Luci enjoyed the glamour of Dolly’s beauty salon, with its clean, smooth surfaces and smell of cosmetics. It was all black and white, with full-length mirrors in front of each hairdressing station and floors that made him feel like he was walking on brocade. The whole establishment consisted of a front room, which was partitioned with a divider between hairdressing and nail care, and a smaller room in the back, used for massages, tanning, and other beauty treatments. For a salon its size it was quite profitable, and employed a total of seven girls full-time... and him, currently in the position of a general cleaner/helper/Cinderfella, but he was actually learning the basics of the trade as well. On top of that, Priest had paid for a three-month barbering course for him without batting an eyelash. When Luci found out, he had to lock himself in the bathroom so Tooth wouldn’t see him cry. No one had ever taken care of him like that.
Dolly on the other hand barely spoke to him, making him feel like a Dalmatian puppy in front of Cruella De Ville, but his shifts were mostly at times when Lisa, the assistant manager, ran the place. Luci was just finishing his shift when he saw a familiar face lurking in the window. The bald head and a crooked nose were something he’d always recognize.
Rick waved at him from behind the glass and raised a pink paper bag with the logo of a candy store Luci liked.
Luci smiled widely and took off the rubber gloves he used for cleaning. “Lisa! I’m done. Can I go a few minutes early?”
Lisa smiled from the chair she was getting a haircut in, using the quiet hours of the day. “Yeah, yeah, as long as you’re done. See you tomorrow!”
Rick was already munching on some nuts when Luci went outside. “Hi there, wanna go for a walk?”
“Yeah, we can finally talk.” Luci grabbed his bag and jumped down the three little steps from the salon to the street. “How are you doing? Not getting into any new fights I hope?” He poked Rick with his elbow.
“Nah, it’s been pretty quiet lately. Everyone’s missing you back at Vanilla,” said Rick as they strolled along the street.
“I’m not missing the creepy dudes.” Luci laughed. “Oh no, I do miss that one guy. You know, we nicknamed him Twinkie, ‘cause he came with so much spunk. Nice dick on the outside, surprise on the inside.” One thing missing in his life—being sexually active. But he wasn’t all that keen on straying from his One True Never-Gonna-Happen.
Rick snorted. “Christ, that’s filthy. You never change, do you?”
“What can I say, I have an appreciation for dick.” Luci leaned closer and pulled out what could only be his favorite salted caramel pretzel. “Aww, you remembered my favorite!”
“Yeah, well, you’re not talking to me. I needed something to convince you,” said Rick.
“You think you can buy my attention for pretzels?” He bit into the treat. Ah, so sweet and salty all at once. He’d purr if it wasn’t weird. “I came out ‘cause I like chatting to you. I… let’s just say my options are a bit limited. Tooth took my phone, and he doesn’t want me to go visit Vanilla.”
Rick frowned. “Why would you listen to him? You are clearly walking freely?”
“Yeah, but I live there. He knows when I’m gonna be back from work.”
“That sounds controlling,” muttered Rick. “Why would you stay there?”
Luci figured that telling Rick about the phone he got, one that allowed him to only call three numbers (Tooth, Priest, and Asty) wasn’t the best of ideas. “Oh, you know. There’s other things that are good. Like, he’s teaching me self-defense. We go out together. He already got us tickets to see Motörhead next month. And he’ll be taking me to school. I enrolled into adult classes,” muttered Luci, trying not to sound too negative. He had to remind himself that Harlow wouldn’t be there. What could that bastard possibly seek at an adults’ school?
Luci shrugged. “It’s like... fifteen minutes by car from here. An ugly concrete building.”
For several seconds, Rick walked next to Luci in silence. “Is that guy your boyfriend, or something?”
“Uh, no!” Luci laughed nervously and stuffed his face with a pretzel. “He’s just… a friend. My dad asked him to look out for me.”
Rick ate some more nuts. “I hope you’re staying healthy. Eating well? Exercising?”
“Yeah, I go to the gym with Tooth. I never was all that crazy about cooking for myself, but I often make meals for us both, so I’m trying hard to make it great.”
Rick sighed and fumbled with his pocket, producing a small cell phone. “Look, take this. You’re like a younger brother to me, and I need to know you’re safe, okay?”
“Aww, Rick, that’s so sweet.” Luci took the phone and quickly hid it in his bag. They were getting far too close to the club. “I’ll call you if anything happens. And I’d let you know when I can meet up again.”
Rick smiled. “Could we arrange that you message me every three days or so? I would feel much better.”
