“Mevin, you roat. Why’re you acting all jealous?” Lex gave a tired laugh. “Aw kant. You’re making me feel like drinking again. How long you been there, Rowan?”
“I heard it.”
“Hey, tell me. Did I go about this wrong?”
“You could’ve done it better.” Lex laughed again. Rowan leaned back against the wall and stared at him.
“He had a point, you know,” Lex said, “about always there, helping me out and all. I took him for granted. I never knew he felt like that.”
“He’s three years younger than you. Ever since you saved his life in Hong Kong back when you just started as a mercenary, he’s always followed after you. He always says your his hero, but it’s more than that. I think he was longing for you to be his big brother.”
“Jeck. There’s no way I could have seen him as that. Not then. Even now, it’s…” Lex said in a quiet voice.
“That’s cold, Hime. What makes Seven different?”
“At first, I thought it’d be the same. Someone asks me for help. I get a hunch if it is real. A sense of urgency, and I can’t stop thinking about it until I help them. It’s always on my mind, and if I ignore it, I know I’ll go crazy. So, I do my utmost to help them, get them to safety, and then leave, not really thinking about it again,” he paused.
“People might say I have a hero complex. Maybe that’s true. David said once that it’s how I validate my existence. I miss him, now that he’s gone. But even with all that, I may act close to everyone; jeck I’ve saved most of them, too. It’s just I can’t let them get too close. I can’t let them in. You’ve all felt it, haven’t you?”
Rowan nodded. “You never said why, though. You’ve always kept you past to yourself. All you ever tell about yourself is that you wandered around alone for a long time before. Hime, what happened before that?”
There was a moment of silence before Lex spoke.
“You asked what made Seven different.” Rowan’s eyebrows drew together. Lex was avoiding his question.
“His eyes,” Lex continued. “First time I saw him, he had this look in his eyes. It was like he was rejecting the world. No, it was probably worse than that. He was rejecting himself. He looked so haunted.”
“You’ve seen others like that.”
“Yes, but it was different somehow. It was like he had at that moment convinced himself so thoroughly that he didn’t exist that, well, he pretty much didn’t. You weren’t there when we found him. His presence was paper-thin. I still see that look sometimes. It flits across his face like he’s being constantly reminded of it.”
“And, so what?”
“Agh, I don’t know. You’re right. It wasn’t just that. I think it was really the look he had when he recognized us. Light flooded into his eyes, and he looked so alive. More alive than I’ve seen anyone. It was so piercing. I decided I always wanted him to have that look. But even then, somehow, I could tell he still rejected himself even while being so alive. I don’t even know how that happens.”
“You seem to like describing him. You’re weird, Hime.”
“Shut up. You would’ve known what I meant if you were there.”
“You’re also taking a long time to explain your point, as well as avoiding my question.” Rowan gave him a pointed look.
“Forgive me. I’m rambling ’cause I’m stressed,” Lex said in a dry tone.
“I might if you get on with it.”
“Fine. It’s my initial hunch, my sense of urgency. It hasn’t gone away. Usually it does the moment we find the client, or at the very latest the moment we get to some semblance of safety. It’s cause from that point on, I always know we can handle it. Rowan, we’ve been relatively safe ever since we got onto Biscotti. Never for a moment did that feeling leave me. It’s only been increasing as time goes by.”
“That’s why you’re so desperate about Seven?”
Lex nodded. “Probably.” There was a moment of silence as Rowan digested the information.
“Why are you back, anyway?” Lex looked up at him.
“Thought you might like to know.”
“Mubai found a pretty good lead on where Seven is.”
“What?! Where?” Lex leapt up.
“Seems like some auction house.”
“An auction house? Why the jeck is he there?”
“I don’t know.”
“Rowan! Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”
“You started a conversation all of a sudden.”
“That doesn’t excuse anything!”
“You looked like you needed to vent.”
“Ugh! Forget it. Where is Ahmed?”
“Lex Palming!” Ahmed Mubai walked into the room. “This is where you’ve been? Rowan, I asked you to get him ages ago. Why are you still here? Where’s Mevin Poal?”
“Not sure, but it doesn’t matter at the moment. I’ll find him later. Where’s Seven?” Lex asked.
“From the information you’ve given me, the kid is albino right? With white hair?”
“Yes, albinos have white hair,” Rowan said wryly. Ahmed shot him a look.
“One of my sources tells me he saw a man called Boar taking a white-haired kid off the streets near the Night Bazaar.”
“Who’s this Boar?”
“Petty criminal and free-lance thug for hire. I hadn’t heard of him before today, he’s that small a guy. Thing is, seems like he mostly deals with Mr. Simmons.”
“Ah, I don’t think that’s his real name, but I can’t find what it actually is. It’s weird actually, how well he has it covered up. And well, right now, he doesn’t even have a first name.”
“Ah, you really should know him, Lex. He’s the owner of the House of Roses.”
“The House of Roses? The House of Roses? As in, the auction house of your direct competitors?”
“Yeah, the Briar Hatch Syndicate has a big stake in it. I wouldn’t say they control it, but they do have a lot of influence. Like this, it’ll be tough getting your kid out. Looks like he’ll be sold tonight.”
Lex grew quiet.
“Do you have a plan?” he asked.