his head was starting to lessen just a
little bit, and he hoped that soon it would disappear completely. The hand on h is thigh tightened and squeezed until the touch was no longer even vaguely affec tionate. It became demanding, and Copper squirmed under the prick of sharp nails . “I said, isn’t it nice?” “Of course,” Copper finally answered, just to appease him. “And you’re probably very excited to see our new home, I’m sure.” Copper felt an increased wave of sickness. He hadn’t missed the way Gates called it their home, and the implication in his words. They were relocating, an d Gates still had no intention on separating from Copper. “I’m really excited. I can’t wait to get there.” Gates ignored his dull and unaffected tone. He didn’t much care whether Co pper meant what he said. All he cared was that he said what Gates wanted to hear . He went quiet again, and Copper was grateful for the opportunity to fall back asleep. The next time he awoke the car was still, idling under the harsh flores cent lights of a rural gas station. They had obviously been driving for hours si nce he had last been awake, and he felt a painful ache in his spine. He shifted and tried to make himself more comfortable, only slowly becoming aware of the fa ct that Gates was watching him. “It’s awfully cold out right now,” Gates commented as he unlatched his seat be lt and leaned down to open the gas tank. “You should keep your blanket on.” As he spoke Copper became aware of a gas station attendant moving around the car, taking his time in getting to the driver’s side window, and he immediate ly made sure that his hands were still carefully concealed beneath the blanket. Station attendants weren’t usually observant enough to notice that his hands were bound, but Gates would take no chances. Copper nodded and slumped down, carefull y maneuvering the blanket up higher on his body. “It is pretty cold,” he agreed, and he saw Gates smile. “Stay here,” he said, opening the door and withdrawing the keys from the ign ition. “I’ll be back in a moment.” Copper watched him briefly converse with the station attendant, presumab ly instructing him to the fill the gas tank before disappearing into the small c onvenience store. Copper sat quietly, watching the door to the store and wonderi ng why the possibility of running was never a truly a serious thought. The idea would drift half-heartedly across his mind whenever he was in situations like th is, but he never took them seriously, and never so much as attempted to act on t he idea. Getting across to the driver’s side door was a challenge with his hands b ound, and with his own door inoperable from the inside, he had no other option. It would take too long, and even if he did manage to crawl across and out into t he night…where would he go? He found himself unsure of even what state he was in, let alone which way to go. He could yell for help, certainly, but he didn’t put it past Gates to be able to convince everyone around them that Copper was drunk, o r delusional, or any number of other excuses that would get Copper back into his possession and out of trouble. Gates would always get away with it, and Copper feared what would happen if he dared betray Gates. The man had a certain affecti on for him now, morbid as it may have been, and it was that affection that kept the worst of his sins at bay. It hadn’t always been that way, and those first few days before Gates had started to become attached had been nightmarish, the kind of days that Copper refused to remember. He didn’t want to go back to that, and if he tried to leave Gates, he knew his life would quickly become hell. Or worse. So he sat quickly, meekly obeying Gates’ orders to stay put and watching t he gas tank fill and the dollar amount click upwards. At least he didn’t feel quit e as sick anymore. The gas tank was just finishing filling when Gates returned with a plast ic bag tucked under his arm and settled back into the driver’s seat. He smiled at Copper, genuinely pleased that his companion was still sitting where he had been left. “I brought you something,” he trilled, searching in the bag under he withdre w a bottle of ice tea and a large bar of chocolate. He waved them both in Copper’s
direction and placed them down on the seat beside him. “You can have them when we get back on the road.” Until he saw the snack, Copper hadn’t realized how hungry he’d grown. His st omach ached and growled in anticipation, and he decided not to think about what the treat might cost him. “Are we almost there?” Gates shook his head and maneuvered back onto the highway. “Eat your snack .” For the first time in hours Copper pulled his arms out from beneath the blanket and tested the hold of the plastic zip ties. He wished he could ask Gate s to cut them off, but he knew it would be a waste of breath. As long as they we re on the road, the ties would stay on. That was the rule, and he knew nothing w ould change it. Instead he awkwardly seized the bottle and opened it, using both hands to bring it to his lips and drink in long, frantic gulps. He didn’t think h e’d had a real drink in hours, and now that the bottle was in his hands it struck him how thirsty he was. It was nothing new. When he had been living in Gate’s base ment, his drinks were reduced to water and nothing more, given twice a day in di rty glasses that he savored like gold. To drink something like iced tea was a mi racle of kindness. As he unwrapped the candy, awkwardly tucking away the wrapper so he woul dn’t leave a mess, he tried to read the mood in the car. Gates looked to be on the cusp of either a bad mood or a very good one, torn between random acts of kindn ess and a dangerous, worrisome crankiness. It was the worst kind of mood for Gat es to be in, Copper thought, because at least when he was in a poor mood, Copper knew what to expect. He was playing blind now, and he tried to decide how to approach the sit uation as he slowly touched the chocolate to his lips. It began to melt almost i mmediately, and he allowed himself the moment to savor the sweetness. Gates seem ed excited about the house, or maybe about the knowledge that he was bringing Co pper somewhere safer and farther away from prying eyes. Either way, it seemed th e idea was putting him into a pleasant mood, and Copper aimed to capitalize on t hat. “So in the new house… will I have my own room?” Gates spared him a glance, and for a second Copper thought that he might be seeing through his ploy to put him in a good mood. “Your own bedroom? Why woul dn’t you want to share with me?” Copper shrugged. There was no place for honesty in this conversation. “So you could have your own personal space, you know?” “You’re so considerate, Copper. I think that’s why I like you.” He reached out a nd gripped Copper’s knee through the blanket, thick fingers squeezing hard enough that Copper felt something pop. It hurt, but he tried to keep his reaction to si mply a flinch. “What about a yard?” “It backs up to a beautiful area of deep, untouched woods.” Gates grinned at him, the expression feral and chilling. “That’s the nice thing about living in this part of the country, Copper. There’s plenty of space for us to stretch out.” Suddenly the chocolate didn’t seem nearly as appealing, and Copper set it aside with a grimace.
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