“Yeah, sure.” Luci held back the urge to hug him. Rick had never been very touchy feely. “That’s me.” He stopped by the club door and pointed at the ‘Coffin Nails’ sign.
Rick raised his hand and walked back toward the salon where he must have left his car. Luci smiled and watched him for a moment before walking into the club. He never thought he’d have so many people caring about him.
He locked the door and walked deeper into the compound, straight into the lounge, which was oddly quiet for this time of day. In fact, there was no one there. No one drinking beer, no one watching TV. It was as if everyone hid in the bomb shelter or something.
At first, Luci wanted to shout a ‘hello’, but then a different kind of instinct kicked in, and he made his steps slower as he moved through the corridors. He slid his hand into his bag and pulled out the gun Bell had given him last week. Bell had told him that while Luci wasn’t any good with it yet, if bad came to worse, it’d be better for him to have one. What was happening? Did someone take over the compound? He knew everyone would tell him to leave and hide, but he couldn’t do that.
A high-pitched, terrifying howl resonated throughout the building, and Luci almost dropped the gun to the floor, pressing against the wall. He broke out in sweat, but moved along the corridor. Step after forced step.
The door to the basement was partially open, and his blood froze when he heard the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs with the soundtrack of voices. Lucifer’s stomach clenched in terror at another scream from downstairs, but he stood his ground, squeezing the gun in his hand.
The door flung open and banged on the wall, leaving Luci face to face with Bell, who eyed the gun like it were a cobra ready to bite him. ”What the actual fuck?”
“I… It’s so empty, and the screams…” Luci exhaled and put the safety on the gun.
Bell closed the door with a frown. “Obviously it’s empty. Tooth Fairy’s doing his magic downstairs. The guys wanted to watch.”
Luci put the gun back in his bag. He knew these things needed to be done, but he definitely didn’t want to watch. “Oh… Is this about Suzy? Is there a lead?”
Bell groaned and walked over to the bar in the lounge. “She remembered there was a guy stalking her in the bar, kept buying her used stockings and underwear. He actually said he wanted a part of her,” he said with a slight shudder.
Luci shivered at the mere thought of it. “Jesus Christ. What a freak. You think he went for the kidney because he could have that, and she’d still be alive?”
Bell opened a beer he took from the fridge and tossed one to Luci. “Maybe he wanted to eat it or something. From what she said, he really was a creep.”
Lucifer plopped down in an armchair and opened his beer. “With kidney beans?” he laughed nervously, hoping the joke would show he was okay about all this.
“No idea, I hate offal,” growled Bell, who lay down on the sofa and looked at the ceiling.
“How is she doing anyway? I heard you let her stay at your place for a while. She’s recovering?” Luci cocked his head to the side. He needed to distract himself from what was happening underground.
“Yeah, she’s doing fine. She even baked a rhubarb pie over the weekend. It was quite a killer, if you ask me,” said Bell, patting himself on the stomach.
“But you guys got the drugs back, so the club is good with her, right?”
“Yeah, it’s fine. The fucker obviously had no idea she had any. We already got someone else to deal with her stash.”
“Take care of her. Let me know if you need any help.” Luci took a big swig of the beer and got up. “I’ll be in my room.”
“You got it,” said Bell without getting up. If Suzy kept baking pies for him, he would never get a chiseled physique, but he didn’t seem all that bothered.
Luci drank on his way and slowed down when he passed the door to the ‘dentist’s office’. It must be soundproof, because there were no more sounds coming now that it was locked. How long could it take? Would they find out who brutalized Suzy this way? After all, she said there were at least four different men handling her. The kidnappers, a surgeon… Whoever was down there in Tooth’s basement deserved what was coming his way.
Luci forced his feet to move all the way to the room he shared with Tooth. Tooth had even bought him one of those foldable wardrobes made of metal shelves and fabric. There was more clutter than before Luci moved in here, but Tooth was very accommodating as long as Luci kept his stuff from gravitating all over the place. Luci got to set up a hair styling station on the table and even got to pick his new towels and bedding. Luci was making sure that even with the space being a bit tight, everything was orderly.
He put his bag on the desk and sat down on Tooth’s bed. All he could do was wait, so he would be here whenever Tooth needed him. The clock hands seemed to move impossibly slow, especially after the first half an hour, and his nerves were starting to get the better of him. Would Tooth knock out all of the guy’s teeth? Or maybe there were more prisoners to question, and that was why it was taking so long?
The door opened all of a sudden, startling Luci enough to flinch. Tooth looked like a madman who’d just crawled out of the institution he’d been locked in for years. His hair was a mess, he was shirtless, and there were stains of red all over his torso, and even some on his face.
Luci swallowed, scrambling back into place. As soon as the smell of blood hit him, bile rose in his throat. He couldn’t show Tooth his discomfort, it would be the last thing Tooth needed now. “I heard what happened.” It came out shaky, so he tried again. “What did you find out?”
Tooth’s green eyes focused on him for a brief moment before settling on the floor. His naked chest was heaving with each breath he was taking. “Not a fucking thing. He’s just a pervert,” growled Tooth, squeezing his hands into fists.
Luci’s heart plummeted. “So it was a false lead?” He got up, unsure how to approach Tooth. Being dizzy didn’t help. Tooth’s hair was a bush of wavy strands and the dark spots on his beard made Luci itch to wash them off. He was sure his body’s reactions would lessen when they were out of sight. For now, he had to fight his nausea. Tooth was more important.
“Fucking waste of time,” growled Tooth, kicking his other boots across the room, all tense. “It’s all in vain.”
Lucifer hated to see him hurt like this because he knew it wasn’t just anger. Tooth was hoping for a lead that could eventually get him some closure. And now that trail was dead. Suzy was only a part of the bigger picture Tooth was seeking to uncover. “I’m sorry.” He ran his fingers along Tooth’s arm, hoping the anger wouldn’t end up spilled out on him. At least Tooth’s forearms and hands were clean. He must have worn gloves.
Tooth bit his lip and looked at him, breathing hard. Luci could feel the furious pulsing beneath his touch. “It’s not your fault. Twelve years, and still nothing,” muttered Tooth.
“Something will come up,” said Luci without much conviction, but he needed to say something. Do something. He gently pulled Tooth along to the bathroom.
Tooth sighed and started rubbing one of the spots on his chest. “Did I scare you?”
“No… I mean… I’m scared that you’re upset.” Luci turned on the water in the bathtub and put a towel under the faucet. If he could only ignore the nauseating stench of blood, he could pretend it was paint on Tooth’s skin.
Tooth swallowed hard, resting against the wall. “You don’t have to. I’ve failed to find those bastards for the last twelve years. Maybe I wasn’t vigilant enough.”
“I’m sure you did everything you could.” Luci soaked the towel in warm water and squeezed out the excess liquid before putting it against Tooth’s skin. Maybe it wasn’t needed, but the inability to help made the necessity of acting all the more desperate.
Tooth averted his eyes, but let Luci gently wash off the blood “I don’t know,” he whispered.
“So the man from today, he really knew nothing?” Luci reached up to Tooth’s beard with the warm towel and gently patted it. He wished the towels were darker, so he wouldn’t see the red stains all over them. His breath quickened in panic, despite the logical side of his brain knowing that his fear of blood was irrational.
Tooth shrugged. “He started telling us what we wanted to hear, just because he wanted me to stop. He’s a despicable human being, but not an organ snatcher,” he growled, slowly sitting down on the closed toilet lid.
Luci ran the towel down Tooth’s arms to make sure they were clean. “Maybe we could ask Suzy to write down everything she remembers. To take her time with it. Turn to the side,” he ordered, so he’d be able to wet Tooth’s hair in the sink. It always made Luci feel good to be taken care of at the hairdresser’s, so he hoped it would work the same way for Tooth.
Tooth stared at him for a moment, but eventually did as he was told. “She already told us everything she knew. I don’t know. It feels like the information I need is sliding out of my grasp.”
All Luci could help with was to make Tooth not look like a mess, but would that actually help his mind? He ran warm water over Tooth’s hair and began working in his minty shampoo. It should soothe Tooth’s nerves slightly. Luci made a point of making this a slow massage as well as a wash. “If people like Suzy are their target, and this shit doesn’t hit the newspapers, maybe we could ask her to put out the word?”
Tooth closed his eyes, letting Lucifer do what he wanted. “That could be a good idea. Do you think she’d do that?”
“I think she would with the right encouragement.” Luci looked down at that face becoming less tense, and a part of him hoped it was his achievement. That there was something he could give Tooth, a little bit of relaxation he could help him with.
Tooth hummed, his shoulders gradually relaxing. “That’s kinda nice,” he whispered.
Luci’s heart leaped at the compliment, and he made sure he massaged the sides and back of the head as well as the top. “I bought a special hair mask for you as well. Just never got to use it. I want you to feel good.” All of a sudden, the atmosphere thickened with more than the minty scent.
Tooth’s eyes opened, and his green irises gazed into Luci’s face from beneath the long eyelashes. “You’re... such a sweetheart,” he muttered, playing with his fingers.
A smile instantly bloomed on Luci’s lips. He would have loved to just lean down and kiss Tooth. “Let’s just hope my future boyfriend thinks so as well. But you’d help me out if he smacked me around, right?” He reached to the bathtub for the detachable showerhead and began rinsing Tooth’s hair.
A dark glow resurfaced in Tooth’s eyes. “Why would anyone do that?”
Luci shrugged. “Guys can be shitty when something doesn’t go their way.” He squirted the conditioning mask into his palm and rubbed it into Tooth’s hair, enjoying touching the long strands.
There was a warm touch at his side, and he froze, looking at Tooth, who stared at him with a frown. “You need to find the right guy then.”
“I don’t know before I try. What’s the name of that Nail nomad you said was gay? Maybe I could try after all?” Lucifer twirled Tooth’s hair into a bun and held onto it. The minerals in the mask needed a few minutes to soak in.
Tooth snorted. “God, no. He’s not a good guy.”
“Well, it’s not like a good guy is gonna be interested in me.” Luci leaned into the touch of Tooth’s arm. “No doctor or lawyer is gonna date me.”
“Oh, shut up,” chuckled Tooth. “Who wouldn’t want to date you?”
“Come on, Tooth.” Luci laughed to hide his embarrassment. “I’m… dirty.”
“No, you’re not.” Tooth knocked on Luci’s side. “You’re so clean you’d squeak if I touched you right.”
Luci gasped and slapped Tooth’s arm with his clean hand. “Oh, my God! You did not just say that!”
Tooth sniggered, now completely relaxed. His body was beginning to rest, and with the harmless banter, it seemed so was his mind. “Aren’t you the clean house master?”
“But any normal guy would freak out about my past, and I don’t wanna lie. If I was just going clubbing and sleeping around most guys wouldn’t even blink, but because of hooking, they’d think I’m like… used up. You know what I mean?” He looked away under the pretense of getting the shower head again.
“That wouldn’t be fair. Everyone has something they’d like to forget about. A skeleton in the closet.”
Luci put on a brave face and smiled. “On the other hand, I give amazing head, so my guy shouldn’t be complaining really.” He rinsed the conditioning mask out of Tooth’s hair. It felt so nice, and untangled easily now the hair was more nourished.
Tooth groaned. “Too much information.”
Lucifer swallowed. “Sorry. I’ll keep it clean for the sanctity of your delicate ears.” He pinched one of Tooth’s ears and got a brush to take care of Tooth’s hair while it was still wet.
Tooth grinned at him. “I admit, this feels nicer than I thought. What else are you gonna do?”
“I will wash your beard and trim your moustache. How about that? You trust me enough for that?” Lucifer got out his scissors from the drawer, all giddy about getting his hands on Tooth’s grooming. He’d been dreaming about it since he started learning about barbering.
Tooth blinked. “God, just don’t give me a handlebar. They seem freakishly popular these days.”
“Nah, I’ll just trim it for you.” Luci clipped with the scissors in the air to give Tooth a scare. He’d love to do it while sitting in Tooth’s lap, but that was a no-go.
The guy was a suspiciously willing participant in the whole process, and it took some time because Luci wasn’t all that experienced. When they were finally done, Tooth looked amazing. Like one of those masculine-looking male models. He had the perfect balance between beauty and a wild edge that radiated from his eyes, drawing Luci in.
Luci towel-dried his hair and led him out of the bathroom. “There. Good as new.” He smiled and handed Tooth a T-shirt as he admired the work he’d done on the beard. It was still long, but a bit more shapely, without stray hairs, the throat shaven.
Tooth pulled on the T-shirt and walked up to the mirror with a slight frown. He moved his head, put his hand against his throat, looking at Luci’s handiwork. “Looks like I should be your practice head more often,” he concluded.
A flame of excitement ignited in Luci’s heart, and he stepped up to Tooth. “You would? I’d be extra careful and shit.”
Tooth smiled. “I just let you use a razor on my throat.”
Luci grinned. “...Can I hug you?” He held his breath waiting for an answer.
Tooth looked into the mirror, and his mouth twitched. He raised one arm, clearly making space for Luci. That was all the encouragement Lucifer needed. He clung to Tooth, wrapping his arms around Tooth’s midsection, smelling the fresh scent of the washing powder he used for the laundry.
Tooth’s chest moved as he exhaled, pulling Luci close. “Thanks.”
Luci loved the warmth of the strong arms around himself. He nuzzled Tooth’s shoulder. “You’ll find them one day,” he whispered.